Tuesday, May 29, 2012


As I walked this morning I felt more alert than usual.  Simple things like these flowers by a fence delighted me.
I'm still riding high from the four celebrations that I had of my 50th anniversary of ordination.  I have been at a loss to get at the feelings that this calls up in me.  "Stunned" is a word that springs to mind.  Given my extremely critical nature, I wonder why I didn't just give up.  "Wonder" is another.  I'm amazed that I found a way  to be true to myself and true to the Church.  "Deep pleasure" to grow up along with all the exciting changes brought on by Vatican Council II, which started on October 11, 1962, the year I ordained.  I think euphoria was mainly what I was feeling today.  'Great gratitude" to God and to all the family and friends and parishes that helped me to hang in there.  That's the best I can do right now to express myself.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Liberal Catholic

I went to the theater recently with a couple, the husband on my right, the wife on my left.  A woman by herself came in and sat on the other side of the wife.  Then two people the wife knew sat byond that woman.  Those two and my friend began talking back and forth.  After listening to this for a while the stranger in the middle said, "You are talking clearly as liberal Democrats.  At the same time you are referring to your being Catholic.  I didn't know Catholics could be liberal, let alone Democrats."
By temperament and by conviction I am a liberal.  I always know that around  the next turn in the trail there will be a better view. 
Being a liberal priest in the Catholic Church has never been easy; but, if you are going to be one, 1962 was a good year to be ordained.  On October 11 of that year, less than five months after my ordination, the great Pope John 23rd opened Vatican Council II, releasing a fresh, liberal blast of the Holy Spirit that renewed our Church.  It was all that we had hoped for and more.
I have been delighted by the changes in the Mass that encourages people's participation.  But I think the most important emphasis of the Council was that the Church was all the members, not just the bishops and the pope.  Once Jesus becomes invisible in the Ascension, he expects all of his followers to continue the work that he began in our world.
It has been wonderful to have my fifty years as a priest coincide with the Council's 50 years.

Friday, May 18, 2012


This morning after breakfast on the side deck I read this entry in my journal for 1982:
"It's strange that as I feel closer and closer to You, I become more and more aware that I can't get a fix on You.  Grand Canyon God!  Elusive God!  I want to let go and let you engulf me.  The less me I am, the more You I am, and yet the more I become myself."
In a retreat that I made that year we each tried to express our life goal.  This is how I put mine:
"To let You take over my life more and more and to spend the rest of my life sharing You with others." Let it be so.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


I went to St. Charles Seminary in first year high school.  The high school years and two years of college went pretty smoothly. I was very strict in my obedience to the rule.  I got an excellent education in the humanities.  I really liked English literature and ancient history.  I came to like Shakespeare, classical music and Broadway musicals.
In these years I grew in prayer, sampling different kinds.  Since St. Paul was my patron, I tried to understand some of his Letters.  Two quotes that struck me then and have had a profound influence on my whole life were:
"By the grace of God I am what I am, and God's grace in me has not been in vain." (1 Cor. 15:10)
"I live, now not I, but Christ lives in me."  (Gal. 2:20)
I finished my last two years of college at St. Mary's in the heart of Baltimore, the oldest seminary in the country.  Philosophy was the low point of my academic career.  But the highpoint was having Father Gene Walsh as my confessor.  He helped me in the very beginnings of my growth.  When I found out that my confessor at St. Charles had warned his penitents not to take Walsh as their confessor, I asked that confessor why.  He said, "I already knew you were lost to the liberals."  Through Walsh I became interested in Liturgical Reform.  He took several of us to two annual Liturgical Conventions.  In 1957-58 we were already pushing for the reforms that were finally made by Vatican Council II about 8 years later.
St. Mary's, Roland Park, was where I spent four years studying theology.  It was here that I began to chafe under the rule and began to see how the seminary had retarded my growth as a person by demanding conformity.  Our text books were in Latin and extremely outdated.  The only really up to date courses that we had were in Scripture.  One semester was the Gospel according to John taught by the exceptional scholar, Father Raymond Brown.  Teachers sometimes recommended  up to date books in English, like Durwell's "Resurrection."  Our fat moral theology teacher came in class one day, patted his belly, and said he was glad to see we finally had a normal sized man as pope.
Pope John 23rd opened Vatican Council II on October 11, 1962, about five months after I was ordained a priest.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Religious Childhood

My earliest memories of religion were at home with my parents, then at our small church, St. Mary's.
I remember one day, when I was maybe 4, my mother told me that Jesus was up there in the altar.  I knew that Jesus was dead.  I saw the crucifix.  I was mighty proud that, out of all the churches in the world, Jesus was buried in our altar.
It would be snowing gently as we came out of Christmas midnight mass.  I remember how mellow and secure I felt as people greeted each other and shook hands and hugged.  I knew this was where I belonged, where I would be cared for.
We walked to church, about two miles, on a path that went around the hill.  I started serving 7 AM weekday Mass after I made my first communion in the second grade.  I liked the idea of Jesus being inside of me.  To keep him there after recieving communion I would let the host stick to the roof of my mouth to see how far home I could get before it melted.  I had a sense that this might not be allowed, so I never told anybody.
We got a car in 1949.  As we drove to church, my father would pick up anybody that we saw walking to church until we had a carfull.  He would tell them to come to our car after Mass and we would drive them each to their homes, sometimes going a good bit out of our way.  Without anything being said, I learned early on that church and service to people went hand in hand.
The church in the picture is the first one that St. Damien built when he went to Hawaii.  It is even smaller than ours.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


I took this picture more than a week ago during my morning walk.
I buy some wonderful cards with quotes on them from Cards by Anne, so I am on her email list.  Today Anne wrote about the five most common regrets that a hospice nurse said that she has heard from patients in their last days:
I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me (most common)
I wish I hadn't worked so hard (every single male patient and some females)
I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
I wish I'd stayed in touch with my friends.
I wish I'd let myself be happier.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Beauty Lasts

"Power does not last -- even superpower; art and culture do."  This is one of the conclusions that Professor Robert Bucholz makes at the end of his CD course, Foundations of Western Civilization, for The Teaching Company.  How about less money for weapons and more for art!
Beauty Will Save The World  is the name of a book I read a month or so ago and am now studying.  The author Gregory Wolfe makes a good case for the truth of his title.  I think of how much all kinds of art have molded who I am.  I am especially indebted to movies which have enlightened me and taught me how to empathize.   Russian composers influence more how I feel about the Russian people than Russian rulers.
Natural beauty, which I try to capture in my pictures, lifts me out of myself and makes me one with the world.  Monday morning these flowers were shining for about a mile on both sides of a country road where I was driving.  They have a wonderful, spicey smell.  We called them "soap flowers" when I was a kid.  When we rubbed them together in our hands, they created a soapy liquid.  I find they are called "bouncingbet" and "soapwort."

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Love as I love

In John 15:9-17 Jesus says to his disciples then and now, "Love one another as I have loved you."  The quality that distinguishes the love of Jesus is its graciousness.  Unearned love is what Jesus offers every human being.  Thirty years ago I did a brief summary of Catholic teaching that I titled "Unearned Love."  I think it captures the heart of what we believe and do, doctrine and moral.
In commanding me to love this way Jesus doesn't leave me on my own.  Since he lives in me, as the parable of the Vine and the Branches stresses, he can share with me his own gracious, freely given, way of loving.
Part of what unearned love involves is Jesus' making the first move, initiating the relationship.   He says near the end of this passage, "It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you."  This is to be true also in my loving, reaching out, making the first move.
Jesus also makes clear how demanding gracious love is.  "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends."  Jesus did it and expects me to love to that extent, to be willling to die for another.  It sometimes seems that it is more difficult to live for another.  Since this kind of love means caring for the unloveable and unattractive, it can place disgusting demands on me.  Again it is Jesus living in me who enables me to touch the leper.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Half-Hidden Violets

Violets have been among my favorite flowers since I was a child.  I can remember picking them in an empty lot by the creek and taking them home to my mother.  I don't know whether this is a single, vivid memory or something that I did so often it sticks in my mind.  The violets were often half-hidden in higher grass.
It's probably why I like so much Wordsworth's poem She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways.  It's about a "maid" named Lucy who "lived unknown."  The second stanza:
"A violet by a mossy stone
   Half hidden from the eye;
 Fair as a star, when only one
   Is shining in the sky."
I am going back and reading my journals that I started in the seminary.  I am surprised at how half-hidden I often kept myself.  Even though I had a lot of prominent jobs and offices, when there was no task to be done, in a group I tended to sit quietly not saying much.  I had half-forgotten how painful this was.  I wonder if that's one reason that violets appeal to me.  Maybe subconsciously, even as a little child, I wanted to keep to myself.  I do not miss the appropriateness of this blog's name.