Saturday, December 4, 2021



A Patron Saint of the Women's Movement

 “From silly devotions and from sour-faced saints, good Lord, deliver us."

Saint Teresa of Avila

Teresa of Ávila (born Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda y Ahumada on March 28, 1515), also called Saint Teresa of Jesus, was a Spanish noblewoman who was called to convent life as a Carmelite nun. She was a prominent mystic, religious reformer, author and theologian of the contemplative life and of mental prayer. She earned the rare distinction of being declared a Doctor of the Church, but not until over four centuries after her death. Active during the Catholic Reformation, she reformed the Carmelite Orders of both women and men. The movement she initiated was later joined by the younger Spanish Carmelite friar and mystic, John of the Cross. It led eventually to the establishment of the Discalced Carmelites. A formal papal decree adopting the split from the old order was issued in 1580.

Teresa, who had been a social celebrity in her home province, was dogged by early family losses and ill health. In her mature years, she became the central figure of a movement of spiritual and monastic renewal borne out of an inner conviction and honed by ascetic practice. She was also at the center of deep ecclesiastical controversy as she took on the pervasive laxity in her order against the background of the Protestant Reformation sweeping over Europe and the Spanish Inquisition asserting church discipline in her home country. The consequences were to last well beyond her life. One papal legate described her as a "restless wanderer, disobedient, and a stubborn femina who, under the title of devotion, invented bad doctrines, moving outside the cloister against the rules of the Council of Trent and her Bishops; teaching as a master against Saint Paul's orders that women should not teach."

Over time, Teresa found herself increasingly at odds with the spiritual malaise prevailing in her convent of the Incarnation. Among the 150 nuns living there, the observance of cloister designed to protect and strengthen spiritual practice and prayer, became so lax that it appeared to lose its purpose. The daily invasion of visitors, many of high social and political rank, disturbed the atmosphere with frivolous concerns and vacuous conversation. Such intrusions in the solitude essential to develop and sustain contemplative prayer so grieved Teresa that she longed to intervene.

The incentive to take the practical steps inspired by her inward motivation was supported by the Franciscan priest, Peter of Alcantara who met her early in 1560 and became her spiritual advisor. She resolved to found a "reformed" Carmelite convent, correcting the laxity which she had found at the Incarnation convent and elsewhere besides. Guimara de Ulloa, a woman of wealth and a friend, supplied the funds for the project.

The abject poverty of the new convent, established in 1562 and named San Jose, at first caused a scandal among the citizens and authorities of Ávila, and the small house with its chapel was in peril of suppression. However, powerful patrons, including the local bishop, coupled with the impression of well ordered subsistence and purpose, turned animosity into approval.

In March 1563, after Teresa had moved to the new convent house, she received papal sanctions for her primary principles of absolute poverty and renunciation of ownership of property, which she proceeded to formulate into a "constitution". Her plan was the revival of the earlier, stricter monastic rules, supplemented by new regulations including ceremonial flagellations and the discalceation (the wearing of sandals rather than shoes) of community members. For the first five years, Teresa remained in seclusion, mostly engaged in prayer and writing.

In 1567, Teresa received a patent from the Carmelite General, Rubeo de Ravenna, to establish further houses of the new order. This process required many visitations and long journeys across nearly all the provinces of Spain. Between 1567 and 1571, reformed convents were established in seven cities.

As part of the original patent, Teresa was given permission to set up two houses for men who wished to adopt the reforms. She convinced two Carmelite friars, John of the Cross and Anthony of Jesus to help with this.

In 1576, unreformed members of the Carmelite order began to persecute Teresa, her supporters and her reforms. Following a number of resolutions, the governing body of the order forbade all further founding of reformed convents. The general chapter instructed her to go into "voluntary" retirement at one of her institutions. She obeyed and chose St. Joseph's at Toledo. Meanwhile, her friends and associates were subjected to further attacks.

Several years later, her appeals by letter to King Phillip II of Spain secured relief. As a result, in 1579, the cases before the inquisition against her, Father Gracian and others, were dropped. This allowed the reform to resume. An edict from Pope Gregory XIII allowed the appointment of a special provincial for the newer branch of the Carmelite religious, and a royal decree created a "protective" board of four assessors for the reform.

During the last three years of her life, Teresa founded in total, seventeen convents, all but one founded by her, and as many men's monasteries, were owed to her reforms over twenty years.

Her final illness overtook her on one of her journeys from Burgos to Alba de Tormes. She died in 1582, just as Catholic Europe was making the switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, which required the excision of the dates of 5–14 October from the calendar. She died either before midnight of 4 October or early in the morning of 15 October, which is celebrated as her feast day. According to the liturgical calendar then in use, she died on the 15th in any case. Her last words were: "My Lord, it is time to move on. Well then, may your will be done. O my Lord and my Spouse, the hour that I have longed for has come. It is time to meet one another."

Since her death, her reputation has grown, leading to multiple portrayals. She continues to be widely noted as an inspiration to philosophers, theologians, historians, neurologists, fiction writers and artists, as well as to countless ordinary people interested in Christian spirituality and mysticism.

Forty years after her death, in 1622, Teresa was canonized by Pope Gregory XV. At the time she was considered a candidate for national patron saint of Spain, but this designation was awarded to St. James the Apostle. She has since become one of the patron saints of Spain. On 27 September 1970 Pope Paul VI proclaimed Teresa the first female Doctor of the Church in recognition of her centuries-long spiritual legacy.

“Dear Lord, if this is how You treat Your friends, it is no wonder You have so few!”

"I do not fear Satan half so much as I fear those who fear him!"

 “From silly devotions and from sour-faced saints, good Lord, deliver us."

Saint Theresa of Avila

Thursday, December 2, 2021


It occurred to me the other day that the "left" and the "right" in our political world and in our church world are both right and both wrong. The solution to these stand-offs is not compromise, watering down one's truth where each side "goes along to get along," but realizing that both sides stand for "a" truth, but neither side has the "only" truth -  that both positions have value and each represents one of two truths.

Political conservatives seem to be the champions of individualism, while political liberals seem to be the champions of communalism. (The commandment of Jesus was to "love your neighbor as yourself." It was not to love "one or the other," but "both together!") The good of individuals and the good of the community both have validity. 

Religious conservatives seem to be the champions of God's activity in the past, while religious liberals seem to be the champions of God's activity in the present. Both positions have value and represent one of two truths. God has been active in the past and is active in the present. Both are true! 

I have always heard that heresy is simply the truth exaggerated to the point of distortion. I tried to find out where I saw that, so I started a search.  I came across this quote from Dale Ahlquist, President of the American Chesterton Society, so it's probably a paraphrase of an insight from the great Catholic Englishman, G. K. Chesterton. Mr. Ahlquist says this, "A heresy is a small truth isolated from the whole truth and then exaggerated to the point that it overshadows the whole truth and even turns against it. A heresy is a truth gone mad. The madman goes mad not from being wrong, but from being right about one thing to the exclusion of all others."

The solution to most of our political fighting is not a war where one side or the other wins, but the bipartisanship that was manifested in the passage of the new infrastructure bill, one that respects both the good of individuals, as well as the good of the community. The solution to most of our ecclesial fighting is not a war where one side or the other wins, but the synodality that Pope Francis is proposing that respects both church leaders listening to the people of the church, as well as the people of the church listening to its leaders. We need the balance that the inclusion of both brings to the table.  

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, thank God, have been pulled back from another cliff, by not being persuaded by their radical right flank to turn the Eucharist into a political weapon. For now, they have found the "sane center" of Pope Francis on this issue. As the German-American theologian, Paul Tillich, said, "History has shown that the most terrible crimes against love have been committed in the name of fanatically defended doctrines." As the French theologian, Blaise Paschal, said, "Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction." As Bart Ehrman, American New Testament scholar, said, "There are few things more dangerous than inbred religious certainty." 

Let us pray! 
Dear God, help us find the "sane" center before our need to be "right" and our need to "win" leads to the heresy of  killing of each other in the name of truth!

Tuesday, November 30, 2021



I am almost 78 years old. The wisdom on the streets tells me that it is time to settle down and cut back. Most of us are familiar with the resistance and hesitancy that something new and unknown activates. We know that we have sometimes stood up to it, but more often than not, we have given in to that resistance. As we get older, we seem to give in to that resistance even more easily because (a) we may be tired and (b) "enablers" are a dime a dozen. They expect us to want to shut down. They even encourage us to close up, sit back in our rockers and reminisce about our past glories. Not me! 

Just recently, I turned down invitations to lead priest retreats in Honolulu, Hawaii, and Kalamazoo, Michigan. After doing 160 of them in 9 countries, I did not say "no" because I want to shut down and cut back, but because I want to leave room for something new to manifest itself rather than just keep repeating what I know and what I am comfortable doing. I am tired of airports and airplanes, but I am not tired of being energized by another adventure! I want to stand up to that voice in my own head and those voices that I hear around me that tell me that "it's time to give it up!" 

I wrote about this topic at length a couple of weeks ago, but in this shorter blog post I want to fill in a few gaps and expand it a bit more and tell you about a few people I admire who did some great things in their senior years.

When I left the Cathedral of the Assumption after 14 fabulous years, my motto to self was "Who said you only get one golden age?" I was offered an upscale parish. I turned it down. I wanted something new, not a duplicate of the same adventure I just finished, as if there was a shortage of adventures!  I went back to Saint Meinrad Seminary and created the Institute for Priests and Presbyterates that propelled me into an international adventure that lasted another 15 years. It included several smaller adventures within the larger one: writing a weekly column in our diocesan paper for 15 years, campus ministry for 15 years and conducting 75 Parish Missions. When that adventure ended, I was propelled into another international adventure in the Caribbean missions. When that ended, after 12 trips, because of COVID and a volcano eruption, I took on a project in my home parish: turning a closed school into new Family Life Center.  Now that that dream is coming along nicely and will hopefully be rededicated in late 2022, I am already wondering what new opportunities will present themselves in the time I have left as I go into my 80s.  

Is it foolish not to "act your age" when you are about to turn 78? Hell no! I happen to believe that, if I am open to it, the years ahead could be my most productive yet! I might even manage a couple more "golden ages" before this play is over!  One of the greatest advantages of being single, and there are many, is the freedom that comes with it! I don't need anyone's permission and I don't have to negotiate with anybody. All I have to do is get up enough nerve to "just do it!"

Minoru Saito from Japan became the oldest person to sail solo and non-stop around the world in 2011 at age 77. That circumnavigation was his eighth; Saito began sailing in 1973 and had previously completed 7 solo trips around the globe.

In 1998, John Glenn became the oldest astronaut when he went to space as part of Space Shuttle mission STS-95 at age 77. He did so as a sitting U.S. Senator and spent 11 days in space before returning to Earth.

The oldest person to reach the summit of Mount Everest is Yuichiro Miura who did so at age 80. Miura, who is Japanese, had completed the feat previously at age 70 and again at age 75. He had to overcome a variety of medical issues to complete his journey for the third time, including multiple heart operations, pelvis surgery, and a battle with diabetes. However, these issues don’t seem to be dampen his resolve at all: he plans to make the journey again in 2022 at age 90.

Johnna Quaas from Germany is recognized as the world’s oldest gymnast at age 86. Quaas, who is a retired P.E. teacher, only got her start in the sport at age 56. Quaas says that she doesn’t have any health worries at all and hopes to still be competing at 90. Although she only practices gymnastics twice per week, she makes sure to do some sort of exercise for an hour each day.

Nola Ochs became the oldest college graduate in 2007 at age 95. Ochs completed her Bachelor of General Studies at Fort Hays State University in Kansas and fulfilled her lifelong dream of earning a degree. However, she didn’t stop there. In 2010, at 98 years old, she became the oldest person to receive a master’s degree.

I don't expect to mimic what someone else has done, but I do expect to find that new and unknown something in which to engage.  In order to make room for the things that will bring me life in the future, I have decided to consciously let go of some of the things that brought me life in the past. Life's danger zone is marked by comfort. We gravitate toward comfort, but comfort is not all that it's cracked up to be. If one is to flourish and to thrive, cowardice must be resisted and replaced with that calculated risk that leads to adventure. 


Sunday, November 28, 2021


“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars,
and on earth nations will be in dismay.
People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world.
When these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads
because your redemption is at hand."

Luke 21:25-28,34-36

A whole lot of people these days believe that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Some have even given up on trying to be any better than the miserable "losers" they see all around them even to the point of joining them in their "every dog for himself" hopelessness. Even some so-called Christians, rather than doing the hard work of turning this world around, are actually yearning to see God blow the world up and "get it over with" so they can go to a "better place." While they are waiting for the end to come, they love to wallow in the doom and gloom of apocalyptic readings like we have in today's gospel. They read it selectively and focus on words like "dismay," "perplexed," "fright," "assault" and "tribulations" and overlook the hopeful bottom line about "standing erect and raising your head when these things happen because your redemption is at hand!"

Instead of giving into their brand of lazy despair. the second reading tells us how we are to live while we are here. "May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another, so as to strengthen your hearts at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his holy ones."

Yes, the Scriptures do talk about the painful struggles the world has been though, the painful struggles the world is going through and the painful struggles the world will go through until the end of time, but it also is very clear that you and I are called to "stand erect" and "raise our heads" in face of that struggle because we know where we are headed and we know how these struggles will end! Good will conquer evil! It is no up for grabs! It has already been decided. We need to act as if we know and believe that truth to be a fact! No, we should not be among the "hand-wringing" types!

Yes, even in the midst of the darkest darkness, you and I are called to be "the light of world!" To impress that fact on us, each one of us was given a candle at our baptisms with a share of the flame that was burning atop the big "Christ candle." When a share of that flame was handed to us, these words were said to us. "You have been enlightened by Christ. Walk always as a child of the light and keep the flame of faith alive in your heart." (And in words that are very similar to the words of our second reading, it continues.) "When the Lord comes, may you go out to meet him with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom."

Brothers and sisters! A problem bigger than the darkness of our struggling world is the fact that so many so-called "believers" have forgotten who they are and the seriousness of their calls! The problem is not that evil is more powerful than goodness. The problem is that we have become so ambivalent about the certainty of power of goodness in the face of evil. The problem is that we don't even believe in our own innate goodness as children of God! The problem is that we don't believe the serious of our own baptismal commission - our calls to infect the world with goodness. The truth of the matter is, plain old religious mediocrity is our biggest enemy! Fundamentally, if the world is in such bad shape, it is not because evil is more powerful, but simply because we have a shortage of people willing to stand up to evil, a shortage of saints-in-the-making!

All this reminds me of something I read many years ago. In his classic autobiography, “Seven Story Mountain,” our own Thomas Merton, one of the 20th-century’s most insightful Christian thinkers, recalled a conversation he had after becoming a Christian at the age of 24. Merton’s conversion bewildered and alienated the young and rowdy unconventional crowd he had surrounded himself with, but one friend, the poet Robert Lax, fully appreciated what the weight of Merton’s conversion meant.

Strolling with Merton in Greenwich Village shortly after his conversion, Lax challenged him. "Now that you’ve become a Christian," he asked, “what do you want to be, anyway?” Merton was taken aback by the question. “I don’t know,” he replied, “I guess what I want to be a good Catholic.” "Wrong!" shot back Lax. “What you should say is that you want to be a saint!”

Merton's friend, Robert Lax, got it exactly right. "Go big or go home!" All of us who consider ourselves Christians are called to be saints-in-the-making. Each of us should be aiming for sainthood!. That’s our destiny. For a serious Christian, in my book at least, anything else is just "half-assed religious dabbling!"

There are two religious extremes that I simply cannot tolerate: "tedious and mean religious fanaticism" and "half-assed mediocre religious dabbling!" I don't have much patience for either, for that matter!

I don't like religious fanatics! Religious fanatics never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when the do it from religious conviction. There are few things more dangerous than inbred religious certainty. History has shown that the most terrible crimes against truth have been committed in the name of fanatically defended doctrines.

I don't like religious dabblers either. Religious dabblers try to "have their cake and eat it too." This is what the Book of Revelation says about "religious dabblers." "You are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were one or the other, but since you are neither hot nor cold, but only lukewarm, I will vomit you out of my mouth." Psalm 119 says this about those who "dabble in religion" - "God hates half-heartedness." Dr. Martin Luther Kings said, "Lukewarm acceptance is more bewildering than outright rejection."

The world doesn't need any more cruel religious fanatics or any more religious mediocrity with its hedged bets. What the world needs are more truly committed Christians. To be a Christian is to be counter-cultural, to stand out, to think differently, to act differently and to believe differently. To be a serious Christian means to be able to "stand erect" and to "raise your head" because you believe something else than everybody around you who is stooped over in hopelessness and negativity and can't see beyond the present moment.

What I am trying to say today is this: we do live in a world that appears to be in chaos, but we are called to "stand erect" "with our heads raised" in the midst of all of it because of our trust is in Jesus who said, "I will be with you always!" We are not the kind of people who give up, cave in and go with the flow because we believe that "eyes has not seen, nor ear heard, the great things God has in store for those who love him!"

When I was ordained fifty-one years ago, I knew from day one that I would carry out my ministry in a chaotic world and a turbulent church. I knew what I was getting into so it has come as no surprise. I knew it was going to be tough to keep on "standing erect with my head raised." With all the churning going on even back then, I knew I was going to get "see-sick" from all I could see, so I picked a few things to help me stay focused and retain my peaceful center. (1) I chose the Greek word "sophronismos" from St. Paul's Second Letter to Timothy. Sophronismos means "knowing how to keep your cool" or "knowing how to act in the face of panic." I even picked "sophronismos" as the name of my little publishing company, Sophronismos Press. (2) I love Psalm 1 where it talks about a "tree planted near running water whose leaves never wilt no matter how hot the weather gets, because its roots go deep underground and into that water." I have always prayed to be like that tree. (3) I chose the Quaker hymn, "How Can I Keep From Singing," for my First Mass and I have had sung or played on all 51 of my anniversaries since. All three of those things have been great reminders to "stand up straight" and "keep my head raised" in the midst of turmoil in this country and in this church!   

Let me close my words about "facing the fray with faith" by quoting that hymn once again.

My life flows on in endless song
Above earth´s lamentations,
I hear the real, though far-off hymn
That hails a new creation.

Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear its music ringing,
It sounds and echoes in my soul.
How can I keep from singing?

While though the tempest loudly roars,
I hear the truth, it liveth.
And though the darkness 'round me close,
Songs in the night it giveth.

When tyrants tremble sick with fear
And hear their death knell ringing,
When friends rejoice both far and near
How can I keep from singing?

No storm can shake my inmost calm,
While to that rock I´m clinging.
Since love is lord of heaven and earth
How can I keep from singing?