“Unless You Drink the Blood of the Son of Man…”

September 30, 2011

In a continued spirit of fraternal dialogue, I’d like to recommend to you all a really great chapter by Raniero Cantalamessa, the papal household preacher, on the reception of communion under both species.  It pretty much summarizes my thoughts on the matter, and I believe it is well worth the read of everyone.

WD’s WhyTunes, Vol. 4: Gillian Welch

September 29, 2011

Photo by David Noah on flickr

Gillian Welch is one of the great musicians of our time. It is not because she is a technical virtuoso, or because she has great vocal range. It is because more than anyone else she taps into the great aching heart of American music. Read the rest of this entry »

Faith After High School, Part II

September 29, 2011

Here are five more responses.  I’ll post the questions again:

1.  Where do you go to college? What year are you?

2.  Please describe your current faith life (regular mass, daily prayer, involvement in clubs, etc. or lack thereof)

3.  Did Jesuit prepare you well for a life of faith in college? 

4.  Since leaving Jesuit, have you become more or less committed to your faith? 

5.  Since leaving Jesuit, have you become more or less adult and mature in your faith? 

6.  What could Jesuit do better to form you in the Catholic Faith?


1. Texas Christian University. Freshman

2. My current faith life involves going to mass every Sunday. I miss one here or there but I try my best to keep that obligation very steady.

3. Jesuit did a great job but I feel as though once you are on your own, it is very hard to maintain a life of faith unless you are fully committed. I know I have tried to maintain my faith because I realize it is very important, but I do forget occasionally. Read the rest of this entry »

When should we confirm?

September 29, 2011

There’s an old joke about a newly ordained priest whose pastor gives him the task of ending a bat infestation plaguing the church.  The poor young priest tries everything—poison, traps, a call to pest control—but the bats refuse to give up their home among the church’s rafters.  In desperation, the young priest returns to the wise old pastor and says, “Father, I’ve tried everything, but the bats won’t leave the church.”

The old priest smiles, and says, “Oh, Father, the solution is much simpler than you think:  just confirm them!  Then you’ll never see them again.”

For those like myself, who have worked in several different confirmation programs over the years, the joke is more uncomfortable than funny because the proverbial grain of truth it contains is the size of a boulder.  Too often confirmation is treated like a sort of graduation from the Church—an attitude for which, I might add, parents often bear more guilt than teenagers.

While the question of when in one’s life the sacrament of confirmation should be celebrated is not the sort of issue likely to make it into the New York Times, it is theologically more intriguing than the hot-button attention-grabbers.  Fargo’s Bishop Samuel Aquila this summer offered a strong case for changing the order in which the sacraments of initiation are normally conferred.

Read the rest of this entry »

Young Adults and Faith After High School

September 27, 2011

I — or rather some former students and friends of mine — are going to offer a series of posts on how they are experiencing their faith life in college after Catholic school — in this case, Jesuit High School in New Orleans.  Since I taught several Senior theology classes, I have been able to keep in touch with many of these excellent men, and I would like you to listen to them as we all reflect on the future Church.  According to recent polls, after the sexual abuse crisis and the shortage of priests, the lack of participation of our youth ranks third on the list of greatest concerns of the lay faithful. So I think we should listen to what they have to say.

I sent out the following list of questions:

1.  Where do you go to college? What year are you?

2.  Please describe your current faith life (regular mass, daily prayer, involvement in clubs, etc. or lack thereof)

3.  Did Jesuit prepare you well for a life of faith in college? 

4.  Since leaving Jesuit High School, have you become more or less committed to your faith? 

5.  Since leaving Jesuit, have you become more or less adult and mature in your faith? 

6.  What could Jesuit High School do better to form you in the Catholic Faith?

So far, well over thirty have responded and the number keeps climbing.  I could have asked better questions; I sent out the survey on a whim.  But be that as it may, they have offered some wonderful answers, so please listen.  You may respond, and if you want to respond to a particular young man, go ahead and post and I will alert him to your post. All posts will be anonymous.

I will post 4 at a time.  Enjoy as you read, and again, I (and they) very much welcome your comments.


1.  Sophomore at Auburn University

2.  I attend Sunday Mass as often as possible and am a part of the Catholic group on campus, however I do not participate too much in that.  I have been involved in multiple service projects on campus as well. Read the rest of this entry »

Elijah the Prophet, Jesus the Lord

September 27, 2011

Today’s Gospel reading happens to correspond to a presentation that I recently made in one of my classes on Luke’s use of Elijah imagery in his Gospel.  Luke’s use of Elijah is complex.  He does not make a simply one-to-one typological correspondence, but rather seems as concerned to contrast Jesus and Elijah as compare them.  Luke contrasts Elijah and Jesus not to criticize Elijah, but rather to show that Jesus is something more than a prophet.  Jesus is the Lord, and a Messiah who will bring salvation to all people, not through violence but through the cross.

Jesus explicitly invokes Elijah (and Elisha) in Luke 4:16-30. Here, he reverses the people’s expectations that the Messiah would be a warrior king who would bring God’s blessings on Israel and his wrath on her enemies.  Jesus first reads a messianic passage from Isaiah about the blessings the Messiah will bring, and says that this passage is fulfilled in their hearing.  This accords with people’s hopes and expectations.  But then, he invokes Elijah and Elisha who gave God’s blessings to Gentiles, to say that God’s blessings will be extended outside of Israel.  This contradicts the people’s hopes and expectations about membership in the Kingdom of God, and provokes their wrath.

Again in Luke 7:11-17, the raising of the son of the widow of Nain, there are allusions to Elijah raising the son of the widow who fed him during the famine (1 Kings 17:17-24).  Here, though, there are notable discontinuities.  Elijah uses almost magical efforts to raise the boy–laying upon him and three times breathing upon him (according to the Greek Old Testament which Luke would have used), completed by a powerful plea to the Lord (kyrios in the Greek Old Testament) to raise the boy.  By contrast, Jesus simply commands the boy and he is raised.  Elijah must beg the Lord for the miracle, whereas Jesus simply commands.  Significantly, Luke calls Jesus only “kyrios” in this passage.  Elijah must call on the Lord, Jesus is the Lord. Read the rest of this entry »

The Chalice and Eucharistic Faith

September 26, 2011

Nathan said some important things about Bishop Olmsted’s recent decision in his post on Liturgical Minimalism in Phoenix.  I’ve got some different thoughts that I share here.

Even in this section of the GIRM dealing with “Communion Under Both Kinds” (281-287), there is much anxiety for the proper catechesis of the people about Eucharistic doctrine.

Rightly so, for the expansion of communion under both species was a stunning capitulation, in liturgical practice if not in theology, to Protestant arguments in favor of communion in both species.  The Catholic Church vigorously opposed these arguments for over 500 years, since the practice was condemned by the ecumenical Council of Constance in 1415 in response to the Utraquist controversy prompted by John Wyclif and John Hus.  Martin Luther listed the denial of both species to the faithful as one of three “captivities” of the sacrament of the Eucharist, along with the doctrine of transubstantiation and the sacrifical understanding of the Mass (James T. O’Connor, The Hidden Manna: A Theology of the Eucharist, 2nd ed., Ignatius Press, 2005, 130-135).

The GIRM is concerned above all that the faithful be properly instructed on the lynchpin of the Catholic response as formulated at the Council of Trent, namely that:

 “Christ, whole and entire, and the true Sacrament, is received even under only one species, and consequently that as far as the effects are concerned, those who receive under only one species are not deprived of any of the grace that is necessary for salvation”  (282). Read the rest of this entry »

God’s Forgiveness and the Two Sons

September 25, 2011

This little parable (Matt. 21:28-32) from Jesus is more complicated than it first appears. It seems pretty cut and dried when compared with the other parables of Jesus that tend to shock us or twist the meanings of words and situations. This one seems straight forward, the first son, who says “no” to his father, but eventually goes and works in the vineyard seems to be the one who does the will of his father. The one who says “yes” but then shirks his duties is the scoundrel.

To our 21st century American ears, it’s pretty easy to determine which of the two sons did the will of the father. The first one. However, to the ears of the listeners of Jesus in first century Palestine things were a bit more complicated. In a way, both sons brought shame and disgrace to the father. The first son commits the heinous sin of saying no directly to the face of his father. In a culture where family hierarchy was more stratified, this is an unpardonable offense, even if he changes his mind. To publicly say “no” to the face of one’s father was one of the worst things the first son could have done. And his going and working in the vineyard, to the minds of the earliest Christians who would have heard this gospel message from Matthew, would not have made up for or atoned for his betrayal of the father. Read the rest of this entry »

Homily for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

September 24, 2011


A man had two sons.  He came to first and said, ‘Son go out and work in the vineyard today.’  He said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterward changed his mind and went.  The man came to the other son and gave the same order.  He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but did not go. (Mt 21:29-30)

For the folks at the Gesu Parish in Miami …

There’s an interesting lack of parallelism in the histories of the two sons.  The first son responds to his father’s command in three stages.  He 1) replies ‘I will not,’ 2) ‘changes his mind,’ and 3) goes to the vineyard.  The second son is almost a mirror image of the first son: he 1) replies ‘Yes, sir’ but then 2) does not go to the vineyard.  Intriguingly, even though the second also does the opposite of what he initially promised, Jesus does not say that he ‘changed his mind.’  He mentions no moment of decision, no conscious rebellion against his father.  We only know that he didn’t end up going to the vineyard.

It’s the fact that the second son seems to drift away from his Father’s will so gently, so indecisively—maybe even unconsciously—that makes his story so effective as a cautionary tale. Read the rest of this entry »

Liturgical Minimalism in Phoenix

September 23, 2011

As has already been well publicized, Bishop Olmstead of Phoenix has decided to restrict the reception of Holy Communion under both species to “important occasions,” i.e., “the Chrism Mass, Holy Thursday, the Feast of Corpus Christi, retreats, spiritual gatherings, weddings, and more.”

A question and answer has been published for those who would like further explanation of these restrictions.  That can be found at diocesephoenix.org.

The legitimacy of this decision comes from the 2003 General Instruction of the Roman Missal, # 283:

283. In addition to those cases given in the ritual books, Communion under both kinds is permitted for a. Priests who are not able to celebrate or concelebrate Mass; b. The deacon and others who perform some duty at the Mass; c. Members of communities at the conventual Mass or “community” Mass, along with seminarians, and all who are engaged in a retreat or are taking part in a spiritual or pastoral gathering.

The Diocesan Bishop may establish norms for Communion under both kinds for his own diocese, which are also to be observed in churches of religious and at celebrations with small groups. The Diocesan Bishop is also given the faculty to permit Communion under both kinds whenever it may seem appropriate to the priest to whom, as its own shepherd, a community has been entrusted, provided that the faithful have been well instructed and there is no danger of profanation of the Sacrament or of the rite’s becoming difficult because of the large number of participants or some other reason.

The communications office for the diocese of Phoenix stresses the conditions for reception under both forms: First, if the faithful have been well instructed.  Second, if there is no danger of profanation of the Sacrament.  Under “conditions,” the release continues by emphasizing “the practical need to avoid obscuring the role of the priest and the deacon” by having too many extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist.”

As a Jesuit, I suppose that I should be agreeing with attempts towards liturgical minimalism.  However, in this case, I cannot honestly see the purpose.  The Bishop has the legitimate authority to expand the reception of both species at every Sunday Mass, and so his appeal to the authority of the GIRM to implement norms “in keeping with new universal Church standards” is a personal decision, not one required by Church law.

For the most part I don’t agree with the reasons given for the restriction. Read the rest of this entry »

Roll Away Your Stone — Mumford and Sons

September 23, 2011

Since I’m on a roll, here’s another great song for prayer, at a slightly quicker tempo.

“Roll Away Your Stone”

Roll away your stone I’ll roll away mine
Together we can see what we will find
Don’t leave me alone at this time
For I am afraid of what I will discover inside

you told me that I would find a home
Within the fragile substance of my soul
And I have filled this void with things unreal
And all the while my character it steals

Darkness is a harsh term don’t you think?
Yet it dominates the things I see

It seems that all my bridges have been burned
But you say, “That’s exactly how this grace thing works”
It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart
But the welcome I receive with every start

Darkness is a harsh term don’t you think?
And yet it dominates the things I see
Darkness is a harsh term don’t you think?
And yet it dominates the things I see

Stars hide your fires
For these here are my desires
And I won’t give them up to you this time around
And so I’ll be found
With my stake stuck in the ground
Marking the territory of this newly impassioned soul

And you, you’ve gone too far this time
You have neither reason nor rhyme
With which to take this soul that is so rightfully mine

Praying with Samson and Regina Spektor

September 22, 2011

For the past two or three years, Samson has been my favorite Old Testament character. He has captured my imagination, particularly in my prayer life.  He has come to represent for me all that Paul speaks about in Romans 7, about the struggle that goes on within ourselves that we find ourselves unable to overcome.  And fortunately, now that Regina Spektor has come out with a hauntingly beautiful song about him, I no longer have to gag my way through the Plain White T’s “Hey There Delilah.”

It’s hard to know exactly whom Spektor is alluding to in the song.  She seems to sing about a prior relationship that Samson had, a relationship with a woman who loved him without betrayal, who cut his hair, not out of betrayal, but out of love.  Samson was thus her downfall, since, having taken a Nazirite vow, he could not love her fully and completely. Read the rest of this entry »

Marriage Wars

September 20, 2011

On a transatlantic flight this summer, I found myself watching Bride Wars—not, to be sure, my first choice for entertainment.

The movie was nothing special:  a scheduling glitch turns best friends Anne Hathaway and Kate Hudson into enemies when their weddings at the Plaza Hotel end up falling on the same day; after ruining each other’s ceremonies, in the end, they reconcile.  At around the same time I saw the movie, the New York legislature was voting to legalize gay “marriage,” which made me take the film a bit more seriously than I might have otherwise.  (And probably more seriously than the film deserved.)

One line in particular struck me as off.  As they sit giggling and awed in her office, famed wedding planner Marion St. Claire (Candice Bergen) tells the brides-to-be, “A wedding marks the first day of the rest of your lives.”

The line rang a false note because both of the future brides were already living with their boyfriends, and had been for some time, so it was hard to see what was going to change so radically in their lives.  For both of the women, the wedding itself—the party and ceremony and dresses and flowers and location—was what really mattered, not any change in lifestyle or family structure.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Priesthood of Mary

September 19, 2011

Here’s a very interesting article on the priesthood of Mary.  The full text can be found here. I’ll insert the beginning below.  You’ll note that the author continues to claim near the end of the article that Mary was not “ordained.”  Nor however does she simply share in the common priesthood of the faithful.  Rather she is the socia Christi, an “associate of Christ,” a title attributed to her by Pseudo-Albert and taken up by Blessed Pope Pius IX.  The author explains:

It was Mary’s maternity which conferred this sacerdotal quality on her mission.  Her maternity in relation to Christ made her an associate in all his functions and permitted her to offer a victim which belonged to her.  Her maternity in relation to us was possible only because she obtained for us the supernatural life through the sacrifice of her son.  Mary’s sacerdotal role is marked with a feminine and maternal nuance, as were all her other functions.

Her priesthood is not by virtue of ordination but by virtue of her maternity of Christ. This I take it allows him to avoid the sticky question of woman’s ordination.  Notice though that by arguing for Mary’s capacity as a woman to perform the priestly actions of her son, the author removes from the discussion the issue of masculinity that we find so prevalent in author’s like Balthasar.

Mary’s Priestly Dimension

by Brother John M. Samaha, S.M. Read the rest of this entry »

Homily for the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A

September 18, 2011


For the folks at Gesu in Miami:

Today’s parable gives us, among other things, Christ’s own perspective on the vice of envy.  When the landowner finally poses the question as Christ would pose it—“Are you envious because I am generous?” (Mt 20:15)—envy suddenly strikes as faintly ridiculous.  We almost feel embarrassed for the first-hour laborers.  They have no leg to stand on.  They are treated justly.  The good fortune of the eleventh-hour laborers in no diminishes their wages.  And the owner of the vineyard has every right to spend his money as he pleases.

Still, no matter how ridiculous envy appears from within this Gospel perspective, we also know how easily we fall into it.  If we’ve ever criticized another to make ourselves feel better, if we’ve ever found ourselves sad or bored while someone else is being praised, if we’ve ever followed celebrity gossip pages just to take some comfort from their personal failures, then we’ve also fallen into envy.  That is, we’ve felt sorrow at others’ good fortune, or satisfaction in their bad fortune.

A question arises: how do we tackle a vice like envy, a vice that’s more like an attitude, a tendency, a feeling?  Today’s Gospel gives us some tips for 1) getting to the source of the problem, and 2) for correcting it. Read the rest of this entry »

Zillions of Talents

September 14, 2011

Fr. Pidel’s Homily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time speaks of “the ‘huge amount’ that we all owe the Father for our very existence and for our redemption.”  I want to add something about how huge that amount really is.

Last Sunday’s Gospel, the parable of the two servants, contains one of my biggest translation peeves in the US Lectionary.  We are told that the first servant owed “a huge amount” (Mt 18:24), which he could not repay, and so his master had compassion on him and forgave his debt.

The Revised Standard Version more accurately renders this “ten thousand talents,” reflecting the Greek, which says “muriōn talantōn.”

The first word there might be recognizable even if you don’t know much Greek, as it comes to us in English as “myriad.”  While it is true that it can mean the number 10,000 (actually, it’s the largest number that can be expressed in Greek with a single word), more generally it means “numberless, countless, infinite” (according to the Liddell-Scott Greek-English Lexicon).

Even more vividly, the Bauer-Danker Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature translates it as “zillion” (“in our lit[erature] used hyperbolically, as in Engl[lish] informal usage ‘zillion,’ of an extremely large or incalculable number”).  So here, “zillions of talents.”

That’s considerably more vivid, and a lot larger, than “a huge amount.”

Just to give some perspective: Thucydides, in his History of the Peloponnesian War, lists the assets and income of Athens at the height of her strength and as their epic war with Sparta was beginning:  “on an average six hundred talents of tribute were coming in yearly from the allies to the city… and there were at this time still on hand in the Acropolis six thousand talents of coined silver (the maximum amount had been nine thousand seven hundred talents)” (II 13.3, translated by C.F. Smith, Loeb Classical Library Edition).

So this poor man owes zillions of talents, and even taking it literally as 10,000 talents, that is more than the maximum contained in the Acropolis of Athens!

The point of course is that this is a ridiculous amount, utterly impossible to repay.  His only hope is for his master to have mercy on him and forgive his debt.  (And what does it say about the wealth and power of the master that he can forgive such a debt!)  By contrast, the second servant owes a hundred denarii (US Lectionary: “a much smaller amount”), which is a hundred days’ wages: a paltry amount by comparison, quite possible to repay with a little time and forbearance.  The disproportion between what he has been forgiven and what he is owed is beyond all measuring.

Understanding these proportions makes clear the limitless extent of God’s Divine Mercy.  We are such debtors, who owe God more than we can possibly repay.  Our only hope is in his mercy, which we receive in abundance, greater even than the uncountable myriad–the zillions–that we owe.

Homily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

September 11, 2011


For the folks at Gesu Parish in Miami, FL.

Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive?

It’s hard not to see some providence in the fact that Peter’s question falls on the tenth anniversary of the tragic attacks on the World Trade Center.  And in this context, Jesus’ uncompromising response becomes especially provocative—“Not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”  Though many since 9/11 have attacked Christianity on the grounds that religion fosters violence and hate; today’s Gospel, ironically, exposes the faith to the exact opposite charge—that it is too longsuffering and too impractical for the “real world.”

The exact opposite is, of course, true.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus insists that that we respond to sin with endless forgiveness, because it is the only realistic response.  In order see how this is true, however, we must talk about 1) what forgiveness isn’t and 2) and how prayer makes forgiveness possible. Read the rest of this entry »

Spiritual Direction and Confession

September 11, 2011

“Confession is not spiritual direction.”

This is a principle that I have followed and a maxim that I have often repeated.  By this I mean that in confession, people generally need only some brief counsel, encouragement, and absolution.  Of course, the sacrament of penance is private and personal, and there are many situations that would require something different.  But I had thought it a sound principle to distinguish clearly these two different activities.

I might have to revise this thinking in light of what I have learned from reading the Congregation for the Clergy’s recent document “The Priest, Minister of Divine Mercy: An Aid for Confessors and Spiritual Directors.”  This document was dated March 9, 2011, but seems to have received very little attention.  This is probably for several reasons.  First, there is nothing controversial in it (unlike the 1997 Vademecum for Confessors Concerning Some Aspects of the Morality of Conjugal Life–which remains in my opinion the wisest, most useful, and practical instruction for confessors, not only on the particular topic it addresses but for the general principles it provides).  Read the rest of this entry »

Stand or Kneel; God Our Mother; 9/11

September 10, 2011


GIRM # 43 states:

…In the Diocese of the United States of America, they should kneel beginning after the singing or recitation of the Sanctus until after the Amen of the Eucharistic Prayer, except when prevented on occasion by reasons of health, lack of space, the large number of people present or some other good reason. Those who do not kneel ought to make a profound bow when the priest genuflects after the consecration. The faithful kneel after the Agnus Dei unless the diocesan Bishop determines otherwise.

However, I am in Berkeley, California, and this instruction is not followed.  And GIRM #’s 95 and 96 state:

95. In the celebration of Mass the faithful form a holy people, a people whom God has made his own, a royal priesthood, so that they may give thanks to God and offer the spotless Victim not only through the hands of the priest but also together with him, and so that they may learn to offer themselves. They should, moreover, endeavor to make this clear by their deep religious sense and their charity toward brothers and sisters who participate with them in the same celebration.

Thus, they are to shun any appearance of individualism or division, keeping before their eyes that they have only one Father in heaven and accordingly are all brothers and sisters to each other. Read the rest of this entry »

Please Welcome Our New Author

September 9, 2011

I would like to invite you all to welcome with me a new contributor to Whosoever Desires, Fr. Matthew Monnig, SJ.  Fr. Monnig and I have been friends for several years, ever since we both suffered through ancient Greek together at the University of Chicago five years ago.  Since then he has been ordained and recently completed three years in Rome at the Biblicum.  He is now just beginning his doctorate in New Testament at Duke University.  I personally very much look forward to his contributions on the blog.