Intentions of the Holy Father for April

Ecology and Justice. That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
Hope for the Sick. That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver Would Be Very Proud

Sometimes our "culture" can seem more homogeneous than it is, here in the U.S., because of our national media, which tends to project just a few key images. Those images are necessarily a bit stereotypical. Since we all watch the same shows, we tend to absorb, I think, the same national self-image.

But in reality, travel throughout the U.S. shows that even aside from superficial similarities and differences, there are really profoundly different cultures speckling our country.

When I was in Omaha for a summer, I noted something different there, as surely as I did when I lived for a semester in the forests of Westchester County, outside New York City. I note differences in Ohio and Michigan from Nebraska or Virginia. In reality, the very ways of thinking vary across the fifty states as surely as the landscapes.

The Catholic Key Blog posted this article, describing something different going on in the area around Kansas City, MO. One wonders how such a phenomenon starts in a given locality. There must be a story there. In any event, it is a beautiful thing to read about: a local community that somehow came to decide, without voting it seems, but just by knowing, that it would be accepting of people with handicaps. To be fair, America as a whole has come a long way in basic tolerance of people who are weird, unusual, burdened, or struggling. I can see it with my own sister Keelin. When we take her out nowadays, it seems to me that people are much more likely to be understanding (or at least tactfully quiet) of her funny noises or mannerisms than a decade or two ago. Very rarely do others mock her, as was common back then. That is a good thing. Still, something special seems to be happening in the KC-MO culture.


I went to the 360 Tour tonight with a friend who invited me. It was easily the best $40 I've spent in a decade. U2 really knows how to put on a great show. I'll add more about some of their music and themes in later posts.

Those Were Different Days, Huh?

Check out Archbishop Sheen on a quiz show!

A Good Proverb for America

"Bis interimitur qui suis armis perit,"

said Publilius Syrus in the last century before the birth of Our Lord. We as a nation would do well to listen to it as we sell bombs and bombers and God-knows-what-else to anybody who will buy them. How many of our enemies have we armed? Both Saddam Hussein and the Taliban certainly, and maybe Chavez's army. Did we think we could buy their love by arming them to kill our mutual enemies?

"He is slain twice who by his own weapons perishes."

Running Intensity

I am sitting at my dining room table typing this, chowing down on a burger, fries, and yes, a post-run milkshake. Twenty miles tonight. I'm really happy. I always am after a good workout. For the distance runs, a good workout is one that I finish. My friend and marathon-teammate David came up and ran with me, but he's recovering from an injury, or staving one off, so he didn't run the last eight miles as a precaution. Running with others is always easier for me mentally. Running solo, my mind starts playing games with me, and at some point, my body almost always launches psychological warfare against my will. Here are some highlights from tonight's run.

Off the doorstep: I noticed two things. Firstly, it was chilly out. Secondly, my ankles were stiff. This could be unpleasant, I thought.

Mile 1: My ankles felt better, but within a hundred yards of starting, I realized that my perennial friend (whatever I ate last, no matter how long ago it was) intended to visit me on this run. There are 35,200 yards in a twenty mile run.

Mile 3: I noticed again that my friend/running partner, Dave, is a good conversationalist. He works on Capitol Hill and always has interesting anecdotes from his office, and knows a lot more about who did what in Congress than I ever will, so I like hearing about those things from him. He also asks me about my time in seminary, and has questions about the Church. He's a new Catholic, and so it is especially fun to answer those questions for him. New Catholics, I thought, have such a beautiful joy and excitement about everything Catholic, and everything is new to them, and so they are very often joyful and excited. Those of us raised in Holy Church take much more for granted, and are perhaps harder to shock with Church shenanigans - but that is probably less for our stronger consciences and more because of our deeper cynicism or boredom.

Mile 8: We finished our second four-mile loop. It was about 8:30 p.m. and starting to get positively chilly out. It's a new moon tonight, I think, and very dark away from the larger roads. Summer's back is definitely broken, I thought, and whatever else comes this month will be a last hurrah.

Mile 10: I noted that I still felt fine. Excellent. Last year, during the 26.2 mile marathon, I felt great at the halfway point. That I should feel fine at the halfway point of this long training run struck me as a good sign.

Mile 12: David had to stop at the end of twelve miles. He waited at my place, icing his hip and reading, while I finished the last eight miles.

Mile 13: The first mile I ran on my own. I felt great. By now, it was getting quieter out as traffic died down. Provided one has slept enough, if one has to run in the city, or at least my neck of the woods, it seems like late at night is the best time to run. Running after midnight is best, even, because many of the signs turn off, and the traffic lights blink, and the cars tuck into their garages for the night as their owners tuck into bed. The world becomes quiet, and still, and even this most densely populated part of the busiest stretch of road in my county, next to the nation's very busy capital, settles down for the night, and it feels like it did when it was a small town and I was a small child.

Mile 14: The first mile where it occurred to me that I might stop. I decided to offer the mile up instead, but I forget for whom I offered it. Well, God and the Blessed Virgin remember.

Mile 16: I offered this mile up for a friend who recently surprised with with a very kind gift. Both the gift itself and the surprise were immensely encouraging to me. A mile for him and his family seemed the least I could do.

Mile 18: This mile was the first where it started to hurt. My legs felt a bit like logs - and I don't mean the sturdy sort of logs, but the heavy sort. I was pushing myself, and please with my splits, but afraid to slow down, to take it easy. The danger with taking it easy is very much the same as the danger with pushing oneself too hard: one might just stop either way. No, a nice, regulated pace is the way to go, and I was having a hard time regulating myself. I offered this mile for Keelin, my youngest sister, who is autistic, and who is always a great source of joy and sorrow bundled together. This mile hurt more as it went along, and I take that - now as I sit here stretching and slurping a milkshake - as a sign that God was pleased with my little sacrifice for her. I found myself rationalizing slowing down, slowing more, slowing to a st... NO! Alone, in the dark, I felt sobs welling up in my chest: love; regret; physical pain; intense, intense determination like I rarely feel. I ground my teeth together, cursed, and growled, "This one's for KEELIN!" and I pushed myself, or maybe my Father in heaven pushed me, back closer to the right pace, even past the pace, I think.

The mile ended and I was very sorely tempted to stop. I was in front of my house. I was taking a brief and dangerous break to stretch. My legs didn't want to bend or straighten, tense or relax, but just wobble. I bent over to touch my toes and stretch my back. Standing next to my roommate's car, all I could see was his car's tire and my legs and toes. I almost stopped. After all, it was more than I had run last week. It was enough that I was closer to being back on schedule. Who would blame me? I was very tired, and it was getting late, and even cold, after all. I started to pray, "Father, give me strength, please. Father, strengthen my legs and my heart. I am so weak and tired, Father." I tried to say, "Amen," and straighten up. I muttered something far less pious, but much more honest, and maybe in that sense, more pious after all: "Sh*t. Let's just do this &%@#%^$ thing." Not the best way to end a prayer, but probably better than ending the run, and so I hope you will see why I think there may have been a grace bundled up with my mutterings.

Mile 19: I offered for my running parter and his wife, who are expecting their first child. I passed a man walking his dog.

Mile 20: These miles were for my sister Megan, her husband, and their babies. They have two under two years old - talk about studs! I passed the man and his dog again, from the opposite direction. He called out to ask how I was doing. I called back, "Finishing up twenty, and I'm feeling fine." The second part was an exaggeration more than a lie. Oddly enough, as in my days back in school running cross country, my last miles were as good as my first.

The whole twenty miles took me 2 hrs, 58 min, 57 second. That puts me at a pace of 8:55 min/mile, which is fast enough to break a 4 hr marathon by a minute or two. That's OK, but I didn't count the stretch breaks into the time, so I'll need to cut those down, as well as pick up the pace a bit.

That's for tomorrow, though. For tonight, I am going to pop a few ibuprofens, say my prayers, and hit the hay. I've got a few things to do in the morning before I can even think of a nap, so I'll definitely need some z's tonight.

A couple other random thoughts:

(1) A couple with whom I am friends ran their first half-marathon today up in Philly. I'm pretty pumped for them, and hope it went really well. They're really cool people and they have a nice little boy, and are a brother and sister in Christ. They've trained long and hard, and, well, it's cool... no, beautiful, to see such things unfold. More studs.

(2) A good friend of mine is a deacon-seminarian. I posted his first homily back in May because I was so moved by it. He is in residence on weekends at a parish near me, and tomorrow will be preaching the midday Mass. The Archbishop has asked every clergyman in the diocese who preaches tomorrow to preach about same-sex marriage. The issue is really coming to the fore here locally. My friend was sharing some of his thoughts for a homily with me on the phone the other night. Golly, what a hard thing to preach about: both the Church's teaching and the Church's love must shine forth, both are doubted by much of the world and many sitting in the pews, and only words can be used. I want to go hear him preach because he will do a good job. Another stud.

My New Big Idea

I have a big idea. It's been creeping around in my head, like a shadow slipping among shadows in a dark room, over the last months or years. Normally, when I have a big idea, I like to keep it to myself for a couple reasons:

(1) I'd feel lame if I leaked it and someone else did it, even (or especially) independently, and I spent the rest of my life tempted to say, "That was my idea. I thought of it first."

(2) I wouldn't like very much to be the one who has all the great ideas, but never accomplishes very much. Much better just never to accomplish very much, without torturing myself about great ideas that never came to be. If I do not share the idea, the idea is itself less real than the idea that fizzled away before it could blossom into reality.

(3) I am perhaps superstitious on the periphery of my thought - not in my rational calculations, not in my intuitive problem solving, but in the frontiers of reason, where reason blends with emotion and experience and all lurk very near the subconscious. This little bit of superstition is perhaps enough to make me think, or rather feel, that I will jinx my idea if I speak it. I have heard that among Jews it is considered bad luck to name a child before it is born. That Jews often hold a very similar superstition somehow makes me feel exonerated for doing so myself.

(4) The idea needs prayer. It's only now beginning to arise in some definite form in my mind. If God doesn't want it, then how can the likes of me force it through. So it's best to pray first to see if it's His will that I give it a go.

This big idea will not make me rich, nor will likely change the world very much, but like this blog, it may help me systematize some of my thoughts, feelings, and ideas in a way that may, just may, be useful or enjoyable to a few others. That's my hope, anyway. It's a long term idea, anyway. Happily, I'm not going anywhere.


16.24 miles

So it was a rough run, and since last week, I crapped out at 8 on a 16 mile run, 16.24 on an 18 doesn't seem so bad. The biggest single reason was because it was getting late and my roommate (with whom I frequently run) had to get to work. That was a nice excuse, er... press release, for the both of us.

It's called rebuilding from some sloth.

Look out, 20-miler, here I come! And oh, yeah... look out milkshake, I'm headed right for ya!

Punk Monks

View more news videos at:

I love it when we win the hearts of media folks. Perhaps the key to victory, along with prayer and sacrifice, is surprise.


Since 2001, there hasn't been a September 11th in which my eyes have stayed dry for very long.

Christians, we must pray and remind our countrymen that our enemies are not flesh and blood, but powers and principalities (Eph 6:12). Hate, whether its vengeance is fiery and passionate, or cold and calculating, can never be permitted to rule our hearts.

Also, Christians, we must remind them that we know neither the day nor the hour (Mk 13:32), and so must always be ready for death, who comes as a thief in the night (Mt 24:43; Lk 12:39).

Selling Out on Truth

If you get five free minutes, read this article on The Catholic Thing. It is about the progression from fudging on truth into abandonment of love. It is critical of mainstream Catholic relief agencies, whose workers are mostly trained as secular social workers without an eye on God's will and the truth of Catholic moral teaching. Accordingly, these agencies sometimes end up mucking around in the same moral relativism and general nonsense of their secular counterparts.

Coincidentally, Justin Timberlake of all people, has a rapped song with the line, "If you never know truth, you never know love." Holy cow! That might be one of the most profound metaphysical and moral statements possible. I've mentioned it before in this blog, but it it bears repeating: truth is found in amazing places.

The Hound of Heaven

Francis Thompson's poem "The Hound of Heaven" came to my mind and got me thinking.

Last night at my prayer group, a thought came back to me. It had first come to me while I was on retreat at the end of July. I think I need to focus less on doing stuff for God (as if He needed me!) and more on letting Him do stuff for me. That sounds heretical, even blasphemous to our Pelagian, go-getter culture, I am sure. I sounds vaguely backwards to me, too, I must admit. But I think I am good footing here. Jesus said of Himself, "For the Son of Man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many," (Mk 10:45; Mt 20:28). I cannot light a single star in the sky for God, but He can give me divine life, self-control, peace of mind, gentleness toward others, love of virtue, strength of conviction and character, and all the other things that I lack, or that are at best fleeting for me.

That I go to Mass, for instance, is not pleasing to God in the sense of making Him happy. He's in heaven. Maybe He IS heaven, if Heaven is union with Him. If He's not happy (and the Catechism teaches us that He is perfectly so) then what can someone as little as I do to make someone as BIG as Him any happier? Rather, I go to Mass because is it good for me. I do not mean it in a relativist way, as if Mass were good for me, but not for someone else. I do not mean this in a self-centered way. The point of Mass is not to make me happy (although it sometimes does), and I shouldn't stop going if it fails to do so. The point of Mass is to worship God. But I am the sort of creature designed by the Creator to worship Him in a particular way, and will never be fully satisfied with a life oriented in any other direction. So I go to Mass because He commands it, because He made me for it, because He made it for me, and because I need it.

I guess what I am getting at in my own rambling way is that I cannot spend my life trying to please others; doing good to/for others is a very different thing than merely pleasing them. With God, this distinction is even more important. To be perfectly pleasing to God, I'd have to be perfect. Happily, He knows better, even if I do not. It's hard enough to really mean, "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done," let alone to do it myself. While I am still a sinner on this earth, it is probably much better to let Him do it in me, rather than try to do it for Him. I have stopped trying to pile Holy Hour upon Holy Hour and rosary upon rosary. Now, it is time to start asking Him to lead me deeper into prayer, in His own way, and in His own time. "Give us this day our daily bread," (Mt 6:11) and "Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?" (Mt 6:26). It is telling that the response of Mary to the angel was not, "I will do everything that God says," but rather, "Let it be to me according to your word," (Lk 1:38).

Unexpected Gifts

This morning my roommate/marathon-partner, Tom, who is a pilot, took me up on a Cesna for breakfast in York, PA. He's building his flight time and takes these trips regularly. It was a very, very fun time.

After returning home, I drove to visit a friend and his wife for lunch and to help him to prepare to give a lecture at a conference in Peru, speaking Spanish. He doesn't really speak Spanish, but working from his own text translated by the conference organizers, I believe he'll do just fine. It was cool to be able to help him prepare because among the attendees will be a large number of devout families, priests, and a few bishops and cardinals.

When I returned home from lunch and helping my friend prepare for his lecture, I saw an Amazon box sitting on the front step. "Ooooh! Amazon," I thought. I love Amazon deliveries. Even though I am the principal recipient of them at our house, and even though I myself place the orders, deliveries always make me feel special - and I know I am not alone in this, people. But then I grew glum, thinking, "I didn't order anything from Amazon. Shoot, it must be for one of my roommates." I turned it over and read the label, and whaddya know, it was for me, and the return address was that of a friend from my parish. I was too surprised to register. Opening the box, I saw it was a book, Commentary on New Testament Use of the Old Testament. This particular book has been atop my Amazon wishlist since it came out in 2007 and will be a terribly useful reference for biblical scholars for years to come. And this friend bought it for me spontaneously, just because, because he is a kind and generous man - manifested in my mind numerous times long before this, especially with his commitment to the youth of our parish.

I love debts of gratitude. Debts of gratitude are different from debts of account because they are not calculated in dollars and cents and they are not paid back. Rather, they are paid forward, to borrow a nice phrase. They might even be paid forward to the person to whom we feel grateful. But they aren't paid as a matter of obligation, but as a matter of love. A gift freely given inspires in a healthy recipient a free response, in some direction. The repayment or the forward-payment of debts of gratitude is not intended to clear the debt, but to perpetuate it and deepen it, to draw more people into it. There is no tit-for-tat, but rather a response of grace for grace, free gift for free gift, and neither size nor shape are measured against each other. Instead, heart meets heart. Before long, a number of people feel a great desire to give not only their things, but really parts of themselves, as it were, to their neighbors and friends. Instead of lending and repaying money, we invest ourselves and are blessed by others. Gratitude inspires a sort of calculation that is exactly the opposite of either capitalism or socialism. Gratitude builds an economy of love.

There is nothing like gratitude to build those two beautiful forms of charity: piety and friendship. It is really important to do kind and generous things for others. If done selflessly, such deeds are magnanimous and share in the most magnanimous charity ever, that of our Lord for us. It is also really important to let others do kind and generous things for us when they are so moved. The graceful reception of such kindness not only humbles our pride, but may build up the giver's sense of sharing in divine grace, which can only lead to more grace. When we refuse gifts, while there is sometimes a genuine and legitimate desire to avoid unnecessary entanglements, there is also often a refusal to be humbled. What a sad condition!

Lol, all this is to say thanks to those men who blessed me today. I'll put personal notes in the mail. Except to you, Tom. I live with you. That would be dumb. How 'bout I buy you a milkshake after our next run?

Each of us...

"Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary,"
Pope Benedict XVI.