The Calling of Peter and Andrew

The Calling of Peter and Andrew
The Calling of Peter and Andrew by Domenico Ghirlandaio, (Fresco, 1481-1482, Sistine Chapel)

Monday, September 1, 2014

Who Are the "Men of Galilee" Today?

A.  The bishops, as successors of the Apostles.
B.  All followers of Jesus Christ, men and women, both ordained and lay.
C.  Catholic men.
D.  Keep reading.
Go back and remember what your priest or deacon preached about yesterday’s Gospel at Mass.  (Reminder: Peter = Satan, somehow; pick up your cross and die, etc.)  Okay, it’s likely from  the context that Our Lord said this to the twelve Apostles and perhaps a larger circle, but He probably did not announce it to a large crowd of disciples, much less to a mixed crowd of followers and the merely curious.  So, perhaps it was just for the Twelve.  We probably don’t buy that, if for no other reason than that Christ’s statements here eventually entered the inspired text of Matthew’s Gospel, to be heard and read by lots of people for the next two millennia, and explained and preached by some very fine Churchmen as applying, at least in part, to all Christians.
I chose the title “Men of Galilee” for a blog addressed to Catholic men, and so you’ve probably concluded that I voted for “C” above, and that I’m wrong.  Otherwise, Christ’s words to the “daughters of Jerusalem” (Luke 23:28) are pertinent only to women, or only to Jewish women, or only to Jewish women residing in Jerusalem who are witnesses to Christ’s Passion.
So is there anything particular to any particular group smaller than all of Christ’s followers in yesterday’s passage, or any other portion of the Gospel?  Careful!  Jesus’ teaching about the poor: only about the poor, or only about certain kinds of poor, or about everybody because, gosh, aren’t we all poor?  W.S. Gilbert cautions (in “The Gondoliers”), “If everyone is somebody, then no one’s anybody.”  We preachers, at least, can be a bit clumsy in our exegetical universalism. 
I would be amazed if this seemingly arcane reflection is not reminding you of a matter that is by no means insignificant and, indeed, has become white-hot over the past several decades.  That is, does the Church’s insistence on the male-only priesthood rest on the anachronistic foundation of His restrictions in choosing only males for The Twelve?  As some would retort, did He therefore also intend that the Church’s future leadership consist only fishermen, tax collectors, or zealots? 
I’m not going there today.  (Though I drive a Jeep, I do prefer a dodge from time to time.)  We will need to address this topic in the days ahead, but let’s reel in our topic for today.
I will argue in the upcoming Monday* entries to this blog that Christ’s choice of a band of men to be His apostolic brothers and leaders of the Church was intentional and of lasting significance.  Yes, “B” above is correct, in part, as is “A.”  My focus will be on “C.”  My invitation is “D.”
[*Mondays on this blog are devoted to “A View to the Horizon from the Galilee Shore,” focusing on issues of discipleship, brotherhood, and fraternal leadership in our Church and culture as Catholic men.]

Saturday, August 30, 2014


On Saturdays, the focus of this blog will be “Men Preparing for Sunday Mass”: Understanding, participating in, and appropriating the full graces of the Mass as Catholic men.

When you stand at Mass, stand like you mean it.

This may seem like a rather paltry bit of advice to Catholic men as they attend Mass.  And no, this is not a guide to proper liturgical posture.

Well, actually, it is.

A man comes to Mass to stand before His Lord and Savior, offering praise, thanksgiving, repentance, petitions … and himself.  Romans 12:1: “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”  A man standing at Mass is a man standing at attention.  “Attending” is a word used for servants and soldiers.  Standing is a posture of loyalty and readiness.  A Catholic man at Mass is prepared to receive, prepared to offer.

When a seminarian learns how to preside at Mass, the professors do not hesitate to instruct him in his posture, his “bearing.”  No slouching allowed at the Altar or the Chair.  We are attending to God as His priestly ministers.  (And now, are you ready for some behind-the-scenes Priest Trivia? A future priest is taught to stand with the back of his legs slightly pressed against the front edge of his chair, for reasons that I hope are obvious.  I once saw a priest at Mass sit back down onto nothingness, and that was enough to convince me to observe the ol’ leg-against-chair trick.)

And have you noticed that I am not venturing near the kneeling-vs.-standing issue that crops up from time to time?   Another topic, for another day.  But allow me to note that I have observed men kneeling at Mass in a reverent, even obsequious manner, only to rise into a slouch worthy of the most bored of teenagers. 

Outward posture reflects  --  and shapes  --  inward disposition.  Do we understand what is happening at every Mass?  Something worth standing for attentively.  Someone worth standing before attentively.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Go Once a Month.*

Each Friday, this blog will focus on “Men Preparing for Confession”: Practical advice for Catholic men in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

That asterisk is for all the additional things that must be said:
  •  A Catholic must go to Confession as often as he has committed a mortal sin.
  • A Catholic must go to Confession at least once a year, traditionally before Easter (the “Easter Duty”), in fulfillment of one of the Precepts of the Church.
  • A Catholic may choose to go to Confession more frequently than once a month, according to his spiritual condition and the counsel of his Confessor.  Many Catholic men do.

With those asterisks covered, let’s get back to my counsel for men about going to Confession once a month.  Why monthly?
  1. Confession once a month is frequent enough to measure your progress, and infrequent enough to give you time to make progress.  As many saints have said about the moral life, real change is typically slow change.  It’s not that God cannot act immediately, but our own souls tend to be sluggish.  Moreover, if our sin is habitual, we all know how hard it is to break a bad habit all at once.
  2. We live in a world of calendars and schedules.  This coming Monday is September 1.  Okay, so it’s a new month, time to get to Confession.  We don’t need to mull over our spiritual condition, should I go, maybe, maybe not.  Rather, it’s the start of a new month, time for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Period.
  3. A month provides enough duration to make a specific resolution, and then return to review how you’ve done in keeping that resolution.  I frequently recommend to penitents, “After you’ve prayed your Penance, give the Lord a few extra minutes back in the Church to listen prayerfully to the Holy Spirit, asking Him if He has any concrete direction for you.  Try not to leave the Church before you’ve made a clear resolution about one of the sins you’ve just confessed.”  It might be as simple as resolving not to look at your computer or cellphone after 9:00 p.m., or resolving to visit the Blessed Sacrament in a neighborhood Church each afternoon on your way home from work.  So many Catholic men are frustrated, and even despairing, that they come back to Confession again and again with the same sins.   God has a pathway to moral freedom.  Listen to Him as He shows you the next step to take.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

ISIS, the Persecution of Christians, and the Execution of James Foley: How Shall a Catholic Father Prepare His Children?

Thursdays on this blog are focused on “Interpreting the Signs of the Times”: Reviews of movies, books, art, and media of interest to Catholic men.

Teach them a poem.

Each Friday I meet with a wonderful group of home-schooled children and their parents.  We have Confessions, Mass, lunch, and then I offer a short conference on various subjects.  The children are bright, and we will soon be embarking on the task of memorizing G. K. Chesterton’s great poem, “Lepanto” (1915).*  No, I don’t expect the youngest children to memorize more than a portion of this piece, but I have also learned never to underestimate the capacity of little ones to commit a great poem or story to memory.  Our goal is to have a joint recitation of “Lepanto” on October 7, the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, traditionally known as the Feast of Our Lady of Victory.  Pope St. Pius V established this Feast in 1573.  The purpose was to thank God for the remarkable naval victory of the outnumbered Christians over the Turks at Lepanto, off the coast of western Greece, on Oct. 7, 1571  -- a victory attributed to the praying of the Rosary.

We will need more than poems in this present darkness.  Nevertheless, a mighty song of victory, through the intercession of Our Lady of Victory, is no small arrow in the quiver of Catholic men and their children today.

*For more information about the Battle of Lepanto and a detailed explanation of Chesterton’s poem, see Lepanto by G.K. Chesterton, with Explanatory Notes and Commentary, Dale Ahlquist, Editor (Ignatius Press, 2004).  See also H.W. Crocker III, “Lepanto, 1571: The Battle that Saved Europe” (


By G. K. Chesterton 1874–1936
White founts falling in the courts of the sun,
And the Soldan of Byzantium is smiling as they run;
There is laughter like the fountains in that face of all men feared,
It stirs the forest darkness, the darkness of his beard,
It curls the blood-red crescent, the crescent of his lips,
For the inmost sea of all the earth is shaken with his ships.
They have dared the white republics up the capes of Italy,
They have dashed the Adriatic round the Lion of the Sea,
And the Pope has cast his arms abroad for agony and loss,
And called the kings of Christendom for swords about the Cross,
The cold queen of England is looking in the glass;
The shadow of the Valois is yawning at the Mass;
From evening isles fantastical rings faint the Spanish gun,
And the Lord upon the Golden Horn is laughing in the sun.

Dim drums throbbing, in the hills half heard,
Where only on a nameless throne a crownless prince has stirred,
Where, risen from a doubtful seat and half attainted stall,
The last knight of Europe takes weapons from the wall,
The last and lingering troubadour to whom the bird has sung,
That once went singing southward when all the world was young,
In that enormous silence, tiny and unafraid,
Comes up along a winding road the noise of the Crusade.
Strong gongs groaning as the guns boom far,
Don John of Austria is going to the war,
Stiff flags straining in the night-blasts cold
In the gloom black-purple, in the glint old-gold,
Torchlight crimson on the copper kettle-drums,
Then the tuckets, then the trumpets, then the cannon, and he comes.
Don John laughing in the brave beard curled,
Spurning of his stirrups like the thrones of all the world,
Holding his head up for a flag of all the free.
Love-light of Spain—hurrah!
Death-light of Africa!
Don John of Austria
Is riding to the sea.

Mahound is in his paradise above the evening star,
(Don John of Austria is going to the war.)
He moves a mighty turban on the timeless houri’s knees,
His turban that is woven of the sunset and the seas.
He shakes the peacock gardens as he rises from his ease,
And he strides among the tree-tops and is taller than the trees,
And his voice through all the garden is a thunder sent to bring
Black Azrael and Ariel and Ammon on the wing.
Giants and the Genii,
Multiplex of wing and eye,
Whose strong obedience broke the sky
When Solomon was king.

They rush in red and purple from the red clouds of the morn,
From temples where the yellow gods shut up their eyes in scorn;
They rise in green robes roaring from the green hells of the sea
Where fallen skies and evil hues and eyeless creatures be;
On them the sea-valves cluster and the grey sea-forests curl,
Splashed with a splendid sickness, the sickness of the pearl;
They swell in sapphire smoke out of the blue cracks of the ground,—
They gather and they wonder and give worship to Mahound.
And he saith, “Break up the mountains where the hermit-folk can hide,
And sift the red and silver sands lest bone of saint abide,
And chase the Giaours flying night and day, not giving rest,
For that which was our trouble comes again out of the west.
We have set the seal of Solomon on all things under sun,
Of knowledge and of sorrow and endurance of things done,
But a noise is in the mountains, in the mountains, and I know
The voice that shook our palaces—four hundred years ago:
It is he that saith not ‘Kismet’; it is he that knows not Fate ;
It is Richard, it is Raymond, it is Godfrey in the gate!
It is he whose loss is laughter when he counts the wager worth,
Put down your feet upon him, that our peace be on the earth.”
For he heard drums groaning and he heard guns jar,
(Don John of Austria is going to the war.)
Sudden and still—hurrah!
Bolt from Iberia!
Don John of Austria
Is gone by Alcalar.

St. Michael’s on his mountain in the sea-roads of the north
(Don John of Austria is girt and going forth.)
Where the grey seas glitter and the sharp tides shift
And the sea folk labour and the red sails lift.
He shakes his lance of iron and he claps his wings of stone;
The noise is gone through Normandy; the noise is gone alone;
The North is full of tangled things and texts and aching eyes
And dead is all the innocence of anger and surprise,
And Christian killeth Christian in a narrow dusty room,
And Christian dreadeth Christ that hath a newer face of doom,
And Christian hateth Mary that God kissed in Galilee,
But Don John of Austria is riding to the sea.
Don John calling through the blast and the eclipse
Crying with the trumpet, with the trumpet of his lips,
Trumpet that sayeth ha!
Domino gloria!
Don John of Austria
Is shouting to the ships.

King Philip’s in his closet with the Fleece about his neck
(Don John of Austria is armed upon the deck.)
The walls are hung with velvet that, is black and soft as sin,
And little dwarfs creep out of it and little dwarfs creep in.
He holds a crystal phial that has colours like the moon,
He touches, and it tingles, and he trembles very soon,
And his face is as a fungus of a leprous white and grey
Like plants in the high houses that are shuttered from the day,
And death is in the phial, and the end of noble work,
But Don John of Austria has fired upon the Turk.
Don John’s hunting, and his hounds have bayed—
Booms away past Italy the rumour of his raid
Gun upon gun, ha! ha!
Gun upon gun, hurrah!
Don John of Austria
Has loosed the cannonade.

The Pope was in his chapel before day or battle broke,
(Don John of Austria is hidden in the smoke.)
The hidden room in man’s house where God sits all the year,
The secret window whence the world looks small and very dear.
He sees as in a mirror on the monstrous twilight sea
The crescent of his cruel ships whose name is mystery;
They fling great shadows foe-wards, making Cross and Castle dark,
They veil the plum├Ęd lions on the galleys of St. Mark;
And above the ships are palaces of brown, black-bearded chiefs,
And below the ships are prisons, where with multitudinous griefs,
Christian captives sick and sunless, all a labouring race repines
Like a race in sunken cities, like a nation in the mines.
They are lost like slaves that sweat, and in the skies of morning hung
The stair-ways of the tallest gods when tyranny was young.
They are countless, voiceless, hopeless as those fallen or fleeing on
Before the high Kings’ horses in the granite of Babylon.
And many a one grows witless in his quiet room in hell
Where a yellow face looks inward through the lattice of his cell,
And he finds his God forgotten, and he seeks no more a sign—
(But Don John of Austria has burst the battle-line!)
Don John pounding from the slaughter-painted poop,
Purpling all the ocean like a bloody pirate’s sloop,
Scarlet running over on the silvers and the golds,
Breaking of the hatches up and bursting of the holds,
Thronging of the thousands up that labour under sea
White for bliss and blind for sun and stunned for liberty.
Vivat Hispania!
Domino Gloria!
Don John of Austria
Has set his people free!

Cervantes on his galley sets the sword back in the sheath
(Don John of Austria rides homeward with a wreath.)
And he sees across a weary land a straggling road in Spain,
Up which a lean and foolish knight forever rides in vain,
And he smiles, but not as Sultans smile, and settles back the blade....
(But Don John of Austria rides home from the Crusade.)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

When You Start Being a Pope, You Don’t Stop Being a Priest…

 … but you may have a few more things to say to your brother priests.

(Wednesdays on this blog are “Priest to Priest,” an opportunity for priests to encourage and exhort other priests.  Laymen are welcome to listen in!)

Pope Francis is great for many reasons.  One of those reasons is his wise and piercing counsel to priests.   Over the past sixteen months I’ve learned that, before I start to read his exhortations to priests, I need to take a deep breath and prepare to be socked between the eyes.

In an audience* at the Vatican with the priests and seminarians of the Pontifical Leonine College of Anagni on April 14, 2014, Pope Francis challenged these men to consider the real meaning of a priestly vocation:  

The seminary is not a refuge for those who have “psychological problems” or lack the courage “to get on in life”. The seminary is a place where one develops their vocation, gaining an in-depth understanding of the Gospel, Confession, the Eucharist and prayer. “If you are not willing to follow this path with these attitudes and these experiences, – and I say this from the heart, without meaning to offend anyone - it is better to have the courage to seek another.”

“Dear seminarians, what you are preparing for is not a profession, you are not training to work in a business or a bureaucratic organization.  We have so many priests who have gone half way … it’s sad that they did not manage to go the whole way; they have something of the employee in them, something of the bureaucrat in them and this is not good for the Church. Please be careful you don’t fall into this! You are becoming pastors in the image of Jesus, the good pastor. Your aim is to resemble him and act on behalf of him amidst his flock, letting his sheep graze.” 
“We respond to this vocation in the same way as the Virgin Mary does to the angel: ‘How is this possible?’ Becoming ‘good shepherds in the image of Jesus is something very great and we are so small.  Yes, it is true, it is too great; but it is not our work! It is the work of the Holy Spirit, with our collaboration.”

As is his custom, Pope Francis added spontaneous comments to his prepared speech. “It is about humbly giving oneself, like clay that is to be moulded, letting God the potter work the clay with fire and water, with the Word and the Holy Spirit.” It is true that “at the beginning intentions are not completely righteous, and it is hard for them to be so.  All of us have had moments when our intentions were not completely righteous but in time this changes with everyday conversion. Think of the apostles! Think of James and John. One of them wanted to be prime minister and the other a minister of the economy because it was a more important role. The apostles’ mind was elsewhere but the Lord patiently corrected their intention and in the end the intention of their preaching and martyrdom was incredibly righteous.”

Being good shepherds means “meditating on the Gospel every day to pass its message on through one’s life and preaching.” It also means experiencing God’s mercy through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.” “It is vital to always go to confession so you can become generous and merciful ministers because you will feel God’s mercy upon you, encouraging you to become generous and merciful ministers.”  It means feeding on faith and love of the Eucharist in order to provide nourishment to the Christian people.” “It means being men of prayer so as to become the voice of Christ that praises the Father and constantly intercedes for their brothers.” If you are not willing to follow this path, with these attitudes and these experiences, – and I say this from the heart, without meaning to offend anyone - it is better to have the courage to seek another. There are many ways, in the Church, to bear Christian witness and there are many paths that lead to sainthood. Following in Christ's ministry allows no place for mediocrity, which always leads to using the holy people of God to one's own advantage. Woe to bad shepherds who feed themselves and not their flock! – the prophets said.  Augustine quotes this prophetic phrase in the De pastoribus, which I advise you to read and meditate on. Woe to bad shepherds because the seminary is not a refuge for the many shortcomings we may have; it is not a refuge for psychological problems or a refuge for those who do not have the courage to go on in life and see the seminary as a place that will defend them. No, that is not what it is. If that is what your seminary was it would become a mortgage for the Church! No, the seminary is there for people to move forward, along this path and when we hear the prophets exclaim the word “Woe” it should lead you to reflect seriously on your future. Pius XI once said it was better to lose a vocation than to risk accepting a candidate who is not sure.  He was a mountain climber, he knew about these things.”

Boom.  Right between the eyes.  Or, as St. Francis de Sales says a bit more profoundly, “Cor cordi loquitur”: “Heart speaks to heart.”

*For the official text, in English, of the Holy Father’s April 4, 2014 address to priests and seminarians, see:

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

When You Find a Wise Man, Find the Wise Men He’s Following

Our Focus on Tuesdays: “Wise Men Still Follow Him”

A few years ago, I had the privilege of hearing Lieutenant General Josiah Bunting III speak about the formation of leaders as young men.  In his address, “The First and Greatest Generation and Its Successor,”* he identified a fascinating connection between the Founding Fathers and the leaders of the American armed forces in World War II.  Both groups of extraordinary men, in their earliest years, were steeped in the knowledge of the great men of ancient Greece and Rome.  General Bunting did not consider this a coincidence.  Rather, he contrasted this sort of formation with the influences on today’s boys and young men: decadent athletes, rock stars, and other “celebrities” (once caustically defined by Malcolm Muggeridge as people who are famous for being famous).

Each Tuesday I will present a short entry by some wise man - in our Church, in our history - who has something to teach us.  That’s the easy part.  More challenging is the task put forward by General Bunting: The resolve to bring our sons, and all young Catholics, into a deep appreciation for men of character and honor.  The next generation will not be a great generation if they are left to their own devices in choosing their own role models.

I had the good fortune in second grade of having a volunteer school librarian introduce me to the “Discovery” series of biographies for children.  Thomas Jefferson, Luther Burbank, Booker T. Washington, Theodore Roosevelt  -- these were the objects of my curiosity as a seven-year old, not some grinches or cats-in-hats.  They were, and remain, heroes to me.  Not perfect men, but great men.  Have our sons ever heard of them?  Our task is to tell them.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Today I am beginning a new blog, “Men of Galilee.”  This will be a daily blog, with updates six days each week:

Sundays: No updates; Priests should not be blogging on Sundays.
Mondays: “A View to the Horizon from the Galilee Shore”: Considering the meaning of events in our Church and culture for Catholic men.
Tuesdays: “Wise Men Still Follow Him”: Wisdom from Catholic men, past and present, to Catholic men today.
Wednesdays: “Priest to Priest”: Testimonials from priests in support of their brother priests.
Thursdays: “Interpreting the Signs of the Times”: Reviews of movies, books, art, and media of interest to Catholic men.
Fridays: “Men Preparing for Confession”: Practical advice for Catholic men in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Saturdays: “Men Preparing for Sunday Mass”: Understanding, participating in, and appropriating the full graces of the Mass as Catholic men.

I am offering this blog in my capacity as the Pastor of Transfiguration Catholic Church (Oakdale, MN), as the Chaplain of the Men’s Apostolate of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, and as the former Rector of Saint John Vianney College Seminary (Saint Paul, MN), who seeks to assist my former seminarians, some of whom are now following Jesus Christ as priests throughout the United States, and others who are now following Jesus Christ as young Catholic husbands and fathers, as professionals, teachers and lay ministers throughout the Church.