29 October 2015

Real hope for the future...

We had our academic awards ceremony yesterday at The Atonement Academy (we refer to it, tongue-in-cheek, as The Academy Awards). We give Gold Arrow and Silver Arrow awards, and I am constantly impressed with these students. It's not easy to get an academic award here. Our standards are high and our demands are rigorous, but it's wonderful to see the number of students who manage to achieve academic excellence.

It's not just the high level of academic achievement which impresses me, however. These are students who also excel on the athletic field and in the choir loft. They're involved in pro-life activities and other works of charity. They're serious about their faith.  Are they perfect? Obviously not...but that's why I get a steady stream of them knocking on my office door and asking, "Father, do you have a few minutes to hear my confession?" They know there's always room for improvement, and they're eager to grow spiritually. They're at Mass daily, and these kids actually look forward to it. They come for spiritual advice, because they're concerned about pleasing God.

I love these kids, and I can't imagine what it would be like around here if the parish didn't have a school. I know there are some of my brother priests and some of our diocesan "professional educators" who think I'm overly protective and even a micro-manager because I insist on such things as having only practicing Catholics on our faculty, or because I won't adopt the government-school agenda, especially when it appeared as the incarnation called "Common Core."

I didn't have the advantage of a Catholic school education. Of course, public school education was a bit different fifty years ago from what it is today, but the seeds of destruction were already planted even then. The formation of children in the fullness of truth is all-important, and for us as Catholics it is by far the best when our children are formed through a seamless partnership between the Catholic home and the Catholic school.

We're in our twentieth year since the founding of the Academy, and although the devil has tried to destroy it from time to time, God has preserved it, and He continues to nurture it, and I absolutely love being part of it. As student after student came forward to receive the Gold and Silver Arrow Awards, I gave thanks to God, and I have absolute confidence that the Church will continue to provide, through the lives of these young Catholics, the much-needed medicine for our ailing society.

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27 October 2015


There is a mystery to stained glass.  When one views it during the day from outside, it appears to be nothing but darkness.  There is no beauty, no riot of color, no apparent reason for its existence.  But step inside, and what was darkness becomes a thing of beauty and meaning.  Mysteries of the faith are brought to life through the artisan's craft.  Things are seen that never could have been imagined when standing outside. 

This makes for an apt illustration of the Church itself.  To remain outside is to be cheated of so much of the beauty of what Christ has done for us, and to miss the fullness of the truth He teaches.  Just as natural light, when filtered through stained glass, becomes a thing of immense beauty, so when the Light of Christ is perceived through that "window" of His own creation -- the Church -- we come to know things that only the angels could have imagined.

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25 October 2015

"Lantern of the Lothians"

One of the truly beautiful hymn tunes in the Church’s treasury is David Evans’ “Lucerna Laudoniae.” The name of the tune means “Lantern of the Lothians,” which was a Franciscan monastery at Haddington, East Lothian in Scotland. The monastery was destroyed in 1355, but in the fifteenth-century a church was built on the site – and it is now immortalized by this simple and dignified hymn tune.

There are several texts which have made use of the tune, perhaps the most famous being “For the beauty of the earth.” Some years ago I wrote the following words specifically for the tune.

Jesus Christ, our Saviour King,
unto thee thy people sing;
hear the prayers we humbly make,
hear them for thy mercy’s sake.
Lord Jesus Christ, O Lamb Divine,
fill our souls, and make us thine.

Give us eyes that we may see;
give us hearts to worship thee;
give us ears that we may hear;
in thy love, Lord, draw us near.
Lord Jesus Christ, O Lamb Divine,
fill our souls and make us thine.

In our darkness, shed thy light;
lift us to thy heav’nly height;
may we be thy dwelling-place,
tabernacles of thy grace.
Lord Jesus Christ, O Lamb Divine,
fill our souls and make us thine.

In thy Kingdom grant us rest,
in Jerusalem the blest;
with the saints our lips shall sing,
with the angels echoing:
Lord Jesus Christ, O Lamb Divine,
thou dost reign, and we are thine!

Text: Fr. Christopher G. Phillips (1990)
Music: “Lucerna Laudoniae”
David Evans (1874-1948)

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22 October 2015

Remembering history...

As we celebrate the Feast of Pope St. John Paul II it should be recognized by all who benefit from the establishment of the three existing Ordinariates that in him they have a pioneer and a heavenly patron. His place should be acknowledged. While it is true to say that these jurisdictions were the creation of Pope (now Emeritus) Benedict XVI, it was St. John Paul II who first made a place for the Anglican Patrimony in the Catholic Church, and by his action the possibility of what we know as the Ordinariates was made clear.

In the Decree issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, dated July 22, 1980 (Prot. N. 66/77), regarding the care of the reconciled lay Faithful and speaking of the structure of what was called the "Common Identity" of the Pastoral Provision, it is stated that "the preference expressed by the majority of the Episcopal Conference for the insertion of these reconciled Episcopalians into the diocesan structures under the jurisdiction of local Ordinaries is recognized." There was no juridical reason to go further. However, it did. An important sentence immediately followed in the Decree: "Nevertheless, the possibility of some other type of structure as provided for by canonical dispositions, and as suited to the needs of the group, is not excluded."

With that statement the spade began turning the soil, preparing the ground for Anglicanorum Coetibus. The important place St. John Paul II has occupied in all this from the very beginning should not be forgotten.

History is clear. St. John Paul II was the first to give our Anglican Patrimony an honoured place in the Church, and it was his own trusted and beloved successor who brought to fruition "the possibility of some other type of structure..."

Sancte Ioannes Paule, ora pro nobis.

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My morning with a saint...

I have posted this before, but several people asked if I would again:

Approaching the feast day of St. John Paul II has triggered the memory of one of the most amazing times of my life. It was in November of 1983 that I was in Rome, taking part in the meetings which would result in the Book of Divine Worship, which serves as the foundation of the Anglican Use liturgy in the Catholic Church. 
It was my first time in Rome. I had been ordained as a Catholic priest only a few months before. They were rather heady days for a young priest, walking each morning from the Casa del Clero to the Vatican offices where we were working. 
On my first morning in Rome, I needed to find an altar where I could say Mass. There was a concelebrated Mass at the Casa, but I was ready for an adventure, so I headed on foot to St. Peter’s Basilica. I knew I needed to get there early, and I knew I should head immediately to the sacristy. Beyond that, I was completely ignorant about making arrangements for celebrating Mass there. 
Arriving in the sacristy, and after being overwhelmed by my walk through the basilica, I was fortunate that the man at the desk was patient (and by Vatican standards, even somewhat merciful). He directed me to the vesting area, summoned an altar boy for me, and before long I was following the young server down the long corridor out into the basilica. 
In my mind I can still hear the murmur of Masses being said at altar after altar, some with small congregations, others with a solitary priest. Eventually I was taken to one of the many side altars, and I began the celebration of the Mass, my first in Rome. 
It was strangely comforting to hear the low hum of the other Masses proceeding, as I made my way through the liturgy. Everything seemed to be at a concentrated level as I began the Eucharistic prayer.  At the consecration of the Host, when I genuflected, my eyes happened to catch the inscription on the front of the altar: S. Gregorius Magnus. It was overwhelming for me as I continued with the Mass, knowing that I was celebrating Holy Mass at the tomb of Pope St. Gregory, who had sent St. Augustine to England. 
After Mass, as I made my way out of the basilica, reality returned with the work at hand. All of us serving on the special commission spent a brief time getting to know one another, and the discussions began. Although I threw myself into the work, and felt the excitement of participating in something historic, the recurring thought came to me that I would very much like to attend the upcoming Wednesday general audience with the Pope. It was a few days before that when I began to drop subtle hints, but the work was keeping us very busy. One of the kindly bishops also serving in the group knew what I was thinking, and he spoke to me during one of our breaks. He expressed his regret that our work would keep me occupied during the Wednesday audience, and then he said something which seemed rather mysterious. “On Thursday morning, if you will be in the Piazza San Pietro just to the right of the obelisk at 5:00 a.m., there will be a surprise for you,” he said. 
I couldn’t imagine what he meant, but I was there by 4:00 a.m. because I could hardly sleep with the anticipation of this mystifying appointment I was keeping. It was still dark as I was saying the rosary, with the moon hanging over St. Peter’s Basilica, and when 5:00 a.m. came, I caught sight of a sliver of artificial light coming from an opening door off to my right. Being summoned to the open door by a guard, a most wonderful pilgrimage began at the bottom of a long flight of stairs. 
I still was unaware of what was waiting for me – perhaps a glimpse of some great art treasure, I thought, or maybe a private visit to the basilica – whatever it was to be, it was still a mystery to me. We reached a landing on the staircase, and entered an elevator. The elevator went up a few floors and then stopped. When we exited, we were asked to turn to the right and go down another corridor. After walking several yards, I happened to glance to my left through some open doors. The mystery was solved. 
There in front of me was the Holy Father’s private chapel. A familiar white-cassocked figure was kneeling before the altar, and the realization of where I was nearly took my breath away. After being escorted into the sacristy, I was told to vest for Mass. My mind was in a blur as I put on the vestments, and when I was ready I was taken to my place in the papal chapel, which was at a kneeler right next to the Holy Father himself. 
There were only a few of us there – the Sisters who served in the papal household, a couple of priests, and a bishop. We spent a good deal of time in silent prayer before the Mass began, and at first I was distracted by the thought that I was kneeling immediately next to the Vicar of Christ. Soon, however, the Holy Spirit took over and I found that I was able to enter deeply into prayer. From time to time a deep sigh would come from the Holy Father, and I was reminded of St. Paul’s words to the Romans, when he wrote about “sighs too deep for words.” 
After nearly a half-hour of prayer, it was time for the Mass to begin. The Pope’s vestments had been laid on the altar, and after he was vested we began the liturgy. I remained at my place during the Liturgy of the Word, but after the altar was prepared at the Offertory, I joined the Holy Father at the altar. At the time of Holy Communion, he held the paten from which I received a portion of the Host, and when he had received from the chalice he passed it to me. Certainly every time we receive Holy Communion it is a special encounter with God, but I must say that it was a unique experience for me to receive the Body and Blood of Christ while standing next to the Vicar of Christ, having concelebrated with him in his own chapel. 
At the conclusion of the Mass, we spent a good amount of time in thanksgiving. It was once again my privilege to kneel next to the Holy Father for this, and I had much for which to be thankful – but there would be more. 
Having been escorted to a reception room, there was now the opportunity to speak briefly with the Pope. When I was presented to him, he took my hands in his, and then made what could only be described as an extraordinary statement. “I know you,” he said to me. The puzzled look on my face, and my faltering question, “How, Holy Father…?” prompted him to continue. He went on to describe how my dossier had been given to him. Because mine was the first case of a married former Episcopal priest to be considered for the position of being the canonical pastor of a parish (rather than simply a parish administrator or chaplain) it was decided that such approval should be reserved to the Pope himself, rather than simply being processed through the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith as others were. 
With my eyes widening, Pope John Paul II described to me how my dossier was placed on his desk. He then told me how he had some uncertainty about approving a married man as an actual pastor, so he placed the dossier in his desk drawer. He then got it out again, only to put it back in the drawer. “Finally,” he said, “I once more put it on my desk, and I prayed, and the Holy Spirit told me to say ‘yes’.” 
Surely that must count as the most astonishing thing I had ever heard, that the Vicar of Christ was having a conversation about me with the Holy Spirit, Who then directed him to give his approval for my ordination and appointment as pastor of Our Lady of the Atonement Church. If I hadn’t heard the story from the lips of the Pope himself, I would never have believed such a thing. 
When I regained my voice, I asked the Holy Father if I could take his blessing back to my family and to the people of the parish. He threw his arms around me and drew me close while he said, “With all of my heart, I bless you and your people!” And what a blessing that has been throughout the years. 
After all this, it is hardly possible to imagine there would be more, but there was yet another “once in a life-time” experience that morning. The Pope called upon one of the priests in his household to take me to “the chapel.” This confused me, because we had just come from his private chapel; however, I dutifully followed the priest, and we went off in a completely different direction down a long corridor, until we came to a large set of doors. He unlocked them and directed me in, saying to me, “Take as long as you like. I’ll wait for you out here.” He then shut the doors and left me alone without telling me where I was. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the dim light, and as I looked around me I immediately knew where I was standing – it was in the Sistine Chapel. 
The unexpected experience of being in a place so famous was, for a moment, disorienting. To look up at the magnificent ceiling (even though it was before the restoration), and to be able to explore the chapel all by myself, thinking about the papal elections which had taken place there, was overwhelming. I spent quite a bit of time taking it all in, offering thanks to God for such a blessed experience, and then I remembered the priest outside the door, patiently waiting for me. 
He helped me find my way back to the stairs which I had climbed earlier that morning, and when I went through the doors leading into Piazza San Pietro, it was filled with the usual bustle of a day in Rome. It was all I could do to stop myself from rushing up to the first person I saw and asking him to guess where I’d just been! Instead, I headed across the Piazza to the office where we were working on the Book of Divine Worship, and I continued on the project which was the reason for my being there. 
But I have to say, it had been quite a morning.

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20 October 2015

Scripture Study Series

We begin a new Scripture study series on Wednesday, October 20th, at 6:45 p.m. in the St. John Paul II Library.

I will be teaching a several-week course on the Gospel according to St. Mark. Bring yourself and your Bible, and get ready to explore the history, theology, and spirituality of this Gospel.

Each week's session will last just one hour, and I use the Ignatius Bible (RSV-Catholic edition).

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13 October 2015

St. Callistus, Pope and Martyr

Imagine if what anybody knew about you was information that came from someone who really didn’t like you at all. And imagine if there was the added difficulty that the person who didn’t like you was also a saint! That’s the situation with St. Callistus who lived at the end of the 2nd century and into the 3rd century – most of the information about him comes from his enemy St. Hippolytus, who at first was kind of a troublemaker in the early Church, but who later, just like St. Callistus, became a martyr for the Faith.

Callistus was a slave in the imperial Roman household. He was an educated slave, and because of his financial talent, he was put in charge of a bank by his master. Unfortunately, because he made some loans to people who didn’t pay them back, he lost almost all the money that had been deposited. Callistus panicked, and he ran away. Of course, he was eventually caught and was put in jail. After being imprisoned for a while, his master released him and told him to do everything he could to recover the money. Apparently Callistus got a little too carried away, and eventually he was arrested again because he had started a fight in a local synagogue when he went after someone there who hadn’t paid back a loan. This time he was condemned to work in the mines of Sardinia, which usually was a death sentence because of the horrible conditions there. But through the intervention of an influential person who had pity on him, he even managed to be released from the terrible life in the Sardinian mines. So far, it doesn’t sound much like the life of a saint, does it?

After he won his freedom, he was put in charge of the place where Christians buried their departed loved ones – this cemetery was called a catacomb, and in fact this cemetery was the first land actually owned by the Church, and it still exists as the Catacomb of St. Callistus. He was so faithful in this work that the pope ordained him as a deacon, and Callistus became his trusted friend and adviser.

Callistus had such a changed life and had become so faithful that he was himself elected pope, and it was then that the rivalry between Callistus and Hippolytus became so bitter – in fact, Hippolytus himself wanted to be the pope because he didn’t agree with many of the decisions made by Callistus. This rivalry was healed eventually, however, and Hippolytus was eventually martyred, and these two former enemies are now saints together in heaven. St. Callistus was martyred in Rome during one of the persecutions of the Church in the 3rd century.

O God, who didst raise up Pope Saint Callistus to serve the Church and attend devoutly to Christ’s faithful departed: strengthen us, we pray, by his witness to the faith; so that, rescued from the slavery of corruption, we may merit an incorruptible inheritance; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

12 October 2015

New life for an old pipe organ

We have obtained a 42-rank Reuter pipe organ for eventual installation in the auditorium we are building as part of our major school expansion.

The instrument has now been removed from an Episcopal church in Austin, and has been moved to the workshop of Curtis Bobsin, our incredibly talented organ builder and renovator (he accomplished the magnificent installation of our Casavant in the church).

The renovation of this organ will take some time (which is good, since the auditorium isn't built yet!), but the installation will provide us with a fine instrument for concerts, recitals, graduation events, etc. As you can see from the pictures, the former installation was a cramped one, with the pipes buried in enclosed chambers, along with a positiv at some distance away, with very little usefulness as part of a total instrument.

Our auditorium installation will be at the front, on a stage, with the pipes speaking out, rather than sideways and muffled. The present instrument is comprised of the following ranks:

Principal 8'
Spitz Flote 8'
Octave 4'
Nacht Horn 4'
Fifteenth 2'
Mixture III
Trompette 8'

Rohr Flute 8'
Viola 8'
Viola Celeste 8'
Principal 4'
Traverse Flute 4'
Doublette 2'
Mixture III
Trumpet 8'
Hautbois 4'

Gedeckt 8'
Erzhaler 8'
Koppel Flute 4'
Nazard 2-2/3'
Block Flute 2'
Tierce 1-3/5'
Basset 8'
Trompette 8'
Trompette 4'

Bourdon 8'
Principal 4'
Spillflote 4'
Gemshorn 2'
Cymbel II

Subbass 16'
Quintaten 16'
Principal 16'
Quintaten 8'
Octave 8'
Super Octave 4'
Mixture III
Trombone 16'
Trombone 8'

This instrument will be known as the Brown Memorial Organ, provided by a bequest from Bert and Beatrice Brown, founding members of Our Lady of the Atonement Church. Please pray for the repose of their souls.

Here are some pictures of the removal from its former location.

08 October 2015

Relics of Cardinal Newman

I know of only two first-class relics of Blessed John Henry Newman, both of them located at the Birmingham Oratory. One of them is a lock of his hair, taken at the time of his death, and the other is a cloth which has a small stain of his blood. In fact, when an attempt was made to move his remains to the Birmingham Oratory, upon opening his grave it was found that there was nothing left of his body. The coffin had not been lead-lined, and the cemetery was in very damp land.

Our parish is blessed to have two second-class relics of Cardinal Newman. One of them is a small piece of a cope which belonged to him, and the other is a letter, hand-written by him. Of course, as inspiring as it is to have these physical links with him, the important thing is that we all have access to his prayers.

Blessed John Henry Newman, pray for us.

07 October 2015

We Can't Afford This Bargain

Some of the Synod Fathers are spending extraordinary energy in trying to find a way around the sin which weakens and can even sever man's relationship with God through the Church which He established, all in the cause of making people feel welcome in the Church.

As did our Lord, so must we all be welcoming and welcomed. But we are not simply the sum of our sins. When our Lord (and therefore the Church) welcomes us, the welcome does not and cannot include our sin.

I am not my sin. I am a child of God who sometimes falls into sin, and God has provided a remedy for that through the death and resurrection of His Divine Son.

In His love, God provides the medicine we need, but we need to take that medicine of repentance, confession, absolution, and amendment of life, so that we can enter into the Lord's merciful embrace and find the welcome which is waiting for us.

Mercy is not cheap. Christ paid for it with His sacrifice. Some of the Synod Fathers want to offer a "bargain basement" deal -- cheap grace, cheap mercy, cheap faith -- and all it accomplishes it to cheat God's children.