Tassel of the Cloak

Mother Cabrini, We Pray For You

On Sunday, September 22, 1946, over 100,000 Chicagoans filled Soldier Field.  They were not present to watch a Bears game.  No screaming or consumption of alcohol occurred.  The large crowd was praying a holy hour; that is, sitting all together in silent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.  The occasion was the celebration of the canonization of Saint Mother Cabrini by Pope Pius XII.


May We Do God's Will

As D-Day was occurring Franklin Roosevelt addressed the nation.  It was not a speech he gave, but rather a prayer.  "And so, in this poignant hour,” he said, “I ask you to join with me in prayer." FDR asked God to give the American soldiers strength and perseverance.  He prayed that the Father would "embrace and receive" those who would be killed in action.  He lifted up their family members and everyone else at home. 


May God Speak Good Things About You

I hate to be morbid, but I see a profound message in this anecdote.  I heard recently that a man in his thirties committed suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge.  Afterward, his psychiatrist went with the medical examiner to the dead man's apartment where they found his diary.  The last entry, written just hours before his death, read: "I'm going to walk to the bridge. If one person smiles at me on the way, I will not jump."


Our Goal of Perfection

A decade or so after his death a perception arose that George Washington was a perfect man: that he did not lie or sin. Throughout the 19th Century it was taught in public schools and held in the public square that the first president was infallible.   Even Abraham Lincoln defended the belief, saying about Washington: "It makes human nature better to believe that one human being [Washington] was perfect, that human perfection is possible."


The Church is Strong

There are two stories from the ancient world I would like to compare.  The first is that of Alcibiades, a figure from a war fought between Athens and Sparta in the 400s BC known as the Peloponnesian War.  A brilliant Athenian statesman and general, Alcibiades brought great success to Athens in the early part of the war.  While away on a naval campaign, however, he was accused by his political opponents of treason.  Placed under arrest by subordinates, he managed to escape, jumping ship (literally and figuratively). 


The Divine Comedy

Someone asked me recently how he could not be sure he was not currently living in Purgatory.  (I think he was a White Sox fan.) The lament made me think, upon later reflection, of the classic piece of medieval literature, The Divine Comedy.  (Pope Francis, by the way, has encouraged Catholics to read this during the year.)


The Road to Emmaus

The Road to Emmaus was filled with trickery, bravery, blood, and victory.  No, I am not talking about that Road to Emmaus.  I am talking about the encounter of Judas Maccabeus and the Gentile army from the Old Testament (cf. 1 Maccabees 3-4).  It occurred about 175 years prior to the risen Christ meeting the two disciples on the same road (cf. Luke 24:13-25). 


The Litany of Humility

In the crypt of Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome are the tombs of many popes, including the first and greatest pope himself.  There is one tomb, however, that is unique.  Just to the right of St. Peter is a marble sarcophagus with the name etched in: Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val.  Yes, cardinals are important, but why this cardinal, among all the thousands in the history of the Church, in this preeminent spot?  Because Cardinal Merry del Val possessed the preeminent virtue: humility.

Merry del Val was born of Spanish nobility and became a priest, seeking to serve and not be served.  For his reception after being named a bishop he hosted 200 poor and homeless people of Rome. In fact, he shunned parties and banquets throughout his career, instead going to the neighborhood of Trastevere to serve the poor and minister to the young people.  He was made Secretary of State at the incredibly young age of 38 by Pope Saint Pius X, who desired him for his greatest skill: humility.

With the virtue of humility, we understand that we do not have all the answers or the solutions to all life's challenges.  We let God do the work.  If we possess humility, we see ourselves as the last, which means, paradoxically, we will be the first. So, if you want to enjoy life to the fullest, another way of saying you are "the first," then pray for humility.  You could even recite the Litany of Humility, which was composed by, you guessed it, Merry Del Val.

Accept and Follow Christ

Here is a fictional story that illustrates the redemption:

A man was hiking and fell into a crevasse.  Deep in the pit, he noticed there were other trails and caverns that appeared to lead further into the earth.  Fearing to leave the light he could see above him, he remained and yelled out for help.  A banker walked by the crevasse and threw down money.  That did not help.  A doctor likewise passed by and dropped in some medicine, which did not help either.  Finally a man jumped down into the pit.  Seeing the helper was empty-handed, the hiker said to him, "Why did you do that? Now we're both stuck." The man replied, "We're not stuck. I know the way."

Nothing outside of Christ is capable of saving us.  Jesus ‘jumped into the pit’ with us.  That is, he became man, entered the human condition, and remains with us in the Eucharist.  Not only does this save us, it gives us comfort.

Let us continue the story:

The helper does not lift the man straight up out of the hole, but rather leads him deep into the earth down the trails.  There are times the fallen hiker doubts the path and suggests another route.  The helper patiently acquiesces to the hiker.  When they hit a dead end, the hiker hands control back to the helper, who reroutes them and ultimately leads them to the summit.  

It is to our advantage to accept and follow Christ. “Belief is one of the indispensable preliminary conditions of the realization of its object,” writes William James, the founder of modern psychology.  “Believe, and you shall be right, for you shall save yourself; doubt, and you shall again be right, for you shall perish.”

"Potuit, decuit, ergo fecit"

In my 7th grade religion class over in the school the students often ask me "why" questions.  Why did God create the earth the way he did? Why seven and not eight sacraments? Why did he destroy the dinosaurs?

My response to them is the scholastic axiom, "Potuit, decuit, ergo fecit."  The quizzical stares fade to ones of disappointment when I offer the translation: "He could do it, he ought to have done it, therefore he did it."  



In ancient Greek the word skôle, from which our English word ‘school’ is derived, meant leisure. There were buildings were skôle occurred and the primary activity of leisure was learning. Effort was required here, but ultimately joy and recreation was had. 


Jesus is Lovable

Thomas Merton compared prayer to a firework.  Dialogueing or meditating is the shell being lit and sent up into the sky.  For the prayer to explode like the firework into the colorful pattern it must have love.  Whatever spiritual activity we may do, whether it is contemplation, rosary, petitioning, centering, lectio divina, it is not genuine prayer if we do not make an act of love for Jesus Christ.  Merton says the activity without love would be more accurately described as self-reflection or self-psycho analysis.  And this is merely the slight arc of a firework with no explosion; ultimately a dud.


Whatever happened to Shelly Pennefather

Villanova University has one of the best college basketball programs in the country.  Between the men and women's programs, 21 national championships have been won.  Many of the players have gone on to play in the NBA and WNBA.  The individual with the most points (2,408) in Villanova basketball history is Shelly Pennefather, who played from 1983-1987.  In 1987 she won the Wade Trophy, given to the best women's college basketball player.  She played professionally for a few years in Japan, as the WNBA did not yet exist, earning nearly half a million dollars in today's standard.  And then she disappeared.  "Whatever happened to Shelly Pennefather" read a recent headline.