Tassel of the Cloak

The Bard

William Shakespeare's original patron was a Catholic and when Shakespeare came into his own he bought a house in London that housed and hid Catholic priests. When he retired to Stratford, one of Shakespeare's few visitors was John Robinson, a Catholic to whom Shakespeare had leased his London house, called the Blackfriars Gatehouse. An Anglican clergyman sighed upon Shakespeare's death that he had “dyed a papist.” All of this in addition to the many Catholic references and themes in Shakespeare's works, from Purgatory to the Mass, seem to indicate the greatest writer in human history was Catholic.

William's father, John, was a recusant—one who refused to take the Oath of Supremacy to Henry VIII, Elizabeth and the Church of England, and remained loyal to Catholicism. John Shakespeare was fined for his recusancy. William's daughter, Susanna, would also be fined. It is thought that William's father, John, spent time with the great St. Edmund Campion. Campion, of course, was that brilliant scholar and statesmen, coveted by Queen Elizabeth herself, who became a Catholic priest. Campion ministered clandestinely to Catholics all over England before being caught, tortured, and hung. John Shakespeare named one of his sons—William's younger brother—Edmund. And there is no question St. Edmund had an influence on William, as he had on so many other young Englishmen. Campion, by the way, had an interesting quote, which I take as my motto when it comes to politics, and which I think Shakespeare took as well: “I never had mind, and am strictly forbidden by our Father that sent me, to deal in any respect with matter of state or policy of this realm, as things which appertain not to my vocation, and from which I gladly restrain and sequester my thoughts.”

Keep it Short

There are multiple reasons I give brief homilies. It is not for lack of preparation. In fact, it takes me more time and effort to compose a five minute homily than it would a 15 minute homily. I am reminded of what Blase Pascal once wrote, “I am sorry I wrote you such a long letter; I did not have time to write a short one.”

But there is also an implicit message I am seeking to convey by means of a short homily: the homily is not the most important part of the Mass. The Eucharist is. I want you to be filled and satisfied not by my words, but by Jesus himself.

Read more...

Baseball Season

Baseball season is underway and the Cubs' home opener is tomorrow, so allow me to reflect on the spirituality of baseball. Francis T. Vincent, Jr., the former Commissioner of Major League Baseball, once said this:

Baseball teaches us, or has taught most of us, how to deal with failure. We learn at a very young age that failure is the norm in baseball and, precisely because we have failed, we hold in high regard those who fail less often--those who hit safely in one out of three chances and become star players. I also find it fascinating that baseball, alone in sport, considers errors to be part of the game, part of its rigorous truth.

Read more...

Salvation History

The ancient Romans believed in many gods, and their chief god was Jupiter. The title they gave Jupiter was, in Latin, Conservator, or savior. Salvation, in the pagan mindset, consisted in the conservation of Rome: the preservation of the status quo of Roman society. For Christianity, our God, who is also a savior, is not a conservator—one who preserves the particular society—but a salvator—one who renews and transforms society. The Church, the Body of Christ the savior, is always moving forward, renewing and transforming herself. This is why we qualify our history as salvation history. The Church is not related solely to the past, but lives in the present, bearing within itself the character of hope and pointing to the future.

Read more...

Those Mysterious Priests

When I was a seminarian I was on a Lenten retreat in a monastery in a small town in Italy. The local stray dogs barked constantly. It was a disruption to me at first, but then I thought of a fable that can help us appreciate what it was like for Christ to become man and to die for us. (Fulton Sheen gives us a similar image in his book, Those Mysterious Priests.)

Read more...

Queen Counselor

Wives do not mind asking for directions. They tell their husbands to stop, pull over, and seek help. Mothers are also good counselors. They encourage their children to obtain tutors, instructors, coaches. They look to problem-solve and not remain condemned to the futility of the present predicament. What could be a negative situation a woman, through her humility and sensibleness, turns into something positive. It is like that time when Mary Magdalen de Pazzi, a 16th century saint, dropped a small statue of Jesus in the chapel while dusting it. Picking it up unbroken, she kissed it, saying, “If you had not fallen, you would not have gotten that.”

Read more...

Red Seaside

The geographies in the Holy Land themselves are a sermon. Nazareth, where Jesus was raised, is in the mountains. Capernaum, where Jesus performed his ministry, is on the sea. While mountains are interesting for visitors and passersby, for permanent residents, the mountains are fixtures. The mountain in the distance might as well be a painting on the wall. It is inexorable and secure, and it is predictable. In Nazareth with Mary and Joseph, under the mountains, Jesus had a solid upbringing. He went to synagogue and worked in his father's wood shop. Perhaps he traveled with his father to the nearby towns for business, but he was always rooted in holiness and obedience. Jesus had stability. If we were to characterize this with a color, we would say Nazareth was the color blue. For blue, like ice, denotes resoluteness.

Read more...

Virgin Most Fruitful

Mary's perpetual virginity is an article of our faith. We Catholics believe that our Blessed Mother was a virgin before and after the birth of Jesus. (The “brothers and sisters” of Jesus we hear about in the Gospels are, actually, his cousins or perhaps half-siblings.) Mary was given to no man so that she could be given to each of us. That is the significance of Mary's virginity.

Read more...

Reverence

I gave a talk to the Boy Scouts recently on the virtue of reverence. The 12th and final point of the Scout Law reads, “A Scout is reverent. A Scout is reverent toward God. He is faithful in his religious duties. He respects the beliefs of others.”

Read more...

An Ordinary Lent

Lent is a time when we are conscientious of growing in holiness. We give something up or we do something positive. While these activities are all good, I think it might be helpful to hear some words from St. John Henry Newman's on perfection (another way of saying holiness):

Read more...

Song of Bernadette

Today, February 11th, is the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, and it was worth reflecting a bit on this Marian apparition. Briefly, in 1858 the Virgin Mary appeared to a fourteen year old girl in the small town in southwest France. A spring of water miraculously formed where the Blessed Mother spoke, and to this day pilgrims travel to Lourdes to drink and bathe in this healing water.

Read more...

The Diaries of Adam and Eve

Towards the end of his life Mark Twain wrote The Diaries of Adam and Eve. The first part of the book is written by Adam; the second by Eve. Accounts of God's creation, life in the Garden of Eden, the fall, and life outside of Eden are given from two different perspectives. Adam's writing is simple and obtuse. He is annoyed at first by Eve's constant pursuit of him. He writes, “This new creature with the long hair is a good deal in the way. It is always hanging around and following me about. I don't like this; I am not used to company...I wish it would not talk; it is always talking.” Later on Adam cannot figure out what new animal his sons, Cain and Abel, are. “I was going to stuff one of them for my collection,” he records, “but she is prejudiced against it for some reason or other; so I have relinquished the idea, though I think it is a mistake.”

Read more...

The Last Lion

Students looking for purpose can learn from the life of Winston Churchill. Arguably the greatest political figure of the 20th Century, they may not realize, had a difficult upbringing. Born prematurely, suffering from a speech impediment, and inclined to depression, Churchill was essentially rejected and scorned by his parents. He performed poorly in school and passed the entrance examination into the Royal Military College only after his third attempt. When his father, Lord Randolph, died when Winston was 21, he left only debts. Yet the ‘Last Lion’ persevered. Churchill did not let his family and environment hold him back. He did not allow the wounds he suffered as a youth handicap him. He pushed himself, believed in himself, and would not accept defeat. He made himself bound and determined, like a bulldog. Here is a quote from Lord Churchill:

Read more...

A kingdom for a life.

Baudouin of Belgium abdicated the throne in 1990. It was not for any ignoble cause or selfish pursuit that the King stepped down from his position of authority. King Baudouin abdicated because he was pro-life. The Belgian Parliament had passed a law allowing abortion and he could not add his signature to the bill as required by procedure.

Read more...