Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"He talks a lot, he hears voices, and he's unstable. That's pretty much the whole package"







The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Prophet Glenn Beck - Father Guido Sarducci
www.colbertnation.com

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A deep diaconal bow to my friend Rebecca over at Faith's Mystery for bringing this to my attention. I have been tevo'ing (is that a verb?) Colbert recently. I guess this is in one of those episodes. It is very good to see Fr. Sarducci once again. I mean, if I had to guess, I would have said it was Cardinal Sodano.

I am America and so can you!

Solemnity of Saints Peter & Paul


In a sermon for this ancient solemnity, St. Augustine said:

"This day has been made holy by the passion of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul. We are, therefore, not talking about some obscure martyrs. For their voice has gone forth to all the world, and to the ends of the earth their message. These martyrs realized what they taught: they pursued justice, they confessed the truth, they died for it."

He ended with these words:

"Both apostles share the same feast day, for these two were one; and even though they suffered on different days, they were as one. Peter went first, and Paul followed. And so we celebrate this day made holy for us by the apostles' blood. Let us embrace what they believed, their life, their labors, their sufferings, their preaching and their confession of faith."

Sts. Peter and Paul, holy apostles, pray for us.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Year C 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: 1 Kings 19:16b.19-21; Ps 16:1-2.5.7-11; Gal 5:1.13-18; Lk 9:51-62

The point of today’s Scriptures is simple: follow Christ! Further, our readings today tell us that following Christ is more important than anything else; it is nothing less than the reason for which we exist. Christ is the way to true happiness, fulfillment, and satisfaction. In our first reading today, we see this illustrated in a particularly dramatic way.

After having Elijah quite literally lay the prophetic mantle across his shoulders, thereby calling Elisha to follow after him, both right at that moment and to take his place after he was called to God, Elisha runs and catches Elijah, pleading with him to "Please let me kiss my father and mother goodbye"(1 Kings 19:20). Elijah lets Elisha know in no uncertain terms that he cannot go back to bid his parents farewell. Getting the old prophet’s point, the young man goes and slaughters the twelve oxen that were pulling his plow and uses the plow to light the fire on which he cooks the oxen, after which he distributes the meat freely among the people. With this gesture, Elisha gives everything away to follow, not just hearing God’s call, but responding to it wholeheartedly. God doesn’t ask for what Elisha is willing to give, God wants all of Elisha. Note that Elijah does not stop him, or tell him that he is being ridiculous or that with his slaughtering, cooking, and freely distributing the meat Elisha went way overboard. "Then Elisha left and followed Elijah as his attendant"(1 Kings 19:21).


Back in the fifth of chapter of Luke’s Gospel, after being told by Jesus, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men," Peter, James, and John, after bringing "their boats to the shore… left everything and followed him" (Luke 5:10-11). Like Elisha heeding Elijah’s summons, these men left everything and followed Jesus. This is a nice segue into our Gospel for this Sunday. Luke tells us that Jesus and the disciples were going from Galilee to Jerusalem, but instead of walking the normal route taken by observant Jews on their way to participate in Temple worship, which meant walking east, crossing the Jordan River, before crossing it again just outside of Jericho, going through Jericho and up the mountain to Jerusalem, they took the direct route and went through Samaria.

Jesus sent some of the party ahead to an unnamed Samaritan village to make arrangements for the group, but the villagers were unwilling to accommodate Jesus and his companions because they were Jews headed to Jerusalem. For Samaritans the place of worship was not the Temple in Jerusalem, but on Mt. Gerazim. Just as the Jews did not think very highly of the Samaritans, the Samaritans did not much like the Jews, as this story attests. James and John, who are identified elsewhere in Scripture as the Sons of Thunder, want to wreak vengeance on the unwelcoming village by calling "down fire from heaven to consume them," a sentiment that seems to be shared among the Lord’s companions, one that prompts Jesus to rebuke them (Luke 9:54-55). More importantly, the disparity between their response and that of Jesus shows that, despite travelling with Him, they are not yet followers of Jesus, that is, disciples.

To make this disparity unmistakable, Luke has one of the disciples, perhaps James and John again (who knows?), say, in the very next breath, "I will follow you wherever you go" (Luke 9:57). To which Jesus responds, "Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head"(Luke 9:58). This is a poetic way of saying, "Oh, really?" Keep in mind that it is earlier in this same chapter of Luke, which we read last Sunday, that Jesus said to the disciples, "whoever wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23). Jesus is not only saying that following Him isn’t easy, or that it costs us something, He is saying, as in the cases of Elisha, Peter, James, and, John, it costs us everything! Just in case the first time is too subtle for us, Jesus reiterates this two more times when He says to the would-be disciple who wants to first bury his dead father, "Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God" and then, to another, who like Elisha, wants to go home and say goodbye before heeding Jesus’ call, the Lord says basically the same thing Elijah said to Elisha: "No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62).

As far as being called, Christ gives one task to one and a different task to another, but ultimately there is one vocation: to follow Christ, which call you are given in baptism. Freedom enters in and is necessary in order for us to respond to Jesus’ call. In other words, He calls you and leaves you free to respond or not to respond. While we know that Elisha, Peter, James, John, and the rest of the twelve responded by heeding the call, we do not know if the one disciple went and buried his father, or whether the other one went home instead of following Jesus.

The "yoke of slavery" St. Paul refers to in our second reading, is the law (Gal. 5:1). We are slaves, Paul tells us, insofar as we mistake the lesser reality, adherence to rules and regulations externally imposed on us, for the greater reality, God, the Giver of the law, which God gives as a means to accomplish the end for which we are created. Often we mistake means for ends. It would be silly to argue that for Christians there are no "dos" and "don’ts." Keeping it simple, we take seriously that prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are disciplines that, as disciples of the Lord, we must practice. The end to which these disciplines are the means is drawing closer to Him, becoming more like Him. So, mindless and rote practice of these disciplines won’t bring you closer to God. "Only God can bring you closer to Himself. What the discipline is meant to do is to help you get yourself, your ego, out of the way so you are open to" what God is seeking to do in you and through you (James Kushiner).

We hear a lot of talk about the need to find ourselves, it is important for us to recognize what Msgr. Luigi Giussani points out so clearly, namely that "Christ offers Himself as the answer to [who] 'I' am." This is why service of others, what the Gospel writers and St. Paul refer to as diakonia, figures so prominently in all of our readings. Diakonia, which is loving, self-emptying service of others, must be freely chosen. As St. Jerome observed, "Action without a name, a 'who' attached to it, is meaningless." Elisha doesn’t just slaughter the oxen, chop up the plow and walk away, but neither does he go home to kiss his parents goodbye. He provides a feast for others. Jesus calls the disciples to selfless service over and over again, as He does in today’s Gospel. St. Paul very clearly points out that "the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (Gal. 5:14). We all know from experience that this is easier said than done, it is a constant provocation for anyone serious about following Christ, but this is what it means to follow Him.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

"to thee I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful"

I just returned from confession. It is always a little awkward to stand in line outside the confessional with others waiting for my turn. For several years I avoided going to confession in this manner. As a deacon, I know many priests and would just call, make an appointment, and go on the appointed day. I do not believe there is anything wrong with this in and of itself. However, I caught myself one time telling somebody that this was how I rolled when it comes to confessing my sins. In my mind I caught myself thinking that as a deacon it is not fitting for me to show up Saturday afternoon, wait in line with everyone, and go to confession when my turn came. Catching myself, I changed my practice.



The Coronation of the Virgin, by Carracci ca. 1595-1600

This afternoon, as I waited in line with 6 or 7 other people, I was struck by how close I felt to them, only two of whom I knew, or had met before. Of course, waiting in line for confession is not a social event, there is no talking, just a lot of silent praying. Above the confessional on the east side of The Cathedral of the Madeleine is a beautiful stained glass window of the Blessed Virgin being crowned Queen of Heaven. I found myself looking into her face and praying Memorares for specific people and intentions as I waited, all the time cognizant of being in the company of my fellow believers who are not afraid to acknowledge their need and to recognize that Christ meets their need, makes up for their inability, that He is the One who overcomes their weakness, and changes their hearts through His mercy and love, they look to Him to show them that the pursuit of selfish desires will never bring satisfaction and to acknowledge those times they let themselves be deceived. I could never come close to describing what it means to me to belong to such a hallowed company.

Unlocking the Scriptures

How does one approach sacred Scripture? This is a perennial question for Christians. One of the earliest masters of the sacred text is the great church father Origen of Alexandria (ca. 185–ca. 254). In a fragment from a commentary on the Psalms, Origen writes about an analogy told him by a learned Jewish teacher with whom he studied Hebrew:

"The Hebrew said that the whole divinely inspired Scripture may be likened, because of its obscurity, to many locked rooms in our house. By each room is placed a key, but not the one that corresponds to it, so that the keys are scattered about the beside the rooms, none of them matching the room by which it is placed. It is a difficult task to find the keys and match them to the rooms that they can open. We therefore know the Scriptures that are obscure only by taking the points of departure for understanding them from another place because they have their interpretive principle scattered among them" (Joseph W. Trigg Philokalia 70-71).

Christ, of course, is the master key to all the rooms.

Such an explanation of understanding Scripture may be disheartening at first glance, but it should not be. We are not left on our own in the house with many rooms. We have guides, like Origen, like Cardinal Martini, like Luke Timothy Johnson, the recently deceased Eugene A. LaVerdiere, SSS, and the late Raymond Brown, SS. Closer to home there are those who preach the word, helping us not only to make sense of it, but to appropriate God's words. In a particular way the church is blessed with those who, in their preaching, undertake serious engagement with the readings in order to expound on them for the purpose of applying them to our life now. In order to do that one must have the confidence that Scripture is always relevant to our lives here and now and who, while they seek to make Scripture comprehensible, do not unduly reduce and/or oversimplify God's word, which results in nothing but clichés and pious platitudes.

On a personal level the practice of lectio divinia by which we seek what God tells us through the text is also indispensable. Like all things we desire to learn, in order to unlock the riches of Scripture we must apply ourselves, we must be teachable, which entails finding teachers and books, as well as being patient and persistent. Engagement with Scripture is perhaps the most immanent way that God remains with us and among us. As St. Jerome taught: "Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ."

There are two books I recommend to everyone who is unfamiliar with Scripture, but who want to engage the sacred texts more meaningfully:

From Genesis to Apocalypse: Introducing the Bible, by Roland J. Faley, TOR

And God Said What?: An Introduction to Biblical Literary Forms, by Margaret Nutting Ralph

Friday, June 25, 2010

"What in this world keeps us from tearin' apart?"


Our '80s summer traditio continues this week with Cyndi Lauper's I Drove All Night. We move away from songs pre-1985, though we may return. This song, written in 1987 for Roy Orbison, was recorded by Lauper in 1989. It is a great song, one very well suited to Lauper. Orbison recorded it 1992.

Have you been away from the person you loved and yearned to be with them so much that no sacrifice seemed too big to make in order to be with them, no obstacle too insurmountable, like driving all night? As Huey Lewis observed, That's the Power of Love. The strings add poignancy to the song, plus I love her little Orbisonisms in this live VH1 version.

The kind of longing about which Cyndi sings with great passion is utterly insatiable and so goes well with my dear friend Kim's Flannery Fridays QOTD, in which she takes up much the same theme, albeit in a different mode. These indications force a couple of questions: Is human life futile or hopeful? Is fullfillment fleeting, forcing us to grab it where, when, and with whomever we can, seeking a few passionate moments of transcendence, unity, being loved, or is our dissatisfaction, our return to earth after these fleeting moments, a sign that we are made to be fully satisfied? If we are made to be fully satisfied, what or who makes this happen and how?

Cyndi has plenty more songs that I really like: True Colors, Time After Time and, of course, Girls Just Want Have Fun.

She is still very cool because she is comfortable in her own skin, being herself, which is always attractive, whereas Lady Gaga strikes me as being quite more than a little insecure.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

"the glorious freedom of the children of God"

On this Solemnity of St. John the Baptizer, the one who, upon seeing Jesus, proclaimed, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world," I have to admit that it has been difficult to give any serious thought to all the things going on right now (John 1:29). Frankly, I find it kind of refreshing. I am staying abreast of all that is happening in the world and have to admit to being puzzled by a lot it, but then I am no less puzzled by myself at times. It's funny how life in Christ is so very uneven. It seems that I move in and out of different seasons, times when everything seems to be easy, which I know is a great grace, and times when things are a bit of struggle, or, put another way, times when I have to realize all over again my dependence on Him, especially my great need for His mercy. I know whatever I am experiencing I am not alone and that the times I feel alone are the times I stubbornly ignore His presence and push others away, too. I know none of this is wasted, but neither is it foreordained, as if all of this had to happen in some deterministic sense.

I can't remember which commentator on the works of Dostoevsky pointed this out and it has been too long ago to even try to remember, but the point was made that for Dostoevsky there are two kinds of suffering, redeemed suffering and unredeemed suffering. Redeemed suffering are those ways we suffer that just happen to us, over which we have no control. By contrast, unredeemed suffering are the natural consequences of the bad choices we make. This has some resonance in moral theology, at least as far as the latter kind of suffering is concerned. We say that when we sin, which is to freely and with some deliberation to do something I know is wrong, I can recognize, be contrite, ask for forgiveness, be forgiven, but the natural consequences of the choice still have to be faced. I always see that as God being a good Father, who, while making me face up to what I have done, does not make me do it alone.

Not just in the end, but right now, Christ can redeem everything, even the bad choices. This is why people who say things like, "Everything happens for a reason," are often misguided, especially if they mean this in some vaguely deterministic sense. When used in this way, it becomes an empty catch-phrase to use when you can't think of anything else to say to someone who is suffering in that redeemed way. Far from being comforting, it is actually quite hurtful, a nice pseudo-spiritual way of saying "Sucks to be you." Nonetheless, while the things that happen to us are not pre-determined, Christ can work with it all if we let Him, which means trusting Him, trusting is a choice we make in freedom, taking Him up on his invitation to see for ourselves.

St. Paul, who knew what it meant to suffer for Christ, for the Church, spells it out well in his magnificent Letter to the Romans, which was likely the last thing he wrote. It is a mature reflection, which means that his words can be taken in a reductive, that is, a sentimental way, or appreciated for the experiences that led to his insight, which we can verify for ourselves through our own experiences.

"Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified" (8:26-30).

In his commentary on Romans, which remains one of the highest theological achievements of the last century, Protestant theologian Karl Barth, who Pope Pius XII once said was the most important theologian since Aquinas, argued that the God who is revealed in the cross of Jesus challenges and overthrows any attempt to ally God with human cultures, achievements, or possessions. This is why Paul was such a dangerous man in the empire, this why the proclamation of the Kingdom is inherently radical and must resist being co-opted by any party or human politics. While thinking about Barth, especially as it regards the last sentence of our passage from Romans, I need to note that it was he who articulated the idea of universal election. According to Barth, God calls everybody. The predestination about which Paul writes is all inclusive, we are all created and redeemed for salvation. However, not everyone responds to this call, that is, recognizes or embraces their destiny. I guess the point here is freedom.


Freedom scares us. Returning to Dostoevsky (I suppose I remain intent on playing off the Protestant and Orthodox this morning), here's something Ivan's Grand Inquistor says to Jesus, who turns up during the Inquisition and is Himself subjected to interrogation: "You desired man to love you freely, to follow You freely, enticed and taken captive by You. In place of the rigid ancient law, man must hereafter with freedom of heart decide for himself what is good and what is evil, having only Your image before him as his guide. But you did not know that he would at last reject even Your image and Your truth, if he is weighed down with the fearful burden of free choice? They will cry aloud at last that the truth is not in You, for they could not have been left in greater confusion and suffering than You have caused, laying upon them so many cares and unanswerable problems."

Moving towards a Catholic synthesis, I look to Giorgio Sarco's 1979 interview with Don Giussani, What Kind of Life Gives Birth to Communion and Liberation?, in which Sarco asks, "You spoke about Protestant culture and Orthodox as well.Since you have such a lively sympathy for these religious traditions,why are you Catholic? To which Don Gius replies:

"From this point of view,what is decisive for me is the answer that Newman gave to the same question: because this is the unbroken tradition that began with Christ and His Apostles and reaches us now. Besides, the Catholic Church is the only one (along with the Orthodox) that preserves the original structure with which the Father chose to communicate Himself to mankind; the sacramental structure is rooted in the presence of God in Christ. And it is the only structure of the religious event that is completely, fully human. In fact, truth is attractive as the adequatio between what is in front of us and the perception we have of ourselves. Now, in the sacrament of Christ, God comes forth toward man and becomes an encounter full of truth and even human fascination. Nothing exists that corresponds more to man’s nature. But there’s also another reason. It is precisely the respectful and admiring encounter I had with the spirit of Protestantism and the genius of Orthodoxy that allowed me to better understand how the Catholic Church is the only place where the Orthodox sense of communion and the Protestant zest for the concrete and for the individual can be harmoniously reconciled in a complete synthesis."

It bears noting that Giussani's most sustained encounter with Protestantism was when he was sent by his bishop to the U.S. for a few years, not as a punishment exactly, but suffice it to say that the idea to come to the U.S. was not an idea that originated with Don Gius, but something he freely accepted out of obedience. It worked not only for his good, but the good of the Movement, and the good of the Church. In the spirit of the Baptizer and of Don Gius, which is the spirit of human freedom, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30).

The other night my 16 year-old son was complaining that he had nothing to read. Oddly, his room is right next to my den, which has built-in bookshelves and many, many books. The book I pulled and suggested he read is 1984, a great tome. Next up for him, Dostoevsky's Notes From the Underground. The edition I have contains the Grand Inquisitor excerpt from The Brothers Karamazov. I look forward to our discussions.

St. John the Baptizer, pray for us.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Hierarchy update

It was announced today that the Holy Father has named Bishop Joseph McFadden, who had been an auxiliary in Philadelphia, to be the new bishop of the Diocese of Harriburg, PA. Bishop McFadden is 63 years old and succeeds Bishop Kevin Rhoades, who is now the bishop of the Diocese of Ft Wayne-South Bend, IN.

Bishop McFadden's elevation to ordinary leaves only two vacant Latin Rite dioceses in the U.S.: San Antonio, TX and Orlando, FL.

Meanwhile number of U.S. Roman Catholic ordinaries serving past the age 75 is growing. This group, now numbering six, includes the archbishop of Philadelphia, His Eminence, Justin Cardinal Rigali, Archbishops Brunett and Beltran of Seattle and Oklahoma City respectively, along with Bishops Skylstad of Spokane, WA, Boland of Savannah, GA, Smith of Trenton, NJ. Bishop-elect O'Connell, formerly president of Catholic University of America, has been named co-adjutor for Trenton and will succeed Bishop Smith when his retirement is accepted by the Holy Father. So, the Diocese of Trenton will not be vacant.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A prayer for Father's Day

Our Father, Who art in heaven,
Hallowed be Thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come.
Thy Will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. Amen.



"The Lord's Prayer is truly the summary of the whole gospel" (Tertullian).

St. Joseph, selfless Guardian of our Lord, pray for all fathers.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Waiting to be changed by Him

I am very happy that the Fraternity's Spiritual Exercises, Can A Man Be Born Again, Once He Is Old, are now available. The title is taken from a pericope in St. John's Gospel, a dialogue the Lord had with Nicodemus. More specifically, it is Nicodemus' response to something Jesus said: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:1-14).

And so it is with the following words that Fr. Carron begins the Exercises:

"We have all arrived here more or less aware of having come out of a desire, an expectation, a longing for something to happen to our lives, which will renew them, which will give them a new start if they have stopped, and overcome the skepticism that worms its way into us and paralyzes us, bringing us a breath of fresh air that will free us from suffocating within our circumstances.

"We know well that the only one who has introduced this novelty into history is Christ. We all come here motivated by the hope that He awakened in us one day, in you, in me, that thrill that we felt that shook us up and that we still feel inside ever since the day it happened to us. But how many aspects of our personalities, of our lives, are still waiting to be changed by Him!" (underlining and emboldening emphasis mine).

For me, especially right now, many aspects of my personality that have bearing on my personal life and my most important human relationship need to change. I know I need Him in order to change because if I could make these changes on my own, I would have made them already.

"One prisoner had been brought out of his cell"

"The gallows stood in a small yard, separate from the main grounds of the prison, and overgrown with tall prickly weeds. It was a brick erection like three sides of a shed, with planking on top, and above that two beams and a crossbar with the rope dangling. The hangman, a grey-haired convict in the white uniform of the prison, was waiting beside his machine. He greeted us with a servile crouch as we entered. At a word from Francis the two warders, gripping the prisoner more closely than ever, half led, half pushed him to the gallows and helped him clumsily up the ladder. Then the hangman climbed up and fixed the rope round the prisoner's neck.

"We stood waiting, five yards away. The warders had formed in a rough circle round the gallows. And then, when the noose was fixed, the prisoner began crying out on his god. It was a high, reiterated cry of 'Ram! Ram! Ram! Ram!', not urgent and fearful like a prayer or a cry for help, but steady, rhythmical, almost like the tolling of a bell. The dog answered the sound with a whine. The hangman, still standing on the gallows, produced a small cotton bag like a flour bag and drew it down over the prisoner's face. But the sound, muffled by the cloth, still persisted, over and over again: 'Ram! Ram! Ram! Ram! Ram!'"

The chair in which Ronnie Lee Gardner was shot, still showing the entry holes of the rounds that pierced his heart, from the Deseret News

"The hangman climbed down and stood ready, holding the lever. Minutes seemed to pass. The steady, muffled crying from the prisoner went on and on, 'Ram! Ram! Ram!' never faltering for an instant. The superintendent, his head on his chest, was slowly poking the ground with his stick; perhaps he was counting the cries, allowing the prisoner a fixed number-- fifty, perhaps, or a hundred. Everyone had changed colour. The Indians had gone grey like bad coffee, and one or two of the bayonets were wavering. We looked at the lashed, hooded man on the drop, and listened to his cries--each cry another second of life; the same thought was in all our minds: oh, kill him quickly, get it over, stop that abominable noise!"

from A Hanging, by George Orwell

Friday, June 18, 2010

"The meaning and significance of the cross are inexhaustible"

St. Maria Skobtsova of Paris is a modern saint. Her manifest holiness of life and her martrydom in a Nazi concentration camp were formally recognized in January 2004 by the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul along with that of her son, Yuri, her friend and supporter, Fr. Dimitri Klépinin, and her close friend and collaborator Ilya Fondaminsky. All four died in German concentration camps. Their feast day is observed on 20 July, just two days before that my beloved Magdalene. Of course, they are not on the Catholic calendar.

I suppose if one had to find a more familiar analogue for her it would be Dorothy Day, but such analogies only have the effect of diminshing the martyria of both women in just the way Dorothy Day was worried about being dismissed. To push the analogy a bit further, she is Day with some Blessed Teresa of Calcutta thrown in. Jim Forest, who edited Mother Maria Skobtsova: Essential Writings for Orbis Books' Modern Spiritual Master series, has a great introductory article to the life of this modern saint Saint of the Open Door.

Icon of Sts. Maria Skobtsova, her son Yuri, Fr. Dimitri Klépinin, Ilya Fondaminsky

In addition to this introductory piece, In Communion also provides several short articles and essays by Mother Maria, who shows herself to be no mean theologian. One of my favorite pieces is her Taking Up the Cross, a particularly appropriate piece for a Friday:

"warnings sound from two different sides. On one side, the humanistic world, even as it accepts the foundations of Christian morality in inter-human relations, simply does not need any further deepening, any justification that does not come from itself. This world keeps within three dimensions, and with those three dimensions it exhausts the whole of existence. On the other side, the world connected with the Church also warns us: often the very theme of man seems something secondary to it, something that removes us from the one primary thing, from an authentic communion with God. For this world, Christianity is this relation to God. The rest is christianizing or christianification.

"We must be deaf to these two warnings. We must not only suppose, we must know that the first of them, coming from a world deprived of God, destroys the very idea of man, who is nothing if he is not the image of God, while the second destroys the idea of the Church, which is nothing if it does not imply the individual human being within it, as well as the whole of mankind.

"We must not only be deaf to these warnings, we must be convinced that the question of an authentic and profound religious attitude toward man is precisely the meeting point of all questions of the Christian and the godless world, and that even this godless world is waiting for a word from Christianity, the only word capable of healing and restoring all, and perhaps sometimes even of raising what is dead."
St. Maria Skobtsova, pray for us.

"And don't come back until you've redeemed yourselves."



To mark the 30th anniversary of the release of The Blues Brothers the Vatican's in-house newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, this week had a page length article on what many of us have long deemed a classic film. It is now officially a "Catholic classic."

Following the exploits of Jake and Elwood, just out of prison, is an intense ride, so intense that it is easy to lose the thread of the story. Even today I hear a lot of random quotes from The Blues Brothers perhaps the most frequent is Elwood's matter-of-fact statement- "We're on a mission from God." They are! Their whole quest in the movie is to raise money for the orphange in which they were raised to keep it from closing. L'Osservatore Romano sees in this film echoes of the story of the prodigal son, albeit ones who, upon their release from prison, set about to make up for the error of their ways, making it, as the title of this post indicates, a little Pelagian in orientation. Jake, Elwood, and their blues band are signs of "redemption obtained with sacrifice." The newspaper even refers to Elwood passing up the chance for one night stand with a gorgeous blond, played by Twiggy, to fulfill their mission as an example of this.

Since The Blues Brothers was released in 1980, the song Everybody Needs Somebody as rendered by The Blues Brothers is our Friday traditio and the fifth song in our summer '80s retrospective. Besides, who can forget Cab Calloway's performance in the film and him singing Minnie the Moocher?

"Sometimes I feel, I feel a little sad inside
When my baby mistreats me, I never, never, never have a place to hide."


We all need somebody to love, but more than that we need someone to love us, someone for whom we will make sacrifices, someone who makes us want to live selflessly. Let us not forget, especially on this penitential Friday, that "[i]n this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10). In a similar Pelagian vein, too often we overestimate ourselves and think ourselves too selfless. In all honesty, are we more likely serve someone else in a self-sacrificing way because we love them so much, or because they love us? When we serve anybody out of love, which is only genuine caritas if our service requires of us a sacrifice, we serve them for the love of Christ, Who loves us not just to the point of dying for us, but to the point of overcoming death for us: "Christus resurrexit quia Deus caritas est"- Pope Benedict XVI

Elwood: "It's 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark, and we're wearing sunglasses."

Jake: "Hit it."

Monday, June 14, 2010

Birthday wishes for two special people


Today is my youngest daughter, Sophia's, tenth birthday. She is our millennium child. Can you believe that children born in 2000 are 10! Happy birthday dear, sweet, lovely little lady! One of our favorite things we do together is listen to Abba. Her baptism name is Rose, her confirmation name is Mary, as in the Blessed Virgin. So, Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us. St. Rose of Lima, pray for us.

It is also the birthday of His Excellency, Archbishop George Niederauer, who ordained me a deacon. He turns 74 today. While the Abba tribute is certainly not appropriate for him, I didn't want to let the opportunity pass to publicly wish him a happy birthday, too.

Speaking of San Francisco, one of our wedding anniversary traditions is to watch So I Married an Axe Murderer.

Two other birthdays of note: the U.S. flag and the U.S. Army.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Chronicle of a troubled time for Israeli-U.S.-Palestinian relations

Today Il Sussidiario published another article I wrote on the Middle East, The different attitude of Bush and Obama. I will admit that it was a difficult article to write, but our overall foreign policy is giving great impetus to nations bent on pursuing goals that are contrary to peace and international order. Nowhere is this more evident than the Middle East.


Therefore, I want to draw attention to a few previous articles published by Il Sussidiario since early last fall that chronicle our turn in the wrong direction, as well-intentioned as that turn might be:

20 November 2009- Abbas' resignation would raise serious concerns for both Palestine and Israel

18 October 2009- The Goldstone Report condemns the Israeli "deliberately disproportionate attack" on Gaza

11 October 2009- Nobel Prize/Obama awarded: what were they thinking?

29 September 2009- US Foreign Policy after the G-20: A New Naiveté?

28 September 2009- Obama, Abbas, and Netanyahu: what about Gaza?

Before submitting it for publication, I sent my latest article on the contrast between the approaches of Presidents Bush and Obama to Israeli/Palestinian relations to a priest friend of mine. I asked for and received absolution for being way too hard on President Bush. To his responding e-mail he attached a picture of President Bush with the caption, Miss me yet? For me now, this is a rhetorical question. Nonetheless, I am greatly heartened by the rise of a new generation of politicians, like Marco Rubio, who is running for U.S. Senate in Florida, who seem to get it.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Priesthood and the forgetfulness of the "I"

An article by Fr. Carrón that appeared in the 9 July 2010 edition of the Vatican's newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, makes a wonderful statement about the essence of priesthood at the end of the Annus Sacerdotalis. In order to be priest, a man must first of all embrace his own humanity, just as God did when Christ became a man. Fr.Carrón offers a beautiful synthesis of priesthood today. As the Holy Father himself said in his homily at the Mass he concelebrated yesterday with more than 15,000 priests:

"Had the Year for Priests been a glorification of our individual human performance, it would have been ruined by [the scandal involving the sexual abuse of children]. But for us what happened was precisely the opposite: we grew in gratitude for God’s gift, a gift concealed in 'earthen vessels' which ever anew, even amid human weakness, makes his love concretely present in this world. So let us look upon all that happened as a summons to purification, as a task which we bring to the future and which makes us acknowledge and love all the more the great gift we have received from God." The greatest gift we receive from God, of course, is Jesus Christ. Precisely because it is a sacrament, priesthood is one of the primary modes of Christ's presence among us. Hence, the very person of the priest makes Christ present.

"First of all, authentically human," by Fr. Julián Carrón

"I will never forget the impact of a question at a spiritual retreat with some priests in Latin America. I had just finished saying that often our faith lacks the human, when a priest approached me and said that when he was in seminary, they taught him that it was better to hide his concrete humanity, not to have it in sight 'because it disturbed the journey of faith.' This episode made me more aware of how Christianity can be reduced and of the state of confusion in which we are called to live our priestly vocation. Once someone asked Fr. Giussani his advice for a young priest, 'That he be above all a man,' he answered, to the surprise of those present. We find ourselves at the polar opposite of the advice given the seminarian: on the one hand, to look away from one’s humanity, and on the other, a gaze full of fondness for oneself.

"So then, what is decisive for our faith and our vocation? What do we need? Fr. Giussani repeatedly indicated that 'the forgetfulness of the "I",' the absence of authentic interest for one’s own person is the 'supreme obstacle to our human journey' (Alla ricerca del volto umano, Rizzoli, Milano 1995, p. 9). Instead, true love for oneself, true affection for oneself is what leads us to rediscover our constituent exigencies, our original needs in their nakedness and vastness, so as to see ourselves as relationship with the Mystery, entreaty for the infinite, structural expectant awaiting. Only people so 'wounded' by reality, so seriously engaged with their own humanity can open themselves totally to the encounter with the Lord. Fr. Giussani affirms, 'In fact, Christ offers Himself as the answer to what “I” am and only an attentive and also tender and passionate awareness of myself can throw me wide open and dispose me to acknowledge, admire, thank, and live Christ. Without this awareness, even that of Jesus Christ becomes a mere name' (At the Origin of the Christian Claim, Montreal: McGill-Queen’s, 1998, p. 4).


"'There is no response more absurd than that to a question one hasn’t asked' wrote Reinhold Niebuhr. This also applies to us when we uncritically submit to the influence of the culture in which we are immersed, which seems to favor the reduction of humanity to our biological, psychological and sociological antecedents. But if humanity is truly reduced to this, what is our task as priests? What use are we? What is the sense of our vocation? How can we resist a flight from reality, taking refuge in spiritualism or formalism, seeking alternatives that make life bearable? Or wouldn’t it be better, obeying the cultural climate, to become social assistants, psychologists, cultural operators or politicians? As Benedict XVI reminded us in Lisbon, 'Often we are anxiously preoccupied with the social, cultural and political consequences of the faith, taking for granted that faith is present, which unfortunately is less and less realistic. Perhaps we have placed an excessive trust in ecclesial structures and programs, in the distribution of powers and functions; but what will happen if salt loses its flavor?' (Homily at Holy Mass at Terriero do Paço of Lisbon, May 11, 2010).

"Therefore, everything depends on the perception, first of all for us, of what humanity is and what truly corresponds to our infinite desire. The decision with which we live our vocation therefore derives from the decision with which we live our being men. Only within an authentically human vibration can we know Christ and let ourselves be fascinated by Him, to the point of giving Him our lives to make Him known to others. 'Why does the faith still absolutely have a chance of success?' then Cardinal Ratzinger asked himself, and answered, 'I would say because it finds correspondence in the nature of man. […] In man there is a inextinguishable nostalgic aspiration toward the infinite. None of the answers sought is sufficient; only the God who has made Himself finite, to lacerate our finiteness and lead it in the breadth of His infinity, is able to meet the questions of our being. Therefore today as well, Christian faith will return to find humanity.' (Truth And Tolerance: Christian Belief And World Religions San Francisco: Ignatius, 2004).

"This certainty that Benedict XVI testifies to continually even in the face of all the evil we bring upon ourselves or cause others – just think of the pedophilia issue – invites us on a journey to rediscover and deepen our understanding of the reasonableness of the faith: 'Our faith is well-founded, but this faith needs to come alive in each of us […]: only Christ can fully satisfy the profound longing of every human heart and give answers to its most pressing questions about suffering, injustice and evil, concerning death and life hereafter' (Homily at Holy Mass at Terriero do Paço di Lisbon, May 11, 2010). Only if we experience the truth of Christ in our life will we have the courage to communicate it and the audacity to challenge the hearts of the people we meet. In this way, the priesthood will continue to be an adventure for each of us and thus the opportunity to testify to our fellow women and men the answer that only Christ is for the 'mystery of our being' (G. Leopardi). Thank you."

Friday, June 11, 2010

Hierarchy update

It was announced today that Bishop William Patrick Callhan, O.F.M. Conv., who was serving as an auxiliary bishop in Milwaukee, is the new bishop of LaCrosse, Wisconsin. His Excellency, a Francisan friar, was ordained a bishop in 2007. He turns 60 next week.

The appointment of Bishop Callhan to LaCrosse leaves 3 vacancies in Latin Rite dioceses in the U.S.: Harrisburg, PA; Orlando, FL; San Antonio, TX.

Five ordinaries are serving past the age at which they are required to submit their resignations to the Holy Father: Justin Cardinal Rigali, archbishop of Philadelphia, along with Archbishops Brunett and Beltran of Seattle and Oklahoma City respectively, and Bishops Skylstad of Spokane, WA and Boland of Savannah, GA.

"Your demons come to light and your mind is not your own"


Billy Squier's Lonely Is the Night is our Friday traditio for this Feast of the Sacred Heart. This marks the fourth song of our '80s summer program.

"It's a high time to fight when the walls are closin' in
Call it what you like--it's time you got to win
Lonely, lonely, lonely--your spirit's sinkin' down
You find you're not the only stranger in this town"

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Sadness in Anatolia

Bishop Luigi Padovese, O.F.M. Capuchin on the right

Here is what the Holy Father sent to the Church in Turkey through Cardinal Bertone, his Secretary of State, upon learning of the murder of Bishop Luigi Padovese. His Excellency was murdered on 3 June, when he was stabbed to death by his driver. Bishop Padovese was supposed to join Pope Benedict on his Apostolic Journey to Cyprus, but cancelled at the last minute because he was worried that the man who killed him would to assassinate the the Holy Father:

Bishop "Padovese's death deeply saddened us. The pope wished for me to offer his condolences politely to you and stressed that with prayers, he is close to all bishops, archbishops, fathers, priests, nuns and all Christian communities in Turkey. … The pope, who is wholeheartedly close to all people who shed tears of pain because of what happened to Luigi Padovese, bestows holy blessings on you via the Messiah Christ, our salvation and source of hope.”

It was just a few short years ago that Fr. Santoro, another Italian missionary, was murdered in Turkey. I may write more later. I am having a difficult time synthesizing all that is happening in this part of the world right now. Today was his funeral. Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord, your good and faithful servant. The Church is poorer without him.

UPDATE: Archbishbp Franceschini of Izmir (Smyrna), who was named apostolic administrator of the Apostolic Vicariate of Anatolia, Bishop Luigi's jurisdiction, said at his funeral in Iskenderun: "Do not lose heart, be happy, like the Apostles, to live in suffering and trial, without abandoning your faith, which is why we hope, it is the foundation of our joy.

"Yes, dear brothers, joy!

"And nobody will be able to extinguish this torch, because it is sustained not only by the many martyrs and saints of these lands, the Blessed Virgin patron saint of this community, but today, I am sure, one more angel is now at the throne of God: our servant, our Bishop Luigi."

As with the Little Flower, Luigi Padovese, martyr, will be of more use in heaven. This is our faith, the faith of the Church.

"Who's to say where the wind will take you?"

I am not old, but I am getting older, as we all are. What strikes me is not so much how life changes, but how I change. I would really have to say that the last 10-12 years have been busy for me, I mean really busy, insanely busy at times. It has also been the most fruitful period of my life, if not always the most enjoyable. I am also starting to see how internally driven I am. This is not a revelation, but to begin to discover just how driven I am is equal parts surprising and disturbing. I am not driven to succeed, but to pursue the things that I think matter. As things ramp down in my ministry for the summer, at least the religious education aspect, I have found myself the past three of four evenings just exhausted, what I would call bone tired.

I know that I need to make some changes, to have fewer commitments in order to spend more time at home, more time in prayer, more time on the trails hiking, to finish a major writing project, and certainly to read more. All of this will be a point of discernment for me these next three months. Of course, blogging is something that always requires discernment for me because of the way I blog, which is like I do everything else in my life, intensely. Hell, even the theology, philosophy, and literature I read, not to mention the movies I prefer and the music to which I listen, are intense. I make no apologies for that at all. The criteria I use is that if something is worth doing, it's worth putting all of myself into it. Frankly, I have found a lot of things, even things I was good at, that weren't worth doing.

All of this puts me in mind of the U2 song Kite, which begins:

"Something is about to give
I can feel it coming
I think I know what it means
I'm not afraid to die
I'm not afraid to live
And when I'm flat on my back
I hope to feel like I did"

The day I lose that intensity, which is indicative of my desire, which is what leads me to recognize my need, will be the day I die, the day my need will be fulfilled and my desire satisfied. St. Paul writing from his desire, says: "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known" (1 Cor. 13:12 ESV).

"Did I waste it?
Not so much I couldn't taste it
Life should be fragrant
Roof top to the basement"

Monday, June 7, 2010

"The Cross...has nothing to do with an imposition of a creed"

"The Cross, then, is something far greater and more mysterious than it at first appears. It is indeed an instrument of torture, suffering and defeat, but at the same time it expresses the complete transformation, the definitive reversal of these evils: that is what makes it the most eloquent symbol of hope that the world has ever seen. It speaks to all who suffer – the oppressed, the sick, the poor, the outcast, the victims of violence – and it offers them hope that God can transform their suffering into joy, their isolation into communion, their death into life. It offers unlimited hope to our fallen world.

Marc Chagall, The Yellow Crucifixion, 1943

"That is why the world needs the Cross. The Cross is not just a private symbol of devotion, it is not just a badge of membership of a certain group within society, and in its deepest meaning it has nothing to do with the imposition of a creed or a philosophy by force. It speaks of hope, it speaks of love, it speaks of the victory of non-violence over oppression, it speaks of God raising up the lowly, empowering the weak, conquering division, and overcoming hatred with love. A world without the Cross would be a world without hope, a world in which torture and brutality would go unchecked, the weak would be exploited and greed would have the final word. Man’s inhumanity to man would be manifested in ever more horrific ways, and there would be no end to the vicious cycle of violence. Only the Cross puts an end to it. While no earthly power can save us from the consequences of our sins, and no earthly power can defeat injustice at its source, nevertheless the saving intervention of our loving God has transformed the reality of sin and death into its opposite. That is what we celebrate when we glory in the Cross of our Redeemer"

PP Benedictus XVI in his homily from Saturday, 5 June in the Church of the Holy Cross, Nicosia, Cyprus.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The surprising answer to a seemingly silly question

"Can a man be a virgin once he is married and has children?" This sounds like a silly question. In reality it is no sillier than the question asked the Lord by Nicodemus, when he asked, "can a man be born when he is old" (John 3:4)? The answer to both questions, surprisingly, is Yes! Giussani, in the final chapter of the third volume of Is It Possible, says, "Virginity is to profess the presence of God in the world; Christ, this man, here and now. Apart from this, there's nothing, everything ends up nothing...man's vocation is virginity...[a]nd to this virginity, God gives one task or another. There is only one vocation." The one vocation, to which we are called when we are baptized, is to follow Christ. So, if God "gives a certain task, that of family, it's then that St Peter says, after considering everything, 'If that's the case, it's better not to get married'" (Matt. 19:10 emboldened emphasis mine).

"Just as the vocation was given to you, it is preserved for you in front of the world by the same thing, that is, by the same hand, by the same face of Christ that told you 'Come,' and said 'Come' to people who are like all the others."

All of this reminds me of Kierkegaard's Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing

Is It Possible, vol 3, pgs. 115-116

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Corpus Christi


"The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread" (1 Cor. 10:16-17).

Friday, June 4, 2010

"Should have taken warning"


The Fixx, an 80s group if there ever was one. I am trying to post, at least during these inaugural weeks, songs from 1980-85, songs that I liked, that formed a big part of my own experience of those times. Red Skies At Night alluded to the Cold War, as did many songs in those days.

While détente went some distance to allaying fears about a huge war involving the Soviet Union and the U.S., the fear of mutually assured destruction was still a great concern to everyone. It's weird that a little more than 20 years since the fall of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact that so little of this is spoken about these days.

Leonoid Brezhnev, who had led the Soviet Union since the ouster of Nikita Krushchev in 1964 (he was part of a governing trioka from 1964-1977, and led the Soviet Union himself from 1977-1982), died in 1982, he was replaced by former KGB head Yuri Andropov, who died less than two years later and was succeeded by Konstantin Chenenko, another old man, who died a little more than a year after becoming the Soviet leader. This leadership crisis, though it was not apparent at the time, was the initial fissure that showed that the Soviet Union was not invincible. It was in 1985 that Gorbachev became the leader of the Soviet Union.

Of course, communism was not aided by the election of the Pole, Karol Wojtyla, who was chosen to be Pope in 1978. I know there are often mixed feelings among Catholics about JPII. I for one unabashedly love him and thank God for his long pontificate. Regardless of your feelings about him, he knew Soviet-style communism for the evil it was, for its gross inhumanity, and, refusing to remain passive in the face of evil, he played no small role in the demise of the evil empire, brushing aside, as did Reagan and Thatcher, all the Ostpolitic, realpolitic nonsense that really amounted to appeasement and rapproachnment with evil. This is something our current administration could take a lesson from in dealing with the likes of Iran and their proxies, namely Hizbollah and Hamas, along with Syria, and, sadly, Turkey, which has increasingly, as it turns more into an Islamist state under the rule of Erdogan and the Freedom Party, gotten in on the antagonism. JPII was also the first to warn the recently liberated peoples and governments of central Europe to trod a new path and not be content to replace a totalitarian system with a western consumerist model, which is arguably just as inhuman, some ways maybe more so.

Not a terribly inspiring choice of song, but one very rooted in the era.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The birth of the novel, according Kundera

In contrast to the Greek world of antiquity, the world that produced the great epics, The Iliad and The Odyssey,"Hegel contrasts the society of his own period: organized into the state, equipped with a constitution, laws, a justice system, an omnipotent administration, ministries, a police force, and so on. This society imposes its moral principles on the individual, whose behavior is thus determined far more by anonymous wishes coming from outside than by his own personality. And it is in such a world that the novel was born. Like the epic in earlier times, the novel too is founded on action. But in a novel action is made problematic, appears as a many-faceted question...what does the word 'freedom' mean in concreto, in the bureaucratized modern world where the possibilities are so minute?"- Milan Kundera from Aesthetics and Existence, part five of the The Curtain: An Essay in Seven Parts.

While this strikes me as a fairly conservative critique of the state, it is really a human critique. It is important to note that Kundera is not a radical opposed to the state, that is, he is not an anarchist. I like this observation because it could form the basis of a great discussion by people who agree with it, but who hold very different political views.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

"to open you up to the hope of overcoming [your evil]"

God loves us. So what, you might respond. This response is not a rejection of the fact that constitutes the horizon of human existence, but arises instead from the difficulty we have seeing what difference it makes in our lives and from hearing this statement used in a sentimental way, which is to say this in a way that fails to relate directly to the reality we live in any given moment. As I was re-reading the last assembly on virginity in the third volume of Is It Possible?, I was struck not by how much God loves me, but by precisely how God loves me. This insight also arises from my continual engagement with the writings of St. Paul, especially his Letter to the Romans, which, if coupled with the Gospel According to John, would be enough for me read for the rest of my life.

It is a fact of my life that I sin, both in what I do and in what I fail to do. When I have the grace to recognize my sins, I am truly sorry for them. I go to confession on a fairly regular basis these days, which is a sure channel of grace for me precisely because I am coming to see the point in going much more clearly, something I can only learn through experience: So, what Don Giussani said is not what I want my experience to be. Instead, what he says is descriptive:

"But with Jesus, nothing's lost any more - even your own evil remains, transformed into gratitude. And even your own evil, were it to be repeated a hundred times, the result of the hundredth time is to open you up to the hundred and first time, to open you up to the hope of overcoming it..." (pg. 110).


Without this attitude towards the evil we do, which is what we don't want to do, but continue to do because we refuse to give up what we must give up, we defeat ourselves. For a long time I would go to confession, make my confession, and leave not unburdened, but burdened because (and I even remember consciously thinking this) now I had to be perfect. It was all up to me! Ha! What foolishness, pride, and self-deception! I do not go to confession in order to ask the Lord to put me back in charge, but to acknowledge, again, my desire to follow Him, which is to follow the One who will lead me to my destiny, the fulfillment of my desire.

Don Gius goes on to say that "the overcoming of our evil happens when God wants it" (pg. 110). He also says that my response cannot be "OK, so I'll do whatever I want; when God wants He'll change me" (ibid). So, what should my response be? According to Giussani, I "have to desire, to desire more," which means interrogating my heart in order to know what I really want, which is everything; nothing less than being fully satisfied (ibid).

In commenting on Leopardi's poem Canto alla sua donna (Song to his lady), Giussani says, "Up to that point, Leopardi had fallen in love first with one woman, then another, and yet another; but he understood that there was something else that he was seeking inside the face of every woman - namely Beauty itself, to which no woman's face did complete justice (What Kind Of Life Gives Birth To Communion and Liberation[?]: An Interview with Luigi Giusani, pg. 3). Chesterton summed this up a bit more concisely, when he averred that "Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God."