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The Answer is "Yes", Dad PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Thursday, 29 April 2010 18:01

Years ago, when I was discerning whether to enter religious life, particularly with the Dominicans, my father was curious.  He was a very successful engineer, and was, at the time, the Director of Research for Caterpillar tractor company.  He wanted to know what Dominicans did, what their life was like, would he be getting monthly mailings asking for donations, etc.

Then he asked, "Do Dominicans ever become bishops?  How about pope?"  I had to smile, because it seemed as though he was thinking, "if my son's not going to be some hotshot geophysicist, how far can he go as a Dominican?"  I assured him that from time to time a Dominican had been named bishop (although, perhaps more often than not, he refused - but I didn't tell him that).  In addition, four Dominicans have captained the barque of Peter.Pius_V

Today is the feast of Pope St. Pius V, one of the four Dominicans elected Popes and the only Dominican Pope canonized to date. Born in 1504 in Milan to a poor, working-class family, he entered the Dominican Order at the age of 14 (!), and was elected Pope in 1566, taking the name of Pius V.  He promulgated the Roman Missal of the Council of Trent and vigorously defended Christian Europe against attacks from the Turks. Most notable was his plea to Catholics across Europe to pray the rosary and ask for Mary's intercession on behalf of the coalition navy of Italian, German and Spanish ships that sailed to meet the Ottoman Turkish fleet, the most powerful fleet in the world.  The eastern Mediterranean was already controlled by the Turks, and they had two months previously captured Cyprus.  All of southern Europe, including sea commerce, was threatened.

At Lepanto, off the Greek coast, the two forces of over 400 ships met in two straight lines stretching north to south.  It was the last battle at sea between oared ships, and the Ottoman force included 13,000 sailors and 34,000 soldiers and between 12,000 to 15,000 Christian slaves as rowers.  The Catholics had about 12,000 sailors and 28,000 soldiers, but more artillery.  After the decisive victory, Pius V instituted the Feast of Our Lady of Victory, which later became the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary (October 7th).

Pope Pius V depended upon corporate intercessory prayer to protect the Catholic fleet - and for good reason.  After this battle, the various elements of the fleet bickered amongst themselves, thwarting any attempts to recapture Constantinople.  But, at least for that one decisive battle, Mary's intercession, along with the prayers of untold numbers of Christians, held the fragile alliance.

It is believed that Pope Pius V originated the custom of wearing white by the Popes, since he wore the white Dominican habit after his election to the papacy.  He is buried in Rome in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.

I'm sure my father was happy that a few Dominicans had climbed the heights of the ecclesial ladder.  I'm much more happy working at the Catherine of Siena Institute and praying the rosary for peace.

St. Catherine of Siena: Loving Whom God Loves PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Thursday, 29 April 2010 04:53

Yesterday at 1:00 a.m., two dear friends welcomed the birth of their first child, John.  It was a difficult birth which began at their home with a midwife and ended up in the hospital with an emergency C-section.  Thanks be to God both mother and son are doing great.  I went to visit the family in the hospital yesterday morning, taking them communion and a teddy bear.

I knocked on the door and entered the darkened room when I heard their welcome.  I didn't plan on staying long, since neither of them got any sleep the day before.  I congratulated them, told the new mom how proud I was of her, listened to the new father talk a bit about how frightened he'd been the night before I noticed the high-tech crib between them!  Getting closer, I leaned over and saw the face of their precious, sleeping newborn, only nine hours old.

And I was overwhelmed with emotions.

It hit me so suddenly and unexpectedly, I had to turn away.  You see, I know the dad's story very, very well.  He's told me about his conversion five years ago, and I have seen God's grace at work in him, and experienced God's grace at work through him on my behalf.  I witnessed the evolution of the relationship between him and his wife - a friendship that blossomed into love founded first of all on a shared love for Jesus and a desire for holiness.  It has not always been an easy course, but that's the nature of relationship.

This morning I awoke thinking of that wave of emotions, and what it means.

It seems as though it's a reminder of something that I too easily forget in the midst of the mundane activities of life.  But the saints don't forget it, which is why they are saints.  The reminder is this; simply that we easily love the people whom our beloved loves.  I can name at least two of the emotions I felt in the presence of those three souls: a love for the child who is the fruit of their love, and an overwhelming gratitude for what God has done and continues to do in their lives - and also gratitude for the love that I have received from them.

St. Catherine of Siena knew this transitive nature of love.  She wrote to Ristoro di Piero Canigiani of Florence:CATHERIN

"It is the nature of love to love as much as we feel we are loved and to love whatever the one we love loves." Letter T299.

This is an important insight to consider on this feastday of St. Catherine, the patroness of Europe.  It helps us understand the motives behind her tremendous zeal for the spiritual welfare of others, and why she, as a woman, was sought as an intermediary between the warring cities of fourteenth century Tuscany.

She loved those she knew were loved by Jesus, even when they themselves might have been naturally unlovable. She was able to see Christ in a condemned man, Niccolo di Toldo, who refused to see a priest.  He was to be executed for having made some critical comments about the ruling regime when he was drinking; certainly an unjust sentence, and one which made Niccolo angry at God.  She went to him, won his confidence by listening to his pain, spoke to him of Jesus and his unjust sentence of death, and accompanied Niccolo to his execution.  Later, she wrote to Raymond di Capua, OP, her friend, "I have just taken a head into my hands and have been moved so deeply that my heart cannot grasp it . . . I waited for him at the place of execution. . . he arrived like a meek lamb and when he saw me he began to smile. He asked me to make the sign of the cross over him . . . I stretched out his neck and bent down to him, reminding him of the blood of the Lamb. His lips kept murmuring only 'Jesus' and 'Catherine,' and he was still murmuring when I received his head into my hands . . . my soul rested in peace and quiet, so aware of the fragrance of blood that I could not remove the blood which had splashed onto me."

Whether it was a condemned criminal, a citizen of another city filled with hate for her, or a prelate or monarch who was giving scandal by their actions, Catherine remembered that Jesus loved them and died for their redemption, and acted accordingly.  By doing so, she aligned herself continually with the saving will of Jesus for sinners.

It is all too easy for us to "hate the sinner" as much or more as the sin.  We often feel justified in doing so, and our behavior, as a consequence, is often anything but Christian.  Rather, we choose to imitate the ways of the world, which are much more naturally satisfying to our fallen human nature.  But we are called to live a supernatural life - a life of grace.  Today we might ask for Catherine's intercession, that we might be more like Jesus, desiring to love everyone we meet, whether it is easy and natural, or not.  When it is not, then we must ask for a supernatural love - His love moving our heart and will.   In this way will we truly be friends of Jesus and all the saints and angels, and the words He spoke to Catherine, he will say to us:

If you choose me as your companion you will not be alone; my love will always be with you…

Trust in my love and set aside every fear…

Confront the princes and tyrants of this world with my strength.

Take from me the fire of my Spirit and share with all my mercy and my burning love.

You are not alone. You have me.


Glory: One Bulb at a Time PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 26 April 2010 07:24

April can have so many different meanings.

In Seattle, April 1 was the height of the magnificent cherry blossoms in the University of Washington quadrangle. Hundreds of people would come to campus just to stroll under their stunning canopy. The long, lush, flowering Seattle spring was well underway.

In the world I grew up in – the Mississippi Gulf Coast - April 1st marked the beginning of full summer: 7 months of heat & humidity. You might experience relief around Thanksgiving. You ventured outside only in early morning or the evening unless you absolutely had to. Except to swim. The rest of the time you moved from air conditioned house to air conditioned car to air conditioned business.

This morning, April 26, I woke up to snow in Colorado. Third time this week. I prefer to think of it as white rain. It’s a bit out of the ordinary to have snow in late April around here - but not unheard of. The newly greened grass, crocuses, and indomitably hardy blooming petunias will simply shrug it off and drink it in.

The plan is to finish the great garden project this summer. The last big piece is the deck, the trees and shrubs that need to be planted about the deck, and then replacing the gates that fell down six months after we moved in. Nine years ago. No hurry, no worries, right?

When Mark Shea and I were received into the Church, it was in a small Mass on the Sunday before Christmas. Our sponsors were a couple who were confirmed only 5 minutes before they turned around and sponsored us. I always remember that Louise, my sponsor, used to lament that the only virtue she seemed to possess was persistence. “Persistence is so brown, so boring”, she would say. “Why couldn’t I have qualities that were more interesting, sexy, something?

Louise did, of course, have other qualities but I think that she, like most of us in the midst of the daily struggle, seriously underestimated the power of persistence, of faithfulness. I stumbled across this story years ago and probably some of you have heard it before. But April is a very good time to remember the glories that a long obedience in the same direction can birth.


Several times my daughter had telephoned to say, "Mother, you must come to see the daffodils before they are over." I wanted to go, but it was a two-hour drive from Laguna to Lake Arrowhead "I will come next Tuesday", I promised a little reluctantly on her third call.

Next Tuesday dawned cold and rainy. Still, I had promised, and reluctantly I drove there. When I finally walked into Carolyn's house I was welcomed by the joyful sounds of happy children. I delightedly hugged and greeted my grandchildren.

"Forget the daffodils, Carolyn! The road is invisible in these clouds and fog, and there is nothing in the world except you and these children that I want to see badly enough to drive another inch!" My daughter smiled calmly and said, "We drive in this all the time, Mother." "Well, you won't get me back on the road until it clears, and then I'm heading for home!" I assured her.

"But first we're going to see the daffodils. It's just a few blocks," Carolyn said. "I'll drive. I'm used to this." "Carolyn," I said sternly, "please turn around." "It's all right, Mother, I promise. You will never forgive yourself if you miss this experience."

After about twenty minutes, we turned onto a small gravel road and I saw a small church. On the far side of the church, I saw a hand lettered sign with an arrow that read, "Daffodil Garden." We got out of the car, each took a child's hand, and I followed Carolyn down the path. Then, as we turned a corner, I looked up and gasped. Before me lay the most glorious sight.

It looked as though someone had taken a great vat of gold and poured it over the mountain peak and its surrounding slopes. The flowers were planted in majestic, swirling patterns, great ribbons and swaths of deep orange, creamy white, lemon yellow, salmon pink, and saffron and butter yellow. Each different-colored variety was planted in large groups so that it swirled and flowed like its own river with its own unique hue. There were five acres of flowers.

"Who did this?" I asked Carolyn. "Just one woman," Carolyn answered. "She lives on the property. That's her home." Carolyn pointed to a well-kept A-frame house, small and modestly sitting in the midst of all that glory. We walked up to the house.

On the patio, we saw a poster. "Answers to the Questions I Know You Are Asking", was the headline. The first answer was a simple one. "50,000 bulbs," it read. The second answer was, "One at a time, by one woman. Two hands, two feet, and one brain." The third answer was, "Began in 1958."

For me, that moment was a life-changing experience. I thought of this woman whom I had never met, who, more than forty years before, had begun, one bulb at a time, to bring her vision of beauty and joy to an obscure mountaintop. Planting one bulb at a time, year after year, this unknown woman had forever changed the world in which she lived. One day at a time, she had created something of extraordinary magnificence, beauty, and inspiration. The principle her daffodil garden taught is one of the greatest principles of celebration.

That is, learning to move toward our goals and desires one step at a time--often just one baby-step at time--and learning to love the doing, learning to use the accumulation of time. When we multiply tiny pieces of time with small increments of daily effort, we too will find we can accomplish magnificent things. We can change the world ...

"It makes me sad in a way," I admitted to Carolyn. "What might I have accomplished if I had thought of a wonderful goal thirty-five or forty years ago and had worked away at it 'one bulb at a time' through all those years? Just think what I might have been able to achieve!"

My daughter summed up the message of the day in her usual direct way.

"Start tomorrow," she said.

Reflection on the Clergy Abuse Scandal PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Sunday, 25 April 2010 08:56

The year of the priest does not seem to be going well.

The accusations against priests who have molested girls and boys are mounting in places like Ireland, Germany, Brazil, and other countries.

Bishops are being criticized for protecting their priests, rather than children.

And while, perhaps, we are too close to the issue right now to know all that has happened, clearly terrible things were done – sinful things – and even looking for explanations seems callous and truly is problematic.

As a priest of 18 years, I can say I am truly ashamed for what some of my brother priests have done, what some bishops did – for whatever reason.

I mourn for the children who were abused, many of whom are now deeply wounded adults who, sadly often for good reason, no longer trust the Church, and, in some cases, no longer trust God.


The Gospel this weekend comes from a passage immediately following Jesus’ declaration of himself as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.

Given that the word “pastor” comes from the Greek word for shepherd, and “bishop” comes from the Greek word for overseer, or guardian, it’s appropriate to reflect a bit on shepherds who acted like wolves.

Jesus says he knows his sheep and they hear his voice.


The Lord knows everything, including his sheep – and those called to be shepherds in his name.

A good pastor – a good shepherd – puts his life on the line for the sheep; their welfare is his reason for living.

And yet, the Old Testament is littered with shepherds who aren’t always good.

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, King David, were all shepherds at one point in their career – sometimes before, sometimes after God’s call to them.

But Abraham and Isaac were so fearful for their lives when they were in foreign countries that they tried to pass off their beautiful wives, Sarah and Rebekah, as their sisters.

They thought if the men of the countries they were living in knew the truth, they’d be murdered so their wives would be free to marry.

Jacob deceived his father Isaac, masquerading as his older brother Esau, and stealing his father, Isaac’s blessing.

Moses killed an Egyptian, and didn’t fully trust God to produce water from his thirsty people.

David committed adultery with Bathsheba contrived the death of Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, so he could marry her.


shepherd_in_israelPerhaps the most important shepherd of all started as a fisherman.

Simon Peter, who denied Jesus three times, is three times asked if he loves the risen Lord, and after each of what are really half-hearted responses in the Greek, Jesus says, “tend my lambs, feed my sheep.”

The bishops are flawed, like the shepherds of old.

No one of them is entirely bad, as some would try to make us believe.

Bishop Kicanas of Tucson, for example, reminded us that not every law is just, and that human rights must be protected as the governor of Arizona signed a law that invites discrimination and racial profiling.


I can tell you from painful experience that I am not completely good – nor is any human besides Our Lord and His Mother.


This is not news – it’s reality.


As painful and shameful as the sexual abuse of children by clergy is, and as appalling as the negligence in reporting it or attempts to cover it up are, I am hopeful that something good may come from this crisis.


I know from my own experience that at times I sin – and occasionally in ways that surprise and appall me.

Sometimes I recognize the sin, sometimes others have to point it out to me.

In either case, I find myself asking, “How could I have done that?”

That question causes me to step back and examine my thoughts, my rationalizations, my desires, and in those moments, God’s grace – which makes it possible for me to even recognize the sin – calls me not only to repentance, but to conversion.

Conversion is a radical change – that is, a change that is a new, humble vision of ourselves and a new realization of our utter dependence upon God and the Christ he has sent to us.


It is my hope and prayer that in this year of the priest we clergy are shocked along the laity, into realizing that we priests and bishops have strayed far from the ideal of the Good Shepherd.

I pray that we realize that we have forgotten that we are not just shepherds, but first of all sheep who must hear the voice of the one and only Good Shepherd.

We must be disciples first.

If we are not, or if we ever stray from the daily following of the Good Shepherd, we will become blind guides like the Pharisees who opposed Jesus.


Jesus was quite clear about how the leaders of his Church were to behave, and it was to be in stark contrast to the models of leadership found in the world.

At the last supper in the Gospel of John, when he’s giving the most intimate of teaching to his apostles, Jesus washes their feet and says, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” John 13:15

The early Church no doubt saw some priests in ministry for the money or prestige, so the author of 1 Peter had to write, “I exhort the presbyters among you…Tend the flock of God in your midst, [overseeing] not by constraint but willingly, as God would have it, not for shameful profit, but eagerly.  Do not lord it over those assigned to you, but be examples to the flock.”  (1Pt 5:1-3)

When James and John’s mother asked Jesus to let her sons sit on his right and left in his kingdom, he told his disciples, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt.  But it shall not be so among you.  Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.”


If a person who was completely unfamiliar with Christianity observed a Mass, saw how people speak to me, witnessed what I did and how I dressed, and then were asked, “Whom do you think is the servant here, who is the least among us?” they’d probably be much more likely to point to the altar server, rather than me.


I have had people kiss my hand, refuse to let me perform simple acts of manual labor, and want to pay me for what I would give for free.


I understand that some of these things are done because of whom I represent, but it is not always easy to remember that, particularly when it happens time and time again, without reference to Jesus, but always me – “Father”.

Consequently, it is my fervent prayer that all of us – laity and especially clergy – step back from the sexual abuse crisis and ask ourselves some hard questions.

How did we get to the place where people presume (often correctly) that bishops and priests have power – and want to broaden the pool of eligibility for priesthood so that power can be distributed more widely?

How did we get to the point where shepherds feel comfortable with titles like monsignor (i.e., “My lord”), or Most Reverend, or Excellency?

How did we get to the point where priests and bishops couldn’t see that the welfare of children is more important than the good name of the Church?


The answers may be supplied at some point by sociologists and psychologists, but even before that point, priesthood must begin to be lived differently.

If we want to protect the reputation of the Church, then we must also choose to not preach Christ crucified, for He is always a scandal to those caught up in the world.

And, sadly, we’ve done that in many ways – so much so that some Catholics don’t want to talk about the cross because it “places violence at the center of the Gospel.”


And it is not God’s violence, but ours, just as the violence and abuse done to unknown numbers of children is ours.

The Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles shows us that to preach Christ effectively is to invite rejection, but also to offer life to those who are spiritually dead.


I pray that this crisis in the priesthood leads us to remembering what has been taught about the true nature of priesthood.

I pray we remember that my office, my ministry as priest, is directed to the laity and their office, which is lived out in the context of the world around us.

It is our mission to the world – to make disciples, baptize and teach what Jesus taught – that is the very reason for the Church’s existence.

I hope priests realize that it is absolutely untrue that the only important things in life happen at church, where we priests live and work.

The truth of the matter is everything we do at Mass is to give glory to God and to prepare the laity for their work in the world, where God is also glorified through the way they live their faith day after day after day.

Mass is incomplete and my life as a priest without effect if the laity do not live lives that are more holy, if you do not learn how to follow Jesus better, if the world does not become more just, more safe, more peaceful, more joyful because of God at work through you.


With the grace of God we will come through this painful chapter in the Church’s life.

Let’s pray that the Holy Spirit rekindles a desire for true humility in priests and bishops – in all of us who follow the One Good Shepherd, who laid down his life for us, and who feeds us with his body and blood hidden in the humble elements of bread and wine.


If the awareness of sin is the first step towards repentance and conversion, then perhaps this might be a good “year of the priest”, after all.

The Bluest Skies You've Ever Seen Are in Assisi . . . PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Saturday, 24 April 2010 11:30

Take a look at this gorgeous virtual display of what Giotto’s famous painting series on the life of St. Francis of Assisi looked like when freshly painted as opposed to its appearance today.  Courtesy of Corriere Della Sera. Hat tip to Fr. Joseph Komonchack, Dot.commonweal.

You’ll love it but prepared for dazzling azure skies.

I didn’t know that St. Francis lived in Colorado . . .


The Wisdom of Tolkien PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Friday, 23 April 2010 18:05

On the way back from visiting my mother in the nursing home, I heard a newstory on NPRs "All Things Considered" about ongoing legal issues concerning the cover-up of clergy sexual abuse Los Angeles.

In these painful times in the Church in which clerical sins of pedophilia and ephebophilia are being laid bare (and this, I believe, to be a very, very good thing), these words of J.R.R. Tolkien, a devout lay Catholic who attended Mass daily, are appropriate.  They're spoken by the wizard Gandalf, to leaders who are about to embark on what they think is a suicidal frontal attack on Sauron, the embodiment of evil in Middle Earth.  They are doing so in the hopes that their friends, Sam Gamgee and Frodo Baggins, two small Hobbits, may succeed in their mission.  Frodo, who himself bears Sauron's ring of power, has been charged with casting it into Mt. Doom, where it was forged, in order to break Sauron's power.  Gandalf and his listeners do not even know if the Hobbits are alive, or if they've been captured and all is already lost.  Still, in gathering a small army to assault the impregnable redoubt of Sauron, they hope to draw his attention away from where the Hobbits might possibly be - and even empty his lands of his minions who might stumble upon the Hobbits on their journey.

Other evils there are that may come; for Sauron is himself but a servant or emissary.  Yet it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till.  What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.

I pray that we courageously address the attitudes that put the good name of the Church ahead of the welfare of children.  It may be painful to do this - to do what is right - painful even to discern what is the best course of action. But clearly conversion on a profound scale is necessary.  May we turn to Christ, for direction, inspiration and hope.

Withdrawing from Society PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Thursday, 22 April 2010 14:46

Tuesday I visited my parents in Green Valley, Arizona.  Dad just turned 89 this month, and mom will catch up with him in June.  My father retired after forty years of working as an engineer for Caterpillar tractor company - a job he loved, and a career which afforded him the ability to raise his three children in Catholic schools and then send them off to college.

For the last twenty-five years my parents have been living the American retirement dream.  They moved from the heat, humidity and snow of central Illinois and settled in Green Valley, a retirement mecca.  Here's how the Green Valley Chamber of Commerce website describes my parents' adopted home:

Located 20 miles south of Tucson, Green Valley is much more than a booming Arizona retirement community. With nine golf courses, shopping plazas, dozens of clubs and volunteer organizations, medical facilities, places of worship and recreation centers, Green Valley is a destination for retirees seeking an active lifestyle. And while most of Green Valley is age-restricted, there are also areas where you'll find non-age-restricted communities where families with children live.

Yesterday, I visited Fr. Bede Wilks, OP, an elderly friar, 80 years old, who resides at the Handmaker Jewish Services for the Aging assisted living community just twenty minutes away from the Dominican community to which I'm assigned in Tucson.  Fr. Bede and I lived together in Eugene, OR for three years, and then I invited him to live in the community in Tucson when I arrived here nearly six years ago.  For the last three years he's lived at Handmaker's because of dementia, which led him to start wandering off from the Newman Center and get lost and dehydrated in the Tucson summer heat.

As I reflect on these visits to people who were once as healthy and active as I am now, I am saddened by what we take as normal for retirement in our country.  The word "retirement" comes from the old French "to draw back," which, to me, sounds reasonable after a long season of working for the betterment of society.  That is precisely what Fr. Bede did.  When he came to Eugene, it was to work as a chaplain at the local Catholic hospital.  He did that for about 18 months, but then it became clear that he was not able to do the work that was necessary.  He was already seventy years old, and it is quite possible was already showing some early signs of dementia.  It was hard to tell with him, because all his life he'd been somewhat scattered when it came to administration and organization.

In retrospect, it would have been much better to have hooked him up with a local soup kitchen or St. Vincent de Paul store in Eugene, because Fr. Bede always had a heart for the down-and-out, the anawim, as Scripture calls them.  He could connect with street people, homeless youth, and people who, in general, were just having a tough time coping.  I've met people who remember kindnesses they received from him decades earlier.  Clearly, God used him to bring healing and consolation to those others of us in ministry would prefer to avoid.  Such ministry would have been a much better fit than a large hospital that thrives on protocols and procedures.  That was not Fr. Bede!

On the other hand, my parents, like many successful middle-class members of the "Greatest Generation," more or less withdrew from society.  That seems to be the American dream these days; people leave society in the middle of what could be some of their most productive years (55-65) and play golf, bridge, and enjoy the good life.

Some of these folks, particularly men, promptly get sick, or become depressed, or die.  And the rest of us don't seem to miss them or the wisdom they've accumulated over the decades.  My father was in great health for a dozen years after his retirement at 62 or so, and his mind is still pretty sharp as he enters his 90th year.  But we have no consistent, systematic way to tap this huge reservoir of experience and wisdom - and, with the retirement of the Baby Boom generation, this reservoir is only going to increase.

When I was in campus ministry, every location I served desired to connect students to members of the permanent community.  It was our hope that people working as engineers might mentor engineering students, or teachers mentor those in education, or business men and women share their insights with students in business fields.  It almost never happened.  It's as though the idea of mentoring was too intimidating, or that one might somehow screw up someone else's life by giving bad advice.  The idea that an elder might share some of their experiences through stories and lesson's learned was absolutely foreign - and still is.

I can remember one exception.  When I was in Salt Lake City, a young Hispanic undergrad with a Scandinavian last name came to me one day and said he was thinking about a career in medicine, specifically surgery, and did I know anyone he could talk to?  Fortunately, I did.  I called my friend Phil who was a surgery resident and asked if Marcus might speak with him.  Phil, a handsome, athletic young man from my neck of the woods in Illinois said he'd enjoy talking with Marcus.

The next week Marcus came back to my office, wide-eyed and excited.  Phil had not only talked with him, he'd also let Marcus shadow him as he made rounds!  Marcus was pretty much sold on being a surgeon from that day on.  When he graduated from the University of Utah, Marcus was accepted to medical school at Washington University in St. Louis, which is consistently ranked in the top five medical schools in the country.  He's now married, has a young son, and practices medicine as a surgeon in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho -


with Phil, his former mentor and friend.


These days retirement is often a "dropping out" from society, and people who one day were making important contributions to the welfare of others and society are suddenly allowed or expected to more or less disappear from the workworld.  I understand that some people who have worked hard all their life may want to take it easy for awhile, visit their children and grandchildren, travel, or engage in leisure pursuits that they've put off much of their adult life. But none of that precludes mentoring, advising or just being a sounding board for men and women who are still working full-time.

Perhaps this is a pipe dream, and you might be able to tell me all kinds of horror stories of former bosses who couldn't disengage or who tried to advise even though the technology they had known had been superseded by newer ones.  But is it too much to even consider programs that might teach interested retirees how to offer their experience and (hopefully) wisdom to those still in the workplace who might benefit from it?  Or do such programs already exist?  If you know of any, please let us know!

Thoughts on Dominicans Leaving Arizona State University PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Thursday, 22 April 2010 14:40

Here's a blog post from a young man who writes for the Phoenix diocesan newspaper who covered the "Dominicans through the Decades" celebration at Arizona State University two weekends ago.  In it he mentions the "spiritual residue" left on him by his association with Dominicans both as a university student and as a student at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley, CA.

If you'd like to read an article by the same author that appeared in the Phoenix Catholic Sun, click here.

Here's a sample of his post, in which he gives a great compliment: God touched his life through Dominicans!

What I’m saying is that it wasn’t this extraordinary event that felt somehow foreign or exceptional. I certainly wasn’t a painful goodbye or anything like that. It just felt like going to dinner with my family, catching up with cousins. And I think it feels like that because the Dominicans over the years have left their spiritual residue all over that place. Those of us who are familiar with it will feel that residue well after the Dominicans are gone.

Let me belabor this some more: When I was at the Newman Center, there were all these stories about Fr. Tom DeMan. He would draw Catholics and non-Catholics alike with his preaching, overflowing the church; there was great spiritual renewal during his tenure; he was a great confessor, that kind of thing. Anyway, I’d never met him. Then I went to the Dominican School and met this other lay student, Patrick Finn. He started talking about this priest that ran the Newman Center at University of Washington. “Fr. Tom DeMan is brilliant,” he said. “Oh sure, I know him,” I found myself saying. I knew him because of this spiritual residue that he’d left behind.

The new church building, which Fr. Nathan started planning for, will have his fingerprints and spiritual residue on it. And Fr. Daniel’s favorite homily to preach — “You are a good and holy people” — will reverberate through its walls. I’ll never forget this homily from Fr. Fred Lucci, in which he talked about euthanasia. He pointed out the great lack of humility of those who, suffering from a terminal illness, take their own lives. Letting another person take care of you is humbling and it’s good for the caregiver, he said. You can’t deny a person the opportunity to take care of you when you can’t take care of yourself. You’re denying them the opportunity to love. That homily would have taken any other priest 45 minutes to preach — but Fr. Fred preached it in about 12.





Slow Down! PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Monday, 19 April 2010 20:15

I am in the Phoenix Airport, awaiting a flight that will take me home to Tucson for the first time since the Friday after Ash Wednesday.  After leaving the celebration of forty years of Dominican service at the Arizona State University Catholic campus ministry, I flew to Portland, OR and hitched a ride down to the University of Oregon Catholic campus ministry center for their annual Webfoot Gala.  The gala is a fundraiser that began while I was the director there, and is in its ninth year.  It was a great opportunity to see old friends and to lend a little support to Betty Goeckel, the tireless and always smiling development director for the Newman Center at the U. of O.

While in Eugene I had conversations with individuals who had, at different points in their life, "dropped out" of ordinary life for awhile to reconnect with God, take stock of their life, or just get off the merry-go-round that we take as "real life."  Phil was a successful business man who I met nearly 25 years ago while he was in the midst of a thirteen year "sabbatical", more or less.  He had made a lot of money at a young age and moved his family to McKenzie Bridge, OR, a small community on the McKenzie River.  He lived a mile or so from St. Benedict's Lodge, the Dominican retreat center on the river, and every summer when the Dominican student brothers were up at St. Benedict's for our vacation, he and his family would host us for a barbecue one night.  I had never realized, until my conversation with him yesterday, that he had left his business to move to a quiet place intentionally in order to raise his kids - three sons and a daughter who was born after he and his wife had moved to Oregon.

During those years he prayed, paid attention to his family, went to daily Mass, and lived a life of study and reflection.  When his boys were older, he started a new business that restored homes and businesses that suffered damage from floods and fires.  He ran it very intentionally as a Christian business, with prayer as an essential part of the business plan.  It flourished for ten years, and then a series of events that seemed to be Murphy's Law in action led him to have to sell the business just to pay off debts.  At 57 years of age he found himself broke.  He and his son, Phil Jr., started a new business, Business Mentors.  Using what he learned both as a successful businessman and as a businessman who'd lost everything plus all that he'd learned in those thirteen years of quiet, he's able to help turn restoration companies that are struggling around.

"We're change agents," he told me, "but it's really God who does the changing.  That's why we always pray for our clients and try to discern what is absolutely best for them.  We don't pull any punches, but try to always be truthful."   As I spoke with Phil, I became pretty certain that he has charisms of Wisdom, Intercessory Prayer and Evangelism; a pretty potent combination for what he and his company are trying to achieve.

I also spoke with a couple who took time off and away in two different ways.  Sally has been on pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago de Campostella twice in the last three years, once each with her two young adult daughters.  The journey has transformed their lives, and I have been privileged to read Sally's e-mails that have shared her insights and experiences on the Camino.  These pilgrimages were not only bonding experiences for her and her daughters, they were bonding experiences between all three of them, Jesus, Our Lady, and St. James.

Steve, Sally's husband, is a lumberman, and wasn't interested in walking the Camino.  Instead, he took a month off and lived and worked at Our Lady of Guadalupe Trappist monastery in Oregon.  The monks there offer a month-long program of prayer, work and insertion into monastic life called the monastic life retreat.  Here's the description of this unique retreat:

Each monastic Life retreatant participates in the liturgy, daily work, and communal life of the monastery while living within the monastic enclosure. Our community supports its members by binding books, offering mail-order food products, and taking care of the forest land adjacent to the monastery. A conference on monastic spirituality and prayer is given each weekday afternoon by one of the monks. A monk is assigned to each retreatant to accompany him during his stay with us. Meditation periods and Scripture reflection also are part of the daily schedule.

Steve is handy with carpentry tools, so some of the work he did involved some much-needed repairs on the working aspect of the monastery: broken gates, old sheds needing shelving, etc.  I asked him what was most difficult about the retreat and he replied, "being away from my wife and children - especially in the first week."  He also said the silence was beautiful.  "One day two weeks into my retreat Sally visited and I went to meet her in the guest area.  Everyone was talking and I wanted them to be quiet.  It was too much.  That's when I realized how much I had come to appreciate the quiet."

Both Steve and Sally had well-intentioned friends who questioned - even angrily - why they were doing such crazy things.  One friend couldn't understand why Sally would want to be away from her husband for a month.  Steve has found that his co-workers, even those who aren't religious, are fascinated by what he experienced.

It may not be possible to take a month - or a decade - off from what passes for normal life.  But God has inserted time off into our week.  It's called the Sabbath, and we're not good at keeping it.  I've had many people confess to me over the years that they've missed Mass on Sunday.  I can recall only one man who confessed to not resting on Sunday.  "Keeping the sabbath holy" really is about rest and re-creation; particularly that re-creating that the Creator is able to do when we slow down, or even stop, our business.  It's hard for us to do.  It's a challenge just to spend 20-30 a day in silence, prayer, and attentiveness.  Just before I wrote this post I said evening prayer - and it was amazing how my mind wandered to things that "need to be done."

We live in a Martha culture - Martha on steroids, really - and are, I believe, afraid of quiet, rest, reflection.  And for good reason, I suppose.  We just might encounter God if we slow down, and find out how misplaced our priorities are, and how much we need to change.

Dominicans Through the Decades PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Friday, 16 April 2010 10:06

Old_churchLast night I attended a celebration of forty years' service by Dominican friars at the Arizona State University Catholic campus ministry. It began with a Mass on the grassy courtyard at the physical heart of the complex, with music led by Catholic musicians who got their start in ministry while they were students at the Newman Center.  The musicians included Jaime Cortez, Tim and Julie Smith, Paul Hillebrand and Tom Booth.  They were joined by about 25 other musicians, including Fr. Roberto Corral, OP, our former Western Dominican provincial, who had been assigned to the Tempe Newman Center the three years previous to my arrival in 1992 for my first priestly assignment.

Fr. Nathan Castle, OP, the beloved director at All Saints for twelve years who had led a multi-million dollar capital campaign to build a new center, gave a beautiful homily on the episode of the multiplication of the loaves in John 6:1-15.  Fr. Nathan emphasized the fact that Andrew, the older brother of Peter, had to point out the seemingly paltry fare of two fish and five loaves, had to ask the young boy to share them with the Lord.  He also spoke of how he had passed through Tempe when he was in the Southern Dominican Province and was going to Oakland to study at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology.  That night as he slept on the floor of an office, he told God, "This would be a great place to minister."  Little did he imagine that he'd come back one day as director.  He wasn't even a member of the Western Dominican Province at that time!  Then, like the twelve baskets of fragments uneaten by the stuffed crowd fed by Jesus, he had twelve wonderful years at Tempe.  In his first assignment as a director, personally a difficult assignment for him at St. Andrew's Newman Center at UC Riverside, his spiritual director suggested he ask for the intercession of the patron of the place.  He researched St. Andrew and that heavenly patron became a close companion in his years there.  Then, when he was called to Arizona State, he was delighted to discover the patronal name was All Saints.  "This will be a breeze!" he thought.

It was very gratifying to experience the love and appreciation of the students, faculty, staff, and townspeople we have served for so long.  Several people came up and commented how a particular homily, conversation, or sacramental encounter had had a significant impact in their life.  Thanks be to God!

I trust the Newman community will be in good hands with Fr. Robert Clements, the recent rector at the Cathedral in Phoenix.  He's an alum of ASU, and is excited to return.  I also am delighted that there will continue to be a Dominican presence at All Saints through the wonderful lay Dominicans who call it home.  And, of course, the multitude of patrons to whom the Newman Center is dedicated will continue to intercede on behalf of all who worship and are formed there.

Catholic Cathedral in Basilan Bombed by Abu Sayyaf Terrorists PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 15 April 2010 03:44

I've signed up for Fides news alerts and the results are very interesting. Fides is the Vatican organization that reports on missionary activities around the Catholic world.

And they just issued this alert:

Isabela (Agenzia Fides) – "It is terrible. The bomb that exploded yesterday destroyed 70% of the Cathedral of Isabela and is now unsafe for use. Thank God, there were no casualties. Today we celebrated Mass at the Catechetical Center. The faithful are terrified. These terrorist acts seek to make life difficult for Christians and drive them out of Basilan.” This is the dramatic testimony Fides has received from Bishop Martin Jumoad of the Prelature of Isabella, the capital of Basilan Island, in the southernmost part of the Philippines.

Yesterday, there were two terrorist attacks on the island: a bomb hit a government building and another hit the Catholic Cathedral in the city, leaving it severely damaged. Later, there were shots exchanged between terrorists and security forces, resulting in about 15 victims.

"It is the first time we are attacked so directly and with such force. In the past, I received several threatening letters and intimidation. There have been other smaller attacks, but now it is very different. This could be a tragedy. I seriously fear for my life and the lives of the faithful. However, today I went out to encourage the faithful. This is my mission," the Bishop told Fides.

I was suprised that I had heard nothing about the bombing of a Catholic cathedral.  Then I discovered that was because it wasn't being described as such by the press. CNN didn't include the story in their major international headlines.

I found it in their regional news under "Asia"  titled "Extremists disguised as military kill 11 in Philippines".  25 suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf extremist group disguised in police and military uniforms launched attacks in Isabela City, the capital of the island of Basilan.

The militants carried out blasts near a church, a sports center and judge's house, and they traded gun fire with security forces.

The BBC doesn't mention the attack at all.

Interesting how the fact that the "church" was the local Catholic cathedral (this is a Catholic country!) didn't make it into our news which is filtered according to what western journalists consider "news worthy"  Which has been swamped with Catholic stories of a very different kind lately..

Consider adding a Fides alert.  60% of Catholics lives outside the hotspots of Europe and North America and are dealing with realities which don't make it into our conversations most of the time.  It's a helpful reminder of the realities faced by the whole church and a useful prompt for prayer.



Visitation Day PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Wednesday, 14 April 2010 09:07

I learned yesterday that the Provincial of the Western Dominicans, Fr. Emmerich Vogt, OP, is in Arizona for visitation.  According to our constitution, the Provincial is required to visit each community and speak individually with each of the friars in the province about their ministry, their spiritual life, and any significant concerns he may have about the community or the province.

Fortunately, I'm in Tempe, Arizona, for a celebration of forty years' of service at the Catholic campus ministry at Arizona State University (more on that in another post), and the Provincial will be here today and tomorrow for that celebration, so I'll meet with him this morning in an hour or so.  It will be an opportunity to talk about the Catherine of Siena Institute and my involvement with it.  Although the Institute is an official place of assignation for the province, I serve at the good pleasure of the Provincial.  When people ask me how long I'll be co-director, I usually respond, "As long as the Provincial and his council say I can."

This is an unusual ministry, in some ways, for a friar.  I am on the road a lot.  In fact, I've only been in Tucson, where I'm assigned to live in community, only eleven days so far this year.  While we Dominican friars are supposed to be itinerant preachers, many friars in the U.S. are involved in parochial and campus ministry, and aren't so itinerant any more.  I believe this is a very Dominican ministry, however.  I have the opportunity to travel throughout the country and get a sense of the Church in the U.S. that few priests are privileged to experience.  I have the luxury of focused study and the ability to dive into a topic.  I have learned so much from my co-director, Sherry Weddell, and that has been a tremendous blessing.  Meeting disciples across the country and hearing their stories, including the stories of them using their charisms, discerning and living their vocations, has been incredible.  These are stories that need to be shared!

One of the things I'll talk over with the Provincial is a project I'm working on now, bylaws for the Institute.  We have been operating as a subsidiary of the Western province and are now preparing to incorporate separately.  We'll still be a place of assignation for the Province, but will have a governance structure separate from the Province.  There are several ministries in the Province with a similar set-up, so this is nothing new for us.  Fr. Emmerich himself founded a ministry for people with addictions and co-dependency with its own newsletter, The Twelve-Step Review, so he's very familiar with the vicissitudes of running a non-traditional ministry.  This meeting with the Provincial will give me an opportunity to run a few ideas past him, as well as let him know some of the developments we're facing.

I may also get a sense of my future with the Institute.  Prayers will be appreciated.  After this meeting, it's back to working on another retreat, this one for Dominican sisters, bylaws for the Institute, another edition of the Institute e-Scribe, and other odds and ends.

"I Died for You": A Young Hindu Encounters Christ PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 14 April 2010 07:27

Asia News is highlighting the remarkable story of one of our Called & Gifted teachers, Gaurav Shroff.  Gaurav, who was raised as a westernized upper caste Hindu in India, first encountered the Catholic faith through hearing Gregorian chant at his high school in Mumbai:

“The sublime music of the Mass undoubtedly assured me of God's presence; the Gregorian chants elevated my spirits, creating in me a sense of awe for the Sacred. I was instinctively drawn by the aesthetic beauty of the Eucharist and this experience filled my heart with immense joy.”

A year later, he attended a Good Friday service and participated in the veneration of the cross:

“As I knelt down and kissed the Cross, I vividly remember the clear voice in my heart saying to me: ‘I died for you,’ and I began to weep unashamedly, and though I did not understand what it meant, I was certain, that the Crucified Christ loved me. Then it wasn’t about music anymore, I wanted to learn more about this Jesus. Either Jesus was completely crazy or he was God.”

Remarkably, Gaurav sensed a call to the priesthood before he was baptized:

“He began reading everything about the Catholic faith, the Bible and regularly went for Sunday Mass. In 1993, Gaurav went to a Jesuit retreat praying alone at night before the Blessed Sacrament. “I strongly felt the presence of the Divine, the deep love of God for me, and in the darkness, I was illuminated: My life belonged to Jesus, to know him, to love him and to serve him. This was my mission and vocation. I felt called to be a priest.”

On the feast of the Assumption, 1994, Gaurav was baptized (with the blessing of his father)  and then moved to the US where he earned a Master’s Degree in Religious Studies and worked in campus ministry at the University of South Carolina.

After exploring a possible call to religious priesthood with the Paulists in Washington DC (where I originally met him) Gaurav discerned a specific call to diocesan priesthood and was accepted as a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Atlanta in 2007.  They keep Gaurav incredibly busy at Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg these days but he still manages to squeeze in Called & Gifted workshops for us in English and Spanish from time to time.  If all goes well, he’ll be ordained a priest for Atlanta in 2013.

We love Gaurav’s vision for the priesthood:

“Evangelization and the vocation of the laity will be the central passion of my ministry as a diocesan priest. I see my future role as someone who leads, sanctifies, teaches the laity, not as passive recipients”, I shall be “someone who calls out their gifts, talents, charisms, so that the Christ's lay faithful can be equipped to bring the Gospel to the world, and share in the Church's mission.”

“I hope, through my calling, to proclaim the Love of Christ Crucified to the people and to bring our people to connect with Jesus Christ, to get to know Him in a deep, intimate relationship,” for “he is the source of all love and happiness.”

God's Mercy PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Tuesday, 13 April 2010 11:04

Since we just celebrated Divine Mercy Sunday, I thought it would be interesting to reflect for a moment on the word, "mercy" itself.  According to one of my favorite websites, the word has its origins in the Latin noun mercedem or merces, meaning "reward, wages, hire." In the 6th century the Latin Church applied the word to the heavenly reward of those who show kindness to the helpless, while since the late 12th century it has referred to, "God's forgiveness of his creatures' offenses." The contemporary French word for "thank you," merci, is a direct descendant of the Latin, and the English meaning of a "disposition to forgive or show compassion" DivineMercyis attested from the early 13th century.

I often think of mercy as kindness or love that is offered to one who does not deserve it, and certainly that is its contemporary meaning.  The idea of mercy as a reward for something done, namely showing mercy to another, is somewhat startling.  Yet Jesus indicates as much in the prayer he taught us, for there he asks us to petition our Father to "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors."  On face value, that request indicates that the greater the debts, sins, trespasses we forgive or write off, the more we can expect God to forgive us.  In that sense, mercy does become a reward for being merciful.

Of course, the reality is quite different, and Jesus knew that.  It is not we who initiate the cycle of mercy, but God.  In Matthew 18:21-35 Jesus makes this quite explicit.

Peter approaching, asked Jesus, "Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?" Jesus answered, "I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount..."

The story goes on to tell of how the king "is moved with compassion" for the debtor and writes off the amount that was impossible to pay back, but then expects the wretch to do the same when given the opportunity.  The fact that Jesus uses an example with money would indicate that mercy is, in terms of worldly affairs and calculations, a poor deal.  The merciful one loses income, loses what "by rights" should be his.  In human terms, mercy overrules justice.

The crucifixion of Jesus is both an act of God's mercy and justice, for in Him they cannot be separated but are one reality.  In God's justice, the consequences of sin, or rejecting his infinite, life-giving love, is death, as we hear in the garden of Eden.  St. Paul observes, "the wages of sin is death" Rom 6:23a.  The just wages (reward or merces) we earn because of our disobedience, modeled after Adam, is death and separation from God.  In our human injustice we put the innocent one to death.  He receives the just punishment that we should receive and through it God mercifully cancels the debt we cannot pay.  And that mercy truly is a gift undeserved - "the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."  Rom 6:23b

And so throughout the divine mercy chaplet we pray, "for the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world."  We ask for the mercy, or wages, of Jesus's obedience that led us to unintentionally offer him as a sacrifice for our sins and those of the whole world.

It is tragic that we live in an age that so focuses on rendering justice.  Of course, I'm grateful to live now as opposed to the past, which so frequently was marked by incredible, systemic injustice.  But we Christians can be influenced too much by our present age.  We can fit right in and press for capital punishment as a just response to murder, for example, or argue against universal health care (the bishops, in their 1981 pastoral letter Health and Health Care wrote of their "belief in health care as a basic human right" and called "for the development of a national health insurance program").

I'm not proposing that the health care bill as passed is what we need, by the way.   I'm just pointing out that although we can be appalled at injustice, we can also ridicule those who might call for mercy.  In a culture which prides itself on being just, mercy can appear as a weakness, even a catalyst of destabilization.  Yet St. Paul urges "by the mercies of God ... offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect." Rom 12:1-2

It is due to a mercy we have already received from the Father through Jesus that we ourselves should be merciful.  It is by the mercy of God that we offer ourselves as a living sacrifice, in imitation of Jesus who offers us His Father's mercy through his glorious wounds.  Perhaps we might choose to be merciful to others ourselves; offering goodness and clemency even where it is not deserved.  Our showing mercy to others can truly be a merci - a "thank you" offered to God as an act of worship.

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