a world at prayer for priests

SacredHeartIconIn 2014, the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (and the World Day of Prayer for Priests) falls on Friday, June 27.

Back in 2011, on the solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Vatican Radio released a story about The Christopher Inn International, a developing lay initiative at the service of Catholic bishops and priests. It was an interview with founder and director Joan Johnson, in which she described the origin of the apostolate and some of the plans for its development.

Below is the audio of the Vatican Radio interview that was broadcast back in 2011.


Since that time, Christopher Inn International has hosted two pilot programs, both in the spring of 2012. They were extremely well received by the Irish priests who participated. Here is a documentary about the 2012 pilot programs:

Christopher Inn International has not yet acquired property in Ireland. The properties shown on the website (christopherinn.org) are not owned by Christopher Inn, Inc., and are displayed only to demonstrate the kind of property that the organization plans to obtain. This apostolate is presently seeking to: 1) begin the process of acquiring property in Ireland; 2) start an operational endowment; 3) create a scholarship endowment.

To learn more about Joan and the team of CI International, visit the About Us page.

Wondering how you can help support the mission of CI International?
Visit our How to Help page.

Fr. Walter Ciszek: on the Eucharist

daucau monstrance

in the Nazi labor camp of Daucau, priests gathered scraps of wood to fashion a monstrance that could be used for the adoration of the Eucharist

When I reached the prison camps of Siberia, I learned to my great joy that it was possible to say Mass daily once again. In every camp, the priests and prisoners would go to great lengths, run risks willingly, just to have the consolation of this sacrament. For those who could not get to Mass, we daily consecrated hosts and arranged for the distribution of Communion to those who wished to receive. Our risk of discovery, of course, was greater in the barracks, because of the lack of privacy and the presence of informers. Most often, therefore, we said our daily Mass somewhere at the work site during the noon break. Despite this added hardship, everyone observed a strict Eucharistic fast from the night before, passing up a chance for breakfast and working all morning on an empty stomach. Yet no one complained. In small groups the prisoners would shuffle into the assigned place, and there the priest would say Mass in his working clothes, unwashed, disheveled, bundled up against the cold. We said Mass in drafty storage shacks, or huddled in mud and slush in the corner of a building site foundation of an underground. The intensity of devotion of both priests and prisoners made up for everything; there were no altars, candles, bells, flowers, music, snow-white linens, stained glass or the warmth that even the simplest parish church could offer. Yet in these primitive conditions, the Mass brought you closer to God than anyone might conceivably imagine. The realization of what was happening on the board, box, or stone used in the place of an altar penetrated deep into the soul. Distractions caused by the fear of discovery, which accompanied each saying of the Mass under such conditions, took nothing away from the effect that the tiny bit of bread and few drops of consecrated wine produced upon the soul.

Many a time, as I folded up the handkerchief on which the body of our Lord had lain, and dried the glass or tin cup used as a chalice, the feeling of having performed something tremendously valuable for the people of this Godless country was overpowering. Just the thought of having celebrated Mass here, in this spot, made my journey to the Soviet Union and the sufferings I endured seem totally worthwhile and necessary. No other inspiration could have deepened my faith more, could have given me spiritual courage in greater abundance, than the privilege of saying Mass for these poorest and most deprived members of Christ the Good Shepherd’s flock. I was occasionally overcome with emotion for a moment as I thought of how he had found a way to follow and to feed these lost and straying sheep in this most desolate land. So I never let a day pass without saying Mass; it was my primary concern each new day. I would go to any length, suffer any inconvenience, run any risk to make the bread of life available to these men.

Fr. Walter J Ciszek, SJ – in He Leadeth Me

on the passage through life

Today (at 11:45 am, to be precise), I turn 44.

If I were going to take my cues from the culture, I should be surrounding myself with black balloons and all sorts of birthday cards evoking nostalgia and/or grief. For all of the talk about being “forward-looking,” we sure spend a lot of time longing for the past.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time in recent years thinking about our passage through time… especially as both my father and the man I consider one of my primary spiritual fathers passed from this life to the next. Experiencing these deaths, and especially being present at the side of my father as he took his last breath, had an unexpected effect on me. Of course I expected the grief and sense of loss. But what surprised me was the way it stirred up a desire for the life to come, enkindled, I’m sure, by the fact that both men had pilgrim hearts: They took great joy in this life but never forgot that they were still on the way.

About a year before he died, my dad sent me an essay he’d written in college about Robert Frost’s After Apple Picking, which includes this passage:

My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.

Dad enclosed a short note with the essay, very matter-of-fact, saying he found it among some old files he had been sorting through. He didn’t need to say anything more; the consummate teacher, he allowed his own peaceful – and I might hazard to say joyful – entry into the next life to interpret the poem for me. It wasn’t that he didn’t enjoy this life, but he had tasted something more and wasn’t going to stick with the hors’d ouerves when an entire banquet was being laid out before him. As C.S. Lewis once put it,

If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

Or in the words of Saint John of the Cross:

I will never lose myself
for that which the senses
can take in here,
nor for all the mind can hold,
no matter how lofty,
nor for grace or beauty,
but only for I-don’t-know-what
which is so gladly found.

Or as T.S. Eliot wrote in The Four Quartets,

In my beginning is my end. In succession
Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended,
Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place
Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass….

Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.

So I think my perspective on age is a bit different, a bit changed this year. If someone approaches me today and asks, “So how does it feel to be a year older?” I think I will respond, “The real question is: how does it feel to be a year closer to the life to come?”

Not fare well,
But fare forward, voyagers.

the church as mother, and the fruits of dialogue

This is a bit unusual as a Mother’s Day post, but since I recently offered a tribute to my mom on her birthday and the day of her burial, I’m writing about something slightly different today.

Via blogs, e-mail correspondence, and a few in-person meetings over lunch during the past ten years, Michael Bayly (presently of Catholics for Marriage Equality MN) and I have exchanged ideas and been engaged in an ongoing dialogue about the Church’s teaching on homosexuality.

The most famous of our exchanges was this:


The differences have been largely irreconcilable in the subsequent years.

Recently, after I sent him a link to a new online documentary called The Third Way, he replied, thanking me for forwarding him the link. And a day or two later, he sent me a friend request on Facebook.

In response, I wrote to him to explain why I didn’t think a friend request made sense at this point (excerpts below):

I received your Facebook friend request the other day. I wanted to wait until I had some time before replying.

There are, of course, all kinds of friends in life, such as friends from childhood, friends within one’s family, friends through one’s workplace or place of worship, or simply those who share a common interest or goal — fellow bloggers, etc.  Facebook friends may overlap any of those forms, depending on how one uses the platform.

I tend to be fairly liberal in who I friend on Facebook (although limiting it, in most cases, to those I have at least met in person).

I’m hesitating with your request for one reason, and one reason only. It’s not easy for me to bring this up, but I feel compelled to be candid with you about it.

I have a hard time trusting you, and trust is essential to friendship of any stripe.


The obstacle for me is not that you object to some of the Church’s moral teaching, but the way you have expressed it over the years through lobbying against the Church’s pastors.

While I can respect that you see things differently than I do, I cannot lie and say that it’s a matter of indifference to me that we disagree about essential matters of faith and morals. It’s been very painful to witness your persistent attacks on the church’s pastors and her teaching, and I can’t pretend otherwise.

For me, the church is a mother. Though I may not agree with one or other way that some of her ministers carry out her mission, I believe her teaching on faith and morals to be without error, and also feel the duty of a son not to cause her pain by publicly airing her dirty laundry. I desire to be a son who is both honest about what I perceive to be her shortcomings, and at the same time loyal to her as a person, and as my mother.  I have sought the same attitude to my earthly mother as well.

Returning to the original point: A basic foundation of trust is essential to friendship of any kind. I wish I felt I could trust you, but I’m not finding myself capable of that at present.

I am willing to carry on correspondence and discussion with you in the public forum, as we have in the past via our blogs and our occasional meetings, though at this point I don’t intend to initiate more of the same.

With my sincere best wishes, and my prayers.

Since our conversation in the past years has primarily taken place in a public forum, I wanted to mention the latest development here, as a kind of book-end to our ten year dialogue.

I have no regrets about the effort to engage with Michael on this matter; on the contrary, I am grateful to him for his willingness to engage, and I have appreciated the chance to get to know him, and to begin to understand him as a person, and not just as someone who carries along or broadcasts certain ideas. I believe that the real-life encounters we have had over the past ten years have grounded the dialogue, even though they have not produced much in the way of common ground.

In the letter that Pope Francis has prepared for World Communications Day 2014, he writes:

In a world like this, media can help us to feel closer to one another, creating a sense of the unity of the human family which can in turn inspire solidarity and serious efforts to ensure a more dignified life for all. Good communication helps us to grow closer, to know one another better, and ultimately, to grow in unity. The walls which divide us can be broken down only if we are prepared to listen and learn from one another. We need to resolve our differences through forms of dialogue which help us grow in understanding and mutual respect. A culture of encounter demands that we be ready not only to give, but also to receive. Media can help us greatly in this, especially nowadays, when the networks of human communication have made unprecedented advances. The internet, in particular, offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity. This is something truly good, a gift from God.” (source)

Through the conversation with Michael, I’ve learned something about what it means to grow in understanding and mutual respect. Agreement is not necessarily the fruit of every dialogue, nor friendship. But hopefully, at the very least, dialogue via the new means of social communication can help foster a climate of mutual respect, on the basis of authenticity and honesty.

communication at the service of an authentic culture of encounter

pentecostThis year, World Communications Day takes place on June 1 (rather than May 1). I suspect this has something to do with the fact that Pentecost falls closer to June 1 than to May 1 this year, and the theme of communication in the Church is tied closely to the experience of Pentecost.

My observation is that  special days in the Church — such as the World Day of Peace and the World Day of Communications — often pass us by without making even a ripple in the Church or in the culture. It seems to me that we often do not make a proper preparation for the celebration of these days. And yet the Church does suggest a time of preparation; the Pope’s messages for these events are released months ahead of time.

With that in mind, for the month of May, and up through the feast of Pentecost on June 8, I’ve decided to dedicate my blog to the theme of this year’s World Communications Day: communication at the service of an authentic culture of encounter.

In the coming weeks, I hope to examine Pope Francis’ message for World Communications Day one paragraph at a time… with the hope that by soaking in it, slowly, it might be possible to really absorb the message and prepare for a fruitful celebration on June 1.

Here’s the opening paragraph, as a teaser:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today we are living in a world which is growing ever “smaller” and where, as a result, it would seem to be easier for all of us to be neighbours.  Developments in travel and communications technology are bringing us closer together and making us more connected, even as globalization makes us increasingly interdependent.  Nonetheless, divisions, which are sometimes quite deep, continue to exist within our human family.  On the global level we see a scandalous gap between the opulence of the wealthy and the utter destitution of the poor.  Often we need only walk the streets of a city to see the contrast between people living on the street and the brilliant lights of the store windows.  We have become so accustomed to these things that they no longer unsettle us.  Our world suffers from many forms of exclusion, marginalization and poverty, to say nothing of conflicts born of a combination of economic, political, ideological, and, sadly, even religious motives. (click here to read the entire letter)