Thursday, June 28, 2007

Kurtz "collar"

Apologies... I'm all about alliteration :)

Tomorrow, the Solemnity of Ss. Peter and Paul, the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI will present the pallium to my new Archbishop and Metropolitan, Joseph Kurtz. Please pray for him that he has a safe journey

Speaking of Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, here are some articles from The Record that I promised:

Mass Intentions

In today's Vatican Information Service there is a statement on the upcoming Motu Proprio for the Latin Mass, set to release "within a few days":

VATICAN CITY, JUN 28, 2007 (VIS) - Given below is the text of a communique released today by the Holy See Press Office concerning Benedict XVI's forthcoming "Motu Proprio" on the use of the Missal promulgated by Blessed John XXIII in 1962.

"Yesterday afternoon in the Vatican, a meeting was held under the presidency of the Cardinal Secretary of State in which the content and spirit of the Holy Father's forthcoming 'Motu Proprio' on the use of the Missal promulgated by John XXIII in 1962 was explained to representatives from various episcopal conferences. The Holy Father also arrived to greet those present, spending nearly an hour in deep conversation with them.

"The publication of the document - which will be accompanied by an extensive personal letter from the Holy Father to individual bishops - is expected within a few days, once the document itself has been sent to all the bishops with an indication of when it will come into effect."
And this story (also here) from says it could be released on July 7, two days before Our Holy Father's July 9th vacation from which he will not return untill late September.

On a personal note, I received a poster-sized framed print of the above image from my venerable seminarian brother Michael Wimsatt (pray for him). He found it in the basement of the old convent at the parish we are both staying at this summer. It sits on my desk, leaning against the wall, in my attic room that I like to affectionately call "The Hermitage", "The Cardinal's Suite", "The Bat Cave", or "The Eagle's Nest" depending on what mood I'm in. Apparantly its a holy card that circulated throughout the church for years and years in the "glory days" before the council. Upon excitedly showing it to my pastor, as a mother would present a newborn child, he charitably replied "it definitely brings back memories"...

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Your P.O.D. shot of the week

I may make this a weekly feature like my brother Nick's weekly poll feature on his blog... we'll see.

Here is your P.O.D. shot of the week:
Priestly Ordinations on the Feast of the Sacred Heart
June 15, 2007 at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis
His Grace, the Most Reverend Raymond L. Burke, Archbishop of St. Louis,
in the course of a Solemn Pontifical High Mass in celebration of the Feast of the Sacred Heart ordained on this day Father William Avis and Father Matthew Talarico, priests in the Institute of Christ the King

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Marry Poppins and Christology

This is hilarious... biretta tip to my twin brother Nick:

Mary Poppins and Christology
In light of today's Daily Catholic Quotation ("The world trembled and groaned to find itself Arian."), check out this song on the Christological controversy of the early Church, set to the tune of "Supercalafragalisticexpialadocius." I LOVE IT!! Too bad it took more than a spoon full of sugar to get rid of the Arians.

Patristic Melody
Lyrics by Dan Idzikowski

Um diddle diddle um diddle ay
Um diddle diddle um diddle ay

Superchristological and Homoousiosis
Even though the sound of them is something quite atrocious
You can always count on them to anathemize your Gnosis
Superchristological and Homoousiosis

Um diddle diddle um diddle ay
Um diddle diddle um diddle ay

Now Origen and Arius were quite a clever pair.
Immutable divinity make Logos out of air.
But then one day Saint Nicholas gave Arius a slap--
and told them if they can't recant, they ought to shut their trap!

[chorus] Oh, Superchristological and Homoousiosis...

One Prosopon, two Ousia are in one Hypostasis.
At Chalcedon this formula gave our faith its basis.
You can argue that you don't know what this means,
But don't you go and try to say there's a "Physis" in between!

[chorus] Oh, Superchristological and Homoousiosis...

Um diddle diddle um diddle ay
Um diddle diddle um diddle ay

Now freedom and autonomy are something to be praised,
But when it comes to human sin, these words must be rephrased,
For Pelagius was too confident that we could work it out--
And Augustine said *massa damnata* is what it's all about.

[chorus] Oh, Superchristological and Homoousiosis...

Heresies are arguments that you might find attractive,
But just remember in this case the Church is quite reactive.
So play it safe and memorize these words we sing together,
'Cause in the end you'll find, my friend, that we may live forever.

[chorus] Oh, Superchristological and Homoousiosis
Even though the sound of them is something quite atrocious
You can always count on them to anathematize your Gnosis
Superchristological and Homoousiosis.
- - - - - -

Hat tip to "Halfling.Steve", from the comment box at Singing in the Reign.

Here is a brief excerpt on Arianism from my paper on Monarchianism (which includes a section on how the Mass is our recourse against such heresies):

Arianism, a later heresy, was essentially Subordinationism taken to its extreme. It “started with a radical separation of God and the world and was therefore compelled to join the two by means of the Logos as an intermediary being.” Eventually, it ended up “in a polytheism in which the one divinity expressed itself in the world in and through all sorts of subordinate divine beings.” O’Collins defines Arianism as “asserting that God’s Son did not always exist and hence was not divine by nature but only the first among creatures.”

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Kurtz calls

Another interesting note from the Blogosphere:
Here's some predictions from the blog "God Spede ye Plough" on Archbishop Kurtz first 100 days as the Archbishop of Louisville:

So...I predict that Archbishop Kurtz will, before the First Sunday of Advent, in no particular order:

1.) Appoint a priest or religious as the new Chancellor and a layperson as the new Chief Administrative Officer,
2.) Have one or more priests granted the title "Monsignor," something never done in the Kelly years,
3.) Issue a Pastoral Letter to the Archdiocese on one subject or another,
4.) Appoint a new Superintendent of Schools,
5.) Begin talks with his Alma Mater (St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia) to start sending Louisville seminarians there,
6.) Set up a personal blog in the manner of Cardinal O'Malley in Boston,
7.) Plan a Eucharistic Procession through the streets of Louisville,
8.) Assume greater oversight of Spalding U. and Bellarmine U., requiring some of their teachers to get a Mandatum (permision to teach) from his office,
9.) Appoint a new Director of the Permanent Diaconate Program, and
10.) Propose a major event in Louisville's West End to promote the faith and support economic/civil rights.


After a quick perusal through Google's blog search of "Bishop Kurtz" I fould a couple interesting pieces.

First, from the blog "the world according to oatney" of one of the faithful in Knoxville:

While it is very easy for people to wonder why the Holy Father would choose to take Bishop Kurtz away from here when he has done so much to build the Catholic community in Knoxville, we must remember that it is precisely because of Bishop Kurtz' success here that this is happening. In a time when much of the rest of Catholic America is struggling with an identity crisis, Bishop Kurtz has insured that our parishes are filled with those in teaching positions who are orthodox and who proclaim the faith in its fullness. Indeed, as we have witnessed, selective application of the Magesterium can lead to being sacked around here.

When other ecclesiastical jurisdictions in the United States are suffering from a shortage of priests, Knoxville has an abundance of them-so many, in fact, that we have occasionally farmed them out to other dioceses in what Monsignor Xavier Mankel has called "Holy Lend-Lease." When other dioceses are closing parishes and schools, we are establishing new parishes and building new churches. While other places have cut down on the availability of the Tridentine Mass, Knoxville
welcomes the old Rite and is looking for ways to celebrate it more frequently. As other local Churches shrink, the Church in Knoxville is growing.

It is little wonder, then, that the Holy See has taken notice of these developments and has chosen to send Bishop Kurtz to a larger diocese where his skills may be of great use to the universal Church.
From the latter link he provides, I present The P.O.D. Shot of the Day:

See more pics of this Second Sunday of Advent 2006 Mass celebrating the First Anniversary of Knoxville's Indult with Bishop Joseph E. Kurtz in Attendance (from Roy Ehman, Our Lady of Fatima, Alcoa, Tennessee).

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Kurtz collage

I haven't been able to post in what seems like a while so here is just a quick collage of articles on Archbishop-elect Joseph Kurtz:

First from Whispers (I'll quote Rocco before the "Co-Jo" [Courier-Journal] any day!)
-- Louisville Hits the Wire and 50,000:3 (on the outstanding ratio Kurtz presided over in Knoxville of Catholics to Ordinations)


More from The Record when it becomes available

And now... from the Co-Jo
-- The Archdiocese through the years (a typical crappy Co-Jo timeline)
-- Churchgoers eager to meet new leader (Money quote: "Kevin Dougherty of Oldham County, who has been attending St. Louis Bertrand about 20 years, said he hopes Kurtz is 'orthodox and traditional.' " hehe)

I still need to search the Blogosphere too...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

its official

I haven't seen the Vatican Information Service yet, but it looks official in today's Vatican Daily Bulletin... at least in Italian.

Also, the C-J is running the same. Bishop Kurtz will be the new Archbishop of Louisville. Installation date TBA but most likely on August 15, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the patronal feast of the Archdiocese of Louisville and her Cathedral of the Assumption. This is technically outside the two month limit imposed by Canon Law within which he must be installed following his announcement. But the Apostolic Nuncio can extend the period to include this most appropriate date.

I'll post more info when I get it.

well... one more note

As proof that Wikipedia moves faster than the speed of light, their very sparse entry on Bishop Kurtz already claims him to be the Archbishop of Louisville! We've got six more hours people!

And here's a well-written, balanced article on Bishop Kurtz's support of the Latin Mass in Knoxville.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Knox news

It looks like even the Knoxville News-Sentinel is picking up the story of Bishop Kurtz becoming the next Archbishop of Louisville. They don't provide any new information, but it is much more professionally written than the C-J's article.

From what I hear, official word from Rome should come by 6am, followed by a 10am meeting with the Louisville priest-consultors, then a 10:30am press conference. I'm going to try to go to the press conference but I'm not sure if I'm allowed/able to. We'll see...

I'm going to bed now... big day tomorrow. I'll be doing some stuff at Catholic Charities though so I may not be able to post until late afternoon.

true and profound reception

Pope Urges the Practice of Eucharistic Adoration
Says Silence Is Needed in Scattered World

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 10, 2007 ( Benedict XVI recommends the practice of Eucharistic adoration, saying that the capacity for interior silence and recollection is ever more important in life that is often "noisy and scattered."

The Pope said this today after praying the Angelus with crowds gathered in St. Peter's Square. His address centered on the Eucharist, as many nations celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi today.

"Even after the celebration of the divine mysteries, the Lord Jesus remains living in the tabernacle; because of this he is praised, especially by Eucharistic adoration," the Holy Father said.

"There is an intrinsic connection between celebration and adoration. The holy Mass, in fact, is in itself the Church's greatest act of adoration," he added. "Adoration outside holy Mass prolongs and intensifies what happened in the liturgical celebration and renders a true and profound reception of Christ possible.

"I would like to take the opportunity that today's solemnity offers me to strongly recommend to pastors and all the faithful the practice of Eucharistic adoration."

Benedict XVI noted that youth are showing great interest in adoration.

"I invite priests to encourage youth groups in this, but also to accompany them to ensure that the forms of adoration are appropriate and dignified, with sufficient times for silence and listening to the word of God," the Pope said.

He continued: "In life today, which is often noisy and scattered, it is more important than ever to recover the capacity for interior silence and recollection: Eucharistic adoration permits one to do this not only within one's 'I' but rather in the company of that 'You' full of love who is Jesus Christ, 'the God who is near us.'

"May the Virgin Mary, Eucharistic Woman, lead us into the secret of true adoration. Her heart, humble and silent, was always recollected around the mystery of Jesus, in whom she worshipped the presence of God and his redemptive love."

more on Bishop Kurtz

Last year, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had an article profiling several potential bishops to replace Bishop Wuerl who had become the Archbishop of Washington, D.C. Among them was Bishop Kurtz:
BISHOP JOSEPH E. KURTZ, 59, of the Diocese of Knoxville, Tenn., is a native of Mahanoy City, Schuylkill County. He is chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Marriage and Family Life, which makes him the bishops' point man on gay marriage.

But his forte is caring for the poor. His father was a coal miner. His older brother, who died in 2002, had Down syndrome and lived with the bishop. After his 1972 ordination for the Diocese of Allentown, he became a licensed social worker.

He ran the diocese's social services. He was also a successful parish pastor from 1986 to 1999, before going to Knoxville.

There, he sponsored joint social services between Catholic Charities and Lutheran Services, and was honored for his outreach to the area's new Hispanic community. He lobbied state legislators for tax reform and spoke at a rally to abolish the death penalty.

A Pittsburgh priest called him utterly unpretentious.

"I think he would be accepted by the clergy almost as a local guy," the priest said.

Bottom line: He would answer the prayers of priests for a bishop with parish experience. Catholic Charities here is in transition and he appears to be an ideal choice to position it for the future. The only drawback is that the church tends to keep Southern bishops in place for a long time.

See also The National Pastoral Initiative for Marriage: Six Next Steps and Marriage Protection Amendment Press Conference

Archbishop Kurtz

Well... it looks like Bishop Kurtz could (will?) be our new Archbishop tomorrow. See Whispers and the Courier-Journal (with comments that typify the anxiety of the faithful here)

--he attended St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia
--worked as an assistant pastor, a teacher on the high school and college levels, and an assistant director of vocations
--received a master’s degree in social work from the Marywood School of Social Work in Scranton, Pa.
--served on more than a dozen social-service and hospital boards of directors and directed several services, including the Social Action Bureau, the Catholic Social Agency and Family Life Bureau, and Catholic Charities
--received the title “monsignor” in 1986
--celebrates Mass and preaches in two to three locations each weekend
--oversees the hiring of personnel in schools, religious-education programs, and diocesan offices
--visits the diocese’s (Knoxville) 46 parishes, 10 schools, two hospitals, retirement home, and many charities
--meets with all the priests and religious of the diocese--individually and as a group--several times a year
--has studied Spanish in Mexico in order to better serve the diocese’s (Knoxville) Hispanic population
--serves on the Conception Seminary Board of Regents in Conception, Mo.
--attends all meetings of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and serves on four of the council’s committees: Pro-Life, Marriage and Family, Budget and Finance, and Administrative
--is a board member of Catholic Relief Services
--was elected chair of the Committee on Marriage and Family for a three-year term that began in 2005
--is a member of the board of governors for the Pontifical North American College in Rome

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Bishop Kurtz on vocations

Today, I came across a column by Bishop Joseph Kurtz of The Diocese of Knoxville (which interestingly enough was ranked #1 by a Crisis Magazine report: "The State of the Catholic Church in America - Diocese by Diocese"). He recently had his own summit on vocations like the priests of Louisville just did. Here is his wise and articulate reflection on it:

Vocation summit
The Mass, silent prayer, and confession help us to hear God’s call for our life.

By Bishop Joseph E. Kurtz

Last Thursday I took part in a summit in Athens. Often we hear of summits that involve international figures coming together to explore an important topic. This summit took place not in Athens, Greece, however, but in Athens, Tenn., at St. Mary Church. Father Michael Cummins, the pastor of St. Mary and diocesan coordinator of Vocation Promotion, called together a group of students from Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga and from Knoxville Catholic High School, selected by their respective principals, along with the principals, spiritual directors, campus ministers, and key faculty to spend a day reflecting on the importance of vocations and how our Catholic schools foster an environment that promotes and cultivates vocations. I was privileged to be part of the entire day, and Sister Yvette Gillen, RSM, director of Vocation Promotion for Religious; Rich Armstrong, director of the diocesan Religious Education Office; and Father Peter Iorio, director of the Vocations Office, were there for all or part of the time.

As occurs with most days filled with dialogue and brainstorming, so much was said that we left with our heads spinning. Father Cummins will meet this summer with the priest spiritual director and campus minister of each school to come up with specific ideas for next year. Each participant was asked to go home and look for opportunities to build a culture that promotes vocations.

I had come with some specific ideas and hopes, many of which I still have, and I also found that some of my thinking was refined. Here are some of the initial things I learned.

First, a tension exists between adequately promoting both the vocation of every baptized person and specific vocations to the religious life. The tension might be healthy or unhealthy, depending on the way you seek to present these gifts from God. We know that every vocation is a calling from God and every baptized person has a vocation from God that is meant to unfold in his or her life. This includes the blessed sacrament of matrimony and the single state. There is also a specific calling to the priesthood, diaconate, or religious life that must be promoted and nourished in the lives of high school students. The tension is not necessarily unhealthy. Every high school, and in fact every parish, needs to take a step back from time to time to see whether one or the other is being neglected.

Two unhealthy tensions were discussed. The first is the tendency to be shy about promoting religious vocations. Over the past few decades I fear it has not been politically correct to promote vocations to the religious life. I have found in my conversations with others that the topic of vocations to the priesthood quickly gets shifted to a more generic discussion. Perhaps some fear that inappropriate pressure to become a priest might be applied. Any true response to a call to religious life or priesthood must be to an invitation, not manipulation. Vocations are never imposed but always nurtured.

Two great suggestions came to the fore. The first is that all vocations flow from a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus. Such a relationship is nurtured by reflection on stories of callings in sacred Scripture as well as the silencing of our hearts, as occurs nowhere better than before the Blessed Sacrament. One participant mentioned how deeply moved she was by the example of people going to Mass each day, and the centrality of the Holy Eucharist was highlighted. When participants enter into the mystery of the Holy Eucharist with devotion, reverence, and joy, the Lord finds a way of speaking and young adults a way of listening.

There were also some suggestions about visits to a seminary or house of formation for the religious life. Such visits make it clear that the high school gives high priority to the promotion of religious vocations. Whether or not students are called to religious life, such visits would expand their thinking about and their understanding of the depth of vocations within the church. Opportunities to hear of the radical fidelity required for a priest, deacon, or religious would assist in formation for other vocations—such as fruitful marriage, in which radical fidelity is also required—and provide the chance for someone’s heart to be touched.

The second unhealthy tension is to view marriage and other paths to which students might be called as simply secular choices, devoid of God’s hand. The call to marriage must be seen as holy and requiring the same deep commitment. Much of my time in recent years has been spent promoting the U.S. bishops’ Pastoral Initiative on Marriage. As fewer couples choose sacramental marriage in the church and as the incidence of marital breakups rises, the church has the great opportunity to renew with zeal the promotion of this special vocation to holiness in the radical fidelity of a man and woman to each other and in their openness to children. High school is fertile ground to help build values and attitudes to promote this vocation.

Beyond those tensions, three other themes struck me during the summit. One was the possibility of young people ignoring their calling from God. We had reflected on the experience of Moses before the burning bush in the book of Exodus and how this experience of God by Moses brought forth his vocation—his calling—to lead God’s people from slavery to freedom. It was observed that it is possible to “pour water on the burning bush”!

We can too easily fill our lives with distractions so that we never consider our vocation. Continuing to find ways for students to participate in Mass, in silent prayer, and in the sacrament of reconciliation (confession) was seen as a great means of keeping God’s call alive. I can recall my own high school days in the 1960s. My visits to chapel for silent prayer, which were encouraged by school authorities, were the single most powerful way for me to uncover that call to priesthood.

A theme I heard from students was the tremendous influence of popularity on the decisions young people make today. This influence can be used for good or ill. One student said that the person young people admire might be a teacher or a student. In either case, it is not simply those who are liked but those who are respected who can have a great impact. Of course, the ugly reality of negative peer influence, almost forcing the masses to concentrate on superficial or even sinful things and activities, was mentioned.

Also, there is the power of someone you admire doing good. The example of a sports star taking part in Mass or serving those in need was specifically mentioned. It made me think that vocations will thrive when we have good role models and those with influence use their power wisely and well.

The final issue I raised was the effect of community service to the poor. From the many letters I read by those about to be confirmed, I know that community service, whether in far-off Haiti or just next door, has a powerful effect on students. I wondered about its lasting effect, fearing perhaps that limited service might lead some to think it is a nice extra but not something to influence one’s life decision. Some students mentioned, however, that community service might change a person’s ideas on how to spend the rest of his or her life. This response impressed me. Another person mentioned that such service widens students’ vision and helps shape lasting values and can influence judgments in business or career for many years to come.

As you can tell from my remarks, the summit was great. I could not help but think of the Gospel passage about the Transfiguration. Jesus took three of his disciples to a summit (Mount Tabor), where they experienced him in his glory. That experience gave them a glimpse of their vocation. Afterward he told them they must come down from the mountain, back into the valley. I believe Jesus was clearly with us, directing our every effort.

Now we are all back in the valley, trying to make good use of our time with the Lord and with one another. I am convinced that the experience, the exchange, the prayer, and the Eucharist will do their work. May our Lord Jesus direct students throughout the diocese in embracing their vocation.

will the Real St. Michael please stand up

My friend Dave has drawn his own rendition of St. Michael the Archangel in response to the more sissy-fied images of him that we always see. This is a welcome addition, in my opinion, to the world of religious art.


Is this the real St. Michael?

Or is this?

We report, you decide :)

Monday, June 04, 2007

buzz on the new Archbishop

Well, concerning our next Archbishop, the word from Whispers is "the archdiocese of Louisville -- where Archbishop Thomas Kelly sent in his papers last summer -- is said to be nearing its day in the sun". This could happen at the latest by the end of the summer... and at the soonest... by next week...

stay tuned...

presbyteral assembly

Last weak, May 28-31, I was honored to attend the Archdiocese of Louisville's annual Presbyteral Assembly. This is a gathering of, theoretically, all the priests of the Archdiocese and, as I understand it, focuses on a different theme each year. Each day there is morning prayer, Mass, and evening prayer with a couple conferences and free time throughout. This year over 100 priests attended and , like last year, it was held at Saint Meinrad in rural Southern Indiana. Even though its out in the middle of nowhere, they have beautiful grounds, facilities, and accommodations.

This year the focus was on the USCCB's program for promoting vocations to the Priesthood: Fishers of Men. Some of you may have seen the Fishers of Men video (watch part of it online here) from Grassroots Films. I personally think it is excellent, effective, and inspirational. Here is a brief description of the program:
The Bishops' Committee on Vocations presents a program for priests to actively invite men to consider a vocation to the priesthood. This program is entitled Priestly Life and Vocations Summit: Fishers of Men. This project is a presbyteral workshop which utilizes the appreciative inquiry method of asking priests about their most positive experiences in the priesthood.

It is the hope of the Bishops’ Committee on Vocations that this project will bring about a renewal of the priests in the United States and also lead to the regeneration of priesthood itself. This presbyteral workshop is based on interviews with priests. The actual convocation with the priest includes their testimonies of positive priestly experiences, establishing strategies for promoting priestly vocations, and creating a structure within the presbyterate for inviting men to consider the priesthood.

The conferences and small-group discussions covered the results of the inquiries, interviews, and testimonies. We indeed came up with strategies for promoting priestly vocations and for creating a culture of vocations. I hope our conclusions materialize.

Other than being a part of this "summit," I also greatly appreciated all of the support I received. There were so many priests I did not know or had only heard of by name. I was glad to be able to meet more priests and for them as a body, to get to know me. Many priests from across the spectrum showed me, personally, their heartfelt support and appreciation.

Fr. Ron Knott, a Louisville priest and founding director of the Institute for Priests and Presbyterates at Saint Meinrad, gave a wonderful presentation on the identity of today's seminarian, how to reach out to and "recruit" them, and on the importance of their continued formation from seminary into their vital first five years of ordination. I hope to obtain a copy and post it here. I felt like he described seminarians nowadays very accurately. He quote/unquote "told my story" to the Louisville presbyterate. I hope that from this they can understand me and other guys discerning the priesthood a little better.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

on distractions

Editorial by Peter John Cameron, O.P.
June 2007 Magnificat

How do we deal with distractions in prayer? A distraction consists in any unwanted thought or image that invades our prayerful concentration, wrecking our attention. Distractions crop up in two forms: voluntary and involuntary. A voluntary distraction is a distraction caused through our own neglect by fantasizing, mulling on preoccupations, or by being lax about our recollection. When voluntary distractions become habitual, we become more predisposed to mind-wandering than to God-pondering. About these, Saint Thomas Aqinas warns, "To allow one's mind purposely to wander in prayer is sinful, and hinders the prayer from having fruit."

Conversely, involuntary distractions are those mental disturbances that arise spontaneously. Saint Thomas Aquinas says that "even holy people sometimes suffer from a wandering of the mind when they pray." This is because "the human mind is unable to remain aloft for long on account of the weakness of nature, because human weakness weighs down the soul to the level of inferior things." But, as Saint Thomas assures us, "to wander in mind unintentionally does not deprive prayer of its fruit."

Dealing with distractions

Father Adolphe Tanqueray, in his classic text The Spiritual Life, observes that "even if distractions are many and grievous, they are not culpable unless they are voluntary." Theoliptos (fourteenth century) says that "if voluntary distractions go on importuning you to be let in, confusing your mind, you may be sure that a prevenient desire for them on your part is giving them strength. Because the soul's free will has been overcome in this way, they now have a lawful claim against it, and so they pertub and pester it." The solution? "You should expose them through confession, for evil thoughts take to flight as soon as they are denounced. Just as darkness recedes when light shines, so the light of confession dispels the darkness of impassioned thoughts."

What about involuntary distractions that afflict us despite our best efforts? Father Taqnqueray tells us that "involuntary distractions do not constitute an obstacle to prayer as long as we strive to overcome them or reduce their number, for by these very efforts our soul keeps on its course toward God." Saint Basil advises: "If you are so truly weakened by sin that you are unable to pray attentively, strive as smuch as you can to curb yourself, and God will pardon you, seeing that you are unable to stand in his presence in a becoming manner, not through negligence but through frailty."

The renowned late spiritual theologian Father Jordan Aumann, O.P., offers further advice. It is true, he admits, that "there is no sure way of avoiding all distractions." However, "one can always ignore them. Indeed, this is a much more effective measure than to combat them directly. One should take no account of them but should do what one must do, in spite of the uncontrolled imagination. It is possible to keep one's mind and heart fixed on God even in the midst of involuntary distractions."

This conviction is verified in the teaching of the fourteenth-century English mystical masterpiece known as The Cloud of Unkowing. It is worth quoting at length the counsel of the anonymous author:

"It is inevitable that ideas will arise in your mind and try to distract you in a thousand ways. They will question you saying, 'What are you looking for, what do you want?' To all of them you must reply, 'God alone I seek and desire, only him.' If they ask, 'Who is this God?' tell them that he is the God who created you, redeemed you, and brought you to this work. Say to your thoughts, 'You are powerless to grasp him. Be still.' Dispel them by turning to Jesus with loving desire... A naked intent toward God, the desire for him alone, is enough. Gather all your desire into one simple word [like the name of Jesus] that the mind can easily retain. Use it to beat upon the cloud of darkness above you and to subdue all distractions, consigning them to the cloud of forgetting beneath you. Should some thought go on annoying you demanding to know what you are doing, answer with this one word alone. Do this and I assure you these thoughts will vanish. Why? Because you have refused to develop them with arguing."
Distractions are good?

And also: thank God for your involuntary distractions. For, as Saint Peter of Damascus (eleventh century) writes: "If, when there are thousands of distractions, some still find opportunity to commit sins, how much more would this be the case if our lives were without distraction? In such circumstances, it is better for us to be superficially distracted, and so prevented from devoting ourselves to holy things and holy thoughts, rather than for us to do many other things which are in fact worse."

Our tussle with distractions makes us grow in virtue. As Father Tanqueray says sagely, "The effort made to repel involuntary distractions is a meritorious act. Shold they recur a hundred times and be a hundred times repulsed, the meditation will be excellent and worth far more than one made with fewer distractions but with little effort."

Saint Thomas gives us the final word of encouragement: "The kind of attention that attends to the end of prayer, namely God, is most necessary, and even the weak-minded are capable of it." I'm sure he wrote that for me.