Altar Server Surrogate


To touch the throne most holy,
to hand the gifts for the feast,
To see Him meekly, lowly,
descend at the word of a priest.

To hear man’s poor petition,
to sound the silver bell,
When He in sweet submission,
comes down with us to dwell.

~ St. John Berchmans

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Of Saints, Suffering, and Scleroderma


Holy Walburga, you dwell in the glory of heaven, gazing upon the face of the Triune God in the company of all the saints.

Beg God to grant healing, consolation and strength to me and to all those for whom I pray.

Implore Him to let me recognize His love and know His presence, whatever He may have in store for me.

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An Uncertain Pilgrimage: Of Mother Jones and Making a Ruckus


I’m not a humanitarian.
I’m a hell-raiser.
~ Mother Jones

It was a long drive from South Bend to Jefferson City, and I had a van full of cranky, road-weary kids. We were on I-55 heading south through Illinois to visit Aunt Mary Katherine, and the sooner we got there, the better.

Then a brown highway marker loomed on the horizon, and everybody knew what that meant: A reduction in speed, dad quickly scanning the sign, and then (most likely) a detour and delay as we tracked down a “Point Of Historical Interest.”

To a degree, I sympathized with my children. Those brown highway signs were the bane of my own family vacations growing up – my dad couldn’t resist them. No matter how obscure the event or reference, and regardless of our itinerary or tight schedule, a brown highway sign always meant a stop.

Often, the POHI did turn out to be pretty lame – an empty field that might’ve once held a factory, or maybe a gulley marking the border of a long forgotten settlement. You get the idea.

Sometimes, however, my dad hit paydirt, and a brown sign would lead us to a site of undeniable historical magnitude. In such cases, even my preadolescent stubbornness would give way, and I’d join my father in reveling in a proximal connection with the momentous past.

And that day on I-55 with my own kids? I was sure I had stumbled on a winner.

“Hey, kids,” I called out from the driver’s seat. “It’s the burial place of Mother Jones!”

“Who?” a sleepy voice inquired.

“Mother Jones,” I said, “a famous trouble-maker. Let’s check this out.”

“Nooo-ooo, dad,” came the cry in unison. Too late – we took the off-ramp, and we headed over to Mount Olive and the Union Miners Cemetery.

Once called “the most dangerous woman in America,” Mary Harris Jones was an Irish Catholic dressmaker and schoolteacher who went on to become the most famous (infamous?) labor organizer of her times. After losing her husband and four children to yellow fever in 1867, and then losing everything else in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, Mary dedicated the rest of her life to the working poor, and became the de facto face of the labor movement – and its most ardent champion.

115motherspeaksFor example, when the press refused to cover unsafe mill conditions for child workers in Pennsylvania, she led a Children’s March to President Roosevelt’s residence in New York in 1903 – although, in the end, the President refused to see her. On the other hand, Jones was able to meet with the likes of J.D. Rockefeller after a group of striking Colorado coal miners and their families were slaughtered in the 1914 Ludlow Massacre. After meeting with Jones, Rockefeller made the trip out West to visit the mines he owned and then introduced significant reforms.

Jones was probably best known for her solidarity with the miners of West Virginia – her “boys” as she called them – as they agitated for safer working conditions, and she was not afraid to take to the streets with them. She defied strike-breakers, disregarded threats to her life, and was jailed numerous times. Never afraid to take on all comers, Mary tirelessly served all who required her aid, starting with her beloved coal miners – the “slaves of the caves,” as she called them – but virtually anyone else burdened by hardship or injustice. Once, when asked where she actually resided, she replied, “Well, wherever there is a fight.”

Wearing her trademark fusty black dress and hat, Jones crisscrossed the country well into her 70s on behalf of the downtrodden and forgotten – a steadfast dedication that earned her the universal moniker of “Mother.” Even Dorothy Day, no stranger to selfless service, admired her tenacity and resolve:

Right now I’m in a feeble state. Too conscious of my 79 years! But Mother Jones, the great labor organizer, tramped the country from Colorado to West Virginia at a great age!

mother-jonesDespite Mother Jones’s socialist flirtations (and the fact that her name has now become synonymous with an exceptionally progressive magazine), she was actually quite a traditionalist. Far from being a proto-feminist, for example, she not only assailed the idea of women entering the workforce (because their absence from the home and child-rearing led to juvenile delinquency), but even fiercely opposed women’s suffrage. “You don’t need the vote,” she would say, “to raise hell!” Moreover, Jones was an unabashed Christian, and “drew heavily on biblical lessons and imagery to inspire her ‘boys’ the union workers and offer them a vision of a happier future” (Catholic University).

Jones died in the arms of the Church in 1930, and she was given a funeral at St. Gabriel’s Church in Washington, D.C. Afterwards, her body was shipped to Illinois where she was honored with another funeral Mass attended by an overflow crowd at Mt. Olive’s Ascension Church. “Because of her great struggle for economic justice,” Father J.W.R. Maquire said in his homily, “she became a world figure.” She was laid to rest in the country’s only union owned cemetery, close by the graves of miners who died in the 1898 Battle of Virden labor conflict.

Of course, none of that mattered to my kids as they clambered about the Mother Jones memorial. They were too young to comprehend such details at the time, and, to tell the truth, I wasn’t even aware of most of them when I insisted on diverting our journey to her resting place. So, aside from paying our respects, what was the point of stopping?

Two reasons at least.

First, to highlight the sacramentality of place. As we drove down the highway, I could’ve just settled for pointing out the roadside sign and making a general comment about Mother Jones, but the act of physically seeking out her grave enfleshed her memory with an actual encounter and it became a pilgrimage. Plus, the towering memorial itself was testimony to the fact that Mother Jones mattered – my kids didn’t have to take my word for it. Finally, a prayer for the repose of her soul said on the road as we sped by the marker would’ve been just as efficacious as the one we said at her graveside, I suppose, but I think our stopping made it all the more seemly, not to mention more edifying.

Second, peter preachand maybe more importantly, I wanted honor Jones’s impetuosity. Although I didn’t know much about her life at the time, I was confident of her reputation as a scrapper and a rabble-rouser, especially on behalf of the poor, and those were traits I definitely wanted to hold up to my family for emulation. “The Christian is not to ‘be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord,’” the Catechism teaches us, quoting St. Paul. “In situations that require witness to the faith, the Christian must profess it without equivocation.” It’s precisely what we hear in the readings these days following Easter as Apostles go about disrupting the peace in Jerusalem.

While Peter and John were still speaking to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple guard, and the Sadducees confronted them, and put them in custody. But many of those who heard the word came to believe.

Jones was a show-boater, it’s true, and maybe not always the most prudent. Yet she was absolutely dedicated to the underdogs of her day, and her Catholic formation clearly informed her flamboyant efforts to better their lot. “Pray for the dead,” she famously recommended, summarizing her unique vision of Catholic Action, “and fight like hell for the living.” What’s more, she got others to follow her radical lead. “Wherever she went,” Sinclair Lewis wrote of Jones, “the flame of protest leaped up in the hearts of men.” Truly, Mother Jones lived a life that modeled what the Catechism calls the “transmission of the faith in words and deeds.”

Many years have passed since we made that brief stop we made in Mount Olive, and I was curious about its lasting impact – if any. So I recently asked my two oldest what they remembered about Mother Jones. “She was a labor organizer,” Joan answered. “Also, it’s a left-wing magazine, I think.”

“Not bad,” I thought to myself. I pressed her for any associated childhood recollections.

“Like what?”

“Like visiting her gravesite.”

“No, you’re kidding, right?” came the answer. “I don’t remember anything like that.”

Ben’s response was even leaner. “Who was she again?”

“Basically an agitator,” I told him. “We visited her burial place once when you were little.”

“You’re such a liberal, dad,” he came back.

Perhaps. Even so, it would seem I’m in good company.

A version of this essay appeared on Crisis.

Of Catholic Schools, Down Syndrome, and Hospitality

Julian of Norwich

He willeth we know that not only He taketh heed to
noble things and to great, but also to little and to small, to low and to simple.

For He willeth we know that the least thing shall not be forgotten.

~ Dame Julian of Norwich

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Christmas Movies for Annunciation Day

The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner 1896

Lent is a favourable time for letting Christ serve us so that we in turn may become more like him. This happens whenever we hear the word of God and receive the sacraments, especially the Eucharist.

There we become what we receive: the Body of Christ.

~ Pope Francis

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Of Brother Klaus, Asceticism, and Eating Disorders


My Lord and my God, remove far from me whatever keeps me from you.
My Lord and my God, confer upon me whatever enables me to reach you.
My Lord and my God, free me from self and make me wholly yours.
~ Nicholas of Flüe

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Put Down the Missalette Already!


Come and gaze upon this marvelous feat:
the woman conceives through the hearing of her ears!
~ Athanasius of Alexandria

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Statement to the St. Joseph County Council

IMG_8321-e1285773229972-531x251 The “Patient Safety Ordinance” (Bill 69-14) would have, among other things, required abortionists in our community to have hospital admitting privileges, either directly or indirectly, like other doctors working in outpatient surgery centers. It went down in defeat early Wednesday morning after a lengthy period of public testimony. I was unable to attend the debate, but I prepared a statement anyway. Parts of it were read to the Council on my behalf; here’s the full statement for the record.

There was a letter to the editor in the Wall Street Journal last Friday that revealed something I didn’t know about Fr. Richard John Neuhaus – the archconservative intellectual and author. Apparently, in his younger days, Neuhaus “proudly marched in Washington alongside his friend and fellow Democrat, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.” and “was also a Vietnam War protester.” The letter-writer went on to recall that in his speeches, Neuhaus would often refer back to his more liberal days, and would add, “I remain a Democrat in all but my voting practices.”

That describes me to a “T,” but with a significant exception: Whereas Neuhaus no doubt voted Republican later in life, I have chosen to cast blank ballots in every major national election for years. Why? In part because of the very issue before us this evening: I just can’t bring myself to vote for Republicans, but since the Democrats are so committed to abortion on demand, I can’t vote for them either.

And make no mistake: Bill 69-14 is about abortion. As April Lidinsky pointed out in her South Bend Tribune letter on Saturday, St. Joe County Right to Life wouldn’t be pushing this bill unless it was about abortion. However, the flipside is also true: Ms. Lidinsky and others who oppose this ordinance do so only because of how it could impinge on women’s access to abortion.

So, here’s full disclosure: I’m a devout Catholic, and hence passionately pro-life. Also, I am employed by Bethel College – a pro-life institution. Clearly, I am utterly opposed to the horror of abortion, and it’s no surprise that I’d support this ordinance since it would make abortion more difficult – even impossible – to obtain in my community. Would that we could make it impossible to obtain everywhere!

But I’m also a Registered Nurse, and on that basis alone, I support this bill. As a nurse, I am appalled that a clinic performing surgical abortions – an invasive procedure that puts women at risk for infection, perforation, and severe hemorrhaging among other complications – would be held to a lower standard than other freestanding surgery centers. This is especially egregious given the fact that all the patrons of abortion clinics are women – and often women already in distress and/or desperate financial straits.

It’s unthinkable that, under other circumstances, such a failure to protect vulnerable women would be ignored by the American Left. Instead, we’d expect to see Democrats flying to the aid of these women, demanding parity with other clinics in terms of medical regulation and oversight.

This ought to be a non-partisan issue, but it’s not. Nonetheless, I implore you, regardless of your party affiliation, to adopt this ordinance. If you can’t do it because you’re against abortion, do it because it promotes patient safety – that is, women’s safety. Either way, it’s the right thing to do.

Of St. Katharine Drexel, the Beverly Hillbillies, and Detachment

Detachment from riches is obligatory
for entrance into the Kingdom of heaven (CCC).

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Why Gloria Dump is Everyone’s Favorite

“Do you think everybody misses somebody? Like I miss my mama?”

“Mmmm-hmmm,” said Gloria. She closed her eyes. “I believe, sometimes, that the whole world has an aching heart.”

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