Sing God a Simple Song — Bernstein, Holy Cross, and More

Thank you, Holy Cross Associates, for the national conference you’re holding this weekend at Holy Cross College in Notre Dame, IN. A great friend of mine invited me as his guest to attend the opening sessions this morning, which featured a talk by “America” magazine editor Fr. Jim Martin, SJ, and times of prayerfulness that included the singing of one of my all-time favorites.
Several ordained and lay followers of Blessed Basil Moreau, CSC, rose to sing the joyful, simple, transporting introduction to the magnificent theater piece known as Bernstein’s “Mass.” Drawing upon the psalms, they invited us to “Sing God a simple song.” They urged, “Sing like you like to sing. God loves all simple things, for God is the simplest of all.”
This was the perfect beginning to a weekend following a week filled with lots of physical pain and some spiritual pain. I have come to crave and treasure peace as an embodiment of the Lord’s presence. “I will sing the Lord a new song/To praise Him, to bless Him, to bless the Lord.”
The Holy Cross Associates, I have learned, are also people who crave the peace of the Lord’s presence in simple companionship with Him and with others who feel called to missions of service. Fr. Martin rounded out this morning of renewal with reflections on the simple life of Jesus and an invitation into contemplation of the Biblical scene where Jesus multiplies the loaves and the fishes. Our faith allows us to find renewal at the intersection of the awesomely miraculous and the authentically uniting. Here’s to the Holy Cross Associates, who are building their own beautiful renewal on the groundwork of human companionship mixed with intimacy with God, as well as miraculous hopes mixed with the simple ministry of presence. Find out more about those Lay Associates.

Mercies are better in the plural

Let’s not risk a mercy shortage. Especially in this Jubilee Year of Mercy, I vote that we multiply the word and amplify its meaning so as to immerse ourselves in it.
As I pondered the word one day, I looked it up in the index of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Would you believe the book mentions mercy only twice? At least that was the number of entries in the index of my admittedly old edition of the 1994 catechism. Fortunately, the index of the online edition has been updated to point to 12 references.
Fortunate because it’s a more accurate reflection of the catechism’s contents–and better because this update may reflect the fact that, thanks to St. Pope John Paul II, St. Faustina, Pope Francis, and others, the Church over time has become more mercy-conscious.
Now I recommend just one more improvement in the handling of this beautiful word. My online research also turned up an apparent neglect of the very interesting plural form of the word–namely, mercies. The singular form can often be applied to a single “act of mercy” that we human beings can perform, even as it can refer to a defining character trait of our loving, forgiving God.
I’d like to raise our consciousness of that even more compelling, beautiful word, “mercies.” It seems to me that dictionaries too often suffice it to say this word is simply the plural of mercy. But I think “mercies” can take us into an even richer time of reflection, focusing us on the graces bestowed and actions taken, so consistently and generously, by our Lord in our lives. It evokes a story of supernatural abundance, patience, and loyalty, causing us to be especially thankful.
My favorite use of the word “mercies” is found in that wonderful hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” We sing that, morning after morning after morning, we see new mercies and graces that prove God’s ongoing involvement in our lives–His love as an action word.
My edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church had no index entry for “mercies,” and the online search I used at the USCCB site made no distinctions when I asked for “mercies” instead of “mercy.” Alas, the Bishops’ Bible site did not even use “mercies” in the Lamentations 3:22 passage which served as a basis for “Great is Thy Faithfulness.”
So maybe “mercy” and “mercies” constitute a distinction without a difference. But please keep praying for this year to be a jubilee of multiple mercies–an ongoing, interactive flow of mercies shown by the Lord and by us under the inspiration of the Divine Mercy, and indeed a flow that will continue after this formal year is over. Let’s enjoy that sense of abundance and real encounters in countless lives, a mandate not limited to checklists of specific “acts of mercy.” Rather let’s focus on a compassionate heart which continues beating, breaking, and blessing–acting in love constantly. It’s something we can remember and rediscover alwys … because His mercies endure forever.

A word of apology … sorry, that’s the word

Elton John has sung, “Sorry seems to be the hardest word.” But the word “apology” and its derivative, “apologist,” seem even harder. Believe it or not, today’s feast of St. Justin, Martyr, is what prompts these observations.

The Catholic Encyclopedia describes St. Justin as a Christian apologist. To be a skillful apologist for the Catholic faith is a wonderful thing, and every Catholic should seek knowledge and skills suited to the work of apologia, or defending and explaining one’s faith.

But here’s one of those cases where a marketing firm might have chosen a different word; the common understanding of apology, or apologist, or apologetic, tends to emphasize regret for a mistake, not the search for truth. To the contrary, these days (or anytime), it can be an act of education, courage, and mercy to proclaim and explain Catholic and Christian insights. The Church’s combination of faith and reason can light a candle in the darkness of ignorance or prejudice or purely emotional reactions.

Some folks might want Catholics to be regretful or reluctant when expressing their faithful perspectives in the public square, and sadly there are people in the world today who, like St. Justin, suffer martyrdom when they stand up for their beliefs. Only if we maintain and project the sense of joy and hope that comes from our commitment to truth will the candle stay lit as an invitation to dialogue.

That’s what Peter writes in his epistle: “But even if you should suffer because of righteousness, blessed are you. Do not be afraid or terrified with fear of them, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame.” (1 Peter 3:14-16)

St. Justin, pray for us so that we may unapologetically venture into free and fair conversations, locally and globally, in search of the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Apologist may be a hard word, but it can just as easily be a word of invitation as a word of sorry withdrawal.

Love Thee, Notre Dame, and the Grace of “Yes”

Thanks to @LisaHendey, author of two great blogs A Good Measure and Catholic, for her article that cited my two books with University of Notre Dame Press: Football Weekends at Notre Dame  and Words of Life: Celebrating 50 Years of the Hesburgh Library’s Message, Mural, and MeaningI’m also thankful for Lisa’s new book, The Grace of Yeswhich celebrates the grace that’s all around us if we seek it, recognize it, and accept it wholeheartedly with a sense of need and zeal.

Joy to the Word — Not a misspelling, but an exhortation

Thanks to Notre Dame Magazine for inviting me to contribute to their “What I’m Reading” blog. You can see my response at

Writing this blog post gave me a chance to meditate not only upon the joy that comes from getting to know Pope Francis better (by reading his apostolic exhortation,  Joy of the Gospel), but also upon the joy that comes from learning and pondering a “bigger story.” Journalists too often condense stories by making the content fit their mold.

I’m not saying a story has to be long, although the blog post celebrates the power of a book to reveal the context and connections that reveal the mind and heart underlying the author’s content. The blog’s point is that looking for connections–in either short- or long-form media–helps us to transcend the fault lines emphasized too often in our politics and punditry.  More importantly, it seems to me, one of Pope Francis’s points in his book-length exhortation is that looking for connections–between the good news and bad news in everyday life, between the theological insight that blesses us and the missionary impulse to go forth and bless others–brings the joy that St. Francis of Assisi embraced. And this special saint didn’t need to write books! Or even use words!

Exploring Talent

I was delighted today to receive a book, The Little Book of Talent, as a gift from ACE. I know it will be valuable to study the phenomenon of talent, partly for my own ongoing personal development, partly for applications of the wisdom that I might find as a parent to my daughter Mary, and partly for the insight it will give me into the work that goes on at Notre Dame and ACE. So far, I have only browsed through the book, which is written by a Domer named Daniel Coyle, but I feel I can already recommend it as a thought-provoker. I love to be prodded to think about my 56 years of life in new ways, through different lenses. It’s the only way we writers can keep our content fresh, our imaginations lively, our audiences attended to.

Here’s one thing for all of us to remember. Coyle talks about developing talents through regular, repeated, intense practice of skills. Talent, he reminds us, is not just some God-given gift that we can magically make full use of. Talent is inspiration and perspiration. Writing should be done constantly–ideally, in generating content for an array of different media, on an array of different subjects, with various styles, on various deadlines, for various audiences. This is what builds the talent. I am blessed that this is the kind of writing I have gotten to do at ACE–and, for a full ten years, at Notre Dame.

Yep, this is a book that I’m going to do a lot reading in, thinking about, and building upon.