Retreat for Priests -- New Orleans, Louisiana --
October 15, 1993
by Damian Fandal, O.P.
In many places in the New Testament, the obedience of
Jesus is underscored. "... and he went down with them
and came to Nazareth and lived under their authority."
Lk 2:51 ". . . not my will but your will be done." ". .
. I have come, not to do my own will, but the will of
Him who sent me."
To obey those set over you, especially those who have
an authority which you did not offer them, is a trait
of the earnest Christian. But obedience is also a
principal stumbling block for you and for me. We revere
our freedoms. We do not like to be told what to do. We
do not want to surrender our independence. And these
attitudes can be hostile to Christianity.
I like to argue, following a long Christian tradition,
that humility is the groundwork of every virtue.
Whenever you find virtuous activity, you find a humble
man. Wherever you find unwholesome work, you find a
proud man. Obedience, then, is not the foundation of
the Christian edifice; humility is. But the virtue of
obedience is one of the first, if not the first, of the
stones that build the Christian life. If may be the
Let us try to be clear about this edifice which we are
to build for ourselves and for those whom we lead.
Faith, Hope, and Charity are Rs capstones. There is no
Christian life without these, to be sure. But to
practice the theological virtues, I need moral
stability moral virtue. Among these, obedience is
outstanding. Put it another way: Show me a priest who
is obedient to God, to the See of Peter, and to his
Ordinary, and I will show you a priest in whom charity
Of course, obedience is difficult. We all want to do
our own thing. Each of you prefers, by far, to be a
pastor rather than an associate. Each of us has his own
ideas about how the liturgy should be conducted, how
the church layout should be devised, how the laity
should be incorporated into the maintenance of
parochial programs, what the responsibilities of the
curates should be, how the finances should be
administered, how and by whom the CCD should be run,
and so on-and-on. A pastor is the boss, though at times
he must consult the Ordinary and obey his decisions.
But few of us like to be told what to do. We love our
freedom. And usually the bishops allow us broad
tolerance - too broad in the view of some! How many
times do you ask yourself: "Why doesn't Schulte crack
down on Father so-and-so?" I suspect that we seldom ask
whether he should crack down on us! This is, after all,
"Let a man so account us as steward of Christ." I have
no right to emphasize my authority so long as I do not
underscore my obedience. In the contemporary church,
however, obedience is not usually underscored; it is
largely ignored. Bishops make decisions, often after
long, drown-out negotiations, and negative reactions
set in - from the clergy and from the laity. How many
news stories can you recount of disputes between a
local ordinary and members of his diocese -- disputes
that are exultantly carried in the secular, and even at
times in the Catholic press? Too many by far.
Sometimes we fail to be obedient, and we must
acknowledge that in those times we are most un-Christ-
like. "I have not come to do my own will. . ." Each of
you has promised obedience to your bishop. This, of
course, is most difficult. if you are blessed with a
bishop whom you admire, obedience is relatively easy.
He dies and another takes his place whom you do not
like, and a disobedient spirit readily takes hold.
Examine your conscience now and ask: "How often have I
failed in reverence, how often have I obeyed only
niggardly, how often have I criticized in a carping
spirit, based mainly on my dislike?
I want to insist on reverence here, reverence, at
least, for the episcopal office. Yes, yes, I know that
some bishops do a poor job, some are selfish, some
mean, some niggardly, some haughty, some cowardly;
there are some who more or less throw in the towel;
there are some who are not too bright; and there are
some who in fact, have no concern any longer and say:
"Do your own thing." But there are many bishops who are
prayerful men, many who are friendly and approachable,
many who have an openness to their clergy which,
judging by their actions and reactions, comes first. I
have the profoundest respect for a local ordinary whose
door is open, as much as practically possible, to his
Now there are times when all of us are upset with a
bishop's decision and we throw up our hands: "How could
the son-of-a-gun be so stupid!?" At such times, when we
cool down, we have to acknowledge that maybe, just
maybe, in this matter he knows something that I do not
which he is not free to reveal. Or maybe, just maybe,
his direction, which is not mine, may prove to be o.k.
In any event, you and I (I readily admit this), talk
too much about our bishops - criticizing them too
quickly, too roundly. Now, I often say to penitents,
who confess the sins of calming or detraction, that
they have a bad habit of speaking unkindly or unfairly
of others. Not as a digression, I say here that the
only way I can overcome my evil habit of saying unkind
things is to work consciously, steadily, to replace the
evil habit with its opposite - that is, by saying
positive things about another. And by remaining silentl
How hard that is! Thing about it. Someone criticizes
negatively another and you say nothing because: a) you
don't want an argument; or, b) you don't want to be
dismissed; or (c) you don't want to be criticized
The spirit of obedience is as necessary for you as air
for breathing. It is a moral virtue and therefore
exists between extremes; just as it is evil to want to
be treated as a stick or a stone, so it is evil to want
to be treated as one naturally endowed with authority,
good judgment, unfailing good sense, standing in the
middle, the virtue of obedience requires that, at
times, one argue for his position - even stoutly if in
the end he is prepared to acknowledge authority and to
submit to it with reverence!!
The clergy must exhibit a reverential spirit of
obedience - to the bishop, to those whom he entrusts
with responsibilities, and to be sure, to God.
No conference, no subject matter that I could offer for
your reflection is more important than this. So please
take the time to ponder this matter, to examine your
conscience, to make good resolutions. Promise yourself
that you will overcome willfulness, that you will
embrace the state of being a subject and that you will
then often say, prayerfully, sincerely: "Not my will,
but yours be done."
"O Sacred Banquet. . ."
Of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, St. Thomas says
that it is "not so much a duty as the end of all
duties." Each of us recognizes that the "sacred" is
expressed in all of the "mysteries" - I use the word
with its ancient connotation - all of the sacraments
which are sacred. But each of the six other sacraments
prepares us for the great rite of worship which is the
Most Holy Eucharist.
Already, I have said that some modern theologians and
many catechists speak only of "Eucharist," setting
aside the adjective traditionally employed. Some
priests of the present day do not, in fact, believe in
transubstantiation, accepting only the symbolic value
of the bread and wine used in the Eucharistic rite. So
many contemporary churches have been built with small,
side chapels where "Eucharist" is reserved, there being
no tabernacle in the principal arena.
In the loss of the sense of the sacred, we see a
diminution of faith on the part of the faithful and on
the part of some bishops and of many priests and
deacons. This is one good reason - I'm uncertain
whether it is the principal reason - for so many ills
that we who have the care of souls confront.
The sacrament of the Holy Eucharist is sacred in
itself, whereas all other possessions of the Church are
sacred in reference to it. Permit me to recite the
truth that was solemnly proclaimed by the Council of
The Most Holy Eucharist has indeed this in common with
the other sacraments, that it is a symbol of a sacred
thing and a visible form of an invisible grace; but
there is found in it this excellent and peculiar
characteristic, that the other sacraments then first
have the power of sanctifying when one uses them, while
in the Eucharist there is the Author Himself of
sanctity before it is used (13th Session, Chap. III).
The Second Vatican Council used different words to
reaffirm the same truth:
The other sacraments, as well as every ministry of the
Church and every work of the apostolate, are linked
with the Holy Eucharist and are directed toward ft. For
the most blessed Eucharist contains the Church's entire
spiritual wealth, that is, Christ himself, our Passover
and living bread (Pres. Ordinis, 5).
Pope Paul VI in his encyclical Mysterium Fidei of 1965,
notes that"the Eucharist is a very great mystery...the
culmination and center...of the Christian religion."
Despite the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, we
seem in so many quarters to have drifted away from a
proper understanding of, and a proper reverence for the
Sacrifice of the Mass and the Real Presence.
Perhaps I tend to be too traditional - your may be
surprised that I worry about that; but I do, I do! -
but there are so many signs of our loss of the sense of
the sacred, particularly with regard to the Holy
As I have already said, we have many, many people today
who go to communion in the state of mortal sin. Since
virtually everybody else approaches communion at Sunday
masses, many also come to communion unprepared,
unabsolved of grievous sins. At Christmas and Easter,
St. Dominic's in New Orleans is jammed at all the
masses. And there is a flood of communicants, so that
we have to have additional Eucharistic ministers. Where
are these folks, mostly younger families, the rest of
the time? Yet, willy nilly they come to communion. I
always want at Christmas to wish some of them a Happy
Easter because I won't see them again until the
At St. Dominic's New Orleans, we reserve the Blessed
Sacrament in the tabernacle at the High Altar. Yet so
many people stand around "yakking" in the nave before
and after Mass. Twice, as patiently as possible, I have
remarked about his from the pulpit, but to little
avail. Once, I had to ask a large gathering for the
baptism of an infant to please be silent in church, as
they were in the presence of God in fact.
Many years ago, I got into an argument with three other
Dominicans about the Sacred and the Profane. There is
no distinction, they argued; Christ makes everything
that is morally acceptable "sacred." If that is so, I
challenged, why did the church in the Age of
Persecution develop the "Secret Discipline?" Why is St.
John's Gospel silent about the rights of the Christian
Faith (while at the same time revealing more about them
than the other Evangelists and St. Paul, all of whom
describe the right of the Holy Eucharist)? And why has
the church continually taught that one should prepare
himself by certain steps to approach the Eucharist? One
shouldn't approach the altar as one approaches the
evening meal or a visit with friends, or a movie! Is it
correct to call some of the routines of daily life
"sacred?" Is it a "sacred movement" when I stop to fill
my car with gas? When I shave in the morning? When I am
inconsolable over a loss by the Saints?
Few of the sacraments have such a checkered history as
does the Sacrament of Reconciliation. His unduly
rigorous attitude about the forgiveness of sins drove
Tertullian away from the Church early in the 3rd
Century when Pope St. Calistus eased the nearly
puritanical discipline that dominated the age of
persecution. Reflecting on the question which St. Peter
posed and which Jesus answered, Calistus knew he was
correct. "Lord, how often should I forgive my brother?
Seven times?" You recall Jesus' answer quite clearly.
Humanly speaking, I have to admit that the hearing of
confessions is usually quite boring. I overcome the
boredom rather easily when I pray seriously before
entering the confessional. When I run to the
confessional at the last minute, I am more readily
bored. Patience has never been one of my attributes, so
that I need God's grace patiently to listen, to advise,
and to absolve.
Often, I say to myself that I should read about and
meditate upon this sacrament much more often -- to
recapture, by an act of faith, my understanding of this
most generous gift of God. Yes, I know there are
greater gifts of God; and I want to offer a few
thoughts about some of them in other conferences. But
if you want to examine meditatively the marvels of
God's love for us, reflect on the Sacrament of
I hear the same people's confessions week in and week
out, and I detect little or no improvement in those
individuals. They are beset with weaknesses and too
readily submit to their temptations. Sometimes, you're
tempted to speak sternly to them. I never submit to
that temptation for two reasons. The first and most
important is that I sit there as Jesus Christ. I ask
myself: "What would Jesus say to this person?" And the
answer comes soaring out of the Gospel of John:
"Neither do I condemn you. Go, now, and do not sin
again." Pushing the matter a bit, I ask: "What if that
woman taken in adultery had been caught a second time
and once again hurled at Jesus' feet. What would he
have said?" Seventy times seven.
A second reason is that I am myself a sinner. I have no
stone to cast, so I have no right to be stern with the
penitents who come to me. I admit that occasionally a
penitent won't listen to what I have to say, usually
because of their nervousness. To catch such a person's
attention, I speak forcefully. But I quickly apologize
and assure the penitent that they should relax, set
aside nervousness, and listen to my counsel -- which is
not a criticism! I, a sinner, can hardly be a critic of
a sinner. I have no stones.
This sacrament, to be sure, is as necessary for you as
for me as it is for those whose confessions we hear.
How often do we accept this marvelous grace of God? How
often do we confess our sins? I'm afraid that many of
us have slipped from the earnest practice of frequent
confession. These days especially, we have so much to
do that we fall into bed at night grateful for the
opportunity to be alone. During this retreat, ask
yourself the direct questions: How important is the
sacrament of reconciliation to me? What schedule should
I follow? How often will I confess? To whom? Can I give
this special priority?
There is, to be sure, a grave difference between the
sins of weakness and these sins of malice. Usually, we
deal in the sacrament of reconciliation with sins of
weakness. I have most rarely been confronted with
malice, or at least, with malice that is grave. Yes,
sometimes we do malicious things, but seldom, if ever,
do we perform acts of malice that are studied, plotted
out, willfully evil.
One of my favorite people is a Dominican whom many of
you know named Ed Conley, former Pastor at St. Anthony
of Padua in New Orleans. It's always interesting to
drive with Ed when he is the driver. He has no patience
with slow pokes, and, especially if the car windows are
up, will cuss and storm about the car in front of us
that is "moseying" along. I shall not quote his
expletives. I only hurry to add that the man. is never
malicious. He merely shares my impatience.
In the sacraments of forgiveness, we see the mercy of
God at work, perhaps better than in any other
situation. God's mercy is an effect of his love for us.
Turning toward us without fail, calling us back to him,
prompting us with his grace, moving our emotions and
our will, our living father is anxious to wipe away the
sins of men and women. To wipe them away so that, in
literal truth, they are no more. Perhaps we should name
this sacrament again, now calling it the sacrament of
A quality of most priests that I have always reverenced
is their kindness in the confessional. I wish I knew
why so many priests have the reputation -- one that is
deserved -- for being good confessors. Good and kind.
Our education is part of the reason; perhaps, our
tolerance for others who differ with us in the
priesthood is another part.
To hear confessions, admittedly a tiresome proposition
at times, is an opportunity we should not miss.
Kindness to others is a Christian hallmark; those who
are kindly are in the path of salvation. But even more,
we are "other Christs." And perhaps nowhere is that
more palpable to the faithful than in the confessional
of one who goes into the confessional box to sit there
in Jesus' stead.
"I have come to call..... sinners." Pray for patience
and kindliness before you hear confessions -- asking
Jesus Christ to prepare you to sit there in his name -
to be kind, compassionate, forgiving, uncensorious,
Remind yourself as you enter the confessional: Christ
is the Prince of peace. Where is this better
demonstrated than in the Sacrament of Reconciliation?
You absolve sinners with kindness and so you send them
from your confessional in the peace of Christ.
occasionally, try to say with sincerity and feeling:
"Go in Peace."
There is, you see, this humbling fact, that at certain
sacred times, God who is love wants to be united with
each of us in a special manner. The anxiety of God for
me, despite all of my sins, my weaknesses, my ugliness
at times, is quite unbelievable, speaking humanly. But
the love of God is everlasting, unending, and very,
very personal. The Holy Eucharist is God's envelopment
of me in his enduring love. This is awesome! This is
When, then, we celebrate the Eucharist, or when we
enter a chapel or church where the Eucharist is kept in
a tabernacle, we must be motivated by an answering
love. We must pronounce the words of St. Thomas the
apostle: "My Lord" - an exclamation of sincere humility
-- "and my God" -- an expression of awe.
The Second Vatican Council began its momentous efforts
with a reformation of the liturgy, and principally with
an attempt to enlighten, to enlarge the sense of the
sacred and of the joyous response to the sacred which
should denominate our patterns of being.
The reformation of the liturgy stands or falls with the
attitude toward the sacred that we develop, and this is
most certainly true in our faith, and our approach to
the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.
Jesus Christ, our Lord, is truly present here. We
should come to this chapel in awe, not necessarily
trembling, yet with our hearts filled with gratitude.
Here, Christ is our food. Here, we can grow in grace.
Here, the promise of future glory is ours.
Devotion to Mary
Many years ago, when Jack O'Malley and I worked
together in Dallas, I would usually drive him to the
airport at vacation times. Jack's family lived in
Chicago, Invariably, after we got the car moving, Jack
would say, "Dame-Babe, hear my confession." Much later,
he became an air force chaplain and perhaps grew less
nervous about flying. To this day, I have not. Whenever
the pilot hits the throttles, I pause, make the sign of
the cross, and recite the Memorare. "Remember, O
Blessed Virgin Mary, that never was it known . . ."
Perhaps I should do more. I know a lady who is nervous
about flying, but who is unwilling to stay at home.
Throughout her flights, she usually has the Rosary in
one hand and a Martini in the other!
There are a number of reasons why Marian devotion
should denominate the sincere Catholic priest. The
first is that Jesus Christ has given us the gift of His
Mother, so that she is now the Mother of each of us. If
we are his disciples, accepting the obligation to
preach His Truth, we must proclaim her role in
salvation to those to whom we are sent. Jesus Christ
expects this of us.
Another reason why Marian devotion should identify us
is that without this devotion, we are out of balance.
We live in an all-male enclave. In the contemporary
period we have experienced a lessening of priestly
intimacy, a greater mingling of priests and female
religious, a heightened sensitivity to women's
concerns, and the exaggerations and excesses of
But each of these has yet to be evaluated objectively,
and perhaps that evaluation must still wait for quite a
long time. One thing is certain; the surest route to a
clearer evaluation is through prayers to Mary. Such
prayers will have the double effect of keeping us in
balance and of leading our hearts and minds to a proper
reverence for feminine values.
Still another reason is that a personal devotion to
Mary will necessarily evolve in each of us a deeper
appreciation of maternal values. My mother was 93 when
she died, quietly slipping away from this life. She
lived in a rather nice nursing home and was pretty much
unaware of the folds around her. She had no attention
span. And while she would greet members of her family,
she quickly lapsed into inattention. But all through
her adult life she was a loving mother and a very
prayerful lady. Those of you who have been blessed with
such mothers know what I mean when I say that feminine
values are somewhat easier to grasp by a man whose
mother was successful at her task. We are not, of
course, to be effeminate, and I suppose that effeminacy
in a son is unwelcome to a successful mother. Even as a
happy wife can soften, if not remove, the unwholesome
masculine tendencies in her husband, leaving him a
better male for her good efforts, so she can foster
true masculinity in her sons, while supporting good
It must have been that way in the hidden life of the
Holy Family. Clues in the Gospels lead to the
conclusion that Mary had no clear idea about what the
future held for her son. Even so, she reared him with
all the care and attention that a loving mother bestows
on her child. We can meditate -- even muse, if you will
-- profitably on the family life of Jesus during all
those "hidden years." And the more we reflect
prayerfully, the more will we understand the role of
Mary in the life of Jesus.
A better understanding of Mary's role in Jesus' life
gives us an every-clearer role of Mary in our lives.
The historical fact of Mary's choice by God to be the
mother of the Savior is elegantly important in our
meditations. God chose her for us. God chose her to
accomplish his purpose, which is to bring you and me to
eternal joy. And because that is God's choice, we must
cooperate with that choice.
After the gift of himself to you, Mary is God's
greatest benediction. Devotion to her, prayers to her,
our expressions of gratitude to her, are indispensable
elements of the successful Christian Life. Marian
devotion is not an option for the well-formed Catholic.
It is an ingredient that is necessary.
As a boy, I used to serve the Sorrowful Mother Novena
on Friday nights at Holy Rosary in Houston. That was an
extraordinarily popular devotion around the United
States during the years of the Second World War. The
devotion, to be sure, was unduly emotional, and soon
after the war began to fade. There were, as well, other
devotions and other celebrations that overemphasized
the role of Mary in our spiritual lives. Perhaps it is
no wonder that after the Second Vatican Council, Marian
devotion took a nose dive. To this day, there are many
religious and priests, who have no Marian devotion
We must foster true devotion to Mary, our Mother. Until
that devotion is more widespread among the Catholic
faithful, the Church will continue to slide into ever
smaller ghettos. Good priests, I believe, have always
had a good balance regarding devotion to Mary. Largely,
that is because they have true devotion to Mary,
without exaggerating that devotion.
(Taken from www.op.org/domcentral/trad/default.htm)