The Passing of My Friend Joseph F. Girzone

224465_215055838545526_6641788_nSeveral years ago I shared the story of how I met Fr. Joseph F. Girzone (1930-2015). I had read Joe’s wonderful book, Jesus: A New Understanding of God’s Son (New York: Doubleday, 2009). I simply loved it. Frankly, it changed my life in many profound ways. I wrote my first ever review on Amazon and as a result someone showed it to Joe who then reached out to get to know me. Since this is the kind of thing I would do, and it is rarely done to me, I had an immediate desire to know this lovely man. Well, we began to chat on the phone and by email. The man who wrote the huge best-selling novel, Joshua (1983), was a friend. What a pleasant and divinely-orchestrated surprise. When I first encountered Joshua in the days of its immense popularity in the early 1980s I was so profoundly influenced by Puritanism that I considered a novel about Jesus a virtual sacrilege. (So much for a mind that was open!) So getting to know this unusual priest became an

Cardinal Francis George (1937-2015): My Personal Tribute to My Friend

220px-Cardinal-Francis-George_110516_photoby_Adam-BielawskiChristian charity is a virtue that is widely recognizable. Where the church goes compassion and care for the poorest and weakest follows. Missionaries and Christian teachers have opened hospitals, cared for orphans, the widows and the poor. Where the Christian faith has advanced universities and day care have followed. Churches, from the beginning, have given to those in dire need with no expectation of direct response. One mark of the Christian faith is caritas, or love. In fact, the word caritas (Latin) means love.

But Pope Benedict XVI taught us that there is a somewhat less recognizable form of love for others that can rightly be called “intellectual charity.” Mother Teresa, respected in India and beyond, for her deep commitment to “material charity” said, “We are not social workers, we are brides of Jesus Christ.” She thus makes it clear that though material charity is important to Christian love “intellectual charity” is even more important.

The danger of material charity is that we reduce the other to a mouth to feed, a body to clothe, a need to be

Ted Talk: “Am I Dying?”

Some of you who read this blog will die in the next twelve months. All of you, including of course me as well, will surely die. (Unless of course the Lord returns at the end of this age first!) But so few of us talk about our own demise. We talk about sex as if there were no other important topic in our culture. But we rarely talk about dying unless it is about assisted-suicide or the death of someone already departed. Facing death honestly is the Christian’s responsibility and deep joy. We say, “I am going to meet Christ face-to-face.” But few of us act like we believe this to be true. In this TED talk Matthew O’Reilly is not dealing with the questions of faith. But what he says does make a great deal of good sense. I share it in order to help you pray, think and plan for your own demise. “It is appointed to mortals to die once, and after that the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27, NRSV). Are you ready? What have you done today to prepare to “die once” and then face

By |December 2nd, 2014|Categories: Death, Personal, The Future|

God, the Ebola Crisis and the American Response

You cannot escape it even if you try. The Ebola outbreak dominates the news cycle day-after-day right now. So long as this virus impacts even one American millions of Americans will keep on watching this endless reporting. Once it dies down, at least in terms of being a threat to the US, then we will soon forget about it. Meanwhile West Africans will die by the thousands. I am not cynical about this at all. I simply think that this is the way news goes on day-by-day inside the bubble of life here in the US.

If you’ve ever traveled abroad you will soon realize just how America-centric we are in terms of what interests us. News of the world fills one page in most daily newspapers in the US. It only makes the TV news if it impacts Americans directly. (The one exception happens when a great tragedy strikes some part of the globe and then it will be mentioned once or twice and forgotten.) In Europe the news reporting covers a bit of local interest, the world at large and then America. We have this

Rev. Ian Paisley: RIP

UnknownI was reading the “Notable Deaths” page in my Sunday newspaper (September 14) and came across the news of the passing of the famous Irish Presbyterian minister, Ian Paisley. The AP report said: “Paisley [was] the Protestant firebrand who devoted his life to thwarting compromise with Catholics in Northern Ireland only to become a pivotal peacemaker in his twilight years.” Paisley was 88 when he passed away last Friday.

Ian Paisley was bigger than life in so many ways. (He was a big man and his voice and size could intimidate you very quickly!) I never heard Paisley preach in person but I listened to him a number of times via audio tape, online audio and television. He was a marvelous orator.

Oddly enough I was browsing in a Christian bookstore in suburban Toronto (Ontario) about twenty years ago when I heard this distinctive voice and turned to see if it really was Ian Paisley. It was the real Ian Paisley in the flesh. My first instinct was to draw back and avoid him. (Like I noted, he could intimidate one

Jesus Prays for His Own – A Sermon (John 17)

Preaching at Joint UBF Service 11:24:13The life of our Lord Jesus Christ had an intentionally designed dramatic climax. He was “born to die.” This was not just any death for any person but a death which revealed the depth of God’s love for the world (John 3:16).

In John’s Gospel the glory of the Savior ultimately is his cross. In the death of Jesus we see his glory in the cross for at least five reasons:

1. His greatness is revealed by dying.

2. His work is completed by his dying.

3. He must obey the Father and thus glorify God by dying.

4. His cross is not his end – the resurrection will follow. Vindication is real. It is as if God pointed at the cross and said, “This is what men think of my Son.” But God pointed at the resurrection and said, “This is what I think of my Son.” The glory of the resurrection removed the shame of the cross turning it into glory.

5. The cross is the way back to God. The gateway to glory.

John 17 gives us

The Seven Last Words of Christ by Franz Joseph Haydn

DaliCrucifixion-160x160Readers who did not grow up in a liturgical tradition are not as likely to have experienced the seven last words of Christ in a Holy Week context. I had preached at Good Friday services but my experience Tuesday evening at Dominican University, where I heard a string quartet play Franz Joseph Haydn’s “The Seven Last Words of Christ” was a complete immersion experience in the richness of a Holy Week celebration. It is in this spirit that I encourage you to listen to the broadcast of this event tonight, at 8 p.m., on WFMT in Chicago. You can access the broadcast on the web at:

Franz Joseph Haydn considered “The Seven Last Words of Christ” to be one of his greatest works. Haydn’s profound religious convictions informed this music deeply. Without a deep understanding of what Haydn actually did in this music it is hard to appreciate just how well he accomplished his purpose. Haydn wrote: “Each sonata or movement, is expressed by purely instrumental music in such a way that even the most uninitiated listener will

By |April 18th, 2014|Categories: Christ/Christology, Death, Music, Personal|

The Seven Last Words of Christ – The Franz Joseph Haydn Symphony

lg-vermeerChrist_0414Millions of Christians around the world will hear the “Seven Last Words of Christ” over the next twenty-four to thirty-six hours. I heard them this week and understood them in a wholly different way.

While I have participated in a number of contexts in which these words of Christ have been read, sung and even preached, this week I experienced them in word and music in one of the most moving presentations of the seven words that I’ve ever heard. The occasion was the performance on Tuesday evening of the Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) symphony, “Opus 51– The Seven Last Words of Christ.” Haydn’s work was originally composed in 1786 and first presented on Good Friday in 1787. The original setting was the austere underground grotto of Santa Cueva (Spain) which was completely dark but for the wick of a single lamp, hung from the ceiling. Following the moving Introduction the bishop recited the first of the seven words, moved to the altar and there knelt quietly during the sonata. The bishops words served as a spoken meditation

By |April 17th, 2014|Categories: Christ/Christology, Death, Music, Personal|

True Friendships (4)

k3CrvJJZkqECIn my Tuesday blog (1/14) I gave a quotation from the monastic writer John Cassian that is taken from his book titled The Conferences. In this extremely practical and moving treatment of deep spirituality Cassian wrote the following about “true friendships” which I share again today:

True friendships . . . have as their foundation [five principles] . . .  The last is something not to be doubted with regard to vice in general–namely, a person must believe each day that he is going to depart from this world.

There is not much to add to this last principle of true friendship. If you truly believe that you are mortal then tell yourself every day (even many times during the day) that soon you will be done with this world as you now know it. If you live this way each moment then you will live a life that is genuinely prepared to meet the true judge and savior of all mankind. You will also count your reputation as of little importance and value what truly matters

By |January 17th, 2014|Categories: Death, Friendship, Love, Personal, Uncategorized|

The New Ecumenism of Pope Francis: “An Ecumenism of Blood”

43702d4a5aVatican Insider is a project run by the daily newspaper La Stampa. The website provides comprehensive information on the Vatican, the activities of the Pope and the Holy See, the Catholic Church’s presence on the international scene and on religious issues. It is an independent multimedia tool, produced in three languages: Italian, English and Spanish and is distributed through the website It boasts a staff of qualified Vatican correspondents, flanked by some of the most prestigious international names in the field of religious and Vatican-based information.

It provides free news and in-depth reports seven days a week and offers its partners exclusive journalistic services, inquiries, interviews and information packages. In the December 14 issue there is an interview with Pope Francis, titled” Never Be Afraid of Tenderness.” This interview includes some insights about Pope Francis’ views of ecumenism and mission. Because of my calling to this specific vocation I share this excerpt:

Question – Is Christian unity a priority for you?

Yes, for me ecumenism is a priority. Today there is an ecumenism of blood. In some


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