Today the Church celebrates the feast of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, about whom very little needs to be said.
She loved Jesus Christ. She loved the poor. She found Christ in the poor, and loved him there.
Her life, it seems to me, is what it means for the Eucharist to be the “source and summit” of the Christian life — extraordinary holiness, which flowed from a prayer life at which the Mass was absolutely at the center.
May St. Teresa of Calcutta intercede for us.
And two other things:
If you’re interested, here’s a 2021 Pillar story about how the Missionaries of Charity made their way to the United States. You might not have read it already, or you might have forgotten it — so you can read it now, right here.
I’ve mentioned this before, but the Flynn family owes St. Mother Teresa a debt of gratitude. Our oldest two children are adopted, and, after 10 years of marriage, we didn’t expect to have any children the natural way. But at Mother Teresa’s canonization in 2016, my wife Kate asked the new saint to intercede for us. She also made a quick pilgrimage to the tomb of Padre Pio, where she prayed for the same. Well, a month or so after that pilgrimage, we discovered we were pregnant. If you like hearing stories about my son Daniel, thank Mother Teresa — we certainly do.
In the Archdiocese of Seattle, a massive consolidation project underway will reduce the number of parishes in the archdiocese by more than half.
The archdiocese says the project is needed because of declining numbers of priests, and will lead to stronger communities and healthier priests. Indeed, that may be true.
But when a diocese undertakes a huge project like this, it faces a growing problem — the declining rate of trust among priests for their bishops.
As one priest told The Pillar, when you’re working on a massive consolidation project, you need everyone working together.
And, he said, “the biggest problem is trust. We don’t trust each other in the presbyterate, and we don’t trust the archbishop. That’s a long-standing problem — and I don’t think it’s unique to Seattle.”
What impact does that have?
Pope Francis in remarks on Sunday drew from the work of controversial theologian Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, whose work was censored by the Vatican, both during and after the priest’s lifetime.
But while the Holy See once issued warnings about him, both Francis and Pope Benedict have cited him approvingly. So what gives? Does Teilhard “offend Catholic doctrine,” as the Holy Office said in 1962? Or is he a figure worth drawing from? What is all this really about? And who is this Teilhard guy everybody’s talking about?!
If you’re a Pillar reader, you probably know a lot about the theology of religious life. At least, you probably know something about it.
But a new book — by one of America’s most interesting thinkers — aims to look at religious life from the lens of a philosopher, examining it as a path to natural happiness.
Here’s an excerpt:
“The more difficult and important something is, the more time it takes to let it unfold. [These are] the defects of our intellectual culture, which of course are getting worse in an age when reading big, long books, which takes a lot of patience and time and struggle, is becoming less common than looking around for bits of information to put together into a coherent whole as quickly as possible.
In my personal experience, it took me many years to move from being a secular person to being a believing Catholic.
There were difficult intellectual situations because there were significant interior barriers, which took quite a long time to untangle. I sometimes think about how stupid it sounds, if you look at my own life, that it took me three years in a quasi-monastic community like the one I lived at to go from being a regular academic to teaching in a liberal arts college, but that’s how much work it takes to really see something that matters deeply for your own life and your own happiness. It can take years and years of sacrifice and struggle and without understanding where it's all going.
And one of the things I think is really urgent in our culture for all of us is that we need to start developing that patience of waiting for the truth to unfold, whether that's a philosophical truth and academic truth, or scientific truth, Mathematical truth, or whether that's a truth about how we personally are meant to live. It just takes time.
You can't find it in a Google search.”
The Faroe Islands are an archipelago of 18 islands plopped in the North Atlantic, between Iceland and Scotland. The islands are an autonomous territory of the Kingdom of Denmark, and home to some 55,000 rugged souls.
Ecclesiastically, the Faroe Islands are part of the Diocese of Copenhagen, and are home to several hundred Catholics, including a growing population of Filipino, Polish, Latin American, and African immigrants.
The Pillar talked with that priest, Msgr. Peter Fleetwood, who painted a beautiful picture of the Catholic life he encountered among the islanders — and expressed his concern about Danish restrictions on religious ministers.
Msgr. Fleetwood suggests that laws which have him leaving the Faroe Islands have a much broader implication:
“My experience of Danish legislation has made me feel that everyone subject to the legislation dealing with foreign religious workers, including me, is not currently allowed to exercise freedom of religion or worship,” the priest said.
“Furthermore, I am stunned that a Western democracy depicts itself as a potential victim of the insidious effects of ideas coming from elsewhere. It also implies that every religion is an ideological construction and potentially dangerous. That tells me that there is now no pretense in those framing legislation on behalf of the Kingdom of Denmark to a Christian heritage. It is a silent but powerful statement that Denmark is no longer Christian.”
(By the by, if you’re a priest in need of a North Atlantic vacation, I bet they’d be glad to have you on the Faroe Islands, if you can make the visa rules work.)
On Sunday, an entire family — the Ulma family — will be beatified in a Mass offered in a Polish village. It will be the first time an entire family is beatified together, including an unborn child, who was killed alongside his family by Nazi police in 1944.
The Holy See says that child was martyred in a “baptism of blood.”
In truth, that isn’t the only unusual thing about the beatification of the Ulma family, who were killed for the crime of helping Jewish people escape certain death.
Where’s the salt?
There’s a thing that most Catholic media outlets do that drives me crazy, and it’s this: When a celebrity dies, or is in the news for any reason you’ll start to see stories pop up making tangential connections between that person and the Catholic faith.
The person needn’t identify as a Catholic, or practice the faith, or even have spent much time around Catholics to get the Catholic celebrity treatment — you’ll see articles like:
“That one time Doja Cat stood next to a priest in an elevator”
“Five surprising Catholic themes in Bollywood rom-coms!”
Those kinds of articles make me laugh. And you know, I get it. They’re designed to capture readers who are searching for a trending topic, and give them something Catholic to read — plus the ad revenue that comes with the click.
But they’re often a bit of a stretch:
“When Patrick Mahomes went to a Catholic wedding — and what he probably learned!”
I’m really glad we don’t really have to write them, thanks to our subscribers, who keep us afloat without clickbait.
So when I write what I’m going to write right now, know that I’m writing it because I want to, not because of the clicks.
I’ve been thinking about Jimmy Buffett, who died on Friday. You know who Jimmy Buffett is, you don’t need me to explain that to you. Here’s a good 2018 profile if you need a refresher, or if you just like good profile-writing.
I’ve got a friend who says that Jimmy Buffett is one of America’s greatest storytellers, and I think that might be true.
But I think — and again, this isn’t clickbait — there’s something else worth noting about the king of calypso-and-western.
Jimmy Buffett understood that we’re made for something more. He understood a human longing for, well, eternal beatitude. He wouldn’t have put it that way — though “Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude” comes kind of close.
But Buffett spun a world for his listeners — this idyllic place called Margaritaville, populated by pirates and surfer chicks and a kind of epicurean or Elysian happiness.
He wasn’t selling the beatific vision, don’t get me wrong. But Buffett understood that everyone is looking for some transcendence. He understood that there is something punitive about eating bread “by the sweat of the brow,” as the Lord put it in Genesis 3.
Of course, we know that work can be redeemed in the Incarnation, and sanctified, that we can share in God’s creative work through God’s redemptive work on the Cross.
But there is something Edenic about the myth of Margaritaville. It represents a place of prelapsarian bliss — and in that sense, it points us past consuming and gloomy materialism.
Or maybe it’s just fun to shout “Where’s the salt” with a bunch of strangers at a beach bar.
Tomorrow is the feast of St. Cloud, the saint with the most fun name in the Church’s history. If you don’t know anything about St. Cloud, you can read this profile from 2022.
And I’d like to apologize for the tardiness of this newsletter in your inbox. It was Labor Day weekend, so I spent most of it on one of the best camping trips we’ve taken in a long time.
To thank you for your patience, here’s my cute kids camping, playing the harmonica, and — courtesy of Sunday School’s Dr. Scott Powell — learning to whitewater kayak.
Blessed feast of Mother Teresa. Perform some act of love today.
Be assured of our prayers. And please pray for us, we need it.
Yours in Christ,