Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Philipp. 4:8! This is How We Meditate!

Most committed Christians want to pray more deeply. Most also don't have a clue how. Let St. Paul's words to the Philippians create for you multiple meditative pray times.

"Whatever" Meditation 

Last week I said that one of the goals I hope for out of the way we worship now is that it makes us better pray-ers.

But I think we all know that being better prayers can't just be limited to what we do for an hour Sundays at Mass.

I think we understand that we need to develop a personal prayer.

We have probably heard that a thousand times at Mass.

We’ve probably told ourselves a thousand times, “I’m going to work on my personal prayer life.”

And then, unless it's Lent, and even then maybe not, we never really find a way to develop it 

Or we get started—“I’m going to make some prayer time”—and we don't know what to do.

Most of us growing up all you really learn how to do is vocal prayers

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be...

Angel of God, St. Michael, Memorare…

We run through those and we’re like, “and… I'm out of stuff.”

We know there are other kinds of vocal prayers, personal vocal prayers

“Jesus I need these things.” “Jesus, help me with this.” 

We’ve all done before a test we didn’t study for.

But that’s still vocal prayer. Not a bad thing, but can go up higher

The Church talks about vocal prayer, meditative prayer, contemplative prayer

How do we move to those higher levels?

Who is around to teach us that?

So I want to take a little time, and I want to do something that can help us, and will give you something that, a least a few times, you can try some meditative prayer.

Learn a little: how do we meditate.

"Is it like Buddhists? Hindus? Sit there and empty mind? Hmmmmmmmm”

No. Christian meditation has something else going on there.

Often when someone says, let’s teach you about meditation, they will use Scripture.

So you picture a scene: Read the scripture of Jesus and blind man or Jesus and woman at the well, and then you kind of walk through that.

And that's good. But what about other stuff? What about stuff that isn't a narrative you can picture yourself in?

I can't teach you all the ins and outs, but I want to give you a tool that will help you grow your own meditation.

I don’t have time to go super in-depth with it, but I want to kinda pull back the curtain and show you something and then you can go back to it.

Invite you to do something don't normally do:

Take out your phone if it has something to take notes

Pen and something to write on 

Last night a woman was taking notes in her checkbook

But no checking scores or Facebook

Reap some ideas you can come back to

Open to 2nd Reading: Philippians Chapter 4. Pretty famous passage

"Finally, brothers and sisters,
whatever is true, whatever is honorable,
whatever is just, whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious,
if there is any excellence
and if there is anything worthy of praise,
think about these things."

What is meditation? 

It’s what St. Paul just said: "Whatever is excellent or honorable—think about these things"

To think through then, with God alongside us.

Give you a taste and then encourage you to go home and some other time do this more thoroughly.

Quiet prayer time, a holy hour, instead of watching the Huskers struggle…

Put in a notebook instead of just a scrap, or in phone

Take some time and make eight little lists

Start asking those questions: 

What is true? What is gracious? 

I have my notebook. First tried this in 2007. Share a few of mine and invite you to start pondering and writing some of your own. 

Whatever is true:

Those people or things that seem full of truth.

For me, started with some of my favorite authors: 
G.K. Chesterton
Josef Pieper (wrote “Only the Lover Sings” which I referenced before), 
Scott Hahn the famous convert
The 2nd chapter of Fellowship of the Ring, where Gandalf and Frodo talk about the ring and Bilbo and Gollum—best insights on human nature ever

And then:
Conversations with my friend Christine who works for FOCUS
and those with Fr. Chris Goodwin

Those are people who strike me as knowing what is true, and talk about what is true.

So come up with some of your own now. What are the things or people you look at and say: "That is true."


Hard thing to define. One of those things that I might not be able to define but I know what it is.

Not always appreciated today.

I think first of military personnel.
I think of my friend’s uncle who gave a toast at her wedding. He was a marine and had just come back from the Iraq War. Beautiful reflection on sacrifice. That’s part of honor.
Name of a guy who was just a high school kid when I wrote his name down here, and now he’s ordained priest. 
Good friends from my high school days who are the definition of hard work, humility, honorable labor,
Good social dancing: swing, waltz, polka

What’s honorable? Write it down.

Right now you’re thinking, “If he didn’t take these long pause this could be a lot shorter homily.” 

True. But if we didn’t do this right now, many of you would never do it.

What is just?
The cross.
Heaven, hell, and purgatory, all three—pretty just.
“Paying for music.” Remember, my first list was from 2007 when how you got the music on your computer/iPod was much debated: Apple, friends, sketchy services
Some kinds of anger.
My Grandma
“Msgr. Barr’s corrections.” I was a deacon at St. Joe’s in Lincoln and he corrected be a lot. And three years later I could admit: tit was pretty darn just.

What's pure? First-graders are pure.
Mother Teresa’s motives
The Church, the Bride of Christ
Scotty Montgomery, now with the Franciscan Friars in NYC. Ironically, they gave him the religious name Br. Innocent.
Souls after a good confession

A snowy landscape
White marble statue of St. Cecilia in martyrdom
Pregnant moms
Taizé music (mentioned them last week)
This valley in Pennsylvania that when you’re eastbound on I-76 just opens up perfectly before you.

Gracious. Euphēma in Greek. Thesaurus says: welcoming, grateful, kindly, patient, humble
My first secretary when I was at St. Pat’s, Dian Densler
My dad
The way my sister tends to people
Hobbits and Rivendell

“If there is any excellence”
What’s excellent?
My friend Melissa’s laugh is excellent. Can hear it a mile away and it will keep going forever.
Michael Jordan’s final shot in Game 6 against the Utah Jazz.
A particular campfire in Virginia in 2000: perfect weather, incredible music, gorgeous scenery, amazing people
Jim’s cheesesteaks in Philadelphia
It’s a Wonderful Life
Everything about John Paul II

“If there is anything worthy of praise”
This is where you put anything else you haven’t gotten yet.

Worthy of praise?
Johnny Walker Black Label
Good bike rides and road trips 
My pastor growing up, Fr. Tim Alkire
Marriage—and couples who live it out well 
Dorothy Day, my favorite (hopefully) future saint
Diocese of Lincoln 
The Eucharist 
God's plan for our lives

...worthy of praise 

(I know it's a weird homily)

This is an appetizer.

But now, sometime in the future, take a quiet 30-60 minutes and do this completely.

Whole Philippians 4:8

Do them all and put them someplace permanent, cuz right now they might be on a napkin.

Take time with those lists and grow them.

Each of the eight. Take at least 5 minutes for each. 

Ponder them and expand your whatevers.

Cool, I meditated!


Actually, not really. 

Not yet.

You got fodder.

You got ammunition for mediation.

You filled up treasure chest.

Then, you come back next time you pray and you take just one of those: Gracious, Lovely...

And you walk through those.

You let God show you why those appeal to your heart.

Think about what's so pure or excellent.

Give thanks for those things, sing praise to God for them in your heart.

And as you go down that road, pondering with God —you're meditating!

That’s what Paul was talking about.

You're letting your mind chew on ideas.

But it's activating your heart and your soul.

And if you do that for those eight things, at whatever pace, over however many weeks, you'll be amazed at how it changes you. 

You realize you can do meditative prayer.

You now have at least 9 prayer times in which you can do it.

You can pray on a level higher than just "Gosh, Jesus I want these things"

You're on the step to sainthood.

Because you're doing what saints do.

They think about divine things.

They long for the things of God.

Try it sometime:

Make your list.

Put it someplace like a prayer book or keep in a notebook.

Come back to them.

Ponder these things.

And let that, bit by bit, turn you into a saint. 

Sunday, October 1, 2017

"I Wish I Had a Hat" — Ad Orientem

This weekend we inaugurated ad orientem worship at St. Wenceslaus—that is to say, the priest and the people face the same direction at Eucharistic Prayer. We are going to do this as a spiritual exercise for at least a year. There were about ten more things I wanted to say, but the homily was already nineteen minutes long. I will post more later in this blog and in our bulletin. 

If you are skeptical about this practice or even frustrated by it, I encourage you to read or listen to this homily slowly and prayerfully. And then I encourage you to experience it. Many a person has thought they were going to hate it but once they gave it a chance they even preferred it.

I wish I had a hat.

I wish I had a hat for Mass.

I don't mean a biretta, the little black pillbox-shaped hat you see on priests in old movies.

It doesn't tell you much.

Just comes off and stays off.

I want a hat that tells you what I'm up to. 

Something like a bishops hat. 

I mean, I don't want to be a bishop!  That sounds horrible!

I just want the hat for Mass. 


So you'd know whom I'm talking to.

Did you know that? 

Bishop's hat tells you who he's talking to.

When he’s talking to the people= hat on

and talking to God the Father = hat off 

It's beautiful and very handy.

The best that I can do is use my arms:

For the priest, talking to the people = hands folded

God the Father = extended up and out, beseeching God

Invite to the people- quick open and close 


🤷‍♂️The Lord be with you
🙏🏼Brothers and sisters let us acknowledge our sins
and then after "Let us pray"
🙆‍♂️O God, who manifest your almighty power...

I first noticed the hat trick when I was a seminarian with Bishop Bruskewitz on Good Fridays. 

10 petitions: "let us kneel; let us stand"

Hat on, hands together: “Let us pray for those who do not believe in Christ…”

"Let us kneel, let us stand"

Hat off, arms apart: "Almighty ever-living God, grant to those who do not confess Christ
that, by walking before you with a sincere heart,
they may find the truth…”

And then once I was ordained I realized I did the same with my arms: 

First I noticed on Good Friday, I had to do my little priest version of the Bishop

And then realized all of the Mass and sacraments followed the rule: hands together to talk to you; hands open to talk to the Father

Probably never noticed in 20, 40, 60 years 

We priests try to help our arms out in this effort 

I try to look up to Father, 

down to Jesus on altar, 

and then directly at you when I'm talking to you and only when talking to you. 

But honestly I don't know how well that works:

My eyes are kinda beady, glasses

And look, my body isn't doing my eyes any favors in this quest.

I'm trying to use little eyes and maybe my chin to tell you I'm talking to the Father, but my shoulders are squared up facing you.

My whole body is turned to you.

I can say that I'm worshiping God.

I can say that I'm talking to the Father.

I can say, like all good priests should, that “The liturgy isn't about me."

You can say, like all good Catholics should, that Mass isn't about just gathering the people and celebrating the community.

But at the end of the day, you're looking at me. 

And I'm facing right at you. 

Mass is supposed to be the people of God, worshipping the Father, through the work of Christ the Son. 

Mass is supposed to be this pilgrimage the Church takes to the heavenly kingdom. 

And yet, communal worship and a parish pilgrimage are both the kinds of things people do side by side, shoulder to shoulder:

As companions on a journey, soldiers together in the fight. 

Some things are done best face to face, like teaching and instruction. 

But when it comes time to worship, praise, and adoration, that is something best done shoulder to shoulder

Side by side. 

With Jesus front and center gathering our prayers and leading us. 

And with the priest standing in for him when necessary.

And so that is why I am inviting you all to join me in a specific spiritual exercise.

To help us see anew, more clearly, what it is we are coming here to do. 

Our bodies speak a language, and I want them to speak that language as clearly as possible.

So I invite you join me, for at least the next year, in praying together, as Catholics did for centuries and millennia, with the priest and the people facing in the same direction, as one family. 

Instead of you facing me, and me facing you, and us both still trying to talk to God—let's all face forward.

I mean, a bishop's hat might do the trick;

My arms and the eyes have tried to signal what we're doing;

But when the whole body turns, it's unmistakable that I'm talking to the Father and we're all praying together as the Church. 

This form of worship is often called ad orientem which is Latin for "toward the east", because often churches were built with their sanctuaries pointing east. 

Ours here is south. (The Vatican is west)

But really ad orientem is shorthand for "the priest faces the same direction as the people" 

Before I go any farther with what can be a controversial idea, I want to draw attention to today’s Second Reading, from Paul to the Philippians. 

Even though Paul loved the people of Philippi most, and always had the least to complain about with them (compared to the Galatians, Corinthians, etc) he spends two chapters begging them to remain united, peaceful, and granting patience and charity to each other, with humility and self-sacrifice. 

He says today. “If there is any encouragement in Christ,
any solace in love,
any participation in the Spirit,
any compassion and mercy—
complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love,
united in heart, thinking one thing.

And so too do I beg you to hear me out as to the reasoning behind this, 

to give it a fair shot from an honest and humble heart, 

and I ask that, as we grant each other charity and patience, we strive to be a family—“united in heart” as Paul says.

This sermon:

I want to explain what this is not

What it actually is

Why we are doing it 

And maybe answer a few questions in advance

First, what this is not:

This is not a sudden, knee-jerk thing.

People have been talking about this for decades, and our bishop wrote about it and encouraged it in Advent three years ago.

And if I have remained in Doniphan, I would’ve started over a year ago, but I felt I needed to wait a year once I was moved to Wahoo.

But also notice what else this is not: 

This is not just a thing for Advent… or Lent.

There are some places that do ad orientem worship in some seasons:

Prague, Plasi, Weston, Touhy for example

The downside of just doing it for a month is that a person who is skeptical can just grit their teeth and white-knuckle through it for four weeks.

Or heck, it’s Saunders County. Up here there’s always another church 8 miles away that a person can hide out in. 

We need time to dive in fully, to worship, and to see how it changes our prayer.

Also, I don’t want us ever starting to think: “Oh good, it’s Christmas; Father will be looking at us again!”


The whole idea of ad orientem is to minimize the priest’s personality and maximize God.

Like John the Baptist said, “He must increase; I must decrease.”

Also, what is this not? It’s not rolling back Vatican II or the New Order of Mass.

First, there is not one word in the documents of Vatican II suggesting we should have Mass facing the people. 

Secondly, every Roman Missal, English or Latin, for the last 48 years, is written as if the priest and the people were facing the same way and the priest has key moments when he turns to the people.

Third, if you’re old enough to remember the last time Mass was celebrated with the people and priest facing the same direction, and so this feels like you’re going back in time, please note how much else has changed since: 

We’re not banning guitars and insisting on Gregorian Chant. 

Not having the whole Mass in Latin, and saying large chunks of it silently. 

We’re not demanding that everybody only receive Communion on the tongue, kneeling, and at a Communion rail. 

There is no reason to feel disconnected from the Mass or the priest. 

Everything is still said aloud and with full voice, in English, using the exact same prayers and Order of Mass. 

If you hear someone say later, “I heard Fr. Faulkner is taking St. Wenceslaus back to the old Pre-Vatican II Mass," you can gently correct them.

We’re not looking for the Old Mass. 

I don’t know how to say the Old Mass.

I understand that at the Old Mass sometimes people could feel like mere spectators. 

There was probably something a bit off at the old High Mass when the priest, choir, and congregation were all singing and quietly reciting the Gloria at different paces.

But honestly I don’t think the feeling of separation came from the priest facing ad orientem.

It more likely came from the Latin—even in the readings—and from some long stretches with the priest speaking only under his breath. 

I think, on the contrary, you will be amazed about how much more you feel a part of the Mass.

I talked to four priests of our diocese, all of whom did ad orientem beyond the four weeks of Advent the Bishop suggested in 2014.

All of the feedback they got was along these lines: 

A girl in CCD in Sutton wrote to Father: “I finally get the Mass now!”

A priest did one school Mass at St. Cecilia’s and a teacher who would’ve been the perfect age for having been taught growing up “Father had his back to us until the Council fixed it” came up to him after with tears in her eyes saying, “That’s the most I have focused at Mass in years.”

Ok, so then what is it?

In praying with us all facing together we are united as one church, 

worshipping our one Father, 

through the person Jesus 

who offers the sacrifice of the Cross 

to his Father.

One of our boys from Wahoo was at ordinations this summer and Bishop Conley said Mass ad orientem and he was asking me about it afterward and “Ok, I get not facing the people, but why not face the tabernacle then, if we’re talking to Jesus?” since the tabernacle at the Cathedral is off to the left side. 

And I explained that Mass actually isn’t directed to Jesus. There’s literally only two spoken prayers to Jesus. 

Mass is us getting in on Jesus’ prayer to his Father. 

Some who have objected to the priest facing forward have used a pretty solid Catholic argument for it: “But, Father, you guys are standing in persona Christi—in the person of Christ—so you should face us.”

But that is the brilliance of ad orientem: the priest is in the person of Christ, and so when Jesus would be talking to you, the priest turns to you, and when Jesus would be talking to the Father, the priest turns and leads us all in talking to him.

So at the gospel, the homily, Communion, the “The Lord be with you’s”, and at the “Pray brethren, that my sacrifice and yours”, he’s face-to-face with you.

But when it’s time to worship, he turns forward and we pray together.

I don’t need that hat any more. 

Heck, I don’t even need arms!

Ad orientem is like the ultimate “What Would Jesus Do?”

Notice, we don’t find this orientation weird in other kinds of prayer:

When we have Eucharistic adoration, nobody finds it odd that the priest kneels on the step and he and the servers pray, and sing, and swing the incense ad orientem.

At a funeral rosary, what are we doing? We are interceding on the deceased person’s behalf. So we all together kneel and beseech God’s love and mercy for that person.

Stations of the Cross? Zero eye contact. No problem.

We get this pretty instinctively. 

And we know that when a person is for the most part not looking at us, and then they suddenly do, it takes on a new poignance.

Imagine people gathered to listen to a reading of “A Night Before Christmas”

If the reader is a famous actor and he’s always looking up and making eye contact and stuff, you’re like, “Yeah, he’s a good reader and he knows the story well.”

But if the reader is your old grandpa and the whole family is gathered to listen, Yeah, he might not be as smooth and look up from the book a lot, but when he looks up and catches your eye just when he reads your favorite line, or when he looks a Grandma always at the same part every year… Uhhf, those little looks just kill you, don’t they?

That’s what happens in ad orientem.

When the priest breaks from what he’s doing for a moment to draw you in, or show you the body of Jesus.


It’s interesting that, almost everybody on the planet is more open to ad orientem than American Catholics.

I know some Protestant churches that do parts of their worship this direction. 

In Europe, people realize that depending on the place and the space, Mass might be ad orientem today.

Pope Francis, not exactly a liturgical traditionalist, has said Mass ad orientem in the Sistine Chapel before.

But some places recognize pretty directly that it’s a better way to let go of one’s self and one’s distractions and pray better.

Taizé is an ecumenical monastery in France.

That means its monks are literally a mix of Catholics and Protestants. 

You actually know their music: 
Jesus remember me. 
Eat this bread drink this cup. 
There is one Lord.

They drive home to all those who do Taizé style prayer services and meditative singing (Catholic and Protestant) that they all need to face the same way.

Two different articles

“It is preferable for all the participants to face the same direction during the prayer, as a way of expressing that we pray not to one another but to Christ.”

And: “During the prayer it is better if no one directs the music; in this way everyone can face the cross, the icons or the altar. (In a large congregation, however, it may be necessary for someone to direct, as discreetly as possible, a small group of instruments or singers who support the rest, always remembering that they are not giving a performance for the others.) The person who begins the songs is generally up front, together with those who read the psalm, the reading, and the intercessions, not facing the others but turned like them towards the altar or the icons.”

If that’s true for an ecumenical prayer service, how much for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass??

So, why are we doing this?

I am asking that we doing as a spiritual exercise for at least one year.

What do I mean by a spiritual exercise?

I mean that in the same way a person goes on retreat, 
or adds a holy hour, 
or does something new and different for Lent, 
we are going to be launching ourselves out into new, different, uncharted waters.

And that is good.

When a person goes on a retreat, the change in location—even the dislocation—is part of what makes it effective. 

The single best, most formative experience of my first 20 years of being a Catholic was when my home parish remodeled the church.

But the game-changer wasn’t the new pretty paint job. 

It was that I had made a deal with God that for Advent I would go to 6:30 Mass every morning for a friend who had a drug problem.

And at that time the church was under renovation, so we had Mass in a musty room in the old parish community center. 

An old flimsy wood altar, 
20 metal folding chairs, 
fluorescent lighting 
and off-key old people.

I wasn’t soaking in the gorgeous music my parish had, 
and the stunning windows, 
and the Gothic architecture.

It was just the Gospel, the Eucharist …and me 8 feet away.

I needed that stripped-down Mass. 

It changed me.

It made me forever a Catholic.

It made me choose the priesthood. 

New spiritual exercises are good for us. 

And what does this exercise do for us?

Humans are face creatures. 

You take a class on Communication and half of it is about our body language and what our faces convey to people.

Who we face and how we talk actually generates a lot of unspoken communication to the person and also loads unintended perceptions in us.

When we seminarians had to take classes before visiting the sick, huge emphasis was placed on talking to the person in the bed, even if family members tended to beat them to the punch and answer before they could. 

Same thing when talking through an interpreter: you look at the person in question and ask things to them in the second person. You don’t look at the interpreter and don’t ask “Does he feel better today?”

Our looking speaks a language to our fellow conversationalist, 
to anyone watching, 
and subtly it writes notes in our own heads about that relationship. 

So this exercise not only cuts down on the distractions, but also clarifies in our own minds whom we are talking to and whom are here for. 

You know how almost every 2- or 3-year-old waves to the local priest and says “Hi God.” or “Bye Jesus” after Mass?

 I did some hunting on that.

Understand: Jokes about little Catholic kids are fairly universal. 

From lots of different eras, we find stories of seven year olds confessing “adultery” in their first confession because they though it had to do with being disrespectful to adults. 

Kids have been slaughtering the Act of Contrition for decades: 

"Oh my God, I am hardly sorry for having defended you… I firmly pretend with the help of my grace to confess my sins and end my life.”

But from my tiny little bit of research, I can’t find examples of the “Hi Jesus” trope except in the modern era. 

It makes sense:

You tell your kids we’re going to God’s house, and well, we’re always there facing the priest and talking back and forth. 

It’s interesting that I don’t find evidence of that specific slip-up from the era when the priests were facing toward the altar.

Yes, of course kids grow out of this.

And obviously adults don’t think that the priest up front is God or even remotely like him.

But I do think that we will see Mass differently when the priest is positioned, less like an actor on a stage and more like a servant in a temple.

Maybe that helps the priests pray better too.

I’ve preached long, so I want to answer just one question that I can foresee coming:

“Father, does this have any thing to do with the changing up of the building campaign and with eventually renovating the church?”

No… and a tiny yes.

No. Because I purposely picked a random Sunday in Ordinary time so that we could do this exercise independent from anything else. 

Not in Advent, not with more Latin, not attached to other changes.

Someone heard of my plans and suggested that once we start this I should move the crucifix from here over to the center of the sanctuary.

But I remembered my 7th grade science teacher who taught us the scientific method, beating into our heads that, if we want a good experiment, we can only change one independent variable at a time. 

So actually I purposely detached this one change from all other considerations.

There is a small Yes, in that I think a parish should have at least looked at both postures of worship before trying to redesign their sanctuary.

There is more to explain on that but I am out of time here.

That, and about 10 other items—which I didn’t have time to get into here—I am going to start explaining bit by bit in the bulletin over the upcoming weeks.

To end, I want to say that this was not something I frivolously wandered into.

This was something that I resisted intensely all through my time in the seminary, and a only slowly came around to in the priesthood as the arguments for it piled up.

I never did it in any of the previous Advents when the Bishop talked about it because I wanted to do it at a moment when I could explain it, and when it wouldn’t get confused with just being about one season or be the kind of thing we just endure for a month.

Even now, there are things that I will miss about Mass versus populum—facing the people.

But I'm willing to give those things up.

Because I think this makes us better prayers, better worshippers, a better more united family.

There are plenty of arguments for it based on theology and history, but I have chosen to present the reasons from the psychological and practical angles.

Let us pray together to our Father.

We have tried with our arms and with our eyes, now let us put our whole body behind it.