Getting Religion

A few weeks back we started reading Kenneth Woodward’s Getting Religion: Faith, Culture, and Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Era of Obama.  Woodward was the longtime religion editor for Newsweek magazine.  The book makes for excellent table reading.  We had previously read another book of his, Making Saints, some twenty-five years ago.

I have had the pleasure of meeting more than one author of a book that we have read at table.  This week I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Woodward on campus.  By pure coincidence he was speaking here as part of an academic conference on The Year of the Evangelical.  I was actually the monk assigned to table reading, so both on Thursday evening and Friday noon, I read for the community from Woodward’s book, and then went down to the New Hampshire Institute of Politics and had a conversation with the author about what he had written about the Berrigan brothers and Richard Neuhaus.

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Archbishop Joseph Rummel

rummel-archbishop-portraitA week ago Wednesday, on February 1, Abbot Matthew Leavy, O.S.B., preached a homily on the readings of the day (Hebrews 12 & Mark 6:1-6), incorporating into the homily an inspiring narrative on one of the first alums of Saint Anselm College, Joseph Rummel, Archbishop of New Orleans (1935-64).

1 February 2017

Campus Eucharist

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Commemorative Celebration

And Jesus said to them: “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house” (Mark 6:4)

These words of tonight’s Gospel describe well the lot of a prophet – as expressed by Jesus in his words and exemplified by his experience.

From the time of Jesus to the present day we have countless examples of prophetic men and women continuing to announce the Good News, both in season and out of season.

In connection with our campus celebration devoted to civil rights, I offer for your reflection the example of one particular Anselmian who preached boldly and practiced even more boldly, the long overdue cause of civil rights in his home territory of New Orleans, at a strategic turning point in the history of our country and of our Church.

Joseph Francis Rummel was born in 1876 in Baden, Germany and came to America when he was six years old, settling in the Yorkville neighborhood of Manhattan’s East Side, the then German/Hungarian quarter. Presumably because of the German connection, young Joseph came to study at Saint Anselm and graduated in 1896, in the College’s second graduating class. He went on to become a diocesan priest in New York, then was made bishop in Omaha, Nebraska in 1928, and then the archbishop of New Orleans in 1935. There he labored faithfully until his death in 1964 at age 88.

As pastor, he saw his flock through The Great Depression, World War II, post war immigration, and most significantly in the post War era, he led his flock through the struggle for Civil Rights by desegregating his Archdiocesan seminary, parochial schools, churches, and all other organizations associated with the Catholic Church under his care.

New Orleans always had a large population of black Catholics, served by the Church according to the prevailing laws and customs of racial segregation. Blacks took the back seats in Church as elsewhere in society. There were separate Catholic schools for black school children.

In 1948 Archbishop Rummel admitted two black students to Notre Dame Seminary. He then ordered the removal of “white” and “colored” signs from churches in 1951. And in 1953, he issued “Blessed are the Peacemakers” the pastoral letter that officially ordered the end to segregation in the entire Archdiocese, declaring, “the utter unacceptability of racial discrimination.”

“Ever mindful, therefore, of the basic truth that our Colored Catholic brethren share with us the same spiritual life and destiny, the same membership in the Mystical Body of Christ, the same dependence upon the Word of God, the participation in the Sacraments, especially the Most Holy Eucharist, the same need of moral and social encouragement, let there be no further discrimination or segregation in the pews, at the Communion rail, at the confessional and in parish meetings, just as there will be no segregation in the kingdom of heaven.” (Rummel, “Blessed are the Peacemakers.” Pastoral Letter, 1953.)

In some places there were even separate ciboria in the tabernacle holding sacred hosts – one for “whites” – the other for “colored”. I know it’s hard to imagine, but it existed – and not that very long ago.

Meeting with resistance, Rummel found it necessary to reiterate his beliefs in later Pastoral Letters:

“Racial segregation as such is morally wrong and sinful because it is a denial of the unity and solidarity of the human race as conceived by God in the creation of Adam and Eve.” (Rummel 1956)

Strong resistance initially came both from within and without the church community, but Rummel stood firm, approaching this potentially explosive issue with pastoral sensitivity, while at the same time acting with great vehemance when this right and just cause was threatened to be undermined. He even took the bold step of excommunicating three Catholics who, in open defiance, tried to derail the integration process.

He has been called the “unsung hero of the Civil Rights Movement”, a disciple of the Lord, an Anselmian of whom we can be rightly proud and whose example provides both comfort and challenge to us in the face of other forms of discrimination, civic unrest and confusion which are present in our own day.

I believe that the closing lines of tonight’s reading from the letter to the Hebrews captures well the prophetic work of the once immigrant Joseph Rummel, and our own:

“Strive for peace with everyone, and for that holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one be deprived of the grace of God, that no bitter root spring up and cause trouble, through which many may become defiled” (Hebrews 12:14-15)

Let us pray for our country and all its current inhabitants – that the grace of God may bring us all that peace for which we strive and sacrifice, and in which we are united in solidarity with each of our brothers and sisters. For, as Joseph Francis Rummel expressed it, “There will be no segregation in the Kingdom of Heaven”. May we work and pray that there be none here as well.



Abbot Matthew, OSB

Campus Minister

Saint Anselm College



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The Invisibles

A couple of weeks ago, we finished our immersion into the gilded age of the Vanderbilts, and our table reading has now turned to the early republic and the slave-owning practices of the first presidents.  This new book is The Invisibles: The Untold Story of African-American Slaves in the White House by Jesse J. Holland.  Yes, the book is as interesting as the title.  Up through Andrew Jackson, only John Adams and his son, John Quincy Adams, did not own slaves.

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Brother Francis McCarty, O.S.B.

Abbot Mark and Bro. Francis

Abbot Mark and Bro. Francis

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Updating 2016

If you faithfully read every new entry you may be wondering if we have cut down on table reading in the abbey.  We have not, but alas I have not been keeping up with my entries of some good and not so good books.  In addition to some writings by Pope Francis, these three books were read at table this year (in addition to the ones I have previously blogged about):

Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City by Greg Grandin.  I would say this is a book that did not work terribly well at table, despite some interesting material.

The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution: 1783-1789 by Joseph J. Ellis.  This made for very engaging table reading.  We have had good success with books about US presidents and the period of the founding.  As a political scientist I was especially taken with a well-told narrative of how the 1789 Constitution came to replace the original Articles of Confederation.  The quartet referred to consists of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay.

Fortune’s Children: The Fall of the House of Vanderbilt by Arthur T. Vanderbilt II.  This is our current table reading, which dominated the Advent Season.  While a fascinating take on the Gilded Age, it does make for odd monastic table reading, given the author’s joyous descriptions of mansions and jewelry and yachts and marrying off your daughters into the English nobility.

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Moscow Nights

Earlier this week we finished reading at table the fascinating Moscow Nights:  The Van Cliburn Story – How One Man and His Piano Transformed the Cold War by Nigel Cliff.

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Thanksgiving Day Homily

In gratitude for good all good things in our lives, including good preaching, I share with you Father Cecil’s homily from the Thanksgiving Day Mass this morning.


As most everyone knows, our Thanksgiving Day was first celebrated by English Pilgrims in October 1621. God knows they had more than enough reasons to be thankful. They had made it across the Atlantic crowded in a ship several sizes too small. They wanted to reach the English colony in Virginia, but poor planning and navigation brought them to land some 500 kilometers north of Virginia. It was December, they were alone and on their own with precious little food. Nearly half of their number didn’t survive that first frightful winter. When spring arrived the survivors set to work plowing and planting. Fortunately for them, they were blessed with an abundant harvest that autumn, and their leader, William Bradford, was prompted to announce a day of prayerful thanksgiving to God for the harvest. They thanked God with a religious service and then sat down to a meal.

Of the dozen and a half women aboard the Mayflower when it arrived at Plymouth, only four were still alive when they sat down for the first Thanksgiving meal.

The story of the Pilgrims and their colony in North America are part of the ancestry of all of us. The hardships, desperate struggles and setbacks which they experienced along the way of their search for religious freedom are part of the heritage of this country and have contributed to make its character what it is.

Fast forward about 250 years to 1863.  The nation was in the midst of a terrible Civil War when Abraham Lincoln issued an executive order extending the celebration of Thanksgiving day to the whole country. In his proclamation he expressed his concern that Americans were in danger of forgetting that the blessings of food, land, family and freedom that they were enjoying were gifts of God.

These four particular blessings: food, land, family and freedom doubtless came from his reading of the Old Testament. They were the blessings for which the Hebrew people were most grateful. As much as they appreciated the   gift   of     land,       especially      the Promised Land, the gift they were above all others most thankful for     was their freedom,   their      deliverance   from slavery in Egypt. They celebrated a memorial feast each year which      included  a Passover meal, during which time stories were told which included important features of how the strong arm of the Lord worked through Moses to bring the Hebrews out ·of slavery in Egypt to freedom. And for this they thanked God. There are striking similarities between the occupation of the Promised

Land by the people of God and the occupation of the American West. The settlement of the West contributed much to the formation of the American people, and deserves to be appreciated and not denied or ignored.

My imagination led me to suspect that most of the postings were of student origin. The most frequent entries were female names, Gina being by far the largest. Male names came in a distant second with three names. After girls’ names, a variety of foods was most popular, followed by two each of pop and mom, various family members and friends in general; and finally one each of the following: Men’s Club Hockey and the Library.  I realized I hadn’t seen God or Jesus anywhere, so I searched intently before I finally found him in tiny script on the left hand side of the easle. It read:  God Empower Trump.

I realized that the library easel wasn’t a thoughtful sampler of student opinion, but it does say something. And if I can put a positive spin on it, I would suggest that it shows that Anselmians are by far more grateful for people in their lives than they are for things in their lives.

So far I have provided examples of several different reasons and ways people have given thanks:  the Pilgrims, President Lincoln, and random Anselmians.

Now, as St. Paul once said, I would like to show you a most perfect way, the best way to be thankful. And at the same time suggest our salvation by Christ as the gift of God for which we should be most grateful.

The best way to show that we appreciate a gift is to use it well. This is never truer than in the Mass where the gift of our salvation is re-presented sacramentally on the altar to allow us to take part in it and share its benefits. We join ourselves to Christ at Mass to be offered with him to his heavenly Father. Jesus asked us to do this at the Last Supper.   Do what I have done,      Do it in my memory. There is nothing more grateful in God’s eyes than the complete and total offering of his Son, Jesus, and us with him. This is our greatest possible act or expression of thanksgiving.

Everything we have or are comes to us from God. It comes from his super abundant goodness and merciful love. Although other people may be the channels God uses to give us his gifts, and we must thank them as God’s intermediaries, yet God is their ultimate source.

Rightly do we pray with Psalm 101: “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; for his mercy endures forever.”

May your every day be a true thanksgiving day!

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