All posts by Father David Nix

Pilgrimage 2 of 5


Do we walk this Pilgrimage of life alone?  Or perhaps alone with God? On the Camino in Spain, I frequently hear young and old people  say “Well, everyone has his own Camino!”  Indeed, St. John Paul II said that each person is a particular image and likeness of God. So, yes—that means everyone’s pilgrimage through life is equally particularized and beautiful. But I think the phrase “Everyone has his own Camino” would have confused JPII a little since he came from a tight-knit Polish family and group of friends, seminarians…notwithstanding the tremendous loss he suffered.

Furthermore, that phrase would have never been heard on this Spanish pilgrimage 800 years ago. Why? Because they always went in communities and families. This Protestant-individualization of walking through life “Me and Jesus” is actually relatively new.  Even in the early Church writings I see the Church mentioned as much as Christ was mentioned.

I’ve made some serious mistakes of thinking I could walk through my priesthood in lone-ranger mode. For example, I was betrayed by a brother priest.  When people found this out, he quickly ascribed his own decision to his superiors, and later to his subordinates. I had no defense system against these lies because I didn’t control the communications.  I wimped out in self-defense.

But my bigger mistake was having jumped-in alone years ago.  St. Thomas Aquinas defines pride as biting off more than you can chew. This was exactly my sin in waiting so long to join a community that believes the same things as I do, which I’m finally seeking.

Archbishop Chaput would always say, “Your faith is personal, but never private.”  So also, everything on this Camino of Life remains communal—personalized but not private.  I now want to live a public witness of faith—not just helping others—but in need of others I can trust, too.  This I have learned, being sick on pilgrimage.

Yes, even the disciples were sent out only two by two.

In Luke 24, Jesus is found walking the way to Emmaus not with one, but with two “Cleopine” disciples.  There is a particularization to each person’s “Life-Pilgrimage,” indeed—but never a total isolation…not even for those called to the hermetic life.  (Hermits must be those who live in the deepest communion with the Church triumphant, militant, and suffering.)

This communal aspect of our “Life-Pilgrimage” is seen in the painting above, Road to Emmaus, by Jan Wildens.  Notice that Cleopas is not walking with Jesus alone.  It is three of them, just as in Luke 24.  Some believe Cleopas’ fellow disciple of the Lord was Cleopas’ wife!

In any case, Emmaus starts this way:  Christ is already risen from the dead, but the couple is in a state of despondency. Christ reveals Himself and their hearts burn. They long…but only later are they completed in Him.

One of the strangest lines in the account is when Jesus “acted as if He were going farther, but they urged Him strongly, saying, ´Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.´” (Lk 24:28-29) Why did Jesus act as if He were going to keep going? I haven´t read the Church Fathers on this, but I’ll give my own guess:

He could go far beyond us. He could leave us in the dust, but He chooses to remain in the Eucharist and in the saints to walk this path with us. He shows us we have to wait for others.

Jesus shows the apostles the means not to stop suffering, but to suffer well when He sends the Holy Ghost. He promises to walk with them, not to give them all the answers about why they “have here no lasting city.” (Hb 13:14) Since mankind’s fall out of paradise, it never was meant to be lasting, anyway.

This is why St. Peter reminds us strangers and sojourners that we shouldn´t get attached to a titillating, crumbling city on earth: “Beloved, I urge you, as sojourners and exiles, to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul…Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps.” (1 Pt 2:11,21.)

That word steps is so important for pilgrimage theology.  The avoidance of illicit pleasures isn’t just extinguishing desire, à la Buddhism, so our hopes for more, say, chocolate don’t go unfulfilled. Rather, it’s about the simple avoidance to attachment to Babylon when the Heavenly Jerusalem awaits.  Yes, have children in Babylon!  Enjoy the fruit of the land!  But Jerusalem, not  Babylon, is your home.

To launch from Babylon to Jerusalem, we ironically need to go about it with friends—despite the danger of attachments to  unhealthy friendships.  Yes, we must walk it with Christ and others in order to not become attached to the sweet, ephemeral, glittery rivers of Babylon (read: Madison Ave., or our own egos.)

What is this Heavenly Jerusalem?  That will be part 5…A few more steps before we make it there (scheduled for our arrival in Santiago.)

Pilgrimage 1 of 5


This is a series not on my current pilgrimage, but on the Theology of Pilgrimage.  A priest-friend from Denver once said to me:  “Pilgrimage isn’t just another analogy for the Christian life.  Pilgrimage is the reality of the Christian life.”  That may not sound too profound at first, but the more I meditated on the Old and New Testament, the more I realized that every book of the Bible fulfilled these words.  It is no wonder that he had walked the Camino a few times.

I’m in Spain now, but when I wrote this post, I was flying from India to Spain.  Flying over the Red Sea, I look at the computer map of our location and I notice we’re directly south of the spot where Moses miraculously crossed with half a million Hebrews.


That was 3300 years ago.  As I look through the plane window, I see the most majestic, mysteriously-straight clouds lighly separating me from the greatest Old Testament miracle.  I can even see the shores of the sea that God miraculously parted at the lifting of the hands of Moses…and then closed upon the armies of Egypt.

So, I have to wonder:  Why did God have the Israelites wander in the desert for so long before getting them to the promised land?  Of course, Scripture is clear it was a punishment for rebellion.  But there was also something to be learned within the pilgrimage:  It was to divest Israel from treating Adonai like another addictive-idol.

The book Grace and Addiction, although written by a non-Catholic, has an important commentary about loving God in freedom:

Full and freely chosen love for God requires searching and groping. What would happen to our freedom if God, our perfect lover, were to appear before us with such objective clarity that all our doubts disappeared? We would experience a kind of love, to be sure, but it would be love like a reflex. Almost without thought, we would fix all our desires upon this Divine Object, try to grasp and possess it, addict ourselves to it. I think God refuses to be an object for attachment because God desires full love, not addiction. Love born of true freedom, love free from attachment, requires that we search for a deepening awareness of God, just as God freely reaches out to us.—Grace and Addiction by Gerald May, p94

This is the theology of pilgrimage:  What it takes people of every vocation to die in sanctifying grace so as to experience the beatific vision.  It’s not all pain, but we’re going to see how detachment is God’s surgery in our life to remove idols of comfort so that He can have us behold Him forever.

In the next sections released on Saturdays (if I can find hostels with computers so as to write posts as I trek across Spain) we’re going to explore this detachment, this journey and the final destination.

Old People with Cell Phones in Adoration


I got debilitated by some Indian food poisoning, so I let Ryan start the Camino without me.  I got some good time in adoration in Pamplona.  Let me be clear:  I love seeing people of all backgrounds and ages in adoration.  No one who claims to be pro-life should even begin to bothered by crying babies in adoration chapels.  At the other end of the spectrum, let me say that I love seeing the more “mature” generation in adoration, too.  However, someone needs to tell them how not to use a cell phone before the Blessed Sacrament.  Who will do it?  Ok.  I will do it in a top ten countdown:

10) You don’t have to go running out of the chapel to answer your cell phone.  Voicemail comes free with every plan.
9) Vibrate is not off. Vibrate is not off. Vibrate is not off.
8) If you actually expect phone calls (yes, assuming you’re going to run and answer them) please don’t put your phone at the bottom of your purse.
7) If you’re actually expecting an emergency to the point that the world won’t continue without you answering your cell phone in adoration, then that’s okay.  Short of that, please turn it totally off, not vibrate, not airplane mode.  This is an exercise in humility for arrogant people like me to remind ourselves that no one needs me as much as I need Jesus in adoration.  If your daughter really needs you, she’ll leave you a voicemail without considering if she should leave the family, just because you didn’t pick up.  
6) If you plan on your phone ringing in adoration, please pick a different tune than circus music.  This happened with an older woman in an adoration chapel in Pamplona today, so I realized this isn’t an American-only-problem.
5) Two accidental phone calls in the same adoration session is probably a sign you shouldn’t own a cell phone.  This too happened with the circus-woman in Pamplona today.
4) If you’re actually going to adoration in order to screen calls, although this approach is ridiculous, here’s some concessionary advice:  Please figure out the button needed to reject a call.  That’s better than panicking, answering it, and immediately hanging up on the caller.
3) Whatever you do, do not answer your cell phone in adoration, whispering “HELLO!?” into your phone.  This does not help anyone, in the chapel or on the other line.  Adoration is a special place, different from all the rest.  How different?  I once heard an older man in adoration clipping off his fingernails. I looked.  He was actually using  metal toenail clippers right before exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.  I turned and asked if he could please attend to his personal hygiene at home.  True story.
2) If you must have throat lozenges to talk on your cell phone, fine, but could the candy wait until home?  There are children in there you’re supposed to be setting the example for.
1) If you can’t remember any of these, here´s the best part:  Just don’t bring your cell phone into the adoration chapel.

Mary and Pentecost part II


The unity between the Holy Spirt and Mary is so intimate that each one can be called the Immaculate Conception—one in eternity, and one in time. However, to understand the importance of Mary in our lives, we have to understand the basics of the Holy Spirit, as given to us by the earliest Christians. This post will be like a tornado hitting a junk pile and then organizing it into nice categories, so bear with the heavy theology at the beginning.

Every earthly analogy to explain the Blessed Trinity eventually breaks down, but the least-failing analogy is the following: The Trinity is like a fire. There is a flame.  There is a light.  There is heat. In this analogy, the flame is the God the Father (the origin), the light is God the Son (the only one seen by human eyes) and heat is God the Holy Spirit (for obvious reasons.) The flame is not the light. The light is not the heat. The heat is not the flame. But you can not have the flame without the light, nor the light without the heat nor the heat without the flame. The flame is the fire. The light is the fire. The heat is the fire. One fire.  So also:  One God.  Three persons.

St. Augustine had a pretty good analogy, too. He compared the Trinity to the faculties of the human soul. He compared God the Father to the memory, God the Son to the intellect and God the Holy Spirit to the will. Three faculties, but only one center to your responsibility.  Furthermore, although the persons of the Blessed Trinity have no need for faith or hope, our faculties do have such a need, and the Church Fathers linked this up, too:  Our memory is perfected by hope, our intellect by faith and our will by charity or love.  Thus, we have the three supernatural virtues of faith and hope and love as found in 1 Corinthians 13.

If we put all this together, we have this:

God the Father—Flame—Memory—Hope
God the Son—Light—Intellect—Faith
God the Holy Spirit—Heat—Will—Charity

Mary’s relationship to each of the three is important, but (per the title of the article) we’re going to focus on the third category in bold.

Amazingly, you can have supernatural faith without supernatural charity: “If I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not charity, I am nothing.”—1 Cor 13:2b. On the contrary, the only place you can have charity without faith is heaven, since “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Heb 11:1)  Why won’t there be faith or hope in heaven?  Precisely because faith refers to things not seen and in heaven we will see God face to face. When a person dies in sanctifying grace, his faith and hope terminate, but his charity is launched into the beatific vision and perfect union with God. In the eternal homeland, it will only be charity at every breath.

But back to earth, where Mary once walked. Mary had a union with the Holy Spirit more interior than that of spouses, but purely spiritual, which is why she is always at the center of ancient pictures of Pentecost. Even the Liturgical Calendar reflects this union of the Holy Spirit and Mary, insofar as Pentecost usually falls within the month of Mary—May!

Thus, Mary is our connection to the Holy Spirit for perfecting our will in charity, making us to live lives not just of faith, but of love.  St. James writes “Even the demons believe, and shudder.”—Jam 2:19. That means that faith is not enough for salvation.  This is where Mary comes in with charity to perfect the will, all because of her union with the Holy Spirit and ability to form apostles (both shown in Mary and Pentecost part I.)  Last post showed Mary was the entire key to courage.  This post shows Mary as the entire key to love.  Courage and love:  The two virtues most needed in the lives of Catholics today.

Mary even said to the children of Kibeho in the 1980s (in a Vatican-approved apparition) that in her Son’s heart is found infinite justice and infinite mercy, but in her heart is only infinite mercy.

In May, before Pentecost, we actually come to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and petition the Holy Spirit that He revivify our cold hearts.  In this way we go before God not only with the intellect (faith) but with our hearts and wills aflame  with the charity of the Holy Spirit. This is why the Marian saints were always the most loving, always the most charitable.

The Church was formed from the side of Christ on the cross just as Eve was formed from Adam’s side. Life was breathed into that body at Pentecost by the Holy Spirit, with Mary at the center. We Catholics don’t adore Mary. We never have and we never will. But if the above connections of the Church Fathers be true, then adoring the Blessed Trinity at Mary’s side is the entire determinant of the advance in the spiritual life.

RIP Dr. Alfred Woodward M.D.


The personal physician of Mother Teresa died two days ago (7 May 2015.)  May God grant eternal light and peace to Dr. Alfred C. Woodward M.D.

Actually, I brought him all the sacraments two days before that, including Mass in his room.  He had had a heart attack a month or two ago, but I was surprised at his rapid demise, considering that when I saw him, he was awake, alert, ambulatory…and extremely polite.  Since his death, the sisters have told me about his wholehearted and free service to the poorest of the poor of Kolkata, and it is top news for the Times of India.

Here’s a picture taken by his son for me, outside their place in Kolkata, right after I saw him for the last time:


Mary and Pentecost part I


I suppose I wasn’t clear with my friends or family exactly what I’m doing in India this time either. The Missionaries of Charity at the Mother House in Kolkata wanted me to come back to do general confessions and deliverance prayers for two groups: 1) A youth group of Indian high school students run by four lay American missionaries. 2) University aged students of volunteers from around the world.

It sounds like a glorious work, but I only have the energy for two of these sessions a day. This depresses me when I think of how St. Francis Xavier, at the height of his ministry, was baptizing between 300 and 400 a day in this land.

So, I started thinking of an intercessor of some saint who lived in the world, but didn’t form or affect too many people outside of prayer. This is hard criteria since most prayer warriors were hermits, cloistered nuns and desert monks. On the other hand, the saints who lived in the world, like Bl. Pier Giogio Frassati, affected tremendous amounts of people one-on-one (as evidenced by the surprising hordes of homeless that showed up to his funeral in Turin.)  Of course, the latter group seemed to pray all night and use the day for the apostolate.

Then Mary came to mind. I started to wonder about who Mary really formed or affected while she was on earth. Of course, her prayers affected even the whole pagan world in the first century, but in the world around her, who did she form or affect?

Clearly, the longest period of life for her was at home with Jesus and St. Joseph. But, there are instances from the very beginning of her going “with haste” to help her cousin Elizabeth, or that she spurred her Son onto His first miracle because of her love of marriage and married couples (John 2.)

But, excepting the above, I realized that the primary people Mary affected were the Apostles. Even before Pentecost, we know that the Apostles joined Mary in prayer in the first novena ever, the 9 days of prayer in anticipation of the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:14). Scripturally, we have no reason to believe that Mary abandoned the Apostles after Pentecost, before her Assumption.  I believe this means that the primary people that Mary formed in her life was the Apostles.

At the Resurrection, in St. John chapter 21, St. Peter can’t even say that he loves Jesus, as far as the Greek word agape is concerned. Peter can only admit that he likes Jesus (See the Greek word, philo.)
On the other hand, after Pentecost with Mary, Peter shows no fear.

The third glorious mystery, the descent of the Holy Ghost upon Mary and the Apostles is really the coming of the Holy Ghost to the Apostles through Mary.  If Mary is the mediatrix of all graces, as most saints believe, then even the Holy Ghost came through her to the Apostles at Pentecost.

So, to recap: At the Passion, only one out of 12 of the Apostles stays strong. At the Resurrection, there is still hesitation among Jesus’ closer followers. At Pentecost, there is no hesitation among the Apostles.  Rather, we see a joyful running towards martyrdom. What gives?

It’s everything to do with Mary’s prayer, since she is the spouse of the Holy Spirit.  I’m not saying that Jesus leads to fear while Mary leads to courage. But Jesus did say to the Apostles before He was murdered : “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you.” (John 16:7) Of course, Jesus is speaking of the Holy Spirit, but the advantage He speaks of is that now Jesus Himself would be formed in each of them in unique ways.  Only by Pentecost would they fully be ready to share Christ’s suffering and glory in an eternal outpouring of love.

How do we get to Pentecost?  Prayer with Mary (Acts 1:14)

But back two sentences  is precisely the definition of the Trinity: an eternal outpouring of love. St. Augustine taught that the Father eternally engenders the Son while the Son eternally returns the perfect gift-of-self in a love that spirates between them—the Holy Spirit, the eternal third person of the Trinity who is Love itself. That is why the Holy Spirit is known by some as the eternal (or, in old English, uncreated) Immaculate Conception.

Not long before he was killed at Auschwitz, St. Maximilian Kolbe made the most astounding theological discovery of his life.  He remembered that at the apparition in Lourdes, France, Mary told St. Bernadette that she (Mary) was the “Immaculate Conception.”  Why didn’t she just say she was Immaculately conceived for that which happened in the womb of St. Anne?

St. Maximilian Kolbe saw that the answer lied in Trinitarian theology: If the Holy Spirit be eternally spirated outside of time as the uncreated Immaculate Conception, then there must be a connection as to why Mary would come to exist in time as the created Immaculate Conception.

The connection is this:  Mary is the spouse of the Holy Spirit to the point that they share the same name, just as spouses do. My friend Janet calls them: “Mr. and Mrs. Holy Spirit.”

Once, a student asked me how to tell how much she loved the Holy Spirit.  I was surprised at what came out of my mouth:  “The test is how much you love Mary.”

They are not the same person, but in the next post we’re going to see—via the Bible and Church Fathers—why he who is united to the Lord is one spirit with Him.