Friday, April 30, 2004

More retreat adventures In the Fall of 1987, I was finishing up my Master's degree at St Bernard's. My thesis was humming along in next-to-last draft, I was training for the foreign language requirement dredging ten-year-old German out of my brain's recesses, and I was preparing for my comps. I was hoping to do a thirty-day Ignatian retreat, but when I contacted the Jesuits at Eastern Point in Massachusetts, they demurred, suggesting eight days instead. Up to that time, my only retreat experiences had been weekends with the Trappists, and ten days at Madonna House in Combermere, Ontario. Okay. I really would have had a hard time of it taking a month off from my job. Plus, as my advisor noted, though I would have had time to complete my degree by May, my main calling at that time was to be a student, and I realized remaining faithful to that was a spiritual value as well. So it was off to the Atlantic Ocean for eight days. I arrived by bus and heard the ocean waves on the other side of the building. I settled into my room, and immediately made a beeline for the beach. I had never been to the ocean before, and my first task was to taste the water. I bent down at the shoreline, and took a small sip. Yep. Salty, for sure. Then a big wave splashed over my shoes and soaked my socks inside. I wrote lyrics for a song that first day: Come, create in us, O God. Find us ready for the grace that springs from thirsting you. Let me touch the water, hold it in my hands: taste the salt of living, know the sweetness, too. The tides were amazing to follow that week. The first morning, I noticed the water had receded to form a land bridge to what was an offshore island that first evening. I hiked out across the tidal flats and climbed the rocks jutting out into the ocean. Crashing waves brought me back to the reality that the tides were rolling in and my shoes and socks were likely to get a thorough soaking if I didn't hightail it back to permanent land to pray. It was my first directed retreat, and it was a good one. It set me on a good annual pattern for retreating a week at a time. I will always remember the night I was praying in the chapel, with my hands turned upward. I had a sensation of something resting in them. I didn't want to open my eyes and spoil the moment. But it felt like a loaf of bread. I sat there completely still, refocusing on prayer, but the sensation remained. It was even a little chilling, thinking that I would open my eyes and I would have seen that God had miraculously placed bread in my hands. So I prayed instead that I didn't need a miracle like that. All I wanted was to be able to come to God for spiritual nourishment whenever I turned to him in prayer. I had a deep experience of trust and faith. It was perfect for a person heading into a big life's transition, as I was. The sensation passed. I opened my eyes to see an ordinary chapel in dim lighting. But the sense of spiritual surety and the presence of God remained.
Winners and losers in the new ICEL Ordo Missae draft: Winners: Publishers, who will be busy beavers on revisions. I think if you asked these folks if they'd prefer sung Eucharistic Prayer settings or spanking new royalties on their catalogue of Mass settings, their reply would be, "Can you spell ka-ching?" Composers, for obvious reasons. Losers: Impatient pastors. I can hear the refrain now, "No, no, no. You're supposed to say 'and with your spirit.'" "And with my spirit." Parish finance committees. "Now let us get this straight, Father. We just shelled out $20,000 for hymnals last year, and now you tell us they're out of date and Rome wants us to upgrade?" Bishops, who will be on the hot seat to implement, but also explain why liturgical change is suddenly such a high priority in light of other lay concerns. It wouldn't surprise me if the CDWS and Vox Clara come off badly in the long run. I've heard at least one bishop considers the new document bureaucratic busywork. Bishops will implement, but won't be happy about it. Do bishops have memories for bad political situations? The deal may well have been sealed for a moderate pope next time around. Look out guys, the pendulum is heading back your way.
Ordo Missae draft Thanks to the Australian media, St Blog's now has a copy of the draft of the Order of Mass. An early version of how the people will say Mass from the pages of your 2008 missalette is available so many places, I've not even bothered to link it. Right off the bat, I noted that old liturgical greeting wishing the people "fellowship" in the Holy Spirit has been retranslated to "communion," just as my friend Fr Tom at Michigan State used to change it. My friend Liam's pet peeve, however, has not been addressed: the scanning of the Sanctus, which he claims (rightly) should read: Holy holy holy Lord God of might hosts, etc. and not "Holy holy holy Lord" I nominate Liam for ICEL. Between him and a good dose of inclusive language, I think we'll get it right.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

More retreat adventures I visited the Marygrove Retreat Center four or five times in the period of 1994-98, a time of great healing in my life. My visits to the Upper Peninsula were always an occasion of grace. If you are within a few hundred miles of Garden, Michigan, on the Lake Michigan shore of the U.P., you should go. Fr Tim is a wise and gentle director. My first retreat there, I had a troubling dream about an old friend. Upon waking, I realized I could not get that person and the harm we had done each other out of my mind. I was confronted with my own powerlessness to heal the relationship, or really even myself. I realized I had become emotionally frozen for the past three or four years, and was really deteriorating spiritually as well. I found I could do no more than lay on the floor of the chapel in my grief, simply praying that God would see fit to heal me. After a day or two of anguish, I felt as though a plane of invisible glass was being passed through my body, straining out my anger and other strong emotions. At the end of prayer, I was amazed at the sensation of it all, having had only one such prior physical manifestation in my life. I emerged from that retreat refreshed, which is exactly what I needed. I knew I was being set on a new path, thanks to my experience there. I returned to retreat there for many years after, breaking my previous pattern (1986-94) of never returning to the same place for a second eight-day retreat. I'm getting excited about going to Conception in three weeks. It will only be for four days this year, but I'm looking forward to meeting with a new spiritual director there.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Splitting up the Fraction Rite I missed it in my first reading of RS. But the document does indeed state that wine should be poured into various chalices before the Eucharistic Prayer, and not at the Fraction Rite as nearly every parish does. Some thoughts: - This is a "gotcha" to ensure that every non-Tridentine parish is guilty of some liturgical abuse. - The new IGRM, as far as I can tell, actually makes no reference to the pouring of the Blessed Sacrament during the Lamb of God. Gotcha, I guess. - It reveals a lack of practice in distributing Communion by the framers of the document. Gotcha back. - With a good lip on the main container, there's virtually zero danger of spillage doing it as Americans have done the past thirtysomething years. But I think a handful of chalices on the altar might be in danger from tipping just standing there for ten to twelve minutes until they are taken to Communion stations. I suspect the USCCB will petition the CDWS soon and receive permission to maintain the practice as it has been. Combine eye-rolling bishops, sensible pastors, and Roman practicality and simplicity, I predict that this past weekend's scrupulous pastors may have an opportunity to revert to prior practice. Another ten thousand parishes spared the indignity of having to spray a big red "L" on their front doors.
Lengthy comments A reader/contributor lamented my 1000-character limit, losing a lengthy response to something below. Just for the record, I'm grateful for all posters. Even if I were to invest in an upgraded web page, I would probably limit comment length. First, I'd prefer to keep comment threads readable. Personally, I tend to tire of reading long threads of long comments elsewhere. If a person wants to write an essay or a lengthy response, let me suggest three possibilities: - You can save your comment, then parcel it out over two or more boxes, but only if you really need to. - You can post it on your own blog, and I will be happy to link and respond. - You can also e-mail me and if you have no blog, I will consider posting it here ... but probably not without my own comment.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Bread, cup, and a meal Some people tend to get bothered about the language we use in connection with the Mass. (And no, I don't mean the language used in the parking lot after Mass.) Every so often, I find corrections in the printed Eucharistic Minister sign-in list in my parish. "Bread" and "Cup" have been crossed out and penciled in are "Body of Christ" and "Blood of Christ." Being a generally cheerful person, I don't let it spoil my day. Lacking any concrete request to alter my practice, I don't change it, but I also leave the edit in place. So I did a little research in my (admittedly outdated) 1975 Sacramentary and Eucharistic Prayer supplement. Does the Church really look askance on this talk of "bread, cup, and a meal?" These are the post-consecration references for the sacrament: MA: "When we eat this bread and drink this cup ..." EP I: “... the bread of life and the cup of eternal salvation” EP II: “... this life-giving bread, this saving cup” EP IV: “Gather all who share this bread and wine ...” C1: “... the bread that gives us life, and the cup that saves us” And some other references with "meal": C2: "Send the Holy Spirit to all of us who share in this meal." C3: "Through this sacred meal, give us strength ..." R2: "Fill us with his Spirit through our sharing in this meal." Language is important: this I will not deny. But a scrupulosity of words may not be productive, nor might it point us in the ideal direction.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

All of St Blog's is abuzz ... ... with the strains of liturgical abuse in the air. Lots of people are commenting online about the CDWS document on liturgical abuse. Some of it isn't pretty. At Amy's place, Archibishop Buechlein is taking it on the chin. One commenter said, "Please notice that the document calls for charity, and I've seen precious little charity among the commenters ..." which prompted another thirtysomething posts dragging in everything from sex abuse (what else?) to cake-eating and cryogenics. For some of these abuses listed, Buechlein says they're not happening in Indy. I think I'm fairly liberal in my liturgical theology, and I've never even thought of doing some of the things listed. So why not take people at their word on that? Even this early, I'm tempted to weigh in with a two-point response: This document has missed the mark for concentrating on abuses. Some will say that sinful human beings need boundaries for good conduct, and as a parent, I would agree -- to a point. But liturgy needs to do more than not err. If we want worship to excel, it will take positive steps to ensure that happens. Rome cannot control every diocese, and a bishop cannot reach every parish. But there are needful steps which can be taken everywhere, on all hierarchical levels of the Church, to ensure better liturgy, not just "not bad" liturgy. If the complaints which spawned this document were the driving force, then I think the CDWS has misfired on that point, too. If complainers were satisfied with what they had wrought, they would sit back with smug looks on their faces and watch the progressives scramble. But in St Blog's, that's not happening. People are saying the document is a paper tiger and that the bishops won't take it seriously, and it's another round of bile for the Faithful Catholics. Maybe the problem wasn't "liturgical abuse." If some complainers cannot find peace with the pope, with new conservative bishops, with a conservative curia, with new crackdown documents, with lay ecclesial ministers losing jobs, with Kerry campaigners losing church jobs, one wonders how long the list has to grow. My hunch is it would need to be endless. Some, though not all, Catholics have taken complaint as a virtue, and it can be a dangerous tiger to wrestle with. Otherwise good and sensible people have allowed themselves to be seduced by anger. When nothing seems to satisfy, perhaps God has eluded those who are embittered. Maybe some of this document is about those who seek wrongly, and find themselves always thirsty and clearly dissatisfied. Again.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

More on Trappists Michael Downey's book Trappist: Living in the Land of Desire has been an aid to prayer this week. All the fuss about that bishop living at Mepkin drew my attention to a spot on my bookshelf. And here it was. I've been to Gethsemani, where a friend had asked me to sneak into the monastic cemetery and scoop up a few spoonfuls of dirt from Thomas Merton's grave. That request built up a conflict in me, sort of like when one of your friends egged you on to do something when you were a kid. You really didn't want to do it, but danged if the guy didn't plant some snitch of a seed in your consciousness ... I could do it ... wouldn't hurt anybody ... you always play it safe, take a risk ... would mean a lot to him. I resolved the problem by telling the guestmaster, who rolled his eyes and said, "You wouldn't believe the weird requests we get and the strange things people do." He basically gave me permission to sneak off and do it, but the telling of my dilemma evaporated my inner conversation. "Get your own holy dirt!" came the conclusion. My retreat at Gethsemani in Fall 1989 was one of the most moving and shattering of my life. The only other Trappist place I've been to is New Melleray. Even though I lived in Iowa for seven years, I only managed one visit there. The timing never worked for retreat. Anita and I took our daughter for Sunday Mass there shortly after she moved to our house. I was twenty when I first visited a monastery. Kids need earlier exposure than that. Brittany beat me by fifteen years. Kids need early and frequent exposure to religious life, especially contemplative places. Of course, with non-Catholic parents, my personal situation was different. Brittany has been to Conception before, too -- mainly the church, which we toured. Anita remarks that our daughter is too headstrong for religious life, but you never know.

Friday, April 23, 2004

You can read it here Indeed, there's not much new in this document on liturgical abuses. Clearly, the CDWS has a skewed view of the state of liturgical matters given the fact that complaints outnumber notes of praise by a wide margin. My only serious disappointment in content is the smackdown on lay preaching. While I understand the tradition and sacramental connection to Holy Orders, concerns remain for me. I have found it is the exceptional parish priest who devotes himself deeply to his homilies. While admitting that 90% of the clergy I've worked with actually do plan homilies, I would say that with only a few exceptions do priests treat their homiletic craft with the gravity it deserves. In fact, one young priest I knew was criticized for spending too much energy on homilies, especially for daily Mass. Instead of calling the guy out, they should have sent him to study advanced homiletics. That said, I've seen lay people preach horribly as well. And since I have no pretensions personally about preaching, this document won't affect me that much. Not quite sure the time was right to close the door on it, though. I was happy to see the active and conscious participation of the assembly emphasized with a whole subheading. Maybe that will put to rest the silliness I read about what active/actuoso/actual/action figure really means. Good to see Communion from the tabernacle put in its place again, though an outright prohibition wouldn't have saddened me. Good also to see the CDWS telling folks to go to the local bishop with complaints first, and to do it in charity. I doubt everyone will listen to that one, but what the heck. When complaints come to me I address them in a timely way. Will this document make a difference for me? I doubt it. The new pastor and I will likely be reviewing lots of liturgical things when he arrives at the end of June, so I was expecting some tweaking of parish practice over the next several months anyway. Since our parish doesn't employ lay preachers, there's not much that's going to change on the surface. More concerned about getting a Roman Missal into use. I've been waiting for that since the mid-80's. This document is more like the company mailing you the instructions for your new lawn mower. The mower design hasn't quite been finalized yet, much less put on the assembly line. And when it comes, you really don't want to cut your grass anyway. So if a parishioner asks me if Friday 23 April 2004 was a red letter day, I'll probably tell them about my bridge game tonight instead.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

I recommend a philosophical Trojan Horse ... if you'll pardon my reference to war, Brad Pitt, and two items of the Counterculture. I hear very little of the Feminists For Life these days. But there's a group worth inviting over for some pro-life strategizing. Likewise, I would suggest casting dismay and confusion into the pro-choice camp by developing pro-life positions from a liberal standpoint. Like Nat Hentoff. My point is that political conservatives are useless for communicating novel nuances of the pro-life position. Too much baggage (as is perceived) from protecting life from conception to natural birth. Instead, we should dredge up a pacifist to equate abortion with the W-war. Pacifism strengthened my commitment against abortion on the early 80's when I was wavering. Why not play up the angles that abortion is an industry that thrives on opportunism, makes tons of money (like Mel Gibson), and exploits minority groups. Or would that be too divisive?
Peace, all. Ono Ekeh's response to the controversy of his loss of employment over his promotion of Kerry for president partly on company time with company computers. In my mind, the latter two phrases constitutes a termination offense if company policy is clear in that regard, and the employee has been given appropriate warning to cease. That aside, I can understand Mr Ekeh's pro-life approach, even if I don't align myself congruent to it. The ideal, in my view, would be to ensure legal protection of every human being who can be determined to be alive by the same definitions we mark the end of life (heart or brain activity) and chip away at the "demand side" of the issue to reduce abortion to a rarity. That would be the best we could hope for, and it would be a very long stretch indeed to get there. Amy Welborn commented last night: "Pro-life "conservatives" who are all about prohibition and not about creating a culture of life or offering alternatives: Straw Man, very boring, and unknown to people who actually work with pro-life groups, the vast majority of which spend most of their time, energy and other resources in direct assistance to pregnant women in need." I don't agree. Republican Party politics certainly looks a lot like Dorothy's first companion in how their public policy shakes out. And the "vast majority" of Americans do not spend "time, energy and other resources" to promote their political views. Most don't vote, and of those who do, most don't volunteer. And self-identified pro-life Catholics are not any different. "Secondly, what is most mystifying to me about this position is *how* promotion and fought-to-the-death legal protection of easily available abortion through all nine months of pregnancy fits into a "pro-life" vision or a "culture of life."" I didn't see where Mr Ekeh actually supports this. He doesn't explicitly come down against making all abortions illegal. I suspect he would not have promoted abortion rights during the 60's. He's a realist. Is that a sin? "In other words, what is wrong with trying to limit abortion through legal means besides the others?" Nothing, unless you're expecting immediate success. If the energy one puts into the legal lobbying sphere detracts from the ministry to pregnant women, the point is a disputed one. "Why the objection, if life is really what you're all about - if you really and truly believe all those fetal remains are kids, individuals brought into existence by God because He loves them....why would you even for a second demean the effort to protect them by the law?" Amy fails to make the case that Mr Ekeh is "demeaning" the efforts of mainstream pro-lifers. All it seems to me is that he is promoting another way. Is he entitled to do that? Perhaps not. Consider the pro-life culture in Catholic circles as I've experienced it recently in St Blog's. Acceptable behavior includes protesting at clinics, writing and lobbying politicians, cheering for bishops who criticize politicians, and helping women directly through organizations such as Birthright. Unacceptable behavior includes criticizing lobbying efforts, supporting any candidate who supports abortion rights, and especially suggesting that current pro-life tactics are not working. Seamless garmenters: approach with suspicion. Thirty-plus years of struggle against legal abortion. Where has it got us? The landscape doesn't change: bishops squaring off against politicians, lots of people yelling at each other and throwing straw (or worse) and an active judiciary in spite of nineteen years of Republican federal administration. With no quibble against those who actively serve the pro-life cause directly with people in need, I have to wonder if the political strategy of the Pro-life movement isn't a failure. Do I get branded as a heretic for saying so? Mr Ekeh's sin is only using work computers and time for personal affairs. Do I become persona non grata for suggesting that is all? Time for a new approach, I think. (Personally, I don't think John Kerry is a good way to go.) But we'll see the reaction to defecting from the W-way in some Catholic circles. Check the comment boxes to see.
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and that I think I am following your will does not mean I am actually doing so. But I believe the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all I am doing. I hope I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you will never leave me to face my perils alone. Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude After graduating from college, I worked as a telemarketer for my college alma mater. Took a day off one summer, and planned a little bicycle pilgrimage. The night before, I sadly noted the next day's high would approach 100, but I went ahead anyway, waking at 6AM and getting on the road early. From Rochester, it's not far to the Genesee Abbey -- only about 35 miles, but the more daunting aspect when you're not riding powered are the nine hills to climb to get to Piffard, NY. I had been to the Genesee Abbey many times by car, and was sure I could find the way there and back, and get it done before the sun got too high. Amazingly enough, I made it, arriving in about 3 hours: well in advance of midday prayer, facing a mostly downhill ride home in the afternoon heat. About 11:15AM, I headed for home. Here's where the hubris sets in. Not to mention a bit of heat exhaustion. Took one early wrong turn out of the abbey neighborhood, but I was so intent on getting back to Rochester by one o'clock, I convinced myself I was on the right track. This, despite the facts I was not riding downhill (tougher ride than I thought), I didn't recognize the countryside (I never stopped to smell the roses before; why would I think I had Mother Nature's Upstate New York memorized?) and one little green roadsign going the other way read "Geneseo 12," which would have meant I was approximately that many miles off course. I assumed that not only had the town planners put the sign on the wrong side of the road, but that some screwball had turned the marker around to fool people. Needless to say, when I pulled into Canandaigua at 1PM, it was not Rochester. Bought a quart of orange juice at a convenience store, and after downing the container in about as much time as you can say the 117th Psalm, I assessed my new reality. I spent another hour and a half cooling off in a sub shop with half a sandwich and a drink about three times as big. Then, time to hit the road, galling as it was to retrace my steps back to the wrong turn. I thought about calling my dad once, but the house I picked to solicit had loud barking dogs all over. And thankfully, it was mostly downhill once I got back to my "favorite" turn. So I pedalled on. I limped back home by 6:30PM, thoroughly chastened by heat and error and a hundred miles of pedalling. Did I learn anything? I plumbed new depths of personal stubbornness and I never went back to the abbey by bicycle. As Thomas Merton said, "My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end." Isn't it the truth?

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Monasteries My first monastic experiences were with the Trappists at Our Lady of the Genesee. Our campus ministry organized an annual Night Pilgrimage. We would meet at the chapel on campus at midnight to pray. About an hour later, it was carpooling to a remote location a handful of miles from the abbey. We had permission to cross through a few farm fields and some semi-wooded areas. Every twenty minutes or so, we would break our silent walk to pray. By 4AM, we would reach the abbey. One of the monks, usually Brother Anthony, the guestmaster (in those days) would speak with us. In 1980, we happened to see Henri Nouwen on his second sojourn at the abbey. (Read his Genesee Diary if you haven't already. All of us students did.) At 5:15 we would join the monks for Lauds. The cars would pick us up afterward, and the Newman Center at SUNY Geneseo would have coffee and donuts waiting for us on the way home. What an experience these were! I recall one year we walked the pilgrimage under a full moon. It was unearthly and sublime, and we stashed our flashlights away. We had our annual retreats each February there. Nothing like a monastery in a snow-laden winter. Later I realized these early retreats spoiled me. I had grown accustomed to monastic silence, so when some folks rebelled against a great silence on a parish retreat (my post-college parish) I really wondered what their fuss was about. So many Catholics seem so fearful of silence. Really, there's nothing to be a-scared of. If you are in upstate New York or planning to be near Rochester, I would heartily recommend a trip to the Abbey of Our Lady of the Genesee. Be sure to take home a loaf of raisin bread. Tomorrow, hear how your pig-headed blog host gets his come-uppance during a bicycle pilgrimage to and from the Genesee Abbey. Stay tuned.
Penitentiary Some St Blog commenters wonder about what seems to be easy treatment of a sex offender. It is important to consider that before individual confession became the Catholic rage, serious sins were publicly confessed. Only a bishop could grant sacramental absolution, which usually followed years of reform in a strict monastic setting, hence the root of the word penitentiary. Having retreated with Cistercians and being a frequent guest here through my twenties, I know Cistercian life is demanding. It seems appropriate that a fallen bishop would go to Mepkin for healing and metanoia. Too bad the world doesn't have more places for the thousands of offenders (priests and laity) who have damaged so many young lives. The tone of some would suggest sex abusers deserve breaking rocks or other such satisfying punishments. I've known many people who were sexually abused as children, and I've heard of that particular hell many times from the victim's side. But I have no desire to turn over my soul to see someone brutalized as they had brutalized others. I find monastic wisdom of discipline, peace, work, and prayer to be most appropriate in this instance. Society might be better for running prisons like monasteries -- or true penitentiaries. The bishop is still fortunate for his experience -- most offender priests will not have a second chance like this -- but I doubt it is an easy life.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Saturn Go here to see the "shepherd moons" at Saturn's F-ring, Pandora and Prometheus. A brief summary of Saturn in science fiction (sorry, I can't remember all the titles and names): As I mentioned yesterday, I finished Stephen Baxter's Titan, reviewed here. I won't quibble with the review. The book was well-written, but what nagged the critic also nagged me. I will admit I couldn't put the thing down, reading about 2/3rds on Friday night and finishing it off the next morning. A year or two I read Ben Bova's Saturn. I wasn't really thrilled with it, but I did finish the book, which might be saying a lot these days. When I was a kid, my rule was to always stick it out to the end with a book. These days, time is more precious. The book's not so much about Saturn, but a ship on its way to Saturn. Bova's not my favorite sf author, but many like his style. Several years ago, I read a paperback about the sun swelling to red giant stage, and people needed to leave the Earth. Where did they go? Saturn. Intriguing idea: living in floating cities, breathing a helium-oxygen atmosphere instead of nitrogen-oxygen. (I'm just glad I didn't hear the book-on-tape narrated in a helium atmosphere.) People got used to squeaking (you can actually breathe 80% helium with no ill effects -- except for your listeners), and the little book was a fun read, involving the rescue of a princess, if I recall. Unfortunately, I don't recall author or title. Champion of all would be Isaac Asimov's Lucky Starr and the Rings of Saturn. Reviewed here, you can also see the cover page. I found this book to be the most enjoyable of the Lucky Starr series. It was also the last SF book Asimov penned in his early active period (1950-58). A good novel for an older kid, well-plotted, and of course, Saturn. If I think of more fiction on Saturn, I'll post later. If you have a favorite, feel free to leave a comment.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Reading ideas Just finished Baxter's Titan. Hard to put down, but haunting. I've been thinking of rereading Zenna Henderson's collection of stories on The People. Ingathering is the complete collection, which I picked up in hardcover a number of years ago. Anybody familiar with these tales? Anything good to say of them?
First Communion Mine. Not a conventional one. In 1969, my mom pulled me and my sister out of PS number 39 and enrolled us in the neighborhood Catholic school, St Andrew's. As I began sixth grade that year, one kid befriended me the very first day. Michael, known to some friends as Mickey, was a friendly, heavy-set kid who took me under his wing. I remember clearly my first experience of Catholic Mass. I liked the spacious, cool interior, the sound of the organ, the priest who spoke about the Bible. A bit later on, I noticed the kids close to the front lining up in the aisles. Were they leaving? I asked Michael, "Psst. What's going on now?" "Communion." "Can anyone go?" "Sure. Come on." So I carefully mimicked the kids around me standing in line: pressing my palms together, index fingers near my lips. As I passed my sister, I may have smirked slightly, but her mouth fell open. She told her teacher, who informed the principal, who consulted the pastor, who called my mother. By the time I went home for lunch, my mom told me I did something wrong. I was so upset. I ran up the stairs, ran in the bedroom and closed the door. I went into the closet and shut the door. I thought for sure they were going to kick me out, which would have been catastrophic, because from the moment I entered the church, I knew in my mind I wanted to be Catholic. My mother carefully explained that only Catholics could receive Communion in a Catholic Church, and she was sure the priest and school staff would understand I intended no harm. Whew. I was saved. My mother was a Baptist, and my dad considered himself a Presbyterian, so the possibility of asking either of them if I could become a Catholic brought a potential problem. If they said no, I would be stuck. So in my ten-year-old mind, I found a solution: I prayed to God to arrange it for me to be Catholic without risking a veto from mom or dad. Some months later, the phone rang, and it was Father McCarthy, the pastor. He spoke with me for a few minutes, then asked to speak with my mother. I overheard her end of the conversation. "No ... None of them have been baptized ... Well, that's an idea. Let me ask Todd and see what he thinks." Immediately I knew that God had answered my prayers. God must have told the priest to ask my mom. After several months of instruction (which was amazing enough that a busy pastor would take time to catechize two little kids) my sister, younger brother, and I were baptized on our parents' 25th wedding anniversary. I mention this story, not because the anniversary is near, but because of a chat with my sister last night. My friend Michael died last week, she told me. He was not my closest boyhood friend, though he also recruited me into Scouting a few years later. We drifted apart by high school, and I certainly lost track of him by the time I went to college. I will always appreciate his welcome of me into his school. He might have been ignorant of my religious background, or he might not have cared, but his unknowing response to my question may well have set wheels in motion that lassoed me into the Church sooner rather than later. Walk with God, unknowing evangelizer, and my friend.
Peace, all. Hadn't intended to be so light about blogging this weekend. It wasn't really an overly busy one, church-wise. I'm on break from writing baritone sax parts for the Mass of Creation right now. I remember lots of wailing from the Right when Muslim terrorists supposedly elected a president in Spain. I wonder how the Saudi promise to lower gas prices near election time will play in Peoria ... or places where the prices are at levels not seen since 9-11. Too bad the Dems picked this election cycle to nominate a bulldog. I think Dukakis or even Gore can whup this incumbent.

Friday, April 16, 2004

Lemon Meringue Pie A morality tale, of sorts. I made my fourth lemon meringue pie Wednesday. I actually made two-thirds of it: crust and meringue. Time was running short between children's choir practice and our dinner guest's arrival, so I fell back on canned lemon filling. Anyway, I was thinking about an incident from my deep childhood. My mother is a great baker. Every pie she ever made was excellent -- at least the pies in my memory were. But she didn't like to make lemon meringues. Dad loved them as he did mincemeat pies, but the mincemeats came rolling out of her oven in comparison. One summer, a neighbor sent us a lemon meringue pie. I told Mom, "This is delicious, but you can do better." So next week, she did: lemon flavor so rich and crust so tender ... heavenly. Then my dad made the Fatal Error. He said, "This is nice, honey, but the filling is kind of runny, don't you think?" My antennae started quivering. I looked at my sister. We were stone silent. But our minds were racing. "Dad. Stop. No. We'll never get another lemon meringue pie as long as you live." Then it came. Mom said that if her pie was so deficient, he could just ask his friend down the street for his next lemon meringue pie, because she wasn't making him one. Ever again. (No, Dad, no. Why did you blow it? Why, why, why?) Actually, Mom eventually made more lemon meringue pies, but not too many. I think the moratorium lasted four or five years. Now that I've realized you can mix pastry dough in the food processor, I plan to make more pies this summer.
Open Request of our Bishops Please don't embarass us this year. I remember having to explain to my interfaith colleagues in small town America your collective collusion and silence in the face of scandal. I had nothing to say to defend you then. No words have come since. When the Patriarch of Nebraska (TM) Bishop Fabian "I run a clean diocese and hell no I won't comply" Bruskewitz starts bringing up excommunication (yet again) as a pastoral tool, I cannot help but think how much better it might be if he would just run off to Pius XIII or something. Gentlemen, it's time to face facts. 1. Even a Court-packing president is not going to end Abortion-as-we-know-it. 2. Mr Kerry, for whatever failings his position has, is not going to nudge abortion statistics up to Auschwitz levels. 3. Kerry's views on abortion rights, while repugnant, are just about irrelevant to an issue that effectively been decided years ago. 4. It will take societal change on the scale of decades to reverse Roe v Wade. 5. Bureaucrats and bishops do not tackle societal change, prophets do. 6. While it is not inconceivable for a bishop to become a prophet, it's going to take personal sacrifice. 7. Clinic protests notwithstanding, no bishop has been a hero of the Pro-Life movement. Not even close. The real heroes are those who counsel troubled women effectively, facilitate adoptions, take care of people, and who practice the alternative of adoption. Also in the hero category are those who work for opportunities for poor and undereducated women. Having faced these facts, there seems to be a clear path of heroism for bishops excluding excommunication. The path includes keeping quiet on Mr Kerry. The path includes fewer press releases and less talking. The path involves more action. Sacrificing some creature comforts might be a start. I'm hoping you'll not embarass Catholics this year. But I'm not counting on it.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Moratoria, not MMMMMMM good Now that the dust (or ashes) of Lent has settled, I notice a movement afoot (no, not Holy Thursday) to ban certain composers of liturgical music. An acronym SMMMMMMM (or something like this) stands for the Society for a Moratorium on Maudlin Modern Music that Makes Me Mad (or something like that). The usual suspects are being rounded up for an evening of heretic-burning (no, I don't think any John Lennon records are being included, but don't be too sure). What these people don't realize (Fr Jeff, avert your eyes, please) is that once they're done, they will have ... ashes. (We rise again ...) Hey. If I thought there was something to the need for improving church music, and that this group had good intentions at heart, I'd be supportive of the notion that more (not less) composers need to be writing more (not less) good new music to outstanding texts. The real key is that a musical heritage is not based on subtraction, but addition. Did the Medieval church musicians say, "We have nothing of use in Mozarabic or Gallican or Byzantine chant, let's just stay away from these heretic anti-Romans and stick to Gregorian." Of course not. (Well, some did, but that's beside the point.) Did they condemn polyphony as music of the devil because somebody like Tallis buried a neat little tune for "Spem in alium" under thirty-nine flippin' other voice parts? Of course not. (Well, some did, but ... you get the drift.) Want to improve church music? Here's how: - Hire a good, prayerful, liturgical musician who can lead and inspire people. - Play and sing music you use with sensitivity and prayerfulness. - Actually pray the texts of the music you sing. (This applies to everyone.) - Get the parish clergy 100% behind music ministry. - Select new music very, very carefully before introducing it into the parish repertoire. Be sure it is the best. Be sure you have prayed a text before teaching it. - Realize the Church is in a rebuilding mode and has been for decades now. Make use of the enormous repertoire available and avoid choices based solely on marketing. - Teach the young with more fervor, attention, and budget than sports programs. - Train teens and young adults as music leaders, emphasizing music ministry as a viable vocation choice. Lastly, I don't think that harping is a musical activity. It is discordant, uncharitable, wasteful, and contributes nothing to harmony in belief or practice. I echo the challenge I often make. If you don't like church music, find or write something better and sing it. Failing that, hire someone who can.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Peace, all. I was challenged to comb through the Old Oligarch’s essay on foot washing. Here goes. “The liturgy is a great deposit of doctrine in symbolic form.” Agreed. “In an age like ours, when Catholic culture is receding, we often fail to notice the meaning of liturgical symbols which once animated the piety of our forefathers. This is one reason why it is incredibly important not to change the liturgy simply because we would like to see it streamlined, or because something doesn't make sense to us, or indeed, to many modern Catholics. Such streamlining, done in the name of short-term gains of "intelligibility," often means, in fullest perspective, that the last vestige of a liturgically-expressed belief has been made a palimpsest.” I agree here also, though I should point out that the most progressive approach to foot washing, namely that of the full participation of the assembly, would take the longest time of all. It has been my experience that “streamlining the liturgy” is an error of the pragmatist, not the progressive. ”The primary symbolism presented by this act is driven by an interpretation of the Washing of the Feet as an object lesson in charity. Facile liturgy is thus designed according to facile exegesis.” Yes, and I have an interpretation. Sacraments and sacramentals are also celebrations of spiritual realities which have already taken place. A human being is saved. God’s choice or election of that person is a reality by the time of the Easter Vigil. The newcomer’s response to God has been testified to and is not in doubt. Baptism celebrates a reality which has already begun to take place: the conversion of a life to Christ. Foot washing, when a parish is properly disposed to the ritual, celebrates a reality we hope is already present in the people: their practice and acceptance of humble charity in their baptismal lives. Without the participation in the works of mercy, the ritual is meaningless pretense. With such participation, washing feet ritually and publicly enacts for the community Christ’s explicit command. (John 13:15) “For a Jew, commanding someone to wash your feet was a gesture of great self-abasement. Talmudic legislation forbade Jews from commanding this action of anyone but a Gentile slave, the lowest of the low. By washing the apostles' feet, Jesus takes on the form of a slave, in anticipation of the total humiliation of Good Friday, in accordance with St. Paul's words in Philippians 2:7-8: "Christ emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross." I have no argument with this as a good starting point. John’s gospel includes the only recount of this ritual. What was so distinctive about the need of the Johannine community for the evangelist to have provided his unique reminder of this event? Peter’s response gives the key. He is indignant that Jesus would upset a carefully ordered society. That theme is recounted in every gospel: Peter’s refusal to accept Christ’s teaching of the suffering Messiah comes foremost to mind. What we have in orthodox Catholicism today is the reverse. Washing feet has become the sign of liturgical privilege. People cannot wash or be washed because they do not have status. We have allowed the metaphor (the Christ-image) to overshadow the reality, namely that service and love must overturn social boundaries. Christian love and action are not dependent on a caste system. Given the gospel witness of some of the Twelve striving for chairs of power left and right, I can see why such a ritual was needed. ”Many Patristic authors see a preparation for the proclamation of the Gospel in the washing of the feet, in accordance with Isaiah 52:7: "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings the Good News." This is the passage in Isaiah from which we get the very word Gospel, and which goes on to predict what this Good News will look like: the death of the Suffering Servant (Is 52:13-53:12) and the restoration of the covenant through the sending of the Logos (Is 54-55), which immediately follow it in the book of the prophet and the evangelist. Christ washes the apostles' feet to make them beautiful in preparation for announcing the consummation of the divine plan. The Washing is thus an act whereby Christ invests the apostles with evangelical authority, as part of their episcopal office, as He explains in Jn 13:20: "Amen, Amen, I say to you, he who receives any one whom I send receives me; and he who receives me receives him who sent me." Think of Matthew 18:18, not only Matthew 22:39.” This is Old Oligarch’s strongest point. It might be convincing enough if it didn’t fail on one important point. The Patristic connection is a beautiful explanation, but it remains a metaphor for the actual separate mysteries of ordained ministry and washing feet. We don’t understand the full picture of either of these. The Patristics may have had added cultural and oral insights we lack today. But their exegesis remains a poetic and metaphorical attempt to understand a spiritual reality none of us can see clearly. The Twelve have already been called and commissioned. Perhaps the Johannine washing replaces the synoptic witness of the calling and sending in pairs. Perhaps. ”We already have a basis in (2) for thinking about a connection between the Washing and ordination.” But not an undisputed one. Let’s keep reading. “This is, of course, reinforced by ancient Christian custom which celebrates the institution of the Christian priesthood during the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord's Supper, since, just after the Washing, Christ commands his disciples: "Do this in memory of me," giving them the mandate to celebrate the Eucharist which is the reason for their priesthood.” There is no scriptural basis for this link. There is no explicit Eucharist in John. We have only the command to repeat the washing of feet, a command which Christians ignored and nearly lost totally. My JB says, “If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you should wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you.” We can ask if “each other” implies bishops, clergy, or if the Lord had a wider group in mind. But at the very least, the question remains an open and disputed one. We don’t know. But I think we might infer that Old Oligarch’s first point would be lost if foot washing took place only within a certain caste or castes within the Church. That would indeed be a loss, and is probably why the monastic witness has traditionally been to wash the feet of strangers and the poor: maintaining the tradition of service to others, forsaking one’s status both in society and in the Reign of God. ”Christ is preparing His apostles to be His first priests. Christ chooses a symbol of great self-abasement to underscore the nature of this priesthood in imitatio Christi. Sharing in Christ's priesthood means sharing in his kenosis, His self-emptying, His self-sacrifice. Just as Aaron and his sons were the first priests of the Old Covenant, Christ washes the feet of the Apostles to be the first priests of the New Covenant. They have "already been washed clean" (Jn 13:10) of sin in Baptism. Now, they receive a special washing, proper to their ordination, so that they can worthily enter the New Tabernacle -- the first Tabernacle to contain the Eucharist, the Upper Room.” If this is true, then the ritual is badly misplaced at the parish. The connection here is beautiful and apt, and if it had been preserved in the ordination rites or at the Chrism Mass, then the celebration of the connection of bishop and clergy, the humble service of the parish priest would be apt. Why does the parish have an option for such a ritual? Is it for the edification of the priest who washes? To remind the laity of the service of their pastor? There is no explicit renewal of priestly or pastoral commitment associated with foot washing. Permitting lay men to be washed seems to undercut the sacerdotal connotations of the ritual. Denying women seems to be a blunt underscoring of the gender-based caste system in the Church. Even lay men don’t get to confect the Eucharist in the absence of an ordained priest, so what’s the point? ”Such, IMHO, is the meaning of the Washing of the Feet: priestly, sacrificial, mysterious.” If so, then laity should not participate in this ritual at all. “So if you get another lazy, banal homily on "serving others" or some such permutation of the importance of being nice, you've been shirked.” However, I’ve heard outstanding homilies on the meaning of humility which have invited families, friends, and strangers to set aside their comfort to wash one another’s feet, making the connection that as is done in ritual life, so one should also do beyond the church walls, even to the point of giving one’s life for one’s friends. Christ’s continuing message in the Last Supper discourses applies to all disciples. The notions of trust in God, love and sacrifice, growth and rootedness in Christ, the need for unity: this sermon does not exist independently of what took place at the washing bowl. It seems to me the “nice” homily is one that urges people to “watch the priest renew his commitment to service.” That strikes me as distant, an overly sanitary approach to what is still difficult for many people to do. If the Mandatum is to stay at the parish Mass, it should include all present. The 1975 Roman Missal doesn’t even specify that “twelve” are to be washed. If the best a parish can do is select twelve representatives, the ritual is best left in the books, unused. Charity is something to participate in fully, with both feet as it were, not to be witnessed as a pious playacting exercise.

Monday, April 12, 2004

Another weighs in on Kerry Peter Nixon sums up closely what I would be trying to say about the forces of good under the banner of "orthodox Catholicism" riding out to battle the forces of evil (John Kerry and the NARAL colors). Try as I might, I find I cannot maintain the political aloofness I attempted earlier this primary season. Of course, it was all a done deal by the time the Missouri primary hit town. Maybe I can heap on my personal expressions of disgust at what passes for presidential democracy in the two-party system. Then you'll know why I'm leaning more and more toward voting for Ralph Nader, who, alleged megalomania aside, remains a far more honorable candidate than any of the guys getting major press time these days. 1. At the Iowa caucus in 2000, survey sheets were passed around urging party leadership to consider a woman nominee for VP. I crossed out "Vice-" on the sheet, signed it and returned it. I would have liked to think that in a caucus, we would be theoretically open to ideas other than the guy Bill Clinton picked eight years ago. Decent enough veep, sure. But what's the difference between smoke-filled back rooms picking the candidate before a convention and ... well ... smoke-filled back rooms picking the candidate eight years prior to the primary season? Seems pretty much the same to me. The D's have stopped calling me, but if they do this year, I'll tell them helping my daughter with her homework will have more impact on the good of the nation than any equal time participating in the two-party system would. 2. I've said before that bishops need to tread carefully this election year. They remain a liability for any message associated too closely with them. Sure, they need to maintain the teaching aspect of their office. But the Catholic faithful want teachings to be underscored with actions and personal example, not words. A bishop feels he needs to ban a speaker? Fine. Come out personally to the talk and explain it. Hiding behind press releases and playing the publicity game is not what being a pastor and overseer is about. 3. John Kerry's position on abortion rights is deeply troubling. Unfortunately, nothing really inspiring is coming out from the Pro-Life side. And I know the Republicans are bankrupt on the issue behind their fuzzysmirks. Bishops protesting at clinics is one thing -- not even the Republicans do that. But the US citizenry has been deluded into thinking that abortion-on-demand is an expression of caring toward women. A quick fix and an expensive form of birth control is closer to the mark in most cases. What is needed to move opinion and begin conversion are some dramatic steps by the bishops, not excommunications. That bishops actually care about women is just not believable. Bishops protesting at clinics? How would that be different from aiding their most ardent supporters? In part, it looks like its own version of playing politics, especially if Pro-Life Catholics have deep pockets. What I'd like to see is bishops turning over episcopal residences to unwed mothers, then hitting the road themselves to reconnect with the people. Sarcasm alert: I would not say any bishop is directly duplicitous on this, but I would stress that actions always speak louder than words, even words spoken through a bullhorn. 4. Just don't get me started on the Republicans. They're every bit as bad as the Other Party, only they have less to say on just about every other issue of Catholic concern. Except abortion, of course. And on that matter, I deeply suspect they're just fine with the status quo of abortions in this country: it keeps a tidy satchel of votes in their pocket so long as enough people rage about the inhumanity of it all. In sum, John Kerry has a lot of work to do to convince me to vote for him. But Republicans need not apply. A vote for Bush is a vote wasted. Lastly, I should mention that the link above is essential daily reading. Essential. I aspire to Peter's calm, clarity, and spirituality. If you click on this page before reading his, just go back, check his first.
Footprints I thought we passed this speed bump years ago. People are still trying to connect washing feet to Holy Orders? While I wouldn't deny a bishop has the power to make judgments about the gender of wet and dried feet, they still can't come up with better explanations than "the Vatican says so" or "we never used to wash women's feet at liturgy." Let's review the case against Archbishop Donoghue and others: - Footwashing only appears in John's gospel, and in connection with "disciples," not the Twelve. - If washing feet and the Eucharist both took place at the Last Supper, and both involved only men, then what's the distinction? Jesus didn't share the Eucharist with women either. - If footwashing is supposed to be connected with Orders, then why wasn't the ritual put into the ordination rite? Or the Chrism Mass? - The Roman Missal doesn't even specify "twelve" to be washed. - Humble service and charity is supposed to be the mark of priesthood alone? Why was footwashing so closely associated with the poor instead of with priests? It makes little sense to me for conservative pastors to be turning this ritual into a political demonstration of the chasm between men and women, laity and clergy. Archbishop O'Malley, at least, publicly said it is not his personal custom. That argument flows better than the pseudo-connection between washing feet and priesthood. Lacking something sensible to say, perhaps it is best to just say nothing at all, lest a clerical foot slips from basin to mouth.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Crowing about Easter Crowds Easter Vigil surprised me. I wasn't ready. I'll admit it. Last year, we barely had 300 people in attendance. Last night, I ran out of candles. That's never happened before. I figured on 400 people, optimistically, and tossed out the old nubs of candles. Oops. Final tally: 503. Fourteen new Catholics bumped up last year's crowd, but some of that 67% increase included non-RCIA guests, and some new faces. That set the tone for today. Sunrise was full, especially with our pastor guaranteeing a "full 45-minute Easter Mass." Then we had standing people at 7:30. That never happens. Overall Easter attendance was up 30% over last year. My big hope is that a fraction of those folks were moved to deeper faith (or at least slightly impressed with liturgy), they'll give it a try next week.
Sports talk The three hockey teams on the sidebar here have all made the playoffs, though it's not for certain any of them will make it out of the first round, much less win their respective Cups. I'm warming a bit to watching the NHL on TV, but I have yet to see a single period, much less a whole game. Anita and Brittany stood in front of the TV with 6 minutes left in Wings-Predators today, reminding me it was time to get to IHOP for Easter dinner. Okay. They let me nap the whole afternoon after getting home from noon Mass. It was nice not to have to worry about cooking the holiday meal. Anyway, I have no idea who's going to win the Stanley Cup this year, nor do I have any strong loyalties at stake as I watch snippets of games in between my wife's beloved HGTV shows or Emeril Live.
Happy Easter. An ancient Christian song: “This is the fountain of life that floods the entire world, The water that took from its beginning from the pierced side of Christ. You who are born again of this water, place your hope in the kingdom of heaven.” I have loved this image of God’s grace, so substantial and so deep one could drown in it. Having been baptized at age 11, I’ve felt fortunate to be able to recall that day, my decision to be Catholic, my experience of God leading me to Him and to the Church. Because of this, Easter is an especially happy time for me. I remember when the water was poured on my baptism day, my godfather had a towel ready to wipe my forehead dry. At first I thought, “No! Don’t dry up my baptism.” But I figured this was part of the ritual and said nothing -- I thought a sense of obedience was important as a new Christian. Though I wanted those drops to be on me always. In my mind, I realized that would be impossible: the actual water would eventually evaporate. In looking back, I realize I desired God’s grace to stay with me, something unseen, but far more substantial. Even in the spiritual life, the water goes away, dries up, sometimes leaving us high and dry. But what Easter celebrates is God’s continuing and ever-present grace. May your Eastertide be a celebration of God's baptismal grace.

Friday, April 09, 2004

Snapshots from Triduum Even after sixteen years, I cannot calm down for the Mass of the Lord's Supper. A few small flaws, but nothing noticeable, nor out of character for us. I was telling myself on the way to church from the office about an hour before Mass last night, "When you're eighty years old and in retirement, you'll think about those dozens of Holy Weeks and wish you could experience just one Holy Thursday in one of your favorite parishes, with one of your favorite groups, making sacred music just once more like the good ol' days. Wouldn't this be the one you'd want to relive?" Maybe it was a prayer, for I felt at peace momentarily. Then I lost myself in Martha-ism again. Afterward, I was able to relax, to appreciate the servers especially. They did a smooth and able job all night. My ambition for Katie, Danny, or Samantha would be to become a liturgist or a priest and lead their own Holy Thursday in twenty, thirty years. Whatever the future brings for them, I'm pleased they have the seeds of Triduum participation deeply planted in their spiritual lives. A number of years ago, a small cadre of children's choir members wanted to sing at the Easter Vigil. In those days, Easter Vigil music was led by an "all-star" group of parish singers and musicians. But, I thought, why not? As the years went on, these three or four kids would come to the extra rehearsals, then drag their parents out late on Holy Saturday for, as they put it, "the Mass that never ends." One year, those poor kids were dropping like flies, it seemed. One nearly fainted. One got sick. Then one of the adults started feeling ill. Surely the Easter fire isn't contagious. I'm grateful for lots of time to pray today. I'll pray for the rain to finish by tomorrow's nightfall. I talked the pastor into an outdoor Easter Fire this year. He's getting nervous about windy cold rain in the forecast. However the rain falls, I'm going to draw on the memories of Easter Vigil enthusiasm from my young Iowa friends. Hopefully, I'll be a little calmer by tomorrow night. Peace and Holy Triduum to all.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Spiritual and other reading This Lent I attempted to read (or in this case to finish) a spiritual book as an accompaniment to daily prayer. Henri Nouwen's Sabbatical Journey, a volume my wife picked up for me a few months ago was indeed an interesting read. Though the psalms we often more fruitful as prayer material, there was a lot of resonance for me in journeying with Nouwen. First, that journal took place during my first year in Iowa, when Anita and I were engaged and during the first eight months of our married life. I even paged back in my old journal to see what I was writing in those days. Looking back, it was a fruitful and happy time, though I was also dealing with the terminal illness of my father, and the final discernment stages of a renovation at a new parish. Strange how looking back on what seemed to be a difficult time made me think primarily of what I learned then and how God was indeed with me. I was very scared heading into marriage at age 36, but I see that even my doubts and fears were an opportunity for God's grace. I was struck in reading Sabbatical Journey of Nouwen's death just a few weeks after he completed this book. His reports of feeling tired struck me as almost creepy. Just as we can miss God close at hand in troubled times, how often (I thought) am I getting into trouble unknowingly because I'm not paying attention to the signs? Yesterday, I found a book by Basil Pennington on the floor of my den under a magazine rack. I had set it aside meaning to read it almost two years ago. So I'm going to maintain my Lenten practice of daily spiritual reading well into Easter, it seems. Good. I felt good about scheduling my annual retreat at Conception Abbey yesterday. Family vacation was set up earlier today, heading into some new territory this summer: the Ozarks. We'll be adding Arkansas, and perhaps Oklahoma to our family state list. On the science front, I've just finished Grinspoon's Lonely Planets: The Natural Philosophy of Alien Life which I found to be excellent. I'm now reading Peter Matthiessen's End of the Earth: Voyaging to Antarctica, which promises to be the best book on Antarctica since I read Sara Wheeler's outstanding Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica. The backdrop of all this is having Triduum relatively under control at this point. I only have two big Masses to worry about as a music leader, three to be the sacristan/mc, one morning prayer to preach and preside, Good Friday stations to songlead. Not much compared to previous years. Preparations are going pretty smoothly, so I should be in a calm and quieted way when Holy Thursday liturgy commences tomorrow night.

Monday, April 05, 2004

It's Holy Week y'know So the blogging, commenting, and general internet ruckus-raising will be minimal for this week. I have few or no words of wisdom to share with you, other than the wish that you enter fully into Holy Week in your parish. Thursday night, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil are the singularly most important things your parish will pray this year. I always tell people that wherever you are spiritually, try and go one step deeper this year. If you've fasted on Friday, try adding Holy Saturday as well, until the Easter Vigil reception. If you always go to church on Easter morning, try the Vigil, too. Most parishes offer both Stations and the Passion on Good Friday: nothing's stopping you from going to both. If your habit is to attend Mass just on Easter Sunday, you put me in a quandry. Most parishes do Holy Thursday better than Friday, but the most important thing to add might well be Sunday Mass on the 18th. I'm always hopeful and optimistic that we do a good enough job with Easter to encourage a few searching souls to return the next Sunday. Me, I will try to snatch spare moments of prayer along the way this week. I'm going to refrain from commenting on blogs, even my own, so have at it and be relatively nice.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Bunny on the moon, Bunny in your home When the moon is about two-thirds to three-fourths lit, you can notice more readily the rabbit. Instead of orienting your perception to the face, turn yourself so that the right eye (the "Man's" left) is on top, and the mouth is on the right. If your eyesight is better than my wife's, you'll see the "bunny:" head on the left, and two long ears over a fat body. Different cultures have seen different patterns in the moon's maria (the smooth dark plains of 3.8 billion year-old lava). My wife will appreciate this. If you are thinking of getting a cute little bunny for Easter, think carefully. If you live near me, go here and take a very nice bunny off these good people's hands. If you live elsewhere, go here and consider adopting a rabbit. These people are experts at getting a good pet for you, if rabbits are a possibility for you or your child. I lack my good spouse's patience for animals. (We now have ten pets, all rescued from death or destruction at one time or another.) But I regard pet ownership as a serious responsibility, one that should be well-researched. Rabbits make good house pets. (Not as good as cats, mind you.) Whatever pet decision you feel inclined to make, make a good one, please. Okay, PSA over. Back to the petty liturgical bickering.
Whew! The dog will live. "Dad, you have to come upstairs now. It's urgent," my daughter just warned me. I rushed from my basement den to find the dog had chewed the "Sunday" end of my pill box and my wife needed to know if I remembered any pills in that day's compartment. Seeing an empty Saturday compartment on the other end led me to think I refilled that box last Friday night, and I had consumed those five pills, so no pet is going to the vet for an emergency stomach pumping. If my brother is reading this, he's likely laughing at the prospect of my having one of those pill organizers. I would have spun a smart-ass comment his way if our places were reversed. Just three years ago I remember how foreign those things looked when I visited sick parishioners to bring Communion. What can I say? I've hit my mid-forties with mild hypertension, an esophageal hernia, a small ulcer, and arthritis in my right thumb. From the day when I would not take an aspirin or a cold relief pill, I now appreciate that little box to ensure I keep on the daily routine. I don't like it, but it's a reminder of the mortality I've come to know a little bit more intimately these past few years. (It's also a reminder that my memory is not trusty enough to overcome my resentment at being on three medications.) This must be mid-life. I remember when I was nineteen, moved away from home and on campus, and found my metabolism had changed to that of an adult (I gained twelve pounds first semester that year). Clearly, the extra food I used to eat was now padding my fat tissues instead of adding inches. I think I will look back on this past year as the marker of middle life. It's more than just the pills and the blow to my ego. I just feel differently these days.
Being God's spouse Discussing elsewhere online today the metaphor of marriage as traditionally applied between Christ and the Church, or between the priest and the Church. As a person of artistic sensibility, I appreciate this metaphor. If I were ordained, I would probably have a keen liking and deeper understanding of it from a sense of the priest-parish relationship, especially at Mass. But the use of such a metaphor has limitations in theological applications. The Vatican has denied the possibility of ordaining a woman, in part because it would violate the bridegroom-Church relationship to have a woman standing in the role of the person who is our Bridegroom. This goes too far. Holy Orders are a given in the Catholic Church. A full understanding of this sacrament is a mystery to human beings. The image of priest as Christ and Bridegroom is not a literal reality. It helps us understanding something of the sacrament, but it does not contain the fullness of the meaning. Some, but not all, aspects of this relationship are similar to marriage. But to reverse the logic and say that the metaphors are running the show does a disservice to both theology as well as the sacrament. Likewise, the concept of banning homosexuals from the ordained priesthood gets some attempted mileage out of this argument. A gay man cannot be a bridegroom to a woman, hence, he cannot be a priest, hence he shouldn't be ordained, and hence, if we've made a mistake in ordaining him, we should kick him out of the clergy on his duff. Not buying, for the same reasons as above. This kind of theological/artistic proof-texting is an empty exercise. If you don't think women should be ordained, fine. But find some good theological reasons for your position. And if you think gays shouldn't be priests, you have to come up with something better than the bridegroom metaphor.
A few political thoughts Various bloggers have decried the Kerry campaign's seeming attempt to bait a bishop or priest to deny the candidate Communion. I'm not pleased about much of anything I've heard in connection with this story. - It is reprehensible for a person to "use" the sacraments for such a purpose. - If however, a divorced-and-remarried Catholic were of a mind to challenge Church teaching on honorable grounds, that would be another matter. - If the story has leaked that the Kerry campaign is trying to goad the Church into a public stand, does it do any good to play into the campaign's hopes? - I don't think it does the Pro Life movement much good to make the senator a poster boy for Bad Catholics, Inc. I would leave the abortion issue off the table in any public statements about Mr. Kerry. I wonder if the best course of action would be to confront the candidate only on his spiritual intentions for attending Mass and receiving the sacraments. After all, it's no longer a secret that the party is looking for a confrontation to energize voters. I certainly wouldn't reserve a few front-rows in my parish for a political entourage. And if the Church's homilists wish to continue to hammer away at abortion, they should certainly do so, but with perhaps a particular emphasis on what can be done outside a voting booth to get movement on the issue. Neither major party seems displeased with the current status quo on abortion. And while some Republicans talk a good anti-abortion talk, I cannot see them splitting their party over an issue they've managed so far to pay enough lip service on to satisfy pro-life people at a minimum while not doing any economic or political damage to themselves or their supporters.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Six steps for peacemaking I try to take a bit of time to pray when I get to the office. Brittany is dropped off for school by 8AM, but the parish office doesn't open till 8:30, giving me a bit of time before the phones ring and the people arrive. Not today. Two calls came while I was jotting some notes in my journal. My pencil dropped out of my book and the pages flipped back to where the break in the binding was. I had read Henri Nouwen's The Road To Daybreak while making these entries, and I had copied down Jean Vanier's six steps for peacemaking. Remember, this is third-hand reporting, so if you want the real thing, read something of Vanier's yourself. - respect every individual human being - create space for people to grow and become mature - always stay in dialogue - keep adapting mutual expectations - enjoy the differences among people - always direct your attentions to those who suffer most These gave me pause for thought in different ways: first, my family, and how I strive to be a good husband and father and cultivate a household of and with peace. Second, for the blogoverse, especially in the ways that I permit my passions to influence me in negative ways when I confront or am confronted by people who think differently than I. Then I started to think of ways in which pastoral ministry or liturgy could be conducted along these lines ... bulletin collumn, a workshop, an article. Then I realized I had come out of prayer and it's time to get to work.

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