Tuesday, August 31, 2004

A City on a Hill Well, maybe not a city. And it can be hard to haul water buckets up an incline. Jeff Culbreath's blog http://elcaminoreal.blog-city.com/ featured a piece on intentional Catholic community. I think the desert fathers started it. You know the story: the world's going to hell in a handbasket and the Church seems to be escorting the way. Let's bail and form our own club of True Believers. I can sympathize. In the 80's, I thought the Rule of Benedict would be a great foundation for a lay community (read: commune) of Catholics. Through the years, I've met many people who would, if we collectively had a few hundred thou, would have gladly gone in with me, bought some land, built some cottages and a commons, and lived happily ever in a Catholic Shangri-La. I think the traditionalist desire to leave the progressives behind with the rest of the world is misguided. I would say the same if some of my liberal friends called me tomorrow and said, "Let's blow this institutional hierarchical sexist liturgical tight-butt show." The simple truth is that the effort of leaving behind one's shadow will ultimately continue to splinter a group into smaller and smaller pieces. While I can understand a common desire to leave behind materialism, television, malls, traffic jams, and the suburban minivan culture of sport, I think the effort to create an ideological purism within Catholicism is doomed. Still, the thought of a Catholic enclave to raise children (with a nod to the much-villified Hillary) collectively is quite attractive. It would be a desirable lifestyle for adults as well. My wife reports she would hate it. Sorry; call me in about five or ten years. Maybe she'll change her mind when the traditionalists decide they need us progressives after all.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Football predictions It's the time of year every football fan loves. The self-deceiving among us entertain undashed hopes of glory. The true hopefuls cannot wait for the games to count. Every serious fan charts out the expected wins and losses. This is how I think they'll finish in January: AFC East: New England 13-3, Buffalo 8-8, Miami 7-9, NY Jets 5-11 AFC North: Cincinnati 10-6, Pittsburgh 7-9, Baltimore 6-10, Cleveland 6-10 AFC South: Indianapolis 13-3, Jacksonville 10-6, Tennessee 6-10, Houston 6-10 AFC West: Kansas City 11-5, Denver 9-7, Oakland 6-10, San Diego 5-11 NFC East: Philadelphia 12-4, NY Giants 10-6, Washington 6-10, Dallas 5-11 NFC North: Minnesota 12-4, Green Bay 10-6 (sorry, John), Detroit 7-9, Chicago 4-12 NFC South: Carolina 10-6, Atlanta 9-7, New Orleans 8-8, Tampa Bay 7-9 NFC West: Seattle 11-5, St Louis 7-9, Arizona 6-10, San Francisco 4-12 Super Bowl: Indianapolis 35, Seattle 23 I'd dream of a Buffalo-Tampa Bay SuperBowl, so I could renew some brotherly rivalry, but the odds appear highly against that.
Absent from conventional viewing When I was a kid I watched network coverage of the major party conventions with great interest. My parents were both active voters and instilled in me the importance of good citizenship, especially taking my voting rights seriously. As with that other convention this summer, I have a carefully planned list of activities to honor my citizenship -- which includes not watching tightly-scripted stage work on television. Mowed the lawn and went to yoga tonight. Then ate dinner with my wife while watching Law and Order. Then we discussed plate tectonics and magnetic pole reversal (today's topics from her Geology class). Tomorrow, I plan to play some board games with my daughter, then buy a cartful of groceries. Wednesday, it will be on to playing cards after a nice meal with my family. Thursday, of course, is choir practice. Then I have Friday off: a good day to go to the library, check out a music store over the state line, have a nice lunch out with my wife. There's no way I'll miss voting on November 2nd, but no point in watching the politicians this week.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Religious Life: what the post-conciliar crowds may have missed My mind was caught at Mass this morning, looking out at all the kids from the school, having just heard a petition for religious vocations. Are we missing a whole category of people who don't make the jump to consider religious life a possibility? Men, obviously. First off, men seem far less inclined to religious witness than women. A cynic might say the only reason men are involved at all in religious life is because they have the option of ordination, and the specialness that comes from that life. I'm not that cynical yet, but the undeniable fact is that in non-ordained religious life, women outnumber men substantially. And they probably always have. Is it nature? Is it nurture? I don't know. But it seems out of kilter. Maybe some religious orders are too self-focused. They don't reach out to visitors. They don't exemplify hospitality. The Benedictines at Conception might be an exception. Abbot Gregory reports that in the two years since the tragic shootings there, the community has been embraced and has reached out. I think he said something like twelve serious candidates/postulants have come. The Christian response, the radical response to tragedy and violence probably strikes a positive chord in people who find the violence and tragedy of the world to be non-sensical. I suspect this is why "traditional" orders find themselves doing well: they offer a significantly different approach to life, a radical approach, if you will. My take: holiness as a way of life for the laity: when that fails, vocations are cut off at the knees. How can one expect to harvest in a secularized, materialistic, even conservative world? When I was in the post-college discernment group in my diocese in 1982, the director asked me if I wanted to be available to be put on mailing lists for various orders. "Sure," I said. The last time I got that much mail was when I was searching for colleges. Jesuits, Franciscans, Carmelites, Benedictines, Maryknolls, the orders I knew and the ones I didn't know all came out of the woodwork sending me brochures, letters, invitations, and whatnot. What tipped the scales for me to remain a lay person. A few things. First, I was in my early twenties, and I didn't feel mature enough to make a commitment. (My dating life was largely the same until the mid-90's) Second, there wasn't a single trustworthy figure who really challenged me to consider religious life. I found many aspects appealing: Jesuit intellectualism, Trappist simplicity, Benedictine liturgy, and especially Third World mission work. But third, nobody had everything I was seeking. I was reading the Rule of Benedict, and it struck me: why not live this rule out as a lay person? Would it work as a family person with a wife and children? Would it work in a commune? I came to the realization that whatever path my life would take, holiness would be a given. I could decide to be an ordinary lay person, or something else, but my primary effort at the time (1983) was to strive for a holy life. I think that is essentially the post-conciliar approach for Catholicism: the holiness of the baptized life. The more this is emphasized, the more needed vocations will come.
One of these days, I'll get around to updating Thanks for your patience on some aspects of this blog. I have a small handful of links I'll be adding sometime soon. August has been busier that I thought it would be, but sometime in the next month or two there will be improvements here. I hope to have a link with Sibelius for original liturgical music I've composed. When it is up and going, interested musicians will be able to download items for personal or parish use. Right now, I'm thinking feedback will be the only payment requested for use. I have about nine years of music on another software system, and I'm hoping to be able to easily translate the stuff over to Sibelius 3 without inputting everything. I have a small list of blogs which have linked me, but are not linked on Catholic Sensibility. My practice is to mutually link with any blog. Some conservative bloggers, even ones who frequent these e-premises daily, choose not to link, but the mutual offer stands. In fact, if you would like me to unilaterally list your blog, I will do so on request. And a few of you have long requested I upgrade my Blogger account, and now that my home computer situation is more secure, I plan to do that once the dust from the beginning of school settles. It would be rather cool to link photos and do the classy things other bloggers do. Enjoy the day.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

"I'll take a rice, please; hold the wheat." Every so often, the celiac allergy child is put in the crossfire between liturgical rigorists, campaigning parents, and parish priests. I don't have an easy answer for the situation in which a person who is seriously harmed by the consumption of wheat gluten can't receive the Body of Christ at Mass. To begin with, there is some inflexibility: - Communicants insisting on rice hosts. - Parents insisting on no "wine." - Bishops making a public spectacle and churning up more scandal. The best I can come up with is this: - All Catholic Masses everywhere, even 100,000 people praying with the pope, could offer Communion under both forms. The last thing we need is a celiac sufferer to see the pope and not get Communion. The best thing would be for the practice of offering Communion under both forms to be more strongly reinforced. - Even school Masses, notorious for a particular liturgical shortcut, should offer Communion under both forms -- all the time. - It might not hurt to set up a theological commission to look into the possibility of rice. We're not talking donuts or pizza here. - Contact the Benedictine sisters of Clyde, Missouri (they're in my neighborhood) and get some of their very, very low gluten hosts. And a memo to bishops: this isn't about the disintegration of sacramental life. Honest. It is possible to stick to the sacramental truth and not bully people about it.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Input requested on the unexpected Favor to ask ... Would you read over this brief article I'm pondering putting in the parish bulletin? The letter in question has bothered me far more than I thought it would. I'm angry about it and I need some guidance on my response. I know there's anger in it, but one part of me thinks the issue should be confronted. Just so you know, my parishioners are accustomed to my outspokenness on things. I'm not afraid to ruffle things a bit. "Many, many thanks to the volunteers and participants of the Young Persons Music Retreat a week ago Thursday. I wouldn’t underestimate the value and power of over a hundred parishioners spending the afternoon dedicating themselves to God. It was about the perfect remedy for an anonymous letter I received earlier in that week. My first instinct with unsigned letters is to consign them to the trash can without consideration. But my curiosity got the better of me. "Last Sunday’s paper printed a fine piece on the monks of Conception Abbey and their response to senseless murder with forgiveness and serenity. I was struck by this radical Christian response of personal engagement. The monks didn’t wall themselves up and lock their doors. In fact, the new Welcome Center at the monastery was built as planned. They did exactly the opposite of what non-believers would do: offered a murderer a Christian burial and refused to give in to fear and evil. "STM is not a perfect parish. And God knows I’ve been the architect of earthly imperfection from time to time. But I think part of the challenge to be a vibrant and faithful parish is to confront and engage the life of faith as best as we can. We waste opportunities when we abjure actions for anonymous words. Maybe it’s time for the unexpected. "People critical of STM or some aspects of our parish should regard the example of Conception. We should consider doing the exact opposite of what non-Christians would do. Rather than leave a parish that has hurt us, we should get involved even more deeply. Rather than criticize a group that offends us, we should humbly join it and assist with its reform. Rather than speak ill of sisters and brothers in Christ, we should have good things to say about them in public, and build up the Body." Any thoughts?
Considering some saints A few years ago, I began to add ethnic-associated saints of my parish in the Easter Vigil proclamation of the Litany of Saints. That parishes appeal to American and/or contemporary saints should go without saying. Certainly, any saint with a significant statue or icon on the grounds should be included. I was looking over the upcoming school calendar, noting that more "causes" are on the liturgical schedule than saints. Hopefully, this isn't an oversight in Catholic homes. Every domestic church should have its own carefully observed liturgical calendar. Major feasts include the name saint of every household member and sacramental anniversaries, especially baptism and marriage. The barometer I would use to gauge the appropriateness of celebration? St Patrick. If there's not a Patrick in your house, every one of these occasions should be celebrated with more gusto than March 17th. Today is my baptism anniversary. More on that later.
An interesting credo, passed on from a friend, with my own edits Things you have to believe to be a Republican today: Saddam was a good guy when Reagan armed him, a bad guy when Bush's daddy made war on him, a good guy when Cheney did business with him and a bad guy when Bush needed a "we can't find Bin Laden" diversion. Trade with Cuba is wrong because the country is Communist, but trade with China and Vietnam is vital to a spirit of international harmony. The United States should get out of the United Nations, and our highest national priority is enforcing UN resolutions against Iraq. The best way to improve military morale is to praise the troops in speeches while slashing combat pay and veterans' benefits. A good way to fight terrorism is to belittle our long-time allies, then demand their cooperation and money. Global warming and tobacco's link to cancer are junk science, but creationism should be taught in schools. A president lying about an extramarital affair is an impeachable offense. A president lying to enlist support for a war in which thousands die is solid defense policy. The public has a right to know about Hillary's cattle trades, but George Bush's driving record is none of our business. Being a drug addict is a moral failing and a crime, unless you're a conservative radio host. Then it's an illness and you need our prayers for your recovery. You support states' rights, which means Attorney General John Ashcroft can tell states what local voter initiatives they have the right to adopt. What Bill Clinton did in the 1960s is of vital national interest, but what Bush did in the '80s is irrelevant. ... and a few of my own: Candidates who are vets were war heroes when the conflict was global and pedigree was our own. Now we align with candidates who avoided active military service with domestic periods of amnesia. A lack of a military record was once a political weakness. Today, having combat experience is fair game for criticism. Then the usual chain letter warning: Feel free to pass this on. If you don't send it to at least 10 other people, we're likely to be stuck with Bush for 4 more years. Question: how's my political karma doing now?

Saturday, August 21, 2004

If I were a member, I'd call for his resignation Bill Donohue's, that is. The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights as much as admitted their blunder by characterizing Deal Hudson's victim as a "drunk" by yanking their atrocious defense of the Crisis editor off their web site. According to http://www.catholicleague.org/, "When Catholics are the victims of a bigoted portrayal by the media, the Catholic League issues news releases bringing the matter to the attention of the public." What they don't tell you is that if one of their own victimizes someone, they will attack the victim publicly and basically operate like the worst of the hierarchy has: glossing over sins of commission while tossing up doubts about accusers. The Catholic League has betrayed their basic principles, not to mention their supporters. Even under trying circumstances, I'd like to think a young person of 18 would be able to resist the sexual advances of a charming older person in a role of trust. However, the Catholic League seems to be blind about a substantial weight of problem behavior on the other side of the relationship: - A married person is sacramentally bound to faithfulness to a spouse. - A person in a helping profession is morally and professionally obligated to respect the boundaries set up by the nature of their work. Teachers and older mentors do not cross these boundaries. Ever. - Seduction is unacceptable behavior, especially when a young person's intimate information is consciously used to effect a desired result by the seducer. - The further use of drugs and social pressure to effect a seduction is heinous almost beyond polite words. Until a full apology and retraction follows their e-erasure, I think it not off the mark to characterize this organization as "The catholic League for Prodigiously Uncivil Rightists."
A throng appears at the narrow gate: don't we wish Thursday this week was Back to School night. My admiration for my new pastor went up a notch or two. He commented on the total turnover of clergy in our parish, mentioning that our school children have only ever really known his predecessor as their pastor. Challenging as a new shepherd may be for staff, he pointed out that parish children, especially those who were close to the other priests, are also seriously affected by such change. Spontaneous applause when he said he and the new associate would be a frequent, if not daily presence in the school. He also spoke to a matter close to a liturgist's heart. He favorably compared our parish school to the two prep schools in our neighborhood. Our school is unique, he said, because of the faith dimension. But for parents to take full advantage of what a parish offers them for the religious formation of their children, Sunday Mass attendance -- as a family -- is essential. His message was gentle and appropriate, yet unmistakably strong. I tend to doubt many of my readers here avoid their parishes in particular or Sunday Mass in general. So this is largely preaching to the choir. Studies (sponsored I think by the NCEA) show that the difference in religious awareness and articulation between teens schooled publicly with or without RE and kids educated in Catholic schools is virtually nil. I'm not surprised by these numbers. The single most important factor in examining the faith habits of young adults was the degree their parents were involved at Sunday worship. Not Catholic schools. Not orthodoxy. Not Vatican II. Not good catechists. Some people are alienated (for good reasons and bad) from their parishes. Alienation, by itself, does not instill religious sensibility in young people. Parents are obligated to drive six extra minutes or six extra hours, whatever it takes, to bring their children to church for a family participation in the celebration of Mass. Some people are alienated from the Church -- even for good cause. These parents, too, owe it to their children to search far and wide for a parish that will assist in their healing and return to God. I wouldn't be exaggerating to say that it would be better for a family breadwinner to quit a job if time was too short for such a spiritual search. (Jesus would probably say better to endure bankruptcy, unemployment, and starvation than to miss passage through the narrow gate.) Obviously, this means the Sunday parish liturgy needs to be on its best behavior at all times. More on that later.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Searching for the value of personal experience in the realm of faith The conjunction of Deal Hudson's publicized fall from grace and a few blogosphere discussions on the value of personal experience got me thinking this morning. Let's take 'em in reverse order and try to tie it together. Neotraditionalist Catholics have spoken of their distrust in bringing personal experience into the realm of theology and faith. "I've known many married people and women who possess all the qualities of good spiritual leadership. It's hard for me to believe Jesus would not want them to be priests." How many times has that argument crossed our ears? Several years ago in Iowa, a parishioner told me I was the best case he knew for a married priesthood. His daughter was in my children's choir, and I greeted his young son every weekend after one of the Masses at which I didn't play. He and his wife were very active in baptism prep, so I also saw them at baptism liturgies early Sunday afternoons. I was honored by his observation (though it's been since the early 80's that I gave that path a serious thought). His experience of me was as more than a music director. It could easily have been a woman in my shoes doing liturgical ministry at this parish. The same observation would have held true. Is it really so different that someone sees priestly qualities in a person who is married or female? I don't think so. Hopefully our current crop of priests came to their office because somebody told them they had what it took. Mentors had personal experiences of young men. That led to discussions, prayer, serious consideration, and seminary. Isn't that the way it's supposed to work? Are such experiences of the Holy Spirit? Rarely do Catholics keep a priest-quality list in their hip pocket. Are such intuitive judgments a conscious antagonism of the hierarchy and its expressed positions? Rarely do I find authentic ministers tooting their own horns, "Look at my gifts, my abilities! Ordain me!" Most advocates of women's ordination would happily renounce their own possibilities if it meant that others would have the opportunity. It's hard for me to see that the Holy Spirit might not be working through the inner distillation of observation, emotion, common sense, and perception. In the context of community, I think personal experience brings a needed voice to the faith experience. In considering a marriage, for example, one's past experience is often part of the picture. How could it not be? If a person has trouble making committed relationships, how could she or he think that knowledge of the church's teachings on divorce or adultery would preclude possible transgression in the future? In other words, if I have a track record for certain things as a single person, what makes me think a sacrament plus my total recall of the Catechism is going to keep me on the straight and narrow? If I've been unfaithful or untruthful with relationships with the opposite sex as a single person, should I be concerned about maintaining faithfulness to a spouse? Of course I should. I'd be an idiot if I thought my own intellect could float my boat. At the very least, I have prayer material I can bring to God or something experiential a mentor, spiritual director, or confessor can use to focus my virtue. Of course, personal experience can be a deception. This is why personal experience applied to faith should always be lensed through the Christian community: one's spouse, pastor, teachers, trusted friends who will tell us when we're on the right track and when we're full of spit. Deal Hudson's problem isn't that NCR is out to get him. Observing from his e-mail missives and his public commentary in many places, his problem is that he's too much in his head, and his own head is tripping him up. There's no question he's a gifted intellect, but he's also a victim of his own skewed perspective of life's experience. Make no mistake: he relies on his past history. The NCR profile actually shows a one-track life and everything he's done is centered around being a persuader. Think about it: youth minister, Baptist minister, professor, publisher. Hudson's jobs all look the same to me. In each one, he used theunbeatable combination of reasoning and charisma to influence and steer people's judgment. Maybe in his personal life, he's permitted himself to be swayed, but in the public sphere, that would look too much like flip-flopping. For a mature Christian, the focus of the life experience-plus-community discernment is one's own metanoia. A Christian is supposed to turn around, change, and go a new way. A Christian is supposed to be persuaded by God. We're supposed to let ourselves be steered by God to align to the Divine Will. A person who usurps the role of the persuader short-cuts themselves in the process of salvation. And eventually, such people will cause untold harm in others, especially the young, the innocent, and the neophytes. This is one reason why I tend to distrust authority. I saw signifcant abuse in my times as a school student, both in public and Catholic schools. It seemed more severe in Catholic schools, probably because I was old enough (grades 6 through 12) to discern hypocrites, bullies, dictators, and other types. Some authority I know I can trust. They have a track record. Their actions align closely with their words. Often, they themselves exhibit signs of turning around, changing, letting themselves be influenced in positive and godly ways. And when others follow them without the trapping of groupie-ism, that adds to the positive sense. So when I get the mail appeals from Fr Fessio, the Acton Institute, Crisis, NRO, and others on the conservative side (if I see them before my wife puts them in the recycle bin) I pause for a bit. Inevitably, their pitch is not to my faith, but to my intellect. They present careful arguments why I should subscribe or donate, why I should believe what they write, and why I should support their view. Maybe I would give them points in a debate match. But faith isn't determined by score. In contrast, I think of my new pastor. In the seven weeks I've worked with him, he asks my opinion as well as makes suggestions. Here's an authority, I think, whom I can respect. He's not here to be a persuader, but to make the best decisions and discernments for the good of the parish. To be fair, I've also known more conservative Catholics to be similar in outlook, allowing themselves to be steered in a good direction. Hudson, Fessio, and many other conservative bigwigs don't have that appearance. And again, to be fair, I've also known many liberals who just like them. The key is not what the ideology looks like (in the sense of conservative/liberal), but how the core of faith is presented and lived. Being able to persuade someone is a brilliant but dangerous gift.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Dealing with Hudson as Hudson Deals? At the risk of being a gossip hound, I found this admission at National Review Online: http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/hudson200408181000.asp followed by this piece: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/08/19/politics/campaign/19resign.html to make for an interesting sequel to the adventure I blogged about on March 22nd (check my archives if needed). There's no accounting for Mr Hudson's taste in presidents, but even so, the question: is he a victim of his own brand of journalism? I think the American penchant for watching bigwigs take a big fall has struck here. It looks to me like Mr Hudson's case is more like that of our immediate ex-president or Martha Stewart than an eye-for-an-eye effort on behalf of Ono Ekeh, the USCCB staffer outed and pink-slipped earlier this year for computer violations uncovered by hard-hitting, incisive, and relevant journalism. To be sure, Deal Hudson is not a household name across the land. But some people are perhaps themselves awash in glee to take out a Catholic Big Name influential with power politics. Hudson's victory shout in getting a minor bureaucrat fired seemed to be a little off-kilter given the stakes of the pro-life movement in the current election cycle. Sort of like blowing up a hot dog stand during a war. Sure, the enemy might get well fed on an occasional coney dog, and heaven knows a mustard or ketchup squirt bottle can be a serious weapon, but is that the objective? Is that what the pro-life movement is all about: going after people who support people who support people who support people who provide people with abortions? I'll withhold final judgment until I read the piece outing Hudson. At first glance, it appears to be a more tactical strike than his own effort. (You take Ekeh, we take Hudson, let's call it even.) No question there is a media market for this kind of dealing, but I find it distasteful, even if I disagree with Hudson's politics (misguided) and his journalism standards (need perspective). If it comes back to bite him, I pause for a moment to say, "hm." Then I continue by stating that his past misconduct is none of our business. If his actions are significant to his family, previous colleagues, or acquaintances, fine; I'm not in those categories and if you're reading this, you're not either. I conclude by saying that if Hudson is mistreated as he mistreated Ekeh earlier this year, it may be a poetic justice of sorts, but ... 1. I'd rather leave justice of this type in the hands of God, and ... 2. It's still wrong, even if it victimizes a victimizer.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Don't you love good days? I was having a bad time of it last week, especially toward the weekend. We landed three funerals at the parish. Extra meetings all week. A good friend from California was in town. Except for some walking, I had no time ... rather, I took no time for my regular yoga, pilates, or just simple stretching, and my back was complaining by the weekend. By the time last night hit, I was irritable or worse. Then the sun rose this morning. And for some reason, it seemed like a really great day. I prayed in bed before my wife woke up. I worked this morning, then took the afternoon off (making up for last week's extra time). The family went out to lunch. Brittany and I hit the public library while my wife did her doctor's appointment, then we reunited to pick up some anti-spy software and admired (not admired ... gawked, really) at the hdtv's selling for as much (or more) than we paid for our car. We had a good laugh at the refrigerator with a tv in the door (where you would expect to see a water and ice dispenser). I asked the guy at the check-out if anyone had come out with a bed with a fold-out hdtv at its foot. Chiropractor, then yoga, and my back actually felt good for a change. I had a tough backgammon match in round 6 of the German Open tonight, but I finally pulled it out against a very sound player from Mexico. On to the quarterfinals, sometime in September. Later this week, Brit starts school, and we go to parents' night. On the parish front: staff meeting, inspect a grand piano being offered as a gift, hosting seventy-some kids at the Young Person's Music Retreat (lame name, but hey ...), and hopefully getting some piano practice in. Sunday is my baptismal anniversary, so I've got a nice festival/spiritual event to look forward to. Be sure to have a good day or two if you can cram one in. Highly recommended.
The Cultural End of Summer Galling as it is for an astronomy buff to admit it, summer is nearly over. It was bad enough when I was a kid and I had to admit that Labor Day was the Last Day of Summer (back in the good old days when school didn't start till September). North Carolinians have legislated that school won't begin until August 25th. Apparently the water theme park lobby has hit the NC legislators hard, at least according to NPR. August 18th isn't unreasonably bad for back to school, but according to the earth's orbit, we still have 35% of the summer to go. If I were a kid, I think I'd be ticked. On other end of summer news: our parish's Mass attendance surged past 2000 for the first time since late Spring. And altar server absenteeism was at a decent 15% this weekend. We have a "Young Person's Music Retreat" at the parish this Thursday (think VBS with music and catechesis switching places of honor). I forgot to request $3 for lunch from each kid, but with registrations at about 70 -- not bad for a first-time event, I think my budget can handle a hit on the food front. If it pays off with some children's choir members later this summer -- I mean Fall, I'll be happy. Light blogging this week again. Lots to get ready.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Another celiac allergy person versus the Institutional Church http://www.billingsgazette.com/index.php?id=1&display=rednews/2004/08/13/build/nation/86-first-communion.inc The latest young child seems to not have a sacramental home in the Church because of rigidity. The institution cannot permit altar bread to be made without wheat gluten. The parents want to avoid alcohol. I'm not impressed by the portrayal of stubbornness on each side. As a liturgist, I appreciate the need to insist on wheat bread and grape wine. But we're not talking about the unravelling of the sacramental fabric of the Church, are we? This isn't pizza and beer or donuts and coffee. The sisters of Clyde, Missouri have perfected altar bread made with very low gluten. Though I know some celiac sufferers are extremely sensitive, was the good sisters' bread given a try? Alcohol is a stumbling block, of course. Except when it is included in the recipe for liquid children's medicine. Celiac allergies are reportedly on the rise, so the problem's not going away any time soon. Are there any Solomons out there with solutions?

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Some thoughts on priesthood and priests I've known I'm getting into trouble around St Blog's for my opinions on Catholic priests. At the risk of shovelling in deeper, here are some thoughts. I like priests, but I'm also the first to admit I don't always get along with them. When I was a kid, I especially looked up to Fr McCarthy, who gave my sister and me "instructions" and baptized us. He was also very dedicated to good music, and I remember the organist, folk group, and cantors in my home parish as being exemplary (so I thought at the time) of good liturgy. All subsequent priests were measured by him. I've worked for and with a few dozen priests over the past twenty-some years. I tend to butt heads with liberals. I tend to get along with conservatives. I tend to have little patience for arrogant authority figures. I have strong opinions about priests. My best spiritual directors have been priests, hands down. (One exception has been a permanent deacon.) I think priests should be in parishes (not chanceries), doing the sacramental ministry they've been ordained for, paying particular attention to preaching and presiding at liturgy, especially the Eucharist. I tend to doubt younger priests (younger than 35) and I tend to especially doubt priests who have never worked for a living, or lived as a lay person and struggled along those lines. That said, I've known some fine priests who went through the seminary educational system from age 12 or so. And on occasion, I've encountered a youngish priest who never worked for a living who struck me as "priestly" ahead of his time. These guys are mostly all fine men and good priests. Those that aren't, aren't because of something else in their lives, not their age, politics, or working location. And my doubts about ordaining guys aged 25-40 isn't personal. I just don't think a person of that age has the gravitas needed to pull it off. That said, I don't go out of my way to diss young priests openly. We have worked with each other and they are mostly open to input on presiding, preaching, singing, liturgy, and just dealing with things in a parish. These would be some of my general thoughts about priests and priests' issues: - They should have life experience outside of seminary, unless their calling is to religious life. - It would be good if they had a few years experience in ministry before they were ordained. Ideally, some priestly vocations would arise from lay ecclesial ministers, catechists, missionaries, teachers, and the like. - If they, their bishop, and our pope insist on clerical celibacy, they should live it faithfully as they can, as part of the deal, but their bishop should consider himself obliged to support celibacy with something more than providing a lonely eremitic existence in an empty rectory with cable tv and a car allowance. If seminarians are trained in a monastic-like community setting, they should have an opportunity to live in such a setting after ordination. - I think optional celibacy for diocesan clergy would be a good thing, but since I'm not really impacted by the lack of it, I'm not feeling inclined to do much more than say I'm for it, give reasons why, and move to the next topic. - If women were ordained, it wouldn't bother me. I don't see the gender of the priest as significant in any way to the essentials of faith and morals of the Catholic Church. That said, I think today is a bad day to begin ordaining women. I have several reasons why, but I'm going to save that for another thread. I think proponents and opponents each have good, well reasoned, and well-discerned arguments. Likewise, some spokepersons for either view are incredibly misguided. - I think seminary education should be overhauled, but I've blogged on that topic in the past, and I don't feel like saying much about that now, except that I think seminarians should go to school in or near their home diocese, taking classes with lay people, and taught by the best theologians, mentored by the best priests. - I like my new pastor, and our recently ordained associate. I'm glad to be working with priests on a day to day basis after two years (2000-02) of not having one in town. Parishes need good priests. And if celibate ones aren't available for an otherwise viable parish, I think the bishop owes it to the parishioners to ordain a qualified married man to lead the people. Eucharist is always more important than the particular disciplines of Holy Orders.

Monday, August 09, 2004

More on the CDF letter on women and men I had planned a thorough shakedown of this document, but as I read the many blogs who did such a better job than I could, I thought, "Why bother?" Lynn gives a thoughtful 3-part analysis here: http://www.notfrisco2.com/webzine/Lynn/. Jcecil, as always, provides deft insight: http://liberalcatholicnews.blogspot.com/. They say it so much better and more competently that I. I no longer have the patience for the diligent research of philosophy and Scripture others have put into this issue. Maybe it's a cop-out but I'm just a hard-science-trained musician who stumbled into pastoral ministry on his way to Saturn. So I'm going to approach this letter not from a perspective of dismantling its intellectual flaws, but rather a critique of its practicality. People learn by doing. I know I learned a lot about women and collaboration in the early years of my marriage. (Yes, I'm still learning today.) I can philosophize (or avoid, if you prefer) things like Ephesians 5, or ponder the wedding liturgy, but when you come right down to it, you have to live it before you can really absorb and understand it. It strikes me that somehow, a serious, sensible Catholic has to be incarnational. Like Jesus. The CDF has little or none of this incarnational experience in dealing with feminists. Their approach to the challenges of the modern relationship between men and women is as if the Second Person decided equality with the Father was something indeed to be grasped at. After all, God can observe and know all as easily as God can undergo a Divine Kenosis and become a slave, right? Why go to all the bother when you already have the answers? And for a CDF worldview that is narcissistic, and "aevangelical," it sort of works, doesn't it? The USCCB had it right all along in the late 80's: start with listening sessions with real women, even -- gasp! -- real feminists. I would trust what the CDF had to say about feminism about as much as I would trust what a radical feminist atheist would say about the Church. But if the good Cardinal Ratzinger had actually sought out Sr Joan Chittister for a little vino and a good plate of Italian pasta while discussing the challanges of Catholicism, well, would we have been any worse off? It is essential for Catholics to get out of their heads and their analysis, and confront the lived experience of faith. I know, I know: you're going to say experience isn't everything and it can be deceptive. True. The antidote to self-deception isn't hiding in the intellect, but in the process of discernment in a faith community. Someone who's full of spit isn't going to be convinced by the Catechism. The CCC doesn't care if you're full of spit. The people who have to put up with you care and will tell you how deep the spit is. Trust me: it happens. Instead, the CDF persists in encouraging a duality in the human approach to life. For them, it seems theology exists on a separate plane from lived reality. This letter says nothing new. It breaks no new ground. It will convert no feminists. It will convince few doubters. The sense of security it will give Catholic loyalists will also be deeply flawed, widening and deepening the rift between Catholics who will accept any utterance from a magisterial person as gospel and look with suspicion upon any sister or brother who has the audacity to say, "But ..." I'm not the slightest bit angry with the CDF letter. Really. I'm disappointed, certainly: another missed opportunity. If the CDF wanted to give answers, it would be practical (sensible, if you will) in suggesting ways in which men and women could collaborate in the faith. It would say, "We've tried this way, this thing, and that method, and amazingly enough: they worked okay." It would hold up concrete examples (like one can find in the Lives of the Saints) and say, this is how we/they did it. Real radical feminists (not straw marxists and deconstructionists) could stroke their chins in wonder. Ordinary lay people would have some practical guidance on negotiating a ceasefire in the battle of the sexes. We would know it was more than just words, words, words. As it is, this letter is a perfect example of the CDF abdicating their role. Once again, the Catholic laity are left to sort through the chaff to find the path. Why would I expect anything different?

Saturday, August 07, 2004

John Allen's take on Liturgy Translations If you don't have it bookmarked, just do it now and check it each Friday. http://www.nationalcatholicreporter.org/word/ Allen reports the new English translation is not going as quickly as some had hoped. Good thing, too. Roman Missal I got a quickie job, and we're still stuck with that. Allen's conclusion on the hope of seeing something new by 2005: "Those predictions now seem hasty." My comment: "Told ya." Allen reports we will likely see a new Sacramentary before the Order of Mass is published, which is probably a good development. The Sacramentary is done and whatever its flaws, needs to get out there. On the Order of Mass, Bishops, CDWS, ICEL, and other players seem to be hammering out particulars. As has been done in the past. I think a quick appearance of the Order of Mass might be Advent 2007. At any rate, don't be so quick to trot out "and with your spirit's" so soon. I think the draft widely circulated on the internet earlier this year will bear little resemblance to the final product. "Fr. Bruce Harbert, executive secretary of ICEL, told NCR August 2 that he welcomes this development because "it gives time for the project to mature."" Good thinking. At least the bishops showed a little pastoral forethought (if not some spine) on this one. "Some bishops are also concerned about the ecumenical implications of changes in the language of worship. Ecumenical observers say one of the signal ecumenical achievements in recent decades has been the adoption of common prayer texts in English by most of the major Christian denominations, and some bishops are reluctant to compromise that." More sensible thinking emerging here. Do I detect a little light in the east? "Finally, Harbert said, the bishops also want to think more about the issues surrounding inclusive language." And these issues do need some more thinking. Bishops have presented inclusive language promoters some movement as well as asked concessions over the past twentysome years. They risk losing even more credibility by not acknowledging the issues still on the table. Turning the clock back (especially after having asked for concessions) just sets a poor example, and might encourage more outright rejection of the new translations in some quarters. Finding a workable middle ground that expresses faithful loyalty (both ways) as well as nods to the changing English language will help -- not hurt -- the Church. Guess that means I'll have to head to Lowe's for some more red duct tape.

Friday, August 06, 2004

1945 was a triumphant year for the Allies, but six years of all-out war had taken its toll on the moral resolve of the good guys. The old canard about a conventional invasion of Japan is mere wishful thinking. Perhaps millions would have died in such an assault. But I'm amazed that such an invasion would be considered a mandatory alternative. It sounds more like an outright excuse for the use of the atomic bomb against a civilian population. Choices -- moral or immoral ones -- carry consequences outside the immediate cause and effect. Immoral choices bite the choosers not because God directly punishes immorality. (The Scriptural witness suggests otherwise.) The use of atomic weapons against civilians brought its own consequences for our nation. I'm not sure we're in better shape as a nation than we were in 1944. But I'm willing to be convinced if someone can make a case. Civilians are the target of choice for warmongers these days. At least collateral damage inflicted upon the innocent is considered tolerable. But am I talking about superpower targeting of cities, or terrorists trying to sow anarchy and confusion? Pacifists would not be targets of terrorism. That's easy to say, I suppose. Just as easy to call pacifists unrealistic. But the lesson I see from the last ninety years of history (if not going further back) is that those who make the argument for war, even just war, are losing the cause for peace. I see very little hope in the "peace by show of strength" argument. Who is more "powerful" than the world's only remaining superpower? What has this show of strength netted us? Not anything moral, to be sure.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Sizing up Richmond and other dioceses Amy Welborn reports on the question of splitting the Richmond diocese and references it here: http://www.styleweekly.com/article.asp?idarticle=8804. On her blog the usual suspects emerge to compare the "wacko nut jobs in the western part of the Diocese and some good orthodox priests" in the east. On the other hand, there are those who think all the "good, faithful priests" have been exiled far from the "burbs." (Given the natural beauty of just about everything west of Charlottesville, it's hard for me to imagine a hardship ministry assignment outside of the bright lights and big cities of Virginia. My wife and I have a priest friend who has repeatedly asked to be kept in assignments in small parishes deep in Appalachia. He loves it there, and I loved my time in Virginia, too.) Getting back to the issue at hand, the Richmond diocese is just too big for a bishop to serve effectively. Catholic population is irrelevant. It's a ten-hour drive from one tip to the other. I suppose people who'd rather not see much of their bishop would like the situation, but this is what I'd hope to see: - Dioceses with a maximum of fifty parishes, so a bishop can easily make an annual visit of substance to each. - Small dioceses banding together to provide services mega-dioceses do now: Catholic charities, tribunals, the usual chancery suspects. - Fewer priests doing chancery work -- no need for them to staff offices when degreed lay people can determine annulments, teach, archive, run the paper, and do the non-sacramental stuff. Any more thoughts?

Sunday, August 01, 2004

The SF Site and my bookshelf: past and present Twice monthly, I look forward to the update on this page: http://www.sfsite.com/ St Blog's own Ono Ekeh has his new sf book reviewed there this month. I always check the movie and tv reviews, especially before I bother watching them. My wife likes the Stargate series, (which they don't) and from time to time, I get absorbed in it, too (I find it average fare). Interesting take on writing in the film I, Robot. I like the critical emphasis on the writing on this site. Nothing turns me off as much as weak writing. Weak science is a close second, and I almost shelved Kevin Anderson's otherwise well-characterized series Saga of the Seven Suns because of a first chapter howler that distracted me for a good hundred pages. Anderson describes humanity igniting a gas giant into a star by dropping a massive black hole into it. I don't have a problem with a Future Science stretch like this. What bothered me was doing something like this just to warm up a few ice worlds in orbit. Anderson forgot that an increase in mass of the planet would send the little moons spiraling closer to the parent body. People who can move black holes might be able to circumvent simple celestial mechanics, but if they could do that, why not just move the ice moons into closer orbit around the sun. Too bad, really: the whole premise of an otherwise promising set of novels is wrecked by bad science. Not to worry: bad writing still kills more sf than any other cause. This week's bookshelf, done, part-done, and untouched: Pavane by Keith Roberts: excellent writing and disturbing though believable Catholic villains. Boris Schapiro's Bridge Analysis, which has been sitting on my shelf half-read for years. I also have The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes, an account of Australia's first several decades of white settling.

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