Sunday, February 27, 2005

On Psalm 95, from Neil

Psalm 95 contains some beautiful images. God is the “rock of our salvation” (95:1), like one of the stony projections that shielded soldiers on the heights (94:22). And we are his “well-tended flock” (95:7), the “sheep of his hand,” as the King James Bible has it. But then we hear the prophet cry, “Oh, that today you would hear his voice” (95:7), as we are reminded of when the people at Massah and Meribah had questioned God (Ex 17:1-7; Num 20) and God responded in anger, "They shall never enter my rest" (95:11). What is going on?

Now, this is a liturgical psalm, beginning with a call to worship God as king and creator, and the late Carmelite exegete Roland Murphy suggests that the prophet’s call that we hear God’s voice on this very day “indicates that the ancient covenant is being renewed in a liturgical re-presentation.” What is the purpose of such a “re-presentation”? Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman says that “liturgy’s function, rabbinically speaking, is to make present a dramatic enactment of those things past and present to which God is expected to attend,” such as the events of the Exodus. And just like Eastern Eucharistic prayers remind us that God’s presence always involves judgment – the “glorious and dreadful second coming” in the Liturgy of St Basil – a commemoration of the Exodus involved reliving God’s anger. “They shall never enter my rest.”

To think about memory’s role in our own lives, I’m going to draw on the Jesuit liturgist Bruce Morrill’s interesting book Anamnesis as Dangerous Memory: Political and Liturgical Theology in Dialogue. Fr Morrill himself draws on two very different theologians: Fr Johann Baptist Metz and Fr Alexander Schmemann. According to Metz, we are caught in a late modern worldview that only envisions a continuous progress through more and more technical solutions. Christians are meant, however, to interrupt this secularized view of time with the memoria passionis, mortis et resurrectionis Jesu Christi – the “dangerous memory” of Jesus Christ – which draws us to identify with God’s solidarity with victims while we live in “imminent expectation” of the fulfillment of God’s promise to deliver the oppressed. The fatalism and apathy of modernity’s technological and economic processes are broken open by the “remembrancing” of the Eucharistic memorial which itself carries an “apocalyptic sting” – “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26).

For Fr Schmemann also, “the whole liturgy is a remembrance of Christ” that “bears witness to [time’s] finitude and limitedness,” as we are “lifted up” into the “age to come” to participate in the Messianic Banquet with the “bread of heaven.” “The Eucharist is the manifestation of the Church as the new aeon; it is participation in the Kingdom as the parousia, as the presence of the Resurrected and Resurrecting Lord. It is not the ‘repetition’ of His advent or coming into the world, but the lifting up of the Church into His parousia, the Church’s participation in His heavenly glory.” This “lifting up” in the liturgy is at once a commemoration of Christ and an anticipation of the world’s passing away when the same Christ will reign in glory. Just as for Metz, the memory of suffering interrupts time, for Schmemann, time is broken open by the liturgical experience of joy.

For us today, on the other hand, time is often flattened – memory becomes mere nostalgia and the future is reduced to speculation. It was quite different for our ancestors in the faith, for whom memory was liturgical. As Rabbi Hoffman says, “Now we understand better Hillel’s zeher lapesach and Jesus’ ‘Do this in memory of me.’ They are of a piece, each being a set of words that accompany a ritual act. In essence, they are pointers to pointers. The paschal sacrifice that Hillel eats – it had not yet ceased in his day – is a pointer to the original lamb of Egypt known as the pesach; his act is a pointer that draws God’s attention to the original pointer, the primary event of Egypt, which itself is a pointer drawing God’s attention further to salvation.” For them, remembering an event meant that God’s action in that event would once again be efficacious. The liturgical re-presentation, “Oh, that today you would hear his voice,” meant that the Exodus would become an actual and present reality once more for Israel to participate in. Likewise, for Christians, as Fr Morrill reminds us, “in the Eucharistic sacrifice the assembly experiences anew the grace which Christ’s definitive sacrifice on the cross wrought.” And we experience this Eucharistic sacrifice as “the action of the self-same God who will accomplish its fulfillment in Christ’s return.” But remembering isn’t easy. For Israel, “Oh, that today you would hear his voice,” meant remembering divine judgment and anger and wandering in the desert – “They shall never enter my rest.” This is echoed in the Letter to the Hebrews – “Therefore, let us strive to enter into that rest, so that no one may fall after the same example of disobedience” (4:11). For us, the memorial of Christ in the Eucharist also means remembering the divine judgment that will come with Christ’s return – a West Syrian anaphora describes the merciless vengeance that will be visited upon those “who did not know mercy” and the Apostle Paul himself warns us that “whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Cor 11:27).

So, at church on Sunday, when you hear the cantor repeat, “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts,” do not think that it refers to a merely private and psychological reality. God’s voice is Metz’s “dangerous memory,” Schmemann’s “lifting up,” that interrupts our secularized time. It brings the joy with which the disciples returned to Jerusalem (Lk 24:52), but it also demands that we show mercy, for “vengeance without mercy will follow those who did not know mercy” (Anaphora of Severus of Antioch). Indeed, “They shall never enter my rest.” But, God willing, we shall.

By the way, I welcome comments on my exegesis. Especially corrections.

Friday, February 25, 2005

On Neorubricism and Rent-a-Bishops

John Allen's The Word From Rome is essential reading for Catholic netsurfers. See the sidebar for a link. This month, Allen reports from LA's Catechetical Congress and summarizes Richard Gaillardetz's grade assessment of the Church since Vatican II. He gives post-conciliar liturgy a C+. You'll be surprised to hear I think he's slightly over-generous. I thought we were at about C+ about ten years ago and have slipped a notch or two since then. Gaillardetz agrees with the slippage, putting the Church at about a B in the mid 90's.

Like Gaillardetz, I think neorubricism is a problem for dioceses. At best, it assumes that legal boundaries will continue liturgical reformation where it may have run off the tracks. We Catholics are not at our best. Neorubricism at worst provides little or no challenge to parishes, dioceses and nations that have yet to embrace Vatican II, and it gives them little impetus to move forward. Little snippets such as the advising against the total absence of liturgical music at Sunday and holy day Masses will be conveniently ignored, and the measuring stick will be how many or how few complaints the pastor or bishop gets.

Speaking of leadership, be heartened (or dismayed) they rated a D. Maybe another generous grade. The curia is a runaway train with little basis in history or theology to be running roughshod over bishops and conferences. Neocon complainers who bemoan the diocesan liturgy office have nothing on curia-bashers. Multiply the problem by a number of questionable offices in Rome and throw in a complete lack of checks and balances, and you have a Church being pulled like taffy in at least a half-dozen directions.

Allen writes sympathetically on the curia, and in theory, I can see the value of having curial offices that provide actual support and direction for the Church. But lacking competence (and admitting, as they have, that competence is overrated) in many theological disciplines, and having poorly assigned leadership is a recipe for disaster.

I was happy to see the theologian hammer away on the Rent-A-Bishop. Allen reports, "Among other things, Gaillardetz wittily remarked that if a small diocese gets a prelate who's even halfway competent and energetic, it's clear from the outset that he's a "Rent-A-Bishop" - in other words, before long he'll be transferred somewhere else."

As I thought about that, the sinister side of the practice struck me. Consider it. A relatively good bishop is appointed in a small diocese and just when he gets to know his clergy and starts to get things going, he's off to a big diocese where the hurdles are higher and the ramp-up to trust is longer. Before you know it, you have bishops who have served in three or even four dioceses who are still merely "promising," simply because they've never been anywhere long enough to make a true impact. Of course, that suits the Congregation of Bishops just fine: they can comb through good shepherds, steer them to careers of minimal achievement, and assure their ministry remains one of getting-to-know-you. Careerists only have to cooperate with the system, and to hell with the sheep.

Spelling it out for Bishop B

The Lincoln, Nebraska diocese was feeling hurt about the criticism langing its way for non-participation in the 2004 child protection audits. It sent a statement to the Catholic News Service defending itself, appealing to its "right" not to participate, and spelling out that the audit procedure was adivsory, not law. Bishop Bruskewitz has long said he runs a clean diocese. So did Law, Dupre, Daily, and a few hundred others. Crank up your WayBack Machine and visit US bishops in the 1970's, and they'll even tell you 100% of their clergy are fine upstanding citizens, beyond reproach. The Lincoln diocese is correct to say that at present, no law can compel their participation and compliance in the audit procedure. But that's beside the point. The bishops collectively are still in the doghouse, and this year's report has done little to move them back into the mansion, let alone the back stoop. The crisis remains one of credibility, not authority. Nobody argues the bishops don't have the power to manage their dioceses pretty much as they see fit. (Well, a few CTA or VOTF people would, but that's beside the point I'm trying to make here.) The audit isn't about draining away episcopal authority either up or down on the hierarchical feeding chain. The audit, if done properly and transparently, will help the bishops rehabilitate their rocky relationship with laity who just have a tough time trusting them these days.

I can say that after last week's tiff with my wife, no law compels me to apologize, especially if I was right and she was wrong. The expression of love and charity, however, compels me to repair any damage in my marriage. (Not to mention the ongoing cost of glares, stares, non-communication, and non-cooperation that would ensue from any repair delays.) The Nebraska bishop is compelled by love and charity, not by law, to repair the damage rendered by the protection of pedophiles.

Bruskewitz can continue his stubbornness. He might not cause harm to much of his own flock. Not even pedophile clergy are looked upon with total disdain by their own. I suspect Bishop B is rendering more harm to his confreres by dragging down the collective reputation of the bishops in the public eye. He lends credence to the suspicion that the bishops are only going through the motions. If they weren't faced with financial crises from lawsuits, insurance companies, and their own collections, Bishop B would have more company.

They say Lincoln is a bastion of True Catholicism, and the JPII Clergy (TM) are as pure as snow. That may be true. But they can't prove it. And lacking proof, a shadow of doubt lingers.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Five Questions
1 - If you could take a family vacation for a week, and go anywhere, where would you go and why? If you said a month, I'd say Australia, but since it's only a week, I'll say Winnipeg, Manitoba because I've never been to central Canada, because I'd like to tour the mint, because the city is big enough to keep a family moderately busy for about a week without the feeling you've had to enact tourist triage, and because of the surrounding wilderness of lakes and forests. Close choices would be the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and Seattle. 2 - What did you listen to on the way to work this morning? Brittany reviewing counting by tens backward and forward. I gave up the car radio for Lent. 3 - Which musical instrument, that you don't play now, would you most like to learn? Clarinet, because I could play jazz and classical on it. Oboe is a close second. 4 - Name three famous people you would most like to have over for dinner. This is tough. Speaking for the moment, I would say John Adams the composer, Alton Brown from the Food Network, and J.K. Rowling. Ask me next week and I might give a different answer. 5 - What do you like most about the town you live in? It's a perfect size for a city. It has a variety of culture, but it isn't too overwhelming or limiting. My wife and I honeymooned here, so there are fond memories for us as well. Any others willing to be interviewed? Leave a comment, please.
Spaced Out
Nearly daily updates and exciting pictures from Saturn here. This month: wrinkles on Enceladus, glaciers and the "Circus Maximus" on Titan, high-altitude clouds on Saturn, various small moons.
Why Bother with the O?
The Catholic News Service reviews movies and assigns its own ratings based on the appropriateness of the content for kids, teens, or adults. Often, it will assign a rating of "O" for something its USCCB reviewers would deem "morally offensive." This review has been getting bad press in some quarters. Why, some people ask, would the USCCB bother with sending a person to review such a film? Many mainstream films get O ratings. If the USCCB didn't rate them, it would be misinterpreted as tacit approval. Catholics populate movie theatres in the same numbers as the rest of the citizenry; don't they deserve to know where Catholic reviewers stand on these films and why? These reviews began almost twenty years ago, if my memory is correct, just to provide an alternative to the self-policing and self-rating of the film industry. I read movie reviews in detail. Thumbs up or down, A1, A3, or O, is fine for a second’s glance. I want to the movie in a little more detail before I go see it. David DiCerto makes some important points in his review of the documentary in question, writing that it "tries so hard in its attempt to position its subject as a rallying point for First Amendment rights that it politely glosses over -- though doesn't completely ignore -- the film's more sordid particulars (including the facts surrounding its financing by mobsters, and Boreman's abusive relationship with then-husband Chuck Traynor), and gives short shrift to arguments that the film degraded and exploited women." This is an important argument. I don't think it's enough to say, "Porn movies are bad. Don't watch them. The Church says so" These movies are not bad because the Church says they are. They're bad because they cause grave harm to people, therefore, the Church teaches as it does. Somebody unimpressed with the USCCB’s official statement might ponder the simple argument that these movies are sexist and anti-feminist. DiCerto continues, "Drawing cautionary parallels to today's ‘culture war,’ ‘Inside Deep Throat’ seems to suggest that anyone who opposes pornography is somehow an enemy of freedom of expression, a view that fails to take seriously the sincere objections of those who feel that, from a moral standpoint, pornography is offensive to the sacred dignity of sex and the human person." I don’t want to see the movie. DiCerto isn't advocating anyone else see it. But I am interested in how the movie’s producers think.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

On Psalm 33, from Neil
An early Christian gloss, based on Isaiah 52:6, envisioned the incarnate Christ saying, “I myself, who was speaking in the prophets, have now come.” And at the head of older liturgical psalters, you could find written, “Incipit liber hymnorum vel soliloquorum prophetae de Christo” – “Here begins the book of the hymns or soliloquies of the Prophet concerning Christ.” We must read the psalms as Christians, believing that the Word that inspired the psalmists later became incarnate in Jesus Christ. Now, this doesn’t mean that the historical meaning of the Psalms is effaced or needs some sort of weirdly esoteric decoding; we should instead imagine a deepening, an intensification. Sometimes this is obvious. In last week’s psalm, David, his sin “ever before” him, trusts in God’s “lovingkindness” and “tender mercies.” Something similar to Irenaeus’ exegesis has probably already come to our minds, “David sang the psalm of confession in expectation of the advent of the Lord who washes and cleanses a man ensnared in sin.” Of course, Jesus himself recited other Psalms, most movingly on the Cross – “My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?” (22:1), and “Into thine hand I commit my spirit” (31:5). Early Christians used the Psalms to make sense of Jesus – on Pentecost, Peter spoke of a Jesus not abandoned to Hades, a descendant of David set upon his throne and seated at the right hand of the Father until his enemies are made his “footstool” (16:8-11, 132:11, 110:1). But sometimes reading the Psalms as “hymns or soliloquies of the Prophet concerning Christ” does take a bit more attention. But it can be useful. This week we will look at Psalm 33. As one recent commentator summarizes, “Psalm 33, with hints of a wisdom reflection, is a hymn to the sovereign God, creator of all and owner of history.” God’s word and work are described by five terms – uprightness, faithfulness, righteousness, justice, and, above all, “hesed” (steadfast love). Indeed, “the earth is full of the Lord’s hesed” (33:5). The sense is one of completeness – the psalm’s 22 lines correspond to the sum of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. I want to deepen our exegesis by consciously re-reading the Psalm as Christian, and therefore as Trinitarian (here, I will be indebted to an article by the excellent Methodist theologian Geoffrey Wainwright in Ex Auditu 16 [2000]). The sixth verse of Psalm 33 says, “By the word (dabar; verbum) of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath (ruach; spiritus) of his mouth.” Irenaeus takes this verse, among others, to suggest that it is “by his Word and his Spirit” that God “makes, orders, governs, and gives being to all things.” Basil cites Psalm 33:6 to suggest, “As God the Word is the creator of the heavens, so the Holy Spirit gives to the heavenly powers their stability and firmness.” Likewise, Thomas Aquinas’ commentary on Psalm 33 tells us that vv. 6-9 refers to the three divine persons – the Father is the “power” of creation, the Son as Word is its “shaping idea,” and the Spirit as Love is “the strength that moves it.” Geoffrey Wainwright gives a Trinitarian interpretation of the entire psalm. The first five verses are an invitation to praise God: “Having been placed ‘in’ Christ, we can ‘in the Spirit’ praise the Father, who is ‘Lord of heaven and earth’; we can also praise Christ ‘as’ Lord; and we can praise as ‘Lord’ the Holy Spirit, who ‘with the Father and with the Son together is worshipped and glorified.’” Verses 6-9’s depiction of God’s word and work shows us, as the tradition would suggest, that in God’s creation and salvation “each divine person plays his part … from the originating Father through the mediating Son to the perfecting Spirit.” The “counsel” of the Lord that “standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations” (33:11) reminds us of the “mystery of his will” that “in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ” (Ep 1:11-12). And the psalmist’s final hope for the future – “our soul waiteth for the Lord: he is our help and our shield” (33:20) is our belief that “he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you” (Rom 8:11). The commentator’s summary, “Psalm 33, with hints of a wisdom reflection, is a hymn to the sovereign God, creator of all and owner of history,” might seem terribly abstract. But the sovereign God is an unbroken communion of love between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - and it is in this divine life that we must participate. How? “The Earth is full of the Lord’s hesed” (33:5); and the Gospel that goes with this Psalm on the Second Sunday of Lent is about the sign of this “hesed” – the “Beloved Son” whose transfigured face shines like the sun, dressed in clothes as white as light. This Jesus soon tells us what “hesed” is really about – he will be “handed over.” And, as Rowan Williams says, “We can't understand the glorious brightness of God unless we see that God's power and splendor is entirely focused on that sacrifice of love which sets us free and gives us life.” We will only really pray the last line of the Psalm, “Let thy ‘hesed’, O Lord, be upon us, according as we hope in thee” (33:22), when we remember who the “Word of the Lord” by which “the heavens were made” (33:6) really is. Psalm 33 leads us to the Cross.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Newbies' Corner
This is a test for any non-commenting newbies out there. I'm curious about any guests who may be reading the discussions here, but have never commented. Don't worry; I have no 22nd century tracking devices to download your identity, even if you post your e-mail and web page. You can remain anonymous. Feel free to answer a few of these queries: what country are you from, which topics you like to read about, how your Lent is going, or even if this is the first blog you've ever posted on anywhere. If these seem inappropriately nosy, make up your own question and answer it. Or ask me a nosy question instead.
Remember, folks: first time CS commenters only.

Flip Flopping through the Conservative Blogosphere
Bill Cork criticizes Joan Chittister and Joe Feuerherd for being angry. Yet he published this headline on 9 Feb: "Lack of anger is a sin." The day before that it was: "Where's the rage, Catholic men?" Bill used to have a reasonable blog and good commentary. Though I didn't always agree with his point of view, I counted him as one of the good guys, willing to give as good as he got. On Ash Wednesday, he decides to pull his comment boxes for Lent, only to change his mind restore them the next day. Other progressive bloggers note he has begun deleting comments, regardless of content. I think I was one of the first to be erased, hammering away for a few days on some peripheral aspect of The Scandal over which we were locking horns. I'm fine with bloggers running their sites how they see fit, comments or not. The Blue Whales of Blogdom don't include comment boxes. People still come to read what they have to say. We all know that for us small fry, comment boxes jack up our hit counts a good bit over what they'd be if people just came read the same boring ol' essays. I know that in my surfing, I prefer making comments, and it's the rare blog site I visit often that doesn't have boxes. Nathan seems to have gotten under some rather thin skin with his Index Blogorum Prohibitorum. I'm sure he got some people angry, otherwise he wouldn't have generated the outcry he did. One commenter on Bill's Joan & Joe thread wrote, "This is just another example of liberals appealing to the bishop's conference when it suits their point." One might say a few folks appeal to anger only when it suits their point. Somebody outside the club gets ticked off, then we're back to the ideal virtue of Quiet Catholic Piety. Anger can be a constructive tool, or it can eat away at a person. A Christian owes it to herself or himself and to others to cultivate ways to move beyond anger and strive for respect, at minimum. People may be pee-oh'ed at what I write. Fine. Send me some reasonable replies, and we'll discuss things. But I'd be careful about treading too close to the hypocrisy of criticizing anger in others while it is cultivated in one's own heart.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Conspiracy theorists, line forms to the right
NASA denies life on Mars report. Methane production is a curious and unexpected discovery. But despite the findings of the 1976 Viking landers, we still know too little about the planet to say with certainty life doesn't exist or never has existed on Mars. The fascination with the "face of Mars," the numerous lost probes, Percival Lowell, and all just escapes me. For me, it's satisfying enough to just admit: 1. God made a universe more wonderful than our imaginations 2. When it comes to the secrets of the universe, we're still a bunch of earthbound (though occasionally clever) ignoramuses. 3. There's no cover-up at Mars, unless NASA knows which people were directly responsible for all the screw-ups that confused the metric and English measuring systems, who thought it was a good idea to discard a demonstrably decent surface delivery means (air bags) in favor of firing a Biggie rifle bullet into Martian permafrost.
Skating with the Pack
Slam Sports, a good Canadian site (http://slam.canoe.ca/Slam/Hockey/NHL/2005/02/16/932854-cp.html) evaluates the 30 NHL teams in lockout land. In brief, the results in three categories: Money: Boston, Buffalo, Calgary, Chicago (though not for a lack of effort), Colorado, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Montreal, New Jersey (thanks to a new arena), NY Rangers, Ottawa, Philadelphia, San Jose, St Louis, Tampa Bay, Toronto, and Vancouver. Questionable: Atlanta, Edmonton, Nashville, NY Islanders, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, and Washington. Thin ice: Anaheim, Carolina, and Florida. Obviously, some of the money teams are more solid (Detroit) than others (Los Angeles) but this list was interesting, especially some of the reasons behind the assessments. I can't say I'm heartbroken over the cancellation of the season. The impact of the NHL in my life is limited to playoff hockey on ESPN, especially trying to keep my eyes open in third overtime on a west coast start. On principle, I don't like to see the owners come out winners. It has yet to be explained to me why hockey-- or any sport for that matter-- needs more than players, coaches, and fans. Owners seem to be a luxury even they themselves can't afford.
Have you ever "Googled" yourself? Not (hopefully) as an exercise in narcissism, but I do it from time to time. This blog appears at the top of today's list, but last month, didn't register on the first few pages. Go figure. I am glad that an ancient post on a conservative web page doesn't register anymore. I hope the priest who banned me deleted all my comments. I certainly can't say a Mass for him, but I'd dedicate the next Marty Haugen song I play in Church for his intentions. My wife and daughter generate nothing coherent on Google. The women of the CS household rejoice. I've read (courtesy of Irish Elk) that Google might excise blogs from searches to cut down on the number of references the booming self-publishing effort is getting. Oh well. I guess it's back to those odd swim reports that happen to contain my disconnected first and last names within one sentence of each other.
Mass Under a Microscope: The Rite of Peace
Some good discussion below on the Rite of Peace, as prompted by jcecil's question about the omission of it at his parish's daily Masses. The GIRM says in section 82: The Rite of Peace follows, by which the Church asks for peace and unity for herself and for the whole human family, and the faithful express to each other their ecclesial communion and mutual charity before communicating in the Sacrament. As for the sign of peace to be given, the manner is to be established by Conferences of Bishops in accordance with the culture and customs of the peoples. It is, however, appropriate that each person offer the sign of peace only to those who are nearest and in a sober manner. We read the Rite of Peace has a twofold purpose: 1. A prayer for the Church, as evidenced in the priest's narration immediately after the Lord's Prayer. 2. An expression of the laity at the particular Mass to show both their "ecclesial communion" and "mutual charity." The contention in the comment boxes centers around the possibility that while the Rite of Peace may not be omitted, perhaps some elements of it can. Jcecil posted on his blog: "We go straight from the priest saying 'the peace of the Lord be with you always...'right into the 'Lamb of God' with no exchange of peace to our neighbor." The priest in this instance has maintained purpose one, namely, the prayer for the Church, but has omitted the demonstration of number two, the ecclesial communion and mutual charity of the congregation assembled, as the GIRM intends. Do the daily Mass laity at jcecil's parish demonstrate communion and charity at other times during the Mass? If they're like my parish, I daresay they do. Our daily Mass folks are deeply bonded to one another and show in their mutual devotion and their concern for one another the aspects the Rite of Peace aspires to. In a parish setting, I don't think this is a serious abuse. It's about on par with moving the Rite of Peace to just prior to the Preparation of the Altar and Gifts. You also see it more correctly in the omission of the Penitential Rite on Ash Wednesday, where the distribution of ashes carries the same purpose. The more important value is the goal of the rite, not its actual "performance" at the liturgy. If people find themselves more relieved at not having to exchange peace, I think the pastor's adaptation would be an error. The only purpose of omitting the laity's exchange of peace is that it would be a redundant exercise, like the Kyrie on Ash Wednesday. If the worshipping community is not mature enough to recognize the importance of what the Rite of Peace is striving for, they are probably not ready for the omission.
Arinze speaks out on EWTN
Lifesite.net has two brief excerpts from Cardinal Arinze's EWTN interview. (Arinze is the head of the curia's Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, so he's the top liturgist for Catholics.) While this interview has been cause for almost as much rejoicing as the hoped-for overturn of the Roe v Wade decision, I just don't find the beef in this sandwich. When asked about pro-abortion politicians receiving Communion, the cardinal said, "The answer is clear. If a person says I am in favour of killing unborn babies whether they be four thousand or five thousand, I have been in favour of killing them. I will be in favour of killing them tomorrow and next week and next year. So, unborn babies, too bad for you. I am in favour that you should be killed, then the person turn around and say I want to receive Holy Communion. Do you need any Cardinal from the Vatican to answer that?" The only problem here is that no politician I know has ever said this. A political person might say (as they have), "I would never have an abortion. I would never advise a woman to get one. But I won't deny her the choice." And the issue is not so transparent. What Arinze does imply is that by EWTN's standard, if our president were to become a Catholic, he would not be eligible for Communion because of his own hedging on the issues of incest and rape. On another issue, the cardinal said, "The Catholic Church has never accepted homosexuality as normal. You read the scripture. It's very clear. What exactly are we examining? Are we going to change Divine Law, how God made us?" This last question, very intriguing, given the context. The cardinal clearly believes homosexuals are made not born. It's clear to most people this question if far from settled. Some people have homosexuality imposed on them: in prisons, in sexual abuse or rape, in the military. Many others seem to have been gay from before any time of conscious decision on their part. Was it genetics? Was it early upbringing or trauma? The questions are so hyper-charged with politics, we may not know the answer for a long time. I don't find myself terribly sympathetic to anyone who uses the celebration of Mass as a time and opportunity for protest, however just the cause may be. I don't know that every Rainbow Sash wearer is actively homosexual by definition. But if people came to a Mass just to protest Rainbow Sash folks coming to Communion, I don't think it would be appropriate for them to receive the Sacrament either. It would be unthinkable for a protester to barge in on a wedding, a funeral, or a baptism to protest a cause, however just. My problem with Sashers or Orthodox protesters is that they shouldn't come to Communion because of their abuse of the liturgy, not because their particular cause is just or right.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Answers from a Liturgist
My friend jcecil asks some questions. Let's try to answer. I noticed that at some point late last year, the exchange of peace at daily Mass stopped. Why? Local omission, I would say. The GIRM doesn't give the priest the authority to omit the exchange of peace, but its form is to be adapted to local custom. If a parish or priest decide they don't like hugging, kissing, or handshaking, that's fine. They still have to come up with an alternative, even at daily Mass. I noticed last year and again this year that the fonts all have holy water. Why? Another local custom. I'm not enamored with the idea of emptying water from the blessing niches, but we do it in my parish, and I've not felt the urge to change prior practice. I'd say about two years ago or so, it seems we went from standing after we say "May the Lord accept this sacrifice ..." to standing before the priest even says "Pray sisters and brothers ..." Why? Change from Rome. They didn't say why. I heard too that there is some discussion to going back to the Pre-Vatican days of saying "And with you spirit" when the presider says "The Lord be with you." Why this change? I doubt we'll see this one. But it would be a more literal rendering of the Latin "et spiritu tuo." As a liturgist, I'm distrustful of change. I think the effort to improve is a laudable one: better acoustics, better music, better preaching, etc.. This is really where the focus of good liturgy should be, not with peripheral alterations to practices.
Tracking Roy
NCR on SOA here. I met Fr. Roy Bourgeois several years ago at a campus ministry conference. I think he would be gratified that his efforts to discredit the school merited a substantial amount of money to "track (his) comings and goings." Personally, I can see this is no big conspiracy deal of Big Brother watching Innocent Citizen. If there were others besides Roy, they would be tracked, too. I had friends in the Sanctuary Movement in the 80's who had their home phone wiretapped--that's another issue, perhaps. Jcecil has his usual incisive commentary. Visit him and comment there, too.
Killing With Kindness
Don't bother with the link to the Index Blogorum Prohibitorum I posted a few days ago. This word from its host: "I have deleted the Index Blogorum Prohibitorum. It is certainly not because I feel that either of the two entries I made to the blog were wrong -- on the contrary, I think they were dead on, as evidenced by the backlash I've received. Still, I don't have the energy nor the time to deal with the perpetual backlash that will result from the Index, and so I am deleting it." I empathize with and appreciate Nathan's struggle with rudeness in St Blog's. Personally, I wouldn't have chosen to set up a second web site (one is more than enough to keep me busy) but I was interested to see where it would lead. I did find the reaction rather funny. This blogger got his St Blog's lingo mixed up. He could have checked here for proper lingo on extremists' eyes and torso wear. Wit (or sarcasm, if you prefer) is another tactic to deal with rudeness. My parents used to read Ann Landers across the dinner table to share her snarky efforts in dealing with life's clods. A few people I've known wished they'd had the knack for a quick comeback. I don't know they're necessarily better off. Sarcasm is probably not a seemly tool for a pacifist's or a Christian's social skill set. That's a daily struggle for a person who is expected to be diplomatic at all times in my guise as mild-mannered parish liturgist. Speaking of which, we've gotten word that the local chapter of SNAP might target our parish with leafletters this weekend. In my personal life, I'm quite sympathetic to this group and VOTF. As a liturgist though, my main concern is with our parishioners celebrating the Second Sunday of Lent. At the staff meeting this morning, I suggested if SNAP comes, we should be proactive: show them the best places to hand out materials (instead of asking them to move from an inconvenient spot later), invite them to warm up with a cup of coffee (but please leave their handouts at the door), and so forth. While one blogger has clothed himself with the robe of defender-of-orthodoxy as a rationale for deleting comments, two things: - Blog hosts can indeed run their sites as they see fit, to either their own credit or embarassment. - Those of us who value and relish a good discussion, can maintain uncensored comment boxes. I applaud Nathan for doing so, in spite of the bile directed his way this week. Comment boxes on this site will always remain open, be the commentary sensible or less so. (It will probably cost in the cybercatholic 2006 awards and rate some sites nth circle of hell, but hey ...)
Snacking on the word: Matthew 7:9-10 (LMC)
Would any of you give your hungry child a stone, if the child asked for some bread? Would you give your child a snake if the child asked for a fish? At the school Mass (grades 2-5) today, this passage struck me. I thought of "man teasing," what my daughter has named my near-constant attempts to draw smiles and indignation from her. (Fathers, as you know, do not tease in the same way boys on the playground do. Our brand of poking fun is truly manly, if you will.) At times, it must seem to us that God's sense of humor, irony, or poor timing is exactly that. "Don't give me an extra burden, God; you've sent enough already." In his homily, Fr John reminded the kids that God always gives the believer what she or he will need to get through difficult times. Just as they can be assured the hot lunch staff (or their Dad, I guess) will not serve snake sticks for a meal, so too God will provide for needs. Yet it is easy to doubt, to suppose that we're victims of God-teasing, as it were. In my mid-forties, I can look back over my life, and sure, crises that nearly buried me when I was younger seem mostly insignificant today. But that didn't make my anguish at the time any less painful. Breaking up with a college sweetheart led me to meet a new group of people, which pushed me into a deeper involvement in the parish, which got me back to grad school, which led to my career in ministry. That line seemed to have worked out well. The social horrors visited upon me in my Illinois days, led to my moving to Virginia, where I met my future wife. Good move there, too, God. Moving to a small town was a huge burden for my wife, but it gained us a transfer to a different social worker who had just the right child for us to adopt. My wife doesn't argue with that, especially now that she's escaped to cultural Kansas City. If you're taking a second bite today, look in Matthew 7:9-10's neighborhood (7:7). Ask. Search. Knock. If you take the tack that you have a relationship with God, I think you owe your relationship more than just quiet or sullen acquiesence when things don't go your way. Revere God, of course. But one aspect of the genius of Judaism was that human beings could complain to God about how screwed up things were. Abraham dealt with God like he would a merchant: haggling for the best deal. (cf. Genesis 18:23-32) God wasn't bothered. So when I feel put out by life's events, I don't hesitate to ask why. It's the child's way, after all. Dad, why this? Dad, why that? Why? Why? I might have a thought to pass over a snake sandwich once or twice now and then, but with all my faults, I can take care of my daughter and respond to her needs as best I can. I know God provides with the perfect foresight of grace and love for us all.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Let's Get Ready to Rumble
Child sex abuse. Bishops covering up crimes. Men need to take charge and wipe out this plague. The man's topic of the week in the bloggerhood. It reminded me of this study from a few years back. Women are just more engaged than men in religion. Doesn't matter if the religion is male dominated in leadership or not. Doesn't matter of women are more "manly" in the sense of career over family. We men, it seems, just don't have it. Rod Dreher also says men don't get it, firing a first shot in what Dale Price calls a Sergeant's War. A few other blogs have picked up on the theme, which, if I may paraphrase, runs like this: 1. Thanks to Vatican II, Priests abused children and teens and bishops looked the other way. This was bad. Very bad, especially since all the "good men" were chased out of the seminaries. 2. The last forty years have been all about emasculating men. The ones that don't turn into sex predators, homosexuals, lawyers, VOTF groupies, spineless bishops, or even the pope, are too busy with the tv remote and defrosted microwaved quiche to do much of anything about it. This means that if you're not a) a journalist, and/or b) an ortho-blogger on a mission, you're part of the problem. 3. It's time to get really angry about this problem. Your new age drumming didn't do a damn thing for the Culture of Life. Let's get out some baseball bats, guns, and nukes. Okay. And so it goes, supposedly good Catholics talking about shooting predators (like the prison population isn't going to hand out some slap downs themselves), forming armies, or the like. I've read a few people who jump on the wagon to prooftext that this saint or that saint said anger is actually good. Let's ponder a few items before we swallow this puffery: 1. Child abuse, even sexual abuse has been going on for a very long time. It wasn't new to the 60's or even the 50's and 40's. It wasn't new to the Church, its priests or bishops. Some years may have been worse than others. If you believe statistics, we're long past the worst of it in the US. That's not to say it's Miller Time and we can relax. People have always preyed on children. Why? Because they are weak. Rod Dreher is right to say it is the responsibility of men (and women) to protect the innocent. This is also a Christian duty. 2. Attractive people abused children and covered up. Sexual addiction shows no respect for a person's orthodoxy, virtue, or appearance. In fact, socially clumsy and inept people don't become predators. Their victims would be weirded out long before they got close enough to cause damage. Accused pastors and bishops have large crowds of vocal defenders. Good people have 'em too, but so do sex predators. It's why they were able to wear away at the defenses of children and their supposed protectors. 3. On that theme, some bishops were just plain fooled. Duped, if you will. I imagine a few bishops were outright criminals, but they'll be gone fairly soon. The average parish priest has to live with the aftermath, and new bishops, guilty or not, will also deal with a legacy that will bring up their failures at every turn. My opinion: it's time for nose to the grindstone work for bishops. All are tainted by the sins of a few and the foolishness of the many. 4. Anger has not disappeared from 21st century America. Addicts of a different stripe indulge in it. You see it in professional sport, where it has leaked down into unseemly displays of crudity from parents of kids who compete. You see and hear it in music. As much as I enjoy rock music, I cannot deny too much of it is far too angry for my tastes. You certainly see it in film and television. Anger is a thrill. It sells. Anger can be justified, if used as a tool for achieving good. One apt blog commentator noted he didn't want his children around priest perps, bishops, or the self-described Catholic vigilante who wants to get some guns and start shooting. I think anger is overrated and far more pervasive than these commenters seem to think. Get angry if you must, but cool heads will achieve more in the long run. 5. I think one potential good to come from the power morass of the clergy scandals is that lay people are indeed too engaged to permit things to happen on this scale again. Conservative Catholics are just waking up? Great. You're only about twenty years behind Tom Doyle, the NCR, and other distastefully non-conservative folks. These people were not only getting angry, but also exposing sin and crime, all while some now-outraged Catholics were still singing the praises of Cardinal Law "and Order," and giving thanks that they were not the sinners like those gay seminarians who chased away all the "good men." Have I captured it?

Monday, February 14, 2005

How's Lent?
Most Catholics who have bothered have had two samples so far. A select few are humming along on at least a half-dozen. On the parish administrative side of things, the sensible judgment is to offer a few things, but not so many that staff and core volunteers focus too much on the "servicing" aspect. In the past, our parish used to have its big adult ed push on Wednesdays, and we would draw about 100 for a soup supper, evening prayer, and a handful of talks to suit your tastes. Adoration and Stations more or less alternated on Fridays. An extra half-hour and maybe a confessor might be added on Saturdays. Fr John has been wisely leery about altering too much of the parish landscape his first year here. We tweaked liturgy offerings a bit, keeping the Saturday Mass at 4 (a popular vote overturned the Lenten switch back to 5PM), doing Stations each Friday instead of every other, and adding afternoon-long Adoration on Tuesdays. Generations of Faith captured our adult ed audience, plus some more, so parish evening prayer will be missing from my liturgical Lent for the first time in years. Only a handful of parishioners will miss it. This past Advent, we had smaller crowds than in my 250-family rural parish in Iowa. Scout Sunday was observed yesterday. Ordinarily, it would have been last week, but the NFL, in its corporate wisdom, sees fit to play championship football in February, so what can you do when the calendar dominos fall? The homilies have been good, and the people are singing the music. Nobody on the music committee wanted to add anything new this Lent, so we'll just reinforce the recent additions to the Lent repertoire. (They told me they've never sung "I Heard the Voice of Jesus," which I found amazing.) Last fall, the committee discussed adding a Mass setting. Something plainsong would keep up more or less faithful to the trad reading of the documents. A few people thought Lent would be a good time to use it. I'm not sure I agree. That would give the false notion that plainsong is somehow the product of "giving things up," and I'm not sure that's the message I'd like to send to the pews. If the committee decides to use a plainsong Mass setting, I'm going to argue for an Ordinary Time usage. Modern parish musicians are so attached to the use of instruments--and I certainly include most organists I know in that assessment--it will be a challenge to find the absolute best chant setting, not necessarily the absolute easiest. Of course, the committee might reject the plainsong option altogether. In which case, I'd have to steer them away from a GIA published option. Other publishers have material at least as good or better. One musician suggested I write one. Hmm. The notion of writing a Mass setting hasn't hit me in about twenty years. There are too many good ones around. I've always thought, why bother? Getting back to Lent, how are yours working out?

Sunday, February 13, 2005

On Psalm 51, from Neil
Psalm 51 is “ledawid” – “Of David.” Who is this David? Sirach tells us what we need to know, “The Lord took away his sins, and exalted his power forever; he gave him a covenant of kingship and a glorious throne in Israel” (47.11). The verb for “take away” – “hiphil” – is also used in 2 Samuel: “And Nathan said unto David, The LORD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die” (12.13). David’s sin was adultery with Bathsheba, whom he had seen bathing from his rooftop. As the exegete Frederick J. Gaiser tells us, “From his rooftop, his place of privilege, David was, he thought, master of all he surveyed. The rooftop gave him access to things meant to be private, leading, perhaps inevitably, to temptation. So David simply took what he wanted.” On a more prosaic level, we might think of Paul Schrader’s disturbingly brilliant Autofocus, in which video technology intensifies the lust of a thoughtless man to the point of complete self-absorption. But we all have our rooftops, don’t we? And, like David, we must come down from our delusional “seeing” and instead become conscious of “being seen” by God. Because of the prophet Nathan, David is finally able to realize that he is subject to divine judgment - “I have sinned against the Lord.” Psalm 51 is a lament, but there are no accusations against God or an enemy – “MY sin is ever before me,” a chastened David says. This realization is often very painful. But the Lutheran exegete Gaiser reminds us that we must not desperately turn inwards, to ourselves, for healing. We must instead come into the presence of God, trusting in his “lovingkindness” and maternal “tender mercies” - qualities immediately invoked by David. We must not trust our own capacities for renewal, but in the promises of this God. “A broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (51.19). Perhaps we can say that David does not counsel regret, but repentance. Brother Roger of Taize has said, “Regret keeps us focused on ourselves. When I repent, however, I turn towards God, forgetting myself and surrendering myself to him. Regret makes no amends for the wrong done, but God, when I come to him in repentance, ‘dispels my sins like the morning mist (Is 44:22).’” Sin, then, is simply a lack of trust. Nothing more. But nothing less. Psalm 51 challenges us even further when it is read alongside Psalm 50. Then, we can see David as the “villain” in 50.16, but we can also see all the violators of the commandments listed in Psalm 50 as David-figures whose sins should also be “ever before” them. Psalm 50 is “leasaph,” of the singing priest Asaph (Ez 2.41); we see that priests must take the role of Nathan, bringing authority and power to repentance. Lastly, both Psalm 50 and Psalm 51 challenge the manipulation of God through sacrifice. God asks through Asaph whether he will eat the flesh of bulls in 50.13, and David must concede, “Thou hast no pleasure in burnt offering” (51.18). Instead, God must open David’s lips (51.17), and only then shall his “mouth show forth thy praise” (51.17). And God must indeed open the lips of all Israel, for whom David has become paradigmatic. Do we – if not adulterers, surely “villains” of some sort – really trust that God will open our lips and create in us clean hearts, that he will “dispel our sins like the morning mist”? Not always. We are on our rooftops, foolishly believing that we are still masters of all we survey. Or, knowing our transgressions, we try to broker good relations with God through so many “burnt offerings.” There was a reason, as Dr. Gaiser reminds us, that Psalm 51 was required for regular usage in the Rule of St Francis “for the failings and negligence of the brothers,” and in the offertory response in English Lutheran liturgies ever since the Common Service of 1888. There is a reason why we heard it on this First Sunday of Lent.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Saturday Snack -- Tobit 4:5
Sage advice from a Jewish dad: Through all your days, my son, keep the Lord in mind, and suppress every desire to sin or to break his commandments. Perform good works all the days of your life, and do not tread the paths of wrongdoing. Almost fifty pages of finished songs in the musical so far. How (or if) to set to music a whole chapter of wisdom teachings: this is my number two problem at present. But for a Lenten prayer snack, this hits the spot.
Warning buoys for the reefs of rudeness
Nathan has an idea to steer folks away from particularly bilious blogs, the Index Blogorum Prohibitorum. I suppose it compares well to some of the better ideas I've seen from the Catholic Right. (Personally, I've always hoped the Curt Jester would produce a map of US dioceses with spinal cords superimposed, the size of which depending on how he saw the bishops, and maybe slugs for spineless bishops ... but that's besides the point ...) I remember one of my early posts on a thread somewhere in which the host railed about the lack of devotion to saints amongst progressive Catholics. I mentioned the various devotions in my own household and the host saw fit to delete. When I challenged him on it by e-mail, he thought I was making fun of him. More likely, he just pouted that his argument was toast. And he knew it. I don't know if Nathan is taking suggestions, but give him a try. I just remember that scene from Private Parts (don't know if it's authentic) in which some radio exec quote that the average Howard Stern fan listened 15 minutes, but that his average detractor stayed tuned for 78 minutes. Talk about gluttony for punishment! I guess I find surfing blogs a caveat emptor (See? Progressives can use Latin, too!) kind of thing. I know where I'm not particularly welcome. Maybe I like rubbing things in a little too much. My brother's not the only guy in the family who goes out in a boat and uses bait. And I take smidgen of pride in the two-and-a-half blogs I've been banned from.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Close call
An asteroid is coming. It'll be pretty close, but moving so fast, only the Eastern hemisphere gets to watch. (Drat!) Millennialists, your line forms out there by that communications satellite.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

St Chaddeus, ora pro nobis
Tune in to the Love Fest that calls itself the 2005 Catholic Blog Awards. Vote early. Vote often: you can do that now. One high profile nominee wants to start from scratch. The Revealer weighs in with its favorites. All this fussing makes me wonder if cybercatholics are based in Florida, or if this strange cross between American Idol and the People's Choice Awards isn't yet more evidence that the Culture is far more pervasive than Faithful Catholics (TM) expected. Just my opinion: you're better off checking boxes on ESPN's daily poll to decide the whatever-of-the-day.
Blue planet over Mimas.
The dark lines are Saturn's ring shadows. The planet's northern hemisphere appears blue in winter (it's about the equivalent of mid-January, only much, much colder) because of light scattering (the same reason earth sunsets are red). Go here for the latest Saturn news. Posted by Hello
Psalm 51:3b, "... in the greatness of your compassion, wipe out my offense."
When I was younger, Psalm 51 seemed intimidating: way too personal in a way that made me feel embarassed for David, pouring himself out so for his transgressions, sins I couldn't identify with, and to which I thought in my pride of youth I'd surely never be party (adultery, murder). I haven't killed anyone yet, and I'm relieved to say that adultery is hardly even a faint temptation, but the pre-eminent penitential psalm is far more digestible to me these days. One thing, it is unbelievably rich. About as feast-full of images as a fast is not. Our parish uses the Haugen setting, which wears well for me and the musicians look forward to it. The people sing the refrain well after eleven months. This morning, I awoke to the strains of that music, echoes of last night's last Mass. And more, a focus on that wonderful word, compassion. I feel a sense of gratitude that God's compassion is a gift waiting for us. I know I find it hard to believe, or is it more true I'm so coopted by my sins that it's easier to use the excuse, "I'm not worthy of this compassion," and take the easy way out, wallowing in the comfortable? One of my favorite gospel lines is the affirmation in Mark's gospel, "If you want to do so, you can heal me." (Another snack.) Then comes Jesus' dangerous reply, "Of course I want to. Be healed." Yipes. No excuses there. On to the next infirmity ... or sin. It's not God's power or ability to heal that I doubt. The doubt is self-directed. I have the confidence in God that when I want to grasp for that compassion, it will be there. I have enough personal experiences to convince me of that. However, between the intent of reaching, and the actual lifting of my arms toward God things happen sometimes. Well, that's why we have Lent, I suppose.
On Psalms
Substantial fare from Neil Dhingra. I'm looking forward to this series. If you want to peek ahead, the Sunday Psalms for cycle A are 51, 33, 95, 23, 130, and 22: not a slacker in the bunch. “God behaves in the Psalms in ways that he is not allowed to behave in systematic theology.” -- Sebastian Moore, OSB This Lent, I’d like to meditate on the Psalms assigned for each Sunday. To begin, however, let’s meditate on the Psalter as a whole. The Hebrew name for the Psalter is “Tehillim,” which simply means “Hymns,” so we first should ask: Do the Psalms have a collective and continuous meaning or should we just look at them as individual hymns? The Presbyterian exegete Patrick Miller recently wrote a very interesting article on this very question entitled, “The Psalter as a Book of Theology.” Dr. Miller begins by noting a distinct coherence to the Psalter. There is an introduction (1-2) and a conclusion (150); there is also a gradual muting of lament in favor of an increasing voice of praise and thanksgiving. We can identify five separate collections of books (3-41; 42-72; 73-89; 90-106; 107-145) that correspond with theologically prominent stages in the history of Israel from the end of the reign of David to the scattering of Israel among the nations. We can also identify thematic sub-collections that link, for instance, Psalm 22 to nearby royal psalms (18, 20, 21), identifying it as the voice of the Royal Messiah. What, then, is the theology of the Psalms? The introduction tells us that we are faced with two very different ways – the “way of the righteous” and the “way of the ungodly” (1:6). The “way of the righteous” involves placing our trust in the God who will rule over the nations through his anointed Messiah (2:6). The Psalms do not distinguish between the individual’s path and the larger realm of politics; it is the king who cries out for help, but as “the representative Israelite, David also evokes the experience of every human being.” But this vision of “the anointed king who lives by the law and the community as those whose presence before God is a testimony to their devotion to God’s way in the law” does not endure. By Book III, we behold “the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches” (73:6); we hear the Psalmist tell God, “Thou hast made void the covenant of thy servant: thou hast profaned his crown by casting it to the ground” (89:39), and ask God with obvious desperation about “thy former lovingkindnesses, which thou swarest unto David in thy truth” (89:49). The climax is in Book IV. We are told to “Remember God’s marvelous works that he hath done; his wonders, and the judgments of his mouth” (105:5), and that, even though God had brought his people low for their sins in the past, “he remembered for them his covenant, and repented according to the multitude of his mercies” (106:45). The king is not finally abandoned, either – we are reminded that the Lord reigns, sitting “between the cherubim” (99:1), and we also encounter the king promising once more to act with wisdom (101:2). And in Book V, then, Psalm 110 reminds us of what Psalm 2 had promised – “The Lord shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion” (110.2; 2.9). The king will once more reign and model the “way of righteousness” to the entire people; the very long Psalm 119 centers on this ruler, who again “evokes the experience of every human being,” saying before God, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes” (119:71). The importance of these “statutes,” this “way of righteousness,” reminds Dr. Miller of the first part of the Westminster Catechism: “What is the chief and highest end of man? Man's chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.” (We can also think of CCC 1 .) But who is this God that we are called to “glorify” and “enjoy”? We can contemplate him through the Psalter. Dr. Miller suggests taking note of the pairing of Psalms 103 and 104 in Book IV. Psalm 103 enumerates the so-called “relative” attributes of God – those that have to go with his relationship to humanity and the world, such as mercy and love. “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy” (103:8), the Psalmist says, echoing Exodus’ invocation of “the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth” (Ex 34:6). Psalm 104, which begins and ends like Psalm 103, “Bless the Lord, O my soul,” continues to speak of this merciful and gracious God as the creator and provider over a complex, interdependent, and ordered cosmos of human beings and animals. “Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth” (104:30). In a sacramental context, we will find v. 15 especially resonant, “And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man's heart.” Indeed, the Lord “shall rejoice in his works” (104:31) – so much so that the threat of disorder is fiercely dealt with (104:35). By sharing in this rejoicing, not least by reciting psalms 103 and 104, we can be drawn to “glorify” and “enjoy” our Lord, “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy” author of torah and creation.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

"Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply,
'Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening'"
The jingle of dog tags, and sleep ebbed away, and it was time to get up, and let the pet out the back door. Five-forty and territory marked, all was secure in the backyard. And the line from 1 Samuel 3 came to mind, after a good sleep. And I'm listening, Lord. I'm ready. And so the annual retreat begins, calm and peaceful except for a little cat-and-child play in the bathroom this morning (and a bit of parental displeasure quickly remedied by eager assistance with trash gathering). And thank heaven there was no blow-up at 8:15 Mass like last year. And now the pastor's home from the hospital, and our sixth funeral in six days should close out our ministry to the dying for a few days, at least. And hearts around the world take those first steps toward Jerusalem. Thorny crowns, crosses, and Passion ahead, but today, just a few ashes. A light burden.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Snacking on the Word
Read about it here, the notion that a few minutes are enough to immerse oneself in the nutrition of God's Word. I had never considered this before: We can think about ways of reading the Bible in our daily lives by analyzing how we eat. We eat in various ways. Sometimes we sit down and eat formally, one course after another. However, often we eat informally and lightly. At other times we have a snack. It may be that when it comes to reading the Bible we think only in terms of formally sitting down for an extended period of time and reading and studying. The result is that we might not make the time in our day for the Word of God. Just as we sometimes walk to the refrigerator door, open it, look inside it and grab a bite, so too we can open the Bible and take a nourishing Word. It makes so much sense, especially at Lent, to trade in one form of snacking for another.
A More Sensible Lent
I've been giving a little thought to the blog direction for Lent. In the past, I've taken breaks from the net during the Forty Days, only to return at Easter. Last year was the first time I didn't do that. If Neil or Liam or perhaps one or two others are willing, I will continue to post from guest bloggers. I'm pondering a daily feature, "Snacking on the Word," inspired by a Benedictine friend at Conception Abbey, here. I'm thinking of featuring a monastery or other place of prayer every few days or so. There are numerous resources on the internet for your own Lenten journey, if the net is one of your preferences for finding such things. The Bible, and especially the Psalter, are my preferred sustenance, and I don't need the computer for them. I take seriously the thought of a priest friend of my wife's: consider giving up something for Lent that you would give up for good. Ideally when on a journey, a pilgrimage, if you will, a person would set aside something burdensome. When you give something away or leave it at the roadside, it would defeat the purpose of the pilgrimage to backtrack to retrieve what was left behind. When I'm on a trip, I don't need to break all speed limits to arrive at my destination yesterday with an over-stretched bladder and a car running on fumes. But I don't like getting halfway to the next state and feel the urge to turn around because maybe I didn't shut the front door hard enough. In the same way, I wonder if one of the things I fast from this year shouldn't be left behind for good. Sweets, alcohol, milk, computers, games, sleeping in, staying up late, food between meals, and several others things have been past sacrifices, as they have been for you I'm sure. Every so often, maybe once in a few years, I actually maintain some fast or some added discipline well past Easter until it has become a new habit. So if your Lenten practice is to give up computers and the internet for Lent, I wish you a good and holy season until you return. If your practice is to give up something else, maybe I'll see you on the road.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Liturgy and Auschwitz
Another essay from Neil. I'm grateful for and welcome his regular input.
January 27 marked National Holocaust Day in Great Britain. The Archbishop of Canterbury said, “On the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, we confront again not simply the darkness of those years but the darkness that can always take hold of the human spirit. One of the lessons we still struggle to learn and a lesson that serves for old and young alike, is how frail our commitment can be to what we profess: that God calls us in the light of his love to honor and respect all of humanity as made in his image.” Can liturgy help us learn this lesson that, sadly, “we still struggle to learn”? The priest-theologian James Alison helps us answer this difficult question (“Worship in a Violent World,” Studia Liturgica 34 [2004]). He begins, though, in a rather odd way, with the Fourth Lateran Council’s proclamation, “Between Creator and creature no similitude can be expressed without implying a greater dissimilitude.” Please don’t stop reading - this thirteenth century remark might seem horribly abstract, but it is a necessary protective against idolatry, our tendency to simply take that common pagan word “god” (“Theos” comes from “Zeus”) and then speak of the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Against this inclination, the “greater dissimilitude” reminds us that what we mean when we apply the word “god” to our Father “is much more unlike a ‘god’ than it is like it.” Christian language, then, really must be subversion against ordinary usage. Indeed, in the Incarnation, “God takes us starting from where we are, with our words to do with god, and worship, and sacrifice, and love, and enables us to turn them into something quite else, something which is not full of the fear, ambivalence, violence, and frenzy which characterize those words in their ordinary usage.” Liturgy can keep us from the “darkness that can always take hold of the human spirit” if it remains faithful to this subversion; it is in danger of returning to “fear, ambivalence, and frenzy” when it merely speaks of the “god” of the pagan cult of divinities. How can we tell if we have unconsciously forgotten the “greater dissimilitude” and fallen back into “ordinary usage”? Fr Alison asks us to consider the difference between an authentically subversive liturgy and that most extreme display of paganism recently forced back into our consciousness, the Nuremberg Rally. We can first say, then, “True Worship is for our own good.” In the Nuremberg Rally, the spectacle had a clear purpose, the wretched designs of party officials: “A quite specific set of desires was being put forward, and the faithful were being inducted into acquiring these as their own,” with the hypnotism of pageantry. But authentic liturgy subverts any such “clear purpose” because it is for God, who “has no desire for us to worship him for his sake; he needs no worship, no adulation, no praise, nor glory.” Instead, the praise of liturgy is to “have our imaginations set free from fate, from myth, from ineluctable forces, from historical grudges” altogether. Alison continues, “True Worship achieves nothing.” While the Nuremberg Rally aims to achieve certain things – togetherness, belonging – for the sake of the future, “Christian worship is predicated on the understanding that there is nothing left to achieve.” This is especially true in the Feast of the Ascension in which “we describe that it’s all over, the crucified and risen Lamb is already in heaven. His marriage supper has already started.” The Nuremberg rally slowly builds to a climax when the Fuhrer finally appears with the divinity and aura of a god. True worship? The crucified Lamb has no need of an apotheosis; he is just there. “Because He is just there, our liturgy is an ordered and relaxed way of habitually making ourselves present, as worshipping group, to the one who is just there, already surrounded by festal angels, and our predecessors in the faith.” At its height, the Nazi rally, with fiery oratory, condemns the Jews – the miserable enemies who are destroyed in a consoling myth about a communal return to the Promised Land. True worship instead brings us face to face with our forgiving victim, the “Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36), so that any myth involving the sacrifice of imagined enemies is effectively demythologized. True worship also does not produce group unanimity, that false sort of communion built upon uniformity, shared feeling, or excitement. No “Bruderschaft” here, either. Finally, Fr Alison notes that the “frenzy” of the Nuremberg Rally is somewhat safe: “It should not threaten us with hazard, except the comfortingly controlled hazard of the choosing of the victim. There should be nothing too risky or open-ended about it.” On the other hand, there is nothing safe about authentic worship at all. Read the words of Fr Alfred Delp, SJ, murdered by the Nazis: “The necessary condition for the fulfillment of Advent is the renunciation of the presumptuous attitudes and alluring dreams in which and by means of which we always build ourselves imaginary worlds. In this way we force reality to take us to itself by force - by force, in much pain and suffering.” Think about this during the “jagged edges” of Holy Week. So, how does liturgy teach us that the light of God’s love must be directed against the darkness of Auschwitz, a “darkness that can always take hold of the human spirit”? When we slide back to “god” by thinking of worship that will serve the purpose of ineluctable forces, achieve a mythic future, culminate with an apotheosis and a consoling revelation, and hold us together with chthonic enthusiasm, liturgy should be there to say, “Absolutely not.” Authentic worship reminds us that we worship the God who needs no worship, who has already triumphed, who is “just there,” and who was once our “miserable enemy” nailed to the cross. No marching, uniforms, or intoxicating music for our God; just “Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof, but speak the word only and my soul shall be healed.” Liturgy is our anti-Nuremberg Rally. Through its “jagged edges,” may the reality of God’s love for all humanity always pierce through our darkness.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

We can't get no satisfaction, part 2
Leo asked, "We don't feel respected. You don't feel respected. Is there some solution here?" I think the solution in part is to apply Luke's idealized community of Acts 2:42-47. The quote in full ... They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one's need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. Avoiding literalism, I think there are important lessons in this passage for modern day American Catholics. When Luke reports the early believers "devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers," he describes the four pillars of the Christian life: catechesis, community, liturgy, and spirituality. I can't speak for parishioners who feel alienated or isolated, but I can say that as a minister, I'm bound to continuing my own formation as a Catholic and a minister; I'm bound to life in parish community--the same one I serve; I'm bound to worship and pray as these parishioners do, and also to maintain my spiritual life. "All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one's need." Some have adopted this as the evangelist's endorsement for Christian communism. What it tells me is that believers belong together, believers hold important things in common, and that needs are attended to. If the Catholic faith called us to live in communes, I could deal with that, I suppose. But the fact that we might not be strong enough (or crazy enough) for the communal life at this time doesn't abrogate parishes from what can be done. The Irish-American passive aggressive lifestyle is probably something for the junkheap. But it takes discipline and courage to dismantle old habits. People notice sincere Christians, and are attracted to the lifestyle. I'm not too bothered that the exterior conduct of Christians, not the intellectual rigor of their apologetics, nor the beauty of their liturgy, is what draws new believers into the fold. Liturgy and doctrine are undoubtedly important. But they are not the first stages of evangelization. For my part, I never lose my high regard of parishioners. My optimism spurs me to continue to offer parishioners open meetings of the parish liturgy team, to organize planning and homily groups with the priests, to invite dialogue and even dissent, to aim for the ideals, yet be satisfied with the profound gifts people offer each week at parish liturgy. I also realize that building trust is an endeavor with a very long learning curve, especially where people have been battered, ignored, or disrespected. That's okay. I have lots of time.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

We can't get no satisfaction, part 1
Leo raises some good points and asks some pertinent questions in the thread below. First, the ones more or less directed at me. I'm fortunate among church musicians that I'm not primarily a performer. That is, my main strokes do not come from, nor are they needed (necessarily) from applause, affirmation, back patting, and the like. That's not to say they're not appreciated, but I don't go home crushed on a Sunday night when I don't get them. I get my affirmation in other ways. So even though nobody outside the choir has commented on my resuscitation of "Song of the Body of Christ," and I don't expect it this weekend, I'm not looking for it. I know that the sixth grade sax player I took under my wing years ago is playing band at Iowa State and still is reasonably involved at church: that's satisfying. The person who could barely play guitar when I met her went on to lead a church ensemble: that's satisfying. The college student who aspires to be a parish music director: that's satisfying. People who sing when they used to not sing: most inspirational of all. I'm also fortunate that I do have a strong degree of satisfaction in what I do. There are reasons why: I have a wife and child, a life outside of church, a musical outlet or two outside of church, a creative outlet or two aside from music in church ministry. If you're asking, is your parish music ministry made in your ideal image, I would answer no. But it doesn't depress me. My preference would be for choirs at every Mass. It has been fourteen years since I had something close to that. "We don't feel respected. You don't feel respected. Is there some solution here?" Give me some time to ponder how I'd answer this ...

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Liturgist as T-----ist, or some other unsavory character, a myth partially exposed
Here's another dilemma for you armchair liturgists. At the second of three funerals we planned today, the family thought it important to list all readers, giftbearers, singers, etc. in the funeral program. They insisted nicely, and I caved.
With our former pastor, this was something of an unnegotiable. He and our receptionist (who produces these programs) were concerned about the domino effect (if one family gets one, all the others will expect them) and also the hurt-feeling symdrome (if somebody doing something doesn't get mentioned, they will get upset). Then you have our staff member's concern about the family waiting for the morning of the funeral to nail down who's actually bringing up the gifts and who might be singing that special song. The issue of the Notre Dame Fight Song came up, too. What d'you do?
When the liturgist/t-----ist joke was making the rounds eight, ten years back, I joked with my parishioners in Iowa that even though I flunked the t-----ist cluster in grad school, I was able to sneak away with a diploma anyway. And they laughed louder than at the original joke.
So when your doctor prescribes bed rest and plenty of fluids, does he rate derision because he advises against cross-country skiing, or your putting in a 70-hour work week? Your accountant demurs when you suggest an iffy tax deduction, do you call him a dictator?
Good ol' Catechism 2478 tells you a positive presumption is expected from a person's words, deeds, or actions, unless you know otherwise. Even if the previous nine parish liturgists have indeed been holy terrors, you are obliged to think well of number ten, unless and until you learn differently. I didn't make that one up.
I'll clue you in: liturgists tell jokes too. Sometimes about ourselves, and we laugh pretty loud. Sometimes about you. Sometimes it's in good taste. Sadly, sometimes it's not, and is more informed from bad experiences. My little brother, who considers himself a "Recovering Catholic," told me once he didn't understand why I put up with the crap (except he used a slightly stronger word) from the church that threw monkey wrenches in my relationships, indulged in dirty unfounded rumors that hurt me and my friends, mistreated my wife, and generally underappreciated what I did or could do for them. It was a struggle to find an answer that satisfied him, and I don't think I succeeded. Some days I simply don't have an answer.
Some of my colleagues are indeed holy terrors, but you know what? They're just like everyone else in that regard. Many confident professional people have a clear idea of what they can do, based on their training and experience. That bothers some people who have their own ideas, but you know what? The better course might be to take the time to work it out. Harder than telling jokes, but more rewarding, more Christian, in the long run.

One more thought on anonymity
Those who perceive that anonymity pushes one of my buttons are insightful. I have deeply personal reasons for mistrusting nameless complainers, reasons based on experience, not some idealized notion that people should automatically trust me because I'm a good guy.
In my first year as a full-time liturgist, I experienced a particularly gruesome episode which involved rumors involving a male friend who went in with me on a home purchase, a woman I was dating, her family, some choir members, and my pastor. All was set into motion by a person who was jealous that my social life was exclusive of her. (It actually wasn't until the whole mess was aired that I even realized her feelings.) The upshoot of it was that the priest chose to treat the complaints (some anonymous, some not, but set into motion by the person behind the scenes) more seriously than they deserved, and for two months he wavered on rehiring me (unbeknownst to me ... I just thought he was a procrastinator on new contracts and staff evaluations). The end result was my roommate caught in a swirl of homosexual innuendo, my broken romance, a deep alienation between my pastor and me, and a souring distrust among a handful of parishioners. This happened because about three or four people decided it was safer to undercut things behind the scenes. They were cowardly. And my first reaction to this day regarding anonmyous complaints is to judge in the same way.
Trust me on this one. If you want to move things in your parish in a good way and in a good direction, give up the anonymous crap. I like people who are spitfires about their pet issues, and I enjoy a good honest exchange. I'm well aware that some pastors and staff would prefer not to be confronted, but that's their problem, not yours. If confronting them isn't going to begin the process of change, you can bet that an unsigned letter will have the same effect.
When I was a parishioner and wanted to get things done in a parish that I thought had a somewhat hidebound staff, I would take the route of diplomacy: invite a staff member out for a beer or a breakfast. When I found aspects of their ministry to praise or take an interest in, they were much more willing to at least entertain my crazy ideas. Fiddling with a person's livelihood, be they a parish professional or a secular professional, is not likely to be met with openness at first, even if you do know the latest on liturgical music or medications from the FDA or the legal system as practiced on Law and Order. Cultivating relationships of trust will be far more satisfying and far less threatening in the long run. Believe it.

Yet more liturgical things
If the bloggerhood had February sweeps, I could just post on liturgy things all month and jack up my ratings. But I thought of a few other disputed liturgy items to post brief bits on. As always, commentary is free and welcome.
Greeting people before Mass. I admit it. My parish does it once a month. I'm not sure what the point of designating one weekend a month "Welcome Weekend," but there it is. It's one of those things I wouldn't start if it wasn't being done, and I'm not inclined to stop once it's there. GIRM 47 states the entrance chant's purpose, in part is to "foster the unity of those who have been gathered ..." I would interpret that as a deepening of a communal aspect that is already taking place by the shared intent of the parish to worship. In a parish that puts a high value on community, being told to stand up and shake hands with people nearby is needless repetition.
Greeting people at the church doors. Some of this is needful. Our parish could use (and we've talked about it) folks at the front entrance assisting elderly or impaired people out of their cars and let the drivers keep traffic flowing. Sometimes, seating assistance inside the doors is helpful. People at the doors just to say hi? I would see this as a transitory thing. All parishioners should be offering and sharing hospitality. It's like singing. Most everyone should be doing it. A few people just can't sing (or are too shy) but that wouldn't excuse the majority, in my opinion. And there are other places and times besides the entrance into the building just before Mass greeting should be done.
The role of commentator. You mean people are still doing this?
The presider at the Sign of Peace. I tend to side with Rome on this one. The priest is not an essential part of the Sign of Peace. At one parish I served at long ago, the ushers came down the center aisle in formation to spread "peace" from the priest to the people. It drove the clergy crazy, and the people, of course, started kissing and hugging and hand-shaking without the usher prompting.
In sum, a parish should have a strong quality of hospitality independent of whatever practices are in effect at Mass. If they don't, it is a sacramental issue. But relying on the Mass to provide something people don't have (or possibly don't want) puts an inappropriate burden on the liturgy.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

On Amonymity
My goodness, a secondary comment on anonymous complaints sure has touched a nerve. Liam suggested that people opt for anonymity because they would not want to appear too influential. I admit I had never considered that before. I'd be concerned if the pastor was anonymous. My current pastor was concerned that I was taking one anonymous letter I shared with him too seriously. Jayne made this suggestion: This should tell you a lot about how you strike your fellow parishioners: it is your little fiefdom and you rule. Nothing you have ever written suggests that you feel a sense of service to the congregation. Everything you write indicates a sense of self-important imposition of your will on others; you might say "reeks of egoism". If it were just you, it would be laughable and pathetic. Unfortunately, your attitude is characteristic of a kind of a cult that is driving more Catholics out of the church than anything else. Which seems to read a good lot more into my essays and posts here than is warranted. It bothered me. For starters, I don't think my blog is an extension of parish ministry. I'm part of a forum. I can be one smart ass among many--and maybe that's a poor choice on my part. But the patience demanded by good ministry is not as strong an aspect of what I write here. My parishioners, anonymous or otherwise, have a right to judge if my ministry is genuine or a petty fiefdom. If you don't know me, what you might say about my service to the Church, good or ill, is speculation. As I said before, I take all complaints seriously. I miswrote in saying anonymity is "usual;" it happens frequently to occasionally. Sometimes people offer praise or gratitude anonymously. Most often, a complaint sees a problem from one viewpoint. As a minister, I have to balance the needs and views of many. Sometimes I have to sacrifice the notion of perfection, or even competence, because other demands are judged more vital, or because the long-term picture means some aspect in the present will suffer. Let me offer you this dilemma, which has netted complaints, though all non-anonymous so far. Tell me how you would resolve it: Before I arrived, our parish had a practice of putting all major musical resources into one Mass. A second Mass has a volunteer "folk group" of about thirty years, a small choir with instruments. An early third Mass had music leadership only during Advent-Christmas and Lent-Easter. The other three Masses had hired cantors, mostly non-parishioners. In my first year, when budget time rolled around, liturgy was asked to cut $7000 from its budget. I brought the budget process to the committee, and we saw no way to avoid making substantial trims in the budget for musicians for hire, especially cantors. Some music people serve on this committee, by the way, so the decisions weren't made in total vacuum. One cantor was "let go" at the end of that fiscal year, and the second, whom we retained, has recently taken a leave for personal reasons. To the person in the pew, they note a drop in the quality of singing. The folks at the 12 noon Mass, for example, love it when the children's choir sings twice a year. But the other Sundays without my new choirs have seen a definite decline. I certainly have it in my short-term power to resolve this. I can start hiring cantors from outside of the parish--and believe me, I know a good handful of them available to help. I would need to explain to my manager and pastor, no doubt, why I overspent my budget at year's end, but that's tomorrow's problem, in one opinion. A person is upset about the dropoff in quality and accuses me of doing nothing, and to their eyes, this is correct. I have yet to find skilled parishioners willing to sing that Mass--most all of the best parish singers sing in the big choir. With the people who write me or approach me face to face, I can explain the situation. They get a sense of being in a conversation with a real person who has a real dilemma. They might realize I coach our new cantors and these folks try their best, but the result isn't up to previous standards. I might be pleased that the new guy makes eye contact when announcing songs or backs away from the mic on the Mass ordinary. The question turns from, "Why can't you get us a good singer?" to "What should the parish priority be: budget or competence, volunteer or paid, skill or a person able to grow into the role?" Many anonymous comments touch on issues more complex than the mere complaint. Why did the priest give a subpar homily? Maybe he ran out of time or ideas or maybe he was lazy. Why did that horrible hymn get programmed again? Maybe because the music ministry was asked to focus on bolstering the repertoire of psalmody this year instead of hymnody. Is it possible the liturgist, pastor, or music director is just an ignorant snot playing at being a puppeteer? It's possible. Do you know for sure? Maybe you don't. Catechism 2478 gives us a clue: "To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor's thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way." I have edited my comment boxes here only once, and I'm grateful for not having a mainstream blog in which I would need to be more careful in monitoring submissions. Many comments which have been more personal, in my opinion, and I respond by e-mail if it's provided if that seems more appropriate. I found a few of the comments on the Liturgical Music essay to border on inappropriate, at least from Catholic teaching. I honestly appreciate the frustration I read and hear: here and in my parish. It would be an error to presume I don't care. If you think it helps your state of mind to skirt the fringes of civility with me, go ahead. If it bothers me, I'll tell you. But I'll let a lot of it stand that I would not tolerate if it were directed at third parties. Liam's wisdom aside (and I don't set his commentary aside for just any reason) anonymity is a dangerous route to go. If I have a complaint, I own it. If I'm unwilling to sign my name to an opinion, I won't offer it. But if a person offers something to me anonymously, I will treat it seriously, as its nature deserves. But there is rarely a sense of satisfaction I can offer, as I might in a conversation. I stand by my distrust of anonymity in parish complaints. I was overly strong in what I wrote in my own comment boxes. My two immediate predecessors were very difficult people, though probably the most talented musicians and liturgists this parish ever hired. How people treated me at first was possibly more a reflection on them than me. Over time, this has changed, which is a relief and a source of gratitude.

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