Monday, October 31, 2005

Freedom and Authority The following is an excerpt from William Placher's book review of Oliver O'Donovan's The Ways of Judgment in The Christian Century. The Rev. O'Donovan is the Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at Oxford University: Freedom, O'Donovan insists, doesn't mean the liberty to wander wherever one will: "Without adults who demand mature behavior, the child is not free to grow up; without teachers to set standards of excellence, the scholar is not free to excel; without prophets to uphold ideals of virtue, society is not free to realize its common good. To be under authority is to be freer than to be independent." If no goals are ultimately worthwhile, then I am not free to pursue an ultimately worthwhile goal—and that is a terrible loss of freedom. Freedom thus flourishes best under authority, O'Donovan argues. But authority isn't the same thing as power. Those who truly have authority recognizably stand for what is right and for a shared tradition, the two elements that make up the common good. It was said of a legendary dean of students at my college that he could break up a riot just by showing up. He had authority. Whether in the classroom or in the political realm, those who try to keep order with constant threats and punishments turn to power because they lack authority. Authority guides society, and O'Donovan says society is defined by communication in the old sense of the word—communication that includes all sorts of sharing, not just the sharing of information. In contrast to recent discussions about the nature of "the gift" in the work of Jacques Derrida, John Milbank and others, O'Donovan's argument focuses on this sharing. What creates a community isn't that mine becomes yours (giving) but that mine becomes ours (sharing). Thus, O'Donovan argues (idealistically, I think), once early Christianity "taught its slave-members to regard their 'masters' as brothers who depended on their help," it created a kind of community that ultimately doomed the institution of slavery. The challenge for our time, he goes on, is to find an analogous way to experience business transactions as community-building rather than purely commercial. Can I as buyer and you as seller think of ourselves as part of a common enterprise, with shared goals and the obligation to help each other as needed?
The Lay Apostolate in Associations
AA 20 treats it: Many decades ago the laity in many nations began to dedicate themselves increasingly to the apostolate. They grouped themselves into various kinds of activities and societies which, while maintaining a closer union with the hierarchy, pursued and continue to pursue goals which are properly apostolic. Getting results was important: there, bishops took notice ... These societies were deservedly recommended and promoted by the popes and many bishops, from whom they received the title of "Catholic Action," and were often described as the collaboration of the laity in the apostolate of the hierarchy. Yes, that would fit: defining an apostolate in terms of ordination, not baptism. What else? A list for these organizations: - Their purpose is evangelization and sanctification. Note the latter is also one of the two main purposes of worship. - Cooperating with the hierarchy. Of course. - Unity within the organization, so as to reflect the "community of the Church." - The hierarchy retains a certain oversight: "the laity function under the higher direction of the hierarchy itself, and the latter can sanction this cooperation by an explicit mandate." I've thought lay organizations would benefit more from cross-fertilization than the input of the hierarchy, whose experience in particular apostolates if often quite limited. But it's a tough challenge, even within lay circles. When I was in the archdiocese of Dubuque, I suggested more intermix among professional organizations of lay ministers: catechists, pastoral associates, liturgy, youth people, etc.. It never seemed to get people excited. But it wasn't as if we didn't share some common concerns.
Summing Up Sunday
Brigid might have me confused with somebody else who does this sort of thing, but I'm in a blogging mood on lunch break, so what the heck ... We have a new priest in the parish, a Jesuit returned to family roots in the KC area, so I was watching his Masses to assess his speaking ability (a tad too fast for our large echo-ey church) and his microphone use (he tried out our earpiece/flesh-colored mini-mic, but it fell off). This is a challenge: trying to tell a guy who's likely preached and presided using his voice this way for forty-plus years. If I don't, I'll get more of the six or seven people that came up to me complaining after those two Masses. So I got to do music with my ensemble, two of whom were fresh off their triumphant concert Friday night. Three singers were absent, one on the highway dealing with a blowout, one at home with a family thing, and one off with a girlfriend whose father just died. Singer number one meant I got to sing lead on "Freedom Is Coming," which was an interesting switch from singing with the altos on the tenor line. We learned they rely too much on me. With a really great small singing ensemble, everybody should be confident and independent enough to sing their part no matter what. Singer number two was missed. She's the least experienced of the bunch, never having sung in any kind of choir, but she's an unrealized talent and a superb blender. Losing singer number three might've improved our blending. Another talented person, but likes to sing the way he feels it. What can I say about repertoire? Probably nothing spectacular. We did "Praise To The Lord" well. It had a nice baroque feel to it. I just love having a violinist and a good guitarist who can do things with style. A group member really, really wanted to do "You Raise Me Up," so I arranged it for violin, flute, and three parts (men on melody and soprano and alto on a refrain harmony). Though they went well enough, the other congregational songs, "We Have Been Told" (Haas's imitation of Haugen's "Eye Has Not Seen") and Haugen's "Let Justice Roll" don't do much for me. On the former, we did the three-part singing effectively, using the refrain a cappella as the introduction. But the song just doesn't seem to wear well over the years. The latter hangs on in the parish repertoire, but people don't sing it as enthusiastically as "We Are Called" or a few other "justice" songs. I came back to work with the youth at Sunday 5PM. This is the choir for whom I held our former director's job over the summer only to have her resign after the first week back. The YM and I are looking for someone to build and lead a weekly choir, but no luck on the search as of yet. My young friend Katie sang by herself pretty much. She did really well on the Gloria and the psalm, and three or four parishioners told her so after Mass. So did I, but parishioner commentary helps, too. After Brittany praised her, I told Katie, "See? All ages approve of you!" This week, my wife and I get to do All Souls on Wednesday morning. Next Tuesday is First Reconciliation. Thanksgiving is not too far ahead. And I still have to figure out how to apportion our eight Christmas Masses now that neither youth choir director will be available for the holiday this year. And o yes, I have Midnight Mass to think about, too. For the past six or seven years (at least) that's been a pick-up tradition here. I know it will be good, but somebody has to pick me up for it first.
Small Stuff, Like Spelling
There are typos, and then there are spelling errors consistently made. I'm always amused at how conservative St Bloggers continue to misspell the LA cardinal's name. It's almost as though the only thing they ever read about him is the gall bladder product other conservatives write on their blogs. If you care about liturgical rubrics, you should care about spelling. Hint: M--A--H--O--N--Y No "e." Grok?
The Myth of the Liturgical Establishment
Trust me: it really is a myth. FrMichael in the comment box below asked about the "Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions, NAPM, magazines like Worship and Ministry & Liturgy, the BCL, diocesan liturgists, NPM, OCP, GIA, LTP, and the like" being a figment of his imagination. They're not imaginary, though the perception of their power might be. The publishers listed have financial clout to a degree, but no more than OSV, Ligouri, Ignatius Press, or any of the youth or catechetical publishing vehicles. All of those operations generally dwarf the largest of the liturgy outfits. And if catechesis is your post-conciliar bugaboo, I'm afraid to say the liturgy folks are little better than bit players in this drama. In fact, it's often hard to get the liturgy and catechesis people on the same page. It's tough for liturgy people, too. We're mostly artists. We have strong opinions on stuff. I've been to the week-long conferences and workshops often enough to see the chinks in the armor of liberal unity. Liturgists infight more than Democrats. And that says a lot. "You are right in that the majority of liturgical decisions in a parish are made "in a vacuum" by priests. That vacuum exists because most priests are are educated by seminary liturgy profs fully immersed in the liturgical establishment." If so, these folks are fully supported by the seminary rector and bishops. But even among liturgy scholars, there is quite a difference of opinion on stuff: enough of a difference to engender debate in scholarly circles and give evidence in the wide variety of liturgical styles in parishes. You have Benedictine liturgy and Notre Dame liturgy and a bit of San Anselmo. You have musicians trained in a lot of ecumenical settings who align along a slightly different axis. And you have pastors and musicians likely trained at different places who will bring their own cocktail of worship style to the parish Masses. Then everybody has their own personal styles: what they will concede, and what they will never allow. Then you have at least a dozen homiletic services, most of which give you a host of ritual and music suggestions. Then as FrMichael reports, we have "Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (sic), Adoremus, and pre-conciliar texts to get a taste of the broader Roman liturgical tradition." If I had to pick a term for this, I'd say it looks more like a diaspora than an establishment. Maybe the diaspora is united in being anti-Tridentine, but it would be hard to say it's united in being anti-Latin. Taize has been very vogue for twenty years: an example of international gatherings in Latin long before the synod bishops caught on to the idea. "Unfortunately, in my observation most seminarians are too lazy to do outside research and are happy to make do with what they learn in class. For the most part, they are "heads full of mush" when it comes to liturgy, to quote a famous radio talkshow host." Yes. Most priests I know, therefore most seminarians (I presume), do not have liturgy as their area of passion or specialty. That's one reason why liturgists are hired in parishes. Even more parishes hire a musician of sorts. Most of those musicians, especially the one in smaller parishes, tend to have their own assortment of tastes, experiences, education, etc.. I do think that the vernacular/contemporary "cult" (if you will) has taken root in most parishes, not because it's been imposed by a liturgical cabal of publishers and organizations, but because the post-conciliar reform was embraced by most American Catholics. For the most part, that embrace has continued, supplemented by priests and lay people with more or less training, with a wide variety of experiences, and which has continued to be found fruitful by the majority of parishioners, despite the quibbles about style or personality. As for the publishers, it's become a market-driven thing. If Adoremus really thought the people were just longing for their hymnal, they'd pour money into a massive publicity campaign for parishes to buy their products, especially once the new Ordo Missae is published. I could be wrong, but I don't think anything like that will happen. FrMichael's sources will remain on the periphery, with a solid, loyal, but small clientele. Part of a wider catholicity.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Latin and Tridentine
John Allen relates an interview with Bishop Donald Wuerl on the synod's biggest "non-issue." JA: A synod is sometimes as important for what it doesn't say as for what it does. How do you interpret the near-total silence on the old Latin Mass? DW: I believe the fact that this did not surface, that it was not a part of our discussions, means that it's a settled issue. I was reminded of a story a pastor told me about a 12-year-old who was talking with his parent, and the parent was talking about the beauty of the Latin Mass. The 12-year-old responded, 'But we've always done Mass this way!' Three generations have come and gone since the transition into the vernacular, and I think by now it's no longer really an issue. JA: Does this mean there will be no 'universal indult' for celebration of the pre-Vatican II Mass? DW: I don't know where that might be going. It's a very specific response to a specific case. On the level of overall principle for the whole church all these years after the close of the council, however, I think the question of language and liturgy has been answered. … The overall perspective of the synod is that Vatican II brought about a renewal and reform of the liturgy that, historically speaking, has been embraced by the church universal. That doesn't mean by everybody, of course, but by the church universal. Much is made that the use of Latin has been reaffirmed by synodal decree. But then again, it was the least popular of all the points put forth in the final draft of proposals. If I were a bishop, I could see myself voting for it in some form. What does it mean? I think the Latin-Tridentine crowd is vastly overrepresented in St Blog's groupthink. One mention in three weeks for the indult Mass is hardly anything. It's clear no universal indult is coming, not with the bishops weighing in so heavily to support and reinforce Vatican II reforms. I'm thinking that even posting on this gives the issue too much visibility. Meanwhile, the Catholic Right continues to feel the drain of sedevacantists and other fringe groups who want to separate themselves from Rome, from their Catholic neighbors, and everybody in between. My suggestion for my conservative friends: don't get caught on the outside looking in. The Church still needs your sensibilities for tradition, preservation, beauty, and the challenges needed to keep the reform honest. Ditch the "reform of the reform" silly talk. The liturgy is in need of reform. Period. If it weren't, people wouldn't be so fired-up passionate about the possibilities we're missing. Get with the program, and if others want to jump on the bandwagon of Pope Pius XIII, it's their choice.
At Concert
My friends Diana and Bob gave a concert last night. They're members of the small choir & ensemble that sings at our parish's 9AM Sunday Mass. But I've never had a chance to see their concert performance. It was outstanding, and the magic between them on many of the songs was obvious. They keep their concert persona under tight wraps at church, but it was really cool to see them let loose and ham things up. The concert was a good mix of the political and the romantic; just the way a liberal likes it. Diana started the second set with a version of "At Last." Always liked that song. My wife likes it even more. Brit fell asleep during the second set. She didn't want to take a nap yesterday, insisting on playing soccer instead. So she and her dad had a backyard battle of Team Panther versus Team Teaser. Team Teaser is certainly feeling his muscles today. Despite the soreness, yesterday was indeed a good day, musical and sporting, friendly and all. And I didn't even need to go online to have fun. Imagine!

Friday, October 28, 2005

What is a Good Sermon? (part III) Our attention might be elsewhere today, but I'd like to continue to meditate on preaching. Very quickly, then, in my earlier attempts, I wrote that giving and listening to a sermon is an entrance into that same movement of the Spirit that inspired the much more authoritative words of the prophets and apostles. Since the Spirit chiefly means to instill the new covenant in our hearts, a sermon can't be a mechanical repetition - it isn't merely a matter of saying the right things. Preaching truly must be transformative, not simply orthodox, erudite, or impossibly clever. This also means that a good sermon cannot be disconnected from our lives. Our bishops have told us that a sermon must be "a scriptural interpretation of human existence which enables a community to recognize God's active presence, to respond to that presence in faith through liturgical word and gesture, and beyond the liturgical assembly through a life lived in conformity with the Gospel." Todd has also given some very good practical advice on preaching. Today, I want to reflect on preaching based on a line from Lumen Gentium: "Among the principal duties of bishops the preaching of the Gospel occupies an eminent place" (39). Susan K. Wood, SCL, tells us that we can say the same, by extension, about priests, and that the stress of Vatican II is on bishops and priests "building up the church" - the ministerial priesthood "forms and rules the priestly people," "shepherds the faithful," and "builds up the body of Christ, the Church." This means that we can better understand the meaning of preaching by better understanding the ministerial priesthood and how it might build up the body of Christ. I want to (try to) help us do this by looking at St Paul's concept of ministry, borrowing from a recent article by the exegete Frank J. Matera. Paul certainly does have a concept of ministry. In 1 Corinthians, he had written that "Some people God has designated in the church to be, first, apostles; second, prophets; third, teachers; then mighty deeds; then gifts of healing; assistance, administration, and varieties of tongues" (1 Cor 12:28). But, Fr Matera tells us, Paul's most complete exposition is in his Second Letter to those same Corinthians. After the First Letter, Paul had sent Timothy to Corinth and Timothy had returned to report gross immorality and the presence of false apostles ("super-apostles"). Paul had then gone to Corinth only to be insulted. Paul, his apostolic authority threatened, wrote a harsh letter (which no longer exists), and Corinth had then repented and punished the insulting fellow. In response to this repentance, Paul wrote 2 Corinthians, which, naturally, includes a description of the nature of ministry. Paul begins by suggesting that this ministry can be, well, counterintuitive. He is a prisoner who is being led in a procession (a "triumph") that will result in his death. But the conquering general is not Caesar, but a merciful God. Paul is for some "an odor of death that leads to death," and only to certain others "an aroma of life that leads to life." The basis for ministry is not some obvious qualification or a number of official letters of recommendation, but the more elusive ability to mediate a new covenant whose proof is in the hearts of the Corinthians. This is the covenant that Jeremiah said that God would write upon his people's hearts, and Ezekiel's "new heart" and "new spirit within you" (Jer 31:31-33; Ezek 36:26-27). Moses had covered his face with a veil - he did not want to Israelites to stare intently, for he knew that the glory of his ministry was not complete. But Paul's ministry is complete, for Jesus Christ is the "image of God," and "All of us gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit" (3:18). Fr Matera says that ministry is really about believers seeing "the glory of God on the face of the crucified Christ, when they hear the gospel of the crucified Christ" in preaching. When they see this, they are transformed from glory to glory. Ministry is also counterintuitive because it is not about perfect ministers, but their suffering. The minister's acceptance of hardships paradoxically manifests glory. Paul writes, "We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body" (4:7-10). By accepting pain and affliction, the priest testifies to belief in the Resurrection, that the end of time will not bring meaninglessness, but "the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil" (5:10). Finally, ministry is once more counterintuitive, since it shows a new mode of perception, regarding nothing "according to the flesh," but through the light of Christ's reconciliation. Christ inaugurated a new order - "God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ" (5:19) - by taking on the fullness of the human condition and taking our place on the cross, so that, in turn, "we might become the righteouness of God in him" (5:21). Paul is but an "ambassador" of this reconciliation with God. Any minister of this reconciliation, Fr Matera tells us, must also build a community whose members extend the reconciliation they have received from God to others, not seeing other people "according to the flesh" or "counting their trespasses against them." So, based on St Paul's conception of ministry, what can we say about a good sermon? First, a good sermon must be about the new covenant, the glory of God on the face of Christ. And it must express trust that this new covenant is empowered by the Spirit. A good sermon can only very indirectly be about politics or the institutional church, fascinating though they may be. A good sermon must not express despair about the presence of the Spirit in the community that is the "temple of the living God" (6:16), tempting though that might be. It should instead show attentiveness to the murmurings of the Spirit in the community of believers. Second - and relatedly - a good sermon will draw our attention to how the Eucharist manifests this "new and everlasting covenant" (3:5). Third, a good sermon will not shy away from suffering for the sake of the gospel. A good sermon will be untouched by pride. In his book, The Reformed Pastor, the great Puritan divine Richard Baxter wrote about the ministers who did not deny themselves, "When they should inquire, 'What shall I say, and how shall I say it, to please God best, and do most good?' it makes them ask, 'What shall I say, and how shall I deliver it, to be thought a learned able preacher, and to be applauded by all that hear me?'" More generally, a good sermon will not ignore affliction or perplexity, but will show that, since death and resurrection are intertwined, even these difficult things can be signs of glory. Fourth, a good sermon must be about reconciliation. God reconciled the world to himself, and the church must be a community of the reconciled, where forgiveness is a daily practice. Fr Matera tells us, "Consider the difference between this gospel of reconciliation and a gospel that divides and separates people. Consider the difference between the gospel of a new creation and a gospel that maintains the status quo of the old world." A good sermon will, needless to say, be about the first gospel. I'm reminded that St Symeon the New Theologian said, “A saint is a poor man who loves his brother.” A saint realizes that he is poor before the God who has nevertheless freed him from “debts”; the saint then does not expect any sort of payment from others, and is able to be reconciled to all. A good sermon will let God work to make many of these "poor" people who love their brothers and sisters. What do you think?

Thursday, October 27, 2005

We're In A Movie
It's here, on the Messenger mission web page.
It's not one of the JPL biggies, but it might well prove to be one of the top space missions of the next decade. I always thought Mercury seemed to be too close to us not to get another look from a spacecraft. The last was Mariner 10 in 1974. It had never occurred to me there were particular problems in achieving Mercury orbit, but it costs a lot of fuel because the probe travels at a high speed relative to the planet. The Messenger people have designed a careful approach that will save fuel and gain orbit in 2011.
I hadn't been keeping tabs on this mission, but I will be from now on. Smile for the camera, Merc ... (This collage of images is from the 70's.)

The Conditional Apology

Have you noticed them? They usually begin, "If I have offended someone ..."Air Force football coach Fisher DeBerry was understandably upset about losing 48-10 to TCU last weekend. He said the opposing school "had a lot more Afro-American players than we did and they ran a lot faster than we did."

A predictable furor erupted. DeBerry said yesterday, "I realize the things I said might have been hurtful to many people and I want everyone to understand that I never intended to offend anyone."

Check this link for a summary.

Why is it so hard to just say, "I realize the things I said were hurtful to many people," and go from there? It's almost as though the apology is put into a sort of relativistic space capsule, and the person hedges by convincing themselves, "I wouldn't have been offended, and the universe is me, so I'm just saying this bit to save my butt." I look upon it as a finger-crossing behind one's back thing. Childish, but predictable.

DeBerry might've insulted a lot of people other than pc blacks, by the way. What if TCU's Gary Patterson is just a better coach than DeBerry? What if Patterson's a better recruiter of players and assistants? What if the Air Force Academy is more focused on recruiting good officer candidates than good football players?

Why can't an apology be unconditional?

Will Ozzie Be Next?

Now that Miers has withdrawn from consideration, that's the question.

The Miers nomination has the whiff of being a Bush choice all the way. It seems like it was a choice the president insisted upon and nobody in his circle was willing to take him aside and say, "Mr President, uh, we have some big problems with this one ..."

I have to say this has gone beyond partisan politics. I'm feeling genuinely embarassed about my government for the first time since post-election 2000. For the sake of the country, I sure hope this executive branch can get its act together. It's like seeing the Yankees lose 33-0.

What's an Education for? The following is from today's BBC "Thought For The Day," delivered by Dom Anthony Sutch, former headmaster and monk of Downside Abbey: So the essential heart of the system is the expectation of the best. To that end we need to define the motivating principle. We start with negatives: it is not to indoctrinate, to control, to further self interest nor to break the spirit. It is, in Yeats's words rather "to light fires than to fill buckets". I applaud the remark of the Secretary of State for Education about the White Paper which is, she states, "more than anything... about aspiration". Good - it seems to me that all must aspire to what is excellent. Christ's call was to perfection. His parable of the talents is exactly about encouraging the best of a person's ability: "You gave me ten talents, I have made ten talents more". Even Plato spoke of education "turning the soul toward the true, the good, the beautiful". As a child matures so should aspirations ever grow, so that the human person may be fully alive. Education must aspire to the abundance of life. My fear is that many simply want education to pass on received wisdom rather than opportunity and truth. Our children have a right to see visions, to dream dreams and to aspire to the best - in my terms, they have a right to seek and know God through an educational system that offers that potential.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Verticality and Warfare Liam tells me that my previous post on light and darkness was more suitable for Romanesque cathedrals. I'll give it another go. Robert Barron, in his Heaven in Stone and Glass, has us meditate on something obvious about Gothic cathedrals - their height. "Every major line in the building is vertical, shooting skyward like an arrow." We are forced to look up, reminded that God is "semper maior, always greater ... that no concept or image can ever adequately represent the Lord." In the following excerpt, Fr Barron says that realizing that God is "not here, not there" frees us "to gaze with a cold analytical eye on this world." A "cold analytical eye" might not seem very inspiring. But I think that it is essential. The freedom to look with a "cold analytical eye" that we receive from understanding that we are not to desperately try to find God in a political apotheosis or the fascination and intensity of a worshipping crowd might be the only thing to save us from spiritual and physical ruin (see this article by James Alison). In wartime, it is easy for good people to unconsciously invest a cause with theological significance. And then we don't see things for what they are. In his moving book, War is a Force That Gives us Meaning, Chris Hedges describes just what happens when we embrace the "moral certitude of the state in wartime": Destruction of honest inquiry, the notion that one fact is as good as the next, is one of the most disturbing consequences of war. The prosecution of war entails lying, often on a massive scale - something most governments engage in but especially when under the duress of war. The Serbs who were eventually able to admit that atrocities were carried out in their name explained away the crimes by saying that everyone did this in war. The same was true among the elite and the military in El Salvador. All could match an atrocity carried out by our side with an atriocity carried out by the enemy. Atrocity canceled out atrocity. We might only be able to see things for what they really are when we look upwards with confidence and trust - away from our own fallen concepts and images to the God who is semper maior. Here, then, is Fr Barron: The staggering verticality of the cathedrals is in service of the mysticism of otherness. These sacred buildings illustrate the Christian belief that God is always "somehow else," beyond what we can experience or speak or conceptualize, beyond the reach of consciousness, will, or imagination, in that trackless realm that is not of this world or of any possible world. Augustine reminded his readers si comprehendis non est Deus (if you understand, it is not God), and Aquinas insisted that we never know what God is, only what God is not, and Karl Rahner said that to know God most fully is to know God's incomprehensibility. As they draw us upward, the cathedrals seem to say "not here, not there," and it is thus that they invite us to the silence beyond any speech. To the otherness and incomprehensibility of God corresponds an appropriate attitude of the spirit that might be termed "restlessness" or "holy longing" or even, to use the words of St Paul, "groaning." Since God is unavoidably "somehow else," and since our happiness lies only in God, then we must be uneasy pilgrims in this world. Nothing here below - wealth, success, power, beautiful things, status - can ever satisfy our most pressing desire, and hence we remain constitutionally, permanently on the way somewhere else. We live on earth as resident aliens, since we know that our true citizenship is in the far country of God's mystery. From this resident alien status there flows, it is true, a permanent unease, but from it also comes a clarity of vision. Because we know that nothing finite is ever our final good, we are not seduced by the inflated claims of the politicians, social theorists, philosophers, and bureaucrats who promise a paradise that will come if only we change this system or modify that economy or rearrange that society. Because our eyes are fixed on the City above, we, paradoxically, see the city below with greater precision and judge it more critically. And this is why the dizzying verticality of the cathedrals is not simply an invitation to contemplate another world (it is indeed that), but is also a reminder to gaze with a cold analytical eye on this world.
Why Persecution of the Church Isn't Considered News
Pardon this partially formed thought, but as I was digesting one of Rock's recent posts, the discussion steered in part into how NPR ignores stories of persecuted Catholics in the world. Why, it was asked, do some news outlets seem ever ready to tarnish the Church's image with stories about ex-priests and former nuns and other things. The Fresh Air program in question is here. I know I've blogged about this in the past, but maybe it's a notion worth resuscitating. Maybe a sports image will be helpful in this regard. Last year in baseball, Yankee haters worldwide (I count myself as one) were probably as delirious over the Red Sox comeback in the ALCS as Sox fans themselves. It couldn't have happened to a nicer team, to get humiliated like that: being the very first to blow a 3-0 MLB playoff series lead. Mind you, I didn't start screaming out my living room window about it. I didn't light Yankee jerseys on fire in my front yard. But admittedly, I wasn't too concerned about the tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of innocent (relatively) kid-Yankee-lovers who, through no fault of their own, just watched their beloved team (no less beloved than the teams I root for) dismantled and tossed on the post-season trash heap of infamy. Some twelve-year-old boy went to bed in tears after the ALCS game seven last year clueless as to why most baseball fans were cheering that night--cheering against him. Media coverage of the Catholic Church strikes me as something akin to this. The Catholic Church, justified or not, is perceived as being wealthy, powerful, arrogant, controlling, prideful, stodgy, and secretive. The twelve-year-old in the Bronx doesn't remember all twenty-six World Series triumphs. But everybody else does. Bill Clinton was a phenomenal politician and a supremely gifted man who frittered away his presidency. Bashing Bill was a sport not so much because he deserved it (which he mostly did) but because he was successful. The media takes to Michael Jackson, OJ, Tom Cruise, or Martha Stewart in the same way. It seems we like our heroes to be big, only so their collapse is more spectacular than the average Joe tripping on the sidewalk. Other baseball teams are owned by silly old rich men who interfere in their teams. It might be said that Peter Angelos has done more damage to the Orioles than Steinbrenner to the Yankees. But Big George gets the press. Why? Because it's New York and we hate the Yankees and the Orioles haven't done diddly since the 80's. Embarassing stories about the Catholic Church are more newsworthy because of the Church's perceived power. If Catholics are martyred in Indonesia or Africa, it doesn't compute in the minds of John Q. Public. JQP wants to hear news that reinforces his worldview, not news that challenges it. Martyred Catholics won't sell cars, toothpaste or Levitra. But powerful priests and bishops taking a fall or people thumbing their noses at the hierarchy will sell thfor the sponsors. It's my take that media coverage of the sex and cover-up scandals was of the same make and model as media trashing of priesidents, entertainers, and other celebrities gone bad. Martha Stewart, for example, could give PR lessons to the US bishops, if they bothered to ask. So I don't get bothered than everybody seems to be against us. I'm certainly not going to work myself into a persecution complex over it. It's just not worth the energy.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Light and Darkness I'm rather busy this week, but I can contribute a couple excerpts. I've been reading Fr Robert Barron's little book, Heaven in Stone and Glass: Experiencing the Spirituality of the Gothic Cathedrals. It is a series of short meditations that "take as a starting point some aspect of a Gothic cathedral and then read it symbolically, showing the spiritual world to which it is transparent." Fr Barron points out, in a meditation that's implicitly relevant to this past Sunday's Gospel reading, that "when one enters a Gothic cathedral, one is plunged into darkness." But then the cathedral itself emerges as a guide: "As we move through the church - with hesitation at first - we come to ever greater illumination, the windows allowing more and more light into the space." "Having stumbled in, the pilgrim now sees." This passage from darkness to light tells us something about our relationship to God. Jesus Christ immediately threatened our "ideology of violence, differentiation, and exclusion," and was soon put to death by the religious and secular authorities, betrayed and denied by even his own followers. There is clearly "something dreadfully wrong with us," and the blinding darkness of the portals of the cathedral reminds us that we must first accept our own disorientation - our own inability to understand God, let alone guide ourselves to him - before we can really move as pilgrims towards the "new world" of the light: Then Jesus came back from the dead; the light that they put out shone again through the power of the Father: "the light shone in the darkness and the darkness could not overcome it." In the Gospel of Luke, we hear that the disciples, upon seeing the risen Christ, were terrified. I have always thought that this fear came, not just from the novelty of the event, but from the conviction that he was back for vengeance. As in a ghost story, the wronged victim seemed to have returned from the grave seeking revenge. But the risen Jesus reaches out to those who had abandoned him and says, simply "Shalom," peace. In approaching his disciples in forgiveness and non-violence, Jesus shows that God is not only love for the victims, but also reconciliation for the victimizers. If he had returned in retribution, he would have represented the old myth of order through violence, God establishing justice through crushing the perpetrators of injustice. Instead, the resurrected Christ repudiates that myth and brands that god as an idol. The divine power is not love for some and hatred for others, not a friend of his own and an enemy of their enemies - rather, God is love, right through, with no qualification, no compromise, no question. As Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, "God makes his sun shine on the good and the bad alike, and his rain to fall on the just and the unjust." Unlike the gods of mythology and philosophy and popular belief, divinities who are both dark and light, the real God is light; "in him there is no darkness." This conviction concerning the nature of God is hardly a mere theological prevision; it opens up a new world. If God is love, if the very source and ground of existence is nothing but light, then our world, so characterized by the shadows of violence, hatred, retribution, and the inability to forgive, is itself a kind of illusion and shadow. And the church, which bears the power of the true God, is therefore the harbinger of a new society, the herald of a new way of being. There is a wonderful description of the construction of Chartres Cathedral that has come down to us from the twelfth century. It says that people from all walks of life and social strata - lords, ladies, soldiers, and common workers - came together in the grueling task of transporting stones, wine, grain, and oil to the work site. They labored side by side and in reverential silence - and all forgave their enemies. What we see here is a hint of the new city made possible by the authority of the risen Christ at work in his church. When we visit a Gothic cathedral and move into the magnificent light of the place, it is the true God that we are meant to praise and this new world that we are compelled to imagine.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Get The Terminology Straight, Please
EWTN and CWN fumble this one. The E's headline:


Picking up a Catholic World News story the Vatican's been sitting on for eight months: "A Vatican document that was approved in February, indicating that only priests should administer the last rites, was made public on October 21." A few things ... St Blog's Catholics whine and wince when the secular media can't get the Catholic stuff straight. Just for the record: - The sacrament of the anointing of the sick is not last rites, though a dying person may be anointed. - Communion for the dying is called viaticum. And a question about this "friendly reminder" ... why did the Vatican sit on this for eight months? It's not really as if deacons and lay people don't know about the restrictions on presiders for these sacraments. I understand conservatives want their own churchspeak just like the liberals, but sheesh, at least get your sacraments straight when you invent your own lingo. This is embarassing.
Lay Associations: "Not Ends Unto Themselves"
AA19 sets forth some sobering considerations to balance a free ranging approach. First, associations must put the spiritual well-being of members foremost, even above the particular apostolate(s) itself: Among these associations, those which promote and encourage closer unity between the concrete life of the members and their faith must be given primary consideration. Associations are not ends unto themselves; rather they should serve the mission of the Church to the world. And an interesting thing: Their apostolic dynamism depends on their conformity with the goals of the Church as well as on the Christian witness and evangelical spirit of every member and of the whole association. Not solum magisterium, I'd say. Think international, AA says, for three reasons: - the progress of social institutions - the fast-moving pace of modern society - the global nature of the Church's mission And a conclusion: Maintaining the proper relationship to Church authorities, the laity have the right to found and control such associations and to join those already existing. Yet the dispersion of efforts must be avoided. This happens when new associations and projects are promoted without a sufficient reason, or if antiquated associations or methods are retained beyond their period of usefulness. Nor is it always fitting to transfer indiscriminately forms of the apostolates that have been used in one nation to other nations.
AA18: Strength In Numbers
People are naturally social. Recognizing that, AA notes God has naturally emphasized that in the plan of salvation: "... it has pleased God to unite those who believe in Christ into the people of God (cf. 1 Peter 2:5-10) and into one body (cf. 1 Cor. 12:12). The group apostolate of Christian believers then happily corresponds to a human and Christian need and at the same time signifies the communion and unity of the Church in Christ, who said, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matt. 18:20)." AA18 continues, stating the realms of family, parish, and diocese have both formal and informal efforts. The two (or more) heads are better than one principle is at work: For the associations established for carrying on the apostolate in common sustain their members, form them for the apostolate, and rightly organize and regulate their apostolic work so that much better results can be expected than if each member were to act on his own. Committees aren't mentioned, but: In the present circumstances, it is quite necessary that, in the area of lay activity, the united and organized form of the apostolate be strengthened. In fact, only the pooling of resources is capable of fully achieving all the aims of the modern apostolate and firmly protecting its interests. And adaptability is a virtue: Here it is important that the apostolate encompass even the common attitudes and social conditions of those for whom it is designed. Otherwise those engaged in the apostolate are often unable to bear up under the pressure of public opinion or of social institutions. Nothing much else comes to mind in the comment category for me. How about you?
Testing Science?
Author and blogger Chet Raymo sensibly weighs in on biologist Robin Allshire writing a retraction for an earlier scientific paper, admitting no one, not even his own laboratory, has been able to duplicate the results of the original experiment. Raymo concludes: When we see the first peer-reviewed experimental data supporting intelligent design or astrology that is reproducible in other laboratories by skeptics and believers alike, then these hypotheses can make a legitimate claim to being sciences. When we see the first published retraction, we will know that intelligent design or astrology has reached maturity as a science. It's a good definition, but I'm not holding my breath for maturity coming along any time soon. ID is not science. As such, I don't necessarily have a problem with its inclusion in a curriculum, but not in a science curriculum.
Procedure Changes

From my bulletin column last week: A change for Eucharistic Ministers: you’ve noticed it. I wanted to take some column space to explain it. In 2003, we revised Communion procedures to be in accord with the latest General Instruction on the Roman Missal (GIRM), the book that instructs parishes how to celebrate the Mass. The section in question (#162) reads as follows: “(Lay) ministers should not approach the altar before the priest has received Communion, and they are always to receive from the hands of the priest celebrant the vessel containing either species of the Most Holy Eucharist for distribution to the faithful.”

In his directive to parishes this past summer, which you may have read in the Catholic Key, Bishop Finn chose to interpret this passage more strictly, instructing that lay Eucharistic Ministers should “enter the sanctuary after the priest has received Communion ….” So the adjustment we’ve made is for Eucharistic Ministers to wait on the carpet until the priest receives from the chalice, then enter the sanctuary, where all other procedures continue as usual. Does this mean lay people are less-valued in the eyes of God? Not at all. Are these procedures that all-fired important? Yes and no. Procedures are important in the sense that they provide a framework for people to serve others at Mass and, for the sake of organization, they permit duties to be carried out with less distraction. In another sense, we cannot let ourselves get bogged down in details (with feelings of either dismay or triumph) and miss the bigger picture. Vatican II said it well: “... when the liturgy is celebrated, something more is required than the mere observation of the laws governing valid and licit celebration; … the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects.” Getting the procedure right isn’t the end of the job; it’s only square one. The real task is engaging people who come to Mass, helping them to full awareness, active engagement, and a spiritual enrichment for their lives. When procedures assist us in those ways, I support them. When they do not assist us toward these goals, we comply and then quickly move on to the more important things. For those dismayed by liturgy changes, I offer my open ear anytime, as well as the suggestion: let’s keep our eyes on the greater goal.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Dress Up

Fellow KC blogger Curmudgeon suggests that when you go to the symphony, "dress like you're going to the symphony. Don't people know how to dress anymore? There were only a smattering of sportcoats and ties out there, much less men in suits. What's the world coming to when open shirts outnumber ties 2 to 1 at a Saturday night symphony concert?"

I have to agree with my reactionary neighbor.

Brittany rolled her eyes last month when we went to the Friends of Chamber Music season opener and I said at 6:35, "Time to get dressed up!" I think the champagne and chocolates made up for it. The former for me, the latter for the women of the family.

As it is, I had forgotten I had highlighted that concert. I love the Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherazade. I have a good recording of it, and I play it somewhat frequently. My first favorite musical version of the storytelling princess on a stay of execution was this one by the outstanding and vastly underrated rock band Renaissance, fans of which can check out a substantial site here.

As it is I spent much of the evening playing Jumanji with Brit, then curling up with this book, reviewed here.

Enjoyed a hectic day: Children's Choir at 9AM, then our small adult choir went to our sister parish for 11AM Mass, St Louis as part of a choir/pulpit exchange, then back for the noon Mass at STM lickety split, for my scheduled sacristan was in a car accident a few days ago and my other regular was out of town. Then over for Jazz and Barbecue in the school aud, food provided by the St Louis Parish Men's Club.

Tonight, I finish Atonement and listen to more music. But I won't be wearing a suit and tie.

Today's Gospel In church, we heard part of Matthew 22, including Jesus' declaration, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind . . . your neighbour as yourself.” In his Credo column in today's Times, Monsignor Roderick Strange, Rector of the Pontifical Beda College in Rome, points out that if we do not love our neighbor and still claim that we love God, we are nothing more than liars (1 Jn 4:20). But our neighbors include those whom we might hate. This seems impossible, until we meditate on it alongside another seemingly impossible command:

There is a saying in the Sermon on the Mount that may seem completely bewildering. Jesus instructs his hearers: “You must, therefore, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew v, 48). I wonder how much misery has been caused to earnest, well-intentioned people who have seen this command, tried to obey it, failed, and slumped into depression. How can anyone match the perfection of God? What can that mean? The key lies in the word which is so often overlooked — “therefore”.

The command to be perfect is not only a command; it is also a conclusion. In the preceding passage our common assumption that we are to love our neighbours and hate our enemies is radically revised. We are told instead that, besides loving our friends, which is unremarkable, we must also love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Why? Because by doing so we will mirror God’s activity, “who makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust”. The image is used to illustrate that God does not discriminate, but treats everyone equally.

All of us, good and bad alike, are loved with the same limitless love, and that is how we are called to love in our turn both friend and foe. That is how we reflect the perfection of God: “You must, therefore, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Words which, taken in isolation, may overwhelm us as an ideal beyond our reach can, when seen in context (while they still beggar the imagination) be recognised as real and practicable, shaping our response to violence, while they test us to the limit.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Better Than Gold Mines
NASA is looking for more valuable property on the moon. Let's mine some oxygen.
What is a Good Sermon (Part II)? First, thank you to all who commented so generously on "Part I" below. I did want to write more about preaching today, but, alas, I have to grade midterms (perhaps, then, there will be a "Part III" on Monday). So, here's an excerpt from an interesting article by Donald Heet, OSFS of the Catholic University of America, originally published in America on November 26, 2001: It was a well-written homily. It reflected on the Gospel for the Sunday (the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost, i.e., prodigal son) and developed a contemporary application: do we envision God as a cosmic policeman ready to pounce on us when we sin, or is God seen as a shepherd who foolishly leaves his sheep to find the lost lamb, a woman who calls in friends and neighbors to rejoice over a lost coin or as a father who treats his wastrel son as a returning hero? The homily took the Scripture seriously and asked how it spoke to a contemporary congregation. I suspect the homilist or his parish had paid top dollar to the homily service that provided it. Unfortunately, it was delivered five days after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on Sept. 11, and less than 40 miles from the still-smoking ruins of the World Trade Center. Aside from one or two ill-considered, ad-libbed comments, there was no mention of the events that had so brutally taken hold of the country's consciousness. The day after the terrorist strikes, I asked the students in my introductory course on liturgical preaching to attend to how preachers dealt with the topic in their Sunday homilies. The following Monday they reported that in every case the preacher had dealt with the topic, some much more successfully than others. One reported on a homily in which the preacher read from the catechism on the just war theory! Mine was the only case reported where the topic had been basically ignored, although, to be fair, the presider had spoken about the events of the week in his opening comments before Mass. I was prepared to write off one preacher's failure until I began to hear more and more reports--this time from the Washington, D.C., area--of homilies that did not in any way deal with the worst terrorist attack in the history of the United States. What was shocking and painful was that some of those who chose to do this are preachers I know, men I admire, priests who are generally known for their pastoral sensitivity in dealing with parishioners. ... One of the most significant and best developed treatments of what the homily should be and do is the document "Fulfilled in Your Hearing: The Homily in the Sunday Assembly," authored by the U.S. bishops' Committee on Priestly Life and Ministry of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. The document describes the homily as "a scriptural interpretation of human existence which enables a community to recognize God's active presence, to respond to that presence in faith through liturgical word and gesture, and beyond the liturgical assembly through a life lived in conformity with the Gospel." This makes it clear that the homily, ultimately, is not "about Scripture"; rather, it is about human existence as interpreted in light of the Scripture readings of the day. Two elements are brought into dialog: human experience and the scriptural text. It is not a case of using examples taken from human experience to illumine what the text means; rather human experience itself is seen as revelatory, even though the meanings of human experience, especially when it is as traumatic as the events of Sept. 11, become clear only when viewed though the perspective of the scriptural message. You can read "Fulfilled in Your Hearing" here. Two questions: Do your preachers regularly present what our bishops call "a scriptural interpretation of human existence which enables a community to recognize God's active presence"? And how did they mention the recent hurricanes in their homilies?
Liturgical Dear Abby
The Liturgy Q&A section at Zenit is worth checking weekly. I get the impression most questioners have a bone to pick with someone, so they submit to this "Dear Abby of Liturgy" (Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University) for justification. This week: "I was under the impression that the priest 'may' add a prayer at the conclusion of the Prayers of the Faithful, but was not required to do so by the rubrics. In my parish, after the deacon concludes the prayers, the parish priest simply enunciates, 'Oremus.'" McNamara quotes GIRM 71: "It is for the priest celebrant to direct this prayer from the chair. He himself begins it with a brief introduction, by which he invites the faithful to pray, and likewise he concludes it with a prayer." He concludes, "it is clear that the priest should conclude the Prayer of the Faithful with a prayer. This prayer is said with hands extended as for the other presidential prayers." On first reading, I thought this treated with the practice of the presider adding prayers to the already-composed offerings. I've never known the general intercessions to be concluded by anything but a prayer. Sometimes, I stumble across a "communal" prayer like the Hail Mary or the diocesan vocations prayer. Those would be no-no's too, I guess.
In the Synod's Words ...
Vatican II liturgical reform: "progressive and adequate" No universal indult, no expanded use, not even a priority. Seems right to me.
Boston: Blunders for Everyone
I'm chiming in late on this one. Father Walter Cuenin, pastor of a highly regarded Vatican II parish in Newton, Massachusetts, was asked to resign because of financial wrongdoing netting him something around the sum of $80,000. The parish finance council signed off on what seems not to have been a big secret. Cuenin also happened to be one of Cardinal Law's most outspoken critics when revelations of Boston's clergy sex abuse and cover-up scandal eventually knocked the archbishop over three-thousand miles out of his cathedra. The diocese's media organ weighs in on the charges. Cuenin's replacement was asked to consider an assignment there four months ago. Was the diocese fishing for retribution? I'm inclined to think not. Here's my take: Great pastors are a danger to their parishes. Their followers create a cult around them, elevating them high into the Communion of Saints even before the Vatican puts in their two euros worth. Vatican II parishes should be able to operate without a flinch when a new pastor is assigned. If it was all up to Cuenin to make this place go, it was little better than a Tridentine operation dressed in a progressive chasuble. Great pastors are a danger to themselves. I'd rather be persecuted than made a cult hero. There's far more spiritual danger when you have loyal followers farther than the eye can see. It's hard not believing some of the crap you can be fed. Cuenin may have believed he was accepting honest gifts from his parishioners with the extra auto mileage and the stipend for his sabbatical. A wise man would've turned it down. All of it. And made a point, politely, in doing so. Maybe it was Cuenin's time to go. Twelve years as a pastor: that's enough. Cuenin should've realized it and begun preparing his flock a year ago. If the diocese wasn't offering, Cuenin himself could've gone to Archbishop Sean and requested a transfer. The chancery doesn't get off scot-free though. Every diocese should have a plan for transferring pastors, and ensuring a smooth transition, especially when a well-regarded guy leaves town. They owe it to the priests coming and going to make the upheaval as stress-free and smiley-faced as possible. Smart diocesan people would've downplayed the financial mismanagement charges. Cuenin would've needed to have been caught in bed with a minor to sink lower in people's eyes than the diocesan bureaucracy. (And even then, it would be close.) The archbishop and his people should've realized a quickie transfer would be hard enough on the parishioners at Our Lady's without questioning Cuenin's judgment on finances. That they asked another priest to consider the assignment before the audit revealed impropriety shows it was on their minds. Better would be to announce a transfer date at least six months ahead and given Cuenin and the people a chance to enjoy a farewell tour. Cuenin seems to be the only one on the high road, and he was the one with his hand caught in the cookie jar. The diocese shoots itself in the foot again. The parishioners haven't grown up yet. I sure hope Coyne is ready for the job.
Lay People In Isolation
AA17 treats the situation of isolated Catholics: There is a very urgent need for this individual apostolate in those regions where the freedom of the Church is seriously infringed. In these trying circumstances, the laity do what they can to take the place of priests, risking their freedom and sometimes their life to teach Christian doctrine to those around them, training them in a religious way of life and a Catholic way of thinking, leading them to receive the sacraments frequently and developing in them piety, especially Eucharistic devotion. While the sacred synod heartily thanks God for continuing also in our times to raise up lay persons of heroic fortitude in the midst of persecutions, it embraces them with fatherly affection and gratitude.

The individual apostolate has a special field in areas where Catholics are few in number and widely dispersed. Here the laity who engage in the apostolate only as individuals, whether for the reasons already mentioned or for special reasons including those deriving also from their own professional activity, usefully gather into smaller groups for serious conversation without any more formal kind of establishment or organization, so that an indication of the community of the Church is always apparent to others as a true witness of love. In this way, by giving spiritual help to one another through friendship and the communicating of the benefit of their experience, they are trained to overcome the disadvantages of excessively isolated life and activity and to make their apostolate more productive.

In part, this section spoke to the reality of Catholics behind the Iron Curtain as well as scattered believers in mission lands. Today, internet communication and wider human settlement makes geographical isolation less of an imposed choice. I do think a substantial case exists that today's society produces more alienation and isolation, though we have a few more billion souls sharing the planet. I wonder how the council bishops would treat internet communications and their use among Catholics today. What seems to be a golden opportunity for sharing of information, resources, and faith, has instead become a battleground for competing ideologies. For all the complaints about Vatican II being poorly implemented or hijacked or coopted by the modern culture, it seems that particular fault has come back to haunt most all of us online. Instead of making our internet lives patterned on the saints, we choose instead our favorite media figure.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Brother I'll try to write a bit more about preaching tomorrow (do read Todd's practical suggestions below), but today I'll just contribute a more general meditation on spiritual authority. The following was said by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, at a memorial service to Brother Roger of Taizé at Westminster Cathedral in London this past Friday. (For more on Brother Roger and Taizé, please see this article by John Allen). Archbishop Williams began by noting that Roger Schutz was known simply by the title "Brother": The authority and compelling attractiveness of Brother Roger is all contained in this. He was not a distant figure who needed to be identified by a formal surname. He was not a hierarchical leader who needed to be approached with due veneration and awe, but an older brother in Christ’s Body, whose authority lay in years of witness, years of knowing Jesus in prayer and in the service of those bruised by the need and turmoil of the world. We often speak of how our age needs figures of authority, clear points of reference in a culture where old patterns of respect are vanishing. Sometimes we can see how Christian leaders gain the respect that is due to parents: so many will remember Pope John Paul as a sort of icon of true and trustworthy fatherhood, so many will carry in their minds the image of Mother Teresa and the children of Calcutta. But there are other no less important images to hold on to. In some circumstances the authority that matters is indeed that of the older brother – one of us, yet matured by encounter with God, sharing with the rest of us the gifts of that encounter. Christ himself is described by St Paul and by the writer to the Hebrews in just these terms, after all. And Brother Roger, with his unfailing credibility among the young, his unobtrusive but strong personal presence, his lifelong emphasis upon solidarity with the powerless, was one of the great images in our age of real brotherhood, Christlike companionship. The whole of the community life of Taizé has, of course, been just such a sign for countless people. That it has been so owes an incalculable amount to the great and deeply loved friend of God for whom we give thanks this evening. Who models "real brotherhood, Christlike companionship" for us now?
Cantor Clues
Homily Helps was popular enough, and maybe I have more to say about singers in churches. 1. Drink 16 glasses a water a day. Normal people need 8. Singers need at least double that, according to my wife's voice consultant. Before singing, be sure the water is room temperature; not hot or cold. Jesus doesn't like lukewarm, but your vocal cords do. 1b. Be sure to locate restrooms in unfamiliar churches before the opening song. 2. Cultivate a prayer life. Pray a psalm daily: these are the bedrock of your ministry. If you already do this, get a breviary besides and begin to pray morning and evening prayer, too. 3. Never use a microphone to drown out, enhance, or even assist the people's parts. A good organist or pianist can lead congregational singing without you. Your role is to be a minister of hospitality for the singing assembly. Oversinging into a microphone is like a party host keeping all the chips and dip to herself. Be polite. 4. If a microphone must be used, use it sparingly. The only items I can think of are psalm, alleluia, and communion verses, and the occasional litany. And if your church acoustics are great and you don't need amplification or if the setting is small and intimate, forego the electronics. 5. Know every hymn, psalm, and Mass setting in your parish's repertoire. Be sure you have a list from the parish liturgist or music director. Learn new pieces faithfully. 6. Ponder why you might seem to do far fewer infant baptisms than weddings and funerals and perhaps suggest to the liturgist it is time this sacrament had more musical honor in the parish. 7. Take voice lessons. 8. Attend concerts and study what the singers do. 9. Buy audio music of the great singers and study what they do. Be sure to include jazz, opera, and art songs as well as sacred music in your library. 10. Reflect on the readings in advance of every cantor assignment, even the funerals and weddings, if you can get the information. You are assisting others in singing the liturgy. You are not a hired gun to plop in with a musical dollop of your talent and zip out to the bank. Try to discern your singing as part of a larger ministry involving the worship of God and the sanctification of God's people. Live what you sing. Any additions?
Apostolicam Actuositatem Returns from Vacation
Taking a quick look at AA 15 & 16 this morning... The Council states the obvious: The laity can engage in their apostolic activity either as individuals or together as members of various groups or associations. The individual apostolate, flowing generously from its source in a truly Christian life (cf. John 4:14), is the origin and condition of the whole lay apostolate, even of the organized type, and it admits of no substitute. The Council asks if one's life is a manifest sign of the gospel: There are many forms of the apostolate whereby the laity build up the Church, sanctify the world, and give it life in Christ. A particular form of the individual apostolate as well as a sign specially suited to our times is the testimony of the whole lay life arising from faith, hope, and charity. The Council suggests we have higher standards in our lives that are obvious to others: Furthermore, in collaborating as citizens of this world, in whatever pertains to the upbuilding and conducting of the temporal order, the laity must seek in the light of faith loftier motives of action in their family, professional, cultural, and social life and make them known to others when the occasion arises. Doing this, they should be aware of the fact that they are cooperating with God the creator, redeemer, and sanctifier and are giving praise to Him.

As I read this, it occurs to me that chanceries have not held themselves to this standard in dealing with the legal challenges of the day. Do Catholic lawyers compromise themselves as lay apostles by conducting legal cases on behalf of the Church with no clearly "loftier" motives?

Finally, the laity should vivify their life with charity and express it as best they can in their works.


They should all remember that they can reach all men and contribute to the salvation of the whole world by public worship and prayer as well as by penance and voluntary acceptance of the labors and hardships of life whereby they become like the suffering Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 4:10; Col. 1:24).

"Offering it up" endorsed by Vatican II.

I was thinking of this whole section in light of the reviews I've read on John Allen's Opus Dei book. My wife has been busy with a crunch of classwork lately. She's also been feeling under the weather the past week or two. So I've been asked to feed the rabbits a few nights I'd rather go to bed early, slap in a cd and read my book. The bunnies are cute, but preparing their fresh greens and hay: these pets were my wife's idea and her project, not mine. I grumbled when I figured out how much we spend monthly in feeding these pets. But it's a good thing for me to consent, feed the prey (cats and dog are the "predators"), and even do so as I talk to them like Anita does.

I have a hard time seeing this as "suffering," though. It's a bother, and more of a small emotional one than anything grave. But I think I can benefit from carefully watching my attitude as I ... ick ... offer things up. Being in service to others in ministry puts me in a position of doing those extra things often enough. But directing my attitude as I do these things: there seems to lie the real challenge.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Star: Opus Dei Bishop
The Star thinks its newsworthy, but thanks to Rock, I've known for a few months. When I asked another diocesan priest about it, he said, "It's no secret. The bishop's spiritual director is with Opus Dei." Reporter Bill Tammeus is no favorite in some Catholic circles in town. The article linked above is reasonable. It tries to be a scoop, but it's really not. But it's generally fair, while having a whiff of its author being a bit out of the loop. I'm looking forward to reading John Allen's book about Opus Dei.
Homily Helps
Everybody (it seems) has criticisms of the homily. Fewer have concrete suggestions for improvement. Here are some: 1. Pray daily with Scripture (outside the Lectionary selections and the Office). 2. Read literature: poetry, novels, plays, the speeches of others, not to mention the daily media. 3. Attend an occasional concert, play, or lecture. In addition to enjoyment, put on a student's hat and try to leave with at least one new insight as to your own public speaking. 4. If possible, occasionally record your homily on audio and video. Wince, watch, listen, and learn. 5. Consult other priests on homily topics and methods, especially the good preachers in the diocese. 6. Know what the parish wants to hear. Why, you might ask, to cater to them? Not at all. Simple communication theory: to meet the needs of the listener. If you are unaware of the wants (and needs) of the people, you might well be misunderstood in turn. Obviously, a skilled pastoral person will be able to leap from the parish's comfort zone and help guide the community's formation in the Gospel. But such guidance is most often a step by step proposition. 7. Read and absorb the USCCB document Fulfilled In Your Hearing. 8. When approaching the liturgy's readings for the first time, read them aloud and pray with them before doing anything else. 9. Take notes after this prayer time. 10. Keep at least three different Scripture commentaries in your office, preferably from different authors and viewpoints. Sometimes, it's helpful to have a small library that focuses on biblical themes, such as women, the Holy Spirit, justice, prayer, etc.. 11. Consult and use homily aids only after your homily is drafted. Incorporate the author's ideas into your homily, not yours into the published piece. 12. Begin to seek out people whom you can trust to give you substantial feedback on homilies. Loading up with detractors is especially helpful. Why? You will be able to trust their praise when they give it. For your supporters, you can probably only trust their criticisms. But it's important to find a balance of both. And if you can manage it, cultivate a group of insightful, thoughtful people who can keep you on track. I've hardly exhausted the good ideas here. Any more from the comment boxes?

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Three Moon Night
The top shot shows Titan with its thick atmosphere, Dione passing, and Saturn's rings, nearly edge on. The little white bump on the ring centered on the image is Prometheus, one of the shepherd moons. The bottom is nearly the same scene from the solar system simulator, about 7pm London time, Monday night.
Good Gatherings
A few suggestions for imaging ... according to the solar system simulator, Mimas will pass in front of Dione at 7 minutes past London midnight next Tuesday. Tethys hangs loose on the near side of Saturn's rings, seen nearly edge on. Below, Rhea and Titan make a fetching pair tomorrow around dinnertime on the American East Coast. Except for Titan, all of Saturn's moons are pretty much big ice globes in space. In other words, white. Iapetus, Hyperion, and Phoebe are somewhat sooty--we don't know from what exactly, but where these moons aren't white, they're pretty much black. Still, the view is impressive. Just in case NASA needs help pointing its imaging devices...
Dione seems to hover over Saturn, rings, and ring shadow.

Liturgical Algebra

I love algebra, don't you? My third-grade daughter was showing me her homework the other night. Some problem like Jane drives 450 miles one weekend to visit her mother. Saturday she drives 50 miles more than on Sunday, and arrives for Sunday dinner. Poor Brittany. They haven't taught algebra yet. This problem would be a snap if she could reduce the problem to an equation: 450= (x+50) + x Combine the x's and you get: 450 = 2x + 50 Subtract fifty from each side and you get: 400 = 2x Divide each side by 2 and you get: x = 200 And because x is the number of miles on day two, Jane drove 250 miles on the first day. Aside from the fact that if I were in Jane's shoes, I'd put the pedal to the metal and get there in time for Saturday dinner, but I digress ... Somebody criticized my suggestion that on average, a priest should prepare about an hour for every minute of length of his Sunday homily, and it brought to mind a CS post from 18 Nov 2003: I've dusted my algebra off and put it to use for liturgical purposes: m = 48(H-2) +12 and its corollary:H = ((m-12)/48) +2 Amy Welborn has a great blog and she commented this morning on the length and content of a bishop's Confirmation homily. Last Spring, our local bishop, a seemingly nice guy and cancer survivor, came to preside at Confirmation. His office told us that if we had a mid-week liturgy, there would be no Eucharist. First time in my experience, but I understood if the bishop wanted to ration his energy for his health, it seemed a wise choice, if not a liturgically quirky one. Then he preached for about forty minutes. And I thought, "Heck. He could have trimmed 15-18 minutes off this homily and done Mass." As it was, the Confirmation Word Service was well over an hour long. This brings us to my Homily Formula, in which "m" is preparation time for a homily in minutes, and "H" equals the length of a homily in minutes. Instructions: If you want to know how long to prepare, simply plug in your expected homily length (H) in equation number one. Obviously, divide by 60 to get hours of prep time. If you want to know how long you can preach, use equation number two. Insert the number of minutes you have to prepare this week (m) and do the math. And they say that math and science education is wasted on us touchy-feely liturgist types. Ha! Here's a simple table for homily length: prep time in hours ------------------- homily length in minutes

-------- 0 -------------------------------------- 1.75 -------- 1 -------------------------------------- 3 -------- 2 -------------------------------------- 4.25 -------- 3 -------------------------------------- 5.5 -------- 4 -------------------------------------- 6.75 -------- 5 -------------------------------------- 8 -------- 6 -------------------------------------- 9.25 -------- 7 -------------------------------------- 10.5 -------- 8 -------------------------------------- 11.75 -------- 9 -------------------------------------- 13 ------- 10 -------------------------------------- 14.25 ------- 15 -------------------------------------- 20.5 I guess I'm giving preachers a break on Sundays, but if a guy has spent no time preparing a daily Mass homily, I give him 105 seconds, max, before it's time to pull the plug. I'm not too convinced that this is ill-spent time, or too much wasted effort. Nothing else a priest does affects as many people as his homilies. They should be meticulously prepared and backed up by voice training, Scripture study, continuing ed, and the substantial input of people who can give constructive feedback. If he's preaching for ten minutes on Sunday to hundreds of people if not a few thousand, consider the time spent per person in preparation. I still think he's getting off cheap. Keep working hard, Father, on those homilies. We're pulling for you, and we can back it up with fancy math.

Wondering at the Synod
John Allen's bishop friend in the synod raises a good point: “I wonder why in the hell they brought us here and put us through all this, to say absolutely nothing more than what has been painfully said for decades.” That's a good question. Personally, I think I'd enjoy the Italian food and scenery, not to mention the fraternal back-and-forth with my colleagues, but is this any way to run a Church? Of course, this was JP's idea, and who knows what he had in mind with it.
What Is A Good Sermon? Yesterday, John Allen reported that some bishops at the Synod asked, as a practical help for homilists, that some sort of manual "be prepared by the Vatican that would provide draft homilies keyed to the scripture readings and the Catechism of the Catholic Church." Others worried that "such a manual would simply be seen as a 'crutch.'" And still others argued that "if the primary purpose of the homily is to 'break open' the Word of God, then a manual coordinated not just to scripture but to the Catechism may be counter-productive." First, we should ask: What is going on in preaching? The most recent "Life in Christ" column by the Orthodox priest John Breck beautifully reminds us that "what is going on" should be nothing less than "the inspirational power and activity of the Holy Spirit." Fr Breck writes, "Each time we take up the Scriptures to read for our own enlightenment, or to tell a Bible story to our children, or to proclaim a message of hope to those who need to hear it, we ourselves enter into that same movement of the Spirit" that inspired the much more authoritative words of the prophets and apostles. And the grace of this Holy Spirit, St Thomas tells us (Walter Kasper calls this statement "interesting and astonishing" in its implications), chiefly instills the law of the New Testament (the lex evangelica) in our hearts - it works internally, existentially. A "manual" for preachers might then be a very useful aid, but it can't save us from ourselves by substituting for (or safely "institutionalizing") the preacher and congregation's own passage into the "movement of the Spirit." The best sermons, I think, can neither be preached nor listened to without personal engagement - whether the emotional involvement of the call and response in an African-American church or the deep and silent attentiveness at a monastery. Here is more from Fr Breck: Before the Gospel reading at the Divine Liturgy we ask God to illumine our hearts and to open our minds to understand what the Gospel teaches. For that illumination to occur, however, we need to hear both the words of the Scripture reading and those of the priest who interprets those words. (This is why the sermon should always follow immediately upon the Gospel reading and not be relegated to the end of the service. Scripture and its interpretation form an indivisible whole.) The priest, or any other person in the assembly who preaches, should also be open to the inspirational activity of the Spirit. Thereby an essential continuity is maintained from the initial writing of the Scriptures to their proclamation within the Church. As they composed their writings, the New Testament authors in effect interpreted the Old Testament. The New Testament, then, is essentially preaching or exposition, based on God’s words and acts among the people of Israel that prophesied and prepared for the coming of Christ. Subsequently, the ancient Fathers of the Church took up, studied and meditated on the writings included in both Testaments, then they produced their own interpretations of those writings in the form of homilies, theological treatises and biblical commentaries. Like the prophets of the Old Covenant and the apostles of the New, the Fathers opened themselves to the ongoing work of the Spirit, seeking His inspiration in order that their preaching might be faithful to God’s intention to reveal Himself and to lead believers to salvation. There is, then, total “continuity of inspiration” from the prophets and apostles, to the Church Fathers, and on to those in each generation who preach God’s Word. Second Peter, however, suggests that inspiration also plays a vital role in our understanding of and response to the proclamation that has come down to us. Inspiration involves not only prophets, apostles, patristic authors and preachers. It also involves each one of us who hears the Word of God and attempts to put it into practice. If we can allow the Word to resonate in our life, if we are to “hear the word of God and keep it” (Luke 11:28), we can do so only by the inspirational power and activity of the Holy Spirit. What do you think?

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