Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Music on the Web
Some inspiring and enjoyable music for Ascension on the great Australian program, For the God Who Sings. There's a nice helping of Palestrina and Bach, plus a really nice piece by the Scot James MacMillan sung by the cathedral choir of St Mary's Edinburgh. Y'all knew I was a radio announcer for an NPR affiliate in my former life, right? My favorite summer I was doing three classical overnights midweek and caring for jazz programming on weekend evenings at the AM and FM stations in Rochester, New York. Eventually, they went to automated programming for overnights--it was even cheaper than paying us part-timers. Ah well. It was time to graduate anyway.
Give A Fish, Teach To Fish, Take the Fish
Check out this NCR piece on the experience of doing mission work in Kentucky. Amy also posted the link today, but as of early tonight, she hasn't opened the doors for her commentariat, so I'll chime in here. First, I think the general Republican approach is "Take the Fish," not "Teach to Fish," otherwise why would so many American businesses gleefully bail from their responsibilities for overseeing their workers' hard-earned pensions while elevating their sometimes criminal CEO's to celebrity status? The Republicans as a whole have offered nothing to anybody but their donors. The Dems are not much better, for the record. Both establishments cater to the American sense of entitlement. Maybe it dates back to the colonial period or some Manifest Destiny thing. If it goes back to the 60's, it must be the 1760's, that's for dang sure. Second, I think that entitlement is a dangerous sensibility to cultivate in anyone, and not just the poor. I remember when my dad's side of the family descended on his uncle's home after the move to the nursing home and the funeral. They were seething that an estate worth half-a-mil was mostly heading to charity. My father stuck to the plan, agreeing with them that family should come first, but that the old guy had a right to determine if he was going to use his money to stick it to the rest of the family. When my dad passed away ten years ago, I stayed clear of the tussles over his guitar, golf clubs, and other possessions. My brother has often said I should have had the guitar. I told him I remember how dad sang and played and I don't need to get sucked into an undignified turf war. I remember working with the poor in rural central Iowa. We turned people down for assistance. Visiting their homes to hear cable tv running in the background ... I didn't always feel too bad about saving our parish tithe for someone else. On the other hand, people on food assistance will sometimes buy microwave pizza and such ... not because they're too lazy to bake bread or toss a fresh salad. Some people just don't know any better. Others can't afford an oven or refrigerator. But many of them do have the talent, means, and opportunity to emerge from poverty. As is true in Kentucky, and even Republican gated communities, they have a hard time emerging from the pickle jar of drugs and alcohol. Amy's playing her comments close to the vest. No doubt her commentariat will cluck poetic about the values of pseudo-libertarianism, bootstraps, the immorality of the poor, and all that. It makes me think the best thing this country could do is pull out of southwest Asia tonight and put all three-hundred million of us in some tough-love twelve-step therapy. Even the illegal immigrants. That'd teach us how to fish.
Making Progress In Chant IV: Pentecost Sequence
We'll see how it goes Sunday. Just after the people finish follow-along with reading II, they can check the tune for the sequence in the OCP missal, VENI SANCTE SPIRITUS. For one Mass, anyway. I think I'd adapt something for the verses on Taize's "Veni Sancte Spiritus" -- just because the publisher didn't put it in doesn't mean I can't. I do like the tune VENI SANCTE SPIRITUS. The choir went along like good sports. They had a setting of Psalm 104 in 5/4 time, so maybe it was a bit of contrast. I only do music for two Masses this weekend, and the kids probably won't sing the sequence. School's out and we've decided to roll the dice without practice this week. We did a violin and piano arrangement of REGINA COELI last week. Sometimes people comment after Mass and identify or note a specific tune. But this time, only a few generic "That's nice" comments. Our second violinist is a college student home for the summer. Nice young lady. The first person I've ever met from Ave Maria University. She was telling us that only two of the 400-some undergraduates are non-Catholics.
Gaudium et Spes 61
Gaudium et Spes 61 addresses the basic human values of intellect, will, conscience, and community--aspects which the Church insists must be the basis for the formation of new generations: Today it is more difficult to form a synthesis of the various disciplines of knowledge and the arts than it was formerly. For while the mass and the diversity of cultural factors are increasing, there is a decrease in each (person's) faculty of perceiving and unifying these things, so that the image of "universal (person)" is being lost sight of more and more. Nevertheless it remains each (person's) duty to retain an understanding of the whole human person in which the values of intellect, will, conscience and (community) are preeminent. These values are all rooted in God the Creator and have been wonderfully restored and elevated in Christ. The family is, as it were, the primary mother and nurse of this education. There, the children, in an atmosphere of love, more easily learn the correct order of things, while proper forms of human culture impress themselves in an almost unconscious manner upon the mind of the developing adolescent. The recognition of the expansion of leisure and the purpose to which it should be put: Opportunities for the same education are to be found also in the societies of today, due especially to the increased circulation of books and to the new means of cultural and social communication which can foster a universal culture. With the more or less generalized reduction of working hours, the leisure time of most (workers) has increased. May this leisure be used properly to relax, to fortify the health of soul and body through spontaneous study and activity, through tourism which refines ... character and enriches (people) with understanding of others, through sports activity which helps to preserve equilibrium of spirit even in the community, and to establish fraternal relations among (those) of all conditions, nations and races. Let Christians cooperate so that the cultural manifestations and collective activity characteristic of our time may be imbued with a human and a Christian spirit. And it's more about keeping one's leisure life full. Note that leisure is designed not only for the mind and body, but also for the soul. All these leisure activities however are not able to bring (a person) to a full cultural development unless there is at the same time a profound inquiry into the meaning of culture and science for the human person. Comments?
Roll Over Enceladus
Scientists may have uncovered why the icy moon's hot spot is at the south pole. We've known that small irregularly shaped moons align their long axis toward the large planet. To visualize, a city-sized moon shaped like a potato would point it's long end toward the planet. With lighter liquid water on one end of the moon, it would flip over (gradually, of course) and the heavier portion of the moon (rock) would align toward Saturn, leaving the water at one of the poles.
Posture In the Presence
The no-kneeling fuss in Orange County, California has made its predictable rounds in the blogosphere. A few otherwise loyal and obedient Catholics are somewhat dreaming of being Californians just so they can defy one or two bishops there. (Is it a coincidence these guys each have a frequently misspelled name?) My regular readers will know that not only do a have a thing for proper spelling (it being a sign of education, and in the case of people's names, a sign of attentive respect) but I also have little patience for misplaced authoritarianism (be it from a bureaucracy Roman, dicoesan, conservative, liberal, or otherwise). I've been known to do more than dream of diobedience in my day. One sensible Catholic comments at NLM: I prefer to kneel at this point, but I must admit that I don't understand why we stand in between the "Amen" and the "Agnus Dei". The above surely cannot be the reason, because Jesus didn't go away after the consecration was over and then come back after the Agnus Dei... So, is there a reasoning behind why we stand up and then kneel again? Is it arbitrary? It's a great question. Let me suggest that kneeling at Mass might just be more about the relationship between lay people and their clergy than it is about the reverence of human beings for God. Naturally, the chasuble-blind* in the curia have demonstrated their intent on underscoring the differences between the ordained and the non-ordained at every turn. No wonder that a literal reading of the GIRM generates a sniff in the CDWDS if it thwarts that agenda. Here's another thought ... Our parish men's group reflected on Matthew 25 this morning, and here are verses 31-40, which you all know: "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?' And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.' Here's my question to add to Jane's: Jesus couldn't have been more explicit in Matthew 25 unless he wanted to inspire John 6, yet how often does the stated concern for reverence (except during the Lord's Prayer and the Lamb of God) extend to the Lord's explicit hellfire-and-damnation-consequences for those who are unwilling or unable to recognize the call to serve the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the ill, and the convict? Again, I think the alteration of kneeling patterns is a silly thing. At worst, not only is it impolite, but it gives people, bishops, liberals, conservatives, and rebels alike a ready excuse for not confronting the harder issues of love, service, and charity. Heck, if the churchy folks are descending into disrespect so easily, I feel badly for the hungry, the thirsty, and the needy: how far down the list are they? When asked by the person what would happen if Jesus, flesh, blood, and bone appeared in person on an altar in church. I wasn't kidding when I said some religious people wouldn't recognize him at all, and would insist he get down from there. We don't need the Lord to appear to us in the flesh. That time is past and gone. We have John 6 to remind us about the Eucharist. We have Matthew 25 to remind us about caritas et amor. The theoretical what-if-Jesus-were-there-in-front-of-you is just a diversion. But maybe you have another thought. *"The difference between the clergy and lay people is getting blurry. We need to remind people that dressing differently at Mass and leading the people in prayer isn't enough to cut through all the confusion."

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Why Was His Homosexuality Part of the Story?

"I'm with the church. I'm just not with hate," said Father Martin Kurylowicz. This guy professed celibacy, but he's still out on his duff. Turns out that his revelation of being homosexual dates back nine years, but his suspension is due to being incommunicado with the bishop. I wonder why his sexual orientation was even brought up in the news report.

Also, I think some would question why he would surface his sexual orientation at all. I can see how other Catholics would benefit from the example, particularly if he reinforces his celibate lifestyle. Otherwise, we have a Church made up of closeted homosexuals, or those who are out of the closet and who confront the issue of sexual activity directly.

It seems a no-brainer to me, but maybe non-straight folks or anti-knowledge people have something else to say. Go for it.

New Car
Check out the new heterodoxmobile for the Flowerday homestead. Just imagine a nice liturgical white for Easter instead of ordinary green, and you're there. My first four-door car ever, and only the third I've ever owned. The Great Car Shopping Adventure concluded today. Lots of money, but I'm glad it's done. Let me say it again: I'm glad it's done. My wife was not pleased with the hard sell on all the extras: shades of Branson a few summers ago. But she was shocked we got to drive it home.
Peek-a-boo, Titan
At Saturn, today from the Cassini web page, a color comparison between the solar system's 2nd largest moon and its largest ring system.
Armchair Liturgist: Pentecost Sequence
It's required. It only comes up once a year. Most pew people don't know the tunes. How would you handle it? All the verses or just some? Is it okay to have the cantor or choir sing it alone? Would you put in a refrain for people to sing? Would you use the Taize Veni Sancte Spiritus or what's in your missalette or hymnal? Have you ever used Alstott's adaptation that fits the tune ODE TO JOY? Would you have the people recite it? Would you have the lector recite it? How is your parish doing it, and what would be your fiat, were you sitting in the big chair?

Monday, May 29, 2006

Armchair Liturgist: Redwear if you Dare
This should be a popular thread. Ever been in a parish where you were asked to wear red on Pentecost? Have you complied or demurred? Would you float the idea yourself? What do you think my take on wearing red might be?
Saturn and Rigel
They're not looking for green-skinned slave girls, but attempting to probe for atmospheric structure on the big planet. Stuff of science officers, not captains. Personally, I preferred Susan Oliver as a blonde, and the green skin isn't really a turn-on. But then again, I never had to deal with direct exposure to Rigellian pheromones.
Strings on the Liturgical Marionette
The LA Times notices the Orange County brouhaha over kneeling. I think Amy and most of her commentariat miss the mark on it.

Liturgical "progressives" are all for diversity, except when it comes to a pet issue or two - like this one. And we're all pretty tired of it, and we all see through it.

And yet I'm not convinced this is a liturgical progressive issue. I've criticized Seattle's decision in print in my monthly column here, but I haven't been asked to tender my LPMP* card. I did get an unfavorable letter from Seattle's liturgy office suggesting I was a traitor. But the last time I checked, kneeling isn't part of the conservative/progressive manifesto.

This "no kneeling" story is, in the end, not about kneeling. It's about about a broader base of complaints that this group has and about the bishop and pastor's stance toward this particular group and its complaints, and whatever fears and potential problems those complaints give rise to in the clerics' hearts. It's about power, and in a sense, it's even about those "thinking," "well-informed" Catholics that we've been hankering for since the end of Vatican II. What happens when the "thinking" "well-informed" Catholics can give back as much as you can when it comes to quoting liturgical experts, past and present, and are arguing against your views? Not exactly what we expected, is it? Actually, I would expect it. And as I've said before, I welcome it. But it's more about making oneself heard loud and long. Uncovering "thinking" Catholics is only the first step. The final goal is encouraging "being" Catholics: people who are unafraid to put their lives and their faith on the line, even when it seems inconvenient. In my parish, the group that wanted 24-hour adoration had to do more than ask for it politely. They wanted to visit parish groups to promote it. Fine. I had access to the parish database and I gave them a list of committee chairs. Did they make the visits? I have no idea. But each hour finds a handful of folks in church praying. A few people want to build it into perpetual adoration. That works for me if they can make it happen; maybe we'll be able to work an adoration chapel into the new building plans. It is just insane, in a way. The whole "stand from the Lord's Prayer to the end of Communion" thing is lame, artificial and manipulative. It is anything but organic and just has a feel of puppetry about it. Much like the pre-pouring of chalices and the dismissal of glass. It's the letter of the law, but it does indeed have a feel of puppetry. My suggestion would be to have everybody just take one big step back from the liturgy wars and go on a nice long retreat. *Liturgical Progressive Military Police
Laboratory of Unity
The pope is hopeful of mixed marriages among Christians of different denominations. Zenit has last week's full address from the Holy Father.
Catholics Have the Seal: Aren't You Glad?
The evangelicals have discovered confession. Caveat emptor, fundies. A member confesses an extra-marital affair, but refuses to end it. The pastor adheres to the Lord's prescription for confronting sin in the Gospel of Matthew and takes it to others. When he wanted to send a mailing to all parishioners about it, the fur began to fly, legally speaking. The DMN covered it:

Confront the person one to one, then with several others, then "tell it to the church." At every step, the person is asked to stop the offending behavior.

In this case, the man refused the private interventions and said he was quitting the church, church officials said. But Watermark's bylaws say a member "may not resign from membership in an attempt to avoid such care and correction."

"You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave." I didn't know that was in Matthew. tv coverage here.
A Two-Hour Line of Support
A music director from the other side of the line declines to give a three-pronged reassurance to a new pastor. So he loses his job. “I’ve done nothing illegal, nothing immoral,” said Nadeau, who takes the national stage soon as musical director for the closing ceremonies in July of the Gay Games in Chicago. “I’ve kept my private life separate from my work at the church.” Yet can one keep various compartments of one's life separate from each other? I asked our organist to cover for me for this past weekend's two evening Masses. (Usually we split them.) Saturday, we were invited to a friend's place for a home Mass, home blessing, and a cookout. (Rubbed shoulders with the KCK archdiocese's VG, by the way.) Wouldn't you know that the cantor hired for that Mass didn't show up. (Our organist, who does the cantor scheduling, was scrambling to hire folks to fill in spots while many regular parishioners were off to holiday fun.) Yesterday was my daughter's birthday, so I was far away from church after our afternoon concert. (I shudder to think of what might've happened at the Mass I missed yesterday.) I've never managed to keep my family life separate from my ministry or work. One always intrudes on the other. Some people have the delusion that their private lives are private. I could tell you stories, especially from my days as a single person.

Nadeau, 36, came to Kansas City eight years ago to lead the Heartland Men’s Chorus. He needed a second job to supplement his income, so he applied for the music director job at St. Agnes Church, a parish next door to Bishop Miege High School. He said he told the pastor, the Rev. Donald Cullen, that he led the Heartland Men’s Chorus, saying he shouldn’t be hired if that posed a problem. He was hired.

A group of parishioners complained then, but Cullen rebuffed them. When a new pastor was appointed, the protesters reemerged. Nadeau was given three conditions for keeping his job: He would have to end his affiliation with the Heartland Men’s Chorus, promise to refrain from sex, and state that homosexuality is a disorder. I can think of some clergy who would have a tough time with such a confession. Most parishioners obviously did: “It was a two-hour line to say goodbye to him,” said parishioner Bill Vogt. “I think he knows that the overwhelming majority of the parish love him and support him.” Does this affair leave you with questions and concerns?

Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Limits of Combox Discussion
When I comment on other blogs, especially in matters liturgical, I've found that many, many more writers line up against my viewpoints. It has been my previous practice to look upon that as a challenge and present the progressive view quite tenaciously. As of the new year, I had resolved, however, to focus my internet writing more on my own blog, and limit my posting elsewhere to once per thread. In other words, state my opinion, then get out to let others participate. I believe I may have transgressed about a half-dozen times in the past five months. But I didn't realize the "old me" had been missed. In this thread at NLM, my colleague and frequent ideological adversary, Shawn Tribe said: You talk about dialogue but for the past number of months you've exhibited a very bad habit on here of "hit and run" criticism. You throw out criticism and then when someone challenges you or engages you in debate on what you've said, you seem to all but disappear. Where is the dialogue in this? We used to have discussions and debates in the early days, and I'd be glad to have them again. As enjoyable as comboxes may be, I do not think that constructive dialogue can take place in them. The limits and disadvantages of relying on the posted word alone have been well-covered elsewhere. Additionally, most conservative web sites (even by self-avowed middle grounders like Amy) attract a substantial number of conspiracy theorists, detractors, and the like, so as to make a focused discussion nearly impossible. This would be my solution: What if a NLM contributor (perhaps you, Shawn) and I were to exchange a series of e-mails on a specific topic. It would be focused enough to permit a paragraph-for paragraph discussion that would be easily followed by interested readers. You and I could joint-edit it, then post on this blog as well as my own. If any progressive liturgist reading this happened to think she or he could do a better job than I, or in addition to me, feel free to jump in. Interested? And I repeat the offer to any of my readers who feel they need more of a voice. Neil accepted an earlier invitation to blog. Liam knows he has an open invitation to do so at any time. A few years back, a liturgical publisher suggested a point-counterpoint presentation on disputed points in Catholic liturgy. I made a few inquiries, but no takers. Maybe the time for this idea is closer to realization, especially considering the emerging comfort with podcast and other internet technologies. I think it would be exciting to have a one-on-one discussion presented, then open it up afterward for comments. The authors would have the time to make thoughtful points. An editing process could clean up the straw men and other side tracks. And instead of one side putting words into the mouth of the other, each person would have to deal with the best of the arguments their adversaries could fling their way. So, what do you say?

Friday, May 26, 2006

Wondering: What's the Point
I saw this clip at open book earlier today, but didn't get around to reading it till just now. Amy linked to another guy, Fr Guy, who opined: I ask what the point is of having a national conference which helps to clarify and implement directives from Rome when the member bishops feel free to ignore it whenever the (sic) darn well please? When I first saw the headline this morning, I thought, finally: somebody asking the right question. I still think it's the right question, but the wrong angle. So let me rephrase: What's the point of having the bishops meet, discuss, and give input on translations when the whole matter's already been decided in Rome already? I'm serious. We have a priest who believes that the purpose of a national conference is to jump when Rome says, "Frog." Wouldn't it be better in this ecclesiological angle to just have every parish pastor on the line directly to Rome? Send out directives. Let the pastors implement. Cut out two layers of bureaucracy. Easy, right? There's no wondering why bishops are having their identity crisis. The loyalists want them to be message boys, so you can probably extrapolate what the progressives would want to see. Maybe someone with more ecclesiological elasticity can explain this one to me. Bishops, who are you, 'cause I really wanna know (to paraphrase Roger Daltrey).
For Every Loser, There's Two Winners
In baseball, this was true four days ago. Thanks to the Oakland A's losing three games since then, the number of MLB teams with winning records dropped to nineteen (out of thirty). But earlier this week, only ten teams had more losses than wins--the last two teams in five of baseball's six divisions. I'd be surprised if the percentage was ever lower in baseball history. Of course it seems as if the Royals have more than half those losses. Last night's debacle was ... quite ordinary this season. But it would be an interesting version of fandom hell: when your team is so bad, everybody else has a winning record. It's almost happening this year.
Called By God in Kansas City: Bishops, Religious, Clergy
One of my readers asked for a comment on Rock's post on a Kansas City's Nun's Story. I knew we had other breaking local news, too, so let me commit a possible faux pas by combining this link with another for my newest parish priest colleague, and a few thoughts on religious life and vocations. And bishops, too. The Catholic Key gives you more of the full story of the invitation of these women Benedictines. But for the life of me, I can't imagine why this would register on the NCR's radar at all, much less be cause for leaping from mansioned windows. Like Rock, I think the local Church benefits from the presence and the apostolate of religious orders, especially contemplative ones. There are a lot of things a body new to church administration could learn from the leadership traditions of St Benedict (for one example). There, we can read that the abbot is advised to "adjust and adapt himself to everyone -- to one gentleness of speech, to another by reproofs, and to still another by entreaties, to each one according to his bent and understanding -- that he not only suffer no loss in his flock, but may rejoice in the increase of a worthy fold." A fair bit afield from the SCGS* ecclesiology championed by some Catholics these days. That said, I don't think it's totally accurate to attribute the phrase "predictable hatchet-piece" to the NCR's recent reporting on Bishop Finn. If imbalanced, it was not by editorial design. I agree with Rock and many others that my bishop is a genuinely holy and sincere and idealistic man. But where one man speaking for a diocese might come off well in theory or ecclesiology, in practice it makes things seem a bit tilted to have several folks criticizing the bishop and nobody speaking in favor of him. Since I doubt the NCR is regular breakfast reading in the bishop's kitchen, it probably doesn't matter much. Lots of people have said favorable things about him. For all the brouhaha about whining and wining and all, I think he's an improvement in many ways from his predecessor--and my regular readers should recall I've put the specifics of that in print. Our parish is getting one of the new priests. I'm looking forward to working with Father Steven Rogers, who is nicely profiled in this week's diocesan paper. Conversion stories have long been a fascination and a personal taste of mine. I have a rather unusual one myself. And at the risk of lurching head-first into touchy-feely-dom, I think it's extremely valuable for Christians to be able to recall and tell their own stories of coming to the faith. Kids need to hear parents tell it. Friends need to hear it. If one can peel oneself away from the Catechism long enough, it's even appropriate for RCIA or other faith-sharing circles. There's something deliciously Benedictine about Rogers' story from about a decade ago:

During the summer of 1995, the furniture company was about to be sold, and Deacon Rogers said his job security was up in the air. He told a friend, Susan Dinges, that he was going to take a week's vacation away from everything at the Lake of the Ozarks.

Dinges, who also wasn't Catholic, had another idea, he recalled.

"She said, 'I want you to go to Conception Abbey. It's quiet up there and remote. You can read and rest,'" he said.

Deacon Rogers said he booked himself for a week-long spiritual retreat where he met one of the Benedictine monks, Father Hugh Tasch.

"We talked about anything and everything I wanted to talk about - art, architecture, the Renaissance," Deacon Rogers said.

Never once did Father Hugh try to "convert" him. But he did tell Deacon Rogers that the future priest was a Renaissance man filled with a wide array of talent and drive. "You will be a leader," the monk told the young man, "but first you have to get focused and organized."

"He left it at that, and bid me farewell," Deacon Rogers said.

God adjusts and adapts to our unique individual circumstances. As Catholics, we offer the Creator not one cookie-cutter result, but a dizzying set of variations on a single theme. The Church is far wider, more incomparably vast than any single Catholic would or could identify. The challenge for many of us is finding that focus. Hopefully it's not an aspect that leads us to measure others by our own standards. Or that it's not an adventure in religious narcissism: the me-and-God indulgence all too common in our American culture. The longer I'm a Catholic, the more exposure I have to new people, new stories. It's well worth taking some time to tell and listen to these stories. * Small Church, Getting Smaller
Gaudium et Spes 60
Just to keep it in perspective, we're just starting Gaudium et Spes section 3 of chapter 2 of part II of the document. Remaining in the overall chapter which treats the "Proper Development of Culture", this next section, "Some More Urgent Duties of Christians in Regard to Culture," will take up the next three posts in this series. Now that we've reestablished our bearings, let's dive in: It is now possible to free most of humanity from the misery of ignorance. Therefore the duty most consonant with our times, especially for Christians, is that of working diligently for fundamental decisions to be taken in economic and political affairs, both on the national and international level which will everywhere recognize and satisfy the right of all to a human and social culture in conformity with the dignity of the human person without any discrimination of race, sex, nation, religion or social condition. Therefore it is necessary to provide all with a sufficient quantity of cultural benefits, especially of those which constitute the so-called fundamental culture lest very many be prevented from cooperating in the promotion of the common good in a truly human manner because of illiteracy and a lack of responsible activity. As we've seen before in GS, Christian activity in the world, especially in the establishment of justice, charity, peace, and good relations among groups of peoples, is not an "extra." Working to better the life of human beings is part of the inspiration for the Christian life, and very much a part of the Gospel call. A person's giftedness is intended for the good of all, not for self-importance: We must strive to provide for those (persons) who are gifted the possibility of pursuing higher studies; and in such a way that, as far as possible, they may occupy in society those duties, offices and services which are in harmony with their natural aptitude and the competence they have acquired.(11. John XXIII, encyclical letter Pacem in Terris: AAS 55 (1963), p. 260.) Thus each (person) and the social groups of every people will be able to attain the full development of their culture in conformity with their qualities and traditions. Everything must be done to make everyone conscious of the right to culture and the duty (one) has of developing (one)self culturally and of helping others. Sometimes there exist conditions of life and of work which impede the cultural striving of (people) and destroy in them the eagerness for culture. This is especially true of farmers and workers. It is necessary to provide for them those working conditions which will not impede their human culture but rather favor it. Women now work in almost all spheres. It is fitting that they are able to assume their proper role in accordance with their own nature. It will belong to all to acknowledge and favor the proper and necessary participation of women in the cultural life. Comments?
The Golden Rules of Summer Vacation
Our pastor asked the kids at the last school Mass today if they could remember (last year's associate pastor) Fr Shawn's three rules for summer vacation. Some did. 1. Go to church. 2. Read books. 3. Have fun. Good advice for any age, any time of the year. We've been on summer vacation for two hours now. It's still going well. Hope yours does, too.
Why is it Difficult to Talk about Immodesty? This will be my last post for a couple of weeks. It’s because I’m getting married. This isn’t something sudden; I’ve just always been reluctant to reveal very much about my personal life on the Internet. I can say, though, that my fiancé and I would appreciate your prayers. I promise to return to blogging by the end of June as a far better person. I’m sure that Catholic Sensibility will flourish in my absence, especially since Todd has figured out that immodesty, even as the unillustrated topic of abstract theological discussion, will always attract visitors. And so my subject here is immodesty, a rather strange one given the upcoming nuptials. It seems that nobody who has commented here actually wears immodest clothing to church or encourages the practice. Furthermore, I choose to believe that all who have kindly graced our comments boxes would counsel those who wear blatantly immodest outfits to change their apparel, whether for the sake of protecting their own “intimate center” or to avoid presenting an “occasion of sin.” (There is also Umberto Eco’s interesting line, "Thought abhors tights.") So, why so many comments about a matter that would seem to be relatively clear, at least in practice? Obviously, immodesty is not just about immodesty. What is it about? I would like to cautiously explore this question, using some of the work of Tina Beattie. I trust that you’ll let me know if I seem misguided; I hope that I don’t unnecessarily offend anyone. We’ll begin with the observation, which I think will be uncontroversial if somewhat uncomfortable, that female sexuality can be a very tricky thing for males - especially Catholic males. Dr Beattie points out that our tradition includes a good many males who have envisioned their spiritual lives as a “highly eroticized love affair between the feminized soul and Christ.” Thus, the medieval mystic Richard Rolle, drawing on the Song of Songs, writes in The Fire of Love: “Let him kiss me and refresh me with his sweet love; let him hold me tight and kiss me on the mouth, else I die; let him pour his grace into me, that I may grow in love.” But this spiritual desire often means resisting sexual desire; one is lured away from the love of Christ by the temptations of a real female body. And so Rolle writes, also in The Fire of Love, “Loving women upsets the balance, disturbs the reason, changes wisdom to folly, estranges the heart from God, takes the soul captive, and subjects it to demons!” Needless to say, we are entering dangerous territory. I suppose that many of you have not read Rolle (I probably would not have, if not for an undergraduate course with a rather interesting reading list). But we do see a similar dynamic in the late Hans Urs von Balthasar, perhaps the most influential (and erudite) twentieth century Catholic theologian. For Balthasar, the human soul is feminine before the masculine God, a theme very much reflected in John Paul II’s Mulieris Dignitatem: “All human beings – both women and men – are called through the Church, to be the ‘Bride’ of Christ, the Redeemer of the world. In this way ‘being the bride,’ and thus the ‘feminine’ elements, becomes a symbol of all that is ‘human’ …” But, Tina Beattie says, for Balthasar, as with Rolle, “this entails the man having a spiritual capacity to transcend his sexual body, in order to mimetically adopt the feminine persona in his relationship with Christ.” In a chapter entitled “The Conquest of the Bride” in his Heart of the World, Balthasar imagines Christ himself addressing the earthly Church: Just as you, passionately, with throbbing pulse, cross over temptation’s boundary, so, too, have I crossed over the boundary of the flesh with a quivering heart, fully conscious of the danger. I dared to enter the body of my Church, the deadly body which you are … For your sake I became weak, since I could experience your being only in weakness. No wonder you realized your advantage over me and took my nakedness by storm! But I have defeated you through weakness and my Spirit has overpowered my unruly and recalcitrant flesh. (Never has woman made more desperate resistance!) Tina Beattie says that, in this strange passage, “Von Balthasar’s Christ, like Rolle, is the spiritual man battling against the female body which reminds him of his own sexual vulnerability and weakness.” The feminine has here been metaphorically conquered and controlled by Christ, and, as the “bride of Christ,” the Catholic male must also struggle against the female flesh that still lures his own “unruly and recalcitrant flesh” away from his Bridegroom. I do hope that I am not being unfair to Balthasar, but it seems that, at the very least, this line of thought can lead to disturbing consequences. I think we can speculate, then, that part of the reason why it is hard to talk about female immodesty is something unspoken – the presence of real and unavoidable female bodies compromises the language that some Catholic males use to make sense of their “feminine” relationship to God. The real female body is an imagined competitor to the soul’s longing for Christ. I think that this would be unfortunate. … But Dr Beattie helps us identify another very different reason that might explain why immodesty will always attract more than a hundred comments. We can begin by asking another, more basic question: What was unique about Christianity in the ancient world? Christians did not sacrifice. This refusal to sacrifice was also a simultaneous refusal of the violence that accompanied sacrifice. Beattie draws on Rene Girard’s theory of religious scapegoating to explain the nature of sacrifice. Here is Girard from a brief and useful First Things article: When scandals proliferate, human beings become so obsessed with their rivals that they lose sight of the objects for which they compete and begin to focus angrily on one another. As the borrowing of the model's object shifts to the borrowing of the rival's hatred, acquisitive mimesis turns into a mimesis of antagonists. More and more individuals polarize against fewer and fewer enemies until, in the end, only one is left. Because everyone believes in the guilt of the last victim, they all turn against him-and since that victim is now isolated and helpless, they can do so with no danger of retaliation. As a result, no enemy remains for anybody in the community. Christians do not sacrifice because the Bible “proclaims the innocence of mythical victims and the guilt of their victimizers.” The old myths – the ritual maiming and murder of Oedipus and Pentheus, for example – would disguise this making of peace through the death of an innocent (“no enemy remains for anybody in the community”). Oedipus has, the story goes, killed his father and slept with his mother, and his blinding and expulsion become a supposedly self-inflicted religious duty. In his classic text, Violence and the Sacred, Girard noted that “women don’t appear, for the most part, as the primary agents of violence,” but they very often play sacrificial victims in the mythical accounts of rape by the gods. The Virgin Birth, he says, is quite different from other myths because likely sacrificial victims - “the child, the woman, the pauper and domestic animals” – are in the foreground, but also because of the absence of sexuality, which “corresponds to the absence of the violent mimesis with which myth acquaints us in the form of rape by the gods.” Many of the early Church fathers, Dr Beattie reminds us, were converts from paganism, and their opposition to the cults would go along with a deep wariness about the sexuality that was apparently part of its sacrificial violence – “perhaps the revulsion with which they recall their experiences of the cults is tinged with shame, for at the time they presumably experienced not disgust but arousal.” We can easily imagine a more explicitly sexualized version of the uncontrollable “bloodlust” shown in Augustine’s famous account of Alypius at Rome’s civic ritual - the gladiatorial show, “For, as soon as he saw the blood, he drank in with it a savage temper, and he did not turn away, but fixed his eyes on the bloody pastime, unwittingly drinking in the madness--delighted with the wicked contest and drunk with blood lust. He was now no longer the same man who came in, but was one of the mob he came into, a true companion of those who had brought him thither.” There is something very valuable in this. As Beattie says, “If sexual violence did not have the power to arouse, there would be no market in pornography, and media reports of sex crimes, rape and abuse would be considerably less voyeuristic.” But the connection between ritualized violence and the female sexual body can have destructive aspects, particularly if female sexuality is always seen as potentially pagan, and the only feminine ideal becomes transcendently asexual. Once more, I don’t think that anybody supports immodest clothing for obvious reasons. But why does a discussion on immodesty increase blog traffic this much? I wonder whether the unveiled female body is seen as a sexual competitor to the soul’s longing for Christ, and if it is still very much associated with the “divine madness” against which Pope Benedict rightly cautioned us. I would worry about this. But perhaps I am being ridiculous. Of course, I also worry that my fiancé will read this. I promise not to think about this subject for a very long while.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Spacing Out
All's quiet on the Mercury front. The latest Venus probe has settled into a final orbit. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has begun to dip into the Martian atmosphere to slow itself, and refine its orbit. Meanwhile, in my Orbiter simulation, I've managed to orbit the planet Jupiter, and after a close fly-by of the moon Ganymede, managed to get into a low orbit. That's Ganymede over on the left, there. Rest assured that Ganymedans will come to church warmly and demurely dressed, as surface temperatures range from -170 to -300 degrees F.
Gaudium et Spes 59
Continuing our look at Gaudium et Spes, this last part of the section treating the development of culture starts off by saying, in essence, that culture is a tool for human beings, and not elevated to its own level:
For the above reasons, the Church recalls to the mind of all that culture is to be subordinated to the integral perfection of the human person, to the good of the community and of the whole society.
We have another list:
Therefore it is necessary to develop the human faculties in such a way that there results a growth of the faculty
- of admiration,
- of intuition,
- of contemplation,
- of making personal judgment,
- of developing a religious, moral and social sense.
Culture is identified as a natural result of human interaction as social beings. As such, it serves the common good; it doesn't set itself up as an unlimited good unto itself.
Culture, because it flows immediately from the spiritual and social character of (people), has constant need of a just liberty in order to develop; it needs also the legitimate possibility of exercising its autonomy according to its own principles. It therefore rightly demands respect and enjoys a certain inviolability within the limits of the common good, as long, of course, as it preserves the rights of the individual and the community, whether particular or universal.
Look! Vatican I is quoted:
This Sacred Synod, therefore, recalling the teaching of the first Vatican Council, declares that there are "two orders of knowledge" which are distinct, namely faith and reason; and that the Church does not forbid that "the human arts and disciplines use their own principles and their proper method, each in its own domain"; therefore "acknowledging this just liberty," this Sacred Synod affirms the legitimate autonomy of human culture and especially of the sciences. (First Vatican Council, Constitution on the Catholic Faith: Denzinger 1795, 1799 (3015, 3019). Cf. Pius XI, encyclical letter Quadragesimo Anno: AAS 23 (1931), p. 190.)
The boundaries of human freedom of expression are set liberally:
All this supposes that, within the limits of morality and the common utility, (humankind) can freely search for the truth, express its opinion and publish it; that it can practice any art it chooses: that finally, it can avail himself of true information concerning events of a public nature. (Cf. John XXIII, encyclical letter Pacem in Terris: AAS 55 (1963), p. 260.)
Just as the Church is content to permit the expression of human culture a liberal breadth, so too, it is not keen on the abuse or corruption of culture by other human entities, such as government or business:
As for public authority, it is not its function to determine the character of the civilization, but rather to establish the conditions and to use the means which are capable of fostering the life of culture among an even within the minorities of a nation. (Cf. John XXIII, encyclical letter Pacem in Terris: AAS 55 (1963), p. 283; Pius XII, radio address, Dec. 24, 1941: AAS 34 (1942), pp. 16-17.) It is necessary to do everything possible to prevent culture from being turned away from its proper end and made to serve as an instrument of political or economic power.

I realize this isn't as sexy as women's clothing, but this is also an open thread, ready for commentary.

Exposed: A Conservative Root in the Culture of Victimhood
Okay, friends, chew on this one awhile: Man blaming woman for how he feels when she dresses. (Or something like that.) The culture of victimhood is proclaimed by many conservatives in identifying the problems of some folks today. I think the digging in the dirt around the issue of dress in church has exposed the contemporary imitation of Genesis 3:12, "It's not my fault; she made me do it." Despite what your daddy told you, men are indeed capable of controlling their emotions, responses, and their eyes. A man encounters a distraction in church. Recognize it. Set it aside. Return to where you were. Repeat as necessary. Is sinful behavior subjective? Is that what JPII Catholics are suggesting, that a person's response to sexual stimulus can be blamed on the object? Tsk tsk.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Gaudium et Spes 58
Gaudium et Spes continues a discussion of the relationship between culture and the Gospel. First the importance of perceiving the needs of particular cultures, and two reasons are given: the effectiveness of kerygma, but also the enrichment of the church's leitourgia: There are many ties between the message of salvation and human culture. For God, revealing Himself to His people to the extent of a full manifestation of Himself in His Incarnate Son, has spoken according to the culture proper to each epoch. Likewise the Church, living in various circumstances in the course of time, has used the discoveries of different cultures so that in her preaching she might spread and explain the message of Christ to all nations, that she might examine it and more deeply understand it, that she might give it better expression in liturgical celebration and in the varied life of the community of the faithful. The Church's interface with human cultures is essentially a pragmatic one: But at the same time, the Church, sent to all peoples of every time and place, is not bound exclusively and indissolubly to any race or nation, any particular way of life or any customary way of life recent or ancient. Faithful to her own tradition and at the same time conscious of her universal mission, she can enter into communion with the various civilizations, to their enrichment and the enrichment of the Church herself. Note the mention again of liturgy at the end: The Gospel of Christ constantly renews the life and culture of fallen (humanity), it combats and removes the errors and evils resulting from the permanent allurement of sin. It never ceases to purify and elevate the morality of peoples. By riches coming from above, it makes fruitful, as it were from within, the spiritual qualities and traditions of every people and of every age. It strengthens, perfects and restores (6. Cf. Eph. 1:10.) them in Christ. Thus the Church, in the very fulfillment of her own function, (cf. the words of Pius XI to Father M. D. Roland-Gosselin "It is necessary never to lose sight of the fact that the objective of the Church is to evangelize, not to civilize. If it civilizes, it is for the sake of evangelization." (Semaines sociales de France, Versailles, 1936, pp. 461-462).) ) stimulates and advances human and civic culture; by her action, also by her liturgy, she leads them toward interior liberty. My eyes can't help but perk up at the mention of liturgy in any of the conciliar documents. Here's a somewhat surprising insight: liturgy as an agent for interior liberty.
Traffic Update
Dress in church did what Gaudium et Spes couldn't do: put this blog past 100,000 page views. Thanks for viewing, commenting, and the like. Keep coming back.
Dress Codes for Church and Other Affairs
Y'all feel free to continue commentary on the Armchair Liturgist thread below. I did promise I'd post my responses, so here goes. Dress Code always come up in church circles, especially ministry ones. When I train lectors and Eucharistic ministers, I suggest they will want to dress about one step more formally than the usual population at the Mass. For our morning liturgies, that probably means jackets and/or ties for men, suits or blazers or dresses for women. I also impress upon people the need for transparency when they serve at liturgy: nothing that anyone would consider a distraction from the point. Sometimes I'll comment on specific clothing they or I might be wearing during the training session. As for a general approach with parishioners, my last Iowa pastor arranged dress-up days. Our school does this also for a few major feasts. My approach would be to begin "dress-up Sundays" and move quietly to a greater frequency. I think there's a fine line crossed in suggesting women who dress provocatively are to blame for tempting men. The problem of "looking" can be solved by turning one's gaze away. Then it becomes the problem of the other person. There is jamming equipment for cell phones: I've read about it a bit. I'd be in favor of installing such a device. Have to think about that when we renovate. Gum. Ick. For all the people who seem to be chewing it, I find more under pews and chairs. Carpet acoustics have done a lot to encourage talking. When your church is vast and echoey, people tend to talk less--a good reason for eschewing carpet. If people talk too much in churches, there are two reasonable long-range solutions: - Give the talkers a substantial gathering space or courtyard to chatter because that kind of thing going on after Mass in good. - Give the pray-ers a Blessed Sacrament chapel for reflection.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Armchair Liturgist: Enthroning the Gospel Book
What about the practice of placing the Book of the Gospels in a prominent place in a church? Pope John Paul II asked that Roman parishes do this during the Jubilee celebrations six years ago. I ask because it's come up in Zenit's Q&A liturgy forum. Take the plunge. Make your own policy, post it here, then check out what the expert said.
Gaudium et Spes 57
Gaudium et Spes 57 deals with section 2 (Some Principles for the Proper Development of Culture) of chapter 2 of part II (if you can follow that at home). First, setting one's sights on heaven is seen as a motivating factor, not one for withdrawal from the world: Christians, on pilgrimage toward the heavenly city, should seek and think of these things which are above (Cf. Col. 3:2) This duty in no way decreases, rather it increases, the importance of their obligation to work with all ... in the building of a more human world. Indeed, the mystery of the Christian faith furnishes them with an excellent stimulant and aid to fulfill this duty more courageously and especially to uncover the full meaning of this activity, one which gives to human culture its eminent place in the integral (human) vocation. A twofold notion in the next paragraph: beings stewards of creation, and being caretakers of one's brothers and sisters: When (humankind) develops the earth by the work of (their) hands or with the aid of technology, in order that it might bear fruit and become a dwelling worthy of the whole human family and when (they) consciously take part in the life of social groups, (they carry) out the design of God manifested at the beginning of time, that (they) should subdue the earth, perfect creation and develop (themselves). (Cf. Gen. 1:28) At the same time (they obey) the commandment of Christ that (they) place (themselves) at the service of (others). Outside of the sacred sphere, there are human endeavors which contribute to the "elevation" of humanity on their own merits (namely the qualities of truth, goodness, and beauty): Furthermore, when (humankind) gives ... to the various disciplines of philosophy, history and of mathematical and natural science, and when (they) cultivate the arts, (they) can do very much to elevate the human family to a more sublime understanding of truth, goodness, and beauty, and to the formation of considered opinions which have universal value. Thus (hu)mankind may be more clearly enlightened by that marvelous Wisdom which was with God from all eternity, composing all things with him, rejoicing in the earth, delighting in the (children of earth).( Cf. Prov. 8:30-31.) These values do indeed lead people to the spiritual: In this way, the human spirit, being less subjected to material things, can be more easily drawn to the worship and contemplation of the Creator. Moreover, by the impulse of grace, (they are) disposed to acknowledge the Word of God, Who before He became flesh in order to save all and to sum up all in Himself was already "in the world" as "the true light which enlightens every man" (John 1:9-10).(Cf. St. Irenaeus, Adversus haereses. III, 11, 8 (ed. Sagnard p. 200; cf. ibid., 16, 6: pp. 290-292; 21, 10-22: pp. 370-372; 22 3: p. 378; etc.)) Yet, the bishops provide an appropriate caution, namely that the material realm is not the ultimate expression of creation, that there is more than what meets the eye in nature, and that scientific advances are not cause for divorcing human dependence on God: Indeed today's progress in science and technology can foster a certain exclusive emphasis on observable data, and an agnosticism about everything else. For the methods of investigation which these sciences use can be wrongly considered as the supreme rule of seeking the whole truth. By virtue of their methods these sciences cannot penetrate to the intimate notion of things. Indeed the danger is present that (people), confiding too much in the discoveries of today, may think that (they are) sufficient unto (themselves) and no longer seek the higher things. And a caution against those who would more or less reject cultural progress outright: Those unfortunate results, however, do not necessarily follow from the culture of today, nor should they lead us into the temptation of not acknowledging its positive values. And a helpful five-point listing of modern values: Among these values are included: - scientific study and fidelity toward truth in scientific inquiries, - the necessity of working together with others in technical groups, - a sense of international solidarity, - a clearer awareness of the responsibility of experts to aid and even to protect (people), - the desire to make the conditions of life more favorable for all, especially for those who are poor in culture or who are deprived of the opportunity to exercise responsibility. Section 57 concludes with the candid admission that these human values often lay the groundwork for the acceptance of Christ. All of these provide some preparation for the acceptance of the message of the Gospel a preparation which can be animated by divine charity through Him Who has come to save the world. Comments?
Armchair Liturgist: Church Etiquette
My intent with this occasional feature is to provide readers with a constructive way to express their preferred liturgical policy on some matters. Sometimes I offer my own opinion, but more frequently, I've presented actual problems as they are brought to me and/or the staff of parishes, or sometimes interesting issues I've read about online or heard about from other parishes. I'd like to see these threads get the heaviest comments, as it gives you, the underrepresented pewfolk, a chance to weigh in on policy: how your parish does it and/or how you would do it if you were the boss. Frequent guest John Heavrin supplies the issue of the day, one which centers around the important matter of etiquette in Church and how to develop a better sense of it. (H)ow does, or should, a parish handle the ever-increasing problem of a) immodest dress in church, especially during warm weather b) cell phones, gum chewing, etc. in church, and c) showing disrespect for the Blessed Sacrament and the church in general by talking and "visiting" throughout the church before and after Mass. This a huge and growing problem, and I suspect pastors and staffs are basically afraid (if they care in the first place) to correct their parishioners. I'll post my answers tomorrow.
Humility (Dom Jean LeClercq Becomes a Plumber) The "Faith Matters" column in the current Christian Century is written by Carol Zaleski and concerns humility. She first points us to George Herbert's poem "Humilitie" and then shares a memorable anecdote: ... Humility's job is not to crown the virtues but to serve them and infuse them with the spirit of the beatitudes ("Blessed are the meek"). Always taking the lower place, humility is unskilled in public relations. Hence the rumor persists of a disreputable liaison between humility and obsequiousness. Strange rumor indeed, since genuine humility is difficult to fake. One quickly sees through the mock-humility of Shakespeare's Gloucester or Dickens's Uriah Heep. Nor is the self-abnegation that turns wounded girls into cutters and anorexics a friend of true humility. Humiliation is an affliction; humility is a gift. Genuine humility orders the soul, bestowing clarity, calmness and competence. "He is humble," writes Walter Hilton, "that truly knows himself as he is." The best advertisement for humility, the best way to set the record straight, is to meet a saint or a saint-in-progress; and the best way to find one—at the grocery store, in the pew, in the monastic cloister or in line at the post office—is to smell out humility. We all know that smell. We may even take it for granted when it graces our friends and neighbors. Occasionally, though, it takes a startling form, as my husband and I discovered many years ago. We had just begun a nine-month sojourn in a studio apartment in Paris, where I was working on my dissertation. Early one morning my husband answered a knock at the door, thinking it might be the plumber our landlady had promised to send to fix the heating system. As I emerged from the bathroom I saw something that stopped me in my tracks: Dom Jean Leclercq, the famous Benedictine medievalist, was crouching alongside my husband, peering at the pipes and trying to be helpful. He had received a letter of inquiry from me and decided to answer it in person. Here was a world-class scholar, a legend in his own lifetime, the most famous living monk next to Thomas Merton—and my husband took him for a plumber! The embarrassment faded, however, as soon as it became clear that Jean Leclercq was perfectly comfortable being taken for a plumber, perfectly willing to fix our pipes if he could, perfectly willing to sit in our homely surroundings, share a baguette and discuss 12th-century thought. This is not the way distinguished medievalists, generally speaking, comport themselves with their inferiors. But it is the most characteristic of monastic traits.
Can I Be Curious About How It Tastes?
This "living fossil" is described as a cross between a shrimp and a mud lobster. Probably not heading to the menu as a promotional item at Red Lobster, but I do wonder if Larry London has dibs on this specimen for that dinner club he runs in Jersey.

Zenit gives the full text of Pope Benedict's May 7th ordination homily mentioned here before in connection with the problem of careerism in the priesthood. It is through (Jesus) that one must enter the service of shepherd. Jesus highlights very clearly this basic condition by saying: "He who ... climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber" (John 10:1). This word "climbs" -- anabainei in Greek -- conjures up the image of someone climbing over a fence to get somewhere out of bounds to him. "To climb" -- here too we can also see the image of careerism, the attempt to "get ahead," to gain a position through the Church: to make use of and not to serve. It is the image of a man who wants to make himself important, to become a person of note through the priesthood; the image of someone who has as his aim his own exaltation and not the humble service of Jesus Christ. But the only legitimate ascent toward the shepherd's ministry is the Cross. This is the true way to rise; this is the true door. It is not the desire to become "someone" for oneself, but rather to exist for others, for Christ, and thus through him and with him to be there for the people he seeks, whom he wants to lead on the path of life. On a side note, I was struck by the varied Scriptural references in the pope's homily. Note also he doesn't shy away from modern Scripture scholarship, in using word study to bring home a point.
Vermont Restructuring
Not being terribly familiar with the world of legality, I'm wondering about reader comment about this story. Bishop Matano wants to protect parishioners. From his letter to Vermont Catholics: In such litigious times, it would be a gross act of mismanagement if I did not do everything possible to protect our parishes and the interests of the faithful from unbridled, unjust and terribly unreasonable assault. CNS sums it up: (T)he titles to all parishes, once in the name of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington Inc., are now in the name of the parishes with the bishop as trustee. "We are doing this to preserve parish assets as parish assets," said Father John McDermott, chancellor. "The bishop and the diocese have a guardian role for the assets and must assure that they are used for the intentions which were the very source of their establishment."

Monday, May 22, 2006

What Do We Learn From Scripture? I hope that this post doesn’t take the smallest bit of attention away from the interesting discussion on liturgy (or liturgy and bishops) below. My only suggestion for now is that those interested in the application of Liturgiam Authenticam read Peter Jeffery’s Translating Tradition: A Chant Historian Reads Liturgiam Authenticam, which I assume has mostly been drawn from an already published four-part series of articles. I learned a great deal from Professor Jeffery’s considerable erudition when I read these articles in Worship. I do want to ask a different sort of question here, though. What are we supposed to learn from Holy Scripture? First, I don’t think that anyone would want to discourage memorization. I am sure that many of us have found ourselves, perhaps in a hospital waiting room, recalling the words of certain psalms when we would have been otherwise unable to pray. Keeping the words of passages of the Gospels very close to our hearts might be necessary for the shock of recognition that hopefully comes when we find ourselves acting like Caiaphas, or the Levite who passed by on the other side of the road between Jerusalem and Jericho when coming upon the man fallen victim to robbers. And there are lists in Scripture – we can think, for instance, of St Paul’s catalogue of the “works of the flesh” and the “fruit of the spirit” – that might prove essential for us when we try to honestly examine our own lives. I could go on in this vein. But, although we should find ourselves learning content from Scripture, is the meaning of Scripture adequately described as a certain set number of prayers, examples, doctrinal statements, and lists of sins and virtues that we can study and finally commit to memory? The answer, I think, is no. I suspect that the question of learning and Scripture probably can’t (or at least shouldn’t) be answered in the abstract. So, I would like to draw your attention to an article by the Anglican theologian Mike Higton in the current issue of the very interesting Journal of Scriptural Reasoning entitled “Read Mark and Learn.” (Forgive the title.) Dr Higton begins by reminding us that “learning” in St Mark’s Gospel is discipleship; the “learner” is the disciple (mathetes). We meet four of these learner-disciples by the Sea of Galilee and we soon grasp that learning begins with seeing. Not with seeing anything in particular, but with being seen – “[Jesus] saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea … he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John” (Mk 1:16, 18). We might here think of the experience of the inverse perspective of icons. And when Rowan Williams, about whom Higton has written a book, was asked about the presence of the Spirit in his own prayer life, the Archbishop of Canterbury also appealed to this sense of “being seen”: It's very hard to answer that. I think you can only say there can be an awareness of a presence. Maybe you can't say any more than that - that you are held or attended to. The way I most often express it is that there comes a level of prayer where it is no longer a question of Are you seeing something? But, Are you aware of being seen? - if you like, sitting in the light and of just being and becoming aware of who you really are. Learning, then, begins with “being seen” by Jesus - the sense “that you are held or attended to.” And learning is a matter of then “becoming aware of who you really are” through the gaze of God. Simon and Andrew are already fishermen (halieis) and Jesus fulfills that vocation by telling them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people” (Mk 1:17). They will become "fishermen of people" (halieis anthropon). But becoming who we are meant to be also requires dramatic change - giving things up. James and John must leave their father Zebedee in the boat. Most of all, it means participating in the mission of Jesus Christ, who is already fishing for people, whether by leaving behind physical nets or at least by continuing to read this Gospel with an open heart. When Jesus teaches, he teaches in a synagogue. And the people are astounded “for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes” (Mk 1:21). This “authority” (exousia) proves threatening for an “unclean spirit,” but what is it? We do not have very much to go on if we should want to reconstruct the message that Jesus delivered here. But we can grasp that to understand it, we will have to find ourselves in the synagogue and be aware of the clear distinction between clean and unclean to understand that Jesus’ presence destroys this boundary. To learn from Jesus, we will also have to be able to utter that frightening question, “What is this? A new teaching with authority?” (Mk 1:27). Well, what is it? As Christians, we will know that the question is only answered by who Jesus is. For a number of chapters, the Gospel of Mark famously withholds a clear answer to the question of Jesus’ identity (the so-called “messianic secret”), even as we are left asking again and again. For instance, what does the voice from the heavens at Jesus’ baptism really mean? And so on. In the very middle of the Gospel, we finally do get an answer: Peter says, “You are the Messiah” (Mk 8:29). At last, solid ground. But, as Dr Higton says, “What Peter already knows, what he has already learnt, the following he has supposedly achieved, is engulfed by a greater ignorance” (my emphasis). Doesn't Jesus almost immediately have to rebuke Peter for setting his mind on “not divine things, but on human things”? When Jesus is arrested, Peter denies knowing Jesus. “And he broke down and wept” (Mk 14:72). Dr Higton suggests that Peter breaks down because that haunting line, “I do not know this man you are talking about,” is tragically true. Something in Peter has always kept to "human things," resisting Jesus’ teaching that the Son of Man must suffer, experience rejection, and die. In the darkness of the night before Good Friday, Peter “finds that his expectations and understanding – expectations of a messiah who will overthrow his enemies and reign victoriously – still prevent him from seeing the reality of Jesus’ task and fate.” But now he knows, amidst tears, that his illusory visions are just that. Learning the identity of Jesus – “the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One” (Mk 14:62), as Jesus makes clear only when he is a prisoner and the title is inescapably joined with crucifixion – comes from following the Son of Man to the place where our own expectations and illusions break down. As Jesus had told us, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mk 8:34). Dr Higton tells us, “What is learnt is not some result of the following – not something gained by following, but the following itself.” We do have to know certain things – the apostles had to know how to fish for the phrase “fishermen of people” to make any sense at all, Jesus’ followers would have to be present at the synagogue on the Sabbath and know the existing difference between clean and unclean, and Peter had to know enough to declare outside Bethsaida that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. But all of this is still meaningless without the following. We do have to know things, but we also have to be willing to be “interrupted and interrogated and convoluted” by discipleship. To become “fishermen of people” we must experience the gaze of the Lord and find ourselves inexplicably leaving Zebedee behind in the boat with the hired men. We must let ourselves be astounded, not an easy thing, and ask about a “new teaching with authority,” even when that phrase, “God of surprises,” threatens to become nothing more than a cliché. We must let ourselves break down and weep with Peter as we realize that we too often, despite what we might profess, still entertain “expectations of a messiah who will overthrow his enemies and reign victoriously.” All of this must also be part of listening to - and learning from - the Gospel of Mark. Thanks to Dr Higton, of course. And what, dear reader, do you think?
2006 State Quarters
Just to demonstrate sensible Catholics aren't one-trick-ponies on the hobby side of life, let me give you a preview of what you'll be seeing on your vending machine fodder this year. The Nevada Quarter is already a favorite of my daughter. They're the third, fourth, and fifth horses to appear in the 50 State Quarter Program (after Delaware and Kentucky). I really like the sagebrush frame for the design. Texas had rope and Alabama had contrasting pine and magnolia branches: a classy touch. Nebraska is in circulation now. Those are the first oxen to appear on the quarter. Geology is always a nice feature for coins, and every one of this year's quarters features some of it. Chimney Rock is a cool place, but this design just doesn't do anything for me. In a month or so, Colorado quarters will start trickling into pocket change. This might be the least impressive of this year's designs. From afar, the backside of this state's quarter will look like a bunch of wrinkles. Granted, it's tough to depict something as magnificent as a mountain on something not much bigger than a dime. That leaves us with the first two of November 1889's four states. I recall from my history books that when the two Dakotas were to be admitted as states, it was not known which would be "first." The North won the race. Their design has the second appearance of bison. Do you remember which other state has featured this animal? This might be the first appearance of an animal eating on a US coin. If you can think of another, let me know. Ol' Mt Rushmore graces South Dakota. For the second time in the series, George Washington appears on both sides of the quarter. Do you remember which other state featured him? Wheat borders this design. Remember which historic US coin also had wheat? And we have the Chinese Ring-Necked Pheasant rounding off the design. How many other birds have been on the State Quarters? Which of these designs wins the award in your judgment?

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