Friday, January 30, 2009

Missing Passages

Part of the fun of following the scheduled mass readings is that you notice when passages are skipped over. For example, on January 18, the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, the first reading was the call of Samuel the prophet. We heard how Samuel was sleeping in the temple when the Lord called him. At first, he thought it was Eli calling him, until Eli realized it was the Lord and told Samuel to answer, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Samuel did so, and grew up with the Lord beside him. The verses that we heard were 1 Samuel 3:3b-10, 19.

When I see a verse callout like that, I usually wonder what happens in verses 11-18? In the missing verses, the Lord tells Samuel that Eli and his sons will be punished because Eli is not restraining his sons in their iniquity. The next morning Samuel reluctantly tells Eli everything.

I understand that, for Sunday readings, the first reading complements the Gospel, which on that day was the call of the disciples Andrew and Simon Peter. So in this case, it wasn’t so much that the passage about Eli and his sons was omitted as much as it was that the part about Samuel growing in the presence of the Lord after his prophetic call was added onto the end.

It’s not as clear regarding the weekday mass readings for the Third Week of Ordinary Time, from Hebrews chapter 10. That makes it a lot more interesting. The readings were verses 1-10 on Tuesday, 11-18 on Wednesday, 19-25 on Thursday, and 32-39 on Friday. Wait a second – what happened to 26-31? Let’s have a look:

For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries. A man who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy at the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the man who has spurned the Son of God, and profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Wow! Yikes, even! That’s explosive. It’s only by placing this passage squarely within the rest of the canon of scripture that we can temper the apparent meaning. And I can only suppose that somebody concluded that there was a danger of misinterpreting the passage; therefore, it was not included in the schedule of mass readings.

The Catholic Church teaches that we should use three criteria when interpreting Sacred Scripture. First, we must "be especially attentive to the content and unity of the whole scripture." In other words, a single passage does not stand on its own. It is a part of the whole canon of scripture and must be interpreted in the light of the rest of canon. Second, we must "Read the Scripture within the living Tradition of the whole Church." If your interpretation of a passage leads you to disagree with the infallible teaching of the Magisterium of the Church, then you're not interpreting the passage correctly. This rule requires an understanding of both what the Church teaches and the degree of infallibility that a given teaching enjoys. Finally, when interpreting scripture, we must "be attentive to the analogy of faith." In other words, if two passages seem to contradict each other, you're not interpreting them correctly. See paragraphs 112-114 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

I’d love to know if anybody’s every heard a good sermon or homily addressing Hebrews 10:26-31. I’m almost curious enough to buy the Ignatius Study Bible or the St. Josephs CD Set.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Council, the Society, and the Pope

The big news out of Rome last week was the lifting of the excommunication of four bishops from the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX). I know that there are a couple of people (hi Mom) who actually read my blog, and they might not be aware of the history behind the excommunications or the SSPX.

In brief, there were a lot of Catholics who thought (with the aid of the press) that the Second Vatican Council represented a departure from traditional Catholic teachings. They took advantage of the chaos following the council to run amok, pushing a lot of changes that the Council documents never authorized. In the midst of this craziness, Pope Paul VI revised the rite of the mass. I was born in 1969. I don’t have any personal memory of any of this, but it was a painful time for a lot of faithful Catholics. Many of them had their faith damaged.

A group of French seminarians really didn’t like what they were seeing, and they gathered around Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. They formed the Society of St. Pius X in 1970 and established their own seminary in Sweden Switzerland. By 1974, Lefebvre was challenging the authenticity of both the Pope and the Council. In 1975, approval of the SSPX was withdrawn and the seminary ordered closed by Rome, with the approval of Pope Paul VI. The SSPX ignored the Pope. The next year, 1976, the Pope reminded Lebebvre that under Canon Law, he could not ordain his seminarians. Lefebvre ordained his seminarians anyway. The Pope suspended Lefebvre’s faculties, to no effect. By its refusal to submit to the authority of the Pope, the SSPX had placed itself in schism.

By 1986, Pope John Paul II was seeking a way to end the schism and bring the SSPX back into union with the Church. An agreement was signed in May 1988. Under the agreement the SSPX would get one bishop, to be consecrated from among its own priests. The day after signing the agreement, Lefebvre backed out. After announcing that he would ordain four bishops, the Pope warned Lefebvre that, should he do so, he would incur excommunication latae sententiae, per canon 1382. Lefebvre consecrated his four bishops and all five received upon themselves the penalty of excommunication.

Archbishop Lefebvre has since died, but the four SSPX bishops ordained by him have had their excommunications lifted. Pope Benedict XVI hopes that this step will renew discussions with the SSPX, with an aim toward reuniting them with the Church. However, it does not appear that any of the four bishops has expressed any contrition or willingness to submit to the authority of the Holy See, and one of the four is now enjoying media scrutiny for denying the holocaust in an interview on Swedish television.

The old Latin mass of 1962 is now widely available for those who wish to attend it, although some travel might be required. There are approved apostolates within the Church devoted to practicing and preserving the old mass. The issue, for the SSPX, is whether they are willing to accept the primacy of the successor of Peter. At the moment, it looks as though the traditional Anglicans are closer to reunion than is the SSPX.

See Holier Than Thou in the April 2003 issue of This Rock. Be sure to read the angry letters from SSPX fans in the July-August 2003 issue as well.

Barefoot in January

My dear wife, impatiently commenting to my barefoot nine year-old: “Why don’t you go play barefoot in the snow?”

Me: “Yeah. You could play Henry IV at Canossa!”

Whatever, Dad.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


We received our first sizeable snow fall of the season, and for the first time this year, winter looks like I remember it. Yes, the snow is a pain in the lower back. Yes, it makes it harder to get around. But what do you expect when you live in Ohio? If you don’t like snow, move to the sun belt.

Although the kids were home from school, I still had to go to work, and my wife had a cleaning job this morning (she’s a small-business owning entrepreneur), so we met for lunch. Upon entering the restaurant, I realized how bright the snow made it outside; I couldn’t see a thing until my eyes adjusted to the light. Every patron who entered made pretty much the same comment about not being able to see.

I made sure to wear my sunglasses on the trip back to work.

This ties (tenuously, I know) into a post by Fr. Schnippel concerning our need to engage pop culture. I don’t know whether I’m engaging it this afternoon, or locked into a death-struggle, because I can’t get the song “Snowblind” by Styx out of my head.

The chorus just keeps playing again, and again, and again.

More Calendar Confusion

After being surprised by the Memorial of Saint Timothy and Saint Titus on Monday, I duly noted that today was the Memorial of Saint Thomas Aquinas. I even noted to the lovely Amy last night that, even though today was an obligatory memorial, I was going to read the gospel for the Ordinary Time weekday, just for continuity’s sake. I thought that my calendar confusion was over. I was wrong.

For Morning Prayer, I found that I had to flip to practically every page in the book! The Memorial page directed me to the Common for Doctors of the Church, which directed my to the Common for priests (I think—I’m typing this from memory), which directed me to the Psalmody for the first Sunday. I didn’t immediately see the Invitatory Antiphon, so I flipped to the third Wednesday and used that one. It was only later that I found the correct antiphon in the Commons section.

My daily gospel meditation is still a day behind, and both the USCCB site and Food for the Journey used the readings for the OT weekday.

It seems that even if I made myself a calendar to keep this all straight, I still wouldn’t be on the same page as everyone else.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Latin Mass

I admit that Latin holds an attraction for me. The idea that a liturgy celebrated in Rome could be celebrated the same way and in the same language in Ohio is simply wonderful to ponder. However, I grew up with mass in the vernacular, and for the most part, I think that it’s a good thing. I especially like the revisions to the readings (i.e., Old Testament, Psalm, New Testament, Gospel, along with a three year cycle for Sunday readings and a two year cycle for weekday readings) that were made in aftermath of the Second Vatican Council.

I have never been to a Tridentine mass, so any impressions that I have of one are based solely on what I’ve read, and most of what I’ve read applies to the degree of reverence that was involved. Reverence at mass is a good thing. The question at hand is whether the use of Latin produces reverence or, conversely, the use of English causes a loss of reverence.

The problem with Latin is that very few people are fluent in it. I like a little Latin in my liturgy. Singing the Agnus Dei with its miserere nobis or the Tantum Ergo gives me a little warm and fuzzy feeling in the soul (although as I’ve said before and will say again, it’s not about feelings). That said, I get tongue-tied trying to recite the Credo or the Pater Noster, and there’s little comprehension between the syllables coming from my mouth and the meaning tied to them. If the readings or the Eucharistic Prayer were in Latin, I would have little choice but to sit there dumbly, or stick my nose in a missal and try to keep up. I would need the bells and elevation to let me know when the consecration had happened. I don’t think that facilitates full, active, and conscious participation. I certainly would not want to see a return to the days when people prayed the rosary during mass.

That said, there are so many things that have become standard in the modern mass that I would love to see reversed. For example, I like the idea of the celebrant facing the same direction (preferably east) as the congregation and leading them in worship, rather than facing them as if performing. I love incense. I love chant. None of these things is incompatible with the modern mass.

Given a choice between a reverently said Latin mass, most of which is incomprehensible to me, and the vernacular mass as it is offered in most parishes, I would probably elect to attend the Latin mass, hoping to improve upon my own very limited ability to speak and understand Latin. However, given a choice between a Latin mass and a reverent English mass, I would opt for the English.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Elections Matter

On one hand, we have a President who has stated that he doesn't want women and girls who are unfortunate enough to get pregnant to be punished with a baby; therefore, abortion on demand must be available. The United States is now going to promote abortion and contraception in its foreign policy.

And we have the nominally Catholic Speaker of the House, who defends the inclusion of funding for contraceptives in an emergency economic stimulus package because it will save costs. Babies cost money. They are a drain on the economy. We must reduce the number of babies.

And then we have PBS, the government broadcaster, arguing that feeding tubes should not be given to Alzheimers patients. We're told not to think of it as starving the patient. "The patient will die, but they will die of dehydration, not starvation. When you think about it, that’s how God designed most of us to die. We get some kind of disease. We stop eating and drinking. It’s the lack of water will kill us within a couple of weeks, not the lack of calories."

53% of Catholics voted for these people.

Our Confusing Calendar

Please don’t misunderstand me. I love the liturgical calendar employed by the Catholic Church, with its seasons, solemnities, feasts, and memorials. It’s just that, for those trying to read ahead for the mass readings or pray the Liturgy of the Hours, it can be terribly confusing.

Yesterday, for example, some parishes heard the readings for the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, while others heard the readings for the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. When I woke up Sunday morning, I prayed the hours for the Third Sunday. However, my sister relayed to me that her parish (St. Paul’s) was holding a special vespers service because Paul is the parish patron and Sunday was his feast day, and this is the year of St. Paul. So, when I did my evening prayer, I prayed the hours for the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.

Then, as is my new custom, before retiring I read what I thought would be today’s mass readings. Silly me, I read the readings for Monday of the Third Week of Ordinary Time. When I woke this morning, I prayed the hours for Monday, then sat at the computer to read my gospel meditation. It wasn’t the gospel I expected. The meditation that I received by email was actually for the gospel for the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time. “Hmm, they must have gotten confused,” I thought to myself. But I’m also in the habit of listening to Food for the Journey, Sr. Ann Shields’s daily radio program, and her meditation was on yet another gospel. “What’s going on?” I thought. It turns out that today is the obligatory Memorial of Saint Timothy and Saint Titus.

So, I guess I’ll be praying Evening Prayer from a different set of hours than Morning Prayer two days in a row.

I really gotta make myself a calendar to keep all this straight.

Was ist los?

Was ist los?

Waaaay back in my high school German class, Herr Richards taught us that the phrase meant "What's wrong?" or "What's the matter?" or "What's the problem?"

Naturally, my mind went back to high school German class when I read this passage from the late Richard John Neuhaus in the latest First Things:

. . . in Germany people pay 8 percent of their income tax to the support of the church, which, given tax rates in Germany, can be a sizable sum. They can opt out of the system by registering themselves konfessionslos--but the interesting thing is that most people do not.

The German word konfession is close enough to the English "confession" to assume that it refers to a doctrinal system of belief. Putting the two words together, I started thinking that konfessionslos could mean something like "wrong doctrine" or "problem doctrine." A visit to the German-English dictionary revealed that the meaning of the term los is similar to the English prefix "un-". So, konfessionslos would mean, literally, un-confession. The meaning given in the dictionary is un-denominational. That's still not quite the same as the English "nondenominational."

So, it appears that in Germany, you can have 8% of your income tax go to the church of your choice or you can have it go to the government by stating that you've lost all your doctrine; you don't profess anything to be true.

As an American of German-Catholic ancestry, I find that interesting.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Idiossey by Iowahawk

This post is not related to Catholicism in any way (did somebody just sigh in relief?).

Is this man hewn from Olympus,
Sent by Zeus to save our souls?
Or a plastic dashboard Jesus
In a car he can't control?

Will this Adonis save the planet?
Or is he fleecing golden sheep?
Ask another Muse tomorrow,
Hell if I know, it's all Greek to me.

Burma Shave

Iowahawk has written a wonderful parody. If you have twenty minutes to spare, it's well worth a read. There were several lines that had me laughing out loud.

Come Early for Absolution

I've mentioned before in this space that my wife and I often attend the 11:30 am Saturday mass at Maria Stein Center. The Sisters of the Precious Blood who run the center generously arrange for the priest who celebrates mass to hear confessions before mass, with a scheduled start time of 11:00.

If you decide you want to go to confession though, you should show up early.

We took two of our daughters with us yesterday and arrived at about 10:45, 15 minutes before the scheduled start of confessions. The priest was already in the "reconciliation room" (they don't have an actual confessional, so they set the priest up in a side room with a shield for those who don't want to go face-to-face), and the line was four deep. Our little group doubled the length of the line.

The priest was pretty efficient, and the line moved rather quickly. By the time it was my turn (I went last from our family), there was only one other person in line behind me. I don't think that I spent a lot of time confessing my sins and circumstances, but when I was done, I was stunned to find the waiting room packed, with Sr. Regina scrambling to find more chairs for those waiting.

As efficient as he was, the priest was not able to hear the confessions of all the penitents before mass. He generously offered to stay after mass for any who were unable to receive the sacrament of reconciliation before mass.

Why are the lines for confession at Maria Stein so long? Part of it might be the convenient time. Part of it might be the opportunity to confess your sins to a priest other than your pastor. I have to admit that it's been a long time since I've gone to the 4:00 scheduled confession time at our own parish, so I don't know whether the lines there are comparable. One thing that I am certain of is that it is simply not accurate to assert that there is no longer a sense of the reality of sin. There is a substantial population that appreciates the damage that our sin does to our relationship with God and the need to be forgiven and reconciled with Him.

Now what I don't understand is why some people, having just been absolved of their sins, don't stay for mass!

Friday, January 23, 2009

My Liturgical Focus

It’s been nearly 5-1/2 years since I put my old car out of its misery. Since then, I’ve driven a Ford Focus, which has treated me pretty well. However, that is not to say that my car is perfect. There are a number of things that disappoint me. I lost the bottom third of my rear winder defroster pretty early. A tear opened up in one of the seams of my passenger seat, but it’s hard to notice. The windshield freezes up easily, and when it gets cold, the wipers only contact at the top and bottom, leaving a large section of the windshield smeared. The radio will play MP3 files from a disc, but it won’t navigate folders, always starts at the beginning of the MP3 file (i.e., don’t try listening to a long podcast), and in shuffle mode, it always starts on the same file (thus, my Christmas CD with 50+ songs always starts with Little Drummer Boy). In addition, I’m losing lines on the display. The rear passenger window has started acting up, the lining of the cupholder comes out every time that I remove my travel mug, and the plastic casing on the passenger seat slide rail keeps coming off. Finally, even though the car is front wheel drive, it gets terrible traction on packed snow or ice.

In spite of all this, I’d probably buy another Focus. When I went car shopping back in 2003, I had two criteria that were essential: I wanted to be able to get in and out of the car without having to twist my knees around the steering column, and I wanted to be able to sit upright without feeling my hair brush the top of the cabin. As you’ve probably guessed if you don’t already know, I’m relatively tall at 6’4”. Most of the population is probably not going to have the same essential criteria as I do when shopping for a car. In addition to meeting my essential criteria, my Focus has not given me any mechanical problems. It’s never left me stranded, and it gets pretty good gas mileage. The negatives are all just minor inconveniences. I can tolerate them, as long as I have my essentials.

That’s kind of where I am with the liturgy, particularly mass (you knew I had to bring this back to the Catholic faith somehow). There are a lot of extra features that can add to or subtract from the overall experience of the liturgy, but then there are the essentials. Some things are required, some are proscribed, some words are defined and cannot be changed. I’m blessed to live in an area where we have many parishes in close proximity, and the liturgy at each has its own character due to the type of music selected, the architecture of the church, the general demeanor of the congregation, etc. Of course I have preferences, and none of the local parishes rates a perfect score on my chart. But I can accept those differences, as long as my essentials are met.

Holy mother Church gives us rules for how we conduct our public worship. It’s not hard to follow those rules, and still allow the liturgy reflect the unique character of the community. When I have multiple cars with sufficient head and leg room to choose from, then I can base my selection on the extra features. When I have multiple parishes with liturgies that adhere to the rubrics to choose from, then I can choose the location that best feeds my spiritual needs.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Giving the Matrix the Finger(s)

The full story of Michael Grumbine's battle against the "abortion Matrix" was told by Tim Drake in July 2008. A short summary follows.

Mr. Grumbine's three teenage daughters were trying to help promote a pro-life event at their high school. He wanted to help, so he had some flyers printed up, then he donned a dark suit and sunglasses, ala Mr. Smith from the Matrix movies. He borrowed an ultra-light powered para-glider and circled above his daughters' school, dropping leaflets on the sidewalk and school grounds.

The leaflets said "Fight the Matrix!" on one side. On the other side it warned students that they should not look at or talk to the people in front of the school, that they were in the Matrix and must do as they were told. Naturally, the more the teachers of the school told the children not to pick up and read the flyers, the more they wanted to, and then to go and see what the pro-life event was all about.

However, Mr. Grumbine suddenly started losing altitude. Thinking that the air intake on his engine was blocked by a stray flyer, he reached back to clear it, and two of his fingers were taken off by his propeller, forcing him to make a hasty landing.

Mr. Grumbine's efforts caused many students who would not otherwise have accepted pro-life literature to investigate what the group had to say. We should all be more open and inventive in promoting the culture of life, although we should also be careful not to lose any fingers.

Additional reporting on this story (with photos) can be found here.

Norma (Jane Roe)

From Virtue Media:

“Norma McCorvey’s testimony is a incredible example of God’s redeeming grace. I commend Norma for her courage to speak out on the evils of abortion and pray that her redemptive story will touch hearts and change minds.”

Alan E. SearsPresident,
CEO and General Counsel
Alliance Defense Fund

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I Believe in God, . . .

This graphic was featured in the January 16 issue of The Catholic Telegraph. According to this poll, 7% of Catholics don't even believe in God!

I know this was an online poll, but it makes a person wonder who those 7% are.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Prayer for Government Leaders

God of power and might, wisdom and justice,
through you authority is rightly administered,
laws are enacted, and judgment is decreed.
Assist with your spirit of counsel and fortitude
the President and other government leaders of these United States.
May they always seek the ways of righteousness, justice and mercy.
Grant that they may be enabled by your powerful protection
to lead our country with honesty and integrity.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

-USCCB Committee on the Liturgy

People's Peace Pastoral

It is with a degree of sadness that I read the February 2009 issue of First Things, knowing that there won't be any more comments from Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, who died last week. It will be entries like this one that I will miss the most.

In 1983, the Catholic bishops issued, to much media applause, a pastoral letter, "The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response." It is now viewed as an embarrassment that almost everybody would like to forget, including most bishops. Riddled with the language of appeasement and coexistence and addressing geopolitical and military details in which the bishops had no plausible competence, the letter was a direct assault on the policies of the Reagan administration that are generally recognized as having been vindicated five years later, with the dismantling of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union. Not all the bishops are embarrassed, however. Speaking at Jesuit-run Seattle University, Bishop Gabino Zavala, auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles and president of the Catholic peace group Pax Christi USA, called for a celebration of the 1983 letter, asserting that the only thing that has changed is that the "war on communism" has been replaced by the "war on terror," and we have yet to learn that "violence only begets violence." The bishop is calling for a grassroots consultation that, in honor of the 1983 letter, will produce a "people's peace pastoral." I can curb my enthusiasm, but it's likely to do less damage to the Church's credibility than another peace pastoral by the pastors.

It's worth noting that Seattle University employed Ann Holmes Redding as an associate professor teaching New Testament. Miss Redding was in the news a while back for seeing no contradiction in being, at the same time, an ordained Episcopalian priest and a practicing Moslem.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Stern Warning

If the National Transportation Safety Board confirms that US Airways flight 1549 was, indeed, brought down by birds, and those birds are determined to be geese, then I expect the incoming administration to issue a stern warning to our neighbors up north.

Thanks be to God and to the pilot of the plane that everyone was rescued.

Then They Will Fast

In today’s gospel, Jesus drops the four-letter F-bomb. At least that’s how it’s always been to me. As long as I can remember, I’ve approached fasting with fear and trembling. When I was just a little younger, I would get physically sick, with severe headaches and nausea (try that on an empty stomach). I did not look forward to Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, even though the fast required by the Church (only one meal and up to two snacks) is extremely lenient. I don’t know whether my reaction was real or psychological, but it bothered me, because I suspected that it was a symptom of my refusal to enter more deeply into the spiritual life.

For the last eight years, I’ve carried a notecard in my Bible with passages that reference fasting. Every time that I’ve seen that notecard, a voice in my mind has whispered to me that I couldn’t do it. I’d get sick. My metabolism would slow down, and I’d gain weight. For at least eight years, I’ve been making excuses.

If we look to Jesus himself as an example, we see that after his baptism by John, he was driven by the Spirit into the desert, where he fasted for 40 days (Matthew 4:1-2). The question of the Pharisees and the disciples of John in Mark 2:18-20 seem to indicate that Jesus and his followers do not fast, but the answer that Jesus gives implies that his followers do not fast now, but will later. The acceptance of fasting by Jesus of fasting is reinforced in Mark 9:27-29 (see the footnote) when Jesus tells his followers that some demons can only be driven out by prayer and fasting and in Matthew 6:16-18, when Jesus gives direction on how to fast. Note that he does not say “if you fast” but “when you fast.”

There is, of course, also precedent for fasting in the Old Testament. The repentance of Ninevah in Jonah 3:6-9 included a fast. Elijah fasted for forty days before encountering the Lord in 1 Kings 19:8. And there is the passage from Isaiah 58:3-14, where God says that the fast that he really desires is a fast of mercy and charity.

I know that fasting doesn’t have to be from food, although that certainly appears to be the norm. I also know that fasting can come in degrees, falling anywhere from changing the mid-morning snack to something a little less desirable to consuming only liquids for forty days (I’ve been on a liquid diet following my jaw surgery; it is not fun). There are a number of spiritual reasons that asceticism is beneficial, among them the idea that one is disciplining the will. A comment of Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life has always stuck with me: “Unless you can say no, you can’t truly say yes.” He was speaking in the context of sexual urges, but it’s equally true with respect to any appetite. Unless a person can say no to the natural desires of the will, he cannot exercise true freedom, and in the absence of true freedom, he cannot give his full consent to Christ.

What prompted all of this eight years ago was a passage from a sermon by St. Peter Chrysologus, featured in the Office of Readings for Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent: Prayer Knocks, Fasting Obtains, Mercy Receives.

Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. Let no one try to separate them; they cannot be separated. If you have only one of them or not all together, you have nothing. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to other you open God's ear to yourself.

Does that mean that I’ve been withholding something of myself for the last eight years? I hope not! But, at the same time, I suspect so.

Cross-Tipped Churches Photoblog

I happened across a photoblog of the cross-tipped churches that are common to our area in the northern end of the Cincinnati Archdiocese. There are additional photos if you go back into tha archive.

I don't think that the photographer is Catholic, but the pitures from the local churches are beautiful nonetheless.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Samuel's Prophetic Call

In his sermon for today, Fr. Robert Baron focuses on the call of Samuel. He goes into the context of the passage and the omitted lines, and sees in them a degree of applicability for the Church today, especially in light of the revelations from the long Lent of 2002.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Catholic Evangelization

This Rock magazine includes a feature in every issue called Damascus Road, in which the story of a soul's conversion to Catholicism is told. I enjoy reading conversion stories. It's interesting to see what brings people to embrace the Church.

The column in the December 2009 issue includes this interesting passage:

I felt left out when Jo took off for Mass. Not wanting to push me into the Church, she suggested that we go church-hopping for a while to see where I might feel comfortable worshiping and said she would follow. But after visiting many churches, I realized that there was no place where I felt more comfortable than in the Catholic Church. I loved the natural humility of the people there. They loved Jesus and their faith, but they were not out to beat me over the head with it.

The part that I find interesting is the appeal of the non-evangelization. So often, we hear that this is a problem. Some people, however, find a quiet, prayerful, atmosphere at church to be appealing. They don't want somebody trying to get to know them and pushing them to get involved. If the liturgy and the homily and the living example of other Catholics are doing their job, the seeker will be drawn into a closer relationship with the triune God and the rest will follow.

That was one of the things that I liked about the Catholic Correspondence Course that I took those many years ago. It was confidential and free, but at the same time it did not in any way water down the faith in an attempt to make it more appealing. The truth sells itself. We have to make sure that we don't get in the way.

Friday, January 16, 2009

In Need of Grace

My daily routine lately has consisted of saying Morning Prayer (Lauds) immediately on rising from bed. After that, I'll prepare my breakfast and slide over to the computer for my morning meditation. I get the meditations e-mailed to me, but they're also available online.

Each meditation includes a reading of the day's gospel, an introductory prayer and pledge, and then two or three points for meditation. The meditation concludes with a prayer of conversation with Christ and a resolution for the day.

I admit that I haven't been very good at keeping the resolutions -- just one of the many things that I have to work on. Today's resolution was "I will make a sacrifice today for the person most in need of God’s grace." When I read that, my mind started leaping to people that I thought needed God's grace, mainly because they didn't see things the way that I see them.

It didn't take me long to correct myself. Who is most in need of God's grace? That'd be me.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Praying for the President

Part of ritual of night prayers with the kids involves a litany of people for whom we ask God's blessing. We pray for our pastor, and our neighbor with cancer, and our President. I've thought a bit about whether we should ask for God to bless President Obama, given his apparent commitment to extending an unlimited "right" to abortion. I've concluded that we will continue to pray for our President after January 20.

I think that Russell Shaw put it pretty well in a recent column, which he begins by likening to the just completed season of the Washington Redskins football team:

Like Obama, moral conservatives also need to learn a lesson from football: Don't let your guard down on abortion with this administration or they'll probably go for the bomb. Hope and pray President Obama succeeds on many things. Hope and pray he fails on this. Work hard to bring that about.

Let us all pray that God's hand will guide the actions of our incoming President.

St. Paul, pray for us.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Catholics Come Home

A few weeks back, I posted a video by and information about Catholics Come Home. Tom Peterson of Catholics Come Home was on Marcus Grodi's program, The Journey Home, on EWTN Monday night. You can access video of the most recent Journey Home program here. You can also listen to an audio podcast of the program here. The group is doing good work in calling lapsed Catholics back to the Church and evangelizing to non-Catholics and Catholics alike.

Here is a message and videos from the group.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Knights Templar

The History Channel reports that on this date in 1128, the Pope recognized the Knights Templar as a military order. The Catholic Encyclopedia traces their beginning back to 1118.

I once asked a history professor about the difference between the suppression of the Jesuits and the abolition of the Templars. I concluded that the difference must have been largely due to the wealth of the Templars. This is yet another case where it's hard to sort through what really happened.

My humble opinion is that there were probably some corrupt Templars. There was probably some envy of their holdings by, among others, the King of France and the Hospitalers. The secrecy surrounding their initiation rites was probably overstated and could have been reformed. The circumstances surrounding the end of the Templars is a blot on the history of the Church.

Mozart by Candlelight

The Lima Symphony Orchestra is coming to town, and they will be presenting a program, Mozart by Candlelight, in our local church. You have to purchase tickets ($20 for adults, $10 for students) to attend the concert, which has some parishioners asking questions.

As far as I am aware, the only directly applicable Canon is 1221: "Entry to a church is to be free and gratuitous during the time of sacred celebrations." In other words, you can't charge a fee for the Liturgy. The commentary adds the following:

This rule, which follows from the right of the faithful to go to a church (c. 1214), applies to all liturgical celebrations. It does not apply at times when no liturgical celebrations are occurring, including special events, such as concerts, held in a church. In some churches of great historic or artisitic value a small fee is charged to tourists. Where that is the case, provision should be made for the free entry, at least for some period each day, of those who wish to pray before the blessed sacrament (cf. c. 937).

Two footnotes are found in the commentary paragraph. The first notes, "A suggestion to make admission to churches free at all times was deliberately rejected in the code revision process." The second notes a letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments that suggested admission to concerts should be free, but left the decision to the ordinary.

I believe that this (from the Adoremus website) is probably the letter from the CDWDS. In the case of a church like St. Augustine, I believe that two ordinaries might be involved: the Archbishop of the Cincinnati Archdiocese and head of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Israel and Gaza

Having just recently written about resisting the temptation toward blog overreach, I now find myself compelled to attempt posting way above my weight class. What prompts this sudden reversal is an article by Richard Vandewater appearing on the front page of Catholic Exchange. Vandewater is a priest of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. If I read his concluding paragraphs correctly, Fr. Vandewater considers the state of Israel to be a criminal entity for it’s oppression of the Palestinian people. The United States, in supporting Israel, is violating the laws of God and humanity.

Before I start digging into his arguments, I must defend my reasons for doing so. Why am I bothering to comment on international affairs half a world away?

In the United States, we live in what can be described as a republic or a representative democracy. We elect our legislators and executives in free elections. Even political appointees are appointed and approved by elected officials who are supposed to be answerable to the will of the public. As a citizen of the republic, I vote in elections and can lobby the government to make policy (foreign and domestic) in agreement with my beliefs. If somebody tells me that my government has an immoral policy, I have a responsibility to make my displeasure known. Having read an article in which my government is criticized for supporting a criminal (i.e., immoral) policy, I must take it seriously and at least give it some thought. Since this is a blog of the thoughts and reflections of an ordinary Catholic (me), I’m choosing to share those thoughts.

First off are the reported comments of the president of the Vatican’s Council for Justice and Peace, Cardinal Renato Martino, that Gaza “looks more and more like a big concentration camp.” A concentration camp is like a prison, only the inmates aren’t criminals. I think the cardinal is trying to suggest that the population of Gaza is being held prisoner, but by whom? Israel tightly secures its border with Gaza because of the frequency of suicide bombers. Even then, the border is not closed altogether. If Gaza is like a concentration camp, it is like one in which the prisoners can come and go, provided they are willing to wait in line and follow directions.

The cardinal “accused the combatants of thinking only of their own interests.” This should not be a surprise to anyone. Israel looks after Israel’s interests, which consist of ensuring the security of her people, that they might not have rockets fired at them. Israel’s interest is to stop the rockets. What are the interests of Hamas? Israel’s action was precipitated by weeks of Hamas firing rockets into Israel. What was Hamas hoping to accomplish? The unguided rockets were fired at Israeli population centers. They surely couldn’t hope to inflict any real damage on Israel, other than to kill a few civilians and terrify the populace. How did they expect the Israeli Defense Forces to react? In terms of the interests involved, I am sympathetic to those of Israel and left wondering why anyone would suggest that Israel should just accept the rocket fire.

In a follow-up interview, the cardinal “lamented the deaths of so many Palestinian civilians and children and Israel’s destruction of nonmilitary targets like the U.N. school.” Nobody suggests that civilian deaths are anything other than a tragic affect of urban warfare. However, the Israelis are not targeting non-combatant civilians, and are making every effort to minimize such casualties while completing their military objectives. Some would suggest that if a rocket launcher is located in a civilian area, that it cannot be targeted. Unfortunately, it’s still going to be fired. If a mortar team sets up in a school yard, then guess where the return fire is going? Hamas knows this, and is intentionally putting residents of Gaza at risk. In the absence of the rockets or the mortars, the apartments and the school are never targeted. Such losses could have been avoided only by letting Hamas get away with using human shields for cover. If some launchers are untargeted because of where they are placed, guess where all of the launchers will eventually be placed. I simply do not believe the cardinal’s assertion that Israel has “technology that can let them identify an ant on the ground,” although I suppose that even I could do that if I get close enough.

Pope Benedict XVI, appropriately, laments the damage and suffering that the violence has brought. The terrible thing about violence is that it escalates. Israel doesn’t realistically have the option of turning the other cheek (a Christian concept). If Israel does nothing or tries to negotiate, Hamas is emboldened and more Israelis die. What would happen if Hamas were to renounce violence? Peace. Hamas doesn’t want peace.

Vandewater then quotes Congressman Dennis Kucinich, of all people!

Today U.S. tax dollars, U.S. jets and U.S. helicopters provided to Israel are enabling the slaughter in Gaza. The Administration enables Israel to press forward with the attack against defenseless civilians, blocks efforts promoting a ceasefire at the U.N. and refuses to make Israel comply with conditions that arms shipments not be used for aggression. Israel is going to receive $30 billion in a ten-year period for military assistance, without having to abide by any humanitarian principles, international laws or standards of basic human decency. Wake up America.

Where to begin? Kucinich seems to believe that the Israelis are attacking and slaughtering innocent civilians. Where does Hamas fit into Kucinich’s world? When the Israelis call ahead to inform families that there building will be fired upon and they should leave, that hardly seems like an affective way to target a population for slaughter. Abstaining from a UN vote is hardly the same as blocking efforts to promote a ceasefire. If we wanted to block efforts, we could use our Security Council veto. As far as aggression is concerned, it was Hamas who provoked Israel by firing rockets at Israeli settlements. What humanitarian principles, international laws, or standard of basic human decency does Hamas abide by? Wake up Congressman Kucinich.

The Palestinian people have suffered for a long time and continue to suffer, but I don’t accept that Israel and the policies of the United States are the cause of their suffering. The U.S. has spent much diplomatic effort over the years trying to broker peace. Unfortunately, when Yassir Arafat was offered everything that he said the Palestinians wanted, he refused. Peace will come to Palestine when the Palestinians reject groups like Hamas and start seeking peace.

Ender's Game

One of the book titles on my daughter's 7th grade reading list was Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card. For those who aren't familiar with the story, the basic idea is that in the future, after a war with an alien race, the nations of Earth join together to establish a training facility for children showing promise as military tacticians. They are preparing for the next war and searching for the best and brightest commanders. Ender Wiggins is a boy of exceptional ability.

I read the story first in its original form as a long short story. It was included in an anthalogy of military science fiction. It was a great story, and it deserved all of the attention that it got.

The author either decided or was persuaded to expand the story into a book. In going from short story to book, a lot of filler material had to be added, which I don't think really added anything to the story. If anything, it was a distraction that had to be waded through. Scenes were added that attempted to probe the psychology of the main character. The book was another big success.

Naturally, success builds upon itself. There was a whole series of books spun off from Ender's Game involving other characters and following Ender Wiggins. Some of these books were OK, but none were as good as the original short story. I found myself thinking that the well has been returned to a few too many times. Get some new material, already.

I am thankful that, as Catholics, our Church teaches us that public revelation is complete. There will be no new books added to the canon of scripture. We don't need any more. There won't be a fifth gospel exploring the psychology of Christ or the apostles after the resurrection. There won't be any material added to holy scripture deconstructing and revealing the details of the holy childhood or young adulthood of Jesus. Everything that we need is already there for us.

I am thankful for that.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Euthanasia Case Study

Two years ago, I took a class on Christian ethics. One of the areas of discussion in the class involved medical ethics. We were given a handout with five case studies, and if we had sufficient time in class, we were going to discuss each case. Unfortunately, we ran out of time (our class tended to ask a lot of questions and get into some pretty good discussions).

Case Five was particularly interesting to me.

A newborn is diagnosed as a Down's syndrome child with the added complication of an intestinal blockage (duodenal atresia). The latter could easily be corrected with a fairly simple low risk operation. Without the operation the child could not be fed and would die. The parents ask that the operation not be done, and the physicians concur. Would omitting the operation be euthanasia?

Those who know us personally can see why I would be interested in where the classroom discussion was going to go. Our daughter Erin (who turned six on January 10th) has Down's syndrome and was born with with a tracheo-esophogeal fistula and esophogeal atresia (TEF/EA). From her mouth, her esophagus ended in a blind pouch. From her stomach, her esophagus was connected to her trachea. Dr. Christian (what a name!) bluntly described the condition as "inconsistent with life." It could be corrected through surgery, though her esophagus would always lack the muscle of normally-formed esophagi.

It never occurred to us to decline the surgery and just let her die. It's hard to imagine the hardness of heart that would lead any parents to choose death for their child. It seems like we risk reducing morality to legalism when we start thinking in terms of what constitutes extraordinary measures. It's a child. She might not be perfect, but neither am I. A relatively simple and common procedure will allow her to live. I don't understand why anybody should have to think about that.

I have a friend who is currently taking the same class from the same instructor. The classes have been increased from eight to ten since I took the class, so his class is more likely to discuss the cases. I intend to share with him the similarities between this case and our little saint.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Blog Posts

Earlier this week, I was thinking about what I wanted to post on my blog. Because of an article that I had read in First Things and the Israeli action against Hamas in Gaza, the Middle East was on my mind. I considered a post on Just War Theory, based on all the discussion from 2004, particularly by George Weigel and Michael Novak. I considered the similarities between the modern state of Israel and the Crusader Kingdoms of the 12th century, but then I read some history of the Crusades and concluded that the feudal system of government and the petty politics of the time made it way too complicated.

I really need to limit my posts to my areas of competence. The problem is, I don't have any. If I only posted on things about which I am an expert, I would have no posts. So be forewarned that any unattributed opinions you see on my blog are the ravings of a madman. Where they're anything more than that, I'll try to provide ample supporting links to more authoritative sources.

The Issue

I am not a virtuous man. Virtue is the habitual disposition to choose good. As much as I would like to be virtuous, the sad fact remains that too often, choosing the good requires a conscious effort of the will on my part. If I were virtuous, I wouldn't have to think about it; it would be a habit.

For example, if I'm flipping through the television channels, I might involuntarily pause on a channel showing a Baywatch beach scene. I have to make an effort to click past such channels. That's why we've programmed out the channels that are most likely to show such content.

I have another example, but it requires a little background.

About six months ago, my wife was given the opportunity to purchase up to three magazine subscriptions at the discounted rate of $2 for a full year. We looked over the magazines on offer and selected a couple of home improvement and/or design magazines and one sports magazine.

Neither one of us really follows sports that closely, so why did we pick a sports magazine? I picked it to have something to talk to other men about. Too often, I find myself in the company of other men who only want to talk about sports, when my interests in conversation tend more toward religion, politics (both of which are allegedly taboo in polite company), and pop culture (my shallow side). I don't follow sports too closely because it seems that every time I start rooting for a particular team, all I'm doing is setting myself up for disappointment. I cannot bear to invest myself emotionally in a team when I have no direct control over the outcome of the contests.

So, when the conversation inevitably turns to sports, I'm left standing mute. I don't know which teams are having good years, and I don't know any of the players. The subscription in the magazine was an attempt to at least allow me to follow the conversation, even if not being an active participant.

My wife had one reservation: the annual swimsuit issue. Which is where the whole subject of virtue (or lack thereof) and conscious acts of the will comes in.

The swimsuit issue comes out in February. Two weeks ago, I was flipping through the December 29 issue, and I saw a notice at the bottom of the Letters page: "If You Don't Want the Swimsuit Issue." The notice included directions for opting out of receiving the issue and provided both a toll free telephone number and a website URL. The fact that the magazine posted the notice and has a button on the customer service website specifically for those who prefer not to receive the issue seems to indicate that the number of subscribers who don't want the issue is not negligible.

As I've noted, I am not a virtuous man. If I were, I would have immediately called the number or gone online to decline the Swimsuit Issue. However, it took me two weeks. It took two weeks of telling myself what I should do, before I did it. The worst part of it is that there was (is) a part of me that didn't want me to do the right thing. "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. . . I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do." (Romans 7:15, 18-19)

St. Joseph, most chaste spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, pray for me.

Please note, that my dear wife did not put any pressure on me to decline the issue, aside from her initial reservation those many months ago when we first got the subscription. Note also that, content-wise, the weekly issue of Sports Illustrated are quite good, with very little that is morally objectionable (not nearly as bad as the direct mail soliciation from Men's Health magazine), some good human interest stories, and some truly amazing photographs (that don't feature models in swimsuits).

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Christianity and Islam

Robert Louis Wilken has an article in the January 2009 issue of First Things titled "Christianity Face to Face with Islam" (not yet available on-line for non-subscribers). He goes rather quickly through the early spread of Christianity, the emergence and spread of Islam, the conflict between Islam and Christianity, and the subsequent spread of both faiths. All told, it's a rather sobering read, particularly this paragraph:

But seen in global perspective, that may be illusory. To state the obvious: Most of the territories that were Christian in the year 700 are now Muslim. Nothing similar has happened to Islam. Christianity seems like a rain shower that soaks the earth and then moves on, whereas Islam appears like a great lake that constantly overflows its banks to inundate new territory. When Islam arrives, it comes to stay--unless displaced by force, as it was in Spain. But the shameful expulsion of Muslims from Spain is hardly an event Christians would wish to celebrate today.

The Vatican at times seems willfully blind to the fact that Islam represents an existential threat. It's as if only one threat can be dealt with at a time. The focus currently seems to be on relativistic secularism. Before that it was atheistic Communism. The fracturing of Christendom that occurred with the Protestant Reformation was as much a result of political in-fighting as theological reform, and it can surely not be inconsequential that, with Moslem armies knocking at the gates of Vienna, the German kings were a little distracted in dealing with their wayward princes.

Anyone who has read Mark Steyn's America Alone knows that if current trends continue, within a generation or two, Europe will be lost, not because it was conquered, but because it gave up. If we don't revive the faith and live it with conviction and vigor, we will have given up as well.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Bathroom Bacon

Anyone who knows me well knows how much I love my breakfast. If bacon is included, it's even better. Give me a plate of bacon and eggs over-easy with toast and fresh coffee, and I'm about as close to heaven as I can get this side of my last breath.

Now, my nephew Rob has shared this with me, and I fear that I might never be able to use a public washroom again without salivating.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Vocations and the Catechism

Today I experienced another one of those coincidental confluences that makes you wonder whether anything is really a coincidence, or if it was arranged by the hand of God. If it's been arranged, then what in the world does He want me to do with it?

First, I read and commented on a post by Father Schnippel. He is the vocations director for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, and he was commenting on a column in newspaper of the Wichita Diocese on where vocations come from. The three areas that generate seminarians are family life, parish life, and life through education and formation. Father Schnippel's comment on education and formation boiled down to the need to teach youth the fullness and beauty of the truth, but also lead them into a life of prayer and spiritual formation. My comment concerned people who think they know better.

Second, I went over to the EWTN podcast site. Every month, they offer a series that has aired at some point in the past. It's available for a month, and then it is replaced by a new offering the following month. The offering for January is an eleven episode series, Catechism and Controversies:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church issued in its present form contains an authentic statement of the faith in its fullness. Unfortunately, there are those, and many are religious educators, who are already trying to subvert the teachings found in the Catechism. In a challenging and insightful way, Msgr. Michael Wrenn examines the inner workings behind the publication of the new Catechism of the Catholic Church as well as several problems found in today's religious education efforts.

I listened to the first few, and that brings me to the third item.

Three years ago, I took a Basic Doctrine class through the Archdiocese. One of the texts for the class was Introducing the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Traditional Themes and Contemporary Issues, Edited by Berard L. Marthaler. During the course of the class, we had to read several of the essays and write papers on them. It wasn't easy reading, and for that reason, most of the students hated the book. I found it fascinating in that it opened to me a window into a world of people who really did not like the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

I had previously read the Catechism, and I loved it. There was one essay in the Marthaler volume, by Peter C. Phan, that we had to read and write a paper on and that I found downright offensive. Phan claimed that the structure of the Catechism was a "fundamental flaw" and that it "sundered" the integral unity between faith and life in a "monumental failure." My favorite line from his essay was this:

Furthermore, just as the old skins would burst if the new wine were poured into them, and the wine would spill, and both the skins and the wine be lost, so the four-part scheme proves to be the procrustean bed upon which a host of new theological issues are forced to lie. As a result, both the scheme and the doctrines suffer.

I had to look up the story of Procrustes to be really offended. I wrote a paper sharply critical of the author, and to the instructor's credit, she gave me a good grade on it, but I got the impression from the class that the instructor embraced much of the contemporary theology that the critics of the Catechism espoused.

How are these second two related to the first? While there are many of us who believe that the way to increase vocations is through embracing traditional formulations of Church teaching, with are authoritatively and clearly presented in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we continue to train people to view those formulations as outdated and counterproductive. We have some fabulous priests, many of whom are young, but we also have many entrenched lay persons who are not going to go quietly and wield significant power in the formation of our youth.

I want to make it clear at this point that I am not talking about anybody at my local parish. I am merely relating my experience in an Archdiocese class. You can listen to the EWTN podcast series and draw your own conclusions. Note that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Doctrine Committee found it necessary to issue a notice finding fault with at least one of Peter Phan's books.

Monday, January 5, 2009

A People In Darkness

This morning when I read today's gospel, the thought suddenly came very clearly to me: this applies to us.
The people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen (Matthew 4:16).

I vacilate between thinking that the United States is becoming a godless wasteland and thinking that, for all our faults, most of the U.S. is still a nation with the soul of a church. It sometimes seems to me as though there are two Americas that are on divergent paths. Just today, my wife commented to me that she didn't remember so many homosexual couples being featured on HGTV. We have become numb to the fact that we are surrounded by a decadent culture, and the signs of hope (e.g., values voters from one election cycle) are likely to disappoint.

I have to wonder sometimes whether I'm blinding myself to the horror by hiding in a small town where most people still have strong values. I can say that I am protecting my children from a dangerous world, but the influences still come in the form of cable TV and school reading lists. So we constantly have to monitor what they're watching and interrogate them (that's what it feels like) regarding their school friendships and classroom activities. We tried homeschooling, and came to the realization that we just couldn't do it anymore. I salute those who can.

The segments of the population who do not know God sit in darkness, and even many of those who do know God sit idly by while the darkness encroaches upon them. The shadow of death looms ever larger with the threatened passage of the Freedom of Choice Act and an almost filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. I hate to be partisan, but only one of the major parties supports a virtually unlimited "right" to abortion. I can take no comfort in the fact that my fellow Catholics are indistinguishable from the rest of the population with regard to how they vote, divorce, and abort their babies. After years of believing that the culture of death was slowly being eroded (at least with respect to surgical abortion) it appears that it could all be undone with the stroke of a pen.

The annual celebration of Christmas gives us a chance to see a great light. To experience an epiphany, revealing that God loves his human creatures to the point of becoming one of them. The annual March for Life is coming up in just a few short weeks, and I suspect that the pro-life movement will be energized to protect the lives of the innocent unborn. Voters in many states are still willing to defend traditional marriage and want to see it codified in law. There are reasons for hope.

But we must not be blind to the darkness.

Direct Dial, Part II

My wife, like most wives, I suspect, has a way of correcting me when I take things to excess. The other day we were talking, and she noted that I've been a little critical in some of my recent blog posts. She's right, of course. I jumped into the blogosphere about two months ago, and found an echo chamber for some of my opinions regarding the liturgy and traditional Catholic pieties. I can be as pharisaical as anybody, and I find that I have to guard against such tendencies. Sometimes I slip.

So, I'd like to back up and revisit my post on "direct dialing" and the honor that we give to Mary and the saints.

We can, of course, misplace our devotion to Mary. Our Blessed Mother should always lead us to her Son, as at Cana where she said, "Do whatever he tells you (John 2:5)." Mary is not an end, in and of herself; she is a path to Jesus. I recall growing uncomfortable in a Rosary cenacle where the prescribed prayer was one in which we prayed to Jesus to make us worthy of His Mother. It seemed to be placing the cart ahead of the horse.

Then there is Luke 11:27-28.
As he said this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, "Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!" But he said, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!"

The Church doesn't see any contradiction here between reverence for Mary and obedience to Christ, for Mary heard the word of God and kept it better than anyone. We should honor Mary for her spiritual gifts, rather than for her merely physical role. So, I admit being a little confused when the Antiphon for the Canticle of Mary for Evening Prayer II (from the Liturgy of the Hours) on January 1 reads:
Blessed is the womb which bore you, O Christ, and the breast that nursed you, Lord and Savior of the world, alleluia.

Or the hymn selection of Virigin-Born, We Bow Before You, with these lyrics:
Virgin-born, we bow before you;
Blessed was the womb that bore you:

Although confusing, the source is authoritative, "approved for use by the Dioceses of the United States of Americvan by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and Confirmed by the Apostolic See."

As for direct prayer to God, it's simply not accurate to think that those with a devotion to Mary or the saints do not also pray directly to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It's one of those cases where there is no dichotomy; it's a both/and rather than an either/or. We could, I think, turn the question around to those who profess that they have no need for the intercession of the saints because they dial direct. Do they pray directly to God present in the Eucharist? Do they take time to fall on their knees in adoration before the tabernacle or the exposed Sacrament?

I fear that I'm starting to get a little judgmental again. Yes, there are some cautions that accompany devotion to Mary and the saints, and they deserve to be recognized. And praying directly to God is a good and necessary thing. Marian devotion does not exclude this. If anything, true devotion to Mary facilitates it. To those who pride themselves on being direct dialers, I would extend an invitation to let Mary be your guide, for she always points the way toward her Son.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Magi

by A.E. Stallings
Copyright (c) 2007 First Things (December 2007).

Christmas Eve, the Word made Flesh,
We put the baby in the manger,
But could not add them to the crèche—
They still had miles of doubt and danger.

They set out from the staircase landing,
Traveling lightly and untrammeled:
One was kneeling, one was standing,
And our favorite was cameled.

Past falling cards and other perils
They crossed the piano’s dark plateau
Where someone fumbled Christmas carols
And sang of silence, stars and snow.

They camped wherever they were able,
A potted fern for an oasis.
From shelf to windowsill to table,
Night by night, we’d change their places.

The thrill of our own gifts forgot,
No longer new, the batteries
Gone dead, at last they’d reach the spot,
One king already on his knees,

One kneeling, while the camel grunted—
Twelve whole days of Christmas hence—
To give what no child ever wanted:
Gold and myrrh and frankincense.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Resolutions From A Church Bulletin

This list of resulutions for the new year appeared in our local parish bulletin not once, but twice, once as an insert and once in the space normally reserved for comments from the pastor. I assume that means that they have his endorsement.

NEW YEARS’ RESOLUTIONS (My comments in blue.)

  1. I resolve to be more welcoming to those I encounter entering and leaving Mass or other services. I hope this means before entering and after leaving the body of the church itself. Otherwise, the commotion could interfere with those trying to spend quiet moments in prayer either preparing for mass or giving thanks after mass.

  2. I will arrive at least 10 minutes early so that I can prepare myself for the privilege of attending Mass and receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. And if it is necessary for the choir to practice before mass, they should finish before worshippers arrive to prepare themselves.

  3. I resolve to move all the way down inside my pew so that it will be easier for others to enter my pew and I will make them feel welcome. Except, of course, for the Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, who will have to leave their pews when the Lamb of God is sung.

  4. I will not just attend Mass; I will participate in it by singing and if my sense of pitch is horrible, I will sing anyway because I am honoring my God in doing so. It's kinda hard to do this when the choir is performing numbers that nobody else can sing. I also love singing the psalm response, but it's nice when the sung psalm matches the psalm for the Sunday's readings.

  5. I will listen intently to the readings and the homily and determine how I can apply the lessons they contain to my daily life and work.
  6. I will be attentive and reverent at all times, but especially at the consecration of the bread and wine into the body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

  7. If I bring my children to Mass I will ensure that they are not a distraction to those around me. If, through no fault of my own, they are, I will take them into the vestibule at the back of church or if necessary, leave the church. This is one that is oh so clear to those who don't actually have young children. My wife and I often split masses to avoid taking the baby, but when we go as a family, she gets fussy. At some ambiguous point we might decide to take her out, and usually she's fine as soon as whoever has her stands up and starts moving. I'm sure that somewhere, someone is thinking, "It's about time!" It's much easier for them than it is for us. As for our Erin, who is five and has Downs Syndrome, we sometimes keep her home, but when she wants to go to mass with her mom, we aren't going to tell her no. And if Erin is a big distraction to someone behind us, doesn't that say as much about them as it does about us?

  8. If I am a server, reader, distributor, choir member or usher I will be at my assigned Mass to perform my duties. If I cannot make it, I resolve to work hard to find a substitute. I was at an 8 am mass once where six out of eight scheduled EMHCs were absent. It seemed to me that the pastor was a little miffed, and justifiably so. I think that a little discipline (not exactly what I mean, but other word seems to fit -- I think I mean more of a spelled out policy or rules) and a mandatory annual retreat for those serving liturgical roles would help.

  9. Unless I have an emergency, I will not rush out of church after Mass, ignoring those around me so I can beat them out of the parking lot. Instead, I will look for opportunities to engage my fellow parishioners in conversation. But please remember that, until you've left the building, you are still in a sacred space.

  10. I will not leave Mass until I have received the final blessing and sung the final song with enthusiasm.

Friends, this is OUR church. Let’s make it the best it can be for everyone. Yeah, it's our church, but more importantly, it's HIS Church.

16th Anniversary

My dear wife has posted a video tribute on the occasion of our 16th anniversary. Thanks for the last 19 years (we dated three years before marriage), dear.

Direct Dial

A few weeks ago, our parish high school religious education program (formerly CCD, now PSR) ended the fall session with a group assembly at which a local man noted for his story telling addressed the students. He called his talking “Something About Heaven,” and it was mostly a series of reflections strung loosely together and covering a wide variety of topics. He admitted that, while he had given some thought to what he would speak about, he hadn’t spent as much time in preparation as he would have liked, so he was counting on the Holy Spirit to put words into his mouth.

At one point in his address he said that he would caution the Marianists in the crowd. I don’t think that he was talking about members of the Society of Mary, who are best known around here for running the University of Dayton. He was speaking more generally about those with a devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. After offering this caution, he declined to elaborate. He basically said, “Be careful,” but did not say what the danger might be. He went on to state with what seemed to be some pride that he himself was a “direct dialer.” The message that seemed to come through loud and clear to me at least was this: forget Mary and the saints, just go straight to God.

This doesn’t strike me as being a historically or traditionally Catholic position.

My wife and I are facilitators in the Why Catholic program at our parish. This past fall, we did the first half of the fourth year. Since each year follows one of the four pillars of the Catechism, the fourth year is devoted to prayer. In the fall session, we talked quite a bit about intercessory prayer and prayer to Mary and the saints. The best explanation for prayer to the saints that I found was paragraph 2683 in the Catechism:

The witnesses who have preceded us into the kingdom, especially those whom the Church recognizes as saints, share in the living tradition of prayer by the example of their lives, the transmission of their writings, and their prayer today. They contemplate God, praise him and constantly care for those whom they have left on earth. When they entered into the joy of their Master, they were "put in charge of many things." Their intercession is their most exalted service to God's plan. We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world.

Note that Holy Mother Church says that we can and should ask the saints for intercession. And, of course, the statements of the Church regarding imitation of and prayer to Mary, who is recognized with numerous solemnities on the Church calendar, is even stronger.

It seems to me that when a speaker is invited to address students in a Catholic religious education program, the speaker should reinforce, or at least not contradict, the teachings of the Catholic Church. Parents send their children to parish-sponsored religious education to learn what the Church teaches. When Church teaching is undermined or alternative theologies presented as equivalent to traditional doctrine, we do a disservice to our children, their parents, and our Lord.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A Rocky Start to the New Year

Only one day into the new year, and already I'm backsliding on some of the resolutions that I was doing so well on! Not only did I hit the snooze bar on my alarm clock, I completely turned it off, even though I knew I had to get out of bed to get ready for mass (my wife was up, though, so I knew I wouldn't oversleep completely). Then I ate breakfast before Morning Prayer.

I know these sound like minor things, but they are little things that I had made a lot of progress on, and letting both slip on the first day of the new year is just a little distressing. Fortunately, every day, whether January 1st or not, is a new opportunity to keep those resolutions.

So, for those who have made resolutions for the new year, if you should fail, don't let the discouragement deter you from keeping the resolution on the following day. Any resolution worth starting will be worth re-starting if it isn't kept perfectly.