Friday, October 28, 2011

Stuck on Seven

Every other year, the Lectionary walks Catholics through St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans during the weekday masses (weeks 28 through 31 of Ordinary Time). Those who only attend mass on Sunday take a trip through Romans every third year, in Cycle A (2011 is a Cycle A year). The Sunday readings from Romans occur from the 9th to the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time.

When the Lectionary takes us through Romans, I try to follow along. I think I do a pretty good job of tracing Paul’s logic through the first six chapters, but I always seem to miss the turn at Chapter seven. I have to back up and re-read, and back up and re-read, and back up and re-read yet again before I start to think that maybe I’m reading it correctly. By correctly, I mean according to the Catholic rules that say it has to fit in with everything else.

Anyhow, because I get hung up on Chapter seven, I tend to fall behind when the rest of the Church moves on. Friday of Week 30 is in Chapter nine (or would be, if it weren’t superseded this year by the Feast of Sts. Simon and Jude), and Saturday is in Chapter eleven. I am truly thankful for the Church’s guidance, but I need to get caught up. I hope I don’t have to read any of Chapters eight through eleven more than twice!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Tax Plans

Herman Cain is enjoying some popularity as a Republican contender for the presidency of the United States. His big idea is a 9-9-9 tax plan. Huntsman, Romney, Perry, and all the others have a tax plan. There’s only one problem: the President doesn’t determine tax policy. He can suggest what he wants to Congress, but the rates and types of taxes that can be collected (legally) are out of his hands. The centerpiece of Cain’s campaign to win the job is something that’s not in the job description.

That’s not to say that the President can’t do anything to affect the economy of the nation. All of the bureaucratic agencies that interpret legislation to impose regulations on businesses and individuals across the country are part of the Executive Branch. The President can negotiate trade agreements (subject to Congressional approval) that impacts imports and exports. Plus, of course, all of those federal government offices spend money, and reducing discretionary spending would reduce the amount of tax revenue necessary to balance the budget (or, more likely, reduce the size of the budget deficit).

So when do the Republican candidates get a chance to shoot themselves in the feet with their foreign policy proposals?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Fifth Question

The gospel for the 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle A) is the parable of the wedding feast from Matthew 22. The gospel has a short form, verses 1-10, and a long form, which add verses 11-14. Our priest this morning chose the short form, and in his homily, he focused on four questions asked when an invitation is received: the who, what, when, and where. The short form of his homily is that our king, God, invites each and every one of us to communion with him right here and right now.

It all seems so easy - too easy, actually. After all, my name is on the guest list, and I'm right here, and it's right now. If all I have to do is accept the invitation, then I should be golden. But in the long form of the gospel, verses 11-14, some of those who showed up, even though they were invited, were kicked out because they were improperly attired. And although Father covered four standard questions in his homily, a fifth begs to be asked. How?

Clearly, there's more to it than just being me, right here, right now, and saying, "I accept."

Sleepy Football Friday

Friday night in these parts means one thing: high school football. Okay, I'll make a small concession. There is a shrinking group of elderly folks for whom every Friday means BINGO. I worked Friday night BINGO for a while, back before babies five, six, and seven. The Friday night BINGO attendance has been in steady decline for the last ten years.

This Friday night started a little unusually, with a call from my mother-in-law. She wanted to invite her daughter, my lovely wife, to see a movie. This happens less often than a blue moon. Unfortunately, my wife's mom must have forgotten that her grandson plays on the football team, and two (three if you count their cousin) of her granddaughters play in the marching band, which places their dad (that would be me) firmly in the stands watching, while their mom stays home with the youngest children. And so, my wife politely demurred.

Amy really only stays home with Michael and Erin. Catherine is in sixth grade and has discovered the social aspect of going to football games to hang out with her classmates and meet other students from the opposing schools. She promises me that she doesn't talk to the boys. And then there's Jamie, the three-year-old. She looks forward to attending the football game each week, where she cries for popcorn, suckers, and whatever other concession stand confections she sees in the hands of other children. I can usually put her off until half-time.

This week was an away game. Jamie nodded off on the drive there, and the last few minutes before arriving at St. Henry, Catherine and I spent trying to keep Jamie awake. Our team played well and brought home a 34-7 victory, taking their record to 5-2, with good chances for post-season play. The season is going well for them, but the players are starting to feel a little beat-up. Jamie, on the other hand, didn't make it to the end of the game. As the time ran out in the fourth quarter, I carried a sleeping bundle in a blanket to the car for the drive home.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Don John and Lepanto

During my morning rosary run today, I was very much aware that today is the Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary. More to the point, I was aware that the Memorial was established in thanksgiving for victory over the Ottoman Turks at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. The rosary was ardently prayed before (and during, by those not engaged) the battle, and the victory by the Holy League was attributed to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

In a spare moment this morning, I reread Chesterton’s Lepanto. It is stirring verse, celebrating the courage of Don John of Austria, at a time when other western leaders couldn’t be bothered to come to the defense of Christendom. 440 years ago, at the age of 24, Don John led a hastily-assembled fleet into battle and, in the process, saved western civilization. He is said to have told his men, “There is no paradise for cowards.”

Here I am, about to turn 42, raising my family in a bucolic village in fly-over country. What am I doing to save western civilization from all the threats that it faces in the modern world? I know God doesn’t call us all to be a Don John. I know about the Little Way of St. Therese, and how some of us are just called to be little purple flowers in God’s garden.

And yet, there’s always the whisper of a doubt in the back of my mind that maybe I was (or am) called to something more and my own laziness or cowardice got in the way.

To all of those who clearly have not been cowed, and who have taken positions on the front line, my hat is off to you. You have my respect, my admiration, and my prayers.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Ennui, Apathy, Acedia

My spiritual life is not being lived at the level it should be. I know that’s always going to be true – even a high-functioning mystic (and that’s definitely not me!) is gong to feel spiritually incomplete on this side of the beatific vision (i.e., the presence of God enjoyed by the holy souls in heaven). But I’ve been occupying a place lower than I should reasonably expect.

I have to admit that it’s largely my own fault. Today’s gospel is about perseverance in prayer. I, however, am easily deterred. I’ve neglected the Liturgy of the Hours (not that it’s required, for lay people), and it’s been a long while since I’ve made a holy hour. I make excuses for the lapses, usually claiming that other responsibilities demand my attention. The liturgy has not been a refuge. I’ve attended, but entering fully into the mystery has eluded me. The only prayer that I can admit to is the rosary, silently recited on a finger ring while running.

Spontaneous prayer has never been a strong suit of mine. When I try to express my prayers in words, two things happen: First, I quickly run out of words and start repeating myself with words that are completely inadequate to begin with. Second, I find myself having to take back the literal meaning of the words themselves. My prayers end up being a vague uplifting of spirit and intentions.

Sometimes, that feels entirely inadequate. My daughter was in the hospital recently. I knew that I should pray for her, but I couldn’t bring myself to do any more than the vague lifting of intentions. I can only guess that this is what St. Paul was getting at when he wrote, “we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.” (Rom 8:26)

That’s not the only reason for my spiritual listlessness. I follow the headlines in the Catholic press, but the only stories that seem to be new are the scandalous ones. Every message from the pope or one of the bishops just seems to be a repetition of what’s been said before. No matter how inspirational the words might be, my reaction lately is an indifferent shrug. The need to reject relativism? Already heard it. A new initiative encouraging families to put Christ in the center? Well, duh!

In short, what I feel is at variance with what I know. I know that what is needed is perseverance. I know that the liturgy is the work of the church and that the Eucharistic celebration makes present the entire Paschal Mystery. I know that reality doesn’t depend on my feelings or on my perception of it. I know that dryness happens, and prayer shapes the soul even then. I know these things, but not feeling the fire is a real drag.