Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Notes on 20 OT, Cycle C

A few quick thoughts from the liturgy and readings from this past Sunday, the 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time in Cycle C.

  • The antiphon: “Turn your eyes, O God, our shield; and look on the face of your anointed one; one day within your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.” First, is the anointed one that we are asking God to look upon supposed to be us (anointed in Baptism and Confirmation) or His Son (“Christ” literally means “anointed”)? Second, I’m used to hearing that we accept suffering in this life because our time here is like nothing compared to eternity. This turns that around. No matter how long we suffer here, just one day in heaven is worth it. If, on the other hand, the anointed one referred to in the first clause if Christ, then that leaves open the possibility that one day within your courts is referring to that terrible afternoon on Calvary. This antiphon is very unclear.

  • Zedekiah seems an awfully capricious king, easily swayed by whoever speaks to him, eager only to keep his own hands clean. First he allows the princes to toss Jeremiah into the cistern, then he orders a court official to pull him back out because it’s full of mud Jeremiah might die of famine. If it had been full of water, and Jeremiah had died of drowning instead, would that have been somehow more acceptable to Zedekiah?

  • It was a little amusing to hear the lector pronounce the name “Ebed-melech.” Looks like four syllables to me, but somehow, he used about six. He pronounced it the same way both times.

  • We are told in the letter to the Hebrews to “persevere in running the race that lies before us.” That sounds an awful lot like something Paul would write, and yet we are repeatedly told that Hebrews was not written by Paul because it is stylistically different from his epistles. Isn’t it possible that Paul structured his homilies differently than his letters, or that he tailored his correspondence to the recipient? I was taught to do just that in the business writing class that I took as a college undergrad.

  • There is a difference between running a race and training for a race. On race day, you might run through pain, sacrificing your body in the process. If you do that in training, you risk not making it to race day. I could run a race with plantar fasciitis, but if I run every day with it, I risk making it worse and making my training less effective. I’m not sure what the spiritual metaphor for this is.

  • “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.” That is very true. I have barely resisted to the point of inconvenience. Even that, too often, seems beyond my ability to withstand. Let’s hope that it doesn’t come to the point of shedding blood.

  • I have teen daughters. A few years ago, a song appeared in our digital library, the refrain of which went something like this: “Somebody call 911. Shawty fire burning on the dance floor. Whoa.” I don’t think that’s what Jesus had in mind when he proclaimed, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazaing!”

  • To everyone who says, “Can’t we all just get along?” Jesus says, “No, we can’t.”

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Get Ready for a Beating

What are my feelings about this Sunday's gospel (Lk 12:32-48)?

Much has been given to me, and much is expected.  I consistently underperform, for which Jesus seems to promise a severe beating.  There's nothing like the promise of a flogging to improve morale!  No matter how I try, my concupiscent nature keeps overpowering my weak will.

Some people might say that my problem is that I shouldn't try so hard, that I'm bordering on Pelagian heresy.  It's not up to me, it's up to the grace of God almighty, who became incarnate and suffered on the cross for my sins.  All I need to do is accept the redemption worked by Him on my behalf.  Except that's not what Jesus says in today's gospel.

Others would say that, through the grace of God, I can resist the lure of sin's temptation, and so be ready when the master returns.  That seems a Catch 22.  If all the bad that I do is on me, and all the good that I do is not me, but the grace of God, then doesn't it follow that the only reason I don't do more good is that God is not pouring out more grace upon me?  If grace is necessary for conversion, then doesn't lack of conversion indicate lack of grace?  Whose fault is that?

I know, I know.  Everybody is bathing in grace, it's just that some people accept it, and some don't.  But wouldn't accepting the grace be a good work, dependent upon god's grace?  Catch 22!

What I know for sure is that I'm missing something.  I'm missing something in my understanding of the parable.  I'm missing something in my understanding of how God's grace affects our decisions.  I'm missing something in strengthening my will to resist sin.

I'm missing quite a lot, it seems.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Moving Out

Two weeks ago today, I was helping my oldest child settle into his new home in New York state.  The drive there was a little brutal – 90+ degree temps in a van with no air conditioning and no radio.  I was literally sweating into my shirt as I drove.  The boy and two of his sisters trailed behind in his Grand Prix.  My dear wife had stayed back in Ohio with the four young ones and our second oldest.
That Friday was spent establishing a bank account, arranging for internet hookup, driving around town (including locating the local Catholic church), stocking up on groceries, and visiting the laundromat.  By the middle of the day it became clear that he was as settled as he was going to get until Monday, so we agreed that his sisters and I would return to Ohio the next day.
The experience left me feeling sad and trying to convince myself to be happy.  I have no doubt that the boy will learn from this, but I hope that the lessons don’t come painfully.  He has enough savings to last him several months, if he doesn’t spend too freely, and he should be able to find a job before he runs out of money.  He has decided to enter the workforce for a year and start taking post-secondary classes next year, after establishing New York residency.
It's not the way that I would have chosen, but then he is not me, and I am enormously risk averse. I would have had him taking a few classes locally, getting a job before moving out, etc. In some ways, I guess, his faith is stronger than mine.

Monday, July 22, 2013

What This Man Wears

Over on Ricochet, Molly Hemmingway put up a post on clothing that men should not wear (“What Not to Wear, Male Edition”). I only looked at 10 of the 200 comments, but I can’t help but think that some people are way too worried about what I might wear. Next, they’ll by trying to tell me that I shouldn’t cut my own hair.

For the record, I regularly violate several of the items in the short list. Yes, I wear button down short sleeve shirts. Sometimes, on Sundays, I’ll wear one with a tie. I have concluded, however, that they look much better tucked in, with a military tuck. Untucked, they cause my torso to lose all shape. I should further note that 75% of the time, if I wear a long-sleeved shirt, the sleeve gets rolled up to just below the elbow. I have long arms, and most of the times, the sleeves are too short.

I also wear running shoes when I’m not running. They’re more comfortable. The give my feet cushion and support and allow them to breathe. The shoes I wear to work make my feet hurt and sweat, which I really don’t like.

I like wearing shorts. They cause me to sweat less (is there a theme here?), and they are less restrictive. Sometimes, I even wear a button down short sleeve shirt with shorts and running shoes. Egad!

Item 5 on the short list of forbidden male clothing is tribal necklaces. I hope that doesn’t include my miraculous medal necklace or my brown scapular. I don’t wear them to be trendy, though. On the other hand, you won’t catch me wearing any heavy gold chains.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Fortnight 2.0

Today begins the second Fortnight for Freedom, which the bishops of the United States have called for to mark the threat to religious liberty in the United States. American Catholics are asked to make the next two weeks a “period of prayer and action, to address many current challenges to religious liberty, including the August 1, 2013 deadline for religious organization to comply with the HHS mandate, Supreme Court rulings that could attempt to redefine marriage in June, and religious liberty concerns in areas such as immigration and humanitarian services.” Pretty ominous stuff!

There's a powerful video posted at YouTube.  You'll have to follow the link to view it; the code to embed it is not available.

On the other hand, one page at the bishops’ web site tries to put a positive spin on the Fortnight, calling it a period “in celebration of the many rights we enjoy as American citizens and to patriotically pray for our nation.” The 14 suggestions given on that page all present a happy face to the Fortnight.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Breaking the Silence

I have not posted anything in a while. I am not dead; I just haven’t had much to say. Life marches on, however, so my silence should not be interpreted to mean that nothing has been happening. I’ll take a moment now to remark upon a few things: my daughter, my son, my running, and my spiritual state.

My 17 year old daughter has been suffering from headaches. They’ve been bad enough for her to miss most of the last few weeks of school. She has been subjected to batteries of tests, of which we’ve learned only that she has cerebral vasculitis. That’s medical jargon for swollen blood vessels in the brain, and it’s a symptom rather than an underlying condition. All tests for conditions that might cause the vasculitis have yielded negative results. She doesn’t have a tumor or MS or any of the other usual suspects. She did get some relief from the steroids that were prescribed by the neurosurgeon, but those were never meant to be anything more than temporary. The only thing we know for sure is that the vasculitis was verified, so the headaches aren’t imaginary; she isn’t a hypochondriac or exhibiting some form of Munchaussen’s. Meanwhile, my daughter is having a miserable summer.

The eldest of my brood has completed high school. There were times during the last year when I wasn’t sure it would happen, but I’ve seen the diploma, so I know that it’s true. Now he’s determined to move to a New York college town at the end of July. The goal has always been to raise my children and send them out into the world to be productive citizens. With the first one apparently ready to leave the nest, under conditions of his own choosing, I have to entrust his future to Providence and pray that he finds his wings.

My running is falling apart. The pain in my heel increased throughout May, so I promised myself that I would take two weeks off from high-impact exercise after the Strawberry Festival 10K on June 2. It was a difficult two weeks. I have come to identify myself as a runner, and that part of my identity was stripped away from me. I tried to exercise on the elliptical machine at the YMCA, but it just wasn’t the same, and I found my motivation waning. My foot, however, seemed to be feeling better, so I was looking forward to the end of my running fast. Even without resuming my training, however, my heel started to hurt again on Sunday, and after I ran for the first time in two weeks on Monday, I hurt not only in my heel and ankle, but also on the inside of my right thigh. It makes me want to scream and weep in frustration.

Perhaps not unrelated is the sorrowful state of my spiritual life. My fervency is at a low ebb. Faith is so much easier when you don’t have to fight the tide of your own emotions. I remain convinced that truth is not dependent upon my happy response to it. At the same time, though, I know that the Good News should produce joy within the soul. I find myself slightly haunted by passages about salt that is fit only to be trampled (Matt 5:13) or a lukewarm church fit only to be spit out (Rev 3:16).

So there it is. I’m still alive, but my spirit is battered. God is almost certainly telling me something in the events of this life, but I’m not listening right now. Maybe I should start.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Light Bulbs and Brake Pads

Some manly men might consider me insufficiently manly because I don’t change my own brake pads on the cars I drive. Pfft! I say that I know myself, and mechanical aptitude isn’t my strong point. I understand how things are supposed to work, but when I take up a saw and hammer, even though I measure four times before I cut, I still end up cutting to the wrong length. I’m not about to trust something as important as the brakes on my automobile to my very fallible fingers.

I can manage the simple repairs, but even those seem to be much more difficult for me than they should be. Just last night, I replaced the headlamp bulb in my sedan. I had no problem getting access to the old bulb, and I knew that the only thing holding it in place was a wire retainer that was supposed to rotate out of the way. But I stuck my fat finger down into the recess, and I poked and prodded and pushed the end of the wire every which way, but it refused to rotate, and I worried that I was going to break something. Then, suddenly, it was loose. I have no idea what I did to release it, and I know that the next time I have to replace a bulb, I’ll struggle with the retaining wire again.

If I have that much trouble with a light bulb, don’t even talk to me about brake pads!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Unlawful Marriage

Chapter 15 of the Acts of the Apostles tells of the Council of Jerusalem. The Apostles met to decide the status of Gentile converts to the faith. Did the newly baptized Christians need to be circumcised and obey all the strictures of the Mosaic Law? Moved by the Holy Spirit, the Church decided that very little was actually required of new believers. An encyclical letter was written, and messengers were selected to deliver the decision to the various local churches.

The new Christians were asked to abstain from four things. The first three were meat sacrificed to idols, blood, and meats of strangled animals. The only other thing that new Christians were told to stay away from was unlawful marriage. At least that’s how the New American Bible translation (the translation authorized for use at Catholic masses in the United States) reads. The New International Version translates it as “sexual immorality.”

I’m no philologist, and I’m not about to go delving into the ancient Greek original text, but I do know that some phrases might not translate cleanly into English, and the phrases “unlawful marriage” and “sexual immorality” are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, they are quite complementary.

What struck me upon hearing this passage at mass this past Sunday was the timelessness of it. We find ourselves in a situation today in which secular society (abetted by some secularized Christian sects) is vigorously proposing the redefinition of marriage. I can say with confidence that it is not just so-called same-sex marriage that the Church considers invalid. A valid marriage requires that a man and woman give their free consent to enter into a faithful, exclusive, fruitful, and permanent covenant. I shudder to think of the number of people, even self-identifying Catholics, who attempt to enter into marriage with a fundamental misunderstanding of what marriage is.

We like to think that we’ve evolved over the last two millennia. In many ways, the institutions of Western Civilization have, though gradually and not without much effort. Human nature, however, is no less in need of salvation now than it was then. That salvation is mediated through the Church (of which Christ is the head), and we are no less in need of it today than were the first century Gentile believers in Antiock, Syria, and Cilicia.

Monday, April 29, 2013

It Is Necessary

“They strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith, saying, “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22)

That word “necessary” really leaps out and grabs your attention, especially when what is being called necessary is the undergoing of hardships. I don’t think that the Marketing Department approved this message. It’s certainly not a point that would win votes for a politician.

Christ does not promise an easy path for those who follow him. He does not invite us to claim the blessings of wealth. What he invites us to do is to take up our cross. Paul and Barnabus seem to be telling the Christians of Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch that the cross and the invitation go together. We can’t say yes to Jesus, but no to the cross

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Plantar Fasciitis

After a winter spent running in circles at the YMCA (16 laps to the mile on the elevated track), it seems that I’ve acquired a case of plantar fasciitis. This is how webmd.com describes the condition:

Plantar fasciitis (say "PLAN-ter fash-ee-EYE-tus") is the most common cause of heel pain. The plantar fascia is the flat band of tissue (ligament) that connects your heel bone to your toes. It supports the arch of your foot. If you strain your plantar fascia, it gets weak, swollen, and irritated (inflamed). Then your heel or the bottom of your foot hurts when you stand or walk.

There are, I am told, some things that can contribute to the development of plantar fasciitis – things of which I must admit guilt.

1. Heel stike. When I run, I land on my heel and roll my foot forward. The “experts” advise that I should shorten my stride and adopt a mid-foot strike. Shortening my stride will definitely make me run slower, and might make me look like a ridiculous. Striking with the mid-foot, on the other hand, sounds awfully similar to what I call running flat-footed. I’m not going to try to change my natural gait. What I will do is make a conscious effort not to land too hard on my heel.

2. Overweight. Who are you calling fat? Sure, I tip the scales at 220 lbs, but at 6’4”, this is 220 lbs of pure muscle (except for the soft part just above the hips)! Last year, I trained for and ran a mid-September marathon. At the Oktoberfest 10K three weeks later, I still qualified to run in the over 220 lb category. I might be carrying some extra weight, but it’s not coming off without taking a lot of muscle with it, and I’m not into being hungry all the time.

3. Worn out shoes. I’ve been running in these shoes since early November. I retired my last pair after the Oktoberfest with over 700 miles on them. My current pair has about 500 miles, but I haven’t worn them for a single race, and the tread still looks good. Those “experts” say that shoes start to lose their cushioning and support after about 300 miles. What’s more, the crushing weight of my massive frame probably counts as an extreme duty cycle.

So what you’re telling me is that, if I want my heel to stop hurting, I have to run like a dork, lose about 30 lbs, and get a new pair of shoes. Maybe I can look at some new shoes.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


One month ago (or ten, if you want to measure from conception), I became a father to yet another child. When I run through the names of my children, it seems pretty natural, but when somebody asks me how many this makes, and I have to say the number, “Eight,” it suddenly turns into a brood. I’m not sure why that is.

I am fortunate to live in an area where eight is not so far out beyond the statistical mean that people gasp in shock. I am also fortunate that those who welcome many children into their family are not, for the most part, socially irresponsible and dependent upon government support. I have received no negative comments (at least not to my face) following the announcement of our latest addition. Nevertheless, I am aware that there is a prevailing cultural bias against large families, and I try to nip those discussions in the bud.

One gentleman at work asked how many this made, and I replied, “Eight,” and then added, “spread out over nineteen years.” He arched an eyebrow and queried (as if it was any of his business) whether this child was a “mistake.” I just grinned sheepishly and said, “No, not really. We know what causes it.”

I recently went to the hospital, where my 86 year-old father was being treated for a heart ailment. A high school classmate of my wife took my dad’s EKG. We chatted a bit about the new baby, then she noted that my dad is 43 years older than I am and assured me that I need not worry about having a child in my forties. So I asked my dad how old my grandfather was when he got married. He was 43. My dad was the fifth of ten children. Granted, my grandfather died when my dad was still young, but I didn’t share that. I intend to live a longer life than both my grandfather and my dad (I’m looking forward to celebrating my eleventy-first birthday by quoting Bilbo Baggins).

I might feel old many days, but I have plenty of years left to raise this child (and any more that might come our way) to adulthood.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Tale of Two Bishops

I have been listening to a bit of background on the man who became Pope Francis. As the Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he took the bus to work and lived in a simple apartment. Contrast that with our own ordinary. Upon coming to Cincinnati in the middle of an economic crisis, we (i.e., the Archdiocese) purchased for Archbishop Schnurr an expensive (by my standards) home in an exclusive neighborhood. It was necessary for him to have a large private home for entertaining guests (er, exercising a “ministry of hospitality”) and housing visiting family members.

The original story from the Cincinnati Enquirer can be found here.

You could say that I’m one of the people in the pews that were irritated (to put it mildly) by the move.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Straining Forward

Remember not the events of the past,
the things of long ago consider not;
see, I am doing something new!
(Is 43:18-19)

Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind
but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.
(Phil 8:13-14)

Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.
Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”
(Jn 8:11)

Each of these verses come from the Lectionary readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent. It seems to me that there is a common theme: that we are to be forward looking. Whatever we might have done in the past is behind us. The only thing that really matters is where we turn today and intend to go tomorrow.

There is a temptation to look backward. To either see our sins as an impediment to our own sanctification or to look back with fondness to a time without a cross. Some Christians seem to promote the idea that our exodus from sin to salvation will be an easy road, that we need only accept Jesus as our personal lord and savior, and our life will be all sunshine and rainbows. But Jesus himself told us that we were to take up our cross daily and follow him. He walked the path of suffering. After the Israelites left their life of slavery in Egypt, they wandered in the desert for 40 years. Many (most?) compared their life in the desert to the life they lived in Egypt and wanted to go back. God wanted them to look forward. Are we to think that leaving behind our slavery to sin will not come with its own desert of purgation?

The story is often told of the monk who, when asked what they do in the monastery replies, “We fall down, and we get back up.” What he means is that, like all people, they sin. But when they sin, the repent, put the sin behind them, and move on “toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling.” It can be so tempting, in the failure to live a devout life, to find an excuse not to try. That, however, is not what Christians do.

Through baptism, I have been incorporated into the Body of Christ. Every Sunday at mass, I renew the Covenant that Christ enacted through his Passion. I express sorrow for my sins, I glorify God, I hear His word, I profess my faith, I partake of the sacrifice, and I recommit myself to discerning and following His will. Yet, within the week, I will have stumbled over my own leaden feet. I cannot despair; I can only keep straining forward.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Augustinian Pessimism

When I named this blog, I did so based on my proximity to a church named after St. Augustine and my fondness for the philosophy and theology of St. Augustine of Hippo. Today, while listening to Uncommon Knowledge, I stumbled upon an additional reason to keep the name.

Peter Robinson, interviewing Rupert Murdoch:

You started your career six decades ago, so you’ve seen the Cold War come and the Cold War go. You participated in the Reagan years. You were a journalist of importance in the Thatcher years and since. You’ve invested in China; you’ve invested in India. You have a global view, and a global view that’s calibrated to decades. Do you look at the United States and Britain today and see yourself in the position, say, of St. Augustine in the 4th century, 5th century, as he looks across the Mediterranean to Rome and realizes that his civilization is coming to an end. He still has a responsibility to do as much good as he can, but something that he treasures is ending. Or do you say, I’ve seen a lot of rough patches in my lifetime. We’re in another rough patch now. The underlying dynamism and strengths of this Anglo-American experiment in democracy will see us through yet again.

Murdoch gave a rather optimistic answer. My own outlook tends to pessimism. Mr. Robinson might even call it Augustinian.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Lectionary Psalms

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, then you probably already know that I think one of the best things to happen in the wake of the Second Vatican Council was the revision of the Lectionary, with three cycles of Sunday readings (A, B, and C) and two cycles of Weekday readings (odd and even), with Sunday and holy season selections that are linked thematically and Ordinary Time selections that progressively step through different books of the Bible. Whatever questionable changes might have been made in the liturgical celebration of the mass (e.g., dropping Latin and chant, removing the altar rails, turning the celebrant to face the congregation rather than facing in the same direction as the congregation, etc.), at least they got the Lectionary changes right.

I’ll go a step further and say that I really like it when the Responsorial Psalm is sung. I know it’s a little thing, but singing the response adds just a touch of grace to a ritual that is already brimming with meaning. Unfortunately, it can also be a moment of severe disappointment when the psalm from the Lectionary is replaced by a different psalm that supposedly sounds better when sung, or with a “sung song response” that isn’t a psalm at all.

I believe that the governing document in this case is the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), paragraph 61 of which states, “The Responsorial Psalm should correspond to each reading and should usually be taken from the Lectionary…. However, in order that the people may be able to sing the Psalm response more easily, texts of some responses and Psalms have been chosen for the different times of the year or for the different categories of Saints. These may be used instead of the text corresponding to the reading whenever the Psalm is sung…. Songs or hymns may not be used in place of the Responsorial Psalm.”

So, it looks like substituting an arrangement of Psalm 51 during Lent (“Be Merciful, Oh Lord”) might be allowed, but I would still rather see the Lectionary psalm, since it was specifically selected for its complementarity with the other readings. In some cases, there is no discernible connection at all between the psalm that is sung at mass and the other three readings. This past weekend, that was true for the three verses that the cantor sang. The fourth verse, which refers to teaching transgressors God’s way and leading them back to Him, would have fit nicely with the second reading, unfortunately, the cantor did not sing it.

As for the song response used for Advent and Christmas (“Proclaim the Joyful Message”), the GIRM seems to explicitly rule it out.

Sometime, these attempts to reinvent the wheel (or the liturgy in this case) just baffle me. It’s already been done! It’s written down and approved! Just follow the instructions that the Church has provided, for cryin’ out loud! Nine times out of ten (or maybe 99 out of 100) your changes make things worse rather than better!

Ministers of Reconciliation

In his second letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul wrote that God “has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation.” (2 Cor 5:19)

As Catholics, when we think of a ministry of reconciliation, we naturally think of sacramental confession, in which a penitent sinner confesses his transgressions to a priest who acts in the person of Christ to give absolution for the sins, thus reconciling the wayward soul with God. The reconciliation that takes place is the repairing of the relationship between the individual and God that was damaged by that person’s sins. Since the priest who hears the sins is acting in persona Christi, it can truly be said that he is an “ambassador for Christ” (2 Cor 5:20). However, this sacramental ministry can only be exercised by ordained priests authorized by their bishops to act as confessors. Where does that leave the rest of us?

The word reconcile (at least in English – I have no idea regarding the various forms of the Greek word) has more than one meaning. When I balance my checkbook, I am reconciling my record of transactions with that of the bank, so that they are in agreement. I might have to make adjustments to my entries, because I made an erroneous entry or failed to record something. Corrections might be needed in order to make the ledgers balance, and sometimes I find that I need to make an urgent transfer of funds to prevent an overdraw. When God reconciled us to himself through Christ, the ledgers were way out of balance, and mankind was already way overdrawn.

Once I balance my checkbook, though, it doesn’t stay balanced on its own. I have to maintain it, taking care to ensure that it stays in balance. That, I believe is where our ministry of reconciliation comes into play. (I know, the metaphor limps in so many ways, but no metaphor is perfect.) The Catholic Church teaches that it is the role of the laity to take Christian principles into the world to build a just and moral society. In other words, it is up to us to reconcile the world that is to the world that should be. That is our never-ending ministry and our mission.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

For the Intentions of ...

On mornings when I go to the YMCA to run, I typically take a finger rosary and pray the mysteries while I run the laps. At the end of my rosary, I like to add an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be for the intentions of the pope. It took me a long time to get used to saying Benedict XVI rather than John Paul II. This morning, I started to say, “For the intentions of our Holy Father, Pope …” I didn’t know how to proceed, so I fumbled through, “… Emeritus, Benedict XVI.”
Man, this is awkward.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Burning Bush

The first reading at mass today was from the third chapter of Exodus: the story of how God appeared to Moses in the burning bush. My favorite depiction of the scene is from the Dreamworks film The Prince of Egypt. What I really like about this clip is the way that it seems to capture both the transcendance and the imminence of God, along with the inadequacy felt by Moses.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Lovely French

I was walking out to my car at lunch time today, and I overheard a bit of conversation between two gentlemen from the west side of the building in which I work. The west side is home to the Purchasing and Service Departments. I didn’t know either of them. They were getting into a car and conversing loud enough that I could hear them from half-way across the parking lot, when one of them, totally unprovoked, dropped the F-bomb.

“Oh, that’s lovely French,” I thought to myself. Then I added, “Dude, I have no idea who you are, but you’ve just made your first impression, and it’s not a good one.”

Do you remember the old Verbal Advantage commercials? It was a vocabulary building system that used to advertise extensively on the radio years ago. Their commercials (as I remember them) always included the line, “It’s true! People do judge you by the words you use.” It remains just as true today.

I am also reminded of something that was written by Archbishop Charles Chaput not so very long ago: “Vulgar language suggests a vulgar soul.” It isn’t always necessarily so, but it is more often than not.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Vacant Chair

Today is the day that the papal reign of Benedict XVI comes to an end. The pope turned in his two-weeks (er, two weeks and three days) notice on February 11, two days before Ash Wednesday. The official announcement was in Latin, but I’ve seen and heard it called, variously, a resignation, an abdication, and a renunciation. In the official English translation, he states, “… I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter….” The See of Rome will be vacant as of 8:00 pm (Central European Time) today – that’s 2:00 pm for those of us on Eastern (U.S.) Standard Time.

I’ve avoided reading anything other than headlines and excerpts about this for the past two weeks. Most of the respectable Catholics have called Pope Benedict’s act one of great humility. I can see that. The Catholic Church is probably the largest institution in the history of man. The administration of it has got to be physically demanding, and Benedict was an old man when he was elected. Any sensible person would deem himself unfit for the job.

Speaking just for myself, however, I don’t like it. The office is more than an administrative post – it is a sign. If a man undergoes an ontological change when he is ordained a priest and becomes a living icon of Christ, wed to his bride, the Church, how much more so must that be true for a man who takes the title “Vicar of Christ?” Only a priest can consecrate the bread and wine; only a pope can teach infallibly. And now our pope has quit. As understanding as I try to be, I can’t help but feel abandoned.

To acknowledge the emotion is not the same as giving in to it. The feeling of abandonment is real, just as is the sure knowledge that God will not abandon his Church. There will be a new Peter.

Everything seems wrong, though, for a pope to announce just before Ash Wednesday that he will leave the chair of Peter vacant in the middle of Lent, less than a week after the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter the Apostle, in the middle of the Year of Faith that he called. The next pope, when he grows old, will come under immense public pressure to follow the precedent of Benedict, rather than the example of John Paul II. That cannot be a good thing.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

If Jesus Came Today

I heard an interesting little meditation/poem today, quoted by Fr. Wade Menezes, C.P.M. in episode 7 of The Gospel of Life vs. The Culture of Death (you can listen here). After scouring the internet, I found the text here.

If Jesus Came Today...

Would you have to change your clothes before you let Him in?
Or hide some magazines, and put the Bibles where they'd been?

Would you hide your worldly music and put some hymn books out?
Could you let Jesus walk right in, or would you rush about?

And I wonder...if the Savior spent a day or two with you,
Would you go right on doing the things you always do?

Would you go right on saying the things you always say?
Would life for you continue as it does from day to day?

Would you take Jesus with you everywhere you go?
Or would you change your plans for just a day or so?

Would you be glad to have Him meet your closest friends?
Or would you hope they'd stay away until His visit ends?

Would you be glad to have Him stay forever, on and on?
Or would you sigh with great relief when, at last, He was gone?

It might be interesting to know the things that you would do,
If Jesus came in person to spend some time with you.

Author Unknown

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Blowing Gaskets

I blew a gasket during my drive in to work last week. Not literally. What I mean to say is that my emotional relief valve lifted, and I vented primary coolant to the atmosphere. Still too metaphorical? OK. I was driving to work last Friday, when I got angry about what I was hearing, and I shouted at my radio. Clear now?

What set me off was a segment on NPR’s Morning Edition. He was reporting on hearings convened by the Senate Appropriations Committee concerning the looming spending cuts mandated as part of the so-called Sequestration. The Secretary of Education cited cuts to Head Start, calling them “educational malpractice, economically foolish, and morally indefensible.” The Secretary of Homeland Security asserted that layoffs and furloughs to border patrol agents, customs agents, and airport screeners would lead to a porous border and long delays at airports. A (the?) Deputy Defense Secretary testified that training and maintenance would be curtailed and that many of the Defense Department employees affected are veterans. Naylor went on to report that fewer inspectors for the U.S. Department of Agriculture would mean that billions of pounds of meat, poultry, and egg products would go unprocessed.

In short, if these spending cuts are allowed to happen, the U.S. economy will grind to a halt.

I doubted this implied assertion. If true that a reduction in spending of $85 billion out of an annual “budget” of $3.5 trillion is going to result in widespread chaos and economic breakdown, then the federal government really does have its fingers in too many pockets. In many of the cases cited in the hearing on which Mr. Naylor was reporting, it’s not so much that government participation is necessary; rather, the government will not allow the activity to continue without it. Either way, the government has made itself “too big to fail,” and if that’s a bad thing for a bank, it’s also a bad thing for a federal government.

What finally spiked my blood pressure, though, was the comment of Senator Susan Collins of Maine: “If we’re just going to have across-the-board cuts, what is the point of our being here?” My eyes grew wide, my nostrils flared, and with flecks of saliva flying, I screamed at my radio, “The point of your being there is to pass a G—D--- budget!”

The last time the Senate passed a budget was April 29, 2009.

Pardon me while I replace my gasket, reset my relief valve, and clean the spittle from my dashboard.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Ash Wednesday Prayers

I’d like to return to Ash Wednesday for just a moment – long enough to comment on the Opening Prayer and the Dismissal, both of which struck me rather forcefully.

First the Opening Prayer:

Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting
this campaign of Christian service,
so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils,
we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

This is one of those occasions where I am thankful for the new translation. The ICEL translation is so watered down.

What struck me was the martial imagery of a military campaign, battle against evil, and being armed with weapons. It’s the same thing that led me, thirty years ago, to take Michael as my confirmation name. I was inspired by the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel, asking the prince of the heavenly hosts for defense in battle.  This is a remarkably masculine prayer. 

And now the Dismissal:

Pour out a spirit of compunction, O God,
on those who bow before your majesty,
and by your mercy may they merit the rewards you promise
to those who do penance.
Through Christ our Lord.

As we were leaving mass, I had to ask my wife, “What’s a spirit of compunction?” I had a vague notion, but the exact meaning eluded me. The definition provided by dictionary.com, which seems to fit the context, is “a feeling of uneasiness or anxiety of the conscience caused by regret for doing wrong or causing pain; contrition; remorse.”

I’m not sure what the distinction between compunction and contrition is, but I pray for it often, especially when examining my conscience in preparation for confession. There are things that I know are sins, and I can usually articulate the reasons why they are sins, and yet the emotional remorse for those sins eludes me. So when I have trouble feeling sorry for committing a sin, I beg forgiveness for not feeling sorry and ask that the “spirit of compunction” might be poured out upon me.

It was refreshing to hear these prayers as part of the Ash Wednesday liturgy.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Ash Wednesday Elsewhere

My wife, two oldest daughters, and I piled into the car and drove over to St. Joseph in Egypt (that’s in Ohio, not Africa) for Ash Wednesday mass last night. It would be perfectly logical for someone to ask why we drove to a tiny parish miles away when our own parish is only two blocks away and has mass at the same time.

The last time that I went to mass at my own parish on Ash Wednesday was several years ago. The Coordinator of Religious Education was very excited, and we found recently confirmed high school sophomores lining the center aisle. If you entered a pew from the center aisle, the sophomore would request to stay in the aisle seat. Something was going on, but I didn’t know what.

When it came time for the Our Father, the sophomores took one step into the center aisle and joined hands across the aisle, pressing their neighbors in the pews to hold their hands as well. I was not impressed by this para-liturgical innovation.

I haven’t been back on Ash Wednesday since, for fear that I might witness such a spectacle again and be moved to despair that my parish has any liturgical sense at all.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

EVERY Friday?

I have made no secret of the fact that there are two days on the liturgical calendar that I dread. It surely points to my lack of spiritual development that Ash Wednesday and Good Friday loom large for me because of the fasting requirement. I don’t fast well. As soon as I’m told not to eat, I become acutely aware of the emptiness of my stomach. In the past, I’ve developed severe headaches on fast days.

I know that this is a sign of my own spiritual laziness. Some demons can only be driven out by prayer and fasting (Mark 9:29 and Matthew 17:21), and when the bridegroom has departed, then they will fast (Mark 2:20 and Matthew 9:15). I know that fasting teaches us discipline and instills in us a degree of detachment from material things. I know that we can unite any suffering (headaches and hunger) that we sustain as a result of fasting to the suffering of Christ, and thus it becomes redemptive. In the words of Catholic mothers everywhere, “Offer it up!”

In obedience to the authority of the Church, therefore, I fast on the days that the Church tells me I must, but rarely do I go beyond that.

Now (OK, actually it goes back to December 6) it seems that our bishops want us to fast and abstain on every Friday of the Year of Faith. I hadn’t heard that until this week. Back when the bishops had their fall meeting, there were some calls to return to abstinence from meat on every Friday of the year, and that got some attention. This is at least an order of magnitude greater, but I haven’t heard a peep. It's all contained in the bishops' Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty.

Here’s the news release from the bishops’ web site. Here’s a letter from Archbishop Schnurr endorsing the practice for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Note that I can’t find the letter on the website of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, rather I have to go to a parish web site to find the Archbishop’s letter.

The Church has established Ash Wednesday and Good Friday as days of fasting and abstinence from meat, and all Fridays of Lent as days of abstinence. This year, however, Lent comes at a time when the bishops of the United States have asked us to do more.
As part of a five-part “Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty,” the bishops of the United States have called us to fast and abstain from meat every Friday, if we are able, during the Year of Faith.

Archbishop Dennis Schnurr 

The weekly fasting, by the way, is only one point in a five point program. Other points include a monthly holy hour and a daily rosary. It’s a pretty rigorous proposition, and if the bishops were serious, it seems like (a) they would make more of an effort to get the word out, at the very least issuing a news release and having the message read from the pulpit at every Sunday mass and (b) the press would take note.

One of the precepts of the Church is to observe days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church. The action points in the bishops' Call to Prayer are suggestions rather than obligations, and they don’t have any real canonical status. However, our bishop is telling us we should do something. He has apostolic authority. We should listen to him.

(H/T to Rich at Over the Rhine and Into the Tiber)

Saturday, January 26, 2013

NPR on Mahoney

During my drive to work Friday morning, there was a segment on NPR about the Archdiocese of Los Angeles files on sexual abuse of minors by clerics within the archdiocese. Cardinal Mahoney was the ordinary at the time covered by the files, and reporter Victoria Kim had the following exchange with host Steve Inskeep:

KIM: He was a significant leader, both in the religious realm and also in civic Los Angeles life. He was very much involved in local politics, and also in Sacramento. He was someone who was a big spiritual leader, and whose name was also mention in connection to the papacy.

INSKEEP: Meaning that he was a potential candidate for the papacy, after the death of Pope John Paul.

KIM: Yes.

The idea that Mahoney was ever a serious candidate for the papacy in the mind of anybody other than the conservative caricature of the NPR-listening coastal liberal is a joke.  This is the kind of reporting that leads many on the right to declare that NPR is a biased bastion of liberal orthodoxy.

Monday, January 21, 2013

ACE Cincinnati

I cannot leave my last post up without penning at least a brief update concerning the Advent, Christmas, and Easter evangelization effort of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

I can confirm that the Catholics Come Home evangomercials have indeed been running in the Dayton media market. My wife saw one in December. I saw one on New Years Day during the CBS morning show. I saw another one a week or two ago during a Saturday sports broadcast on ABC. The ones that I saw were in full HD video, and were, of course, beautiful. Of the three sightings by our household, each was a different advertisement.

In addition, the Archdiocese made an effort to place in every household that wanted one a copy of Rediscover Catholicism, by Matthew Kelly. I was asked by the president of our Pastoral Council to help hand out copies at mass on Christmas morning. At a nearby parish, the books were made available at the entry to the church after New Years Day.

I heard Mr. Kelly speak at a men’s conference in Cincinnati in the late 90s, and I’ve read one of his other books. I’m about ten chapters into this one. On the inside cover, there is a letter from Archbishop Schnurr referencing "the Nativity of Our Savior in this Year of Faith", so these books were clearly printed specifically for distribution by the Archdiocese, and there is a video on the Archdiocese website in which Mr. Kelly speaks about the Advent, Christmas, and Easter program. The book itself, however, has a 2010 copyright.

I have some quibbles with what I’ve read. The text on the back cover really inflates the author, with phrases like "the voice of one man cries out to the world's largest faith community" and "in each generation a leader comes forth who is able to bring Christianity to life in a way that revitalizes individuals, communities, and the universal Church." In case you were wondering who that one man might be, we're helpfully informed that it's Matthew Kelly.

Before we even get to Chapter One, on page 17, Mr. Kelly writes, "It is disturbing that at a time when millions of Catholics are angry and disillusioned with the Church there has been no sigificant effort to remind Catholics of who we reallyare, no strategic effort to raise our morale among Catholics, no organized effort to remind the world that, for the past two thousand years, wherever you find Catholics, you find a group of people making enormous contributions to the local, national, and international community. . . . The book you are holding (and the campaign to provide free or low-cost copies to every Catholic in America) is the beginning of our attempt to raise morale among Catholics, remind ourselves that there is a genius in Catholicism, and engage disengaged Catholics."

Really? There's been no significant effort until free copies of Matthew Kelly's book were given away? All of the New Evangelization, ecclesial movements, and lay apostolates that we've been hearing about since the middle of the papacy of John Paul II are waved aside and declared insignificant. Surely that was just indelicately worded.

What I've read so far has been mainly motivaional cheerleading. Holiness is being the best version of yourself, and that means doing good rather than evil. But the examples he gives seem ridiculously simple, like choosing between going for a run after work or sitting in front of the television with a beer. The real choices that matter never seem to be so clear, and even in his example, running after work can sometimes be the selfish choice when a loved one just wants to spend time with you.

I'll finish the book, although I'm skeptical. I consider it a Christmas present from the Archbishop. I hope it gets better, and I'm sure I'll at least be a little more motivated to be the man that God created me to be. That, and I'll be able to join in the conversation of others in the Archdiocese who have read the Archbishop's gift.