Friday, February 29, 2008

Honey, where'd I leave my leotards?

From an obituary in my local newspaper:
A funeral service will be held on Monday beginning at 1 p.m. in the funeral home. Burial will be at ____ Cemetery. The family has asked that all attendees please wear Eagles, Phillies or pro wrestling attire. If not possible please come dressed in Eagles green or Phillies red.

Feeling Intelligent?

If those of you who are of my generation didn't think that we're getting old, this is a clue from no less than today's New York Times crossword puzzle:

52 Across (10 letters)- 1990 #1 rap hit that starts, "Yo, V.I.P., let's kick it."

C'mon, you know this one. No fair using Google.

UPDATE - Yes, many of you got "Ice, Ice, Baby". See how this stuff has been burned into our memory? Well, for those of you who want some closure, YouTube has the video, so click here for a trip back to the 90s.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Sixteen foot Python 1 - Chihuahua 0

This is exactly why I'm not fond of blessing animals on the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. From the Associated Press:

BRISBANE, Australia - A 16-foot python stalked a family dog for days before swallowing the pet whole in front of horrified children in the Australian tropics, animal experts said Wednesday.

The boy and girl, ages 5 and 7, watched as the scrub python devoured their silky terrier-Chihuahua crossbreed Monday at their home near Kuranda in Queensland state.

Stuart Douglas, owner of the Australian Venom Zoo in Kuranda, said scrub pythons typically eat wild animals such as wallabies, a smaller relative of the kangaroo, but sometimes turn to pets in urban areas.

"It actively stalked the dog for a number of days," Douglas said.

"The family that owned the dog had actually seen it in the dog's bed, which was a sign it was out to get it," he added.

"They should have called me then, but (the snake) got away and three or four days later, I was called and went around and removed it" after the dog had been killed, Douglas said.

By the time Douglas arrived, all that could be seen of the dog was its hind legs and tail.

The zoo manager, Todd Rose, said pythons squeeze their prey to death before swallowing it whole. The 5-year-old dog would have been suffocated within minutes.

"The lady who was there threw some plastic chairs at the snake, but you've got to remember that this is about 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of aggressive muscle," Rose said.

Removing the half-swallowed dog could have harmed or even killed the python, Rose said, because dogs have sharp teeth and claws that could do the snake internal damage if it were wrenched out.

The snake was still digesting the dog at the zoo Wednesday. It will soon be relocated to the bush, Douglas said.

Reflections on Penance Services

Last night, I helped out at a local parish's Lenten Penance Service. These communal penance services with individual confessions (along with a matching one during Advent) seem practically obligatory in the world of parish life today.

From the point of view of the clergy, these communal penance services (from now on, I'll call them CPSs) are opportunities for interaction with brother Priests, and in that regard they fill in the space previously occupied by "40 Hour devotions" in the parishes, which used to be more plentiful and gave Priests a chance to eat dinner, play cards, and solve all the problems of the universal Church. Today's penance services usually have a dinner involved, and it's always a good thing when parish Priests (the majority of whom live alone) can enjoy each other's company.

So what's the "down side" to these CPSs? Here's what I've thought of:
  1. CPSs have largely replaced Saturday morning confessions as the time when people receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Most of the penitents I heard from last night told me their last time going to Confession was last Christmas. Yes, they're going twice a year, which I suppose is better than the bare minimum on once per year required from all Catholics. But what seems to be happening is that people are hanging on to mortal sins until the next CPS, rather than feeling the need to confess these sins immediately.
  2. The faithful, particularly those under 30, are so conditioned to only going to Confession at CPSs, that they do not know how to begin an individual confession (i.e. - "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been ___ since my last confession."). Also, since most of these CPSs include the recitation of an Act of Contrition communally, most younger Catholics have neither an Act of Contrition memorized, nor know that it is called "An Act of Contrition" (and so I have come to say to them, "You know, that prayer that starts with, 'O my God...'").
  3. Children in religious education classes are usually herded into CPSs like cattle and forced to go to Confession. Here the teaching moment has gone out of the window, with the lame (but comforting) rationalization of, "If we don't make sure they go to Confession, they won't go. Their parents sure aren't going to take them!" But are they really learning anything about their future obligation to go to confession on their own? In my opinion, what needs to be instilled in young minds is, yes, the need for the sacrament of Reconciliation, but also the need to understand that this is something you should do on your own. I don't know how to get that into their minds (especially if they don't see it lived in their family life) but I think that's the goal.
  4. CPSs have practically eliminated the opportunity (and the right of a penitent) for anonymous confession. We've all seen the layouts of CPSs: sets of two chairs facing each other, spread throughout a church. I think the quality of individual confessions would rise if people were assured of some degree of anonymity. A friend of mine, a high school chaplain, made lightweight confession screens, first by making the frames out of plastic PVC pipes and joints he bought at a local home improvement store, then stringing some material over the top of the frame. He noted that, once his students felt "safe", their confessions went beyond the benign and, to borrow from JP2, "put out into the depth" of their souls.
  5. Now, lest I be accused of only bashing CPSs, let me say this: Individual confessions are not always so well done, either. I'd wager that every Priest who reads this has had the experience of having a penitent come to confession without having made an examination of conscience (or knowing they were supposed to do so), only to get in there and give you a bunch of "ums" and "ers" since they hadn't really thought about what they would say in confession. CPSs can be beautiful; certainly having people hear Scripture passages read about God's mercy and forgiveness can only benefit our spiritual lives. And, if they are done well, an public recitation of an examination of conscience can enlighten people as to just what is considered sinful.
  6. If it were up to me, I'd ban the word "impatient" in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Impatience is to confession what songs like "Fame" and "My Heart Will Go On" were to radio station playlists in their respective eras: overused. From now on, "I was impatient" is like the letters R,S,T,L,N, and E on Wheel of Fortune: I'm going to give you that sin from now on and presume you've done it before you even open your mouth. For many, impatience a "safe" sin. It sounds serious enough to say, but is, in reality, pretty common (and venial). It's the "popover" of Confession: looking serious on the outside yet hollow on the inside. OK, enough metaphors; you get my drift.
  7. If CPSs are the way that people are now conditioned to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation in the 21st century, then let's abandon scheduled Saturday morning confessions. BUT, let those pastors who do so have CPSs once each month, rather than only during Advent and Lent.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

"Shut down all the garbage mashers on the detention level. Do you copy?"

My friend and classmate, Fr. Jim Weldon, maintains a blog for his parish, St. Patrick's in Kingman, Kansas. The other day his blog entry caught my eye, because the same situation has happened at one time or another to most Priests I know. Here's what he wrote:

One person comes to me and says, "Keep it simple. Nobody out here has a degree in theology. We don't need 6th, 7th, or 8th grade. After 5th grade you have about as much religion as your going to get. If you don't have it by then you probably never will."

The next person comes to me and says, "I don't go to church anymore because you (all priests) always say the same thing over and over. You never go into the deeper meaning of the scripture. We are not children. We need more in depth teaching. I had to go to another church in order to receive real teaching."

I am not kidding. I had these two conversations a couple of days apart.

[Thanks, Fr. Jim. Now back to me] How many times that's happened in the life of a Parish priest! People tell you they want your homily to touch upon the Sacred Scriptures and how they relate to everyday life, how they relate to world events, and how it all is tied into global warming and big oil and Bill Gates and Brittney Spears' rehab.... oh, and by the way, keep it all under 10 minutes, and if you can begin with a joke or some comment about this weekend's big sporting event, that'd be great, too!

Anyway, along with his lament, Fr. Weldon found this great graphic which showed how he felt:

I'd have chosen something more "pop culture-ish":

But if either picture gives you the message, then that's a good thing.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Schönborn video now online

A follow-up to my post about Cardinal Schönborn's appearance on C-Span:

I was wrong (I know, you're shocked, but it's Lent). This was not an interview with the Cardinal, but a lecture he recently delivered at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley, California. C-Span now has the video of the 90 minute lecture on their website, available for anyone to watch. After being introduced, His Eminence speaks at the very beginning and at the very end of the video.

Click on this link and then look for the red button on the right that says, "Watch".

Friday, February 22, 2008

Feast of the Chair of Peter

Two links for you on today's feast:

  1. The text of Pope Benedict's Feb 22, 2006 Wednesday Audience Catechesis on today's feast. I happened to be in Rome and at that audience, and the big surprise was that he announced his intention to name new Cardinals at the end. Sadly, what this meant was that everyone forgot the great teaching he gave on the feast.
  2. Through the magic of the internet, this is a link to the blog of an English seminarian who took photos of the decorations at St. Peter's Basilica on the feast day last year. You can see how they decorate the pilgrim statue of St. Peter, as well as the Altar of the Chair.

Schönborn on C-Span

A heads-up: An interview with Cardinal Schönborn will air on C-Span this coming Sunday and Monday. In it he'll discuss his book, Chance or Purpose: Creation, Evolution, and a Rational Faith. It airs twice on Sunday, Feb. 24, at 10:30am and 10:30pm, and on Monday, Feb. 25 at 4am (set your VCRs or Tivos or DVRs). I'm guessing it's a 30 minute interview, but for more information, check out the C-Span webpage.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Things I learned in North Carolina

In no particular order of importance:
  1. Some words that are one syllable everywhere else are two syllables in North Carolina. For instance, "in" is pronounced, "eeeeeee - nnn".
  2. There's such a thing as "atomic tofu", thanks to adding barbecue sauce to it. You can get it on pizzas.
  3. The first Krispy Kreme donut shop was in North Carolina.
  4. Zdeno Chara is freakin' huge, but Eric Staal is no slouch, either (yes, I went to a Hurricanes game).

More to come.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

In my mind, I'm goin' to Carolina

Well, not just in my mind, but in my body, too. I'm heading out today to visit my sister, so I may be away from the blogosphere for a few days.

Friday, February 15, 2008

A question to ponder

This one hit me during Stations of the Cross tonight: Why do we abstain from meat during the Fridays of Lent?
This one is perhaps my favorite anti-Catholic rant: I heard this on a secular radio station a few years ago on an Ash Wednesday. According to the host of the radio show, the reason why Catholics had the Friday abstinance was because, back in Italy during the middle ages, the Pope owned a fleet of fishing boats, and no one was buying fish from them. So he ordered abstinance from meat for every Catholic so that his boats would make money off of hungry people with nothing to eat but fish (because we all know that Italians know nothing about things like pizza or pasta).

So, back to my question: Why the Friday abstinance? Is it because Christ gave up his flesh on Good Friday, and so we abstain from any meat products? Or is it for the very act of denying ourselves during this penitential season? In short, is it for the "thing" itself, or in order to "do a thing"? Is it for the cause or the effect?

I ask this because I was thinking about vegetarians. To ask them to give up meat is no sacrifice; it would be like asking me to give up eating liver for the rest of my life. I mean, in the case of vegetarians, wouldn't a deliberate penitential act be to deliberately eat a meat product on a Friday of Lent? So if the abstinance is for the thing itself, then vegetarians are just lucky. But if it's to produce an act of penance, then you'd have to say they should have a burger.

Isn't that wierd?

Step away from the Pork Roll!

It almost happened! I had to run a few errands this morning: get a haircut, pick up an alb at the cleaners. My last stop was to cash in two winning scratch-off lottery tickets I had bought at a local convenience store (the grand prize? 2 dollars). While I was there I thought I'd buy my lunch early, and had the man make me a porkroll and cheese on a hard roll. I came back to the rectory, put my stuff down, and figured I'd check my e-mails before sitting down to lunch. So here I was, when all of a sudden it hit me:


So here's the situation: I'm in my office writing this blog entry, and in my room, sitting next to my chair, is a perfectly fine porkroll and cheese on a hard roll.

Now I can't go to my room. Why? Because even down the hall and around the corner from my room, I can hear that sandwich calling me, teasing me, tempting me to rationalize that it would be a bigger sin to waste the food.

So what to do? Put it in the fridge and wait for tomorrow.

Don't you just love Lent? Anyone for pizza?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!

Poor Saints Cyril & Methodius, and while we're at it, we may as well include St. Elizabeth of Portugal and St. Martin of Tours.

On the Church's calendar, their feast days fall, respectively, on February 14, July 4, and November 11. In the United States, these dates on the calendar are already "occupied" by Valentine's Day, Independence Day, and Veteran's Day. Add to these three the Saints on the calendar whose feast days fall in late May (perhaps to be 'eaten up' by Memorial Day), early September (Labor Day), and mid-November (Thanksgiving), and you have more than a few of our Church's Hagios who get ignored (either occasionally or annually) when their feast days comes up in the Church's liturgical calendar.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

"How good it is when brothers live in unity."

I found this on YouTube. The moment everyone was dying to witness: the first conversation between Peyton Manning (MVP of SB41) and little brother Eli Manning (MVP of SB42).

PS - No one has yet been able to find Archie Manning, who exploded in joy and still hasn't come down!

Dziwisz Book

Just a "heads up".

The english translation of the memoirs of Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, A Life with Karol: My Forty-Year Friendship with the Man Who Became Pope, is now available for pre-order on It's due out on March 4.

Your attention, please. There has been a change in the roster. Now battingbattingbatting...

The Church's calendar is actually made up of two independent calendars, one being the "sanctoral cycle" (which commemorates specific dates of the calendar - eg. St. Elizabeth Seton on January 4, or the Assumption of Mary on August 15), and the other being the "seasonal cycle" (going from Advent to Christmas to Ordinary Time to Lent to the Triduum to Easter to Ordinary Time). Like the tectonic plates of the San Andreas fault out in California, occasionally, these two calendars "rub up" against each other, producing a bit of liturgical tremor.

2008 is one of those neat years that some of the Church's feast days will fall on a Sunday, thus "bumping" the normal celebration of a Sunday of Ordinary Time and taking us out of green and into some other liturgical color. Here's when they'll occur (I feel like an astronomer telling you when you'll be able to see Saturn, or something):

  1. Sun., June 29. What would normally be the 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time will be replaced by the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul.
  2. Sun., September 14. The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross will replace the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time.
  3. Sun., November 2. The Commemoration of All Souls will bump the 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time.
  4. Sun., November 9. The 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time will be replaced by the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica. (If you can't see it well, drag your mouse over the words.)

This leads to another question. Fr. Ed McNamara answers liturgical questions on the Zenit News Service website, and, along the lines of what I've been saying, this morning I read this:

The original question about the feasts also brought to mind another query from a Pennsylvania priest regarding this year's calendar. The priest asked: "In 2008, All Saints' Day is a Saturday. In the United States, it is not a holy day of obligation that year. All Souls' is Sunday. The All Souls' commemoration replaces the regular Sunday Mass. What Mass is then celebrated on Saturday evening, November 1, 2008, the vigil Mass for Sunday? There is no vigil Mass for All Souls."

While All Saints' may not be a holy day of obligation, it is still a solemnity listed in the general calendar. It thus has precedence over the commemoration of the Faithful Departed, which is a celebration in a class of its own.

The Liturgy of the Hours is taken from All Saints', although where the custom exists of celebrating public vespers for the dead after the vespers of All Saints', this custom may be maintained. Likewise, when Nov. 2 falls on a Sunday, the Liturgy of the Hours is that of the current Sunday although it may be substituted by the office for the dead in public recitation.

If we may be guided by the indications offered in Rome's liturgical calendar, then all Masses offered on Nov. 1 would be those of All Saints'. The usual indication of the
Saturday evening Mass is missing, and the celebration of the commemoration of the Faithful Departed is celebrated only on Sunday, Nov. 2.

The calendar also suggests that even though this commemoration falls on a Sunday, in virtue of its unique character, the Glory and Creed are omitted.

Since All Saints' is not a day of obligation, and has all the characteristics of a Sunday, I believe that a diocese could decide that those who attend evening Mass on Saturday, Nov. 1, have fulfilled their Sunday obligation even though the Mass formulas are those of All Saints'.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Lincoln's Birthday

I almost said it.

I knew the readings for Mass this morning focused on prayer, and, today being the 199th anniversary of Lincoln's birth, I got the idea (exactly when all my best ideas come - 5 minutes before going over to the church for Mass) to tie in the need for prayer with something about Abraham Lincoln. So, entering the words, "Abraham Lincoln Prayer" on Google, I came across his 1863 Proclamation for a National Day of Prayer, which he hoped would beseech God to end the Civil War.

So, with all these things bouncing around my head, and a little bit under the weather, I went out for 8am Mass and almost said, "Today, the Church celebrates the Feast of Abraham Lincoln". Blame it on the Dayquil I'm taking.

Still, it has me thinking of our 16th President. I found this essay about the mystery of President Lincoln's religion. It comes from Dr. Mark Knoll, a professor of history at Wheaton College in Illinois:

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), sixteenth president of the United States, has become a mythic figure in America's civil religion. Born into relative poverty on the midwestern frontier, he rose from humble origins through self-discipline, honesty, common sense, a considerable measure of ambition, and a ready wit to shepherd the nation through the black days of the Civil War. After his death, Americans found it irresistible to see his achievement in a religious light. It was soon noted, for example, that Lincoln -- the "Savior" of the Union -- was shot on Good Friday (April 14, 1865), that his efforts to liberate the bondslave and bind up the wounds of war were cut short by "martyrdom," and that his very name -- Abraham -- spoke of the father of his people. Although Lincoln himself originally saw the Civil War as a political struggle to preserve the Union, he came to regard it as a crusade for truth and right. He spoke of the United States as "the last, best hope of the earth," of its citizens as "the almost
chosen people," and of the War as a test to see if a nation "conceived in liberty . . . can long endure."

Considerable uncertainty arises, however, when Lincoln's own religion is examined. On the one hand, it is obvious that Christianity exerted a profound influence on his life. His father was a member of Regular Baptist churches in Kentucky and Indiana. Lincoln himself read the Bible throughout his life, quoted from it extensively, and frequently made use of biblical images (as in the "House Divided" speech of 1858). It was said of him, perhaps with some exaggeration, that he knew by heart much of the Psalms, the book of Isaiah, and the entire New Testament. His life also exhibited many Christian virtues. He was scrupulously honest in repaying debts from ill-fated business ventures of the 1830s. He offered tender sympathy to the widows and orphans created by the Civil War. He pardoned numerous sleeping sentries and other soldiers condemned to death for relatively minor lapses. He kept his head concerning the morality of the contending sides in the War, refusing to picture the North as entirely virtuous or the South as absolutely evil. And during his years as president he did regularly attend the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington.

On the other hand, Lincoln never joined a church nor ever made a clear profession of standard Christian beliefs. While he read the Bible in the White House, he was not in the habit of saying grace before meals. Lincoln's friend Jesse Fell noted that the president "seldom communicated to anyone his views" on religion, and he went on to suggest that those views were not orthodox: "on the innate depravity of man, the character and office of the great head of the Church, the Atonement, the infallibility of the written revelation, the performance of miracles, the nature and design of . . . future rewards and punishments . . . and many other subjects, he held opinions utterly at variance with what are usually taught in the church." It is probable that Lincoln was turned against organized Christianity by his experiences as a young man in New Salem, Illinois, where excessive emotion and bitter sectarian quarrels marked yearly camp meetings and the ministry of traveling preachers. Yet although Lincoln was not a church member, he did ponder the eternal significance of his own circumstances, a personal life marked by tragedy (the early death of two sons) and difficulty (the occasional mental instability of his wife). And he took to heart the carnage of war over which he presided.

Whether it was from these experiences or from other sources, Lincoln's speeches and conversation revealed a spiritual perception far above the ordinary. It is one of the great ironies of the history of Christianity in America that the most profoundly religious analysis of the nation's deepest trauma came not from a clergyman or a theologian but from a politician who was self-taught in the ways of both God and humanity. The source of Lincoln's Christian perception will probably always remain a mystery, but the unusual depth of that perception none can doubt. Nowhere was that depth more visible than in his Second Inaugural Address of March 1865: "Both [North and South] read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes." Even more to the point was his reply when a minister from the North told the president he "hoped the Lord is on our side." Responded Lincoln, "I am not at all concerned about that. . . . But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord's side."

Monday, February 11, 2008

Prayers for Zednik; hockey geek fantasy day

Those of you who know me know that I'm a big hockey fan. The story around the NHL today is about the injury suffered by Florida Panthers forward Richard Zednik. In a game last night in Buffalo against the Sabres, a teammate's skate came up during a fall, catching Zednik on his neck and cutting Zednik's cartoid artery. He was rushed off of the ice, and out of the arena to a Buffalo hospital, where surgeons closed the wound. He's resting comfortably in the hospital (the Panthers organization flew his wife up to Buffalo to be with him) and he's expected to make a full recovery.

So many people play hockey each day (myself included). I know the number of life-threatening injuries are relatively small. Sore muscles, middle of the night leg cramps, bruises, sprains, and yes, even the sports hernia, are all out there for the weekend warrior. But still, anytime you hear of something like this, you cannot but wonder how many times the potential for that kind of injury is present. So say a prayer for Richard Zednik as he recovers.

Now, on another topic. Back on January 12, I had the chance to participate in a hockey game played on the ice of the Wachovia Arena, home to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the American Hockey League. Playing in a professional (albeit minor league) arena is one of those "fantasy moments" that a hockey geek like me rarely, if ever, gets to live out! Walking out of the locker room and through a dark tunnel that opens up onto an ice rink surrounded by seats (most of them empty, but still enough friends and family were there to cheer, boo, heckle the players, and take some photos) was absolutely one of the coolest things I've ever done. Some pictures were taken by spectators; here are the ones that I'm in:

Here's me wondering, "Where's the water bottle?"

Sending the puck up the ice just before a forward gets to it

Ah, the money shot! Check out that extension on the blocker save (and notice the puck is outside of the net)!

A group shot at the end of the game. We won, 4-3.

A Tale of Two Brains

A friend of mine, Pastor of a parish in the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska...

[at this point some of you are wondering why I've paused? while others have gone into convulsions and/or seizures because I dared mention the Lincoln diocese. So, for the latter, we'll wait for you to come back to consciousness.]

OK? Ready? Alright, as I was saying, I was sent this link to a YouTube video which, fresh off of the celebration of World Marriage Day, he thought married couples would find funny and insightful. Check it out.

Friday, February 08, 2008

The Meat Police (encore)

Recently a reader of this blog asked me if I'd re-run my article from last year about feeling like the "Meat Police" when I stopped into a pizza place on a Friday of Lent. So on this first Friday of the Lenten season, I thought it appropriate to grant his wish:

Priests wear many hats in their daily work. Yes, supernaturally we're "other Christ's", and "co-workers of the Bishops." But naturally, if you will, at times we wear the hat of an office manager, a teacher, a decorator, a floral designer, a carpenter, and quite often a janitor.

And today I realized we have another title that only comes out this time of year.

So there I was, walking into my local pizzeria, ready to get myself some lunch, when I realized that people are looking over at me. Then, suddenly, it's a little quieter than it was when I first walked in. People started contorting, twisting as if they were protecting whatever it was on their tables.

That's when it hit me. It's a Friday of Lent, officially a meatless day, it's lunch time, and I've become the freakin' Meat Police!

All the Catholics in the place are treating me like this is a roadside drunk-driver checkpoint, and I've got a flashlight pointed at their plates. "Hmmmm, is that a BLT I see?" "Did you seriously think a turkey burger doesn't count as meat?" I'm like those Gestapo agents in Hogan's Heroes who only seem to say, "Your papers, please.

"To be honest, I really don't care what they were eating. But it was kind of fun watching the Catholics in the pizza shop show me how incredibly bad they'd be at playing poker. The part of their brains that houses "Catholic guilt" works faster than the part of their brains that tells muscles not to make sudden movements in a vain attempt to hide the hoagie.

Your faces gave you away, but I'll let you off with a warning this time.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

"Remember [gulp] you are dust!"

(AP Photo/Filippo Monteforte, Pool)

For those of you who either watched Pope Benedict's Ash Wednesday Mass from Santa Sabina on Vatican Television or EWTN, or perhaps saw pictures from the event in newspapers or on the internet, you saw the Holy Father receive ashes from Joseph Cardinal Tomko, retired Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (and the Cardinal whose titular church is Santa Sabina).

What's it like to impose ashes on the Pope? Cardinal Tomko was asked that question by L'Osservatore Romano, and the Zenit News Service translated part of the interview into English:

Like all Catholics, the Holy Father receives the ashes while the one administering them proclaims one of the two traditional exhortations: "Repent and believe in the Gospel" or "Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return."

Both formulae are difficult to say to a Pope, Cardinal Tomko told L'Osservatore Romano. Referring to the first formula, the cardinal said the Holy Father "would have every right to say this to me and to everyone else. How can I remind the Pope of this?"

And it was particularly difficult to say the second "as John Paul II got older [...] It was like reminding him again what he not only knew, but felt in his body," the cardinal said.

"The choice has always been difficult. At times I have used one formula, at times the other. It is a very personal aspect, but also very significant because in whatever case," Cardinal Tomko added, "I must opt for a formula that is neither from the Pope nor from me: They are the words of God before which we should all bow our heads."

Ashes, like dust, "are a very eloquent sign of weakness, of sin and of the mortality of man," and to receive them one recognizes his limitation, the cardinal affirmed. Wealth, knowledge, glory, power, titles and dignities, he said, "do nothing for us."

The time of Lent "is directed toward the resurrection, and also our hope, which is not limited to this life, nor detained by our limits," Cardinal Tomko said, "but rather is based on eternal life that is assured for us by Jesus Christ through his death and resurrection."

And it is Jesus, affirmed the cardinal, who "asks three things of us in this intense time of the liturgical year."

He said Christ asks for almsgiving, "an expression of a more attentive generosity [...] of our love and respect for the needs of our neighbor and those who suffer"; prayer, "which flows from the heart more than from the lips"; and fasting, "sometimes of the body, although today it can imply many modern forms of renunciation."

Last summer (when my diocese still had a radio show), I had the chance to interview Cardinal Tomko about a book he had written, called "On Missionary Roads" (available from Ignatius Press). You can hear the interview by clicking here. His English is excellent, and I was surprised to find out that he had actually visited my diocese a few times in the past, having a friend who was pastor of a predominently Slovak parish. I told him I'd be visiting Rome soon and asked if I could meet him. We had a great conversation on a rainy Rome day, when I was dying from a headcold and he insisted on feeding me a constant supply of orange juice and tissues. Being the groupie I am, I drank the juice and kept the tissue packet as a souvenir.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Lent and Denial

A Benedictine monk has written an article on the reasons why we are asked to practice self-denial during the season of Lent. It's posted on Ignatius Press' "Ignatius Insight" page, and you can get it by clicking here.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

That Freakin' Phone!

The phone calls have started at the rectory. "Are you giving out ashes tomorrow?" (I'd love, just once, to answer, "No, this year we're giving out corn flakes!"). The regular Mass-goers aren't calling, after all if you went to Church over the weekend you not only heard what times ashes would be imposed, but you took home a bulletin with the schedule for Ash Wednesday written down.

Now, before I get the "You're not being pastoral; maybe this'll be the year that they come back to being practicing Catholics" comments, I acknowledge that some of this afternoon's and tonight's callers might be people who are regular Mass-goers who are simply looking for a church nearby their place of work. But I also know (as do my brother Priests, whose rectory telephones are ringing tonight just as consistently) that the majority of them are the People of God who haven't been to Mass since Christmas Eve, since they choose not to obey the Church's precept of weekly Mass attendance.

Take a look around while you're at Mass tomorrow and remind yourself: assuming everyone in the pews are Catholics, then this is how crowded it should be every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation (which, I might add, Ash Wednesday is not). Snap a mental picture, or if you wish, actually do bring your digital camera into church with you, sit in the first or second row, and with about 2 minutes to go before Mass begins, stand up, turn around, and snap some photos of the crowd. Then, the First Sunday of lent, do the same thing. Compare photos.

Well, now that my rant is done, time for me to make my Lenten resolution to be all warm and fuzzy.

Last of the Winter Virgins

Forget about the groundhog.

Today's feast of St. Agatha (of which my friend Fr. Guy has a great blog entry, having been to Catania himself for the festivities) marks the last of the four feast days of young virgin martyrs which the Church gives us during the winter months.

Beginning with St. Cecilia on November 22, then moving on to St. Lucy on December 13, then to St. Agnes on January 21, and concluding today, February 5, with St. Agatha, each month during the coldest and darkest months of the year, the Church gave us a saint with a similiar story: A young girl who dedicated her life to Christ, suffered because of it, and as a result died a nasty death. It's been written that "these four virginal lights illuminate the season of physical darkness."

Pauxatauny Phil? Stay in your hole. Once Agatha comes and goes, I know there's only 6 more weeks of winter, shadow or not.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

My Coolest Rome Moment

Well, not really only mine. It was shared by two other people.

Last Monday afternoon I met a friend of mine for lunch. He's a seminarian studying for the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, and like the rest of the guys who study at the Roman universities this time of year, he's in the midst of final exams. It worked out well: he was willing to take a study break, and I had a little bit of time away from my tour group. We met at "La Vittoria", a great place just outside the left collonnade of Piazza San Pietro (conveniently nearby the underground tunnel that leads up the Gianicolo to the North American College).

So now lunch is over, and we head out. Who is coming into the restaurant by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna. This guy is every Rome groupie's dream: a Cardinal, a member of Pope Benedict's group of former student alumni who still meet with him each summer (Schönborn was a doctoral student of then-Professor Ratzinger), and the general editor of the Catechism! See, THAT'S what makes Rome great! In the midst of a lunch with a friend, you can end up seeing someone you've only known through television or in books. Needless to say, I was unprepared for a meeting, and so had nothing to say to him other than, "Hello, your eminence, I'm from the United States." He walks into the restaurant, and I walk my friend back to the escalator up the hill.

It's now about 1:25, and I'm supposed to meet my friend Fr. Guy at 2pm in the Piazza. He's staying over at the Domus Sanctae Marthae, and I'm walking right past it. Why not just meet him early? I get past the Swiss Guards by the Holy Office gate with a smile and body language that says, "Don't you know who I am? I belong here and I'm going to keep walking like I do every single day" (body language is key in the Vatican City-State). Then I get to the next stop, the Vatican Police. Here's where body language didn't work. Telling them I had a friend at the DSM was not enough to allow me to keep walking. Now they had to call ahead and tell Fr. Guy I was coming. Luckily, he didn't tell them I was some homicidal maniac dressed like a Priest, and I was allowed to go on to the Domus.

We hung out there until about 2:15 (during which time I told him about my run-in with Card. Schönborn), and then started walking across the piazza, heading to do some shopping. As we got behind the huge nativity scene, we spotted it: a Cardinal's zucchetto. In the midst of the greys, blacks, and browns of the square, that unique scarlet stands out like a lazer pointer used by many of the roman tour guides. He might as well have been wearing one of those bright orange safety pennants that used to be attached to the back of bicycles. It was Schönborn again! Since we were all heading to the same walkway, we met up with him, and this time I was prepared to say something coherent other than my name. Fr. Guy told him that he uses the Catechism in the monthly "Catholic Q&A" he runs in his parish. I told him I showed videos of an interview he gave on EWTN about the parts of the Catechism to my adult education program in my parish. The Cardinal couldn't have been nicer, and seemed happy to hear that the Catechism he had worked so hard to create (one which not a few people at the time of its release said that the laity would never be able to understand) was being used in parishes. By the time we got to the newspaper kiosk, he went his way, and we went ours.

Rome is great for run-ins like that, and that was the best one of this last trip.

Friday, February 01, 2008

John 8:32

A Deacon blogger has posted a Priest's rant, and it's making its way around cyberspace at lightspeed. For those of you not in the clerical state, this is a great sampling of what Priests talk about at get-togethers. Check it out.

PS - John 8:32 = "and you will know the truth. And the truth will set you free."

Ritorno da Roma

I'm sorry for not writing for the last few days. I just got back from Rome where I led a pilgrimage of 45 current and former parishioners on a tour of the city I love to visit.

As I'm writing this, it is now about 6:30am. I've been awake, off and on, since about 3am (9am Rome time), and thanks to the gift of jetlag, I've spent the last few hours catching up on e-mails, going through my regular mail, and unpacking and sorting the things I brought back with me from Rome (who gets the rosarys, who gets the medals, etc.).

What a great trip it was! Truly the "Most Valuable Player" of the week was the incredibly sunny and mild weather we had while we were visiting the city. When planning a tour, you arrange the airflight, hotel, bus transportation, meals, etc. You even get to plan the "just in case" stuff, like getting to the airport with plenty of time, in case of traffic or accidents (or even, as I've learned, a taxi strike). But the one thing that cannot be arranged, or a reservation made for, is perfect weather. That's what we had this past week. Rome in January can be rainy and chilly, but it's also the low tourist season. So the question becomes: would you rather be in mild weather as you get elbowed and groped by myriads of tourists trying to see the same sites as you, or would you rather see things with almost no crowds, bringing along a $5.00 Totes umbrella? We chose the umbrella route, but luckily, and perhaps through God's grace, those umbrellas stayed in the suitcases all week. The only rain spotted? Yesterday, on the windows of the airplane as we boarded to depart for home.

I could tell you my highlights, but I think I'm going to wait to hear from my pilgrims, and then post what they say about it. In the meantime, I have Mass in an hour and need to say my Office. Ciao!