Tuesday, February 27, 2007

St. Cyprian on the "Our Father"

From the writings of St. Cyprian in today's Office of Readings in the Liturgy of the Hours:

"So, my brothers, let us pray as God our master has taught us. To ask the Father in words his Son has given us, to let him hear the prayer of Christ ringing in his ears, is to make our prayer one of friendship, a family prayer. Let the Father recognize the words of his Son. Let the Son who lives in our hearts be also on our lips. We have him as an advocate for sinners before the Father; when we ask forgiveness for our sins, let us use the words given by our advocate. He tells us, Whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give you. What more effective prayer could we then make in the name of Christ than in the words of his own prayer?"

Chasing Amy

No, not the Kevin Smith movie.

Amy Welborn's blog has some great points about today's New York Times' fluffy tribute to Francis Kissling of "Catholics for Free Choice" (the intellectual equivalent of "Environmentalists for Malicious Pollution").

The last line of the NYT story quotes Kissling:

“But in the end, I don’t want to be a Methodist. I’m a member of the greatest religion in the world.”
A perfect example of the fact that a broken clock is still correct twice a day.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Into Great Silence

Carthusian life is hardcore monastic life.

In 1984 a German filmmaker, Philip Gröning, saw the potential for a documentary on Carthusian life, and asked permission to film ordinary life over the period of one year at "Le Grand Chartreuse", the famed Carthusian monastery in France. He was told that "it was too soon", and, "perhaps in ten or fifteen years".

Finally, in 2000, the monastery contacted him, indicating they were ready to open their lives to cameras. They would allow only a bare minimum of a film crew, and the crew would have to promise to live at the monastery and join in the life of the monks for as long as they were filming.

Gröning and the crew agreed. Filming took place throughout 2003, and post-production editing took another two years. Last summer, Into Great Silence was released in Europe to fascinated crowds who could not imagine a life without the internet, iPods, fast food, and, obviously, talking.

The film is now being released in selected theaters throughout the United States. Locally, it'll be in Manhattan for a 2 week period. I'm going to try to break away to see it.

Check out the trailer for the film. Don't worry about subtitles. There's no dialogue.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

On The Road Again

I know Lent has just begun, but forgive me if I make it go even faster.

Many people are aware of the Holy Thursday tradition of visiting a number of churches, following the Mass of the Lord's Supper. Depending on where you live (and the number of churches in reasonable proximity), that number can be 5, 7, 12, or some other number. Once in a while, people ask me why it's done? The answer, I believe, comes from the ancient tradition of Lenten stational churches in the city of Rome.

The whole season of Lent, starting with Ash Wednesday and concluding on Holy Thursday morning, there is an ancient tradition of making a visit and attending Mass at one of the many beautiful churches and basilicas in the Eternal City. Make the whole circuit, and you will have visited 44 churches during Lent. Every morning during Lent, the faculty and seminarians of the Pontifical North American College make a pilgrimage to these churches.

The North American College's website has recently been wonderfully updated, and on it they now have a page with an overview of Rome which highlights the Lenten stational churches and gives you some photos and factoids. Definitely worth a look.

Thanks to NAC alumnus Fr. Jim Tucker's blog for pointing this out.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Taking Out the [Spiritual] Trash

The Washington Post has a story about the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.'s effort to help make The Sacrament of Penance (or Confession, or Reconciliation, etc.) available to the faithful during this Lenten season.

The premise is this: every Wednesday during Lent, between 7 and 8:30pm, every parish in the Archdiocese of Washington will be open, and a Priest will be available for Confessions. That's 140 parishes each having an extra (remember- this is besides their normal parish confession schedule) 90 minutes of possible confession time on the 6 Wednesdays of Lent. That's 75,600 extra minutes of availability!

If only the crowds that come out for Ash Wednesday understood that a clean soul is a far better proclamation of Lent than a dirty forehead.

PS - If you're reading this and feeling moved to consider going to Confession (or, in the words of my spiritual director, "You want to 'want to'"), Washington's website has a page with guidelines on how to go to confession and a basic examination of conscience. You can get that here.

It Just Wasn't In The Cards

Well obviously, there were no new Cardinals named yesterday. However, just because there's nothing now, doesn't mean nothing's coming.

The other "Petrine" feast day, the Solemnity of Sts Peter & Paul, is June 29th, and a consistory on that day would still give B16 some time before any announcement had to be made. In addition, if you look at the ages of some of the Cardinals approaching the age of 80 (when they lose their conclave voting rights), there are four whose birthdays are fast approaching and, in fact, will take place before June 29. If the Holy Father is still intent of keeping the maximum number of Cardinal-electors at 120, then holding off until the end of June allows him to create 15 nuovi Cardinali, rather than 11.

Other reasons? Well, this June will also mark the 30th anniversary of the public consistory in which Pope Paul VI gave a red biretta to the then-Archbishop of Munich and Freising, Joseph Ratzinger (albeit on June 27, 1977, not the 29th). So there is a sentimental reason right there. But more than that: one of my YF sources (with reliable sources of his own) says that some recently made metropolitan Archbishops, who normally receive their white Pallia from the Pope in a big public Mass on June 29, have been told to hold off making any large pilgrimage plans that usually accompany the event. No reasons given, only not to buy non-refundable tickets.

Finally, speaking of things that didn't happen yesterday, what's with the ever-elusive "Universal Indult" which devotees of the 1962 Missal keep saying is coming? Waiting for this indult has pretty much become akin to a Passover Seder, where each year a seat is kept empty at the table in case the prophet Elijah shows up (though there's really no need to worry about making extra noodle kugel, since you're pretty sure it's not gonna happen). In the meantime, the YF Priests can all come to appreciate the 2000 Missal, and learn to celebrate that rite well and correctly. It is, after all, the new Mass.

By the way, if any YFs out there were planning on ordering something from Gammarelli, Barbiconi, Mancinelli, or Euroclero, feel free to put the order in; they've got no one else higher on the food chain whose sartorial needs will bump your order down the line.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Red Dawn?

It was on the Feast of the Chair of Peter last year that, at a Wednesday Audience, Pope Benedict announced his intention to create 15 new Cardinals. Twelve of the fifteen would be under the age of 80, and thus bring the number of "Scarlet Knights" up to the maximum of 120 established by Pope Paul VI (which Pope Benedict brought up in his announcement, returning to the regulation interpreted loosely by Pope John Paul II). The remaining three would be over the age of 80 and be given in reward for long-time service to the Church. No vote in a conclave, but should a conclave happen, a guaranteed great seat up front (not to mention a clothes closet full of what Cardinal Hickey of Washington once told me were "all kinds of goodies").

Tomorrow is February 22, the Feast of the Chair of Peter, and there are currently 109 Cardinals within voting age. Will 11 men wake up tomorrow with red (or, more precisely, scarlet) in their eyes?

B16 on Lent

This reflection comes from a collection of then-Cardinal Ratzinger's articles and essays published by Ignatius Press in 1992 called "Co-Workers of the Truth":

"In her liturgical language, the Church gives the name "Quadragesima" (a period of forty days) to the time that begins with Ash Wednesday. By this means, and by the use of typological exegesis, she encloses us in a spiritual context. Israel wandered forty years in the desert; Elijah walked forty days to Horeb, the mountain of God; Jesus fasted forty days in the desert...

What is the meaning of this series of forties? At a later date in its history, Israel came to regard the forty years of its wanderings in the desert as the time of first love between God and Israel. The years in the desert seemed to them to be a time of special election. But the Bible depicts these years as a time of extreme danger and temptation, as a time when Israel murmured against its God, when it was dissatisfied with him and wanted to return to paganism. Is this not also a description of our own time? The Church today finds herself relegated once again, and in an entirely new way, to the forty days, to a time in the desert. ...

A Church in the desert; a Church in Quadragesima; that is what we experience today: exposure to emptiness, to a world that seems, so far as religion is concerned, to have become wordless, imageless, soundless. Exposure to a world in which the heaven above is dark and distant and beyond our reach.

And yet, for the Church of today, this time in the desert can become a time of grace in which a new love can grow out of the suffering caused by God's distance from us. If we wander on with patience and faith, then a new day can dawn out of the darkness. And God's bright world, the lost world of images and sounds, will be bestowed on us anew: a new morning in God's good creation. Amen."

You Can Only Read This If You're A White Christian

I hope you read that title with the sarcasm with which it was written. Yahoo news has an AP story with the headline, Megachurches Desegregate Worship. So what are you implying? Smaller parishes do segregate?

The writer continues: "Researchers who study race and religion say Grace Chapel is among a vanguard of megachurches that are breaking down racial barriers in American Christianity, altering the long-segregated landscape of Sunday worship." Ahh, I see. It's only the American Christians who segregate. Any mention of Orthodox Judaism or Islam's separation of men & women when it comes to liturgical prayer? Nope. Just us Christians.

Ash Wednesday

"Remember, man, that you are dust,
and to dust you shall return."

Patricia Moe, My New Hero

The New Jersey media is ecstatic (almost orgasmic) over the state's redefinition of marriage to include couples, partners, spouses, whatever the new trendy term is at the moment, of the same sex. So newspapers have been filled with loads of stories about these couples, all very, very positive articles (because we all know that only hetero-couples have problems) and video is abundant of them lining up outside municipal offices, all happy and (to use the term in the way that my grandmothers knew it) gay.

Yesterday, the local newspaper out here, the Easton Express-Times, carried such a story about an Episcopalian pastor and a church organist, whom the paper reported will be united in a civil union that will coincide with the couple's 35th anniversary of being together.

Today's paper has a letter to the editor from Patricia Moe, who seems to have more journalistic instincts (not to mention better math skills) than the reporter who wrote the story. Here's some parts of her letter:

I am flatly nonplussed by the "Rev." Emory Byrum. According to Monday's Express-Times' article, Byrum was married when his relationship with Mr. Harrell began. He disregarded his most sacred personal vows to achieve personal happiness.

The Express-Times gives the current ages of Byrum and Harrell as 73 and 51, respectively. The article mentions several times that their civil union will mark their 35 years together. Doesn't that mean their respective ages were 38 and 16 when the relationship began? Of course "... they had to keep their relationship secret for years." Byrum was a married Southern Baptist minister and Harrell is 22 years younger than him.

What the article fails to mention is that Harrell was a minor child during the first years of the relationship!

Poor Catholics! It never fails that when reporters do articles about us, we manage to get the ones that got good grades in arithmetic!

Yes, I know. In the end, many will say "live and let live", and go on with their lives content with the fact that "the couple is happy". But they're not alone in their happiness; because there's other happy people.

  • The municipalities are happy because, as more and more heterosexual couples opt for living together rather than marriage, the number of marriage licenses has dropped significantly, resulting in a loss of revenue in these license fees.
  • Same-sex unions will also inevitably result in same-sex divorces, and to divorce lawyers everywhere, this is the equivalent of opening up the Alaskan frontier to oil drilling.

So lots of people are happy over this, but evidently there's also a few who are not.

Today's New York Times has an article about the looming game of "chicken" that is being played between the worldwide Anglican Communion and the Anglican Church in the United States (better known as the Episcopal Church). In short, the US Episcopalians are the child with eyes on the cookie jar. The worldwide Anglican Communion is the parent saying, "I told you, no cookies!" But the child keeps inching ever so slightly towards the cookie jar with the Cheshire Cat grin, all the time getting closer and closer, right in front of the parent. Eventually the parent has got 2 choices:

  1. Give the child the cookie, thus avoiding a fight (but at the same time letting the child come to the realization that the parent has no authority over them).
  2. Draw the line in the sand and let them know that "no" means "no."

But the article also gives another interesting point. In trying to keep the "conservatives" (meaning those who actually believe what the rest of the Anglican communion believes) happy, they suggest that "the Episcopal Church establish new positions of authority, a council and a 'primatial vicar'..." Hmmm, "primatial" means "first" or "of the highest rank". "Vicar" means "earthly representative of God or Christ". You mean like a "bridge-builder" (which can also be called a "pontiff")? Someone who can bring the whole flock together; a "fatherly figure" (a "papa")? I think I've heard of that somewhere else before...

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Q&A with B16

Last Saturday, Pope Benedict visited Rome's major pontifical seminary on the occasion of the seminary's patronal feast (Our Lady of Trust). But before he sat down to dinner with the seminarians and faculty, he continued his tradition of holding a Question and Answer session with the seminarians. The Vatican Information Service has released a synopsis in English (and the AP gave us this photo from the evening):

Gregorpaolo Stano of the diocese of Oria, Italy asked how, "among the thousands of interior voices," to discern the voice of God speaking within,

"God speaks," Pope Benedict replied, "through other people, through friends, through our parents, ... through the priests who guide you," above all He speaks "in Sacred Scripture" which must be read "not as the word of a man or a document from the past, ... but as the Word of God which is always valid and speaks to me."

"It is important to remain attentive to the other voices of the Lord, to let ourselves be guided also by people who have, so to say, experience with God and help us along this path. ... In this way our discernment grows, our personal friendship with God grows, [as does] the capacity to perceive, in the thousands of voices we hear today, the voice of God, which is always present and always speaks to us."

Claudio Fabbri from the diocese of Rome wanted to know about the Holy Father's life during his own period of training for the priesthood at the seminary of Freising, Germany.

"I believe that our life in the seminary of Freising was structured very much like your own. ... I can say that Sacred Scripture was at the heart of our theological studies: we truly lived with Sacred Scripture and learned to love it, to communicate with it." Another "vital area for us was liturgical formation." The Pope also mentioned his interest in literature and his "great love for music."

Gianpiero Savino of the diocese of Taranto, Italy asked how, bearing in mind human weakness, it is possible to respond to a vocation "as demanding as that of being pastors of God's people."

"It is good to recognize one's own weakness," said the Pope, "because thus we know that we have need of the Lord's grace. ... I [also] believe it is important to recognize that we are in need of a permanent conversion." This is a journey with no lack of "joy and light from the Lord, but also no lack of dark valleys where we must walk with trust seeking support in the Lord's goodness. ... And therefore the Sacrament of Penance is also important, ... to convert us to a new beginning and thus grow and mature in the Lord, in our communion with Him."

The Holy Father also dwelt upon the necessity of not "isolating ourselves, not believing we can progress alone. We need the help of priest friends and lay friends to accompany and help us. ... The gift of perseverance brings us joy, it gives us the certainty that we are loved by the Lord, and this love sustains us, it helps us and does not abandon us in our weaknesses."

A Bulgarian seminarian, Dimov Koicio from the diocese of Nicopoli, asked a question concerning "corruption in the Church" to which the then Cardinal Ratzinger had alluded during the 2005 Way of the Cross, and the dangers of "seeking to advance one's career through the Church."

"The Lord knows," the Pope replied, "and knew from the beginning that sin also exists in the Church. And by our humility it is important to recognize this - not to see sin only in others, in institutions and in high office, but also in ourselves - so as, in this way, to be more humble and to learn that ecclesial standing does not count before the Lord, what counts is to remain in His love."

Francesco Annesi of the diocese of Rome wanted to know how "a priest can bear witness to the Christian meaning of suffering, and how he must behave before those who suffer without the risk of seeming rhetorical or pathetic."

"We must recognize that it is right to do everything possible to alleviate the afflictions of humanity, and help those who suffer ... to discover a life that is worthwhile and free from the evils which we ourselves provoke: hunger, epidemics, etc.," said the Holy Father in his reply. "But at the same time, recognizing this duty to combat the sufferings we have caused, we must also recognize and understand that suffering is an essential factor for our maturation. ... It is true that it is always problematic, if one is more or less in good health, to console someone else affected by a serious illness. ... Faced with these ills, which we all know and recognize, it is almost inevitable that everything seems rhetorical and pathetic. But if people feel ... that we want to carry the cross with them ... helping them in every way we can, they will believe in us."

Marco Ceccarelli, a deacon of Rome, soon to be ordained a priest asked the Holy Father's advice on how to approach the first years of priestly ministry.

In his reply, the Holy Father highlighted "the need to be with the Lord in the Eucharist every day, not as a professional obligation but as a true interior duty," and "to dedicate time to the Liturgy of the Hours" because "it helps us to be more open and to remain in profound contact with the Lord." It is also important "not to lose communion with other priests, your companions on the journey, or to lose personal contact with the Word of God, meditation."

"Never lose," he concluded, "friendship with priests, listening to the voice of the living Church, or, of course, a readiness toward the people entrusted to us because from them, with their sufferings, their experiences of faith, their doubts and difficulties, we too can learn, and seek and find God."

Mardi Gras

Ever since my days at Mount St. Mary's Seminary, Mardi Gras brings back memories of an annual seminary party. At the time, the Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana, sent men to the Mount for theology, and every year they threw a Mardi Gras party for the whole house. Anticipation would build for weeks before as parcels arrived daily from down south, generously sent by Mount alums, members of the seminarians' families, etc. Authentic food like red beans and rice, gumbo, and shrimp etouffe.... Ah, the memories. They even deep-fried some alligator once. Well, not the whole gator, just little cubes of him/her. Tasted like chicken.

I cling on to those memories when we get to this time of year, because the news media loves to show us Mardi Gras from New Orleans (as well as Carnevale in Brazil) which seems to be a huge contest of "Who can get drunker and lewder?" Yes, Mardi Gras is one of those Christian-rooted events that has been hijacked by secular society (joined by Halloween, St. Valentine's Day and St. Patrick's Day, to name a few others).

Now, is Father being a "party pooper"? No way. Neither am I some Puritan-like prude. I've drunk my share of Louisiana Hurricanes out of a gray plastic trashbarrel (no, the barrel was never used for actual trash, and yes, I used a cup). I'm all for the Laissez les bon temps rouler!, as long as we remember that the next day begins the season of Lent. Mardi Gras is an undeniably religious event.

How many of the "Show us your (here insert some slang word for womens' breasts)", bead throwing and collecting crowd will actually be at Mass down in The Big Easy the next day? Will the media make a news story about the Mass attendance the next day? See for yourself: Check out the number of news stories on TV and in the newspaper on Wednesday morning (showing you the Mardi Gras happenings the night before), and compare the amount of coverage to what you see on Thursday morning (about Ash Wednesday).

In the meantime, some things to think about for Lent:

First, many people ask the question, "Why do we say Lent has 40 days, when I counted more on the calendar?" My friend Fr. Guy Selvester answered it well in a recent radio interview I did with him on the topic of Lent. The answer appears on his blog.

Second, one of my blog devotees turned me on to a blog called "Ask Sister Mary Martha". I don't know if it's actually written by a nun, but I like what I've read in her Lenten thoughts and reflections. When faced with a rule or a restriction, our society's reflex reaction is to wonder what the exceptions are, or how far can we bend it without actually breaking it? Check out her entries on plans for Lent and Lental soup. I think she has a good read on how many Catholics have come to see Lent's "giving something up" in their miscatechized minds.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Fr. C. on the Golden Rule

Many times people wonder how far they have to take this weekend's Gospel about "turning the other cheek." Fr. Cantalamessa gives a great reflection on this in his weekly scripture reflection (which comes to us in English thanks to Zenit News Service):

This Sunday's Gospel contains a type of moral code that should characterize the life of a disciple of Christ. The whole of it is summarized in the so-called golden rule of moral action: "Do to others as you would like them to do to you."

This is a rule that, if put into practice, would be enough to change the face of the families and the society in which we live. The Old Testament knew it in a negative form: "Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you" (Tobias 4:15); Jesus proposes it in a positive form: "Do to others as you would like them to do to you," which is much more demanding.

But the Gospel passage also raises some questions. "To him who strikes you on the cheek, give him the other cheek; to him who takes away your cloak, give him your shirt as well. Give to whoever asks. Of him who takes your goods, do not ask for them back."

Does Jesus therefore command his disciples to not oppose evil, to let the violent do as they will? How can this be reconciled with the obligation to combat despotism and crime, to energetically denounce them, even when to do so is dangerous? Or how can it be reconciled with the idea of "zero tolerance" in the face of the increase in petty crime?

Not only does the Gospel not condemn this demand for law and order, it in fact reinforces it. There are situations in which charity does not oblige us to turn the other cheek, but to go directly to the police and report the misdeed.

The golden rule that is valid in all cases, we have heard, is to do to others as we would have them do to us. If you are, for example, the victim of theft, of a mugging, of blackmail, if someone rear-ends your car and demolishes it, you would certainly be happy if someone who witnessed the incident were ready to testify on your behalf.

The Gospel tells you that this is what you must do. You cannot let yourself off the hook with easy excuses: "I didn't see anything, I don't know anything." Fear and refusal to be a "narc" or "rat" is what allows crime to prosper.

But let us look at some other words from Sunday's Gospel which are in a sense even more dangerous: "Do not judge and you will not be judged; do not condemn and you will not be condemned." So, should we leave the way open for wrongdoing with impunity? And what are we to think of magistrates who are full-time, professional judges? Are they condemned by the Gospel from the very beginning?

The Gospel is not as naive and unrealistic as it might at first seem. It does not so much charge us to remove judgment from our lives as it does to remove the poison from our judgment! That is, that part of our judgment which is resentment, rejection and revenge, which often is mixed in with the objective evaluation of the deed. Jesus' command to "not judge and you will not be judged" is immediately followed, as we have seen, by the command: "Do not condemn and you will not be condemned" (Luke 6:37).

The second phrase explains the meaning of the first one.

The word of God prohibits ruthless judgments, judgments that are merciless. It criticizes those who condemn the sinner together with the sin.

Today civil society rightly, and almost universally, rejects the death penalty. In capital punishment, the aspect of revenge on the part of society and the annihilation of the guilty party prevails over the notions of self-defense and of discouraging crime, both of which could be just as efficaciously served with other sorts of punishment.

Among other things, sometimes it is the case that the person who is executed is completely different from the one who committed the crime. This is due to the fact that sometimes the one convicted of the crime has repented and radically changed.

Friday, February 16, 2007

You Must Remember This, A Kiss is Just a Kiss...

The Curt Jester has a great story about college students who have done their part to take Valentine's Day back from their peers that have been conditioned to believe that sex (non-binding, uncommitted, and senza responsabilità) must naturally be a part of the day.

Happy "Meatful" Friday

Today is my own self-proclaimed holiday, which I like to call "Meatful Friday."

My reasoning is this: Next Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the start of the Lenten season. With the "advent" of Lent comes the Fridays of abstinence from meat. This means that today, February 16, the last Friday before Lent begins, is the final Friday on which you can partake of mammal flesh until Friday, April 13, the Friday after Easter Sunday. Get it? Aren't you craving some sirloin already? Bacon, egg, and cheese omelet, anyone?

Today's Gospel gave us Jesus' requirements for discipleship: "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me." We're not good at self-denial. Truth be told, we are the self-gratification, self-soothing, self-appeasing society. We want what we want, when we want it, and we don't like being told, "no."

The truth is that I'm not really craving any meat right at this moment. Today isn't a "no meat" day and so what's missing from my life is the little voice that repeats over and over, "You can't have it." At my first parish assignment, the pastor and I would visit the local hospital once a week (he'd visit on Mondays and I'd go up there on Fridays). If you drove to the hospital a certain way, the way he showed me on my "orientation tour" of the area and the only way I knew at the time, you passed the town square of Morristown, New Jersey, which had (and still has) these two hot dog vendors parked alongside the square. Now I'd been assigned there since June of 1998, so I had passed these trucks on a bunch of previous Fridays (usually the Starbucks was more of a tempting lure than the hot dog wagons) without the desire to partake of some "Sabrett ecstasy". But come that first Friday of Lent, 1999, driving past those hot dog stands was like something out of "Saving Private Ryan"! I was being ambushed! The bottom line: I learned to get to the hospital using an alternate way until after Easter. The voices were just too much, and I'd developed a soft spot for pushcart hot dogs ever since the two summers I spent working a pushcart back in 1985 and 1986.

But is denying ourselves really so outrageous? If our high school reunion is coming up, don't we starve ourselves to lose some of the weight we've gained since we were 18? Don't we glorify and point out as role models the athletes who trained for thousands of hours and missed out on some childhood fun because they were determined to make it to the Olympics or professional sports? Yeah, we can do it, but do we want to do it?

I may have made too broad of a statement before, because there are still some Catholics out there (usually older ones) who still follow the old tradition and regularly abstain from meat every Friday. They know that the rule was relaxed in the U.S. back in 1966, but by then it had already become a habit in their lives. In other words, eating meat on a Friday doesn't "feel" right, so they choose not to. Fair enough, and fodder for the rest of us: Imagine if prayer was such a part of our everyday life that not doing it would cause a feeling within us that "something's missing"? If nothing else, a day on which we deny ourselves something gives us the chance to appreciate the times when we were able to have it.

Enjoy "Meatful Friday."

Thursday, February 15, 2007

A Salute to the Diehards

These last few days of snow and ice have brought out a group of people that don't get the recognition they deserve.

No, I'm not talking about the state, county, and municipal employees who plow the snow out of the way (though they deserve some credit - but not a lot because they do get paid to do this).

I'm talking about that small but dedicated crowd that comes to daily Mass in thousands of parishes around the country, no matter what the weather is like outside. Whether it is raining cats and dogs or (more recently) a mix of snow and ice, it seems like nothing can keep them away from their participation in the Sacred Mysteries. No matter what it's doing outside, when the bell rings for Mass, they can usually be found inside.

How many of them get to church before we Priests do? To do that, how many of them had to get up earlier than we did, clear their cars of snow while the engine warms up, and make an uneasy drive?

So here's to you, dedicated diehard Mass-goers! You remind us Priests what a privilege it is to do what we do (and sometimes take for granted).

Now if I could just get you to sit up front...

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Leaven in the World

Today's Mass readings have Jesus talking about the "leaven" of the Pharisees and Herod. Back then there were no packets of yeast to buy at the store (good thing, too, because come to think of it, there weren't really any "stores"), so a bit of yesterday's bread dough (again, no stores for bread) was saved and inserted into the next day's dough to cause it to rise. Because this leaven was actually a piece of old dough that had "soured" (The Hebrew word for leaven, chametz, literally means "sour") and begun to decompose in order to release the gasses that cause the loaf to rise, it became synonymous with the whole idea of corruption. This is what the Lord meant by telling his 12 to "watch out" and "guard against" the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod.

This Jewish understanding of leaven is both "ancient and new." It is "Ancient", because Berachot 17a of the Talmud says, "leaven represents the evil impulse of the heart." "New", because even today, part of the traditional Jewish Passover preparations is to get rid of anything leavened in the house (all products containing wheat, barley, rye, or oats), a throwback to the bygone tradition that, when Passover came, no piece of the dough would be saved to be the following day's leavening agent. They ended the chain of the last bit of 'leaven' and "started fresh" with the holy day.

"A little goes a long way." We've heard it before. In the case of leaven or yeast, a little bit can affect the whole loaf (remember the classic "I Love Lucy" episode in which Lucy and Ethel bake bread?). Two little aspirins can make your whole body feel better, for another example. One little tick bite can infect your whole blood supply. The list goes on and on.

The first reading in today's Mass told of God's displeasure with humanity. Just six chapters after He created everything and it was all "good", He's ready to throw in the towel. A little bit of sin has entered the whole of humanity and corrupted the whole batch.

But this formula can also work to our advantage. Noah and his family were one small bit of humanity. But through them, the whole batch would be saved and God would not, in essence, "start from scratch." Noah, who "found favor with God", is seen as a foreshadowing of Jesus, God's Son "on whom [God the Father's] favor rests." Through our reception of the Eucharist, one small piece of bread, our whole body and soul is changed, and one little formula of absolution from a Priest can absolve a multitude of sins. Truly (as well as supernaturally), a little can go a long way!

Where can I affect a change, even if I'm "small and insignificant" in the world's eyes? At work? School? In my family?

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Priests are People, Too

Thankfully, today's Newark Star-Ledger carries a story about outer space that doesn't involve an astronaut, a diaper, and a car tank of gas.

Newark's Archbishop John Myers has collaborated with his lifelong friend, writer Gary K. Wolf, to produce a science fiction novel. "Space Vulture", a 400 page novel, will be published either late this year or early in 2008.

This is another great example of the humanity of Priests. Too many times when the media reports about "the other side of Priests", it's a story about something sinister or criminal. But it's great to hear about the positive things that Catholic clergy do in their free time. Other examples?

  • We've all heard of Pope Benedict's piano playing (something shared by New York's Cardinal Edward Egan, though Egan is also a cellist)
  • Pope John Paul II's love of skiing (made abundantly clear in the memoirs recently published by his longtime secretary, Cardinal Dziwisz of Krakow)
  • The hockey playing of Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Paprocki
  • The hiking of Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix
  • Scranton's retired Bishop James Timlin is a licensed airplane pilot, as was Bishop Michael Kaniecki, S.J., of the Diocese of Fairbanks, Alaska, before he died in 2000 (and before you ask, not from a plane crash)
  • The racquetball prowess of Denver's Archbishop Charles Chaput

Me? I'm with a fellow goalie with Bishop Paprocki. Maybe it's because of all the "saving" involved.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Responsibility Revisited

After my last entry about accepting responsibility, A regular reader of Young Fogeys had this to say:

We also live in the generation of "if I" non-apologies. You know the type. "I'm sorry if I offended you." If the subliminal part of that sentence magically appeared, it would read, "I'm sorry if I offended you, you hysterical, hyper-sensitive whack-job, who clearly isn't bright enough to understand that I'm really not sorry at all." We live in the not-really-sorry world, which in reality takes not a whit of responsibility for offending, attacking, humiliating, etc. I just received one of those "if I" non-apologies last week. I was going to call the person on it, but decided in the end it wasn't worth it. It would have just prolonged the situation.
Right you are! The "if I" apology makes the person feel good about themselves without actually having to admit any culpability for their words or actions. Ranks right up there with the "catch-all" I get sometimes in Confession, "For these and any sins I may have committed, I'm sorry."

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

NEWSFLASH: Gospel Imitates Life!

By now you've heard the story about the makers of such candy bars as Snickers that have announced that, due to the "wishes and comments we've heard from parents and consumers about health and wellness and options for their kids.", the candy manufacturer will no longer market candy bars to kids under the age of 12.

Are parents responsible for anything anymore? First, McDonald's was chided for serving hot coffee and making hamburgers, french fries, and milkshakes that are high in (brace yourself) fat! Now we've discovered that eating a lot of candy could be bad for childrens' waistlines. Is candy new? No, what's new is that childrens' entertainment is no longer to go out and play (thus burning calories using that metabolism that those of us over the age of 25 would kill to reclaim). Attention, concerned parents and consumers: Big Macs and and Baby Ruths are not the problem; the enemy is PlayStation and Nintendo (although the new Nintendo Wii does step out of that trap, requiring physical exertion as part of playing the game)! My summers as a kid were spent playing sports with my friends. Not simulated sports on a comupter, where my butt never left the couch, but actual sports that involved dirtiness and sweat (and a broken nose once, but that's another story).

Today's Gospel is from Mark 7, part of Jesus throwing the gauntlet down in the midst of experts in Judaic law who had come in from "home office" (Jerusalem) to confront him on his teachings. Jesus could have been speaking to the anti-candy lobby when he says that nothing which goes into a man from the outside can render him unclean, only what comes from the heart within. Eating a candy bar doesn't make anyone fat; deliberately deciding to eat 20 of them and then deliberately deciding not to burn some calories afterwards makes you fat.

I just bought a great magnet that says: "I didn't say it was your fault; I said I was going to blame you!" We hate taking responsibility for our actions. My weight is McDonald's fault, or the candy manufacturers fault, or my parents' fault. I got an "F" on my test because the teacher hates me. Our lives are filled with examples like these.

The first readings this week have been from Genesis. Pope John Paul II, in his Theology of the Body discourses, comments on today's passage, asking why God would put the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil" there in the midst of the garden, if it had the potential of causing trouble for man? His answer is that God's gift of our free will was already in place at creation, and that we would always and continually have use that free will to make a deliberate choice for God (talk 7.3, pages 154-155 in Waldstein's translation of the Theo of Body talks). The candy bars, the golden arches, etc., will always be there, right in our midst, calling out to us. We have to choose to say "no" (or at least say "yes" to some cardio workout after saying "yes" to some Chicken McNuggets).

We've all seen these kinds of signs at amusement parks. If society wants to hold junk food makers accountable for the effects on their consumers, then give McDonald's or the local Dunkin Donuts the right to refuse to sell food to anyone they decide is too large. Let them have a sign that says, "You must be this thin to eat here."

Isn't the gospel great? No matter where you are in life, there's always something in it for everyone.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Arinze on Liturgy

Cardinal Arinze's speech last October to the "Institut Superieur de Liturgie" of the Catholic Institute of Paris is excellent. Check out the English transcript of the speech. To whet your appetite, here are some snippets:

"...some abuses are due to an undue place given to spontaneity, or creativity, or to a wrong idea of freedom, or to the error of horizontalism which places man at the center of a liturgical celebration instead of vertically focusing on Christ and his mysteries."

"The common priesthood of all the baptized and the ministerial priesthood of the ordained priest come from Christ himself. Confusion of roles in the hierarchical constitution of the Church does damage. It does not promote witness to Christ nor holiness for clergy and laity. Neither attempts at the clericalization of the laity, nor efforts toward the laicization of the clergy, will bring down divine graces."

"Priests on their part should show themselves transparently happy in their vocation with a clear identity of their liturgical role. If they celebrate the sacred mysteries with faith and devotion and according to the approved books, they will unconsciously be preaching priestly vocations. On the other hand, young people will not desire to join a band of clerics who seem uncertain of their mission, who criticize and disobey their Church and who celebrate their own 'liturgies' according to their personal choices and theories."

Check it out. I think you're gonna like it.

Fr. Raniero on Sheep & Fish

Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa has, not only one of the greatest surnames for a Catholic Priest (his name literally means "sing the Mass"), but also has one of those "top 5 coolest titles in the Catholic Church" that I spoke about when in my previous blog entry about the Cardinal Patriarch of Venice. He is the "Preacher to the Pontifical Household." Yes, the Pope gets his very own preacher. But being the nice guy he is, he shares him with the rest of the world. Cantalamessa's books are short and excellent, written on a variety of topics such as the Holy Spirit, the Eucharist, Mary, Easter, Christmas, and the Word of God, to name a few off of the top of my head.

Fr. Singthemass writes a weekly column for an Italian newspaper in which he gives a reflection on the Sunday Gospel passage. Of course it's in Italian, but the kind folks at Zenit provide an English translation each week. This week he makes an interesting point about fishermen, based upon the gospel from Luke 5. Here's his reflection:

"The miraculous catch was the proof that convinced a fisherman like Simon Peter.

After they returned to shore he fell down at Jesus' feet saying, "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man." But Jesus answered him with these words that represent the culmination of the story, and the reason for which it was recorded: "Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be a fisher of men."

Jesus uses two images to illustrate the task of his co-workers: fishermen and shepherds.

For fear that modern man find these images little respectful of his dignity and reject them, let us explain their meaning. Today no one likes to be "fished for" by another, or be a sheep in a flock.

The first observation that should be made is this: Ordinarily in fishing the fisherman is after his own good and not that of the fish. The same goes for the shepherd. He shepherds and cares for his flock not for the good of the flock, but for his own good because the flock furnishes him with milk, wool and food.

In the Gospel we find just the opposite: the fisherman who serves the fish; the shepherd who sacrifices for the sheep to the point of giving his life for them. When we talk about men being "fished" for it is not a disgrace, but salvation.

Imagine people who find themselves cast upon the waves in the high seas after a shipwreck, at night, in the cold; seeing a rope or a lifeboat lowered for them is not humiliation, but their supreme hope. This is how we must understand the work of fishers of men: They are like those who lower a lifeboat into the sea, often in the midst of a storm, for those who are in danger of their lives.

But the difficulty which I noted reappears in another form. Let's say that we do need shepherds and fishermen. Why is it that some should have the role of fishermen and others of fish, and some that of shepherds and others that of sheep and flock. The relationship between fisherman and fish, as that between shepherd and sheep, suggests the idea of inequality, of superiority. No one likes being just a number in the flock and recognizing a shepherd over him.

Here we need to rid ourselves of a certain prejudice. In the Church no one is only a fisherman or only a shepherd, and no one is only a fish or a sheep. We are all, in different ways, all at the same time. Christ is the only one who is simply a fisherman and simply a shepherd.

Before becoming a fisher of men Peter himself was fished for and fished for again, many times. He was, literally, fished for when, walking on the waves, he was overcome with fear and was on the point of sinking; he was fished for again, above all, after his betrayal of Jesus. He had to experience what it meant to be a "lost sheep" so that he could learn what it meant to be a good shepherd; he had to be fished out of the depths of the abyss into which he had fallen in order to learn what it meant to be a fisher of men.

If, in a different way, all the baptized are both fished for and fishermen themselves, then here there opens up a large field of action for the laity. We priests are better prepared to be shepherds than we are to be fishermen. We find it easier to nourish with the word and the sacraments the people who spontaneously come to church than we do going out to look for those who have strayed and are far away. The role of the fisherman remains in large part to be discovered. The laity, because of their direct insertion in society, are irreplaceable co-workers in this task.

Once the nets were lowered at Jesus' word, Peter and the others who were with him in the boat caught such a quantity of fish that the nets broke. Then the evangelist writes that "they beckoned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them." Even today the successor of Peter and those who are with him in the boat -- the bishops and priests -- beckon to those in the other boat -- the laity -- to come and help them."