Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Here's his story, via e-mail:
The Vatican is endorsing new technology that brings the book of daily prayers used by priests straight onto iPhones. The Vatican's Pontifical Council for Social Communications is embracing the iBreviary, an iTunes application created by a technologically savvy Italian priest, the Rev. Paolo Padrini, and an Italian Web designer.
The application includes the Breviary prayer book — in Italian, English, Spanish, French and Latin and, in the near future, Portuguese and German. Another section includes the prayers of the daily Mass, and a third contains various other prayers. After a free trial period in which the iBreviary was downloaded approximately 10,000 times in Italy, an official version was released earlier this month, Padrini said.
The application costs euro0.79 ($1.10), while upgrades will be free. Padrini's proceeds are going to charity. Monsignor Paul Tighe, secretary of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Social Communications, praised the new application Monday, saying the Church "is learning to use the new technologies primarily as a tool or as a mean of evangelizing, as a way of being able to share its own message with the world."
Pope Benedict XVI, a classical music lover who was reportedly given an iPod in 2006, has sought to reach out to young people through new media. During last summer's World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia, he sent out mobile phone text messages citing scripture to thousands of registered pilgrims — signed with the tagline "BXVI."
Buona fortuna, Padre! ... e buona preghiera!
Monday, December 29, 2008
The events are set up at the beginning of the film, when, during the annual "Soup Day" celebration, a rat accidentally falls into the queen's soup, leading to her shock and death. The king, in his grief and anger, outlaws both soup and rats, and resigns himself to a life of solitude and mourning. The princess remains in her room, wishing the cloudy skies would either clear or rain, and all the residents of the kingdom pine for soup, while the rats are banished to the lowest parts of the dungeons.
While Despereaux and his unusual courage provide the movement of the story from the beginning to end, he is not the most interesting character. The rat, Roscuro, who fell into the soup, presents an interesting character journey. After an attempt to apologize to the princess, in which he is repelled by a repulsed princess, he determines to prove a villain. However, after seeing the ugliness of the rats' desire for attacking the princess, he returns to himself, and assists Despereaux in rescuing her. He apologizes, realizing that the power to forgive is a sign of true courage. Through these events, the king is able to release himself from his grief; the soup flows again!
The film draws attention to the immense power that we have over ourselves - how pain, grief and anger are not "powers" we have that give us strength, but rather they shackle us and limit us. When we are able to let go of hurt and cease allowing ourselves to be victims, we discover the freeing power of forgiveness. It is never easy to "just forgive." However, when we do, there is a freedom that no one can give us except ourselves. But to do that, it takes courage.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
his tiny heart is beating?
Whom culture greets like a piece of meat
while Congress decides his meaning?
This, this is our "Free Choice,"
since he can't use his silent voice.
Haste, haste to end his life,
so ours can go on as normal.
Yet while he lay beneath mom's heart,
he's growing, kicking, feeding.
Small one, don't fear, for Life is here,
and for your birth we're pleading.
Yes, yes, we know that you
have hope, have love, have value.
Sleep, sleep in heav'nly peace,
For Christ was once where you are.
Our unborn brothers, sisters, all,
God's greatest Gift expecting;
Let's pray, dear friends, let's pray it ends,
with faith, hope and love reflecting.
Raise, raise your prayers on high
that they may hear His lullaby.
Hearts, hearts can change through grace,
for God chose Life here among us.
There is a new website that lets you do just what these well-meaning wedding crashers do - that is, try to "stump the priest." A friend of mine from seminary has been busy in the Internet during his brief time as a priest, and his new site, Stump the Priest, is an opportunity to freely ask a priest anything you might have been wondering about since Sr. Mary Drippycandle might have taught you. How many angels can balance on a head of a pin? What was Jesus' last name? Can you pour holy water into Lake Eire and make the whole lake holy water? How many licks does it take to - oh, wait: that's another subject.
Thursday, December 25, 2008
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
The disillusionment that comes from the disparity between what we hope for and what we experience has led many people to disbelief. Tonight, we look to the manger to see the Promised One - the Messiah - the Prince of Peace. But where is that peace today? Where has it been this year - or any of the years since that evening in Bethlehem, for that matter?
Could it be that God has something else in store for us? I don't mean something more than Jesus, of course. Rather, I mean that, perhaps, God has a different sense of peace that He wishes us to possess. At the same time, He wishes a different sense of what we hope for.
They said there'll be snow at Christmas,
They said there'll be peace on earth,
But instead it just kept on raining,
A veil of tears for the Virgin birth.
What the angels sing this evening is not an erasure of our humanity - nor a wiping-out of all the mistakes that we have made, and continue to make in history. Rather, what they announce is the miracle of miracles - God-become-Man - heaven and earth united - "Glory to God in the highest and peace to people on whom His favor rests" here on earth. Because of Jesus' Incarnation we have forgiveness. Through forgiveness there is reconciliation; through reconciliation, there is unity; and through unity there is peace.
I believe in the Father of Christmas,
because I believe in the Israelite
I know that peace is possible
because of that first Silent Night!
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Thanks, friends, one and all. And smile along with me!
- Smile: you've got French's!
- You're doing what God has called you to be and to do.
- The Ravens won!
- Your (newborn!) niece loves you!
- Because it takes 84 muscles to frown but probably a few less to eat a whole plate of chocolate chip cookies.
- The rebels destroyed the Death Star!
- It's the final week of Advent! (plus, you haven't run into any C.H.U.D.s lately!)
- You didn't bang up your knee and elbow this weekend.
- Reading your blog is one of the highlights of my day.
- And, last but not least...God so loved the world that he sent his only Son, so smile and celebrate a Merry Christmas!
Monday, December 22, 2008
The 12 days of Christmas are not the days leading up to the Nativity of Our Lord; nor is it a sort of Christian Hanukkah. Rather, these days are those from the birth of the Lord, through the octave, until January 6 - the real date of the Epiphany, when Christ is celebrated as manifested to the nations.
We continue to near Christmas, and to celebrate the "O" days with the antiphons. Today, we recognize Jesus, the "King and desired of the nations." The king of glory comes/the nation rejoices!
Sunday, December 21, 2008
- Student prayer and religious discussion: The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment does not prohibit purely private religious speech by students. Students therefore have the same right to engage in individual or group prayer and religious discussion during the school day as they do to engage in other comparable activity. For example, students may read their Bibles or other scriptures, say grace before meals, and pray before tests to the same extent they may engage in comparable nondisruptive activities. Local school authorities possess substantial discretion to impose rules of order and other pedagogical restrictions on student activities, but they may not structure or administer such rules to discriminate against religious activity or speech. Generally, students may pray in a nondisruptive manner when not engaged in school activities or instruction, and subject to the rules that normally pertain in the applicable setting. Specifically, students in informal settings, such as cafeterias and hallways, may pray and discuss their religious views with each other, subject to the same rules of order as apply to other student activities and speech. Students may also speak to, and attempt to persuade, their peers about religious topics just as they do with regard to political topics. School officials, however, should intercede to stop student speech that constitutes harassment aimed at a student or a group of students. Students may also participate in before or after school events with religious content, such as "see you at the flag pole" gatherings, on the same terms as they may participate in other noncurriculum activities on school premises. School officials may neither discourage nor encourage participation in such an event. The right to engage in voluntary prayer or religious discussion free from discrimination does not include the right to have a captive audience listen, or to compel other students to participate. Teachers and school administrators should ensure that no student is in any way coerced to participate in religious activity.
- Graduation prayer and baccalaureates: Under current Supreme Court decisions, school officials may not mandate or organize prayer at graduation, nor organize religious baccalaureate ceremonies. If a school generally opens its facilities to private groups, it must make its facilities available on the same terms to organizers of privately sponsored religious baccalaureate services. A school may not extend preferential treatment to baccalaureate ceremonies and may in some instances be obliged to disclaim official endorsement of such ceremonies.
- Official neutrality regarding religious activity: Teachers and school administrators, when acting in those capacities, are representatives of the state and are prohibited by the establishment clause from soliciting or encouraging religious activity, and from participating in such activity with students. Teachers and administrators also are prohibited from discouraging activity because of its religious content, and from soliciting or encouraging antireligious activity.
- Teaching about religion: Public schools may not provide religious instruction, but they may teach about religion, including the Bible or other scripture: the history of religion, comparative religion, the Bible (or other scripture)-as-literature, and the role of religion in the history of the United States and other countries all are permissible public school subjects. Similarly, it is permissible to consider religious influences on art, music, literature, and social studies. Although public schools may teach about religious holidays, including their religious aspects, and may celebrate the secular aspects of holidays, schools may not observe holidays as religious events or promote such observance by students.
- Student assignments: Students may express their beliefs about religion in the form of homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free of discrimination based on the religious content of their submissions. Such home and classroom work should be judged by ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance, and against other legitimate pedagogical concerns identified by the school.
- Religious literature: Students have a right to distribute religious literature to their schoolmates on the same terms as they are permitted to distribute other literature that is unrelated to school curriculum or activities. Schools may impose the same reasonable time, place, and manner or other constitutional restrictions on distribution of religious literature as they do on nonschool literature generally, but they may not single out religious literature for special regulation.
- Religious excusals: Subject to applicable State laws, schools enjoy substantial discretion to excuse individual students from lessons that are objectionable to the student or the students' parents on religious or other conscientious grounds. However, students generally do not have a Federal right to be excused from lessons that may be inconsistent with their religious beliefs or practices. School officials may neither encourage nor discourage students from availing themselves of an excusal option.
- Released time: Subject to applicable State laws, schools have the discretion to dismiss students to off-premises religious instruction, provided that schools do not encourage or discourage participation or penalize those who do not attend. Schools may not allow religious instruction by outsiders on school premises during the school day.
- Teaching values: Though schools must be neutral with respect to religion, they may play an active role with respect to teaching civic values and virtue, and the moral code that holds us together as a community. The fact that some of these values are held also by religions does not make it unlawful to teach them in school.
- Student garb: Schools enjoy substantial discretion in adopting policies relating to student dress and school uniforms. Students generally have no Federal right to be exempted from religiously-neutral and generally applicable school dress rules based on their religious beliefs or practices; however, schools may not single out religious attire in general, or attire of a particular religion, for prohibition or regulation. Students may display religious messages on items of clothing to the same extent that they are permitted to display other comparable messages. Religious messages may not be singled out for suppression, but rather are subject to the same rules as generally apply to comparable messages.
THE EQUAL ACCESS ACTThe Equal Access Act is designed to ensure that, consistent with the First Amendment, student religious activities are accorded the same access to public school facilities as are student secular activities. Based on decisions of the Federal courts, as well as its interpretations of the Act, the Department of Justice has advised that the Act should be interpreted as providing, among other things, that:
- General provisions: Student religious groups at public secondary schools have the same right of access to school facilities as is enjoyed by other comparable student groups. Under the Equal Access Act, a school receiving Federal funds that allows one or more student noncurriculum-related clubs to meet on its premises during noninstructional time may not refuse access to student religious groups.
- Prayer services and worship exercises covered: A meeting, as defined and protected by the Equal Access Act, may include a prayer service, Bible reading, or other worship exercise.
- Equal access to means of publicizing meetings: A school receiving Federal funds must allow student groups meeting under the Act to use the school media -- including the public address system, the school newspaper, and the school bulletin board -- to announce their meetings on the same terms as other noncurriculum-related student groups are allowed to use the school media. Any policy concerning the use of school media must be applied to all noncurriculum-related student groups in a nondiscriminatory matter. Schools, however, may inform students that certain groups are not school sponsored.
- Lunch-time and recess covered: A school creates a limited open forum under the Equal Access Act, triggering equal access rights for religious groups, when it allows students to meet during their lunch periods or other noninstructional time during the school day, as well as when it allows students to meet before and after the school day.
Now, I can emphasize the parts that I find cool, and you can do the same with yours. But, when it comes down to it, this document is amazingly close to what I believe the Founding Fathers meant when they sought to protect religion from government interference - and not the other way around.
Ok - enough politics for me for this month. I'll return with my usual foolishness tomorrow, I hope!
Saturday, December 20, 2008
I celebrated Mass today at a local girls' high school, and the sisters there had set out a chalice and paten covered by a chalice veil. I don't usually have one of them at my disposal, but it is always nice to see it. I referred to a friend from seminary who compared the use of the veil to honor the mystery we are about to celebrate at the Eucharist and the horrible state of (un)dress that certain pop icons seem to think is fashionable.
I revisited that entry today, thinking of my friend's comments and the need for greater modesty among our young people. It seems a bit easier during these colder months, but just wait - it's coming again! However, I came across another site that promotes Catholic life values as well as celebrates modesty in our public stars (see Amy Adams and Beyonce?). Its called "Modestia," and it's worth a view. Thanks to the Catholic Nerd Writer for having this link!
Friday, December 19, 2008
Advent is a time of expectations - expectations shattered and expectations wondrously fulfilled. This song from Coldplay's XY album, "Fix You," talks about trying and not succeeding, about getting what you want by not what you need.
Certainly, Mary, Joseph, Zechariah and Elizabeth knew their own expectations - dedication to God as they knew it, a life and family in Nazareth, a faithful life, yet unfulfilled, without children.
Then God enters. Expectations are shattered and then re-elevated, even higher than anyone of them could have imagined. Their stories are told again and again in order to remind us that the Light will guide us home, and ignite our bones - if we re-examine our expectations, see in our lives God's Light and will, and God will fix us.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
17th - Sapientia (Wisdom)
18th - Adonai (Lord)
19th - Radix (Root [of Jesse])
20th - Clavis David (Key of David)
21st - Oriens (Eastern star; Daystar)
22nd - Rex (King)
23rd - Emmanuel (God-with-us)
Taking the first letters of these antiphons, we get "SARCORE". But wait! We're not done deciphering this mysterious code! Now, take the letters and reverse them to get "EROCRAS". Separate them thus: "ERO CRAS," - and you now have the response to our prayer of "Come."
Ero cras = "I will be, tomorrow!"
We just celebrated "Gaudete Sunday," where we were called to "Rejoice in the Lord always." And why are we to rejoice? "The Lord is near!"
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Today, we hear the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. There are some pretty remarkable men (and women!) in that list. There are also some pretty remarkable sinners there too. This lineage made it difficult for some people to accept Jesus for who he was in his ministry ("Isn't this Joseph's son, the carpenter?"). However, for those who did accept him, he was the way to new life with God as He saves His people.
This story of the lineage of Jesus is not just an exercise to see how well priests and deacons can pronounce these Hebrew names; it is a reminder that the Son of God entered history and made it new. It tells us that despite the mess we humans may have made of our history - despite the mess we continue to make - God is still at work. As Pope Benedict pointed out in Spe Salvi, this is reason for great hope.
Jesus may not have been a pirate, but He was one of us. And that makes one of us a great thing to be!
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
That uniqueness of friendship is what makes friendship so great. Loyalty, commitment and fun are benefits that come with every friendship. This is particularly important to young people. However, a behavior has been growing among college students, known as "friends with benefits," wherein two people agree to be friends but to engage in sexual contact without any strings attached (that annoying thing called love).
The idea of "friends with benefits" is not foreign to our young people. It is more and more common, even among high school students. What friends with benefits really is is an insult to friendship and a cheapening of the sexual relationship that is supposed to be the fullness of the expression of the unique, committed love of a married couple. For young people afraid of commitment, it perpetuates their inability to truly be intimate. For anyone with hopes of "settling down," getting married and being happy, it strips sex of love and begins a cycle that keeps those two separate.
Sex is a powerful force in our human lives. Even when we say it is "meaningless," we cannot deny the connection that sex creates between partners. When teenagers begin this sort of loveless, uncommitted behavior they destroy both the meaning of sex and love for themselves. Never mind the awkwardness that results when one is not a "friend" anymore.
If friendship cannot be seen as having benefits of its own, what is that friendship worth anyway? The blessing of friendship is that it teaches us to see love in a real, incarnate way. It is a school for later exclusivity in that love - for marriage, perhaps. When "benefits" need to be introduced, these have little to do with love. The whole thing becomes just an act - and our kids don't learn the fine points of commitment, and one "friend" becomes as expendable as another.
One commentator puts it this way:
These days, dating has gotten as casual as sex. We've replaced courtship with text messaging and online social networking. Consequently, our relationships are as disposable as our technology. With [a friend with benefits (FWB)], there's not much wooing or chasing. And romance? Forget about it. Wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am isn't a relationship. A relationship is honest-to-goodness, face-to-face commitment. Isn't the slow seduction part the most exciting part of a relationship? Friends with benefits jump to conclusions -- the conclusion of the possibility of a real relationship, in most cases. One-night-stands are one thing, but if you're a repeat FWB offender, let's call a spade a spade. You're dating, but by any relationship standards, those are pretty superficial relationships you're having.
We adults need to talk to our young people about sex - and love. Love must be a part of it, and love is its own benefit.
Monday, December 15, 2008
If anyone ever tries to answer that question for you, nod politely and walk away. There is no good answer for it. The suffering and death of people close to us is a challenge to our faith. Many lose faith over it, choosing to turn their back on the God who seems to turn His back on us. We also wonder what we could have done to change what happened. But in the end, the same question remains: "Why?"
When I was a senior in high school, I remember reading a novel called A Separate Peace by John Knowles. It tells the tale of two high school chums, Gene and Finny, who are different but inseparable. Gene is quiet, academically minded and serious while Finny is outgoing, athletic and carefree. Finny sort of drags Gene into his adventuresome view of life, for which Gene is a little jealous and resentful. At one point, Gene causes Finny to fall from a tree and break his leg. Later, as they and their friends confront the truth of the event, Finny gets upset and runs from the room, falling down some stairs and re-breaking his leg. The result of this new accident is that bone marrow gets into his blood and he dies.
I remember being shocked and horrified at this blunt ending to this character that I had come to enjoy. I even went to the teacher and discussed the unfairness of it all - how mundane and dumb it seemed for him to die like that. A few months later, after I graduated, a classmate was killed in a car accident. The church was packed for his funeral and we all sat awkwardly in our sport coats, fumbling with our class rings, not daring to make eye contact with each other. It could have been any one of us. It could have been me.
The question is normal; it is natural. For people of faith, it will stress our relationship with God. However, it's not the "Why" that will be the hardest to live with.
It's the "How?".
How do we go on after such tragic events? How does life "return to normal?" How do we cope - with God and each other - in the face of overwhelming loss?
We do go on - in time. Life never really "returns to normal," but life does continue - changed. We cope by remembering that faith - that relationship with God that has sustained us this far - that continues to sustain us (and our lost loved ones!). We celebrate the past blessings and anticipate that time when we will greet one another again on another shore, where there are no tears - only the all-embracing Love of God - and that "separate peace" we know awaits.
And no more "Why's".
Rest in Peace, friends. And pray for us all.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Our encounter with Jesus can be like that. He often comes to us when, where and how we might not expect him to – or even want him to – come. I imagine that Our Lord enjoys this ironic game, but I often worry about all the times I may have lost that game. Today’s gospel reminds us that this divine “hide-and-seek” is continuing, and our salvation is at stake.
John the Baptist tells those who are sent to him, “there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.” The Greek is, perhaps, better translated, “Among you stands one…” implying that this “one” is already there – that they can, and have, seen him. Imagine the charge of excitement that could have pulsed through the crowd that heard those words! “Here?!” “Now?!” “Among us?!”
This is the news of the Herald: that the One who is to come is very near. It is a message that should start a process of faith and preparation for the fullness of time with which the very air is pregnant now. Jesus is among us; Emmanuel, God-with-us, stands with us – in the market, in the school, in the office, in the cities and in the farmland – waiting to be noticed and welcomed with joy.
There is a famous story about Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. A reporter went to interview this amazing woman among the sick and suffering of India’s poorest streets. Mother Teresa told her that she did not do interviews but that she was welcome to join her as she went about her day’s work. The reporter witnessed Mother and her sisters care for people so sick and deformed and debilitated that they barely seemed to be human – they did this all day long. At the end of the day, this reporter had to ask Mother Theresa how she could continue day after day after day, visiting the terminally ill: feeding them, touching them, wiping their brows, giving them comfort as they lay dying. And she said, "It's not hard, because in each one I see the face of Christ in one of His more distressing disguises."
In this season of Advent, as we are spiritually preparing ourselves to be ready for Jesus as he comes at Christmas and as He comes in glory, we are challenged to see what John the Baptist saw, what Mother Teresa saw: Jesus in his “distressing disguises. St. Paul gives us some assistance in our task:
Brothers and sisters: Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterances. Test everything; retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil.
We “test everything” when we open ourselves up to noticing God’s touch in the smallest of places: in a friend’s request to talk for a moment; in a kind smile walking across campus; even in a quiet voice crying out to us.
This Jesus who is already standing among us can be found – if we are willing to look. Where do we look? We look in those places where Jesus wants to be – not among the rich and powerful or the beautiful and influential. Rather, we find him in the distressing disguises of the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives and the prisoners; they are the refugees, the immigrants, the bereaved, the aborted, the condemned, the lonely, and the lost. These may not be the places we might want to find our Lord, but nevertheless, He is there – “one among us, whom we do not recognize.”
The pay-off here is not great, in the world’s terms; the poor and brokenhearted have little to offer in return. But that’s not what it’s about, really, is it? What it is about is recognizing that Light – the same Light that John attested to; the same Light that shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome; the same Light that points the wise to a simple stable in a tiny hamlet named Bethlehem. It’s all about the honor we give to Him – not the other way around. It is about seeing in a little child the Lord of Lords; about knowing the simple preacher from Nazareth as the Son of God; about recognizing the Crucified One as our King. Jesus stands among us here and now – truly present in this Eucharist. We have heard the words of the herald; we have opened our eyes of faith to those around us. Now, we are called to see through the distressing disguises in our lives and know that One who calls us to perfection – ready for that coming of Christ.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Twenty-four years ago, I would perk up every time this song came on the radio. All the hottest pop singers were there to sing "Do They Know It's Christmas?" I even taped it off the radio and tried to identify each singer as they sang their line. "Band Aid" was a phenomenon, and it was the beginning of a few years of "awareness pop" that swept the airwaves (with "We Are the World" and "Hands Across America" soon to follow). Yeah, it seemed that in no time we would solve the worst problems facing humanity.
Today, George Michael has less hair; Boy George is apparently going to jail for a little bit - again; and Bananarama is nothing but a memory (wait - "Banana-what?"). People continue to die in Africa; the chasm between the rich and the poor continues to widen; and we continue to wonder when it will all end.
Pope Benedict joins us in this struggle. John Allen reports:
Arguing that the current financial crisis illustrates the failures of an economic approach “turned in on itself, lacking any long-term consideration of the common good,” Pope Benedict XVI today insisted that the struggle against “the cruel forces of poverty” must be the heart of any effort to promote global peace.
Facing chronic poverty, Benedict appealed for a sense of moral outrage: “Effective means to redress the marginalization of the world’s poor will only be found if people everywhere feel personally outraged by the injustices in the world, and by the concomitant violations of human rights,” he wrote.
Among other things, Benedict denounced escalating expenditures on weapons, called for greater attention to a mounting global food crisis, and insisted that efforts to curb child poverty in particular represent an urgent priority.
The comments came in Benedict’s annual message for the World Day of Peace, observed by the Catholic church on Jan. 1. The theme for the pope’s message this year is “Fighting Poverty to Build Peace.”
The message was presented this morning in a Vatican news conference.
Benedict stressed that he was not calling simply for new structures or policy measures, as important as they are, but also personal conversion.
“We often consider only the superficial and instrumental causes of poverty without attending to those harbored within the human heart, like greed and narrow vision,” he wrote. “What the fight against poverty really needs are men and women who live in a profoundly fraternal way and are able to accompany individuals, families and communities on journeys of authentic human development.”
Benedict argued that the mounting global financial crisis reveals a lack of sensitivity to the common good.
"Personal conversion" for the "common good." It's a call to awareness, and in that awareness we are called to act - not just to make ourselves feel better, to assuage our conscience, but to make others feel better: clean water, adequate food, stable governing structures, and just sharing of the world's resources. "Do they know it's Christmas?" They will - as long as we know it.
Friday, December 12, 2008
Rocco reports that overnight Cardinal Avery Dulles, SJ, passed away. A true American and true Catholic, Dulles followed in the tradition John Courtney Murray in presenting the Catholic faith to his American world, always remaining faithful to the Church. He authored more than thirty books and countless theological reflections in his long and brilliant career. May God grant eternal peace to this faithful son of the Church!
My grandmother said that if you listened to stories about Mother Maria for nine weeks straight without interruption ... or if you said the rosary for nine days straight without your mind wandering once ... or if you walked to one of Mama Marushka’s shrines in the woods for nine nights in a row -- nine being the number of months Blessed Mother carried the living Christo before giving birth to the Light of the world -- that if you would do any of these, that Blessed Mother would appear to you and answer any question you might have about how to live on earth fully ensouled.
But my grandmother also said there was a shortcut. Need. That any human being needing comfort, vision, guidance or strength was heard by the Immaculate Heart ... and thus, Blessed Mother would immediately arrive with veils flying ... to place us under her mantle for protection, to give us that one thing the world longs for so: the warmth of the mother’s compassionate touch. I know you and I have seen many statutes of Our Lady, lovingly made, erasing all her Semitic features or her Asiatic, Inuit, Nahua, Polynesian, tribal European, Celtic, African, indigenous ones. I don’t believe this was meant as a racial preference. Perhaps in the beginning, “whitening,” as in ancient alchemical poetics, was merely an attempt to show that whiteness and purity are often associated in much “Western” imagination. So white-skinned. Blonde-haired, and our Mary Maria, Mir-yam, Guadalupe, over the eons became spoken about in more and more hushed tones too: She’s pure, you know. Demure. As they say, so content, so gentle, so quiet, so passive, so submissive.
Yet, I must say No. I say instead: Fire. I know, and I hope with deepest love that you do too, know the Mary, Maria, Mir-yam, Guadalupe of wilder heart, of long journeys with a blurred map, of night fires at the far encampment. Our Lady who, when all the apostles ran away ... she stayed. Blessed Mother, she who is renowned as the one able to wear the flaming, exploding fire lakes of the Sun. No demure little cabbage, that woman. No paltry, well-behaved carbon dot. No follower of worldly orders. Quite the contrary. Our exemplar. I’ve a little white porcelain Mary that some good soul hand-painted carefully in a factory of thousands of porcelain Marys on a conveyor belt ... tiny gold curlicues on the selvage of her mantle. And lovely.
But the Mother I carry with me everywhere is the woods-woman La Nuestra Señora, Guadalupe, she whose green mantle is fashioned of moss from the north side of trees ... and star shards caught in her wild silver hair ... and her gown is soft, coarse woven cloth with the thorns and flowers of wild roses caught in it, and she has dirty hands from growing things earthy, and from her day and night work alongside her hard-working sons and daughters, their children, their elders, all. La Guadalupe is no symmetrical thing with palms equally outstretched and frozen, but she is ever in motion. If there is emotion, she is there. If there is commotion, she is there. If there is elation, she is there. Impatience, she is there. Fatigue: She is there. Fear, unrest, sorrow, beauty, inspiration: She is there.
And she is demure in a sense, yes, but different from those who would fade her essence into an anemia: Yes, she is demure as in demurring to be contained and made small. And she is calm, yes, but not without will to rise again and again. Instead, yes, she is calm as the mighty ocean is calm as it moves in enormous troughs and pinnacles, its huge waves like a heartbeat: easy, intentional, muscular. And she is pure, yes, but not as in never going dark, never having doubt, never taking a wrong turn for a time, but rather pure, yes, as a gemstone is cut into a hundred sparkling facets ... that kind of pure, meaning gem-cut by travail, adventure and challenge -- and yet fully without a streak of dead glass in any facet. By the cutting, by means of the emery cloth and the finest polish ... instead of deadened, and despite all: still pure-fire bright.
Were I asked how one just coming to truly be with Our Lady might think about our Maria, Nuestra Madre Grande, I’d say, Think of her not in the ways you’ve been told/ sold. But, rather, seek her with your own eyes without blinders and heart without shutters. Look low instead of high. Look right under your nose. The exotic locale is not necessary. She is found in a shard of glass, in a broken curb, in a hurt heart, and in any soul knowing or unknowing, yet crazy in love with the divine mysteries ... and not quite so in love with mundane challenges. Yet, she is there. Everywhere.
Do not accept vacuous, vapid words or images of her. Untie the Strong Woman. She’s been waiting for your special touch. I often think of Guadalupe, Blessed Mother, with regard to an illustrated novel by Jonathan Swift that carried a picture of Gulliver, the traveler, pinioned to the ground. Gulliver had become a quasi-prisoner of the Lilliputians, a tiny people only 6 inches high. They critiqued Gulliver, among other things, for being in several ways “too big.” So, they tied him crisscross over all his limbs, and took him down with ropes then wrapped around brass nails and driven into pallet and ground. The tiny Lilliputians stood on Gulliver’s chest and felt they had tied down the leviathan, the behemoth. But Gulliver just simply sat up ... and all his bonds burst, and all the tiny Lilliputians fell off, tumbling into the grass. The giant lumbered off with the trivial rope-strings trailing behind. The Lilliputians shook their heads -- as usual -- trying to make sense of the Gulliver figure that was, in form, similar to themselves in body ... but in an entirely other way, so very unlike themselves.
I think many can understand this push to pare down the numinous, the unfamiliar, the unknown. What is truly divine mystery can be overwhelming at first. Yet it would seem in a culture that likes to minimize true magnitude of talents, for instance ... and to magnify the minimus, “the little man,” that is, the flimsiness or meanness or not well- formed qualities of matters ... that it is not only our calling, but our troth, our sacred promise given from the very first moment we ever saw the soul be assaulted in anyone, by anyone ... to untie the Strong Woman now. And forever.
Way too often, the only relationship we’ve been taught/told/offered to have with Blessed Mother ... is either none, through silence about her rich bloodline with us ... or else one in which we must agree to bind her down into a small and handle-able form ... diminishing her, by making her be the quiescent “good girl” ... in phony opposition to having another woman, The Magdalene, be the less quiescent “bad girl.” These are distortions of both women’s origins and gifts. Untie them both, then. I have listened to some few theologians talking about Our Lady as though she is an appendage to a group of historical facts. Neither is she, as some charge, a superstition. She is not an obedient building made of cement, marble or bricks. She is not to be used as a length of holy wire to bind us all into docility, severing the other hundreds of traits given by God for being beautifully and reasonably human. She is not meant as a fence, but as a gate.
Who Protects Whom? An Ironic Story
I remember a New York Times book reviewer scorning an author who had urged readers to ask Blessed Mother for guidance. I have never come closer to getting on an airplane immediately, flying to New York, pouncing on that so-called critic’s crate-for-a-desk, and calling for a plague of frogs to take over her entire everything -- including, as the old fairy tale “One-Eye, Two-Eyes, and Three-Eyes” told, that whenever the criticizer would speak from that day forward, lizards and toads and snakes would drop from their lips.
Ai! I was almost more horrified by my own horrible reaction than by the critic’s crummy take on supplication and Blessed Mother. Almost. Yet, I’d understood Guadalupe to say into my heart at that moment, something like this: “All are mine whether they know me or not, practice a devotion or not.” And that too, that oceanic generosity of the Mother -- so unusual in a culture that uses war and death terms for most everything -- that turned most of my ire into better understanding of the attitude I must try to take. For knowledge, for peace, for mercy. And this too, I believe, suddenly being inspired to strive to do/ be grace, not just receive it, that kind of sometimes startling intelligence, can occur when the Strong Woman is untied.
I feel I was called to the priesthood as a little child. A priesthood that perhaps does not exist for me in this world, and that was/is to take her and her works and through her that of her precious Child into the world. So I take mi Guadalupe to various gatherings, retreats and churches, some of which are, but some of which are not Roman, and who are kind enough to ask me to give the sermon or make space for me to heal and bless others with my hands during that set-aside time in a temple or temenos. I tell about her world, her life, her daughters and sons, and always there is at least one someone who says, “We don’t believe in her.” Or, “How can you believe in her?” And I say I do not believe in her. I know her. Face to face, skin to skin. Mi madre. She is my mother."
This is the Guadalupe I think you know of, or sense, or want to know, or are very close to for years now; one who is joy-centric and sorrow-mending, one who is present in every way. And in so understanding that pull to the Holy Woman, we do untie the Strong Woman. I pray strength into your hands and heart ... and inspiration and daring -- and fire -- to lift the Great Woman away from whichever Lilliputians have tied her down into more manageable form ... on any of the pathways you travel. No matter which dissertation or diminution she has been tied down by, she, greater than any Gulliver by far ... the moment we ask for her, see her, converse with her, love her … she gracefully rises up, pins flying in all directions.
With much love, some levity,
and certainly deep longing, together,
let us all sit up too,
let us make all the pins fly too ...
untying ourselves as we untie the Strong Woman.
May it be deeply so for you.
May it be so for me, also.
May it be so for all of us, ever.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
But, if Advent was a movie, who would be the star of it? Mary, certainly; Gabriel? Joseph? Well, today, we see that John the Baptist would be right up there, and, today he gets the greatest praise ever - from the Son of God, no less!
Traditional Jewish belief at the time was that the prophet Elijah would precede the coming of the Messiah. This Messiah would usher in the new Reign of God. This is the connection that Christ makes with John in the gospel we hear today. John preached the nearness of the Reign of God and the coming of Jesus. As Christians we know that the Reign has begun - Jesus told us so - but it is a kingdom that involves us.
We are now the heralds of Christ's coming.
We announce the presence of the Reign.
We do it when we show compassion and forgiveness. We do it when we reach out to the poor, the lonely, and the oppressed. We do it when we work and speak against injustice.
This year, we get to be the stars of Advent. We are the new heralds of Christ. Do people feel the nearness of God's Kingdom when they are with us? If so, then we too receive praise from Jesus, as did John.
And that will make for an "excellent Advent" for us!
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
First, Scott Miller's Catholic Youth Ministry blog has been a great resource for me in my own ministry. He's a good friend and a dedicated Churchman, so, here's to you, D. Scott.
Thom, at Ad Dominum is another favorite visit of mine. While I don't know if I always agree with him (often I do, though), he has a Gospel heart, and his reflections are always challenging and thought provoking - which is a good thing. A young man who loves his faith enough to be a gadfly sometimes - just don't drink the hemlock, Thom!
Another place I like to visit is The Curt Jester, which provides a humorous look at our faith and culture with an apologetic eye.
For its simple faith-joy (I bet the Germans have an actual word for it!), I like Journey of a Catholic Nerd Writer. It's always great to see young people excited (or re-excited) about their faith, and I love the good writing too.
Finally, I'd like to recognize the guys at Catholic Dads, since any help our fathers can get is helpful. It's wonderful to see the love and faith that fatherhood has given to these fellas.
There you go - pay 'em all a visit; it's worth your while!
Now, pay it forward. The rules, from Bosco:
* Each Superior Scribbler must in turn pass The Award on to 5 most-deserving Bloggy Friends.
* Each Superior Scribbler must link to the author & the name of the blog from whom he/she has received The Award.
* Each Superior Scribbler must display The Award on his/her blog, and link to this post, which explains The Award.
* Each Blogger who wins The Superior Scribbler Award must visit this post and add his/her name to the Mr. Linky List. That way, we’ll be able to keep up-to-date on everyone who receives This Prestigious Honor!
* Each Superior Scribbler must post these rules on his/her blog.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Ever said that as we head into Advent? It's a common Christian intention for the season of preparation for the celebration of Christ's birth. We hold off decorating for a few extra days; we save the Christmas music for as long as we can; we break out the wreath. But, somewhere along the way, those good intentions fizzle, or are swallowed up in the hustle and bustle of the world's onslaught. Despite all those good intentions, the "Christmas spirit" catches us anyway.
It's like a conspiracy!
Here's a video - from a movement - that might help us put things in perspective:
A voice says, “Cry out!”
I answer, “What shall I cry out?” (Is 40:6)
Sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all you lands.
Sing to the LORD; bless his name;
announce his salvation, day after day. (Ps 96:1-2)
The conspiracy has already begun!
Monday, December 8, 2008
Does his prayer sound familiar? Ever made that kind of prayer yourself? I sure have. See - there is no "trick" to praying. It is simply asking God's presence to make a difference in your life - whether you're a teenager or a bishop.
The bishop was asked about Americans and the faith worldwide. He said that the strongest Catholic countries are in Africa and South America, where parishes are much like American churches of the 1940s and '50s.
Finally, the bishop was asked about his own spiritual practice.
He said he finds it easy to pray when he walks outdoors and that Christian music helps him focus on his relationship with God.
Others pray when they drive, find renewal in spiritual reading or spend time in adoration of the Eucharist. He said everyone should look for what works best for him or her.
"I ask for God's grace to make the right decisions and do the right thing," he said.
By the way, the "American Church of the 40's and 50's" that the bishop says was so alive back then was one in which the entire parish community was involved. The family's life centered on parochial life - the dinners, the fairs, the schools. It was a time when Friday night Stations of the Cross, Eucharistic Adoration and weekly Confession were not just "cute" things people did; they were part of the life-breath of being Catholic. Immaculate Conception was a day off for most people too! We still have these things...
Mary prays today, "I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done unto me according to your word." Simple prayer: "I ask for God's grace to make the right decisions and do the right thing." Good enough for Mary -good enough for a bishop - good enough for us!
Saturday, December 6, 2008
Although Catholic schools have been gradually closing for decades, the concern became more acute a few weeks ago when enrollment figures were collected from the schools that serve nearly 20,000 students in primarily kindergarten through eighth grade.
Overall, enrollment is down 5 percent, the equivalent of 1,200 students or four full schools. That is twice as great as the steady 2.5 percent declines in past years. The problem was most acute in the city, where the loss was as great as 7 percent, and less so elsewhere, where the decline was 3 percent to 4 percent. The economic downtown has been a factor in the decline, O'Brien said.By the end of the school year, the archdiocese will owe an estimated $9.3 million for insurance premiums that it can't afford. O'Brien said the archdiocese will go into the red and will have to raise the money, perhaps by finding properties to sell.
"We don't want panic," he said yesterday. "We want everyone to understand what the situation is and then come to some just solution."
The enrollment declines fit into a national pattern, particularly in urban areas, where the old neighborhood parish, founded by waves of immigrants years ago, has largely turned to educating children from poor, non-Catholic families. With fewer nuns and priests who had essentially worked for free, the schools had to raise tuition to pay staff.
Baltimore's Catholic schools - like those in most American dioceses - have provided quality education for our children for a century and a half, but in today's economy, along with declining emphasis on faith education from parents, these schools are struggling. The Archdiocese has been forced to look now at closing some parochial schools. The emotion that surrounds these difficult decisions can lead to hard feelings between parents and the Church. However, situations like these require both faith and reason. What is best for our children - all our children - the children of the Church?
Jesus sees the crowd, in their hunger for faith, and he is "moved with pity" - the Greek word Matthew uses is "esplanknisthe", and it literally means that Christ's guts were wrenched. The decisions that we must make as a Church can be like that, but the response is the same that Jesus gives to his disciples: pray. Pray that more young men and women see the value of Catholic education for their children, and that they find that worth the sacrifice.
Friday, December 5, 2008
The caganer is also a reminder to us not to be caught off guard when Jesus returns. Even the blind were able to recognize the healing power of Christ when he was among them. We who have eyes to see, ought - and not get caught with our pants down!
Thursday, December 4, 2008
It's a bold venture - one that can be fraught with hardship and trials (some of which are more humorously disturbing than others!). However, it is also a venture undertaken in faith, and this faith is that firm foundation that Jesus tells his disciples about in today's gospel. I know that I will be praying for the success of NET NY, as I am sure many of Greg's cyber friends will be as well.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
I want to find the movie and see it again (actually "go see" it now). Just recalling it gives me joy. Why? Because of what it symbolizes. Babette's feast was a gracious and gratuitous gift of love - a gift of herself - in which she almost completely loses herself for the sake of the meal and her guests. It is eucharist.
Today, Jesus "loses himself" for his people, turning to them and with generous abandon feeding them until they are satisfied. It is the "feast of rich foods" that Isaiah envisions, and it continues for us in the Breaking of the Bread at Mass. Advent is our time to prepare ourselves for the Feast that God prepares for us, and we are called to the Table even now.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
Here is a boy - no one knows how old, or where he comes from - who simply refuses to grow up. He flies about, carefree and cavalier toward the world, and he invites other children to join him in his rebellion against adulthood. And yet, we cherish him as a beloved childhood memory.
Peter convinces Wendy and her brothers to run off with him to Neverland and enjoy great adventures, oblivious to the dangers and excited about confronting pirates. But even so, Wendy realizes that growing up is part of life and she must return home to the real world. We are happy to see her reunited with her family, but we also mourn the loss of that carefree world she leaves behind.
It is something that we all must wrestle with - growing up, maturing, call it what you will. It is a necessary part of life. However, there is still that part of us that misses those carefree, naive days of our childhood. Is that what Jesus is calling us back to in today's gospel? Not exactly. We must grow up; we must mature. But, we should also keep a child-like sense of what is possible with God in order to fully unlock the power of our faith.
Isaiah mentions the Gifts of the Holy Spirit in the First Reading. These are gifts that do not come simply at Confirmation, as if God has held them in store for us. Rather, they are given to us at Baptism, and the merest child has them. That is what Jesus is referring to, I think. That as we grow older, we might feel that faith and the fear of the Lord are only "kids' stuff" and we are too sophisticated for them. However, when we open child-like eyes - eyes ready to be surprised and amazed - it is then that we see the real power of God at work.
Advent is the time to re-open our eyes - to return to the child-like wonder that we shared when we were young. It is not a return to Neverland ...
... because we never really left.
Monday, December 1, 2008
My visit to Disney World last year showed me the power of a shared experience in breaking down these barriers. There were disabled people, young people, old people and people of many languages and cultures, all enjoying themselves together. The Brazilian woman who rode Aerosmith's "Rockin' Roller Coaster" with me didn't care who I was as she screamed and cried when we took off at breakneck speed.
That's a vision of the kingdom - God's holy mountain, where all are welcome and belong - not because of anything we do, but because of our connection with the God who calls each of us.