Monday, August 31, 2009

A day in Dayton...

I spent the day in Dayton today.

Monday is my day away, and I decided to get away today.

I was at Panera Bread for breakfast--I'm coming to the conclusion it's the perfect combination: good pastries, good egg-and-bacon (or sausage) breakfast sandwiches, and good coffee*--plus free wifi!

I hung out there for a bit, then headed over to the bookstore to browse a little. Then I saw "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince"--I'm growing more and more impressed with the Harry Potter series, for reasons I will explain shortly, if don't forget!--then over to the "Fox and Hound" in Beavercreek for a beer and dinner. More free wifi! I just got the bill so I'll sign off shortly and head home.

Why do I like Harry Potter more and more?

Well, two things in particular:

1) The stories deal with evil in a sensible way--evil is real, neither minimized nor cartoonized. It's something that faces us all, and can seduce us if we're not careful.

2) The stories deal with character and virtue. What did Dumbledore--the headmaster--say at the end of movie #4? "The time is soon coming when we must choose between what is right and what is easy." The characters in the stories, particularly Harry, must choose to do very difficult and painful things, in pursuit of what is right. What's more, Harry frequently leads others to a greater virtue than they otherwise would have attained without his example and encouragement.

These are two excellent things for any stories or movies to emphasize, for any audience. Major kudos to J.K. Rowling, and the movie makers, for this.

* I've found a lot of places either have good coffee, and not much for breakfast--such as Starbucks or Winans; or else they have a great breakfast, but poor coffee--such as First Watch or Bob Evans.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

What defiles (Sunday homily)

(This is from my notes...)

We heard about rituals in the Gospel. We might wonder what they were all about, and where they came from. They came from God himself, who gave his people, at Sinai, his Covenant, which included a lot of details rules and rituals that were designed to help his people both learn how to be holy, and how to show his holiness to the world.

We have rituals for the same reasons. Whether it's what you do getting up in the morning, or at work, or in our faith, we have rituals that remind us who we are, and help us focus on our purpose. We dip our hands into the holy water coming into church, to remind us of our baptism, for example.

The problem is making more of them than we should. For example, if we gave someone a hard time for not getting holy water as he or she came into church. That was the sort of thing I remember arguing about with some other kids in 5th grade--do 5th grade boys still argue about such things? In my case, it was actually over which hand I used to cross myself: I'm left-handed, and the other guys made a big deal about me doing it with my left hand!

The Pharisees made them too important; and that got me thinking, are there ways we do that--making our ways, our rules or preferences, more important than what God wants?

That got me thinking about a conversation I had a couple of years ago. We were talking about how there are more and more Spanish-speaking Catholics around us, many are "below the radar," and to reach out to them, to serve them better, we might start having some hymns, or prayers, at Mass, in Spanish. The reaction was very negative: no, they should learn English. I said, as a citizen, I'm in sympathy; but as a pastor we must provide care for them. What's more important? I think its true, however, that were we to do that, there would be a lot of negative reaction. Still, does God prefer English to Spanish? You see the dilemma, and it isn't resolved. The day may come, or maybe it's here.

The real kicker in the Gospel is what our Lord goes on to say--about what defiles us. Not what comes from outside, but from within. What it suggests is that these things find a home in us--we are more at home with them than we may like to admit. Moreover, we may not even recognize them for what they are. In my own life, I cannot always recognize my own weaknesses--I have blind spots--I often need others to help me realize what they are.

That's where the sacrament of confession is so helpful--we have the help of God's grace, as well as another person, the priest, to examine ourselves, and root out these things that defile us.

Did you notice how many of them involve the use of words? How easily a harsh word or an innuendo can be uttered and do damage. It reminds me of a story about St. Philip Neri, who was renowned as a confessor and something of a practical joker. One day, someone came to him in confession, and confessed to telling tales that caused harm. So St. Philip said, I want you to take a pillow up to the church steeple, rip it open, and scatter the feathers. Then come back to me.

The person came back, and said, I did as you asked. St. Philip said, OK, now go collect every feather. Every feather! I can never do that! Just so, St. Philip replied, neither can you gather up all those words that caused damage.

That cuts me, because--as you may have noticed, I'm a talkative person; and I've said the wrong thing, or said things the wrong way, so I know I will answer for that one day.

The Good News is that while what comes from within is what defiles us, there is something we can receive to make us pure again: the grace of the Holy Spirit.

It is in being filled with that grace that we can displace these things, and root them out. As we have greater reason to feel complete and at peace, we have less reason to be envious or pick at others. The Holy Spirit will help us see these things for what they are, and be less at home with them.

In this Mass, we might ask Christ to help have the courage to confront these things, and to be open to the Holy Spirit so his grace can help us overcome them. Not defiled but purified by his grace.

Kennedy 'legacy'

This will probably provoke some folks. There are folks who have a tremendous attachment to the Kennedys and the sort of New Deal, Irish Catholic identity associated with them. As a subhead on a column by Joel Achenbach, in the Washington Post said, "It is hard to explain the Kennedy mystique to anyone who never experienced the tumult of the 1960s."

Yep--it is hard for me to get it.

We have heard so much about Sen. Kennedy's legislative legacy.

I'll concede that my own political philosophy is skeptical of government power to remedy all ills--so I don't have that much appreciation for the substance of his accomplishments. That's not to say the government has no role; but where Sen. Kennedy and many others, usually bearing the label "liberal" or "progressive," are more likely to seek a government, particularly a federal-government, remedy, others of us think other remedies may do better. Also, those of us who are conservative or libertarian see other liberties eroded by such measures--whereas our progressive and liberal friends will either downplay those threats, or else downplay the liberty we see at risk. Private property rights and rights under the Second Amendment, for example.

All that said, I will readily give Kennedy his due for actual accomplishments in legislation: he was very effective for his causes. And I cannot bring myself to believe he did not act out of a sense of duty to others and to country.

And yet...(you knew it was coming)

There are aspects of his legacy that are troubling, to say the least! What is hard not to find outrageous is how these are dismissed as mere "flaws," that somehow do not form part of the whole picture:

> Chappaquiddick.

The story is well enough reported, you don't need me to recap it. Kennedy behaved very badly: a young woman died, Kennedy clearly did very little help her and failed to report the whole incident. More troubling: the high-and-mighty Kennedy got off very lightly where ordinary people would have been subject to more legal consequences. Still more troubling is how those who pay him tribute and report the matter seem to have forgotten about the death of Mary Jo Kopechne and the suffering of parents who lost their only daughter.

This would be bad enough--but there is the astonishing allegation, by a biographer sympathetic to Kennedy, aired on NPR's "the Diane Rehm Show," that one of Kennedy's "favorite topics of humor" was jokes about Chappaquiddick.

> Working with the Soviets against President Reagan.

This shocking story has been around for a number of years, has been reported in reputable outlets, and not denied. In 1991, a London Times reporter, going through the newly opened Soviet archives, found a memorandum detailing how Sen. Kennedy made contact with Soviet authorities, proposing they work together to oppose President Reagan's approaches on foreign and defense policy. How in the world the great champion of justice (as we are told Sen. Kennedy was) can make common cause with the head of the Soviet Empire against the leader of the Free World--and still be considered a great champion of the downtrodden--is beyond me. Can anyone explain this?

> Abandonment of the unborn.

The claims of liberalism and progressivism to be the great champions of the weak, vulnerable and forgotten have rung hollow with me because, whenever I listen to the righteous rhetoric, I make the mental note: "...except for the unborn." Those who will say, "but you conservatives can be hypocrites too"--okay. My point is that progressive rhetoric stressing defense of the least will not ring true until it includes the unborn.

At one time, Senator Kennedy understood this. Here's a letter he wrote, back in 1971:

"While the deep concern of a woman bearing an unwanted child merits consideration and sympathy, it is my personal feeling that the legalization of abortion on demand is not in accordance with the value which our civilization places on human life. Wanted or unwanted, I believe that human life, even at its earliest stages, has certain rights which must be recognized – the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grow old.

"On the question of the individual's freedom of choice there are easily available birth-control methods and information which women may employ to prevent or postpone pregnancy. But once life has begun, no matter at what stage of growth, it is my belief that termination should not be decided merely by desire. ...

"When history looks back to this era it should recognize this generation as one which cared about human beings enough to halt the practice of war, to provide a decent living for every family, and to fulfill its responsibility to its children from the very moment of conception."

Of course, Sen. Kennedy took a different path. Kennedy has been a proud and aggressive leader to defend legal abortion across the board, to fund it with tax monies, and to do the same with "research" that destroys embryonic human beings.

In 1987, he famously took to the Senate floor to denounce the nomination of Judge Robert Bork to the U.S. Supreme Court, and in his scathing attack on the man, he said in "Robert Bork's America" women would be forced into back-alley abortions. Judge Bork's nomination, of course, ultimately was defeated, and Justice Anthony Kennedy (no relation so far as I know) was confirmed. Justice Kennedy provided the crucial, fifth vote to uphold Roe v. Wade in 1993; and when asked later, Bork said he would have provided the fifth vote to overturn Roe.

Kennedy is widely credited with tipping the balance against Bork; he, as much as anyone other than the five justices who cast their votes, ensured the survival of Roe and abortion-on-demand in this country to the present day.

Of course, what is so disturbing is that this has not been deemed a scandal by the Church hierarchy in the Archdiocese of Boston. Sen. Kennedy has been warmly embraced by the Boston Church all these years, leading up to the funeral Mass yesterday--in which the rubrics for a funeral Mass were disregarded, in the presence of the Cardinal Archbishop of Boston. Why were the prayers of the faithful so focused on Sen. Kennedy and his political achievements? Why was there a eulogy--at all--let alone by President Obama?

One set of rules for the high-and-mighty, another for the rest of us.

> Assaults on women. Another shocking feature of Kennedy's life that strangely seems to have fallen down the memory hole is how he has treated women in his life. In 1990, the late Michael Kelly--an acclaimed journalist who lost his life in Iraq--wrote a searing profile on Kennedy for GQ Magazine. It's a long piece, but two episodes are detailed that should deeply offend anyone:

>Trying to pick up a couple of congressional pages outside the Capitol. They were under 18.

> Assaulting a waitress in a restaurant in drunken stupor, in the company of Sen. Chris Dodd.

Why is it that none of this is deemed to tell us anything important about the man? No, what we are told that matters is he was a very powerful and effective legislator, and because he helped enact a lot of legislation that brought a lot of change (all true), this is the main story of who Kennedy was.

I think the picture is more problematic, for the reasons I cited above. Somehow, I think were it anyone but a Kennedy, the remembrance would be more muted.

What do you say?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Yesterday, our beloved auxiliary bishop, Carl Moeddel, went to his eternal reward. Today, the longtime, famous senior Senator of Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy, went to his. I have no idea how God will judge either; I hope for mercy for my own soul and for theirs as well.

Bishop Moeddel was much loved; he had a common touch and was warm--he liked and enjoyed being with people. I remember him both as a presence in the seminary--he lived there while I was there--and especially because I received the sacrament of holy orders through him, insofar as he ordained me a deacon. He ate meals with us at the seminary and everyone enjoyed talking with him. He was a parish pastor for many years before he became a bishop, a fact I appreciate more, now, than I ever did as a seminarian. Many remember him for using a good amount of chrism when he administered confirmation, for being cheerful and and engaging. I remember him helping me out at Mass, when the thurible gave me trouble, and I recall him saying in a homily one time: "you don't have to come to Sunday Mass--on one condition: that you have nothing for which you are grateful."

There is much talk of Senator Ted Kennedy's legacy. As someone who worked in politics, I delighted in opposing him on nearly everything, and I respected his skill and effectiveness. The causes he trumpeted have had few better advocates. I admit his rhetoric could be so stirring--what a gift he had! I'm so sorry he used it for so many terrible causes.

One of his singular accomplishments--among others--must be the defeat of Judge Robert Bork as a nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court. Perhaps he would have been defeated anyway; but I think Kennedy may well have tipped it. As a result of his success in that matter, there is almost no question this saved Roe v. Wade--which imposed abortion on demand on all 50 states--from being overturned. Kennedy, as much as anyone, ensured the continuation of abortion-on-demand to the present day.

We might recall that at one time, early in his political career, Sen. Kennedy was prolife. He wrote a stirring letter--which you can find on the Internet if you want--condemning legal abortion and vowing to defend both mother and child. One wonders what might have been had Kennedy kept to that path.

A thoughtful 'disagreement' and my thoughts in reply

My post, below, about possible changes in the Mass, drew an interesting comment from a parishioner. I found the comment thought-provoking and started writing a response; eventually, I decided it deserved a separate post.

I'm not putting this comment out here to criticize it; others may be more critical than I am, that's up to you. My own response will follow. I'm not "debating" or arguing with what "Anonymous" said--my comments aren't a "rebuttal"--but a "response," which allows for the very likely possibility that Anonymous may agree with, or at least find fruitful, what I say. Or not! S/he can speak for her/himself.

Here's the thing: a lot of folks likely see things as Anonymous does. And there are folks who genuinely advocate just plowing ahead, and folks like Anonymous will have to come around. I've been accused, rightly or wrongly (I think wrongly, but who knows, I could be wrong!), of favoring that approach. In any case, I'm more interested in trying to be reasonable, to discuss the matter, and maybe win folks over, at least somewhat. In any case, I liked this comment, even if I don't see things the same way, and I thought perhaps sharing it, and my response, might be edifying:

What goes around, comes around. I find I am now reacting as those who 40 some years ago reacted negatively to the then changes of the Mass. I found the changes of the past uplifting, freeing and a means to better worship Our Father, Son and Spirit in heaven.

Now, I find myself wanting to keep things as they have been since those changes. I am acting as the naysayers of the past have. I do not want to go back to Latin, to the priest facing away from us, or receiving communion on the tongue.

The most disheartening part of all this for me, is not that the changes are occurring, but that they are happening with a blame on the past changes as being done erroneously.

I believe the Holy Spirit was working in the church then as she is now. I feel for the priests who are stuck in the middle of doing what they are told, even if the parishoners don't agree.

I liked the idea that I was more a part of my church and it's worship, than a mere observer and found that my reverence at and for the Mass was intensified when those long ago changes were made. I am balking at the changes now, because that is something I don't want to lose.

Somewhere, there is a midpoint and that is where I have to believe the Spirit is leading us. Feelings are not wrong, they just are and can't or shouldn't be denied or explored. It is ok to feel the changes are not good for oneself or the church and to speak that opinion. Granted the church is not a democracy where we get a vote in how things should be, but it is not a dictatorship either - or at least I feel it shouldn't be.

God wants us to come to Him, but to come to Him with love, happiness and peace, not with a scorecard of following every directive that comes out of the parish office, the diocesan office, or even the Vatican without thinking. He gave us free will for a reason. He wants the love that we return to Him to come from that free will, not written directives and prohibitions.

The church is important in the formation of the free will, but it is not the only influence that we need to consider. The church has never been and will never be perfect. It is striving to be so, as am I. But, I do not feel I am less in my striving by disagreeing with whether or not I say the word Yahweh or not.

I know I have touched on a lot of sore subjects in our current day church, and I can see a lot of hairs rising on the backs of some necks, but I felt I needed to say them.

I realize that this is your blog, Father, but by putting it out there, you are asking for feedback, and this is all this is. Yes I am a member of your parish and one who proudly graduated the Lay Pastoral Ministry Program of our diocese, and I truly feel for how you have to put up with people like me. But, all I am asking is that you not throw those of us who are having a hard time with the changes under the bus. I do not feel that is your intent, and just ask for your patience as we cope with thigs that are being taken from us without our consent.


I am glad you posted, and I like what you said and the way you presented it; I don't know that we see 100% eye-to-eye, but I don't see that you expect that; I don't.

A few thoughts come to mind, in no particular order, but perhaps it will of interest. I don't offer them as if I'm rebutting you; for all I know, you may largely agree with much of what of this. It's just what came to mind, and I thought I'd share in response:

> My own thinking and response to a lot of these issues has changed quite a bit since I entered the seminary, and since ordination. And that isn't because the seminary persuaded me to see things just as I do; in some ways, my own views have developed in different directions from my seminary training.

That's not a criticism of the seminary; just a detail that may counter any notion that I'm "doing what they tell me" or rigid or unthoughtful about it. (None of which you said; but I know some do say that.)

> There is a certain amount of "conversion" that takes place, and I hope everyone involved is open to that. As I say, I've changed my own views; and--this may surprise you, but--I can't say I "prefer" offering Mass in Latin. There are things about the experience I find very meaningful; and yet it has been difficult. It felt very strange, indeed, the first few times. I had to get past that.

When I began offering a weekday Mass in Latin, it was after people came to me, asking for it. Yes, it was something I thought worth doing; but I waited until it was asked for--and at that point, I think it was justified for that reason alone: if it meets their needs, how can anyone reasonably say, no, refuse them? They didn't make an unreasonable request--I think they should be heard.

Of course, someone may say, but what about those who don't like Latin?

My response would be, that they get their way the vast majority of the time. Of six weekend Masses, three are supposed to "never" have Latin. I put "never" in quotes, because I think I'd be a bit rigid to "forbid" it; and yet in practice, you will almost never hear a word of Latin at 4 pm, 5 pm, and 7 am, some at 9 am, and a little at 10:30 or Noon. The only "Latin" Mass is once a month, on Wednesday morning. And all this sidesteps what Vatican II actually said about including Latin in the Mass--which I'll leave for another day. But Vatican II never sought it's exclusion.

> I hear what you're saying about "blame the past." If my own approach has come across that way, I appreciate the feedback; that's not really my aim.

Let me try this: folks ask, as I'm sure you know, why is this happening? May will say, "but what about Vatican II"--meaning, as I take it, that they are under the impression that these "new" things somehow are contrary to Vatican II.

Well then a clarification is necessary. They are quite right to be concerned if their pastor seems hostile to Vatican II; and insofar as that conclusion is based on incorrect information, then fairness both to the Council, and to me, requires clarification about just what the Council did--and did not--say and do.

Yes, there are those who will explain the implementation of the Council in terms of "blame": you'll hear people say that people with an agenda "hijacked" the Council and took it where they, not the Council, wanted to go.

Well, as a matter of history, that's a fair question to debate. And I understand why some people say that. It may be an uncomfortable topic, and people may approach it with too much heat--but it's a fair question to examine, to see what the facts really bear out.

But what "blame" is being applied, is to bishops, theologians, the pope, etc.--not to the faithful who, after all, were responding to message they heard from the bishops and priests.

When I discuss this with folks, I often realize a nerve is hit: folks who basically are saying, "it was you (the clergy) who told us this; now you're telling me something different!" People listened, people trusted and followed, and I don't blame them if they are puzzled or hurt.

All that said, wouldn't it be unreasonable to expect that the first attempt to carry out the Council should stand unchallenged forever? After all, no one then claimed they were going to do a perfect job of implementing the Council. It would be entirely unreasonable to expect them to get it 100% right, even with the very best of intentions.

So it is only to be expected that at some point, someone will come along and look at what they did, and take a fresh look, and, yes, suggest different things.

To me, that's what's happening now.

Pope Benedict, in his "Spirit of the Liturgy," (written before he was pope), in critiquing the actual carrying-out of the Council and calling for changes, still was very clear in supporting the Council and the need for change. He was there, and part of it; and he was not one of the bitter-enders, on the "losing" side.

Not that you, yourself, are saying this, but: would not be terribly unreasonable for someone to say, that subject is closed, no one can revisit this? I take your reflective comments to acknowledge that that would, indeed, be unreasonable.

In other words, somehow we all must be able to approach this and say, how we celebrate the Mass, in light of Vatican II, cannot be a frozen, closed topic--we have to be open to "new" insights, including those that come from our great Tradition. After all, if there is one thing Vatican II was definitely not about is devaluing or dismissing everything prior. So "old" truths are at least as valuable as "new" ones, I think.

> You asked that I be patient. I agree, and I am trying. I'm trying to go slow. But here's the wrinkle; if bigger changes are really coming down the pike, I'm not necessarily doing our parishes a favor by a holding pattern. On the contrary, if and when they come, they will seem even more shocking than they will seem, if I've prepared the way.

> By the way, I don't feel I'm "putting up" with you or folks like you. Since you're anonymous, I can only react to what you wrote here--which I liked, even if I have a different view. Your approach is encouraging, not frustrating. What has been frustrating, even "agonizing," as I said in my original post, is when there seems to be no compromise, no flexibility possible.

Example: I've had people who said I was wrong even to offer a weekday Mass in Latin, for those who requested it. One person was so angry as to be insulting to me about it. Puzzling! I've had people say, very angrily, that Latin must never, ever be used in Mass; and I'm told some left the parish over that.

That is agonizing, because I'm left wondering, what "middle ground" is possible? Those who react negatively to Latin--without finding fault, isn't it fair to ask, should they have a veto? Others like it and find it edifying; don't their wishes count too? And words like "demand" and "never" don't help, it seems to me.

Meanwhile, the larger question remains: the Church is trying to be faithful to the Mass, to our Tradition--and we believe the Holy Spirit has spoken through all that, the entire tradition, including Vatican II. So Pope Benedict and the bishops are looking, reflecting, and adjusting; and when it filters down to the parish, it shows up in the sorts of changes you refer to.

So what do we do?

Well, that's enough for now, I have to go lead the Bible Study! But you got me thinking, Anonymous, and I appreciate it!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Reform of the Mass in our future?

This is interesting, provocative and important.

The New Liturgical Movement website links to an article that appeared in an Italian paper, il Giornale, which it, in turn, hastily translates. It also links a smoother translation appearing on the website Rorate Caeli.

What the article reports may be wrong, may be exaggerated, may come to far less than it may seem; it will surely cause a stir if it's even somewhat true. It has to do with possible changes in the ordinary form of the Mass--that is, the newer form of the Mass, as revised following Vatican II.

Here is an excerpt, as it appears at Rorate Coeli:

ROME The document was delivered to the hands of Benedict XVI in the morning of last April 4 by Spanish Cardinal Antonio CaƱizares Llovera, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship. It is the result of a reserved vote, which took place on March 12, in the course of a "plenary" session of the dicastery responsible for the liturgy, and it represents the first concrete step towards that "reform of the reform" often desired by Pope Ratzinger.*

The Cardinals and Bishops members of the Congregation voted almost unanimously in favor of a greater sacrality of the rite, of the recovery of the sense of eucharistic worship, of the recovery of the Latin language in the celebration, and of the remaking of the introductory parts of the Missal in order to put a stop to abuses, wild experimentations, and inappropriate creativity.

They have also declared themselves favorable to reaffirm that the usual way of receiving Communion according to the norms is not on the hand, but in the mouth. There is, it is true, and indult which, on request of the [local] episcopates, allows for the distribution of the host [sic] also on the palm of the hand, but this must remain an extraordinary fact.

The "Liturgy Minister" of Pope Ratzinger, CaƱizares, is also having studies made on the possibility to recover the orientation towards the Orient of the celebrant, at least at the moment of the eucharistic consecration, as it happened in practice before the reform, when both the faithful and the priest faced towards the Cross and the priest therefore turned his back to the assembly.

A few things to say:

> Note that this refers to something that happened in April--four months ago. These things move slowly. Currently, the U.S. bishops, along with bishops of all other English-speaking countries, are working with Rome on finalizing an approved, new, English translation of the Mass. This process has moved at the pace of a glacier, and is still not finished. God willing, a couple more years and maybe it'll finally be finished; and that I would not bet on!

Yet the Church, moving slowly, still moves.

I have no idea if anything will come of this. No doubt there will be those who will react very badly to this. They have reacted badly to the steps I've taken in some of these matters, although even my worst critics will have to admit, I haven't gone as far as some of these suggestions.

Still, it should be noted that the pope has definitely made moves in this direction in the liturgy. There can be no doubt at all that this is where he believes the Church must go; the question is, how does he intend to proceed? What is he prepared to mandate, what is prepared to suggest, what is he prepared to wait for patiently?

> I think it's very important that all Catholics, including all the members of our Piqua parishes, be aware of this.

I'll be totally upfront: I am making this known because I am well aware of folks who aren't happy by my approach to the liturgy. And I genuinely agonize over this, because I have no desire at all to cause them any pain, and yet how can I ignore the pope and bishops? How can I ignore what is so plain from the documents of Vatican II? I lack the skill, thus far anyway, to proceed on this without some folks being pained and disturbed; my hope is that it might help at least for people to see for themselves I am not making this up, this is not my wild idea.

> We must be patient.

There are those who want the pope, the bishops, and priests, to bull ahead, without any consideration of the feelings or reactions of those who do not see such changes as these as helpful. They find my small steps insignificant, even as those who object see them as huge changes. Once again, I really am trying to imitate Pope Benedict and follow his lead, making some changes, proposing others and using example rather than mandate, and proceeding patiently and methodically.

> What will I do as pastor? I'm going to continue talking about this, trying to apply the Church's norms in our liturgy, try to be no less nor no more flexible than a good pastor should be, try to address areas needing improvement in a way that is neither too abrupt, nor too pusillanimous.
Please pray that we will all work together in the right spirit: dying to self and following the lead of the Holy Spirit, as He guides us in His Church, through Peter in particular.

* Although this sounds odd, apparently this is a common way of referring to the pope in the Italian press and not meant disrespectfully.

Update (8/25/09):

Someone asked the pope's spokesman about this, and got what I'd call a qualified denial, which may mean (a) there's nothing to this; (b) the story may be accurate but incomplete; (c) the pope is looking at it but hasn't made known any decisions; (d) the Vatican wants to tamp down speculation about this for various reasons, one of which may be that whatever happens may be awhile.

I am reading about it, but don't have time to write about it. If you follow the links above, you can tap into what those sites are doing with it...

My Singapore Concierge

I play a pretend stock-market game called “Blogshares,” and a fellow player has a business, he shared some info about it, and offered to help me with my game if I posted a message about it. No cash payment! So for fun and as a favor to him, I’m posting some info:

He runs a concierge service in—of all places—Singapore!

This service is a perk the employer can offer the employee; and it enhances the company image. The traveling employee will be a little more rested and productive. I used to travel on business a lot before entering the seminary, and it can be exhausting. If I ever had to travel to Singapore, I'd sure benefit from this kind of service!

I’m sure, however, he provides this service outside Singapore. Not sure about Piqua, but if I find out, I’ll let you know!

Here’s something he sent me, which I’ll pass along:

Indra Brooks, Vice President of the International Concierge and Errand Industry believes, "The benefits of a concierge service accrue not just to the employees, but to the employer as well. In fact, evidence suggests that concierge services contribute to increased worker productivity, improved morale, and a hiring advantage in a tight job market. For an employer hiring competent people who want to stay, you need to offer something more than a 401(k) and health and dental. Those things are now standard, so what can you offer your employees above and beyond that to show them this is the place they want to work? A concierge service is an inexpensive way to do that."

You can find out more here at My Singapore Concierge located at

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Not so 'seeker-sensitive' (Sunday homily)

A lot of churches have been trying to be
what they call “seeker-sensitive.”

They will advertise “come as you are” services;
They’ll have fancy coffee available and comfortable seats;
the pastor will dress casual.

While some of that sounds strange to us,
we did just hire someone to market our school and our parishes!
There are valid lessons to be learned.

That said, we might wonder:
What would a marketing guru say about today’s readings?

She might say, “Paul, I wish you hadn’t said that about wives!”
Now, what Paul is saying is a “hard teaching”—
but in a way very different from what I think most people hear.
It’s not power Paul is talking about; you did not hear Paul say,
“Husbands, dominate your wives”—

No, Paul said, love them—as Christ does the Church.
In other words, die for them. Surrender for them.
That surrender cannot be one-way—
not women to men; not men to women.
Paul said: “be subordinate to one another
out of reverence for Christ.”

We’re not husband-and-wife, but as your pastor,
I’ve got a long way to go in learning that lesson in relation to you.
I apologize for my failures in humility and patience
and subordinating myself to you,
and I thank you for your patience with my weaknesses.

As I said—this is a harder teaching
than we may have realized at first;
Because that surrender isn’t one way—but mutual.
And words like surrender or obedience
do not usually sit well on our tongues.

Telling people that that’s what it means
to be a Christian—a Catholic—is not easy:
You don’t just show up once a week,
you don’t just put in an envelope, or follow certain rules,
or bring your kids for certain things;
no, being a Catholic is a total way of life;
it changes everything in our lives;
we make a total gift of ourselves to God and to Body of Christ!

That’s a hard teaching—but it’s who we are.
There is no other message we can give and be faithful to Christ.
But we invite people to follow Christ, not because it’s easy,
but because, as Peter says, where else can we go?

Next Monday, we start having RCIA
for those who want to be joined to Christ in the Catholic Church.
Next week, we have signups for Sunday Religious Education
for our children to follow Christ better.
Ask me about either or both after Mass.

When our Lord explained—as we heard over the past few weeks—
About the Eucharist being his real and true Body and Blood,
And that we need the Eucharist to have his life in us.

That was a hard teaching—they didn’t all accept it.
What he will reveal later is how this connects to the Cross:
The Cross is the Sacrifice of himself—
and we share in that Sacrifice—
we eat his Flesh and Blood—
through the Mass and the Eucharist.

And the connection to what Paul said is clear:
What Paul asks of husbands and wives,
Is what Jesus asks of us, in his role
as Bridegroom to his Bride, the Church.

He, for his part, goes first: he dies for us and all his life
and grace flows out of him, and into us!

And to make that more real, more meaningful for us,
We have the Mass and the Eucharist—
not just one time, but Sunday after Sunday.

Wives and husbands—it might work to tell each other,
or show each other, you love each other,
just one time and that’s enough.
But my guess is that it’s not enough;
you need to say and do it again and again.

That’s what Sunday Mass is for Christ and his Bride—that is, us.
That’s why skipping Sunday Mass is a mortal sin
if there’s not a good reason.

That’s why it is right that the Mass
calls for the very best we can offer.
Absolutely we put Mass first on our list of priorities—
And that’s why we have rules and boundaries
about how the Mass is carried out.
It’s both joyful but also serious business;
The Mass is a mystery we don’t even begin to understand,
and I include me and every priest in saying that.

The same advice Paul gave to couples applies here:
It’s not about power, it’s about dying to self.

As I said, I know I need to learn that lesson better, as do we all.

The thing is, we’re going to rip ourselves apart
over views on the liturgy
if we aren’t prepared to die to self,
and that includes our own likes and dislikes,
and instead realize that it’s all our task
to carry out the sacred liturgy,
but the pope and bishops,
and, yes, pastors—have a particular role to play.

Can we agree to subordinate ourselves to one another
as we submit ourselves to Christ?

The Good News is, this dying to self doesn’t lead to death—
but to new life.
That conversion—that transformation we experience—
is never pain-free,
but it is the most powerful thing that happens to us.
In a friendship; in a marriage; in a family; in a parish;
in our union with Christ!

In the Mass, at the climax, Christ dies—
pours himself out on the Cross—and on this altar.
Everything he is, God, man, soul, body and blood—
all his life and grace!—is poured out for us!

If we are truly ready, ready to do the same,
we come forward and take his Flesh and Blood on our lips,
united with him, one flesh.

What the Lord asks of us is so hard; and yet we say with Peter:
“to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life!”

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Notes on Romans 1-2

(These are my notes for my Wednesday night Bible Study--we looked at Chapter 1 last week, this week, Chapter 2...)

After his introductory comments, Paul launches upon an extended argument that will take up most of his letter. The progression of his argument is something like a standard Evangelistic sermon: humanity is lost; only God can save us; God has saved us by coming as Christ and dying for us; we must place faith in Christ and change our lives.

Let’s skip down to where Paul begins this argument—around verse 16 of the first chapter. Notice he refers to salvation in Christ, “for the Jew first, and then Greek.” Then he proceeds to speak about Gentiles; chapter one talks about the sin of idolatry and the immorality that accompanies it.

One of the questions one might ask is why make this link?

Well, two thoughts come to mind.

First: a lot of pagan worship in Paul’s time included immoral behavior: temple prostitution, for example, as well as the bawdy plays that told the story of the gods and goddesses, such as St. Augustine described in City of God. And the thing is, the stories of the deities of Rome and Greece included a lot of immorality: greed, lust, ambition, treachery, murder, deceit, rape, sexual perversion—you name it, you’ll find it in the stories of the pagan deities.

Because Biblical religion definitely ties moral conduct to religion—such that the prophets argued that without just and moral conduct, any religious observance is worthless, even offensive to God—we are surprised to discover pagan religion was not necessarily about morality!

Pagan religion was often about politics—i.e., you paid tribute to the god or goddess of a particular city or nation, or to the emperor, as a sign of loyalty. Pagan religion was also about appeasing the gods—paying your dues so they left you alone or so that fate didn’t fall too heavily upon you. Notice: many people still think of their religious practice that way; if something bad happens, they think it’s because God is mad at them.

There were also “mysteries” in pagan religion, which might bring you enlightenment or even some sort of union with the divine—but many such “mystery” religions came from the East, and were distrusted by the Romans and Greeks of the West. The thing is, moral behavior was not necessarily a requirement or component of all pagan religions—instead, it was part of philosophy: i.e., the Stoics.

The second thing is that turning from God to worship created things is a turning from light to darkness—so it makes sense to say that idolatry will lead to other immorality. This is the point Paul is explicitly making, although he cannot have missed what we just described.

One of the points we should note in passing; not to hammer the point but to respond to certain contemporary claims: there is no reasonable way to read Paul’s words as allowing for homosexual conduct as moral or an alternative to heterosexual congress. There have been active efforts to soften this aspect of Christian morality; and many fancy arguments are spun to show that Paul didn’t really mean what he seems to mean. But such arguments are extremely tendentious—that is to say, they badly twist the text in service of an agenda. Paul’s words are not obscure, they are clear in condemning homosexual activity.

Now, let’s also say that Paul doesn’t go on and on about it; it is one of many sins he condemns, and he makes clear that whether one is engaged in sexual perversion, or idolatry, or adultery, or self-righteous condemnation of others, or many other garden-variety sins we all plead guilty to, without Christ one faces the “wrath of God.” So while we object to distortions of Scripture in service of validating homosexual behavior, we must also object to overemphasizing this particular sin.

Next (i.e., in chapter 2), Paul now turns to the Jewish contingent he is addressing. In short, he says, “so you think you’re better than those filthy Gentiles? Not so!” The climax of this argument is the same that the Old Testament prophets made: the circumcision that really counts is inward, not outward. Such a person is, in Paul’s words, the “true Jew.”

We might recall that in studying the Gospel of Matthew, we saw that our Lord was neither embracing a restrictive Jewish identity—he wasn’t bashing Gentiles—nor was he hostile to Judaism; he was calling for a renewed Israel. He appealed to his fellow Jews to join him, to recognize him as the Messiah; he is both a son of Israel and also Israel’s Maker; and he prepares the Apostles to be the 12 patriarchs of the Renewed Israel.

Here we see Paul pursuing a similar line of thought—and we might keep this in mind for later parts of this Letter, where Paul will talk about Abraham, and works of the Law, and righteousness, and the Vine of Israel.

We might wonder—in all of Paul’s travels and reflection, how much he must have pondered this. How could have not have? A Pharisee of Pharisees, he calls himself; a zealous defender of Pharisaic Judaism against the Christians, until he is pulled short by Christ himself on the Damascus Road. He had so much to think about as he went on to Damascus—blinded by the light—and then awaiting the arrival of Ananias to explain what happened, and baptize him. How could he not have continued to turn this over in his mind, especially when he took the Gospel to his fellow Jews, and many rejected his message?

Monday, August 17, 2009

The How and Why of the Eucharist (Sunday homily)

This is my recollection of what I tried to say Sunday; I didn't have notes, just some ideas in my head I tried to develop. I did it twice, not exactly the same way each time...

1. In hearing the Lord's words about the Eucharist, we might ask two questions: how and why? The people who heard him asked the "how" question; we might add, "why"?

2. Why did God do this? If God had wanted to send a message to us, he'd already done that, through Abraham, the prophets, Moses...but clearly that wasn't enough. God's desire was to come and be with us; but not just for a visit--but to stay. And even that would have been enough, but God wanted something even more wonderful: that we have union with God.

3. Union with God! What can that mean?

4. We are a combination of body and spirit that we ourselves don't fully understand, but we only know ourselves and everything else, through that reality. So in becoming one with us, God chose to take to himself a body, and to have union with us, not just on a spiritual level, but physical as well!

5. Union with God! Suppose I called on some of you, and asked to you explain that? I can see by your faces you are not eager to do so! Who can explain this? All our attempts to describe this fall short. But one of the images we have, that comes from Scripture and the Lord, is the marital embrace; Jesus calls himself the Bridegroom and the Church, the bride. A man and a woman become one flesh.

6. At the cross, our Lord said, "it is finished." When translated from Greek to Latin, it was translated, "consummatum est"--it is consummated. That is an unusual word, which is used to describe a special moment between a husband and wife. One flesh. That means the Cross is the consummation of the marriage of God and humanity.

7. Wonderful! But so far we are simply specators; how do we share in that? That is what the Eucharist is. That is what the Mass is. The Eucharist unites us with two things our Lord did--the Last Supper, when they ate and drank; but there was no sacrifice; then, on Good Friday, there was the Sacrifice, but they didn't eat and drink. Only in the Mass are these two realities experienced together as one. The Mass and the Eucharist is how we become participants--one Flesh--with the Lord.

8. This is as good a time as any to talk about how we receive the Eucharist. We can receive on the tongue, which is the long-time traditional way, the universal norm of the Church, or on the hand which was allowed more recently as an option. There is something very humble and submissive in being fed on the tongue; as children, we can't wait to say, "I'll do it myself!"; so for us to be fed the Eucharist is a very humbling thing to do. If we receive in the hand, one thing we do is to make a throne of our hands (demonstrating by holding hands up high)--and I would suggest that, for a couple of reasons, this (hands high) is better than this (hands low). It's practical--I'm tall, and leaning way down for those who aren't isn't so easy!--but also symbolizing what we believe: doesn't this (held high) seem more like a throne? When Father Tom, Father Ang, and I, carried the Eucharist through Piqua, how did we do it?

9. Also, I have to say it's puzzling that sometimes people are chewing gum a few minutes before receiving the Lord; that seems an odd way to prepare to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord. We have an hour's fast, which isn't very hard; it used to be 3 hours, or all night. The idea is that some physical hunger teaches us spiritual hunger. We don't have to fast longer than one hour, but if we chose to do so, it might help us.

10. Many of you know what I'm talking about with that spiritual hunger. You may not have always been Catholic, or like me, you had a time away from the Church. As many of you know, when I was 19, I left the Church, joined another Christian church, and it was 10 years before I came back. It was hunger for the Eucharist, in part, that brought me back. I will never forget coming back to confession and the Eucharist after 10 years! And many of you know what I'm talking about. That hunger for the Eucharist is often what brings people to want to become Catholic, or to return to the Church.

11. And sometimes, I am sorry to see hands presented that aren't clean. No, I don't mean the marks of hard work; but just...not cleaned. We want to present clean hands and a clean heart to receive the Lord.

12. I do marvel at the mystery of how some--when you have a baby in your arms--how you manage to have one hand come out, somewhere, somehow! I don't know how you do that! But it is hard to receive the Eucharist that way, so don't be surprised if I help your cause by simply placing the Eucharist on your tongue; holding Junior can be hard enough!

13. As I said, we struggle to describe this awesome Gift of the union with God through his Body and Blood. We've tried for 2,000 years, in poetry and theology and song, to express it. Words fail us--they fail me! In the end, we are overwhelmed by this, and our only response--to God choosing to become one of us, and to give his Body and Blood to us to become one with us--our only response is silence.

What the Assumption means for us (Assumption homily)

(These are my notes, not necessarily my exact words...)

1. What we believe: Mary, at the end of her life on earth, was taken up, body and soul, into heaven.

2. Notice the importance of the body. Our body is not just a shell we leave behind, but part of who we are; if we go to heaven, while there we will await the resurrection of our bodies. This is why some things are sinful--because our body is part of our salvation (or damnation).

3. Mary is the ark of the new covenant; the ark in the Old Testament held the tablets of the law and the manna, and it was precious and God punished those who dishonored it; how much more Mary, who held the Word made flesh and the Bread of Heaven! Thus God was not willing to have her body undergo corruption. This was gratitude from a grateful Son to his mother, along with being conceived without sin. It was important to God that she be adorned with grace and beauty; and we feel the same, for example, when we depict Mary in artwork; we don't show her in drab or work clothes!

What Mary was in the incarnation, our church is now: the ark of the new covenant! So it is appropriate that, within our means, we make our church beautiful, and many generations have done so. It is fitting that our worship of God not only be about "doing the minimum," but also be about beauty.

4. We do the same with our own lives: that we will be arks of the new covenant, bearing Christ in our lives. What Mary is, God wants us to be; where Mary is now, we are meant to be. The Sacraments are how we do that.

(Sorry, I simply don't recall how I ended this homily--there ends my notes...)

Saturday, August 15, 2009

What will you hear tonight?

If you go to the Mass this afternoon or evening at your parish, what readings, prayers, topics and music will you hear?

Will it be:

Mass for the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary?

Or will it be an anticipatory Mass for Sunday?

In Piqua, it will be the Mass of the Assumption. Why?

Well, the Church assigns different solemnities and feasts different ranks. And there is no question that the Solemnity of the Assumption is a higher rank than the Solemnity of the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Ergo, the Assumption--in my reading of the rubrics--takes precedence all day today. Tomorrow, however, is Sunday, and that's when the prayers for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time kick in.

Why is there any question?

Well, almost all pastors, and those who assist them, rely on a booklet called the "Ordo," which is designed to gather in one place all the various bits of information one needs all year long about such things. Liturgical books don't always have the newest saints and blesseds added to the church's calendar, for example. The Ordo is very handy in that regard.

However, it was ambiguous regarding this question--it simply didn't say explicitly what I said. Nor did it say the opposite. If you read it closely, however, it says that Second Vespers (i.e., Evening Prayer II) for tonight is for the Assumption, not for Sunday, as it otherwise would be. That confirms what I said.

If pastors don't all do what I'm describing, why wouldn't they?

Well, this happens infrequently, and one tends to forget how it was the last time, say five or six years prior. Also, it will be confusing for readers and musicians, so it is easier to treat the Saturday evening and Sunday Masses the same. Also, the bishops caused some confusion when they created the rule that sometimes a holy day of obligation is not obligatory. I.e., Assumption isn't obligatory when it falls on Saturday or Monday--the rationale being that it's taxing if there are too few priests as there are in many places. I wish the bishops had decided that otherwise. To the minds of many, including, I think, many priests, "not an obligatory holy day" equals saying it's not a solemnity of the highest rank; but this is simply not so.

What about the Sunday obligation?

In my judgment, the Sunday obligation is fulfilled when one goes to the Saturday evening Mass, whether it's for Assumption or anticipatory for the next day. This is the case every time an obligatory day falls on a Saturday--if Christmas falls on Saturday, and Saturday evening Mass must be for Christmas, but it "counts" for either Christmas (that day) or for Sunday, the next day. No double-dipping.

If there are two obligatory days back-to-back, one is obliged to take part in divine worship twice at Mass, sometime between the vigil of the prior obligatory day, through the evening of the second obligatory day--i.e., over three calendar days. Since Assumption isn't an obligatory day, then there's no difficulty about "applying" it to Sunday.

I realize some will say, why isn't it simpler?

First, because when you have any sort of law that obliges people, you have to spell out the details so people know how the law applies.

Second, some of the complexity comes in providing exceptions and accommodations, which is because all these things really are for the benefit of the human beings involved--so accommodating people's weaknesses or work schedules and so forth is a good thing to do, to whatever degree seems reasonable.

Some will say, the Church shouldn't have "laws," but come on--do you have "laws" (you likely call them "rules") in your home? Your workplace? In organizations? Does our society operate without laws? So why expect the society and family we call the Church not to have need for laws and rules, when every other aspect of family and society requires them for good order?

Besides, God has laws--and while the Church does not equal God, the Church is an extension of God, acting with his authority. The Church is a unique entity, being both human and divine at one time; it is the Body of the perfect, sinless, Divine and incarnate Son, filled with the Holy Spirit--and yet its members are sinful human beings. A mystery, St. Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians! When the Law of God is written perfectly in our hearts we will have no need of any other law--i.e., the Beatific Vision! Until then, we need more helps.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Eucharistic Adoration (Sunday homily)

Sorry this will be brief.

This past weekend, all the priests decided to emphasize Eucharistic adoration in our homilies, and to encourage folks to be adorers in our 24-hour Perpetual Adoration St. Clare Chapel. My homily was kind of a mess on Saturday, I think it was better on Sunday morning, when I emphasized the first reading, and having strength for the journey.

This past weekend, we also had a new staff member--our parttime Director of Involvement and Development--introduced at the end of all Masses. And we said goodbye to two of our seminarians. And at 9 am Mass, a couple celebrated its 50th anniversary.

Somehow, I had to weave all that into the homily! I got most of it anyway.

Around 2, I stopped by a party for the same couple and visited with the family. After that, I swung by the Bethany Center, having a barbeque to raise money--and picked up the dinners I'd bought for the seminarians and me. They went with me to St. Boniface, where I was on the schedule to volunteer at bingo; the chicken dinners went in the fridge for later. I was home around 7 pm or so. The seminarians and I watched a great movie, "On the Waterfront," which is remarkable for many things, for good writing in general, for some powerful images of redemption and conversion (Terry, Father Barry)and the temporal consequences of sin (brother Charlie), and for a powerful sermon on the cross by Father Barry at the docks. It's so good I've quoted it on Good Friday. What a great image of a priest; however, we'd never tolerate a priest like that nowadays.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Thoughts on Health Care

I'm home, but still on vacation officially; doing a little business today, not much.

We're all talking about health care, and the legislation about it, here are my thoughts:

Why does health care cost so much?

1. It costs a lot because you get a lot. We not only get the best in health care in this country--better than anywhere else--we get the best anyone has ever gotten. It's so amazingly good and it's getting better at an amazing rate--and yet we've gotten so accustomed to that we forget what a wonder it is.

This part of the "problem"--is it really a problem? Every day it seems a new drug or procedure comes out that saves lives; medical advances that simply did not exist not too long ago. What's a "fair price" for something like that? How much did it cost to come up with it? If those who came up with it (and spent a lot on other avenues that didn't bear out--and thus netted little or no return on investment) don't recoup all their costs and then some, what will fund the next advance?

How much do we spend? In this article (biretta-tip to Instapundit) in Popular Mechanics--nothing against Popular Mechanics, but why isn't this sort of discussion happening elsewhere? All we seem to see on the networks is repeating talking points, either from the White House or the opposition. In that article, medical innovator Dean Kamen says we spend $260 billion a year on all pharmaceuticals: "That means all those vaccinations to prevent diseases, all those pills to treat diseases, all those pills to cure them so we don't have to treat them anymore. We spent in all branches of all our pharmaceutical suppliers, $260 billion."

By comparison, on tobacco? $88 billion; alcohol: $90 billion; soft drinks: $121 billion; professional sports: $409 billion.

So are we really spending "too much" on lifesaving technology? And the vast majority of Americans are getting the drugs and vaccinations and procedures they need.

2. It costs more than it should because of lawsuits.

Because of the threat of lawsuits, there is an uncertainty factor built into the cost of almost everything we buy and use. The more uncertain you are about possible, unforeseen liability, or even allegations of the same, the more you must pay in insurance to cover that. Medical malpractice insurance is very expensive. We have lawyers advertising nationwide, with 1-800 numbers, soliciting clients to sue over any and all medical conditions--and if you don't know you have a medical problem that can net you money, the lawyers are helpful enough to suggest them for you, in the ads. We have this advertising all over TV, and you're telling me there's no need to address the lawsuit lottery?

3. It costs more because someone else pays.

If you own a home, you get a bill every month for electricity. What do you do? You look at the bill and see if it's what you expect. If it goes up significantly, you try to find out: was there an increase in rates? Was your killowatt usage up significantly? Why? A heat wave? Too many gadgets and lights left on? If you want to cut your electricity bill, you find ways to do it, even turning your a/c a bit higher, and turning on fans.

Imagine, now, that you had "electricity insurance," and all the bills for your whole neighborhood went to the insurance provider; and then you and all your neighbors got a monthly bill for your "premium." Do you really think that would save you money? When the monthly "premium" began to mount, what would you do? You know that if you turned off your a/c entirely, and turned off the lights and sat in the dark, you'd save at best a little, likely too little to notice. Why? Because only if all your neighbors did the same, would it have a significant effect. Maybe if the government policed everyone's electricity usage--only that means hiring inspectors and administrators...

In fact, what happens now is even worse than this; imagine, instead, the bill for the premium wasn't even sent to you; it was sent to your employer. You never saw it, you only knew, generally, that it was going up. Gee, too bad for the employer--now back to the game.

This is how we do health insurance. And we have other constraints, built in, that are driven by desirable social outcomes, but which work against cost-control. Insurance companies can't price their rates based on whether you are male or female, even though they know one sex costs more to insure than the other. Imagine if automobile insurance were handled that way, but it's not.

My point is not to say we shouldn't have health insurance; or that health insurance shouldn't be handled differently from auto insurance; but that if we want to bring down costs, we might look at ways to have the user have a more personal stake in cost-control. Otherwise, it has to be down top-down, and that is not a terribly good way to do it and it inevitably leads to...

Rationing. As far as I can see, that is the only way this massive proposal President Obama, Congress, and the interest groups are all talking about, can meaningfully reduce costs. Because as far as I know, their proposal isn't addressing causes 2 and 3, above; therefore it can only reduce costs of care by giving less care.

I know, the President and his allies say they can wring out "waste, fraud and abuse." Hahaha. The government spends between $3-4 trillion a year; if that's all it takes, why can't the President and Congress come up with significant savings in the operation they, themselves, are responsible for? How is that working out?

Rationing means more people will suffer and it will mean more older people will die sooner. This is the sound basis for what the Administration's apologists in the media are deriding as "myth" and unfounded rumor. Is there any question that end-of-life care is extraordinarily expensive? And there's no question, many times they are doing too much. Why? Remember the lawyers? What the doctors and hospitals spend on extra care that has marginal value is cheaper than what they'll spend when the grieving relatives sue because they callously didn't do enough for grandma. That's what's at work with all those unnecessary tests President Obama lamented, rightly; he needs to talk to his trial-lawyer allies about that one.

But given the march toward euthanasia already, the extension of government micromanagement over the entire health care system is a recipe for a lot more of it, quietly and behind the scenes. How long before drugs that hasten death are deemed "treatment" because the patient chooses it? Of course, such choices can be..."encouraged"... That "choice" will certainly be cheaper, vastly so.

What about abortion?

This is the point that is now getting more mention; it's obvious the President's pro-abortion allies will insist on it, in the name of "choice." The pro-abortion faction isn't talking about it, and won't, until and unless there is a move to remove that from any eventual legislation. The prolife forces are talking about it, but it won't become a major thing until the legislation gets a little further along. It's coming, have no doubt of that.

So what's my answer?

As indicated, the lawsuit lottery and the problems inherent in billing a third-party have to be addressed; that would help. I suspect some legal reform would make a modest improvement, where the bigger savings would come from having actual users of health care pay more directly.

How? I'm sure others can think of better ideas, but it seems to me you continue to have users pay copays, you have users pay the more ordinary costs out of pocket, keeping "insurance" for the really big-ticket items. These things are happening now, but they aren't across-the-board. I've thought that health insurance might be better if it were more like life insurance: you build up equity over time. If it were portable, that might be worthwhile; that means changing the tax laws so tax benefits go to the individual, rather than his or her employer, as is the case now.

But as the article I linked above points out, paying more to get miracles is hardly a "crisis"; and in any case, the answer is an economy that is growing robustly and generating lots of good jobs. If real wealth goes up, we can afford more such miracles.

Our economy isn't growing, and the sorts of things President Obama has advocated have never been known to foster robust growth. Someone will accuse me of being partisan, but one can point to both Reagan (R) and Clinton (D) as periods of strong economic growth; that sort of growth would serve us well today. Unfortunately, Bush and (thus far) Obama have pursued policies that are weighing down the economy, and worse, creating uncertainty for investors.

What about the uninsured?

Well, my guess is that all those who are uninsured are uninsured for different reasons: many because of no work, or they work in jobs that don't provide health insurance. Again, a stronger economy, with more jobs, is key here; on the other hand, how can we provide folks insurance, at someone else's expense, in our present situation? Speaking most broadly, if you need to buy something you don't have, and can't presently afford, you need more wealth. That's where we are: we need the wealth of our entire society and economy to increase, and we'll be better able to afford more health insurance.

Supposedly, many who are uninsured are so by choice: they are young and healthy and figure it's worth the risk. I don't know if the facts bear that out, but it's likely to be true. I didn't care much about health insurance in my teens and 20s, and to the present, my health is great, so everyone else is getting his or her health care paid for by the premiums paid in my behalf.

I suppose one could enact a law, similar to what we do with automobile liability: if you drive, you must have proof of insurance or liability protection, so that in the event you cause harm, you can pay. But where I'd like to know more is real, carefully examined data on just how much such uninsured people actually "cost the system"--we're told this accounts for lots of built-in costs.

But is that actually true? Inquiring minds want to know. I have a suspicion it's less than is usually thought, because while individual stories are memorable, of someone with no insurance getting into an accident, or needing a life-saving operation, costing a fortune, I also suspect that simply doesn't happen frequently enough to represent that large a share of overall costs.

I'm sure there's more to say: now it's your turn.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

A few notes...

> Visited the restored Basilica of the Assumption in Baltimore on Saturday; this is the mother church for all U.S. Catholics, as it is the cathedral for our mother diocese. The church was designed by Latrobe, the same architect that President Jefferson selected for the U.S. Capitol. I offer no opinion on the merits of the restoration, as--I'm told--it involved removing stained-glass windows; but the newly restored basilica is beautiful. Perhaps folks want to offer comments pro and con.

> Had Mass at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More yesterday on the Memorial of St. John Vianney.

> Never did mention the church at Atlantic City, Our Lady, Star of the Sea; nice church, reflects some modifications made post Council. Those priests do a great job providing Mass and confessions for the folks in Atlantic City!

> Attended the Nationals-Marlins game at Nationals stadium in D.C. Only when I was walking in did I realize that while it was my first baseball game there, it was my second time there--I was there to concelebrate Mass with the holy father! Nats won, 6-4. The clean-up crew barked at us, get out of your seats, get going! while my friend was completing his score card. Has that ever happened to you?

> Following the news, and they must be saying in North Korea: "you know what? snatching those American journalists was a great idea! Look how well that paid off--first time a U.S. President came and paid court to our Dear Leader!"

> Met a couple of young men thinking about the priesthood, one who is soon entering, another who is going to check out a seminary. Just met them in the course of being with friends; great huh?

> After Baltimore (Friday), and several days in the D.C. area, I'm headed down to Virginia Beach to visit with friends there, tonight; then start back home tomorrow.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Mass over the bones of a saint

On Friday, I had the unique experience of offering Mass over the bones of St. John Neumann, bishop of Philadelphia.

If you travel to the Philadelphia area, find St. Peter's Church on the near north side; it's just up 5th Street from I-676, comparatively easy to get to; it has a parking lot, although I found parking on the street.

The shrine to the saint is in a basement chapel, which is fairly large, filling the entire basement. A nice number of folks came for the 12:15 pm Mass--before which, two priests were hearing confessions.

I'm sorry I have no pictures--I have an "antique" cell phone (meaning more than 3 years old) that has no camera built in. The altar is designed to accommodate a clear sarcophagus, in which the remains of the saint are on display. According to the parish web site, St. John's body is not incorrupt; his remains are vested, and a mask of his face covers the head. The priest who was the celebrant--I concelebrated--informed me after Mass that the remains were recently "redressed," and were thus examined at that time. He said some experts from Rome came for that, and it was a big deal. About the present state of his remains I chose not to inquire.

It occurs to me that for all the saints we have from this country, this is the first time I've offered Mass at a shrine connected to any of them; whereas I have visited shrines connected with saints in Rome. I shall have to consider such a tour.

Do you have any stories or information about shrines for our American saints? Please post them in the comments, especially if you've visited. I'm embarrassed to admit I don't even know where the rest of their remains repose. Something to look up!

St. Catherine of Siena, Great Falls Virginia

(I've been remiss in telling you about the sacred places I've visited on my vacation; I will, I hope, tell you about my visit to the shrine of St. John Newmann in Philadelphia before long; but here follows my experience of Sunday Mass in Northern Virginia.)

On the Lord's Day, I had the joy of concelebrating the Mass with Father Alexander Drummond, pastor of St. Catherine Parish in Great Falls, Virginia. I had heard good things, and also a friend of mine, who is not Catholic, asked about attending Mass with me, and then we'd visit afterward; I wanted him to have a good experience of the Holy Sacrifice.

Everything was praiseworthy, and I told Father Drummond I was envious of many of the things he had accomplished. His servers were very well trained and performed beautifully. He had so many for the first Sunday in August--he said, "they flock to this Mass." He had one very young fellow, Thomas, who was learning the ropes; apparently, Father has new fellows just show up, put on a cassock and surplice, and be guided by the older, more experienced servers--although he also has classes.

This suburban parish of 4,000 families has four Masses a weekend; I took part in the 10 am Mass, which was all in Latin, except for the readings, prayers of the faithful, and of course the homily. Everything else was in Latin, from the opening Sign of the Cross to the final "Ite, Missa Est." We did pray the prayer to St. Michael in English, but the closing hymn was the Salve Regina.

Father sang a few of the prayers of the Mass, but he was using the same, Missa in Cantu book I have, that provides all the prayers of the Mass, in Latin, set to chant; I use it at the 8 am Mass every first Wednesday of the Month at St. Mary, and his copy was well-thumbed; so I'm assuming he often chants the prayers. Those he chanted, he did so impeccably.

This Mass featured the assigned music for the opening, offertory and communion: it is very little known or understood that when we use hymns at this point--as the vast majority of Catholic parishes do--we are consistently avoiding what the Second Vatican Council, and the norms for the Mass, actually call for, which is Scripture-based texts set to chant. They can be sung in the original Latin, to Gregorian tones; or they can be chanted in English; at Masses with no music, you will hear the antiphon recited from time to time--this is the bare minimum.

At this Mass, they were sung by a cantor in Latin, in Gregorian chant--and that was done beautifully. No doubt, some would react negatively: they couldn't themselves sing along (and in fact almost everyone listened); and they wouldn't immediately recognize the words. But a program was handed out that provided both the Latin text and an English translation. Of course, listening is participation; and it would be a terrible mistake to reduce music merely to its words; music, rather, marries a meaningful text to a well-chosen set of notes, something I lack the talent to do, but others possess: and the combination is the true, good and beautiful all in one. So the fact that folks did not sing it does not mean they weren't participating; sometimes something is so beautiful, you simply listen.

Because, in fact, people did sing the other prayers of the Mass, in Latin, rather well: the Gloria and the Credo in particular. There is something deeply meaningful to me about praying the Creed in it's original words: the Councils of Nicea and Constantinople, from which we derive this Creed, published this infallible statement of faith in Latin and Greek, and we recite it in the very same words (with the addition of the filioque of course, but let us not tarry on that point).

Another feature of the Mass was the use of ad orientem--that is, while at the altar for the liturgy of the Eucharist and the communion rite, the celebrant faced the same way as the people, and thus all faced the Lord together; some will refer to this as the priest "with his back to the people." Of course, I have no idea what the folks of the parish thought about it, and no doubt those who dislike it attend the other Masses where this is not done. But those present seemed cheerful and spiritually nourished as they left Mass. There were a lot of children, including young children, at the Mass; while there was a hermetically sealed "cry room," there were plenty of young ones outside of it, and I did not notice any significant increase in vocal meltdowns at this allegedly less-engaging Mass.

At this point, you may be confused--you may say, "oh, you mean you concelebrated the older form of the Mass, from before the Council." No, this is the Mass as reformed after the Council, according to all the proper norms and rubrics, as provided for the very same sacramentary, or book of Mass prayers, used at every Roman-Rite Catholic parish in the world.

"But wait, Father, how can that be? You said it was in Latin, and the priest was facing the same way as the people--wasn't all that done away with by the Council?"

While that is what a lot of people believe, and were told, the answer is no; on the contrary, many are shocked to discover that, far from abolishing these things, the Council presupposed both that Latin would continue to be used, to some degree, and the Council said not a single word about the priest moving to the other side of the altar--i.e., the Council never called for that latter change. And even the post-Counciliar implementation of the new Mass did not mandate the priest stand behind the altar and face the people. Like the use of the vernacular, it was allowed as an option, an option almost universally implemented, to the point some now insist it is mandatory. But not so.

My friend, over breakfast, said he found it beautiful and spiritually refreshing: "it was what I needed today." But he asked what many ask: "why is Latin important?"

I gave him the following reasons:

1) It connects us, in an experiential way, to our formative roots. The liturgy is not a re-creation of the Last Supper; but an experience, in mystery (i.e., via sacramental reality), of all the actions of Christ that save us: his life, death, resurrection and ascension into heaven. The Mass is all this rolled into one, and more. That's why we don't do it in Aramaic or Greek, but we do it in Latin, because the Roman form of the sacred liturgy was formed in Latin--that is the Mass's original language, and remains so this this very minute.

2) Keeping Latin just a little alive in our experience and consciousness opens us up to a vast treasury of our patrimony which orginated in Latin. Of course, the written word can be translated, but poetry and music, not so well. When was the last time someone at a wedding or funeral asked for the Ave Maria to be sung--but in English? Why do they always want it sung in Latin? Because it's beautiful; and translating it undoes the beauty of the singular expression. This is why so much of our music hasn't been translated from the Latin; it has simply been left behind.

3) There is a value to praying a kind of sacred language, based on something observable in the human mind. Alongside all the advantages of having the Mass and other sacramental rituals in our own language, there is a downside--of approaching the liturgy, and the mystery it makes present, primarily with our intellectual function. When we hear words we understand, our intellect is engaged, and we "digest" the words and the ideas they convey. This is good of course; but the danger is in thinking the mysteries made present in the Mass should be approached principally in this fashion. In fact, we do well to approach these mysteries on various levels, the level of intellectual understanding being only one level.

In short, the danger is to flatten and make mundane the mystery. Someone says, "I don't like praying words I don't understand." But who can say s/he understands what it means to call God "holy"? We are kidding ourselves if we understand the meaning of calling him "holy" better than we understand calling him "sanctus."

My point being that using Latin--even with a translation handy--provides a kind of circuit-breaker that enables us to separate the experience of mystery from the apprehension of the mystery with our intellects; so that we don't just make the distinction in an abstract way, but we experience it. Learning, after all, isn't just a matter of being told something, or getting it abstractly, but by doing: you don't learn to drive merely by having the concepts and methods explained to you; you have to get behind the wheel.

It truly saddens me that there is not more openness to this. I wish more people could experience the liturgy as I did on Sunday, as I have many times before elsewhere. The very fact that a more familiar path is closed--the path of hearing and responding in ones own language--is closed, opens up new avenues unconsidered; just as you find if, while awake, you silence yourself and your surroundings, and close your eyes, you will, after a few minutes, find you are hearing things you seemingly didn't hear a few minutes before; or when you look up into the night sky, with all the artificial light turned off: you see things you never knew were there. I am convinced that many people would have similarly surprising discoveries in the liturgy where it is celebrated to a significant degree in Latin, and with more silence and dignity, less constant pressure for everyone to be saying something and moving about; but the resistance is constant, and the steps are small.