Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Palin doubles down on baptism-torture remark

I'd say Governor Palin has, in her follow up to her quip about waterboarding being "how we'd baptize terrorists," which she posted on Facebook:

Actions to stop terrorists who’d utterly annihilate America and delight in massacring our innocent children? Darn right I’d do whatever it takes to foil their murderous jihadist plots – including waterboarding.
Whatever one thinks of my one...-liner at the NRA rally about treating evil terrorists the way they deserve to be treated to prevent the death of innocent people, it’s utterly absurd for MSNBC to suggest that I could put our beloved troops in harm’s way, but we’ve come to expect the absurd from that failing network.
If you want to talk about what really harms our troops, let’s talk about politicians who gut our military’s budgets, or a president whose skewed budgetary priorities slash military benefits, or an administration that puts our vets on endless waiting lists for care that comes too late to help those who’ve paid the price for our freedom, or those who break bread with those who think it makes no difference how our military heroes died in Benghazi or anywhere else trying to protect America. Those actions are a heck of a lot more harmful than declaring an appropriate message our enemies should receive.
If some overly sensitive wusses took offense, remember the First Amendment doesn’t give you a right not to be offended. Perhaps hypocritical folks who only want Freedom of Speech to apply to those who agree with their liberal agenda might want to consider that the evil terrorists who were the brunt of my one-liner would be the first to strip away ALL our rights if given the chance. That’s why we do whatever we can to prevent them from killing innocent people. And for that, we should NEVER apologize.
Good Lord, critics... buck up or stay in the truck. And if you love freedom, thank our troops! Thank our vets! And thank those who have the brains to support them and the guts to defend what they have earned! (Emphasis added; and I broke this into paragraphs for ease of reading.)
So let's analyze Governor Palin's more extended defense of waterboarding.
She says she'd "do whatever it takes" and we should do "whatever we can." No limits, Governor? No boundaries?
Because you know what would really be effective? Don't torture the terrorists; they likely have received training and have been prepared for it. Why not torture their children? They'd be easier to capture, wouldn't they? Imagine how effective that would be: forcing the terrorists to watch while their own children were subjected to the cruelest things we can come up with. "Whatever we can...and NEVER apologize."
That's what we do if we "love freedom," right Governor? Because, as you say, the terrorists want to strip away "all our rights" -- so sacrificing only some is a good deal, right? And, after all, it's not our rights being violated, when we torture people, but the rights of evil terrorists (no quote marks; no disputing they are evil) -- and why should America, the Land of the Free, care about their rights.
Right, Governor?
At one time, I defended this woman. She obviously faced a hostile press and was treated very unfairly. I figured she was a better woman, with better judgment, than she's been depicted.
Could be I was wrong.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Sarah Palin is wrong (updated!)

"Waterboarding is how we'd baptize terrorists" -- Sarah Palin.

Governor Palin is wrong. Terribly wrong. But the flip reference to the sacrament of baptism is the lesser offense. Torture is wrong.

Update (4/28, circa 8 pm):

Here's another problem with Gov. Palin's joke about waterboarding being how "we" "baptize" terrorists...

I can readily see the al Qaeda types using this quote to say, no only does the Great Satan torture our brave warriors, but they also force them to convert to Christianity!

Think about that.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Slop from a 'scholar' about Saint Peter

While the whole world turns its attention to Rome, for the fascinating spectacle of Pope Francis -- joined by former Pope Benedict XVI -- announcing the Church's formal recognition that Popes John XXIII and John Paul II are saints, what better time for the vulgar media to free-ride on the bandwagon, so they can dispense their usual aren't-we-clever variation on Jack Chick's tired schtick.

So here comes the go-to dish for dilettantes, the Daily Beast, with an article by Candida Moss (What an apt name, given what follows!), announcing the discovery that, by gosh, Peter probably never got to Rome, let alone died there! Ms. Ross claims the evidence is "pretty thin."

On the contrary, it's very good. (Advice to Ms. Ross: if you're going to be supercilious about other people's dubious faith-claims, don't make dubious claims yourself.) So what is the evidence?

1. The Gospels, the Book of Acts and Paul's letters make clear that Peter was the leader of the Apostles and thus of the early Church. The textual evidence is so abundant. It's hardly just a matter of Matthew 16, where our Lord says to Peter, "Upon this rock."

2. In particular, the author of the column seems not to have  noticed two key details about the Book of Acts. First, that it really focuses on just two Apostles in particular: Peter dominates the first half, then Paul the second. Another detail: the Book of Acts ends abruptly...where? In Rome. Paul arrives there, and then it just stops. Many find this curious, and hard to understand. However, one perspective hasn't been considered: if you wanted to explain how the Christian community in Rome came to be, Acts is a great lead-up.

3. Why didn't Paul mention Peter in his letter to the Romans? There was a point when the Emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome -- this is referenced in the Book of Acts, and there are references in secular sources that seem to point to the same incident. In Acts, it is Paul himself who is told about this. As far as Rome was concerned at that point, Peter and the Christian community were Jews, as indeed they were. So, while we don't know if this is why Paul omitted mention of Peter in his Letter to the Romans, it's a very good reason for him to do that.

4. The mention of "Babylon" in Peter's letters shouldn't be treated so dismissively. The author fails to note that the same word is used in the Book of Revelation, where it is usually (although not universally) taken to mean...Rome.

5. Nor should the memories of the early Christians be dismissed -- which is what we call tradition. Before video, TV, and the printing press, how was truth preserved? By living memories, handed down. The tradition of Peter's presence in Rome is very ancient. It's quite true that later popes wanted to emphasize it, but it's factually false to say that all this emphasis on the primacy of Rome is a late development. Check out the letter of Saint Clement, who was a Bishop of Rome only a few years after Peter. No one disputes he was Bishop of Rome, and he clearly seems to think that gives him preeminence to rule on a matter elsewhere in the Church. Also recall what Ignatius of Antioch wrote about the primacy of Rome, circa AD 110, approximately 50 years after Peter would have died.

6. But now we come to the truly embarrassing part. We don't really have to look that hard for evidence Peter was in Rome -- his bones are there!

7. The case for the grave of Peter being authentic is extremely strong. When it was found again in the 1940s, after many centuries being lost track of (they knew it was down under the basilica somewhere, but no one was sure just where), it fit the exact descriptions of what it had looked like when last seen, with a structure built over it; and the basic grave, under all that, fit the description from the earliest tradition. Archeological work showed that the tomb had been a place of devotion all the way back to the 2nd century.

8. The bones were in the grave, but were in a special structure within, suggesting that someone feared they might be taken, so  they were put behind an additional barrier -- i.e., to give them special protection. They had, at one point, been wrapped in a very expensive cloth, which suggests they were an object of great veneration, moreso than just anybody's grave. The bones dated to the right time period and were consistent with someone from Palestine, of the right age. And, tellingly, the feet were missing. Why is that telling? Because of how Peter died -- by crucifixion, yet upside-down (very unusual). To remove the body quickly, before the Romans disposed of the body, they likely cut the feet and took the body away..

9.  As if all this weren't enough, the grave was marked! In Greek (which is what it ought to have been, if it dated from Peter's time): "Peter is within." Whaddya want, a affidavit from the funeral director?

10. Finally another embarrassment. Moss is duly skeptical about the motives of the Roman Catholic Church, for telling history its way; but why no skepticism about why Mr. Demacoplous tells history his way. He's a professor of Orthodox studies. Hmm....can anyone think of a reason why an Orthodox scholar might take the approach he does? Anyone? This isn't to dismiss either his honesty or credentials; but let's be even-handed here with the skepticism.

OK, so there you have what I offer as pretty strong evidence, taken together, for the tradition of Peter's presence and martyrdom in Rome being true.

The fact is, nothing Ms. Moss breathlessly describes as "new" is at all new.

Now, at first I thought, oh well, Ms. Ross is just unlucky enough to be someone the Beast asked to write something up, and she didn't realize the thicket she was getting into. But no! It's Doctor Moss. According to Wikipedia, Dr. Ross is "an English academic who is Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity on the theology faculty of the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana in the United States. A graduate of Oxford and Yale universities, Moss specializes in the study of martyrdom in the early Christian church."

So, to be fair, Ross has all kinds of degrees and credentials, more than I have. But in that case, her failure even to acknowledge what I've described above -- if only to dismiss it -- is that much more questionable. In particular, how can she not acknowledge the motives Orthodox bring to this subject, if she's going to do so much motive-mongering about why those power-hungry Catholics come up with their interpretations?

Someone might say, oh, you're just put off because she's so critical of the tradition. You're just a company man spouting the company line. Well, it's true, I am company man, and I am spouting the company line. But you could just as easily say that of Dr. Moss, right? So much for that.

No, I reiterate, what's embarrassing her is the poor quality of her argument. I realize it's a short article in an anything-but-scholarly publication. But, you know, she chooses to appear there. And, she is handles the "faith" beat. And this breezy, broad-brush approach is pretty common with her.

It would have only required a few lines in her article to acknowledge two things:

1. There's actually quite that supports Peter's primacy and connection to Rome, but there is also a long history of those who dispute this.

2. Those who dispute it have their own theological axes to grind, even while they dismiss the Catholic Church's argument as axe-grinding.

Saints John XXIII & John Paul II

Pope Saint John XXIII, and Pope John Paul II:
Pray for us!

From Maryknoll Fathers, NY, via Wikipedia

From Vianney Vocations Website -- go there to order this poster!

Friday, April 25, 2014

'Making saints': what's it mean?

It seems like everyone's attention is turning to Rome, and the upcoming canonization of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII. A lot of folks don't quite get how the process works, or what this means.

First, you have those who question whether they ought to be declared saints, or whether it's too quick. I think it's OK to ask those questions, although sometimes it's pretty clear what people are doing is using that to get digs in.

So, for example, there are those who say, maybe so soon after Pope John Paul II's death is too soon? That's reasonable. Interestingly, it's Pope John Paul II who, himself, made such a revolution in the process of announcing saints -- he named a huge number of saints, in comparison to his predecessors. There are those who reasonably point out that revolutions are exhilarating...until they're not.

Some of us remember Pope John Paul II's funeral, and the vast numbers of people who crowded Rome, and the cry that rose up: Santo subito!--roughly, "saint immediately!" So it may be that Pope Benedict took that to heart. I am as prone to cynicism as anyone, but I do trust Pope Benedict; particularly as I think he, himself, was one who was a little more cautious about "saint-making" than his revered predecessor.

Then there's the whole business of how various flaws or complaints about a pope fit into the business of him being announced a saint. I know people who say, I'm fine with John XXIII, with John Paul II, not so much. Well, of course, there are many today who would admit they were more at home with Benedict than they are, so far, with Francis. And that's OK; it's no different from what happens with parish priests.

But this isn't about those sorts of things. It's about sanctity, and thus about cooperation with grace.

So, for example, there are those who say of Pope John Paul II -- OK, he was holy and stuff, but he didn't handle the sex abuse problem very well.

Well, there's some justice in that, although that criticism often gets muddled because of a great misunderstanding about how the Holy See really works. I think it's fair to say that there was a slowness, and a huge missed opportunity. And it's very fair to wonder what Pope John Paul II and others in Rome knew about Father Maciel, the founder of the Legion of Christ, who turned out to have committed some terrible crimes: fathering children while a priest, sexually abusing some of those children, as well as seminarians, and cloaking all this in a carefully designed system of secrecy within his order. There is no getting around the fact that Pope John Paul II, and many others, at one time viewed Father Maciel as a very different sort of person. And if I never see another picture of the two, side by side and smiling, that'll be just fine.

Now if someone can really show that Pope John Paul II behaved in a corrupt or dishonorable way in all this, then bring that forward. Sadly, many of his critics are content to smear, rather than provide anything reputable. In other words, it's one thing to say that he was slow to realize just what a big deal this was; or to say that his strength wasn't managing details, but being an apostle to the world; or to say that he didn't want to believe such horrible stories about his friend, Father Maciel -- and that one reason he was was so high on Maciel and the Legion is because they seemed such a bright spot at a time when there weren't very many. But it's quite another to say that John Paul II was corrupt. I wish people who claim to be crusaders for justice on the subject of abuse, were really thoughtful about justice as it applies more broadly.

But all this raises a key point. To recognize that someone is a saint is not to say that person had no flaws. Nor is it to say that that person's life or career, if you will, was always marked by sound judgment. I think of Blessed Karl, the last Hapsburg emperor of Austria. Whether all his political decisions were sound I cannot say; but when the Church declared him a blessed, that was about his heroic holiness, not his political wisdom.

This is as good a place to make this point. There are those who have argued that Pope John XXIII simply erred in judgment when he called the Second Vatican Council. Now, many folks will react incredulously to that. And you don't have to believe it. But it's not a heresy to say it. Calling the council was a huge decision and its still having effects; and it will for awhile yet. Who knows but John XXIII might himself say he wouldn't do it all over again?

There's a lesson here: if things work out as we hope, heaven will be full of saints. And that increases the odds that -- if you and I make it -- some of those saints will include people we wouldn't have wanted to be friends with on earth -- and maybe we weren't!

Some of those saints are going to be people who belonged to the wrong political party (I mean that other one). They're going to include people who laughed too loud, or who made dumb decisions, or who had grating personalities (everyone loves Francis of Assisi now...what if he were your next-door neighbor?), or just rub you the wrong way. Speaking of Francis, he often wondered if he wasn't just crazy. A lot of saints had to endure being told they were crazy. And it's not irreverent to suppose that many some of them were, a little.

Remember, this whole thing is about grace! I'll bring up a point I often make: almost all of us humans are intuitively Pelagians. By that I mean, we generally assume that it's about our own efforts, either that's the way it actually works, or else that's how we think it ought to work. But saying that is a heresy. No one, not a single soul, will make it to heaven on its own merits. (We'll set aside debates about the human soul of the Son of God.) Sainthood isn't about being good enough, but being saved. Personal holiness is -- the Council of Trent taught dogmatically -- a product of divine assistance.

Wait, you say, what about our human cooperation? Guess what? The Church teaches that, too, is only possible because of...divine grace. It's not that human freedom isn't real; only that there's never a point where we can say, we didn't require divine assistance.

Which leads to this point: the Church isn't "making" anyone a saint. God does that. It isn't as though John Paul II and John XXIII are sitting in some ethereal train-station, waiting until Pope Francis gives the go-ahead, and then they'll be allowed to ride the celestial express right down to the front row of the heavenly chorus.

What Pope Francis will do on Sunday is declare what the Church has come to believe, after much prayer and discernment, is already true -- and this by God's action, not ours: that these men are saints.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Catholic teacher contracts: Archbishop Schnurr is right. Support him!

News item. A bunch of people have signed petitions that says the Archdiocese of Cincinnati is wrong in its recent revision of teacher contracts, spelling out much more exactly what sort of conduct, or dissent, will get those teachers fired. A crowd of sixty or so gathers downtown for a protest. The Cincinnati Enquirer had an article here. I saw it here.

Lots of tears and anguish about how unfair and unprecedented this is. One commenter on the Enquirer site, whose profile indicates she's around 40, claims she's been Catholic her "whole life" and had no idea the Catholic Church ever taught that sex between people of the same sex is gravely sinful.

Short answer? They're wrong. The Archdiocese is right. And the Archbishop deserves your support on this one.

I'm truly sorry this comes as such a shock to the lady whose comments I referred to. There's no question that in recent years, the task of teaching and explaining the Catholic Faith has been neglected, very badly in many places. That's why, for example, the Catechism of the Catholic Church was put together in the time of Pope John Paul II. That said, it may be she ought to ask several questions. Of her parents, and the priests and teachers she learned from: Did you teach me this? If not, why not?

But sympathy with the "no one told me!" cry only goes so far. Anyone who is an adult, who says, "you didn't tell me!" needs to look in the mirror when you say that. Exactly whose soul is it?

And if she -- or anyone listening in -- actually is in doubt about whether this is Catholic teaching, and has always been!, may I suggest you begin with the Catechism of the Catholic Church and simply begin reading. You can see where the footnotes take you, regarding the ancient sources of what the Church teaches.

Here's why these folks are wrong.

The Catholic Church is engaged in a mission. What is that mission? To teach and live the Catholic Faith, as she believes has come from Jesus Christ himself, through his Apostles. This Faith includes beliefs about God, about humanity, about how we ought to live, how we ought to treat each other, and what God asks of us in this life, and how we find our way to happiness in eternity.

If you are employed by the Church -- or you volunteer for the Church -- or you are "merely" a member of the Church -- you are part of this mission.

Very simple. No one exempt.

Have you ever been to a baptism of an infant in a Catholic Church? Recall what happens: the parents and godparents are asked to renew the vows of their own baptism; and it's made very plain that they are doing so in proxy for the child, and also, that they are to ensure the child will, one day, be ready to do the same. Unless you sleep through the baptism, there is no missing this. Catholics start talking about professing your faith as an infant.

Now, I can understand how someone who clears the snow from the parking lot, or who empties the trash cans in the classrooms after school, might say, I'm not here to help the Church's "mission" -- I'm here to do a job. And the truth is, not too many people are asking whether the person who shovels snow or takes out the trash agrees with Catholic morality or doctrine.

But who doesn't get that anyone who works with children becomes, to some degree, a role model and representative of the institution? And with teachers--teachers!--this should be blindingly obvious.

Wait, you say; we're not talking about just religion teachers, but all the teachers! What does mathematics or phys ed have to do with morality or dogma?

Oops, you made a false step there, without realizing it. If you are not a Catholic, it may be that, in your worldview, mathematics and history and phys ed don't have anything to do with morality and theology. And if that's what you believe, that's fine. But here's the thing: that's not what Catholic means.

One of the many things being Catholic means, is that all this (and more) fits together. The God of moral law is the God of natural law and laws of physics and natural selection and all the rest. And really, do I have to spell out how morality and sports intersect? How language and history and social sciences can be significantly different when viewed through the lens of faith?

Some people like to point out that these expectations are placed not only on Catholics, but even non-Catholics! How shocking!

It's not shocking. If you teach in a Catholic school, you're part of the mission of that school. Some jobs don't need to be held by Catholics; but every job needs to be held by someone who shares the mission of the organization.

Even secular institutions -- schools, non-profits, government agencies, and businesses will expect their employees to share in the "mission" of the organization. That's common sense. But when we talk about a religious body, there is a unique situation. This is an organization that believes it's communicating eternal truth, with the great consequences possible.

Now, I want to acknowledge another response many will make. Many of our Catholics are saying, right now, that they wrestle with some of these parts of Catholic teaching. They aren't on board with some of these things, so this hard line is awfully uncomfortable.

It's one thing to say -- as many do -- that they are "wrestling" with the expectations of the Church. When you come to Holy Mass, I don't ask for a show of hands about whether anyone has doubts, or questions, or has so far not found this or that teaching persuasive. Nor do I ask whether, at the moment, you are as faithful in observance as our Faith asks all of us to be. There's plenty of room in the Church for people to wonder, to question and to fall short. We're not a society of the perfecti.

But the controversial provisions of these contracts have to do with public actions -- statements and behaviors -- that contradict the Catholic Faith. No one is being called to account for uncertainties or reservations. If the principal -- or pastor! -- at Saint Cunagunda Parish isn't on board with the Church's teaching against torture, or abortion, no one knows...until they make it public. Then that's a problem.

And, at some point, this ought to be a matter of personal integrity. If I don't believe in the Real Presence, or in the indissolubility of marriage, or in the Apostolic Succession, and so forth...the Archbishop may never know. But I'll know. At what point do I take the initiative and say, "I can't do this any longer?"

(And just an aside. There are those who say, why aren't the clergy held to the same standard. We are. We swear an oath -- on the Gospels -- to uphold the Catholic Faith in its entirety.)

There's something else to mention here: the history of recent situations in which teachers, employees and volunteers of Church organizations claim to be surprised by what the Church expected of them -- just like the astonished commenter I mentioned above.

With some of these situations, involving teachers, and others given great responsibility, I'm skeptical of their claims that they were really "surprised" to learn the Church teaches thus-and-so...let's give them the benefit of the doubt. All right, you claim the whole thing was too murky and ambiguous? So what do you do?

You spell things out much more plainly, explicitly, and in detail. You do it in writing. You ask people to sign it. Crystal-clear.

Now, in all this, Archbishop Dennis Schnurr, and those who work with him at the Archdiocese, deserve great credit. I'm sure he, and they, knew this would result in complaints, unhappiness and protests. There will be those who use pressure tactics -- like petitions and marches and so forth -- to get the Archdiocese to back down, to give a little.

I am here to say I am 100% with the Archbishop on this. Thank you, Excellency. Please let me know what I can do to help you.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

'The heart of the heart of our Faith' (Easter Sunday)

(I had no text or notes for my homily last night or today, just a mental outline of where I wanted to go. This is my best recollection.)

Last Sunday, and this week, we've been focusing on the Cross. When we had Palm Sunday together, we saw how the Lord went quickly from being hailed as he entered his city, to hearing the crowds cry, "crucify him, crucify him!"

So, as I pointed out last Sunday, the Cross is the heart of our Faith -- and we looked at that on Holy Thursday and of course Good Friday.

When we come to this night/this day, we come, if you will, to the heart of the heart of our Faith. Because if there is no resurrection, the Cross does not save us.

Now, one of the words we often use in our Christian Faith is "mystery"--but we use it in a different way from how we usually mean that word in regular English. For our Faith, mystery denotes a divine reality that exceeds our comprehension; and we wouldn't know anything about it, except that with God's help, it's opened up to us.

And a good symbol of that came at the beginning of Mass (at the Vigil): it was dark outside, and the church was dark -- except for lights outside, and a few lights I couldn't figure out how to turn off. Before electricity, it would have been completely dark. Who would want to walk into the church in the darkness? A lot of us don't want to walk into our homes in the dark.

But notice what happened: the deacon led the way with the light of Christ! And as the light was shared, and we came in, there was a good amount of light, just from our candles. That's what Christ does for us. He gives light to the mystery of our Faith, and the Holy Spirit, which we receive in baptism, brings us into the mystery of God--we become part of it. We become true children of God. Not just creatures, but sharing God's own nature!

(At the Vigil I connected these to some of the images from the readings.)

Now, many of you know that I was able to visit the Holy Land earlier this year. And I was able to go to the place where our Lord died on the Cross, and nearby, where he was buried. A group of us priests had Holy Mass at the place of the skull; and a couple days later, at the tomb. Scripture describes how the tomb was close by, in a garden. The garden is gone, and all the hill that was around there was taken away, and a huge church was built over both the rock of Calvary, as well as the tomb. But if you go, you climb up steps to the top of Calvary, and then you go down, and around, to the tomb. In the centuries since, a structure has been built around it, and there are candles and lamps, and a kind of gate; and Greek monks who watch to make sure you don't behave badly!

So we had Mass there, and the altar was in the tomb; and we went in, two at a time, to receive communion on that altar!

Now, I have no doubt that was the tomb. But people can cast doubt, and I don't know that I could absolutely prove that's the tomb of our Lord. The real proof isn't the empty tomb--but the testimony of witnesses, including the eleven apostles who all saw Christ raised from the dead, and then, later in life, one by one they faced a martyr's death because they would not deny it. Only the Apostle John didn't die a martyr, because they tried to kill him, but he survived! But every one of them was told, in effect, just tell us the truth, and we'll let you live! And they responded, we are telling you the truth! And they died for it. As the great mathematician Blaise Pascal said, "I readily believe those witnesses whose throats are cut."

It was the lives of those eleven, and many more, that is convincing. And let me tell you the story of another tomb -- in Rome -- that is even more convincing than the empty tomb in Jerusalem. That is the tomb of Saint Peter.

Without going into the whole story, Peter's grave wasn't seen for a long time. Everyone knew it was supposed to be somewhere down under the basilica, but no one had seen the grave for centuries. In the 1940s, some workmen were digging down under the basilica, when they struck something. They dug a little, and found a stone painted red. Well, one of the things that had been said was a red stone marked Peter's grave!* They ran and got the holy father, who came down, and he authorized them to keep going. Eventually, they found the grave, and the structure of it matched what it was supposed to look like -- again, no one had seen it for a very long time -- and then they found the bones. At one point, the bones had been wrapped with a very valuable purple cloth -- very expensive. Why would someone do that? When they examined the bones, they were from the right time period, of a man from the Middle East. And -- a key detail -- his feet were missing.

Why is that important? Remember how Peter died? They were going to crucify him, and he said, I am not worthy to die as the Lord did--so they crucified him upside-down. And with a crucifixion, when you were dead, the Romans would just throw the body into the river. But the Christians wanted to rescue Peter's body, so they had to act fast. So, it appears, they cut the body down, leaving the feet.

Now, here's the thing: what business did a fisherman from Galilee have in being in Rome? It all only makes sense if he went there to tell people about Jesus Christ, risen from the dead! And these details show that he was there, and he died for what he said he witnessed! And not only that, there were Christians there who honored his bones (which you can see when you visit -- you can see them, in the tomb, in clear cases), in Rome, less than 30 years after the crucifixion! How did any of this happen, unless Christ rose from the dead?

But as I said, the most convincing testimony is a changed life. Those witnesses are gone, but generations have come and gone who bear witness to this Faith: he is risen! And you and I are included in that. But people will only believe if they see evidence of a changed life in us. They will believe if they see that we believe.

Well, do you?

In a moment, you can answer that question, as we reaffirm our baptismal promises. All over the world, people are doing what we're doing. Many of them do so in fear, rather than in safety as we do. But they are gathering to profess, he is risen, all the same. 

So what about you? Do you believe?
*And -- I am just remembering now as I write this, they eventually found writing that said, "Peter is within."

Friday, April 18, 2014

Why the Cross? (Good Friday)

One of the many graces of this day is the simplest: 
the time we take to face the Cross.

Did you notice we have no bells ringing today? 
One of the important things about Good Friday is silence. 

We need to be silent before the Cross, 
because the Cross confronts us 
with things we don’t want to face, but we must.

Maybe one of the questions we ask is why? 
Why did Jesus go to the Cross?

First, a very important point. No one forced Jesus to do this. 
As he himself said, when he was arrested, 
do you think I cannot call on my Father, 
and he will send twelve legions of angels? 
But then, how will the Scriptures be fulfilled in this way?”

Before the first word of Scripture was uttered, 
before the world began,
it was God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—
who chose the path that led to the Cross.

So we ask again: Why? Why this?

Last Sunday, they had the movie, 
“The Passion of the Christ” on one of the TV channels. 
It’s a very powerful movie, I recommend it. 
Yet I didn’t watch it; and I’ll tell you why.

It’s so awful to see what they did to our Lord. 
I just didn’t want to see that.
Yet on Good Friday, we must face it. 

When we say, as we do, that Jesus paid for our sins, 
do you realize how much he “overpaid”?

Saint Thomas Aquinas taught that 
because of the perfection of the Son of God, 
“Any suffering of his, however slight, 
was enough to redeem the human race.”

That means a mere scratch on his finger would have paid!

So we are still wondering: Why Lord?

Why? Because this teaches us God’s extravagant mercy. 
How can we question whether God will give, give, and give still more, 
when on the Cross he gave the maximum 
when the minimum would have been enough?

Second, when we see the ugliness of the Lord’s suffering and death, 
it’s a kind of mirror. 

We want to tell ourselves all manner of things about sin: 
it’s not so bad. It doesn’t really affect anyone else. 
And we often want to see the glamor and attractiveness of sin.

And then we come to the Cross. We see the truth about sin.

We look at our world, and wonder, why is there evil? 
Why does this country start a war with this one? 
Why do powerful people do such terrible things 
to hold onto their power? 
How can people be so indifferent?

But the truth is, 
evil isn’t something that falls on earth from the sky. 
Where does it come from? From the human heart. 
And if we’re not careful, next thing we say is, 
“it came from your heart—you—you’re the problem!” 
And the violence continues.

And so for that reason, God came to the Cross.

How many times has each of us said: “someone must pay.”

Someone did. And how!

Do you want revenge? Do you think you have it coming?
There’s your revenge. 

Are you ever angry at God?
There’s God’s response.

“By his stripes we are healed.”

Thursday, April 17, 2014

It's all about priesthood (Holy Thursday)

When we come to this evening Mass, 
as well as Good Friday and the Saturday night Vigil, 
we are at the heart of our Faith. 
The living, pulsing heart.

Just looking at what we do at this Mass: 
the priest washes the feet of several people,
reflecting what we heard in the Gospel. 
That stands out—so much so, 
that sometimes it seems to be the main thing.

Then we “have Mass”—the same Mass we always have, 
except usually with more solemnity.

Then, we have a procession with the Holy Eucharist, 
and we adore the Lord on the side altar, until midnight. 
And then, of course, we then begin our Good Friday pilgrimage.

But what connects it all?

The key idea is “priesthood.” 
But I don’t primarily mean the priesthood 
Father John and I received in our ordination. 
I mean the priesthood—of our Lord Jesus Christ himself.

He, and this Night, these sacred days, 
are the origin both of the sacramental priesthood 
Father John and I were privileged to receive, 
as well as the priesthood all of us receive in baptism.

This reminds us that when God foresaw—
before he created the world—
that humanity would turn from him, 
and would need to be saved and healed, 
the choice of how God might save mankind was entirely his. 

Think about that. 
He did not have to save us in the way that he did.

The plan could have been that on a certain day, 
God would just announce salvation. 
With an angel, or one of the prophets. 
Or, he might still have become human, through the Virgin Mary; 
but again, simply to give us the good news: “you’re saved.”

In that alternative history, 
there’s no Cross. No resurrection. 
No Sacrifice; and no Priesthood.

There wouldn’t have been a Passover. 
No Temple with its sacrifices. 
And what Isaiah and Jeremiah, Ezekiel 
and the other prophets would have said, I don’t know. 

But all that and more, from Adam forward, 
was a foreshadowing of what we recall this night.

And when I say “this night,” 
I mean a kind of three-night night. 

The darkness falls as the Lord keeps the Passover with his Apostles; 
when the darkness falls again on Friday, 
the Lord’s broken body is taken from the cross. 
And the night is broken when, in the dark of Saturday, 
Jesus breaks free of the tomb. 
When we gather here Saturday—again in the dark—
the deacon sings, “this is the night!”

As the first reading illustrates, 
Jesus and the Apostles were looking back to recall the night 
when God delivered his people from slavery in Egypt. 

But our Lord was much more looking forward: 
Not only the next 24 hours; even more,
He was anticipating all of us who would gather, year by year, worldwide, on this night, 
not in fear but with joy to say, “we are saved!”

When God’s people kept the Passover, 
before they would share the meal, the lamb was slain; 
and the blood was smeared over the door of the house, 
so that death would pass them by.

Do you remember the reading on Sunday?
Where you, repeating what the mob cried out, 
“his blood be upon us and upon our children”?

Sadly, this has been misunderstood all these centuries as a curse. 
But it’s a blessing! 
With his blood upon us and our children, we’re saved!

When the Apostles heard the Lord say, “this is my Body”; 
“this is the new covenant in my blood,” 
they were troubled and anxious.
They would only understand after the Cross and the Resurrection. 
Only after did they realize why Jesus said—to them: 
“Do this in remembrance of me.”

This is the night—the “hour”—of his high priesthood. 
Our priest prepared the sacrifice; 
he brought it to the altar; 
and then, after the offering was made, 
he went into the most holy place—heaven!—
to make atonement for sin. 

What about the Apostles? 
This night they gain their part in his priesthood. 
By washing their feet, our Lord showed them 
how to be priests for others, as He was priest to them.

Tomorrow’s liturgy begins 
with the priest prostrating himself before the altar. 
It always reminds me of my ordination 
when I lay on the floor and prayed, 
and heard the people praying for us.

But notice where it happens: 
This reminds me, and you, 
that my priesthood makes no sense without the altar, 
and above it, the Cross. 

And of course, it’s not just “my” priesthood. 
What you see me do is not just for me. 
You are not spectators. 

Our Mass tonight only has power 
because it is one and the same with the Mass of Jesus Christ—
his first “Mass,” which began this night, long ago, 
and climaxed with his death and resurrection:

One Mass, offered in time and in eternity, 
by one High Priest, for all humanity, world without end! 

In the old days, this altar wasn’t here, 
and so you would see the priest 
ascend those steps to that altar. 
Most of you have never seen that; 
maybe you would like to, or maybe you wouldn’t. 

But this too is something that has been misunderstood. 
Even if it seemed the priest was going up by himself—
even if the church was empty—he is never “alone.”

And yet, when the priest ascends to the altar, 
it is a powerful sign—including for the priest himself—
that there is but one priest, and one sacrifice: 
Jesus Christ, who is both.

When Moses ascended the hill 
to pray for God’s People in battle, 
he needed Aaron and Hur to hold up his arms. 

When our Lord ascended the altar of the Cross, 
his Mother and John and Mary Magdalene were there. 

When every priest ascends the altar, 
we are alone in one sense, but never alone in another.

And if you’re wondering why I’m reflecting on this with you,
it’s because I am your priest;
and this, of all nights, is when I need to reflect on that with you.

Father John and I desperately need reminders 
of what our priesthood means, 
because there are constant temptations to get off-focus. 

If we forget that it is about the Cross, the altar, and sacrifice, 
God help us, and God help you.

So when Father and I approach this altar, 
ask the Holy Spirit to help you see. 
We don’t particularly want you to see us. 
See the sacrifice. See the Cross. See the High Priest.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

It's all about the Cross (Palm Sunday homily)

On Palm Sunday, some priests don’t give a homily, 
because the readings are so long and intense.

But I want to offer some brief thoughts, if only to give you a breather.

So I offer you this to consider: there is no Christianity without the Cross.

If we try to talk about Jesus Christ only in terms of teaching, or healing, or kindness – 
without the Cross – we’re not talking about Jesus, but someone else entirely.

It’s all about the cross and our need for Christ. 
And that’s what our whole Lent has been about.
So – if you’ve come this far and not had a good Lent? Start now. 

Now, I might have made a different point: 
that just as Christ makes no sense without the Cross, 
so humanity makes no sense without God. 
Without God, we have no anchor, 
nothing to hold onto but our own uncertain selves. 

Yet that is what our contemporary society is trying to do: 
to understand ourselves without God. 

It won’t work; it will end in grief; but we’re trying all the same. 
By the way: this fully explains 
the growing conflict between what our Catholic Faith asks of us, 
and what the world insists is true.

Now, the world has one good indictment of God. 
We see human suffering and we want to know: where is God? 
It’s a question that haunts us.

Yet, without God, the suffering remains. Pushing him aside doesn’t help. 
There seems no way out!

This is why the one word 
God wanted to speak to humanity is the Cross. 
God on the Cross.
Right in front of us.

Face it. Embrace it. This is the only hope we have. 

You don’t have to come on Holy Thursday or Good Friday or the Easter Vigil, 
but I invite you to come. This is the heart of our Faith. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Assisi of Francis and Clare

Well, I'm back in the parish, and pretty much bounced back from jet lag.

So I think I should give you a wrap-up on last few days in Assisi. This will have to be brief, because I have to head over to church in a few minutes.

In this room, in the bishop's residence, is where Saint Francis came to the bishop and, in front of his father and others, renounced his inheritance and removed all his clothes and gave them back to his father. I'd always thought this happened in the town square -- probably because that's how at least one movie depicts it.

This is an ancient Roman temple, built before our Lord was born. It's now a church.

In the Benedictine monastery up on the hill overlooking Assisi -- where Saint Francis spent a lot of his time (it's where he preached to the birds, and rolled in the rose bushes) -- this cross is mounted on the wall. It was used by Saint Bernardine of Siena who preached devotion to the Most Holy Name of our Savior.

This is a statue of Saint Clare, in front of the church of San Damiano -- which is (a) the church Saint Francis rebuilt after our Lord called him to "rebuild my church" and (b) where Saint Clare and her community first gathered. This recalls the time Clare, seeing an army led by Emperor Frederick II toward the convent, went outside and held up the monstrance, containing the Eucharistic Lord. The army saw a blinding light and got the message.

Here's the church of San Damiano. If you look closely, you can see, in the stonework on the left, a smaller building before it was made larger. That's what Francis (perhaps with help) did.

Here's the cross from which our Lord spoke to Francis. It's now in the Basilica of Saint Clare.

Here's the table where another miracle associated with Saint Clare happened. The pope came to visit, and he invited Clare to say the blessing over the meal. When she did, crosses appeared in the bread that was on the table.

Here's the Basilica of Saint Francis. His body is buried here (we had Holy Mass at his tomb). This building was damaged during an earthquake in the 1980s, and some of the damage to artwork could not be repaired.

You may be wondering why I don't have more interior photos. That's because photography was barred most places -- officially, probably everywhere, but it seemed not to be taken seriously everywhere (that's how Italy can be).

And why is photography banned? Because camera flashes damage things. In theory, you could just say, "no flash" -- which some places I've been do say; however, I'm guessing some folks ignore that, so it's easier just to bar all picture-taking.

One of the sights I couldn't take a picture of was the incorrupt body of Saint Clare. Apparently, while her body has not undergone the normal decay of death (there's a miracle I'd like to hear secularists explain), flash cameras did damage her flesh. The damage is concealed, but thus the no-photos policy.

It's hard to do justice to three days in Assisi in a brief post. However, a few points:

> Francis was not the tree-hugging hippie he's often portrayed as being. For one, he was pretty intense about the Catholic Faith. He wanted people to know Jesus Christ in his Church, through the sacraments. And, yes, he was also about poverty and peace -- but his notion of peace was more about the freedom that comes from turning from worldly pursuits and fixes ones gaze on our Savior.

> While Francis was about poverty for himself, he did not despise or reject the good things of life. He enjoyed life and all good things that came his way. Poverty didn't mean not enjoying life; only choosing to take life as it comes, and focus on Christ, not stuff. When people gave him good food and drink to enjoy, he enjoyed it.

> Francis clothed himself in rags, but he didn't advocate treating the sacred things of our Faith that way -- as some advocate today. On the contrary, art and beauty, in worship, were seen as both fitting offerings to the Lord; and also, art that told the story of salvation was part of preaching the Gospel.

Well, that'll have to do. The bells are tolling, and I have to head over to church to hear confessions.

About the movie 'Noah'

...I haven't seen it. I don't know if I will or not.


Folks wonder why Hollywood doesn't make more films about the Bible.

Lots of reasons, but I think we've all seen one of them play out the past few weeks.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Back from Assisi; heading home tomorrow

Sorry for the radio silence for the past few days; but my Internet connection in Assisi was terrible. Just now I returned by train from Assisi, and tomorrow I head to the airport, and then home, via New York. It's late -- past midnight; but my room is stuffy after being shut up for several days, so I've got the windows wide open to cool things down.

The group of us priests had an "Arrivaderci Dinner in Assisi tonight; I left about half-way through to catch my train. The rest of the guys will come back tomorrow, and then begin heading off over the weekend.

So why did I come back early? Simple: I typed in the wrong date when I bought my ticket! Once I realized my mistake, any changes would cost me dearly. As it is, I tried to change it, when I had complications last week, but no dice.

At any rate, the trip to Assisi was wonderful, both in terms of art and architecture, our ostensible mission, but also in learning much more about Saint Francis and Saint Clare.

My next post, most likely, will be stateside! As much as I've enjoyed my sabbatical -- and as very grateful as I am to the Archbishop and the Archdiocese for making it possible -- I am very ready to come home. Not that I was homesick; but, home is home. See you there!

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Caravaggio, Bernini, and other Roman Treasures

This will probably be my last post from Rome. Tomorrow morning the group heads up to Assisi; I'll return late Thursday, and fly home Friday. So my next report will probably be from the home of Saint Francis.

Friday afternoon I made a trip over to the Capitoline Museum. The steps on on when I take this photo lead to the top of the Capitoline Hill, to a plaza designed by Michelangelo. Yes, that Michelangelo. The steps you see going off to the left lead to a church, Santa Maria in Ara Coeli or "Altar of Heaven." To its left you can see a bit of the Altare della Patria, better known as the Monument to King Victor Emmanuel II. 

In the center of the piazza is a statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. It's a copy of this statue, now inside the museum: 

Here are some murals depicting scenes from ancient Roman history. This shows the Temple of the Vestal Virgins, who were charged with keeping the sacred fire burning. In antiquity, this wasn't just a religious matter. When visiting Ephesus, our guide pointed out the need for everyone in the city to be able to come obtain fire in order to quickly kindle fires in their homes or businesses.

Here is Aeneas marking out the bounds of Rome with a plow.

This is the famous scene of the infants Romulus and Remus being nourished by a she-wolf.

The opposite wall told the story of the rape of the Sabine women -- but it was a little indelicate, so I am omitting that.

Here's the very famous statue of the she-wolf. The original predates our Lord's time. Many believe this is the original; however, Wikipedia reports testing dated it to the 13th century. The statues of the two boys were added in the 15th century.

Here's another striking statue. Dr. Elizabeth Lev pointed out that this statue was a contender to be a symbol of the city, but Pope Sixtus IV chose the She-wolf statue above, instead.

This is Emperor Constantine of happy memory. This head is huge. 

Do you know what this is?

That is the foundation of what was the temple of Jove, or Jupiter, which dominated this hill. Just beyond this hill was the Roman Forum of Augustus Caesar's time, and the Via Sacra led down the middle of it, among many temples and public buildings; for example, the Temple of Vesta, where the fire was kept. Dominating all this was the temple of the chief of the Roman deities, Jupiter. Now all that remains are the foundations. And now I can say I visited the Temple of the one, true God, in Jerusalem, and now this temple of a false god, whose worship was overthrown by the Christians.

Here is a lovely image of the Holy Family. I was very taken by the way Saint Joseph is so smitten by our Lady, as is our infant Savior.

This is an angel assisting Saint Matthew in composing his Gospel. I thought this was labeled as by Caravaggio, but I just checked and didn't find it as one of his; and I can't make out the inscription below the frame. (Sorry I didn't take notes.)

 This is one of Caravaggio's many paintings of Saint John the Baptist. His depiction of John is puzzling. No, not the nudity -- that was common in that era -- but the use of the ram, and no real other indication of this being the forerunner of our Lord.

I was struck by this image's depiction of the Holy Trinity:

Visiting the Capitoline Museum takes you to two buildings, and you cross between them through a passage under the piazza. The passage was filled with ancient objects with texts in them. Fascinating stuff, but I didn't have time to see everything. You are also able to duck down a corridor, past the ruins of another temple, and then emerge out onto a balcony to this view of the Roman Forum. You can see how the Via Sacra is angling to the right of the scene -- toward where the Temple of Jove stood in antiquity.

The other building mostly had statuary. I am always impressed by statues and busts using different sorts of stone, in this manner.

More statues.

This is the god Pan. I love the color of the stone.

This is a famous, ancient statue of a Gaul, dying after a battle.

One of the things that struck me was the detail of a moustache. Most of these statues either have full beards, or else the men are clean-shaven.

After a couple of hours in the Capitoline Museum, I made my way over to the Church of Saint Louis, where three Caravaggio works are on display in a chapel where they were intended to be seen.

This first picture is mine, serving to orient you. To the left is the very famous Call of Saint Matthew; in the center, Matthew is receiving inspiration from an angel; and to the right, Matthew's martyrdom.

The two times I've been here to see this, there is always a large crowd viewing these works.

Here are pictures of the images on the sides. I didn't take them; they are readily available online:

One of the distinctive features of Caravaggio's work is the use of light, usually a light that doesn't come from an obvious source. So in the Call of Matthew, note it doesn't come from the window; in fact, it comes from behind the figure of our Lord. Given the positioning of the painting in relation to the altar, the suggestion is obvious where the light comes from.

Well, that was Friday afternoon. On Saturday morning, after joining the North American College seminarians for the stational Mass at San Nicola in Carcere, two other Cincinnati priests on this sabbatical and I made our way up to the Galleria Borghese. Once upon a time this was a home belonging to the Borghese family; the villa now houses artwork that was collected by the family, and the grounds are a public park.

Alas, no photographs allowed; but I was able to see quite a few more Caravaggios, including this one:

There are several things I like about this painting. First, it shows David as a boy, which he was. Second, I enjoy the expressions. We see Goliath's last expression before he died. He seems to say, "I can't believe this boy is doing this--ack!" And then David seems to say, "I told you I could do it!"

Then there was this image:

Notice how it shows both our Lady and our Lord -- as a toddler -- stepping on the serpent's head. This does two things. First, it shows very powerfully the role Mary was given: she was our Savior's teacher in a true sense, even though he is Lord and God! Second, it solves an exegetical dispute. You may recall this is all based on Genesis: "He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel." These words, of God Almighty to the serpent, refer to the "seed" of the woman; and is sometimes translated "he" (i.e., the Messiah) and "she" (i.e., Mary). (It's also translated as "they," referring to all the offspring of Eve.) Saint Jerome was one who translated it as "she."

One of the mysteries of this image was was older woman. I agree with my compatriot, who said he thought it would be Saint Anne.

If you go to the link above for the Galleria Borghese, you will find images of some of the artwork, which includes some astonishing statuary by Bernini; one of which tells the story of Apollos chasing Daphne, and to escape him, she changes into a tree. Bernini's amazing ability to use stone to show life and movement is on full display; and the delicacy of the fingers, turning into leaves, is simply astounding. I can't imagine how he kept from breaking the leaves as he worked on it!

After the Galleria, we hiked across the park and down to the Piazza del Populo, where there is a church with two more Caravaggios: the Martyrdom of Saint Peter and the Conversion of Saint Paul. The sign said no pictures allowed (although folks were snapping away), so I didn't take any. However, Wikipedia has excellent photographs of these paintings.

By the time we walked back from all this, my feet were sore and my knees aching; but I'd seen some of the great treasures of art in Rome, including, out of the 80-some Caravaggio works in existence, about 15 of them.

Later last evening we met another Cincinnati priest for a nice dinner; today I had Holy Mass with the NAC seminarians; and now I'm wrapping up this post while I wait for my clothes to finish in the dryer down the hall. I have to pack for tomorrow.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Orbitz is *not* evil

Update 4/5/14...

OK, I have to eat a bit of crow...

Sarah, who kindly left a message in the comments, was as good as her word, and did respond promptly to an email from me.

She pointed out that indeed, the telephone number is accessible on Orbitz' site, if you search for the right words (like "phone number" -- not sure how I missed that one!).

And, she did discover that I got two email notifications some time back. I don't have them, which suggests they ended up in the "spam" folder, which is easy to understand.

So...Orbitz doesn't deserve to be called "evil."

I stand by my view that for customers outside the U.S., it would be better to have another option besides asking customers to call at their expense. And I wonder why it took me close to three hours on the phone with Orbitz to solve this. If I were the Orbitz people, I'd want to know that, too.

Finally, fairness requires I point out that Sarah offered a $100 travel voucher. I don't know if I'll take advantage of it; it depends on the "ifs, ands, or buts" involved. And, while Sarah represents her company well, I'd like to have a bit more assurance of knowledgeable customer service.

OK, I've eaten the whole crow. Tasty!

(Original post follows...)

I'm having troubles in my final days of my sabbatical.

I booked a flight with Orbitz in November -- from Cincinnati (in January) to Israel; Israel to Rome; Rome to home (next week).

Sometime since I left, the final leg -- New York to Cincinnati -- was dropped. When? I don't know. It was there when I left Cincinnati.

Orbitz loves to send me emails, and claims it will notify you if there's a change. I've gotten notices about gate changes and time changes. I have a ton of emails from Orbitz. I can't find any notice about this. In fairness, I might have deleted it.

How did I find out? When I went online to see about seat arrangements and so forth.

I am in Rome; I spent about 2 hours on and off hold, on an international call. What will that cost? And I still don't have a final flight home. After all my waiting, the operator -- who was very nice by the way -- said I need to call back. It's early AM in the U.S. OK, I get that; I'd rather have called local in Europe (cheaper); but the only help number is in the U.S.

Will they call me? Nope.

Anything on the website? Nope.

In fact, Orbitz doesn't even provide this telephone number on its website. I had to search online. Orbitz doesn't WANT customers contacting them.

The only feedback option on the website, I used to send an "URGENT" message. That was three days ago, still no response to that.

Well, Orbitz, maybe adding "Orbitz is evil" to the Google search algorithm will get your attention? Increasingly, only nastygrams from attorneys, and negative social-network attention, matters to these operations.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Today: Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel

After spending my morning trying to fix my airplane ticket problem, I headed down, after lunch, to the Vatican.

The other priests and I were headed to the Vatican Museum; but on the way, we wanted to get a glimpse of Queen Elizabeth, who was scheduled for a visit with the Holy Father.

So, we were hunting around for a good spot from which to gawk.

Before I joined up with the other guys, I noticed a group of journalists at one gate, and I wondered if they knew anything. "She's coming through the square," a British fellow said.

So I walked around (and met my friends along the way).

"Not here," said the Carabineri.

"Prego, con su permisso," shooed the polizei.

"Put down your #$%@! iPad!" said the irritated journalist with a camera.

We waited and waited. Our tour of the museum was slated for 3 pm; but that came and went. Around 3:15, the entourage finally showed up:

You want a shot of the Queen's car? Silly reader! I missed that shot! Anyway, you know what she looks like.

So next we motored over to the Vatican Museum, where we met our guide, Dr. Elizabeth Lev. First she wanted to show us sarcophagi -- i.e., stone coffins. Why? Because, she explained, these show us some of the oldest Christian art. Here's one she was really excited about: it shows Jonah being tossed to the fish, and later coming back to the living. Jonah, she explained, is a major motif in early Christian art, as a sign of the Resurrection; a sign the Lord himself pointed to.

This statue was once part of a sarcophagus, and it's one of the oldest representations of our Lord -- in this case as the Good Shepherd. She pointed out that Roman Christians would show our Lord in a youthful pose because that's how you showed divinity.

Here is Dr. Lev enthusiastically describing how important this statue -- of Laocoon, a character from the story of Troy's destruction -- to the development of Christian art. She had just shown us a statue of Apollos, which portrayed the god in the manner Romans would have deemed most appropriate: perfection in body, yet his muscles relaxed, no stress; his gaze averted, and his space separated from ours.

Here, she explained, Laocoon is deeply distressed, facing death; his body is straining and his muscles are stressed. She told the story of how Michelangelo wanted to see this statue when he came to Rome -- he'd heard about it -- yet it had long ago gone missing. Then it was found, buried in a field, and he was there when it we rescued, and brought to the Vatican. And she pointed out how elements of this statue would influence how Michelangelo would depict God almighty in his work in the Sistine Chapel. She pointed out other statues that she believed were influential in other ways.

Here's a lovely room just before the Sistine Chapel. It commemorates Pius IX declaring the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of our Lady.

Sorry, no pictures of the Sistine Chapel itself. Not allowed! But happily, it wasn't crowded as it has been when I came before, and we were actually able to sit; which is ideal, because then we could really look up. It was marvelous just to gaze at what is one of the most exquisite works of art ever.  I sat there as long as I could, until the guides started shooing us out.

After this, several of the priests and I found a restaurant nearby and got something cold to drink, and two of us ended up staying to eat dinner. I got back about 2 hours ago, and had the joy of returning to my airplane ticket problem.

Just before I started this post, after 3-plus hours on the phone (from Rome to Chicago, at my expense), problem solved. None of which should have been necessary; Orbitz is still evil.

But it was another splendid day, thank you Lord! Soon we wrap up in Rome, and then spend several days in Assisi. Then home next Thursday!

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

What's too much for clergy lifestyles?

I've been reading things here and there about a bishop in Atlanta -- and a bishop in New Jersey -- not to mention the "bling" bishop in Germany -- who all, in varying ways, have come under criticism for spending too much on houses and refurbishments of archdiocesan facilities. The Archbishop of Atlanta, Wilton Gregory, is the latest, and he's eaten some humble pie over it.

Now, I think this is a valid issue. I can readily believe some clergy go overboard, because I've seen it.

On the other hand, as often happens, what is a problem for a few is inflated an epidemic. What's more I am very put off by the rush to judgment. All too often, I've seen people make rash judgments without all the facts, and I've done it myself -- and when the rest of the story is clear, it's very different from what people (or I) supposed.

Some folks think nothing of storming the online comboxes to rip them to shreds -- as if the world desperately needs them to do this. Do folks even stop to think about how many sins they may be skirting, if not falling into? Calumny, rash judgment and detraction all come to mind. As the do the Lord's words: by the measure you measure, so will it be measured out to you. Think about that. Sobering. It leads me to conclude (even if I fail in practice, I confess) that being generous and forgiving is in my own best interest!

A few things come to mind:

> A lot of folks don't realize what things cost.

I don't mean ordinary things like groceries and rent and insurance and so forth. I mean, things like building projects, or employment costs, and all the things that go into running a parish or a diocese. In the case of Archbishop Gregory, the expenses involved several million dollars for some buildings and renovations, including living space for himself. Was it excessive or fair? I dunno -- depends on details I don't have, and I don't choose to try to gather.

But what I do know is that building things, and even more, renovating older buildings, can cost quite a lot more than people imagine. It just does. Especially when you are taking older buildings and re-working them. Suddenly you have all sorts of building code requirements that come into effect; requirements concerning handicap access that -- amazingly -- older churches and parish halls seemed amazingly thoughtless about. And then you have things like asbestos removal and knocking down parts of walls to install elevators.

When you drive through a city and wonder why all these older office buildings and factories sit empty, while new construction goes up in all the outer suburbs, and why old buildings are torn down rather than turned into restaurants, hotels, etc. -- it's because as nice as it is when these things happen, they cost way, way more than people realize. A lot of times, when you see this, the project gets huge subsidies from the government.

Have you ever been out with someone, and you and s/he both looked at the same menu, ordered similar things, and your companion gets irate about the bill. "How can it cost so much?" Somehow, your dinner partner ordered a drink, or an appetizer, or coffee, and is shocked that all these things add up, plus tax and tip. Or how about this? Ten people at a table, and you're unlucky enough to be collecting the money for the bill. I decided a long time ago I wasn't going to let people figure out their own share. Because what happened was somehow, I'd be stuck adding another $10 or $20. So I just told people what they owed, rounding up and adding 20% for tax and tip.

> All clergy don't take a vow of poverty.

Did you realize that? The vow of poverty is a feature of life in a religious community; only some priests are members of groups like the Dominicans, Legion of Christ, Benedictines, Franciscans, etc. And -- this is important -- these priests take a vow of poverty not because they're priests, but because they have embraced this particular spiritual movement.

Also, these vows -- associated with religious life -- are meant to be totally free and voluntary. That is how the Church has always understood this. When our Lord talks about giving away your property to the poor, this was not a command for all, but an invitation intended for some. Also take note: when he called the Galilean fishermen, he said "follow me." It was they who turned from their fishing gear and just followed him. What is commanded for all is not a free gift. When I choose not to lie or steal, that's not an "offering" I make to the Lord, that's obedience; that's simply living according to right reason.

What the Lord told us all -- all Christians -- was that we must take up our cross. That's not the same thing as a vow of poverty, although the overlap is obvious.

> So if all clergy aren't called to poverty, what should they do? Live like Donald Trump?


Clergy are called to live moderately, giving an example of self-control. This is both a matter of leadership by example, as well as a function of the priesthood, in particular, being joined to the person of our Savior in a unique way. It has to do with the nature of priesthood: Jesus the High Priest is also the Victim; and priests are joined to that.

But remember that clergy -- deacons, priests and bishops -- are embracing this through many of the aspects of their ministry, day by day. The gift of celibacy. Being at the service of God's People at all times. Living their vocation not as a career, but as a total way of life. I'm not complaining; being a priest is a joy. But you won't be a priest long before you experience the Cross.

> What about Pope Francis?

A lot of folks are pointing to the pope. But don't misunderstand what the pope is doing. He's not issuing commandments; he's offering an example, an invitation.

What's more, do you really think his invitation and example is only directed to clergy?

It seems to me that Pope Francis has been talking a lot -- A LOT -- about sharing our faith and being the sort of Christians who draw others by our example and holiness. That's not a message only for the clergy!

The sad truth is that some of the more strident voices on this particular subject aren't really interested in this subject for the sake of the Gospel -- but simply as an expression of hostility, either to clergy in particular, or the Church in general.

I'm not denying there's a problem. I've seen it. I have my weaknesses for creature comforts. And I've seen rectories that I thought were awfully posh. Sometimes that's the faithful being generous; sometimes the priest initiates it. And some of our clergy certainly do live very very well.

What do you think?