I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified -- St. Paul, I Corinthians 2:2
Wednesday, May 31, 2006
Supporting the 'Othercott'
Well, okay, that makes some sense; besides, I like movies -- and despite everything that Hollywood crowd does to discredit itself (the energy they have! I'd be exhausted!) -- the fact remains (as I see it, anyway) that films do accomplish some real artistry, real beauty and insight into truth. Call it yet another confirmation of St. Thomas Aquinas; try as they might to be shallow and/or corrupt, they can't help tapping into goodness, and expressing it, nonetheless.
And, there's nothing wrong with a certain amount of escapism and fun. I happen to enjoy action films.
So, in my little contribution to the "Othercott," I recently saw two action films, now playing: Poseidon and Mission Impossible III.
Warning!!!! I'm about to describe movies now playing without regard to whether I will "spoil" it for you. Proceed at your own risk...
Now, before you berate me, I saw the bad reviews; but at Matinee prices, why not? Plus, I had low expectations to begin with. Poseidon: who doesn't enjoy seeing a big cruise ship being dramatically sunk by a "rogue wave"?
(By the way, I love how Hollywood deals with gaping holes in its stories: it simply stitches them together with a few words, uttered by someone acting like he's the world's expert on the subject. Is there really such a thing as a "rogue wave"? I mean, that could spring up so suddenly, that no one knows about it, and can broadcast an alert to ships in the area, so they flee to safety? Experts in this area, please comment...)
Well, Poseidon was entertaining, by that low measure. It doesn't compare well to the original, which for all its flaws, had, I thought, more interesting characters. It's only real advantage was that it had great special effects.
Then we come to MI III. I seem to recall more critics recommending this, over Poseidon, but again, I didn't have high expectations, based on generally tepid reviews. How hard is it to make this sort of movie fun to watch?
Pretty darn hard, it turns out. For one thing, the indispensible element to a good action film is . . . good action, and plenty of it. Instead, we get lots of scenes filling in details about our characters, how they met, blah-blah-blah, who cares? Deal with this in a minute and get me to the explosions! That's what I came for--explosions!
Now, I know, you are about to start laughing at me pretty seriously, if you haven't already, for what I'm going to say next: MI:III was insultingly not-believable.
Okay, stopped laughing yet? Let me explain that seemingly ludicrous comment (well, it was ludicrous, but not wholly).
When you read a story, or see a film, it proposes a scenario, a world, with certain presumptions. As compared with the real world, of course, many of these are utterly implausible, we all know that. Action films, thrillers, spy-movies, science fiction, etc., all require a certain "suspension of disbelief." That's part of the fun; spending 2 hours in a world where such things do happen. Afterwards, one can then go online (such as Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics) and read all about the ludicrous physics of such movies, and have more laughs.
But the point is, one still expects certain plausibilities, whether internally or even in relation to the real world. After all, isn't that sort of the point? For example, we assume that the human beings depicted in such movies are mortal, unless the film tells us otherwise (e.g., Highlander); because if we didn't, all the "death-defying" would be utterly meaningless and have no thrill to it.
(Or, perhaps, we all bring different expectations, based on how much we really know: just as people who really know physics howl at certain things less obvious to the rest of us, I pick out howlers too, pertaining to religion and politics, because I know those fields.)
Well, anyway, here was the scene in MI:III that exploded my implausibility meter. The good guys have captured a bad guy, a really powerful, rich, and sly bad guy, who always gets away; plus, it's way too early in the movie for the villain (who you know isn't the principal villain -- he'll become clear in the final scenes) to be taken out of the action. So you know: he's going to escape.
So here's what happens (I warned you not to read this far, but you can still turn back!): the good guys have the bad guy chained up, in an armored car, surrounded by people with guns, presumably really good guns they know how to shoot). They are driving over a bridge; you wonder, hmmm, where in the world is this? It looks like the U.S., but could be anywhere. For some reason, I figured, out west; not sure why.
Then, out of the blue! It's a bird! No, it's a plane! No, it's Superman! (I'm kidding; it's a plane after all.) Missiles start blowing up cars and the bridge. So now the good guys are scattered, isolated from the armored truck containing the bad guy. Now arrives a big, mean-looking helicopter, filled with people in ominous, nondescript, quasi-military gear. They rappel down ropes around the armored car, spray some sort of Mr. Bubbles/Easy Off compound all over the side of the truck, which, in a matter of minutes, turns the metal brittle like glass (I'm pretty sure that's probably absurd, but admittedly, I don't care about that). Then, of course, they get him out, and onto the helicopter, and unaccountably, all the good guys, who know how to use guns, are unable to do anything useful at that point. Tom Cruise actually comes up with a mean-looking super gun of some sort, and while he succeeds in shooting down the plane (a drone, we find out), he runs out of bullets and the helicopter gets away.
Okay, now, already, the implausibility meter is in the red zone, but it's a movie, it's fun . . .
Well, then, the next thing is, Tom Cruise steals a car (a convertible, of course!), and takes off; it wasn't immediately clear to me why he headed the direction he did, perhaps because I was distracted by the explosion of my implausibility meter when I saw him drive across the 14th Street Bridge, into Washington D.C.!
That's right, campers: this major air-to-ground battle supposedly occurred in the most highly restricted, and patrolled, airspace in the nation! (I know: we're supposed to think, wow, this baddie is obviously hooked up with someone way up in the government! But this is just insulting, because this can only happen if pretty much everyone is in on the conspiracy, given the number of people who'd have to look the other way on something like this. I mean, tell me this happened anywhere else, overseas, or even elsehwere in the U.S., and maybe I'll swallow that. But this just tells me how lazy these people were.)
There was another howler in the movie, one I never expected, because it is of an entirely different sort.
The action takes us to Red China, where our intrepid team has something like 3 hours to conceive and execute a break-in and steal something incredibly secret and dangerous, in the possession of the Red Chinese government. Part of the problem is just getting into the building; they come up with a plan, likely ridiculous, but fun so we go along. The obvious questions, asked in the movie are: OK, then what? How will you get to the device behind all the vaults and everything? And then, how will you get out? "I'll parachute off the building," Cruise suggests -- again, ridiculous, but at least it's some explanation. But what will he do in the building? No explanation, but we figure: they'll show us that. That should be fun: lots of gadgets and impossible escapes. What I came to see.
OK, so he jumps from one building to the other, shoots two guards along the way, and then radios, "I'm in!" Then we see the team move into position. I figure: okay, now we'll see the action inside . . .
Nope! It's all left out! Don't you love how they close the plausibility gaps? Can't explain how he gets the super-duper double-secret weapon from the Red Chinese? Don't even bother!
Meanwhile, I should note that we know almost nothing about this device, except it's called "the Rabbit's Foot," and we have speculation from a good guy technogeek that it could be the ultimate weapon: a device that triggers uncontrollable genetic mutations and therefore, would rapidly destroy pretty much everything: he calls it "the anti-God." When we finally see the device, it's in what seems to be clear glass, with "biohazard" clearly visible. But the movie has taken pains to point out, thus far, we don't really know what it is -- except some bad guy in the Middle East really wants it, and this, apparently, is the only one.
Well, the next parts of the story unfold about as you might expect, and are reasonably fun to watch, with some acceptable twists and turns. We do find out, as expected, who the ultimate villain is, and that our prime suspect is actually a good guy, and the hero gets his girl back (I did wonder if she'd end up being dead), and the final scenes, everyone's cleaned up, safe, and mostly recovered from not only near-escapes from death, but actually dying and coming back! (Tom Cruise's resiliency knows no bounds: one instant, he's not only dead, but been dead for several minutes; the next instant, after a laborious, dicey administration of CPR, he's Quickdraw McGraw, shooting the last, incompetent, nameless baddie. It must be that Scientology thing.)
So, now we're back at HQ, and it's time to find out what the thing was. (You tell me what you think of this.) Cruise is ready to go on his delayed honeymoon, and Fishburne, the big boss, wants him back at the IMF.
Cruise: "OK, so tell me: just what was "the Rabbit's Foot"?
Fishburne: "Tell me you're coming back, and I'll tell you."
Cruise: "See you later!"
Would that Porky Pig had followed next with "Th-th-that's all, folks!"
Monday, May 29, 2006
Is 'Cops' a 'Girl Show'?
Then, I had this terrible thought: since when is "Cops" a girl show? I mean, I don't watch Lifetime, or We, or Oxygen--this was Court TV--Cops!!
Did I miss something? What's up with this?
(Anyway, I'm totally safe now: we have one of those great, cop-chase-video shows that I can never get enough of. I'm betting I won't see any "girl" ads...)
Sunday, May 28, 2006
'Bigger & Better' (Ascension homily)
we’ve marked the time,
as the first reading says, that
Jesus was with his Apostles,
after his resurrection.
Now, think of this from their point of view:
Everything was great,
then Jesus is arrested and killed!
It’s all over!
Then, he rises from the dead—wow,
now they have him back,
better than ever!
You can imagine
that they’d want to keep that going?
But the Lord has still bigger plans.
We heard him say: "Wait for the Promise:
I’m going to send the Holy Spirit"!
Bigger and better!
Let me share with you
something from the early Church,
from Pope St. Leo the Great.
Pope Leo tells us, it is on these events
that our faith is "firmly established,
so that God’s grace may show itself
still more marvelous when,"
in spite of Jesus going out of our sight,
our "faith does not fail, hope is not shaken,
love does not grow cold."
What keeps our faith from failing
and our hope unshaken?
The Gift of the Holy Spirit—that is the key!
Do we want him to return? Of course!
That’s the Spirit in us, thirsting for Jesus!
But the Lord had something
bigger and better in mind:
And so, Pope Leo said,
"our Redeemer’s visible presence
has passed into the sacraments"!
It takes faith,
it takes the Gift of the Holy Spirit,
to know and recognize
Jesus, our God and our brother,
in the sacraments:
baptism, confession, confirmation;
in the healing sacrament of anointing;
in a married couple,
in bishops, priests and deacons,
and above all, in the Holy Eucharist!
Before the Apostles
received that Gift of the Spirit,
they looked up:
Jesus, don’t leave! Jesus, come back!
But after they received the Gift,
they didn’t look upward;
and they didn’t look inward;
They looked outward:
they went out to the world!
Where was Jesus? They knew his presence!
They knew he was acting powerfully in them!
That is what the Holy Spirit does for us;
and for others, through us!
Now, I want to quote Pope Leo again;
but you might wonder, why him?
Because a lot of folks are challenging
whether our faith is really built on solid facts.
People are saying, "you can’t trust the Church;
you can’t trust the Gospels;
the events of those times
are dark and muddled—
nobody really knows!
You need to know—you have a right to know—
that that is NOT TRUE!
I’ve been doing a Bible study
on Genesis recently.
But if you want, down the road,
we could look at this:
You have the right to know
how solid a foundation
our faith has!
If you were never told that, I’m sorry;
And I’m sorry there are folks out there
lying to you about these matters.
That movie that’s playing?
It is a lie; it is an assault on your faith.
As Father James Martin
of America Magazine said,
"The only way [that movie]
could have been any more anti-Catholic
is if they would have slapped a subtitle saying
‘the Catholic church is evil’
throughout the whole movie."
You’ll see something
attached to the bulletin;
Anyone who wants to look further at this,
let me know!
So why quote Pope Leo?
Because he lived at the time that supposedly
"the great cover up" was hatched!
He was a lot closer to those great events;
and, like millions before and since,
he had to pay a great price for this faith!
When following Jesus Christ brings risk,
sacrifice, ridicule or persecution,
you have to decide:
Is this real? Is this worth it?
Here’s more from Pope Leo:
"Our faith is nobler and stronger
because sight has been replaced
by a teaching whose authority
is accepted by believing hearts,
enlightened from on high…
strengthened by the gift of the Spirit."
This faith "would remain unshaken
by fetters and imprisonment, exile and hunger,
fire and ravening beasts,
and the most refined tortures
ever devised by brutal persecutors.
"Throughout the world
women no less than men,
tender girls as well as boys,
have given their life’s blood
in the struggle for this faith.
It is a faith that has driven out devils,
healed the sick, and raised the dead."
This is the Gift of the Holy Spirit.
This is what impels us to share:
To share the troubles of others around us,
and to share our hope of salvation!
To reach across boundaries,
such as the railroad tracks
that no longer cut through Piqua,
but still separate people!
You and I share Jesus Christ
with everyone around us;
we don’t have to look for him,
we know where he is!
We have him in our midst!
He is our mercy! He is our life!
And that is so powerful,
so freeing, so awesome—
How can we not share it?
Saturday, May 27, 2006
Another day in the life of a parish priest
Today, our youth group took a trip to Kings Island amusement park. I decided to go, because I enjoy roller-coasters immensely (although I would enjoy them more were I in better shape), it would get me out and about for the day, and most important, give me a chance to spend some time with some of the young people, and with the adults involved.
So, I was up early to have coffee and a light breakfast, and pray my office through Daytime Prayer. I was tempted to pray Evening Prayer, in view of the day ahead (and I would have if I really thought I needed to), but I didn't. '
I slathered myself with "50" sunblock (you may laugh, but I sizzle like bacon if I don't trowel it on). I met the youth minister, the other adult chaperone, and the 10 kids, in the parking lot around 8:45. After the youth minister made sure everyone turned in money and permission slips, and received a tshirt (all the kids dressed alike -- do you know why?), we were off.
Other than reminding them to behave as Catholics should, we gave them simple instructions: two check-ins, don't be late, keep your shirts on, and travel in groups of no less than three. If we found any pairs or singles, they got to walk with the grownups until we found more kids! Off they went.
The young people handled themselves in an exemplary fashion! I told them so at the end of the trip.
So, the kids went on their way, and the other two adults and I walked around the park. We rode some rides--the youth minister, who's 23, was hesitant about some of the roller-coasters, although he tackled some gamely, but refused the more extreme ones, while the mother, who is close to my age (I'm 44) and I were completely undaunted.
Alas, I displace more atmosphere than I used to, and I am less "toned" -- and I am 6'1" -- so I don't fit easily into all the rides. I got a little banged up, and my back feels as though it isn't arranged exactly as God intended, but it will adjust itself in time. After riding the "Son of Beast," which in my opinion is the finest ride at Kings Island, followed by the "Vortex," I decided, "I'm done; that's two strikes, I don't want strike three!" As it was, we were about ready to go anyway.
Now, I will at this point reveal what I wore, since priestly attire is a subject of interest to many, something I've discussed here: I wore a light colored golf shirt, khaki shorts, walking shoes, and a hat. (Cue gnashing of teeth from hardliners.)
If you think I was going to walk around, in full sun, for 9 hours, dressed all in black, you are crazy. I am not crazy. Right after I was ordained a deacon, and began wearing clerics, I said to someone, "now I know what an asphalt parking lot feels like, baking in the sun!" Yes, I do want these young people to see a priest in clerical attire, and almost all the time, they do. Such are the practical decisions one makes.
Well, after our second check-in, we retired from the park, and found a nearby Burger King, for dinner. Because of how we all went through the line, with me last, the kids were all eating by the time I sat down, so I didn't lead grace, alas. But I'm so proud of one young man: he came to me, as I was getting my sandwich, and said: "Father, could you ask them to put something different on the TV?" (They have tvs at Burger King now, apparently); I turned to the fellow behind the counter, who had heard it, and looked at the young man, as if to say, if you want, tell him, or I will, and the young man repeated the request. The man behind the counter had a curious look, but nodded, and a moment later, changed it to some car race or something.
As I went to the table, the young man said something like, "they said they were going to show something 'not suitable for children.'" (Now, I just now went back and replaced "boy" with young man. Adults will understand that calling a high school fellow "boy" is not meant in any way to demean him; but he might just read this, and I'd hate to demean him in any way. But they're my kids, you know what I mean?)
Well, after that, we headed home, and the youth minister and I waited until every child had been picked up. They all said they had a great time, and I think they did.
I got home around 9:30; last night, I'd had all the windows open, but today, it was hot in the house, so all windows closed, a/c on. I popped several aspirin, fixed myself a little bourbon on the rocks (it's medicinal), and fixed a little snack, and sat down, and finished my office for the day. As I wait for the house to cool down, I'm doing a little blogging.
I have the early Mass tomorrow, and I told some of the kids, "we'll see how I'm doing in the morning. If I don't genuflect, or if I do, but don't get up, you'll know the answer!" I said I might just genuflect, then stay down, telling everyone, "we'll begin Mass today by prostrating ourselves in prayer..."
Thursday, May 25, 2006
Al Pacino takes a flamethrower to U of St. Thomas
The way the University of St. Thomas administration came down on Ben Kessler, the now-famous graduate who dared to say out loud, at a Catholic-affiliated university, that chastity was good and contraception was "selfish," reminded me of this climactic scene from the film, Scent of a Woman.
To recall: the Chris O'Donnell character, a student at a prep high school, is on trial for not identifying the culprits in an act of vandalism. Al Pacino plays Colonel Slade, a self-destructive, but larger-than-life, retired military officer who comes to his defense.
Mr. Trask: Mr. Simms, you are a cover-up artist . . . and you are a liar.
Colonel Slade: But not a snitch!
Trask: Excuse me?
Slade: No, I don't think I will.
Trask: Mr. Slade.
Slade: This is such a crock of s***!
Trask: Please watch your language, Mr. Slade. You are in the Baird school, not a barracks. Mr. Simms, I will give you one final opportunity to speak up.
Slade: Mr. Simms doesn't want it. He doesn't need to be labeled..."still worthy of being a Baird man." What the hell is that? What is your motto here? "Boys, inform on your classmates, save your hide; anything short of that, we're gonna burn you at the stake"?
Well, gentlemen, when the s*** hits the fan, some guys run... and some guys stay. Here's Charlie facin' the fire, and there's George...hidin' in big daddy's pocket. And what are you doin'? You're gonna reward George... and destroy Charlie.
Trask: Are you finished, Mr. Slade?
Slade: No, I'm just gettin' warmed up.
I don't know who went to this place. William Howard Taft, William Jennings Bryant, William Tell, whoever. Their spirit is dead, if they ever had one. It's gone. You're buildin' a rat ship here, a vessel for seagoin' snitches. And if you think you're preparin' these minnows for manhood, you better think again, because I say you are killin' the very spirit...this institution proclaims it instills. What a sham.
What kind of a show are you guys puttin' on here today? I mean, the only class in this act is sittin' next to me. I'm here to tell you this boy's soul is intact. It's non-negotiable. You know how I know? Someone here, and I'm not gonna say who, offered to buy it. Only Charlie here wasn't sellin'.
Trask: Sir, you're out of order.
Slade: I show you out of order. You don't know what out of order is, Mr. Trask. I'd show you, but I'm too old, I'm too tired, too f***in' blind. If I were the man I was five years ago, I'd take... a flamethrower to this place!
Out of order? Who the hell you think you're talkin' to?I've been around, you know? There was a time I could see. And I have seen. Boys like these, younger than these, their arms torn out, their legs ripped off. But there is nothin' like the sight...of an amputated spirit. There is no prosthetic for that. You think you're merely sendin' this splendid foot soldier...back home to Oregon with his tail between his legs, but I say you are...executin' his soul!
And why? Because he's not a Baird man. Baird men. You hurt this boy, you're gonna be Baird bums, the lot of you. And, Harry, Jimmy, Trent, wherever you are out there, f*** you too!
Trask: Stand down, Mr. Slade!
Slade: I'm not finished. As I came in here, I heard those words: "cradle of leadership." Well, when the bough breaks, the cradle will fall, and it has fallen here. It has fallen. Makers of men, creators of leaders. Be careful what kind of leaders you're producin' here. I don't know if Charlie's silence here today...is right or wrong; I'm not a judge or jury.
But I can tell you this: he won't sell anybody out...to buy his future! And that, my friends, is called integrity. That's called courage. Now that's the stuff leaders should be made of. Now I have come to the crossroads in my life. I always knew what the right path was. Without exception, I knew, but I never took it.
You know why? It was too damn hard. Now here's Charlie. He's come to the crossroads. He has chosen a path. It's the right path. It's a path made of principle... that leads to character. Let him continue on his journey. You hold this boy's future in your hands, Committee. It's a valuable future, believe me.
Don't destroy it. Protect it. Embrace it. It's gonna make you proud one day, I promise you.
Source: Drew's Script-o-rama
Response from U of St. Thomas
I want to thank you for writing to me about remarks made by graduating senior Benjamin Kessler at the undergraduate commencement exercises May 20 at the University of St. Thomas and his subsequent apology.
I was present at the graduation ceremony and heard Mr. Kessler's speech. I do not believe it was appropriate for him to use our Commencement event as a venue for his comments. There is no question that he was speaking sincerely and upholding Church teaching, and there were certainly many ways that Mr. Kessler might have dealt with the subject of “selfishness” from a Catholic perspective that could have been edifying. However, to berate his classmates on what was to have been a joyous occasion of celebration and congratulation was not appropriate and was hurtful to many of our students and their families.
After reflecting on the matter Mr. Kessler has apologized. As you know, he issued a statement on Monday (May 22). I included the statement in a column that I wrote the same day for Bulletin Update, which was distributed via e-mail to all St. Thomas students, faculty and staff as well as many parents and alumni who are on the Bulletin distribution list. A copy of my column follows below, and I hope you will read it in its entirety.
A number of people have asked if any administrator screened Mr. Kessler's speech in advance. We did not. Past graduation speeches by Tommie Award winners at spring commencement and by senior class representatives at winter commencement have been non-confrontational. Consequently, we felt no reason to take any steps this spring in reading an advance text of Mr. Kessler's speech. We will carefully review our procedures in this area before our next commencement exercise.
Again, I want to thank you for sharing your thoughts with me.
Reverend Dennis Dease
University of St. Thomas
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
'Spoiled Brat' College Graduates
"What a bargain: At a cost of a mere $100,000 or so, a northeastern college can take your child and transform him into a delicate flower incapable of handling opinions at odds with his own. It can close his mind and vacuum-seal it against opposing views. And it can, as a bonus, perhaps make him rude and incorrigible."
He cites several instances; one I didn't see in his column occurred at the University of St. Thomas, where a student was treated shamefully, including by the college administration for the terrible offense of disapproving of sex outside of marriage and contraception, in a talk contrasting selfishness and selflessness. The president of this Catholic-affiliated university, lamented the young man's comments, and accepted an apology that came swiftly. No word on whether both the young man's arms are broken from twisting, or merely one. Here's the story on that one.
Here's my letter to the president of the University of St. Thomas:
Dear Father Dease:
I read about the speech Mr. Kessler gave at your commencement, I listened to a (faily lengthy) exerpt of it via "You Tube," and read your comments at your web site.
Please explain to me: what does Mr. Kessler have to apologize for? I heard him reflect authentic Catholic teaching, as he contrasted selfishness and selflessness. It did not seem to me that he went a
centemeter beyond Catholic teaching, nor did he venture into any area that is in dispute.
Since when is controversy in speeches at commencement something surprising or upsetting?
You said: "I had hoped that he would focus on the accomplishments of his fellow graduates and challenge them to continue their efforts 'to advance the common good,' as our mission statement urges."
Well, perhaps he could have said more about the former; but do you really dispute that his comments pertained to the "common good" -- and as such, were indeed a "challenge"? Or did you mean, a challenge
that was less challenging?
Alexander Solznitzyn said, "what strange times these are, when a statement of basic moral truth becomes an act of great courage!" What strange times indeed; especially that a young man courageously proclaims the Gospel at a Catholic University, and the University
considers that offensive.
Perhaps there is something I am missing.
Very truly yours,
Father Martin Fox
St. Boniface Parish,
Monday, May 22, 2006
Conservatives are slow learners
Sadly, conservatives are just beginning to awaken to a reality that was right before their eyes all along: just how unconservative George W. Bush is. As Viguerie points out, conservatives believed Bush was their guy, in 1999, because they wanted to believe it. They believed it despite little positive evidence to support this hope, and specific evidence, then, to contradict the "conservatism" of George W. Bush.
Well, Mr. Viguerie makes the case excellently, so I won't repeat it all here.
So why do make an issue of Mr. Viguerie's neglect of the compulsory unionism issue? Because he knows well -- he has said it himself often enough, and has first-hand experience -- that the power of the Left rests squarely and securely on the coercive power and privilege granted to union bosses by federal law. The principal coercive privilege is, of course, the power to confiscate union dues from millions of unwilling working Americans: that both gives a rather secure source of funding, as well as very effective leverage over those same "constituents."
Virtually everything that conservatives care about runs aground, or is torpedoed, politically, thanks to the political muscle of Big Labor, which is still substantial (and people who have written the epitaph of Big Labor political muscle are either self-serving or simply too ill-informed to be taken seriously). I could list the issues for you, but there is no need. Name the issue that conservatives have advocated; then, list the politicians who have blocked it. You will hunt long and hard for names on that list who are not also enthusiastic water-carriers for Organized Labor's top echelon.
Alas, too many on the right are either too pusillanimous or too dense to realize the integral connection between compulsory unionism and the frustration of the conservative political agenda. When my friends on the right think that the principal culprits are "Hollywood," the media, trial lawyers, Bill Clinton, or judges, I want to yank out my hair. It would be like General Eisenhower, before the Normandy landing, saying to the troops: "men, the thing that will endanger you are the bullets being fired at you; your goal is to stop the bullets -- focus on the bullets; that's the key thing: the bullets."
Well, yes, of course -- the bullets are deadly, and you need to deal with them if you can. But you do that by going after where the bullets are coming from -- both the fellows just up the beach, or on the bluffs, and the machinery of the Nazi state, military and industrial, that held it all together.
But too many on the right have mistakenly believed they could somehow advance their agenda against the Left, without ever addressing the foundation of the Left's political power. Please note how successful they've been!
So, now, six years later, people are finally discovering what has been "hidden in plain sight": President George W. Bush is not very conservative.
Sunday, May 21, 2006
Study Gregorian Chant in D.C.!
'Do fish know they're wet?' (Sunday homily)
Are you ready?
Do fish know they’re wet?
A fish lives in water—
does it know what that means?
Our readings keep saying, "live in love."
In the Gospel, the Lord says,
"Remain in me, live in me."
Last week, he said,
"I’m the Vine, you’re the branches"—
and what flows between us is the Life of God.
Whether we know it or not,
genuine love is a participation
in God’s own love.
That means there is no such thing as
a merely human love!
Whether we know it or not,
you and I are destined
to be drawn up into the Life of God.
As a fish is made to live in water,
so, you and I exist,
we live and move, in God’s love!
To answer my opening question,
I have no idea if a fish
can ever "wake up" to it’s reality.
But the reason God became man, in Jesus,
was to wake us up to our true identity!
This is "the Gospel," the "Good News!"
It is Good News!
But it is also very consequential news!
When you’re watching TV, sometimes you hear,
"we interrupt your regular programming
for this ‘Special News Alert’":
You look up—
"hmm, something big is happening."
But if you are a channel-surfer,
you know that "special alerts" don’t happen
across all the channels!
So the President
could come on and declare war;
we’re watching reruns!
We don’t know anything about it!
Jesus Christ is God’s "Special News Alert!"
You and I are the broadcasters of that message.
But that doesn’t guarantee everyone hears.
Either we wake up and we respond,
or, we tune it out.
In two words: Heaven or hell!
Now, when we think of hell,
we think of rejecting God.
We think of those who’ve done horrible crimes.
Yes—but that’s not all.
Think of heaven.
Heaven is the reality of
being fully alive to God.
We don’t know what heaven is like;
But the one, impossible option
is to be in heaven,
and not be totally part of it.
So—this may surprise you, but:
It won’t be because
of how good or bad we are!
We don’t get to heaven
because we’re good enough—
turn the cause-and-effect around:
We become good by responding to heaven!
We don’t go to hell because we’re bad;
we become bad because
we don’t respond
to the heavenly broadcast!
That’s a far more likely peril for most of us.
You and I don’t see
a lot of horrible people around us.
But we do see a lot of folks
who have bought a lie:
God is vague, there is no definite message,
God is whatever you make of him.
Feel good—no hard choices.
And we’ll all get to
some sort of heaven anyway!
What an excellent way to tune out God!
You realize, if we make ourselves deaf
to God’s reality,
He could scream in our ears
and we wouldn’t hear a thing!
That’s the peril.
And don’t ask, is that someone else;
Ask, "Is that me?"
So, how does this connect with regular life?
It is exactly in the daily demands of life
that you and make the choices that define us,
and that we either tune in to God—
or tune him out.
Saints aren’t just made
by praying in monasteries
and by stepping in front of
a firing squad.
Saints are made by
getting up before dawn to plant corn,
driving a truck long into the lonely night.
Finishing that boring homework,
mowing the lawn,
staying up all night with a sick child.
Fish live in water,
and you and I live in God’s love.
But God didn’t become a fish, to tell them.
We might say, "Who am I? I’m just"…a kid,
"I’m just"…a mom, "I’m just" a working man.
But with God, there are no "I’m just" people;
no one is too marginal to be filled with his life!
So his love, in us,
compels us to care for the least:
the unborn, those with disabilities,
those whose sins or crimes make us say,
"they brought it on themselves."
We care for the poor:
the rough and ragged
deserve the same respect
and the same rights,
as the respectable and powerful.
God’s love does not pledge allegiance to any flag,
does not put one nation over another.
My merely-human love can reach only so far;
it can tolerate only so much;
forgive, only so much.
But I am not merely human—
and neither are you!
God is waking us up—
he’s trying, anyway!
Trying to wake us up to our divine life:
His Promise, Life in the Holy Spirit!
Wake up, fellow fish!
You live in his Life! His Love!
Be worthy of that!
Saturday, May 20, 2006
A New Hitler?
* Item: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proposes to wipe Israel off the map.
* Item: Ahmadinejad disputes whether the Shoah/Holocaust, and the death of six million Jews, happened.
* Item: Ahmadinejad pursues so-called "peaceful" nuclear program.
* Item: Iranian Parliament calls for all Iranians to wear specified clothing, and that minorities will have specified clothing? (This is interesting: the story starts with a denial, but further details emerge later on...):
From the Canadian National Post:
Experts say report of badges for Jews in Iran is untrue
Several experts are casting doubt on reports that Iran had passed a law requiring the country’s Jews and other religious minorities to wear coloured badges identifying them as non-Muslims.
The Iranian embassy in Otttawa also denied the Iranian government had passed such a law.
...Sam Kermanian, of the U.S.-based Iranian-American Jewish Federation, said in an interview from Los Angeles that he had contacted members of the Jewish community in Iran — including the lone Jewish member of the Iranian parliament — and they denied any such measure was in place.
Mr. Kermanian said the subject of “what to do with religious minorities” came up during debates leading up to the passing of the dress code law.
“It is possible that some ideas might have been thrown around,” he said. “But to the best of my knowledge the final version of the law does not demand any identifying marks by the religious minority groups.”
Ali Reza Nourizadeh, an Iranian commentator on political affairs in London, suggested that the requirements for badges or insignia for religious minorities was part of a “secondary motion” introduced in parliament, addressing the changes specific to the attire of people of various religious backgrounds.
That account could not be confirmed.
Meir Javdanfar, an Israeli expert on Iran and the Middle East who was born and raised in Tehran, said yesterday that he was unable to find any evidence that such a law had been passed.
“None of my sources in Iran have heard of this,” he said. “I don’t know where this comes from.”
Mr. Javdanfar said that not all clauses of the law had been passed through the parliament and said the requirement that Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians wear special insignia might be part of an older version of the Islamic dress law, which was first written two years ago.
“In any case, there is no way that they could have forced Iranian Jews to wear this,” he added. “The Iranian people would never stand for it.”
However, Mr. Kermanian added that Jews in Iran still face widespread, systematic discrimination. “For example if they sell food they have to identify themselves and their shops as non-Muslim,” he said.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, the dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Los Angeles, acknowledged that he did not have independent confirmation of the requirement for Jews to wear badges, but said he still believes it was passed.
“We know that the national uniform law was passed and that certain colours were selected for Jews and other minorities,” he said. “[But] if the Iranian government is going to pass such a law then they are not likely to be forthcoming about what they are doing.”
Hmmm . . .
Worth noting is the underlying item--the "Islamic dress code" -- which isn't nearly so radioactive (pardon the pun); this, of course, recalls yet another totalitarian's playbook, do you know?
Hint: it was little, and red . . .
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
I sent this letter to Viacom today, concerning its offensive show, "Popetown":
May 17, 2006
Mr. Tom Freston
President and Chief Executive Officer
New York, NY 10036
Dear Mr. Freston:
Viacom’s webpage says of you that under your leadership, “MTV Networks grew to reach 164 countries through 100 channels worldwide… Mr. Freston oversaw the breakthrough ‘I Want My MTV’ campaign.” These successes helped bring you to your current position.
As admirable as your hard work and creativity are, it is hard to speak gently or diplomatically of the ends to which MTV’s innovations and creativity have been devoted:
1. To the exploitation of young people; and now,
2. To blasphemy of the faith of a large number of them.
Every year, millions of teenagers get drawn into the heartbreak of meaningless sex -- something MTV profits from, hand over fist. It would be laughable to claim that MTV “merely reflects” social trends: MTV is a social trend, and a powerful one at that!
MTV innovated the “reality” show, usually featuring attractive young people, sometimes fresh out of high school, living a fantasy: dancing, partying, booze and lots of sex. With impressive irony, you call that the “Real World.” High school and junior high young people are major consumers of this programming.
Odd, that you omit so many of the real-world consequences: the devastation of giving oneself away, only to be cast aside like a used Kleenex; and having nothing to show for it, except perhaps a sexually transmitted disease, a pregnancy, perhaps an abortion, and very likely, a hole in ones heart.
What became of these young people and their lives? Do you know?
Now, I learn you have moved on to blasphemy.
I learned recently of your show on German MTV: “Popetown,” a cartoon show with a “brattish” pope and “pervert” cardinals.
MTV’s defense is this isn’t anti-Catholic; it’s a “work of art!”
Is that your defense of the advertising for this show: Jesus, bleeding from his crucifixion, lounging in front of a TV with the caption, “Laugh instead of hanging around”? Some art!
I refuse to remain silent as you crucify Christ in this fashion, for whatever profit or gain it may bring you. I refuse to whitewash your assault on Catholics, following on your assault on the innocence and future of young people.
Realistically, there is little chance I will change your mind; but I am willing to try.
Know that I will share this letter with the families in my parish; I will post it on my website; I will circulate it in every way possible. And I am not the only one.
At some point, I pray you will decide this is not the course for you, or for your company.
As a priest, I would be remiss if I did not say, very plainly:
Repent! God has given you great abilities, great opportunities; and great power. Alone in your own conscience, can you really say the exploitation of young people, and the mockery of faith, are a proud legacy?
Know I am praying for you, your decision, and your soul.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Father Martin Fox
(FYI: I told Mr. Freston I would post this, giving him my web address.)
Monday, May 15, 2006
This could be compelling TV...
Bears Eat Monkey in Front of Zoo Visitors
Now: I feel sorry for the monkey; and for the "horrified" zoo visitors. But I have to confess, something about this strikes me as kind of funny! Because I can't help wondering if some folks aren't shocked when they discover animals are, after all, well...animals. I have a suspicion, which I'll never be able to prove, that some of those horrified witnesses had the unexpressed thought, "but--but--they're so...cute and cuddly! Yeah . . .
After all, why is this more shocking than what cats do to birds and mice, birds do to grasshoppers, lions to antelopes, every day?
There are a lot of folks who live in a fantasy world: they are safely ensconced in the cocoon of peaceful, safe civilization, they never see an animal slaughtered, they never directly witness the ugliness of nature, and so their happy idealization of animals is never endangered. Meanwhile, the horrors that are visited on human beings never disturb their reverie.
Sunday, May 14, 2006
'Is it in you?' (Sunday homily)
That’s the slogan for the sports drink, Gatorade.
The ad shows an athlete, who’s running hard,
and sweating hard, sweating Gatorade.
It’s an odd image, but it makes the point.
“Is it in you?”
When Jesus calls himself the Vine,
and us the branches,
we know what runs between
the Vine and the branches:
the sap, the life of the vine.
And that “sap” of the Vine
is the very Life of God, the Holy Spirit.
Is that in you?
The Holy Spirit first comes to us in baptism;
as the new shoot grows into a branch,
and as we grow into adulthood,
more is asked:
“Do we want It in us?” and,
“What will you do to keep It in you?”
In the Gospel, Jesus says,
“Remain in me”—it’s not automatic.
We don’t like to think about it, but:
some of the branches do wither,
and they do die,
even while remaining on the tree:
gradually less and less
of the sap runs through them.
They may even look green for awhile.
But spring comes back around, you know:
there’s no new growth—they’re barren.
Jesus warns us—branches can die,
and go into the fire.
We don’t take it for granted.
It happens when we sin:
“Little” sins, venial sins,
are little cuts, that diminish
the life of the branch.
And we can get used to that!
As we get older, or out of shape,
we get used to having less physical energy.
That can happen spiritually, too:
we get used to a sin;
if others around us misuse Jesus’ name,
we may be shocked the first time;
but after awhile, we stop noticing.
At some point, sin becomes mortal—
meaning, it severs the life of the branch.
There are such things as “mortal sins.”
The fire Jesus warned us about is hell.
It can happen.
Now, you don’t commit
a mortal sin by accident:
And you don’t do it without knowing you did it.
But the reason they’re mortal sins
is they represent a fundamental contradiction
against the life of God in us.
Ultimately, they represent the branch
choosing itself over the life of the Vine.
Sometimes we might not understand
why a sin is mortal—
“no one is hurt,” “why should God care?”—
the answer is, because
God cares about us, the branch!
And the branch has no life in itself,
although we fool ourselves and think we do!
The purpose of the branch is to bear fruit!
We receive life in order to give life!
So if we wonder why our Catholic Faith
teaches that some of the choices we make,
with our bodies,
with our sexuality, with marriage,
are not only sinful,
but mortally sinful—this is why!
So, yes: alone, outside of marriage, or
where the possibility of new life is prevented?
(Yes, I do mean contraception!)
Yes, these are mortal sins!
The branch does not exist for itself!
Our purpose is to bear fruit—and a lot of it!
Are we fruitful in sharing
our gift of faith with others?
Are we bold in defending our faith
when under attack?
This week, on 800 screens nationwide,
our Lord will be blasphemed every two hours--
I mean "The DaVinci Code."
The courage we need for that
comes not from us,
but from the Holy Spirit,
the Life of the Vine.
And if we are fruitful,
Jesus said he wants more!
So we can’t be complacent.
Pray for me, your priest—
because this is where I am.
This is my temptation, to think,
“I’m a priest, I’m doing fine.”
So how do we become more fruitful?
it’s good to check ourselves:
Have we gotten used
to having less of his life in us?
In there sin—
do we need to go to confession?
What fruit are we producing?
There are lots of kinds of fruit—
what’s important is that his life,
the Holy Spirit, is in that fruit.
So, one of the best habits
we can ever develop
is the practice of giving each day to God,
of daily consecrating our ordinary stuff to him.
Say a prayer getting behind the wheel;
Say grace—at every meal,
no matter where you are!
If something good happens,
say “Thank you, Jesus!”
“Please be with me, Lord!”
That’s how his Life
works its way through the branch;
and makes everything we produce
And then, when other folks
see our fruit, taste our fruit,
they won’t have to ask:
“Is it in you?”
Saturday, May 13, 2006
Old Rite, New Rite...
So, what do I think about a wider, including perhaps a universal, indult for celebrating the traditional, Pius V mode of the Mass?
I have mixed feelings, but on balance I'd say do it. I consider it a problem that too many people think it is radioactive or something -- that there is something bad or defective about the way Mass was celebrated by the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church for an extremely long time.
It goes with the "two churches" ecclesiology that is expressed so frequently by so many Catholics who need to know better, many of whom ought to know better: I mean catechists, lay pastoral ministers, coordinators and directors of religious education, deacons, priests and sundry other "churchy" people who speak loosely of "two churches," one before Vatican II, and one after.
I don't say they mean ill; but they can be rather sloppy in their descriptions, often giving emphasis to discontinuity. Frequently, what they're really doing is reflecting their own biases, preferences or gripes, often riding favorite hobby horses along the way. Trouble is, witting or not, they have been part of a very effective portrayal of the Church that is a false, heretical, and finally, fatal. If there are "two" Churches in time, then there is no Church, only a church.
As I say, such folks mostly mean no harm; but we have a lot of work to do repairing the damage wrought by emphasis on discontinuity; one result is that the long-familiar rite of Mass (to which I hold no special attachment, or any animus) seems some alien thing!
So perhaps wider permission would help, if for no other reason than the permission itself would communicate something good -- and regardless of the direct impact on celebration of the Pius V rite of Mass, it would stimulate more openness to our full tradition; is there anything wrong with that?
And, if this move would help reconcile factions within the Church, that's good.
But now, I come to my other feelings.
It is not hard to imagine the mischief some folks might create. Such a permission should not be wielded as a weapon. There are some (especially busy on the Internet) who speak as shamefully of the "Novus Ordo" Mass as the "churchy folks" I mentioned above speak scornfully of venerable Catholic traditions. Many of these folks are equally as guilty of a "two church" ecclesiology, and if it's error for the "mods" its error for the "trads." And the better informed you think you are, and claim to be (are you listening, champions of tradition?), you are all the more culpable for this as a heresy. So, knock it off!
I have no desire for two, parallel, Roman Rites, which may not happen anyway, and if it does, may prove to be a good thing. But pushing that is awfully untraditional!
G.K. Chesterton has a famous saying: "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been wanted and not tried." I might say something similar about the "reformed Roman Rite" -- i.e., the Rite of Paul VI is a work-in-progress. Comparing the Pauline Rite with the Tridentine Rite is like comparing a garden that's been tended for centuries to a landscaping just installed last weekend. There has been a lot of nonsense -- no defense for that -- and a lot of shallow, ephemeral (let us hope and pray!) stuff, but not everything that has arisen in the wake of the Council is awful, and we need to keep our sense of balance.
What many are talking about is something like a greater integration between the current, Pauline Rite and the classic, Pian Rite. This is an intriguing idea, but far easier to bandy about over coffee or beer or keyboards, than to carry out in a pastoral setting. For myself, I have only known the current rite; I believe if celebrated properly -- and I must agree it often is celebrated in a minimal, rushed, too-prosaic, too-horizontal, too-immanent fashion, overburdened with too many intrusions and overlays* -- it is beautiful and powerful, for it is THE MASS. I have no problem with the older rite, but I think the Council should be listened to: it called for some revision, some change, and I have no brief for the conspiracy view of things that paints a brooding picture of the process of implementing the Council's mandate. Say the implementers of the Council mandates goofed, that's one thing; but say that it was some nefarious conspiracy? I don't have time for that, sorry.
In all this, someone needs to be an advocate for the great number of Catholic faithful who aren't attuned to all these issues, and don't see why they should be.
They simply want to participate in Sunday Mass as part of their journey with and to Christ! They are tired of things changing again, and again, and again -- with no end in sight! (Hint: their priests are tired of it too, as are the business managers, when bills for expensive new lectionaries and sacramentaries, hymnals and other ritual books come in, while older editions, still usable, collect dust.) Bishops who have urged caution on the revisions in the English translation of the sacramentary are immediately branded "enemies" when in fact they do express reasonable concerns. (Yes, would that such concerns had been expressed 30-40 years ago. When you find the time machine, come back and tell me how it works, and we'll go fix that. Tell then, let's deal with now.) My saying this isn't that I oppose fixing the sacramentary; in fact, I support fixing it, and the lectionary, and a few other things.
But can someone please save us from this interminable, constant, tinkering? Get done what has to get done, please give us a truly worthy sacramentary and lectionary, based on a truly worthy translation of Scripture, and then...leave it in place for a couple of generations! PLEASE!
I don't know if a wider use of the Pian Rite will help. That's above my pay grade.
(A note on the term Novus Ordo. I dislike the term for two reasons.
The first reason I don't use the term is that as far as I know, it's not a term the Church uses, at least more than maybe some rare occasion.
I've had people very aggressively contradict me on that. But I have yet to determine, to my satisfaction, that it has an authentic pedigree. "But that's what it's officially called!" I've had someone insist forcefully -- to which I reply, really? Where, exactly?
I recall one such conversation, online, in which my interlocutor was very aggressive and sure of himself, not giving an inch. Tired of his obnoxious insistence, when he said it appeared on the first page of the sacramentary, I said, fine, I have a sacramentary here, let's look... Hmm, I don't find it on the first page, can you tell me where? Hmm, not on second page, third page...well, he eventually changed the subject as he got tired of me reporting my lack of success in finding it.
Now, more temperate folks have told me, "oh, it appeared in such-and-such a document." Fine, maybe it did--and if anyone can point me directly at it, so I can see that for myself, I'd be grateful.
But I've been beaten over the head, rhetorically, by folks on this who make such a point of this, that I'm calling them out: tell me when and where the Church (I mean, someone with sufficient authority, such as the pope, or the relevant congregation, or someone like that) used the term. Or, just drop it, and stop insisting this is the "official" name for the current Rite -- because if that's true, how come it doesn't show up anywhere, except in overheated rhetoric and perhaps some document collecting dust somewhere?
That leads to the second reason: by and large, this has been a polemical term, favored by both sides of the "two church" nonsense, and I don't care to use other people's polemics; I prefer my own, thank you! In the case of some "trad" polemic, it has been used by some to foster a dark view of things: Novus Ordo being tied in, somehow, with the "new world order" and the whole conspiratorial miasma that follow when you step into that particular looking-glass, no-thank-you-very-much!
If you don't know what else to call the current, Roman rite, you can, well call it "the current, Roman rite"; you can call it the Rite of Paul VI, or Pauline Rite (a very accurate, respectful, non-evaluative and may I say, traditional terminology), or, if you want to be fancy, the Missa Normativa. One could call it the Vatican II Rite, although I haven't seen that usage, and there may be a good, subtle reason not to. The older rite we are talking about is variously called the "traditional" Roman Rite (that's carries some bias), the Tridentine Rite, the "classic" Roman Rite (less bias there), the Rite of Pius V, or Pian Rite.)
* And let me point the finger at myself: I am guilty of inadequately celebrating the Mass in many ways, in bringing in too much of my personality and agenda, of rushing and getting impatient, etc. Especially when Masses are scheduled 1-1/2 hours apart, and there's so much going on in the parish, it can be hard.
What about the Traditional form of Mass?
Some seem mainly interested in participating in that rite; many are fed up with what they experience in their own parishes, and/or suppose is happening elsewhere.
Others believe a wider use of the Tridentine Rite will exert an influence on the celebration of Mass per the Rite of Paul VI (see below for why I don't call it Novus Ordo). I think this is probably true, although some may overestimate either the wideness, or alacrity, of this influence.
I have yet--in a mere three years, I acknowledge--to have anyone request my celebration of, or participation in, the Mass per the Missal of Pius V. Twice, prior to my ordination, I attended such a Mass, in the "low" form, and while I had no doubt about the dignity or holiness of the Mass, I did not find it especially nourishing or appealing. (I don't mean I had any objection to it; but some promote the Tridentine Mass experience as a eye-opening experience.) I found myself not noting the differences, but the continuity, which I found affirming in my faith.
Meanwhile, I am noticing a little more attention paid to the options, within the current norms for the celebration of the Mass according to the current sacramentary/missal (for some reason, some object to the term "sacramentary," I don't know why), that -- when pursued -- seem to resolve the concerns many have about the negative effects of the revisions that followed Vatican II.
They note, of course, that the current rite of the Mass may be celebrated entirely in Latin, for which no permission is needed (although in a parish setting, prudence should be consulted!). In my parish, we use some Latin, and I think the Archbishop would be irritated if I wrote or called him to ask if I could use more--i.e., why am I bothering him with something that is within my purview?
Also, the question of ad orientem seems to be an open one; certainly, our holy father seems to think so, as he wrote a book several years ago, saying so. (Ad orientem refers to the priest, through much of the Mass, facing the same direction as the people, literally, "eastward"--i.e., toward the Dawn of our salvation, the Risen Crucified One.)
There are many other things that can and should be done to ensure that the celebration of the Mass has appropriate dignity and conveys its true nature as a transcendent event (listed in no significant order):
1. attention to the architecture, arrangement, and decoration of the church, particularly the sanctuary;
2. attention to selection of music, including the text for the psalm, when sung;
3. assisting and encouraging singing by everyone (I don't mean slavishly);
4. the selection and training of those who take particularly prominent roles in the Mass: servers, readers, ushers, sacristans, and extraordinary ministers of holy communion;
5. an effort by the pastor to assure some consistency, and to protect the celebration of the sacred liturgy from excessive intrusions (why that phrasing? Because there are many things that can happen at Sunday Mass that are "intrusive" even though they aren't forbidden, and which it would be terribly unrealistic to exclude altogether, but should be exceptional and be experienced as such).
6. the vestments and vessels used in Mass;
7. a sense of appropriate quiet and reverence before, during and after the liturgy;
8. the priest's own deportment, approach to celebrating the liturgy, and his prayerfulness and preparation.
Clearly, in some cases, you face limits: unless a parish has several hundred-thousand or million dollars lying around, and your pastor lacks enough to do, you aren't going to make major changes to the basic structure of the church. But one can make the most of what one has.
In my case, I am blessed to have a beautiful church, well maintained. But after arriving, I found a bunch of little-used candlesticks and thought they could be put to more use. I change the altar cloths with the seasons, and make sure we use our nicest vessels. I made a few other, subtle, changes, that have a positive effect.
Of these, all take some effort, more than many realize. It takes tremendous effort and time to coordinate a lot of people: you simply can't get them all at one, or even several, meetings, and when you change what people are used to doing, some get flustered, some forget, and some have their own, unexpected interpretation on what you ask for. And some changes, if everyone isn't aware of them, cause confusion: "what are you doing? No, that's not how we do it! What? When did that happen--oh, they keep changing everything..."
I find it challenging to cultivate quiet in the sacristy just before Mass. Oh, I can think of ways to do it, and I'll get to it in time; but the sacristy is a place of work, and a certain amount of craziness is going to happen. Like it or not, servers won't always show up on time, same with readers and sacristans...and priests! People will stop by to say "hi!"
Also, given what I said above about changing what a group does applies all the more to the entire assembly: so any changes in music take even more time, even where your music director is totally on board (of course, if he is not, that's a problem of a different order. My music director and I get along well, and I'm very grateful for him.)
I recall an illustration from political history. (Someone else deserves credit for noting this contrast, but I don't recall who.) There are two usages of the word "revolution," deriving from two models: the British/American model, and the French/Russian model. The former was a more gradual process, a development and a shifting -- a relatively more serene process, akin to the astronomic use of "revolution." The latter is a sudden, abrupt change, in which the spilling of blood is a regrettable, but necessary, even salutary, aspect.
Well, which sort of model do you want to see, if your pastor or parish introduces change? I admit, it has a lot to do with what's going on now; but I think unless you face really a truly horrible situation, the more serene and gradual process makes more sense. Let me know what you think.
So--what about the "new, old" Rite? And why don't I like the term "Novus Ordo"? Alas, I have run out of time for now! More later, God willing!
Thursday, May 11, 2006
Don't sweat confession
I will say this: as in all matters, sometimes people fall into extremes.
At one extreme are those who are painfully scrupulous and all I can say is my heart goes out to them. It takes more wisdom and experience as a priest to know really how to lift the burden they carry, because sometimes, it seems nothing I as a priest say in the sacrament does any good, other than absolution. One of the basic problems I perceive with scrupulosity is an inability to trust, or perhaps to submit to, Christ.
At the other extreme are those who are awfully general. The wisdom that underlies the practice of this sacrament is that our lives are lived in the concrete: it is in concrete, specific acts and choices that we pursue holiness or damnation, as we gradually become whoever we will be for eternity. Thus, we need to examine the specific choices of our lives, in order to discover the real direction of our lives -- either Godward or selfward.
Interacting in the sacrament with folks who confess rather generally is a delicate matter, because I am not entitled to assume they haven't made a good self-examination, and asking specific questions say, about the various commandments, is extremely delicate. I really don't want "to go fishing," nor do I want to imply any sort of accusation.
A third concern, not lying at the extremes, are those of whom I wonder, are they looking at the bigger picture?
There is, in moral theology, a school of thought called "the fundamental option" which, while having a problematic aspect, nonetheless has a good insight: that we tend to have a fundamental orientation of our lives, that is shaped, statue-like, by particular choices over time. (The problematic area of "fundamental option" theory is exactly how to understand the moral significance of individual actions.)
I frequently invite a penitent to ask the question, what is the larger direction of my life? What resolution might God be calling me to?
Sometimes, my counsel to a penitent is along these lines: "It may be that the Lord has moved you toward some resolution; perhaps its half-formed in your heart right now. I don't need to know anything about that, but I would strongly encourage you to take advantage of this moment of conversion, and ask the Lord what he may have in mind" and I send them to spend some time before the Blessed Sacrament--and perhaps ask him for the courage to commit to that resolution, if they feel so inspired.
I also like to invite people to reflect on the wonderful fact that they are in confession, particularly when they seem downcast: "the very fact you are here at this moment is absolutely certain proof that God loves you; for it was he who stirred up in you any desire to come here; if 'circumstances' seem to have brought you here, know that God made that happen! And why would God bring you to this moment of grace unless he loved you?"
Many people have certain priests who they like as confessors; my own feeling is that, while I admit there are some priests who I'd rather not go to confession to--purely because of my own relationship with them--generally, any priest will do for me. If my own pride or any other reluctance is at work, I have no compunction about confessing anonymously (and neither should you, although there are times I wish I could see the person on the other side of the curtain--it would help me understand the person's situation better).
I sometimes wonder what folks think of the penances they accept from me. I try to match a penance to the situation shared; but too often, I receive no inspiration, and I resort to something rather standard. I have to remind myself: I'm a priest--Christ is present in my ministry, and I know that's true when I give absolution. That does not mean, however, that I have been given any special, supernatural gift of being a doctor of souls, as it seems some priests have been given. One point I make about the penance is that is not a "punishment" nor even a "payment," but rather more like an "offering" and even more, healing. One penance I often give--which draws a puzzled reaction--is to ask a married person, "can you do something romantic with your spouse?" I could be wrong, especially as I haven't been married, but I stand by that as a worthwhile penance: because what I'm intending is that the spouse I'm speaking to take the lead in some healing within that very important sacramental relationship of marriage.
Perhaps it seems frivolous to some, but taking your spouse out to dinner, treating him or her as king or queen for a day, bringing flowers home, sweeping your wife off her feet, or, simply, making love! are all very wholesome and, ultimately, if done with the right intention, holy acts. (I am tempted simply to say, "make love to your wife or husband," but I feel sure that would embarrass many, so I refrain, and hope my more general comment that "doing something romantic" could be anything, as long as its an act of love.)
This gives me occasion to remind you, dear reader, that when you go to confession, the priest does not, merely, assign a penance; the penitent must accept it. At least, so I was taught and so is my practice. After suggesting a penance, I ask: "can you do that?" and/or, "that's not too hard?" Sometimes, people will give a reason they can't do a penance (e.g., I might say, "can you apologize to that person?" and the penitent might reply, "I don't know that I'll see him again."), and I will change it.
As a confessor, I try to remind myself how delicate, how privileged, this moment is. I recall something a priest I know says often at penance services for high school children: pray for us priests that we won't get in the way of Jesus. There are times I wonder if I should say anything at all, and there are times I merely suggest a penance and give absolution.
Finally, I know some folks wonder what the priest will think of them, and this holds them back. In addition to reminding such folks that, first, they can approach any priest, and second, they can confess anonymously, I would say this: all the parishioners I deal with, outside the confessional give me more than enough opportunities to "think about them" (i.e., think about their foibles or sins) if that's what I want to do--which I don't! When I get a quiet moment, the very last thing I want to do is think, "My goodness, I can't believe Joe does such-and-such!"
As C.S. Lewis pointed out in his brilliant Screwtape Letters, sin is boring.
Sunday, May 07, 2006
Watching the mill burn down
About 90 minutes ago, I walked out of our bingo -- it hadn't started yet, I was just checking things out -- when I saw a huge column of smoke from a couple blocks away. Well, I walked over to toward the fire; it wasn't far away, down by the river. But, oh, what a huge fire!
Folks were all walking over to see it, and getting pretty close, which I tried to do, until I saw the ash coming down, and then felt a serious spray of water, too. It was the flaming embers that really convinced me. They convinced some folks with cars parked there, too. Although other folks' cars were there the whole time, and I felt bad for them -- that can't be good for the finish!
Well, we watched the fire; I saw several of my parishioners come by, and we commented on how high the fire was reaching, and whether nearby buildings would catch; we watched the transformer nearby snap, crackle and pop--that was exciting!
The mill was a total loss, it was nothing but a smoldering hulk when I left; the fire fighters were pouring water on two nearby buildings -- one of which I'm told has stood empty for awhile and not many would be sorry to see burn down.
Well, that caps off a busy day: at 10, our 2nd graders received the Eucharist for the first time, and that was, as you can imagine, a family extravanga. Double our usual number, and lots of proud parents and grandparents taking pictures. (Homily is below.) Then had Mass immediately following, which didn't start on time; actually, that was my fault, because in years past, we simply pushed back the next Mass' start time; but I forgot to fix that in the bulletin. So we just started Mass as soon as we could. After all that, it felt like I'd had one, big, 3-hour Mass! The candles, of course, never got put out, and many of them expired before Mass ended. The cups in a couple of the candlesticks are a little loose, so I use a little paper to hold the candles snug. But when a candle burns down too far, that paper catches and whoosh! Well, that happened during the preface--I'm singing the prayer, and here comes a parishioner up to the altar! I thought, well, Craig's a level-headed fellow--whatever he's here to do, he'll take care of. And he did. A couple folks thought that added a nice touch to the Mass.
Well, after that double-Mass, I took a little siesta, and then stopped at a First Communion party, then bingo, and then the fire! Now, I'm back home for good.
The Eucharist: God's Big Plan (First Communion homily)
between God and an angel, and a long, time ago.
God calls the angel over for a talk.
He says, "I’m putting together a plan
to save the human race.
My Son is going to earth,
to become one of them."
"Wow, that’s pretty impressive!"
you tell God.
"Wait, there’s more.
They’ll call him ‘Jesus’—
and he will suffer and die—
and rise from the dead!
That’s going to show everyone
the true evil of sin,
and also show them
there’s a way out of sin, back to life!
"Wow, that’s awesome,"
the angel says to God.
"Yes, we think this
will give the human race
a totally new focus.
They’ll know they can be forgiven;
and that they can change!
And, they won’t have to be afraid
of suffering and death,
they’ll know they can share
the very life of God!
"That will give them hope!"
"That’s a really great plan,"
the angel says to God.
"Well, there’s more.
We think it won’t work,
unless the human beings
are part of it, not just spectators.
"See, a lot of folks will come long after
Jesus’ dies and rises again—
and they need to be part of it, too!"
"Have you noticed," God says,
"how the baby humans
want to touch everything?
And, everything goes into their mouths!
They love to eat!"
"So, I’m thinking: food!
Food could really help the human race
get deeper into what
Jesus is going to do for them."
"I’m thinking of using bread and wine."
But you ask,
"God, how can bread and wine save them?"
"Well, it can’t!
Bread and wine are nothing
if that’s all they are!"
"So, would it be, like, a symbol?
Like a picture on the wall?"
"No, a symbol can’t save them, either!
It has to be really BE Jesus,
or else it’s nothing!
"What they need is to eat and drink
the life, and love,
the suffering and dying, and rising, of Jesus!
Eat and drink it.
That’s how it’ll be real to them;
That’s they’ll experience Him
being part of them,
and they’ll become part of Jesus!
"So," God says,
"I want them to eat Jesus’ Body and Blood."
"But, God, that sounds kind of yucky…"
"Well, it is yucky," God says.
But Jesus is going to suffer and die—
it is his Body and Blood that will save them!
They need to understand that.
But—so they won’t be afraid,
we will use bread and wine!
"It will truly be Jesus—
because only Jesus can save them;
but it will still look and taste
like bread and wine—
so it will be pleasing and attractive.
"This is how they will
literally be united with Jesus!"
"Wow, God! That’s quite a plan!"
"Well, I’ve been working on it for all eternity,"
God says with a smile.
But you have another question.
"Gee, isn’t all that a lot
for them to understand, all at once?"
"You’re right," God says.
"That’s why they won’t do it just once.
They’ll need to receive Jesus
over, and over, and over!"
"Even every day?"
"Yes, if they want to.
Certainly every Sunday:
that’s the ‘maintenance plan’:
Mass every Sunday
is how they’ll come to understand
what Jesus did for them.
"Plus, Jesus will be present
in their churches, in the Eucharist.
They’ll know how real he is!
They’ll be able to bring their friends,
and say, ‘See? Jesus is here! Jesus is real!
We receive Jesus’
Body and Blood in the Eucharist!
"What’s more, sharing the Eucharist this way
will show them a new way of living.
"When they come together at Mass,
it’ll be everyone—
rich and poor, black and white,
grownups and children,
healthy people, sick people—everyone!
"And they’ll realize
that only in Jesus can the world be one!
And when they realize
how much God forgave them,
they’ll be able to forgive one another."
So, finally, you ask:
"Why are you telling me—
just an angel—about this?"
"Because you’re going to be a guardian angel!
"Way in the future,
in a place called Piqua,
someone will be born
that you’ll be responsible for!
"You will help that child grow up,
and grow into,
the life and love of Jesus Christ!
And the Eucharist
will be absolutely central to that!
you will encourage that child:
to come to Jesus in the Eucharist;
not just one time,
but week after week, even daily!
"I’m going to give that child
a hunger for the Eucharist;
I want you to keep reminding that child:
‘Jesus is my Food; Jesus is my Life.’
"So, let’s practice that, guardian angel:
‘Jesus is my Food; Jesus is my Life.’
you whisper that into that child’s ear
every day of his or her life. Every day!
‘Jesus is my Food; Jesus is my Life.’
Saturday, May 06, 2006
Derby Day: The National Holiday of Kentucky
I am sorry to miss Derby Day, as those of us from the Hermit Kingdom of Cincinnati feel just about as much loyalty to Kentucky as we do to Ohio -- so it's kind of a nationalistic thing.
However, if anyone wants to know my recipe for mint juleps, here it is (although this is mainly a guess -- although I know how I do it, I don't measure, sorry):
What you need:
* A bag of ice from the store, unless you have an ice-crusher in your fridge door, and it works.
* A lot of mint sprigs. Three or four per drink.
* Bourbon. And don't be cheap, this is once a year!
* Sugar. I've never tried Splenda for this. Might work; you go first.
* Tall glasses. Snooty priests from the Arlington Diocese say you have to use silver cups, which is true, but who has those?
* Straws. Now I'll get snooty: not cruddy plastic straws, but classy, old fashioned paper straws.
Take some of the mint leaves and bruise them (twist them), then put them in a bowl, with some sugar, and then cover with bourbon. This will make a syrup, which you want to have enough of, so you can put a couple of spoonsful in the bottom of each glass. If you're making three or four juleps, I think a teaspoon should do it, maybe two, I can't remember.
You let that sit, while you do the hard part: you get that bag of ice you bought at the store. What, you mean you thought that ice-crusher worked?
Okay, now, you have to smash the ice. My mother used to put some newspapers on the counter, wrap the ice in a towel, and whack it with a hammer. I'm sure there is a better way, and my mom probably found it, but this is what I remember; and since I don't have an ice-crusher thing, this is what I'd have done if I hadn't forgotten it was Derby Day. This is kind of a mess, which is one reason I only do this once a year. It should be obvious, but -- you need a container to put the ice in, so it stays icey.
How much ice? I dunno; a lot. Remember, it melts, and you don't want to run out, so just smash away.
Okay, when your ice is ready, you are ready to make your juleps.
You take some of the syrup stuff, and spoon that into the bottom of your glasses (or cups if you're snooty). If you use short glasses, one or two teaspoons is enough; if tall glasses, go for three. Then add some ice till your cup/glass is about half full, then add some sprigs of mint down the sides; then pack completely with ice.
My mom always said you were supposed to "frost" the glasses--which meant, you stuck a spoon (or your straw) down in the ice, and sorta shifted it around, to get the cup or glass all frosty. I think it just kinda happens.
Finally, over your ice, you drizzle your fine Bourbon. (Sigh: must I specify Kentucky bourbon? There really is no other sort. And, I'm sorry, but as good as Jack Daniels is, it is not bourbon. Ergo, I have never made a julep with it, and have no idea if it's any good) Since you have packed the glass or cup with ice, you won't be drinking as much whisky as you might suppose. However, I can tell you that one year, I liked my julep so much, I made another. That was a mistake.
Now, with your straw in the glass, all the way to the bottom (where the mint is), your julep is ready to drink! Now, take your juleps back into the TV room, where you will find the race is long since over, since you were busy making the juleps, and enjoy your julep as you watch the endless replays!
I'm a Mandarin!
You're an intellectual, and you've worked hard to get where you are now. You're a strong believer in education, and you think many of the world's problems could be solved if people were more informed and more rational. You have no tolerance for sloppy or lazy thinking. It frustrates you when people who are ignorant or dishonest rise to positions of power. You believe that people can make a difference in the world, and you're determined to try.
Talent: 46%Take the Talent, Lifer, or Mandarin quiz.
The true nature of the Church (Sunday homily)
about the nature of the Church.
And the key reality of the Church—
not always understood—
is that the Church is a supernatural reality.
But there is a lot of confusion.
Many have a "lowest common denominator" idea.
"We all believe the same things"—
that sort of thing.
But the oneness we believe
Jesus spoke of in the Gospel
is a much deeper and more substantial unity;
not a lowest common denominator "oneness."
Sometimes, folks will say,
"well, the essentials are the same."
Again, I’m sorry to be difficult, but:
no, they’re not!
Because part of the problem is,
we don’t agree on what those essentials are!
One of those essentials
is the Sacrifice of the Mass,
and the Eucharist.
At the Mass, the Cross becomes present here!
This is a real Sacrifice;
and that’s why the Eucharist—
which is a sharing in that sacrifice—
really is his Body and Blood.
God is in that tabernacle!
Jesus Christ is God—and there He is!
God will be on this altar in a few moments!
This is what we Catholics believe;
it doesn’t make us better than anyone—
but it is different.
And it’s why we don’t share
other church’s communion,
and why we don’t invite them to share ours.
We pray that one day,
we will be one flock, one Eucharist.
Another essential is the nature of the Church,
which I spoke about a moment ago.
For many, the Church is merely a human institution.
Many will separate Christ from his Church—
"I believe in Christ, but not his Church."
But Jesus Christ himself founded the Church,
on the Apostles.
He gave his own authority to them.
And that authority is still with the Church,
in the successors to the Apostles,
the bishops in union
with Peter’s successor, the pope.
Now, we know about history,
and the sins and failures.
But, don’t you see?
This proves that the Church is supernatural!
If the Church were merely
a human institution,
she would have been forgotten
by history long ago!
Jesus said he would be with his Church;
and we believe he does that
with his Holy Spirit,
who guarantees that the Apostles,
and their successors,
"got it right":
the New Testament;
the Tradition that comes to us
from the Apostles,
which we still preserve.
And when the pope and bishops
make big decisions
on matters of doctrine?
We believe the Holy Spirit makes sure
the Church "gets it right."
Don’t kid yourself—
the credibility of the Church is under attack.
There’s a popular novel, soon to be a movie—
that says, it’s all a lie—a big coverup!
I mean The DaVinci Code.
Now, I know many want to read it,
or see the movie.
That’s your decision.
But you need to know,
this book is an affront to our Church and our faith—
It’s a slap in the face to all of us!
And that people would take this hokum
and treat it as if
it has some deep truth to reveal,
shows the nature of the problem we face,
in folks not understanding
what the true basis for our faith is—
and why our Faith is credible.
And that basis
is what Jesus said in today’s Gospel:
"I am the Good Shepherd"—
I won’t abandon my flock!
Since he didn’t stay
to shepherd his flock personally—
rather, he chose others to carry on in his name—
Did he provide well for his flock—or not?
Is he good to his word—or not?
"But there’s so much that dismays us!"
I know. But that’s the miracle.
If you build a building out of good stone,
you expect it to stay standing.
But try marshmallows!
There’s the miracle of the Church—it still stands!
The first reading shows us both realities.
We see Peter—Peter, of all people!—
being strong and bold.
He brings healing to a crippled man;
and he stands up for Christ without fear.
We know all about Peter’s weakness;
his strength, like the miracle,
comes from Christ.
And there is the Church—
both human and divine.
It is Christ who makes it work—
he is the Good Shepherd.
Girls in cassocks -- who cares?
I added a comment, praising the "impressive" musical efforts, but saying -- as a "relatively small matter" -- the choice of attire was "unfortunate."
Later, I expanded on that, saying that I think dressing girls in male, and in fact, clerical, attire, is ill-advised.
Well, that provoked several interesting comments:
* The issue of confusing about cassocks is "obsolescent" in "most parts of the country" (I assume the U.S. was meant), as it is "much more common for lay people to wear cassock/surplice as altar servers and choristers than it is for clergy to wear them. The formal evolution of the vesture aside, they have not signified clergy for a long time."
* This is an outgrowth of academic gowns, and that they no longer have any sex-specific meaning.
* The apparent cassock-and-surplice was "choir clothing," not male clothing.
* I was "making it harder" for the music director. (Somehow I doubt that.)
* "Statements like this seem to come from a very narrow mind set." This latter struck me as terribly funny.
Because the focus of that thread wasn't liturgical attire, pursuing it further there strikes me as inappropriate; in any case, that thread seems to have fallen by the wayside.
So I raise the question here.
I'd especially invite comments on the substantive, first point bulleted above: is it true that enough laity and females wear cassocks that it is no longer meaningfully male, clerical attire? Of course, what's "enough"?
What can you report from your parish? (And, if I may, is it a Catholic parish, Episcopal, or other Protestant? Because in my own quick, certainly unrepresentative google-survey, I found hits for girls in cassocks almost entirely at Episcopal sites.)
I realize the temptation to focus on the policy of having girls as altar servers. I'm not saying that subject is not a legitimate one to discuss; but can we set that aside? Because I know what'll happen: that'll hijack the thread.
Friday, May 05, 2006
Purple? Ain't gonna happen
|Your Blog Should Be Purple|
Wednesday, May 03, 2006
Don't mess with mama! (Especially if she homeschools!)
On Sunday, I posted my homily, as usual; not that I was embarrassed by it; but I didn't deem it particularly spectacular or noteworthy -- but just goes to show what I know!
Well, somewhere out in the virtually infinite "blogosphere," a homeschooling mom picked it up, and posted a link to it. Then another homeschooling mom; then another! Well, since then, this homily has been the hottest thing since diet pop!
Here's what that looks like, per my site meter:
Well, moms, I just want to say, I think y'all are wonderful, especially for bringing so many children into the world, and educating them! And I really am sincere, even though I realize that anyone who can generate over 400 hits on my site when you like something I say is no one to be trifled with!