Sunday, October 28, 2007

Our House (Sunday homily)

Today we celebrate a great feast—
in many ways, as great as Easter and Christmas.
You may say, “Wait—I didn’t see anything on the calendar.”

You’re right, because it’s a feast just for our parish.
This is the anniversary of the dedication of our church.

Our church.
We belong to the Universal Church—
one, holy, Catholic and apostolic—
united through time and space.

But here, this is our home!
One hundred and forty-two years ago,

this church was consecrated a House of God.

In the Gospel you just heard, Our Lord said,
“Zaccheus: I must stay at your house!”
When the Lord came—and was received with faith,
Jesus said: “Today has salvation come to this house!”

The Lord needed a house—

and our ancestors built this house;
they received him in faith; and Jesus said:
“Today, salvation has come to this house!”
But not just for this house.
For this community.

Did you notice, in the first reading,
The Prophet “saw water flowing out” from the threshhold?
Water flowing out of the Temple of God.
That sounds like a phone call I don’t want to get:
“Father—there's a flood flowing down the front steps!”

This is the Water of the Holy Spirit;
The Water of God’s own life, a flood of God’s grace!

This is what this House of ours is for:
To be a source of life-giving Water.
A source of mercy and peace in Jesus Christ!

St. Paul said each of us builds on what someone else has done—
but there can be no good foundation other than Jesus Christ himself.
One hundred forty-two years ago,
this church was built to replace the first St. Boniface,

much smaller, on Adams Street.

I ask you to reflect for a moment on what they did.
They built a larger church.
Realize when they built it. I’ll give you a hint:
the year they completed it was 1865.

Think about how our times and theirs are similar:
We are at war; they had just gone through
the devastation of the Civil War.
We have economic troubles—so did they.

They didn’t have a Catholic grade school,
or high school, as we have today.

These windows were not here;
in fact, the church wasn’t even as large as this—
what is now the sanctuary was added later,
as was the vestibule.

They knew they were laying a foundation for the future.
And they were right!

You and I have built on that foundation.
And wars and booms and busts have come and gone.
Some things are worse; other things are better.
Seventy-five years ago,
the nation was in the Great Depression.
Sixty years ago, the Second World War.
Fifty years ago, we feared a nuclear war.
Thirty years ago, people fought
at service stations over a tank of gas.

Some of us, when we were kids, remember?
Remember how far away the year 2000 seemed?
Remember how we wondered if we’d even still be here?

But here we are.

As you know, I’ve been talking to you
about repairs to this House of God.
We have a lot more to do. It’s going to take everyone.
People have begun making generous pledges
toward the Rebuild Saint Boniface Fund.
And we have a ways to go.

So what? We’ll do it.
You and I are building on the foundation
others laid for us; and we build, in turn,
for those who will come after.

We aren’t just about a building;
This is the Temple of the Holy Spirit;
This is where the Lord has chosen to dwell.
From this House the Life of God flows out.

We’re building faith in Jesus Christ.
We’re building a place where we are family.
No doubt, just as the bricks and mortar need attention;
so do these things need constant attention as well.

I have to say, there are some who—
When they hear me talk about our needs,
Who when they see things that need attention,
They are negative: “Why aren’t things better?”
Well, I don’t know—but they aren’t!

But we might just as easily respond by saying:
Great—this is what we get to do to build God’s House!
This is our contribution!

This House will not really be completed
until every woman, man and child in Piqua
believes in Jesus Christ,
is united with him in his Church,
comes to Christ for mercy and healing,
and is transformed by the Holy Spirit.

Until that day, we keep building.
Until that day, our doors stand open,
So that the Life of God flows out.

Friday, October 26, 2007

A split in the winning GOP coalition coming?

Instapundit this morning linked to an article by John Fund today in the Wall Street Journal about GOP candidate (and former Arkansas governor) Mike Huckabee. Huckabee is enjoying a bit of a surge lately, I think because he is himself very engaging, but also because there is a vacuum, as it were, in the GOP, waiting to be filled.

Conservative activists in the GOP are not happy. Arizona Senator John McCain is, on many issues, the most conservative; yet conservatives can't forget his betrayal on the First Amendment, that is, his McCain-Feingold Law that constricts free speech in many ways. Beyond that, many conservatives simply don't trust him.

A lot of conservatives don't trust former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney either; how many times can someone have an "awakening" on the subject of abortion? And his series of awakenings have so conveniently coincided with the election cycle: he was prolife, until he ran against Sen. Ted Kennedy; then, when he was safely past re-election as governor of one of the most liberal states in the union, and looking ahead to presidential primaries, he had yet another awakening.

The problems for conservatives with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani are manifest, I think I need not go into them again.

Former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson was supposed to the great savior for the right; but those conservatives who look very closely have reason to be concerned. Tennessee is a state that while it often sends up rather moderate GOPers, it can elect solid conservatives. There's no question which sort Thompson was when he came to the Senate.

It's no trick for such a figure to sound good to conservatives nationally, and--I am not kidding about this--having a Southern drawl helps. (For some reason, a number of people expect someone who talks that way not to be a liberal. Note that the last three successful Democratic candidates for president all spoke "Southern"; while a yankeefied Democrat hasn't won the presidency since 1960, and that was a very close matter, and you can make a very convincing argument that Kennedy actually lost. And note that Hilary Clinton has been heard speaking Southern on the campaign trail.)

But the actual record for Thompson is that he wasn't particularly forceful or aggressive for any conservative cause; he pretty much did as much as was really necessary for him to do, as GOP Senator from Tennessee. As it is, he, too, supported McCain's Free Speech Restriction Act, and still defends it half-heartedly, and he has some unsavory associations as a lobbyist.

So conservative activists and opinionators are looking for a standard-bearer, and now Huckabee is getting a look.

I went to read John Fund's article, expecting that it would be something of a hit-piece: the Wall Street Journal's editorial department is generally conservative, its writers are very engaged in political issues across the board, but their passion is economic issues. And it was such a hit-piece, usefully so. I mean, you can't rely on the mainstream media to get these things right. For really close analysis of what distinguishes competing candidates in primaries, you need to look elsewhere. Sometimes you do look at those who have a particular axe to grind, since you know, if there's something telling that might otherwise escape general attention, that helps their point, they'll bring it out. If you want to be clear whats different between these guys on trade, for example, read someone who really cares about the issue, and so forth on all the issues.

Back to Huckabee. His problem is that just as Giuliani is wrong on prolife and marriage, Huckabee is wrong on taxes and spending; really, on the issue of big government in general. This is someone who casually suggested recently he'd favor a national ban on smoking in public places, and who seems a bit of a zealot on matters of diet. And just as Romney and to some extent, Giuliani, have undergone convenient "awakenings," so has Huckabee, and sensible people shake their heads saying, "how gullible do you think we are?"

If you are a student of history, you may recall that certain figures have been deemed by historians as so decisive, the times that followed them are named after them. In politics, you have the "Jacksonian Era" that followed the rise and presidency of Andrew Jackson. For many elections after, candidates in both parties tried to emulate Jackson or claim his mantle, or otherwise had to deal with his legacy. Something similar happened with Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal.

And the last such figure was clearly Ronald Reagan. I would argue Bill Clinton definitely fits into this pattern, because Clinton himself admits he studied Reagan, and imitated his success in many ways; and in governance, he largely left Reagan's policies and paradigms in place. Who said, "The era of Big Government is over?" Who signed into law the only significant rollback in a federal entitlement--Welfare Reform? Clinton is seen, rightly or wrongly, as seeking a policy of growth, stable money and prosperity. And he was--like it or not--a great communicator.

So a good question to ask is, are we still in the Age of Reagan?

This brings me to the title of this post. You can see something curious happening in the Republican Party: questions of identity, an amazing loss of credibility on the issues that the GOP previously "owned" such as spending and being against big government. And you have a putative front-runner--Giuliani--who represents only part of the coalition, between "social" and "fiscal" conservatives, and now you have someone like Huckabee who may be the representative of the other part. But Reagan, you see, represented both and appealed to both; Bush I and Bush II both presented themselves as representatives of both. Will 2008 be the year the coalition is split apart?

These things happen all the time in races for other positions--and it's not pretty. There are always recriminations along the way, especially if the nominee goes down at the election, as often (but not always) happens. The stakes in these things are huge, but not in the way many people think. The Ohio GOP is a shambles in large measure because the wrong sort of Republican, the me-too moderate crowd, controlled things, first Voinovich and then Taft; a conservative was allowed to captain the Titanic only after it had hit the iceberg. As I've written before, its important to keep a long view, and not focus on one particular election. Elections matter, but in broader ways than may be apparent.

Of course, it's awfully early. We might do well to remember that no one has cast a vote except for the chattering class, bloggers included!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Creative Writing Assignment: What is Heaven like?

Today, I had an engaging conversation with a gentleman who is going to help our students, at Piqua Catholic School, with a creative writing project. His proposed topic? "What is heaven like?"

He asked my suggestions, and I suggested providing the children with some resources for their preparation; my thoughts strayed beyond the more obvious resources of the Catechism or the Compendium of the Catechism, to examples of literature that might fire the students' imagination. That led to suggesting not just literature, but also: films, artwork, poetry, and music.

After all, not everyone thinks along the same lines; some folks will connect better with artwork or music, others will say, "just give me the facts," and still others, with literary images.

I didn't have many suggestions off the bat: beyond Scripture itself, I offered C.S. Lewis' Great Divorce and, from the Chronicles of Narnia, the Last Battle. The only artistic image that came to mind was Michaelangelo's Last Judgment, painted in the Sistine Chapel.

So, I turn to you, dear reader! Would you like to help?

I would ask, before you post suggestions, to be mindful of the following:

* This is for children from first to eighth grades, so be mindful that things not be too hard; and that we have some easier things for the younger grades.

* Obviously we want things that reflect a Catholic sensibility -- i.e., contrary to a lot of popular depictions, we don't become angels! -- and it would be good to offer things that go deeper.

* Suggestions in any and all fields of art and creativity would be welcome: again, art, poetry, music, written sources, both discursive and literary.

Our hope is four-fold: to expose them to really good quality stuff, to have that feed and shape their imagination, to help them to learn something about heaven, along with having them learn something about writing as well.

My collaborator on this reads this blog, so he will be able to take your suggestions directly from the comments. I don't mind if a discussion ensues, but I do ask for concrete suggestions, and thank you!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Our help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth (Sunday homily)

The enemy the first reading wants us to "mow down" is not people,
but anything and everything
that stands between us and the Kingdom of God.
And one of those enemies is discouragement:
"We can’t do it."

Notice the role of Moses: he stands up high, praying.
You and I pray for one another.
We all need to have our arms held up.

This is a reason we come together at Sunday Mass:

We come to hold up each others’ arms in prayer.

Are you discouraged? You and I have no right to be discouraged!

In Afghanistan, and Iraq, brave men and women
are putting their lives on line for us.
It’s exhausting and couldn’t be more dangerous.

We hope for the best—and they are giving their best,

and, as we all know, they give their all.

But what does the future hold? No one but God knows.

But you and I as Christians—we do know our future!

We don’t know how long General Motors will be around,

but we know Jesus Christ
is the same yesterday, today, and forever!

Today is World Mission Sunday,
reminding us that we are in this world,
just as God’s People were in the desert:
they were passing through;
and we’re passing through, on our way to the Kingdom.

As we go you and I want to make sure, first, that we make it;
and second, Christ commands us
to bring all we can with us.
There’s a world full of people who don’t know Him;
we’re here to tell them.

Again, we get discouraged: "They won’t listen";
or we say, "Not today."
Our schoolchildren are not discouraged—
and they’re not waiting for another day.
Do you know what they are doing?
They are raising $7,000 to build a house in Haiti.
They are well on their way to doing it!

We don’t have to go to Haiti to go the missions, however.

Some folks see empty seats at Mass and get discouraged.

Fill those seats! Bring people with you!
This city, the houses around your house, your family:
these are our mission field.

We have a Bible Study every Wednesday.
You come, and bring someone with you.
We have Cursillo—a great opportunity to grow in faith.

Soon, we’ll have discussion groups
on the Pope’s book, Jesus of Nazareth.
We have RCIA sessions every Monday evening:
Come, and bring someone with you.

We have a 24-hour chapel;
Come, and bring someone with you!

It’s our turn to help the Bethany Center;

The boy scouts and girl scouts need help.

When we have Bingo, it’s filled with non-Catholics!

You come, and bring someone with you!

My point is, you and I can easily be missionaries,
right here in Piqua. What holds us back?
Not "the enemy"—armed with Faith in Christ,
you and I can mow him down!
Only one thing can defeat us—and that is us, our attitude:
"We can’t do it"; "why try?"

Why do we get discouraged?

I suspect one reason we get discouraged
is we look to ourselves—
we draw on our own strength.
And that works—
for awhile, until we use up our reserves;
until we get to the end of our own strength.
That’s when we realize we needed to look elsewhere:

to the Lord who made heaven and earth.
The time we spend with the Lord,
the time we spend on our knees in prayer,
is not wasted time, and it’s not a luxury; it’s a necessity,
to renew our strength,
to stride into battle.

If you are discouraged today,
realize why God brought you here today:
Look to the Lord; He is your strength.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

What's Going on in the Church?

This is a talk I gave Tuesday evening to a group of Cursillo leaders, who meet periodically to deepen their study of the Faith. I thought you might like to see it as well.

A lot of folks are reading things, hearing things, coming from bishops, coming from Rome, that raise questions, cause concerns, invite criticism from outside and inside. Some common issues of “change”:

Ø The pope issues a statement about who can be saved, who is fully Catholic, and are other “churches” really churches. What’s that about?
Ø Bishops keep talking about who can receive holy communion—there seem to be different answers. What’s going on with that?
Ø It seems like things keep changing at Mass. There’s talk about a new translation of the Mass itself, plus things about the readings; plus there was the decision by Pope Benedict to allow wider use of the form of Mass that supposedly went out with Vatican II. And other things. What’s up with that?
Ø We are the trends for the Church? In some places we hear parishes and schools combining and closing; other places are bursting at the seams. What does it mean that so many Hispanics are coming into the U.S.? What about vocations? Are we going to have married priests or women priests?

That’s a lot to cover—and I hope these will prompt questions on your part as well.

Zoom Out, Zoom In

If you use a computer, you know you can use a “zoom in/zoom out” feature in various computer programs. You hit a button, and you can zoom in on a map, or on a document you are working on—you can have a few words fill up the entire screen, or have a map of your own street! Then you can “zoom out” and see the entire country.

When it comes to our experience as Catholics, we live and operate most of the time in a “zoom in” situation. To show what I mean, let me do a little survey.

I’m going to ask some questions about Mass attendance—just to be clear, I’m not fishing around for whether you get to Mass every Sunday. I’m assuming you do; I’m not trying to embarrass anyone. Rather, I’m curious about where you usually attend Mass.

If you were at Mass outside your own, home parish anywhere in the last month, raise your hand. Keep your hand up if you did that twice in the last month. Keep your hand up if three times. Okay, hands down…another question. While I’m not going to, what if I were to ask you to get up and describe three different parishes, where you have routinely attended Mass in the last year—how many of you could stand up right now and have something to say?

How many of you attend Mass all or mostly in Latin? Spanish? Another language other than English? Okay, that serves my point.

I’m not saying this is good or bad; it just is how it is. Our experience of the Church tends to be our own parish, or a handful of parishes right around us, and the people we know from there. Beyond that, it’s the diocese, maybe Covington diocese if you’re from Cincinnati. But that’s pretty much it.

Even then, there are things that happen in our archdiocese I bet most of us aren’t part of. We have several parishes where there’s a significant African American membership. Same with Spanish-speaking Catholics. A few Asian communities. We have a number of parishes where Mass, either the old form or the new—is regularly offered in Latin. There are several Catholic churches in our own archdiocese that aren’t Roman Catholic, but they are fully Catholic. How many of us can name those churches?

(Answer: St. Anthony Maronite Church, Cincinnati; St. Barbara Byzantine Church, Springboro, St. Ignatius Maronite Church, Dayton.)

And this Archdiocese is one of six in Ohio; one of hundreds in the U.S.—and the 60-plus million Catholics here are less than 5% of the whole world’s Catholics!

The oldest person here—do you care to say how old? You were born in ____, meaning you can remember Archbishop ____, and Pope ____? You can remember some of what happened before Vatican II. Do you remember when the fast before Mass was 3 hours? How about when it was from midnight? Can you remember when Pope Pius X lowered the age of receiving first communion? That happened in 1910, almost 100 years ago.

That seems such a long time ago, for our usual way of living—but in the life of the Church? Not so long! We’re still being influenced by events well before that—for example, many of the “new” trends in Biblical scholarship were “new” before that; the “new” Social teaching of the Church was “new” in the 1890s(!); and “new” trends in liturgy go back to about that time as well!

Not only do we live in a “zoom in” situation as far as location and culture, we also live in a “zoom in” situation as far as time—we’ve experienced only a small slice of the life of the Church. That skews our perspective. On the one hand, we view some things as “permanent” because they’ve been around for a few decades—but that’s not permanent in the life of the Church. Yet on the other hand, we think the changes we’ve experienced are about recent history, when in fact they really go back centuries.

These are things we see better when we “zoom out.” See what I mean? So let’s “zoom out”…

Vocations and the Church: growth or decline?

We hear about a priest shortage. We’re experiencing it right now, in our archdiocese. If we zoom out, and see the bigger picture of the world, we discover that there are worse shortages in many other places, and there are far better vocations, in others.

In Central and South America, many Catholics see the priest, for Mass on Sunday, every several weeks. In between, they have no Sunday Mass, only having the Scriptures read and maybe a communion service.

Meanwhile, there are very few parishes in this country where you can’t have Sunday Mass, either in your own parish, or a parish nearby. For example, I am pastor of two parishes, but they are a half-mile apart, and each has three Masses for Sunday.

Our vocations to the priesthood have been down in this country for some time, that’s why we’re in this situation. Only they are trending up in recent years, for our Archdiocese. And in a number of dioceses in the U.S., they are way up, and have been up. In others, the situation is turning around.

Even though the situation in the U.S. is getting better, it’s not good enough yet. More older priests are passing from the scene than new ones coming on. The good news is, the worst is behind us, and things are slowly getting better. Depending on what we do, the situation could be getting a lot better.

The situation in Europe is terrible—but there are bright spots even there.

What color is the face of the Church?

Meanwhile, in Africa—vocations are exploding: up over 80% from 1978 to 2004! They are also way up in Asia. Of course, they’ve got to keep up with an even-faster growing Catholic population in those places.

You and I tend to think of the U.S. as the center of things; but while we’re less than 5% of the whole Church worldwide, for every American Catholic, there are almost 3 African Catholics. One of the top cardinals in Rome, in charge of liturgy and sacraments, is Arinze, from Nigeria. As it stands, only one in five Africans is Catholic, but the Church is growing there, same in Asia. The face of the Catholic Church, to us, may be European and white—but in reality, it’s more African and Asian.

So when we have these discussions about Catholic issues in the U.S.—about “decline,” “crisis,” celibacy and women’s ordination—how weird all that must sound to so many other Catholics, where they’re worried about: how can they build enough churches and schools? How can they have enough people to teach new Catholics? They have laypeople baptizing and witnessing marriages, not because of declines in priests, but because of a flood of converts! In Africa, they face ongoing persecution, as well as in many places in Asia. In Iraq, the Catholics are being persecuted, but vocations are up!

Our part of the Church in the U.S. is so healthy in some ways, and challenged in others—the sex abuse scandal was very much a U.S. and European crisis, and we’re wounded by it in ways other parts of the Church are not. Many of the things we’re wrestling with are special to us, because of that.

But again, when we “zoom out,” we see these things in perspective. The same is true if we “zoom out” as far as time is concerned.

Liturgy: Backward or Forward? Neither: it’s the Center.

This is where we can talk about the Mass, liturgy, and some other things that come up, where people get excited, and say, “we’re going backward”!

So, for example, we have the Mass.

Almost everyone attends Mass entirely in English. Another survey: how many of you, in the last month, heard anything said or sung, at Mass, in Latin—anything at all, that you remember? Did you, yourself, help sing it—I mean, was it a hymn or a prayer everyone prayed? Was that something unusual, or normal for you?

The Surprise Content of Vatican II

Most Catholics in the U.S., and I would bet most in much of the world, have gotten very accustomed to Mass being almost entirely in their own language. This is something that happened in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. It has become normal, and as I say, almost universal.

But how many know the following:

Ø Vatican II did not mandate that Mass must be said in the vernacular? Instead, it said that this could be an option?
Ø That Vatican II did not “abolish” or outlaw Mass continuing to be celebrated in Latin—even in parishes, on a weekly or daily basis?
Ø That Vatican II did mandate that, where the option for the vernacular would be pursued, that the people still learn to sing or say together some of the Mass in Latin?

I cite this because language is something very powerful and intimate for us all. This was a big change in the life of the Church. And a lot of folks think that the change is all “behind” us. But in reality, the change is not past, it’s present—we’re in the midst of change, as a result of Vatican II. Again, let’s “zoom out”…

The Liturgical Movement and the Council

The issue of using the vernacular long predates Vatican II. It was brought up at the Council of Trent, because the leaders of the Protestant movement brought it up, but at that time, the Church elected not to go that direction. No, they didn’t “condemn” it as something that could never happen—they said, in effect, “not now.”

In the century or so leading up to Vatican II, it was becoming routine to use hymns, in the vernacular, at Mass, instead of some of the sung prayers called for at Mass—which were in Latin.

You see, when you have Mass, in Latin, English or whatever, many people don’t realize that the music for Mass is not something “added” by the musician, chosen by a liturgy committee.

Rather, the Mass itself—I mean, the Missal, the book of all the prayers and readings to be used—already gives us the text of the music to use! Not many people know that—I bet not many here, knew that.

But what happens at most Masses is that we don’t use all that music; instead, we use hymns, such as “All Creatures of our God and King” or “On Eagles Wings” or what have you. This trend, however, did not begin with Vatican II—as I say, it goes back about a century before.

Are you curious why? Of course you are!

The reason is that the music that was being substituted for is Gregorian chant, in Latin. Why it happened we could talk about, but that’s more than we have time for. It started in Germany and happened in a lot of the Church—including in this country! It had become widespread into the 1800s, and various folks tried to respond to this.

This is when the “Liturgical Movement” got started, in the mid-1800s! This led to Pope Pius X calling for a restoration of Gregorian chant in 1903! And this “new” movement in the liturgy continued to work itself out, playing a major role in the work of the Second Vatican Council!

My point is, right or wrong, the goal of all this wasn’t to be rid of all that musty old chant, but to restore it! That is surprising, if you view the Council from too narrow a point of view. When you view the Council, instead, from the larger “zoom out,” then what the Council said takes on a very different meaning: In Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the Council Fathers called for Gregorian chant to be given “pride of place” (Paragraph 112).

What’s funny is that if you go to a parish, and they sing the opening Introit, in Latin chant, they are fulfilling Vatican II; but if you go to a parish—most parishes in this country—and you hear, “Glory and Praise to our God,” they are actually being “pre-Vatican II”!

And if we see that in this one point, we might wonder, how does this apply when we look at everything that came out of the Council? See how that works?

It’s not about Latin—it’s about the center

At this point, some will ask, what’s so special about Latin? The answer is, it’s not about the Latin per se. It’s about something else. To return to the question that I started with, “what’s going on in the Church,” the basic answer is, the Church is striving to get back to the “middle”—the mainstream.

The “middle,” the “mainstream” of what?

I mean the middle, or mainstream, of the overall direction of the Church, viewed not from the point of view of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Centreville, Ohio, USA, in AD 2007—but the center, the mainstream, of the Church worldwide, the Church in her 2,000 years of existence, in the context of God’s total plan of salvation back to the beginning of time!

How is that for a “zoom out”?

The most powerful portrayal of this idea—staying on the “mainline”—comes from G.K. Chesterton. On the back of your handout is a long quote by him, but it’s so good, I invite you to look at it with me, if you haven’t already read it. It’s too long to quote now; it’s too good not to quote at all.

This is the thrilling romance of Orthodoxy. People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy. It was sanity: and to be sane is more dramatic than to be mad. It was the equilibrium of a man behind madly rushing horses, seeming to stoop this way and to sway that, yet in every attitude having the grace of statuary and the accuracy of arithmetic.

The Church in its early days went fierce and fast with any warhorse; yet it is utterly unhistoric to say that she merely went mad along one idea, like a vulgar fanaticism. She swerved to left
and right, so exactly as to avoid enormous obstacles. She left on one hand the huge bulk of Arianism, buttressed by all the worldly powers to make Christianity too worldly. The next instant she was swerving to avoid an orientalism, which would have made it too unworldly. The orthodox Church never took the tame course or accepted the conventions; the orthodox Church was never respectable. It would have been easier to have accepted the earthly power of the Arians. It would have been easy, in the Calvinistic seventeenth century, to fall into the bottomless pit of predestination. It is easy to be a madman: it is easy to be a heretic. It is always easy to let the age have its head; the difficult thing is to keep one's own. It is always easy to be a modernist; as it is easy to be a snob.

To have fallen into any of those open traps of error and exaggeration which fashion after fashion and sect after sect set along the historic path of Christendom -- that would indeed have been simple. It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands. To have fallen into any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame. But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect. —G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, Chapter 6.

Here’s a shorter quote, from the same chapter. He’s commenting on the scandal, to the modern mind, of “monstrous wars about small points of theology.” “It was only a matter of an inch,” Chesterton says; “but an inch is everything when you are balancing.”

This is the idea I have in mind when I say the Church isn’t so much going “forward” or “backward” but aiming toward the Center, the mainstream—staying on course; balancing. And that invites to ask: who’s setting the course, and doing the balancing?

The answer is, of course, by the Holy Spirit!

And the Holy Spirit has made it easy for us to find that: we find all this located in something we have a word for, it begins with a “T”…Tradition. A major “source” or repository of our lived Tradition is found in the liturgy!

The Church has music and prayers that go back so far, we don’t know how old it is—we can find evidence of Gregorian Chant, and the Mass itself as we know them, about the year AD 600. But we know they weren’t “invented” that year! So we know it all goes back well before 600—how far before? We can only speculate.

But notice, then, that we’re knocking at the door of the early Church! There is very good evidence that Gregorian chant has roots in, and is an evolution of, the chants of the Temple in Jerusalem! That takes it back to our Lord’s time, and beyond that, no one can say!

Gregorian chant, like the Mass itself, is something remarkable, that can only happen in the Church: something that developed, slowly, gradually, over what seems to us such a long time—but the advantage of this is that is cannot be described as the product of particular human beings, and their agendas; it can only be described, as Pope Benedict did, in his recent letter Sacramentum Caritatis, as the work of the Holy Spirit!

The pope makes this point very strongly—not so strong as to claim the liturgy cannot be changed, at all; but at least to say, we should be very, very humble in approaching liturgical change, because we’re talking about something God did, through the Church, and something we can only dimly claim to understand.

This is why it’s important, in the life of the Church, at least to try to restore and return to the use of chant—not because it’s the only way, but because it’s so much a part of who we are, that we conclude:
(a) God must have done something really great through it, because it was part of the Church for almost all of our history; and
(b) we are kidding ourselves if we think we really understand what that was, and therefore we can come up with a replacement. Therefore
(c), without it, we may be missing something really important in our liturgy. The Church never claims to know all the answers to every question—this is one of those places. So we tend to be rather conservative about “reinventing” something that has been given to us. That’s why we change slowly!

So this goes to all the liturgical questions that get people excited. Why Latin? Why the old form of Mass? Is it really true the priest might turn around again? (Yes, it’s true—because it’s not true that the Council said he had to turn in the first place!)

This is all about the Church trying to get Vatican II right—and to make sure we view what Vatican II had to say in the context of what God has done in the whole history of the Church; but not only how we view the Council, but to make sure we get the Council right—i.e., we carry out the right vision, and stay…in the center.

Who is Herman, and who said he knew ticks?

Our Pope has coined a very useful term and idea, but it’s an expression that needs some explaining. He uses the term, “hermeneutic of continuity.” Huh? Who’s Herman, and what’s that he knew?

Hermeneutic is a word that describes the way we interpret something. I am wearing glasses, I just started, since I turned 45 earlier this year. I see the world a bit different, looking through these glasses. For one thing, you are all a lot less fuzzy than you were the last time I saw you!

The “lens” through which we view our world, and events in our lives, is our “hermeneutic.” As Americans, we all view world events through a particular “hermeneutic”—or pair of spectacles—we call “9/11.” If that hadn’t happened, aside from how the world itself would be different, clearly we would also view the world, and even our own, particular lives, differently. See how that works?

So what the pope is saying is this. When we talk about the Second Vatican Council, or even this or that particular change or movement in the life of the Church, or the life of our own parish, he calls for us to use the hermeneutic, or lens, of continuity. He is suggesting that, as an alternative to what he thinks we’ve been using: a hermeneutic of rupture.

How many people have heard someone talk about “the old Church” and “the new Church”—the Church pre-Vatican II and the Church post-Vatican II? We all use language like that, don’t we? We, or people we know, have lots to say about how different things are, for our Church since Vatican II. For that matter, we can see that happening for our country and our world, apart from the Council, true?

See what we’re doing there? We’re looking at things through the lens of “rupture”—how things are different. The pope isn’t saying that’s altogether wrong or bad—but that it’s not enough. Particularly in talking about the Church.

Why? Because the Church is a living organism, right? We call it a…Body…the Body of Christ!

A lot of the things people are talking about fit well into this choice of “continuity” or “rupture”—and the ongoing task of trying to keep the Church at the “center”—meaning, in the mainstream of where we’ve been going, and are going, led by…the Holy Spirit.

So why did the pope “bring back the old Mass”? He himself said: it was not helpful to have people think there was something wrong with it; and he also said that if we think the Mass, since Vatican II, is something essentially new, there’s something wrong with that idea.

He said, in his letter announcing his decision about allowing widespread celebration of the old form of Mass, that he hopes the two forms of Mass will influence each other. Can you see what he’s getting at there? I would argue he’s trying to assure we stay…at the Center. On the right path.

Recently the Church issued a statement about Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox, and who is “the True Church.” I haven’t actually studied this document, so I can’t say much about it—but can you see this is all about the same thing: staying with the mainstream?

I.e., there’s been at one extreme the idea that views things very narrowly—only formal members of the Catholic Church even can be saved—and very broadly: it doesn’t matter if you’re Christian, let alone Catholic! This document is simply trying to enunciate the “Center”—which happens to be the ancient teaching of the Church. And it is correcting the false idea that Vatican II departed from “the Center.”

And so it goes.

The changes we are experiencing—and we may find unsettling—aren’t as dramatic, in the life of the Church, as they are for us.

If you’ve been on an airplane, it can hit a pocket of turbulence, and you can shake, rattle and roll—and you remember a lot of prayers you thought you forgot! And yet, all that happens and you are still on course, heading for your right destination.

A lot of folks believe the Church is “off course”—and for all I can say, they may have very valid points. You can view that negatively, or positively: we can be bothered by the turmoil, and worry about the outcome; or we can be grateful for yet another way the Holy Spirit “writes straight with crooked lines”—i.e., this, too, is part of His “course correction.” The passengers in the plane may be in a panic—and the clergy and theologians—let’s make them the flight attendants!—may be confused too; but the Pilot—the Holy Spirit—knows what He is doing; even when passengers and the flight attendants try to grab the helm and make things even more unsettled.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


They call you sticky fingers for a reason!

Biretta tip to Catholic Fire

Which leper are you? (Sunday homily)

Ten lepers were on their way to the Temple.

The first leper said to the second leper,
“That Jesus didn’t have much time for us, did he?
Not very pastoral, is he?”

“I know,” said the second leper.
I wanted to tell him everything he needs to change!
What about lay involvement?”

The third leper said to the fourth leper,
“You know, when I was a kid,
they’d have used the old prayers—I like those better!”

The fourth leper said to the fifth leper,
“Why’d that leper bring her kids?
How was I supposed to talk to Jesus with them around?”

The fifth leper said the sixth leper,
“You know, Jesus could have healed me years ago!
Do you know a good lawyer?
I think we have a class-action lawsuit!”

The sixth leper said to the seventh leper,
“I could go back and thank Jesus—but he knows I’m busy:
I’ve a lot to do—sports and chores and stuff.
it’s not like Jesus needs me to go be with him.”

The seventh leper said to the eighth leper,
“Look, we’re all OK, but—that Samaritan!
Did you see how he dresses?
Those tattoos, those earrings—
You know, he must be one of those types,
if you know what I mean!”

The eighth leper looked around.
“Yeah, it’s not like I’m prejudiced or anything,
but why don’t they stay with their own kind?

“Say . . . where’d that Samaritan go, anyway?”

“Just as well,” said the ninth leper.
“He would’ve just made trouble.”

And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice;
and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.

Ten lepers walked down the street. Which one are you?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Political Desperation Fever begins to spread

There is a condition that grips the hearts and minds of politically concerned Americans (and those of other countries, I suppose, but I haven't any experience there) as elections approach, and until I come up with a better name, I'll call it "Political Desperation Fever." It manifests itself principally in a conclusion that may be stated thusly: "but we can't afford to lose this election" or alternately, "we can't afford to have ___ win." I have seen this among conservatives, but I suspect liberals are susceptible as well.

The other manifestation is the immediate corollary: "therefore, we must support ____" or we must tolerate such-and-such a compromise because...(insert first assertion here)."

So, the Fever is now focused on Hilary Clinton as the mortal peril--i.e., we cannot survive her election, that is the claim--and therefore, we must support Giuliani (or someone else, if Giuliani's campaign falters).

So there is a debate on the pages of National Review Online, with one commenter echoing an evangelical's rationalization for backing Giuliani--even before the primaries begin!--and then others critiquing the argument.

There are, of course, lots of things to talk about here: how good or bad would Giuliani be? How much credence should sensible people give to his rhetoric and promises? Even taking as a given that Hilary Clinton is awful on prolife issues, how reasonable is it to catastrophize about her election?

About Giuliani the supposed friend of social conservatives: gimme a break! The credulity with which people accept his promise that he'll appoint only sound judges to the Supreme Court is almost morally imputable--i.e., many of the people who say they believe it, I think cannot be that stupid, so they must be deliberately insincere. Giuliani has a record of appointments in New York City--consult the record; and he said, during a debate, his idea of a "strict constructionist" judge might well uphold Roe v. Wade, so that gives up the game right there.

A President Giuliani will be in a position to frustrate and weaken the prolife movement in ways a President Hilary Clinton never could, because so much of the movement must work within the Republican Party. It would be wonderful if the Democratic Party also had a significant prolife movement, but prolifers are barely tolerated in the Democratic Party. So if legislation will reach the floor of Congress, it will do so through the GOP for the time being.

The leadership within the party can be very corrupting--as we've seen with President Bush, who has led the GOP from being a party of small government and spending restraint to being enthusiastic backers of big spending and intrusive big government.* Meanwhile, remember when Bill Clinton was president, the GOP did a far better job of providing opposition to spending and advancing issues dear to social conservatives, and we made progress, far more than under the prior George Bush, or this one!

* Update ca. 2:45 pm: in fairness, the GOP had started down the wrong path before this. The GOP Congress started moving away from fiscal discipline later in the Clinton Administration, and decided--foolishly in my judgment--to make Clinton their only issue, and it cost them in 1998. But they were models of rectitude by comparison to their actions under Bush.

I have no idea what a President Hilary will be like, but it's a bit much to expect people to agree with you that you know it will be a disaster all around. Of course we know she's terrible on prolife issues--but then, so is Giuliani. At least if Hilary wins, we can hope for vigorous opposition to her.** Of course she'll name terrible justices, but to replace whom? It's not at all clear that should she get to name anyone to the court, her replacements will make things any worse (i.e., if she replaces Stevens, Ginsberg or Souter?). In any case, why assume Giuliani's will be better? It will be far easier for the GOP to oppose Hilary's nominees, than their own presidents.

** Update ca. 2:45: this is what the tub-thumpers for Giuliani specifically, or anyone trying to stampede you into desperation, hope you forget--that the President cannot do anything she or he likes, but must act with Congress. How amazing it is that the exact same political group who said you couldn't push for everything you wanted, when it was a GOP Congress and a GOP president, are now coming to you saying, hysterically, if Hilary wins, she can pass everything she wants! How stupid do they think we are?

What's more, people also forget how much progress the opposition made, during the Clinton years--on prolife issues and across the board. If you are a conservative or a Republican (the terms used to overlap), the years 1994-1999 were years of policy progress across the country. If you look at all 50 states as well as Congress, lots of GOP candidates won, taking control of state houses as well as Congress, and policies were enacted, that would please GOPers and conservatives. Meanwhile, a lot of that has been eroded under Bush.

Meanwhile, some claim Hilary's presidency will be a military disaster. Well, show me your crystal ball, and then I'll believe you know something. I think it's very reasonable the first woman president of the U.S. may feel the need to prove she's tough enough, or at least be concerned not to make a wrong move that suggests she's soft?

The bottom line is that we can, do and will survive...or not, but not on the basis of a single election. Everything does not hinge on who is president. The world will keep spinning, and if Hilary becomes president--or Giuliani for that matter--the task will be to respond and keep fighting. There are no permanent defeats...or victories, in politics--or at least, very few.

Private Patriots and Public Traitors

There's a very interesting story out yesterday and today, about a private intelligence firm that hacked into Al Qaeda's communications, got ahold of a video of bin Laden, and provided this information to the White House.

According to the Washington Post, it wasn't long before someone in the government leaked this information to the press; ABC and Fox News (and others I think) posted excerpts of the video; al Qaeda promptly shut down its communications system; and the work carried out, for several years, to penetrate the enemy's systems, was all tossed aside.

NPR led off this morning with a breathless story along the lines of, "oh my, what in the world is a private intelligence company?" with inquiries into whether this was worrisome--as if the idea that only the government has reason to be concerned about such things, or should handle it.

This recalls the stories, previously, about how outrageous it is that there are "private" security firms that--gasp!--not only allow their employees to carry guns, but they use them! Again, as if somehow we're all safer when government uses such power. Of course, I realize the major part of the Blackwater story was the concern that this power was misused; but still there has been a strong undercurrent of suggesting that the problem lies precisely in Blackwater and others being "private" and worse, "for profit"!

In this case, the story is developing. But the private company, SITE Intelligence Group, did a good thing in penetrating al Qaeda's network, and a further good thing, in sharing the fruits of its work with the government. Someone -- it seems at this point to be someone in the government -- did something materially treasonous, although I doubt that was the intention. The effect is the same. One can only wonder for what motive--my guess would be for venal reasons, which is only more disgusting, really.

Realize that part of the damage of this is that the next private actor who comes up with something useful but secret that helps our cause against the terrorists will think twice about sharing it with the government.

Also, I want to know--did ABC and any other media outlet contact the government before going to press with this? Did anyone in the government even ask that it not be disclosed? Did the media refuse that request? There was a time, and I think it's still often true, that folks in the media will hold off upon such requests; and that the government has either failed to make the request, or to realize, until too late, what was at stake.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Sounds from (this) priest's day

"Did you hear? One of our local boys died--first casualty of the war from Piqua..."

"Father, what vestments do you need for the nursing home Mass today?"

"Hmmm... green--but, what time is it, anyway? Five after 10? Oh my!"

"The dogs are cute...they aren't staying for Mass, are they?"

"You'll have five folks to visit in their rooms after Mass."

"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit..."

(from a very confused elderly woman--at Mass): "Help! help! This isn't working!"

"Blessed are they who hope in the Lord."

"Help, I can't reach it!"

"Janitorial, come to Room 103; Janitorial to Room 103..."

"This is my Body..."

"Help, someone did this wrong! Come fix it!"

(to same confused woman): "Do you want to receive communion?" "Yes!" "Okay, be very still and quiet now...the Blood of Christ" (administered with an eye-dropper).

"I'm going to put my hands on your head and pray silently...then I'm going to anoint your head and your hands..."

"Father, I've been away from the church twelve years..."

"Fr. Tom, Linda and Tony won't be at the staff meeting today...let's get started."

"Father, the family of that boy just called..."

"Can you come and pray with us just a short while?"

"If I don't make it back by 5, will you open up church? I have a wedding rehearsal at 5:30."

"Father ___, can you visit the hospital for me? I won't make it down today. Thank you so much!"

"Saints of God, come to his aid..."

"He loved Ohio State football."

"Here, take some sandwiches with you, Father!"

"Father, you called about a grant application? Give me your email, I'll send it to you..."

"_____ is on the line, he wants to follow up that proposal he sent you..." of 4:28 pm; wedding rehearsal and then school board at 7 pm.

To live in the midst of the world without wishing its pleasures;
to be a member of each family, yet belonging to none;
to share all sufferings; to penetrate all secrets; to heal all wounds;
to go from men to God and offer Him their prayers;
to return from God to men to bring pardon and hope;
to have a heart of fire for charity and a heart of bronze for chastity;
to teach and to pardon; console and bless always.
My God, what a life! And it is yours, O Priest of Jesus Christ!
--Father Henri Lacordaire, OP, 1802-61.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Vision will have its time (Sunday homily)

In the first reading, we heard the prophet cry out:
“Violence! Ruin!”
Habbakuk could have been watching the TV news.
Or he could have been part of Sunday’s Life Chain—
in downtown Troy, at 2pm—to protest legal abortion.

With Habbakuk, we might ask: Why? When?
“Write down the vision,” the Lord answers:
“The vision still has its time” to be fulfilled: “Wait for it.”

You and I, as Christians, are the prophets in our time;
We have a message about the dignity of life
that isn’t always heard.
What I’m going to say now, isn’t easy to hear.

Our world has embraced contraception.
Most people, most Christians, don’t see why this matters.

For one thing, sometimes the pill causes an early abortion.
But there’s a deeper issue.

If we go out at night, and we gaze up at the canopy of stars,
are we not filled with awe?
Don’t we ask, “Wow! What is God saying to me?”
If we can marvel at mountains and oceans and stars
and know God’s truth is written in them,
Shouldn’t we look at our bodies and see the same thing?

But artificial means of family planning say,
“there is no message”;
Or, if we go that route, we choose to ignore the message.

In that mindset, the life-giving part of us
is a problem to be contained or overcome;
or, it’s something we feel free to set aside.

Someone might ask, why are artificial means wrong,
but Natural Family Planning is not wrong?
If we use Natural Family Planning
for the wrong reasons, then it, too, is wrong.

But the difference is this:
Natural Family Planning treats
the body and its gifts with honor.
It listens to and works with the language of the body.
NFP makes both spouses full partners—
rather than this being one spouse’s job.

But the most important thing
is that it fundamentally accepts
that we are partners with God in being life-givers.
We are stewards of a gift, not the controllers of it.

NFP works better than people realize;
and artificial means fail more often than people like to admit.

Here’s something very striking:
Couples using NFP face divorce far less often.

The key to NFP is that it presupposes sacrifice—dying to self.
No, it’s not easy—but what could be more Christian?

Does this Vision seem quaint and old-fashioned?
Wait for it—it will have its time.
After all, we see daily how the alternative vision is working.

In a few decades, our world has changed radically.
We’ve gone from contraception on demand
to abortion on demand.

From conceiving human life in a moment of intimate love,
to treating human life as lab experiment and a commodity,
to be used in research and development.

Is there a connection? There is a prophet who foresaw this.

Pope Paul VI, in 1968, wrote a letter called Humanae Vitae.
He placed artificial birth control in the context of
our dignity as pro-creators.

Think of it: God made humanity in his own image:
when a man and woman are in union,
the image of God is complete:
man and woman—creating life!

But Pope Paul said: we risk seeing ourselves
no longer as servants of God’s design,
but as “arbiters of the sources of human life.”

Another prophet, Pope John Paul, in 1987 said
before long, “the researcher will usurp the place of God…
as the master of the destiny of others…”
reducing human life to it’s worth as a
“pure and simple instrument for the advantage of others.”

These prophets have been proven right.
We now destroy human life in pursuit of “research.”
Again, even though we have alternatives.

Some will say, there are other life issues—and they are right.

No one understood this better than Pope John Paul.
The reason he warned us against the death penalty
was not because criminals didn’t have it coming—
but because our using it, as a society,
makes us less human, not more.

He warned us that we risked forgetting
that Life itself is a Gift—
even when we misuse it; even when it involves suffering—
even then, it does not lose its infinite value.

Indeed, so beautiful is life
that some of its beauty we only see
at moments that are otherwise terrible.

Pope John Paul himself showed us this in his final months:
his strong body, crippled, his powerful voice, silenced—
and yet he remained an Apostle of Christ to the end!

“The Vision still has its time,” God told the prophet.
You and I are the prophets now—we must share the Vision!
Like Habbakuk, we might wonder if anyone will listen.
But, with Timothy, the Holy Spirit gives us power.

The Vision will have its fulfillment: wait for it!

Saturday, October 06, 2007

What younger Catholics want at Mass

Every generation, younger folks become attached to things that gives their set-in-their-ways elders fits. The same is true in matters of faith and liturgy.

Here's an example, from the Georgia Bulletin, the paper of the Archdiocese of Atlanta.

To the Editor:

I am 16 years old, and for the past 11 months I have attended the traditional Latin Mass weekly, while still attending the Novus Ordo Mass during the week. Because of this, I decided to address certain points made by Carroll Sterne in the Sept. 6 edition of The Georgia Bulletin. Mr. Sterne speaks about the type of Mass that someone of a younger generation is drawn to, and I thought that a teenager’s point of view might be helpful.

Mr. Sterne in his letter gives voice to the opinion of many of today’s liturgists when he says that no one from a younger generation would be drawn to the Latin Mass (many take this even further and assume that we would not like a reverent Novus Ordo Mass either). This opinion causes many of those who plan modern liturgies to do veritable back flips in an attempt to draw teenagers and young adults in. Sometimes this works, but it has a side effect: by doing these things, liturgists show that they have absolutely no faith in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass to change the lives of those in my generation. My generation knows about this lack of faith, we are able to see it every time we go to a “teen Mass” and experience priests ad-libbing prayers in an attempt to make them more relevant to us.

This lack of faith backfires; it sends us the message that we also should distrust the power of the liturgy, and it also can turn the Mass into something of a joke.

After experiencing this for months, I attended a Traditional Latin Mass and experienced something that I’d never seen before: Here was a priest who expected my life to be changed without adding anything to the Mass in an attempt to bring this change about. This priest had perfect faith in the power of the liturgy, and it showed. It was beautiful. The traditional Mass did more to change my life then any “relevant” teen Mass ever did.

Ethan Milukas, Peachtree City

Biretta-tip to Fr. Z.

I've been banned! the fiesty folks at 'Spirit of Vatican 2' 'Catholic' Faith Community.

Here's how they rate me:

PH = Phariseeism
C+ = Extreme clericalism
T = Traditionalism
F = Funny Languages
UM = Ultramontanism
POD = Pious, Overly devotional

Well, I really think they were unfair. I personally think I deserve a "BS" for "Bells and smells," and "NLU" for "Not Like Us."

The site is newly linked in the colum at your right.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Just reading Matthew may yield surprising insights...

(I originally and briefly included this in my "what's doing" post nearby, but thought it might be better as a stand-alone post.)

One of the prevailing views of the first three Gospels is that even if a single human author brought each Gospel text together, he relied on at least two, pre-existing, written sources, from which he took existing text and inserted into his Gospel. This conclusion is reached by noting the similarities of large sections of Matthew, Mark and Luke, and yet there are similarities between two but not three, suggesting a source other than Mark--the presumptive source of what is common in all three.

I am not in a position to dispute with scholars on this point. However, one expectation growing out of this consensus theory is that the Gospel texts will be "uneven"--i.e., at various points, you can see the "seams" where the author/editor "stitched" things together. If you have a Catholic Bible with extensive notes, such as the New American Bible, or the Catholic Study Bible, you will see this reflected in the notes: "here the author inserts text from 'Q'" (the suppositional second source-document for Matthew and Luke), or words to that effect.

Well, in the seminary, Father Tim Schehr -- not commenting directly on this theory of the Gospels -- recommended something interesting: try reading the text as a unity. Sometimes surprising things come to light.

In the case of the Gospel of Matthew, thus far--we are about midway in chapter 8 -- the unity of the text seems very strong. Many treat the section dubbed the "Sermon on the Mount" (realize this way of sub-dividing the text does not come from Matthew--he writes a continuous narrative) as a grab-bag of various teachings and sayings by the Lord, inserted by Matthew here. But a funny thing happened as we simply read it: it seems to have very clear themes running throughout the "sermon," and indeed, the section immediately after seems to launch from content of the sermon.

Near the end of the "sermon," our Lord warns about who are true disciples, and who are not, and he says, "not everyone who says, 'Lord, Lord,'" will be well received; he will say, "depart from me." Recall that the entire sermon was given in the hearing of the crowds, but with the disciples front-and-center. Then he comes down the mountain, and right away, someone approaches him, and calls him...Lord. It is the first time anyone calls him that. It is a leper. Our Lord's response indicates, he is a true disciple: he is well received. Then, someone else approaches, and calls him Lord, twice -- it is the centurion, a pagan Roman! He is presented, if possible, even more favorably, as a model of faith, than the leper. After this, the Lord arrives at Peter's house, and there finds Peter's mother-in-law sick. The Lord heals her.

But note: no appeal from Peter to come and heal; none of the disciples gathered around the Lord have yet to call him Lord! They are silent: they are observing and learning. We don't know if Peter even knew his mother-in-law was sick, but if he did, his inaction compares unfavorably with the centurion, who said, "I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof"--and it's not even necessary--just say the word.

One of the facile things people say about the Gospel of Matthew is that is so Jewish. Well, it is Jewish, but so are all the Gospels, Luke to a lesser degree, but still. What they go on to suggest is that it reflects an exclusive mindset: you have to be Jewish to be Jesus' disciple. And the indications I've just cited, along with many others, show the flaw of that idea.

Not only does Matthew show the first two people to be received as disciples to be outsiders--a leper and a pagan Roman--the latter is praised by the Lord as showing greater faith than any in Israel--and on that occasion, we hear many will come from east and west (in context, meaning Gentiles), to recline with Abraham, while "the children" (i.e., some of them) will be cast out. Also, remember the opening genealogy of Matthew, a text many simply ignore. But you will find Matthew highlights several people in the list who are outcasts -- a prostitute and someone involved in incest -- but two people who are non-Jews: the aforenamed prostitute, Rahab, but also Ruth.

And recall the story of the Magi, told only by Matthew: Gentile star-gazers are more open to Jesus and come seeking him to worship, while the Jewish religious and political leadership only a few miles away, either misses it, or is uninterested (note even after the Magi visit, the scholars do not come to Bethlehem to investigate), or come, in Herod's case, to kill.

What's doing

Sorry for no posts for a few days. It's been an interesting week so far:

Monday morning I drove out to Saint Louis. I did so first to look at a baptismal font I might like to acquire for St. Boniface Parish (the jury is still out), but then to visit my brother, who lives in St. Louis. I had a nice visit with the fellow, Michael, with the baptismal font, who told me its history -- it came from a parish in Kansas City -- and who showed me his warehouse of reclaimed religious articles. It is a melancholy sight, reflecting the closure of churches and the odd choices of pastors in altering church interiors. Michael and I chuckled over some of the more modern artwork that found its way to him--"good luck selling that."

As I wasn't meeting my brother and his wife until six, and I had some time to kill, Michael directed me to the Shrine of St. Joseph in downtown St. Louis. I found it with no trouble, but alas it was closed. It is a building from the 1840s, and currently the towers are being repaired. It is supposed to be beautiful inside, sorry I missed it.

I fiddled around in a bookstore, and had a drink, before meeting my brother; actually, I met my sister-in-law, as she was preparing dinner, but my brother was still hard at work. Over the years, he's started a number of business ventures, some have done better than others, although he's done well for himself overall. At 58, he's once again working on a new business venture, and working 16-hour days, including lots of physical labor. I told him, over dinner, it was just like our dad, who ran a one-man business, selling and delivering candy and snack items, until his 70s. At my present age, 45, I'm as old as he was when he had a third (of seven) children on the way.

Tuesday morning, after a nice walk around Forest Park in the center of Saint Louis and breakfast, I drove back to Piqua, got back around 4 pm. I would have gotten back earlier, but cutting up to U.S. 36, just east of Indianapolis, seemed a good idea. Little did I know it was "Drive your Farm Combine Day" in Indiana. No one to blame by myself. It was very pretty country.

Tuesday evening, I met with a group of St. Boniface Parishioners to ask their help on our "Rebuild St. Boniface" project--they are going to ask their fellow parishioners to make pledges to support critical repair and maintenance needs coming due.

Wednesday morning, we had our second Latin Mass--according to the current Missal. I was curious how many would show, since I didn't promote it this time. Would the novelty have worn off? Would people forget? Would anyone be irritated? A good crowd showed, mostly the regulars, and they seemed to do even a little better with the Latin responses; and some came clearly because of the Latin. If you are interested, mark your calendar: first Wednesday of every month, 8 am, St. Mary Church, Piqua. We are using the English texts for the collects and the readings, but everything else is in Latin (except when the priest forgets, as I did for one part yesterday). We are singing Latin hymns and will be doing the proper antiphons.

Other than simply returning calls, and sorting through mail, I spent a lot of time on the baptismal font project yesterday. I had to find out of the dings and nicks in this font can be repaired (jury is out); I got an idea for an alternate plan, that I made some calls to investigate. I almost forgot, but I did make it to a "Clergy Appreciation" lunch at the Kiwanis meeting. I was very heartened when one of the local Baptist pastors made a strong pitch for this Sunday's "Life Chain" to oppose abortion, and thanked him afterward.

Last evening, I had my weekly treat: the Bible study. We are looking at the Gospel of Matthew, and we just wrapped up the Sermon on the Mount. I learn more as I do this, and it seems to be fun for those involved. Again, if you are interested, 7 pm pretty much every Wednesday (we skipped on 4th of July, and when I was out of town), at St. Boniface, in the school.

(In a separate post, I share some thoughts on Matthew.)

After the Bible study, I met up with a group that gathers every Wednesday, and we had some beer and wings; I persuaded several of them to try deep-fried pickles, and they agreed they were good, and they proved my 3rd law: almost anything good is better deep-fried (better-tasting of course; I make no health claims). It was 10:30 when I got home.

This morning I got to sleep a little late and surf the 'net a bit, and post here; now I have to go have Mass at one of the area nursing homes. We have four, so once-a-month for each one.