Thursday, December 30, 2010

Please keep voting for Piqua Catholic! (bumped!)

Another bump!

Our school is now at 15th--five more places to go, for the $50,000 grant!

Please vote!

I posted this a few days's an update:

Piqua Catholic School (my school) is in the running for a $50,000 grant from Pepsi for a new gym floor. It would be safer for the children, would make our school even more attractive, and be a benefit to everyone who uses the gym.

Our kids put together a great video presentation, and if we generate enough votes to get the video into the top 10, by the midnight gongs of New Years--our kids win!

The "button" below will take you to the "Pepsi Refresh" site where you can see the video, and vote for it!

You do have to register (free) with email.

But wait, there's more!

You can vote again from your Facebook account.

Don't go yet, there's still more!!

And you can vote by texting! Text the message "104632" to 73774 (spells "Pepsi") to vote a third way!

That's three votes, every day!

We started this on Dec. 1--very first time we entered this competition--ranked 319 or so. We are now ranked #17! So far, we've only moved up--not back. The next seven steps are going to be progressively harder. But we're slowly doing it, so your vote can and will make a difference!

Here's the button: mash it and vote, please and thank you!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

True Grit, then and now

Yesterday, the two seminarians helping out over Christmas break and I went to see True Grit, the remake by the Coen brothers, starring Jeff Bridges in the role made famous by John Wayne.

I enjoyed it; and I am a fan of the Duke and his 1969 performance, for which he won his only Oscar. I was both interested in the new version, as well as how the seminarians, younger than I, saw it.

They weren't familiar with John Wayne's performance, so they didn't make that comparison. While they enjoyed the movie, they were less taken with it than I, whatever that means.

We all liked Jeff Bridges; he really is a solid actor, someone I always seem to enjoy. He did a great job, and I can't argue with the reviewers who said he out-did John Wayne.

To Mr. Bridge's credit, he paid respect to Wayne, saying he wasn't going to try to fill the Duke's boots. That was classy, and takes nothing away from Bridges.

But I was struck by comments from the Coen brothers, who have made many fine films (I think "Brother, Who Art Thou?" is one most would remember, but they've made a slew of well-regarded films); they were dismissive (I thought) of Wayne's version of the film, trying to claim they weren't doing a remake. Well, you are; deal with it. If you don't like being compared, don't do a remake.

Maybe the Coen brothers didn't really mean to give John Wayne and his film the back of the hand, but that's how they came across to me, saying in an Associated Press interview,

"I'm not even sure if John Wayne is more of an icon to us and less and less of an icon as the demographic gets younger and toward people who actually go to the movies now," said Ethan Coen, 53.

"That's really true," said Joel Coen, 56. "There are people I mention the movie to who are not that much younger than we are, the next generation, and they go, 'Yeah, I'm aware of that vaguely. That title sounds familiar. I have no idea what it is. What is it?' "

(Read more:

Here's how the Daily Beast reported it:

As for the earlier film version of the novel—which came out in 1969 and is most famous for winning John Wayne his first and only Academy Award—they didn’t bother to re-watch it, having seen it years ago when they were kids.

“It’s weird,” Joel said, in an interview held in one of the hotel’s suites earlier in the day, where his tall, wiry frame was sprawled out on a sofa, one long leg propped up on a coffee table. With his thick-framed glasses, graying beard, and wild, shaggy hair, he looked like a professor on his coffee break. “I remember a couple points in production, actually saying, ‘You know, I should rent the movie and see it.’ And I just never got around to it. It’s really funny. It sounds unbelievable, but I just didn’t get around to it.”

“Yeah,” chimed in Ethan, the quieter of the two, who seems more like a grad student, with short, curly hair, and less prominent spectacles, “We just weren’t interested enough.”

Maybe it's just me, but I think, show some class, be generous, and tip your hat to those who went before you.

I'd read their comments at the Daily Beast, but realizing it was just one interview, I did a search, and found the AP item I also quoted, along with Bridge's more generous remarks.

Then I found a review by the New York Times, which made me laugh because of its obvious, mean-spirited axe-grinding and admitted score-settling: "Maybe the picture will also settle some old business in the film world," referring to disagreements, in 1969, about Wayne meriting his Oscar. The Times dredges up producer Robert Evans to say,

“It was a token Oscar,” said the producer Robert Evans when queried this week about the best-actor trophy that went to Wayne on April 7, 1970. Mr. Evans was head of production at Paramount at the time, but while Paramount released “True Grit,” it was produced independently by Hal B. Wallis, and Mr. Evans reckons his own creative input to have been “zero.” (He does say he was happy with the film.)

Gee, no hint of any score-settling there!

The Times also points out,

It was also the year of countercultural statements like “Easy Rider,” “Medium Cool,” “Alice’s Restaurant,” “The Sterile Cuckoo” and “If”; the European flair of “Stolen Kisses” and “Z”; and the retro sophistication of “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?,” “The Wild Bunch” and “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.”

In the face of all that, Paramount made what many saw as a clumsy attempt to position “True Grit” as part of the revolution. One program for an early studio screening, now preserved at the library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, called it a “Brand New Brand of American Frontier Story."

The Times' article goes like that, finding more reasons to compare Wayne and his film unfavorably. The funny thing is, of the films just mentioned, how many are remembered? Some, deservedly so. Apparently, Wayne's "True Grit" doesn't deserve such company.

One wonders why the Times--or anyone still around from those Hollywood days--would feel the need, in promoting the new "True Grit," to drag Wayne through the dirt to do so. Then one reads the following:

By the time the Oscar was awarded, Wayne was being described as a “sentimental favorite.”

But other film devotees were less charmed, particularly when they viewed “True Grit” through the filter of Vietnam-era politics and Wayne’s conservative principles — which he had said were illustrated by a scene in which Cogburn shoots a rat after demonstrating the futility of trying to treat it under due process of law. (The new film has no such moment.)

Writing in The New Yorker, Penelope Gilliatt complained of the movie’s “very right-wing and authoritarian tang.” She was particularly put off by the frontier stoicism, which she described as “near-Fascist admiration for a simplified physical endurance of pain.

Heh. It's been 40 years, and the Times, and the cultural elites to whom they cater, and for whom they speak, still resent the h*** out of John Wayne and all he stands for. So, naturally, they drag out his corpse so they can give it a few kicks, saying all the while, "Wayne? Who? No one anyone remembers!"

Heh. Yeah, right.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

After Midnight Mass

It takes me awhile to settle down after Midnight Mass--my favorite Mass of the year.

The choir was awesome again this year. And--thanks to the presence of our parish's seminarian, which meant he could explain things to the other servers--I was able to sit and enjoy the music before Mass. How wonderful! The folks who decorated both churches did a splendid job as usual.

I wore my biretta for Mass--I wear it once a year at Mass, for Midnight Mass--and that always generates some interest. Midnight Mass of course is an excellent opportunity for lots of chanting and incense; almost the entire Mass was chanted, including the Gospel and the Roman Canon--as well as the Christmas proclamation, which I chanted at the beginning of Mass.

After Mass, folks stayed and visited; which is always a good sign, don't you think? Eventually, we locked up church--I left the Christmas lights on so church will be a bit more cheerful in the morning. Then back home.

On Christmas Eve, I always put on all the lights in the rectory; so after Midnight Mass, I came back and turned them off. I had a snack, and looked at the tree for a bit. Now I'm about to head to bed.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Not what you expect (Christmas Vigil homily)

What we heard just now in that long Gospel,
in that long list of names, is a family tree.

It is Jesus’s family tree--at least the part of it
that goes back to Abraham.

I am sure you wonder why we read that.
It’s long and seems to go on forever.

Well, maybe one reason we read it
is because it reminds us of what it was like
for God’s People, waiting for the Messiah:
the years went by, turning into centuries.
When will the Savior come?

Maybe you’ve waited a long time
for God to answer a prayer.

Maybe you are still waiting. When will he come?

Remember also that when the King came,
it wasn’t what folks expected.

The answer you look for to a prayer
may not be what you expect.

As you can imagine, so many times
I am visiting people in the hospital.
Or else people come to me and they are sick.
They are afraid.
They are begging God to answer their prayers.

Now--here’s something you may not know.
I didn’t know it until I became a priest.

When someone is sick, and he or she is praying,
do you know what they are often praying for?

For their own healing, of course; and for strength.

But a lot of times, they are praying for others:
that their family will be OK.

And I can tell you, that prayer gets answered!

In those times, there is a lot of healing that happens--
but not always what folks expect.

And what I have witnessed very often
is that folks facing such troubles
show me a peace I cannot imagine;
they shine with a light
that does not come from this earth!

Where does that come from?
It is the Lord--coming in silence and surprise,
when things seem so dark.

Let me mention something else about that Gospel--
that Family Tree. It involves some of the names.

We don’t know those names--maybe we recognize a few.
But for God’s People in Jesus’ time,
they would have known more of them.

And if the younger members of the family didn’t know,
the older ones would tell them:

“Abraham…he was called from a foreign country.
He had a child--God gave him that child.”
“Perez and Zerah…well, that was a scandal…”
“Rahab--she was a prostitute! Who let her in?”
“Ruth--she was a stranger--but God welcomed her…”
“David was the great king--we had such high hopes for Solomon…
but then it all went south…”

“The Exile--we thought we were finished then--no hope…”

And then, when that long list of names
maybe was about to put us to sleep, we heard…
“Jacob…Joseph…Joseph?…Mary! JESUS!”

He’s here! He’s come at last! God is with us!
It was a long wait, but God came.
God became part of our family;
he was born into our Family Tree, with all its bad apples!

Notice where God was born: in a barn, where animals lived.
Joseph and Mary would have made it
as clean as they could--but it was such a poor place.

God did not complain.
God never complains when we invite him into our hearts.

The moment God arrived in that stable,
it became the Throne of Heaven.
The moment Jesus is given a place in our hearts
that’s what happens there, too.

One more detail from our Christmas scene:
the shepherds.

They were told by the angels, go see!
They just happened
to be in the right place at the right time.

But you have to wonder, what became of them?
Did they just go back to their lives before?
Did they say, “well, that was something?” and that was it?
Or did that night change them? Here you are--
how did you happen to be here tonight?

Whatever the reason,
you, too are in the right place at the right time.

Oh, sure, it’s crowded. It’s noisy.

When those shepherds came around,
they were probably tired, hungry, maybe cynical.
Maybe they expected something a lot more impressive.

It’s just possible some of those shepherds went away,
Thinking of the cold, of their obligations--
and they missed it.

How about you?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Where the Christmas Tree came from

By the way, you do know where the Christmas Tree comes from? Many seem not to.

The Christmas Tree originated in Germany, in the "Middle Ages" (dumb name, says a lot about the mindset of those who coined it). It was part of the celebration of a particular day--but not Christmas.

A little known fact: every saint, Old or New Testament, has a day on the Church calendar, known officially as the "Roman Martyrology." That includes the patriarchs; including Adam and Eve. Guess what day is Adam & Eve's day? December 24.

And back in the day, communities would have plays on particular feast days, both to teach the faith and for fun. So in Germany, they would have a "mystery play" on December 24, to tell the story of Adam and Eve and what happened in Paradise, so long ago.

So let's go back in time; and the mayor of the town puts you in charge of getting the props needed for the play. "Vat do I need?" "Ein tree, dumbkopf! Schnell!" What sort of tree are you likely to find in late December--in Germany--that's not barren? Why, a fir tree of course.

"Hier ist ein tree!" "Gut, gut! Now, get zome fruiten for das tree!"

"Fruiten? In Dezember? Ach du lieber!"*

What fruit might you find in Germany in December? Well, nothing on trees, of course, but maybe in a basement? How about apples? In Latin--the Scriptures were in Latin then--the word for "bad" (as in "the tree of the knowledge of good and bad") is "malum"; and the word for apples, is "malum."

I'm guessing about why they used apples, but we do know that they did. Also, the decorated the tree with disks of bread--recalling the Eucharist; because of course there was another tree in the Garden, the Tree of Life, with it's own fruit; and those good old Germans understood that the Eucharist is the food that enables us to live forever.

Anyway, this play was performed for centuries in towns in Germany. At some point the plays got out of hand--hmm, a play about Adam and Eve, with forbidden fruit? How could anyone take that the wrong way? So the Church called a halt to the plays. But folks liked the "Paradise Trees" so they continued setting them up--at home.

Along the way, glass ornaments were added, as were cookies. People still put cookies on trees, as well as fruit--either real fruit (cranberries anyone) or ornaments shaped like fruit. I have some apple-shaped ornaments I bought years ago, before I even knew about the actual origins of the tree. Candles were added, then of course, in the 20th Century, lights.

Most people tell me they never knew this; I didn't, either, till a couple of years ago when I went searching information about the Christmas Tree. It's been awhile since I tracked all this down, so if you ask me for a source, the best I can offer from memory is the Encyclopedia Britannica.

(So, by the way, you can forget about all that guff about the tree being "pagan." The Christmas Tree is no more "pagan" than the cross.)

Anyway, when you enjoy looking at your Christmas Tree, think of the passage from Revelation, that describes the New Jerusalem, the City of God, with no sun or moon, because the Lamb is its light; and in the center, along the River of Life, is the Tree of Life, giving twelve kinds of fruit all twelve months of the year.

* Apologies to those who actually speak German.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

'Mary Saves'

The past few days I've been reflecting on Mary's role in Christ's plan of salvation--and the idea I've been turning over in my head is expressed in the headline: "Mary saves." Now, before you go apoplectic, let me be clear what I mean: it is Jesus who saves, without qualification; but our Lord has many collaborators in the work of salvation: he chose the Apostles, he founded his Church, and he calls all of us members of his Body. When we are joined to him, we are part of his work of salvation.

An example would be the angels: angels are messengers of God, and they have no other agenda but to bring God's message to humanity. So much so, that you will see in the Old Testament references to the "Angel of the Lord"; and you will see, first, someone addressing him as angel--then the text will describe a dialogue between the human and God himself. It's confusing; but one explanation would be simply this: when you are speaking to an angel who comes with God's word, you are speaking to God. If I call you on the phone, are you speaking to the phone--or to me? The answer is both. Likewise an angel.

This seems plain enough from everything our Lord said, especially in the Gospel of John, about our being one with him. It's just so breathtaking that we draw back; just as many do from the truth of the Mass and the Eucharist. Yes, he really meant it.

So what do I mean when I say--softened with quotes--"Mary saves"? I mean that Mary has been given a significant role in Christ's work of salvation. Although we must admit her role is unique in several respects, it isn't wholly so. Mary is a saint; she is a member of the Church, although the most preeminent and honored member (rightly so). That Mary received unique blessings couldn't be avoided: only one woman could be the God-bearer. But the thing about our Lady is that everything she has received she gives away; everything she has, we are meant to have too.

Our Lord's Plan was so marvelous! He planned for Mary to play many roles: she is Daughter Zion--the summation and personification of God's Beloved, who would produce a Messiah; she is the New Eve, who undoes the knot created by the first Eve's disobedience; and thus she becomes the Mother of all the living: the Eve of a New Creation. Mary continues to be a Mother, and I suppose she will, for ages unending.

And it occurred to me that our Lord was very sensible: he knew that at various points, what his people--and perhaps those he would seek to win--would need a mother. We always need Christ; but sometimes the comfort and wisdom of his Mother is just what we need. And that is who our Lord sends.

Let me give you two examples.

Recently I got called to the hospital--an emergency situation. When I arrived, the patient had been taken for a CAT scan and the husband and other members of the family were very upset. From what I could figure out, the mother had come into the hospital for a more-or-less routine procedure, and things had gone badly. When I arrived, they didn't know what was happening, and they feared the worst.

I went and found the nurse and doctor, and explained that the family absolutely wanted me to pray over her--i.e., if things went badly, they'd want me to go to her. The doctor assured me it wasn't that bad, but I think he understood the request all the same. I went back and reassured the family--and we prayed together for her. I found myself asking Mary to come and watch over this woman, and her family. As we waited, I kept asking Mary to be a comfort to the whole family.

Eventually, the woman came back--and she was still unconscious. What did that mean, the family members were asking? The doctor gave what reassurances he could--and then, after the doctor had stepped out, and the nurses had attached all the wires and so forth, I went to her bedside to pray the prayers of anointing. I imposed my hands on her head, praying silently, and then I anointed her--and I saw her eyes opening. As I finished my prayers, I mentioned it, because I didn't think the family had even seen it. The doctor came back around the point, and was very happy and encouraged the family to talk to her. Of course the scene was wild, and I stepped back out of the way. After awhile, members of the family thanked me; I answered, "Mary did it."

Here's another example, not as dramatic. Yesterday I became ill from something I ate Monday night. As the day wore on, I felt worse and worse, and very little helped (Coca Cola, Pepto Bismol, quiet). Well, these things work themselves out, of course, and after a not-very-restful night, my stomach is no longer doing flip-flops and I'm getting back to normal. But as I sat here last evening, and also during the night, I was pretty miserable and I was praying. I was asking Mary to stay with me. I am convinced she did and I certainly was glad for her watching over me.

There are times we need a mother. Mary has been given some important tasks by her son: she was sent to Tepayac to Saint Juan Diego--and as a result, the people of Mexico were won to her Son. She was sent to Fatima. She has appeared many other places; and besides all those grand assignments, she also comes and supports any number of her children in time of need.

It makes sense to me that our Lord knew that a feminine, a motherly, presence would be needed and useful in his work of salvation. I suspect we will find, when the story is told in full, that many people came to Christ first through an introduction to Mary.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

You may have to stand out (Sunday homily)

(Sorry I didn't post this earlier, this is from memory.)

I began with a story about giving a talk some time back to junior high kids about John the Baptist; and how, despite all the care I took with the talk, amidst all the many points I aimed at making, when I asked the kids what stood out, they said: Oh, yeah, he was that crazy guy who wore funny clothes and ate locusts!

So I made the point that John the Baptist stands out--and even seems odd. They thought so then and we would think so now. We might even think he's crazy--just as we would someone rushing and I crying out "fire." Crazy--unless he's right.

This role often falls to us: we have to cry out as John did, calling people to repentance and challenging our bankrupt culture.

My first example I introduced by saying, "this is delicate, I'll describe it delicately" (this, I have learned from experience, is how to introduce a sensitive topic so that folks don't worry about what their kids hear). I talked about how odd it was that we must defend the notion that marriage is a man and a woman, but we must. We risk being called bigots and haters for doing this--more and more voices are trying to silence us. "And if we make our point with bigotry, or hatred, or by demeaning anyone, then shame on us! Instead, we defend the truth without putting people down and without hate."

At one Mass I went off on a jag about this being part of a larger effort to redefine what simply being human is, of which the radical deconstruction of marriage, family is just a part. I talked about how technology was making it possible for us to reject God's design, and substitute our own. I decided at subsequent Masses to leave this out, as I didn't think I developed it so well, and it took too long.

I cannot now recall how I transitioned--i.e., I may be recounting my points out of order--but I did move to asking, "do you ever see things on tv, in ads, or hear things in music, that you find offensive? Of course you do; we all do. One of things we might think about is, do we want to do business with those people?" I cited the example of popular clothing companies Abercrombie and Hollister, saying that I was embarrassed to visit their sites, because I didn't want to look at soft-core pornography. "Parents, if you haven't seen these sites, you should; your kids have."

At some point I shifted to the alternative vision we offered. Rejecting God's plan didn't lead to life; focus on self, on pleasure, on only the present, isn't a full life. The light of eternity changes things. That's why we challenge our culture; we have something better.

I made the point that we may think no one will listen, but that's not necessarily true; there are folks who know the culture is bankrupt and they hunger for something better. We won't attract them if we represent "the culture-lite"--that's why we stand apart. At one Mass I made a further point about different ways we do that.

At two Masses I cited the example of the artwork in the Smithsonian, showing ants on a crucifix--and I said, aside from that being offensive, it makes me wonder, is that the best we can do? Our culture produced beautiful art, but it seems its behind us. Another reason why we call our culture back to Christ.

My conclusion, I think, was that in taking part in the Mass, we might pray for the courage to be John the Baptist for our time, or something like that.