Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Dinner

The seminarian and I are cooking dinner. Here's the menu:

Roast chicken
Spaghetti con aglio y olio (garlic and olive oil)
Green beans a la seminario (meaning, however he cooks them)

The chickens are roasting now. I got two because they were small, and you never know if someone might stop by. Here's how I prepared them.

Starting this morning, I brined them. Easy, by the way: a cup of coarse salt in four quarts of water, and the chickens soak in that for five or six hours. Then I let them dry for an hour or so in the refrigerator--that's supposed to make the skin crispier, we'll see.

Then took some garlic cloves, and some herb butter I had left over, and slid that--along with some of the fat of the chicken--up between the breast and the skin. I rubbed each of the whole chickens with more of the butter, and a little olive oil and seasoned them liberally with pepper and salt. I stuck some sprigs of fresh rosemary in the cavity of each, along with a sliced up onion.

They went, side by side, in a roasting pan, and I cut up some more onion and broke up a few carrots and celery stalks, and threw them into the pan, along with some chicken broth and a bit of water. That'll make a nice sauce and also add to the flavor of the chicken and the good odor in the kitchen. I thought about throwing in a cut up lemon but decided against it.

Meanwhile, on the stove top I have the tails of the chickens, along with some onion -- skins and all -- and some celery leavings, cooking to make some broth. For some reason, these chickens didn't come with giblets! That was a surprise. Oh, and I found some shallots in the fridge--I have no idea how old they are--but they weren't soft or moldy, so I threw them in.

Sorry for no photos of any of this, but the seminarian is upstairs writing a paper on Saint Augustine. I have an El Cheapo phone that takes no pictures. (I just remembered my iPad takes pictures--oops.)

We'll see if we get any pictures of the later stages.

Meanwhile, I'm eating celery hearts. A lot of people won't eat them; but they're very tasty, with a little salt. And I'm thinking about a cocktail--I haven't had one all during Lent.


Ah, dinner is behind us! The chicken turned out pretty well. As it happened, the dark meat was a little underdone, but the white meat was perfect. The next time I roast a chicken, I'll just turn it breast-side down, as before, and that solves the problem of the white meat cooking too soon.

The combination of the pasta, the green beans, all garlicky--and the chicken with so many good flavors...oh, so good!

We never got to the cheesecake, however; we had a fair amount of chicken and pasta and beans...and some beer with it...the cheesecake can wait.

And--plenty of leftovers! Ah!

(Sorry for no pictures; but when the time came to eat...we ate!)

It's only hope if it's true (Easter homily)

The Resurrection is a fact.
Jesus really died and he came back from the dead.

The entire Christian Faith, every bit of it, stands--or falls--
on whether what I just is actually true.

We might value Christianity--and church--
because it makes us feel good.
Because coming to Mass, especially on Easter, 
is a soothing or happy experience.
Or because of treasured memories we want our kids to have.

Those are all good things.
But, to be blunt, going to Disneyland does all things, too.
The only real reason for this church to be here--or any church--
is because, yes, Jesus did actually rise from the dead.

Notice the Gospel says that when Peter heard the women’s story,
He ran to the tomb. 
Too much was at stake. He had to know if it was true.

And I don’t know why any of us would be any different.

Of course, most of us likely won’t face the Apostle’s dilemma.
What, really, does being a Christian cost me?
I mean, I could have had meat on Fridays. OK.
I could have more free time on Sunday. OK.
What else?
Well, for each of us, the answer is different.

This is where the celibacy of priests and religious has meaning.
The reason we don’t marry isn’t because marriage is bad;
On the contrary; it’s wonderfully good.
But we choose to give up a good thing, 
as a sign that there’s something even better we’re waiting for.

And this is why Christians save themselves till marriage.
Because marriage itself isn’t just about the couple.
It isn’t just a legal arrangement.
It’s a forever-covenant that shows Christ to the world.
Waiting for marriage is an act of generosity.
And it bespeaks the supreme dignity of our human nature--
that what we have to give, is given to just one, 
and then we give all.

It’s the choice we make when we say, 
I could make a few extra bucks, cutting corners, 
or squeezing my workers, or cheating my boss, 
Or lowering my standards--but for Christ’s sake, I won’t.

So I can’t say what it costs you to follow Christ;
I will only say that, in all honesty, 
I don’t think I’ve paid so big a price.
And maybe I’m not the only here who can say that.

This is where Jesus’ words, “take up your cross” hit home.
This is where, 
“go, sell what you have and give to the poor” has it’s bite.
And maybe this is what Pope Francis is getting at
When he says, can we be poor, and serve the poor, better?
The more we really believe we are rich in Christ,
The less tightly we hold onto the riches of this world.

Do we really believe it? Did he rise from the dead?

The holy father said this, in Rome, tonight:
Let the risen Jesus enter your life, welcome him as a friend, with trust: he is life!
If up till now you have kept him at a distance, step forward.
He will receive you with open arms.
If you have been indifferent, take a risk:
you won’t be disappointed.
If following him seems difficult, don’t be afraid, trust him,
be confident that he is close to you,
he is with you and he will give you the peace you are looking for
and the strength to live as he would have you do.

In a moment, we’ll renew the promises of our baptism.
When I ask you, do you believe, 

we might think of those who face arrest and death 
Because of their “yes.”
And we might think about what our “yes” means 
after this Easter Sunday.

The women in the Gospel, who met the angels  at the tomb,
did not say, “How nice, but we won’t impose this on anyone else.” 
They hurried to tell everyone. The Apostles did the same.
They knew they had powerful to offer.
The hope of forgiveness and new life.
But it’s only comforting, it‘s only hopeful…if it’s true.

Friday, March 29, 2013

If you knew what 'puttana' are... might be shocked to learn I've been cooking like them tonight.

Today, after hearing confessions for about two hours, as well as leading the Liturgy of Good Friday and the Stations, the resident seminarian and I were discussing our one meal for the day. What would it be?

We did an inventory of the pantry. Pasta, but no sauce. We had olive oil and garlic, and cheese...that didn't seem quite enough.

So to the Internet we go! I remembered a sauce my cousin made for me many years ago. With Google's help, I found it: Pasta alla Puttanesca. The seminarian liked the idea--so he was off a-Krogering for the necessary ingredients, while I engaged in needed...contemplation. (Actually, I finished reading the last volume of Lord of the Rings.)

Back from the store, and with Christian's able help, we began chopping: tomatoes, garlic, anchovies, olives (hard to pit). Pasta on to boil; saute the garlic in the oil, then add tomatoes...then everything else. We nearly forgot the anchovies, which would have saddened the seminarian, but happily, I noticed the poor fishies languishing on the counter.

Lest you think Domus Sanctae Rosae is soft on seminarians, I put Christian to work:

As you can see, Heaven favors my enterprise.

Update: here is the Pasta alla Puttanesca on the table:

And here it isn't.

It was pretty good! It didn't take that long to fix it; the next time I make it, I think I'll add more anchovies and maybe a slight bit more red pepper. Maybe some black pepper too. Christian took a couple more snaps of the food, so when he emails them to me from his phone, I'll post them.

After dinner, we headed down to Old Saint Mary Parish, where the Oratorians were leading Tenebrae according to the older form of the missal. It was a good two hours of moving chant; just got back and posted this. I don't mind saying I'm tired.

The Axis of History (Good Friday homily)

This day, which stands at the center of our Sacred Three Days,
Is the day of all day.
Good Friday--the Cross--stands at the center of time, 
and all Creation, all history, 
revolves around it as the earth revolves on its axis.

Thus everyone, without exception, 
must come and stand before the Cross. 
So it is a mercy that God has draws us here, year by year, 
to face the truth we must face, 
while we can still be changed by it.

We see the Cross, and we ask “Why?” 
Be very clear: No one made Jesus do this. 
The Father did not make his Son do this.

Before time, Father, Son and Holy Spirit knew man would sin. 

God saw it all, 
From the vanity and self-importance,
Wrath and pride, lust and greed and gluttony;
To the cruelty people visit on each other large and small,
From Cain and Abel, to Hitler and Mao,
To the crack of a whip, the prison of a slum, 
The office of an abortion doctor, 
and the uncountable forms of our indifference.

Before anything began, God saw it all…
And He went ahead. He chose to create us.
And then he chose to become one of us.

Was there no other way but the Cross? 
Of course there was. God chose this way. 
Remember—God didn’t invent the Cross—we did. 
Had God never become man, 
man would still have faced a cross, but now alone; 
and it would have been all death with no life.

St. Thomas tells us the Cross was “too much”: 
“Any suffering of his, however slight, 
was enough to redeem the human race…” 
The Cross is God’s exclamation mark 
on the sheer extravagance of his mercy.

God did the maximum where the minimum 
would already have been generous!

Archbishop Fulton Sheen said this:
“I tell you that if God had not come down …
and given us the supreme example of sacrifice, 
then it would be possible for fathers and mothers, 
men and women of countless ages, 
to do something greater, it would seem, 
than God himself could do, namely, 
lay down their lives for a friend.”

Why the Cross? 
Consider an amazing image from our late Holy Father,
Pope John Paul the Great:
God came to earth—so man could put God on trial—
so that man could forgive God.

Our late pope asked, "Could God have justified himself 
before human history, so full of suffering, 
without placing Christ’s Cross at the center of that history? 

"Obviously, one response could be 
that God does not need to justify himself to man. 
It is enough that he is omnipotent. 
From this perspective everything he does or allows 
must be accepted. 

"But God, who besides being Omnipotence is Wisdom and—
to repeat once again—Love, 
desires to justify himself to mankind.

"He is not the Absolute that remains outside 
of the world, indifferent to human suffering. 
He is Emmanuel, God-with-us, 
a God who shares man’s lot 
and participates in his destiny.

"The crucified Christ is proof of God’s solidarity 
with man in his suffering."

We blame God—God does not argue. 
He comes to us—offers himself for trial. 
Pilate presides—and we are in that court as jury. 

We found him guilty; we sentenced him to death.
The price is paid. God himself atones. 
God and man are reconciled.

We see the horror of the Cross; we see the horror of human evil; 
and we wonder—can man be saved?

The Cross is our answer.
It is God saying “Yes.”

Good Friday started early in Cincinnati

Last night, after the Holy Thursday Mass, I wanted to get something to eat. It's probably no surprise, but seminarians are generally in favor of eating, so I brought him along and we went and got some food. Earlier in the day, I'd been telling the seminarian about Cincinnati's custom of "praying the steps," and he wanted to keep the tradition, and wanted to know the starting point.

I'd explained to him that you could start at more than one point: the short set of steps begins on St. Gregory Street in Mount Adams; but there's a second set of steps that goes down to the foot of the hill. I recalled that it began on Riverside (aka Eastern Avenue), but an item online said Columbia Parkway. I was pretty sure that was wrong, because you can't park on Columbia.

So, after a late dinner, we drove down there.

First I drove along Columbia Parkway. (Hint: folks along there get excited when you drive under 40 miles per hour.) Couldn't see any steps. Drove along Riverside. Lots of new construction there since I last prayed the steps. Couldn't find the steps. So now we drove almost all the way back to Saint Rose and turned up to Taft, and we made our way to Victory Parkway. (Our seminarian, who didn't grow up in Cincinnati, wanted to know how to get there on his own when he headed over after midnight.)

So, through Eden Park, we found our way to "the hill," and wound our way up. I couldn't exactly remember just where St. Gregory Street is--and, anyway, it's not easy driving anywhere on Mount Adams, because of all the one-ways; I always end up going around and around.

We found it. And guess what? The steps were jammed--it was about 10:30 pm.

But where are the other steps, I said to myself. Around we drove, and found them not far away. Putting on my flashers, I parked the car and we jumped out. Thankfully, the city had a sign with a map, showing where the steps ended at the bottom. Just behind the "Adams Landing" development on Riverside. Aha! I said, with a fist-pump; but I realized pilgrims were ascending the stairs, so we cleared out so they could pray.

So, back down the hill we went, and we found the foot of the stairs--not far from where I thought they were, but not actually on Riverside.

Around midnight, our seminarian lit out with some friends to pray the stairs. I don't know when he got back. But I didn't know, till last night, that a good number of folks start the pilgrimage on Holy Thursday night.

What went wrong?

Last night after the Mass of the Lord's Supper at Saint Rose, I asked our seminarian, who is staying at the parish over his break, "how bad was it?" 

He stared blankly at me. "How bad was what?"

"The Mass? How bad?"

"The Mass was great. What are you talking about?"

"You didn't notice the miscues?"

"A few."

"Didn't they distract others from prayer?"

"No, I don't think so."

So I'm glad. For whatever reason, I was off my game, and muffed a few things at the altar--including using some phrasing from the old Mass translation. 

Oh, and setting off the smoke alarm at the end. That added something to the Mass.

But I was in the confessional for an hour after Mass. As our seminarian pointed out, that's a more meaningful sign, isn't it?

Indeed it is.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Eucharist is the Promise Fulfilled (Mass of the Lord's Supper)

When we gathered for Christmas, it was so nice: 
a crib, a baby; Mary and Joseph, animals, shepherds and the Magi. 
Tonight, we gather with our Lord in the shadow of the Cross. 

How I wish I could explain each detail of the Mass--but that would take too long. 
Do you notice these steps? Why are they there? 
Because when the priest goes to the altar, he goes up--
just as our Lord went up to Mount Calvary. 

When the priest offers the Mass, there are actually two miracles that occur. 
Most of the time, we focus on how the bread and wine are changed--
by Christ himself--into his own Body and Blood. 
But the primary miracle is how the Mass takes us--
as if through a time-machine--
to the Last Supper, to the Cross, and to the Empty Tomb. 

The first reading tells about the deliverance of God’s People 
from slavery in Egypt: the first Passover. 

God’s People gathered every year to recall those events, 
with a meal that involved unleavened bread, wine, 
and a lamb that had been sacrificed. 
But it isn’t just a meal; it’s filled with Scripture and ritual. 
It’s a lot like what we do at Mass. 
In fact, the Sacrifice of the Mass is the New Passover. 

The thing about the Passover: it wasn’t just remembrance of things past. 
It is about salvation past, present, and above all, future. 
But what future? In our Lord’s time, God’s People were no longer free. 
How would the promise be fulfilled at last? 

Let’s go back to the first Passover. 
When Moses stood before Pharaoh, and said, 
Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, “Let my people go.” 
Go for what? 

If you look more closely at the Book of Exodus, it’s clear: 
“Let my people go…that they may worship me.” 
The purpose of the Exodus wasn’t primarily about getting land; 
It wasn’t about better food or working conditions. 
It wasn’t even primarily about freedom and justice in the usual, political sense. 

These things are important, but they are secondary. 
The primary freedom, the primary justice, 
 is to know God and to be in relationship with him--
because, as the Second Vatican Council taught, if man loses God, he loses himself. 
We don’t know who we are. 

So when, in our time, we close ourselves off from God; 
we fool ourselves into thinking that, with the marvels of technology, 
we are now in control, and we don’t need God. 
We can reinvent everything: how human life begins; 
What it means to be human; What marriage is; What family is. 
We do not care what the Creator has written in nature and in ourselves. 
We are the creators! We are god! 

So have we, finally, delivered ourselves? 
Have we made ourselves a Paradise--
so that we need no longer seek the one we left, long ago? 
We’ll see. 

“Egypt” is that place where God’s People went seeking security, 
they forgot themselves, and became slaves. 
So it has always been through human history. 
And it is out of Egypt, out of the slavery of forgetting who we are, that God delivers us. 

Now we can understand the real meaning of the Gospel we heard. 
Notice it doesn’t talk about the Eucharist, 
 but it shows the Lord washing the Apostles’ feet. 

When Joshua led God’s People into the Land, they “conquered” it: 
they were to drive out everything that would pollute their relationship with God. 
That’s what we do in our lives, through confession, penance, and forty days of Lent. 

By the way--if anyone wants to go to confession, 
I’ll be in the back after Mass tonight. 
And I’ll be here at 11 am tomorrow and Saturday. 
And I’ll hear confessions after Good Friday prayers tomorrow as well. 

Back to Joshua, leading us to the Promised Land.
Jesus is Joshua; yet notice how he “conquers”: 
He kneels before Peter; he kneels before us. 
Just as Peter had to say, “how can you, Lord, wash my feet?” 
So he--and we--must ponder, “how can you, Lord, die for me?” 

And the Promised Land--where is that? 
It’s not a land, it’s not a place, it’s Christ himself! 
The Eucharist is the Promise! 

That’s why our communion isn’t just, “accept Jesus into your heart.” 
Jesus says, “Eat my Flesh! Drink my Blood!” 
To receive the Eucharist is to accept the Cross. 
Not just to look at it, but to place it on our shoulders. 
That’s why receiving the Eucharist goes with turning from sin. 
 It’s all about the Cross. 

Now we don’t have to go three days into the desert to find him. 
We find him here. He enters us: Paradise comes here! 
We become the sanctuary where God dwells forever!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Holy Week: the heart of our Faith (Palm Sunday homily)

Listening to the Gospel we heard--the heart of the Gospel--
I’m a long way from really understanding.
That’s why we do this every single year.

If you’ve come this far in Lent, 
it maybe you feel you missed the boat.
You can still make Holy Week your Lent.

If you ever said, I wish I knew my Faith better, 
may I suggest that taking time during Holy Week, 
to come on Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil,
Will do a lot to help you go deeper into our Faith:
Because this week ins the heart of our Faith.
If you’ve never been to Holy Thursday, Good Friday, or the Vigil,
I think you’ll discover something powerful.

If you wish you’d gone to confession—
it’s not too late. 
I’ll hear confessions at 11 am on Good Friday, 
and then after our prayers for all who come.
I’ll hear confessions again on Holy Saturday at 11 am, 
as long as necessary.

The Lord walked his week to the Cross and the grave 
and we can walk with him. 

Come Thursday evening; pray with him that night before his agony.
Keep watch with him in the Garden.
Come Friday to pray at the Cross. 
Come to the Vigil Saturday night 
when the Light of Christ conquered the darkness.

This is his week; it’s our week.
What we did to the Lord; what he did for us.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

'Progressive' hostility to the laity on liturgy

(Note: when I saw how long this post was, I decided to insert some sub-heads. Other than correcting a couple of grammar and spelling errors, it's otherwise unchanged.--MEF)

Sizing up, fearing, and using, Pope Francis

In the past week, everyone has been trying to size up our new holy father, and draw instant conclusions--good or bad--about him, from relatively slender information.

On the one hand, we have some tradition-minded folks who are apoplectic; they are certain he spells doom for any number of things they care about, and all this based on a few cues in how he has handled himself, what he has chosen to wear or not wear, either on his first appearance, or since then.

Meanwhile, we have folks of a more "progressive" bent who are doing similar things. They are latching onto the most slender sorts of "evidence," in order to say he'll undo some teaching or undertake some dramatic initiative.

And, of course, one might notice that when "progressives" crow, traditionalists cringe, and vice-versa. Each one serves to feed the other's reactions.

Folks! Stop and consider that there's some agendas being pursued here!

Traditionalists overreact

On the traditionalist side--and I emphasize, it's some, not all (a lot of traditionalist folks are pushing back hard; they are offended, rightly, by any sign of disrespect for the pope, and they are sensible enough to know how foolish some of these reactions are)--I believe there's as much agenda-serving as on the "progressive" side. But because that's where we're finding wailing and gnashing, a lot of that isn't about an agenda, but being fooled by those who have an agenda. What might that be?

Well, there are those who want to ride the hobby horse of Vatican II is awful and irredeemable, and thus anything associated with it. Such folks play Pope Francis against Pope Benedict--conveniently forgetting that Pope Benedict was not hostile to Vatican II, but wanted to correct the wrong approaches to it. While Pope Benedict loved the older Mass, he did not reject the reforming impulse of the Council; instead, he argued that the implementation of the "reform" took an unhealthy direction.

By conveniently leaving that out, folks on the trad-side are serving their own agenda--not Pope Benedict's. And I feel very certain Pope Benedict does not want people using him as a stick to beat his successor. So stop it!

This isn't about Pope Francis

There's more I could say about that, but I'd like to turn to the other side, because I think this is going to be much more prominent in the days ahead: the agenda from the "progressive" side.

Have you noticed how Pope Francis has taken a simpler approach to his vesture, in Mass, as well as outside? Well, the progressives sure have. And many of them are crowing about it. They are using Pope Francis as a stick with which to beat Pope Benedict.

You can read on the National (so-called) Catholic Reporter site, as well as sites like PrayTell, all about it. How happy they are that Pope Francis is not choosing the vesture that Pope Benedict did. So the fact that he chose to preach from the pulpit at his installation Mass (rather from the chair), and without his miter, is being celebrated as a "revolution" by folks who think this way.

Well, first, let me be very clear. I don't intend to offer the pope advice on this subject. To the extent I indicate my preferences, that doesn't mean the holy father has to listen to anything I say. I am not Pope Francis. He has his reasons for making the choices he does, and I respect that. Were I in his shoes--thank heaven I am not!--I might well do precisely what he's doing.

Even if I wouldn't do it as he does, that doesn't mean he's wrong, or doing anything wrong. There are things that are legitimate choices, and when my brother priests zig, while I zag, I can feel differently, and say so, without that being "criticism." This is the sort of thing we sometimes talk about, and we all understand this.

Because, the thing is, I'm not worked about this. I am not losing sleep because the holy father gave his homily standing. I trust him and have confidence in him.

No, my reaction is not to him or his choices, but to those on the progressive side who are choosing to use Pope Francis for their own ends. With their objectives, wrapped in misleading packaging, I certainly do take issue. Everything I'm saying on this is aimed at them.

Did you know? Gold vestments make Jesus cry

Here's one of the things our friends on the progressive side always, always, always say: they are for empowering the laity. Isn't that right? And they also say they want more choices, more flexiblity, especially in the liturgy; I can't imagine anyone leaning progressive using the word "rigid" in a positive way.

So let's examine what some (I emphasize, some) progressives are doing with the few cues Pope Francis has given them.

They're arguing that elegant, precious vestments, sacred vessels, and other liturgical appointments are "fussy," and somehow offend Jesus. They get in the way of true worship, using them is against the poor, and using them impedes worship on the part of the faithful; they are distracting. They claim that when a deacon, priest, cardinal, bishop, pope, chooses these various items, and maintains these various traditions, they are clearly self-referential. I.e., no other interpretation is allowed.

Hold on now. What gives these folks the right to dictate what these things mean for everyone?

Wouldn't it be more accurate to say that these negative meanings, are felt by those who object? In other words, all their objections boil down to this: "we don't like those things"?

Understand, I'm not dismissing their objections entirely. I take them at their word. They find these things a negative. Fine. And so, when Pope Francis takes off his miter, that makes you happy. I'm glad, sincerely.

Progressive contempt

But consider that other people feel differently. Why be so contemptuous of what is meaningful to them--and then expect others to take your feelings seriously?

I don't use the term "contemptuous" lightly. The fact is, that a number of folks, who are more progressive, do heap scorn and contempt on aspects of our tradition, that are valuable and meaningful to others. I'm sorry to say I know of priests who are openly and visibly contemptuous of the form of the Mass that prevailed for most of the Church's life. Not preferring it is one thing; thinking there were needed changes, fine; but to express hatred and contempt? How can anyone justify that?

Further, too many of this mindset aren't content to avoid these aspects of the tradition themselves. They seek to deny them to anyone.

How else to explain the resistance to even a modest amount of Latin to be used in the Mass--even though Vatican II intended Latin to stay part of the Mass? Vatican II created an option for some--repeat, some use of the vernacular language. At no time did Vatican II decree that Latin be banished or treated like parsley on the plate.

Do these progressives care that other people like Latin? No, they don't. Banish it.

How to explain the rapid destruction of artwork and adornment of churches? Why did beautiful, substantial altar rails have to ripped out? Why were beautiful altars smashed? Why destroy artwork that, even if it wasn't "the best," was part of the lives and faith of so many people?

No, it isn't in Vatican II

If you say Vatican II, quote the paragraph. I'll donate $100 to Catholic Relief Services--I'll post a scan of the check on this site--when someone cites where Vatican II said to do these things. Why did what was undeniably meaningful to so many of the faithful have to be, not only removed, but destroyed? And if you say, what does it matter now? I answer: because there are a lot of the faithful who are still wounded by that, decades later. And it was an injustice, and the lapse of time doesn't change the need to right a wrong. And if you don't understand how damaging that was, you don't understand a major dynamic at work in the church today. And this was a harm commited against the laity, who pays for it all. Funny how seldom so-called advocates of the rights of the laity not only don't care about this, but aided and abetted this wrong.

How do we explain the similar banishment of the older form of the Mass entirely? When Pope John Paul II gave permission for some celebration of the older Mass, this was resisted and bemoaned. Why? What happened to more choices? Why be so "rigid"? When Pope Benedict took it further, the hue and cry was loud and long--and don't kid yourselves, many so-called "progressives" would love to see that rolled back.

The irony is, the desire for the older form of the Mass--and for that matter, lots of traditional things--is largely driven by the laity. What happened to respecting the laity and empowering them? Only when they want the right things, apparently.

The Church has a treasury of art, music and liturgy, we call tradition. It's deep and broad and rich. And every ounce of it is belongs to each and every Catholic, past, present and future. No one should have to explain why they like it or want to enjoy it.

Yet there are folks--again, who describe themselves as progressive, and claim they are on the side of the laity--who insist on locking away large portions of this treasury, denying these things to those among the faithful who want it. The excuse? Oh, no one but nut-jobs even care about these things.

Well, the last few years, as these things have found their way back, and been well received by many of the faithful, contradicts that, doesn't it?

But what about those who like simpler liturgy?

Now, a pause here to consider an objection.

Some will say, but a lot of the laity don't like these things. What about them?

I am for respecting them, too. I'm not denigrating their feelings. More to the point, their desires are not being frustrated.

If you favor a Mass with no Latin (even though Vatican II did not call for that--look it up), can you honestly claim you are denied this? If I offered a dollar to my readers for every Mass they attended in one weeks' time, that included no Latin, I'd face a big payout, wouldn't I? Same with those who say they favor churches that are simple, and vestments that aren't "old fashioned," etc.

If and when the day comes that such things are as rare, and hard to find, as Mass celebrated in the Extraordinary Form--and, then, there is talk about suppressing such things altogether (as happened with the older forms)--then I think it will be reasonable to say the simpler-is-better approach is being mistreated.

And, this is a side point, but a point of clarification: I'm not even arguing for the Extraordinary Form. I'm with Pope Benedict; while I see its value and beauty, I also see the wisdom of what the Council called for. Like him, I think the implementation of reform miscarried, and needs to be renewed--not abandoned. I simply cite the Extraordinary Form--the older Mass--as a symbol of what I'm talking about at one of the spectrum.

What I'm calling out is simply this: those who say they're progressive--who say they are for the rights of the laity, and for choices and broadness--who then insist on imposing their preferences on everyone else. I don't see anything "progessive" about that, hence the quote-marks.

The hard truth is that those who scorn what others find meaningful, mock and insult it, deserve another title: elitist. And, where the shoe fits, "clericalist."

Learning the Extraordinary Form of the Mass

I'm taking a course currently at our seminary, Mount Saint Mary's Seminary of the West, in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (i.e., the older form). It's not all that easy for me to pick it up, but I'm working on it.

While most of the prayers can be recited from the book, or from altar cards--or, for the prayers at the foot of the altar, from a prayer card--there are prayers you really have to memorize.  So, I did what we used to do way back in high school; I created flash cards, and I carry them around so I can work on them throughout the day.

One of the things I did when I was in the seminary--when I had other prayers to memorize--was to make up some tune to accompany the prayers. 

I'm sure some people would be horrified if they heard the ditties I've composed for several of these prayers; perhaps others would be amused. But I would bet I'm not the first one to do it.

Please pray for this old dog learning "new" tricks!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Saint Joseph

It's been a long day, and I won't make a long post. But there is something special about Saint Joseph's Day, all the more because our holy father chose to have his "installation" Mass today.

Saint Joseph was especially chosen by heaven to be the protector of the two people particularly precious to the Father: his Son and his Son's mother. Consider that!

Saint Joseph is one of a handful of people whose story is told in Scripture, who is presented in 100% positive terms. Of Saint Joseph is said the highest praise that Scripture gives: he did as the Lord directed. How far am I from being eligible for such an epitaph!

My thoughts go to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, in Washington, D.C. If you wander back to the apse of the church--the upper church--and look to the left and right, you will see two massive, beautiful mosaics. If you never go back there, you would never know they are there. The one to the left (as you face the apse) is about our Lady; the one to the right is an image of Saint Joseph.

There is something deeply moving--to me--about that mosaic. It show Saint Joseph with a great mantle, and beneath his mantle (as I recall it now in my mind) are a variety of people, high and low, male and female, young and old--in short, everyone. And to the side is a quote from Pope Blessed John XXIII, who--as you may recall--inserted Saint Joseph into the Roman Canon. I can't recall the quote at the moment; but as I recall, it makes the point that as God gave Jesus and Mary to Joseph, so he entrusts all of us to him. And I recall that when I visit that mosaic, I am moved to tears. More than once.

I have total confidence in Saint Joseph; don't you?

Pope Francis' first curial reform

Creative Minority Report has a nice item on "the first papal curia reform." I like it. See it here.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Pope Francis goes Pope Benedict in first papal Mass

There are some rumblings among more tradition-minded Catholics about whether Pope Francis is "low church" in his approach to the liturgy, whether he will chart a course that undermines the progress Pope Benedict made in rediscovering the riches of our whole tradition.

I have no predictions to make, and I can make no promises in behalf of our holy father; but I can say two things:

1) How about we wait and actually see what he will do, rather than start jumping out of windows in fear of what he could do?

2) How about we take a look at what is planned for his installation Mass?

My friend Jeffrey Tucker, who has been a champion for chant and polyphony for many years, describes the holy father's plans this way:

Have you made your plans yet? You need to go to bed early on Monday night so that you can rise at 4:30am Eastern Time to watch the epic inauguration of Pope Francis. The music alone will be monumental, probably the best that has ever been present on such an occasion. This is a big big moment for sacred music. The whole world will hear Gregorian propers and polyphony for the first time. This is the music of Vatican II, brought to us because of the glorious papacy of Benedict XVI and given as a gift to Pope Francis. Also, please let all your friends know too. This is absolutely not to be missed.

And here, Jeff provides the actual program in a post titled, Presenting the Most Gregorian Inauguration in Centuries.

If I can manage it, I'll be up at 4:30 am! Not much gets me up that early!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Learning about poverty from Pope Francis and Saint Paul (Sunday homily)

We’ve all been reflecting, I think,
on the election of our new holy father, Pope Francis.

Our holy father has been talking about poverty.
He said this week that he wants the Church to be poor--
and to serve the poor.
That got me thinking.

Of course, we remember that following Jesus Christ
includes following his example.
In particular, the Lord’s choice to live a simple life.

Now, when we talk about poverty, we mean different things.
At first, we think of lacking food, clothing, and shelter.
Pope Francis as a bishop in Argentina
chose to live in a simple apartment.
When you and I do without food during Lent,
that’s a brief taste of poverty--
except that we can end it when we choose.

The pope is reminding us that much of the world goes without meals,
not to diet, and not as an act of penance,
but as the only life they know.

Another facet of poverty is lack of power.
Even where the poor can vote--and so, in theory have political power,
isn’t it interesting how it doesn’t seem to work out that way.

Hugo Chavez, the leader of Venezuela who just died--
he claimed to be for the poor.
Yet he left his country in bad shape--but he did OK.
Somehow, the poor always end up getting the short end.

When the interstates were put through Cincinnati,
notice which neighborhoods they bypassed,
and which ones got bulldozed.

So that got me thinking.
Right now, we’re seeing political trends that alarm us.

We have so-called Catholic politicians
proudly promoting abortion
and forcing contraception on the Church,
and forcing through a redefinition of marriage.
It’s outrageous--it’s discouraging.

And it’s what it feels like to be poor--and powerless.

Now, I’m not saying we should be OK with these trends.
That we shouldn’t use our rights to oppose them.
When Pope Francis was a bishop in Argentina,
he stood up to the President there
who was pushing these very same things.

But we have to be careful we don’t hitch our wagon to power.

Notice how many politicians, and corporations, and the media,
see a bandwagon and they say, that’s where the power and money are,
I’ll jump on. And we’re stunned,
and we say, we thought you stood with us?

And the politician gets very pious, oh--I’ve done some “soul-searching.”

No; he’s doing vote-searching.

If we’re not careful, any of us can make an idol of power,
And we will be tempted to compromise our values to keep it.
Notice how in recent years, so many Americans have endorsed
our government doing awful things--
like torture and remote-control war--
all in the name of “national security.”

Compare that with what we’ll recall in about ten days,
when God in the flesh stood before Pontius Pilate.
Remember how Pilate boasted, Do you not know what power I have?
What we want is for Jesus to snap his fingers--and there goes Pilate!

But he didn’t.

God, in his providence, has brought us a pope
who is calling the Church to imitate Saint Francis,
who relied not on earthly power, or riches,
but instead abandoned himself to the providence of God.

We wonder what lies ahead.
For the world. For our nation. For the Church.
Like Saint Francis, and like Saint Paul,
we count everything as so much rubbish,
Straining forward so that we might win Christ!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Senator Portman's flip-flop on 'gay marriage'

My friend and brother priest, Father Jason Bedel, has a nice reflection on Senator Rob Portman's flip-flop on redefining marriage (now he's for it). The senator said he changed his stance because he learned his son has a same-sex attraction.

Go check out Father Bedel's new blog.

Does U of Dayton not want to be Catholic?

One wonders when one sees this.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Habemus Papam!

Well we have our first Francis!

What a surprise! What to make of it? Here are some rather spontaneous thoughts:

- I note that very little of the commentary leading up to this day predicted this outcome. Remember this the next time someone says, "here's what the inside skinny is."

- Once again, we have a pope who will cause a large segment of the Church to rejoice that "one of ours" has arrived in the chair of Peter. Thirty-five years ago, it was Poland; last time it was Germany; today it's Latin America and all the many Spanish-speaking Catholics. What will this mean?

- I notice a lot of more tradition-minded Catholics--I consider myself one of them--are puzzled and concerned. Will he be a friend to tradition? Will he continue Pope Benedict's vision of the liturgy and the Council? Or will he tack a different way? I have no idea. Certainly these things concern me, too.

- Very candidly, this isn't the man I hoped would be elected, nor is he one I expected or prepared for. So much for my plans!

- This is a reminder--to me in particular--that what I think is best isn't necessarily what God thinks.

- My thoughts go back to the last two popes, who weren't necessarily the popes we were looking for, but I think they were popes we needed. Why should this time be different?

- When I re-entered the Church in 1991, and when I entered the seminary in 1997, I did some soul-searching. The Church isn't perfect. So often, our experience of the Church doesn't match our expectations and hopes. And I remember concluding--when I wrestled with this in the seminary--that I am not called to love the Church of my imagining, but the Church that is.

- The holy father, and the cardinals who chose him, are well aware of the challenges. Let us have confidence.

Update. Here's some comments I posted at the site of my friend Father John Zuhlsdorf:

I admit I was flummoxed by this choice, and I still don’t know what to think. But to quote a brother priest, when we were seminarians: “isn’t that why they call it faith?” 

Now, our lacrimose friends at Rorate have already weighed the papacy of Francis and found it wanting. Poor man! His pontificate is dubbed a failure in less than six hours! Seriously, however, they have cited some concerns; go there if you want to see them. So, there’s that. Now let’s consider some other things. 

- The reform that Pope Benedict initiated was not a top-down affair. This was by design. Perhaps now we see the wisdom of that. No; when Pope Benedict set about to effect a hermeneutic of continuity and recover tradition, he didn’t do it via mandates; he did it via one, stunning permission: freeing the older form of the Mass. Unless Pope Francis repeals or restricts it (which I think unlikely), it will have its effect. 

- The cardinals who chose him include a lot of men Benedict chose carefully. The notion that they were repudiating Benedict seems awfully dubious. Why not seek less improbable explanations first? 

Perhaps they chose him because they see different challenges from eight years ago, and this is the man the group, collectively, could support to best deal with those challenges. Namely, governance. The cardinals who voted for him may well think that the causes advanced by Benedict will continue forward well enough, while Francis does other things that need to be done–and which Benedict seems to have thought needed to be done. 

- There is a question about liturgy. Our traditionalist friends fear Pope Francis will be terrible on the liturgy. Well, to cite a phrase I like from a character in “The Green Mile,” “I don’t want to chew that food till I have to.” Let’s wait and see. 

- Then there is his choice of name. Francis. If this is about Assisi, then think deeply about that model. Not the shallow, flower-child idea, but the real Saint Francis. Think long and hard about what he stood for, what he did. “Rebuild my church” comes to mind. 

- Finally, let’s suppose our gloomy friends are right. Now let’s consider history. Paul VI was probably the least satisfying pope to traditionalists in recent memory. Yet he gave us Humanae Vitae, one of the most stellar (and courageous) actions of a pope in a long time. It gives me chills to think of that episode in our history, and how the hand of Providence was at work.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Hurry home! (Sunday homily)

In the prayer I offered at the beginning of Mass, 
you heard me say:
God, you “who reconcile the human race to yourself” 
“through your Word”--that is, Jesus the Son of God--
“grant…that the Christian people”--that’s us--
“may hasten toward the solemn celebrations to come.”

When God’s People, lead by Joshua, 
neared the Promised Land, they hastened forward.

Question: when the son neared home, did he hasten?
Let’s look at it.

The son obviously wanted nothing to do with his Father.
When he got his money, he left.
Not until he was desperate did he think of his Father.
And only then, in order to get food.

Did the son hurry home, confident in his plan?
Or did he go reluctantly?

In the end, it doesn’t matter. 
Because the Father hastened--ran!--to him!

Remember, in another part of the Gospel, 
Jesus said he came to show us the Father?
That’s what he’s doing here.
This is the heart of God shown to us.

Anyone who asks, can God forgive me?
Here’s your answer.

When we wonder, why should God listen to us 
when we’re not very sincere?
Here’s your answer.

And when we say, God must be angry, this is the rebuttal.
The Father is not angry; but he wants us with him.

When we wander from God, what is God doing?
Jesus tells us: watching; waiting. Heart aching.

So did the son hasten home? I don’t know.
But if he’d known his Father’s heart;
What if he’d realized that nothing he could say, nothing he did,
no crime, no shame, 
could keep his Father from hugging him and never let go?

People say to me: “I can’t be forgiven for what I did,” 
And my heart breaks--
because I don’t know to convince them that they’re wrong!

But the one thing I can do is to give them absolution!
In the sacrament of confession,
we don’t have to have perfect motives.
Even if you’re only a little sorry--come!

When we confess our sins, 
we don’t have to grovel--just be honest.
We don’t have to fear: what is there to fear?

It might be painful--to remember and to admit.
It might be embarrassing. 
As a priest, I’m embarrassed…
to tell another priest what I sinner I am.
But like you, I can go to any priest.
Like you, I can be behind the curtain, anonymous.

In that first reading, God’s People celebrated the Passover, 
no longer wandering in the desert, but in their home.

One day, we will celebrate our Passover--
which is what the Eucharist is--
no longer in this world, far from home,

Where we forget who we are 
and we seek power that fails, treasures that rot 
and pleasures that do not give give life.

No; one day, our journey through the desert
Will bring us to our Father’s house.
Let’s hurry home!

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Some great questions last night

Last night was the second of five monthly talks at Saint Rose, on what we believe.

As a springboard, we've been using the Luke E. Hart series, published by the Knights of Columbus. (If you follow the link I just provided, not only will you be able to read the materials, but you can listen to a "podcast" of someone reading them aloud). They are written by Peter Kreeft, who is a fine Catholic writer and these materials reflect that.

My job, in turn, has been to "lead discussion"; and while I can talk for an hour, I wanted to prompt questions. So the last time, and this time, I prepared what I called "the cheat sheet," with some bullet points, quotes, and questions for discussion.

I have to say, it isn't always easy turning somewhat abstract points of theology into questions that can endender discussion. But so far, it seems to be working. The threat of bad weather chilled our attendance, but those who came were eager.

You might be interested in some of the questions we bandied about:

> In what way is Creation "sacramental"?

That was a word I used in my "cheat sheet," attempting to summarize something Kreeft said. The idea I was trying to convey was his observation that God is "in" his Creation and he communicates to us, through it. I would argue that this is a foreshadowing of how the sacraments communicate God himself, inasmuch as they give us sanctifying and deifying grace, making us like Christ and uniting us to the Trinity. But it's only a foreshadowing. Also, I made the point that there is a readiness in creation for the use to which Christ puts creation in the sacraments: i.e., water has a fittingness and readiness to be used for baptism.

> Does it matter if people think they become angels when they die?

On one level, maybe not. If Aunt Martha says this about someone dear who died--especially too young--correcting her may not be the kindest thing to do, and I doubt God will fault her for a pious thought.

However, it is important to make clear that being human is a good thing to be; and we were created to be human--forever.

After the talk, one of the folks present made the useful point--which I touched on only in passing--that connected to this is a failure to appreciate the importance of the body as part of who we are.

This led to...

> In what way are the saints not finished with their journey (something I said in an answer to the prior question)?

The saints--except for our Lady--do not yet enjoy their resurrected bodies. They--along with any human souls in hell--await the final resurrection. I made this point to show that being human--along with our bodies--is what we are destined for. Being an angel is a fine thing; but God could have made us angels, yet he did not.

> Who's higher--humans or angels?

You can argue it several ways. In some ways, angels seem "higher" than we are; yet a human being rules the universe, and his mother is "Queen of the Angels."

> Inasmuch as the Douay Rheims translated the Vulgate's Consummatum Est as "It is consummated," why do other English translations go for "It is finished?"

Good question. (I brought up the Douay Rheims and the Vulgate to support a point Kreeft had made about how conjugal union is like the Consecration of the Mass.) I didn't have the answer, and my questioner asked me to look into it. I hope I don't forget! I used to have a Greek Lexicon that would give the info, but it's been years since I looked at it, and I've moved many times; so I don't know if I can find it.

Also, we touched on evolution, the story of Creation in Genesis, Adam and Eve, contraception, human solidarity, Thomas Jefferson, and who knows what else, that I've forgotten!

See what you missed? See you on Tuesday, April 2, 7 pm, in the undercroft of Saint Rose. We'll talk about Jesus Christ and the Church.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

We don't get to heaven--heaven gets us (Sunday homily)

Our Lord’s words in the Gospel hit pretty hard. 

We can all think of people who are more guilty than we are. 
I’m not a bad person. Are you a bad person? 
We’re certainly not as bad as…well, certain other people we can think of--right? 

Yet what did Jesus say? “Do you think they were more guilty than everyone else…?” 
No; unless you repent, “you will all perish as they did!” 

Now I’m going to say something that may shock you--
but it is what our Faith teaches. 
You and I won’t go to heaven because we’re good. 
In fact, no one will go to heaven, because he or she is good. 

And yet, only good people are in heaven. Have I confused you? 
It’s like this. Reverse the cause-and-effect. 
What we do is treat “being good” as the cause; 
and “heaven” as the effect. 

But let’s turn it around--and now we’ll get it right: 
Heaven is the cause--and being good is the effect. 
Therefore: we don’t go to heaven because we’re good. 
Instead: We become good as we let heaven draw us there! 

So it's not about how we get to heaven--but how heaven gets us.

Now, let me be even more blunt: Do we even want heaven? 
I realize that seems a silly question. 
If hell is endless horror--which is what Jesus said it is--
then, who wouldn’t say, “in that case, I’ll take heaven?” 
But saying, “I’ll accept heaven” is not the same thing as saying, “I want it.” 

Heaven isn’t what the movies say it is: endless catering to what we like. 
That’s Hollywood heaven--and it doesn’t exist. 

Heaven has its own likes--and if we go there, 
it’ll only be because we learn to like--and value and want--what heaven wants. 

See, no one goes to hell because they turned away from heaven’s door; 
but because they don’t want what heaven is; they can’t be happy there--
which means, they can’t be happy anywhere. And that’s hell. 

So when our Lord says, “repent,” 
it’s because he knows just how many of us 
fix our desires on things that won’t last. 

If what we hunger and thirst for is junk food, 
then we’re ready for a heaven 
that looks like a 3 am visit to a convenience store. 

But that’s not heaven--aren’t you glad? 
The only heaven there is, the only one we can hope for, 
is filled with Jesus Christ! 
The Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the All in All! 

So Jesus says, hunger and thirst for righteousness--and you will filled! 
Let justice descend--and salvation bud forth!
Be merciful--and you will find mercy. 
Be clean of heart--and you will see God! 
Be meek, be lowly--and you will inherit the land! 
These are the things heaven loves. 

So this is the central task of our life: to learn to love these things--and to love Christ! 
So we repent, we go to confession; we return to the Eucharist, 
we seek him, walk with him, become like him. 

That’s how heaven gets us.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

I'm 132nd out of 200! Woo hoo!

News bulletin!

Survey says of the 200 most-read Catholic blogs, I've rocketed up to 132!*

Press availabilities will be scheduled on a first-come, first-served basis.

* As of January, 2011.