Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What happened to my Sunday homily?

Funny that you should ask.

Last Friday, in the midst of a busy few days, I quickly worked up a homily for the Feast of the Holy Family. The truth is, at this time of year, most of my energy goes into crafting a good Christmas homily, and after that, I'm running on fumes. I don't mean my physical energy; I mean that there's not much left of the "creative juices" (whatever that means!).

So, I looked up the readings at the U.S. bishops' website and saw a reading from Sirach and another from Colossians -- oh, it's one of those talking about women "submitting," what do I do with that? That always get misunderstood, yet I don't want to do a homily about that. Hmm...

Anyway, I wrapped it up, printed it out, and didn't give it any more thought till just before Mass on Saturday evening. In the course of getting things organized before Holy Mass, I was setting the ribbon in the lectionary (the book of Scripture readings for Mass). Hm? A reading from Genesis? Hebrews?

Well, what do the books in the pews have? Uh oh. I look again at my homily? Will this even work?

So I worked up something while I was listening to the readings at Mass. Something about the various figures -- Abraham, Sarah, Simeon and Anna, Mary and Joseph -- all having reasons they could say, "not I" or "not now." Yet they were ready to respond to God's invitation.

How did this happen?

The feast has three sets of readings, designated years "A," "B" and "C." This is "Year B." The book was right; but the bishops' website was muddled. Grr.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

New Priest from Russia: Ordination & First Mass

And here are photos from Father Cordonnier's first Mass (thanks to parishioner Nicole Voisard for these).  Why, yes, as a matter of fact, Father is offering Holy Mass ad orientem.

I had my biretta too, but you can't quite see it.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Russia invaded from the south!

My parish church has been taken over. Commandeered by the Archdiocese.

Today a young man from our parish will be ordained to the holy priesthood, a son of the parish: Deacon Andrew Cordonnier. And the Archbishop graciously agreed to the deacon's request to be ordained here.

So at the moment, the Archbishop's MC (Master of Ceremonies) is in the church, getting things set as he likes. He's ably assisted by two seminarians, so I'm staying out of the way. Most of my dining room chairs are over there, however!

As you might imagine, this has been many weeks in the planning; today is...well, I was going to say "O-Day," but that; so I'll just say, the big day.

Even though very capable people are in charge (that leaves me out!), I'm still a little nervous about it all. So I'm drinking decaf.

We "liftoff" at 11 am.

Do the Gospels contradict each other regarding Jesus' infancy?

Here's something interesting on a subject you may not have thought much about: whether the accounts in Scripture of our Savior's birth and the events just following, contradict each other.

I agree with the author that these so-called contradictions are bogus. However, he comes up with an ingenious solution to the most puzzling apparent contradiction, namely the movements between Bethlehem, Nazareth and Egypt in the wake of the visit of the Magi.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Where the Christmas tree came from (repost)

The Christmas Tree outside the Russia Village Hall (or, it could be Rockerfeller Center in New York; I get them confused all the time).
Here's a talk I gave three years ago to the Kiwanis Club of Piqua that explains at least part of the origins of the Christmas Tree.

Today, I read another story, connecting Saint Boniface.

The stories are not, strictly speaking, mutually exclusive; but as far as which is better attested, I'd say the Christmas-tree element of the Boniface story is less so. Take your pick!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

'Who do you say that I am?' (Christmas homily)

When Moses brought God’s People out of slavery in Egypt, 
he led them to Mount Sinai, where he made a covenant with them. 
After witnessing many signs of God’s power – 
the ten plagues bringing God’s judgment on Egypt, 
and the destruction of Pharaoh’s chariots in the Red Sea – 
they heard God speak to them; 
they saw his glory envelop the mountain.

After this, you will recall, 
Moses went up the mountain for 40 days, 
during which time God further revealed himself to Moses.

Do you recall what happened in the meantime? 
The book of Exodus says that when the people saw 
that Moses was delayed in coming down the mountain, 
they came to Aaron and said, 
“Come, make us a god who will go before us.”

When Aaron had done so, he said, 
“Behold your gods, O Israel, 
who brought you up from the land of Egypt.”

Why did they do this? 
After what they had experienced, and witnessed with their own eyes, 
why would they turn from the God of heaven and earth, 
to a god made of gold?

Something similar happens when people wrestle with the Catholic Faith. 
Some of you know that while I was raised Catholic, 
when I was in college, I left the Catholic Church 
and joined an Evangelical church. 
I’d had a powerful experience 
and thought that was the right thing to do. 
Over the next ten years, I wrestled with that decision, 
and all the objections I thought I had to the Catholic Faith, 
before – of course – returning to the Faith.

What held me back from returning is what often, 
I think, holds others back. 
Even though we feel something powerful tugging at us, 
we draw back, because that last step is perilous. 
It’s one thing to do as I did, as a college student: 
to read and study and debate; 
when people go around from place to place, 
sampling different churches and spiritualities, that can be nice. 
We set the pace, we’re in control. There’s a certain safety.

But when we come up against not ideas about God, but God himself? 
Not a story, but a Someone, who we not only talk to, 
but who talks back, and expects things of us?

Then all bets are off. Anything can happen. 
God might ask anything; and how can we refuse? 
How can we turn away?
That is why God’s people preferr a god they fashion with their hands 
to the God who spoke from the mountain.  
A god that is safe. Tamed.

The same thing happens with Christmas. 
What is Christmas about? 
What have we heard for two solid months?

Peace. Family. Being together. Good feelings. And, “love”—
whatever that may mean. 
Oh yes. A child. Yes, a child was born. 
In humble surroundings. Out in the cold.
All that’s true, but is that all?
Children are born in the cold every day. Lots of them.
Why this child? 
That recalls the rest of the story. And that’s not so…safe.

A child who would grow up and say things like: 
“You heard Moses say, but rather, I say…”; 
“Rise up and walk”; “He who sees me, sees the Father”; 
“No one can come to the Father, except through Me.” 
“If you would be my disciple, take up your cross and come after me”; 
“The Son of Man will be betrayed, and crucified, and killed – 
and raised up on the third day”; 
and, “It is finished!”

This is that child. 
A child who Mary and Joseph were told, 
by the old man they met at the temple, 
“will be a sign of contradiction.” 

“Who is this man?” they asked, 
“who calms the sea, heals the sick, 
casts out demons and raises the dead?” 

“Who are you?” They kept asking, 
from the visit to the manger till the day he was nailed to the Cross 
and even after he rose from the dead. 
And when they looked close, listened close, they either said, 
“He is possessed!” or “he must die!” or, “My Lord and My God!”

This is that child. 
Some people pause briefly, admire the pretty scene, and move on. 
“It’s just a story,” so many say. 

What a story! Has anyone told a better one? 
There are those who like to say, 
oh, it’s all made up – conveniently avoiding the obvious next question: 
and just who made up this story? 
What genius conceived it? And executed it? 

So many moving parts, so many people and places involved; 
and the story was told, only a few years after, 
in all the places where it was supposed to have happened;
But, if it was a fiction, that was a suicidal thing to do.
Too many people who could easily say, 
“no, none of that happened, we live here, we know.”

No, the story can’t be explained away; 
this child cannot be explained away.
And so, many simply move on. 

But, if you stop; if you gaze at the child, 
you may see him gazing back. 
It’s risky. You may get caught. 
You may hear him ask: 
“Who do you say that I am?”

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

O Tannebaum, O Hanukkuh

Today was the last work day for the office before Christmas, so I invited the staff over to the house at 3 pm "for a little Christmas cheer." In anticipation, I made some egg nog yesterday. Here's my recipe:

8 eggs
2 pints half and half
1 cup sugar
1 cup liquor (I used half bourbon and half rum)
Fresh ground nutmeg

First separate eggs, setting whites aside in the fridge. With a hand mixer, whip yolks until they are lighter in color and thicker. Then gradually add the liquor while still running the mixer. Fyi, bourbon, rum and brandy all work, and I imagine whiskeys other than Scotch all would. I lean toward bourbon, but it's too strong a taste for many.

After all the booze is in, gradually add the sugar. When all that is in, add half and half. 

Now get your egg whites. Important! Clean your mixer blades well and dry them, before whipping the whites. You want to get them mostly stiff, but no need to go all the way. Some will add a little salt to dry them a little; I dont.

When you have the whites as you like them, now you gently fold them into the other ingredients. I use a spatula for this. Top it all with fresh nutmeg. I like a lot of it.

You can serve it now, but it's better, I think, to chill it for a few hours. I made mine around 3 yesterday, so that was a whole day. I covered the bowl.

The staff loved it! 

So I got everyone over, and with the fire going and some music playing via Pandora, I passed out the song sheets, and we sang O Tannenbaum. I took the first verse in German, then all joined in with the English. After this, I turned unmuted the TV and we enjoyed some Advent music. 

But no! Pandora didn't have an "Advent" channel, so we went with the Hanukkah channel!

We polished off the nog, and everyone left a bit ago. 

Here's the tree:

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Whose house? (Sunday homily)

In the first reading, King David wants to build a house for God. 
God tells David: he doesn’t really need it. 
Instead, God says that what David really needs to do 
is to allow God to build Israel’s “house.”

What does that mean?

First, it means that David – and those who would be king after him – 
are to be concerned with the spiritual welfare of the nation. 
If the nation is founded squarely on God, and centered on God, 
the nation will be secure. 
Then the house of God to be built will serve its purpose.

That was advice David’s son, Solomon – 
who ultimately built the temple – failed to follow. 
And so the kingdom of Israel gradually turned away from God; 
and the temple was destroyed.

All this applies just as much to us.

This church, which is beautiful, 
thanks to the sacrifices and care of this community over many years, 
is not something God needs. 
It is something we need, however. 
We need this house of prayer, this place of sacrifice. 

But having a beautiful church 
doesn’t assure that God stays at the center. 
That depends on us, and the choices each of us makes every day.

Above all, it depends on doing as we see Mary doing in the Gospel. 
She makes herself a house of God; a home for God.

As Saint Augustine said so beautifully of our Lady: 
she first conceived Jesus by faith in her heart, 
before she conceived him in her womb.

Your task and mine is to make our lives homes for Jesus. 
That is, someplace he lives – as opposed to being a guest.

I wonder: is Jesus really welcome to live in our lives? 
Or is he merely an occasional house guest? 

If you invite someone over for dinner, or even for a weekend, 
you assume your guest won’t go into every room, or open all the doors. 
That would be rude, wouldn’t it?
Even if we look, we don’t say anything. 
It’s not our home, after all.

A guest is happy to have whatever is served for meals. 
A guest may be given the nicest room in the house; 
but she knows better than to stay too long. 
And good guests know to follow along with the rules 
and customs of the house.

Is that how we treat Jesus in our own lives? 
Do we say, here’s the guest room, here’s the living room, 
the kitchen and back porch – 
as if to say, the rest of the house, that’s our private area?

What would change in our lives – 
or for that matter, in our actual houses – 
if, instead of greeting Jesus at the door as a guest, 
we instead handed him the keys?

“It’s your house now, Lord; do what you wish with it.”

So with our house; so with our car; 
so with our talents and gifts; 
so with our money and savings; 
so with our time, every day. 
So with all of our lives.

“It’s all yours Lord. Do with them as you wish.”

Saturday, December 20, 2014


It's that time of the year when priests all seem to get colds or other viruses.

I'm popping zinc tablets as I have a bit of a sore throat and a little congestion. These things work better than anything else I've used. Unfortunately, they spoil ones taste buds.

Last night, I begged off a party I wanted to attend; not because I felt so bad, but I knew something was taking up residence in my throat, and talking to lots of people for a couple of hours wouldn't be a good preparation for today's wedding, the weekend Masses, three baptisms on Sunday, and of course, Christmas.

I've learned my lesson over the years. This time of year, I must pace myself. My homily on Sunday will probably be brief. (And the crowd goes wild!)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Decorating the house for Christmas...

This is my office door, where all the Christmas cards go. I have about five or six more to post, sitting on my desk. The drawing in the middle came from the preschoolers, who all signed the back (or someone signed for them I suppose).

Here's my living room. Getting a tree up today was more of an adventure than expected. Some time back, one of our great volunteers, who will supervise the decoration of the church for Christmas, heard I needed a Christmas tree, and told me, oh, there's a nice one in the church basement; we don't use it in church, that'll be perfect for you. Great!

So Monday, our hardworking maintenance expert helped me get the box from the basement and haul it over to my living room. There it sat until today, when I went to set it up, in anticipation of some staff members who graciously volunteered (so to speak) to help me decorate the tree this afternoon.

When I unpacked the tree, there was a problem. No base for it. I searched the church basement again; no luck. I called our maintenance chief, he had no idea where it might be; I called our decoration maven, and neither did she. That's when I said, well, if we can't find it, I can always use one of the other trees in the church basement. "Oh, no, don't do that! We need those for Christmas!"

So I asked our decorator, how many trees do you need for Christmas? "Only five." Back to the church basement to see if there are more than that. I count six. I call back our decorator extraordinaire; she says, "I'll be right there." Back to the basement; she finds number seven; only it's over in a dark corner, on it's side. Not looking good.

Back to the house; the master of maintenance arrives; he has a base that ought to work; only he informs me we have another problem -- the top of the tree is also missing. And it's a pre-lit tree; and we plug it in; no lights. "I'll take it to the dump," he volunteers. I agree.

Now back to the basement of the church. With the decorator's blessing, we take one of the trees shoved into a side room. When we move it, we discover why; it's kind of jury-rigged together, and pretty flimsy. The decorator reminds us of the sad tree in the corner, laying on its side. I'm thinking, there's a reason someone threw that tree up into that corner -- to keep people from using it. Sure enough, a closer examination shows, it's bent.

Here's where the maintenance guru earns his pay. "Tru Value in Minster has a great selection." I nod, but add, "I'd rather buy one after Christmas." "They're on sale now," he adds brightly. Sold!

Back to the office for an appointment; after which, I let the staff know I've got to run up to Minster.

"No need, Father," one of my office associates says; "I have one in my basement you can use!"

So she brings it back after she goes home for lunch, and this is the tree we put up. She and the youth director helped me decorate it.

When we finished that, I had to run over to church for confessions; I got back around 4:20 pm, and did some work at my desk. When I got bored with that, I recalled I hadn't unpacked the Nativity set. So here's the creche, with just some of the figures in place. Are you wondering where the others are? Ask in comments, I'll explain.

It's almost time to head back to church for confessions again and Benediction at 8:30 pm. But, except for a wreath on the front door, the house is ready!

Monday, December 15, 2014

What does the fox cook? Fried chicken tonight! Updated...

It's been years since I fried some chicken; I'm eager to try some new things this time.

So first I start with a clean sink. I wipe it down with soapy water, and then I sprinkle generous amounts of salt (I am still using that pickling salt) into the sink and rub the sides and bottom with that. Why do I do that? Well, salt tends to kill germs, doesn't it? Plus it has a slightly abrasive quality, so if there's any residue still on the sides, it should help with that.

Then I open the two packages of "split chickens" into the sink. They are still a little frozen, but that should not be a problem. I sprinkle a good amount of salt over them, both sides -- this is for antiseptic purposes. (My mother used to do this.) Then I find a sharp knife, and begin cutting the chickens into fry-able pieces.

I imagine a lot of people find cutting up a chicken daunting, but it really isn't. I've seen tutorials online for how to do it with real finesse, but even without those skills, it's not that hard, especially when you have, as I did, two chickens already cut in half (and no giblets, boo!). What I do is find the joint between, and bend the pieces to "break" the bonds at the joint, and then work the knife in between the joints. If it's a sharp knife, it'll cut through everything nicely. A good knife should even cut the chicken bones fairly well, but there's no need for that, unless you have a whole chicken and you need to cut through the breast bone. Also, I cut away the backbone parts, with the tail, which I'll save for stock. My freezer has several bags of assorted items that will go into the next stock -- leftover vegetables, onion skins, chicken parts, etc.

With the breasts, I couldn't decide whether to cut them in half, or leave them more or less "whole." The smaller pieces cook faster, but it's so nice having a whole breast. So I decided to cut up two of them, and leave the other two alone.

When all the pieces were cut up the way I like them, I poured a quart of buttermilk over it all:

Followed by a generous amount of Franks Hot Sauce. All this I stirred up; using a bit of water to get the last of the buttermilky goodness out of the carton, and then I pushed the chicken pieces down into the milk mixture, so it can all marinate.

A lid on that, and into the fridge to marinate for several hours.

Oh, and in all that, I rescued a nice bit of chicken fat from one of the pieces; I'll throw that in with the lard (yes, lard! ask me why) when I heat that up to fry the chicken later.

Update, 12/16/14...

After going to town to do some business and see a movie, and after offering Mass, I got back to the chicken yesterday around 6 pm.

The first step was to get the lard heating up. I had a good supply -- too much, really -- of bacon fat in the fridge, so I threw that in as well.

Then I mixed the dry ingredients: flour, paprika, spicy Montreal steak seasoning. Next time, I'll get some garlic powder; it's not something I keep on hand. I put all this in a ziplock bag, and then added the pieces straight from the buttermilk, and then after coating them, laid them out on a pan to dry a bit (this is just half the pieces; I prepared two whole chickens):

 After they sat awhile, I decided it was time to start cooking. I cooked the chicken in batches, trying to put larger pieces in first, then smaller ones, so they would all finish about the same time. I didn't actually expect to cook them completely in the fat, but rather to give them a good, crispy coating, and then finish them in the oven.

Here is one batch, cooking away:

And here's the whole batch, ready for the oven:

So what's the verdict?

The chicken was very good; the crust was pretty good; but the batter needed much more seasoning. Next time, I will try either applying some Franks right before dipping in the dry ingredients, or adding much more seasoning to the dry mix, or both.

Except for the wings, the pieces were underdone; so I put the chicken back in for a bit.

There were three very large pieces -- all breast pieces -- that I kept in the longest. I found them this morning, after Mass, thoroughly cremated.

The rest is safely in the fridge, ready to be consumed at future meals.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

What is joy? How do we obtain it? (Sunday homily)

(My homily was based on notes, rather than a text; this is my approximation of what I said, post hoc.)

The words "joy" and "rejoice" are mentioned in almost all the prayers and readings of today's Mass. That's why it's called Gaudete Sunday, which is Latin for "rejoice." So the Church wants us to pay attention to this. So let's look at it.

What is joy?

First, let me explain what it is not. Joy does not equal happiness. Let me offer an example. I knew a couple in Piqua, there names (changed) were Bob and Elizabeth. They were married over 60 years; a faithful couple. And when Elizabeth's health began to decline, they called me to come, and I did of course; I came several times, as I recall, anointing her and giving her Last Rites.

What I remember most is the last time I was with her. When I came into the hospital room, I could barely get in! The room was packed with her children and grandchildren. And sitting at her side, holding her hand, was her husband Bob. They were praying Hail Marys over and over, and Elizabeth was leading them. Well, her voice began to fade, and eventually, she couldn't speak any more. And then Bob stopped; and we all stopped. We knew: she had died.

That's when Bob said: "I'm broken-hearted; but I'm joyful." And there it is.

Now, I don't have to explain why he was broken-hearted. But why was he joyful?

Well, because they had lived their Faith, and she was ready. She had received all the sacraments, and she was as ready as she could be. Bob had no doubt, nor do I, that she went to receive what had been promised her by the Lord.

So joy is not something that we only have when our life is in order, or our health is good, or we have our relationships or our act together.

This is good news for those who don't feel happiness at this time of year. That may seem odd to some of us; but for those whose families aren't happy, or they are out of work, or have bad health, or they lost someone they love, this isn't necessarily a happy time. And that's OK.

But you can still have joy.

So what is joy?

Joy, Saint Paul says in one of his letters, is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. But even more simply, joy is a relationship with Jesus -- heart to heart. Jesus in our heart.

How do we have a relationship with Jesus? That may sound odd to some; Jesus is God! How can I have a relationship with God?

But that's the whole point of God becoming human. That's the point of the Cross -- the whole thing. God did all this so that we can have a relationship with him.

Yes, we can have a relationship with Jesus! Remember what he said to his apostles: "I no longer call you slaves; I call you friends." And again he said, whoever keeps the will of my Father is "my brother and my sister and my mother." We can be friends with Jesus; we can be his brother or sister!

So how do we have a relationship with Jesus?

First, I have good news: your baptism made you a member of God's Family. You don't need to be shy, and press your nose against the glass, and wonder if you can come in. No! There's a place at the table for you; you are invited; you're expected. Come on in!

Second, if we realize some things are in the way, if we need to clear the air, that's where confession comes in. I spoke at length about confession last week, so I won't say much. But in our relationships, we often need to ask for forgiveness. And someone says, "I forgive you; I won't bring it up again." Ha! That's not what happens, is it?

But with Jesus, that's what happens. He never brings up anything he forgave. When he forgives, it's gone, gone, gone!

And then, third, the heart of the relationship: talk to him! It's just like that girl across the cafeteria you want to get know; or that boy you see in the hallway. You have to go talk to him or her. It's the same with Jesus.

Of course, I'm talking about prayer; and I think a lot of people don't want to admit, they don't think they really know how to pray. So I'm going to make it easy for you and just explain that now.

There are lots of ways to pray, and we're familiar with our memorized prayers, and the Rosary and so forth, which are great; but the heart of prayer is conversation.

We can use Scripture; and if you want to try that, I suggest starting with the psalms, because they have every human experience and human emotion reflected in them. Someone in trouble, someone in temptation, someone at a high point, someone giving thanks, someone betrayed, someone in war, someone facing death, and so forth.

We can pray with the Rosary or with litanies. Now, some don't care for this or understand it; but what happens is the repetition calms our mind and allows our heart to communicate with the Lord.

But the heart of prayer is conversation. We talk to the Lord; and we are quiet, so he can talk to us.

The key is time alone.

I notice something at daily Mass; sometimes our parents will bring one of their children, and it reminded me of something from when I was a boy. When you get to have mom or dad all to yourself, that is really special -- not having to share them with your brothers and sisters. And couples, isn't that how you became a couple? And doesn't that help sustain your relationship?

Now, in order to do this, there's no secret: we make a plan, and we make a decision we're going to start. Just like starting an exercise regimen or learning a new skill. Of course, what happens is we want to start something, but we run out of steam.

May I suggest we start small? Even a few minutes with Jesus every day is golden.

But if you find you just can't get going, let me offer another suggestion.

When I was thinking about becoming a priest, I reproached myself, because I'd wanted to start the habit of daily Mass, and when morning would come, I wouldn't get out of bed in time. Here I was, wanting to be a priest, but I couldn't get to daily Mass! That's pretty important.

So here's what I did. I prayed for the desire. So if that's you, pray this prayer, five words: "Lord, give me the desire." That's it. Pray that every day, and see what happens.

So: what happens if we make time with Jesus a priority every day? Let me make some predictions:

> Our priorities will sort out.
> We won't be so afraid -- we will find more strength. Remember when Peter was in the boat, and he saw Jesus coming across the water? He said, Lord, if that is you, let me come onto the water -- and Jesus said come! And Peter walked on the water! But when he took his eyes off the Lord, that's when he sank.
>We will find that the void in our lives, which we fill with too much food or drink, or with gambling, or complaining, or looking at the wrong stuff on the Internet...that hole in us will be filled with what it was made for: for Jesus in our lives; and we won't need all those other things to fill it.
> And I predict we will experience Holy Mass in a new way; it won't be just a series of things that happen; but an encounter with a person, Jesus Christ.

In a word, time with Jesus means joy. Not material success or good health, or a job or a nice home; because all those things can be taken away.

But there's no reason we should ever lose Jesus.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Lasagna Saga, continued

So today is the day to make the Lasagna I told you about the other day, so here's what I did...

 First, I soaked the pasta in hot water. Although I usually cook the noodles, that's time-consuming, plus it's very awkward working with steaming hot, fragile sheets of pasta. I've heard of people just using them as-is, but I didn't want to do that. So I followed a suggestion I saw online, to soak them for awhile in hot water. (If it looks like a lot of pieces are broken, you're right. This box must have been used for a Thanksgiving football game behind Krogers.)

Next I get my cheeses ready. The mozzarella came shredded (Father Z would scoff at this being called mozzarella, and he's right); the parmesan cheese I shredded/sliced myself (in the measuring cup), and the ricotta -- the creamy mixture on the left -- I prepared myself, using store-bought ricotta, and then I added some nutmeg and, because it was a little thick, some cream. Then (after this shot was taken) I saw the recipe called for some egg and parsley. So I added that, plus some of the parmesan cheese. It should work fine.

The other cheeses you see there? They were some I bought to see if I'd like them. One is a pecorino romano, which I normally like, but this block, not so much; and in the smaller bag is some sort of Tuscan parmesan cheese; too mild.

Meanwhile, I get my sauce out and start heating it up. It doesn't need to be hot, but I do want it not so thick when I spread it. It looks delicious, but if I make it again, I will cut down a bit on the meat.

Next I get my pans ready. The recipe says nothing about oiling the pans, but -- better safe than sorry. (I spread the oil around after taking the picture.)

Next I start layering. Every recipe does it differently, and I wonder, does it matter all that much? The only thing I insist on is cheese on top; I don't know why. This time, it was sauce, noodles, ricotta, mozzarella, sauce, a little parmesan, er...well something like that. Here are the finished pans. Both were wrapped in foil, one went into the freezer; the other I'll cook tonight. 

Finally, I packed up the remaining sauce for use for other purposes. I misjudged the size of my container, but oh well. And how does it taste? Delicious!

In a few minutes, I head over to shrive the schoolchildren, then back here to get things ready for dinner.

We have confessions -- with Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament -- from 6:30 to 8:30 pm, for our high school students. Feel free to stop by!

Torture American style

No doubt you've heard that this week, members of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee released a report detailing various "enhanced interrogation methods" which were used by agents of our nation (principally CIA, is my understanding) on those who were swept up as terrorists or terror-suspects during our recent efforts to fight terrorism.

Two points have been made about the politics of this: that it was the work of Democratic members of the committee, not both parties; and that it served to distract attention from hearings in which Jonathan Gruber, the MIT smarty who famously said the American voter is "stupid" and that's how the Obama Administration was able to get a jury-rigged Obamacare through Congress. Both correct.

Two foreign/defense points have been made: namely, that this will hurt our relations with allies and inflame our enemies. Most likely correct.

Also, the usual defenses and qualifications have been offered: that we have to accept some compromises of our deeply held American values, in order to safeguard our...deeply held American values. That if only we knew the context, we would accept these methods. And that they weren't all that bad, surely not "torture"--because the government's experts were very careful to define torture so that it was just beyond how far they went.

But the one thing I haven't seen anyone say is that the things reported weren't true.

So let's not mess around. Let's see what our government considered acceptable methods of interrogation:

> Prisoners were subjected to prolonged sleep deprivation, "for up to 180 hours, usually standing or in stress positions, at times with their hands shackled above their heads." At least five detainees "experienced disturbing hallucinations."

> President Bush received his first briefing on enhanced interrogation techniques in 2006, about four years after the program started. According to CIA records, Bush expressed discomfort with an image of a detainee "chained to the ceiling, clothed in a diaper."

> At least 26 detainees were "wrongfully held," one of which was "mentally challenged," and wasn't detained because of anything he did, or knew, but as "leverage" over his family. To this end, the CIA recorded audio of the mentally limited man crying.

> At least one detainee was stripped naked, shackled and made to stand up to 72 hours, while periodically doused with cold water.

> One detainee spent 266 hours in a coffin-sized box.

> Lots and lots of waterboarding (which simulates drowning); it turns out it was conducted far more widely than previously admitted.

> Several captives were "rectally rehydrated" and given "rectal feeding." The latter practice involves introducing pureed food into...the rectum. This was done even where there was no medical necessity. Gee, can you imagine any other reason they might have done this?

> Several captives were told that members of their families -- mothers and children -- would be "sexually abused" or have their throats cut.

This last point bears some attention; because some time back, when having a discussion with someone about waterboarding, I offered this as a hypothetical: what if our interrogators threatened to harm a family member, in order to induce a confession? And the response was, oh no, that's totally different, and we would never do that...

When once we start to justify doing evil, in order to prevent a greater evil, where does it end?

In the doomsday scenario I sketched out in another post, I supposed that a President might -- by this moral calculus -- decide that sacrificing the constitution and religious freedom of the United States was a lesser evil than the destruction of America's largest city.

Many other scenarios can be sketched out. Turn over one million American Jews, to save 8 million New Yorkers. Bomb a city in, say, Iran (who despite being an enemy, is nonetheless hated by many of our enemies), or else we'll bomb you, and so forth.

Horrible? Impossible, you say? But why? It'll save lives. And, if you refuse, then -- as someone said to me on another blog, then it's your fault if those people die.

One of the defenses of our torture program was, first, "they had it coming" (except for the many cases of mistaken identity); and second, "we didn't kill them"--meaning that as long as we stop short of death, all is permitted.

Note, for example, that in this whole torture regime, lots of medical personnel were kept handy, just to make sure the detainees weren't killed.

So let's explore that thinking. "They had it coming"--meaning, if you do evil things, we get to do what we like to you.

We have lots of really bad people in prisons across the country. People who were, in open court, fairly convicted of murder, rape, assault, drug-pushing, child-molestation, and any number of terrible things.

So clearly, we have a moral license to do whatever we them. How about medical experimentation? Instead of testing on innocent unborn children, why not test on guilty criminals? And surely, they don't need two kidneys, when lots of good people die every year for lack of one good kidney?

And if everything short of killing is acceptable treatment for enemies, why not...power drills and lit cigarettes and live electric wires. It's not like we're permanently maiming them. They'll recover. We have doctors handy. And why not rape? We could call it..."rectal rehydration."

Meanwhile, notice -- in order to do these things to bad people, we must recruit lots of our own people to do it. Either we have to take good people, and teach them to be bad; or else, we hire our own bad be bad to others in our name.

We have a choice. We can listen to conscience, the voice of God: "One may not do evil so that good may result from it." Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1756.

Pope John Paul II: "No circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever can ever make licit an act which is intrinsically illicit, since it is contrary to the Law of God which is written in every human heart, knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by the Church." (Evangelium Vitae, n. 62.)

Or, we can threaten to cut the throats of children, when their parents are probably terrorists.

All to protect our deeply cherished...way of life.

If torture can be justified, what can't?

The President was working at his desk when grim-faced Secret Service agents and U.S. Marines burst into the Oval Office from both doors.

"You have to come with us NOW, Mr. President," his detail chief barked as the detail picked him up from behind his desk and rushed him from out the side door, and down into the bowels of the White House. He'd been briefed the day after taking office on these procedures, and even gone through practice drills -- but knowing this wasn't a drill left the President ashen-faced when he arrived, a few minutes later, in the bomb-proof bunker deep underground.

The President glanced around to find General Carson, chairman of the Joint Chiefs. 

"Mr. President, we have an imminent threat against New York City. A nuclear device. We believe it's credible."

"What's our plan?"

"We have a phone call from the head of ISIL. He wants to present terms. He says he will detonate the bomb unless he speaks directly with you."

The President paused, quickly reading the faces of his advisors, before reaching for the phone on the table before him. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs picked up another phone near him, as did the White House Chief of Staff.

"This is the President. Who is this?"

"This is the man who will destroy your great city, unless you agree to my demands, Mr. President."

"Surely you know we will try to stop you?"

"I know only that you would like to. As your general will explain, we have demonstrated that we do have a bomb in your great city; that for all your great wealth and technology, you do not know where it is; and that we are ready to detonate. If anyone comes too close to where the bomb is, we will detonate it. Of course, Mr. President, if you think you can stop us, feel free to hang up and proceed accordingly."

The President glanced at Carson and didn't like what he saw in his general's eyes.

"What are your demands?"

"Very simple, Mr. President. You will bow to the will of Allah and with you, your impenitent nation will bow."

"What do you mean?"

"What I said, Mr. President. You and the nation will bow down toward Mecca, toward Allah, confessing faith in him and his prophet (praise be upon him). The nation you call great will finally become great, as it announces its acceptance of the True Faith."

"That is impossible; I cannot do this."

"It is not impossible. You can easily do this. You can do it right now, repeating the words I give you."

"Even if I were to convert, as you wish, I cannot make the whole country do as I have done. Surely you know that?"

"I know nothing of the sort, Mr. President. We have had no trouble in making many infidels, many lost souls, find the truth. We simply point guns at them, and they kneel.

"You must declare martial law, Mr. President. Then, when you have firm control, you can begin eliminating all the barriers that stand in the way."

"And you demand I do all this before you will help us find the nuclear device in New York?"

"No, Mr. President. For now, I demand two things. First, your own submission -- which you will perform there, while one of your aides records it, which will be sent to me. And second, martial law imposed nationwide. Surely the peril of New York will give you grounds? 

"For these two steps, I will spare New York. However, do you suppose New York is my only card to play? I have another. And if the rest does not come quickly enough, you will hear from me again.

"And lest you doubt me, ask your aides what just happened to the Washington Monument...about 10 seconds ago."

As the unnamed voice trailed off, the President heard several phones start ringing and a burst of chatter in the larger room outside the room in which he and his two top advisors were huddled. Something had indeed happened.

Straining to keep his voice calm, the President replied. "Will you please allow me to confer with my aides?"

"Of course, Mr. President. Allah is merciful and generous. I will wait."

As the President looked up, seeking out Cheryl Madison, his chief of staff, he saw General Carson stepping back from the door, where he'd been handed a message from outside. "The Washington Monument?" the President asked. Carson nodded. "Just blown up."

"Do we have any leads on this bomb? Do we know when it will go off?"

"No Sir. Before I would let him talk to you, we spent a lot of time on the phone with him. We were unable to trace the call--which means very sophisticated technology. For reasons it would take too long to explain right now, we are convinced he's not bluffing. And we have absolutely no leads."

"And if we refuse now?"

"I assume he will detonate. And then call back to talk about the second target."


"Without knowing how powerful a device it is, we don't know how many will die. But the situation on the Mall right now is bad; we probably lost several hundred there. From what this man said on the phone earlier, I'd say a million deaths is likely if we lose New York.

The President thought a moment before responding. "The choice seems obvious. Although there will be serious resistance to martial law, the casualties will be nowhere as bad as a nuke detonating in New York."

The Chief of Staff was aghast. "You can't be serious? You would give up our freedom, our constitution, everything -- that easily? You can't do this, Mr. President--"

The President nodded to General Carson, who in turn nodded to a pair of MPs who had discreetly entered. "Place Ms. Madison under arrest. Cheryl, when we're faced with grave danger, we can't afford absolute concepts of right and wrong. There have to be compromises for the sake of the greater good."

The White House Chief of Staff started to protest, but a hand was soon over her mouth as her wrists were restrained. When she had been escorted from the room, the President continued. "You have the order ready?"

"Yes Sir, Mr. President," Carson said, placing it in front of the President, who promptly signed it.

"Have that disseminated; then come back with your camera."

When the general returned a moment later, he began closing the blinds of the room as the President picked up the phone.

Remember, the defenders of our country using torture against suspected terrorists make this argument: that in order to prevent a worse horror, we must accept sacrificing our moral values for the greater good.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Am I being hijacked?

I am having trouble accessing my own blog tonight. I keep ending up somewhere else. I am wondering if this is happening to anyone else. 

If you are reading this, PLEASE enter a comment, so I know. If anything seems squirrelly, let me know.


Monday, December 08, 2014

Making sauce (updated!)

A couple of priests are coming over Wednesday evening for dinner and confessions, and I decided to make lasagna. Why lasagna? Simply put, because it'll basically cook itself without too much tending; and it'll be easier to put away before we head over to church for confessions.

So lasagna Wednesday means making sauce today.

I found a recipe online, which calls for a mixture of Italian sausage and ground beef -- I doubled the quantity; that way I can either make two pans of lasagna, or else have sauce left over (or both).

So first I chopped up some onion and smashed some garlic. Then I started that with a little olive oil in the dutch oven, followed by the meat:

The directions said to let that all brown nicely; so while it was doing that, I chopped up some parsley, and put it together with the other seasonings: some sugar, some basil, some Italian seasoning and Fennel seed, and salt and pepper. I stirred it all up in a cup while I waited for the meat to finish browning.

Then I looked again at the directions. I was supposed to keep half the parsley to mix with the ricotta cheese. Oops!

Then I opened up the cans of crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, and tomato sauce. When the meat was brown, I dumped in the dry ingredients first, then the tomato items. Last I put in a cup of red wine (the recipe called for water). When I saw the mix, I decided to throw in some leftover tomato sauce. It should work out fine.

So I stirred that all up, and let it simmer. I'll finish this up later tonight, after Holy Mass.

Oh, and a little trick of mine. I used the wine to "wash" out the dry ingredients and the tomato sauce from the other containers, so nothing is wasted.

Now I'll go check on the sauce...

Update, 6:18 pm...

I've actually checked the sauce several times. It's cooking down nicely. I am using a trick I learned from a Sicilian priest who serves in a nearby city: when you lift off the lid, be careful not to let the condensed water fall back into the sauce; instead, pour it off. This way, you gradually concentrate the flavors.

Speaking of which, I decided to add several more cloves of garlic (you can't have too much!) and some oregano. And I thought it needed a bit of heat, so I threw in a few dashes of Franks. But -- I can't taste it now, because of the communion fast!

I'm going to stir it once more before I go over for Holy Mass...

Update, 8:37 pm...

OK, back from Holy Mass, more on that in a moment...

First, a sauce update. The sauce looks good:

And it tastes good, except -- it's not very spicy. So I added some more fennel seed, Italian seasoning, pepper sauce, salt and pepper. It's still simmering.

But before I did that, I got a couple of potatoes cleaned up and on the boil -- those are for my dinner tonight; the sauce is for Wednesday. I got a couple of steaks out of the freezer the other day, and I'll broil 'em both tonight, keeping one for tomorrow or the next day. I dredged them in Montreal-style steak seasoning, and they're marinating in that while the potatoes boil. I'll mash the potatoes while the steaks cook. I think I have some peas in the freezer, that'll go well. And don't forget the wine I opened earlier!

Update, 9:41 pm...

Still checking the tastes pretty good! I'll put it in the fridge when I go to bed. Meanwhile, for those who are interested, here's tonight's dinner (Now all gone):

Update, 12/9/14...

I forgot to mention Holy Mass last night.

First, it was packed Standing room only. That's how we roll in Russia, Ohio!
Second, it was "high Mass"--meaning a full complement of altar servers, all in cassock-and-surplice (and gloves!), with incense and torches for the consecration. The boys love it and take it very seriously. I sung almost as much as I could.

I love being in a parish where the people put their Faith first!

Sunday, December 07, 2014

You can go to hell -- or you can take this pill (Sunday homily)

The Gospel shows us John the Baptist 
telling people Christ is near, and it’s time to confess their sins
and be reconciled to God.

So this is a good time to talk about the sacrament of confession.

It’s no secret: most Catholics rarely go to confession. 
And while it’s true that we have more folks in Russia 
who are taking advantage of this sacrament, we’re not that different.

I don’t know, but I suspect 
that just like the rest of the world,  
there are plenty of folks in our parish 
who haven’t been to confession in a while.

Let’s be candid – the longer we stay away, 
the more excuses we find for not going to confession. 
“I don’t remember how to do it”; “It’ll take too long.” 
“I’ll be embarrassed.” “The priest will yell at me.”

That last one I believe. 
I actually yell at people at least three times every Saturday. 
Better to come on Thursday evening, I don’t yell nearly as much.

Now, it is true that we get worried about what the priest will think. 
You realize, I go to confession too? 
I go to my fellow priests; they know me, and I know them. 
So I really do understand the embarrassing part, because I feel it too.

But remember, you can stay behind the screen. 
And you can go to another parish – you don’t have to come to me.

If you’re wondering what the priest will say, then I’ll tell you. 
I always say “welcome” to everyone. 
And I’ll also tell you what I think: 
I’m happy that people come. I really am.

Why wouldn’t I be happy? 
I’ve got this incredible privilege: 
I get to give away God’s mercy and forgiveness, all day long! 
Of all the things about being a priest, this is one of the best things; 
because I have seen so many times 
where people bring in a terrible weight, 
and it’s almost as if I can see that burden crumbling into dust!

Those excuses we use for not going to confession? 
You and I know they are bogus! 

Where do they come from? 
They may come from our own laziness and unwillingness to change. 
They also come from the devil – 
who hates the sacrament of penance as much as he hates anything. 
The devil’s plan for our lives is, 
“Don’t do anything. Everything’s just fine. Go back to sleep.”

God’s plan for our life? 
“Wake up! This life is short! Eternity is forever! Get ready!”

Life is short -- as was brought home to some families in our area recently.
The opportunity, the time, to make a difference in someone’s life 
is now—not “someday” that may never come. 
The chance to make peace with someone, to tell your friend, 
your family, your parents, you love and appreciate them – 
it’s before you right now; don’t assume it’ll be there tomorrow.

So why don’t people go more often?
I wonder, do we think that we don’t really need it?

Well, there are an awful lot of people in this world, 
Who are mostly decent people, 
and yet we still manage to do and say a lot of hurtful things 
to one another.

Maybe people figure they don’t have to worry about hell.
And maybe they are right. But I am not so sanguine.
Jesus and John the Baptist and the saints all seemed to think 
hell is real and the danger is great. 
The Lord Jesus kept saying, watch out for hell—
I’m inclined to take his word for it.

Another thing many people say, is they don’t know to forgive.
When we experience ourselves is truly forgiven—
I mean, really experience that—
we will find it easier to give that to others.

Here’s something else that’s funny about confession. 
If you don’t go but once or twice a year, you may think, 
I don’t have much to confess. 
But if you go once a month, you’ll find out otherwise.

Here’s why. Going frequently forces us, 
not merely to glance at ourselves in the mirror, but really to look; 
to look closely. Intently. 

It reminds me of when I was a boy. 
My father would send me to wash up; 
then when I came out of the bathroom, he’d ask, 
“did you scrub behind your ears?” “Yes Sir,” I said. 
“Well, let me check,” he’d say. 
A funny thing would happen: he’d find dirt there I didn’t!

Let me take that point in a little different direction, however. 

One of the things that experts say weighs heavily on people
is when we have unresolved issues. Regrets. Guilt. 
Things in their lives we are afraid to face. 
And I believe that’s absolutely true.
Sometimes the very hardest thing to face is ourselves.

Here’s where the sacrament of confession is so wonderful.

You can have your boy- or girlfriend break your heart. 
You can fail to pay attention while driving, 
and suddenly you’ve got blue lights behind you; 
and a day before a judge. 
You can go before your boss, and she’ll say, “you blew it. You’re fired.” 
You can go to the doctor and get awful news.  

But in the confessional, who do we face? 
You might say, “the priest,” but not really. I’m just there to help. 
Or you might say, “well, I’m facing God.” And that’s true. 
Let me come back to that in a moment. 

But first, you and I face ourselves—as we really are. 
And admitting: Yes, I did that. Yes, I lied. Yes, I cheated. 
Yes, I was unfaithful. Six times. Yes, I hurt someone. 

And that’s when God says—through the priest—
“I forgive you!” “I forgive you!”

That is not forgiveness as the world gives, with ifs, ands or buts. 
The same God who says, “I forgive you” in the confessional 
is the one who spoke the world into existence just with his word, 
and who says, “This is My Body” at the altar. 
That’s power! That’s grace! 

When Jesus says, “get up and walk,” they walked; 
when Jesus said, “Lazarus, come out!” A dead came out! 
And when Jesus says, “I forgive you your sins!” 
They are gone! Forever gone!
If I had a pill that cured baldness, that cured nearsightedness, 
bad knees, arthritis, heart problems, cancer; and that pill were free, 
and I was giving them out—
this church would be full; 
everyone would come.

I do have a “pill.” No, it doesn’t cure any illness, 
but it takes away the one thing that can ruin my life, 
not just today, but with an eternity in hell. 
It takes away sins, yours and mine.
And it’s free. And you can have all you want.

It’s called confession.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Ambulance-chasing priest

So, as I was procrastinating musing about my homily this afternoon, I noticed a siren outside. In a city, that's just background noise. But here, it's a big deal. I looked out the window and saw the fire engine -- from the volunteer firehouse a block away -- turn down a nearby street.

"Heck, I'm not doing anything; let me go see if I can be any help."

So I grab my overcoat and walk over. By the time I find the fire truck, I'd walked three or so blocks. It was misting, but I'd forgotten to bring my hat. I wasn't even sure which house the fellows were in; but I figured I could stand outside for a bit and see what happens.

Now I hear another siren -- it's the ambulance squad from the next village. When they got out, I waved at them, saying, "I'm here if you need me." They smile and hurry inside with a stretcher. A few minutes later, they bring someone out who was all covered up against the rain and off they go.

The firemen come out next. I know one of them and wave at them. Seeing nothing for me to do here, I turn to walk back. The one I don't know calls out: "you want a ride back?"

Do I?

"Sure! I've never ridden in a fire engine before!" I kind of wanted to hang onto the back, but I'm mostly glad they didn't offer that.

The interior pretty much looks like what you think it does, with equipment and such. I was thinking of the movie Backdraft with Billy Baldwin and Kurt Russell -- all I needed was a cool helmet!

The firefighter I knew was driving. I asked him: "wait, I thought you worked in Sidney?"

"He does," the other fellow said. "He helps us out on his off days." Ours is a volunteer fire department.

It was a short ride, but long enough to talk about the high school basketball games slated this weekend, and to let the guys know we pray for them at Mass.

Funny things happen when you pick up the phone...

Ring, ring...

"Hello, Saint Remy."

"Hello, is Remy there?"


"Um...yes, I'm calling for ________ (name of charity omitted, out of charity). Is the lady of the house at home?"

(Restraining a giggle).

"You really have no idea who you called, do you? This is Saint Remy Church -- there is no lady of the house."


"You have a nice day!"

"You too!"

It's not all beer-and-skittles

Last night my sister called me about a question someone asked her; and after we talked a bit, I said I had to go. Oh, do you have another of those wonderful dinners planned?

Apparently, my readers think I'm some sort of Anthony Bourdain on the prairie!

Alas, no.

Last night's dinner was the following:

Leftover spaghetti, which I dressed with a little olive oil and Parmesan cheese (also leftover), and microwaved, with leftover ham.

With this, I had leftover green beans and some very leftover cheese and crackers.

All washed down with some leftover box wine.

For dessert, some leftover pie.

Not that I'm complaining, it was all tasty (especially the ham! I wish I could remember who gave that to me!).

But not all beer and skittles. (And if you're wondering what that phrase means, go here.)

And if you're wondering what else might be going on in Russia...

I had Holy Mass at 7 am, with many of our schoolchildren -- we move it earlier on First Fridays so they can attend before school. After breakfast, I did some reading and emails, and then went on communion calls. After that, I took all the green vestments to the dry cleaner; when they come back, I'll take the reds; after Advent, I'll take the purples, and after Christmas, the others. That way, they all get dry-cleaned once a year.

Now I'm procrastinating from thinking about writing my weekend homily. Hey, it's almost lunch time! But don't get excited; I'm walking next door to the grocer for a sandwich.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Dinner tonight: Spaghetti Carbonara

This is a first for me; but I love a good carbonara, so I thought I'd try my hand.

I was planning this for several days, but couldn't get to it till tonight -- after a meeting with a gentleman who is learning the Faith. Our discussion of the catechism, meanwhile, was interrupted three times by the children who were on a "Journey to Bethlehem" tonight.

So, after I finished a discussion of Mary and why God bestowed so many gifts upon her, I headed to the kitchen and got the water boiling...

When cooking pasta, I always add salt. Why pickling salt? Because I have that big bag, and how am I gonna use it up? Not by pickling. (So...why do I have it? Ask in comments...)

While the water heats up, I chop up the bacon and start frying it. 

While that cooks, I chop up some garlic and parsley. I'm using Emeril LaGasse's recipe, and that's what it says.

The water is boiling, in goes the spaghetti. The recipe is for 4-6 servings, so I'm cutting it In half.

When the bacon is ready...

I take it out and drain off the grease, saving it. Then I wipe out the pan -- should I have done that? Let me know. Then I put the fat back in sautée the garlic. The pasta is ready -- al dente! -- and now everything happens fast. Bacon and pasta in with the garlic and fat, then the two eggs, beaten. That has to be tossed just so, off the heat, so the eggs don't scramble. 

Parmesan cheese and parsley go in last, and on the plate with a glass of wine.

So, how was it?

I think the proportions were off -- basically too much pasta. But it was pretty good! I used a leftover semi sweet wine -- what I had. What would you use? I'll try this again!

'What clericalism looks like'

This First Things article is so good (plus it's short), I'm just going to re-post it in toto; my comments will follow:

For the past three months, parishioners and friends of the Church of Our Saviour on Park Avenue in midtown Manhattan have been wondering what happened to the fourteen icons that were removed from two pilasters in the sanctuary on the evening of August 22. They have also been wondering why the artwork was removed in the first place. It was integral to the church’s wall-to-wall iconography, which had been commissioned by the previous pastor and funded in part by the Vatican. Other icons in the sanctuary remain. Those that are now missing were integral to the “sacred geometry of the whole sanctuary,” as their artist, Ken Woo, describes them. Their sudden disappearance has been as conspicuous as their presence was.
Neither the current pastor nor any spokesperson for the parish has offered a public explanation. No notice has been placed in the parish bulletin or in the church vestibule. The pastor did not respond to my requests for an interview. Conflicting reports abound.

Woo told me in September that his lawyer contacted the pastor, who replied by email that the icons would be permanently displayed in the church basement. Noting that “the sanctuary was designed with all the icons in mind at the concept stage,” the artist contends that removing some of them “destroys . . . the integrity of the work of art” that was the nearly thirty icons taken together, arranged just so. The effect of the densely packed, deeply pigmented Byzantine-style art was indeed remarkable. Tastes vary, but many found the design of the whole to be gorgeous. It won awards.

Giving the benefit of the doubt to the new pastor, a senior member of the diocesan presbyterate, a local priest suggested to me that the church interior was “busy” and that the reason for pruning it of some art could have been to keep the worshipers’ focus on the tabernacle and the altar. Mary Durkan, a longtime parishioner who spoke with me about the icons, also volunteered her opinion about distractions from Our Lord’s presence in the sanctuary, but her perspective surprised me.

The art never bothered her. She said that what now impedes her concentration is the priest himself. The previous pastor had established the “Benedictine arrangement,” the placement of a crucifix at the center of the altar, and the new pastor discontinued that practice shortly after his installation in the summer of 2013. He may have wanted only to clear the sight lines between the priest and the people, but for Durkan the obstruction was the point. She felt it rather as a kind of veiling.

With the Benedictine arrangement at Mass, “you could connect with Our Lord and not the celebrant,” she explained. The celebrant was “diminished”—appropriately, in her view. She welcomed the relief from “new-fashioned” liturgical clericalism, as M. Francis Mannion describes it: “the ‘talk show’ style of priestly presidency of the Eucharist,” “very much a product of the post–Vatican II era, . . . found today mostly among an older generation of priests.” Benedict XVI observes that “the priest himself was not regarded as so important” when Mass was routinely celebrated ad orientem.

“I suspect this is ideological,” Catholic blogger Fr. John Zuhlsdorf writes in a post about the icons’ removal, suggesting that the current pastor is making a statement about his predecessor, a popular preacher and author who advocates a traditional approach to liturgy and is known as a powerful magnet for congregants, vocations, and donations.

Supporting Fr. Z’s suspicion is a telling email exchange that came my way in the course of conversations with individuals I thought might have insight into the mystery of the missing icons. In August 2013, only a few weeks into his new assignment, the new pastor wrote to an altar server to rebuke him about some Mass cards, a standard accessory of the traditional Latin Mass. They display the text of the ordinary of the Mass; the priest at the altar prays from them. “If I choose to clean the sacristy of paraphernalia and place it in a closet, that is my prerogative,” the pastor wrote. “Placing laminated cards which were superseded more than 45 years ago all over the sacristy is part of the schizophrenia under which OS has been allowed to operate. That is no longer the case.”

The key word here is “superseded.” That is what the 1962 missal was once thought to be. What has been superseded in fact is the pastor’s misrepresentation of the Church’s teaching on this point. Contrary to an earlier misunderstanding common even at the highest reaches of the prelacy, the traditional Latin Mass was never abrogated, as Pope Benedict XVI noted by way of explaining his decision to liberalize its use. “Let us generously open our hearts and make room for everything that the faith itself allows,” he urged. He was concerned to correct those who regarded the older, extraordinary form of the Roman rite as harmful. The old misunderstanding about its status persists in some quarters. Younger priests are less prone to insist on the error.

A month after the “supersession” email, the new pastor discontinued the extraordinary form at Our Saviour, without notice, making it difficult for congregants to collect one another’s contact information and organize themselves as a “stable group” who, per the apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum, could approach him to request Mass in the extraordinary form. In a comment on Facebook on July 24 of this year, he referred to the extraordinary form as “ridiculous.”

All sensible Catholics join the pope in deploring clericalism, but definitions of it are necessarily broad. We also need descriptions of it. Its faces are many. This is one of them.

Nicholas Frankovich is an editor at National Review.


This is the "clericalism" Catholics so often see these days. Many self-described "progressives" lament about "clericalism," but they never mention this sort of thing. Sometimes, what they call clericalism is nothing more than the priest's choice of clothing, seriously. For example: I know many such folks who would see me dressed, as I am at this moment, in a cassock, and find it impossible not to roll their eyes or make a snarky comment. I know priests who are seriously irked because other priests wear clerical attire and vestments that don't suit their own tastes. Really, folks, why does it bother you so much? 

What do you think?