February 2005 Archives

Pain, great pain

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I don't know what it is, but I bet it hurts.

This at a religious education conference, where else, in LA.

The Honky-Tonk Mass

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I have been reading another Merton book, No Man is an Island. In this book, Merton discusses various aspects of the interior life. One such area that he briefly addresses is that of liturgy and art.

Merton writes:

“If the Church has emphasized the function of art in her public prayer, it has been because she knew that a true and valid aesthetic formation was necessary for the wholeness of Christian living and worship. The liturgy and chant and Church art are all supposed to form and spiritualize man’s consciousness, to give him a tone and a maturity without which his prayer cannot normally be either very deep or very wide or very wide or very pure.”

After reading this, I immediately thought of the music so prevalent in most parishes today, that of the ilk published by OCP. I’ve been kind of vaguely aware lately that I was missing something at Mass, I had the uneasy feeling that something was not quite right. I realized the problem might lie in the lack of true artistic expression in our worship. The problem is that with this type of music is not just that it is bad in itself, although most of it truly is, but that it, in fact, detracts from the “valid aesthetic formation” that is necessary for us to experience true Christian living and worship. It trivializes everything about the Mass and therefore about our daily lives as Christians. This trivialization affects every aspect of our prayer life. If the Mass is made to sound little different from what we might hear on any oldies station playing the likes of Teen Angel, what are to take away from that experience? That what we have experienced is no different from what we go through in our every day lives.

No wonder then, that people show up for Mass looking like they just came from the gym, or worse. No wonder that people show up for Mass late and leave early to make up for it. No wonder that we have so little respect for the Eucharist.

In one short paragraph, Merton helped me see that the problem with the lack of real art present in our worship, especially in the music, is not only the discomfort of listening to banal music, but that it is truly a hindrance to deepening my relationship with my Lord at Mass.

I guess I get a little worked up about the topic of liturgical music because I'm a convert. In a way, I feel cheated. There is only one time in my life, prior to just ten years ago, that I attended Mass, it was in the '60s. It was in a small town in Canada. A friend of mine and I drove my mother up to Mt. Forest to visit my elderly aunt who had retired up there. My friend was Catholic, and since it was the weekend, he wanted to attend Mass. There was a Catholic parish in that little town, and so he and I went. The only thing I remember about it was that I was impressed, I sensed that it was a very solemn, otherworldly experience. Since I converted, I have not often felt that way attending Mass. I think I'm missing something that was very precious that went out with Vatican II.

I'd like to have it back.

Chinese Proverb

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Igave an order to my cat, and the cat gave it to his tail.

Psalm 41

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I n listening to some of the coverage of the Holy Father's illness on TV yesterday, I was reminded of this from Psalm 41:

heal me, for I have sinned against you!"
My enemies say of me in malice,
"When will he die and his name perish?"
And when one comes to see me, he utters empty words,
while his heart gathers iniquity;
when he goes out, he tells it abroad.
All who hate me whisper together about me;
they imagine the worst for me."

This, even from supposedly orthodox Catholic commentators. O Lord, deliver us.

The Beginning of the Order

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Today is the anniversary of the day in 1208 when St. Francis attended Mass in at Saint Mary of the Angels and heard the priest read the following passage from Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 10: Jesus sent out the twelve apostles with these instructions: You received without paying, now give without being paid. Don’t take along any gold, silver, or copper coins. And don’t carry a traveling bag or an extra shirt or sandals.

This experience is what led Francis to embrace Lady Poverty and to found the Franciscan Order. Pax et bonum.

Please pray for our Holy Father as he endures more and apparently graver health problems.

Abraham Laughed

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“Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” And Abraham said to God, “O that Ishmael might live in thy sight!” (Genesis 17:17, RSV).


I’ve been meditating, well maybe just thinking, about this passage almost since the beginning of the new year. The scene has Abraham face down in the presence of Almighty God, being told the terms of the Covenent of Circumcision. God is beginning the process that will fulfill all his promises to Abraham and his descendants for ages to come. And what is Abraham’s reaction? He laughs.

Of all the possible reactions I can picture myself having were I placed in similar circumstances, laughter is not one of them. Why did Abraham laugh? It is truly a remarkable response.

At first I thought that Abraham was just facing up to the reality of the situation. He is now well over ninety years old, Sarah is only about 10 years younger, and even thousands of years ago, not many people that age are able to settle down and start a new family. I thought that it implied a lack of faith on Abraham’s part.

But clearly, that is impossible to assume from the story. First of all, Abraham is one of the few human beings ever who no longer needs to live by faith – he is, and he knows he is, in God’s presence, nearly face to face with the God of Heaven and earth. Faith has long since ceased to be an issue in Abraham’s relationship with God.

Then it occurred to me why Abraham’s response is so remarkable. I think his laugh is that which takes place when a friend sees a friend doing something extraordinary for him. His laughter says, “I knew you would keep your promise, I knew it, but I sure didn’t think you would do it like this. You sure had me going there for a while.” Abraham’s laughter is the sign of something few of us will ever know, it is the sharing of a joke between friends. Abraham was a friend of God.

I think this is something available to all of us, but availed of by few of us. Paul said, in Romans

“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life." (Romans 5:10, RSV)


Before we were reconciled to God, we were enemies of God, but now that Jesus has died we are no longer enemies. Dare I say that makes us able to be friends? I wonder how many of us are willing to take advantage of the opportunity?

A Pain in the Neck

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I have been working on a couple of posts but these may be delayed a couple of days -- I have a pain in the neck. No, not liberals and John Kerry Catholics. I literally have a pain in the neck.

The problem is likely caused by a couple of compressed vertebrae and exascerbated by working too much on the computer. It is going to be dealt with tomorrow morning by means of epidural injection. I don't quite know what to expect for tomorrow after the injection, but may be more or less out of action for a day or so.

In the meantime, I have a request. Please pray for Terri Schiavo that God will intervene in this awful situation down in Florida.

The Communion of Saints (and sinners)

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I was surfing the web the other day and stumbled across two interesting articles. One was a short piece from Charles Peguy. Peguy was a French playwright and poet, who said that the two greatest influences on his life were Christianity and socialism. Perhaps only a Frenchman could combine those two ideas in one body, but that is the topic of another post.

Anyway, Peguy’s essay was titled Saints and Sinners. In it, he points out that Christianity is the religion of sinners just as much as of saints. We all are, in fact, sinners and this situation does not change once we accept the Christian faith. It’s true that some of us become more holy than others, yet we share a certain level of communion that makes each indispensable to the other.

“The sinner and the saint are, one can say, two portions equally integral, two equally integral parts of the Christian mechanism. One and the other, together, form two parts equally indispensable one to the other, two mutually complementary parts.”

As members of the Church, the Body of Christ, we somehow play a role in the salvation of the entire Body. Perhaps each of us also plays a role when any one member is lost.

All of the above is, or should be, obvious to any Catholic today. But, there is another aspect of communion that Peguy brings out that may not be so obvious.

“He who does not enter into the system, he who does not hold out a hand, he it is who is not a Christian. It is he who has no competence whatever in matters of Christianity. It is he who is a stranger. The sinner holds out a hand to the saint, gives a hand to the saint, since the saint gives a hand to the sinner. And all together, one by means of the other, one pulling up the other, they ascend to Jesus, they form a chain which ascends to Jesus, a chain of fingers which cannot be unlinked. He who is not a Christian is he who does not hold out a hand. It matters little what next he does with this hand. When a man can accomplish the loftiest action in the world without being steeped in grace, this man is a Stoic, he is not a Christian. When a man can commit the lowest action in the world precisely without committing a sin, this man is not a Christian. A Christian is not defined by a low water mark, but by communion. One is not a Christian because of standing at a certain moral, intellectual, even a spiritual level. One is a Christian because of belonging to a certain ascending race, a certain mystic race, a certain spiritual and carnal race, temporal and eternal, belonging to a certain kindred. This cardinal classification cannot be made horizontally, but vertically.”

The communion defines the Christian. Not only that, the one who, by choice, refuses to enter into communion, refuses to hold out his hand to play the role God intended him to play in the salvation of all. Not only does that person refuse to accept his own salvation, he hinders the rest of us, in some mysterious way, from achieving our own. He has refused to join himself in love to the whole of mankind, he is alienated, a stranger, both to God and man.

The second piece I found interesting may provide some evidence of the truth of what Peguy is saying. That piece was a stock analysis for Starbuck’s. Starbucks has proven to be extremely successful by convincing us to pay three dollars for a cup of coffee that we could make at home for less than one. What is it that prompts us to stop off every morning on the way to work to get our morning jolt of caffeine? I’ll let the stock analyst explain why he is a Starbuck’s regular:

“First, . . . because, like many others, I am a sucker for the ritualistic experience of what founder Howard Schultz has termed the "third place" of American life. It's a place without the stresses of the home or the office, a neutral ground where there are always "friends" behind the counter. In our largely impersonal, digital and ethereal world, returning to the homey confines of one's own Starbucks, staffed with people who care enough to remember something about us, provides a primal human connection.

If Starbucks were just selling water, or a blast of air, we would still want to start or take a break from our day there. It's the white-collar equivalent of the tavern next to the auto plant, where Frankie behind the counter hits us with a shot of Wild Turkey and a Bud draft on sight. A company that can create the illusion of compassion with high standards of hiring and staff training is starting off on the right foot at earning a high rate of return.”

Starbuck’s is selling relief from the alienation each one of us experiences as the culture we live in becomes increasingly secular, even anti-religious. So many people are becoming so estranged, not only from themselves but their families and friends that they are willing to spend four dollars for a cup of coffee in order to share an illusion for a half hour a day.

Perhaps all of us Catholics, members of a troubled, but eternal Church, should try a little harder to pierce the alienation of the guy standing next to us, waiting in line at Starbucks. Perhaps, we could share with him that real Communion is found, not in a cup of coffee sold for $4.00 a pop, but in the Cup of His Blood. Perhaps we can share that Communion is not found in a stale biscotti, but in Bread of the Finest Wheat. Perhaps, we can invite them to the table.

Who knows, our own salvation may depend upon it.

The Incredible Jumping Mouse of El Paso County

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Eric Alterman has a blog on the MSN website. Eric Alterman is, of course, a liberal. The latest posting today is how President Bush is anti-science, and by implication, anti-intellectual. The proof of this anti-intellectualism? The budget for the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife has been slashed in the President’s most recent Budget proposal, and, alas, morale at the Fish and Wildlife Service is plummeting.

Living in Colorado has offered me the opportunity to witness, first hand, the kind of “science” the FWS engages in. Specifically, we here on the Front Range had been living with the effects of the addition of the "Prebles Jumping Mouse" to the Departments Endangered Species List. In case you are not familiar with the Prebles, it is a 9 inch mouse that can jump a couple of feet in the air and change direction in mid-flight. The question is, what makes this mouse qualify for the Endangered Species list? Well, the classification is based upon a 1954 study of 3 mouse skulls and 11 mouse skins that determined the little guy was a separate, and of course, rare, (since they only studied 3 skulls) species from all the other populations of jumping mice found all over the Front Range. I personally think the skulls discovered were those of scientists from the U. S. Department of Fish and Wildlife, but I’m no expert. In any case, this 1954 study led to the mouse being added to the protected list.

You might be wondering why one should be concerned if a 9 inch mouse is offered protection based upon the full faith and credit of the United States Government. Well, as reported in a CNEWS article on January 31 of this year, this status has caused developers, builders, landowners, and local governments to spend as much as $100 million protecting the little critter. And, as the story points out, it seems, upon further study, that the Prebles Jumping Mouse may not be endangered after all. In fact, it may not really exist as a separate species. I guess they found a few more skulls.

“Scientists” at the Fish and Wildlife Service have made a career, at Government taxpayer expense, of studying and protecting a non-existent species. When President Bush steps in and proposes a little budget cutting, their natural reaction is to write to all the media claiming that he is “anti-science” and their morale is being damaged.

I don’t know about you, but it sounds to me like the President is doing his job and making budget choices based upon the needs of the nation, not the needs of some Government bureaucrats who don't know an endangered species if they see one.

Assistance Needed

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Could anyone tell me how to do a couple of things in Movable Type?

First, how do you format a paragraph in a post so that it is indented on both sides?

Second, is it possible to change the type size within an entry? If so, how?

It would be nice if there was some reference resource where you could look these things up.

Thanks

Rend your hearts . . .

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In early November I lost my job, the result of corporate reorganization. After a relatively short job hunt I made the transition to a new workplace. Part of the transition has involved putting in a lot of hours at the new job trying to get things under control and learn a new system. It was a painful time; I guess as I get older, I find change a great deal more difficult than in years past. However, out of this experience of loss, I have learned a valuable lesson.

The lesson is one that only came into focus for me with the approach of Lent this year. Early last week, reflecting on all that had happened, and feeling a bit sorry for myself, I began to get one of those all too rare glimpses into the reality of our lives. It is, I think, at the heart of the message the Church wishes to teach us during the Lenten season. I’d like to try to share that.

St. Francis embraced lady poverty as a total surrender of himself to live the Gospel. I think, like most Americans, I tended to take this somewhat too literally, to look at it only in material terms. That is an error, one that strikes to the heart of what St. Francis was trying to say. I am not saying that material wealth is not the obstacle that Francis would teach us all to overcome; Francis would never have said that. But material wealth is only one aspect of what Francis understood as poverty. We can try to “own” anything that we become attached to. Yet, the heart of poverty is surrender, “Rend your hearts, not your garments.”

Looking back over the last six months or so, the thing I began to see is that poverty means lack of ownership. My life had been so stable, so routine, for so long, that I began to take for granted that it would continue on that way as long as I wished. I began to think I had a right to my job, my family, my house, everything, and that nothing could upset my own little, private, apple cart. Of course, that’s nonsense. I began to see that poverty, or better, Poverty, means lack of ownership. I don’t own anything, and I must be able to surrender everything back to God at any time. On His terms. Only when I am ready to do that can I know the true meaning of Poverty.

The thing that made the job loss so painful to me, and that I have found so difficult to offer up, is that I failed to see that I didn’t own that job, and I don’t own the one I have now. I “own” nothing. God, our loving Father, owns it all. Looking back, I think the thing that most astonishes me is how little gratitude I felt for the wonderful things in my life. I took everything for granted. I think, “How could I have been so stupid?” And yet, at the same time, I sense that I must learn to be grateful even for my ingratitude. It has taught me a lesson.

Some years ago, David Steindl Rast wrote a book, Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer. In it, in the table of contents, is the following summary of the first chapter:

"That you have not yet died is not sufficient proof that you are alive. Aliveness is measured by degrees of awareness."

Poverty means being aware of and grateful for any little gift from a loving God, whether it is a spectacular Rocky Mountain sunrise, a hot cup of coffee in the morning, the morning commute to work, or the day to day trials of life. It is accepting, thankfully, anything that God allows to happen to us during the day. It means not resenting those things that we would wish to avoid, and, most of all, not taking them for granted. It is, I think, being aware that we own nothing, and receive everything, every minute, from our loving Father. Janis Joplin sang that “Freedoms just another word for nothin’ left to lose.” There is some truth here: being truly free, embracing Lady Poverty, means that we have nothing to lose and everything to gain. All we have to do is be ready to give it all away.

This Lent, I hope to be able to say, I have learned that lesson well. I pray you all will grow in union with our Lord and be ready to celebrate His rising to New Life on Easter Sunday morning.

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This page is an archive of entries from February 2005 listed from newest to oldest.

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