Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Mass’ Category

Over the weekend I headed up to Louisville to celebrate another family birthday. There was no sightseeing along the way, as there had been last time, but I did get to Mass at another Louisville parish – the beautiful St. Martin de Tours.

(For a little bit of music, go here.)

(More on the parish here – the history indicates it faced “certain closure” back in 1979, when the decision was made to emphasize sacred music.)

It was the 10am Ordinary Form (the parish also offers EF and Ordinariate). The church was pretty full, with tons of families and children. Music was beautiful and reverently simple.

And yes, in this land of chant and motets, families with children were explicitly welcomed in the music supplement, saying: To parents with young children: may we suggest….relax! God put the wiggle in children. Don’t feel you have to suppress it in God’s house….If you have to leave Mass with your child, feel free to do so, but PLEASE COME BACK. Let them know that they have a place in God’s house! To other members of the parish: the presence of children is a gift to the Church and a reminder that our parish and faith is alive! Please welcome our children and give a smile of encouragement to their parents!

It can be done.

Anyway – that’s not my point. Here’s the point:

I’ve been to Mass in quite a few Catholic churches across the country, from New York City to New Mexico, over the past couple of months, and it’s interesting to note:

This is the third parish I’ve been in where the altar rail was used for Communion: also in Louisville, at St. Louis Bertrand and at Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC.

It’s the second parish in a week in which I’ve been to the OF Mass celebrated ad orientem – last week was at Stella Maris in Sullivan’s Island, SC.

All were Ordinary Form.

(Two points: I think Sunday Mass at Old St. Patrick’s is generally celebrated ad orientem – and I’m just saying that based on photos from their Instagram. But this was a daily Mass, and was celebrated facing the people. Secondly, also judging from photos of other liturgies, St. Martin’s does seem to have another altar they bring out – I don’t know what merits its use. But it was nowhere in evidence yesterday, a Sunday Mass.)

Of the two practices, seeing the altar rail in use for Communion three times surprises me the most. I can’t even remember the last time I’d seen it, but it seems completely normal in these settings – with a mix of modes of reception, most on the tongue, but some on the hand.

I’m actually a fan of the communion rail, not for any high flown theological reasons, but simply because I prefer the mode of congregation approach that seems to accompany it – basically no ushers directing traffic. I suppose you could have them doing the solemn-row-by-row thing in this context, but it doesn’t seem to happen.

As I have mentioned before, when you go to Mass outside of the United States, you generally (in my limited experience) don’t see the Usher Brigade. People just…drift up to receive. There might be an organic front-to-back progression, but there is definitely not the standing-up by row and trudging-up-when-the-usher-allows. My home parish ditched that habit during Covid, which was nice, but sadly reinstituted it at some point last year.

The drift-up-when-the-Spirit-moves-you paradigm is more amenable to a sense of spiritual freedom, I think, does not put pressure on anyone internally or externally.

A contrast: at Sunday Mass at the Cathedral of Santa Fe, the distribution of Communion began with the cantor immediately ordering, “Please stand and sing….”

My observation: Some obeyed, more than a few remained kneeling in prayer until they went up (when directed by the usher, of course.)

I’ve often noted that the pre-conciliar liturgy was all about precise rubrics for the celebrant. The focus of the post-conciliar liturgy in practice was more – especially from the 70’s on – about micro-managing precise rubrics for the congregation, which previously had been allowed to engage with the liturgy at their own pace, as it were.

(For a sense of the difference, go to an Eastern Catholic or Orthodox liturgy, where the same traditional energy prevails still)

As I get older and reflect more and more on what I’ve seen and experienced, I can’t help but keep reflecting on the quite unsurprising replacement of the purported V2 goal of “worship as an organic expression of the community’s sensibilities” with the reality of “a few employees and volunteers telling everyone else what to do based on their own preferences.”

Anyway, in a time in which some bishops are ridiculously, weirdly and even cruelly fixating on the Grave Threat of the Traditional Latin Mass – you’d think they’d have more important matters to tend to – and even attempting to suppress practices like ad orientem and the altar rail – I thought you might appreciate these snapshots in which these apparently super dangerous practices are in use and it is…not a big deal.

Read Full Post »

Well, I am pretty tired tonight, and I hardly ever get tired. Which perhaps means that hard work is not a part of my life, but we’ll put that aside for the moment.

No, I’m tired because I had my usual pre-travel insomnia last night, then I got up, packed, went to 7:15 Mass, and started driving. It’s been a good day, but I’m still tired. Nonetheless, I will forge on with this blog post since it’s not going to write itself, these photos won’t post themselves, and there are only going to be more, not fewer, tomorrow if I put it off.

I am on a trip by myself, and if you ask my why I am going where I’m going, my response would be vague because I am vague about the matter myself. Perhaps I will sort it out later, but let’s just say that I’m not driven by any particular motive for this trip, other than to just go. I didn’t want to fly, because flying is a mess right now and rental cars are insanely expensive. I wanted to go in a direction where I really didn’t know anyone – no need to stop by or check in. So – shrug – here I go.

Heading west, here’s what I saw today.

First, I saw Oxford, Mississippi. Oxford was one of those places I’ve been intending to go for years, intended to do as a day trip in the Homeschooling Era, but never managed to do. (Tuskegee is another one, in the other direction.)

So I stopped by today. It’s a lovely little town – definitely the prettiest of all the SEC-related towns that I’ve been in – and I’m sure the residents know it, if you know what I mean. And I’ll be you do. They named it Oxford, for heavens’ sake.

I wasn’t there long. I stopped by Faulkner’s home, Rowan Oak, Faulkner’s grave, the famed Square Bookstore and the James Meredith statue on campus.

No whiskey bottles on Faulkner’s grave today.

Here’s my thought as I stood and beheld Rowan Oak (it didn’t open until 1 and I had to keep moving, but you could get on the grounds) – I thought: Well, if I lived in a place like this and had people to take care of my needs, I could probably write some great books, too.

Here’s a story about Shelby Foote convincing Walker Percy that they should go to Rowan Oak and drop in on Faulkner who was not on Percy’s Uncle Will’s Good List because of the time he’d showed up at a party drunk and barefoot.

The Meredith statue was very powerful and just right, I thought. Have you watched Eyes on the Prize? You should.

Clarksdale was the next destination. I could have headed to where I was going in a more direct fashion, but I wanted to see Clarksdale, another meant to do this earlier situation. Specifically, I’d meant to take my musician son there for a weekend of blues, but then he got the weekend organist job, so that was that.

So an early Sunday afternoon isn’t going to get you any blues, but it will get you some interesting nuggets nonetheless.

It will get you lunch, first of all. You might not be aware of it but one of the food items that folks in the Delta are proud of are their tamales. They are supposed to be different from Mexican tamales, but I’m not sure how. The main Clarksdale spot for tamales was closed on Sunday, so I settled for Abe’s Bar-b-q, which was of course busy, but the tamales were quick and cheap ($5 for the plate, including good, vinegar-based cole slaw and crackers, which I guess are a side in the Delta.). They were doused in a spicy sauce and they were good, but didn’t rock my world.

But I ate them at the Crossroads – the site of Robert Johnson’s mythic sale of his soul. My favorite, though, was the way that the history of Abe’s Bar-b-q builds on the myth. We don’t know if and where Johnson sold his soul, but we do know that It is a fact that Abe Davis surrendered his soul to God, and his family business still prospers even today.

Tennessee Williams had deep connections to Clarksdale, so I took some of that in, as well. His grandfather was the rector of the Episcopal church in town, and as a child, Williams lived in Clarksdale for a couple of stints, and spent vacations there. The area and it people pervade his writing. There’s a festival (one of several Williams festivals around the country, it seems.)

There’s a little museum in the church rectory (open by appointment)

This mansion, the Cutrer House, as well as one of its inhabitants, inspired elements of A Streetcar Named Desire. You can read about the connection here.

But here you go – you can’t escape the Catholic connection. In 1946, the mansion was purchased by St. Elizabeth Catholic Church and used as a school for several decades. By the 1990’s it required too many repairs to continue to be useful, and after some controversy, it was sold – this is an article from the time about the issues, including an interview with the very practical Irish pastor. It’s now being used by local government as an educational center. But the grounds are open – you can walk around – and the Lourdes grotto is still standing.

Moon Lake is also important in Williams’ work, so I took a quick detour – no one else was around on this beautiful Sunday afternoon, which made me wonder.

Then across the river to Helena, Arkansas, which has a very weird forest situation jutting up around it, and, in a neighborhood on the way out of town, a statue of Marquette.

And then, tonight, a safe landing, with Vespers.

(For video see Instagram).

I thought I had no idea that Subiaco existed here in the middle of Arkansas, but my son reminded me that one of his friends had gone there, and while I vaguely recalled that, I also thought he’d been talking about somewhere in Louisiana when he told me that. But now I know. I will have more photos tomorrow, with better light. I am heading out early, but will try to get some pictures nonetheless.

Read Full Post »

Lots of places had Corpus Christi processions this past weekend.

So back in Alabama – my parish of the Cathedral of St. Paul. These are wonderful photos – go check them out!

Then down in Mobile:

And then in Oxford, England – where we continued our tradition of seeing a Corpus Christi procession in a another country (well, if by “tradition” you mean “we were in Seville for Corpus Christi in 2019”).

We didn’t process – but I knew that it began at 2, and would be passing by the Ashmoleon Museum while we were there. So we popped out and there they were:

(Remember that with a gallery in these posts – you can click on the individual photos and you’ll get a larger version)

Here’s what I particularly liked:

They were handing out cards to those on the street (and there were a lot – this was one of Oxford’s main streets on a busy Sunday afternoon) – cards which explained what this was all about, with contact information.

As Pope Benedict said on nearly every occasion of a Corpus Christi procession during his papacy – this is a moment in which we do what we are called to do all the time – take Christ out into the world that needs Him so badly. Taking that one, very small step further – of actively inviting and engaging the curiosity and interest witnessing the procession might inspire – is, yes, brilliant.

We’re hearing about the “need” for a Eucharistic Revival which, in the United States, is animating much of the energy for the Corpus Christi processions and 40 Hours devotions this year. The “need,” though, is often articulated in terms of Catholic identity and not much more. Well, there is much more – and it’s what this card expresses. The “need” for the Eucharistic revival is, at its simplest, the need of every person in the world for Christ.

Read Full Post »

Long-time readers will probably remember this post. But given the nature of the Internet and how quickly readers come and go, I thought it was worth reprinting here.

Mother’s Day is a few days away, but I thought I’d toss this out there, especially for any priests, deacons or other preachers who might wander by.

My mother & a friend in Nogales, 1950’s.

The question of how to “recognize” mothers at a Mother’s Day Mass is a fraught one.

There is, of course, the view (mine) that everything that happens at Mass should relate only to the liturgical year. Stop doing all the other stupid things, thanks. As a community, we’re free to celebrate whatever in whatever way we choose outside of Mass, but when it comes to Very Special Mass in Honor of Very Special Groups of any sort – scouts, moms, dads, youth, ‘Muricans….I’m against it.

But of course, over the years, American sentimental pop culture creeps into the peripheries of liturgical observance, and quite often, here we are at Mass on the second Sunday of May, with the expectation that the Moms present must be honored.

I mean…I went to the trouble to go to Mass for the first time in four months to make her happy…you’d better honor her….

This is problematic, however, and it’s also one of those situations in which the celebrant often feels that he just can’t win. No matter what he does, someone will be angry with him, be hurt, or feel excluded.

Because behind the flowers and sentiment, Mother’s Day is very hard for a lot of people – perhaps it’s the most difficult holiday out there for people in pain.

So when Father invites all the moms present to stand for their blessing at the end of Mass and the congregation applauds….who is hurting?

  • Infertile couples
  • Post-abortive women
  • Post-miscarriage women
  • Women whose children have died
  • People who have been abused by their mothers
  • People with terrible mothers, even short of outright abuse
  • Women who have placed children for adoption
  • People who’ve recently lost their mothers. Or not so recently.
  • Women who are not now and might never be biological or adoptive mothers and who wonder about that and are not sure about how they feel about it.

And then there are those of us who value our role as mothers, but who really think Mother’s Day is lame and would just really prefer that you TRY TO GET ALONG FOR ONE STUPID DAY instead of giving me some flowers and politely clapping at Mass.

So awkward.

Nope. Making Mothers stand up, be blessed and applauding them (the worst) at Mass is a bad idea for a lot of reasons.

It’s not that people should expect to be sheltered from the consequences of their choices and all that life has handed them when the enter the church doorway.

The Catholic way is the opposite of that – after all, the fundamental question every one of us carries is that of death, and every time we enter a Catholic church we are hit with that truth, sometimes more than life-sized.

No, the question is more: Catholic life and tradition has a lot to say and do when it comes to parenthood – in ways, if you think about it, that aren’t sentimental and take into account the limitations of human parenthood and root us, no matter how messed-up our families are or how distant we feel from contemporary ideals of motherhood – in the parenthood of God. Live in that hope, share it, and be formed by that, not by commercially-driven American pop culture.

So here’s a good idea. It happened at my parish a couple of years ago, and is the standard way of recognizing the day there now.

Because, indeed, we’re not walled off from the broader culture. People enter into that sacred space carrying everything with them, and Christ seeks to redeem all of it.  So knowing that Mother’s Day permeates the culture, accepting it, but also accepting that motherhood and parenthood in general is far more complex than the greeting cards and commercials and even Super-Authentic-and-Relatable-Instagram-Influencers let on, and that people come bearing, not only motherhood-related joy, but motherhood-related pain as well – the Body of Christ embraces and takes it all in.

Bring it!

So, quite simply, at the end of Mass as we were standing for the final blessing, the celebrant mentioned that it was Mother’s Day (it hadn’t been mentioned before this), and said that as such, it was an appropriate day to pray for our mothers, living and deceased, and to ask our Blessed Mother for her intercession for them and for us. Hail Mary…

Done.

And done in a way that, just in its focus, implicitly acknowledges and respects the diversity of experiences of motherhood that will be present in any congregation, and, without sentiment or awkward overreach, does that Catholic thing, rooted in tradition  – offers the whole mess up, in trust.

Read Full Post »

Today, May 2, we remember St. Athanasius.

But what possible value can there be in even taking three seconds to think about a 4th-century fellow who spent his adult life fighting battles over words and formulations and theories?

Wouldn’t it be better to spend our time thinking about real life and real problems?

Well, sorry but theology matters. It doesn’t matter to us because we are attached to words or formulas. It doesn’t matter to us because we are focused on human intellectual constructs rather than human life. It doesn’t matter because we are afraid to get down into the messiness of human life in favor of the cool, dry safety of walled-in libraries.

Theology matters because it is an attempt to understand and express what is real.   Have you ever taught religion, catechism or theology? If so, then you might understand that a great part of what you were doing in that classroom was helping students dig deeply and understand how the teachings of the Church do not stand opposed to the realities of life, but in fact accurately express How Life Is.  You find this in so many conversion stories: the realization, sudden or gradual, that what has been fought or rejected for so long in fact expresses what is real and true, not just about some transcendent sphere, but about your life. 

From a 2007 General Audience, Benedict XVI

"amy welborn"

…it was not by chance that Gian Lorenzo Bernini placed his statue among those of the four holy Doctors of the Eastern and Western Churches – together with the images of Ambrose, John Chrysostom and Augustine – which surround the Chair of St Peter in the marvellous apse of the Vatican Basilica.

Athanasius was undoubtedly one of the most important and revered early Church Fathers. But this great Saint was above all the impassioned theologian of the Incarnation of the Logos, the Word of God who – as the Prologue of the fourth Gospel says – “became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1: 14).

For this very reason Athanasius was also the most important and tenacious adversary of the Arian heresy, which at that time threatened faith in Christ, reduced to a creature “halfway” between God and man, according to a recurring tendency in history which we also see manifested today in various forms.

In all likelihood Athanasius was born in Alexandria, Egypt, in about the year 300 A.D. He received a good education before becoming a deacon and secretary to the Bishop of Alexandria, the great Egyptian metropolis. As a close collaborator of his Bishop, the young cleric took part with him in the Council of Nicaea, the first Ecumenical Council, convoked by the Emperor Constantine in May 325 A.D. to ensure Church unity. The Nicene Fathers were thus able to address various issues and primarily the serious problem that had arisen a few years earlier from the preaching of the Alexandrian priest, Arius.

With his theory, Arius threatened authentic faith in Christ, declaring that the Logos was not a true God but a created God, a creature “halfway” between God and man who hence remained for ever inaccessible to us. The Bishops gathered in Nicaea responded by developing and establishing the “Symbol of faith” [“Creed”] which, completed later at the First Council of Constantinople, has endured in the traditions of various Christian denominations and in the liturgy as the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed.

In this fundamental text – which expresses the faith of the undivided Church and which we also recite today, every Sunday, in the Eucharistic celebration – the Greek term homooúsios is featured, in Latin consubstantialis: it means that the Son, the Logos, is “of the same substance” as the Father, he is God of God, he is his substance. Thus, the full divinity of the Son, which was denied by the Arians, was brought into the limelight.

In 328 A.D., when Bishop Alexander died, Athanasius succeeded him as Bishop of Alexandria. He showed straightaway that he was determined to reject any compromise with regard to the Arian theories condemned by the Council of Nicaea.

His intransigence – tenacious and, if necessary, at times harsh – against those who opposed his episcopal appointment and especially against adversaries of the Nicene Creed, provoked the implacable hostility of the Arians and philo-Arians.

Despite the unequivocal outcome of the Council, which clearly affirmed that the Son is of the same substance as the Father, these erroneous ideas shortly thereafter once again began to prevail – in this situation even Arius was rehabilitated -, and they were upheld for political reasons by the Emperor Constantine himself and then by his son Constantius II.

Moreover, Constantine was not so much concerned with theological truth but rather with the unity of the Empire and its political problems; he wished to politicize the faith, making it more accessible – in his opinion – to all his subjects throughout the Empire.

Thus, the Arian crisis, believed to have been resolved at Nicaea, persisted for decades with complicated events and painful divisions in the Church. At least five times – during the 30 years between 336 and 366 A.D. – Athanasius was obliged to abandon his city, spending 17 years in exile and suffering for the faith. But during his forced absences from Alexandria, the Bishop was able to sustain and to spread in the West, first at Trier and then in Rome, the Nicene faith as well as the ideals of monasticism, embraced in Egypt by the great hermit, Anthony, with a choice of life to which Athanasius was always close.

St Anthony, with his spiritual strength, was the most important champion of St Athanasius’ faith. Reinstated in his See once and for all, the Bishop of Alexandria was able to devote himself to religious pacification and the reorganization of the Christian communities. He died on 2 May 373, the day when we celebrate his liturgical Memorial.

The most famous doctrinal work of the holy Alexandrian Bishop is his treatise: De Incarnatione, On the Incarnation of the Word,the divine Logos who was made flesh, becoming like one of us for our salvation.

In this work Athanasius says with an affirmation that has rightly become famous that the Word of God “was made man so that we might be made God; and he manifested himself through a body so that we might receive the idea of the unseen Father; and he endured the insolence of men that we might inherit immortality” (54, 3). With his Resurrection, in fact, the Lord banished death from us like “straw from the fire” (8, 4).

The fundamental idea of Athanasius’ entire theological battle was precisely that God is accessible. He is not a secondary God, he is the true God and it is through our communion with Christ that we can truly be united to God. He has really become “God-with-us”.

Among the other works of this great Father of the Church – which remain largely associated with the events of the Arian crisis – let us remember the four epistles he addressed to his friend Serapion, Bishop of Thmuis, on the divinity of the Holy Spirit which he clearly affirmed, and approximately 30 “Festal” Letters addressed at the beginning of each year to the Churches and monasteries of Egypt to inform them of the date of the Easter celebration, but above all to guarantee the links between the faithful, reinforcing their faith and preparing them for this great Solemnity….

…Yes, brothers and sisters! We have many causes for which to be grateful to St Athanasius. His life, like that of Anthony and of countless other saints, shows us that “those who draw near to God do not withdraw from men, but rather become truly close to them” (Deus Caritas Est, n. 42).

As you recall, Benedict’s General Audience talks tended (like John Paul II’s) to be thematic, being really “mini courses” on some aspect of Church history or theology.  For a good long while, Benedict focused on great figures on the Church, beginning with the Apostles and moving forward in time to the early Church Fathers. These were, of course, collected and published by various publishers, including OSV. I wrote study guides for their collections. The pages for Athanasius (and others) are below, and you are welcome to download the entire pdf of the guide here – it’s a great free resource for either personal use or a study group – B16’s talks are online, this pdf is free – you’re good to go, without the ritual Catholics-charging-for-catechetical-materials-must-be-that-New-Evangelization.

Read Full Post »

‘As we begin Lent this week, I’ll be reposting condensed versions of previous entries in which I share thoughts on fasting from spiritual masters, from St. Francis de Sales to Dorothy Day.

All of the previous posts are linked here. What I’ll do this week is share briefer versions. Starting with St. Francis:

The whole, original post is here.

To treat of fasting and of what is required to fast well, we must, at the start, understand that of itself fasting is not a virtue. The good and the bad, as well as Christians and pagans, observe it. The ancient philosophers observed it and recommended it. They were not virtuous for that reason, nor did they practice virtue in fasting. Oh, no, fasting is a virtue only when it is accompanied by conditions which render it pleasing to God. Thus it happens that it profits some and not others, because it is not undertaken by all in the same manner.

The first condition is that we must fast with our whole heart, that is to say, willingly, whole-heartedly, universally and entirely.

This is what the Church wishes to signify during this holy time of Lent, teaching us to make our eyes, our ears and our tongue fast. For this reason she omits all harmonious chants in order to mortify the hearing; she no longer says Alleluia, and clothes herself completely in somber and dark colors. And on this first day she addresses us in these words: Remember, man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return [Gen. 3:19], as if she meant to say: “Oh man, quit at this moment all joys and merrymaking, all joyful and pleasant reflections, and fill your memory with bitter, hard and sorrowful thoughts. In this way you will make your mind fast together with your body.”

This is also what the Christians of the primitive Church taught us when, in order to spend Lent in a better way, they deprived themselves at this time of ordinary conversations with their friends, and withdrew into great solitude and places removed from communication with people……

The second condition is never to fast through vanity but always through humility. If our fast is not performed with humility, it will not be pleasing to God…

Follow the community then in all things, said the great St. Augustine. Let the strong and robust eat what is ordered them, keeping the fast and austerities which are marked, and let them be content with that. Let the weak and infirm receive what is offered them for their infirmity, without wishing to do what the robust do. Let neither group amuse themselves in looking to see what this one eats and what that one does not eat, but let each one remain satisfied with what she has and with what is given to her. By this means you will avoid vanity and being particular...

The third condition necessary for fasting well is to look to God and to do everything to please Him..

And as he summarizes:

This is all that I had to tell you regarding fasting and what must be observed in order to fast well. The first thing is that your fast should be entire and universal; that is, that you should make all the members of your body and the powers of your soul fast: keeping your eyes lowered, or at least lower than ordinarily; keeping better silence, or at least keeping it more punctually than is usual; mortifying the hearing and the tongue so that you will no longer hear or speak of anything vain or useless; the understanding, in order to consider only holy and pious subjects; the memory, in filling it with the remembrance of bitter and sorrowful things and avoiding joyous and gracious thoughts; keeping your will in check and your spirit at the foot of the crucifix with some holy and sorrowful thought. If you do that, your fast will be universal, interior and exterior, for you will mortify both your body and your spirit. The second condition is that you do not observe your fast or perform your works for the eyes of others. And the third is that you do all your actions, and consequently your fasting, to please God alone, to whom be honor and glory forever and ever.

Read Full Post »

If for this life only we have hoped in Christ,
we are the most pitiable people of all.

I walked to Mass tonight. It’s about 2.5 miles – definitely in walking distance (for me), but not an easy jaunt, since it involves considerable hills coming and going. So this was the first time I’d done it.

It’s not my usual parish, although it might be my actual, geographical parish – I’ve never checked the boundaries. I’ve been to Mass there a bit, though, even though my parish, by membership, is the Cathedral, where I usually attend the Saturday Vigil Mass.

But tonight, I was without a car. In the past when that’s happened, I’d just go to the 7:15 am Mass on Sunday, but the problem with that this weekend is the Mercedes Marathon – a marathon, obviously, the course of which takes over a lot of space and blocks a lot of roads between my house and the Cathedral. In fact, the course runs down a cross street to my own. I’ll start hearing the cheers around 9 am tomorrow, I’d imagine.

All that is to say, I just didn’t want to bother finding a way around all of that at 7 am tomorrow.

(Which I’d have to do because the car will be gone again with the organist soon after that.)

So, walk, it was.

And a perfect day for it. One of my older kids is in Chicago this weekend, seeing a high school friend who’s in the national tour of Hairspray, and the report is…cooooold….Not here. Tomorrow the temperature will dip, but today it was in the 60’s and gorgeous. Perfect for getting back out there and getting in a few miles.

So I walked.

At Mass, the young priest focused on the lines above from the epistle:

If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all.

He took one, perfectly legitimate angle, focusing on the truth of the Resurrection, and then what it means to live that here on earth, moving into the Beatitudes.

My mind went in a different direction, but a totally predictable one, for those who read me.

Once again, I thought of the many ways that we understand our faith, even our faith in Christ, Lord of the Universe, in terms of how it helps me in this life.

It’s that prosperity Gospel, but, not just for money: for all the good feelings and achievements that make us feel at home in the world.

A temptation that’s hard to resist because, after all, who doesn’t want to feel comfortable and at ease?

But then there’s that Gospel, isn’t there?

Blessed are you who are poor….hungry….weeping…people hate you….exclude and insult you….

Blessed. Are. You.

Woe to you who are rich….filled…laugh….all speak well of you…

Woe. To. You.

If for this life only we have hoped in Christ….

I walked back and forth to church, five miles total, nurturing the low-grade frustration that’s always there these days – frustration that there’s so much to say, but I can’t figure out how or where to say it.

I thought about the many people I know and read whose faith is shattered right now for various reasons.

I got to church a little late, and left a little early as is my probably unfortunate habit these days. I was surprised because the church was more full than I’d seen it ages. The music was as mediocre as always, but the preaching was good and there were no narcissistic liturgical shenanigans. A crowd of teens sat in the front, I’m thinking at the end of a Confirmation retreat. A man in the back pew smiled and graciously made room for my latecoming self. A mentally disabled man limped past me after Communion. The deacon brought the Eucharist to an elderly woman in a wheelchair, and the mother in front of me pointed to the words of the Creed in her little boy’s Magnifikid.

It is not easy to be a person, to be a human, to be a Catholic. I don’t think it ever has been, and the institution and the people help sometimes and hurt quite a bit.

I don’t know what to make of it all, and have not yet figured out how to say what I do make of it, but I think I do know that nothing begins until you open the door, take that uphill walk, find your place with the rest of the broken, no matter when you arrive, and try to listen.

Read Full Post »

As I said before, saints’ days, most holy days and special topics (movies, books, gender, TC, synod) are and will be collected elsewhere. These posts are taking it month-by-month. More links at the end of the post.

Mother’s Day at Mass (5/4)

Catholic life and tradition has a lot to say and do when it comes to parenthood – in ways, if you think about it, that aren’t sentimental and take into account the limitations of human parenthood and root us, no matter how messed-up our families are or how distant we feel from contemporary ideals of motherhood – in the parenthood of God. Live in that hope, share it, and be formed by that, not by commercially-driven American pop culture.

A Catholic Laywoman’s Viewpoint (5/11)

When looking for a printable version of [Hemingway’s “The Killers] , I came upon a “reprinting” of the original Scribner’s publication, so I happily printed it out – all the better because it had illustrations.

What I hadn’t noticed until yesterday, when we talked about the story, was the piece that directly followed it. It’s an essay by one Grace Hausmann Sherwood called “A Catholic Laywoman’s View-Point.”

Sherwood, from my brief research, wrote a couple of books – one a volume of poetry, and the other, a history of a religious order.

I’m going to type out the introduction and then just toss up images of the rest of the piece here. It’s a bit scattered – it seems in part to be a general apologetic for the seemingly counter-cultural aspects of Catholicism as well as an explanation for the role of women in Catholicism. I think anyone who’s interested in Catholicism, religious history, social history and women in religion will find it useful.

It’s also a helpful antidote to the caricature of pre-Vatican II Catholicism as a closed, inner-looking system, Sherwood frequently points to analogies and subversive justification for Catholic practices and beliefs in other faiths and in the secular world, and has no problem in saying, for example, that a Catholic woman is bound by beliefs that seem strange and unnecessary to other women, “as good and often much better Christians than herself..”

And of course, most interesting – and depressing for the current moment – of all is that there was actually a time in which it was perfectly normal for a major, national, popular magazine’s pages to lead directly from stories by Ernest Hemingway to an essay by a religiously observant woman explaining her faith.

The Altar of the Algorithm (5/20)

…the most counter-cultural, pastoral thing we can do for our kids is to fight this, and to tell them again and again that this is not real life or connection and their worth is absolutely unrelated to their social media impact, even within their own circle of friends.

And that it’s largely a waste of time – sorry, it is – and a net loss for actual human flourishing and connection. I’m convinced of this, no apologies.

And to fight it, not just through our words, but through our actions as well, as purported evangelizers and ministers and such – every chunk of time you encourage your followers to spend listening to you online is a chunk of time that’s those followers are not engaging with the real people around them.

Much Obliged (5/21)

Pasting Labels and Folding Mantles (5/25)

The other day, my organist son substituted at the local Maronite Catholic parish. It was Pentecost, and the young priest preached an excellent homily. 

Here’s what was refreshing about the homily, especially in the context of contemporary pop spiritual discourse…..

Time, Weighing (5/26)

The content that’s produced by …producers on media platforms that seeks your attention and time, that draws you in, that creates a narrative designed to hook you in, drama to get invested in – whether it’s my weight loss journey or watching my kids grow or following my pregnancy or joining us on our RV trip or home reno project. Not to speak of getting you involved in endless, fruitless arguments that change no one’s mind, ever.

All of that can be encouraging and even educational. But it can also be a massive time-suck from which you emerge, dazed, and perhaps saying to yourself – did I really need to spend all that time watching random people I don’t know and will never meet talk to me about their morning routine or show me what they wore last Sunday or gripe/brag about their kids?



Books of 2021

Movies of 2021

Traditiones Custodes

2021 Highlights: January

2021 Highlights: February

2021 Highlights: March

2021 Highlights: April

2021 Highlights: May

2021 Highlights: June

2021 Highlights: July

2021 Highlights: August

2021 Highlights: September

2021 Highlights: October

2021 Highlights: November

2021 Highlights: December

Read Full Post »

Okay, okay, maybe it’s partly the reverence. But hear me out.

In all of these endless conversations about the Mass in the current day, “reverence” would probably win the Word Cloud competition.

They just want a reverent Mass!

Celebrated properly, the Mass of Paul VI can be plenty reverent!

Give us reverence!

Well, I think “reverence” as an interpretive lens falls short. I don’t think it quite gets to the core of the problem.

It’s not the reverence.

It’s the ego.

Because the ego lies at the heart of the “irreverence” – no matter what form that “irreverence” takes – and we obliged to note that a full-on Latin Mass in whatever form can be “irreverent,” too – although the potential for irreverence there has built in boundaries: Latin, strict rubrics.

But let’s look at the Mass of Paul VI – the Ordinary Form, the Mass most of us attend.

I’m going to suggest that the core of what drives people crazy (in a bad way) about the celebration of this Mass is the always-present-fear that when you open the door and sit down in that pew, you are never quite sure if what’s about to happen might involve you being subject to surprise attacks and being held hostage by someone’s ego.

You go to Mass with your hopes, joys and fears. You’re there carrying sadness and grief, questions, doubts and gratitude and peace. You’re bringing it all to God in the context of worship, worship that you trust will link you, assuredly to Christ – to Jesus, the Bread of Life, to His redeeming sacrifice. That in this moment, you’ll be joined to the Communion of Saints, you’ll get a taste of the peace that’s promised to the faithful after this strange, frustrating life on earth is over.

And what do you get?

Who knows. From week to week, from place to place, who knows.

Who knows what the personality of the celebrant will impose on the ritual. Will it be jokes? Will it be a 40-minute homily? Will it be meaningful glances and dramatic pauses? Will it be the demand for the congregation to repeat the responses because they weren’t enthusiastic enough?

Who knows what the particular tastes and artistic stylings of the musicians will bring to the moment?

Who knows what the local community, via committee or fiat, will have determined we should focus on this week?

The idea was this:

God is in the here and now, and speaks to us in the here and now. To be responsive to the Spirit in this here and now means not being bound by imposed ritual or words, especially if those rituals come to us from distant times and cultures.

So what needs to happen with liturgy is that it should be seen as a framework – valuable, yes – but only a framework in which the ministers and the community can respond to the Lord freely, letting Him work through the uniqueness of this particular community, this moment in time, the unique gifts of these ministers and perceived needs of this community.

It was supposed to render the ritual far more accessible than any medieval, time-encrusted form ever could for Modern Man.

It seemed to make sense at the time.

And in the best of circumstances, saints at the helm, perhaps it does.

But as I have said time and time again, one of the reasons we say that tradition possesses a sort of wisdom is that tradition has seen the strengths and weaknesses of human nature and evolved to take that – especially the weaknesses and the sinfulness – into consideration, evolving into something that discourages and inhibits those sinful tendencies

So when you have a liturgy, you have ministers. You have people in charge. And it is not shocking at all that in a context of being told that The Spirit will work through your words and actions – trust it you immediately construct a huge, boundless playground for the Ego.

The Ego that at one point might have been constrained by strict rules about obeying rubrics, not to speak of the use of a foreign, non-vernacular language, is unleashed, not only by the fateful “in these or other words” – but by his new role, in constant dialogue with the congregation, who now spend an hour or more gazing on his face, and who has been taught that, in some crucial way, the congregation’s spiritual experience at this liturgy depends on his personality – that his personality and interaction holds a key to a fruitful spiritual moment.

But there’s more.

One of the stated purposes of the conciliar liturgical reforms (growing from the Liturgical Movement) was to help the faithful see the sacredness of the moment – by breaking down the wall between the altar and the pews, that would work to help the faithful bring the sacrality found in worship out into their individual lives and the present moment. Again, how much more impactful on this score is liturgy that reflects the current moment in that community’s life rather than something that reflects the experiences of 16th century hierarchs?

How does this work out in real life?

Well, in real life, this grand theory is put into practice by a small group of people – depending on place and time – celebrants, lay ministers, worship committee, musicians – who are operating out of a set of perceived needs and agendas – theirs. It can be little else. Oh, some people have a more expansive vision, but most don’t.

And of course, these people in charge of liturgies are human beings.

How many times have we seen this, in liturgies and in general church life, when leaders, both lay and clerical, have centered their efforts, words and plans on particular agendas and causes, while in front of them sits a congregation gathered with their broken hearts, fears about life and death and all of it, addictions, disappointments, temptations, frightening diagnoses and exhaustion – wondering why they can’t just pray?

To me, it’s an interesting extension of the post-Enlightenment centering of human experience in the cosmos. In a Catholic context, it took different forms, as theological and spiritual thinkers cycled through various angles and anthropologies over the past two centuries, all of which prioritized human experiences of the present moment as the portal to truth and authenticity.

The trouble is – well, one of the troubles – is that given the opportunity, human beings, especially human beings given positions of power and leadership, and encouraged to let the Spirit speak through the present moment and the uniqueness of their own experience, will do just that – imposing their own understanding of the needs of the present moment on the community as normative and fundamental, using the call to inculturate as an invitation to construct a narrative that serves their own purposes and concretize an agenda when all we really came for was the Creed.

Facing us, speaking our language, trusted by us as the arbiters of the moment in which the Spirit is surely moving – yes, the Egoist, given the chance, will certainly and dutifully embrace the moment and center personal experience as way to authenticity and truth – theirs.


Planning for school or parish faith formation? Check out the resources I’ve written over the years for all ages.

Read Full Post »

It’s that time of year again – tomorrow’s Gospel reading.

Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks,
and distributed them to those who were reclining,
and also as much of the fish as they wanted. 

I wrote this column years ago – maybe twenty or more – and it’s on my actual website, but the formatting is wonky, and I don’t feel like reviving my html skills right now to fix it. So I’ll just toss it here. Remember – at least twenty years ago, and also it was a column for newspaper – so I was limited to 700-800 words. So not quite enough room to explore the subtleties of Scriptural interpretation. And I believe this interpretation precedes Barclay and may even go back to Enlightenment-era thinking. So it’s by no means comprehensive or in-depth. It’s just a column, so calm down. I added a bit from a 2008 post I wrote riffing off it, as well.

Also – this used to be a very common way of preaching on this Gospel narrative. I don’t think it’s heard so frequently any more, but in case you do….


An acquaintance of mine recently wrote to share an unpleasant Mass-going experience.

The priest in his small hometown parish was preaching on the Gospel, this week, the account of the miracle of the loaves and the fishes from Matthew. His interpretation of the event was not exactly comforting to this acquaintance, for the priest suggested that perhaps what really happened had nothing to do with miracles as we know them. Perhaps Jesus so moved his listeners that they took out the food they had hidden in their cloaks and shared it with those around them.

The miracle, therefore, is not any magical multiplication, but the miracle of the previously selfish being moved to generosity.

Who knows how the rest of the congregation received this interesting news, but one of them (my correspondent) couldn’t just walk away without questioning the priest. After Mass, he asked him to clarify. The priest explained that no, he wasn’t denying the miracle, but that the miracle was yes the generosity of the people. He said he didn’t have time to go into it further.

The teller of this tale was justifiably appalled by what he’d heard. But, as I wrote back, as disappointing as it was, I couldn’t be surprised.

For I’d heard it myself, a couple of times from different pulpits. I suspected it was a fairly common interpretation, so I checked around and found that I was right.

Numerous folks who contacted me about this said that they’d heard it too in both Catholic and Protestant churches in exactly the same words. I couldn’t help but wonder where all of these preachers were picking this up, and it didn’t take me long to find out.

It’s in one of the most venerable Scripture commentaries out there – those written by Scottish scholar William Barclay in the 1950’s. Most people who’ve studied religion at the college level have been exposed to Barclay, and many own sets of his commentaries. He’s generally very middle-of-the road and moderate in his views. But in his commentary on this story, he offers an interpretation, which he doesn’t says is his own, but is held ‘by “some.”

Picture the scene. There is the crowd; it is late; and they are hungry. But was it really likely that the vast majority of that crowd would set out around the lake without any food at all? Would they not take something with them, however little? Now it was evening and they were hungry. But they were also selfish. And no one would produce what he had, lest he have to share it and leave himself without enough. Then Jesus took the lead. Such as he and his disciples had, he began to share with a blessing and an invitation and a smile. And thereupon all began to share, and before they knew what was happening, there was enough and more than enough for all. If this is what happened, it was not the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes; it was the miracle of the changing of selfish people into generous people at the touch of Christ.

So there you have it, neatly packaged for the lazy preacher who will use it to sound clever, no matter how many problems the explanation holds:

If everyone brought some food, who, exactly, was left to be hungry?

This interpretation also implies that these first-century Jews were naturally averse to sharing, which is not only offensive, but historically and culturally inaccurate. It may be a miracle for 21st century Americans to share, but sharing and hospitality were sacred obligations for Jesus’ listeners.

Yes, there are layers of meaning to this event. It is of little use as a bare fact as it is as a fabrication. Miracles are offered as complex signs of God’s presence and activity among us, working through and even with us at times, open to rich interpretation in infinite application. Generosity and plenty of course is at the core of the narrative, but it’s God’s generosity which will reach its summit in the Eucharist.

The Barclayian interpretation is illogical,  and frankly – not surprising given the era and the emphasis of Biblical studies of the late 19th and early 20th century, which, for example, saw the most “authentic” elements of the Jesus story as those that were the least Jewish  – tinged with more than a bit of anti-Semitism. Think about stereotypes. Once I did – I couldn’t not see that in Barclay’s interpretation, perhaps unfairly.

So to presume that the Gospel writers couldn’t have meant what they wrote implies that they were either stupid or dishonest. The Scripture is a collection of diverse works, meant to be understood within the specific literary forms God used to communicate truth. But as the Gospel writers themselves make clear, they are not about anything but historical truth about an historical figure named Jesus. Anything less wouldn’t have been worth their time.

Or their lives.

Or ours, come to think of it, don’t you think?

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: