Sunday, February 12, 2017
Last month I found myself way in the back of the church a couple of minutes before Mass started. We typically arrive about 15 minutes early and sit near the front where I can see without glasses, so the back is a mysterious and alien place.
When I came in, the organist was playing the last notes of the prelude, then stopped. At this point, the whole church was dim, quiet, and packed. In front of me was the priest, a couple of deacons, eight or so altarboys, the censor and the crucifer, all close around the baptismal font, waiting.
Then the church bell rang 11 times. Within a few seconds of the last peal, the lights came up, and the small bell inside the nave was rung once. A second or so after that, the pipe organ let loose a huge belch of sound, the choir and congregation belted out the opening words of the entrance hymn, and the procession began to advance.
For the next few weeks I kept reflecting on that prepared waiting for the moment- it was so compelling in its dark, hushed stillness. It seemed familiar, but not from church...yet I had still imagined aspects of it before. Finally yesterday, or maybe this morning, I remembered- it's this:
"For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two oclock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, it not only hasn’t begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armstead and Wilcox look grave yet it’s going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn’t need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time."- William Faulkner, Intruder in the Dust
As Kylie said in Strictly Ballroom, "That was unexpected."
Photo from the vestibule of St Mary's, Greenville SC
Friday, June 17, 2016
This article is crossposted to Convert Journal
My Fabulous Wife and I went out to dinner for Mother's Day at our neighborhood Mexican restaurant. Our adult kids are living in other cities, or were at work in this one; I think it was just the two of us for the first time ever. Monterrey's is a middle-class to working-class place to eat, and a young married couple and their three kids arrived and sat across the aisle from us. I'd guess the kids to be 2, 4, and 6 years old. Mom and Dad on one side of the booth; two littl'uns on the other, toddler in a baby chair. A perfect portrait of modest married bliss regardless of job, income, or mortgages.
It occurred to me that I should pay for their dinner. But I didn't want to be seen getting up and sorting it out with the cashier- they'd figure out who had done it, and I wanted anonymity. But because we started eating first, I could take care of it when we left. That way we'd be long gone when they went to pay. No worries.
But they finished first! Aaack! Off they went to the cashier. Too late to treat them on the sly. I got up and and went over to the counter. I said to the mother, "Are you having a good Mother's day?" She was indeed. I asked the kids, "Are y'all being nice to your mama today?" Yes they were! I turned to their father and said, "You have such a lovely family, I'd like to pay for y'all's Mother's Day dinner." He gave me quizzical look. "Really?" I said, "Look, I know what's it's like to take a family out to eat. But all my kids are grown, and I'm past that expense now. So y'all take off and enjoy the rest of Mother's Day." And you would not believe how happy the parents were- just beaming from this little unexpected treat. "Wow...thank you so much!" "Truly, it's my pleasure, 'bye now!" "Bye!"
Here's my point- I was wrong to think I should have done this without being seen. The human aspects of the exchange would have been missed, and that would have been a loss for all of us. I'd say that the act of freely giving and accepting this small gift counted for more than the meal itself. At the same time, although they saw me and spoke to me, I remain anonymous.
And without a doubt it was the best dinner I ever bought.
Tuesday, May 17, 2016
I first heard the Bamboo Parable when I was a kid, I imagine most of you have heard it too. No? It’s the story of beautiful Bamboo, who freely allows its Master to chop it down, hack it open, and use it to bring life-giving water to parched land. Here’s an effective retelling. Whatever its origins, the Bamboo Parable inevitably reminds me of Jesus, and the necessity of each Christian to imitate Him, that is, to die to self: “Verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it stays alone: but if it die, it brings forth much fruit.” You know about that unpleasant side of Christianity, right?
I never cared for that story. Its implications were too inconvenient. I bet folks such as Mother Teresa liked it just fine; but then, I found Mama T to be on the inconvenient side of Christianity as well.
And this little prayer: “Lord take me and do with me as you will.” A riff on the Bamboo Parable: beguiling and beautiful; but scary, too. I’ve heard umpteen versions of that prayer for decades. But I would never say that prayer because if I did, what dreadful thing might I be getting myself into?
In 2004 my parish published a pamphlet called A Simple way of Life. Only 8 pages long, but with a respectable, substantial cover, which made it too nice to throw away. Pages 6 and 7 elaborated on some hallmarks of being “a faithful disciple of the Lord Jesus,” who:
Prays every day.
Worships at least once a week in the Most Holy Eucharist.
Studies Sacred Scripture every day.
Confesses one's sins regularly in the Sacrament of Penance.
Serves others in the Name of Jesus Christ.
Shares one's personal gifts, time, and money with the Lord and His Church.
Connects with other disciples in the Christian community.
Evangelizes the world through words and deeds.
Isn’t that a pithy list? I love it. I’d re-read pages 1-7 a few times a year, see how I was doing. Pretty good, I’d say. But page 8 was problematic- like the Bamboo Parable. This is what page 8 says:
By the grace of my Baptism and with the help and mercy of God, I commit myself to strive to live according to this Simple Way of Life.
Name of Disciple
I would not sign and date page 8. That’s asking for trouble. I’m no Father Damien. I don’t invite bad stuff to happen. Careful is good, cautious is better. But badstuff happens despite care and caution; and I learned that enduring the badstuff with a Jesus worldview makes it not just bearable, but…worthwhile. And in 2012, more than 8 years after first reading A Simple Way of Life, I signed and dated page 8.
That’s a few years ago now. I can’t say that I’m a better Christian today, but I do ask God to use me as he will; I try to bust out of my comfort zone; and I accept that being the Bamboo would hardly be the worst thing that might happen to me.
Thursday, March 10, 2016
Friday, February 26, 2016
Saturday, February 13, 2016
This article is also posted at Convert Journal.
We would love to pray for your mother-in-law. Seriously.
I like praying the Rosary. But I also bore easily. As I mentioned in last month's article Rosary Riff, to keep the Rosary fresh I make up my own Mysteries. But sometimes I won't use a mystery set at all. Instead I'll adapt the Hail Mary as needed to complement whom I'm praying for, and that keeps me perked-up and engaged.
Let's recall there are 53 Hail Marys in a Rosary. To me that's 53 opportunities to ask for individual intercessions. As time and memory allow, I will get in all 53. Here's how I do it.
First, here's the prayer with my standard change:
Hail Mary, full of grace.
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is Jesus, the fruit of thy womb. (I prefer this phrasing.)
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death.
That's what I'll pray if I can't think of someone to pray for as each bead rolls around. But typically it'll be like this:
Hail Mary, full of grace.
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is Jesus, the fruit of thy womb.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for Andrew Jones
now and at the hour of his death.
And if Andrew has a particular problem, let's say cancer, then:
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for Andrew Jones' healing.
So Mary and I pray together for Andrew. That's good; would it be better to have more people pray? Of course- I could pray like this:
Holy Mary, Mother of God, and St. Andrew,
pray for Andrew Jones' healing.
For someone who has died, like this:
Holy Mary, Mother of God, and St. Elizabeth,
bid Elizabeth Kelly eternal rest.
In fact if I invite a saint to pray along, it may go like this:
Holy Mary, Mother of God, and St. Michael,
pray for Michael Jones' cancer, Mike Smith's marriage, Michael Green's search for a wife, and whatever Michelle White might need, because I have no idea but her name just popped into my head which may be Jesus' doing.
In the above cases, I'm matching names. But I might also match saints to sinners thematically:
Holy Mary, Mother of God, and Fr. Damien
pray for Doctor Black and Nurse White, now and at the hour of their deaths.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, and St. John Bosco
pray for Frank Taylor who runs our parish Youth Group, and Scout Leader Butler, now and at the hour of their deaths.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, and Saints Stephen and Lawrence,
pray for Deacons Smith, Jones, Black, and White, now and at the hour of their deaths.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, and St. Isaac Jogues
pray for Father Smith who is serving in Peru, and all missionaries, now and at the hour of their deaths.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, and Saint Francesca Romana
pray for the Jones family whose daughter died last week.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, St. Thomas and St. Francis de Sales
pray for Jane Hall who is falling away from the faith.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, Cardinal John Henry Newman, and St. Augustine
pray for Bill Howard who is considering becoming Catholic.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, and St. Joan of Arc,
pray for Sgt. Aaron Tate who is in Iraq, now and at the hour of his death.
See...it's an inexhaustible prayer algorithm. You could go for, you know, decades and not repeat a combination! Get fired-up about all those folks in heaven! Keep 'em busy! Learn about new saints, and keep them busy too!
And one last thing- I have my own problems, and I pray that they go away, or diminish, as God sees fit. But there's nothing like praying for other people's problems to put mine in perspective.
If y'all pray the Rosary in any particular ways, please post a comment about it. Don't be shy- inquiring Catholics wanna know.
Thursday, January 14, 2016
I pray the Rosary. I like to meditate on the mysteries, but I've been doing them for a long time, and like to reflect on other themes besides the 3, oops, 4 sets that we have to choose from. So I make my own sets. And if you're familiar with the Rosary, maybe you’ve prayed a scriptural Rosary, in which a relevant Bible verse is read before each Hail Mary is prayed. At the minor seminary I attended long ago, we used to pray a scriptural Rosary every evening at Vespers. One of the priests had a little book with all the verses, and each evening he'd hand it to whomever he chose to lead the praying. It was a terrific experience, even for a callow teenager as I was then.
Here's one of my homemade sets. I call it the Fruitful Mysteries; each one is named after what in 6th-grade Catechism class we call a Miraculous Mother. Given that they end with the birth of John, I think they make a good lead-in to the Joyfuls, which begin with the most Miraculous Mother of all.
The First Fruitful Mystery: Sarah
1. Gen 1:27 God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28 And God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.
2. Gen 9:1 And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.
3. Gen 16:1 Now Sarai, Abram's wife, bore him no children.
4. Gen 17:15 And God said to Abraham...Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac.
5. Gen 18:10 The LORD said, "I will surely return to you in the spring, and Sarah your wife shall have a son." And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him.
6. 12 Sarah laughed to herself, saying, "After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?"
7. 13 The LORD said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh?' Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, in the spring, and Sarah shall have a son."
8. 15 But Sarah denied, saying, "I did not laugh"; for she was afraid. He said, "No, but you did laugh."
9. Gen 21:2 And Sarah conceived, and bore Abraham a son... 3 Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac.
10. 6 And Sarah said, "God has made laughter for me; every one who hears will laugh over me."
The Second Fruitful Mystery: Rebekah
1. Gen 25:20 Isaac was forty years old when he took to wife Rebekah...
2. 21 And Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife, because she was barren...
3. ...and the LORD granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived.
4. 22 The children struggled together within her; and she said, "If it is thus, why do I live?"
5. 23 And the LORD said to her, "Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples, born of you, shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger."
6. 24 When her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb.
7. 25 The first came forth red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they called his name Esau.
8. 26 Afterward his brother came forth, and his hand had taken hold of Esau's heel; so his name was called Jacob.
9. Gen 25:27 When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents.
10. 28 Isaac loved Esau, because he ate of his game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.
The Third Fruitful Mystery: Rachel
1. Gen 29:16 Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 8 Jacob loved Rachel; and he said, "I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel."
2. 20 So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her. 21 Then Jacob said to Laban, "Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed."
3. 22 So Laban gathered together all the men of the place, and made a feast. 23 But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her.
4. 25 And in the morning, behold, it was Leah; and Jacob said to Laban, "What is this you have done to me?
5. 26 Laban said, "It is not so done in our country, to give the younger before the first-born. 27 ...we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years."
6. 28 Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to wife. 30 So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah, and served Laban for another seven years.
7. Gen 29:31 When the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb; but Rachel was barren.
8. Gen 30:1 When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she envied her sister; and she said to Jacob, "Give me children, or I shall die!"
9. Gen 30:2 Jacob's anger was kindled against Rachel, and he said, "Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?"
10. Gen 30:22 Then God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her and opened her womb. 23 She conceived and bore a son... and she called his name Joseph.
The Fourth Fruitful Mystery: Hannah
1. 1Sam 1:1 There was a certain man...whose name was Elkanah. 2 He had two wives; the name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah. And Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.
2. 1Sam 1:4 On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters; 5 and, although he loved Hannah, he would give Hannah only one portion, because the LORD had closed her womb.
3. 1Sam 1:6 And her rival used to provoke her sorely, to irritate her, because the LORD had closed her womb. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat.
4. 11 And she vowed a vow and said, "O LORD of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thy maidservant, and remember me, and not forget thy maidservant, but wilt give to thy maidservant a son, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life."
5. 19 And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the LORD remembered her; 20 and in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel.
6. 24 And when she had weaned him...she brought him to the house of the LORD at Shiloh; and the child was young.
7. 1Sam 2:21 And the LORD visited Hannah, and she conceived and bore three sons and two daughters. And the boy Samuel grew in the presence of the LORD.
8. Ps 128:1 Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in his ways! 2 You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall be well with you.
9. 3 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table. Lo, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the LORD.
10. 5 The LORD bless you from Zion! May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life! 6 May you see your children's children! Peace be upon Israel!
The Fifth Fruitful Mystery: Elizabeth
1. Mal 4:5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes.
2. Lk1:5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.
3. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.
4. 8 Now while he was serving as priest before God, [an] angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer is heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.
5. 16 And he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah.
6. 24 After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she hid herself, saying, 25"Thus the Lord has done to me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men."
7. 57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to be delivered, and she gave birth to a son. 58 And her neighbors and kinsfolk heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.
8. 59 And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; and they would have named him Zechariah after his father, 60 but his mother said, "Not so; he shall be called John."
9. 62 And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he would have him called. 63* And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, "His name is John."
10. 80 And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness till the day of his manifestation to Israel.
Anything you do to customize your Rosary, leave a comment.