Monday, May 31, 2010


For the last 10 years or so, I participated in the Ministry to the Sick, bringing Jesus to the ill, the shut-in, and whichever Catholics were in the hospital on my day of the week. Most memorable were the visits to those who lay in the Intensive Care Unit. A few minutes in ICU will get ya countin' ya blessins. I had started writing this post on May 25, planning to talk about acting as a conduit of God's grace to people I don't know. But those plans went astray today.

This morning about 4am we got a call from the hospital; they wanted information on Francesca LeBlanc, isn't she our daughter? Do we have her Social Security number, medical insurance info, etc? What? What? She's had a bad fall, is seriously injured and will be at the Emergency Room shortly. My daughter, who only a couple of weeks ago came home from college, is fast asleep across the hall from us; what a mistake! No mistake, they have her ID. My wife says we can be there in 10 minutes and will bring the data.

She is not in her room. They said she fell?

The world is quiet and dark at 4:15, except for the brightly-lit ER entrance, and a concrete pad where a helicopter is landing. I reflect for an instant on the West and its incredible machines. We go in, are quickly received and processed to a waiting room in the back. Turns out we arrived at the same time as Francesca, who was delivered in the medevac. The ER doc sees us about 15 minutes later, says a CAT scan shows broken bones in her toes and foot, and a subdural hematoma, i.e., a blood clot in her brain like the one that killed Natasha Richardson in March. The neurosurgeon is already on his way, and we can see her now before she's prepped for surgery. The curtain to her cubicle is pulled shut; he pauses and says we should prepare ourselves.

Francesca is hooked up to the usual devices, including a ventilator. My recollection from ICU is that nobody gets off the ventilator alive. But maybe not in this case: she was yelling and fighting with the ER staff  when she arrived, so she was restrained and heavily sedated. They are gently wiping blood off of her head and face, her big toe is showing bone. Her appearance is absolutely shocking. Twenty-five years ago my car was totaled in an accident. Standing the rain I looked at it...that wasn't my car looks pretty and new, not destroyed. And now I stare at this person who resembles my daughter, but must be someone else: busted mouth, swollen lip, swollen head, sightless eyes, tangled bloody hair, the ventilator, naked under a sheet with God-knows what-all stuck in her. I notice the urine bag: it's got a little bit in it already. I expected her to look more like...Francesca; my sadness was indescribable. How could this wreck be my little girl? Except that there's no way not to bear it, it's unbearable. And of course all Janet & I can do is stand around while the staff, in its efficient yet surprisingly affectionate way, goes about the prepwork. The chaplain is with us, and helps with the phonebook as we try to find a priest; we are close to three of them and are pounding every cellphone, tollfree, and church office number we can think of to reach one.

In the meantime the surgeon arrives, fired-up, ready to save a life at 5am. He explains what he'll be doing. He expects a good result, which means in a year or so she will likely recover completely, or nearly so. The fact that she arrived able to fight, yell, and focus meant there may have been no permanent damage. May. This blow was an insult to the brain, he said; we can't ever be sure how the brain will react. I thought that was an artful description.

The daughter is wheeled off to surgery and the chaplain escorts us up to the appropriate waiting room. The procedure "doesn't take long" and at some point I decide it is running long, way long. I accept that she will die. My wife & I sit and pray silently, and the chaplain sits with us doing the same. I'd have thought I'd pray for her to live. Instead I was praying that if this were the right time for her soul to go to heaven, then I wasn't going to argue with God about it. She had been a great blessing and a wonderful gift for 18 years, and I was thankful for that. So I prayed that God's will be done. I asked her 3 patron saints and my buddy saints Isaac Jogues and Max Kolbe to receive her if it became necessary, and pray along, too. I can't imagine how people get through this sort of horror without faith.

Two of Francesca's friends show up. The ER told them how to find us. They are about her age, 19 or so. I know Joey and Larry; last week they all played Parcheesi in the living room. Joey ate dinner with us yesterday, and afterward all the kids watched a movie. Turns out that later that night Francesca let herself out and they picked her up to go to an impromptu cellphone-coordinated get-together in an abandoned warehouse. She had the bad luck to fall through the upper floor and land about 25 feet below on a concrete slab. They had called 911 and thus she got to the hospital in good time. I told them that regardless of the outcome, we didn't blame them, and they shouldn't blame themselves. The two of them looked so miserable; they stayed with us the whole time.

The surgeon strode in all of a it comes, accept it.  The operation went well, he reiterated his original prognosis. He advised us to go home, sleep, and come back around 1pm to see her in ICU. This isn't a sprint, he said, it's a marathon. Get some rest. Oh... so she'll live, then. I was surprised. We went home, told the other kids the news. They'd been praying rosaries and were stressed out. Francie's dear sister Alexandra had been crying. We slept a bit.

We returned to ICU about 1 pm, went right in to Francesca's bed. I know the ICU drill. I have seen so many dying, battered bodies in ICU over the years, no worries. But I could not look at my daughter for even 30 seconds without breaking down. Still on a ventilator, induced coma, and a partly-shaved still-swollen head, with a 4-inch long cut running from her right earlobe arcing up the side of her head, held together with metal clips. Looks like a brain zipper. I had to retreat to the ICU waiting room. Tried again after I felt better; same result. My little girl is the most heartbreaking thing I've ever seen. Janet deals with it better and stays with her. Maybe mothers are tougher, I thought it'd be the opposite. No, wait. I was there at Francie's birth: the mothers are definitely tougher.

We're at home now, eating something, heading back around 8:30. Close friends have already come by with food, and our immediate family who live close by are ready to help as needed. The doctors may take Francie off the ventilator in a couple of days; in an induced coma, she keeps trying to yank it out. To me that's good. You go girl, get offa that thing. Once more I reflect on the West: its managerial and organizational skills; its knowledge base and educated populations; its flexibility, responsiveness, and preparedness; its machines.

At the top of the page is the shirt they cut off of Francesca in the ER. This would seem to be the perfect time to say thank ya Jesus.

Thank ya, Jesus. I know you love us.

This is an ICU blessing I never expected to count.

Update June 16: my daughter is at home, may recover fully, timetable unknown.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Fairy Circle

Have you ever seen a fairy ring, a fairy circle? Not the make-believe kind...the real ones (not real fairies, real fairy circles). Like this one:

My backyard has one, it shows up every year after the Spring Equinox (don't get all pagan on me; Easter is dated from the Equinox and the full moon.) Ours hasn't appeared yet this spring, but I was digging up some weeds, and the soil contained the little white filaments that the circle will inevitably spring from.

  I like to refer to fairy circles in Catechism class: if we look at only one mushroom at a time, we don't see how they're all connected, the big picture. And if we do look at them all, but only superficially, we see only the circle, but won't be aware of the underlying web of what is called mycelia. As Wikipedia says, "Hidden in the soil is a huge network of threadlike mycelia. Mushrooms are not individual organisms. Rather, they are just one part of the mycelia lurking beneath your lawn." I know, "lurking" sounds pejorative....just think of my yard's fairy circle as another amazing and harmless bit of God's creation where every part relates to every other part, and upon closer examination isn't really a bunch of parts anyway, but is One Big Unified Whole. Like, oh, Christianity....especially in its fullest expression, Catholicism.

Catholicism has a lot of parts that we can see one at a time, just like each mushroom that pokes up: the Bible, the Pope, each Sacrament, bishops, nuns, the Mass, the Catechism, Holy Water, the Rosary, fish dinners, Easter Vigil, Novenas, scapulars, saints, relics, etc., etc. We tend to look at them individually- like looking at a single mushroom. Sometimes we think more widely and notice that taken together they form a visible pattern, like the fairy circle does. But like the fairy circle, the real story is beneath the surface...all the thousands/millions of threads binding every part to every other part. The mushrooms are just the visible part of a greater unseen reality. Like all of us being parts of the Body of Christ...not figuratively, literally. I guess we'll see that clearly when our vision isn't clouded by sin....

Oops, digressing already. But sometimes digressing is a good thing for Catholics...maybe even a requirement.

Hey, remember the blind men examining the elephant? The elephant was for each man simply the part he could feel: a snake, a tree trunk...a rope? If they'd walked around a bit, they'd've got the big picture and their understanding would've increased exponentially. But training kids (or anyone) to be hip to all these Catholic tendrils of mutual connection and reinforcement can't be done in a class set aside for that purpose; it has to be woven into class all the time.

I envision a lesson plan as moving vertically. Class starts at the top of my legal-pad and reaches the bottom at the end of the period; at least that's the plan. But the lesson plan anticipates moving vertically only 3/4 of the time. The rest of the time I expect to be going sideways, because I think of something related to the topic, or better yet, because one of the children thinks of something.

For example, when we discuss Levitical sacrifice and ritual cleansing, I emphasize that blood or water is frequently sprinkled on the people, such as on these occasions:

The first Passover:

"Moses called all the elders of Israel, and said to them, "Select lambs for yourselves according to your families, and kill the passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood which is in the basin, and strike the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood which is in the basin..."

Sacrifice of oxen as a peace offering:

"And he sent young men of the children of Israel, which offered burnt offerings, and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen unto the LORD. And Moses took half of the blood, and put it in basins; and half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar. And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD hath made with you..."

Ritual cleansing of a leper:
"...if the leprous disease is healed in the leper, the priest shall command them to take for him who is to be cleansed two living clean birds and cedarwood and scarlet stuff and hyssop; and the priest shall command them to kill one of the birds in an earthen vessel over running water.  He shall take the living bird with the cedarwood and the scarlet stuff and the hyssop, and dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the running water;  and he shall sprinkle it seven times upon him who is to be cleansed of leprosy..."
Ritual cleansing of a house:
"And he shall take the cedar wood, and the hyssop, and the scarlet, and the living bird, and dip them in the blood of the slain bird, and in the running water, and sprinkle the house seven times. And he shall cleanse the house with the blood of the bird, and with the running water, and with the living bird, and with the cedar wood, and with the hyssop, and with the scarlet."
Ritual cleansing of a tent:

"And a clean person shall take hyssop, and dip it in the water, and sprinkle it upon the tent, and upon all the vessels, and upon the persons that were there, and upon him that touched a bone, or one slain, or one dead, or a grave. And the clean person shall sprinkle upon the unclean on the third day, and on the seventh day."

Passover and other Levitical sacrifices are soaking wet with information that will apply to Baptism,  the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, and the Mass, all of which come later. So during this lesson I want the kids to think sideways for a bit, in anticipation of those future topics.

" y'all see how how often blood or water got sprinkled on people and things to make them holy: either by marking them with the sacrificial blood, or by washing them clean with water. If you want to make something physically clean will sprinkling do a good job? No, that won't do anything. So why just sprinkle then? Why not really wash? Well, it would take too long, and people have their clothes on. That's right, and it's not about getting physically clean anyway, what's the point? Spiritual cleaning? Yes, and because we're made of a...body'n'soul! yes, if we want our souls made clean, we...sprinkle water on our bodies? Yes, genius!  Now, has anyone ever seen any sprinkling happen in church? I have!  Tell us about it. Umm, the priest walks around with a bucket and a silver thing and slings holy water on everybody!  Yes. That thing is called an aspergillum, it's the Latin word for sprinkler. Has anyone ever seen a priest use a bundle of sticks, instead of the aspergillum, to sprinkle the congregation? I saw that at another church! Yes, good. It's very interesting. The bundle of sticks looks like a little broom, and I think it slings more Holy Water than the silver sprinkler, too. I like the sticks because that's what the Israelites used to sprinkle blood and water all the time. Listen to this bit of sprinklering again:  "...kill the passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood which is in the basin, and strike the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood..." Hyssop's a kind of reed that grows around Egypt and the Holy Land, and most of the time you see that word in the Bible, it has to do with some kind of ritual water cleansing or blood sacrifice."

"Remind me, who was Mr. Slinghot? Oh, David? Yes. When David was the King, he had an affair with a married woman named Bathsheba, and got her husband killed to cover it up. Later he repented from this serious sin, and wrote a Psalm about wanting forgiveness:

"...cleanse me from my sin. ...Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow." When David says "Purge me with hyssop" what's he mean? No guesses? What's Purgatory? It's where you go to get rid of your sins so you can go to heaven. Yes. Purgatory comes from the word purge which means to thoroughly clean comething by getting rid of all the bad stuff, sometimes by burning. Purging isn't pleasant like a bubblebath. So when David tells God to "purge me" what's he mean? He wants God to get him clean. Yes, even if it's painful. And he mentions hyssop, the bundle of sticks, why's that? 'Cause that's how they sprinkled Holy Water on people. Yes, just like we do today. David wanted spiritual cleaning, not a bath. Remember the Catholic Fairy Circle with all the hidden threads under the ground (I may draw this quickly & re-explain as necessary)? Yes. Well, hyssop's one of those hidden threads; when you see it, pay attention, it connects different parts of the Bible to Catholic things like Baptism and the aspergillum, the sprinkler we use in church. And listen to this Epistle: there's hyssop and some other threads I've mentioned."

"The Epistle to the Hebrews reminds us that there is no forgiveness of sin without sacrifice. Yell the first time you hear a word that has to do with cleansing, sacrifice, or washing. 

"..Moses...took the blood Blood! yes, of calves and of goats, with water Water! and scarlet wool, and hyssop, The Sticks! and sprinkled Sprinkle! both the book, and all the people, saying, This is the blood of the testament....he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry. And almost all things are by the law purged Purgatory! well, Purgatory is close enough, purged with blood..."

"Good. For the rest of the year watch out for these threads: Hyssop, and...? Blood? Yes, and....Water? Yes, and...what does the stick bundle do? Sprinkle! Yes, and...? C'mon, where might you go before heaven? Purgatory! Yes, which comes from what word? Uhhh, purge? Yes, purge. Which means? To clean! Yes. From now on when you hear these words come up in class, say so, and we'll see what they're connnecting to, especially in a few months when we discuss the Crucifixion."

And at this point we'd return to our vertical progress through the lesson plan.

During this lesson I walk around the class, acting out Moses sprinkling blood on everyone, and a child will often point out without prompting that it reminds them of when the priest sprinkles water on the congregation. In that case I'll praise them and digress from there. I might mention that blood and water are related to each other at the Crucifixion when both flowed from Jesus' side, and they should be ready to think about that a few months from now. So how we go sideways isn't especially planned out, and the kids will surprise me with the nimble-minded connections they make that I can build on. It depends on time, topic, and class participation. Regardless, though, some of the best learning occurs in those sideways moments, when we can glimpse yet another thread in the Catholic Fairy Circle.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Men speak of wonders & miracles, theophanies, manifestations of the divine in the world. Men want to lay hands on God, look him in the face as Moses longed to do, as Adam did, daily, before the Apple. With enough faith I imagine I could reach right through the veil and grab God by the arm. If I feel real optimistic (and stupid), I try it, anticipating my hand will disappear into holy dimensions not available to the average sinner. It never works.

On the other hand, God bursts like the streaming sun out of my wife every day, gives me a window on heaven. To be one with her, just to laugh together about the most mundane could be more blessed than I. Could God love anyone more than to have given her to me? Maybe so, but it would strain my very capable imagination. Thank you, God, for this one. This one that I cleave to.

What a marvel to know that for yet another day, the quotidian reality of my marriage exceeds any fantasy I could contrive. Pretty much every minute I've been able to spend with her in the last 22 years I've spent doing things with her, it never occurring to me that the time could be better used. As Sinatra sings, "these precious days, I spend with you..." Odd that all our foibles (mine, mostly) don't matter, and marriage shows me how glibly I spent my time a single person. And every few months or so, love grows, gets palpably bigger, deeper, wider, stronger. Maybe she really is bone of my bone, and that'll be apparent when, like St. Paul says, I can see clearly.

God comes through my wife to me. All the goodness in her, the divine energy in passes through, out into our children, out into the world. How incredible to be, with her, a single conduit of such powerful grace. And the kids, borne by her, opened my ears, turning God's faint whisper into a shout.

After all these years marriage now shapes my idea of heaven: if life with my wife, this transcendant fusion, is how God-in-me merges with God-in-her, then heaven will be just the same, but infinitely so. To be permanently separated would be to suffer Hell; to be separated for a limited time, Purgatory. Kind of amusing to at last understand why the Bible is shot through with marriage as the image of God and his people:

God marries Israel, the virgin daughter Zion.

Jerusalem is the LORD's bride:  "For as a young man marrieth a virgin, so shall thy builder marry thee; and as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee. The LORD delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married."

Israel is the wayward wife of the LORD:  "Turn, O backsliding children, saith the LORD;  for I am married unto you...thou hast played the harlot with many lovers; yet return again to me."

The Church is Christ's eternal bride: "Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb's wife."

"And I, John, saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband."

"And the Spirit and the bride say, Come."

And the dearest part of Psalm 128, which is never more true than at Christmas dinner at our house:

"Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: thy children like olive plants round about thy table. Behold, that thus shall the man be blessed that feareth the LORD."  Blessed, indeed.

When I count my blessings, I rarely count past one.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Transition & Ascension

The Ascension was yesterday; class was over for the year a couple of weeks ago, so we covered it early.  Although the Ascension is observed in the Church as an event, in class it's presented more as the last step in a process. Reading from Acts 1, the Ascension seems like an abrupt departure:

"So when they had come together...He said to them, " shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth." And when he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight."

Boom, gone, just like that...hey, hey, wait a minute, we didn't get to say goodbye!  But relating the Ascension to the 40 preceding days expands its significance, even as far as the Book of Revelations.

The following are edited passages covering all the other recorded occasions that Jesus appeared to people during the 40 days. It's not much, if you think about it. In class I will read bits of these, paraphrase them, or make them part of the storyline, but there's no need to deal with them all.

Matthew's Gospel:

Mary & Mary run into Jesus, whom they recognize. Later Jesus appears to the apostles: "Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshipped him; but some doubted."

Mark's Gospel:

"he appeared first to Mary Magdalene." Then: "After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them. Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they sat at table; and he upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen."


"While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him." Later that same day: "When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight."

Still later on that day: "Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, "Peace to you." But they were startled and frightened, and supposed that they saw a spirit....And he said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do questionings rise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.... And while they still disbelieved for joy, and wondered, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them....Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven."


"Mary Magdalene...turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus...(She supposed him to be the gardener) Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rab-boni!" (which means Teacher).  Jesus said to her, "Do not touch me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father..."

"On the evening...the doors being shut where the disciples were,...Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side."

"Eight days later, his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing."

"Simon Peter [and other disciples] were together. Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing."...They went out and got into the boat; but that night they caught nothing. Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, "Children, have you any fish?" They answered him, "No." He said to them, "Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some." So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, for the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!"

How the Ascension works in class:

"Hey y'all, 40 days after Easter, what happens? Umm...Pentecost Sunday? Close, Pentecost is Greek for 50; that's 50 days after Easter...'pente' means five, like pentagon. What happened after 40 days...c'mon, what happened at Easter? Jesus rose from the dead!  Yes, and then for 40 days he appeared to different people at different times and places. Then what? He went to Disney World? Ha! He went up to heaven!  Yes, he ascended...what's the name for that? The Ascension. Yes.

"We're going to learn about the Ascension, but first let's look at Jesus during the 40 days. Remember on Good Friday, what happened? Jesus died on the cross. Yes, he was dead. Totally dead, not sorta dead, or nearly dead. Completely alive on Thursday; completely dead on Friday. And then on Easter he rose from the dead, much to everyone's surprise. Completely dead on Saturday; completely alive on Sunday! But the Risen Jesus, the new Jesus, wasn't like the old Jesus: chewing out Pharisees, driving out demons, knocking over tables, drawing crowds. For example on Easter morning, Mary Magdalene ran into Jesus outside the tomb, and she thought he was the gardener...the gardener?  He must've looked awful different! But she recognized him after he spoke to her. She was going to hug him, I think, but Jesus said "don't touch me, I haven't yet ascended to the Father." Don't touch me?

"Later on Jesus runs into two apostles on a road. They talk and walk with Jesus for a long time, and don't recognize him until dinnertime; as soon as they recognize him, he disappears!

"On two occasions the Apostles were more or less hiding in the upper room, with the door shut. Each time, Jesus appears among them without coming through the door, and apparently leaves without going through the door.

"Sometimes Jesus eats; sometimes he doesn't. Sometimes he doesn't want to be touched, as Mary Magdalene learned; but what did Jesus tell Thomas to do? Stick your fingers in the holes!  Yes! Sometimes he's here, then vanishes, then he's somewhere else. People have no idea when or where Jesus'll be or how long he'll stay if he does. Sometimes he says important things; other times he hardly makes a peep.

"Trick question: on Easter, when Jesus vanished from the two apostles...where'd he go? Umm, heaven? Maybe; the Gospels don't say. But remember Adam & Eve in Eden: sick? No!  Old? No!  Eat meat? No!  Hang out with God the Father all day? Yes!  What messed up this good deal? Sin!  Yes. Now, before the Resurrection, could Jesus get sick? Yes!  Get old?  Yes!  Die?  Yes!  Good. Trick question...was Jesus a sinner? No!  So how come he could have bad stuff happen to him? No guesses? Go back to Eden: in Eden could a lamb get eaten by a lion? No! How about after Eden? Yes!  Did the lamb become a sinner, and so that's why it could get eaten, get sick, and die? Ha, no, animals can't sin.  So why did bad stuff happen to animals?  'Cause Adam & Eve messed everything up? Yes, the whole world suffered because of sin. So why did bad stuff happen to Jesus? Well 'cause he was in the world? Yes. Even the innocent suffer. How about after he rose again; could bad stuff still happen to Jesus? Right, why not? Well, he had risen from the dead. Yes, so? OK, if we die in a state of grace, where do we go? Heaven. Yes, our souls go to heaven; our bodies go...into the ground!  Yes. When Jesus died on the cross, where'd his soul go? Heaven? Yes, he opened heaven. But Jesus' soul couldn't just stay in heaven while his body decomposed in the tomb. Why not? Umm, he had to show people he was God? Yes. When Jesus rose physically, he showed that all that stuff he'd been saying for the last 3 years was true. But his glorified body was different...y'all guessed right that he couldn't get sick, grow old or any of that. Who does that sound like: no sickness, no growing old, no death...? Adam and Eve? Yes, in Eden. So Jesus' risen body is free from the bad things that come from sin. But even though he's risen, he's still in the sinful world. If your body and soul are free from sin, where should you be? Heaven?  Yes. And I imagine that's where Jesus wants to be, just like we would, but he has to tie up some loose ends. He appears to a few people (especially Thomas) so they can be sure he really rose from the dead; he eats a little food so they see he's not a ghost; Jesus shows the Apostles how the Old Testament is full of things about himself; and he gives them an extra dose of the Holy Spirit. But Jesus doesn't stick around more than necessary. Living in the sinful, fallen world just isn't comfortable if you should be in heaven; it's not normal. Jesus doesn't want to get very involved in the world like he used to, it's not his home anymore. He just lingers a bit here and there....he's disengaged, that's a good word for y'all to learn. Remember Jesus told Mary Magdalene right after he'd risen, "don't touch me, I haven't yet ascended to the Father." He wasn't used to his glorified body yet, and didn't want to be touched by the sinful world; he just wanted to be in heaven. Later on, he let Thomas touch him, but I imagine Jesus had to prepare himself for that. So during the forty days, maybe most of the time he was in heaven, and visits Earth only as required. He may have spent time with his mom, who of course was sinless herself. Jesus exists between heaven and earth, he appears and disappears, but he's not a ghost. Remind me about 'forty days,' please. It means a long time. Yes, a long time of what? Preparation! Yes. So this 40 days is about Jesus preparing to do what? Umm, stay in heaven? Yes, where he belongs.

"Once Jesus' work was all done, he ascended to his Father, just like he had said to Mary Magdalene 40 days earlier on Easter morning. But he didn't just abandon the Apostles. Let's listen to what Jesus told them: " shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth." And when he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight." And the Apostles just stood there looking at the what?

"Ever since Good Friday, the Apostles were at loose ends. For three years they'd had a job..what was it? Umm...helping Jesus? Yes, great answer! But then Jesus was killed, and they were scared and depressed. And when Jesus was alive again, I'm sure it was wonderful, but the Apostles weren't getting any direction from Jesus on the occasions that he'd appear to them. They hung out in the upper room; sometimes they'd go fish like they used to, before they knew Jesus. Forty days of twiddling their thumbs. But when Jesus ascended, he told them the Holy Spirit would come upon them. When did that happen? No guesses? How long was Jesus on Earth after Easter? 40 days. Yes, and what happened 50 days after Easter? Somebody said it earlier....comes from the Greek word for 50..P-E-N... Oh, Pentecost! Yes what was that? The Holy Spirit was fire on their heads! Yes. The Holy Spirit got the Apostles fired up about their new job: setting up the Church.

"We'll look at how they did that in Acts of the Apostles, but not tonight. See y'all next week!"

Look at that resurrected Jesus at the top of the page by Sister Mary Grace Thul...if you had a glorified body, would you want to be hanging around earth being poked at by the likes of Thomas?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Terrebonne Weltanschauung

My formative years were lived in South Louisiana: Terrebonne (like Pearl S. Buck) Parish, to be more specific. I didn't realize until my family moved to South Carolina that the whole world was not flat, humid, fecund, familial, tasty, and Catholic. But ya gotta get away from ya culcha ta really appreciate its sensibilities.

Many years later I was in school in Italy, far from the Carolina Piedmont, farther still from the Louisiana of my childhood. The first day on the ground in labyrinthine Genova, I constantly had to ask for directions. I was a bit nonplussed by how people stood so near to me while speaking, and how they might also hold me by the bicep. Yet it was also familiar and agreeable. I thought, Good Lord, this reminds me of...Louisiana, who'd a thunk it? That first day in Genova marked when I began to think about the particulars of the South Louisiana worldview, if that's not too elevated a term for it. So forget all that Zydeco/ blackened-whatever/ MardiGras pap; I have seen the soul of the real Louisiana.

A few months after arriving in Genova, I found myself on a train, speaking with a German. I asked him to suggest something in German that'd be good for me to read. He recommended Die Weise von Liebe und Tod des Cornets Christoph Rilke/  The Song of the Love and Death of Cornet Christopher Rilke, by Rainer Maria Rilke. I read it then, and  re-read it every couple of years. It's a sort of poem which contributes to my understanding of German-ness. The line I most remember, which colors my view of Germans and Germany, is this one:

Aus dunklem Wein und tausend Rosen rinnt die Stunde rauschend in den Traum der Nacht.

Out of dark wine and a thousand roses runs the hour rushing into the dream of night.

Oh man...that will always be Germany.

During my childhood in Terrebonne Parish, I was surrounded by a vast extended family. One day I walked into Grandma's house, where she sat talking with some lady about the same age. Grandma asked me, "Do you know Marie Boudreaux? She's your second great cousin twice removed (I am making up the name & relationship, I was about 6 at the time)." Uhh, no ma'am. Then Marie says, "Is this Bud's boy? He looks like Bud."  He's Bud's alright."  And they went on to discuss relatives I knew, and didn't was very pleasant just to sit and listen.

There were always conversations among my adult relatives at Grandma's house that I could sit in on. One Saturday night my daddy and his sisters (4 sisters total, not sure if they were all there) were sitting around, talking about religion or politics probably. One of them mentioned she had been paid recently....then someone else remarked on the Louisiana habit of saying 'grind' meat instead of ground meat, why don't they just say ground meat like everybody else? Then, struck by the Looziana Muse, one sister, a Terrebonne Rilke, burst out with a sort of poem, which forever colors my view of Louisiana and the Acadiens:

It was Sataday night and I just got paid
Went ta da store ta getta loaf a braid
Da man at da counta looked up and say'd,
"Sorry, Ma'am, I ain' got nuttin' but GRIND MEAT!"

Ay-yi-yi...that's Looziana.

P.S. Weltanschauung; German, world-at-look-ing, worldview.

Click for more on Rilke and the Cornet.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Le Mot Juste 1


      (Can you read this? Me neither.)

I try to use chunks of the Bible to teach the kids their Catholic faith. I don't like a verse here and a verse there, there's no context. And besides that, with paragraphs there's always the opportunity to get in some side lessons, which either build on something they've learned, or in passing introduce something I'll treat in more detail later on.

For example, in our last class of the year we refer to Revelations to better understand the Second Coming. Because of the yearlong emphasis on the unity of bodynsoul, the "Resurrection of the Body," as the Creed puts it, is important. I could minimally cover it with only this much Scriptural support from chapter 20:

"And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne...And the sea gave up the dead in it...Death and Hades gave up the dead in them..." which is fine as far as it goes, but to make a more complete point I need more context:

"And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, by what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead in them, and all were judged by what they had done."

But this translation (RSV-CE, Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition) presents a problem. Because we live in the Bible Belt, I expect at some point in their lives the kids will be asked about faith vs. works, usually like this: "Why do Catholics believe they can earn heaven through good works?" So a constant in class is to show the importance of faith and works. We are a body'n'soul: therefore we have works'n'faith. In adult terms, works are the body's manifestation of the soul's faith: they go together. And when works are spoken well of in the Bible, I want to bring it to the kids' attention. Unfortunately the RSV-CE translates the Greek word ergon, (ἔργον, as in energy) as "what they had done" instead of  "works," which is more direct, if a bit old-fashioned. The passage should say works so it'll be clear to 12 year-olds that it relates directly to Faith & Works.

Let's try the Catholic New American Bible (NAB):

 "I saw the dead, the great and the lowly, standing before the throne, and scrolls were opened. Then another scroll was opened, the book of life. The dead were judged according to their deeds, by what was written in the scrolls. The sea gave up its dead; then Death and Hades gave up their dead. All the dead were judged according to their deeds." Nope.

How about the Douay-Rheims, a Catholic English Bible translated a bit earlier than the Protestant King James version (they are very similar):

"And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works." Thank ya, Jesus. With this text we can cover the bodily resurrection, and in passing reinforce the significance of works:

"Y'all see that after Jesus comes back to Earth for the second, and last time, everyone who ever existed gets resurrected, which means their bodies and souls....? get put back together! Yes. Stratopops, how does God do that if your body is all, you know...all decomposed all turned back in to earth? Yeah. Well, I don't know, but how'd God make Adam in the first place? From dirt! Yep, and remind me, why do we call that first man Adama in Hebrew? 'Cause it means dirt! Yes, earth. So whatever God did that first time with earth, he'll probably do it again.

"So everybody is there for the Last will we be judged? Huh? Listen again, "they were judged every man according to their works." will they be judged? By their 'works'? Yeah, what that means is we're judged by what we do. 'Works' is an old way of saying what you do. When two grownups meet, usually they ask each other what they "do;" they mean what line of work they're in. Now, what is every human made of? A bodynsoul! Yes, and which part actually does the 'works' that we get judged by? The body! Yes, and if part of the Last Judgment involves what you did with your body, would it make sense to have just souls there? Huh? If a person is going to get judged by his faith and his works, then both his soul and his body should be there. Imagine just my soul is at the Last Judgment, and I'm going to get in trouble because I did bad things while I was alive, but I say, "Oh dear, that sinful old body, it's all rotten and laying in the ground somewhere, don't blame me for what that dirty old thing did. My soul never did a single bad thing, I swear!" A whole person is a bodynsoul, so if Jesus is going to judge the whole person....? the whole person needs to be there? Yes, genius!

And class continues per the lesson plan.

 And that isn't the only occasion that the old Douay-Rheims is a useful translation for teaching Catholicism. When we discuss the Church hierarchy, its visible structure, we spend a lot of time on Acts of the Apostles. For example we see how in Acts 1, the Apostles led by Peter decide to replace Judas; that is, they make a new Apostle when they hand down Judas' apostolic authority to Matthias.

Here are a couple of edited critical verses from the Protestant NIV (New International Version):

"Peter stood up among the believers...and said, "it is written in the book of Psalms, 'May another take his place of leadership.' So they proposed two men: Joseph and Matthias. Then they prayed, "Lord, you know everyone's heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs."

"Place of leadership?" Too vague, committee-like. No thanks.

The NAB says, "May another take his office." That's a translation that works well when we're looking at the Church's offices in general: pope, bishop, priest and deacon. It also keeps things clear when we connect it to this verse from Isaiah 22, which Jesus paraphrases when he changes Simon's name to Peter:

'I will thrust you from your office. I will summon my servant Eliakim; I will give him your authority. He shall be a father (!) to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; when he opens, no one shall shut, when he shuts, no one shall open.' (edited)

On the other hand, if I'm talking only about bishops it's better to use the Douay-Rheims version of Acts 1. Instead of saying "May another take his office," like the NAB, the D-R (Douay-Rheims) says, "and his bishopric let another take." I tell the kids that 'bishopric' is an obsolete word, but ya can't beat it when you're discussing where bishops come from. In a typical school year, they'll hear both versions depending on context. I mention that the Protestant KJV says 'bishopric' too, but spells it 'bishoprick,' which is more English with the 'k.' I do like the 'k.'

(I swear you can teach Catholicism from the 400-year-old KJV better than you can the latest 'readable' Catholic version.)

In class I prefer 'bishopric' to 'office' because it most directly translates the Greek word episkopi, ἐπισκοπή, episcopacy. During the Church Hierarchy lesson, the kids sort out what peri-scope, micro-scope, tele-scope,  and epi-demic mean, then figure out that an epi-scope, a bishop, is an over-seer. Once they know that, there's every reason to use a translation that says "bishop" each time that the Greek text says episkopos.

I have the impression that most Bible translations of the last 50 years or so sacrifice what the editors regard as marginal content in order to gain readability, which is fine as far as it goes. I don't labor over the D-R on a daily basis; I use the NAB or RSV-CE for reading. But anytime I ground Catholic faith in Scripture, I usually check some other versions, (especially the D-R/ KJV) and/or the NT Greek or OT Hebrew. It just takes a couple of minutes and you don't have to be a scholar, or know any Greek or Hebrew. Even if the NAB translation is best for class, and it often is, I still learn something that may be useful another time.


Online sources for all the Bible versions used:



BibleGateway all Books Protestant site (NIV & KJV, plus assorted foreign-language versions)

Blue Letter Bible a Protestant site great for Hebrew and Greek.

DouaiRheims This one shows the Greek, English, and Latin Vulgate side by side. Mmmm, Greek....Latin....what could be more exciting? Plus there are some fine articles here on Bible basics, none of which are exhausting, or academic to a fault.

P.S. Le Mot Juste: French, the precise word.

This post is also available at the Amazing Catechists website.