Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Microcosm

Every day from death awaken,
Taste of wine and bitter gall.
For every morn's another Eden,
Every sin another Fall.
Every shame another hiding,
Every grace another call.

Every breath our answer giving,
Salvation writ in moments small.
If Christ be not the Lord of these,
He is Lord of naught at all.

The Acceptable Time

This blog doesn't precisely have the largest readership. Fine. Two family members. Two or three friends. An occasional drop-by, mildly curious or misdirected or just coming to plug their own blog and leave. And – alright. Que sera, sera. All that's to be found here are the poor results of my waiting, praying, and seeking. There's no brilliant apologetics; no scintillating commentary or deep insights into the nature of faith or God. Just one quiet record of one Catholic's fumbling experience of those.

I began writing shortly after Easter, with grandiose notions but no clear idea of what the purpose would actually be; lately, I've been reading back, to see what patterns have emerged. Since Easter, I've entered into – the best I can describe it as is a time of preparation. Whatever God is calling me to, right now it's for me to step back; to say I'm not ready yet (and how!); to, through His help, be made ready. Right now, it's for me to simply wait on Christ and trust in His grace, and now and again write down aspects of that waiting. Advent as a liturgical season is over; but in another sense, my life is an ongoing Advent season.

This past year has brought me to realize, among other things, the impossibility of forcing faith - not faith as a matter of intellect, but faith as a response to God. It's as hopeless a task as forcing a flower into blossom is. All that can be done is to provide the right conditions – good soil, water, and light - and then wait. Some flowers bloom in early spring, others not until autumn. Each needs the same basic conditions; each is beautiful when it does bloom; but it remains that each has its own time.

In that it is a response to God, faith is not familiarity with a collection of doctrines, to be pulled out and referenced as circumstances warrant. Those can be learned - and should be! - but they are not the heart. At its heart, faith is an encounter with a Person, Jesus Christ; and no one else can make that encounter for you. No one else can substitute their own experience of God for your lack of such; no one else will be drawn to God for the same reasons as you; no one else will have exactly the same experience of God as you. The role of the Christian is to guide others to that encounter and make introductions, so to speak – and then, very often, to step back and out of the way.

That stepping back, in humility, is very much a part of the charism of the Missionaries of Charity. By seeking Christ in the “poorest of the poor”, they cannot help but show Him forth – in their deeds, in their joy and simplicity of heart. (Ye olde 'frozen finger on the back of the neck' is not beyond them – but from love of neighbor!) Following Mary's example, they merely and always point to Christ. Anyone drawn to Him through their example is directed to a priest; they do not directly convert anyone. It is not their place; it is not their spirituality. In that I have them to thank for much of my spiritual development of late, neither is it mine. It's as humbling as it is difficult – but for a frustrated polemicist and point-scorer like me, it is much, much the better.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Coincidence? I think not!

Sometimes, God works in mysterious ways. Sometimes, He whacks us repeatedly over the head until we get the message. These past three days, for example...and who knows what He's got planned for tomorrow...

***

Beginning this month, I work early on Sundays, so am cut as a server well before the restaurant closes. Around 7:00, I'm sat one last time: two middle-aged women; nice sort, just friends out for a meal. By the grace of my God-given gift of nosiness, I ask about the calendars they have lying on the table. One of the women explains that they are from a fundraising drive and flips one open to show me. The picture is of a group of African children; the quote accompanying is from Mother Teresa. I exclaim happily at that...and it goes from there. It turns out that the woman, Pam:

- Has taken a group of teens to Africa to work at an MC orphanage there, and was accompanied by a priest I know slightly through the MCs.
- Is going again with that priest, and another teen group, to Calcutta in January.
- Will keep my contact information (and I hers) against future trips.
- Will be more than happy to take my Miraculous Medal to touch to Mother's tomb.
- Is my last table of the night, so I had plenty of time to linger at the table and listen to her tales of Tanzania and adventures with Fr. Jack and the MCs.
- Wants to give me one of the calendars, if I'm also willing to accept - more than likely - the gift of her cough. She'd warned me I'd probably need to wipe down her menu...and that had only been on the table 5 minutes. The calendar was sitting there for over an hour. (Hey, take the bad with the good!)

I was cut at 7:15; I didn't leave until after 10:00. No more sleep than usual, and even less than some previous Sundays - but oh, so worth it. Meeting her; making the contact; having my "other" world intrude into the very different enviroment of my job. Nothing I planned; nothing I expected; nothing that would have happened had I not had a table open, or had the hostess decided to take them to another table.

***

Monday, as mentioned, I go to the Sisters'. Typical day: Mass. Cook breakfast for the men. Wash dishes. Clean. Make soup and sandwiches for the men's lunch. Wash dishes. Noon prayer. Untypical day: Noon prayer and 2:00 Adoration are conflated, and begin at 11:00. In the afternoon will be the distribution of Christmas baskets, and last-minute shopping for those same. I can help with the shopping, but I can't stay for the distribution - I need to leave before dark. The house is in East Baltimore, and also I attend a praise-and-worship meeting out in Catonsville on Monday nights. Public transit gets me there, but not quickly.

Oh - those girls I've never seen at the house before, who've come to help with the distribution? They're from Catonsville, says Sister. Maybe I can stay if they can take me part of the way, thinks I. Though - I've never seen them at the house before, but come to think of it, haven't I seen them somewhere? I have, as it turns out. At the prayer meeting. In another city. 15 miles away. They can take me, if I don't mind stopping by their house first for dinner. A family dinner: Dad, Mom, six kids, and a meal worthy of a gourmet (on a Monday night!). Okay? I don't mind if you don't! I'd almost left several hours before, I wasn't going to stay at all, but changed my mind (like I never do that...) and decided on helping as long as I could. Against any idea of mine, that turned out to be for the entire distribution.

***

This afternoon, I made a stop by the Adoration chapel in Towson, to make some poor attempt to turn back to God the weekend's blessings - and the tests, certainly not absent. As I'm leaving, someone calls out to me: a co-volunteer from the MC's who I'd not seen in months and did not expect to see again. Last I'd heard, she was joining a religious order in the Philippines. She still is; leaving on December 27. We went for coffee, and a very belated chance to talk and compare notes on our respective Come-and-See visits to the MCs. And a chance to wish each other well: her as she goes to enter religious life, me as I continue to haul myself towards that same goal. A difference of even a minute on the part of either of us, and it would not have happened: we'd have either missed each other, or not wanted to pull the other out of Adoration.

***

I think I get the idea now, God. It takes me a while, and You need to speak very slowly and raise Your voice a little...but I think I see Your point. You know what you've got planned for me. Maybe I should quit whining and worrying, and just let be....

The Raving Atheist...

...is now, officially, the Raving Theist. I've lurked on his blog on and off for years; his humor could be harsh at times, but there was - and is - always an honesty and thoughtfulness to his posts that made them well-worth the reading. May Christ, who has begun this good work in him, bring it to completion.

Gloria a Dei, et Filii, et Spiritui Sancti!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

"Well done, thou good and faithful servant."

Avery Cardinal Dulles, August 24, 1918 – December 12, 2008. A truly bright star among Abraham's descendants, now entered into the eternal Light.

Blessed repose and eternal memory.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Am I not here, who am your Mother?

"Lord, You have called me."

This past Monday, December 8th, was the semiannual profession of final vows for the Missionaries of Charity, held in Washington DC. Active sisters, contemplative sisters, junior sisters, aspirants, Lay MCs, volunteers, family, shelter residents, hospice residents...they fit wonderfully into the Basilica Crypt Church where the profession Mass was held. (They didn't fit quite so well into the convent where the reception was - a good many stayed outside despite the weather.)

During the Mass, before the sisters together profess their vows, the Archbishop calls each by her religious name and she responds "Lord, you have called me."

Lord, You have called me - You have called us. And this is the response we give to Your call. These are the gifts You have given us, and this is how we will use them in Your service. Whatever the struggles of the past ten years, whatever the sacrifices, whatever the joys; all those things we can articulate and those for which there are no words - they all come down to that one reality. Christ has called. And we have answered.

Monday was also the feast of the Immaculate Conception; the conception of the one who always gave her "Yes" to God. She could have said no just as Eve did - she too had that moment of decision for God or against. She too could have sinned...she could have listened to that 'trouble' inside her and shrunk away from the angel. But instead, it was yes - "let it be unto me."

Echoing that yes is not some high calling for priests and nuns; it's for all of us, every day. Even in uncertainty, when we can't see what God is doing or why He is doing it, it's still for us to say yes; to hold to Christ and trust in His absolute goodwill towards us. He can only want our good; we have to trust in that and act on it.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Traveler's Lament

O little town of Ambler,
How aptly named thou art!
'Twas in thy dark and silent streets
My car* refused to start.

'Closed for Thanksgiving',
Read every sign in town
Outside the hardware store I sat,
Alone and broken down.

Tho' the Acme was still open,
The Giant on Main St. too
Of one thing only had I need
A spark plug sparkling new.

On Chestnut St. I found shelter
A floor on which to sleep
Turkey to roast, stuffing to eat
A brother comp'ny to keep.

O little town of Ambler,
How trains do pass you by!
For your TruValue my thanks I give
An offering to on high.

*Poetic license, E.S. Just poetic license.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Scenes from the Bronx

There's a serious version of my Come-and-See at the Missionaries of Charity. This, dear reader, is not it. It has not been written, and may or may not be. Instead, I offer this collection of unconnected, but illuminative, moments from my stay:

*The startled moment when I realized that Uncle Barney was not in fact a pet goat, but rather a donor (of vegetables and baked goods) who has been coming weekly to the Bronx and Harlem houses since at least 1984.

*Yes, indeed. It is possible to make soup from chicken broth, potato, sausage...and oatmeal.

*The nightly sound of either bad brakes, mournful werewolves, or a succession of sacrificial cats...I was never certain.

*Door-to-door salesmen would starve to death in the Bronx. MC's trying to visit "their" families just get really sore knuckles. And plenty of chances to pray Memorares for the intention of someone, anyone, coming to open the outer door.

*Being utterly delighted to see cheesecake for afternoon tea, and just knowing it was the best cheesecake ever - cream cheese, not ricotta, with all this fresh fruit topping...and holding my fork ready to dig in...and then hearing the bell to get up and go to afternoon apostolate (work)...And then waking up the rest of the way. Decidedly, no cheesecake.

*Regarding the above: is there another order in the world that has afternoon tea built into it's schedule? Granted that the food part could be anything from cake, to nothing, to gummi worms..still, I like!

*It was strange to be in a room where people smoked, and smoked regularly (the homeless shelter, not the convent!). I can't even tell you when I last saw an ashtray that wasn't gathering dust on a thrift-store shelf...smoking indoors is some 80's anachronism, almost.

*Meeting Sister Dorothy, one of the first women to join Mother Teresa. Let's just pass over the part where I first met her by almost knocking her over...in Adoration...while she was genuflecting...

*Glancing up at a cloudy sky and hoping, reflexively, that the laundry was in off the roof.

*This exchange during dinner, while considering a bowl of good but extremely greasy sausage:
Sister Sarah:"This looks like it might be that stuff - transfat - we should not eat."
Me, eyeing the bowl, then Sister:"When I get back to Baltimore, I don't know what I'm going to tell the sisters."
Sister Sarah:"You can tell them that Sister gave you a big bowl of transfat."

*Or this, during choir practice, whilst trying to puzzle out a melody:
Sister:"Divine and human are the same." [Pause] "That sounds like heresy."

*Returning from a drive to see the foliage, we've stopped along the way to get gas. Inside the station, a man comes up to Sister, asks if she is one of Mother Teresa's sisters, and gives her a donation. Per MC custom, she asked him for his name so we could pray for him. And that was how, back in the van, we found ourselves praying the last decade of the Rosary for "Joe the Plumber".

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Sometimes...

...God gives us what we want. Until we realize what we need. And it's never a pretty thing to watch.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Venite Adoramus

Crucified shadow, cast on the wall -
Come behold this, work of our hands!
Stand below, hear His cry to all lands:
'I thirst still - for you and for all.'

In saried ranks before Christ kneel
Then rise, go in haste, by vows set apart -
Silence of heaven, silence of heart -
Handmaids of God, marked with His seal.

In grace and truth, not myth or story
The Word took flesh: we see His glory.

From my two week Come-and-See at the Missionaries of Charity.

Christian Vegetarianism of the Early Latinate Period

From the collection 'At the Lighting of the Lamps':

"...Such opulence, for Christians, is enough,
And satisfies all needs.
Far from us be that hungering lust
That craves a bloody feast
And tears apart the flesh of beasts.

"Such wild banquets made from slaughtering flocks,
Are fit for barbarians alone;
For us the olive, wheat, and ripening fruits,
And vegetables of every kind.
These make up our righteous feast."

Prudentius
5th century

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Si Non Servias

Roll your heart's stone back into place
Shake the dust from your feet and move on.
Say, "Christ is not here"; seek not His face.
(Life fades to gray in the desert predawn.)
Lightless sky, endless sand; rock, thorn, weed.
Yours to wander: you are free indeed!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

And around again.

Seven years ago, etc.

I don't have words today. Instead, I've been letting others' words speak - the words of those trapped on the planes, or suffocating, beyond hope of rescue, in the Towers. One call ends in silence; the plane found its target. Another in a man's scream as Tower 2 collapsed. He "wasn't ready to die"; he had "two young kids."(YouTube is just incredible, no?) Seven years ago, I spent the afternoon in prayer, knelt down in Adoration on the lawn outside the student center at Franciscan. Today, that still remains the best response to those horrors.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Between the Cracks

No good ground this, nor yet rocky:
Soil of urban concrete,
Neglected and left to harden.

Here and there an imprint lingers
A shoe perhaps, or bold hand.
Silent mem'ry - once, this was soft.

Seeds find small purchase here; rather
Scatter trampled and futile
Amidst glass shards and strewn refuse.

Now and again, slight gaps grant hope
Chance sowings take tenous root
In earth now, always hid from sight.

Straggling weeds, trod-upon grass
A tree to break the pavement
The random flower, blooming once.

Never shall be a lush garden, this:
Nor a harvest abundant.
Still life takes hold - between the cracks.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Universal Prayer of Clement XI

The below is a beautiful prayer - but it is a long prayer. And when it is being read over you, it's a rather scary prayer. It's expecting rather a lot. In fact, it can produce a clammy, cold feeling on the back of one's neck...no, wait. That's Father getting me from behind with the holy water. No warning, except that ominous splash of water leaving the bottle. Brr. (Editor's Note: Evidently I was supposed to turn around. Since I was not told that, I did not. Since I did not...brr.)

Ah well. As my LMC formation begins, so may I expect it to continue, with blessings that I just never see coming and that make me want to yelp in dismay. (And with one very unpredictable priest-spiritual director - honestly, he was clear across the altar from me!) From now on, I'll never not be wearing a crucifix...which I'm realizing is no small thing, in various ways. Pray God that I may be what this prayer calls us all to be, that I may live out the spirituality of the Missionaries of Charity whether as a laywoman or, someday perhaps, a sister. Pray God that I may not pass by or cheapen by words those things which I am to treasure in my heart - and that I may always have courage and faith to speak out when it is a time to do so.

******************

Lord, I believe in you: increase my faith.
I trust in you: strengthen my trust.
I love you: let me love you more and more.
I am sorry for my sins: deepen my sorrow.

I worship you as my first beginning,
I long for you as my last end,
I praise you as my constant helper,
And call on you as my loving protector.

Guide me by your wisdom,
Correct me with your justice,
Comfort me with your mercy,
Protect me with your power.

I offer you, Lord, my thoughts: to be fixed on you;
My words: to have you for their theme;
My actions: to reflect my love for you;
My sufferings: to be endured for your greater glory.

I want to do what you ask of me:
In the way you ask,
For as long as you ask,
Because you ask it.

Lord, enlighten my understanding,
Strengthen my will,
Purify my heart,
and make me holy.

Help me to repent of my past sins
And to resist temptation in the future.
Help me to rise above my human weaknesses
And to grow stronger as a Christian.

Let me love you, my Lord and my God,
And see myself as I really am:
A pilgrim in this world,
A Christian called to respect and love
All whose lives I touch,
Those under my authority,
My friends and my enemies.

Help me to conquer anger with gentleness,
Greed by generosity,
Apathy by fervor.
Help me to forget myself
And reach out toward others.

Make me prudent in planning,
Courageous in taking risks.
Make me patient in suffering,
Unassuming in prosperity.

Keep me, Lord, attentive at prayer,
Temperate in food and drink,
Diligent in my work,
Firm in my good intentions.

Let my conscience be clear,
My conduct without fault,
My speech blameless,
My life well-ordered.
Put me on guard against my human weaknesses.
Let me cherish your love for me,
Keep your law,
And come at last to your salvation.

Teach me to realize that this world is passing,
That my true future is the happiness of heaven,
That life on earth is short,
And the life to come eternal.

Help me to prepare for death
With a proper fear of judgment,
But a greater trust in your goodness.
Lead me safely through death
To the endless joy of heaven.

Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

???

I'm here in the cafe side of the Catholic church across the street from me, making use of their...ah...well, okay, I'm their beloved Internet thief, as Father White greeted me one day. But, anyway. That's not the point here. The point is, Mass is piped into the cafe via loudspeaker. 10:30 Mass just began - and the opening song was none other than 'Hanging by a Moment' (or whatever the actual name is, I don't know). It's hardly out of character for this parish, sure. And it draws you in, sure...but not to Mass. Not...quite. How you go from that to chanting the Latin Mass parts, I just don't know.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Pandatic Conversation

This post has nothing to do with the stated purpose of my blog. It is simply pandaring to the reality that my "audience" consists of a few family and friends...who know me too well to be impressed by my more serious writing anyway. Thus the following:

Scene: Woodley Park Zoo in DC. Me, Helani, and Juli, moseying along the Asia Trail in pursuit of our prey. Having braved all variety of endangered animals and signs warning darkly of poachers and extinction, having resisted the siren song of the Panda Cafe - having, in fact, preserved our wallets from harm and our bellies from expansion - we make it at last to that king of attractions. That beast keyed to such a poor diet that it must spend 16 hours a day eating. Nature's weedwhacker, at whose approach the bamboo forests shiver in fear. The giant of giants...

The panda. Sprawled on his back for all to see, pulling bamboo branches to his mouth and stuffing them in. Some passersby stop to admire. Others continue along the path, tugged along by their unenthralled young. Eventually, the panda has had quite enough bamboo and ambles to the strategically placed stream for a good long drink. We look on in awe. Eventually, the panda has had quite enough water and ambles back to the same bamboo clump as before, there to blissfully eat bamboo paw-to-mouth. We consider his manner of life.

******************

Me: "Typical male."
Helani: "Yeah. 'I'm going to go back to the couch now.'"

Silent consideration of panda, and perhaps other matters, resumes. Briefly.

Helani: "It must be an easy life. No predators..."
Me: [blinking] "No creditors?"

There are not words to convey the look Helani gives me.

Juli: "If this is Panda, press one..."

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Tidings of Change

Arrow-path, water laps out
Ripples in time's wake wash us
Sunlit sparks hide the depths
Dazzle us, who are drifting
Blind, clinging to our wreckage.
Nowhere to go, we tread in place
Years pass - it is endless.

Spear-path, water flows new
Ripples from eternity cleanse us
Sunlit spark in our depths
Guides us, no longer adrift
Blind still - but to sin's wreckage.
Harbor in sight, we at last swim
Years after it is finished.

-Margaret Catherine

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Quotes to live by...and hang onto by your fingernails.

"You have not called us to be successful, you have called us to be faithful."
"If you do not love your brother whom you do see, how can you love God whom you do not see?"
"Love until it hurts."

Not "until it's going to hurt, and then hold back." Not, "until love isn't returned, and then let yours become anger." Until it does hurt. And then? Keep right on loving - and yes, keep on hurting from it. From the lack of any return, from the pain you can see but can't, aren't allowed to, heal or even comfort. From the knowing that all, all, you can do is show a path. You can't lead anyone down it, you can't make them want to walk it. You can only show, and watch others go right on their own way. Maybe in twenty years, long after you've passed out of that person's life, something will come of it. But you'll never know about it this side of Heaven. If we are to follow Christ in everything, we also are to follow the Christ who wept over Jerusalem - who poured out so much love, spent Himself in every way, and was about to give up His very life...but could not gather that city to Himself; could not win the love of its people.

So, today, I'm tired. I'm discouraged, yes. I let myself lose my temper with the children, and I'm annoyed at myself for that. Every day at that camp is a repeat of the day that went before, and a preview of the day to come. I work with the older girls - and many of them are here for the last time. Whatever seeds might have been planted in them, they certainly have not sprouted. And this is the last year we have with them, at least in terms of the camp. Some sign...some indication that we've wrought some small change...would be nice. But there's nothing of the sort, they're going to leave on Friday exactly the same as when they started camp. Just as angry, just as insolent, just as incapable of trust or respect. Just as closed to God and to any world beyond their streets. No different at all, no more interested in anything that would work a difference in them.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Where I Am That Is Not Here

In sum, I'm helping out, in some fashion, at a 3-week Vacation Bible School for inner-city children, ages 4-12, in east Baltimore. The levels of authority are: the Missionaries of Charity sisters; then the teachers/class leaders; then, basically equal to the teachers, are the Bad Cops/Circulating Disciplinarians who "always pick on us!" and enforce such things as order during breakfast; no fighting during breakfast; no boys or girls at each other's tables during breakfast; order during class; no fighting during class; no boys or girls in each other's sections during class; order between classes; no fighting between classes; no boys or girls grouping together between classes; that children "going to the bathroom" every fifteen minutes give auditory proof of their actual need for said facility; probably that no boys or girls are in...yeah. There are also the Good Cop Helpers who evidently do not enforce any of the above but do help serve meals and do crafts with the children...

...but I think you can guess which group I belong to. It's been...instructive, thus far. Seeing how the children interact with each other and with adults, and where interactions, ah, break down. (If you're wondering at the boys/girls rule - that is the single largest breakdown of discipline, the way they act towards each other. Thus, no interaction.) They're good kids...but well on their way, especially the older ones, to being something else. :( We have 25 hours a week, for three weeks out of 52, to show them maybe there's something more to life than they've learned of it. Something else, and Someone else, than the fights and the eye-for-an-eye, 'I can do whatever I want to you but don't you *dare* do it back to me!' mindset. God gives the growth, to use Paul's phrase; we just plant and water. But the soil we're working with is so hardened by drought and neglect; it's hard going.

Anyway, that's my exhausted theologizing for the evening. I do ask for your prayers for the school: the children, the sisters, and we volunteers. The camp runs through August 8th, which hopefully *will* be the day at the beach that's been promised. :)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Time is the spice of life...

...but sadly, I'm all out. I've lent it all to others. I'll write again, when I have a few minutes that are something like free - till then, take care! Be seeing you!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

No anchorite me.

Where two or three are gathered in Your name, You are there in their midst - when two are united in prayer, that unity is a gift and sign of Your Spirit's presence. Yes, there is great good in prayer alone to God, and in joining others in prayer at Mass or praise & worship - but it's good too to have someone to say the quiet daily prayers with. Even just one person, even for just one day's visit. It's an odd way of being lonely, maybe, or not an aspect that usually jumps to mind - but there it is. Not having someone to pray with. But it's a loneliness I've chosen, not by mere default but actively; in trust that through it is how I can offer my best service to God and how I can best make Him known...if only I will. It's in trust of Christ's promise of "a hundredfold"; that any sacrifice made for Him, He will not pass over in silence.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Glory be to You, O God, glory be to You!

From the Liturgy of the Word at the Mass of Sts. Peter and Paul, St Peter's Basilica:
At the beginning of the liturgy.


Joint blessing with the Book of the Gospels.


An Orthodox deacon chants the Gospel.


Patriarch Bartholomew gives his homily.



Said it before, have no doubt I'll say it again: Christ will not permit His Church to remain so divided. Today, we've moved that much closer to reunion...however much remains to be done, and however long the rest of the journey takes. (It's only been nearly 1,000 years so far. After all.) There is still a lot to be done in reconciling doctrinal questions, and I'm certainly not prepared to pronounce on that!, but also there is so very much to be done in regards to the laity. To the suspicion between Orthodox and Catholic that's more to do with each other's long-since-alien traditions than anything else. The Roman Catholic Church in America did a fine job, back in the early 1900s, of driving Byzantine Catholics who were in communion with us back into the Orthodox Church: our bishops, for whatever reason, told Eastern European immigrants that only unmarried priests would be permitted to exercise their ministry. Which meant, in effect, that these immigrants who only had the married priests who emigrated with them had no priests, or very few; thus, no Liturgy and no Sacraments. Many of them, priests and laity, did not stand for it, and I can't blame them. There needs to be reunion, and one day there will be. But first there needs to be familiarity with and acceptance of each other at the common-person's level.

Through the prayers of the Mother of God, O Savior, save us!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Owf. My foot ith thtuck.

So, I'm coming back to drop the bill off with one of my tables. (Yes, my dear two readers who do not know me, I am a waitress. One of them lay 'Mary Catholics' who evidently need a nice, simplified, monosyllabic liturgy...but I digress.) Anyway - the two at my table were an older couple; pleasant; seemed to have been married quite some time. I notice that the woman is gone, and I suppose I had a questioning look on my face. Or maybe it was my hesitation. Or one of several other unsubtle clues in my body language. He explains that she's left; I, teasingly, ask, "Your wife left you?"

"Yes...she did. We're separated, but we're still friends."

...
...
...

If you need me, sir, I'll be in China. Just call down that hole by your table. Thank you for dining with us...

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

All the World's a Snowglobe

"...when they could not find [Paul and Silas], they dragged...some of the brethren before the city authorities, crying, ‘These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also..." -Acts 17:6

In 1981, a group of people came to the Missionaries of Charity Brothers' house in Rome, informing Fr. Sebastian that "they were fed up with the structured Church and so they wanted to belong to the Church of Mother Teresa." He got them to sit down, and they had what I can only imagine was a very long, very gentle chat (with God no doubt chuckling quietly in the background). And then another chat, and another; and from those chats the Lay Missionaries of Charity were born.

However adequate or inadequate their education in the Faith was, those first members understood one thng very clearly. Mother was turning India, and the world, upside down and the Church as they knew it was not: they could not even connect the two. They didn't want "coffee-and-donuts" (or rather "coffee-and-cannoli") Catholicism. They wanted to belong to the Church that was out there embracing the dying and giving love and care to the most wretched, seeking them out where they were. They wanted to be where the Church was truly alive and fulfilling her Great Commission. They wanted to be told "Go, you are sent."

Serving 'the poorest of the poor', as Mother did and the Lay MC's also strive to do, is not always nearly so dramatic. Yes, many of the Baltimore group volunteer at the AIDS hospice and yes, the need is obvious there and in the surrounding neighborhoods of East Baltimore - but often it is a far subtler need. It's in those so wrapped up in self, in their pleasures, that they simply have no room for others or for Christ. It's in the college students I work alongside - and believe you me, there are no warm fuzzies in trying to love that bunch; in trying to see Christ in them no less than in the men at Gift of Hope House. Yet their need is all the greater...because they are not even aware of it, rushing as they do from one party to the next and comparing hangovers the next day before going out to do it all over again.

In America and Europe, with our padded edges and rounded-off corners - in public life and in church - that's our most common poverty: the spiritual, not the physical. Do we recognize it in ourselves, much less in others? Do we seek Christ as Paul and Silas did, as Mother did - to preach Him, and thereby to turn our comfortable, padded world upside down?

Scene from outside Monday night p&w

Random guy, describing New Orleans to us and somehow veering onto a Victor Hugoesque description of the sanitation system: "Every night, all the businesses put their garbage bags out in the street, and in the morning these trucks come and suction them up."

Me: "Oh, Baltimore has that too. The truck just never comes."

Seriously. There's a pile of trash bags a few doors down from the MC house that has, apparently, been there for three years. It's only remarkable for being the biggest pile...it's hardly alone. And a few doors down from that is one of the city bus-stop benches inscribed, as they all are, "Baltimore: The Greatest City in America." Mm-hmm.

Scenes from an Adoration Chapel

Setting: A quiet, peaceful, prayerful, Holy Hour. The way they all should be - even for the man snoring in the back pew, head tipped back against the wall. Almost...

***

Sir, I appreciate that you are wearing headphones. However, I am three rows behind you and I can still hear the words plainly. Do you think you could possibly turn down your Rosary? The book of Numbers is hard enough to read, all these tribal genealogies...Thank you!

***

Woman in pew behind me: "Oh! I thought you'd brought a sandwich!" Upon realizing that my change purse was not, in fact, a ham-and-swiss. That would *really* not be kosher!

Oh, fine. Before y'all give up on me.

Buffalo (from the city of) Buffalo (that other) buffalo (from the city of) Buffalo buffalo (as in bully), buffalo (as in bully) (other) buffalo (from the city of) Buffalo.

Take out the parentheticals and it still works as a sentence. Honest.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Blessed repose and eternal memory.

Melvyn Parnell, a resident at Gift of Hope hospice in Baltimore, passed away on Friday, June 6, from complications from AIDS. He was only 50; he'd been at the home for ten years.

I didn't know him when his health was - not good, but better; when he was still lucid and not in and out of awareness; when he was still eating and not on a feeding tube. He was in so much pain by the end - from the sores that covered his lower legs and cracked and bled; from his intestinal problems. For him, a simple bowel movement was a struggle, and something for us to celebrate - honestly. That was the condition he was in. Death was truly a mercy for him: release from suffering here; rest with God. He was in pain; he rarely could talk; he was bedridden save for when he was carried downstairs and placed in a chair in the common area.

I can't explain...what it was to have him there as part of the home. His condition was awful; death was a mercy; so why do I have any sort of regret or sorrow? The residence is poorer without him, very simply. We volunteers, and the MC's who run the home, gave love and care, and in his way he gave it back to us. There's no Melvyn to cheer Father on in his sermon ("Go for it!"); no Melvyn to tell the nurse-volunteer she's "bad-ass". No Melvyn to nod in mute assent when asked if he wanted to receive Jesus in Communion; no Melvyn - during his last hospital stay - to cover his face with the sheet and only lower it when another resident came to say hello. Another man from the home just went back in the hospital with recurrence of his leukemia. He won't be able to be at Melvyn's funeral; but he will be perfectly able to sit in his room with that reminder of death much too close to hand. He doesn't need that right now. He needs to hope. I'm worried for him on that front, from the mood he was in when I saw him last; just after he heard about Melvyn.

What is "quality of life"? Who are we to determine it? As I type, I can hear the Agnus Dei being sung at Mass over in the church: Lamb of God, given up to death for us. It's God's to determine - God who suffered as we do, as Melvyn did. I did pray that it would not be long for Melvyn; that his suffering would soon be over. But act to hasten that end? No. We are not allowed to play at being God, ever. We are only allowed to place ourselves in His hands, and trust to him for our good. And now, we are only allowed, able, to pray to God for Melvyn's rest with Him. We were only ever able to stand alongside him; it was always between he and God. In the end it was only that question that mattered, and that we could never answer for him.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and may the perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo

No, my copy-and-paste function did not get stuck - the above title is in fact a grammatical English sentence, with the proper punctuation and capitalization. I'll give you a few minutes to work it out, while I go enter the numbers. If you'd rather, there's a training video you could watch - no? You'd prefer a cup of tea? Earl Grey? Hot? Or perhaps something almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea?

***
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***

As you may suspect from all of the above, I'm not in a terribly contemplative mood at present. Lotsa work, lotsa bills to pay. A good amount of the pressure is off, and I never thought I'd be happy to see a letter from the IRS...but I'm still recovering from an exhausting two/three weeks. (It's of no help, on the writing front, that I started a bit of writing that in very short order became much too long and broad in scope for a mere blog post.) I stopped by today to feed the blog, keep it happy and secure that it still has an owner who cares for it - just don't tell it I gave it junk food. It'll have something more substantial over the weekend.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Dear Reuters,

Yes, I know Christie. Yes, she is my friend. Yes, I have a personal relationship with her and even talk with her sometimes. I do not see her, no, but I have every faith that I will one day. At the beginning of July 2008, to be precise. We all know how often those dates prove to be wrong, yet I am convinced that Christie reads and understands every word that I write and will bring this to pass lest my faith be in vain.

I have yet, however, to celebrate the feast of Corpus Christie. Because Christie is my university classmate, and not my God. He would be, in the Latin and the context, Christi. Please, Reuters. I understand that you are not writing about Islam, thus accuracy in detail is not essential to life and limb...but still I beg you. Correct that photo caption.

Christ is making waves in Germany!

Corpus Christi procession in Seehausen, Germany. Hat tip to Amy Welborn for the photo!

So Philosophy, Astronomy, and Quantam Mechanics walk into a bar...

Me: [on phone to Elder Sister] "Oh, I found this book at the library called 'Is Pluto a Planet?' I may have left a slip of paper inside answering yes..."
E.S.: "Pluto isn't a planet."
Me: "Yes, it is. It's a planet."
E.S.: "It is a planet, and it isn't a planet."
Me: "It can't be both a planet and not a planet, [E.S.]."
E.S: "It's Schroedinger's planet!"
Me: "Schroedinger's planet...populated by cats?"
E.S.: "We don't know. Not until they're observed."
Me: [hastily changes subject]

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

And serious again.

Just - pray for Burma/Myanmar and Sichuan, China. Pray that their leaders remember that they are not the victims; they are not dying beneath rubble or for lack of food or clean water or shelter. Two disasters; one with maybe 100,000 dead and the other with as many as 20,000...two corrupt governments. Myanmar is evidently keeping the aid donated for its military and instead passing out rotted food, and China? I can't really expect much better. Their biggest concern is saving "face" ahead of the Olympics this summer - though maybe that will work in the victims' favor. They'll want to look good with all eyes trained on them. I lived in Yantai, China for five months...far north and east, on the Yellow Sea, but still. The people are not their government - but they don't...always...have the Western idea of compassion for the weak. I've seen how disabled people in China were discarded and treated as nonpersons, as a commonplace. (If you're in a wheelchair, well, hope you like your apartment!) That sort of callous attitude - it can't be isolated to one area. Or at least I don't see how it can. Pray for them. And send what help you can where you can.

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord have mercy, Christ hear us. Christ, graciously hear us!

Well...maybe just a break from serious blogging.

In aid of absolutely nothing at all, I offer the following vignettes from Today At The Beach. The following account is absolutely true in detail and essential chronological order...any judicious omissions and quiet rearrangements are of course my own.

Act 1, Scene 1: At the Beach. Sunrise. East Coast Extra is convinced I'm Sawyer from Lost. That's what I get for sitting in a folding chair - at the beach - reading. Saying Morning Prayer, really, but does that stop him? No. He keeps coming over and demanding to know where the guns are; then, when I tell him they're "back at the caves," he stalks off yelling for Kate. (At least he doesn't cry?) He's not being conducive to quiet recital of the Office, AND he's blocking my view of the ocean sunrise. Especially that hat of his. Move it, Panama Jack!

Act 2, Scene 1: At the Beach. Afternoon. E.C.E. and I are having a spirited discussion. Elder Sister is threatening to crush us like the clump of sand she's holding if we don't cease discussing. Classically, E.C.E is now trying the same thing - and the sand went right in my face. Absolutely typical of him.

Act 2, Scene 2: At a Restaurant. Late afternoon. E.C.E. is insistent that I bear in mind that after sand got under my eyelid and scratched my cornea, he not only lent me his sunglasses, but offered to buy a pirate patch from CVS and decorate it. Elder Sister and I finally flushed out the sand in the sink here, however, so the tearing is about done and the swelling should go down soon. Still, he's right: I shouldn't forget that part. (Oh, alright, he was not responsible for the sand that got in my eye.)

Act 3, Scene 1: At the Hotel. Evening. E.C.E is threatening a blogging war. We shall see!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Psalm 63

O God, you are my God, for you I long; for you my soul is thirsting.
My body pines for you like a dry, weary land without water.
So I gaze on you in the sanctuary to see your strength and your glory.

For your love is better than life, my lips will speak your praise.
So I will bless you all my life, in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul shall be filled as with a banquet, my mouth shall praise you with joy.

On my bed I remember you. On you I muse through the night
for you have been my help; in the shadow of your wings I rejoice.
My soul clings to you; your right hand holds me fast.


*****

Stepping away from it all for a few days - specifically, stepping away to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, courtesy of my older sister (one of 'em) and East Coast Extra. A week at the ocean, off a small island, ahead of the real start to tourist season...Mmm. :) Back next week!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Love me, love my flock

*stretch* Great morning along the sea of Galilee. The fishing's been good, I had a nice invigorating swim, and Jesus was on the beach cooking breakfast while we were out in the boats. Perfect weather. Nice day for relaxing and casual conversation. Oh - Andrew, Christ wants me to walk down the beach with Him. Be a good little brother and work on gutting these fish, alright? Thanks. Won't be long, He's always got somewhere to be these days. Just a quick chat...

******

“Simon, son of John, do you love Me [without reserve*, and] more than these?” Do you love Me as I love you? Do you love Me more than you love these others? I could not ask for that total love unless I first had it for you. Can you return it?

“Yes, Lord, You know that I love You [as best I can*].” I love You as a man does a friend. And I do love You more than these. But still not totally; still not as You love me. Before, I would have said yes. Before I fled. Before I denied knowing You. Before You turned and looked at me.

“Simon, son of John, do you love Me [without reserve]?” I know your weakness. I knew it from the beginning, and I knew it when I called you. Can you not give Me the love I give you?

“Yes, Lord, You know that I love You [as best I can].” I know my weakness too; my sin is ever before me. I can only say that I will try my best to love You. Once I swore to You rashly. I will not do that again.

“Simon, son of John, do you love Me [as best you can]?” I do love you without reserve, and so I will accept whatever you can give. But are you giving Me all you can?

“Lord, You know everything; You know that I love You [as best I can].” Have You now ceased to expect as much from me? Am I less in Your eyes? I can only give what I can give. I can only say that I will try. You know that. You will send Your Spirit, and then my love will be strengthened: later, I will speak of that as being the beginning. But I do not yet know any of that. I only know my poor human love and my weakness. I only know my desperate need for You.

“Amen, amen, I say to you,…when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Indeed, you will be strengthened, and you will yet love Me totally. You will lay down your life for Me, in the same manner as I did for you, and there is no greater love than that.

"........." Next time, I'll gut the fish!

“Follow Me.”

***********************************************************************
*(There are two different words at play here, in the Greek: 'agape', or unconditional, total love; and 'philia', the not-total love of friends. Christ asks for the one. Peter can only respond with the other.)

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Veils

By Denise Spencer:

They sit alone,
in silver silence gleaming
through the thin, white shroud
that covers them with gentle folds.
Within them wait the wafers and the wine,
a symbol lingering through the years
to make a memory come alive.

He lay alone,
in shadowed silence resting
‘neath the thick, pale wrap
that bound Him up, His body dead.
But then within, the man began to stir,
returning through the door of death
to prove the power of our God.

I stand alone,
in spellbound silence wondering
at the thin, dim veil
that keeps Him from my seeking eyes.
Beyond, with arms outstretched, He beckons me
to rise above this wordly wall
and let my soul commune with His.

-Denise Day Spencer
denisedayspencer.wordpress.com

Help Neven Pesa become a priest

A university classmate of mine, Neven Pesa, has been accepted to a seminary in Pennsylvania and plans to enter this fall. Of course...the same pre-theologate studies that have helped prepare him for this have also gifted him with an enormous tuition bill that must be paid in full. By September. His full story can be read here, and I ask you to please give it a look. As I said before, if you can't give money, prayers are free - and you know you'll have his!

He's also selling an album he (mostly) wrote and recorded, samples of which can be found off his page. (Click here for the direct link.) He's Eastern Catholic, and the songs reflect that - some contemporary; some traditional Byzantine; with Hebrew and Croatian tossed in.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Still better than being lukewarm.

"Ice deserves no credit for being cold, nor fire for being hot; it is only those that have the possibility of choice that can be praised for their acts."

-Bishop Fulton Sheen, Life of Christ

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

A Modest Proposal

“There are 200 million poor in the world who would gladly take the vow of poverty if they could eat, dress and have a home like I do.” - Bishop Fulton Sheen

Compassion isn't just aiding those in need. Compassion is, quite literally, suffering with them. Not that we should simulate having a cyclone destroy our home or neighborhood, that would be a bit problematic, but there are a few smaller things we can do: very, very small compared to what the people of Myanmar (and many other places) are going through, but not quite nothing either. Best thing is, you save money that you can then send on to them! ;)

Need to save money for gas? - Is there a bus that'll get you there just as well? Can you walk instead? (Feet were invented long before the wheel.)
That book/CD/movie you want to get? - Does the library have it? Are used copies available on Amazon or like sites?
Want to catch the latest blockbuster? - Wait a bit: you've already lived many happy, fulfilled years without seeing it. It'll be at Hollywood Video before you know it.
Must buy organic or national brands? - Well...it's not going to kill you to buy store brand. Or canned goods instead of fresh.
Need to buy new clothes? - I worked at a Goodwill for a while. Trust me, you'll find bargains - it just takes a few minutes' work. And people will never know.
Need to buy new shoes? - Here I'm with the movies. Convicts/wanted men are forever escaping because nobody bothers to look at their nice, new shoes. They're down there, you're up here. (Somebody who talks to your feet is probably in need of your help too.)
Gotta have your Starbucks? - Coffee is just a caffeine-delivery system. Buy Folgers in bulk and brew your own.
Named Margaret Catherine? - Take your own advice.

22,500 dead in Myanmar; up to 41,000 missing.

The total could reach 50,000 - and that's just the dead, not the injured and homeless.

YOU CAN HELP - so do. One way or another. Find an aid agency and donate. Maybe you can't send more than a few dollars - but send it. You don't know how many others are only sending that much, and what it will end up being together. If you can't do more than pray, do that. Say a Divine Mercy Chaplet or spend an hour before the Sacrament: give of your time, for those too desperate to do so themselves - those too frantic with searching for missing family or for food or a place to sleep at night. Or look to see where the destitute are around you - and what you can do for them. We are called to give of ourselves; and we are never without the means of giving. Or places to do it.

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Mysterious Disappearance of Paul of Tarsus

"Readers must not complain if the shadow which took his name does not amply fill the important part of hero for which he was originally cast." - Evelyn Waugh, Decline and Fall

In today's first reading, Acts 18:9-18, Paul might as well be named Paul Pennyfeather, the subject of the above quote; a man notable for his odd absence of self in a book in which he is the main character. (The book, by the way, is dry English satire at its devastating best. Tolle et lege!) Is there another passage concerning Paul, anywhere in Scripture, where he is so passive to the narrative - a "shadow that has flitted about [it]," indeed? Christ comes to Paul in a vision and tells him to stay in Corinth, to not be afraid; He is with Paul and none will attack him. This is the same Paul who not so long before got up from being stoned and went right back into the city that had just attempted to brutally murder him. The same Paul that, in one of his letters, gives a lengthy and blood-curdling list of all the persecutions he has been through. If he didn't group similar incidents together, most lectors would be needing a cup of water by the end. What in Corinth had him so frightened? Acts never says it out...Paul is only a shadow, given definition by the account of the vision. His following year and a half in Corinth is summed up in the words "he settled there for a year and a half and taught the word of God." Then he gets taken before the Roman tribunal by the Jews of Corinth - Paul, the master rhetorician and preacher; Paul who has Jesus' own gift of clever verbal escapes; Paul who is "about to reply" when the Roman official throws the case out of court. End of that story. Except for the part where the synagogue official he converted is promptly beaten - but oddly, not Paul. (Or not so odd, he being a Roman citizen and all that. Oops.) He stays on; says farewell; and sails away having not left any impression of himself that Luke troubles to relate. The end of the reading is the ever so bland recount of him having his hair cut "because he had taken a vow." And still...no Paul. Only the flitting shadow that barely corresponds to the man of letters, or even the man shown earlier in Acts.

Monday, April 28, 2008

From Gethsemane to Emmaus.

After putting up my "Gethsemane" entry below, I came across this post over at Digital Hairshirt. It's an interesting corollary...there must be something in the java around the Catholic blogosphere.

Something has passed from this world.

(Or, 'I feel so old.')

Teenager at library, calling to her teacher: "Miss Lawson, Miss Lawson! How do you use this?"

She's holding up a floppy disk.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Benedict and nonviolence

From Nate Wildermuth of Catholic Blues and Vox Nova: Bending My STiff Neck. A thoughtful and all-around excellent consideration of pacifism in the light of the Gospel. From near the bottom:

"My advocacy of nonviolence has consisted in saying, “no, no, no!” to America. But our Pope tells us that Christianity is not “no, no, no,” but is “yes, yes, yes!” All his words and actions reverberate within the great “yes” that is Christ our hope. Not one word of “no” passed through his lips over the past three days, even as he spoke of evil. Instead, he proposed solutions aimed at transforming our society into one of peace and justice - a world where men and women can finally embrace nonviolence, “a world where it is easier to be good.”

It is time for me to do the same."


(Hat tip to Against the Grain for the link. If anyone reading this can take me by the hand and gently explain how to do trackback links, or to let me know if I've crossed lines of blogging etiquette, I'd appreciate it!)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Mary and Gethsemane

(Note: As I say in the comments, this post came out of the need to bring all of myself, all of my past - even the ugliest parts - into the light of Christ Crucified. The first part is therefore highly personal; the second, from whence comes the title, is more general and no doubt of the greater interest.)

When I was seventeen, my mother had "the flu". She wasn't sleeping well, so I set my alarm to come in sometimes, see how she was. There'd been a bad scare two years before, and I hadn't forgotten. Around 4:00, I remember, I came in - for the third time, I think. Mom was awake; hurting, she said. And she'd been "waiting, yearning" - her words - for me to come.

I didn't even begin to understand. Hadn't I been in twice already? What could possibly be so urgent? I stayed a minute, then said something to her, I don't recall what, and went right back to bed: I'd check in again later. I never did. And there never was a later. By morning, she'd suffered a stroke and was confused. By afternoon, at the hospital, she'd slipped into a coma. A day later, she was dead of a heart attack - her third that day. I wasn't there when she died. I was hiding at the library; hiding from what I could not admit was the truth. My father was there alone.

I've never forgotten those last words to me.
I've never forgiven myself for not staying with her.
I've never stopped wishing for those hours to do again.

Nothing would have changed if I had stayed. She'd been ill for too long and now her body was simply shutting down. But still I would have been with her, I would have been some comfort to her. She knew what was coming; she was in pain; probably she was afraid. Instead, I got another two hours of sleep.

You know what parallel I'm drawing. We've all lived or witnessed our echoes of it. "Can you not watch one hour with Me?" Christ and His so-faithful Apostles who just could not stay awake; who were worse than useless to Him when He needed them most; who fled and, save for one, were not there when He died.

We've all lived our echoes of it; we all know the story. We could all, if you'll pardon me, recite it in our sleep. But how often do we recall that there was one who would have comforted Him? Who would have stayed awake with Him and not fled? Who would indeed rush to embrace Him - once all was accomplished?

When Jesus was in such agony and fear that He sweated blood, where was His Mother? It was Passover; she too would have been in Jerusalem; she was at the Cross the next day. So where was she that night? In the Garden, Christ must have yearned for Mary more than for any other human being. She would have been the comfort He craved, and He surely knew that and desired it. But precisely because of that, she could not be there. At Pentecost, yes; at the foot of the Cross, yes; in the Upper Room and at Gethsemane, no. She could not yet know of what was taking place - because she would go to her Son.

In 'Let God's Light Shine Forth', Pope Benedict describes hell as "authentic total loneliness and terror." At Gethsemane, that was what Christ experienced; that was His cup. "I looked, and there was none to comfort me." A Mother's total love was no part of the road to Calvary. Instead the denial of that love was; the added anguish of knowing there was one He could turn to but must not. Not even to let her know of what was at last beginning - and there was another sorrow, that He was denying her the chance to be there with Him.

Mary, "Mother of the Church and our Mother," is ever there to comfort us in our sorrows as she longed to do for her crucified Son. Our echoes are only and exactly those: they are no more the final word for us than Gethsemane and Calvary were for the Apostles and Mary, and they were taken up by Christ along with the rest of our sufferings and sins. There is the Resurrection; there is Pentecost; there is Heaven in which is the only final Word.

But he was in white clericals!!!

No, Peggy.

It doesn't matter how detailed the dream is. Or how internally cohesive it is. Or how many people who might actually be expected to be there show up.

The Pope does not stop by your house for coffee.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Catholics Come Home - but let me sleep!

From Tuesday through to Sunday, I got no more than five hours of sleep a night; I'm slowly creeping back up to a normal amount. It's been a heady week - so much happening with the Pope's visit, which for me is a wholly new experience; now it's time for sitting back; reviewing; absorbing; and living out. I'll be stepping away for a bit to do all of those - maybe I'll post again later this week; maybe next week. Check back as you like.

Until then - I cannot recommend this website enough: http://www.catholicscomehome.org/. Two of the commercials embedded at the bottom of the page were shown during the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, and they were absolutely phenomenal. Catholicism as the Church of the Good, the Beautiful, and above all the True - watch them.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Prayer to Mary

"Holy Mary, Mother of the Lord, you remained faithful when the disciples fled. Just as you believed the angels' incredible message - that you would become the Mother of the Most High, so too you believed at the hour of his greatest abasement. In this way, at the hour of the Cross, at the hour of the world's darkest night, you became the Mother of all believers, the Mother of the Church. We beg you to teach us to believe, and grant that our faith may bear fruit in courageous service and be the sign of a love ever ready to share suffering and to offer assistance."
-Benedict XVI

The Holy Father at Ground Zero

(Click on picture for larger image)

I'll spare you my try at the 1,000 words. But the article that that's from is well worth the read: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/nation/bal-te.pope21apr21001516,0,2527099.story

Papal-Visit Journal; Prologue

(Disclaimer: Nearly all of this journal was written as I went, and most of it was written with the writer in a state of exhaustion; despite this, I've edited it only a little. No doubt large parts of it are deathly boring. Some parts of it may be aggravating or worse – but they are my honest feelings. Hopefully, a few parts of it will be of interest.)

It's been such an insane week and month – but insane in the best Cause there is – that only now am I realizing I'm on my way to see the Pope. I've never seen him in America – and never seen this Pope at all. Only met him through his writings – and the man writing is so different from the man written about by our media, you'd scarce know they are the same man. God's Rottweiler, or God's Shepherd, tender of His flock? Read his books. Not the news articles. You'll not find a kinder, gentler teacher. The Gospels this past week have been from Christ's Good Shepherd discourse – Benedict fits that so beautifully. Not herding us; but quietly, humbly leading and asking us in love to follow along with him. Not the Good Shepherd, but a good Shepherd. Thank God for such a Pope. John Paul was the Pope for all my life – not only the Pope, but the papacy; now I see how personality is no part of the office of the Pope. Two such different men: both chosen, both true gifts to the Church. Benedict is like fine wine – to be savored; rolled over the tongue and lingered over; wasted if rushed or not given full attention. John Paul reached out and caught your attention – embodied the joy and vigor of Christian hope and drew the same response from you. Benedict waits for you to come to him and hear what he has to say in your own time. But when you do – such a reward.

At the Shrine - Part 1; Wednesday, 4/16

Not much to say (yeah, right, Peg.) It's perfect weather; truly it could not be better. We're finally, fully into spring; the weather is gorgeous; it's my birthday and the Pope's as well; and he is in DC. In three hours, he'll be here at the Shrine. By then, of course, I'll be a lobster – but hey, I'll stand out from the crowd. Maybe I'll catch his attention – or the attention of the first-aid volunteers in the tent across Harewood. Who can say? We've hardly been here in line fifteen minutes, and the "obligatory ambulance" has already come by (just try going into DC without hearing at least one ambulance. If you don't, I'll buy you dinner). I came down with the Missionaries of Charity – those in DC, Baltimore, Norristown PA, and probably places further away. Getting into the vans at the convent near CUA, they were like a flock of over-excited chickens – scurrying from one car to the other for passports and tickets; changing van drivers; or just because. Once finally gathered into the vans, they settled down to excited clucking, then to prayer as we drove over.

Juli and her friend Amy just showed up, so we're sitting over under the trees lining Harewood. Waiting. Chatting. Playing 'Name That Order' – we're not doing too well so far, unless we cheat and ask the sister or priest in question. The Latino order that nearly swept us into their conga line at the March for Life are down across Michigan: priests, nuns, and mariachi(?) band. Thus far, they're very fond of 'Ole, ole, ole'. WYD2002 bags live! - the man behind a clutch of mystery nuns has one. (They're Dominican by the scapular, but the tri-knot cord is Franciscan, isn't it? --- They turned out to be Benedictine.)

I dunno. For me – it would be great to see the Pope – the closer up, the better. --- And, after an extended break, we will be close - right at the railing; with a polite homeschooling family of 13 behind me rather than crazed Mexican fans shoving desperately. (Praise God!) Whether close or not, though – that's not the point. We're here to welcome the Pope, to show him honor; not just to see him. Leaving it at that level, it's merely selfish, making him a tourist attraction. He is the Vicar of Christ – that commands respect. That commands our standing, in the heat, for hours, to welcome him whether we see him or not. Whether he speaks or not. What is important is being here. When Christ spoke to the multitudes, how many of those 5,000 could hear a word He said? How many could even see Him? And yet they were fed. It's no different here. By honoring the Pope, we honor Christ – and the more we honor Him, by His own promise the more He will bless us.

“The one who has hope lives differently.” “This new goodness of God is no sugarplum.” Benedict can pack so much into a simple, even homey, phrase – despite what I just said above, I do regret that I will not hear him speak in person. There'll be videos and broadcasts and posted texts and I'll see all of those – but not in person. That first quote, on hope – I skipped over it when I read Spe Salvi, but seeing it by itself, I keep going back to it in my mind. When did I last act as if I had hope, true Christian hope that is also utter trust in God? When did I last show it for others, or give an account as Peter commanded us to do?

As to an account of what is going on in the here and now – at 3:50, the bishops arrived by the bus-limo load, under heavy police escort (Southeast must be empty?). And the cheers arose – although mine were tempered. I will never forget the look on a friend's face after she found out about her parish priest (in Boston diocese). And I've witnessed the power of such abuse, though not by a priest, to twist and destroy and perpetuate itself. I cheered the office, not necessarily the men holding it. One single cardinal was in evidence; he strolled by the fence, sans limo, from out of nowhere.

At 4:00, the Protestant tulips were spotted invading the barricade. Understand, dear reader, that all of the Basilica flower beds are in yellow and white. Except this one, right on the Holy Father's route – orange tulips. I suspect Dutch conspiracy with the Irish – sneaky Protestants!

Various signs: 'Tu Es Petrus'; 'Zum Geburtstag Viel Gluck' (Good luck on [your] birthday); lotsa Vatican flags; 'Focolare Welcomes the Pope'. Only one newscrew so far, and the cameraman was wearing a 'Benedict 16' sports jersey – EWTN? CUA-TV? Apparently there was one protestor. A man. Driving a van with a sign on it asking Benedict when “we” were going to ordain women. My question is – who is “we”? If you, good sir, have any role in ordaining anybody – by all means, go ahead. Don't wait for “us” - because “you” will be waiting a long, long time.

Police were checking trash cans earlier – I think I heard one of them muttering, “That's the most suspicious thing I've ever seen.”

And – we wait. Juli and I have stuck with the Missionaries thus far – but being out here with them, not working alongside them in their hospice, I'm feeling the division/difference between us more. We're with them – but not with them. It's as is to be expected, much more crowded now, but we're still in the second row, with only short (but fiesty!) Indian nuns between us and Il Papa. The homeschooling family behind me was practicing 'Frohe Geburtstag' (Happy Birthday; written out on the children's signs) for a while. Cutecute.

At the Shrine - Part 2; Wednesday 4/16

We're back, after a round of 'Spot the Secret Service Sniper'. Two on the “battlements” of Gibbons Hall; three in the colonnade of the Basilica dome. I want to go up in the dome. Why can't I go up in the dome?

Peggy quote of the day, in the course of spotting snipers where none in fact are: “I'm starting to see people everywhere!” Yeah, Peg. You're only in the middle of a crowd of THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE.

More signs: 'CUA Welcomes the Pope' (homemade banner on Gibbons Hall); 'WE LOVE YOU'; 'You Bring Us Hope'; ‘Srohe Geburtstag’ (close; a good try; but...) 'Happy Birthday Benedict!' It's someone else's birthday too. I just can't think whose... One of the Sisters has a yellow-and-white garland. (An Indian way of greeting a guest, roughly, for those of you who don't watch Lost.) She won't get close enough to him, nor he to her, but still. The cheers have started up in the past few minutes - “Gimme a B!” “B!” Etc. “When I say Holy, you say Father!” --- “When I say Happy, you say Birthday!” Those two went from one side of the barricade, by the Basilica, to the other side on the CUA lawn. We're about a half-hour out from the Pope coming, and the kids behind us are getting restless. Every now and then, one leaps up at a cheer, or whatnot, and exclaims that the Pope is coming. So far, nope. A young boy just came up, exclaimed “Hi Sisters!” and squirmed up to the railing. He's cute – 7 or 8, and very talkative. I guess he knows the Sisters from the Brookland house. A police copter has started circling overhead – definitely not long now.

Bee not afraid! Or, per Juli - “Bee 16!” (I think I just did something to my side.) Okay – it's gone. We cleared inspection. Though, there are plenty of steely-eyed Secret Service around – one is right across the barrier, facing us. For a reference point – we're on the side lawn of the Basilica facing CUA, fairly close to the front of the Shrine.

Well, I'll give them points for trying? This sign across the way: “[Women are] the Answer to the Priest Shortage” was held by four men. Me, I think thy just want the women to do all the work. How do they know they aren't part of the answer? Other signs migrated in front of them over the past few minutes – they've done a fair job of covering it, but it was simply a much higher sign. Eh well. Sorry, Your Holiness? There were plenty of catcalls and chants of “Hide that sign! Cover that sign!” from people close by us, but now that the bells announcing the Pope coming have begun to toll, we're all just waiting for that. Even the sign-holders, I daresay.

Note: As of now, I'm journaling after the fact – writing while standing in a crowd was rather logistically difficult. I'm pretty tired right now – but what a day! :)

Cutting finally to the chase – the Pope was heralded first by the Basilica bells, then by umpteen police cars and K-9 units and motorcycles. When he did pass by – it was so fast. Even given that he was in the Popemobile. He was smiling a little, turning from one side to the other to bless us. I like to think that he was looking at me when I shouted “Happy Birthday!” - then shouted it again, for lack of anything better to call out. He got out at the main side entrance, where a red carpet was laid, went up the steps and in. Evidently he turned back at the top to wave to the crowd across the parking lot; hence the loud cheer right at the last. And that was it. Soon there, too soon gone.

At the Shrine - Part 3; Wednesday, 4/16

After Pope Benedict went inside, more bishops and the missing cardinals went past and inside to some fanfare. We milled about a bit, then streetwards along with the rest of the crowd of thousands – all following a single narrow, predetermined route. It took a while – March-for-Life-long. I'd left my stuff in the MC van, so Jules and I tried to stick with them to find the van.

Along the way, we encountered the Protestants, who were, well, Protesting. Rule #1 of sign-making is that you do not put more on your sign than can be read in a second or two. Ten lines of text is a serious violation of this. That was one, forever uncomprehended, sign. Another challenged we lost Roman Catholics to prove where in the Bible penance is mentioned, or where it says that the Eucharist is Christ. For the first – I don't know. They could be right – where in either Testament does it ever, once, mention the idea of penance? **cough**DavidsackclothashesbaptismofJohn**cough** Hacks. For the second – I couldn't help it. I went straight up to the Protestor, looked him in the sunglasses, and shot back “Take; Eat. THIS – IS – MY - BODY.” (The Byzantine words of consecration – I think I'll be forever confused that way. I still cross myself with three fingers, and “backwards”.) To which his companion replied, in the spirit of true Christian charity and reaching out in love to the fallen, “You've lost your mind!” No. I know Scripture. I know something of its unspoken context. You, sir, do not. You don't even recognize how someone might just take Christ's words at face value. Don’t ever tell me that I am going to Hell for believing in the Eucharist. Just don’t.

Side note: a covenant meal, sealing that covenant, was at the least bread and wine. Why would Christ not leave it at that, unless He meant what He said about His Body and Blood? You can't take that figuratively and still make sense of it; it becomes pointless.

Second side note: After Pope Benedict said that he was “deeply ashamed” by the Scandal and swore to make an end of it, a SNAP spokesman dismissed his statement as “hollow words”. But to be Catholic is to know what power words can have. God gives them such power that they make us His children and clean of sin. They erase from account our later sins and impart to us His forgiveness. They turn bread and wine to His very Body and Blood. Not that what the Pope said rises to the level of a Sacrament. Hardly. But he is the Vicar of Christ, His representative to us – when he speaks he speaks for the Church; for Christ (ideally; I don't know how much Pope Alexander, say, lived this out). I wouldn't recommend ever calling the Pope's words “hollow”.

Anyhow...we tagged along behind the MCs, and lo! there was the van, with its license plate just as I'd scrawled it on my hand! Pulling away from us! Juli gave chase – I was hampered by my skirt – but to no avail. The driver of the second van called the first, and they came back 10 minutes or so later; we collected my things, bade the Sisters goodbye, and headed off to fight the Battle of the Metro Line - nearly lost because Peggy, seasoned veteran of the March for Life though she is, had forgotten to buy a fare card ahead of time.

From there, it was off to a joint birthday dinner (Juli's is the day before mine, or rather 364 days after mine) and discussion of the afternoon. Following the sage advice of Columbia magazine, we did as all good Catholics should and raised mugs of good German beer (Hefeweizen) to Benedict on his birthday. As we were leaving, a girl chased us down to ask where I'd gotten my papal tote bag – she was part of a group, down from Massachusetts, that had so far missed the Pope at every turn and had no Mass tickets. I told her the Shrine, then left with bag and papal-photo-pennant (tomorrow's Mass is in a ballpark, so...). In for a penny, in for a pound – I don't think pennants are in the Bible anywhere.

En Mass - Thursday, 4/17

Note: Between my writing and my posting of this, there's been a great deal of - ah - discussion of the liturgy and particularly the music at it. No criticism occurred to me at the time, and I'm not going to start here....quite honestly, I am not interested this time around. Not when I look at the bigger picture:




Juli and her housemate had Mass tickets where I had none, so I went to St. Stephen's in Foggy Bottom – a gorgeous church, I'll have to go back to it someday – where they were broadcasting the papal Mass. Around 10 people were there; it was just a small room off the parish hall. The news channel showed the Mass with no interruptions and minimal explanatory commentary by a priest; very welcome. I'm glad I didn't stay at Juli's to watch: Mass is never an individual event, even watched on TV. There were enough people there, too, that it didn't feel artificial to say the responses and sit/stand/kneel. It really felt like participation after a fashion – as well, since finding an actual Mass in DC that day was impossible. All the priests, that I could tell, were off concelebrating at Nationals Stadium. What, though, is the protocol for reverence to the Eucharist when it's on TV?

I came too late to see it, but someone there said that when Pope Benedict arrived, the Popemobile rounded home plate. I did come in time for the start of the Mass - Benedict processed up to the altar and gave the opening blessing, after which he sat down and Archbishop Wuerl welcomed him to DC – and was promptly interrupted by a mighty cheer which Benedict stood back up to acknowledge. It was awesome watching Wuerl deliver the welcome/introduction (which was oft-interrupted by applause) – he was just beaming ear-to-ear the whole time, absolutely joyous; a kid in a papal candy shop. He covered in brief the history of American Catholicism – just a handful of faithful on some East Coast island, for the first Mass in 1634. The Mass readings must have been selected specially – the first reading (in Spanish) was Pentecost; the second reading and Gospel likewise focused on the Holy Spirit. The first reading set the tone for the Mass, which incorporated the main languages (10, I think?) you might hear walking down a Washington street. Including Igbo, a major Nigerian language and my brother-in-law's first language – I liked. :) Also appreciated because the Church is very strong in Africa – it deserves acknowledgment. The music was a similar blend of languages and styles.

In his sermon, Benedict focused on the shape the Church has taken in America; it's highs and lows. The Catholic hospitals and schools; the generous nature of Americans in time of crisis here and abroad; specific mentions were made of Katrina and the tsunami. But also – the treatment of American Indians and of blacks. (Even St. Matthew's Cathedral in DC only permitted black Catholics, in the mid-1800s, to use the basement. Not the actual church.) And also the Scandal; the trust that was broken.

The Creed was in the form of the baptismal/Easter questions, not something new to me by now – but it was the Pope asking us. And we answered him Yes – here, and in the stadium proper. The gifts were brought up by three groups: first laity; then religious, including the MC regional superior; she and the Pope spoke for a few moments; then by mentally and physically disabled. A man with Down's Syndrome; a woman in a wheelchair, others. Some of the same, including the MC superior, were in the papal communion line.

The Communion hymn was Panis Angelicus, sung by Placido Domingo - a truly transcendent moment. Not only the singing, but also the way Benedict went to meet Domingo afterwards and clasp his hand, not the reverse...the joy on Benedict's face. Again - such utter simplicity and appreciation of the beautiful; such capacity for joy. After Mass, the Pope blessed the tabernacle and cornerstone for John Paul the Great HS in Arlington VA. Can we get the Bishop of Arlington here? Please? I promise we'll only borrow him, Juli! Following that blessing, His Holiness processed into the dugout.

For the remainder of the day, I wandered the Shrine area and the Franciscan monastery, soaking in the atmosphere that Catholics en masse create, then went to my sister's in the evening to wish my nephew a happy 3rd birthday. I had bought a picture of Benedict, embracing four children together, at the Shrine; when I showed it to my nieces, the four-year-old burst into delighted chortles, hands over her mouth; and the five-year-old grabbed the picture and ran to go show her daddy. I'd have left it with them, but it would have vanished within the day. I gave my sister's mother-in-law her choice of three Benedict pictures; she chose one and started saying over and over “I love Pope, I love the Pope. Thank you. Thank you.” She's not even Catholic, nor...mmm...attuned to Catholicism. I would have thought. Showing me, again, how little I know of her world.

Our Shepherd

“I am the Good Shepherd. I know my sheep, and my sheep know me.” “Peter, son of John, do you love me more than these?...Feed my lambs...Tend my sheep...Feed my sheep.” There's more to it than feeding and guiding/leading. There's also what the shepherd must do for the sheep that are attacked by a wolf. What good is a shepherd who abandons the wounded sheep? Or who ignores the wound; pretends it is not there; lets it fester and stink and in the end kill the sheep? We, the American Church, had such a wound. And it was ignored, and it did stink, and it was permitted to go on and become worse. (Please understand, I do not condemn across the board. And I do think that “good intentions” played a role. How large, though...I don't know. I just don't.) That sort of abuse does perpetuate itself beyond the first victim. I won't here go into the case I have in mind, but it does.

Benedict is not one to ignore the wound. He's faced it three times in DC alone: to the bishops, to the 46,000 in the stadium and all those watching on TV; to the group of victims he met with privately and with absolutely no advance fanfare. It is a deep shame; it is a betrayal that he has said he cannot comprehend; it is indeed scandal; but he will not hide from it and he does intend, in the name of Christ, to bring what healing he can. More, he knows what the wolf is that he must guard against – what good is it for us to try to protect our children from exploitation, if we bring them home safe and then flip on the R-movie of the week? As Shepherd, of the entire Church or just of a diocese or a single church, the job is to guard the flock – not just run around chasing after each and every wounded sheep. Once again - praise God for such a gentle – but strong – and holy Pope. Praise Him for the gift of his visit to our country – and praise Him for his courage in tending to the injuries inflicted by our priests and reminding our bishops in no uncertain terms of their own obligations.

(This is one area where I cannot understand John Paul. He was a great and holy man and deserves the title 'Magnus' – yet in this, he never did much. Not that we in America could see – and we needed to see, we needed to know that our Shepherd was attentive and would care for us in this as in all else.)

Lest I seem too much to ignore this – he came to renew we laypeople in our faith, in our obligations, as well. I don't mean to pin the problems in our parishes entirely on the priests, nor does he. Laity are failing badly as well. We too can do so very much better. “I believe and profess that you are truly Christ, the son of the living God, Who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first.” A Byzantine pre-Communion prayer that we could all stand to know, or at least remember the essence of. Renewal starts with ourselves first of all – than outward from us. Specks and beams.

Reflection on the visit - Thursday, 4/17

“Not to us, not to us, but to Your Name give glory.” Not to us, and not even to Benedict – but to You through him, Lord. As I write, a group with drums and tambourines is passing by outside, singing at top volume. The Poor Clares that live here and keep this Adoration chapel are likely more used to drive-by rap music than Spanish praise-and-worship – makes a nice change for them. It's prolly another Neo-Catechumenate group – you can't turn around for bumping into them today. (How they manage to stay so utterly off the radar the rest of the time, I truly do not know.)

It's what I wrote before – by honoring the Pope, we honor Christ. And yet – we are proud. As an Archdiocese (I'm still there in spirit), we've not had a papal visit in 30 years – and to have Benedict, not a traveler, choose to visit over his birthday – we are PROUD. (Fine, let NYC have him for the anniversary of his election – we have him for his birthday!) It's the same spirit of community you see at the March for Life, or World Youth Day, any time you get a massive crowd of Catholics together: we are not alone; we are united; no matter how bleak things seem, we still have Christ and Christian joy and hope. Hope – that is the theme of Benedict's visit, and it something so terribly lacking today. Even in many Christians. We don't know what it is; we don't encounter it in others; so we never miss it and we take pale imitations for the real thing. “The one who has hope lives differently” - but how many of us do? "Philip, have I been with you all this time and you still do not know Me?"

It takes a Benedict to unsettle our “getting-by”; it takes a Benedict to speak words of healing and pledge to remedy actions that have so wounded our Church here in America. Yes, that; but also the sorry state of Catholic education, particularly higher education. Eight years later, I'm still appalled at reading a news article on what Loyola University in Chicago considered appropriate for its orientation program – emphasis on the 'orientation'. In just a few hours, the Pope will be speaking to the heads of Catholic colleges and universities. We Catholics are meant to have hope – and so I hope that this sorry era in Catholic education will begin finally to come to a close. Benedict does not waste words. He does not say what he does not mean or intend to see happen. So – I hope.

At the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast - Friday, 4/18

For me, my 'involvement' with the Pope in DC ended with the televised Mass yesterday. Not that my crazy week was finished. The Missionaries of Charity had been given tickets to the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in DC. They couldn't go, according to their Rule about only eating in their own community, so they handed the tickets over to the volunteers, including Juli and I. It was a wonderful cap to the Papal visit – it truly was. Benedict was the official theme of the breakfast, and the only topic of table conversation and of the talks; the program in fact ended with the broadcast of his speech to the UN.

President Bush was, as he was every year apparently, the “special political speaker”. (Given that he was there, along with the Chief Justice and the Republican nominee, security seemed to me to be unbelievably light. No ID check, just blind trust that you are in fact the person named on the ticket you're claiming; one metal detector; and a cursory sweep with a handheld?) His best line was joking about how he'd be brief, since we were all waiting for another speech; “it's not every day that you get to be a warm-up act to the Pope.” It was awesome to see the President and hear his speech. To be sure, I have significant differences with him – but he is a man of sincere faith, and of deep respect for the Pope.

He's also a president in his last year of office and interested in handing on the presidency within his party – McCain was at the breakfast as well. (Along with Brownback; Roberts; Fr. Scalia, son of that Scalia and also Juli's pastor; another Scalia...) So, to that extent, it was a play for the Catholic vote on McCain's behalf – but still well worth the hearing. I took no notes on it, wanting just to listen; for the curious, the text can be found here: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2008/04/print/20080418-1.html. The curious include me – my memory of specifics of the speech fell victim to my general state of happy exhaustion.

There were protestors outside claiming that this was not a Catholic event; it was a Republican event. Austin Ruse, the MC, mentioned it jokingly and added that there were Democrats there as well. All well and good, till he in the course of introductions got to McCain – and oh, the cheers and standing ovation! I leaned over and muttered to Juli; Ruse echoed me a moment later, “I just got done saying this wasn't a Republican event!”

He was right in part, that it wasn't a Catholic event. Not purely. The opening prayer/invocation was given by an Orthodox archpriest (I don't know what that corresponds to for us? Monsignor...?), and later there was a prayer/meditation given by a rabbi. It was fascinating to hear his perspective on Christians – from what he said, to his mind we are linked in some way to their covenant. Which of course we are – but that's a natural Christian interpretation (as far as I'm concerned, it's natural); not Jewish. I'd like to know more about his basis for saying that.

Side note: In Judaism, Jewish blood comes from the mother, as I recall? Yet the actual physical sign of their covenant can only apply to males – so how do those two correspond?

Joseph Kassab, an Iraqi Catholic involved with aiding the refugees from there, offered a prayer for the Church in Iraq, ending with the Our Father and Hail Mary in Aramaic – where one ended and the other began, I could not tell you. He broke down at one point in the Aramaic prayers, taking a few seconds to go on.

After the conclusion of the breakfast half of the program, there was a break for milling around, rubbing elbows, and stopping by exhibit tables. Juli and I ran into Fr. Terry, the Franciscan U. president, and asked him about the educators' meeting; seems that ahead of the Pope's arrival, there were huddles of some academics wondering if the Pope was about to somehow punish them. He didn't – but he did lay down the law on what academic freedom was and wasn't: you cannot have freedom without truth. I've yet to read the text, but can't wait. A man from Belmont Abbey College was saying that they needed to put the entire speech on their website – it was that good.

Then it was back for a final pre-papal speaker; Michael Novak on 'Relativism and Reason'. His opening point was that right after 9-11, just try walking up to a New Yorker and saying “Well, you only think that it was evil. That's just your truth.” Just his truth; just your jaw. Moral relativism had no place – good and evil stood out far too starkly. In it's end effect – a later point – relativism is an undermining of civilization itself: you cannot have civilization without discussion of differences/an exchange of ideas; and you cannot have that discussion if all ideas are held to be of equal validity. As we've seen increasingly often, it rapidly becomes intolerance – good and evil are dangerous ideas and those expressing them must be punished. Another point: Freedom is integral to Christianity and to friendship with God; else, we're merely slaves. Again and again in Scripture, it's shown that the axis of history is the human mind/will – our freedom to say yes or no to God. There was more...but. Enough regurgitation.

Papal address to the UN

And on to the above-mentioned culmination...the papal speech to the UN. It began in deathly boring fashion, as first the President of the UN spoke. And behold, it was long, and political, and windy, but the Lord was not in the wind. At last he announced, “I now give the floor to...the Secretary-General.” Alas, there was no fire. Not in that speech. But there was an earthquake – along the New Madrid fault, to be exact; only 5.2 but uncomfortably close to my father. For now, lest you be bored as we were, I cut away to an exchange of notes between Juli and I:

Juli: “CNN has it right: 'Awaiting Pope's Address to the UN'.” (A text bar that did not change even to identify either the president or the Sec-Gen as they were speechmaking.)
Juli: “And why CNN? Why not FoxNews?”
Me: “We aren't a Republican event!”
Juli: “But the Communist News Network?”
Me: “...”
Me: (Once Pope is speaking) “Why French?”
Juli: “It's the official language of the UN.”
Me: “Brie not afraid?”

[We both listen a while]

Juli: “His words are not 'exciting' as one might expect. They seem to be more like an earthquake in the middle of an ocean that eventually causes a tsunami. Not just today, but in general.”
Me: “God's time, not ours. However much we might wish it otherwise. It took thousands of years and hundreds of prophets to prepare for Christ the first time around.”

We did settle down and turn serious, as you read, once the Pope, being a small, still voice, was finally given the floor. He wasn't easy to follow at first – he spoke in French with a simultaneous translator, and the translator's choice of words – I dunno. It wouldn't have been Benedict's selection...or maybe it was just that the voice was wrong, or simply that I was tired and already saturated from the previous speakers. In any case, my mind kept wandering. One line that did jump out at me went something like 'Every person is the central point of God's design for history and man.' During his speech, they kept cutting away to the Zambian ambassador, two or three times at least. Why him, I haven't the faintest idea. They showed China at one point – my imagination is telling me that he looked extremely bored, but I'm certain he was listening – and not liking; the Pope spoke almost exclusively on human rights and religious freedom. He did switch to English halfway through – it seemed to me that his speech became less abstract and more concrete, more specifically Christian, after that.