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: 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:,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: 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.

Ubi Petrus, ibi Ecclesia

At the prayer breakfast this morning, Arch(?)bishop Finn summed up in a single phrase what I with my many words have been circling around and trying to find a way to express: “In this extraordinary week, we have been in the heart of the Church. Ubi Petrus, ibi Ecclesia – where Peter is, there is the Church.” For these few days, Rome was not the center. Washington DC was. The coming-home that I associate with St. Peter's, I experienced here. And I don't want it to end. Not that it does – more than any earthly place or person, the Eucharist is the center of the Church – but there are other sensible graces that come with the Holy Father. There's a real sense of the presence of the Spirit. We've had our Shepherd with us, and he has truly tended his flock. As before – soon come; too soon gone.

Christ our Hope – Christ our Truth. Freedom is not freedom when it ignores truth; when it ignores reason and rules. That was such a huge part of Benedict's message, as it has ever been – at the Mass; to Catholic educators; again at the UN. I'm not going to delve further into what he said; I am as I said exhausted and besides I don't have transcripts with me. But that point loomed large: relativism is not freedom; relativism is only a stifling of dignity and hope. There's no freedom in freedom of worship if faith is kept of out public life; is expected to be left at the church door in the name of “tolerance”.

And yet again – thank You, Lord, for such a Pope. Thank you for such an example of Christian dignity and kindness. Thank you for showing us, through Benedict, what it is to be strong in faith and in You. Grant, Lord, that we may answer with the renewal he calls us to; that we may work to end evil and find ways to bring good out of it.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A few pictures

At the Shrine on Wednesday:

At the prayer breakfast on Friday:


Well, I'd meant to inaugurate this by posting my journal from/musings on Benedict's visit to DC, especially since it was the inspiration for this blog. Unfortunately, those files are saved in a format that won't open on this computer. So. My audience of immediate family, and possibly of bored websurfers, shall have to wait a day or two longer to read it.

Elaboration on the purpose of this blog, and the person behind it: In brief, I'm a graduate of Franciscan University with a theology degree that has done nothing but gather dust. Recently (since Easter), I've begun picking up the books I've let sit on the shelf for the past four years; and in particular I've begun to study the writings of our Holy Father: to see him for who he truly is and not as a media caricature. Many of my posts will be just me feeling my way in the Christian life; simple reflections on what I find in Benedict's writings and other spiritual classics - to be sure, they'll nothing compared to the originals, but still they are my method of making the writings "mine". And perhaps, now and again, they'll be of some slight interest in themselves. All posts will be open for comment and conversation - but this is not a place for argument, if only because I am the worst person for that that I have ever known. So - read. Enjoy- or not. Let me know what you think....when I have a substantive post up.