Flying the Flag

I have never actually counted, but I bet I have sent more email to the White House in the past five months than the total of any form of communication to anyone in politics in my entire life.  And, this is coming from someone who was a card-carrying Democrat, and knocked on doors for the likes of Jimmy Carter, Mo Udall and Hubert Humphrey.

It is nice (and I pat myself on the back) that I am, once-again, interested in how this country is governed.

In the last few days, there have been a flood of videos on the recent overseas trip of the President and First Lady.  (A far cry from the “news” coverage of 40 years ago.)  What has really surprised me was how well they represented the United States.  A real class act.

I really don’t want the form of media (print vice video) to become the story; but maybe it is because we can see for ourselves, and are not subject to somebody else’s interpretation – word choice, column-inches – that we are getting a much better picture (sorry for the pun).

In days past, if the Grand Poobah wanted to show a modicum of respect for Our Dear Friend in the Middle East, he/they might actually visit instead of thumbing their nose.  The President and Mrs Trump not only visited the Wailing Wall, they showed immense respect for  Israel, and also for the Jewish religion.  Gold stars.

Visiting Italy, their visit with the Pope was a model for others to follow (especially the former occupants of the White House).  Kudos.

And surprise, surprise – something that somehow never came up during the Mother of all Campaigns last year – the First Lady is a practicing Roman Catholic!  Even had a Rosary handy for the pope to bless.

Politico.com carried an AP photo showing Ivanka Trump at Sant Egidio – I’ll bet no one in the Obama White House knows, even now, where that is (I met Pope Benedict XVI there).  Ivanka’s meeting is all the more significant knowing she and Jared are practicing Jews.  Put another way, religion is a good thing in the Trump White House, while Clinton never had anything good to say about any religion (other than Islam, of course).

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Honestly, when Barak Obama was elected, I thought: finally, a president who is not a middle-aged, white male.  He was nothing but a disappointment.  Eight years of wondering why he didn’t focus on the really important stuff.  I feel like he hijacked the White House.  And, what did Michelle do in those eight years?  I don’t remember a single thing.

The Trumps, on the other hand, will make it so easy to forget their predecessors.  If, their predecessors can resist “coincidental” visits (both groups in Italy at the same time?  really?).  I will spare any comments at how refined Mrs Trump looked, especially when compared with Mrs Obama, last week.

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I will grant you that I am not tickled pink with everything Mr Trump is doing.  Yes, deportations are significantly up when compared to the past.  Which means that more bad guys are being discovered and deported; but it also means that more people who are honest, hard-working, tax-paying residents are also being deported.  This is nothing if not a waste of valuable resources.  Timothy McVey was a citizen – too bad we could not have deported him to someplace like North Korea.  Yes, Mr President: continue to use ICE to deport the bad guys; but leave the other-wise innocent alone.

A wall between us and Mexico?  Really?  How about we give those folks every reason to stay home by not buying the drugs that finance their own bad guys?

Encourage your wealthy buddies to find other sources for their megabucks than raping the environment.  Yes, West Virginia is one of those “fly-over” states; but maybe you should see what King Coal has done to the people there.  Ask Elon Musk for advice; he seems to be thinking past today, and making money.

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Gil Student, “Ivanka, Jared, and the Jewish Sabbath,” First Things, 5-24-17

Confused

Believing that there are no coincidences, I have to believe that Jorge Mario Bergoglio, as pope, is part of GOD’s Plan.  But, accepting that is like I am on a bridge to nowhere: my belief, my understanding just ends.  Nevertheless, there absolutely must be a reason.

All I can come up with (so far) is that I, at the very least, was too comfortable with the leadership of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope St JohnPaul II.  Altho Pope JohnPaul II did not become a part of my daily life (daily consciousness) until after his death (to my great loss), his prolific writing (both by him and about him) has allowed me some measure of contact.  I was very aware of Pope Benedict XVI – even to the point of being able to literally reach out and touch his sleeve (and yes, I do have the photo to prove it); and again, his prolific writing has allowed me to continue the relationship.  Altho I am not hardly in the same intellectual category as JohnPaul and Benedict, at least I do feel I am on the same page.  I’m sure I don’t understand even half of their work, but their writings feel like home – this is where I want to be now, and this is what I want to grow into.

But with Pope Francis, all I am is confused.

I do enjoy Pope Francis’ “the pastor must smell like his sheep”; but, I know I do not smell at all like him.  I think most Catholics need to hear, “love the sinner, hate the sin”; instead we got that infamous, “Who am I to judge?”  I don’t know where he thinks we are, but one place we pew sitters are not is in a barque with a rudder.

“Decentralized”?  Fragmented is what we have.  I read about positions of bishops here in the USA, and I thank GOD that my archbishop seems not to have drunk very much of the “spirit of Vatican II” kool-aid.  If I was in Germany, I think I would probably stop going to Mass entirely.

“Pastoral”?  What is pastoral about “the tenderness of Jesus,” when He says, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life within you.” (John 6:26).  To continue, “Many of His disciples who were listening said, ‘This saying is hard; who can accept it? … As a result of this, many [of] His disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied Him.” (John 6:60-66)  What should a “more pastoral” Jesus have said?  “No, I didn’t mean that, not really.  Come back.”  Exactly who had the ‘closed hearts, the hearts of stone, the hearts which do not want to be open, do not want to hear’?

I have written in these pages about opportunity.  Maybe the whole point of Francis is to give me the opportunity to test what I took for granted with JohnPaul and Benedict?  Maybe.  And for me, maybe a good thing.  But, I think of the thousands (millions) who look to the Bishop of Rome for help in navigating daily life.  They are, quite simply, adrift without a firm hand.

Yes, there are those that would point out that the “firm hand” of Rome has been entirely too firm throughout history.  And that it must loosen its grip, if not release us altogether.  And, if that happened what would make us Catholic?  Frankly, I don’t want to be like everyone else.  Would I have to stop believing in the Real Presence, just so Protestant heretics would feel more comfortable?  It seems Pope Francis is headed in that direction.  He certainly has no problem with various bishops in the US and Europe throwing open their arms and cathedral doors to those in direct violation of Canon Law.  (No, Canon Laws 912 and 915 do not “leap” to mind; but those are the ones that I am thinking of.)

I don’t think those that crucified Jesus saw Him as a good ol’ boy.  Neither was He their idea of a messiah.  Rather, I think they viewed Him as a threat to their political position.  Jesus was the most counter-cultural person ever.  He never tried to “fit in”; and He was far more pastoral than anyone living in the marble that is Vatican City.  (Not to put too fine a point on it, Jesus no doubt smelled more like His sheep than the current pope – not that anyone probably noticed.  If you’ve spent any time in the Middle East, you know what I’m saying.)

To borrow from Jeff Mirus, “it is the hallmark of our seriously confused yet politically correct culture that all those under its influence must close their hearts again the message of Christ.”  To which Pope Benedict added, “the Church will become small.”

Whatever the future holds for us, it won’t be business as usual.

 

Dr Jeff Mirus, in “Abyssus Abyssum Invocat” was the springboard for my essay

See Dr Edward Peters, “Denial of the Eucharist to pro-abortion Catholic politicians: a canonical case study,” http://www.canonlaw.info/a_denialofeucharist.htm

Joseph Ratzinger, “Faith and the Future,” Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2009.

A Tyranny of Choice

In his most recent column, Sam Guzman talks about this age of choice. One of his topic headings is “The Religion of Choice.”  My instant gut-reaction was, “it’s more like the tyranny of choice” (with apologies to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and his “Tyranny of Relativism” – which may not be all that different, come to think of it).

Now, I am just ornery enough to look at society in this day and age and immediately dismiss it.  Basically, if “everyone” wants it, I don’t.  Yeah, sounds an awful lot like our two-year olds.  But, I see so much crap these days that it seems like an automatic response to just turn around and walk away.

While we don’t watch commercial tv at home, my job requires that I am aware of the latest breaking news world-wide.  Consequently, I see more tv at work than I can stand.  And, since I work at night, it is “late night tv” – the very worst of a genre.  If anything is worse than most of what is on the internet, it is late night tv – was life so terrible 40 years ago when the few tv stations “signed off” at night?  But, I digress.

I am reminded of a book I read in high school: “From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor,” by Jerry della Femina.  I see our consumer society divided into parts like: (1) those who create new products, (2) those that market new products, and (3) those that buy new products.  Whatever the merits of that system, my point is that anyone of the three groups does have a choice.  Put another way, just because you see it on late night tv and you can get two of ‘em for $19.95 (operators are standing by), it doesn’t mean you are being forced to buy it.

But, for some reason, we apparently feel we don’t have a choice (thus, the “tyranny”).  I see religion as a matter of choice (don’t throw stones just yet); not choice as a matter of religion.  So, I depart from Sam in characterizing choice as a religion.  I realize he is making the case that true, honest-to-GOD religion (i.e., belief in GOD) has been largely replaced by a “smorgasbord, a veritably unlimited menu of options.”  However, while it does seem that most of the people I know are making largely unconscious decisions in the “vast mall of choices,” I certainly do not.

Yeah, I am prone to agonizing – spending lots of time – over decisions.  I have been thinking about buying a new computer.  But, while I have reviewed a few (most recently a comparison between a Windows-based laptop and an Apple Mac), I just can’t force myself to spend the money to buy what would be essentially a toy.  The fact is, I don’t actually need a new computer.  So, the first hurdle is “want” versus “need.”

The second hurdle for me is “Where was it made?”  I frankly don’t care where the executives of a particular company live; what I do care about is where the workers live.  Although my parents are “white-collar,” their parents were not.  So, my wife and I drive two Toyotas – both “made” (i.e., assembled) right here in the Good Ol’ U.S. of A.  That said, I don’t believe a single computer is assembled here, and certainly none of the parts are made here.  (Yes, I do own a cell phone, but that comes under the “need” category.)  When it comes to clothing, if it is made in China, I walk away.  Needing (yes, needing) a battery-powered drill (screwdriver), I recently bought a pair from DeWalt; even though they were considerably more expensive than the variously colored competition on the shelf/on-line.  Last year, I bought a toolbox for my pickup truck; I went with “Weathergard.”  Again, because of where they were made.  Conscious, deliberate decisions.

And now that I have two Munchkins under foot, I ask myself what I will be leaving them.  Do I want to buy cheap now, knowing it won’t last; or do I want to bequeath something of value?  In the world of values, what do I want to teach them (and, GOD willing, what will they learn)?  Do I want to impress upon them the attitude of, whatever it is, it can be easily discarded and replaced?  In fact, I do see value in commitment, in staying the course, loyalty (the hardest concepts for me to learn).

Sadly, I was seduced years ago by the view that it was better for the kids to divorce than it was for warring parents to try to raise them.  Knowing what I know now, my first marriage would likely have ended in divorce eventually; but at the time, I had not looked very closely at my options – I simply did not perform the “due diligence” I now feel I should have.  Part of that process (which should have included reading Venerable Archbishop Sheen’s “Three to Get Married”) should have entertained the possibility that divorce would forever rupture my relationship with my daughter (other than cashing the checks I send her for her birthday and Christmas, she will have nothing to do with me).

While the parallels between being a consumer of stuff and a consumer of relationships (more specifically, marriage) seem very close, they are galaxies apart.  It really doesn’t matter if I buy a screwdriver that won’t and I reduce it to a pry-bar or chisel (shudder); but it really does matter if I do everything I can (and more) to stay married.  It matters to my wife, it matters to our kids and it matters most of all to GOD.  And, I guess, ultimately, it matters to me: my salvation absolutely depends on my relationship to GOD.

Stay the course.  Run the race.  Keep the faith.

Oh, the above comment, “I see religion as a matter of choice,” I meant just as a literary device.  To be perfectly honest (and clear), I am convinced that Faith is a gift we are given – it’s not something we make an intellectual decision about.

“A Vow of Stability: A Call to Commitment in an Age of Choice,” Sam Guzman on “The Catholic Gentleman”

Club, or Church?

You might recall from my last posting that I was recently introduced to a local “mega-church.”  (Well, more to the parking lot of one.)

As we approached the mega-church building, because my wife had discovered an inside play area for toddlers, I wondered where the church was.  We parked, got the Twins out of the car, into their double-wide and walked through the front door.  At least, I guessed it was the front door because it reminded me of the front door of many hotels I have stayed in.

Immediately inside the door, I was confronted by a very long (half-a-football field?) hallway that was fully three stories to the ceiling (if not four).  Now, I’m feeling like I’m in a mall.

Still, the nagging question: where’s the church?  Or, more specifically, the sanctuary?

We walked past a bank of stations – computer monitors and keyboards.  We walked past a coffee bar.  We got to the play area.  Still, no clue at all where the sanctuary, if any, might be.

The Twins got bored in about an hour, so I tried to buy some time by letting them run the hallway.  Of course, that wasn’t interesting, and they quickly found a side hallway.  This apparently had classrooms lining both sides.  That too, was boring, so we packed up and left.  (I shared my parking lot experience in the previous post.)  We got home and un-packed ….

I never figured out where the sanctuary was, but now I didn’t care.  What I was hung up on was why.  Why was that church so much different from what I am used to?

Gradually, over the course of the day, it occurred to me:

The Catholic religion is all about worship.  We go to Mass (or, “Sunday service,” if you prefer) to worship.  At least most still do.  A growing number go for another reason; the same reason I suspect that there are such things as “mega-churches”: the social aspect.  There are bars and coffee shops and mega-churches.

I have “observed” (complained, more like it) in these pages about the pew-sitters who treat the sanctuary like a bus station (which is not a nice thing to say about bus stations).  I suppose, if I sat in the front pew, I wouldn’t notice those that think it their mission to regale everyone within ear shot with their opinion of some sports event, or restaurant experience; or those that come in late and leave early.

I’ve always felt that church sanctuaries (any denomination) were places that were supposed to be different from the “outside” world.  More like a library than a sports stadium.  One of the things I have loved about being a tourist during business trips around the world is walking into an empty church that was also quiet; that not only allowed, but encouraged prayer and meditation.  No hustle, no bustle.  If nothing else, a retreat, however momentary.  Sanctuaries that looked like a church and not a movie theater.

And, having been an altar boy in the world before Vatican 2, I prefer a Mass where everyone was quiet, if not reverent.  Where, if you needed a place to collect your thoughts, you could walk in and sit down and find some peace – either just before or just after Mass, or, indeed almost any time during the week.

That seems to be pure fiction these days.  Imagine, changing your behavior to fit the circumstances!  You know: “use your inside voice.”

The parish I belong to now, and the one immediately prior both sported buildings that are fairly modern.  In fact, the church I grew up in was cut from the same cloth.  (Full disclosure: two parishes ago, I lived in Rome – ‘nuf said.)

It’s funny how much I hate to rely on “Christian” to describe who I am, because there are so many flavors of “Christian,” that if I didn’t know better, I’d say the term described precisely nothing.  The same seems to be true of buildings where people meet: some are called churches, but how they differ from a mall, or a movie theater, I don’t know.

There are a lot of hymns that I got introduced to and learned to love while I was attending a Disciples of Christ Church, years ago.  Quite a few of those I prefer to most of the so-called “Catholic hymns” that have been inflicted on us.  One of those “Protestant” hymns that I know only vaguely is “(Give me that) old time religion.”  Somehow, I don’t think the meaning is intended to be “pre-Luther/Calvin”; though I am thankful that my religion places its emphasis on GOD and not man.

Little white car with New York plates

My wife had discovered that members or not, we were welcome to use the child play area at one of the nearby mega-churches.  It’s important to note that it is a so-called mega-church because the size of the parking lot would rival Wally World (yes, from National Lampoon’s Summer Vacation).  And, on a Tuesday morning, there is nary a car to be found amongst the what?, thousand, parking places.

After an hour or so, romping around, it was time to go home.

Keeping in mind that nearly-two-year-olds require their own, individual car seats installed in the backseat of our family-economy size SUV, I was able to open the back door on the passenger side all the way in order to deadlift Twin #1/#2 out of the stroller and into her (his?) seat.  Strapped in, door closed.

However, it was without just a little consternation, as I pushed the double-wide stroller around to the driver’s side of the SUV, that I found a little white car had nearly parked me in.

While I certainly could not get the stroller near the door, by being very gentle, I could open the left-side back door, well, “into” the little white car’s side and squeeze Twin #2 into his (her?) seat.  Strapped in, door closed.  Stroller into back of SUV.

My turn.  Fat chance.

I had to open the driver’s door a little past “into” the little white car’s front bumper.  I mean I was gentle, but there was some pressure of my, well, face it: 16 year-old SUV door edge on the I’m sure it was plastic, right-front bumper of the Buick Encore.

Yeah, at that point, I could have walked around to the passenger side of my SUV, opened the front door and climbed across that seat and the console.  I could have; but I was past reasoning.  And this was before I looked around at the parking lot.

Did I mention that this was in a mega-parking lot?  And, on a Tuesday morning?  At a church?

Trust me when I say that with the exception of my car and the little white car from New York, there was not a single car within my ability to throw a baseball.  Yes, honestly, there were maybe half-a-dozen other cars that I could see – but none anywhere near close.  Must have been fifty or so empty stalls.  Maybe 75.

So, kiddies buckled in, I drove home.

Now, the old me would have been expanding my vocabulary about little white cars, or cars with New York license plates.  Neither characterization would have been fair of course, but my little bitty brain could not fathom why anyone would park that close to another car in an otherwise empty HUGE parking lot.  It wasn’t raining (that in itself is odd for Puget Sound).  There were a couple of spaces closer to the door.  It wasn’t like parking that close was going to prevent parking lot rash – in fact, sadly, it only encouraged a couple of little marks.

But, the new me?  Well, the new me was thanking the Good Lord for the opportunity.  Uh, huh, right.  No, really:

Some people complain that, if there was a GOD, there would be no disease, no war, no income tax, no little white cars.  The undeniable existence of all these “challenges” is de facto proof that if there is a GOD, then He certainly is not a nice guy.

I beg to differ.

If none of these bad things happened, and the world was all roses and rainbows, how would someone like me ever have a chance at salvation?  I’m not saying I would offer the driver of that little white car a free car wash or something; but it did give me the opportunity to consider that maybe that other driver has bigger problems than me.

And that other driver was not trying to be an ass.  Maybe it just comes naturally to people who drive little white cars.  From New York.  But, that’s the old me.

Really though, life can be pretty tough, and my life is a cake-walk compared to 90% of the folks out there just trying to find a safe place to sleep or the next meal.  Yeah, it is tougher if you’re stupid (thank you, John Wayne).  The lesson to be learned is: what are you going to do when life gives you lemons?  (Yeah, I love clichés, too.)

I have learned to appreciate the Church’s seasonal calendar.  We just finished Lent and are well into the Easter Season.  Every year, the seasons bring something new; either something I previously had never considered, or a greater richness and depth to something that was just rattling around in my cranium.

And this year, Easter brought this:  Christ died a horrific death, which means two things to me: One, a crucifixion is not what GOD needed, but what we need.  Anything less than a crucifixion just would not have gotten our attention.  In fact, most people still just don’t get it.  Two, He died and I don’t get a bye.  I will grant you that He does not expect me to volunteer to be nailed to a tree; but some of the other things He did, He did to set an example.  I know I just don’t get it.  I just don’t get how anyone can say Christ gave us all a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card.  He opened the door, sure.  But, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be a walk in the park.  It just might be more like a salmon swimming upstream (you just gotta see that spectacle to believe it).

It’s not that we are expected to suffer.  It is that we should expect to be tested.  And how we react to those tests makes a difference.  Not that we can possibly earn our way into Heaven.  Never more true than the saying that “there but for the grace of GOD go I.”  Point is, I am expected to do something.  What I do does matter.  Makes perfect sense to me.

It’s only Thursday

Something that I have noticed about myself is that, in recent years, I have made a deliberate attempt at making Lent meaningful.  Long ago, I stopped giving up chocolate for Lent (partly because it seemed so superficial, and partly because I really don’t eat much chocolate anyway – kind of like giving up smoking for someone who has never smoked).  Similarly, fast and abstinence have lost their meaning simply because food is not something I spend much time thinking about: I am very much of the “I eat to live” camp, and not at all of the “I live to eat” stripe.  Not eating meat on Friday?  So what?  I usually don’t anyway.

What I have felt is that trying to make Lent meaningful has indeed become a more fruitful period of preparation.  I spend more time in prayer.  I read more (I just this morning finished Fr Richard John Neuhaus’ “Death on a Friday Afternoon” – a good book anytime of the year, but especially appropriate during this time of year).

I woke up this morning thinking it was already Good Friday; then “it’s ‘only’ Thursday.”  Granted, a very special Thursday: the first day of the Triduum.  But, I very much want to spend even more time than I ever have focusing on Good Friday.  Exactly why is rather vague to me, except that it seems appropriate to do more than I ever have.

As one of those that carries a Rosary in my pocket, it is very easy for me to pray a Rosary.  Yes, there are specific Mysteries for designated days of the week; but I frequently find myself wanting to pray the Sorrowful Mysteries.  In a very strange way, I might say that the Sorrowful Mysteries are my “favorite”; so, I’ve spent a lot of time meditating on those.  And the first Sorrowful Mystery has always taken the bulk of my time.

Why did Jesus “weep” in the Garden?

At first, I thought it was the human Jesus that would have known the horrors of crucifixion – the Romans were famous for making examples of a few “miscreants” (their definition, of course), and it seems impossible to me that Jesus went to Jerusalem for Passover some 30 times and never saw someone hanging from a “tree” in pain that can only be described as indescribable.  It must be the thought of going thru that kind of pain that caused His tears.

Then it was the thought of all those souls that somehow didn’t get it.  I am incredulous that anyone could have seen, talked to, eaten with, even been with Jesus for three years and still didn’t get it.  To say nothing of all those souls that weren’t even close to Jesus geographically (say, people in Rome).  As Neil Diamond might say “for being done too soon” (which I have mentioned in these pages before).  It must have been the frustration that caused His tears.

This past week, my thoughts shifted to the possibility that His tears were caused by His resistance to temptation.  To me, there is ample reason to spend time with this possibility.  While in the Garden, His three closest friends fell asleep – He had to wake them three times.  They succumbed to the temptation of thinking sleep was more important than being with their friend.  Maybe the dinner they had and all the excitement that must have been part of the Passover festivities was just too much for them?  Maybe they didn’t resist to the point of shedding blood?

Then, there is Jesus floating the idea in His prayers that maybe the whole Passion thing might not happen at all – maybe that cup would pass Him by.  What do you think about that, Abba?  Maybe the temptation to cut and run caused His tears?  I’m thinking the whole temptation thing is fairly likely.

And then, in the closing pages of Fr Neuhaus’ work, I learned of how utterly alone Jesus was.

Why am I Roman Catholic?  Well, first and foremost, I do believe I am called by GOD to be a member of the body of His One, True Church.  And second, more on the level of the worm that I am, I just believe that the interpretation of the Bible that the Roman Catholic Church offers is the best – the closest, the most true (to say nothing of the longest analysis – something approaching 500 years longer than any other group –  and the largest corpus of writings).

And in Fr Neuhaus’s book, he points out that GOD spoke (so that others heard) to Jesus twice: at His Baptism and at His Transfiguration.  However, at no time during His Passion, did GOD speak to Jesus.  Yeah!  That’s right.  GOD is silent when Jesus needed Him the most.

Jesus had His own “dark night of the soul” at the very end; others lived to tell about it (e.g., St John of the Cross’ “Ascent of Mt Carmel,” and “Dark Night of the Soul”).  In any event, was Jesus crying because He felt utterly, totally and absolutely alone?

Perhaps the answer is: “almost.”  As in 99%.  Because there was still something – however small – that moved Him to pray.  If He was 100% convinced He was alone, prayer would have been pointless.

I’m still working on “What Good Friday means to me.”  I’m no longer hung up on the very idea of calling the day We Crucified Our Lord, “good.”  Looking at the clock, I have something less than 23 hours to spend on Good Friday, then it’s on to Saturday.  I suppose that could be “Holy Saturday,” but sitting here, I am thinking it is more like “Empty Saturday.”

Again to borrow from Fr Neuhaus, I don’t want to rush thru Good Friday.  I want to spend time with the Guy-I-never-met, who died for me.  I’m old fashioned enough to believe I owe Him that much.

 

 

Me again

I realize two posts in as many days is rather more of a fire hose than a straw; but rest assured that I won’t be able to maintain this blistering pace.

I had several thoughts for my next post (i.e., this one); but I was not able to jot them down when they came to me, and are likely now gone forever.  That said, a post I just read got me going in another direction: Simcha Fisher’s “Six Sermons I could do without” (I read this in “The Catholic Weekly,” thanks to a link from NewAdvent.com; but she also blogs at simchafisher.com).  Like her, I have spent a few years sitting in the pew, enthralled by some homilies, barely enduring others.  And while her opening paragraph is a story about a priest who can’t avoid complaints, and her post is critical, it is not all negative.

First, I want to go on record as saying in my 62 years, I have never gone w/o access to a priest.  Not that I always took advantage of the opportunity to attend Mass (sadly); but in my world travels, and time in the military, when I went looking for a priest, there always was one.  Until moving a year ago, I was a member of a small group (less than a dozen adults) that met on Friday evenings to pray the Stations of the Cross for Priests.  It was only then that I came to fully appreciate what priests have meant in my life.  I shudder to think what kind of person I would be like today if (a) my mother didn’t make me go to Mass as a kid, and (b) there weren’t priests available.

So, I would be among the last to criticize the guy in the pulpit.

That said, I would like to use Simcha’s post as a springboard (read her post if you want her words).  The bullet points are hers, the comments are mine.

  1. The Catechetical Dump

A recent online poll by Church Militant dot com asked what was the biggest problem facing the Church today.  Of all of the issues that came to mind, I voted for catechesis – altho that one certainly doesn’t get front page in the secular (“news”) media.  Following this train of thought, a priest is confronted by a congregation that spends in the neighborhood of one hour a week actually thinking about religion.  Maybe.  Furthermore, the congregation is an amalgam (hodgepodge, more like it) of wildly differing educations, etc. (that list is really too long to enumerate) – how do you address that mess?

As I alluded to earlier, I am a “cradle” Catholic.  I never attended any religious school, attending “CCD” classes once-a-week while growing up (Baltimore Catechism).  And I think those classes ended in elementary school.  I was very active in the Catholic youth group “CYO” in high school, and then I fell off the deep end, or journeyed out into the wilderness, or something.  W/o getting bogged down in the story of my return to the Church (here, anyway), I would just like to say that, in the past five years, I have learned – entirely on my own (unfortunately) – more about the Church than I ever learned in the previous half-century (am I that old, really?).

But, how about my fellow pew-sitters?  Judging from what I see at Mass, I’d have to say I am among those who don’t NEED the “entire Faith” in 10 minutes – I spend about an hour a day on my own (lots of prayer, lots of reading, and hopefully lots more writing).  I wish I had the time to spend hours every day.  But, how does the priest say something to interest me, when sitting next to me is someone who is texting?

  1. Yelling at the Choir

I go to Mass for an almost heretical reason: not to socialize, but to be closer to GOD.  It astounds me that supposed “adults” can walk into the Sanctuary and talk about who the Seahawks are playing as if everyone in the place wants to hear their opinion.  Or, come in late and leave early.  I show up for Mass, almost always in plenty of time to pray a Rosary (which takes me at least half an hour).  To get my head in the game, as it were.  But, as my mother has often said, at least they come.  Yeah, well there is that (as I mutter under my breath, “Why did they come?”).

Lent is a good time for me to go to Mass because I feel that Mass is penance.  Yes, I am well aware of Church teaching as to why I should go to Mass; but it takes great effort on my part to put up with the “Turn to your neighbor and say ‘hi’”; and that peace thing.  I see absolutely no point in holding hands during the Our Father.  Don’t get me started on the faux orans (see Dr Edward Peters).  And receiving the Eucharist in the hands?  Oi vey.

I wear a St Benedict’s Crucifix on a chain around my neck.  I always wear it – outside my clothing, not hidden away.  I was once mistaken for a religious (of some sort).  I’m sure most people wonder if I hide it away the moment I walk out of the church after Mass; I don’t.  It’s fully visible at work, in stores, etc.  I am proclaiming, “I am Catholic – this is who I am.”  I am also reminding myself that I am Catholic (it – the Crucifix – is heavy; it’s a wonder I haven’t knocked out a tooth).

But, to look at the resident sister at the parish of which I am a member, you would never know she was a religious.  Never in a thousand years.  For shame.  (She has her hair “done,” she always wears clothes that any other (older) woman would, she never has any sort of religious token visible, she never covers her head during Mass.)

  1. Sit, Stand, Kneel, Bow and Beyond

I don’t go to Mass to be entertained.  Father, please don’t even try.  I don’t care if Gonzaga got to the Final Four – and I certainly don’t want to launch into my Mass experience that way.  But, my gripe with Father Feel Good is his insistence on editing the Nicene Creed.

I first ran into this in Rome at Santa Susanna, which is administered by the Paulists.  Both priests assigned there never vocalized “men” while leading the congregation in the Creed.  Now, I have to put up with the same s**t from the priest that helps out (technically, he is not assigned to the parish I attend).  I understand the desire to be inclusive – I do.  But, to my knowledge no “mere” diocesan priest has been given dispensation to choose what words to say during Mass.  If you want to sit down over coffee and donuts and talk about it, fine, great.

That said, it is ironic that the book of Sunday Mass readings and hymns now has an insert inside the front cover with the Nicene Creed (I guess because it is too difficult to find the Creed in the Order of the Mass on page 9).

When I genuflect (facing the Tabernacle that is hidden away in a small chapel off the Sanctuary – really?), I touch my knee to the floor.  I’ve stopped looking for anyone else who goes to such extremes.  I haven’t figured out if it’s better to fake a genuflection or a bow.  I’ll get back to you on that.

  1. Miracle debunkers

I am blessed that I have seldom been subjected to wannabe Biblical scholars or would be theologians.  No doubt any priest who delivers a homily has more formal education in these areas than I do.  But, I do know enough to know when someone is trying to dumb-down the Bible.

  1. Political rallies

From my reading, I know that this past year (including the recently concluded race for the White House) has been full to overflowing with politics disguised as Church teaching.  If “politics is local,” then Faith is the exact opposite.

Altho I can state the exact date that I decided to come back to the Church, it was no Damascus Road.  It was 2005 and my awareness of the priest sex scandal was growing.  The more I learned (and have learned since; the movie “Spotlight” ought to be required viewing for all Catholics), the less sure I was that I wanted to return.  I was overseas at the time, but when I returned to the States, I found Tabernacles hidden away in what amounted to a closet, the priest facing the congregation instead of the Tabernacle and Crucifix, and just last year, a Crucifix that frankly was abhorrent (to say it was Andy Warhol’s idea of a Crucifix does him no credit).  What happened to my Church while I was gone (in a distant country / desert)?

Fortunately, Joseph Ratzinger was the Successor to Peter at the time, and his scholarship only encouraged me.  I have been most formed by Pope Benedict XVI and Pope St John Paul II (my only son is named after him).

Now, I am as confused by Pope Francis as I was strengthened by his two predecessors.  I am quite sure Pope Francis is part of GOD’s plan; but it only serves to remind me that I have no idea at all what His Plan is.

Politics have always been part of the Church.  Only now it is blatantly obviously in opposition to the teachings of the Fathers and Doctors.

  1. Baby shaming

Actually, the pastor at the parish of which I am a member has been very encouraging of bringing my kids to Mass.  At one Mass, my 15 month old daughter got away from me, and I didn’t catch up with her until she had passed the first row pews.  Father incorporated her eagerness to “come to Jesus” into his homily (pretty slick, huh?).  So, why was she able to make a break for it?  Well, I thought I was watching her twin brother, and my wife thought ….

However, we have received suggestions from others in the pews that maybe the little ones were too distracting (something like that).

Too be fair, while the Twins do need to get into the routine of going to Mass, I need to do a better job of entertaining them during Mass (or corralling them).  It is not fair to those who really do want to have a worshipful experience.  On the other hand, several older congregants have been absolutely delighted in meeting “young persons.”

Finally, let me echo Simcha’s last line: “Thank you for your service to us and to GOD.”

 

Dr Edward Peters, “Another Look at the Orans Issue,” www.canonlaw.info; also The Catholic Exchange, June 2005