Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

28 February 2013

What Were *You* Doing When...?

It only occurred to me today: when Pope John Paul II died on Saturday, 2 April 2005, I was hearing Confessions for a youth rally at the former Holy Name High School.  Today, Thursday, 28 February 2013, is the day when Pope Benedict XVI abdicated the Throne of St. Peter.  At the very time his abdication took effect (2:00pm EST), I was hearing Confessions for the students of Berks Catholic High School, where Holy Name was located.

I was doing the same thing, at the same location, at the time of departure of both Popes under whose pontificates I have been a priest.

When I shared this curious fact with my online social network, one "friend" asked whether it was a sign of things to come.

Most assuredly, it is: I will continue to devote myself to "my Father's business" (Lk 2:49), the "ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor 5:18).  The young people of the Church, who suffer the deleterious effects of original sin, personal and "social" sins, will continue to need--and appreciate--Our Lord's gift of His Precious Blood "shed for...the forgiveness of sins" (Mt 26:28) and the bestowal of the Holy Spirit for the same purpose (cf. Jn 20:23).  Both offerings--of Our Lord's life and of the "Lord and Giver of Life"--are renewed among us through the ministry of priests!

For which I am most grateful.

The question of "what you were doing when" our Pope Emeritus helicoptered out of the Vatican may not garner as much attention as did, say, "What...when the Twin Towers collapsed"; and rightly not, because the latter was a tragedy, while the Papal Abdication is a sad event, no doubt, but a choice that Pope Benedict freely and consciously made for the good of the Church.

Now the Church turns her attention to praying and sacrificing for the next Pope.  Benedict's successor will be living in interesting times, times that seek to be more unprecedented and unparalleled than ever before.  How to balance the sense that we can't rest on our laurels with the Lord's promise of Presence "until the end of the world" (Mt 28:20)?

Prayer and vigilance.  Prayer: in and for the Church, for all who are outside the Church, for all seekers and for the indifferent.  Vigilance: regarding our own personal attitudes and conduct, regarding the actions of our ecclesiastical and governmental leaders, regarding the needy of every stripe and every locale.

Prayer for the Election of a New Pope

Soon and very soon (at 2pm today) the Catholic Church will be sede vacante ("the seat being empty").  That, by the way, is an example of an ablative absolute: a noun and (quite often) a participle cast in the ablative case  in order to indicate a fact that is related, though in some sense cut off (ab + solutus, away from + loosed) from the bulk of the sentence.  Kinda like the Pope himself, although he has promised that he will be intimately united to the heart of the Church in prayer and sacrifice.  Like his monastic namesake, Benedict happily chooses obscurity so that "He must increase."

I just finished cutting the tops off of sticky notes and covering over the places in the Missal that mention the name of the Pope, so that they currently read:
together with                                    N., our Bishop, with all the Bishops, ...
Eventually I will write someone's name over the sticky part.  Not mine!

Continued prayers for the conclave that will elect a new Holy Father.  Speaking of which, courtesy of the Roman Missal, we can pray this:

Prayer for the Election of a New Pope
O God, eternal shepherd, who govern your flock with unfailing care, grant in your boundless fatherly love a pastor for your Church who will please you by his holiness and to us show watchful care. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Meanwhile, life goes on in the Church.  The Sacraments will be celebrated, the Word will be proclaimed, and souls will be cared for.  Stay tuned for exciting times ahead!


24 February 2013

A Nativity Alumnus Gratefully Reflects

Patient Reader,
If anyone from my pre-sacerdotal past (1976-2003) reads my blog, he or she will know that I graduated from Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary High School in Pottsville, Pennsylvania.  Recently my alma mater has been experiencing decreased enrollment and financial troubles.  In an effort to assess the current situation with a view to making an informed decision on Nativity's future, Bishop Barres appointed a commission to study and plan for what we pray is a successful future.  His recent letter to the NBVM community is encouraging.  The Development Office has asked alumni to compose testimonial letters that share the good things Nativity has done for them.  With some revisions and amplifications, here is my offering.
St. Clair Catholic: Now a parking lot and a lovely grotto to Our Lady

When I transferred to Saint Clair Catholic Elementary School in seventh grade, I wanted to continue my Catholic education at Nativity, despite the considerable financial sacrifices on the horizon.  Those sacrifices were worth the quality of formation that Nativity would offer.  (Since I first learned of the term “formation” in the seminary, I have preferred it for its comprehensive nature: spiritual, intellectual, athletic, artistic, interpersonal, and emotional.)  Spoiled with two years of daily religion class, regular access to Mass and Reconciliation, and an intimate, caring atmosphere at St. Clair Catholic, Nativity seemed the best option for me.
Our old Band uniform, mercifully saved from the furnace
Mr. Jacobs, Nativity’s Band Director, visited the "feeder schools" to offer music lessons and recruit band members.  Fresh from the decent music program of the Saint Clair Area School District (in whose high school band I was playing—clarinet and then trumpet—since fifth grade), I was eager to become involved with Nativity’s band, and Mr. Jacobs warmly welcomed me.  Thus began a long and nourishing friendship with Mr. Jacobs and dozens of band members and music educators.  In high school I branched out into vocal performance and drama, singing in the chorus and “folk guitar” groups and acting in our annual spring shows.  Music has always had a beneficial influence in terms of the company I enjoy, my relationship with the Lord, and the embrace of my calling.
St. Casimir Parish (1912-2008)
My interest in the priesthood dates back to age five or so.  My parish, Saint Casimir in Saint Clair, had only three priests in the 21 years between Kindergarten and my Ordination.  All of them were stellar examples of holiness and humanity.  Father Jankaitis was our pastor from 1986 until 2008, when the parish merged with the others in town.  “Father J” was happy to serve the Lord and His people, and it showed.  He was always supportive of my family and my vocation.  His dual assignment to Nativity (where he later became principal) further encouraged my enrollment there.  Father J always looked out for me.  His greetings in the hallway, pats on the back, and even his playful banter helped to show me that Catholics in general, and Catholic priests in particular, were a joyful bunch worth joining.

Among the classes of 1993 through 1997, there are (so far) a total of six Catholic or Orthodox priests. Some may claim that faith and devotion are "in the water" in Schuylkill County.  I can say that there are many faithful families, and Nativity's spiritual, academic, and extracurricular formation played a considerable part.
Fr. Jankaitis vesting me upon my ordination to the Priesthood (7 June 2003)
One story about Fr. Jankaitis’ Vocations class stands out.  The day after my mother took me out for some practice driving “up the Burma” (i.e., the Burma Road, which leads eastward out of St. Clair toward Mahanoy City), the first words out of Father’s mouth after the opening prayer were a narration about a really slow driver he trailed up the Burma for a good spell.  I knew the tortoise in his tale, and soon everyone else did!

As a sacristan my job was to take care of the chapel and to help set up the gym for school-wide Masses.  This responsibility further increased my familiarity with divine worship and with the priests at school.  The harder work of dragging out the carpet and pushing the altar was balanced by changing altar linens and setting up the liturgical books.  One day I asked to vacuum the sanctuary while everyone else was enjoying Field Day outside.  (Misplaced priorities!)  I accidentally banged the vacuum into the iron “chi-rho” under the altar, breaking it clear off the altar!  Fortunately my friend John, the head sacristan at the time, was able to take it home and devise a way to re-solder it without great delay.
A window in Nativity's Chapel

From an early age my greatest aspiration was to be older.  I was more comfortable conversing with adults than my own peers.  While I tended to have more friends in the upper classes, I came to recognize the varied gifts and interests of my classmates (especially those I myself did not have) and to share my own with greater confidence.  As a close-knit school community, Nativity’s games, shows, concerts, plays, and other activities brought us together, before, during, and after school, oftentimes many times a week.

I truly enjoyed all my teachers at Nativity.  Father Onushco, Fr. Flanagan, and Fr. Jankaitis gave me a sound foundation in the Catholic faith and a respect for the priest-as-teacher.  (+) Sister Joseph Annetta, S.S.J., Mr. Ward, and Mr. Repella shared their love for the structure, words, and literature of the English language.  Father Braudis (Latin) and Mrs. Schwenk (French) expanded my appreciation for language, which I bring to bear in every aspect of my life.  Mr. Fedoriska and (+) Mr. Norton imparted a love for history and its relevance for the modern world.  Sister Patricia Ash, S.S.J., Ms. Jones, and Sister Paula Gallant, D.C. challenged me to greater appreciation for the intricacy that the Creator instilled in the material realm.  Mrs. Sabol, her husband  “Doc” Sabol, and Mr. Strause shared their facility with numbers and spatial relations, and I continue to appreciate their subject matter, even though at a distance!  Mrs. Bednar helped me to type with two hands (that means a lot, given all the time I spend at the non-musical keyboard).  Coach Shields and Mrs. Weidman were patient with my sluggishness and awkwardness; I hope they’d be happy to know that physical fitness has become a staple in my life.  Although I didn’t have the pleasure of being taught by all the teachers at Nativity during those four years, I respected them and continue to wish them every blessing from above.

The recent concern with Nativity’s enrollment and finances has mobilized her present and past family to take clear steps to insure her future contribution to Catholic education in Schuylkill County.  Grateful for what Nativity has done for me and for what I have been able to do as a student and alumnus, I pray that my Alma Mater will continue to thrive for generations to come as a much-needed stalwart Catholic presence in Schuylkill County.  I pray that alumni, parents, and children alike will commit to whatever sacrifices are necessary.

22 February 2013

Conjectures of a Benevolent Benedictine Bystander

Give him the chair!
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter.  This celebration dates back to the fourth century.  According to tradition, the chair depicted above was occupied by St. Peter.  The 17th century sculptor Bernini (famous for the colonnade that embraces the entrance to the basilica) designed the ornate bronze casing and all the rest.

The feast is based on the ancient Roman festival Parentalia, (or dies parentales, sc. 13-21 February) which honored deceased relatives and friends with quiet reflection and graveyard visits.  On the day after this "novena," families would hold an informal banquet in honor of their dead.  We can imagine them setting out an empty chair to commemorate those who used to occupy a place at table, akin to the empty chair that Jewish families leave for the prophet Elijah, when they celebrate the Passover.

In less than a week Peter's chair will be temporarily unoccupied, but the office of Pope does not disappear, nor does it lose a speck of due reverence.  Our Lord promised Peter, "The gates of the netherworld will not prevail against it [My Church]" (Mt 16:18).  Non praevalebunt ("they will not prevail") is one half of the motto of L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican weekly newspaper.

The religion beat of the Washington Post and ABC News compares the popularity of Pope Benedict vs his beatified predecessor, John Paul II.  There is a curious note: in the latter days of JPII, the Pope was more popular (among Catholics) than the Church--perhaps the populace was still smarting from the scandals--and our current pontiff's popularity is a few points lower, while the Church's has increased by two points!

Now, if public acclaim were all there is to ecclesial authority (or any other!), then polls such as these would be more than the curiosity that we should consider them to be.  People might misread Jesus' question in the Gospel (Mt 16:13-19) as a poll: "Who do people say that I am?" (16: 13) and, soon thereafter, "But who do you say I am?" (16:15)

I would call it a setup...and Peter makes the trey: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

nil nisi rete
Jesus knows where to place his men on the court.  He knows their strengths and their weaknesses.  Peter's boldness, infused by divine inspiration, shows forth "for the win," specifically for the keys to the Kingdom of heaven (16:19) with all the rights and responsibilities appertaining thereto.

To this day Peter must be by turns bold and demure, ever prudent, ever pressing; waiting for the right moment to deliver.  Difficult tasks and circumstances, like scandals, will inevitably come (cf. Lk 17:1); how we respond to them is our choice.

If it really matters, I believe that history will support our man Benedict.  For nearly eight years he kept at it, doing everything that he enjoyed doing (presiding over the Sacred Synaxis, writing, speaking) and everything that we are told he wasn't so fond of (crowd-pleasing, administrating).  If he had ministerial preferences, perhaps astute body-language readers and close advisors could glean them, but I surely couldn't.  Preferences don't much enter into parenthood, I reckon, be it physical or spiritual.

Benedict, emergent emeritus Bishop of Rome, may doff the white jersey, but he will still have our back.  Within his monastic enclave he will be conducting himself as he has done for his entire priesthood: as an "example to the flock," awaiting the revelation of the Chief Shepherd (1 Pet 5:3-4) whom he has served so faithfully.

I'm Audi.

20 February 2013

Name That Pope!

Fr. Z., of the blog "What Does the Prayer Really Say?" has a neat little contest going on, in which you--yes, you--get to choose the name of the next Supreme Pontiff.  Well, you get to suggest a name, or to guess what he might choose...and to view immediately the voting results.

My choice, if anyone cares to know, is Gregory (XVII).  The name comes from the Greek gregorios, "watchful," understandably related to the Latin grex, which means "flock" or "herd."  The Pope is always the vigilant overseer of the Lord's flock.  As such, it behooves him to be gregarious--readily willing to be among people, to identify himself with his own even as they look to him for direction and care.  It reminds me of a line from my favorite stanza from the Pange Lingua:

Nobis datus, nobis natus / Ex intacta Virgine,/ Et in mundo conversatus, / Sparso verbi semine, / Sui moras incolatus / Miro clausit ordine. 
Poetic translation:
Of a pure and spotless Virgin / Born for us on earth below, / He, as Man, with man conversing, / Stayed, the seeds of truth to sow; / Then He closed in solemn order / Wondrously His life of woe. 
"With man conversing": Literally, "having associated/consorted/dwelt with the world."  It can also mean "having turned over" or "pondered."  Following the predominant theme (and the approach) of the Benedictine Papacy: Jesus the Word Incarnate engages the world not as a stranger, but as His own true love, setting the pattern for our free and conscious response.

"To the extent that we nourish ourselves on Christ and are in love with him, we feel within us the incentive to bring others to him: Indeed, we cannot keep the joy of the faith to ourselves; we must pass it on.”(Address to the Rome Diocesan Congress, 23Jun06)
So, name your pope!  Perhaps you have a substantively meaningful reason for your selection; perhaps you just think it would be neat to hear Father say, una cum Papa nostro, Sergio, figuring, "It's been a millennium since the last one, so why the heck not?"  Leave your suggestion as a comment below for our readership to ponder, and then take Fr. Z's poll!

19 February 2013

A Blog Of Interest

A "Blogger Priest" of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. is Father Joe Jenkins, who answers questions about topics of Catholic interest with clarity and charity.  I recommend his blog to you.

16 February 2013

Considerations on the Papal Abdication

"You may be wondering why I've called you here today."
Since our Holy Father announced that he will abdicate the Throne of Saint Peter on the 28th of February, much ink has been spilt over the reasons for his departure.  I ascribe to Qoheleth's dictum, nihil novi sub sole ("there is nothing new under the sun").  Having read a fair amount of posts (from such as Fr. Z, Fr. Rutler, and Jennifer Fulwiler) that cover the "What?", the "What For?", and the "What Now?", I scarcely can add to the conversation.  But scarcely has that stopped me from trying!

Here is the English text of the Pope's declaration.  Its availability in Latin (the language in which it was delivered!), and on video to boot, made it a must-see.  Latin headings are from the declaration; the simple commentary, from the Rev'd Blogger:

decisionem magni momenti: Pope Benedict is the last since the Western Schism to abdicate (since no one is qualified to accept a papal resignation, no one being higher on the ecclesial chain, the Pope does not "resign" his office).  We can trust that he ascribes no "greatness" to the fact that he is abdicating.  The Church herself is in the "great moment," though not "great" in the sense that Tony approves of Frosted Flakes.  He will amplify the greatness of the moment later in the declaration, specifically in terms of the present spiritual, religious, and moral landscape.  He has referred to this moment, in fact, from the beginning of his papacy, and most especially in light of the "filth" in the Church--her diverse scandals, division, etc.

Conscientia mea...explorata: The Holy Father has not arrived at this decision without profound and repeated (iterum atque iterum) soul-searching, which is completely in accord with his human nature and his office as Supreme Pontiff.  He is the great "bridge-builder,"and as such his blueprints deserve careful contemplation.  The papal program entails "doing and speaking...suffering and praying" (agendo et loquendo...patiendo et orando).  It is a higher level of strategic planning that involves the Pope's consideration of his own abilities and how they are serving, or will serve, or may serve, the Greater Good of the Church.  That level is accessible only to the Pope himself.  The secret domain of conscience is wholly our own--though never in the sense that we can defiantly refuse formation in the truth.

suam essentialem spiritualem: The "essentially spiritual nature" of the papacy defies comparison to the C.E.O. model of governance currently exercised in society and (alas!) in the Church.  Of course, the Church exists in the world, carries out the administration of temporal goods, pays salaries, etc.  Never having been the Administrator or Pastor of a parish--though, with some excitement, awaiting the likelihood of the munus gubernandi at some point--I will expect to learn much about matters financial.  But as for the papacy, so for the pastorate: we are spiritual officers.  Suffering and praying will be the marching orders we first must take, if we are to give them.

temporis rapidis mutationibus subiecto: Pope Benedict is almost 86 years old.  He was ordained a priest in the year my mother was born.  He has been "subject to" the swiftly changing times.  Could he or anyone have predicted the directions the world would take with the sexual revolution, conflicts around the globe, and the fallout after the Second Vatican Council?  I admired his interest in the new media, tweeting as @Pontifex (read blogger Elizabeth Scalia's take on his digital doings).  He was being more than a good sport by sending those messages.  He was sharing the solicitude of a Holy Father and an Elder Brother.

quaestionibus...perturbato: When one of our former bishops celebrated an anniversary of ordination he released a holy card with (more or less) this line from St. Augustine: "I am a bishop over you, a Christian with you."  Can we permit a man of Benedict's erudition and rank to be disturbed to the point of questioning?  Not his own faith (fides qua), mind you, nor the Church's faith (fides quae) what, precisely, is he questioning?  It would not scandalize me if he were questioning--as many do--how in this world, amid these thorny and rocky and shallow conditions, the Kingdom of Heaven will continue to grow.  I do not mean to ascribe to Benedict the words of Cicero: o tempora! o mores!  Some have opined that the VatiLeaks scandal had a tremendous effect on the Holy Father.  I don't know enough about it to comment, nor do I care to know.  Whatever treachery may have taken place in this particular instance, there is plenty more where that came from, if you count the abuse scandal.  We have seen the Holy Father reaching out to abuse victims and discover precisely as pope the nature and extent of sexual abuse.  I remember people weighing in on those meetings, wondering what effect they may have had on the Pope.  Now, perhaps, we know.  If this speculation holds any holy water, I experience only compassion for the heaviness of the head that--until a couple of popes ago--wears the tiara.  It's another lesson in not criticizing anyone until you've walked in his shoes, whether they're Rockports, Bobos, Skechers, or Pradas.
Compassion...I often tell people that I was trained to be a theological practitioner and not a community organizer.  Let's say that my good seminary, understandably, weighted the formation in that direction.  If a bloke had gifts for organizing community, as did my high school classmate, good for him and good for the Church!  As for those of us who did our damnedest to get by on undisciplined talent... It would have been helpful, I think, for all of us to have a kind of "Eagle Scout Project" to propose and execute.  
I know that other seminaries have classes in Basic Economics, Child/Adolescent/Abnormal/Paranormal Psychology, Educational Philosophy and Methods.  The subjects of Philosophy, Theology, and Language were more appealing to me anyhow at the time (and, to a great degree, still are); but I appreciate the value of the former much more than when I was in the seminary.  Guess that's life.
vigor quidam corporis et animae necessarius est:  Permit yet another personal diversion.  I am almost fifty years younger than the Holy Father.  I realize that youth is a curable disease; yet certain aspects of it appeal to me, and I'd like to preserve them as much as reasonably possible.  Since about halfway through the seminary I started exercising regularly and trying to eat more nutritiously.  With a few peaks and valleys, these habits have stayed in place and have improved in some ways.  As pastoral demands have increased, there have been certain spiritual and physical practices that I feel I must keep in place in order to be of maximum service to God and the people entrusted to my care.  Letting go of any of them for a second is difficult.  That, too, is Peter being bound and taken where he would not go (cf. Jn 21:18).  If I chose, I could kick and scream; but "it is hard for you to kick against the goads" (Acts 26:14).  Better to summon my irascible drive to more productive uses, like disposing myself to the divine life.

ultimis mensibus in me...minuitur: The New York Times reports of some of the physical debilitation that Pope Benedict has been experiencing.  The Times article also relates Benedict's appraisal of the misrepresentation of the Second Vatican Council, which he has spent his papacy trying to correct.  Also, Philip Lawlor's piece acknowledges how the Pope's corporeal condition has likely prevented the completion of his encyclical on faith, even as his intellectual vigor has not abated.  In his own estimation, the Pope simply cannot summon strength appropriate to the many responsibilities of the papacy.

ex toto corde gratias ago: Gratitude is the optimal response to the charity shown us.  Pope Benedict, the "Servant of the Servants of God," recognizes how his servants do him a service.  The greatest service we render one another is both the petition for and the offering of forgiveness, which the Holy Father seeks from the cardinals (and, no doubt, from us all): veniam pro omnibus defectibus meis.  We'll likely hear more along these lines as the Day approaches.

in eligendo novo Summo Pontifice: This is the matter for intense speculation and debate: who's next? I prefer to follow reputable sites such as Whispers In The Loggia for the latest word on the via.  The cardinals among the papabili are diverse in personality, national origin, and theological bent.  Canada,  Austria, and Ghana are appearing on the radar; and of course, Italy (no link, because there's a few to choose from).  The whole subject displays the media's hardness of heart concerning the Church's nature, as one historian deftly notes.  Of this we can be sure: Whoever it is, is the 265th Successor of Saint Peter, worthy of respect and obedience.

toto ex corde servire velim: In the final sentence of the declaration, the Holy Father announces his future plans to "serve by a life wholeheartedly dedicated to prayer for the Holy Church of God" (my translation).  He will live in a monastery within the Vatican.  Though his public appearances may be few, he will not lose sight of the flock.  He may not retain the titles or trappings of a pope, but he certainly will retain a mind and a heart for the Church, whom he has faithfully served for over sixty years.

Pontifical wardrobe malfunctions did not deter Benedict from exercising a gentle rule

12 February 2013

Reading "The Wreck," Stanzas 12-18


            On Saturday sailed from Bremen,
            American-outward-bound,        90
        Take settler and seamen, tell men with women,
            Two hundred souls in the round—
    O Father, not under thy feathers nor ever as guessing
    The goal was a shoal, of a fourth the doom to be drowned;
        Yet did the dark side of the bay of thy blessing        95
Not vault them, the million of rounds of thy mercy not reeve even them in?

            Into the snows she sweeps,
            Hurling the haven behind,
        The Deutschland, on Sunday; and so the sky keeps,
            For the infinite air is unkind,        100
    And the sea flint-flake, black-backed in the regular blow,
    Sitting Eastnortheast, in cursed quarter, the wind;
        Wiry and white-fiery and whirlwind-swivell├Ęd snow
Spins to the widow-making unchilding unfathering deeps.

            She drove in the dark to leeward,
            She struck—not a reef or a rock
        But the combs of a smother of sand: night drew her
            Dead to the Kentish Knock;
    And she beat the bank down with her bows and the ride of her keel:
    The breakers rolled on her beam with ruinous shock;        110
        And canvas and compass, the whorl and the wheel
Idle for ever to waft her or wind her with, these she endured.

            Hope had grown grey hairs,
            Hope had mourning on,
        Trenched with tears, carved with cares,        115
            Hope was twelve hours gone;
    And frightful a nightfall folded rueful a day
    Nor rescue, only rocket and lightship, shone,
        And lives at last were washing away:
To the shrouds they took,—they shook in the hurling and horrible airs.        120

            One stirred from the rigging to save
            The wild woman-kind below,
        With a rope’s end round the man, handy and brave—
            He was pitched to his death at a blow,
    For all his dreadnought breast and braids of thew:        125
    They could tell him for hours, dandled the to and fro
        Through the cobbled foam-fleece, what could he do
With the burl of the fountains of air, buck and the flood of the wave?

            They fought with God’s cold—
            And they could not and fell to the deck        130
        (Crushed them) or water (and drowned them) or rolled
            With the sea-romp over the wreck.
    Night roared, with the heart-break hearing a heart-broke rabble,
    The woman’s wailing, the crying of child without check—
        Till a lioness arose breasting the babble,        135
A prophetess towered in the tumult, a virginal tongue told.

            Ah, touched in your bower of bone
            Are you! turned for an exquisite smart,
        Have you! make words break from me here all alone,
            Do you!—mother of being in me, heart.        140
    O unteachably after evil, but uttering truth,
    Why, tears! is it? tears; such a melting, a madrigal start!
        Never-eldering revel and river of youth,
What can it be, this glee? the good you have there of your own?

Two hundred persons departed for America on the Deutschland, none of them suspecting how the voyage would end.  Hopkins dares to wonder whether this sorry lot ("the dark side of the bay") might be "thy blessing," an act of divine mercy that might successfully reunite the wayward with their Lord.

Snow and wind assail the ship, creating a horrible experience not unlike Hopkins' earlier description of his own conversion.  This couplet is one of my favorites from the entire work for its sonic value alone: "Wiry and white fiery and whirlwind-swivelled snow / Spins to the widow-making unchilding unfathering deeps."  The sea always has been a place of mystery.  An old chestnut from the St. Gregory Hymnal goes: "Shoreless Ocean, who shall sound Thee? / Thine own eternity is 'round Thee, / Majesty divine, majesty divine!"  Water refreshes and bears life; it tortures and deals death.  Whatever its effects,  it is fluid, characterized by movement, eager to assume the boundaries of its container.

Upon impact the vessel becomes uncontrollable.  The foundering, shivering passengers either climb the sails or begin to drown.  One man's heroics prove futile for those he tried to rescue, but he becomes an effective example for whoever else might feel lucky.  There is no "luck" when the cold is "God's cold."  There is no salvific strategy.

Note how Hopkins depicts the tumult in stanza 17.  His use of parentheses to separate the manners of death (crushing/drowning) preserves the sentence's integrity and metrics while imitating the back-and-forth of a storm-tossed ship.

Women and children may shriek incoherently, but the clearest and most startling of sounds is the "lioness," the nun to be described later.  The first description to be heard is of the narrator himself, Hopkins.  He wasn't on the scene; eventually he will describe the relative luxury he enjoyed during the disaster.  Rather he heard of it from the superior of the community, who read it in the newspaper and off-handedly wished that someone would write a poem about the event.   Hopkins's distance certainly did not forbid empathy.  The effects of original sin do not hamper him from expressing the therapeutic tears of commingled grief and joy, whose confusing coexistence becomes a major theme for the remainder of the work.

11 February 2013

Bully Pulpit

From the fascinating site Mental Floss, I just picked up the last of "11 Words and Phrases Popularized by Teddy Roosevelt," namely "Bully Pulpit."  If you're like me, you thought that phrase suggested that the speaker was using his position to take unfair advantage of people, much as bullies do what earns their designation.

Fairness doesn't very much enter into it.

We are reminded that "bully," the first half of the term, was Pres. Roosevelt's favored synonym for "grand" or "excellent."  Having played Mortimer Brewster in a high school production of Arsenic and Old Lace, I should have recognized my brother's famous use of bully.

Msgr. Charles Pope of the Archdiocese of Washington posts a call to holiness and mission on the subject of dwindling numbers of Mass attendants.  This manifests alongside the annual Lenten letter of our bishop, whose every oeuvre is a call to holiness and mission.  In this letter Bishop Barres reiterated an earlier direction for every active Catholic to invite an inactive Catholic back to Mass.  I'd love to hear of my readership's seed-sowing successes.

Like many priests, Msgr. Pope takes advantage of situations where many inactive Catholics are present, e.g. funeral Masses, to redirect strayers to the Narrow Path.  His approach is evangelical, as is appropriate for the address that immediately follows the proclamation of the Gospel.  See, it is possible to be evangelical in manner and orthodox in content!

The orthodoxy of content in this situation is that pesky Third Commandment: "Remember to keep holy the Sabbath Day" (Ex 20:8; Dt 5:12).  There are many ways to observe this precept, but the most obvious one is actual participation in the "sacred synaxis," the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that Our Lord instituted as the perpetual offering of His Body and Blood for the remission of sins.

Icon of the "Synaxis of the Twelve Apostles"
(A Tree is known by its Fruits)
The exception noted by the author of Hebrews has become the norm: "We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some [emphasis mine, as I don't think koine Greek used italics], but encourage one another, and this all the more as you see the day drawing near" (10:25).

Bishop Barres' recommendation is a way for believers to "encourage one another" to act upon their belief.  A faith that is largely theoretical becomes largely "historical": that is, a thing of the past.

Our parish council met this afternoon.  Meetings have been turning to the topic of the Mass Desertion. One member shared how she recently attended a ladies tea at a local Christian fellowship.  Attendees sat at tables which they were allowed to decorate in whatever fashion.  The gathering featured prayer, scripture readings, and speakers.  I was reminded of a similar gathering to which I was invited as a speaker a couple of years ago, in a nearby Catholic parish.  Why couldn't we do something like this, as a way of re-evangelizing our fallen and refreshing our faithful?

I read somewhere that people have begun to prefer worship "events" over the standard Lord's Day Buffet.  Events have themes.  When a parish liturgist asked (I think it was) Fr. George Rutler about the "theme" of a particular Mass, true to form he responded, "The Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ."  FTW!  With events, the music, speakers, lighting, etc. become the focus.  The sanctuary becomes a stage, and so much (too much!) depends on the facilitators personality, preferences, etc.
Devotees of the "Extraordinary Form" of the Mass may claim that the Novus Ordo has gone that route, and scarcely could do otherwise; but the Traditional Latin Mass has its own mystical ambience that has drawn younger people whose sense of the sacred may have been malnourished as a result of what they were fed growing up.  We know, too, of Protestants (and Catholics!) who are drawn to Orthodox Christianity because of its Divine Liturgy.  There is beauty everywhere, and this current post is no place to dispute where beauty is most evident.
We would want to make it patently clear that an "event" of this sort is only a supplement to the Mass, and not an alternative.  For the inactive Catholic who attends such a gathering, however, "welcome" is the first and most important word.  The second or third word might be a variation of Hebrews 10:25 cited above, or even something like, "If you liked this gathering, we would like to invite you to a gathering you may or may not 'like,' but one that nonetheless will nourish and form you into the person that God created you to be: a man/woman of Communion."

The same invitation would be extended at any social, athletic or service opportunity, such as the weekend at the soup kitchen, the Kindergarten Christmas tableau, or the youth Eucharistic Adoration service.  This latter has always raised a concern, though I remain a fan of both youth and Adoration.  As a result of such (I dare call them) "events," young people are coming to church, for which, Amen.  Failing to make the Adoration-Consecration Connection, they're not necessarily coming to Mass--because, as I see it, Mass doesn't give them the same feeling, the same experience as a praise concert does.

Msgr. Pope's homily sample (embedded in the post) returns me to the point of attending to the reality and relevance of God-made-Flesh.  Prior to His appearance on the human scene, Jesus was equal to the Father and to the Holy Spirit.  He was behind the issuance of the Third Commandment.  He went through the trouble of suffering and dying and rising from the dead in order to secure forgiveness and salvation.  Willful neglect of this Truth is perilous.

When I take the bread and wine in my hands and proclaim the Lord's words over them, courtesy of the Catholic Church for whom I was ordained, God becomes present for me in a most unique and yet repeatable way.  When I consume the Sacrifice, I become one with it, and am thus sustained in my stumbling execution of what passes for a virtuous life.  I don't know about you, but I constantly need to be re-inserted into this Truth, re-immersed into this Mystery.  I tend to forget stuff rather quickly.

Since Lent is a time for new beginnings, the issuance of an invitation to Mass is the route I hope to take, and my "bully pulpit" will be mobile (not in the newly-restricted sense of the phone, but not at all exclusive of the same).  If this were the only trick of a "one-trick pony," it would suffice.

+ + + + +

THE ABOVE POST pales in significance to the recent news that His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, has announced his resignation, which he attributes to his failing health.  He is the first to resign the Chair of Peter since 1294.  May the Lord reward him for his labors, and appoint for the Church a capable and holy successor.

"I too hope in this short reign to be a man of peace."

09 February 2013

Act of Attrition

As a priest I am privileged to participate in a very specific manner in the "ministry of reconciliation."  Recall Saint Paul's description of Christ's tremendous gift to His Church, to one and all:
Whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Cor 5:17-19).
In the "formula for absolution" in the Sacrament of Reconciliation we hear echoes of Paul's words:
God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son, has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins.  Through the ministry of the Church, may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.
This goes to show that, in Penance and every other ecclesial service, I act not merely on my own behalf but on the Lord's.  At the same time, the Sacrament is an intensely personal encounter of the priest and the penitent.  It can be, for either party, a moment for mingled nervousness and delight.

All of this is prelude to a reflection on the Act of Contrition, which immediately precedes the imparting of absolution.  While the most recent Rite of Penance presents a contemporary version to be offered "in these or similar words," the traditional form (which itself has some variants) is still taught and used in many parishes.
O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee; and I detest all my sins because of Thy just punishments, but most of all, because they offend Thee, my God, who art all-good and deserving of all my love.  I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin.  Amen.
The confessions of children often feature variations on this Act that aren't found in any book.  Some kids omit a phrase or an entire sentence.  Others will replace virtually any word in the Act that has two or three syllables with a similar-sounding word.  Most children make only one or two substitutions per recitation.  Following is a conglomeration of substitutions:
O my God, I am hardly sorry for having defended Thee; and I contest all my sins because of Thy just punishments, but most of all, because they defend Thee, my God, who art all-good and preserving of all my love.  I firmly dissolve, with the help of my grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near temptation of sin.  Amen.
Any priest can add to this ecclesial version of "Kids Say the Darndest Things."  We do so with tremendous respect for our children, whom we are forming in the ministry of reconciliation by guiding them to:
  • Awareness of sin, as a conscious and free choice against the God whom we are to love above all else, against the neighbor whom we are to love as ourselves, and against our own very best interests.  
  • Examination for particular sins, mortal and venial; modeling the desire to become free from both kinds, eager to let go of unworthy attitudes/actions as we become aware of them.
  • Repentance for sins, in light of the countless manifestations of God's tender mercies in our lives. We always revisit the distinction between "imperfect" and "perfect" contrition, the former being based on the fear of punishment (temporal and eternal), and the latter based on our love for God and our deepest desire not to offend Him.  To be "hardly" sorry, to "contest" our sins--by more frequent confession, these attitudes give way to a joyful repentance that is free of self-justification.
  • Confession of sins that is integral, omitting nothing because of embarrassment or fear.  This may be the most difficult part of the sacrament, yet the most rewarding!  Children and adults must be assured that priests have heard it all before.  But we are quick to remember that, in the sacrament,  the person approaching us is a fellow wounded member of Christ's Body who desires to be made whole.  I make regular use of the sacrament, at least every 3,000 miles!
  • Satisfaction for sins, made by the prompt and attentive discharge of the token penance that the confessor assigns.  The best motive for satisfaction is gratitude--gratitude for forgiveness received and for forthcoming chances to put grace to work.  Yes, as we move forward in the Christian life, our greatest satisfaction for sins is that which gives God the greatest satisfaction: "approaching the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help" (Heb 4:16).  Call upon Him in the foxhole.  Yeah, He knows as well as you: that's where we tend to call upon Him!  He'll listen!  ++  The best method of satisfaction is actual change--taking concerted actions contrary to previous sinful patterns.  That's avoiding the near occasion ("temptation") of sin: if I don't really want to repeat this behavior, I have to do something different.  So often as penitents we ignore this, but then we can't wonder how we revert to the attitude or action so easily.
Parents participate in the Church's ministry of reconciliation by teaching their children well:
  • Modeling forgiveness: promptly seeking your spouse's and children's forgiveness when necessary; promptly offering forgiveness without heaping shame upon others for their misdeeds;  promptly going to Confession regularly, whether your children know it or not (I don't think it would hurt if they actually saw you head toward the confessional on occasion, not to make a spectacle of yourself but to assure them that it's OK to go.  You won't disintegrate!)
  • Talking about patterns of vice and particular sins:  In a non-threatening, non-embarrassing forum (i.e., not right after the kid has done something wrong and you've caught him), you lead with your own weaknesses (this isn't Confession, it's not a grossly candid, Jerry Springer-esque sort of sharing that burdens children with an inappropriate insecurity about their home life).  "I have weaknesses, too" may be a good start, but it's insufficient for the long haul.  In the wake of manifestations of particular behaviors and attitudes, it will be helpful to share your own experiences in the same areas.  Even if there isn't a direct correspondence of actions, you can share about situations that had a similar outcome or similar feelings involved.  As parents begin to foster an atmosphere of honesty, the question will arise of how to answer direct questions about particularly sensitive matters ("Mom, did you ever do drugs?").  I suggest that there is a way to be honest about past sinful choices or habits that encourages children not to follow suit (although they very well may), as if your past is their permission slip.  I have heard it put very well: "You don't have to do it the way I did."  They still have the choice, but now it is fortified by solid, unappealing experience.
The Domestic Church of the family has much to do with maximizing contrition and minimizing attrition.  As young people learn genuine contrition, I believe that the chance of losing them to secular society and to other religions will decrease.  Be encouraged that older people can learn contrition, too; it's never too late to become the best possible person and example.