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

31 December 2013


A blessed New Year from Holy Guardian Angels Parish Clergy and Staff to all our parishioners and friends, especially to the beloved readership of The Shipwrack-Harvest! May the good Lord give you reason to keep reading!
The new year’s Scripture offerings always begin with the “Aaronic blessing.” Moses’ brother Aaron was the first of Israel’s priests. God entrusted him and his descendants with a special blessing to bestow upon the Israelites. It’s all about receiving the Lord’s compassionate gaze and its resultant peace.

Mother Church commemorates today the Godbearer. In the old liturgical calendar the first of January was dedicated to Jesus’ Circumcision. As you know, from the time of Abraham circumcision was the ritual action, completed after eight days of life outside the womb, that marked boys as “sons of the covenant”—in Hebrew, b’nai b’rith (cf. the apartment building of that name in downtown Reading). Through the sacred humanity provided by Our Lady, Jesus could become a son of Adam and a son of the covenant. The Jewish ritual action soon found its completion in Holy Baptism.

The third part of the Aaronic blessing prays for "peace." The sending of the Son in human flesh is God’s gift of shalom, a word that defies translation. Although “peace” is the go-to meaning, shalom embodies wholeness, integrity, wellness, having-it-together amidst life’s storms. It has physical, emotional, and spiritual components. It is rooted in relationship: that of the Son and the Father in the Holy Spirit, the very relationship into which we are ritually inserted through Baptism, which grows in our experiences of communal liturgy, personal prayer, moral living, and fraternal charity. Shalom is the fruit of love’s freedom and power, wherein the Catholic faith is not an endless series of restrictions, but rather the way of truth and life.

The beginning of the year is a time for making resolutions. If you’re like me, you have found this too restricting. Why wait to move in the direction of a goal, when you can take a step at a time whenever you wish? Maintaining consistency is as much of a problem two weeks into the new year as it is on the 29th of April or the 3rd of August. Efforts toward that consistency, even after lapses, are movements that dispose us to God’s gift of shalom.

St. Luke presents Mary, Mother of the Church, as one who “keeps things, reflecting on them in her heart.” As one who is not easily given to calmness, I recognize something of a risk in the silence and stillness that facilitates reflection. If I made any sort of resolution I'd have to resolve to seek silence and stillness every five minutes! But just five minutes every day would be such a wonderful gift to God, and to ourselves as well.

Another worthy resolution: to go to Confession at least four times this year. This would be almost a natural consequence of the first resolution. When we are silent and still, we are led to encounter ourselves as we are, and the day’s people and surroundings as they are. The intersection of these is not always pleasant, and we are often at least partly responsible for this. Can we take the time to consider our actions and responses? Can we further take the time to present ourselves honestly before the Lord and His priest? If we did, shalom would be just around the corner.

29 December 2013

Get Up!

Yesterday was the feast day of the Holy Innocents—the boys age 2 and under whom Herod put to death in the hopes of killing the Christ-Child. Since this tragedy took place in Our Lord’s infancy, it is appropriately commemorated within the Christmas octave. If that placement is jarring, it should be! The idea that little children should die in order to satisfy one’s security is abominable. For that reason the Holy Innocents are often invoked as patrons of the unborn whose lives may be threatened by abortion.
At the same time, however, the Church knows that abortion harms many lives, including the women and men who approve, assist, or commit the act. Many of these people experience it as an unresolved trauma in their lives that cries out for healing. Recent years have witnessed a compassionate outreach to the post-abortive in a special ministry called “Project Rachel.” As a priest I gladly recommend that ministry to anyone who might profit from it. The confidential telephone number is 1-866-3RACHEL, and I would gladly meet with anyone who wants more information.

In other news: the assembly at the 10am Mass on the second Sunday of the month joins in praying the Holy Name Pledge. You may have noticed that the pledge labels are now in the hymnals. On Friday night our parish Cub Scout troop, some of their parents, and a couple of Girl Scouts performed that service for the parish. The Cubmaster and I thanked them for this important contribution to the life of the parish. They have done something to help people pray.

I spoke to our helpers about the Holy Name Society, a movement of devotion that dates back to the 13th century, when the Pope encouraged devotion to the Name of Jesus as a way to counter a popular heresy. Although the HGA contingent is small, it continues to promote the cause, fulfilling St. Paul’s exhortation in the second reading: “Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col 3:17).

On the liturgical day dedicated to the Holy Family, it would be easy to focus on the breakdown of the traditional, biblical model of the family, the relativizing and perversion of the very notion of love. It would be easy, and it would be true. Suffice to note two things: (1) the relationship of father, mother, and children forms a kind of earthly image of the Trinity—a communion of love and life; (2) to varying degrees all earthly households present an imperfect image, very much in need of renovation—that is to say, divine grace and human repentance.
Today I will dwell on the angel’s threefold command to Joseph. It’s a command that most parents issue to their children on many occasions: “Get up.” In the first instance, Joseph takes Jesus and Mary from Bethlehem to Egypt; on the second, he starts them back to Israel; on the third, they end up in Nazareth. That’s quite an expedition, quite an act of obedience. That word, to “get up”: in addition to this first context in Jesus’ early life, Matthew also uses it to refer to Jesus’ acts of resuscitating the dead (11:5), as well as to His Resurrection (16:21, 26:32, etc.).
Another example of the word occurs twice at the Transfiguration: first, Jesus bids Peter, James, and John to “rise, and not be afraid” (17:7); in the next verse, the apostles “raised their eyes [and] saw no one else but Jesus alone (18:8). From start to finish in the Gospels, we notice Jesus rising and His followers following suit. That’s because rising, getting up, is the pattern for the vibrant Christian life. Children and parents raise their eyes to each other’s needs, and raise their bodies in attentive service. The charity that begins at home is meant to extend ever outward. In short, it’s about physically, emotionally, and spiritually being present to the person and situation at hand.

Just as our families are imperfect, so are our efforts in attentiveness, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, gratitude, and so forth: everything that Paul encourages us to “put on.” Hence we rise and turn again and again to the Lord, which in turn enlivens the reverence we pay to God and our neighbor. If we turn to the Lord in the daily moments of tension and indecision, gratitude and joy, whenever we need to seek mercy or extend it, the “domestic Church” of our families and our parish will thrive. They will become the sorely needed wake-up call to our sleepy world!

26 December 2013

The Light of Laney

I must confess a tendency not to "jump on bandwagons." Even as I say this, numerous exceptions come to mind. To qualify, then: I demonstrate a grumpy-old-man resistance to popular items or causes, only to capitulate to many of them in time.

Now not all such causes or items are equally weighted. Only the most heartless would intentionally ignore the untimely illness and death of 8 year old Delaney "Laney" Brown. I had been only mildly aware of her situation by my cursory reading of the local paper. Then I began to see information about a Facebook page dedicated to her. Perhaps my alleged aversion to bandwagons stunted my interest earlier; more probably, I was consumed with my own negligible concerns. Soon, however, I "liked" the page and joined in prayer for the accomplishment of God's will in her life as well as for the patient and joyful acceptance of that will by her loved ones.

(The latent "bandwagon" undercurrent sounded something like this: "There must be hundreds or thousands of children around the world dying from disease, famine, mishap, malice, or war; so why does this girl garner such compassionate attention?" Because I put this thought out there, I know I am subjecting it to your appraisal. Be consoled to know, however, that I was the first to condemn it! Better to divert my fickle attention to one person, than to withhold it out of a semblance of respect for "the many"!)

What makes Laney so special is what makes every girl and boy so special: she is the willed result of the Creator God. As devout Christians, Laney's parents evidently related her illness and death to their faith in Divine Providence, who sees more than we can see at any given moment of human history; who, with unfathomable simplicity, sees every person's unique and unrepeatable life, with its myriad matrices of interactions, in a most complex whole. "For those who love God all things work together for the good" (Rom 8:28).

Christians recognize each person as one created in the image and likeness of the Triune God, the eternal Communion of life and love. They consider each person as a brother or sister of Jesus, who in His tragic life as God-made-man, freely and consciously offered Himself to the Eternal Father in atonement for our sins, to reconcile us with God and one another. Each person is endowed with understanding and freedom that are fully and ideally actualized in the act of faith, the merciful cleansing of baptism, and in daily participation in redemption through worship and service.

When it comes to a 7 or 8 year old person, however--one whose understanding and freedom are only beginning to develop, in whom no sane person would posit serious sin--it becomes very difficult to accept suffering and death. Pope Francis himself recently declared that, if he could obtain one miracle, it would be an end to the suffering of innocent children.

Reference to departed human beings, especially children, as angels is rather common. People have assigned that designation for God knows how long. Artists portray portray cherubs with chubby, innocent baby faces. On Christmas Day, millions watch "It's A Wonderful Life" with its reference to virtuous people "earning their wings" upon death.

Be certain of this: Angels are pure spiritual beings, of a superior intelligence and will. They are, and forever remain, distinct from human persons. Death does not graduate human persons (young or old) to the existential rank of angels. I respectfully exhort a reconsideration of this practice out of respect for the uniqueness of the human person, who, unlike an angel, is material as well as spiritual: a creature of body and soul. The body is not a hindrance to human fulfillment, even though it seems to cause people so much trouble, so soon in life.

The consummation of Laney Brown's earthly life--on Christmas Day, no less--understandably prompted thousands of angelic elevations within minutes of her passing. I understand the sentimental motivation of their words, no doubt offered in a spirit of compassion and solidarity. Angels' total consecration to the will of God, engaging them purely in divine worship, makes their connection to little children very obvious. In advocating adults' reverence for children, Jesus noted, "Their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven" (Mt 18:10). Children--and adults--have angels. "Guardian" angels, we call them. (Hence our parish name!) But they will not become angels.

The classic passage from the Letter to the Hebrews comes to mind: "To which of the angels did God ever say, 'You are my son; this day I have begotten you'?" (1:5). The sacred author emphasized this in the first segment of his letter. God took on the form of a human being, not an angel. In a sense, it wouldn't have taken much "effort" for the invisible God to assume a typically invisible entity. But it wasn't the angels who needed redemption, not even the rebellious ones; indeed redemption wasn't even possible for them, given the impossibility of their repentance. For human beings, repentance and redemption are possible, by God...and only so.

In the Incarnation Christ our God fully and authentically identified with material human existence, including the orientation to suffering and death that are courtesy of original sin. Including, too, the hesitation that human beings often experience because of our material nature. In their spiritual superiority, angels chose their "one direction" with everything in them, all at once. But we human beings employ our understanding and freedom along the space-time continuum. We can, and do, change our minds--sometimes for the better, sometimes not. Thank God for the ability, and the need, to keep making changes in our lives!

We can suppose that a young child may at some point muster enough understanding and freedom to choose in a manner displeasing to his parents, and therefore to God. Mommy or Daddy aren't happy with the child. Why--because Junior did something that the parents didn't prefer? On some level, yes, but we soon recognize the inadequacy of that motivation. Any human parent would bristle at a child's willfulness, but is quickly humbled to recognize the kernel of their own adult willfulness. Junior "offends" Mommy or Daddy, but at heart Mommy and Daddy are saddened because he is exhibiting self-will in opposition to God's wise and loving plan for his life as parents are attempting to model it for him. With patience and care parents strive to guide their children to obey their rules for the best possible reason: because to disobey them would "offend Thee, my God, who are all-good and deserving of all my love."

I never had the privilege of knowing Laney Brown. It's hard enough for me to get to know many of our young parishioners, I admit. But I would imagine that she may have at some point displeased her parents in some minor matter. No doubt her parents, like most others, swiftly and tenderly would have forgiven her and guided her to better choices, all in the name of change and growth. Human beings can do this. Angels can't. (Isn't it grand to be a person? A grand trial, no doubt, but a grand pleasure and distinction as well!)

Now that Laney's arduous struggle has ceased, we can be as certain as humanly possible that her parents, and above all her heavenly Father, have forgiven all things (if there was any personal sin to speak of). We have seen how bravely she accepted her sufferings and in fact galvanized the rest of us in our struggle to accept those sufferings. Whatever obscured God's loving presence in her, is caught up in God's purifying, transforming embrace. Given the grace of the Communion of Saints, Laney likely has great intercessory power in others' lives--her dear parents and all her family, her friends and schoolmates, the untold millions of people who united their thoughts and prayers with her in these short months, weeks, and days.

At the same time, let's continue to flood heaven with those kind movements of soul, as her family needs them now more than ever. We can't let this--them--become just another bandwagon.

Eternal rest grant her, O Lord, and let the perpetual light shine upon her; may she rest in peace.
May her soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
She made us wonder who was supporting whom!

Bathe this child in the splendor of Your eternal kingdom of light

25 December 2013

Most Recent. Christmas. Ever.

From the clergy, staff, and faithful of Holy Guardian Angels Parish, prayerful best wishes on this day of the Lord's Nativity! Following is the gist of my Christmas homily.

On this day priests can experience a kind of “performance anxiety,” not unlike many people feel in the interest of making this the “Best. Christmas. Ever.” You see, your friends and family deserve Pinterest-worthy trees, crafts, and cookies, conversation free of even the potential for annoyance and criticism. Well, I preach and write to hundreds of people who are reliable regulars, like…Walter Cronkite, Norm on “Cheers,” or the songs on a Top-40 station for about two months. I also recognize others on the parish roll who choose to participate only on this day and perhaps a few others. Some of you are home from college or from your own families. You may be visiting (or "browsing") from another parish, another locale, or another faith…and some, I suspect, are among the largest growing religious identification: that is, of no particular faith.

On this day, and in general, I want not only to welcome everyone, but to please everyone as well! Maybe you can identify with that impossible dream! Given the tremendous expectations surrounding the holidays, the pain of loss (of loved ones, of employment), marital and family strife, not to mention the general sense of discontentment in the world, can you understand how this time of year is so difficult for so many?

It seems necessary to remind myself, and all of you, that we are not the focus of this and every celebration of the Eucharist. The focus is earth’s reception of her King—a reception for which we are, at root, unworthy; yet nonetheless we strive to be properly disposed. We call Jesus our “Savior,” even though a great many people question what, if anything, we need to be saved from. With an honest appraisal we would identify the effects of original and personal sin in our lives, amounting to a widespread lack of appreciation for God’s many blessings, especially human dignity. 

Scarcely do we realize the great trust that the Lord has placed in His rational creatures, giving us the freedom either to embrace or reject His wise and loving plan! The rejection of that plan, I submit, contributes to the tensions of the world and in our families, although it also has a way of opening our hearts to the redemption and renewal that only God can give.

The first and last word on this holy day comes from the angel Gabriel who spoke to Joseph and Mary: “Be not afraid.” God has forever and completely entered the muck of human existence, to purify and elevate it beyond our imaginings. Be not afraid, then, to trust God with your resources, your relationships, your virtues and sins, indeed your entire life! Be not afraid to give, but also to receive! Be that innkeeper who makes room for the Christ and His parents—not just today, but every day. Come to the feeding trough—Bethlehem, the “house of bread”—to receive heavenly nourishment so that, in turn, you can nourish others in need. United to the God who became flesh in Jesus, who knows what miracles can be born in your flesh?
The House of Bread

24 December 2013

A Christmas Gift: A Learning Experience

Soon I will enter the sacristy and vest for the first Vigil Mass for the Nativity of the Lord. In addition to the usual intention, our parishioners, I offer the Mass for my family, friends, and all my readership.

I also remember a woman who came to the door earlier today, asking to pray over in the church. She acknowledged social anxiety and a run-in she had with an unnamed parishioner that has since discouraged her from attending Mass, here or anywhere. With pastoral panache [verbal irony], I encouraged her, "You wouldn't let one instance of food poisoning keep you from eating, would you?" She was most welcome to come over at 2:30 when the church would be opened up. She thanked me and left.

I unlocked the church before 2:30, earnestly hoping to see her, to apologize for the short treatment and to pray with her. She didn't show.

A friend soon called me, and I told him about the situation. He was merciful enough to posit a merciful God who would not hold this against me. Like anything else, my friend said, this could be a learning experience for the next person who will come by at an inopportune time. He also recognized the difficulties of "boundaries": would you create a precedent for the priest being available anytime, at anyone's call?

Well, yes, I ought to have done just that. For just a minute. Nothing would have suffered. Not my homily (which was already prepared), nothing else.

Pray with me for this woman, that the Lord's mercy may enter her heart to forgive whoever is troubling her, even if it's this priest.

Yes, you and I can learn from the times we fail to welcome Christ in our midst. May it be so!

21 December 2013

Tell Us How You Really Feel!

On the Facebook, I was privy to a conversation about our culture "shifting to the right of the Pope." That observation, given without context, was the catalyst of discussion. I guess it may have had something to do with what I shall call Duckgate. Maybe lots of people have been acknowledging Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson's right to have and articulate his beliefs regarding same-sex activity. I haven't been following this scandal, and have lost no sleep over it. I've lost more sleep writing for this dank wilderness of a blog.

The conversation proceeded to mention Pope Francis, a favorite among most of the participants for his gentle demeanor, charitable activity, and tolerance of seekers and objectors. This guy approves of public breast-feeding! What has the Pope to do with breasts!? And so forth. It took a humorous turn, such that I wouldn't mind a frank yet charitable conversation with these folks someday!

This panel favors Francis. I don't want to say "for the wrong reasons" (it slipped out), but then again, what are those reasons? I don't claim to know the inner hearts of any of these good people. Conversations of this sort reflect much of the current fascination with Francis. Further speculation into motives for this fascination might exceed my pay grade, but that never stopped me before:
  • He gives Catholicism a good face (read: a better face than Benedict or John Paul did. As a late-model Gen-Xer, my peers and I don't go back much earlier than that).
  • He's more open to those whose association with Catholicism is at best tenuous and at worst inimical.
  • He is the "real deal," because he overtly shows love for the poor and marginalized and tolerance for seekers (again, unlike his predecessors, who could as well have been chaplains for the GOP).
The interlocutors never asked me to participate. Your Reverend Troll (if I deserve that moniker) was moved to comment on the general tenor of the thread, as well as the possibility, voiced by one speaker, that people may return to the Church--not necessarily they, but others--on account of Pope Francis. The comment, in toto:
As gentle and tolerant as Pope Francis is, I don't expect scads of "reverts" to the faith on account of him. He's already reaffirmed certain teachings as immutable, even while reminding (especially priests, 'cause we need it!) that Jesus' identity and mission undergird all the hot-button least for Catholics; and this no matter who wears the white skullcap. What kinda irks me is how Francis' immediate predecessors have been billed as authoritarian, callous, elitist, I'd almost say because of Francis' style and content. "[Thinking of Francis as] the real deal" insults his predecessors, and puts him on an unfair pedestal as well. Although he seems like the kind of person who is content to be himself, no matter what the public perception – and this may well be the key to his charm. In this and several other respects, I'd like to be like him when I grow up. [emphases mine, because Facebook doesn't use italics]
Then it seemed that further development was necessary. Once salt is added, it's hard to remove.
..."Upon further review," as they say in the NFL, it's rather pessimistic not to expect some genuine conversions; and why not, because many things about him manifest the appeal of Jesus and, yes, of the Catholic faith, in ways that other popes may not have exhibited; or the signals weren't so clear (that's very much the Holy Spirit's domain). That's all for now.
I've just about had enough defending Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II. But hey--they didn't ask for it, nor do they really need it!

20 December 2013

A Rave And A Rant

Blogger Leah Libresco writes about the excitement that numerous disparate voices share concerning Pope Francis, from Time to Vanity Fair to The Advocate. While Catholic periodicals might be expected to feature the Pope, the honorable mentions from the secular press are, well, honorable to mention (see Kathy Schiffer's cover of the covers)! Recently ABC's Good Morning America offered a fine feature of the Pontiff's encounter with two of its reporters. He's a good "bad penny," always turning up.

It's refreshing to witness such interest in times when people recognize the faces of entertainers more easily than public servants! One thing we can say about Pope Francis: He is getting the Word out.  But what word? Whose word?

Christ's, of course!

Insofar as he has taught about matters of faith and morals, his teachings are due our "religious submission of intellect and will," according to the Church's teaching on her teaching authority, the Magisterium. So far, he has issued his highest-level teachings in the form of an encyclical letter, Lumen Fidei (a "concerto for four hands," two of them Benedict's), and most recently, an apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium.

Upon reading this last paragraph, even if you are a Catholic, you may be wondering about that phrase religious submission of will and intellect. It is often presented as professional jargon (the profession in question being "theologian"), but it is not at all difficult to understand, though perchance to execute. A faithful Catholic would seek to understand and assent to papal declarations that concern Catholic teaching. Cardinal Newman assured us, "Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt," but it would be worthwhile to seek prompt and satisfactory resolution to any difficulties from trusted resources. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is the most reliable resource for our dollar.

You may have noticed that Pope Francis is fond of interviews. To date, the interview has not been a medium for the Magisterium, although Benedict and John Paul II both gave interviews that were published in book form. True to the form of our age of information, Francis already has given three in his first year upon Peter's Chair. People have complained that interviews (and these in particular) lack precision of content and delivery, but this doesn't much matter to many listeners, who find refreshing his portrayal of the Catholic Church, in word, yes, but more so in gesture.

Like Ms. Libresco, however, I am not thrilled to the point of effusive joy. He has said nothing new, although he has restated orthodox utterances in different ways. In terms of charitable outreach, he has done nothing new. (Somewhere there is a "meme" of photos of Francis doing certain beautiful things, alongside his predecessors doing the same things, e.g., embracing disfigured persons).

Excuse me: with regard to the pontifical lifestyle, he has done new things. He has abandoned most papal peculiarities, no longer emblazoning his coat of arms on his fascia (sash, or as one of our seminary deans called it, "belly band"), living in the traditional Vatican apartment suite, or wearing red Gucci slippers. He drives his own car, etc. If a successor ever wished to reintroduce anything of what Francis set aside, or in any way look or sound like himself rather than Francis, he might have a hard time. That's the "cult of personality," which very much characterizes this age, probably as much as any other ("I belong to Apollos!").

As one who tends to fancy the theoretical over the practical (yet seeks balance here, as elsewhere), I respect, admire, and weakly imitate the Pope's outreach. As Cardinal Bergoglio, he presented a remarkable portrait of the Church as a whole, and, perhaps unwittingly, of his pontificate : "The Church is called to come out of herself and to go to the peripheries, not only geographically, but also the existential peripheries: the mystery of sin, of pain, of injustice, of ignorance and indifference to religion, of intellectual currents, and of all misery." This smacks of mission, a constitutive element of the Church and her children, regardless of what form of the Mass or style of vestments or (insert your favorite variable here) you prefer.

This is a Jesuit talking here. I don't mean that (anymore) as a jibe. The Society is the Church's peripheral nervous system; and what fully operative Body lacks one? But you don't have to be a Jesuit to be a Creatively Faithful Contrarian (a CFC, but the good kind that improves the environment). CFCs have a way of challenging everyone, and that can be somewhat disconcerting. Ask Jesus.

I have withstood enjoyed the company of such people over the years. They may not have been faithful to the Church as such, but they were faithful to me, even if I sometimes felt like clay being molded (not in a romantic way, à la Ghost, but in a heartless way, à la Jeremiah 18). These friends have brought me to the present moment, oftentimes staying awake as late as now, helping to clarify and purify my faith.

It's getting late, and I want to finish the thought.

I can't control my own life, so sure as shittake mushrooms I can't control yours; but would people please just stop framing Pope Emeritus Benedict, and even Pope Soon-Saint John Paul II, as antitheses of Pope Francis? Would you respect B16 and JP2 for their acceptance of the "trappings" (we know not in what spirit) as much as you respect Francis for his rejection of them? Would you stop contrasting B16 and JP2's styles of interaction and preaching to Francis'? Would you consider each man's content alongside his delivery, allowing some of the dust to settle around Francis' latest utterance and photos before reluctantly, or gleefully, waving goodbye to the Church's future, or to her past?

Insofar as these men hesitatingly yet confidently accepted the call to the papacy as they had accepted priesthood, they are Peter, part of a Tradition that can both embrace and eschew trappings, speak gently and stridently, affirm the Church's teachings while loving God's confused and contrary children, among whom they must include themselves. All three would concur: "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and I am not."

14 December 2013

Head Games

Several years ago, a priest thought that this hat would look good on me and decided to give it to me.
People will be Russian to buy them
The hat has been in my self-storage unit the second floor of my Mom's house until I recently unearthed it, to my great delight. I needed the right weather conditions to wear it.

Now that it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, I have been wearing the hat. In my self-consciousness I have been paying more attention to people who pass me on the streets and in shopping plazas--not for their sakes, mind you, but because of the hat.

This happened just today. I saw a couple get out of their car, and the young woman was grinning. At me!? I quickly continued walking toward the store, which turned out to be the same one they had entered (somehow I'd lost track of them). This conversation ensued:

He: "Hey, nice hat."
I: "Do you mean that, or are you just making fun of me?"
He: [feigning sincerity, backtracking, making excuses, otherwise being unmasked for his idiocy]

Take note, patient reader, that the preceding conversation took place in my mind. By the time I entered the store, the couple was minding their business, paying no noticeable attention even to the most paranoid me.

This mental maelstrom moved me to have a real conversation. Returning to my car with its hands-free connectivity, I called a friend, to whom I laid out the whole situation. He deftly waded through the slush:

He: "Do you like the hat?"
I: "I do."
He: "So wear the hat."
I: "I am."

My friend reminded me that my strained interior monologue would find healing by recalling the true nature of who and what I am, and being at peace with that. He knows well that this has been an arduous endeavor for me, but like a good friend, he has accompanied me thus far and has no plans of giving up on me. I have not always been such a stalwart companion to the people in my life, I concede; but if our Second-Chance-Giving God sees fit, He will arrange further interactions.

In our conversation I thought of another man with a unique hat who, if he were anything like me, would be a bit self-conscious right now.

Time Magazine's annual honoree for 2013, Pope Francis, wears the white zucchetto. Thanks to ubiquitous cameras, the entire world has seen him wash a woman's feet, embrace physically disfigured people, and do many other things that are making people alternately cringe in disdain and leap for joy. They have heard him declare the Person and Mission of Christ as the basis for every Church teaching and discipline, leaving some with the impression that cultural concerns need to be, at best, contextualized, at worst, ignored.

Since the advent of news magazines and television programs, and especially in the days of the Internet, every Pope has been photographed and evaluated from every angle. "Heavy hangs the hat that wears the crown," or miter; but it seems that the Holy Fathers have gone about their Father's business with joyful determination, self-un-consciousness.

Consider Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Since his abdication of the papacy, he has been permitted to continue wearing the white zucchetto. The satirical Catholic news site Eye of the Tiber fabulates Benedict's quiet sadness upon reading of his successor's fame. If, as far as we know, Pope Francis discharges the duties of Bishop of Rome without becoming curved in on himself*, we can surmise that Pope Emeritus Benedict's interior conformity to Christ, and protection from public scrutiny, will suffice to guide him gently to the Trinity's embrace.
*"Curved in on himself" (incurvatus in se): St. Augustine's famous description of my life
A vibrant relationship with God enables us to wear the hat of our vocation without becoming excessively concerned about the dimensions of our head.

12 December 2013

Person of the Year

"Now there is in Jerusalem at the Sheep Gate a pool called in Hebrew Bethesda, with five porticoes. In these lay a large number of ill, blind, lame, and crippled. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been ill for a long time, he said to him, 'Do you want to be well?' The sick man answered him, 'Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me.' Jesus said to him, 'That question had two possible answers: yes, or no.'" (Jn 5:2-8a, except for that last part, which came to me in prayer.)

By the time I get to writing, someone else (often, several someones else) has written before me! If this lament were a subscription, today's issue would be the selection of Pope Francis as Time magazine's Person of the Year (henceforth, POTY). I've found several posts from first was "TIME Magazine Got it Wrong" by Daniel McInerny, "Why is Pope Francis TIME Magazine's POTY?" by Fr. Dwight Longenecker, and "Twitterverse Ablaze After TIME Announces Pope Francis as 'POTY'," a presentation of accolades from various sources who otherwise wouldn't be found in the same article.

Back to the opening Scripture quote. Jesus' actual response to the lame man was, "Rise, take up your mat, and walk." By divine power and human effort, a miracle. Just this evening, Jimmy Fallon declared Pope Francis' first miracle: he got people to read TIME Magazine.
It could have been Miley Cyrus
Jesus often directed people to do certain things in the process of demonstrating His authority in human affairs. So did Mary: she directed Juan Diego to gather unseasonal flowers in his garment and present them to the bishop--and a whole blasted continent more or less turned away from human sacrifice and learned of the Living God! Indolence, overcome through obedience.

Even though our Holy Father has won the accolades of the City of Man, he will not attenuate the Catholic Faith. Just you wait and see. But in the process, he may well both intelligently present the Faith and genuinely win people's affections. Some may wonder, invoking Our Lord's words, "Woe to you when all men speak well of you" (Lk 6:26); but I believe he will continue to deflect that glory whither it is due.

If the New Evangelization is all about glorifying God and actualizing self through generous and talented service--I'm game! It makes "Persons of the Year," only because it makes persons.

09 December 2013

We Are Not Alone

Last week I was on retreat. A priest-friend gave me passages and pondering points and a pad from Monday to Friday. It was a good week, insofar as it revealed once again how far I have to go when it comes to the discipline of prayer.

Did you ever notice that it's easier to note how far you have to go with some good quality or practice, than how far you have come with said quality or practice? It's easier for me, anyhow; and it's related to the equally debilitating attitude that "that blogger/priest/etc. is so much more popular/accomplished/effective/etc. than I." Another favorite topic on The Shipwrack-Harvest! "Which I might as well give up, because so few people read it anyhow." I wasn't planning on making a final post, but I wasn't planning on ceasing to complain either.

After our parish's "Advent Vespers," a combination of the Church's Evening Prayer and our Choir's offering of inspirational and sacred music, God threw me a bone. A choir member thanked me (as he had done at least once before) for my blog, which he said he reads faithfully. He noticed that I hadn't posted this past week, and was looking forward to the next offering.

My reaction:
Well, it wasn't too far a-field of that, anyhow.

It's true, and it's confirmed many times daily: I am no Elizabeth Scalia, no Fr Dwight Longenecker, no Anthony Esolen; but get this, folks (I say in the mirror): Every second I spend mulling over who I'm not, is a second not being spent on who I am. A second irreplaceably wasted. Cheating God by dissing one of His creations and by devoting no energy to crafting the talent He's given me, the "definite service" only I can discharge.

Yeah, I know, this is an old topic. I have treated it before. And previously. If any of my readership, or someone they know, bears a similar cross, let them profit from knowing they are not alone.

People recognize they aren't alone precisely because of communication. Others reach out, and they receive the outreach; or they might reach out, from the depths of their solitude, and someone is there to meet their flailing, groping grip with one of their own. The written word, on paper or online, is a valid venue for outreach. The Internet is a forum for all kinds of research and connection, especially in the spiritual realm. It has profited me well, and this blog is one example. Knowing that some people find it at all, and find it enjoyable, is a great consolation.

"We read to know we are not alone," said C. S. Lewis; and certainly that must apply to writing, too!