Saturday, March 31, 2012

On the Way...Virtually


Just in time for Holy Week, the folks over at Busted Halo have brought a traditional Catholic devotion into the 21st century by putting together an online version of the Way of the Cross.  There's a 2+ minute video meditation for each of the 14 stations...so set aside 40 minutes--or take these one by one throughout your day or week--and enter into the mystery of Christ's suffering and death in a whole new way.
 

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Annunciation of the Lord

"It would never have occurred to Mary to see her assent to God as a part of God’s own work: 
she works with God only in the sense she lets him work in her." 
—Hans Urs von Balthasar


Learn more about the artist and the story behind this striking image of Gabriel's world-changing visit to the Virgin Mary.
 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

New Cardinal on New Media

Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto is quite an effective communicator...even without his Blackberry, iPod, or Kindle.  This bit of a Thursday interview on Canadian TV is well worth a watch/listen.



Thanks to Whispers in the Loggia for the lead.
 

Hat Dance

That's pretty much what I wanted to do when I saw the Holy Father's cool new headgear!


"Today we are full of jubilation, and this is important. God wants us to be happy always. He knows us and he loves us. If we allow the love of Christ to change our heart, then we can change the world. This is the secret of authentic happiness."
Pope Benedict XVI
To the young people of Guanajuato, Mexico
March 24, 2012

Fall/Rise

Our deacon is preaching this weekend...and I'm taking a little late Lenten break from the pulpit.

   Fifth Sunday of Lent   B 

"Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, 
it remains just a grain of wheat;
but if it dies, it produces much fruit." (Jn 12:24)


Now the green blade riseth from the buried grain,

Wheat that in dark earth many days has lain;

Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green.

In the grave they laid Him, Love whom men had slain,

Thinking that never He would wake again,
Laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen:

Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.

Forth He came at Easter, like the risen grain,

He that for three days in the grave had lain,
Quick from the dead my risen Lord is seen:
Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green.

When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain,

Thy touch can call us back to life again,

Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:

Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green.

John M.C. Crum, Oxford Book of Carols, 1928
  

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Preacher Man






Fr. Bryan Stitt (Malone's parochial vicar and diocesan Vocations Director) has now gotten into the act of posting some of his homilies online--not the texts of 'em (like you find on this here low-tech blog), but recordings of them from the pulpit.

If you would like to listen in on what the "other guy" is saying, you can find the audio files here.

Hat in the Ring

By way of update on the ongoing contraceptive coverage impasse between the U.S. Catholic Bishops and the Obama administration (earlier discussed on this blog here and here), Fr. Stitt shared with me this Newsweek story (posted by The Daily Beast) profiling Cardinal Timothy Dolan.  It paints a pretty accurate picture of where he's coming from, and what stake he's got in this fight.  Stick with it through all three pages.

Of course, many of you will quickly realize that I was hooked as soon as it started talking about his hat collection...

Monday, March 19, 2012

St. Joseph




Today, of course, is the solemnity of my holy and glorious patron...who also just happens to be the Guardian of the Virgin Mary, Foster-Father of the Son of God, and Protector of the Church.

How could I not celebrate?

In a brief break from the rigors of Lent, last night found me preparing a fitting feast for a few folks, complete with a little altar to Good Saint Joseph.

We ate pretty well--the menu reflecting some of my Italian biases--and were not stingy with the portions, either.  (It's pretty safe to assume Joseph was a good provider.)

Now, the rest of the meal was really just a vehicle for dessert: the bignè di San Giuseppe (essentially deep fried cream puffs).  Very dear to my heart (even if very bad for it), they're a culinary souvenir of my Roman sojourn, and it's probably a good idea they're made but once a year!


True confession: I got so excited about cooking and eating them that I forgot to take any pictures...until I was about to down the very last bite!

I'm heading out momentarily to honor St. Joseph yet again, as is only right and just.  This evening I've been invited to be guest celebrant and preacher at a Mass (followed by a meal) in nearby Bombay, NY...at St. Joseph's Church...where else?!?
 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Beacon

Yesterday may have been for the "wearin' o' the green," but in the Church this Sunday, it's again the wearin' o' the rose.

That said, I did "go green" this Sunday...in the sense of "recycling," that is.  Those of you who have heard/read my homilies for some time may recognize this one; it's modestly reworked from a homily I gave on these readings at St. Mary's Cathedral in Ogdensburg when I was assigned there back in 2006.

   Fourth Sunday of Lent   B 

As most of you know,
I grew up on a farm over in Beekmantown
where there’s a large hill out behind the barn.
When we finished our chores on mid-winter evenings,
it would already be dark as we headed to the house for supper.
They hadn’t put streetlamps up on our road yet,
so we could clearly see
both the lights of Plattsburgh just down the road apiece
and the stars above, millions of miles away.
As a little kid, I remember noticing—not every night, but fairly often—
a bright beam of light that came up from over and behind the hill,
repeatedly scanning across the sky.
I couldn’t see where 
the light was coming from,
and I was too scared to tell anyone 
about what I saw…
…mostly because…I was absolutely certain
it was an alien spaceship scoping us out.
(I had a fairly active imagination!)
Needless to say, 
I remember being much relieved
when I first realized that it was actually
the light of the beacon 
at the Clinton County Airport
helping planes to find their way in the dark!

This is Laetare Sunday.
Like the mid-point of Advent
when the rose-colored candle begins to glow,
so at the mid-point of Lent the Church encourages us
to “lighten up” a bit in the midst
of our penitential Easter preparations—
to rejoice in the brightness of the resurrection
which already shines upon us and all of creation.
It’s a time to celebrate the light that came to scatter our darkness.

Our first reading this Sunday
tells of a very dark time in the history of God’s people.
The second Book of Chronicles is the last in the Jewish Bible…
…and, at first glance anyway,
it doesn’t look like this story is going to have a happy ending.
Invading armies have forced God’s chosen people to leave the Promised Land.
It was the people’s infidelity that brought on this disaster—
condemned by their own sinful actions.


Prophets had been sent 
time and again 
to call them back;
God’s love 
had remained constant,
but the people’s had not.
With the temple burned 
and Jerusalem destroyed,
the survivors live as captives 
in a foreign land
for seventy long, painful years,
weeping by 
the streams of Babylon, 
robbed even of their songs.

But into this bleak darkness a light begins to shine—
one which is almost missed because its source is so unexpected.
A new king comes to power—a Persian, named Cyrus—
who releases God’s people to return to Judah
and to rebuild the Lord’s house at royal expense.
One could understand how a foreign ruler
had taken rebellious Israel off into exile.
But could God really be using another unbeliever
to restore it again?

Our gospel reading begins 
under cover of darkness, as well.
Nicodemus—
a prominent religious leader—
had come to question Jesus 
by night,
for it would certainly raise 
more than a few eyebrows
if he were seen seeking counsel 
of this rabble-rouser
who had just caused such a ruckus
among the moneychangers 
in the temple.
But like a moth to the flame,
his searching heart 
was drawn to this man
who not only spoke the truth, 
but lived it.
The light Nicodemus found 
shining in and through Jesus
pulled him out of the shadows,
to the point that he would be one of the few who made sure
that Jesus had a proper burial after his death on the cross.
Could God really be taking someone
who comes in secret, with such fear and mixed motives,
and make him a firsthand witness to the saving love revealed in his Son?

The light of Christ—the true light that has come into the world—
often shines like that airport beacon
which I used to see—but not understand—on dark nights as a child.
It is meant to guide us along life’s often dim and winding pathways:
there not to condemn, but to save;
burning that we might not perish, but have eternal life.
The trouble is, sometimes we do not recognize
the light for what it really is.
Like the thought of God working thorough a pagan king,
its source may be hidden, unexpected,
or too startlingly different and new.
We can have a hard time believing
that the Lord might actually try to meet us in “this sort” of situation,
might actually speak to us through “that kind” of person.
Sadly, too, we sometimes even prefer the darkness.
Like Nicodemus, we are troubled by what the light might expose—
shortcomings we’d rather leave concealed,
shady tendencies of which we’re not quite ready to let go.
We feel the pull to come nearer,
but can also feel too frightened, too embarrassed,
too ashamed to get too close.

God’s only Son, Light from Light, was lifted high on a cross
that he might lift us up together with him in glory.
He came into this world’s darkness
not to alarm us, not to accuse us, not to rebuke us,
but to bring to light the incredible riches of God’s mercy.
As Saint Paul writes to the Ephesians,
God’s love for us is so great that, in Christ,
he has already given us seats in heaven:
not because of our own stumbling efforts to find a way in the night,
but because of the shining beacon of God’s saving grace;
not because of anything we might accomplish ourselves,
but because we are God’s handiwork,
created and re-created by his free gift.

In Jesus we find a light brightly beaming from beyond…
…though not from an alien spaceship.

If we can find the faith, 
if we can have the trust,
to seek after its unseen source,
we will find it slowly scattering 
the darkness of doubt and fear
that so often clouds our minds and hearts.
Recognizing God’s only Son 
present here in the Eucharist,
may our eyes be opened to see him
whenever, however, 
and in whomever he should come to us,
unafraid to step out of the shadows 
and into his light.

St. Patrick


A day late, this one...but the Apostle of Ireland was duly honored last evening.  This Frenchman was graciously invited to a party that included a cake with St. Patrick's picture handsomely displayed and the kind "ecumenical" gesture of a glass of Irish Coffee marked not in Gaelic but the Gallic tongue of my own ancestors.  As they say on the Emerald Isle: Sláinte!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Cloudy

I very affectionately dedicate this strip to all my dear, dear friends who find it rather amazing that I have a blog...but still don't own a cellphone...

First

Tomorrow marks the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts, and we had a gathering of two pews worth of them in uniform at the 11:00am Mass today.  One of the young ladies came up to me afterwards to let me know she had the cookies I'd ordered awhile back: two boxes of Thin Mints.  (Don't worry--I won't touch 'em until Lent's over!)  Of course, as I reached for my wallet to pay up, I could distinctly hear the words of the gospel echoing in the background: Stop making my Father's house a marketplace...

   Third Sunday of Lent   B 

Hank—a rather unscrupulous man—had lost his favorite hat.
Instead of shelling out a few bucks for a new one,
he figured he’d stop by a church on Sunday morning
and steal a nice one from the vestibule
while the congregation was busy praying.
No sooner had Hank 
come quietly through the door
than an usher spotted him 
and quickly seated him in a pew
just in time to hear a sermon 
on the Ten Commandments.
On his way out from Mass,
Hank vigorously shook the priest’s hand 
and said, “Father, I have to thank you
for saving my soul this morning.
I came to this church 
with the intention of stealing a hat,
but after hearing you preach 
on the Ten Commandments,
I changed my mind.”
“Well,” said the priest, “I’m sure you mean that
the seventh commandment, ‘You shall not steal,’ changed your mind.”
“No, no,” Hank replied.  “It was the one about adultery.
As soon as you said that, I remembered where I left my hat.”

Although you may have never realized it,
most of us—like Hank—have an unconscious ranking system
when it comes to the Ten Commandments.
There are certain ones we just take more seriously than the others.
I usually run into this in the confessional,
when somebody’s trying to convince me
(or convince themselves, more like it,)
that whatever sin they’re confessing really isn’t all that bad.
“Well…it’s not like I killed anybody.”
“It’s not like I stole a car or anything.”
“It’s not like I actually committed adultery.”
Meanwhile, I have yet to hear anyone argue,
“It’s not like I worked on the sabbath or something.”
We seem to think it’s a much bigger deal
to break some commandments rather than others.

Now, if we are so prone 
to ranking the commandments,
wouldn’t you think that maybe—just maybe—
God has a ranking for them, too?
And since it was God who delivered
these commandments in the first place,
wouldn’t you think that, 
if God has a preference,
he just might have put them down 
in a particular order?

The one commandment 
I hear about least in the confessional—
whether it’s a sin actually committed
or a case of, “Well, at least I didn’t…”
is the very first commandment:
I, the Lord, am your God;
you shall not have other gods besides me.
And yet, since that’s the one 
God put very first on the list,
I’d say it’s one which should make us 
sit up and pay attention.


In fact, I’d go so far as to say 
that none of the other nine commandments
make any sense whatsoever without it.

Everything else in my life flows from what I worship.
Everything I think, feel, do, and say will fall into place around it.
What’s my highest value?
What’s of the greatest worth to me?
What’s most important?  My top priority?
It ought to be pleasing God.
When I’m making a choice,
when I’m facing a decision—big or small—
do I consider, “Does this please God?”
If that’s not my main criteria,
if that’s not the standard by which I measure everything else,
then something’s out of order—
something else is in first place;
then I am not, in fact, worshiping the one true God.  (cf. R. Barron)

And if I’ve given my loyalty to other gods—
be they fame or fortune, power or pleasure,
culture or country, family or even my own ego—
then don’t the other commandments which follow become negotiable?
If God is not really and truly the Lord of my life,
then aren’t these just guidelines? 
Ten helpful suggestions?
One source of influence on my thinking among so many others?

If we’re not putting the first commandment first,
then should be we surprised
that people are neglecting the third commandment,
as parents increasingly find it more important
to get their kids to games and practice
than to Mass and Sunday school?
If we’re not putting the first commandment first,
should be we surprised
that people are neglecting the fifth commandment,
as drugs are killing millions,
either by the slow death of addiction
or the violence which surrounds the trade?
If we’re not putting the first commandment first,
should be we surprised
that people are neglecting the sixth commandment,
as more and more marriages break up,
and fewer and fewer couples even bother to get married?
If we’re not putting the first commandment first,
should be we surprised
that people are neglecting the ninth commandment,
as they sink deeper and deeper into needless debt
because they covet a lifestyle beyond their means?
We often work out of the assumption
that the quality of our relationship with God
is based on how we relate to other people and the things of this world.
But that gets things backwards.
In reality, how I relate to other people and the things of this world
ought to be established on my primary relationship:
my relationship with God.


In the gospel, we hear the startling story of how Jesus “cleansed” the temple,
driving out the money changers and those who sold animals for sacrifice.
It’s a rather bold and dramatic way to make the point
that his body, his person, is the truest and greatest temple:
the place where heaven and earth, where God and man, most perfectly meet.
We, too, are temples;
our hearts are places of worship.
If we let Jesus get in there,
if we allow God to take his proper place
at the center of who we are and all that we do,
then we can expect things to change.
Jesus will make as much of a ruckus in your heart
as he did in that temple of stone:
turning your values on their head and rearranging your priorities completely.
And he’ll do it for the same reason that he once did in Jerusalem:
to zealously reclaim it as his Father’s house,
where there’s no room for commerce or compromise or any other gods.

This Lent, put first things first.
Examine your life in light of God’s commandments.
Be sure to start with number one.
  

Sunday, March 4, 2012

On My Head

I love getting presents (who doesn't?), so when an unexpected package arrived on my desk just the other day, I got pretty excited.  I got even more excited when I saw that it had come all the way from Afghanistan...and that the customs label said it contained (drumroll please): a helmet.  (Sorry it's fuzzy...but if you squint just right you can read the tag for yourself.)

You see, my longtime friend Kim (we went to grade and high school together) married this great guy, Dan, who is currently deployed over in Afghanistan. (Dan has his own cool blog, AfghanDanistan, which is well worth checking out.)  And--somehow--he got this silly notion that I have a thing for helmets.  (Where in the world would he get that crazy idea?)  Turns out Dan was in the Friday market in Mazar-e Sharif (where all the merchants are--amazingly--his "best friends" now), and a certain item for sale had him thinking of me.

Needless to say, I didn't waste much time tearing that box wide open and trying on my new piece of headgear.  It was a little snug, as Dan's note said it might me.  (He looked, but couldn't find a larger one.)  I couldn't help but wonder, "Is this the sort of kick-butt helmet that Genghis Kahn or Attila the Hun would have worn?"  Feeling a little more manly with such a thing on my head, I marched upstairs to the offices of the two nuns who work for the parishes.  They grinned widely and--like me--marveled at the handiwork of this exotic piece.  When I mentioned taking a picture with it on and getting it up on my blog, one of the sisters prudently asked, "Do you know its significance?  Does it have some sort of religious meaning?"

With fearful images of riots in the streets over an unintended inter-religous insult, I did what any self-respecting 30-something would do: I tried to Google it.  I typed in various searches, without much luck at first...until...I saw a photo of another headpiece rather similar to the one now in my possession.  So I clicked the link and learned that it is a headdress typical to Turkmenistan...and then made the mental note to look at a map and verify just where that it.  I then read that it's something worn at weddings and on other festive occasions...by brides and other young women!  (That just might explain why it runs a little small!)  I guess these caps are worn by Turkmen women as a sign of status and their family's wealth.  But it seems that all that silver isn't just to show off your financial status; it's believed to ward off evil spirits, too.

So...you won't see any pictures of me here wearing this headdress--but that's because of cross-dressing (rather than cross-cultural) concerns!

Thanks again, Dan, for thinking of me and sending such a beautiful gift!  My hat collection is all the better for it.  And it's going to be a truly awesome prop when I'm teaching marriage prep classes...

Freedom...or Free Stuff?



Here is a rather fun take on a rather serious
subject...that also makes a pretty good point, as far as I'm concerned.

It's encouraging to me to see this sort of commentary on the HHS health insurance mandates coming from outside a specifically religious/Catholic context.

Revealing

   Second Sunday of Lent   B 

As some of you know,
I studied theology in Italian
and since I only had a four-week crash course in the language,
that means it took a little while
before I really knew what was going on in the classroom.

I clearly remember one of our professors—Monsignor Fisichella
speaking at the podium one morning
when he pulled out his handkerchief, unfolded it,
and then draped it over his wrist.
He covered his watch, then uncovered it,
repeating this maneuver several times as he spoke.
I began to wonder if he was trying to teach us a magic trick!
But what I later discovered—as my Italian improved—
is that he was trying to demonstrate for us the work of revelation.
The word “reveal” means to remove the veil,
to uncover something previously hidden, obscure, or inaccessible.

And in the Church, to speak of divine revelation
is to speak of the marvelous way
in which God himself has pulled back the curtain,
allowing us to catch a glimpse of his true nature and our own.



Sometimes, 
when God reveals himself,
he comes through loud and clear.
Take, for example, 
when Jesus is transfigured 
on the mountain.
The three disciples see him—
quite literally—beaming,
in conversation with 
the greatest of the prophets
and the giver of the law,
as a voice booms from the clouds: 
This is my beloved Son!  
Listen to him!
Not much subtlety there!



But there are other times 
when God’s self-revelation
is pretty hard to get.
Consider that story 
of Abraham and Isaac,
climbing a different mountain.
That’s a tale which has perplexed 
believers across the ages.
So…God is testing 
Abraham’s faith…
…but isn’t child sacrifice 
rather extreme?
Alright…God doesn’t let him 
go through with it…
…but isn’t that a horrific thing
 to ask a parent in the first place?


Let’s take the story apart.
We’ve got a father and…his son.
The two of them climb…a hill.
We don’t hear this detail in today’s passage,
but the boy—what’s he carry up that hill?  The wood for the sacrifice.
And when they get to the top, what happens to that son?
He’s fastened to the wood he’s just carried.
So, we’ve got a beloved, only son climbing a hill,
carrying wood and fastened to it on reaching the top.


Doesn’t that sound an awful lot 
like another story we know?
But in that second story, 
there’s no ram caught in the thicket.
God did not spare his own Son, as St. Paul writes,
but handed him over for us all.
You see, God didn’t ask of Abraham
anything he would not do himself!
And—oh!—the revelation gets even clearer
when we learn that the height in the land of Moriah
once climbed by Abraham and Isaac
would later be known as Mount Zion:
the knoll where the city of Jerusalem would be built;
the very same hill 
upon which Jesus was crucified.

It’s message and meaning 
might take centuries to become clear,
but that’s certainly a revelation 
worth waiting to unfold.



We human beings are pretty smart—and we know it.
We can figure out a whole mess of things all on our own.
But the ways and inner workings of God? 
They’re not among them.
How do we come to know God
and his loving plan for the world?
Only because God has made himself known.
Only because God has communicated himself in deeds and words.
It’s not that men and women “discovered” God;
it’s that God pulled back the curtain between heaven and earth,
lifting the veil and showing us his face.
God does this gradually—to people like Adam and Eve,
like Abraham and Isaac, like Moses and Elijah—
until he personally, completely, and definitively reveals himself
in his incarnate Son, God’s Word made flesh, Jesus Christ.

You see, Christianity is not a manmade religion, but a God-given one.
The Church works with and by
God’s definitions of what’s true and good,
not according to what’s popular, practical, or politically correct.
We didn’t create this world,
and we don’t get to determine its meaning, its purpose, its rules.
In deed and in word—in Tradition and in Scripture—
the Church has been entrusted with a sacred deposit of the faith:
a rich treasure which demands to be carefully preserved,
not emptied or expanded or altered on our own designs.
As the guardian and servant of God’s revelation,
the Church must, of course, interpret this divine heritage
and her understanding of it constantly grows.
But fundamentally, the truths of our faith do not—cannot!—change,
because they come from God and not from us.

That’s a pretty elementary building block of our faith,
but I fear it’s one that’s unfamiliar to many Catholics today.
What a considerable difference it makes in our perspective
when we stop to realize that—at its core—
religion is something we receive, not create,
a matter of God’s initiative, rather than our own!

Rich Mullins was a Christian musician
who died in a tragic accident back in 1997.
He had a keen interest in Catholicism,
and may have been considering joining the Church
at the time of his death.
In a catchy song of his entitled, "Creed,"
which repeats the familiar text of the Apostles’ Creed,
Rich affirmed his faith with this refrain:

and I believe that what I believe
is what makes me what I am
I did not make it, no it is making me
it is the very truth of God
and not the invention of any man
I believe it, I believe                                                           (from A Liturgy, A Legacy, & A Ragamuffin Band, 1993)    
On the mount of the transfiguration,
the Father’s voice was heard: This is my Son!  Listen to him!
And on Mount Moriah,
Abraham answered God’s call, Here I am!
God, in revealing himself—
in pulling back the curtain, in lifting up the veil—
has given totally of himself, holding nothing back;
let us, in response, be sure to do likewise.
   

Friday, March 2, 2012

Pray, Shop, Eat

At the kind invitation of some parishioners today, I joined them on a little pilgrimage to the Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Benoît-du-Lac, found among the Eastern Townships of nearby Québec.  We were well on our way along the three hour drive when I realized I'd forgotten my camera (doh!), but there are some lovely shots of the place to be found online.


Despite a wrong turn (or two or three), we arrived for the 11:00am Mass in the abbey church, which was chanted beautifully (in French and Latin) by the monks.  Then we make the obligatory visit to the monastery store which, in addition to religious articles, features the abbey's own cheeses and ciders.  I must declare: this is the absolute best Catholic gift shop in the entire world!  (And I've seen more than my fair share of Catholic gift shops!)  After a delightful lunch in the nearby town of Magog (and one more wrong turn), we made our way back here to Malone.  Lovely place, lovely day...