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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Receiving Communion Redux

I've been a bit preoccupied lately with school and ministry, etc. So, I've just discovered a pretty good discussion inspired by my recent post here.

Lots of interesting points of view on the subject, and more evidence for my suspicion that some instruction might be in order!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Fr. James Martin on Susan Boyle

"It may be the best example of the how God sees us--and the way that the world often doesn't."

Read it all here.

Faith Hope & Love

Check out The Story of Faith Hope, an inspiring blog about a baby that wasn't supposed to live, and her mother's courage.

Thanks to Margaret for bringing it to my attention.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Priest's Sacrifice

Occasionally the press gives us good news about a priest! Here's a nice story from "Normal," Illinois:

Priest’s gift of solidarity: Parishioner gets his kidney
Associated Press

A Roman Catholic priest has decided to stand in solidarity with a parishioner by donating his left kidney to her.

Monsignor Eric Powell, pastor of Epiphany Roman Catholic Church in Normal, underwent surgery at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria, Ill. Transplant surgeon Dr. Beverly Ketel later said Powell and the kidney recipient were doing well.

The priest said he wanted “to alleviate potential suffering and stand in solidarity with a sister in Christ.” The 45-year-old Powell would not name the recipient of the kidney.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Charlie, Don't Bite the Finger That Feeds You . . .

This video will serve as a humorous way of illustrating my point:

charlie bit my finger

I wrote a post a while back in which I spoke about some of the challenges involved in distributing communion. And lately I've been noticing that more and more people are choosing to receive communion on the tongue rather than in the hands. After almost a year as a priest, I've just about got the technique down for giving communion on the tongue without too much worry of "flying host incidents," which I also wrote about before. But now there is another challenge--people who receive communion neither in the hand nor on the tongue, but between the teeth! At a recent mass, I almost lost my finger a couple of times! I'm thinking that since more people are choosing not to receive in the hand any more, it might be a good time to offer some catechesis as to how to receive on the tongue. I know that since as a child I learned how to receive communion on the tongue only shortly before communion in the hand became more common, there are probably lots of people younger than me who, though they've decided to stop receiving in the hand, may never have been taught how to receive on the tongue. And not to lay it all on the young people, there are some older folk who seem to have forgotten how. If I could just make one suggestion: get that tongue out there, enough with the teeth!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Internal Dialogue: Am I Still Saying the Same Prayer?

One of many nightmare scenarios: You start off saying one prayer, and inadvertently veer off into another.

I was afraid I might have done that Thursday night. I was saying mass for "Junior Night" at a local Catholic high school. This is one of the school's smaller classes, so it wasn't a huge crowd, and not all Catholic. Since it was a special mass, I decided to pray the Gloria. Only problem--no one joined in. I mean nobody. I was so distracted by this that I started to wonder if I was praying the right words, and even started to fear that maybe I had veered off into another prayer. So, when I got to "receive our prayer," I just ended it there. No one seemed to mind.

Turns out, I hadn't gotten off course, but, what, no one knows the Gloria? I know we just finished Lent, but there were more than a few lifetime Catholics there!

So, an appeal: When you fail to respond, you leave us rookie priests thinking we've done something wrong. So, help us out!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Easter & Updike

An interesting piece from Religion & Ethics News Weekly:

On Easter and Updike
by David E. Anderson

Easter is not easy for most poets and writers, the difficult mystery of resurrection being more intractable than incarnation.

One of the best examples of the problem is perhaps the most famous Easter poem of the second half of the 20th century, John Updike’s “Seven Stanzas at Easter.” Updike identifies the difficulty in the opening line:

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

The crucial word in the center of the first line—if—states what might be called “the Easter problem” starkly, and Updike’s insistence on the orthodox doctrine of the physical, bodily reality of the resurrection, even when hedged with the doubting if, provides a succinct but apt statement of one of the key themes of his work—the terror of death and the search for some sense, some promise, of overcoming, and he will not brook any evasions:

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence,
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded
credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The tension between belief and doubt in the face of death, between faith and its opposite—certainty, and the need for resurrection run through all of Updike’s vast body of writing, from his early novels, stories, and poetry (“Seven Stanzas at Easter” was written in 1960, just a year after his first novel was published, and the poem was the winning entry in a religious arts festival sponsored by a Lutheran church on Boston’s North Shore) to his later work, including Due Considerations, his final collection of essays and criticism, and Endpoint, a posthumous book of poems published this month.

“Endpoint” does not directly address Easter, but its many meditations on Updike’s impending death—he died January 27 at the age of 76 and was battling cancer as he wrote many of the poems, specifically addressing his illness in a number of them—underscore the tension he wrestled with throughout his career between the fear of death and the hope for some kind of afterlife. In a poem entitled “Death of a Computer,” he writes of an old computer’s final crash and the “hopeful garble” on the monitor’s screen: “I in a spurt of mercy shut it down. / May I, too, have a stern and kindly hand / bestow upon my failing circuits peace.” In “Fine Point 12/22/08,” the last of the seventeen poems in the title sequence, he asks, “Why go to Sunday school, though surlily, / and not believe a bit of what was taught?” He praises Jews who “kept faith / and passed the prayers, the crabbed rites / from table to table as Christians mocked”:

We mocked but took. The timbrel creed of praise
gives spirit to the daily; blood tinges lips.
The tongue reposes in papyrus pleas,
saying, Surely—magnificent, that “surely”—
goodness and mercy shall follow me all
the days of my life, my life, forever.

Updike wrote in an early autobiographical essay, “The Dogwood Tree,” of his fascination with what he called “the three great secret things”—art, sex, and religion and how they combined and interacted in his artistic mission to “transcribe middleness with all its grits, bumps, and anonymities, in its fullness of satisfaction and mystery.” While the appreciations and obituaries that poured forth at his death duly noted how art, and especially sex, wove themselves into his work, few noted what British novelist Ian McEwan called Updike’s “religious seriousness,” his being “constitutionally unable to ‘make the leap of unfaith.’” . . .

read the rest here.

The complete "Seven Stanzas at Easter":

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

When I Think of Easter . . .

I remember Mayo Kikel.

Mayo was one of the first teachers I met when I visited Jesuit High in Tampa the Spring prior to starting work there in 2002. She impressed me with her conviction that God wanted her there. She could easily have worked at a school closer to where she lived, but instead she made the extra long trek to our school each day. I have only met a few teachers like her, so convinced that they were fulfilling a mission. When I began work at the school the next Fall, she quickly became one of my favorite colleagues.

This made it all the more difficult when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. We were already to chip in and fill in for her wherever needed. But, amazingly, even after she started the cancer treatments, she never missed a single day of work. It was what she lived for. And though it left her with little energy to do much else, she came back day after day. None of us would have faulted her for taking a day off, much less complaining, but she rarely did.

As Easter approached, she came to ask me a favor. I was the Director of Campus Ministry and was in charge of the program for our once-a-week morning convocations, when the whole school gathered in the chapel to begin the day. She told me how good the boys at the school had been to her, and she wanted to use the convocation just before the Easter break to thank them. What she wanted to do, she explained, was to sing a song, an Easter song. Now this was not without its risks. Such an endeavor at a school of some 650 boys was just as likely to invite ridicule, as it was reverence. We talked about this, but she was determined. So we made plans.

When the day came, I stood up at the podium and said, "Mrs. Kikel has told me how wonderful you all have been to her during her illness, and she asked if she could do something to thank you." The music began.

The song she sang was told from the perspective of Peter, beginning with a Peter all too aware of how he had failed Jesus. And, now that Jesus was dead, there would be no opportunity to make amends. Then it took up where our Easter Gospel reading began, with Mary come to announce that Jesus had been taken from the tomb. Peter runs to the tomb, John running up ahead. They find the burial cloths set aside, and Jesus missing, and they begin to realize what has happened. In the song Peter exclaims, "He's alive!" "He's alive!" "He's alive and I'm forgiven. Heaven's gates are open wide!" "He's alive!" "He's alive!" The song built until Mayo sang out the final, "He's aaaalive!" And then something happened which even now when I think about it inspires tears. Immediately and without hesitation, every boy in that chapel stood up and applauded.

We speak a lot in our Jesuit boys' schools about being "men for others," and I have yet to see a better example of that than I did on that day. When we speak about Easter, we speak about everything being made new because of what Jesus did for us, and because God raised him from the dead. Things were made new for me that day. No matter what they did after that day, I could never quite see those boys in the same way again. They had stepped up when it was most important. And I can never think of Easter without thinking of Mayo Kikel who because of her humility, faith and courage was able to inspire such a moment.

Mayo beat the cancer, but was stricken just a couple years later with a rare disease which took her from us. But I will never forget her. Few people in my life have exemplified as well as her what Easter is all about.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Watch Your Metaphors

Friday morning I joined some ministry colleagues for a Good Friday service at an assisted living facility. It was my my job to give a brief reflection after some readings from the Passion. I began by saying "today we are invited to stand at the foot of the cross with Jesus . . ." To which one of the people attending replied incredulously, "You want us to stand?!" "No, please don't," I replied quickly, not completely holding back a laugh, "I was just speaking metaphorically."

Thursday, April 9, 2009

I'm Not So Sure About This

I don't want to think about it too much, but somehow it seems to miss the point.

(Though maybe you could combine it with a car wash to raise money for the youth group!!)

Holy Thursday

Today I received an e-mail from someone thanking me for being a priest. I'm not always sure how to respond to such gratitude, for how often do we thank others for answering God's call to their particular vocation? I generally don't see my choice as any more heroic than that, for example, of the parent who serves God by devoting his or her life to children and family. Nevertheless, since I know that a priest can be taken for granted by his church or congregation just as easily as a parent might be by his or her children, it is nice to receive thanks now and then. So, perhaps in humility it's better not to overthink such things.

And, indeed, it is Holy Thursday, a day when priests are invited to give thanks for the privilege of serving the people of God as we do. Lest we become too impressed with ourselves it's also the day on which, according to Jesus' injunction, we wash others' feet. Especially on my first Maundy Thursday as a priest, it reminds me of an important moment in the realization of my own vocation which I wrote of some years ago:

Did I do what? I stopped and looked at her ugly, twisted old woman's feet and I thought no, absolutely not! But I hardly had time to think about what I was doing when I saw my hands reaching for those feet because I realized something else. If my answer was not yes, then it was time for me to leave all this and go home. Because if I couldn't do this, then I couldn't possibly be a Jesuit, I couldn't possibly be a priest. Because what I was trying to be, what I had to be, was someone who does rub feet. I would be a fraud if Jesus couldn't say to me on that final day, "I was dying and you rubbed my feet."

You can read the complete article here.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Abandoned & Forsaken

Some stories for Palm Sunday:

Theologian Jurgen Moltmann found his faith and his vocation during World War II. A soldier with the German Air Force, he was captured and brought to Scotland as a prisoner of war. He describes his worst day in the prison camp:

“And then came what was for me the worst of all. In September 1945, in Camp 22 in Scotland, we were confronted with pictures of Belsen and Auschwitz. They were pinned up in one of the huts, without comment . . . slowly and inexorably the truth filtered into our awareness, and we saw ourselves mirrored in the eyes of the Nazi victims. Was this what we had fought for? Had my generation, as the last, been driven to our deaths so that the concentration camp murderers could go on killing, and Hitler could live a few months longer? Some people were so appalled that they didn’t want to go back to Germany ever again. Later they stayed on in England. For me, every feeling for Germany, the so-called sacred ‘Fatherland’, collapsed”

In the midst of his despair, an army chaplain gave him a Bible to read:

“I read it without much comprehension, until I stumbled upon the psalms of lament . . . They were the words of my own heart and they called my soul to God. Then I came to the story of the passion, and when I read Jesus’ death cry, ‘My God, why have you forsaken me?’, I knew with certainty: this is someone who understands you. I began to understand the assailed Christ because I felt that he understood me: this was the divine brother in distress, who takes the prisoners with him on his way to resurrection. I began to sum up the courage to live again, seized by a great hope . . . Christ’s God-forsakenness showed me where God is, where he had been with me in my life, and where he would be in the future”

Elizabeth Johnson, reflecting on Dietrich Bonhoeffer's words in his prison journal, "Only a suffering God can help," relates this story from Margaret Spufford:

“Closer to the point is the reflection of another woman who spent endless days and nights on a hospital ward with her tiny, sick daughter, helping the nurses with the other babies when she could. It was a dreadful exposure to the meaningless suffering of the innocent. ‘On those terrible children’s wards,’ she writes, ‘I could neither have worshipped nor respected any God who had not himself cried out, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Because it was so, because the creator loved his creation enough to become helpless with it and suffer in it, totally overwhelmed by the pain of it, I found there was still hope.’ This is one way the symbol of a suffering God can help: by signaling that the mystery of God is here in solidarity with those who suffer”