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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Spanish Mass

On Wednesdays I go to a local parish and say their noon mass, in Spanish. I feel a certain obligation to offer mass in Spanish, because the Jesuits paid for me to learn the language so that I could use it in my ministry. But it is an exercise in humility. Despite the fact that many have told me that my accent and pronunciation of Spanish are quite good (for a gringo!), I have yet to get through a Spanish Mass in which I have pronounced everything right! No matter how much I practice, I always manage to trip over or mispronounce at least a few words. It's frustrating. I try to remind myself that I often do the same in English [!] (you can even catch hints of my Woostah accent sometimes), but I still want it to be perfect. I don't always have the time to have someone proofread my homily, so I also know that my grammar isn't always perfect, but they seem to understand the gist of things anyway (occasionally I get a puzzled look that makes me wonder). I never get any complaints, and the people appreciate me coming (and the pastor appreciates the time off).

What's more challenging is that sometimes the people ask for confession afterwards. This takes a bit more effort, because I don't always understand everything they are saying (and maybe that's why they ask!). But in some ways it's nice, because it forces me to be more attentive, and it also forces me to be more attuned to non-verbal cues.

And there's also this sweet older woman who sometimes comes. She'll grab me after mass, insist on giving me five dollars for lunch, and then talk my ear off! The only problem is that she has a very strong accent, and I can't understand half of what she's saying. I smile, nod my head a lot, and try to offer some response to those things that I do understand. There are some common themes I've culled over time, one of which is that she spends a lot of time praying for us priests. Which, it seems to me, means that I can spend a little bit of my time listening to her, even if I'm not sure what she's saying. She doesn't seem to mind.

I've yet to try the full Sunday Spanish mass, and will probably still wait a little while before jumping into that deep end. But I have done the bilingual mass, which I actually quite enjoy. The prayers are mostly in English, with some parts in Spanish, like the penitential rite (yo confieso ante Dios, y ante ustedes hermanos . . .). There's something really cool about writing and giving a homily in both Spanish and English, and doing it in such a way that I'm not just repeating the same thing, but giving people enough to go on in both languages.
Again, I don't get everything perfect. But it's all a good reminder that getting it perfect is not what it's really about, in whatever language.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


Today's Gospel is about Jesus' temptation in the desert. As I was preparing my homily, it occurred to me that Tiger Woods' words on Friday were a good illustration of how temptation can sometimes lead to our ruin. So, I shared some of his words in my homily:

I knew my actions were wrong. But I convinced myself that normal rules didn't apply. I never thought about who I was hurting. Instead, I thought only about myself. I ran straight through the boundaries that a married couple should live by. I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to. I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. I felt I was entitled. Thanks to money and fame, I didn't have far -- didn't have to go far to find them.

I was wrong. I was foolish. I don't get to play by different rules. The same boundaries that apply to everyone apply to me. I brought this shame on myself. I hurt my wife, my kids, my mother, my wife's family, my friends, my foundation, and kids all around the world who admired me.

As Woods himself acknowledged, simply having said the words of apology doesn't make everything better. This will only happen over time (so true for all of us and our struggles with temptation!) But I thought his words were a good example of the kind of self-reflection which Lent invites us to.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

"What are you giving up?"

A few weeks ago I was chatting with a Fordham student I had just met. Upon learning that I was a Jesuit, she asked, “What are you giving up for Lent?” I thought it was kind of funny that this was the first question out of her mouth especially, as I told her, I hadn’t really thought much about it. Now that Lent has arrived, the question is in the air, and people are already proclaiming their self-denials: chocolate, meat, coffee, dessert, Facebook, the internet, etc. I think this sharing of our Lenten practice is a fine—if sometimes a bit superficial—tradition. It is a reminder to us that giving up that one thing is a symbol of our desire to give up those things that get in the way of our relationship with God. We as Christians are called to take up our crosses, and this means having to give some things up. It is no good to have all that we can, or all that we want, if we lose our souls in the process.

So, kudos to all who choose to give up something for Lent! But beware of giving up things just for the sake of giving things up, or just so you can answer the question when asked (the “peer pressure” model of Lenten practice). Lent, it seems to me, is also invitation to go a bit deeper. To probe one’s depths to see what other things we need to give up, because they interfere in our relationship with God. For many if not most of us, these are Lenten sacrifices that we might not want to share with anyone who asks. These are things just between us and God, and maybe a few of those closest to us. They are not the stuff of casual conversation with someone you’ve just met. But like giving up chocolate can also result in losing a bit of weight, this deeper reflection and decision can help remove the great weights we have been carrying a long time out of habit, fear, indulgence or weakness. These are the idols that obscure God, which we can never seem to completely free ourselves from. But we can peel them away, a little bit at a time, giving some up, while others remain. Lent is a good time for such peeling.

So, along with that student’s question, “What are you giving up for Lent?”, comes God’s question to me, “What are you giving up for good?” This, I’m not going to share with you now, at least not this Lent. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to do my best to answer it, for the sake of the One who asks.