Saturday, March 30, 2013

Washing the Feet; A Personal Timeline

Pope Francis on Holy Thursday washed the feet of teen offenders in a prison, including girls and a Muslim.  From when it was announced that he would do this, my life has been flashing before my eyes.  I have been recalling in great detail my experiences of Holy Week, from my earliest memories to the present.  I'm no Cannon lawyer, and I'm not very good at quoting the catechism.  But in the discussions about Benedict XVI versus Francis on the liturgy, I understand the conflict in very personal terms.  That doesn't make me a liberal, nor does it make me a traditionalist.  It makes a me a 50-year-old Catholic.  The church's history is, in part, my history.

As a child, my parish had a modern church.  Our pastor was, however, very traditional.  He filled our sacred space with icons of a modern expression, but with a desire to create a traditional space.  For a Novus Ordo church, it was as traditional as possible.  I remember being annoyed at spending 3 hours at church on Good Friday.  When we came home, our television watching was restricted, so we would listen to Jesus Christ Superstar.  As this pattern continued through high school years, I came to resent Father Gass.  Why weren't women on the altar?  Why weren't there any altar girls?  Judas was used!

At my Catholic college, nobody seemed to care if you went to Mass or not.  I didn't.  But I never lost my connection with Good Friday.  If I couldn't make it home for Easter weekend, I always made sure I went to Good Friday services.  These, in college were run by the nuns on campus.  I remember being bothered by how few people were there and the things the nuns  had changed from my experiences with my traditional pastor.  Still, there were enough similarities that it didn't cause much cognitive dissonance.

On my own as a single adult, my practice of the faith could be very sporadic, but I never missed Good Friday.  While living in Minneapolis in the late 80's, I tried to find a three hour service, 12 to 3, like the one I had grown up with.  I called half-a-dozen parishes.  I was told that they didn't even know that such a thing existed.  Finally a 'catholic' parish in Richfield told me they had something like what I was looking for, but it was in the morning from 9-12.  I wound up at a poorly attended service run by nuns who burned sage and danced.  It was clearly a Wiccan ceremony.  I felt like I was at a re-enactment of the crowd that called for Barrabas.  What was strangest was that these women didn't see how they were cheering on the murder of Christ.  I sat with my jaw on the floor for a while, and then left.  One of the women followed me to the door.  She wanted to know why I was leaving.  I said this wasn't the kind of service I was looking for.  Mind you, I still longed for the ordination of women at that time, but seeing its fruits in action, I was appalled.  That was the darkest Good Friday I can recall.

Eventually, I stopped searching for Good Friday services that would recall the solemn experiences of my younger days.  I would pray alone.

After the birth of my son, I began to attend our Cathedral parish services in the afternoon; Stations and confessions.  It wasn't the tradition I was looking for, but it was all that I thought I could find.  During this time, the parish 'pastoral minister' asked me if my family would have our feet washed at the Holy Thursday Mass.  We were very much in communion with the church by then.  I realized when she asked me, that I no longer believed in women priests, altar girls, or women participating in the washing of the feet.  I tried several times to offer my husband and son and ask for a replacement for myself.  I even called other parishioners to see if any of them would do it.  I thought about simply not going up to have the archbishop wash my feet, but that seemed too showy of a statement.  So I did it.  Nothing else could have completed my transformation from liberal to traditionalist with such certainty.

This year we have a new parish and a new pastor.  We chose this parish because many home-school families go there.  What I didn't realize was that our pastor, Father Cook, was so very much like my childhood pastor, Father Gass.

This Good Friday we arrived at 12:30, catching the end of stations in Spanish, and the beginning of confessions.  We experienced the Veneration of the Cross, my son and husband for the first time.  My son served the Stations in English.  We prayed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.  It was powerful, holy, solemn, simple.  I was again at the Good Friday services of my youth.  I understood now why I wept at those services.  I wept again this year.

As the Catholic blogs commit to combat over Pope Francis washing the feet of girls, I am asking all of you to join me in prayer for conversion of heart.  We have been poorly catechized.  Some of us have fixed that with private study or by classes, or something else.  Some are on the way back.  Some may never turn around.

I have been given the fruits of peace by returning to the traditions of my youth.  Some of my readers may have never had any traditional liturgical experiences.  May I suggest you try it?

Thursday, March 28, 2013


It's persuasive speaking time in my classes again.  Yesterday, as an example of arguing by definition, we discussed the gay 'marriage' debate.  It had been a topic in some of my students' other classes.  In a nutshell, here's what we came up with.

If you are for gay 'marriage' you are arguing for freedom of association, which is the last part of the First Amendment.  The definition of marriage being used is, "Two persons joined in a legal union to provide legitimacy to sexual activity and child rearing."  I'm paraphrasing from a student's notes in his sociology class. 

If you are against gay 'marriage' you are arguing for freedom of religion, which is the first part of the First Amendment.  The definition of marriage being used is, "A legally binding union of a man and a woman."  This definition does not reduce marriage to sex and children.

Given the state of our current culture, why would any group feel the need to legitimize sexual activity?  (Child rearing is understandable, because if rampant divorce has shown us anything, it has shown us that parents can be legally excluded from raising their children.)  Sexual activity, we are told, is not to be inhibited in any way.  Doesn't creating an exclusive, legally binding union of two people to legitimize sexual activity seem odd?  Aren't people told that feelings and desires trump vows and legalities every time?

One of my students asked about infertile couples.  Infertile couples became the equivalent of gay couples in his estimation.  In this way legal standing for the 'marriage' was again only significant if there are children, adopted, or created in anything other than the natural manner.

Next we spoke of the impact of religion in states where gay 'marriage is allowed.  Most of my students were unaware that gay 'marriage' laws had restricted religious organizations. I spoke to them about the Catholic adoption agencies that had been forced to close in Massachusetts and Illinois. I explained that if the governments of those states made providing adoption services to gay couples equivalent to married couples, then Catholics had no choice but to stop providing adoptions, even though they had always been the largest providers of adoption services in the states.

I believe in the end, my students saw the importance of this debate, many for the first time.  They now have been told that the government can essentially close religious charitable institutions by forcing ideology that is counter to their faith.  They have now heard that if gay 'marriage' is made law, churches may close rather than conform with the law.  Churches may require persons being married to find another way, rather than a church wedding, so that the church is not forced to provide same-sex 'wedding' ceremonies.

This is a battle of freedom of religion versus freedom of association.  If the very small minority of active homosexuals who want gay marriage are unwilling to bend, the other 98% of our country loses it's freedom of religion.  Whether that bothers you or not is a sure indication of your actual tolerance of diverse beliefs.
If the homosexual lobby wins, even their supporters lose. Catholics, Baptists, Evangelicals, Fundamentalists, Muslims, and Jews lose freedom of religion in practice.

If traditional marriage supporters win, gay couples still have other legal avenues for sex and children.  This is the argument that must be made.

Friday, March 22, 2013

When Prophesies Come True

St. Columba (6th century).  "Hearken, hearken to what will happen in the latter days of the world!
"There will be great wars~ unjust laws will be enacted~ the Church will be de­spoiled of her property; people will read and write a great deal~ but charity and humility will be laughed to scorn, and the common people will believe in false ideas." From Catholic Prophecy by Yves Dupont, page 13; Tan Publishing)

Of all of the prophecies I've ever read, the above from Saint Columba really sticks with me.  Most prophecies talk about war.  There have certainly been great wars in the last 100 years.  But everything else in this prophecy seems to be so specific to our times. 

Sure there have been unjust laws in the past as well.  But the laws associated with abortion and healthcare stand out in the sheer enormity of injustice.

The church has suffered the loss of property many times.  But has the church ever paid more than $1.2 billion in damages for abuse cases?  That is the figure for the United States.  It doesn't include anything since 2009, or from other countries.

It is the next line, " people will read and write a great deal~ but charity and humility will be laughed to scorn, and the common people will believe in false ideas,"  that really stands out.   And I say that after spending a day teaching young people to read and write.  

In our times, it is considered scandalous if someone cannot read and write.  CBS 2′s Marcia Kramer reports, March 7, 2013, that a shocking nearly 80% of New York City high school graduates managed to graduate without having learned the basic skills of reading, writing, and Math.  What would have been considered normal in Saint Columba's time is now shocking.  But the entire notion of school for all would have been shocking for her.  She would have looked at our schools and seen them for the source of all of the false ideas common people believe in.

That charity and humility are a cause for scorn is also obvious.  Pope Francis is planning on celebrating Mass on Holy Thursday at a prison for young offenders.  Traditionalists are saying this may be taking the whole care-for-the-poor thing a bit too far.  Those on the left, who may have advocated for this kind of thing, bite their tongues rather than praise a man who is adamantly against gay marriage, abortion and women priests.  (Hint for everyone:  The Pope is Cathodic.)

His obvious charity and humility is definitely attracting scorn.  But that's also been true of other Popes.

And so I return to the one piece of this prophecy that resonates for our age like no other:  People will read and write a great deal.  It is almost as if we are afraid to have an unexpressed thought.  Or maybe that's just me.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Parish Fundraising Dinners

You know those fundraising dinners for the parish, where you dress up, drink too much, bid on items you don't want, eat bad food, and have bad entertainment?  Ladies, you know that last minute search of the clearance rack of the department store for something formal?  You know how you think you will never wear it again?  You know how you sit there and wonder why you spend so much money on that evening, and so little of it actually goes to the parish?

Yup.  I hate those events.  This is not about one of those.

Our new parish has a trivia night as it's fundraiser.  It was a blast.  The questions were suitably difficult, the food was outstanding, the dress was casual or costumes.  Our team had tinfoil hats.

What struck me most about the dinner was that there wasn't an obvious parish leader who was showing off.  There wasn't the cool-kids table.  There weren't any obvious outsiders.

What I did see was several babies with their young mothers.  The babies were not at any time a distraction.  Toddlers and older kids were at home with babysitters.  Teens were working the room, serving.  For every age of every person in every family, there was a place.  And it was a happy place.

Our Pastor, Father Damien Cook, kept the evening moving with humor that would put the best stand-up comedians to shame.  He really is the master of ceremonies.

As someone who is still in her first year of sobriety, I really appreciated the lack of drunkenness.  At most of these types of events, bars are open far too long, and red and white wine are on the table when you sit down.  At this event, a server came by with a box from which we could purchase a bottle with a free will offering.  I bought a bottle of red for our table.  It was perfect. Our guests had what they wanted, and I wasn't tempted.

Many years ago, I was at a fundraiser for another parish.  Near the end of the evening I saw an acquaintance who was a little worse for drink.  She was crying because she knew her husband would be angry with how much money she had spent.  Not exactly happy memories.

I realized this weekend that alcohol and spending too much money do not have to be the corner stones of fancy parish dinners.

Thank you God for Saint Peter Parish.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Pope Francis

We have a new Pope.  I have some random thoughts about this, colored by a conversation with my sister, a little bit of Fox News, and from reading interviews with Pope Francis from 2012 and earlier.  I am no expert, but it was obvious that many of the pundits on Fox weren't either, so here goes...

As an Argentinian, this election sends a clear message to those of us in the Western Hemisphere.  The church isn't completely Euro-centric anymore.  But since he's not from the U.S., it reminds us in the states to be a little less jingoistic in our view of ourselves as American Catholics.  (It's not all about us!)

He stated in an interview with Andrea Tornielli, " The cardinalate is a service, it is not an award to be bragged about. Vanity, showing off, is an attitude that reduces spirituality to a worldly thing, which is the worst sin that could be committed in the Church."  This will be a humble Pope.

He chose the name Francis, which he did not explain.  Francis of Assisi stripped himself naked in the city square to prove to everyone there that he was renouncing all worldly possessions.  Our Pope has chosen to renounce the Archbishop's Palace in favor of an apartment.  He hasn't owned a car, preferring to take the bus.  He cooks for himself.

Saint Francis of Assisi cared for animals, rebuilt a chapel and founded an order with strict rules on poverty and prayer.  Perhaps this signals that we should care for all of God's creatures, and embrace the simple life.

If he chose the name Francis because he's a Jesuit, then he's thinking St. Francis Xavier.  This Francis went East to Asia to bring Catholicism to Goa in India, Indonesia and Japan.  This could be a message to the Chinese that he is not going to tolerate the persecution of Catholics, the one child policy, or government appointed 'catholic' bishops.  Or because Goa was then a Portuguese colony, it may be another connection to Fatima.  Or both.

Pope Francis is the first Jesuit Pope, and the order has problems.  Some say he was appointed bishop by John Paul II because the liberal leaders of his order were persecuting him.  He is unrelentingly against contraception, abortion, and gay marriage, which would make him different from many Jesuits.  The Jesuits have a Pope now, from their own order.  I hope and pray they will follow him.

He was chosen on the 13th of March.  Many Catholics will see in this a message from the conclave that the Virgin Mary is guiding their choice.  The 13th of the month has been seen as Mary's day since her apparitions at Fatima.  In a 24-hour news cycle, two days of voting can seem like a long time.  The Drudge Report had a headline this morning saying something about the smoke still being black.  In fact, two days is lightning fast at the Vatican.  That means there was probably a strong consensus going in to the conclave.

He will say his first Mass as Pope on the Feast of St. Joseph, who cared for, protected and loved Mary and Jesus.  Pope Francis will be calling on his intercession as he takes on the role of father for his flock.

Finally, a personal thought. Pope Francis eschewed some of the pomp of his new vocation by bowing humbly to those in Saint Peter's Square and asking them to pray.  As I watched this several times, I was struck by the expression on his face.  He was not smiling really, but seemed to be almost overcome with something deeper.  I thought at one point that he would cry.

Or all of the above.  Or none of the above.

Let's do as Pope Francis asks and pray for him.  The job ahead of him could surely be overwhelming.  God bless you Pope Francis.  May the Most Holy Mother of God wrap you in her mantle to protect you.

In his own words:
 Letter of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, to the Carmelite Nuns of the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires (June 22, 2010)]

Dear Sisters,

I write this letter to each one of you in the four Monasteries of Buenos Aires. The Argentine people must face, in the next few weeks, a situation whose result may gravely harm the family. It is the bill on matrimony of persons of the same sex.

The identity of the family, and its survival, are in jeopardy here: father, mother, and children. The life of so many children who will be discriminated beforehand due to the lack of human maturity that God willed them to have with a father and a mother is in jeopardy. A clear rejection of the law of God, engraved in our hearts, is in jeopardy.

I recall words of Saint Thérèse when she speaks of the infirmity of her childhood. She says that the envy of the Devil tried to extort her family after her older sister joined the Carmel. Here, the envy of the Devil, through which sin entered the world, is also present, and deceitfully intends to destroy the image of God: man and woman, who receive the mandate to grow, multiply, and conquer the earth. Let us not be naive: it is not a simple political struggle; it is an intention [which is] destructive of the plan of God. It is not a mere legislative project (this is a mere instrument), but rather a "move" of the father of lies who wishes to confuse and deceive the children of God.

Jesus tells us that, in order to defend us from this lying accuser, he will send us the Spirit of Truth. Today, the Nation [patria], before this situation, needs the special assistance of the Holy Ghost that may place the light of Truth amid the shadows of error; it needs this Advocate who may defend us from the enchantment of so many sophisms with which this bill is being justified, and which confuse and deceive even people of good will.

That is why I turn to you and ask from you prayer and sacrifice, the two invincible weapons which Saint Thérèse confessed to have. Cry out to the Lord that he may send his Spirit to the Senators who are to place their votes. That they may not do it moved by error or by circumstantial matters, but rather according to what the natural law and the law of God tell them. Pray for them, for their families; that the Lord may visit, strengthen, and console them. Pray that they may do great good for the Nation.

This bill will be discussed in the Senate after July 13. Let us look towards Saint Joseph, to Mary, the Child, and let us ask with fervor that they will defend the Argentine family in this moment. Let us recall what God himself told his people in a time of great anguish: "this war is not yours, but God's". That they may succour, defend, and accompany us in this war of God.

Thank you for what you will do in this struggle for the Nation. And, please, I beg you, pray for me also. May Jesus bless you, and may the Blessed Virgin protect you.


Card. Jorge Mario Bergoglio s.j., Archbishop of Buenos Aires