Sunday, March 9

Poet-Pope

An article with some excerpts

A polite, but less-than glowing review

There is no doubt that the Pope has every bit as much intellectual muscle as Donne, Herbert and Hopkins but in technical terms he can’t match their inventive poetic skills. That English triptych of poets all boasted formidable technical gifts, using metaphor to beguile and surprise, forcing the English language into new shapes and presenting religious truths in subtly arresting ways. The Pope’s verse is, by contrast, more derivative...

But, I ask you...is the Pope's poetry the fruit of prudential judgment and may we take any stance towards it we choose in accord with our own critical perspective? Or should we give over our Lenten reading to his poetry because he represents the Long View of versifying and because of that is surely worth our serious attention? Or should we simply join with the sede-poeticas and declare that the current poetry-writing Pope is not the real poetry-writing Pope, and that the authentic one is scribbling his iambic pentameter (in Latin of course) somewhere out west...in Mel Gibson's guest house, maybe?

Ethnicity and Catholicism

Monthly article on Latin Americans, Catholics and Protestants:

"The big attraction for these migrant workers is that the evangelicals offer them a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, whereas the Catholic Church more or less offers them a relationship with the Catholic Church."

Which, I might add, is not just a problem for migrant workers.

A traditionally German parish in New Jersey is now mostly Hispanic, but still offers one German-language Mass on Sundays.

From the LA Times (LRR): A parish split over ethnic matters

In short, it's a predominantly African-American Catholic parish, and they're losing their African-American pastor. The sizable minority of parishioners who are Hispanic would like a pastor who's more fluent in their language and culture than the last one was. Tensions mount.

This, of course, is not a new conflict in American Catholicism. A couple of weeks ago I read a book (linked over there on the left) called Slovaks on the Hudson which struck some people as obscure..(Ummm...pot? kettle?)

Well, I guess a book about Slovak parishes in Yonkers, New York might strike a few as narrowly-focused reading, but I guess that's why I was a history major and you weren't. Some of you, anyway.

I read books like that (and it wasn't a hard read at all - relatively short, straightforward) because studying the past is the only way I can even begin to understand the present. Looking at the difficulties of the contemporary church can lead one quite easily to despair - unless you've studied history and really come to understand that there is really nothing new under the sun.

So with ethnic parishes in the United States - it's difficult and challenging, but it's a challenge that's been confronted by the church in this country for a hundred and fifty years. There have been wicked fights over ethnic parishes, and Hispanics aren't the first to scare the institution with their threatened migrations elsewhere - the history of Eastern European Catholics in this country has been one of great tension as, at times, whole congregations have threatened to join the Orthodox unless they get a priest who can speak their own language.

And as much as the whole idea of an ethnic parish goes against our ideal of the church as universal, even at the parish level, the fact is that in this country, ethnic parishes (and their associated institutions, which included schools and lay associations) were absolutly vital in immigrants' ability to adapt to life in this country. It's a lesson, I fear, that has been lost in too many areas today - I've blogged about this before, but in our own diocese, there's serious thought being given to actually closing the two parishes that have developed into the centers for newly-arrived Hispanic immigrants both here and in South Bend. I don't know anything about the South Bend situation, but I do know that here, the parish they're thinking about closing is actually larger than the parish with which they'd merge it. Yes, the church building is in slightly worse shape, and because the people of the parish are generally poor, there's barely any collection to speak of, but it's still appalling to me that they would close and merge this parish rather than making a concerted effort to build it up as a center for ministry to these new arrivals who are coming to our town in great numbers.

I don't get it. But then, I hardly ever do, it seems..

On Mel, Hutton and Passion

I'm looking forward to Gibson's Passion as much as anyone, and I'm not surprised to see intrepid reporters starting to look into his background and beliefs for ways to understand or even discredit the project.

But I don't see those efforts as wrong or necessarily as "hatchet jobs" as one commenter below put it.

Look,Gibson is putting his faith front and center here, and is being very direct about it, asserting that he's doing the project because of his faith. Given that claim, it's natural for people to wonder..well...what is Mel Gibson's faith all about then, anyway?

One commenter below said that it was wrong for a reporter to take advantage of an elderly gentleman - Hutton Gibson, Mel's dad. Well, sorry, but there's no evidence that Hutton Gibson is suffering from senility or Alzheimer's. He's held his uber-traditionalist, sedevacantist, conspiracy-drenched views for decades, and very publicly, too. Despite his protestations, I can't imagine that Mel Gibson is surprised by the media's growing attention to his background in light of the film. I'm sure he expected it, and I hope he's prepared - and I particularly hope he's prepared to offer careful, nuanced historically-rooted explanations of the respective Roman and Jewish roles in the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, especially in response to reactions like this

A prominent Jewish leader on Friday asked actor Mel Gibson to make certain that his new film on the last 12 hours in the life of Christ does not portray the Jews as collectively responsible for the crucifixion.

Since I'm currently writing a study guide to Matthew 26-28, such issues are much on my mind these days.

My bookshelf is piled high with commentaries on Matthew, and, in case you're wondering, I'm making great progress and should make my deadline with no problem (I always scold my son when he says things like that: "I've never been in a car accident..." "I've done fine on all the other microbiology tests..." Famous Last Words is what I say...so listen to me cry on March 31, wondering how I got into such a mess when it all looked so good on March 10).

For my money, in case you're wondering, the most helpful commentaries have been the following:

The Expositor's Bible Commentary

Daniel Harrington's commentary on Matthew, part of the Sacra Pagina series.

Daniel Patte's commentary

and, of course, Raymond Brown's Death of the Messiah

For those of you whose knees reflexively hit your jaw when you hear the name, "Raymond Brown," you really need to understand that Brown was actually one of the more "conservative" American Catholic Biblical scholars of the post-Vatican II era. (yes, yes...I know. Rene Laurentin...The Truth of Christmas. Got it.) Crossan, for example, has no use for Brown, and that tells you something. I find the Death of the Messiah fascinating because as he goes through the many, many interpretations of each passage offered by scholars from the 19th century to the present, Brown almost always opts for a) the simplest explanation (Occam's razor, you know) and b) the historicity of the text.

And by the way..you should hear my husband's smart interpretation of Mt. 26:25. You should.


One of the more important events going on this week will be the Senate's vote on the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban.

To keep up with the news on this matter, stay tuned to the National Right to Life website.

All right, let's going here.

It's going to be a busy week around here. I have to go tape a radio interview tomorrow afternoon, Katie has an after-school class, then an audition for a play on Tuesday, while David is occupied with an Academic Team meet, Wednesday is dance - for Katie, not me - and then on Thursday, we trek over Toledo way - actually Maumee - for a booksigning at Drouillard's Catholic Bookstore. Patrick Madrid will be the featured speaker of the evening, but there will be several more of us Catholic writers there, including Michael, me and Dave Armstrong. If you're in the area and would like more information, call 419-891-1166.

So with all this activity, you can see that blogging will be light.

Oh. It's supposed to be anyway. Yeah.

By the way, on this Academic Team business. I was the sponsor for the A-team at one of the high schools at which I taught, and it was the traditional College Bowl style of competition with buzzers, timers, the whole thing.

Do you know what they do around here?

They take a written test.

As the kids say - lame.

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