Monday, June 23

Believe it or not - and my husband didn't when I first told him - we went to the zoo again today. Not Louisville, of course, but here in "FootWayne." In case you've not been following this saga, and just so you don't think I'm completely nuts, I bought a family pass which brings us free admission for the rest of the year, which means that going to the zoo, about a 12 minute drive from my house, is just like going to the park, just with sea lions and pigs.

And nothing tires a two-year old fellow out like racing around zoo grounds in 80-degree weather for an hour or so.

Not that I mind. I'd rather go to the zoo than stand at nervous, constant attention by a slide, myself.

Today, we got there as the sea lions (or seals. I'm not sure which. There's a difference right? You can tell the educational placards have a big impact on me) were being fed their buckets of fish, which was fun, and I saw a peahen surrounded by her little brood of ..what...peachicks?...all with the peacock looking over them from his perch up in a tree.

The priest let his eyes wander towards the birds. They had reached the middle of the lawn. The cock stopped suddently and curving his nect=k backwards, he raised his tail and spread it with a shimmering timbrous noise. Tiers of small pregnant suns floated in a green-gold haze over his head. The priest stood transfixed, his jaw slack. Mrs. McIntyre wonderred where she had ever seen such an idiotic old man. "Christ will come like that!" he said ina loud gay voice and wiped his hand over his mouth and stood there, gaping.

Mrs. McIntyr'es face assumed a set puritanical expression and she reddened. Christ in the conversation embarrassed her the way sex had her mother. "It is not my responsibility that Mr. Guizac has nowhere to go," she said. "I don't find myself responsible for all the extra people in the world."

The old man didn't seem to hear her. His attention was fixed on the cock who was taking minute steps backward, his head against the spread tail. "The Transfiguration," he murmured.

She had no idea what he was talking about. "Mr Guizac didn't have to come here in the first place," she said, giving him a hard look.

The cock lowered his tail and began to pick grass.

"He didn't have to come in the first place," she repeated, emphasizing each word.

The old man smiled absently. "He came to redeem us," he said and blandly reached for her hand and shook it and said he must go. ("The Displaced Person" by Flannery O'Connor)

So...we enjoyed the seals, Joseph enjoyed feeding the ducks while I gave geese the evil eye , and the big attraction of the day was the Indiana farm yard, where Joseph patted a horse, goats, and saw pigs, sheep, cows, a huge turkey, and had a conversation with a rooster in which he would yell, "Cock-a-doo-ey!" and the bird would actually respond.

I love watching animals for the same reason I love watching very little children. They are so completely themselves. There is no pretense, no second-guessing, no self-doubt, no mission statements, no policy papers, no committee meetings, no therapy. They just are who they in great purity and honesty.

Which is what God calls all of us, to be, I think, and the reason why faith is so important. When God is the only One to whom we answer, and we live knowing that God is our only judge and our most faithful friend, we can begin to strip away all that inexplicably attaches to us as we grow, and we can look to God as an excited, open-hearted child does, and we can bask in his love, like the sleek sea lion, slicing through the water as if weightless, needing to be no one and nothing but himself.

Left Rail Notes

I have belatedly added Fr. Rob Johansen's Thrownback blog to my links, and have changed the "Life News - US" link to a new, comprehensive service called Life News

Okay, here's the point I was trying to make in the post below, in my typical I gotta write fast until naptime becomes In Between Naps... fashion:

In the post-V2 church, our sense of real connectedness with Jesus (as opposed to each other or ourselves or a stage of social development) through sacrament and the wealth of traditional prayer has diminished, and the importance of "ministry" in lay spiritual life has increased. Which has, it seems, in the US at least, resulted in a scene in which people are regularly left with the impression that the apex of spirituality is being involved in the institutional church.

Which is, if you think about, just another way of pronouncing the old clericalist Baltimore Catechism line, in which a picture of a married couple was captioned, "This is good" and a picture of a religious or priest was captioned, "This is better."

And someone in a comment box commented that well, you know, you'll always have the institution.

Of course you will. The question is, what is the institution for?

Later: I agree with the commentor who asserts that in some ways, the role of the laity has certainly not been expanded the way it was intended by the Council and fleshed out since. The example that immediately springs to mind is a parish financial council, which every parish is supposed to have, and many, many don't. It's that kind of institution, providing checks and balances to the ordained in matters of administration, and present in various forms throughout church history (lay participation in election and selection of bishops; lay trustees of parishes, and so on) that is largely missing from the American scene.

Our baptismal call is not to "ministry." It is - for every one of us - to bind ourselves to Christ and follow Him. That's it.

Where and how we respond to that call varies as much as we do. Some might be vowed religious, but working in a "secular" field, like medicine. Some might be married laity following Jesus in their family lives and in their jobs within Church structure. Some might be ordained serving in parishes, or laity who come to Mass once a week and work at 7-11 for 60 of the remaining hours.

The great movement of the laity that we identify with the modern era evolved for many reasons. The laity were never quite seen as the preferably voiceless sheep that some would suggest. It's simply that before the modern era, most laity were not as educated theologically as were clerics and religioius, so even without ecclesiological considerations it was simply common sense to see the religious and lay as living in different spheres of influence, although, I would have to say, the boundary is often quite fluid. Plenty of women made their spiritual and charitable marks as lay women before moving into religious life. Catholic rulers had a definite and important role in the mission of the Church. Lay people from Thomas More to Frederic Ozanam worked intensely for the Gospel in their own ways.

But in the modern era (which we would date from the Enlightenment), the idea of a distinct and important role for the laity evolved out of the heightened sense of the dignity of the individual and an increasingly educated laity. Lay movements of all kinds, from devotional to charitable to political to evangelical have flourished over the past two centuries as the laity have found their voices, and joined with others attracted to particular charisms to live out the Gospel.

This is not an invention of Vatican II, believe me.

But what happened in the wake of Vatican II was something exceedingly strange. In this country, at least, as boundaries broke down, the emphasis in lay ministry came to be on ecclesial ministry. It did. Trust me. It wasn't that anyone told us we didn't have to continue living the Gospel in the world, it's simply that we got so excited about the possibility of actually be involved in parish and diocesan decision-making that the other, more fundamental call was pushed aside.

And I ask you to honestly consider this, as you've heard it articulated at your parish "ministry Sundays" and Stewardship appeals over the years. What is the emphasis? What is the hope for the parish? The hope is that the parish will be a more "active" one. Now, one could take this to mean that the parish would be more active in the community, would be a more forceful voice for compassion and hope to the suffering, and this sometimes is the case. Most of the time it is a hope that more people will come to meetings to plan things that are taking place on the parish property.

Now, as we have mentioned here before, this is not a situation that calls for one or the other. The parish exists to worship, to pass on the faith, to give comfort to its own parishioners, to minister to them in any way they need. But that is only the beginning. The ultimate goal is that all of that activity nourishes us so that we may be ennobled and strenghtened to follow Jesus in every aspect of our lives: at rush hour, when we sense our neighbor is suffering, when we read about a local community need, when our own children or parents need us.

A couple of stories:

I once sat at a meeting (yes) where a woman who had been active in church for a couple of decades was bemoaning her spiritual emptiness. "I've done everything in the parish," she said. "I've been on the liturgy committee, I've taken classes, I've helped with the social committee..but there's still something missing. I still can't connect with Jesus the way I want to."

Another time, in another parish, I sat in Mass and heard a priest say in reference to the Ministry Fair that was going on and that would be reached by exiting out the left-hand doors. "Those of you who avoid the Ministry Fair and exit from the doors on the right hand side of the church - I am here to tell you that if you do that, you may not consider yourself a Catholic Christian."

I. am. not. making. that. up.

And it is something I saw over and over in so many ways among parish and diocesan workers over twenty years, and it is natural. You get involved in an institution, and you get invested in that institution - as an institution. You judge the success of the place by how financially solvent it is and how busy the parking lot is on weeknights.

One more thing: you might be surprised at the number of people who immerse themselves in church work as a means of specifically avoiding problems in the rest of their lives or somehow seeking to redeem themselves by putting hours into church work without really changing anything about their lives. It happens. People spend long hours at church so they don't have to go home. People throw themselves into the choir or into religious ed as energetically as they throw themselves into sinful behavior outside of church, hoping it will all balance out in the end.

My point? That "lay ministry" is neither terrible or automatically saintly. It just is. It is done by flawed people who come to the rectory office with varied motives and understandings of what they are doing. Which is fine, because that's the way human beings are - read the gospels and check out the apostles, who rarely had a clue as to what they were doing and were never perfect as they did it.

But, back to my original train of thought here. What we need here is not, God forbid, another "program" designed to help lay people understand the apostolate of the laity in the world. That kind of thing always struck me as tragically amusing: Learn how to be a better parent by leaving your kids and coming to church for a six-week study program. Learn how to be a better Christian in the world by coming to church a few more nights a week.

No - it's tone and total message I'm talking about, and in the end, it seems to me to be all tied up with the de-emphasis on the sacramental and traditional devotional life of Catholics.

For you ask...okay...the parish exists, in part, to help Catholics live out their faith in the world. How does it do this? By providing support in times of need. By providing catechesis. And.....through being the place and source of our encounters with Jesus, who is the One who does the strengthening.

When your parish is rich with prayer and devotions of every kind, that will meet your needs no matter who you are and what your inclination - whether you are nourished by Eucharistic Adoration, time to study the Scriptures, rosaries, the Liturgy of the Hours, whatever....and when that parish's Eucharistic liturgies are imbued with a sense that the One we meet here is Jesus and that is the reason we are here, then what that says is that your parish is a place where Jesus can be found, that buzzes with Divine Energy, that bursts with the Love that has the power to change the world....and in your parish, you can be filled with this, at all times, whenever you can, and you can take it and...go out. Combine that with preaching that continually points to the truth of the Gospels, which are not about staying in, but sending forth (as we heard yesterday), combine that with parish committments to do what it can as a body (tithing as a parish, being responsible for various services and charities locally, nationally and abroad), then you have the power of the whole Church - not just the laity, but the whole Church - at work.

But what happened? Our parishes, to a startling degree, stopped being those fountains of prayer, and our Church as a whole, by rapidly and almost completely denuding its life of traditional devotions, left a vacuum. Oh, Catholics still do more than almost anyone else in terms of education and health care for the poor, but I don't think we look at the state of Church life in this country, at least, as say that we have an exactly vibrant sense of being the Jesus in the world...and all I'm suggesting is that might be because we're not being encouraged to meet Jesus in all of his life-changing glory - in the parish.

Michael has extensive reflections on our trip, much more deeply reflective than mine, on taking his son around the grounds of St. Meinrad and other, related matters. Go read.

Ah yes, the traveling Mass report.

We attended Mass at a Louisville parish yesterday. The church was probably built in the 1930's, in the traditional shape, and then ripped up inside, I imagine, around 1985. You know, altar put against the side, pews rearranged in a semi-circle around it. Which, if done well, can work, but it didn't in this case, mostly because of what they had done with the baptismal font and the tabernacle (of course) - the baptismal pool had been constructed in what was now the rear of the Church, but was once the left-hand side altar space, I guess. The problem with it was that it, as well as the parts of the walls surrounding it, were constructed in this gray faux-rock stuff, with water flowing, and so on (and please note, I am all for big, prominent, baptismal pools, although as Michael has pointed out, in the ancient church which supposedly all the liturgists are trying to emulate, these big, tomb or cross-shaped baptismal pools were always in separate spaces - hence the name of the structure called a "baptistry." (Wasn't the Leaning Tower of Pisa a baptistry?)

Anyway, the total effect of this structure was not so much refreshing, sacred waters of baptism but the 11th hole at Putt-Putt.

And the tabernacle was literally stuck in a corner - even I, who can deal with a good chapel of reservation if it's attached to the Church in some way and, ideally, in some kind of dual design where the tabernacle is situated at a dividing point, if you will, giving it a place in one direction, in the church proper, and the other, in a smaller chapel.But here, it was just stuck in the corner - a small metal box with a candle flickering gamely. Weird.

But I have to say, after a very bad start (Visitors stand up and announce yourselves. No we didn't. Are you crazy?), things got much better, even from our vantage point in the uniquely-situated cry room (a glassed in portion of the choir loft). The priest prayed in measured tones and preached...well, he preached a homily that was actually structured, interesting and elevating. Note that first word: structured. He didn't wander. Worked from notes, but not in a stilted way. Preached on "wonder" - wonder at the gift of Eucharist, which is an intensification of our wonder for all God has done, the call to take the Jesus we receive here out to the world...refreshing.

So, how did you celebrate Corpus Christi? Go to Mass?

Or...did you dress up like the devil and jump over babies?

An interesting Spanish observance

A man dressed as the devil leaped over babies lying on mattresses on Sunday as the small Spanish town of Castrillo de Murcia held its traditional Corpus Christi celebrations. While many people across Spain celebrate the Catholic festival with processions and mystery plays, this northern Spanish town has for centuries chosen to protect its young from evil spirits with this unusual ritual. Dressed in a red and yellow costume, the man representing the devil was pursued around the town by a Catholic priest -- leaping over the babies in his flight while the anxious parents stood nearby. In all, he vaulted over around 20 mattresses each holding four or five babies. It is believed that the devil, known as El Colacho, draws all the evil from the children and leaves them cleansed. Parents bring their children from all across the northern region of Burgos to participate in the ritual.

Bosnian is running 35 hours to see the Pope.

Paul Elie in the NYTimes

In the recent past, when the church has had a crisis of leadership, there has emerged a bishop or cadre of bishops who are willing to break from the larger group and restore the church to its senses: Dutch bishops decrying the Nazi deportations of Jews during World War II; Archbishop Oscar Romero reversing decades of church policy in El Salvador in order to denounce the government and champion the poor.

This time, lay people have taken the lead in addressing a problem directly, expecting the bishops eventually to join with them. It has worked, to some degree. In St. Louis, for example, the bishops finally agreed to cooperate with researchers performing a survey about sexual abuse. But it is a sad day for the church when mere compliance is cause for celebration.

The Catholic tradition takes as its starting point the stubbornness of human nature, and goes on to stress the possibility, indeed the necessity, of conversion, urging the believer to be open always to an authentic change of heart. History suggests that change in the church usually follows on the death of a pope or other prominent figure. When Pope Pius XII died, for example, his successor, Pope John XXIII, called for the "opening of the windows" that was Vatican II. Alas, the present crisis will probably pass only with the passing of the current bishops and the installation of bishops who know better than to follow in their footsteps.

For the time being, it is likely that the bishops will keep going along the path they and their counselors have marked. As they return to their home dioceses and the Catholics they supposedly lead, we hope they keep in mind that the church doesn't need leaders so much as followers — that its leader lived a long time ago and walked a very different path, and that their job is to make his leadership known today, not through crisis management but through faithful example. At this point, they may have no other choice.

Thomas O'Brien's pathetic last days as bishop.

I am trying to figure out what the bishops did on Friday and Saturday, which is challenging since I was out of the news loop those days, not to speak of the fact that the bishops were meeting in closed sessions with no press conferences.

Seems to me what basically happened on the abuse front is that bishops ironed out their problems with the abuse survey, generously decided to allow both surveys (of past abuse, and how dioceses are implementing the Charter) to continue and....what else?

One concluding article.

Another one.

And from Michael Paulson of the Globe:

On Thursday, they met in private with members of a church-appointed national review board to discuss concerns some bishops had about a study the board is doing on the historic scope and nature of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests. Both bishops and board members said after the discussion that they are now confident that most, if not all, bishops will cooperate with the study, which is scheduled to be released by January.

On Friday, again in private, the bishops held a daylong "prayerful reflection" on issues that might form the basis for a plenary council, an extraordinary gathering of bishops, priests, and laypeople to discuss the state of the church in the United States. The bishops are divided over whether such a council would be helpful and plan to continue their discussion during a retreat in Denver next June.

Yesterday, Archbishop Harry J. Flynn of St. Paul and Minneapolis gave a report to the bishops in an open session yesterday in which he declared that much progress has been made over the year since the bishops met in Dallas and vowed to remove all abusive priests from ministry and to recommit the church to protecting children from sexual abuse.

Flynn, chairman of the bishops' ad hoc committee on sexual abuse, called the abuse scandal "perhaps the worst crisis in the history of the church in our country" and said that despite a "monumental effort" at change, "there is still a long road ahead of us."

Flynn said that, over the last year, "several hundred priests" have been removed from ministry because they had abused minors, "and this has been very, very painful."

In the Philippines, an apostolic administrator has been appointed to temporarily assume the duties of the bishop being investigated for sexual harrassment.

The Vatican has named a temporary administrator of a diocese in the Philippine capital whose well-loved bishop is being investigated for alleged sexual harassment, Church officials announced yesterday.

Bishop Antonio Tobias will take the place of Teodoro Bacani Jr. in Novaliches district as the latter is on vacation in the U.S. to visit his family, while the charges are being looked into by the Pope, according to Antonio Franco, Papal Nuncio to Manila.

``Bishop Tobias will run the diocese for the time being. We are dealing with this problem of the Church. We are all concerned. We hope that there will be a solution that will be good for the person and the community,'' he told reporters in a briefing.

``The diocese will be run by the Apostolic Administrator even when Bishop Bacani returns. The presence of the Apostolic Administrator is meant to facilitate better consideration and fair evaluation of all aspects of the situation, without pressure of any kind from any sector, in an atmosphere of serenity and impartiality.''

On the way down I read the really delightful, quirky memoir Running From the Devil: A Memoir of a Boy Possessed, written by Ohio guy Steve Kissing.

I got the book at the RBTE a couple of weeks ago - rather, Katie got it for me while I was signing books, and she was going on her rounds picking up books other authors were signing, and I'm sorry I didn't pay more attention to what this particular book was when she set it on the pile, and didn't go meet the author then.

It's a sort of odd book, but in a very good way. I'll pass on the official synopsis:

Running from the Devil is a funny, poignant, almost epic saga. It’s the Prince of Darkness versus the Prince of Dorkness. When Steve Kissing, a quirky kid of the ‘70s, began hallucinating in fifth grade, he was certain Lucifer was waging an all-out war for his soul. But instead of seeking help, Steve stayed silent for fear of being sent away for treatment. Or worse. So he fought back, doing whatever he could to strengthen his mind, his body, and especially, his spirit.

On one level, it's a book that anyone who grew up in the 70's, and especially who was growing up Catholic in the 70's, will appreciate. Kissing had much more of the traditional Catholic school education than I did (I had four years of Catholic education, and none of it traditional), so his memories of things like May Crowning our outside of my experience, but his attempt to find salvation through intense involvement in CYO isn't, nor is his evocation of what it was like to be a Catholic teen in the 1970's.

On a deeper level, though, his story is one that anyone - even if you're not Catholic, and even if you didn't spend your adolescence concealing your strange hallucinations - can identify with. Although it took a very dramatic and rather heightened form, Kissing's struggle was what we all face during those years: being confronted with new, inexplicable and seemingly uncontrollable aspects of ourselves, aspects that we don't think anyone else can understand, and aspects that we are convinced we must handle and figure out all by ourselves.

It's a book that is very funny, poignant, honest and hopeful. And it's got a great cover.


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