Thursday, December 31, 2009

Thanks to Pandora Radio

Posted by Webster 
One of my favorite discoveries of 2009 is Pandora Radio. It’s a Web service that allows you to create your own radio station. As a Catholic I find it useful because I can gather in one place the kinds of religious music that I find most inspiring—stuff I didn’t even know existed. You start Pandora with a “seed” and it proposes other similar music to add to your station. You accept what you like, reject what you don’t, and slowly build your own list. Then you can listen to it at work (from your desktop computer), on the road (from your laptop), or even out for a walk (from your iPhone or Blackberry).

And now—I can share it with my friends! That’s right! Being the technical wizard I am (not), I have just figured out how to share an entire Pandora station with you. (OK, true confessions: Frank figured it out.) The secret is at the bottom of this post, so read on.

Several months ago, I named this station Bingen Radio, in honor of Hildegard von Bingen, a 12th-century religious and mystic who also happens to be the first composer of music of whom we have a detailed biography. I wrote a bit about her previously here. The image of Hildegard’s statue is cribbed from James Woodward’s fine blog, which I’m now going to follow, having once discovered it.

On this station you will hear a selection of mostly a cappella choral music from Hildegard to Arvo (Part), with stops along the way for Gregorian Chant, Josquin Desprez, Tomás Luis Victoria, and William Byrd, to mention but a few. No, I don’t know fact one about most of these folks. I only know that listening to this beautiful selection of music puts me in an entirely different space the moment I launch Pandora.

Another cool thing about Pandora is, once you download my Bingen Radio, you can make it your own. Every time a piece comes on, you can give it a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, and Pandora will continuously adjust the mix of music to your taste. You can start brand-new stations too. I have half-a-dozen, including Chopin Radio (piano-oriented classical) and Knopfler Radio (named for the Dire Straits front man who is my favorite pop musician).

So here’s what you do: Go to our fan page (YIM Catholic) on FaceBook, become a fan, and click on the link posted there. The Pandora station “Bingen Radio” will download to your computer. And the next time you join us at YIM Catholic, you can hum along.

Update: See the righthand sidebar for a link to the YIMCatholic Pandora stations=====>>>

Because of These Predictions for 2010 . . . Not!

Posted by Webster 
Ohhhhh-kaaaay. It’s the end of the year and bloggers are making predictions for 2010. I am a blogger now, so I must make predictions.

Vroom-vroom. Warming up the crystal ball. Vrooooom. I'm feeling it now (left).

Prediction: Katie and I will stay married (twenty-five years and counting). We will not buy a pet (don’t ask). Each of our daughters will continue along an exciting new career path (each has already taken the first step). We will not have grandchildren (unless someone has taken a step I don’t know about).

Prediction: Father Barnes will give stellar homilies, daily. Ferde will not. Nor will Ferde join the choir. But he will continue to set me straight on just about everything else Catholic. He will almost always be right.

Prediction: I will attend the funeral of at least one dear friend. Five years ago, I would not have made this prediction. Why today? (a) I’m five years older. (b) So are my friends. (c) I am a Catholic now, I have many more friends, and some are quite a bit older than me. This funeral will be profoundly moving, whether of my closest friend or the most anonymous lady at morning Mass. I will begin feeling like Ruth Gordon in the film Harold and Maude. Or Bud Cort, who befriended her.

Prediction: The Yankees will outspend every other Major League team, and still Elizabeth will continue to pray (and Tweet insanely at all hours) for them. If the Yankees lose, it will be because of the intercession of my father, who is in heaven. Dad hated the Yankees, loved the Mets.

Prediction: Through our prayers and much additional higher help, both the absolute number and the rate of abortions will continue to drop in this country. Meanwhile, our president and most members of Congress will continue to do the wrong thing, proving again that prayer is more effective than politics.

Prediction: My Pope will continue to be the most significant, erudite, and compassionate leader in the world. The Catholic Church will continue to grow, nationwide and worldwide, despite all the worst intentions and acts of men and women, lay and ordained. Meanwhile, some bishop somewhere will do something really stupid. Maybe two bishops.

Prediction: YIM Catholic will have more readers by year-end than it does today. Frank will continue to develop his singular voice as the mad-dog Marine convert and indispensable wing-man. And each of us, Frank and I, will write something really stupid, further infuriating and befuddling the women in our lives—mothers, wives, daughters, hairdressers . . .

Prediction: The Second Coming won’t come. Unless it does. My First Going is more likely. . . . When was my last Confession?

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Because of “Scenes from a Parish”

Posted by Webster 
I am always proud to be a Catholic, occasionally proud to be from the Boston area—when the Red Sox are winning, especially. Tonight, I’m busting with pride to be a Boston Catholic because PBS is airing a little masterpiece about one special church in our archdiocese.

If you haven’t seen or heard about “Scenes from a Parish,” check it out at the Independent Lens web site, right here. Search for your local listings. Then see it.

St. Patrick’s Church in Lawrence, Massachusetts, is the parish. Lawrence is the 23rd poorest city in the U.S. and the poorest in Massachusetts. St. Patrick’s is in the throes of a demographic shift, with older Anglo parishioners feeling pushed aside by an enormous Hispanic influx. The publicity I’ve read for the 90-minute documentary stresses the tension between ethnic groups in a changing American city, as though this were a cinéma vérité version of “West Side Story.”

But as a Catholic, I was on the edge of my seat watching the stories unfold. Of Elvys Guzman, a former gang member who got his life back in order through the Church. Of Theresa Santell, homeless from age six and mother to five children—on whom the St. Vincent de Paul Society refuses to give up. Of Bobby McCord, a mentally challenged parishioner, whose devoted sister Sarah proudly wins a full-boat scholarship to Boston University but worries that Bobby will forget her when she goes to school. Of the older white parishioners who wonder if anyone in Lawrence is really hungry.

And especially of Fr. Paul O’Brien, a Harvard classmate of TV talk king Conan O’Brien, who gave up a life of privilege to be an inner city priest. Father O’Brien dreams of, then builds, the Cor Unum meal center, over the cries of those older white parishioners who can’t understand why such a center makes any sense at all. Built for $1.4 million (Conan shows up at the grand opening), the center served 100,000 meals in its first year of operation and is going gangbusters. Central to fund-raising is Father O’Brien’s brainchild, Labels are For Jars, which sells t-shirts with labels like ADDICT, HOMELESS, and MENTALLY ILL. Father O’Brien’s idea is to undermine such labels, which only serve to marginalize the poor and create a forgotten underclass.

His beautiful words are read over the final credits: “What each person is thinking, saying, doing at any moment is critical because God is likely to be present right there. God is speaking through the least likely people all the time.”

Now read the story of filmmaker James Rutenbeck. You’ll see that making the film was a chapter in his own spiritual journey.

Now go to the Web site for and buy a shirt to support Cor Unum. I just bought the ADDICT shirt shown above, and I promise to model it here at YIM Catholic as soon as it arrives.

For Thirteen Angels

Posted by Webster 
I was received into the Church in March 2008, so tomorrow I complete my first calendar year as a Catholic. My life has never been so beautiful, so interesting, so filled with surprises—for reasons I’ve attempted to detail in this blog. I know no better way of closing this year than to say thanks to the people without whom I might not be a Catholic today.

The beautiful thing about this list is that each person here was a gift of the Holy Spirit, an angel “out of the blue.” None of them came through any initiative of my own. I did not choose them. If anything, they chose me. So I can take no credit for any of them. This is a pure list of IOU’s. The debt—payable in heaven—is all mine.
  1. My parents—I have written about them individually elsewhere, for example here. Together, they taught us six children values, beginning with the value of prayer and regular attendance at Church. Why do some children have remarkable parents and some bad parents, or none at all? Who chooses our parents for us?
  2. My grandmother, Mary Morrison—She began by making me feel special, as her “oldest grandson.” Then, at the end of her life, she threw down the gauntlet to her entire family and became a Catholic. Why was I the one, of all her six children and twenty-six grandchildren, who picked it up? I did not become a Catholic because of Ammie, but if nothing else, she showed that it was an option. Somewhere there is a photo of her reaching out from behind a security line to touch the hand of Pope John Paul II as he walked past. She looks besotted, like a bobby-soxer at an early Elvis concert. I think some of that enthusiasm for the Church must have passed to me. Who chooses our grandparents for us?
  3. Dr. Harold Bassage—Like my father, the assistant pastor of our Episcopal Church showed with actions (no words were needed) that religious devotion can be a manly thing. His example, with Dad’s, makes me realize that every time I serve at Mass, every time I kneel at Adoration, I may be serving as an example for another young man. Was it only coincidence that Dr. Bassage was a sometime playwright, actor, director—at a time when theater was the profession I thought I would pursue? Who chooses our early religious teachers for us?
  4. Rodney Marriott—I have not written about “Mr. Marriott” before. He was an English teacher at my secondary school, who doubled as one of the three directors of the Dramat, the student theater club. He infected me with an interest in good writing, and in rehearsals he always asked for more, deeper, finer. He made poetry and theater spiritual exercises. Who chooses our most influential schoolteachers for us?
  5. David Hackett—As a freshman in college, I became friends with “Hackett.” We recognized each other as fellow searchers. In those days (1969), our gaze turned eastward, toward Zen, other strains of Buddhism, yoga, the Tao. It was a time of esoteric talk and yarrow stalks. But we were as sincere as two clueless freshmen can be about our shared quest, and sometime during that first year Hackett found his way to a “growth center” in Dublin, New Hampshire. As a result, my life was changed far more than his. Who chooses our schoolmates for us?
  6. Cesareo Pelaez—During my sophomore year, I followed Hackett to the Dublin growth center and met the main man there, whom everyone knew as Cesareo. Our friendship has extended over the four decades since that time, and it has had many complex facets. But two stand out here: First, Cesareo was raised Catholic, intensely so, in pre-Revolutionary Cuba. And even when Catholicism was the farthest thing from his mind or our conversations, it was right there in our midst. Second, Cesareo created a theater business where I discovered my interest in writing. Without him, I would not only not be a Catholic. I would not be a Catholic blogger!! Who chooses our mentors for us?
  7. Katie McNiff Bull—We and our backgrounds are as different as could be. But from the moment Katie began working at the theater business Cesareo had founded, I was as besotted as Ammie with the Pope. Then, before we began dating, Katie‘s brother died suddenly and her mother died slowly, from cancer. And I had a chance to witness true devotion in action: Katie visiting her mother every day, talking and reading to her even when she had lapsed into a coma from the brain tumor that finally killed her. My heart had been right about Katie from the beginning. Now my mind understood why. That Katie was raised Catholic by devout parents played no part in our decision to marry, nor in my decision to convert. But it didn’t hurt. Who chooses our spouses for us?
  8. Our children—My life is unimaginable without Martha and Marian. What parent needs to hear more than that? Who chooses our children for us?
  9. James Martin, SJ—This is the only person on the list I have not met. But without his book, My Life with the Saints, I would not have begun attending Mass in October 2007 or conceived the mad notion of becoming a Catholic. I wrote about this book and its influence on me in my very first post. Who chooses the books that fall in our path?
  10. Fr. David Barnes—I have written elsewhere that if, having read My Life with the Saints and having decided to “give daily Mass a try,” I had walked into the Catholic church across from my office and not found Fr. Barnes, I’m not sure I would have stayed. I can’t imagine a finer priest—a smarter guy, a straighter shooter, a more compassionate confessor, a better friend when a friend is what I need. Who chooses our hometown priest?
  11. Joan Horgan—I enrolled in RCIA one week after I began attending Mass. (It was love at first sight.) Assisting the RCIA teacher, Neil Yetts, was a team of lay people, some of them converts. Joan of Beverly, as I’ve dubbed her in other posts, was a member of the team. As much as anyone Joan has taught me what it is to be a Catholic. Her life has been difficult at times, in marriage, in child-rearing, and most recently in a bout with lung cancer. (Two weeks ago, after a grueling year of chemo, radiation, and dramatic weight loss, she got a clean bill of health!) Yet she seems the happiest person on the planet, and that happiness is founded in faith. I began visiting Joan once a week while she was sick. Now that she’s well again, my visits continue. Since the first day I met her, I have received far more from my friendship with Joan than I could ever put into it. Who chooses such inspiring friends for us?
  12. Ferde Rombola—If you’ve read more than a casual post or two at YIMC Catholic, you know that Ferde has a special place in my personal pantheon. He is my big brother in the Church, who befriended me first when I started going to daily Mass and sitting in the same pew every day, and though I do myself too much honor by saying it probably, he is my best male friend. We watch football together and go on retreat together; we have the occasional drink together and daily communion; we go fishing, we go skiing, and we go to Adoration. Who chooses our best friends for us?
  13. David Hackett—Forty years after I met Hackett (see #5), and thirty-eight years after he disappeared from my life, he reappeared, last spring, “out of the blue,” like all my angels. So Hackett has the unique distinction of two slots on this honor roll. In 1969, we were lapsed Protestants looking east. When we reestablished contact last spring, I found that, like me, he was a Catholic convert. He was the friend who asked me “out of the blue one day, ‘So, Webster, why Catholicism?’” In response, I wrote a few short essays for him and for him alone. Three months later, when the inspiration for this blog hit me like Newton’s falling apple, three of these essays became early posts: this one and this one and this one. Who decides when an angel appears in our lives—and then appears again?
Most of this is probably too personal by half for the casual reader stopping by YIM Catholic. But I’m sure every reader who gets this far can write such a list for themselves. It’s not a bad pursuit this New Year’s. I recommend it. The test of true happiness is gratitude, Chesterton said. I am happy today, and this list of angels is a big part of why.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Because Popeye is Catholic

Posted by Webster 
Earlier I wrote that Catholicism is a full-time job, compared with the Protestant observance of my youth. A mind is a hard thing to shut off, and mine has come up with more analogies. I will be accused of churlish negativity by my Protestant brothers, but as Frank and Farragut would say, “Damn the torpedoes!

1. Catholicism is Popeye, Protestantism Bluto. Let’s face it: Whatever Luther’s original intent, in the final analysis the Protestant Reformation was a Rebellion, a Revolt, and not a Reformation, as Ferde loves pointing out. The Reformation, which was needed, took shape at the Council of Trent and remains a work in progress. Meanwhile, Protestants’ total identity is about being against the Catholic Church and its perceived abuses. That revolt is still intact, as one Protestant sect rebels against another and the whole human experiment fractures into crazy glass.

Likewise, Bluto’s only reason for being is to destroy Popeye. But Popeye has spinach (the Eucharist) and Olive Oyl (the Blessed Mother).

2. Catholic is chess, Protestant is checkers. Catholic means messy, complex, ambiguous; it is as wild and weird as a Gothic cathedral crawling with gargoyles. Protestant is a one-way road to heaven: do not pass Rome, do not collect $200 in indulgences; it is straight as a New England church spire. In checkers, movement is only along diagonals and the end game is total destruction of the enemy force. In chess, movement is every which way, and checkmate is an elegant resolution of conflict in which the king resigns, he is not exterminated. Chess has knights and bishops, checkers only kings.

3. Catholicism is a monkey house, Protestantism is a zoo. I’m not totally sure where to go with this one, but you just have to hang out in a Catholic parish for a while to discover that we are a wacky bunch. Protestants probably have their share of wacky, though they seem pretty straitlaced to me. But one thing you can say about Protestants: They’ve got every animal in the known world, and all in separate cages. 

4. Catholicism is a deluxe twenty-volume encyclopedia, Protestantism a paperback dictionary. Every time I watch “The Journey Home” on EWTN, Marcus Grodi’s series of interviews with converts, I have to listen ad nauseam to how much Protestants know about the Bible. Given that it’s the only book they have to know, this no longer impresses me. Try stacking the Bible up against the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the collected writings of the Early Fathers, the complete works of Augustine and Aquinas, Pascal’s Pensées, Butler’s Lives of the Saints, anything by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, . . . and the Bible.

I grant that there have been great intellects among the ranks of Protestant theologians. I studied (well, I read) bits of Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann, and Paul Tillich in boarding school, and I can’t tell you bupkis about any of them. But I felt, while reading them, that each was cooking up his own recipe with hand-picked ingredients. I can read any Catholic theologian and know that his or her work is a bud on a two-thousand-year rose bush, which taken as a whole is vast, colorful, and aromatic.

5. Catholicism is The Fellowship of the Ring, Protestantism is Harry Potter. Give me a Bible and a moment of inspiration, and I can be a Protestant with a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” The Protestant movement is full of lonely wizards: Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Smith—each breaking away from his forebears and setting up business in a storefront. A Protestant means an individual in direct relationship with the Almighty, no intercessors needed, thank you.

Meanwhile, Catholics function well in groups, especially if the groups include wizards, elves, hobbits, assorted bearded men and willowy women, tree-like things called ents, and a bunch of other weird, but loyal allies. And they believe in obedience to higher authority (Gandalf, Aragorn). I have never ever had the same sense of belonging that I have in the Catholic Church—an assortment of oddities my mother never warned me about. And I am quite comfortable, thank you, heeding the words of my pope and my pastor.

Give me time and I’ll come up with more analogies. But dinner’s almost ready, Marian has just made a killer guacamole, and she returns to school in North Carolina tomorrow. So TTFN. Which makes me think that maybe Catholicism is Tigger, Protestantism Tony the Tiger. But I’ll work on that one . . .

Because Being a Catholic is Full-Time Work

Posted by Webster
The Octave of Christmas, celebrating the birth of Our Lord over eight days, not just one, reminds me of another reason why I am Catholic: It’s not a part-time job. I thought of this coming into Mass this morning and seeing altar decorations still honoring the birth of the Baby Jesus.

As a teenager, I left my Episcopal church on Sundays thinking I was all set for the week. Most days now, it’s a different story. Every hour of the day—from the Liturgy of the Hours to daily Mass to Eucharistic Adoration to various forms of service—Catholics are invited to worship and work in the service of God and man.

Take one crazy example. There I was at 4:30 this morning, singing “What Child Is This?” in full voice to kick off the Office of Readings for the fifth day in the Octave. It wasn’t quite William Carlos Williams’s “Danse Russe” (I was fully clothed), but fortunately my home office is in the basement and my Kathleen (Katie) was asleep on the second floor, so my singing didn’t wake her.

Now it’s 7:50 and I am just back from Mass. I arrived at Mass early and said the Rosary before the beautiful Nativity set up in the right transept (photo below). Then I had the honor of serving at the altar. (If it’s Tuesday, it must be Webster.)

I will interrupt my work this office morning with more psalms and prayers from the Breviary. Midafternoon will find me in the Adoration chapel, and then I’ll stop in to see my dear friend and one-time RCIA sponsor Joan of Beverly for an hour of Catholic talk—as per usual late Tuesday afternoons.

If I don’t get lazy (as I do more often than not), I’ll say Evening Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours when I get home about 5:30. A quiet dinner with Katie and Marian (home on Christmas break), and then I’ll spend a couple of hours reading Catholic stuff like Michael O’Brien’s Father Elijah and probably blogging too (my one really bad habit). Then, like Simeon in today’s Gospel, I will end the day with the words:

Lord, now you let your servant go in peace. My own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people—a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.

In his memoir, my devout Protestant father wrote, “I’ve always had the impression that Catholics are in general more serious about their religion than Protestants.” That may not be true of all Catholics, but the Catholic Church does offer us the opportunity, every day, to make it true.

Another “father” of my acquaintance once wrote, “If you’re going to go on a spree, go the whole hog, including the postage.” Which inspires me to say, “Oink, oink.”

Because My Pope Said This

Posted by Webster 
I wish more people would read Pope Benedict’s interviews, talks, writings. Even the most skeptical or cynical reader, giving “my pope” a chance, would be brought up short by his thoughtfulness, his balance, his erudition, his gosh-darn common sense.

Case in point. In the interviews that became God and the World (Ignatius Press, 2002), German journalist Peter Seewald asked then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger:

In the course of two thousand years of Christian history, the Church has divided time and again. In the meantime, there are around three hundred distinguishable Protestant, Orthodox, or other churches. There are way over a thousand Baptist groups in the United States. Over against these there is still the Roman Catholic Church with the pope at her head, which claims to be the only true Church. She remains at any rate, and despite every crisis, indeed the most universal, historically significant, and successful Church in the world, with more members today than at any time in her history.

This question asked by a skeptical young journalist, no Catholic at the time he asked it, might seem to be what Frank would call a “fat pitch.” Did Ratzinger, in his answer, knock Protestantism out of the park in a grand slam of triumphalism? No, the cardinal laid down a thoughtful bunt single—then stole second, third, and home:

I think that in the spirit of Vatican II we ought not to see that as a triumph for our prowess as Catholics and ought not to make much of the institutional and numerical strength we continue to enjoy. If we were to reckon that as our achievement and as our right, then we would step outside the role of a people belonging to God and set ourselves up as an association in our own right. And that can very quickly go wrong. A Church may have great institutional power in a country, but as soon as faith is no longer there to back it up, the institution will break down.

Perhaps you know the mediaeval story of a Jew who traveled to the papal court and who became a Catholic. On his return, someone who knew the papal court well asked him: “Do you realize what sort of things are going on there?” “Yes,” he said, “of course, quite scandalous things, I saw it all.” “And you still became a Catholic,” remarked the other man. “That’s completely perverse!” Then the Jew said, “It is because of all that that I have become a Catholic. For if the Church continues to exist in spite of it all, then truly there must be someone upholding her.” And there is another story, to the effect that Napoleon once declared that he would destroy the Church. Whereupon one of the cardinals replied, “Not even we have managed that!”

I believe that we see something important in these paradoxical tales. There have in fact always been plenty of human monstrosities in the Catholic Church. That she still holds together, even if she groans and creaks, that she is still in existence, that she produces great martyrs and great believers, people who put their whole lives at her service, as missionaries, as nurses, as teachers, that really does show that there is someone there upholding her. 

We cannot, then, reckon the Church’s success as our own reward, but we may still say, with Vatican II—even if the Lord has given a great deal of life to other churches and communities—that the Church herself, as an active agent, has survived and is present in this agent. And that can only be explained by the fact that He grants what men cannot achieve.

Like this quotation, everything today seems to remind me of the Church’s miraculous resilience for 2,000 years. Still breathing heavily over his Island of the World, I am now reading Michael O’Brien’s Father Elijah, which begins with a barely fictional contemporary Church under attack from all the “smart” elements in our culture. But I can look back 1,000 years and read the same story, in the life of the saint we honor today, December 29, Thomas Becket, who was hacked down on the very stones of Canterbury Cathedral when he ran afoul of Henry II. Four centuries and six Henrys later, another Thomas, named More, was similarly martyred for his defense of the Faith.

And still today we have the Catholic Church, with more members worldwide than ever.

In the reading from one of his letters for today, Becket reminds us that in order for the Word to continue spreading, for the Church to endure works are necessary. We have to help the Church and ourselves: “The whole company of saints bears witness to the unfailing truth that without real effort no one wins the crown.” My pope tempers this, and all triumphalism, by reminding us that works alone are not enough, that “He grants what men cannot achieve.”

Monday, December 28, 2009

Because of a Baby, a Cross, and What Happened in Between

Posted by Webster 
Since July 2008, our parish has offered Eucharistic Adoration sixty hours a week. We’re not “perpetual” yet, but don’t bet against us. I find that there are boring days in the chapel, puzzling days, and, yes, some astonishing days, too, before the Blessed Sacrament. Today was one of these.

As usual, the Eucharist was displayed in a monstrance. Sometimes, it is contained within the Tabernacle, as shown here. Sometimes, a more dramatic monstrance, the classic sunburst (although surely there’s an official name for it), stands on the altar before the Tabernacle. Always, of course, the crucifix hovers overhead.

But only during Christmastide is there a Nativity scene set up in front of the altar. And so only during Christmastide are we treated to this astonishing juxtaposition: a Divine Child, a Man-God sacrificed for us, and—between the two—the heart of the matter.

A friend asked me once if I had converted because of the Eucharist. At the time, I didn’t even understand what the Eucharist is. Now, I have some personal experience. And I will be back tomorrow.

Because of the Church’s Position on Abortion

Posted by Frank
At the Battle of Mobile Bay in the American Civil War, Admiral David Glasgow Farragut gave a famous command. When one of his ships struck a mine and sank and the remaining ships in the fleet got "cold feet" and dallied, he shouted, “Damn the torpedoes! Full Speed ahead!” The remaining ships pressed on and swept the harbor of Confederate resistance. The Catholic Church’s stance on abortion strikes me as similar.

As Webster has written before, the positions the Catholic Church takes on issues aren't political. The positions are moral, based on the supernatural, and even based on the use of human reason in this case. Aborting human babies is killing innocent human beings for, well, for what exactly? Freedom? License? To cover up mistakes? To prevent overpopulation? Global warming?! How is it possible that this practice is acceptable?

I wrote here about my thoughts regarding scandals in the Church and how one scandal doesn't authorize the order to scuttle the ship. Today, as the Church venerates The Holy Innocents (above), I can't help but see the parallels between what King Herod ordered and what is going on here and around the world. I have no problem saying that the Abortion Emperor is wearing no clothes.

I used to be pro-Choice—just as I used to be Protestant. Then I looked deeper into the matter and came to my senses. And that was way before I came to my senses regarding Catholicism. I know there are many out there who believe that this is something only women can decide. But how can that be in matters that have this large an impact on society as a whole? Others will claim that after Roe vs. Wade, this is the law of the land, so don't fight it.

But "laws of the land" are notorious for being impermanent, and I can only pray for and support the changing of this law as well. Thomas Jefferson once said:

Of liberty, I would say that, in the whole plenitude of its extent, it is unobstructed action according to our will. But rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add "within the limits of the law," because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the rights of an individual.

Oops, I got a little political there invoking the modern perspective of one of our Founding Fathers. The fact is, the Church has always been against aborting babies and no Johnny-come-lately revisionism is going to change that.

But, you argue, a fetus isn't a "person" and really is only a little amoeba-sized peanut-shaped thingy in the womb so, what's the harm? Besides, if abortion is illegal, women will be put at risk aborting their babies "underground." Do you seriously think these arguments are defensible? Have you Googled images of aborted babies yet?

I have a friend who, via an article from National Geographic magazine, proclaims the "Slaughter of the Innocents" never really happened. And so, since NG found at least one and maybe two scholars who can't prove this event actually did happen, I should not believe the tradition of the Church regarding this event?! Well, pardon me if I stick to tradition on this one.

In Nazareth recently, a home from Jesus's time was unearthed. We have only just begun to understand all that happened in the Great Depression (only a blink of an eye—80 years ago) so the supposition that we know everything about what happened when Herod the Great went on his spree is suspect at best.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church begins the discussion about abortion in the following way:

Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means is gravely contrary to moral law:

"You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish."

"God, the Lord of life has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a man
ner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes."

It continues the argument in a way that would probably make Thomas Jefferson proud by proclaiming the inalienable right of life as a "constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation." To wit,

The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals or parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin; Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being's right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death"

I admit, I don't know much. I used to think I knew a lot. In this case though, I think the contrarian position of the Church relative to contemporary society makes the most sense. Therefore, I am thankful for the Church's unpopular stance on abortion. And I also am thankful that Mother Church venerates the Holy Innocents of so long ago, and that she continues to pray for the innocents that are being forgotten today as well.

After Admiral Farragut's seemingly rash command, running through the minefield enabled his fleet to get out of reach of the Confederate shore batteries, whereupon the Union fleet destroyed all but one Confederate ship, the ironclad C.S.S. Tennessee. The Wikipedia citation reports that although the Tennessee did not retire, and was heavily armored, she was reduced to a motionless hulk "unable to move or reply to the guns of the Union fleet. Her captain then surrendered ending the battle."

I hope and pray that this is how this battle will turn out as well. Be not dismayed!

Semper Fidelis

Because of the Relics of St. Thérèse II

Anonymous guest post
(Yesterday’s guest post by Su Yam about venerating the relics of St. Thérèse in London prompted an American reader to send this account of her own encounter with the Little Flower.)

The year 2000 saw the arrival of the relics of St. Thérèse at a Carmelite monastery in a U.S. city within driving distance of our home. I asked my husband to take me; I told him it was the only thing I wanted for my birthday.

We were three hours away and my husband is a busy professional, but he did what he had to do in order to leave the office in time that day. We drove like the wind, arriving just as the veneration was scheduled to end. Being pregnant, I was quite emotional; tears were streaming from my face; and I was certain we would miss the veneration.

I needn't have worried. There were still many ahead of us in line, so we found a place to rest until the line shortened. In the meantime, I bought a little trinket for the baby in the monastery gift shop: a tiny glass-bead rosary in a pink box with the image of a blond, blue-eyed girl on it. Back with my husband, I showed him the box and rosary. He said, "I guess you've decided the baby's gender." I already had four girls and just one boy—and was really hoping for another boy—so of course, that brought on a whole new wave of tears!

Finally, it was our turn. We approached the reliquary, knelt, prayed, and returned to the pew. After a few minutes, my husband asked me for the rosary, got back in line, and knelt once again at the reliquary, pressing the rosary against it. At that time, my husband was not yet Catholic. He was a non-baptized believer. It was quite a poignant moment.

Three months later, Madeline Thérèse was born—a blue-eyed blond, the only one of those that I have.

Seven years later, on January 3, the day between St. Therese's birth and her baptism, my husband was baptized and confirmed in a hospital bed. When the priest asked him if he wanted to take the name of a saint, he said, without hesitation, "Thérèse."

I don't know what possessed me to seek St. Thérèse out. I had not yet read her Story of a Soul, and I really didn't know anything about her.  I just knew I had to see her.

And for those wondering—my husband did get out of the hospital, and a second boy did eventually arrive, almost six years ago.

Because the Reasons are Beyond Counting

Since August, we have come up with nearly 200 reasons for being Catholic. It should come as no surprise that someone else has been thinking along the same lines, and with a far more theological turn of mind.

Check out Dave Armstrong’s “150 Reasons Why I’m Catholic and You Should Be Too” over at Our Catholic Faith. It’s right here.

What’s your biggest reason for being Catholic?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Because of the Relics of St. Thérèse

Guest post by Su Yam 
(In the early autumn of 2009, we Americans read British reports of the thousands of faithful who flocked to venerate the relics of St. Thérèse of Liseux during a nearly four-week tour of England and Wales. Su Yam, one of our UK readers, was there at Westminster Cathedral in London and offered to file this personal report.)

As soon as I heard that the relics of St. Thérèse of Lisieux were coming to the UK, I knew that I wanted to be there. I wasn't certain of my reasons, but my heart felt pulled in a very definite way; so I prayed and asked God to let me go and to help me with the details.

I'm only beginning to explore all there is to know about the saints, and until recently I didn't know many of them, but I did know St. Thérèse. My local library has a copy of Monica Furlong's book about her, and I had read it twice over the last few years.

I didn't tell many people that I was going, as I am an Anglo-Catholic, some of my friends are happy-clappy evangelicals, my family are not Christians, and I just wasn't sure who would understand. Some may have said that I was going to worship some dead bones, some may have said I was being macabre, thinking that the actual body parts would be visible, instead of held in the reliquary shown here. Some might have said that I had lost sight of the fact that Jesus is the only way to the Father. But by then I had sorted out my own feelings and reasons for going.

My main reason was that I was sure God's presence would be there in a tangible way, and I wanted to be wherever He was. My other reason was that I knew people have been healed when in the presence of these relics, and I wanted healing for myself and my loved ones.

So on October 13, I set off to Westminster Cathedral in London with a list of prayer requests, my rosary, and a plain white handkerchief. I went by myself. I had thought about asking a friend, but then I realised that I wanted to be able to be completely me, without worrying about someone else's experience and comfort. I wanted it to just be God, St. Thérèse, and me.

I arrived at 10 a.m. and got in the queue, surprised that there weren't more people waiting. But five minutes later I turned around to see hordes of people quietly lined up behind me. I hadn't even noticed! Next to the queue outside the cathedral was a big screen showing live video of the relics and people venerating them. This helped me because I had never visited relics before and I was nervous about what I should do.

As the queue reached the front steps of the cathedral we passed a little stall selling St. Thérèse candles and roses. I bought a candle. Once inside the cathedral, I found that the waiting queue was patient and peaceful, and I prayed in my mind for all the items on my prayer list. The relics were in a beautiful box shaped like a treasure chest (appropriate!), and this was encased in a glass dome.

When my turn came, I took out the handkerchief I had brought along and pressed it onto the glass. As I stood there I prayed. I don't remember what I prayed, but God does! I know I prayed for healing and blessings for myself and my children, my husband, family and friends. I didn't feel anyone was rushing me or wanting me to move on, but after a minute or so I did move and went to sit with others who had queued and prayed and were now sitting or kneeling and praying some more. As I sat looking at the relics I felt happy, peaceful, and complete. Nothing else mattered. I knelt and prayed a decade of my rosary and then sat quietly enjoying the atmosphere.

By now the normal mass had begun beyond a screen spanning the center of the cathedral. The priest wore a microphone, so although we couldn't see anything of the mass, we could hear it. As the priest began the Alleluia preceding the Gospel, everyone in the cathedral joined in spontaneously—it was truly beautiful! I couldn't help smiling and thinking how lovely that must have sounded to God and how much He would have cherished it.

As I sat and watched others venerate, I thought how many different types of people had come to do the same thing. There were coachloads and small groups, solitary visitors and groups of religious. But for me the loveliest sight was classes of schoolchildren in their uniforms filing past and bowing and kissing the dome. I hope they never forget the blessing of being so close to a saint's relics. I know I won't.

As I left the cathedral, I felt as though my heart was burning in my chest. I felt whole emotionally and spiritually; I know that in some way I was healed.

Since then I have continued to want more and more of Jesus and to fall in love with Our Father a bit more each day. I would say to anyone who gets the chance to visit relics to never hesitate, even for a moment.

The handkerchief I took that day is safely tucked away at home. I don't know what prompted me to take it, but I figure that one day I may be glad I did.

Comment of the Week

We have a great group of readers at YIM Catholic, many of whom have been offering excellent comments. It seems only right to highlight some of these. This week, we'll showcase a comment by James, written in response to a post about a woman who has fallen away from the Church. The woman told us that this was largely because of what she considered poor pastoral advice in the wake of Vatican II. In his comment James wrote:

There must be hundreds of thousands of lapsed and non practicing Catholics out there, but of course the front door is always open in welcome for them. The dynamic is extremely complex. Not to oversimplify but in a case such as Rosa's (with details understandingly few), where bad advice seems to be the primary cause, I'd respond that one should go to a priest for spiritual matters and guidance but look for advice on corporal affairs elsewhere. If I need legal advice I go to a lawyer, marital advice a trained and licensed counselor and so forth. 

The Church today (and I've been thinking about this a lot recently) is still and will continue to be in a great deal of upheaval from Vatican II. I think that the dust has yet to settle and it will be some time before it does. I'm not questioning the wisdom of the Church Fathers, but the transition was for many a traumatic and somewhat ham-fisted one. Previous to the Council, I was an altar and choir boy at a diocesan cathedral and there was no priest or religious shortage then and there were more masses which were mostly filled. How that's changed! 

The second half of the 20th century has been an incredible challenge for the Church, and I spent nearly two decades adrift, but in returning I discovered that the baby was not thrown out with the bath and that the Faith, the Sacraments, the Creed, and all that is the essence of Catholicism remains—and that is what is important. Virulent anti-catholicism fueled by a perceived post–Vatican II watering down of values—followed by the nightmare scandals of the past 15 years—serves as a roadblock to those who can't see beyond it to what is really important: the Faith, the Hope, and the Way as entrusted to the Apostles with Peter as leader. Christ was perfect, but His Church comprised of us is imminently human and as such will always be subject to human failings. So while the one, true, holy, and apostolic church will change in form and suffer from human shortcomings, it is constant and unchanging in substance, and for me that is a source of gratitude and joy. 

It is not easy being Catholic, and it requires not only an act of faith but of will. I believe that as the pendulum begins to swing back to the middle, there will be a return of some souls to the Church and will certainly pray for this.

Because My Pope Said This

Posted by Webster 
On the Feast of the Holy Family, here is what Pope Benedict recalled about his own family. There are thoughts here for those of us who ask ourselves how to be good Catholic parents:

My father was a very upright and also a very strict man. Be we always sensed the goodness behind his strictness. And for that reason we could basically accept his strictness without trouble. From the very beginning my mother always compensated for my father's perhaps excessive strictness by her warmth and kindness. They had two very different temperaments, and this difference was also exactly what made them complementary. Yes, I have to say that it was strict, but there was still a lot of warmth and kindess and joy. That was augmented by the fact that we played with one another, even our parents joined in, and that music also had a bigger and bigger role in our family life. Music, after all, has the power to bring people together. (Salt of the Earth: An Interview with Peter Seewald)

I have often told Martha and Marian—and they understand this well—that they are fortunate to have two such different, and complementary parents, as Katie and me. God knows, two of me would be impossible! And performing together in a magic show for many years did bring the four of us together, just as Pope Benedict said music did for his family.

Because of the Good News X

Posted by Webster 
In October, I called a temporary halt to these weekly good-news summaries. But with visions of Mary over Egypt making news during the final days of Advent and with two air disasters averted on the day we celebrate Our Lord’s birth among us, this week all but screams: Good News! Even an attack on Pope Benedict was foiled.

There is a great line buried in Mark Shea’s reflection on the Mary-over-Egypt phenomenon, and it could apply to the whole week, indeed to the entire Christian Fact: We can scoff about such “visions,” Shea writes, and many do, but “The thing is, sometimes God shows up.” Isn’t that Christmas in a nutshell?

The Christian Fact became a bit more vivid this week with news that archaeologists had discovered the remains of a Nazareth village from two thousand years ago.

As I wrote at the beginning of the week, the Visitation is my favorite Mystery of the Rosary, so I was touched by The Anchoress’s meditation on the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth. Especially with its quote from one of the novels I enjoyed this year, Rumer Godden’s In This House of Brede. (The image here is cribbed from Elizabeth’s post.)

Beautifully, miraculously, the Visitation celebrates two women as the parents of Our Lord and his herald, John—after that endless line of men listed by Matthew.

I spent my Christmas in Vermont with the four most important people in my life, all women (Katie, Martha, Marian, and Mom). My only regret was missing the Christmas Vigil Mass at St. Mary’s and not singing with my friends in the choir, backed by bells, timpani, and Fred’s magisterial organ. So I read other accounts of Midnight Mass wistfully, but especially this one from Suzanne Temple at “Blessed Among Men.”

Of course, Midnight Mass can be a disaster too!

Since working my way through his Catholic Christianity in RCIA two years ago, I frequently have looked to Peter Kreeft for understanding, and I got it again this week with this meditation on the real meaning of Christmas.

The Pope’s meditation on the meaning of the Christmas tree also caught my eye.

And Sr. Anne at “NunBlog” reminded us that even the fat man in the red suit has profound meaning for Catholics who celebrate him as a saint.

What I love about Pat McNamara’s blog of Catholic history is how it reminds us of the countless Catholics who have contributed to our nation’s history and culture. In a week that’s alternately about the Baby Jesus and football, I enjoyed reading about Penn State coach Joe Paterno’s training at a Jesuit high school. (The pic is from Joe Pa’s senior yearbook, courtesy of Pat.)

We’re still not sure that Shakespeare was a Catholic—which would be the ultimate vindication of Catholics in Anglo culture—but the evidence continues to mount.

Finally, some acknowledgments:

To Frank, who jumped into this YIMC adventure with both feet and who has always loved “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” I send along this clip courtesy of “The Deacon’s Bench.”

To Izy of Izyperspective, thanks for this lovely acknowledgment. Anyone who features GK Chesterton and MF (“Flannery”) O'Connor in her blog’s sidebar is worth following.

And to Kevin at New Advent, who has supported this blog since Labor Day and without whose daily, nay hourly, summaries of Catholic news this paltry weekly summary would be impossible—may the Christmas Season bring you joy!

Because of the Feast Day of the Holy Family

For the past ten days, I have been on vacation visiting friends and family in Southern California—immersed in domestic life in a manner more up close and personal than usual. Sometimes I am at a loss to understand what my children are doing and where they are coming from. But I don't leave them wondering where my wife and I are coming from.

That is why I am glad this is the Feast Day of the Holy Family. I could use some uplifting words on the vocation of parenting right about now, and I'm sure my wife could too! And I look forward to my children hearing these words as well.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Because of Priests Young and Old

Posted by Webster
As Frank wrote here and here, Mass is Mass, wherever you go. But man—the local variations!

For Christmas, Katie, Marian, and I attended Mass in a parish near my mother’s home in Vermont. From the modern interior of the building to the setting of each prayer to a Christmas melody, it was a bag of new tricks for this old dog. Sorry, but after four weeks without a Gloria, I don’t want mine set to “Greensleeves.” And even Father Barnes might have raised a clerical eyebrow at the Kyrie.

But what might have been the most distressing element of the Mass turned out to be the most moving. This helped me to remember that whatever the setting, however cold or warming the architecture, however good the music direction—without the priesthood we have no Mass, no Eucharist, no sacramental connection with Christ.

The pastor of this Vermont parish is the kind of person who bugs me most in all the world: a guy who looks older than me but is probably five years younger. I run into people like this all the time now, as I approach 60, and 50 continues to look like 70.

But this was not the potentially distressing element of the mass. For this Christmas service the parish priest, “Fr. Young,” had invited an older priest, “Msgr. Old,” to celebrate. And the monsignor was clearly suffering from the persistent and powerful tremors of midstage Parkinson’s disease. The older priest made his way up the center aisle flanked by two strapping altar boys, who would bookend him throughout the Mass. As he said the opening prayers and led the Kyrie (that Kyrie!), and as we sang the Gloria (that Gloria!), I began to wonder how the homily would go or what would happen when Msgr. Old’s shaky hands distributed communion to the faithful.

I needn’t have worried. Fr. Young read the Gospel and delivered the homily, which he began by introducing Msgr. Old, for those who didn’t know him. He explained that the monsignor had been his mentor at some stage and acknowledged his debt feelingly. My heart began to turn.

As the monsignor celebrated the Mass, I found myself leaning forward in my pew, my chin now on my hands, contemplating the beauty of the moment. There were hints of impending disaster, but all went well until the Our Father. Then the monsignor began the Lord’s Prayer and the congregation rushed ahead of his quavering voice. I thought immediately of Father Barnes, who has made it clear that the priest should be the one to lead the Our Father; the congregation should not rush ahead willy-nilly. This Christmas congregation in Vermont was both willy and nilly. But Father Young’s voice rose on the public address system (he was standing at the rear) and powered us through the latter half of the Our Father at his pace, which was also the monsignor’s pace.

Communion was served by Fr. Young and lay ministers of the Eucharist, while Msgr. Old sat benignly behind the altar. Then with a nearly invisible gesture, Fr. Young turned over the proceedings to his old teacher, who said the closing prayers and a gentle benediction. As we left the church through the back lobby, I noted that Fr. Young had disappeared and Msgr. Old was left to receive the grateful thanks of the congregation as we passed him. I took his hand firmly and wished him a Merry Christmas. I made a mental note: Based on the quality of his skin and the color of his hair, the monsignor probably was not all that much older than me.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

YIMC Book Club, “Orthodoxy,” Chapter 6

Guest post by EPG
(With Webster on vacation, one of our more dedicated YIMCBC members has offered these excellent notes. If you are just coming aboard, you can catch up with our discussion by clicking on—Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, and Chapter 5.)

Chapter 6, “The Paradoxes of Christianity”
In the first five chapters, Chesterton described the development of his personal creed, and how he gradually began to see that the things that he came to believe on his own (a sort of “natural theology”) ran parallel to what the Church has taught throughout history.

(It’s worth remembering here that, when he wrote Orthodoxy, Chesterton was not yet a Catholic, but still an Anglican. The Christian orthodoxy that Chesterton describes in this volume is probably best understood as that which all Christians at all times could reasonably be expected to agree upon—what C.S. Lewis a few decades later described as “mere” Christianity.)

In Chapter 6, after a few pages of preamble, Chesterton assesses certain arguments against the Church. Although he was initially inclined to accept those arguments, he found the Church’s critics essentially canceling each other out, hence the “paradoxes” of which he writes.

Before we move to the main part of the chapter, however, it is worth pausing to consider his appreciation of the eccentricity of life: “Life is not an illogicality; yet it is a trap for logicians.” Life is not a mathematical construct: everything, although constructed within the scope of the overall order, contains surprises. “An apple or an orange is round enough to get itself called round, and yet is not round after all.” The Creator, it appears, is not coldly playing with geometry, but instead creates with love, with attention not only to the platonic ideal of apple, but to each individual apple.

Chesterton reviews the paradoxical complaints against Christianity: Christianity is too pessimistic, Christianity is too optimistic; Christianity, by drawing some to the cloister, is anti-family, but Christianity also relegates women to the hearth and home; Christianity, in urging its members to turn the other cheek, is too pacifistic, Christianity has caused untold wars and suffering. Chesterton does it much better than I could, so I don’t intend to summarize farther.

Chesterton then gets to the main point: The Church somehow holds all these extremes, the warrior and the pacifist, the contemplative and the activist, the ascetic and the esthetic, within itself. Not in a watered down sense, with each component averaging out with the others into a uniform gray. Not even in tension, although that is closer to the truth. Instead, it appears that each component is allowed full rein to follow its vocation. The contemplatives are supposed to contemplate. The pacifists urge peace; the warriors (within their proper scope) fight “like thunderbolts.” Or, as he observes, the Church “has at once . . . been fiercely for having children and fiercely for not having children. It has kept them side by side like two strong colors.”

Perhaps these differences could be described in terms of vocation. Some are called to one thing, some to its apparent opposite. Each vocation reflects the individual qualities with which we are endowed, and each (properly exercised) has its role in the whole. We are not all geometrically perfect apples, we all vary from the pattern, and vary just enough not to be quite “round.” But we each have our place within the larger pattern, as individuals.

C.S. Lewis wrote something to the effect that the saints are not all alike. As we progress toward holiness, we (each of us) become more like ourselves (our selves as God intended them to be). Our union with God is not like the Borg of the Star Trek series, in which the components lose their individuality. Similarly, under Chesterton’s vision of orthodoxy, each of us is given room to be a stripe in the pattern—existing side by side with the lion and the lamb, in that miracle where the lion lays down with the lamb, and yet retains his “royal ferocity.”

Because Going To Mass On Vacation Is Easy II

Posted by Frank
If you think that I have already had my fair share of going to Mass on this trip to Southern California, you would be wrong. In fact, I can't get enough of what the Church has to offer, even when I am on vacation.

I have a confession to make: I go to daily mass as often as I can. And trust me, it isn't because I feel "holier than thou" doing it. I feel relieved when I go. For those of you who can't go daily because of time constraints or lack of opportunity (no parish nearby), I can understand. But in my case, there is a parish within walking distance from where I work and it holds Mass daily at 12:10 p.m., right in the heart of my lunch hour. So I usually just go.

Before I was Catholic, it never even dawned on me to go to Church every day. I heard about this practice when my wife told me her aunt would go daily (years before I became a Catholic) and I distinctly remember thinking to myself what a waste of time and energy! Get a life, people! But now, I see what she was up to and I think I understand.

So, I wake up each morning and start my day by reading the Liturgy of the Hours and the daily Mass readings. This has become a routine for me too, after being welcomed into the Church. It gives me great consolation to pray the LOTH and sometimes it ignites the spark for a post, or two. But it doesn't supplant the desire for receiving "my daily bread" in the form of the Eucharist.

This morning I discovered that a parish nearby has daily mass at 8:30 a.m., and having found this out at 7:40 a.m., there was no doubt where I would be come 8:30. I thank one of my wife's friends, who we met for dinner last night (and who invited us to Christmas Eve Mass) for alerting me that there was a parish nearby: St. John Eudes Parish in Chatsworth. I did a Google search and discovered it was a whopping mile and a half from where we are staying on this leg of our trip.

It never ceases to amaze me that I am not alone at these daily Masses. This morning there were at least 60 other people there with me. I pulled into the parking lot and had to search for a place to park. The first time I went to the daily Mass back home, I was stunned to find 20 people there. I figured it would just be the priest and me.

So, whew, I got to go to Mass this morning! Now to breakfast and then off to the "adventure du jour," the Wild Animal Park of the San Diego Zoo. World renowned, an absolute must see, the stories we were going to be able to tell and the pictures we could share! It was going to be fantastic! And then . . . we got stuck in traffic.

Chatsworth isn't exactly a few minutes from Escondido, where this attraction is located, even if there aren't 8 million other drivers on the road trying to get to other places at the same time. As we slogged slowly southward, I saw signs announcing how long it would take to get to certain landmarks that make sense only to people who live in Southern California. Like "91 Freeway—30 Minutes" and that is when we were still 3 miles from intersecting the 605 Freeway. Have I lost you? Probably.

Suffice it to say that the trip to the Wild Animal Park was not looking good. And I wasn't looking forward to the prospect of paying the lofty admission price and then trying to squeeze all the pleasure out of my money's worth before the park closed in the three hours that would be left by the time we got there. I had clear visions of stress and unhappiness if this mission was continued.

So I adapted, improvised, and overcame (Marines are good at that) because the "natives were restless" (being in a car for two hours in traffic feels like eight hours when you are 13 and under) and exited the freeway in San Juan Capistrano and headed to the Mission located there. Yep—we went to Church!

We spent three and a half hours at the Mission in San Juan Capistrano and not one minute felt rushed. Ten acres of beautiful grounds, and gardens and historic ruins and chapels. I learned how the Mission was founded on All Saints Day in 1776 and how Abraham Lincoln deeded the property back to the Catholic Church two weeks before he was assassinated.

I learned too that 40 worshipers had been killed when an earthquake in 1812 destroyed the The Great Stone Church built in 1797. The ruins of that building are still amazing to see today and were decorated with a beautiful nativity scene shown here.

I learned that San Juan of Capistrano is the Spanish form of Saint John of Capistrano or, in Italian, Giovanni da Capistrano. He is pretty "hard corps" as well—known as "the Soldier Saint" because he defeated the Ottoman Turks at the Siege of Belgrade in 1456 when he was, get this, 70 years old! That is probably why he only carried a red banner and a crucifix into battle, armor and a shield being too heavy, I bet.

Although the Turks didn't kill him, and he was victorious in battle, bubonic plague took him in the end. He had been a lawyer before becoming a Franciscan friar and a renowned preacher. He is the patron saint of jurists. He once spoke to a crowd of over 126,000—more people than can fit in the Rose Bowl—and long before there were microphones, sound systems, etc.

And we haven't even talked about Fray Junipero Serra, who established the entire chain of Missions in Alta California. Fr. Serra was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1988. Every school child in California knows about Fr. Serra when they complete their 4th Grade Mission project for history class. I'm not sure if public school children complete these projects too, but I know that all the Catholic school kids do. And the Mission sells kits to help you complete these projects just like the Boy Scout shop sells kits for Pinewood Derby cars.

And my kids? They got to run around the grounds and get their ya-ya's out on one hand, while getting to say prayers and light candles on the other. They loved seeing the koi swimming in the fountains, and the way the Spanish soldiers' barracks were turned out. And they were amazed to see a bride and groom having their photographs made in the stunningly beautiful little chapel while hearing stories about how their Mom and Dad came here as newlyweds over twenty years ago too. They chased Monarch butterflies and later chased waves as we watched the sun set into the Pacific Ocean from the sands of Doheny State Beach. Mission (pun intended) accomplished!

Yes, going to Mass on vacation is easy. You never know where or what it may lead you to. But so far, it has always led me to green pastures while restoring my soul.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Question Going Out the Door

Posted by Webster
No recent post has received more comments than one titled “Because Catholic Men Are Just That.” It raised many questions, which received a number of good answers. If you haven’t done so, check it out.

As I head for the hills of Vermont, a new question occurs to me, a question for women as well as for men:

Are Catholic men and women comfortable with their respective roles as they have evolved within the Catholic family during the post–Vatican Council II years? And in particular, how have the respective roles of father and mother changed?

I know there is a broad spectrum of personal and parish experiences within the capital-C Church, so there should be a broad range of responses. But let me put the question personally—

The classic pre-VCII television sitcom was “Father Knows Best” (1954–1960). Probably, this series could never have been made after Vatican II. From 1969 to 1976, its star, Robert Young, had a new persona, “Marcus Welby, MD.”

In my family (with six children born 1951–1964) my father did know best, although by 1970 my mother had learned pretty well! In fact, she had gone back to finish college, then earned a graduate degree, preparing for a second career. We were all very proud of her, still are.

What has happened to the Catholic family since Vatican II? Why is it that I shudder to think of the laughter that would rain down on me if I laid down the law in my household with a simple statement, “But you know, father knows best!” In greater Boston, I am surrounded by Catholics, as I wrote here, but I am also surrounded by men who have given up the throne—and women who know it.

I am going to make one stab at part of an answer, then turn over the microphone. I’m going to say, it’s not really the throne, it’s the prie-dieu. That is, we men haven’t given up power, we’ve given up our faith.

In Katie’s family (seven children, born 1948–1959), her father said the Rosary aloud in the home every night. I have never done that, and I know I could, even if it meant everyone else moving to the TV room. But I could stake my fatherhood on my Catholic faith, as I know my good friend Patrick has. He says the Rosary every night in his room, but doesn't stop if anyone walks in on him.

Planting that flag in my home might show best how much I know. No matter what the response.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Because of My Own Magnificat

Posted by Webster
The Canticle of Mary, the Magnificat, was still echoing in my mind and heart as I woke up this morning, after we sang it in choir on Sunday. Then, at 7 am Mass, Father Barnes began the Gospel reading:

Mary said, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior—

When I told my sister, also Mary, that I was converting to Catholicism two years ago, she asked me to define religion. Without thinking, I said one word, Praise. “Praise?” she asked somewhat skeptically. Praise, I said.

If I had taken much longer to think, I might have cooked up something more elaborate, but two years later, I'm still happy with that response. Praise. A movement of thought and heart outside oneself to the source of being, the source of everything, the source without which I would not be here. I couldn't even write these words. Praise, as I use it day to day out on the street, often sounds suspiciously like flattery. I praise you, you compensate me. But the praise I offer God is for a gift already given, and given again every day. And so Mary rejoices.

for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed.

I don't know about blessed in the sense of holy, but in the sense of having received a great blessing, I qualify. As much as I, with Frank's help, have written nearly 200 posts since mid-August, some of which, like this one or this one, explain why I became Catholic, finally there is no conclusive chain of cause-and-effect to explain this blessing.

Up to age 56, I had lived an OK life, been an OK guy, done some good things, committed many sins. But what I have received in the past two years as a member of this Church is completely out of scale with what I or anyone else deserves. He has looked with favor on me, and when I am gone, for as long as they remember, all generations will call me—Catholic. Just as we, her grandchildren, call “Ammie,” another Mary, a Catholic, fifteen years after her death.

The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.

Since I walked in the door of St. Mary’s on a chilly October morning in 2007, to attend Mass “on spec” as a non-Catholic, such great things have been done for me. From the first day, I was given a gifted pastor, Father Barnes. I have been blessed with wonderful, caring friends like my RCIA sponsor Joan of Beverly; my big brother in the Church Ferde; Frank K., and his wife Carrie; Frank G., who arrives by 6:15 for Mass every morning; the irrepressible Pietrini Brothers who include a Frank P.; the usually silent but sometimes talkative folks at Adoration; and even Mitch, now an RCIA candidate, who holds a mirror up to my own experience. I have been given opportunities to be a lector, to serve at the altar, to sing with the choir, to meet with a men's group every Saturday morning, to teach CCD, to attend Daily Adoration . . . That may sound like a list of accomplishments, but I get more back from each of these activities than I could possibly put in. It's a list of IOU's that I still have to pay. Holy is His name.

He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation. He has shown the strength of his arm, and has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the might from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly.

At Easter Vigil and all year round, the Catholic Church recounts the 4,000-year history of salvation. Every generation since Abraham, since Noah, even since Adam, has known God's mercy. He chose for his own a people, the Jews, who have been slaves, nomads, wanderers, the lowest of the low. They have faced obliteration as recently as 1945, and today they are back playing a central role in world history.

A former Episcopalian, I was surprised to learn what importance the Catholic Church gives to the Jewish people, as our ancestors in faith. This was confirmed to me by a remarkable statement from Pope Benedict when, in the interviews that became Salt of the Earth, journalist Peter Seewald asked him, “Are the Jews still today the core question for the future of the world, as it is said in the Bible?” Like many of Seewald’s questions, this one smells like a trap. My pope answered without blinking:

“I don’t know exactly which Bible passage you are alluding to. [Subtext: Young man, sometimes you don’t know what you’re even saying.] In any case, as the first bearers of the promise—and thus as the people in whom the great foundational phase of biblical history took place—they are doubtless at the center of world history. One might think that such a small people couldn’t really be so important. But I believe there is something special about this people and that the great decisions of world history are almost always connected to them somehow.”

As a Catholic, I am also a Jew, like Mary.

He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.

There are so many thoughts in this one statement. It is enough for me to realize that we are filled with good things, the best thing, every time we receive communion. Give us this day our daily bread. All the riches of the world—possessions, accomplishments, self-esteem, all of them flattering—cannot buy this.

He has come to the help of his servant Israel for he has remembered his promise of mercy, the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children forever.

Since Abraham, God has offered us a personal relationship, a personal promise. He is not some abstract “force,” some impersonal power behind the Big Bang. He is He—God, the Father—and we are his children. The lowliest people in God's family, but family all the same.

Mary remained with Elizabeth about three months and then returned to her home.

* * *

I myself am heading to the hill country—Vermont—for a few days. My sisters Elizabeth and Mary will not be there, but Katie, our daughters Martha and Marian, and my mother, Anna, will be. I may find my way to an internet hot spot between now and Saturday, but until then, Frank has the conn. The former-Marine, he can tell you what that means.

Merry Christmas

To Be Frank, Part 5, “The Imitation of Christ”

Posted by Frank
I mentioned in the last post in this series that I was jumping from the frying pan and into the fire when I set aside Blaise Pascal's Pensées and picked up The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis. Keep in mind that my intended mission in all this reading was to come up with ammunition proving how misguided and error-filled Catholicism is.

As Webster has written in an earlier post, there are many pathways to God. He cited this exchange between our Pope, Benedict XVI, and journalist Peter Seewald:

Seewald: How many ways are there to God?
Cardinal Ratzinger: As many as there are people. For even within the same faith each man’s way is an entirely personal one. . . .

Monday, December 21, 2009

Thanks to Michael O’Brien, for this Advent Gift

Posted by Webster 
I am the world’s slowest reader. I love long novels. Go figure. The two Catholic novels I have enjoyed most are very long. Still first on my list is Kristin Lavransdatter (1100+ pages), which I wrote about here and here. But closing fast is Island of the World (800+), which I finished today.

Kristin is a woman’s story written by a woman, 1928 Nobelist Sigrid Undset. Island, by present-day Canadian novelist Michael O’Brien, is all man—the life story of a Croatian peasant boy displaced by World War II and again by the Tito regime that followed. But the books have a lot in common. Each follows an entire life, from early childhood to death; and each of the lives—Kristin in 14th century Norway and Josip Lasta in the 20th century Balkans—ends dedicated to Jesus Christ and his Church, but only after a torturous odyssey.

Island is truly an odyssey. Through a series of horrific trials, a boy/youth/man raised in a Christian culture becomes desperately disillusioned; then, through a series of minor miracles, he comes back to the Catholic faith. The key, it seems, is waiting faithfully. As the author reminds us near page 800, a thousand years are as a day to God, and a day is as a thousand years. If we look for the cause and effect of grace, if we expect grace to heed deadlines, we’re going to be disappointed.

The miracle of Island of the World is that despite the most terrible sufferings—beginning with the annihilation of Josip’s family by Partisan guerrilas (and I’m only giving away the tip of the iceberg)—Josip arrives at a hard-won salvation. This takes every bit of patience he can muster. But God is always patient. “Much good begins in us before we learn to know its name,” an elderly Josip says to himself. ”Our Father is patient with us, for he loves us.”

Or as Josip writes to a loved one near the end of novel, “It seems to me now that even terrible absences can become a blessing if we do not lose heart, if we keep swimming in the many waters of God’s grace, if we give him time, if we permit a little space for his mercy.”

A bit further on, Josip shares the short “prayer/counsel” he tries to live by:

Seek nothing for yourself.
Stand ready to serve
in quietness,
demanding nothing, expecting nothing, 
sacrificing and praying without anyone knowing.

Island of the World was recommended to me first by Father Barnes, then by two fellow parishioners at St. Mary’s, Julie and Elizabeth. Father has recommended other books that I have not read—The Fulfillment of All Desire by Ralph Martin and a book by Adrienne von Speyr, the title of which escapes me. So I’m glad I finally took him up on Island, which I bought while on retreat at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts. (There’s a great Catholic book shop at the abbey.)

For more details on Island of the World, check out the Web page put up by publisher Ignatius Press, which includes blurbs from luminaries like Peter Kreeft. Next on my novel reading list is O’Brien’s Father Elijah, also from Ignatius Press and recently recommended by Randy Beeler, who calls Michael O’Brien the “best living Catholic novelist.” I can’t disagree.