Monday, January 31, 2005

Cranky Catholics get a little loud

Few people are mincing words as we get through week four of the "Crabby Catholics Come On Down" series at my parish.

We have very few "standard" attendees, who're mad about everything. They may very well be permanent curmudgeons and/or iconoclasts and not very reachable. But at least we've shown a face of interest and encouragement to them. The rest came because they feel out of touch with the church, and want to get into it more deeply, more truly. With that assortment, voices finally got raised last night, which I think is good. When people are interrupting and talking louder, they're more confident of their opinion.

The noise level rose on the topic of our roles as Christians in responding to the coarsening and indecency of culture. The view was split between a group that holds that if you live your life in purity and peace, others around you can't help but be influenced, and the good moves outward, like ripples in the water. The other group agreed of course with personal holiness, but held that you primarily have to speak up, to write to broadcasters, to boycott products and companies, politely but passionately.

We didn't resolve anything, but everyone learned. We're coalescing as a group.

Some really arresting and memorable quotes and statements came up last night. Did you ever hear this one? Possibly Mahatma Gandhi (I'll look it up later or tell me in the comments box):

First they ignore you.
Then they laugh at you.
Then they attack you.
Then you win.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Tell me where it hurts

My daughter told me about an article she read in People magazine. (Sorry, it doesn't seem to be posted online.) It was a feature about a young girl with an autoimmune disorder that prevents her from being able to feel pain of any kind.

Perhaps like you, my first reaction was "Hey, that would be great." Then she told me more of the story.

This child has no way of knowing if she's been injured. Infections cause her no discomfort. She will never learn to instinctively shy away from physical danger because she's unaware of physical harm. Her teacher has to examine her carefully after every recess period, and the school nurse checks her for scrapes, cuts or bruises before she goes home each afternoon. She will never feel the abrasion of a piece of sand in her eye, and she continually chews her tongue and cheeks because she's never trained them to stay out of the way of her teeth. Individuals with this disorder frequently die or are permanently disabled at a relatively young age because they will unknowingly hike on a broken ankle or miss a ruptured appendix. Her parents, while wanting her to have a full and happy life, need to guard her like a proverbial hawk.

Okay, who out there would have enthusiastically seconded a motion to thank God profusely that we experience pain? Not I. I dislike pain for myself and hate it when I can't relieve it in others. My house is littered with Tylenol bottles just in case I feel a twinge. But pain, I now realize, has been God's way of safeguarding me from harm.

So what about emotional pain? What might I be like if I never felt regret or shame about my behavior? How could I experience compassion if I had no idea of the agonies of grief and loneliness? Would I step away from my sins if I didn't know the pain of being sinned against? My answer is, "Probably not."

There is a mental condition called "sociopathic personality disorder" sufferers of which seem to have no awareness of -- and certainly no care for -- the consequences of their actions on others. They feel no one's pain. There is no irritating twinge that might steer them away from considering only themselves. They are, perforce, among the most truly isolated of men. So does our experience of pain bring us together? Although I prefer to "rejoice with those who rejoice," perhaps "weeping with those who weep" is among the most precious gifts our heavenly Father has ever bestowed on us.


N.B. My wonderful Thunderbird-driving uncle with the big nose and big cackly laugh died today. Please pray for the repose of the soul of Joseph Kanfoush and that God comfort his family.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Big evil, little evil

We are not surprised by the taunting, obscenities and frightening anger shown to pro-life marchers in San Francisco and Washington DC. We know our response is to mirror the silence and humility of Jesus Christ Himself. Even some uber-liberal media noticed this year that pro-lifers (they call them "anti-choicers") responded to "catcalls and boos" with peaceful prayer and friendly waves. It's evil, the actual Evil One, screaming through the throats of the pro-death group. It must be horrible to have that anger rising through your body.

Now, am I overimagining things, or is there a relationship between that strident evil, and whatever infects a good hunk of my friends and co-workers, who send me dirty jokes by email, and who especially can't wait to forward me the latest offensive joke about priests? These aren't viruses hijacking email lists; when I protest (softly, I promise), these people, my friends who love me, blink and say "but it's a Catholic joke: I thought you'd like it!"

Do YOUR friends knock over furniture at parties to tell you the smutty ones that start "A nun walks into the confessional.....?"

Monday, January 24, 2005

Johnny Carson was the music of my childhood

When we were mourning the death of Johnny Carson last night at the "Cranky Catholics" meeting, one guy looked a little puzzled at how sad everyone was. Then it hit him: he'd grown up in the eastern time zone, where The Tonight Show came on at 11:30 pm, when kids were soundly asleep.

In our house, if my dad wasn't working an evening shift, or moonlighting at an extra job, my parents would settle down after we kids were in bed. They'd clamber aboard the Naugahyde delirium of our 1960's living room, put on NBC and watch the news and then.....that blare of theme music meant that the world was home and safe and ready to laugh.

I usually wasn't asleep, and my bedroom was at the top of the stairs, so I'd strain to listen for the guests, and if someone I liked was on, I'd weigh up the day's behavior and venture to beg to come down and watch. Often, I'd be granted that boon, and would perch on the edge of a chair, watching the monologue with my parents. I didn't get most of it, I'm sure, but no matter, it was funny so it was funny. Then I'd see Joan Embry or a comedian or an impersonator and then back to bed.

The sound of Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon and that brassy band and the laughter were the sound of safe and happy childhood.

N.B. The Carson family keeps saying to the press "no memorial service." That worries me. No grand public display, fine: but no chance for a family to join together? That's a trend to examine in another post, but it treats dead people as discardable and no longer worthy of honor, in a way, doesn't it?

Saturday, January 22, 2005

A Pro-Life Coward

Come closer, I have to whisper. I am against abortion.

I knew it was murder as early as college, during a course in embryology. But only in the last few years have I managed to make muted statements in private conversations that I know abortion to be murder and that the mother's soul is murdered just as surely as the baby.

I apologize to God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have never seen the comfortably critical mass of people it would take for me to join them outside the local abortion mill. That I have not made much of an effort to make it to church for a rosary for life. That I have lacked the courage to stand with those whose patient prayerful witness stomps my conscience flat, but not flat enough to show up to join them.

Oh, sure, I pray during these anniversary days of Roe v. Wade. And I'm pretty good with the donations. But I despise myself: those are private and not socially risky.

A coward is praying. Please, Lord, help me pray louder.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Buffalo Bill a Catholic - who knew?

Things found while looking up other things....

On January 9, 1917, Buffalo Bill was baptized by Father Christopher Walsh at the Denver home of his sister Mary Cody Decker. He told the priest that he had never belonged to any religion but that he had always believed in God. He knew he had only a short time to live and he wished to die in the Catholic faith. Father Walsh asked the appropriate questions, and then administered the sacrament. Twenty-four hours later, surrounded by friends and family, William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody entered his promised land

This is just the kind of fact I can get stuck in my head, which will displace some useful state capitol or rule of the road.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Quick note: Vote the Passion

Mel Gibson's company has elected not to run a high-powered publicity campaign for Oscar nominations for The Passion of the Christ. However, if you want to sign a petition to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, you can do so here.

I may have been born in the wrong century

I have let Therese carry the ball here by herself for far too long. I would offer my opinion that it's because she's the more spiritual of the two of us, but I don't want to start a bicker fight.

Last Saturday, I went with a friend to Ave Maria College's Twelfth Night Ball . It consisted of a formal dinner followed by 19th century dancing, including quadrilles (closely related to folk America's square dances, but minus the stomping and flannel shirts), cotillions, waltzes and the like. Some local aficionados of traditional dance were there, referred to by my partner as "ringers". Their traditional costumes lent a particularly genteel air to the proceedings, and at least some folks really knew what they were doing.

It was wonderful to see everyone from faculty (some of whom brought the entire family) to students having a terrific time. The bar was only lightly patronized after the dinner wine was consumed, except for glass after glass of ice water drunk by thirsty revelers. The women were beautifully and tastefully dressed, the men cleaned up handsomely, and the priests in the corner by the fireplace were the center of enjoyable conversation between sets.

I don't really want to go back to the 19th century; I'm quite fond of comfortable clothing, horseless carriages, indoor plumbing and Tivo. But it seemed right, somehow, to spend a little time visiting a world in which waltzing face-to-face shocked one's elders, a lengthy glance was the height of excitement and romance, and before the bow and curtsy were supplanted by "Hi. Howya doin'?"

So, can anyone help me set my cell phone ringer to play "Minuet in G?"

"Cranky Catholics" form two lines

In week two, we have finished our initial testimonies and head into an overview of our relationship with God and how it's changed through our lives.

This particular group has fallen into two camps: one group who's ticked off at the Church and want an immediate end to the male priesthood, celibacy and the Church's teachings on sexuality, especially homosexuality. The other group is falling in love with the Church and with the Lord and want to deepen their relationship.

We haven't had such a clear divergence of goals before. Usually, the two go hand in hand, with both needs warring in the same person. This group's dynamic makes for tension, because the yay-sayers are asking the nay-sayers to hush and work on their relationship with God. That's right, but we usually don't make such strong pronouncements, instead preferring to guide them into making that statement themselves (you can do a lot with silence and an expectant face).

I feel lucky: so many people report thinking of God as a stern judge and taskmaster and mean old spoilsport who peers down and spoils our fun. I never felt that way about God, did you? Me, I thought of God as being more like a statue, standing around, reminding me that there was something or Someone I was ignoring. Silent, patient, maybe a little bleak about the Truth, but not mean.

The main discussion of the evening settled into why we all have to pay for Adam's and Eve's original fall. Why don't we each get the chance to turn towards or away from God and, if turning toward Him, be united totally with Him as they were?

Philosophy and Betty Crocker brownies in the suburbs.

Monday, January 10, 2005

"Don't talk to me until I've been to Mass"

TS O'Rama describes the joy: Grinch to Human in 1 Hour

"Cranky Catholics" gets underway

Well, as they said in the psalm at Mass yesterday, "The God of Glory thunders, and in His temple all say "Glory!" (Psalm 29)

We had a roomful of new "Cranky Catholics" last night for the first meeting of our ministry. The first night is always spent in telling our stories, interspersed with an overview of the weeks to come, and gathering topics that seem to be hot buttons for each unique group.

The level of honesty among strangers always humbles me. Among our "class," (I don't know what to call them), we have:

- an angry woman who feels the Church demeans women and active homosexuals
- a man who is married to a woman who is "born-again" and is beginning to demean Catholicism and throw "whore of Babylon" information at him. He wants information not only to use when talking with her and the children, but for himself to make sure he knows why he's Catholic
- a woman who simply said "God found me" after a life of reasonably faithful Catholicism and now needs to know what to learn first
- her husband who says he's tagging along, but is surprised that everybody is not perfectly happy as a Catholic
- a woman born and raised Catholic but who married a Protestant and raised her children in that faith, and now, divorced and with her children nearly grown, is wondering if the Catholic Church is where she really wants to be
- two people who told similar stories: they wandered off from church totally, and want to come back, but for real, not just because there isn't anything else to do on Sundays

and others whose stories haven't quite jelled yet. The team members all told their stories again, too, and we all surprise each other with new details, even though we've heard each other's testimonies several times before. All our stories may not sound connected, but if you could hear them, you'd realize that they all connect on at least one side. Together, they make a cry to God.

(And further glory to God, only two people said they came because they heard my little talk the week before. I am spared the pride of thinking I had something to do with drawing them, darn that Holy Spirit!)

We're on our way!

Thursday, January 06, 2005

The Maze of the Mass

Today at our simple, brisk but reverent morning Mass, I was suddenly struck with how hard it must be for a non-Catholic Christian to go to Mass for the first time.

When you come in, you put your finger in holy water and cross yourself but you don't say anything. Then you go to a pew and you don't sit down, you kneel a little. How long? Then you sit down. Then you stand up. Then you cross yourself and this time you say something. Then you answer the priest. You know all the words.

You strike your breast during another prayer everyone seems to know without a book. You stand, you sit. By golly, you burst into song! How did you know? You make a little rubbing motion on your head and mouth and chest. Up, down, up, down and then someone knows to get up and take the gifts to the priest. NOW you throw kneeling into it! A bell? Again? And everyone knows the damn words!

No wonder they feel like they stick out! They wouldn't believe you if you said that you wouldn't notice if they were a beat behind everyone else, or if they flipped back and forth through the missalette, which they can't figure out how to use.

I bet they feel like a million-watt light is on them, even in a crowded church in the back row, or even an empty, dim church in the back row.

Pray for these people. Pray that you be given the grace and the warmth to offer to go with them, or sidle up to them, or suavely catch up to them after Mass and introduce yourself.


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"There is no God who condones taking the life of an innocent human being. This much we know."

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