Friday, December 31, 2004

The Horrible Talking Lectern Head

At this Saturday vigil Mass and on five Masses on Sunday, I'll be either the bane of parishioners' existence or a welcome novelty: I have to speak before all the Masses to introduce the first 2005 session of my parish's "Coming Home" ministry, which I think of as the "Cranky Catholics" series.

First, pray for me. I do not speak to large crowds very often. I want to be welcoming, amusing, sincere, holy, informative, and perfect in every way. Hah. What I really should want is that the Holy Spirit will speak through me and get people off their fundaments and into our session.

Here's my speech, edited to provide privacy to my parish so that I can later comment on what happens during the sessions:

Happy New Year! My name is Therese Z.

Thank for giving me a few minutes’ attention this morning. I am here to tell you about a seminar St. Exultet's offers. We want to bring absent Catholics back more deeply into the Church, to come back home again. Twice a year, we offer a six-week program of discussion and education and help. We aim at two groups of Catholics:

-The first group is those who are not here. They have wandered away, walked away, or even stomped away from the Church. You all know them: they feel the Church has let them down. Perhaps someone in the Church, a teacher, a pastor, a coach, might have seemed harsh to them or their families, or were in fact mean or unfair. They might have marriage complications. They usually feel rejected by the Church and have in turn rejected the Church.

- The second group may be sitting here at Mass today. You may feel many of the same things as that first group. You’re wondering what on EARTH you’re doing here. “Mass seems boring, or repetitive. I don’t get anything out of it!” You may even be thinking, “as soon as the kids get a little older, I’m out of here.”

You feel like you’ve gotten behind, and you don’t know where to start. You haven’t been taught anything since your Confirmation classes. You may have knowledge of serious sins, but it’s been so long since you’ve been to Confession, that you can’t remember anything past “Bless Me, Father, for I have sinned.”

Both these groups have one thing in common: they think everything about the Church has changed, or they think that nothing about the Church has changed. They need some answers, information and fellowship. We want to provide all of that at the seminar.

I could have used a group like this myself. I am, by virtue of my age, a kind of “Kumbaya Catholic.” My First Communion Mass was in Latin, but by my senior year of Catholic high school, I knew all the words to Jesus Christ Superstar, but I didn’t own a Bible or a catechism! My memories are a jumble of kneeling at altar rails and making felt banners; “Et cum spiritu tuo” and those happy-clappy 1960’s “hymns” like “All-Le-Lu.”

Although I never said that I wasn't Catholic, I spent a lot of years ignoring my Catholicity. I never tried to understand why the Church taught what She did. I made fun of my Catholic school past, committed all the popular sins, lived through marriage and divorce and the illness and death of family members, without knowing God’s plan for me. All in all, I went a long time without an adult relationship with Jesus Christ or His Church.

A few years ago, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, I showed up at Church again, this time here at St. Exultet's. This time, through the sacraments and a lot of self-education, as well as the example and help of some great, holy people, I found the real everyday relevance as well as the intellectual beauty and truth and depth of the Catholic faith. I want others to have the same experience.

So, we need two things from you:

1. For the absent Catholics: can you give them our handout (see the Bulletin)? Can you tell them about us? If they’re nervous, come WITH them! You’ll learn something too! We owe our family and friends a renewal in their relationship with God through His Church.

2. For the uncomfortable pewsitters here: come and join us. During these six weeks, you can re-orient yourself in the Church, get your questions answered, often by hearing someone else with EXACTLY the same question ask it, and find your place more securely here in this parish and in the Church at large. We don't demand a commitment; we’re only here to make it easier to get questions answered, and facts straight.

Thanks for your attention. Please see the Bulletin for more information, and please pray for our ministry.

God Bless St. Exultet Parish!

Whaddyathink? I'd appreciate your prayers.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

The Holy or Otherwise Family

The Church is brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. The Feast of the Holy Family used to be celebrated on the Sunday after Epiphany, but in 1969 it was moved to the Sunday after Christmas. This is the PERFECT day to celebrate it.

What better time to ponder our families then when we have just had a great, big, heaping, steaming, noisy, overflowing helping of them? No matter how strenuously we each try for a humble, joyful, loving walk with our Lord, again in our midst as a beautiful Baby, did your buttons get pushed? Did the comparisons of who's smarter or more successful or prettier or has better-dressed children come up? Did your cousin's jello come out of the mold more beautifully than yours? Did your children spill Hawaiian punch on the new rug? Did you snap back at your sister? Any eyes rolled, or deep sighs emitted? Were you afraid to speak of your faith in the face of ridicule? And did the story of when you fell in the pond in 1970 in your new wool pants get told....again.....and you're a 48-year-old bank vice president?

Our relationship with our family, if rooted and grounded in Christ, still won't be smooth or easy. But we can ride along these rough parts, offering our discomfort in reparation, accepting it in humility, extending love to the hard-to-love, fetching and carrying and pouring coffee and kissing cheerfully in thanks, not just in amused tolerance, because we are also forgiven and tolerated and loved.

From today's Mass, the opening prayer, for all your families, and mine:

Father in heaven, creator of all, you ordered the earth to bring forth life and crowned its goodness by creating the family of man. In history's moment when all was ready, you sent your Son to dwell in time, obedient to the laws of life in our world. Teach us the sanctity of human love, show us the value of family life, and help us to live in peace with all men that we may share in your life for ever.

Happy second day of Christmas! Remember that cream cheese and sour cream should not be stopped abruptly: a little every few hours will have a sort of methadone effect....

Saturday, December 25, 2004

A Christmas Carol

The Christ-child lay on Mary's lap,
His hair was like a light.
(O weary, weary were the world,
But here is all aright.)
The Christ-child lay on Mary's breast
His hair was like a star.
(O stern and cunning are the kings,
But here the true hearts are.)
The Christ-child lay on Mary's heart,
His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
But here the world's desire.)
The Christ-child stood on Mary's knee,
His hair was like a crown,
And all the flowers looked up at Him,
And all the stars looked down
G.K. Chesterton

Friday, December 24, 2004

Glad tidings from a former atheist

The scientifically-minded Andrew Klavan in today's Wall Street Journal describes his journey toward God and contrasts it with Prof. Antony Flew's logical encounter with intelligent design.
What finally occurred to me--what tipped the scales in favor of baptism--was that the presumption of atheism proceeds without respect for the human experience of God's presence. Thinkers like Prof. Flew dismiss this experience because they make the mistake of applying the scientific method of analysis, of taking things apart, to an inner life that can only be known as a whole.

When Prof. Flew looks to DNA and the mysteries of creation for God, I propose that he's looking in the wrong direction. Let him, rather, talk to a recovering alcoholic in whom God stands surety for the diseased will, or visit a Salvation Army shelter where God has taught a despairing soul its worth. Let the professor--in the name of experiment--sit in solitude and give silent thanks and feel the almost instantaneous repayment in the coin of vitality and joy. In such situations, I refuse to acknowledge that there is a legitimate and meaningful concept of there being no God.

- - - - -

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11)

May we all follow Mr. Klavan's example and give silent thanks, receiving the almost instantaneous repayment in the coin of vitality and joy. May we discover more to be thankful for every day as we draw near the One who drew near to us.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Talk about trusting your Child!

According to my mother, I am a gawky ignorant teen who should not be let out of the house alone. In my job, I am responsible for millions of dollars in assets and their safe, legal and profitable motions, but to her, I can't tip properly, never know what to wear, don't know how long it takes to drive anywhere and forget about my holiday menu choices..... it's an irritating little cross, but mine own.

Ah, but our Blessed Mother. She was saved in advance, by her Son, in her Immaculate Conception, and knows it ("My Spirit rejoices in God my Savior..."). She is told by the angel that the Child Who will grow in her womb is the Messiah. In today's Gospel reading, Elizabeth, while preoccupied by the child she is carrying beyond all rational biological clocks, still recognizes the import of the Blessed Baby Whom Mary is carrying and not only knows Him as her Lord, but tells Mary "Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled."

When you believe, you trust. Mary is trusting the Baby she is carrying, the Toddler she will toilet-train and teach to read, the Little Boy she will make clean His plate and will pray with before bed, the Son with Whom she will play peek-a-boo and dance in the kitchen. She will trust Him with her soul, and ours. (And at the last, He trusts our souls with her.)

The next time you parents help your children drive by gasping and pressing that handy passenger-side brake, remember our models of trust, the Holy Family.

Merry Christmas! Peace be with you and your family and friends.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Hating Satan

I know that doesn't sound very Christmas-y or Advent-y, but follow my point here: during this pentitential season, I am alarmed at how little I hate my sins.

Sure, I'm aware of my sins and my sinful tendencies. Coming back to the Sacrament of Reconciliation after many years, I've grown in my sensitivity to my sinfulness, at least in regard to how unattractive it is, how unbecoming to a child of God. I do exercise more patience and restraint and tolerance of others around me, I have reduced my exposure to vulgarity and obscenity, and I'm more generous. Well, yay for me, but I know that I have a hugely long way to go to be aware of how my pride and willfulness offends the Christ in others.

But do I really, really hate my sins? I have a creepy feeling that I mostly accommodate them, reduce them at some convenient, bearable rate to a smaller place in my life, so as not to cause too much discomfort in my life, or to look too obvious.

If I really hated my sins, then I would have to hate the Father of Sin himself, Satan, wouldn't I? And shouldn't I be fearing him?

Fear! Another holy emotion we've largely lost. I know I don't fear God near enough, except as a giver-out of punishments (think of the old Act of Contrition "I detest all my sins because of Thy just punishments.....") because I think that *I* have control of my destiny. I don't fear Satan either, for the same reason. I think that *I* can control my sins, and I'm just fine controlling my own good and evil impulses, right?

When I get this figured out, I'll let you know. It's probably the big next step towards growing in a walk with Christ.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Pleased as Man with men to dwell

I have an ambivalent relationship with Christmas music. At it's best, it is a wonderful acknowledgement that the Incarnation changed the world forever. When Christ broke into my life, it was Joy to the World that poured out of my lips, the only suitable expression at hand of what was welling up inside me. Hark the Herald Angels Sing has some of the best lyrics ever written. At it's worst -- well, words fail me. (Thankfully, they don't fail James Lileks. Take a look at his column in the Star Tribune. You may have to register to gain access. It's worth it.)

It may surprise you (it does me) that I don't resent the Winter Holiday music that inhabits the "all-Xmas-music-all-the-time" radio stations, malls and doctor's offices. True enough, I could live very happily without ever hearing "Frosty the Snowman" again. But the commercialization and "inanity-zation" of Christmas, though stricken with spiritual poverty, does have an up side. When you're celebrating the birth of Jesus, He lurks around every corner. It's HIS birth being celebrated, no matter how poorly and inadequately. In spite of the studied godlessness into which so many children are being raised, there is an annual month of something that later can reveal itself to have been grounded in deep and wonderful meaning.

Our society today is going to find something to both celebrate and commercialize. That's the way things get and keep our attention in Western culture. For instance, in the absence of high-powered commercialization of Thanksgiving, which remains primarily a family-centric holiday, we have seen the rise of Halloween as the Autumn Holiday both in stores and schools. Who can possibly argue that we are better off having such a thing in the forefront of our children's attention for months on end?

So if we North Americans are going to shred and deface a holiday, please forgive me for thinking that I'd just as soon it would be Christmas. Who knows but that a child will someday be touched by the mercy of God, link it back to a vague memory of Joy to the World, and whisper to Christ "So . . . it was you all the time."


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We are grateful ladies with a point of view and a sense of humor. Like-hearted people are welcome. Others, too.

For a glimpse at our lighter side, hop over to In Dwelling.

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

Pres. Barack Obama, Feb 5, 2009