Sunday, March 26, 2006

The Rhythm of Blogging and of Sundays

We've stretched out the intervals in our blogging. It's not for want of love for Christ and His Church, it's not even the volume of work this time of year for me, or for all the wonderful events in Roz' life.

I don't have much to say here right now. I spent an intense time of prayer a few days ago that almost scared me, because I'd been begging the Lord to make my love more real for Him, so that I didn't slough (sluff?) Him off amidst the business of my life, no more than I'd ignore a loved one in my house or at least in my life just because I was busy. And He gave me some time where I understood that our relationship can withstand fourteen pending deadlines at work....

So the rhythm of a relationship is there: I get distracted and I turn again to Him. Thank God for the blogworld, always there to inspire me, or to irritate me, or to make me look up an answer, to provoke me to think. And thank God for Sundays, when we are required to pay Him a little attention. Without that anchor coming around once a week, I don't know how many Christians keep their feet on the path, on the Way. I'm lucky; I can go to near-daily Mass, which is a little cycle of love and life. The bigger weekly cycle of Love and life is absolutely essential to a Christian life.

I heard a preacher this morning on the radio, a very well-spoken man of some unspecific Protestant affiliation, urge his congregation to weekly church attendance or "some other form of worship." Those weasel words right in the middle of his otherwise well-done sermon jarred me: why open the door to sinful people (me included) to define what "some other form of worship" is? Before you know it, the three-wood's in your hand, and you're "worshiping God" on the golf course.

This morning, I will go to a much later Mass at a different church, because I am sponsoring an adult friend of mine for Confirmation, so we're going to his church at times for the special times of his reception of the Sacrament. That brings up the downside of rhythm: the Scrutinies occur over three Sundays. That's three Sundays I'm away from my own church, not at my normal crack'o'dawn Mass with my normal friends and our normal coffee afterwards. I am not comfortable at this other church, I'm uncomfortable with waiting until nearly noon for Mass, I'm out of my holy rut and I don't like it one bit.

How dare I? It's Jesus Christ in all His Glory, witnessed among our frail and unskilled and sinful efforts at answering His invitation to join Him at the Last Supper, at Calvary, at the empty tomb, at the mount of Ascent. Remembering that is a humbling and enriching experience: it's not my showing up at my appointed time in my appointed way that makes Him present. I should probably take this lesson and occasionally deliberately go to another Mass (aargh! the dreaded children's choir Mass! the too-white folk-rock (but still sincere) Mass! the Spanish Mass! I can even go to a Vietnamese Mass without travelling too far, but I would probably be a little conspicuous, not being Asian...)

I hope your Lent is a blessed stretch of your spirit and heart.

Monday, March 20, 2006

What is the meaning of life?

Someone is actually asking that question. Scotty, a friend of my daugher, has set up a web site at to collect and eventually publish people's thoughts on the matter. I encourage you to go over and weigh in. But don't forget to leave your thoughts in the comments box before you go.

This was my contribution:
Since I believe I was created by God, looking for life's meaning from the starting question, "What does life mean TO ME?" can't get me to a fully authentic answer. It would be like asking my cat the meaning of my computer.

So, finding the meaning of life has to come from the perspective of how and why my life came to be. To the best of my understanding so far, life itself and my life in particular have not only a meaning but a deep purpose. God created me because he is so full of love that he wanted lots of company. He takes joy in my existence and that of each of us. The purpose of my life, then, is to grow into a reciprocal delightful relationship with God, let him choreograph the circumstances of my life as we go along, and finally join him fully at a big unending welcome-home party after I die.

My occasional determination to forge my own path and pursue what can only hurt me in the end is an obstacle, but a solvable one. Remembering who I really am means keeping in mind the who and why of how I came to be. Taking care of that real me can help me live fully and well. It’s similar to the way that following the owner's manual for my car and getting regular oil changes instead of drag racing dry will keep me from throwing a rod in the engine and junking what had been a beautifully-engineered vehicle.

The owner's manual for me gives me guidelines for regular preventative maintenance and instructions about personal repairs when needed. The fact that I'm oriented within my purpose enables me to cooperate with the meaning of my work, my relationships, my talents, my frustrations and my pain. There's a center of gravity, bedrock under my feet, and I know where I'm going.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Explaining Eucharistic Processions

My friend Matt at the blog From the Morning saw a show on the national Catholic cable channel EWTN earlier this week, that I happened to catch, too, which showed Samoans in a humdinger of a Eucharistic Procession. Read his post and see what an outsider looking in thinks of a bunch of people dancing and worshipping and laying lengths of cloth on the ground so a priest holding a "big cross" can walk on them. How does that look from the outside? Not so good, as can be read in the comments.

I knew what I was seeing immediately, and I found it a compelling, charming and warming demonstration of faith, the people worshipping with their whole selves. It stopped me in my tracks so I wasn't surprised that it caught the attention of Matt, a thoughtful and sincere Christian. But I had the ready reference of lifelong Catholicism of one intensity of another and of my own parish's annual Corpus Christi Procession. We go around the neighborhood, acolytes with the incense censer and candles and whole families and old people, everyone singing and kids throwing rose petals and the whole holy nine yards, although it could be better attended, hundreds rather than the thousand possible, given the parish population. We do our awkward human best to cope with the outpouring of God's Grace on us, and show our love as best as we can. (Some of us have a little annual fun by speculating on widening the procession route to take in the Bible Church down the block, really torquing up the incense and belting out a new version that goes "Tantum Ergo Yoo Hoo Fellow Christians! It's your worst nightmare going on by!")

Matt, my dear brother in Christ and fellow Illinoisian, asked me to write on the subject so he could link it. And here it is, as I understand it, deliberately not doing any research, just digging out what I know. I didn't want to this to be a book report cribbed out of the encyclopedia, but instead what I've learned and remember and enjoy and believe.

Why do Catholics process with the Eucharist? Because we hold the Blessed Sacrament in such high regard. We understand that when the words of Consecration are spoken by the priest, or are spoken by Jesus through the priest, more precisely, we are present at the once-for-all-time miracle of "This is my Body, this is my Blood" and we know that unless "we eat His Body and drink His Blood, we have no life within us."

We know that the change from bread and wine into the intimate gift of Jesus physically present, feeding us, giving us life, doesn't end with the recessional and the doughnuts-and-coffee. He doesn't take the gift back. Enough is consecrated to keep in reserve, to take to the sick and the dying. The Tabernacle holds this reserved Sacrament, and we can visit Jesus in that Sacrament, to spend time with Him in that special way. Yes, yes, yes, Jesus is in our hearts, if God wasn't constantly thinking of us, creating us, we would vanish and would never have been. There isn't a time when we are outside of God's Presence, but this a focus, a place of Grace, a concentration of His Love, that we can receive in Communion or merely rest with a while in prayer and meditation.

So we have Eucharistic Adoration: time spent in a "Holy Hour" or a "Holy Five Minutes" for that matter. A "little visit," our parents and teachers would urge us to make. That's why Catholic churches are usually open all day, some all night, so we can come, sit near the lighted sanctuary lamp, near the Tabernacle, and wrench our minds and hearts more or less open to hear God's Word of Truth and Love. On Good Friday, the doors of the Tabernacle stand open and the sanctuary lamp is blown out, there is no Mass that day. How cold and empty the church seems when we come to pray through the Passion!

In Adoration, some read, some sit quietly, some say the Rosary. Our Adoration is silent, although others have special Scripture readings and quiet music. I have been a monthly Adorer for an hour on first Fridays for about two years, for more time as we've expanded our Adoration hours to weekly stretches, and I usually tell people who are interested and curious that at the beginning, the first ten minutes seemed like an hour, and the last fifty minutes felt like ten minutes. Now I am more comfortable in prayer, and can pick up where He and I left off, like a telephone call. I'm much better, by God's Grace alone, at setting down distractions in peace, or wearily picking them up and praying about them, and then putting them down. I've read many of the spiritual classics, and the Scriptures of the day and the season, it's a great time to prayerfully read and stop and look at Him and ask Him to teach me from what I've read.

But sometimes we want to celebrate that in a more public way, a moving profession of faith, a party of faith. So out we go, into the street with the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance, walking, perhaps in meditation on the painful walk on the way to Calvary, or the walk along with the Apostles to the mount to see Jesus ascend into Heaven, or to the top of the mountain to hear the Beatitudes, or to the sea, to see Him climb into a boat and teach. They're all good.

It's no wonder that FTM didn't recognize what he saw: Eucharistic Processions, along with May Crownings and other big events fell out of favor in many Catholic parishes in the 60's through the 90's, when the world demanded hipness and relevance in everything and don't trust any institution over 30 and so on. Too many in the Church got self-conscious and put aside these ancient devotions, with disastrous results. Some of the European immigrants who built and filled our churches brought fantastic Procession customs with them, but put them away with their other "foreign ways" after some time in the US.

If you compare any parish with Eucharistic Adoration to any others with "relevant" Masses, the differences are obvious, even to the unbelieving eye. The Adoring parish is full, full of young, large families; lots of vocations to religious life; generous and unstinting charity one-on-one and in large organized ways; passionate love for Jesus and an irresistable joy that draws people like, well, Jesus draws people to the Father. The "relevant" parishes tend more towards the old hippies, dissatisfied with everything, seeing Jesus as a good man (at least He's not a "groovy guy" anymore - I can't wait for the 60's to be over), the Mass as a "meal," "WE (meaning us right here, making up our own rules) are church," and all religious activity merely as social service projects for the "right" causes. I over-generalize here, because every icky parish has its sound beating heart of faith and love and every vibrant parish has its icky sticky corners of dissent. But the personalities are shaped by their love of Jesus in the Eucharist. Period.

So that's why we walk and sing. That's why we keep the doors open. It comes from what Jesus left in His Church, how He promised to "be with us until the end of time."

Have I left anything out? Any questions?

Friday, March 10, 2006

Hanging out in Jesus' office

Sorry for the absence. This is a busy time of year at work. In fact, all my meditations seem to be Opus-Dei-like, growing in my walk with Christ as I relate to my job...

This morning, I went into the chapel before morning Mass, as I usually do, for a few minutes of recollection and reading the morning selection in Magnificat. There was the usual crew there: the home-schooling mother who wears a mantilla, the father of five who unstintingly pours himself out for his family and the parish, an older semi-retired guy who prays for a written list of people, another older fully-retired guy with the map of Ireland all over his face, the incredibly quiet still Asian lady I don't know anything about....

I hunkered down and immediately continued a conversation I've been having with God, a near-diatribe where I am trying to work through my incredible willingness to sin in particular ways. And I was struck with the similarity of hanging around the boss's office door.

Some people charge in, state their business and leave. Others like to chit-chat and socialize and joke about what's happening right then, and then work their way around to asking their question. Still others stand half-in, half-out of the office door. If the boss is talking to someone else, or is on the phone, some people walk away and don't come back, or even forget what they needed. Others hover, offering opinions on the prior conversation, whether they're welcome or relevant. Some evince impatience, others are relaxed.

Prayer isn't one style. It's OUR style, and if done honestly, will bear fruit and improve our style in the bearing.

I feel a little better about how I pray. I may not have "Madonna hands" or a radiant uplifted face and hands (sometimes, feeling vulnerable, I wilt a little when I look at other people praying: they look so darn holy) but I come as I am before the Lord, and I'm being me. That's a relief.


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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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