Sunday, June 25, 2006

Sometimes the last paragraph of an anecdote really should come first

After our wedding Henry and I spent several days in Stratford, Ontario, home during the summer months to a renowned Shakespeare and theater festival. We stayed at a charming bed & breakfast attached to a restaurant; the delightful morning meal in the Garden Room was fully worth the trip.

Since we had industriously combined our households into our new home during the three weeks before the wedding, R&R was high on the priority list. Although theater holds center stage in Stratford (deservedly so -- go if you possibly can), the days were filled with relaxing and meandering. Stratford is in the middle of fruitful Ontario farm country, and it so happened that the Ontario Pork Congress (yes, you read that right) was taking place at the local fairgrounds. Well, we didn't have anything else to do that morning, and the thought of a country fair sort of thing was intriguing, so we made our way over there.

There were no piggies in evidence, however. This industry gathering for pig farmers meant business. Huge shiny tractors lounged around the parking lot. Inside the steel buildings, neat fellas in polo shirts and khakis promoted farm equipment, herd management software, genetic laboratories (these aren't your grandpa's pig farms), deordorizing power washers, and everything the industrious swineherd might need to maximize his market day profit. We were a bit nonplussed, but we were in a mood to enjoy whatever life brought, and the barbecue tent smelled pretty good. And both of us are curious about new things.

As we wandered the arena, we fell into conversation with Art, a representative of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. He was taken aback, to say the least, that (1) we were not pig farmers, (2) not from Ontario, and (3) we had wandered over from the Shakespeare Festival where we were spending our honeymoon. Since an industry gathering isn't the best place to find Christian fellowship walking by, he was probably genuinely glad to chat with us for a while about his organization, his family's roots in farming, and his hopes (however remote) that one of his children might take over the farm someday.

One of his daughters gave us a small New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs. I haven't had one of those since my college days. They're very handy to keep in a purse, so I accepted with thanks. As we strolled away, Henry began paging through it and found a favorite passage. He began to read it aloud, as he does so well. It was delightful, but one of the more improbable romantic moments one might hope to encounter during one's honeymoon.

* * * * * * * * *
And that's how to came about, boys and girls, that Roz's dear husband ardently declaimed to her Proverbs 31's praise of the excellent wife in the middle of the Ontario Pork Congress.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Roz and Henry's Wedding Mass Readings

These readings draw us towards and through the mystery of Jesus' relationship with His Bride, the Church. What a tender picture of love, protectiveness, strength, giving, receiving, yielding, honoring, sacrificing!

First Reading - Hosea 2: 14-23

"Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
and bring her into the wilderness,
and speak tenderly to her.
And there I will give her her vineyards,
and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth,
as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.

"And in that day, says the LORD, you will call me, `My husband,'
and no longer will you call me, `My Ba'al.'
For I will remove the names of the Ba'als from her mouth,
and they shall be mentioned by name no more.

And I will make for you a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the creeping things of the ground;
and I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land;
and I will make you lie down in safety.
And I will betroth you to me for ever;
I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice,
in steadfast love, and in mercy.
I will betroth you to me in faithfulness; and you shall know the LORD.

"And in that day, says the LORD, I will answer the heavens
and they shall answer the earth; and the earth shall answer the grain, the wine, and the oil, and they shall answer Jezreel;
and I will sow him for myself in the land.

"And I will have pity on Not Pitied,
and I will say to Not My People, `You are my people';
and he shall say `Thou art my God.'"

Second Reading - Revelation 19:1, 5-9

After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying,

"Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,
for his judgments are true and just."

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude,
like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunderpeals, crying, "Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and
pure" -- for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

And the angel said to me,
"Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb." And he said to me, "These are true words of God."

Gospel - John 2:1-11

On the third day there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee,
and the mother of Jesus was there;
Jesus also was invited to the marriage, with his disciples.
When the wine failed, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine."
And Jesus said to her, "O woman, what have you to do with me?
My hour has not yet come."
His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you."

Now six stone jars were standing there, for the Jewish rites of purification,
each holding twenty or thirty gallons.
Jesus said to them, "Fill the jars with water."
And they filled them up to the brim.
He said to them, "Now draw some out, and take it to the steward of the feast."
So they took it.

When the steward of the feast tasted the water now become wine,
and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew),
the steward of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him,
"Every man serves the good wine first; and when men have drunk freely,
then the poor wine; but you have kept the good wine until now."

This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God, huh?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Holding out the sign of Christ's presence to one another

Last Saturday, Henry and I were married. We were accompanied by a throng of good friends and family and ushered through the gates of matrimony by two priests, three deacons (including one of the Byzantine rite), three altar servers (coincidentally, all seminarians from our parish) and St Joseph, if he accepted our repeated invitations. Fr. Ed opened his remarks by assuring those present that the population of the altar should not be taken as an indication of the amount of clerical firepower needed to marry a couple of more mature years. We just happen to be fortunate in our friends.

It was wonderful -- everything we might have hoped. We had prayed for a long time for God to show his love to everyone present, and I believe he heard us. We were intent on taking the focus off ourselves and putting it on God and the Sacraments, so we made some changes to what is commonly done (all approved and well within the rubrics). We chose to enter quietly from the side of the church; the procession consisted of the normal clerical procession as found at Sunday Mass. We didn't have matched sets of attendants -- our three daughters served as bridesmaids and our marriage was witnessed by them, Henry's best man and my son who had served as one of the ushers. The music (beautiful, if I do say so myself) was sung by choir and congregation together with the exception of a choral setting of Mary's own exclamation when wedded to God: "Behold, the Lord has done great things for me and holy is his name."

I think, though, one of my favorite elements involved the Nuptial Blessing. Neither of us is fond of the approved translation which dilutes much of the nuance of the Latin and, to our horror, omits an explicit invocation of the Holy Spirit who I am counting on with all fervor to do everything that we're incapable of doing on our own. After significant thought (and negotiation with the diocese), we asked Fr. Ed to proclaim the blessing in Latin with Henry's translation printed in the program.

Here is an example of the difference:

Approved translation of Nuptial Blessing B:

Father, to reveal the plan of your love, you made the union of husband and wife an image of the covenant between you and your people. In the fulfilment of this sacrament, the marriage of Christian man and woman is a sign of the marriage between Christ and the Church.

Father, stretch out your hand, and bless N. and N. Lord, grant that as they begin to live this sacrament they may share with each other the gifts of your love and become one in heart and mind as witnesses to your presence in their marriage.

Henry's translation of the Latin text [Ordo celebrandi matrimonium]:

God, in order to reveal the plan of your love, in the mutual love of spouses you desired to foreshadow the covenant into which you yourself would deign to enter with your people. In the fullness of the meaning of the sacrament, the marital union of your faithful ones reveals as a mystery the nuptial union of Christ and the Church.

ver these your servants Henry and Rosalind extend, we pray, your right hand of favor, and pour into their heart the power of the Holy Spirit. Be present, Lord, that, as they enter into the common life of this sacrament, they may share the gift of your love between them, and, holding out the sign of your presence to one another, become one heart and one soul.

Somehow, "holding out the sign of [God's] presence to one another" speaks more powerfully to me than being "witnesses to your presence in [our] marriage."

Regardless. May it all be so.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Birthday's a'comin' - Part I

I'll be fifty in early July. I'm emotionally numb and perfectly okay with it at the same time. My faith helps me over the "I'm an old failure" moments and my sense of humor helps when some young whipper-snapper at the office marvels at some memory I have that happened when they were five.

I got a major case of list-mania over the last few days, thinking about what's happened to me and to the world in the last fifty years. Everything's in fives, in honor of my five decades. Let's start:

Five Famous People Who Died Way Too Young

1. Judy Garland, died at 47. She was a psychological train wreck, but her great good taste in music would have been fascinating to see in its maturity.
2. John F. Kennedy died at 46. Don't you wonder what he would have accomplished? I have a feeling he would have become more and more like his brother Teddy, a natural leader with a shallow and convenient integrity.
3. Jim Henson, died at 53. I can only assume he would have continued his quirky genius. What an individual talent!
4. Steve Goodman, died at 36. Maybe he's too much of a Chicagoan for you to know, but he wrote The City of New Orleans and wonderful folky and funny songs. Couldn't have gone anywhere but up.
5. Rod Serling, died at 50, uh oh. The scariest TV show of my childhood (that I was actually allowed to watch) was "The Twilight Zone." The creepiest episode I can remember is the one where the man who works for a wax museum takes home all the figures when the museum closes, and they begin to speak to him and tell him what to do.

Five x Two Degrees of Separation

These are famous people I haven't met, exactly, but I know someone who knows someone who... I have an aunt who specializes in this, her happiest boast being that her hairdresser used to do Cher's hair.

1. My mother dated Arthur Lake, the movie and radio Dagwood of Blondie & Dagwood. Looking at the picture on the link, I have just realized how much like Arthur Lake in coloring, height, hair and build my father looked! Hmmm.

2. I had the same grade school teacher as Mike Douglas, the talk show host. Don't laugh - Sister Bertwina was very proud of that! She taught him in eighth grade and taught me in first grade. His brother, Bob Dowd, stayed in town and was a well-known good neighbor and volunteer.

3. In WWII, my dad was in the Coast Guard with Carl Ballantine (fourth from left in the linked photo, it was really hard to find a photo of him in his prime). Said "he was a very nice fellow."

4. Tom O'Horgan, the director of the original Broadway production of Hair, sang at my parents' wedding. When the musical became famous, they were embarassed and defensive, although it occurred long before his "hippie days," but they thought any music newer than Patti Page and Vic Damone was beyond consideration. Hair as a cultural phenomenon could reach down into a small Chicago suburb; because of their "connection," my parents went to see it and I can remember them being apologetic about going among our more pious Lutheran and Catholic neighbors and relatives.

5. I brought a can of pop to Cyndi Lauper before her open-air performance on the plaza at NBC Tower in Chicago. Our office was used as a changing room for the performers (NBC asked us and we enthusiastically abandoned work once a week to comply) and it was fun. Her accent is part of her act; she called home to check on her family and spoke like a normal Jerseyite, and then ramped her accent back up to 125% to thank me for the Diet Coke.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

A Priest's First Mass

I went to the Mass of Thanksgiving celebrated by a priest who was ordained yesterday. He held his First Mass at our parish because he is (was, I guess) a parishioner, and the entire parish was invited.

I know that the priest, conforming himself to Jesus Christ, marries the Church, his Bride, and that is touching beyond understanding, if you put your mind on it for a little while, but I never realized how much a First Mass resembles a wedding in its temporal aspects:

1. Everybody faces the back when the priest, with many fellow priests and deacons, process up the aisle. There is a general gasp of joy seeing him vested. No bride in the most beautiful white satin could be welcomed with any more emotion. The imagery isn't hollow, either: waiting for the priest at the front of church is the altar on which he will celebrate the mystical and intimate union of Jesus with His Bride, the Church.

2. The priest actually changes his name: he is now permanently Father Don or Father Paul. He is changed at the very essence of his being, God has called him to a permanent union, and instead of physical children, he will have thousands of spiritual children.

3. There are rows reserved for family, and little kids are running around, misbehaving in their best fluffy dresses and little suits. All the older ladies of the family are wearing pastels and orchids, and the parents of the "groom" are wearing big smiles and flowers.

4. The music is all to be chosen by the new priest and his friends do the singing and the readings. Some of the family members really shouldn't be reading in public, or singing, but they were asked for the reason of love and love carries them through and makes them welcome.

5. There are the inevitable family members who don't have any power of concentration and are looking around the whole time. I was amusedly aware of a probable-cousin who chose to wear a dress that was so low-cut and revealing that she couldn't have sat anywhere but in row 3, directly in front of the pulpit (what was she thinking?).

6. There is a videographer and several photographers darting around, and every significant gesture is met with a set of flashes.

7. Everybody beams and everybody cries, even those people who don't know the new priest. I used all the McDonald's napkins I brought in from the car, for myself and my pew neighbors. People didn't even try to hide their tears.

8. There were some congratulatory speeches by priest mentors and the pastor and everybody clapped for everybody. There were priests there who were ordained last week, and fifty years ago, and seminarians who would be ordained next year and the year after. It was like having couples celebrating their silver and gold anniversaries, and engaged couples, introduced by the bride and groom.

9. We got favors: a holy card with the new priest's date of ordination on the back, and a blessing from him in the receiving line. I had a rosary that had never been blessed, so I toted that along and got a nice low-serial-number blessing!

10. The reception in the parish hall was WCC: wine, cheese, crackers (the only other option being a CBS reception (chicken, beef and sausage)) and there was a big white cake, in the shape of a cross, with a blue Holy Spirit Dove. A buck says the priest cut it and got his picture taken doing it, I didn't stay long enough to find out.

One surprise: the readings were those of today: Pentecost Sunday. A wonderful feast to begin a life of priesthood, but I kind of expected there to be a special set of readings for a First Mass.

It was all BEAUTIFUL. God's call was answered by this man with a total gift of self. A holy awe, please, for the grace that flows by and through the gift of the ministerial priesthood to the sacramental life of the Church!

Friday, June 02, 2006

Do ethics = holiness?

Commenter Deb/Deborah/Debbie said in the "Is It Sin?" example below:

I like this sin or not sin concept. The paper I work for used to have an ethics column wherein a business dilemma was described each week, and the best answers were published the next week along with the next ethical conundrum. It was amazing how most readers opted for ethical response, but in so many different ways so that the least harm was done. It gave me great faith in humanity's ability to discern between right and wrong, if not our actual choices between them.

I've read those kinds of columns, too, and always enjoy the exercise of logic and ethical standards.

But it brings up a bigger question What is the difference between ethical behavior and sinless behavior? Isn't ethical behavior the honest and fair living-out of an agreement, whether that agreement is a law, a contract, a decision reached mutually? But isn't holiness (gotta use that word) the living-out of love?

If I live up to the teeniest part of a promise I make to you, no matter how it inconveniences me, then I'm being ethical. But note that I can resent it like hell, and complain about it to everybody else I know, and even maybe point out to you what a complete hero I'm being by honoring my commitment. My ethics would therefore have no grace, but they would still be very high.

But if I live up to the truth that God teaches me, that you and I are BOTH children of God, that we have equal value in His Eyes, both of us being totally "Crucifixion-worthy, then I am still rigorously honest in our hypothetical agreement, but I do it sweetly, at least on the outside, and better still, sweetly on the inside, never minding the effort, "offering up" my own prideful discomfort and giving up my desire for pats and praise.

So, not taking the mayo can be ethical (I wouldn't take another's calculated profit margin for my own ends) or it can be holy (not only would I not reduce the restaurant's profit margin, but I wouldn't give myself an over-comfortable life, I would keep it simple.)

Right? I am thinking out loud here. I have more examples to come, I am suddenly fascinated by how I can serve the Lord in my everyday actions by omission of previously selfish behavior.

In the meantime, please read my old "Ugly Pants" post, written, terrifyingly, nearly two years ago (I surely thought I would be holier by now...)

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Sin or not sin? The "free" condiment

Okay, we settled the last question, and here's another situation:

I go to the little lunch place in my office building. I buy a salad and a bottle of water (okay, okay, I buy a package of Oreos, too). On my way out, I grab a plastic fork and a napkin which I need to eat the salad. BUT they have bins of mayo and ketchup and taco sauce, which I definitely don't need but I wouldn't mind having one or more of each for my office drawer for another meal.

Is taking them wrong?

To those of you to whom this seems like scrupulosity, I answer that I don't think it is. It's more "boundary-drawing." If taking a couple of folders from work to put my recipes in at home is stealing, which it is, then perhaps taking packages of condiments I don't need is also stealing. It's a matter of where what *I* want vs. what I *need* becomes my own self-definition of sin.

Maybe a package of mayo seems absurdly small to think about, but it multiplies pretty fast, and soon we're justifying keeping too much change returned to us at the grocery store or deliberately hiding a small mistake in our work instead of simply fixing it, admitting it, taking the tiny humiliation and moving on.

If I believe that Jesus Christ is the Ruler of EVERY aspect of my life, that goes for EVERYTHING, sex and ethics and charity and equitable treatment of others' businesses.



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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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