Archives for January 2010

To Be Some Day Like Frank G.

My fellow parishioner Frank G.’s daughter died yesterday. I learned about it this morning, just before processing up the aisle as lector #2 for the 8:15 Mass. I looked toward the front of the nave and saw Frank sitting alone in front of the statue of the Blessed Mother. I walked up and gently put my arm around his bony old shoulders. He kindly acknowledged my condolences, then asked how I was:And your family? Everything OK with you?” Typical Frank.

Frank G. is about 85, so his daughter must have been about my age. Frank was AWOL at daily Mass this week as his daughter lay dying of cancer in his home. Usually, as I have written before, he’s one of the first arrivals at daily 7 a.m. Mass, taking up his post in the front row by about 6:20. He pulls down his kneeler and doesn’t move a muscle until five minutes of the hour. I miss Frank when he isn’t there.

I returned to the back of the nave, organist Fred MacArthur struck up the melody from the loft above, and we walked up the aisle singing “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.” I took my seat at the side of the sanctuary across from Father Barnes and alongside Bill, lector #1. I started thinking of Warren Jewell. Warren wrote one of his many good comments in response to a post about the role of the laity, describing his experience as a lector:

Before a given Mass, I would of course read [my selection] through over and over, including reading it aloud to my beloved Sharon. Sometimes, the words would so sink into me that they would get beyond my mind and heart, and past my spirit all the way down into my emotions. And, I could not read it again aloud without my voice cracking, my being flooding with humility that I am so privileged to read this part of God’s love letter for His children aloud at His Mass in His Church.

I realized, thinking of Warren’s comment, that I had rushed out of the house this morning and had not even read through my selection once. I knew what it was though, and before I rose to read, I told myself that I would dedicate the reading to Frank and his daughter. I have two daughters and cannot imagine losing one of them. Parents are not designed to outlive their children. I climbed into the pulpit and began:

Brothers and sisters: Strive for the greatest spiritual gifts. But I shall show you a still more excellent way. If I speak in human and angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.

As I said the word love I glanced at Frank below me to the right. He was still alone before the Blessed Mother, and he was looking down at the missal open on his lap. He looked as though he was studying the words from Corinthians.

And if I have the gift of prophecy, and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

I glanced at Frank again on the second and third mentions of love. He was still looking down, still studying, and I was stung by a thought. Frank has forgotten more about the meaning of love than I will ever learn, and there he is, acting as though he needs to understand it better!

Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrong-doing but rejoices with the turth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 

Frank is a regular at our Saturday-morning men’s group, although he was not there yesterday, for a reason I now understand. He seldom says much at the group, but no matter how tired he looks, he always seems to listen intently to the speaker, again as though he were the one with things to learn. Then at the end of every meeting, he leads the group in a prayer to St. Michael the Archangel.

Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing. 

One Saturday, I talked about this blog. Frank had nothing to offer, since I doubt he has a computer or even understood what a blog is. I talked for an hour, he listened, and after the prayer to St. Michael, he thanked me and asked after my family.

For we know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known. 

Usually, my voice does not get emotional when I read at Mass. I do my best to give each word its full value, to proclaim the Word as it deserves, but usually I am not moved beyond a certain rudimentary enthusiasm. Never have I felt the upswelling that I felt today with the final words of the reading. If I had looked over at Frank at this moment, I would have lost it completely.

So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

As Frank teaches me every time I see him—and as our Pope taught today in his homily—love is indeed the greatest gift.

Thanks to Anne Rice for Asking This Question

In light of Webster’s recent post regarding the roles and responsibilities of the laity, I thought I would share with you some correspondence on a related topic that I have had with Anne Rice, author of the The Vampire Chronicles and the Christ the Lord series. I had written her to share one of Webster’s posts and was flabbergasted when she wrote me back a few hours later.  Sheee-eesh! Be careful what you wish for.

Usually I’m the last to know news like this but I had discovered via Bloomberg News that in 1998 Anne returned to the Catholic Church.  Whaat?! The Vampire Writer? Surprised, I learned of  a new novel she had written entitled Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt. It is about Christ’s early years from the time when the Holy Family returned to Nazareth from exile in Alexandria, where they had fled in accordance with the instructions an angel had given to Joseph in a dream. She also writes of her return to the Church in detail in an autobiography, Called Out of Darkness.

You haven’t read these books yet? I know, I know, you are swamped with books right now.  So am I! But if you haven’t read them, put them on your list.  And make sure to add the sequel, The Wedding at Cana. And where am I going to find the time to read her new series about angels, which debuted recently with Angel Time? I have no idea.  But I am going to find the time. Anyway, I had written her as follows,

Ms. Rice:

We are kindred spirits despite our obvious and wild differences.  Much like the twelve apostles, huh?  What a motley crew: Zealot resistance fighters (Simon) to fishermen (Peter, Andrew . . . ), to tax collectors (Matthew, despised by all).  Wow!

I’m not gonna take up a lot of your time.  I wanted to share my partner’s latest post with you.  What a story . . . It’s the kind that my friend Blaise Pascal would probably smile at.  He’s probably smiling now (I hope).

Be well and thanks for all that you are doing for Our Lord. Have fun at your book signing in Riverside. Sadly, my family and I will just miss it.  We are coming to Southern California for the Holidays for my in-laws’ 50th anniversary and Christmas and New Years.  Any other signings in So Cal during that time?

Warmest regards and the love of Our Lord be with you Always,

Frank

Ahem, pretty presumptuous, I know, but what the heck? I was sure she wasn’t going to answer anyway. A few hours later I received this reply,

Thanks for your letter.  When you have time, tell me: do you believe that the majority of humans created go to Hell for all eternity? I am finding out that many Christians do believe this. I was not taught this growing up Catholic, and I find it very difficult to believe.  I am curious however as to what others believe.  Thanks for your note.  

Take care, Anne.

I received this note back on December 5, 2009, around lunch time. I had been riding shotgun with Webster at YIM Catholic for all of six days when it arrived in my  e-mail. Gulp!  The Anne Rice, noted author of the Vampire Chronicles and the Christ the Lord series has written back to little ol’ me? Golly! Then I re-read it and thought, whaat?! Is this some kind of a test? I sent her back a rushed reply as follows:

Anne:

I certainly hope not!  Otherwise, I am done for.  No, our God and Father is not limited by our human rules, norms, or best guesses.  The Pareto Effect does not apply to God. I have faith that Our Lord loves all of us so much that He does everything to help guide us to Him. And that is one of the beautiful, just spectacular Graces that Our Lord gives us through His Church. Thanks be to God!

I went to Reconciliation this morning to confess my sins and to speak with my pastor about this blog.  His counsel prompted me to edit this piece I had posted about the Saints yesterday.  While I was doing penance and pondering what I had been counseled on, I knew that I must edit my post as such:

“But don’t worry and please don’t forget the mission of Our King’s Church: to save souls, at any cost. Most of us haven’t been called into the Church’s equivalent of the Officer Corps (Holy Orders). But we can still serve with distinction, whether we are butchers, bakers, or candle-stick makers. Again, one of the heroes of the Church (St. Francis of Assisi) serves as an example to me. ‘Preach the Gospel always,’ he said. ‘Use words if necessary.’ Also, there is no age requirement (17–28 to enlist) either and no minimum or maximum (6–8 years) contract length. Heck you can even get “out” and rejoin! Just ask Anne Rice.”

I hope I answered your question and I thank you for writing me back.

Your friend in Christ,

Frank

I sent another quick note asking her for permission to post her reply, to which she responded, 

It’s fine with me if you share your response.  I never really write confidential emails.  My queries can be shared, of course.  Thanks for the feedback.  I’m pondering.  I started another Discussion on Amazon in the Christianity forum on what people believe about Hell.  I’m interested in the beliefs of all Christians on this. 

Anne

This left me pondering too. Before I was a Catholic, I would have answered her question the way that makes sense to a modern day Pharisee, you know, that most won’t make it to heaven. But you can be sure that I just knew that I would make it. Sigh. But as a Catholic, my frame of reference had changed drastically. Let the scriptures show that,

This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth. For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all. (1 Timothy 2:3-6)

and

He is expiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)

I could go on and on with verses from the Bible relating this fact, both Old Testament and New.  Want some more examples?
 
“I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27)

The LORD has bared His holy arm In the sight of all the nations, That all the ends of the earth may see The salvation of our God. (Isaiah 52:10)

“And it shall be from new moon to new moon And from sabbath to sabbath, All mankind will come to bow down before Me,” says the LORD. (Isaiah 66:23)

After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. (John 17:1-2)

So I ponder with Anne the astounding and yet true fact that Jesus came to save us all.  Every single last one of us, past, present, and future. The good, the bad, and the ugly. The healthy, the sick, the able and the lame.  You, me, and everyone here in my house and yours, in my town and yours, in my country, and in every other country as far away as Timbuktu and all points in between.  He died for me, and for you. For the whole world. The just, and the unjust.  For the forgiveness of all our sins, past, present and future.

And our free will comes into play in how we approach this fact. Because there is the capacity in heaven for every single soul to be saved. Isn’t that obvious? Space isn’t the problem. The only thing preventing this from occurring is freedom of choice and our temerity in sharing this good news. This freedom God has given us is an inalienable right. We can opt out or we can opt in. But the fact is that we have been given this great freedom to do with as we see fit, from the Original Sin of our first parents.

It is our Christian duty to proclaim the Good News. The Catholic Church actively pursues the saving of souls from the moment of conception until natural death. That isn’t popular with many folks.  Remember the parable of the vineyard workers (Matthew 20:1-16) who all received the same wages whether they started working at 5 a.m. or 7 p.m.? That is how the Catholic Church sees it. Deathbed baptisms, confessions, etc? No problem. Because saving souls for Christ is job one and the true mission of the Church, among the laity and religious alike. Did you know that Holy Orders are not required to perform a baptism?

Thanks again for your question, Anne, and may we all keep job onein mind. And for our YIMCatholic readers, I turn Anne’s question over to you. How do you answer it? RSVP. Anne and I thank you in advance for your replies.

A Question About the Laity, Thanks to EPG

We’re becoming awfully bookish here at YIM Catholic: CS Lewis, JD Salinger, DF Wallace. Let’s come back to reality, people! What’s your calling, and mine? More particularly, what are we called to do as Catholic laypeople? This question was raised this week by EPG, an Anglican brother who has been hanging around with us Catholics at YIMC and bringing lots of good questions and answers with him.

Here EPG’s question, in particular, and my preliminary response:

“ . . . the priest must administer the sacraments—no one else can fill that role. So, what I’d like to know is, Are there functions in which laity step in to ‘fill the gaps?’ I think of the men’s group that Webster has described so eloquently—not clergy driven . . . ”

Let me broaden EPG’s kernel of a very good question: What are our particular roles and obligations as Catholic laity?

I gather that in the two decades after Vatican II, Katie did not bar the door, and the lunatics took over the asylum—Catholic lay people thinking (some of them) that they were taking over the Church. My revered and beloved pastor, Father Barnes, pointed out in a homily that, no, we do not have an open invitation to take over for the priesthood, but that yes, we do have an obligation: to evangelize.

Is that correct? If so, what does it mean to you? Or do you see a broader role for the laity, male and/or female? How do you fulfill your role—completely, usefully, happily—as a Catholic lay person?

On a personal note, I do different stuff in our parish: lector, serve at the altar, teach CCD. But I have also considered the possibility of becoming a permanent deacon. I thought of this again today, courtesy of a comment from Deacon Scott Dodge, who is a contributor to some very interesting blogs. You can find them all listed here.

And while mulling the diaconate thought over the past months, I have found, quite to my surprise, that this blog, sometimes quite in spite of myself, is fulfilling an evangelical function. And that maybe the Spirit is inviting me to explore this direction, not that one.

Your thoughts? What do you see as the proper role of the laity, and how do you fulfill that role?

For the Soul of David Foster Wallace

The death of JD Salinger on Thursday and a comment from a reader on Friday about John Knowles have brought my own favorite fiction writer to mind. Sixteen months ago, David Foster Wallace (left) committed suicide by hanging himself. Compared with this final act, JD Salinger’s professional suicide, hiding out from the world in a hermitage, is small potatoes. But both lives, both deaths remind us how fragile, how transitory our highest impulses are, and how much we need God in our lives. Without God, it’s all just a big damn mess.

Let’s be clear about both JDS and DFW. In our enlightened post-modern culture, they were gods. At least I thought so—Salinger when I was Holden Caulfield’s age in the late 1960s, Wallace ten years ago when I read his magnum opus, Infinite Jest, for the first of three times, mostly while guffawing my guts out on a trip with Katie and the girls. I haven’t read it again since becoming a Catholic, and I’m not sure I would even like it now.

You don’t want to know what it’s about. Written in the mid-1990s about a dystopian near-future when years are named for products (The Year of Glad opens the book), Infinite Jest is set in a tennis academy and in the halfway house for substance abusers that happens to be next door. The main characters are tennis whiz Hal Incandenza, a possibly schizophrenic adolescent, not unlike Holden, who spends most of his time high on marijuana; and Don Gately, a recovering pill-popper who receives a terrible injury defending someone on the streets and dominates the last 100 pages of the novel, lying semicomatose in bed and hoping the nurses won’t administer painkillers, which will only re-addict him. Oh, and there’s a video so insidiously alluring that, once you sit to watch it, you become catatonic; the video is sought by a Quebecois terrorist cell that hopes to use it on the American population. You see, you didn’t want to know.

But here’s the thing, the very sad thing: Despite clinical depression (he went off his medication at the end, probably prompting the suicide), Wallace was basically a positive person, and IJ is shot through with silent prayers for humanity. Wallace told an interviewer that he wrote the novel to express a deep sadness he felt about our culture and its many forms of addiction. To my mind, that sadness clearly was the bedrock of a sincere hope for humanity (his and mine). I think he thought his writing could make a difference, but though he was perhaps the most inventive writer of his generation, he lost his way and, with it, his hope.

Without God? . . . Ultimately, without faith in ultimate redemption any hope is bootless. God is notably absent from both Catcher in the Rye and Infinite Jest. I did not know JD Salinger (who did?) but I will pray for David Wallace, because I knew and loved him well.

YIM Catholic Book Club — Update

Frank has started a good discussion about C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, our current book club selection. In the second week of reading, we have about 30 comments in just two days, a sort of rolling discussion involving ten people. But there’s still room at the table. Check out the latest post, get yourself a copy of Mere Christianity, and let us hear from you!

Because of J. D. Salinger, Unlikely as It Seems

J.D. Salinger died yesterday at the age of 91 and, full disclosure, I’ve never read The Catcher in the Rye. Nor have I bothered getting detailed autobiographical information on Mr. Salinger. I can only say that his work had an effect on my prayer life, thus proving once again, to me anyway, that God continues to work through the secular in unexpected ways. [Read more…]

For the Spiritual Life of Children

One of my sisters’ children saw an angel in his backyard a dozen years ago, when he was five or six. I lived a thousand miles away and seldom saw my nephew, but I fully believed my sister’s account. I hadn’t thought of this for years—until yesterday afternoon in my religious education class. For the third time in two months, I was confronted with the spirituality of children. If one of my fourth-graders had begun describing an angel in his or her backyard, I would have stopped everything to listen.

I have been living under a complete misconception about these kids. I have imagined that they are all but unruly, that I have to muster up every ounce of energy and vocal authority just to keep them quiet. It’s a defensive reaction, I know, and comes with a sense of powerlessness. It turns out that all the power is the Lord’s; all I have to do is ask the kids to bring a rosary to class.

I should have learned my lesson when I took these sixteen ten-year-olds to confession in early December. Or when, with the help of my pal Ferde, I took them to Eucharistic Adoration a week later. On both occasions, as you can read in the linked posts, a deep silence and an openness settled over the group.

For yesterday’s class, I asked them to bring rosaries. All but three remembered, and one boy, M., my little seminarian in training, brought extras without being asked. For 30 minutes I set the table, talking on about the Blessed Mother, while the kids commoted. Then I asked them to get out their rosaries. Instantly, their fingers found the beads and their lips went silent.

A reader of this blog suggested that I read The Spiritual Life of Children by Robert Coles. I bought it in early January; last night, I got it out and began reading in earnest.

I would like each of my fourth-graders to see a video recently posted by The Clay Rosary Girl, and I may show it to them next week. Meanwhile, you can view the video here.

Because of the Communion of Saints

Guest post by Allison Salerno 
My 13-year-old mistook me for a Guantanamo Bay prisoner. When I told Gabriel last week I had been fasting for Haiti, his response was “I don’t think that is necessary, Mom. No one is against Haiti right now.” Our son’s frame of reference for fasting was the tradition of a hunger strike—where participants fast in a public way as an act of political protest or to bring about a policy change. Such strikes happened in 2005 among Guantanamo Bay detainees, to protest their innocence and the conditions of their detainment.

Fasting in the Catholic tradition is far different, a concept lost on my altar-serving confirmandi boy-turning-man. And if he doesn’t understand it—a boy whose parents are deeply involved in the life of their parish—how about teens with a more tenuous hold on our faith?

I don’t blame my son for his ignorance. Not until May 2007 did I really understand the meaning of what had, until then, been a phrase to me: “the communion of saints.”

That was when our second son, Lucas’s, CCD teacher gathered us “First Communion parents” (there were six communicants and six moms showed up for the meeting) in the parish hall for a meeting to prep us for the sacrament.

“Do you understand what is going to happen Sunday?” the 28-year-old Catholic mother of two asked. Our answers were boilerplate: “They are undergoing a sacrament of initiation in the Catholic Church.” Or “They will receive the body and blood of Christ for the first time.”

“Okay,” she challenged us, “but what is really happening?” We had no answers.

She went on to describe how we all are part of a family that exists beyond the bounds of space and time. I left that meeting understanding—finally, at age 43—that this communion of saints is real. Each of us is part of the mystical body of Jesus Christ. That body includes those of us living in the “real” world, who pray for one another, and those who have gone before us, are living in a heavenly dimension, and are praying for us.

“Your children will fully enter into the mystical body of Christ on Sunday,” she said. “This is forever. Souls in heaven will be praying for them now, and when they die, your children will be praying for the souls on earth.”

Never has this communion of saints felt more powerful to me than right now. Consider that tens of thousands of people died in the Haitian earthquake without time to prepare. We can pray for their souls. We can pray for the families they left behind. We can offer our temporary suffering to relieve a piece of theirs.

In partnership with my parish priest and another mom who coordinates youth group with me, our parish is organizing a teen Fast for Haiti. Inspired by a movement loosely affiliated with Catholic Relief Services and being organized through the Internet, Catholics throughout the world have been donating $5 a meal to the Catholic Relief Services’ efforts in Haiti.

At our tiny parish, we hope to educate young parishioners about the role of fasting in one’s spiritual life. We plan to meet on a Friday night during Lent to fast and pray, play some quiet board games and make tee shirts that say “Fast for Haiti.” Teens will ask sponsors for $5 each, to be donated to CRS. Most powerfully, we hope to share with our young parishioners the value of prayer and fasting in relieving human suffering.

Because I am Catholic, I have the great comfort in knowing we can pray for the souls in heaven or on their way to heaven (the process known as Purgatory) and that the souls in heaven pray for all of us, too.

I hope my son and our other young parishioners will learn this essential lesson long before I did.

YIMC Book Club, “Mere Christianity,” Week 2

It is week number two, club members, and time for some mere discussion on Mere Christianity. Unlike last week, when I posted a seemingly interminable essay on the first week’s readings, this time I will be leaving most of the discussion up to you.

But I have a few thoughts to share first.This week we read Book I, chapters 3–5, and Book II, chapter 1 and 2. [Read more…]

For Cathy’s Grandmother

This blog is blessed with some thoughtful and articulate commenters. There are times when I think the format of the blog should be reversed, with the comments on top, our posts beneath them, as footnotes. Now is one of those moments. We just received an extraordinary account from cathyf in response to a post yesterday about St. Angela Merici, whose feast day it was. Please read her story.

Cathy writes:

In 1928, my grandmother was 13 years old. Her father had recently died, her older sister had died a few years before, and a brother and sister had died in infancy. My great grandmother had more or less a nervous breakdown.

My grandmother is descended from the English Catholic recusants who emigrated to Maryland in the 1600s and then to Kentucky in the 1780s. In the 1880, the Ursulines founded a girls’ school in Owensboro, KY, and her ancestors donated money and land for the school. One donated so much that any female direct descendants could go there for free. So my great grandmother sent her two surviving daughters (my grandmother’s sister was 11) to Mount St. Joseph as boarders.

My grandmother always said that those years from 8th-12th grade were the happiest in her life, and despite Thomas Wolfe, she proved that some people, at least, can go home again. When she retired, some 45 years after graduating and moving across the country and never even visiting, she found a senior housing complex down the road from the nuns and moved “home.” She spent lots of time at The Mount, until 12 years ago when the ever encroaching Alzheimers forced my parents to move her away from KY to be near them.

My grandmother passed away in the early hours this morning, at 94 years old, most appropriately on St. Angela Merici’s feast day. I’m sure that she was welcomed by St. Angela, just as 80-some years ago St. Angela’s spiritual daughters welcomed her and mothered her as she so sorely needed.