Psalm 52 (A Few Words for Wednesday)

Thankfully, the scriptures are not one dimensional, like say the characters in an Ayn Rand novel. I’ve mentioned before how uncanny the readings can be, as well as the timing of selections that are in the Liturgy of the Hours. That is where I ran across today’s poetry selection.

Are their inconvenient scriptures? Of course there are.

Otherwise, you would just pick and choose what you liked from the Bible and toss everything else. Thankfully, we have a Magisterium that prevents such a travesty.

Given the events of the past few days, this particular selection from the Office of Readings today sort of stood out like a sore thumb.

Psalm 52
For the leader. A maskil of David,when Doeg the Edomite went and told Saul, “David went to the house of Ahimelech.”

Why do you glory in evil, you scandalous liar?
All day long you plot destruction;
your tongue is like a sharpened razor, you skillful deceiver.
You love evil rather than good,
lies rather than honest speech. Selah
You love any word that destroys, you deceitful tongue.

Now God will strike you down, leave you crushed forever,
Pluck you from your tent, uproot you from the land of the living. Selah
The righteous will look on with awe; they will jeer and say:
“That one did not take God as a refuge,
but trusted in great wealth,
relied on devious plots.”

But I, like an olive tree in the house of God,
trust in God’s faithful love forever.
I will praise you always for what you have done.
I will proclaim before the faithful that your name is good.

Image credit: Linda Robb.

Because Christ is a Warrior (Then, So Am I)

Hi, remember me? I’m the guy who said Christ is a Royal (Then, So Am I). Now I have to write another post with a similar title because I observed that many of the same folks who weren’t interested in the Royal Wedding last week also seem to be conflicted about the actions of S.E.A.L. Team Six a mere forty-eight hours later.

Perhaps I’ll be starting a whole new series of blog posts around this theme of who Jesus Christ is, and how it relates to YIMCatholic. Sure, Eric Sammons already wrote a book about this, but that only covers Jesus Christ in the Gospel of Matthew.

But you see, the Catholic Church is Jesus Christ, and if you are a part of His Church, then as members of His Mystical Body, you too are just what St. Teresa of Avila, aka “Big Terry,” says you are:

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.

St.Thérèse of Lisieux
as St. Joan of Arc

If you think Frank has gone a little batty with the assertion that the Church is Christ, then look at our blog patron’s statement that is right there in paragraph 795 of the Catechism as well,

About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they’re just one thing, and we shouldn’t complicate the matter. —St. Joan of Arc

This assertion, then, has ramifications for each and every one of us regarding our earthly vocations. I’ve seen many who have written posts after the death of Osama Bin Laden with plenty of Bible quotations that play up the docile, meek, and seemingly pacifistic side of Christianity. I can just as easily break out scripture references that proclaim Our Lord as a warrior, or that liken Him to one.

If the Bible is like an encyclopedia, than G.K. Chesterton’s point is well made:

For it is the test of a good encyclopedia that it does two rather different things at once. The man consulting it finds the thing he wants; he also finds how many thousand things there are that he does not want.

Hmmm, there G.K.C. goes again, knocking the cover off the ball. Perhaps he is also talking about the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Or the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Because as important as the imagery is along the spectrum between the end points of pacifism and just war, it’s also important that we remember that the Church is composed of living, breathing, members of the Mystical Body of Christ. And these members cross the broad spectrum of all mankind.

Like last week, some of them are actual Royals in addition to being in the royal priesthood that Christians all belong to. And like the week before, some of them are homeless. And this week, we must remember that some of the members of Christ’s body are soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines.

Christ, then, in the form of the Church, continues to achieve His earthly mission to bring all people to salvation through the agency of many human beings, whom He created. And some of His children are called to the professional vocation of warrior. As the Holy Spirit spoke through King David in Psalm 144,

Blessed be the Lord my God, who teacheth my hands to fight, and my fingers to war.

David seemed pretty thankful in the opening line of that Psalm, didn’t he? Here is what the Catechism has to say on the duties and responsibilities of the faithful who fill this role,

2310 —Public authorities, in this case, have the right and duty to impose on citizens the obligations necessary for national defense. Those who are sworn to serve their country in the armed forces are servants of the security and freedom of nations. If they carry out their duty honorably, they truly contribute to the common good of the nation and the maintenance of peace.

And that is exactly what the members of S.E.A.L. Team Six did this past weekend. It’s what they, and all the other members of the armed forces, have been doing, and will continue to do, as long as our country is in existence. Were they Christians? I don’t know. Were any of them Catholics? I have no idea. But do we need people like them doing what they do? Think about it.

I’ll wrap this post up with another paragraph from the CCC (emphasis mine) and another quote from St. Joan,

2005 Since it belongs to the supernatural order, grace escapes our experience and cannot be known except by faith. We cannot therefore rely on our feelings or our works to conclude that we are justified and saved. However, according to the Lord’s words “Thus you will know them by their fruits”- reflection on God’s blessings in our life and in the lives of the saints offers us a guarantee that grace is at work in us and spurs us on to an ever greater faith and an attitude of trustful poverty.

A pleasing illustration of this attitude is found in the reply of St. Joan of Arc to a question posed as a trap by her ecclesiastical judges:

“Asked if she knew that she was in God’s grace, she replied: ‘If I am not, may it please God to put me in it; if I am, may it please God to keep me there.’”

That is my prayer as well, so help me God.

Update: Father Steve Grunow of Word on Fire on the Death of a Terrorist. Also, a primer on Just War Doctrine.

Because Osama Bin Laden’s Compound Near St. Peter’s Church?

Obviously, this is not one of the reasons why I am Catholic. But it is interesting anyway, especially given my previous post today. Here’s why.

Remember last Fall I asked you to pray for the flood victims in Pakistan?  Well, as it turns out, that was when you first inadvertently prayed for your enemy, Osama Bin Laden.  You see, his compound was in the same city as St. Peter’s Church.

Lest you believe it looks like Club Med, let me assure you that it isn’t. Here is a link to a story of families seeking refuge in the church there as reported by Caritas after an earthquake in 2005. And here is another link to a story of Pakistani flood victims in Abbottabad from last Fall in which you can see photographs of the church.

Below is an embedded link map of the city center that was put up by Google. It’s not where the compound is centered, but you can zoom in and see St. Peter’s Church close to the military academy, along with the the Abbottabad Presbyterian Church. Who knew?

View Larger Map

Check out the town, and have a look around. If you visit, be sure to go to Mass and say a prayer. But say a prayer for our enemies now too. It’s good for the soul.

Update: Pray for the safety of the Christians in Abbottabad.

Update II: Now this is more like it! This is the actual compound which matches the graphic in the CathNewsUSA link above as well as the description provided by the White House press conference. North and east of the city center, it is surrounded by farm land.

View Larger Map

And a video as well,

To Pray For the Victory Over Terrorism

Surely I’m not the only one to notice that on Divine Mercy Sunday, May 1, 2011, Blessed Pope John Paull II was beatified and Osama Bin Laden was killed. Is it a miracle? Is it a coincidence? I have no idea.

Perhaps it was a miracle, the first one since our late Pope was officially recognized as a saint. I don’t know the answer. Here is how I feel about the news of Bin Laden’s death though,

I did not attend his funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.

Mark Twain gets the credit for that quote. And though I’m not doing cartwheels and high-fives to everyone I meet today over Bin Laden’s death, I am hoping that this is the beginning of the end of the War on Terror.

If it’s too early to call today V-T (Victory over Terrorism) Day, then my prayer is that the events yesterday are a major victory on the campaign to achieve V-T Day very, very soon. The fact that it coincides with Divine Mercy Sunday and the beatification of a peace loving Pope give me hope that this is the case.

Blessed Pope John Paul II, pray for us!

Jesus Goes Mainstream II (Music for Mondays)

One week down, and 6 weeks to go before Pentecost. I’m still exploring Jesus in mainstream culture through song. Last week, I took us from the late 1960′s up until the early 1980′s.

This week, I dip back into the 1970′s briefly before vaulting back up into the Eighties and Nineties again before getting a toehold in the 2000′s. And all of these songs are well known and I would wager that most of you remember them.

First up is one of my favorite classic rock tunes that I forgot to share last week. See? There are more songs that reference Our Lord in the mainstream than even I can keep track of!

ZZ Top (1973), Jesus Just Left Chicago. From their album, Tres Hombres, I forgot this one from the 1970′s last week. I always liked this song too. The idea of Jesus riding a bus from Chicago to New Orleans is cool, not to mention realistic. And with beards like these, the band might be mistaken for monks from Mt. Athos (smile).

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John Cougar Mellencamp (1985), Small Town. What can I say? I like small towns, especially when I was “taught to fear Jesus, in this small town…”

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Mr. Mister (1985) Kyrie Eleison A reader suggested this one. What ever happened to these guys? They had a monster hit album in 1985 and then…poof! I didn’t even know that this meant “Lord, have mercy” until I became a Catholic—but I always liked this song. Hey, lookee! A live performance,

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U2 (1987), When Love Comes to Town. Remember what I said about U2 last week? They’re an undercover gospel band. This is from their live album Rattle and Hum released in 1988. Performed the first time in 1987 with special guest, and blues legend, B.B. King.

I was there when they crucified my Lord
I held the scabbard when the soldier drew his sword
I threw the dice when they pierced his side
But I’ve seen love conquer the great divide

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Lenny Kravitz (1993), Are You Gonna Go My Way. Lenny Kravitz singing as Christ. See if you can see any resemblance. The original video has imagery to help, but it can’t be embedded here. But live is better anyway.

I was born long ago
I am the chosen, I’m the one
I have come to save the day
And I won’t leave until I’m done

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Carrie Underwood (2005), Jesus Take the Wheel. I never watch American Idol, because I live under a rock. But I can get twangy with the best of ‘em, and this is one of the best I’ve heard in a while.

Jesus, take the wheel
Take it from my hands
Cause I can’t do this on my own

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I wonder what I’ll dig up next week? Maybe I’ll head back to the Enlightenment era to see what I can find. See you here next week.

Because Christ is A Royal (Then, So Am I)

—Feast of Bl. Marie of the Incarnation
What has the Royal Wedding got to do with anything? I ask this question because of the ambivalence to the event that I noticed across the Catholic blog-o-sphere. There was either nary a mention of it anywhere, or derisiveness when it was mentioned.

What’s the story? Jealousy of the royals? Feelings of inadequacy? Bunch of rich guys…to hell with ‘em? Was the prince’s red-coat stirring your loins for battles your ancestors fought long ago? You can’t stand monarchies, perhaps?

Or is it the spectacle that is made of it? The profligate waste of capital on a mere ceremony, that one blogger said could have been done for $100 in front of a humble priest? Seriously?! Judas would agree with you there. Catholics who are normally turning victory laps over pageantry, beautiful churches, sumptuous robes and incense all of a sudden announce that they aren’t fans of the Royals, etc., etc.

This is ironic to me because we’ll all be turning victory laps for the beatification ceremony of Blessed Pope John Paul II without batting an eyelash. It’s funny, to me at least, when blue-collar heroes like Joe Six-Pack, USMC are the ones gushing over the scriptural imagery of the Royal Wedding. It makes me want to break out a bullhorn and say, “Do you people even read the Bible?” This is the parable of the Wedding Feast folks!

Have a look at how Christ, Our King, puts it,

The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast, but they refused to come. A second time he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those invited: “Behold, I have prepared my banquet, my calves and fattened cattle are killed, and everything is ready; come to the feast.’

Some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business. The rest laid hold of his servants, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.

Then he said to his servants, ‘The feast is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy to come. Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.’ The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to meet the guests he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment.

He said to him, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’ But he was reduced to silence. Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’ Many are invited, but few are chosen.

I showed up to the wedding feast yesterday. I found the ceremonial wedding garment (humility), put it on, and then enjoyed the show. No, Joe Six-Pack, USMC doesn’t follow every shread of news about the Royal Family in the United Kingdom. But I can see the imagery of the Bride of Christ, and the Groom Himself all throughout the event.

Jesus is a Royal. Have you forgotten? And even though you wouldn’t have known it to look upon Him when he was on his thirty-three year mission to save the world, I’ve got news for you. You’ll know it when you meet Him the next time.

And haven’t you heard what the Holy Spirit said through St. Paul?

For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendant, heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-27)

Oops. Yes, staring right back at you in the mirror is another Royal. You’ve been given a peerage, and now you have to live up to it. Gulp! It’s hard to acknowledge that, but it is true. It’s exactly what the first lines of yesterday’s wedding homily made clear. “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” St. Catherine of Siena doesn’t pull any punches either.

Like in the parable of the wedding feast above, the world was invited to a wedding feast yesterday. “Some ignored the invitation and went away,” and then the losers like me were invited too. That is how Grace operates. It’s unearned. You could get all wrapped up in feelings of inadequacy in realizing that you didn’t deserve to be invited, or you can just be grateful for being invited at all, go, party, and bask in the glow of it all. And then, get back to the business of bringing others to the Feast.

Because here’s something else His Majesty, Our King said that might help us understand our calling as Royals,

Jesus said to them, “The light will be among you only a little while. Walk while you have the light, so that darkness may not overcome you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of the light.” After he had said this, Jesus left and hid from them. (John 12: 35-36)

Which is why our first pope would go on to say,

But you are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises” of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)

That, as my friend Forrest Gump would say, is about all I have to say about that.

Updates:

I’m with the Archbishop of Westminster on this one!

27 months later…It’s a Boy!

For the Royal Wedding Homily From Our Anglican Brethren

Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Even Joe Six-Pack, USMC can appreciate a wedding like this one. The pomp, the circumstance, the sacredness of the institution of marriage upheld. I mean, this is the wedding imagery of the Holy Scriptures brought to life for the world! What’s not to like?

And did you hear the wedding homily? No? Given this morning to a world-wide audience by Dr. Richard Chartres, Anglican Bishop of London, it is simply smashing!

Have a look and see if you don’t agree.

Dearly Beloved…

“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” So said St Catherine of Siena whose festival day it is today. Marriage is intended to be a way in which man and woman help each other to become what God meant each one to be, their deepest and truest selves.

Many are full of fear for the future of the prospects of our world but the message of the celebrations in this country and far beyond its shores is the right one – this is a joyful day! It is good that people in every continent are able to share in these celebrations because this is, as every wedding day should be, a day of hope.

In a sense every wedding is a royal wedding with the bride and the groom as king and queen of creation, making a new life together so that life can flow through them into the future.

William and Catherine, you have chosen to be married in the sight of a generous God who so loved the world that he gave himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

And in the Spirit of this generous God, husband and wife are to give themselves to each another.

A spiritual life grows as love finds its centre beyond ourselves. Faithful and committed relationships offer a door into the mystery of spiritual life in which we discover this; the more we give of self, the richer we become in soul; the more we go beyond ourselves in love, the more we become our true selves and our spiritual beauty is more fully revealed. In marriage we are seeking to bring one another into fuller life.

It is of course very hard to wean ourselves away from self-centredness. And people can dream of doing such a thing but the hope should be fulfilled it is necessary a solemn decision that, whatever the difficulties, we are committed to the way of generous love.

You have both made your decision today – “I will” – and by making this new relationship, you have aligned yourselves with what we believe is the way in which life is spiritually evolving, and which will lead to a creative future for the human race.

We stand looking forward to a century which is full of promise and full of peril. Human beings are confronting the question of how to use wisely a power that has been given to us through the discoveries of the last century. We shall not be converted to the promise of the future by more knowledge, but rather by an increase of loving wisdom and reverence, for life, for the earth and for one another.

Marriage should transform, as husband and wife make one another their work of art. It is possible to transform as long as we do not harbour ambitions to reform our partner. There must be no coercion if the Spirit is to flow; each must give the other space and freedom. Chaucer, the London poet, sums it up in a pithy phrase:

“Whan maistrie [mastery] comth, the God of Love anon,

Beteth his wynges, and farewell, he is gon.”

As the reality of God has faded from so many lives in the West, there has been a corresponding inflation of expectations that personal relations alone will supply meaning and happiness in life. This is to load our partner with too great a burden. We are all incomplete: we all need the love which is secure, rather than oppressive, we need mutual forgiveness, to thrive.

As we move towards our partner in love, following the example of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit is quickened within us and can increasingly fill our lives with light. This leads to a family life which offers the best conditions in which the next generation can practise and exchange those gifts which can overcome fear and division and incubate the coming world of the Spirit, whose fruits are love and joy and peace.

I pray that all of us present and the many millions watching this ceremony and sharing in your joy today, will do everything in our power to support and uphold you in your new life. And I pray that God will bless you in the way of life that you have chosen, that way which is expressed in the prayer that you have composed together in preparation for this day:

God our Father, we thank you for our families; for the love that we share and for the joy of our marriage.

In the busyness of each day keep our eyes fixed on what is real and important in life and help us to be generous with our time and love and energy.

Strengthened by our union help us to serve and comfort those who suffer. We ask this in the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Watch the homily here.

Update: Does the Royal Wedding matter?

To Train My Family to Pray, And Lead Them By Example

Joe Six-Pack, USMC here. Yesterday my family put into practice prayers that they learned a long time ago. You see, a line of storms was forecast to hit our area, and everyone took them seriously.

Wednesday nights are when many parishes hold their C.C.D. classes for the kids. That’s an abbreviation for Confraternity of Christian Doctrine classes. The teachers called the house and informed us that due to the weather forecasts, classes for tonight would be cancelled.

Remember when you were in school and classes were cancelled due to snow? That is the kind of jubilation that my kids reacted with when we received this news. Cart-wheels and high-fives all around! And then Joe Six-Pack crashed the party with, “Well, since C.C.D. is cancelled, we’ll be praying the Rosary tonight.” Dad can be such a killjoy at times, ’tis true.

Emeril!

But I’m a Dad, and I have always been a Christian Dad, the one who taught my children to pray the Our Father even when I knew it only as “the Lord’s Prayer.” And now that I’m a Catholic Dad? Well, I’m not quite the Emeril Lagasse of prayer, but I’ve definitely cranked it up another notch. Bam! Or as we say it around these parts (East Gallilee, er I mean Tennessee), Bhayum!

How scary was the weather? Well, let’s just say that my 15 year old son sent me a text before I headed home from work with the following words: “Be safe Daddy.” I don’t think he’s called me “Daddy” for three of four years now. Scary weather forecasts will do that to a kid, and even to an adult. “Abba” is “Daddy” as I recall, and Our Lord even pointed that out to the Apostles.

I texted him back that I would be fine, because it was early yet and the cells hadn’t arrived. When I got home, I noticed my wife had prepped some chicken drumsticks for grilling. So I did the only thing that a man could do: I put on my poncho and grilled them. A man has got to eat, and he has to feed his family. Pretty basic stuff, right? I even had a beer while I was cookin’. My motto is “one beer, per man, per day” and I don’t let the weather interrupt that. Ever.

Solid Oak!

So, we were finishing up our dinner, which we ate in the formal dining room because the kitchen table was covered with stuff from our pantry. Remember the stairs I built? Sheesh, that seems like a hundred years ago. They climb over the pantry below, and as I built them with oak treads, with nails, glue, and screws to boot, I know the safest place in the house is right underneath the stairs. The pantry, then, doubles as the stronghold of Casa del Weathers. My wife had made more room for us in case we needed to hit the stronghold. Smart woman! That’s why I married her.

As I was helping myself to another drumstick and more cheese mashed potatoes, I asked my youngest son to get me a beer. My daughter informed me that she had already gotten me a beer earlier and I said, “yes, but today I’ll have another, because “the Extreme” is thirsty tonight. See, we watched the movie Twister a few weeks back to prepare for Spring. I had joked about being “the Extreme” while I was grillin’ too. “I betcha didn’t know your Dad was ‘the Extreme,’” I said, but she shot back “oh yes I do!” Then the phone rang, the CCD teacher called to scrub the mission for tonight, and the jubilation and high-fives reined supreme.

That is, until “the Extreme” said, “Well, since C.C.D. is cancelled, we’ll be praying the Rosary tonight.” The natives were not happy. But I outrank them, see, and when an extra hour gets freed up to practice our faith, I grab it. And then the first storm cell made it’s presence felt, and we headed into the strong-hold, just like in the movie Thunderheart. And trust me, hearts were thundering in the pantry at this point.

We didn’t have time to grab our rosaries, but after years of training, we didn’t need them. And that is the point of this post. In the Marines, we trained constantly in peace-time and during war-time. Training is non-stop; “it ain’t training, unless it’s raining.” And when we were in the pantry, the prayer training we had been practicing all these years, paid off. Did our prayers stop the storm? Stop tornadoes from ripping our house apart? I don’t know. Many who prayed lost their homes and businesses in Alabama.

No. The praying did what nothing else can do. It provided comfort and courage during the worst storms we have ever lived through. Did you see the news that some atheists are calling for atheist chaplains to minister to them in the military? I’m not sure what good that would do, or in what way they can be ministered to by atheist chaplains. “Worried are you? Here you go lad, read a little of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and be of good cheer.” Hmmm.

Here is what we did instead. In the stronghold, we held hands and we prayed the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Glory Be. And when the storm abated, we sang the Gloria and left our refuge. Twenty minutes later, we went right back in and did it all again. We even said the Nicene Creed, after I botched the Apostles Creed (rookie!). We sang the Gloria again though, which we all know by heart.

At one point, I noticed that my daughter had stopped praying with us. She started listening to the ruckus that was going on outside instead. I noted the signs of panic in her eyes, and her tears started flowing as her fears rose up. As the boys and my wife kept praying loudly, I reached for her hand and said,

“Honey, I need you to keep praying. We all need you to pray along with us.”

She squeezed my hand, and mentally and physically she backed away from the precipice of fear and panic, and joined the rest of us in saying our prayers. She had faith in me, see, just like she did when I helped her learn to swim in the deep end of the pool, or ride her bicycle without training wheels.

But the faith isn’t in me, but in the example I was setting. And she knows that now more than ever. Her faith, our faith, is in the Lord. And we cried out to Him in the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Glory Be. And no matter what happened that night to our property or our bodies, the importance of why we pray was apparent to her, and to all of us. We cried out to our Heavenly Daddy, “Abba Father!” because we need His compassion and peace when our courage is tried.

We were like the sleeping disciples who woke up on the boat in a storm on the Sea of Galilee (Mark 4:34-41). We cried out to the Lord, like they did, and our souls were comforted. I’m not going to go into much more detail. Suffice it to say, “you play the way you practice.” And when it comes to prayer, when you practice it during the peaceful times, and you or you children think it is a waste of time, or boring, and even pointless, keep at it.

Because when the trying times arrive, as they most certainly will, all that peacetime prayer training will pay off.

Pat McNamara on “Why I Am Catholic”

One of the first blogs I ever read was McNamara’s Blog. I enjoy it because I enjoy history. And as a new Catholic, the amount of Church history I do know is tiny compared to what is available for me to learn. Pat McNamara, who also has a column over at Patheos, helps bring Church History to life for me.

This is the second time I have asked one of my blogging friends to write a post for me answering the phrase that headlines this space. Remember the first time? Each of us has a different reason, but as conversion is on-going (and not a “one and done event”) each one of us must confront the reason as we make progress along the path of our individual pilgrimages.

So Pat, if I asked you to answer “Why I Am Catholic,” what would you say?

Because of Church History, Not In Spite of It
by Pat McNamara

Perugino’s The Delivery of the Keys

Today, the question is asked with greater frequency, in a variety of places: Why Stay Catholic? People are leaving the Church for various reasons: celibacy, lack of leadership roles for women, abuse scandals, issues relating to sex and sexuality, and a sense that the leadership is out of touch with the people. At some point or another, every Catholic has to ask themselves: Why am I Catholic?

For me personally, history has a lot to do it. Catholics are literally surrounded by it. In our churches, we worship amid statues, paintings, mosaics and stained glass windows that depict past people and events. We sing hymns written long ago, sometimes centuries. While there have been many changes in the post-Vatican II Church, there are more continuities than we credit it for.

I’ve never had a head for philosophy or theology, and apologetics aren’t among my gifts. But from early on, Church history has been in my blood. Years ago, I found a quote that has become my favorite, from an English Protestant historian named Thomas Babington Macaulay. I love to use it when teaching the subject:

St. Peters Basilica, Rome

There is not and there never was on this earth, a work of human policy so well deserving of examination as the Roman Catholic Church… She saw the commencement of all the governments and of all the ecclesiastical establishments that now exist in the world; and we feel no assurance that she is not destined to see the end of them all. She was great and respected before the Saxon had set foot on Britain, before the Frank had passed the Rhine, when Grecian eloquence still flourished in Antioch, when idols were still worshipped in the temple of Mecca. And she may still exist in undiminished vigour when some traveler from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul’s.

As Macaulay says, there’s never been anything like it in world history. For better or for worse, you can’t talk about the last two millennia without referencing it.

For Catholics, Church history is the story of God’s People in a particular time and in a particular place. That is to say, the fallible People of God. Take the words of Jean Baptiste Lacordaire (1802-1865), the French Dominican priest who was probably the greatest Catholic preacher of his time:

Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris

God has indeed conferred upon His Church the prerogative of infallibility, but to none of her members has He granted immunity from sin. Peter was a sinner and a renegade, and God has been at pains to have that fact recorded in the Gospels.

Right from the night of the Last Supper, there have been low points in Church history. Often cited are the Crusades, the Inquisition, and Pope Pius XII’s “silence” during the Holocaust. But let’s take the Renaissance Papacy, now the subject of an HBO minseries. Historian Eamon Duffy writes of it:

The Renaissance papacy evokes images of a Hollywood spectacular, all decadence and drag. Contemporaries viewed Renaissance Rome as we now view Nixon’s Washington, a city of expense-account whores and political graft, where everything and everyone had a price, where nothing and nobody could be trusted. The popes themselves seemed to set the tone.

Our Lady of Angels, Los Angeles
Tapestries by John Nava

Yet despite scandal and schism, the next hundred years also saw some of history’s greatest saints: Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Francis De Sales, and Vincent De Paul, to name just a few. Blessed John Henry Newman considered this “one of the great arguments for Christianity.”

So there are high points and low points in Church history, but Catholics don’t see it as a meaningless cycle as the ancients did. In his City of God, St. Augustine explained the Christian understanding of history as linear, with a starting and ending point. As a Church, we have our ups and downs. We fall along the way. But we get up and move on toward our ultimate goal together. People create scandals, but God sends graces, and the people who respond to it we call saints.

History shows us, then, that we need not despair. There is hope. Father James Kent Stone, a 19th century American priest, wrote, “Yes, there have been scandals… if we look for them. But there have been saints and martyrs… of whom the world knows nothing. And there are saints still.” And though we are all fallible, from top to bottom, Jesus promised to remain with us until the end of time.

As people of faith, therefore, we have an obligation not to be discouraged, but to keep hope. For help is always in sight, and God’s grace is waiting for us to to respond. So for those of us who are discouraged by the current state of the Church, fear not. As Father Stone noted, the saints aren’t coming. They’re already here!

That’s why I am Catholic, and proud of it.

Inside St. Peters Basilica

Jesus Goes Mainstream (Music for Mondays)

True enough, Elvis Presley loved gospel music. And though he never shied away from singing of his love for the Lord, did anyone else? I mean besides Johnny Cash. Did the culture at large recognize Jesus in song?

Well, that is what this first MfM post of Eastertide is going to focus on: pop songs about Jesus. Many of them were mega-hits, others were one-hit-wonders. Some you’ll remember easily, others probably not.

Eastertide is roughly seven weeks long, extending from the Easter Triduum up until the Day of Pentecost.  I’m willing to explore this over the next seven weeks if you are. To begin with, here are some modern songs that the mainstream culture created and embraced that relate in some way to the Son of Man.

For some of these, you might have to go directly to You Tube. First up is my all time modern favorite,

The Doobie Brothers (1972), Jesus is Just Alright. Yep, this is my favorite tune about Jesus that went mainstream. Wikipedia has the whole story: Jesus Is Just Alright” is a gospel song written by Arthur Reid Reynolds and first recorded by Reynold’s own group, The Art Reynolds Singers, on their 1966 album, Tellin’ It Like It Is. The song’s title makes use of the American slang term “all-right”, which during the 1960s was used to describe something that was considered cool or very good. Well, the Doobies version of this tune is the Gold Standard, in my book anyway. Even when it’s updated for 1996…

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The Velvet Underground (1968), Jesus. Yes, this is Lou Reed singing. That’s right, the same fellow who sang “Take a Walk on the Wild Side.” This song is a prayer, pure and simple.

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James Taylor (1970), Fire and Rain. The third stanza begins with, “Won’t you look down upon me, Jesus…” You can claim that this song has no effect on you. And I would believe you just as much as I would believe that Ayn Rand didn’t hold grudges (which means not at all!).

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Norman Greenbaum (1969), Spirit in the Sky. I bet you never saw this video. I said once before that I used to think this was T-Rex. Norman’s “one hit wonder” jams! Listen to that guitar and these lyrics, and try to keep still. I dare you.

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Marvin Gaye (1970), Wholy, Holy. This song was eclipsed by several other great songs from Marvin’s smash hit album What’s Going On. I’m sure you remember the title track, as well as Mercy, Mercy Me. The second stanza of this song includes the following,

Jesus left a long time ago, said he would return
He left us a book to believe in
In it we’ve got an awful lot to learn…

And it will take an eternity to appreciate it all. I’m game, how about you?

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Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Tebalek (1969), Prepare Ye (The Way of the Lord). And certainly, we can’t forget the musicals from this era. Up first, Godspell. Wikipedia again: It started as a college project performed by students at Carnegie Mellon University and moved to La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club in Greenwich Village. It was then re-scored for an off-Broadway production which became a long-running success.

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Tim Rice & Andrew Lloyd Webber (1973),  Superstar. From the Tony Award winning musical Jesus Christ Superstar.  This is the most famous song from the musical.  Here we have Judas and the Soul Sisters vs. the Angels.

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Donna Summer, (1980), I Believe in Jesus. Who says we stopped singing about Jesus in the 1970′s? They must have not have been paying attention. Donna Summer, the woman who launched her career with Hot Stuff, from her album Bad Girls,  gives us the right stuff with this song just one year later.

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Depeche Mode (1989), Personal Jesus. I’ve shared this one before too. Consider that prayer is a lot like making a phone call to God, or as I told my daughter this morning, like sending Him a text message (and you can do it as often as you text your friends). Yep, Dad is weird.

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U2 (1997), If God Will Send His Angels. If you need a modern group that doesn’t shy away from Jesus, look no further. As far as I’m concerned, Bono and the boys are an undercover gospel group.

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