Because Christ is Everywhere—Even in the Shoe Department

I hate shopping at chain stores, I really do. The amount of merchandise and the lack of natural lighting overload my senses. So does the idea I could be doing something infinitely better with my time. But sometimes, I just can’t avoid shopping. Our boys needed new sneakers and Easter slacks and shirts so yesterday we had to head down a traffic-clogged state highway to buy them. But Christ finds a way of making Himself seen—even at Kohl’s.

My husband and I are raising our boys in New Jersey, the most densely populated state and the state with the greatest square footage of retail real estate per resident. I can think of no national retail chain that is not within a 10-minute drive of our home. We live in an oasis of calm amid strip malls and shopping centers; ours is a small town with sycamore-lined streets and a tidy commercial district we walk to for groceries, for church, and for after-dinner ice cream cones. Whenever one of us returns from an errand in town, the others ask: “Who did you see?” because inevitably, we run into friends and neighbors on our travels.

Yesterday, I left this idyll for Kohl’s. I have nothing in particular against the chain. I don’t like shopping at Macy’s or WalMart or Marshalls, either. The older I become, the stronger my faith and the emptier materialism,

a philosophical system which regards matter as the only reality in the world, which undertakes to explain every event in the universe as resulting from the conditions and activity of matter, and which thus denies the existence of God and the soul.

I was especially grumpy yesterday because before we left for shopping our 10-year-old had an unpleasant encounter with a neighborhood boy. The other fifth grader said some unkind things to our son about his older brother. Our 10-year-old returned home, most uncharacteristically, filled with angry tears. Someone had dissed his beloved older brother. Though I tried not to show it, I felt angry too. We don’t allow our sons to say unkind things about other people and we have trained them to pray—or at least try to pray—for their “enemies.”  They would face real consequences if we were to find out they had mouthed off to another kid about their brother or anything else. As we drove to Kohl’s, we were talking about this incident, my 13-year-old saying he truly felt confused by the criticism and why a kid he never has met would need to tear him down to feel good about himself. “It just doesn’t make sense,” he said. “This is really baffling.”

At Kohl’s, after we spent time in the men’s section looking for pants for my teen and the boys’ section to find slacks for the 10-year-old, I felt done. Our cart was flowing with socks and slacks and shirts. We went over to the shoe department. I sat on a bench and let the boys find their own shoes. I silently stewed, my mind filled with angry thoughts. I was thinking about how so many parents I know find excuses for their children’s obnoxious behavior instead of correcting their children. I don’t know the offending boy’s parents, but even if I did and spoke with them, would they even care? What am I supposed to tell my boys? To talk back to someone who is rude? To let it go and recognize some people are just mean? To tell people about their hurt and try to reconcile with them?

I was feeling kind of hopeless about the whole thing. I sat on a bench, my arms dangling on the loaded-up shopping cart under florescent lights while my sons shopped. Do you ever have that feeling of being a stranger to the world, the sense of: what am I doing here?

All of a sudden, above the noise of my thoughts, I became aware that our teen was helping his little brother find the Converse sneakers he wanted. He had left the shoe department to find a clerk and ask for help and he was returning with suggestions on where to find the sneakers. Then, right in front of me, the most beautiful tableau appeared: a little boy, no older than three, was sitting on a bench pretending to try on shoes. His mother came over to him, knelt in front of him, and kissed him tenderly. I pulled out my cell phone to take a picture, but I was too late. The tableau vanished. Then, I looked  to my right and and saw my sons, standing by a shoe kiosk, the older one guiding the little one to find his sneakers. So I took the photo above.

And then I thought: I’ve been getting this all wrong. Christ is not just in the comfortable, familiar places, like my hometown and among my neighbors. He is here, too, amid the roads clogged with traffic, the miles of strip shopping malls and clearance racks. God knows we have to live in a material world. He knows we need to clothe and care for our children. Christ has found a way to show Himself to me, in this present moment, in the shoe department of the East Brunswick Kohl’s.
……

For All the Saints: Benjamin

I wrote once that the saints are hard corps. I used a battlefield story from the Korean War era to make my point about how the saints can motivate us to be better Christians. That is, unless they repel us and shame us with their bravery. Like today’s saint, for example.

It is the feast day of St. Benjamin. He was martyred on this day in the year 424 in a manner that brought renown to a certain Transylvanian nobleman named Vlad. But this killing of a devout Christian, for proclaiming the Gospel, happened in Persia long before Bram Stoker was around to write Dracula.

Benjamin was a deacon too. So although he was pretty involved in the affairs of his parish,  he was still a little guy like you and me. A warrant officer on His Majesty’s Ships muster roll.

Here is some handy background information that I gleaned from the internet.

The Christians in Persia had enjoyed twelve years of peace during the reign of Isdegerd, son of Sapor III, when in 420 it was disturbed by the indiscreet zeal of Abdas, a Christian Bishop who burned the Temple of Fire, the great sanctuary of the Persians.

Zealots…I hate those guys! Which sounds like one of my favorite lines delivered by Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. Usually hurled at Nazis,other bad guys, etc. As for zealots, it takes one to know one, for as Marines go, I practiced that trade with missionary-like zeal for quite some time.

So this Bishop Abdas got inspired and decided to use the scorched earth policy versus the heathen. Fighting fire with fire. Here is how it worked out.

King Isdegerd threatened to destroy all the churches of the Christians unless the Bishop would rebuild it. As Abdas refused to comply, the threat was executed; the churches were demolished, Abdas himself was put to death, and a general persecution began which lasted forty years.

Notice we aren’t marking the feast of St. Abdas? Well we will be, just not until May 16. That is the day King Isdegerd rounded him and seven others up and had them killed in the year 420. Remember the original 12 disciples? There was a zealot (or two?) among them as well. The Lord loves his zealots, as well as his fishermen and tax collectors, prostitutes, the lame,  and even rich guys hiding in the Sanhedrin.

King Isdegerd died in the year 421, but his policies lived on. His son and heir named Varanes assumed the throne with the intentions of remembering his dad’s legacy, not to mention with the intent to placate the institutional anger of his pagan subjects who remembered well that their temples had been destroyed. Actually, King Varanes was going to show his departed dad how he should have handled these pesky Christians.

So here is little Deacon Benjamin, who was sitting in irons for a year, probably since he couldn’t hide from King Varanes and his stool-pidgeons forever. Good news though! An ambassador of the Emperor of Constantinople negotiates Benjamin’s release from jail. But on one condition: Benjamin must never speak of his religion again. You know, to the authorities. Just keep quiet Benjy and all will be well. Maintain a low profile. Live for another day.

Benjamin decides not to play this game. Instead he,

declared it was his duty to preach Christ and that he could not be silent. Although he had been liberated on the agreement made with the ambassador and the Persian authorities, he would not acquiesce in it, and neglected no opportunity of preaching.

Uh-oh. Another zealot. This is going to end badly.

Here is how King Varenes handles Benjamin,

He was again apprehended and brought before the king. The tyrant ordered that reeds should be thrust in between his nails and his flesh and into all the tenderest parts of his body and then withdrawn. After this torture had been repeated several times, a knotted stake was inserted into his bowels to rend and tear him. The martyr expired in the most terrible agony.

Martyrd by Varenes the Impaler.

But Benjamin’s soul lives on. Do you know the origins of the motto of the State of New Hampshire, Live Free or Die?  The complete saying is taken from a toast by General John Stark, retired from the victorious Continental Army, given in 1809. It goes:  Live free or die. Death is not the worst of evils.

Spoken like another zealot. I think, nay, I know St. Benjamin would agree. For as today’s reading from Isaiah (50:7-8) makes clear,

The Lord GOD is my help, therefore I am not disgraced;
I have set my face like flint,knowing that I shall not be put to shame.
He is near who upholds my right; if anyone wishes to oppose me,
let us appear together.

St. Benjamin, pray for us.

From “Magdalen” (A Few Words for Wednesday)

I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Mary Magdalene. Our two daughters are named Martha and Marian, and I privately hoped that we would have a third daughter, named Madeleine. It didn’t happen. I love this image by Alexander Ivanov (1806–1858). And then I came across this poem, “Magdalen.”

I found it (a fragment really) in a book Frank sent me last week: Flowers of Heaven: One Thousand Years of Christian Verse (Ignatius 2005). The mysterious thing is, I can’t find the rest of the poem on line. But then the author is a mystery too: Dunstan Thompson (1918–1975), a native of New England, who moved to Old England and became a hero of the homosexual underground—until he converted to Catholicism and renounced his old life. He even instructed his literary executor never to republish the poems of his early years.

Thompson’s story is told online by the Gay & Lesbian Review. I am not a regular reader; it’s just that this was the best account of Thompson’s life I could find, in fact the only account. If you look at the story through the other end of the telescope than that used by the writer, you might just see a male version of Mary Magdalene.

Here’s a selection from “Magdalen.” If anyone finds the whole thing on line, please let me know:

High in the noonday sky,
   His arms thrown open wide,
Love is about to die,
   With a thief on either side.

One He has welcomed home,
   The other prefers to hate,
Like the Pharisees, who roam
   In packs and wait and wait.

The soldiers there below,
   Bored and ashamed and blind,
Rattle the dice and throw
   Their lives away like rind.

The mocking scholars toss
   Their beautiful white heads
Far off; but at the Cross
   Who reads?

His mother, calm in pain,
   Adoring, and John,
The youngest friend, remain:
   Fair weather friendships gone.

And one other. She,
   Whose sins have had their share
In blossoming that tree,
   Offers her sorrow there.

Those tears are now for Him,
   Not for herself; she weeps
Outside her life; eyes swim
   Up from their own deeps.

His gift of sacrifice
   Opens her rusted heart:
With Him she pays the price
   Of love, that suffering art.

And so triumphant grief
   Makes her the fourth to stay:
Two innocents, a thief,
   And a whore, together pray.

Because of the Franciscan Knots on My Rosary

This morning I made my first Franciscan knot. I am inordinately proud of this knot of mine. I only was able to make this knot because Marge, who has been making these knots for—pardon the pun—decades, guided my hands with her hands, which are knotted with arthritis. Marge, a daily communicant, retired nurse, and mother of five, offered to teach the teens in our youth group how to make rosaries. Loading plastic beads on a piece of nylon rope is not hard. Knowing how to make the knots between them is key. I learned this morning if you want to make a rosary out of cord, you have to know how to make the knot.

The Franciscan knots separate the Hail Mary beads and everything else on a rosary, whether it’s the Our Father beads or the Crucifix or the Mary medal. Marge let us cheat and use clear plastic spacers everywhere except before the Crucifix and the Virgin Mary medallion.

To make the Franciscan knot, we used a grooved cord tool, through which we threaded the cord to form the knots. We did a triple overhand with the cord, which represents each of the friars’ Gospel vows. Since the middle ages, Franciscan friars have worn three of these knots on their cords. They stand for poverty, chastity, and obedience. The Poor Clares, who are cloistered Franciscan nuns, wear four knots, the fourth symbolizing their vow of enclosure. Third Order of Secular Franciscans wear five knots for the five wounds of Christ.

The  teens spent nearly an hour working on  their practice knots, and then chattered away and ate bagels. But I was determined to make a whole rosary. As I tried and tried to make that knot, I started reflecting on knots. The rosary’s origins are the rope cords knotted by desert monks so they could track their daily recitations of the psalms. Now, our rosaries have knots between the smooth prayer beads. What could this tell me?  A knot is rough. A bead is smooth. A knot is a difficult place, a place we want to leave. A  prayer bead takes us to a soothing place. But when we pray the rosary, we need the knots to hold the beads.

My first Franciscan knot became part of my first rosary. Marge took a break in teaching us rosary making to drive her 88-year-old husband to a physical therapy appointment. She returned to quickly tie the other three knots—perfect ones—for me because we were running out of time. She invited us to her house to practice knot making. She offered to meet with the teens again and keep working on mission rosaries. I left the finished rosary on the table where Marge had gathered her supplies. We were supposed to be sending the rosaries to the missions. Marge told me to take my rosary home. I think she realized I don’t own a rosary. She told me to keep it in my pocket, so that I could show other parishioners we could make rosaries for missions. In her kindness, perhaps she was looking at me as a mission, too.

To some, my plastic rosary might look simple or tacky. When I pull my rosary out of my pocket, however, I think about all the care that goes into handmade rosaries, no matter their appearance. I think of Marge and her hands and her missions. I feel the cord tying her to the Desert Fathers, who thousands of years ago, were tying their knots.

Because the Mystery Can Never Be Extinguished

My friend Bill has been AWOL from church for months. We used to sit side by side at Adoration and exchange signs of peace at daily Mass. But Bill has been out of work since late 2008, and I’m afraid that he is disconsolate, home alone much of the time. Every so often, though, Bill sends me a sign that his love for The Mystery is not extinguished. Today he sent me a video.

You may have already seen this video of an “empty space” between galaxies taken from the Hubble Space Telescope. The caption says the clip was made last August, but the story it tells is some 13 billion lights years old. So I guess Bill’s video is relatively up to date. And Bill’s sending the video is reason to hope. Pray for him, won’t you?

Check out the video here.

Because of the Living Stations of the Cross

I have a confession to make: the Stations of the Cross used to creep me out. Only in the past year have I begun to understand their beauty and significance. And that is thanks to the Living Stations of the Cross presented by the teens of the  St. Rose of Lima high school youth group in Freehold, New Jersey.

When I was a child, I didn’t want any part of Palm Sunday or Holy Week, or especially Stations of the Cross. That is because to me they were all about this wonderful person, the Son of God, who was murdered most gruesomely. In contrast, I loved Christmas. My dad sang at Christmas Masses and our family of six often would attend Midnight Masses. What a treat to stay up so late and celebrate Christmas, a holiday I understood was about love, about a baby born in inauspicious and unusual circumstances who turns out to be the Savior of the World. It made me feel warm inside.

As for Holy Week, our parents did not take us to Holy Thursday or Good Friday masses. Until I was a mom myself, I never attended Stations of the Cross. And so they remained to me scary images I avoided looking at on the side walls of Catholic churches.

Throughout  my life, the lead-up to Easter was this icky thing, hidden from my view and understanding. And the one Easter Mass I remember attending as a child (though our parents took us every Easter) was when I was eight or so. We were late to Mass and could not find a parking spot at our parish. So my dad drove us over to a church in a neighboring town. I remember the priest intoning during his homily, “You are one Easter closer to your death.” I imagine now that the priest must have said lots of other things—about the Resurrection and the possibility of our own salvation—but that was all I heard. His words terrified me for years.

Because of my spiritual and emotional immaturity, not for nearly four more decades could I begin to fully confront Christ’s suffering, and through that, mature in my faith. Last Lent, a friend and fellow parishioner, Dan Finaldi, invited the Saint Rose of Lima high school youth group in Freehold, one county over, to present Living Stations of the Cross at our parish. Dan is a high school art teacher in Freehold and learned about the project from some of his students.

I didn’t even want to go. But as part of their CCD requirements, our sons had to attend a Stations of the Cross during Lent. This felt like a palatable way to do it. After all, if a bunch of Jersey teens could spend days living the Stations in rehearsal, surely this middle-aged woman would be able to emotionally handle watching a presentation of the Stations. And so I went.

I didn’t even know what “Living Stations” meant. Were the teens going to walk around the church, stop at each station, and reenact it by flashlight? No. Teen actors used the front of our church to create tableaux, station by station. From the ambo, other teens interspersed descriptions of each scene with prayerful meditations on how that event on the road to Calvary related to their own faith journey. From the choir loft, teen musicians, including an electric guitarist and a drummer, sang contemporary hymns and popular tunes that related directly to the meditations.

This approach was a big help to me. At long last, I understood that we cannot fully embrace the message of Christianity unless we embrace Christ’s suffering for us. Stations, as our 10-year-old put it, “is about the road to His death, which, in the end, saves us all.” Last night he came with me and my friend Andy to Living Stations. This time, I meditated on the depth of suffering Christ’s mother endured, and about the kindness of strangers Christ encountered on his journey home. “We cannot take your place,” the teens read. “But help us find our place in the world.”

At the Sixth Station,  in which Veronica wipes the face of Jesus,  a lone teen sang Jewel’s “Hands.”  I thank God for the high school youth group at Saint Rose of Lima for helping me grow up.

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To Root for West Virginia in the Final Four

Why would a Catholic cheer for West Virginia against Duke, Butler, and Michigan State in the NCAA basketball championship? I am trying to be objective here. I am setting aside my intense dislike for Coach K’s #1-ranked unit from Duke. (My daughter is concluding a stellar career at UNC, last year’s champion and Duke’s bitter rival.) No, I am looking at this from a strictly Catholic perspective, with rosary beads entwined in my fingers.

Think about it: The Dukies are the “Blue Devils.” Please! You really gonna root for Satan’s minions?! Michigan State is a good ol’ Big Ten team, and I am a Big Ten fan. But coach Tom Rizzo’s men are “The Spartans.” Pagans! Plus, they defeated Tennessee and Frank is still smarting from the loss. (Frank quote: “Free-throws—sheesh!”)

That leaves Butler and West Virginia. With the last name of Bull, I can see taking a look at the Butler “Bulldogs.” But finally, I have to go with the lads from Morgantown, WV, “The Mountaineers.”

Ever heard of Mt. Sinai? The Sermon on the Mount? I predict West Virginia will do an angry Moses on Duke in the semifinal Saturday, and then wallop the pagans beatifically on Monday night. And Frank likes ‘em too because he is a hillbilly. ‘Nuff said.

So, West Virginia all the way! You heard it here first.

From the Batcave to the Garden (Music For Mondays)

Now that Batgirl is aboard and you have heard her theme song, just for old-times sake here is the original Batman theme song. This is where I get to say “atomic batteries to power, turbines to speed.”

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Actually, I prefer this live version performed by one of my favorite bands, The Smithereens! Have a listen here because it isn’t on video.

And now, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, here is the song that popped into my head when Allison’s final guest post brought down the house with the most comments for the week.  See if you can make the connection. Scary!

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Slowing it down a lot, here is a cover of the Jimi Hendrix classic Little Wing done by that talented family of artists the Corrs. These four siblings are Irish, talented and beautiful. And their lead guitarist can hold his own too.   What is this song about? Did Hendrix even know? But this version by the Corrs makes me think of angels, not Tinker Bell (or crazy wah-wah pedal distortion effects).

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Sade recently came out with a new album.  This song, King of Sorrow, makes me think of Jesus during Holy Week. The video, on the other hand, makes me think of the plight of single mothers everywhere trying to make ends meet, have a career and raise their children too. And all without a husband to help. A tough row to hoe, as many of you well know. Too many. If you turn off the video, maybe you can hear Christ in these words if you change one word (see parenthesis).

I’m crying everyone’s tears
I have already paid for all (your) future sins
There’s nothing anyone
Can say to take this away
It’s just another day  

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George Harrison, the spiritual Beatle. I recently found this acoustic version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps. Many think that George went off the rails chasing the Maharishi, etc., and only God knows what became of his soul. Nowadays, what with scandal in our ranks, these words strike a chord with me anew, especially if you change your perspective on who the  I  in this song is.

I look at you all see the love there that’s sleeping
While my guitar gently weeps
I look at the floor and I see it needs sweeping
Still my guitar gently weeps

I don’t know why nobody told you
how to unfold your love
I don’t know how someone controlled you
they bought and sold you

I look at the world and I notice it’s turning
While my guitar gently weeps
With every mistake we must surely be learning
Still my guitar gently weeps

I don’t know how you were diverted
you were perverted too
I don’t know how you were inverted
no one alerted you

I look from the wings at the play you are staging,
While my guitar gently weeps.
As I’m sitting here, doing nothing but aging,
Still, my guitar gently weeps.

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Francis Beckwith tipped me off to this one from his Facebook status. Bob Dylan (he converted to Christianity back in 1979 in case you missed the press release) sings a song about Our Lord’s Passion. The back-up band? Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. The story of the Alpha and the Omega In the Garden—

In the Garden
by Bob Dylan

When they came for Him in the garden, did they know?
When they came for Him in the garden, did they know?
Did they know He was the Son of God, did they know that He was Lord?
Did they hear when He told Peter, “Peter, put up your sword”?
When they came for Him in the garden, did they know?
When they came for Him in the garden, did they know?

When He spoke to them in the city, did they hear?
When He spoke to them in the city, did they hear?
Nicodemus came at night so he wouldn’t be seen by men
Saying, “Master, tell me why a man must be born again.”
When He spoke to them in the city, did they hear?
When He spoke to them in the city, did they hear?

When He healed the blind and crippled, did they see?
When He healed the blind and crippled, did they see?
When He said, “Pick up your bed and walk, why must you criticize?
Same thing My Father do, I can do likewise.”
When He healed the blind and crippled, did they see?
When He healed the blind and crippled, did they see?

Did they speak out against Him, did they dare?
Did they speak out against Him, did they dare?
The multitude wanted to make Him king, put a crown upon His head
Why did He slip away to a quiet place instead?
Did they speak out against Him, did they dare?
Did they speak out against Him, did they dare?

When He rose from the dead, did they believe?
When He rose from the dead, did they believe?
He said, “All power is given to Me in heaven and on earth.”
Did they know right then and there what that power was worth?
When He rose from the dead, did they believe?
When He rose from the dead, did they believe?

When He rose from the dead, did they believe?
When He rose from the dead, did they believe?
He said, “All power is given to Me in heaven and on earth.”
Did they know right then and there what that power was worth?
When He rose from the dead, did they believe?
When He rose from the dead, did they believe?

Copyright ©1980 Special Rider Music

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Because of Minor Miracles III (zzzzz)

At the beginning of January, I started a series of posts about this blog, how it began and evolved. I wrote three pieces about it, this one, this one, and this one. Then I went to sleep. Maybe you did too. But with Allison joining Frank and me this weekend, and with a new format up and running (spiffy, no?), I think this blog has finally reached a form to stick with for a while. So let me wrap this up.

I think I left off with:

Chapter 5 — The Crazy Marine from the Old South Who May Be An Angel or Something
That would be Frank Weathers. As I’ve written somewhere, YIM Catholic was only a couple of months old when I started receiving e-mail blasts from somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon line. When I paid attention, I was vaguely aware that they were from a “retired Marine” living in Tennessee. I figured “retired” meant ancient and “Tennessee” meant too much moonshine. Wrong on both counts. 

It turned out Frank was in his mid-40s, very knowledgeable, a convert like me, and a good writer to boot. I asked him to write a guest post and he wrote two, in an hour. About this time (Thanksgiving 2009), I was looking for help, divine or human, it didn’t matter. I felt tired writing alone each day and lonely (exposed to my own ignorance and readers’ reactions to it). I’m only half joking calling Frank an angel. I’m not sure what his former Drill Instructor would have said and don’t care.

The chemistry of the blog changed at once when I asked Frank to join and he agreed. It was fun again, and readers were picking up on the fun. I learned a whole new vocabulary. Frank was “covering my six” as YIMC’s co-pilot. He called me “Mav,” I called him “Merlin,” both “Top Gun” references. And he peppered me with the occasional “Bravo Zulu!” and “dumb civilian!”

Was this why I had started YIM Catholic? Absolutely not. Except that I had come to two conclusions: (1) I had run the table on all the reasons why I had become a Catholic, and (2) if this blog was going to continue it would have to transcend “Webster Bull.” I’m not the only Catholic in the world with good reasons to be one.

Chapter 6 — Building a Community
I read a piece on successful blogs about this time. It made several important points. One was, you’re better off finding people to help, especially writers. Check, I had Frank. Another point was, build a community. Interact with your readers. Comment on their comments. Understand what they want to see on your blog, or rather what they expect to see from your blog because only you can do it best, then do that.

I think we’ve been periodically successful sticking to this theme. We still fire off in all directions, and I suppose that’s one of the charming things about this space. But we definitely have made friends (and maybe a few enemies), and the friends have formed a community, at least in our own minds. When Warren Jewell doesn’t comment—or guest post—for a few days, we wonder where and how he is. When I get up in the morning, I look for Maria’s comments, because she seems to be up all night and very often has valuable things to say. We have friends with strange monikers, like Mujerlatina, EPG, and newguy40. I wouldn’t recognize any of them on the street, but we’d miss them if they didn’t come around now and then.

Blogging takes me outside my parish, outside my demographic, into the Universal Catholic Church (how about that Moses in Malaysia or Rose in India?). Come to think of it, the Universal Catholic Church is probably the first worldwide virtual community, dating to the year 33.

Chapter 7 — Yikes, It’s a Girl!
Which brings us to this weekend, when Allison Salerno has agreed to join Frank and me in a sort of unholy trinity of Catholic bloggers who love being Catholic. As the line at the top of this page suggests, this blog sometimes has had the sound and smell of a men’s locker room, what with all the towel-snapping and Bravo Zuluing and whatnot. Allison dared to barge in. What a fine writer! She is a cradle Catholic, unlike Frank and me. She is the mother of boys. I am the father of girls. Frank is father to both. We balance each other in many useful ways.

Furthermore, we all agree that there are more than enough Catholic blogs that obsess over politics, and we don’t want to be another. We all agree that what we do here is unlikely to make any of us a penny richer, and we agree that we don’t care. We agree that we love being Catholic—in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Tennessee, or wherever we happen to be going to Mass—and we want people to share the love. Furthermore, we’re all in the Eastern Time Zone.

Personally, I believe that the best thing a Catholic can do to evangelize is not to argue with anyone but rather to pray, go to Mass, aim for holiness, and smile along the way. That’s what we seem to be doing here, with maybe some question about the holiness. Hang around, won’t you?

FOOTNOTE: Pardon the seemingly presumptous image of the Holy Family at the head of this post about Allison, Frank, and me. No, Allison is not Mary, and I’m not Jesus. But I have learned that you can’t go wrong with St. Joseph.  May the Holy Family bless our efforts here below.

Because the Catholic Liturgy is More Evocative than the Most Graphic Film

Once you love a book, you’ll seldom like the movie based on it. That’s why I am impressed with Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” films: they are surprisingly close to my own imagination of them! That’s also why I was moved by the liturgy for Passion Sunday today. Because I had seen “The Passion of the Christ” again on Friday evening, and the film pales in comparison with the liturgy. Sorry, Mel.

It helped that I experienced today’s liturgy twice: once at 8:15 as a reader of the Passion according to Luke and at 10:30 as a singer in the choir. And it probably helped that I am on the brink of geezerhood—tired of graphic violence and with a heart opened, now and then, to the presence of Christ, not in history, not up there in every bleeding pixel on the IMAX screen, but here, now, in my church, in my life, in my heart.

Christ was present at St. Mary Star of the Sea Church today.

The Passion (Palm) Sunday liturgy may have been enacted in your church as it was in mine, with the priest at the rear saying the opening prayers, followed by the Gospel reading about Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem. Then there was a procession up the aisle, reenacting that moment awesome to think of, when the people who would scream “Crucify him!” only a few days later knelt and laid cloaks in the mud before Him, as He rode in. Willingly He came, knowing the destiny that was riding to meet Him. It is a vignette with so much to ponder, to digest, to be grateful for—and here it was, being enacted, incarnated in our midst: with little girls in bonnets clutching bunches of palm fronds and old serious men looking seriously on.

Even the fact that we had our frequent guest priest, Father Hennessey, at 8:15 and our pastor, Father Barnes, at 10:30 made the reality of Christ’s presence more vivid. There are always differences of presentation when you change priests: one has a deeper voice, the other speaks more quickly—like watching two different film versions of the Passion, one with James Caviezel as Christ (above), one with Max von Sydow (below). These differences are irrelevant to the story, the reality, the Presence of Christ.

Two years ago right now, I was on the verge of being received into the Church. Ferde was become my big brother and unofficial sponsor in the Church. Today at 8:15, just two years later, don’t ask me how or why, I was reading Luke’s story of the Passion with Ferde. I was reader #1, Ferde reader #2, and Father Hennessey read the words of Christ.

Then at 10:30, with Father Barnes presiding below, I was wedged into the rear left corner of the choir loft singing Isaac Watts’s “When I Survey The Wondrous Cross” with my fellow choir members.

When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the Prince of Glory died;
my richest gain I count but loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
save in the death of Christ, my God;
all the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.

And so on for two more verses. Hollywood doesn’t write scripts like that. They steal them and turn them into bludgeons for the blind, deaf, and dumb, meaning you and me, brothers and sisters. When all they really have to do is to say that Jesus, knowing he faced mortal danger, rode straight toward it, and for us. It happened today, in the center aisle of St. Mary Star of the Sea Church, and probably in your church as well.


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