Thanks to My Jewish Neighbors

Guest post by Allison 
People who visit my town on a Saturday might think it’s a “Jewish town.” That is because a sizable number of residents are Orthodox Jews who observe the Sabbath, in part, by walking to synagogue. This town is extraordinarily diverse and includes graduate students, recent immigrants from China and Mexico, college professors and a generations-old African American community. But at a time when Americans talk about declining morals and values, my Orthodox Jewish neighbors are among those who have inspired my family to greater religious devotion to our Catholic faith.

My husband and I moved here fifteen years ago, drawn to the community’s strong public schools, its proximity to a train line into Manhattan and its walkability. The Catholic Church where we worship, for example, is an easy mile-and-a-half walk from our house. All the public schools are within walking distance of our home.

Our town has two Kosher Dunkin’ Donuts, a Kosher grocery store, a candy store and pizzeria. It is home to five Orthodox synagogues, as well as a Conservative synagogue and an egalitarian minyan.  In our years here, we’ve been to more brises than baptisms, more Bar and Bat mitzvahs than Confirmations, and we have made more shiva visits than attended Catholic funerals.

Our immersion in Jewish culture has enriched our family’s own Catholicism. This is because our boys are growing up seeing examples every day of friends and neighbors who are open and enthusiastic about their faith and willing to make adjustments to their personal convenience for the sake of their own beliefs. This makes it much easier, for example, to take our children to church for Sunday Mass and for Holy Days of Obligation, to attend Vespers and Stations of the Cross, and to understand that faith sometimes requires us to forego temporary pleasures for greater spiritual benefits.

Learning more about Jewish traditions and cultures helps me understand Our Lord’s childhood and gives me a greater appreciation of Catholicism’s roots. Both faiths teach the importance of how we treat others.

Both of our next-door neighbors are married Orthodox Jewish couples. On one side are two retired public-school teachers whose three daughters all live in Israel. When Roger and his wife traveled to Israel to attend their sixth grandchild’s bris, he emailed me to ask if he could bring me back some religious objects.He offered to travel into the Old City of Jerusalem to purchase them. We were deeply moved when he returned to New Jersey with a beautiful crucifix and a statue of Saint Anthony of Padua.

On Saturday, while sitting in our bedroom during a rainstorm, I heard a huge crunching sound. I looked out our bedroom window to see that a mighty oak tree had fallen onto our next-door neighbor’s deck, pulling down power lines and narrowly missing their home. I realized that the young couple on the other side of us would not be able to call the police or the electric company. So I threw my clogs on and ran to their house in a panic.

Avi, who is in his midtwenties, opened his door with a big smile and let me in. “Do you need me to make a phone call?” I asked. “That would be great,” he said. What astonished me was the sense of calm that prevailed in that home. His wife was all smiles, as were the other couple visiting with their infant child. A massive tree had come within feet of hitting their home and yet they projected calm, not panic. “Aren’t you freaking out?” I asked Hava. “You seem so calm!” “Well,” she said, “this is what homeowners insurance is for.”

Their equanimity astonished me. I thought I knew its source, but I gave a call to a local rabbi to check. Rabbi Steven Miodownik leads Congregation Ahavas Achim, which served Central New Jersey Jews for more than 120 years. I don’t know if this couple are members of this particular synagogue, but I figured he might have some insight into why a devout couple could stay so calm after a near-tragedy.

“We teach the relative unimportance of possessions,” the rabbi told me. “We take with us to the next world the good deeds that we did. We don’t even take the socks on our feet. The attitude of mimimizing the physical probably contributed to that calm you saw. If it’s just sticks and stones, they had good reason not to be flipping out. This world is a temporary one. The next one is where we are heading.”

Once again, I saw parallels between Judaism and Catholicism. One piece of wisdom from my priest has stayed with me for years. During a homily about the transience of the material world, he cited an old Spanish proverb: “There are no pockets in a shroud.”

For the Love of St. Joseph: A Novena (Day 6)

My novena to St. Joseph is nearing the end. His Feast Day crowns the week, on Friday. The devotion for today brings me to the heart of my love for St. Joseph—as the Patron of Families. “St. Joseph,” it begins, “I venerate you as the gentle head of the Holy Family. The Holy Family was the scene of your life’s work in its origin, in its guidance, in its protection, in your labor for Jesus and Mary, and even in your death in their arms.”

I am twice blessed in my family: first in the family of my parents, Dave and Nan Bull, and their six children; and second in the smaller family Katie and I have led, with our daughters, Martha and Marian. Every family falls short of the ideal of the Holy Family, of course, and my families have been 100 percent “fallen” people. I can give you details. I mean, the story about . . .

But this is the important thing: Bonded together as a family, we have added up to more than our sum. My parents and Katie’s parents both believed fully in the family—in the traditional family, yes, in a family led by a man and a woman—and they embodied the ideal well enough that, despite their many failings, something of their faith in family was transmitted through us to our children. No doubt, with the help of the Holy Family and its silent father, Joseph.

While St. Teresa of Avila and St. Francis de Sales were increasing devotion to St. Joseph in the Old World, explorers of and missionaries to the New World brought this devotion with them. Spiritually, in New Spain and New France, whole communities were founded on the love of St. Joseph and a devotion to the Holy Family. According to an essay on the Holy Family Devotion by Joseph F. Chorpenning, OSFS, which I have been citing, the First Provincial Council of Mexico (New Spain), declared St. Joseph patron of the ecclesiastical Province of Mexico in 1555. His feast day immediately became a holy day of obligation for New Spain, 66 years before Pope Gregory XV designated it for the Universal Church.

The Flemish lay brother Fray Pedro de Gante (1486–1572) especially spread the cult of St. Joseph in Mexico. He had been educated by the Brethren of the Common Life, who esteemed the writings of Jean Gerson (1363–1429), one of the first to foster devotion to St. Joseph. In the late 1520s, Fray Pedro placed the first school founded to instruct native children of New Spain under the saint’s protection. By the end of that decade, only the second or third church ever dedicated to the saint, St. Joseph of Bethlehem of the Natives, was dedicated in Mexico City.

And so it went, from one community, chapel, or city named for San José to another. Meanwhile, in modern-day Canada (New France). Chorpenning writes: “History repeated itself when New France followed New Spain’s example and chose St. Joseph as its patron in 1624. Moreover, the cult of the Holy Family which is implicit in the devotion to St. Joseph that flourished in New Spain becomes explicit in New France.” Ancestors of present-day Canadians celebrated the Feast of the Holy Family two full centuries before it was recognized by the Universal Church.

Here in New France a French Ursuline nun, Blessed Marie of the Incarnation (1599–1672), was the first woman missionary to the New World. According to her own writing, God commanded her “to build a house in Canada in which He would be adored and praised in company with Jesus and Mary—with with St. Joseph who should never be separated from them.” A tradition of devotion to St. Joseph extends through Canadian history toward our time, reaching its high point with the life of Blessed (soon to be Saint) André Bessette (1845–1937) (left), whom I have written about previously and with affection.

To continue the homily for the Feast of St. Joseph by Karl Rahner, SJ:

[St. Joseph’s] loyalty to duty and impartial righteousness, which is a manly form of love,also lived in him with respect to God his Father. He was a devout man and he was manly in his devotion. For him the service of God was not a matter of pious feelings that come and go, but a matter of humble loyalty that really served God and not his own pious ego. As Luke says: “Every year he went to Jerusalem for the Passover feast, according to the custom.” Now we can tell what was the most important element in the life of this man whose everyday life was a life of duty, righteousness, and of manly devotion: this life was given the charge of protecting in a fatherly way the savior of the world.

Blessed St. Joseph, Patron of Families, pray for our families. May they be modeled after your own at Nazareth!

Introducing Ollabelle (Music for Mondays)

Since hearing them last year on Pandora Radio, I have been a big fan of the largely invisible musical quintet “Ollabelle.” Here’s their Wikipedia page, which has about as much info as I’ve found anywhere. The notable member, perhaps, is Amy Helm, daughter of The Band drummer Levon Helm, though I’m not really a music junkie, so Glenn Patscha, Byron Isaac, Fiona McBain, or even Tony Leone may be somehow more important. Anyway, what is it with these people? There’s nothing overtly Evangelical, and certainly nothing Catholic, about their story, but tell me they aren’t “religious”!

Sorry in advance for the poor video quality, but these people have been flying under the radar—

What could be more Lenten than a song called “Get Back Temptation”?

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Do you have “Jesus on the Main Line”? Ollabelle does.

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Listen to this cover of Bruce Cockburn’s “Soul of a Man” (with a momentary change of scene) and tell me these people don’t know something about the Holy Spirit.

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And how about my favorite Ollabelle tune, “Down by the Riverside,” one of the great Negro Spirituals?

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Let’s finish with a “band of angels” in “Gone Today,” taking Ollabelle to heaven, where I say they belong.

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To Teach the Faith to Teens

Guest post by Allison 
On Friday, which marked the two-month anniversary of the Haitian earthquake, our parish youth group met in our parish hall to fast and pray and raise money for Haiti. It was a quiet, meditative evening for the handful of teens and their parents who gathered to offer up our temporary discomfort as a prayer to relive the suffering of the 200,000 Haitians who died in the earthquake and of the millions who survived. No matter how inconsequential we feel on this planet, faith gives us the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others. I pray we pass on the Church’s spiritual gems to the next generation of Catholics.

With our pastor’s blessing, a parish friend, Vicki, and I restarted the youth group about a year ago. It had not been active in at least five years. We started off slowly, hoping to build a sense of belonging among the teens. Deliberately, we’ve offered more social than spiritual activities: board game nights, hikes, barbecues, and ice skating. Friday was the first time we hit them with spirituality straight on.

The evening opened with reading A Prayer After the Earthquake in Haiti, written by Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, who is chairman of Catholic Relief Services. I had found his prayer on his blog. This beautiful prayer reads, in part, “As the things we have built crumble about us, we know too well how small we truly are on this ever-changing, ever-moving, fragile planet we call home. Yet you have promised never to forget us. Do not forget us now. “

Next, a young mother in the parish, also named Allison, explained to us all how our fasting is a form of prayer. Allison outlined the seven corporal and spiritual acts of mercy. Then, she talked to us about the exquisite Catholic notion of redemptive suffering.

Allison, a philosophy doctoral student, went on to explain to us how whenever we suffer in life, we can choose to give it meaning, by offering it back to God—to save someone’s soul, ease someone else’s pain. She read to us from Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, which he wrote during his imprisonment in Rome. In that letter, Saint Paul talks about in which says: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church, of which I am a minister.”

The teens listened without speaking, nodding as the parents then talked about some of the difficulties they had faced as adults and how it was a comfort to know they could offer their suffering to ease the pain another soul was enduring. Later, we walked through the rain to our Eucharistic Chapel for Stations of the Cross. We ended the evening back in the Parish Hall, watching a few short videos culled from youtube about Catholic Relief Services’ work in Haiti.

This youth group began because many adults in our parish are troubled about the precipitous drop in Mass attendence that happens, paradoxically, after children make their Confirmation. Not unusually, even parents stop attending Mass once Confirmation is “over.” We also saw the teens lacked a sense of Catholic identity and community. Ours is a small, older parish in a town of 20,000 residents and five Jewish synagogues.

Friday night’s Fast for Haiti brought out a smaller number of teens than most other youth-group activities. Some of our regulars had “Bye Bye Birdie” rehearsal at the high school, one was at an NHL game to celebrate his16th birthday party, and still another one was training for a national swim championship. My own son couldn’t make it because he had an orchestra rehearsal. To top it all off, the evening was rainswept, almost forlorn. But our parish measures success, not by the number of teens who show up for various youth group activities, but by whether the ones who do have fruitful experiences.

It’s tough to tell with teens how much impact we are having. By introducing some Catholic spiritual disciplines to them on Friday night, we hope our parish will begin to be a place not only where teens can play pingpong, but also where they can start to find comfort and meaning in the sacramental and devotional life of the Church.

A Former Anglican Answers: What About a Non-Catholic Spouse?

EPG’s latest question from the opposite bank of the Tiber, about how a convert should deal with a non-Catholic spouse, has drawn some useful comments, with a particularly powerful testimony from Mary P. Coincidentally, I encountered another answer to the question Saturday morning, when convert and distinguished author Dr. Thomas Howard (left) talked before our men’s group about his “Path to the Ancient Church.”

Raised in an Evangelical family where each meal included prayers as well as hymns accompanied by Mother on the piano, Dr. Howard taught from 1970 to 1984 at Gordon College, a “multidenominational Christian college” in Wenham, Massachusetts. A scholar of English literature with books on CS Lewis and novelist Charles Williams, Howard taught an elective on Lewis and JRR Tolkien at Gordon that drew as many as 200 students. By this time, having spent some time in England, he had become an Anglican. It was at Gordon College, he told us, that he began reading his way into the Catholic Church by studying the Fathers and early Church history. In 1984, he was asked to tender his resignation when he announced that he was going to be received into the Catholic Church. Gordon accepts Catholic students but not Catholic professors.

Howard was 50 years old and out of a job, thinking he “might have to sell pencils on the street.” Instead, a dean from St. John’s Seminary in Boston knocked at his door one summer day and asked if he would be interested in teaching English there. This solved Howard’s job dilemma but it did not solve what might have been a thorny problem in his family: his wife had not converted with him.

The Howards were blessed. When Howard told his wife that he “had to be Catholic,” she accepted it quietly. Not long afterward she told him, “The Lord has given me wings of joy about your becoming a Catholic.” Yet she did not cross the Tiber with him for 10 years, saying she was “not ready yet.” Meanwhile, Dr. Howard began writing successful books from a Catholic perspective, including Evangelical is Not Enough, On Being Catholic, and Lead, Kindly Light: My Journey to Rome.

About his wife’s waiting to become Catholic, Howard said, “I never bugged her about it. I never even prayed that she would become a Catholic.” One day, in 1994, Mrs. Howard told her husband, “I’ve decided I want to be an old lady who goes to Mass every day.” And so, he says, she is. Dr. Howard quipped that his wife is “much farther along in the Salvation sweepstakes than I am!”

So there you have it, converts with non-Catholic spouses: You may not even have to pray. Just “don’t bug her,” and try to act with half the dignity and kindness that seem to pour naturally from Dr. Thomas Howard. Who, by the way, drew quite a crowd to our men’s group as our first official guest speaker. Here’s another picture, courtesy of my friend Michael Joens:

For the Love of St. Joseph: A Novena (Day 5)

I  can’t imagine living without the saints—real men and women who have proved the Christian claim for 2000 years—and yet that’s just what I did as a Protestant for the first 56 years of my life. I didn’t pay them any attention. How could I have lived without St. Joseph alone? On what grounds? He is the model of fatherhood (I have two daughters whom I adore), of what it means to be a husband (and a wife I double adore), of working hard (don’t we all?), and of a happy death (in the arms of Jesus and Mary). Why would I not be interested in St. Joseph? Why would anyone not?

Continuing my running account of how the devotion to St. Joseph developed from the late middle ages through the time of St. Teresa of Avila, we come to St. Francis de Sales (1567–1622). According to Joseph F. Chorpenning, OSFS, St. Francis de Sales’s Introduction to the Devout Life (1609) “develops a positive and practical spirituality for married people and families” by focusing on the Holy Family and, by extension, on the centrality of St. Joseph. “Who can doubt,” he wrote, “that when this holy father came to the end of his years, he in turn was carried by his divine foster Child on his journey from this world into the next, into Abraham’s bosom, from there to be translated into the Son’s own bosom, into glory, on the day of His Ascension?” Just 300 years before St. Francis de Sales, no one in Christendom would have placed St. Joseph, the “silent man” of the Gospels, so close to the center of Salvation history.

And to continue the homily for the Feast of St. Joseph by Karl Rahner, SJ, here’s the next installment:

Three times the scripture says of Joseph: “He rose up.” He rose up to carry out God’s will as he perceived it in his conscience, a conscience that was so alert that it perceived the message of the angel even in sleep, although that message called him to a path of duty that he himself neither devised nor expected.

According to the witness of the Bible, this insignificant man’s humble routine concealed a further object of value: righteousness. Joseph was a just man, the Bible says, a man who regulated his life according to the word and law of God. Not only when this law suited his desires, but always and at all times, even when it was hard, and when the law judged to his disadvantage that his neighbor was right. He was righteous in that he was impartial, tactful, and respectful of Mary’s individuality and even of that which he could not understand in her.

[To be continued tomorrow]

St. Joseph, most blessed of all male saints, model for fathers and husbands and workers everywhere, pray for us!

Personal Thoughts on the Scandal on a Sunday

To locate, close with, and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver, or repel the enemy assault by fire and close combat.

That short, terse statement is the mission of the Marine Corps rifle squad. I learned it long ago. It was seared into my memory at Parris Island, never to be forgotten. It comes readily to my mind now as more stories of abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests continue to come to light.

Perhaps it is wrong for me to have these feelings, but my first reaction is to fix bayonets and start rooting out these enemy saboteurs. Whispers in the Loggia? I would argue that bullhorns and flashlights in the Loggia are in order. I feel like St. Peter when he whacks the right ear off Malchus when the authorities came to arrest Our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane.

“Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s slave and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus.” (John 18:1-10 RSV)

Obviously Peter was attempting to protect Jesus by cleaving the head of this Malchus fellow in two. Quick reflexes saved Malchus, while costing him his ear. In His last recorded miracle before being crucified, Jesus heals Malchus by restoring his ear to him,

But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And He touched his ear and healed him. (Luke 22:51 RSV)

Our Lord then explained that if He were about to take over the world at that time by force of arms, He wouldn’t need the help of humans to do it:

Do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once send Me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Matthew 26:53-54 RSV)

What does this scene have to do with pedophile priests? Perhaps I just needed to let you know that I am thoroughly disgusted with this ongoing scandal. I feel compelled to wield the sword at them much the way that other regular guy named Peter tried to do there in the Garden of Gethsemane. Call me Joe Sixpack, USMC of the Catholic blogosphere. I pray that Catholics the world over will insist on a thorough and uncompromising investigation of these latest allegations. No one should be immune from investigation and/or  prosecution.

I definitely did not become Catholic because of pedophile priests. When the scandal first broke in the United States in 2002, I wasn’t a Catholic yet. My oldest son was attending our parish school though and as the allegations came to light nationwide, I personally thought that this could be “game over” for the Catholic Church. Not my problem though because I wasn’t a Catholic.

That was my attitude then maybe, but not now. Now my attitude is 8 years of this crap has been long enough. Sure, the barque of St. Peter maneuvers as nimbly as an aircraft carrier, but 8 (others say it’s 10) years to make a course correction?! But wait a second, the ship is on the right course.  The problem is that some of the hands have gone rogue on us and need to be dealt with ASAP. And just when you thought the situation with the crew was under control, up came more allegations of shipmates behaving badly. And not just any shipmates, but officers of the line. In Ireland late last year and now in Germany, Austria and the Netherlands. Like dandelions in my yard, or zombies…Run!

Wait, on second thought don’t run. Sure zombies aren’t real, but only one thing works on them in the movies. Fire, like from a flame-thrower or a torch. And only one thing works on dandelions in my yard: forcibly extracting them from the ground, root and all, and tossing them in the trash can.

You need to extract them while they are still in full bloom and before the flowers become seeds. If they seed over, you still have to pull them while being very careful that none of the seedlings drop to the ground. Good luck with that. I’ve found that clipping the seed head first and then extracting the weed works best in this case. Ever considered transplanting dandelions removed from one part of your yard to another? Me neither.

I don’t mean to offend anyone’s sensibilities by talking about pedophile priests and associating them with punitive actions like fire, maneuver, forcible extraction, and other harsh words and phrases. But like the warrior King David, my hands are trained for battle and my fingers for war.  I realize that we are talking about sinful human beings just like ourselves. But what of the victims and the anguish and remorse they have endured and are still enduring?

And what of the damage to the Church, the Body of Christ? No one’s reputation or standing is more important than that of the Church as a whole. These words from the book of Isaiah ring loudly,

The Lord said: Since this people draws near with words only and honors me with their lips alone, though their hearts are far from me, and their reverence for me has become routine observance of the precepts of men, therefore I will again deal with this people in surprising and wondrous fashion:

The wisdom of its wise men shall perish and the understanding of its prudent men be hid. Woe to those who would hide their plans too deep for the LORD! Who work in the dark, saying, “Who sees us, or who knows us?”

Suggestion: let the sun shine in.  You don’t protect the integrity of the ship by ignoring holes in her hull, you repair them. And you don’t allow malefactors to run amok within your ships crew either. You court-martial them and bust them to private and throw them in the brig.

You see, something else was seared into my brain while I served in the Marine Corps. It’s from the Code of Conduct (bold emphasis is mine):

Article VI: I will never forget that I am an American, fighting for freedom, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free. I will trust in my God and in the United States of America.

I’m a rookie lay Catholic, but I bet if I tried hard enough I could find a similar Code of Conduct for priests and religious. Yep, here’s one.  Not quite as hard corps as the one in the military. For instance this line from that code (4.5) should really be up there in section 2, Conduct with Minors

All instances of alleged harassment (insert abuse) must be reported at once to the immediate supervisor, Pastor, Parochial Administrator, Principal or the appropriate Diocesan Official.

Um, I suggest calling the police first.  Serious people with guns and badges looking for bad guys tend to get things done a little quicker than the average bureaucracy.  Also, simple stuff like no child left alone with an adult works wonders in Scouting. Is this the protocol in your parish?

To keep up with the news, I suggest you check in with the good folks over at New Advent for the latest stories from the Catholic blogosphere. And there is a news feed over at this site too, which probably won’t win me any admirers either.  So be it.

In closing, even though I haven’t ever personally stooped this low in my own sinful life (there, but for the grace of God, go I), I know that these priests deserve our sympathy, prayers, compassion and love. But they need to be arrested, tried and convicted (if found guilty by a jury of their peers), and then sent to jail for their crimes. This is necessary not only for good order and discipline aboard His Majesty’s Ship but for the good of the entire world.

Now is the time for accountability and transparency. “No more of this!” St. Joseph pray for us!

Semper Fidelis

Because Catholics Really Can Take a Joke (Especially on Laetare Sunday)

Guest post by Allison 
Today, the fourth in Lent, our Church celebrates Laetare Sunday, or Refreshment Sunday. This means we are halfway through our Lenten journeys. The Church in her wisdom, understands that we may need to pause during this pentitential season. One of my parish friends seggests we think of Laetare Sunday as “halftime for Lent.” Among the signs of joy you might have seen this morning at Mass was your parish priest in rose-colored vestments. You might have seen flowers on the altar and you might have the organ at Mass and Vespers.

To keep with the joyful tone of the day, we thought it might be fun to offer our readers a few Catholic jokes, that is the kind of jokes we Catholics tell on ourselves. I had the fun task of compiling them.

These jokes seem to fall into a few categories: jokes about religious orders, jokes about ways we don’t quite comply with Church expectations, and jokes about what happens at the Pearly Gates. (I decided not to include jokes in a fourth category of Catholic humor: those that poke fun at Our Savior, no matter how mildly, or at His  parents, or His relationship with them. I think it’s too easy to slip from fun to disrespect.)

Let’s start with a joke from reader Michelle, who inspired this post when she emailed a very funny one to Webster. Here it is.

Until a child tells you what they are thinking, we can’t even begin to imagine how their mind is working. Little Zachary was doing very badly in math. His parents had tried everything: tutors, mentors, flash cards, special learning centers. In short, everything they could think of to help his math. Finally, in a last ditch effort, they took Zachary down and enrolled him in the local Catholic school. After the first day, the boy came home with a very serious look on his face. He didn’t even kiss his mother hello. Instead, he went straight to his room and started studying. Books and papers were spread out all over the room and Zachary was hard at work. His mother was amazed. She called him down to dinner. To her shock, the minute he was done, he marched back to his room without a word, and in no time, he was back hitting the books as hard as before. 

This went on for some time, day after day, while the mother tried to understand what made all the difference. Finally, little Zachary brought home his report card. He quietly laid it on the table, went up to his room, and hit the books. With great trepidation, His mom looked at it and to her great surprise, Zachary had an A in math. She could no longer hold her curiosity. She went to his room and said, “Son, what was it? Was it the nuns?” Little Zachary looked at her and shook his head, no. “Well, then,” she replied, “Was it the books, the discipline, the structure, the uniforms? WHAT WAS IT?”
Little Zachary looked at her and said, “On the first day of school when I saw that guy nailed to the plus sign, I knew they weren’t fooling around.”

Yes, teaching children the faith can be a challenge. They can so easily be befuddled. I felt  pleased as punch with myself for teaching both our boys the “Our Father” and the “Hail Mary” early in life. One bedtime when our little one was about four, I felt he was ready to recite the Our Father without prompting from me. And so he began:

Our Father, who are in heaven, Howard be thy name . . .

Reader Dave, who sings tenor alongside Webster in their church choir,  was the very first person to email me a joke. He heard it from Archbishop Sean P. O’Malley in his 2010 Boston Catholic Appeal  last Sunday:

Two US currency bills were ready to be retired after a number of years of service. One was a $20 bill and the other was a $1 bill. The $20 bill said, “It has been a great run. Over the years I have been passed from a number of wonderful things and events. I have paid for meals in some of the best restaurants. I have traveled the world and have paid for things in Europe and all over different parts of the United States. I have been used to pay for tickets to some of the best sporting events and some of the best concerts money could buy. It truly was a great run.” The $20 bill asked the $1 bill, “What about you?” Said the $1 bill, “I have not had as good a run as you. I have spent all of my time being passed form one Catholic offertory collection basket to the next.”

Reader Penny from Louisiana sent in this gem:

A Catholic boy and a Protestant boy were talking and the Catholic boy said, “My priest knows more than your minister.” The Protestant boy said, “Of course he does, you tell him everything.”

Here in New Jersey, my dear friend Judy shared this joke, which the priest told during her elder son’s Confirmation Mass:

A priest was having a terrible time with mice in his church. He’d tried everything—all kinds of traps and poisons. Finally, he called an exterminator. He told the exterminator all the various efforts he had made to get rid of the mice. The man shook his head. “Father, there is really a very simple technique you could use to get rid of the mice. Just confirm them.”

Reader Michael from Virginia emailed me these jokes. He said he heard a lot of jokes about religious orders while a student at Catholic University, mulling a vocation. Here’s the first—

There are three questions that not even God, in all wisdom and knowledge, can answer: 1. Who has more brains, the Jesuits or the Dominicans? 2. How many orders of nuns are there in the world? 3. How much money do the Franciscans have?

And the second—

A Jesuit, a Dominican, and a Trappist were marooned on a desert island. They found a magic lamp, and after some discussion decided to rub it. Lo and behold, a genie appeared and offered them three wishes. They decided it was only fair that they could each have one wish. The Jesuit said he wanted to teach at the world’s most famous university, and poof, he was gone! The Dominican wished to preach in the world’s largest church, and poof, he was gone! Then the Trappist said, “Gee, I already got my wish!”

And the third—

Two men considering a religious vocation were having a conversation. “What is similar about the Jesuit and Dominican Orders?” the one asked.

The second replied, “Well, they were both founded by Spaniards—St. Dominic for the Dominicans, and St. Ignatius of Loyola for the Jesuits. They were also both founded to combat heresy—the Dominicans to fight the Albigensians, and the Jesuits to fight the Protestants.”

“What is different about the Jesuit and Dominican Orders?”

“Met any Albigensians lately?”

Jokes about what happens at the Pearly Gates are popular, too. An anonymous reader sent me this joke:

Pope John XXIII arrived at the Pearly Gates and was greeted by Saint Peter, who showed him around and described all the various accommodations in Heaven. The Pope said he would like to meet the Holy Spirit. “In my 2,000 years of greeting arrivals, I’ve never heard this request,” Saint Peter told him. He strolled over to the Sancta Sanctorum, where the Holy Spirit dwells. “Who wants to meet me, Pope John?” “Yes,” said Saint Peter. “Wasn’t he the one who convened the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican ?” “Yes, he was,” Saint Peter said. “I didn’t meet him then,” the Holy Spirit said, “ because I wasn’t there.”

My husband, Greg,  told me this one:

Hall of Fame baseball manager Joe McCarthy [left] arrived at the Pearly Gates and was greeted with great enthusiasm. Saint Peter was thrilled to have the man who had won nine Major League Baseball titles overall and seven World Series championships coach Heaven’s team. What a lineup he would have to work with, including Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Christy Mathewson!

Practices were going beautifully, until Satan gave McCarthy a call. “You’re never going to win,” Satan told McCarthy. “What are you talking about?” McCarthy asked. “I’ve got the best players in the world.” “Sure you do,” Satan said. “But I’ve got the umpires.”

This last joke is also from my long-suffering Greg.

The Apocalypse came and  a billion men were lined up at the Pearly Gates, awaiting their final dispensation. Saint Peter came out and said, “Those of you whose wives were submissive to you, stand to the left. The rest of you, go over there.” Every single man—except one—moved over into the line indicating their wives had not been submissive. God ambled out and approached the man who stood alone in the line for men with submissive wives. God put his arm around him and with a big smile said, “I am so proud of you for following my guidance. Tell me why you’re standing here.” “My wife told me to,” the man replied.

For the Love of St. Joseph: A Novena (Day 4)

Precisely today, with the Church and even my Pope under attack for scandal in Germany, a cause of great sadness, we’ve never needed St. Joseph more. He is the patron saint of dozens of people and places, including carpenters, fathers, married people, unborn children, and the dying. Since 1847, by decree of Pope Pius IX, he is also the patron of the Universal Catholic Church. Today, our Church needs his intercession.

Since Thursday, I have been tracing just how St. Joseph came into focus after being largely overlooked for the first 1300 years after Christ. Yesterday, it was St. Bonaventure and Jean Gerson who shined a light on the husband of Mary and earthly father of Our Lord. Today, I will look briefly at St. Teresa of Avila (1515–1582). As before I am drawing from an essay by Joseph F. Chorpenning, OSFS, in St. Joseph and the Third Millennium, edited by Michael D. Griffin, OCD.

My daughter is being received into the Catholic Church at this year’s Easter Vigil, and I have commended St. Teresa to her as a possible patron. I told my daughter that St. Teresa is, for my money, the greatest female saint after Mary. She too is a patron for today: a perfect melding of contemplation (those visions! those voices!) and action. She traveled around Spain in a covered wagon, founding seventeen convents of the reformed Discalced Carmelite order, listening to God while driving a hard bargain, a perfect patroness for my daughter the businesswoman to be.

And who was St. Teresa’s own special patron? St. Joseph, for whom she had a supreme devotion. She believed it was his intercession that saved her from dire illness as a young woman, and she adopted him as her father when she was well again, just as she had adopted Mary after her own mother’s early death. Chorpenning writes that this relationship with St. Joseph “was unprecedented in Christian history and was the foundation for the pivotal role that Teresa would play in disseminating St. Joseph’s cult in the period after the Council of Trent.”

Teresa’s first reformed convent, in her hometown of Avila, was named for St. Joseph. While contemplating this first foundation, St. Teresa heard the voice of God tell her that it should be a “little dwelling corner,” a “little Bethlehem.” St. Teresa would write:

His Majesty earnestly commanded me to strive for this new monastery with all my powers, and He made great promises that it would be founded and that He would be highly served in it. He said it should be called St. Joseph and that this saint would keep watch over us at one door, and our Lady at the other, that Christ would remain with us, and that it would be a star shining with great splendor.

Chorpenning concludes: “Teresa is one of those rare individuals in Christian history who has a profound consciousness of the inseparability and integrity of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.”

To conclude, here’s more from the homily for the Feast of St. Joseph by Karl Rahner, SJ:

The pages of the Bible tell us little about Joseph. But they tell us enough to know something of our heavenly patron. Not a single word of his has been recorded for us. He pondered, yes; that is expressly attested to. But he spoke little, so little that these words did not have to be transmitted to posterity. We know that he was a descendant of the noble lineage of David, the greatest in his nation’s history. But that was the past that the present, in its sober poverty, had yet to make perceptible. This present, however, was the hard life of one insignificant carpenter in a tiny village in one corner of the world. For the poor this present meant paying taxes and standing in line.

It was the destiny of the “displaced person,” who had to seek scanty shelter among strangers, until the political situation again permitted a return to his homeland, the homeland that he must have loved, since he renounced living in the neighborhood of the capital city and stayed in the “province” country of Galilee. He lived very inconsipicuously in his Nazaareth, so that the life of his family furnished no spectacular background for the public appearance of Jesus (Lk 4:22). However, this humble routine of the life of an insignificant man concealed something else: the silent performance of duty.

[To be continued tomorrow]

Oh, blessed St. Joseph, patron of our Church in troubled times, pray for us!

Because God is the Only Hypothesis Necessary

In my work writing the history of the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, I have interviewed dozens upon dozens of leading physicians, surgeons, and biomedical researchers. Recently, I have begun asking many of them a question: Is there any room for God in your world of biomedical science? Friday I received an answer that took me aback.

Jack Szostak, PhD, is a 2009 Nobel Prize-winner for Physiology or Medicine. He has had a “bench,” lab space, at the MGH for over 25 years. He has moved on from the work for which he and two non-MGH colleagues won the coveted Nobel. Today, he and his lab are trying to create life as it might have been created 13 billion years ago. I can’t give you the technical specifics, but clearly Dr. Szostak, an engaging, mild-mannered native of Montreal, is working on the fundamental hypothesis that life resulted from random collisions of chemicals and mutations of the building-block molecules that resulted. I asked him if he thought there was a place for God in this world.

“No,” he said with a shy smile. “I’ve never been a religious person. Who was it who said that God is an unnecessary hypothesis?” He couldn’t recall, but I looked it up later. It was French scientist Pierre Laplace who said it.

My purpose in asking this question of doctors and scientists is not to launch an argument that would throw my writing project off track. It’s more of a personal inquiry, a spiritual curiosity question. I have no beef with Dr. Szostak, but I see the world differently.

God is really the only hypothesis that is necessary, and becoming a Catholic has given me day-to-day experience in trying to live that hypothesis in its fullness. In thinking about why God is necessary, I have been buoyed by the writing of Fr. Luigi Giussani, founder of Communion and Liberation. Whatever the ultimate reality is, Don Giussani says, it must correspond not only with our minds (truth must be reasonable) but also with our hearts (truth must correspond to the deepest needs and stirrings of our nature). Science looks at the world with the mind alone. CL and all Catholicism look at the world with the mind and heart joined.

If you leave the heart out of the equation—and of course if you put aside fundamental questions about what made those first chemicals and the laws by which they interact and so on back to a Prime Mover—it’s quite easy to make God unnecessary for one’s mind alone.

But God didn’t make us mere brains on a stick, now did He?


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