Because of the Ripples

My daughter Marian was received into the Catholic Church at Saturday’s Easter Vigil. I have been incommunicado since we left for Chapel Hill, NC, early Friday, and this is why. At times like these, words fail. I snapped three quick pictures of the confirmation rite and the camera failed too: only one picture came close to coming out. In the shot below, Marian is the blond woman directly behind Msgr. John Wall, pastor of the Newman Center at UNC.

I’ve learned that there are times when even a blogger should shut up and thank God. I will say this: The miracle of the weekend was not that Marian is now a Catholic, although that is a beautiful story in itself, which my daughter can tell you when she’s good and ready. The miracle of the weekend is not even that Marian’s father did not cry. I didn’t, and I am usually a basket case at such times.

The miracle of the weekend lies in a story involving another family member, a story I will not tell you either. But I will tell you the lesson it leaves me with.

Our conversions—and we are always converting—are not just for ourselves. When I was received into the Church two years ago this Easter, with my own father present, I had no intention of cajoling either of my daughters into following my example. Nor did I.

Please note that I am not saying that Marian “followed my example.” Katie, her mother, made the very good point that if Marian had gone to her first college choice in Philadelphia or her second in Washington DC—instead of winning a full merit scholarship and following it to UNC and the Bible Belt—none of this might have happened. Marian’s many, mostly Protestant friends at her sorority and elsewhere were probably more influential in her decision to take religion seriously than was her father.

Still, two years after my becoming a Catholic, my daughter is now a Catholic. A little ripple has gathered force. And Marian’s conversion has already had a powerful influence on someone very close to her, which again is a story for someone else to tell. Ripples can become waves.

Gloria in Excelsis Deo!

For All the Saints: Isidore of Seville

Not until I read Julie Cragon’s blog Hand Me Down Heaven Sunday afternoon did I realize Easter Sunday was also the feast day of Saint Isidore of Seville. The twinning of Saint Isidore’s feast day, April 4, and Easter Sunday this year is fortuitous. This learned archbishop, who died on April 4, 656, succeeded his brother Leander as Metropolitan See of Seville at a time when Spain was in disarray and awash in heresies. His life story lets us know that for centuries Christian witnesses have helped to restore the Church by synthesizing contemplation and action.

Ironically, my son Gabriel and I had been talking about Saint Isidore when we went out to lunch after the 11 a.m. Mass before heading home. Saint Isidore is Gabriel’s patron saint; he chose Isidore as his confirmation name after a family friend introduced him to this “indefatigible compiler of all existing knowledge.” His most important work, the 20-volume Etymologaie, is considered the world’s first encyclopedia. It was widely used for 1,000 years. Since Gabriel, too, has a deep thirst for knowledge, he was drawn to learn more about Saint Isidore. The fact this Doctor of the Church, also known as the last scholar of the ancient world, is the proposed patron saint of the internet didn’t hurt, either.

In addition to his obvious scholarly brilliance, St. Isidore also oversaw the Second Synod of Seville (619) and the Fourth National Council of Toledo (633). The Second Synod of Seville was important because it clarified the Church’s teachings on Christ’s nature and the nature of a Triune God. This was at a time when Spain was split between believing Christians and Arians, who claimed that Christ was not  “of God.” The Fourth National Council, which all the bishops of Spain attended, decreed that every diocese establish seminaries in their cathedral cities. This, along with St. Isidore’s establishment of schools to study every area of learning, not insignificantly, made Spain a center of culture and learning. St. Isidore was holy and he thirsted for truth. He wrote: “Those who seek to attain repose in contemplation must first train in the stadium of active life; and then, free from the dross of sin, they will be able to display that pure heart which alone makes the vision of God possible.”

Because of the Litany of the Saints

At the Great Vigil of Easter this year, I teared up during the Litany of the Saints. Standing in the choir loft, I could see the entire parish, many of whom are dear friends, as we all pleaded with our heavenly companions to pray for us. At this time of immense crisis in our beloved Church, never has this plea for heavenly help felt more powerful and necessary.

Some of my non-Catholic friends think we Catholics pray to the saints. We don’t. During the Litany of the Saints, we ask the saints in heaven to pray for us. The Litany of the Saints begins by invoking the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We also ask more than 50 saints, by name, to pray for us. Of course, these men and women are not the only saints. The Catholic Church has confirmed the existence of thousands of saints, men and women who have died and now are in union with God in heaven. Millions of other saints inhabit heaven, people whose lives were less notable. Faithful friends and family who have gone before us are also part of this great Communion of Saints. In great humility, we beg this cosmic communion to pray for us. We are a hurting Church. We need their prayers.

Throughout my life, in years and Masses past, I have merely endured this Litany of the Saints, which lasts for four or five minutes. To me, it was a monotonous listing of out-of-date names. Saints to me, I am sad to say, had no more meaning than two-dimensional cardboard cutouts.  Now, I understand that these flawed, vulnerable, and brave men and women are still alive, in the “cloud of witnesses.” They are part of the Communion of Saints  that exists here on earth, among the faithful souls on their way to heaven, and in heaven with those now united with God.

Thanks to my careful reading since Christmas, including the magnificent book  My Life with The Saints, which sparked Webster’s own conversion,  I now feel familiar with many of those names. These saints are my friends. The early church, Father James Martin, SJ, writes, focused more on the “companionship model, those who have gone ahead of us and are now cheering us on, brothers and sisters in the community of faith.” Here are the parishioners at Our Lady of Mercy, chanting the litany at their Great Vigil of Easter last year.

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This year in my New Jersey parish as the cantors sang each name at the Great Vigil, I could imagine the person, in all his or her quirky and holy individuality, behind the name. We Catholics need this Communion of Saints as never before. The credibility of our Church leaders is being questioned, and for good reason. I welcome this questioning. I share the disgust at the sexual abuse of children and subsequent cover-ups. Only 1 percent of the Roman Catholic Church are priests and bishops, and a tiny proportion of them are the abusers and their enablers. The Catechism of the Catholic Church instructs all of us to make right choices in accordance with reason and the divine law. This means we faithful must speak out for the good of the Church when the Church is in crisis. She is now.

The church scandals hit my family directly. We discovered years later, that a pedophilic priest served at the parish of my childhood, as did another priest who went on to move disturbed men from parish to parish. Reflecting on this now, my parents are deeply grateful that my brother never served as an altar boy or spent a moment alone with a priest or anyone on staff. Decades ago, one troubling incident my brother found out about from friends prompted my mom to call our pastor. He shrugged off the probability boys were being sexually abused by one of his subordinates. “We were so trusting,” my mom says. ” I should have called the police.”

As a result of this history, I was resistant to the idea of my own sons becoming altar servers, not because of the wonderful parish priest at our current parish, but because of that childhood experience that haunted, angered, and terrified me when my parents and the news media reported it years later. And I embrace rules that now prevent priests from spending tine alone with any parishioner—just as teachers are instructed not to spend time alone with one student. These rules both protect parishioners from sexual or other abuse and protect priests from the possibility of false allegations.

Trust, once broken, can be impossible to repair. Scores of Catholics of my generation and acquaintance have left the Church because of these scandals, either because they were abused as young boys or because they were repelled by learning of the abuse. But the truth remains that the overwhelming majority of Catholic priests are wonderful, trustworthy men, who are as pained and disheartened and disgusted as the laity about child sexual abuse and the subsequent denials and cover-ups by bishops.

And the truth is that in its Bible-based traditions and sacramental life, the Catholic Church holds the fullness of faith. Bad people never will destroy the Church’s truth. Consider what Doctor of the Church St. Thomas of Aquinas said nearly seven centuries ago about priests, who daily bring us a foretaste of heaven through the Eucharist. “The priest consecrates the sacraments not by his own power, but as the minister of Christ, in whose person he consecrates this sacrament. But from the fact of being wicked he does not cease to be Christ’s minister because our Lord has good and wicked ministers or servants.” And so, in this crisis, we Catholics in the pews need to speak out from the depths of our consciences about the sins of the Church leaders. And as part of the Communion of Saints, we need to ask even more fervently for the prayers of those who have gone before us, marked with the signs of our indestructible faith.

Easter Chants and the Gloria is Back! (Music for Mondays)

Though it says “Posted by Webster,” this post was written by Frank. We’re having technical issues. . . .

Here at YIM Catholic, we hope you had a Blessed Easter! I found a few chants that even a hillbilly like me can even understand. I hope you enjoy them.

First, one from Holy Thursday—
They have stripped me of my garments 
and clothed me in a scarlet robe

They have set upon my head 
a crown of thorns

And have given me 
a reed in my right hand

That I might dash them in pieces

like potter’s vessel(video ends here)
Today hell cries out groaning
I should not have accepted the man born of Mary

He came and destroyed my power

He shattered the gates of brass
as God he raised the souls that I had held captive
Glory to thy cross and resurrection O Lord

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The next one is long! It’s in English again and from the Candle ceremony from the Easter Vigil: the Exsultet. To follow along, you might want to open this in another tab.

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I don’t know about you, but I’ve been missing the Gloria! Here is Vivaldi’s version,

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Let’s back that up with Mozart’s version:

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Bach’s version? I thought you would never ask!

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Late breaking addition.  Gloria by U-2


I try to sing this song
I, I try to stand up
But I can’t find my feet
I try, I try to speak up
But only in you I’m complete
Gloria…in te domine
Oh Lord, loosen my lips.

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See you next week!

Because of the Thurifers

You might have noticed during the three days of the Easter Triduum, the fragrance of incense came and disappeared and then returned, hewing closely to the story of Our Lord’s Death and His Resurrection. We Roman Catholics have been using incense for more than a dozen centuries. We use incense as a symbol of our prayers rising to heaven. We imagine the fragrant scent rising and pleasing the nostrils of God. I love that our Church cares enough about sanctification that it has a special name for the people who incense a church: thurifers.

You see, we don’t just leave sticks of incense laying around the sanctuary; an altar server is charged with incensing the church with a thurbile (pictured below). This thurifer has such an important job that even the number of swings of the thurbile has special rules and meanings. Perhaps the world’s biggest, most famous thurible is the massive one found in the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral in northwest Spain.

On Holy Thursday, in Roman Catholic Churches across the globe, the incense is everywhere. It sanctifies the path of the Blessed Sacrament. It sanctifies the Gospel, whose words are sacred since they came from the mouth of Our Lord. It sanctifies the altar, where bread and wine become Jesus’s body, blood, soul and divinity. On Good Friday we commemorate the Lord’s Crucifixion and His death at Calvary, a hill outside ancient Jerusalem’s walls. The incense is gone. It does not return until the Great Vigil of Easter. That is when the thurifer incenses the Paschal Candle lit by the Easter fire. He also incenses the altar where, once again, consecration happens and we celebrate the most important Mass of our liturgical year.

Earlier this week, when we were in the choir loft rehearsing our pieces for the Easter Triduum liturgies, the altar servers were in the sanctuary below, preparing for Holy Thursday Mass. Our pastor was running them through their movements, including their procession down the aisle at the start of the Mass. I smiled to myself when I saw one of  the servers walking backward. B. is one of those “very good kids,” a son of devout parents who is unfailingly courteous and shows great respect to the church’s traditions. I thought perhaps he was letting off some steam by walking backwards. What I didn’t realize until Holy Thursday Mass was that B. was doing exactly what he was supposed to: he’s our parish thurifer. He sanctifies the path that lies before the Blessed Sacrament as the priest processes.

To incense is to symbolize our prayers rising to God. To incense is a sacred action. When that first whiff rose into the choir loft Thursday evening, I thought: No place else on earth do I smell that. I’m in my true home now.

I have cried to Thee, O Lord, hear me: hearken to my voice, when I cry to Thee. Let my prayer be directed as incense in Thy sight; the lifting up of my hands, as evening sacrifice.

Because Death Catches Up to All of Us, Even Thomas Alva Edison

Before Thomas Alva Edison graced the world with his gifts, the only way to record a human being’s voice was in one’s memory. There was no way to preserve a moving image. Despite his intensive efforts to record his own life and the lives of others through his development of sound recordings and moving pictures, Edison met the same end we all will: he died. A visit to the Thomas Edison National Historical Park in West Orange, New Jersey, Thursday morning made me grateful for the man and also for my faith in a world beyond this one—a faith that Edison, for all of his brilliance, lacked.

To visit this recently reopened historic site, which I did with my family Thursday, is to be awed by the man and his gifts. Edison was born in 1847. His early life was not easy. Edison did not learn to talk until he was four. He left formal schooling after three months because a teacher found him “addled.” His mom home-schooled him after that. A bout of scarlet fever left him partially deaf.
His life was filled with material success. His friends, including Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone, were wealthy and successful. His accomplishments include the invention of the incandescent light bulb, early motion pictures, and the phonograph. He won numerous accolades, including being elected the first honorary member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He was awarded a  Congressional Gold Medal and a posthumous Grammy.
He amassed great fortune and fame during his 84 years. His laboratories in West Orange were the world’s first industrial research laboratory. He spent so many hours working there—up to 115 a week—that his wife put a bed in the laboratory library so he could rest.
It’s hard to discern exactly what Edison’s spiritual beliefs were. Some say he was an atheist, others that he was a deist, still others that he dabbled in the occcult. But it’s clear that his belief in the afterlife—or that our faith here on earth will affect our eternity—played no role in this rational man of science’s world view.
Death caught up to Edison, as it will the rest of us. The enormous clock in his three-story library stopped at the time of his death. The audio guide we listened to during the tour says it remains a mystery who exactly stopped the clock.
What struck me and Greg during our visit was Edison’s apparent obsession with preserving the memory of himself. He named dozens of companies and inventions after himself. Donald Trump, anyone? He had numerous photographs and films and recordings of himself. Oddest of all, when he lay dying, one of his sons held a test tube to his mouth to preserve his dying breath. That sealed test tube is on display at the Henry Ford Museum in Greenfield, Michigan.  
I found it ironic and sad to learn that  Edison’s lifelong favorite poem was  Thomas Gray’s  “Elegy Written in a  Country Church-yard.”  His favorite stanza was the ninth: “The boast of heraldry,  the pomp of power. And all that beauty all that wealth e’er gave, Alike awaits th’inevitable hour: — The paths of glory leads but to the grave.”

Since my husband survived the 9-11 terrorist attacks, he and I no longer fear death. Our Catholicism has led us to know in our hearts that our lives in Christ will endure beyond our last breath on this earth.

For Your Good Friday Night at the Movies

We are safely back on the ground. We picked up a nice tailwind after we launched off of the Abraham Lincoln last Saturday. This development is putting us ahead of schedule. The electricians on Ol’ Abe replaced the faulty Fire Warning sensor on the starboard engine without a hitch. With that favorable wind, we landed last night before our logistics train made it to our forward base of operations.

So what am I saying? I’m saying we have no food, except what little we had in the cockpit with us. We’ve got lots of water though.  Now, since it’s Good Friday, that’s really not such bad news. The AWACS up in the sky informs us that the rest of the squadron will be here tomorrow.

The good news?  We’ve got the hangar all to ourselves and Webster had tonight’s film stashed in our baggage tank. As such, we’ve taken the liberty of setting up the screen for tonight’s movie right here in the hangar bay after dinner. (I’ve got an apple, Webster has some Fig Newtons, bring what you have to share!) Is it right to even watch a movie on Good Friday? I ran it by the chaplain over at mainside and he said that, given our selection, it wouldn’t be wrong. If you care to join us, it is the 1965 classic The Greatest Story Ever Told. 

Starring Max von Sydow as Jesus, Charlton Heston as John the Baptist, and an all-star cast. This family-friendly movie takes us through the life of Christ from his baptism, ministry, death and resurrection. As the good folks over at IMDb say,

“My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken Me?”It is towards this climactic crossroads that the story of Jesus of Nazareth leads, and to which, at the final moment, it again looks back in triumphant retrospect. It is the anguishing crossroads where the eternal questions of faith and doubt become resolved.

Have a look at the trailer, and we hope to see you in the hangar bay at 20:00 for “chow” and 21:00 for the film. Webster, Allison, and I invite you to enjoy the film and have a blessed Easter weekend.  As always, we appreciate your support, and thank you for flying YIMC Airlines.

Because this Prophecy of David Is Fulfilled

The Psalms were a book in the Bible that I pretty much ignored my whole life. I was baptized when I was 10 years old and thought I knew a lot about my faith. I have known Psalm 23 by heart probably since I was 7 or 8.  But it wasn’t until I began exploring the idea of becoming a Catholic Christian, and reading the Psalms closely that I realized that David was not only a mighty warrior and king, but a prophet as well.  

Case in point, Psalm 22.  Clearly David, to whom God promised “Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever” (2 Samuel 7:16), was a witness to the scene that played out on Golgotha, and (thankfully) what comes after. In case those looking on didn’t make the connection, Our Lord cries out the first line while on the cross; “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?'(Mk 15:34; cf. Mt 27:46) 

Psalm 22

God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
The words that I groan do not reach my saviour.
My God, I call by day and you do not listen.
I call to you by night, but no rest comes.
But still you are holy,
the one whom Israel praises.
Our fathers put their hope in you;
they gave you their trust and you freed them.
They called on you and they were saved,
they trusted and were not disappointed.

But I am a worm and no man,
despised by mankind and rejected by the people.
All who see me deride me,
they make faces and toss their heads:
“He trusted in the Lord, so let the Lord rescue him:
let him save him, if he truly delights in him!”
Indeed, you drew me from my mother’s womb,
you set me to suck at her breasts.
I have depended on you since before I was born,
from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

Do not be far from me now,
for my tribulation is close at hand,
for there is no-one who will help.
I am surrounded by many cattle,
the bulls of Bashan hem me in.
Their mouths open wide before me,
like a fierce and roaring lion.
I have flowed away like water,
and all my bones come apart.
My heart has turned to wax,
it melts away within me.

My mouth is dry as burnt clay,
my tongue sticks in my throat:
you have laid me in the dust of death.
I am surrounded by many dogs,
my enemies unite and hem me in.
They have pierced my hands and my feet:
I can count all my bones.
They gaze on me, they inspect me.
They have divided my clothing between them,
they have cast lots for my garment.

So you, Lord, do not stay away:
Lord, my strength, hurry to my help.
Rescue my soul from the sword,
my only child from the teeth of the dogs.
Save me from the lion’s mouth,
from the wild oxen’s horns that brought me low.
I will tell of your glory to my brethren;
I will praise you in the midst of the assembly.
Praise the Lord, you who fear him!
Give him glory, all the seed of Jacob.
Let Israel tremble before him,
for he does not spurn the poor or ignore their plight.

He does not turn his face away –
whoever calls on him, he listens.
I shall cry out your praise in the great assembly,
I shall fulfil my vows before all those who fear you.
The poor will eat and be filled,
those who seek the Lord will praise him.
“Let their hearts live for ever!”
All the ends of the earth will remember the Lord:
they will turn to him.

All the families of nations will worship before him.
For the Lord’s is the kingdom,
it is he who will rule all the nations.
Him alone will they praise, those who sleep in the earth;
they will worship before him, who go down into the dust.
But my soul will be alive to him,
and my seed shall serve him.
They shall tell of the Lord to the next generation,
they shall proclaim his righteousness to a people yet to be born.
“Hear what the Lord has done!”

In an audience given in 1988, Pope John Paul II explains the fulfillment of this scripture clearly.

Because I Am Usually Howling with the Mob

During these terrible days, when so many are saying so much so loudly against and in favor of our Church, and especially its leader, our dear Pope Benedict XVI, it is hard to stand apart from the mob—the one howling in protest, or the one trying desperately to shout them down. We are all standing along the Way of the Cross, jeering the scourged Christ or bewailing his persecution. How can we possibly be different? How can we change?

This is the question we have been addressing for the past two weeks in our School of Community (local membership of Communion and Liberation): Is it possible for me, as a Christian, to be fundamentally changed by my religious experience? Or is Christianity just something “added onto” me, like a picture in my wallet, or the leavings of a course I took in school years ago?

Can my experience of Christ be so convincing that I can resist even the pull of the mob—whether they are welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem with palms or goading him angrily up Golgotha?

In his homily last night, Father Barnes addressed this question. He said memorably that the only thing that can prepare us for the sounds of Good Friday—the curses, the shouts, the lamentations—is the silence in the Upper Room and the three gifts Christ leaves us here. The gifts, he told us, are charity (symbolized by Christ washing his Apostles’ feet), the Eucharist, and the priesthood, which Jesus instituted among the Twelve at the Last Supper, or among the Eleven who stood by him, though even some of them fell asleep.

I sang with the choir at the beautiful seven o’clock mass, and then a few of us stayed behind, seated before the Blessed Sacrament. Finally, at a few minutes before ten, we stood with Father Barnes for Compline, then silently left the church.

I will be thinking more about Christ’s three gifts as Katie and I fly to North Carolina this morning to see our daughter received into the Church. Even tomorrow evening’s Easter Vigil, as beautiful and touching as it will be, begs the question—Does this have the power to change me? Or will I be shouting with the mob again on Monday morning?

Because of the Easter Triduum

The Easter Triduum comprises the holiest days in the Christian calendar. It begins tonight with Holy Thursday, when we commemorate the last meal our Lord ate with his disciples. It ends with Easter Sunday evening prayers as we rejoice in His Resurrection.

Until then, dear reader, let us all pray for one another and for our Church. Let us pray for folks on both sides of the Tiber. Let us pray for those who are joining the Church this season, including Webster’s beloved daughter in North Carolina, and for those who are contemplating conversion. Let us pray for Catholics whose faith is faltering or lost and let us pray for a world which often seems indifferent to the miracle of creation and resurrection. 

Two years ago, in an address in Saint Peter’s Basilica,  Benedict XIV said this about the Triduum, 

Dear brothers and sisters, during these special days let us guide our lives definitively toward a complete and decisive adherence to the designs of our celestial Father; let us renew our “yes” to the divine will as Jesus did with his sacrifice on the cross. The rites suggested for Holy Thursday and Good Friday, the rich silence of prayer of Holy Saturday and the solemn Easter vigil provide us with the opportunity to deepen the feelings and the values of our Christian vocation unleashed by the Paschal mystery and to strengthen it by faithfully following Christ in all circumstances, just as he did, even to the point of giving up our own existence to him.