Because It’s OK for Catholics to Laugh IV: A Modern Allegory

I’m feeling a little under the weather today. Sore throat, runny nose, etc. I posted the YIMC Book Club discussion for this week though.  I may not feel up to posting anything else today, but heck, there is enough for you to read today from Webster and our guest Allison already. So I’ve decided to share a favorite video. Consider it an allegory of the relationship of God and Man.  I’ll leave it to you to figure out who is Who. Enjoy.

Sam Sheepdog and Ralph Wolf in Ready, Woolen and Able

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Because of the Glory Be

Guest Post by Allison Salerno
About 8 last night, during the snowstorm, an ancient, snow-laden tree fell on a power line a few houses away. Our little home fell into darkness. My husband, who had been working on the computer, went upstairs to bed. Gone was the TV show Gabriel, 13, was watching. Gone was my phone conversation with a girlfriend across town. I told Lucas, 10, to turn off the stove in the kitchen where he was making cocoa and join us in the family room. We were all dressed in our pajamas.

With the noise of the outside world turned off, I knit a red wool scarf by candlelight while Gabriel told us in great detail about the film he wants to make–a modernization of the Jekyll and Hyde story. (Recently, he completed his first film, which took two years to make.)

Soon we were all sleepy, and Gabriel went upstairs to his room. Lucas asked if he and I could sleep on the two couches in the family room—he on the loveseat and me on the larger sofa. He ran upstairs to gather blankets.

Once I blew out the candles, Lucas said he felt frightened because of the dark and the silence. The only light was outside—the moon on the snow. The only sound was one of our neighbors shoveling his sidewalk.

I suggested we say some prayers. We usually start off taking turns thanking God for nice things that happened during our day. We think of three things each.

And so I began by thanking God for the beautiful snow. Lucas thanked him for the shoveling, which he really enjoyed. I thanked God for the popcorn we ate. Lucas gave thanks for the hours of sledding he had done with friends, and I thanked God that Daddy had come home safe from work.

It was Lucas’s turn. “I can’t think of anything else,” he said. “Oh—for right now.”

We said an Our Father together. Then I decided to teach him the Glory Be prayer. I said a phrase of it and Lucas repeated.

Glory be to the Father
And to The Son
And to the Holy Spirit,
As it was in the beginning,
Is now
And ever shall be,
World without end.

We finished with a Hail Mary.

I asked Lucas which prayer he liked the best. “The Glory Be,” he said. “Because I like the rhythm. And it tells us God is everywhere.”

Moments later, my son’s breathing slowed. He was asleep.

Because of Lourdes

I will never escape Lourdes. My heart will always be a captive of this village on the north skirts of the Pyrenees. I have not seen Lourdes since 1974, my second and last visit, so far. But I’m quite sure there will be a third time. Because of the first time.

I was not a Catholic then. I was not even a practicing Christian.

I had left the Episcopal Church upon leaving home for boarding school, at 15. In 1971, the year of my first visit to Lourdes, I turned 20, and I was deep in the throes of a spiritual quest headed eastward, through yoga and Zen to sufism and the teachings of Gurdjieff.

Traveling with two friends, I arrived in Lourdes without a clue. One of my friends, raised Catholic, prepared me with some basic knowledge about the fourteen-year-old girl, Bernadette Soubirous, who saw a series of apparitions in 1858, a beautiful lady holding a rosary who called herself the Immaculate Conception. I did not know that the Immaculate Conception had become Church dogma only four years before the apparitions, or even what Immaculate Conception meant.

At that time, there were in Lourdes, if memory serves, several hospitals or hospices for the care of invalids, thousands of whom come every year in hopes of a cure. [The rest of this post is an edited excerpt from a longer post written last October.] On a beautiful late-spring day I was walking alone past one of these buildings when I noticed some kind of vehicle being unloaded and hospital sisters in full habits scurrying about. My attention must have been attracted, and I wandered closer when, suddenly, one of the sisters turned hopefully to me and asked, in French, if I could help for a moment. She gestured to follow her to the far side of the vehicle, then reached inside, and pulled out a child, whom she immediately placed in my arms, indicating that I was to carry the child up a flight of stairs. Attention à la tête! she said. Be careful of the head.

I looked down and only then fully realized what, I should say whom, I was facing. It was a hydrocephalic boy, with “water on the brain” and a terribly misshapen head. I was shocked. But he was in my arms and there was only one place to go: up the flight of stairs. I cannot remember how much eye contact I made with the child, or whether I even said anything. I know I was trembling. I reached the top of the stairs, where I mercifully was met by another sister who quickly scooped the child from my arms with a simple Merci, monsieur. Feeling my own inadequacy and lack of charity more than anything else, I beat a hasty retreat. Nor did I volunteer again to help the invalids of Lourdes.

That evening, I said my first rosary. At least that’s how I thought of it, though I was not holding beads and the rosary was said in French, with which I was only high school–fluent. I did know the Our Father in French—Notre père, qui es aux cieux . . . —and could chime in pretty well every decade. But the Hail Mary was a work in progress, in French or even English. Yet none of the words mattered ultimately, because I was “saying my rosary” with about twenty thousand other souls, most of whom held a candle as we processed together in front of the great church that has been built above the grotto where the Blessed Mother appeared to the girl Bernadette.

I did not witness any miracles while in Lourdes, either in 1971 or again in 1974. I never bathed in the waters of the grotto, although I probably will next time. I can only say that from that evening on, the rosary was impressed on my consciousness as something I wanted to experience more often. And my eastward path had taken a slight deflection toward Rome. When your voice is joined with twenty thousand others, you understand that something far greater than you is praying when you say the words. There was a presence in the square in front of the church at Lourdes that evening. As there surely is a presence in Lourdes, 152 years after Our Lady’s apparition there.

Because of Guido D’Arezzo

Guest Post by Allison Salerno
I grew up in the years immediately following the Second Vatican Council. Nothing in my religious training at Mass or in our parish’s CCD program taught me about the treasure chest of Catholic worship, devotions, or music. My fondest Catholic memory from those years was sitting on the floor in a darkened classroom with my teenaged peers for Tuesday night youth group. A few times, we listened to a recording of whale songs. (This was to teach us that just as whales had a language to communicate with one another, God wanted us to communicate with others.)

I did understand that music was an important part of the Catholic liturgy. I took to heart the message of one of the felt banners in the converted gym that was my church growing up: “Singing is Praying Twice.”

As a product of the well-intentioned, but often misguided reforms that came in the wake of Vatican II, however, my childhood was robbed of my Church’s musical traditions. Polyphony? Antiphons?  The Graduale? Never heard of any of this until about a year ago.

The folksy religious songs of my Catholic childhood, most of them culled from the still-ubiquitous Oregon Catholic Press songbooks, were sweet. They made me feel good. But they didn’t illuminate Catholic beliefs; in fact, some of them misrepresented Catholic doctrine. Consider this Eucharistic tune from my childhood.

Bread, blessed and broken for us all
Symbol of your love, from the grain so tall
(Michael Lynch, “Bread, Blessed and Broken,” text © 1978, 1979 Raven Music, published in OCP Publications)

The Eucharist isn’t a symbol; it is the Real Presence of Christ.

When it came time for our sons to begin their religious instruction, my husband and I switched from a church affiliated with the nearby university to our neighborhood parish. We liked the idea that the boys would attend CCD classes with neighbors, and we hoped to meet more couples in our town who shared our faith. What we didn’t realize was that the pastor is a man with a passion for reviving the Church’s rich musical traditions. My family of four began singing hymns and occasionally a song in Latin in church. When I joined the church choir earlier this year, my education began in earnest.

My perspective is more than a matter of personal taste. It turns out Vatican II is with me on this one. The council names chant and polyphony—not folk tunes and ballads—as the two forms of sacred music specifically appropriate to the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church.

In Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC), the Council’s document on the liturgy, the Council said, Gregorian chant should have a “pride of place” and “sacred polyphony was by no means to be disdained.” Vatican II did not promote the use of guitars during Masses. The SC states, “The pipe organ is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument which adds a wonderful splendor to the Church’s ceremonies and powerfully lifts up man’s mind to God and to higher things.”

This leads me to Guido. Last month, at a meeting of our parish’s fledgling Chant Club, I learned about Guido D’Arrezzo, a medieval choirmaster and Benedictine monk, born outside Paris about 991. He invented modern musical notation by creating the four-line staff.  He did so because he noticed his fellow monks were having trouble learning Gregorian Chants. His system of staff-notation only used four lines instead of the five we now use because they fit the range of Gregorian Chant melody. He also invented the solfege system, which in English-speaking countries we know as do-re-mi. Before Guido’s inventions, monks had to rely on their memory and oral transmission to learn the dozens of chants they sang daily as part of the Divine Office and also as part of the liturgy.

The chants we are singing, in addition to being beautiful and easy to learn, also are instructive.

Ave, verum corpus
natum de Maria Virgine,
Vere passum immolatum
in Cruce pro homine,
Cujus latus perforatum
Unda fluxit (et) sanguine,
Esto nobis praegustatum
in mortis examine.

Hail, true body
born of the Virgin Mary,
Who truly suffered, sacrificed
on the Cross for man,
Whose pierced side overflowed
with water and blood,
Be for us a foretaste
In the test of death.

What do these lyrics tell us? We’re all going to die. Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered and sacrificed his own life so that we might have the possibility of eternal life. In the Eucharist is the Real Presence of his body and blood, and a foretaste of heaven.

Our boys love the music. Gabriel, 13, joined the Chant Club without any prodding from us. He loves learning the chants and the history and theology behind them. Recently, we attended Mass at our former parish for the Sunday night student Mass. My husband and I thought it would be good for our boys to see hundreds of college students worshipping. And I figured they’d find the music, contemporary Catholic tunes played on guitars and drums and tambourines, cool. Instead, our teenager was dismayed. “Where’s the organ?” Gabriel asked.

So it turns out that we are raising, as a friend in the choir puts it, “an authentic son of the Second Vatican Council.” Whether anyone knows it or not.

YIMC Book Club, “Mere Christianity,” Week 4

This week we read Book III, Chapters 2 through 5.

I really enjoyed this week’s readings. And let me be the first to say that I have come full circle on my opinion of C. S. Lewis.  I like you, Jack, and I don’t even care if you smoke. See him over there scribbling away? Writing some great stuff, I bet. Like what he was writing this week.

For a change, we stayed in the same book for a whole week so it was easy to stay on track. And Jack kept us focused with the following chapters: 2. The “Cardinal Virtues,” 3. Social Morality, 4. Morality and Psychoanalysis, 5. Sexual Morality.

Jack covers a lot of ground and before we go any further I just want to reiterate that I was wrong about Mr. Lewis. The book started off like a bottle of formula, and I was wailing like a little baby. But now? Jack is slinging some serious hash, folks. You probably won’t see ideas like those in these chapters anywhere else, except in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

From the Cardinal Virtues of Prudence, Temperance, Justice, and Fortitude through his assessment of Christian thought regarding sexual morality, it all jibes with the Church’s teachings. Oh, not with contemporary society, not by a long shot. But isn’t that the point? Lewis writes about all of the main ideas that all Christians agreed on up until WWII, when he put this together.

Isn’t it ironic that many of the ideas set-in-stone in these chapters are coming unglued everywhere in many mainline Protestant churches today? I found myself cheering Jack on as he writes,

The job is really on us, on the laymen. The application of Christian principles, say, to trade unionism or education, must come from Christian trade unionists and Christian schoolmasters: just as Christian literature comes from Christian novelists and dramatists—not from the bench of bishops getting together and trying to write plays and novels in their spare time. 

From his thoughts on achieving a truly Christian Society and his jab at our debt-laced economic models (which came close to imploding, again, back in 2008) to his manhandling of Freudian psychoanalysis and his old-fashioned, very Catholic take on sexual morality, it was green lights all the way, for me at least.

But what about you folks? What are your thoughts and take-aways from this week’s readings? I’ll leave you with a few of my favorite quotes from this week’s section and then turn it over to you.

All the same, the New Testament, without going into details, gives us a pretty clear hint of what a fully Christian society would be like. Perhaps it gives us more than we can take.

Courtesy is one of the Christian virtues; and the New Testament hates what it calls “busybodies.”

I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.

A Christian society is not going to arrive until most of us really want it: and we are not going to want it until we become fully Christian.

. . . when Freud is talking about how to cure neurotics he is speaking as a specialist on his own subject, but when he goes on to talk general philosophy he is speaking as an amateur.

Human beings judge one another by their external actions. God judges them by their moral choices.

. . . you and I, for the last twenty years, have been fed all day long on good solid lies about sex.

They tell you sex has become a mess because it was hushed up. But for the last twenty years it has not been hushed up. It has been chattered about all day long. Yet it is still in a mess.

I want to make it as clear as I possibly can that the centre of Christian morality is not here. If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual.

From 1920 until 2010, is more like 90 years now, Jack.  Take it away, club members.  You have the floor.

Next week we read Book III, Chapters 6, 7, and 8

For All the Saints: Scholastica

It is easy to dismiss as legend the one and only chestnut we usually read about St. Scholastica, sister of St. Benedict: That she prayed to God to be allowed to talk longer with her brother; that God rewarded her with a lightning storm that forced the siblings to spend the night together in spiritual conversation; and that three days later, when his sister died, Benedict had a vision of a dove rising to heaven. Just another Catholic legend, right?

But wait. Consider the source. “Almost everything we know about Saint Scholastica comes from the Dialogues of St. Gregory the Great.” Gregory is a Doctor of the Church, one of the great Catholics in all of history, and he was born (540 AD) three years before the death of St. Scholastica. Gregory was born in Rome, about 90 miles from the place of Scholastica’s death in or near Montecassino, site of Benedict’s first monastery. Montecassino is on a road south from Rome, effectively en route to Sicily, where Gregory’s father had extensive land holdings. Gregory himself became a Benedictine monk and abbot before becoming Pope.

If the final days of St. Scholastica are “only legend,” then they are not legends like Paul Bunyan and the Blue Ox Babe. They are more like a family story told by one generation, who saw the events, to the next generation, eager to learn—young and impressionable maybe, but hardly gullible or stupid.

Witnesses testified that when Joan of Arc died at the stake about 900 years after Scholastica’s death, a dove flew out of the flames. Another legend, right? Except that no life of a saint is more documented than Joan’s.

These things interest me as the older brother of four sisters and the father of two grown daughters. I am always deeply impressed by the reverence my Church shows for great women of faith. In the story of the lightning storm, God was on Scholastica’s side, not that of her older, more powerful brother.

A Question About the Mission

After Thanksgiving we debated the Church’s position on war. Make that dual position: The Catechism allows both pacificism and the “just war.” But what do you make of the Church’s historic role helping European governments subdue indigenous peoples, as undoubtedly happened in South America four hundred years ago, literally over the dead bodies of missionary Jesuits? That’s the inescapable question after viewing Robert Bolt’s 1986 film The Mission, starring Jeremy Irons as Father Webster, pacifist, and Robert DeNiro as Brother Frank, mercenary turned Jesuit who dies in battle while contemplating the Eucharist.

The Mission is mesmerizing, and sure, it’s fictionalized. But the plot is based on a history we all understand. You only have to watch it to know how gut-wrenchingly true it is, which is to say, how horribly human. A small band of Jesuits peacefully convert an indigenous tribe of the rain forest, building an idyllic mission in a tropical paradise. But when Spanish and Portuguese land-grabbers want to crush the natives, the Church capitulates, in the person of Archbishop Altamirano (Ray McAnally). The prelate sides with European power brokers, including the Church back home, condoning wholesale slaughter. In such shootouts, cannon and musket always blast bow and arrow.

It hardly seems enough to say, as we Catholics do, “Of course, there are bad priests, bad bishops, but the Church is never in error.” Well, maybe not, but—

The climactic scene of The Mission is heart-breaking and, for all that, deeply inspiring. DeNiro’s character is a convert to religious life; Irons’s is a career Jesuit. When European forces close in, Irons chooses to counter violence with love, saying Mass at the mission altar. Meanwhile DeNiro counters with an eye for eye, organizing a band of natives into armed resistance. Both Jesuits end dead, but in a gripping denouement: DeNiro is gunned down within sight of a Eucharistic procession led by Irons, who carries the Blessed Sacrament out from the mission onto the field of battle, surrounded by a crowd of worshiping natives. As bullets drop them one by one, and a dying DeNiro looks on, Irons bears the Eucharist forward until he is gunned down too. Like one of the African American soldiers in the film “Glory,” who picks up the Stars and Stripes when another flagbearer falls, a native takes the monstrance from Irons’s lifeless hands and carries it forward.

A final voice-over notes that it is the dead, not the survivors, who are remembered by posterity, and a crawl before the final credits states that missionaries continue to this day helping native peoples. But what about the Church? The vaunted Magisterium? The historic Popes who, in such instances, sided with the European powers against, in this instance, the Jesuits who, let’s face it, have not always been darlings of the Vatican? How do you answer anti-Catholic voices who accuse the Church of such atrocities, the old Crusades argument—as in, by what justification could the Church support such a destructive, unjust, and ultimately failed military campaign? By “just” war?

The sight of the Eucharist being carried forward, first by a priest, then by a native, brought tears to my eyes, but I have to ask again, What about the Church?

Because of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#357)

Guest Post by Allison Salerno
For two years now, I’ve been teaching writing Wednesday mornings at a community college in suburbia. Most of the time, I teach classes in what is called developmental writing. These remedial writing classes are for students who are not quite ready for college-level work. Most of the students in my classroom arrive bearing a track record of academic failure. Sometimes, they arrive with their lives broken in other places.

While some students are taking the class merely because they struggled in high school, others carry bigger burdens. My students have included a recovering heroin addict, veterans haunted by their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a boy who spent his teenaged years in tough-love detox centers. Once, I taught a pair of brothers who both wrote—each from his own perspective—about how they shot a rival in the leg and then managed to elude police.

“How can you teach these students? I would hate that job,” one friend told me. And yet, because I am Catholic, I love my work.

357 Being in the image of God the human individual possesses the dignity of a person, who is not just something, but someone. He is capable of self-knowledge, of self-possession and of freely giving himself and entering into communion with other persons. And he is called by grace to a covenant with his Creator, to offer him a response of faith and love that no other creature can give in his stead.

There’s nothing particularly “Catholic-looking” about me. I don’t wear a crucifix or a rosary bracelet, and I’ve never spoken about my faith beliefs in the community-college classroom.  My focus is preparing my students for college-level work and in helping each one find his or her writer’s voice.

My students don’t know it, but my faith helps me guide them.

My favorite part of Mass comes after I have received Communion, which is Christ himself—body, blood, soul, and divinity. As I kneel, I usually don’t bow my head in prayer; I look up and watch the other worshippers receive the Eucharist. As each one receives, I say to myself: Here is a child of God.

This unconventional prayer helps me to realize the lesson the Catholic Church teaches, that every one of us is beloved by God. This prayer of mine seeps even more powerfully into my being because nearly all the hundreds of Catholic Masses I have attended have included worshippers from across the spectrum of age and culture.

The worshippers at my own parish are no exception. Every Sunday, I watch widowers, young mothers carrying babies, graduate students from Korea, parishioners with walkers, women who are mentally disabled, day workers from Mexico, a visiting Filipina nun—and on and on—step up to receive the body and blood of Christ.

I am Catholic because the Church calls us to be disciples of Christ. Every day is an opportunity to illuminate the values our Church holds dear—love of God, love of neighbor.

And when I am teaching, my faith gives me the strength to believe, no matter how damaged my students’ paths have been. All students deserve an opportunity to succeed. My privilege and my duty are to believe in them all.

Because of Who We Think We Are (Music for Mondays)

Would you believe the Blues Brothers?  Because we are on a mission. Hot on the case. Cool under fire. Or something like that. This is music to fly under the radar with.

We just have to watch out for Carrie Fisher and the rocket launcher, LOL.
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Am I hearing some kind of theme here?

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LOL, the young Webster Bull? I think not!

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Another day in front of the keyboard.  Without prayer, it would be like this…

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Our guest Allison, Webster, and Frank.  In that order…

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Umbrellas? We don’t need no stinking umbrellas!   We might need a cattle-prod though,  ’cause, OUCH!

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Because It’s OK for Catholics to Have Fun, and Even Place a Friendly Bet

Until I became a Catholic I never went to a Super Bowl party. Last night, Catholic friends invited me to two. Bob and Deb invited the Beverly CL crowd to their place, and I would have happily gone there. But Ferde had been making chili since Wednesday, and he sealed the deal by accepting a bet on the game.

A footnote about my pre-Catholic Super Bowl experience. I’m not the misanthrope that makes me sound. Until a few years ago, Katie and I and our daughters all performed together in Sunday afternoon performances of a world-famous magic show, after which we were always exhausted and wanted only to get home and crash in front of our own tube. Our theatre friends came to our place, if they weren’t exhausted too.

But back to last night’s party. It was a friendly crowd packed into Ferde and Heidi’s cozy TV room. Their daughters, Jenean and Elaine, were there, along with Marty (whom Ferde is sponsoring in RCIA), Jonathan, and myself. (Katie was in New Hampshire helping her sister move into a new home.) Father Barnes even put in an appearance at the party, though he’s the exhausted one nowadays Sundays at six, and he begged off early, after wings and a beer. When the tide of the game began turning about 8 pm, I got a text message from the padre: “Is Ferde still taking bets?” When I texted that Ferde wanted to know “your proposition,” Father sent back a sermonette that I’m still pondering: “Beware of trees with $50 bills hanging off of them.” That forestalled negotiations.

Frank’s post today refers to four virtues: mercy, pity, peace, and love. Our reading in CS Lewis this week refers to the four Cardinal Virtues: prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude. These four were mostly on display at Ferde’s last night, though once Father Barnes was gone, temperance got a run for its money. It took fortitude to eat all of the tasty foods Ferde and Heidi had prepared (I had to eat three brownies as an act of charity); and justice was served because my side bet proved prudent. I had the Saints, along with a generous spread of seven points. The Saints won by fourteen.

I’ve never gone wrong taking the saints.