Retropost: Confessions of a St. Patrick’s Day Curmudgeon


In honor of this special day let’s revisit one of my favorite posts.

While most kids look forward to Christmas, when I was a child, St. Patrick’s Day (along with Thanksgiving) was one of my favorite days of the year.  It was a big day in my family usually involving going to the parade in New York and seeing family and friends we hadn’t seen in a while.  Then there was the music, the stories of St. Patrick, the history of Ireland and the Irish in America.  Growing up in a town where the dominant population was Ital … Read More

Related Posts:

Retropost: Epiphany


The sixth day of January is the Feast of Epiphany- also known as Twelfth Night, Three Kings Day, and Little Christmas.  The lyrically odd but wonderful “Cherry Tree Carol” contends that it is Jesus’ birthday, a belief shared by some early Christians and Eastern Churches.  It is also the beginning of the Carnival season building up to Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday.

Garrison Keillor dedicates most of today’s Writer’s Almanac to the feast.  I wrote about Epiphany more extensively three years ago, but it’s worth revisiting that old post today.

Things I Learned This Week


I learn a lot everyday and probably forget as much each day as well. As a new feature on Panorama of the Mountains, I’m going to write down some things I’ve learned. Like many things on this blog, I am my own primary audience, but if you find it interesting as well, all the better.

1.  I was unable to open files on the USB drive on my work PC and after several frustrating tries I did a “Hail Mary” Google search of “why can’t I open my usb drive?”  This lead me to this site, which offered the following instructions:

  • Right-click on My Computer and choose Manage
  • Click on Disk Management
  • Right-click on your Thumbdrive and select “Change drive letter and paths”

This was a quick and easy solution that worked for me.  Yay for the internet that rewards lazy web searches.

2. Ring shout – this is a feature of the upcoming Revels performance I will participate in. A ringshout is a religious practice of African-American communities where there’s call & response and circular movements to accompany the singing. Crossing one’s feet and legs or even lifting one’s feet are to be avoided since that would be dancing and inappropriate for worship.

3. The Triborough Bridge in New York City is now called the Robert F. Kennedy(RFK) Bridge. This is odd to me both because this very appropriate name for the interlocking bridges connection three boroughs had been in use since it opened in 1936 and because the renaming took place long after Kennedy’s assassination.

 

Book Review: Quest for the Living God by Elizabeth A. Johnson


Elizabeth A. Johnson, C.S.J. explores the many ideas of God that have emerged in the past century in Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God (2007).  The book functions as a quick summary of these many “new” theologies of God – albeit rooted in ancient tradition and faithful to scripture. They include:

  • the modern, secular world with a focus on Karl Rahner
  • the suffering of the Holocaust and three post-war German theologians: Jurgen Moltmann, Dorothee Soelle, and Johann Baptist Metz.
  • liberation theology in the the post-colonial, still exploited developing world in which Oscar Romero is a major figure.
  • women and the feminine divine
  • the African American church that sings of freedom although rooted in slavery and segregation
  • the God of fiesta and la lucha in the Latin American church
  • religious pluralism
  • the natural world and science
  • the Trinity

Each chapter includes a selection of recommended reading on the theology and prominent thinkers in that area.  Johnson also makes some interesting, incisive statements about the idolatry of some of the current accepted practices of the Church (such as the concept of God as an old, bearded white man). Johnson’s writing is energetic and positive which adds to its inspirational quality.

Favorite Passages

First off, a person can no longer be a Christian out of social convention or inherited custom.  To be a Christian now requires a personal decision, the kind of decision that brings about a change of heart and sustains long-term commitment.  Not cultural Christianity but a diaspora church, scattered among unbelievers and believers of various stripes, becomes the setting for this free act of faith.  Furthermore, when a person does come to engage belief in a personal way society makes this difficult to do…. When, nevertheless persons do make a free act of faith, the factors characteristic of the modern world impart a distinctive stamp to their spiritual experience.  This is not surprising, since the path to God always winds through the historical circumstances of peoples’ times and places. Inhabiting a secular, pluralistic culture, breathing its atmosphere and conducting their daily lives according to its pragmatic tenets, Christians today have absorbed the concrete pattern of modernity into their very soul. – p. 29

Mystical and practical, Christian life then becomes a passion for God that encompasses the suffering, the passion, of others, committing people to resistance against injustice for the living in hope of universal justice even for the dead.  The mystery of iniquity is not thereby resolved.  Theological reasoning remains unreconciled to the surd of evil.  It keeps on judging: this should not be.  But God is love and has promised to prove it.  The dangerous memory of the crucified and risen Jesus in solidarity with all the dead keeps the question open while laying down a hopeful, compassionate path for mature discipleship.  Thus has Metz proposed that we speak of God with our face rather than our back turned to the terrible event of Auschwitz. – p. 67

A simple thought experiment may bring home he depth of this biblical revelation about the nature of God.  Is there a single text where in vigorous “thus says the Lord” fashion people are counseled to oppress the poor, to rob from the widow, to put on a big show of sacrifice at the expense of doing justice?  Is there a text where God delights in seeing people — or any creatures — in agony?  Suffering happens; indeed some texts interpret war and exile as divine punishment for the sin of the people as a whole, sin that includes precisely the acts of oppressing the poor.  But even here, God’s anger lasts for a moment, divine mercy for ten thousand years.  Taken from start to finish, as a whole, the Bible reveals God as compassionate lover of justice, on the side of the oppressed to the point where “those who oppress the poor insult their Maker” (Prov 14:31). – p. 76

Far from being silly or faddish, the theological approach women are pioneering goes forward with the conviction that only if God is named in this more complete way, only if the full reality of historical women of all races and classes enters into our symbol of the divine, only then will the idolatrous fixation on one image of God be broken, will women be empowered at their deepest core, and will religious and civic communities be converted toward healing justice in the concrete.  Along the way, every female naming of the Holy produces one more fragment of the truth of the mystery of divine Sophia’s gracious hospitality toward all human beings and the earth. – p. 110

For many moons of centuries, theology dismissed other religions as pagan inventions or condescended to them as deficient ways people had of stumbling toward the divine.  Actual dialogic encounter with other religions leads to a different view.  Assuming that the real presence of grace and truth can only have a diving origin, the religions can be sen as God’s handiwork.  In them we catch a first glimpse of the overflowing generosity of the God who has left no people abandoned but has bestowed divine love on every culture.  This is the grace of our age: encountering multiple religious tradtions widens the horizon wherein we catch sight of God’s loving plenitude.  Thus we are enabled to approach the mystery every more deeply. – p. 163

Author : Johnson, Elizabeth A., 1941-
Title : Quest for the living God : mapping frontiers in the theology of God / Elizabeth A. Johnson.
Published : New York : Continuum, 2007.
Description : xiii, 234 p. ; 24 cm.
Contents : Ancient story, new chapter — Gracious mystery, ever greater, ever nearer — The crucified God of compassion — Liberating God of life — God acting womanish — God who breaks chains — Accompanying God of fiesta — Generous God of the religions — Creator spirit in the evolving world — Trinity : the living God of love.
Notes : Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN : 9780826417701 (hardcover : alk. paper)
0826417701 (hardcover : alk. paper)

Book Review: Consistently Opposing Killing edited by Rachel M. McNair and Stephen Zunes


Consistently Opposing Killing (2008) edited by Rachel M. McNair and Stephen Zunes collects together essays and interviews focused on the Consistent Life Ethic.  This is a movement that opposes killing in any form: abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and unjust as war as well as promoting economic justice to end poverty, opposing racism, and seeking peaceful solutions to conflict. In addition to the editors, contributors include Mary Meehan, Michael Nagler, and Vasu Murti ,   Many of the authors refer to the Consistent Life Ethic as the “seamless garment,” a term originating with Cardinal Joseph Bernadin whose work is cited often by the contributor but not included in this book.  Bernadin’s lectures A Consistent Ethic of Life (1983, pdf) and A Consistent Ethic of Life: Continuing the Dialogue (1984) can be read online.

This book really hits home with me. When I was younger and developing my political and moral identity I was drawn to liberalism since it focused on standing up for the underdogs and the defenseless and opposing the things that damage and destroy life: civil rights, civil liberties, social safety nets, health care, opposing poverty, rehabilitating prisoners instead of executing them, opposing unnecessary war and nuclear proliferation, and seeking alternatives to violence. You can imagine my surprise that opposing abortion was not a liberal cause. I’ve become something of a political pariah in that liberal people who share many similar views to my own but support of legal abortion seems to be the one non-negotiable issue for acceptance in their ranks. On the other hand I’ve little political common ground with conservatives and often find their rhetoric and strategies for opposing abortion repellent. The authors in this book share similar experiences. Conservatives call them a bunch of peaceniks and commies. Liberals call them misogynist, racist theocrats.

These essays trace the history of the consistent life ethic (did you know that the link of feminism and pro-choice politics is a relatively development) as well as providing studies on Americans views on life issues.  Abortion is a central theme of many essays where it’s linked or compared with poverty, racism, the Israel/Palestine conflict and animal rights.  The better essays come toward the end of the books where the contributors propose consistent solutions with the essays by Meehan, McNair and Zunes being particularly moving.

One quibble I have with this book is the oft-referenced idea of the slippery slope.  Many contributors contend that those who support a legal right to abortion are likely to also support infanticide and euthanasia of the disabled and elderly.  This just doesn’t jibe with pro-choice people I know and public figures who are active and compassionate supporters of the needs of children, the disabled, and the elderly.

This book is one that should be read by anyone regardless of their political bent.  I’m sure there’s stuff in here that anyone will disagree with and will make them angry, but most of all what I find in this book is hope.  Hope that people can go beyond the battle lines of the so-called “culture war” and find common ground and solutions that will bring an end to the killing and degradation of human life.

Favorite Passages

“Many people with serious moral qualms about abortion but not wanting to unwittingly promote a reactionary social agenda therefore remain silent.  This is also a poor strategy.  The timidity of many progressives with antiabortion sentiments to speak out has led to much of the movement becoming dominated by right-wing opportunists who oppose abortion for the wrong reasons,” p. 35 – from “Israel/Palestine and Abortion” by Stephen Zunes.

“Even unconscious people, who do not have anything on that list, offer us an extremely valuable service.  As long as their lives are protected, people seen as most on the margins, the the rest of us are safe.  Those on the edge of the social fabric guard it and keep it from unraveling.  The first step on the slippery slope is not taken so there is no slipper slope,” p. 61 – from “When Bigotry Turns Disabilities Deadly.”

“The thread of respect for life, woven among these issues, is not visible in the public forum, where political ideologies dominate the analysis.  Traditional liberals favor goverment intervention to “support life” by improving the opportuinities available to the poorest members of society, but oppose legal limits on issues deemed to be matters of private morality.  Traditional conservatives attempt to reduce government intervention in the economy, but promote legal restraints to protect vulnerable human life.  Each perspective both shares and disuptes some of the policy mandates that flow from the consistent ethic of life,” p. 75 – from “Does the Seamless Garment Fit?” by Edith Bogue.

“Most people, myself included, when you look at a complicated problem start off by seeing where your friends are.  Because you trust them.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  Your friends are honorable and intelligent people, and you consult them to see what they believe in.  But that turns into a camp or culture of the Right or a camp and culture of the Left, nor based on real thinking or real dialog — just a desire to move with your particular herd.  Us against them, which arouse the most pleasurable, pervasive, and vile passions,” p. 107 – from “Activists Reminisce,” a quote from Juli Loesch Wiley.

Relevant Links:

Confessions of a St. Patrick’s Day Curmudgeon


While most kids look forward to Christmas, when I was a child, St. Patrick’s Day (along with Thanksgiving) was one of my favorite days of the year.  It was a big day in my family usually involving going to the parade in New York and seeing family and friends we hadn’t seen in a while.  Then there was the music, the stories of St. Patrick, the history of Ireland and the Irish in America.  Growing up in a town where the dominant population was Italian-American, it also helped that there was one day a year where everyone wanted to be Irish.  The element of pride was strong.

Things started to change when I moved to Virginia.  If people celebrated St. Patrick’s day at all it was at a most superficial and sterotypical levely.  Mostly it was just an excuse to get drunk.  I thought St. Patrick’s Day would be better when I moved to Boston, but even in this most Irish of American cities I find the magic of my childhood lacking.  I still look forward to St. Patrick’s Day but usually end up a little disappointed.  Here are some things that contribute to my ambivalence:

  • Wearing of the green – not bad in itself although some people really stretch the definition of green to include lime, chartreuse, olive drab and teal.  Worse, they wear all those colors at once.  I’m more perturbed by the self-imposed enforcers who critcize anyone in green.  In years past I’ve worn sweaters made in Ireland thinking it more authentic, but there’s no pleasing the Green Team.  Which brings me to:
  • Pinching – Who came up with this crock?  I lived 18-years in an Irish-American family interacting with Irish-American communities before I ever heard of the idea that you pinch people who don’t wear green when I started college.  People act as if it’s some ancient Irish tradition, but I’m certain it’s a fairly recently innovation created to appeal to everyone’s inner sadist and I hope it goes away soon.
  • Beads – It seems that wearing cheap plastic green beads is the thing to do these days on St. Patrick’s Day, even though it’s an obvious rip-off of New Orlean’s Mardi Gras.  Granted, both holidays are about a month a part, have Catholic roots, and have a lot of revelry, but IIRC even in Mardi Gras the beads are a cheapening of a richer holiday tradition.  Lets can this one too.
  • 364 days a year, one can visit a pub in the greater Boston and hear a great performance of Irish music – traditional or contemporary – and meet interesting people while quaffing a tasty Irish beer.  One day a year you can wedge yourself into an Irish pub with a bunch of drunken frat boys, listen to cheezy Oirish music and drink green-dyed Corona and pay a 20$ (or more) cover charge for the privilege.  Guess which day this is?
  • Danny Boy – once upon a time this was probably a lovely song, but these days this performance is not too far off the mark:
  • Parades on St. Patrick’s day are a good way to celebrate the arts, culture, faith, and history of the Irish people but (in America at least) they are tainted by homophobia, militarism, and racism.
  • The stupid t-shirts

Could be I’m just a grump.  I’m cheered though that my wife brought home Dubliner cheese and Irish soda bread for supper which we enjoyed with (German) beer and (Italian) pasta.  Then we danced to some Irish music with our little boy.  I’ll need to find some new traditions to make St. Patrick’s Day as memorable for him as it was for me.

Previously:

Book Review: A Portrait of Jesus by Joseph Girzone


In A Portrait of Jesus(1998), Joseph Girzone uses a similar approach that he uses in his fictional series of Joshua novels to understanding the historical Jesus.  That is, to avoid theology, doctrine, and Christology and look at Jesus as a real person who came to earth to spread His message of love and freedom through creating relationships with other people.  It’s a simple yet revolutionary approach and proves very enlightening and inspirational, especially in the early chapters.  Yet, even as something of a Fr. Girzone fan I have to admit that while full of faith and prayerful contemplation, Fr. Girzone is not the best writer and comes across a bit hokey.  In the later chapters he sort of recreates the Gospels in a more common language, but kind of cherry picks stories from all the Gospels into one narrative.  Fr. Girzone also depicts Jesus as unique in relationship with the poor, oppressed, and women against a rule-following, monolithic Jewish religious leadership, which is a fallacy according to what I read last Lent in Amy-Jill Levine’s The Misunderstood Jew.  Still, for all it’s flaws this is a good inspirational book.

Favorite Passages

Even though you may be weak, are you focused on God, are you sensitive to the pain and hurt all around you?  This is the essence of the person who is pleasing to God.   Not that accuracy in belief and disciplining human weakness are not important, but loving the Father in heaven and caring for others is absolutely essential  They were the teachings that were critical to Jesus.  Jesus realized few people will ever have an accurate understanding of the nature of God and even the identity of the Son of God, but He knew that it was within the heard of everyone to care for others.  – p. 32-33

And in telling His followers to love as He loved, it constrains us to continually deepen our intimacy with Him so we can understand Him and what He expects of us as His friends, and grow as love grows, naturally from within, without imposing on ourselves artificial imperatives from outside.

As a result, following Jesus and knowing what is expected will always be confusing, as walking in faith is destined to be, Jesus may have explained things more clearly to the apostles, as the writings of the early Fathers of the Church indicate, but even the apostles did not comprehend everything the way we would have desired. – p. 91

Author : Girzone, Joseph F.
Title : A portrait of Jesus / Joseph F. Grizone.
Edition : 1st ed.
Published : New York : Doubleday, 1998.
Description : 179 p. ; 22 cm.
ISBN : 0385482639

Book Review: Faithful Dissenters by Robert McClory


Robert McClory puts the Catholic church under the historical lens in Faithful Dissenters: Stories of Men and Women Who Loved and Changed the Church (2000) to show instances when individuals have stood up against official Church teachings and hierarchy.  These dissenters are sometimes punished in their time, but all have been revealed to be prophetic voices whose ideas are accepted by the Church at large to the Church’s benefit.

The Faithful Dissenters include:

  • John Courtney Murray, who proposed the very American idea of “freedom of religion”
  • Galileo, who respectively tried to incorporate his observations of the heavens into the Church’s longtime understanding of cosmology only to have his studies repressed
    • “Still, there are two facts about which no dispute is possible: first, on the scientific issue, Galileo was overwhelmingly correct and the institutional Church was wrong; second, by seeking to quell an idea whose time had come, Church leaders dealt the institutional Church a severe blow from which it is still recovering,” – p. 26
  • John Henry Newman, who insisted that doctrine actually develops bottom-up from the laity
  • Mary Ward, who founded an order of religious sisters active in apostolic works of teaching and charitable work within the world at a time when women religious were expected to be cloistered
  • 16th century Jesuits who realized the changing economy of Renaissance Europe meant changes in the understanding of usury as well
  • Catherine of Siena, who took it on herself to tell the Avignon papacy to shape up and ship back to Rome
  • Matteo Ricci, a Jesuit missionary to China who success converting the Chinese to Christianity by controversially incorporating local Buddhist and Confucian philosophy
    • “In a very real sense, his biographers have noted, Ricci tried to do for Confucius what Thomas Aquinas did for Aristotle: provide a complex belief system witha a philosophical and moral undergirding, thus making the mysteries of the faith more approachable to the people of a specific culture,” – p. 97.
  • Hildegard of Bingen, a visionary with startlingly modern concepts of the feminine divine
  • Yves Congar, an ecumenical activist for fellowship, dialogue and respect of other Christian denominations and Judaism
    • “Congar wrote of two great temptations confronting the Church in every age: “Pharisaism,” that is, absolutizing religious rules and regulations rather than serving the spiritual and pastoral needs of the people; and “the temptation of the Synagogue,” that is, freezing tradition in such a way that cannot develop beyond what was understood in the past.  What the Church must do, he insisted, is harmonize itself more generously with the style of a new society — “a society she [the Church] is called to baptize as she has baptized others in the past,”” – p. 124
  • John Purcell and Edward Purcell, who taught that slavery was sinful at a time when it was widely accepted in the Church

In the conclusion, McClory writes:

In two important respects the dissenters described her are unqualifiedly alike.  First, they absolutely refused to leave the Churh in the face of all their difficulties.  One could argue that this stubborn fidelity, this standing in place while contradicting authority, was the principal factor in their  ultimate success and (sometimes posthumous) vindication.  Second, they did not see themselves as disobedient persons.  They shared a remarkable awareness that submission to God and submission to Church authority are not always the same thing.  Some today might call them “cafeteria Catholics.”  In a sense, they were; they maintained that not everything in the cafeteria was edible. Nevertheless, their acknowledgment of Church authority and their gratitude for what the Church offered them over the long haul never left, ” – p. 164

I thought this was a good book as the historical sketches were well-written and informative.  Additionally, it is written very respectfully, resisting the temptation to condemn those who tried to quash dissent as history’s losers or turn this into a rallying cry for our times.  McClory message is that good people can disagree and some ideas are ahead of their time, but eventually that which is of God will triumph.

Author : McClory, Robert, 1932-
Title : Faithful dissenters : stories of men and women who loved and changed the church / Robert McClory.
Published : New York : Orbis Books 2000.
Description : viii, 180 p. : ports ; 24 cm.
ISBN : 1570753229 (pbk.)

Christmas Eve


It’s Christmas Eve.  As you wrap (or unwrap) gifts, sip eggnog, and/or get ready for Midnight Mass, you’ll want to start off by clicking the youtube link below:

Then you’ll want to click this youtube link, and replay it in a loop for about 3-4 hours.

If you need more music, check out these podcasts.  I guarantee that there is good holiday themed stuff  here that you’ll never here on that Light Rock station that’s playing holiday music 24/7:

For a more sobering  Christmas Eve viewing experience, watch this vintage propaganda film “Christmas Under Fire” about Christmas in England during the Blitz:

Via Crooked Timber.

Finally, for even more uplifting memories, celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Apollo 8’s Journey to the Moon.

Happy Christmas to all!

All Saints Day


Last year when I went through a liturgical year with posts on my favorite saints, inspired by Fr. James Martin’s book My Life With the Saints, I failed to make a post for All Saints Day.  I spent that day otherwise occupied witnessing the birth of my son Peter (an appropriately saintly name for my now 1-year-old).

To make up for that, I present to you this short Busted Halo feature “The Saints on Halloween” featuring Fr. James Martin.  It’s an enjoyable movie about Halloween, All Saints Day, and saints in general.

Peter & Paul


Since I made it through the cycle of saints last year I haven’t been writing as many Catholic things on this blog, but I do want to touch on the Solemnity of Sts. Peter & Paul even though I wrote about it last year in a hasty manner.

Peter and Paul are cornerstones of the early church so obviously this is an important day to celebrate if it doesn’t get the attention it deserves.  Like Steve Bogner, I relate more to Peter than Paul:”He just seems more accessible, and more like me. Peter has a sort of foot-in-mouth approach that I can empathize with.” Peter is obviously the patron of my son as well.

But today begins the Year of Paul, the 2000th anniversary of the birth of the Apostle of the Gentiles, so I can’t leave him out.  Paul didn’t just make simple mistakes like Peter, he persecuted Christ’s followers, repented of that, and then dedicated the same energy to spreading Christ’s gospel.  Pretty impressive.

Peter and Paul probably didn’t always get along as well as they seem to in the icon where they are embracing, but they both have a lot to teach us.

Here are some other (better) reflections:

Papal Mass in Washington


Yesterday, I watched Pope Benedict celebrate Mass with 48,000 people at Nationals Park in Washington. I wouldn’t usually do this because like fireworks, there’s something about Mass on tv that just isn’t the same. I’m also something of a “low church” kind of Catholic, to use an old fashioned term. But I was home from work and really curious. Since I’ve become active in liturgical ministry in recent years I wondered how they would share Eucharist among 48,000 people and whether people would kneel on the cold, beer-stained concrete of the grandstand during consecration. I also hoped I might see my friend Edward who was in attendance.

I didn’t find out the answers to these questions, but I’m really glad that I watched the Mass courtesy of live web streaming on USCCB’s Papal Visit Site. From all appearances, it looked like a joyous, hopeful, and prayerful celebration. I found it much more moving than I expected. I was especially moved by the liturgical music for the Mass which was a diverse mix of the standard contemporary Catholic songs, music of the many different cultural communities of the Washington archdiocese, and even a communion meditation by Placido Domingo! Pope Benedict is known for his fondness of music and I suspect he enjoyed the best that the American church offers in this joyous and prayerful liturgy. The diversity of the music also tied in well with what Benedict said in his homily:

“Two hundred years later, the Church in America can rightfully praise the accomplishment of past generations in bringing together widely differing immigrant groups within the unity of the Catholic faith and in a common commitment to the spread of the Gospel. At the same time, conscious of its rich diversity, the Catholic community in this country has come to appreciate ever more fully the importance of each individual and group offering its own particular gifts to the whole. The Church in the United States is now called to look to the future, firmly grounded in the faith passed on by previous generations, and ready to meet new challenges – challenges no less demanding than those faced by your forebears – with the hope born of God’s love, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom 5:5).”

I recognized one of the cantors, Stephen Bell, a deacon who will be ordained as a Paulist Father in June. I feel like I know him personally, but actually I just know him from when he participated in the BustedHalo Cast a couple of years back (apparently he does know a lot of people though). He has a rich and sonorous voice and it was lovely that he could share his gifts for leading the people in praising God.

The Pope’s homily was also moving with its message of hope. Like Dirty Catholic, I realized that I’d never heard the Pope’s voice before. It’s an obvious German accent, but softly spoken. My friend Edward put it best when he said you expect power from that accent so when you hear it gently spoken it’s “sort of like a powerful man tenderly holding an infant.” Like many Europeans he shames us monolingual Americans by being able to communicate fluently in multiple languages.

I’m particularly pleased that he was able to honestly and empathetically discuss the clerical sex abuse scandal in the homily. I’m even more happy that he met with some abuse survivors for an open conversation after the Mass. Hopefully this will be the beginning Church taking some responsibility for the wrongs of the past and working toward that hope for the future the Pope so eloquently foresees.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to tune into more of the events as the Pope visits New York (even though he’s going to the home of the Yankees, ick). The coverage provided by USCCB was excellent, albeit the screen for the the streaming video is tiny, but I read elsewhere that on tv news the reporters were chatting over the Mass and cutting to commercials so this was much better. Rocco Palmo as always deserves accolades for his Whispers in the Loggia where he’s publishing the text of all the Pope’s public comments as well as much more papal visit coverage.

Book Review: Googling God by Mike Hayes


I’m a fan of Mike Hayes from the BustedHaloCast so I read his book Googling God: The Religious Landscape of People in their 20s and 30s (2007). This thin volume is basically a guide for ministers to young adults in the Catholic Church, although I read it more as a young adult looking for ministry. Like libraries, the Church is good at ministering to children, teens, parents, and the elderly, but skip right over the (unmarried and childless) people in their 20’s and 30’s.

Hayes’ first lesson is the difference between people in their 20’s (the Millenials) and their 30’s (Generation X). Generation X tend to more progressive in their worship and seek community at their churches. The Millenials look more for contemplative worship and are more orthodox in their beliefs (or at least seek hard and fast answers to faith questions). Hayes conducts interviews with 6 people of each generation to learn about the typical faith stories of young adults today. I appreciate Hayes honesty when he disagrees with the opinions of the young adults he interviews, but finds value and importance in their beliefs all the same.

In the later chapters Hayes offers useful resources for ministering to Young Adults. This includes a critique of World Youth Day (the Pope’s biennial celebration with Catholic teens and young adults), a checklist for starting a young adult ministry at one’s church, and helpful tips for using technology and new media to attract and retain young adults. This is a very useful resources for those who want to learn about this important ministry written in a warm, readable style. Who knows? Maybe as I grow too old to be a young adult, I may be called to mentor the next generation.

Book Review: The Misunderstood Jew by Amy-Jill Levine


The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus (2006) by Amy-Jill Levine is like Jesus Before Christianity in that it puts Jesus in a historical context of his time.  Levine is a Jewish scholar with a lifelong interest in Jesus and Christianity.  Her simple thesis for this book is that Jesus was a good Jewish person who taught Jewish people in a Jewish land.  Not a hard concept, but a great amount of Christian scholarship and theology attempts to deemphasize Jesus’ Jewishness whether intentionally or not.

Levine is particularly concerned with anti-Judiasm that arises from certain interpretations of the Gospels and epistles.  This particularly happens when in attempt to set aside Jesus as unique, the Jewish people and/or leaders of his time are depicted as monolithic, obsessively rule-following, unconcerned with the poor and outcast, and particularly oppressive to women.  The danger is that such polar views create dangerous stereotypes of Judaism in the 1st century and today.

This is an excellent work, and I learned a lot about Judaism and Christianity.  It also helps understand and emphasize Jesus and his teachings in new and exciting ways.

Book Review: The Rapture Exposed by Barbara R. Rossing


Revelation is a difficult book of the Bible to understand so I turned to The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation (2004) by Barbara R. Rossing for some insight. I was particularly intrigued by the subtitle since Revelation is known for his scary, albeit symbolic, imagery. First order of business for Rossing is pointedly unraveling the theology of the Rapture. I’ve long known this to be a bogus teaching, but didn’t know a lot of the details. Turns out the Rapture originated less than 200 years ago in a school of thought called dispensationalism and is based on some selective literal readings of scripture verses sprinkled through the Bible mixed with some complete fabrication. Rossing points out the disturbing implications of Rapture belief including a lack of concern among dispensationalists for the earth and its people today as well as our government’s foreign policy in the Middle East.

The second half of the book works through the imagery and symbolism of the book of Revelation. In Rossing’s interpretation, Revelation is a book of love and hope for a future where the earth is renewed and God dwells among us. Not that Revelation is so much a prediction of the future as a depiction of the world in the time it was written when Israel and many other lands were under the wicked domination of Rome. The victory over Rome and evil is led by a meek, sacrificial animal the lamb (representing Christ) who fights not with swords but with words and love. This is a great book for a hopeful understanding of this oft-misunderstood book of scripture.

While “Revelation has acquired the reputation of being a book of considerable blood and terror,” [Lee] Griffith argues, this reputation “may not be so well deserved.” Revelation does not advocate the use of violence or bloodshed. Revelation is more a book about terror defeated than terror inflicted, “which is why worship and liturgy are such a central feature of the book.” – p. 119

As I have suggested, Revelation carefully redefines the word “conquer” to make clear that the Lamb and his followers conquer only by their testimony and faithfulness — not by making war or killing. War is something done against God’s people by evil beasts and by Rome, not something that God’s saints or the Lamb practice in this book. Two verses of Revelation do indeed refer to Jesus as “making war” — Revelation 2:16 and 19:11 — but the way he makes war is crucial. Jesus makes war not with a sword of battle but “by the sword of his mouth.” The word is Jesus’ only weapon — this is a reversal as unexpected as the substitution of a lamb for a lion. These reversals undercut violence by empasizing Jesus’ testimony and the word of God. – p. 121

Revelation gives us eyes to see God’s tree with lights on it, the biblical tree of life in our midst! Revelation gives us eyes to see the whole world with a kind of sacramental vision.

One of the most powerful ways to experience such a sacramental vision is through worship. Whether in first-century Ephesus or on the place where you live today, the “Aha” experience of worship takes you on an apocalyptic journey again and again, bring Revelation’s visions to life through singing, praying, hearing the words of scripture, and sharing in bread and wine. In the liturgy you actually go into heaven to taste and see God’s water of life, given without price. You gather with God’s people at the river, you join with all the living creatures in praising God around the throne. You journey with them to the radiant, holy city, and you taste its gifts, given for you. — p. 161

Revelation’s vision for us, for our world, is a vision in which we do not leave earth behind. Instead, we go more deeply into the world — into the world that God created and still calls “good.” We follow the river flowing under our feet; we see the world with new eyes. The message of Revelation is that the place where we will see the river of God flowing from the throne is in the world, in the middle of our city. The storyline of Revelation ends on earth. — p. 169

Book Review: Jesus Before Christianity by Albert Nolan, O.P.


Jesus Before Christianity (1976, 2001) by Albert Nolan, O.P. is a book which removes the lens of Christianity from looking at the historical Jesus, and provides the context for the times in which Jesus lived, walked the Earth, and taught His people. Interestingly, Nolan minimizes Jesus’ supernatural acts and even his divinity, but in a way that more greatly emphasizes the radicalness of the Way He taught. Thus our faith in Jesus as son of God is increased by knowing Him as Jesus the human being. Nolan points how that Jesus never proclaimed his authority nor stated that he was divine and did not even defend himself in his trial, all of which teach us something important about the nature of Jesus.

Nolan pictures Jesus as a prophet for a coming of calamity (conquest by the Romans that would come around 70 AD), who wanted not to lead a military revolt but to protect Israel by having the people change themselves. He showed care for the poor and oppressed at a time when they were though to be beyond saving, and taught healing and forgiveness. The “Kingdom” (a word that in the original Greek refers to both a domain and to the quality of royal power and is not gender specific) of God is discussed thoroughly over several chapters, outlining a very real vision Jesus had for His people on this Earth. Nolan also dissects the confrontation that Christ had with the Jewish and Roman leaders that lead to His execution.

I found this a very interesting and enlightening study of the life of the historical Jesus. It’s a short but dense book, which probably is worth reading again.  Hopefully the passages below will illustrate the quality of this book better than my summary above:

Miracles are often thought of, both by those who believe in them and by those who do not, as events, or purported events, that contradict the laws of nature and that therefore cannot be explained by science or reason. But this is not at all what the Bible means by a miracle, as any biblical scholar will tell you. “The laws of nature” is a modern scientific concept. The Bible knows nothing of about nature, let alone the laws of nature. The world is God’s creation and whatever happens in the world ordinary or extraordinary, is part of God’s providence. The Bible does not divide events into natural or supernatural. God is on one way or another behind all events.

A miracle in the Bible is an unusual event which has been understood as an unusual act of God, a mighty work. Certain acts of God are called miracles or wonders because of their ability to astonish and surprise us. Thus creation is a miracle, grace is a miracle, the growth of an enormous mustard tree from a tiny seed is a miracle, the liberation of the Israelites from Egypt, the kingdom of God will be a miracle. The world is full of miracles for those who have eyes to see them. If we are no longer able to wonder and marvel except when the so-called laws of nature are broken, then we must be in a sorry state. — p. 41

Jesus’ love for the poor and the oppressed was not an exclusive love; it was an indication of the fact that what he valued was humanity not status and prestige. The poor and oppressed had nothing to reccomend them except their humanity and sufferings. Jesus was also concerned about the middle and upper classes — not because they were especially important but because they too were people. He wanted them to strip themselves of their false values, of their wealth and prestige, in order to become real people. Jesus wished to replace the “worldly” value of prestige by the “godly” value of people as people. — p. 70

The leaders and scholars of Jesus’ time had first enslaved themselves to the law. This not only enhanced their prestige in society, it also gave them a sense of security. We fear the responsibility of being free. It is often easier to let others make the decisions or to rely upon the letter of the law. Some people want to be slaves.

After enslaving themselves tot the letter of the law, such people always go on to deny freedom to others. They will not rest until they have imposed the same oppressive burdens upon everyone (Mt 23:4, 15). It is always the poor and the oppressed who suffer most when the law is used in this manner.

Jesus wanted to liberate everyone from the law — from all laws. But this could not be achieved by abolishing or changing the law. He had to dethrone the law. He had to ensure that the law would be our servant and not our master (Mk 2:27-28). We must therefore take responsibility for our servant, the law, and use it to serve the needs of humankind. This is quite different from licentiousness or lawlessness or irresponsible permissiveness. Jesus relativized the law so that its true purpose might be achieved. — p. 87-88

To believe in God is to believe that goodness is more powerful than evil and truth is stronger than falsehood. To believe in God is to believe than in the end goodness and truth will triumph over evil and falsehood and that God will conquer Satan. Anyone who thinks that evil will have the last word or that good and evil have a fifty-fifty chance is an atheist. There is a power for good in the world, a power that manifests itself in the deepest drives and forces in people and in nature, a power that in the last analysis is irresistible. If Jesus had not believed that, he would have nothing at all to say. – p. 102-103

To save one’s life means to hold onto it, to love it and be attached to it and therefore to fear death. To lose one’s life is to let go of it, to be detached from it and therefore to be willing to die. The paradox is that the person who fears death is already dead, whereas the person who has ceased to fear death has at that moment begun to live. A life that is genuine and worthwhile is only possible once one is willing to die. — p. 139

Book Review: Saints Behaving Badly: The Cutthroats, Crooks, Trollops, Con Men, and Devil-Worshippers Who Became Saints by Thomas J. Craughwell


Saints Behaving Badly: The Cutthroats, Crooks, Trollops, Con Men, and Devil-Worshippers Who Became Saints (2006) by Thomas J. Craughwell is a collection of short essays of Saints who lived rather unsaintly lives. Usually this was before their conversion, of course, but sometimes even after turning their lives to God we see that even the saints are all too human. In fact, Craughwell believes that St. Olaf (patron of one of a parish I worshiped at in Virginia) would not be canonized under today’s rules of sainthood.

This is illustrative to the rest of us ordinary folk in that 1) it’s never too late to turn to God, and 2) while we strive for perfection we’re still human and won’t achieve it. So buck up and do your best like the good people in this book.

The book includes some of my favorite saints, with their sin listed after their name in the chapter heading such as:

I also learned about some interesting saints I was not aware of in the stories of St. Mary of Egypt who after living a life of sexual adventure moved to the desert where she was a hermit for decades and Venerable Matt Talbot, the patron of recovering alcoholics.

Book Review: Hell’s Abyss, Heaven’s Grace: War and Christian Spirituality


Hell’s Abyss, Heaven’s Grace: War and Christian Spirituality (2006) by Lawrence D. Hart refers in the title to the paradox within each of us that we can be drawn to violence and hatred or to the peace and grace of God. The basic question of the book is whether or not a Christian can support war and the simple answer is no. A large portion of the book is dedicated to the ways in which the United States government has interfered militarily in the affairs of other countries for corporations and aims of empire. A central chapter reviews the War in Iraq and how a Christian could not support it as a Holy War.

The author also challenges the hypothetical dilemma asked of pacifists of what they would do should their own loved ones be under attack by a violent intruder. Drawing heavily on an earlier work What Would You Do? A Serious Answer to a Standard Question by John Howard Yoder, Hart shows that there really are many more options than kill or be killed, and that it’s also irrelevant to the question of supporting or opposing a national war effort. Living the Gospel allows for transformative powers both individually and socially.

From my perspective, reading this book was like Hart preaching to the choir. Sadly, I also felt that the many American’s, even Christians, who justify our country’s use of warfare would not be swayed.

Dale Brown has suggested that the holy wars of Hebrew Scriptures are to be understood as miracle stories. Decisive victories against incredible odds were meant to teach people to rely on God rather than on their own military strength. If the entire Old Testament Story of Gideon is read in this light, which seems to be the obvious way to read it, then there is very little support to be found for trust inn nuclear arsenals, military technology that shocks and terrorizes, unproven trillion-dollar defense shields, or for relying on a superpower status that will never end.

It is also possible that the holy war tradition in Scripture is to be understood as a concession by God, so that holy wars represent no God’s original intention but a kind of divine concession. When the people of Israel demand a king, God warns them that if they choose a king an oppressive military complex will dominate their lives [in 1 Samuel 8:7-22]. — p. 52-53

“Contemplation,” therefore, measures what is high above and what is below together. The earthly temple in Jerusalem is built according to the heavenly vision (Exodus 25:8-9). The vision from above determines the course of action below. There are those who say that contemplation is a long, loving look at God, and they are absolutely correct. It is that sustained gaze at God that leads to wisdom of heart, to a conscience of compassion — the mystical knowledge of God’s dream that we are to help make real in our own personal and public situation.

So the unifying theme of this book is the Christian conscience — a conscience that compels all who have heard the transcendent voice of God to do their best to love as God loves, to champion the cause of the poor and vulnerable, to pursue peace, to overcome evil with good, to insist on integrity and truth, and to vigorously oppose injustice and violence. Anne Lamott’s summary interpretation of the teaching of Jesus succinctly describes this idea: “The point is not to hate and kill each other today, and if you can, to help the forgotten and powerless.” — p. 140

Book Review: How Big Is Your God? by Paul Coutinho, SJ


How Big Is Your God? The Freedom to Experience the Divine (2007) by Paul Coutinho, SJ is a book about relationships, specifically the relationship each one of us has with God. Coutinho is an Indian-born priest, his worldview greatly influenced by Eastern religions and mysticism. Yet, if that’s not your thing, don’t let it keep you away. Coutinho’s message is purely Christian, that a God who loves us and wants a personal relationship with each one of us.

In a series of very short chapters/meditations, well-illustrated with stories and metaphors, Coutinho guides us toward that relationship. He also describes some of the roadblocks to experiencing divinity. Coutinho’s writing is full of questions and challenges and I think it would be worth rereading as each read would lead to different conclusions. In fact, I think everyone will come away with something different from this book just as each person experiences God in a different way.

Here are some of my favorite passages:

How often in my life do I compromise the values that are most precious to me in my relationship with God because I want to keep my boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse. How often do I keep my mouth shut in church so I can protect the good opinion that people in my parish have of me, when I think and feel differently because of my relationship with God? How often do I remain silent in the face of injustice, when my relationship with God demands otherwise? — p. 70

The Good News that Jesus came to give us is freedom — not freedom from suffering, sickness and death, but freedom that we experience in suffering, in sickness, and in the face of death. — p. 78

If you want a relationship with God, you must make space in your life for the spiritual. In a church where I once served, we would call the last Sunday of the month “BAD Sunday.” What was BAD Sunday? It was Basement Attic Disposal Sunday — and it was wonderful. Everyone was invited to go into their basement and attic and bring something they found there to church. — p. 88

We are enslaved by people, places, and things that we do not fully enjoy. How do we free ourselves? By enjoying them. If you haven’t enjoyed something and you are attached to it, do not give it away yet. If you do, it will haunt you forever. You will think of it often, fret over it, crave it. The thought of it won’t leave you. The way to get rid of material things is by enjoying them, being grateful for them, and then giving them away: good-bye, gone. — p. 91

Change is not a miracle. Change doesn’t just happen. We have to make it happen. We have to work at it — but it is not always difficult. In fact, sometimes it is so easy that we don’t believe that it’s possible, we don’t believe that we can change. The Buddha is supposed to have said that change is as easy as flipping a coin to the other side. What I believe is that if you want change, you will change. — p. 145

Jesus said that if we believe, we can do the same things he did. In fact, Jesus assured us that if we believe, we do even greater things than he. — p. 158

Puzzling Through Lent


It’s hard to believe that we’re already three weeks into Lent.  Of course, Lent snuck up on me this year and I have confirmation (Father Lasch, for one) that it is unusually early.  That is because Easter is a movable feast that occurs on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the first full day of Spring.  While I’ve long known this formula and that it ties into the Hebrew calendar for determining Passover (The Last Supper was a Passover seder), I still don’t understand why Easter and Passover rarely coincide.  Even if we use different calendars, the first day of Spring and the first full moon should be the same, no?  I also don’t know what happens if the first day of Spring is Sunday and there’s a full moon.

Anyhow, Easter falls on March 23rd this year.  According to Snopes.com, the earliest possible date for Easter is March 22nd which last happened in 1818 and will occur next in 2285.  In other words, this is the earliest Easter any of us will see in our lifetimes.  Spiff, huh?

Another interesting aspect of this unusually early Easter is the affect that Holy Week is having on other aspects of the liturgical calendar.  From Whispers in the Loggia I learned that Annunciation day, usually March 25th, has been pushed forward to March 31st and St. Joseph’s Day is moved up from March 19th to March 15th.  The biggest move is of St. Patrick’s Day from March 17th to March 14th.  Rocco Palmo notes that several cities/dioceses are moving their St. Patrick’s Day celebration appropriately, although I expect if will have little effect on the secular celebration of the day.

I did wonder what would happen in New York where the St. Patrick’s Day Parade is organized by a Catholic fraternal organization who always march on March 17th except when that date falls on a Sunday.   Apparently they’re going forward with the parade on the usual date even though it’s Holy Week.  In Boston, where the parade is always on a Sunday, tradition will also be adhered to even though the means marching on Palm Sunday.

Well, this is all very fasting, but does nothing for my observance of Lent.  Another day is coming up during Holy Week that no one can move.  March 19th is the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq.  Jim Wallis sets out a Lenten call to repentance in observance of that anniversary.   That’s the type of thing that will give me the proper perspective on the season.