31 December 2012

What is wrong with the world?

It is said that in reply to the editorial question of a British newspaper, "What's wrong with the world today?" G. K. Chesterton wrote in reply:
Dear Sir,
I am.
Yours, G.K. Chesterton
Whether he actually wrote such a response is not certain, that it is certainly in keeping with his humor and wit.  Regardless of its historical veracity, it is a point well made and too little considered.

From the vantage point of most sacristies, priests very often cannot see what is transpiring in the sanctuary.  Such is the case with the sacristy of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

Before Mass this morning it seemed to be taking the server an unusually long amount of time to light the candles.  I stepped out of the sacristy - where no one else could see me - to see what became of him and saw him at work with two of the six candles lit.  Thinking nothing of it, I stepped back into the sacristy.

After another space of time and no sign of the return of the server, I again stepped out to check on his progress.  He was gone and four candles remained unlit.  What became of him at that moment I do not know.

I returned to the sacristy, grabbed a book of matches, walked through the sanctuary to the candles and proceeded to light the remaining four candles (which stand taller than the server and can be difficult to light).  As I lit the candles the server did not step back into the sanctuary and I didn't ask after Mass what became of him.

Now, as the server attempted - to the best of his ability - to light the candles, so far as I can tell, not one of the 75 to 100 people in the Cathedral who no doubt watched him struggle in vain to light the candles came forward to offer their assistance in lighting the candles that gave him so much trouble.

This, I submit, is what is wrong with the world.

It may seem a simple thing, but how much love and concern would have been shown the server had someone stepped up to help?  Love is found in the details of everyday life.

Today, as we close out a calendar year and begin a new one, I pose to you this question for your personal consideration and prayer: "Would I have helped the server?"

If your answer - if my answer - comes, in all honesty, in the negative, then, I assert, you - and I - are what is wrong with the world.

If our answer comes in the negative, let us this very day implore the Lord to so mold our hearts after his own that in this new year his love would be made known through our spontaneous, simple,  daily acts of concern, even if they be as humble as helping to light a candle.

29 December 2012

Baby Jesus likes a hymn

Blessed Pope John Paul II used to say, "There are no coincidences, only Providence."

Our annual Christmas gathering with our seminarians and priests began Thursday afternoon and concluded yesterday morning.  As always, it was an enjoyable time and marked with divine grace.

Just before Vespers on Thursday evening, I suggested to the Bishop that we sing Of the Father's Love Begotten for the hymn.  He was unfamiliar with it and asked if I could begin it, which I was glad to be able to do.

As he and I made our to the doors of the chapel, the Director of the Office for Vocations made a brief welcome and began to announce what song we would sing for the hymn. Not having spoken with him about prior to this point (and hadn't spoken with the Bishop about it, either), you can imagine my surprise when he announced that we would sing Of the Father's Love Begotten.

Because the Christ-Child seems to enjoy the hymn so much, I offer it to you today for your enjoyment:

24 December 2012

Illinois legislators to vote on same-sex "marriage"

On December 1, 2010, the Illinois House of Representatives approved SB 1716, the so-called Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act even though all of the "protections" granted to civil unions were already legally available to those who sought them; all that was needed to obtain them was a little simple paperwork.

The next day the Illinois Senate approved the same legislation, which Governor Quinn signed into law on January 31, 2011.

When the law passed we were told it would not impact religious organizations, yet it was the same legislation that forced Catholic Charities our of their work with foster care and adoptions.

If you recall, the Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act - which has not actually granted any religious freedom but took it away - was passed in a "lame duck" session, with at least once Senator (Deanna Demuzio) changing her mind the morning of the vote, from against the bill to support of it; she had already lost her bid for re-election and so had nothing to lose (this was the only way the bill would pass).

Now, rather quietly and quickly (just as before) the Illinois House of Representatives is preparing to vote on HR 5170 - sponsored by two democrats from Chicago - which aims to legalize same-sex "marriage".  The vote is likely to take place in another lame duck session, January 2-8, 2013.

If the sponsors and supporters of this legislation are so convinced of the moral rightness - as they no doubt claim - why do they not propose the legislation when their re-election is at stake?

HR 5170 is called the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act.  As before, if you think the legislation will actually grant any freedom of religion, you are foolish and blind to the lessons of the past.

The Catholic Conference of Illinois has created a web site to help people of good will oppose the proposed legislation and to defend the reality of marriage.

What must be remembered is that marriage existed before the Catholic Church and before any State.  Therefore the State has no right or authority to change or alter the definition of marriage.  It really is that simple.

Yesterday the Chicago Tribune ran a story noting that more than 250 clergy - mostly from Chicago - support the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act.  The article quotes a statement from these clergy that reads, in part, "We believe all Illinois couples should have the same civil protections and urge our public officials to support measures to achieve equality."  This statement alone shows the ignorance of these clergy when it comes to the law.  The Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act has already granted the same civil protections now demanded.  

What the article does not say is how many clergy oppose the legislation.

Please, contact your Illinois Representative and Senator and ask them to oppose the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, or any similar legislation.

23 December 2012

Passing on the news

From time to time I stumble on a news article that I think Bishop Paprocki would be interested in.  Most of these articles are online so I print them for him and leave them in his box here at the Cathedral rectory.

Every now and again Bishop Paprocki stumbles on a news article that he thinks I would be interested in.  Most of these articles are in physical newspapers so he leaves them for me in my box here at the Cathedral rectory.

When I returned to the Cathedral this afternoon, he left this article in my box:

This is simply one of the many reasons I'm glad to have Bishop Paprocki as our Bishop.

Advent hospitality

As the last violet candle is lit around our wreaths on this Fourth Sunday of Advent, we hear Saint Luke's account of the Blessed Virgin Mary's visit to Elizabeth who is now sixth months pregnant.

Today, after the public recitation of the Angelus, Pope Benedict XVI reflected on the mystery of the Visitation and what it means for us, saying:
The scene of the Visitation also expresses the beauty of hospitality: where there is mutual welcome, listening, making room for the other, God is present with the joy that comes from him. Let us imitate Mary in the Christmas season, visiting those who are in difficulty, especially the sick, prisoners, the elderly and children. And let us also imitate Elizabeth who welcomes the guest as God himself: unless we desire him we will never know the Lord, unless we expect him, we will never meet him, unless we seek him, we will never find him. With the same joy as Mary, who hastens to Elizabeth (cf. Luke 1:39), we too go out to meet the Lord who comes.
In these last two days before the celebration of the Birth of the only Savior of all mankind we will have many opportunities to visit those who are in one difficulty or another.  As we go about our final preparations, let us do so with joy as we anticipate the coming Feast.

Credit where credit is due

In the past I have criticized several pieces Nicole Winfield has submitted to the Associated Press because of the distortions presented in her writing.

With this backdrop I was quite surprised yesterday to read Winfield's fair report in her AP article titled "Pope stresses family values as gay marriage gains".

What particularly surprised was Winfield's summary of teachings of the Church about homosexuality.  She writes:
Church teaching holds that homosexual acts are "intrinsically disordered," though it stresses that gays should be treated with compassion and dignity.
I don't spend a lot of time reading secular news stories about the Church, but this is the first time I remember seeing a reporter mention the second half.

Although it would have been good to have this mentioned earlier than half-way through the article, I commend Ms. Winfield for an improvement in her coverage of the Church.

19 December 2012

Well here comes Christmas

As I would reckon the passage of time, this Advent season seems to have flown by all too quickly leaving me some bereft of the usual increased joy and hope that the season brings.

With the various stresses and busyness of the past few weeks, Christmas seems to have just popped up and is now just around the corner.  Indeed, it caught me quite by surprise - somehow - on Monday that Christmas is next week already (I hope you aren't caught quite as unawares as I was).

In a letter written to his Michael on 19 December 1962, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote:
Well here comes Christmas!  That astonishing thing that no 'commercialism' can in fact defile - unless you let it.  I hope, my dearest, that it will bring you some rest and refreshment in every way, & I shall remember you in communion (as always but especially) and wish that I had all my family beside me in the ancient patriarchal way!
Yes, indeed: Here comes Christmas, less than a week away.  Am I ready to celebrate it with the proper joy and enthusiasm the great solemnity deserves?  Not yet, but I hope soon to be.  I want to recover the simple Christmas joy of my youth, the sheer wonder of it all.  Are you ready?

That important phrase from Tolkien's letter - unless you let it - is one that each of us should dwell on in the coming days.  The stresses and busyness - the shopping and wrapping and writing and baking and cleaning and decorating and visiting and shoveling (soon to come) and what not - need not distract us or weigh us down - unless we let them.

If we keep our focus we will be able to truly sing with the Psalmist: "O God, you have taught me from my youth, and till the present I proclaim your wondrous deeds" (Psalm 71:17).

16 December 2012

The Pope is with us

In the midst of the unspeakable tragedy that occurred Friday morning in Newtown, Connecticut, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI spoke directly to American pilgrims in Rome today following his Angelus address.  In said:
I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Angelus. I was deeply saddened by Friday’s senseless violence in Newtown, Connecticut. I assure the families of the victims, especially those who lost a child, of my closeness in prayer. May the God of consolation touch their hearts and ease their pain. During this Advent Season, let us dedicate ourselves more fervently to prayer and to acts of peace. Upon those affected by this tragedy, and upon each of you, I invoke God’s abundant blessings!
You can listen to his words here.

These words of the Holy Father come after the following telegram was sent by His Eminence Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, Secretary of State, to the Diocese of Bridgeport:
The Holy Father was promptly informed of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown and he has asked me to convey his heartfelt grief and the assurance of this closeness in prayer to the victims and their families, and to all affected by the shocking event. In the aftermath of this senseless tragedy he asks God, our Father, to console all those who mourn and to sustain the entire community with the spiritual strength which triumphs over violence by the power of forgiveness, hope and reconciling love.
In our confusion and pain, the closeness of the Holy Father, and of many men and women of good will, both those within and without the communion of the Church, are a source of comfort.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.  May they rest in peace!

12 December 2012

The Pope's first tweet

Today the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI sent his first message via Twitter to nearly one million "followers."  He said, with characteristic humility and simplicity:
"Dear friends, I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart."
You, too, can follow the Pope on Twitter @Pontifex.  Later today he will answer a few questions that have been posed to him.

The Holy Father's embrace of the new, social media stands against those who claim the Church is "antiquated" and "out of touch."

How much use the Holy Father will make of Twitter remains to be seen, but given his many messages regarding the importance of the new media and his desire to speak to the entire world - both believers and nonbelievers alike - it seems likely enough it will be frequent.

11 December 2012

What to get your priest for Christmas

Each year it happens that someone asks for suggestions about what gifts would be appropriate to give their priest.  So it is that I once again offer this post, which I have updated slightly from previous years.

N.B.I am not writing this post as an attempt to receive gifts but as a way of trying to assist people in choosing gifts for their local priest.

I will first offer some thoughts and then make a few suggestions.

First, you have to keep the personality of the priest in mind; not every priest is the same and neither are their interests.

For example, if you want to give your priest a gift certificate to a restaurant, first ask yourself if he goes out to eat. Personally, I rarely go out to eat, both because we have a cook and because it is often difficult to find the time to go out (that, and I like to stay at home, anyway) and, consequently, still have a few certificates given me last year at this time.  Even if your priest does go out to eat, is this a restaurant he either already likes or will like?  You don't want to give him a certificate or card that he won't likely use.

The same might be said with vestments. There are vestments that some priests wear that I'll never touch and there are some vestments that I wear that he'll never touch.

Second, various artworks and knick-knacks are always nice, but keep in mind that the rectory only has so many shelves and blank spots on a wall. At the same time, the more things a priest collects the more things he has to move. Some things priests don't mind moving, other things they do.

Third, homemade holiday treats (cookies, pies, cakes, fruits, etc.) are delicious and always welcome, but check with the secretaries to see how much has already come in. At this time of the year the kitchen counter is most always overflowing with goodies that cannot be eaten because of the sheer quantity.

Now to the suggestions. Some of these are things that I wouldn't mind having myself and some have come from conversations with others priests (I won't tell you which is which):
  • Gas cards
  • Gift cards for oil changes or tire rotations
  • Gift certificates to book stores (Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Ignatius Press, etc.)
  • An IOU for baked goods later in the year (just don't forget!)
  • Gift certificates to religious goods stores (both local and on-line)
  • Gift certificates to his favorite restaurant
  • Car wash tokens
  • See if the priest has a wishlist on Amazon.com, Ignatius.com, or other web sites
  • Make a donation in the priest's name to Catholic Charities, Catholic Relief Services, or Peter's Pence
  • Offer a gift for a particular situation in the parish
  • Cash never hurts, either
The above list is certainly not exhaustive and is not meant to discourage you from giving your priest a physical gift. If the list is helpful, use it; if not, ignore it :)

When still in doubt, always check with the secretary to see if she has any ideas. Priests often comment to their secretaries on a variety of issues and you never know what he might have mentioned quite in passing the other day. Astute secretaries are aware of these things.

Brother priests, if there's something missing from this list please leave a comment.  Moderation is enabled.  I will add your suggestion to the list without posting your comment.

10 December 2012

Congratulations, Bishop Vann!

Very shortly His Excellency the Most Reverend Kevin W. Vann will be installed as the fourth Bishop of Orange.

Bishop Vann is a priest of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois and until recently was the Bishop of Fort Worth.

For those wishing to follow along, Rocco has put up a link to the worship aid and the ceremonies will be live-streamed.

Congratulations, Your Excellency!

The Advent of The Hobbit

Early Friday morning a great length of waiting and anticipation will finally come to an end.  As I think of a late dinner gathering with friends followed by a short journey to the movie theatre, a excitement builds within and - quite contrary to my usual demeanor - is ready to burst forth.

I refer, of course, to the theatrical release of Peter Jackon's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey:

This first of three movies will be followed next December by The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and in the summer of 2014 by The Hobbit: There and Back Again.

If memory serves, I first read The Hobbit when I was ten years old and fell in love with Middle-earth, and especially the Shire.  I remember wanting to live in a hobbit hole; when I saw Peter Jackon's The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and his deciption of a hobbit hole, that desire only increased.

I very much enjoyed Howard Shore's musical compositions and especially those dealing with Hobbiton.  After The Fellowship of the Ring I hoped he would release an album of music from the Shire.  He never did, but he's back with his conductor's baton for the next three movies.

Over the past several weeks I have watched several video clips and read books and articles about The Hobbit.  I have listened the new soundtrack, read Appendix A of the The Lord of the Rings, looked into The Silmarian and have begun to re-read The Hobbit.  I've even had my tickets for about a month now.  You could say I'm ready; I've been ready for a while.

As my anticipation for this film only continues to grow, I cannot help but remember that this is what these Advent days are to be about.  How much greater should my excitement and eagerness be for the return of Christ the King than for the release of The Hobbit?

This morning the Prophet Isaiah cried out:
Strengthen the hands that are feeble,
make firm the knees that are weak,
Say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not!
Here is your God,
he comes with vindication;
With divine recompense
he comes to save you.
His cries will intensify over the coming days and to his voice the voices of the other prophets will be added. Journeying each day with the Mass readings, and especially through the Liturgy of the Hours, the Church's anticipation will increasing and come to a point of near bursting until at least we arrive at the great feast of Christmas.

How great is your anticipation for the coming of the Lord?  How great is my anticipation?  When he comes, will find us ready, or will he find us excited about other things?

Let us beg of the Lord the grace to deepen our longing for his coming, so that when he comes in his glory the prophet Isaiah may say of us, "They will meet with joy and gladness, sorrow and mourning will flee."

07 December 2012

The Secretary becomes Prefect

This morning the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI appointed his long-time Personal Secretary, Monsignor Georg Ganswein Prefect of the Pontifical Household, raising him to the dignity of Archbishop entrusted with Titula See of Urbisaglia (it's in central Italy).  Archbishop-elect Ganswein replaces Cardinal Harvey, who was recently appointed Archpriest of the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls.

Congratulations, Archbishop-elect Ganswein!

06 December 2012

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus

...but he may not be who you think he is.

Monsignor Charles Pope points us today an excellent piece by Danny Hakim titled, "Poles Apart: Nicholas of Myra and Jolly Saint Nick."

Saint Nicholas of Myra is, of course, the historical basis for the jolly, fat man we know today as Santa Claus, who sneaks down chimneys and leaves presents for good girls and boys.  In exploring the historical reality of Santa Claus, Hakim notes that,

On the one hand, we have the modern Santa, a porcine, jolly man who resides at the North Pole with a woman known only as Mrs. Claus. He has domesticated a stable of nine deer, and enjoys the cheerful services of a retinue of elfin assistants. He is very, very nice to children.  
On the other hand, we have the ancient Santa. Saint Nicholas. Paintings show a thin man. He
was spare of frame, flinty of eye, pugnacious of spirit. In the Middle Ages, he was known as a
brawling saint. He had no particular sense of humor that we know of. He could be vengeful,
wrathful, an embittered ex- con. According to legend, even after death he horsewhipped
someone. Yes, he became the patron saint of children, but his was a promiscuous sainthood.
Over the years, he was also the patron saint of sailors, whores, moneylenders and thieves. No
doubt, Saint Nick was a good man. A noble man. But a hard man. How did time turn him soft?
I encourage you to read the entire article, which provides a good historical background in an humorous and clever manner.

05 December 2012

Miracles do happen

In a skeptical age such as ours we like to think that miracles do not happen, or at least that they do not happen in our own day.

Leonardo Defilippis of St. Luke Productions recently shared a story - connected to my hometown - through his e-mail newsletter that happened on his tour across the nation for his performance of Maximilian: Saint of Auschwitz:
Every performance brings incredible blessings, but we recently had an experience during our South Dakota tour that bordered on the miraculous. To give you a little background, when I returned home from a tour of the Midwest I discovered that an envelope of money, collected from DVD sales in Quincy, Illinois, was missing. In 32 years of touring, this had never happened before! After much searching, we all gave up, deciding it was truly gone. 
More than a week later we arrived in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Immediately, the parish priest approached me, and placed in my hand the very same missing envelope. Where had he found it? At the foot of the statue of Our Lady of Fatima in the church, where I had never been! There was no logical explanation! We continue to marvel that through whatever means, God confirms his miraculous power [emphases original]
If you haven't yet seen Leonardo enacting one of the lives of the Saints, I highly recommend you do so.  He is a very talented actor and a wonderful man of faith.  I remember his performance of St. John Vianney here in Springfield very well and the time I spent visiting with him.  I look forward to being with him again some day.

04 December 2012

On microphones

Not being assigned to a parish I often find myself celebrating the Holy Mass in a variety of churches.  It means - often early in the morning - remembering the differences in set-up at the churches and slight differnces in how things are done, not the least of which are the sound systems.

In his essay "Drop the Mic" in the current issue of First Things, Kevin White notes that "Catholic clergy and laity seem to accept the use of microphones at mass without question as something good," a presumption with which White disagrees.

Consider this observation:
To a member of the congregation, the prayers, the dialogue, the readings, the sermon, and the parish announcements are all emanations from one and the same source, the nearest loudspeaker.  In my pew, I see the priest look towards me, but I hear his voice coming from another direction, that of the loudspeaker.
This experience has always been disconcerting to me.  White continues:
This disparity between the direction of sight and the direction of sound is a cognitive dissonance typical of some of the contemporary events mentioned above [political rallies, concerts, air ports, etc.].  Yet the priest's face and his electronically magnified voice at least agree in both pointing toward me.  But then there is the further, more jarring dissonance between, on the one hand, his facing me and speaking in my direction, and, on the other hand, his addressing God the Father.  It is not easy to construe a voice relentlessly projected at oneself as meant for someone else.
I quite agree.

Contrary to popular belief, in most churches, microphones are not necessary for the priest and the lectors to be heard by the people.  As one case among many, last week I celebrated Mass in a large church in Springfield and for whatever reason the sound system was not working.  From the chair, from the ambo, and from the altar, I simply projected my voice.  The next day, a man who sat in the last pew of the church commented on the homily I preached.

I would be very happy if the microphones in churches were removed, especially because they aren't always very helpful.  People often will complain that they cannot hear the priest when what they really mean is that they cannot understand him.  He speaks too quickly for the sound system.  The natural sound reverberates and collides with the amplified sound and is jumbled.  Most of our churches were never designed for sound systems and most of the sound systems in our churches were never designed for them.

It should also be remembered that "different parts of the Mass callf or different rhetorical attitudes" and this is often lost in the presence of microphones.

02 December 2012

What to learn more about The Hobbit?

This morning I finished reading Corey Olsen's Explore J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), a book he hopes will engage his readers in a conversation that will help them learn more about the world of Middle-earth.

Olsen summarizes the book thus:
This book brings together the lessons I've learned int he classroom, experiences I've had through my podcast, and the love I've always had for Tolkein's work.  There is nothing I enjoy more than walking slowly through a great book with a group of people, taking the time to notice important details and keep track of themes that often slip by when you read on your own.  I hope that you too will enjoy the journey (4).
I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed the journey and felt quite at home and engaged in the classroom of this book.

One by one, Olsen walks us through all nineteen chapters of The Hobbit: Or There and Back Again, not as though taking us by the hand as one would a small child unfamiliar with Middle-earth, but as a companion and friend.

The style of his writing very much feels like a conversation, a dialogue, to which one listens with bent and eager ear.

Of particular interest to me was Olsen's fifth chapter, titled "The Turning Point", in which he explores with a most insightful analysis of the riddle game played between Gollum and Bilbo.  I do not wish to spoil the surprise for you; suffice it to say that he has opened before me an entirely new way of reading the riddles as if opening a window or door onto a wide horizon.

Through his observations, Olsen shows the interior unity of The Hobbit, a unity that might otherwise be overlooked.  His insights easily lead to a deepening appreciation of the beauty and the brilliance of Tolkien's achievement.

01 December 2012

I should leave better notes for myself

This evening as I enjoy a few episodes of Last of the Summer Wine, I'm working on sorting through a few things that have accumulated on my desk over the past week or so.  It's not the most exciting thing to do on a Saturday night, but it has to be done sometime.

Sorting through the various pieces of paper - most of which are easily decipherable - I found a small square of paper on which I have written the following:
St. Al's
No Mass 6:20 
No Mass 8:30
Clearly, the above notations refer first to St. Aloysius parish in Springfield and to Christ the King parish in Springfield, but I've no idea at all to what date(s) it refers.  I suppose I'll find out when I show up for Mass and nobody else turns out.

On the other hand, it might refer to a couple of dates that I will not be able to say Mass at those two parishes.  If this is this case, I still don't know to what date(s) it refers.

This could be interesting.  Where's that Easy button?