30 April 2015

Robin Hood, May Day, and parish fund-raising

The evolution of stories interests me greatly, particularly the evolution of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. This morning I found myself reading an article discussing the interesting evolution of the stories concerning Robin Hood.

Among other things, I was surprised to learn that the first clear reference to Robin Hood that we have comes from 1377. This surprised me because King John died in 1216; consequently, I expected the stories to be earlier. The first stories of Robin Hood, though, are rather different from the stories we know today.

Robin did not rob from the rich to give to the poor and Maid Marion did not enter the stories until after the Reformation. He was not a noblemen, but a yeoman. Robin was particularly devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary, but the other personal characteristics of Robin varied significantly. While the first stories contain varied plots, the principle characters remain the same: Robin, Little John, the King [Edward, not John, who reigned until 1307], and the Monk. Because of this, Anthony J. Pollard, in his essay "Robin Hood, Sherwood Forest and the Sheriff of Nottingham" [Nottingham Medieval Studies (52) 113-130], suggests that "one might liken these stories to twentieth-century comics in which a whole series of adventures were hung on stock characters" (115).

All of this led me to ask what seems an obvious question: How is it that Robin Hood became associated with robbing the rich and giving to the poor? The answer might involve the use of the stories of Robin Hood by parishes in medieval England. As Pollard explains:
We have most evidence of [the stories] as parochial plays, linked to fund-raising activities during May Games. No texts, if were any, of parochial plays survive. The one surviving play text, which it has been compellingly argued was the text of a play to which John Paston III referred in 1473, is a version of Robin Hood and Guy of Guisborne. What happened is hard to tell, but one suspects that there was an element of festive 'ransoming' of people. And thus the 'rich' were robbed to pay, if not for the poor, then for a good cause. The Robin Hood stories were embedded in this specific parochial context. But it was not restricted to that world. Besides John Paston commissioning a plan, Henry VIII also participated in a Robin Hood interlude, re-enacting 'Robin and the King' in 1515 (116).
Talk about a fun parish fund-raiser! I think such a play put on today could be quite enjoyable and an opportunity for good banter, though I'm not sure what the response of people today would be (we tend to take offense far more easily than the medievals did, to our discredit).

29 April 2015

What is a boring homily?

The ever-witty Eye of the Tiber posted yesterday a new article about a new Catholic app, one that many likely wish actually existed:
The Vatican announced this morning that they have launched “CrapHom,” a new app for iPhone and Android that allows Catholics to view which local parishes will have the lamest homilies and which will have the least lame homilies [more].
The bit of satire comes only a few days after the Holy Father Pope Francis admonished a group of deacons he was about to ordain that their homilies not be "boring":
And this is the nourishment of the People of God; that your sermons are not boring; that your own homilies reach people's hearts because they come from your heart, because what you are saying is truly what you have in your heart [more].
This was not, of course, the first time His Holiness criticized preachers for preaching "boring" homilies. When he visited Assisi in October 2013, he said to a gathering of clergy, "Away with these never ending, boring homilies that no one understands. This is for you!" I'm not sure how many homilies actually meet those three characteristics. Not every long homily is boring and not every short homily is interesting, nor is every brief homily understandable.

Everyone - so far as I am aware - agrees that boring homilies should be avoided at all costs. The difficulty, though, comes in defining just what a boring homily actually is.

When the Homiletic Directory was released a few months ago, His Excellency the Most Reverend Arthur Roche, Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, said that within the homilies of Pope Francis "there is nothing boring. There is always something that challenges people. This is the point.” But I know plenty of people who are bored by challenging homilies, if for no other reason than they do not want to change and only want to be told that everything is fine.

Whenever I listen to a homily and see the preacher has a prepared text, I automatically listen with interest because I know he has taken time to consider what he will say. Others, though, see a prepared text and cringe because they find such texts boring and claim the preacher isn't preaching from the heart (because it is apparently impossible to put heartfelt words on paper).

Others find homilies in which the preacher tells a few jokes or shares personal stories to emphasize his point to be interesting. I, on the other hand, cringe when a preacher starts talking about himself and find such homilies rather tedious (which is maybe worse than being boring).

Each of us knows a boring homily when we hear one, but it would be impossible to define the characteristics of a boring homily. It might be possible to create some sort of a venn diagram describing the principle characteristics of boring homilies, but even this might not be so easy.

We too often forget that so much of what makes a homily boring is entirely subjective; if a person does not want to hear the Gospel, now matter how interesting others might find the homily, such a person will most always find it boring.

Saint Augustine was bored by many sermons of his day because of their lack of good rhetoric (as is often the case today). He found such a good use of rhetoric in the preaching of Saint Ambrose and was converted because of the beauty of his words. Even so, most people today would find the sermons of Saint Ambrose boring, the same sermons which converted Augustine.

Indeed, even in the earliest days of the Church there were those who found the preaching of others boring, even the preaching of the Apostle Paul:
On the first day of the week when we gathered to break bread, Paul spoke to them because he was going to leave on the next day, and he kept on speaking until midnight. There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were gathered, and a young man named Eutychus who was sitting on the window sill was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. Once overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and when he was picked up, he was dead (Acts 20:7-9). 

Don't worry; Paul brought him back to life. Notice that it was only Eutychus who fell asleep; the others were, presumably, interested in Paul's words.

The quality of much preaching today is certainly in need of improvement, but I'm not sure focusing on making not boring is the answer; doing so runs the risk of striving to make them interesting, which too often falls to focusing on the preacher. We should seek instead to proclaim Jesus Christ; it would be hard to say that he is boring.

When a Pope visits, are new liturgical furnishings necessary?

As the Church of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. prepares to welcome His Holiness Pope Francis this September, students at the Catholic University of America have been invited to design the liturgical appointments to be used for the canonization of Blessed Junipero Serra:
The leaders of the Archdiocese of Washington, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and The Catholic University of America met today with students from CUA’s School of Architecture and Planning to announce a contest for the design of the altar, chair, and ambo to be used by Pope Francis during the canonization Mass of Blessed Junípero Serra on Sept. 23, 2015 [more].
I cannot help but wonder if a new altar, chair, and/or ambo are really necessary.

When I was in Turin this past weekend, I saw the chair used by His Holiness Benedict XVI when he venerated the Shroud in 2010:

A nearby guard was happy to speak with about the chair and seemed very proud of it. As he spoke of the chair and as I looked at it, I couldn't help but notice that it does not contain any explicit reference to Benedict XVI. I couldn't help but wonder if an entirely new chair will be made when Pope Francis visits Turin this summer. I suspect a new chair will be made. If there were not already a chair for the Holy Father in Turin, making one would make sense; but if there is already such a chair, is a new one needed?

Washington, D.C. has not just one papal chair. One such chair was made for the visit of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. in 2008:

A second chair - and altar and ambo - was used for the Mass in Nationals' Park:

All of these items are, one would expect, still in existence. Given Pope Francis' insistence on a Church of the poor and for the poor, is it necessary to make new liturgical appointments just for Pope Francis' visit? Could appointments used by Benedict XVI not also be used by Pope Francis?

In the history of the Church, it is not unheard of for Popes to use vestments, altars, chairs, etc. designed for the use of their predecessors. In fact, there is a rather long-standing custom of employing such liturgical items in the worship of God as a means to show our continuity with those who have gone before us. This is a good argument against making a new set of liturgical appointments just because a different Pope is coming.

On the other hand, a new design contest will allow more of the faithful to share and participate in the excitement and joy of a papal visit. This is a good argument in favor of new liturgical items.

I do not have a satisfactory answer to my question of whether new appointments are needed, but am simply pondering a question.

28 April 2015

Bishop Silva to restore proper order of the Sacrametns of Initation

Citing the lamentable reality that the Sacrament of Confirmation has become for too many people "the sacrament of farewell," His Excellency the Most Reverend Clarence "Larry" Silva, Bishop of Honolulu is restoring the proper order of the Sacraments of Initiation in his Diocese:
Some may point out that we have been doing what we are doing for 100 years, so why change now? The reason is simple: What we are doing is not working very well. Confirmation is often experienced more as a graduation from the Church than as a free gift of God’s grace. Pope Francis acknowledged this: “There was this experience: the sacrament of Confirmation — what is this sacrament called? Confirmation? No! Its name has changed: the ‘sacrament of farewell.’ They do this and then they leave the Church. … Many young people move off after receiving Confirmation, the sacrament of farewell, of goodbye, as I said. It is an experience of failure, an experience that leaves emptiness and discourages us. Is this true or not?” (Sept. 22, 2013).

Sadly this is true in the Diocese of Honolulu, as it is true in many other places. While Confirmation programs do meet with success in many of our young people, who do become faithful disciples of the Lord, we are still missing the mark with many others. It is apparent that we are not accomplishing the goal of converting the hearts of all our young people to the Lord. Still the problem is bigger than that. A review of statistics shows that half of the children we baptize are never confirmed. Confirming children at the time of their First Holy Communion will increase the numbers of those being confirmed and receiving the grace of the sacrament.
I have long advocated for just such a restoration and wish now to repeat what I have said four years ago, with a few additions:
Too often in recent decades, the notion of the Sacrament of Confirmation as a 'rite of passage' has crept into the life of the Church. None of the Sacraments are milestones or rites of passage along the Christian life; the Sacraments are not about us as much as they are about Christ Jesus.

It is often said today that the Sacrament of Confirmation allows a young person - or an older person - to "accept the faith for themselves." Rubbish! This notion you will not find in the Rite of Confirmation, in the Catechism or - unless I am much mistaken - in the tradition of the Church. The Catechism reminds us that "although Confirmation is sometimes called the 'sacrament of Christian maturity,' we must not confuse adult faith with the adult age of natural growth" (1308).

Consider the following, all of which are true: 
A person accepts the faith for himself when he renews his baptismal promises during the Easter season.

A person accepts the faith for himself when he renews his baptismal promises during the Baptism of a child.

A person accepts the faith for himself when he recites the Creed, either the Nicene Creed or the Apostles Creed, whether at Mass or during the rosary or at any other time.

A person accepts the faith for himself when he responds, "Amen," to, "The Body of Christ," and receives the Eucharistic Lord.

If a person has not accepted the faith for himself he should be doing none of these things, for in so doing he would make himself a great liar.
If Confirmation really were the acceptance of the faith for oneself, then my own reception of this great Sacrament would be meaningless. Why? I was born, baptized and confirmed on the day of my birth because I was not expected to live. Certainly as an infant of less than one day old I could not have accepted the faith for myself, and yet "his grace to me has not been ineffective" (I Corinthians 15:10).

It has been said that Confirmation is "a sacrament in search of a theology." Hogwash! It has a theology, and it always has.

Regarding the Sacrament of Confirmation, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, with my emphases:
Baptism, the Eucharist, and the sacrament of Confirmation together constitute the "sacraments of Christian initiation," whose unity must be safeguarded. It must be explained to the faithful that the reception of the sacrament of Confirmation is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace. For "by the sacrament of Confirmation, [the baptized] are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed" (1285).
Because Confirmation is "a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit," it brings about "an increase and deepening of baptismal grace" (CCC, 1302-1303) and it
  • roots us more firmly to Christ;
  • increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us;
  • renders our bond with the Church more perfect;
  • gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross.
I am in full support of a younger age for the recption of Confirmation, even before the reception of First Communion, both to restore the proper ordering of the Sacraments of Initiation and to strengthen the grace of God in our young people.

Consider this: if Confirmation really is the sealing with the fullness of the gifts of the Holy Spirit - which it is - why do we wait so long to give this gift to our children when they have already erroneously and - quite likely - invincibly formed their consciences? Would it not be wiser to confirm them when they are young so they have the fulness of the Holy Spirit to help them form their consciences according to the truth of the Gospel? 

I have written a few other posts on the Sacrament of Confirmation which might be of use in this discussion: on the theology of Confirmation and revisiting the age for Confirmation.

On the Shroud of Turin

At a length of 14.3 feet, the Shroud of Turin is the longest piece of fabric surviving from the ancient world, no small feat for a piece of cloth almost destroyed by fire in 1531.

The image of the body is not easy to see from a distance.
In many ways, the image of the Crucified on the Shroud is easier to see in photographs than it is in the Shroud itself (which I found a little surprising), but standing before the Shroud it was very easy to see the various holes in the fabric and the areas damaged by fire, which are not always so clear in photographs.

The Shroud has been housed in several different locations over the centuries. Today, it bears pollen from each of these documented locations, including pollen from the Holy Land from plants that only bloom around Passover. Blood - testing AB+ - is found on the Shroud of Turin (a blood type that, as I am told, matches that present in the Eucharistic miracles). Though the cloth bears the image of a man who suffered greatly, there are no pigments on the cloth (which means it is not painted) and the image is only on the upper part of the fibers.

Following a brief discussion of the historic and scientific evidence of the Shroud of Turin in his excellent book The True Icon: From the Shroud of Turin to the Veil of Manoppello, Paul Badde writes:
In the pages that follow, therefore, I intend to pursue a reverse inquiry. Not the question of whether the shroud is genuine but rather the question: What if it is? The shroud, then, in this book, will not be defended against the arguments of its many opponents but rather will serve as a foil for a completely different experiment. For Christ's tomb is described by John in only twelve verses. He does not say that it was empty. Instead, in that brief passage he spends four verses writing about the cloths that he found there. Opponents of the shroud therefore say that it was fabricated so as to correspond to the text. It was a forgery to substantiate a lie. I say, on the other hand: This cloth is the relic of a true statement. Against all probability it has survived. There was talk about cloths already in the first documents of Christian history - and now here we have a cloth that corresponds perfectly to that talk. All the Gospels speak about this cloth. What a weight of converging evidence! Not one contradictory indication separates it from the hypothesis that we truly have that cloth before our eyes in Turin. If we were in a court of law, the shroud would easily win any circumstantial case. It would be confirmed officially that it is identical with the "clean linen" cloth that Joseph of Arimathea bought for Jesus (16-17).
It goes without saying that Badde is right. Even the radio carbon-14 test performed by Oxford University 1988 was false (the scientists mistakenly tested a patch put on the cloth in the middle ages, which explains why the test erroneously dated the Shroud to 1320; how they made such a mistake is anyone's guess, unless it was purposeful).

When His Holiness Benedict XVI venerated the Shroud of Turin in 2010, he spoke of the power of the Shroud:
This is the power of the Shroud: from the face of this "Man of sorrows", who carries with him the passion of man of every time and every place, our passions too, our sufferings, our difficulties and our sins Passio Christi. Passio hominis from this face a solemn majesty shines, a paradoxical lordship. This face, these hands and these feet, this side, this whole body speaks. It is itself a word we can hear in the silence. How does the Shroud speak? It speaks with blood, and blood is life! The Shroud is an Icon written in blood; the blood of a man who was scourged, crowned with thorns, crucified and whose right side was pierced. The Image impressed upon the Shroud is that of a dead man, but the blood speaks of his life. Every trace of blood speaks of love and of life. Especially that huge stain near his rib, made by the blood and water that flowed copiously from a great wound inflicted by the tip of a Roman spear. That blood and that water speak of life. It is like a spring that murmurs in the silence, and we can hear it, we can listen to it in the silence of Holy Saturday.
These were the sentiments of my heart as we made our way to Turin. I wanted to look upon the wounds the Savior received for us as a way of completing, if you will, my experience of the Holy Sepulchre. Already I had looked several times upon one of the four cloths taken from his tomb, the napkin that covered his face and now bears his living image. In Manoppello, where it is housed today, it is called il Volto Santo, the Holy Face. At Turin, I was able to look at a second of the cloths, which so clearly shows him dead.

The Shroud of Turin is a clear reminder of Jesus' own words, which we heard this past Sunday: "This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again" (John 10:17-18).

Indeed, I brought with me five pages of intentions from my friends, and most of these intentions concerned one of form of suffering or another. Even on the way to Turin more sufferings were added to these intentions as we learned of the devastating earthquake that struck Nepal and killed more 4,400 people (and maybe as many as 10,000). The sufferings of the Lord's people are great and numerous, but so are his own sufferings. I wanted to unite their sufferings and mine to the sufferings of the Jesus by meditating upon his wounds, but the Lord seems to have had another idea for me.

Despite my best intentions, I found my eyes continually drawn to his face; I could not focus on his wounds, but had to look at his face. Having seen his face, having looking upon the face of mercy and into the eyes of love, what more is there to seek?

As I looked upon his face in death, I could not help but recall my first experience before the Veil of Manoppello:

As I continued to contemplate the image it seemed to shift ever so subtly as people moved behind it or the light hit at a different angle.  At one point, I could see very clearly the image of the Lord's face from the Shroud of Turin imposed about it; the face on the two cloths is the very same face.
You can see a superimposition of the face of Jesus on the Shroud of Turin and the face of Jesus on the Veil of Manoppello here.

The Shroud of Turin proves, in a certain sense, that what Gospels recount of the Lord's Passion is true. He was scourged. He was crowned with thorns. He was crucified. His side was pierced by a lance. But that is all. The Shroud of Turin can only prove that Jesus "suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried." The Veil of Manoppello, on the other hand, offers a certain kind of proof that "on the third day he rose again from the dead." Without the Veil of Manoppello, the Shroud of Turin only tells half of the story.

27 April 2015

It's not every day that a book enjoyed - and quoted - by Benedict XVI is made into a movie

In the book-length interview he granted to Peter Seewald - published in 2010 as Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Times - Father Benedict reflected on a number of topics with his usual erudition and simplicity, including truth. He said, in part:
Simplicity is truth—and truth is simple. Our problem is that we no longer see the forest for the trees; that for all our knowledge, we have lost the path to wisdom. This is also the idea behind Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, which shows how the cleverness of our age causes us, ironically, to overlook the essential, while the Little Prince, who hasn’t the faintest idea about all this cleverness, ultimately sees more and better.
What really counts? What is authentic? What keeps us going? The key thing is to see what is simple.
This was not the first time Benedict XVI referenced The Little Prince.

In his book, Behold the Pierced One: An Approach to a Spiritual Christology (which is arguable his best and yet least read book), which he published while he was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the then-Cardinal Ratzinger wrote:
For "you only see properly with your heart", as Saint-Exupéry's Little Prince says. (And the Little Prince can be taken as a symbol for that childlikeness which we must regain if we are to find our way back out of the clever foolishness of the adult world and into man's true nature, which is beyond mere reason.)
Given that Behold the Pierced One was published in German in 1984 (and in English in 1986), the impact of The Little Prince on the Pontiff Emeritus is clear to see.

The Little Prince is a book that I, too, have greatly enjoyed. In fact, I only first read the book because of the intriguing quote and comment made in Behold the Pierced One. It was a book I did not regret reading and one that I have read again several times.

Already made into a movie starring Gene Wilder in 1974, The Little Prince is soon to hit theaters again in animated form:

The movie will be released in France on July 29th. I have not yet found a U.S. release date, but I hope it will be very near that (it won't be released in Italy until January 2016; it would be unfortunate if that were the case in the U.S.). I expect to be in Quincy about that time this summer and so will have to organize a book club ahead of the release and a big outing to see the film.

Islamic State Ongoing Updates - April 2015

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30 April 2015
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