Tuesday, September 30, 2003

What do you call your Liturgy of Hours book?

Sunday morning I was parked at the bottom of the steps of the chapel of reservation, finishing up Morning Prayer, when an ordained joy-addict acquaintance of mine walked up to me, with an impish grin on his face. He's good at impish grins. And he pointed to my LofH book, and said, "You know, we call that the missus, what do you call it?" I didn't quite catch on, looked puzzled, said "Huh?" He repeated, "Us priests call that book the Mrs. because it's always with us; so what do you call yours?" I smiled and kind of shrugged, I never did call it anything but the LofH book. All I could say was, "I never heard that one before...." [I've always been accused of being a little slow on the uptake, and a bit dense about things that are supposed to be funny; ask my sibs!]

But I then had all morning to ponder on that, for after Mass was the archdiocesan planning meeting, then the Open Door Cafe, where I'm the Sunday sack supper lady. "Would you like a sack supper, sir?" "You're welcome, take care." and so on.

What would I call the Liturgy of Hours book, if not that?

It's the concrete block. Friends and the Transit Plus drivers grab my purse to help out, then say, "What do you got in there, a concrete block?" or, maybe, "a load of bricks?" No bricks, no concrete block, just the LofH book with Magnificat and the baggie of icon prints in the blue vinyl zipper case.

It's the orientation board. In certain large dwelling places, there's a display to help those that live there keep track of things, that states such things as "Today is Tuesday. September 30, 2003. It is Autumn. It is cloudy." The LofH does the same thing for my spiritual life. "Today is Tuesday. It is the twenty-sixth week of Ordinary Time. It is the memorial day for St. Jerome."

Maybe most, it's the tether. It keeps me linked to the whole Church, and assures that I don't wander too far afield. Twenty-first century anchor holds don't have the amenity of a window right into the church as the ones of the past did, so when the weather or my health degrades I get housebound and even Sunday Mass isn't possible; yet, with that precious Liturgy of Hours book, I can still, even in the depth of a Wisconsin winter, even on my worst days. pray together with the whole Church assembled, according to Her desire. With the LofH book, I have a discipline of prayer that isn't dependent on whether or not I'm particularly inspired and that works against any tendency to center my prayer life on my own woes and wishes.

Or, since I hug and kiss it, is it my teddy bear?

My readers, feel free to add your tuppence in the comment box; maybe you have some other names to propose.....

Monday, September 29, 2003

from one of the listservs I frequent:
a prayer for humility and integrity

Lord God, You know what I am.
Give me the courage to face the truth about myself,
to recognize my failures,
to know my inadequacies,
to understand my weaknesses.

Keep me from pride and deceit.
Do not permit me to make my life counterfeit
or to hide behind some cheap pretense.

In the crucified Christ let me see
the depth of my sin,
the grossness of my selfishness,
and the judgment of death I deserve.
In the risen Christ let me see
the new life You give me by Your grace,
experiencing the deliverance from my old self
and the freedom to live for You.
With the mind of Christ ruling me,
let me be honest with You,
with myself,
and with all men.

In the name of Christ I pray. Amen.


Saturday, September 27, 2003

for the visitors from the Mark Shea comment box:

the three priests' profiles had the series title "Those Special Priests".

you'll find Monsignor Michael Murphy on 4 June 2003,
Father (name withheld from Mark's box) on 5 June,
ans Dom Sebastian Moore osb on June 6.

Just go to June's archives and scroll down ---- the new blogger permalinks have too many digits for reliable transcription by me!

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Another story from the desert

A certain young man stumbled, but he repented so much so that, after hearing just one sermon, Divine Grace visited him, and he left the world to become a monk. He built a hut in the desert and wept for his sins every day with great pain. He could not be comforted in any way at all.

One night Jesus appeared to him while he was sleeping, surrounded by heavenly light. He drew near to the young man.

"What's the matter? Why do you weep with such pain?" He asked in His sweet voice.

"I weep, Lord, because I have fallen," said the sinner in despair.

"Get up then."

"I cannot do it alone, Lord."

The King of Love then stretched out his hand and helped him get up. However, the young man still did not stop crying.

"Why are you crying now?"

"I'm in pain, my dear Christ, because I have saddened you. I wasted the richness of Your gifts in wantoness."

Then the Master Who so loves man put His hand lovingly on the young man's head and said, "Since you are in so much pain on my account I am no longer saddened by that which has passed."

The young man looked up in order to thank his Saviour, but He was no longer there. In the place where He had stood an enormous cross of light had formed. Redeemed of his sins he bowed down before it.

With gratitude in his soul, after that vision, he returned to the city and became a fervent preacher of repentance and thus led many more people to Christ.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Fifty ways your bishop can screw up......

It's that time of the year again, when Holy Mother Church makes us read St. Augustine's "On Pastors", which may as well be titled "Fifty ways to condemn your bishop". All last week, and all this week, also. At least it's not so bad as making it through this period of the Office of Readings last year!

Yet, where, might I ask, is "On Parishioners"? or, maybe, "On the Putative Faithful"? We screw up as followers, students, and sheep just as much, if not more, than the pastors and the bishops flub being leaders, teachers, and shepherds. And, plenty of the ways _they_ fail are directly related to _our_ refusals and misdoing and sheer stubbornness.

If I cultivate a teachable spirit, and hold out my hand to be taken and led, it is no surprise when I am taught and sheltered and led. If, on the other hand, I sit like a bump on a log and fight when anyone tries to pick me up, should I be very surprised when my caretaker succumbs to discouragement and gives up?

Saturday, September 20, 2003

Note, please, the addition to the sidebar

If you need to buy Catholic books or devotional items, click on the new link for the Catholic Company. If you click there and buy things, they'll pay me a commission. I'm hoping to earn enough to donate to the Conference on Fully Catholic Living, so I can help pay for our speakers, who are very expensive (but who earn every penny). Social Security is o.k. for living, but not for donating too!
The dangers of talking about good priests.....

Mark Shea has solicited stories about the truly good priests of our lives. But I don't think I'd better, I might not survive. Even though I could name a couple dozen.

Half of them are Jesuits. To be expected --- I studied Theology in a Jesuit University, and I belong to a parish specializing in Ignatian spirituality, pastored by Jesuits. But we're all aware of the general attitude in the Catholic blogosphere, and especially among comment-box denizens, about the Society of Jesus.

Of those who aren't Jesuits, four are bishops, a group not much more favored than Jesuits. One of those bishops has suffered major public embarrassment.

Two have been living in the lay state for decades.

Another was suspended from ministry following the Dallas bishops' conference, having been repentant, rescued, and restored decades before, before he rescued me.

Maybe this shouldn't be so strange, for a dweller in an anchor hold at a bridge named for a devoted and courageous priest of God with a very, shall we say, interesting, life?

At the Groppi Unity Bridge......Father Groppi's bridge.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Saint Ephrem sings:

I fall in adoration at your feet, Lord!
I thank you, God of goodness;
God of holiness, I invoke you,
on my knees, in your sight.

For me, an unworthy sinner,
you have willed to undergo the death of the cross,
setting me free from the bonds of evil.

What shall I offer in return for your generosity?

Glory to you, friend of men!
Glory to you, most merciful!
Glory to you, most patient!
Glory to you who forgive sin!
Glory to you who have come to save us!
Glory to you who have been made man in the womb of a Virgin!
Glory to you who have been bound!
Glory to you who have been scourged!
Glory to you who have been derided!
Glory to you who have been nailed to the cross!
Glory to you, laid in a sepulcher, but risen again!
Glory to you who have preached the Gospel to men and have been believed!
Glory to you who have ascended to heaven!
Glory to you, seated at the right hand of the Father
and who will return with him, in majesty, among the angels,
to judge those who have disregarded your passion!

The powers of heaven will be shaken;
all the angels and archangels,
the cherubim and seraphim
will appear in fear and trembling before Your glory;
the foundations of the earth will quake
and all that has life will cry out before Your majesty.

In that hour let your hand draw me beneath Your wings,
and save me from the terrible fire,
from the gnashing of teeth,
from the outer darkness and from despair without end.
That I may sing to Your glory:
Glory to Him who through His merciful goodness
has designed to redeem this sinner.


Tuesday, September 16, 2003

From the CinJustAnn listserv: Meetings and bishops and scurrying about.......

a bit of wisdom from Robert Waldrop this morning in the email box. He's the keeper of the Catholic Social Teachings website in the sidebar, and the founder of the CW house in Oklahoma City. He isn't always very politic, but he's reliably thoughtful.

Well, the liberals had their meeting with the leaders of the US bishops, and now the conservatives have had their meeting. ....... I would have liked to have been a fly on that wall. Anyway, I wonder if those of us who are Catholic Workers, agrarians, distributists, etc. should ask for a meeting. What would we say to the bishops?

In any event, I salute Peggy Noonan for telling the bishops they should ask the cleaning maids at the Hilton Hotel across the street where they lived, and then go live in such a neighborhood. She's right. Our bishops need a good dose of holy and evangleical poverty. It can cure a lot of spiritual ills.

Upon second thought, I don't think I would be in favor of a meeting between the bishops and Catholic Workers and agrarians and etc. it would require people to travel to Washington DC from all over the country, and that is a waste of time and energy.

Maybe this sounds a bit luddite but I think there is entirely too much running hither and yon in the Catholic Church in America these days. The bishops are always running off to Washington, or to Rome, or to meetings in other places. Collegiality is a fine thing, but it seems to me they are so busy being collegial that they forget their primary spiritual and canonical duty is to their own diocese. If the dioceses of the US were healthy, then the Church in America would be healthy. If the Church in America is having problems, and it is, that can only mean there are big problems in the dioceses. If we want the church to get better, then the dioceses need to get better.

So maybe once again its the Little Way that we need to embrace. Perhaps our leaders should stop flying all over the world all of the time being such big and important leaders and spend more time at home being pastors.

Maybe they (and we) could also stop worrying quite so much about what the great and important bureaucrats of our Church, who are not the Ordinaries of anywhere, think about us, and just go about living the Gospel right where we are put?
Remember Who creates and sustains our ecosystem

Tomorrow, Friday, and Saturday are the autumn Ember Days. At the turn of each season, we turn specially to the Lord with fasting and prayer, because we know that there is only One who can create a tomato, or a green bean, or an ear of sweet corn. And it is not Archer Daniels Midland, nor Nabisco, noe General Foods. We are entirely dependent on the proper timing and amounts of sunshine and rain and snow cover, good polinating insects at the right time and lack of hungry destructive insects at the other times, and we are utterly vulnerable to the tornado and the hurricane and the earth tremor, and over these we have very little control, if any. [Just ask that right now of the people who wait with trepidation for Isabel!] Only their creator and ours can control and shape the weather's often-chaotic patterns.

And so we plead with Him, the Creator of the heavens and the earth.


Sunday, September 14, 2003

Facing our true selves: the seraph serpent and the Cross of Jesus

Remember a few days ago, on St. Gregory's Day, when I wrote of contrition and the symptoms of the Fall?

The very first symptom of the Fall was the desire to hide from God. And from each other. And, even, from ourselves. Hiding from God is just futile and frustrating. Hiding from others and from ourselves, however, is death-dealing. Secrets bind and kill. Delusions make one stupid. Both are what makes up the wide and downhill superhighway to despair.

Today's Mass readings show to us the antidote to this mess.

We have to face, straight-on, exactly what we've done, precisely what our besetting problem is.

In the journey out of Egypt to the Land of Promise, the people suffered an invasion of poisonous seraph serpents, and many were bitten and died. The way of healing prescribed by the Lord was to look upon the image of a seraph serpent. Those who would look upon the bronze serpent, who could admit, "I have been bitten by the serpent", would be healed. Those who would not look, those who feared or panicked or denied that the serpent was their problem, would die.

In the same way, we must look at the cross of Jesus. We _must_ look. In fact, the cross of Jesus must be our only glory. But, what do we see when we raise our eyes to the crucifix above the altar, or finger the cross that dangles from the rosary? Our Lord and Messiah, Our true King and only true Love, is put to a torturous death, and submits to it freely, that we may be redeemed. And that death, the death of a true Innocent, is at my hands, is at our hands. I am a betrayer, an abandoner, a coward and denier, a crucifier. And the Crucified forgives me, and redeems me, and raises me up. All that is required is to gaze upon His cross, and to know and say, "This is what I have done to my Lord of Glory. He deserves all my love and I have given Him this." At that, the Lord will conquer death in me, and tear down the gates of the netherworld in me, and heal me, and, on that Day, call me to Himself. But if I refuse to look upon the cross, and deny that I had anything to do with that, and try to say that it's all Pontius Pilate's problem, then I will die, as surely as my fathers and mothers died in that desert when the seraph serpents came, and as sure as, before that, Adam and Eve took death for their inheritance.

Look upon the Cross, on which is hung Salvation Himself, and we will be healed and live!

Saturday, September 13, 2003

The Triumph of the Cross

Behold, behold, the wood of the cross,
on which is hung our Salvation;
O come, let us adore!
(Liturgy of Good Friday)

We adore You, O Christ, and we bless You,
for by Your holy cross You have redeemed the world.

O my Lord, Messiah and (truly!) King,
You have been lifted up, and have triumphed.
You Yourself mend our lives, and draw us to Yourself,
and make Yourself our greatest yearning, greatest gift.

We who lifted You up from the earth ---
not far,
not nearly to the sky, let alone the heavens ---
intending only evil; or not intending at all, "just following orders,"
just another execution in a busy day

It was for us that You took everything we gave,
that You offered Yourself, unresisting,
(and You, our Messiah and Lord, are God;
You had the power to save Yourself)
so that when we had done our very worst
Your forgiveness and Your triumph would rescue us,
very thankful and truly humble.

We know what we have done.
We know of what we are capable.
We look upon Your cross
and our sin remains before us,
we cannot ignore the truth of ourselves.

We deny You.
We are cowards and run away from You.
We drag You all over the city, from courtroom to courtroom.
For You, our King, we weave a crown of thornbush to force upon Your head.
We beat You. We mock You. We parade You through the streets.
We disdignify You, stripping You of everything.
And, clothed only in welts and bruises and Your own blood,
we nail You to a cross to torture You to death.

Our sin is always before us,
and yet,
and yet,
so also is Your mercy,
so also Your forgiveness,
so also Your great offering.

And, in time's fullness,
the sign of Jonah ---
even Death itself is conquered, vanquished;
so we might proceed from life to Life true and eternal,
Life that knows no end.
Oh, My Lord, from the oratorio "Canticle of the Plains", by Rich Mullins, Mitch McVicker, and Beaker.

When I think that the world would rise to condemn You,
Oh, my Lord; oh, my Lord.
Well it makes me cry.
You know it makes me tremble.
Oh, my Lord; oh, my Lord;
Oh my Jesus, sweet lamb of God.

You emptied Yourself and became just like us.
Then You set aside Your glory
and You took up that cross.
Through the crowd, through the cursing soldiers,
oh, my Lord; oh, my Lord.
You fell to the ground with the cross upon Your shoulders.

Oh, my Lord; oh, my Lord;
oh, my Jesus; oh, Man of sorrows.
When You saw Your mother standing there upon that road,
did You feel the pain of the sword that would soon pierce her soul?
Oh, my Lord; yes, oh, my Lord.
Oh, my Lord; yes, oh, my Lord. .....

Well a man was made to help carry that weight,
and a woman was moved to wipe the blood from Your face.
And then You fell again,
and You're taking more than a man could take.

You said, "Sisters, sisters, don't you weep for me."
Oh, my Lord; oh, my Lord.
And then once again fell down to Your knees.
Oh, my Lord; oh, my Lord;
oh, my Jesus, God's only one.

Well, they stripped off Your clothes,
then they cast their lots.
Oooh, they stretched out Your arms
and nailed Your hands to that cross.

See a broken heart --- it's what made You die.
Oh, my Lord; oh, my Lord.
And the blood and the water flowed out from Your side.
Oh, my Lord; oh, my Lord;
oh, my Jesus, Giver of Grace.

You know, gentle hands they took You down
and laid You in that grave scene.
No one believed You'd be back in three short days.

Oh, my Lord; oh, my Lord.
Oh, my Lord; oh, my Lord. .....yes.

[copyright 1996, Kid Brothers of St. Frank]

Some wise words from St. John Chrysostom, whose memorial is today. He was the patriarch of Constantinople in his day, and called the Golden Mouth because he was.

Do you fast?
Give me proof of it by your works.

If you see someone who is poor, take pity on that person.
If you see a friend being honored, do not be envious.
Do not let only your mouth fast, but also the eyes, and the feet, and the hands and all the member of our bodies.

Let the hands fast, by being free of avarice.
Let the feet fast, by ceasing to run after sin.
Let the eyes fast, by disciplining them not to glare at that which is sinful.
Let the ears by not listening to evil talk and gossip.
Let the mouth fast from foul words and unjust criticism.

For what good is it if we abstain from birds and fishes,
but bite and devour our brothers and sisters?


Be ashamed when you sin, don't be ashamed when you repent. Sin is the wound, repentance is the medicine. Sin is followed by shame; repentance is followed by boldness. Satan has overturned this order and given boldness to sin and shame to repentance.


There would be no need for sermons, if our lives were shining; there would be no need for words, if we bore witness with our deeds. There would be no pagans, if we were true Christians.

Friday, September 12, 2003

On torture by tongue and mental murder

Have any of the rest of you ever noticed that there are near occasions of sin in the virtual neighborhoods of St. Blog's, just like in our real-world neighborhoods? That the virtual world actions in Bloggsville can plop one into real-world contrition?

Ooh, I've been there. Repeatedly. For me, it's running into the professionally outraged and the veteran faction fighters. I'm extra sensitive to them, living in a real city that's been a favorite battlefield for them all my adult life. I read or hear the ongoing tongue torture, the detraction and rash judgment and harsh judgment and gloating, that goes on, and I get steamed, and start pondering how many different ways I could string up the Professionally Outraged Faction-Fighting Idiot of the Day --- and attempted murder is no less a sin for only going on inside my head. I catch myself, and cease and desist --- until the next vicious backbiting or stupid tittillating slanderous tidbit comes by.

I've found three ways of attack to fight this one:

First, avoid the near occasions. There are some sites in the Catholic internet world, and some Catholic blogs, that specialize in tongue torture. Since I have no business with or interest in professional outrage, and it's so bad for me, then why even go to Spiritus Christi, or CWN, or Diocese Report, or MagFidel, or Novus Ordo Watch.......Let strong people like Mark Shea and Bill Cork and Father Rob and Shawn McElhinney wear the blue helmets and deal with the armed idiot fringes.

Second, wait before doing. Don't grab the bait so often planted in Mark's and Amy's comment boxes. Go away. Do something else. Come back in a few hours. Whatever it was might not need refuting any more. And, if it still does need refuting, the things it's important to stand up for, can only be better stood up for by the cultivation of peace and patience.

Third, redirect my mind. An urge to string someone up by their toes is a sign that they belong on my God-Bless list. I can't hang, draw, and quarter Diogenes or Podles while I'm pleading before God for their good, or gag and strangle Padovano or Joe d'H while begging grace for them. Keep the mind busy with good, and it'll have no space for mischief.

Lord, keep me mindful....

CCC #2303: Deliberate hatred is contrary to charity. Hatred of the neighbor is a sin when one deliberately desires him grave harm. "But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven."
Prayer in distress and disaster, attributed to the Orthodox saint Raphael, bishop of Brooklyn.

O LORD, who alone art rich in mercies. Who through the compassions of Thy goodness dost hearken to the petitions of us sinners, Thy unworthy servants. Who ordainest and providest for our needs according to what is appropriate. Who through the wisdom of Thy care dost guide our lives, and seekest to save us in every way possible. Thou chastisest and
healest all in goodness and in love, so that Thy creatures, the work of Thy hands, may not be destroyed but rather, we may return to that pristine beauty, to that original dignity which we had lost through our insistent
ignorance and the ancient deceits of the devil. Thou hast provided for us many ways to repent and return from that transgression which resulted in our fall.

Thou, O LORD Almighty, look now upon us sinners, and hearken unto the voices of our petitions, for the multitude of our iniquities has robbed us from any boldness and made us incapable of approaching Thee for forgiveness of our sins. But since Thou art a lover of mankind, compassionate, abundant in mercies, long-suffering, unhateful, and rich in goodness, we therefore dare to approach Thee through these Divine Virtues and dare to lift up our hands and cry out unto Thee, rejoicing and saying:

We have sinned, O LORD, we have sinned and have forgotten Thy commandments. We have walked after our own evil thoughts and acted against our high calling, and we have become a reproach against Thy Beloved One. We too, the priests, have fallen away along with Thy flock, all of us have fallen short and become stained, and there is not anyone who is righteous, not any. We have shut the doors of Thy compassion, Thy love toward mankind, and Thy long-suffering, O our God, because of the evil acts we have committed. Thou alone art good, and we are sinners. Thou art long-suffering, and we are worthy of the strikes upon us. Because of Thy goodness, even though we have transgressed through our own ignorance, we have been justly chastised for our transgressions.

Thou, O LORD, art to be feared; who then shalt resist Thee? The mountains
shake from Thy presence. Who canst resist Thy Mighty Hand? If the heavens were to shut, who canst open them? If the waters have spread apart, who can gather them?

In Thine eyes, O LORD, it is very simple to impoverish and to enrich. Thou killest and Thou givest Life. Thou strikest and Thou healest. And whatever Thou willest Thou doest. It has been the confession of those of old that Thou wast angered and we have sinned. It is time O LORD to confess the truth. We have sinned and Thou wast angered. We have become a reproach to our neighbors. Thou hast turned Thy face from us and we have become weak. We beseech Thee to calm us to the end because of our sins. Do not chastise others through the strikes that are falling upon us. Make us, instead, to learn from the punishment of other nations upon us. The nations that do not know Thee, and the kingdoms that did not submit to Thee.

But as for us, Thy people, and the staff of Thy goodness, so that we may not be mocked at, and hated by the people who dwell upon the earth; because Thy mercy is indescribable, and Thy love for mankind is immeasurable, and the richness of Thy goodness is uncontainable. Since we are confident of these, we beseech Thee and supplicate Thee, bending the knees of our hearts, and saying:

Stop O LORD Thy angry strikes upon us, as you have stopped it of old upon Thy people during the reign of David. Even though our repentance is unlike theirs, since Thou art good, calm Thy anger upon us. Grant health to the sick, strength to the weak, and preserve the healthy and the strong. Deliver Thy people from every disease, from every infirmity, and deliver us all from the dangers of these disasters. Heal us, O LORD, from this illness, be it physical or spiritual, and protect us by Thy almighty hand so that we may not be harmed by the evil destruction falling down upon us. In truth, Thy anger hast covered us all, and we have all been affected by this distress. Even though we have not all turned from our evil, yet Thou, O LORD, hast delivered us from our evil minds. Grant us, O LORD, to please Thee in every good work.

Through the intercessions of Thine all-holy, immaculate, most blessed and glorious Lady Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary; and the supplications of Bodiless Powers of Heaven that art ever present before the face of God, and all the Saints. For Thou art the fountain of mercies, and the source of compassion; and to Thee we send up glory together with Thy Father who hast no beginning, and Thy holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, always now and ever, and unto ages of ages.


Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Passion Bearers

Today we have a notable company of saints, who share one thing: They stayed where the Lord had put them, at the risk of their lives, for the love of the Lord's people. In the Christian East, saints of this kind are known as passion bearers; in the West, we have trouble with the words --- this issue came up during the canonization process of both St. Edith Stein and of St. Maximilian Kolbe.

I'll let Gerard, Narwen, and company tell the story of St. Peter Claver, who offered his entire life to the slaves in the markets of Cartagena; and I'll leave Father Alexander Men to the usual Orthodox commentators, and I'll go to that often useful Anglican work, the Book of Lesser Feasts, to tell the story of 38 people, both Episcopalian and Catholic, who gave their lives unto death in 1878. They are known as "St. Constance and her companions, the martyrs of Memphis."

Memphis, in 1878, was a thriving city of approximately 46,000 souls. That summer, there was an onslaught of yellow fever making its way up the Mississippi River, starting early in the summer in New Orleans, and proceeding north, decimating cities as it went, but the population hoped that the illness would burn itself out before getting as far north as them. That hope (wishful thought?) was futile; in mid-August, it was apparent that the yellow fever had arrived.

Now in that time very little was known about yellow fever, but it was known that inland and high and dry places were safe, and about 25,000 of the more well-to-do residents of the city fled to other high and dry places, seeking to outrun the disease (not all were successful), leaving behind about 21,000 people who were too infirm or too poor to leave, or already ill. Most of the Protestant clergy went with the refugees. But the Episcopalian and the Catholic parish priests, and the sisters of the three religious communities then in Memphis, though they had the ability to leave also, chose to stay and serve, knowing the danger. At the height of the epidemic, over 90% of the population was ill and mortality rates were extreme. The three communities of sisters were the Anglican Society of St. Mary, and the Catholic communities the Sisters of Charity of Bethlehem Academy and the Nashville Dominicans. Not only did the sisters stay, but they sent for help from their houses in other places, and reinforcements came to Memphis, the city of death.

On this day, September 9th, the first of the sisters died, Constance, the sister superior of the Society of St. Mary. By the time the epidemic ended, 38 sisters and parochial clergy, both Anglican and Catholic, had died nursing the ill and comforting the dying, and the surviving population of Memphis, from 46,000, was 800.

The Catholic Diocese of Memphis is running a series on this great epidemic, part two of ten is here (I haven't found part one or later parts yet....)

The collect for Constance and her companions, passion bearers, the "Martyrs of Memphis", from the Book of Lesser Feasts and Fasts:

We give thee thanks and praise, O God of compassion, for the heroic witness of Constance and her companions, who, in a time of plague and pestilence, were steadfast in their care for the sick and the dying, and loved not their own lives, even unto death. Inspire in us a like love and commitment to those in need, following the example of our Savior Jesus Christ; who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, now and for ever.


Saturday, September 06, 2003

23rd Sunday Ordinary Time (B)

From Isaiah 35:
Say to the ones whose hearts are frightened:
be strong, fear not!

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
then will the ears of the deaf be cleared,
then the tongue of the mute will sing.

In the gospel, Jesus heals a deaf man
and he hears and speaks.
Then Jesus, after giving him voice,
bids him keep silence,
but he cannot comply.
The more that silence is enjoined,
the more the blessed gentleman proclaims the wonder.

Now that the Resurrection has come,
our Lord and Love is no longer enjoining silence;
but he still opens minds and hearts,
eyes and ears and lips.
We beg for this every time the Gospel is proclaimed.

Lord be in my mind,
Lord be on my lips,
Lord be in my heart;
that I may worthily hear,
that I may worthily know,
that I may worthily proclaim
Your holy gospel.

As I claim my mind for Christ.
As I claim my lips for Christ.
As I claim my heart for Christ.

That we may know him.
That we may proclaim His wonders.
That we may love Him beyond all others,
He the All-good, the Ever-faithful.

Friday, September 05, 2003

Teresa, who saw through Jesus' disguises

On this day in 1997, Teresa of Calcutta, who had been Sister Agnes of the Loretto Sisters, died. Many years before, drawn by God, she gave up her place of comfort, her habit, and her name, to live, love, and serve among the poorest of God's poor. She called herself Teresa, "for the little one, not the great one", put on a plain cotton sari such as any poor woman might find in the market, and looked for where she might serve. She began with a grade school under an awning at a wide spot of sidewalk. And it grew.

Father Ronald Knox once said: I am not advocating world-movements or public meetings... my appeal is rather to the individual conscience than to the public ear; my hope is rather to see the emergence of a Saint, than that of an organisation......
There is no harm in besieging heaven for the canonization of such and such holy persons now dead. But should we not do well to vary these petitions of ours by asking for more Saints to canonize?

That letter, the media, and the blogosphere: more reason to pray for our priests

A couple of weeks ago, almost two hundred of the priests of my diocese signed a letter asking the powers-that-be in our Church to consider the possibility of ordaining certain tested and mature married men to the priesthood, to allow all the faithful to be served in all those ways that only a priest can serve.

To read the secular press, you'd have thunk that our priests were the vanguard of some sort of glorious revolution. But, not so; the Church already ordains some few married men, who serve with as much holiness and distinction as their single brothers do.

In some of the noisier neighborhoods of the Catholic blogosphere, one could get the impression that there'd been a threat to the faith, a proposal to descend into the depths of depravity. Even shouts of "Suspend them all! What _could_ that bishop mean, keeping them all?" But there's not even a hint of depravity, or even self-interest --- unless getting, a decade or so from now, to serve only one parish at a time instead of circuit-riding, is considered inappropriate self-interest. If the Journal-Sentinel and Relevant Radio are to be believed, even the Archbishop is getting in on the act, ordering the priests to work on other things as if they had not already been doing so for decades already. I doubt that the J-S and Relevant have their nuances straight; J-S looks for exciting stories and ratings, and Relevant could well be indulging wishful thinking. There are many many words by +Timothy in yesterday's Catholic Herald about this, and not a hint of that kind of condemnation, though he obviously disagrees.

We are a Eucharistic people. For all Catholics, the Blessed Sacrament grounds and centers our lives. Yet even now, in this urban area where half the population is Catholic, there are parishes that do not have daily Mass, because our priests cannot bilocate and should not trinate (church-speak for celebrating Mass three times in one day).

There are many things that parish volunteers or lay ecclesial servants can do, but there are things that only a priest can do. We need a priest if we are going to have Eucharist, we need a priest to reconcile us when we have strayed, to anoint us when we are ill, to give us wise counsel when we are in crisis, to pray in vigil with us when we are Called and bring us Viaticum, food for the journey.

Our priests have been working very hard to encourage young men to consider whether they might be called to the holy priesthood, and some have listened, heard, and answered. Yet they work with great opposition from our society and culture. Parents are so desirous and eager to see their children become financially successful, which a parish priest never will be. Parents pine for grandchildren and descendants, and are half-hearted, even when they try not to be, about supporting their son who is choosing a way that precludes ever having those longed-for grandchildren, a side-effect of these day's much smaller families. And, our society is in thrall to the abysmal false trinity of money, sex, and power, rather than in submission to the true Triune God. Even our faithful Catholic people have difficulty renouncing the pomps and works of that fake trinity with strength and consistency.

But we still need priests now, yesterday, asap, stat, soon and very soon. Without the sacraments, can we ever keep the strength we most especially need in these days?

All of us who have bothered to look know that our Lord does not always give the gifts and call to priesthood and the gifts and call to singleness to Him as a matched pair. Not all the men he calls to be priests are young and single. Some have holy wives and children. Some are widowed. Some have learned many lessons in the unforgiving school of experience and have the scars to prove it, and yet have found and kept the faith. Also, not all men who are called to singleness to the Lord are also called to ordination; if the tradition can be trusted, very few are. The abbas and ammas of the desert always warned young men in monastic life to flee women and bishops, lest they fall into fornication or ordination!

Until we again have enough priests, what can we do? Just what our bishops and our priests have been encouraging us to do for all these years. Pray for our priests, for their strength and courage. Pray that the Lord call many men, and that they hear and answer. We can have larger families, and not be so concerned about our childrens' financial success or about our future grandchildren, so our spirits are free to give our sons to the Lord's service. We should do ourselves, as parish volunteers or professional eccelsial lay servants, those things that we can do, so the priests we do have are freed to do those things that only a priest can do, and those things for which priests, by their charism of office, are more well-fitted to do. There's no reason for the priest to do the banking, or the plumbing repairs, or the landscaping, or the parish hall scheduling; we layfolk can do that, so the priest can hear confessions, visit the sick and the elders and the prisoners, counsel the troubled in their trials, pray beside the dying, and do all the other things we cannot, but only he can.

And, the curial powers might think and pray about that uncomfortable request, also.

May they pray for us:
Mary, Mother of the Church and Mother of all priests.
Zachary, holy priest of God, and his beloved Elizabeth.
Peter, the Rock, who honored his mother-in-law.
Patrick, apostle to Ireland, son of a priest, grandson of a bishop.
Poor Father Alexis Toth, rejected by Bishop Ireland for being a widower.
Eddie Doherty, holy husband, holy priest, and the venerable Catherine his presbytera.
And all the holy saints in heaven who see us struggle in this world.

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

On not living up to one's own standards

In today's Office of Readings, today's saint, from the most illustrious pulpit in all Christendom, states exactly where he stands:

How hard it is for me to say this, for by these very words I denounce myself. I cannot preach with any competence, and yet insofar as I do succeed, still I myself do not live my life according to my own preaching. I do not deny my responsibility; I recognize that I am slothful and negligent, but perhaps the acknowledgement of my fault will win me pardon from my just judge.

but yet he has hope:

Truly the all-powerful Creator and Redeemer of mankind can give me in spite of my weaknesses a higher life and effective speech; because I love him, I do not spare myself in speaking of him.

Another wise and holy bishop wrote, in words meant to be seen by only one other person in the whole world, but now belonging to us all:

During the last months I have come to know how strained I was, tense, pensive, without much joy. I couldn't pray at all. I just did not seem to be honest with God. I felt I was fleeing from Him, from facing Him. I know what the trouble was: I was letting your conscience take over for me and I couldn't live with it. I felt like the world's worst hypocrite. .....I was at a crossroads -- and I knew I had to get the courage to decide. There is no other way for me to live....... I failed you, I failed myself. I failed as a friend, I failed as priest. .....I did nothing but cry and try to pray....... I begged for forgiveness for having failed you and for the grace of standing up again and trying to be -- not a bishop -- just a Christian.

And we do not have to be holy and wise bishops to know that we do not always live up to our own standards. I definitely know that in my own life. One of my fellow Catholic bloggers has even named his blog "I see the right way and approve of it, then do the opposite".

And yet, there is hope for us. And it begins with conviction and contrition. I name myself hypocrite, so Jesus doesn't have to. I, the shy and timid, and highly embarrassed, do my best to be bold and confident as I place all my failures in Jesus' all-loving and all-merciful heart.

What were the first symptoms that the fall had happened? First, Adam and Eve tried to hide from God, then they blamed someone else. But I am redeemed, born into a new life, and should have nothing to do with either one of these. [The hiding from God part just plain isn't possible, in any case!]

So every time I find myself a failure in following my own standards, I have to not hide from God, and not hide from myself, and say with honesty and humility and confidence: I have sinned through my own fault. For:

Ultimately I understand that the humanity God so loved and sought to redeem, including my own humanity, will be transformed by His loving embrace and grace.

as that wise and holy bishop said to the Church he gave up that friendship to serve with a single heart. It is as true of me as it is of him, and it is true for every one of us.

So let us not refuse to say: I, supposed Christian, hypocrite! And may I never flee the grace of God that answers, Welcome home!

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Back when the French had their Revolution, they really had a Revolution!

On this day in 1792, 191 bishops and priests were massacred in Paris, most of them at the Carmelite Church on the Rue de Rennes.

For, when the French had their revolution, they didn't just get rid of their king and start a new government, like we tell our children that we did. They didn't even just grab the heads of the previous government and string them up (or chop their heads off), like new governments have done to old governments pretty much ever since there have been governments, and like we saw in Romania not too long ago. No, they had a Terror, and a good old fashioned kneel-down-and-kiss-the foot-of-Lady-Liberty-or-else persecution.

"No church or priest of France, and no French citizen, may, under any circumstances or on any pretext whatsoever, acknowledge the authority of an ordinary, bishop or archbishop, whose see is established under the name of a foreign power," their new law said. This was enforced by compelling all clerics to make a public oath of submission to the new government, and renounce all obedience to "foreign powers." The penalty for refusal was deportation, deprivation of citizenship, and lifelong exile. All but four of the bishops of France and the vast majority of the priests refused the oath; a large group of them were detained at the Carmelite Church, awaiting deportation to one or another of France's prison colonies.

A rumor flashed through Paris that a foreign invasion was immanent, and riotous mobs sprung up, attacking the jails and prisons, looking for priests and bishops that they could lynch. After all, priests and bishops were such lovers of "foreign powers". The rioters soon arrived at the Carmelite Church; the first person they encountered after they barged in was Jean de Lau, the archbishop of Arles; when the rioters realized he was an archbishop, they hacked him to death right then and there. But then they decided to make the killings more fun and dramatic. They set up a "court" to have mock trials for their victims, then took them out to the garden courtyard for "executions".

The prisoners were called for interrogations and "trials" two by two, and it took many hours, but the revolutionaries did not tire of their new sport. Late in the evening, among the last few prisoners, the turn of the bishop of Beauvais came; he was a paraplegic invalid. The bishop called from his pallet, "Gentlemen, I am at your disposal. I am ready to die, but I cannot walk. Would a few of you be so kind as to carry me where you wish me to go?"

And so were born to eternal life Jean-Francois Burte, Severin Giralt, Jean de Lau, and their 188 companions, bishops and priests, martyrs.