Friday, March 16, 2018

Lasagna for Jesus

I was at it again today in the kitchen. This time it was "Easy Lasagna."

I'll provide the original recipe, then with my own changes.

The original recipe -- which I multiplied four times, to make four dishes -- is as follows:

1/2 lb. lasagna pasta
2 lbs. hamburger meat -- I used a mixture of 3:1 ground chuck to sirloin
2 onions chopped*
32 oz. pasta sauce -- I used several jars of Rao's sauce
1 tsp. oregano
1 lb. cottage cheese -- I used ricotta, plus egg
2 cups shredded mozzarella -- I increased this to 3 cups

The reasons for my changes? I like to use a little better meat, and ricotta is traditional and I like it better. For the four pans, I used three eggs; a whole egg for each pan would have been fine. I added the mozzarella because I ran out at the end!

First step was to boil the water. And somewhere I learned that the water should be heavily salted -- so it tastes like the sea, I was told. While that got boiling, I browned the meat and the onions. I had to use two large pans.

Meanwhile, of course, I opened up my other packages, including the pasta, so it would all go in at once. I used two full boxes. (I've heard of people just laying the uncooked pasta in the pan, but that seems awfully risky to me.)

The noodles went into the water, then I watched the meat brown. Thankfully, it all finished about the same time. If the pasta gets finished too soon, it starts sticking to itself while it's sitting; although, now that I think about it, I guess it could have sat in the water. But the thing is, I used the same strainer for both the meat and the noodles, and so I wanted to strain the noodles first.

After draining off the pasta, I set that aside on a cookie sheet to cool. Then I strained the meat and onion mixture; I saved the drippings, because that won't all be fat; I can use that broth for some mushrooms I'm going to fix on Sunday.

Then the meat and onions were mixed together with the sauce, plus the oregano. It would have been nice to cook the sauce a little, to get the oregano integrated, but I cheated. I'm hopeful that it will do its thing without my help.

The original recipe called for the cottage cheese to be added to this mixture, which would have made things a little easier, but I didn't want to do that.

Next comes the build: a layer of pasta, then the meat sauce, then the ricotta and egg. I decided one big layer of ricotta would be all right; it's hard to do it otherwise. Then some mozzarella. Repeat. I was a little heavy on the mozzarella, so at the end, I had to run over to the grocery next store (really: it is next to the church!) for more. Some parmesan cheese would have been nice, but this recipe didn't call for it, so I decided to leave that aside.

Why did I make so much Lasagna? This is for St. Remy's "Casserole Crusade." Twice a year, we make casseroles or other dishes and freeze them, and then they are taken to nearby soup kitchens. I try to make four of them each time. Two is about as easy as one; and it's not that big a jump to four. Plus, I don't have children to keep track of, so I figure I can do this. And I tell everyone I'm doing it, as a challenge.

Finally, my attitude is, if I make something like this, I make it the way I'd want it for my own table. So I decided not to skimp on any ingredients.

How did it taste? Pretty good. The sauce was actually a lot meatier than I expected, and moreso than I think is traditional. I think it would turn out very nicely if the meat were cut by a third or even half, and then adding in more ricotta and sauce. For commercial sauce, it was good. I went online the other day to see what ready-made sauces are most highly rated, and Raos came out on top in one or two stories I found. As I needed five jars (they were 24, not 32 ounces), I had to mix different flavors. I ended up with marinara, tomato-basil and arrabbiata (i.e., spicy). I was concerned about the heat, but the mixture was not too hot.

And, yes, I know it's Friday in Lent; however, I have it on good authority that tasting something with meat in it does not violate the discipline of abstinence or fasting. And, yes, it was just a small taste, not a bowl!

Now it's all in the freezer, to be dropped off on Sunday.

Oh, and by the way, if you want to replicate our "Casserole Crusade" in your parish, here's what you do:

1. Find out what the area soup kitchens need and make sure they can accept what you bring. If you can't deliver immediately, you'll need a place to store them until they can be delivered.
2. Get your pastor on board.
3. Get a bunch of aluminum baking dishes, plus foil lids. Each lid needs a label, on which there is a line for the recipe and the date. We end up gathering about 350-400 casseroles each time.
4. Prepare a page with recipes and instructions, including how to freeze and when and where to drop off. Make photocopies.
5. Each pan gets a copy of the recipe. These are stacked and brought to church for sign-up days.
6. Prepare an announcement for the parish to run in the bulletin, and for the priest to read at Mass. (Tell him about my challenge! It works!)
7. On a given weekend or two, the announcement is made, and volunteers in the back of church pass out the casserole pans, with the recipes and lids. We ask people to write down their names and how many they took.
8. For the drop off, you will want some volunteers who can run to the cars and take the casseroles. That makes everyone happy. Then deliver as decided upon in step one.

This is something even a small group of volunteers could organize. If you have questions, put them in the comments.

* Just as I typed this, I realized I used about half as much onion as called for, but it seemed fine.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The offertory sets the stage for the true Sacrifice (Sunday homily)

Last week I told you that this homily – as we go through the Mass – 
would pick up after the Creed. That is, the offertory.

In the first reading, we heard some of the saddest words in the Bible: “there was no remedy.”

But then in the Gospel, we have the great good news 
that there is, indeed, a remedy: Jesus Christ, 
who came into the world not to condemn the world, 
but that the world might be saved through him.

With the offertory of the Holy Mass, we are summoned 
to prepare for this “coming,” this lifting up the Son of Man.

Realizing what we are doing – and, more than that, what God is doing – 
in the Mass, there is a great drama in this transition of the Mass.

Let me just describe several things that happen altogether.

After the Creed, what do we do? We offer our prayers and petitions.
Then what? The ushers pass down the aisle for your material offerings.
Then what you offer is brought forward, 
the money, and the bread and the wine. 

Now, in the pews, you’ll see some white papers. In a moment or two, 
I will be referring to this, so pass them out if you want. 

The chalice is brought to the altar at this point, and note: 
it is covered with a veil. 
This isn’t required, but it is encouraged. The reason? 
Covering something with a veil signifies its importance.
It also signals a transition. We are entering into something special.
So, if you have a new work of art, you “unveil” it.
And when you go to a show, they “raise the curtain.”

You will notice that sometimes there is a plate 
– called a “paten” – with a larger host.
For show-and-tell purposes, here is such a paten, and such a host.
I won’t actually use these in today’s Mass.
This larger host is meant to represent the unity of the Body of Christ.

Now, if you have those papers in your hands, 
you can see the prayers that the priest and deacon say at this point.
On the left side is the older version, from the Traditional Latin Mass; 
on the right side are the prayers we use in the current form of Mass.

There are two reasons I included the older version.
There is some depth that, unfortunately, 
was lost in the transition to the new prayers. 

Even so, I want you also to see the continuity.
Yes, there are differences between the old and new Mass, 
but it is still the same Mass, the same Sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

So the priest takes the plate with bread – 
and the older prayer makes clear, this is an offering; 
a mere human gift, which Christ will turn into himself.

The wine is mixed with a little water. 
The key idea of the prayer is that we are the drop of water,
becoming part of the wine;
And similarly, “we come to share in the divinity of Christ 
who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”

The new prayer over the wine emphasizes that this is first God’s gift; 
and yet it is also “the work of human hands.” 

At this point, the priest can use incense.
Because some have issues with incense we don’t use it at every Mass.
But we do use it at one Mass, because it is an ancient part of worship; 
it was offered constantly before the Lord in the Temple in Jerusalem,
And in the Book of Revelation, it appears several times.
It signifies that we are coming into God’s presence.

Notice what happens with the incense:
The offerings are incensed; then the altar; then the priest; then you. 
Again, you are not an observer. You are part of this action.

The priest stands at this altar for you.
This is why Pope Benedict – among many others – 
have made the point that it makes more sense for the priest and the people 
to be together, facing the same way at this point.
As you know, we’ve been doing that at some daily Masses, 
and at one Mass on holy days. 
And I would like to do it, this year, 
at Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday.

Now, I realize some prefer the priest turned toward them. 
I do not want to treat that point of view with disregard.
One reason is that people like to see what he’s doing.
But I would point out that either way, 
you still see most of what the priest is doing. 
What you see less of, above all, is the priest himself. 
That is, you don’t see his face.

But I know some are not persuaded; I understand.
To those who don’t like me offering Mass 
facing the same way as the people, let me say this.
One reason I’ve done it is so you can simply experience it.
Many times, people will say, “Oh, that’s not what I expected.” 

But also, you should know I have heard from a lot of parishioners 
who find Mass offered this way to be very meaningful.
The response has been very strong.
If people find it fruitful, isn’t that a good thing?

So, can we live with a compromise? Sometimes one way, 
and sometimes the other way? 

At this point in the offertory, the scene, as it were, is “set.”

And so the priest turns to the people, and says,
“Pray, brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours 
may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.”

That prayer has many layers. It’s talking about what you and I bring:
The bread, wine, the collection; but far more than that: ourselves.
It’s you and me that God is so intently interested in.
Our transformation is the “why” of the Eucharist, and our sharing in it.

There is a sacrifice that the priest offers, with and for us.
There is a sacrifice each one brings, that is ourselves,
Our prayers, works, joys and sufferings – all of it.
However unworthy it may seem, bring it. Place it here.

And all this – and all the world, full of needs, 
is taken up in Christ’s sacrifice. 
He is the true priest; his is the true Mass.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

What women need from men; and men from women

Fred Astaire & Rita Hayworth in You'll Never Get Rich (1941).
(This was a talk I gave today for our second annual "Women's Day." Every year, we have a time of prayer and reflection, including Mass, confessions, adoration, with a talk by me, followed by Benediction and Brunch. The audience was women of all ages.)

When I was brainstorming with our parish staff, and came up with this topic, the women in my office – who are my strong right arm – all said, “that sounds great!” So I went with it. But then after a short while, I thought: “what do I know about any of this?” I’m not a woman, I’m obviously not married, and I haven’t been on a date in over 20 years! But, I did go back to my brain trust – my staff – and to some other resources, and drawing on some things I’ve learned as a priest, and this is what you get. If the talk isn’t any good, then it will at least be a suitable penance!

It also occurred to me that someone might ask, “OK, what am I to do with this information?” My hope is that if you are married, this will help you make that relationship stronger and more fruitful, and you and your husband can better help each other. Also, there are obviously things here that men need to know, but they aren’t here. So perhaps you can help the men in your life – husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons – by sharing what you can. And then, third, many here are young, but someday you may be thinking about whether marriage is for you. To that end, you will develop special friendships, one of which may lead to marriage. I hope something I’ll say can help you choose well, and make that marriage happy and fruitful.

Men need:

- Inspiration: they need to lead, guard and give; the women in their lives can support this. I remember a line from a movie a few years ago, an artist said to a woman, “You’re the reason cavemen started painting on walls.”

There is a narrative in our society that makes everything about power, and paints a bleak picture of the power relationships between men and women. Namely, it’s all men, at women’s expense. Yes, there are problems, but that’s overly simple. Women have tremendous power over men. Women can – and must – play a powerful role in calling out the best in men. It used to be, at least, that when a guy is trying to win a girl, he would dress up and be on his best behavior. It helps if the girl does the same. Never stop doing that! This calls out the best in each other; and it’s not just about manners. It’s a statement of the importance of the other person. Expect the best of each other; and likewise, give the best.

There was a study published in the New York Times recently that found that when boys have sisters, the nurturing qualities natural to women tend to help their brothers to be more caring and generous. Their fathers as well.

But go easy: that inspiration is not a matter of nagging or pushing, but is more subtle. In that same movie I quote earlier – it was called, “As Good as it Gets” – the main character is played by Jack Nicholson, and he has a lot of personal problems. But he falls for a waitress at his favorite restaurant, and he keeps pursuing her. And at one point, she says, you owe me a compliment – because he’d been a real jerk. And after a big wind-up, he said, “You make me want to be a better man.” 

- Support in chastity. It’s not fair, but men are more prone to visual distraction and temptation. Modesty is good for women and for men, in different ways.

First, let me talk about modesty in appearance. This is a responsibility both men and women owe each other; but in our society, there is far more pressure and expectation placed on women to put themselves on display. And to be very clear, I am absolutely not endorsing the outrageous idea that if a women dresses a certain way, she’s to blame if something bad happens.

But let me tell you a story about a female friend I worked with many years ago. We would both have to travel with our work, and when I’d be away from home, I’d often get a meal at a restaurant, and sit at the bar, where I could watch a game on TV. And she told me something that surprised me: that she couldn’t do that. Why, I asked? Because, she said, if she sat at the bar alone to eat a meal, some guy would always come around and bother her. That was years ago, but I suspect it’s still true today.

So being modest is smart for you. No, it won’t stop guys from being rude, but it will keep it from being worse.

Also, I am well aware that there are so many guys who push girls to be immodest, and many girls will too readily go along. So that leaves some of you thinking, maybe I should too? No one will pay attention to me. I think there is an ugly climate in our society these days, and I’m really sad about it.

It’s probably true that a girl who follows my advice is going to be criticized by others, and will feel out of place at times. But realize a couple of things. When girls take that approach, they are rewarding boys who do not value them. And, second, if it’s true that by not taking this approach, you don’t get as much attention, realize what you’re “missing out on” is attention from the wrong guys for the wrong reason. If you put out bait for rats, what do you think you are going to get?

Let me also talk about technology. There are tremendous distractions on the Internet, and smart phones bring them right into your hand, no matter where you are. Let me make a really radical suggestion: consider whether you are letting this tech intrude. Consider performing a telephone-ectomy. Meaning: remove the phone.

I’m not saying don’t own one. I own a “smart” cell phone. But you know what? It has no data. It just makes phone calls and texts, and I can take pictures with it.

I’m not saying it’s all your job to get the men or boys you know to break their addiction to the telephone; but I am saying, you can either be part of the problem or part of the solution. Hold the line. We need it. Set a high standard; men will aim for it, if that’s the price they must pay to have you.

One more thing on this subject of helping men with chastity and purity, and this is for married women. All I think I need to say is, be generous. I’ll leave the rest up to you.

- Unsubtle communication. Men usually don’t pick up signs. They may not even get that something you say is serious, not a joke. This is because men often say things to each other that would be terrible if serious, but are understood as jokes.

- Respect. Men respect themselves for getting the job done.

Here’s a powerful quote I read this week: “Men would rather feel unloved than inadequate and disrespected. Husbands need to know that their wives respect them both privately and publicly. Men thrive when they know that their wives trust them, admire them and believe in them. Shaunti Feldhahn's research indicated that men would rather sense the loss of loving feelings from their wives than to be disrespected by them.”
(Jim Burns Home Word.)

Men need affirmation and to know that their work and their efforts are valuable.

- Understanding & patience (men are different and that’s OK). Value and appreciate what is special about men. Boys and men are not “yucky.”

Women need:

- Honor. A woman gives herself carefully, but when she gives herself, she gives all. It is an unfortunate reality in our world that women are often degraded and – despite legal and moral equality – need protection.

Also, men will want lots of things from women that are neither good for men or for women. Many in our society basically tell women they should go along with this, in the name of “equality.” However, what women need is for men to respect them, and unfortunately, women may have to do most of the work in the present climate to insist on that. Don’t go along with indecency or impurity. The old saying is still true: men will have less respect for women when women do that. No, it’s not right, it’s not fair, but it’s true.

Proverbs 31 gives a portrait of a woman of rare virtue and accomplishment; it says that “Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband, too, praises her.”

If a boy ever treats you with disrespect, drop him. If your husband mistreats you, this is simply not acceptable. There are several approaches to take, and if anyone wants to talk to me, we can talk privately. But do not put up with it.

- Fidelity. Where men are more likely to measure their value by their work, women draw strength and affirmation in their relationships. So there are some very helpful steps suggested here. Women can do a lot to strengthen their relationships by giving appreciation and respect for the work that men do. And, in turn, men can do a lot, in return, by not taking the relationship for granted. I have a saying that so far, no married couple has corrected me on, and that is: never stop courting each other.

- Companionship. Men may be more likely to seek to be alone when they are down or in stress; women are more likely to want someone to listen and support them. Women need and value more highly the emotional relationship. So to connect this back to “unsubtle communication,” this may be something you will want to explain to your husbands. This is also a good time to mention a book some of you have read: The Five Love Languages. The author makes the sensible point that a wife or girlfriend may “speak” one language, and the man speaks another. Learning these things, and then “speaking” to each other in the right languages, can do a lot to make things more reciprocal.

- Self-mastery. A lot of what is happening in our culture is making boys and men increasingly selfish and immature, resulting in what some call overgrown boys. A young man who cannot sacrifice his own pleasure, who cannot master his own appetites, who cannot put these things aside, will be handicapped as a husband and father and in every role he takes. Do not reward this behavior, and if you are dating, don’t compromise. If he wants the wrong things, or is surfing the Internet for the wrong things, dump him.

Don’t listen to the voice that says, “I can fix him.” It is hard enough to change ourselves; the odds that we are going to change someone else are exceedingly slim. What is more likely is to make him and you miserable.

When men have good self-mastery, they are more likely to be…

- Men with courage and strength. Again, many in our culture are demeaning men, supposedly in the name of lifting up women. Women do not benefit from men who are weak and needy – even if there are women who may prefer that (because then they can push them around). A strong man will be a better protector and provider. A man with courage will stay when the going gets tough.

Men who have self-mastery and inner strength are more likely to make tough choices. They are more likely to provide the leadership needed in the family. I hadn’t realized it, but there is a huge problem of men not stepping up to make the tough decisions with discipline. So mom ends up being the bad guy, while dad is the nice one. But if the man is doing his part, he will, in the process, honor his wife by supporting her with discipline and family decisions.

This is especially true in spiritual matters. If the father isn’t on board as a spiritual leader, the mom’s job is five times harder – or is it ten times harder? So if you want to know a quality to look for in a husband, this is one: someone who is ready to lead, including spiritually.

- Attention/Listen. It is no secret that men and women think and communicate differently and thus approach problems differently. Men tend to zero in on the problem and not want to mess around with anything else. Women want to sort out how they feel about a situation; this helps them get past negative emotions.

- Men’s feelings communicated to them. Men will not often share these things, but in the right circumstances, with the right encouragement, they will. So this connects back to men needing “unsubtle communication.” And not to be belittled.

- Understanding & patience (women are different and that’s OK). Value and appreciate what is special about women. Professor Higgins (“My Fair Lady”) was wrong: “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?”

Finally, let me point out some obvious things that everyone – men and women – need:

- We need God’s grace. Nothing good happens unless God is the origin, and unless he gives us the power to see it through. The help I’m talking about isn’t just for the men you know to change – although that’s needed – but just as much for you to change. Someone asked G.K. Chesterton, “what’s wrong with the world?” His answer was, “I am.” Which means, if you want to change the world, start with yourself.

- We need forgiveness. The great gift of family and specifically marriage is that we learn to forgive and be forgiven. In Communist China, for many decades the government imposed a policy that no family could have more than a single child. That was a terrible evil, and only recently has the government there started to relent. But one of many awful results was that many, many millions of people grew up without any sister or brother.

You may find your brothers or sisters unbearable. They probably say the same about you! But on that subject, I’ll tell you something Bishop Binzer likes to say to parish priests. If you have someone in your parish who drives you crazy, give thanks for them, because they are helping you get to heaven. So be forgiving of the people you live with. It is the necessary lubricant that keeps the machinery of life from grinding to a halt.

- We need other people. There are many wonderful things about our country, but one negative is that because we so strongly emphasize personal liberty, and freedom to choose, and individualism, that we make some mistakes along the way. We sometimes think we can get along by ourselves.

But God didn’t make us that way. No truth is more obviously written into human nature – from the first moment of our existence until our dying breath – than that we cannot live, or even exist, on our own. When we try, the best case scenario is that we end up being sad. Worst case scenario is that become deeply damaged people who cause terrible damage to others.

And the encouraging thing is, these things we need? We have. God gives us an abundance of all this and more. That is a very hopeful thing to realize.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Deeper into Mass, deeper into Christ (Sunday homily)

In the first reading, when God’s People arrive at Mt. Sinai, 
it is like a cresting wave.
God has acted with power to bring his people from slavery,
And he brings them to his mountain to form a covenant.

Then with the Gospel, another cresting wave.
Jesus Christ has been at work, healing, teaching, 
and he has been steadily moving toward Jerusalem.

Now he arrives; he enters the temple. And “whoosh!” 
Like a tidal wave, he washes it clean.

And as we continue to look at the Mass each week during Lent, 
I want to suggest that there is a "wave" 
that sweeps us forward during the Mass as well.*

Also, these two readings are like book-ends.
At Mt. Sinai, Old Testament temple worship begins. 
The Ten Commandments were a part of that.
And, by the way, notice the emphasis 
in this longer version of the Commandments on worshipping God rightly: 
no other gods, and do not forget the Sabbath.

Later, what God shared with Moses on the mountain for 40 days 
will guide the building of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Fast forward about 1400 years, and Jesus – the Lord himself! – 
comes to the temple. He drives out the money changers. 
He is doing more than cleansing the temple.

He has come to reveal that there is a new temple – 
and that’s the temple he refers to being “destroyed” and raised up.
That Temple is he himself.

As you know, as we go through Lent, we’re also going through the Mass.
I’ve said this before: if you think your part of Mass 
doesn’t involve effort and work, you are mistaken. 
God led the people to Sinai; but they didn’t just ride along.

People realize the priest’s part involve work and effort. 
But sometimes we think, “I can just sit back.” No, sorry. 
You are not a spectator. If you are baptized, you are part of Christ, 
and therefore you are part of what happens in Holy Mass.

By the way, this is why children should come to Mass, 
as early as possible. 
I know what people say, that they are – and I quote – 
too young “to get anything out of Mass.”
But I’m sorry, that’s wrong.
That makes the mistake of thinking of Mass on a worldly level.

The main thing you and I “get” from Mass is God himself.
Not words; not ideas and concepts. 
Those things happen, but they are not the main thing.

If we take that view, that it’s all about “understanding,”
then that makes it all about our brains;
And if you think it through, it ultimately means
That we’re saying that Holy Mass is all a human action, 
and that God doesn’t do anything! 

You don’t really believe that, do you?

Remember: God – not us – is the primary one acting in the Mass.
The main thing you and I do is to cooperate with God the Holy Spirit;
He draws us into the Mass, 
and makes wonderful things happen in our presence, for our sake.

So – to connect back to what Deacon Meyer said last week – 
You and I can – by the right kind of preparation for Mass,
Allow God to draw us into the Scriptures that are spoken to us.

Notice the progression as the readings are read. We end up standing. 
That is because we are hearing the Gospel, Jesus’ own words.
It’s as if we are in the temple when Jesus walks in.
By the way, this is why we sometimes use a special Gospel Book, 
and we have a procession with it, with incense, to the altar.
This represents Jesus, as it were, coming in to speak to us.

The larger idea is that as we progress through Mass,
You and I are being drawn closer, and deeper, into Christ.
It’s like passing through a series of gates, further and further in.

Notice: we literally do that when you and I come to church.
We first come onto the property; then through the outer door – 
that puts us in the vestibule. 
Then an inner door, bringing us where you are now.

Although there’s no door here at the step – 
and we don’t all physically come into the sanctuary here – 
still, that’s where the flow of the Mass brings us:
to this inner sanctum; to the altar;
to the place where Christ’s presence among us is unveiled further.

What I’ll say next will either shock you or make you laugh, but:
If we were really doing this right, there would be no pews!
You heard me right: no pews; no place to sit.

As a matter of history, Catholic churches didn’t have pews 

until a few hundred years ago.
The problem with pews is that they turn you into a spectator. 
But you aren’t a spectator.  You are part of this.
And, no, we’re not removing the pews, 
so please don’t write the Archbishop about that.* 

The main thing I want to emphasize 
is that just as we saw in the readings,
there is a kind of crescendo at this point of the Mass. 

We’ve received the Scripture readings and the homily.
Now you and I stand again, and what follows?
Then we recite the Creed. This is a very special prayer. 
In fact, it is like a hymn. It can be sung. 
Notice it is singular: “I believe in one God.”
That’s both because it’s personal for each of us; but more than that, 
it’s an act of the whole Body, as one. “We” become “I.”

Watch, you’ll see I turn toward the Lord at this point.
I do that to signal that we don’t recite this to each other.
Rather, it is a song of praise and an act of faith, 
directed to the Holy Trinity, who is step by step, 
becoming more tangibly present for us in the Mass.
It is a fitting summation of all that has happened before,
and it is a prelude to what is about to happen on the altar.

* I made these changes after the 5 pm Mass.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Billy Graham: an appreciation

Many of our younger citizens won’t appreciate the significance of Rev. Graham, who died last week at 99, because he has been out of the public eye for over a decade. But he had a huge impact on our nation and the world, traveling exhaustively over decades for a very simple purpose: to invite people to give their lives to Jesus Christ.

Rev. Graham was a very committed Baptist, and there are significant differences between what Baptists and Catholics believe. It may be hard to believe, but as recently as 1960, many Christian denominations harbored suspicion toward us as Catholics, based on serious misunderstandings of what we believe. In those same days, there were greater divides between Christians and Jews, and between black and white. Many forms of discrimination were tolerated and defended that we would not imagine today. Rev. Graham was born into that environment, but he rose above it. He formed a friendship with Dr. Martin Luther King, and later, with Pope John Paul II. Rev. Graham went on to foster very good relations with Catholics, and he made a powerful contribution to knocking down all kinds of bigotry.

We live in cynical times, and we know about shady preachers who seem to be all about themselves, who line their pockets and who live the high life. We cringe to hear about priests who fail their vows shamefully. We are numb to public figures, even at the highest level, who are crude and whose behavior toward women is despicable. Billy Graham was something refreshing. He was faithful to his wife; he loved his family; he did not amass riches for himself. He simply wanted everyone to know Jesus Christ, and he gave all his considerable gifts to that task.

We wonder what happens on Judgment Day for someone who was not Catholic, and it does matter whether one embraces the entirety of what Jesus handed on to the Apostles. But we also know that God sees the heart, and looks at what we did with what we were given. We pray for Rev. Graham’s soul, full of hope that the Lord he tried so hard to serve faithfully, will receive him into the heavenly Jerusalem.

Sorry, no homily, because...

The deacon had the homily; and he did a good job!

Next week, I'll pick up with the series on the Mass. Watch this space!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Why do priests sing Mass?

Why do some priests sing so many Mass prayers, when other times, they don’t? Singing the prayers of Mass is not a new thing. But before the Mass was reformed in 1970, after Vatican II, it was very unusual for people to experience Mass that way. Since Vatican II, there are very few rules about singing.

First, a little history. In the Traditional Latin Mass, for centuries there have been three distinct ways the Mass is celebrated. And, important to explain, the priest is not free to “mix and match.”

The “highest” is the solemn high Mass, which in practice involved several priests, plus several well-trained altar servers, plus a choir. Because of the complexities of this, most Catholics never experienced this. Then there was what was called a “sung” Mass, which required only a priest, but it still required a good number of experienced altar servers and a choir. And it also meant that the priest had to sing a lot of the Mass. So this, too, was not so common; although many parishes would have one such Mass each Sunday. Finally was the “low” Mass, in which there is one priest and one altar server; but no choir. None of the prayers are sung; and with no choir, it resulted in a lot of silence. This was the Mass most people experienced for a long time, with the possible addition, in some places, of the people singing some hymns.

While the low Mass, just described, was the most common experience for many centuries, it was never the “ideal” way. It was an adaptation, given the realities in many places, where all the things needed for a full, “high” Mass weren’t available. Over the course of the 20th century, there was a movement to try to renew the Church’s worship. This led to reforms under Pope Pius X, Pope Pius XII, and of course, in association with Vatican II.

When Pope Paul VI presented a “new” Mass to the Church, there was a largely new approach to when and how the Mass could be sung. First, there was more emphasis on the people singing parts of the Mass, such as the Gloria, the Creed, the Sanctus, the Our Father, the Lamb of God, etc. (Not that the people couldn’t sing these before.) Second, the priest has many more options about singing his prayers. Before it was an all-or-nothing approach. Today the priest is basically free to chant some parts, but not others. One guideline is known as “progressive solemnity”; meaning that where an occasion is more solemn, the Mass should be celebrated in a “higher” fashion, and singing the prayers can help convey that.

If you wonder why some priests sing more and others less, it’s not hard to figure out. Some of this is how we were taught; and also, some of us feel more at ease doing so. Many priests will flat-out tell you, they don’t sing very well, so they want to spare you! Yet it is still the case that the Church treats singing the Mass as its fullest, ideal form; and it is a fact that every single prayer of the Mass, even the readings, can be sung.

The art of seduction

There is a movie out -- called Call Me By Your Name -- that I probably wouldn’t mention, except that it has been nominated for “Best Picture,” and given the circumstances, it will get LOTS of media buzz. Expect to hear more about it. As we all know, the entertainment and “news” media are always grinding away at various agendas, and they are often not subtle about it. There is not a lot we can do, but we can at least call what it is. This film depicts an adult man and a teenage boy in an improper relationship. I haven’t seen the film and don’t intend to. I rely on what others have written, both favorably and unfavorably. One Catholic critic exposes what’s going on: it’s a beautifully filmed seduction, aimed both at normalizing something, as well as spinning a wish-fulfilling fantasy.

Lots of people in our society let feelings and desire govern everything, setting aside the moral law when it is inconvenient. This is celebrated in our culture, while too many voices, including Catholic ones, are apologetic and defensive. What we don’t say enough is that God’s laws are a lot like seatbelts: yes, they pinch and keep us from doing everything we might like; but their purpose is to protect us from destroying ourselves.

Right now, our culture brazenly lies about sex and relationships and life; like the film I referred to, it’s all seduction. What gets left out is how much terrible sadness lies down that road. This is particularly true for those who accept the culture’s message that same-sex behavior is just another flavor, and is normal and happy. A lot of what is going on in our society right now is all about making people feel good about behaviors that are sinful and destructive. So many cowardly voices say, do what you like; but they are nowhere to be found when it’s time to bind up the wounds. It is up to you and me to be speak the truth with courage – and always with love and compassion – especially when it is unwelcome.  Like much of what passes for entertainment, this film looks to be beautiful evil.