Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Almost didn't get the mardi gras meal in in time because the husband worked late. I turn into a pumpkin at midnight tonight, you know. It was pasta tossed with andouille sausage, but just some run-of-the-mill grocery shelf meat, not the "good stuff" from the specialty shop in Colts Neck.

It's been years since I've had to take serious notice of the Lenten observances. I was either pregnant or nursing. And the annual women's retreat will be a miss again this spring because of my commitment to the diocesan evangelization training in Brick every month: in April, the training is on the same weekend as the retreat.

Yes, I'll need to find me a confessor before Pentecost. I was a little weary of Ordinary Time - ready for some extraordinary time, yeah!

At the Cross her station keeping
Stood the mournful Mother weeping,
Close to Jesus to the last.

Stations of the Cross -- Catholic version -- Protestant version
In reading Presbytera Frederica Mathewes-Green's article in this month's Christianity Today, I would just seek to correct her understanding of the plot of Capra's It Happened One Night which she cites as evidence of changing social mores: Ellie Andrews was another man's wife even if they had not consummated the marriage (and even if it is ultimately annulled), so Peter Warne's underlying premise is not that a couple will not have sex before marriage (the sixth commandment) -- but that men respected another man's wife (the ninth commandment, depending on how you number them), and they still tend to do so today. So, no real change in mores in that case.

As to the drunkenness, which she sees as being celebrated and encouraged by others in the movie, well, in the context of the opening scene, the drunk Warne has just been fired -- reason enough to get plowed -- and Warne is a reporter / journalist, a profession that is often so portrayed, at least in Capra's films.
I'm not so much "pro-private school" as I am "anti-public school".


The building project is supposed to be "green" because ours is an "environmentally concerned community". Driving past the construction site everyday on the way to my sons' school, I see the debris and waste accumulated along a nearby slope, all the way to the bottom.

When the new public school opens, the commute to my sons' school will be impacted significantly by additional traffic. The road on which the new school will ultimately be situated is today practically one-lane. It will be interesting to watch how the road is built up to support the school.

The mechanical problems at the existing public school across town terrify me. In recent years, both lead and arsenic (in toxic levels) were detected in the school's drinking water system. Bottled water was brought in for several months. Toxic mold was found in several rooms during the summer.

The diocese has talked publically about constructing a new school at the intersection of Iron Ore and route 33 associated with my parish and neighboring parishes. I assume it would be an elementary school.
Quoted in Christianity Today:

We should not be surprised when an ethic that dismisses “Thou shalt not kill” in the quest for cures applies the same calculus to “Thou shalt not bear false witness.”

Mr. Doerflinger, Deputy Director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

I'm not used to listening to the Sunday sermon except with the intention of catching mistakes. That comes from being a know-it-all. But I'm going to have to start tuning in - big time and for real - because Father Mike's preaching is radical. Moreover, he truly seems to believe what he's saying. He ought to believe it, of course, because it's True. But there's a freshness and, well, did I say "radical"? Now, he is radical - he's a priest. That's quite radical. But he's calling us, compelling us, to a radical faith, too.

Of the three traditionally theological virtues, my forte has always been "hope". "Faith" is anemic and underdeveloped, and "charity" is, well, nonexistent. With personal stats like that, "hope" is the only thing that keeps me clinging to Christ's garments.

You know, Fr. Mike actually warned us against "multipying prayers" on Sunday. I mean, those were his exact words, "multiplying prayers". I quaked. Catholics don't talk that way. I was convicted. I thought to myself (and to my God), "Well, what am I going to do now?" I use vocal prayer as a way of jump-starting my mental prayer. He gave an "out" and said that memorized prayers could be employed to drown out worldly concerns and assist the mind in centering on God's presence. Whew, that's a relief. But he encouraged us to approach God in our own words and ask the Holy Spirit to help us pray. To teach us to pray. I can use my own words, I have used my own words and I have asked the Holy Spirit to help me pray. But maybe I just like words too much. I'd rather pray Scripture or the Divine Office or someone else's prayers. Gee, maybe Father Mike is a charismatic. Wouldn't that be something? That would just figure.
After the first few steps in the Christian life we realise that everything which really needs to be done in our souls can be done only by God. And that brings us to something which has been very misleading in my language up to now.

(2) I have been talking as if it were we who did everything. In reality, of course, it is God who does everything. We, at most, allow it to be done to us. In a sense you might even say it is God who does the pretending. The Three-Personal God, so to speak, sees before Him in fact a self-centred, greedy, grumbling, rebellious human animal. But He says "Let us pretend that this is not a mere creature, but our Son. It is like Christ in so far as it is a Man, for He became Man. Let us pretend that it is also like Him in Spirit. Let us treat it as if it were what in fact it is not. Let us pretend in order to make the pretence into a reality." God looks at you as if you were a little Christ: Christ stands beside you to turn you into one. I daresay this idea of a divine make-believe sounds rather strange at first. But, is it so strange really? Is not that how the higher thing always raises the lower? A mother teaches her baby to talk by talking to it as if it understood long before it really does.

C. S. Lewis Mere Christianity
Yes, my five-year-old has a more happenin' social life than I do. Birthday parties consume his weekends. Saturday's event was the "to die for" affair at the home of Mr. & Mrs. Lawyer in Daddy's NYC Firm. And they are the most gracious people I have ever met, so I don't begrudge them their pedigree and privilege. I'm thrilled that they think to invite us. The party was literally snowed out, cancelled, two weeks ago and with Saturday's temperatures in the mid-50's, guests played outside. I shopped at the Ralph Lauren Polo outlet store in nearby Jackson because the birthday boy wears that brand. Even the outlet prices were outrageous. I couldn't afford a complete outfit; I had to leave off the pants. And, to beat the band, his mother pointed out to me at the birthday party on the following day that her son was wearing the outfit and thank you very much, he likes it and it fits. Unbelievable. This is what I mean - thoughtful and gracious and considerate.
This is New Jersey: I drive, um, often. I can count on one hand the number of times I have stopped to offer another motorist help. And that offer of help is accepted even less. I was late already for my morning swim aerobics class because of the Seuss salute at school. I had the instructor's word that I could attend the later water exercise class instead, so late, but not in a hurry. The driver was out of her car on the grassy curb between the sidewalk and the street with her tailgate open and a tire jack out. Her tire was noticably flat, no question. I forced myself to pull over, just ahead of her. It was 25 degrees and she might have children in the car. The rosary hanging from her rearview mirror made me think that I was right to stop. She said she was alright, that help was coming and that she was alone but was just concerned about waiting in the car because she was afraid another driver would plow into her. The speed limit is 40 m.p.h. through this Manalapan neighborhood, not a dangerous part of town at all, but people do not observe the speed limit there and the road is narrow without a shoulder.

The incident recalled to my mind another time that I stopped for someone, many years ago: he was stranded at my Parkway exit, 102. He wanted to walk to the nearest gas station and asked me which direction, so I offered to take him. At that time, I kept a portable, red gas can in my trunk for emergencies like this. I think I bought the gas for him, just a couple of gallons. His story did not make sense: drove from Brooklyn to visit a sick friend in a Lakewood hospital. He got off at exit 102 by mistake and ran out of gas trying to figure out how to get back on southbound (it can't be done - I told him how to get to exit 100). I don't think that I gave him any money but he seemed agitated just before he got out of my car as if he meant to do me harm and lacked the nerve. Maybe he was simply upset about his sick friend or couldn't believe that someone was helping him. Or maybe he caught a glimpse of my guardian angels.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Friday was dress-down day in honor of Levi Strauss's birthday (on Sunday). The boys enjoy wearning jeans and own a pair or two, but I think jeans are too casual even as playclothes and I would rather see them in cords, khakis and slacks. Even on dress-down day, the 5-year-old didn't want to sacrifice his white button-down oxford and tie, so with jeans and penny loafers, he was quite a preppy. Another mother commented to me, "Oh, I remember that look!" And I'm like, "Don't you, though?!"
Recognizing Dr. Seuss today, parents of pre-K children were invited to stay for morning assembly after drop-off for a reading from Horton Hears a Who. Indefatigable Seuss fan that I am, the story was not known to me. And, gosh, isn't it pro-life?!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

When I come to my evening prayers and try to reckon up the sins of the day, nine times out of ten the most obvious one is some sin against charity; I have sulked or snapped or sneered or snubbed or stormed. And the excuse that immediately springs to my mind is that the provocation was so sudden and unexpected: I was caught off my guard, I had not time to collect myself. Now that may be an extenuating circumstance as regards those particular acts: they would obviously be worse if they had been deliberate and premeditated. On the other hand, surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is? Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth? If there are rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man: it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am.

C. S. Lewis Mere Christianity
In a certain sense, these people have a better appreciation of the Church and of Catholicism than many Catholics have: an appreciation which is detached and intellectual and objective. But they never come into the Church. They stand and starve in the doors of the banquet -- the banquet to which they surely realize that they are invited -- while those more poor, more stupid, less gifted, less educated, sometimes even less virtuous than they, enter in and are filled at those tremendous tables.

Thomas Merton The Seven Storey Mountain
I was coming down Seventh Avenue one morning. It must have been in December or January. I had just come from the little church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and from Communion, and was going to get some breakfast at a lunch wagon near Loew's Sheridan Theater. I don't know what I was thinking of, but as I walked along I nearly bumped into Mark who was on his way to the subway, going to Columbia for his morning classes.

"Where are you going?" he said. The question surprised me, as there did not seem to be any reason to ask where I was going, and all I could answer was: "To breakfast."

Later on, Mark referred again to the meeting and said:

"What made you look so happy, on the street, there?"

So that was what had impressed him, and that was why he had asked me where I was going. It was not where I was going that made me happy, but where I was coming from. Yet, as I say, this surprised me too, because I had not really paid attention to the fact that I was happy -- which indeed I was.

Thomas Merton The Seven Storey Mountain
This is for Laura T who commented to me that attending a Catholic parish like mine "would be sad." I thought others might see something to this analogy --

In Dances with Wolves, Lt. John Dunbar orders Timmons to unload the wagon when they arrive at the deserted outpost, Fort Sedgewick.

Timmons balks, "There ain't nothing here, Lieutenant" to which Dunbar says, "This is my post." Incredulous, Timmons asks (of himself mainly), "This is my post?"

"This is my post ... and these are the post provisions."

Because of Dunbar's commitment to duty, he experiences the American Frontier and Native American civilization in a transforming, mystical way. At the end of the story, Dunbar is hardly recognizable as an American soldier; he is American in a broader sense.

God has placed me in this outpost of a parish, on the edge of civilization (socially and perhaps spiritually). The parish lacked a full-time pastor until just recently! If I see it through, just maybe there will be a transformation along the way, mine and my church's.

The congregations of some are situated in Philippi or Philadelphia and the rest of us are in Corinth or Galatia. Thank God, Laura, for your "Philippi" in sunny Florida and I thank God for my "Corinth" in central NJ.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

I would think coming from SLC to SFO a considerable adjustment.

EWTN reported a couple of seemingly dubious statements by Niederauer, but I haven't found a more neutral source to confirm. Just something to watch, I guess. He'll probably make out all right.
Final swim lesson for the session this morning but the new session begins next Tuesday. The little guy has turned the corner on "getting it" and has fun with me in the pool. He stands on the edge and jumps in to me. His "safe way" entry is still a little "unsafe" -- he slides right down alright but forgets to hold onto the side. He choo-choos down the bar for toy time and likes ball the best. At some point, Daddy needs to take him for a lesson or two to make him a fearless jumper, like happened with Tim.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

I need these back-to-back ego boosts today, I think.

I kept plugging until I got a flower that I liked - it didn't take long. All of the results are probably pretty favorable. But my birth flower is Lily of the Valley. I suspected there was a Marian tie-in, May being one of her months, but who would have thought this:

The flower is also known as Our Lady's tears since, according to legend, the tears Mary shed at the cross turned to Lilies of the Valley -- from Wikipedia

What's that in French, then, Les larmes de Notre Dame? Reminds me of that Mussolini shrine on the Mt. of Olives, Dominus Flevit. Well, Mussolini's long gone but, what a view, how could He cry?

From Laura T, my results are here.

The Five Factor Personality Test

Monday, February 20, 2006

When a man turns to Christ and seems to be getting on pretty well, he often feels that it would now be natural if things went fairly smoothly. When troubles come along--illnesses, money troubles, new kinds of temptation--he is disappointed. These things, he feels, might have been necessary to rouse him and make him repent in his bad old days; but why now? Because God is forcing him on, or up, to a higher level: putting him into situations where he will have to be very much braver, or more patient, or more loving, than he ever dreamed of being before.

The command "Be ye perfect" is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. He said (in the Bible) that we were "gods" and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him--for we can prevent Him, if we choose--He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, dazzling, radiant, immortal creature [...] Nothing less. He meant what He said.

Mere Christianity -- C. S. Lewis
This process of surrender--this movement full speed astern--is what Christians call repentance. Now repentance is no fun at all. [...] It means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousands of years.

Remember, this repentance, this willing submission to humiliation and a kind of death, is not something God demands of you before He will take you back [...] it is simply a description of what going back to Him is like.

But the same badness which makes us need it, makes us unable to do it. Can we do it if God helps us? Yes, but what do we mean when we talk of God helping us? We mean God putting into us a bit of Himself, so to speak. He lends us a little of His reasoning powers and that is how we think: He puts a little of His love into us and that is how we love one another.

You and I can go through this process only if God does it in us [...]

Mere Christianity -- C. S. Lewis
There are three things that spread the Christ life to us: baptism, belief, and that mysterious action which different Christians call by different names--Holy Communion, the Mass, the Lord's Supper. At least, those are the three ordinary methods.

Do not think I am setting up baptism and belief and the Holy Communion as things that will do instead of your own attempts to copy Christ.

In the same way a Christian can lose the Christ-life which has been put into him, and he has to make efforts to keep it. But even the best Christian that ever lived is not acting on his own steam--he is only nourishing or protecting a life he could never have acquired by his own efforts.

They mean that Christ is actually operating through them [...] It explains why this new life is spread not only by purely mental acts like belief, but by bodily acts like baptism and Holy Communion.

There is no good trying to be more spiritual than God.

Mere Christianity -- C. S. Lewis
OK, I just put two 'n' two together and got this, but obviously it isn't on the tip of my tongue.

All I will say is that a deacon in my previous parish came to theistic and Christian (Catholic) faith after studying the shroud's body (ho-ho) of investigative evidence.

So God can use even something like this to grab somebody's heart.
My homework is to visit three nearby Catholic parishes and discover how "user friendly" or welcoming they are to newcomers. Yesterday I visited my home parish, St. Joseph's, and posted the survey results here. My comments appear in blue italics.

I haven't finalized the scoring, you know, 1 through 10, for each question, but the first tally came to 50 out of 140, or about 36%. My husband says I'm too harsh. I just need to make up my mind whether a general welcome without a specific welcome of newcomers qualifies as a "welcome". Anyway, I'll take this opportunity to attend the parishes of friends who may or may not be regular church-goers, thereby, evangelizing a little bit.
Don't get me wrong - I love the "static" prayers of Catholic liturgy - but the prefaces to the eucharist prayers usually disarm me of my pride, at least momentarily.

If I don't call out your favorite prayer, please know that I love them all and don't hold my selectivity against me. Feel free to share your favorite and I hope these sound familiar to you.

I stick with the ones from Ordinary Time as these are most general and least tied to a liturgical season:

In love you created man,
in justice you condemned him,
but in mercy you redeemed him,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


By his birth we are reborn.
In his suffering we are freed from sin.
By his rising from the dead we rise to everlasting life.
In his return to you in glory
we enter into your heavenly kingdom.


So great was your love
that you gave us your Son as our redeemer.
You sent him as one like ourselves,
though free from sin,
that you might see and love in us
what you see and love in Christ.
Your gifts of grace, lost by disobedience
are now restored by the obedience of your Son.
We praise you, Lord, with all the angels and saints
in their song of joy:

Holy, holy, holy Lord ...,

Saturday, February 18, 2006

So he said, "The last time we talked, you said you were encumbered by kids, but have you made it back to church?" Yes. "And how is it, better?" Yes, I'm not fussy, you know. And everything is as it should be.

Singing at Mass, well, that must just be a reflexive habit because I do it as if no time has elapsed. Receiving communion, well, the rubrics changed, so some gesture of reverence is called for. I never once knelt at Fr. Valentine's altar rail, the "sole stander" in his congregation, and, to his credit, he never rebuked me, either in public or in private. Some have told me they knelt for him out of fear, afraid of what he might say, no, not me, I wasn't afraid, but I wasn't defiant, either. It just isn't in me to kneel in front of everyone. This is how I worship. We stand when the Gospel is read; I can stand for communion, too.

But I'm holding out, still. A little more time. So long as scruples don't give way to pride. It was jealousy that got me here, got me this far back in. Jealousy and guilt and fear. All the wrong reasons. Maybe Lent will leave me with the right reasons.

But I can still sing, loud and full and with conviction. I can believe the hymns, well, I believe the prayers, too, mostly.
One of the premium cable channels has been showing Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington more regularly than might be expected for a nearly 70 year old film. It has been wonderfully restored.

It ought to be required viewing for every American. Besides that a woman gets top-billing and that Stewart is in pre-WWII boyish form, there are numerous allusions to Christ (typical of Capra's early dramas), occasions of prayer, the ultimate triumph of moral good, and even a brief reading from the KJV Bible (1 Cor. 13:4c,13) - Stewart was a good Presbyterian. Along with It's a Wonderful Life, Meet John Doe and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, "Smith" is one of my favorites.

Friday, February 17, 2006

While I feel indifferent towards her particular story as this sort of thing happens all of the time, some of the comments were very touching and personal. This is always a difficult decision.
Getting through the letters last night, the dramatic action in the Book of Revelation gets underway in chapters 4 & 5 with a scene change to the perpetual worship in heaven. In some Christian churches, great importance is placed on earthly worship being biblical, so I wondered how significant would be the absence of some of these liturgical elements to contemporary Christian worship: incense, prostrations, repetitive praise - "Holy, holy, holy".

In studying with proponents of rapture eschatology, the rapture is placed at Revelation 4:1, to quote Scoffield's Bible note: As the word "church" does not appear again in Revelation until 22:16, the catching up of John from earth to heaven has been taken to be a symbolic representation of the translation of the Church as occurring before the events of the tribulation described in chs. 6 - 19.

By discerning which biblical passages apply to Christians - this exercise is called "rightly dividing the word of God" - rapture proponents detach themselves personally from most of the book.

These Christians are not moved to see a model of worship in the Book of Revelation, they certainly see nothing to imitate, despite the fact that Revelation offers a picture of heavenly worship.

And, well, this detachment is a good thing, from their perspective, because, gosh, isn't the worship depicted too liturgical, isn't it too like Jewish ritualism, isn't it too Catholic? Being Western Christians, they don't know enough to say "Isn't it too Orthodox?" They breathe a collective sigh of relief. Yes, it is all of those things, and they would have none of it.
I've always been one to make a mountain out of a molehill and yesterday was no different.

The leader asked the study group to share personal thoughts after reading a smattering of verses from Daniel. I offered an insight based on Daniel 12:4, 9 and, indirectly, Daniel 8:26b which all say roughly the same thing: keep secret the message and seal the book until the end time. I said that Daniel's words were known to Jesus, fragments were found at Qumran, the book is unsealed, the visions are no longer secret, this is the end time.

Ironically, this literalist approach did not win over my fundamentalist study partners; they had a different agenda. The quick answer came in the form of a challenge, "So, have you figured out the meaning of all of Daniel's visions?" No, of course not. "Then the book is still hidden." Hardly an objective perspective to set the criteria for classifying a text "public" on how humanly intelligible it is.

I think Daniel is a second century BC composition, at least in its final, redacted form. I consider the pious, heroic stories in chapters 1-6 to be folklore from a much earlier period, certainly post-exilic or perhaps exilic. The leader had begun the study series weeks ago with a paraphrase of the serpent's taunt of Eve in Genesis 3: Did God really say such-n-such? as a rebuke to anyone who might doubt the verbal plenary inspiration of Sacred Scripture. In short, she called me "Satan" at the first class.

I do believe that we are living in the end times. This has been the state of affairs since the Incarnation, since the virgin birth of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Start small, I guess. If the successor of St. Peter can't fish this group back in, what are his chances with anyone longer away? Good stategy, 'though, wait until their leader/founder is dead. It always pays to be the "last man standing." Oremus. (don't think my latin means that I'm one of them!)

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Jeff put up some pictures of the blizzard. The pictures are public.
About ten years ago, in the wake of Chuck Colson and Fr. Neuhaus’s “Evangelicals and Catholics Together" document, I attended a Christian education convention sponsored by the Northern New Jersey Sunday School Association at Hawthorne Gospel Church in Hawthorne.

In all fairness, the workshop on Evangelization given by the radio personality, David Virkler, does not stick out in my mind as representative of the convention’s overall tenor, even though the church affiliation (“St. Dorothea”) displayed on my nametag won for me some polite inquiries ("and who is Saint Dorothea, anyway?”) not to mention my overtly Catholic-sounding given name.

But when Virkler began his lecture with a critique of Colson, calling it false ecumenism and an offense to the call to full evangelization, I boldly objected, telling Virkler in the midst of everyone, that he doesn’t know that these Catholics are not Christians. To which he replied, “I question the sincerity of anyone’s faith unless I personally lead them to Christ.” Utter bombast designed to squelch the heckler.
I don't know this syndicated columnist, Fr. Catoir, from Adam; he's located someplace in Paterson, NJ and writes for Catholic News Service.

I clipped and cropped and stashed his recent article, Religion is more than theology, on a private web server for you to read.

Catoir distinguishes religion from theology as faith's experiential side, intimate and personal, and explains how religion and theology complement each other to inform a life lived by faith.

To my mind, Fr. Catoir's article covers all the bases, from the importance of having a personal relationship with God, to the experience of God living in us, to our universal need for forgiveness, to God's grace that enables us to say yes. And he quotes my namesake, Teresa of Avila, so that's cool.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Born as I was between the theatrical debut of most Disney animated classics and their release on VHS, I never saw Fantasia as a youngster, so my first exposure to the most beautiful song ever composed - Schubert's Ave Maria - came to me, ironically, from the lips of a Bible-believing Protestant, serving as cantor at the Catholic wedding of a mutual friend. The accompanist was also a Protestant, the English teacher at the local high school. For many years, he played organ at my home parish's weekend liturgy - Sat. night and Sunday morning. Without him, we would have had no music at Mass.

The wedding of the valedictorian of my class was to a long-time friend who, along with his two younger sisters, had been accepted into the Catholic Church, the church of their mother, through the sacraments of baptism and confirmation years beforehand. I do not think that his joining the Church was in anticipation of his marriage to a Catholic, even though that is ordinarily the #1 reason that people join ... or leave, in the case of marrying a non-Catholic.

And, so, Amy, a good friend of the bride and the daughter of the head pastor of a non-denominational church, having the best voice in town and not knowing a lick of Latin, introduced me to this singularly uplifting song of Catholic devotion. And I am so grateful to her ... for her openness to serve God even within the framework of Catholicism.
Ever since Chris was born I have experienced from time to time the fleeting sensation that there's a fourth child in the house, usually upstairs in bed, when I have the other three downstairs with me. The sensation only occurs when all three are at home with me. I cannot account for this persistent feeling. It's never an urgent sensation of crisis; the child is resting peacefully and doesn't need my attention.

There was never anything unusual about my pregnancy with Chris - you know, never any hint of there being twins. I would like to have another child very much. I think that, like Kenny & Tim, Chris needs a roommate.

And I would like to use a favorite name "John Paul" if the situation arises but not for the reason you may think. No, not for the late pope. In fact, he was one reason that I refrained from using the name even though I liked him and think he was a good pope and miss him now and hope to see him canonized some day and remembered as "John Paul the Great".

No, I refrained on account of him, on account of knowing what it's like to grow up sharing the name of a well-known, religious person. If I had a nickel for every time during high school someone called me "Mother Teresa". Please, she and I were worlds apart, literally and spiritually.

But the name comes from Merton's The Seven Storey Mountain, the name of his younger brother. His brother plays the role of Merton's alter ego, in a way: the one who remains in the world, goes to war and loses his life. Merton avoids a fate like his brother's by entering the monastery.

Now, if I could only come up with a decent middle name besides "George".
My kids' school observes "International Week" in late January and they learn about other countries. They are supposed to create a paper doll according to the fashion of their family heritage. My kids are of an age that, if I want the things to look nice enough to hang on the hall walls for all to see, I need to do the work myself. Some parents of Kenny's classmates recycled last year's doll and I have to admit that I used my best ideas last year. But I picked "Ireland" again for him because his given name is so Irish. Last year, the doll held a three-leaf clover and an empty sack with the word "potatoes" written upon it. I was surprised at how many people - teachers included - didn't "get" it. I thought it was a very clear historical reference. Across the doll's chest was the slogan erin go braugh and there was some debate with my younger brother who has studied gaelic on how to spell that expression.

This year, Kenny's doll held a rainbow in his left hand - and how upset I was to discover that the gay & lesbian movement has co-opted this image, one so readily identified by children of all ages and, to a lesser degree, cherished by those of us who know the Noah story with its divine promise - and an emerald in the other hand. I told you that last year's was better! I put a celtic cross around the doll's neck and a "kiss me, I'm Irish!" button on the lapel.

Obviously out of ideas for Ireland, I had to select another country for Tim. And it was important that the dolls be similar in decorative features or else one boy would be jealous of the other. I settled on French Canada because I had an idea of draping a few landmarks on a banner in the doll's hands. I have been to Québec on two different occasions, so I am familiar with famous landmarks: the Velodrome in Montréal's Olympic Village, Château Frontenac in the vieux ville and St. Anne de Beaupré on the outskirts of town. I downloaded small, crisp images of these places. I placed a red maple leaf in one hand and a blue fleur-de-lis in the other. I put a wrought-iron cross around the doll's neck and an embrassez-moi, j'suis québecois! button on the lapel.

Irish landmarks were difficult because I have not been to Ireland. But it is a Christian nation and I wanted to employ as many Christian symbols as I could. I have heard of the Marian apparitions at Knock so I found a picture of some white limestone statues of the crucifixion with the beloved disciple and the mother of Jesus at the foot of the cross. Then, Kenny's namesake, St. Canice, has a famous church in County Kilkenny - my brother tells me that "kil" means, not "hill" as I thought, but "church," so "Kilkenny" literally means, the "church of Canice" - so I used a picture of a headstone shaped as a celtic cross from the 5th century cemetery.

Personally, I liked Tim's better and many people remarked, "Oh, I didn't know that your family is French Canadian." I think, next year, my kids will hail from Nice on the French Rivera and then I can dress the dolls in just a bain de soleil tan and a smile!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

I could listen to John Allen all day. He's got an easy style.

I became enamored with him for the first time during CNN's coverage of the papal death and funeral and, er, election of, er, Benedict a year ago. He knows his stuff ... and his ready knowledge of "all things Catholic" underscored how appallingly uninformed CNN's evening lineup is about Catholicism in general and the papacy in particular. Not a cultural Catholic among them, apparently. Zahn, Cooper, King and Brown were all visibly impressed with Allen who managed to remain coherent across the days of media coverage with minimal sleep.

I never listen to NPR - I can explain why another time but in a nutshell: even though I don't mind the liberal side of matters, I can't stomach the elitism. John Allen doesn't give off that elitist stench, even though he may be qualified, so ... I could listen to him all day.

I never noticed Allen's byline when I was a National Catholic Reporter reader a decade ago 'though it was probably there. And as I said, I'm not an NPR listener, 'though Allen has regular appearances as their Vatican correspondent.

In this interview with Brian Lehrer, Allen comes across as objective, in my opinion, but my husband thinks that he sounds very pro-Catholic. My husband is a regular NPR listener and knows that Brian Lehrer is personally very hostile towards religion. My husband was impressed that Allen held his own in the interview and got his message across.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

An entire study hour was devoted to demonstrating from Scripture the origin and mission of the devil. The study leader began with an outline in red with horns, pitchfork and tail on the whiteboard. The objection was raised that we haven't any specifics on Satan's appearance but the figure was allowed to stand. In pondering the development of the classic representation of Lucifer, a quote of Saint Thomas More came to my mind: the Devil, that proude spirit, cannot bear to be mocked. 'Though at the time, I attributed the saying to Milton, sure, as if I know any Milton! Well, I know less More. ;-)

The night before, I was rereading C. S. Lewis's chapter on pride, called "The Great Sin" in his Mere Christianity. This thought, found online somewhere, is also relevant:

Satan's great sin (and our great sin) is pride. Thus, to drive Satan from us we ridicule him. This is why the custom arose of portraying Satan in a ridiculous red suit with horns and a tail. Nobody thinks the devil really looks like this; the Bible teaches that he is the fallen Arch-Cherub. Rather, the idea is to ridicule him because he has lost the battle with Jesus and he no longer has power over us.

In going about our normal routine, we pass many prominent churches with ancient cemeteries. The sprawling one at the 250-year-old Old Tennent Church near Freehold caught Kenny's eye and he asked what cemeteries are for. I explained the custom of burial. He wanted to know why cemeteries were located close to churches and I said that when Jesus comes again, he's going to come for those believers whether they are in church or in the ground. I asked him whether he believed that Jesus is coming again and he said that he believed it but he didn't understand it. And I said that's ok, he can't understand it unless he believes it. So he asked me what Heaven is like and I said it's being with God and probably family and friends ('though I'm not convinced on that point myself) but I was clear about Heaven not being located or locatable - that is, Heaven is not a place such that we could discover it by flying above the clouds or deep into space. And Hell is not a place such that we could dig down into the earth and find it. But Heaven is being with God and Hell is being without God. More than that, I couldn't say. So that night, I read to the boys at their request a children's book called Our Father, the Prayer that Jesus Taught. I usually just read the Scripture snippets out of that book to them and on the "Thy kingdom come" line there's a quotation from Revelation 21:1-4 which I read as dramatically as I can for it is one of my favorites and Kenny said at the end of the reading, "Mom, that's Heaven." And I said that it certainly is. No more death, no more pain, no more crying and God is there.

Then yesterday Kenny said that it would be scary to live near a cemetery. So I told him that I grew up with a cemetery practically in my backyard and I walked through it on my way to church and I thought it was a neat place to play. But I get that attitude from my mother; the only places in Brooklyn with grass and trees in her day were the cemeteries, so she played in them with her cousins whose fathers ran the funeral parlor.
Kenny was looking at the picture in our living room of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and he asked me why you are supposed to remove your shoes before going inside "that temple with the golden dome." So, I took the opportunity to read the beginning verses of Exodus 3, Moses and the burning bush. And that bit about removing the sandals because the place was holy. So I said that the mosque in Jerusalem is holy because the people meet God there, and churches are holy and synagogues are holy and then I told him that he's holy because he met God at his baptism. He got a kick out of that, out of the idea of meeting God and of being holy. Ok, I laid it on a little thick.
My friend, a cradle Catholic, confided to me that her daughter's questions are becoming harder to answer. For instance, she wanted to know why it rains. "Oh, that's easy," I told her. "In fact, there's a Blue's Clues episode that describes the entire process." My friend said that she had told her daughter that rain is really the angels in heaven crying because that's what she was told as a child. I chided her, "Now, come on, angels don't cry; they are happy; they haven't anything to cry about."
This happened around Christmas time, the boys were playing with our resin nativity set and Kenny asked me when Jesus was born.

I said, "In Bethlehem" - not exactly answering his question. So he insisted, "Yes, but WHEN?"

I was tempted to get into a triumphant discussion about how our calendar year reflects the significance of the Incarnation but instead I gave a straight answer, "4 BC". He didn't get it. "But what year - 2000 and what? 2005?"

He knows about number lines but not about numbers left of zero, so I dropped the "BC" part and just said, "4, year 4." I think he got it.

It's like C. Montgomery Burns on The Simpsons having social security card 000-00-0002 (one after FDR himself) - you get a sense that he's older than dirt.
It was an exercise in meekness to read Clarke's commentary on Daniel 7:25 but I'm naturally beguiled by archaic English prose. I presume his was selected not for its ideology but its accessibility: it's free online.

Wading through the charges, up t' me neck, to his satisfying conclusion: If the church of Rome will reform itself, it will then be the true Christian church, and will never be destroyed. [...] then, all hail the once Roman, but now, after such a change, the HOLY, Catholic church! Every true Protestant would wish rather the reform than the extinction of this church. [emphasis mine]

Well, if that be the mark of a "true Protestant", I daresay, I have met very few truly Protestant Christians, because that is not a sentiment that I often encounter - most seem to have given up on us - but I do believe that it is the proper sentiment and Catholics ought to share it, too. Ecclesia semper reformanda est.

Maybe I ought to just buy a cilice and mortify my flesh instead of humiliating my spirit with these Scripture commentaries.

Friday, February 03, 2006

You know, I'm actually very interested in the outcome of some of these activities, specifically, the meaning of "baptism of the Holy Spirit" among charismatics and whether the Methodists will sign on with the Lutherans in the joint declaration of justification. If they do, that will bother lots and lots and lots of people.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The good news, I suppose, is that my in-laws are back-to-church, more or less weekly. Well, maybe it isn't fair to say that they are "back" to church since they never really were regular attendees or even members anyplace. The religion bug came 'round through their daughter-in-law who was always rather devout and, now, their son believes in some capacity. And they attend the same Baptist church.

My mother-in-law grew up Baptist in Geneva, NY, not dancing, not smoking, not drinking and not playing cards. She still doesn't drink but she dabbles in the other vices and has added casino gambling. My father-in-law's mother was a saint as far as I can tell. Whenever I would visit her in the nursing home, usually on a Sunday afternoon, she would inquire whether we had been to church and when her grandson and I said that we had been to St. Joseph's, she would pause graciously and insist that it didn't matter where you went so long as you went. But, of course, it does matter where you go and I'm sure she thought so too.

Now, her eldest, Jimmy, was devout and active in their denomination but, perhaps in reaction to that, my father-in-law never cared for religion. And, as far as I know, still really doesn't care for it but he goes to church because he likes the people and the pastor. Liking the pastor seems to be all important. It's hard for me to grasp that although, to be fair, I have nearly always liked the pastor(s) in my home parishes with the exception of Father Valentine. And, for some reason, I actually started to like him towards the end but I am happy to be rid of him. I mean, he was a nice man and never said anything erroneous but his emphasis was rather old-fashioned and he was the only priest that I ever heard say anything negative about non-Catholic Christians. Oh, and he said that we deserved 9/11 because of abortion and other affronts and offenses.

The only thing about this Baptist pastor, from my father-in-law's perspective is that he is too political. During our visit with them over Christmas break, I learned precisely what my father-in-law meant by this: the guy supported Kerry. Well, half the country did, so I don't know what's so unusual about that.

Just before Christmas, my mother-in-law expressed to me her consternation over their new pastor's request (practically a demand!) that they be baptized, preferably at the Christmas Eve candlelight service. Hardly any church in the South held services on Christmas Day (Sunday). As she told me, it would be her third time being baptized! And she remembers the other two occasions. She's also pretty sure that her husband was baptized at some point in his past. So, they are rather put off by their new pastor's insistence on it. And I have to think that the man has a poor understanding of the ritual to command that my in-laws go through it again.

I don't know how it works on the other side of the aisle but we try to keep good paperwork on the administration of the sacraments. After Hurr. Kat., pastors were scrambling to recover sacramental registries from their parish offices. One would hope that there would be off-site duplicates of such paperwork. But, even without paperwork to back up their claim, a pastor ought to accept the word of some people that he's willing to admit into his congregation. When they tell him that they have already been baptized, he ought to move on.

Now, I admit that I have a weakness for baptisms, more than weddings and funerals combined. There was a baptism at my church just this past Sunday during Mass. The rite is shortened when it occurs within the context of Mass and I prefer the prayers of the stand-alone rite, personally, but it gets the job done. And, adult baptisms at the Easter Vigil, fuggetaboutit. I sit near the back so that I can get into the narthex quickly and get a good view. There's just something wonderful about the joy, something overwhelming about the grace, something palpable about the Spirit at such times. Geez, I'm getting excited and looking forward to the upcoming season of Lent and Easter.

But, back to baptism paperwork: actually, the certificate saved my life because when Chris's brand-new social security card failed to arrive in the mail and the SSA suggested to me that it might have been stolen along the way ("A common problem, unfortunately," in the words of one SSA agent I spoke with), I used his baptismal certificate to prove identity. His birth certificate merely demonstrated existence and was inadmissible as proof of identity. Now, how much ID is a two-month-old gonna have, you gotta wonder?! Times are tough. And I had to appear in person at the Neptune office. The wait time was about two hours plus an hour there and back. And they would not communicate his brand-new number to me in person. I walked out of there empty-handed (and so disappointed). I had to wait for the card to arrive in the mail (and I was fearing theft again). So, needless to say, we didn't get his E*trade brokerage account opened by year's end. Still the Halliburton stock is performing well for him in '05. There's something to be said about being married to a cold-blooded capitalist.
Scroll down to the news brief titled "Orthodox Theologian on Place of Deaconesses."
I would have liked to locate the Catholic News Service version of this story if only because I think the LA Times link will expire within a week or two.

The reliable Fr. John Dietzen has said that only a Catholic may be declared a heretic but that seems oxymoronic to me. A Catholic is a Catholic and a heretic is not. But what he means, I think, is that only someone who should know better can be expected to live up to what they know and can be blamed for not doing so.

The ironic thing about excommunication is that the one so penalized does not care.
A boy in Kenny's kindergarten class lost his grandmother to cancer over the weekend. The prognosis on the terminal illness was "months" but she died within a week. The boy's mother informed me of the news via email with an undisclosed distribution list. I told parents of other classmates at the usual weekend play dates and birthday parties.

One mother was a little frustrated that she hadn't been told sooner, even by her child's teacher. It just happened, perhaps the teacher didn't know. The mother recalled to me that the science teacher for the middle school died during the winter break, and parents learned of it only as school resumed in January. Apparently, because her daughter attended the school's summer camp, she had enjoyed a relationship with the middle school science teacher and was sad about her death. The woman told me that upon hearing the news, she obtained a mass card on behalf of the science teacher and dropped it off at the school.

I haven't any idea what a mass card is. I should have asked her to explain. On retreat, the house director announces that after meals, the front office will be open for five or ten minutes so that retreatants can obtain mass cards or inform the staff of any maintenance problems - light bulb out, leaky tap, whatever.

I made up some peanut butter cookies and gave them to Kenny's mourning classmate. During the general intercessions or prayer of the faithful at Sunday liturgy, I requested peace for the grandmother and the family. If I had any idea about mass cards, I would get one for my father.