Sunday, December 26, 2010

I arrived thirty minutes early to hear the wonderful choir and instruments. The chatterboxes seated around me were a bit of a distraction. I couldn't help but overhear the young man behind me give instructions to his date on how to receive communion. And she, in turn, explained to him the difference between Easter and Christmas, historically-speaking. I almost turned 'round and suggested that neither of them receive communion. But I decided to mind my own business. I wish I hadn't heard. A woman who arrived after I, in fact, made an effort to quiet them down, which they resented.

It's been a long time since I've turned towards the main celebrant as he enters. Just about everyone around me did. Were they curious about his getup? What's Father wearing tonight? Not the least interested. Apart from the beautiful music, I'm fairly low-church1 but I've made my peace with an increased use of incense, even though I can no longer smell it, and with processions of a sacred text or Holy Communion. So "clothes that make the man" don't turn my head. There was some business about bringing in the infant statue for the creche which was also lost on me.

His homilies are almost always the same, about the sacraments. He went through each one, except matrimony, concluding - like some climax? - with holy orders. I don't know whether his omission of holy matrimony was accidental or intentional.

He also talked about the nativity set in the vestibule. How it had been in storage since 1985 needing repair. How it had been sent to the artisans in Italy several months ago and arrived back just in time for Christmas. I looked it over on the way out. It was very beautiful. Worth the expense? Hard to say. As I was admiring the set, a woman snuck up next to me and withdrew a couple of pieces of straw from the bedding. Our eyes met - I looked bewildered, I'm sure - but she made no explanation.

The very curious thing during the Roman Canon was that the presbyter omitted the variant Communicantes for Christmas:
In union with the whole Church
we celebrate that night
when Mary without loss of her virginity
gave this world its savior.
We honor Mary, the ever-virgin mother of Jesus Christ, our Lord and God,
I don't know whether this omission is a big deal but I know he said it last year.

The 2011 calendars available at the back of the church were devoted to the "15 promises of Mary" with which I was wholly unfamiliar. I took a calendar out of curiosity.

Is it ok to pray the rosary without being mindful of these promises? I suppose I'm afraid of these things affecting my motivation.

1 and a cappella is fine, too.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

I went to the Bible study at the Presbyterian church in town again today. The same people were there as last time. The pastor remembered my name. He said they left off in chapter 5 last time but I couldn't recall which letter to the Corinthians it was. I opened to the first letter but the pastor mentioned verses 11 to 21, so I flipped over to Second Corinthians as discreetly as possible.

I brought an NRSV this time because that's what he and his denomination use. The guy next to me still had his TNIV and another lady read from the NIV. We covered only those eleven verses in the 90 minutes. A great deal of time was spent trying to puzzle out verse 11, especially the final word in most of our translations, "conscience."1 Then, in verse 14, we considered what could be meant by "therefore all died." We considered what it meant to no longer see anyone from a worldly point of view (verse 16). Someone described her practice of conditioning herself to acknowledge, at least mentally, Christ in everyone she meets. The pastor said that he tries to remind himself that Jesus loves everyone he meets. No one had any concerns about the "new creation" language in verse 17!

My eyes skipped ahead to the next chunk of text and fell upon the red-letter word "reconciliation" ... in my black-letter edition. I braced myself. A lady knew, as did the pastor, that the "Romans" now refer to the sacrament of confession as "reconciliation." The discussion quickly turned to a treatment of the Catholic "Old Testament" model of priest interceding for the people before God, and a lament that Catholics aren't allowed to go right to God, etc. I thought to say, "Well, no, because God comes to us," but didn't. The guy next to me said that he was invited to a Bible study at Nativity on Applegarth before he learned of this study:
"Catholics have their little Bible studies."
But his friend had to check with the priest at Nativity first on whether it would be ok to let in a non-Catholic2 and the priest hadn't gotten back to them yet.

And then the lady next to me who used to be a Catholic said that Catholics aren't allowed to think for themselves, they can't have an open discussion about the text, they can't have a Bible study without a priest there to tell them how to understand the Scriptures. So I considered what she said because I had just completed an Advent study at St. Joseph's on the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke on Friday. No priest joined our little sessions. The deacon was there but not to monitor our interactions, only to see how things were going. However, each session concluded with a video lecture from Fr. Stephen J. Binz3 telling us how to understand the Scriptures. But any biblical scholar will do, it doesn't have to be a priest.

I really wanted to tell them about the Advent Bible study at the Catholic church across town and the Matthew study planned for January. Maybe if I get a flyer, I'll just share that with them. I mean, why not get things firsthand rather than rely upon outdated memories and rumors. There were some non-Catholic Christians at the Advent study, I remember. When the guy plopped down next to me with his New King James, I thought to myself, "Here's another Catholic who doesn't know what Bible to choose!" Even when he mentioned having been born-again, I mistook him for a Catholic. But then he said that he tries to live "by the Bible" and was a deacon in a Baptist church before dropping out of "organized religion" altogether. Boy, did I have some verses for him! But he gave me Isaiah 11 which I read on the spot and couldn't see any specific point. And that Sunday, we read the first part of Isaiah 11 at mass and I was struck by how John the Baptist is described as having a leather belt but the Lord has justice and faithfulness around his waist (verse 5).

At one point, the pastor checked himself and acknowledged that he didn't want to go on "bashing the Roman church," but the former Catholic next to me urging him, "Please, bash away!" After he had his say, she recalled how the teachers at her grammar school all thought she had a vocation to religious life.
"I got out of that one, boy!"
She recently became reacquainted with a former teacher who's now at Georgian Court and, "the first thing she brought up was, 'We really all thought you had a vocation!'" The lady next to her quietly admitted that she'd always wanted to be a nun but, "I wasn't Catholic."

A couple of things happened just before we wrapped things up. First, the pastor admitted that after the 11 pm service on Christmas Eve, he's too keyed up to sleep so for the past several years he's flipped on the pope's midnight mass service from earlier in the evening and watched that. He said he never expected to actually look forward to that service but he now does. Secondly, one of the ladies on the interfaith council, a "Roman Catholic," was praised for her prowess with sheep4.
"And she's a very nice person, too."
I can return to this Presbyterian study on the 4th. They are certainly entitled to their opinions.

1 The NAB follows a more basic rendering (συνείδησις ), as usual.
2 I would think it would be alright.
3 Except he seems to be married now.
4 One of the Presbyterian services includes live sheep on Christmas Eve. A "treat" for the kids.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sunday Snippets - a Catholic carnival hosted by Rann at "This That and the Other Thing."

Sunday, December 05, 2010

The youth group took a day trip to New York. I'm not involved with the youth group but wanted a trip to New York. I contacted the youth group leader about chaperoning and she agreed.

We met at church and drove to the Princeton Junction train station. We bought round trip tickets on the 9:44 train to NY Penn, arriving at 10:53. The tickets cost about $30. When we boarded, I sat with the youth group leader and got acquainted. First off, we exchanged cell phone numbers. As I entered her given name into my directory, I said, "'Karis' ... is that short for anything? I suppose it's Greek for 'grace.'"

And she was like, "That's right, but how could you know that?"

I can't remember all we talked about. Our kids, our husbands. We managed to talk the entire ride in.

When we got to Penn, it's easy to just follow the crowd. And yet she hesitated. I thought she wanted to exit the station immediately so I suggested the 7th Ave. side. But instead we walked up for the restrooms which had a line at least 20' long. The line moved fast and, of course, by the time our party got out, there was no line.

We weren't in any hurry to walk up to St. Pat's. We made our way over to 5th so we could see the windows at Macy's and Lord & Taylor. I couldn't get a decent picture of the public library because it was surrounded by scaffolding and plastic tarps. I got so giddy at Rockefeller Center that I temporarily got separated from the group. I was surprised that the teens were so uninterested in sightseeing.

We crossed over to St. Pat's and found seats up on the right. Our party was too large to sit together so I moved back a number of pews and sat next to a serene man, maybe my age or a little older. A man from our party also chose to move back and sat next to me. The service was really very wonderful. I'd never attended a service there before. The last time I was in St. Pat's was, I remember clearly, '97, sightseeing with my in-laws. The pope had just declared Therese of Lisieux a doctor of the church. It was the 100th anniversary of her death and her relics were touring the country.

But, as crazy as the vestibule is with tourists, once you're past that and take a seat, it's another world. I didn't expect that. Oh, it's still a big church, no doubt. One is always aware of that. It doesn't cease to be big, neither does it become intimate, even though the presider certainly tried to convey an hospitable warmth. I felt welcome and not out of place.

I tried not to disturb the experience of the man next to me. He seemed to be deeply involved in the proceedings, even though he didn't sing, recite prayers or kneel. He was engaging the service in a different way. The Agnus Dei was sung in Latin and I confidently participated in that prayer with pleasure. For communion, I just got into the aisle when everyone else did and walked forward, hoping that a minister would be available at the other end of the line when I got there!

After mass, the streets were noticeably more crowded. During that hour we sat in church, more and more trains had arrived at Penn Station! We were supposed to go ice skating at Bryant Park. Jeff had told me that the park is behind the public library, but I forgot that. Someone in the group knew where it was, so we walked there together. I suggested that we go down 6th because 5th was too crowded and we'd already seen the shop windows anyway.

We wanted to eat at Bryant Park but someone in our group warned that there aren't any restaurants nearby1. It was so very cold outside that it was nice just to sit down in a warm place. It was going on 2:30 and I hadn't eaten all day. Out of the blue, I saw another family from my daughter's preschool. They were in town to see Spiderman which was playing just down the street2.

After lunch, we walked back to Bryant Park. The Zamboni was just cleaning the ice. The line was very long because I think they kick everyone out. But the line moved very quickly. Within 20 minutes we were on the ice. I was the only adult who opted to skate. The teens seemed a little amused by the idea. The rented skates were really very good. No laces, a ski boot design. No excuses of "weak ankles." I got pretty comfortable on the ice after a few laps.

The difficulty was the wide range of abilities of the other skaters. Some were passing at great speed, weaving in and out, doing turns and whatnot. Others were always on the verge of falling down and taking you with them. I came close to falling several times, especially when the ice got rutted again. The only time that I fell was when posing for a picture. So, yeah, I had to brush the snow off my knees to make a good picture!

At one point, I noticed some young men talking to two girls from our group. And my responsibility occurred to me as the only adult on the ice. But I was already by them because they were standing still on the side of the rink and I was skating. So I decided that I'd stop on my next pass but they had broken up by then. It's a different set of dangers with teens vs. the age group I'm used to. The whole day I was worried about someone getting separated from the group. But I should have been worried about the girls getting hit on. The youth group leader discussed it with the girl on the way home. She could see the whole thing from where she was sitting inside.

The only frustrating thing was when it was time to leave. We walked back to Penn Station and the youth group leader paused at the corner and did a 360 because she couldn't locate the station. But it was right in front of her. So I told her to head for MSG. The man in our group started to walk up the stairs to MSG but I instinctively headed downstairs. Trains are always down, you know. I haven't been to New York in 13 years but we always took the train, so that route is sort of ingrained in my memory.

And they never post the track number until just before boarding. The youth group leader wanted to head downstairs before the track assignment was posted but I cautioned her that you can't hear the assignment down there and can't move from quay to quay without coming back upstairs ... or crossing the tracks. Once the track number was announced, it's always a mad dash to the gate. Our party got separated into three. My group walked forward and found seats. The other two groups got stuck behind people who refused to walk forward and stood for most of the ride home.

1 This warning was, in fact, incorrect. On the southwest-ish corner of the park is a franchise of the same chain we ate at, Pax. We walked to the Pax location at 42nd, between 7th and 8th but later, I noticed the location at 40th and 6th. I don't understand why the website says the shops are closed on Sundays.