Sunday, December 30, 2012

Saturday, December 29, 2012

When you enter the shrine at Fátima, you may pass an artifact encased in glass, a section of the Berlin Wall. We met there amid on-again, off-again rain on All Saints Day, uncomfortably near a begging man. I soon learned to keep a few euros in my pockets.

Fátima has become JPII's "place:" the portion of the Wall he's credited with toppling, an imposing monument to his Marian devotion and the keeping of the bullet.

Still, it's its own place. A new church faces the old church across the plaza. A few pilgrims walked on their knees. I didn't think anyone did that anymore. A woman in our group said she has some promises to keep to friends back home. She lit a candle here and again in Lourdes. I suspect she spent the night in the plaza on her knees for her intentions and those of her friends. Some people flip out on pilgrimage. I've seen it happen before. This lady had all the earmarks. She wasn't eating, either.

We entered the beautiful, old church. Presently, a second group came in. They lined up on the altar as if they were posing for a picture. But instead they sang a very beautiful song and their voices filled the air. I lingered to listen as the rest of our group hurried out of the sanctuary. I imagined they'd practiced and prepared for just that moment.

It was late afternoon when the local tour concluded and we had time to shower before mass and dinner. There was more than enough time for that, so I delayed and returned to the square with the local tour guide. She showed me the new church in which mass was being celebrated and the location of the perpetual adoration chapel underground, near JPII's monument. I entered on my own and said a rosary. How many Fridays before I'd thought about praying the Fátima prayer in Fátima!

After a rather long shower at the hotel, I gathered with the others in a conference room off the lobby for All Saints Day mass. We were supposed to hold mass at a chapel near the Fátima church but many pilgrims were already tired and complaining of sore knees. The rainy, slippery conditions caused Father to keep things close, but I was exceedingly disappointed about mass in a dreary hotel conference room with folding chairs, steps from a decades old church in Fátima, Portugal!

At mass, I sat in the back of the room against the wall, in the corner really, and leaned against the wall whenever I stood. Father Williams is charismatic but offered a low-key mass. Father asked for reactions to our trip so far and I shared my experience of praying the rosary, with its Fátima prayer, in the underground adoration chapel. Several asked me after mass where the adoration chapel was located. I took one woman there after dinner.

Dinner was ok. I shared a table with the most cliquish group, a trio from Spring Lake. I was not able to fit in with them and managed to avoid joining their table for the rest of the trip. Except one morning, I had breakfast with the hungover husband, a retired judge. He was mild and polite.

I got out early the next morning and snapped more pictures. The rain had finally stopped. I sampled the water from the faucets, remarkably refreshing. I hadn't expected that. I didn't keep any. Taking my seat on the bus behind Father well before anyone else was on board to leave for Santiago, I asked whether he would hear confessions.

"Of course," he said.

"Tonight, then," I said.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

It's a busy time of year for everyone.

I missed the ECP's Lessons and Carols last Sunday night because of the Natalie Merchant concert, which was a lesson in itself. And certainly a very good time.

Like Vacation Bible School, "Lessons and Carols" is a suitcase event, a predetermined program that just about anyone can implement. So my own parish put one on last night. In the absence of any alternative, the program is very welcome, indeed. But for the past two years the diocese has held increasingly successful Christmas Carol Festivals. There's no reason to reinvent the wheel, rather use a package deal whenever possible. But I can't understand favoring something Anglican and mainline Protestant over a very similar thing that's diocesan and even homegrown.

The St. Joseph singers had decent voices that were too few in number to fill the church. Granted, their collective sound was better than any of them solo, but another twenty would have sounded better. Three hymns appeared in full in the pamphlet under the heading "ALL," strongly suggesting these were to be sung communally. A woman seated behind me did just that and had an excellent voice. A gentleman seated ahead of me kept glancing back at her with a puzzled look, then whispered something to his companion.

I brought my Bible to the Lessons and Carols in order to follow along with the Scripture readings. Fortunately, I brought the "correct" version as I was able to follow word-for-sacred-word in the ESV I had. Some programs suggests drawing passages from various English translations but the many that stick with just one usually choose the ESV. The final reading was John's Prologue and all the lectors joined in together, so I also read along aloud. It was nice and nearly got to me.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

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

I have two posts about cleaning up after Hurricane Sandy:
Today all the downed branches and trees were picked up from the side of the township's roads. One less reminder.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2012

The hurricane was followed by a nor'easter snow storm the next week1. The wet, heavy snow brought down an ornamental cherry tree that, to my surprise, had survived the hurricane.

I saw this type of tree down all through the neighborhood and across town. As of Sunday2, these trees are all fully cut down and cleared away. Jeff rented a larger chainsaw than he owns and even cut down a fifth tree that was damaged when a pine tree fell on it. While he worked the chainsaw, I hauled away branches and trunk segments in the lawn tractor's trailer. It was hard work and my arm muscles are still sore. Tree trunks are heavy for their size.

The tree in better days:

1 November 7th, 2012
2 December 2nd, 2012
Three tall pine trees were blown over by Hurricane Sandy Monday afternoon1. The next day we surveyed the damage:

The kids were shocked when they looked out the window at the top of the back staircase and saw a tree resting against it!

We began cutting down that tree because it was also resting on the garage.

And Ella did what she could.

1 October 29, 2012.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

I'm not sure what possessed me to request a ticket to the Pontifical Solemn High Mass offered last night at St. Hedwig's Church in Trenton. It may have been the silly hope that ticket holders would be envied as excitement surrounding the event swelled. But anyone interested in Latin Mass hasn't a covetous impulse in their whole soul.

As parking downtown is limited, the diocese arranged busing from Notre Dame High School in Lawrenceville. Besides having been there many, many times for catechist training workshops, I had just recently visited with my son for a high school open house. No surprise to see athletes still getting picked up when I arrived on campus around 6.

A coordinator held up a shuttle bus for me and then another dozen people climbed aboard for a ten minute ride. From the drop-off point in the rear of the church, I walked passed a television crew, set to broadcast live on EWTN. Inside the church vestibule, I approached an usher desperate for a program. I flashed my ticket, afraid he would collect it, but he instead simply acknowledged it and I went in.

The interior of the church is as stunning as the outside, only more so because it was lit up. It was not quiet so I felt comfortable taking non-flash photos from the back. With as little ado as possible, I casually tied on my handkerchief, the same one I wore inside the Orthodox Church surrounding Jacob's Well in Shechem. Then I found a seat next to two women. Shortly, another couple came to our row and I moved down to make room. Then the row filled from the other end, as another two women sat down. I estimated that twenty percent of the ladies wore head-coverings.

I expected the schola to be singing but there was no prelude. When the bishop entered, the church was not full because it was still quite early1. After kneeling at the side altar, the bishop went into a side room to vest. He was in there a long time. Meanwhile, folks began lining up for the procession. The Maidens of the Miraculous Medal were adorable! The Knights of Columbus, less so. I fancied they never dreamed they'd wear those outfits ever again.

There was likely quite a smirk on my face as I eyed the cross bearer, a traditional priest of the diocese vested as a subdeacon. He seemed to eye me back and I wondered whether he recognized me. I haven't visited his church in a long time.

I was unable to catch up with the printed text until the Kyrie. We didn't make the sign of the cross to begin the liturgy but I had crossed myself when the bishop blessed everyone on his way to the sanctuary. The schola's singing of the Gloria was quite fabulous. I think it was polyphonic and frankly I had expected plainer music. It sounded very like Simon & Garfunkel's Benedictus but with several more voices. Then the Collect and another subdeacon sang the Epistle. I didn't think his skill was much in evidence but it was a brief, familiar reading2 from Revelation 12. The congregation made very few of the replies printed in the provided rubrics, leading me to believe that the expected knee-jerk response has waned with the years. The only response made consistently was the proverbial et cum spiritu tuo.

There was plenty of picture-taking throughout. And flash photography at that. A professional photographer was making the rounds. View his work here. The woman at the end of my row snapped a picture during the elevation of the host. The distribution of holy communion was quite involved. First of all, everyone on the altar had to receive. And there were a ton of folks on the altar! The gesture they all performed prolonged the distribution: a genuflection before kneeling to receive, then another genuflection. It was almost like Irish folk dancing. They'd come from their respective camps on the right of the altar and on the left to the center and back again. Finally, the ushers brought the laity forward, beginning with the little Maidens. Then they brought up the side pews which outraged the woman next to me. She complained to her husband that everyone was going up ahead of her. I've seen it done before, taking the side pews first. It is uncommon but what's one more uncommon thing on top of so many others? I thought for a fleeting moment that I might receive from the bishop himself but then I could see he was working the far side of the rail.

It seemed to me that we're all rusty at taking communion (1) on our knees, (2) on our tongues, (3) at the rail. The worst part is, of course, that upon returning to our seats, everyone is out of sequence. In the N.O., that only happens if someone takes the wine. The two ladies on the center aisle ended up going all the way around the back of the church to their seats. The man next to me entered the pew without waiting for his wife. I stupidly followed him in and the other two ladies followed me. The man's wife showed up presently and had to climb over all of us! Which she did without hesitation. And the pews in this old Polish church are narrow.

I noted some left before holy communion. The two ladies to my left left right after holy communion which, in the TLM makes more sense than in the N.O. because there could be another dozen minutes of service remaining, what with the Last Gospel3 and all. I remember the Last Gospel being read in English at another Latin Mass I attended occasionally when I lived in Dayton, OH. Well, after all, I couldn't hear any of it last night, so I can't be certain what language it was. We all genuflected at the appropriate time during the reading, those of us who remained 'til the end, that is.

I got a real sense that the TLM is a kludge. That "best practices" have been incorporated over the years centuries. Take the Last Gospel, a private priestly devotion. There was also quite a defensiveness about the mass of the faithful. And I don't mean the presence of the Knights, even though they seemed, in some way, to be handling security. Maybe it was simply the sheer number of people on the altar. Or even when the bishop took to his throne during the homily, surrounded by servers and others, like some club, a club I couldn't join even if I wanted4.

After the mass, everyone posed on the steps of the sanctuary for photographs. One woman nudged passed me, saying, "That's my daughter up there! I need a picture!" That made me wonder how many people attended the mass to see a friend or relative participate. And how many people were like me, just out looking for a good time? I don't know but it might account for the general absence of any air of reverence. The sheer number of photographs taken and the constant chit-chat of those around me suggested they were spectators. I flirted momentarily with reverence myself immediately after receiving communion merely because the communion line was still so amazingly long, I had nothing else to do but bow my head and close my eyes until it passed. That worked. I affirmed to myself, "It's the same communion bread, nothing extra, still just Jesus."

I took all the pictures I wanted after mass and walked outside to pick up the bus back to my car at NDHS. A row of four buses waited at the curb and I got on the first one. Two buses from behind pulled around the lead bus and left. How strange. Still I waited, noticing the bus was not acquiring many passengers. The driver closed the door and began to move the bus, then stopped and seemed to go in reverse, then forward again, then stopped and opened the door to about six people, women and children. The lady asked, "Is this bus going to Notre Dame?" The driver said, "No, to St. Gregory's" and the lady stepped off. I bolted up and down the bus stairs. I had no idea St. Greg's also ran buses to the mass! Imagine if I'd stayed on that bus! And I felt stupid for wasting 20 minutes on that bus when I could have been back at ND already.

I'm not in any part Polish, but I have these occasional brushes with Polish Catholicism:

Jezus pociesza płaczące niewiasty.

"Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem who weep for him."

1 The church never did fill completely.
2 It was the Feast of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, old Catholic calendar.
3 "Gospel - The Last Gospel" from Catholic Encyclopedia, Adrian Fortescue, Vol. 6, 662.
4 The club I have in mind is not the clergy but the entire Latin Mass community / apostolate, yet another closed, church clique.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

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

My post this week: Pilgrimage account - from Philadelphia to Frankfurt

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Upon landing in Lisbon, we were to rendezvous with our tour guide. When I spotted her, I let her know that I needed to get a SIM card for my iPhone. "Make it quick," was all she said. I wasn't able to.

Ideally, I would have picked up the SIM card somewhere in the colossal Frankfurt Airport when there was time between flights. However, I was so concerned about, first, getting through customs and then getting to my gate that then I was too far away from any shops. I mean, I think I would have had to walk back to the other terminal. So not an option.

There were only two staff people in the Vodafone at the Lisbon Airport when I stepped inside the booth, both were serving other customers. But I did my best to show my impatience and even interrupted one salesperson whose transaction seemed to have moved into a casual conversation. How would I know, right? The young lady freed up before the gentlemen did but she seemed nervous about her English and the technology. I allowed her to insert the SIM card for me and a good thing, too: she had to cut it to make it fit. Then I allowed her to configure the phone to use the SIM. She tried to show me the phone number but I was only going to use Facebook and an instant messaging app. I'm glad that I added another 10 € to the prepaid card because I drained it just as I arrived at Lourdes two days before returning home.1

All this buying and configuring took too long, of course, and the tour guide had taken everyone outside to board the tour bus. One lady stayed behind with my suitcase which I appreciated very much. She remained there and I stepped outside the airport to see what I could see. Only tour bus after tour bus. So I waited in sight of the other woman who said the tour guide would return for us. And she did along with Father who gave me grief for holding up everyone else. I told him it would not happen again and that I was very grateful to be able to keep in touch with my husband and four young kids who were coping with post-Sandy conditions in Monmouth County, NJ. I mean, what's a couple of minutes for that?

When I reached the tour bus, there was a commotion. A couple were being asked to leave the bus. They retrieved their luggage from underneath just as I was approaching with my suitcase. I waited on the sidewalk until I was sure the driver would put my suitcase in the cargo area, then I boarded and took an empty seat behind Father and his sister, Sister Brenda. I learned later that the couple had boarded the wrong bus and I believe that their departure opened up such a prime seat for me, very near the front of the bus. I sat there the entire tour, joined by someone on only one occasion and Father gave her such a chewing out for her hours and hours of senseless chatter that no one else dared sit so close to him, with me, again. The tour guide suggested that we switch up our seats from time to time but even when I boarded the bus last, my second row seat was available. Since I can get motion sick, it's probably a good thing I sat in front.

I allowed myself to try out the SIM card on the bus ride to Fátima, scanning Facebook for news. I don't have a smartphone in real life, so I'm not actually addicted. The complaints of my friends on Facebook were my primary source of news throughout the trip on how things were going post-Sandy. Someone on the bus cautioned me to "Remember the time difference!" thinking I was making a phone call. But it was 12:30 and the East Coast was only four hours behind, so a call would have been reasonable. We recovered an hour between Germany and Portugal and Daylight Savings Time had not yet ended in the U. S. However, I suspected quite correctly that no such services like telephone or electric were yet available again in New Jersey.

Our hotel in Fátima was within walking distance of the holy sites. We checked in and walked over there for our tour with a local guide. It was raining off and on and when it wasn't, a full rainbow graced the sky behind the old church. I posted a picture to Facebook.

Next post in the series: "When you enter the shrine at Fátima ..."

1 Fortunately, our hotel in Lourdes had free WiFi but that's another story in itself.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Last Thanksgiving, I distinctly remember thinking it would be the last time I'd say the "old" responses at mass. And I had trouble finding the readings that were actually proclaimed in my missal.1

Fearing that my new missal wouldn't have the correct readings either, I checked a couple of iPad apps - iMissal and iPieta - but they displayed only the readings for the weekday, St. Cecilia. I went to the US Bishops' site and cached the readings found there for Thanksgiving Day. But in the end, my new missal provided the readings, so I didn't use my iPad at church. Except my new missal indicated only a first reading - like a weekday mass - with other reading options from both testaments. So I think there may be a mistake in my missal.

One line from the prayer after communion made a impact on me because I'm not familiar with the patristic expression, time and eternity: "that we may share with them the good things of time and eternity.” I suppose one could emphasize "good things" in that phrase but I choose to stress "time and eternity," that good is found in both.

The restaurant family in town always provides a loaf of bread for everyone at mass which Father blesses. The family provides free pizza for parties at the end of the kids' religious education school year. But I've actually heard the owner of the restaurant say that he'll never set foot in the church again. I've no idea what the story is but since they offer gluten-free pizza, it may be some battle over that.

I realized that the town didn't hold an ecumenical prayer service yesterday as it had in other years. I asked a lady who I'd seen there last year and she said there was no interest. She said it's always difficult to drum up interest but this year it seemed to be especially hard. I said that folks were probably too busy dealing with the effects of Hurricane Sandy ("the storm"). She didn't agree but I don't see why not.
1 I just checked my old missal, by the Daughters of St. Paul, which I generally prefer to the St. Joseph's missal, but the readings for Thanksgiving Day are left out altogether with a line that goes "Various texts may be used." True, but what's a few more pages in a book with over 1,000?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

It's a shame gossip is so denigrated in the Bible because the stories of people's lives can be quite captivating. I'll try to be neither casual nor unconstrained in my remarks. And truthful, always truthful.

On the flight from Philadelphia to Frankfurt, I shared a row but hadn't yet made her acquaintance. I noticed she carried a black NKJV Bible and a rosary. "An odd combination," I thought. She read the Bible only briefly during the long, overnight flight, from the Psalms. I couldn't tell whether she prayed the rosary, but probably.

When we landed in Frankfurt, I watched to see whether she would address Father who was traveling in the next row. She did not and I decided, mistakenly, that she was not in our party.

We changed not only flights but also terminals in Frankfurt for Lisbon. The terminals are connected by a long underground tunnel, which plenty of people walked although there is a train available. She was traveling with a couple who fell far behind and were later brought by airport transportation just before boarding. All three are Septa employees, the couple a part of the SEPTA 48 who became millionaires in the spring time lottery.

She had a thing for Our Lady and for Lourdes. Her mother had visited years ago and she felt called to imitate that. We had much in common, too much for me to be comfortable: working class childhood, married high school sweetheart, finished grad school later in life. A key difference was that she's the breadwinner in the family because her husband is chronically unemployed. On the contrary, I'm the bum here.

Her friend, who I discovered paid for her entire trip out of her lottery winnings, was a convert from an assortment of Protestant backgrounds, most recently Presbyterianism. I felt I could talk to her from that perspective and she asked me a question about the Bible. Immediately, I looked up the verses in question using the ESV Bible app on the iPhone Jeff had loaned me and we talked about them. She was impressed, saying she didn't think that Catholics "did Bible." All the Mary stuff on the trip wasn't working for her. I told her it didn't have to and she can't force it anyway. She invited me out to dinner, her treat, but I already had plans. It would have been interesting to talk with her some more but that's all we had.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Here's my limited experience with Hurricane Sandy:

I heard about the expected storm on Thursday, Oct. 25th. with precise details. On Friday afternoon at Ella's kindergarten pick-up, a classmate's mother was overly concerned about her Saturday evening flight to Disney for Halloween. She kept checking the flight status on her phone. I didn't think she had anything to worry about and, as it turns out, her family's flight left as scheduled. They had a great time in Orlando.

Tim's Fall Ball game took place on Sunday afternoon, surprisingly. The other kids I took to church so they could wear their Halloween costumes and trick-or-treat after mass.

I was wondering whether this would be the only trick-or-treating they would have.

I baked bar cookies and banana bread on Sunday afternoon (Oct. 28th) so we'd have some things to nibble on if the power went out. My Lufthansa flight out of Newark (EWR) to Europe Tuesday evening was cancelled Sunday afternoon at 2:45. I was tracking the flight and received email right away. I contacted our tour leader and the cancellation was news to him. Kenny learned on Xbox that school was cancelled Monday.

On Monday afternoon the weather turned bad in earnest. Our power went out at 16:40 Monday and I expected it to be back by Wednesday. I was informed that my flight to Europe would leave Philadelphia on Wednesday evening instead of Newark. Bucks County was hit pretty hard by the hurricane but the city of Philadelphia was in good shape. On Wednesday morning, I tried to find a place to take a shower because our electricity (and water) was still out. But the gyms I use, Peddie High School in Hightstown and the YMCA in Freehold, were both dark and closed.1 Driving was tricky with all traffic signals out. In most cases, the dominant road took precedence and drivers on the side streets had to be cautious. At lesser intersections, folks implemented all-way stops. But there would always be someone who disregarded what everyone else was doing and would zoom through without stopping.

I didn't want to drive around longer than necessary because I was afraid of running my car low on gas. I was unable to make a left on 33 West from Freehold until Twin Rivers. Seeing dark stores with empty parking lots along Route 33 was becoming strangely normal. I entered one store that was open, exact change only. Little was left on the shelves and I saw a man load 20 loaves of bread into his car.

In preparation for my flight to Europe and the beginning of my ten day pilgrimage, I took a decent sponge bath on Wednesday using water from our filled bathtub. The house was getting cold after so many days without heat. Jeff took me to St. Veronica in Howell with my luggage to meet up with other pilgrims. We had prearranged a car service to drive several of us to the airport. The traffic on Route 9 south of 195 was stop-n-go but we were early so the delay did not make us late. We couldn't make a left until the road was no longer divided in Lakewood, then we had to double back northbound. I was optimistic that the car service would show but the tour coordinator had not been able to get in touch with them about our flight changes from Tuesday to Wednesday and from Newark to Philadelphia. He was not as optimistic. In the end, Jeff took me to the Philadelphia airport with two other women and everyone who was waiting in that church parking lot got to the airport in time for the flight.

We had not planned on that, however, and called the neighbors to check up on the kids at home. I thought it would be dark before Jeff could get home again but he said it wasn't. Philadelphia was civilization! Yes, we saw long lines at gas stations along the NJ Turnpike and I suggested Jeff fill up again before heading home from PA. But just the sight of open stores and normalcy was jaw-dropping. How bad things were hadn't really sunk in until I had something to compare to. But I was already getting a sense of how stark things were and were going to become in the next few days. I suggested Jeff take the kids to the Catskills but he was determined to stay home. He was curious about when power would come back and concerned about possible looting. He brought home Dunkin' Donuts after dropping me at the airport, the neighbor who watched the kids later brought over a hot pizza and Jeff took them to the Americana Diner on Friday just before the power was restored.

It wasn't as hard to leave as you might think. I knew that Jeff had options and he'd make the right decisions. He wasn't as able to keep in touch with me initially so that meant that I didn't worry about how things were going. I was excited about my trip and pretty concerned at how getting there would go, not really knowing anyone and having a connecting flight in Germany.
1 In the end, Peddie pool remained closed until Monday, Nov. 5th. and the Freehold Y opened up Saturday, Nov. 3rd.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The sanctuary of the host church was open and available as a place of quiet. I visited after lunch Saturday right before my presentation. In years past, the plenary speaker sessions were held in the sanctuary. I'm not sure why these were moved to the adjacent building in which one hears the street traffic much more readily. I suppose there was one year of bad weather so putting everything in one place was likely deemed better than moving us back and forth. But I liked being in "a church" at least part of the weekend and sometimes we sang together from the hymnal.

Still, this sanctuary, a sacred chamber, has always reminded me of a courtroom or political hall, like the Senate. It looks so "officious," if I may quote Norman Bates. I would guess there's a Bible upon the lectern ... or there could be but I've never had the guts to sneak up there to peek. Anyway, the tray for it mimics an open book with scrolled up edges.

I knelt there several minutes which, despite the sloping aisles and absence of kneelers, was quite comfortable. I didn't pray my rosary, out of respect. The space did not feel vacant or devoid of spirit. Any "chill" in ambience was reduced by the warmth of the rich, dark wooden pews. Nobody "caught" me in there on my knees and I wondered how much the space was utilized by the other workshop participants over the weekend. On one occasion, I saw the musicians who provided the weekend's music coming out but never anyone else.

The Workshop adjourned twenty minutes earlier than last year and since my friends were unable to keep our dinner date, I attended the vigil mass at St. David's, a stone's throw away on the corner.

It was a lovely mass. The same msgr. who'd said Night Prayer the night before presided. His homily began with a lament of Joe Paterno's absence this football season and I had to remind myself of where I was. Either way, scandal or no, Mr. Paterno is quite absent, most noticeably in his family's lives. Once the msgr. got past that bit of sentimentality, he spoke very encouraging, gospel-filled words.

Afterwards, I picked up a sandwich at a counter sub shop and drove home to my family.
Sunday Snippets - a Catholic carnival hosted by Rann at "This That and the Other Thing."

My post this week:

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Saturday, October 13, 2012

This morning began with mass at Our Lady Help of Christians in Abington, a few miles from the hotel. Like last year, the Holy Name Society was on hand to pray the rosary outside after mass.1 And just like last year, I forgot to bring a coat, a penance on Our Lady of Fatima. There was still frost on the grass as we walked along a circuit of stepping stones in front of a statue of OLHC. I caught sight of a banner stretched near our path which declared our prayer intention, for the traditional family. One cannot be too careful when casually joining other Christians in prayer.

At the completion of five decades, someone interjected a request for a sixth decade - never heard of such a thing! - for the "deceased and living members of OLHC." Well, fine but this is going to make me late for my 9 am appointment!

In fact, I was able to remain for the pope's intentions then cut out as the prayers switched to birthright. I just feel the pro-life intention is well-covered and my voice isn't needed.

My friend presented this morning on Col. 1:24 - 2:15. Her worksheet was handwritten. She nailed the main points of the passage, a very long passage, and I had nothing to add. Maybe I was just tired from thinking too hard the day before. After her, someone shared on Col. 2:16-3:4. Her worksheet was also handwritten - in pencil - and I began to suspect that these were prepared only last night! Imagine writing out five or six copies of the same thing! The final question asked for a real world example of the passage. Our friend left this question blank because she did not want to offend anyone. However, this one who grew up in the "Roman Catholic tradition" - her words - claimed that she was told to pray only to saints and never to God or Jesus. This deprivation won her a great deal of sympathy with the others. "'Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!' I've lived this!" she declared.

If I'm raging now, I wasn't then. There's nothing to say that doesn't sound defensive. And I've no reason to be defensive. Instead, I thanked God for the time at adoration yesterday and mass with rosary this morning, activities that gave me assurance of truth. I was just a little amazed that my friend didn't even throw me a compassionate glance or afterwards ask how I felt. Maybe she believes I'm not really Catholic deep down.

More than this, though, the former Catholic expressed concern for all her neighbors who are Catholics. She wants to witness but can only think to criticize their devotional practices. The study leader, who was also Catholic once, said it's better to allow Jesus to bring a halt to such activities. "Just introduce them to Jesus." I had to agree that there's nothing offensive about speaking to a Catholic about Jesus.

After a noon meal that felt initially tense, I presented on Col. 3:5-17 after another woman presented on the same passage. Ideally, two participants cover the same passage but with one no-show and a desire to go over most of the epistle, ours was the only redundant duo. Her presentation was well-done and I couldn't improve it. I received no feedback on mine, either. Maybe everyone was tired, a drawback of going last.

I had read the passage aloud from Msgr. Ronald Knox's translation which is available online. Everyone asked which translation it was, so I said "Ronald Knox" to distinguish from John Knox. But no one understood so I added his title and everyone clammed up. In the ensuing silence, I told them that the translation was made in the 1950's but that the version will be republished soon. I didn't say the translation was made primarily from the Vulgate. The cat had mostly taken their tongues but the study leader affirmed how good to read from numerous translations.2

1 Two years ago, a small group of us prayed the rosary indoors and it was the first time I'd ever recited a decade aloud in public. A wonderfully inclusive group of Catholics there.
2 Of course I compared Knox's translation with, say, the ESV and it checks out. Baronius Press seems a bit behind on their fall release of this republication, as usual. Thanks to Matt for tipping me off.

The so-called plenary sessions on John's Gospel were delivered by the woman who usually served as master of ceremonies. Given her buoyant personality, I didn't think she could focus enough to prepare a series of talks. She repeatedly shared how little she'd worked on these presentations. And how things were done last minute. She was able, however, to calm herself enough to read three lectures in which she made many good points. But she did not hold my attention and I blame her Australian accent. Voice quality is so important to me when I'm listening to someone.

My study group was assigned Colossians. We met after the general talk on John 5 to work out together Colossians 1:1-14. One participant was unable to make the workshop, so only one gave a presentation on Col. 1:15-23 which includes the hymn. I offered some criticism of her report which I can't now remember. But the point of the workshop is to provide feedback on our effort and this is her third time at the workshop after taking the teaching track (a more challenging track) the first two years. I thought she could handle receiving input but she could not. Later in the day, she said something about how gently Paul corrected the Colossians and I took that as a veiled hint that I had not been gentle. Anyway, I tried to make friends with her almost immediately afterwards. I have some trouble understanding the attraction of her denomination, but I couldn't find a tactful way to inquire about it. I suppose that difficulty of understanding may be mutual.

The dinner hour began at 6:15. They offered a gluten-free chicken and an eggplant lasagna. So many people are vegetarian these days, there's no reason to think only of Friday abstinence. I ate the lasagna quickly then left into the cool night air. From the driveway, I could see the inviting lights of St. David's chapel at the corner. I walked towards it and arrived immediately. I entered to find one person at exposition. The 7 o'clock church bells rang and she left shortly after. I thought, "She thinks I'm her relief and I'm not." No, relief hadn't yet come. So, I stay until relief comes? I tried to wait but at 7:10 I got out. I nearly bumped into the guy who was to be next. He eyed me and then looked at his watch. He was indeed late but he probably thought I had no business going until he got there.

After the second general talk on John 11, there was time to return to St. David's for benediction. At 8:45, a woman retrieved booklets for Night Prayer (Compline)1 from the altar area and distributed them. The msgr appeared from the side of the altar - how do they do that?! - and, matter-of-factly, we said Friday's night prayer and received benediction. I checked into my hotel room and made sure I was ready for the next day.

1 US Bishops' website no longer sells this booklet.
I arrived before noon yesterday and went straight to St. David Church on Easton for exposition. As I approached the chapel, a FedEx driver drove up and called out to me:
Excuse me, Ma'am, but do you know where '400' is?
I knew my destination for the day was 405 Easton, across the main road, but I couldn't recall even the street address of where I stood at that moment. I said,
Odd numbers are across the street, so 400 must be on this side of Easton.
Then I told him I was just arrived from New Jersey and had only visited the town of Willow Grove a few times in as many years. He wasn't about to give up so easy. He continued,
Well, someone was out with this package yesterday and brought it back after not locating the address. It's for a Mary Rose ... do you happen to know who that is?
I had to say that I did not and began worrying that I was losing time.

There were a couple of people in the chapel at adoration. The monstrance was like nothing I'd ever seen before:

Unique but appropriate. I get it. Now, isn't this hospitality? I think so. Being from out of town, I can find an unlocked Catholic church with exposition across the street from my meeting place. I felt wonderfully welcome and at peace, even though no parishioner even greeted me. I had a place to turn to.

Before I was too long at prayer, the noon bells rang for a full ten minutes. Then I decided I needed some lunch before the Workshop began. I left the chapel and headed down the street for a wrap. I spotted #400 on the convent building across the side street from the chapel and hoped the FedEx driver had found it. Mary Rose, of course!

Walking across the parking lot of my destination, I overheard the sounds of children playing nearby at recess. The corner is crammed with Catholic properties: churches, schools and convents. I discovered that the joyous sound came from a schoolyard associated with Queen of Angels school.

Getting to the Workshop in time for the 1 o'clock tea, I had trouble mixing with the women in my study group. For instance, I knew what was coming next when a woman boasted she was one of twelve children: she became a Christian at 38, having been Catholic most of her life. Not fair that she gets to brag of the large family without keeping Catholicism! She described the theological upgrade she'd recently experienced leaving a non-denominational church for a PCA church. She had no idea what she had been missing! The Reformed women flanking me could not agree fast enough. I preoccupied myself with the prospect that she would make it full circle and become Catholic once again. Pretty soon they were discussing dispensationalism vs. covenantalism, as if there's nothing else.

Then, my study group leader turned to me and asked,
Teresa, do you attend a church?

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Thursday, October 04, 2012

I missed the first week because I was off listening to Fr. James Martin, SJ at a church in Hamilton, NJ.

Tonight, a quiet man sat next to me. I asked whether he was a deacon and he insisted that he was not. He had a brand new King James Version of the Bible with him that he said he had just picked up at Barnes and Noble. It was a Red Letter Edition, but I don't think Thomas Nelson makes any other kind. He said he was new to Bible study but thought he heard too little Scripture at mass. He wants more. He showed me how easy his Bible was to read and understand. Aware that the KJV isn't esteemed for its intelligibility to today's reader, I thought he had, perhaps, the Amplified Version instead. But after looking over a couple of pages, I could see it was not the Amplified Version, just a large print edition. I said nothing negative about his book, only that it was very nice and easy-to-read.

On my other side was a talkative woman who showed me her Bible, Tyndale's "One Year Bible" in the New Living Translation. I've never actually cracked the cover of this edition before tonight and, when I did, I was a bit horrified at its sequence. It's a calendar, basically, with Scripture passages assigned for each day of the year. So, one can't flip to the end of the book and find The Revelation or turn over to the front and find Genesis. It's all mixed up instead. How strange to bring such a thing to a Bible study! No need, really, because we're working from the "Synopsis of the Four Gospels" presently. Handouts of the text are provided for whomever doesn't have Aland's book.

Towards the end of the discussion, the quiet man next to me spoke up to the group, asking about "biblical inspiration," as a phrase he'd read about or heard batted about. Now, last night, I attended a presentation from Msgr. Benwell on the Origin and Nature of the New Testament and he presented two understandings of "biblical inspiration." I'm not very clear on it myself. I just know what it's not. So, the diversity of views was mentioned and a couple of paraphrases from Dei Verbum were given.

After the evening, the quiet man told me he'd attended a Bible study at a nearby Independent, Fundamental Baptist (IFB) church. I had some acquaintance with the church because my children attended Vacation Bible School there last summer. I also tried to attend their women's Bible study on Wednesday mornings but it was too social for my tastes. Oh, yeah, and too fundamentalist. His complaint was that the pastor covered only two verses the entire time. He said, at that rate, he'd die before he got very far. Covering only two verses could be bad or could be good. Taking tangents and getting sidetracked aren't good. But really covering those verses and maybe flipping to other verses could be really good. I wasn't there so I don't know. But I asked him whether he would go back again and he indicated that he would not. I hope he returns to ours next time.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The endodontist finished up a root canal on me yesterday so if I sound crankier than usual, that's why.

Community Bible Study this year covers Job first in six weeks. I missed the first session because the kids' public school was unexpectedly closed due to mold. Then I missed last week's session because I chauffeured and chaperoned my son's field trip to Poricy Park in Lincroft to hunt fossils. I've kept up with the study guide work, even for weeks I missed. However, I have read only those pericopes with related study guide questions, so, to get the whole picture, I need to read all the rest of Job.

I'm not agreeing with the commentary in the study guide. It seems to project all sorts of motives upon the actors that I don't find justified. Who's to say? Maybe I just read too irenically. Too many years experience reading on the 'Net, maybe. Don't jump to conclusions. Perhaps after reading the whole text and another commentary I'll come to agree. Really, I'd be surprised if I don't come around to their view as I usually do.

At this point, I'm pretty convinced that the discourses in Job predate the final book and were borrowed maybe from another work. The thoughts in them don't quite fit. It's like that prayer in Jonah 2: a poem in search of a narrative. How far is my perspective from that of the commentary writer's who believes the actors were so thoughtful in their heartfelt words that they bothered spoke in poetry like Shakespeare!

My small group leader from two years ago was absent so I shot her an email. She's moved to PA near the state capital. She said it all happened really fast for her husband's job. Many, many people are moving out of state. I hope the attrition stops soon. But besides that she was a very down-to-earth person. This year's small group leader is different from her but little different from last year's. A couple of particpants from last year's group are also with me again. But mostly everyone is new to me. We meet in the library but there are too many to sit comfortably around the large table. So we sit uncomfortably in chairs lining the four walls, using our laps as our tabletop. I like having things laid out but with this arrangement I can only fit my workbook across my thighs. I won't be volunteering to read aloud from the text!

Thursday, September 06, 2012

The boys' school will open Monday. Mold was discovered by the new principal more than midway through August. There'll always be the question of how long the mold had been present before being detected. Working parents were too consumed with scrambling for child care to ask hard questions of the administration. I've come to accept that they're only going to tell you what they're going to tell you and nothing more. Somehow they've turned it around such that asking affects your credibility more than their non-answers affect theirs.

The board president has posted to Facebook Tuesday that teachers would appreciate the community's help in preparing their rooms. I called the school Wednesday to see about bringing in the boys for that. Whoever answered the phone - and I can't be sure - said I'd be getting a call about the delayed school opening and to make arrangements for the kids for the next couple of days.

Realizing that the school would make up these unexpected days off at some point, perhaps cutting into Spring Break, I decided to treat the boys to some fun. I also agreed to host one of my son's classmates for the day because his parents work. We all went down to Jenkinson's Boardwalk because everything is open this week. But the little bit of rain we got that morning meant the carnival rides could not operate. We visited the aquarium and played mini-golf at the Castaway Cove Adventure Golf, my first time there. We ate at the Pavilion on the boardwalk and I had an awful experience.

To place my order, I had to get the attention of two members of the waitstaff who were chitchatting in a somewhat intimate way. It was a large order - for four kids! - but I got the staff to understand what I wanted and not to make any substitutes. One of them began a tray for my order and placed the drinks on it. For a long time, nothing else was added to the tray but more customers came to the counter, ordered and received their food, usually fries and pizza. At one point, I could not believe, a cook placed a small cup of fries on my tray and a customer who had just ordered her food took it off my tray and placed it on her own tray with her slice of pizza and she had the audacity to say, "Yeah, I'm still missing part of my order." As if I was standing there for my health. Once she touched the cup of fries, well, I wasn't going to ask her to return them. But, see, she was there with a friend, so she couldn't be a drag. I didn't bother getting anything for myself.

But the kids always need refills on their drinks so, as my daughter had to use the restroom, I sent the youngest boy back up with money for more milk. Now, he's polite or timid, whatever you want to call it, but even when we returned, he hadn't been waited on. And he just wanted a carton of milk, quick and easy! So I just went ahead of asked for the milk, regardless of who was next in line. And they were annoyed but they got it to get rid of me, I suppose. I told Jeff afterwards and he said, "Squeaky wheel." He's right.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Late in the first week of November, the teachers of New Jersey hold an annual convention in Atlantic City. In the early years of my children's' education, they were in private school so these were not days off. But for the past three years they have been. I discovered that a nearby community college offers youth programs that coincide with these school holidays, so last November I signed up Kenny and Tim. They liked it very much even though it was advertised as Lego robotics and the robotics piece was very clearly absent.

This year, Kenny moves into the twelve-year-old bracket and there's an aviation program. They'll take the class to a nearby airport. This year Chris will join Tim in the Lego robotics class.

The community college's website said the center where in-person registration usually occurs was under construction until last Friday. I could have gone last week to register them, but I wanted to wait until the construction was completed. I went over there yesterday and entered the center. It was nice and clean and newly renovated but completely vacant of staff. So I left, looked at the campus map I'd snipped from the college's booklet of classes and walked to the administration building on the far side of the campus. Why registration doesn't routinely occur in the administration building anyway, I don't know. I would have parked in a lot closer to that building if I had known.

I found the room in the administration building and the staff in there said they were just getting ready to return to the center. I said I'd thought they were be back there already. I'm sure they thought so too. I asked whether I should come back next week and they said no, that they could accommodate me. I already had the three registration forms completed and three separate checks written out. That's actually easier on me because then I never see a "grand total!" Although I can work out a "ballpark" figure easy enough in my head.

The staffer wanted to verify my form but she couldn't find her copy of the course catalogue. Along with the campus map, I had snipped out the course descriptions so I handed that to her. She verified the information on the form, made sure the class had available seats, stapled the checks to the registration form, stamped the forms "received" and said, "OK." I wish she had actually registered them. I think that, if she could check the class for availability, she could have registered them. But I asked whether I'd receive a registration confirmation in a couple of week and she said yes. So, we'll see. My hope is that the aviation class doesn't get cancelled due to low enrollment. Kenny really wants to do it and I don't want all three of my boys in the same class.

They updated their website yesterday to reflect that construction is not yet completed. I wish they'd done it before I went over there.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Little Rock Bible Study on the Letter to the Hebrews finished up last night and many of us went to a nearby diner for coffee and dessert. It was proposed that we not discuss religion or politics while we ate. Fine, but what's left? News of other people's ailments, all strangers to me.

The women in our party gathered around the dessert case at the diner's entrance. I didn't see anything appealing - and I like diners, really! I decided to wait and see what the menu offered. After we were seated, I got uncomfortable with how loud my group was. It was after 9 o'clock, so there were not too many other patrons. A young child was out with her mother as well as some teens on their own. But my group strived to be the life of the party. What were they like in their younger years?!

The Bible study leader had already said that he would require a few weeks off to recover before deciding on the next study program. Everyone understood. He asked a couple who had hosted the group in their home in the past whether they would be open to welcoming everyone again for the next program. Gesturing towards me, they said they would now that they've seen and met everyone who would be involved. I'm the new one, you see. The others have met consistently over the years.

Because the clock was approaching ten and I was finished eating, I got up to leave. Everyone wanted to make sure I would be interested in attending their next study. I said that I would decide after reading about the announcement in the bulletin and they quickly said, "Oh, no, it won't be printed in the bulletin. We have your number; we'll call you."

So, that's how it is. A largely closed group that opens up occasionally to new members. Provided the new members "check out," they're in. Gosh, I'm glad I kept my mouth closed most times and rarely said what I was thinking. A part of me understands the caution: theirs is an urban parish with dubious elements. The elderly are obligated to protect themselves both physically and emotionally. It's only prudent. But what would the pastor think? And how would I feel if I hadn't made the cut?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

I never really think anything of providing full details on registration forms when asked, even though in informal cases the information mayn't be anyone's business. Yesterday I was going back and forth on the phone with the pool guy, playing "telephone tag," as we used to call it. After leaving him yet another message, I'd set the phone down, took care of some chore and started upstairs but returned for the handset knowing it belonged upstairs.

The phone rang in my hand as I started up the stairs. Jeff was in the basement gluing a wooden cabinet back together for me and the kids were occupied, so I had a private moment to take the call. I did not recognize the number but it was a residence. And, actually, I knew who it was although not precisely. That is, I knew it would be my new facilitator for this year's Community Bible Study (CBS). "It's about time they called," I thought.

She talked really fast and I didn't get her name exactly. I detected a hint of Spanish accent so I thought I had an idea from previous years who she might be. She was so certain I'd be there on the 6th that I could barely get a word in to suggest the contrary. I told Rachel that my daughter's kindergarden orientation is supposed to be the same day and, even though I don't know the time yet, it will probably be in the morning.

After taking down her phone numbers, I hung up and performed a reverse lookup on them. Getting her actual name from the directory, and armed also with her town, I searched on Facebook. She accepted my friend request. I found it extremely interesting that she also has three sons and a daughter, roughly the same age as mine. I wonder whether she's ever been Catholic. Her married name is Irish.

You see, if I was a suspicious person, I'd think the staff paired me with her because of what we have in common, making a better chance we'll hit it off. But then, I thought their preference was to pair women with different life experiences together. The telling things will be how much interest she takes in me. None of my other facilitators have taken any, so I would expect her to be the same. Also, whether she's been a Catholic and whether she makes any offhand remarks about it.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Right after I'd placed my ribbons in place, a friend brushed by, tapping my knee. The room was not quiet, so I teased her as she moved past, "Come, sit next to me and help me keep my place." She got herself a book from the man who brings extra, explained to her friends that she'd be sitting elsewhere and came back. She ran me through my ribbons and expressed surprise that they were all in the proper place. "Someone must have set this up for you already!" I couldn't bring myself to admit to doing it.

The priest, late vocation, recently ordained, entered announcing the feast along with some page references, etc., by way of casual confirmation. Most nodded their heads in agreement, but some protested, asking Father to call out the page numbers closer to when they're needed in the proceedings. He agreed to and took his place at the front of the room facing us. I'd gotten the impression from the quiet order yesterday that everyone else was old hand at navigating the book but the gentle outcry this morning made me think again. Were they just intimidated? Although someone did verbalize being "new to all this" to Father. I could totally relate. I sat more or less down the center, in the row against the back wall. My friend took "side 1" so I naturally took side 2. Besides, I can't lead off not being sure I'm in the right place. Just guessing that whichever side Father's on is "side 1."

I've already said I don't like how Ps. 95 is prayed, one person reading it and we say only its antiphon. If the words aren't passing my lips, am I praying? However, it bothered me less today and maybe I'll get to a place where I'm praying along mentally, like with the mass. Having nothing to compare against except some retreat experiences many years ago, I suspect they're "doing it wrong."

Instead of Wednesday Week IV, this feast calls for Sunday Week I in the psalter. How many feasts are like that, calling for another day / week? I don't know but all the online Divine Office sites I checked had it wrong. It's interesting to me that the Hymn of the Three Young Men1 of Daniel 3 is on Sunday Week I.

I knew having a more complete Proper than ever so far would be a challenge. I didn't know when to look in the Common and when to go to the Proper or the Week. But I'll get the hang of that. And the less I need to rely on following the Ordinary, the better. I kept going to the ribbon in Night Prayer - I need to work around that ribbon for the time being. Like ignore it.

I couldn't stay for mass so I said goodbye to my friend and promised to meet her again. There's a Bible study that we used to attend together but she's dropped out from lack of interest. She reaffirmed to me her lack of interest for it for the upcoming academic year. I can't say that I understand but it's totally up to her.

1 "either an abbreviated or full version of the Song is featured as the Old Testament Canticle in the Lauds liturgy for Sundays and Feasts in the Divine Office of the Roman Catholic Church." (Wiki)

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Friday, August 17, 2012

Two evangelical missionaries joined the Bible study at my parish this morning. Both are young, college-aged who describe their recent religious conversions as highly experiential and sensory. One, a double major in math and music, used to cantor and serve at mass. During conversational prayer, he expressed to God his wish that Catholicism use the Bible more.  He asked God to give Catholics everywhere a commitment to the Bible. He crossed himself like the rest at the conclusion but says he hasn't attended mass in months. I did not cross myself and hid my holy cards inside the front cover of my open Bible.

When invited, I led with question 4, recounting, off the top of my head, the story from Acts 10 about Peter's vision and Cornelius. I wanted to mention as much Scripture as possible and keep the focus there, on the text. The other missionary referred us all to Rev. 3:20 which I know by heart; such a non sequitur confirmed their game at the start. Sensing our guests' fundamentalism, the deacon fumbled with his by now cliche assertion that "Catholics don't take the Bible literally." The devout man next to him mentioned the vision of hell at Fatima. I watched math-music major scrawl a note and motion to speak. I invited him to do so.

He quoted 2 Peter 2:1 and Jude 22 which I jotted down and looked up as he continued to speak about false teachers and prophets. Again, these texts are apparent non sequiturs. I've yet to figure out the reason he referenced these two verses. Sometimes non-Catholics quote biblical saints popular with Catholics, like Peter and Jude, hoping these writers exercise a greater influence. (It's good the BVM doesn't have a NT book attributed to her!) But, of course, Catholics respond best to the words of Jesus from the Gospels, and even Rev. 3:20 cited above.

Former altar boy said that the elders at his church help him understand any difficult passages of Scripture and answer his questions. He expressed having great confidence in them. He said that all the answers are in Scripture and we don't need any other source. My friend, Terry, tried to broaden his view by saying that life experience brings so much to our reading of the Bible. I mentioned the four sources for Wesleyan theology that I'd learned of recently in those Sunday evening discussions at the Methodist church: (1) Scripture, (2) tradition, (3) reason and (4) experience. It sounds very Catholic but I don't think Catholics rely on experience as much as the Methodists. Anyway, I wanted our evangelical missionaries to see that Scripture isn't meant to stand alone.

If they return next week, I'd ask them to share their testimony. However, I'm fairly certain these young men will not come back. Such evangelistic efforts are often impatient. They may feel that they tried to reach us Catholics, but we fought them. Rather than toss their pearls before swine any further, they'll regroup and seek out greener pastures. Being the largest church in a town as small as this, we're a target. There's no question. I'm surprised this hasn't happened sooner. Infiltrating a Catholic Bible study is a no-brainer. How quickly they've learned the lingo and acquired all the earmarks of born-again! Jeff says the uniform vocabulary is a sign of brainwashing.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Monday, August 06, 2012

On a large, wooden table just inside the front door of St. Mark sat some Christian brochures and a Bible. Seeing the Bible I thought immediately that one would never find a Bible laying about a Catholic church. Protestant churches are literally littered with Bibles; one finds them in every nook and cranny. One suspects they may even lose track of their Bibles! And Catholics don't have them, not in the pews, not in the vestibule and not in the hall. A Bible might be found only in the library, next to the catechisms.

The friend who invited me to these summer Sunday evening discussions of Methodism and Christianity was finally free to join me last night. I'd been attending without her, five weeks now. The discussion topics draw from questions submitted the first evening. Not surprisingly, Catholicism comes up regularly, presented so often as the contrast to Methodist doctrine. Given that pedagogical paradigm, is it any wonder Methodists feel at odds with Catholicism on every front?

One question was whether baptism is necessary for salvation. I watched a woman fold her arms and cross her legs when the question was announced. Maybe she had submitted the question and was bracing for the answer. But she already knew the answer. She was only seeking affirmation. She wasn't open-minded or teachable. The pastor confessed to having baptized four dead children in his days as a minister to satisfy grieving parents even though he believed it was unnecessary. That admission made me sick. He said a man asked him to baptize his dead brother before the latter's funeral but he declined. I wonder whether the fact that he knew neither man personally had something to do with his refusal. And Christian burial for the unbaptized?! The woman with the strong body language nodded knowingly to the woman on her right at some of the pastor's words. I can only guess she lost a child.

Next week, the last week, they'll get to my question on the state of ecumenism. Pastor began to address it a bit by saying that we deal in blanket statements and generalizations. And that we don't know each other or have conversations. He said that if he knew the local Catholic priest and was friendly with him, he would probably discover how much they have in common. I'm not sure what's stopping him from looked up Fr. Ian. But maybe it's just as well.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Thursday, July 05, 2012

I'm attending two Little Rock Bible studies at nearby churches this summer. How unusual, right? One starts this week and the other started two weeks ago. We met last night for our first session after the introductory session to go over our first set of chapters and homework questions. The chapters were Hebrews 1 & 2. Two weeks is enough time to complete all the commentary reading and questions for a Little Rock study. One week is not enough time.

I'm not sure how we got on the subject of angels but the moderator asked where our Christian ideas about angels come from as the Bible seems to say very little about them. I walked into his trap by mentioning the Book of Enoch as a source for a lot of what Christians believe about angels. In the back of my mind was the rumor Kevin Smith relied on the text for his Dogma drama. Smith's attraction may be Enoch reads like an ancient superhero comic book.

Despite repeated mention that Enoch is apocryphal, several study members reported with alarm not finding the book listed in their Catholic Bible's table of contents. "Thank heaven" was all I could say to such a revelation.

Later, the moderator asked me to prepare a short presentation on 1 Enoch for next time. He said mention of the book had created no small amount of interest and excitement among the study members. I declined, saying I have no desire to talk about angels, although technically I probably believe in the existence of angels.

It seemed the most ironic thing to me. Here's the author of the Letter to the Hebrews insisting that Jesus is superior to angels and the commentary suggests that his audience may have been involved in the worship of angels and 20 centuries later little has changed: God's people are still fascinated with angels.

Since, wanting to keep my research skills as sharp as possible, I retrieved a copy of Charles' English translation from the public library and made copies of relevant sections from Fr. Brown's article on Apocrypha in the (now old) New Jerome Biblical Commentary. I will pass those around next time and talk a little about the contents of 1 Enoch. After all, as Fr. Brown says in his article, "1 Enoch is probably the most important of the pseudepigrapha for understanding ideas in the NT." I was just reminded that my library lacks either volume of Charlesworth's work. I do remember when these two volumes were all the rage, but I didn't buy them then and still don't have them.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Saturday, June 16, 2012

An acquaintance I've known for many years - inexplicably, our relationship hasn't moved beyond that of mere acquaintanceship - messaged me on Facebook recently to say she's leaving her church of 14 years. She thought I should know.

She said it was a difficult decision. I didn't pry for her reason. I was not surprised by her decision, however. Every family I knew in this church - and I knew close to two dozen families - has left. She told me many more than I know.

She consoled herself with the notion that friendship goes beyond the building and that she has supportive friends from various churches. I asked about finding another "church home" (I speak fluent, if antiquated, evangelese) and she named a couple of alternatives. I'm confident her husband will take the lead in this situation and get the family settled before the summer is out. I suspect if it were up to her alone, she would be content on her own for a while.

In talking with my immediate family, I've learned a peculiar fact: I'm the only one attending church. Not merely "regularly," but "at all." They have their reasons, mostly involving change: leadership, liturgy, mergers. When I told my husband that my mother hasn't been to church in years, he exclaimed, "What's the world coming to when little old ladies aren't even going to church?!" It will be difficult to find a sponsor for Kenny's confirmation in a couple of years.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Recently, I dreamt that I was caught up in an unusual weekday "children's liturgy" with clowns and puppets. The pews moved like bumper cars! I fought the impulse to leave in order to see what other shenanigans might occur.

Who could have guessed how premonitory the dream was.1

Yesterday evening, I experienced an upsetting service offered by a priest from the next town. His rushed homily was wholly Marian. He began with the story of the coronation of Pope Benedict XV2, whose Italian name he also gave. Owing to his relative young age, the cardinal's mother attended. He allowed her to kiss his fisherman's ring but she ordered him to kiss her wedding ring first for, without that one, he wouldn't have the other.

Amid all that pompous Catholicism was a story about mothers for Mother's Day. Ah. Still, the context put me on guard.

Next, in promoting daily rosary recitation, he quoted a popular bumper sticker.

But the worst offense, in my opinion, was his leading the congregation in a recitation of the "Hail Mary" after the intercessions. To my mind, this is a mixing of devotion with liturgy3 which I've encountered before. Anyway, I didn't participate in the prayer but remained silent.

Afterwards, I approached the priest as he greeted exiting congregants in the vestibule and, under the interested gaze of the deacon, asked the priest to bless my rosary. He did so elegantly. Later, my memory suggested this rosary had already been blessed, years ago on retreat at a Jesuit house which had the privilege of granting papal blessings. But maybe that blessing wore off when that pope died and needed renewing for I've received very little blessing from praying on this particular set of beads.

I contacted my friend who's in this priest's parish and she gets on quite well with him. He just came across as, well, being consistent with the latest push in the diocese to accentuate Catholic distinctives and identity. While I don't discount those unique aspects of Catholicism, I'm not interested in those things being the sole focus of the practice of the faith. Especially in the context of liturgy. Ironically, he referenced a pope who penned an encyclical lamenting the poor state of Christian preaching (Humani Generis Redemptionem) and encouraged the preaching of the Gospel.

1 But I don't believe in premonitions.
2 Yes, 15.
3 This question was answered at EWTN a number of years ago: "The general tendency of the Vatican II reforms was to separate devotional prayers from the liturgical action itself ... the people are free to offer their own personal devotional prayers during the Mass, though not out loud, of course. So, ... it is not contrary to the liturgy, per se, though the reform tends against it."

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Saturday, March 31, 2012

I slipped in behind a member of my core group, right as the opening was announced. She turned to me for the mini discussion we were to have but briefly smiled and turned back, saying we knew each other. Hardly. Still, she moved on to a more perfect stranger.

Already everyone else appeared paired up so I sat down, to sit it out. An older woman approached me to answer the opening question, "Name one thing you're grateful for today." I said how well my exercise program has gone this past year. She replied with a general "God's faithfulness" answer, revealing nothing about herself. Then, spotting my miraculous medal necklace, she held on, stretched our exchange.
"Is this your first year?"

"How did you learn of it?"

"Had you been a Bible reader before joining?"

"You joined despite knowing no one
Often looking, as she asked each question, at my necklace.

Registration forms for 2012-2013 were emailed last week and I turned mine in immediately. Even though specific denominations aren't to be mentioned in core group, the registration form inquires about home church and affiliation. As on the previous two forms I've submitted, I didn't shy away from full disclosure. I'm not sure who has access to the registration forms but I assume, wherever women are concerned, there are no secrets. That is, I figure my core group leader and her superiors know, and maybe her close friends. I try not to be "difficult," so as not to confirm their prejudices.

The acting Teaching Director sat in our core group. I was a bit appalled at the sucking up that ensued, many commenting on "how fun" the unique opening activity had been. This year, when the previous director resigned, the Associate Teaching Director was forced into her new position. Every associate needs to be prepared for that possibility, right? She tries to fulfill her responsibilities but it's clear she'd rather not.

Staff sits in our core group from time to time. Everyone's always concerned that they are "evaluating," whatever that could mean. At most, they may be seeing which personalities to place together in next year's core groups. They strive for dynamic groups. Of course, with absences, which seem to be excessive this year despite the mild winter, the group is rarely fully as intended anyway. I tried not to change my demeanor because I want to be properly placed. I have not connected with my core group members this year at all. They all seem too concerned about how they come across to the core group leader and each other. Not very genuine.

Here's to hoping next year is better! We'll be doing Daniel, Job and "Solomon's Wisdom." No, not that Wisdom! Believe me, there was a hush across the audience when the study was announced2 and I was fleetingly hopeful! Someone from the audience even shouted out possible clarifications, "Song of Solomon? Song of Songs?!" But when those corrections were dismissed, I deduced it would be an anthology of Solomon's writings, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs.

1 and, after two years, I still know no one.
2 Community Bible Study Fact Sheets for Courses, 2012 - 2013