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.