Saturday, November 30, 2013

Friday, November 29, 2013

Just like in your parish, the Giving Tree went up a couple of weeks ago, hung with a good number of tags. I'm notoriously bad about taking tags with the best intentions only to be scrambling last minute to deliver by the due date. I've learned to "play it safe," not trusting myself with too much responsibility. I have alot going on.

Hoodies are big. There's a children's home in Trenton that wants to give all its residents hoodies. I took a tag for one, bought two, thinking I'd surely find another tag to go along when I returned. To my disappointment, when I came to drop off, the tree was bare of tags! Every last one had been taken by a parishioner. What was I to do with the spare hoodie I'd bought? Take it back for a refund? How could I?

By that weekend, the tree was again full of tags! I was so relieved, so overjoyed that there was another opportunity to give. I scoured the tree for a tag to match a new hoodie and found one. Then I took a tag for toddler's clothes.

Shortly thereafter, I received a heartfelt, semi-mass email from a fellow parishioner. His reaction to the bare, then full again Giving Tree was the exact opposite of mine: he issued a "sincere plea" at the "overwhelming need." He was near tears at the simple requests: socks, a heating pad, gift cards to various stores. He reassured emphatically that the needs were all properly vetted (he's a Republican) and largely destined for local people (he's a Republican). He fought the impulse to run an ad in the local newspaper requesting outside help in meeting these needs! He suspected we'd taken on too much.

I replied to his email that our parish has historically responded very generously to people's needs and, while the demand may be greater this year, there's no reason to believe that we won't all step up.

But I couldn't get over our complete opposite reactions and am pleasantly smug that mine's the right one. Well I hope I am right about the outcome. Oh, that reminds me: I need to grab another tag.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

The closest test site was at the Wilberforce School in Princeton. As the name tells you, it's a religious school. Almost all the families I met over many years of Bible study at the PCA on Meadow Road have moved over to the church led by the founder of this school. If you can follow that. I remember their excitement at the school's founding1, at the same time learning of the "expense."

Most of which is irrelevant because my son has no interest in applying to Wilberforce. But the school to which he is applying does not host the entrance exam, if you can believe that. So rather than just drive down the road this morning, we trekked over and up Route 1, near the Forrestal Village2, across from offices of well-known pharmaceutical companies.

For the most part, after dropping him off, I sat out the 3+ hours in the parking lot of the Plainsboro Public Library, reading my Community Bible Study assignments. I like the library but, except for the chill, felt too comfortable in my car to leave it. When the testing was almost up, I returned to campus with enough time to look around. The architecture immediately grabbed my attention. I parked and walked around to the chapel. Doors were locked, not unexpectedly. But I took pictures with my phone. I wish I'd had the Canon M with me.

Chapel of the Queen of the Miraculous Medal

I ambled through the graveyard. The unadorned, uniform grave markers suggested immediately that members of a religious order were buried here. It wasn't unlike a military cemetery, only lacking flags in most places3. Such a testament to men's lives of service to Christ.

Upon closer inspection, I noted the religious order, Vincentians, and that markers dating from 1963 and earlier were inscribed in Latin. Plenty of Irish surnames, as well. I read up on the history when I came home.
Originally known as St. Joseph's College, the seminary provided training for the priesthood. Later, its functions were transferred to Niagara University and it became a preparatory high school for boys considering becoming priests. The school ceased operation in 1992 and became a retreat center operated by the Vincentian Fathers. The Seminary today consists of several buildings, the finest of which is the Queen of Miraculous Medal Chapel. Construction was begun in 1932 and completed in 1934. It is an exquisite example of the Gothic architectural style. Its appointments are of the finest artistry and quality and contain a vast amount of metal work that many consider among the most outstanding in the country.
cf. "A Brief History of Princeton Landing and Surrounding Areas"
Founded in 1914, St. Joseph's is the former minor seminary of the Eastern Province of the Congregation of the Mission. In 1989, its 75th anniversary year, St. Joseph's reopened its Gothic chapel, restored after 18 months of work. The seminary school was closed in 1992 after serving 78 years as a boarding high school for young men contemplating the priesthood. It was later leased to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Metuchen for youth programs.
cf. "Cost-cutting puts St. Joe's in limbo"

In my research, I came across a visual directory of tombstones. And the lady who contributed pictures of the St. Joseph Seminary cemetery is the wife of the former asst. director of Evangelization in my diocese. I found my father's headstone as well, even though I'd already photographed it myself several months earlier.

1 "Three Mercer schools join forces to form Princeton Center for the Arts & Education in Plainsboro", Trenton Times, 2/23/11
2 Forrestal Village (Wiki)
3 Some had military service.

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

My posts this week:

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Friday, November 08, 2013

I did not know Elvis recorded "It is Well with My Soul!" It served as a recessional at a funeral today.

A day after receiving word of the arrangements (and determining I couldn't possibly attend), a Facebook friend posted an NPR story advising to "always go to funerals." Feeling a bit fated, I entered the address of the church into my GPS and set out with my youngest for the 45 minute drive down the shore. As we neared the town and the street, I remembered that I had taken a photograph of this stately church a couple of years previous after Joseph at the Algonquin.

First Baptist Church, Manasquan - August 2011

An usher directed us to a seat about midway up and I chose the side aisle to it. I immediately recognized someone from Community Bible Study: she was standing just behind the reserved rows and was turned completely around, as if looking for someone. I nodded towards her when our eyes met but I can't be sure she recognized me. She was my CBS core group leader two years ago.

The organist was playing that old "I love you, Lord (and I lift my voice)" over and over again with slight variations. Ella said the organ sounded like circus music. I suppose she's want of exposure to better organ music than emanates from the carousel at the mall. For the opening hymn, "How Great Thou Art," I dropped my voice an octave and got my Baptist singin' on. The man behind me sang great.

The pastor flew through the opening hymn and Scripture readings so quickly, I thought we'd be out of there in 20 minutes. The service felt rushed and without realizing that the program continued on the back cover, I saw no reason. I noted that the pastor recited substantial chunks of Paul's letters from memory (1 Thess. 4:13-18, Romans 8) but needed to read from the Gospels. To his credit, he seemed to have the Lord's words memorized - “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me"- , but not Thomas'. "Amen" was interjected occasionally, with varied introductions, "And all God's people said ...," etc.

The ladies I knew from CBS each gave tributes. The phrase "our little club" sticks out in my mind. But it was an inclusive club, they said. Now there's "a gaping hole." Poems were read. Her son played a number on guitar. The pastor said, in a shameless plug, that the boy plays music most Sundays there. "So if you liked what you just heard ..." Com'on back and see us.

The emotion with which the tributes were delivered brought tears to mine own eyes. I spied boxes of tissues placed strategically on each window ledge but the one nearest me looked empty. In fact the box was so new, so full, that no tissue had yet been taken. I took one to get it started.

After the family had had their say, the pastor articulated a personal appeal directed towards any hapless fool in attendance who was unacquainted with the Lord or eternal salvation by faith. But his words were phrased as if coming, not from himself but from the deceased. "She would want you to know the joy of knowing ..." No doubt. It would take a very brave individual to sit an hour in a Baptist church without knowing Jesus. More likely, they simply think they know. For the benediction, he asked everyone to pray with him. It's less intercessory, that way. Immediately, every head bowed (except mine and probably my daughter's). It was quaint and probably a bit humble. Certainly not self-conscious.

During all the talking, I reflected on my motives for attending. There's the general principle that if I know about something, I make every effort. But I've missed two funerals in the past four months that fit that principle. Even though I expected to see ladies from CBS there, I don't think hobnobbing was my motivation. I sensed that some who cried were really crying for themselves. Well, of course they are. If they have faith, they aren't crying for the deceased. Maybe they were wondering whether so many will turn out for them. When the time comes, they won't care.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

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

My posts this week:

Comparative Bible Study, Deuteronomy / 2 Kings / 2 Chronicles

Mourning a Fellow Pilgrim

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I'm not participating in the group discussion at Community Bible Study presently because those conflict time-wise with the weekly retreats I'm making down the shore. However I am trying to keep up with the study guide materials. I'm about three lessons behind!

I can ordinarily plow through lessons in an hour or so but I'm really struggling to find any meaning in the study guide questions. Part of my struggle comes from adhering to a different chronology. The study guide author asserts that Deuteronomy was written by Moses. After all, that's what Deuteronomy claims. But the commentaries I've read, including one from the JPS Torah commentary series, say it was written either during the times of King Josiah or King Hezekiah.

So imagine the exercise from yesterday's lesson in which I'm asked to compare passages from Deuteronomy with 2 Kings 23 and 2 Chronicles 30. To my mind, these are from about the same time (but Chronicles is a bit later). So if the texts are similar, it's no wonder. Now, just because they're written about the same time doesn't necessarily mean that there will be commonalities 'cross the texts. The Gospels were written about the same time and look at them! All I'm saying is that time is not the factor in the equation that the study guide author thinks it is. There's no miracle of timelessness in the words. It just isn't there. He'll have to pick on something else to awe me.
I received word from someone I met on pilgrimage last year that one of our fellow travelers died recently. She had been ill on pilgrimage, her reason for going to Lourdes, I believe. She was a very nice person.

On the way to Lourdes, she sat directly behind me on the tour bus. She talked with great excitement about visiting Lourdes. She pointed out to me signs in the clouds, messages to her from God. She took great pleasure in those omens. I don't think I humored her - I'm not that way - but I listened. That's all I could do. I hope she died as peacefully as she had lived.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

I've always wanted to make a retreat down to Cape May. Or just visit Cape May. In season or out. But since that ain't gonna happen, I decided on the next best thing: a series at Stella Maris in Elberon. Actually, I've always wanted to make a retreat at Stella Maris. So, in a way, I'm killing two birds with one stone.

Except this series isn't exactly a retreat. Retreat weekends at Stella Maris start around $350, and go up from there. And there's a waiting list. No, this series costs significantly less and comes with a textbook ... and breakfast! Delicious breakfast. It's nine Thursday mornings for a couple of hours between today and right before Thanksgiving. Yeah, I know! That's quite a commitment. But at least I get to see the ocean each time I'm there.

I found out about this series in the newspaper.

That sums it up. A watered down Spiritual Exercises. The textbook is from Loyola Press but I haven't begun to read it yet. The first session, we got acquainted. The group is an existing one with some members coming on Thursday morning for the past five years. There is one other new person like myself but she is with friends. It doesn't matter: I really am there for me. And God. Me and God.

Our only prayer experience that first session was a meditation on Ps. 139:13,
You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb.
When I got by myself, after looking at the ocean for a long time and taking in the destruction along their shoreline that persists, I recalled vaguely hearing that exact verse earlier in the week. And I was with my son when I heard it. So it wasn't at daily mass. Then I remembered - and this may give you a sense of the week I had that I had so much trouble placing my recollection - my son read that verse in his religious education class on Tuesday evening. He's in sixth grade and they are studying the Bible and the first class consisted of students reading verses from the Bible. And Timmy read Ps. 139:13. It's so neat to hear your own child read about his mother's womb, you know? With all due respect to the religious present. And I got the sense that God needs my cooperation to do anything. Or at least my availability.

So that was my word for the day. Besides the refreshing sound of the ocean and the delightful drive through the mansions of Deal, NJ. Deal (and to some extent, Long Branch) is so different from, say, Point Pleasant and Belmar. In the latter towns, small homes are crammed seven deep between Ocean Ave. and the ocean. But in Deal, shore houses sit on large parcels of land. It's much more open and calming.

Today is the end of Sukkoth and I saw many people walking through the neighborhood, greeting each other. Such a happy time even if these are not the Orthodox of Lakewood.

In the end, I had to leave on time because my older boys had an early dismissal from school. But it seemed that many of the women were going to hang out for a while. Maybe next time.

I already know of two Thursdays I'll miss. There's the Teachers' Convention in early November - they aren't missing it again, I can tell you - and my daughter's class trip to Jenkinson's Aquarium. I'm not missing that. And I'm skipping Community Bible Study meetings until after Thanksgiving because it's the same time slot, Thursday mornings.

For the first time in its 158-year history, the NJEA Convention has been cancelled. NJEA President Barbara Keshishian announced the decision today, "in light of the natural disaster that has struck New Jersey and Atlantic City in particular. It was a difficult decision, but we believe it was the correct one, considering the statewide impact of this unprecedented storm."

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The parish I attend held a first ever (I'm quite sure, first ever) youth mass this evening. I slipped through the library into the back row, near the Infant of Prague statue. Hanging with the Infant of Prague. Not sure anyone changes his clothes anymore.

Attendance was lighter than a summer Saturday evening, but more than a weekday. With no one sitting near me, I sang as loud as I wanted. It's the youth choir's mass to sing at now. Their practices resumed only last week. They're out of practice.

For the most part, it was the same old, same old. It was billed as being, well not youth-led of course, but heavy with their participation. I expected youth lectors, but no. Maybe no one volunteered?

The homily was too long. It started with, I thought, a reference to Ur. The priest asked whether anyone knew where Ur was. I said to myself, in Mesopotamia, on the Euphrates. Abraham was called outta there. But then the priest went on to say that we've all "been there" and he spelled it out, "ER." An adult asked, "Emergency room?" (See, an interactive homily) True enough. But the comparative "-er" was meant. "Greater, faster, prettier." I mentally supplied "smarter," because that's my thing.

So, I tuned out the longwinded, dumbed down homily and opened to the Gospel text to see whether I could figure out Jesus' parable. I heard two different homilies on Luke 16:1-13 this weekend, and neither of them explained how to extrapolate anything meaningful about a relationship to God from the illustration of the rich man and the dishonest steward. Or what it means to befriend dishonest wealth. It's just a really strange, confusing passage. After, as expected, we recited the Apostles Creed.

It was curious to see who attended. I recognized a Boy Scout leader with his family. Some time ago, he had told me - poured his heart out to me, actually - that his wife had left the Catholic church for pentecostalism. By that, I think he meant just straight Protestantism - some people don't really know the difference - but he might really have meant charismatic. Anyway, his wife was there but initially her body language did not look content. Her arms were crossed. I expected her to run out at any point. Instead, she sent him out for a bottle of water which she drank. I imagined her complaining that in her church she gets to drink coffee during worship. Even the readings didn't lighten her up any. Not 'til the homily - which was a bit "preachy" (exhortatory) - he can get that way - did she take notice. By the time of the offertory hymn, she had her hand waving above her head. The song was about God's love and I guess it resonated with her.

Without the collective cues of a larger gathering, participants forgot when to stand / kneel, etc. Occasionally they neglected to say the responses, like "Amen." They behaved awkwardly. At the sign of peace, I made up my mind to walk across the aisle to shake the hands of a family I knew from Little League rather than merely wave at them from my place and smile. It was a good gesture to make, I think.

The thing about a Sunday evening service is that one can safely close ones eyes in pious concentration and not be mistaken for sleeping!

Monday, September 16, 2013

After the homily, anyone involved in ministry to children, as catechists, aides, children's liturgy, VBS volunteers, was invited forward to make a public commitment and for a special blessing. In our usual spot, the last seat in the choir loft, I would have needed some advance warning in order to get down and join them. And I would have needed to brush my daughter off my lap, which I wasn't in the mood to do.

The parents of children in the religious education program were then asked to stand, for a similar commitment and for a blessing. Again, I wasn't willing to make those necessary shifts and trusted the blessing would find me even if seated. I'd already signed off on a parent commitment letter when I registered the kids in May.

Then, a young catechist was singled out for recognition; she'd completed the Level 1 certification. I thought that most of this could have been handled outside mass, at Tuesday's kick-off meeting. For this, we skipped the Creed.

My reaction isn't without malice. I cannot recall any such publicity ten to twenty years ago when I was in their shoes. When I joined the parish and volunteered to teach, I inquired about catechist certification (and diocesan testing of students) and was told that the parish didn't participate. The testing was ultimately dropped, as far as I know. But clearly, catechist certification is still a goal.

Looking over the present requirements, I think it was easier when I did it twenty years ago. And I do remember a listing in the diocesan newspaper as well as a mass in Trenton. But generally it was a recognition-less job. And in those days, I was hungry for recognition. For my own sake, it might be well I didn't receive any.

Now, I feel that the increased visibility at the local level is an appeal to ... ego. And I'm not sure those are the ones well-suited.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

The Gospel reading Friday was from Matthew 25 about the ten virgins, half with extra oil and half without. No extra virgins, just virgins with extra oil. The brief homily talked about spiritual benefits being non-transferable. The peeve in view was inactive Catholics requesting sponsorship slips for baptism and confirmation. Invariably, the would-be sponsor protests the refusal, "But my parents are ardent Catholics who attend mass each week!" Not good enough, says my pastor.

Now, I've heard this myself from lapsed Catholics. Being able to point to someone, family or friend, who attends church covers them also. Well, in a way, no. But, in another way, perhaps somewhat?

I'm speaking of the treasury of merit1 and the communion of saints. We are aided by these things, provided we avail ourselves of them. There may be some question of whether those ecclesial outliers, hanging on the church's hem, draw from that treasury, like the rest of us.

1 CCC 1476-1477
I began an online Bible study yesterday. A friend on Facebook had been recruiting for it but I didn't join her group. Instead, I looked over the available groups and chose one that seemed to fit my situation. I emailed the leader Sunday night, she confirmed me and Monday morning, I began receiving emails from not only her but also others in her group. In the next eight weeks, we'll cover Luke 17-24, a chapter a week.

It's primarily an accountability group, although rather impersonal. The notion of "accountability" isn't a big part of my religious practice. It's not anything that I feel I need.

Already I'm annoyed with the program. The leader's emails employ bright font colors - red, green, orange, blue, purple, olive, black, bold. Another participant has already asked her to tone it down. Her 14-line email "signature" (.sig for your old UNIX types) advertises her business as a Disney-exclusive travel agent and encourages a Facebook / Twitter following. Once I've seen that once, do I really need to see it each time? It's like, ok, duly noted. Next!

The program comes with free, downloadable worksheets for "doing" the study. It's 60 pages of
  1. Write out the verse(s)
  2. Observations
  3. Application
  4. Prayer to God
I don't need to spend printer ink / paper on that! However, one participant prints and writes out longhand her quiet time activity, scans it at work and emails the .pdf of her girly handwriting on GMG letterhead to be deciphered by all.

It's time consuming to read everyone's reflection on the passage. Emails arrive at all hours. Usually they go off on personal tangents. Frankly, my take on the passage, yes it has to do with forgiveness, but it also has to do with correcting a brother or sister. If we're really concerned about "Christian witness," then we'd want everyone who bears the name to be faithful. The prevailing mentality regarding forgiveness is "it's good for me to forgive others." Sure. But this pop psych makes me sick:

This is how to be no different from the world.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Friday, August 30, 2013

My daughter's kindergarten class was very small this year, and one of the families was active in charity work for premature babies because they'd suffered a personal loss. Out of the happenstance of our acquaintance, then, we supported their cause. That's usually how it is, one has either a direct or indirect experience which spurs participation. Rarely out of the blue does anyone support something simply because "it makes sense." There are too many good causes to choose from and too few personal resources to allocate.

The event, then, that we attended was a "day at the races" in Oceanport. Being a Marx Brothers fan, it was impossible to ignore the name collision with one of their movies. In New Jersey, horses, especially horse racing, are big business. But as I've lived here, I've consciously kept myself from the latter, that sport of kings. Still, everyone knows where the horse track is; getting there is merely a matter of following the crowd.

It had been twenty years since my employer, that telephone giant, AT&T, sponsored a company picnic at Monmouth Park in Oceanport. At that time, I worked literally across the street at a site which is now an extension of Monmouth University. During lunch, some of my coworkers used to go over to the track and bet their paychecks, but that company picnic was my one and only visit. Until, that is, this charity event.

With such limited experience, we wandered about a bit, looking for the right gathering. Once we were seated in the picnic area, I recollected the view of the grandstand from that earlier occasion twenty years ago. Of course, we had a booklet with the day's races printed. I was stunned to overhear adults asking their children's advice on where to place their money. "Pick me a winner, Sonny!" Someone agreed that, at $3 admission and children in free, the track was cheap, Sunday afternoon entertainment. As if they literally had nothing better to do.

We'd missed the first race because, after all, it was Sunday and my daughter performed at church for the VBS show. But we weren't the last to arrive. I was soon joined at the table by two women and a senior, married couple, all of whom were serious betters. Or they thought they were. The old guy was trying to "beat the system:"
Instead of splitting $6 between 'win' and 'show,' let's use the same $6 and make two-dollar bets on 'win,' 'place' and 'show.'
Yeah. I don't know anything about racing, but I'm guessing "beating the system" isn't as easy as all that. At one point, I moved to get out of the sun and inadvertently positioned myself between his wife and the odds board. She kept craning to see the updated numbers before deciding her bets. The other two women had their noses buried in their booklets. Needless to say, there wasn't much pleasant conversation. Once it was noticed that I wasn't "playing along," placing bets or taking any more interest in the horses than watching them run, one of the women asked me with a condescending tone, "So, Teresa, first time at the track?" I said, "No. Second time."

I'm not sure why anyone would want to cultivate a habit of betting. Why is that anything that anyone would want to "get good at?" I have plenty of bad habits already.

But I will say, again, watching the horses run was thrilling even without money on them. In fact, I think I enjoyed it more, not caring which horse won. There was an interesting episode in the 5th race, the number 9 horse appeared very spirited. It attempted to buck its jockey off twice. Both times, the tiny guy leapt into the air as the horse reared up. It was amazing to see him avoid injury. And he got right back on. There was some hope his horse would win.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

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

My post this week: Continuing excerpts from the pilgrimage journal - Morning in Santiago

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We were just beginning the portion of the trip - Santiago, Avila and Madrid - that had the most significance for me.

I mailed five postcards in Braga, including one to home. Father was frustrated with us for writing out and mailing postcards. I had written mine out days earlier and was waiting only for a place with a mailbox and stamps for sale. I suggested to Father that postcards are a form of evangelism. He graciously conceded the point.

After morning mass, First Saturday, which was moderately attended by the pilgrims in my group, we had breakfast. At 8:15 in the morning, it was still dark outside. The hotel's restaurant was on the tenth floor. By 8:45am, it was daylight despite having rained all day and still really teeming during breakfast.

We took the bus from our hotel to Santiago cathedral.

The old city used to be walled in an oval but today most of the walls have become the side of a building. One city gate remains. Hospitals exist outside the city wall to care for pilgrims who may be ill as a kind of quarantine. We heard a bagpiper playing in an alcove out of the rain. I gave him some change, maybe a Euro altogether. Not much. Our guide said the bagpiper has only one pipe. She said these are Celtic influences in Gallicia, in fact, the Celts came from this part of Spain. Maybe that's why I feel such an affinity for this place.

Our guide named all the statues and figures on the facade of the church, including Mary Salome, Mary's sister, making James and John Jesus' cousins.

Also, statues personifying the four cardinal virtues, Temperance, Justice, Prudence and Fortitude.

Temperance was figured mixing hot and cold water. Justice had a sword or rod or measuring stick. Prudence had a mirror. Fortitude had a stick or rod.

We walked around the interior of the cathedral. We came in the transept and saw the botafumeiro right away.

We saw St. James' sepulcher downstairs and hugged his statue upstairs.

A common image at the top of capitals is two birds drinking from the cup of life, like Eden.

I was anxious to get a seat for the noon mass because they were going to swing the thurible. I turned in my earphones to the guide and excused myself from the tour early. I said my rosary which was my penance from confession the night before and got a good seat on the aisle.

Some young people sat next to me and the transept filled up quickly. The mass was served by several priests and a wonderful nun cantor who had a great voice.

She led us in a practice of the psalm refrain and another song, maybe the entrance hymn. I did the best I could but the sound system did not help me understand her Spanish. The celebrant was old but forceful and convicted. He spoke with intensity, but I understood absolutely nothing. He mentioned "Los Estados Unidos" several times in his opening remarks and I believe he was praying for pilgrims from that country1.

He mentioned other countries as well. It was the noon mass for pilgrims. The mass followed the normal Saturday format: I recognized the readings from our English mass that morning in the hotel. During the sermon, I understood the priest to invoke the closing of the "Hail Mary" several times, like a refrain - ahora y'a l'hora du muerta [sic] - "now and at the hour of death." Our recitation of the Creed took the form of renewing our baptismal promises. After each article of faith, we said, "Si, credo." Mostly I understood what I was consenting to!

Communion went quickly but not orderly and the priest said nothing to me as he gave the host, maybe because he couldn't ascertain my language. It didn't seem like a personal interaction at all. I don't even think I said Amen, consequently. After, the men swung the botafumeiro which is an oversized thurible that swings from side to side along the transept, nearly touching the ceiling. You can see the red, burning coals inside, and the swinging seems to only fan the flames!

Our guide said that the west door was never open so most everyone entered by the transept doors - the "hands of Christ" - if one considers the church as a cross. She said that as a girl she walked through as a shortcut rather than walking around. She said that animals and people on horseback also cut through the church so in order to "clear the air" the thurible was swung. I'm not sure I buy her explanation but it was a solemn, quiet demonstration and not the circus atmosphere I observed a few months ago on YouTube when a priest at St. Mark's down the Shore described it. A very respectful demonstration - nothing liturgically offensive.

I was surprised to learn later that so few stayed for liturgy or to watch the botafumeiro. A few only popped in the church to catch a bit of the botafumeiro swinging! I don't get people at all. What else could they be doing?

1 As I write this from my travel diary almost a year after the fact, I now suspect the priest may have mentioned the United States because of Superstorm Sandy's aftermath. At the time, I had little idea of the devastation.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

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

My post this week: Delaware Valley Summer Institute lecture series

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My friend made me aware of this lecture series and I attended a couple of them last week. It was thoughtful of the organizers to leave off Thursday night so I could get to mass for the Assumption.

I enjoy visiting this charming part of NJ along the Delaware River. So much Revolutionary War history! Lambertville is especially quaint, like in some time warp. The architecture of these old churches says so much about the congregants' theology back then. It is supremely ironic that liberal denominations, like the PCUSA, have inherited these traditional structures while conservative offshoots branch into temporary space, in rented theaters, high school cafeterias and store fronts. At Sunday night's meeting, someone observed that the Baptist church was converting to a music hall. The first of the mainline denominations to fall prey to those hipster churches.

Granted, I went to the lectures with some interest in the announced topics but, as I generally find, Protestants spend much of their time talking about Catholicism. It's their "foil" and the darnedest thing. This speaker, with his experience in ecumenism, used medieval Catholicism as a contrast in how not to do "church." So he told of a Catholic German king whose palace had two chapels. The king met with his Protestant nobles in one and his family and clergy in the other. Somehow this was unsatisfactory to our speaker - "A poor understanding of church!" Seemed perfectly fine to me!

The speaker expressed having great hope in Pope Francis's papacy, and his favorable remarks garnered some positive acknowledgement from the audience. In other words, he didn't receive any "boos." The speaker said that, in his opinion, St. Francis of Assisi was the most Protestant of the Catholic saints, in terms of seeking church reform, so anyone taking Assisi's name is announcing personal interest in contemporary reform. The good professor ought to read up on Catholic saints - there were plenty of reformers among them. And St. Francis was extremely Catholic.

I was sorry not to attend each lecture. Four consecutive nights is a commitment, especially an hour drive each way. During the Q&A, a visitor asked why the church displayed the American flag in one corner of the sanctuary and the Christian flag in the other corner. No one seemed to have an answer, not even the pastor of the church. "Just always been there." "Well, since when?" Some were troubled by it. Our speaker said that his German friends are offended by civil flags in churches because for years German churches were commanded to display the swastika. Excuse me, but the American flag has nothing to do with swastika and our government doesn't demand it.

First Presbyterian Church of Lambertville

Stockton Presbyterian Church

RAnn's weekly question: my religious autobiography

Saturday, August 10, 2013

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

My post this week: Visiting a Trappist monastery

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I took the opportunity last Saturday and Sunday during a family-business trip to Western New York State to visit a Trappist monastery for some "hours" of prayer.

It had been 25 years since I visited this monastery, but the thing about monasteries is that they don't change much. For the record, my six year old daughter who accompanied me agreed that not much had changed in that span of time!

As if she would know!

Large, wooden doors can't keep out the world!

Saturday morning we arrived about an hour too early for Sext, or sixth hour prayer, which the monks observe at 11:15. We killed time visiting the gift shop and walking the grounds. The woman in the gift shop gave my daughter a couple of items for free.

She said it was in honor of "Our Lady." I thought she was probably a little too generous. Maybe they don't receive many youngsters. Of the archangel images, my daughter picked St. Gabriel and the only way I could tell them apart was from the first letter down the side, "Γ," gamma. I bought some cookies to bring to the family party later that afternoon.

Walking the grounds, we found many sections marked off as private, as you might expect. But we were free to walk along a path that connected the abbey with the retreat houses about a half-mile off. We went against the current initially, as several retreatants passed us on their way to prayer. Then as the hour of prayer approached, we turned back.

Of course, in the abbey's receiving room, one can wait by the hour without any sense of wearing out one's welcome. There's no need to make oneself "scarce."

Rustic hall to sanctuary

Windows from glass bottles, maybe of Genny Light1

Years ago, I'd bought the psalter that the abbey uses. I'm not sure how I came across it, maybe from the Paulist Press catalog. I liked the print type used2. And sure enough, when we entered the sanctuary for Sext, each place had a copy of that psalter available for use.

These days there are about 30 monks at the abbey. Mostly, they bake bread. Most are old, but some are young. They were founded from the Merton-famous Gethsemani in KY. I don't recall whether Merton ever visited, but Henri Nouwen wrote his Genesee diaries there.

Sext is brief and there were plenty of aids so I didn't have to work to hard to participate. A monk sang two lines and then the rest sang two lines, alternating that way. The melody was simple, the voices soft and gentle. This was not a performance in any way. One sensed that, of course, the monks would pray thus with or without non-Trappists present. They certainly didn't resent the public's presence. There wasn't even a sense of encouraging our participation beyond making sure everything was done properly. Crib notes at all the places with tips for participating.

The following morning, Sunday, we arrived in time for Terce, or third hour prayer, which segued gracefully into mass with the Gloria, Creed, Sanctus and Agnus Dei in Latin. Although many knew those Latin prayers, only the monks sang them. About a dozen monks presided as ordained priests. The readings were the same as elsewhere (Luke 12:13-21), but the sermon was made more powerful when preached by someone who lived so authentically meekness and simplicity. Here, my cynicism was met with integrity, at least 30 times over. If that weren't enough, they sang the Lord's Prayer in a way that didn't make me sick to my stomach. I can no longer say that I've never heard it sung well.

Geneseo and environs

The monks' website

1 My brother works for Genesee Beer
2 There's a sample on the cover, or Amazon allows a peek inside.

Saturday, July 13, 2013