Tuesday, November 23, 2010

They started in on the Italians from the very start. The pastor was asked about his Thanksgiving plans and he said that he was cooking for extended family, including some relatives who are Italian. He'd heard that Italians eat pasta for every holiday, including Thanksgiving.
"I won't be serving any pasta, 'though, so I hope they like the food!"

I'm new to the group which started gathering last week or the week before. Everyone introduced themselves in an orderly sequence and stated how long they'd been church members. Most had joined within the last year which surprised me. Was this a sort of "new members" class? Do the participants expect to get connected to the church through this group? But everyone else is also new and unconnected.

By way of introduction, one lady said that she grew up in Jamesburg, you know with the Italian Catholics - as if it's common knowledge - and she used to scratch her head that they'd go to confession on Saturday night for the things they did on Friday night, get a clean slate and then go out the next weekend and repeat the pattern.
"But the penance was always the same, ten Hail Marys. It ought to have increased because they were committing those same sins over again."
I had a flurry of questions that I didn't ask: Does God forgive your sins? Do you recommit those sins? Aren't prayers better than not praying? Given human nature, isn't penance a sort of deterrent? Hers is a common criticism, stemming from the unspoken assumption that the sacrament itself is ineffectual.

At the previous meeting(s), they had covered the first two chapters of Second Corinthians. The approach was for someone to read a few verses and discuss. The pastor had a commentary from a familiar series, along with a leather-bound edition of the Access Bible and another book that I tried to make a mental note of but forgot it. He referred to the commentary a couple of times, mentioning the author's name, saying he was a contributor to the NRSV and the RSV. I just checked the list of contributors for the fourth edition and don't see his name (Ernest Best). That's not to say that he didn't contribute to earlier editions but it's just as likely that he contributed to the RSV only. I know that I have the Revelation commentary in that series and I may have one other, too, an epistle, perhaps.

I had my thin, blue-bonded imitation leather, silver-edged, personalized "classic" NIV because I forgot they are NRSV readers. The guy next to me had a TNIV and everyone else had the church's preferred version. When he read his verses, I followed along alright in mine. When I read my verses, the pastor re-read the verses from his translation as if he hadn't understood what I had read.

I said very little. For the most part I agreed with everyone else's take on the text. The first few verses of the chapter explain how the Corinthians serve as Paul's recommendation letter. The pastor related that when people come into his congregation they may bring letters of recommendation from their previous church. He said it is a common practice among Protestants, Methodists, Presbyterians, Reformed, Church of Christ.

He said it is possible to handle the transfer "within the session" without a public declaration of faith, but in the case of recent joiners, he had them get up in front of the congregation and make a profession of faith so everyone could see how friendly they are. I was familiar with all this already and considered bringing a letter with me from St. Dorothea when I moved out here. Msgr. Flynn had told me that if I ever needed a recommendation ... but the Catholic Church doesn't work that way 'round here.

I remember pointing out that in Moses' day the glory didn't spread to anyone else but in Paul's day they were all being transformed into his glory (v. 18). I thought to myself about the lady at St. Veronica's on Monday who wore a mantilla but who also could have veiled her face because it was radiant. I was certainly stunned and couldn't take my eyes off her. Haven't they also seen such things?

I thought that the pastor had figured out my background but when he said something about Catholics having "the best toys," liturgically speaking - robes, incense, etc., which he intended as a backhanded compliment, I realized he had no clue. At least, I hope he wouldn't say that if he knew. And I got sick to my stomach thinking about the ecumenical prayer service a couple of nights ago in his church. He stumbled to come up with the word "tabernacle" and I didn't dare help him but he knew communion is called "eucharist." Another participant said that Presbyterians have so little and nothing, and another came up with "tabernacle" to which the pastor conceded, "Oh, well, that's an Old Testament word."

As I departed, I informed him that I'm committed to attending another Bible study in Princeton on Tuesday mornings but I would come to his whenever they don't meet. He said, "Sure, come here and maybe, over time, you'll dump them." Well, I might.

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