Archive by Author

A Ditch to Die In: Of Boniface, Battles, and Being Dad

19 Sep

“An ‘adult’ faith is not a faith that
follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty….”
~ Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

Read more…

____________________________

Advertisements

Blessed Babbler: Notker of Saint Gall (c. 840-912)

17 Sep

“For although I be rude in speech, yet not in knowledge.”
~
St. Paul

“N-O-T-K-E-R,” my wife spelled out to me. “Ever heard of him?”

Nope – football maybe? Some obscure character from Shakespeare?

“Saint,” she said.

Nancy was scrambling to contact all the confirmands for our parish’s upcoming Confirmation Mass: Nailing down details about attire and arrival, times and seating arrangements, and, of course, Confirmation names.

“Apparently he’s the patron of stutterers.”

I’m guessing if you’re of a certain age (my age, that is), you can’t hear the word “stutterer” without immediately thinking of Bachman-Turner Overdrive. “B-b-b-baby, you just ain’t seen n-n-nothin’ yet,” they sang – arguably the most famous stammer in modern history. The funny thing is that the 1974 song was a really an elaborate prank. Randy Bachman wrote it for his brother, Gary, who had a speech impediment, and the recording itself was meant for Gary alone – it wasn’t supposed to wind up on an album or the airwaves.

Of course, it did – and it went soaring to the top of the charts. In fact, it turned out to be BTO’s only #1 hit. “When it was all over, to realize that I could have a million-seller and a number one record without sitting down with mental giants…you really can’t,” Randy Bachman commented later. “The magic is out of your hands.”

Magic indeed – a top hit featuring a sputtering lead singer was a charmed feat.

It turns out that Bl. Notker was able to accomplish tremendous feats himself despite his own speaking problems – which earned him the nickname “Balbulus.” Born to a prominent family, Notker was educated by the monks of Saint Gall Abbey in Switzerland. Eventually Notker took the habit himself and ended up serving his monastic brethren as librarian, guest master, chronicler, and, yes, teacher.

But there’s more. It appears that the humble Notker had a knack for Latin meter and verse, and he not only edited a collection of liturgical Sequences in use at that time, he also added a number of his own – like maybe 40 of them or more. He wrote hymns, he wrote biographies, and he is believed to be the author of the Gesta Caroli Mani (“The Deeds of Charles the Great”), a landmark anecdotal and didactic profile of the Emperor Charlemagne in verse. The monastic biographer at St. Gall’s, Ekkehard IV, characterized Notker as “delicate of body but not of mind, stuttering of tongue but not of intellect, pushing boldly forward in things Divine, a vessel of the Holy Spirit without equal in his time.”

The monk’s stutter, in other words, didn’t prevent him from conveying the Word. That’s good news for those among us who do struggle with verbal communication – no laughing matter despite BTO’s musical jest.

It’s also good news for those who serve as lay readers at Mass. I don’t know about you, but it seems like I’m prone to falter whenever I stand at the lectern – despite being otherwise largely falter-free.

I’m reminded of the movie “The King’s Speech” (2010) about the rise of the stuttering Prince Albert to the British throne and his rhetorical challenges as King George VI. There’s a scene where the King (Colin Firth) confronts his impudent speech coach, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), in Westminster Abbey. “I have a right to heard!” the monarch shouts in fury. “I have a voice!”

“Yes, you do,” replies Logue – and so do we.

Those of us who approach the ambo to proclaim the Word of God should take heart; King George’s declaration should be our own. When we receive a mandate to serve as lectors at Mass, we’re given a voice – and there’s even, to paraphrase Randy Bachman, a bit a grace that’s out of our hands.

A quick Google check turns up St. Bede the Venerable as the most popular patron of lectors, with St. Pollio, a Roman martyr, a close second. For me, I’ll be invoking the name of Bl. Notker the next time I take up the lectionary. I’ll flounder; I’ll misspeak; I’ll hem and haw. But I’ll trust that, despite my faults, grace will attend my voice, and God’s Word will be heard.
_________________________

Felicia’s Glimpse of Heaven

12 Sep

“That I may gaze on the loveliness of the LORD…” (Ps 27).

I sat in my usual place on Mary’s side of the church for the 5:30 evening Mass, which is why I didn’t spot Felicia until it was time for Holy Communion. She’d come to St. Matt’s with Anthony, and Anthony always sits on the Joseph side off the main aisle.

It must’ve been a Thursday, my day to serve as an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist. Following the fraction rite and the centurion’s prayer, the celebrant entrusted me with the Precious Blood, and I made my way over to the Joseph side of the church to await communicants.

“The Blood of Christ,” I said as I presented the chalice.

“Amen,” the first recipient replied with a bow before receiving. Once the vessel was returned, I swiped it with a purificator, rotated it slightly, and held it ready for the next in line.

Only the next in line eventually was Felicia – and I admit I was taken aback. “The Blood of Christ,” I said holding the chalice aloft, and I know my eyebrows went up as well. St. Matt’s wasn’t Felicia’s parish, and I’d never seen her there for daily Mass before. Plus I knew she’d been sick, very sick – too sick, I would’ve surmised, to be out to a parish on the other side of town.

Felicia caught my expression and flashed her wide smile. “A-men,” she said with emphasis. After receiving her sacred sip and handing back the cup, she leaned in: “Come talk with me afterwards.”

Following the closing prayers, I tracked her down in Anthony’s pew. They were talking – rather Felicia was talking and Anthony was listening. She looked fatigued, but she spoke with her characteristic passion nonetheless, expostulating, pointing. When I walked up, she grabbed my hand, clutched it, clasped it tight – and kept on talking. “It’s in the way,” she was saying to both of us as she motioned toward the altar with her free hand. “Someone needs to tell the priest to get that cross out of the way – get a smaller cross.” She was referring to our altar crucifix, which, admittedly, is on the tall side. “It’s in the way,” Felicia repeated. “It blocks the gestures, the epiclesis. Nobody can see the epiclesis.” Still hanging on to my hand – as if to ensure I was listening, that I was catching the urgency of her entreaty – she emphasized the importance of an unimpeded line of sight during the consecration.

It was awkward – I felt like I was intruding on a moment of intimacy, for it was clear that there was more behind Felicia’s animated pleas than a liturgical preference. She kept staring at the altar, staring at the place where her visual participation in the epiclesis and Eucharistic offering had been disrupted – gestures that, in the words of Sofia Cavalletti and Patricia Coulter, “express the covenant in a visible way: God’s self-giving to us, our gift of self to God.” Through her eyes, Felicia seemed to be reaching out to the Good Shepherd whose self-giving appearance on the altar had been momentarily obscured.

In time, the three of us made our way to the exit where we briefly embraced and said our goodbyes. I took off, but Felicia remained behind on the steps to continue tutoring Anthony – to extend and expand the delight of that shared liturgical encounter.

The whole episode was somewhat dreamlike, even strange, yet I was so glad for it. It turned out to be a blessed and serendipitous opportunity to take leave of an old friend. A week and a half later, I heard that she’d passed away – at home, surrounded by her family, peaceably.

Fr. Tom Shoemaker, Felicia’s former pastor, came over from Fort Wayne to celebrate her funeral Mass. “That was her place, right down there,” he said during the homily, pointing out the first pew where Felicia’s family was seated. “She’d sit there in the front, leaning over, on the edge of her pew – as if to be as close as possible to the Word, listening with full attention, ready to respond.”

Listening – and watching, I’ll bet. Just like she did at St. Matt’s, yearning and stretching, thrusting aside distractions, zeroing in on the Good Shepherd, and inviting others to join her – through her words and teaching, yes, but particularly through her forward-looking example.

“Here below we know God…by the idea we have formed of him,” writes Frank Sheed, but “in heaven, our seeing will be direct…. That is why the very essence of the life of heaven is called the Beatific Vision – which means the seeing that causes bliss.”

Felicia’s life revolved around promoting and instilling blissful sight – in her family and friends, in her school, in the children given into her care, including my children. What a blessing to be remembered that way. God, I hope I live my life such that I can be similarly remembered. Toward that end, I’m banking on Felicia’s prayers, like an unseen clutch of the hand, like a nudge. Redirect my vision accordingly, Lord. Help me see what she saw.
______________________

A version of this reflection appeared on Catholic Exchange.

Love the Ones You’re With First

8 Sep

“It is not enough to say to my God I love you,
but my God, I love you here.”
~ Mother Teresa

Read more…

__________________________________

Of Cell Phones, Sanctity, and Cervical Spines

30 Aug

“A bow signifies reverence and honor” (GIRM §275).

Read more…

___________________________

An Open Letter to Chelsea House Orchestra

26 Aug

“Where there is sadness, joy.”
~ Prayer of St. Francis

Read more…

_____________________________

Liturgical Fiscal Year: A Thought Experiment

20 Aug

Blessed are you poor (Lk 6.20).

Earlier this month, I heard Rush Limbaugh make reference to some kind of economic forecasting related to Apple’s market value. It was a bit confusing, but I gather the corporation is doing quite well, and it was making predictions related to its fourth-quarter earnings – although we’d call them “third-quarter” earnings. “Apple is like the United States,” Rush explained. “Their fiscal year begins October 1, so their fourth quarter is the September quarter.”

“So New Year’s Day for the U.S. Government and some big corporations is October 1 – the feast of the Little Flower,” I thought to myself. “What if everybody’s new year started with her feast?”

What indeed.

As it is, our secular new year begins with an even more significant and propitious feast on January 1: The Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God. It marks the last day of the Christmas Octave, and it focuses our attention on Mary’s unique role in our salvation, but also her role as our heavenly mother and advocate. Moreover, since 1968, our Popes have designated January 1 as the World Day of Peace. We’re asked to offer special prayers that day for an end to war and violence, and to reflect on how we can all help bring that about.

But let’s say, just as a thought experiment, that the Church decided to align its fiscal timetable with the timetables of the world’s mightiest powers, both political and corporate. That is, what if the Church’s financial calendar started in October instead of January? What lessons could we learn from such a shift, especially if the underlying liturgical calendar was left intact.

Considering the wealth of feasts in the first week of October, I’d say there’d be plenty to chew on – particularly with regards to how differently the Church views money matters relative to how the world views them.

Anyway, with regards to my little experiment, here’s what I came up with.

  • October 1 (Fiscal New Year): St. Thérèse of Lisieux. What better saint to ring in the new financial year than this youthful Carmelite and Doctor of the Church. Her whole life was dedicated to self-denial, hiddenness, and her Little Way – the total opposite of the world’s obsession with consumption, self-aggrandizement, and bigger-is-better. As E.F. Schumacher said, and St. Thérèse lived, “small is beautiful,” and we’d do well to imitate her example according to our abilities and state of life.
  • October 2: Guardian Angels. The second day of our Catholic fiscal new year coincides with our annual reminder that we each have a spiritual being assigned to us by God – and that on Jesus’ own authority (Mt 18.10). As with other angels, our guardian angels are God’s messengers, but they also can act on our behalf, protect us, and promote our welfare. In other words, their whole purpose is to serve us – to serve others, not themselves. Would that we held a similar perspective with regards to our wealth, and that we strove to increase our selflessness in our generosity and giving.
  • October 4: St. Francis of Assisi. Here’s the showstopper for my Catholic fiscal new year: The patron saint of voluntary poverty. His rejection of worldly wealth and prestige in exchange for temporal deprivation and derision was considered madness in his day, but he sparked a revolution of love. Not everyone is called to live his radical life of downward mobility – someone has to pay the bills, after all, and have enough left over to pass along to those who beg alms – but his appearance at the start of our imagined financial calendar would set a spiritually profitable tone for the whole year.

In the interest of brevity, I’ll have to skip over other relevant saints in that first week of October – like Bl. Francis Seelos, a Redemptorist missionary to the U.S., on October 5, or the founder of the Carthusians, St. Bruno, on October 6. Besides, we don’t want to stretch this idea too far.

However, there is one more coincidental date that makes this thought experiment especially timely now. Our next would-be fiscal new year’s day, October 1, 2017, will fall on a Sunday – Respect Life Sunday, in fact. It’s a fortuitous confluence of observances that comes every seven years or so, and if it were to also mark financial day #1, think of the unmistakable message if would transmit regarding what the Church truly holds dear: not market share or stock price, balanced books or cash reserves, but the intrinsic and absolute value of every human life.
__________________________

A version of this essay appeared on Catholic Exchange.

%d bloggers like this: