Thursday, May 30, 2013

'Clean out the icebox!'

Tonight was "Clean out the icebox" night at Doma Sanctae Rosae.

The seminarian and I have both been going hither and thither this week. We both were at a cookout on Sunday; then we had a party here at the rectory on Monday; then Tuesday and Wednesday we were each here and there. Now its Thursday, and we're having dinner together again.

Lots of leftovers. When I finished with an appointment around 6:30 pm, and the seminarian had made himself scarce, I tore into the fridge. Here's some chicken breasts--they need to be cooked; a steak, were did that come from? Some leftover corn from the cookout; some leftover beans, some cheese, and so forth and so on.

The chicken breasts have been in there...I don't know; but they needed to be cooked. But we wanted steak! (Another was found in the freezer.) So, the plan was: cook the chicken for the weekend; eat the steak tonight!

The seminarian had never sauteed chicken, so I showed him how. While we're planning this, the pastor breezes through and says, "you should pound it!" Obeying the pastor, we did.

So here's how I cooked the chicken--sorry for no pictures, but we don't mess around:

We rinsed the chicken breasts and pounded them a bit. Then I took a plate, and put some flour on it.

Then I took the chicken breasts, and doused them generously with Italian seasoning, and some extra red pepper flakes and garlic powder. Then I drizzled some olive oil over them.

Next I got the pan ready with olive oil and butter. Then I dredged the chicken pieces in a bit of flour--not too much--then into the hot fat. Nicely browned on both sides. Then a bit of salt. FYI: this is delicious with some pasta, with just some oil or butter, and cheese, and some green vegetables, nuked in the microwave. With a glass of Chardonnay, this is a meal that is (a) cheap; (b) quick; (c) easy; and  (d) impressive.

But that wasn't dinner; we sliced up one of the chicken breasts as a snack while we, er, had something to hydrate ourselves (ahem!), then we fixed the steaks:

Douse the steaks generously with Montreal Steak Seasoning, and drizzle olive oil (almost anything is improved by the application of olive oil); meanwhile we fired up the broiler. A few minutes each side, and voila! Steak! Microwaved leftover beans, plus some corn on the cob we reheated--delicious!

That's "Clean out the icebox" night at Doma Santae Rosae.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Confucius and same-sex attraction

I actually have no idea what the great Chinese philosopher, Confucius, may have said--if anything--about same-sex feelings. But I do know something that he said that bears on the question.

One of the teachings of Confucius was the "rectification of names," which you can read about here--the idea being that until you call things as they are, and thus know what things actually are--you can't get where you have to be. In other words, realism.

Anyway, I was driving back from Clermont County on Saturday evening, thinking about a conversation I had recently with someone asking me what's wrong with the "love" expressed by someone who is homosexually oriented?

That's when Confucius' rule came to mind. Are we using the term correctly?

The answer is no. To put it simply: we insist that "love" doesn't mean what you think it means.

What do we mean by love?

Of course there are different sorts of love--and I'm skipping over, "I love cinnamon rolls." We speak of love between friends, among family, the love of parents for children, the love of a patriot for his country, the love of self-sacrifice...

And then there is erotic love. And that's where the controversy lies. No one objects to love between two men or two women, when it is the love of friends or family, the love of comrades at arms.

The issue is sexual love expressed between two people of the same sex. Why do we care?

The answer is, strictly speaking, that's not truthful "sexual love," because sexual love, by its very nature, is nuptial. It is, by nature, complementary. And, by nature, ordered toward procreation.

And there it is. This is a common thread to a number of teachings of the Church, so much mocked and derided:

> Who cares if people have sex before marriage?
> Who cares if people give themselves sexual pleasure?
> What's so terrible about contraception, especially if a couple at least has some children?
> How can you be against using technology to conceive a child ("in vitro")?
> What's wrong with the love of two men or two women for each other?

The answer is that sexual love is essentially nuptial--meaning it's ordered toward, and realizes its truth in, the complementary union of a man and a woman. This union by its nature is ordered toward procreation. And, for what ought to be obvious reasons, this physical union is only truthful and moral when it is not only a union of body but also mind; and when it has permanence.

So when our society speaks of "love" in its loose way, an accurate answer is to say, "that's not really love." That is to say, while there may be love of friends, the expression of sexual love is false. It is not--it cannot be--what sexual love is made to be. It cannot be complementary. It cannot procreate. It cannot be nuptial.

Remember, this life isn't a different story from eternity--as if in this life, we enact whatever narrative we wish, and then when we die, we start with something entirely different. No, this life is our preparation for eternity. With every choice we make, we shape ourselves, bit by bit, into the persons we will be forever. And ultimately, the choice of good versus evil is the choice of reality versus non-reality, the will of God or our own.

Heaven--whatever else we can say about it--is also the ultimate realism. If God exists, he's in charge; and if we want to be happy forever, we must be happy with him. So when someone is aghast at our suggestion that you have to believe in God--and, for that matter, believe in Jesus Christ and the Trinity--in order to go to heaven, all we're really saying is, you must be reconciled to reality. If Christianity is true, then you're "stuck" with the Triune God, including the Son, forever. If you can't bear that, then you face an eternity of gnashing your teeth in misery. In other words, hell.

I am greatly influenced in my thinking by C.S. Lewis, particularly his Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce, in which he illustrates powerfully this idea that someone would not go to heaven because she or he is, as a result of a lifetime of choices, incapable of wanting what heaven is. And in that context, one wonders: if our Faith is correct about the falsity, the reality-rejection of erotic love that refuses to be nuptial--and that means not just same-sex eroticism, but all eroticism outside marriage--then it isn't just that it "offends" God, but that it shapes us with an orientation toward unreality. A lifetime of seeking happiness in illusion is not a happy preparation for heaven.

Now, it may be that of all the ways our deviations from God's plan can render us incapable of true happiness, the sins of the flesh may be less destructive in their effect on the sinner than others. Some--including Lewis--have argued that. That contention will get vigorous push-back from some, and it's only a speculation. But if it has merit, it has it to the extent that sinful erotic behavior is a result of misplaced love, love that is in other ways seeking to be generous. It may be that, somewhere this side of eternity, even just shy of it, the person who spent a life seeking happiness along that particular wrong path may come to distinguish the love that was noble from the eroticism that was wrongly appropriated.

In any case, let's rectify our terms. We are not against love; we're for it. True love is permanent; true love is wholly self-giving. True love is open to the gift of life--it does not render itself sterile, either permanently or periodically. And when true love can be sexual, it is procreative. They go together. This true, sexual love takes the risk of giving ones power to procreate to the other. True love has, imbedded with in it, a willingness to be a parent, even if that never happens. A husband (or wife) is, by nature, someone willing to be a father (or mother); and a father is someone willing to be a husband. True love recognizes children as a gift, not a right. Children have a right to be the fruit of human love, not the product of an industrial process.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

'We're not God's goldfish' (Holy Trinity homily)

Today is the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity. 

When we talk about our belief that God is a Trinity--
God is Three while still being One--
We always wrestle with trying to explain this, to ourselves and others.

But let me pose a different question: Why do we believe this?

And the answer is: because Jesus Christ told us this.
In so many places in the Gospels, our Lord Jesus--
without using the word “Trinity,” nevertheless tells us: 
God is Father, God is Son, God is Holy Spirit, 
All are One, but not all the Same.

I believe it because I believe him.

In any case, why shouldn’t God’s nature baffle us?
That’s not the striking thing;
Instead, what’s remarkable is how much of God’s mystery we can penetrate.

Look around at our world. Why, of all the animals, 
is man uniquely so curious?

By all accounts, apes and dolphins are very bright animals.
They seem to like us--I don’t know why!--but they do.
Yet they don’t seem overly curious about us.

Could it be that our unique capacity and longing for truth, is a sign of God’s creation: 
that God intends for us to seek to penetrate his mystery?
God created us to seek a relationship with him?

Now, we say that sort of thing: having a “relationship” with God.
Yet if we really think about it, does that even make sense?

I fixed breakfast this morning on my stove--
but I don’t have a “relationship” with my stove. Aren’t you glad? 
Otherwise some of you would be calling the Archbishop after Mass: 
“Father needs some help!”

I don’t have a pet--I like pets, but I’m too busy, I’d neglect it.
Those who have pets, how do you describe that?
There’s a sort of relationship, and it’s real, but it’s still pretty limited. 

But let’s go with that. Is that our relationship to God?
We’re his pets? 
But look at the Scriptures: God has bigger ambitions for us.
He calls us “friends”! The Son calls Mary, his creature, “Mother”!
He calls himself the Bridegroom--and we, his Church, his Bride.

And there it is. Bride and groom. A breathtaking image. 
We wouldn’t dare to suggest it--it would be blasphemous--
but God himself proposes it.
Only something akin to equals in that relationship.
So how in the world do we get anywhere near such a relationship with God?

It’s only possible because God himself--who is in himself a relationship--
stoops down, and lifts us up, into the life and love of the Trinity.

So our second question: what difference does saying God is a Trinity make? 
This is it.
God isn’t a solitary other, infinitely distant from us.
Unapproachable. Unknowable. Always and forever far away.

Jesus told us: in baptism we receive the Holy Spirit--God!--in us!
Couples, you know what it is to strain your relationship.
How do heal it? Talk. Listen. Bend. Forgive.
What do we do with God: we go to him in confession.
We talk. He listens. We bend our stubborn will. He forgives.

In the Eucharist, he gives us his true Presence, his own Body and Blood.
For us sinners! He came to us!
God the Son gives God’s own life to us!

So what difference does it make?
We’re not God’s goldfish, sitting on a shelf.
We’re his intended. He wants a marriage with us for eternity.

And there it is--all the stuff we Catholics keep saying, that people don’t like.
And that many Catholics wonder why we believe.

Why does being a Catholic involve so many “no”s? 
Why do penance? Why deny ourselves?
Why wait for marriage?
Why must marital love be open to life, all the time?
Why can’t marriage be two men or two women?

Because we’re not God’s goldfish. 
If I had a goldfish, I wouldn’t care about it’s choices.
But if you or I are engaged to be married--
does our future spouse--God--have reason to care? 

We’re an image of God already--we’re already something awesome.
We could be his Golden Retriever, doing neat tricks.
No. He’s preparing us, remaking us, to be lifted up to the realm of heaven.
To be filled with God’s love. Infinite. Pure. 
Bursting with life. Never guarded, restrained, sterile.
More intense than all the stars of all the galaxies.

God chose us as his one and only. Forever.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Following a murder trail in Mississippi

One of the most interesting days of my vacation, now coming to an end, was spent in the environs of Philadelphia, Mississippi: the scene of an infamous triple-murder that had national implications, yet which, I think, is fading from memory almost 50 years later.

When I decided to take a trip down to Mississippi--a state I'd never visited--I also decided I would see what of Mississippi history I could experience while there. One of the key episodes of our nation's history, the achievement of civil rights for non-white citizens, played out in a powerful and often bloody way in this state. And the scene of one of those dark chapters was Neshoba County, the seat of which is Philadelphia.

Here three young men, part of the "Freedom Riders" effort in the mid-60s to bring about voter registration and participation for black citizens, were murdered on June night in 1964. I thought it would be a suitable tribute to these men, and their sacrifice for justice, to trace the path they took that fateful day and night.

On June 21, 1964, they drove up to Philadelphia from Meridian to visit the Mount Zion Baptist Church, a black congregation located east of town. They had been their on Memorial Day as part of their voter-registration efforts; and they came back when they found out the church had been torched. The site of the church was where I picked up the trail.

The road up to the church is a country road becoming suburban; and had sharp contrasts between very poor structures, along with others more aptly associated with "working class" or "middle class."

The church has been rebuilt; according to an inscription-stone by the front door, the church not only had to be rebuilt in 1965--after being destroyed by Klansmen the year before--it also had to be rebuilt after a fire in 1971. I haven't learned the cause of that fire, but imagine losing your church twice in a decade? The church there now is a simple brick building, and from outside (no one was around so I didn't even try to enter) it looked to have room both for services and for fellowship. It also had a graveyard beside it. In front is a large gravestone, inscribing "in loving memory" of the three slain civil rights activists. A state-provided marker also stands near the road.

According to the reports I read, the three young men then drove back to town; and shortly after entering the city limits, they were pulled over, around 3 in the afternoon, allegedly for not slowing down. They were taken to the city jail at 422 Myrtle Street. That's where I drove next.

The GPS--not always accurate--took me to a narrow street, just a block from the county courthouse, but there was no sign of a jail; just a nondescript building that might have been a warehouse or the back of a retail business. I drove back and forth, nothing looked like a jail. One of the accounts I read said the jail was "tiny," so it wouldn't surprise me if this had been used as a jail then, and not now.

Before leaving, the three men had told associates in Meridian that if they weren't back by 4 pm, to start looking for them. Whoever answered the phone at the Neshoba County Courthouse denied seeing the men.

They were released around ten--in the intervening time, the Klan had been alerted and a lynch mob had formed. When the young men drove south out of town, several cars trailed them. The account on Wikipedia mentions the men passing by a "Pilgrim Store" but not stopping, due to a sheriff's car being parked there.

As I drove the same route, about a mile or two out of town I saw broken down old gas station on the left side. Was that the Pilgrim Store? I stopped to look around; but as there was a residential house right behind--it looked like the empty store sat on the same property--I thought my snooping may not be welcome. I drove on, too.

From the accounts I read, I'm still fuzzy on just what point this drive became a chase, but apparently the rest of the mob was parked at the store, so the chase probably began right there. As I drove easily down Highway 19 on a sunny afternoon, I tried to imagine being those three men being pursued down a dark road with few houses on either side.

The activists turned off 19 to the road toward Union, Mississippi, and this is where the lynch mob caught them. As I followed their path, I tried to guess where that might have been. My guess was, not too far from the main highway, but that's just a guess.

While I was following this trail, I kept pulling over, both to take in the scene, but also to consult my iPad, for the details of what happened next. To be honest, even though almost 50 years had passed, and there was nothing remarkable about anything I was doing, I found myself looking over my shoulder a lot. Would someone come out and ask why I was there? Would my movements seem suspicious? I was getting a little spooked by it.

From here, the mob drove the men back up Highway 19 to "Rock Cut Road." When I searched the map, I couldn't find that road. Digging further, I discovered a story online that said the name wasn't used anymore (I wonder why?), now it was simply County Road 515. I also discovered that a state marker had been placed at the sight--where the men were killed.

So it seemed the next stop would be easier to find. And finding 515 was no problem, I'd noted it coming down. Now I drove back, turned onto 515, and--based on the accounts I read--expected to see a marker fairly quickly.

But no. I drove and drove, no marker. Eventually I ran out of 515 and pulled over to look at the stories I'd bookmarked on my iPad for clues; I can't find the stories now, but when I looked closely, they indicated the spot should be right where another road intersected. I drove back there. The road there, and an adjacent road, were being worked on, so my guess is the marker had been taken down. Then I thought, if they took down a marker, the workers would probably have marked the correct spot with a stake or something; there were lots of stakes, and nothing special about any of them.

As far as I could tell, this was where they died that night. So I got out of my car, and said some prayers for the men. Then I drove on.

The next, and last stop was the place where the bodies were disposed of. This would be trickier, because they'd been buried in an earthen dam on private property. There wouldn't be any marker, and there was almost no way I could get to the spot. According to the stories I read, the man who owned the farm where the bodies were buried was tried on federal charges in the 60s (the state wouldn't bring charged at the time), and along with a lot of others, not convicted; and he was never tried, as one of the principals was--and convicted--by the state of Mississippi in 2005. What's more, from what I read, still living in the area, along with family. So it occurred to me snooping around that man's farm might be a little risky.

As I drove back through town--I didn't try to go the back roads which the killers had taken, especially since I didn't know their route--I saw the "visitors center" at the old train depot, and stopped to see what attention this episode rated there. Think about it: if the biggest mark your small town made in national history was this bloody event, would you want to call attention to it? Especially if there were a lot of folks around who might not be so proud of the role they or their kin played in the story? (I might add here that while looking for the site of the murders, I passed a house with the same name as one of the killers in big letters on the mailbox. It sure made me jump.)

Well, this visit was a nice break in the action. The old train station was pretty empty, just a few items on the walls, a kiosk with touristy pamphlets, and an old floor scale that made a funny click every time I walked past it--only after the third or fourth time did I realize I was stepping on the scale.

A young man, about 17 I guessed, was sort of dozing behind the counter when I walked in. He seemed happy to have someone actually, well, visiting the visitors center. When he learned I wasn't "from around here," but was from Cincinnati (!) he prodded me to sign the book. I did. I asked a few general questions while I poked around. He got up and showed me a few things, adding that "trains still go through here, and the whole building just shakes when they do!"

I asked him about the murders. He knew about them, and pointed to a pamphlet. (Stupidly, I left it behind at a hotel I stayed at that night.) I observed that there must be folks around who remembered it, and he said, oh yes, his grandfather had been part of the "patrol" back then. I didn't ask too many questions, but it seemed like the whole thing was ancient history to the boy. Should I mention he was white? Does that matter? I'll let you mull that question.

About this time, his friend showed up; and while I can't recall how the subject came up, we were soon talking about a good place for lunch. "Oh you should go to Peggy's," he said. Today was "chicken day." Fried chicken? "Oh yes"--and he said it was good. "Everyone goes there, and it runs on an honor system"; you get your food and you just leave your money.

Seeing he was eager to get lunch, and I wanted to finish my pilgrimage, I thanked him and after we all left, I decided a to-go lunch from Peggy's sounded like a good idea. It was a small town, and the fellow had given me directions how to get there--it was less than a mile away ("you could walk there but you'd be all sweaty")--yet I didn't find it right away. That's because I expected a normal sort of store-front; instead, Peggy's was a house, with no obvious sign it was a restaurant, other than an awning out front saying "Peggy's" and cars parked every which way in the front. So I parked and followed an elegantly dressed woman, who got out of her car about the same  time, up onto the front porch.

The two boys got there ahead of me, at a table right by the door. I nodded to them and followed the lady in. The rooms were crowded with tables; there were no servers. Instead, you just went to a food line--set up on a small table that blocked the near end of a narrow hallway--and got your lunch. There was no menu: just that day's offerings. Sure enough, it was fried chicken, plus salad, "butter beans," potato salad, rice, peas, and what turned out to be banana pudding.

But no apparent way to do a take-out. When I caught the attention of a lady who seemed to work there and explained what I want, she directed me around through one of the rooms, and said, "go through there, and walk all the way back." She'd sent me through the kitchen!--already fairly crowded with two or three folks fixing food and filling orders, but they seemed used to folks doing as I was doing. I saw a couple of people standing just inside the back door, in a cramped entry, and concluded that was the line. "Excuse me," one of the workers said to me--more than once--trying to get from the kitchen to a couple of rooms behind me, where items were stored and I think dishes were washed.

As I waited, one young fellow showed up who was expected, and about six or eight orders were placed in his hands. He paid with a check, as did someone else ahead of me. While waiting, I asked one of the fellows which one of the ladies was Peggy. He didn't know, and if any of the workers overheard me, they didn't say. I got my turn, and ordered a lunch, "no lima beans please," and asked for a diet Coke. "We have iced tea." I asked for unsweet. (I love me some Southern sweet tea, but there's enough of me for now, especially after several trips to the Gulfport Krispy Kreme.) Lunch was $8, tax included.

Well, time to finish my search. I drove west out of town, looking first for the Neshoba County Fairgrounds, because all the accounts I read said the farm owned by Olen Burrage Sr. was "just south of" or "a mile or two beyond" there. I figured I could eat my lunch there, while I studied the information I had for any other clues. Instead, I had trouble finding the fairgrounds, so I pulled over at a Baptist church, found a shady spot at the other end of the property, and had my lunch. A woman was coming and going to her car in front of the church, and surely she noticed me, but never bothered me.

After lunch (sorry Visitor Center guy, but the food was good, but not great!), I went looking again for the fairgrounds; and after being misled by the iPad GPS, I found it just south of the church where I had been. Now I hunted for the farm, hoping--if not for a mailbox labeled "Burrage," then at least some other sign. The stories said the man had a large farm and was well off. One of the stories suggested it ought to be down the Highway 21 I was on; another said that the actual site of the dam, used for the burial, was closer to Highway 19, a couple miles to the east. There--according to the story I read, I'd find a "swampy area" and an "old metal gate." I found a metal gate, but no area seemed particularly swampy. Here the trail ran cold.

Once more I pulled out my iPad. This time, I found more items online referring to the Burrage farm, still in business, co-owned by "Sr." and "Jr."--but, tantalizingly, no street address, just P.O. boxes. I can imagine when you are widely identified as someone who ought to have been tried for murder--the Clarion-Ledger in the state capital had done a fair number of stories about the man over the years--you don't like giving out your address.

Anyway, as I was reading these stories on my iPad, clearly close to the farm but not sure how close--I finally found a story that said Mr. Olen Burrage Sr. had gone to his eternal reward just two months ago. So by now, he has faced the highest Judge and the matter is decided.

There the trail ended; and it was time to start making my way toward home.

Before I close this post, a few odds and ends. When I drove down Highway 19, recalling the night the three men were being hunted, I noticed a sign designating this the Chaney, Goodman, Schwermer Memorial Highway. When I visited the Mt. Zion Church, across the way was a sign promising a "community center/civil rights museum" in an empty, untouched lot. When I visited Peggy's, I noticed the workers were mostly white, but one black woman working alongside. And as I poked around today online for some stories to verify some of the details I'd recalled, I noticed something: the city of Philadelphia, Mississippi elected it's first African American mayor in May 2009.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

My first celebration of the older Mass

After spending several weeks in a class at our seminary, and many hours of practicing by myself, I finally took the plunge today: I offered Mass in the older form.

I was assisted by our seminarian from Saint Rose, home for the summer. He candidly admitted he didn't know how to serve the extraordinary form of the Mass, so I told him to do just a few things and I'd handle the rest.

So, how did it go?

I'm embarrassed to admit that, after doing rather well in my last practice--under the watchful gaze of Father Earl Fernandes, the capable instructor for the course I mentioned--I flubbed a bit more while offering the Mass for real this time. I omitted one prayer entirely, and at one point, I had to back up in order to get the prayers right.  

The seminarian said he didn't notice anything.

One funny moment: we were supposed to finish well before 4 pm, as there was a delivery expected at that hour. Alas, we weren't quite finished--so I heard a "thump, thump, thump" on the church door. It was after communion. I whispered to the seminarian, "you better go check on him," and off he went. I didn't expect him back before Mass was complete. So when, a few minutes later, I turned around for one of the "Dominus vobiscum"s--I was startled to see him back in his position. He saw me jump a little.

I wish I could say I had some great epiphany from offering the older form of the Mass, but it may be it will be a bit before I can say offer any great insights.

But afterward, the seminarian and I came back to the Doma Santa Rosa to celebrate a milestone--and to have dinner, which we are working up. (He's doing the work at the moment; I'm the "ready reserve.")

Sunday, May 19, 2013

My new posting

By now both folks in Mt. Adams and down at St. Rose know this, so I'll post something here. The archbishop has named me parochial administrator of Holy Cross-Immaculata Parish, and also Old St. Mary's Parish in Over The Rhine. I will assume those duties June 17. My responsibilities at the Archdiocese continue.

Many will ask, what is a "parochial administrator"? It is essentially a pastor, except a pastor is named for a set term, but a parochial administrator has no set term. It's not so unusual in other dioceses for someone to be named administrator initially, although not so common here. However, Archbishop Schnurr has done it more frequently lately, in large measure I think because of uncertainty related to providing coverage for parishes when there are too few priests. In other words, the Archbishop needs to keep his options open.

I will miss the people of Saint Rose, who have been wonderful to get to know and tone with.

I am eager to meet the people at Immaculata and at Old Saint Mary's.

CORRECTION (as of May 21):

My new assignment will not include Old Saint Mary. The two parishes were paired under the prior pastor, and so when I was considered for it, it was as for both posts. When I received word, I mistakenly assumed the same arrangement would continue. (This is what happens when you are on the road and take phone calls while driving!) In fact, Father Jon Paul Bevak will be administrator of Old Saint Mary's. He will be great!

I'm very sorry for the confusion.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The long shadows of history

It's been a lovely week on the Mississippi coast. Today will be my last day on the beach, then I'll head  over to New Orleans for Pentecost Mass, and then spend a few days making my way north. I'm planning to go up a bit along the Mississippi, then back across Mississippi and then home.

There's a lot of history here, some long ago, some recent, and the shadows are longer than we might realize.

One of the questions on my mind when I came down here was how much the effects of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, as well as the 2010 BP oil spill, were still felt. While I can't say how much the spill still effects things, Katrina is less "past" here than present. The hotel where I'm staying faces the gulf with lovely views; on either side are vast, empty lots. The locals say the cost of insurance skyrocketed after Katrina, curbing development. I'm guessing the financial crisis of 2008 had something to do with it as well. In any case, driving up and down this part of the coast this week, I saw lots of empty lots.

Earlier this week I visited Beauvoir, the post-war home of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States of America. It's a lovely home, just a few hundred feet from the gulf, designed to be breezy and cool, or as best as could be managed before air conditioning. This was Davis's home after the war, when he was largely destitute; the prior owner took him in, letting him stay in a cottage on the grounds. Here it was that ex-President Davis wrote his memoirs and apologia for the Confederacy. The prior owner, whose name escapes me at the moment, was at the end of her life, and she sold her home to Davis; before the price was paid in full, she had died, and her will bequeathed the home to him. According to the tour guide, Mr. Davis made the remaining payments to her heirs anyway.

The historic site isn't run by either the federal or state government, but by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. After Mr. and Mrs. Davis departed this life (the adjacent museum had a video of the massive funeral held in New Orleans), the property ended up being used as a home and hospital for Confederate veterans, their wives and servants. It served this purpose up to 1956. Does that late date surprise you? Apparently the last veterans of the War Between The States, on both sides, died in the early 50s! And the last widows died in 2003 and 2004!

In 1956, the home was repurposed to its present status as a museum and memorial. Alas, its location has not proved a boon to this venture; being right on the Gulf Coast, it was vulnerable to hurricanes. When Camille hit, the museum was located immediately below the house and thus exposed to flooding. Then a nearby building was set aside for the displays of the Davis's personal effects, papers and other historical bric-a-brac.

Then Katrina hit. The museum building now there was built after Katrina; only the main house survived the storm. Much of what the museum had washed away; a fair number of items were reclaimed, and they are being restored as much as possible. Among the few items on display for me were a few pieces of Confederate currency--from what had been a substantial collection--as well as some once-lovely glass decanters and a silver tea service now smashed and mangled.

Behind the house is a Confederate cemetery, where veterans and their wives and servants were buried; it was difficult getting there without interfering with the workers who were laying out the paths and garden beds for restoration. Prominent in the graveyard was the Tomb of the Unknown Confederate Soldier. This, surprisingly, is a recent addition. The remains were discovered in 1979, near Vicksburg, and the shrine was dedicated in 1981. Surrounding this fresh stone monument were scores of gravestones, some badly faded of course, but others looked like they had been replaced recently. On many of them, a flag fluttered--the Stars and Bars.

While walking amongst the graves, I came upon one marked "Revolutionary War"--why was that here? It was the grave of Samuel Emory Davis, born in 1756, who served in the Revolution, had ten children, the last of whom was Jefferson Finis Davis.

As I said, tomorrow my plan is to visit New Orleans; a friend of mine who grew up there gave me a list of things to see; I'll get as many as I can. Then I hope to go up along the Mississippi; I hope I can find a spot where I can look at it as perhaps it looked when the first explorers came upon it, or Mark Twain wrote about it. Natchez is famed both for its homes, as well as being the terminus of the almost-forgotten Natchez Trace, which was trod by the first arrivals on this continent, the Amerindians, and then by European settlers. Merriwether Lewis, who with William Clark explored so much of the American west, met his end along the Trace--exactly how remains a mystery to this day.

There's another trace I want to follow--the road that runs from Philadelphia to Meridian. In the 1960s, three young men were among those working to promote civil rights in these parts; and it was along the road from Philadelphia, one night in June 1964, that James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were kidnapped and murdered.

As I write this, I recall another shadow of history--my own. I haven't thought about this in years. Once upon a time, at age 26, I ran for office; in the course of that campaign for state representative, I met a man from Mississippi then living in Cincinnati: James Meredith, who history will recall was the first black man to enroll at the University of Mississippi, and who stood up for registering African Americans to vote and took a bullet for it. Memories get fuzzy, but as I recall, Mr. Meredith sought me out; and to my great surprise, he said he wanted to help me. We had some events and he came to a news conference I think, it's all kind of a mush in my head, now.

Well, that was one of many curious experiences in that campaign, which despite a lot of enthusiasm, ended with me garnering only 31% of the vote against the Majority Leader of the state House, a veteran of 22 years. After that, I moved to Washington, D.C., and didn't see Mr. Meredith again. According to Wikipedia, he lives in Jackson, Mississippi.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Traveling south...

Friday began my vacation; funny how work sometimes follows.

Earlier this week, the boss (I'll let you speculate about who that might be) and I nailed down a date for a meeting--to be held not long after I get back from my vacation; so Thursday afternoon and evening, I'm shooting out emails. No problem. But I'll have to send out some more emails in the next couple of days, once I hear from the boss about who needs to be there. Hint: if you're a priest of the archdiocese, and you'll be a pastor the first time this summer, I've already got a meeting scheduled for you! But the announcements of new assignments will be made this weekend, so I'm not privy to that information.

Oh, and there's an item to be written for the "Clergy Communications" bulletin that goes out once a month. I'll get that taken care of Monday or Tuesday. But it's OK. I'm pretty relaxed already.

From Cincinnati I drove down I-71 to Louisville, then took the turnoff for I-65, which brought me to central Alabama. I'm staying a couple of days with the community of Our Lady of Angels Monastery, which was founded by Mother Angelica. The monastery offers hospitality to priests, either for a retreat or--as in my case--for someone passing through.

The monastery is situated on several hundred acres of farm- and wood-land; the center of the community is the Shrine of the Most Holy Eucharist, which you may have seen on TV. Anyone can visit. Last night, after dinner, a couple of seminarians (who are on their way back to their diocese in the southwest) and I took a walk around, and found our way down to the shrine. The building, and the piazza in front of it, have a Spanish look to it, we decided (at breakfast, I learned it was modeled after the basilica in Assisi). The chapel itself is stunning. I'll be back at Noon today for Mass, although that Mass will be in a different chapel. The Mass in the main chapel is at 7 am; I chose the "slugabed" option of the Noon Mass to concelebrate. (There is also a chapel in the monastery, where I could offer Mass privately if I wished.)

There are actually three communities here: the sisters who are cloistered, the friars, and the Knights of the Holy Eucharist, with whom I'm staying. Their mission is to support and protect the shrine. I've had a chance to talk with several of the young men who are here as postulants and aspirants--meaning they are discerning whether to take vows as a member of the community.

Just now I was out on a walk after breakfast, and I stopped to look at the horses and cows. The postulants told me they are actually steers, being raised for beef; and there are chickens about as well.

I'll be with these good fellows until tomorrow morning, when I head south--I'm headed toward the gulf coast, where I will spend a few days on the beach, despite being extremely prone to sunburn. If you are out and about along the beach, and you see a large, beached aquatic mammal with an umbrella, it may be me.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Rules and the Spirit (Sunday homily)

The readings raise a perennial question about “rules”--
and about being guided by the Holy Spirit.

We’ve all heard it, and maybe we’ve said it: 
if only we could get back to simple Christianity, without all the rules.

Only notice: in the first reading, right at the beginning, 
to settle a dispute between Christians with different backgrounds, 
the Apostles needed to impose some…rules.

But this question occurs: why do we have to have rules?
Do we have too many? 
Let me share with you what Father Mike Seger, 
who teaches moral theology at our seminary, taught us: 
“Rules exist to protect values.”

That’s a very profound, and very useful, insight. I’ll say it again:
“Rules exist to protect values.”

One takeaway from that is this: 
if people don’t understand why we have a rule, 
it’s time to ask, what is the value it’s supposed to protect?

So to pick a high-profile example:
In the public arena, many of us, including the Catholic Church, 
are now forced to defend a rule about marriage: it’s a man and a woman.

And many people say who cares? Live and let live.

So let’s answer the question: what is the value at stake here?
And the answer is there are several: 
a true understanding of human identity, 
including the nature of family.

When we defend the understanding of marriage as man-and-woman, 
we’re also defending the fact of family being mother-and-father.

And what many don’t realize is that this debate 
isn’t just about a small change in the law. If only it were.
It’s about two very different views of human life and human nature.

That’s why many of those 
who want to change the definition of marriage 
aren’t content to win that legal change here and there--
you’re also seeing them put us in the same category as racists, 
and calling us bigots. 

And we’re just beginning to see florists, photographers, 
wedding-cake-bakers and so forth are being punished 
for saying, well I don’t agree with redefining marriage.

And, I might add, we’re also seeing the beginnings to what’s next: 
if marriage needn’t be about a man and woman, 
why does it have to be just two people?

So you see, this is not about just a small change in a law--
it’s about a fundamental shift in the values that shape who we are.

So to return to my starting point--
when we wonder why we have rule, 
look to see what value it serves to protect.

The Gospel, which talks about the Gift of the Holy Spirit, 
could be seen as a counterpoint to the first reading with its rules.

But the Holy Spirit isn’t really an “alternative” to having rules--
rather, when we have the Holy Spirit, we have just one rule: 
do what the Holy Spirit says.

If only we were at that point!
That’s what heaven is. 
On earth, our wills are not so well tuned to God’s will.
So in the meantime, we need help. That’s what rules are for.

That’s what the Sacraments are for. Going to confession.
Holy Eucharist. Prayer. Devotion. Our life as Christians.
To tune our wills to the will of God, the will of the Holy Spirit.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Love in joy and sorrow: a day in the life of a priest and a young couple

What follows is the story of a privileged "day in the life of a priest." I say, "privileged," because it's a story that normally goes untold, because it's very private, very delicate. This post would not have happened, had not the family given me permission to do so. They hoped that others might be helped by their story. As it is, some details will be omitted or altered, for privacy.

Several times in my priesthood, I've had one of the most heartbreaking calls or messages I can get: from a parent letting me know that a child, looked for, prayed for, still on the way, will not survive--and can I come and do something?

Another of those calls came recently: the couple had lost a child to miscarriage, and would I offer prayers? After some messages back and forth, we set a day and time. Dad would pick me up and we'd drive together to the cemetery, where we met mom and their youngest child--two years old.

The day arrived: pretty and pleasant, something rare for Cincinnati, which seems to go from bluster to swelter in about a week. While I waited for the doorbell to ring, I went and got a surplice to wear over my cassock, a stole, and the holy water bucket (I couldn't find my little plastic bottle).

Now, I'll stop here to explain something for those wondering about this: why would I wear a cassock? Why bring the "get up"? I know many of my fellow priests would simply go in their black suit--and I won't fault them.

But here's my thought: this is a time I wanted to give this family my best. This would be the only funeral for "Jacob" (names will all be changed). This was what I could do to say this was not a small thing, even if it was brief and away from church. (Of course, had I thought the couple would prefer otherwise, then I would have done differently.)

When we got to the cemetery, little Christopher, the two-year-old, was delighted to see some geese and ducks--to him, they were all ducks. Who knows, maybe the geese think they're ducks as well? A fellow from the cemetery met us, and then led us to the gravesite. The cemetery had kept little Jacob, in a small, lovely, carved wooden container, and he led us to a special section set aside for this purpose. This was not this couple's first visit; they had lost another child, early in a pregnancy.

Along the way, Christopher delighted to point out the colorful trees and other things that delight a two-year-old; how much each of us needs to spend time seeing with child's wide eyes! If only we could recover a bit of that wonder! When we got there, dad held the holy water bucket; and I asked Christopher if he'd "like to help"--he and his dad, Steven, handed me the aspergillum (the "sprinkler") so I could bless the grave. One of the prayers ("Saints of God")--which is included in every Catholic funeral--I was able to sing. Again, it seemed to me the least I could do.

You can imagine the emotions of the couple; I will not share that. You can understand that their little boy was probably only somewhat attuned to the moment, yet he was quiet and attentive. Parents, you will have wiser observations on this subject--but I think children "get" more than we think, but their comprehension is on a different level, and they don't give us the signals we need to know it happened. No doubt Christopher knew his parents were sad--and that there was love. I respect parents who feel otherwise, but I don't see anything here to "protect" a child from.

After we finished our prayers, we lingered a moment--the couple located one of the small markers that was familiar.

Dad and I talked a fair amount on the way out and back. We talked about suffering. Why is there pain? That's the question of questions. He brought up C.S. Lewis, and we talked about The Problem of Pain, which Steven had heard of; I told him about A Grief Observed, which he hadn't known about. Lewis wrote this latter late in life--after being a bachelor, not expecting to marry; then an improbable "romance" (if you read the story, you'll understand the quote marks) that became romance, and then a brief but passionate marriage cut short by a cancer diagnosis.

Just now, I remembered something more about that. In the movie about this episode in Jack and Joy Lewis' life, Joy, in a brief, happy respite from the cancer--makes this point: "the pain then is part of the happiness now--that's the deal." (I'm sorry the clip is rough, it's the only clip of this scene I could find.)

And we talked about something I read from Pope Blessed John Paul's Crossing the Threshold of Hope--a startling account of the crucifixion as God allowing humanity to put him on trial, and punish him, so that humanity might forgive God--and they would be reconciled.

Here's that quote:

Could God have justified himself before human history, so full of suffering, without placing Christ’s Cross at the center of that history? Obviously, one response could be that God does not need to justify himself to man. It is enough that he is omnipotent. From this perspective everything he does or allows must be accepted. But God, who besides being Omnipotence is Wisdom and— to repeat once again—Love, desires to justify himself to mankind.  He is not the Absolute that remains outside of the world, indifferent to human suffering. He is Emmanuel, God-with-us, a God who shares man’s lot and participates in his destiny. The crucified Christ is proof of God’s solidarity with man in his suffering.

On the way back, dad told me that he and Elizabeth had lost a child even before these two--but hadn't known about the option of having a funeral. One of the reasons he was happy to have me write this was the hope that other couples, facing what this couple faced, would know about this option.

I shared with them something I've shared with others who have lost an unborn child--yes, even in the vastly different situation of an abortion: you are welcome, even long after, to name that child. No matter the circumstances; even if you don't know if your child was a boy or girl, the child did exist. Give your child a name. Don't worry about whether it's a boy or girl name--that won't matter in heaven! Pray for your child; pray to your child--by which I mean, talk to him or her, and ask your child to pray for you.

What about baptism? What about children who die without baptism?

Pope Blessed John Paul II also had some beautiful words for parents who--having lost a child before he or she could be baptized--that reminded them, and all of us, that God created those children out of love, and when they die, the remain cradled in the love of God. I went looking for that passage just now, but I can't find it. Perhaps someone else will remember it.

Baptism is an urgent matter, and we do not take it lightly. I have baptized several children in emergency situations, including two children in situations it was, frankly, a doubtful matter. That said,  even if God imposes a necessity on us, through his commands regarding the sacraments, no one and nothing imposes any necessity on God.

As this couple, their youngest, and I were about to part--mom with Christopher back home, dad to take me back to the parish and then to work--it was a sad moment, yet full of love and hope. Mom was holding the boy in her arms, and Christopher was enjoying shaking hands. He said, "mommy, shake daddy's hand!" Mom said, I'm not going to shake daddy's hand, silly! I want to kiss him!" Mom and dad leaned toward each other, with little Christopher right in the middle. It may seem hopelessly old-fashioned, but for that moment, I felt an intruder and looked away. 

But even so, I saw a husband and wife embrace, and yet here was a little boy, who is the gift that God gives precisely through the embrace of a husband and wife. Another movie comes to mind--but I don't think I can use only a small scene to convey the power of it. The film is Life is Beautiful--and it's the story of a Jewish couple, in World War II Italy. The arc of the film moves from happy days of courtship, to marriage, to a child, to Nazi roundups, to a concentration camp, to desperate efforts of a father to protect his son. I will not describe the ending--which, remembering, brought sudden tears.

But I will describe one of the most beautiful scenes I've ever seen in a movie--depicting, so skillfully, what we believe about marital love. The couple are married, it is their wedding day, and they excuse themselves discreetly behind a closing door. The screen darkens and lightens--it would seem to be the next day after their honeymoon. The door opens--a small boy runs out! It is their son--the fruit of their love.

I cannot imagine, and so I won't presume to describe, the pain and anguish of a parent wanting a child, and having to let go of him or her after a few weeks of life in the womb. This couple, like so many others, has to experience that anguish as a shared thing, just as they share the joy and exultation of the children God's love-in-their-love has given them. If only we could have one, and not the other!

Until then, we hug and kiss each other, in joy and in sorrow, sharing both, finding beauty in both, finding our humanity in both, finding love in both, finding God. 

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Archived Post

Update 6/8/13: Welcome Pray-Tell...ians! Since you were sent here by a post that talked about how terrible I am, feel free to dialogue with me in the comments. Engage my arguments; if I've been unfair, please show me how.

* Is there a single word for what I'm describing? Something that is sad, ironic, and yet curiously funny, all at the same time? Let me know in the comments...

Anyway, here's what I'm talking about, from the humorously sad/sadly humorous National (so-called) Catholic Reporter (fair warning: my analysis will break up the article and take sections out of order; so click the headline to see the original article):

Fledgling national priests' group to tackle broad agenda.

Reinstating general absolution in the United States, consultation in the selection process for bishops, studying the ordination of women and married men, and collegial exercise of church authority are among topics of 15 resolutions on the agenda of the second annual assembly of the fledgling Association of U.S. Catholic Priests June 24-27. 

Wow, this is ambitious!

Also--mostly pointless.

> "Reinstating general absolution..." By "general absolution," what they mean is the provision in the rules for the Sacrament of Penance for a priest to give absolution to an entire group of people. Currently, this can only be done (a) in an extreme emergency (i.e., the priest is on a sinking ship or falling airplane), or (b) with express, specific permission of the bishop.

But to what purpose? You might say, to save penitents the trouble of actually confessing any sins--they just get absolved and that's it. However, this is not true. The actual norms of the Church are that when someone receives absolution without confession, s/he is bound to go to confession when the opportunity arises. I suspect that what the group intends is to bring back the practice of giving general absolution, with no followup confession ever happening.

Skipping over the reasons this is a bad idea, it's going nowhere. There is next-to-zero chance either Pope Francis or the bishops would agree with this. The one argument--that priests don't have enough time to hear confessions--is simply not true.

> "Studying the ordination of women and married men..."

Another utterly pointless exercise. Pope Blessed John Paul II closed the door on ordaining women and at the time, then-Cardinal Ratzinger said the teaching is irreformable. Zero chance Pope Francis will "study" this, and zero chance the U.S. bishops will pick a fight with Rome over this.

As far as "studying" ordaining married men--to the priesthood, they mean, as we already ordain married men as deacons--well...OK, but to what end? This is about changing the Church's discipline on this. And while that's not an irreformable teaching, it's still largely pointless. The notion that allowing for married priests to be ordained as priests will mean any great increase in the number of priests is without foundation--which if anyone wants to know why, ask in the comments and I'll go into it.

> "Consultation...and collegial exercise of church authority..."

Well--that's nice.

Again, the U.S. bishops are not going to pick a fight with Rome over how bishops are chosen. Besides, it's far from clear what they imagine counts as "consultation." As it is, priests in this diocese are invited to nominate fellow priests who might make good bishops. I think I've gotten that letter two or three times. I don't know how the Holy Father gets names of priests to consider as bishops, but I assume he gets them from the bishops, and at least some of these names get passed along. Is that not "consultation"? What more do they want? I don't mean that as a rhetorical question. If they have a proposal, lay it out--then we can weigh the pros and cons.

And as far as "collegiality"--again, whatever do they have in mind?

Well, I think I know--they mean how the Holy Father decides things. Surely they can't mean among the bishops in the U.S.? They are collegial to a fault.

For example: there is an ongoing scandal--yes, scandal--of public officials who take deliberate stances and actions contrary to the Faith--and yet very little is done to enforce existing Church law and hold them accountable. Why is this? I don't know, but I am pretty sure one reason is because few bishops want to stand out on this issue; they would like all the bishops to be a united front. Meanwhile, the credibility of the Church's teaching is undermined.

To be held at Seattle University, the gathering's theme -- "Lumen Gentium: God's Pilgrim People" -- is based on the Second Vatican Council's 1964 document, also known as the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. 

Hey, this is something new! Growing! Sure to make an impact--right? Read on...

The association was formed following an Aug. 25, 2011, meeting of 27 self-described "Vatican II priests" from 15 dioceses and 11 states at Mundelein Seminary in Illinois, notes the group's website.

The organization's inaugural assembly in June 2012 drew 240 delegates from 55 dioceses to St. Leo University northeast of Tampa, Fla. 

Among its actions was approval of a letter of support to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. LCWR remains under controversial Vatican control and directives for reform. The association's board chair, Fr. Dave Cooper, said about the same number of attendees are expected at the Seattle conference. 

"Letter of support to the LCWR..."


Membership has climbed to 950, representing more than 120 U.S. dioceses, said Cooper, pastor of St. Matthias Parish in Milwaukee and chair of the independent Milwaukee Archdiocese Priests Alliance. 

Hmm. Out of how many priests nationwide? According to once-Catholic Georgetown University, there are about 39,000 priests as of AD 2012.

From which this group claims...950?

Five keynote addresses will be scattered over the three-day Seattle conference. Fr. Patrick Brennan, director of development at Mayslake Ministries in Lombard, Ill., as well as director of the National Center for Evangelization and Parish Renewal in Chicago, will provide "a pastor's perspective" on Lumen Gentium, according to the event's program. 

Just a biographical note: Father Brennan, ordained in 1973, would be approximately 65-66, depending on his age at ordination. (Congratulations on 40 years, Father!)

Catherine Clifford will offer a theological reflection. She is founding director of the Research Centre on Vatican II and 21st Century Catholicism at St. Paul University in Ottawa, Ontario, where she is also a professor of systematic and historical theology and vice dean of the theological faculty. 

I don't know anything about Professor Clifford, other than she has earned a lot of degrees and enjoys full tenure as a dean at Saint Paul University. It's fair to say she hasn't just started her work--she's been at it for some time.

 A professor of church law and dean emeritus at the Washington Theological Union, Fr. James Coriden will speak to the theme from a canon law framework. 

Father Coriden was ordained in? 1957!

And here comes the first sadly-funny comment:

(Washington Theological Union has announced it will cease operation this year.) 

Two journalists -- Robert Blair Kaiser...

born in 1930...

who covered the Second Vatican Council for TIME magazine, and Robert Mickens, Vatican correspondent for The Tablet based in London -- will offer differing time vantages on Lumen Gentium and Vatican II. 

I don't know much about Mr. Mickens, except he's frequently described as a "longtime" Vatican correspondent.

Are you getting the picture here? This is not a youth movement. I'm sure they have some younger priests--but I'd love to know the average age of this group.

Wait--I didn't read far enough along:

He said the organization is "growing slowly" and that "many priests do not know we even exist." Confirming that the average age of members is about 70"--

There's sadly-funny comment number two.

Asked how he might respond to those who would say the 15 resolutions sound like a party platform for the progressive wing of the Catholic church, [Father Dave] Cooper said, "Well, that's what Vatican Council II embraced." 

And there it is. No, Father, that is not "what Vatican Council II embraced." But that is what so-called "Vatican II priests" and folks of like mindset were told, and have claimed, all these years.

This is as good a time to address this point. This is not--NOT--about who loves, respects and adheres to the teachings of Vatican II more. This is where sad-funny-and ironic actually meet.

We have folks who go out of their way to claim the mantle of Vatican II. They are the true adherents. They express sadness, if not anger, that a newer generation does not revere the Council, does not embrace its teachings.

But here's the true irony: this is absolutely not true; and in many cases (not all), almost precisely the opposite of the truth.

The examples are too many to cite--yet facts are facts. During the past 40-plus years of "implementing Vatican II," we have all endured a revolution in the understanding of the Church, much of which has had to be corrected, and is still being corrected, precisely because what folks were told--"this is what Vatican II said"--was flatly false.

Vatican II never said:

> We're birthing a new Church. Vatican II was about re-presenting the wholeness of the Faith in a new way. Got that?  Not new doctrine; no new doctrine; just a new way of presenting what we always held.

> Overhaul our parish churches, destroying altar rails, smashing altars, removing artwork, and building churches that no longer look Catholic.

> Throw out catechisms and no longer teach doctrine. Yet this happened for quite awhile. When Pope  John Paul II proposed a new catechism, remember who resisted it? Yep--the same crowd.

> Turn the altars around. Not a word.

> Downplaying devotions, particularly adoration of the Holy Eucharist.

> Removing tabernacles from the central point in a parish church.

> No more Latin and chant. Instead, it said, add the vernacular to the menu of choices, keeping Latin on the menu, and using it.

> It's no longer important to celebrate the liturgy faithfully according to the norms set by the Church, but now priests and the faithful can improvise and reinvent the liturgy "for pastoral reasons."

Now, as I said, these things are being corrected. But when the faithful join with priests in correcting these things, guess what they're accused of? "You're against Vatican II."

Cooper said there has been resistance from younger, more recently ordained priests, some of whom "see us as disloyal if not downright dissenting." 

Golly, where could they have gotten that idea?

Alluding to recent studies that have pointed to differing views of church and authority between older and younger generations of Catholic clergy, Cooper described "Vatican II priests" as viewing the priesthood in terms of "service, of washing the feet of others" in contrast to clerics who hold a "priest as ruler" model. 

Right--because priests who don't share their "progressive" views never serve others. Father, would you like to come spend a week with one of these "ruler" priests you describe? I can suggest a dozen names. Why not see whether your claim, that they don't see priesthood as "service," they don't collaborate, is actually true?

Meanwhile, I could tell stories about priests of Father Cooper's preferred generation who "ruled" with an iron fist. I bet others can. For example: if a member of the faithful exercises his or her right to ask the parish priest for a legitimate option: say, the newer Mass celebrated in Latin, what do you think is the response of the priests of Father Cooper's generation who "wash the feet of others"? Some. Not many.

Cooper said the association is working hard to "build bridges" and to "hold hands with the laity and at the same time with the bishops." 

Father Cooper, here's a suggestion that would actually make a difference. Instead of claiming to be the true embracers of Vatican II, not to mention being more humble than your fellow priests, how about this? How about:

> Seek out laity and clergy who disagree with you, and seek to learn from them?

> Acknowledge openly that a lot of what happened after the Council was misguided.

> Show respect for the fact that those Catholics (lay and clergy) who disagree with you, love Vatican II as well.

"Sometimes it makes you feel like you are on the rack, being torn part," he said, adding that the association is "of, by and for priests." 

Its core work is "keeping alive the vision of the Second Vatican Council" and "offering support to our brother priests," he said. Cooper said the association's first order of business was "writing a snail mail letter to every ordinary in the U.S. explaining who we are and what we are doing and our mission statement. We offered our respect and pledged cooperation." "We received cordial responses from some bishops, form-letter responses from others, and no response at all from the majority," he said.

The handwriting is on the wall.

Update: (Welcome Fr. Zeee....ians!)

After posting this, I made some comments on the story at the NCR website. Hilarity ensued, as most of the responses to my comments were that I am mean, nasty and I should shut up.

But I wrote something there that I think might be of interest here--I wish I'd thought of it when I wrote this in the first place. After someone asked me to clarify a point I was making, I said:

I'm saying that this movement is fading. As it is, a growing number of ordinary Catholics simply don't see Vatican II the way its seen by the generation of priests here described, and the laity who share their perspective (and usually age). 

For a growing number of Catholics, Vatican II is simply another part of Catholic history, they're not passionate for or against, it's just "there." So when some try to rally the troops with, "we must save Vatican II," more and more of the faithful aren't buying it. And rightly so. 

What's coming, not too far in the future now, is a re-appraisal. That will be deeply painful for the "Spirit of Vatican II" crowd, as what will happen is a more sober assessment of Vatican II's strengths and weaknesses, and a rediscovery of what Vatican II really says. This is already happening, but it hasn't taken center stage yet. 

When that happens, I think the old, V2 pro or con dialectic will be as gone as the dinosaurs. Then it will be more about a true appreciation and application of Vatican II, as well as a recognition that Vatican II isn't the first or last word on what it means to be Catholic. Vatican II will take its place as part of the Church's treasures, not as the sole treasure, nor as the sole lens through which everything we believe is viewed.