Wednesday, June 29, 2011

An Open Letter to the Liturgy Police

First, let me say that I am inspired. I am inspired by your passionate commitment to your faith and to the liturgy. So many take their faith for granted, or treat the church as simply a social club that meets for the purpose of occasionally doing something nice for the community they live in. However, I would like to take just a moment of your time before you call in the Vatican SWAT team for the latest transgression of your favorite liturgical rule, and ask you to take a moment to meditate on the action of the liturgy and not just the act.

So many of the most important Truths of our Faith are often made of ideas held in tension with each other. Consider that we believe in one God who is also three persons. Jesus, our savior, is fully human and fully divine. A little closer to the topic at hand, the Church is both a divine mystery and a human institution. These truths remain true only when both parts of the idea remain in the proper tension with one another. ‘Liturgy’ comes from Greek roots and contains that idea that it is the public work of the people which expresses their relationship with God. That is true but it is also true what Pope Benedict XVI says “The real “action” in the liturgy in which we are all supposed to participate is the action of God himself. This is what is new and distinctive about Christian liturgy: God himself acts and does what is essential.” And both of these ideas must be held in the proper tension for them to express the fullness of truth with respect to the liturgy. Liturgy is the public work of the people but it is God who acts in the liturgy. Furthermore our relationship to God is both expressed and formed the action of God as He comes to us and as we reach out to Him. It is a divine mystery that calls for respect and humility and awe as we enter more deeply into it. That awe and that respect should properly call us to respect the rituals of the liturgy in which the God of Creation moves and acts. But it is also a human institution that calls us to image the love that God has for us as He enters into our very lives with us. Jesus, our fully divine savior, took on human flesh and entered into our very messy, chaotic human lives. God does shrink from our humanity and establish rules to protect Himself from our flawed finiteness. Instead, He took on human flesh and declared that He would be with us always. The liturgy is a graced meeting of this God who loves us, and lived with us, and comes to us, calls us into a relationship with Him, and forms us into a community. We must be careful then, to never allow the liturgy to be only a strict adherence to the rules of the ritual and risk missing an encounter with the God who loves us and calls us to Himself.

To put it into different words. There is a Latin phrase that expresses the relationship between worship and prayer. “Lex orandi, lex credendi. It means, literally, “the law of praying is the law of believing.” What it expresses is that there is an integral relationship between how we worship or pray and what we believe. Each informs and forms that other. Sometimes, the phrase is expanded to include “Lex vivendi” which means, literally, the “law of living” which further expands the idea that how we worship, and what we believe will then form how we live. And rightly so. What good is a faith that doesn’t change anything? How we worship is vitally important because it will change us and form us, our lives, and our communities. We must be careful then to make sure that our participation in the liturgy which is supposed to call us into a relationship with the Living God does not end up becoming a relationship with a rule book. We must never make a pretense of religion and deny its power.[1] Of course, we must honor the rules and instructions concerning the liturgy but this respect must be held in the proper tension with the action of God in the liturgy. The liturgy is a graced encounter in which the Living God that calls us to into a deeper relationship with Him and the holy people of God…not a rule book.


[1] 2 Timothy 3:5

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

St Patrick’s Breastplate…Or It’s Not Just About Corned Beef and Green Beer

This prayer is thought to have been composed by St. Patrick in his fight against paganism. The Irish monks were extremely influential in the devleopment of the Sacrament of Confession as we enjoy it today.  In the ancient church, regular sacramental confession was not allowed. So along with whatever other moderate merriment is in your schedule today, plan a trip to confession soon. It truly is a gift. Why not read this old post of mine on confession because there certainly hasn’t been enough original content around here lately.

St. Patrick’s Breastplate

I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of the Invocation of the Trinity:
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.

I bind to myself today
The virtue of the Incarnation of Christ with His Baptism,
The virtue of His crucifixion with His burial,
The virtue of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
The virtue of His coming on the Judgement Day.

I bind to myself today
The virtue of the love of seraphim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the hope of resurrection unto reward,
In prayers of Patriarchs,
In predictions of Prophets,
In preaching of Apostles,
In faith of Confessors,
In purity of holy Virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I bind to myself today
The power of Heaven,
The light of the sun,
The brightness of the moon,
The splendour of fire,
The flashing of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of sea,
The stability of earth,
The compactness of rocks.

I bind to myself today
God’s Power to guide me,
God’s Might to uphold me,
God’s Wisdom to teach me,
God’s Eye to watch over me,
God’s Ear to hear me,
God’s Word to give me speech,
God’s Hand to guide me,
God’s Way to lie before me,
God’s Shield to shelter me,
God’s Host to secure me,
Against the snares of demons,
Against the seductions of vices,
Against the lusts of nature,
Against everyone who meditates injury to me,
Whether far or near,
Whether few or with many.

I invoke today all these virtues
Against every hostile merciless power
Which may assail my body and my soul,
Against the incantations of false prophets,
Against the black laws of heathenism,
Against the false laws of heresy,
Against the deceits of idolatry,
Against the spells of women, and smiths, and druids,
Against every knowledge that binds the soul of man.

Christ, protect me today
Against every poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against death-wound,
That I may receive abundant reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
Christ in the fort,
Christ in the chariot seat,
Christ in the poop [deck],
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of an invocation of the Trinity,
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.

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Sunday, March 1, 2009

March 2009: Holy Father’s Prayer Intentions

General: That the role of women may be more appreciated and used to good advantage in every country in the world.

Mission: That in the light of the letter addressed to them by Pope Benedict XVI, the Bishops, priests, consecrated persons, and lay faithful of the Catholic Church in the Popular Republic of China may commit themselves to being the sign and instrument of unity, communion and peace.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Were They At the Same Meeting?

“Ardent Catholic” and holder of a 100% Pro-Choice Voting Record by NARAL, Nancy Pelosi met with His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. Maybe I’m confused Speaker Pelosi, but I think Pope Benedict XVI is probably in a better position than any of us to define what makes an “ardent Catholic.” You see, in my humble outside-the-beltway opinion, that’s one of the things that sets the Catholic Church apart from the church down the block. There IS an authority and WE are not it.

Here is what the Vatican said the Holy Father told Speaker Pelosi:

“His Holiness took the opportunity to speak of the requirements of the natural moral law and the Church’s consistent teaching on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death which enjoin all Catholics, and especially legislators, jurists and those responsible for the common good of society, to work in co-operation with all men and women of good will in creating a just system of laws capable of protecting human life at all stages of its development.”


Here is what Speaker Pelosi said of the meeting:

“It is with great joy that my husband, Paul, and I met with His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, today. In our conversation, I had the opportunity to praise the Church’s leadership in fighting poverty, hunger, and global warming, as well as the Holy Father’s dedication to religious freedom and his upcoming trip and message to Israel. I was proud to show His Holiness a photograph of my family’s papal visit in the 1950s, as well as a recent picture of our children and grandchildren.”


So I am left scratching my head and wondering if she was in the same room as the Holy Father? Did the Holy Father need treatment after beating his head against the brick wall? Of course, I am wondering why she would want to meet with the Holy Father at all? She has been openly contemputous of the Vatican’s policies regarding the reception of Holy Communion. Speaker Pelosi, you can call yourself whatever you like but if you are in open defiance of the magisterium, you are just playing at being Catholic. You are pretending.

That reminds me. If you haven’t heard of Red Envelope Day, click on this link and find out how you can participate. I think I am going to send some red envelopes to Nancy Pelosi too!! Why should the Holy Father being the only one beating his head against that brick wall. It sounds like fun and I think I’ll join him.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Value of Mardi Gras

I participated in a conversation today regarding the value of Mardi Gras and whether a Christian (any Christian) could participate in any Mardi Gras observance. Debauchery was a theme that came up in the discussion and more than one judgment that nothing about Mardi Gras could possibly have a purpose acceptable to a practicing Christian. One person observed that it might be possible for a Catholic to celebrate Mardi Gras with a pure heart but that this person would be “hard-pressed to find even one.” Sigh.

First. Mardi Gras literally means “Fat Tuesday” and it is the day before Ash Wednesday which kicks off the observance of Lent. In times past, Lent was observed by all practicing Catholics by rigorous fasting. It is still observed by those in the Eastern Orthodox traditions with rigorous fasting. Mardi Gras was a last chance to clean out the pantry of those things which would be forbidden during the coming fast. Pancakes and sausage, which used up the remaining dairy, eggs, syrup, sugar, oil and meat were and are traditional foods for Mardi Gras. It had a practical origin. It still has a practical origin. Today in the Roman Catholic Tradition, the observance of Lent can involve rigorous fasting but that is optional. The Catholic Church suggests both the removal of worldly distractions (fasting but perhaps from the internet, or from TV as well as from food) and the addition of positive spiritual disciplines such as extra prayer time or Bible study. Some families choose to make a sacrifice as a family as well as more individual disciplines. If your family has chosen to give up sweets, getting that last bag of M&M’s out of the house so they don’t call to you during the night for the next six weeks is just a practical thing. It’s a human thing too. How many of us, and here I am looking right in the mirror, having decided firmly to begin a diet on Monday don’t look at the burger and fries on Sunday and say, “Yep. I’m having those and do they come with an ice cream sundae?”?

Are there places where Mardi Gras is marked by licentiousness, gluttony, and debauchery? No question about it, there are. But the fact that some people celebrate the New Year with drunken revelry, doesn’t mean that New Years celebrations are inherently wrong. Christmas is grossly commercialized and so is Easter, but should the Christian Church stop celebrating the birth and resurrection of Jesus? The same holds true for Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras has a practical and human purpose and for every single devout Catholic I know, its celebration is marked by family good times and a sure focus on the Lenten sacrifice ahead. Yes, my children will probably eat more sweets than they would normally. I hardly think that qualifies for “debauchery” or “gluttony” anymore than eating those nasty marshmallow creations that some people consume on Easter. Yes, I mean Peeps.

And in fact, some of the symbols associated with the traditional observance of Mardi Gras do have religious significance. The Mardi Gras season begins with Epiphany, where we celebrate the kings/wisemen finding Jesus. Thus “King Cake.” A baby, representing the Christ Child, is hidden in the cake. This represents Christ being hidden from King Herod who wanted to kill him and the wisemen not telling King Herod where he was. The Mardi Gras colors have meaning and are all originally intended to represent Christ bringing justice (purple), faith (green=growth of faith), and power (gold=Jesus is the King of Kings and ultimately holds all power).

The Mardi Gras season is a time when Catholics take some time for reflection and plan how best to observe Lent. I can’t tell you the number of conversations I have had with fellow Catholics in the last week or so about plans for Lent and all of them have centered around spiritual disciplines and reading material. Are some of them going to a Mardi Gras parade and catch some beads with all of their clothes on? Probably but that’s not what we talked about because that isn’t the important part. The focus of this time of year for most Catholics I know is not the fun aspects of King Cake, beads, and parades, but rather the serious spiritual aspects of refocusing, of re-evaluating, removing the distractions, and preparing ones heart to truly receive the Risen Lord.

It’s too easy to just look at the excesses of Mardi Gras shown in the media and that are used to market tourist packages and assume that’s all there is to it. If your religious practice does not include a rigorous observance of Lent, I would just like to ask that in charity, you also not jump to too many conclusions about the celebration of Mardi Gras in its proper place.

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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Famous Last Words: Rest in Peace Michael Dubruiel

I would like to join my voice to those of the Catholic blogosphere, in praying for Amy Wellborn and her family. This last week her husband, Michael Dubruiel, collapsed and died while working out. He leaves behind a grieving family as well as devastated friends and colleagues and many, many grateful readers of his books. I am one of the latter. I have used his books in the religious formation of my children and have enjoyed his blog entries on Amazon for a long time. Michael was a young man; although, I must say it is amusing to me how the definition of “young” with respect to untimely passing is rapidly changing as I age.

With uncharacteristic brevity, Karl Marx had this to say for his last words. “Go on, get out – last words are for fools who haven’t said enough.” Having read hundred of pages of his writing when I studied communist political thought in college, I couldn’t agree more. He’d already said enough. But sometimes, last words are a gift that God allows as last blessing and Michaels Dubruiel’s last column most certainly falls into that category. In his last column, Michael weaves together an unlikely combination of the wisdom of Father Groeschel, the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, and an antidote to “The Big Lie.” He concludes:

What is the opposite of the “big lie”? Trust.

When questioned by an English journalist about the future of the Religious Order that he co-founded, Father Benedict gave a simple reply, “We have no plans, except to be led by God.”

None of us knows what the future holds, but hopefully we can embrace what is inscribed in our coinage, “In God we Trust.”

May perpetual light shine upon him. His voice will be sorely missed. Please read the rest of his last column here. And buy his books and not just because the royalites will help his children go to college. They’re good.  

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Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Fistful of Dollars: The Story of a Kiva Loan

It’s been a couple of months since I’ve mentioned Kiva so it must be time to do it again. A small amount of money (that you get BACK!!) can change someone’s life. And that someone’s family, and their employees, and their village. That’s better than interest in my opinion, and substantially better than the return you get on Wall Street these days….by a long shot. Take a look at this short video:


Or swing by this Kiva Fellow’s blog to watch a more detailed video of just how Kiva works. Including footage of a Kiva loan recipient making her loan payment and seeing pictures of people who lent to her: A Fistful of Dollars The Story of a Kiva.org Loan.

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Friday Funny: Zombies Sighted in Austin Texas

Hackers broke into the electronic road signs around Austin, Texas. It was terrible. Guffaw. Awful. Giggle. They shouldn’t have done that. Snort. Shame on them. But it sure is funny…Here’s the link. I hope the culprits enjoy their 15 minutes of fame before the Dept of Transportation tosses them into the the pokey.

Thanks Jen!

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

On Being Sensible…

I’m tired of being sensible. It seems to me that being Christian is a call to a life lived outside of the boundaries that society labels “sensible.” I am tired of being kept from doing what I know to be the kind and Christian thing to do by stories of mayhem and murder. I am sick and tired of my “inner censor” telling me that I should not give some money for lunch to the disreputable person because he/she might spend it on [fill in the undesirable substance which might be purchased].

So today as I was heading to the eye doctor’s to pick up the jacket left behind by my children a couple of days ago (mutter sputter), I passed a man walking with a duffel bag on his back in the brutal cold. (It was 47 degrees here and in Houston that is brutal. You may stop guffawing now if you live where 47 degrees is a winter heat wave.) He was clearly down on his luck and I said a quick prayer for him as I went in the opposite direction that he was walking. But on the way home, he was walking in the same direction I was driving and I was just overcome with wanting to help. Now, I know it is not the sensible thing to do to pick up a stranger, but I didn’t have my children with me so I decided that I was risking only myself. I also ignored the very sensible voice of my best friend on the phone who said “You are going to do WHAT!? You had better CALL me when you drop him off” Good. Not sensible but I’ve got someone in the background waiting to call the cavalary if I don’t turn up…that’s prudent. I made a u-turn and offered to help.He was headed to “Nawlins.”  Well now, “Nawlins” wasn’t on my list of places to visit but I did offer to take him the 30 or so miles to I-10 where he was more likely to find somebody who was headed that way. I dropped him off with money for some meals and he walked off in the direction of Nawlins and I picked up my cell phone and assured my best friend of my safety. It wasn’t convenient. It wasn’t sensible. But it was the right thing to do nonetheless.

When I got home, I sat down to do today’s Mass readings with the children. And today’s gospel added precisely the right grace notes to my morning.

Mark 4:21-25 Jesus said to his disciples, “Is a lamp brought in to be placed under a bushel basket or under a bed, and not to be placed on a lampstand? For there is nothing hidden except to be made visible; nothing is secret except to come to light. Anyone who has ears to hear ought to hear.” He also told them, “Take care what you hear. The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you, and still more will be given to you. To the one who has, more will be given; from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.

Is there anything even remotely sensible about the Grace we are given from God? How many times do we squander the gifts we are given? And how many times have we hurt our Lord by rejecting Him? Sensible indeed. If He can be vulnerable, and risk having His previous gifts to us squandered and rejected, how much more should we be ridiculous for His sake?

And so almost a month into this new year, I find myself with a resolution to be less sensible. I have to say that in spite of the way the car smelled after this gentleman’s exit from my car, it was worth it.

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Catholic Carnival 209: The Sound in the Hills

Sarah has done a lovely job of hosting this week’s Catholic Carnival. It’s worth a special trip just to see the picture up for her blog’s heading, but the rest of the posts are worthwhile too. So go take a look and support Catholic blogging on the internet.

While I am at it, I have discovered the USCCB has a podcast available of the daily readings. Who knew? I didn’t, so I am passing it on.

And finally, if you’d like to hear Texas’ first cardinal, Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, speak, and who wouldn’t, this man is truly brilliant and I don’t use that word lightly, then you can find two of his lectures here. One is on St. Augustine and the other on the Early Church Fathers. I haven’t listened to them yet, but just as soon as I hit publish they are going to be playing on my computer.

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