April 15, 2014

We gaze on that cross this week. Enter into that love, be immersed in it, be overcome by God’s mercy — this is the life Christians are called to. So that we might be beacons of his merciful love, transformed by it. So that this is who we are — configured to Him.

And give thanks, too, for our common spiritual director, Pope Francis, and this walk to Christ — to live lives of real Christianity, in all its radically redemptive ways — he is urging.

…so writes Kathryn Jean Lopez as part of a great post on her blog. For me, Holy Week is such a cavalcade of memories and emotions from my youth to my flirtation with seeking ordination to the priesthood, to coming out the other side bruised and battered, yet still alive. Holy Week reminds me of Palm Sundays singing in the choir with family and friends, serving on the Altar Guild, and spending hours in an otherwise-deserted church during the annual “Night Watch with Jesus” at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, the solemnity and breathless anticipation towards Easter Sunday during Holy Saturday services, attending the Great Vigil of Easter at the Church of the Advent in Boston (no one does it better!), and, most recently avoiding the Easter crowds by spending a quiet hour or two with my Monastic Breviary in my prayer grove.

As I get older I find myself withdrawing from the large crowds at St. Mary Magdalene parish during Christmas and Easter. I don’t want to make it sound like I’ve seen it all, but the large crowds and boistrous celebrations don’t move me much anymore. And besides, with everything I’ve gone through and been a part of between Massachusetts, Kentucky, and Arizona, I feel I have. Seeking God’s presence amidst the bougainvillea while enjoying coffee and the Breviary are enough for me these days, and I feel I get as much – if not more – out of it as I would attending Mass with the throngs.

What Holy Week does for me is to bring my relationship with God and the Church full circle – the memories of childhood and adulthood all rolled into a big emotional ball that makes it hard to focus on little else except the movement of God in time – my time, my family’s time, and all the memories that go along with it. And in doing so I find the Church and my current relationship with it to be less important than what it once was. Just like everything else, it’s a phase, and perhaps next year I’ll be spending Lent doing the Stations of the Cross every Friday during Lent and immersing myself in the Church’s commemoration of Holy Week with the best of them.

I remember a Good Friday several years back playing gold with a couple of my Goodboys buddies at Trull Brook and wondering if it were appropriate on such a solemn day. But there came a point just prior to our round starting where I found myself virtally alone on the bench by the first tee and being struck at how glorious the surroundings were – the quiet beauty of God’s Creation, the whisper of God’s presence in the breeze that rustled the dead oak leaves that had yet to be pushed to the ground by the new foliage just beginning to appear. At that moment, I felt I was surrounded by a holiness no sanctaury could ever match – immersed in Creation, surrounded by death and life emerging from the dead of winter. On that Good Friday, it all felt so right.

Holy Week serves as a poignant reminder of what our lives are at any point in time: death and life are always around us, behind us, and waiting just around the corner. Accept it for what it is and embrace the now and everything life both good and bad has to offer. It’s God’s plan for all of us. Just this week, one of my co-workers’ brothers passed away after a long battle with cancer only days after one of her fellow team members became a grandmother for the first time. Beginnings and endings, endings and beginnings.

At the close of Mark’s Gospel the angel instructs the frightened women to tell Jesus’ disciples to meet the risen Lord in Galilee, where everything began (Mark 16.7). The endless cycle of humanity and God’s creation which we are and have been since our conception a part of. Alpha and Omega. Death and Life. Holy Week illustrates both in ways never before seen or since in human history.

My prayer is that all who make Goodboys Nation weblog a regular stop find some time for yourself this Holy Week away from the assembled multitudues to find some quite time to drink in what this most holy week of the Church Year is all about.

Filed in: Religion & Culture by The Great White Shank at 00:58 | Comments Off on Holy Week
February 26, 2014

OK, it’s time to get this off my chest.

I’m beyond tired of hearing about it and reading about it no matter where I go.

To put it plain, I’m sick of the media’s unending focus on folks’ sexual identity. A basketball player comes “out of the closet” and says he’s gay. Great. My only question is, can you play basketball? A football player comes “out of the closet” and says he’s gay. Big f’in deal. My only question is, can you play football? The state of Arizona wants to protect people who, for religious reasons, don’t want to support a gay couple’s marriage and don’t think they should be prosecuted simply because they don’t want to bake a wedding cake for, or shoot wedding photos at, a gay marriage ceremony. And so we’re now a bunch of homophobes on top of being racists and sexists.

I’m sick of it.

Let me state for the record that I could give a rat’s a$$ if two guys or two women want to go to the local JP and get “married”. Good for them, I hope it lasts. What I consider “marriage” and the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony as Christian doctrine and tradition are two different things. What “the State” considers to be “marriage” is up to a bunch of bow-tied, bum-kissing politicians who couldn’t chew gum and fart without a set of instructions. What the Church considers to be a holy union in the eyes of God is something people can choose to agree or disagree with, but that’s the way it is. And no bow-tied, bum-kissing pol is gonna be able to change that – there is such a thing as separation of Church and State called (you may have heard of it) the Constitution.

Before I go further, let me state that there’s a huge different between people who consider themselves gay, lesbian, transgendered, or whatever they want to call themselves, and the Organized Homosexuality lobby. The former – and I count myself as long-time friend of someone in this group – is a bunch of folks that go about their daily business in a way no different from you or I; they live their lives in search of the same happiness anyone else does. The other makes a living out of seeking ways to further their agenda through lawsuit and intimidation whenever anyone makes the mistake of looking at them the wrong way. Refuse to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple? Refuse to take photographs at a gay couple’s wedding? Refuse to rent out to them a flat that you yourself own? Sue them.

Because you can’t take them out back and shoot them.

Listen to what your Uncle Shank is saying here. I could care less what you do in your bedroom, so don’t expect me to have to dance to your tune. Neither would (or should) I expect you to dance to mine, whatever it is. You don’t like my lifestyle? Fine. But don’t expect me to have to like and support yours if I don’t agree with it. There are plenty of other photographers and cake-bakers who would love to have your business, so frequent them and encourage all your friends to do likewise. It’s called live and let live.

Oh, and don’t expect me to support the idea of “gay rights” as being the next great Civil Rights battle. There’s no comparison. And I guarantee you, while Dr. Martin Luther King (who was all about people respecting one another as God’s creatures) would call for tolerance and respect when it comes to this kind of thing, he’d find absolutely zero commonality whatsoever between the true evil of segregation and the pathetic bleatings of those snubbed by Christian cake-bakers and wedding photographers. And I guarantee that thousands wouldn’t march on Washington to protect the rights of people who (and believe me I’m being kind here, this is a family blog) desire sexual relations with someone of the same gender.

As much as the Organized Homosexuality movement is all about making sexual identity the primary means by which people are judged, I don’t. I don’t care what you or anyone else does in your bedroom. I also don’t care what you fantasize about, who you want to shack up with legally, or the fact you insist upon others to make you feel good about certain sexual choices you have made or are making in your life. Neither should I care or insist upon what you or anyone else thinks about what I do in my bedroom, or who I want to live with legally.

If you really want to make a difference in the world, do us all a favor and keep your sexual preferences and desires to yourself. Anyone or anything that judges or identifies a person by whom they desire sexually – or insists that others do likewise – is a pea-wit, and that goes for most of the mainstream media. And anyone who uses their own sexual identity as a weapon to force others into your own idea of what “tolerance” and conformity” is, is not just a pea-wit, but someone who supports a dangerous form of tyranny at that.

Filed in: Religion & Culture by The Great White Shank at 02:18 | Comments Off on Having A Gay Old Time?
December 1, 2013

And so a new Church Year is upon us, and the liturgical countdown to Christmas has begun. I’ve always loved the season of Advent, its color of purple, and its incurable sense of quiet and earnest hope when all around us seems so rushed, harried, and commercialized. Amidst all this craziness, Advent asks us to take a deep breath and contemplate God’s place in the world around us and in our lives.

Lots of sermons written for this season speak of Messianic expectation and the need for preparing one’s self for inviting the Christ Child anew into our world with Christmas. But what, exactly, does that mean for us in practical terms? After all, Isaiah’s prophecies to Israel were made during a time when there was very little for anyone in the dispersed tribes of Israel to hang their hats on beyond simple faith. Same holds true today: one might well ask how relative the message of Advent is to a world two thousand years after God became human and died an ugly, anonymous death on the Cross? After all, the blights on the human condition then are the same as today: wars, poverty, strife, conflict, and all sorts of crappy stuff in spades.

But here’s the thing: just as we cannot see the impact our lives have had on this world and those around us, the same holds true in that we cannot see the full work of God at work in the lives of those and the world around us. The truth is, we all tend to have blinders on as our personal lives flitter from one priority or crisis to another. We’re so focused on our life “to do” lists that we spend precious little time contemplating the various ways our lives interact with others and whether those interactions have been positive or negative. And the same holds true not just with others but with God’s creation. What is our footprint on this earth we inhabit? Has it been positive or negative, or does it really matter?

And this is where the spirit of Advent comes in, for, no matter how you slice it, Advent is all about our perception of God at work in the world. Does God exist? Where and how is God at work? What do we see of God in others? What do we want to see but don’t? Advent’s message of longing and expectation, and how to “prepare the way of the Lord” are eternal in nature, for Advent in and of itself doesn’t provide us with the answers, it only tells us that in asking these questions we are not, nor have we ever been, alone. This homily by Fr. Charles Irvin, I think, strikes the right chord. Here’s a key bit I found particularly interesting:

We often speak of Advent as being a season of time in which we prepare for the Lord’s coming into our lives. Perhaps we should see it as a season of heightened awareness, for the truth is that we should be looking for God already at work in our lives every day. God is always offering Himself to us. We, however, are not always responding because we’re not paying attention. Advent is a time to conscientiously, deliberately, and with awareness respond to His offer of Himself to us. We have to “see the Light,” so to speak.

It’s all a matter of seeing eternity in every season of our lives. It’s all a matter of paying attention to God’s presence to us in our lives as children, as teens, as young adults, in our middle age, and in the final seasons of our lives when we mirror the time when the leaves fall from their branches and the world goes to sleep under a blanket of snow. In each of those seasons of our lives God’s ever-present and everlasting love can break in upon us. We all, each one of us, feel it to be unexpected. But what is so unexpected about it? Why should we be surprised? God is always calling us to climb to the top of the mountain, look for His coming, and take a look over the broad range of our lives.

Countless sermons this season will talk about the need for us to consider what we need to do in our lives to welcome the Christ Child anew come Christmas, but the fact is we live our lives in a perpetual Advent where God is at work within us – whether we know it or like it or not – and constantly knocking on the door of our hearts and souls to prepare Christ’s way into our lives more fully. For some it’s just His toe in the door, for others we see an arm or an elbow. Still others refuse to answer the door or perhaps don’t even hear anyone knocking. But Advent reminds us God is with us and has always been there in countless ways we will never know. As we prepare for Christmas and the celebration of the Incarnation of Our Lord, Advent asks us to take a few minutes out of our busy lives to reflect on the way God has been at work in our lives and in the world around us, in ways we might otherwise simply be too preoccupied to see.

Filed in: Religion & Culture by The Great White Shank at 02:38 | Comments Off on Advent
September 30, 2013

I mentioned this very same thing the other day, and hopefully Brendan O’Neill of UK’s The Telegraph gets the ball moving in a way that at least starts the discussion.

Time and again, one reads about Islamist attacks that seem to defy not only the most basic of humanity’s moral strictures but also political and even guerrilla logic. Consider the hundreds of suicide attacks that have taken place in Iraq in recent years, a great number of them against ordinary Iraqis, often children. Western apologists for this wave of weird violence, which they call “resistance”, claim it is about fighting against the Western forces which were occupying Iraq in the wake of the 2003 invasion. If so, it’s the first “resistance” in history whose prime targets have been civilians rather than security forces, and which has failed to put forward any kind of political programme that its violence is allegedly designed to achieve. Even experts in counterinsurgency have found themselves perplexed by the numerous nameless suicide assaults on massive numbers of civilians in post-war Iraq, and the fact that these violent actors, unlike the vast majority of violent political actors in history, have “developed no alternative government or political wing and displayed no intention of amassing territory to govern”. One Iraqi attack has stuck in my mind for seven years. In 2006 a female suicide bomber blew herself up among families – including many mothers and their offspring – who were queuing up for kerosene. Can you imagine what happened? A terrible glimpse was offered by this line in a Washington Post report on 24 September 2006: “Two pre-teen girls embraced each other as they burned to death.”

…We have a tendency to overlook the newness of modern Islamic terrorism, how recent is this emergence of a totally suicidal violence that revels in causing as many causalities as possible. Yes, terrorism has existed throughout the modern era, but not like this. Consider the newness of suicide attacks, of terrorists who destroy themselves as well as their surroundings and fellow citizens. In the 1980s and 1990s, there were an average of one or two suicide attacks a year. Across the whole world. Since the early and mid-2000s there have been around 300 or 400 suicide attacks a year. In 2006 there were more suicide attacks around the world than had taken place in the entire 20 years previous. Terrorists’ focus on killing civilians – the more the better – is also new. If you look at the 20 bloodiest terrorist attacks in human history, measured by the number of causalities they caused, you’ll see something remarkable: 14 of them – 14 – took place in the 1990s and 2000s. So in terms of mass death and injury, those terrorist eras of the 1970s and 80s, and also earlier outbursts of anarchist terrorism, pale into insignificance when compared with the new, Islamist-leaning terrorism that has emerged in recent years.

Whether it’s apathy, fear of reprisal, or whatever the fact is it is time to call this kind of ruthless madness (and that’s what it is, because anyone with a right state of mind cannot read stories like this and not be repulsed at where this has been going for a long time). You gotta a problem with someone else’s religion? Fine, but as long as it doesn’t impact your life in a negative fashion go about your business and let others do the same. Besides, if it all results in a better, more peaceful world aren’t we all winners in the end?

The fact is, while these bastards use Islam and the Koran and the prophet Mohammed as cover for their actions they’re nothing but evil beasts incarnate that deserve to be destroyed and extracted like a cancer from the face of the earth. I’m willing to respect anyone’s religion (or lack thereof). But you would think when people in the name of Allah do despicable acts in his name fellow believers and leaders of Islam would stand up and condemn such actions. Would the prophet Mohammad agree with flying jet planes into the World Trade Center towers and killing innocents to make a point about so-called “infidels”? Would he agree with blowing up innocents on trains, or in shopping malls, or folks watching a marathon race, or queueing up for food outside of a Christian church? If he would, then he’d be just as much of a despicable idiot as his vile followers are.

I’m guessing, however – and hey, maybe I’m wrong – but he’d be just as appalled. As are many of the Islamic faith. But where are they? Good question.

It’s time for Islam as a religion to grow up and its leaders and the folks who practice it decide what they want the face of their religion to be. Is it to join the world’s other great religions and strive to be a force for greater good in the world, or do they really wish to lose it all at the hands of a relatively small population of faux believers whose unspeakable actions go beyond barbarism to be the very definition of evil in this world.

Methinks it is time for Islam’s leaders throughout the world to assess the difference between the actions of a political movement – where all is fair game and those who perform these barbaric acts are rooted out and destroyed, and religion and its practice as a vehicle for worhip, peace, brotherhood, self-improvmement and betterment of the world around it. Because from my viewpoint that is not the face of Islam in the world right now.

Filed in: Religion & Culture by The Great White Shank at 01:58 | Comments Off on It’s Time To Talk About Islamic Barbarism
May 19, 2013

After Eastertide we finally reach the feast of Pentecost, one of my favorite feasts of the Church Year. Pentecost commemorates the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Jesus’ followers and, as Fr. Rodney Kissinger notes, is recognized as the beginning of the Christian Church:

The Feast of Pentecost is the birthday of the Church. For some 2,000 years now the Church has withstood the devastating ravages of time. It has seen empires rise, flourish and then fall. It has withstood diabolical attempts to destroy it from without and corrupting influences from within. Through it all the permanence and the stability of the Church stand out like a beacon in the night of a sin-darkened world.

God wants all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. The Good News Jesus came to reveal was meant not only for the people of his day, but for people of all time. So while Jesus was personally proclaiming the Good News to his contemporaries, he was preparing a means by which his mission would be continued after he had returned to his heavenly Father.

He began by gathering together twelve men whom he called apostles. He spent the night in prayer before he called them to “Come follow me.” He taught them by word and example. As an internship he sent them out two by two and gave them authority to proclaim the Good News and cast out demons. He gave them specific instructions about what to wear and what to do. When they returned they were glowing with success. Jesus took them aside for debriefing and further instructions.

Before he returned to his Father, he gave them their formal commission. “Go into the whole world; make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you. And behold I am with you always until the end of the ages.” (Matt.28:19-20)

Then he told them to go to Jerusalem and wait until they received the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth that would remind them of all he had commanded and remain with them forever. Then just as the human body of Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit at the Annunciation, so too the Mystical Body of Jesus, the Church, was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. And just as the human Jesus lived his entire life under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so too the Mystical Body of Jesus lives its entire life under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It was by the power of the Holy Spirit that the Gospel of Christ crucified, so incredible and paradoxical in itself, so contrary to human nature and preached by such simple, unlettered men conquered the known world in a few centuries.

God could have chosen angels. But he chose men; fickle, fallible, sinful human beings. AND IT IS THIS VERY HUMANITY WHICH IS THE GREATEST PROOF OF ITS DIVINITY. If it were only human it would have been out of existence a long time ago. After the Resurrection when the apostles were brought before the Sanhedrin for teaching about the Resurrection, Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, said, “So now I tell you, have nothing to do with these men, and let them go. For if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.” (Acts 5:38-39) That was some 2,000 years ago. The Church today is still teaching the Resurrection.

If God had chosen angels would the Church be perfect? I don’t think so. How many myriads of angels said, “I will not serve” and were cast into the Hell prepared for them? And if the Church is perfect, how did you get in? How did I get in? How did any human being get in? If you are looking for a perfect Church and you find it, join it. And when you do it will no longer be perfect. The next time the humanity of the Church rears its ugly head let us not be shocked and scandalized. Instead of trying to twist the facts to deny the truth, let us realize that there is something here greater than all of us.

The Church is not God. It is the People of God. The Church is not Jesus. It is the Mystical Body of Jesus. The Church is human and divine. And the humanity of the Church is one of the greatest proofs of its divinity.

Back when I was a youth in the Episcopal Church and Anglican tradition it was called Whitsunday. Always liked that term – it just sounds so Anglican to these Anglo-Catholic ears. Reminds me of the St. Anne’s Episcopal Church of my youth and old Mr. Nichols.

Saturday’s Pentecost Mass at St. Mary Magdalene was as good as church gets – the setting with all the red linen, bright flowers in reds, oranges, and yellows, a large number of the congregation dressed in the same colors, and music that was perfect and perfectly-performed for the occasion. Father Will’s homily – on Pentecost being the New Testament reverse of the Old Testament’s Tower of Babel story – was enlightening and fascinating to listen to.

Now that Pentecost is over, next week is the Feast of the Holy Trinity when the Church Year goes back to the color of green and thereafter what is called ordinary time, which will close out the Church Year on December 1st with the start of Advent and a new Church Year. It’s truly hard to believe, and not a little bit frightening – just how fast this year is passing by.

Filed in: Religion & Culture by The Great White Shank at 02:04 | Comments Off on Pentecost
May 15, 2013

As much as I’ve tried from time to time to cultivate a daily time of prayer at my prayer table, I just haven’t been able to make it stick. My prayer table is always covered with the linen in the color of whatever season of the Church Year it happens to be and, sharing the same house space as my home office, it’s still a comfort to be near when the days get beyond long and beyond hectic. But taking time out for a spell of quiet prayer at the table is just not happening for me at this point in time.

…which is not to say God and prayer are not on my mind or not in my consciousness constantly – in fact, I find myself thinking spiritually more often recently than I have in the past couple of years. I think there are several reasons for that:

1. Like many Roman Catholics worldwide, I’m pretty psyched about our new Pope and the way he is going about his business. He’s not the kind of guy who’s going to tolerate the status quo or pay lip service to the Vatican power structure – he’s committed to bringing a call to holiness to the masses, and he’s not afraid to walk with the common folk or ruffle a few feathers in order to make his point. His call to a greater holiness is my own call to a greater holiness.

2. Here in my 58th year of existence I guess I’m feeling the need to adopt a greater sense of spiritual balance – not just in what I do on a day-to-day basis, but why I do it to begin with. I’m not going to kid myself – the days of big ideas, big dreams, and big achievements are over with (unless, of course, God has other plans in mind!), and it’s the smaller things that are becoming more important to me. Getting out of debt once again, I think, will help that out a great deal, as there are charities and organizations I’d like to have the flexibility to at least consider playing a larger role in going forward.

3. I’ve felt a need to revisit the monastic roots of my spiritual conversion back in 1994 through the writings of Henri Nouwen (specifically, his The Genesee Diary and The Road To Daybreak) and Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection(his Practice of the Presence of God), and their own ideas on living a life of prayer through everyday activities and contemplative prayer.

4. My new daily subscription to the Society of St. John the Evangelist, where they’ll send you a daily meditation in the form of a sentence or two really kicks off my day and gives me something to contemplate throughout the day. I highly recommend it to everyone, and it costs nothing to subscribe!

All of which brings me to my prayer candle, which I’ve set up adjacent to my work area. A year ago I stumbled upon Church Candles Online and found some really nice 5-day candles to center my spiritual life around. Every Sunday a new one is lit with a short prayer for those I love and care for, and those in need of prayer. Sometimes it’s a little more than that – for God’s light and the warmth of His love and presence to be seen and felt by more people in this troubled world, or growth in His Church and an increase amongst God’s faithful. But always, it is lit with the hope and prayer that my family, friends, and loved ones whom I’ve shared my journey with all these years will always be in God’s care, in this world and the next. At night, whenever I’m out by the far end of the pool or taking the trash or recyclables out and passing by my office window there’s great comfort in seeing that candle burning brightly, whether during the day or at night.

Tonight my prayers and thoughts are with my neighbor John’s mother Lucy, who has been fighting Alzheimer’s and a variety of other ailments. She’s living out her remaining hours home with John and Mary so her friends and loved ones can pay their final goodbyes. Only met her a few times before she really got bad, and she was a very nice and classy lady. May she know deep within her God’s abiding presence and healing spirit as she moves from this life to glory in the next.

Filed in: Religion & Culture by The Great White Shank at 02:07 | Comments Off on Spritual Signs
April 7, 2013

I sat through one of the most depressing and disheartening homilies yesterday at St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Church, some old buck well-intentioned (I guess) but well beyond his ability to connect spiritually and emotionally with his parish on one of the most poignant and theologically deep Gospels any priest is ever going to have the privilege of speaking about. It’s from John 20:19-29:

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”

And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

“If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.”

But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”

After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”

Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.”
Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”

Hmmm. Lots of stuff going on there, wouldn’t you agree? So what does this priest choose as his subject matter for his homily? No less than the moral lessons found in the Broadway play “The Elephant Man” (from 1977, no less, how’s that for contemporary!). There’s a ten year-old girl and her mom sitting next to me and two teenage girls with their parents sitting in front of me, and I’m wondering what on God’s green earth they’re going to get out of this snoozer of a homily. It was really pissing me off to the point where it took all the strength I could muster not to stand up and cause a scene. I mean, if this is the best the Catholic Church can do the first Mass after Easter then count me out!

There’s so much going one here that applies not just to a bunch of legendary characters two thousand years ago but to each and every one of us today. It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, rich or poor, or single, married, divorced, gay, straight, or anything. Think about Jesus’ words in the context of his presenting himself to his followers:

Peace be with you.

This to a group of followers Jesus had walked, talked, taught, and shared every part of his life with since he had chosen them to follow Him and his calling. Talk about your highs and lows and ups and downs! In the past week they had all been received triumphantly into Jerusalem along with their image of a King who would set Israel right before God, then watched as it all went completely wrong before their eyes – Peter disowning Him, Judas betraying Him, the rest of them scattering at the condemnation, suffering, and death of their Master. And now here’s Jesus appearing before their astonished and unbelieving eyes, saying four simple, yet timeless words:

Peace be with you.

If you think about it, Jesus’ words are God’s words to a world that disowns, betrays, and scatters before Him every minute of every day, every day of every week, every week of every year, every year of every century, every century of every millennium. Human nature doesn’t change, the only thing that doesn’t is God’s love for us and His desire for us never to feel beyond His love for us. Amidst all the turmoil, trouble, disillusionment, violence, and stress of the world around us, Jesus’ words are a source of comfort and strength no one or no thing can come close to.

Peace be with you.

You don’t think these words can apply to people young and old? But no, as this priest droned on about the freakin’ Elephant Man play I couldn’t help but wonder what the young people beside and in front of me must have been thinking. Or anyone else in the congregation, for that matter. The Church is supposed to be all about sharing the revelation of Jesus Christ risen from the dead and how that (at least in this day and age) incomprehensible act of resurrection applies to each and every one of us. And having some old, well-intentioned but totally out of touch priest droning on about a Broadway play of twenty-five years after the fact just doesn’t cut it for me. I mean, w
Where’s the passion? Where’s the joy? Where’s the love and commitment to the Gospel?

Call me picky or just as out of touch as this priest was, but if you’re going to preach the Gospel do it with passion and a message that’s contemporary to your audience. I mean, you can’t tell me that there aren’t people – young people especially – that aren’t experiencing in their own lives some sense of betrayal, disillusionment, and loss, and looking for some message that transcends the usual bullshit they can find on TV any given night. This Gospel and this Church must have a message and a way of communicating that message if it wants to be relevant in this world.

To see such an opportunity wasted pisses me off to almost the point of despair.

Filed in: Religion & Culture by The Great White Shank at 00:49 | Comments Off on Peace Be With You?
March 31, 2013

Yesterday I walked the first hole at my favorite golf course, Portsmouth Country Club. While other golf courses I’ve played in the area (Green Meadow, Sagamore-Hampton, and Pease, to name just a few) are already open and accepting their first foursomes of the year, on a warm and sunny afternoon Portsmouth was still locked up in its winter setting, the course as barren as if it were January, the practice green (and all greens, for that matter) covered in plastic, the grass all gnarly and winter-kill brown. While others would have given it the quickest of glances and walked away, I couldn’t help but stand on the first tee and imagine myself looking out over a sun-drenched, green vista on a warm spring or summer afternoon, the trees full and green, birds chirping, the happy colors of the planted flowers, the sounds of golfers chatting around the putting green and drivers being launched off the first tee.

The sun being warm and I being the only human being around as far as I could see, I walked the first hole down towards the woods that bound the property, Great Bay shimmering in the afternoon sun past the second hole to my far right. Having played this hole many a time, I found myself juxtaposed between past (where I’ve played various shots in the past) and the present. In the earliest of Spring afternoons I could hear the sound of the young peepers – the young tree frogs – awakening to their new life. I could see along the fairway trees starting to bud and the sprouts of daffadils and jonquils bravely emerging from the chilly soil. And it occurred to me that, in this one small corner of the world, there is resurrection taking place before my very eyes – the seeming death of winter being replaced by the annual renewal that Spring brings.

We all spend far too much time dwelling in the present and all the bullshit that goes with our day-to-day lives. Were we to step back and take a look at the bigger picture, at the annual dance of death and new life that goes on all around us each and every day, we’d understand the powerful force of resurrection as part of God’s plan, not just for us, not just at Easter, but for the whole world on a daily basis. In God’s eye, nothing goes to waste, nothing is lost forever – we, through the death of Christ Jesus, are part of a greater plan beyond which any of us can (or should) comprehend.

Live your life as God has called you to do each and every day. Appreciate everything and every gift of God’s creation for what it is, recognizing that you’re no more special than anything else around you, for we are all part of God’s creation and God’s plan for creation. Resurrection is not some old dusty tale from two thousand years ago, it is happening all around us if we only have the eyes to see. And we shall all be a part of it someday.

Jesus Christ Is Risen today.

Welcome happy morning, age to age shall say.

…and my presonal favorite:

Come ye faithful, raise the strain. The lyrics to this hymn have always touched me in ways that make me want to cry whenever I hear them sung:

Come, ye faithful, raise the strain of triumphant gladness;
God hath brought forth Israel into joy from sadness;
Loosed from Pharaoh’s bitter yoke Jacob’s sons and daughters,
Led them with unmoistened foot through the Red Sea waters.

’Tis the spring of souls today; Christ has burst His prison,
And from three days’ sleep in death as a sun hath risen;
All the winter of our sins, long and dark, is flying
From His light, to Whom we give laud and praise undying.

Now the queen of seasons, bright with the day of splendor,
With the royal feast of feasts, comes its joy to render;
Comes to glad Jerusalem, who with true affection
Welcomes in unwearied strains Jesus’ resurrection.

Neither might the gates of death, nor the tomb’s dark portal,
Nor the watchers, nor the seal hold Thee as a mortal;
But today amidst the twelve Thou didst stand, bestowing
That Thy peace which evermore passeth human knowing.

Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!

Filed in: Religion & Culture by The Great White Shank at 02:27 | Comments Off on Resurrection
March 30, 2013

There’s not much to say on such a poignant day in the Church Year. Jesus of Nazareth lies dead in the tomb, his disciples and followers have scattered, believing their mission and their cause, even their very lives, to be over and in danger. The Kingdom of Heaven so promised by their Messiah has been battered, bloodied, and killed before their very eyes. The eternal God of life and love, however, has a different plan in mind:

Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated. For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

Heaven awaits the arrival of the eternal Groom and His bridesmaid the Church to be born out of the horrifying, puzzling, and even frightening past two days. In the days ahead God will reveal through the power of Resurrection a different plan for humankind, a plan unlike anything anyone has seen before. The stillness of death and the tomb overwhelms the earth today; tomorrow a whole new world will be born yet again with the cries of “Alleluia, Christ is Risen!”

We Christians wait with a sense of apprehension and anticipation. In the darkness a candle is burning bright, but we cannot see the light just yet.

Filed in: Religion & Culture by The Great White Shank at 02:38 | Comments Off on Holy Saturday
March 29, 2013

[Ed. note: On this Good Friday, please excuse me if I reprint one of my favorite blog posts – this one from 2007. Hard to believe I’ve been blogging this long! Reading this post I’m struck by just how timeless its message is. Hope you find it as meaningful today as I do OIand did then).]

stein On this Good Friday, I’ll leave it to the story of Edith Stein (1891-1942), a German philosopher who grew up in Judaism before converting to Christianity in the 1920s, to speak for the day. On a trip to Cologne during Holy Week in 1933, Stein attended a Maundy Thursday service at a Carmelite convent with a friend. Afterwards, recalling how deeply she had been moved by the priest’s homily during the service, and fully aware of the political goings on in the rise of Nazism during that time, she wrote:

“I told our Lord that I knew it was His cross that was now being placed upon the Jewish people; that most of them did not understand this, but that those who did would have to take it up willingly in the name of all. I would do that. At the end of the service, I was certain that I had been heard. But what this carrying of the cross was to consist in, that I did not yet know.

The following year, Edith Stein entered the Carmelite order and took the name of Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. It is amazing to know that, even as a Roman Catholic nun, she was forced to wear a yellow Star of David on her habit. Fearing for her safety, her convent transferred her to Echt, in Holland, but it was to no avail. Stein was arrested by the Nazis in August of 1942 and executed at Auschwitz shortly thereafter.

For her oft-expressed willingness to offer herself as a sacrifice for Christ on behalf of her people, her service in promoting understanding between Christians and Jews, her martyrdom, and certain miracles that have been attributed to her (including, BTW, a highly-publicized one that took place in Massachusetts back in 1987), she was beatified as a saint of the Catholic faith by Pope John Paul II on May 1,1987.

Edith Stein is a living example of how, if one is to take up the Cross of Christ, it must be done unflinchingly and half-hearted, all the way, and wherever it may lead – even to the point of death.

Filed in: Religion & Culture by The Great White Shank at 04:13 | Comments Off on Living The Cross

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