Oscar Romero, Martyr of El Salvador

In addition to being Holy Thursday in the Latin Calendar, today is also the 25th anniversary of the death of Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador. The Boston Globe has a good piece by Richard Higgins, and the BBC has a radio program entitled "Requiem for Romero." If you don't know much about Romero, a good place to start would be the website of the Romero Society. Also, if you're looking to celebrate both Romero and Holy Week, the 1989 film "Romero," starring Raul Julia, is, IMHO, one of the better stories of conversion available in modern film. It's also a Paulist Fathers production (Go Paulists!) -- but one has to think that they got a big chuckle out of prominently displaying the endorsement of Bruce Williamson of Playboy Magazine on the front of the movie poster...

As we continue Holy Week, we might remember Romero and the people of El Salvador in prayer.

All powerful, ever-living God,
you gave Oscar Romero the courage to witness to the gospel of Christ
even to the point of giving his life for it.
By his prayers help us to endure all suffering for the love of you
and to seek you with all our hearts,
for you alone are the source of life.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Catholic Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty

Yesterday's Boston Globe reports that the U.S. Catholic Bishops will be launching a major media campaign today, the first Monday of Holy Week, when Christians remember and celebrate the state execution of Jesus Christ, to end the use of the death penalty in the United States. The bishops' website for the campaign is www.ccedp.org.


Zeppole di San Giuseppe

So, today is the Feast of St. Joseph, the foster father of history's most famous non-traditional family. And while there's lots to celebrate liturgically (despite the fact that it's getting cut off early by the arrival of Palm Sunday), I come from Rhode Island, where, though not Italian myself, I've been immersed in all things Italian since I was little. And today one celebrates, even in the midst of the rigors of Lent, by eating zeppole, lovely, sometimes fried, sometimes baked, pastry with cream and cherries and whatever else seems to fit in them. I say sometimes, because there isn't much agreement as to exactly what zeppole are; Matt McKinney (no Italian, he) of the Providence Journal, wrote this article on zeppole a few years back, but also adds his story of encountering the lack of agreement on what, exactly, a zeppole is. I spent an hour today traipsing around the North End of Boston until I finally found some, at Modern Pastry. (Tourist tip: when visiting Boston, avoid the crowds at Mike's and hit either the Modern or the nearby Caffe Vittoria...) Tonight I get to expose a group of West Coast urban academics to the joy of fried pastry, thanks to the good graces of St. Joseph. Buona festa a tutti Italiani!

Monteverdi Vespers

Last night I attended a lovely performance of Monteverdi's "Vespers of 1610" by the Harvard-Radcliffe Collegium Musicum. Some reflections:

  • These vespers are dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and in addition to the normal psalms and Magnificat included in Vespers, there were a number of shorter hymm pieces, taken from the Song of Songs, or compiled at some other point in the middle ages. One, the Audio coleum is particularly fun in its use of the "voice of God" answering a praying tenor -- to achieve the effect, the Collegium's tenor was hiding behind a screen, answering the tenor's questions. It's also scandalously close to heresy, with lines like "quae semper tutum est medium inter homines et Deum", "who [Mary] is always a sure mediator between man and God", and "Omnes hanc ergo sequamur, qua cum gratia mereamur vitam aeternam,", "So let us all follow her by whose grace we may gain eternal life." Just a little bit beyond hyperdulia, one might think...
  • In the same section, the final invocation is even more interesting, because where there's usually a Trinitarian invocation at the end of the psalm or canticle, we hear this:
    Praestet nobis Deus Pater
    hoc et Filius et Mater,
    cujus nomen invocamus,
    dulce miseris solamen.

    May God the Father grant us this,
    And the Son and the Mother,
    on whose name we call,
    sweet solace for the unhappy.

    What's fascinating here is the elision between the Spirit and the Virgin Mary, or at least the ability to swap one in for the other in a liturgical text. Much research has done on the way, especially after Trent, Mary took over a number of roles within the Catholic imagination traditionally attributed to the Holy Spirit. My Episcopalian partner and I have had a number of discussions about the way in which this "Mariolatry" is, probably in the most technical sense, idolatrous and/or heretical. At the same time, though, I have to wonder about the way in which this provides an excellent example of the working out of a theological question by the sensus fidelium of the church as a whole; the joining together of these three notions/concepts/persons, namely, Mary-the Holy Spirit-the Church, seemed to respond to a need to describe the experience of being brought into relationship with God through Christ in a situation where the theology of the Holy Spirit wasn't capable of satisfying that need. When the Holy Spirit was limited to a dove flitting around the edges of Catholic iconography (the much-maligned pun of "Two Blokes and a Bird"), the imagery wasn't able to hold its own weight in relationship to the Father and Son. Mary steps into the gap to talk about the way the church responds to God's offer of grace (logically, since she's the first one to do so as that grace is offered in Christ), and to give Christians a voice for the human response to God. We who often label ourselves as "progressive" or "liberal" Catholics, in distinction from "traditionalist" or "conservative" Catholics, would do well here to notice how the history of the sensus fidelium prevents these sorts of binary oppositions; there are many times that the "sense of the faithful ones" seems to push the church in a direction that appears from the outside world to be "liberal", but this isn't always the case...good proof that the Spirit isn't actually a liberal or a conservative, raising questions about whether we should be or not.
  • Finally, and this was for me the most enjoyable part of the piece, musically and theologically, was another added canticle entitled "Duo seraphim", attributed, in the liner notes, to the appropriate passages in Isaiah 6:3 and 1 John 5:7-8. Enjoyable in the sense that, beyond the glories of his glorias and the excitement of the Magnificat, this little bit seems to hearken back to Augustine in its attempt atTrinitarian theology.
    Duo seraphim clamabant alter ad alterum
    Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth:
    plena est omnis terra gloria eius.
    Tres sunt qui testimonium dant in coelo:
    Patre, Verbum, et Spiritus Sanctus:
    et hic tres unum sunt.
    Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth.
    Plena est omnis terra gloria eius.

    Two Seraphim were calling one to the other:
    Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts:
    the whole earth is full of his glory.
    There are three who give testimony in heaven:
    the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit:
    and these three are one.
    Holy Lord God of Hosts.
    The Whole earth is full of his glory.

    What was so fun about this piece was the fact that the voices reflected the text; the first three lines were a tenor duet, imitating the two angels calling to each other with the praise of God. And then, in the second half, beginning with the word "tres", a third tenor entered into the mix, joining the first two in singing. One's first reaction might be to see this as a cheap musical gimmick, but when you get to the line "et hic tres unum sunt", one hears what, I think, Monteverdi might have been getting at. (Caveat: I don't know if Monteverdi was a serious believer or simply making a buck, which might push one towards the "gimmick" side of the equation....) The three voices sing that line together, in harmony, which is exactly one way to try to imagine the trinitarian perichoresis...like Augustine in the De Trinitate, Monteverdi has presented (stumbled upon?) an analogy from our experience of what "three-in-oneness" might be like. Well done.


Harvard, Larry, and Canon Law

From today's Boston Globe, yet another story about the no-confidence vote for Harvard President Larry Summers earlier this week.

As the partner of a Harvard grad student, and, beginning July 1st of this year, as a future resident tutor and therefore "officer", however junior, of the university, I have spent most of the past month in conversations about President Summers...and Harvard isn't in the NCAA tourney (unlike my current academic domicile, Boston College, who won yesterday in their first round game against Ivy League champs UPenn, go eagles, etc.), so Larry remains the major topic of conversation.

The merits of the case, pro and con arguments, etc., are all over the place, but what's interesting to me today in this Boston Globe story is the very real problem of what a "no confidence" vote of the Arts and Sciences faculty actually means. Since hiring and firing of presidents is the sole responsibility of the seven-person, illuminati-like Harvard Corporation, this vote doesn't have any practical effect, and yet many of the faculty voting presumably think that it should. As a theologian working primarily in ecclesiology, I'm constantly being reminded of how relatively neglected R.C. canon law has been by contemporary acdemic theologians; as people like Fr. Joseph Komonchak at Catholic U. and Fr. Gilles Routhier at Laval have consistently pointed out, if your grand ideas about how things should be run in the church are never translated into actual structures by which things are run, then $1.58 and an ecclesiology of communion will still only buy you a tall coffee at Starbucks. Harvard's problems in translating many people's feelings, even their solid, reasoned intellectual judgments, regarding Larry Summers may well reflect a particularly academic temptation of confusing good intentions with results. It's no accident that every major decree of the Council of Trent included canons for the implementation of the decree; it's a lesson in institutional praxis for both contemporary ecclesiology and the esteemed faculty of Harvard.


The Our Father

So I said earlier that these will be, in a sense, "virtual sermons"...but every once in a while we lay people get to actually preach, I'm sorry, give reflections on the Word, at a Catholic church. During Lent, as part of the preparation of catechumens for baptism at Easter (in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, know most often as the "R.C.I.A."), we have two prayer services where we formally present to our catechumens the Creed of the church and the Lord's Prayer. Since I help at my parish by coordinating catechesis, I was privileged to present and preach on the Our Father last evening. Here's what I said. (Note: our catechumen this year is a junior-high young man who is the adopted son of two gay dads -- hence the references to "dads" instead of "dad" are intentional here.)

You alrady know a thing or two about fathers…

Here are some questions, though: why are you just hearing this now, the week before Holy Week? Shouldn’t someone have clued you in on this before? Since this really is “the Lord’s Prayer”, shouldn’t have this been week one of RCIA instead of the second to the last week?

We could spend hours moving slowly, line by line through this prayer, and my first impulse as an academic is to do so…but I’ll spare you that torture. Besides, you’re going to have plenty of time – the rest of your Christian life – to stop and meditate on this prayer. And trust me, you’re going to hear it often enough.

We might still start off slowly, though…we might just start by trying to understand these first few words, these first two words, this first word, “our”. I’m going to suggest that among the wealth of meanings found in this prayer, there are two major things Jesus is teaching us by teaching us to pray this way; they’re both about who “we” are: to be children of the father means to want what God wants, and to be children of the father, means to let God do it. Praying the Our Father is, I think, about changing our hearts, changing our desire, changing the way that we want…and let me show you how I think the key might be this first word, “our”…

Notice from the start that we pray “our” father and not “my father”…by praying this prayer, we’re already being brought into communion with each other, being brought together as children of the same father, as equally valued and equally…well, childlike. Helpless. Needy. Asking. And we’re asking God for help not as an “I”, but always as a “we”, even when we seem to be praying on our own.

And we start off with what appears to be, at first glance, an attempt to butter God up – I’m sure you know nothing about that, David, flattering your dad’s to stay up late… “Hallowed be your name”…sounds a bit like an old Monty Python sketchy, where a rather portly pastor prays, “O Lord, you’re so very, very big…we’re all quite impressed down here.” But notice the subtle shift: hallowed be your name, not hallowed is your name: God still has some work to do, it seems, to overcome all of the injustices of our world, and it seems like we’re here to encourage him: make your name holy, make your kingdom come, make earth like heaven, that is, the way it’s supposed to be. But does God really need us to cheer him on? If not, then why pray this way?

I think, and this is what I think the first few lines of the prayer are up to, we pray this way to remind ourselves that being a Christian is being committed to God’s project, not our own project. To pray for the kingdom to come is a dangerous thing; a priest I know has a sign on his door, “Beware of God.” God’s love always unsettles us, always overturns our plans, always forces us to keep giving up our remaining selfishnesses, our remaining fears, our remaining hesitations about loving God and our neighbor. We can see above our baptismal pool where signing on to that agenda gets you. There’s at least one reason why the church waits until this point in our journey towards Easter and towards baptism to teach us to pray this way, because now we know, David, that as our elect, you’re already learning to want what God wants. We who join you have to ask ourselves, are we ready to sign up again for another year? Can we continue to try to want what God wants, to really pray for the kingdom?

And after we make that commitment again, we get our prayers for daily bread, for forgiveness, for deliverance from temptation and evil, and we learn more about who “we” are: we, the children of God, don’t feed ourselves, don’t forgive ourselves, don’t save ourselves – but God does, the God who loves us like your dads do. Signing on to God’s project doesn’t mean that we’re in charge of it, or even that we’re going to be all that great at it. Sometimes we help nurture the kingdom of God into flourishing, and sometimes the best we can do is get out of the way and let God be God. I think that the second thing Jesus shows us how to do here is to trust in God’s ability to re-create the world through us and, sometimes, despite us…we’re more like children helping dad cook supper by setting the table while he frantically boils vegetables, checks the oven, mixes the dressing, tastes the sauce …and, the amazing thing is, we really and truly get to brag at the meal, “I helped!”

David, I said that you’re going to be hearing this prayer a lot for the rest of your life, because we pray it together every time we celebrate the eucharist, every time we offer thanksgiving to God for all he is doing for us in Christ. And we pray the our father just before we share the meal, just before we share in knowing who “we” are, because we need to be reminded all the time who we really are. We are the people who know already what God’s up to. We are the children of the father who get to tell the world with joy, “we helped”. And now, David, as you prepare to be baptized, to be with us and join us at this table, we show you how Jesus taught us to pray, and are bursting with joy that you’ll be praying to God with us.


Love, Marriage and Taxes

Today's Boston Globe reports on the plight of same-sex Massachusetts couples and their attempt to file their taxes properly. The problem is that they are married for the purpose of state law, but single under federal law...but, as you will remember if you haven't yet done yours, your computation of state tax starts with reporting your federal tax information. So these couples need to do a "phantom" return as a federal married couple as well as their own individual taxes. The really interesting question, though, is that the system forces same-sex couples to, in a sense, perjure themselves on their federal tax return...after all, they have to sign a document saying that, to the best of their knowledge, they are single...

Popes, Politics, and Players

It's with great joy that we can welcome John Paul's exit from the hospital; whatever one's position on his continuing papacy, the health of a very sick older man should be celebrated.

One question I'm often asked, as somebody who professionally works on a good number of ecclesiological issues and questions of ecclesial authority within the R.C. church, is why the Vatican "just doesn't seem to get it." I'm someone who disagrees on the Vatican on some issues, and thinks that the primary problem is that the Petrine ministry's vocation of fostering unity seems to clash so often with the current pope's desire to take stands all of the time on open theological questions....but that's for another post. It's truly important, however, to realize that the Catholic Church in the U.S., while a major, and appreciated, financial backer of the Vatican (see Dr. John Pollard of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, in his new book Money and the Rise of the Modern Papacy), the United States is not the center of the Roman Catholic world...nor is Rome, in some ways, since the concerns and needs of so many different parts of the church in the world proclude Rome, sometimes despite its best efforts, from exercising centrality in anything more than a coordinative sense. John Allen, of the National Catholic Reporter, has a very good article in this month's Boston College Magazine entitled "Discovering America" which details the ambiguity and complexity of the American-Vatican relationship these days. He gets to answer the "why doesn't Rome get it" question far more often than I do, so it's no surprise that his answer is better. .

If you're looking to transfer your Vaticanista knowledge into more practical results, try betting on the next occupant of Peter's chair on Paddypower.com, an Irish online betting site. (You'll need to find a friend outside of the U.S. to place the actual bet, since it's still illegal here.) My money (literally) is on Óscar Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras...for reasons that I'll explain in a later post.


What Am I Up To Here?

I don't really know....I'm sure people get sick of all the new bloggers' postings, rambling on and on about their lack of direction...blah blah...

What do I want to talk about here? Well, first off, if you want to start conversing, it's always fun to be told that I can't be something. You'll see in my profile that while I'm obviously not simply the composite of my various commitments/hobbies/identifications, I do have what might be called a slightly-fractured identity. I'm afraid that some of those postmoderny paloompas might be on to something there. But it's always fun to be told that I can't be A and B, not because I like getting into fights with people, but because it gives me a chance to explain and tell the story of how I am A and B. How I'm a committed Catholic Christian in academia. How I'm a gay man with a partner yet still work at my parish every Sunday. How I can enjoy the aesthetic subtleties of the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum (where I was yesterday as a bit of break from my work) as well as the more subtle artistic merit of particularly trashy, capitalist/Orientalist reality television. But I'd much rather tell my story than get into an argument (and either of those is to be preferred to simple contradiction), and I think I have some interesting stories to tell sometimes.

In many ways, I think of this as a possibility of preaching without having canonical rights to a pulpit (a reworking of St. Francis: "Preach always; when necessary, use blogs....). That may sometimes include the readings of the day from the Catholic lectionary or the Liturgy of the Hours (morning and evening prayer), but might also include Augustine-like commentary on whatever texts, written, narrative, or otherwise, where I think I might have some insight into where God is at work in the world, screwing up our plans again to remind us about Her. So...caveat lector, and enjoy the ride.