Because the entire Earth is burning

If you haven't yet heard John Adams's oratorio El Niño, run out to the store and get yourself a copy tomorrow. Or ask me nicely and I'll burn you some selections. The culmination of the first half is the celebration of the incarnation, featuring a poem by Gabriela Mistral, which I've put below for your Christmas meditations. Merry, merry Christmas!

The Christmas Star

A little girl
comes running,
she caught and carries a star.
She goes flying, making the plants
and animals she passes
bend with fire.

Her hands already sizzle,
she tires, wavers, stumbles,
and falls headlong,
but she gets right up with it again.

Her hands don't burn away,
nor does the star break apart,
although her face, arms,
chest and hair are on fire.

She burns down to her waist.
People shout at her
and she won't let it go;
her hands are covered with burns
but she won't release the star.

Oh how she sows its seeds
as it hums and flies.
They try to take it away --
but how can she live
without her star?

It didn't simply fall -- it didn't.
It remained without her,
and now she runs without a body,
changed, transformed into ashes.

The road catches fire
and our braids burn,
and now we all receive her
because the entire Earth is burning.

(Image from artwork by Fr. Bob Gilroy, S.J., available at Trinity Stores)


Paulist Center in the Globe

So there's a long article on the front page of today's Globe entitled "Priests Campaign to Win Back Flock" on the Paulist Center's outreach effort. (While I think focusing on the "priests" doing this might be good in the long run politically, it is interesting that even in the Globe, the rivers of clericalism run deep...its not the Center or the Center staff (mixed clergy and lay) who are doing this, it's the priests, the guys who are really in charge...)
"We decided we could no longer hide a good thing," Fr. John said. Amen!
If you haven't been by, the Paulist Center is at 5 Park Street, right near the T. And our short video, "All Are Welcome", is also available to get a sense of the place.


Et perdicem in piro...

So I found the Latin Christmas Carols page today, thanks to Gashwin, and they're _fabulous_. Enjoy!

Rudolphus, naso rubro,
naso nitidissimo,
si umquam eum spectes,
dicas eum fulgere.

Reliqui tum renones
deridebant ludentes,
semper vetabant eum
apud ludos ludere.

Deinde ante Natalem
Santa venit, et
"Tu, Rudolphe nitide,
traham meam duc nocte."

Dein, ut renones amant,
exclamantes hilare:
"Rudolphe, naso rubro,
in annalibus eris!"

And don't forget

Nives, glacies,
nox, puertia!
Risus decet nunc,
decent carmina!
Laetos iuvat nos
ire per agros!
Traha fert velociter,
et cachinemus nos!

Tinniat, tinniat
Labimur in glacie
post mulum curtum!
Tinniat, tinniat
Labimur in glacie
post mulum curtum!

Me nuper miserum
temptavit lunae lux!
Mox assidebat mihi
puella facti dux!
Vecti subito
in nivis cumulos:
caballus est perterritus
et tunc eversi nos!


Solum scintillat,
nive candidum.
Repetatur nunc
concentus carminum!
Canities absit,
morosa omnibus!
Puellulas cum pueris
delectat hic cursus.



Primary Care Physicians (of Souls?)

So I was at the doctor's office yesterday. Not fun, but nothing tragic either; one of the occupational hazards of living with 400 disease-riddled undergraduates. But my own primary care doctor couldn't see me until Wednesday, so I went to another physician on staff.

(BTW, can't recommend Fenway Community Health in Boston enough. Everyone on staff with whom I interacted yesterday was friendly, helpful, professional, caring, etc. If you live in the Boston area, particularly if you're looking for healthcare professionals aware of the concerns of lgbt people, check it out.)

The doctor, whom I didn't know before, was pleasant, answered my questions carefully, gave me a diagnosis and sent me on my way. I wish I could say that we formed a close, personal bond, but that didn't happen. Not that that's the case with my primary care physician either; I've seen him all of two times in the past three years or so, and I probably would walk right past him on the street without recognizing him -- never mind his recognizing me. I imagine that this is similar to the doctor-patient interaction of many people in the contemporary U.S.; don't know if it's an age-thing which will change when I'm 40, or simply a cultural shift, but at least for this point in my life, the phenomenon I remember from childhood of having a single doctor who had known me over the course of a decade and a half, and who could know and understand my health within a wider context than the immediate crisis, is gone. Is this the case because I'm pretty healthy and in my 20s, or is this a function of the way a crisis-based health care system works in the U.S.? It's a question, but not the subject of this post.

The spark of insight I had yesterday, which those of us who are in "the holy biz" probably need to be reminded of over and over again, is that the majority of the members of our congregations and communities don't know the priests in our parishes as "Joe" or "Fr. John", but simply as that most impersonal of ecclesial figures, "The Priest". The Priest is who you go to in crisis, who shows up when you're in the hospital, who you talk to when you want to get married, etc. And, as in my interactions with The Doctor yesterday, they're pretty much interchangeable, since what is important is not the relationship but their professional role and presumed theological skill set. You might actually talk to The Priest (or The Minister among other Christian churches, though I suspect there are some important differences here, and so most of this is directly primarily towards R.C.'s) once every few years, in your moments of crisis, but precisely to maintain the professionalism needed in those moments, other social interaction outside of a handshake at the end of Mass is curtailed.

This is problematic, for our medical health and for our spiritual health. But I think it's particularly difficult sometimes for those of us who are somehow involved in church life, either as theologians, or, more often, as lectors, eucharistic ministers, youth ministers, or any of the dozens of other people whose time and dedication make the church actually work, to realize that the guy we know as "Bob" is, to many of our fellow laypeople, this liminal/threatening figure called "The Priest". Some of us have experienced at secondhand the effects of this distancing; when someone finds out you're a theologian or lay minister and promptly apologizes for swearing or telling an off-color joke a few minutes earlier, we get a taste of what life is like for our pastors who go through the world being encountered only as an officer -- to be held at arms length and feared (resented?) -- and never as a person. This might have been less common when most Catholics had a family member, a brother, sister, aunt, or uncle, who was a priest or a member of a religious community, but this has changed dramatically in a generation or two.

Now, I'm not saying this is someone's fault, or particularly the fault of laypersons. One can easily find, among both seasoned clergy and some of our up-and-coming seminarians and priests, lots of men who find filling the role of The Priest a lot easier and more fulfilling than interacting with their parishioners as people. There's a prestige, a mystique, and a comfort in being an ecclesiastical specialist, called in during emergencies, brought on board at certain key moments, but otherwise left alone and unbothered. While no longer the sole source of authority in his parishioners' lives, as he was when they were immigrants, The Priest is still the unquestioned expert in all things spiritual, making his life, and that of his congregants, less messy. And there are, sadly, more than a few priests who are as megalomaniacal as the most egoist neurosurgeon.

But the problem is that this isn't a Christian understanding of ministry. Christian ministers aren't only or even primarily like pagan priests who do things on behalf of people, they're leaders who are called to do things with people: overseeing their communities, leading them in prayer and service, maintaining the bonds of relationship within a parish or diocese, etc. All of this requires that they be not only The Priest, but also "Fr. John" or "Jim", a Christian among Christians who brings his training, his experience, and his prayer to the service of his community as a part of that community, as an individual with needs, strengths, and weaknesses, and not as a catch-all presbyterus ex machina known as The Priest.

And not only is this not a particularly Christian understanding of ministry, it's also not a particularly good model for promoting spiritual health. Just as crisis-management only goes so far in actually promoting physical health (hence the arguments that for poverty programs increasing free wellness funding for things like physicals, regular checkups, etc., would actually save money when compared to the expense of emergency visits when crises demand immediate action), spiritual crisis management isn't going to do too much good in the long run either. Many of our priests are under the same pressures as doctors in this country -- too many patients and not enough support in their work. But a contributing factor is still a culture, held by some priests and by many laity, in which The Priest is not someone you know, over time, in a variety of contexts, but a professional to whom you go when you're having the spiritual equivalent of a heart attack, a bout of pneumonia, or a tumor. And, as in medicine, by that point small symptoms that could have been an opportunity for conversion towards fuller life have become malignant, aggressive, spiritually deadly. If ministry is going to truly be a cura animarum, a "care of souls" in the traditional phrase, then step one might be our communities, clergy and laity included, rethinking their relationship, and particularly how to make The Priest more than an interchangable guy in a funny outfit for many of our fellow Christians.

Not that I have many good answers on how to begin doing that -- this post is more about diagnosis than treatment.


Happy New Year

So what's your New Year's resolution?

We celebrate lots of different new years in our world...the new calendar year, the new academic year...but this week we celebrate a new liturgical year with the beginning of Advent. Now, the beginning of Advent doesn't have any of the fun ritual flashiness as Lent...no ashes on foreheads, no "repent and turn away from the gospel", etc. Just some quiet and what one of my students referred to as "that Catholic menorah thing."

But, if this truly is a new year, and the point of Advent is preparation for Christmas, then importing the idea of "new year's resolutions" from the secular new year might be a good way of concretizing Advent in our culture today -- there's always a danger in creating spiritual checklists, but if despite many efforts we still think of Lent as a time to "give something up," we might re-claim Advent as a time to do something new, in preparation for the novum of the incarnation.

I'm trying to take this past sunday's Gospel instruction to "be vigilant at all times" as a jumpstart to making my meditation and morning prayer practice more regular in the next few weeks. What are you going to do?


Benedictus Discalceus

This photo says it all: if B16 is willing to take off his red prada shoes for interreligious dialogue, then what more can we ask of him to show his commitment to peace and mutual respect? Hasn't he suffered enough?



There's a fabulous article from last week's Globe defending my hometown, Cranston, Rhode Island, which apparently was rated one of the "Absolutely Worst Places to Live in America". Ahem. Love the Wein-o-Rama reference. I reproduce the article in full below:
"There's no place like home, especially Cranston, R.I."

By Tina Cassidy, Globe Correspondent | November 18, 2006

CRANSTON, R.I. -- When the author of "The Absolutely Worst Places to Live in America" placed this city on its list -- proclaiming Cranston an ideal location for "white trash, mall rats, mafia wannabes, ultra guidos, old-school metal heads, and paper clip company employees" -- I laughed.

Then an editor asked me to defend in print the quirky place where I grew up, and I choked. I have rarely asked for an extension on a deadline, but I had to this time. I needed time to reflect, and to do some additional reporting. On the one hand, this was a place that I -- and every one of my friends -- abandoned after graduating from Cranston High School West in 1987. But it is also a place that we look back on fondly and, sometimes, with warm bemusement.

We left for college, for bigger cities, for bigger dreams, for places that were more expensive, more pretentious -- places where you can't get a Del's Lemonade in July, or a heavenly slice of cold strip pizza from the aptly named Superior Bakery, or veal at the legendary Mike's Kitchen inside the Tabor - Franchi VFW Post, or a dog with everything from Wein-O-Rama , or anybody's grandmother's meatballs on a Sunday.

When my friends and I left for Boston, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and even more-exclusive ZIP codes smattered around New England, we left behind the Falconettes, our high school's acclaimed half time high-kicking dance troupe. We left behind the Italian feast in Knightsville . And we left behind our tight-knit families. But we always come back.

And what we find when we get there is not white trash or mall rats (unless -- and I say this good-naturedly -- you count my sister-in-law, but she is originally from Boston). There might be some mafia wannabes, but there are just as many in Medford. There may be some ultra guidos, but what does that mean 20 years after the local Chess King closed? If you are looking for mullets, poke around in New Hampshire; you won't find any here in this fashion-conscious city. Old-school metal heads? They live in West Warwick, the next town over. Paper clip company employees? Now the authors are really stretching it. Just ask my mother, a bank executive who became president of the Chamber of Commerce, for real, after I accepted this assignment.

"We just made Money magazine's list of the Best Places to Live -- number 78," she said patiently, before e-mailing me a two-page love letter about Cranston, a place where she moved us 29 years ago. (I was born in Connecticut.) "We don't have a mall," she gushed. "We have Garden City." Garden City, for those of you who have never been, is an outdoor mall. She also ticked off other amenities, including its proximity to other places. There are local farms, she added, and yacht clubs sited on Narragansett Bay. The public schools, she noted, educated me and all my friends who have since moved on to become artists and law partners and advertising executives and PTO organizers.

Next I consulted the Money survey. The magazine cites Cranston's low crime, short commutes, and bevy of cultural attractions as merit-worthy highlights.

But, of course, there were some finer points that no survey could take into account.

"What about sledding at the ACI?" my Cranston-bred friend Beth, now living in Brooklyn, N.Y., said without any hint of irony. (ACI stands for the Adult Correctional Institution, one of several incarceration and justice facilities situated in a hilly section of the city.)

How could I forget?

Then Cheryl, in Connecticut, another classmate from West, piped in: "I agree with the mall rat thing, but white trash? Maybe I'm fuzzy on the definition, but I think of white trash as the illiterate, unwashed, and ignorant. People who don't mow their front lawns," she said.

And have you ever seen the front lawns in Cranston? Immaculately manicured, if frequently bracketed by a set of white concrete lions, freshly spray-painted white every spring.

"And mafia wannabes ?" Cheryl continued. "It's not like they're petty burglars. Maybe they sell stolen speakers out of the trunks of their [Chevy] IROCs , but they don't break into houses. And they'd kill anyone who broke into their mother's house."

Her comments made me think lovingly of my own brother, Jake, who, despite having a well-paying job in Boston, preferred to live in Cranston -- with my parents (and his wife) until recently, a few months shy of his 31st birthday.

It was not about money. It was about community. About my aunt and uncle and cousin across the street, another cousin and her family next door, my grandparents down the street, and friends from childhood all around. Cranston is a place that doesn't let you leave. It's sort of like the ACI, come to think of it. But with much better food.


Paulist Center - All Are Welcome DVD

So in very exciting news, thePaulist Center has released its 15-minute promotional video, "All Are Welcome", as part of its ongoing outreach program. If you've never been to the Paulist Center, this might be a good way of getting a taste of what the community is like. And, if you stick around till around the 13th minute, some of you might see a familiar face...

Ecumenical Round-up

So lots of ecumenical stuff happening these days.

Yesterday, despite a relative dearth of media coverage, Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, had a short private meeting with B16 in Rome. You can hear his interview with Vatican Radio, and read his talk at San Anselmo here. (Thanks to open book for the links.)

And, in the buildup for the pope's visit to Turkey in a few days, lots of activity, ecclesiastical and political. Yesterday a group of Islamist protestors occupying Hagia Sofia in Istanbul, and had to be dispersed using tear gas. Expect a lot more along those lines in the days to come.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate has published the official papal visit website, which includes a podcast on Orthodox-Catholic relations. In many ways the lowkey nature of the Anglican primate's visit to Rome in contrast with B16's visit to Constantinople for the feast of St. Andrew, patron of the city, is a good signal of Benedict's priorities: the Anglican dialogue, while important, is not at the top of the Vatican's current priorities or hopes. B16 has long held a personal interest in Roman Catholic-Orthodox reconciliation. And, while B16 is not the showman that John Paul II was, I wouldn't be surprised if we see some sort of dramatic gesture, either symbolic or practical, during his visit to the Phanar.


Blogging at the AAR

So I'm here in the main convention hall of the AAR, craziness is all around.

Most disturbing is the Employment Information Services center, where crowds of sweaty, stressed out graduate students are waiting for interviews. As if it wasn't bad enough that said students are all waiting in a large holding pen outside a hall outfitted with curtains to make some interview cubicles, the area itself is about four stories under the ground floor, requiring one to take a number of escalators down into the depths. I'm hoping to get a post-it note above one of the escalators soon reading "lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch'entrate."

There are tons of fashion mistakes, as well as the always surprisingly large cohort of snappily dressed postmodernists. (You can always tell by the chunky glasses.) Peacebang is likely having a field-day.

I have one interview this afternoon, and another today or tomorrow that is yet to be set up.

De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine...


Don't have time to deal with this...

I'm trying to finish a chapter before I head to the American Academy of Religion meeting tomorrow, and am preparing for some job interviews there.
I don't have the time, or the emotional energy, to start talking about the one-two punch of the U.S. bishops' statements on homosexuality or reception of communion, but I'm not very happy about them. Part of the strength of Catholic Christianity has been, IMO, its ability to say a lot but to leave a lot of middle ground unsaid, in order to give people room to live as best they can. These two documents say a lot, and get rid of a lot of the middle ground on which I've been standing for a while.


Loving God Perfectly

Today's readings of the Shema Israel from Deuteronomy and the Gospel of Mark reminded me of a short, piercing, pregnant poem from Mary Oliver's latest book, Thirst, which includes many pieces reflecting on the death of her partner:

What I Said at Her Service

When we pray to love God perfectly,
surely we do not mean only.

(Lord, see how well I have done.)


Baltimore Basilica

The Basilica of the Assumption in Baltimore was rededicated today.

As America's mother church, where the plenary councils of the Catholic church in the U.S. were held in the 19th century, the Latrobe-designed basilica is an architectural masterpiece of inculturation: Roman Catholic Christianity in republican America. Rocco has a beautiful full report over at Whispers. If there's time to escape the AAR in D.C., I may have to head up to Baltimore for a day.

From Stephen Colbert

"Senator Kerry does not support our troops. If he had won the election, there wouldn't be any troops left in Iraq. President Bush, on the other hand, has given our troops an opportunity to fight without end. That's creating jobs. In fact, the president's policies helped create 104 more job openings last month. Now who's stupid, Senator?"
STEPHEN COLBERT, host of "The Colbert Report" on Comedy Central

With credits to the Globe.


All Souls' Day

So I had the privilege again last night of preaching at the Paulist Center, for our All Souls Vespers Service. A day late and likely more than a dollar short, here's what I said:

The first thing I have to say is that I want to talk about death, but that I need to admit my utter lack of credentials to speak about it. I am a young man; my parents are still living, my friends and close family are still living – the great danger of my saying anything at all about death is that I’ll start off into heady abstractions, at best, or pious, unhelpful, uncomforting fluff at worst.

I do know a little bit about the Gospel, so that’s what I’ll be going on here, but I beg your forgiveness if what I have to say seems to float away from reality.

What is it with Catholics and death? Why is it that my family could refer to the obituaries as the “Irish sports page”? That my parish held its annual summer picnic in the adjacent cemetery without anyone batting an eye? That our Mexican sisters and brothers are celebrating today as el día de los muertos, full of decorated skeletons and, again, picnics in the cemeteries? Don’t we Catholics know that death is something really, really bad, something to be afraid of, something to struggle against, something to hide away, not something to joke about?

One of the worst things we Catholics can do to undermine faith in God is to ignore the reality, the uncompromising reality, of death in our lives and in the lives of those around us. The more I talk to people who can’t stand to be around Christians, the more I’m convinced of the immense harm that has been done by pollyannish platitudes about “God’s mysterious plan”, by attempting to gloss over the deep pain of loss with a cheerful recommendation to “buck up” and “have faith”, by the quite frankly crappy theologies of death as an instrument of divine intervention in which we’re told that “God never gives us more than we can handle”. God doesn’t “need another angel” – he already has plenty. And God is not consulting a list of “naughty” and “nice” to determine whom he’s going to whack next.

You’ll be happy to know that, in my opinion, these simply aren’t part of the Christian understanding of death. In case we forget, there’s a torture victim hanging in the front of our churches to show us again and again that death – in all its gruesome details, in its violence and despair in so many parts of our world, in the emptinesses which it leaves behind – is not something God wants. Like all of the results of evil in our world, all of the results of sin, death – or at least death as we cause, suffer, and experience it – is a mystery, a mystery the Gospel tells us we only begin to understand in part as we are being saved from death in Jesus.

But how does that happen? Our reading tonight gives us a starting point. Paul writes that he is convinced that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of Christ.” There’s our clue: “nor any other creature”. Do you see what category death falls into? God or not-God? Not God. Creator or creature? Creature.

Now, you see why my warning about being flippant about death comes into play was important; thinking of death as a “creature” can, and has, been read as legitimating exactly the sort of “death as how God micromanages the world” theology that tries to dismiss or ignore the painful reality of death. But I don’t think that is what Paul is up to here.

Instead, Paul is pointing out how, all appearances to the contrary, the things that seem most frightening to us, most threatening to us, including death itself, have no power, no chance of winning, no hold over us when compared to the love of God in Christ. The heights and depths which define our space, the future and present which define our time, the principalities and powers which define how our world works, even life and death itself – these are not even in the running when compared with God’s love. They are not God, they are creatures, and therefore, they aren’t in charge. God isn’t in competition in any way with death, and despite its apparent finality, death isn’t finally in charge. The resurrection of Christ, the “first fruits” of the bodily resurrection, is the real end for us and all the souls now asleep in Christ.

Every Sunday when we gather for Eucharist, we remember how in Jesus God entered into both parts of this complex relationship with death; how dying on the cross he cried out with the pain we know of death, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me”; and yet how he died commending his spirit into God’s hands in love for God and for us. Paul knows that denying the reality of death would by lying about what it is to be a human being, for whom death is scary and painful in ways those words don’t begin to describe. But Paul also knows that it was because Christ trusted in God’s power over death that he was able to risk is life in an act of love for us. Every Sunday we make Christ’s act of love and of trust our own, we begin to see what life beyond – not without – death, looks like: it looks like the love of one who lays down her life for a friend.

So, this may all be well and good, but what does this have to do with our celebration of All Souls, with the picnics in the cemetery and all that?
Only this: I think that our prayer with and for our dead sisters and brothers awaiting, with us, the final resurrection of all, is one of the major ways we remind ourselves of the creatureliness of death, the relative – I use the term very cautiously – unimportance of death, of the fact that while death is often the deepest crisis of our personal and communal lives, it still falls into the category of “not God.” When we pray with and for our dead in a Christian way, we aren’t doing so with a vague hope that they may be ok “somewhere out there”; we’re reminding ourselves that not even death, the painful and tragic deaths that some of us have experienced, can separate them, or us, from the love of Christ. We’re getting into the habits of people for whom God is in charge of everything, even death, and who will raise us up on the last day, as Jesus was raised on the first day of the week. That’s why the practices, the habits, of living as if death were not – the relationships we continue through prayer, the remembrance of our dead brothers and sisters in our lives, even the picnics and the flowers – are far more important over a lifetime of faith than anything I can say to make this unbelievably good news real.

Habits of faith in God can be dangerous – faith in God’s power over death inevitably seems to flower into risky acts of love. Look up above this altar; look at the alcove for the martyrs of El Salvador, and you’ll see what believing love is stronger than death can lead to. But when we pray for and with our sisters and brothers “who have fallen asleep in Christ”, when we use those words not to hide their deaths in a euphemism but to claim God’s power over their deaths, we begin to be freed ourselves from the habits that scare us away from living lives of love. And today on this feast of all the souls, we can be comforted in practicing our faith, in loving as if death were not, by the presence of our sisters and brothers, alive in Christ, encouraging us to imagine our lives through and beyond our deaths.



So typity typity typity - trying to bang out a chapter of the dissertation before the AAR (and hopefully some interviews???) in a few weeks.

But here are some varia to keep you busy.

- First, the title of this post is a shout out to Ben Schott (say that five times fast), author of Schott's Miscellanies; he was in town the other night to promote his new contribution to the worlds of learning and graphic design, Schott's Almanac. We chatted afterwards about the Vatican stamps honoring the 500th anniversary of the founding of the Swiss Guards.

- Second, fun op-ed in yesterday's New York Times by James Martin, S.J., author of My Life With the Saints, on recently canonized Mother Théodore Guérin, and her struggles with her local ordinary in the founding of St.-Mary-of-the-Woods in Indiana.

- Third, today's Boston Globe has another fun op-ed, "Blame It All on the Gay Agenda", in which author Steve Kluger has his tongue firmly in his cheek. A highlight:

What's there left to do but come clean? Although we've attempted to keep our covert ops cloaked in diverting sequins, there's no plugging the leaks that have revealed our subversive intentions. It's the Pentagon Papers all over again.

The truth began to emerge last week when a male couple was wed in Massachusetts. Twenty minutes later, three heterosexual marriages fell apart in Kansas City. Under ordinary circumstances, one of our operatives would have been present to hide the evidence under a stack of Liza Minnelli CDs, but he was watching an episode of "I Love Lucy" with his 9-year-old niece so that she could go forth and recruit her young friends in fourth grade.

- Fourth, the guiltiest pleasure in my life lately (the deepest pleasure being the anniversary I celebrated with the bf on Tuesday...4 years, 0 homicides = Success!), has been Boston's Weekly Dig. It's entirely surpassed, IMHO, the Phoenix in quality, insight, and overall wittiness. Plus, it's pages don't get your hands turning all black, and you don't feel after reading it that you ought to start growing out a really, really scraggly ponytail and wearing black all the time. Their gubernatorial election round-up is quite good, not least because of the fun cartoons. Highlights:

On Kerry Healy:

All this negativity—she’s run one of the filthiest campaigns the state has ever seen—caused Massachusetts citizens to collectively brand her a major bitch, and after closing to within 13 points in one poll, her campaign imploded. [...] Several million dollars and one shriveled conscience later, the Herald called Healey’s campaign “dead in the water.” Some belated advice from us to you, Muffy: Next time you want to trade your soul for something totally worthless, make it a candy bar or a stale donut.

And on Christy Mihos:

[...]but it’s clear that Christy doesn’t think he can be governor. Nor is he trying too hard. He’s sunk millions of dollars of his own money into his doomed campaign for the sole purpose, it appears, of exacting revenge on the state Republican apparatus that dicked him over during his battles with Jane Swift. He’ll probably pull down 10 percent on Election Day—not enough to say he single-handedly sunk Kerry Healey, but definitely enough to make the GOP regret punching a hole in his ball or peeing on his red wagon or whatever they did to him.

- Finally, watch out for squirrels today.


U2charist Tonight at EDS

More info, and a legible copy of the info, at the EDS website.


And they're off...

Off to chairs of search committees around the nation, that is. In Phase One of "Operation Tenure-Track Professor Baptized Pagan," I've sent out all of my applications for teaching positions to a variety of colleges, mostly Catholic, around the country. This is all in preparation for the American Academy of Religion meeting next month in Washington, D.C., where first-round interviews for many of these jobs will be held. In the exciting "Employment Information Services Center" (read: temporary cube farm created out of not-so-soundproof curtains, housing tired search committees and stressed-out, over-caffeinated hopefuls), applicants wend their way through a maze of departmental politics in the search for the ultimate cheeese, a tenure-track position.

But at this point, applications all sent and no interviews yet scheduled (still too early, I think...right?...RIGHT???), I can relax into the bliss of envelopes of C.V.'s, cover letters and statements of teaching philosophy wending their way across the country. Oh, and into finishing the dissertation. Right.


2007 Commemorative Stamps

Just when you thought my combined interests in theology and revolutionary war re-enanctment made me geeky enough, I thought I would add to the overall dorkiness by coming out again: I, BaptizedPagan, am a philatelist. I've been one since I was younger, and though I managed to resist the lure of philately for some time in my adolescence, as I've gotten older it's become something that I can't and won't deny. I am what I am. I'm particularly fond of first day of issue commemorative cancellations, the often beautiful and historically significant connection of a new stamp with a place associated with its subject. And I have a whole lot of them these days, thanks in large part to inheriting a large part of my bf's late grandmother's _astounding_ collection.

In that theme, I thought I'd pass on the postal service's release of next year's commemorative stamp issues. Some of the best looking ones, this year's corporate-inspired "Love" stamp, the 400th anniversary of Jamestown triangular stamp, and the Tiffany window stamp, are displayed here. (If you're still looking for the best stamps available right now, for my money you can't go wrong with the Samuel de Champlain joint U.S.-Canadian issue, the (lovely) Judy Garland stamps released in June just in time for pride, or the Chacón Madonna and Child for Christmas this year.) I'm just waiting for the reaction against the fact that the postal service is promoting magic in its Disney stamps this year...pagans!

Philatelists of the world, unite! We have nothing to lose but our shame.


Weekly poem from slate

To get you into the swing of the upcoming holidays, Slate's weekly poem, by Kathy Fagan.

" 'There's just one little thing: a ring. I don't mean on the phone.' -- Eartha Kitt"

In lieu of the latkes,
the usual caroling,
and adorable Kazakh
orphans, instead of the crèche
and, après ski,
the figgy pudding slash
kwanzaa stew,
the yuletide blogging,
the tinsel, the garland,
and eight maids eggnogging,
allow me to mince
neither word nor pie
and provide advice
and a list forthwith:
Do not buy and regret,
dear. A diamond
is what to get,
dear. Its extra weight
I'm built to carry.
The starboard lilt,
the opiate
drag on one knuckle,
I'm willing to accommodate
and promise not to buckle
under. Been bottom.
Done shouldered.
It's my time to
plunder, and have a little lovely
something, a nothing-too-modest
something, to set off
all this black
and dazzle the crosshatch
right out of my skin.
O halogen track,
O twinkling lights,
O shining star
upon the highest bough:
you'll soon learn how
to be the ladies in waiting,
stable pony to the thoroughbred,
Martin to a Lewis,
Cathy to a Patty,
mere vein to the carotid—
i.e., to be outwatted.
O Christmas
tree, dear dreidl,
could it be more plainly said?
Some demand the head
upon a platter, others lick
the silver off their spoon.
This childless mother
desires neither moon
nor man but the carat
dangled all this time.
So snare it,
Santa, from that other
sorry cow.
The Baby Jesus phoned,
says I should wear it now.


Tom Wright at Harvard

Or, as you'll find him in the glory of flowery Anglican titles, the Right Reverend Doctor N. T. Wright, + Durham.

N.T. Wright is, for my money, one of the best living theologians in the world right now, a biblical scholar by training who not only is the bishop of a diocese and the kind of author we all hate for writing numerous books of outstanding quality, repeatedly, but also a husband and father. Sheesh.

If you're in the greater Boston area, though, there are some great opportunities to hear him in the next few days. He'll be preaching at the Sunday 11 am service at the Memorial Church, Harvard, on "Apocalyptic and the Beauty of God", which you will also be able to hear at whrb.org. He'll also be giving the William Belden Noble Lectures on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday evenings next week at 8 pm, on "God the Creator: The Gospel in a Gnostic World”, “Jesus the Lord: The Gospel and the New Imperialism”, and “Spirit of Truth: The Gospel in a Postmodern World”, respectively. He's definitely worth the time, and what else are you going to do on a Wednesday night anyway, now that Project Runway is over (and those fools chose Jeffrey over perfect, wonderful, so-put-together Laura...).


Paulist Associates

Yesterday was very exciting for me, I took my first promises for a year of membership as a Paulist Associate down at the Center. The closest equivalent might be something like a Third-order Franciscan...the Associates are lay people who join the Paulists in their mission and charisms through prayer and embodying the Paulist mission to North America in their daily life. I'm very excited to be part of this group, since the major Paulist charism -- "incarnating the
Roman Catholic faith in North American culture" -- is important to me both personally and professionally...all of my theological work on Tillard's theories of inculturation and ecclesial diversity springs from my own experience of the vibrancy of the church in the United States.

In preparation for the 150th Anniversary of the founding of the Paulist Fathers in 2008, they've also done a pretty extensive update of their website, with a new blog entitled paulisttalk.org, links to their other ministries, including the ever popular bustedhalo.com, and the resurrected journal The Catholic World, which first existed as Father Hecker's magazine in 1865 and now will exist again online under the direction of Paul Robichaud. Enjoy!


Hard Rain

Beautiful, disturbing poem from this past Friday's Writer's Almanac, the title piece from Hard Rain by the poet Tony Hoagland.

Hard Rain

After I heard It's a Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall
played softly by an accordion quartet
through the ceiling speakers at the Springdale Shopping Mall,
I understood there's nothing
we can't pluck the stinger from,

nothing we can't turn into a soft drink flavor or a t-shirt.
Even serenity can become something horrible
if you make a commercial about it
using smiling, white-haired people

quoting Thoreau to sell retirement homes
in the Everglades, where the swamp has been
drained and bulldozed into a nineteen-hole golf course
with electrified alligator barriers.

You can't keep beating yourself up, Billy
I heard the therapist say on television
to the teenage murderer,
About all those people you killed—
You just have to be the best person you can be,

one day at a time—

and everybody in the audience claps and weeps a little,
because the level of deep feeling has been touched,
and they want to believe that
the power of Forgiveness is greater
than the power of Consequence, or History.

Dear Abby:
My father is a businessman who travels.
Each time he returns from one of his trips,
his shoes and trousers
are covered with blood-
but he never forgets to bring me a nice present;
Should I say something?
Signed, America.

I used to think I was not part of this,
that I could mind my own business and get along,

but that was just another song
that had been taught to me since birth—

whose words I was humming under my breath,
as I was walking through the Springdale Mall.


In Praise of Foley

Well, not really. While I might take pleasure in the problems this causes for the Republican party, I still feel sorry for this poor man and the publicization of his private life in this way. This is not to approve of what he did, but simply to have some compassion for a man who allegedly did something very wrong, and was aided by friends and colleagues to keep doing it.

David Link of the "Independent Gay Forum" has an op-ed in today's Globe comparing the Republican leadership's treatment of this to that in the Catholic church. He writes:

If this has a familiar ring, look in the Catholic Church for the bell. Republican leadership was acting like the Catholic hierarchy, which played shell games with men accused of sexually abusing children. And there's a good reason for the similarity. The inability to deal straightforwardly with gay people leads to other kinds of truth-avoidance when things go south. But that's what comes from not wanting to know something, and going out of your way to remain ignorant.
Brian McGrory, who usually annoys me, made a similar point on Tuesday in a column entitled "Back at you, Santorum", reminding us that back during the height of the clergy sexual abuse crisis, Rick Santorum suggested that it was we Massachusetters' liberal attitudes that created the climate for the abuse of minors. Apparently the House Republicans had the same problem.

But for my money the best commentary on how this isn't a gay issue so much as a gay-man-not-dealing-with-his-sexuality issue is from a letter in today's Globe by Christian Diaz of Boston. I've reproduced it in full:

AS A gay man living for more than two decades in Boston, I have known many gay men raised in strict Catholic homes, two of whom were molested by their priests. Not one of them grew up to be a closeted Republican who worked to criminalize his own behavior.

Foley should have sought professional help, as many of my friends did, long before he mixed alcohol, his own apparent homophobia, congressional pages, and the Internet, and brought himself to this ignominious place.

If he had taken personal responsibility for his mental health earlier, it would not be thrust upon him now by events he set in motion by his very failure to do so.


Responses to Benedict, on Chiesa

From Sandro Magister's www.chiesa, two Muslim responses to Pope Benedict's words on Islam at Regensburg (though only the 2nd really is in response to the entire situation, Muslim reaction included). Worth a close read.

Harvard's Possible Core Curriculum

Or, Why I Might Still Have a Job in Twenty Years' Time.

Today's Crimson reports that the proposed overhaul of the Harvard College Core Curriculum includes a required course in matters religious and their relation to the modern world. With a nod and a twist on JP II's Fides et Ratio, the "Reason and Faith" course would obviously not be a full-on Christian theology course -- nor should it be, at a non-Christian school like Harvard. But it would at least have the advantage of introducing every undergraduate student to the importance of religion as a phenomenon and a system of meaning for the vast majority of their fellow human beings throughout the world. A flagship school like Harvard's putting religious studies so front and center, after decades of assuming that religion was on the cusp of withering away, would do much to remind the academy a) that religious beliefs of millions of people still play a major role in their lives and are not quite as backwards or incoherent as might otherwise have been thought in some circles, and b) that there are more and less adequate scholarly ways of studying religion, e.g., that there's a vast difference between academic theology and religious studies and Dan Brownish "scholarship" and the "inspiration" section of your local Barnes and Noble...

We'll see if it stays in the final proposal.


Random Observation about the Far Side

So on my desk I keep a pad made from an old Far Side calendar. As I take notes of what I should be doing during the day (e.g., "Apply for job!", "Finish dissertation!", "Counsel student!", "Don't lose your mind!", etc.), I peel off the cartoons and get a little laugh from times past.

One thing I've noticed, though, by contrast with today's cartoons and themes, is the near total absence of any humor related to homosexuality, gay men, lesbian women, etc. While you can argue that most of Gary Larson's characters are pretty asexual, it still is fascinating that you don't see any recognizable gay men, or gay jokes, in the cartoons. Syndicated from 1980 to 1995, the Far Side had the sense not to use gay jokes for cheap laughs back when that was acceptable, but looking at it 11 years or more later, it's also striking that the series ended before using gay themes as a form of "laughing with" humor, rather than "laughing at" humor, became accetable in American culture.

It's a fascinating koan to ponder: if Gary Larson had written the Far Side after the advent of Will and Grace, would some of the cows have been gay?

Cardinal Sean, Blogger

As the Globe reports today, Cardinal Sean is now blogging from his trip to Rome this week to take possession of the church of Our Lady of Victories (should be a good week for Muslim-Christian dialogue to bring up Lepanto again...).

I just hope that they get some better webdesigners on board in the next few days, it could use a little polishing...


Other Peoples' Blogs

So, rather than writing anything myself, I'm commenting on other people's blogs lately.

Check out Beauty Tips on the papal saturno, and wait with me with baited breath for her verdict on the relative merits thereof in relation to the camauro.

Then, after you've smiled at pictures of an interreligious-brouhaha-causing pontiff wearing funny hats, look at Philocrites's discussion of Brother Roger of Taize, to which I've added my two cents about the connection of the papacy with R.C. creedal belief.


Of Benedict, Islam, and Regrets

So as Pope Benedict's quotations from Manuel II Palaeologus are circulating around the world and causing deep unrest in many Muslim countries, it's time to talk about what Benedict's up to. That's right. Not "accidentally did," but is up to.

It is conceivable, as John Allen and even Rocco seem to suggest, that this is a reminder of how non-PC and/or slightly naive with regard to public relations Benedict might be; in the mainstream media, this is being presented as the "goofy ivory-tower professor quoted something interesting he read in his study and was foolish enough to say it out loud" trope. And it is possible that Benedict expected everyone to read his text in full and not draw the conclusions that they are currently drawing in the Muslim world. (One might point out that he is apologizing that his remarks were misunderstood and/or taken out of context, not that he made them.)

But this is a pope who is nothing if not careful and deliberate in what he chooses to say and when he chooses to say it. And the fact that this is one of his earliest forays into the world of international politics after the end of the summer vacations and just a few days before his new Secretary of State took on the job seems a little too well-timed to be simply coincidental. Tarcisio Bertone and Ratzinger were close colleagues for many years at the CDF, and, by all accounts, are substantially of one mind on many theological and political issues. So while I may be wrong, I have to think that this is the beginning of a larger shift within the Vatican, rather than a simple media gaffe. (They say that studying the Vatican's tea leaves is a good preparation for a career in Sinology...)

What I'm far less sure about is what the nature of such a shift, or what Benedict's plan in doing all of this. Was this a test balloon to see how blunt he could be in dialogue with the Muslim world? An attempt to push towards confrontation, at some intellectual level at least, between Christianity and Islam? An intentional provocation designed to confirm the pope's own notions (prejudices?) vis-a-vis Islam? Another aspect that we Americans often forget is the European angle; with Benedict's longtime concerns over the deChristianization of Europe, is this directed primarily at the European community, an attempt to induce Europeans to "choose sides" in some way with regard to their large Muslim populations?

I honestly can't see the rationale clearly yet, and there are more possibilites I no doubt haven't thought of. But having been a student of Ratzinger's theology and practice for a while before he became pope, the one thing I'd be willing to bet on is that this is the start of a program, not a flash in the pan.


Gubernatorial Primary

So I haven't decided whom I'm going to vote for in Tuesday's primary (for the Democratic nomination for governor here in Massachusetts). I'm leaning towards Deval Patrick, but the fact that all of my hippie friends are actively campaigning for him makes me a bit nervous... Two of the biggest things that make me lean towards him, though, are, first, the fact that he's not pandering on the tax cut issue (i.e., he's not going to roll back taxes so that you save $5 a year and we have to close another school or fifty...); and second, the fact that he's not funding his own campaign, but actually has a donor base.

Speaking of which, the Boston Globe, using Google Maps, has released a map of campaign contributors and whom they supported. Time to check up on your neighbors! This could make future referendum and presidential elections far more interesting...

Also informative and amusing throughout the campaign has been Dan Payne and his analysis; he's kind of like Mac Daniel, but for pols instead of potholes. Some fun excerpts from today's contribution:

FUNG WAH BUS comes to mind when thinking about Tom Reilly's gubernatorial campaign. Bus line offers big savings. But buses tend to crash and catch fire. After showing signs of life as Regular Guy, Reilly morphed into Bitter Man at the Kennedy School debate. Why did he conjure up low point in his campaign, L'Affair St. Fleur?

Patrick and Bush. Patrick volunteers are many and pumped. His field operation is said to rival Mike Dukakis's, only juiced with Internet. Patrick base is liberals, gays, black voters, Latino voters, environmentalists, atheists, healthcare reformers, professors, peaceniks, pro-choice marchers, antigun protesters, health store shoppers, progressive unions, teachers, social workers, and those who hear justice in his voice. In short, anybody who can't stand President Bush.

Who wins? If Galvin's right about turnout, Patrick wins. If it's up, Gabrieli has shot. Reilly wins by pulling someone out of burning bus.



So it's been a busy few weeks here, and it's going to get worse until Columbus Day. But rather than bore you all with my job search anxieties, my attempts to finish the dissertation, the drama of new students in my house, etc., I thought I'd just tell you what I've been reading and/or doing outside of all that lately. Also, still owe you a post on my experience at Mass a few weeks back...

So here's what's in the news/real world that's been on my radar lately:

- Great announcement today from Harvard that they'll be getting rid of early admission. In addition to the prep you need to know that such a thing exists, which already favors students from better economic backgrounds and schools, it also favors kids who can afford to go no matter what financial aid they receive, over those who have to wait and decide not based on the size of the gym or the prestige of the name but how deep the second mortgage is going to cut into their parents' finances.
- Il Papa is in Bavaria, Gruss Gott-ing it up. Full text of his sermon yesterday as a PDF, thanks to Whispers in the Loggia. Now that we're back from the summer vacations, the pope-watch goes into full swing, as he's back in Rome with a year under his belt. Keep your eyes on the press releases, and on his new appointment at State.
- Off the web, I'm finally getting around to reading Walter Wink's series on the "powers," beginning with volume one, Naming the Powers. Good stuff.
- The Paulist Center is ramping up for the fall; watch here for a link to our new outreach program and a promotional dvd which might feature someone who looks familiar to some of y'all...
- Russell is so far a little skittish about the 30 new people living in his immediate area, but he's getting enough pets and attention that I think he's beginning to like it. He also loved being at the beach last weekend...after he figured out that the waves weren't trying to kill him, he jumped right in, to the amusement of all. You haven't lived until you've seen a dachshund frolicking on the beach.

That's a quick update - this time of the year is always the real new year's time on this side of the river...time for the resolutions, the housecleaning, all carried out amid the new crush of returning students who seemed to spend their summer getting much fitter and tanner than their instructors...so happy new year, everyone.


Back from the Beaches

With oh-so-many stories to tell...of rainy days, heretical sermons by Catholic priests, a couple of pugs named Myles and Mushroom...then again, maybe not all my stories should be blogged...they're too silken...

More in the next few days, as I try to finish more dissertation in order to get a real job...

Fabulous essay in yesterday's Times Op-Ed about the academic life, by Tom Lutz. Get it soon, before it goes archived. Here are the opening excerpts:

IN late May, for those of us who teach, the summer stretches out like the great expanse of freedom it was in grammar school. Ah, the days on the beach! The books we will read! The adventures we will have!

But before hunkering down to months of leisurely lolling around a pool slathered in S.P.F. 80, we need to take care of a few things: see what got buried in the e-mail pile over the course of the year, write a few letters of recommendation, and finally get to those book reviews we agreed to do. A few leftover dissertation chapters. The syllabuses and book orders for next year’s classes. Then those scholarly articles we were snookered into writing when the deadlines were far, far in the future — deadlines that now, magically, are receding into the past. My God, did I really tell someone I would write an article called “Teaching Claude McKay”? Before we know it, the summer is eaten up, we’re still behind on our e-mail, and the fall semester looms.

On paper, the academic life looks great. As many as 15 weeks off in the summer, four in the winter, one in the spring, and then, usually, only three days a week on campus the rest of the time. Anybody who tells you this wasn’t part of the lure of a job in higher education is lying. But one finds out right away in graduate school that in fact the typical professor logs an average of 60 hours a week, and the more successful professors work even more — including not just 14-hour days during the school year, but 10-hour days in the summer as well.

Why, then, does there continue to be a glut of fresh Ph.D.’s? It isn’t the pay scale, which, with a few lucky exceptions, offers the lowest years-of-education-to-income ratio possible. It isn’t really the work itself, either. Yes, teaching and research are rewarding, but we face as much drudgery as in any professional job. Once you’ve read 10,000 freshman essays, you’ve read them all.

But we academics do have something few others possess in this postindustrial world: control over our own time. All the surveys point to this as the most common factor in job satisfaction. The jobs in which decisions are made and the pace set by machines provide the least satisfaction, while those, like mine, that foster at least the illusion of control provide the most.

That 60-hour-a-week figure isn't always true, but it is close, I think, especially when you factor in all the other odd jobs that we end up doing to pay for that edition of the complete works of St. Somebody of the Really Big Toe (or the equivalent in other fields). It's also a helpful retort to our friends from home who aren't in grad school, and so assume that grad school is simply an extension of the college experience they had...nothing sends chills down a hardworking grad student's spine like "oh, so you're still in school?" -- as if the continuities were greater than the discontinuities, and we somehow finagled our way into seven more years of frat life...


Our Lady of Sorrows by the Sea

So, as many of you know, the real Our Lady of Sorrows by the Sea is the name of the cottage my friend Morgan rents yearly in Rehoboth Beach. But I'm taking off tomorrow for a daughter-monastery, as it were, of the original O.L.S.S., at the Pines on Fire Island. Lucky poor graduate students that the b.f. and I are, we have friends who have had a little more experience in life as well as more time to have bought property.

I've been working pretty hard for the last two weeks so that I wouldn't feel guilty for doing nothing all weekend, and it seems to have paid off: I hammered out 27 pages of my next chapter in the past three days. Definitely a draft needing work, but a written draft and not an in-my-head-I-really-should-write-that-down draft. So I'm pooped, but ready for the beach. I've never been to Fire Island, but I'm sure I'll have lots of stories about the eradication of my already fragile body image and the long afternoons of medical mojitos consumed to alleviate that first symptom.

The image, btw, is courtesy of www.despair.com. I'm not actually that bitter...but I loves me my washed-away sandcastles...

'Nuff said.

From a letter by Chris Schmid of Natick in today's Globe:

"LOST IN all the gloom over the Red Sox' swift collapse has been the evidence to answer that most perplexing of baseball questions: Who is the league's Most Valuable Player? With all due respect to Big Papi and Derek Jeter, the MVP for 2006 is now abundantly clear: catcher Jason Varitek. The Red Sox captain would appear to be worth about 50 wins a season to this year's version of the Sox, as their 60 percent winning percentage has dropped by half in the month since he was injured.

Those of us who bemoaned his inconsistent hitting early in the year now understand his true value to the team, especially to its young pitchers who have lost all confidence without his leadership."

Couldn't have said it better, Chris.


PeaceBang and Revd. Blue Jeans

Peacebang and a respondent are having a wonderful, rollicking conversation about how you dress in the pulpit, which has quickly broadened into some questions of how one dresses as a Christian in general. Yours truly just added a tiny comment about liturgical dress in the R.C. church, and why it does have some rationale behind it.


Papal Interview

So an English translation of the German-language interview with Benedict that aired last evening is available here. Not the most groundbreaking stuff, but a few good tidbits.

One in particular...which sounds a lot more like the ecclesiologist I know...concerns episcopal collegiality and using the papacy to strengthen, rather than weaken, the moral and legal authority of local bishops. So, while this is the same man who has some strong doctrinal disagreements with attributing theological authority to episcopal conferences as such (see JPII's motu proprio Apostolos Suos, as well as Ratzinger's personal writings as early as the always-intriguing Ratzinger Report), in practice, he's already making some more collegial moves:

Question: Holy Father, your predecessor beatified and canonized a huge number of Christians. Some people say even too many. This is my question: beatifications and canonizations only bring something new to the Church when these people are seen as true models. Germany produces relatively few saints and blessed in comparison with other countries. Can anything be done to develop this pastoral sphere so that beatifications and canonizations can give real pastoral fruit?

Benedict XVI: In the beginning I also thought that the large number of beatifications was almost overwhelming and that perhaps we needed to be more selective; choosing figures that entered our consciousness more clearly. Meanwhile, I decentralized the beatifications in order to make these figures more visible in the specific places they came from. Perhaps a saint from Guatemala doesn’t interest us in Germany and vice versa, someone from Altotting is of no interest in Los Angeles, and so on, right?
I also think that this decentralization is more in keeping with the collegiality of the episcopate, with its collegial structures, and that it’s suitable for stressing how different countries have their own personalities and these are especially effective in these countries. I’ve also seen how these beatifications in different places touch vast numbers of people and that people say: “At last, this one is one of us!”. They pray to him and are inspired. The blessed soul belongs to them and we’re happy there are lots of them. And if, gradually, with the development of a global society, we too get to know them, that’s wonderful. But it’s especially important that multiplicity exists in this field also because it’s important that we too in Germany get to know our own figures and are happy for them. Besides this issue there’s that of the canonization of greater figures who are examples for the whole Church. I’d say that the individual Episcopal Conferences ought to choose, ought to decide what’s best for them, what this person is saying to us, and they should give visibility to people who leave a profound impression, but not too many of them.
And, when discussing the relations between the pope and the other bishops, he has this to say:

Question: As Bishop of Rome you are the successor of St Peter. How can the ministry of Peter manifest itself fittingly in today’s world? And how do you see the tensions and equilibrium between the primacy of the Pope, on one hand, and the collegiality of the Bishops, on the other?

Benedict XVI: Of course there is a relationship of tension and equilibrium and, we say, that’s the way it has to be. Multiplicity and unity must always find their reciprocal rapport and this relationship must insert itself in ever new ways into the changing situations in the world. We have a new polyphony of cultures nowadays in which Europe is no longer the determining factor. Christians on the various continents are starting to have their own importance, their own charateristics. We must keep learning about this fusion of the different components. We’ve developed various instruments to help us: the so-called “ad limina visits” of the Bishops, which have always taken place. Now they are used much more in order to speak sincerely with all the offices of the Holy See and with me. I speak personally to each Bishop. I’ve already spoken to nearly all the Bishops of Africa and with many of the Bishops from Asia. Now it’s the turn of Central Europe, Germany, Switzerland. In these encounters in which the Centre and the Periphery come together in an open exchange of views, I think that the correct reciprocal exchange in this balanced tension grows. We also have other instruments like the Synod, the Consistory, which I shall be holding regularly and which I would like to develop. Without having a long agenda we can discuss current problems together and look for solutions. Everyone knows that the Pope is not an absolute monarch but that he has to personify, you might say, the totality that comes together to listen to Christ. There’s a strong awareness that we need a unifying figure that can guarantee independence from political powers and that Christians don’t identify too much with nationalism. There’s an awareness of the need for a higher and broader figure that can create unity in the dynamic integration of all parties and that can embrace and promote multiplicity. So I believe there’s a close bond between the petrine ministry which is expressed in the desire to develop it further so that it responds both to the Lord’s will and to the needs of the times.

Note that, unlike, say, Pius IX* or even the XIIth, this pope talks about a unifying figure bringing the bishops together to listen to Christ...not to the pope. This is a model of pope much more as the Vicar of Peter, who holds Peter's place as the head of the apostles, rather than as Vicar of Christ, who somehow holds Christ's place in relation to the Church. It's a subtle point, but I think crucial for a proper understanding of the papacy, particularly in the interests of a papal practice which would be recognizable and acceptable to other Christians across the ecumenical spectrum. (This is also a point made by my diss. subject, Jean-Marie Tillard, in his book The Bishop of Rome...I'm knee deep in Tillardiana right now, trying to get chapters written before the summer curls up and dies, which also explains the lightness of blogging these days...)

*also need to add...at the Lowell Folk Festival a few weeks back, the Latino association at the local Catholic church was selling, among other foods, a kind of tamale called a "pio nono"...basically a plantain stuffed with ground beef. It was very tasty. Here's a recipe.


Levy on the current war in Israel and Lebanon

Bernard-Henri Lévy's articles in the Atlantic "In the Footsteps of Tocqueville" annoyed the hell out of me. Too much ground to cover, which overwhelmed, I think, his ability to get an accurate picture through his vignette-based journalism. His article in Sunday's NY Times Magazine, "Pondering, Discussing, Traveling Amid and Defending the Inevitable War," however, is pretty good. Perhaps he's on more familiar ground, or smaller ground, or a little bit of both, but it's insightful on both the reluctance and the determination with which Israel is carrying out its current invasion of Lebanon.
(The unification of Israel, peacenik and warhawk, behind the operation, is also discussed in today's NY Times at length.)


Feast of the Transfiguration

So yesterday was the Feast of the Transfiguration, and yours truly was given the chance to give some reflections on the Scripture at Mass this weekend (not a homily...the shortened, yet canonically-required, homily was given by the presider before my words...). I have some meta-reflections on what it was like, but here's what I said about this feast:

What do you want to be when you grow up?

You’ve been asked the question since you were little; I have on parental authority that my earliest response was “a Christmas tree.” Not a bad gig. It’s a question that, as you enter high school, then college, then early adulthood, gets asked of you with a decreasing sense of hope, and an increasing sense of anxiety.

I want to suggest that today’s Feast of the Transfiguration presents us with the Christian answer to that question, what we can hope to be when we “grow up”, as modeled by Jesus and witnessed by these apostles. When we grow up as Christians, when we become daughters and sons of God as fully as Jesus was, we will also be “transfigured,” that is, we will be transparent to the glory of God, glowing and dazzling white as we once were in our baptismal robes.

Take some phrases from today’s readings: the “glory of God”; “the Ancient One”; “flames of fire” and “wheels of burning fire” – these are not the phrases that might spontaneously spring to mind in our prayer lives these days. Here at the Paulist Center, in legitimate reaction to years of an image of God as a kind of unpredictably abusive Santa Claus, many of us tend to be much more comfortable with Jesus as he was known by his disciples: the Jesus who told earthy parables, who enjoyed a good glass of wine with his friends, whose message of love for neighbor resonates deeply with our own desires for peace and justice in our world. The experience of Jesus as “buddy Christ” was the same one shared, I think, by his disciples, and particularly by these three who were his special ones, his chosen ones.

And then they went up the mountain. (Whenever anybody goes up a mountain in the bible, alarm bells should go off in your head immediately; something important is about to happen.) In the Gospel of Mark, Peter has just confessed his belief that Jesus was the Messiah, the anointed one, and also been rebuked as a Satan, an adversary, for questioning Jesus’ intention to undergo the passion. And so Jesus takes these three disciples, who know him as a prophet, as a wise man, as a friend, up the mountain to reveal more of what being a Child of God means, for him and for us.

It was a privileged moment, a sneak preview of the resurrection, when familiarity gave way to strangeness; when this unnameable Presence that we name God burst through normality into their lives. It was the brightness of a human being not putting any obstacle in the way of God’s presence, not blocking God’s love from pulsing through him completely. Its brightness was the exact opposite of the mushroom cloud over Hiroshima sixty-one years ago that we remember this weekend. This was the brightness of God, not the brightness of evil. It was the strange, and beautiful, and, yes, terrifying love of God burst into the world.

Scarier still, it wasn’t just a possibility for Jesus, it was a possibility for these disciples, and is a possibility for us. For our Eastern Christian sisters and brothers, the Transfiguration is the great feast; while we in the West tend to focus on the forgiveness of our sins in Jesus, they focus more upon our “deification”, our “being made like God”, in Jesus. The transfiguration reveals that a human being – truly a human being, while still Son of God – could be fully transparent to God’s love. When we received our white robes at baptism, it wasn’t just a pretty piece of fabric; it answered the question for us, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” We can be, and spend our lives learning how to be, adopted children of God, transparent presences of the powerful love, the loving power, of God in the world. Our baptism started us down the path of being as “dazzling white” as Jesus was.

Now, I’ve used the language of terror here, as our Gospel does, language that gets thrown around easily these days. But there’s something important about retaining this language of fear, of terror, in the Scriptures that I think we need to hold on to. This is not the kind of “fear of the Lord” with which many of us were first terrified, the fear of God as Chief Warden, as a drunken Zeus ready to punish us for lying to our sister or missing Mass one Sunday – pick your favorite heretical God-image. No, this is a fear of the Lord which has nothing to do with “being a good little boy or girl” ethics, and everything to do with those moments when the “beyondness” of God and God’s love bursts into our world. These moments can be in prayer or in the most inappropriate of circumstances, they can be loud or quiet, they can be moments of great joy or of great sadness – suffering, our own and that of those we love, seems to particularly open up a chasm under our feet in this way, opening cracks for God to slip in. In these moments we realize that this God-talk, this Christianity-thing, this dying-and-rising event that we remember each week with bread and wine is actually real, more real than the little things we spend so much time worrying about, more real than our internal balance sheet of “good deeds” and “naughty deeds.” And this very real God who enters our lives periodically can be terrifying precisely because it shows up our God-images as pale copies of what God is really like, as potential idols to distract us. Terrifying, too, because this experience of being filled with God’s love isn’t possible only for Jesus, or for a Mother Teresa or Saint Francis, but is something that, thanks to Christ’s gift of the Holy Spirit, is possible and in fact the calling of each of us. Being bearers of God’s powerful love in the world: that’s what we’re going to be when we grow up.

How do we respond to this calling? There are two ways in which I think that Mark lets Peter off the hook here. First, these guys were fishermen, they were sailors. I have to think that Peter’s first words in reaction to the transfiguration were something far less family-friendly than “rabbi, it is good that we are here.” And the second way in which he gets off the hook is in Mark’s caveat that “he hardly knew what to say.” I think Peter might have been far more on the ball than Mark thought, because Peter’s first reaction is exactly the reaction that most of us have when faced with a real encounter with God’s love: to try to make it fit back into our normality as quickly and as painlessly as possible. To capture the experience of the divine in our own boxes, in our own tents, and to keep it safe by keeping it covered up. To go back to pretending that our routines, our legitimate concerns with work and school and relationships, our images of God and of ourselves, are doing just fine, thank you very much, and that the upsetting, upending love of God hasn’t just made all of our “real” lives seem relatively unimportant. We go back to pretending that this meal which we’ll celebrate in a few moments is only a minor moment in our week, rather than the food that keeps us from starving. It’s true that our Christian lives aren’t lived primarily on the mountain – there are the hungry to feed and the sick to heal, as Jesus demonstrated in this very Gospel. But we need to stop regularly to see where God is bursting into our lives and upending them. Our prayer, here and on our own, is the way we learn to be open to that trip up the mountain, we learn how not to domesticate God, we learn how the pulsing of God’s love through us – the Holy Spirit, we call it, to whom this chapel is dedicated, who “poured out God’s love into our hearts” – gives us the strength to be the Body of Christ down below the mountain. In short, we learn on this Feast of the Transfiguration how we’re being made adopted children of God, transparent bearers of God’s love; we learn what we’re going to be when we grow up.


Proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy

From the Rituale Romanum, a blessing for beer:

Bene+dic, Domine, creaturam istam cerevisae, quam ex adipe frumenti producere dignatus es: ut sit remedium salutare humano generi: et praesta per invocationem nominis tui sancti, ut, quicumque ex ea biberint, sanitatem corporis, et animae tutelam percipiant. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen

Bless, O Lord, this creature beer, that Thou hast been pleased to bring forth from the sweetness of the grain: that it might be a salutary remedy for the human race: and grant by the invocation of Thy holy name, that, whosoever drinks of it may obtain health of body and a sure safeguard for the soul. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

(Translation by Fr. Ephraem Chifley, O.P.)

I think we need to put this on little prayer cards to distribute at bars, along with Mass times on the back. I first saw this on Maior Autem His Est Caritas, but apparently it's traced all the way back to Michael Novak at First Things. Who knew that Novak and I might have something important in common?

Just beautiful

So I've said before what a big fan of Beauty Tips for Ministers I am, but yesterday's post, "Love and Care for All of You," is just beautifully written, and damn good theology of the grace of creation. Some excerpts:

Have you cleaned out your closet in the past few years? I mean REALLY cleaned it out? Been willing to part with (or have tailored) even slighty stained t-shirts, comfortably drab and sagging garments, favorite oldies that strain at the seams or fall off, bags whose straps are frayed and cracked, and literally holy socks and shoes? If you haven't been willing to do so, you are embracing poverty not as a spiritual virtue but as a character flaw, and making a passive aggressive visual statement about how unvalued you feel. And that's ugly.

Have you looked at yourself naked lately, taken a good honest look, been to the doctor, and honestly assessed how you're treating your Temple? Have you gone beyond the numbers of weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, heart rate and pulse, T-cells, et al to ask yourself, "How do I feel in my body? Do we have a good relationship? Am I giving my body enough fresh air, rest, good food, movement, laughter, sex, joy, freedom? Am I cherishing this good gift well enough?

Does my physical exterior serve as an honest and appropriate representation of the state of my soul? If I look and feel shabby, can my spirit be far behind?

It is not overly luxurious or sinfully sensuous to love and care for all your epidermis, that clothes the miracle of what lies underneath. It is no sin to know who you are and care well and unapologetically for all of it, in the knowledge of Whose you are.


Lowell Folk Festival

So tomorrow, the Feast of St. Martha, is your humble blogger's birthday, and to celebrate we're going up to the Lowell Folk Festival. Should be a blast...one of my favorite Quebecois bands, Le Vent du Nord, will be playing, along with a lot of other good acts. And it's all free, so you should head up there too. You can take the commuter rail (which hopefully will be working better now), or drive, and it all takes place at Lowell National Historical Park. Folk music, labor history, 90-degree heat...what more could one want on one's birthday?


Charbel, Pray for Us

Ironically or providentially, depending on your Weltanschauung, today is the feast of St. Charbel Makhluf (sometimes spelled Sharbel), one of the great saints of the Maronite Church of Lebanon, one of the Eastern Churches in communion with Rome. Charbel was a priest and monk who died in 1898 (Plenty more info here and here.)
We can join our prayers with his for peace in Lebanon, peace for Israel, and peace throughout the Middle East.

Haha, just kidding...but not really...

From Tom Toles, Washington Post, syndicated by UPI.



St. Bernard's and a German Shepherd...

Thanks to Whispers for the photo.


Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good

So I have to give a quick shout-out for a new initiative that started today in order to give voice to the fullness of Catholic moral teaching in the public spectrum. Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good will be spending the next year trying to bring the values of their "Called to the Common Good" statement (below) into our public discourse. Plus, they've got a snazzy website with some clear starting points for bringing Christian values out of the classrooms and into the, um, streets?

Called to the Common Good

As faithful Catholics, we believe in the values Jesus taught and embodied: love of God and neighbor, justice, and concern for the poor. These tenets of our faith inspire us to remain committed to the common good in all aspects of our lives. Grounded in scripture and in tradition, we understand that our civic choices as Catholics must reflect the fullness of our faith and our commitment to the common good.

As faithful Catholics, we are troubled by a divisive national debate in which partisan agendas distract us from the Gospel message and urgent threats to the common good – threats that include increasing economic burdens on the American family, a war that seems to have no end, children who live in poverty within our own borders, lack of effective policies to build a culture of life, and the increasing threat of global climate change.

As faithful Catholics, we work for a society that respects the lives, dignity, and equality of all persons. We believe in government of integrity, in which public officials put the good of our nation ahead of private gain. We look forward to a day in which working families do not live in poverty and when parents in the middle class can provide health care for their children. We seek a culture that resists rampant greed and materialism in our corporate, political, and family spheres. We call for a nation that puts our cherished principles ahead of profiteering and political pandering.

As faithful Catholics living in this crucial time in our nation’s history, we understand that Americans of all faiths must unite to restore our democracy to its deepest values. As faithful Catholics we are called to promote justice and defend human dignity. As faithful Catholics, we are Called to the Common Good.


The Boschaton

Yes, bad pun. But given the fact that tunnels are falling, detours are changing, Mass. Ave. at Albany Street is flooded, the Red Sox are playing at Fenway, there's classical music on the Esplanade and -- no joke -- the Village People are playing City Hall Plaza at 7 pm, it does seem a bit like the end of days here...

Get all your traffic, detour, and poor policy decision information over at Mac Daniel's Starts and Stops blog.