Prayer for Repentance and Hope

One of the more unfortunate things about the recent major problems involving Dr. Robert Haddad, his alleged sexual harassment, and Cardinal Sean's poor initial response to the seriousness of the matter (obviously the harm done to the women victims being the worst thing), is the way in which the timing is likely to overwhelm O'Malley's most creative, and potentially most positive, effort to heal the church here in Boston to date. (Information on the Haddad case, and his removal this week as head of the Caritas Christi Health Care System, is all much more thoroughly reported by the Globe.)

Starting last night at the Cathedral, O'Malley began a "Pilgrimage of Repentance and Hope", a pilgrimage to ten different churches gravely affected by sexual abuse by priests. A litany, composed by a survivor of abuse, was chanted as the clergy lay prostrate (a gesture normally seen only at their ordination and once a year at Good Friday): "Forgive us for the sins of your bishops. Forgive us for the sins of your priests. Forgive us for burdening your people. Forgive us for the failure to act." The Cardinal now takes the show on the road, to churches throughout the archdiocese (schedule and more info at the diocese's website).

Rituals don't solve anything without inspiring and being contextualized by action. But action without ritual, in the Catholic sacramental sense, makes the action seem somehow removed from our life as prayerful, liturgical Christians. By bringing both the survivors of sexual abuse as well as the clergy whose brothers gravely wounded those survivors front and center liturgically, the church's repentance for its past sins might be made real for the church here in Boston in a way that the (just-as-necessary) statements of apology or programs to respond to past and prevent future victimization never could on their own.

And we as lay people, though obviously in different measure, share in our responsibility and our need to ask forgiveness of the victims of sexual abuse. While not popular to say, the abusing church isn't them, it's us. We were also asleep at the till, letting our leaders do as they thought best without calling them to accountability, turning a blind eye to reports throughout the 1980s and 1990s on clerical sexual abuse that might have inspired us to act more forcefully on behalf of victims earlier and more effectively. While not everyone is a Cardinal Law or a Bishop Lennon, the theology of church which joins us with the saints in their holiness also joins us with our fellow-sinners in their mistakes, their failures of judgment, in their sinfulness.

We Catholics in the church here in Boston and throughout the United States might do well in this novena of prayer for the Holy Spirit to make this prayer for repentance, also composed with the help of survivors of clerical sexual abuse for O'Malley's pilgrimage, our own:

Divine Spirit of light and love,

we consecrate our minds and hearts and wills
to you today and for all eternity.

The Church of Boston has been broken by
sin and scandal.
Shameful acts have harmed innocent children,
betrayed a sacred trust and offended You, our God.
Accept this act of homage in reparation for those offenses.

We beg you:

Holy Spirit – send the fire of your purifying love.

Holy Spirit – water our dryness with Your rivers of new life.

Holy Spirit – breathe on us the sweet refreshment of your mercy.

Holy Spirit – restore hope and faith that we may be one in You.

May our whole lives faithfully imitate the life and virtues
of Christ our Lord.
To the Father, through Christ, in you, Holy Spirit,
be honor and glory forever. Amen


Ascension, the Disappearing Holy Day

So tomorrow (Thursday) is the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord, which, in some places, is a Holy Day of Opportunity...in some places, the Feast is transferred to Sunday. What-eva. While I don't always agree with my traditionalist Catholic sisters and brothers, on the question of whether we ought to be accomodating the 5-day workweek this much, I'm entirely in agreement. Yes, I know getting to Mass during the day can be a hardship, particularly for those who are already working two jobs just to stay afloat. But for most of the people reading this blog, cutting lunch short to go to church isn't going to cause you to faint mid-afternoon. And further, especially if done with some other action in solidarity with those in our society who are barely getting by and working 70-hour work weeks, the witness of the Christian community that the secular workweek is less important than God is a potentially good way of relativising the amount of control capitalism and consumerism have over us.

But enough about moving Holy Days; the Feast of the Ascension is the red-headed stepchild of the mysteries of Jesus' life (I'm not sure I can say that, but I just did...). When was the last time that the ascension of Jesus made any difference in your faith life, or in how you thought about Christ's presence in the world? And even though, if you worship in a church where the creed is recited, you've been saying that Christ ascended into heaven every Sunday, isn't the idea of Jesus floating up into the clouds (feet sticking out, as in this lovely woodcut by Dürer) just a little bit embarassing? I mean, where exactly did he go, into orbit?

I might suggest that there are at least two things that would be most helpful for us to recover a sense of meaning in the feast of the Ascension today. First, we need to respond to the Jesus-In-Space theory. Then, we can talk about why Christ's "ascending into heaven" isn't just a throwaway line in the creed, nor an ad hoc explanation of why he doesn't show up so much anymore (unless you're Blessed Faustina, but that's another story...).

So where did he go? And is that the right question? It seems to me that it was rather clever on Jesus' part to ascend into heaven, though the physics might not be the clincher. The main thing seems to have been that after forty days, or so...at least a definite time period...of the apostles' witnessing the risen lord with enough regularity, physicality (hello, Thomas), and intensity that they would never doubt their own experience that a) Jesus had risen from the dead, b) it wasn't some sort of ghost or hallucination, and c) it was the same Jesus who had walked with them, been crucified, and been betrayed by them, who also rose and forgave them. But they needed to go out and start preaching the Gospel that, in this passion and resurrection, the Reign of God had already begun. But they weren't doing that...they were just sort of hanging around. So he had to get going, and, if you're the Risen Christ and can be present in any way that you wish (remember, he'd already walked through some doors...I have to think he must have snuck up behind them and tickled them or something sometimes too, maybe to make his mom laugh...), but you need to let them know that you're not going to be coming around anymore in the same way, as a resurrected human person, body and soul, but will be staying "with the Father" (whatever that means), then wouldn't you want to make a grand exit so there was no doubt in their minds that a major change had happened? Furthermore, if you were going "to the Father", and you and your friends all knew exactly "where" the Father was, it would seem silly if you said "I'm going to be with the Father" and then sunk into the earth or ran and hid behind a bush and disappeared or something.

Now where does that leave us? Well, it's harder to think that the Father is "up there", when we've been up there ourselves and seen the pictures. But I think, again, that the physics is sort of irrevelant. What is important is Christ's eternal "being with the Father". And it seems really important that Jesus is with the Father not just as a floating spirit of some sort, and not just as a person of the Trinity who finally gets to take off his human nature or body like it was a particularly uncomfortable and unflattering bridesmaid's dress (a fun heresy called "Docetism"), but is present with the Father both as the Second Person of the Trinity, and (huge "and" here) as a human being, body and spirit. So the Resurrection is, among other things, our proof that God's love is stronger than death; the Ascension gives us a preview that God's love also brings us into a relationship with God as whole people, as bodies and souls. It means that, whether you want to call it "up there" or "over there" or "nowhere", a human person is directly part of God's trinitarian life.

So where does that leave us, as Christians? Well, the next nine days are a time of prayer for the gift of the Holy Spirit (the original novena). And it's also, IMHO, a recurring phenomenon of the Christian life...sometimes we live Advent, in expectation of God-with-us; sometimes we live Lent, in awareness of our distance from God; but sometimes we live post-Ascension, knowing that Christ is Risen, but not knowing what we're supposed to do, not having the courage or the prudence or the fortitude to fully live out our discipleship. Sometimes we live waiting for the Spirit. These are also the times when we realize that Christ, who has been present to us in one way (through our families, through our loves, through some of our false images of God), is going to be present to us somehow differently. And this time, like all time, is a time of grace.


Russell has two daddies...

Because my life isn't busy enough, the bf and I are about to become the proud papas of Russell, a Wheaton wire-haired dachshund on his way to points north from a foster home in Louisiana. As you can tell from the picture on the car seat, he appears to have quite a bit of character. The woman from the rescue agency we worked with described him as "a bit of a doofus." He'll fit right in.

If you're interested in adopting a pet, petfinder worked great for us, and the rescue agency who found Russell for us, the Golden Retriever Rescue Lifeline, were really great, and I'd recommend them highly (thanks Melanie! you rock!). There's a special place in heaven for people who volunteer to rescue animals.

Expect ridiculous, gushing updates as we get closer to Russell's arrival in the first week of June.

More posts to follow on things theological...I've been working hard, and just submitted a draft of chapter two to my director. Plus, promised a shout-out to one of my favorite BustedPagani, Rebekah, thanks for reading!


Walk for Hunger

So I did the Walk for Hunger on Sunday, and was able to raise $575, thanks to the generosity of my family, friends, and friends' friends. Thanks very much to all who helped out! This is a picture of me at the end.

My BF joined me for the last third of the walk, but I was by myself for the first two-thirds, bopping along to opera, showtunes, and some quebecoise music on my iPod. We had beautiful weather, there were 43,000 walkers, and overall it was a good day. I also found myself finding some faith in the natural, or at least potential, goodness of people again. (Calvinists, watch out! Catholic optimism ahead.) While a large portion of the walkers at these things are junior high and high school students who have been loaded onto busses and dragged downtown, often against their will, there will still tons of people whose stickers proclaimed that this was their fourth, tenth, or fifteenth walk (or higher, in some cases). There were old people for whom this was not just a long-ish day exercise-wise, as it was for me and most of the people my age and younger; this was a real sacrifice for them, and yet in singles, couples, and groups, they were trudging along towards home. And even if the walk was just a last-minute completion of some public service or confirmation hours, I think there was still something sacramentally objective, ex opere operato, as it were, of their bodies making a twenty mile walk on behalf of the poor. They might not have any conscious memories in ten years as to what they did or why, but this walking, and particularly if it can be repeated a few times, will help their bodies remember that doing good for others is part of what human bodies do when they're healthy, when they're functioning properly and flourishing.

I also regained a tiny bit of faith in the American project. Patriotism is something that we good lefty Catholics are quite suspicious of these days; it's easy to be suspicious when so many of our fellow citizens' patriotism is being manipulated to make a small group of people more wealthy. But there was an astounding diversity of the walkers on Sunday: men in kippah, women from "Muslims Against Hunger" in headscarfs, crazy hippies in a drum circle, the Boston Vedanta Society marching as a group, an a capella group singing "My Wild Irish Rose" on the steps of Temple Beth Zion in Brookline. And all of this started with a group of lefty Catholics at the Paulist Center over thirty years ago. It reminds me that for all of the ways in which America is still flawed, made evident in the fact that we needed something called a "Walk for Hunger" in the first place, the ability to bring together such a strange, exciting mix of people together in one place, and to have them live together without shooting each other, seemed a bit more of a good idea on Sunday. Isaac Hecker thought that the natural optimism and high-spiritedness of the United States gave the Catholic church in America gifts from the Spirit that it had a duty to dispense throughout the world; the breeze of the Spirit flying by felt a little stronger to me on Sunday.

Final note: if you want to donate to the Walk for Hunger in my name, or in the Paulist Center's name, or just for the heck of it, you can still do so for the coming weeks at Project Bread's website!


BaptizedPagan in Starts and Stops

Mac Daniel at the Boston Globe has been writing an excellent column on all things transportation-related for a number of years entitled "Starts and Stops". (It began as a way of informing people of all the ways in which the Big Dig was going to negatively impact their lives.)

The Globe recently gave him a neat blog, and yours truly ended up contributing to his request for specifically MBTA-related vocabulary. My ten seconds of fame. Enjoy.

Happy Rhode Island Independence Day!

Today, in 1776, Rhode Island declared independence from Great Britain, a full two months before the rest of the colonies got around to it. If you're in the Boston area, I'll be having some people over at 10 pm tonight to raise a glass (of coffee milk, of course) in honor of this important day in history.
God Save Rhode Island!
(The image is of the "Independent Man", perched atop the dome of our state house.)


Roundup: Philocrites on Colbert, Whispers on canon law

If you haven't seen the Colbert shtick at the Correspondents' Dinner last weekend, it might be worth a turn. But what you should really do is read Philocrites' reflections on Colbert as court fool.

Also, if you know me, you know how much I love canon law, and how much I get upset when it's simply dismissed or circumvented. You also know that I live here in Boston, which is possibly, though of course not definitely, the location of an abuse of canon law reported by the Loggian Whisperer...a priest kicked out of his house without due process. I'll keep you posted as I hear anymore. Michael Paulson, are you reading this???

Oh, and if you haven't yet, you should support someone doing the Walk for Hunger here in Massachusetts. Email me at baptizedpagan@gmail.com so I can send you to my personal page.

Condi at BC? Updated with Petition

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has been invited to be the commencement speaker at Boston College this year. I'm happy to say that my department is leading the beginnings of protest, or at least raising questions with regard to the approriateness of a Jesuit Catholic Christian institution honoring one of the architects of the war in Iraq. Ken Himes, a Franciscan priest and the chair of the department, and David Hollenbach, a Jesuit and one of the leading R.C. ethicists in the United States, titled their letter "Condoleezza Rice Does Not Deserve a Boston College Honorary Degree", and stated, ''On the levels of both moral principle and practical moral judgment, Secretary Rice's approach to international affairs is in fundamental conflict with Boston College's commitment to the values of the Catholic and Jesuit traditions and is inconsistent with the humanistic values that inspire the university's work."

All this reminds one of your humble blogger's youth, protesting his own commencement speaker at the Catholic University of America: Antonin Scalia.

UPDATE: Petition Process
Some students have established a petition for students, alumni, administrators, staff, and parents of B.C. students. It's available here, but, as is the unfortunate case with many of these sorts of things, it's already being attacked by spammers. The text is good though, and I've reproduced it below; it brings up the contrast of events being canceled at B.C. due to their conflict with church teaching (at B.C., this includes lots of things LGBT-related), with the awarding of an honorary degree to Secretary Rice.
Petitions are always less effective than an actual, handwritten letter, however; so, if you're a B.C. student, alumnus or alumna, parent, or otherwise affiliated, an actual letter to the president of the university might be more effective than anything else. It's rather unlikely at this point that she would be disinvited, but it would at least demonstrate that honoring her seems to contradict the sensus fidei, at least as perceived by the Catholic and Christian community at Boston College.

For your reference, letters may be sent to
Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J.
President, Boston College
Office of the President
Botolph House
18 Old Colony Road
Chestnut Hill MA 02467
or by email to william.leahy.1@bc.edu

Here's the text of the petition:
An Open Letter to Father Leahy and the Boston College Administration,

It has recently been announced that Condoleezza Rice will be speaking at this year's commencement ceremony and receiving an honorary degree from Boston College. Although there are some individuals on campus who support this decision, there is a growing movement among students, faculty, and staff who are opposed to the BC administration's invitation to Dr. Rice and insulted by the extension of an honorary degree to a Secretary of State who supports morally reprehensible policies both at home in the United States and abroad. The BC administration's decision to award the Secretary of State with an honorary degree morally condones these unjust policies at best, and at worst endorses them. Consequently, we have come forward to voice our particular concerns as they relate to this problematic decision in an effort to raise awareness and initiate dialogue about an appropriate response.

On multiple occasions, the BC administration has cancelled events claiming that they ran contrary to Catholic and Jesuit values. As a Catholic, Jesuit, University, we have the moral imperative to uphold the ideals of peace and social justice. Yet despite the Vatican's vehement condemnation of the Iraq war, Boston College is honoring one of its chief architects. This is an example of how the BC administration has clearly been inconsistent in its invocation of Catholic values.

While we are not in favor of censorship on the basis of Jesuit ideals, we feel that the gift of an honorary degree extends beyond the limits or invocation of free speech and into the realm of acclamation and endorsement by Boston College. A commencement speaker in particular is meant to embody the spirit of our university in order to commemorate its graduates' final experience as BC students. We do not believe Condoleezza Rice fulfills this role, and we ask the university to rescind its invitation to Dr. Rice and the offered honorary degree.

Boston College Students Opposed to Condoleezza Rice's Invitation


Red Sox-Yankees. 1-0.

So the Yankees are in town, which means most work has stopped.

Some of the things to translate for your reference:

1) Johnny Damon made his first debut as a Yankee in Fenway Park last night. If there's one thing we New Englanders are good at, it's holding a grudge. I've posted a selection of some of my favorite homemade bits of bitterness. IMHO, the best may have been the bright red t-shirts (not pictured here), emblazoned with the words "Johnny Damon is Dead to Me". Note the extensive use of historical comparisons, as well as theological themes.

2) More excitement (and theological interpretation): the return of Doug Mirabelli as a Red Sox catcher...possibly "the only man on this planet who can catch Tim Wakefield". NPR story with Bob Ryan available here after 7:30 EDT.