Let's talk of happier things...

How much do coffins cost these days?

That was the phrase my best friend's friend and mentor Dr. Nicky used to use to change the topic of conversation when things got too dark...

Well, about $1,000 if you get them from the Trappists of New Melleray Abbey in Iowa. They make some lovely, simple wooden coffins ("blessed by an actual monk" - which seems to be the only aesthetically questionable part of their marketing strategy, in my humble opinion...) and urns, and deliver next day if needed - or you can pre-plan, which might be a nice final gift for your family.

Also, the simplicity of a wood coffin without lots of bells and whistles might help you in having an eco-friendly burial while maintaining some of the look of traditional Christian burial. But if you're looking for a less traditional option that is still pretty stylish, why not try the Eco-Pod, currently produced in Britain, entirely out of recycled paper, with or without an "Aztec Sun "design?


Not Dead Yet...

Watch this space...I'm still kicking, still reading, just not been blogging as much. But still have some things to say here and there.

Here's one fun tidbit: an article from the theologian Donna Freitas on the deeply theological roots of Philip Pullman's Dark Materials series from today's Globe.http://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gif


'Nuff said.


April 13, 2008

Set your calendars now...the Pope will be in Boston, likely celebrating Mass on the Common.

Jim Martin on Stephen Colbert

And in addition, check out The Wørd: A Blog for Catholic It-Getters. Oh, and watch this space for something I've got up my sleeve.


Walter Update

Thank you all for the prayers and good wishes, it's been a rocky week or so, but I wanted to give a quick Walter update.
He came home last saturday, looking a lot like a furry football due to the row of staples down the middle of the back.
He's now feeling a lot better, getting rest, going to the bathroom a little more easily and regularly. He still can't move his back legs, and we're a little concerned, as the doctors had hoped that he might have been moving a little more by now, but he is wagging his tail vigorously a little more often, so that gives us some continued hope. We're doing his physical therapy four times a day to keep his leg muscles in shape, and otherwise are keeping him rested and as calm as possible. As he's felt better, he's wanted to scooch around the room on his butt and has begun to despise the crate we need to put him to keep him from wandering about while his spine is recovering. But he's not in any pain any more, which is good, and is back to his happy, mischievous personality. Even if he doesn't really ever walk and we have to get one of those foolish little carts, he'll be happy and glad to be around, so imho, that's enough, but we're still hoping that his little nervous system is getting the rest it needs to rebuild itself.
Thanks again for all the prayers and good wishes.


Pray for Walter

Hey all,
Somme of you know that my partner and I adopted a second dachshund last month to keep Russell company, named Walter, who has been a real joy in our life. The other day he woke up with some pain in his back legs, and then yesterday was having some early signs of neurological damage - which meant that a slipped disc was pressing against his spinal cord. So he's having surgery this morning to remove the disc material. We're a little scared, but he's at Angell Medical Center, which is the Mass General of veterinary hospitals, so we're confident he's in good hands. If you could keep Walter in your thoughts and prayers today and in the next few days, though, we'd appreciate it.


The Most Immature Montage Ever

From the Daily Show, a report on the Democratic candidates debate on all things gay, concluding with "The Most Immature Montage Ever":


August Explained

A cartoon from a few weeks back by Danziger.

Stanley Phished

From Slate: The Worst Op-Ed Ever (and perhaps one of the best slice-and-dices, if not ever, that I've seen in a while...)

Addition, 8/16: A whole article on Starbucksiana on the Internet, also from Slate.


BaptizedPagan, Simpsonized

So I know all the cool kids did this last week, but there were still some glitches on the Apple before...works fine now. See yourself Simpsonized! (BTW, the movie rocks, Spider Pig and all...)


That other motu proprio

Faithful readers who survived the blogging drought that was most of this past year will remember another, less famous motu proprio on papal conclaves that came out in June. Sandro Magister has an illuminating article by, IMHO, one of the greatest living canon lawyers, Ladislas Örsy, S.J., on why such a seemingly small change by JPII, and its restoration by B16, makes such an important ecclesiological difference.

Ken Hackett, Catholic Relief Services

There's a great article in the most recent issue of the Boston College Magazine (one of the few alumni magazines I've seen that consistently rises above a simple endowment-building vehicle) on Ken Hackett, the president of Catholic Relief Services. CRS has been rated the third most efficient worldwide charity (only 6% of their budget goes to administration and fundraising -- that's 94% of your contribution going directly to those in need), and has, since its inception, relied on Catholic funding to serve all people in need, without proselytization and without regard to the race, creed, or nationality of the people it serves. It's a great example of St. Francis's recommendation to "preach always, use words when necessary." You can make a donation at their website, and/or get information on their fair trade goods.

Vive le Québec!

Un lanceur du Québec sur notre monticule! Bienvenue, Eric!


Oscar the Death Cat

In the good ol' days we would have burned Oscar as a witch...now we write him up for the New England Journal of Medicine.

Today's Globe has a story on Oscar the Death Cat entitled "With a Purr, Death Comes on Little Cat Feet." He's a cat who comes and snuggles up with patients in an advanced care unit in Rhode Island who are about to die. And only when they are about to die. Some highlights:

When death is near, Oscar nearly always appears at the last hour or so. Yet he shows no special interest in patients who are simply in poor shape, or even patients who may be dying but who still have a few days.

In any event, when Oscar settles beside a patient on the bed, caregivers take it as sign that family members should be summoned immediately to bid their loved one farewell.

"Oscar is a normal cat with an extra-normal sense for death," [Dr. Joan Teno] said. "He is drawn to death. Either he wants to give comfort. Or he is just attracted to all the quiet activity that surrounds a patient close to dying.

Oscar makes regular "inspection" rounds of the unit, sauntering in and out of patient rooms -- as if checking on the condition of the occupants. But he never joins them for a snooze.


"He only shows great interest in individuals when they are about to die," said [Dr. David] Dosa.

But what's most interesting about the article is the way in which the writer doesn't seem to know what tone to take with the subject. It reads a little more like an Onion article than an actual newspaper story precisely because the tone is so cutesy -- as if a story about a little death cat wandering around your hospital and crawling into bed with you when you're about to die (to steal your soul?) were in the same genre as a puppy and a duckling who have become fast friends or a dog who knows when the train is going to pass by every day...

So disturbing...

So, a story in today's NY Times on toy testing in China involves this nightmare-inducing photo: Chicken Dance Elmos being lined up to meet their doom or, as the caption says, "undergo tests." Who's giggling maniacally now?


Happy Feast of St. James

Today is the Feast of St. James, and one of my great dreams has always been to walk the camino del Santiago, the historic pilgrimage route that ends at the shrine of St. James at Compostela in Spain. And I wouldn't be traveling simply for the weather, or even for the plenary indulgence, but also for the chance to see the botafumeiro live and in action. The largest censor in the world, I don't know exactly how fast it goes, but it goes pretty damn fast. And it did go through the window one year. So happy Feast of St. James! Next year in Compostela...

Oberlin Faith and Order Conference

So I just got back on Monday night from the meeting of the Faith and Order Commission of the National Council of Churches at Oberlin, celebrating 50 years since the inaugural meeting of Faith and Order at Oberlin in 1957. There were around 300 people there, a healthy mix of pastors, theologians, seminary students, theology students, assorted hangers-on (I count myself in that last category...). I'm currently trying to write something up about the experience, and if no one else wants to publish it (!), I'll be putting it on here. If you want to learn more about the Faith and Order movement in the U.S., or to look at some of their online journals, their website is here.

One of the smarter moves the planning committee made was to fund the travel and attendance of about 100 students and younger theologians, which was a good way of involving lots of us who are deeply concerned about ecumenism, but often find it hard to break into a conversation that has been going on for a long time, and some of whose leading lights are still with us, serving the cause. Plus, for many of us who sometimes find ourselves somewhat isolated from our colleagues -- either because our churches or departments think ecumenism is a betrayal of our identity, as happens in some cases, or because ecumenism seems passé and not as sexy as other work like interreligious dialogue, as in the case in other places -- it was a great chance to get some refreshment of soul and body, and geek out with some of our fellow ecumenists.

You can see from the schedule and the abstracts of papers just how interesting, powerful, and challenging many of our topics for discussion were, but the theme of the entire session was "Being Christian Together." For me, the highlight of this came in a strange place. The last night of our sessions together, after sitting around having a drink and, even after 4 days of talking, still talking about our lives, our churches, our hopes for the future, the bar closed down and we had a short walk across the common in downtown Oberlin to the dorms in which we were staying. An Episcopal postulant whom I'm now happy to call a friend pulled out a pack of cigarettes, and a group of us, mostly not regular smokers, suddenly felt the call of the Spirit. So there we were -- an Episcopalian, a Roman Catholic, a United Church of Christ ecumenist, an Orthodox theologian, and a Mennonite, heading across the common, sharing a smoke and a laugh at how unexpected the future of ecumenism might look to our ecumenical forebears, heading back for a night of rest. Being Christian together.


Summorum Pontificum

As usual, Rocco has the scoop on the Latin Mass motu proprio over at Whispers in the Loggia -- and he's careful to point out that he didn't break any ecclesiastical laws by promulgating substantial parts of the document ahead of its, well, its promulgation...

That being said, I'm leaving this morning for a beach weekend down at Rehoboth in Delaware, thanks to one of my dearest friends in the world...


13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Some reflections I gave last night at church, focusing primarily upon the reading from Paul's Letter to the Galatians:

At every Mass we stand for the proclamation of the Gospel, because it’s the Gospel, the “good news” of who Jesus Christ proclaimed by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, that is the source and the root of our faith. But on the weekend after the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, I think it’s legitimate, for a change, to spend some time reflecting on the good news as proclaimed by the apostle Paul to the church in Galatia, as proclaimed in our second reading tonight.

And what a reading it is: there’s nothing like a Saturday night in the middle of the summer to talk about the opposition of the Spirit and the flesh. Now, when we hear Paul talking about “the flesh” and “the Spirit,” the scripture scholars warn us to avoid understanding “the flesh” as “the body,” as anything “material”; rather, they explain, the flesh refers to our ways of living in opposition to God, in opposition to the Spirit Christ gives to us. But even those of us who might have read that before tend to carry around a lot of baggage around the idea of “the flesh,” myself included.

For many of us, when we hear Paul talking about not living according to the flesh, the synapses in our brains hear “the flesh” = sex. Or anything to do with sex. And ironically that shortcircuits our ability to hear Paul as good news, in a couple of ways. One way is to focus on all of our past or current errors that involve our sexuality, our mistakes, our anxieties, our failures to love, which for a variety of reasons resonate with a lot of our particular hang-ups as Christians in a historically Irish, quasi-Jansenist part of New England. Hearing Paul telling us not to live according to the flesh pushes us directly into that slightly neurotic, self-loathing place in which we secretly might wish that we weren’t sexual beings at all, that we didn’t have bodies that had desires, and in which living according to the Spirit might mean freedom as “leaving behind” all of that stuff.

A second place we tend to go, however – and most of us go in both of these directions at different times – is to take a look at ourselves and, by thinking of flesh only as sexual, let ourselves off the hook. After all, we’re good people who are here at church on a Saturday night, not on our way to a brothel or an orgy – most of us, at least. So we can smugly sit back and ignore Paul’s message to those people, you know, those other people.

In both cases, the result is the same: once we make the equation “the flesh” = sex, we zone out and miss what, I think, Paul is really trying to tell us about Christian life, about the journey Christ talks about in the Gospel. We miss his words about life in the Spirit as being, for us, not a place for condemnation and self-loathing, but a recipe for a different kind of living. And I’d like to spend the rest of our time exploring a way that might help us imagine that kind of life in the Spirit.

One of my partner Nathan and my favorite places to go out for dinner for a treat is Redbones Barbecue in Davis Square. If you haven’t been there, and you’re not a vegetarian, I would recommend it as one of the 5 best restaurants in the city. Our dog likes it too, because he usually gets some beef ribs out of the bargain. But you have to be willing to get a little dirty, and get a little animal, in order to really enjoy the food. Eating barbecue ribs is not like eating chicken mcnuggets; there’s no way to ignore the fact that a formerly living, breathing creature has become the source of your nourishment in such a meal. And there’s no delicate way of actually eating it; you need to get in touch with your inner carnivore, and tear the meat off the bone, rip some beef off a rib or some pork off a chop. Vegetarians, you’ll have to try imagine a really, really good ear of corn at this point.

But paying attention to something as mundane as how we eat barbecued ribs might be a way of breaking out of the flesh = sex shortcircuit. Paul warns the Galatians that “if you go on biting and devouring one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another.” Life “according to the flesh” isn’t only or even primarily life in bodies – we don’t have any way of imagining another kind of living. It’s a life in which we treat each other, in varied and numerous ways, as though we were just flesh to each other. When we bite each other, we tear each other, we devour each other – that in my opinion is what Paul is getting at when he warns against life according to the flesh.

In the lines following tonight’s passage, Paul writes that “the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like.” The beginning and the end of the list sound a lot like what we first think of as “the flesh” and there’s a good reason, namely that our sexuality is a particular place where we’re often tempted to devour each other. But think of the middle of the list: hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, fury, selfishness, dissensions, envy – these ways in which we devour each other, tear each other, consume each other – and ourselves – are far more subtle, and often have little to do with sex. But this, says Paul, is life “in the flesh” or “according to the flesh.”

So, given that Paul seems to be pointing out so many different kinds of ways in which we can treat each other according to the flesh, how can this word be good news for us? Well, the only reason Paul can talk about life according to the flesh is because he also knows, and we also know, what a life not according to the flesh can be like, what the life according to the Spirit to which we are called looks and feels like. The fruit of the Spirit, Paul writes, is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” It’s learning to treat each other as children of God, as temples of Christ’s Spirit, and not simply as flesh.

And if you think that my gastronomic comparison is entirely off base, then we might think about the fact that every week we enter more fully into that life in the Spirit by coming here, not to a cooking school, but an eating school. The fact that we are “liturgical vegetarians” – that we eat Christ’s flesh as bread and drink Christ’s blood as wine – is not accidental to learning how to eat with each other without eating each other. The fact that the bread we share is freely given and freely broken, that we line up to receive it, and not to take it – each time we return to this table, we are not only learning how Christ made himself food for others without devouring them, we are also learning how we can be food for others, without devouring them. In Paul’s words, we are practicing life together in the Spirit, and not in the flesh, so that, at the end of Mass, we can go back out into our world as bread for a hungry world.


Happy Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul

Today is one of the major patronal feasts of Rome, and, in honor of the occasion, the famous statue of St. Peter at the Basilica gets dressed up...

But it is a joint feast, the idea being that the church at Rome is founded not on the witness, the martyrdom, of Peter alone but of Peter and Paul, two great apostles who, tradition suggests, both met their end in Rome. And last night at services at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, B16 announced that on June 29th, 2008, a Pauline year in celebration of the 2,000 anniversary of Paul's birth will begin.

Nicely coincidentally, next year will also be the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Paulist Fathers, founded by Isaac Hecker under the patronage of St. Paul. Exciting times!


BaptizedPagan, PhD

So my defense went very well yesterday, and I'm now Dr. Brian.
Thank you to all of you who kept me in your prayers, I hope to live up to the vocation that this degree represents.

Keep an eye on this space...lots of stuff happening on the Rome front -- Latin masses, letters to Chinese Catholics, etc. -- there's a lot to squeeze in before Rome leaves on holiday.

And have a very happy feast of Irenaeus of Lyons, a great ecclesiologist and theologian of the reconciliation of all peoples!


Motu proprio

Not _that_ motu proprio....but now that I've got your attention:

B16 released a motu proprio today re-establishing the previous practice of the conclave to elect a pope only by a 2/3 vote, rather than the scheme JPII instituted by which a deadlocked conclave would eventually switch over to a simple majority -- raising the specter of an intransigent minority that could hold out indefinitely until the 2/3 voting was over. It's another sign, in my opinion, of B16's desire to undue some of John Paul's more, um, creative innovations...maybe Divine Mercy Sunday is next??

In other news, I'm defending my dissertation tomorrow afternoon, so keep me in your prayers!


The God Machine Cometh

So I'm doing my last preps for my dissertation defense next week, and then I can get back to the important work of this blog which some of you have been clamoring for (hi, Chris!).

But as a teaser, for those of you drooling over the future of the iPhone (hi, Dave!), here are a couple of fun pieces I've come across lately:

Rocco Palmo, of Whispers in the Loggia fame, has dedicated his column this week on Busted Halo to the theological implications of the God Machine.

Hilariously, a very bitter media reporter from Slate has a funny little piece on how the media responds to the Apple striptease entitled "Apple Suck-up Watch" (although watch for the lack of the subjunctive mood at a crucial point...).

Personally, I'm hoping that my partner will decide that now's the time to switch to Cingular/AT&T and get hisself an iPhone I can play with...it would also make a great dissertation completion present, hint hint...


Why Use Boring Stamps?

So I'm rushing to finish my final draft this week (yes, Virginia, the _final_ draft) before heading west for a vacation and a retreat. But for your consideration today, I submit the new Jamestown stamps, available already in the 41-cent version, and the "Forever" stamp that everyone is talking about. The Forever stamp ain't bad...nice version of the liberty bell and all...but why would you send anything with a plain old boring square stamp when you could send these cool, well-designed, timely _triangular_ stamps?
Life is too short for boring stamps.


Happy Rhode Island Independence Day!

Yes, it's amazing how fast the year flies by...time for another Rhode Island Independence Day!
From the Rhode Island civil code:

25-2-1 Rhode Island Independence Day. The fourth day of May in each and every year is established, in this state, as a day for celebration of Rhode Island independence, being a just tribute to the memory of the members of our general assembly, who, on the fourth day of May, 1776, in the State House at Providence, passed an act renouncing allegiance of the colony to the British crown and by the provisions of that act declared Rhode Island sovereign and independent, the first official act of its kind by any of the thirteen (13) American colonies.

So lift a pint of Gansett, pray for the release of Buddy, and, if you're in the area, come by my place where I'm making hot wieners.


Next Synod of Bishops, Upcoming Motu Proprio, Etc.

Two upcoming items on the Vatican front.

The Next Synod of Bishops
So only Nixon can go to China. From Fr. Z, a priest and blogger from Rome who spends a lot of time talking about proper translations of liturgical texts from the Latin, as well as the return of the use of Latin in the Mass. The Lineamenta, the planning texts, for October's Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, have been published. The theme will be "The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church." The Synod was called for by Christus Dominus at Vatican II, and has functioned as an occasional advisory body to the Pope since then. But Fr. Z notes an important change that B16 has made to the juridical process of the synod, a change that furthers the pattern of slow, deliberate yet marked de-centralization that reflects a theology of the papacy as the primate among the bishops, rather than above the bishops. Fr. Z's text in full:

For a rigid backward looking conservative, Pope Benedict XVI sure does some progressive things.

The most recent surpise from His Holiness is a change to the Synod of Bishops.

Originally the Synod, called to meet occasionally to discuss questions put to them by the Pope, could before only offer observations and statements. Pope Benedict has now given them deliberative power concerning certain precise questions.

The new edition of the Acta Apostolicae Sedis indicates the changes in new statutes for the Synod.

The Synod will be able to vote on issues, but the vote must be ratified by the Pope. Thus, in certain specific questions, it seems the Synod will become a kind of micro-Council.

This move brings the Synod perhaps more in line with the way ancient Synods worked. It also resonates with the way the Orthodox bishops deliberate, though clearly they don’t have the Petrine dimension excercized by the Pope.

So, this Pope seems to be bent on loosening the vice clamping around some dimensions of the Church’s life since Pope Paul VI. He is exploiting the provisions in Canon Law about the Synod and relaxing artifical and harmful restrictions imposed on the Church’s liturgical life.

The Motu Proprio
And the next news that's likely to come from Rome is the upcoming motu proprio expected to allow a much wider use of the 1962 Missale Romanum (that's Mass in Latin, for my fellow post-conciliar Catholics). Expect lots and lots of people to freak out.

For all of your basic questions for information, Amy Wellborn has put together a "Motu Proprio Tip Sheet" that will, assumedly, receive further detail after the actual publication of the document.

Should those of us who aren't Latin Mass goers freak out? Not necessarily. I expect that the key to the interpretation of the document will be a clause or paragraph in which B16 will signal that a crucial aspect of the wider allowance of the Latin Mass cannot be understood in any way, by bishops, clergy, or laypeople, as suggesting the illegitimacy of the vernacular versions of the Mass. That's the rub that sparked the excommunications of the Lefebvrists back in the day; one cannot, in the Catholic church, promote the use of the Latin Mass because one understands the vernacular masses to be invalid. I expect that the motu proprio will make that clear.

Given that, I'm optimistic that the wider use of the Latin Mass won't make much difference to most people. Releasing a document like this in 2007 is a lot different than it would have been in 1978; there is no way of turning back the clock on the vernacular liturgy, and most clergy, laypeople, and bishops have little interest in returning to the old Mass. If it's strongly emphasized that a preference for the Latin Mass is just that, a preference, and not a matter of faith, then allowing a diversity of usage within the church seems a good move to meet people where they are.

At least two practical issues need to be addressed, however, that may get lost in the shuffle to re-publish 1962 Missals. First, there is the minor issue of a unified calendar; many people were expecting the publication of the document yesterday, on the feast of St. Pius V, the post-Tridentine pope whose publication of the Missale Romanum standardized Latin Catholic usage for the next 400 years. But it's just as possible that the document may be published
on May 5th, his feast day under the Latin Catholic calendar. This in itself signals the difficulty of allowing two distinct calendars within the Latin rite. Some sort of calendar reform within the Latin rite would both make sure that Roman Catholics are celebrating the same feasts on the same days, and would also show the relativity of the Latin Mass -- the Mass is under the regulation of the bishops, and not the reverse. Simply being old doesn't make it scripture.

The second, more substantive issue is the question of how the texts of the Latin Mass understand the relations between Jews and Christians. I have a 1962 Missale here in my library, and a quick leafing through can find those lovely Good Friday prayers for the "perfidious Jews." The Boston College Center for Christian-Jewish Learning has already raised these concerns and suggested some responses.

In both cases, the caveat seems to be that if greater re-introduction of the Latin missal is not going to undermine some of the other developments in post-conciliar Catholicism, it can't be introduced as a museum piece, but must be made a living part of the church, and that includes modifications that will upset true traditionalists by suggesting that there are other reasons for allowing Latin liturgy than a negative evaluation of the conciliar reforms. We'll see shortly, according to all the scuttlebutt, exactly what will happen next.


Project Bread Walk for Hunger!

No pressure, because I know this is a busy time for everyone, but I'm going to be walking 20 miles this coming Sunday in Project Bread's Walk for Hunger. I'm proud to say that the Walk actually started 38 years ago as a way for my church, the Paulist Center downtown, to raise money for our own weekly meal for the needy and our food pantry; since then it's grown dramatically, and the funds from the Walk go to support 400 food pantries, soup kitchens, food banks and food salvage programs in Massachusetts. Project Bread still provides 83% of the operating budget for my church's outreach efforts to feed women, men, and children in Boston.
If you'd like to make a donation to support me, you can do so by credit card directly at my walk webpage.
And, if you'd like to come along on Sunday, there's still time to start asking for donations and to get your walking shoes ready!
Thanks for any support, material or spiritual!


BXVI Quote of the Day

"It was easy to know the doctrine. It's much harder to help a billion people live it."

Technically, yesterday, from David Gibson's NY Times article on BXVI after two years.


Have a Gansett, Neighbor

Blog friend and real-life church friend Panorama of the Mountains has a review of the revived Narragansett beer. I grew up about 2 miles from the old Narragansett Brewery in Cranston, Rhode Island. The old Gansett wasn't, shall we say, the champagne of beers, but it seems like the revival might have a little more potential. The Narragansett website has a good history of how, exactly, the original Narragansett went downhill financially in the mid-70s. Perhaps I'll order a keg for my Rhode Island Independence Day party at the beginning of next month.


Pimp your iBook

Check out Mozaikits, and the special laptop Mozaikits with Apple logo cut-outs. Thanks to Cool Hunting for the link.


Happy Birthday, B16

He celebrated with a cute new mitre and his new book on Jesus.

Soulforce at Gordon College

Michael Paulson reports in today's Globe that Gordon College, an independent evangelical Christian college on the north shore (and alma mater to many, many illustrious graduates, including my friends Dan and Suzanne...) will be welcoming, rather than locking out, a group of Soulforce LGBT activists on their nationwide Equality Ride.

So what are we to make of this? Underhanded evangelical ploy to look nice while still hating on the gays? After all, the College is not renouncing its policy on homosexuality, and talks and presentations by the Soulforce riders will always be followed by presentations of the college's viewpoint by members of the Gordon community. Or is it a capitulation to the forces of sodomy, an endorsement of the gay lifestyle simply by allowing them to be on campus and (!) to share dinner?

Neither, IMHO. They're entering into explicit, polite, dialogue. Which is not easy to do, in a culture that doesn't promote talking with the people with whom you disagree, and on an issue which goes to the heart of peoples' lives. In the Globe story, the president of the student association, Josh Stoeckle, "said that he supports Gordon's policy against homosexual conduct, but that 'I find myself growing and realizing that the world is also a very complicated place, and we're often not really very good at loving people. We let beliefs become abstractions, and not people. And we have students at Gordon who are homosexual and really struggle with being here.'" Amen. The church's struggle with self-identified gay people is not going to end overnight, and inviting someone into a conversation, rather than shutting them out, is a good step to all of us being able to talk with each other and not about each other.


Jesuit Urban Center Closing

Sad, rainy day here in Boston: it was announced at Mass this morning at the Jesuit Urban Center that the Jesuits will be closing the Center, possibly as early as this summer. It's a real punch in the gut that such a lively intentional community is going to be dispersed out of existence. I'm most concerned about the fact that the Urban Center has been a home for gay and lesbian Catholics for such a long time, and particularly for Catholics who already felt on the margins of their church. This is going to be the final push out of the Catholic church for large numbers of my brothers and sisters. Please keep them in your prayers.


New York and Taxes

Just back from a quick overnight jaunt down to Manhattan after a stressful-ish week that included a 36-hour job interview. Thanks to all for their thoughts and prayers on that front, I'll keep you posted.
New York was lovely; we did a tour of the Brooklyn Brewery, sampling some of their product, followed by an oh-so-fabelhaft evening in Astoria working on our French pronunciation and catching up. We eventually ended up at some less reputable establishments...Barricuda and then (gasp) Mr. Black's. Fun was had by all.

Mass the following morning at St. Francis Xavier parish at 6th Ave. and 16th St. Wonderful service, just the right mix, IMHO, of some Latin chanting and some good Gather hymnal standards to make me feel at home (despite the inclusion of one of my least favorite hymns that sounds like a song rejected from Les Miz: "Jerusalem, my dest-iny"). When in New York, I usually hit the jazz mass in the evening at the Church of the Ascension up on the upper West Side, but we were going to be leaving too early in the day for that; and I hadn't been over to St. Joseph's in the Village since Fr. Aldo Tos was pastor (before a whole bunch of Dominicans showed up...).

Then it was back to Boston; today was the first day back to class for Harvard after spring-break, and now we're in it for the long haul. I'm trying to get caught up on other things in order to be able to spend my time editing later in the month, and this morning also got my taxes done. Now, if you're a poor graduate student, say, and have an AGI under $28,500,
or qualify for the Earned Income Credit, or are active duty military with an AGI under $52,000, then you can use a version of TurboTax online for free. The one catch, as your correspondent discovered, is that you need to start filling out your information by going to that website; otherwise, you won't be able to get the free credit and will have to enter all your information in twice. If you're in Massachusetts and a number of other states, your state return will also be free. It's always helpful when the calendar works this way, and the government provides you with an opportunity for penance and almsgiving right in the middle of Holy Week...


Sor Juana de la Cruz, Prostitution, and Immigration

First off, flying out for an on-campus interview tomorrow, so keep me in your prayers.

More interestingly, and importantly, I heard a wonderful homily last night at the Paulist Center by Fr. Rubén Patiño. The Gospel for the day was the story of the woman caught in adultery, when Christ asks the one without sin to cast the first stone. Now, I've heard many sermons about this that have simply repeated the normal bourgie ethos of "live and let live", of a privatizing tolerance that talks about the need not to judge other people. And, to some extent, that's all well and good. But Rubén brought this to a whole new level by connecting the story with the recent immigration raids in New Bedford, and the need for the church to speak as church for the dignity of immigrants, legal and illegal.

He quoted a poem about prostitution by the 17th century Mexican poet and mystic Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz:

Quién será más de culpar

aunque cualquiera mal haga:
La que peca por la paga,
o el que paga por pecar

Roughly, who is more to blame, the one who sins for pay, or the one who pays for sin? Without denying the fact that illegal immigration is a problem, Rubén talked about how those who we, as a nation, are expelling and punishing, are here because of the poverty in their own countries, and also to maintain us in our cheap clothing, services, and other goods. It reminds me of the words of a confession of sin used in the episcopal church: "We repent of the evil that enslaves us, the evil we have done, and the evil done on our behalf." As an article in the Boston Globe points out today, the evil done on our behalf against immigrants and their families is part of a Homeland Security plan that will grow in strength and impact in the coming years. May God forgive us, and give us the strength to welcome the stranger and speak for her rights.


Notification on Sobrino

is now available. I would comment, but I have a dissertation due...


Yes, I'm Alive; Sobrino in Trouble

So I'm still here, barely...haven't posted in over a month, largely because I've been working my theological tuches off to get my dissertation completed. It looks likely that I'll be defending soon, I'll keep you posted.

But I'm coming out of a brief blog-sabbath because of some disturbing news out of the Vatican, Jon Sobrino, one of the most important liberation theologians from Latin America still writing and teaching today (I taught his book on theodicy in the context of the Salvadoran earthquakes, Where is God?, for class a few years back) is likely to be placed under censure by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, according to El Mundo. Just when BXVI and Levada were getting some kindler, gentler press....

Here's the story from Catholic World News.

Madrid, Mar. 9, 2007 (CWNews.com) - A Jesuit theologian who is a leading exponent of liberation theology will soon be disciplined by the Vatican, according to the Spanish newspaper El Mundo.

Father Jon Sobrino will be barred from teaching in Catholic schools and instructed not to publish written works, El Mundo reports, citing informed sources at the Vatican. The newspaper claims that the disciplinary measures will be announced by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith within the next two weeks.

Father Sobrino’s work was cited as distorting the role of Jesus in the plan of salvation, the Vatican sources said. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reportedly found that his theological works placed an undue emphasis on the figure of Jesus as a human actor involved in social causes, neglecting his divinity and his unique role in Redemption.

Father Sobrino, a Basque priest, became an influential leader in the school of liberation theology during his years in El Salvador. He taught at the University of Central America, an institution that was caught up in the civil war of the 1980s when 6 Jesuits and 2 staff members were killed by right-wing death squads in 1988.


Santa, Santa Hilarita

So the AP presents the first of its Evita-like photos of Hillary Clinton. Expect many more in the coming year and half, my descamisados...



In a spirit of ecumenism, I wanted to point you to Peacebang's reflections on ironing.

One favorite: "There are thousands of garments made especially for the iron-averse. Those who hate to iron should stay away from cotton in their professional wardrobe, which is made to look crisp and put-together. Don't insult the integrity of cotton garments by donning them in wrinkly form." Well said, my dear. Respecting God's good creation and its integrity means treating cotton well. Oh, and being cautious around too many artificial fibers...


The Conversion of Saint Paul

In addition to being the last day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, today is also the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. This is not coincidental - it used to span the time between the feast of the Chair of Peter and the Conversion of Paul, though in the Roman calendar the first of those has since been moved. (Thank you, Lorelei!) But it makes great sense still, because it reminds us that the real work of ecumenism isn't only or primarily one of producing one more joint statement, one more theological position paper, one more (dare I say it) dissertation. Ecumenism must above all be a movement of conversion, conversion of each of us as individuals to our fellow Christians, and conversion of our churches as wholes into communities more and more recognizable to each other as the one Church of Christ. "Spiritual ecumenism," as JPII and my own dissertation subject Jean Tillard often remarked, is crucial to all of our hopes for the future unity of the church. Spiritual ecumenism is what knocks us off our horses of self-righteousness, self-sufficiency, and reminds us of the great work of unity still yet to be completed, that we may be one, that the world will believe.

It's also the patronal feast of the Paulist community, both the Paulist priests and those of us lucky enough to be associated with their ministries, which is doubly appropriate, given the Paulists' longstanding commitment to ecumenism, including the witness of Fr. Thomas Ryan at the Paulist Office for Ecumenism and Interreligious Affairs. So as you remember the feast in your prayers today, think, "Have I hugged a Paulist today??"

Day 8, Week of Prayer of Christian Unity

Day 8, Resurrection and glorification (Romans 8:31-39).

Ezekiel 37: 1-14, The Lord will bring you up from your graves.
Psalm 150, Let every thing that breathes praise the Lord.
Roman 8:31-39, It is Christ Jesus, who died, who was raised, who intercedes for us!
Luke 24:44-52, The apostles were constantly in the temple praising God.

South Africa is in torment, the victim of violence and disease. Unjust death knocks at the door of the poverty-stricken inhabitants of the townships and rural areas. Despite this, every Sunday people proclaim the Lord’s resurrection with confidence, often following upon funerals the day before. Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans speaks of the risen Christ seated at the right hand of God from where Christ announces that every human being has his or her place next to God; evidence of God’s reaching out to the world with an offer of reconciliation, consolation and mercy. Trust in the power of God’s love gives us confidence to face death and seemingly overwhelming situations. We can also be confident that if nothing can separate us from the love of God, then through the grace of God, nothing can ultimately separate us from one another. God brings life out of death. God whispers a word of hope in the ears of those in agony, in the ears of those who yearn for unity. It is a hope in that which God is bringing about, of which believers are barely conscious and which remains mysterious: the coming of the kingdom of God. It is the hope that all despairing silence and relentless division will one day give way, so that every tongue might declare with one voice the glory of God the Father.

Lord God, whom we love, before the cross of your Son we contemplate the suffering of a world which longs for your saving help. Raise up in us a hymn of victory which proclaims that he has conquered death ‘by death’ and that the risen life which was made known on Easter morning offers us life and victory over death and the forces of evil. Amen.


Day 7, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Don't forget, if you're in the Boston area, tonight's ecumenical service prayer service, with Cardinal O'Malley, Rev. Dianne Kessler, and Metropolitan Methodius, at St. John Chrysostom in West Roxbury at 7:30 pm.

Day 7, Forsakenness (Psalm 22: 1).

Isaiah 53:1-5, Bearing our infirmities and carrying our diseases.
Psalm 22:1-5, Abandonment.
Roman 8:35-36, Separated from the love of Christ?
Matthew 27:57-61, Love entombed.

Jesus’ cry of abandonment on the cross echoes the words of the psalmist and asks: ‘Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?’ Here the suffering servant bears the stigma of a common criminal’s execution. Then follows the total silence of death and of the tomb, closed by a great stone, with the two Marys sitting opposite, speechless. There are times in our lives when suffering exceeds all measures, when there are no words to express our grief, no cries, no tears, no gestures. We are there with the women at the tomb watching everything we had loved and hoped for being buried. Yet Christ’s suffering was redemptive. He bore the sorrows of all people and by his death redeemed us all. He was lifted up on the cross to draw all people to himself. In his suffering and desperation on the cross he shared and truly participated in the darkest and most fearful experience of pain that humankind can have. The closer we come to the cross of Christ, the closer we come to each other. Christ gave his life for all people and we discover an inherent, given unity when we acknowledge that we all depend equally on this one saving work. The life of the church must express this unity of indebtedness.

Giver and sustainer of life, we thank you that you know and understand when we suffer. In Christ you have even taken our infirmities on yourself and by his wounds we are healed. Grant us faith and courage when we are overwhelmed. When life’s meaning disappears behind the cloud of suffering, may we focus our attention on Christ, who suffered and yet conquered and made us one redeemed people. In his name we pray. Amen.


Day 6, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Day 6, Empowered to speak out (Mark 5: 33).

Judges 6:11-16, I will be with you.
Psalm 50:1-15, Call on me.
Acts 5:26-32, Obeying God.
Mark 5:24-34, Telling the whole truth.

There are topics one is not supposed to talk about : notably, sex, money and religion. For Jesus to deal with a woman with a hemorrhage was both amazing and groundbreaking. It was faith and confidence in Jesus which encouraged her to reach out to him knowing that healing would flow from him. Being touched, Jesus realized that power had gone out from him while the woman experienced healing and empowerment - the empowerment to speak out and to tell how her whole story of long silent suffering had come to an end. And it was only after she had told her story that Jesus could say: Be healed. The churches themselves need to be outspoken about issues that, for whatever reason, are difficult to talk about. These may include, beyond South Africa, issues of war and peace, the life-destroying effects of global capitalism, the tragedy of asylum seekers, or hidden child abuse. This is not a choice for the church but it points to the very center and reason for its existence. God has called the church to proclaim his Word to the world, to bring good news to those in need, and churches cannot remain silent when external forces hinder the ongoing incarnation of this Word. But at times, the churches themselves are an obstacle to this incarnation because of their divisions and disunity. The Word given to the church is one, and it is only when churches speak with one voice and act with a single compassion that they become true and credible witnesses to this Word. Therefore the churches have also to be prepared to speak about the shame of their own disunity. Only if we tell the painful truth of our disunity is our healing possible.

Creator God, you spoke and made the world to be good; your risen Son intercedes on our behalf; your Spirit guides us into all truth. Forgive us for those times when our silence has damaged your world, hindered the ongoing work of Christ and muffled the truth. Give us courage, as individuals and as churches, to speak the truth in love with one voice, to embody your compassion for all who suffer, and to send out the good news of the gospel to all the world; in the name of him in whom the Word took flesh among us, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Day 5, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Day 5, God’s judgment on our silence (Matthew 25: 45).

Micah 6:6-8, What does the Lord require of us?
Psalms 31: 1-5, God, the refuge and faithful redeemer.
1 Peter 4:17, Judgment begins with the household of God.
Matthew 25:31-46, You did not do it to me.

Those who suffer in silence – who have lost their voice, or had it taken from them – have their refuge and hope in God, who is faithful to redeem them. Yet they rightfully look for help, not only to God but to God’s servants, and not least to Christians and the churches. These are called to speak on behalf of those who cannot, or will not, lift their own voices; and to empower the powerless to speak for themselves: the Lord requires us to do justice first of all. Yet too often the hopes of those who suffer are met with silence. Christians and the churches do not always speak out when they should or work to empower the voiceless to find their own voice. Called to serve others, to do it unto the least of these; too often we do not. Even knowing that Jesus is present in the least of these, we do not always serve them as we ought. As Christians and churches – wherever we are – we must ask ourselves whether we are sometimes too silent, with questions such as these: Are we speaking out on behalf of others as best we can, and empowering them to speak for themselves? If not, is it a question of being able to hear the cries of those who suffer? Are individual churches sometimes so concerned with internal matters, that they are unable to hear the cries of those outside their own walls? Are the churches hampered by their divisions from hearing the cries of those who suffer? These are difficult questions, but by asking them together we may be able to break the silence and thus show our unity in service to those who suffer.

God our refuge and redeemer, Hear the voices of those who have no voice; Open their mouths to speak, and grant them justice and healing, joy and peace at last. Open our ears to hear the cries of those who suffer; Open our mouths to speak out on their behalf; and Open our hearts that we may work to empower others to speak. Amen.


Day 4, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Day 4, The silence of the forgotten and the cries of the suffering (1 Corinthians 12 : 26).

Exodus 3:7-10, God heard the cry of the oppressed.
Psalm 28:1-8, O Lord be not silent.
1 Corinthians 12:19-26, Many members yet one body in Christ.
Mark 15:33-41, Jesus cried aloud: “My God why have you forsaken me?”

The world in which we live is one in which many people are suffering. Almost everyday we see dramatic pictures in the media and read news about the great catastrophes people have experienced. But the suffering of many people is not acknowledged. They are forgotten. It seems that they suffer silently, but this is a fiction; the silence is more a sign of our ignorance and our egoism. God hears what we often do not want to hear. He hears the cries of the suffering and he sees their oppression. He does not ignore it (Ex 3). When the people in South Africa read the story of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt they remember their own way out of apartheid. Although the people were systematically silenced, their cries for freedom and justice were loud; the pain was deep, and it took a long time for their longing for liberation to be fulfilled. Nowadays many people in Africa are victims of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. No war in the world has ever taken more lives than AIDS. But the interest – especially in the western world – is not very great. A wall of silence divides the world. Psalm 28 shows us a suffering person, who is crying to God. It is to God that he addresses his misery and his hope. He prays in the trust that God will take notice of him because others do not see his pain. We are one body in this compassionate Christ. The misery of some members is not their trouble alone but is the responsibility of all. The cries of the infected cannot be ignored or hushed by saying that they are judged by God. We are bound together as one body in Christ. Together, we must take care of the marginalized and ignored. The great challenge of HIV/AIDS needs a united not a divided or segregated church. It needs a church which cooperates and builds a community of compassion and faith as the one body of Christ, a community where the silence of the forgotten is broken and the cries of the suffering are heard.

Eternal God, you are the hope of those who have been omitted from the agenda of our world. You hear the cries of the wounded hearts and the voices of the despairing souls. Teach us in the power of your Spirit to hear with your ears and reach out through the silence to hear the voices of suffering and longing. As one body in Christ, make us more and more a communion of compassion and a prophetic sign of your incarnate grace and justice. Amen.


Day 3, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Day 3, The Holy Spirit gives us the Word (John 15: 26).

Joel 2:26-29, I will pour out my spirit on all flesh.
Psalm 104, You renew the face of the earth.
1 Corinthians 12:1-4,12-13, No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.
John 15:26-27,16: 12-13, The Spirit of truth will testify on my behalf.

We are one in the Spirit. All have been nourished by the one Spirit. Is it in the same Spirit that we have been baptized into one body? It is the Holy Spirit who speaks and who gives us the crucial energy, the inner power to speak, to announce and proclaim together the good news of the kingdom of God. Our desire is to live in the Spirit, as a community on the pilgrimage towards unity. If we live according to the Spirit, we desire that which is of the Spirit. And the desire of the Spirit is life and peace. The Holy Spirit impels us to act. We must break the different forms of silence which get in our way and hold us back: chaotic situations, human division, all those things which offend the dignity of persons and of peoples. How can the word be freed? Where can we find the strength to sow a seed of life, of hope, of openness? How can we break away from all that closes us in and immobilizes us? The Spirit which is poured out upon all flesh drives us to prophesy. It is the Spirit which recreates us in renewing the face of the earth. It is the Spirit which makes us cry ‘Jesus is Lord’. It is the Spirit which witnesses to the Lord and enables us to become courageous witnesses. It is the Spirit whom God sends into our hearts, who makes us proclaim ‘Abba, Father’ and who thus reveals to us our true identity: we are no longer slaves but sons and daughters of God.

Come Holy Spirit - may we know the gift of your presence on our pilgrimage towards unity. Give us the inner strength to become instruments of joy and hope in the world. May your spirit make us one. May your voice give us the appropriate words to confess together our God and Lord and to break the silence which destroys. Spirit of life and of love, renew us in unity. Amen.


Christian Unity, Day 2

Day 2, The Saving Word of Christ (Mk 7: 31-37).

Isaiah 50: 4-5, God has given me a tongue ... that I may know how to sustain the weary.
Psalm 34: 1-16, I will bless the Lord at all times.
Colossians 1:11-20, Jesus is the image of the invisible God.
Mark 7:31-37, Jesus makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.

Isaiah realizes the cost of the gift that the Lord God has given. He has received the power of a word which can sustain the weary and broken hearted. For this to happen he needs ears with which to listen and learn as a disciple. Since the Lord God has called him, he cannot turn back.
Saint Paul understood that the definitive Word has been spoken in Jesus Christ. Paul portrays for us humanity in the unity of its relations with the Son of God, image of the invisible God in whose likeness we have been created. God has rescued us from the power of darkness and taken us into the kingdom of his Son in whom we have redemption and the forgiveness of sins. We are one through our baptism in Christ, for we are united to him and Jesus reconciles all things to God. Through the blood of his cross Jesus has given us lasting peace. The gospel passage illustrates how the power of Jesus enables the deaf to hear his saving word and then to proclaim it to others. Curiously, Jesus commanded those present to remain silent about what they had seen but, like all good news, this could not be contained. Those present became witnesses to the saving power of God’s chosen one. It is not only the healed person who proclaims the goodness of the Lord but all those who have witnessed it. Many people living under the conspiracy of silence surrounding such taboo issues as the abuse of women and children, crime in society and HIV/AIDS will step forward to break the silence which in turn will enable others to minister to those most in need. In this context we can see how God continues to open ears and free tongues to hear and then proclaim the saving Word of Christ. It is our common faith celebrated in baptism that enables us to proclaim together the compassion of Christ. In spite of suffering, we become one as we come nearer to Christ by recognizing that in Christ all things are reconciled and held together. This is rooted in the oneness of baptism and the subsequent obligation to glorify God in his work.

God of compassion, you have spoken your saving Word in Jesus. Through his intercession, we pray that our ears may be open to the cry of people caught in the conspiracy of silence. May Jesus loosen our tongues, that together we may proclaim his healing love for those who suffer in silence. Strengthen us by the grace of our common baptism, that the unity we have in Christ may be our strength in bringing hope to those who despair. And together let us proclaim our deliverance through Christ our Lord. Amen

E pur si muove

From the Italian magazine Panorama by way of Whispers in the Loggia, a whimsical map of curial influence, organized by nationalities. Of interest: note how close in some of the Americans are, and also note the strange Italian orbit, pitting B's close collaborator (and new Secretary of State) Tarcisio Bertone at one end vis-à-vis his predecessor Angelo Sodano. Way inside baseball, I know, but here we have a visual reminder of the danger of beginning any sentence "The Vatican teaches...", never mind "The church teaches..."


Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

"They were astounded beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.’ " (Mark 7: 31-37)

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity starts today. I'm going to be posting the daily scripture
and prayer guide from the Graymoor Ecumenical Institute for our virtual prayer benefit. More resources for the Week can be found at Graymoor, where Week of Prayer started, at the World Council of Churches, and from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity of the Vatican. And, if you're in the area, you can still come for the Annual Meeting of the Massachusetts Council of Churches on Saturday and hear your faithful blogger make some remarks about an ecumenical dialogue on theological anthropology, or to the area's Ecumenical Prayer service, with Cardinal O'Malley, Rev. Dianne Kessler, and Metropolitan Methodius on Wednesday, January 24th, at St. John Chrysostom in West Roxbury at 7:30 pm. Day 1, In the beginning was the Word (John 1:1-5).

Genesis 1:2 -2: 4, By his word, God created the universe.
Psalm 104:1-9, The Lord of all creation.
Revelations 21:1-5a, God makes all things new.
John 1:1-5, In the beginning was the Word.

In the beginning was the Word…on this first day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we want to contemplate the work of the Creator. In the silence of the void – the book of Genesis recounts – God created the world through his Word. “And God said…” In the very beginning, when there was nothing but chaos and confusion, the Word of God came to break through the silence to assign to each being its proper place. At the summit of creation it is one humanity which God creates, in the image of his oneness. The group which inspired this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity comes from South Africa. Its members have recounted how much the HIV/AIDS epidemic can throw human lives into distress. Often, we also have the impression that our world is in chaos: when the elements engulf us, when war plunges us into terror, when sickness or grief overcomes us. “And God said...” Confronted with so much suffering, all Christians want to believe that the work of the Creator continues. Despite their divisions, it is the same hope which fills the hearts of all Christ’s disciples: the Word of God continues to create today’s world by snatching it back from the void, in keeping humanity united. The chaos in which we live can be paralysing. However, the men and women of our world do not want to resign themselves to despair. Thus in South Africa a group of women (Kopanang) who have a family member infected with HIV, come together to weave magnificent cloth. Their creations allow them to provide for their families. Created in the image of God, we too – in our own way – can bring beauty out of chaos.

God our Creator, we gaze at the splendor of your creation. It is your Word which created the universe. When our lives fall into ruin, we beg you to renew your marvelous works. Despite the scandal of our divisions, we can pray with one voice: that your Word never ceases to make all things new in the heart of our broken lives. Give us courage to be artisans of creation too. We pray that the unity we seek for our churches may be truly at the service of the unity of the whole human family. Amen.



Russell inspires, thanks to the motivator engine.


I love my state: "Everyone needs a second chance..."

From today's Providence Journal:

PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island taxpayers spent a reported $95,000 over the last year on renovations and fire-safety improvements to a state-owned building housing a strip club — known as Club Desire — whose owner had been convicted of attempted arson.

[background: earlier in the week, the ProJo reported on the state's involvement in the club:

The music is audible outside the club’s black doors. And there’s no sign of the security detail provided by the club “to keep parties away from DOT personnel from noon to 5 p.m. each afternoon.”

But make no mistake about it. This is a state-owned building with a strip club, known as Club Desire, on the first floor and two dozen or so state Department of Transportation employees on the second and third floors.]

Gerard C. DiSanto, of Johnston, was convicted by a federal jury in February 1995 of twice attempting to torch his Westport, Mass., restaurant, the Galleria II, “to collect insurance proceeds in order to finance renovations and improvements at the restaurant.”

The first time he tried to set a fire in the attic of the restaurant, it burned out.

The second time, he asked a manager at the restaurant to pour gasoline in the attic in early afternoon. He planned to “return later in the evening to ignite the gasoline. However, patrons and employees at the restaurant detected the gas smell, and an employee contacted the Westport Fire Department … [which] responded to the scene and discovered the poured gasoline in the attic,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Boston.

[. . .]

In response to queries about these latest revelations about the state’s status as landlord to a strip club, a spokesman for Governor Carcieri said: “The governor would generally prefer that the state not lease property to strip clubs or individuals convicted of attempted arson."

[. . .]

“You look at [all] these things with an eye towards everyone needs a second chance … ” Providence Board of Licenses commissioner state Rep. Gordon D. Fox



So once again I was given the privilege of giving some reflections this weekend for the Feast of the Epiphany. Readings are here.

Today we celebrate the epiphany, the “appearance” or the “showing forth” of God in Christ. Traditionally, “Twelfth Night” has always been a day for reversals, festivals in which a child was sat in the bishop’s chair, when servants were given the authority of their masters, when so-called “fools” were crowned kings for the day. I trust you will make no assumptions about the fact that I’m speaking right now.

But why do we have another feast of the incarnation right after, and part of, Christmas? Hasn’t Christ already appeared, to Mary and Joseph, to a motley crew of shepherds? God has become human in the baby Jesus, and we celebrated the incarnation on Christmas morning – what more do we need?

Our Gospel talks about the magi who come to worship the child, and there we get a clue about the showing forth of the light of Christ to all the world, Jews and Gentiles – this is what Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians. The “three wise men” – though if you listen closely, the text doesn’t say there are necessarily three of them, nor that they’re all men – represent those of us who come to the Word, searching from afar. But as important as that is, I think there’s something more going on here.

Historically, this wasn’t the only story Christians told about Epiphany; on the feast of the epiphanies they also told the story of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, which we celebrate tomorrow, and about the wedding at Cana where Jesus, at his mother’s prompting, performed his first miracle, a kind of miraculous beer run. The voice from heaven, “this is my son, listen to him,” was the showing forth of Christ’s special role as God’s servant; the miracle of Cana showed forth the beginnings of the reign of God in which all would share around a table with bread and wine in abundance.

But even though we celebrate Epiphany at the end of the Christmas season, these stories are all about beginnings, these stories all foreshadow, in big bright lights, HERE’S WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN NEXT. And what’s going to happen next, through Jesus’ life and ministry, is a life that culminates in the paschal mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection. The epiphanies at Bethlehem, at the Jordan, at Cana, are all the starting points on the path that leads to Jerusalem – that is the place from which the light of God will truly shine forth, that is the place to which the nations of the world shall come in homage, that is the place which “in those days will be established as the highest mountain,” where Jesus will be “raised up.” That is the place where the story that begins with a baby in Bethlehem will end with a crucified criminal, a scared group of women and men, and a show-stopping ending when the glory of God is irrevocably shown forth.

As conditioned as we are to see the adoration of the magi as a colorful detail, giving us the chance to throw a camel into the crèche, but this is not only a cute story. The fact that Herod slaughters all of the children in the region just after the magi leave alerts us that this is not necessarily bedtime reading. Instead, this is the beginning of a story that is both dangerous and joyful, cross and resurrection.

Our scriptures and our rituals today give us all the hints we need to notice this, if our eyes are open. At the end of liturgy this evening, the date of Easter will be announced – when we are shown who Christ is at Epiphany, we begin walking with him toward Jerusalem. In a few moments, our catechumens will be anointed again with the Oil of Catechumens – when we are shown who Christ is at Epiphany, we, and they, in a special way, begin walking with him toward Jerusalem, toward baptism. Our reading from Isaiah mentions the gifts of gold and frankincense, the gifts for a king, but Matthew adds myrrh, the oil used to embalm a corpse – when we are shown who Christ is at Epiphany, we begin walking with him toward Jerusalem.

So how do we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord? First, like the magi, the wise women and men throughout history, we need to keep our eyes open. We need to be ready to leave our homes and our comfort zones and follow the stars in our world: not TV stars with great skin and perfect hair, but the stars that look like crosses, the stars of children born in poverty, of goodness lying in a dirty room in a back alley. We need to stand along the River Jordan, watching for the forgotten ones to whom God announces “you are my daughter, you are my son.” We need to make all welcome at this table where the reign of God is celebrated and where Christ our light is present again in our midst.

And if we want to join the magi in paying homage, we begin to adore the Christ-child precisely as the one who will also be the suffering servant and the risen Lord. We begin to ask how we will walk with him towards Jerusalem, how we, right now, are on the lookout for the epiphanies of God’s light in the world. These epiphanies, like Christ’s, always demand a response; sometimes we see it and sometimes we don’t; that is a fact of our lives, and why we come back and look for the same thing every week. But when we do see it, when we do respond, when we start off towards Jerusalem and take the cross as our star, then we continue growing into the mystery of God made human, of God-with-us, Emmanuel; we begin the celebration of a God who is revealed at a wedding party, at a table of bread and wine, that doesn’t end.