Thursday, December 28, 2006


Just before Christmas I was talking with an LDS friend at work. I had shared with him part of a letter I had written and he remarked on my use of the phrase, "I find great peace in the constraints of the Church."

To be completely honest, when I wrote the letter I used that phrase without really thinking about it much. Not thoughtlessly, exactly, but maybe casually. Since that conversation, I've spent some time mulling it over.

The truth of the matter is that the Church does have constraints -- on my behavior, my beliefs, even on the kinds of thoughts I'm to entertain and avoid. As a convert I've willingly submitted myself to these rules. And it is true that I find peace in m Faith. The time I spend at Mass is the most peaceful time of the week; time away from the world and its concerns, time spent with the God who made and loves me. (Aside: I know that God is with me always, but there's a special connection during the Mass.)

There's a paradox in finding peace through restraints. My oldest is reading Orwell's 1984 and the notion of "peace through submission" sounds as if it might have been dreamed up by Big Brother. However, I think that may be the wrong lens to use in viewing this.

Let me take a strange detour and I'll see if I can put this in a proper context.

I have a book called Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon. I picked it up on a few years back when we were traveling in Southern Utah. It documents death and disaster in the canyon and the thing which stands out most clearly in my memory is that so many of the deaths were preventable. People died by climbing over guard rails for a "better view", or jumping down onto ledges as a joke, or by disregarding the warning signs and advice of seasoned rangers and hikers.

The obvious metaphor here is that the rules of the Church serve much the same purpose. It's not that those charged with my spiritual care think they know more than I do (although they might, indeed, think that), it is that the rules have been tested over time and shown to work. Stay on this side of the fence and you'll be safe.

In the larger context, I think this explains the reluctance of the Church to make swift changes ... even when potential changes have great popular appeal. The rules which have been in place for years (decades and centuries in many cases) will be held to because they have been shown to be safe. Change isn't impossible, but it is carefully considered.

When my wife and I talked about this, she used a much homier and more motherly analogy. She likened the constraints of the Church to the swaddling of a babe; soft but firm and warm and comforting. An image that I find entirely satisfactory and eminently comforting.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Third Week of Advent

When Cathy and I went to Mass last night the line outside of Fr. Francis Reconciliation room was short, so we decided to take the opportunity for Confession. (It saved us a trip back for today's reconciliation service.)

I'd not been to Fr. Francis before, but Ian had reported that he is a good confessor. Different priests have different gifts and I think Ian was right about Fr. Francis.

He listened quietly and then drew out the two themes from what I'd said -- impatience and jealousy -- and knitted them together. He suggested that I remember my Christian duty to serve people quietly. Words don't really capture exactly what happened, but suffice it to say that what he said was exactly what I needed to hear.

This is what Reconciliation is about (at least in the very best instances). An opportunity to unburden in contrition, to receive counsel and comfort and to start fresh with a new insight. I've sometimes thought about how hard a sacrament this must be for priests to administer. I'm grateful for their willingness to do it.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Second Week of Advent

It's the Second Week of Advent already and I'm not feeling as connected to the season as I'd like.

For some reason this year we seem to be ultra busy -- more so than usual -- and it's making it hard to find any peace. Although my village is up (I did that Thanksgiving weekend) Cathy's Bethlehem set remains packed away. We usually have it up by now.

We've set up the Advent wreath, but with both boys in the Holiday Follies at St. Joe's, they've been at late practices every night this week. On the upside, we have a new book of daily readings for Advent. It's called "O Come, Emmanuel" and it draws from hymns (ancient and modern) for each of the daily devotions. The readings are longer than we've used in the past, but the boys are old enough now to connect with them.

Tonight we're off to "Journey to Bethlehem" at Mountainview Baptist Church (my parent's church). It's a live, walk-through nativity. You begin in Nazareth in the company of a Jewish family which is traveling to Bethlehem in accordance with the law of Caesar. Along the way you are beset by robbers, harassed by Romans, meet up with the Magi, rejected at the inn, and (eventually) you see both the Manger and the Cross. My parents have taken the roles of the Mayor and the Mayor's wife and we're looking forward to seeing them.

Perhaps that will help connect me to the season.If not, there's always the communal Penance service at St. Rose next week.

I am looking forward to Christmas. As with last year, all four of us are serving at the vigil Mass. That's always a treat...and one that we won't have after Ian moves out to college.

Statement of Purpose

I've decided to use the blog as a place to post my thoughts about my Faith.

I have another blog in another place that is more private and used to keep in touch with close friends and family. It's more of a journal than a blog.

Over the past couple of years I have posted a few thoughts about my Faith in that space and I've brought them over here.

From here forward, when I post to that journal on matters of Faith, I'll cross-post here as well.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A Book Review ... A Life Review

I've just finished reading Anne Rice's Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt and wanted to capture my thoughts whilst they were still fresh.

For those who missed the news, Anne has found her way back to God. She was (as she explains in the afterward) raised as an Irish Catholic, but abandoned her Faith and embraced Atheism as a world view. She married, raised a family, became a a very successful author and found it all empty. In time she returned to the Church in which she had been raised.

But I've wandered off track...except it's important that you understand a little of this so I can tell you what I found in the book.

At its simplest level, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt is a novel told from the perspective of the young Jesus as His family leaves Egypt and returns to live in Nazareth. He is seven at the beginning of the novel and Joseph announces that he and Jesus and Mary (and their extended family) can leave Egypt. Herod is dead. The news will come by Roman post in two days' time...Joseph has been given advance knowledge.

The family returns to Jerusalem, hoping to make it for Passover in the temple. Along the way the young Jesus starts to hear hints of stories about His birth in Bethlehem, but no one will tell Him anything definite. His parents are tight-lipped, and their reticence is shared by the entire family. Jesus is obedient, but driven by the curiosity.

Their visit to the Temple is cut short by an armed rebellion which is brutally quashed by Herod's troops. The family flees to Nazareth.

The story covers a period of one year, ending when they return to Jerusalem for the next Passover.

It's not a compelling narrative in the usual sense of the phrase. After all, we already know what it is that Jesus is trying to learn. We know that He is the Son of God and that His birth was heralded by angels and He was visited by the Magi. There's also the fact that the young Jesus is sinless, so there's no question of him disobeying.

Yet the book works beautifully on two levels.

On one level, it is a marvelous excursion into New Testament times. I've come to understand the bloody brutality of it, the bondedness of families, the complex rituals of Jewish life, and I've gained a sense of what it must have been like to live then. Anne Rice has always been good at research, drawing a scene and taking the reader there.

At a deeper level, the book is really about Anne working out her Faith. In one memorable passage the family is discussing an argument between the Rabbis from the local Synagogue. One of them says that it is good that the rains have come because that means the mikvah (ritual bath) has living water. Another points out that the water which filled the mikvah before was from the cistern which had been filled with rain water. And, besides, the small hole at the bottom of the mikvah meant that the water drained constantly and so counted as "living water".

Jesus' older male relatives kick around the various arguments, but in the end it is Joseph who settles it by saying, "See two paths on a mountain ridge. One is close to the edge, the other is farther away. The one farther away is safer. That is the path of the Pharisee -- to be farther from the edge of the cliff, farther from falling off the cliff and into sin, and so Rabbi Jacimus believes in his customs."

Moving behind that text I see Anne, struggling with the rules of the Church and the priests who favor a strict interpretation of the Catechism. In Joseph's words she at once supports that Faith and acknowledges the human differences in all of us.

In another passage Jesus brother James (Joseph's son from a previous wife) reconciles with his brother. In James' words I hear echoes of Anne's own confession and her brokenhearted determination to return to a savior whom she has rejected. There is such love and peace suffusing the scene that I wept when I read it.

And therein lies the wonder of the book. It presents a real, believable, human, Divine, and complete Jesus. I daresay the book even has some sense of Presence.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Ummm...The Other Way 'Round

In the last entry, I mentioned the woman at Mass. I speculated that it was a sort of Benediction.

My colleague Mike (who has experience with Asian cultures) informs me that I have the wrong end of the stick. The gesture is one of respect, usually granted by someone young to someone old, and it is a request for a blessing or prayer. The fact that the woman is older than me lends a bit of mystery to the event.

So, I've prayed for God's blessing on her. Yet I still carry the conviction that I'm the one blessed.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

A Benediction, I Think

I'm not sure what this means, but I felt compelled to get it down while it's still fresh...Cathy and I went to Mass tonight. Both of the lads were at work, so it was just the two of us. Cathy was a Eucharistic Minister and had to stay to clean up after Mass. She gave me a quick kiss and told me she'd meet me in the back.

I worked my way out with the rest of the crowd, pausing to let out a short older woman with Asian features. I've seen her at Mass before, but don't recall having spoken to her.

On the way out one of the Eucharistic ministers greeted me by name and I shook his hand and asked how he was doing.The woman, walking ahead of us, turned and extended her hand to me.

I took it and then a most extraordinary thing happened.She turned my wrist and bowed, touching her forehead to the back of my hand. She held it for the briefest of seconds and I returned as graceful a bow as I could muster. She smiled and turned back toward the entrance of the church.

I don't know what it means and my Google searches haven't turned up much of use. Yet it was a profoundly moving and very peaceful moment...almost Sacramental.

Perhaps it was a genuine Benediction. Heaven knows I could use that right now. Things are a bit tough at work. There's a certain struggle going on and I find myself very much at the center of it. Yet there was peace in that greeting...

Friday, May 26, 2006

Be Sealed With The Gift of the Holy Spirit

Last night was Evans's Confirmation Mass at St. Rose. He's been preparing for it for some time now (of course). Last year he attended his Religious Ed classes at St. Joe's. This year he went to weekly YRE classes at St. Rose on Monday nights. Along the way he had to memorize material and pass tests and complete hours (about 20 I think) of community service.The culmination was last night.

Cathy and I were very proud of him for all he had done to prepare and the serious approach he took to the sacrament. (In the picture you can see how serious he looks.)

When the moment of his confirmation came, he stepped forward boldly. Deacon Bassett announced his chosen name and the Monsignor said, "Ferdinand, be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit."

Evan answered a firm, "Amen".

The Monsignor embraced him saying, "Peace be with you" and Evan answered (again firmly) "And also with you."

Pictured with him in the photo on the right are his sponsor (behind him) and the back of Deacon Bassett's head. The Monsignor is somewhat hidden as a result of the angle from which I shot the photo.

Those who are familiar with the Faith may be wondering why the Monsignor administered the sacrament. After all, the Bishop is the usual Minister of Confirmation.

The answer is simple, really. We are presently Bishop-less. Bishop Neiderhauer was assigned to be an Arch-Bishop in California and the Holy See hasn't named a replacement yet. The Diocesan administrator delegated the task of confirmation to Monsignor Bonnell. So, EBC has received all of his sacraments thus far from the same priest. Pretty cool, huh?

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Happy Easter

The long, solemn wait of Lent is over and we've arrived at the joyous celebration of Easter!

This year, for a change, Cathy, the lads and I didn't serve at the Easter Vigil. We did go to the Good Friday service. I was tagged to read the 'Narrator' part in the Passion. That went well. (Better than when I read at the Palm Sunday Mass and stood too early during the kneeling part of the Passion.)

This morning we attended the 8:15 a.m. which was celebrated by Fr. V. A nice Mass. Cathy and I weren't involved, but the boys were altar servers.

Shortly it's off to an Easter lunch at my parent's house.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Palm Sunday

It's Palm Sunday and tonight at Mass I'll be reading the narrator's part in the Passion reading.

This is the one time during the liturgical year that I get to read from the gospel. It's a somewhat daunting responsibility.

I'm prepared, though, and the people at St. Rose are very kind.Palm Sunday, of course, marks the beginning of Holy Week.

I pray that all who read this will find peace in their relationship to God in the coming Easter Season.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Remember You Are Dust...

...and to dust you shall return.

It's Ash Wednesday 2006...the beginning of Lent. Mass was nice (although surprisingly crowded for a 5:00 p.m. on a weeknight).

The boys had received ashes at school and CAC was home with a cold. So I went alone. I missed my family, but it was good to be at Mass.

Now begins the period of penance and preparation. I pray that your Lent is good and brings you closer to God.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Again With The Tolkein

I've spent the last month reading The Battle for Middle-Earth: Tolkien's Divine Design in The Lord of the Rings by Fleming Rutledge. (Digression -- Do you have to have an unusual name to write one of these things? First it was Stratford Caldecott and now Fleming Rutledge.)

Fleming Rutledge is an Episcopal priest who is noted for her mostly conservative views and skill as a writer. In the book she confesses to coming late to the Tolkien party, but believes that this grants her some perspective. Like Caldecott she is convinced that Tolkien imbued the trilogy with his spiritual world view. Unlike Caldecott, she parses the texts by narrative chronology instead of thematically. In other words, this is more an annotation than an examination.

Rutledge's primary thesis is that the trilogy is not a simple moral tale of good versus evil. Instead, she suggests, it is a complex examination of the ways in which evil can insinuate itself into the lives of the best and worst of people and the ways in which God can use all things to his own ends. From the outset, she rejects the idea that the trilogy is a simple "good vs. evil" story. She points out that seeing it in these terms is close to the Manichean heresy. God (the force behind all that is good) is always stronger than the evil of Sauron. God is a constant, but unnamed presence in the books.

As proof she quotes parts of the text such as the following offered by Gandalf to Frodo:

"There was more than one power at work, Frodo. The Ring was trying to get back to its master... It abandoned Gollum. Only to be picked up by the most unlikely person imaginable: Bilbo from the Shire!Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker [Sauron]. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you were also meant to have it."
She goes on to note examples of passive voice in the text and times when characters are aided by an unseen presence.

At the same time, Rutledge argues that God acts through the just and can turn the actions of the unjust to his purpose. The ultimate example of this is that Gollum snatched the ring at the last moment when Frodo was no longer able to resist its power and had determined to keep it for himself.Rutledge also makes much of the transformations in the story...Theoden's dual transformation from king to corrupted and back to king again, Pippin's transformation of adolescent to young leader, Aragorn's predestined transformation into the King of Gondor. The text abounds in transformations. Indeed, even the most vile of characters are given a chance at redemption -- but those who had given themselves over to Sauron were unable to accept the grace which would grant them new lives.

The book raises and wrestles with the question of pre-destination and free will. True freedom, in her view, is the freedom to follow God's will. All other exercise of freedom is false freedom and ultimately leads to slavery. (An argument that I think Jonah would have found most persuasive.)

Rutledge also talks frequently about logizomai -- which she interprets to mean "impute" or to "call forth by naming". Often the wiser characters (Gandalf, Aragorn, etc.) would name a lesser character as being brave or noble. Rutledge argues that this "calling forth" brought out the nobility in those characters.

Another strong theme was the notion that the most dangerous temptation is the temptation to do good. Boromir wasn't tempted to evil (although evil would have been the result if he had gained the ring). He was tempted by the good he believed he could do if he possessed the ring. Similarly, the temptations which are most dangerous to us are the ones which dress themselves in the guise of righteousness.

In the final analysis, the book was good but tended to run on a bit by the end. The structure of the book lends itself to this because Rutledge builds her case by pointing out each of the narrative examples as it occurs. Still, it gave me much to think about and the time I spent with it was time well invested.