Sunday, July 5, 2020

Ordering Time

It’s the long stretch to Advent. Ordinary Time takes up half of the year, and I find it the most difficult to celebrate. The other seasons have specified traditions and pass quickly (well, maybe not Lent), and then there’s just months of green and parables and an occasional feast day.

While churches have opened up here, I have been hesitant to return. It’s still too many people for my comfort, especially as cases are spiking. So I’m left to my domestic church of one, trying to maintain a rhythm to my prayer life without the pulse of a community helping along.

The Church has no shortage of suggestions on how to pray; one thing I love about the Church is her full toolbox of various devotions, something to help everyone. I’m not a regular rosary pray-er, but I like the chaplet of divine mercy. I struggle to do morning prayer each day, but lately I’ve been praying evening prayer. I won’t go back to the adoration chapel yet, but I have plenty of spiritual books. It’s the discipline and routine I have to supply on my own, and, like Lysol wipes, they are hard to come by these days.

Yet Ordinary Time gets its name because it is orderly. It is a time for spiritual growth. Without the focus of holidays and short seasons, you can slow down—to go deeper, not stop. A full half of the year to keep the faith at the steady pace; it is a practice of discipline of routine.
The readings focus on Jesus’ ministry, but also, as it follows Pentecost, the season reflects the growth of the Church. We are the Church, still growing, currently between the Ascension and the Second Coming. What will we do with that time? Will we be ready for Christ the King (Sunday)?

So much of this time is spent in uncertainty. What are the new numbers? When can we gather with friends? What’s the best time to go to the store? How will life look in November? It’s easy to hide away at home, bury my head from the news, and retreat into books or movies or other distractions. And some days that’s needed self-care. But I can’t do that indefinitely. Life has to go on. Living needs purpose. It needs order.

This time may look different than it did last year or 10 years ago. I hope it looks different next year. Ordinary Time is less about annual traditions and seasonal devotions and more about attitude. Be discipline and keep the routine. Integrate faith into daily living. Hold on.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Freedom's Ring

Last month, before the BLM protests arose, protests popped up demanding for loosening of pandemic restrictions; people wanted to go to work, go to the park, go shopping, get haircuts, have sit down dining. Being told to stay home is an infringement of rights, they claim. It’s an authoritarian power grab. So they clustered together and carried their guns into public buildings and yelled in the faces of cops and nurses. For freedom.

And as some places opened up, the same people continued to complain. Being told to wear a mask in a shop is trampling on their rights. Churches reducing congregation size to 50% is a capitulation of the church to the authoritarian state. Although a vaccine is at least a year away, there are already exclamations to refuse vaccination. Their very freedom is under an attack under the guise of a virus.

They freely share their grievances. They freely gather to protest (breaking quarantine orders but facing no consequence). They freely form groups and petitions and gatherings to discuss the restrictions on their freedom of open shops and not wearing masks and not being vaccinated against a pandemic. They do care about lives, they say. But one’s freedom is more important.

Then a man died after a cop knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes. And the world saw. And the world knew it was just another case of in a long line of injustice. And different protests broke out. Masses of people marching in the street—no guns, wearing masks. They were protesting injustice (and having curfews in place and protests broken up). They demanded that police not kill people. That being killed without trial for petty violations infringes on their rights. Can a black person walk down the street in peace? Can she sleep in her bed in peace? Being fearful of violent cops restricts their freedom. They live in fear of authoritarian overreach. They want justice and equal freedom.

Comparing the two protests feels like night and day. But they were only a week or so apart, and both claimed to be about the foundation of American values. So it’s made me ask: What is freedom?

Broadly, freedom is the power to act, speak, or think as one wants without restraint. Freedom is the state of not being subject to another. When we say America was founded on freedom, we mean freedom from a king, freedom from England’s laws, freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition. To be free is to do whatever one wants without repercussion.

Taken to the extreme, it’s easy to see the danger in broad freedom. Doing whatever we want without restraint leads to hedonism. Even “do no harm” is seen as authoritarian and restricting when fulfilling desires is the idea of freedom.

It also leads to the most powerful consolidating that freedom. Those will the power or force to do what they want to others can and will, while the rest must restrict their movements out of fear and self-preservation.

The idea of “do what I want” is not freedom. It is not true freedom to be a slave to our desires and impulses. We can make ourselves slaves to drugs, sex, food, power, or money. True freedom is the ability to become our best selves, to have our will and potential unstrained and our desires properly ordered.

St. John Paul II said, “Every generation of Americans needs to know that freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.”

Freedom is not an ends; it is a means to do good. The catechism says, “There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to ‘the slavery of sin’ (CCC 1733).”

Are our actions impulses, are they harming others, are they encouraging sin? Are we free if give ourselves over to selfishness, violence, and anger? Freedom lies in our choices, and our ability to make that choice in our society.

Today is Juneteenth. For white people, it’s something we either never learned about or just vaguely heard of. It doesn’t celebrate the freeing the of the slaves; they had been declared free months before. It celebrates enslaved people learning of their freedom and thus, truly becoming free. They couldn’t be free until they knew it and could act accordingly. They suffered attempts at restricting that freedom and having their rights infringed. It’s a continuing battle.

This year, as we celebrate July 4th, maybe we should celebrate true freedom. Not separation from the British or our right to brandish weapons and not wear masks, but our ability to protest, to speak out for what is right, and to continue to choose to do what we ought.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Blessed Father Charles de Foucauld

Blessed Father Charles de Foucauld was born on Sept. 15, 1858 in Strasbourg to French nobility. He was orphaned when he was six and raised by his maternal grandparents. At school, he was disillusioned by the different philosophers and became agnostic by 15.

In 1876, he was accepted into the Saint-Cyr Military Academy as one of its youngest students. He came into a large inheritance after his grandfather’s death and lived an extravagant lifestyle as he graduated the academy and went to French cavalry school. He was posted to Algeria but when he was not allowed to bring his mistress with him, he grew bored with his assignment and quit the service. He travelled around to Morocco, the Sahara, and Palestine.

He returned to live a social life in Paris but began studying the cultures of Morocco and Algeria. Inspired by the faith of the Jews and Muslims he had met on his travels, he resumed his Catholic faith. Slowly the practice led to an interior change and his conversion of belief.

In 1890, Charles joined a Cistercian order in France, then on the Syrian-Turkish border. He left it in 1897 to go to Nazareth, still seeking some unspecified path. He returned to France in 1901 to be ordained a priest and then returned to the Sahara. He built a hermitage near the Moroccan border. He wanted to found a community that was open to Christians, Muslims, Jews, or people of no religion, but he gained no companions in his remote location.

He moved yet again to live closer to the Tuareg people in southern Algeria. He studied their customs and language, working on developing volumes on dictionary and grammar. He also formulated a plan to found a new religious institute centered on the Eucharist. He wanted to bring Jesus to the farthest parts of the desert, and he wanted to present Christ in a way that would convert Muslim nations.

On Dec. 1 1916, a group of raiders took Father Charles from his hermitage. They intended to kidnap him but when they unexpectedly ran across two members of the French Camel Corps, they shot them along with Father Charles in the head. A former slave, Paul Embarek, who was a sacristan being instructed by Father Charles, witnessed the event.

The French authorities searched for the bandits for years. In 1944, leader of the group El Madani ag Soba and apprehended and executed.

Blessed Charles de Foucauld is considered by many as both a mystic and a martyr. Pope Francis has announced that Father Charles will be declared a saint later this year. His feast day is Dec. 1.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

A Violent Wind

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting” (Acts 2:1-2)

When I think of Pentecost, I picture fire. The flames descending on the disciples. Doves and fire are often symbols of the Holy Spirit. The churches are decorated in red; many people wear red. Pentecost is fiery. 

But Pentecost is also loud. The sound like the blowing of violent wind announced the Holy Spirit’s presence to the disciples. The Holy Spirit is also often described as wind or breath; it is spirit after all. In the Eastern traditions, the color of Pentecost is green for the life-giving breath of God.

Christian Murdock/The Gazette
Breath has become forefront in national debates these days. COVID-19 takes your breath, forcing patients onto ventilators. People complain that they can’t breathe in the mandated masks. The heart-wrenching video of George Floyd’s death—a cop with his hands in his pockets presses his knee into Floyd’s neck for nine minutes as two other cops sit on him after he’s handcuffed. “I can’t breathe,” Floyd says. “I’m going to die…Mama…” Protests break out across the nation as people risk COVID-19 to speak out against the injustice of yet another brutal murder of a black man from cops. The protesters are met with rubber bullets and pepper spray. The nights are full of the smoke of pepper spray and the fires of riots. 

It is a scary and stressful time. There are too many hardened hearts. There are no simple solutions.This year is offering little chance to stop and take a breath. 

The beginning of the Church came with the blowing of a violent wind and the descending of flame. With disciples, moved by the Spirit, stepping outside and declaring the truth. They were met with hostility, violence, and death. This is the heritage of the Church. The truth is not safe. At times it is hard to breathe. But maintain the truth on your lips and trust God to give you breath when you need it and receive you into His arms after you take your last.

Breathe on me, Breath of God,
Fill me with life anew,
That I may love what Thou dost love,
And do what Thou wouldst do.

Breathe on me, Breath of God,
Until my heart is pure,
Until with Thee I will one will,
To do and to endure.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Sts. Corona and Victor

Over the past couple of months, there has been a circulating story of St. Corona, patroness against epidemics. What are the odds that a Roman martyr named Corona would be there ready to pray for our protection against a virus of the same name?

It is true there is a saint Corona. She is also called Stephanie. Each means “crown” in Latin and Greek, respectfully, for the vision she had. She was born in the Roman Empire in the second century. At a young age she married a soldier.

One day she witnessed another soldier (though some suggest it was her husband), Victor, being tortured for his Christian beliefs. She immediately had a vision of two crowns falling from the sky, one for him and the other for her. When she announced her vision and said that Victor was a blessed man, she was also condemned.

Both were martyred. Victor was victorious in death. Corona received her crown. Their feast day is May 14.

While their story is mostly legend, there is no record of them being patrons of plague or epidemics until this year. St. Corona has traditionally been a patron of fortune, called upon for gambling or treasure hunting. Yet most patron of plague or disease gained that patronage as plagues spread through regions, and people called upon more and more saints for protection. So Corona may be taking up a new cause as people learn her and Victor’s story and ask for her intercession against the current coronavirus and the economic fallout.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Heading Outside to an Empty Tomb

Obviously, it was a different kind of Holy Week and Easter Week this year. There were empty pews and prayers at home. Jesus still rose, but the fanfare was missing.

On Holy Saturday, I often wonder what I’m supposed to do. It’s not as solemn as Good Friday; we’re not instructed to fast. And yet, Christ is dead and buried. There is nothing to do but wait for the Vigil and feasting to begin.

The waiting. I think that’s what I’m supposed to do on Holy Saturday. Wait for whatever happens next. That’s what the disciples were doing. Trying to get through a very different Passover. Hiding in their rooms wondering if they would be arrested next. The women waiting for the Sabbath to pass so they could prepare the body. Waiting, unsure of what to do.

That’s what a lot of us are feeling right now, at home, waiting for restrictions to lift, wondering what happens next. Does this pass and we return to normal, or has everything changed?

On Easter morning, we usually gather in large groups and celebrate boldly. But this year, I’ve been reflecting more on the earliest hours of Easter morning. Men staying inside for safety, women quietly walking to a tomb to do a necessary job, Jesus telling Mary Magdalene that she cannot touch him. We want to focus on the earth quaking and the glow of angels and the ripping of the veil, but there are so many small, mundane movements in the account of the Resurrection. Because the disciples were just human. They struggled to maintain normalcy and routine and safety in the face of the extraordinary. They didn’t know what was coming. They had hope, but they didn’t have a blueprint.

The feeling of this Long Lent continues. The waiting of Holy Saturday continues. I don’t know when we’ll get the news that the waiting is over, that the world will be different, better, now. But Christ is still risen. No restrictions or shut downs or guards at a tomb can stop that. We can rejoice in our rooms. It may not feel like a normal Easter, but the disciples didn’t think it felt like a normal Passover. Our feelings don’t stop the calendar. Our fears won’t stop the Resurrection. He is risen, and all shall be well. Alleluia!

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

These 40 Days

As Lent is coming to an end, it doesn’t feel like Holy Week. I am not logging hours at church. In fact, I haven’t entered a church in weeks, probably for the longest time in my life. I haven’t received any sacraments in a month. The build-up to Easter hasn’t been there, because the “long Lent” continues after Sunday.

Lent is supposed to be 40 days of penance before Easter. The word comes from Old Saxon, lentin, which means lengthen, as in the lengthening of days. In Spanish it is called Cuaresma; you can see the Latin root of this word alluding to 40. In Latin, Lent is Quadragesima, “the fortieth part.”

Forty days appears over and over again in the Bible as a time of patience, waiting, preparation, and penance. Noah and his family were on the ark for 40 days of rain and then waited 40 days before releasing the bird. Goliath challenged David for 40 days before David slew him. Moses spent 40 days on Mt. Sinai. Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the desert before beginning his ministry.

There is another, more secular, period of 40 days: quarantine. In 1377, as plague crept through Europe (after the major wave in the 1340s), Italy began keeping ships suspected of carrying disease in isolation for a period of time, 40 days. This gave time for any latent cases on board to reveal themselves and kept the port city from becoming infected. In Italian it was called quaranta giorni, “space of 40 days.” It was a period of waiting, waiting to see if the ship was infected, waiting to see if the sailors would be allowed onshore, waiting to see if disease was coming.

Now we’re effectively in quarantine too. The virus has a long incubation period, so after every interaction begins a waiting game—Was I infected? Is the disease already here? When will this period end? When does life return to normal?

This quarantine will go beyond Easter Sunday. It may go beyond 40 days. We will continue to wait, to prepare, to practice patience and penance. It is a slowed time, when doing less is called for. The days are lengthening, stretching out before us. Close your door. Travel inwardly. Wait for the Resurrection.

Friday, March 20, 2020

It's Not About You

When the first restriction for Mass where put in place, the bishop requested we not use the chalice, we not shake/hold hands, and we not receive on the tongue. This was a hard guidance for many who feel touching the host in their hands to be profane. Some tried to argue that they had a canonical right. Some insisted they would not offer their hands. Some said they wouldn’t receive at all during this time. I admit it was hard for me too. And I doubt which way is actually more sanitary.

But this wasn’t about my understanding of sanitary or canon law. Nor anyone else’s who was making public protestations. It’s a matter of obedience. The laity is placed under the care of their bishop. It is his responsibility to lead and protect. Some fail. Some fail spectacularly. But sometimes the laity fail too—fail to listen to their bishop when he says things they don’t already agree with, fail obey the rules he has placed, fail to follow where he leads.

And now the rule is don’t go to Mass. It’s hard to imagine a bishop telling his flock to not go to Mass, but hundreds of bishops around the world are making the same heartbreaking decision. For the safety of the community, stay home. The priests will continue the sacrifice of the Mass in private. The laity are expected to pray at home until we can gather again. Will we hold up our end?

I don’t want to watch Mass online and pray along in my living room. I want the familiar faces and my regular pew and the schola music. I want to receive the Eucharist and know exactly when confession is available. But I can’t have what I want. So I must do what I can. I can obey. I can wait. I can pray.