Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Monica

"Bury my body wherever you will; let not care of it cause you any concern.  One thing only I ask you, that you remember me at the altar of the Lord wherever you may be."
-words of St. Monica from the Confessions of St. Augustine

Since I've just recently discussed St. Augustine, I think it's fitting to say something about his mother, St. Monica.  The day before Augustine's feast is her own.  The Church has seen fit to pair them liturgically.

I alluded in my previous post to the many twists and turns that Augustine's life took before his conversion.  Well, through all those many paths that Augustine lived, Monica was praying for him to turn to the Lord.  If we attribute greatness to Augustine as a saint, bishop, and doctor of the Church, then we must also give great credit to Moncia whose prayers for Augustine were certainly efficacious.

However, the conversion of Augustine--and Monica's place in it--though a beautiful story, is not what I want to discuss.  The reason I bring up St. Monica at all is the quote above.  Monica prayed for Augustine all through his life, and then, at the end of her life, she requested the same of him.  She prayed for his conversion, then asked him to pray for her after death.  (By the way, if anyone needs proof that the 5th century Church professed a belief in purgatory, here it is in this passage.)

This strikes me as relevant to an issue that comes up surrounding the loss of loved ones.  When someone we love dies, we want to say that he or she is in a better place.  We knew him very well, and we know he's in heaven.  Yet, had we asked that person before he died if he wanted our prayers, would he not have answered "yes, please do"?  Even the holiest among us, like St. Monica, would request that we pray for their souls after their death.

Now, let me make something clear - I don't think that we should pray for the dead out of fear for the dead of hell or purgatory.  Fear is a very twisted motivator.  Instead, we should pray for the dead out of hope in the mercy and love of God.

Is it right for us to hope that our beloved dead are in heaven--you bet.  However, should we, because of that hope, fail in our Christian duty to pray for the deceased--absolutely not!  Yet many of us tend to believe that those we love were so good, so virtuous in life, that we don't need to pray for them.  Whom is this desire to immediately canonize our beloved dead intended to benefit?

I think it's just a way for us to preserve our memory of the deceased as unblemished, that is, it's something that makes us feel better about what's going on.  But what good is that to the deceased?  And besides, I think it is a far healthier way of grieving to turn our efforts and energy to loving the deceased through praying for them rather than endlessly eulogizing on how wonderful they were.  Don't get me wrong--they were in fact wonderful, but the wonders that await them when they are reunited with Our Lord are far more worth celebrating, hoping for, and praying for than simply honoring their memory.  The deceased have a future.  If in our grieving we only recall the past, perhaps we have in fact forgotten our beloved dead.


unrelated pic:
hard at work

Augustine

Saturday was the feast of St. Augustine.  I probably would have posted then, but I was on an adventure and away from the computer.

Adventure on the Mississippi

As I prayed the Office of Readings for the day (part of the Liturgy of the Hours), I came across a very famous line of Augustine:

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you!

It really is a beautiful passage.  It is from his Confessions, and it expresses so much emotion and love, yet also sounds a certain note of regret.  Augustine lived a wild life that twisted along many paths before he came to his conversion.  Now here he is wondering at God and being totally immersed in God's love such that he is returning it.  This quote is rightly famous.

But this time I was struck instead by the line that immediately follows it, something I don't think I had ever noticed:

You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you.

I can't imagine that there is anyone out there who cannot identify with these words in some way or another.  Who doesn't search for his happiness in the wrong places?  Who is there that doesn't fail to recognize their own worth and dignity?  We go out and find things to fill ourselves up with.  Whether we fill ourselves up with stuff (greed), with food (gluttony), with sex (lust), or even with our own distorted self-image (pride), we're doomed to failure.

But God doesn't leave us alone.  He comes after us.  He shatters the feeble defenses we put up against him.  Augustine concludes with these words, and I won't give any further commentary:

You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness.  
You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness.  
You breathed your fragrance one me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you.  
I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more.  
You touched me, and I burned for your peace.


A photo of something else:

Capturing a sweet photo down the spiral staircase at
Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Today's a Good Day

Today, my nephew was baptized.  His name is Nicholas Karol--Karol after Karol Wojtyla, that is, John Paul II.  In honor of his baptism, I'm posting a practice homily I gave a year ago.  It was assigned as a homily for a baptism, so I've placed Nicholas' name in place of the fake names I had originally used.  (Actually, the names I used were those of my younger brother and sister!)  So here's the "homily:"

Some people will talk about faith as “looking for God.”  They say that when we all come together on Sundays, we’re coming together as a group to “search for God.”  God is hard to see in our world, so it makes sense on a certain level that we’ve got to look hard, and help each other out.

But, this is a flawed understanding of faith, at least, it’s the flawed understanding of our faith.  If religion is only about us looking for God, then it means God is just sitting around somewhere waiting to be found.

But that’s not the case!  We do look for God, and it’s good that we look for him, but the exciting truth is that God is looking for us!  That is to say, God is the one who saves us, not the other way around.  It’s not our responsibility (nor is it possible) for us to go and find him on our own.  He comes running to us, outpouring His love and His grace.

That’s what today is about.  There are Christians that think that it’s a bad idea for infants to be baptized because as infants, they don’t understand what’s going on—they’re just infants.  They can’t speak for themselves, they can’t even ask for Baptism.  Shouldn’t we wait until they are older?

Well, if Baptism were about what we do, then yes, they would be right.  But Baptism, primarily, is not about what we do.  It's not primarily about what the baptized is able to do or able to say.  Baptism is about what God does for us.

So what’s happening today?  God is about to do something--something huge.  Through the outward sign of water, God is going to cleanse Nicholas Karol of original sin, make him a member of the Body of Christ, make him a child of God.

The Father is, right now, running out to welcome him into his household, just as he ran out rejoicing to each one of us at our Baptism.  Baptism is our re-birth, and God is our Father.  What father is not overjoyed at the birth of His children?

He would do the same things for Nicholas Karol if he were an adult, and it would be just as beautiful. The only difference is that Nicholas' parents and godparents are accepting the responsibility of teaching their child the Faith, rather than leaving it to him.  You see, when adults are baptized they have to go through months of classes and preparation, so that they understand what’s going on and can worthily request it.  But for Nicholas Karol, all of that preparation will take place in the coming years, as his parents and godparents lift him up in prayer and guide his development and understanding as a Christian.

I’ve heard people speak with regret before, saying that they don’t remember their baptism because they were only a baby.  I say to that, how can you possibly regret it!?  Sure, you don’t remember the moment, but you don’t remember the moment of your natural birth either.  Think of the great gift that your parents requested for you from the Church and from God.  Think of how much God loves children.  Think of how happy He, God, was on the day of your Baptism.  Think of the tears that welled up in His eyes as he welcomed you, his precious creation.  Think of the saints and angels rejoicing as the waters cleansed you.

The same thing, all of it, the saints, the angels, the tears, the love, the grace:  that’s all happening right now for Nicholas Karol.  Today’s a good day.

Another unrelated photo:
I'll bet the people that work at this gift shop
really hate having to listen to the patrons
try out the didgeridoo.  Too bad.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Irenaeus

St. Irenaeus is a Father of the Church and a martyr of the early Church.  He is the disciple of St. Polycarp, who himself is the disciple of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist:  2 degrees of separation from the Beloved Disciple!  He also happens to be a patron saint of the Archdiocese of Mobile--how sweet is that!?

Anyway, one of his ideas has been coming to mind over and over again this week, an idea I can't shake.  I thank God that I can't shake it.  This has probably been helped along by the fact that I'm reading von Balthasar right now.  Here it is:

“For the Father is incomprehensible;
but in regard to His love, and kindness, and as to His infinite power,
even this He grants to those who love Him, that is, to see God.”
(Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4.20.5)


God really is infinite, totally beyond our understanding.  Our human minds cannot wrap themselves around Him - he really is incomprehensible.

NEVERTHELESS, the Father fully reveals himself to us in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.  We believe this, but how can he reveal himself to us if we can't possibly comprehend him?  Irenaeus claims that while our mind can't get God, it is through God's Love for us that we can know him.  It is through our reciprocating his love for us that we are able to "see God." Paradoxically, God is too incomprehensible to be seen, but at the same time, too loving not to be seen.

That's why the fullest expression of Love is something that we cannot fully understand with our minds:  Christ's sacrifice on the Cross really does remain a "stumbling block" and an "absurdity" (1 Cor 1:23) to the human mind.  At the end of the day, it shouldn't "make sense" to us that God deigned to become man in the flesh and then gave his life.  That's why we sometimes call it the scandal of the cross.  Sure, there is a lot of theology to learn having to do with the Cross, but our mind cannot understand the Cross; only love can.

Jesus gives his life for us in the fullest expression of the greatest Love. At a certain point, we have to stop trying to understand the Cross, and start simply accepting the Love that's being shown to us.  There's a reason that being a theologian doesn't automatically make someone a saint--knowing about God is not the same thing as knowing God.  Knowing about God is an act of the intellect, but knowing God is an act of Love.

In revealing himself to us, God doesn't rip our minds apart trying to fit his inifinitude into our limited existence.  He loves us and wants us to know him.  So, we can say with St. John (Irenaeus' grandfather in the faith) that "Love consists in this, not that we have loved God, but that he has loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins."  (1 John 4:10)

Isn't it awesome that even though God is completely Other from us and completely beyond our understanding, he still found a way for us to see him?  He still jumps into our selfish existence and surprises us with the true extremes of Love.  This is what's on my mind right now.  Feel free to comment.

Irrelevant Photo:
Roll Tide Roll!  Football season is nearly upon us!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Analogy

Put yourself in the following scenario:
(Nota bene:  this is not a memoir.  It's absolutely based in reality, but it never actually happened to me.)

I'm 4 years old.  I'm playing in the grass with some toys.  I'm having a pretty good time.

Everyone else is in the pool.  I don't want to get in the pool.  I don't know how to swim.  I'm perfectly happy where I am.

But then Dad comes over.  "Why don't you come in the pool with us?  Don't you want to have fun like everyone else?"

I think to myself:  Seriously Dad, there's no way that gasping and panting for air as I try to tread water would be more fun than this Tonka dump truck I'm safely enjoying here on terra firma.  "No!"

"Are you SURE???  We're having a lot of fun in the pool without you."

I just stare at the grass:  Not a chance.  Why don't you go back to the pool and get water stuck in your ears.  I'm staying right here.

So he leaves me alone...

My parents' pool in Mobile

But then, tomorrow comes, and the same routine ensues:

"Don't you want to come and have fun with us???"

Luckily, I'm old enough to be able to express myself perfectly by rolling my eyes.  This guy just won't quit.

And he doesn't quit.  Next thing I know, he has picked me up and put me right on the edge of the pool.  He jumps in and puts his hands out waiting.

Are you kidding me Dad?  You think I'm going to jump in?  I was perfectly content kicking a ball around in the grass, and you ruined that.

So, we stare at one another.  Or rather, he stares at me while I look back and forth between the blue water and the green grass.  (Maybe I'd feel differently if I would keep my eyes on him.)  Every now and then he tries to encourage me to jump with some words or vague promises of a popsicle or whatever, but mainly it's a standstill in this battle of wills.  There I am perched upon the edge of something.  There's a decision before me.  Do I just run away back to the grass, or do I cave in to my dad's desire for me and take the plunge?  Everybody else is in the pool, and they're all so good at swimming.  They're diving in, swimming underwater, splashing, and wrestling--that's all fine and good for them, but if I were to try, let's be honest, I would drown right away...

Little do I know that with a little effort, and a little trust, I too could be having so much more fun in the pool than I ever had running around in the grass.  Little do I know that Dad will not let a thing happen to me that I can't handle.  Sure there will be some gasping, but that's the price to pay to enter this new world of adventure and fun.  Little do I know that as soon as I get in and begin to trust it will totally change my entire life.  I will value things differently.  I won't care as much about the Tonka truck, nor the ball, nor the grass.  I will want to spend every waking moment swimming in the pool.  It really will be just as good as Dad says, if not better.

But I can't know those things yet.  I haven't even gotten my feet wet.  So I look around at the people in the pool and see a bunch of crazy people who possess something I think I don't want, something I think is the opposite of what will fulfill me.

So, here I come back to the decision.  I can either run away or jump in.  I can stay comfortable or I can cast myself out into the deep.  I can remain in my own limited space, or branch out and fundamentally alter how I live my life.  What's it going to be?

Photo non apropos:
Stalking prey in Barcelona

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Called to Orders

8 years of seminary have elapsed.  Numerous milestones have been passed.  A handful of degrees have been earned.  Many countries and continents visited.  Countless books read.  Numberless hours of prayer (not nearly all my own).  Tears shed.  Smiles bared.  Laughter bellowed.  All of this in a certain direction.

I've felt for a while that God is calling me to be a priest, but now, the Church agrees.  This past Thursday, Archbishop Rodi called Travis Burnett and I to the Order of Deacons.  Let's do this.

Travis and I at a crusader church in Spain.

Farewell OLOG

When I get back to Rome in September, or even over the next few weeks here in Mobile, I know that I will be asked repeatedly:  "How was your summer?"

Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, Wetumpka, AL
- lots of room for expansion! 

It's a real shame that in those many moments I won't have the opportunity to communicate fully what my summer was like.  I won't be able to express just how important and good this summer has been for me (not to mention that I haven't realized that myself yet).  I'll be limited to just saying, "Oh, it was excellent.  I worked with the youth, and I served Mass, and I did some teaching, and I visited people, and brought the Eucharist to people, etc."  I don't mean to down play those things of themselves.  They are all good things, but experience has taught me that they are so good it makes me want to cry just thinking about them.  That's what I think get's lost in the telling.

When I tell people that I did a lot of work with the Lifeteen group, images of Praise and Worship or maybe this or that game might come to mind, but they won't be privileged to see the things that I'm remembering.  I was amazed to see hundreds of teens adoring the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament at Camp Covecrest, but I was totally floored to see the faithfulness and persistence of just a handful of teens who came week after week to the parish to do the same thing.

When I tell people that I taught a scripture course, they might picture me teaching in a room full of people, each with their Bibles open, but they won't see what I saw.  I appreciate John Chrysostom, but to watch eyes widen and jaws drop as I read his explanation of the water and blood flowing from the side of Christ in the 4th Gospel:  that's how I know he is a Father of the Church, and a much better teacher than I.

When I tell people that I visited the elderly and homebound this summer, they might have a vague picture of that, but they won't see what I see in my mind.  They won't see Ed's smiling face, with his great sense of humor.  They won't hear the quivering voice of Mary, an Alzheimer's patient, as she tries in vain to remember who I am or what she's doing there in the first place.  And, they won't see her cheer up a little bit as she recognizes the Hail Mary, even though she can't remember most of the words.  Clara's voice won't come to mind for them either:  Clara is completely deaf, though she's sharp as a tack.  I'm pretty sure that her faith in the Eucharist is ten times my own.  What a privilege it has been to bring the Body of the Lord to her and to so many others (not just this summer).

Only I will remember those things as I lived them.  I said that was a shame above, but really it's not.  It's not a shame because everyone is given special gifts and blessings from God.  Everyone is part of God's plan.  Everyone is given chance after chance to serve him and to be shocked and awed by the wonders he will not fail to work when we just say yes.

Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe at the parish

It's funny, as I'm writing this, the Ben Folds song "The Luckiest" is playing on iTunes--more than appropriate.  I'm not going to be na├»ve:  priesthood is not going to be all roses.  There will be plenty of thorns, but God has deigned to grace me with gift and privilege of serving his People in a very special way.  "I know that I am the luckiest."

unrelated photograph:
Emerging from a cave in the hills around Lago Maggiore
(in an Avengers t-shirt)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

No Protestants Today

I had attempted to get in touch with a local Methodist church, but we did not connect.  And, as this is my last Sunday in the parish, I'm going out to dinner with the pastor and another priest.  Visiting a church this evening would have made it difficult, so I've decided to give it up for this weekend.  Hopefully when I'm back in Mobile I'll have the opportunity to visit some more.

However, I do have my hands full right now:  I'm cold calling the entire parish to invite them to a special Holy Hour for Vocations on Tuesday night.  The Blessed Sacrament will be exposed here at Our Lady of Guadalupe from 7-8 PM in a special monstrance--one of six blessed by John Paul II in 2005 specifically for the purpose of praying for vocations.

Vocations Monstrance,
blessed by Servant of God
John Paul the Great

We're very blessed to have it for the evening.  Fr. Kelly and I are trying to get a big crowd.  That being our goal, he has given me the phone list of the parish and I'm just making my way through speaking to everyone personally about it.  It really does make a difference--I've already added 8 names to our signup sheet after only about 50 or 60 phone calls.  If we keep up that percentage, this is going to be a pretty well-attended event.

A picture:
Qumran + vintage Bama sweatshirt:
That's what I'm talking about.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

iTunes Advice and Beyond

Over the past few months, I undertook the project to listen to all of the music in my iTunes library that I hadn't listened to in over a year (since iTunes conveniently keeps track of stats like that).  It was over half my collection.  Since I was going through so many songs, I also set about the task of ranking the entire library, something I had always been too lazy to do.

I know are all kinds of ways to sort my music, including the Genius option, but I figured:  What's the point of having all this music if I never listen to it?  Sure, the amount of music is measured in days, not hours, but that's kind of the whole point.  I had been getting so sidetracked looking for and listening to new music, that I had been ignoring massive portions of my collection.

As I plowed my way through my fairly sized collection (none of it pirated, by the way), I forced myself to listen to every single track all the way through, even if I hated a song and ended up giving it a low rating.  Well, it was worth it.  I discovered a number of songs I had forgot how much I liked, and now that they're ranked, it's much easier to find them.

I was as excited about some songs
as I am that they're making
a Captain America movie.

While I'm on the topic (and I alluded to this in my Fireworks post), I have rediscovered listening to the radio.  There's something I really enjoy about having no control over what song is coming next.  I've been listening to Montgomery's Mix 103 a lot this summer, and I've heard a number of awesome songs that I hadn't heard in years and that I didn't own in my collection.  I have enjoyed the random quality of the radio so much, that I have purposefully not gotten onto iTunes to buy this or that song that I really liked after I heard it on the radio.  That way, I won't overplay it to myself, and when it comes on the radio the next time (which could be a day, a year, or a decade later), I'll be genuinely excited.  Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Let's go deeper here.  This predicament is a perfect example of the exhaustibility of the inexhaustible stuff with which the world presents us.  This need to strategize so as to not get tired of this or that song tells me something about my human condition.  There are a number of songs that I love, songs that speak to my heart in deep ways that I find it hard to express in words (which isn't a problem, because it's a song).  These kinds of songs - I would be quick to say that I could never grow tired of them.  But that's not entirely accurate.  I've done it before that I have loved a song so much, that I've listened to it over and over and over again, and now, years later ... I still hate to listen to the song.  Wait, when did that happen?

A song, even a beautiful song, is still just a created thing.  It's still finite.  It's still just an echo of what is truly Beautiful.  Music is only one part of the human experience, something that is part of our journey towards our End.  Just like money, power, food, drugs, etc., if we give too large a portion of our attention on music or any other created thing, then we've mis-used it.

The songs that I don't ever grow tired of?  They're the ones that point me to God.
(NB:  That doesn't mean they have to be "religious" songs.)

I hope this makes sense--I don't know if I've expressed it very well.


A photo having naught to do with this post:

They called me King Farouk in Egypt.
Can you tell why?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Peace

Fr. Kelly and I made peace today (after we had lunch at Cracker Barrel, and I finally hit him with a straw wrapper!).  We sat together and ate his birthday cake.  I had gotten it for his actual birthday, but that was before I new he would spend most of the day out of the office.  So it remained a surprise for today.

These photos are related:

Do you like the confetti?  I thought it was a nice touch.
If somethings worth doing, it's worth doing well.

I didn't sing to him,
but I made him at least blow out a candle.
(I guess I could have turned on the flash.)

Temporary

As my time in Wetumpka comes to a close, I have come to the point that I want a more permanent assignment!  Two months has not been long enough, nor was it enough last summer in Enterprise.  I can't wait to be a priest and be assigned somewhere for a longer period of time.

It goes without saying that I will be ready to move wherever and whenever the archbishop decides, but I don't foresee him moving me about from place to place every couple of months.  I feel like I've only just started.  I know that I still have formation to go through, but I'm itching for some more stable ministry.

So, to the folks at Our Lady of Guadalupe, when I say to you over the next few days that I'll miss you and I'll miss being here (as I also miss the people in Enterprise), know that I really mean it.  I've only just begun to get to know you.  I want to do more!  I want to stay longer!

Oh well.  I guess I'll just have to suck it up and endure another year in Rome...


This photo has nothing to do with what is written above:

Making sure the foundations of Orvieto are up to code...
in a Hawaiian shirt.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Justice? Where?

Today was Fr. Kelly's birthday, and he doesn't like people to know that.  Of course, once I learned those things, I could not but act.

In addition to simply wanting to celebrate his birthday, I also hoped to get a little retribution.  I put a birthday card on his office door, among the many other decorations, and in it I wrote the following:

Fr. Kelly

Happy Birthday!
Consider this payback
for all the many times
you have shot straw wrappers in my face.


Stephen

You see, it has happened many times that when I go to lunch with Fr. Kelly, he catches me unawares and blows the wrapper off his drink straw right at my unsuspecting face.  (I'm usually perusing the menu when he gets me.)  The few times I've tried to get him back by doing the same thing, my straw has misfired or I've simply missed.  Due to constant failure, I had basically given up trying to get back at him for it.  However, when I found out about this birthday thing and that it had a good chance of getting on his nerves, I jumped at the chance and went all out.

Big mistake.

Apparently he has some supernatural power on his side.  Today, as I returned to the church, I unlocked and opened the front door to enter.  When I did, five or six balloons that I had placed there for Fr. Kelly blew out because of the AC.  At the same time, the alarm started beeping reminding me to input the code.  So I ran inside, entered the code and then set all my things down so I could run back outside and collect the balloons before they blew away.

Then I heard the door close behind me...

I had left my keys inside, and the door locks when it closes.  I was stuck outside, unable to get back into my truck nor into the house.  It was hot too.  My only option was to call Fr. Kelly himself.  Believe me, I thought about it for a while.  I went around and checked every single door on the church, even some which I've never seen open.  Nothing--I was stuck.  I had to call Fr. Kelly to let me back in, the very man with whom I had just considered myself to have gotten even.  Great.

And so I am convinced that for whatever reason, the balances are simply perpetually tipped in his favor, no matter how little effort (just trying to shoot a straw wrapper) or how much (staying up late blowing up balloons and hanging streamers), this man will always have the upper hand.  WHY!?

A photo, unrelated:
The worlds smallest shower, Assisi.

Home

*This post is one in a series chronicling my ecumenical visits to various area protestant churches.

 As I've said, I did not feel at home at the Church of God.  Well, I felt even less at home at the Baptist church.

What do I mean by that?  Well, I think had the Church of God minister preached the same way as the Baptist one they would have been about the same.  At the Church of God I heard some "doctrine" in the sermon, but it was mainly about the story of Job and what it means to trust in God.  It was actually pretty edifying.

I contrast this with the Baptist sermon, which focused almost entirely on Baptist "doctrine."  Now, I don't know if that's the way he preaches every week, because he actually warned me before the service that he would preach on what they believe.  Still, he couldn't have made any clearer the differences between us.  I've said that my intent on visiting these other faiths is not about noting the differences, but on trying to see the similarities, to notice what we have in common.  I found it very difficult to do that this weekend.

I don't say these things to put the Baptists down.  Maybe this would also go for the Church of God's beliefs, but like I said, that sermon was much more emotive and encouraging for perseverance rather than a creed.  But I walked out of the Baptist church thinking to myself that they have a very impoverished understanding of God's Self-Revelation and their own vocation to holiness.  I disagreed with a lot, and had it come to argument (and it did not, because that's not why I went), I could have backed up the Catholic position with Scripture, with the Fathers, and with my own use of reason.

None of that matters though when you realize that they are galvanized in their point of view.  The way things were presented made it very clear to me that pulling one of them aside and listing off to them my own 95 Theses against the Baptists would have made no difference.  (Something I already knew - Testifying to the Truth is not just being able to state it clearly, but actually living it.)  It was truly amazing for me--who have spent the last three years broadening my experiences of expressions of the faith by living in Rome and traveling from place to place--to sit and worship God with a small group of people in Elmore County, Alabama who have it all figured out, who have little connection to the rest of the Christian world, whose concept of "church" is just the people that fit in their small building on Sundays and Wednesdays.  The universality of perspective of the Catholic Faith stands in stark contrast to the Baptist point of view.

But like I said, I didn't go to note the negatives but the positives.  And well, I enjoyed the singing, and I was very glad to see that their hymnal had music for four part polyphony on just about every song.  Again, like the Church of God, the hospitality was very warm, and I very much appreciated it.  I also met a couple people (including the pastor) who have familial connections to Our Lady of Guadalupe.  I also enjoyed praying with them.  They had something like the General Intercessions, where the pastor led everyone in prayer for the needs of the community.  They do in fact care about and entrust to God their sick and suffering.  Imagine that!  I don't know why but it caught me a little off guard.

Let me reiterate:  I go to these services with the intention of participating as fully as possible without compromising my own Catholic identity.  So I prayed with them, I sang the hymns in praise of God, I listened to the sermon and to the testimonial given by one of the members.  The task is to show up and really pray with them, and to show them that I'm not afraid to do that.  Even though I felt pretty uncomfortable (and not for lack of hospitality), I at least did my best to be present to them.

And then there was the issue of silence.  The Church of God was noisy before the service because everyone stood around talking.  This church wasn't.  ...  That's not because they're at all like a Catholic church, but because the choir was practicing, and the projector on the wall was displaying the words "please be quiet, the choir is rehearsing."  Regardless of the reason, I was allowed to sit in silence before the service started.

Anyway, this visit definitely made me appreciate more my Home and the manifold blessings God has given me.  "There but for the Grace of God go I."  My life, my Catholic upbringing, and my vocation are truly wonderful gifts from God.

Unrelated Photograph:
Standing solemnly at the grave
of Gen. Patton in Luxembourg.
Note the beard.

Pastor's Birthday!

Today is Fr. Kelly's Birthday!  
Check out what I did:




Update:  Fr. Kelly arrived this morning and went straight to his office, so it's good that I did two sets of decorations.  He still hasn't gone to see the front door.  I'm just relieved that he took it pretty well.  When he got in we joked about it a little bit (I told him I had done it), and then I made him some balloon animals--special thanks to Fr. Dan Good for having taught me how to do that.


Sunday, August 1, 2010

Baptists [preview]




*This post is one in a series chronicling my ecumenical visits to various area protestant churches.

I visited a Baptist church this evening.  I need some time to reflect about it, but there's a post on the way.  (I doubt very much that it will be as laborious a read as last weeks!)

In the meantime, here's a photo that you may or may not find interesting:

"Up to Something"
Blenheim Palace (Churchill's family home)