View from the choir

I am a Catholic layperson and Secular Franciscan with a sense of humor. After years in the back pew watching, I have moved into the choir. It's nice to see faces instead of the backs of heads. But I still maintain God has a sense of humor - and that we are created in God's image.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

The pope's Calvary

Pope John Paul II appeared at a Vatican window at the end of Easter Sunday Mass.

Someone else read his Easter message for him.

Then the pope tried to speak.

According to the AP report, “After trying to utter the words of the blessing, the pope rested his hands on the lectern and the microphone was taken away. Soon after, he withdrew from the window.”

As I read this report, I recalled a passage in his 1996 book, Gift and Mystery.

He was talking about when he first went to university and chose to study Polish language and letters.

“Right from the very beginning of the first year, however, I found myself attracted to the study of the language itself.”

“The word, before it is ever spoken on the stage, is already present in human history as a fundamental dimension of man’s spiritual experience. Ultimately, the mystery of language brings us back to the inscrutable mystery of God himself.”

Part of the mystery of God is His suffering in the person of Jesus for all of us.

As the pope notes later in Gift and Mystery, Christ’s “sacrifice make righteous in the Father’s eyes all mankind.…”

The pope, as a priest, is “able to re-present every day, in persona Christi the redemptive sacrifice, the same sacrifice which Christ offered on the Cross.”

He is referring, of course, to the celebrating the Eucharist. But on a deeper level, the priest re-enacts Christ’s mission through his life and the crosses he bears through the sacrifices he makes to serve God and His people.

Celibacy, being constantly on call, sharing in the pains and sorrows of so many people, the personal and public repercussions of the priest sex scandals – these are just some of the ways priests suffer.

All of these are compounded for the pope in his role as the bishop of the entire church.

In recent years, this once robust and athletic pope has added physical infirmities to these sufferings. Unlike previous pontiffs, he has not hidden his physical sufferings.

But now, this poet, playwright and actor; this gifted communicator who is fluent in multiple languages; this teller of tales and singer of folk songs; this lover of words and the Word, is silent.

It is his own Calvary.

Indeed, in his annual message to priests earlier in March he clearly linked “my own sufferings with those of Christ.”

Now he suffers in silence.

Then again, maybe the image of him resting his hands on the lectern, the look of sorrow, frustration and pain on his face, communicates all that needs to be said.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005


While sorting through our pile of the local daily newspaper to decide what to throw in the recycling box, I noticed the number of columns printed each week.

Curious, I took a quick tour through a week’s worth of issues.

Here’s a partial list of the topics covered by the columns I found:

Romantic relationships, office relationships, relationships in general, parenting, pets, politics (generally three per issue on the editorial page), gay and lesbian issues, cars, computers, video games, bridge, several devoted to sports in general, outdoors, the weather, celebrity news and gossip, medical issues and advice, dieting, fitness, recipes (several), beer, household hints, gardening, staff member addressing local community issues and people, and horoscopes.

But there were none about religion.


Sunday, March 27, 2005

Easter hymn

Join, then, all of you,
Join in our Master’s rejoicing.
The rich and the poor,
Sing and dance together.
You that have fasted
And you that have not,
Make merry today.
Christ is risen:
The world below is in ruins.
Christ is risen:
The spirits of evil are fallen.
Christ is risen:
The angels of God are rejoicing.

-- Early Easter hymn credited to Hippolytus

Friday, March 25, 2005

Alway look on the bright side of life

Some things in life are bad
They can really make you mad
Other things just make you swear and curse
When you're chewing on life's gristle
Don't grumble, give a whistle
And this'll help things turn out for the best...
And...always look on the bright side of life...
Always look on the light side of life...

So begins “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”

According to a Music Choice poll, this song is one of the top three funeral songs in Britain.

The song was written by Eric Idle of Monty Python fame. It appeared in one of my favorite Easter movies, Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

For those who are not familiar with this movie, Brian is a Jewish lad whose birth is marked by the arrival of three wise men bearing gifts. They promptly take their gifts back when they realize the baby whose birth they had come to celebrate was actually born just down the road from Brian’s house (the bright light and the halos around the parents of that other baby were dead giveaways).

The movie jumps to 33 years later when Brian joins a revolutionary movement opposing Roman rule, is credited with supposed miracles he doesn’t perform, is mistaken for a messiah (though he repeatedly denies it), and is eventually crucified.

As Brian laments his fate - Pilate pardoned him, but one of the other condemned is mistakenly released, meanwhile, all his friends abandon him – one of the 139 men crucified with him tries to cheer up Brian and their fellow condemned. The other man starts singing the song. He is soon joined by the others, and the film ends with all them all singing, swaying to the music, and kicking their legs, (sort of).

It’s a comedy. Really.

Some of the routines are even funnier than John Wayne’s centurion in The Greatest Story Ever Told.

Check it out. Meanwhile, here’s the full song.

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life
words and music by Eric Idle

Some things in life are bad
They can really make you mad
Other things just make you swear and curse
When you're chewing on life's gristle
Don't grumble, give a whistle
And this'll help things turn out for the best...

And...always look on the bright side of life...
Always look on the light side of life...

If life seems jolly rotten
There's something you've forgotten
And that's to laugh and smile and dance and sing.
When you're feeling in the dumps
Don't be silly chumps
Just purse your lips and whistle - that's the thing

And...always look on the bright side of life...
Always look on the light side of life...

For life is quite absurd
And death's the final word
You must always face the curtain with a bow.
Forget about your sin - give the audience a grin
Enjoy it - it's your last chance anyhow.

So always look on the bright side of death
Just before you draw your terminal breath

Life's a piece of shit
When you look at it
Life's a laugh and death's a joke, it's true.
You'll see it's all a show
Keep 'em laughing as you go
Just remember that the last laugh is on you.

And always look on the bright side of life...
Always look on the right side of life...
(Come on guys, cheer up!)
Always look on the bright side of life...
Always look on the bright side of life...
(Worse things happen at sea, you know.)
Always look on the bright side of life...
(I mean - what have you got to lose?)
(You know, you come from nothing - you're going back to nothing.
What have you lost? Nothing!)
Always look on the right side of life...

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The patron saint of March Madness

This is a season of great fervor and devotion among many American Catholics.

I mean, of course, the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament.

You see people who’ve never glanced at the Bible religiously studying publications describing team records, rosters and history, and, of course, betting lines, as they prepare their bracket sheets. (Though you might catch their interest if they heard there’s an Old Testament book called Numbers.)

They knowingly debate the implications of such minutia as shooting percentages on Friday night games that start at 9:09, a sprained pinkie on the hand of the third guard off the bench, and the color of the coach’s tie with all the passion of members of CUF (Catholics United for the Faith) arguing with anyone who’s not in CUF.

Why, more money is passed in basketball pools than in parish bingo halls.

Now I must admit that I have been party to March Madness. Just don’t tell my Irish Catholic forebears that for many years I’ve rooted for a team known as the Orangemen.

But this year, most of my teams have been eliminated, so I have time to reflect on all this from Catholic perspective.

I sense a potential teaching moment.

The Church has a history of making use of pagan events and trappings for religious purposes – Christmas is a perfect example. Why not college basketball?

Of course, it would be helpful in our mission to catholicize college hoops if some Catholic schools would compete more consistently and successfully for the national championship.
Heck, even those Orangemen won the title not long ago.

Lacking current Catholic holy hoop heroes, however, I immediately thought of the Catholic all-star team: the patron saints.

We have patron saints for everything from paratroopers (St. Michael) to dysentery sufferers (St. Matrona).

I consulted a couple of lists of patron saints to see if we have one for college basketball.

I found patron saints for various sports-type activities, including skiers and mountaineers (St. Bernard of Menthon), skaters (St. Lidwina), hunters (St. Hubert), and archers (St. Sebastian), St. Sebastian even doubles up as the patron saint of athletes in general.

But I found no saint to intercede specifically for basketball players.

I then considered some prospects.

There’s St. Antony the Abbot, for example, the patron saint of basket makers.

Given the number of teams that have shooting problems, St. Stephen, the patron saint of bricklayers, also seemed like a possibility.

Then it hit me: St. Joseph of Cupertino.

For those not familiar with St. Joseph, he was a Franciscan who reportedly had the ability to levitate. There were more than 70 recorded instances of him soaring into the air. The most remarkable report was about a time he supposedly flew 70 yards, lifted a heavy cross that ten men had been unable to lift into place, and jammed it home.


Think of St. Joseph on defense, hovering above the rim to swat away opponents’ shots.

Imagine him on offense, soaring aloft to take passes from teammates and then dropping the ball through the basket.

So what if he never actually touched a basketball during his lifetime. Historical accuracy has never stopped hagiographers before.

Why, we could create holy cards depicting St. Joseph with a hoop above his head instead of a halo.

There could be St. Joseph posters, tee-shirts, and medals.

And just think of the proselytizing possibilities if we could get some good Catholic lads asking the saint’s intercession before games and thanking him on national television for victories.

As Dick Vitale, that evangelist of college basketball, might say, “It’s a slam dunk, baby!”

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Food for thought

ScrappleFace: Michael Schiavo Slips into 'Carnivorative State'by Scott Ott
Michael Schiavo, the Florida man fighting to have the feeding tube removed from his comatose wife, has fallen into a "persistent carnivorative state," according to an unnamed family doctor.
"He's unresponsive," said one physician familiar with his case. "When you talk about the importance of human life or the effects of slow starvation on his wife, Terri, he just glazes over. He has no comprehension. I don't think he could live more than 10 days cut off from the hope of a huge cash influx."
However, Mr. Schiavo's girlfriend insists he has more brain function than his behavior would indicate. She said he usually knows when other people are in the room and just this week she induced him to follow a $20 bill with his eyes.
"Terri's desire was that Michael would never have to live without wealth or extramarital female companionship," the unnamed girlfriend said.
Experts say few patients ever emerge from persistent carnivorative states because they're totally dependent upon increasing quantities of liquid assets.
Link via But I Digress

(Thanks to the folks over at Shrine of the Holy Whapping)

Monday, March 21, 2005

Exodus - Sunday Mass style

Sister Kathy did something unusual at St. Syzygy’s Palm Sunday.

Before Mass, she was making her standard announcements about upcoming parish events, requesting that people turn off their cell phones, etc.

Then she added, “At the end of Mass we ask that people not leave until Father is down the aisle.”

At that point she backed away from the microphone ever so slightly, a look of confusion crossed her face, and she stood there in silence.

She could have done that to let the words set in (perhaps). Or it might have been that being critical was difficult for her (believable). Then again, it might have been that she had more to say, but chose to bite her tongue (intriguing).

After a few awkward seconds, she finished her announcements, and the Mass began.

Sitting at the back of church, I have long noticed the number of people afflicted with the early exodus syndrome. Some Sundays, by the time the service actually comes to an end the newly emptied pews at back of the church remind me of a desert hillside following a flashflood. There are folks who simply head for the doors as soon as they have Communion in mouth. Others wait until the final hymn begins. I have even seen people nearly collide with the procession as it heads down the aisle.

Now, some folks might have a legitimate reason to leave early.

Perhaps they feel ill. But given the numbers heading for the exits, one has to wonder then if some terrorists are using us to test biological or chemical agents.

In other cases, it could be their children have reached the limit of endurance – or their diapers. But in general few of the fleeing faithful seem to have children in tow or arm.

Or it might just be that Aunt Matilda is waiting to get picked up for her Sunday visit, and you know how she hates to be kept waiting.

But the cynic in me (mea culpa) suspects that most people just don’t want to get caught in the traffic jam as the parking lot empties. After all, they could put the five minutes they save to better use.

Now I must admit people find many things to do at Mass to bug me. The gum-chewing folks doing their best to imitate cows rank up there. The folks who use every break in the action or hymn to carry on conversations also rate high.

But the early exit crowd has always bothered me. It could be a holdover from the days when I was in the choir/music group and I took it almost personally as people fled while we were still singing. There are also the Sundays when people in the pew with me have eyed me malevolently as I continue singing while they clearly want to escape.

I wonder if some of these fleeing folks go to dinner at a friend’s house and leave as soon as dessert is over – maybe even chewing the last morsels as they head out the door.

Still, I think the parish is missing some money-making opportunities here.

We could have ushers standing at all the doors collecting an early exit toll.

Or maybe we could rent out kids to folks to give them an excuse to get out.

Or perhaps we could charge a fee to pick up Matilda and drive her around the block – or the city – a few times.

I leave it to the finance committee to explore the options.

Still, I couldn’t help but notice that after Sister Kathy’s announcement, I spotted only one man leaving early.

He was hunched over, his head bent, with a definite aura of Catholic guilt surrounding him.

Maybe I underestimated Sister Kathy.