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.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Women priests? (Revised slightly)

One site I like to visit is Cafeteria Catholic. In response to the ordination of some women on the St. Lawrence River she wrote:

“For change to occur, sometimes you need a few brave souls who are willing to rock the boat. Such was the case yesterday as a small group of women literally rocked a boat in Ontario when they were ordained as priests and deacons in the Catholic Church as they sailed the St. Lawrence River. … Here’s hoping a big step”

My comment there began, “I doubt it. Stepping on Ecclesial toes usually gets you nowhere. St. Francis of Assisi and Dorothy Day knew how to stretch the envelope, without stomping.”

Talmida, of another site I like (Lesser of Two Weevils), responded:

“Lee, I'm curious, how could these women have moved the church closer to accepting women's ordination without stepping on Ecclesial toes? We're barred from the diaconate, the priesthood, and even from studying & discussing the matter. We're not allowed membership to the governing body that makes all the decisions regarding our spiritual lives.
What options are left?”

Fair question.

Before I start, let me be clear about one thing: I believe in the ordination of women. I pray that I might see it in my lifetime (I doubt that I will, but then again, I do believe in miracles!)

I also don’t object in principal to stepping on toes in the form of breaking unjust laws. The Civil Rights movement in the U.S. would not have gotten as far as it did if not for a willingness to do so when it became necessary.

And the church does sometimes respond when confronted – though it is slow. The Protestants challenged the Church 500 years ago, and it did eventually change some things. It took until Vatican II though to make some of those changes, however!

So in that sense, Talmida might be right in another one of her comments that in 100 years things might be different.

But just as we do not look back at Calvin or Luther as “saints,” I suspect these women will not be embraced by the church down the road as she suggests.

The changes in the church come not from the folks who break away. It comes from the people who stay within and gently but firmly nudge it forward.

For while the dramatic gesture gets the press - and may provide a certain level of satisfaction - it is the quiet moves that are making changes.

Here's how I see change coming.

We are running out of priests (Perhaps God’s way of letting us know it’s time to do something different?). In order to meet the ministerial needs of people, the church has been forced to turn to other people.

The permanent deacons are one partial solution. (I hope to do my part here!)

But increasingly, parish staffs are being filled by women with theological degrees. In this diocese, we even have women who are officially administering parishes. These women have advanced theological degrees. Our local theological institute – where deacons and lay ministers are educated and trained - is run by a woman. We have many women serving as lectors and Eucharistic ministers. We have female altar servers.

The net effect is that the people in the pews – some of whom would have jumped up and down 20 year ago at the sight of a woman even just approaching the altar – are getting used to women in positions of leadership and service in the church. They see women running parishes, preaching, making decisions, ministering.

As the numbers of priests continue to decrease, the numbers of women in such position will continue to increase.

Now, many of these women have the same education and training as deacons, and are essentially functioning as deacons. We have a current prohibition against women in the diaconate, but part of the rationale behind that is that the diaconate was traditionally one of the steps en route to ordination as a priest. But with the permanent diaconate now being an end in itself, I think we will see that it will be regarded in a separate light.

I believe we will see women permanent deacons in the future.

It will take time. My diocese is pretty advanced in terms of the diaconate and women in ministry – heck, Bishop Sheen (yes, that icon of the conservatives) when he was Bishop of Rochester back in the 1960s hired a woman to teach at the diocesan seminary! – so we are closer than some places. There are dioceses where they haven’t even begun the diaconate, and where positions like lector and Eucharistic minister are still not open to women. But that is changing. Fewer and fewer dioceses are like that.

I don’t know the timing, but it wouldn’t shock me if we see women deacons in the next 20 years.

Once we get that, once even conservative dioceses start to enjoy the ministerial service of women, we will move closer to women priests.

I look to Dorothy Day as an example,

I regard her as a saint and a hero.

She certainly could be contentious and cantankerous, especially when it came to fighting for the rights of the people she served. She was not afraid to break unjust laws.

But she declared that if church officials told her to stop, she would.

She could have jumped ship, gone public, gone her own way, stomped on a few toes. The media would have glorified her. But she was a “loyal daughter of the church.”

And church officials knew that (after all, she declared it in print!). She made them feel uncomfortable, even embarrassed. She challenged them. But she never openly defied them, and they never asked her to stop.

I believe that some of the peace and social justice declarations by U.S. bishops in the 1980s and 90s grew in part out of her influence and that of her movement.

I believe that her houses of hospitality helped to inspire parishes to respond to the homeless crisis in the 1980s by opening shelters, soup kitchen and food pantries.

I believe that her willingness to face arrest to challenge unjust laws helped to inspire generations of Catholics who were willing to confront civil authorities.

If she had stepped on toes in the 1930s, this might not have happened.

Much as they’d like to step on a few toes, to rock the boat now, I think it is the women who are working for change in the church while still being ”loyal daughters of the church” who will move the church to change its rules.

Of course, even if I am right, I know that this is not an easy thing for many women – especially those who feel called to serve as priests. The frustration, the pain, the sense of incompleteness must be incredible. It could so easily turn to anger and bitterness.

Sadly, in some cases, it has. It has led some good women and men to leave.

And that hurts us all.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

What kind of theologian am I?

What kind of theologian am I? According to this quiz I am Anslem:

Anselm is the outstanding theologian of the medieval period.He sees man's primary problem as having failed to render unto God what we owe him, so God becomes man in Christ and gives God what he is due. You should read 'Cur Deus Homo?'

Anselm - 80 %
J. Moltmann - 80%
Karl Barth - 60 %
John Calvin - 53 %
Augustine - 53 %
Charles Finney - 40 %
Paul Tillich - 40 %
Martin Luther - 33 %
Friedrich Schleiermacher - 27 %
Jonathan Edwards - 7 %

Friday, July 29, 2005

J. P. II Day

"John Paul II Day" Instituted in Poland

WARSAW, Poland, JULY 28, 2005 ( A new holiday was just added to the calendar in Poland: John Paul II Day.

The initiative, approved by 338 votes in favor, 3 votes against, and 2 abstentions, commemorates the Polish Pope on Oct. 16, the day that Cardinal Karol Wojtyla was elected Pope, reported the KAI Polish news agency.

"John Paul II's pontificate has changed the course of the history of the world in all its dimension," says the text of the law, reported Vatican Radio today.

The day "expresses the pride that a great humanist, a man of profound science and culture, was formed by the Polish tradition," states the law.

It will also serve to remember the innumerable initiatives of the former archbishop of Krakow, and later Pope, oriented to resolving social, political and international conflicts.

"He was a man of peace and hope. He pointed out to the whole world, to every community, to all men and to each man that life can be made more human, and taught how it is possible, keeping one's own faith, to give respect and love to others," stated the law.

Wonder if the three who voted no and the two who abstained are now wearing fake noses and moustaches when they go out in public?

G. K. Chesterton hits home!

"You cannot grow a beard in a moment of passion." - "How I Met the President" - G. K. Chesterton

Having worn a beard since I turned 18 (except for one foolish six month gap in 1986), I am in perfect agreement.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Some interesting abortion/contraception data from a pro-choice source

Some interesting data...

Contraceptives don't reduce unplanned pregnancies

Washington, DC, Jul. 26 (Culture of Life Foundation/ - A new report from a pro-abortion research group provides wide ranging statistics and demographic information on women who had abortions, including new support for the claim that readily accessible contraceptives do not reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies.

In addition the report from the Alan Guttmacher Institute shows that the number of abortion continued to drop in 2001 and 2002.

The Alan Guttmacher Institute is the research arm of Planned Parenthood and openly supports abortion and widespread access to contraceptives.

The report placed great emphasis on the fact that 48 percent of pregnancies in the US are "unplanned." Of those unplanned pregnancies, 47 percent end in abortion, 40 percent are carried to full term, and 13 percent end in miscarriage. Advocates of abortion often argue that to decrease abortions, unintended pregnancies must be reduced through increased access to contraceptives. But the Guttmacher Institute's own research indicates that 53 percent of women who have unintended pregnancies used a contraceptive method during the month they got pregnant.

The data also indicate that marriage plays a unique role as a protector of the unborn. According to the report, "Married women account for a lower proportion of abortions (17 percent`), in part because they have low rates of unintended pregnancy," but even in cases of unintended pregnancies, married women "are more likely than unmarried women to continue the pregnancy." And cohabitation is not an adequate substitute for marriage. "About 25 percent of abortions occur among women living with a male partner to whom they are not married, although such women make up only about 10 percent of all women, aged 15-44."

The report also reveals that women choose abortion overwhelmingly for reasons other than health, or for extreme reasons. Only four percent of abortions are obtained as a result of rape, incest, or for the health of the mother. Twenty-one percent of women said inadequate finances were the chief reason for their abortion; another 21 percent said they were not ready for the responsibility; 16 percent said life would change too much; 12 percent said either they had problems with their relationship or were unmarried; 11 percent said they were too young; and eight percent said they already had all the children they wanted.

The numbers also confirm that abortion disproportionately affects minorities, especially blacks. In 2002, black women had 409,000 abortions, accounting for 32 percent of all abortions. African-Americans make up 12 percent of the population. According to the report, black women "are more likely to resolve an unintended pregnancy through abortion." Hispanics accounted for 20 percent of all abortions in 2002 although they make up 13 percent of the US population.

Analysis by the Guttmacher Institute "estimates that 1,303,000 abortions took place in the United States in 2001-- 0.8 percent fewer than the 1,313,000 in 2000. In 2002, the number of abortions declined again, to 1,293,000, or another 0.8 percent. The rate of abortion also declined, from 21.3 procedures per 1,000 women aged 15-44 in 2000 to 21.1 in 2001 and 20.9 in 2002."

Tuesday, July 26, 2005


A bike riding "hero" named Lance
has again won the Tour de France.
He gave riding his life,
but neglected his wife,
reflecting our values, perchance?

Monday, July 25, 2005

I wonder if AARP offers senior deputy badges?

I think I’ve officially entered old cootdom.

The other day, I witnessed someone tossing a cigarette butt out his car window onto the road side.

I noticed that there were a number of butts by the road side.

I was annoyed. I felt like blowing my horn.

As I drove home, I noticed similar deposits.

I hate smoking because of what it’s done to my family. I have asthma, so smoking by others around me directly affects me (besides the fact that my doctor thinks my lung problems may be due in part to growing up in a home with chronic smokers).

I hate the filthy piles of butts and other debris polluting our environment and our roadsides.

As I was driving home gnawing on my annoyance, a van pulled out of a gas station, trying to turn into the far lane. He couldn’t edge in, so he sat there, blocking two lanes - including mine.

He was gabbing away on a hand-held cell phone. Talking on a hand-held while operating a motor vehicle is illegal in New York state.

Blocking two lanes of traffic because you are in a hurry while gabbing on a cell phone is annoying.

Doubly annoyed, I went home and called the police to see what I as a citizen can do.

I learned that throwing cigarette butts out a car window is consider littering, and is illegal. The police said if I saw anyone breaking the littering law or the cell phone law, all I had to do was copy the license plate number, then call 911 to report the criminal.

Today, I turned in two butt tossers.

Tomorrow, I think I’ll go out hunting for more scofflaws.

Maybe I’ll wear shorts and black socks.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Musing about music

Synod Might Reconsider Liturgical Music
Working Paper Suggests Return to More Prayerful Hymns

VATICAN CITY, JULY 22, 2005 ( The working paper of the next Synod of Bishops suggests that "songs used at present" in the liturgy should "be reconsidered."

(I can think of a few songs that need to be reconsidered…)

The proposal appears in No. 60 of the working document for the assembly of bishops from all over the world, which will be held Oct. 2-23 in Rome, on the theme "The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church."

Based on responses from dioceses, religious and the laity to a questionnaire, the text acknowledges in No. 61 that "to enter into sacred or religious usage, instrumental or vocal music is to have a sense of prayer, dignity and beauty."

(Of course, what might lead to prayer in one person might lead to sleep or a headache in another. Who will define what “dignity” is? And “beauty”? If the only cantor you can get has a voice that, well, only a mother superior could love, do we just forego music? Or do we accept enthusiasm and spirit – if not pitch – as part of “beauty?)

In the liturgy, music must have "integrity of form, expressing true artistry, corresponding to the various rites and capable of adaptation to the legitimate demands of inculturation, … without detracting from the idea of universality," the document states.

(Personally, I love it when my mostly Italian parish tries a Spanish or African hymn. I don’t think, though, that they’re quite up to Gospel yet!)

The working paper, published July 7, outlines the topics that the bishops will discuss during the assembly.

In connection with the question of liturgical singing, the paper states that "musicians and poets should be encouraged to compose new hymns, according to liturgical standards, which contain authentic catechetical teaching on the paschal mystery, Sunday and the Eucharist."

(“Allelu, Allelu, everybody sing Allelu, for the Lord has risen, in it is true! Everybody sing Allelu” … )

Gregorian chant

In particular, the document suggests the rediscovery of Gregorian chant, as it "fulfills these needs" and, therefore, can "serve as a model," quoting Pope John Paul II.

In No. 61, the text states that in the responses to the questionnaire with which they concluded the synod's first preparatory text, "some lamented the poor quality of translations of liturgical texts and many musical texts in current languages, maintaining that they lacked beauty and were sometimes theologically unclear, thereby contributing to a weakening of Church teaching and to a misunderstanding of prayer."

The paper refers in particular to youth Masses, stressing the need "to avoid musical forms which, because of their profane use, are not conducive to prayer."

(HMM. Rock music? [“Born in the Holy Land. He was, Born in the Holy Land…”] Rap? [“Let me tell you a story of a Jew named `J’, the Son of God with a lot to say…”])

"Some responses," it adds, "note a certain eagerness in composing new songs, to the point of almost yielding to a consumer mentality, showing little concern for the quality of the music and text, and easily overlooking the artistic patrimony which has been theologically and musically effective in the Church's liturgy."


Joking aside, I’d be curious to see what they have to say.

And, as I’ve said before, I’d like to know what cds Pope Benedict has in his collection.

Given his pet preferences, maybe we’d find a copy of Cats!

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Supreme Court limericks

Some pro-choice extremists I hear
are feeling today out of cheer.
Judge Roberts, it seems,
just gives them bad dreams,
that the end of Roe might be near.

Extremists inhabit both sides.
Their views, the nation divides.
There’s so few around
who seek middle ground –
passion oft reason overrides.

When the hearings begin, don’t you know,
The two sides will put on a show.
You want civil discourse?
They’ll just scream till they’re hoarse,
leaving us a hard Roe to hoe.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Tagged about my wallet

Kat over in Finding God in All Things (
tagged me with a question about what’s in my wallet.

Ulp. Here goes:

Two unchashed part-time job paychecks
Uncashed expense reimbursement check
Shoppers Club card
Library card
Credit card
Driver license
Barnes and Noble Member card
Health insurance card
Dental insurance card
2 Credit union membership cards
Media Play member card
Blockbuster Video member card
Radio station call list (for part time job)
Social Security card
Teacher’s Pet value card
Golden Link Folksinging Society Membership card
Anatomical Donor card
2 free oil change cards
Cell phone number list (uncle, three daughters)

Tag five people? I leave that up to whoever wants to do it.

Monday, July 18, 2005

I wonder if Kennedy could carry this state today?

Adoption agency excludes Catholics
National Christian group cites conflicts

Sunday, July 17, 2005
The Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. -- A Christian adoption agency that receives money from Choose Life license plate fees said it does not place children with Roman Catholic couples because their religion conflicts with the agency's "Statement of Faith."

Bethany Christian Services stated the policy in a letter to a Jackson couple this month, and another Mississippi couple said they were rejected for the same reason last year.

"It has been our understanding that Catholicism does not agree with our Statement of Faith," Bethany's state director Karen Stewart wrote. "Our practice to not accept applications from Catholics was an effort to be good stewards of an adoptive applicant's time, money and emotional energy."

Sandy and Robert Steadman, who learned of Bethany's decision in a July 8 letter, said their priest told them the faith statement did not conflict with Catholic teaching.
Loria Williams of nearby Ridgeland said she and her husband, Wes, had a similar experience when they started to pursue an adoption in September 2004.

"I can't believe an agency that's nationwide would act like this," Loria Williams said.
Bethany, based in Grand Rapids, Mich., has 75 offices in 30 states. The offices are independently incorporated and are affiliated with various religions, spokesman John Van Valkenburg said from the agency headquarters. He couldn't say whether any were Catholic-affiliated.

He said the Jackson office is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in America.
"They included this practice of not including Catholics," Van Valkenburg said Friday.
Stewart told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger that Bethany's board will review its policy, but she didn't specify which aspects will be addressed.

The agency's Web site says all Bethany staff and adoptive applicants personally agree with the faith statement, which describes belief in the Christian Church and the Scripture. It does not refer to any specific branches of Christianity.

"As the Savior, Jesus takes away the sins of the world," the statement says in part. "Jesus is the one in whom we are called to put our hope, our only hope for forgiveness of sin and for reconciliation with God and with one another."

Sandy Steadman said she was hurt and disappointed that Bethany received funds from the Choose Life car license plates. "I know of a lot of Catholics who get those tags," she said.

She added: "If it's OK to accept our money, it should be OK to open your home to us as a family."

Bethany is one of 24 adoption and pregnancy counseling centers in Mississippi that receives money from the sale of Choose Life tags, a special plate that motorists can obtain with an extra fee.

Of $244,000 generated by the sale of the tags in 2004, Bethany received $7,053, said Geraldine Gray, treasurer of Choose Life Mississippi, which distributes the money.
"It is troubling to me if they are discriminating based on only the Catholics," Gray said.

The Bethany spokesman, van Valkenburg, said the offices in Mississippi do not receive any public money, but that some offices in other states do, for example, because they are involved in foster care.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Wedding bells

My daughter Catherine Clare – known as just Clare by most – got married Saturday.

She is now Catherine Clare Hetherington.

I have all the feelings that a father has on “losing” his first daughter. Pride, joy, mild sadness, concern, wistful happiness, and so on.

There are many joyful memories of the last two days, but one stands out. A joke – but a joke with meaning and affection.

I’m not much of a dancer – other than foolishness in the living room, or with my fingers while driving a car. But I love music – I sing and play guitar, and I’ve composed a few songs (including one for the wedding that I could not sing because of a viral infection. Sigh.)

For our father-daughter dance, she chose “Be-bop-a-lula.” She didn’t tell me in advance, so when the music started, I burst out laughing.

That was a song I used to sing when she and her sisters were babies and I was changing their diapers.

Well, Be bop a Lula she's my baby,
Be bop a lula , i don't mean maybe
Well, Be bop a Lula she's my baby,
Be bop a lula, I don't mean maybe,Be bop a lula,
She's my baby doll, my baby doll, my baby doll.

The song brought back so many memories. Giggle fits while changing diapers, singing her to sleep at two in the morning (“Hush little baby…”), bath time, telling her bed-time stories about the “trunk world” where she and her sisters were princesses (sorry for stealing so much from you C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien), letting her put dozens of barrettes in my hair and beard, etc.

I smile now at the thought that she had the love and sense of humor to choose that song for our dance.

The happiest moment in my life was 22 years ago when I first held her in the delivery room just after she was born.

That dance yesterday ranks up there.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Heat wave haiku

Endless heat wave –
on days like this even
atheists pray

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Watch out, I get preachy!

The other night, we were watching a rerun of Everybody Loves Raymond.

Over its last two seasons, the show has generally been rated family-friendly, so most parents assume that it’s fine for their children to watch it.

Of course, that was not always the case with the show, and this rerun showed why.

This episode has Ray and Debra remembering how they met. Ray was working as a futon delivery man. He and another man delivered one to Debra’s apartment, where, after his usual bumbling, he arranges a date with her.

As he and his partner are leaving, they discover they’d forgotten to deliver the futon cover, so Ray knocks, mistakenly thinks she says, “Come in,” then he walks in to find her putting on a dress and so is topless (we only see her back).

That’s not the problem, though. Later, they do have a date, and end up on the floor kissing passionately, and she tells him that he won’t get to see her naked again for at least six months.

The implication is, of course, that if they date for a while they will have sex.

In another episode, when Ray is trying to propose, she misunderstands and tries to lead him upstairs to his room to have sex. It is clear that they have an ongoing sexual relationship while dating (without even the excuse yet of being "engaged" that so many people use to justify having sex).

Okay, so here’s a show that parents might consider safe, and the kids are watching reruns like this getting the message that it’s normal for people to have sex before they marry. But that counters the teachings of the Church, and any moral lessons their parents might be trying to impart. Think of the mixed messages the children are getting.

And that’s with a generally family-friendly show. Last season, shows like Desperate Housewives and Two and a Half Men were in the top 20, and think of the messages they are giving our children! And we also have regular reruns of shows like Friends and Sex in the City to contend with.

Are we allowing moral teachings to be undermined by the shows we allow our children to watch? Are the two hours a week of Mass and religious education they get being swamped by the 20-30 hours (or more) of shows that contradict and even mock faith and morality?

And think of the example we set by the shows we watch?

I’m not calling for censorship. I just think we have to pay more attention. We need to be selective.

We have to think about the lessons we are giving our children by what we watch, and what we allow them to watch unsupervised.

“It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.” Luke 17:2 (NAB)

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Deacon update: Social ministry

The epitaph of English novelist Winifred Hotlby reads:

God give me work
Till my life shall end
And life
Till my work is done.

That seems to me an apt motto for any Christian – and in particular, for permanent deacons.

I’ve been thinking about “work” in terms of the diaconate after our first foray in the realm of social ministry.

As I mentioned, at my meeting with Father Steve, he had suggested that I try to help get the social ministry committee started again at our parish.

I contacted a man (Rob) who was trying to get the committee going again, and he told me about a regional meeting for social ministry committees (i.e. for the five parishes in Gates and Chili, two suburbs of Rochester.). Rob, my wife and I attended that meeting last Thursday.

Many of the other parishes have social ministry groups, but they are small and looking for ways to get more active. We floated a bunch of ideas, but made no decisions.

Among the ideas I raised was that all the parishes share their social ministry activities for inclusion in all the local bulletins. This way we would know what is going on all around us, and can get involved in things that may not exist at our individual parishes.

I also noted that several of the parishes already have some ongoing social ministry activities (mine has a food pantry, for example). I suggested that rather than duplicating efforts, we work cooperatively to support the already existing ministries. Thus our parish might house the food pantry, and the other parishes would collect for that pantry, and that another parish might specialize in collecting clothing, etc.

I also suggested joint retreats/workshops concerning social ministry. During a five-day retreat, for example, the speaker(s) could be at one parish one night, another parish the next night, and so on. That way each parish would have a chance to host the retreat, and the people from other parishes could take turns traveling.

As the meeting was coming to an end, people began planning to meet again in September or October. Rob jumped in and suggested a gathering later this summer, just to stay in contact. We agreed to host a night at our church at which we will view a movie with a social justice focus (Entertaining Angels – the Dorothy day film) and a have barbecue. The date will be in early August.

One idea we did not really discuss is one that is close to my heart.

I believe that as Catholics, the Mass is central to our lives and all our actions. So I plan to propose that we have a monthly Mass for Life. The Mass would include prayers for various life concerns – abortion, the death penalty, euthanasia, economic justice, etc. The priests of the parishes could take turns celebrating the Mass. We could also have guest celebrants, and the preaching could be done by people who are involved with the various issues. The night could also include a rosary, and perpetual adoration.

Such a monthly Mass would give us a consistent focus, and help us to grow spiritually, intellectually, and as a community.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Guess this makes me a trinitarian. Literally.

I’ve been reading George Weigel’s The Truth of Catholicism.

At one point, he brings up the Trinity. He notes the difficulty theologians and homilists have with explaining the concept.

I’m familiar with some of the classic explanations (such as the shamrock, or the three notes in a chord), but I have a simpler way to explain it.


Can’t get any simpler than that.

Now I’m not saying I think I’m God (I have been accused of that, though!).

But I am a being, just as God is a being. So we can begin with that.

Anyone seeing me sitting in a back pew at church would see a 50-year-old, overweight, gray-haired, bearded man.

However, if my mother saw me sitting there, she would not only see a 50-year-old, overweight, gray-haired, bearded man, she would also see her son. We have a relationship, and so she sees me in light of that relationship. I am the same man that everyone else sees, but I am something more in her eyes. Son.

If my wife saw me sitting there, she’d not only see a 50-year-old, overweight, gray-haired bearded man (boy, how did she get so lucky!?), she'd also see her husband. We also have a relationship, but it is not the same relationship that I have with my mother. She sees me in light of that relationship we have. The same, but more. Different. Husband.

If one of my daughters saw me – well you get the drift. Father.

Here I am, simple Lee Strong. I am the same being in all instances when people look at me, but also son, husband, and father. I have three different names, yet I am always the same being, with all those different names arising of out differing relationships.

The Trinity, too, is a reflection of differing relationships with the same being, though in this case, that being is God. God the creator, God the savior, God the ongoing presence in the world.

As I said, this is a simple way of looking at it. The nature of God and the Trinity is far more complex. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are distinct persons, whereas son, husband and father are just three parts of “Lee.” But at least this explanation gives a sense of what the Trinity is.

Of course, I’d be happier about it if I could get rid of that “overweight” part of my basic being. Then I'd look less like three persons stuck in one body!

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Oh, Prunella!

My family and I have watched (and enjoyed) the movie, The Song of Bernadette, many times.

In the movie there is an older nun, Sister Marie Therese, who doubts Bernadette’s visions and sourly torments her, continuously questioning her character and her motives until almost the end. I actually had to look up the character’s name: We always just referred to her as “Prunella,” and speculated about how many lemons she sucked each day.

I was reminded of that character recently.

Vandals recently broke into one of our churches and desecrated it, including urinating in the holy water.

Another blogger wrote about it, but then used the incident as a way to attack our bishop and local liturgists, accusing them of "desecrating the Churches" here for years. I was surprised at the use of this terrible incident to launch an unprovoked attack on our bishop, so I asked for sources for the accusations – as this person was not from our diocese. He cited several, including articles from The Wanderer.

Those who have read my blog or know me know that as a former journalist, I have little respect for the journalistic standards of The Wanderer. Its articles about events I have covered have often contained inaccuracies, distortions, and misrepresentations.

But my biggest criticism of The Wanderer and its band of fellow travelers is that they personalize their criticisms.

I have no problem with disagreements about decisions, actions or theological positions – I have disagreed with some of the things my own diocese has done – but I do have a problem when the disagreements include insults, name-calling, labeling, innuendo, etc.

All too often I have seen our bishop called a heretic or quasi heretic. I have seen articles that blatantly hint that he is gay. I have seen motives attributed to him when he has said or done nothing to suggest that he had any such motives. But as so many politicians and bigots and distorters of the truth have long known, you only have to suggest something to make it true in some people’s minds.

Watching him over a span of some 12 years, I could see the pain and sadness in his eyes as he has faced these attacks.

I don’t know whether these kinds of attacks come out of fear, anger, past hurts, jealousy, or some other darkness of the soul. I would not presume to judge what is in another’s heart. But some of the people who offer this personal style of criticism certainly seem perpetually angry and unhappy.

It saddens me to see such things going on. It is a scandal to the Church. Christ’s command was to love one another. Yes, to reprimand the one who is doing wrong (a part of the Christian discipleship folks on the left sometimes forget), but always with love.

“This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

I wonder how many non-Christians reading these sorts of attacks would be able to tell whose disciples these attackers are.

In the end, “Prunella” realized that all her venom was motivated by jealousy. She prayed for forgiveness and healing, and changed her ways.

I urge us all to look carefully to see if our actions model the standard of love Christ set for us.

If we discover instances in which we are not following his example, I pray that we will have the wisdom and humility to ask for God’s forgiveness and strength and healing.

Friday, July 08, 2005

What about Bathtub Marys?

I’ve been doing some summer reading. One of the lighter books is one called Roadside Religion: In Search of the Sacred, the Strange, and the Substance of Faith, by Timothy K. Beal.

Beal is a professor of religion at Case Western. He packed his family into a motor home and traveled to some of these sites. Among them were Holy Land USA in Virginia, The Holy Land Experience in Florida, biblical mini-golf courses in Kentucky, Noah’s ark (under construction) in Maryland, the world’s largest Ten Commandments in North Carolina, a rosary collection in Washington, the Precious Moments Chapel in Missouri, and a cross garden in Alabama..

Some of the sites are examples of “outsider art” (sometimes called folk art). I happen to like outsider art – expressions of artistic creation by self-taught, untrained artists, many of whom are poor, uneducated, or on the edge of society.

Beal seemed to appreciate the efforts of the genuinely inspired (the cross garden of Bill Rice, for example). He was also critical of the more imperial or slick creations (the Holy Land Experience, for example).

Besides, who wouldn’t find something inspiring in thousands of crosses scattered over 11 acres? Or a depiction of the Upper Room in a building that used to be a still (talk about being moved by the “spirits”!)

I like the fact that Beal shows respect for the people who have created these sites – especially the people who seem genuinely inspired to create.

I recommend the book. It’s amusing, yet also raises some questions about faith.

Step in mud, you get mud on your shoes

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, section 2272 reads:

Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. "A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae," "by the very commission of the offense," and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law. The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society.

I’m not a canon lawyer, but I read this to mean that due to the seriousness of the offense, a number of people involved with an abortion face automatic excommunication (subject, of course to mitigating circumstances, such as knowledge of the seriousness of the offense and it’s canonical consequences, as outlined in canon law).

The woman who obtained the abortion.

The doctor who performed it

Any nurse or other medical personnel who assisted with the abortion.

Any person who knowingly drove the woman to the office to obtain the abortion.

Any person who knowingly provided money for the abortion

Any person who promotes the abortion services at the clinic/office.

All automatically excommunicated. The church doesn't have to do a thing. The excommunicated do it themsleves by their actions.

Beyond what this section says, I also suspect that any person who actively promotes abortion – activists and politicians – may also be subject to the same penalty.

I think that anyone who works for Planned Parenthood is also automatically excommunicated.

Basically, if you deliberately step in mud, you are going to get mud on your shoes – and it’s no use trying to put the blame on anyone else.

In the works

Vatican City ( -- The Catholic Church has produced a new document for bishops across the world to examine that says Catholics who support legalized abortion should refrain from taking communion because they are out of step with church teachings.

The Vatican said pro-abortion Catholics are not taking their faith seriously and those who take communion and support abortion are behaving in a scandalous manner.

"Some receive communion while denying the teachings of the Church or publicly supporting immoral choices in life, such as abortion, without thinking that they are committing an act of grave personal dishonesty and causing scandal," the document says.

The draft also hearkens back to the 2004 presidential elections, which included a national debate about whether it is appropriate for Catholics to support elected officials or political candidates who favor legal abortion.

"Some Catholics do not understand why it might be a sin to support a political candidate who is openly in favor of abortion or other serious acts against life, justice and peace," the document reads.

The 88 page document is intended for Catholic bishops to examine in October and it contends that, because of abortion and other concerns such as rampant divorce, that Catholics have destroyed the sacrosanct nature of communion.

A document approved by the U.S. Catholic bishops last summer that calls on Catholic colleges and universities not to give a platform to elected officials who back abortion.

"Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles," the bishops said. "They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions."

The statement, which also calls on pro-abortion Catholics to refrain on their own from taking communion, was adopted by a vote of 183-6 last summer.

(Hmm. I don’t know what the final document will say. If it keeps this tone, it will raise a few hackles.

Personally, I think it will be fine if a few hackles are raised. Maybe it will force some politicians to look at what they are doing and saying.)

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Representative government

A brief exchange in response to yesterday’s post got me thinking.

What is the proper role for an elected representative in a representative government?

There are generally two positions.

The first position holds that the representative should present the opinions of the people who elected him/her. In this sense, representative government is essentially just an outgrowth of the old town meeting where each man could vote. Because of the size of the county, the state, the nation, that one man can’t vote individually, so he picks someone to accurately present his views.

The second view holds that government has grown large and complex, and so we elect an “expert’ who has the time, skills and knowledge to study the issues and decisions carefully, and to vote based on his or her best judgment.

Both positions have their adherents.

I like the simplicity of the first position, but I think it is flawed. What if the voters have, because of prejudice or misinformation, what we consider a “wrong” view on an issue?

The easiest example is the situation that existed in the Southern United States for many years. The majority of people in the South believed in segregation. But segregation was morally wrong – a judgment most people would agree with now. Should an elected official uphold something he or she believed to be morally wrong? Some people would argue yes, if that’s what the people who elected him or her want. Indeed, some Southern politicians argued this. Ultimately, it took the federal government to step in – which resulted in violence and bitterness. What if the Southerners themselves had taken the initiative?

There have been similar examples around the world – Blacks in South Africa during the days of apartheid. Women in many nations of the word. Jews in Nazi Germany. Catholics in Northern Ireland. Ethnic minorities in nations like Serbia, Rwanda, India, etc. Should elected officials in those places just do what their voters want, even if they know what the voters want is wrong?

Morally, I have a problem with this position. How can you justify supporting something you find morally wrong – in some cases, seriously wrong? That doesn’t change the situation, and I wonder what it does to the elected official’s soul.

Such is the case with an issue like abortion, where we’ve heard people argue that they are personally opposed to abortion, but they are representing the views of their constituents. A perfect example of this line of argument was offered by former New York Governor Mario Cuomo. His argument would have had more credibility if he hadn’t also consistently vetoed death penalty legislation even though the majority of voters wanted it approved. The word I have for that is hypocrisy.

All too often I have found that politicians who use this shield are more interested in reelection or getting elected to higher office than in presenting the views of their constituents.

Did I mention the word hypocrisy?

Still, there are some people who legitimately hold this position. We have to give them the benefit of the doubt unless they show signs of inconsistency (ala Cuomo) or of changing their positions to suit the political winds (such as Al Gore did when he shifted his position from pro-life to pro-choice when he sought higher office).

I am inclined toward the second view of the role of an elected official.

The world and government have gotten so large and complex we need people who are able study all aspects of an issue or a decision in ways that the average person can’t. When we elect someone, we elect that person based on personality, knowledge, abilities, and beliefs, and trust him/her to make use of all of these attributes in making decisions.

Faith and morality are important components of this. I want someone with a clear moral/ethical vision that will guide him/her while making decisions. I may not be of the same faith, but at least I want to know where he or she stands as I cast my vote.

The danger with this position, of course, is that the voters sometimes relinquish their responsibility to study the issues themselves.

I may not be able to study the issues to the depth a full-time official might, but I have a responsibility to be familiar enough with the issues so that I can decide whether what the elected official says or does is right.

So I want to hear an elected official say that his/her decision is based on his/her best judgment. I may disagree with the particular position, but I will at least respect the person. And at least I know something is important to him or her beyond just political gain.

We need only look at the respect given to our late pope. People disagreed with his positions on a number of issues, but he earned their respect because he had a vision and consistently maintained it.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Oh, you naughty Canadians

From the Ottowa Citizen...

Ontario MP denied communion
Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Charlie Angus and Celina Symmonds had their lives turned upside down when they were told by their parish priests that they could no longer take communion because their stands on social issues conflicted with church teachings.

Angus, a New Democrat MP who represents a northern Ontario riding, ran afoul of the Roman Catholic church over his support for the federal government's controversial same-sex marriage bill.

"It's quite disturbing,'' said Angus, pointing to what he called "the rising militancy of language within the church. I went to Ottawa feeling that I would be speaking as someone rooted in a faith tradition and rooted in a justice tradition. (But didn’t he disconnect himself from that faith tradition by his vote?)

"Then your involvement in the sacraments becomes a political pressure point. It was unacceptable.'' (Sort of like his vote?)

Prime Minister Paul Martin, also a practising Catholic, faced similar flak from a priest in his Montreal riding over the bill. Father Francis Geremia said Martin no longer deserved the sacrament of communion and "I pray that he will lose his riding'' in the next election.
(Let’s see, risk losing your riding or risk losing your place in heaven. Tough choice - for a politician.)

Symmonds, who once managed the now closed Planned Parenthood office (!!!!) in Medicine Hat, Alta., had to find another place to be married about a month before her wedding in September 2002 after her priest discovered from a newspaper article that she was pro-choice on abortion.

"I was shocked,'' says Symmonds. "When you grow up Catholic you grow up awaiting the day where you can walk into that great big cathedral with your husband. It's something you dream of as a little girl. (Hey, at least she survived to become a little girl. Planned Parenthood prevents lots of others from getting that opportunity)

"And it got crushed within seconds.'' (Sort of like the babies killed by Planned Parenthood?)

Symmonds remembers well the day when the priest's assistant phoned, and she hasn't attended church since the incident. "It hurts that you're told that you're not welcome to be a part of something that was very precious in your life,'' she said, her voice trembling… (And life is not precious?)


Okay, let me get this straight. Two of them are upset because they face consequences for supporting a measure that they knew violated Church teachings.

And Symmonds is upset because she couldn’t have her nice wedding after working for Planned Parenthood, one of the leading advocates of abortion on demand. (And by the way, she may have already been excommunicated because as explained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church 2272, which covers people who have “formal cooperation in an abortion.”)

I have no sympathy for Symmonds. There is no way of arguing around supporting abortion, especially to the extreme of working for Planned Parenthood. I think that most people who work for Planned Parenthood in public/counseling/management positions are automatically excommunicated (latae sententiae) even without an official or formal pronouncement.

The gay marriage boys I have more sympathy for. While I oppose gay marriage, I think the moral culpability is far less for what they did. In Angus’ case (if you read the full story and other stories about what happened), it looks as if he did think about the decision and did try to talk with Church officials about what he was doing.

Were I a priest, I would not deny these two Communion. But I would have long talks with them. Very long talks.

(For the full story go to:

Sunday, July 03, 2005

But did he listen to the music?

Pope blesses Make Poverty History movement

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict hailed Saturday's Make Poverty History rally in Scotland and urged world leaders to honour past commitments to help the world's poorest people.

"God intended the earth and all it contains for the use of everyone and of all peoples," the Pope said in a message sent to Scottish Cardinal Keith Patrick O'Brien.

"For this reason, people from the world's richest countries ... should urge their leaders to fulfil the pledges made to reduce world poverty, especially in Africa, by the year 2015," he added.

Saturday's demonstration in Edinburgh was aimed at putting pressure on the leaders of wealthy nations to agree measures to tackle global poverty at a summit in Scotland next week.

The Pope said he would pray for the leaders to play "their part in ensuring a more just distribution of the world's goods."

(This is a good sign. He's been outspoken about this issue. Maybe the conservative capitalist types have reason to be nervous!)

Saturday, July 02, 2005

War of the Worlds (I'll sneak religion in - really)

Okay, the beloved and I saw War of the Worlds last night. (We made a point of watching the 1950s version on video the night before, and this week I reread the book.)


It was okay, but not a great movie by any means.

The special effects were nice, but perhaps a bit busy. Wouldn't 100-foot tall tripods (as described in the book) have been enough? That might have given the movie a more graspable scale. And maybe it was a function of where we sat (or age?), but the volume was ear-piercing.

The characters were stick figures. Tom Cruise played the same kind of jerk he's played in other movies (to better effect, though, in Rain Man) .

In the first movie, there was sense of community and family, of people who cared about each other. Before the Martians emerge, there's a square dance, a budding romance, a father and daughter who clearly love each other. When the attacks begin, we see the romantic interest serving in the Red Cross. We see people gather in churches, praying together and supporting each other. We care about these people and what happens to them. There is little sense of that in this new version. Cruise takes care of his children, but we get the impression it's more out of a sense of obligation (and fear of what his ex-wife might make say!) than out of love for them. The only caring major character was the estranged son, and he spends most of the movie full of resentment and anger. Basically, you didn't care about them.

Some of the plot twists in this version were predictable, and in some cases, stretched credulity. (Wells in the original did a far better job of creating a sense of reality - as far as reality can go in sci fi, anyway.)

The plot takes some major liberties with the original story. The 1950s version did, too, but that was due in part to not having the technical ability or the budget to recreate all the elements of the story. But the 1950s changes made sense and fit in with the story as it was being reworked. It created an organic whole with a vision of a human community facing an enemy together. In this version, there were too many holes left in the plot, and logical development sometimes played second fiddle to special effects. The same can be said of any attempt to create a sense of humanity.

As for the the sense of the divine ...

Wells made a point of bringing God into his book as the ultimate cause of our salvation (though he doesn't dwell on it). The narrator comes to this realization and clearly voices it.

The 1950s movies made religion an even more important part of the story. There is a minister who nobly sacrifices himself in the name of faith and peace. The main characters end up in church, and it is while they are there surrounded by people praying and singing hymns that they are saved.

The hero in this movie ends the film clueless as to what saved mankind. (A voice-over explains the details for us.) There was no sense of gratitude to God in the hero or any of the other characters. You can argue that as a working-class type Cruise's character wasn't overly bright, but there's lots of working-class types who have a sense of faith. No one in this movie prayed - for help, or to give thanks. And the only church that was on screen for any length of time was destroyed when the first tripod emerged from beneath the street.

So, if you have nothing better to do, sure, go see it.

But I'd recommend getting the 1950s version on video or DVD and watching that with some home-made popcorn.

With your family. You might want to give them a hug, too.

Friday, July 01, 2005

a poetic response (mea culpa)

I came across this “test” over at “In Today’s News.” How Sinful Are You?

This is my rhyming report

This test of deadly sins seven
shows what might keep me from heaven.
Gluttony and pride
ended up tied,
but it is lust that will do my soul in.

Morning Mass haiku

old priest has to sit
during the consecration -
we stand for him

Jesus called a thief
to be among his chosen-
there is hope


Found this over on Happy Catholic. I chuckled.

Spain has legalized gay marriage. I believe Abraham Lincoln had something to say on that subject. What? You don't remember him addressing gay marriage? Well, not specifically. But this bit of wisdom applies quite well to the situation.

If you call a tail a leg, how many legs has a dog? Five? No, calling a tail a leg don’t make it a leg.

- Abraham Lincoln