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, June 30, 2005

Deacon update: June 30, part 2

The meeting with Father Steve went about as expected.

He didn’t know me very well, so he wanted some details about my past involvements. He also wanted to know why I felt I had a call.

I told him about the number of people who have suggested the diaconate to me over the years. I also talked about the constant urge I’ve had over the years to do more than just sit in the pews, so I’ve been a lector, a church musician, a Catholic journalist, a homeless shelter volunteer, a committee member, and so on.

We also talked about the parish and some needs he sees (he’s only been the administrator of the parish for the past few months and was named pastor finally on Tuesday.)

He asked if I would help to get the social ministry committee back off the ground. I was involved with it years ago, but it died during the years I was out of the parish (though not just because I left!).

Hmm. Helping to get a social ministry committee started. Sounds like a deacon kind of activity.

Next up, I left a message for the director of deacon personnel to talk. I also just mailed in the registration form for the August day of reflection.

Deacon update: June 30

Today I go to meet with Father Steve about the diaconate.

I’m new to his parish – or, at least new since he arrived.

I attended the parish for about 5 years back in the 90s before he arrived, then returned this spring. He was the administrator at the time I returned, and was officially appointed pastor only June 28.

Probably more details than anyone really needed.

He knows who I am from my days as the associate editor of the diocesan newspaper, though we had no contact that the time. He’s also seen me in the church choir since April.

Today may be just an information /getting-to-know you session. He’ll probably want to know why I’m interested in the diaconate.

Details later.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

A story I once heard

The retired pastor of an urban church continued to live at the rectory. He helped around the parish, but had plenty of free time.

He began to notice the number of homeless people in the neighborhood. They were constantly begging in front of the church.

One day, he made a few sandwiches. He took them out to the people. He talked to them, listening to their stories and encouraging them to get help.

Each day he made more sandwiches. He also compiled a list of places that could help the people.

Some of the people began going to those places and got help.

Meanwhile, as word got out, more and more homeless people began coming to get sandwiches. The priest would spend hours talking to them, listening to them, sitting with them.

Finally, some of the local media caught wind of it. There were several stories in print and on television.

Soon he began receiving checks from people, including many fellow priests. They often included notes, praising him for what he was doing.

He always sent the checks back, with a note that said: “Make your own damn sandwiches.”

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Walmart ate my blog!

Justices Uphold Taking Blogs for Development
By Ima Flunky

WASHINGTON, June 23 - The U.S. Supreme Court at the Sears Judicial Building ruled on Thursday, in one of its most closely watched property rights cases in years, that fostering economic development is an appropriate use of the government's power of eminent domain on the internet.

The 5-to-4 decision cleared the way for the MSN and AOL-Time Warner to proceed with large-scale plans to replace underused blogs with marketing blogs for the nation's largest corporations. In addition, the ruling gives the corporations the right to advertise on sites, and to edit content for such purposes as advertising and product promotion.

Blogs, deemed a "distressed internet function" two years ago, have a high underutilization rate.

The owners of 115 sites in Blogger, including one woman who has recorded the number of birds at her bird feeder on a daily basis for five years, had resisted the plan and refused the MSN's offer of compensation.

After MSN condemned the blogs in November 2003, the blog owners went to state court in New York to argue that the taking would be unconstitutional. The New York Court of Appeals upheld the use of eminent domain in a ruling last year.

In affirming that decision, the majority opinion by Justice John Paul "IBM" Stevens resolved a question that had surprisingly gone unanswered for all the myriad times that governments have used their power under the Fifth Amendment to take private property for public use. The question was the definition of "public use."

The blog owners, represented by a public-interest law firm, the Institute for Creative Obstructionism, which has conducted a national litigation campaign against what it calls eminent domain abuse, argued that taking blogs to enable private economic development, even development that would provide a public benefit by enhancing corporate profits, could never be a "public use."

In its view, the only transfers of blogs that qualified were those that gave actual ownership or use to the public, like for a government infomation site.

But the majority concluded on Thursday that public use was properly defined more broadly as "public purpose." Justice Stevens noted that earlier Supreme Court decisions interpreting the public use clause of the Fifth Amendment had allowed the use of eminent domain to redevelop a blighted neighborhood in Washington, to redistribute land ownership in Hawaii and to assist a gold-mining company, in a decision by Justice Oliver Wendell "U.S. Steel" Holmes in 1906.

"Promoting economic development is a traditional and long accepted function of government," Justice Stevens said, adding, "Clearly, there is no basis for exempting economic development from our traditionally broad understanding of public purpose."

The ruling was issued with a paralllel decision that cleared the way for the City of New London, Conn., to proceed with a large-scale plan to replace a faded residential neighborhood with office space for research and development, a conference hotel, new residences and a pedestrian "riverwalk" along the Thames River.

Both decisions were decided by 5-4 votes, with the same justices voting the same way in both cases.

Justices Stephen G. "Nationwide Insurance" Breyer, Ruth Bader "Apple Computers" Ginsburg, Anthony M. Hilton Hotels" Kennedy and David H."Trump Towers" Souter joined Stevens in the majority opinions in both cases.

The court did not "minimize the hardship that condemnations may entail," he said, despite the fact that the blog owners will receive "just compensation."

But given the fact that the blogs are free, the justices acknowledged that cash compensation is unlikely. The justices suggested the owners could still post comments.

Blog owner Sandy O'Connor said she is resigned to the takeover, but still hopes to list her bird counts on the site in the comments.

"Yesterday, I had 131 birds. That's up from 121 the day before. I think people are interested," O'Connor said. "Maybe they could use the site for Tyson or a bird seed company."

(The above parody was posted by Lee "Barnes & Noble" Strong. The opinions expressed in it are not necessarioly those of Barnes & Noble, its employees, or its corporate masters. Anyone who says any different will have his or her blog seized.)

(Just three weeks to preorder your copy of the latest Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

Visit your local Barnes & Noble to place your order, or order it through

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Democrats for Life - op-ed

My frend, Carol Crossed, and I wrote the following piece. We are trying to get it published in some newspapers - New York Times, Boston Globe, Baltimore Sun, Chicago Sun, etc. - to get the word out....

Something strange is happening in the Democratic Party. Something that's making some Republicans and pro-choice absolutists nervous.

Democratic Party leaders are acknowledging that there are indeed pro-life Democrats.

Howard Dean, the new Democratic National Committee Chair, Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), and Senator John Kerry, (MA) have all said the party needs to reach out to pro-lifers. Their call for openness is already bearing fruit:

*Democratic state legislators in Oklahoma passed the most comprehensive pro-life legislation since Roe v Wade.
*Texas State Democratic Chair, Charles Soechting, was the keynote speaker June 11 at a state Democrats for Life convention.
* New York's Nassau County Manager, Tom Suozzi, unveiled a "Common Sense for the Common Good" program that will demonstrate his party's respect for life by funding adoptions.

In April, Howard Dean opened the door of the DNC headquarters in Washington to the pro-life Democrats of Democrats for Life of America, an organization that has grown to include chapters in 41 states.

The occasion was the unveiling of DFLA’s 95-10 Initiative, a comprehensive proposal of 15 different pro-woman / pro-child policies that, if implemented, could potentially reduce the number of abortions in America by 95 percent over the next 10 years.

The initiative addresses a common misunderstanding about abortion. While Roe v. Wade allows abortion for any reason before viability, Roe's companion case, Doe v Bolton, allows it for the health of the mother. 'Health' is broadly defined as "“all factors–physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age – relevant to the well being of the patient.” This has the net effect of abortion on demand, a practice the majority of Americans disapprove of. Americans do accept exceptions in cases of rape, incest, severe disability of the child, or the life of the mother. But these cases represent less than 5 % of the cases of abortion.

It is in the other 95% of cases Democrats for Life wants to make a difference through 95/10.

The program includes making adoption tax credits permanent, banning pregnancy as a 'pre-existing condition' in the health care industry, and making grants for ultrasound so that women can see the development of their baby. It includes legislation that will require women's health centers and abortion clinics to disclose adverse effects of abortion, both emotional and physical and that parents are notified of their underage daughter's abortion. Other measures will require non-abortive contraception in insurance coverage, and to fully fund the federal Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC).

There's something here to offend everybody. But we believe if Republicans and Democrats give up something, the net result will be more women valued and empowered, and fewer abortions. At the press conference to announce the initiative, Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) said, “[95/10] outlined today is a good first step to successfully reduce the rate of abortion by offering alternatives that promote family, promote adoption, and provide education and support for new mothers.” He joined 8 other Democratic sponsors who include Congresspersons Marcy Kaptor (D-OH), Jerry Costello (D-IL) and Colin Peterson (D-MN)

June 29, DFLA will celebrate 95 / 10 at its fourth Annual Hall of Fame Dinner. The theme of this year's conference? "Unity and Inclusion". the same name of the 1992 Democratic National Convention that denied then-Pennsylvania Governor Robert Casey the right to speak because of his pro-life views.

Given the growth of the DFLA – and the willingness of the Democratic Party leadership to pay attention to it – the national party may moderate its abortion views. Some of those close 2004 elections could swing the Democrats' way.

That’s not something Republicans and pro-choice absolutists want to see.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

In his shadow - Encomium Fisher

Today is the feast of St. John Fisher. It's also the feast of St. Thomas More.

More usually gets all the press. After all, he's the colorful one. He was a good writer. Heck, the title of one of his works is now part of the language - Utopia. Erasmus praised him in a punning way in his great work, Encomium Morea (The Praise of Folly). And More was the subject of a great play and movie, A Man for All Seasons.

But then there’s St. John Fisher of Rochester. He was made a bishop at age 35, and just before his death, a cardinal. By all accounts, he was a good and reform minded bishop. He, like More, was a humanist. He wrote books and battled Lutheranism. He was chancellor of the University of Cambridge, and was a believer in education and scholarsip.

I guess I have some affection for him because I went to St. John Fisher College and I live in Rochester, NY.

A leading figure in England, Fisher, like More, got caught up in all of King Henry VIII’s lust for power (and other things). He was the only bishop to refuse to give in to all of Henry’s demands that led eventually to the break with the Catholic Church. So on June 22 he was beheaded.

I wonder what would happen is a few of our bishops were more forceful in opposing some of the things our political leaders are doing (sometimes in the name of “faith”)?

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Where are the lightbulbs?

I have been quiet of late.

The end of the school year means all sorts of extra work at the small private Christian school where I am lead teacher/principal.

We are we finishing classes. We are preparing for our graduation night skit/musical review (I wrote the skits). We are deciding what courses will be offered next year. (I'm pushing for drama as an elective, so we have more time to work on the theatrical performances the parents so love!)

At the same time, I have been helping to prepare our house for my eldest daughter's bridal shower today. (My final role is, as soon as I get out of work, to go home, get the dogs, and disappear for a few hours.)

Meanwhile, I have been trying to make phone calls on behalf of my mother - who lives in another county, and who is nearly deaf. She is preparing for cancer treatments and must decide what to do with my father, who is in a wheelchair due to a stroke and has had to rely on her for almost everything.

I've also been working on an article for a pro-life activist friend. We hope to publish it to draw attention to Democrats for Life and some pro-life initiatives - but this coming week is the deadline for getting it done.

Then there's the diaconate.

I have been praying, thinking and reading.

I did talk briefly with my pastor and parish deacon. We will meet soon to talk more in depth.

One of the things I have also been doing as I discern is search for deacon-related blogs or chat rooms. I'm looking for other discerners' experiences. I often find "biography' more informative than philosophical/theological documents.

I have encountered few such blogs or chatrooms. Maybe deacons are too busy with service.

Priests certainly seem to have time to blog. Hmm.

Reminds me of a joke.

How many priests does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

One. He assigns the deacon to do it.

How many deacons does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

One. He empowers some lay people to do it.

How many lay people does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

One. The custodian does it while the deacon is busy empowering and the priest is busy assigning.

Okay, so it's not yuck yuck funny.

A priest told it to me.

Maybe he should have asked the deacon to tell me ....

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Michael Jackson and violating a Commandment

Michael Jackson has been acquitted

Of course, that doesn’t mean he’s innocent – just that the jury had reasonable doubts concerning these particular charges.

We have to leave the ultimate judgment to God.

But my concern here is not with the charges lodged against Jackson.

Rather, it’s about the fact that so many people paid so much attention to the charges and the trial.

The reason for that attention, of course, is the fact that Jackson is a celebrity.

We have a cult of celebrity in our culture. The checkout line at many of our grocery stores boast a slew of magazines devoted to the lives of these celebrities. We know what they wear, what they eat, whom they’re dating, their secret desires and sorrows, and so on.

We know their lives inside and out.

And did you see the people who were in tears outside Jackson’s courtroom?

Tears of sorrow as he was tried.

Tears of joy as the verdict was announced.

They danced like David before the Ark.

And then so many people made the pilgrimage to Neverland.

People worship him, and other celebrities, with a fervor rarely seen at church (except, perhaps, sometimes at bingo).

But then, how often have we heard Bono, Bruce Springsteen, Dale Earnhardt, (insert name here) is god?

(Well, in Bono’s case, the mistake is understandable. But I do wonder why we rarely hear Ani, or Oprah, or Janis is god. At least Alanis Morisette got to play God. Sexism creeps into even blasphemy!)

It’s not without reason that they call a certain popular program American Idol.

However, as anyone who studied the catechism (i.e. those who attended Catholic schools or CCD before roughly 1970) knows, the First Commandment says “You shall have no other gods before me.”

Some of us might have some explaining to do.

Maybe we need to pray for ourselves and all the other idol worshippers.

I’m sure Bono will be listening.

Monday, June 13, 2005

A celebration of God's love

An article to share...

On Importance of Sunday Mass
"Not an Imposition, But a Joy"

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 12, 2005 ( Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today from the window of his study, before praying the midday Angelus with thousands gathered in St. Peter's Square.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

The Year of the Eucharist continues, called by our beloved Pope John Paul II, to reawaken ever more, in the consciences of believers, wonder toward this great Sacrament. In this singular Eucharistic time, one of the recurring topics is Sunday, the Day of the Lord, a topic that was also at the center of the recent Italian Eucharistic Congress, held in Bari. During the conclusive celebration, I also underlined how participation at Sunday Mass must be seen by a Catholic not as an imposition or a weight, but as a need and joy. To meet with brothers, to listen to the Word of God and to be nourished of Christ, immolated for us, is an experience that gives meaning to life, which infuses peace in the heart. Without Sunday, we Catholics cannot live.

For this reason parents are called to make their children discover the value and importance of the response to Christ's invitation, who calls the whole Christian family to Sunday Mass. In this educational endeavor, a particularly significant stage is the first Communion, a real celebration for the parish community, which receives for the first time its smallest children at the Lord's Table.

To underline the importance of this event for the family and the parish, next October 15, God willing, I will have in the Vatican a special meeting of catechesis for children, in particular of Rome and Latium, who during this year have received their first Communion. This festive gathering will fall almost at the end of the Year of the Eucharist, while the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops is under way, centered on the Eucharistic mystery. It will be an opportune and beautiful circumstance to confirm the essential role that the sacrament of the Eucharist has in the formation and spiritual growth of children.

From now on I entrust this meeting to the Virgin Mary, that she may teach us to love Jesus ever more, in constant meditation of his Word and adoration of his Eucharistic presence, and help us to make young generations discover the "precious pearl" of the Eucharist, which gives true and full meaning to life.

I was touched by this address. In particular the passage that reads: "During the conclusive celebration, I also underlined how participation at Sunday Mass must be seen by a Catholic not as an imposition or a weight, but as a need and joy. To meet with brothers, to listen to the Word of God and to be nourished of Christ, immolated for us, is an experience that gives meaning to life, which infuses peace in the heart. Without Sunday, we Catholics cannot live."

The Mass is one of the things that helped to draw me back ot the Church when I wandered. Participating in Mass is a moment of joy. I am saddened when I hear people say it is a burden - they are missing so much.

Mass is nothing less than a celebration of God's love and an opportunity to share in that love.

(Hmm, my charismatic roots are showing!)

After all that blathering, how about some short poems?

young cantor
stands on stool to reach the mic
to reach the notes

air conditioner
breaks during UN meeting -
heated debate

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Diaconate: Where heresy flourishes unmolested (2)

More on heresy, and back to the diaconate ..

The first signs I saw that something was wrong at Corpus came during the conflict concerning the parish school.

Some members of the staff wanted to take it over and create a peace and justice oriented academy serving the needs of the parishioners - most of whom did not live in the neighborhood – and the progressive community in the diocese.

The school staff, however, viewed the school as a resource to the people of the impoverished inner city neighborhood.

The principal was strong-willed. She rebuffed the parish staff’s suggestions.

The parish formed a committee to study the school and make a recommendation. I was on that committee. We had some interesting debates. It was clear that one staff member was the biggest pusher for the takeover. But after looking over what the school was doing, several of us backed the principal. The committee ended in an impasse, and the school continued as is. The staff member was not happy.

Pressure was kept on the school behind the scenes, however, and eventually the school moved to a new building in another parish.

The whole incident opened my eyes to some of what was going on out of public view. I was troubled.

Many in the parish had the attitude that “we have it right, the rest of the church has it wrong, but they’ll follow us eventually.” We jokingly referred to ourselves at “Corpus Christians.”

Father Callan had an air of absolute, almost fanatical certainty in what he was doing. It was infectious, but it also led to a pushing away of anyone who disagreed with his vision or that of key people in the parish.

The arrogance was palpable.

Some people began to quit. But more came in.

One of the most powerful forces was what The Four Good Lays had joked about as the “Cult of Callan.” People practically worshipped him. Women fell in love with him. People would follow him into hell if he asked.

Including my ex-wife. What was happening in the parish helped to feed into the many problems beneath the surface of our marriage. With me becoming increasingly uneasy and vocal about what was going on in the parish, arguments and tension grew.

There were a lot of factors involved in the breakup of our marriage. But when I look back now, I think one of the pressures she was facing was a choice between commitment to me and our marriage, and commitment to Father Callan and the parish.

The parish won.

But that was in the future.

What I saw in by the late 1980s was a parish that had gotten so big it thought it could do whatever it wanted.

I agreed in principal with many of the beliefs, but not with how the parish went about expressing them.

For example, I believe in the ordination of women. The parish supported this, welcoming female altar servers long before it was officially allowed, and women preachers.

But then the parish held an “investiture” ceremony for a female staff member. She began to assist at the altar wearing clerical garments. She began to hear confessions.

That was too much for me.

There was more of the same in other areas. Lay presiders at liturgies (before the diocese permitted them, and without diocesan training and certification). Openly inviting (during Mass) even non-Christians to receive communion. Inviting gay and lesbian couples to the annual married couples Mass and celebration. Blessing gay unions.

My involvement in the parish decreased as I worked two jobs to support my family. One of the jobs was now as a reporter for the diocesan newspaper, so I had to step back from public roles anyway.

In the midst of all this, my marriage blew up. I turned to Father Callan for help, because he was one of the few people my wife would listen to.

We talked for a long time. He agreed with much of what I was seeing in her. He even agreed that a lot of what she was doing – and the way she was doing it – was wrong.

I asked him to talk to her. Not to tell her to come back, just to point out what he was seeing. I hoped that it might get her to stop and think.

He refused.

His argument was that he didn’t want to lose her as a parishioner.

I was stunned. I felt betrayed.

I remained at the parish even as the process of divorce and annulment wove their ways through the channels. I had the added pain of watching her from afar as she was still actively involved as a leader in the community.

I remarried and continued attending, but it was getting more and more uncomfortable because of what was gong on. I eventually left. I wandered from church to church, searching for a home. But I always had the image of the old Corpus in my mind.

It was as if I had undergone two divorces.

Once I left, things started getting out of hand at Corpus. I was working for the diocesan newspaper, and began to wonder why we were not exposing what was going on, and why the bishop was doing nothing that I could see.

It seemed the only people protesting what was going on at Corpus were the ones on the lunatic fringe of the far right.

I felt deeply conflicted. My journalistic instincts told me that what was going on there was a story – a big story - but I still loved the parish and many of the people involved. I also felt that exposing it might force the diocese to have to respond, making the diocese look bad and jeopardizing my future at the paper.

As a father, I also had to deal with the influence on my children. When they were with their mother, they attended Corpus. I saw its ideas permeating their thinking. I tried to counter it, but I think I only came across as a boring, preaching dad.

I felt frustrated, with nowhere to turn.

Gradually my disillusionment with the parish grew to disillusionment with the diocese. Then the church as a whole.

This situation festered from 1993 to 1999. I eventually resigned from the diocesan paper to return to teaching, in part because of confusion and frustrations about my faith.

Oddly enough, my final award at the paper was a first place from the Catholic Press Association for my coverage (along with a fellow reporter) of the bishop finally taking action in the fall of 1998.

The bishop had finally tried to rein Father Callan in and transfer him, and Father Callan had gone public. The results were massive protests, firings, suspensions, excommunications, and the formation of a schismatic church. Two women have now been ordained there. My ex-wife is pursuing a masters of divinity at a local Protestant seminary, and may eventually become the third.

Even through all this, the diaconate hovered at the back of my mind. I felt called to serve, but without a settled parish and no longer working in a church-related job, I had no outlet. (Plus, as I mentioned in a previous post, I had minimized my involvement liturgically because I felt it important to be in the pews with my children.)

I even considered some evangelical churches that offered me ordination.

And one summer I served as a volunteer hospital chaplain as a “Protestant”, even though I was still attending Catholic churches on Sundays.

What eventually righted my ship was a combination of saying the rosary (!), reading Scott Hahn and G. K. Chesterton, and Mass.

For though I had attended some services at Protestant churches to test them out, I found that nothing offered me as much spiritual nourishment as Mass – even a poorly celebrated one.

And as active socially as other churches are, none that I have encountered offer the social justice orientation the Catholic Church does.

So I’m firmly back in the Church.

And the diaconate seems a logical path to pursue in my faith life.

Even if I ultimately don’t enter the program or get rejected, setting out on the path will provide all sorts of opportunities for spiritual growth.

Diaconate: Where heresy flourishes unmolested (1)

Further thoughts on the diaconate decision, with a bit of heresy tossed in for fun.

I married my first wife in the late 1970s. I was by that point an ex-seminarian, and had worked at Covenant House and for a short time as a staff member at a Catholic Worker house. She had begun college as a religious studies major. One of our first dates was to a talk at the local Catholic Worker.

After we were married we helped to co-found the local chapter of Pax Christi. We looked for a church that reflected our views of social justice and church.

We found Corpus Christi.

In its earlier days, Corpus Christi had been one of the diocese’s leading churches. But by the 1970s it had declined dramatically, as had the inner-city neighborhood in which it was located. The parish was rumored to be on the verge of closing.

Father Jim Callan was assigned there. He’d already had a series of run-ins with diocesan authorities. His ordination had been delayed because of his actions. He had been suspended once. When he was sent to Corpus, some folks said it was as a punishment.

He is a charismatic man and a gifted speaker. He also has the ability to inspire others and to encourage them in whatever they want to try.

One of the first things he did was start a Thursday night Mass with “folk” music and a charismatic style of worship. That’s part of what drew my first wife and me to the parish in the early 1980s.

We were soon actively involved in the parish, which began to grow rapidly. Sunday attendance rose from a couple of hundred when Father Callan arrived to more than 2,000. The Thursday night Mass drew more worshippers than most Catholic Churches get at all their Sunday Masses combined.

Lay people felt empowered in the parish. Soon it boasted a whole series of ministries. A homeless shelter. A Clothing ministry. A child care. A health center. A home for ex-offenders.

Meanwhile, the parish tithed 10 percent of all its collections to various charities.

And the music was incredible.

The parish was beginning to draw national attention as model of what a Catholic parish can be.

My wife and I were parish leaders, involved in various ministries, including the music.

I volunteered in the overnight homeless shelter. I was on the board for the health center. I was a lector and Eucharistic minister. I served on a number of committees, including one that interviewed potential staff. I edited the parish newsletter. As a musician, I played on Thursday nights, Sunday mornings, and for the diocesan jail Masses.

She sang with the music groups, did art for the newsletter, preached at daily Masses, etc. Together, we even flew to other churches in other states to preach as representatives of the parish.

She and I and two other lay people formed a group called the “Four Good Lays,” keeping our identities secret. We played some pranks, and wrote joke songs involving the parish and its various personalities. We wrote a parody of a newspaper article about the parish. In it, we had one person say he was drawn to the parish because it allowed “heresy to flourish unmolested.”

Life was good.

It was at this time that I first seriously discussed the diaconate. It had just restarted in the diocese, with the first class ordained in the early 1980s.

I was interested. I even spoke with Father Callan about it, who was encouraging. He thought deacons would help meet the needs of the rapidly growing parish.

But some other people in the parish I spoke with contended that the diaconate was not a good idea. They felt it was a way to co-opt lay involvement, and was just another sign of clericalism in the church.

In addition, they viewed it as a way to keep women in check, creating another layer of male-only clergy.

I had mixed feelings about it at the time. I believe in women’s ordination. At the very least, I thought the diaconate should be open to women.

It was about that time that things began to blow up.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Diaconate: God the Father Knows Best?

Further thoughts on why the diaconate now.

I mentioned in Thursday's post that my daughters played a role in my holding off on pursuing the diaconate.

My first marriage broke up when my youngest daughter was just 1. The other two girls were 3 and almost 6.

After it became clear my ex-wife was unwilling to reconcile, I battled for at least joint custody of the girls. I won - if there is such a thing as a winner in a divorce. We were to split custody time almost in half. I worked out a complicated schedule so that I had the girls at points throughout the week.

Even before the divorce, I was an active dad. I was capable of everything from changing diapers to braiding hair.

I had two models in mind of what a father is.

One model was formed by old television shows, especially Father Knows Best. Dad was always there, going the extra mile to take care of and help his kids. I remember one episode in which the youngest girl left something she needed in the woods during a field trip, and dad drove back in a rainstorm and searched in the woods with a flashlight until he found it.

To me, that's what a dad did.

Sort of like God the Father.

The other model was a negative one.

My father had a rough life, and had to work hard to succeed. His view of what being a good father is involved earning as much money as he could to support his family. Not surprising since his own father deserted his family.

But that meant that as a child I had little contact with my father. He was always working. Because he was a salesman, he was often on the road and working evenings. I can remember weeks at a time when I simply would not see him on weekdays (and, indeed, he had to live in another city during the week for a while when I was in high school.) When he was home weekends, he was always doing projects - it seems our houses were always under construction.

That meant that he was never there for school events, school meetings, parties, playing, and so on.

Both dad and I look back with regret on those days.

When I became a dad, I vowed that I would be there for my daughters as much as I could.

After the divorce, it became even more important. I wanted to minimize the scars as much as possible.

School concerts. Open houses. PTA nights. Sports. Girl Scouts events. I was there for everything I could attend - even on nights when they were not "with me."

I chose to limit outside activities to keep my time as free as possible for the girls.

I stopped being a church musician in part so I could sit with them in church.

One of my criteria for a new wife was that she had to be a caring step-mother. (I got lucky!)

But then, in the ministry of the deacon, the family should come first.

I thought of the diaconate off and on for years. I waited, though, until the girls grew. Now with the last one entering her senior year of high school, my time is getting freer.

Oh, except for her awards night last Tuesday, a movie night on Friday, and a parents meeting this Sunday for a model UN trip to Europe!

Then came Deacon Dick's letter. It started me thinking in part because of the timing - arriving the day before my 50th birthday.

Finally, as if God decided I needed to be hit by a 2x4, after I posted my June 4 entry about the letter, an old friend who reads my blog - and who just happens to be the wife of the director of deacon personnel for our diocese - immediately e-mailed me to let me know about a deacon information night that just happened to be scheduled for June 9.


I still maintain God has a sense of humor.

(Next up: Heresy!)

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Deacon Strong?????

I attended the information session for the permanent diaconate tonight.

This is the first step of a long process. A retreat, various meetings and interviews, etc. follow. If I ultimately do apply, and I am accepted by the bishop, I would officially enter the program next spring.

Four years of study and formation would follow, leading, if all goes well, to a 2010 ordination.

My wife attended the meeting with me. She is aware of all the time and work it entails, but she is all for it. She says she’s thought for a long time that I should be a deacon.

I have been thinking of it for a long time, too.

But the timing wasn’t right earlier. I had three daughters at home. They were the good part left from a failed first marriage (with a subsequent annulment). Joint custody meant that the half of the week I had the girls and I had to be constantly available. For their sake, I curtailed outside activities – with no regrets! – but that included forgoing any active pursuit of the diaconate.

Emily is now the only one left home, however. She will be close to finishing her senior year of high school before I would have to be actively involved in formation, so my darlings are no longer an issue.

I have long felt called to serve. I worked as a Catholic journalist for 12 years, and have been involved in various parish ministries my entire adult life. Heck, I was an altar boy up through high school, and spent one year as a seminarian.

I also flirted with other churches, feeling the call to ministry in some form.

But this would be a real commitment.

That’s scary.

So Lord, is this what you are calling me to do?

A song to start your day

Just heard this on the radio again. It brought back memories.

Spirit in the Sky
By Norman Greenbaum

When I die and they lay me to rest
Gonna go to the place that's the best
When I lay me down to die
Goin' up to the spirit in the sky
Goin' up to the spirit in the sky
That's where I'm gonna go when I die
When I die and they lay me to rest
Gonna go to the place that's the best

Prepare yourself you know it's a must
Gotta have a friend in Jesus
So you know that when you die
He's gonna recommend you
To the spirit in the sky
Gonna recommend you
To the spirit in the sky
That's where you're gonna go when you die
When you die and they lay you to rest
You're gonna go to the place that's the best

Never been a sinner I never sinned
I got a friend in Jesus
So you know that when I die
He's gonna set me up with
The spirit in the sky
Oh set me up with the spirit in the sky
That's where I'm gonna go when I die
When I die and they lay me to rest
I'm gonna go to the place that's the best
Go to the place that's the best

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

This is not a joke

Danica Patrick, the woman race car driver finished fourth this year's Indianapolis 500, was asked in Newsweek if she was the Gloria Steinem of racing.

She replied: "The what? I don't even know who that is. Is that bad?"

Did you hear the one about ...

Jesus was walking along one day, when He came upon a group of people surrounding a lady of ill repute.

It was obvious that the crowd was preparing to stone her, so Jesus made His now-famous statement, "Let the person who has no sin cast the first stone."

The crowd was shamed and one by one began to turn away.

All of a sudden, a lovely little woman made her way through the crowd. Finally getting to the front, she tossed a pebble towards the woman.

Jesus looks over and says, "I really hate it when you do that, Mom."

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Foment of the week

Rosemary Radford Ruether has a piece in the June issue of National Catholic Reporter.
It begins:

Suppose this is a papal election not received?

The recent election of Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI has been greeted with choruses of negative comments in the progressive communities where I teach and live. The other night a group of seminarians at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif., was preparing a bonfire for a cookout on the campus. As I walked by, one invited me to share the meal, calling out cheerfully, “We’re going to burn Ratzinger in effigy.”

After listing the usual litany of offenses by the Church and the new Pope over the years, she goes on to suggest that a substantial number of Catholics might simply not “receive” Pope Benedict.

She then argues that “progressive Catholics should do more than dissent in private.” They should voice objections to some of the pope’s views publicly. “They should also formulate the agenda that the church needs to pursue to be authentically faithful to the Gospel.”

Then she says, they “need to organize for alternatives at the grass roots and in their local and national churches and communities.”

If I understand her correctly, she is basically saying to create an alternative church.

She concludes: “In short, there needs to be a real debate and action that defies the strategies of silencing and forced submission.”

To be truthful, though I have long agreed with her on a number of progressive issues, I have always found her style abrasive, sometimes even making me wonder if I’m siding with the right people.

But then, all I have to do is read a piece by The Wanderer folks to realize what I don’t like is fanaticism on the left or right.

This article is just more of the same.

But read it for yourself and decide.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Wonder if he reads blogs?

Gee, I never thought of myself as being on the cutting edge of evangelization until I ran across this.

Church Should Use Internet to Evangelize, Says Vatican Official
Archbishop Foley Sees "Areopagus of Our Time"

ROME, JUNE 6, 2005 ( If it is possible to find God on the Internet, then the Church has the obligation to proclaim him in that medium, says a Vatican official.

(Hey, if God's on the internet, I can tell my wife I'm nurturing my spiritual life and not just fooling around on the computer. )

Archbishop John Foley, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, told a meeting today: "The Internet can be a new path to God, a call to the Church to question itself on the opportunities offered by the new media to inform, educate, pray and evangelize, to take the Word of God everywhere, to reach also those who live in solitude and who perhaps would never open the door to their home."

(Hmm. Maybe we could try some God Spam.)

The archbishop expressed these thoughts when addressing a meeting in Rome on "Internet and the Catholic Church in Europe," organized by the Council of European Bishops' Conferences.

(What about the Church in the US?)

"The Church, as transmitter of the Revelation of God, has the task to communicate the Word and must encourage the use of Internet for the common good, the development of peace and justice, in respect of personal dignity and with a spirit of solidarity," he pointed out.

("In respect of personal dignity and with a spirit of solidarity." He must not have run across any of the really right wing sites yet.)

Internet is "the Areopagus of our time, the instrument to spread the Christian message," Archbishop Foley said. "But it is necessary to educate in its use, as with every reality that surrounds us, the positive element is opposed to the negative, creating confusion and false values.

(Areopagus??? If you're going to communicate, you've got to use words I don't have to look up in a dictionary.) (By the way, it's a supreme tribunal in ancient Athens, and now means any final court or tribunal.)

"Yes, God can be found on the network. And among the millions of people who surf the Internet every day, many may find words of hope, come across other cultural and spiritual experiences, bringing down ideological barriers to discover new horizons."

(We had a priest here convicted of searching for some "new horizons" on the internet.)

If "God continues to dialogue with humanity through the Church," then "the Church must assume her own responsibility vis-à-vis the new means of communication," the Vatican official said.

To accomplish this, he continued, there must be "precise criteria of discernment and a pedagogical intention, so that both those who operate in the sector as well as those who use the network are able to choose with maturity in an ever broader context of information and disinformation."

(Disinformation? He must mean some political blogs. Or ones run by Fox commentators and hosts.)

Archbishop Foley added: "It is impossible to remain with one's arms crossed contemplating this world that changes so rapidly; it is necessary to remember that God's voice can be raised above many other voices, as he has always spoken to man and tries to reach him with all possible means, at times unimaginable."

(I guess this means we should keep on blogging.)

And the winner is....

A number of American Catholics are agitating for democracy in the Church.

(All right, some American Catholics I know are agitating.)

They can’t just settle for the European model of ignoring the rules when they’re inconvenient.

Of course, if there was a vote in the Universal Church, I suspect democracy would be voted down.

Darn that non-American Catholic majority.

But let’s say that somehow the Holy Spirit intervened and the Church did become a democracy.

The possibilities are endless.

We could vote on which commandments to retain. (The second is hard to keep anyway, and those coveting ones aren’t really necessary – as long as we keep our hands to ourselves.)

We could vote on bothersome moral issues. (It’s not really a sin if we love each other.)

We could pick our own parish priests. (Imagine the campaign promises: SHORTER SERMONS. BETTER TASTING ALTAR WINE. MORE CLOWN MASSES.)

But for my bingo money, best of all would be picking saints.

No more of those long investigations and miracle requirements.

Oh, we’d have to have some standards. Instead of a simple majority, maybe the saint would need to get 60 percent. Sort of like Congress and filibusters.

We also should grandfather the current saints, even if some of them never existed or got canonized because they had the right earthly connections.

There might be some universal saints such as Pope John Paul II or Mother Teresa. Even Protestants seem to like them.

But we should also allow nations or ethnic groups to elect saints of their own.

After all, what do Americans know about St. Sava (of Serbia), St. Paul Miki (of Japan), St. Paphnutius (of Egypt) or St. Gleb (of Russia)?

In the US, we’ve got some folks who might get in for religious reasons, like Dorothy Day.

But with the vote, we could get in some really interesting saints.

How about St. John Kennedy? (Okay, maybe Robert instead. He was a martyr, too, and those 11 kids suggest he followed at least one Church teaching.)

Or St. Ethel Kennedy (those 11 kids)?

Or St. Bing Crosby (he played great priests)?

Or St. Bela Lugosi (he knew a thing or two about rising from the dead)?

Moreover, we could decide not to limit ourselves to the dead. Some folks have already all but canonized Mel Gibson.

This would also be a way to bring back popular saints who got the boot because they didn’t exist, like St. Christopher.

We could even create some reality shows for EWTN. “Saint Search.” “The Really Great Race.” “American Saint.” “Extreme Holy Makeover.”

The shows could feature all sorts of contests. Dressing like a saint. Staging a miracle. Converting the most sinners.

And in the end, we could have a Donald-Trump-like figure (Mother Angelica?) pronouncing, “You’re canonized!”

As for me, there are a few saintly folks whose campaigns I’d volunteer with.

Day, Peter Maurin, Bishop Dennis Hickey, for example.

Then there’s Barb D.

Barb and I went to Catholic school together.

In junior high at St. Stephen’s School, she “blossomed” before any of the other girls.

And she blossomed magnificently.

Talk about persecution. She had to put up with looks, comments, jokes, passed notes, and drawings on the backboard that made the nuns blush.

The only thing worse than a junior high boy around a pretty girl is a politician around potential donors.

I don’t know if Barb was particularly holy, but she always seemed to be a nice person. At least she always treated me kindly, even after my acne kicked in.

And she certainly inspired prayers in a lot of junior high boys.

Heck, if Dante can canonize Beatrice, I’m going to push for Barb.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Here's looking at you, II

An update.

As I noted in my May 31 posting, Time’s list of the “top 100 movies of all time” inspired me to think of my own list of the top religious movies of all time.

Time’s list included only one that met my criteria for a religious movie - God, spirituality or faith playing a prominent role in the plot or the life of at least one major character - It’s a Wonderful Life.

But the list included two works often cited on other lists of religious/spiritual movies: Ikiru, and The Decalogue.

I also mentioned that there were other religious movies cited on other lists, including a 1928 silent French film, The Passion of Joan of Arc.

I have now seen Ikiru and The Passion of Joan of Arc.

Ikiru is Japanese film about a city hall bureaucrat who discovers he is dying of cancer. In reality, he has been basically dead as a person for 30 years. In his final days, he tries to find meaning for his life. He ultimately does so by forcing the city bureaucracy to move and build a playground in a slum.

It is a great movie. With its sentimentality and social satire, it reminds me a bit of Frank Capra films of the 1930s, especially You Can’t Take It With You. I can’t imagine Capra ever allowing his main character to die long before the movie ends, however. (The last part of the movie has echoes of Citizen Kane.)

And it’s definitely a spiritual film. But as far as religious films go, it fits under my category of movies that show a character making a moral choice. It does not meet the criteria for my list of top religious movies.

The Passion of Joan of Arc, however, clearly fits my definition of a religious movie – and it is a great film.

The performances were excellent. The actress who plays Joan is riveting.

The film also boasts some innovative film techniques. The use of quick cutting was remarkable, as was the use of unusual camera angles.

But what stood out was the use of extreme close-ups focusing on the characters’ faces. It was powerful.

We see the torment and confusion of Joan as she is on trial and faces death.

We see the cruelty of her interrogators.

I kept wonder in what circle of hell Date would place them.

It easily makes my list of top 20 religious films.

I just have to figure out who to bump.

I recommend both movies.

As for me: I think there’s more popcorn in my future.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

The diaconate is so, well, permanent

I turn 50 today.

Technically, it doesn’t’ happen until about 5 p.m. EST, but what’s a few hours between friends?

I’m not a big one for birthdays, normally, but this one has a twist.

We just got back from a two-day trip to watch daughter #1 graduate college. (Proud dad.)

A pile of mail awaited.

Among them was a letter from the deacon at the parish I just quit (see my May 28 post about music).

I like him. He’s a good and holy man, and he was one of the reasons I stayed at the other parish as long as I did. He announced earlier this year that he is retiring from active ministry. That announcement helped to convince me it was time to move to a new parish.

That, and bad music.

But I hadn’t had a chance to talk to him about why I left.

Now there’s this letter.

He says he’s been watching me over the years, and asked if I ever considered the permanent diaconate.

He’s the third person to do this.

A former pastor asked me a similar question nearly 20 years ago.

A former teaching supervisor asked a similar question about three years ago.

Three times. You know us Catholics and trinities.

What helps to make this stand out, though, is the timing.

My 50th birthday.

A time to assess what I have done and what I am doing.

A time to look ahead.

A time to schedule that prostate exam.

I feel honored that he would even think to ask me.

Then again, maybe he’s just trying to guilt me back to my old parish.

Still, it’s nice to feel wanted, especially when you turn 50.

And it's better than a prostate exam.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

But what about Grover?

Today is June 2, the feast of St. Erasmus - or St. Elmo - a bishop and martyr about whom little is known, but about whom there are many legends.

He’s a patron saint of sailors; the blue lights sometimes seen at mastheads are known as “St. Elmo’s Fire.”

He is also invoked against cramps and colic, especially in children.

Would you expect anything less from a saint named Elmo?