What I Wish I’d Heard At Mass (WIWIH) — May 2-3, 2020

For years I’ve thought of doing this series, week after week of dealing with insipid sermons, uninspiring sermons, sermons that wasted glorious opportunities, sermons that had nothing to do with the Readings . . .  “I could have done a better job at that!” I’ve thought more times than I can count.  Well, let’s give it a whirl, shall we?

It was Good Shepherd weekend: the Readings centered around “The Lord is my shepherd,” and “I am the Good Shepherd.”  Sheep are funny animals. Until fairly recent history, their wool was an economic staple throughout Europe and probably the New World as well, so they were an investment in their owners’ livelihoods.  But they aren’t particularly smart animals, not at all like dogs or horses or even cows.  I visited friends who had sheep, one weekend several years ago, and the dumb creatures entertained me no end:  if one got spooked and leapt up in the air over some invisible spookiness, every single one of them would leap into the air, after her. Nothing there — just that one jumped over something, so we all have to jump over . . . where was it? Doesn’t matter, just JUMP!

There are two parts to this scenario that I want to point out as edifying. No, three  —

1. The Good shepherd lays down his life for his friends.  A hireling, on the other hand, is looking out for #1, and so long as he’s safe and comfortable, the fate of the sheep doesn’t bother him so much. In fact, he’ll abandon the sheep to their brutal fate rather than be inconvenienced or made uncomfortable — much less endangered.

During the covid-19 shutdown, some very good priests have been frustrated at the shutdown of the Mass and the prohibition of visits to shut-ins, hospital and nursing home patients.  They are aware that their vocation mandates that they serve the flock, even if it costs them their lives — as it did Christ. To be thwarted in the celebration of Sacraments and the service of the Faithful is painful to them. They are concerned for our spiritual well-being, even more than of our physical health, and they are willing to do whatever it costs them to see us draw closer to The Shepherd, and to get to heaven.

2. The sheep know their shepherd’s voice.  That means we listen attentively, and obey promptly so as to hear His voice more clearly, in future.

3. Sheep follow one another, which means we have a duty as well as a privilege to follow close to the Master’s feet, so those who are watching US will be faithfully led.



Blessed Paradox

I received a telephone call this morning. I was not quite awake, and distracted on top of that, and I didn’t catch the caller’s name right away. Okay, I didn’t really catch his name until he was giving me his website and email, and the conclusion of our conversation. It was that of a fairly well-known priest.  The idea that a “celebrity priest” would be calling me for any reason still has me greatly amused, several hours later.

In the course of the conversation, he told me about his writing, and explained a bit of the theology behind it. It made sense, and I’m going to go looking for one or two of his books. There’s always that effort to find a balance —

Like, the amazing paradox that Jesus is our friend. . . even as He is also the Creator of the cosmos.  Not a buddy who’ll hold your beer and laugh while you attempt something amazing stupid-risky and possibly sinful, but the friend who’ll set your beer on the ground, grab you by both shoulders so you have to look him in the face, and tell you, “Don’t be an ass!”

Aslan is not a tame lion, after all.

We need to remember both — especially when we go to Mass/church. Dress appropriately, behave like we’ve got some sense, teach our children to be quiet and to be reverent, too.  It’s a good thing to view Jesus as our friend, with all the intimacy and warmth that conveys — but we err if we forget just Who it is Who has deigned to call us “friends.”



Lectio Divina – baby steps

Please, please read through to the end of this post, because I’m about to open with a very controversial statement, here:

I am not a biblical literalist.

The reason for this is simple:  I’m an American, steeped in a culture that still clings to vestiges of Puritan legalism and narrowness of perspective. Puritans left the Church of England because they thought all the splendor retained after the break from Rome was an insult to God — never mind that the Bible is chock full of descriptions of the extravagant beauty associated with worshipping Him. Ignore the beauty and splendor associated with worship of God from time immemorial. We have a purer way … 

The writers of the Bible, however (and remember, the Bible is a collection of Books, not just one Book), were not Puritans. They were Middle Easterners, a people whose culture and manner of speaking and writing are colorful and poetic and… probably quite antithetical in many particulars from our Puritan forebears.

An example of that poetry that no one, not even the most rabid fundamentalist, takes literally is found in the Psalms — 17 and 91, to name two — where God’s love and provision for His people is described through a hen covering her chicks. No one thinks God is a chicken or any other type of bird.  But the first thing a fundamentalist will ask you is whether you take the Bible literally.  He forgets that powerful truths are conveyed through the poetic devices which are never to be taken literally.

Even the anthropomorphic representations of God as a man with hands, feet, eyes, and so on, are metaphor.  But the metaphor gets the point across. That’s what metaphor does.

Much of the biblical narrative is metaphorical.  There are bigger truths to be gained behind the word pictures we read.  So when we read the Bible, we’re going to look at a literal context, yes – but we’re also going to look for a spiritual meaning.  When Israel battles a particular enemy, we may be reading an account of a war that might have actually occurred…  but there’s a spiritual significance to this story, it’s included in the text for our benefit — and our benefit goes far beyond an isolated literal event.  So we’re going to be conscious of that, and we’re going to look for that deeper meaning.

In other words — I may not take the Bible literally, but you can bet your bottom dollar I take it seriously.  Very seriously.


Next up: some tips to get more mileage out of your reading.

What I wish I’d heard at Mass – Episode 1

I’ve been thinking for a while about composing my own “homilies” for the Readings of the Mass.

You see, I play organ for a small chapel in a nearby retirement village. The chapels on site are staffed by the elderly, retired priests who reside there. It would be better if we had a Catholic chaplain, but the facility hired a nonCatholic for that job, and, besides, there aren’t enough younger priests to go around as is. (So pray for Vocations!)

Now, I love our priests. They are kind, holy men, loving, generous of spirit, often wise… but I did point out that they are elderly, didn’t I? One of them is slipping more deeply into the “confusion” of being very elderly and frail, a couple of the priests who serve one of the other chapels have physical disabilities that makes it very difficult for them to stand and celebrate the Mass, and at least one was tagged from seminary to be a teacher and never pastored a parish in all his years in the priesthood.

The former professor tends to get excited by various and sundry academic issues (he keeps his mind alert by continuing to study, even into his mid-80s), and his homilies reflect that. The “confused” former parish priest almost always preaches about the Holy Rosary… which is lovely, but the residents there have been praying the rosary since before I was born and they don’t need to be reminded what the various Mysteries are. Do they?

So – yesterday the Gospel reading was Luke 9:28-36, the account of the Transfiguration. We’ve all heard the story before: Jesus takes Peter, James and John up on Mt. Tabor, and there he reveals to these privileged three His full glory …

His Glory. Can you imagine it? Because I can’t. I can barely get my mind around the idea of Jesus Christ as God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity… but just how deep and wide and far that goes is beyond my scope.

I would have loved to have heard more about this, but Father talked about the Rosary, instead (the Transfiguration is the Fourth Luminous Mystery).

And if I’d been offering the homily, I would have used the opportunity to remind anyone listening that there is something dangerous going on in our society – the evangelical and pentecostal tendency to reduce the Second Person of the Holy Trinity to “my buddy, JC.”

Jesus Christ becoming “my buddy JC” – what a travesty! No wonder Christians have gotten careless about moral theology! “My buddy JC” would be one of the guys, no different from myself, maybe swilling beer and chainsmoking – he wouldn’t be offended at a slightly off-color joke (like the attempted or alleged humor manifest in last night’s Oscars presentations?)…  nor would he care if John sleeps with his girlfriend, or Billy gets drunk and verbally abuses his wife, or if Lucy uses contraception and resorts to an abortion when it fails.

Right? And if the kids want to cohabit without benefit of clergy, God doesn’t mind. I mean, after all, “my buddy JC” doesn’t care. Nor does he care of Dan gets trapped in the gay lifestyle, because after all “my buddy JC” is all about love and tolerance and acceptance, right?

Wrong. Dead Wrong.

He’s our Friend, possessing integrity of His own identity and Character, concerned with our wellbeing and available to the most profound intimacy of our relationships.

But he’s not that careless lacksadaisical “Buddy JC” – not at all.

He is, most remarkably and mysteriously, both our most intimate friend AND the Creator of the Cosmos. He laid the rules down, and He calls us to follow Him in them because they are part of the design to bring us to our best selves and our ultimate complete Union with Him in the Beatific Vision.

The Transfiguration jerks us out of our lazy, selfish reduction of “my buddy JC” and into the remembrance that He IS the Great I Am, the Eternal Judge, Born of the Father before all ages…

And, oh, how we do need reminding!