TWO PASTORS' SERMONS
[OP&RF Wed. Journal column 12/3/03]
Sermons abound in the twin villages. Let us consider what we read of them on the worldwide web. Take Rev. Bruce K. Modahl of Grace Lutheran, River Forest -- and I do not add, Henny Youngman-like, "Please."
No indeed. Pastor Modahl has this thoughtful sermon on the Grace-full site, drawing on 1 Kings 17:8-16:
Ahab ruled Israel badly in the prophet Elijah's time. He was the worst king yet. Yes, he maintained Israel's independence and made its economy grow, but he was not faithful to God. So Pastor M's "faithful historian" will judge.
Switch to Todd Beamer's widow, who in the previous week addressed a Lutheran meeting, he being the heroic "Let's roll" passenger on the hijacked plane that crashed in Pennsylvania and thus never made it to the White House on 9/11. She located her tragedy in "God's plan," which is not how Pastor M. would say it.
Rather, he said, it's how people talk in her part of the Christian Church, said Pastor M., "different from the language we use." Her phrase made him "uneasy." He asked how the God's-plan explanation differ from fingering God as cause of this evil?
Instead speak of the mystery. We know there is meaning to our lives that goes beyond the day to day, "more to life than meets the eye." Fact is, "God is working a new creation," and we are part of it.
Having said that, he did a critique of Ahab the expert in realpolitik as opposed to Elijah, "edgy" like any other prophet, living in an oasis on food brought by ravens, who do not characteristically come up with the tastiest of morsels.
The oasis dries up, and he goes for food to a poor widow in the home country of Jezebel, whom Ahab had unconscionably married, by the way, as part of a "political-military alliance." (While we're at it, do you know any kids named Ahab or Jezebel? A variation of Elijah might play in the NBA, but if you're Ahab or Jezebel, forget even a walk-on at the Village Players.) He wheedles more out of her than she intended to give, like the stone-soup creator in the kids' book: Yes, my dear, stone soup, but first a bit of parsley . . . until finally there is a full-blown stock pot.
Meanwhile, Ahab purveys "royal force." Pastor M. asks if we feel "tension . . . between an unholy force and God's counter-force," which operates "on behalf of those edged out" -- the poor, the hungry stranger, for example.
This is how we fit into God's plan, he says, moving with God's counter-force in such works of mercy and, presumably, edgy prophet-like behavior.
The villages' sermons go forth. Take another (again, without Youngman's "please"), by Rev. Ray Pritchard of OP's Calvary Memorial, also from his church's web site.
His "How We Know What We Know" on Nov. 16 was based on I Corinthians 2:10-13, in which Paul says we depend on the Holy Spirit to know God. The sermon is quite pointed.
"The Holy Spirit reveals the truth of God to us. That's verse 10," Pastor P. says early on. The Holy Spirit can do so because he knows God's mind -- "nothing is lost in translation." Verse 11. The Spirit "enables us" to understand the gospel message as it makes a difference in our lives. Verse 12. The Spirit "teaches us what to say" when we tell other people about it, so that we say it with "clarity, charity, honesty and humility." Verse 13.
Pastor P. continues, addressing two "vital questions": Why do some believe and others don't? Mystery lies here also, as in Pastor Modahl's alternative to "God's plan" language. One thing is sure, however: In the trip to belief, "the first move belongs to God." Some will recognize in this the church Council of Orange, which in 529 upheld Original Sin (maybe the least controversial of Christian doctrines, all things considered) and ruled out do-it-yourself salvation.
For the full text of these two samples of villages' preaching, see www.GraceRiverForest.org and www.CalvaryMemorial.com. They represent quite different approaches: Pastor Modahl is political, addressing "tension" experienced by the believer in political matters. Pastor Pritchard is personal, addressing gut-level issues of Christian faith.
All Souls Day
I LIKE SOULS . . . I relate more to All Souls than All Saints, probably because like most believers I would settle for being one of the former and find ambitioning the latter a bit presumptive if not foolish. On the other hand, Leon Bloy (1846–1917, French) said there is only one tragedy, not to be a saint, or so I heard in a marianum at Milford in the early '50s, from the late John Hoffman. Note, French, and thus prone to the grand and the absolute: can you imagine Chesterton saying that?
The marianum was a sermon during dinner time, given from the refectory pulpit without public address system (there was none) to 200-plus avidly eating listeners over clash of knives, forks, glasses, and four-wheeled carts. You would start your marianum, named after Mary and expected to make at least passing allusion to her as inspiration of someone's life, even if he suffered the tragedy of not being a saint, as carts, or trucks, as we called them, rolled out like bees out of a hive.
There you were, as young as 18 or 19, a 2nd-year novice, speaking sans notes, sans mike, sans everything but your memory and the months of nerve-wracked preparation, which included writing, getting approved, memorizing, and repeatedly delivering your sermon. You were lucky not to throw up. Everyone I heard in four Milford years, 1950-54 -- two as a novice, two as a classics-scholar "junior" -- was at least that lucky.
EVEN PATHS OF GLORY LEAD THERE . . . To the All Souls Day readings, then. They are a hymn to everlasting life thanks to God and Jesus. Nothing less. The preacher should seize this day to meditate about dying in the Lord. Reams have been written in the spiritual books for eons about this: We have here not a lasting habitation. We live on borrowed time. We were born to die. Death is a release. We are born for eternal life; this shadow existence is a probationary time. Very medieval.
But ye gods and little fishes, do we not have to remind ourselves of that early and often? It may be a wonderful life, and not just for Jimmy Stewart and friends at Christmas time. It may be a very hard life, full of disappointment. It may be a terrible life. But we are lilies of the field, here today, gone tomorrow. We have great obligations to each other to plan and scrimp and save. That's a given. But it all will pass.
"The Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces," says Isaiah today, chap. 25. We were baptized "into Christ Jesus . . . buried with him . . . so that we might live in newness of life," the inimitable Paul tells Romans, chap. 6. New life here and now, yes, but today is the day to think about the dead and dying. "This is the will of my father," says Jesus in John 6, "that everyone who sees the Son and Believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise them up on the last day."
We 2003 U.S. RC's are so concerned about being oblivious of the needs of our neighbors in the day-to-day that we neglect our need to work at seeing death as a transit. It's neither lugubrious nor insensitive to labor this point, just sensible.
MARRIED PRIESTS, MARRIED PRIESTS
READ ALL ABOUT IT!! . . . Wed. October 29, 2003, Chi papers pick up on Assn. of Chi Priests survey showing 90% of respondents want married-priest issue on table in coming RC bishops' meeting, Art Golab in S-T with reportage, Carol Marin in Trib with op-ed about that and female priests. Pay your money, take your choice: reportage or opinion-with-reportage. There's a market for both.
The respondents are quite a minority of priests, 193 of 360 ACP members, of 1,600-plus priests in all in Chi archdiocese; so bps can safely ignore them, it says here in this opinion-plus-reportage offering for which you pay no money.
BAD FOOD DAYS . . . 9/14/03, Exaltation (or Triumph) of the Holy Cross readings (taking precedence over the Ordinary Sunday, as some feasts do):
In Numbers 21 (4b-9), God's people in the desert are worn out from the traveling. They complain to Moses about the lack of decent food and water. They are fed up, "disgusted with this wretched food!"
In response God gets fed up with them and sends serpents to bite them. They apologize, and Moses, on divine instructions, has a bronze serpent cast and puts it on a pole. If they look on it, though bitten, they will live. They do so, and live.
GOING COSMIC . . . Fast forward to the inimitable Paul, co-founder with Peter of the Christian Church, writing to the Philippians (2:6-11) about Jesus, who "emptied himself," became "obedient to death," and died on a cross, with lasting results including "the glory of God the Father."
He made himself vulnerable to the Nth degree and got cosmic results, which is the big idea today. Brief reference is in order to what we can learn on the everyday level, that willingness to be vulnerable is quite necessary to human contact, about which there is nothing risk-free.
SAVING GRACE . . . On to John's gospel, written decades after Paul pushed the bending-low and being-exalted idea. In 3:13-17 Jesus says he, the Son of Man, must be "lifted up" like that serpent in the desert. "Son of Man" is a major title, by the way, more so than "Son of God," there being many sons of God in the day's usage but only one Son of Man, as in the Book of Daniel, where he is given "dominion, and glory, and a kingdom," as King James version illustriously has it.
As Moses lifted up the serpent, Jesus must be lifted, so that now there is eternal life for believers. How so? Because "God so loved the world" as to give him up to suffering and death. God did it not to condemn the ever-complaining and serpent-deserving world, but to save it. Up went the bronze serpent in the desert, up went Jesus on the cross. Look on the serpent and be cured of serpent bite, look on Jesus with loving fidelity and be saved.
There is little here precisely to take home and act on, except maybe the vulnerability business, but a lot to think about. These readings are for the meditating and praying Christians, to make of it what he can. This is devotional material.
HELLO, BABY . . . Scene: River Forest Library reading room, in dead of afternoon, soaking up silence in leather-covered easy chair, soon to doze off, reading about 8/25/48 House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) hearing. Reporters had copy boys at the ready, to rush out with scribbled takes (pages of copy), for calling into rewrite. This in the days of several afternoon editions of major dailies.
CATHOLIC CONNECTION . . . Fr. John Cronin of National Catholic Welfare Conference (later renamed U.S. Catholic Conference), the bishops' agency based in Washington, was in the middle of the Alger Hiss case, filling then-Congressman Nixon in on details. His contact at FBI called Nixon daily to tell what had turned up.
Nixon made several trips to Chambers's farm, became convinced WC was telling the truth, brought the NY Herald-Trib man out to visit WC. He too became convinced that WC had known Hiss and that Hiss was lying.
RUNNER'S FATHER . . . Calvin Fixx, WC's coworker and friend at Time, who stayed by him throughout the Hiss case and died of a heart attack in March, 1950, at 43, was the father of Jim Fixx, the runner and best-selling author of The Complete Book of Running, who also died of a heart attack (while running), at 52. Chambers sorely missed Calvin Fixx.
CLAY FEET . . . Book to check out is Raymond Sokolow's (Sokolov's?) Wayward Reporter (1980), a life of AJ Leibling, the New Yorker writer who wrote a regular column on "the wayward press," citing (conservative) bias and conflict of interest. In the 1980 book is an account of Leibling's work to help defend Hiss while covering the trial for the New Yorker.
So what? I.F. (St. Izzy) Stone was on the take from the Russkies, we read in the Venona cables.
POLITICALLY INCORRECT . . . Lionel Trilling's 1947 novel, The Middle of the Journey, has a character, Gifford Maxim, based on Whittaker Chambers, whom Trilling knew from Columbia U. Trilling thought Viking would re-issue it in 1948 and 1949, when the Hiss trial was very big news; but the Viking editor, Ben Huebsch, a Communist, held back, even though sales would have been brisk, Sam Tanenhaus reports in his excellent 1997 biography, Whittaker Chambers.
COWLEY NOT COOL . . . The eminent litterateur Malcolm Cowley took the stand for Hiss, said Chambers had called asst. Sec. of State Francis Sayre a Communist. But C., had told FBI, when asked if Sayre was a communist, "Quite the contrary." Cowley's testimony was "patently absurd," Chambers told reporters. Chambers had trashed Cowley's work in a Time article.
CERF COOL . . . Second trial over, Hiss convicted, Chambers needed work. His old boss would have rehired him at Time, but the troops resisted, and publisher Henry Luce backed off. Chambers started a book, got an agent, was invited by Random House editor David McDowell to the office. Bennett Cerf, R. House head man and pro-Hiss, said, "Get him out of here." To which McDowell: What kind of liberal are you? You won't consider a guy because you don't like him? Cerf, shamed, said send him in. Then Chambers and Cerf, Columbia alums, chatted each other up, finding many mutual friends.
QUAKERS NOT COOL . . . Cerf stayed close to Chambers, visited him in his illness in 1952. With his wife Phyllis he attended Chambers's daughter's wedding, the two Cerfs staying over at the Chambers farm. The wedding was at the local (Westminster, Maryland) Episcopal Church, partly because Chambers had become alienated from the Quakers, who had sided with Hiss and it seemed, blackballed his daughter at Swarthmore College, the Quaker Harvard. The daughter went instead to Smith.
SECULAR LIBERALS . . . You had to be a theist to fight Communism according to Chambers in his memoirs, Witness, said anti-Communist philosopher Sidney Hook, who wasn't one. Chambers's blaming the Renaissance and Enlightenment for man's making himself the new master of universe replacing God and thus logically devising Communism, is a rightist view of intellectual life comparable to Solzhenitsyn (years later "eerily" echoing Chambers) and yet later, Vaclav Havel, of Czech "velvet revolution" fame.
Havel in 1992 in NY Times called Communism the last gasp of the "modern age" and the belief that the world is "wholly knowable" and governed by a certain number of laws fully graspable and usable toward man's benefit.
That's as good a statement of liberalism as I have found. It's liberal optimism, proven finally by Communism, in which it reached its apogee, to be an illusion. So a college teacher can be unembarrassed to announce in conversation that he wishes he had absolute power, or at least enough to remake things as he saw fit, so as to right wrongs as he saw them afflicting mankind. This is secular messianism, slipping soundlessly into quixotism with strong elements of nowhere-ism, commonly known as utopianism. It's blasphemy in Chambers's book, and I agree.
COOL BOOK . . . See Koestler novel, Darkness at Noon, embraced by Chambers as capturing the essence of Communism.
MARY TO HANNAH: TRASH HIM . . . Hannah Arendt trashed Witness in Commonweal as recounting the work of a police-state informer. She had been advised by Mary McCarthy as to the importance of repressing the rise to publishing respectability of the new conservatism which Witness represented. McCarthy knew Arendt agreed about repressing "this new Right" which was seeking acceptance as "normal" (italics hers), that it had to be "scotched." She just wasn't sure if Arendt agreed on how to do it, she wrote.
Ah, those lefties did plot, did they not?
FRIEND FELIX . . . Felix Frankfurther, "Rasputin" of the New Deal, was a supporter of Alger Hiss whom Hiss did not at first name in his defense. It had to be pulled out of him at a HUAC hearing, apparently because F. was so transparently leftist as not to work well enough in Hiss's behalf.
FRIEND WHITTAKER . . . Chambers did not appreciate Joe McCarthy, whom he liked personally, but held back from publicly criticizing him, unwilling to give comfort to his enemies.
CALL FOR HELP . . . On 8/31/03, 22nd Sunday, we have a Sunday's familiar opening call for help: "All day long, have mercy . . . You are good and forgiving, full of love . . . " How that Psalmist did pray! Week in, week out we start the mass with this near-agonized plea which reminds us of the trouble we are in. We need help, the liturgy keeps telling us, even those of us who have it made or think so.
ON PICKING AND CHOOSING . . . In Deuteronomy 4, Moses says do not be selective about what God commands. Neither add to nor subtract from it. Some would add things, crushing us. Some would subtract, unwisely relieving us. Neither is much help. Let "the nations" -- "gentes," as in "gentiles," that is, non-Jews -- learn wisdom from your behavior. Thus the Deuteronomist.
We are to follow with the Psalmist telling us, Do justice and live in God's presence. This we are repeat several times as we consider specifics: We are to think the truth, slander not, neither harm people nor bawl them out, lend not at excessive rate, and take no bribes -- even if we come from a culture where it's taken for granted, like the political, as in Chicago at various times.
GET MOVING . . . Then James piles on, as it were (in his chap. 1), urging to to take to heart what the Father tells us. Act on it. It's not enough to listen. Look after orphans and widows (the defenseless) in their distress and keep yourself unspotted by the world (in its numerous manifestations, we have to figure this out). (Only) in this way you might worship "without stain."
PLAIN TALK HELPS . . . Finally, Mark asks us in his chap. 7 if we wash our hands before eating, which is a good idea, we may say. But under pain of sin? Pharisees are the fall guys here. But it's a common fault. We make too much of certain good things, losing sight of the big picture, insisting on recycling, for instance, as if there's always a tomorrow. Problem, says Jesus, is teaching "as dogmas mere human precepts." He adds, it's not what you eat (we assume excluding gluttony) but what you say that condemns you: "Wicked designs come from the deep recesses of the heart."
He lists a few of these wicked designs, among them "fornication, theft, murder," including (at the end) "an obtuse spirit." That's worth thinking about. What is this "obtuse spirit"? "All these evils," he says, "come from within." This is decidedly Jesus talk. No mincer of words he, and it got him in trouble. Most preachers are more circumspect. But then none walk on water either.
If Jesus didn't walk on water either, as some think, he looked like he could, in terms of dignity and power of demeanor. It's just as well most preachers are more circumspect. Like walking on water, Jesus talk hasn't been done well in a long time. But let the Christian preacher not blink the plain-spokenness of his leader. It's the least he can do.
INTERESTING QUESTION: WOULD THE ROUNDER TY COBB HAVE GOT THE NOD? . . .
My friend Jake (not his real name) wants to know if Donovan McNabb is as
good a quarterback as they say he is, or are they just so happy to have
this handsome, well-spoken guy who does not get into fights or shoot
dope or get sued or arrested for rape that they tout him beyond reality?
Jake would like nothing better than to drink beer with McNabb or have
him over for dinner or introduce him to his daughters (if he's not
married, which Jake would like to know), but he thinks that has nothing
to do with McNabb as quarterback and wishes they (ok, media operators,
including analysts, none of them under cover) would keep this in mind.
So what if McNabb is apparently a nice guy of upstanding life and
repute? Is he really that good a QB?
Jake knows his position has no currency, or "legs," as they say, but
figures he must be true to himself and raise the question, which he says
is lost these days amidst hubbub over Slow-down Limerick's raising that
Jake recognizes the widely accepted notion that some things must not be
discussed. The Vatican won't discuss women priests, which it takes as a
contradiction in terms. The media won't discuss the bias in favor of
being a good all-around guy and whether it influences their professional
judgment. That's not right, Jake says, realizing his saying so makes
him a candidate for the "moralizing motormouth" sobriquet given
Slow-down Limerick, who insists on calling spades spades, or claims he
There might be more later at this very location on this fascinating
issue, or Jake might have to go underground for a while. "The heat's
on," he said, in typically paranoid fashion.
CHI TRIB LIVES! . . . 9/26/03, feast of N. Amer Martyrs, Sts. Isaac Jogues, John de Brebeuf & Companions, all S.J., Chi Trib's day to shine, in that its people exposed the Duff Family Pseudo-black some time back for posing as minority contractors and the Dist. Atty. announced indictments. Columnist Jn Kass crows on Don & Roma, and his enemies have no grounds to gainsay him. I take back at least 5% of what I have said about Chi Trib.
Seriously, folks, it's a Day to Remember for the once world's greatest newspaper, which is doing more than shooting loafing street crews, an important element of municipal investigation in the Colonel's day, a long time ago. Kass has been on the case, and now he can write in his sleep the column that zeroes in on Mayordaley II as Foney Baloney. Let us hear it for him and his ilk on the other side of Michigan Avenue.
THIS PLOT BE THICK . . . And let us hear it for Republicans and Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, without whom we would not have a D.A. (also Fitzgerald, no relation) who would go where his duty pointed him in re: Daley and Friends. Glory be to God for not necessarily intended consequences.
This is why Daley et al. plump constantly for Dem victories, including Bill as Gore campaign mgr. going to court in Florida. Bill was standing up for the Family as much as anything else.
In more ways than one: A caller to Don & Roma (WLS-AM, a.m. drive-time) said Mme. Duff is related to Rich on his mother's side. [Lot of people think so, but it's unsubstantiated at this point in time.] She would be Patricia Green Duff, 75, indicted with her son, a figurehead black man, and others. She is listed as president and sole owner of Windy City Maintenance, the allegedly fraudulently minority-owned company that "sprang from nowhere to garner approximately $100 million in city-related work since Mayor Richard Daley took office," per Chi Trib.
Her husband, John Duff Jr., 78, is former director of Windy City Maintenance and former executive in a liquor union known as Local 3. "He has been tied to organized crime, and in 1982 pleaded guilty to federal charges of embezzling union funds," again per Chi Trib.
Did we think the Duffs sprang from nowhere on the political scene? Blood tells. [Yes, but no bloodlines clear here.] Tribalism will out. [Yes] The saga of politics Daley-style goes on and on and on.
CLOSER . . . And by the way, this trenchant critic sharply distinguishes between hard-news-oriented city-side reporting by Chi Trib and the me-too liberalism that shows in national political and cultural coverage, where former elite-college students of tenured radicals hold sway.
There. Got that off the old chest.
Thu Sep 25
HIGH, HARD ONES . . . Fr. John Smyth of Maryville -- ordered closed by Gov. Blago for various misfeasance and investigated by U.S. Atty. for possible malfeasance -- is a hard man, to judge by quoted newspaper comments. For instance, he accused OP Hephzibah Home director Mary Ann Brown, one of the monitors who wrote critically of M-ville, of seeking work there for her son (denied), and 9/21 in Chi Trib took (unexplained) crack at Blago for not wanting his (baby?) daughter (with him) in Springfield.
What's that about (oddly left unexplained by Trib but explained next day by Sun-Times as his school-age daughter, left back in her Chicago-area school), and why does Smyth shoot from hip that way? Another thing he has done is make sure Cardinal George is the culprit if he has to leave M'ville, making the point strongly that he will leave only if the cardinal tells him to. He made his athletic mark in basketball but apparently plays hardball now.
SHOT ACROSS HIS BOW . . . C. George privately told Gov. Blago he wants to bump Smyth, says M. Sneed in S-T 9/23/03. (I don't THINK she made it up.) She speculates about George's closing the M'ville campus, selling the property for much money that could be used to pay off the sexual abuse victim settlement, calling this richly imagined scenario "a classic case of sending abused kids away . . . to pay off victims abused by priests." (A classic case? As if it's just one of the things that happens.) She hopes it's not true, but says if it is, she "will go after the cardinal with [her] own crozier [bishop's staff]. It's called the pen." She is such fun.
MAYOR V. GOVERNOR . . . That's not all. She paints a picture of The Body Chicago Political as delicious soap opera. MayorDaley II is "not only furious" (oh no), he's "livid" about Blago's deciding to move the Maryville kids. So furious-livid, in fact, that he questions his own ability "to deal with the governor in the future." Please.
He is even wondering (get this) about Blago's "decision-making process," according to "a top source," a.k.a. Iago of Old City Hall.
GOV NOT HAPPY EITHER . . . Then under the umbrella of "Maryville mayhem," we have a subhead-intro, "It's war!" and more of what "Sneed hears." First, that Gov. Blago is "furious" (but not yet livid) with the head man at Dept. of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and this fellow's feckless advisors for somehow "getting him into such a public brouhaha" -- whereby he's in the ever-popular position of battling with a popular if wrongheaded Catholic priest.
Never fear, however, (State's Atty.) Dick Devine is here. Sneed has him sending a memo to all concerned -- Blagojevich, Smyth, the DCFS man, etc., "entreating all to negotiate with calmer heads."
So is "former powerful state Senate President" and current Maryville board member and Oak Parker Phil Rock here. He "worked very closely with Smyth" when he was a senator.
MASS APPEAL . . . He and many others were at Sunday's mass, which apparently celebrated the life and times of Fr. Smyth along with or rather than that of Jesus Christ -- "They have a barrel of ink, and they can lie, and they can distort the truth," he said, per Maureen O'Donnell reporting in Sun-Times, apparently as part of his sermon, and for his trouble got "a standing ovation."
That, I submit is a misuse of the pulpit, the preaching function, and (reductively) the whole priestly mission, a hijacking of the worship experience. Of course, so was Cardinal G's using the St. Giles pulpit to call for a putting down of pens. It's pulpit abuse when the preacher gets up there where no one can raise a hand or ask a question and uses it for his political purposes.
CRIMINAL INTENT . . . So was "highly regarded" former DCFS head man Greg Coler on hand. He told Sneed it's "a crime" what Gov. Blago is doing. In lieu of indictment, he likened moving M'ville residents to "shipping a kid from the Four Seasons hotel to a Motel 6." He also testified to Smyth as "the easiest man I ever dealt with when it came to kids."
PARISH MATTERS . . . Father Dan recently discussed "what Mass is all about" in the parish bulletin, namely our coming "with full hearts to thank God." Moreover, it is "truly alive . . . when we bring to Mass the everyday things of our lives." Some of his best mass-time experience, he confessed, has been when he is "truly bringing what was in [his] heart to God."
The time-honored but now little-used phrase "sacrifice of the mass," he said "refers to our self-offering to God." This self-offering "feels good" to him because it reminds him that "God is taking care of" his various problems.
But there is nothing in what he said about Jesus' sacrifice on the cross and its redeeming value or its being re-enacted in the mass, whatever we bring. He speaks only about what we bring. Apart from his belief in God as protector, it's as if there were no Christian tradition. Pagans did this much, and probably still do.
If you are wondering what there is about liturgy that reminds you of Rotary Club meetings, picnics, and other gatherings that make you feel good, consider this foray into theology by one of our coming pastors, who apparently does a good job and is probably as theologically literate as most.
INGRATE . . . Is it edifying to read of head U.S. Bishop Wilton Gregory's chewing out reporters at the recent Religion Newswriters Assn. convention for media coverage of clergy abuse, when he might have been thanking them for keeping bishops honest? Consider James Hitchcock's telling a Catholic Citizens of Illinois meeting a few months back that continued publicity is our only hope.
At least Gregory did not tell them to put pens away or liken them to communist apparatchiks taking down every word he said, as Chicago's Cardinal George incredibly told newsies at St. Giles Church in Oak Park some months back.
PRIESTS WITH WIVES . . . Ordain married men? Best argument is that it might break up or at least disturb the current network, giving breathing space until a new one formed, of married and celibate priests and bishops. It's a way to make the tribe increase, but tribalism will out, no matter the rules.
CATHOLIC SCORES . . . 9/2, Sun-Times, RC school scores are kept under wraps in some places. Come and talk to me if you want our scores, says one principal. Scores are not the only way to judge a school, says RC supt., rebutting someone (neither quoted nor mentioned in the article), somewhere, who says they are. Another straw man bites the dust, thanks to top Chi RC educator.
E.B. WHITE TO THE RESCUE . . .
"I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day." Quoted in THOUGHT-OF-THE-DAY on the very helpful RefDesk.com
THE NAME NONE MAY SPEAK . . . A liberal friend of mine corrected me the other day when I used the word "liberal." "We say 'progressive,'" he said. "What's the matter with 'liberal'?" I said.
What the heck is the matter with "liberal" and why has "progressive" become the nom de preference? Put another way, why has "liberal" become a dirty word, breathed out of the side of one's mouth?
Not by me, who prides himself on his open-mindedness (but not so perpetually open as to permit nothing to stay put), generosity, and overall progressiveness (with an eye constantly on how we got to where we are and accompanying suspicion of new-for-sake-of-new and feverish response to the here and now). Indeed, if I am a neoconservative, it is probably because as a liberal I was mugged -- by so-called liberals, I might add.
. . . I will have to ask my neighbor the life expectancy of his little dog who barks so much or whether there's a relatively painless vocal-cordectomy operation I could pop for, or some calming medication. There are such things, you know. As recently as Jan. 5, 1999, the FDA was discussing its approval of the "first behavioral drugs for dogs" in a "talk paper" for employees who talk to reporters. See http://www.fda.gov/bbs/topics/answers/ans00934.html
The drugs are, and I kid you not, "Clomicalm Tablets (clomipramine hydrochloride) to be used as part of a comprehensive behavioral management program to treat separation anxiety in dogs greater than six months of age, and Anipryl Tablets (selegiline hydrochloride, L-deprenyl hydrochloride) to control the clinical signs associated with canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS)."
Neither of these will solve the problem of The Dog That Barks, unless its her or his anxiety at being separated all day from her or his mistress or master or her cognitive dysfunction, at not knowing friend from foe, though who am I to say if she does not accurately determine these things? She may in fact be spotting trouble where mere humans miss it. Not all passersby are barked at. She is discriminatory and may know what she is doing.
About this separation anxiety. It is "a complex behavior disorder displayed when the owner or someone the dog is attached to leaves the dog. Dogs with separation anxiety may exhibit one or more of the following symptoms: barking, destructive behavior, excessive salivation, and inappropriate elimination." Dog care is not as simple as it may seem to some.
. . . Barking in Albuquerque NM -- see http://www.cabq.gov/animalservices/barking.html -- has led to an ordinance that outlaws allowing one's dog to "continuously bark, howl, or make noise common to its species, or otherwise disturb the peace and quiet of the inhabitants of the city." Indeed, one may fill out a barking dog complaint form. It will be notarized by staff and formal process will be initiated against the dog owner "to stop this barking."
In any event, we speak here of "a dog's emotional state," and there are things that can be done about it. A dog learns to bark, largely by getting what he wants through barking. "Regular leash walks" are a good idea. It calms him down and provides social interaction. (Yes) If he persists, squirt him on the flanks with cold water. (He does not like this, but it does not hurt him.) When he stops barking, lavish him with praise.
Shake a can full of pebbles at him. He hates that. Again, praise him when he pipes down. If he's a hard case, throw the can towards him. Block sounds that make him nervous with "white noise." Put a collar on him that squirts citronella when he barks.
Before leaving him alone, "stoke" his chew toy with peanut butter or cream cheese; he will chew more and bark less, tasting if not ingesting the stoke material.
Other anti-bark strategies there are. If one doesn't work, drop it and try another. You can get your dog to be a truly nice dog. And while you're at it, consider adapting these tricks to dealing with your small child. They are a lot alike, small children and dogs. W.C. Fields knew that and famously or infamously didn't like either.
DECLINE OF THE WEST, PART 145 . . . "So thoroughly . . . politicized has . . . the literary life become," said Joseph Epstein in 1982, in his Plausible Prejudices, "that most . . . assume . . . it is the literary man's duty to be on the side of revolution, to find the U.S. racist and the members of the middle class either desperate dogs or insensate swine."
On the other hand, politics and society, "the spirit of the age," rarely show in the poetry and fiction of Robert Louis Stevenson, says James Campbell in Times Literary Supplement (TLS), 8/15/03, reviewing Roger C. Lewis' edition of The Collected Poems of Robert Louis Stevenson (Edinburgh).
BUT WHAT DO GENTLEMEN KNOW? . . . Women politicos can go blonde -- consider H. Clinton and M. Thatcher -- but not intellectuals, for whom there is "still a stigma . . . as if the mind must be encased in its natural shell," says Elaine Showalter reviewing Joanna Pitman's On Blondes (Bloomsbury), in same TLS.
She calls it a book that is "more a meditation and compilation than an argument" -- and I say there's more room for that kind of book that this world's editors dream of. Among what's compiled is this stunner about the role of bleach in the 21st century, that more than half of today's blondes are bottle-dependent. (9/13/03)
HARD AT WORK . . . Monday 9/1, it's Labour Day, which is how we would spell it if we hadn't won the Revolutionary War.
PATHS OF GLORY . . . Winning the Revolutionary War (and with it the right to spell certain words correctly) also transformed us, you might argue, from colonists to post-colonists, which you would think would warm the cockles of post-colonialist Professor Ed Said's heart at Columbia but doesn't, he being caught in a quagmire-like mindset partly of his own making but also of Wretched of the Earth author Frantz Fanon. F. was very hot in my radical-lib days 40 years ago and got me a word of approving wonderment from a sort of mentor of mine, the late Msgr. Jack Egan. Where did I find those books? he wondered.
Well I was giving the whole business a lot of thought, to go along with my forays into public-housing projects and hobnobbing with ex-cons who headed the West Side [Chicago] Organization and ate up the food I got them after the riots over Brother Cardosi's not unreasonable objections. The rector had said ok -- it was ok with him or he was ok with it, whatever. But Brother C., our cook, did not like to see his provender go walking down Roosevelt Road for Chester Robinson and friends to do as they saw fit.
They were to give it to "poor people" but decided they were poor enough and had a party into which I barged, greeted at the door by one of the brothers not of the Brother Cardosi kind, who assured me all was well and might have added that as a non-smoker I probably would not enjoy the pot. Where was Frantz Fanon when I needed him?
HEAVENLY LITERATURE . . . Let us switch the pitch slightly, to Sunday sermons in RC churches. I have a modest proposal which has either been tried by the worthies who run seminaries and found wanting or has not been found at all, namely a course of Literature for Sermons. It would call on the body of literature out there in which the future preachers of America might immerse themselves on their way to the pulpit.
I do not mean merely literate and classic sermons, such as by Jonathan Edwards or Lacordaire or even Fulton Sheen, though wide reading in oratory is a good idea, but also a selective presentation of stuff that a preacher might use, from Stoics of old to essayists of today, such as William Hazlitt, contemporary of Wordsworth and Coleridge and in our day Joseph Epstein, author of recent books on snobbery, envy, and ambition, or Robert Vivian, whose Cold Snap as Yearning is near-pastoral in its keen observation of people and their reactions.
Near but not pastoral, however, nor are the others. These essayists did not write for the pulpit, which is just fine. There should be less from the pulpit that's conventionally though for it. The two contemporaries I name would be perhaps shocked and amazed to find themselves as helping successors of today's versions of Jonathan Edwards. But preachers need lots of literature and not just for quoting but to change their own lives. (How widely read are they, beyond newspapers? But that's another whole story.) This course I suggest would provide some spoon-feeding of what is written in a literate and more philosophical vein that if delivered right might leave pew-sitters with something that pops into their heads mid-week or years later, preventing the shameful act and enabling the noble.
INTERRUPTIONS . . . These are some of the great thoughts I have while worshiping at the church of my choice, when I am not recalling days as a mass server at that very church's altar. I seem often to recall various catastrophes that befell -- leakages and excretions, for instance: throwing up during an early week day mass or sneezing messily without access to handkerchief which my mother had not strongly enough reminded me to take along.
The catastrophic sneezing was spotted (during a sermon) across the sanctuary by one of many priests on hand, this being in the days of very solemn high mass, when choir poured forth its premeditated strains from the loft and incense burned and bells rang and all heaven broke loose.
In my case it was more than that, as nasal passages poured forth, nay, shot out, unpremeditated material. A hand went up and came back requiring immediate attention. There was the cassock sleeve, to be sure, but that was hardly a good option. Besides, there was more on hand (in it, actually) than your average cassock sleeve could be expected to accommodate.
Well. A blessed inability to remember descends. All that remains beside the largely suppressed memory of what had come forth is the priest across the sanctuary, who knew and felt my pain but could not help finding the whole damn thing funny, which it was.
PRAISE INDEED . . . "Washington, like Chicago, is a great news town," said Vickie Burns, a news show producer on her way to a Washington job. As opposed to what? Boston, where clergy abuse has been exposed in spades? Omaha, where the Boys Town financial scandal was exposed decades ago? Los Angeles? Cincinnati? Where is this city that is not a great news town and what is the meaning of such a statement except to butter people up?
COUNTING THE WAYS . . . Sun-Times item-purveyor Michael Sneed 8/28 has "I'm going to leave him in . . .able hands . . . " said Judy Baar-Topinka. But "I'll be taking one of the final voyages [on QEII]," chirped Judy. And "quoth [Warner] Saunders: "He kept saying . . . " Said, chirped, quoth? What's going on here? To keep up with that, a thesaurus is required.
DISSEMBLING . . . Robert McClory tore into the RC church in Chi Trib Perspective page one Sunday 8/17, contrasting its peremptory officialdom with that of the Episcopal Church U.S.A., where things are discussed and voted up or down. Perspective gave the other side, of course. [Just kidding.] But it also failed to identify McClory in a way to distinguish him from the dozens of academics/book authors to whom it gives space: he's professor emeritus of Medill journalism school, Northwestern, yes. He wrote the book Faithful Dissenters, etc., yes.
But he's also a founder and board member of Call to Action, the Chicago-based dissenting Catholic's national organization par excellence and long-time if not still a reporter for National Catholic Reporter, the liberal Catholic's vade mecum. Would not this be worth telling Chi Trib readers, even if McClory makes an iron-clad case vs. RC Church, including a history-oriented shot at the Galileo debacle?
CORRECTION . . . The further trouble is, McClory, also a long-time contributor to Chicago Reader, got in over his head with the Galileo business, specifically by claiming that some RC churchmen declined to look through Galileo's telescope, saying it was not necessary. McClory used the Galileo business to buttress his contention that the church's condemnation of homosexual activity is subject to change, no matter what today's churchmen say.
Not so fast, said Robert Bireley, Loyola U. history prof (and for truth in packaging here, a Jesuit and Renaissance historian, author most recently of The Jesuits and the Thirty Years War:
Kings, Courts, and Confessors (Cambridge U. Press, 2003) but also of The Refashioning of Catholicism, 1450-1700 (Catholic U. Press, 1999), which is required reading at the U. of Missouri and maybe other places in Religious Studies 204: The Reformation to the Present, and of three other books, in a letter which Trib ran eight days later, 8/25.
That was no churchman who wouldn't look through the telescope, said Bireley; it was an atheist philosopher (whom he named), if it was anyone, and that's in doubt, there being no record of it. The Galileo case was bad enough, he said, but "let's not oversimplify."
McClory also aimed his peashooter at the church over slavery, in a short list of familiar grievances. But the church "had a lot to do with" ending slavery, medievalists agree, said Bireley. Indeed, a 1537 papal statement provided backup for anti-slavery work by churchmen in Latin America.
History, he said, in a closing rapping of McClory knuckles, is "messy and complicated," as any freshman knows. But McClory "ignores . . . circumstances" surrounding events and so "raises questions" about his trustworthiness in judging "contemporary matters."
And there you had a Medill professor emeritus not only inadequately identified by the once world's greatest newspaper, but also rebutted by a Loyola historian, in broad daylight.
Copyright Jim Bowman, 2003
For 8/24 post of Sermon Notes, etc., see The Churches, a blog.
Other postings, other blogs:
SUNDAY GO TO MEETIN'
Woman in front of me at mass shook my hand warmly at handclasp-of-peace time today. I turned to do the same for someone behind me. By the time I had turned back, the first woman was gone. She had gone a half dozen rows up, where she was hugging and kissing a friend, with whom she remained and chatted most sociably during the pre-communion "Lord, I am not worthy" time.
Later, back in her pew, she was most solicitous for fellow worshipers, finding a hymn book for one who opened and sang from it and for another who shook her off like a pitcher telling the catcher nothing doing on that pitch he was calling for.
Thirty-five-ish, nicely groomed, friendly as all get out, she is just the sort the Vatican had in mind in its just-issued addendum to "General Instructions for the Roman Missal" (GIRM) which calls for a halt to such proceedings as finding someone six pews away with whom to exchange the handclasp or hug.
This was in MY Roman Catholic church, where it occurred to me the Vatican and the bishops might instead have issued its addendum to pastors instructing them or, gosh, maybe even suggesting, if strongly, that they consider how their parish's worship habits interfere with true religion. The addendum might recognize the peculiar expertise each pastor is presumed to possess about what's best for his parish. Wouldn't this be something, for the Vatican and bishops to make even passing reference to such expertise, based on excellent seminary training and on-site familiarity?
No sooner had I got home after these ruminations than the lady of our house read from the bulletin of HER Roman Catholic church, whose mass she had attended -- we like it that way, is all; no serious split is on the horizon -- quoting HER pastor as suggesting less walking around during mass.
This is a little bit like the teacher in the Jesuit classroom of 40 years ago who reportedly announced to his students, boys of no uncertain vitality and willingness to take over a situation to the detriment of true learning if not true religion, "There are entirely too many people walking around in here."
Nonetheless, the bulletin advice about how to worship is presumably more likely to gain acquiescence than GIRM edicts, or so one would think. Besides, it respects the old Catholic principle of subsidiarity that says or used to say that the higher governmental body should not take over functions performable by the lower.
HELP FOR THE POOR PREACHER
Meanwhile, looking ahead to next week, here are some ideas on how a 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time sermon might go, keeping in mind that the same readings are used on the same Sundays by 25 Protestant denominations as part of the Revised Common Lectionary:
* 1st Kings 19, 4-8: Elijah wants to die but God won't let him. Angel gives him food, orders him to eat, he gives up on dying, gets up and does what he has to do, walking 40 days and 40 nights to "the mountain of God, Horeb."
We'd like to give up but we can't: there's work to be done, miles to go before we sleep, miles to go before we sleep. See Robert Frost, "Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening."
* Ephesians 4.30-5.2: Paul says don't "sadden" the Holy Spirit. Soften your whole response pattern. Drop "bitterness, passion & anger, harsh words, slander, and malice of every kind." Forgive each other, as God forgave you (us). Take your cue from that, "follow the way of love."
Doesn't this slow us down in our headlong pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness, family good order, sticking up for what we believe in? Even in our pursuit of good things we have to slow down when we get too hot and bothered. Be done with malice. Cool it.
* John 6.41-51: "The Jews" again. They "murmur" over Jesus' claim to be the bread of heaven. They knew him back when. It's the Jews of Nazareth apparently, who knew him since he was a little kid. Here's a way out for Christians embarrassed by Paul and the four Evangelists, who seem constantly to harp on Jews and their hard hearts. More to come on this important issue, now in the news because of the coming Mel Gibson film, "The Passion." Best bet is to concede readily, "The Jews," yes, but the ones who were there, specifically.
Jesus hits home at them: "Your [and his, for that matter] ancestors ate manna in the desert, but they died." He is "the living bread." Eat this bread, and you will live forever. It is "my flesh, for the life of the world."
It's a riff on what we call the Old Testament, the Jewish scriptures, we should keep in mind: reference after reference rooted in those time-honored texts. It's beyond most of us, even if we look it all up and become quite learned.
Something else to consider: Jesus was dropping on them some very heavy stuff, and we cannot entirely blame the murmurers. Young priest many years ago to friendly black mother of little kids unfamiliar with Catholic ways, in low-income home on Chicago's NW Side, responding to her amazement that he wasn't married but refrained from intimacy with women, which she called "impossible": "You'll just have to take my word for it." To which she: "I do, but it's still impossible."
It's impossible that Jesus becomes food for us. We will have to take his word for it.
// posted by Blithe @ 8/3/2003
For important follow-up on this Chicago cop story, see Sunday 8/3 Sun-Times, "Why is New York safer than Chicago?" page one story by Frank Main, "Crime Reporter, all about cops coming to New York City to see how crime is controlled there, including First Deputy Police Supt. Phil Cline, who came with a mayoral aide. It's Manhattan Institute-style thinking, as mirrored in the Heather Mac donald article quoted below. Manhattan Institute puts out City Journal, for which Mac donald is a contributing editor.
HIGH-RANKING CHICAGO COP VS. GANG-BANGERS & IRRESPONSIBLE PARENTS (8/2/03)
See Sun-Times 8/1/03 for Fran Spielman's reporting of Chief of Patrol Jim Maurer's defense of his men vis-a-vis critical wounding of nine-year-old when gunfight broke out in midst of gang members' social gathering on Chicago South Side Sunday. It was 1 a.m., the kid was sitting in a parked car. Was much complaining by alderman and others about cops not being more forceful. [Let them not, however, bee TOO forceful; let them get it just right.] Maurer, who has applied for the superintendent's job -- one of too few to apply, so deadline for deciding has been postponed -- minced not a word:
* "These are spontaneous gatherings of hoodlums. Why in God's name would you have a 9-year-old out at 1 a.m. in the first place?"
* Of gang leader Mickey Cogwell, in whose memory the gathering took place: "He was a savage killer whose birthday is celebrated by a bunch of other savage killers. You [newspapers etc.] make it sound like a community event with a picnic where everybody buys tickets. That's a lot of b.s."
* Of criticisms of police: "We put an army over there and harassed those people continuously all day. We made 'em move. We made 'em take down their tents. These gangs don't send out invitations. This isn't like the Moose having a party. These are savages taking over an area to celebrate another savage. Why don't we do that for Adolf Hitler. Let's have a big national day to honor the founder of the Nazi Party."
* More defense of cops and condemning of parents: "We can only do so much. We're supposed to be on every dot--every place in the city where somebody's going to act like a moron? That's not possible. What about the parents? Why would you bring kids out that young in a neighborhood where you know there's going to be problems?"
COPS UNDER FIRE OTHER PLACES
Meanwhile, the shooting dead a year ago of a Seattle policeman by a black man whom he was pursuing raised "troubling questions about whether the ubiquitous crusade to portray cops as racist has resulted in a potentially lethal reluctance to use necessary force," said City Journal editor Heather Mac donald in National Review, 7/23/02.
There was almost no media coverage of the incident but lots of the Inglewood, CA case of the cop who slugged a handcuffed black teen-ager. He was caught on videotape, which got shown 'round the world -- 370 stories in nine days, Mac donald reported. (Just last week the federal jury could not exonerated one of two officers in this case but could not agree on the other.)
The Calif. kid had attacked cops who stopped him and his father for expired tags and were asking the father about his expired driver's license. Bam! He went after them, apparently in a fury, clawing one of them and grabbing his testicles. News stories mostly skipped this part. TV showed the video part where the kid is being slammed against the squad car "in a vacuum," said Mac donald.
What Mac donald calls "ignorant or biased reporting" leaves cops hanging. She concedes the cop was out of line but asks for some context in the reporting, not just immediate context but wider in the major changes in police training and behavior: "Police professionalism has increased enormously in the last three decades; never before has training placed such emphasis on using words to defuse potentially explosive stops. Excessive force is denounced at every turn in police academies, and the vast majority of officers have gotten the message."
She gives New York as an example, where "over the last five years . . . 47 percent of the complaints filed against the New York Police Department were dismissed because the complainant disappeared or withdrew his case," which to her suggests "that the charges were bogus to begin with."
She quotes NYC detectives McLaughlin and Reedy, both black and not Irish, as some readers may have assumed. "I'm going to hit Lotto on your badge," a Jamaican drug dealer told Reedy, who had to fight him to arrest him. The dealer was anticipating a judgment in his favor.
"If you do nothing, no one can do anything to you. You're not punished if you don't accomplish anything on the job," Lt. Mark Christian of the San Antonio Police Department told Mac donald -- so great is the fear of a race-related suit that will cost him and his family their house and his job.
"All we hear is: 'We're racially profiling,'" a black Street Crime Unit officer at an NYPD "sensitivity training" session said angrily, Mac donald wrote. "I can't stand the media. They're a bunch of lying pigs, they put down the NYPD every single day. People forget that some guys are actually committing crimes."
Mac donald's work on crime and other subjects can be found at City Journal.