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Archive for the ‘Worship’ Category

The Two Doors

Saturday, October 23rd, 2010

Homily preached at the Church of the Good Shepherd, October 24, 2010

I don’t know how many of you have been to the Museum of Tolerance just down on Pico Boulevard. It is dedicated not only to remembering the Holocaust, but also many other forms of prejudice throughout history, and it’s definitely worth a visit. If you have time this afternoon, why put it off? It’s open today until 5 p.m.

The experience of self-examination begins right at the entrance to the exhibits. There are two doors. One is labeled “Prejudiced” and the other is labeled “Not Prejudiced,” and visitors are invited to enter through the door they think describes themselves.

Unfortunately, the door marked “Not Prejudiced” cannot be opened. Every visitor must humble himself or herself and enter through the door marked for the prejudiced.

In today’s gospel reading (Luke 18:9-14), we are also presented with two doors. One is labeled “Judgmental” and other is labeled “Non-judgmental.” But just like at the museum, we all must enter through the door marked “Judgmental.” (more…)

Altar Servers: A Boys’ Club?

Monday, September 14th, 2009

Recently the Commonweal blog had a post about how some parishes and dioceses still do not allow girls to serve at the altar, 15 years after official permission was given.

This made me think of a book called Our New Friends. It was the Catholic version of the Dick and Jane elementary school readers, published by Scott, Foresman and Company. I remember this book from my own grade-school days; it was used during my schooling in the late 1960s, even though it had not changed much since the ’40s. A few years ago I found a copy on eBay, and I thought I’d share with you a chapter that explains why girls cannot be altar servers in typical 1940s logic.

This book is interesting because first of all it appears to acknowledge that this was a common question even back then. Secondly, it is interesting because today it somehow manages to be quaint, cute, humorous and horrifying, all at the same time. The way the priest dismisses the girls’ desire to serve at the altar of God is probably typical of how girl’s desires were treated in all walks of life then. It is so sad that some priests and bishops today are using the same line of reasoning.

1940s grade school reader

1940s grade school reader

By the way, this book has the name of the young student displayed prominently inside, written boldly in magenta crayon: Donald Coates. If you are Donald Coates or one of his children or grandchildren, contact me and I will send you a free copy of Ascend!

To see either of the images in a larger size, click on it.

A Thought for Independence Day

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

The idea of the separation of church and state, a uniquely American idea, was initially considered a dangerous heresy by the Vatican. At the time, the popes were also monarchs of a nation called the Papal States and wore a tiara, whose triple crowns represented the juridical roles of pastor, pope and secular ruler. And at the time it was considered a fact of life that Catholicism was the established state religion of some countries. So you can imagine that the rulers of the Papal States had little use for this odd idea coming out of the United States.

Nevertheless, some prophets such as the American Jesuit theologian John Courtney Murray dedicated their scholarship toward integrating the American ideals of separation of church and state and religious liberty into the Roman tradition. It was not an easy sell. As you can imagine, Murray was silenced and punished by the Vatican for his efforts.

But by the time of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), Murray, along with other silenced theologians, found favor with many of the 3,000 bishops attending the Council, much to the horror of conservative Vatican bureaucrats. His articulation of religious liberty and the separation of church and state were adopted by the Council Fathers, and integrated into official Church teaching. Murray’s efforts perhaps reflect the highest and most significant contribution of the American Experiment to the development of universal Christian teaching.

So it is somewhat ironic that America’s chief contribution to Christian teaching is seen by some as an egregious affront to “patriotism.” I put patriotism in quotation marks not because it’s bad, far from it, but because it so often degenerates into nationalism. A recent article by Msgr. Thomas Welbers in The Tidings, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, is sure to generate much heat because it points out that the flag should not be regularly displayed in the altar area, although it is entirely appropriate to place it prominently for special celebrations such as Independence Day. The area around the altar, you see, is reserved for sacred furnishings and symbols, and the flag is not a sacred symbol, despite the assertions of some that it is.

So when we come to participate in liturgy, we may walk past a flag outside the church building. That’s fine. We may enter the vestibule, or narthex, with the flag displayed there. That’s fine. We may stop at a side chapel where the flag is displayed to honor military who have died. That’s fine. But to place the flag alongside altar and ambo is to suggest that it is a focus of our Sunday worship, and that’s not fine. Rather, we authentically honor foundational principles of our nation when we carefully maintain the separation of church and state in our worship. That is our special American character, that is our contribution to the Church. Melding church and state is a step backwards, and an affront to the memory of Fr. Murray and the Fathers of the Council.

No doubt my words will offend some who will feel that I have lessened the honor due our country and our flag. I really don’t see it that way. I am proud of our nation. I consider the bad things we have done and the good things we have done and feel that on the whole we have done more good than bad. I believe the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are remarkable, world-changing documents.

I think of my 9x-great-grandfather Nathaniel Morton, who was the secretary of Plymouth Colony, and my 9x-great-grandfather Deacon John Dunham, a Separatist who emigrated to Plymouth Colony from Holland after fleeing England for reasons of religious liberty. John Hancock was a cousin of mine, as was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. My Luján ancestors colonized New Mexico in the 1600s and my Alvarado ancestors helped to build up California from the time of the first colonial expeditions here. My great-great-grandfather Peter Stoltz, a German immigrant, served in the Civil War to help end slavery.

To me, these ancestors and all those who are less remembered are what Independence Day is all about. It’s not about having the flag in church. It’s about living the legacy of our ancestors and those ideals held up for us at great cost by people like Fr. Murray and Dr. King.

So let’s not blur the lines, like those who drape gigantic American flags in their churches (see how the flag dwarfs the cross in this YouTube video) or urge people to bizarre pastiche devotions like “The Patriotic Rosary” that replaces scripture with readings from George Washington, John Adams, Robert E. Lee and—inexplicably—some wingnut conspiracy theorist named Jedediah Morse, and substitutes patriotic songs for Marian hymns. Rather, in church let us prayerfully recall the sacrifices of those who came before us and ask for the grace to do the right thing as a nation. And when we leave the church, let’s have barbecues and wave the flag and have fireworks and “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”

And let’s imagine Fr. Murray at our side in each place, and imagine how he would celebrate with us.

And let’s ask God to bless America.

Along the Via Dolorosa

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

The hem of my alb is dirty.

When I packed it for my pilgrimage to the Holy Land, it was freshly laundered. Clean and white and pressed. But when you wear a long white liturgical garment walking along a Palestinian marketplace, it gets dirty. And that’s a lesson we learned along the Way of the Cross this past Friday in Jerusalem.

For the past three years, I have been a religious leader on an annual interfaith pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and one of the elements of the trip cited each year as a highlight by Christians as well as Muslims and Jews is always walking the Way of the Cross along the Via Dolorosa. The pilgrims find this service incredibly moving, as do I, no matter how many times I do it.

This year we tried something new by visiting the Lithostrotos before beginning the service. This is the Stone Pavement, or Gabbatha, where Pilate sentenced Jesus to death. We learned about the game the Roman soldiers played as they mocked those condemned, which the Gospels recall as “casting lots.” We talked about crucifixion, and stood on that very pavement, marked with the crude etchings the Romans used in their game. Then we began the service.

In planning the day, our tour guide had suggested that we begin very early in the morning, to avoid the noise and crowds along the Via Dolorosa, which is located along a vibrant and crowded marketplace. He said this would avoid distractions. But I was adamantly against such a pristine service. On the day he carried his cross to Calvary, Jesus was led through just such a marketplace, in the midst of people who were probably accustomed to seeing condemned criminals humiliated in this way. Most of them just carried on business as usual, ignoring him, and I wanted the pilgrims to be in that same environment. Our prayer would take place in the midst of life, and life in the midst of our prayer. Let the merchants shout and hawk their good as we passed; this is what it was really like on that fateful day.

Way of the Cross

Mural in the chapel of the Third Station along the Via Dolorosa

And so our group of 39 pilgrims wove our way through the crowds and noise as we visited each of the stations leading us inexorably to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site of our greatest sorrow and our greatest joy, a place of defeat and of victory.

Our meditations at each station focused on how each of us can be more aware of those around us who are walking their own Sorrowful Path, their own Via Dolorosa, and our responsibility toward them. Remembering the suffering of Jesus becomes mere melodrama unless we can somehow draw lessons from them for our own lives, lessons we must remember even in the business of everyday life. Those narrow, winding streets crowded with shops and shoppers are exactly the setting for how we each carry out the Christian duties we became heirs to at baptism. So that Palestinian marketplace was a place of grace, even if we did have to shout a bit to make our words heard over the din of commerce.

Come Sunday, I’ll wear my alb with its dirty hem as a reminder of what I experienced in Jerusalem along the Via Dolorosa. Later, of course, I’ll get it cleaned, but for now the dust of the marketplace is a sort of relic of the Passion, a reminder of how I must seek out the suffering we take for granted and pass by every day.

If you’re interested, the service we used was Stations of the Cross: I Am There, by Norman Haskell (St. Anthony Messenger Press), which I heartily recommend.

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