Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve Memories

Before the Thanksgiving leftovers are put away, Christmas music permeates the radio airways. When else can one still hear Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Burl Ives, Brenda Lee, and Gene Autry in the regular rotation? Sure, contemporary artists occasionally come out with new Christmas fare, but rarely do they catch on and become annual favorites. Why do we love to hear these same old songs year after year after year? These old songs have a way of transporting us back in time where we recall pleasant memories of family and friends and days gone by.

The celebration of Christmas has always been special for children. The bright lights, presents under the tree, and the anticipation of Santa Claus coming on Christmas Eve make this the most wonderful time of the year for a child. We all have memories of a favorite Christmas. As we get older, it becomes more difficult to recapture the magic. There are very few of us Clark Griswold-types who still go to great lengths make each Christmas a source of new memories. Instead, the traditional carols and we heard as children take us back to that time of innocence. I suspect most of us would say Christmas was better years ago.

I remember when Christmas was really like that depicted in Jean Shepherd’s A Christmas Story or even Frank Capra’s A Wonderful Life. Our town had colored lights strung across the streets in real garland, made of cut evergreens boughs at a local business. What a treat to go downtown shopping at night the week before Christmas when all the stores stayed open until 9 o’clock. There were no shopping malls or big box stores back then. We would go from store to store, each one having a Christmas display in the front window, and clerks who would ask, “Can I help you?” when you entered.

The Christmas songs we heard back then are the same ones we hear today, resurrected each year along with the memories they invoke. Years from now, will people yearn for these Christmases of plastic greenery and light emitting diodes in the same way that I long for real aromatic arborvitae and old fashioned incandescent colored bulbs? Will they still be listening to these same old carols, or will the idea of roasting chestnuts on an open fire be meaningless to them? Come to think of it, I have never done it either.

My favorite Christmas presents were a Lionel Train and a Tonka Fire Truck. I never had the Red Ryder BB Gun like Ralphie in A Christmas Story, but I did have the Mattel Fanner-50 Cap Gun with Safe-shootin’ Shells and Greenie Stickum Caps. Such toys are no longer politically correct to give children, yet they are apparently allowed to play very violent video games. A co-worker of mine recently told of his wife standing in line with their son several hours before midnight, in the cold, on a school night, so he could purchase the first release of a new video game requiring parental consent due to its violent nature. I wonder how many such games will be under Christmas trees this year.

This same family creates their Christmas memories by spending extravagant amounts of money (at least by my standards) on their two teenage boys. This year, they are each getting new flat-screen televisions, and new top-of-the-line cell phones. Last month, one of the boys had over 4000 text messages on the phone bill. Amidst unwrapping all these expensive presents, I wonder if they ever think about what they are celebrating. They never go to church and probably have little idea of who Jesus Christ is or what He did for them. They boys rarely have any need for clothes other than blue jeans or shorts. When it comes time for school pictures, mom buys them nice clothes for the occasion and then returns them afterwards. The father has some Catholic background, but does not appear interested in practicing his faith or instructing his children. I gave him a copy of Pillar of Fire, Pillar of Truth one day trying to plant a seed. He knows I am Catholic and I try to lead a good example in his presence, but the rest is up to the Holy Spirit.

One of the best ways to create Christmas memories for children is to take them to Midnight Mass. Most of them will not get much sleep the night before Christmas anyway, and most Catholic parishes make Midnight Mass a special celebration with caroling and the Blessing of the Manger. Making this a family tradition can go a long way in keeping the Christmas spirit centered on Christ. My family and I will be going to Midnight Mass in a few minutes.

Getting into the Christmas spirit has been unusually difficult in our little community this year. We have had many funerals take place in the place couple of weeks, including a 28 year-old father, a teenage girl with cancer, and a 10 year-old child. Several families have been hit especially hard and knowing they are hurting puts a damper on everyone’s celebration. Nonetheless, we cannot lose sight of the importance of making Christmastime memorable for children while keeping it in the proper Christ-centered prospective. We never know how many opportunities we will have.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Mixed Messages

In the aftermath of the 2008 presidential election, pro-lifers are left to wonder what the next four years will bring. Despite all the prayers, the novenas, the distribution of the Catholic Voter Guides, and the warnings of some US bishops, the pro-abortion candidate still won the election. A poll indicated that 54% of Catholics voted for Obama to only 45% for McCain. Those of us who see this general loss of respect for human life spreading like a cancer through our society are stunned by the prospects of at least four years of liberal proliferation.

Perhaps it is not surprising that more than half of the Catholic vote went to Obama when more than half of the Catholic bishops were sheepish about speaking out to their flocks. The dichotomy was quite apparent. Around 80 Bishops issued strong statements placing abortion and the other so-called non-negotiable issues at the forefront. That left some 140 who said little beyond the document issued by the United States Council of Catholic Bishops, leaving the door open for those resigned to justify a Democratic vote for other reasons. I cannot imagine any issue that would out-weigh the slaughter of millions of innocent babies in their mothers’ womb.

Our diocesan newspaper (Northwest Indiana Catholic, November 16, 2008) has a banner headline calling Obama’s election “A Historic Day.” The CNS article tells of Pope Benedict’s congratulatory message to Obama as reported by Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi. The article says, “Asked if the pope mentioned any specific issues he was concerned about, Father Lombardi responded, ‘peace, solidarity and justice.’” The article goes on to say the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano published an opinion piece on November 5th, headlined “A choice that unites.” The CNS article also says a commentary on the election for Asianews, a Rome-based missionary news agency, was headlined, “I’m happy for the victory of Barack Obama.” Written by Father Piero Gheddo, a member of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, the commentary lists only positive results of Obama’s election.

The CNS article covers two-thirds of the front page and the entire back page of the diocesan paper and nowhere mentions of the likely detrimental effects to the Pro-life movement. Yes, Obama’s election is historic, but the article leaves one with the impression that the Church is pleased with the outcome.

An Associated Press story today (November 14, 2008) reports that a South Carolina Roman Catholic priest has told his parishioners they should refrain from receiving Holy Communion if they voted for Barack Obama because of his support of abortion and that supporting him “constitutes material cooperation with intrinsic evil.” While I am sympathetic to this priest’s stand, the disposition of the voter is relevant in determining whether a mortal sin has actually been committed. Indeed, the priest’s own diocese issued a statement saying his stance did not accurately reflect Church teaching, and again, Catholics may come to conclude there are two sides to the issue, when such is not the case.

On a positive note, Obama’s election with Catholic support has been a wake-up call for the Bishops. Cardinal Francis George, president of the United States Council of Catholic Bishops, issued a congratulatory letter to Obama which said, “We pray that you will use the powers of your office to meet them (uncertainties) with a special concern to defend the most vulnerable among us and heal the divisions in our country and our world.” At the General Assembly in Baltimore this past week, the Bishops approved a Blessing for a Child in the Womb by a 223-1 vote. (I wonder who voted against it?) A Spanish version of the Blessing passed unanimously.

Those of us who were disheartened by the outcome of the election should not despair. A friend sent me a copy of an email he received from his sister, Lucy. It read as follows:

"This morning I arose to the news I dreaded. I wanted to cry.

As I sat down in my chair with my first cup of tea I was silent, speaking with God only in my mind.

I felt such a great despair and in my mind spoke the words, it's over.

Then I realized that this is how the disciples felt when Jesus died upon that cross.

They were in despair, their hopes and dreams had just been laid in the grave. But it wasn't over.

We all know Christ rose from the grave, he conquered death, giving us eternal life,
and he now resides within the heart of every believer through his Holy Spirit.

What seemed like the end was the beginning of new life for all who want this new life.

God always works in ways we do not understand but He is sovereign, in control,
has knowledge and power that are limitless.

If a leader has risen that opposes God, it is only because God has allowed it (Daniel 2:20-23) and
He will work this for His good as He does in all things. (Romans 8:28)

We know the end of the story. God reigns eternally. (Revelation 5:9-13)."

God Bless,

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Judie, Judie, Judie

With the presidential election quickly approaching, the EWTN Q&A section has been deluged with questions about voting pro-life. Most abortion related questions on the website are answered by Judie Brown, president and co-founder of American Life League. While I very much respect her strong pro-life stand, she seems to favor supporting third party or independent candidates who are 100% pro-life over the two major party candidates, one of whom is going to be elected. In reading some of her more recent responses, she may have softened her approach somewhat, but as recently as last Tuesday, she said, “neither man deserves the vote of a committed pro-life Catholic . . .

A few days earlier, a questioner voiced support for Alan Keyes who is 100% pro-life. Judie Brown replied that Keyes is still in the running and she suggested another website where people can go for information about write-in candidates.

It would be wonderful if every Catholic could vote for a 100% pro-life candidate such as Alan Keyes, but doing so in this case would only serve to exacerbate the problem. John McCain may not be 100% pro-life, but either he or Barack Obama is going to be elected president next week. As did President Bush, the next president is likely to appoint one or possibly two Supreme Court justices. Obama is a liberal who openly favors abortion rights. If he is president and his party has a majority in Congress, one or two liberal justices will likely be seated on the Court for the next twenty or thirty years.

John McCain says he will appoint constructionists to the bench implying a conservative legal philosophy more favorable to the overturn of Roe v. Wade. Judie Brown may find choosing the lesser of two evils unpalatable, but to do otherwise could be tragic. If the majority of pro-life Catholics voted for an independent pro-life candidate, Barack Obama would almost certainly win the election. By stubbornly sticking to an unelectable pro-life candidate, we could actually be perpetuating abortion rights in our country.

Our best chance to stop abortion will rest in the hands a conservative Supreme Court, and despite his shortcomings, John McCain is more likely to appoint such justices. While our attention is focused on the presidential election, even more important is a conservative congress in order to minimize obstacles to the confirmation process, or to block confirmation of liberal nominees should Obama be elected. Don’t think of it as choosing the lesser of two evils. Rather, think of it as choosing the candidate most likely to do good.

In a closely contested race, every vote is important. Wasting it on an unelectable candidate as a matter of principle will not move us closer to the goal. With nearly fifty million active Catholics in the United States, we have the power and the responsibility to stem the intrinsic evils that are becoming entrenched in mainstream America. We can sway public opinion by living our Catholic Faith to the fullest and helping to elect public officials who respect the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

It’s About Time

Time management can be a challenge for some of us, myself included. Seems like I never accomplish everything I want to do, but the essentials always get done somehow. Over the years, routines develop and days are filled with certain responsibilities of varying importance. Making adjustments for new demands on our time can be difficult, especially as we get older.

Our new pastor has many ideas and goals he wishes to accomplish in our parish. He has been here less than three months, and already I have been asked to assist with a number of projects. So far, I have been given a box of 13 video tapes to review for possible use in catechesis, been asked to serve on two commissions, assist with building a new confessional, recruit men for a proposed St. Joseph Club to meet on Saturday mornings, and help organize an effort to dedicate every home in the parish to the Sacred Heart. I was even called to the rectory at 10:30 one night to disconnect a faulty light fixture. Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind helping out where I can, but at some point, time becomes a premium. I also maintain the parish webpage, assist in the selection of music for the weekend Masses, help out the choir and repair the antiquated church organ. We also have a St. Vincent de Paul conference of which I am a member.

Outside the parish, I work full time, serve on a civic board, do community service, write for a blog that I like to keep up at least monthly, and have a family I like to see once in a while. I have the usual chores around the house and yard work in the summer. People often assume I will take care of certain things, and I do to the best of my ability. One might think I am busy twenty-four hours and day, seven days a week, but I am not, and that brings me to a conundrum. How much is too much? When is it okay to say no? Should I feel guilty because I enjoy one or two evenings a week when I can come home from work and relax?

There is no doubt that most of us spend way too much time wrapped up in the ways of the secular world at the expense of our spiritual health. Our pastor has lamented the fact that efforts to provide spiritual enhancement for our parish go unappreciated. It is difficult to get people to attend parish events, faith formation classes, even Eucharistic adoration. It is quite sad actually. And yet, I find myself feeling a certain dread about further impositions on my time when these opportunities arise.

Earlier this month, a couple in a neighboring town offered an opportunity to honor the birthday of our Blessed Mother with a Sunday Rosary and luncheon in their garden. Our pastor encouraged members of our parish to attend. The next day at end of the weekday Mass commemorating Our Lady’s birth, our pastor asked how we would feel if someone planned a birthday party for us, and no one showed up. I am assuming from his comment that the Rosary was poorly attended. I don’t know because I did not attend either. Is our Blessed Mother offended or disappointed that I did not go? I hope not. I do try to pray the Rosary about four times a week.

I guess the point of all this is that I feel a little burned out at times. I realize my priorities are not in the best of order and that brings on some good old fashioned Catholic guilt. Does Our Lord want me to jettison a few responsibilities in order to spend more time in prayer or adoration, or can I do as well by serving others? Is it okay to reserve some down time for myself, or am I being wasteful if I lie on the sofa to watch a ballgame? I need to give all of this much more thought, but right now I don’t have time.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Latin Loathers

While listening to the Catholic Answers Live radio program recently (7-31-08, first hour), I heard a caller from Spokane, Washington express dismay that the Church was returning to the Latin Mass and nuns in habits. Apologist Jimmy Akin tried to assure her that she need not worry. He explained that no one is advocating a complete return to the Latin Mass. The norm will continue to be Mass in the vernacular. Pope Benedict has merely recognized the attachment some Catholics have to the Latin Mass and has made it permissible for priests to celebrate the Mass in that form for them.

In the middle of Jimmy’s explanation, the caller asked if she could say something. He said yes and the woman stated she was “appalled” that Catholic Answers was so conservative. Regular listeners to Catholic Answers know that of all the Catholic apologist regulars on the program, Jimmy is probably least capable of masking his ire at certain callers when they become combative. Instead of calling them by name, he will address them as “Sir” or “Ma’am”. I sensed a “Ma’am” coming up and Jimmy did not disappoint.

Jimmy explained to her that Catholic Answers is neither conservative nor liberal. Catholic Answers is orthodox, meaning they seek to teach what the Church teaches. The caller became quite agitated and asked, “Where is God in all of this? God didn’t want this” to which Jimmy replied, “How do YOU know that God didn’t want this?” The caller shot back with “How do YOU know he did?” Jimmy stated that he knew God wanted this because it comes from the Pope. At this point, the caller expressed some disdain for the conservative leanings of the Pope prompting Jimmy to express concern for the state of her soul.

This exchange sadly typifies the polarization among some Catholics today regarding liturgical matters, and more importantly where it comes to fidelity to Church teaching. One can be liberal or conservative as long as he or she is orthodox. Being orthodox means respecting the authority of the Pope and accepting what the Church teaches. This is where we get into difficulty with some folks who think they know better than the old man in Rome.

In this particular case, nothing is being imposed on anyone. The Mass to which this woman is accustomed will continue to be the ordinary form. That is not to say the ordinary form cannot be celebrated in Latin. It can be, but Mass in the vernacular will continue to be the norm. What she may find more upsetting is new language in the ordinary form that will be coming soon. The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments recently approved a revised English translation of the Order of Mass, which will be binding on us here in the United States.

Our English language undergoes subtle changes over time, sometimes called semantic drift. This happens in many different ways through every day usage. Words take on new meanings or connotations. One of the commonly used examples is the word gay, which usually means something much different today than it did a few decades ago.

Catholic apologists occasionally have to explain that they are so called because they explain and defend certain positions or doctrines of the Church. This type of apology has nothing to do with expressing regret as we commonly use the word today. That same apologist may also find it necessary to explain that when we pray to saints, we are simply asking for their intercession. The word pray originally meant to ask, and that is the way Catholics use it. Prayer in that sense is not a form of worship as some believe.

Changes in the language may seem insignificant, but variations in the way we communicate happen more rapidly than one might think. Our parents used expressions that would seem dated or even nonsensical today. Our children sometimes communicate in slang we do not understand. Find a hundred year-old newspaper and see how much writing styles have changed in a century. Now imagine the challenge facing a two thousand year-old Church in accurately passing down revelation to all of us living today.

That is one of the beauties of Latin. It is a dead language not subject to this evolution of meaning that all other contemporary languages experience. When our liturgies were celebrated universally in Latin, Catholics all over the world were using the same words, hearing and saying the same things. We may not have always known what we were hearing and saying, but we were always united.

When Vatican II permitted Masses to be celebrated in the vernacular, the Latin Mass had to be translated into all the various languages Catholics use, including of course, English. This may sound like a simple task, but it is not. A word for word translation is impossible. Sentence structures differ from one language to another. The translator must express the meaning intended by the original writer, and in many cases, that meaning may be subject to interpretation. In the case of the English translation of the Mass we use today, some would say it was done hastily and does not always adequately express the meaning of the original Latin. The new translation is a more precise translation.

Why is this so important? The Catholic Church is universal and she is one. When we participate in the Mass, every Catholic in the world is united at the foot of the Cross. If we are to be truly united, we must share the same mind and spirit, as Paul tells us. If every translation carries with it some variation in meaning, our unity can be compromised. The best way to assure this does not happen is to stay as close to the original as possible. When the priest says, “The Lord be with you” and we answer “And also with you”, we are not saying exactly what the original Latin says, and therefore, not necessarily what other Catholics are saying in other languages. The more precise response would be “And with your spirit”, and that is what we will soon be saying when the new translation goes into effect.

I pray that people like the caller from Spokane who was “appalled” by any thought of returning to Latin in the Mass, will see the beauty and historical significance of the Latin language in the Church, as well as the benefits of embracing it today. Thanks to the wisdom of Pope Benedict, we will continue to have the ordinary Mass in our improved English translation, plus the beauty and reverence of the Mass in Latin if we so choose, and that is extraordinary!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Fringe Benefits of Catholic Life

One of the most important traits we can pass to our children is self-discipline. At a very early age, they need to understand boundaries. There are certain lines we never cross. For youngsters first approaching the age of reason, it starts with warnings not to play with matches, run with scissors, or cross the street. As they mature, they are told not to use drugs, smoke cigarettes, or engage in pre-marital sex. Good parents are deeply involved in the development of their children to ensure these boundaries are engrained in the psyche. Unfortunately, many children grow up without sufficient parental involvement which results in very little opportunity to learn self-discipline.

So many people today are out of control. They make poor choices throughout their lives seeking immediate gratification that is ultimately self-destructive. They over spend, over eat, over indulge, marry for the wrong reasons, and divorce for the wrong reasons. They choose a path that leads them into despair because they lack the discipline to place self-imposed limits on their behavior. They have never learned self-denial.

Catholics who practice the Faith devoutly are a step ahead of everyone else. Obedience and self-sacrifice are essential elements in living the Catholic life. As a child growing up pre-Vatican II, we never ate meat on Fridays. It may have seemed silly to some non-Catholics, but we learned self-discipline from this little penance. From an early age, we never questioned it. We simply did not eat meat on Friday no matter what. It was a line we never crossed or even considered crossing.

While we are no longer bound to refrain from meat, Fridays are still a day of penance. In some ways, imposing our own Friday penance may be even better for learning self-control. Catholic parents need to make Friday penance a requirement for their children. Allow them to choose their own form of self-denial or work of mercy, and make certain they strictly adhere to that discipline each Friday. For many who find this difficult to do, the easiest way may be to continue the practice of not eating meat. Of course, we must always keep the days of fast and abstinence during Lent.

Catholics learn self-discipline through strict obedience to the Commandments of the Church. We attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation without exception. The question is never, “Are we going to Mass?” The only question may be, “Which Mass are we going to attend?” Missing Mass is not an option for consideration. That is another line we never cross.

In studying our Faith, we learn about the importance of covenants, especially the new and everlasting covenant we receive in Jesus. Unlike a contract, a covenant is unbreakable. Applied to our marriages, we come to an understanding of the total commitment we are making to our spouses when we exchange our wedding vows. Divorce is not an option. What God has brought together, no man can put asunder.

Growing up knowing and accepting unbreakable boundaries has great benefit for us in our everyday lives. Self-imposed rules allow us to navigate comfortably through a world wrought with treacherous temptation. Self-discipline builds strong character. It keeps us honest. It keeps us free from the burdens that come with over indulgence. If we can avoid attachment to material things, we never need to worry about excessive debt. If we can avoid over-consumption, we never need to worry about becoming an alcoholic. If we can control our temper, we never need to worry about reacting in anger, or mistreating anyone. If we can control our desires, we never need to worry about being unchaste, unfaithful or even over-weight.

Discipline comes from the word disciple. By following Christ and the Church He established, we learn self-control. Any mortification we experience through the denial of things we desire can be joined to the suffering of Christ for our redemption and for that of others. So when someone complains the Catholic Church has too many rules, consider the fringes benefits. Obedience to the discipline imposed on us by the Church can help us learn self-control if we live our Faith to the fullest. Practicing self-discipline helps us become responsible citizens, always in control of our actions and emotions.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Memories of John Hartford, Gentle on My Mind

Living in a small Indiana town of under 2000 people offers little opportunity to see big name entertainment locally. In the early 1990’s, our park board of which I am a member converted the old town athletic field into an outdoor amphitheater. The seating was already in place having been constructed of field stone and concrete set into a hillside by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930’s. The uncovered stage was used for our annual Mint Festival which featured three days of mostly local bands.

At the time the stage was new, one of the festival organizers managed the local hardware store. Larry played the bass in a group called the Hesitation Blues Band in the early seventies during his days at Indiana University with a singer named Tad Robinson who went on to have a successful career singing in Chicago-area bands and a few commercials. Tad also had parts in a couple of movies, including Under Siege with Tommy Lee Jones and Steven Seagal. For several years, Larry was able to get his old band mates to reunite on our stage. That was as close as we ever got to big name entertainment until one year when Larry came up with another plan.

In the spring of 1996, I went into the hardware store for something one day and asked Larry how the festival plans were coming. He said, “Do you know who John Hartford is?” I had to think for a minute. The name was familiar. Larry reminded me that John Hartford was the banjo player who appeared each week on a show called the Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour. He was also seen on the Smothers Brothers’ Comedy Hour and was probably best known for having written the song, Gentle on My Mind. Yes, I knew who he was. I remember him wearing a derby hat while playing happy little tunes on the banjo.

Booking John Hartford would be risky. The cost would be several thousand dollars and the open venue layout did not allow for collecting an admission charge. Larry hoped that sponsors and concession revenue would at least allow the festival to break even. I was excited that our little outdoor stage would be graced by someone who was somewhat famous, even though every time I told someone about it, I had to explain who he was.

Thinking I might get an opportunity to rub elbows with somebody famous, I asked Larry if he needed any assistance from us park board people in preparation for Mr. Hartford’s appearance. Larry said he planned to grill steaks for the group at his home before the show, but Hartford was on a strict diet and requested a vegetable tray. I offered to get a vegetable tray and bring it over to the house. Larry said that would be great. Hartford was scheduled to play Sunday evening and I was to bring the tray to Larry’s house about 4 o'clock.

The weekend of the festival was typical June weather, warm and muggy. That Sunday evening, I took my $35 veggie tray and went to the festival grounds to look for Larry. The sky was overcast when I tracked him down. He told me to leave it on his dining room table. The house was open. Larry was a lovable little stocky Italian with long black hair and beard to match. He never seemed too concerned about anything, including being burgled, I guess. His house was indeed open despite the throng of strangers in town. Entering Larry’s house, I saw little evidence of preparations for a celebrity guest. Somewhat disappointed that my donated veggie tray was not going to get me a face-to-face meeting with John Hartford, I placed it on Larry’s table and left.

On my way home, I saw a large tour bus parked by the town water tower. I also saw the sky getting dark in the west. Larry was standing not far from the bus, so I stopped to ask if he was going to need anything else from the park’s standpoint. I also wanted to know if he had a contingency plan in case of rain. Unfortunately, he did not, and about an hour before the performance was to start, the skies opened. It rained and it rained and it rained.

Show time came and went. It was still raining with no sign of stopping. Larry said he was going to go home to make some phone calls. Perhaps he could get permission to hold the concert at the high school. I asked if there was anything I could do to help. He told me to go knock on the door of John Hartford’s bus and tell him he was trying to find an alternate place for them to play. I did so, and a man who I later learned was one of the musicians, opened the door. After I delivered the message, he asked me if there was anywhere they could get some distilled water. I knew of only one store that was open on Sunday evenings and I offered to see if they had any. Apparently, John Hartford drank only distilled water and he requested several gallons. I went to the store and purchased three jugs and took them back to the bus. The gentleman at the bus door offered to pay for them, but I refused. What’s a few more dollars after a $35 veggie tray?

Larry returned a short time later. He looked defeated. His long hair was soaking wet. He was unable to get permission to use the school on such short notice. What about the firehouse, I asked. It was right next door. It wouldn’t hold too many people, but there weren’t too many people left. The fire chief was nearby so I asked him if the performance could be held in his station. He said he could not give the okay without permission of the town board. As is usually the case when the festival is going on, town board members don’t answer their phones – too many complaints apparently. No one of authority could be reached and Larry was running out of options.

By now it was getting late. Most people had gone home, and it was still raining. I went back to Larry and told him the fire station was not going to work out. Out of ideas, we went over the bus to explain the situation. The man who came to the door said, John had been paid and he would really like to perform. Larry had one more idea. He knew the proprietor of a small restaurant and bar on the west side of town. It was closed on Sundays, but Larry called the owner who agreed to open up.

The next problem would be finding an audience. It was about two hours after the original show time. Where was everyone and how does one get the message out that John Hartford would be playing at Muggly’s bar in a half hour? We called as many people as we knew might be interested, and a few who wouldn’t be, just to get bodies in the building. Surprisingly, there were a few hardcore John Hartford fans who had traveled some distance to see his performance. They were still waiting nearby and followed the bus to the bar.

On that dark rainy Sunday evening in June, about two dozen people watched John Hartford and the two musicians who accompanied him for an intimate performance that I remember fondly. Despite my earlier efforts, I had not seen John until the moment he appeared in the barroom. His skin was a pale gray color and he did not look well. It was as if everyone else was in color and he was in black and white. He was thin and gaunt. I would later learn that he was suffering from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Accompanied by a mandolin and stand-up bass, He sang and played the banjo and violin, more appropriately called a ‘fiddle’ in this genre. I suppose his musical style would be described as somewhere between old-timey folk and bluegrass. Hartford relished life on the river in the days of sidewheel steamers, and much of his music had an 1890’s flavor which I grew to appreciate. There was a certain sadness to some of his music. He didn’t say much between songs and smiled only occasionally. The small crowd enjoyed his performance and he seemed to find comfort and strength performing his music.

When it came time for a break, he sat down at a table where some of his CDs where displayed for sale. I perused his recordings and picked out one called No End of Love because it contained Gentle on My Mind, the only song of his that I knew. Larry introduced me to John and I asked him to autograph the artwork label on the CD. His calligraphic signature was itself a piece of art, beautifully inscribed with great care. We exchanged a few pleasantries before he continued his performance. After about an hour and a half, he concluded his time with us and rode off on his bus into the dark rainy night.

My appreciation for his talent grew immensely after I listened to that CD a few times. I only wish I had the talent to adequately describe his ability to take the listener back to another place and time. Two songs in particular are my favorites. Both of them tell stories of sidewheel steamers on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers in the late 1800’s. When the Guiding Star Came to Tell City is the story of the first time the folks in Tell City, Indiana were introduced to “Honest to God” electricity. Hartford uses the vernacular of the period, along with great attention to detail, which allows the listener to feel like he was living through the experience.

This technique is especially effective in The Burning of the Grand Republic, which describes the night when the sidewheel steamer “burned to the water’s edge”. Hartford describes an event that happened near St. Louis on March 13, 1898 when the Mississippi excursion steamboat went up in flames. According to the report that appeared in the New York Times the next day, “Nothing was saved, and Capt. W.H. Thorwegen, his wife, and two children narrowly escaped death.”

Hartford’s account tells of a man “runnin’ at breakneck speed, over the road, past the dog pound, out of breath and he found a policeman on DeKalb corner and quickly turned in the alarm.” “The watchman awoke when he heard the flames, bedding, carpets, painting, railings – too late, he woke up much too late to save the Grand Republic.” Hartford goes on to describe the sky glowing and fleecy clouds turning to vermillion. And the red glare had a brilliance that made the moonlight green. “Even the trees on the Illinois shore stood out in bold relief.” The crowds on the levee “stood as close as they could dare, which was not very, and by twelve thirty, the fire had done its work. And by this late hour, they tried to find Thorwegen, but the captain of the Grand Republic was no where to be found.”

Hartford’s musical imagery contains many more vivid descriptions of the events of that night. Having listened to the song many times, I feel like an eyewitness. I can picture how “Lightning fingers of thirsty flame through layers on layers of dried out paint on filigreed wood curled out of the windows (or ‘windas’ as Hartford says it) eating their way to the roof.” I have seen the eerie look of trees illuminated by a nighttime inferno, but I could never describe them as accurately as Hartford did.

I was at work on June 4, 2001, five years to the month after our special evening with John Hartford, when I heard the radio report of his death. He was a true artist with a God-given talent for painting musical pictures of events long ago. Thank God we did not have video recorders in 1898. The subtle details, described so beautifully by Hartford, would be lost in our contemporary world of thirty-second sound bites. Descriptive writing is becoming a lost art. Today, a person can throw paint at a canvas and declare himself an artist. In my view, an artist is someone with a special talent for doing something the average person is not capable of doing. John Hartford had the ability to transport a person to another place and time through his music. God blessed him in that way. And Larry, the young man who introduced me to John, also left this world a few years later. May they both rest in peace.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Let’s Hear It for Jesus!

Near the end of our Faith Enhancement class this week, our leader mentioned what a wonderful homily the Monsignor gave at his parish last Sunday for the Feast of Corpus Christi. The priest pointed out how people stand and applaud when a king or queen enters the room, always conscious of proper protocol. Yet when our true king, Christ the King, becomes present on the altar, we do no such thing. At that point, he asked the entire congregation to stand and applaud the Presence of Jesus. The leader and other members of the class thought this was a wonderful gesture to acknowledge the Real Presence.

I can understand the message the good priest was trying to convey. Various polls show that many Catholics do not even believe in the Real Presence anymore. Many of those who do believe fail to show it by their actions at Mass, but is standing and applauding the proper sign of respect? I remember one of our parishioners complaining about the music we select for our Masses. She wanted something more lively and upbeat. What is wrong with applauding Jesus or clapping our hands to the rhythm of more lively Christian music at Mass?

Protestants occasionally accuse us Catholics of re-sacrificing Jesus at the Mass. Jesus died once and for all, they will tell us. Catholic apologists repeatedly have to explain that we do not re-sacrifice Jesus at the Mass. The Mass is the re-presentation of the same, once and for all Sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary. The hyphen in re-presentation is to make clear the meaning. That very same Sacrifice on Calvary is made present again on the altar of every Catholic Church at every Mass. That very same Sacrifice is present for us, unlimited by space or time, in an unbloody manner. Every time we attend Mass, we are actually kneeling at the foot of the Cross.

Now, if we imagine ourselves at the foot of the Cross with the Blessed Mother, the apostle John, and Mary Magdalene, how would we behave? Would it be appropriate to stand and applaud? I don’t think so. Yet, the Mass is also a celebration. We experience joy in knowing Our Lord died for our salvation. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that everyone who believes in Him might not parish but might have eternal life. He also gives us this wonderful gift of the Eucharist. So, what is the proper response for us?

We should display our utmost reverence for the Presence of Our Lord on the altar. Our reverence should be reflected in the way we act, the way we dress, the way we worship, the way we pray, they way we sing, and the way we prepare ourselves to receive Him. Applause and fanfare may be adequate for an earthly king who did little to earn his throne beyond being born into the royal family. Christ the King who freed us from our sins by His death and resurrection, deserves much more from us.

This year, the Feast of Corpus Christi coincided with Memorial Day weekend. On Monday morning, we attended a Memorial Day service at the cemetery conducted by the local Veterans. The mood was somber and respectful as we remembered those who died to protect our freedom. There were salutes and prayers. Some choked back tears as they spoke of their fallen comrades. Others spoke of freedom we enjoy each day because of those who gave their lives. A bugler played taps. When he finished, there was no cheering or applause. No one complained that the music was not lively enough. People approached quietly and left quietly. Nobody told us how to act. Understanding where we were and what was going on, it just seemed like the appropriate way to behave. I believe there is a lesson to be learned here.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Memorial Day 2008

I have always wondered how so many Catholics stand firm in support of Democrats, the party of abortion. Recent polls cited Catholic support of Hillary Clinton as key to her wins in several primaries. Catholics have traditionally been Democrats, but the Democratic party of today is not the same as the party of years ago. What may have once been the party of hard-working blue collar Christian families has now succumbed to the wayward interests of the self-centered secular masses.

Today I read another article in our local Catholic paper critical of our involvement in the Iraq war. Nobody likes war. We don’t want to be there, but the argument can be made that we were justified in going in, and even if we were not, to abandon the Iraqi people now would be great disservice to them and those who gave their lives for their freedom.

The timing of our invasion followed the September 11th attack on our nation. The perpetrators of that event had to be confronted, and we are engaging them on their soil rather than ours. While Saddam Hussein may not have been directly responsible for 9/11, he was certainly responsible for the loss of many innocent lives during his rule. If we were to suddenly abandon the Iraqi people, civil war could lead to many more lost lives.

The point of all this is not to say we were right or wrong in going into Iraq. Certainly that is a matter for debate. We do need to acknowledge a responsibility, as the catechism says, to protect those who cannot protect themselves. When I read some of these anti-war statements by Catholic clergy and laymen, I sometimes find it difficult to determine if they are simply anti-policy or are they anti-Republican or even anti-American? Some give the impression they believe our motives for being in Iraq are evil which I do not believe. I wonder if some of them do so in order to justify their support for Democrats.

I was moved this Memorial Day Weekend by a local woman, Holly Bochnicka, who took the time to write in her own hand, the names of every member of our military who died in Iraq and Afghanistan since the war began. She spent the winter meticulously printing nearly 4600 names on long red white and blue banners which are now displayed near the Veteran’s Memorial in our town park. One cannot help but shudder at the loss of so many lives in a land so far away that posed no threat to us. Yet, American men and women unselfishly went there to free people from oppression of an evil dictator.

While those 4600 lives were being lost in the war, the number of pregnancies aborted in the United States numbered in the millions. Many of those who are quick to condemn our involvement protecting the freedom of the Iraqi people, are the same ones to stand up for protecting the legal right for American women to kill their unborn children.

Come November, we will have to choose between two candidates for the presidency of our country. One of them wants to pull our troops out of Iraq while protecting abortion rights. The other wants to stay the course in Iraq as long as necessary while being Pro-life, though not to the extent we would like. Neither choice is ideal.

I would be really curious to know how these Catholics who are so critical of our policies under George Bush will vote this November. Will they place the several thousand lives lost in war in Iraq over the millions of lives lost here in the United States through abortion? If so, I can no longer take any of their arguments seriously. To vote for a pro-abortion Democrat over a pro-life Republican strictly based on trying to save lives is hypocrisy.

Every human life is precious beyond measure, whether it be a soldier in Iraq or a baby in its mother’s womb. On this Memorial Day, we pray for the souls of those who have died in the war and those in the womb. We pray for the families who bear the pain of loss. May their suffering be united to the suffering of Our Lord for the remission of sins and may God have mercy on us all.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Some Conservative Talk

My job allows me to catch short segments on talk radio as I drive from point to point. Recently, I heard the morning show hosts discussing particular elements of Catholic teaching as apparently presented by one of the many so-called experts commenting on Pope Benedict’s visit to the United States. The gist of his comments were as follows: According to Catholic teaching, God made sexual relations pleasurable so that man would have a desire to reproduce, and having sexual relations strictly for pleasure is a sin. He went on to propose that God made eating pleasurable so that man would take nourishment for survival, and therefore, for Catholics, eating strictly for pleasure is also a sin. The co-host, who happens to be the host’s wife, responded by saying, “I’m sure glad we are Protestants! How can Catholics even enjoy a candy bar?”

These comments were made in a light-hearted way, but underneath, one detects the commonly held stereotypical notion that many Catholic beliefs are nonsense. The host making this observation is politically conservative. I am sure he would tell you he believes in a strict interpretation of the Constitution. He gets upset when judges legislate from the bench through liberal interpretations of the law. He disdains liberal protesters who undermine our nation and disrespect authority. He has great respect for the Founding Fathers, and for the Office of the Presidency. He is Pro-Life. He is a solid upstanding American.

It seems to me that anyone who considers himself a politically conservative Christian ought to be Catholic! One who holds the Office of the Presidency in high regard should hold the Office of the Papacy even higher. One who respects the wisdom of the Founding Fathers should also respect the wisdom of the Church Fathers. One who does not like judges interpreting law to suit their own political beliefs should not tolerate preachers interpreting the Bible to suit their own religious beliefs. One who respects the law of the land should also respect the doctrines of the Church.

When conservatives defend their Second Amendment Rights, liberals will often say the founders were thinking of muskets when they established the right to bear arms. The liberal says times have changed and interpretations of that law need to be adapted to the world in which we now live while the conservative holds fast to the historical interpretation. While the conservative remains firm against gun control, today he is unlikely to take a stand against artificial birth control. Yet prior to 1930, artificial birth control was taboo even for most Protestants. Do they realize how much their Scriptural interpretations have strayed from historical Christianity?

It’s been nearly 500 years since Luther started the Protestant revolt. Since then, split after split has taken much of Christianity far from its Catholic roots. For many Protestants today, Catholicism is no longer on their radar screen. They do not recognize the historical Church and therefore do not give it consideration. Self-interpretation of Scripture has enabled them to become worldly. This secularization is now so ingrained that relinquishing any of the acquired worldly pleasures in submission to a higher authority is unacceptable to them.

Conservatives yearning for absolute truth, respecting the clear demarcation between right and wrong, willing to place the good of the nation ahead of their personal agenda, yielding to the written law and those who protect it, would also find great spiritual comfort in the Catholic Faith. Our forefathers rejected the authority of the British to rule over us. The British rejected the authority of the Church to govern their spiritual life. The challenge to conservative ideals resulting from a self-centered rejection of the common good, may be rooted in a self-centered rejection of an authoritative Church.

I would like to challenge the political conservatives to take their conservatism one step farther. Take a serious look at the one true Church, established and given authority by Jesus Christ Himself. If you believe our nation was founded on Christian principles, and you believe in holding fast to those principles without capitulation, you should also pledge allegiance to the only Church that has continued to hold fast to those Christian principles without capitulation. To be consistently a true conservative and a true Christian requires allegiance to our Nation and fidelity to the Catholic Church.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Easter Vigilance

Well, my catechumen is now a neophyte! The Easter Vigil is over and the young lady I helped to prepare for the Sacraments of Initiation is a new Catholic. The experience was extremely rewarding for me personally. I hope my contribution to her catechesis was sufficient so that she be inspired to continue to grow in the Faith we are blessed to share.

All of this came about through my participation in a weekly Faith Enhancement class which suddenly took a new direction when a seventeen year-old high school student showed up one day expressing a desire to join the Catholic Church. This happened several months into the class. I went from student to student-teacher in the span of one week. My primary responsibility came at the dismissal following the homily at the Sunday Liturgy. The customary Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) calls for dismissing unbaptized catechumens from the Sunday Mass after the homily for private instruction, usually centering on the Scripture readings for that particular day. Our pastor asked me to fill this role and I agreed.

The weekly Faith Enhancement classes doubled as RCIA preparation for our new catechumen. The textbook we were using was not intended for RCIA, so it became incumbent on all of us to focus attention on our new student by explaining topic of discussion in detail. Our responsibilities increased further when the priest leading the process became incapacitated about mid-way through Lent. Fortunately, one other classmate had prior experience as an RCIA instructor. With preparation time running out, we abandoned the original class synopsis and devoted all of our class time to our catechumen.

Having taken an interest in Catholic apologetics about fifteen years ago, I considered my above average in my understanding of Catholicism. A few weeks into the Faith Enhancement Class, I realized how ignorant I still am. Yes, I have a grasp of Church teaching. I know about the rubics and the GIRM. I know how to scripturally rebut most Protestant misrepresentations of the Catholic Faith. But, my understanding of the history of salvation, especially as revealed in the Old Testament, is woefully lacking. I consider myself a C-student in theological kindergarten.

When all one has to do is attend Mass each week, it is fairly easy to hide a lack of knowledge. The priest never passes out pop-quizzes after the homily to test our comprehension of the material. No one knows our Catholic GPA. Once I was thrust into service as a minister of catechesis, I was quickly humbled. Exposing oneself to even simple questions can lead to some embarrassing admissions of ignorance. If nothing else, I learned where my weaknesses lie, and gained a renewed interest in filling some of those gaps.

My personal shortcomings were not the only obstacles to adequate preparation of our catechumen. She entered the program late, just after Christmas. The class, already having been in progress for several months, was not designed for RCIA. Easter came unusually early this year, giving us even less time to prepare. The priest’s unexpected absence for the duration of Lent left us without pastoral leadership. Despite all of this, I think we rose to the occasion. The one class participant with RCIA teaching experience took control during the final weeks and did a wonderful job leading the weekly sessions. When it came time for the Easter Vigil, we had covered the essentials with emphasis that growing in the Catholic Faith was a lifelong process. The Rites of Initiation are only the beginning, and we will continue with a period of mystagogy after Easter.

An elderly priest from our sister parish came to celebrate the Easter Vigil Liturgy. He told us he could not remember the last time he baptized an adult. During the afternoon rehearsal, we assisted him in following the various rites as prescribed in our missalettes. We were all a little confused at times, but we made notes and planned the liturgy as correctly as we knew how. Father was a bit frail in his advanced age, and having gone through a surgical heart procedure just before Christmas, we prayed that he would be able to tolerate the rather long Easter Vigil liturgy.

That night, we joyfully celebrated one of the most beautiful Easter Vigil liturgies I have ever witnessed. Father had obviously prepared himself well in the hours following the rehearsal. Our catechumen was Baptized, Confirmed, and made her First Holy Communion in the presence of God, family and friends. She selected Saint Therese of Lisieux as her patron and Father gave a lovely homily about the Little Flower. It was the perfect night. The alleluias rang out in celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection and we welcomed a new member to the Body of Christ. It doesn’t get any better than that!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Substance Abuse – The final word?

After spending the past couple of months writing about the nature of the Real Bodily Presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist, I was ready to move on to another topic this month, but then I opened the February 10, 2008 issue of the Northwest Indiana Catholic to page 15 and read a column by Rev. John Dietzen. A Catholic from California posed a question about something said in her parish Scripture study. The lady in charge told the class that Christ is equally present in Scripture as he is in the Eucharist. The questioner was confused. “I was always taught that Christ is uniquely present, soul and divinity, in the Eucharist. Besides, isn’t the Eucharist our focal point as Catholics?”

I immediately thought of Jimmy Akin’s September 14, 2006 blog which I cited in my December 30th entry where he talks about “Flattening the Real Presence” by equating it to other modes of his presence mentioned in Scripture and theology. As Mr. Akin put it, “To do so speaks of either gross ignorance of the faith or an agenda of some sort that is so strong it overrides what is patently obvious.”

Still confounded by our pastor’s insistence that Christ is present in other people the same way He is present in the Eucharist, I was anxious to see how Father Dietzen responded to this question. Surely he would explain the difference between Our Lord’s mystical presence and the unique substantive Presence in the Eucharistic species. I was disappointed in his answer to say the least. I have read it several times and I am still not sure what he is saying.

In his reply, Father Dietzen says, “Any presence of God, of the Trinity or of Jesus in the Bible or in the Eucharist or anywhere else is ‘unique’ in the sense that it is different from all other presences.” “Unique does not necessarily mean it is better or superior, just that there is nothing more perfect of its kind or class.” He goes on to say, “We also cannot speak of there being ‘more’ of Jesus in one place or another. God is indivisible.” Father Dietzen then cites the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Nos. 1084-1090) in stating that in the sacraments, especially in the celebration of the Eucharist, our Lord is present in several ways. CCC 1088 specifically lists the ways Christ is present.

As I continued reading Father Dietzen’s answer, I again got this sense of flattening of the uniqueness of the Corporeal Presence in the Eucharist. Yes, he says our Lord is present “especially in the celebration of the Eucharist,” but he stresses Christ’s Presence in all these other ways, applying the word unique to describe them also. He goes on to say, “It is important to note that when the church speaks of the Eucharist in this context it does not mean primarily the simple presence of Christ in the Eucharistic species, as it is in the tabernacle, for example. It means most directly and essentially the sacrificial liturgy of the Eucharist, the celebration of Mass by the Catholic community.” That is not exactly what CCC1088 says.

CCC1088: “To accomplish so great a work” – the dispensation or communication of his work of salvation – “Christ is always present in his Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations. He is present in the Sacrifice of the Mass not only in the person of his minister, ‘the same now offering, through the ministry of priests, who formerly offered himself on the cross,’ but especially in the Eucharistic species. By his power he is present in the sacraments so that when anybody baptizes, it is really Christ himself who baptizes. He is present in his word since it is he himself who speaks when the holy Scriptures are read in the Church. Lastly, he is present when the Church prays and sings, for he has promised ‘where two or three are gathered together in my name there am I in the midst of them.’” (Sacrosanctum concilium; Matthew 18:20)

Is the presence of Christ in these other ways “unique” as Father Dietzen says? I suppose one could say His spiritual presence is “unique” since He is there in ways we cannot perceive with our five senses. But we can say fluoride is present in our water in ways we cannot perceive with our senses. I have trouble understanding the uniqueness of this presence when we also say God is present everywhere. Are there varying degrees of uniqueness? I do understand the “uniqueness” of the presence in the Holy Eucharist where the substance is specifically defined as the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus and the accidents are perceptible to the senses.

The Catechism says, “By his power he is present in the sacraments . . .” Water held back by a dam has potential energy. We cannot see the energy itself, but we can witness the effects of it when it is unleashed. Similarly, we cannot necessarily see the power of Christ in the sacraments, but we can know the effects. How this presence occurs is a mystery. Is it not better to leave it at that rather than confuse simple-minded lay people accustomed to a physical world where they can better grasp the truly unique substantial presence in the physical form of bread and wine?

If Christ cannot be “more” present one way or another, what does it mean when the Church says He is “especially” present in the Eucharistic species. The Corporeal Presence of Jesus under the appearances of bread and wine transubstantiated is what makes this form of His Presence truly unique. CCC 1374 addresses this issue, but Father Dietzen does not make reference to it in his reply.

CCC1374: The mode of Christ’s presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments to “the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend.” In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist “the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained.” “This presence is called ‘real’ –by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be ‘real’ too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present.”

Father Dietzen does not use any form of the word substance is his entire reply. How can anyone explain the uniqueness of the Eucharist Presence without talking about transubstantiation? I would love to speak to the person who posed the original question in the article to see whether he or she thought Father Dietzen’s answer was clearly stated. I found it confusing, ambiguous and serving to further “flatten” the Real Presence, as Jimmy Akin put it.

All of this brought me back to my questions about the nature of the substantial presence which I have been pondering for the past couple of months. A handout the priest gave us in our Faith Enhancement class last week listed various statements by St. Thomas Aquinas, the great thirteenth century philosopher of the Church. Some of his words made me revisit my view of substance and accidents that I wrote about last month.

I am not sure where these particular ideas attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas on the handout originated. Perhaps they are found in the Summa Theologiae. Assuming they were reproduced accurately, he defined Substance as “that which has an essence to which it belongs not to exist in a subject – is made to be by its causes.” The Accident is “that to whose essence it belongs to exist in a subject – does not have its own existence.” (Not having the actual sources, I should emphasize that I do not know whether the statements on this handout were actual Thomistic quotes or someone’s summarization of his work.)

In trying to understand substance, several other statements caught my attention. “Man exists and operates as one substance, an individual man has but one substantial form, and this is his rational soul.” “The human soul is both an intellectual substance and by its nature the form of the body.” “The human soul is a spiritual substance with its own being – incomplete in essence – incorruptible and immortal.”

When I wrote last month about the nature of Christ’s presence in the person following the corruption of the accidents, I reasoned that the substantial presence would cease because it could not exist without the accidents. Therefore, the substantial presence would have to cease after fifteen minutes or so when the accidents are corrupted. Reading these statements attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas raised further questions in my mind.

If the human soul is a substance, it can exist after death without an accidental form, right? So, substance would not necessarily have an accidental form? The Thomistic handout says, man is a composite, comprising both soul and body. The soul and body share the same being. So, what happens when the body and soul are separated? Since the Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus, is it somehow possible after the corruption of the accidents that the spiritual substance of Jesus remains with the person?

At this point, my head was spinning. I am not a philosopher. I am not well-read. Thomistic philosophy interests me, but I get lost quickly in trying to understand much of what he says. I decided to write down the question that started this whole discussion, and pose it to someone qualified to give me a simple answer. EWTN’s website has an Ask an Expert section where philosophy questions can be submitted. I posted the following question last week and within minutes, had my answer.

Christ's Substantial Presence
Question from Richard A. on 2/18/2008:

During a Faith Enhancement Class, our parish priest spoke of seeing “Eucharist” in other people as members of the Body of Christ. This led to questions about the Eucharistic Presence in the person following the reception of Holy Communion. Our priest stated that the Eucharistic Presence remains in the person as long as the person remains in a state of grace. It was my belief that Christ remains present in some mystical way, but the substantial Presence remains only until the accidents are corrupted by the digestive process, approximately 15 minutes after consumption. The priest vehemently disagreed saying that Christ’s Presence in the human person continues to be a substantial Presence beyond the corruption of the accidents.
I have been searching this site and a number of other sources, including Thomas Aquinas, looking for clarification on this, and I find myself still confused. If the Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ (substance), and substance does not require accidents to exist (i.e. the soul), is it correct to say the Christ’s ongoing Presence in the human person is substantial? If so, what actually ceases to exist after the corruption of the accidents?

Answer by Richard Geraghty on 2/18/2008:
Dear Richard,
You were right and the priest was wrong.
Dr. Geraghty


‘nuff said.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

More Substantial Thought

Last month I wrote about a lively discussion with our parish priest about the Eucharistic Presence of Christ in the human person. He seemed to take the position that Christ’s Substantial Presence remains in the person beyond the existence of the accidents. The key word here is substantial, meaning the substance of Christ’s Body Blood Soul and Divinity. While I am confident he expressed a view contrary to Church teaching, it did cause me to further ponder the mystery.

It occurred to me that substance could not exist without accidents and, not being well versed on Thomistic philosophy, I began searching for someone who was in order to confirm my belief. An internet search turned up the Thomistic Philosophy Page by Joseph M. Magee, Ph.D, the Director of Campus Ministry at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. He earned his Ph.D. from the Center for Thomistic Studies at the University of Saint Thomas, Houston, Texas, and is author of the book Unmixing the Intellect: Aristotle on Cognitive Powers and Bodily Organs. In his discourse on substance and accidents, he says the following:

One never finds any substance that we experience without some accidents, nor an accident that is not the accident of a substance.

So there! When transubstantiated at the Consecration, the substance of bread and wine no longer exists while the accidents remain. After consumption, the digestive process eventually destroys the accidents. Once the accidents appearing as bread and wine no longer exist, neither does the substance. If the substance were to continue in existence beyond this point, it would necessarily be under a different form. For the substance to remain, it would have to have accidents. (I rethink some of this next month -- see my February 24, 2008 entry)

Could God do this if He wanted to? Of course, but no such substantial transformation in the human person has ever been revealed or taught by the Church. Renowned Catholic author Frank J. Sheed says the following in an excerpt posted by EWTN from one of his writings:

Christ's body remains in the communicant as long as the accidents remain themselves. Where, in the normal action of our bodily processes, they are so changed as to be no longer accidents of bread or accidents of wine, the Real Presence in us of Christ's own individual body ceases. But we live on in his Mystical Body. -Taken from Theology for Beginners (c) 1981 by Frank J. Sheed, Chapter 18.

I would love to revisit this topic with our priest again, but our class has taken a new direction. Last week a parishioner brought her seventeen year-old granddaughter to our class. She wants to become Catholic and after an interview, our priest has determined she is sufficiently prepared to enter the Church this Easter despite getting a very late start in her catechesis. Mavis and I are blessed to serve as her catechists. We have only a few precious weeks to prepare her for the Sacraments of Initiation. During our session with her this evening, we discussed the distinction between substance and accidents. We want to make sure she understands.