Archive for February, 2009|Monthly archive page

Framing the Story

The most difficult things as an artist was working on a project before it took shape. The framing of a house. The framing of a book. The most difficult thing was to remain excited over the project in the early stages. When all you had was a dream.

I think a lot about the story of Noah. Like how it was all coming along. God’s view of creation, that is. I thought of it this morning as I deleted my computer history. Did God simply want to delete a history, a lot like I could on a computer? Wanting to start again? Fresh.

What was God’s view of creation? Was it a lot like using the characters as in all those sequels in books and movies. The same character repeated over and over. Rabbitt Run, by Updike. Harry Potter. “Dirty Harry.” The Hardy Boys. “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Sequels in the Good Book. Abraham and then Isaac. Sacrifice. This bizarre idea, to sacrifice the future, a son.

And now in the ongoing sequel, there was this human named Jesus. There in the desert. Scripture is nothing but the history of how people who went before us learned how to pray. Jesus in the desert. Praying. For 40 days. Like this season of Lent. A lot like Moses, except it had been 40 years.

Those who tried to look at the sun…it cannot be sustained for long. Or so it seemed on a morning after a 9 inch snowfall, on a bright bright February morning in Minnesota. On in Florida with the invasion of all these snowbirds. Concentration on the sun was not possible. You had to look elsewhere. And so the minister in his quest for God. He/she had to gaze elsewhere and not at God.

Formed in God’s image and likeness: The most difficult things as an artist was working at the beginning of an idea without yet a form. The difficulty for this human was in the motivation to continue.

A man from Roseville, Minnesota had solicited thoughts of a painting on the wall, entitled “Christ in the Wildness,” which was painted in 1929, from those who spent a weekend at the Jesuit Retreat House in DeMontreville. In the painting, Jesus of Nazareth is in the desert, in the wildness, surrounded by his humanity and little else. In the middle of nowhere. The man from Roseville had contemplated the artwork, wondering what the artist was trying to depict.

My interpretation was that of this Messiah thinking, a lot about the story of Noah. Wanting to start again. Fresh. Thinking about how all of this creation had been coming along. From the perspective of God. With that hostile force from Rome, trying to keep order. Wondering what to do 30 years after that census. And thinking about God’s view of creation.

“Christ in the Wildness.” With Christ thinking as an author, like the writer of the plot of the Good News. And because he was human, it was not easy. He suffered like a hematologist in search of answers on how to resolve the threat of death, in the blood. Jesus of Nazareth, like you and me, with a divine nature and contemplating how to change humanity. In the days when he was making a career change, from that of a carpenter, where he had been creating things out of wood. His career change to what had always been in this desert that of a prophet.

Christ, in the wildness, where he found himself in need of food. In need of drink. Alone. In prayer. And wondering of the answers to the questions. The same questions addressed everyday in the stories of the morning news: With whom? Where? When? How? Formulating a plan with help from above to explain the reasons why. Focused on the Truth, with his Jewish background.

Like the morning news. Just like any writer tried to focus on. Tying everything together. For all people who daily had a need for food, for drink. Each day.

There in the desert. Jesus. A lot like me. The most difficult things as an artist was working on a project before it took shape. Struggling like most young people, to tie everything that they had come to know together.


To remember the excitement of it all. The excitement of youth. Blushing. Embarassments. Embarassed not at being an animal, but learning about it. At dirty jokes. Embarassed at my imperfections in an imperfect world.

To remember the excitement of it all. The excitement of youth. The ones involving hunger and thirst. Learning limits. Embarassed by my appetites. We were all embarassed by sexual appetities.

When some people forget those teen-age years. Embarassed to be passing into this stage of life. Embarassed by change. Embarassed by the attraction that had overcome me. Embarassed by the animal within.

Ash Wednesday. The excitement of God. Embarassed. By my sins. We all had them. Most wanted to ignore them.

In the western world, there had always been an embarasssment of sex. When I grew up. Outside of marriage. The excitement of sex was conveyed in the public proclamation. Whether it was the excitement of youth, the excitement of a life long commitment ….the embarassment was gone. Do you remember the embarassment when someon at the age of 15 asked if you had a girlfriend. No. Not me.

The excitement. The attraction. Distant. The sex part to others. But she was here every day, just distant. Union. When the goal was union. With just one.

Comfortable in a relationship. Around all the time.

Ash Wednesday. Foregiveness. Forgiveness over appetite. Never have so few people asked for forgivenes. From God. Of course never before have there been 6 billion plus people.

The difficulty in forgiveness. Forgiveness started with the one who was wronged. The one who was subject to one degree or other of unfaithfulness.

It was a season of the year to try and get some control again over appetities.

The Flow of the River

Heraclitus was a philosopher who preceded Socrates who wrote, “You cannot step twice into the same river.”

Dolan. There was a new archbishop named for New York City. The success of someone educated as Catholics is to be judged by an archbishop in the numbers who elect to marry in the church, who attend Sunday Mass, or who join the priest or sisterhood. Or so he was quoted in the New York Times.

Wedlock: What did it mean to this society? Any more. Mostly there was only talk of divorce and gay marriage in the news. Little news of the day by day life of wedlock.

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland. And darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters. Baptism. What did it mean any more? Another kind of wedlock. A formless wasteland. That well could be the first line in a story about the human faith struggle. Baptism. People who actually meant something. From the beginning. Being part of the real community here on earth. Whose times you shared. In the beginning. With gifts that actually had meaning. And then passing it on to your own kids, the people who meant everything.

To tell a lover that you love him/her. To be wedded. Wedlock. It has helped me tremendously.

Abraham. Isaac. Sacrifice. Really, learning how to pray. A bizarre idea, to sacrifice the future, a son. And so began Abraham’s dialogue with God, asking questions, seeking answers if he was doing the right thing. Questioning. Learning how to pray. God maybe wondering the same things, at the samw time. “How do these people pray to me? Or why?” It all seemed to be part of the learning process. For God. For mankind.

Wrestling with the Canons of the church. The baptized and the unbaptized remainder. Most of the 6 billion of the world were wrestling. The Christians. The Jews. Jacob, wrestling with the past. His own. The Canons. The one he would one day pass on. The conflict between the past and the present. Jacob wrestling in the night. Trying to remain honest to who he was. To his father? To himself? Jacob. And then physically afflicted, a lot like the Church of Rome.

The conflict in priesthood between the past and the present. That Psalm 46, “Be still. And know I am God.” Trying to find priests. Was the issue about a Catholic world, any world,, that was not listening?

Fr. Richard McBrien was a priest at Notre Dame who told a personal anecdote of a seminary professor of Ecclesiology during the time of Vatican II. That professor urged seminarians, “soon after John XXIII’s announcement, to pray that the council never be held. For him, and for many other Catholics, the Vatican Council of 1869-70 had rendered all future councils unnecessary, given that council’s reaffirmation of the dogma of papal primacy and its formulation of the new dogma of papal infallibility.”

The struggle in prayer was mostly in the failure to listen.

Baptism. With that 11th Commandment. “Go! Teach all nations. In the name of the Father. And of the Son. And of the Holy Spirit.

When you were at a graduation point, at the baccalaureate address, it was a time to find your own way. Ways that worked amidst the struggle of every young guy, trying to communicate something of significance. In that search, in the lack of movement, had a lethargy set in? A lot like in those stories in the Old Testament. With all of that focus on the line of David. Until Mary and the bloodline where she had come just kind of snuck up on everyone.

Heraclitus was a philosopher who believed “You cannot step twice into the same river. For other waters are continuously flowing on.”

God: To Be Needed & Wanted in the Modern Age

Addressing spiritual physics: so little attention is shown to spiritual matter, and spiritual acceleration. In spiritual physics, spiritual matter becomes a burden, with the acceleration of time.

“In an age when we can do almost anything, how do we decide what we ought to do? In a time when we can do anything technologically, how do we decide morally what we never should do?” -Cardinal Joseph Bernardin

“‘In India, the work satisfaction is different,’ Fr. Jolly Vadakken said, ‘Our ministry is so much wanted here. The people come close to us.’”

Fr. Jolly Vadakken “prefers to stay at home where he runs a Catholic resources center across the street from the diocesan pink cathedral in Irinjalakuda, he buzzes around the diocese on a motorcycle, often in his cassock, his cellphone ringing incessantly. He operates a suicide hot line (Kerala has one of the highest suicide rates in India), counsels couples, teaches courses in parenting, and runs a program that mediates local conflicts. He said that he feels “more vital” as a priest in his native India than he did in the United States or Europe, where, he pointed out, he was needed only for the sacraments (as in the Diocese of Rockville Centre, for example, where many of the Catholics are, as Costa put it, “accustomed to multiple Masses”). Tall and prepossessing, Fr. Jolly Vadakken is a spiritual giant. He had studied in Rome, has worked in parishes in Germany, Minneapolis, and Birmingham. Fluent in five languages, he had offers to work as a parish pastor in Italy and Atlanta. But he preferred to stay home. ‘In the other world, we are official priests.’ Vadakken said, ‘We are satisfied just doing the Mass and sacraments, everything on time, everything perfect. In India, however, the people come close to us. The work satisfaction is different. Our ministry is so much wanted here.’” -Laurie Goodstein in the New York Times on December 29, 2008

Under the burden of legalism, all morality is reduced to a burden. Charity, chastity and temperance become things we have to do rather than what we want to do. Authentic, mature morality is marked by a desire to develop habits of virtue. Moving to the ideal of unconditional love, when a healthy lifestyle becomes something we ‘WANT.’ Charity, chastity and temperance are what we want to live out, not what we do out of fear. Care of the soul was when moral choices move from ‘obligations’ to desires.” – Father Richard Benson

The crisis of religious vocation was about feeling needed and wanted, in a world where egos were too weak. The role of the priest in the United States is one of ritual where the modern parish priest was left to officiated at Mass. Priesthood had become a job that wore a man out, unless he was also wanted. And the people for the most part do not come close to the priest. In the western world.

These priests and nuns today were, in a remake of the Christmas story, putting their deepest part into human form. Spiritual giants, secure enough to be vulnerable. Never before has that vulnerability been more apparent, in the struggle to communicate something about the significance of life and in relationship. With the average age of the American nun now over seventy years old.

When a life became a prayer. But there were not many spiritual giants any more walking amongst us, in the ‘too big to fail’ world. Look at the ego strength in a world with so little true appreciation shown. To a nun for a lifetime of apostolic work? We have given these people too little thanks and praise. Individually. Communally. Certainly by the hierarchy — but mostly from the masses — there was so little appreciation shown. As the priest, the nun, becomes the stranger in the secular world.

“Would it not also have been appropriate to add the words ‘and needed’ after ‘WANTED’?” Fr. Richard McBrien wrote in the National Catholic Reported on January 26, 2009.

Where the work satisfaction in the ministry is different — so much wanted here. When a life-style becomes something that we WANT. When the words ‘and wanted’ follows the needs and desires in daily life for a spiritual life.

A dying breed. The crisis of vulnerability has become more and more apparent, in the institutional struggle over the past decade. When westerners hide their vulnerabilities. In an age when we can do almost anything, in an age when, with a spiritual void, too many religious leaders thought they should get involved in dogmatic issues, over who was the best, rather than concentrate on spiitual matters. How do we reach consensus on what what we ought to do? In what direction were leaders to lead, without many religious leaders addressing spiritual life?

Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, Therese of Lisieux, and John of the Cross had strong egos, were secure enough to be vulnerable, and never needed to protect themselves. These were the spiritual giants. “For so many of us, the bigger problem in our lives, including our spiritual lives, is precisely that our self-image is too weak to allow us to do anything really great. We struggle to be vulnerable, to not be paranoid and protect ourselves precisely because we aren’t secure enough inside. Precisely because we so often feel the need to protect ourselves, because we are weak and because our egos and our sense of self-worth are so shaky.” -Father Richard Benson

Addressing spiritual life: When you come close to people. When you are bonded. When people came close to you. The work satisfaction is different when you come close to people. As stated in that final Bob Ryan column in the Boston Globe. Though it is not the end.

In a ministry so much wanted here, to somehow connect — like with the athletes representing your town. And sticking together like dirt. When it was the journalist who connected you to the team, though not so much a God-awful broadcaster like Dick Bremer.

A fisherman does not want anybody to ever ask about how many fish have been caught if their stringer is empty. In story after personal story, God went about meeting His Chosen People usually in socially and spiritually awkward settings. Like in India, where ‘the people come close to us.’ Like with Abraham, when it came to circumcision. Or when it came to the trip up Mount Moriah, with Isaac. If you ever analyzed the setting of time and place in these stories, with the repeated echo of the question to Adam: “Where art thou, Adam?” In all of the awkwardness of the spiritual physics, with the spiritual burden of spiritual matter, in spiritual matters.

Religion Blogs Religion Blogs

The Micro-managers

Rebuilding community. Once there was an ideal of nation building from within. With local people. Main Street businesses had been replaced by Wal-Mart. Best Buy. Starbucks. And that world was collasping. No one was buying stocks. And 50% of asset-backed corporate bonds were at risk. Big banks, big institutions were on the ropes. All those MBAs, teaching about micro managing.

In a sense, the Church of Rome seemed for a generation dominated by the bean counting. I think a lot of nations doth protest the micro-managing. Maybe that was why the Russian Orthodox have never wanted a part of the Vatican. Their fears of a spy network. Their fears that the bishops were not home grown. Fears of foreign control. There just was distrust of the stranger in Russia. And in China. There always had been in China. And a little less in Russia. Maybe due to the ice and cold.

In a sense there has been a religious fascism. There was some kind of an authoritarian ideology born during a period of social and political unrest, of the modern age. It was true in the world of politics and religions. Fascism is focused on solving the economic, political, and social problems which its supporters see as causing a decline or decadence. It was not just of the nationalistic kind. Fascists aim to create a single-party state, perhaps because the human condition is idealistically seeking a oneness with God and each other.

In the Catholic Church there has always been a religion led by …well, a dictator …. who seeks unity by requiring individuals to subordinate self-interest to the collective interest of the whole. Maybe the originators of the concept had used the religious model, with hopes of having some governmental success. Ideally, the Catholic Church was a single entity, undivided, led by the pope.

Luigi Barzini in his 1964 classic, The Italians, attempted to engage in an act of translation, so that the traveler can understand what the other party is trying to say. There is a certain sociology to Vatican City that long was dominated by Italian men. Vatican sociology was long based on loyalty and “connections.”

Archbishop Jean Jadot died at his residence in Belgium on January 21, 2009. He had served under Pope Paul VI as the apostolic delegate to the United States from 1973 to 1980, and has been called the architect of the U.S. “pastoral church.” He was responsible for the appointments of 103 new bishops and the assignments of 15 archbishops. I knew a few of his appointments along the way. Paul Dudley when he was a priest. John R. Roach when he was a monsignor. I shared a college campus with Francis George when he was a priest, before he was an archbishop. And I met a few priests whose episcopate soon developed by the time after Archbishop Jardot was called back to Europe. It is not an easy job being the apostolic delegate to a nation like the United States.

In the world torn in the strife between liberal and conservative constituencies, in politics, in religion, a man can be worn out. A man can create enemies.

Since 1984, Jadot had been in active retirement in Brussels. With the election of John Paul II, sentiment at the Vatican changed significantly and John Paul II happily accepted the resignation offered of a physically worn-out Jadot in 1980. Jadot was called to Rome, where he worked as pro-president of the Vatican Secretariat for Non-Christians for four years in obvious papal disfavor. Unlike his predecessors and his successor as apostolic delegate, Jadot was never named cardinal. John Dick was with Jadot on the day the announcement that Pio Laghi, his successor as apostolic delegate, was elevated from archbishop to cardinal in 1991. “Well,” Jadot said, “I had to be with my American friends today. It is not important to be a cardinal. What bothers me is that I know this is not about being a cardinal. It is a slap in my face.”

I believe there has been a loss of community over the last 20 years, because of the influence of the Pontifical Gregorian University. The bean counting. Who was liberal. Who was conservative. All of the bishops and archbishops these days seem to have spent some time at Gregorian University, in a Rome where the sociology was based upon loyalty and “connections.”

“Mentre baccio la Vostra pantofola sacra.” Was it why when John R. Roach retired we got an archbishop in Minnesota from elsewhere? Was there more loyalty to people who had come out of Gregorian University, where they had learned some new MBA method of bean counting which seemed to be needed. Dispense another graduate from the Pontifical Gregorian University, whereas Archbishop Roach was home-grown in Prior Lake. Minnesota. Paul Dudley was from Northfield. Minnesota.

With a break from the Minnesota connection, there was a breakdown in community. People with no local relationship. Bishops starting out as missionaries. Where the locals had to worry about their perspective on what was shared belief. All the archbishops were now from elsewhere. Combined with the previous pope, without any collegiality fostered with the bishops, the method of administration all seemed like that under a colonial system of bean-counting.

What about the thinking? There could be no priest shortage in a part of the world where the church was dying? There would be no need for priests when the people quit practicing? When everyone came out of one school, a staleness was bound to set in.

The mismanagement of the sexual abuse was just a spotlight over what the business world was going though. Holy men forced to deal with temporal matters, with no grasp of the law. Coming off as having an excessive rigidity, a firmness, with an old man’s obstinacy.

Thus the micro managers. A church run too much like Best Buy. Wal-Mart. Starbucks. Working under the neglect of an administrator’s duties. Yes that pope from Poland, no matter how holy, had a few flaws.

Of business. And of churches. All those MBAs. Main Street businesses had been replaced by management far away. Newspapers owned by people far away. With growing distrust by the locals of authentic care, how could any leader require individuals to subordinate self-interest to the collective interest of the whole?

In the age of Self-funded Retirement Accounts. Alone, in old age and in bad times, with the snake oil salesmen. The sense of time — a sense had always been worn on people’s faces — best was asked to those who lived though the Great Depression and the great wars. In a world where government pensions were replaced by private ones, until the markers, those industrial indexes, collapsed. And vulnerable people never got to retire.

With the micro-managing on Wall Street, the world would re-discover that all politics was local. Monarch had fallen in most nations in what seems distant time, where something was built within. After all of the buy-backs of globalization, we are watching this year a few giants fall, like distant monarchs.

Dwindling populations. What was what was supposed to happen in those kinds of economies is that people never got to retire? In the then downward spirals? What happened to borders, in the Western world, rebuilding retirement accounts as visas in old age. When will the bad times all end?

Those individual retirement accounts in a world collasping. As generational divide became the issue. And with political issues, salvation was never supposed to be about who was liberal or who was conservative. It was all supposed to be about being human– a perspective always lost from high above, in the ivy towers. In Washington. In Rome.

Dealing With Loss

Being drawn closer to God. . . through a grieving process. That was the lesson learned upon the loss of a loved one. The community comes together to offer support. . . and over time, with reflection, I have learned how to find meaning in past events of my life. And along the way, I have found how to pray better.

There is a growing tension between elements of past and current identity. Over time. All over the world. The tension is over Who I was. Who I am now. Who I was growing into. Individually. Communally.

Loss does not come solely from death. Loss involved issues of health. All kinds of issues of health. In 1982 I lost the recreation place I had spent most of my life; it also was the place that I found my first job. Municipal authority tore the place down and provided a rather artificial multi-purpose replacement. Ten years later due to injury, I gave up my favorite recreational pursuit. Some people now are learning about loss due to their own financial health in 2009.

Loss and change.

There is growing tension in Europe these days between the elements of Christian and European identity, in this Europe in search of European Union. This amidst the tension within the Roman Catholic Church between the left and right, between the hierarchy and the people in the pews, between outside and inside interests. Maybe Catholic politicians, especially Democrats, felt the same tension in the United States. Thoughtful people who were both fully Catholic and representing constituencies which were not Catholic.

In Europe, Rocco Buttiglione was a lawyer who joined Silvio Berlusconi’s new government as the European Union Policy Minister. From 2005-06 he was Minister for Cultural Assets and Activities in Italy. He was nominated in 2004 for for the European Commission with a designated portfolio of Justice, Freedom and Security. During his hearing before the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice And Home Affairs, he was asked about his stance on homosexuality. As a Roman Catholic, Buttiglione reported believing homosexuality to be a sin. He was quoted, “The family exists in order to allow women to have children and to have the protection of a male who takes care of them.”

The Party of European Socialists, Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, and European Greens – European Free Alliance groups “expressed reservations” regarding his ability to take positive political action in the area of citizens’ rights, in particular as regards to combating discrimination, and threatened to reject the entire proposed Commission. The committee voted by 27-26 not to endorse Rocco Buttiglione’s nomination.

In subsequent comments Buttiglione remarked, “The new soft totalitarianism that is advancing on the left wants to have a state religion. It is an atheist, nihilistic religion –but it is a religion that is obligatory for all.”

Thus, this Europe that does not see many Catholics attending Mass. Thus the Church that Benedict reigns over has more than simple sterile ideological battles. John Allen, Jr. addresses the new realities of Europe in a column on February 13th and whether the Treaty of Lisbon will trigger the reign of the anti-Christ.

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“Rocco Buttiglione episode is merely the best known example of a spreading ‘No Catholics Need Apply’ mentality in some secular circles. On the side of the Church, meanwhile, some worry that the Vatican sees things only in the most negative terms, and tends to view Catholics working to articulate the faith in Europe’s new cultural milieu — working, in other words, to find a new way of being Catholic on a changing continent, one marked by considerable religious and ethical pluralism — with suspicion, as if these pioneers somehow risk betraying the teaching and tradition of the Church.

“I have listened to these voices carefully, and as an American, my instinctive reply cannot help but be: ‘Welcome to our world.’

“What I mean is this: With allowances for the obvious historical differences, all of the above could have been said, and certainly was said, of Catholicism in the United States at various points in our history. During the 19th century, our own elite makers of culture — who were not secularists, but rather Protestants — also hung out ‘No Catholics Need Apply’ signs, and generally abhorred Catholicism as a foreign presence in America’s body politic. At the same time, those American Catholics who attempted to craft a form of Catholicism that could be at home in the competitive religious marketplace of the United States, one that could do justice to the country’s multi-faith and democratic ethos, were viewed with deep suspicion in Rome.

“In the mischievous corner of my soul thus takes delight in the current predicament of European Catholicism, because we American Catholics, for once, can play the senior partner in a conversation with our European brothers and sisters.

“Here’s the good news: In the short space of a century, the standing of American Catholicism, both in Rome and among our fellow citizens, has improved considerably. Consider that in 1899, Pope Leo XIII essentially invented a heresy called ‘Americanism’ in order to condemn those Catholics in the United States who defended our form of separation of church and state, indirectly suggesting that we ought to be more ‘European.’ In 2008, meanwhile, Pope Benedict XVI traveled to our shores to deliver a tribute to the American approach to church/state relations, arguing that in the United States the ‘wall of separation’ between church and state means freedom for religion, while laïcité in Europe often means freedom from religion. In effect, Benedict expressed a certain longing that Europe should be more like us!”

“Of course, I am not suggesting that European Catholicism should look across the Atlantic to find a model for its own way forward. Our histories and cultures are too different to simply transplant strategies from one continent to the other; and in any event, there are important aspects of American Catholicism that are still very much a work in progress. Rather, my point is that, from a historical point of view, a new culture is emerging in Europe today, with new legal and political institutions and a new set of values, and it is hardly surprising that Catholicism is struggling to adapt. If there is a lesson to be learned from the path that American Catholicism has walked over the last century, it is that efforts to express the faith in a new world often initially generate tumult and alarm, but can eventually come to be seen as a gift to the universal Church.

“Before Catholicism can foster the ____, or of the broader human family, we must first do a better job of being unified among ourselves. The new questions being asked in the 21st century are extraordinarily complex, and there is obviously more than one Catholic opinion about how we ought to respond. If we fall back into the familiar patterns which have characterized our internal life in the 50 years since the Second Vatican Council — of fractures between left and right, between ad intra interests and ad extra, between the hierarchy and the base, between the avant-garde and the defenders of tradition, between what Jacques Maritain once rather colorfully termed the ‘Sheep of Panurge’ and the ‘Ruminators of the Holy Alliance’ — we run the risk of paralysis, of serious new fractures and new heartache, which will make it impossible to articulate a compelling response to this changing world.”

It is said that the art treasures in the Vatican cost so much to maintain and restore that the art amounts to a net drain on the Vatican budget.

Through power, through change, through a loss of power, through the grieving process. In dealing with loss, there is this ‘being’ drawn closer to God.

Best Supporting Actor

It was Academy Awards month. Movies. Video stores. Academy Awards. We have lived through an age when video has replaced the written word as a media of significant communicating.

Academy Awards. The movies of 2008. Stories with relevance.

Stories with relevance. “Last week the Federal Reserve released the results of the latest Survey of Consumer Finances, Paul Krugman wrote today. The bottom line of this a triennial report on the assets and liabilities of American households “is that there has been basically no wealth creation at all since the turn of the millennium: The net worth of the average U.S. household, adjusted for inflation, is lower now than it was in 2001.”

“At one level this should come as no surprise. For most of the last decade America was a nation of borrowers and spenders, not savers. The personal savings rate dropped from 9 percent in the 1980s to 5 percent in the 1990s, to just 0.6 percent from 2005 to 2007, and household debt grew much faster than personal income.”

How did this all affect you? Market manipulators. Those stock brokers. Wanting money to manipulate.

How did this all affect you? Falling incomes. Now in a failing economy. If you did not know, it was worse overseas. In Latvia. In Ireland. With the banks of Austria and England.

In the crises of these times, what was the message in the most recent creations? If God is going to continue to influence our times, on a conscious level. In the 1930s, as the great American economist Irving Fisher pointed out, “attempts to sell assets and pay off debt deepen the plunge in asset prices, further reducing net worth. Attempts to save more translate into a collapse of consumer demand, deepening the economic slump, Krugman wrote. When they realize they have too much debt, the things people and companies do tend to be self-defeating. When everyone tries to do them all at the same time.

And we are in deep trouble. Deeper trouble than most people realize even now, Paul Krugman wrote.

Academy Awards. A feast when you realize that famine is real.

Real stories. Remember the year 2000 problem? It was only supposed to involve our computers. Not out net worth. Wanting to run away and start over. The New Millennium.

It has been quite a decade. With hanging chads. With September 11, 2001. And now all this.

Life. When you realize you are gonna die. Foxholes. People finding religion in foxholes. God as the main actor in creation. God now cast on too many days, in His humble role as a supporting actor. Or God simply now a part of my audience. Aware of me. And me of Him. His past was an actor, the main player. And now as some kind of Producer and Director, for some of us. The actors needed to pay more attention?

Life’s Stories

In the beginning of God’s creating the skies and the heaven – when the skies had been shapeless and formless, and darkness had been on the face of the deep, the earth was a formless wasteland. And darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters.

A formless wasteland. That well could be the first line in a story about any human’s faith struggle. Like most people, I struggle to grow in my faith. Being part of the real community here on earth has helped me tremendously.

I was picking out a book for a 3-year old. I considered buying a book about the stories of the Bible. I found myself wondering about the author who was a complete stranger, interpreting the stories. Somewhere in the formation process you entrusted to a stranger the passing on the meaning of these stories.

adam an eve sleeping

We have lived through an age when video has replaced the written word as a media of significant communicating. Movies. Video stores. Academy Awards.

It was Academy Awards month. And an audience was essential. An essential necessary part, if an actor, was to have some kind of following. Press releases. Interested people. Some kind of an audience was essential if life was to have meaning.

Academy Awards. The movies of 2008. Stories with relevance. Stories with relevance, or just false substitutes in the modern age? Where Broadway was slowly dying due to the cost, what was the Academy doing to preserve the story-telling role? And what would the economic downturn do to the movie industry?

Passing along the stories. For all of the 3-year-olds of the world.

Evening came, and morning followed—that first day. And then the day after.


It is language and story that connect us through the language arts, in the beginning. With all the light that you cannot see, in the beginning, God’s Spirit was hovering?

Compare. Contrast. Tell a story, from the beginning. “In the beginning of God’s creating, when darkness had been on the face of the deep, when the skies had been shapeless and formless,” does a blind woman/man have five senses? How do I know what you can see? How do I know what you can hear? As a child?

Do as I say and live! How do you sense that God‘s spirit was hovering, in the beginning of God’s creating, as I cannot see without light? In the beginning of God’s creating the skies and the heaven, as darkness had been on the face of the deep, God‘s spirit was hovering. But what of the other senses – touch, sound, smell, in the ordering? Fully formed, without gradually coming to know the unknown? In the story of Firsts, compare Eve and Adam to me – only created, without progressive growth. So This One Law.

“Trust me, as your Creator. Ask Adam. He knows me!”


To know someone look, at where they go! Given everything at once, including the one commandment. If the audio-visual senses did not come before taste, how is taste connected to hunger and thirst? Did you ever note when you were born perfect, the missing pain . . . or the missing sacrifice, without a need for God?

And what of their art of language, without any stories of their own, without any body, except Adam’s story about the Tree of Knowledge? How had Adam and Eve ever learned to pray, when they had it all? When I seem so perfect, why do I need to abide by the Command. The conflict over the one Law and the fairness of the Law? And though all of Creation had been described as good – mostly separated – what of Evil? Who even comprehended Evil. In the world?

With a desire to see her own Creator, Eve ate the apple? In that there had been no direct contact with God and Eve until after, God did not even know Eve’s name? Until now. Yes, to know someone, in the ordering, look at where they go!

After! Given life by Someone! So how does a Creator ever know what the created can see? In the story of Firsts, theirs is the first of many stories about refugees, as Civil War follows Independence, with no right to be there! Land transfers? In a tradition of revolt, stand up to own this place, or LEAVE! Liberation from the Law of their Land, but not in the end from their God. Fancy ideas, with vitality drained, about living above the law, on the Earth, when you thought God knew you …and would remember you.


Have you ever heard a public speaker, a priest, who only looked at one side of his audience?

The Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life had issued a decree on December 22, 2008 that it will begin an Apostolic Visitation or comprehensive study undertaken in order to look into the quality of institutes of women religious in the United States and the life of the members of these religious institutes. The action was initiated by the Congregation’s prefect, Slovenian Cardinal Franc Rodé, C.M. The Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the nation’s largest association of Catholic women religious communities, said it was informed of the study in a bulletin on January 30, 2009. Contemplative sisters, who have distinctly different lifestyles, are excluded from the study.

“Speaking on background, leaders among American women’s congregations who travel regularly to Rome to meet with Vatican officials — including Cardinal Franc Rodé, Prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, the office that ordered the visitation — say that not once in these conversations did Rodé or anyone else offer a hint that a visitation might be in the works.” –from the National Catholic Reporter on February 6, 2009

In 2006, the Vatican organized a visitation of seminaries which house men in formation. Recently the Vatican issued its final report which seemed to suggest concern about formation for religious. In the “general conclusions” in section II, it was stated:
“It was also noted that, in some academic centers run by religious, there is a certain reticence, on the part of both students and teachers, to discuss the priestly ministry. Instead, there is a preference for discussing simply ‘ministry’ — in the broad sense, including also the various apostolates of the laity — in part, perhaps, as a mistaken attempt not to offend those who judge the reservation of the Sacrament of Orders to men alone as discriminatory.”

Findings will show most nuns are elderly, most orders are quickly falling apart, most orders have very few resources for growth, and young women avoid joining or leave because they get a hard time from the hierarchy when anything they do even hints at feminism.

It is hard to be supportive of this church that continues to collect money for corporal works of mercy but this year did not even bother to raise money for the infirm aged nuns, ignoring the burden of all the retired Sisters in need of health care. It has been reported that by 2023, religious orders may face more than $20 billion in unfunded retirement liabilities. What kind of leadership would ignore their own?

The old monarch of the papal states, the pope in Vatican City, had no accountability to his people. There never had been a Magna Carta, despite the political and religious scandals which occurred between 1300 and 1600. The recent sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church showed that from the Pope on down, there was a failure to respond when archbishops could not police their own force, in Canada, in Ireland, in the United States, and who knows where else at the end of the 20th Century? The management of the church by John Paul II was compelled by secular courts to change. Otherwise, it seems fair to say that failure to respond to sexual abuse by priests would have continued.

So what really had changed in Rome? The institution that needed the threat of a secular court to change.

The humonguous financial cost to funds, which should have gone to corporal works of mercy to take care of retired nuns, or to educate the next generation in what is a very academic religion. Little attention week in and week out is addressed to this priesthood issue in the changing world. And this comprehensive study, this review of the sisters announced just before the annual World Day for Religious which the Church observes on February 2nd, is to be a look into the quality of institutes of women religious in the United States. This study undertaken seems to hope to return the Catholic world to another age. But the world had changed.

At a 2008 conference at Stonehill College, Cardinal Franc Rodé said that some orders of nuns seemed to have “simply acquiesced to the disappearance of religious life,” while others had distanced themselves from the life of the Catholic Church.

The nuns had quit trying? Was it just the nuns who had trouble passing on the tradition, of sharing the accumulation of wealth, of culture? The power structure had changed very little over the years. My 69-year old aunt is a former nun, educated after high school with a class of 46 nuns. Of her 46 classmates, only 6 had remained nuns their entire life. The forty HAD quit trying. A long time ago. This limited statistics would seem to suggest a polarization of woman which has continued. Papal authority seemed to be based upon power rather than authentic love. Have they simply acquiesced to the status quo? To the male leadership in the Roman Catholic Church who had never listened in their lifetime? Women who had never felt accepted as equal, a basic quest of all people.

In the political world, leaders were expected not only to address hunger but to do something about a problem. And these were long ongoing problems. In the real world, if leaders did not do an adequate job, they were replaced.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger had been quoted in the years before he was elected pope that the Church of Rome was to big, and was in need of being pruned back. In a sense, this was a leader who seemed to be asking what it meant to be Catholic, in a view of the politics within the Church. And he seemed to only be interested in preaching to one side of the church.

Old men often had hearing problems but in the modern age this deficit could be tackled. But the elderly had to admit that they had a problem. Dealing with loss. Dealing with change.



Good Taste. I am not sure I ever consumed alcohol because of the potency of the drink. I never have drunk much hard liquor. I attended a party 2 weeks ago. A party with Bud Light. And I hate Bud. The taste of the beer. At a last party I attended with only Bud, I quietly did not drink.

Red wine. In the last two years I had started to drink red wine. I have learned that my taste in wine is a lot more expensive then that of beer. And I do not enjoy cheap red wine. I quietly will not drink if I do not like the taste of a beverage. I have read about what the good years have been for red wine. And I mostly present gifts of red wine to hosts at dinners that I attend. Red wine from $20 to $30 was now a luxury.

The thought crossed my mind if I was really worthy of having wine at this cost. Such a luxury. For me it was not every day. But there was the tension. About feeling worthy.

The NHL came to Minnesota in 1967-68. During those early years I fell in love with the sport. The Minnesota North Stars were covered by a sports writer from Duluth. But I think I owe a lot of my affection for hockey to what I picked up when I was a youngster just reading him. He is still covering hockey and he really does not seem that old. And I have come to know the guy over the last 20 years.

And I had a beer with him Saturday night. He was writing more hockey at the end of 2008, like he never had in his life. And there was something jubilant back in his personality that had wavered some over the years. Not only is he a hockey writer but he is a car guy. And at the end of the night he said, “Great car you are driving.”

I did have a nice car. A car of luxury. And I felt defensive about it. My defensiveness hit me at Mass. And not just momentarily at the “Lord I am not worthy” prayer. It was another “When you had all of this” moment of the weekend. There had been quite a number.

I have a niece whose third birthday was in a week. It struck me that she would never really remember these years. She already was talking about “qualifications” that she had met for having dessert. The only events that I remember from when I was 3 involved language. And what I was left with from those days was my dialect. My expanding vocabulary. From the people who taught me how to communicate. In a sense that was my badge of the early years. The inflection of pronunciation. But I recall none of the events. Yet the experts talked about how vital the early years were to healthy development.

Enter the journey. Work of human hands. The 3-year-old. These kids. I read the Creighton University website each Sunday. Where Larry Gillick writes, “per” is the Latin word for “through” and “sonare” is Latin for “sound.” Literally, “a person is one through whom sound comes. A personality is somehow the individual manner of sounding.” Like a 3-year-old.

Overwhelmed by what a child had become. How smart she/he was. How honest? I created this? That was the real shock and awe. Was God in awe? Of a young person and what had been created? Like a parent could become?

I had a curling match against a guy this week who shared that his 93-year old was running out of money. By year’s end. Overwhelmed. The 65-year-old son seemed overwhelmed to hear his father was running out of money. My mother told me yesterday she will have run out of money if she lived to be 93. That was the crisis of both aging and of the economic crisis: dealing with loss.

Overwhelmed. This is a financial system crisis, not a sub prime mortgage crisis. It’s not going to go away. It was not just the derivative market. It was the entire system. It was everybody. This crisis was about real people. Real job loss. Most of America seemed to be running out of money by year’s end. And there were all these biopsies going on every day, on every station, about the pathology of loss. It was all about running out of money. And the accompanying fear. The question of “What won’t get saved next?” was becoming “Who won’t get help?” The question was another “When you had all of this” moment. What a child had become really would be shown in bad times. Would those 2005 babies have been a good year down the road for character?

Red wine. Giving pause, with Grace, “when you had all of this.” I always wanted the host to serve that red wine now. To everyone. I think that was the message of God. Serve. Now! Quit waiting for when you were ready. The world need attention. Today! Share it with everyone.

Celebrating what was here. All around you. Today. “When you had all of this.” With a throbbing hearts. And tearing eyes.