Archive for March, 2009|Monthly archive page
A river. Forming boundaries. Rivers divided states and provided separated nations. Rivers had an affect on people and their lives.
River banks. Over flowing. The affect on people and their lives. Rivers were always changing. The Army Corps of Engineers was involved in monitoring rivers and their flow here. Because rivers formed boundaries.
My first job out of college brought me to the Red River of the North. The Red River flows to Canada. There is no other river like it. That first spring I heard a lot of talk about dikes and their importance. Every spring, with snow melt slower at the mouth of the river in Canada, where temperatures were always colder, floods were a threat. The dikes were built to keep boundaries.
This week the National Guard was building dikes with the local people. Protecting property, in a land where was no protection. If the dikes burst, most people had no insurance. Those home-owner insurance policy did not provide coverage for the peril of flood damage. If you lived in a flood zone, your local banker knew it. If your banker was still local. And if you did not live near the river, 99% of the people were not going to purchase flood insurance which had to be bought 30 days prior to a flood anyway. And contents could not be covered by the National Flood Insurance program.
Rivers and destinations. The path taken. The people met. The affect on river flow. In all the places I ever lived, of the 5 Midwest states, the general public in North Dakota was the nicest I ever witnessed. I think it was do to the harsh winters that are beyond description. And the weather and the rivers never really change. The affect of river flow. It was, I learned in geography class in the 3rd grade with Mrs. Wolfe, the effect that mountains and streams had on developing character.
This week the Coast Guard was monitoring dikes. With the Red River 22 feet above the normal level. If this was a building that would be more than a 2-story house, miles after mile. The people were holding their breath, after hearts had beat so fast exerting to get the dikes at least a foot about the projected flood level, in the ever changing world.
Was it 2 million sandbags that were protecting the boundaries of the Red River? Hastily built dikes. Those dikes and their hastily sent prayers were all that were left this week. As most of the exposed people waited, with no insurance. For water levels to recede. For spring to come to Manitoba. For life to return to normal. For things that the Coast Guard, the National Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers had no control over. People prayed for warmer spring temperatures that were not above average, for calm winds that would not wash out the dikes, that their lives would return to “normal.”
For normal. For what always had constituted peace time. With the National Guard. And the Army Corps of Engineers. So people could go about their work.
March in North Dakota was such a volatile time of year. When death gave way to life.
“Pain tells us when there is a problem. It tells us when we should stop doing something.”
Maybe you had to be a Creighton basketball fan to recognize when it was a rebuilding year. The basketball season ended this week. Even though Creighton won 26 games, I saw the Drake game and it looked like a rebuilding year that day to me.
I heard that Tom Shanahan, S.J., is the team chaplain. He had to quiet the storms when there was too much drama in the lives of these players. His role was helping the team reach the acceptance stage about where they were in this world. It was the end of the year, a time for the final Examen for these guys.
Speaking of Tom Shanahan, S.J., there was a lot more emotion in the Annunciation story found in today’s reading for me than discussed on the Creighton website. By Father Shanahan.
The Examen. Jesuits like to conclude an Ignatian retreat by discussing the Examen. People went on retreat really to try to learn how to pray. As every life is so different, so was the prayer method. But the Examen was a reflection back on the day just lived, to try an answer where it was that you met the Creator in the day.
There was a lot more emotion for me in the story found in TODAY’s reading than Father Tom Shanahan leads me to believe. In The Annunciation. Catholics hear the story of the interruption in Mary’s life on this day each year. It was the “Why me?” feast.
But Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?’ She just wanted to know what she had done. “Why me?”
I saw this as a bit of God’s past medical history. God’s pain over His creation. And then wanting to do something about it. And so He got a girl pregnant. Maybe Shanahan, when you lived with the guys, you missed the emotions of the female world. [And ladies, if you don’t like the use of the masculine personal pronoun, how did you explain the Holy sperm in the story? So God is, for purposes of understanding, referred to as HE. Here.]
“I’m pregnant.” The first reaction was fear. For the baby. For the girl. For the announcement to the world. Starting with her own parents. “Hmmmm. St. Ann? Mom, are you awake yet?”
Father Shanahan talks about the wondrous message Mary hears as she goes about the daily routine. “I am pregnant” in a world where unmarried women get stoned to death in some kind of honor killings. It does not sound all that wondrous to me. Not in the real world.
How many more kids did God want anyway? And were there not enough kids in this town? Mary’s fear had to be about acceptance of the news in the real world. Maybe it would be easier for the next virgin birth. But for now, would she be stoned to death? Gabriel’s “The Lord is with you” really seemed more an assurance that she would not be. Maybe the first born son of God — who would also be her son — would be killed, over all this, but Mary would not be. Living the unconventional life, Amidst God’s Chosen People. It would have been easier in San Francisco maybe 2000 years later. Or in Omaha.
So this was what it meant to be human? Pain tells us when there is a problem. It tells us when we should stop doing something. So God was gonna learn a bit more about pain. Maybe this girl can teach Him a new point of view. Like every man’s spouse. About why did God really choose her?
Today is the feast of the Annunciation, by my math, nine months before Christmas day. If she did the Examen as suggested by Ignatius Loyola about 1500 years later, she one day might have realized that she had a role in God’s creation and his desire to do something about the pain. Things were not looking good. Pain was all over this room when Gabriel came in. And Mary was not a bit player. “The Lord is with you.” He sure darn well was. Intimately.
God’s pain over his creation. And the emotions that went with the pain. “Excuse me, young lady, but you are pregnant.” There was no longer a denial. “Would you like a Coca-Cola? Yeah, you! You’re the One!”
This was the chance for the anger. All those human stages, that Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote about. And then Mary’s fast acceptance about the pain. His and hers. Where was the bathrobe? Hers, anyway.
“May it be done to me according to your word.” Then that angel departed. “We’ll see how all of this goes.”
The Examen. “The Lord is with you.” You just had to look for Him. Mary seemed to have a lot less anger than God. She was the peaceful one in the story. She found the 5th stage of grief in her world by a young age. Those Hail Marys were about reaching acceptance, amidst all of life’s pain, but still doing something about this world.
So this was the start for the mother of God. An identity that she could not quite get away from, in the days before cell phones, text messaging, tweets. And so those Hail Marys that stormed the heavens each day, in modern day Tweets. About the Human Condition. The Annunciation, announcing the human point of view to the divine, when this would be the beginning of a new relationship about shared pain. And when pain tells us when there is a problem.
The Examen. A reflection back on the day just lived, or a season past, when it had looked like a rebuilding year . . in Omaha. . where the basketball team was, to so many, the face of the Institution. At a Jesuit university.
In the mechanics of the sentence, what did the Angel of The Lord “declare?” That Mary was holy? And she believed the angel?
In the mechanics of Time quantified, neatly stacked away, banked in both history or on premises called institutions, “ANTECEDENT” is a word for which a pronoun stands.
“Behold the handmaid of The Lord!” Like the formal precedents set by the nameless handmaids of Sarah, of Leah, of Rachel? Behold all the women who got pregnant first, out of wedlock. Out of some form of slavery which came NOT out of romantic love or by arranged marriages — or by any love at all? Mary is a type of ANTECEDENT for all the prior nameless handmaids in the stories of the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac,and the God of Jacob, challenging the concepts of human legitimacy.
“Behold! Behold all of the precedents in the stories! And behold the WORD made flesh!”
Behold! Bending down to the arrangements of the times. Challenging the dogma of the times, BEHOLD! Behold all of the social conventions in the story, before challenging the concepts of social justice. Behold the true birthright which came down from the nameless handmaids, from the human culture which did not in this part of the world give much if any significance to a woman.
And BEHOLD the son of David, the stories always said.
The ANGELUS was a prayer about how Mary should believe that she was significantly holy, as I am to come to believe that I too am somehow legitimately unconventionally holy. What that Angel of the Lord DECLARED in the hovering darkness was the message of God’s love for this woman.
Moral relativism involved either people without questions about God, or only about God in certain areas of their lives. Moral relativism was a religious attitude. Awareness.
Start with the questions. Who is God? Was that a religious question, or a theological one? Religion seemed man-made. God sure was not. What is the human spirit? How do you live with what you believe? So how great was the tension in your life between your beliefs and your actions? Imperfect?
Attitude comes from the questions: Attitudes of love or attitudes of fear? Where does the relationship start? A guy looking for loopholes. Changing action not to look for the loopholes.
What did you most want to pass on? Disappointment over decsisons where life was now headed. Awareness of morality and moral relativism as a religious attitude. Performance and the tension in life between belief and action? Life at the Half-baked Bakery.
How can anyone miss the tension of the times?
Shoes. Movement. Places. Location. Parishes. Looking for a point of view.
A local church. A funeral. The Hughes. Five daughters. A burial plot.
Location. Ground shifts. Water level. Flooding. Minnesota. Where I walked.
Locations. Rome. Going to the seat of political power. To change public policy. To affect the leaders there.
The Roman Catholic Church. To miss the tension of the times. The brutality of the Roman Empire. There was a reason Peter had gone there to Rome.
Looking for a point to view. To find something to say. And then how to say it. Without stage fright.
A ‘moment of silence.’ Grieving and all of its wake was nothing but the giving of thanks and praise for a life. I had been stunned at what had happened and at what was here. And at what had always been here and now was gone. Kaddish. The mystery was in the questions.
Where does your identity come from? What gives you identity? A group? Your family? Your parish? Your political affiliation? Your fraternal organization? What gives you identity? Your beliefs? What is your identity? Who are you? What do you do? Now? In the past?
Looking for a point to view. Going to the seat of political power. To affect the real world and its people. To affect the leaders there. There was a reason Peter had gone there to Rome.
The tension between a people who felt the way toward Rome as Poles and Czechs had toward the Russians, too easily forgotten over time. The tension in the old Austrian-Hungary Empire, if you did not happen to be an Austrian. It was an unremembered cause of World War I. The stories of the capo in concentration camps in Dachau. One of their own, working in the system, for personal benefit. The Sandhedrin and Pilate. When you had been colonized, the culture of the domination of the conquering one is affirmed all the time. Or there is an under current from the tension. Ask a soldier back from Iraq.
There had been a reason to a Roman Catholic Church.
Hoping to find a human answer to all of this. God asking: “What am I going to do? With you? In a world with 6 billion others. What are you gonna do? Now? What am I gonna do now? Because I am done making personal appearances. For the cameras.”
Hoping to find a human answer to all of this. As a reaction to the world and its poverty. Its illiteracy. All of the unfairness. Amidst all the denial. The anger. The bargaining. The grief.
Acceptance and growth. “On Death and Dying.” There had been a reason for a Catholic Church in Rome.
Places. Location. Looking for a new point of view.
March 20th: Dealing with long recessions. Dealing with a long winter. From one age to the next, how long has this been going on? Yet this collective group of people alive on earth worried about global warming, about economic disintegration, as if they could solve these troubles on their own. Was it, in human history, just another long winter? Was it just another big recession, with the loss of material wealth? Or was this the end of the world?
Dealing with greatness: Individually. Collectively. A 5-year old in formation. The star goalie in a college hockey tournament, my sisters claims to have known since he was 5. A hockey team dealing with sudden greatness. Dealing with its greatness, and a number 2 cede in next week’s NCAA tournament.
One of my all-time favorite books was written by Jack Miles. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1996. God: A Biography, recounts the growth of God as a character within the narrative of the Tanakh, the 5 Books of Moses, the Books of the Prophets (Nevi’im), and the Book of Writings (Ketuvim), as a tale of existence of God as the Judeo-Christian deity. God who needs a chosen people, and a Chosen People who need God. It is never delved into but at some point these books went through a process of canonization, like the bishop of Rome sets forth with the dead.
Ever since reading the book, I have thought of the growth of God over time. What has He learned with each generation of people? It is taught that God had no beginning. And Miles writes about the years that God spent in solitude. God, dealing with His greatness. Alone. This period says a lot to me about mankind’s affliction with addictions.
God. Created in the image, formed in the likeness. Of God. Dealing with greatness. Dealing with loss. Of another generation. A God who has seemed to change over time. Having to work on formation, after the loss of the previous generation.
God. Jesus of Nazareth. His inheritance from his father as a carpenter. The training, as Joseph son. With business coming from clients who had always come to this family for their needs. The income until he was thirty. Spending the rest of his life, the minutes, whatever money he saved, directed to the end. To spend all of his talent, with not one thing wasted.
God, dealing with His greatness. And God’s son, dealing with greatness. We never really hear about those years, in the sequel to the Hebrew Bible. Whether there were grandparents on each side of the family. Or cousins. What Joseph’s dad did, or the other grandfather married to Ann. Instead we hear about a focus of how men and women should deal with our individual, our collective, greatness. The Christian world hears the stories focused on the divine, about dealing with loss. That was the story instead most people contended with in old age. The loss of money. The loss of loved ones. The diminishment of life.
Crime. Punishment. Dealing with it all. A God who has seemed to change over time. Dealing with greatness, dealing with loss. In his book, Miles “shows us a God who evolves through his relationship with man, the image who in time becomes his rival, per the back cover of Miles’ book. The growth of God as seen in the greatness of a one-time 5-year-old, after formation. Now, the star goalie in a college hockey tournament,
“Here is the Creator who nearly destroys his chief creation – in the story of Noah. Here is the Creator, the bloodthirsty warrior and the protector of the downtrodden; the lawless law-giver; the scourge and the penitent,” says the inside liner of the Knopf book.
A reaction to the world and its poverty. The illiteracy. The unfairness. The rich and the poor. Dealing with loss. The denial. The anger. The bargaining. The grief. Acceptance and growth. Created in the image, formed in the likeness. Of God. God: A Biography, recounts the growth of God as a character within the narrative. I think of my own character growth, in current times. Me, dealing with loss. A nation, dealing with its greatness and loss. That seemed to be the theme of 2009, in both my life and life in the United States.
Dealing with forgiveness.
God asking: “What am I going to do with you? What are you gonna do now? And what am I gonna do now?” And hoping to find a human answer to all of this.
God: A Biography.
There was rather imprecise understanding all around us. How worried should I be in all of this?
Quantitative easing was the term used by the Federal Reserve bank. Money was cheap these days. Despite the fact that easy money had created most of the world’s troubles.
I had a goddaughter that was now 24. Her belated birthday celebration was in three hours. I am not sure if she was given the choice of the menu. I had loved the celebration of genealogy in her holy day of baptism. It was in the genealogy that the baptized were connected, a realization that had more meaning following the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day.
My sister came back from Israel and Egypt 4 months ago, and I had seen the pictures of Moses’ burning bush. Coptic Catholics had possession of the bush which still was in Egypt. It could not be transplanted. It had been tried. Over and over. So the burning bush was still in Egypt. Last November, I had missed the subtleness of the reality and the meaning of those who had tried to transplant it.
Churches and schools were the institution dedicated to leading people out of their darkness. The conflict amongst the baptized. The conflict of the Christian world with the unbaptized over what we actually do and how we actually live. It was not about dogma. Or meatless Fridays. It was not about compulsory prayer as much as it was about learning intimacy, how to communicate, and how to worship with intimacy in a relationship.
There was a desire of everyone for an intimate relationship. It is a dangerous process opening to someone. It is a dangerous process to tell them how to live their own unique life. There is a need to risk in a relationship before you can be comfortable, before you can be truly intimate, and yes, have efficient sex.
Intimacy. Prayer and sex were a lot alike. Monogamy. Monotheism. Revelations. Of imperfections. His. Hers.
I had this goddaughter who was moving in with her boyfriend in one week. The birthday celebrant. She was taking “the quantitative-easing” route that was all the rage these days. I saw her future and where she was headed now, in these turbulent times, as a result of this move, more as one of either of the “D” words. In her life and in the life of the economy. Deflation. Depression.
The first to be deflated would be her grandmother. No one would be hearing the news tonight, I have been told.
Genealogy. Setting high standards and priding itself on its dignity and decorum, genealogy could get a battering over the course of a 12 month period.
Genealogy. And my niece. Her “Catholic education” ended at the age of 14. The root meaning of ‘education’ was ‘to lead people out.’ “Catholic education” was about passing along the religious tradition, an attempt to convey meaning.
I think the best comedians were either Jewish or Irish. God and His sense of humor. And the subtleness of the reality of those who try to transplant tradition. Developed over time. In individual relationships. Those sacraments. The outward signs. On public display. The public display of affection. There used to be seven.
Who could believe in the sacraments? It was always the question. Who WOULD believe in the sacraments? A virgin birth. Who could believe? Or who WOULD believe in a virgin birth? Then. Or now? A Messiah? Who would believe in a Messiah? Then? Or now? That was the mystery. The darn near impossible. God! This year. Who WOULD believe in God? It was always the question. Then. Or now.
So what did all of this mean? Genealogy. Then. And now
Heraclitus was a philosopher who believed “You cannot step twice into the same river. For other waters are continuously flowing on.”
I think he wrote it about the time of the baptism. When there was an imprecise understanding all around. Then. And now.
POST SCRIPT: From the July 25th Atlantic Monthly piece by Emma Green:
In 1970, there were roughly 426,000 Catholic weddings, accounting for 20 percent of all marriages in the United States that year. Beginning in 1970, however, Catholic marriages went into decades of steady decline, until the turn of the new century – when that decline started to become precipitous: Between 2000 and 2012, Church weddings dropped by 40 percent, according to new data from the Official Catholic Directory. Given other demographic trends in the denomination, this pattern is question-raising: As of 2012, there were an estimated 76.7 million Catholics in the United States, a number that has been growing for at least four decades."
For 13 years I attended Catholic schools in the United States, followed with attendance for four years at a Jesuit university. It was only when I finished my schooling and traveled to Ireland that I realized for the first time, based upon names, most of these friends who were Catholic, most all of my friends, were Irish Catholic. The origins of the names had been a bit invisible but any litany of these family names on my Christmas card list would make another grand Celtic song.
So this Irish Catholic identity: was identity only an idea? Until the past generation, most European countries were identified by its religion or its music. Whatever the denomination, worship and music were used to unite a people, to energize them to work for others. Music, worship, could change the shape of the world and my shape within it. Identity was how I saw, what I liked, and what I wanted to look like.
In 2008, I was given a book called Vanishing Ireland. The writer’s theme was that the Celtic Tiger had eroded a way of life. Or something had. It was just the way the world was becoming. There was a concern in Europe about a vanishing world. In the days of the European Union. Europeans were struggling to live in a secular world with their Christian past. Vanishing Ireland was not a book so much about vanishing Catholics in Ireland as a vanishing way of life. The Catholics were still there. But the meaning and purpose of a Catholic identity in the vanishing world of Europe Union was a concern, at least to clerical leaders. (Before the revelations of the Murphy Commission, et al.)
Why all the concern over the loss of identity? My interpretation of the world depended upon whom I had come across, of that something which seemed to build over the years, this spirit within me.
In 1993, I had stayed at a bed & breakfast in Kilkenny sixteen years after my first trip. The place was operated by a woman in her seventies. Mrs. Hefferan was long-time separated. And Ireland at the time was in the midst of an election campaign whether divorce should be legally recognized in her country. In the course of a breakfast on a Sunday morning, Mrs. Hefferan revealed what was special about Kilkenny. It was her stories about the man she married. It had not been an unhappy experience for her. She just explained what happened on an island — to an American and a French woman over tea — whether to men or to dogs. After years of breeding, she felt, the men and the Irish setters inevitably just got high strung. But still Irish men and Irish setters were appreciated the world over for their companionship.
Fifteen years later — after that holiday — a pub a day is closed in Ireland. For good. The world was changing. Was there a loss of community everywhere? So what really was vanishing? As people went their separate ways?
Laura McKenzie has dedicated her life to traditional Celtic music. It had taken years to develop. And then for the next generation to learn. “I was drawn to the culture that had produced it.” This American woman learned that it was not just the notes on paper that the music was about. The mystery was in the formation process like the Cliffs of Moher, or of playing music with an older man from Sligo. Celtic music taught that when someone was gone, their life in memory became more holy. That was identity.
Civilization was a collection of cultures and the things that drew people to the culture. To produce it, took years. It took years to learn any culture. And then it was passed along. Even in the middle of no where. That was part of the draw to this culture, which certainly involved a religious, a family dimension. Even to the those caught up in exile from a diaspora.
So what did all of this means because of St. Patrick? What was the meaning and purpose of a scattering Irish Catholic identity, fought over as a sectarian battle for too much of the twentieth century, even to the scatter-brained wild rovers?
Born about 350 years after Jesus of Nazareth died. Kidnapped at a young age. This young man from the Scottish Highlands taken prisoner in 403 AD and held in captivity. For six years. Learning a new language. An escape as a stow away. A 3-day journey back to Britain.
Returning to this land years later as a priest. And with his knowledge of the language, changing the landscape where actually there were no snakes. Had there ever been?
Baptized with names that we are not anonymous. Those Irish names so that we no longer are anonymous. History and its affect on me. I had traveled to Ireland twice. In 1994 I visited the town, the homestead that still carried the family name. This fertile land was in the middle of nowhere.
Long with conflict amongst the baptized and the unbaptized, between Protestants and Catholics, over issues of human power, music if not worship was used to unite a people, to energize them to work, from this thing called identity. For others. In the mainstream, to arrive at consensus. Over who we say we are, over who we actually are, and over who God wants us to be. Out of the middle of nowhere.
Visible, on March 17th. This has turned out to be a day not so much about shared belief any more, as shared blood. Or just a shared drink. When God really trumps nationhood. Until commercialized in the secular world. Because of St. Patrick, my family has no longer been sinning anonymously, but with an identity. Drawn era after era to other Irish people, and having a fine time. With a name that generation after generation has kept trying. Bonded by the stories.
Lent was the mid term. Lent was the time for letting God get our attention. My brother-in-law was giving up chocolates. I could not fathom how that would grab someone’s attention. It seemed to be some kind of childhood fast. What about the entire appetite?
Getting our attention with those mid term tests. When was it time to buckle down in life? To put beliefs into practice? And how? How would prayer, fasting or alms-giving affect others? Was Lent about improved outcomes?
“I asked him about what it is exactly that he came to this place to find.” Mid terms was the time to ask why you were not studying. Is there transformation on the other side of distance?
To be Catholic student meant an exposure to real demands and being held accountable. To those 10 Commandments. It could work because of an exposure to caring mentors, in parents, in teachers, and in priests. Those mentors make up the institution. Those mentors value the students, knowing that they were the world of tomorrow.
Lent was about those personal relationships which are integral to improved health outcomes. At a private school those personal relationships must remain the priority. Lent was the time for letting God get our attention back.
“Spirituality is not about self-enhancement nor self-improvement indulgences. The root meaning of ‘education’ was ‘to lead people out,’ which is the mission that Ignatius had a vision of an institution dedicated to leading people out of their darkness. This institution is dedicated to leading people out of their darkness … about who they are in God’s eyes. And this institution is dedicated to leading people out of their darkness who Jesus has blessed them to be. Prayer and reflection moves us to embrace of our sisters and brothers, beyond ourselves. And that is the purpose of, the meaning of, a Jesuit ‘education.’” -Larry Gillick, the blind Jesuit
Churches and schools were the institution dedicated to leading people out of their darkness.
Today we celebrated a life and those institution still alive as a result. It was another grand day to be alive. I turned on the light with too little thought. But light was what made this new day begin. My eyes did not work until I could adjust the lens to the brightness. In this case, 45 minutes before sunrise, it was the artificial light, man-made light,which I used to get going. In other places of the world, people were forced to make their own adjustments.