Archive for July, 2011|Monthly archive page

Reigny Days and Mondays

I get an apostolic blessing once a year, which is extended from the good graces of the pope. Now he might not have heard, but it has been a while since I belonged to his fan club. As a matter of fact, I told a priest from Milwaukee of my concern over the election of this pope long on record of the need for pruning back in the church, three months after the puffs of white smoke appeared outside of St. Peter’s Square. .

I also am not a fan of prunes. One Sunday a year, I am served prunes for breakfast, and I am not allowed to say anything. I used to actually eat the prunes, until 2005. As a kind of protest.

“Every country, every family, every individual has setbacks as they rise. China is going to have some horrible setbacks. America had unbelievable setbacks as we rose,” said Jim Rogers, the noted investor. I wondered if he had Irish blood.

In December 2009, The Papal Nuncio in Ireland denied ’showing contempt’ for the State institutions by refusing to respond to requests from the Murphy Commission for information, according to Ivana Bacik (Labor). The previous reluctance of the Papal Nuncio in Ireland to contribute to the report, and then the delay of one week before finally commenting upon findings of the Murphy Commission led to calls for expulsion of the Papal Nuncio in Ireland.

Twenty months later, the Vatican has recalled its special envoy in Ireland, Papal Nuncio Giuseppe Leanza, to Rome to discuss the impact of the recent damning Cloyne Report on the Catholic Church’s handling of child abuse by priests.

This was eighteen months after someone in the Papal Nuncio’s office boiled the blood of the President of the Irish Republic, Mary McAleese. In her January 2010 speech at the annual pres­entation of greetings from the Diplomatic Corps on Saturday, she rebuked a senior Vatican official who suggested that reports about recent child-abuse scandals were in some measure peculiar to Ireland. Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza should have packed his bags right then.

The doctrine of defined papal infallibility came to pass only in 1870, though belief in this doctrine long predated the First Vatican Council. When you were infallible on matters of not just faith, but morals. I half-expect that Pope Benedict’s favorite song is “Reigny Days and Mondays Get Me Down.” And those stories which keep getting investigated in Ireland, oy vey.

It was Monday, and you needed to pass the buck. Or the euro. In a time frame when every means of exchange seemed to be falling, I would really love hearing the pope confess, “I do not know what to say. I do not know what to do. Especially in English. I know it was not the original tongue, but imposed there by a dominant culture.” It might be time for some papal humor directed at himself. In the tweaking of words and phrases. A few months before the imposed translations of the Mass scheduled for the First Sunday in Advent. In the modern world since the mid seventies when, if policy language causes ambiguity, sentiment have been construed to favor the policy-holder.

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Pierced Lips

To create something out of nothing,

There was an astonishment. To create something out of nothing. There was an astonishment to discover the universal feeling, to know how lost most twenty-somethings feel. In the invisible wrestling match of youth, in the search for meaning in all the world. In a world filled so much with ideology.

Ideology. Ideology was the wrestling match. Presidents and presidential candidates got caught up in it. Popes did too. It was a result of a focus on law and order. Orthodoxy. Rules. Until the Obama Administration, the conservatives have ruled the era in the United States, for those who have come of age. And youth for the most part eventually rebelled over too much rigidity. Perhaps like the youth in the Arab Spring.

My view of the generation in their twenties in the United States was that there was a palpable sense of rebellion. American kids had been walked to the bus stop all of their lives. Their parents had attended all of their soccer games. In “organized” sport. Life had never, in human history, been like that for kids before. There was some underlying desire for revenge, an expression of grievance over too much attention which was seen by adults as only a reflection of love. And the world had never seen so many voluntary body piercings, tattoos, markings, on so many people. To make some kind of statement about freedom.

There was in each life some kind of battle between alienation and unity. Maybe that was why people went on pilgrimage. Mostly, alone. To find a direction. A personal direction. In reading a couple of old issue of Company, from 2008, there is a story of pilgrimage. Every day you met people from all over the world in a quest, along the path of St. James, at el Camino de Santiago de Compostela. In A Vanished World, Chris Lowney questions as he travels across Spain why three religions that worship the same God and deeply respect human dignity have so often turned on each other. It was a book really about spiritual direction? I had read an article about this pilgrimage in Spain. In any life, we all had a spiritual direction, though few talk about it. It was a lot like that teen-age feeling when you got you first zit.

When you are in your late twenties. And you have these burning questions inside. With the battle over your fertility. To create something out of nothing. Something everlasting, like your children’s children. That astonishment. Over and over again, in each generation. So what are you gonna do when you learn how to pray? Beyond the petitions? In a relationship? When it was time to change the world, and amend your own life.

In the life of any 22-year old after completing their formal education, the challenge was coming to the understanding that the change would be through what looked to be some fairly mundane things in everyday life. I re-read another article about being moved on pilgrimage – not all that different than retreat, in a search for God in all things, in all lives, which never changed. Briana Colton wrote about her World Youth Day experience in Australia, in search of clarity and perspective in her life. Ms. Colton, a graduate from Marquette University three years before, writes of then struggle of all 25-year olds, of “becoming” after all this formation.

Ms. Colton described what I always thought of as the mundane things in a day. In the course of her days in Sydney, she walked, she listened, she sang. At the end of the trip, she reflected and she prayed. Ms. Colton did not figure out in a matter of days, or so she says, who she was or who God wanted her to be. But she did discover the importance of her Catholicism and experiencing the Eucharist (going to Mass) in the ongoing formation process of her life. In a sense she seems to still be moved by hunger, looking for her own passion about life, to experience more things Catholic.

What to do after “becoming”? To realize that today was sacred. And I was sacred. If I tried to live a more reverent life, tilted in the direction of God. If time is sacred is to see that part of the GLORY BE prayer…. ‘As it was in the beginning, NOW, and ever shall be.’ And if I was sacred, if my wife shared the ideal, and we pointed our kids in a certain direction, then maybe the people who believed, as I had believed, would help to form a better world.

What are you gonna do when you learn how to pray? Now! ONCE YOUR PRAYERS ARE ANSWERED, THEN WHAT? To realize that today was sacred. That I was in the presence of God. Now! After you land your first job out of college. After you are married? How often will you pray? As you create something out of nothing. What will you ask for? Or will you do nothing?

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Off-Broadway, Nunsense

Last October, at an uncle’s birthday party, I happen to talk to a former Dominican Sister of Sinsinawa who I think had once lived next door to my grandmother. I happen to mention to her the game that my first-grader teacher had us play – a game that I only had recently recalled which had a lot more unstated spiritual nature. Maybe once a week, a first-grader would come to the front of the room and participate in the “Who is it?” game.

It was in the days Mark Goodson and Bill Todman Productions. With “Beat the Clock.” “To Tell the Truth.” “I’ve Got a Secret.” The child would be blind-folded and got to ask only what seemed to be designated, ritual-like questions.

“Who is it?’
“It is I.’

And the blind-folded first grader would have to somehow resolve the identity of the questioner.

Last night I read the website of the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa, wondering whatever happened to my sixth grade teacher. In reading other obits, I was surprised how familiar I was with the schools that these Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa had taught at. Churches in the Midwest where I had worshipped, long after first grade.

Like God, the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa had been everywhere: at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Sioux Falls, St. Celia’s in Omaha, St. John Cathedral in Milwaukee, Queen of Peace in Madison, or at St. Mary in Evanston.

A child’s first perspective on issues of power, in the outside world – the world outside of parents, where parents rules — and the world seemed pretty good. Except when you had peas served with the chicken.

I saw the obit last night of my first grade teacher, Sister Pancratius Ritacca, OP, who was a member of the order of the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa. That is what the OP meant. To a six-year old, she seemed really old at the time she taught me. Hidden, at the time, not so unlike a modern Muslim women is, behind a veil. Including her neck.

There were fifty first-graders in that class, in the days a few years before Vatican II, when sisters were seen as a part of a work force for ecclesial projects. Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa did not get to complain about class size when, after all, this was the reason they had signed on, wearing their wimples, to teach.

Yes, once upon a time Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa had been everywhere. Maybe because of the affect of all those Mark Goodson and Bill Todman Productions, the good sisters were no longer at these Midwest parish schools. There had never really been an investigation as to why, until 2008. (And yesterday, I read where it sounds as if that investigation was cancelled. By Brazilian Archbishop João Bráz de Aviz, who was appointed in January as the new prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life . Good riddance to the last guy!)

If you are attending in its 25th year, the off-Broadway Production of Nunsense, you might be unaware of the profound deep part of a woman who dedicates herself to teach, for no compensation. By the costumes used, no one was messing with the black and white world of the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa. Someone had made light of all the nonsense that was imposed by the Sisters of St. Joseph or the Sisters of St. Francis. And the former nuns I knew, just loved it. The ones who had once taught in schools when tuition charged was $35 per year. And year after year there were new kids to teach. Kids who were a lot cuter in first grade than they had been in the eighth grade. Kids who had absorbed all of this knowledge and set off into the world.

There was no investigation as to why the valuation of Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa had fallen to a disregard, in the modern world until the one undertaken in 2008 by the powers that be in Rome. The people in the pews seemed to understand what had happened as a nation became more urban, as ethnic enclaves in the cities where most Catholics over fifty had grown up had been broken up by the idea of living outside the urban core. And because after Vatican II, when the veils came off, these women religious now are striving to work collaboratively with the ordained leadership of the church,” yet still as “a prophetic life form in the church.” Sr. Kathleen Popko, president of the Sisters of Providence, said that Women Religious “must not be co-opted for institutional purposes, enforcing its teachings and policies,” but rather “Insisting that they are not to be seen as a “work force for ecclesial projects.”

Not some kind of secret agent of the church, Sister Pancratius Ritacca had one day minstered to a frightened first grader who had been washing the chalk board and emptying a pail of water in the Men’s room, when another kid about fourteen had threatened, for some unknown reason, to kill him. Sister Pancratius Ritacca who knew there was evil in the world ran faster than Sally Fields, who later would be known as the Flying Nun, to catch the culprit.

“Who is it?”
“It is I.’

Sister Pancratius Ritacca, OP, professed vows in 1939, and in doing so gave up in a way her Italian heritage to become a member of a universal church which ministered, in elementary education, teaching at St. Thomas Aquinas in Milwaukee, at St. Cajetan in Chicago, at Visitation in Kewanee, IL, at Incarnation in Minneapolis, at St. Patrick in Ottawa, IL, at St. Joseph in Baraboo, WI, at St. Mary in Evanston, and at St. Thomas Aquinas, in Kenosha.

It is said that Sr. Pancratius enjoyed telling jokes and riddles. Riddles about the God who once upon a time described Himself as I Am Who Am.

In Kenosha, Sr. Pancratius led Bible studies, ministered in family care, did home visits, and taught religious education. I recall on Good Friday in 1959, she suggested that all fifty first-grader stay home, inside between the hours of noon and three. I looked in horror when she saw me at a three o’clock, and witnessed that I had not stayed in…..as I marched forward to kiss the holy cross.

In the chat nine months ago with the former Dominican sister of Sinsinawa who after telling me that Sr. Pancratius had died, I said it was not possible. My Sister Pancratius would have to be 130 years old. Or older. And I described the prophetic life form game:

Then I looked last night and found her picture, confirming that she had died. On February 4, 2010. The woman who had taught me how to read. And for the first time I saw her hair. And her neck. And those eyes. The Italian ones in so much rage that someone had threatened to kill me. And I thought again of that game. And the riddle about the God who once upon a time described Himself as I Am Who Am.

“Who is it?”
“It is I.’


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