Sunday, November 3, 2013


I signed up awhile ago (a year or two?) for the National Black Catholic Congress newsletter.
The list of "Upcoming Events" includes the following (more info here):

- Annual Black Saints Celebrations: "Come Walk with me against Violence, Murder and Racism"
- "Where Justice and Mercy Meet: Catholic Opposition to the Death Penalty"
- Pastoring in Black Parishes, a series of Clergy Enrichment Conferences
- Bishop James Augustine Healy 20th Anniversary Award Dinner
- Celebrating National Black Catholic History Month

Monday, October 28, 2013

some b/w answers

I was recently told that it is wrong to be "too friendly" with sinners, gays and adulterers.  We can be "friends" but not "friends-friends," they said, and I struggled to understand.  Maybe they meant we could be "neighborly"..?
Hmm...I wonder if anything has ever been said/written/painted about that...
 "Tax collectors and sinners were all crowding around to listen to Jesus. So the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law of Moses started grumbling, "This man is friendly with sinners. He even eats with them."  (Lk 15)

"And who is my neighbor?" (Lk 10:25)

Monday, October 14, 2013

a funeral

Last Monday was the funeral for a very popular Franciscan who died at age 87 after serving 59 years in Navajoland as a missionary priest.  He had one of the longest running radio shows that our nation has ever known and it was bilingual, too (in English and Navajo).  Apparently it was so widely listened to, he would often meet people on the Reservation who, after exchanging a few words, would recognize him by his voice.

Once a week, until about a year and a half ago, he would come every Friday to say Mass in Navajo at the Missionaries of Charity's shelter for the homeless.  The Sisters needed a driver to take them to the funeral so I had an excuse to attend.  I wanted to at least be at the funeral ever since I came across this ten-year-old article about his life and work from the L.A.Times.

Fr. Cormac Antram

The funeral was in both Navajo and English and very well attended.  We sang "Amazing Grace" in Navajo and one of the superiors of the Franciscan order traveled from Ohio to officiate (in the absence of our bishop who was on pilgrimage in Israel).  It takes about twice as long to say things in Navajo and we listened to the homily first in English and then, for a long time, it was read again in Navajo. 

One of the highlights for me was a prayer that was first read in Navajo by the only Franciscan Brother in our area who is himself Navajo.  It is a Christian form of a Navajo blessingway prayer and I wish I knew who authored it.  The closest I have come so far to finding an original Blessingway (not Christian) is this one, and the brief explanation of what beauty means to the Navajo corresponds to what I have learned so far, too.

Yesterday I came across the Blessingway as it was read at the funeral in Fr. Cormac's own book, "Laborers in the Harvest," a published collection of some of the articles that appeared in his regular column for the Diocesan newspaper.  I am copying it here so I can commit it to memory though I wish I could learn it in the original, it was so beautiful.  There were many present who knew it and murmured along out loud as it was being read from the pulpit.

Jesus, God's Son, my older Brother, come to me!
From your home, from heaven, from there, come to me!
From heaven, from the sky hole, from there, come to me!
On earth where you were born, from there, come to me!
From the first view of my home, come and stand with me!
Along the trail leading to my home, come and stand with me!
By the fireplace of my home, come and stand with me!
My feet, you will watch over them for me, I said to him.
My body, you will watch over it for me, I said to him.
My heart, you will watch over it for me, I said to him.
My hands, you will watch over them for me, I said to him.
My lips, you will watch over them for me, I said to him.
My ears, you will watch over them for me, I said to him.
My eyes, you will watch over them for me, I said to him.
My mind, you will watch over it for me, I said to him.
May beauty be before me as I go through life.
May beauty be behind me as I go through life.
May beauty be beneath me as I go through life.
May beauty be above me as I go through life...
Jesus, my older brother, come to me!
Jesus, my older brother, come to me!
Jesus, my God, come to me!

Finally, the funeral concluded with the Franciscans present (there were many!) singing the "Ultima," which apparently is a Marian hymn traditionally sung at Franciscan events, whether joyful or sad.  I cannot seem to find a sung version right now (I will keep looking!), but here is the score, from the Benedictines who evidently also use it.

Eternal rest, grant unto him O Lord: and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Tag: "Stuff I may not remember later if I don't write it down"

On Tuesdays I go help out at the soup kitchen and shelter run by the Missionaries of Charity here in town.  Lately I have been on "food pick-up" duty which means I drive over to the supermarket and collect their expired packaged food or wilted produce in grocery carts, load it up into a vehicle (hopefully one large enough to fit all the boxes of food) and then bring it back.  (The manager laughs when he sees me--he figures the Sisters must really be desperate to send puny old me to carry all those heavy boxes!)

The Sisters feed anywhere between 60 to 130 folks a day on reject grocery store items, themselves included.  So it is definitely worth the effort.

Today I had three cart-loads and was getting a little worried about being able to manage it all alone to be able to get it down the ramp to where I can load it up into the Sisters' suburban.  I was just about to leave when one of the workers notified me that I had overlooked some items.  "Those!  Those!" she pointed to a grocery cart full of roses. Not just a bouquet or two of drooping blossoms like we typically get, but about a dozen gorgeous bouquets of roses of all colors that were barely fading.  Plenty of red.

It actually took me a minute.  I started loading it all up and became distracted, wondering how I could manage an even bigger load than I already had...until I realized: it is October 1st, Feast Day of St. Therese of Lisieux! 


For any readers who might not be familiar, St. Therese is nicknamed "The Little Flower" and is known to "shower down roses" (her words) as a sign that prayers are being heard.  At any rate, I didn't have to explain this to the Sisters when I returned with my load of food for the day. 

"Guess what I have in the truck?" I said, as I pulled into the garage. "Roses! Lots and lots of roses."

"Ah, it is St. Therese!" they said, not at all surprised.  Okay, two of them did raise their eyebrows a bit and smile.  But really, I can't say that it was surprise...they just seemed happy. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

The focus of the nation, briefly. 7 minus 2 Quick Takes.

Last Friday, one of the front page news stories of the Navajo Times was about the translating of the movie Star Wars into the Dine language.  Now the project has made national, and even international headlines.

On a less awesome note, the local cult we regularly run into around town (and which I wrote about earlier here) was profiled in a short National Geographic documentary last year.  The cult leader, a woman named Lila (or Deborah) Green, appears several times throughout the documentary and on Saturdays at our fair city's weekly outdoor flea market. 
For a quick peek at her, or a summary of the views of the charmingly-named Aggressive Christianity Missionary Training Corps, skip to 7:03 and listen for about five seconds, and that ought to answer any questions you might have.

(note: According to Debra Weyermann's book Answer Them Nothing, Bringing Down the Polygamous Empire of Warren Jeffs, knowledgeable sources estimate the number of Jeffs' wives to be well over 60 and somewhere between and 200 and 300.)
This year's Gathering of Nations Powow began last week a couple hours away from us. The annual Intertribal Ceremonial will take place this August in our city, the famed Indian Capital of the World.  I love this event, and folks travel from all over to attend and participate.

Our area is also known for having been the site of the largest release of radioactive material in U.S history.  It happened almost exactly 34 years ago and although the effect on the environment was devastating to local residents, the affected area was never declared a federal disaster zone and therefore federal funds were never made available for containment or cleanup. 
One of our local heroes is one who was first honored on the national level.  Hiroshi Miyamura received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions during the Korean War.  We have a bridge and a highschool named for him, and according to Wikipedia there is also an area of town named for him.  We've seen him around a couple of times, too. 

(more takes over here)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Not-so-Quick Takes: the Eucharist, cannibalism, and other unmentionables

I am aware that not all readers share a sacramental view of the Eucharist, as it is understood by Catholic and Orthodox Christians.  If transubstantiation is not your thing, you might want to skip this post.  Scroll further down for links to some good music.  (By the way, if you're looking to create a new Pandora station, may I suggest Iris DeMent for some earthy, folksy flavor?  She is rad.)

A further disclaimer, for those who choose to continue to read: these "Takes" are a collection of notes from my draft folder, scribbles that have never made it into posts of their own because they are more thought-experiments than anything else.  I am no theologian.  But, in case anyone gets distracted or has trouble "feeling" anything at the Mass lately, this might just help.  


The Catechism instructors at our parish organized a Seder Dinner during Lent so that the students and their families could learn more about the Jewish origins of our faith.  The Eucharistic celebration is rooted in the Passover and both are meals (and sacrifices) of great symbolic meaning.  The Seder is more of a ritualized meal, without the bloody sacrifice part. 
Some of the prayers of the Mass at Communion are almost identical to ones in a Seder:

Seder: "Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who dost create the fruit of the soil" and "Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who dost create the fruit of the vine."

Mass: "Blessed art Thou, O Lord of all Creation, for through Thy goodness we have this bread to offer, Fruit of the earth and work of human hands.  It will become for us the bread of life." 
"Blessed art Thou, O Lord of all Creation, for through your goodness we have this wine to offer, fruit of the vine and work of human hands.  It will become our spiritual drink."


Brant Pitre's book is a good read, for anyone who might want to learn more about Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist.  In Chapter 3, entitled "The New Passover," he considers the battles over whether Jesus meant that the bread is his body, or whether it represents his body.  The context of these words, he says, is the Jewish Passover:

Well, then, let's look again at the Passover.  In the Old Testament, was it ever enough simply to sacrifice the lamb? No.  Did the actual flesh of the lamb have to be eaten in order for the sacrifice to complete? Yes.  Could a symbol of the lamb's flesh suffice?  By now, we know that the answer is negative.
In other words, Jesus knew full well what any first-century Jew would have known: when it came to the Passover, you did not only have to kill the lamb; in order to fulfill God's law, in order to be saved from death, you had to eat the lamb.  As with the old Passover of the first exodus,* so with the new Passover of the Messiah.  The main difference between the two is that in the new Passover, the lamb is a person, and the blood of redemption is the blood of the Messiah.  (p.75)

Fr. Barron says that the Greek word used for "eat" in John 6:53 when Jesus said, "unless you eat my flesh, there is no life in you" is not the word used for the human action of consuming food, but the one used to describe what animals do when they are hungry.  The real translation ought to be, "unless you gnaw", or maybe rather "unless you devour."  The bystanders had pressed Jesus for clarity on this point and, Fr. Barron points out, rather than backing down or softening the message, Jesus became even MORE forceful: "No, really, you must devour me."
At that time, some of the disciples went away and left him, because "the teaching is too difficult, who can accept it?"**

The Jews present might have wondered to themselves about it (and some rejected the teaching) because the teaching seemed to go counter to the directives of their Law.  The Mosaic code forbade the consumption of the flesh of an animal that still had blood in it.  Because the blood is the life of the creature, and God is the author of life.  So this new teaching seemed to be directly at odds with the Law given by God himself to Moses.

Unless of course the prohibition had greater significance than its literal application to butchered animals, of course.  Here is the kicker, in the phrase that came next, the one that was intended as an explanation: "For my flesh is real food, and my body is real drink." 

What does that mean?


There are reports of holy people who have survived solely on the Eucharistic bread.  In graduate school we read a scholarly work which explored the complex relationship of certain well-known Medieval saints to food.  Which is a very cool and fascinating topic (and it turns out that this is one of those things that hasn't changed much.  Or at least it indicates that you don't have to be a super holy woman to have issues with food.). 

Back to the question of the meaning of that phrase, "my Body is real food and my blood is real drink."  I am pretty sure He only means his body is real food...not everyone's body.  So it's not a metaphor/reality that applies to all of us.  Also, He could be anticipating more questioning and disbelief.  "No, really, I mean this is real food.  It really is."

Consider that statement, re-phrased: "My flesh is real food, as opposed to all that other fake food."  And that is a mind-blower right there.  Is eating and drinking, as we know it, not completely real?  Is it a metaphor or a shadow of a greater truth or reality?


In the summer of '00, while I was still a college student, I spent a month in a village in rural Egypt for a fieldwork project in Cultural Anthropology.  Having spent over a decade in western North Africa (Morocco), I was surprised at the considerable cultural differences between the two places.  One custom that struck me as just plain odd was how these Egyptians treated dinner guests. 

Several families extended invitations to come to their home for the main meal of the day and then, upon arrival, they would guide us to a small side room (a bedroom, usually) where a dining table had been brought in and the table was set and the food laid out.  They would invite us to be seated and then close the door behind them and leave my research partner and myself alone to consume the meal. 

Without the help of our reference books on local practices and traditions, we would have felt more confused and embarrassed than we already did.  It turns out, at least according to the experts of social science in these parts, that the people there felt that the act of eating was viewed in the same way as other, um, necessary bodily functions.  As such, we (the honored guests) should be allowed to go about doing our "business" in privacy. 


There is a lot of fuss over whether the Eucharist, as the Real Body and Blood of Jesus Christ is cannibalism.***  Let's go with that train of thought for a few more minutes: the only circumstances under which we devour the flesh of another person (besides a few isolated tribes out there) are desperate ones.  Shipwrecks, air wrecks...situations of isolation and hopelessness.  Later, if we survive, we can barely admit to what we have done.  There is shame associated.  It is the opposite of a noble thing to do...  Hunger makes us do crazy things; starvation makes us to unspeakable ones.


"You are what you eat."  That's what they tell me.

If the saying is true, then we will become Christ.  We drink the blood--the life--of the Savior.  We ingest His body/life/spirit into our own.  Because we are physical beings.  And so was He.

My parish priest once explained in a homily, "The miracle of transubstantiation is not that Jesus dwells in mere bread and wine, but that Jesus dwells in me, in you."

8. (a freebie, bonus take:)

Because I promised some samples from St. Alphonsus de Liguori:

Saint Bernardine of Siena says that Jesus Christ, before he died, burning with love for us and not content with preparing to give his life, was driven by the excess of his love to do an even greater deed, which was to give his own body for our food.  (...)
 And note how longingly Jesus Christ years to come to our souls in holy Communion!  "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you" (Lk 22:15). (...)
And so that everyone could easily receive him, he chose to leave himself under the appearance of bread.  If he had left himself under the appearance of some rare or very costly food, the poor would have been deprived of him.  But no, Jesus wanted to place himself under the form of bread, which costs little and can be found everywhere, so that every person in every country can find him and receive him. (...)
He could not satisfy his love by himself entirely to the human race by his Incarnation and by his Passion, dying for all people.  He sought to find a way to give himself entirely to each one of us in particular; and so he instituted the sacrament of the altar in order to unite himself fully with each one of us. (The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ, pp.14-17)

more takes over at JF's

* Earlier in the book, Pitre expounds on how the Jewish people were anticipating not only the redemption the Messiah would usher in, but also the return of Moses, and along with him, a "new exodus."  Definitely worth a read.
** John 6:60
*** I have read and heard, over and over again, that the Catholic understanding of the Eucharist is NOT equivalent to cannibalism.  But like I said earlier, I am following the train of this thought-experiment, and just "going with it" to see where it leads.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Quick Takes, Cathedral Noise Edition

We live less than two blocks from our diocese's Cathedral.  It is a very beautiful building in a city of not-very-beautiful buildings.  Yes, we have lovely rocks and sand dunes nearby, but our man-made structures are...simple.  (remember: this is Reservation area---not pretty.)

Anyway, one of the perks of living near the Cathedral is that we hear the bells chime, on the hour, every hour from 8 am until 6 pm.  It is a lovely sound and I remember that I felt sorry for a friend who lives in a faraway neighborhood when she admitted that she did not even know there was a Cathedral in town, nor that it had a bell tower.* 


If only the liturgical music was as beautiful as the bells.  It is not.**  The acoustics are wonderful and I once heard a concert performed by highschoolers from a private Protestant school that was really fantastic.  If only they attended regularly... 

Another time, I heard a local parishioner who is a professional opera singer rehearsing for a funeral Mass.  He was colorful, in his cowboy boots and his waxed mustache, and his was the most beautiful singing I have heard in a long time.  Too bad for us, he's not a Sunday regular in the choir.

Christmas Children's Choir, with interior partial view of the Cathedral
(not as good performers as that opera singer, but
WAY high on the cuteness scale)

Outside of concerts, Masses and funerals, the Cathedral sees a lot of foot traffic.  The doors are unlocked for a good portion of each day and people pop in to pray when they can.  Sometimes they stay two minutes, and sometimes much longer.  Strangely, the minority Filipino population in town seems to be carry the largest number of spontaneous pray-ers (according to my completely unscientific calculations and observations).


It is a rare occasion to find the Cathedral completely empty.  Someone is usually on their way in to pray, or they are cleaning, or one of the priests is setting up for a special occasion Mass, or something. 

When I first moved here, the lady in charge of maintenance was a very quiet middle-aged woman who clearly loved her job.  She would pause while mopping and flop down on the pew with a loud sigh, pray quietly (though not silently) and then stand up and get back to work.  I chatted with her once in awhile but I am sorry to say that I did not notice her absence for several months.  When I finally inquired, I learned that due to complications of a more chronic condition, she had to undergo an amputation and is now unable to work.  Sadly, no one I spoke to knew how she was supporting herself.

Recently they have had to keep the doors locked during daytime hours because of trouble with a local homeless man.  Among the list of his "offenses:" he pretends to pray while charging his cellphone (the horror!).  I know him a little and by reputation; he is harmless but somewhat of a nuisance.  He also makes calls inside the building but I was at Mass one day when a nun took a call while still in the pew so he is not the only one.

In early December, my kids and I spent most of a Saturday helping with the Christmas decorating. There were boxes and artificial trees and lights strewn everywhere and folks wandering around and plenty of hubbub.  Mid-afternoon, a middle-aged man came in the side door and stood before the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe to pray.  He was clearly surprised to find so many other people in the church at that hour and seemed a little distracted, looking around and hesitating, before walking back outside. 

But a few minutes later he returned, with a guitar strapped on and a harmonica on a bar mount.  He resumed his place in front of La Virgen and played and sang his song.  A bunch of kids and their tinsel weren't going to get in his way.


There seems to be a problem with the sound system at the Cathedral over the last couple of weeks.  It was so faint at first that I wondered if I was the only one who noticed it, but in recent days it has become much louder.  There is a radio station that plays over the loudspeakers.  And not quiet news radio, either.  It's a country music station, that also broadcasts Native music and Navajo talk shows.  Basically, as long as someone is reading or speaking, you can't hear it, but at all the key moments--the silent prayer after the homily or Communion and all those other moments when we are meant to be reverent and meditative, all we can hear are the twangy guitars or banjos of 94.7 FM.

(more 'takes' at Jen's)

* The Cathedral is probably the prettiest building for several hundred miles, period.  There are very few public spaces that are beautiful in these parts and although I have not visited all of the buildings and churches in the vicinity, I feel confident saying this. My Protestant friends agree and have often express their happiness at any excuse to visit (weddings or other occasions).
** no doubt this is why I feel the need to search Youtube for songs I like and then link to them on this blog.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Music for Lent: prayer and contrition


R. Draw near, O Lord, our God, graciously hear us, guilty of sinning before you.

1. King exalted, Savior of all nations, see how our grieving lifts our eyes to heaven; hear us, Redeemer, as we beg forgiveness.

2. Might of the Father, Keystone of God’s temple, Way of salvation, Gate to heaven’s glory; sin has enslaved us; free your sons from bondage.

3. We pray you, O God, throned in strength and splendor, hear from your kingdom this, our song of sorrow; show us your mercy, pardon our offenses.

4. Humbly confessing countless sins committed, our hearts are broken, laying bare their secrets; cleanse us, Redeemer, boundless in compassion.

5. Innocent captive, unresisting victim, liars denounced you, sentenced for the guilty; once you redeemed us: now renew us, Jesus.

I like the Pope...

This set of photos has been floating around online today and it made me laugh so hard. 

Folks are saying that Pope Francis seemed stunned, or even awkward yesterday at that balcony, and maybe he will become patron saint of the socially challenged.  I agreed more with Steve that it was more like a sweet "hi there folks, guess I'm going to be doing this now, or something" kind of attitude. 

I wasn't around for JPII's announcement, but I seem to remember Benedict seeming awfully nervous, or terrified, or something, and there was none of that yesterday, whatsoever.  (watch the replays if you want to decide for yourself)

Whatever he was doing, it was endearing, wasn't it?

Thursday, February 28, 2013


I grew up singing this (rather solemn) version of the "Old One Hundredth" (first 40 seconds):


But the British church I attended sang it which I cannot find seem to find online when I went looking for it so my children could hear.  But I encountered some other lovely variations:


Still, my favorite is the way the Mennonites do it:

Monday, February 25, 2013

Sung Rosary in Malayalam

If I used "tags" on my posts, this post would be under "stuff I think is fantastic".

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

I am suspicious...

(This is the second in what I hope will be a series of posts on things to be wary of.  Not only to guard against that which might be harmful, but of course so as to redirect our thoughts toward what is good)

It is probably safe to say that all Christian churches celebrate Christmas and Easter.  But not all churches make a fuss on Ash Wednesday, and some even call it something different or begin Lent on a Monday instead.  Some do not even have a Lenten season, but look forward to Palm Sunday and then Easter.

There is something that all Christian traditions hold in common, however, and emphasize year round, year in and year out.  And that is a focus on repentance and mercy.  Whether you are Baptist or Orthodox or Pentecostal or Episcopalian, the beginning and the core of the Christian faith is a prayer that is both personal and universal: "Save me, O Lord."

In addition to the "Sinner's Prayer," many Christians of various denominations practice a repetitive prayer, called the Jesus Prayer (I particularly like the one called the Anglican Rosary)

The reason for prayer beads and for this kind of prayer at all is that it is important to repeat the cry for mercy, over and over again, and not just a single time.  It is important to remain humble, and to turn to Jesus, and to recognize oneself as a sinner: "The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit," and there is not much that more simply expresses contrition than the Jesus Prayer.

For those of us who celebrate Ash Wednesday, the ashes go onto our foreheads and we pray, "Blot out my transgressions, O Lord." The prayer of the Church, the prayer of the Christian, is a humble one, and it is a plea. 

I am suspicious of prayer that does not begin, and end, with a cry for help.

Monday, February 11, 2013

on the pontificate of Benedict XVI

A worthwhile read.  I remember hearing that Pope John Paul II had decline multiple requests from Cardinal Ratzinger to retire years ago.  Seems this current, and humble, pope has long been aware of his limitations.