The Spanish Civil War was a kind of precursor to the Second World War. I know very little about this war, but as I watched these videos (see below) I was struck by its brutality from all sides, and by how impossible it is to pick a “side.” As a Catholic, I want to side with the Church, tradition, and monarchy, etc. I want to see Franco as a kind of hero, but that side adopted the language and gestures of fascism, even if it was not, at its core, truly fascist. And Franco’s army was brutal, and his rule a dictatorship, and it manipulated the Church for worldly gain and it used the language of Catholicism to justify excessive violence. On the other hand, like anyone who once upon a time in college thought socialism sounded kinda cool on its surface, I want to side with the left because of its tragic and short-lived romanticism — I have read Hemmingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, and I loved it. But that side was also brutal, and vehemently godless, with a mix of anarchists and communists, and it quickly did away with marriage and it legalized abortion on demand. It also killed priests and nuns and burned churches and desecrated sacred items. I do not like Franco, and I truly despise his opponents. Picking a side is a no-win situation for a Catholic who seeks to follow Christ. Nonetheless, the Spanish Civil War is fascinating and a poignant lesson for us today, especially in terms of “picking sides” in the cultural and political wars. No one seems immune from having a dark and ugly side.

Below is an excellent six-part series by the BBC on the Spanish Civil War.

Most every day I pray to St. Pio for a special request. His faith staggers me. I wish I could be such as he was, and I fear it too. What would that look like for me?

This documentary on the life of Padre Pio is remarkable. I so wish for films of such depth and quality for other saints as this one. So many seem thin and sentimental. This one seems honest and artful.

And here is another excellent documentary:

One thing that strikes me while watching these films is noting the contrast of a Catholic culture compared to the non-Catholic culture I experience every day. How amazing it would be to live in such a world. I pray everyday for the return of Christendom. On the other hand, I am grateful that I live in such a time that it is nearly impossible to take for granted moments of true Catholic culture. Christ be praised at all times and in all situations.

Thirteen years ago, just as advent began, my wife and I were battling a difficult pregnancy. After years of infertility, the joyful adoption of our eldest daughter Lily, years more struggles to get pregnant, we were finally awaiting the birth of our second daughter. But about halfway into the pregnancy we got bad news. The ultrasound technician seemed to be taking a lot longer than we thought it should take. And she was being a little too evasive in her answers to us. We waited. The doctor came in and told us our daughter had a serious heart condition–treatable with open heart surgery within a few months after her birth, but very serious. We took in that sobering news with a lot of prayer and mutual support. Then we found ourselves in the hospital a couple of times with our daughter’s heart rate plummeting and my wife having contractions–months too early for any of that. We were bracing for losing our daughter. But she hung in there. And so did my wife. Then in early December things again turned worse. We rushed to the hospital. For a moment things calmed a bit, but given the serious nature of the situation we were sent to a better equipped hospital in another city thinking we were going to wait it out a bit longer. But again things quickly turned worse and the doctors performed an emergency c-section. Our daughter Coco Madalena was born on December 7th, the date of both my grandfather’s and godson’s birthday, the day before the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and a month before her due date. And she was beautiful.

Heart scans indicated that she immediately needed a less invasive heart valve operation to help her survive until the major heart surgery she would need in a few months. Naturally we agreed to the surgery. It seemed to go well. The doctors were happy. All looked good. But then she had a heart attack. Emergency procedures were done. She pulled through. But then she began to struggle. During either the operation, or more likely the emergency procedures from the heart attack, she got a rare form of meningitis. The meningitis attacked her brain, and in only one month’s time she died in my arms. She never left the hospital.

All during that Christmas season my wife and I lived in a kind of limbo. My wife was at the hospital every day. I came many days, but was also juggling work. Our oldest daughter was just old enough to be both super excited to get a sister and to know something serious was going on. Family and friends all helped as they could. Many people were praying. And when Coco died our community gave us great support.

Yes, this was a big tragedy for us. A very hard time. But, the truth is, God also came so close to us. It is hard to describe, and even harder to convey. Through all the struggle, all the tears, all the difficult days and nights, We felt God’s presence. God was with us. Often I so desperately wish our girl was with us now. I think of her a lot. I also know of God’s love in the midst of trials. The journey for me was about going from head knowledge to heart knowledge, from my mind to my soul. I would never wish suffering on another, but I do believe suffering may be the only way or, ironically, the best way to come closer to God because in suffering God comes closer to us. The cross gives us a picture of this most profoundly.

We live in a hard and harsh world. So much evil, so much suffering. And that doesn’t stop just because Christmas is here. But God is with us. Christ came as a light into the darkness. Someday He will return in the awesome fullness of His glory. For now we have the Holy Spirit, we have the gospel, we have the Church, we have fellowship, we have the poor and needy all around us, and we have the communion of saints. In these ways God is with us even now.

Perhaps I have always known that, but I know it better because of the gift God gave my wife and I of our daughter Coco. In that difficult time I came to know Advent a little bit better.

Here’s a fascinating time-capsule from a key time in the feminist movement. Certainly it is dated, and some of it may seem a bit corny to us today, but the core message is still powerful and shocking — and not surprising too.

From a traditional Catholic perspective one can easily see why feminism, at least as it is presented here, was seen as incompatible with Catholicism — it has at its core the destruction of the traditional family. On the other hand, consider how much feminist thinking has entered into our culture and, in many ways, become the de facto position. Something about feminism captivated the collective consciousness of vast swaths of western culture and beyond, and has stayed with us and continued to influence and shape our culture.

In many ways this video is so sad — so much heartbreak beneath the surface of power posturing and strident demands. Consider where our society had to gotten to in order for these women, and so many others, to feel as they did. On the other hand, it’s fascinating to consider how such a radical change in attitudes may have also had a demonic element. I think it’s likely a lot of different elements and motivations were at play, some good and some bad.

And then three years later, this…

More “throwback” videos here.

Years ago I bought my first rosary. This is it:

image1

It’s about as simple and plain as one can get. I think it was about $7.00. I now have more than one rosary, but that first rosary is in my pocket with me every day, even as I write this. I typically use this rosary to pray every morning too.

I lived more than forty seven years as a Protestant before becoming a Catholic. The last seven of those years I began searching, researching, and praying. I was being drawn to the Church and, in a sense, I think I knew it. I looked at a lot of choices, including the “emergent church” and Eastern Orthodoxy. But it was the Catholic Church that won my heart and mind.

At some point during those final seven years before entering the Church I purchased the rosary above. I did it secretly, from an online vendor. I cannot express the mix of emotions I felt, having come from a significantly anti-Catholic background. Once it arrived I kept it hidden. I had feelings of carrying contraband when it was in my pocket. I searched online for resources on how to pray the rosary. I printed a one-page guide and kept it folded in my pocket. The guide got so beat up that the creases were taped and retaped to hold it together. I guess I could have just printed a new one, but I tend to get sentimental about these things.

On more than one occasion I thought I lost the rosary. Each time I’ve prayed and then found it. I can get a little panicky about it. I’m not superstitious, but I do care a lot about this particular string of beads.

If I could afford to do so, I would have many rosaries. But it’s this one that’s most precious to me. When I got this rosary I had a strange and, frankly, bizarre feeling somewhere deep in my soul that the Catholic Church was an actual possibility for my life, and I was also convinced there was no way I could ever become Catholic. Equally strange, I really wanted to have a rosary. I had never held a rosary. It’s possible I had never even seen a rosary in real life. I had certainly never prayed to Mary. I had never prayed to anyone other than God the Father or Son. I was trained to think praying to Mary was a form of paganism. But I was weirdly compelled to explore.

So, I got the rosary and learned to pray it. And then, eventually, I began to ask Mary to solve my dilemma. Looking back this seems funny, but I wondered if Mary could get me into the Church — assuming it was God’s will, of course.

Of course she could, and she did.

I have never been to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Someday I may get there. I hope so.

Here is a video report on the restoration of the Cathedral from a few years ago. This was a newsworthy event, so it was poper that it was covered in the secular media.

A great question was asked; essentially why was so much money spent when there are plenty of other financial needs in the world and in the parish, such as poverty and school closures, etc. Although Cardinal Dolan did not go into it much, there are many good reasons to keep the cathedral in tip top shape — it is a prominent house of God, visited by millions, providing for the spiritual needs of many, hosting popes, and bringing in revenue to the parish. It is a good thing to spend money and labor on a cathedral. Doing so is a form or worship. Simply it comes down to whether God truly exists and whether the Real Presence of Christ is there seven times a day for the faithful (how many times they celebrate Mass in St. Patrick’s).

If one does not not believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist then beautiful churches makes no sense. If, on the other hand, Christ is truly present then it makes all the sense in the world.

If you want a bit more intimate portrait of the cathedral, here’s the Cardinal giving a person and revealing tour of this great church:

I honestly do not know what I think of Cardinal Dolan. He seems like such a remarkable man, and a very good cardinal. On the other hand, I personally don’t like some of the ways he is so super affable. Kinda makes me feel like there’s a whole lot up front, but not so much underneath — and that I would be manipulated a bit in his presence rather than experience true engagement. I have to trust others more knowledgeable than me. Regardless, I would love to meet him someday. And I don’t mean to be disrespectful.

baby-boomers
original image found here

I gripe. I’m a griper.

One thing that is glaringly apparent to a former outsider of the Catholic Church (I was a trained anti-Catholic Baptist/neo-Calvinist/almost Evangelical — good people, btw) who has recently come into the Church (that would be me in 2013) is that the Novus Ordo Mass is, among other things, a reflection of the values and stylistic preferences of the 1960’s baby boomers. I know this because I grew up in a baby boomer era west coast version of Christianity so prevalent in the 1970s — a version that even outdoes the Catholics in sentimentality — and I know this kind of Christianity intimately. I saw how our Baptist church changed from the somewhat stodgy Christianity of my grandparents to that of my parents. (Oh, I’ve got stories.) In fact, I thought some of the changes were for the better. But for the sometimes nostalgic feelings I have for my past, I don’t think that version of Christianity is particularly good. (Well, it’s probably heretical at some level) And I certainly don’t think it’s good for Catholics.

A lot of water has gone under the bridge since Vatican II, and a leaning towards pre-Vatican II Catholicism is on the rise (and so is the resistance to that rise), but we still have the spirit of the 1960’s (the spirit of the baby boomers) with us today — some of that spirit is good, but a lot is not. Perhaps the evidence is most apparent in the music sung at so many Masses today.

Let me pause a moment and say that I still mostly attend the Novus Ordo Mass, but have been going to Traditional Latin Mass when it’s available in my area and I can make it. Lately I’ve been calling them the Greater Mass and the Lesser Mass. I think you can guess which is which. And I know some will want to chastise me for straddling the fence too much, but there’s a story to everyone’s life and I’ve got one too. So, here I am, for now.

Frequently at the NO Mass we sing (well… not everyone sings) songs that are clearly poor shadows of the 1960’s folk-style oeuvre. I love that oeuvre, but not sung at Mass, and certainly not poor shadows as some kind of praise or prayer to our King. Honestly, I’m not sure what we are doing sometimes. Is this a prayer? Is this about God or about me?? But I see the baby boomers happily singing these songs without even having to look at the “hymnal.” Hymnal is in quotes because a lot of these are songs barely resembling hymns, and the “hymnal” is really a cheap and disposable “mass market” (pun intended) paperback — which itself is a message counter to the gravity, substantiality, beauty, and truth of the faith and Catholic worship — but that’s another topic.

I can’t even…

My apologies for that nausea inducing surypy sentimental moment.

It was the boomers that welcomed the new Mass, just as they welcomed “sit ins” and Peter, Paul and Mary, welcomed bell bottom jeans and antiestablishmentarianism, and rejected nearly all traditions and the voices of anyone over thirty.¹ It was the boomers who felt strongly that their parents didn’t and couldn’t understand how the world had changed.² Their parents voted for Eisenhower, supported Vietnam, questioned the civil rights movement, covered their couches in clear plastic, and would later vote for Nixon. Squaresville.

And here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson
Jesus loves you more than you will know
Wo wo wo
God bless you, please, Mrs. Robinson
Heaven holds a place for those who pray
Hey hey hey, hey hey hey

Catholicism was obviously even more entrenched deep within a stale and rigid tradition. Right? Think of that silly sedia gestatoria and all that turgid pomp. The very opposite of hip and cool. Right? It had to change. It had to get with it. The Church needed a new bag. It had to serve the Me Generation — a generation unable to accept anything other than what it could invent itself. Otherwise the churches would soon empty out, the seminaries would close, the faithful would get their entertainment elsewhere, the world would cease to take the Church seriously, and priests, if not giving in to the the sexual revolution and its perversions, would leave the priesthood, get married to nuns, and become positive thinking gurus. (oops) The traditional had to go and the contemporary had to come in. Open the Church’s windows and doors and let the winds of the zeitgeist blow through, clearing out the cobwebs and stale air. Finally!!

What was not anticipated was just how stale the winds of fashion would become from one day to the next. Quickly the Church began to stink with the foul air of the age.

Winds-of-God-Front
Who could have know where this would lead?

An aside: I love Peter, Paul and Mary, but just not at Mass and certainly not poor shadows of that trio. On Eagles Wings?! I Am the Bread of Life??! Wut? And heck, even though I love that now everyday is “casual day” at work, wearing a t-shirt branded Lou’s Shake-Shack and flip flops before the Real Presence? Really? This is not merely a matter of taste, or class distinctions, nor is it an “ageist” argument. Rather it’s theological and liturgical. If we truly have the Real Presence before us, then…?? then…?? Come on folks.

What does worship and true reverence demand? What has God made us for?

A confession: I am a Generation X guy, but only just under the wire. Some might even say I was born in the last year of the boomer generation — but I refuse to agree. I refuse *stomping feet* to be in that mad camp. But I still have a lot of the Jesus movement coursing through my veins. I was weaned on Larry Norman. I’ve sang my fair share of folk/rock/pop “worship” hymns/songs/whatever and, I have to say, I loved a lot of that, and still do. Back “in the day” I even (poorly) lead my Protestant youth group in worship, playing my guitar like some who desperately needed lessons. And I still love the music of that Catholic-hating Protestant Jesus freak, the late great Keith Green. (Has anyone written a more beautiful modern hymn as good as Oh Lord, You’re Beautiful or as sublime as My Eyes are Dry? God rest his soul.) But we don’t even get Green’s quality of songs at Mass — unless we go way way back and sing great works from the past which ultimately put his songs to shame. Just what are we offering to God with these new songs? Any why are we singing anyway if not to pray? yada yada yada

A little slice of Christianity from 1972:

Youth synod?

Anyway, the boomers³ at the contemporary Novus Ordo Mass of today, who sing from memory those mediocre “hymns” with a smile on their faces, are probably the less than five percent (maybe it’s ten percent? I’m making this up) of their generation that remained in the church once the liturgical turmoil and confusion of the 1970’s and 80’s drove most Catholics away. In other words, it seems most of the boomer Catholics back in the day got what they wanted (change, revolution, freedom, folk music, bongos, and modernism-inspired teaching) and then left Catholicism for other things (Evangelical Protestantism, New Age spirituality, free market capitalism, pastel cashmere sweaters, etc.). Only a few remained. And many of those that stayed (including the Holy Father, who is a bit older than a baby boomer btw) often seem utterly perplexed as to why it’s the Catholic youth and Protestant converts who are leading the charge for the Church to re-embrace the Traditional Latin Mass and other traditional & ancient forms of Catholic worship and devotion. They see it as a return to a rigid⁴ faith. Perhaps for a few it is, but in general I think it is something entirely different, something more profound. Perhaps far less rigid, actually.

In fact, the great traditions of the Church, including the Mass of the ages (The Greater Mass — you know that’s what I meant), is the least rigid aspect of Catholicism I can think of. Sadly, it seems to me the Pope and “his men” are some of the most rigid Catholics I’ve witnessed. This grieves me, but I am not surprised for I know human nature. Pray for the Pope. I think he was hurt by someone or something many years ago. I think he carries that hurt with him today. I don’t mean to sound trite. Pray.

Okay, okay… I also have to say the boomers who have remained faithful to the Church through it all are also often examples of love for Christ, service to others, and active participants in church. Who am I to judge, right? It’s mostly boomers who run and manage my parish, and they are great. The doors would shut without them. They run the local Catholic Community Services organization, St. Vincent de Paul, and other social programs. They do a great deal of service and are devoted to the parish. They put me to shame. I’m probably a terrible person.

AND… many, many boomers are leading the charge towards the Traditional Latin Mass. Some bearing deep scars from past battles and beatings. They must be given more credit than they often receive. The Spirit of Vatican II has been quite a terror.

The key reason to call the Novus Ordo Mass the Baby Boomer Mass is not to denigrate the Baby Boomers, at least not any more than any other generation, but merely to recognize that the Novus Ordo is a Mass beholden to the fashions and proclivities of a particular generation or two, rather than the Mass that arose from across the centuries, beholden to no generation, and expressing an almost ineffable timelessness and more heavenly characteristics.

Thus, to sum up, unlike the timelessness and substantial beauty of the Traditional Catholic Mass, the Baby Boomer Mass is looking old and tired, like pet rocks and yesterday’s hairstyles. (Not to speak of deeper liturgical and theological tragedy that is the NO Mass.) Strangely, so often the Novus Ordo Mass looks more and more like a time capsule and, perhaps surprisingly, the Mass of the ages looks like the best choice for the contemporary Church. And isn’t that almost always the case? What is trendy looks old so quickly, and what is ancient is timeless. Fashions come and go. We ought not let the form follow fashion. We really shouldn’t be about fashion at all.

Perhaps the greatest gift the Novus Ordo has given the Church is the opportunity for comparison and reflection. Because of the NO we can see better the profound greatness of the Traditional Latin Mass and much of traditional Catholic culture, perhaps in a way past generations couldn’t see or had grown blind to.

Of course all of this is a gross oversimplification, and not necessarily (or mostly, or merely) a generational divide. It’s not about boomers getting old or, heaven forbid, the youth once again leading the way. God save us! But it’s also not merely a matter of “updating” the Mass to a more contemporary fashion. (Some are saying we haven’t gone far enough with V2.) Nor is it about going back to some “golden age.” There’s a lot more to be said. A lot more.

Anyway… I gripe. I’m a griper.


  1. “Don’t trust anyone over 30,” was a phrase spoken by Jack Weinberg, a leader of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement in the 1960’s.
  2. “Come mothers and fathers
    Throughout the land
    And don’t criticize
    What you can’t understand
    Your sons and your daughters
    Are beyond your command
    Your old road is
    Rapidly agin’.
    Please get out of the new one
    If you can’t lend your hand
    For the times they are a-changin’.” (Bob Dylan, 1963)
  3. Frankly, it’s not just the boomers. I do see some younger folks–in their thirties and forties–singing these songs without needing the hymnal. Why why why? Who are these people?
  4. As said by Pope Francis himself: “[M]any young people in the church today who have fallen into the temptation of rigidity. Some are honest, they are good and we must pray that the Lord help them grow along the path of meekness.” Found here and many other reports.

 

This is a great lecture by Fr. Chad Ripperger via Sensus Fidelium. I was not previously familiar with how the term “monument” is being used here, but I find the message excellent. [Look up “Catholic monument” online and you get a bunch of headstone and funeral services companies.] I have become increasingly interested in how traditional forms of and within Catholic liturgy and worship were handed down to us from Christ, through the apostles, and developed through history. There’s a lot of good stuff in this talk, but it’s basic message is that the collapse of the use and preservation of Catholic monuments & traditions (arguably an act of deconstruction) has led to the collapse of Catholicism in many parts of the world, been disrespectful of past generations, and sabotaged the fatih. Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi.

An interesting quote: “Different liturgy beget different church structures.”

Lately I’ve asked if different liturgies, such as the TLM and the NO, actually require different architecture. This makes sense when one feels as though the Novus Ordo being celebrated in a very traditional Catholic church is, in some fundamental but hard to express way, out of place in that space. Or why modernist style church buildings fit okay (arguably) with the NO but not with the TLM. This also raises questions about how to bring back, as it were, the TLM when the available church building is modernist and not traditional. Is it possible? I think so, but certainly not ideal.

I also find his point about Catholics treating sacred things, and especially the Eucharist, in a casual way because the mystery has been removed. This makes me wonder if the act of removing the mystery is, in fact, some version of transgression against the second commandment. I’m not sure of the connection, but I think lessening the idea of God being “I AM” is actually built into the structure of certain modern practices, like receiving Christ in the hand rather than on the tongue. Perhaps this makes God seem more accessible, but I think we are confused about what accessible means, how it’s supposed to “feel,” or why we think it’s important.

photo
My daughter Wilder Rose speaking of her music teacher and the joys he gave her, and her sorrow of losing such a good and fine teacher.

A couple of weeks ago my kids music teacher died. He was a brilliant, generous, uniquely gifted man who was loved by many people and many families in and beyond our town. He was primarily a percussionist who played in various bands, played many other instruments than drums, taught numerous students over the years, and also handbuilt wooden canoes.

A year ago we purchased a traditional drum kit for our son who was 6 years old at the time. We began looking for a drum teacher. This man came highly recommended. We had some worries because our son is young and prone to fidgetiness (some might say he’s a touch ADHD). However, this teacher was perfect for our son, working with his natural tendencies, and helping him discover the music within him. Then he offered to add our daughter for just a few dollars more. So we bought her a guitar. Our daughter is deeply musical and sings, plays piano and fiddle, and has great natural gifts in music. But as she began guitar something beautiful began to happen. Suddenly her musically talent blossomed like it had not before.

This man, a musician, husband, and wonderful teacher, gave my children, and our family, the gift of himself. After he died we cried and cried, and then we began to discover just how much he meant to so many other people in our community. Today we went to a memorial geared more towards his students, who are mostly kids. There was a drum circle, sharing, tears, laughter, and good fellowship.

The world needs more teachers like him. His loss, as is the loss of any human being’s life, is very significant, but our community also lost a special teacher. We also lost a wonderful musician.

As a Christian I know that this life is not the end. I know that death is the severing of one’s soul from one’s body, and that someday they shall be reunited. The memorial only addressed this sense of continuation in terms of us remembering him and carrying with us what he put into us through his teaching and his person–which is no small thing. But I realize that our society today adds to the natural difficulty of dealing with the tragedy and sorrow of death the lack of deeper knowledge of God’s goodness and the ultimate end in which we are made share.

I pray for his soul. I pray that God will have mercy on him, and bestow His graces upon his soul, if only for the generosity, kindness, and love he showed my kids.

I am not familiar with St. Pius X. Below are some videos explaining his life, work, and death.

Here’s an overview of St. Pius X’s life and work (plus great pictures). Lecture by Fr Pius X Harding, O.S.B. at the 2016 Day of Reflection for The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem (Northwestern Lieutenancy, USA.) Held at Mount Angel Abbey in Oregon, USA.

Pathé silent newsreel of his death:

And here’s a sermon on modernism being warned about by Pope St Pius X:

I’m not sure I am fully in line with all the critiques of modernism and of certain individuals in this last video, but it’s a perspective worth contemplating. And the video speaks to something of the saint’s life and passions.

I suppose one could say the moral of the following post is about humility.

Not long ago I sat in a pastoral council meeting at my parish church. We were discussing the form of Mass, use of music, etc., and I heard an older gentleman, a servant of the church, a good man and Catholic, exclaim that he loved the liturgical changes brought on by the spirit of Vatican II, and thought they were one of the best things that ever happened to the Church. His words gave me pause.

Catholics waiting for someone to bring them a folk-mass. Just from this image alone one might imagine the younger generation of that day reacting to a perceived ossification.
Catholics waiting for someone to bring them a folk-mass?
From this image alone one might imagine the younger generation of that day reacting to a perceived ossification.

I have become increasingly interested in the more solemn Traditional Latin Mass, something very new to me, which many see as harkening back to a pre-council time. Consequently I tend to dislike what I perceive as the terrible music and bad art so common (I assume it’s common, from what I hear and read) in contemporary worship services today — all brought on by Vatican II according to popular legend (assuming that legends can also be true). But then I had to step back a bit and think about it. Am I right in my opinions? Perhaps yes, but perhaps no.

Folk mass 2
I’m not sure this is from a Catholic Mass or Protestant service, but you get the idea.

I’m not a folk-Mass or guitar-Mass kind of guy, but under the auspices of “full disclosure” I must say I’m pretty sure I would have embraced the changes the Church experienced in the 1960’s if I had been a young man then. I know there are many today who lived through those radical changes and feel that the changes were forcibly imposed on them. I’m sure that’s true, but I would guess at least some of those sufferers are not entirely honest. I bet a number of folks who welcomed the changes only later hated them. And like so many, it is likely that I too would have thought those changes represented a great and positive shift to a more authentic and grounded expression of faith.

However, I am certain I also would have eventually changed and embraced a more traditional style as I got older. I say this because, as a Protestant, I went through a similar experience in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. I grew up in a rather conservative, staid kind of Baptist church, but I began to embrace Christian rock, and enjoyed how the youth groups changed with the times, and then “big” church changed to a more rock-n-roll ethos as well. I don’t like rock-n-roll church either, but I did years ago. And I changed over time. I began to see that emotional manipulation (a welcomed and sought after manipulation) was the primary function of the “worship team” in so many churches. I realized the folk and rock inspired music was actually about us and our internal feelings (mostly feelings about ourselves) rather than about God.

I don’t believe the serious question of what kind of music is appropriate at Mass is a question of taste, though taste plays a part. It’s deeper than mere taste, for it has to do with the fact of the Real Presence and human nature. How one feels at Mass is not as important as what Mass is; in other words, it’s an ontological question, not an emotional one. Folk and rock are great genres of music, but they are arguably inappropriate for the Mass because of the Real Presence and human nature, and the very purpose of the Mass itself. So why would such changes been made if all this is so obvious?

The fact was it wasn’t all that obvious, at least to a certain generation at a certain time and place.

Of the many shifts of the 1960’s, one was towards a kind of youth leadership. That is, youth began proclaiming its divergence from older generations, and grabbed the reigns of its own destiny. This shift was, perhaps, nothing terribly new, but interestingly the older generations embraced the change, often declaring their own generation had lost its way and only the youth have the answers. We must listen to the youth was a common attitude for many of the “lost” older generation. Some telling slogans appeared in popular culture: “I hope I die before I get old” was a line from the band The Who in their anthem My Generation. “Don’t trust anyone over thirty” was a phrase coined by Jack Weinberg in the heady days of the Free Speech Movement. This shift also precipitated a revolutionary spirit, leading to many protests and the belief that the youth could really change the world if they just let love reign. In Protestantism there was the Jesus Movement, a kind of hippie Christianity that had profound ripple effects throughout Protestantism, and also Catholicism (as many Catholics became fascinated with the more emotive forms of Protestant spirituality in light of the perceived deadness in their own). In fact, it became a sweeping movement of sorts, and many, many people were caught up in it — not unlike being caught up in the spirit. This time, though, it was the spirit of the age. And who owns that spirit?

Folk music and then rock music were powerful cultural expressions of the 1960’s zeitgeist, and they continue to today.

May 5, 1973: Hundreds of Calvary Chapel members line Corona del Mar beach for baptism ceremony.
May 5, 1973: Hundreds of Calvary Chapel members line Corona del Mar beach for baptism ceremony. Calvary Chapel, lead by Chuck Smith, was a major influence on modern American Christianity.

But this shift in the zeitgeist of 20th century Christianity also had humble, simple, and personable expressions. Expressions that, I believe, constituted a kind of healthy “reformation” within the Church — often drawing people into a closer, more intimate relationship with Jesus Christ and each other.

There was a craving for authenticity: authenticity of living, authenticity of worship, authenticity of emotions, authenticity of self. Needless to say, old forms of worship seemed terribly stale to many — though that probably says more about that generation and their knowledge of those forms than it does about the forms themselves. Regardless, it became an easy step to ask how could one possibly have a genuine relationship with Jesus while sitting in old churches and singing old hymns. (Not a very analytical question, but a visceral one for sure.) Thus grew the folk music movement (followed by the rock movement) within Christianity, for both Protestant and Catholic. [Note: I have played guitar at numerous church and youth worship services — so I’m am also part of the so-called “problem” if there is one.] [Another note: The issue much of the time is not about what instrument is being played. Arguably guitars are not really a problem, except for their symbolism.]

But there was a mood in the air. Old was fake, self-absorbed, plastic; the youth were authentic, seeking, made of flesh and blood. The old had little to offer the youth, and what they did offer seemed already dead. These feelings were felt by many, young and old.

Of course there is a lot more to be said about this history, but my point is that if I had been a youth or young adult at that time I’m sure I would have fully embraced the so-called spirit of Vatican II, at least in terms of worship. AND… I actually love a lot of the folk-mass/folk-christian songs — having sung many from the old, brown Young Life songbook back in the day — though some (like the ones in this post) seem rather sappy nowadays. And let’s admit, as well, that many old hymns are dusty, that they were contemporary once, and being old now does not mean they are good. (Although, because they have been tested by time the odds are they are better.)

FolkMass0021

Consider how one (maybe you) feels after having gone to a deeply emotional and moving (perhaps even Christian) rock concert, with its powerful music, smoke machine, and light show, and then the next morning you go to church and it seems so blah. Couldn’t you argue that you were “closer to God” at the concert? At least you felt that way, right? The same feeling would have been common in the 1960’s with its folk music, which seemed so much more authentic than dusty old hymns. I understand this. Bob Dylan was a prophet. “The Times They Are A-Changin'” seems a better homily than is often preached by many a priest. Peter, Paul and Mary sang truth. “If I Had A Hammer” is a more viscerally powerful sermon than most any Baptist preacher can muster. A young adult looking for such a connection at church just might welcome a couple of guitars and some bongo drums in the service of a passionately sung worship ballad in four-four. I was that young adult. I still have those proclivities to some degree.

Given all that, after hearing that older gentleman at the pastoral council wax positive about those Vatican II changes of yesteryear, I realized my tendency to denigrate those changes of the post-Vatican II era is not an entirely honest tendency. Nor might it be entirely empathetic or loving. I still prefer a more traditional form of Mass, and I tend to think that guitars generally have their place outside of Mass, but I cannot assume I’m really any different than anyone else. I have come to this position over time, and I’m still on my journey. I am sure my current preferences are in reaction to my own experiences over a number of years. I too am a fish in the stream of history — and it just goes to show how easily I can forget myself.

Folk Mass Frances Mary Hunter Gordon

Final note: Let us not forget the Real Presence at Mass. The question of proper form and proper music at Mass flows from this profoundly radical fact. It’s not ultimately about a particular style, or particular instruments, or specific lyrics, as much as it is about appropriate reverence and worship, which includes proper action, and what it is that leads us to that. Understanding how much of contemporary music, especially folk and rock, does not fit within a Catholic liturgy may require a sensitivity and a knowledge most of us are unlikely to have; not because we can’t understand, but because our culture has trained us not to.

One hundred years ago the war known as the First World War, began.

An archive picture shows a statue of Christ on the cross on a tree at Fricourt on the Somme front in France

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
(from The Waste Land, by T.S. Eliot, 1922)

Lest we forget, great public cheers went up in nearly every belligerent country at the the declaration of war. Germany cheered. France cheered. Italy cheered. England cheered.

WW1v2
England is ecstatic at the declaration of war.

“Though they know God’s decree that those who do such things deserve to die, they not only do them but approve those who practice them.” – Saint Paul

“You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war.” – Saint James

Polish lyrics:
Mamo, nie płacz, nie.
Niebios Przeczysta Królowo,
Ty zawsze wspieraj mnie.
Zdrować Mario, Łaskiś Pełna.

Zakopane “Pałace”
cela nr 3 ściana nr 3
Błazusiakówna Helena Wanda
lat 18 siedzi od 25 IX 44

English translation:
No, Mother, do not weep,
Most chaste Queen of Heaven
Support me always.
“Zdrowas Mario.” (*)
(Prayer inscribed on wall 3 of cell no. 3 in the basement of “Palace,” the Gestapo’s headquarters in Zadopane; beneath is the signature of Helena Wanda Blazusiakówna, and the words “18 years old, imprisoned since 26 September 1944.”)
(*) “Zdrowas Mario” (Ave Maria)—the opening of the Polish prayer to the Holy Mother

Seven years ago today our daughter Coco died. We miss and look forward to seeing her again.

These kinds of anniversaries are interesting. On the one hand there is the reminder of a tragedy, a difficult and sad experience. On the other hand I look back and remember the great blessings of God at that time and since. God was with us, present, along side, holding us. So many people, from family and friends, to doctors and nurses, to musicians whose music touched us, made us know we were not alone, not without hope, not without love. God helped us to see His plans and His love more clearly than before. Also, if Coco had not died—and this might seem difficult to say—we would not have our next two children with us today. Her death sent us on a different course, and we are blessed still.

I believe Coco is alive with Christ and the saints.

To You, O Lord, we humbly entrust Coco, so precious in Your sight.
Take her into Your arms and welcome her into paradise,
where there will be no sorrow, no weeping nor pain,
but the fullness of peace and joy
with Your Son and the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.

mamapapacoco

bath

After Pope John Paul II died many people reminisced about his life and the immense impact he had on the world. Peggy Noonan wrote a piece for the WSJ on the Pope’s first visit to his homeland of Poland in 1979. Noonan mentioned the efforts of the communist government of Poland to try to diffuse the impact they feared John Paul II would have. She wrote:

Two months before the pope’s arrival, the Polish communist apparatus took steps to restrain the enthusiasm of the people. They sent a secret directive to schoolteachers explaining how they should understand and explain the pope’s visit. “The pope is our enemy,” it said. “Due to his uncommon skills and great sense of humor he is dangerous, because he charms everyone, especially journalists. Besides, he goes for cheap gestures in his relations with the crowd, for instance, puts on a highlander’s hat, shakes all hands, kisses children. . . . It is modeled on American presidential campaigns. . . Because of the activation of the Church in Poland our activities designed to atheize the youth not only cannot diminish but must intensely develop. . . In this respect all means are allowed and we cannot afford any sentiments.”

Of course, the Polish government had no idea what they were getting themselves in for. And we know, looking back, that the world was never the same.

Perhaps John Paul II’s greatest homily of his tenure was given during the mass at Victory Square in Warsaw. This was the Pope’s first mass in Poland. The communist authorities were worried thousands, even tens of thousands of people would show up. Instead, over a million showed up. And then the Pope gave this homily:

HOLY MASS

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS JOHN PAUL II

Victory Square, Warsaw, 2 June 1979 

Beloved Fellow-countrymen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters.
Participants in the Eucharistic Sacrifice celebrated today in Victory Square in Warsaw.

1. Together with you I wish to sing a hymn of praise to Divine Providence, which enables me to be here as a pilgrim.

We know that the recently deceased Paul VI, the first pilgrim Pope after so many centuries, ardently desired to set foot on the soil of Poland, especially at Jasna Gora (the Bright Mountain). To the end of his life he kept this desire in his heart, and with it he went to the grave. And we feel that this desirea desire so potent and so deeply rooted that it goes beyond the span of a pontificateis being realized today in a way that it would have been difficult to foresee. And so we thank Divine Providence for having given Paul VI so strong a desire. We thank it for the pattern of the pilgrim Pope that he began with the Second Vatican Council. At a time when the whole Church has become newly aware of being the People of God, a People sharing in the mission of Christ, a People that goes through history with that mission, a “pilgrim” People, the Pope could no longer remain a “prisoner of the Vatican”.  He had to become again the pilgrim Peter, like the first Peter, who from Jerusalem, through Antioch, reached Rome to give witness there to Christ and seal his witness with his blood.

Today it is granted to me to fulfil this desire of the deceased Pope Paul VI in the midst of you, beloved sons and daughters of my motherland. When, after the death of Paul VI and the brief pontificate of my immediate Predecessor John Paul I, which lasted only a few weeks, I was, through the inscrutable designs of Divine Providence, called by the votes of the Cardinals from the chair of Saint Stanislaus in Krakow to that of Saint Peter in Rome, I immediately understood that it was for me to fulfil that desire, the desire that Paul VI had been unable to carry out at the Millennium of the Baptism of Poland.

My pilgrimage to my motherland in the year in which the Church in Poland is celebrating the ninth centenary of the death of Saint Stanislaus is surely a special sign of the pilgrimage that we Poles are making down through the history of the Church not only along the ways of our motherland but also along those of Europe and the world. Leaving myself aside at this point, I must nonetheless with all of you ask myself why, precisely in 1978, after so many centuries of a well established tradition in this field, a son of the Polish Nation, of the land of Poland, was called to the chair of Saint Peter. Christ demanded of Peter and of the other Apostles that they should be his “witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Have we not the right, with reference to these words of Christ, to think that Poland has become nowadays the land of a particularly responsible witness? The right to think that from herefrom Warsaw, and also from Gniezno, from Jasna Gora, from Krakow and from the whole of this historic route that I have so often in my life traversed and that it is to proclaim Christ with singular humility but also with conviction? The right to think that one must come to this very place, to this land, on this route, to read again the witness of his Cross and his Resurrection? But if we accept all that I have dared to affirm in this moment, how many great duties and obligations arise? Are we capable of them?

2. Today, at the first stopping place in my papal pilgrimage in Poland, it is granted to me to celebrate the Eucharistic Sacrifice in Victory Square in Warsaw. The liturgy of the evening of Saturday the Vigil of Pentecost takes us to the Upper Room in Jerusalem, where the Apostles, gathered around Mary the Mother of Christ, were on the following day to receive the Holy Spirit. They were to receive the Spirit obtained for them by Christ through the Cross, in order that through the power of this Spirit they might fulfil his command: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20). Before Christ the Lord left the world, he transmitted to the Apostles with these words his last recommendation, his “missionary mandate”. And he added: “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20).

It is good that my pilgrimage to Poland on the ninth centenary of the martyrdom of Saint Stanislaus should fall in the Pentecost period and on the solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. Fulfilling the desire of Paul VI after his death, I am able to relive the Millennium of the Baptism on Polish soil and to inscribe this year’s jubilee of Saint Stanislaus in the Millennium since the beginning of the nation and the Church. The Solemnity of Pentecost and that of the Most Holy Trinity bring us close to this beginning. In the apostles who receive the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost are spiritually present in a way all their successors, all the Bishops, including those whose task it has been for a thousand years to proclaim the Gospel on Polish soil. Among them was this Stanislaus of Szczepanow, who paid with his blood for his mission on the episcopal chair of Krakow nine centuries ago.

On the day of Pentecost there were gathered, in the Apostles and around them, not only the representatives of the peoples and tongues listed in the book of the Acts of the Apostles. Even then there were gathered about them the various peoples and nations that, through the light of the Gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit, were to enter the Church at different periods and centuries. The day of Pentecost is the birthday of the faith and of the Church in our land of Poland also. It is the proclamation of the mighty works of God in our Polish language also. It is the beginning of Christianity in the life of our nation also, in its history, its culture, its trials.

 3a. To Poland the Church brought Christ, the key to understanding that great and fundamental reality that is man. For man cannot be fully understood without Christ. Or rather, man is incapable of understanding himself fully without Christ. He cannot understand who he is, nor what his true dignity is, nor what his vocation is, nor what his final end is. He cannot understand any of this without Christ.

Therefore Christ cannot be kept out of the history of man in any part of the globe, at any longitude or latitude of geography. The exclusion of Christ from the history of man is an act against man. Without Christ it is impossible to understand the history of Poland, especially the history of the people who have passed or are passing through this land. The history of people. The history of the nation is above all the history of people. And the history of each person unfolds in Jesus Christ. In him it becomes the history of salvation.

The history of the nation deserves to be adequately appraised in the light of its contributionto the development of man and humanity, to intellect, heart and conscience. This is the deepest stream of culture. It is culture’s firmest support, its core, its strength. It is impossible without Christ to understand and appraise the contribution of the Polish nation to the development of man and his humanity in the past and its contribution today also: “This old oak tree has grown in such a way and has not been knocked down by any wind since its root is Christ” (Piotr Skarga, Kazania Sejmove IVBiblioteka Narodowa, I, 70, p. 92). It is necessary to follow the traces of what, or rather who, Christ was for the sons and daughters of this land down the generations. Not only for those who openly believed in him and professed him with the faith of the Church, but also for those who appeared to be at a distance, outside the Church. For those who doubted or were opposed.

3b. It is right to understand the history of the nation through man, each human being of this nation. At the same time man cannot be understood apart from this community that is constituted by the nation. Of course it is not the only community, but it is a special community, perhaps that most intimately linked with the family, the most important for the spiritual history of man. It is therefore impossible without Christ to understand the history of the Polish nationthis great thousand-year-old communitythat is so profoundly decisive for me and each one of us. If we reject this key to understanding our nation, we lay ourselves open to a substantial misunderstanding. We no longer understand ourselves. It is impossible without Christ to understand this nation with its past so full of splendour and also of terrible difficulties. It is impossible to understand this city, Warsaw, the capital of Poland, that undertook in 1944 an unequal battle against the aggressor, a battle in which it was abandoned by the allied powers, a battle in which it was buried under its own ruinsif it is not remembered that under those same ruins there was also the statue of Christ the Saviour with his cross that is in front of the church at Krakowskie Przedmiescie. It is impossible to understand the history of Poland from Stanislaus in Skalka to Maximilian Kolbe at Oswiecim unless we apply to them that same single fundamental criterion that is called Jesus Christ.

The Millennium of the Baptism of Poland, of which Saint Stanislaus is the first mature fruitthe millennium of Christ in our yesterday, and todayis the chief reason for my pilgrimage, for my prayer of thanksgiving together with all of you, dear fellow-countrymen, to whom Christ does not cease to teach the great cause of man; together with you, for whom Jesus Christ does not cease to be an ever open book on man, his dignity and his rights and also a book of knowledge on the dignity and rights of the nation.

Today, here in Victory Square, in the capital of Poland, I am asking with all of you, through the great Eucharistic prayer, that Christ will not cease to be for us an open book of life for the future, for our Polish future.

4. We are before the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In the ancient and contemporary history of Poland this tomb has a special basis, a special reason for its existence. In how many places in our native land has that soldier fallen! In how many places in Europe and the world has he cried with his death that there can be no just Europe without the independence of Poland marked on its map! On how many battlefields has that solider given witness to the rights of man, indelibly inscribed in the inviolable rights of the people, by falling for “our free­dom and yours”!

“Where are their tombs, O Po-land? Where are they not! You know better than anyoneand God knows it in heaven” (A. Oppman, Pacierz za zmarlych).

The history of the motherland written through the tomb of an Unknown Soldier!

I wish to kneel before this tomb to venerate every seed that falls into the earth and dies and thus bears fruit. It may be the seed of the blood of a soldier shed on the battlefield, or the sacrifice of martyrdom in concentration camps or in prisons. It may be the seed of hard daily toil, with the sweat of one’s brow, in the fields, the workshop, the mine, the foundries and the factories. It may be the seed of the love of parents who do not refuse to give life to a new human being and undertake the whole of the task of bringing him up. It may be the seed of creative work in the universities, the higher institutes, the libraries and the places where the national culture is built. It may be the seed of prayer, of service of the sick, the suffering, the abandoned“all that of which Poland is made”.

All that in the hands of the Mother of Godat the foot of the cross on Calvary and in the Upper Room of Pentecost!

All thatthe history of the motherland shaped for a thousand years by the succession of the generations (among them the present generation and the coming generation) and by each son and daughter of the motherland, even if they are anonymous and unknown like the Soldier before whose tomb we are now.

All thatincluding the history of the peoples that have lived with us and among us, such as those who died in their hundreds of thousands within the walls of the Warsaw ghetto.

All that I embrace in thought and in my heart during this Eucharist and I include it in this unique most holy Sacrifice of Christ, on Victory Square.

And I cryI who am a Son of the land of Poland and who am also Pope John Paul III cry from all the depths of this Millennium, I cry on the vigil of Pentecost:

Let your Spirit descend.
Let your Spirit descend.
and renew the face of the earth,
the face of this land.

Amen.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

This homily can be found here.

The Martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas

A number of young catechumens were arrested, Revocatus and his fellow slave Felicitas, Saturninus and Secundulus, and with them Vibia Perpetua, a newly married woman of good family and upbringing. Her mother and father were still alive and one of her two brothers was a catechumen like herself. She was about twenty-two years old and had an infant son at the breast. (Now from this point on the entire account of her ordeal is her own, according to her own ideas and in the way that she herself wrote it down.)

While we were still under arrest (she said) my father out of love for me was trying to persuade me and shake my resolution. ‘Father,’ said I, ‘do you see this vase here, for example, or waterpot or whatever?’

‘Yes, I do’, said he.

And I told him: ‘Could it be called by any other name than what it is?’

And he said: ‘No.’

‘Well, so too I cannot be called anything other than what I am, a Christian.’

At this my father was so angered by the word ‘Christian’ that he moved towards me as though he would pluck my eyes out. But he left it at that and departed, vanquished along with his diabolical arguments.

For a few days afterwards I gave thanks to the Lord that I was separated from my father, and I was comforted by his absence. During these few days I was baptized, and I was inspired by the Spirit not to ask for any other favour after the water but simply the perseverance of the flesh. A few days later we were lodged in the prison; and I was terrified, as I had never before been in such a dark hole. What a difficult time it was! With the crowd the heat was stifling; then there was the extortion of the soldiers; and to crown all, I was tortured with worry for my baby there.

Then Tertius and Pomponius, those blessed deacons who tried to take care of us, bribed the soldiers to allow us to go to a better part of the prison to refresh ourselves for a few hours. Everyone then left that dungeon and shifted for himself. I nursed my baby, who was faint from hunger. In my anxiety I spoke to my mother about the child, I tried to comfort my brother, and I gave the child in their charge. I was in pain because I saw them suffering out of pity for me. These were the trials I had to endure for many days. Then I got permission for my baby to stay with me in prison. At once I recovered my health, relieved as I was of my worry and anxiety over the child. My prison had suddenly become a palace, so that I wanted to be there rather than anywhere else.

Then my brother said to me: ‘Dear sister, you are greatly privileged; surely you might ask for a vision to discover whether you are to be condemned or freed.’

Faithfully I promised that I would, for I knew that I could speak with the Lord, whose great blessings I had come to experience. And so I said: ‘I shall tell you tomorrow.’ Then I made my request and this was the vision I had.

I saw a ladder of tremendous height made of bronze, reaching all the way to the heavens, but it was so narrow that only one person could climb up at a time. To the sides of the ladder were attached all sorts of metal weapons: there were swords, spears, hooks, daggers, and spikes; so that if anyone tried to climb up carelessly or without paying attention, he would be mangled and his flesh would adhere to the weapons.

At the foot of the ladder lay a dragon of enormous size, and it would attack those who tried to climb up and try to terrify them from doing so. And Saturus was the first to go up, he who was later to give himself up of his own accord. He had been the builder of our strength, although he was not present when we were arrested. And he arrived at the top of the staircase and he looked back and said to me: ‘Perpetua, I am waiting for you. But take care; do not let the dragon bite you.’

‘He will not harm me,’ I said, ‘in the name of Christ Jesus.’

Slowly, as though he were afraid of me, the dragon stuck his head out from underneath the ladder. Then, using it as my first step, I trod on his head and went up.

Then I saw an immense garden, and in it a gray-haired man sat in shepherd’s garb; tall he was, and milking sheep. And standing around him were many thousands of people clad in white garments. He raised his head, looked at me, and said: ‘I am glad you have come, my child.’

He called me over to him and gave me, as it were, a mouthful Of the milk he was drawing; and I took it into my cupped hands and consumed it. And all those who stood around said: ‘Amen!’ At the sound of this word I came to, with the taste of something sweet still in my mouth. I at once told this to my brother, and we realized that we would have to suffer, and that from now on we would no longer have any hope in this life.

A few days later there was a rumour that we were going to be given a hearing. My father also arrived from the city, worn with worry, and he came to see me with the idea of persuading me.

‘Daughter,’ he said, ‘have pity on my grey head–have pity on me your father, if I deserve to be called your father, if I have favoured you above all your brothers, if I have raised you to reach this prime of your life. Do not abandon me to be the reproach of men. Think of your brothers, think of your mother and your aunt, think of your child, who will not be able to live once you are gone. Give up your pride! You will destroy all of us! None of us will ever be able to speak freely again if anything happens to you.’

This was the way my father spoke out of love for me, kissing my hands and throwing himself down before me. With tears in his eyes he no longer addressed me as his daughter but as a woman. I was sorry for my father’s sake, because he alone of all my kin would be unhappy to see me suffer.

I tried to comfort him saying: ‘It will all happen in the prisoner’s dock as God wills; for you may be sure that we are not left to ourselves but are all in his power.’

And he left me in great sorrow.

One day while we were eating breakfast we were suddenly hurried off for a hearing. We arrived at the forum, and straight away the story went about the neighbourhood near the forum and a huge crowd gathered. We walked up to the prisoner’s dock. All the others when questioned admitted their guilt. Then, when it came my turn, my father appeared with my son, dragged me from the step, and said: ‘Perform the sacrifice–have pity on your baby!’

Hilarianus the governor, who had received his judicial powers as the successor of the late proconsul Minucius Timinianus, said to me: ‘Have pity on your father’s grey head; have pity on your infant son. Offer the sacrifice for the welfare of the emperors.’

‘I will not’, I retorted.

‘Are you a Christian?’ said Hilarianus.

And I said: ‘Yes, I am.’

When my father persisted in trying to dissuade me, Hilarianus ordered him to be thrown to the ground and beaten with a rod. I felt sorry for father, just as if I myself had been beaten. I felt sorry for his pathetic old age.

Then Hilarianus passed sentence on all of us: we were condemned to the beasts, and we returned to prison in high spirits. But my baby had got used to being nursed at the breast and to staying with me in prison. So I sent the deacon Pomponius straight away to my father to ask for the baby. But father refused to give him over. But as God willed, the baby had no further desire for the breast, nor did I suffer any inflammation; and so I was relieved of any anxiety for my child and of any discomfort in my breasts….

Some days later, an adjutant named Pudens, who was in charge of the prison, began to show us great honour, realizing that we possessed some great power within us. And he began to allow many visitors to see us for our mutual comfort.

Now the day of the contest was approaching, and my father came to see me overwhelmed with sorrow. He started tearing the hairs from his beard and threw them on the ground; he then threw himself on the ground and began to curse his old age and to say such words as would move all creation. I felt sorry for his unhappy old age.

The day before we were to fight with the beasts I saw the following vision. Pomponius the deacon came to the prison gates and began to knock violently. I went out and opened the gate for him. He was dressed in an unbelted white tunic, wearing elaborate sandals. And he said to me: ‘Perpetua, come; we are waiting for you.’

Then he took my hand and we began to walk through rough and broken country. At last we came to the amphitheatre out of breath, and he led me into the centre of the arena.

Then he told me: ‘Do not be afraid. I am here, struggling with you.’ Then he left.

I looked at the enormous crowd who watched in astonishment. I was surprised that no beasts were let loose on me; for I knew that I was condemned to die by the beasts. Then out came an Egyptian against me, of vicious appearance, together with his seconds, to fight with me. There also came up to me some handsome young men to be my seconds and assistants.

My clothes were stripped off, and suddenly I was a man. My seconds began to rub me down with oil (as they are wont to do before a contest). Then I saw the Egyptian on the other side rolling in the dust. Next there came forth a man of marvelous stature, such that he rose above the top of the amphitheatre. He was clad in a beltless purple tunic with two stripes (one on either side) running down the middle of his chest. He wore sandals that were wondrously made of gold and silver, and he carried a wand like an athletic trainer and a green branch on which there were golden apples.

And he asked for silence and said: ‘If this Egyptian defeats her he will slay her with the sword. But if she defeats him, she will receive this branch.’ Then he withdrew.

We drew close to one another and began to let our fists fly. My opponent tried to get hold of my feet, but I kept striking him in the face with the heels of my feet. Then I was raised up into the air and I began to pummel him without as it were touching the ground. Then when I noticed there was a lull, I put my two hands together linking the fingers of one hand with those of the other and thus I got hold of his head. He fell flat on his face and I stepped on his head.

The crowd began to shout and my assistants started to sing psalms. Then I walked up to the trainer and took the branch. He kissed me and said to me: ‘Peace be with you, my daughter!’ I began to walk in triumph towards the Gate of Life. Then I awoke. I realized that it was not with wild animals that I would fight but with the Devil, but I knew that I would win the victory. So much for what I did up until the eve of the contest. About what happened at the contest itself, let him write of it who will.

[Here Saturus tells the story of a vision he had of Perpetua and himself, after they were killed, being carried by four angels into heaven where they were reunited with other martyrs killed in the same persecution.]

[Here the editor/narrator begins to relate the story]:

Such were the remarkable visions of these martyrs, Saturus and Perpetua, written by themselves. As for Secundulus, God called him from this world earlier than the others while he was still in prison, by a special grace that he might not have to face the animals. Yet his flesh, if not his spirit, knew the sword.

As for Felicitas, she too enjoyed the Lord’s favour in this wise. She had been pregnant when she was arrested, and was now in her eighth month. As the day of the spectacle drew near she was very distressed that her martyrdom would be postponed because of her pregnancy; for it is against the law for women with child to be executed. Thus she might have to shed her holy, innocent blood afterwards along with others who were common criminals. Her comrades in martyrdom were also saddened; for they were afraid that they would have to leave behind so fine a companion to travel alone on the same road to hope. And so, two days before the contest, they poured forth a prayer to the Lord in one torrent of common grief. And immediately after their prayer the birth pains came upon her. She suffered a good deal in her labour because of the natural difficulty of an eight months’ delivery.

Hence one of the assistants of the prison guards said to her: ‘You suffer so much now–what will you do when you are tossed to the beasts? Little did you think of them when you refused to sacrifice.’

‘What I am suffering now’, she replied, ‘I suffer by myself. But then another will be inside me who will suffer for me, just as I shall be suffering for him.’

And she gave birth to a girl; and one of the sisters brought her up as her own daughter.

Therefore, since the Holy Spirit has permitted the story of this contest to be written down and by so permitting has willed it, we shall carry out the command or, indeed, the commission of the most saintly Perpetua, however unworthy I might be to add anything to this glorious story. At the same time I shall add one example of her perseverance and nobility of soul.

The military tribune had treated them with extraordinary severity because on the information of certain very foolish people he became afraid that they would be spirited out of the prison by magical spells.

Perpetua spoke to him directly. ‘Why can you not even allow us to refresh ourselves properly? For we are the most distinguished of the condemned prisoners, seeing that we belong to the emperor; we are to fight on his very birthday. Would it not be to your credit if we were brought forth on the day in a healthier condition?’

The officer became disturbed and grew red. So it was that he gave the order that they were to be more humanely treated; and he allowed her brothers and other persons to visit, so that the prisoners could dine in their company. By this time the adjutant who was head of the gaol was himself a Christian.

On the day before, when they had their last meal, which is called the free banquet, they celebrated not a banquet but rather a love feast. They spoke to the mob with the same steadfastness, warned them of God’s judgement, stressing the joy they would have in their suffering, and ridiculing the curiosity of those that came to see them. Saturus said: ‘Will not tomorrow be enough for you? Why are you so eager to see something that you dislike? Our friends today will be our enemies on the morrow. But take careful note of what we look like so that you will recognize us on the day.’ Thus everyone would depart from the prison in amazement, and many of them began to believe.

The day of their victory dawned, and they marched from the prison to the amphitheatre joyfully as though they were going to heaven, with calm faces, trembling, if at all, with joy rather than fear. Perpetua went along with shining countenance and calm step, as the beloved of God, as a wife of Christ, putting down everyone’s stare by her own intense gaze. With them also was Felicitas, glad that she had safely given birth so that now she could fight the beasts, going from one blood bath to another, from the midwife to the gladiator, ready to wash after childbirth in a second baptism.

They were then led up to the gates and the men were forced to put on the robes of priests of Saturn, the women the dress of the priestesses of Ceres. But the noble Perpetua strenuously resisted this to the end.

‘We came to this of our own free will, that our freedom should not be violated. We agreed to pledge our lives provided that we would do no such thing. You agreed with us to do this.’

Even injustice recognized justice. The military tribune agreed. They were to be brought into the arena just as they were. Perpetua then began to sing a psalm: she was already treading on the head of the Egyptian. Revocatus, Saturninus, and Saturus began to warn the on looking mob. Then when they came within sight of Hilarianus, they suggested by their motions and gestures: ‘You have condemned us, but God will condemn you’ was what they were saying.

At this the crowds became enraged and demanded that they be scourged before a line of gladiators. And they rejoiced at this that they had obtained a share in the Lord’s sufferings.

But he who said, Ask and you shall receive, answered their prayer by giving each one the death he had asked for. For whenever they would discuss among themselves their desire for martyrdom, Saturninus indeed insisted that he wanted to be exposed to all the different beasts, that his crown might be all the more glorious. And so at the outset of the contest he and Revocatus were matched with a leopard, and then while in the stocks they were attacked by a bear. As for Saturus, he dreaded nothing more than a bear, and he counted on being killed by one bite of a leopard. Then he was matched with a wild boar; but the gladiator who had tied him to the animal was gored by the boar and died a few days after the contest, whereas Saturus was only dragged along. Then when he was bound in the stocks awaiting the bear, the animal refused to come out of the cages, so that Saturus was called back once more unhurt.

For the young women, however, the Devil had prepared a mad heifer. This was an unusual animal, but it was chosen that their sex might be matched with that of the beast. So they were stripped naked, placed in nets and thus brought out into the arena. Even the crowd was horrified when they saw that one was a delicate young girl and the other was a woman fresh from childbirth with the milk still dripping from her breasts. And so they were brought back again and dressed in unbelted tunics.

First the heifer tossed Perpetua and she fell on her back. Then sitting up she pulled down the tunic that was ripped along the side so that it covered her thighs, thinking more of her modesty than of her pain. Next she asked for a pin to fasten her untidy hair: for it was not right that a martyr should die with her hair in disorder, lest she might seem to be mourning in her hour of triumph.

Then she got up. And seeing that Felicitas had been crushed to the ground, she went over to her, gave her hand, and lifted her up. Then the two stood side by side. But the cruelty of the mob was by now appeased, and so they were called back through the Gate of Life.

There Perpetua was held up by a man named Rusticus who was at the time a catechumen and kept close to her. She awoke from a kind of sleep (so absorbed had she been in ecstasy in the Spirit) and she began to look about her. Then to the amazement of all she said: ‘When are we going to be thrown to that heifer or whatever it is?’

When told that this had already happened, she refused to believe it until she noticed the marks of her rough experience on her person and her dress. Then she called for her brother and spoke to him together with the catechumens and said: ‘You must all stand fast in the faith and love one another, and do not be weakened by what we have gone through.’

At another gate Saturus was earnestly addressing the soldier Pudens. ‘It is exactly’, he said, ‘as I foretold and predicted. So far not one animal has touched me. So now you may believe me with all your heart: I am going in there and I shall be finished off with one bite of the leopard.’ And immediately as the contest was coming to a close a leopard was let loose, and after one bite Saturus was so drenched with blood that as he came away the mob roared in witness to his second baptism: ‘Well washed! Well washed!’ For well washed indeed was one who had been bathed in this manner.

Then he said to the soldier Pudens: ‘Good-bye. Remember me, and remember the faith. These things should not disturb you but rather strengthen you.’

And with this he asked Pudens for a ring from his finger, and dipping it into his wound he gave it back to him again as a pledge and as a record of his bloodshed.

Shortly after he was thrown unconscious with the rest in the usual spot to have his throat cut. But the mob asked that their bodies be brought out into the open that their eyes might be the guilty witnesses of the sword that pierced their flesh. And so the martyrs got up and went to the spot of their own accord as the people wanted them to, and kissing one another they sealed their martyrdom with the ritual kiss of peace. The others took the sword in silence and without moving, especially Saturus, who being the first to climb the stairway was the first to die. For once again he was waiting for Perpetual Perpetua, however, had yet to taste more pain. She screamed as she was struck on the bone; then she took the trembling hand of the young gladiator and guided it to her throat. It was as though so great a woman, feared as she was by the unclean spirit, could not be dispatched unless she herself were willing.

Ah, most valiant and blessed martyrs! Truly are you called and chosen for the glory of Christ Jesus our Lord! And any man who exalts, honours, and worships his glory should read for the consolation of the Church these new deeds of heroism which are no less significant than the tales of old. For these new manifestations of virtue will bear witness to one and the same Spirit who still operates, and to God the Father almighty, to his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom is splendour and immeasurable power for all the ages. Amen.

From The Acts of the Christian Marytrs

texts and translation by Herbert Musurillo

(c) Oxford University Press, 1972

It is arguable that George Washington’s resignation letter to the Continental Congress (written in Annapolis, Md. 23 December 1783) after having won the War of Independence may be as important a document as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Washington’s refusal to take power and assume absolute rule over this newly born, fragile, and altogether tenuous nation, even if only for the sake of a short-term stability, is one of the most remarkable moments in history. Too often we view history as merely the outcomes of inevitable courses, but that is not how life truly works. Washington could have chosen differently. History could have been different.

Mr President

The great events on which my resignation depended having at length taken place; I have now the honor of offering my sincere Congratulations to Congress & of presenting myself before them to surrender into their hands the trust committed to me, and to claim the indulgence of retiring from the Service of my Country.

Happy in the confirmation of our Independence and Sovereignty, and pleased with the oppertunity afforded the United States of becoming a respectable Nation, I resign with satisfaction the Appointment I accepted with diffidence—A diffidence in my abilities to accomplish so arduous a task, which however was superseded by a confidence in the rectitude of our Cause, the support of the Supreme Power of the Union, and the patronage of Heaven.

The Successful termination of the War has verified the more sanguine expectations—and my gratitude for the interposition of Providence, and the assistance I have received from my Countrymen encreases with every review of the momentous Contest.

While I repeat my obligations to the Army in general, I should do injustice to my own feelings not to acknowledge in this place the peculiar Services and distinguished merits of the Gentlemen who have been attached to my person during the War. It was impossible the choice of confidential Officers to compose my family should have been more fortunate. Permit me Sir, to recommend in particular those, who have continued in Service to the present moment, as worthy of the favorable notice & patronage of Congress.

I consider it an indispensable duty to close this last solemn act of my Official life, by commanding the Interests of our dearest Country to the protection of Almighty God, and those Who have the superintendence of them, to his holy keeping.

Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great theatre of Action—and bidding an Affectionate farewell to this August body under whose orders I have so long acted, I here offer my Commission, and take my leave of all the employments of public life

The following is an Orthodox prayer for a child who has died:

O Lord who watches over children in the present life and in the world to come because of their simplicity and innocence of mind, abundantly satisfying them with a place in Abraham’s bosom, bringing them to live in radiantly shining places where the spirits of the righteous dwell: receive in peace the soul of Your little servant Coco Madalena, for You Yourself have said, “Let the little children come to Me, for such is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Amen.

sisters

I am learning that to pray for those who have died is a good and wonderful privilege. Our daughter Coco Madalena was born on this day six years ago. May God, who created her and gave her to us in this world for only a brief but blessed time, sustain her and bring her into the glory of the age to come.

I long to see her again.

remember
we ate apples with knives
and rope swings
and green gray dewy fields
and hay lofts
and gravel roads
and horsebacks
sullen in low skies
and we were boys together

remember
tangled woods
hot evaporating
and dark pools
inviting us
stripping us
to nothing
like there was
nothing else
and swimming
like primitives
i imagine
and the only direction
was east
and we
didn’t care

remember
our favorite trails
dividing among trees
without regrets
and our boots
stained from
the red clay
grew heavier with the day
and how we slept
like innocents

remember
the smell of kerosene
and campfires
and rifles
fresh with oil
and how we loved
this day
as if there were
no others
and wished
we lived
a hundred
years ago

remember
a boy’s dreams
like airplane wings
and waterfalls
and autumn forests
callings us to
cool mornings
and imaginations
with no limits
and how we
never
saw
tomorrow

(September 1998)

Ten years ago . . .

Firefighter climbing up WTC stairs while others go down, 9/11/2001.

I had to be at work by 6AM PST. I worked in tech support for a large software company on the west coast and many of my clients were on the east coast. As I entered the building the security guard asked me if I had heard that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. I had not. When I got to my desk I logged on to my computer and then I thought I would check an online news source to see something about that plane. In my mind I imagined a small private plane. As I tried to access various news related web sites none of them would load. It was like the Internet suddenly ground to a crawl. I knew something must be up, meaning a lot of people were trying to access the same sites as me and the traffic was overwhelming their servers. So I stood up and noticed no one was at their desks around me, but that a crowd had formed at another cubicle across the room. I walked over. Someone had attached a television receiver to their computer and everyone was watching the live newscast. As I approached the first thing I saw was the image of the two towers, one of which had smoke pouring from it. I stood there thinking, “Boy is this ever a major mistake.” I assumed the pilot of a large plane had miscalculated terribly. Then, a couple of minutes later I saw the second plane hit the second tower. Immediately a shiver went up my spine and I knew this was no accident. We all stood there in silence, stunned. Then a number of us ran to our phones. A lot of the agents had clients in those towers. Though they may have never met them, they knew them, they had worked with them, talked with them about their families, and some had become friends of the agents. The phone lines were overloaded; they couldn’t get through. We could tell people were trapped in those buildings. Then I remembered my sister. She was on a business trip and was supposed to fly into New York City that morning. I called her but couldn’t get through. I called my parents. My sister had missed her flight and was fortunately stuck at the hotel. Her husband, a pilot for Continental, was at the controls of his plane returning from Mexico when he was forced to land in Florida. I called my wife and told her to turn on the television. All in all it was a strange and disturbing day: Lots of worries, lots of heartache, lots of speculation. That day also began a two week period for me of many tears as I watched over and over the footage, heard many of the stories of tragedy and heroism, and listened to recordings of last voicemails to loved ones.

I am getting teary just writing this, and yet “my” 9/11 was tame in comparison to many others’. Fortunately, no one I knew died or directly suffered anything serious that day, but I will never be the same nonetheless. That day left its imprint on all of us who, each with our own stories, were witnesses.

Tragedies like 9/11 are defining moments. Recently I have been viewing once again Ken Burn’s documentary The Civil War. That war was probably the most defining “moment” in the history of our nation, and it was an indescribable tragedy. It was, in effect, the “crossroads of our being” as Shelby Foote said. I wonder what we will say about 9/11 in a hundred years. Was it also a crossroads? Maybe so. I hope that in the long run it was a crossroads for good; I hope the direction we go as a nation redeems, in some way, that horrible day.

As a parent I am deeply concerned about this world and the future. And as a Christian facing into tragedies I have to ask if I truly believe that God is sovereign. What I have learned the hard way is that God is good and trustworthy regardless of the tragedies in our lives. I am not to live in fear but to trust God. That is sometimes hard to do. It is in our nature to live in either fear or denial. As I look at this country since that fateful day I do not think we have done a great job as a nation in dealing with 9/11. Even though many people died that day, I believe the real motive behind the attacks was to create a climate of fear. From what I can tell the terrorists succeeded. But it does not have to be that way. Christians are to be salt and light. The early church could have lived in fear. They were a persecuted church and many Christians came to tragic and terrible deaths. But they did not live in fear. Instead they proclaimed the good news. They knew that God was in control, that He is trustworthy, and that true life is much grander than the few years we experience in this age. We should have the same attitude today as those early Christians. We should not fear terrorists or other enemies; we should not fear other 9/11’s, we should not fear death.

I know it is easy to say this from the comfort of my office, but the older I get the more I am convinced that events like 9/11 are touchstones that bring out who we truly are. We can be the kind of people who cling ever more tightly to this world, who fear tragedy might strike us too, and that are loath to give up what little we have. Or we can be people who are reminded by 9/11 that this life is fleeting, that our lives are utterly contingent upon God, and that our lives are not only about the here and now, but even more so about the kingdom of God where no tear shall be shed. To live in fear is to remain only in the kingdom of this world. The tragedy of 9/11 was born from the kingdom of this world and inflicted by its servants. Christians, however, belong to a different kingdom, a kingdom that this world desperately needs to embrace and to love. Christians of all people should not be cowed into a fearful submission by the popular rhetoricians of the day, rather we should confidently turn to God and proclaim that He is the source of all life, and then turn to the world and continue to proclaim.

Remember what Christ said:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (St. Matthew 6:25-33, ESV)

Let us then, as we remember 9/11, and as we rightly mourn the day, continue to seek first the kingdom of God. And let us teach our children to do the same.