Thursday, August 6, 2015

Share a Diet Coke with Tyler: A Lexical Montage

Who the heck is Erin?
 
To finally have purchased a Diet Coke bottle emblazoned with my name seems a moment of sufficient gravity to necessitate a blog post in celebration.  This is a big deal.  The passenger side floorboard of my pickup attests to the vigor of my search for such a bottle.  Alas, having found it, I forgot to take a picture. . . Lest it seem, however, that my life in Martin, South Dakota is measured in sips of Coca-Cola products the bottoms of whose bottles promise but never deliver satisfaction, here are a few things.


+++++

I bought a bed.  The parish was planning to buy one anyway, so I went and chose a new one for the master bedroom.   Fr. Marcin and Fr. Dillon went with me.  Fr. Marcin insisted that I try out several mattresses that he liked.  We laid on them together.  #lovewins  It is a very nice bed and a very soft mattress.   


+++++

 I also bought a recliner.  After a misadventure trying to purchase a recliner in Spearfish wherein I ended up with a chair that Msgr. Michael wanted, my new dark brown recliner represents a place of refuge in my new rectory where, as it turns out, I also control the thermostat.  69 degrees baby. (In point of fact, 69 degrees is a little chilly.  I had to turn it up.)


+++++

  There are a lot of questions I do not know how to answer.  Grieving widows are one thing.  Knowing which line item under which a purchase should appear in the budget is quite another.


+++++

I had assumed moving to the prairie would involve little contact with the Chancery.  I assumed poorly, it would seem, as they call about twice a week.  They also ask questions to which I do not have answers.


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Vacationing with Frs. Dillon and Hofer at Leech Lake in Minnesota was as much fund as I have had in ages.  It was good to be with priests.  The fishing was not terrible for late July, though the fishing muse failed to shine her ever-loving light on me.  I was skunked.  Kevin Woster, however, has intimated that he would like to go fishing with me.  Perhaps I will have better luck with him.


+++++

Life is developing a rhythm (the bass line of which seems to be provided by 'The West Wing" on  Netflix), and my Mass Schedule is basically in order.  I want to introduce Eucharistic Adoration at some point.  I am waiting for school to start to see how things flow before I add that.  I also want to add more confession times.


+++++

I finally had a decent homily last weekend.  I was beginning to feel like a babbling idiot after my first couple of weekends.  It is harder than I remembered to preach to a community one dos not know.


+++++

My semiannual flat tire necessitated a ride to town with a stranger to buy a handyman jack, a maddening wait on the phone with GEICO's roadside assistance operator, and a tow truck before all was said and done.  I had all four tires replaced today, assured by the tire fixer people that this time I would not be back for a long time.  I know how to change a tire.  But I broke my jack.  I also know when to admit defeat.  Several old men tried to convince me to try the handyman one more time after the pickup had fallen of of it four times already.  I pay for roadside assistance.  I should use it from time to time.


+++++ 

I do a lot of driving.  According to my calculation, I drove around 1800 miles in business miles in July.  That does not count any personal travel.  I am going to need a more fuel efficient vehicle.


+++++

I enjoy cooking for myself, though I have had to learn how to cook without milk given that I cannot use even a quart before it goes bad.  Maybe I need to start drinking it in my coffee.  I also find it disappointing to have no one but myself to blame when I graze at night and find nothing in my house for snacks.  Sometime soon, however, I will need to find a use for a head of cabbage (quartered and roasted in the oven? Boiled with ham and potatoes?) and two pounds of dried kidney beans (red beans and rice?).  I used to think I could eat spaghetti every day, and I wondered at those who suggested that they could grow weary of pasta.  I am now fast approaching that threshold.

+++++

Washing dishes is a pain.  I have no dishwasher.  My water heater spews water from the tap that could be used to scald a butcher hog for scraping.  So, washing dishes consists primarily in filling the sink with soap, water, and dishes, waiting for the water to cool enough to touch, then rinsing the dishes.  But it is still a pain.


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Where does all this mail come from?  And what am I supposed to do with it?


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It is now time to do some laundry, go to a parish council meeting, and then come back and watch the Republicans clobber themselves in the debate.  It is kind of nice living alone.
   
    

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Great Names


I commented, in a letter, a couple of years back, "Names are powerful.   In a way, it could be said that a name becomes the shorthand expression of the very essence of who a person is.  To use a name is to make present the depth and breadth of a person.  A name is more than a name; it is who a person is."  Over the last couple of months, I have had occasion to consider the thought of a number of women with really exceptional names.  This post has no real purpose except to begin a collection of fantastic names.  I begin with the women.

 
Corrie Ten Boom - A protectress of the Jews from Nazis.

Carrie Nation - The intemperant leader of the temperance movement.

Flannery O'Connor - Unflinching Observer of the American South

Who would you add?

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

An Exhortation to Sinners

Since the time he first sinned, man has experienced nothing so vexsome as being sticky.  It is simply intolerable.  To soil my hands in general is unpleasant.  My faingers and palms have been sullied by a variety of substances ranging from grease to cow excrement, but none of these holds a candle to being sticky.  It is unbearable.  To whit, when breading meat in the kitchen, I have to wash my hands between each piece.  Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches must be eaten with tremendous care.  Ice cream should generally not be eaten from a cone, and the spoon should easily reach the bottom of the vessel from which it is eaten without the hands brushing the vessel's sticky sides.

I recall a moment from childhood wherein I was seated to view the circus.  In her generosity, my mother had purchased cotton candy.  As I ate, my fingers got sticky.  With no source of water to wash, I tried licking my fingers between bites to alleviate my stress.  It became worse with large tufts of the spun sugar now attached to my fingertips and melting there.  It was pure misery.  Later, in my career as a professional dishwasher at Wall Drug Store, I would be forced to reach my entire arm into ice cream tins to wash them.  It was nearly unbearable.

I find, because of this aversion, I avoid the following (a partial list):
  1. Unwashed toddlers
  2. Regular sized candy bars
  3. Honey
  4. Pancakes, French toast, and other syrup covered breakfasts
  5. Vinyl
  6. Varnished pews in hot, humid churches
  7. Pine sap
  8. Watermellon
Which bring me to my point.  There is no summer tradition so vile or offensive as the smore.  Apart from being sticky themselves, they make everything around them sticky.  I have yet to attend an event involving these abominations wherein I have not become, despite considerable precaution, at list a little sticky.  The marshmallow bag gets sticky.  The chocolate wrappers are sticky.  The forks upon which the marshmallows are incinerated are sticky (and someone always lays the sticky end right on the ever-loving table).  The hands of those consuming the smores make the not-sticky ends of the mallow prongs sticky.  God forbid I sit where someone used a bench to mash the abomination together.

I cannot fathom for what reason, apart from his fallenness, a man might even consider taking a fire - something so capable of producing reflection and introspection, so capable of uniting souls in camaraderie - and wrecking it with a smore.



I fear I will spend purgatory sticky.  At least I will be accompanied by those who made me so in life.      

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Ut Unum Sint


Roy and Dorothy Dennis

I find, beginning around mid-May each year and persisting until the end of June, that I enter into a period of nostalgic reminiscence.  Both of my paternal grandparents were born in May and I was ordained a priest at the end of June.  As a result, I find myself considering from whence I come and toward what I might be proceeding.  

My grandparents would have been 101 years old this year.  Both lived through two World Wars, the Cristero Wars in Mexico, the Great Depression, and the Cold War.  They grew up using horses of necessity and before dying saw a man land on the moon (though my grandfather insisted it was a hoax created in a television studio).  My grandfather died just as the internet was arriving on the scene, and my grandmother died when everyone was buying cellular phones.  The 100 years since they were born have seen the most radical technological and cultural changes of any century in human history, but neither lived to see me ordained.  I prayed for the repose of both of their souls as I concelebrated the Mass the evening I was elevated to the dignity of the priesthood.

Grandpa and Grandma have been gone for twenty and ten years respectively.  With each passing year the sting of their loss subsides, metamorphosing into a mellowness of memory in which recollections of their flaws have largely dissolved into a vaguer, less acute sentiment of warm fondness. There are moments, however, when the memory of one or the other of them catches me off guard and a tear or two come to my eyes, and I miss them as I did the day they were buried.

These thoughts occur to me today as we approach the end of the Solemnity of Corpus Christi.  Preaching this morning, I found myself saying, "For the Catholic, 'goodbye' is a meaningless word.  We who receive the eucharist are bound to Christ, and we who are bound to Christ are bound also to those themselves bound to Christ in the Eucharist.  From the last supper until eternity, we are tied to one another."    Indeed, though absent in a certain way, my grandparents are not far from me.  They, who are caught up in the mystery of Christ's love perfectly in paradise*, are likewise caught up in the mystery of that love manifested on every altar and in every tabernacle throughout the world.  When I celebrate the Holy Mass, when I consume the Sacred Host and drink the Precious Blood, and I am with them still.  The union we share today is a union that transcends geography and time.  It is a union undiminished by even death itself.  The Eucharist makes us one.  

This union is one I share not only with my grandparents, but with every Catholic from St. Peter until now.  So, to those whom I have not seen for many years, or months or weeks, to those whom, by reason of distance and circumstance, I may never see again, I rejoice.  I will be seeing you in the Eucharist.

* One of the privileges of the priest is to offer Masses for those whom he loves, and to carry them to the altar with him.  This I did for my grandparents nearly every Sunday for more then three years of priesthood.  Then, one Sunday as I paused in the recitation of the Roman Canon to pray for the dead, the Lord spoke to me with great clarity:  "You need not pray for them further." I am not, of course, competent to declare saints, but both of my grandparents died having received the sacraments, and I think my hope is well-founded.  


Thursday, June 4, 2015

Leaving With More Than I Came

In other news, it was announced a couple of weeks ago that I Bishop Gruss has assigned me as the parochial administrator (all the responsibility but not the rights of a pastor) for the parishes of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in Martin, SD and Our Lady of Victory in Kadoka, SD.

The news was not exactly unexpected.  The need to place a pastor in the parish was fairly evident, two men will be ordained this summer and will need a place to get started, and I have served six years as an associate pastor.  It was time.

Martin is in the south of the diocese, technically situated on the Pine Ridge Reservation, though I am told my parishioners are mostly white ranchers.  Kadoka is sixty miles north along I90.  In my two new parishes I have around two hundred families total.  The Badlands are in my back yard.  It is a long way from Rapid City, a long way from Red Owl, and a little off the beaten path.  I suspect that most arriving in Martin go there intentionally.  It is a little hard to find it accidentally.  The next nearest priest in about forty-five miles away in the village of Pine Ridge.

  

I made the announcement that I was leaving with a lump in my throat, and even though I do not relish the goodbyes that are to come in the next few weeks, I find that I am very excited to strike out (like an adventurer, not a baseball player) on my own.  I'm sad, my heart is not breaking as it did when leaving my previous assignments.  It is not because I don't love these people.  I do love them.  Very much.  But it seems to have finally sunk in that love abides, even when I no longer reside in a given place.  Love transcends geography.  Love transcends time.  Love transcends death itself.  Goodbyes are not forever for the Christian who stands with a foot already in eternity.

I have learned so much here, and I am so grateful for the ways that God has blessed me through these parishes.  I carry the Parishes of St. Joseph, St. Paul, and Our Lady, Star of the Sea with me as I go.

It will be a sacrifice to drive more than three blocks to fish for trout, though I trade it for great pheasant hunting.

In the end, Gary McMahan's Song, "The Old Double Diamond" expresses fairly well what I am feeling, or at least it has been on repeat on my interior soundtrack.

      

Pray that I will be a holy pastor.  Pray that I will love my new people well. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Indelible Marks


June 1 marked two important events in the lives of my two parallel families.  At the Dennis Ranch, as we have done more than 100 times annually, we branded calves.  At the Parish of Our Lady, Star of the Sea in Newell, we confirmed fifteen young men and woman.  These two events, I reflected while returning to Spearfish from Newell, are not entirely dissimilar.


Lazy C V

Branding calves is a necessity of life in rural South Dakota.  The wind-swept plains are prevented from extending into infinity only by irregular intervals of  three, four, and five strands of barbed wire and the chalky white gravel roads that intersect with the paved state highways.  The lengths of barbed wire are, from time to time, interrupted by two wooden posts, snugly attached to one another by a fixed loop of wire near the ground and a loop that can be lifted off the shorter of the posts when two are squeezed closer together.  These gates are sometimes near the property owner's home, but just as frequently, are miles away.  Anyone traveling along the road could enter a pasture leaving no evidence but a set of tire tracks across the prairie grass.  An enterprising thief could, with relative ease, drive into a pasture and abscond with several head of cattle and never be caught.  A brand, however, marks an animal with a permanent sign of ownership.  A thief might take an animal, but a brand proves he does not own it.

So it is, that every spring, cattle owners in Western South Dakota bring together their neighbors and family to gather the livestock and apply the owner's brand.  This brand remains with the animal until the end of its life.  Even if it is sold, an observer can quickly discern from whence it originated.  Once branded, cattle always bear the mark of their owner who fastidiously worked to ensure their existence.


My Students from Newell

In the sacrament of confirmation, one is similarly marked.  From confirmation forward, one is permanently and irrevocably consecrated in a manner enduring unto eternity.  The Seal of the Holy Spirit, imprinted on one's very soul, becomes, in a sense, proof of ownership.  He who is confirmed belongs to God.  Though Satan try to steal him, though sin and folly mar his seal, though the one confirmed himself come to resent the mark, no matter where he roams in the world, he will always be marked as God's own possession.

Branding is a communal event.  It is never done without help.  The men and women who gather to assist do so without complaint.  Branding is a celebration.  It marks success, it mocks the struggles of the spring, and it bespeaks hope for the year to come.  With each successive branding, the men and women who attend are reminded of who they are and they silently (sometimes grudgingly) admit that they could not be as they are except for the support of a community.

Confirmation too, is a community affair.  It brings hope that Christianity is still young and that the Church endures.  Parents are reminded that they need help when sponsors present their children to the Bishop.  Confirmation has a way of renewing and rejuvenating a community, stoking the Holy Spirit within those who have already received the sacrament.  Confirmation reminds those present of their own call to follow Christ with zeal.

A brand is applied with a hot iron heated in fire.  Confirmation is accomplished by the flaming tongue of the Holy Spirit.      

Confirmation is, as I told my students in Newell, the spiritual equivalent of branding calves.  Yesterday, I was blessed to attend brandings of both varieties, and like the communities present at both, I was reminded of who I am, and where I come from.  I am indelibly marked by both.
 
    

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Ex Opere Operato


I have almost memorized the entire Second Eucharistic Prayer.  I am nearing the same proficiency with the First Eucharistic Prayer, or as it is sometimes called, the Roman Canon.  It pleases me to have achieved both of these things.  Having memorized them, I am not bound to the missal, but rather, am freer to lift my eyes to Heaven and address the Church's prayer to God the Father as opposed to speaking them to the pages upon which the text of the prayers are written.  The words of the prayers possess additional layers of meaning when I can speak them from the heart as opposed to reading them.  Such an accomplishment is not, however, altogether without danger.  It is also possible, and at times I must admit, my practice, to recite the words as though I were reciting the alphabet.  In the end, the sacrament is confected, ex opere operato, but this is no excuse for negligence on my own part.  One must, nevertheless, concede that the practice of speaking the same words over and over, day after day, lends itself to the possibility of regarding even something so extraordinary as the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as something rather ordinary, or perhaps more accurately, something usual.  After all, it happens every day at a scheduled time.

Every so often, the Holy Spirit comes crashing through the "ordinaryness" of what I am doing as I celebrate the Mass, reminding me that though celebrating the Mass is not unusual, it remains the most profound moment of my life.  Such an intervention occurred a number of weeks ago.

Everything had proceeded as normal through the majority of Mass.  Along with the regular number of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, I had descended from the sanctuary to the floor to distribute the Body and Blood of Our Lord to the faithful.  As the procession made its way forward, it suddenly occurred to me, "I know everyone in this line!"  Each person who bowed to Our Lord and spoke their amen, I knew by name.  I was astonished.  While I have been deeply in love with this parish for a long time, in a very real way these people were suddenly my people.  I knew them.  I belonged to them.  Just as suddenly, I also realized that not only did I know them, I also knew the individual burden each of them bore to the altar.  "The Body of Christ." She is a recent widow.  "The Body of Christ." He lost his life savings to gambling.  "The Body of Christ." This one is receiving chemotherapy.  "The Body of Christ." That one weeps for her children who have left the faith.  "The Body of Christ."  Her husband despises her faith.  "The Body of Christ." He can't forgive himself for how he raised his children.

Then the Holy Spirit spoke.

"You bear these burdens to the altar for them, Father." (Curiously, the Holy Spirit calls me "Father".)

Ex opere operato indeed.  There is nothing ordinary about what I do.      

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Why Win?


Apart from a brief stint in middle school basketball, I never played competitive sports.  This is not to
"Don Quixote" Pablo Picasso
say I did not compete; I was involved in a variety of competitive theater and music activities through high school.  These two varieties of competition are not without similarity.  Both require dedication.  Both commonly draw upon reserves of strength and talent of which one is ordinarily unaware.  Both demand that one perform at the peak of excellence on command.  Yet, somehow athletic competition remains distinct from other varieties of competition.  Athletic competition is raw, savage, and primal.  Athletic competition arises primarily from the part of man that is still mostly governed by the instinct to survive.  For this reason, I posit, it manages to provoke human passion as little else can.

I have been thinking about this question at some length, trying to understand the power of sports.  One of the young men with whom I associate regularly is a college football player.  Perhaps more accurately, he is on the football team.  He has played the game since middle school, he has demonstrated a fanatic devotion to the Greenbay Packers for decades, and at each of the major turning points in his life, some portion of his decision has pivoted upon how football will fit into the plan.  There is very little in this young man's life about which I am unaware, and we have a rapport as good as you will find anywhere.  I know him.  Still, this is a part of his life that baffles me.  I do not understand it.  I have never felt so passionately about something that objectively so insignificant.  What difference does football make?  He and I discussed the question recently, and though I still cannot make sense of his subjective attachment to the game, I think we have begun to arrive at some sort of philosophical explanation of the power of sport.

It begins thus.  Sport is attractive because it entails two essential elements.  First, it presents an obstacle.  This obstacle is of the variety that at the visceral level, it presents a threat to ones sense of being, analogous to the threats primitive man knew.  He was forced to compete, to fight in order to live, to eat, and to mate.  Such threats could only be answered by means of physical dominance.  Thus, the second element of sports becomes apparent.  There is a clear winner and a clear loser.  Sport ignites human passion because it speaks to a primal drive to survive.

Modern man, however, has no need to battle for survival in this fashion.  In fact, the transitions of man from one period of history to another have been marked most significantly by the advances he has made in using his brain so as to provide advantages over adversaries such that he avoid the need for such conflict.  Regardless or the degree of advancement, however, man finds that he is always confronted with one foe over whom he cannot win final victory.  This foe is himself.  Regardless of his strength, his speed, and his ability, man remains finite.  He is bound by time and space.  He eventually achieves a threshold across which his body will not bear him.  Herein lies the ultimate attraction of sport.  It permits (requires?) one to thrust oneself continually against the outmost boundaries of his ability hoping to push the boundary further away.  Like Icarus, he wonders how close to the sun he might fly, before plummeting into the abyss.  How tall can the men of earth build a tower before the tower collapses.  If man be like God, how much like God might he be?

In this question lies the value of sport and the innate drive to compete.  Among the powers of the soul God has given to men is the power of the will to desire the good.  This desire is insatiable, longing as it were, for nothing less than the infinite.  Because of this, it pushes man to constantly long for the "something more."  This something more remains constantly just beyond his reach.  As such, man discovers his only satisfaction can be found in God, who alone possesses the capacity to satiate an infinite longing.  To the extent that competition and sport push man to become what in God he already is, to become more and more what he will only fully become through perfect union with God, sport is good.  To the extent that sport reveals to man that he is created for more than the limits of a fallen nature permit him, it has value.  To the extent that it makes man better than he was, it is good, virtuous, and glorious.  To the extent that sport is simply for the fading glory of victory, for a crown of laurels that whither, it is foolishness.

Don Quixote, at least as presented in "The Man of La Mancha" understood this idea.  As he sang in the musical:

To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go
To right the unrightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star
This is my quest, to follow that star
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far
To be willing to give when there's no more to give
To be willing to die so that honor and justice may live
And I know if I'll only be true to this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm when I'm laid to my rest
And the world will be better for this
That one man scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star




Sunday, January 25, 2015

Merry Christmas 2014


The posting of my Christmas letter is just a month late this year.  It is a resolution of mine to blog more often this year.  Perhaps a few days off will afford me the opportunity to work on some ideas that I have been kicking around.   


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December 2014 

Merry Christmas! 

A year ago in January, I accomplished my thirty-third successful trip around the sun. Catholic friends were quick to remind me that Jesus died in his thirty-third year. I reminded them that his death happened only after many had come to believe that he was the Messiah. Much to my own dismay, few seem to suspect the same about me. I am not the Messiah, but, like everyone else, I need him to save me. 

I was shocked to discover, while on vacation in September, that my friends are getting old. A smile from one of them revealed wrinkles around the eyes that had not been there the year previous. The hair of another is now tinseled with silver. The vanity of a third friend required him to shave his beard for the same reason. I could not, for my part, identify how I had aged outwardly in a year. Interiorly, though, I feel older. I find I am more sensitive to the invisible ways that people suffer. I acknowledge more readily that people do what they do, for good or for ill, motivated by a desire to be happy. Daily, the voice of the Holy Spirit finds a way to whisper to me, “You will be judged according to how you have loved.” These observations are made more poignant after a truly exceptional retreat in October wherein Jesus gently but emphatically reminded me of how much he loves me. 

My thoughts turn often to my family these days. I fear I have neglected them in my five years of priesthood. None of us anticipated how often my own sense of duty would deprive me of time with them. Both of my brothers live on the ranch now, pursuing dreams of becoming cattle barons. I harbor no such desires myself, but I am jealous of the amount of time they spend together. I anticipate spending a week on the ranch in January. That should be enough time to remind me that while always my home, I do not want to live there. 

 I also find myself thinking often of Fr. Peter Kovarik. More than 1,000 people attended his funeral. I have never seen the Cathedral so full. He touched many lives. That is what happens when you love people. That is what happens when you allow Jesus to love people through you. I hope that my own funeral is well-attended someday as a testament that I have loved well. Thus, for another year, the Lord has been softening my heart, stretching my capacity to love, knocking down walls of pride, and inviting me to give him more of myself. He reminds me day by day that the first posture of the Christian before God is one of gratitude. He has given me so much, and among these gifts is you. Thank you for teaching me to love. Thank you for all you do for me. I am deeply grateful. 

Sincerely yours in Christ, 
Fr. Tyler

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Something Different


A little more than a year ago, while discussing my love for the Short Story, a coworker suggested that I start writing short fiction.  "I make a better essayist," I responded.  But the bug stuck.  And I have been having a hard time writing either one since then .  Well, as it happened, I had time tonight to try something a little different.  The following is my first attempt at a (very) short story. It is, unedited and un-reviewed.  I am not satisfied with the final few lines yet.  But perhaps this is the beginning of something altogether new for me.


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Boys Don't Cry

“I think you should cry every day.  I do,” the young man said.

The comment went unnoticed or at least unacknowledged by the other boys in the group.  Each of the three, not really boy but not yet men, well-built, fit, and popular among their peers, were unlikely candidates for lachrymose outbursts.  The dissonance of the comment, however, seemed apparent only to the priest who, for the better part of an hour, had been mostly listening to the conversation.  He did not necessarily disagree with the young man.  There was probably nothing wrong with having a nice cry when one was certain he was alone.  But to speak of it aloud?  In front of one’s peers?  One’s male peers?  What was the world coming to?

The priest had not cried for a very long time, he reflected.  He could not remember when last he had wept.  Indeed, in his adult life, he could remember only vaguely a few instances wherein he had lost his composure and given himself over to tears.  These were not pleasant memories.  Such loss of control could only be occasioned by the most shattering of disappointments.  For everything else, a cigarette had always sufficed.  

The priest could no longer help but interject.  “Do you cry in front of people?”

“Not always,” the boy said.

“Your dad?” the priest asked?

“Sometimes.”

“Do you ever see him cry?”

Here the boy paused. “Not very often,” he finally answered.  “He cried at his dad’s funeral.  I saw him cry last year when one of his student’s committed suicide.”

The other boys began speaking about their own father’s but the priest did not hear.  He was thinking of his own dad.  The priest could recall only one occasion upon which he had seen his own father cry.  It was at the funeral for Benny, the son of a friend.  Benny had been only sixteen years old when his head was crushed in an ATV accident.  Everybody, mused the priest, had cried that day.  

More memories made their way into the priest’s consciousness.  Had his father cried when the priest’s grandmother died?  When the priest’s younger brother had left home for misadventure in the military?  These recollections provided no certainty.  Once.  He had seen his father cry once.  As a child, the priest’s father had convinced him that he was no longer capable of tears, having wasted them all during his own early years.  The priest’s father made this claim most commonly as a way to induce his own sons to stop crying.  It must have worked.  The priest seldom cried these days. 

The buzz of a cellular phone brought the conversation to an abrupt halt.  “Where are you?” the text message asked?  As though being roused from a stupor, the boys simultaneously came to the realization that it was late, and the snow that had been a flurry when the boys had arrived for their catechism classes was now beginning to accumulate on the streets.  Homework was still undone.  Basketball practice was scheduled for early the next day.  Further conversation, regardless of how edifying it might be for any of the parties involved, would have to continue at another time.

The priest remained sitting for a long time after the boys had left.  It had been a long week.  In the confessional, twice women had told him, after having kept it secret for decades, of babies they had aborted.  As the priest had prayed with them and had, by the power of his office, absolved them of their sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, he felt a sudden spasm in his stomach and quickly swallowed the lump in his throat before a teardrop had time to gather in his eyelashes.  The same thing had happened again when the new bride called him on his cell phone to tell him that her marriage had already disintegrated.  His heart ached for her.  But he didn’t cry.  This urge to let go, to give in, to lose control, to be vulnerable, this thing he had so carefully avoided, was creeping up on him.  He no longer believed in coincidence.  Surely this all meant something.

That had all be months ago, now.  And was the priest was tired.  So many people needed so many things.  Was there no one else who could help them?  Surely others could offer advice better than his own.  He was bored.  No book was interesting.  No television show was amusing.  His hobbies were dissatisfying.  He was lonely.  One of his friends was moving away.  They would not see one another for a long time.  He missed his parents.  He missed his brothers.  He missed the place where he grew up.  he missed the smell of cow, and the smell of grass, and the smell of stagnant stock dam water, and the smell of summer.  He wanted, just for a minute or two, to lay everything down.  He felt heavy.  He wished he could cry.  

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Merry Christmas 2013




This year's Christmas letter.  On the Last Day of Christmas.


+++++ 
 
Merry Christmas!

As an undergraduate at a liberal arts university, I was introduced to many of the classic works of Western Culture.  Through this exploration of Homer and Augustine, Michelangelo and Monet, Bach and Bob Dylan, I was meant to gain insight into a single but enduring question:  What does it mean to live a good life?  I find I am wont to revisit the same line of inquiry as Christmas continues and a new year begins.

I have never been much inspired by Black Friday Sales, but I find I am still very much a consumer.  I have more things than I need: guns, bows, fishing poles, clothes, and since last February, a new vehicle.  I have found pleasure in all of these, though my pleasure diminished dramatically when the sparkplug for the fifth cylinder of the new pickup incinerated and fell inside the engine. 

Over the summer, with thirty-some other locals, I made a pilgrimage to Rio de Janeiro.  Prodded, crushed, trampled, lost, and sometimes the victim of foreign-tongued invective, I saw the statue of Christ the Redeemer, I stood in the surf on Copacabana Beach, and I listened to the Pope as he called each of us to be better disciples of the Lord at home.  Having acquired something viral, and with sand in my hair, sand in my bags, and sand everywhere else, I hacked and coughed and sneezed my way back to Spearfish, glad to have gone, and gladder still to be home.

Since Rio, God has brought into this world a new healthy nephew, and He has taken from this world a weak and sickly grandmother.  Fish were caught and released, pheasants shot and eaten, storms have blown, drifts have melted.  Sins have been forgiven, the sick have been anointed, lovers have wed, widows have mourned, and the sacrifice of Calvary has been renewed day by day at the Holy Mass.  Even these, however, taken by themselves, do not constitute the good life.  

St. Paul instructs the Thessalonians in his first epistle to them, “Rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks always.”  I am struck again and again at all for which I have to be thankful, all for which I ought rightly rejoice.  God gives so generously, even to the point that He would give Himself first in a manger and then on a cross.  In return, he asks very little: just everything.   It is in this realization that I begin to see how the good life must be lived.  When so much has been given to me out of God’s love, how can I but give it all in return?  I fail at this goal often.  I remain proud and selfish.  I continue to sin.  So often I love poorly.  But Christ is at work in me. In a life that is exceedingly busy, regularly punctuated by long committee meetings, and frequently interrupted by someone needing something, I am learning more and more to abandon myself, to give myself, to lose myself in Christ.  And I find that I am exceedingly happy.  I love my people.  I love my parishes.  I love my priesthood.   

So, thank you.  I am truly grateful for you, for your warm sentiments, kind regards, and everything that you give me.  You are among the things for which I offer thanks to God.  Know of my prayers for you during this Holy Season.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Fr. Tyler Dennis   


Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Little Ill

Over the course of the years and in my various travels, I have eaten some odd things: bugs in Mexico, kangaroo and octopus in Australia, horse in Poland, and very recently, whale at a party I hosted. I generally refuse to ask what I am eating until after I have already consumed it. Chances are it will taste good if I don't approach it with any preconceived notions. Most often it works out (I didn't really care for the whale).  I simply do not believe in babying my GI tract.  But sometimes my stomach revolts, and I pay at some length for the violence I do to it. Such was the case yesterday.  

Rumblings began as we were finishing lunch. I refused to be cowtowed by a stomach whining about only slightly hot chili sause. I retaliated by drinking a glass of coke. Before long, however, it was clear that I was going to need to beat a hasty retreat back at the condo. 

This, it turns out, was to be simply a shot across the bow(el?). By Thursday, I was miserable. I have not felt so badly in a very long time. I put on a brave face as we drove north from Santa Fe towards Los Alamos to Bandelier National Monument. 

The drive itself, aside from the crippling fear of soiling myself, was gorgeous. Mountains are not really my thing, but the cedar covered ranges made for astounding scenery. At a certain point, we passed the entry to the national laboratory where Einstein worked with the Manhatten Project. And then we made our way down a deep valley in which we would be introduced to about 1600 years of American history. 

The monument is located in an area that in ancient times was covered in a rock made from densely packed volcanic ash called tuf. The tuf looks much like sandstone, and erodes at least as easily. As the elements did their work, the walls of the canyon became pitted with holes. Centuries later, the ancesters of the Pueblo Indians would come to this valley and build homes in the tuf as well. Some build home in the easily excavated valley floor and covered the tops with mud. Some made homes directly into the sheer walls of the canyon. They were drawn there by abundant wildlife, fresh water, and fertile soil for corn. It is unknown why they eventually left, but the area was already abandoned when the Spanish arrived. 

Mom and I explored the valley for an hour or so, and then needing the bathroom, headed back toward the visitor center. On the way Mom tripped and took a spill, scraped up her knee, and rendered her a cripple. We made quite a pair. 

With my stomach still in revolt and Mom bleeding through the knee of her jeans, we decided we had better go home. We made it there without incident, and we stayed there the rest of the day. After lots of sleep and attempts at rehydration, I felt a good deal better this morning when we left to find a Walmart so we could better bandage Mom's knee, and then to the local Cathedral. 

The Cathedral of St. Francis is currently in its fifth instanciation on the current site. Originally an adobe church, it is now a large brick structure in historic Santa Fe. One enters through two enormous bronze doors. The inside is marked by a curious combination of old and new, European and Indigenous. The windows are old traditional stained glass, the stations of the cross a more modern and indigenous style. The sanctuary has a large reardos featuring saints from the new world. Beneath the sanctuary the graves of many of the Archbishops of Santa Fe. In a chapel to the left of the sanctuary, the faithful are encouraged to venerate Our Lady of the Conquest. The statue therein is the oldest carving of Our Lady in the United States. 

We spent time there to pray and then did a little shopping and wandering. The gem we found today was a little photography gallery featuring a number of pieces by Ansel Adams. By the time we were done there we were both running out of steam. We headed home for a nap, and I am pleased to report that I now appear to be fully returned to health and will shortly be going out to take vengeance on my treacherous bowels. 

Tomorrow we head for home. We haven't decided if this will be a one day or two day trip. If we see anything interesting on the way, I will be sure to let you know.