Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Though it is a frustration to her, I kind of appreciate the fact that my mother works at a job which requires her to work on most of the big holidays.  Inmates at the county jail aren't released for holidays, so those corrections officers charged with their oversight don't necessarily get the holidays off either.  As a result, of late, it has become the custom of my family to celebrate the major holidays sometime other than the calendar date upon which the holiday falls.  For instance, my family celebrated last Christmas on the Monday and Tuesday following December 25.  As it turns out, such a practice is a great convenience for me.  

As a priest, holidays present me with a certain dilemma.  As with most people, I want to be with my biological family for the celebration of Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, and the like.  As a priest, however, I also want to be with my people.  Last Christmas, for instance, I was thrilled to know that I had all of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to spend with parishioners because I would be celebrating with my family later.  There was no mourning of the fact that my family was absent.  I would be with them in due time.  There was no rush to finish Mass and get to the ranch.  It was an absolutely beautiful celebration of the Nativity of the Lord, the winter storm notwithstanding.  

This year, for Thanksgiving, there was a change.  Mom managed to get time off on Thanksgiving Day.  Though I was glad of the fact that I was able to be with my family on Thanksgiving this year, I was also a little deflated.  The forecast was predicted foul weather, and I was afraid I was going to be stuck in Rapid City if I didn't leave on Wednesday.  Max Daniel was to receive his First Holy Communion on Thanksgiving day, and I wanted to be there.  How was I to do both.

As it turned out, the weather was fine and I left after morning Mass on Thursday.  I was able to be present for Max and for my own family.  Such will not always be the case, though.  As time goes on, there are sure to be times when I will be required to choose between my family at home and my family at the Church.  My heart is torn by this, because I want to be both places, and to be in either place would be good.  

In a way, though, I find a beauty in this.  This is one of the wonders of the priesthood.  I really have found a family, a people of my own in my parishioners.  Rather than trying to escape them, as happens in many jobs, I want to be with them for those meaningful days, those holidays, those holy-days.  This is one of the ways in which I come to experience God's love.  And it is precisely this that such holidays are about. 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

"You Can't Take It With You"

I was a "theater geek" in high school.  Early in my freshman year I was introduced to Oral Interpretation, and soon thereafter, to the One Act Play competition.  I was immediately hooked.  The lights, the make-up, the costumes, the almost unbearable, nauseating tension, tangible, crackling backstage as we waited to make our first entrance.  Taking the first step onto the stage, and the exhilaration as that tension flooded away as I delivered my first lines of the show.  The energy of the performance, sharp like a razor, honed by the tight-stretched nerves of each of the other actors.  Feeding off of the response of the crowd, our characters expanding and overwhelming our true personalities with each laugh or gasp from the audience, and feeding off of the other actors as the same happened to them.  And the applause, oh the applause, as the cast bowed at the curtain call, each of us trying to catch our breath as our character disappeared and we returned to ourselves.  To be on stage was to empty myself, pour myself out in front of a crowd.  It was like running to end of the highest diving board and jumping, without looking, into the coldest, deepest water, then struggling back to the surface and gasping breath after breath of sweet life-giving air.  And then, the surreal quality of having finished the day following the last performance.  A part of me was dead and gone. 

Though I did not receive a part in the One Act play and though I was only an extra in the spring production of "Grease," I was at every audition for the rest of my tenure at Wall High School.  As a Junior, I was recognized at a district competition as a superior actor for my role in "Dragons," but the climax of my acting career came that same year when in the spring, I played Milky-White, a cow, in our school production of "Into the Woods."  This part was supposed to be played by a plastic cow on wheels.  I begged the director to let me play it; it was by far my favorite role in a play.  A year later I graduated, and I never gave a second thought to the stage.  I had no interest in acting in college theater, though I remained then, as now, a patron of the arts.  My interest in performing was momentarily piqued when I was required to don makeup and wigs for our summer production of 5th and Broadway, but other than that, I find I remain little inclined to mount the stage.

I am not altogether certain why I was able to give up theater so easily.  I was never really an incredible actor, but I took a lot of pleasure from my time on the stage.  Perhaps I was burnt out by the end of high school.  Regardless, I have had, since then, little desire to act.  In fact, I have become extremely self-conscious about it.  These days it is very hard for me to play a role in a skit.  And yet, last night, as I watched the St. Thomas More High School production of "You Can't Take It With You," I was a little envious and more than a little nostalgic.

The show was very good.  The set was relatively simple, but the script was fantastic, and the casting was inspired.  Each of the characters was well played, and every actor appeared to be having fun with his part.  Along with the rest of the audience, I found myself laughing uproariously as the plot wound its way toward its inevitable resolution.  It is no wonder this play won a Pulitzer Prize in 1937.  I would have loved to have played any of the parts in this production, from a firecracker making father, to the drunken actress who spends most of the second act sleeping on the couch.  Eccentricities abound among the characters of this play, and I suppose in the end, that is the thing that makes me nostalgic.  

Theater is the refuge for those who find themselves a little odd.  It is a place where one gets to be a different person for a season.  In high school, this was a blessed relief.  Trying to figure out who I was, theater freed me to be any number of people, and to try on a variety of different lives -  a British intellectual, a disturbed teenager, a nameless member of a high school gang, the cruel husband of an adulterous wife, a swordsman dressed in black, an evil henchman, and a lovable cow.  On the stage, I could do and get away with things I could not do and get away with in real life.

In the seminary, a man necessarily discovers who he is, and it becomes less and less pressing to want to be like someone else.  Along the way I guess I discovered that real life was far better than the scripted life of a character on stage.  True self-giving was far deeper and more meaningful than to pour out a pseudo-life through a character.  To be truly alive as me was far more sustaining than to feel tingly and alive with the energy of a show.  But, theater helped me get there.  I pray it does the same for the cast of "You Can't Take it With You." 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


"I tell you, on the day of judgment people will render an account for every careless word they speak.
By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned." Matthew 12:36-38
Not to pudify them, but when one spends an inordinate amount of time amongst teenagers and young adults, one begins to forget how to speak English.  While I have noticed this before, the phenomenon arose once again to my consciousness on Saturday after driving three teenage boys around central South Dakota in search of pheasants foolish enough to allow themselves to be shot.  We found twelve such birds, and while doing so, I discovered that "sick"  has nothing to do with one's health nor does it imply (as it recently did) something unattractive, unseemly, grotesque, perverted, or nauseating.  Rather, "sick" has become an adjective emphasizing the good quality in some other thing.  For instance, "Did you see that snowboarder make that jump?  It was sick!"  Likewise, "You should have seen how sick that one spot was.  There were birds everywhere."

A similar evolution has been taking place with the word "sweet," albeit for a longer period of time.  Sweet might describe the quality by which the taste of coffee is changed by sugar.  Seldom does it describe a girls cheery disposition these days.  More often, it functions as modern shorthand by which one expresses one's approval of a thing or an event without suffering the indignity of adjectives with more than five letters.  A typical conversation with a high school student proceeds like this:  "How was the concert last night?"  "It was sweet."  I don't necessarily disapprove of this use of the word.  It mitigates the extent to which I am responsible to remain literate in youth culture.  I get what sweet means, and I do not have to ask a great many succeeding questions trying to grasp the relative value of the experience, and almost anything can be sweet.  I have personally heard this word used to modify each of the following nouns:  Taylor Swift, skiing, snow boarding, my gun, various cars, football games, various universities, several university professors and an interminable collection of other nouns.

I indubitably support those who decry this vilioration of the English language, and am vehemently on the side of those who insist that each bastardization of a word leads us one step closer to a fully Orwellian society.  Such a rant, however, is ill suited for a blog inasmuch as it requires only one sentence.  Kids should be required to read more in school, and they should have to read good literature.  The end.  My principle concern is for myself.  Inundated, as I often am, by this lackadaisical approach to proper spoken English, I worry that I will eventually become incapable of speaking like an educated adult.  

Such silly worries, one might chide, but I hear our language used in utterly indefensible ways in the most inappropriate of circumstances.  An example of this occurs each time I hear someone say to another, "Don't take it personal."  "Personal" is an adjective employed to modify such nouns as hygiene, trainer, and problem.  A well trained English speaker would remark, "Don't take it personally," a sentence wherein an adverb is used to modify the verb "take" by defining the manner in which a thing should be taken.  People even swear badly.  To whit, "Those damn kids!"  Damn is a verb, the action of which is to eternally separate a person from God and his love.  Using the word as a verb, one might say, "Damn those kids!"  In the prior case, however, the appropriate expression would be "Those damned kids!"

Even more exasperating, though, is when one misuses a simple word.  For instance, unsuspecting penitents might bear the brunt of Father's vexation with the misuse of the English language.  I expect that they will never bear the "blunt" of the same.  Such a mistake would not constitute a faux paus, though, unless one were to misuse this idiom while, for example, eating one's salad with the wrong fork.

Luckily, the always pretentious NPR came to my rescue to today with a charming story about a new wildly popular internet site.  I invite you to visit www.savethewords.org.  I am sure you will agree that this webpage is pretty sweet.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Thumbing My Nose at England

Guy Fawkes

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
The gunpowder, treason and plot,
I know of no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, ’twas his intent
To blow up the King and Parliament.
Three score barrels of powder below,
Poor old England to overthrow;
By God’s providence he was catch’d
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, make the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
Hip hip hoorah!
A penny loaf to feed the Pope.
A farthing o’ cheese to choke him.
A pint of beer to rinse it down.
A faggot of sticks to burn him.
Burn him in a tub of tar.
Burn him like a blazing star.
Burn his body from his head.
Then we’ll say ol’ Pope is dead.
Hip hip hoorah!
Hip hip hoorah hoorah!

- Traditional Guy Fawkes Day Rhyme 

"V for Vendetta" aside, Jolly ol' England can bugger off as far as I'm concerned.

It is, to my mind, impossible to have a good grasp of history and remain a Protestant.  This thought has been on my mind today as England celebrates the notorious foiling of the "Gunpower Plot" of 1605 when authorities, after being tipped off by a letter, discovered Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators in the act of setting explosives to blow up Parliament.  What is left unsaid is the evil perpetrated against Catholics by Queen Elizabeth and her successors.  Likewise, few care to recall that even the apostate Henry VIII (he has previously received the prestigious title of "defender of the Faith" from the Pope) maintained a certain Catholic Orthodoxy in the midst of his heresy.  It would be his successors who would wholly eviscerate what vestiges of Catholicism remained in England.  The Gunpowder Plot was the attempt of desperate men to be allowed the freedom to practice the faith demanded of them by their conscience.  

I do not condone terrorism.  I do not think blowing up the British Parliament was a good idea.  It is helpful, however, to consider what drives a man to consider such extreme action.  England claimed to permit a great deal of "tolerance" towards Catholics in those days.  It is a mantra almost identical to the message of tolerance we hear today.  By my estimation, this country tolerates faithful Catholics about the same way that England did in 1605.