Sunday, December 26, 2010

Brief Thoughts on Christmas So Far

Winter makes me tired.  I wonder sometimes if I have seasonal affective disorder.  So, as I write, even after having slept well last night, and having napped well today, I am still worn out.  Today, however, it is a good sort of tired.

In the last week, I have hosted two Christmas parties, shared Christmas in the homes of four parish families, celebrated four birthdays, held my new niece, celebrated three major Masses (and sung the prefaces for two of them), eaten prime rib twice, lobster once, and caviar for the first time (it is alright, but not exactly the sort of thing that I can see myself craving), sang all of my favorite Christmas Carols, seen innumerable people that I have not seen since summer or longer, and been hugged by a vast array of people.  I have very clearly been among family, even though they are not the family with whom I grew up.  And they have worn me out. 

Besides all this, the kitchen counter is covered with cookies and other sweets, and we have a very nice selection of wine to accompany dinners for a while.  People have been exceedingly generous to me, and I plan to be exceedingly generous to Cabelas.

To top it all off, I will see both of my brothers, their wives and children, and my parents on Friday when we gather for our two-day Christmas celebration.  I will celebrate Mass with them, give them gifts, and receive their gifts as well.

And in all of this, I am filled with an overwhelming sense of peace, of love for my people, and thanksgiving for the God who became man so that he might make all men like God.
For many years I was something of a Scrooge, but these days, I must admit it: I love Christmas as a priest. 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

What is a Boy?

I am not in the habit of simply copying and pasting the writing of others on this blog.  But I really enjoyed this post from The Art of Manliness. The following, written in 1945, was recently republished there.

What Is a Boy?

By Alan Beck
Between the innocence of babyhood and the dignity of manhood, we find a delightful creature called a boy. Boys come in assorted sizes, weights and colors, but all boys have the same creed: to enjoy every second of every minute of every hour of every day and to protest with noise (their only weapon) when their last minute is finished and the adult males pack them off to bed at night.
Boys are found everywhere—on top of, underneath, inside of, climbing on, swinging from, running around or jumping to. Mothers love them, little girls hate them, older sisters and brothers tolerate them, adults ignore them and Heaven protects them. A boy is Truth with dirt on its face, Beauty with a cut on its finger, Wisdom with bubble gum in its hair and the Hope of the future with a frog in its pocket.
When you are busy a boy is an inconsiderate, bothersome, intruding jangle of noise. When you want him to make a good impression, his brain turns to jelly or else he becomes a savage, sadistic, jungle creature bent on destroying the world and himself with it.
A boy is a composite—he has the appetite of a horse, the digestion of a sword swallower, the energy of a pocket-size atomic bomb, the curiosity of a cat, the lungs of a dictator, the imagination of a Paul Bunyan, the shyness of a violet, the audacity of a steel trap, the enthusiasm of a fire cracker, and when he makes something he has five thumbs on each hand.
He likes ice cream, knives, saws, Christmas, comic books, the boy across the street, woods, water (in its natural habitat), large animals, Dad, trains, Saturday mornings and fire engines.
He is not much for Sunday school, company, schools, books without pictures, music lessons, neckties, barbers, girls, overcoats, adults, or bedtime.
Nobody else is so early to rise or so late to supper. Nobody else gets so much fun out of trees, dogs and breezes. Nobody else can cram into one pocket-a rusty knife, a half eaten apple, three feet of string, an empty Bull Durham sack, two gum drops, six cents, a sling shot, a chunk of unknown substance and a genuine supersonic code ring with a secret compartment.
A boy is a magical creature—you can lock him out of your workshop, but you can’t lock him out of your heart. You can get him out of your study, but you can’t get him out of your mind.
Might as well give up—he is your captor, your jailer, your boss and your master–a freckled-faced, pint-sized, cat-chasing, bundle of noise.
But when you come home at night with only the shattered pieces of your hopes and dreams—he can mend them like new with the two magic words—”Hi Dad!

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Thursday, December 16, 2010


I recently had a flashback.

Almost immediately upon my arrival at St. Paul Seminary, I began to hear talk of a program called Clinical Pastoral Education, otherwise known as CPE. From all accounts, CPE would be one of the most torturous processes I would be required to undergo in my theological career. CPE, in a nutshell, was the program in which we would spend an entire summer functioning as hospital chaplains. As part of this process, we would gather regularly with other Christian seminarians also operating as chaplains, and we would share our feelings about our experiences, whereupon we would be viciously attacked by angry, man-hating, militant, feminist, lesbians (this is not an exaggeration).

Needless to say, I was less than interested in attending any such program. As I would often find over the course of the years, however, my desire to avoid such a thing only reemphasized my need to do so in the eyes of my formators. So it was that beginning on Memorial Day, I took up residence at Christ the King Parish in Sioux Falls to begin my ten week stint as a hospital chaplain.

As I expected, I hated the experience and I believe that those who perpetuate this program should be tried for War Crimes violations. Nevertheless, the time spent in the hospital was actually pretty helpful. I got used to the sounds and smells of the sick and dying, and I developed a certain familiarity with some of the medical lingo. The dreadful part, however, was to be experienced three or four days each week when my CPE classmates and I gathered for didactics (I still don't know what this word means). The group was comprised of four men and two women, among whom were three Catholic and three Lutheran seminarians. At each gathering, one of us would be required to present a type-written verbatim interaction with one of the patients we had recently encountered. From these, apparently, we were supposed to be able to discern all of the horrible fears and character flaws of one another. Luckily, we didn't have any angry, man-hating, militant, feminist lesbians in my group. From the reports of my classmates, however, I ascertained that it would have been during these verbatim reports that, in any other group, we would have been attacked.

All in all, I found these events to be a superb waste of my time. Once in a while, we would learn a technique that would help us minister more effectively to other people. Mostly, however, we spent several hours a day emoting. I found it excruciating.

Even more tedious was the weekly meeting with Peter. Peter was (is, I assume) a British expatriate who was also apparently an ordained minister for the United Church of Christ. Over the course of the summer, I would come to discover that the UCC does not necessarily believe anything, and they seem to be comfortable with that. Peter looks uncannily like a monkey with rounded ears protruding from the side of his head, and tufts of whiskers on his cheek bones from where he forgets to shave. I actually witnessed him place an entire handful of dried fruit in his mouth once, only to spit it back into his hand after nearly choking. From week to week, we were required to visit him individually in his office and present to him a "significant incident report," wherein we would describe something that had happened in the past week and why it was significant to us. He would then lecture to us for the better part of an hour leaving us utterly baffled because he made no sense. God forbid, if in the course of a week, nothing especially significant had happened. We were in a hospital after all, with tragedy all around us. How could something significant not have happened. So, as with my peers, I found myself exaggerating some rather mundane hospital interaction in order to make it seem significant while meeting with Peter. I was not disappointed when my ten weeks had expired, and even as I write, I find that I harbor certain vestiges of resentment for having been forced to participate in so ridiculous a program.
But, CPE is not the point here.

Last week, I was standing in the hospital waiting for the elevator and thinking about this blog and what I would write, when suddenly I realized that I was looking for a significant incident. I chuckled to myself, but not in the, "Oh What a Happy Memory" way. It was more in the "Hell Has a Special Place for Those Who Perpetuate CPE" way. That thought makes me smile even now.

From the mouths of infants and babes

Last night was the last night of Middle School Formation until after Christmas Break.  I arrived in the Church Hall to have dinner with the kids following Mass and found myself seated with a group of seventh and eighth grade boys and girls.  This sort of combination often amuses me, if only for the unadulterated awkwardness between the kids.  Last night was funnier than usual however.

The conversation at the table was about annoying songs (of which there are apparently a great many these days) which play repeatedly on the radio.  I made some comments about similar songs from when I was their age, but the conversation suddenly made an about face, and we found ourselves discussing the flat screen television that hangs in the rectory's living room.  One of the kids asked the person who brought up the topic, "How do you know that?  Are you stalking him?"

I responded, "There's a song about that too."

One of the boys looked at me oddly and replied, "Did you say that you are stalked by a fat Jew?"

Middle Schoolers . . . .

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

An Unlikely Prophet

December 8 passed as a day largely unnoticed this year.  What with the busy-ness of the season, it comes as little surprise, I suppose.  Of course, there were a few particularly zealous people who arranged their lives so as to give the day its due, but for the vast majority of the world, it was of little consequence that last week, December 8, marked the thirtieth anniversary of the death of John Lennon.  

All diatribes about hippies aside, I like the Beatles.  I have six CDs in my car's six CD changer.  One of them is a sung version of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, another a recorded version of the Rosary.  One is a talk delivered by author John Eldridge.  One is a collection of tunes performed by a local Christian Rock group and another a compilation of various songs that a friend passed on to me.  The one I listen to most often, however, is a collection of my favorite Beatles hits.  I am not much into their psychedelic stuff from later in the band's career, but I love a lot of the lighter songs - "I Want to Hold Your Hand;" "Here Comes the Sun;" "Life Goes On."

I am not much into Beatle Lore, and could not tell you about when or why they broke up.  I don't know much about the careers of the various members following the dissolution of the band.  I do know, however, that John Lennon managed to be fairly successful as a soloist, and that among the most popular songs from that part of his life was "Imagine."

As Advent moves along toward its culmination in the Feast of the Nativity, that song has come to mind several times.  The Utopian world that Lennon imagines without war and filled with peace and harmony among men is deeply resonant with the readings that we hear throughout this season.  His ideas are not far from Isaiah's prophesies of the lion bedding down with the lamb and the child playing at the den of the cobra.  There is a major difference, though.  Lennon, by the time he performed this song, was a communist, and deeply convinced of the possibility of man achieving a perfect world by means of his own power.  Time has demonstrated that such political views are profoundly unrealistic and almost impossible to achieve even in the best of settings.  The world that Lennon longed for all too easily became the disastrous world Orwell predicted in Animal Farm.  Man alone cannot arrive at the peace Lennon describes.  It is, as it were, the peace the world cannot give (John 14:27).  Such a world is possible, however, and it is for this world that we pray during this Advent season.

Herein, however, lies the difference.  My sin, the decisions I make daily, prevent such a world from existing.  Now multiply that reality by about six billion, and then multiply it to the Nth power to take into consideration the long lasting effects of the past sins of others that have developed into systemic evils in the world.  In doing so, one quickly realizes that we are utter failures as regards fixing things.  Insert, however, the cross of Christ into the equation, and everything changes.  In this season of Advent, we are called to consider anew the real need each of us has to allow Christ to apply the grace won by his death to the sinfulness that exists in each of our lives.  Already he has begun the work of bringing about the vision of Isaiah and John Lennon.  We can see this in many ways and places, but its completion depends upon man's willingness to be redeemed and to pursue holiness, and even these require the workings of grace.

Advent, with John Lennon, invites us to imagine.  It invites us to seek forgiveness.  It invites us to become holy, knowing that it was this that Lennon imagined without knowing it was called holiness.     

Thursday, December 9, 2010


The anticipation is killing me.

One of the best parts about Christmas, especially as a priest, and especially since I am no longer in school is the fact that everyone comes home for Christmas.  The seminarians will be home.  Young people from previous World Youth Day Pilgrimages will be home.  Last year's senior class will be home.  Friends from high school will be home.  My brothers and their children will be home.  And eventually, after enjoying all of the previously mentioned aspects of this season, I will be going home.

The whole of Advent is about waiting, longing, and the quiet expectation of the glorious coming of the Lord.  As I wait for Him, and as I wait for everyone to come home, I recognize that these two things are related.  In both cases, I long for a new and deeper revelation of the love of God revealed in his Son.  With those returning to celebrate the holidays with their families, I will know a taste of that.  With the coming of the Lord, I will one day know it in full.

And the anticipation is killing me.