Tuesday, September 25, 2012


I write today form the abode of a dear high school friend who now lives in one of the suburbs of Minneapolis. A couple of months ago, another friend and I determined that it was time to see a baseball game at Target Field. I checked the Twins schedule and found that they would be playing the Yankees (without whom there is no such thing as baseball), and we arranged to make the trip.

So it was that I found myself making the long drive across South Dakota on Sunday afternoon having finished my Masses for the weekend and making a pastoral visit in Rapid City. Traffic was light, road construction was intermittent, and the highway patrol was otherwise occupied. These conditions not withstanding, I did not arrive in Golden Valley until nearly midnight Central Time. Brief greetings were made, and all of us made our way to our various makeshift sleeping areas (The trip, I suppose it must be mentioned, was equally meant to be a housewarming event. My friend has recently acquired this home, and as she is single, has little call for more than one bed.). Taylor claimed the guest room with its accompanying air mattress. I occupied the couch in the basement.

Monday morning arrived blissfully late. A cup of coffee and a short drive later, I found myself standing in the lobby of my alma mater chatting with the two resident Rapid City seminarians as we awaited the arrival of Mass time. It was great fun to enter the seminary sacristy as a cleric. I held none of the mild terror that accompanied my visits there as a student preparing to read, serve, or assist as a deacon. I was an equal. Nothing is quite so intimidating, however, as doing anything churchy in front of a group of seminarians. I was only a concelebrant, but was still a bit nervous.

Mass having been successfully accomplished, I was escorted to a nearby Chinese Buffet for a quick lunch with the guys. Back on campus, I caught up with one of the heirs of the Wall Drug Store dynasty, and then went to order clerical shirts at the local religious goods dealer.

By the time I was ready to return to the house, traffic had already become heavy. Why are so many people driving at 3:15 pm? I had expected this to be a harrowing experience given that I have not driven in traffic for some years, but with a large dent in the back of my trunk and a South Dakota license plate, the locals gave me a relatively wide berth. I walked into the house with just enough time to finish my Divine Office before I was whisked off to a dinner of Thai food. Briana and I came back to the house just in time for me to switch cars and head back into the city for drinks with Taylor and a friend of his. This was to become an hour long distillation of all I detest. We found parking near The Ice House, and upon entering I was immediately grateful I hadn't worn my collar. There was a five dollar cover just to have the privilege of sitting in the bar which throbbed with babble of youthful hipster voices, the clink of tiny glasses filled with impoverishingly expensive trendy drinks, and the stylings of a free form jazz group on the stage. The last of these was the worst. The drummer was simply obnoxious. Loud, without any discernible method to his playing, and a giant ham to boot, he made conversation nearly impossible. The group itself was simply awful. At a certain point they played a modified banjo that sounded a bit like a sitar. This, combined with the upright bass, left one with the impression that they were attempting to combine the theme music from Jaws and Slumdog Millionaire.

The party we were to join was composed of two couples, one of which had recently wed and seemed rather normal, the other of which was the coupling of a mohawked, fang-toothed drummer and she who is the third in command of Minnesota's DNC. Trendy, Hipster, Loud, and Liberal, I was for out of my own circle of comfort. Thus, in a certain wicked irony, I was grateful that the "music" permitted little conversation. Just as the set was ending, we decided to take our leave.

Minnesota is a study in contrasts I suppose. Minneapolis and St. Paul are called the Twin Cities, but they are estranged twins. One is subdued, largely homogenous, and seemingly wholesome. The other is loud, wild, and diverse. Most of the state is populated by stoic workers of the land, but they are often overruled in public affairs by those who dwell in the cities. Prince, the Cohen Brothers, and Bob Dylan were all born and educated here. Michelle Bachman represents them in Congress. I am driven mad by the crowds, the noise, and the politics. I love to take advantage of the art, restaurants, and the learning the aforementioned made possible. It is good to be here. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

We Are Sparta(ns)!

Mischief is in the air.

This week has marks the celebration of homecoming for both the local high school and Black Hills State University.  Apparently the high school homecoming king and queen were crowned last evening, and a number of Catholics were in the court.  Today, the school hosted a parade down Main Street (the college parade will occur tomorrow morning).  Spirits are high, as the football team is on a serious winning streak, and they are likely to make a long drive into the playoffs.  Everyone is excited, and the kids are full of mischief.  (I saw a handful of juvenile boys with water balloons strutting down the sidewalk as I watched the parade.  Such devices can only be used for ill.)  The chant up and down the street was something along the lines of:

We are the Spartans/ the Mighty Mighty Spartans. /Everywhere we go/People want to know/ Who we are/ So we tell them/ we are the Spartans . . . 

I am a sucker for a parade.  I was somewhat disappointed to find myself seated behind a group of second graders because when it comes to gathering candy, they are like vultures on carrion.  I knew I was not likely to collect even a single stray piece thrown from the floats.  Nevertheless, I did manage to capture a few pictures.     

Middle School Football

Varsity Football

Second Grade Candy Snatchers

Marching band

Good Luck tonight Spartans!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

And All is Well With the World

Just moments ago, I updated my Facebook status to reflect the sentiment that titles this post. Thinking more about it, I suppose such a statement may seem incongruous at best given that today marks the eleventh anniversary of the infamous 9/11 terrorist attacks, that nearly one in ten Americans is unemployed, that American troops still stand in harm's way, and that Europe teeters on the brink of insolvency.

And yet, I could not help but smile as I passed the bicyclists making noise in my back parking lot as I strolled to the gas station for a Diet Coke. I did not even mind the overly familiar clerk who insists on commenting on my purchases each time I patronize her establishment. After all, the night is brisk, I have worked hard today, and a mere one hour ago, the God of all creation bestowed His blessing over His holy people in his Eucharistic form before permitting that I repose him in. His tabernacle. There He remains keeping watch over us tonight and always. Bombs may fall, teenage tragedies may unfold, and nations may collapse and yet, all is well with the world, as we prepare to commit ourselves for one more night to His almighty protection. God has granted me many precious consolations in the last few days. Those for whom I have prayed fervently are safe. Thus, Rosary in hand, I prepare for sleep altogether certain, all is well with the world. 

Doing History

Our Intergenerational Faith Formation program (GOF) this year will focus on the Church's history.  As this was my area of focus as I was pursuing my Masters, I have been designated the primary instructor for the program.  I cannot say I am disappointed at the prospect.  As my thesis director and academic adviser was wont to call it, these six half hour vignettes will constitute a frolicking romp through the centuries.

While telling the Church's story is a task in itself, and I will be busy enough keeping up with that, a part of me wishes that I could carry on a sustained conversation about the nature of historical study.  What follows is an amended version of a comment I left on a post from fellow blogger J. Thorp.


Studying Church History in grad school, I grew weary of most history texts. It was not as though they set out to be intentionally critical of the Church, at least in the sense that the authors wanted to discredit the Church. It was, rather, the bias of what is considered academically normative and acceptable. The normal and acceptable approach is flawed.  It demands scientific objectivity where none can exist.  It demands the suspension of belief in the fantastical, when the foundation of human existence, from the Christian perspective, demands belief in the fantastical. One cannot assume scientific objectivity in the study of history in any context, and this is doubly true in the context of Catholic history.

As in all else relating to the Church, one must always approach her history through the eyes of faith. Thus, to approach her history as though it were simply the history of the Roman Empire or some other secular entity about which we might conjecture with little consequence is to do a disservice to the Church, the reader, and oneself. I began to philosophize thus as I prepared my thesis and was reminded time after time by my professor that as a historian, I was not at liberty to speak as to the authenticity of claims that the Blessed Virgin Mary has appeared in Mexico. I disagree. As a Catholic historian, I can and do say without apology that Mary did appear in Mexico, that she did leave her image on the tilma, and that those who deny these things are in error. Church history, though not strictly a theological discipline, lends itself to the service of theology; all realms of theology require a degree of faith.

To my mind, therefore, it is commendable that the Catholic historian relieve himself of strict adherence to the principles of historical study to which his secular comrades ascribe.  The Catholic historian can, perhaps ought, reject the otherwise unquestioned academic categories that insist that historical data must be examined without recourse to faith. This secular approach has become so prevalent in academia, that to question the conclusions of traditional histories achieved by these secular means is to abandon academic integrity. In other words, to my mind, the modern academic historian, to remain credible in the esteemed eyes of the academy -- to do authentic history as defined by one's peer reviewers -- must always leave the Church with egg on her face. 

How, after all, can one describe the importance and significance of the Inquisition unless one first accepts the importance and significance of maintaining proper belief for salvation? How does one deal with questions of Holy Wars or defend the Crusades if one cannot appreciate the notion that God uses kings and kingdoms to accomplish his own ends.  One might go so far as to say that some of what the Church has done is indefensible without faith. As a result, I simply cannot countenance the idea that faithless lines of examination are the only reliable means of doing authentic and objective research.

The Church is and has been for 2000 years the continued presence of Christ on Earth. Though one must always account for the "Judas factor," the Church and her history represent the manner by which Christ is bringing about the consummation of time. Thus, it seems to me that of necessity any accurate history of the Church will attempt to find a way to show God's providence shining through human sin and folly. This is not a bias; The Church either is what she says she is, or she is not. If she is the continued presence of Christ on Earth, it is simply disingenuous for a Catholic to try to absolve himself of the obligation to look at history from anything but a sympathetic perspective. Sin within the Church did her serious damage. We need not whitewash this fact, but we ought to see it in the best light possible. Likewise, charity demands that we approach with sympathy those who damaged the Church from without. But they were wrong - seriously wrong. We should make no bones about that fact.

The Church need not always fall on the wrong side of history.  This objective is accomplished easily enough if the historian, like every other lay-professional to whom I preach Sunday by Sunday, places his faith ahead of his work.

Friday, September 7, 2012


In the course of celebrating any particular Mass, the priest is certain to experience any number of distractions.  For instance, I am convinced that a certain number of Catholics have never heard the introductory rites of the Mass.  They generally arrive somewhere during the opening prayer or first reading.  Likewise, there are babies.  Babies should be at Mass, and I have grown largely accustomed to the chorus of shrill and full-throated unhappy baby noises; they are par for the course.  I am typically undaunted by plastic dinosaurs, Lego men, cars, and baby dolls making war along the backs of pews.  I remain unflustered when servers occasionally pass out, and I maintain my calm when the elderly collapse in the aisle.

I am utterly ill-equipped, however, to deal with clowns.

In training to celebrate the Mass, we were instructed that the priest should generally not look at the people as he recites the prayers of the Mass.  These prayers, after all, are not addressed to the people, but to God himself.  Thus, one should choose a focal point somewhere at the back of the church and above the heads of the people.  God is "out there".  It is Him to whom we are speaking.  One cannot help, however, catching peripheral glimpses of other things.

Today, while celebrating the Votive Mass of the Most Sacred heart of Jesus at a local nursing home, as I prayed "Through Him and with Him and in Him . . ." I saw a glimmer of yellow hair and red polka-dots.  I ignored it.  Then a glimmer of bright red hair.  "What the Hell is this?" I thought.  "White face paint?  I must have lost have lost my mind," I conjectured.  The people responded "Amen!" and I looked down the aisle out the door.  I was right.  The place was infested with clowns -- Crazy hair, big shoes, and terrifying painted-on grins.  Why on earth are there clowns in a nursing home?  Images from the film adaptation of Stephen King's It danced through my head, leading me to speculate that the whole situation seemed like a macabre commercial for euthanasia.  By the time Mass was over, they had disappeared.  I found excuses to wait around, hoping they would reappear for interrogation.  They did not. 

Coulrophobia n. - an abnormal or exaggerated fear of clowns.

Wailing mourners, shrieking children, and tardy parishioners are one things.  But clowns?  I cannot abide clowns at Mass.