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Thursday, October 30, 2014

TBT - The end of Year A (from Hosanna! magazine, 1993)

              "Lestat," she said, "it is the larger scheme which means nothing...It is the small act which means all...There are many nights when I lie awake, fully aware that there may be no personal God, and that the suffering of the children I see every day in our hospitals will never be balanced or redeemed. I think of those old arguments — you know, how can God justify the suffering of a child?...But it doesn't ultimately matter.
               "God may or may not exist. But misery is real. It is absolutely real, and utterly undeniable. And in that reality lies my commitment—the core of my faith. I have to do something about it!"
               "At at the hour of your death, if there is no God..."
               "So be it. I will know that I did what I could. The hour of my death could be now." She gave a little shrug. "I wouldn't feel any different."
                                                                                    from Tale of the Body Thief
                                                                                    by Anne Rice [Knopf, New York, 1992]
                        Born now in stillness, distant cry,
                        If you exist, if you pass by,
                        Be life within their longing.
                        If you are not and cannot be,
                        Unspoken word, resound in me:
                        No God for our adoring.
                        You know me well, you bind me tight.
                        I cry out "You" both day and night.
                        Could I forget your presence?
                        Could we be one yet still alone,
                        Be homeless, nameless, still unknown,
                        And not behold each other?
                                                Huub Oosterhuis, tr. Tom Conry
                                                "Song at the Foot of the Mountain"
                                                © 1987 TEAM Publications

            As we approach the end of Year A, what new insights have we come to regarding Christ's continuing presence in the world? "They shall call him, 'Emmanuel,' a name which means, 'God-with-us.'" These words were spoken on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, back in December 1992. Then at the end of the Easter season, we heard on the feast of the Ascension, "And know that I am with you always, until the end of the world."On the 22nd Sunday, there were these words from Jesus, taken again from Matthew's gospel: "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst.." Finally, coming up on the feast of Christ the King, we hear: "'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you or see you thirsty and give you drink?'....The king will answer them, 'I assure you, as often as you did it for one of my least (ones), you did it for me.'" The year stretches from one end to the other as a meditation on the great Easter question: how is Christ alive? What does "to rise from the dead" mean? In whom or in what have we discovered the real, living presence of the Christ of God?

            There have been other recurring themes this year: the parables of the reign of God have been heard on many Sundays since July. Have they opened our imagining to any new hope, any new joys? Have we had any insight into the great love and trust Jesus had for his Abba? Have his teachings that flow from that profound faith, teachings about living together peaceably, with forgiveness, and open to the great diversity of humankind, led us to any new behaviors as a community? How have we tried to sing that community into being?

            One great danger is that we have been "just praising the Lord" for the way things are, satisfied with our status quo, and not allowed the axe of God's word to strike at the roots of our complacency. The din of our merrymaking blots out the word. I suppose that we thus tempt God to leave us to our own devices ("Turn back, O Man, forswear thy foolish ways!") or to try a less subtle approach, something in the fire-and-brimstone department. (As I reconsider these words, it seems more likely that we simply are reveling too much to hear the sound of God's axe hacking at the root, since the word does not go forth without accomplishing what it was sent to do!)

            The last Sundays are sombre, but there is a great energy underlying them. It is the energy of something-about-to-happen. Beginning with the parable of the vineyard owner and going through the Solemnity of Christ the King, the gospels are largely calls to immediate action: to respond to the son, to render to God, to come to the banquet, to serve the rest, to stay awake, to live up to our abilities, to do unto the least ones. In each case, one of God's options is spelled out in the parable: destroying their city, weeping and grinding of teeth, letting in the bystanders, locking out in the cold, committing to the fire. These are not meant to be prophecies or predictions of an exact reality, but calls to action. Jesus does not expect the listener to fall asleep or ignore the needs of the little ones or refuse to come to the feast! As he did among listeners two millenia ago in the Bronze Age, Christ looks for a new way of living from those who hear in the age of silicon.

(For Hosanna! magazine, by Rory Cooney. Excerpt.)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

From death into life (Commemoration of All Souls)

We celebrate the Commemoration of All Souls on Sunday this year, a rare treat for us. Most Catholics attend funerals fairly rarely (I guess that’s good, at least in a sense—for the potential honorees ☺), so the liturgy from Mass for the Dead is a pretty big unknown. Priests and musicians attend a lot of funerals, I suppose in urban and suburban parishes with larger constituencies like mine they’re almost commonplace. I would guess that St. Anne’s has about eighty funerals a year. I know places with different demographics that have a lot more than we do. And I feel like I’m at a funeral mass constantly, though that’s more a function of my attitude than of reality.

It’s good to think about final things. In this middle third of autumn, when the Illinois earth is getting serious about preparing for winter, it’s natural around here to start thinking about death. The days are noticeably shorter, and they’re going to be getting a lot shorter soon, when we go off daylight savings time shortly after midnight Sunday morning. So we have All Hallows’ (Saints) Day on November 1 to remember our forebears in the Christian faith, the saints by whose witness and prayer we ourselves know the faith today, and we have All Hallows’ E’en  on October 31 to help us deal with our fear of the unknown that surrounds death, and we have November 2, All Souls’, to remember the unnamed millions who have gone before us and many of whose names are forgotten, to bring them to mind, to pray for them, and to ask for their prayer as well. The Sunday readings during the last two or three Sundays of Ordinary time also turn to final things, “judgment” (though I think we need to think about what that might mean in the context of a non-violent, non-coercive agape God), life, death, and empire all become part of the patchwork of images during the last weeks of the year. And the first Sunday of Advent does, too, but looking at the mystery of creation through yet another lens, that is, what is yet to be, and how it might arise from what is.

At many funerals, and the last time we celebrated All Souls on Sunday, we used the reading from Wisdom ("The souls of the just are in the hand of God...") which dates from the Hellenistic period of Judaism, probably as late as the 2nd or 1st century BCE, from the period following the persecutions suffered in Judea at the hands of monstrous Seleucid emperor Antiochus Epiphanes IV. This marvelous passage is one of the earlier passages in the Hebrew scriptures to allude to the possibility of the bodily resurrection of the dead, a tenet of Christian Nicene creed, and here, as in the book of Daniel and Job, the possibility is raised by the Jewish philosophers and theologians as a necessary outcome of divine justice. Since the Jewish martyrs, like the Maccabees, were cut down in the prime of their physical life, with so much possibility still within them, it must behoove a just God, they reasoned, to restore their bodies to them at some future time. I suppose there are other possibilities, but when one assumes the Jewish mindset that humans are not spirits trapped inside bodies but bodies filled with divine breath, this makes as much sense as anything we believe about the afterlife. Interestingly, it is from this kind of spiritual awakening (or exercise) that the belief started to rise that life might go on beyond the grave. Belief in the resurrection of the body preceded belief in the resurrection, or for that matter, the existence, of a soul outside the body.


This time we are using the reading from Revelation as the first reading. I have little hope that the political implications of death and resurrection, the matrix of apocalypses like Revelation, will get spelled out two days before the midterm elections, but for those who have hope for the demise of the overfed Beast of campaign rhetoric, "a new heaven and a new earth" will sound like a good place to start. Revelation celebrates those who have made their choice for the reign of God against the rallied forces of Caesar and died for their allegiance. It promises a new world where death's power will be reversed, and there will be no more tears and mourning. The forces of death today sometimes wrap themselves in the symbols of a god, and use language describing death-dealing in terms of good and evil. Revelation helps us remember that it is ever so. All death, not just the death of martyrs, though,  seems like a defeat. Revelation assures us that a reversal is coming; life is changed, not ended.

The second reading we’re using at St. Anne’s is Romans 6, which every paschally-obsessed Catholic knows is the epistle for the Easter Vigil. At how many Easter Vigils (well, at least 30) and at how many more institutes of the North American Forum on the Catechumenate (probably another three or four dozen) have I heard these words, and I never get tired of them, and I wish that I would hear more confident and solid preaching on their hopeful and faith-sustaining words:
Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus 
were baptized into his death?
 We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, 
so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead 
by the glory of the Father, 
we too might live in newness of life. 

For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, 
we shall also be united with him in the resurrection.
We know that our old self was crucified with him, 
so that our sinful body might be done away with, 
that we might no longer be in slavery to sin.
 For a dead person has been absolved from sin.
 If, then, we have died with Christ,
 we believe that we shall also live with him.
We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more;
 death no longer has power over him. 


Your mileage may vary: there are many different options for readings on All Souls’ Day. It is this sense that we are baptized into the death of Jesus, and furthermore, that “when we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes” that is the heart of the Christian message. Somehow, in his death, Jesus is the icon of the invisible God. Yes, in his resurrection too, but we have to deal with this whole business of death and resurrection. We believe that we are baptized into the death of the Lord, and that in baptism, our “old self” dies, and we are made a new creation. New. From scratch. We look the same, just like the Eucharist looks like bread and wine, but it, and we, are ontologically different. Once, we were no people. Now, we are God’s people. Once, we were dead to sin. Now, given the gift of God’s holy spirit, we come up from the water and are reborn in the very image of Christ. Stamped with the paschal mystery, our genetic code rewritten by the Spirit of God.

A former associate at St. Anne's, Fr. Jim Hurlbert, used to call attention to this aspect of baptismal faith at every funeral he celebrated: the Christian died on the day of baptism, and rose again in Christ. "Death no longer has any power" over the Christian, because in baptism, we understand that we are immersed in the very source of life, in the One who has nothing to do with death. Others, including our current pastor, often make reference to this same reality. In the end, Christ draws us into the intimacy that he shares with Abba. The amazing part is that "the way" to this shared intimacy is available to us here and now, when we choose to live for Christ.

We can sleep right through that. We can just stay dead. Or, by celebrating the mystery of All Souls’ day, maybe we can waken to life, and become who we are.

Here is the music we’re singing at St. Anne’s, most of it is familiar from our funeral and paschal repertoire.

Gathering: Litany of the Saints (Becker), interspersed with the names of the parish deceased. In the adapted entrance rite Sunday, we are using a display of candles representing those who have died from the community this year as a sort of catafalque in the center of the worship space. While the litany of saints is sung and names are read, the candles (and paschal candle and altar) will be incensed. This is part of our annual All Souls' ritual in the parish.
Psalm 23: Shepherd Me, O God (Haugen). "Though I should wander the valley of death, I fear no evil for you are at my side." There is probably no more beloved prayer among us at the hour of death than the twenty-third psalm. Marty's beautiful setting, sung at so many tens of thousands of funerals since it was written more than 25 years ago, is the setting we most frequently, though not exclusively by any means, use.
Preparation of the Gifts: New Jerusalem (Cooney). Echoing the paschal faith and light-in-the-darkness hope of the first reading, my song "New Jerusalem" uses the language and imagery of Revelations 21 and 22 with the music of the American folk song "Shanadore" (Shenandoah) to evoke the beauty of a home to which we're headed, remembering, though we haven't really seen it yet.
Communion: The Cloud's Veil (Lawton). Our introduction to the music of Liam Lawton came early in the years we first lived in Illinois, when Terry was asked to sing with him on his first GIA recording, The Cloud's Veil. Liam has become something of a phenomenon in the Irish music scene, hardly limited to church music, but his music and ministry has helped to reinvigorate the church there at a time of tested faith and disillusionment. Like "On Eagle's Wings," the images of "Cloud's Veil" are appropriate at weddings and funerals alike, and remind us of God's presence to us in good times and bad.
Recessional: I Know That My Redeemer Lives (Haas). David's setting of the adapted text from the book of Job is a favorite of mine with its strong, confident melody perfectly suited to the recurring refrain, "On the last day, I shall rise again."

Monday, October 27, 2014

"You shall not oppress an alien" (A30O)

Sometimes, scripture is just so fresh that it seems ripped out of the newspaper. I sometimes tell the story, when we’re doing a concert, about writing “Walk in the Reign” for Advent in 1989, which like last Advent (2013) was the doorway to a Matthew (cycle A) year. For this late baby-boomer, it was a time of unparalleled renewal in the world. Things were happening constantly that none of us ever thought we’d see: the Berlin Wall coming down, the crumbling of the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe precipitated by the solidarity movement in Poland of Lech Walesa and the Gdansk dockworkers, the release of Nelson Mandela from prison and the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa, and the miraculous, almost unthinkably courageous witness of the students who stood up to the tanks in Tienanmen Square. These were events of biblical proportion to us who had grown up in the Cold War, practicing air raid drills for nuclear attacks by hiding under our desks in school. Reading Isaiah in preparation for Advent that year was like reading it for the first time. It was not a perfect world by any means at all, but when we considered “what we had seen and heard,” the total of our recent experience was that there were indeed signs of the inbreaking reign of God all around us.

That’s what it was like hearing the first reading from Deuteronomy proclaimed. I wondered if the chaplain to Congress had dared to read that passage to our “Christian” legislators at the height of the immigration controversy, when the border wall was being considered, and the deportation machine started to crank at full power. Could we think it was possible to destroy the families and hope we destroyed without so much as a “May God have mercy on our souls” if we had had someone reading words like we heard today?
Thus says the LORD:
"You shall not molest or oppress an alien,
for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt. 
You shall not wrong any widow or orphan. 
If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me,
 I will surely hear their cry. 
My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword; 
then your own wives will be widows, and your children orphans.


I don’t always wince at the God of the Jewish scriptures, but for all the tenderness and compassion, there's a lot of violence in there. On the other hand, one can see how retribution in the form of violence can be perceived in retrospect as the punitive hand of God, when in fact it was the hellish outcome of their own bad choices, or the bad luck to be on the road between competing empires. The reason we shouldn’t molest or oppress an alien? Because “you yourselves were once aliens,” and God doesn’t mean us personally, but our ancestors. It’s “do unto others” writ large across generations, and we might think that it’s written into the future, too, about the way we treat the earth, and why we ought to pay attention to the environment, global warming, and so on.

Then there’s that whole second paragraph about charging interest to people who need money, acting like “extortioners.” In the middle of this global financial crisis, again, without proof-texting or expecting a Nostradamus-like prognostication, we certainly could feel the heat of the word of the Lord blowing over the wasteland of our financial practice, bloating portfolios with shadows and mirrors on the one hand, and charging high-interest loans to developing nations in need of cash for survival. It seems, on the one hand, easy to say, “That was then, this is now,” but the principles still hold. “This is what it means to love the Lord your God, with heart, soul, mind, and money. Treat each other with respect and dignity, because the other is as much beloved of God as you.”

Two liturgical issues may reflect some of these thoughts. One is the proposal that was made by some bishops a few years ago, mostly those who are concerned about “reverence” for the Eucharist, to move the Kiss of Peace to another part of the Mass from right before communion. The common excuse given for this relocation is that it makes the kiss of  peace, which is a sign of solidarity, forgiveness, and agape a response to hearing and celebrating the word of God before coming to the table, in obedience to Mt 5:24. OK so far. But there is also the weight of tradition, the ancient practice of the Church in placing the rite immediately before sharing the Eucharist itself.  This is a moment of great intimacy in the community, a moment of shared presence. There is a long history placing it in the context of the communion rite. Giving the kiss of peace consciously and intentionally during the communion rite is a beautiful and significant action. Moving it to after the homily, and not becoming aware of its significance, making it, as some call it, a “greeting” rather than an expression of solidarity and covenant in Christ, might lead to atrophy and ultimately nonsignification.

The other change was the options the new missal added to the dismissal rite. At the 2005 Synod on the Eucharist, some bishops thought that the dismissal was not clear in its dynamic, that to “go in peace to love and serve the Lord” meant “go and rest.” Therefore, these bishops want the dismissal to be clearer that the dismissal is a dismissal to act, to go and serve, as today’s gospel says, to love God by loving neighbor. Dismissal is for mission. The new texts say it this way:

Along with "Ite, missa est," the Latin phrase now translated as "The Mass is ended, go in peace," the new options are:


"Ite ad Evangelium Domini annuntiandum" (Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord).


"Ite in pace, glorificando vita vestra Dominum" (Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life).


"Ite in pace" (Go in peace).


These were good additions, and my understanding is that Pope Benedict himself had a hand in crafting them. The tautology implied by the current rage, “Go in peace to serve the Lord and one another,” as though they were two different things, has disappeared. Today's gospel makes it clear that it is not possible to do one without the other.

I hope that some of the homilies you heard woke you up to the fresh realities in today's scripture. It might take us three and a half millennia to accept that loving our neighbor means not oppressing aliens, overcharging interest, and ignoring the needs of the poor, of widows, and of orphans, but ask any alien, widow, or orphan: better late than never.
______________________

Talk to you again soon. Tonight I'm meeting up with Fr. Roc O'Connor, SJ, of the St. Louis Jesuits. Roc is now at the Gesu church on the campus of Marquette, and I took advantage of his proximity to lure him down to Barrington to give my choir and friends an evening of recollection instead of choir this week. Lots of preparations are underway at home for the trip Terry, Gary, and I are taking west to the BILAC conference in Honolulu next week. With workshops to prepare and all my St. Anne work to do in advance, you may not see much of me here, though I have a few little things in store to reprise from past postings which might be fun to look at again, in case you missed them. But I will be back, and will stay in touch in the meantime as best I can.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Triaging the Translation Wars

(This article was originally written for Pastoral Music, written in November 2009. I forgot which issue, but let's say early 2010!)

Those who wish to meaningfully assist after a disaster apply a strategy defined during the Great War by French battlefield physicians called triage. As many know, especially fans of the 70s sitcom M*A*S*H, medics group the wounded into three categories: those who will die with or without treatment, those who will survive with or without treatment, and those for whom treatment will matter the most in creating a positive outcome for survival and health. It is these who are attended to immediately, and whom doctors and other medical personnel attempt to evaluate in expeditious ways.

For anyone who, like me, thinks that the all-but-approved new translation of the liturgy is a disaster, this analog offers a compass for the next steps we should take, if we want to be helpful. A disciplined silence under the rubric primum non nocere, energized by life-giving principle of kenosis will be a good first step, and clearly not an easy one as we deal with the indignation of the unconsulted millions of priestly people who make new translations financially possible by the irrevocable placement of an hour or two of their lives in the collection plate and appeal envelopes every week or so. Maybe the furor will end with a whimper, but that doesn’t seem likely.

Much ink has already been spilled both in defense of Vox Clara and ICEL and in repudiation of their work. If Comme le prevoit, Paul VI’s translation mandate that with cultural respect authorized dynamic equivalence with the Latin editio typica as the model for vernacular versions, was the document of entente that put flesh on the spirit of aggiornamento and global Catholicism, then LIturgiam Authenticam, demanding formal equivalence with the Latin edition, was the ecclesiastical equivalent of eminent domain, a taking back of land once ceded to and owned by the people, and a pious declaration of war on  our pathetically perceived ability to pray in our own language. The suggestion that the English translation had to be reined in because it is the de facto international language used to translate the Roman rite into other languages has been countered by the sane suggestion that a scholarly formal translation be used for such cases, and that a pastorally sensitive, poetic and musical, dynamic equivalent translation be used for Anglophone worship. The suggestion has fallen on the mitered deaf ears of the plenipotentiaries of the appropriate dicastery. The run-on sentence and embedded conditional clause are about to make a big comeback in American worship.

As I see it, the issue that remains to be resolved in the United States, however, is not whether the folks in the pews, us folks, will adapt to the elephantine lilt of the new old English, but whether bishops and priests will. Let’s just say “priests,” because, let’s face it, bishops can do whatever they want, for better or worse, in their own dioceses. But this submission to the rite, however ill-conceived the new transliteration is, by those specifically charged with its implementation, is an important issue of justice. Let me just make a few observations about the liturgical dialogues under the ancien régime of the 1973 version, the catechetical and therefore ecclesiological repercussions of those, and let you draw your own conclusions. Luckily, blessedly for us, there is also good news, because we’re neither the beginning nor the end of the story. I’ll finish up, briefly, with an appeal both to Sacrosanctum Concilium and the New Testament, which, again, luckily, blessedly, are not covered by any anathemas or those chilling words, “anything prior to the contrary notwithstanding.”

Among the functions of ritual, particularly those of important initiation rituals like the Eucharist, two important ones for this discussion are that ritual defines the boundaries of a group’s identity and that it establishes relationships among the group’s members. My last parish, St. Jerome’s in Phoenix, was among the top 5% of Boy Scout troops in the United States in producing Eagle Scouts, and during my years there, I attended dozens of courts of honor. Within those evening celebrations, one witnessed the core values of scouting made visible: love of the outdoors, good citizenship, respect for elders, what one might call civil virtue. At the same time, all the various rankings of scouts were present in the emblems of their rank and participation, including many adult Eagle Scouts who had long before added that status, and all that it represents, to their résumé. The ritual of becoming an Eagle Scout vividly and robustly demonstrates the values of scouting and the relationships among its leaders, members, and their families.

The Eucharist, and really, all the sacraments, being of the anthropological genus “rite,” have analogous dynamics of identity and relationship. Both in what we do and in how we do it, we express our nature as baptized children of God, resident aliens in another empire, incorporated by the gift of the Holy Spirit into the living Christ who, in pouring self out for the life of the world, offers a perfect sacrifice of agape that adoringly, mimetically, mirrors the nature of Abba, the One from whom he is sent. At the same time, the liturgy incarnates the diversity of the Holy Spirit’s gifts and the myriad ways we are sent into the world as its foot-washers and meal hosts. There are church orders within the liturgy: bishops, priests and deacons, the faithful, and catechumens. There are different ministries among the faithful. We interact with one another in the act of worship in which we are caught up with Jesus in offering praise and thanksgiving to God.

But among these orders and ministries, within the carrying out of our rites, certain aspects of our faith are never forgotten or misrepresented. Primarily, there is the faith that God is God and we are not; that Jesus, dead and risen, has handed his Spirit over to us from the cross so that the messianic mission might continue; that God is agape, “world-making love” that is at once the fullness of life and the complete giving-away of it, the paschal mystery. Also among these is the conviction that “poder es servir,” or as Scripture has it, “those who would be first among you must serve the rest.” Another is that, among the children of God, “there is no Greek nor Jew, servant or free, woman or man,” that there is a universal equality in the human race that is ontological, by virtue of creation, but explicitly embraced by the baptized.

Because this equality shines through the rite in the important dialogues between the presider and the assembly, it matters that the priest sings, “The Lord be with you,” and we respond, “And with your spirit” (or “And also with you,” or “Back atcha,” or whatever ICEL concocts in the future.) While the language matters, it is more important that the dialogue be exchanged with ritual integrity. When we make that exchange of faith  which proclaims the Lord’s presence, we are acting as equals, as partners, all of us equally submitting to the discipline of the rite as a means of acknowledging our common bond as the children of God.  No one is free to fudge the syntax (for instance, for the priest to change the subjunctive verb in his greeting to an indicative one, “The Lord is with you.”) Nor are we free to improvise or riff on the text: “The Lord be with each and every one of you”. This is not because one or the other is truer to the Latin, however, which is verbless and of unknown origin. It is because the rite interprets us, and not the other way around. We submit to the rite’s discipline so that we learn its relentless incarnate message of equality. If Father can improvise, we can all improvise, and instead of a body, we have a mob. What is the right response to, “ The God of Jesus is with each one of you”? Those who have experienced this at Sunday worship, and we are legion, know the kind of ritual confusion this improvisation begets. Change the scene to a mixed congregation at a funeral or wedding of people from various communities unaccustomed to the personal quirks of the parish’s priest, and the simplest of responses (“Amen?” “Glory to you, O Lord?”) become anemic and inaudible. We don’t know, in fact, whether we should say Amen! It is quite possible, in the archdiocese in which I live, at least, to attend a mass where hardly a sentence of the rite is delivered integrally until well into the Eucharistic prayer. Everything is riffed. Prayers, even the Eucharistic prayers, are fudged to reflect the homiletic bons mots of the priest. If the priest can take these kinds of liberties, why shouldn’t everyone else? And the real question is, if priests don’t take the current translation and its connection to authentic ecclesial rite seriously, why on earth will they do so with a more arcane, Harry-Potteresque semantic field?

Only if everyone submits to the new rite will it demonstrate the ecclesial equality of the children of God. The ritual of the Eucharist is a roadmap and rehearsal script of service and gospel life, in which all receive the life of the Spirit as God's gift and, as the body of Christ, render back to God the "perfect sacrifice of praise" (or however the groovy new translations puts it.) But in order for the equality to be apparent in the ritual, everyone has to play by the rules. If one person (the presider) is improvising, riffing on the texts as so many are doing with the 1973 text, being less formal, and not more so, as one would expect from the structuralist rhetoric of the formalists, then we're not equal. If I'm stuck with, "and with your spirit", but the priest can say, "the Lord is with you" or "the Lord be with each and every one of you" or "good morning," and then says "thank you" when we reply, well, we don't have ritual equality. That very priest might imagine himself to be a champion of lay leadership and collegiality, but in fact every ritual word he speaks undermines the foundation of the ecclesia.

The new translation itself is a problem because it confuses archaism with reverence and  opacity with mystery. The Sacramentary and its General Instruction are overweighted toward maleness, toward the sanctifying (rather than diaconal) role of the priest, and emphasize courtly-imperial obeisance (rather than diakonia) as reverence. But it is the fact that priests aren't going to submit to it any more than they are to the current translation that is the greater problem.

My only entry point into this new translation, which goes against every instinct I have and my religious and catechetical experience of being a Catholic for nearly six decades, is that when all is said and done, it’s only liturgy. As important as liturgy is for keeping us together and focused on the truths mentioned above (God is God, we are not, the Holy Spirit dwelling in the Church, &c),”the sacred liturgy does not exhaust the entire activity of the Church.” (SC, 9). This salvific sentence at the very source of liturgical renewal hearkens back to the language of the prophets, serving to remind us that sacraments, even the Eucharist, even the meals of Jesus himself, are symbols of the rest of life, and for there to be truth in the symbols, life has to be lived well. As Sing to the Lord further explains, “The Paschal hymn, of course, does not cease when a liturgical celebration ends. Christ, whose praises we have sung, remains with us and leads us through church doors to the whole world, with its joys and hopes, griefs and anxieties...Charity, justice, and evangelization are thus the normal consequences of liturgical celebration.” (SttL, 8-9) It will thus continue to be true that the quality of the translation, as well as the efficacy of the liturgy itself, will be judged not on how well we sing it, say it, or abuse it, but how the neighborhoods are being changed, how we are voting, and whether or not the “poor are filled with good things.” Neither we, nor this new translation, are God’s last chance.

Here’s how the triage metaphor plays out, then: the old translation, and all the music and authentic worship it engendered, is going to die. For it to survive will take an act of God, so I’m out of that picture. The Church is going to survive no matter what, especially that vast majority of folks who don’t really care whose side wins the translation war, or even know that there was a battle on, or that there was anything at stake worth fighting about. God will see that that Church survives, thrives, in fact, so I’m out of that picture, except, fortunately, to be on the receiving end of grace. What I have some control over, what I can attend to, is the making explicit of this link between submitting to the rite and the ecclesiology that underlies it. “The word of God is not chained,” writes St. Paul to Timothy, and it is not chained even in the golden prison of the liturgy. The only true orthodoxy is unity; unity comes from understanding, dialogue, and finally the service of the other, especially the stranger, especially enemies, that flows from agape. Everything else is ideology.


Over the years, as I’ve reflected on my life as a human being, husband, father, and Catholic, I’ve come to the gradual conclusion that “being right”, that most prized of Catholic virtues, is overrated. I have learned this from Jesus Christ, who “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.” You can’t be more “right” than being God, and yet Christ laid all that aside, and “became sin” for us (2 Cor. 5: 21). What matters most is not being right, but being one. When we get to the place where conscience conflicts with the prevailing wind, where “rights” begin to clash, the Christian must try to act in agape like the Master. Focus on the gospel. Change the neighborhood. When the Latinate syntax swirls in incomprehensible churchspeak, it will be of some comfort to know that our actions speak louder than words, more beautifully and convincingly than our music. At least, that is, until the parousia, when word and deed will be reconciled, and all will be one.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The second is like it (A30O)

This love-your-enemies business is not easy at all. Especially in the last weeks of a political campaign, even in this midterm year. It's so easy to get caught up in the spin, the mud, the lies, the name-calling, and somehow feel that we're all doing what we're doing in the name of justice and righteousness. But it's not. It has nothing to do with God, and the best of the candidates aren't really good, just opportunistic compromisers. Even when I manage to hold my tongue, I'm still taking sides, wondering how certain candidates can be such a**holes, why the good guys aren't better, or why they do such terrible things and think of them as good. And on top of all that, why the church isn't more proactive with love and acceptance and intervention on behalf of the sick and poor, especially when we are the proprietors of universities and hospitals with the personnel and means to act decisively. Church doctors. Church lawyers. Church bankers. Church senators, judges, and congresspeople. And nothing but contention. I find myself in the ironic, you might say parabolic, position of complaining about the church and, yes, being the church. I have what I can only describe as self-righteous indignation to blame. I am a big fat pot calling the kettle black. Which brings us to our readings and the liturgy being prepared for this Sunday.

In another confrontation with the Jewish leadership, Jesus is asked about the greatest commandment. The Pharisee and scholar who asks him is a member of the populist sect of community leaders that grew out of the separatist (hence their name, from the Hebrew "set apart") movements reacting to Hellenistic rule of the Hasmoneans and later of the Romans. They interpreted the law generously, unlike the Sadduccees, though they insisted that obedience to the Torah was necessary for every Jew. So Jesus tells him, straight out of the Torah: love the Lord your God with your whole heart, soul, and mind. That’s from Deuteronomy. And Jesus goes on: the second commandment is like it: love your neighbor as yourself. That’s Leviticus. On these two, Jesus tell him, hangs the entire law, and the prophets as well. The implication being, as you and I both know!

This is one of those passages that makes you go, Just what is the word of the Lord? Different manuscripts and the Dead Sea Scrolls have varying words in the list of ways to love God; “mind,” for instance, is not in every manuscript, so one scholar asks, How did it get in there? The word translated as “strength” in many versions also means “money” or “wealth” or “much-ness.” How much easier would the kind of love meant in the Torah be to preach on if it said, “Love God with your whole heart, mind, soul, and money, and love your neighbor as yourself”? No escape from that one, it seems to me. But as long as we can keep the discussion in the realm of the spiritual and non-specific (“strength”) rather than the concrete (“money”), we can hedge our bets, and fatten our insurance policies.

Love is hard. I think about this every time I attend a wedding and hear 1 Corinthians 13, and think to myself, “God is love,” and that I ought to be too. For years I've thought that would be good song fodder, to use “God is love” and some exhortation to be like God in the refrain, and use 1 Cor 13 in the verses. “Love is patient. Love is kind. Love doesn’t rejoice over misfortune,” etc. etc. I finally got around to trying that a couple of years ago, and it appeared in a compilation collection at GIA in 2012, and will be in our new collection one of these days, if we ever finish recording it. Ultimately, love is about actually believing, and acting on the belief, that the other person’s good is equally important to your own (love as yourself), and therefore putting aside self-preservation instincts in favor of other-preservation, life-giving. It’s not about being right, or surviving to fight another day, or anything like that. It’s just about life-giving.



As though to drive this point home, the first reading, also from the Pentateuch in case there are any Pharisees (that means us) still listening in our assembly, is the reminder to Israel (and that means us) that we’re not to mistreat people outside of our clan, family, or in-group in a way different from the way we would want to be treated. And why? “Because you were once aliens yourselves.” The key is to remember who we are, where we’ve come from. Love is not a feeling, it’s not a philosophy, it’s not a theology. It’s a way of acting, and it’s a way of acting toward those who cannot or will not return the favor. Love is God, and that’s the way we’re supposed to act. It’s the fullness of life, what we’re called to be, it makes us as good as we can be as beings, because it is the way God is. That’s what Jesus came to show us. He did it leading a fairly quiet life in a little corner of the world as a person born outside of the dominant culture. The image of the invisible God never had an army, lifted a weapon, made a threat, or coerced another soul. Why not? Because he was like God. God is love. Love is an action. His entire ministry was letting us know just how good we could have it if we’d just stop believing in empire. Turn around. Believe the gospel. He healed the sick, cast out demons, and ate with the untouchables to show us that no one is outside of God’s love, and that therefore no one should be outside of ours.

For me, that means remembering that God loves John Boehner, Ted Cruz, Cardinal Burke, Bill O'Reilly, and even Dr. Laura as much as S/He loves me. I need to pray for their conversion, even as I pray for mine.

Music for this weekend:

Gathering: Come to Us, (Cooney, NALR, 1985) or I Have Loved You (Joncas, New Dawn, 1979). Playing both sides of the gospel street here, or imagining, maybe, that as we get to be more like to God "to be" and "to do" converge, these two songs aim to open our ears to the presence of the God whom we celebrate and the word we are about to hear. "Come to Us" takes the active approach, putting the singing assembly in persona Christi, announcing its intention to be Christ for others in compassion and service. "I Have Loved You" expresses the "everlasting love" of God for people, and sharpens our hearing for the gospel. Both songs, even in their entireties, are short; this week, we celebrate the combined rite of acceptance and welcome at the parish.
Psalm 18: I Love You (Cooney, unpublished). I wrote this lyric setting of Psalm 18 a couple of years ago. The music tries to express the elation of gratitude for healing and rescue, as expressed in the psalm. I'm still looking for "beta testers" to try it out and give me some feedback - follow the link to check out the score.
Preparation Rite: Gathered and Sent (Cooney, GIA - unpublished), Rain Down (Jaime Cortez, OCP) "Rain down your love on your people" follows the more important arc of the gospel today, that is, the love of the God that enables our response in love, that invites us to imitate its selflessness and compassion rather than indulging our acquisitive greed. "Gathered and Sent" was commissioned by Old St. Patrick's church about three years ago, and we're including it in our new collection of songs that may be available by the end of the decade. No worries, though—there are plenty of other songs out there in the meantime!
Communion: May We Be One (music by Gary Daigle, text by Rory Cooney, GIA, 1994) More information at the link, from the page I wrote on the album, Praise the Maker's Love.
Recessional: Lover of Us All, by Dan Schutte (OCP octavo) Even though it wasn't included in the current version of Gather Comprehensive like it was in the original, it's hard to let go of Dan's joyful and solid anthem. "We come to give you thanks, O lover of us all, and giver of our loving." That line from the refrain pretty much sums up the stance of the church today and the truth embodied in the scriptures we hear this morning. St. Anne's sings this one well, and it's worth the effort to make a worship aid so that we can sing it out again.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A fiction of Holy Thursday

I have a number of files on my hard drive that are so old and from such diverse programs (AppleWorks) and OSs and held together by such tired electrons that they would be the modern version of Dead Sea Scrolls, paragraphs of text degenerating into digital gibberish, unrecoverable. This is part of an article I wrote about Holy Thursday around 1991. I have no idea how it ends, but it began with this fiction, preceded by the word "Remember."

“What makes this night different from all other nights?”

Simon Peter lay curled on the damp, sour straw of his cell. The words of his young visitor, John Mark, invaded the tedious half-light of the Roman spring evening like a voice from another time. Pesach, he thought, remembering his wife, parents, children, and neighbors gathering around the table in Capernaum, year after circling year. New faces and old, now this one appears, that one gone since the last time. A lifetime ago it was, before we met Yeshua at the lake that day. “Jesus,” he tried again, the foreign sound of it still confounding his tongue, reminding him of his own captors, and of the events that had transpired during the spring festival so many years ago.

The night had begun like so many others, but in Jesus there was a foreboding. Every word, every gesture was a like a farewell. “Remember” was a word that had stuck with Simon from that night, and a word he had repeated a thousand times in telling the story of what had happened. Every meal that the little band had taken together was a story to be told. Sometimes the eating itself had been illegal, made him a little uneasy even, the conscience of the little Jewish boy within sternly reprimanded by the teachers of his childhood. Sometimes they had eaten with local synagogue leaders, and others who wanted to hear from the master’s mouth the words that had excited the countryside. Jesus would invite to table anyone he met, women and men, healed and healthy, sinner and saint. Evening after evening the feast went on: they had gotten a reputation of being gluttons and drunkards. Peter smiled at that, thinking about the filthy fare of his latter days. Things have changed.

He still could not think of what had happened in those hours without a wincing prayer: the master disrobing, washing their feet like a slave, telling them to remember. Always “remember.” Then the arrest, the trial. The bloody day he had watched from great distances of grief and cowardice, jealous of the women who had abandoned all self-concern to lavish their presence on his brutal isolation from whatever closeness they were allowed. The darkness, the storm. And running, running, running...

And the wonder of the days that followed. The women again, and their report of his empty tomb, a report he had verified himself. The real adventure had begun then. Every time they had reached for bread, eyes would meet and they would...remember. Reports from here and there, Emmaus, the lake shore in Galilee, right there in Jerusalem. The fire that began to blaze in us when we realized what was happening, when first the upper room and then the whole city, the whole world seemed too small to contain it. More days, more broken bread, more poured out wine—poured out blood. So much blood into the ground since then, and so many of the sisters and brothers who knew him are gone now; and now, they are saying, Jerusalem is to be sieged.

The Romans seem bloodthirsty, but their quest for power was really sprung from a yearning for the same thing Yeshua had wanted: “that they all be one.” Rome wants to make the world one by force, Peter thought. Yeshua had a different way: he wants the world to be one by surrender. Surrender to gratitude, mostly. Surrender to forgiveness. Surrender to healing. The Romans are ripe for the words of the Master, Peter muses. Already, many have come to the Way. It is really so simple. Let us sit down and eat together. Let us give thanks that we are alive in a world full of the Spirit of God, and remember who is the Creator, our light and our freedom. It is a harder message for the powerful to embrace, but to the lowly, it sings! For my ancestors in Egypt as for my little flock here in Rome, this is a day to keep festival and remember these things. What was that, John Mark?

“Why is this night different from all other nights?”

In the darkness of the cell, Peter raised himself and spoke aloud to his visitor: “It is the Passover of the Lord.”

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

God alone may lead my spirit (A29O)

The Pharisees sent their disciples to Jesus with the Herodians asking...

“Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?" 
Knowing their malice, Jesus said,
"Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? 
Show me the coin that pays the census tax." 
Then they handed him the Roman coin. 
He said to them, "Whose image is this and whose inscription?" 
They replied, "Caesar's."
At that he said to them,
"Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar
 and to God what belongs to God." 


Sometimes we forget the context of these stories because of the way the liturgical year uses scripture. I mean, I know I do, and I live with these readings as much as anyone I know. The story of the encounter between Jesus and the representatives of the Pharisees takes place between what we call today “Palm Sunday,” that is, the day Jesus made his symbolic parade on a beast of burden into Jerusalem, and the arrest, trial, and execution of Jesus. Along with the parables of the vineyard owner, the two sons, and the wicked tenants, this passage and the rest of the gospel of Matthew which we hear between now and the end of the year take place during “holy week.” We lose sight of that, don’t we, because for us “holy week” was back in the spring. We place John the Baptist in our imagination in the time before Jesus because we hear about him in the gospels mostly during Advent, before Christmas, but in fact John was the same age as Jesus, if we are to believe Luke’s gospel and the story of Mary and her kinswoman Elizabeth, John’s mother. The only Advent gospel that takes place before the birth of the Lord is the gospel of the fourth Sunday of Advent. Maybe John was just a fast starter, or Jesus a late bloomer. When Jesus comes on the scene, John has already plowed the field ahead of him, and the forces of the status quo dealt with John in a way that foreshadowed how they would deal with Jesus.

I know that I’ve heard the passage above used as a proof text for good citizenship, that Jesus was telling the Pharisees that the answer to their question was to split up your allegiance, give Caesar your worldly side, and give God your spiritual side. But the context of this story, its placement during Holy Week, after the entry in Jerusalem for Passover and the “cleansing of the temple,” requires that we see it differently.

Jesus’s relentless preaching of the reign of God as essentially different from the reign of Caesar and the kingdoms of this world require that we see this differently. John Dominic Crossan, in his engaging book The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus's Final Days in Jerusalem (co-written with Marcus Borg), helps us see it more persuasively. Jesus outs his interrogators by making them show the Roman coin, which many pious Jews would not even keep on their persons, because it contained a “graven image” of the emperor, another god, contravening the Torah. He asks “Whose coin? Whose picture?” It is they who have to acknowledge the name of the god who is not Abba. Jesus does not answer their question, he gives his famous non-answer, “Give to Caesar what is Caesars, and to God what is God’s.” But what is Caesar’s? What is God’s? As Crossan and Borg point out, the land of Israel belongs to God, and the people of Israel are only its tenants (Lev. 25:23). In fact, Psalm 24 puts it, “The Lord’s are the earth and its fullness, the world, and all who dwell therein.” Crossan and Borg thus conclude, “What belongs to Caesar? The implication is, nothing.” (page 65)


But to me it has been important to remember that Jesus is not implying that a violent revolution has to take place. In fact, he says quite the opposite, warning that violence begets violence, and that those who live by the sword will die by it. The God who is not like Caesar is a God who invites, welcomes, lives in solidarity, gives life. Opting out of the reign of Caesar and its ways of threat and violence has to mean also opting in to the reign of God for it to be effective and have meaning. We can’t just drop out, we have to drop in to another way, the Way, Jesus.

Well, that’s the thing, isn’t it? We don’t have to. See what I mean? I’m so acclimated to speaking in the language of force, coercion, and victory that my own speech is peppered with imperatives. The invitation is to turn around. Take a look at our lives and the way things are going. Look at the rest of the world and see how things are going. Are we happy suffering? Are we happy with the suffering that our insouciance and neglect and violence are causing other people? There’s another way, another road. All we have to do is listen to the gospel, and start walking on it. It sounds so simple, but it’s rarely been tried.

In the meantime, we keep singing, trying to be convinced enough to move.

Our music for Sunday:
Gathering: Psalm 23, by Tom Conry, (OCP.) Tom’s song captures the essence of today’s scripture for me, “God alone may lead my spirit.” The God who is shepherd may lead my spirit, and not the god who is general, emperor, judge, or avenger.
Psalm 96: Glory! Honor! (antiphon 2, with Psalm for Christmas Midnight by Rory Cooney (GIA)) You can download this alternate refrain from my website's "Freebies and Betas" page here.
Preparation: Let Us Go to the Altar of God by Rory Cooney (WLP). I’ve written about this song before; it simply uses the image of gathering at the table of the Lord as a place of solidarity, refuge, and hope in a world that is full of violence and enmity.
Communion: How Can I Keep from Singing, though it's harder to use this pre-1960s version, stripped of the political overtones added by Pete Seeger and others. I may reprint the revisionist text in the worship aid, or not. I wrote about my ambivalence, and the history of this song, in a blog post a few weeks ago. If you missed it, you can read it here.
Or: I Say Yes/Digo Sí, Señor, by Donna Peña (GIA). Donna’s cogent signature line in this song, “Like a politician, inevitably, I say yes, my Lord,” is one reason I chose this song for the day, but also because the one who says yes to God has a lot of good times and bad times ahead, always depending on the Lord’s word to be truthful.
Recessional: We Will Serve the Lord by Rory Cooney (OCP). Over the years, I think I may have used this song of mine, and it’s far from perfect, believe me, more than any other one. It tries to identify solidarity in covenant as the antidote for the desire for wealth, pleasure, and power, and the name of the covenant is Jesus Christ, and him crucified.