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Sunday, November 30, 2014



shock and aftershock
eruption and quiet
November’s wordstorms,
downpour of images, now
quiescent, december one.
the humid respite after coupling,
acrid silence after gunshot,
there is a space after wonder,
as rest after creation.
The artist, even God, uses self up,
and there must be time to collect,
gather strength, sinew, a seventh day.
When the metaphors crawl,
when the well is more stingy
though the arm toil no less at the pump,
the heart darkens with amethyst wonder:
“will the muse sleep here again?”
will meaning vibrate again between
touch and color, the sound of things,
wriggling carelessly into words
representing life’s agony and elation
only like costumes, children on Halloween,
or, rarely, transparent actors?

Nothing is enough. Neither
the typhoon nor its eye, nor
the chase, nor embrace. But
better these inkstained knuckles,
blank paper, the haunted
sleep of the watchman, the ache
of a lover waiting a word,
than the silence after the encore,
the viscous glop of time while things grow.

Rory Cooney, 12/1/92

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Advent (Year B)

So here we are starting Advent again, a whole month after Christmas carols started playing nonstop on WXMS-FM and Walmart started selling candy canes and reindeer wrapping paper. Everyone (including most of us, I suppose) is in the middle of a season for which we are now on day one of preparing. Does it feel a little foolish?

I used to think so. I was probably a little too literal with the idea of Advent preparing for Christmas, as though Christmas hadn't happened yet, and we were going to spoil it by celebrating too early. But I've come to see that there's a sense in which all the “merry Christmas” wishes, baking, card mailing, gift buying, and partying can all be part of preparing for Christmas. I'm not quite ready, though, to dispense with the Advent season and its pared-down signs and expectant language full of “keep awake” and “prepare” and “save us” and “mercy." In fact, of the four Advent movements in the liturgy every year, "watch," "prepare," "rejoice," and "yes," I think we're only good at "rejoice," and usually for the wrong reasons, because we leave people out. 

I'm certainly not ready to forgo the great Advent word, the word built into the name of Advent itself: “Veni” or in our own tongue, “Come.” Because we know, through all the commerce, the parties, and the One Direction Christmas Spectaculars, however much we think the Christmas deed is done and Jesus has come and gone and it's all ancient history, that something's still not quite right. God may be with us, but not, it seems, all the way. Or is he? If Christ is among us, can things be as fractured, violent, and joyless, even in the church, as they seem to be? 

We see a world in need of peace. We are aware of kidnappings, drone strikes, and beheadings. We need to be saved by someone with a strategy for peace other than violence and retribution. We sing, “Come to us, O Emmanuel.

We see a world in need of healing. We mourn our losses from alcohol and drug addiction, worry about cancer and dementia, cut public funding to care for the physically and mentally challenged, and argue over who should receive and pay for access to health care. We need to be saved by someone who will waken us to our responsibility to each other, with a strategy for healing that embraces and does not isolate. We sing, “Come to us, O Emmanuel.”

We see a world fractured by divisions,  a world of closed borders and bitter acrimony in the very places where compromise and cooperation ought to mark our discourse. We need to be saved by someone with a strategy other than separation, armament, and argument. We sing, “Come to us, O Emmanuel.”

We live in a society that glorifies competition, that deifies winners, grooms entertainment  idols and sports champions. We need to be saved by someone who can give us relationships that are not adversarial, that build people up and care for the weak. We sing, “Come to us, O Emmanuel.”

However comfortable we try to be, however good our economic and physical defenses are, we know something's wrong. The only escape path from fear, we think, is escalation: higher walls, better weapons, more prisons. But that is a circular path, in fact, a downward spiral paved with loss and anguish. We need to be saved from that road to a hell that we ourselves have designed. We sing, “Come to us, O Emmanuel.”

Advent says, “You can’t shop and party your way out of unhappiness and fear. Oblivion isn’t a cure; it’s a delusion.” Advent says, “Not so fast with the celebration. Look at what's going on around you. Face the sign of the times.” Advent says, “The patient God has a plan for you in Christ, and it requires your participation. Are you all in? Not yet. Not by a long shot. But there is some good news. Something good has already started. Look for the signs of God’s strategy, listen for God’s invitation, and turn around. Cooperate, surrender, opt in, and God will see it to completion.” 

And so we begin to share Mark’s story of Jesus. We should sit up and take notice, because there's something here for this broken, sick, divided, adversarial world of ours. “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” The beginning of the gospel? What will happen next? 

That will depend, somehow, on how we spend Advent. Watch. Prepare. Rejoice. Say yes. “Come to us, O Emmanuel.”

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Keep Awake - Advent 1, Year B

It’s always a little bit of a surprise when Advent starts again. For us church musicians, there’s that cold shiver unrelated to the falling snow that Christmas has to be less than four weeks away. But for everyone else, and for us, there’s also the strange sense that something new is starting at an inconvenient time, that we’re at the end of the year, but something new, a new year of grace, is beginning. And equally strangely, it seems to start about where the last year ended: at the end.

For me, mixed into this mixed-up scenario is the mass on Thanksgiving Day. We’re in a real mess here in this country, and this country is certainly not alone. But it occurred to me that it was a very small step from “thanksgiving” this week to a prayer that sounds scarily pharisaic: “I thank you, God, that I’m not like the rest of the people out there: unemployed, poor, blown to smithereens, addicted to heroin, not born in the U.S.A., homeless, illegal.” 

Maybe we sometimes revert in our hearts to the old “prayer” that goes, “there but for the grace of God go I.” That is the ultimate irony. Because according to the gospel we heard on November 23, wherever that pitiable “other” is that causes our pathos gene to fire off an RNA message to lip synch gratitude, s/he is, in fact, the grace of God passing by. The other, sick, in prison, hungry, thirsty, is me. 

So it seems that the grace involved in these encounters really isn’t pity. There’s no time for pity. Pity is a waste of time, clutching chronos rather than embracing kairos. The only response of a grateful Christian heart is action on behalf of the other. To love another person is to love Christ and God and self all at one time. To ignore or pity the other person is to do the same to our best self.

Advent is asking us, it seems to me, to rouse our wakefulness to the signs of Christ’s presence and absence. We are a mess, in Ferguson, in the Middle East, in Congress, because we're a mess inside. Isaiah admits that we’re a mess, but that things aren’t hopeless because we’re clay in the hands of the potter, we’re a work in progress. St. Paul says that everything we need is already inside of us because of the Holy Spirit’s living within us through Christ. Where is Christ in the justice system? Where is Christ in the economy? In the health care and climate change and immigration debates? In the clamor for LGBT rights? There has to be an answer. Where there are needs, there are gifts already given. What can we do about it? We can ask that question about all the places in which God seems to be hiding from us, that great Absence that makes our best deeds seem like “polluted rags,” leaving us feeling guilty and withered. 

Here we are at the end again, but at the beginning of a year, “the beginning of the gospel.” Here we are at the outset of Advent again. How will God invite us to participate in the gospel during this year of grace? First question is, where are we needed? Then, what are our gifts? What are the signs? Keep awake! 

And that is an effort in itself on these shortened days, when darkness gathers well before even an early dinner hour. Everything except the gospel seems to be telling us, “Go to sleep. It’ll be all right.” Or maybe, "Buy things. Eat more. Drink more. It'll be all right." Well, it’s not all right. But from out in the wilderness a shout of good news flies on the wind. There’s a gospel voice announcing an alternative way, and it's close, very close. Let’s try to keep awake and listen.

What we're singing at St. Anne’s on the first Sunday of Advent, Year B, 2014.

Gathering: Come to Us, O Emmanuel (Haugen, Gather 3rd ed.)
Psalm 80: Lord, Come and Save Us (Kendzia, OCP)
. Simply put, the most gorgeous, lyrical setting of Psalm 80 available. Melodically irresistible, harmonically rich, emotionally pleading. I'm prejudiced, I know, but there's no need for any other setting of this psalm.
Preparation Rite: Turn Around (Cooney, GIA, unreleased)
 The published version of this song (I've just seen the proofs in the last couple of weeks) will include the three recorded version and three optional verses for the last Sundays and Advent. The theme of the song is wrapped around a way of hearing the proclamation of John the Baptizer and then of Jesus in their ministry, "Turn around (i.e., repent) and believe in the gospel." The Advent verse is like this:
Good news, you who long to be free from the rod,
Good news, you perplexed by the silence of God.
The vile ancient spell of the merchants of death
God breaks with a word from a maid.
Come then, with voice glad and clear
Announce the good news for all people to hear,
The good news of Christ: "God's reign has come near,
Turn around and believe in the gospel."
Communion: Christ Be Our Light (Farrell, OCP)
Recessional: The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns (arr. Cooney, GIA)

“Watch, therefore;

you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming,

whether in the evening, or at midnight,

or at cockcrow, or in the morning.

May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.

What I say to you, I say to all:

Thursday, November 20, 2014

For Ray East, my brother (November 1992)

I've known Fr. Ray East for a long time, thanks to the conference circuit to which I was occasionally attached from the mid-1980s for 25 years or so. Ray is still a frequent speaker at major conferences, in fact, he was a plenum speaker at this summer's NPM in St. Louis. Ray touched Terry's and my heart forever when he came to our hotel room in the summer of 1995 after another NPM (Cincinnati?) just a month or so after Desi had been born, and sat on the bed with Terry and blessed Desi in that way that Ray has that makes you know that that baby was really blessed, and things would be good for him.

Ray was also a passenger on the famous Big Island Bus Ride of 1992, and he and I stayed together, with the late Fr. Jim Dunning, at the house of some Malia Puka o Kalani parishioners. My most persistent memory of Ray that year was that somehow he loved to eat breadfruit, which I found puzzling to the point of incredulity. That is some nasty food, at least it was to my then-carnivorous taste buds, and I could only shake my head in amazement at his apparently bottomless appetite for the stuff.

Anyway, in the subsequent weeks to that trip, I wrote this poem about him, which still resonates with me a little bit, the ideas helping me to overlook the shortcomings of my poetic style. Without any further self-pity, here's the poem.

For Ray East, my brother
raymond lives
in the United States of America.
Not one of the fifty, but deep
in the City of Compromises.
He rejoices when a man’s years
exceed his ability to live them,
for he has spent too many nights
like this, tracing oily crosses
on the bloodied brows of boys,
watching the foamy convulsions
of girls whose innocence did not dim
when they opened themselves to strangers
to buy, from a looking-glass Moses
escape or orgasm from a rock. 
raymond sings
when he drives, sings 'Been So Busy,’
or Paul Simon, Jacques Brel.
Saturday night in the District
crouches around him,
lies and broken promises roam freely here,
they resent the rich baritone with tears in it,
hold their ears until hell
can silence him with sorrow, sirens, street beat. 
raymond is
a small man who lives on his smile
he takes his bread
at the table which invites him.
raymond remembers
Moses, and says, Yes, my brother,
raymond worships
Jesus and says, Yes, my brother,
raymond believes
in Sojourner and Harriet and Rosa, says, Yes, my sister,
raymond knows
Martin and Malcolm X, Desmond and Biko, says, Yes, my brothers.
raymond parks
and wonders why the children don’t cry
why the police don’t cry
where are the mothers, fathers,
and why doesn’t the city stop?
Hasn’t a piece of the continent
been washed away? 
raymond weeps
for this boy whose heart has a steelblown hole,
this girl whose dead black eyes need more
this baby whose screams burst her lungs,
(crack convulsions)
raymond leaves
the scene in silence.
darkness is cocked like a gun. Then 
raymond sings.
It is Sunday, raymond thinks,
today I will tell them a story.
Today the ancient Spirit
will enter raymond, a zebra
Spirit, Bantu Spirit, gazelle.
raymond’s people will remind him,
—God is good ALL THE TIME—
sirens. a baby cries. someone
says, Amen, amen. Fat flies
circle over wine like blood.
When the heaven’s black light turns him
to a river of obsidian fire
where his people can swim,
we hear (sirens) drums and music
hammer on spike, a stone rolls.
Raymond dances.
Rory Cooney, © 1992

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Cleaning up our mess (Christ the King, Year A)

We buried our friend Tom O'Hern this week. Tom was a former Vincentian priest who had been serving in the seminary in Nairobi. When he reached a certain point in his life, let's call it his conversion, he left the priesthood, but stayed in Kenya. Eventually, he stayed among the half a million people who live in the five-square-mile slum called Korogocho. Unable to cleanse his consciousness of the hopelessness of their situation in a land whose government is thoroughly corrupt and whose poverty is endemic, he left his old life behind, and entered into their world. He saw his job as trying to impart to them some sense of their own value, some glimmer of the truth of their humanity as children of God, by starting soccer teams and support groups, eventually building a charity called "Family Hope Charity" that worked in recovery, halfway houses, medical care, and shelter for abandoned children. He survived thefts and assaults, and with the kind of irony generally associated with fiction, finally lost his life while on an annual visit to the USA and checking in with his family, friends, and the charity's board and benefactors. He poured himself out, and his body could not keep up with his spirit.

Tom did what God does: poured himself out. Entered the lives of the poor, and gave everything. A Kenyan priest, speaking words of remembrance, gave Tom credit for his vocation, and said, "I am—we are (referring to his colleagues)—the seeds Tom planted." People in Korogocho know that God-is-with-us because they know that Tom-is-with-us. Tom lives still because God remembers Tom. Others, inspired by the gospel that inspired Tom, will take up his work. Cleaning up the mess that is the poverty, corruption, and violence of life is a long, patient process of participation in God's project. That's what the feast of Christ the King is about. So let me start with that, and finish up this Year A with some thoughts on the scriptures and music for this week.

At the end of the gospel of St. Matthew, Jesus leaves his apostles with the command to "Go and preach the gospel to all nations," and reassuring them with his promise, "I am with you always, even to the end of the age."(Mt. 28:20) It seems reasonable to imagine, given the chaos in the Roman empire by the end of the first century, that early Christians wondered whether that was actually the case, and if it was, how exactly was it true? How is Jesus with us in the devastation that was Jerusalem and the violent vortex of "civilization," Rome under Nero and his successors?

The chaos wasn't new, but the gospel of "Emmanuel," that is, God-with-us (Mt. 1:23) is proposing an answer to the question about Christ's presence in the chaos in a number of ways, certainly in the "church discourse" in chapter 18, where the gospel points to harmony in the community and unity in prayer as signs of the indwelling presence of Christ. Joseph's dream in chapter one and the parting words of Jesus are an inclusio, sort of literary bookends to the gospel, and the reader is thus alerted to look between them for the meaning of "being-with" in the life of the believer.

One interpretation of the life of the "historical Jesus" is that he was an eschatological prophet, unique in his message, but similar to others who arose in Israel between the time of the Maccabees and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Prophets from Moses to Elijah to Ezekiel (who speaks in today's first reading) to John the Baptizer arose at critical times in Israel's history to help Israel navigate the times when the power of pharaohs, kings, and emperors seemed to be at odds with the power of God, and not just at odds, but winning the battle, at least the exit polls. Prophets are sent to tell the truth to power, usually at mortal risk, and their truth is witnessed by the rest of us, who are, finally, allowed to choose between the truth of God's covenant and the truth of the emperor. In this, at least, Jesus is in the prophetic tradition.

Around the time of the the Maccabees, apocalyptic literature began to appear in Israel, which I understand to be a sort of "underground newspaper", the herald of a different empire, a way of letting people know to "keep the faith" in coded language of allegory and metaphor. The Book of Daniel is an example of this that survives in scripture, with its message of a "son of man" who will arise to clean up the horrors associated with the malevolence of Antiochus Epiphanes and his blasphemous desecration of the temple. Around this time as well, other "wisdom" literature begins to suggest that a just God must have a resurrection of the dead in mind as a reward for those who gave their lives in defense of the faith. Ezekiel's promise in the first reading today, in which God promises, against the shepherds who have misled Israel, that "I myself will shepherd them," is an early parallel of this kind of apocalyptic promise. It is God's intention, scripture promises, that what has been messed up on this planet will be remade, even if God has to do it personally.

The "son of man" who appears in the apocalyptic parable in the gospel this Sunday is first found in the book of Daniel as the agent of God's "clean up" of the situation in the world. (That image is not mine, but John Dominic Crossan's, and can be found, for instance, in his book God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now as well as in numerous other books and articles on the subject). "Son of man" is an aramaism that simply means "a human being," so the one called upon by God to do the cleaning up just appears to be a human being, although given divine authority and power to do the job given to him. It is the "son of man" who appears in the parable at the end of time, and while tradition has come to the conclusion that the "son of man" is Jesus, there is no evidence that Jesus thought so when and if he spoke the words, or that it was meant to be prophetic in the secular sense of "seeing into the future." The gospel is describing something about the present situation in a world that needs to be cleaned up. It is answering the question, "If Christ is God-with-us, and present with us now, then where is he?" It's a question about the current situation of the world, and what God is doing about it. And it's answered by the parable. "Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me."

Of course, there is all the (important, of course) academic and theological discussion about who "the least of these" refers to, and what the condemnation of the goats to "eternal punishment" means. But in any case we need to be careful not to turn the parable into an allegory. The core of it, it seems to me, is that Christ is present in the needs of people here and now, and to serve them is to serve Christ. The "second coming" of Christ, like the first one, has already happened, is happening now. We might miss it if we're looking for the wrong kind of emperor, and the wrong kind of God. This God, this emperor, this "king of the universe," has poured himself out into history, and taken the side of the hungry, the thirsty, the prisoner, the sick, and the poor.

Which brings us back to the feast day today, the feast of "Jesus Christ, King of the Universe." We can put all the red cloth, gold, trumpets, and festival anthems out there that we want to, but the word of God cannot be contravened, and every year it comes back convicting us by its truth and pushing back against our dreams of glory, conquest, and the violent defeat of our enemies. "The Lord is my shepherd," we hear, not "The Lord is my stealth bomber." God's justice is not retributive, paying back evil with vengeance, but distributive, giving to each what each needs. And it is participatory, which is to say, we are invited into the action, to be part of God's great clean-up of the earth, because "whatever you do to one of these least brothers and sisters of mine, you do unto me." Whatever the reason the Church had through the years for instituting and revising the feast of Christ the King, it cannot dispense with the gospel, which can only present the true Christ. That Christ is servant, healer, first of many brothers and sisters, whose irrevocable identification and alliance with the poor and strategy of participatory distributive justice is the gospel, is God-with-us, "until the end of the age."

My friend Tom O'Hern knew that, and participated in God's project with his "whole mind, soul, heart, and strength." If our faith is true, then he has heard the words we all ache to hear, and which continue to needle our complacency and call us to be imitators, like Tom, of Christ:

Come, you who are blessed by my Father. 
Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 
For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.’
Then the righteous will answer him and say,
'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you,
or thirsty and give you drink? 
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you,
or naked and clothe you? 
When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’
And the king will say to them in reply,
'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did
for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.’

You can donate to Family Hope Charity here, if you like, in memory of Tom and his work.

What we're singing at St. Anne this week (updated for 2017):
Entrance: Psalm 122 The Road to Jerusalem (Cooney, OCP)
Mass of St. Ann-with-no-E Gloria (Bolduc)
Psalm 23: The Lord Is My Shepherd (Daigle, GIA)
Preparation Rite: To You Who Bow (Coone, GIA)
Communion: Whatsoever You Do (Jabusch)
Sending Forth: Find Us Ready (Booth)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Losing interest (A33O)

or, "Use your talents, but not because of this parable."

The contentious chapters of Matthew between the entry into Jerusalem and the passion-resurrection narrative serve both to amplify the tensions between Jesus and the Temple authorities and also, as they lead to the disappearance of Jesus from the visible presence of his disciples, serve to heighten the question, "When is Jesus returning, and what should we do in the meanwhile?" God, says the apocalyptic tradition, is going to clean things up one way or another on the way to a new heaven and a new earth.

But it's a bumpy road, and this apocalyptic writing is one human literary expression of the dissonance between the promise of a new world and the quotidian quagmire of this one. We hear a lot of it, from both Jewish and Christian scriptures, on the weekdays and Sundays of November. On this penultimate Sunday of the church year, we have the parable of the talents, paired with a reading from Wisdom literature about the qualities of a good wife, and a psalm extolling the blessings of those who walk in God's ways. It doesn't seem very promising, and I think the homiletic temptation will be to default to the easy interpretation of that parable: use your talents, if you have a lot, a lot will be expected from you, but no one gets to slide. In the worst cases, and hopefully these will not be in church, the text will be used to say that "God helps those who help themselves," and that the bright, creative, and entrepreneurial deserve more than the rest of us.

But modern parable study warns us not to move too quickly to a Bannion-esque interpretation, glorifying profit and condemning indolence. We are encouraged by scholars to hear the parable, if we can, with Jewish ears, first-century Jewish ears, and not be too quick to associate the parable's master going on a journey with God. After all, the third servant identifies the master as "severe," a man who "reaps where he does not sow, and gathers where he does not scatter." And to seal the deal, the master agrees with the servants assessment. Do we really want a God like that? Would a God like that be good news to the 99% who get the one talent, or less?

First of all, the word "talent" in the parable is an unhappy cognate of our English word meaning "gift," and prejudices our reading. In reality, the amounts of money entrusted to the servants are ridiculously huge. It's like Jesus would start the story, "A man went away, and gave his servants millions of dollars to take care of while he was gone." As 21st century christians in a capitalist culture, we think the guys who invest and make interest on the investment are doing good work, and the third guy is a loser, because all he manages to do is not lose any of his boss's kale.

But how would Jews hear the parable? In all of the Jewish scripture, every reference to interest is a negative  one. The Torah forbids the charging of interest on loans, particularly to fellow Israelites, particularly the poor. Psalm 15, referring to the "just" person, that is, the one who does God's will, describes him as not lending money with interest. (Dominic Crossan, in The Power of Parable: How Fiction by Jesus Became Fiction about Jesus, cites, for instance Exodus 22:25 and Deuteronomy 23, and Leviticus 25, as well as Ezekiel and 2 Maccabbees). Further, consider the structure of the story and the rule of three. Think of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, where we have first a levite then a priest passing by the injured man and not lending assistance, and then the third, the Samaritan, coming by. What is expected is that the third character will provide, finally, some decisive action that will turn the story around. Both pieces of evidence, the Jewish restriction against interest and the story of the structure itself suggest that the third servant, the one who hid his master's money, is the good one, and he is the one who gets punished. What can we make of this?

Well, it's hard to be definitive, of course, but the first step is to hear this story as a parable and not an allegory. The parables of Jesus are meant to open up our hearts to the reign of God, that alternative Way wherein the values of the dominant society are seen for the empty promises they make, and a different empire with a different rule, specifically, rule by a father (Abba) over a household of equals who take care of each other, is lived out. The Romans, and certainly empires ever since that have been built on the foundation of money and power, had no problem with lending money at interest. Might this parable, like the rest of Jesus's preaching, have been a summons to choose between empires? What world, in other words, do we want to live in? The world of Caesar, debt and interest, violence and threats, or the world of the empire of God? "How's that working out for you?", all those threats expectations of profit and gain from structures that "reap where they don't sow and gather where they do not scatter"? Can we be OK with the ones, right now, who just say "no" to the world of credit cards, life insurance, and funny money created by speculation, and who imagine another way? 

I'm pretty sure that the framers of the lectionary used a "we should use our talents" reading of today's parable whn they chose the first reading. But let's read it the other way for a moment: now, the reading from the Old Testament stands as a corrective against a quietist reading of Matthew, in case one were to plead the case of the third servant and aver that it doesn't matter if we use our gifts or not. Surely we understand that all of scripture is read in a context, and that Pauline admonitions to use our gifts for the good of the community, particularly those in need of them, are among the foundational texts of the church's self-image. The woman of value cited in Proverbs, or any person of value, is praised for many attributes, including the fact that she "reaches out her hands to the poor, and extends her arms to the needy."

The responsorial psalm is from Psalm 128, which celebrates the home of those who "fear the Lord," that is, those who know and respect God and God's law. I'd like to suggest that we sing it this week, we accentuate the word "Lord" in the refrain, "May the Lord bless us all the days of our lives." Not wealth, prosperity, possessions, status, but a sense of God's love at work in our lives, participation in God's project of uniting all creatures on this planet, men and women, neighbors, strangers, and enemies, living now and yet to be born, in a family of mutual nurture and self-gift. Those who do so will "eat the fruit of your handiwork; happy shall you be and favored." (It strikes me that the framers of the lectionary may also have chosen this psalm for its equating happiness with "fear" of the Lord. If so, maybe they did foresee a day when the quaking third servant might indeed be the happy one, who did the right thing in spite of his spiteful master!)

What we're singing this weekend:

Gathering: All That We Have, (Dameans) 
Psalm 128 All the Days of Our Lives, (Cooney) 
Prep: These Alone Are Enough, (Schutte)
Communion: You Are All We Have, (O'Brien)
Sending Forth: Find Us Ready, (Booth)

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

How lovely is your dwelling place (Dedication of Lateran Basilica)

You know, don't you, that the readings for this weekend in the Lector Workbook, and the liturgy prep websites like, and even (a cursory reading of) the Ordo are just suggestions, right? For some, they may fit the bill of your parish perfectly, but I think it's more likely they'll be more appreciated in a seminary or a theological university. For this Sunday's celebration of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the pope's cathedral, your parish can use any of the readings from the Common of the Dedication of a Church. And believe me, there are many more accessible texts than the somewhat opaque ones in those books, which seem to me to appeal by theology-from-above. In the hands of a good exegete (or eisegete, for that matter) these texts could be made radiant for an assembly; the task would be immeasurably easier by choosing other readings from the commons, which is what I did for St. Anne, where we are using:

Rev. 21: 1-5a "The dwelling of God is with the human race."
Psalm 84 "How lovely is your dwelling place"
Eph 2:19-22 "In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit."
Lk 19:1-10 "He has gone to eat in the house of a sinner." (link to post on this gospel)

Basilica of St. John, on the Lateran hill in Rome
Whether we use the readings from the workbook or do a little digging for other wonderful texts, there is some built-in irony between the feast-day, which celebrates the dedication of a building, a house for the church, and the sense of virtually all the scriptures, both Jewish and Christian, which describe a movement in consciousness away from associating God's presence with a place and coming to associate it with a people. Clearly, the church building is a sacrament of presence, but it is both a sacrament of God's presence and a sacrament of the people of God, which is another way of saying it is a sacrament of Christ, who makes that image of God-with-us even possible. By his coming among us, and sending the Holy Spirit among us by his death and resurrection to give us the messianic (Christ-ic) mission of the Father, Jesus makes the church, the healing, compassionate, heart-summoning communion of believers in every age, the agent and locus of God's presence in every age.

The bridge into the final chorus of my song, "You Have Built Your House," pulls together (I hope) all of this with the great theme of Matthew's gospel, "God-with-us", with this short couplet:

How awesome is this temple, the people where you dwell,
Where earth unites with heaven: Emmanuel!

I apologize for the brevity of this post, because this feast merits more time and thought, but I have so much to do to prepare for the conference in Hawaii for which we are leaving tomorrow that this is the best I can do! Wish us well! I shall try to give reports from there, if not here, then on Facebook.

What we're singing at St. Anne's this weekend:

Entrance song: Gather Us In (Haugen) It was an unpleasant surprise to find that, because of the unimaginative grousing of a few orthodoxy police, the last verse ("Not in the dark of buildings confining...") of Marty's great song was excised from the current incarnation of Gather, though it endures in OCP's Music Issue and other songbooks as well. Unpleasant, because it's the very thing that the scripture confronts us with today: it is a people, not a geographical or architectural site, that is the site of God's presence par excellence in the world.
Responsorial: Psalm 84 "How Lovely Is Your Dwelling Place" (Joncas) from the strong 1979 collection "On Eagle's Wings", Michael's setting of this psalm is evokes wonder at the presence of God and longing for its fullness, as though the psalmist were separated by exile from the temple, and is trying to sing it into reality from another place and time. Which may, indeed, be the case.
Preparation Rite: We Come to Your Feast (Joncas) Using this song after the Zacchaeus gospel will, I hope, reinforce the joyful truth that the Lord, even today, comes to "eat in the house of a sinner," and we are the ones doing the inviting.
Communion: You Have Built Your House (Cooney, WLP) (The link goes to the SongStories post about the song) See the reference above to the text of the bridge, but the rest of the song goes to the heart of the scriptures about the church, explicit in Ephesians, 1 Corinthians, Revelation 21 and 1 Peter, among others, that God's house is in the heart of a people.
Recessional: All Are Welcome (Haugen) Marty's song takes a little heat because of the hermeneutic of suspicion, the reality gap between the church we have which, officially, anyway, is less than welcoming of some people, and the church we want, which is for everyone equally. My feeling is, we sing the church we want into being. Worship shapes our behavior, it should, anyway, if we do it right. One way we do it right is by singing and preaching the gospel as it is, and not as we make it out to be with our rubrics and other fences.