Visits and baptism

On Sunday, July 16, we celebrated ABC’s baptism.

We were blessed to have L’s mom visiting from the UK. I will call her Lola here, which is Tagalog for grandmother. She was here for a week and a half, during which we gave her as much cuddle time with ABC as possible. When all the necessary documents go through and E and ABC join L in the UK, they will be living with Lola and Lolo (grandfather), so the visit was the beginning of what will be years of cuddling and babysitting.

We were also excited to have daughter T home for a long weekend. Besides meeting her niece for the first time, T also became her baptismal sponsor. T’s own godmother served as a witness by proxy for L’s sister, who will be ABC’s British godmother.

Sorry for all the initials…

The baptism took place after Mass with the deacon, himself a grandfather several times over, presiding. ABC wore the same dress that Nana had bought sixty years ago for my older sister’s baptism, which was also worn by me, my younger sister, and both of my daughters. Here is a picture of all those who have worn this little dress.
baptism dress six

Paco was able to come down to church for the baptism, but Nana wasn’t well enough to join us. After the baptism, we convened at Nana and Paco’s apartment for a feast of Filipino food that L and Lola had prepared. Brent and I made pies for dessert. Everything was delicious!

We were very grateful that Lola got to meet Nana and Paco. It felt like they had known each other much longer than a few hours! I love this photo of Nana and Lola.
Nana and Lola

ABC is blessed to have many people praying for her. There was even a physical reminder of the support of E and L’s parish in Honolulu, where they were married and served in music ministry. The blanket Ada is napping on in this photo was made by a choir member there.
ABC in her baptism dress

 

the legacy of Father James

In my last post, I wrote about a long-time, retired pastor who was near death. Father James died Friday night and these past few days have been about preparing and celebrating the funeral rites.

Leading those efforts has been Father James’s nephew, Father Tim, and Father James’s long-time music director Nancy. Father James served at Blessed Sacrament church from 1978 through his retirement in 2003. He hired Nancy early on, shortly after she graduated from university with her music degree, and they developed a true partnership and deep friendship that lasted through his retirement years.

They both loved liturgy and taught me that thoughtful, prayerful planning was the key to vibrant worship. I served on liturgy committee and in music ministry for many years and learned so much from them both. My role in the funeral planning was to write the universal prayer, which is a set of petitions which closes the liturgy of the word, for both the vigil service and the funeral mass.

Along with my daughter T, I joined the 40-voice choir, which was assembled from the choirs of Father Tim’s church, Nancy’s current church, Father James’s boyhood church where the funeral was being held, and some other former Blessed Sacrament music ministry alumni. (A number of the other choir members had also sung at Blessed Sacrament when Father James was there.) We rehearsed for two and a half hours Sunday night to be ready for the two services.

When a priest dies, he lies in state in the church, clothed in his priestly vestments. Father James had chosen white vestments with a multi-colored trim which, if I recall correctly, had been a gift from the parish for his 40th ordination anniversary. For three hours before the vigil service, Father Tim along with Father James’s nieces and other nephews received condolences from hundreds of friends and former parishioners.

We then held a vigil service with Scripture readings and prayers which focused on service. There were three homilists, one a priest-friend, who offered stories of Father James as a friend and traveling companion; one a niece, who told of growing up with with three priest-uncles, Father James and his two older brothers; and a Blessed Sacrament parishioner-friend, who told of the strong bonds of love and friendship that Father James built among us. His words reflected beautifully my own experience at Blessed Sacrament, what that parish family meant and continues to mean to me. (Unfortunately, for reasons too complex to relate here, the Blessed Sacrament community that we knew no longer exists as a parish.)

The next morning was the funeral liturgy. Nancy played prelude music on the organ, followed by two choral pieces. During the opening hymn, the many priests and deacons in attendance, all dressed in white, processed to their places, followed by the concelebrating priests, including Father Tim, and finally the bishop, who was the presider for the funeral mass.

The readings centered around Eucharist and included a gospel passage that was close to Father James’s heart and ministry, the road to Emmaus (Luke 24: 13-35).  Father Tim gave an inspiring homily, which was both intimate and encompassing. Not only had Father Tim had the example of his uncle Father James before him all his life but he had also been in residence with him at Blessed Sacrament for nine years when he was serving as chaplain at a nearby hospital, during which he assisted with weekend and special liturgies and shared homilist duties.

I was especially moved when Father Tim spoke about how special the Blessed Sacrament community was in the twenty-eight years of Father James’s pastorate, how Father James drew people together and encouraged them to develop and share their talents, how important liturgy was to him as the work of the people, and how extraordinary the partnership was between Father James and Nancy, resulting in eight choirs and a congregation that actively and joyfully participated in both spoken and sung prayer, empowering them to go out and serve others. He reminded us that it is up to those of us who were part of that community to continue to carry on the good works, friendship, love, and caring to others.

For T and me to be singing in the choir for the services was a special blessing. While Blessed Sacrament had been a modern renovated building with the music ministry in the front of the church, the church where we were gathered is one of the oldest in our area with a choir loft and a pipe organ. Being in the loft gave us a good view of the church and a bit of space from the emotions of the family. It also gave us the best advantage of the acoustics.

Some people who were unfamiliar with Nancy’s skills had expressed reservations about the choir not being amplified, but, under Nancy’s guidance, we did not need microphones to be heard and understood. They were also afraid that the congregation wouldn’t sing, but we were confident that they would – and they did. Many people were former Blessed Sacrament parishioners who were used to singing hymns and responses. Moreover, what many Catholics don’t realize is that it is not a choir or cantor that leads the singing, it is the organ. Nancy is a wonderful organist, who knows how to register the organ effectively and to pace and phrase in such a way as to lead the congregation to confidently sing the hymns and prayers.

Nancy also is the best liturgist of any Catholic church musician that I know. The hymns beautifully reflected the Scripture readings that had been chosen for the services. People commented afterward about how thoughtfully the music enhanced the service.

I know that Father James would be pleased with the vigil and funeral mass that we celebrated before laying him to rest.

With a wink, he would say it was because he had taught us how…which he did, by word and example.

As Father Tim reminded us, it is up to us to carry on, loving and serving one another, as Father James did.

May he rest in peace and may perpetual light shine upon him.

 

 

On being a US Catholic in the days of Pope Francis

While the United States is a very pluralistic country, with its people following hundreds of different spiritual, religious, philosophical, or secular belief systems, seventy million of us consider ourselves to be Roman Catholic.

With Pope Francis travelling in the Northeastern United States these past few days, there has been extensive media coverage, with reporters and interviewees acknowledging that they are Catholic, which is often not brought up in journalism or entertainment here. It has been touching to hear US Catholics talk about their faith and to hear Francis reach out to all people, regardless of their belief in the Divine or not, in keeping with the meaning of the word “catholic” which is “universal.” It is heartening to hear so many respond in kind, saying, “I’m not Catholic but I want to see Francis and hear what he has to say.”

I am Catholic, but do not in any way promote my faith as being any better than another path. It is simply the path that has meaning to me and which is integrated into my being and through which I hope to live out Divine Love in the world. I believe that the vast majority of people are of good will and decry those few who misuse ideology to do violence to or oppress others. Sadly, there have been many instances in which the power structure of the Catholic church has sinned and been guilty of horrible crimes against entire ethnic groups or religions as well as individual persons. These are human failings and not a reflection of God who is good and always loving.

This visit from Pope Francis is a good opportunity to talk about the public perception of the Catholic church and the lived experience of being a US Catholic. People, even many Catholics themselves, think of the Catholic Church as being a set of beliefs and rules that must be adhered to uniformly to belong; much of the Catholic hierarchy has advanced that view in my lifetime, but it is not really what the church teaches. There are a core set of teachings called dogmas which must be accepted in order to be Catholic. These are God-related and articulated in important teachings such as the creed.

There are many other teachings, usually more centered on human activity. The most important of these are doctrines. Catholics are asked to believe these teachings, as well as other teachings at lesser levels of authority, but dissent is possible after considered study and reflection.

The Catholic Church believes in the primacy of conscience, which means that we are called to act in accord to our individual, well-formed conscience. We sin if we violate our conscience and damage our relationship with God and other people. Dissenting from a teaching or breaking a rule is not wrong if we are following our conscience, having seriously considered church teaching on the topic.

Probably the most common experience of this in the United States is dissent from Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae, which prohibited the use of artificial means of birth control while allowing natural ones. Even though a commission that studied the issue recommended that the church allow contraception, Paul VI was persuaded to continue prohibiting it. Since it was first promulgated in 1968, this teaching has not been accepted by the vast majority of US Catholics, who have the right and responsibility to follow their own consciences on this matter – and on the related issue of using fertility assistance, several means of which, such as artificial insemination and in-vitro fertilization, are also against official Catholic teaching.

Another common misunderstanding is that divorced Catholics can’t receive communion. This isn’t true. The problem comes in when a Catholic who has a civil divorce remarries without an annulment from the church. (More misunderstandings arise over annulments. A Catholic annulment does not mean that there was no marriage; it means that there was a serious impediment to the marriage from the start so that it was not a sacramental marriage. If an annulment is granted, the individuals are then free to enter into a sacramental marriage with another spouse, but the first marriage is still recognized as a civil marriage. Some people are afraid to pursue an annulment because they think their children will then be considered born out of wedlock, but that is not the case.) The reason behind the prohibition against receiving communion in a second marriage without an annulment is that it is considered a public scandal to be living in adultery. So, yes, this is about sex. Someone who is living in a second marriage without an annulment but who is living what the church calls “a chaste life” can receive communion.

Yeah, the officialdom of the Catholic church doesn’t understand sexual behavior very well at all. Unfortunately, this has become an overwhelming focus and attempted means of control by the hierarchy in the United States and elsewhere. It is hopeful that Francis has changed the emphasis to larger human problems, like poverty, environmental degradation, war, violence, and failure to work for justice and the common good.

Francis has already endorsed some procedures to make annulments less cumbersome to obtain and there is hope for further reform. There is also the upcoming Jubilee Year of Mercy, which will offer some other opportunities within the church. The larger impact, though, is Francis’s example of outreach, caring, and concern for all people and for creation. He will empower people toward justice, love, and peace, whether or not all the other bishops follow his lead.

We are taught that the church is the people of God. Some in the hierarchy have acted as though they themselves are the core of the church, more important than the millions upon millions of the laity.

With Francis, we may finally have the opportunity to be truly catholic, that is universal.

SoCS: peace through justice

I’ve recently joined a new organization, the Catholic Peace Community of the Southern Tier. There are people from several different parishes and we are hoping to build peace through working on different social justice areas.

Our first activities are dealing with the environment and climate change. One of the main tenets of Catholic social justice teaching is care of creation. Also involved are other tenets, such as the protection of the most vulnerable. Those who are living in poverty are much more likely to be subjected to pollutants and also more likely to be impacted by severe weather and sea level rise, as they live in vulnerable areas without strong shelter and do not have the means to relocate out of harm’s way.

We are looking forward to Pope Francis’s upcoming encyclical on the environment and will study the document when it is released in the late spring or early summer. Then we hope to get the word out about the encyclical not only to Catholic parishes but also to the general public in advance of the Paris climate summit in December.

Our first public event is on the 25th of this month when we will have a table at EarthFest.  Pope Paul VI said, “If you want peace, work for justice.” We hope to build peace by working on various justice issues, but I am glad that we are starting with this timely work for ecojustice.
*****

Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness this Saturday is: “piece/peace.” To join in the fun, visit here:  http://lindaghill.com/2015/04/17/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-april-1815/

socs-badge

belief vs. fact

A couple of hours after the elation of yesterday’s court decision upholding home rule in New York State, came the utterly convoluted US Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case. While there are thousands of words of talk and text on this ruling out there already, the aspect I want to weigh in on the collision of belief and fact that is in evidence in the decision.

The family that owns Hobby Lobby believes that a few of the forms of birth control mandated for coverage under the Affordable Care Act cause abortions. (They apparently didn’t believe this prior to the ACA when their employee health insurance plan covered these same items, but that is a different story.)

The fact is that these forms of birth control are not abortifaciant. The morning after pill will not abort a pregnancy. The IUD works chiefly by disrupting the activity of sperm. One of the best brief explanations of the facts I have seen is from Jamie Manson, writing in the National Catholic Reporter, here.

The US Catholic bishops make the same factual error in their public pronouncements in condemning the ACA because of the contraception mandate. It’s probably not a coincidence that the five Supreme Court justices who formed the majority in which belief trumped fact in the Hobby Lobby case are Catholic men. On the other hand, Catholic woman on the court Sonia Sotomayor and female-led Catholic organizations NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby, and the Catholic Health Association, the largest non-profit health provider in the US, recognize that these contraceptive methods are not abortifaciant. NETWORK and CHA would never have advocated for the ACA’s passage if abortion were part of its provisions.

I am Catholic and well aware of my Church’s teaching on so-called artificial means of contraception and assisted reporduction. I also know that the vast majority of US Catholics reject these teachings and act according to their own consciences in making these personal decisions.

If one believes that contraception in general is immoral, that is your right and that is the choice you make for your own life. Employers – or anyone else for that matter – should not mandate assent to their personal religious belief on others. It makes absolutely no sense to inflict that belief on anyone when it flies in the face of scientific/medical fact.

I fear for our society when belief trumps facts. I hear this over and over in the “debate” on human-induced climate change. The science is settled. It is happening. There are reams of data showing it. Yet some persist in a belief that the world is cooling instead of warming and that the cycle is a purely natural phenomenon.  Their belief does not change the facts/science. They are demonstrably in error.

That the five Catholic men on the Supreme Court decided a case on a mistaken belief is highly disturbing. We can only hope that our dysfunctional Congress will enact legislation to correct the Court’s error before more damage is done.