SoCS: Just Mercy

(I reviewed Just Mercy earlier this week, in case you want to check it out.)

When I hear the phrase “just mercy”, I think of Pope Francis. Pope Francis called a Jubilee year dedicated to mercy a few years ago and the spirituality study group that I facilitate was learning about and discussing mercy. Many people think of “mercy” in relationship to forgiveness. For example, many Christian churches say, “Lord, have mercy.” as part of their penitential rite. Francis, though, includes a broader understanding – mercy in the sense of lovingkindness. (For Catholics, this is more the sense of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, which includes actions like feeding the hungry and burying the dead and acts of compassion like offering consolation.) I appreciate the sense of mercy as lovingkindness, as a counterweight to forgiveness in that mercy is expanded to everyone, not just those who have done something wrong.

This, to me, ties into the way we use the word justice currently in the United States. Many people equate justice with vengeance. We use phrases like “criminal justice” in a context of punishment. I think of justice as the restoration of right relationship. This is the sense of justice in phrases like “social justice” and “environmental justice.” In this context, justice is tied to care and concern for people and for all created things. This is also evident in the term “economic justice”, recognizing that it is wrong for employers to enrich themselves at the expense of their employees who are not paid a living wage.

I will end this homilette before everyone’s eyes glaze over, although I may be too late…

It’s what can happen when I am writing off the top of my mind.
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Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is to base the post on the title of the last movie that we saw. If you would like to join in with Stream of Consciousness Saturday and/or Just Jot It January, you can get all the details here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/01/17/the-friday-reminder-for-socs-jusjojan-2020-daily-prompt-jan-18th/

All Souls

In the Catholic tradition, early November is dedicated to remembering those who have died. November first is All Saints Day and November second is All Souls Day. Our parish does a special commemoration for All Souls Day of all the people whose funerals were held at the church since All Souls Day of the prior year. Family members loan the church a picture of the deceased and they are displayed on tables with name cards and candles for the whole month of November.

This year, my mom, known here on the blog as Nana, was one of those commemorated. I printed an enlargement of a favorite photo of her; Nana was not fond of having her picture taken, so photos of her alone are pretty rare. I bought a Shaker-style wooden frame for it. I admit that the liturgy was emotional for me, but it was also comforting. It also felt fitting that the handbell choir played at the mass. Nana always loved to hear E and T ring.

In the evening, I attended a concert for all souls by the Southern Tier Singers Collective (STSC). I know a number of the members, including one whom I met in University Chorus and with whom I have been close for years. The founder and director of the group is Bill Culverhouse, the current choral director at Binghamton University. The concert was beautiful, although the music was emotional for me, given that the loss of my mom is still very much in my mind and heart. Thankfully, I was able to join some friends from University Chorus in the audience, which helped me to feel supported during the performance.

The concert took place at Saint Patrick’s Church, Binghamton, which is considered the mother church in our county. The building is old, high-ceilinged, and has lots of hard surfaces, so the acoustics are good for choral singing, especially a capella, which is what STSC does. St. Patrick’s was the boyhood parish of my retired pastor, who sang there, in Latin, as an altar server. After his retirement from our parish, members of our music ministry came together there to participate in a mass celebrating his 50th anniversary of ordination. It was a large group with instrumentalists, so I helped out by conducting. Several years later, we came together again to sing for his wake service and funeral, so thoughts of him were also present in my mind.

The most moving piece in the concert for me was Dale Trumbore’s How to Go On (2017). She chose to set texts from 21st century women poets Barbara Crooker, Laura Foley, and Amy Fleury. The passages speak more to acceptance of mortality than to mourning. I loved the language of the poems and the often haunting, often meditative, way they were set. The piece begins with a question from Barbara Crooker’s poem “Some Fine Day”:  “How can we go on, knowing the end of the story?” I could feel my own answer to that question working its way through my mind in response to the poetry and music – and could imagine my mother’s.

There was a third woman that I could also imagine, a woman my age who died recently. I had sung in the choir for her funeral on Wednesday. She was a beloved member of our community, who used all her skills and gifts in service to her family, her work, and charitable causes. She died at our local hospice residence, where she had been serving as president of the board of directors. I know that she must have found her own answer.

A passage from the movement “Sometimes peace comes” from Laura Foley’s poem “Syringa” speaks to part of my answer at this point in my life.

and you have stepped into
a place beyond time,
beyond sadness and form.
A wide, high plain
where in the endless, deep silence
you find out what it is, what it is,
and your part in it.

 

SoCS: social justice

During the struggle against fracking in New York, one of my roles was writing comments on related articles. I was part of the rapid response team, so I spent a lot of time doing it, so much so that if I was at an in-person event that drew people from around the state, people recognized my name if we were introduced. I had done a lot of research, so I was able to present my point of view on many different aspects of the effects.

What I seldom wrote of was the personal basis of my views, which was Catholic social justice doctrine, which was always in my heart, even as my mind was filled with science and statistics and personal stories from our neighbors in Pennsylvania.

As time has gone on and my public role has lessened, I have more often spoken of the role of social justice in my life. This became easier when Pope Francis published his encyclical Laudato’ Si. While people knew that it would be about climate change, they didn’t realize how much of it would center around human relationships with each other. Francis calls this approach “integral ecology” and it demonstrates one of the basic tenets of social justice doctrine, care for creation, and another, care for other people, especially those most vulnerable. These are viewpoints that many people of good will hold and there are many routes to them; I just want to acknowledge the impact of Catholic social doctrine for me, which combined with other influences to bring me to this point.

(The link above has the entire text of the encyclical with the option to read it in about a dozen languages. It was written prior to the Paris climate change meetings which led to the accord signed by over 190 nations. Francis addressed it to “all people of good will” because climate change affects everyone on earth.)
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Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “social.” Join us! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2019/06/14/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-june-15-19/

SoCS badge by Pamela, at https://achronicalofhope.com/

JC’s Confessions #3

On The Late Show, Stephen Colbert does a recurring skit, now a best-selling book, called Midnight Confessions, in which he “confesses” to his audience with the disclaimer that he isn’t sure these things are really sins but that he does “feel bad about them.” While Stephen and his writers are famously funny, I am not, so my JC’s Confessions will be somewhat more serious reflections, but they will be things that I feel bad about. Stephen’s audience always forgives him at the end of the segment; I’m not expecting that – and these aren’t really sins – but comments are always welcome.
~ JC

When Stephen does Midnight Confessions, in his lead-up he often says that he doesn’t get to go to church as often as he would like and he misses one of his favorite things, going to confession. At which point, I usually think, “Said no Catholic ever!” Everyone with whom I have ever spoken about it feels that it is a stressful situation, even with a good confessor (and downright terrifying with a poor one).

For the last several years, our diocese has had a day during which every church is open for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, as confession is more properly called. I confess that I find it very creepy that they advertise this on television and with billboards, as though mercy and forgiveness are commodities.

It also makes it seem as though forgiveness is only available through this sacrament, even though the church recognizes many other routes for this, such as the penitential rite during liturgy, asking for forgiveness from someone whom you have hurt, prayer, making reparations, and receiving the Eucharist. Indeed, individual confession is only required in the case of serious sin, one which fractures the relationship of the person with God.

I admit, not confess, that I haven’t gone to individual confession in years. This is partly due to a priest from my past who was so unstable I was afraid to be alone with him. Even though he is no longer a threat to me, it makes the thought of going to confession even more fraught.

What is even more difficult is figuring out how to confess my own part in social sin. I grieve that the United States is participating in violence and injustice, degrading the environment and the climate, and lacking in compassion and assistance for those most in need. We are called in our Constitution to “promote the general welfare”; my faith tells me to love and serve my neighbors near and far. Even though I try to oppose what is unjust and to help those in need, I still bear guilt for being part of an unjust system. Seeking forgiveness for these social sins feels hollow, because I am no less a part of the social system after confession than I was before it.

Wow! When I said in my standard introduction to this series that my reflections would be “more serious,” I didn’t mean to make it quite this serious.  Still, we are living in very serious times with many very serious problems confronting us daily. I can only hope that my trying to do my part in repairing the damage will join with the efforts of other people of good will to improve our country and our world.

Lent in my church

Many Catholic churches use bare branches instead of flowers during Lent. In recent years, my church has used small trees instead of branches. This Lent, the church environment committee went one step further.

img_20190309_165820503.jpg
It’s the first time I can recall seeing the corpus removed from the cross.

I find it very striking. It reminds me of some of the Lenten hymns that speak of Jesus being hung on or nailed to “a tree.”

Some people may find this too unusual a presentation.

Feel free to share your comments below.

catching up – again

First, I would like to offer Passover and Easter blessings to those celebrating and sincere wishes for peace, love, and joy to all!

While regular readers might have thought I would have more time to post with daughter E and granddaughter ABC in the UK for an extended visit, and while I myself had hoped this might be possible, it hasn’t worked out that way, at least so far.

And, while I do try to write about the most salient things that are at the top of my mind, I am finding myself too overwhelmed to find words to express how I feel. Maybe, eventually, I’ll be able to. Perhaps in poetry. Perhaps years from now. Perhaps not.

In practical/physical terms, a large share of the last week has revolved around dealing with some changes in Nana’s condition. The edema from the congestive heart failure had accelerated but increasing the diuretics to address it lowered her already low blood pressure even more. We are trying to walk a very fine line to balance the two and, with her usual hospice nurse and aide unavailable for a few days, I have been trying to keep a closer eye on things and inform all the different private aides about the changes and new things we have to watch out for.

Amidst all this, it was wonderful to be able to celebrate Easter together. Daughter T and I attended Easter Vigil at church last night, which was a comforting blend of the familiar and the unique, with the once-a-year rituals of blessing the Paschal candle and welcoming new adult members to the church.

I had my pyx with me to carry the Eucharist to give to Nana today. T, Nana, and I prayed together before T gave communion to her grandmother.

We brought Easter dinner to share with Nana and Paco and Mary who is the Sunday daytime aide. My husband B made Swedish meatballs from a recipe that came to us through the Swedish landlady of my family when I was a toddler. For dessert, he made cherry pistachio biscotti and shortbreads, the latter from a recipe from his family. Not exactly traditional Easter foods, but delicious and special for us this year.

I wish there were a fast and easy way to get thoughts from my head into a post to send out to you all, but I’m afraid instead you will have to continue to put up with haphazard posts with various gaps that I may not even recognize in time to fill them. I hope to back up and write about a few things, like my second whirlwind trip to Northampton last month, as time and brainpower allow, but I know better than to make promises these days.

three firsts

When I went to church this morning, Sister Alma, who is pastoral minister, asked about my mom who is under home hospice care. Sister Alma usually goes to visit, but she has had a bad cold so has been unable to make her usual rounds. She asked if I brought communion to my mom on Sundays, which I had never thought to do. She went to the office to get a pyx for me; that is the small container that is used to carry the Eucharist to someone who is unable to attend mass. I brought the pyx with me when I went up to receive communion, the Eucharistic minister placing a host in the pyx before I received myself. When we went up to my parents’ for Sunday dinner, my mother and I said a couple of prayers together and I gave her communion. It was a privilege to be able to do this and I will be able to do it every week. Sister Alma will still visit when she is able to, but my mom will at least get communion once a week even when she can’t.

The other two firsts belong to the now seven-month-old ABC. After weeks and weeks of swollen gums and chewing on everything she gets her hands on, the corner of ABC’s first tooth broke through today. She also managed some self-propulsion today, not exactly crawling, but sort of scooching on her belly, enough that she moved off her play quilt and across the braided rug to the chair before I scooped her up. As is typical, she was moving backward rather than forward, but still progress!
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Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out how here:
https://lindaghill.com/2018/01/14/jusjojan-daily-prompt-january-14th-2018/

 

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.

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