The Shaking Hands of Christ

This past Sunday I attended the 8:30 AM mass at my parish and one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen was at communion.

There was a middle aged woman who was the eucharistic minister nearest me. I happened to look up at one point and saw her hands. They were shaking, presumably from some kind of tremor, usually brought on by Parkinson’s or some other neurological disorder. The tremors are brought about when the dopamine producing nerve cells begin to die that send messages to the parts of the brian that produce movement.

She held the tiny ciboria in her open palm shaking ever so slightly, relishing in giving what she could, while she still could. She held Jesus as best she could and handed the body broken of Christ to us with a broken body herself.

Talk about a thanksgiving moment. It was a moment so beautiful and so simple and yet it comes from such a place of dis-ease, for her presumably and for those who can visibly see her tremor.

It is in that moment that I am able to receive Christ all the more tangibly. I was so aware that the brokenness that we all receive in our lives doesn’t even escape God’s grasp. The nails that pierced Christ’s nerves and bones in his hands squarely lock His pain in place to the wood of the cross. How often do I stay locked in my own sin, causing pain to others? How often an I unable to choose to give Christ’s body with my own to others because I have deemed it too difficult to go that extra step?

I didn’t get that woman’s name, this weekend. She disappeared before I could catch up to her. In a way, I am glad she is nameless to me for now. Her name, while important, doesn’t do justice to who she represents. She is the symbol of the broken body of Christ in a broken world. How many in the world quake with fear because they live in violence? How many shake with hunger every night? How many worry unsteadily in their lives and in their anxiety–how many of us sleep pretty undisturbed?

Today, let us pray that we might be able, while broken ourselves, be able to be the hands of Christ in a broken world that needs someone to offer themselves to it. And we pray for our church, that we can see that even the most broken amongst us, can still bring Jesus to others.

BustedHalo’s® Open Letter to Anne Rice

Myisha Cherry takes a stab at an open letter to Anne Rice. She sums up nicely some similar thoughts to my own.

Even today there are a few of my denominational doctrines that I do not agree with, but the heart of what Jesus stood for is still dear to my heart. My experience from 32 years of church, particularly the black church, has led me to believe that the church is largely anti-gay and anti-female, although two of the largest groups that attend and serve in church are gay and female. The part of me that yearns for justice and equality does not accept this ethic at all. But I stay. I stay because I recognize that I am needed. I am needed to preach a different message; one closer to the one Jesus so radically spoke. I stay because the heart of Christianity feeds my spirit and I am able to recognize and discern “the bad” when it appears. I stay because there are others like me who need my company and support. God and the true gospel are so much more awesome than the acts of man.

I am disappointed you have chosen to leave Christianity, Anne, because people like you are needed to help bring change and revolution but also to serve as a light to others that will shine throughout the body of Christ, so that the institution, filled with weak and strong believers, can be awakened and enlightened. Reformer Martin Luther did not leave Christianity; instead he fought for it. A woman with a writing gift like yours can help usher in a type of radical love, acceptance, accountability and revival that would make Jesus proud (not to mention Christian believers better.) I don’t believe this can be done effectively by disowning Christianity totally. Jesus was a Jew (insider), who was considered an outsider. So was Paul. It is the “inside” outsiders that have the power to make great change.

Today let us pray for the the “inside-outsiders” that they indeed might be heard as a voice filled with wisdom. And may that wisdom lead us to the truth that God wants us to discover.

More on Anne Rice leaving Christianity

Catholic Anarchy responds:

I can’t say I can’t relate to Rice’s frustrations with the Catholic Church and with her feeling that she is an “outsider.”

I do think the Googling God post is awfully presumptuous about Rice’s reasons for “quitting Christianity.” I’m not sure that the author can make the judgment that she has chosen to “go it alone” and to “horde [her] relationship with God for [herself],” or that she prefers “the ‘vertical’ relationship between God and self without the ‘horizontal’ relationship where one also relates to God in relationship with others” just because she has decided to “leave Christianity” while clinging to Christ. The “you’re in or you’re out” view of ecclesiology will no longer cut it. The boundaries of the church are fluid and we cannot limit it to “Christianity’s” often tired institutional forms, as important as they might be. Sounds to me like she has left “Christianity” but is still very much attached to the Body of Christ. May she find peace wherever she finds “church” to be.

I don’t think I’m saying that Anne is “in or out” and that’s it. Hardly and my open invitation to welcome her to any community I’m part of shows it.

Ironically, I think that’s exactly what Ms. Rice is saying!

“If you don’t agree with me I’m walking out” seems to be her attitude. Now granted we all have frustrations with our communities and I want to own my own failures in that regard. I’ve left parishes over the attitudes of pastors, the unwelcoming nature of parishioners and even because of a preference in liturgical style. However, I think to lump not just Catholicism but all of Christendom into one lump and saying that she’ll have nothing to do with them, is a bit much.

For me (and please note that I’m speaking for myself, and don’t know the mind of Ms. Rice, who I deeply respect), to leave my denomination alone would be like saying to every teacher I ever had that I am no longer willing to be part of the dialogue where we grappled with scripture, church teaching, ecclesiology, liturgy, theology, etc. I’d be poorer for not being in those conversations and poorer still for stopping now.

People can, and often do, help us change our minds, see our own shortcomings, see wisdom in their point of view and solidify our own convictions. Great theologians have had deep divisions over centuries but I don’t think too many of them simply picked up their toys and went home.

My friend Alex Swingle made a comment on Facebook that I found interesting as well:

Maybe her reasons should wake the church up from their slumber? As a Catholic I totally understand where she is coming from

A quick story to back up Alex here:

My friend’s mother is a staunch Catholic–not a conservative by any means but certainly a devoted Catholic. Her son in his young adult years stopped going to church. I doubt if he stopped believing in God, Jesus, the Real Presence, or any other tenant of the faith. But what he stopped doing was trying to fit into a community.

His mother prodded into this and he simply said that in his newfound hometown he couldn’t find a parish that spoke to him. He admitted to not looking too far afield. And that’s when mom uttered:

“Well you can’t be so passive! You have to speak up in a community and tell them that they aren’t meeting your needs. Or travel to another place where they will meet your spiritual needs. Why won’t you fight for your faith to be fed?”

Her son’s answer was something that I think the church should heed:

“Oh mom! I just don’t have that kind of time!”

This is why I often say that the quality of the welcome in parishes is clearly the most important element to pay attention to. There’s already enough division in the church, we don’t have to add to it. Pointing out divisions up front is an easy way to eliminate people from the community.

Now that doesn’t mean that we stop talking altogether about what divides us, or what might trouble us, or even where we think the church is “out of touch.” But we can do all of this with charity, even agreeing to disagree and then moving on but keeping the door open for future considerations to dialogue. Loving one another in community goes beyond divisions. Hanging in despite those divisions to me, is a sign that we are willing to love those who we don’t particularly like sometimes.

Isn’t that church? Isn’t that what Jesus would hope for? Or are we trying to set up über communities where we can point fingers at others who disagree.

Granted, others might have that attitude and may have been un-Christian towards Ms. Rice, and indeed, she may have good reasons for leaving everything behind. But that doesn’t stop me from feeling sad about it and hoping that she reconsiders. I would probably disagree with some of what Ms. Rice thinks about Christianity and she might disagree with some of my beliefs, but I’d always want her to sit in my pew and hold my hand during the Our Father and then offer a sign of peace to her afterwards.

We are one body, one body in Christ…and we do not stand alone.

Perhaps that is a lesson for us all?

Anne Rice Quits Christianity

Anne Rice, who Bill McGarvey interviewed extensively for® awhile back abruptly “quit Christianity. Yesterday, on her facebook page she wrote:

For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.

Sounds like a preference for the “vertical” relationship between God and self without the “horizontal” relationship where one also relates to God in relationship with others.

Which is understandable, after all, lots of people have this preference and Ms. Rice exhibits a clear dissatisfaction with organized religion–however, I think the real misgiving here is to assume that we can horde our relationship with God for ourselves. There’s an assumption that religion and relationships with God and others aren’t messy and that we don’t have to talk and be in dialogue with those who we disagree with.

And that’s not easy. Not by a longshot. But I believe that to do otherwise is simply a cop-out. I wrote about my own reasons for staying Catholic awhile back. To add to that post I’ll offer this bit:

To give up entirely on Christianity is to give up on one another, in my opinion. It’s to give up on peace and justice for all. It’s to say that we know better than everyone else and perhaps that we know better than God–that we can’t be led to God by someone else and that God won’t send those people to us (and us to others) in the hope that our hearts might be changed.

We have that choice. That choice to get off the bench and get in the game. The choice to live for others and not just for ourselves. The choice to refuse to let those who we think are unjust go unchecked. The choice to bring Jesus to others and to let others bring Christ into our lives, even when we think we have it all figured out. I know I’m grateful to be in dialogue with people who might not agree with me all of the time, even if it might be frustrating at times.

I am sorry that Ms. Rice, who I really like, has decided to stay home. I wonder what the straw that broke the Catholic’s back was?

She adds a bit more on Facebook here:

As I said below, I quit being a Christian. I’m out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.

Anne, know that you are always welcome in any church I belong to. I hope you reconsider. We need you and will miss you and all those who decide to “go it alone.”

But for now, I hope you can “go in peace.”

Thanks to Thom at Ad Dominum for pointing me here.

The Roamin Collars

While not especially current in musical style, I’m sure when the Paulists started this folk group they were a big hit. Paul Snatchko found this on you tube randomly and it made me smile. It also made me pray!

Note that two members of the Roamin Collars went on to be President of the Paulists (John Duffy, CSP and Mike McGarry CSP-who presently holds that office).

Always at the height of creativity, the Paulists continue with of course, Busted Halo®, PNCEA and a bunch of creative parishes and campus ministries around the country.

What do the 2/3 of people who don’t go to mass do on Sunday?

That’s a great question and I’d love to know the answer. I know I’d have the tendency to sleep in, veg out and maybe play with the dog. I’m sure parents spend more time with their kids (I hope) and maybe they teach them a bit about what it means to be a human person of integrity.

Paul Snatchko took up this question the other day on Patheos and had some insightful things to say including this panacea for the problem:

But, for the Church to thrive everywhere in coming years, a case should be made to Catholics who have stopped practicing their faith. Regular Mass-goers need tell their family members and friends about the power of prayer and the sacraments. Church leaders need to regain the credibility that has been lost.

We must let the Holy Spirit work through us — to be, as one homilist said, “fishers of men, not keepers of the aquarium.”

We must show the world that Sundays can be about more than sleeping in.

I would agree. However, I would also say that the performance of ritual might also play a role here. Do we give care to the mass? Are our lectors story-tellers who make the word come alive (Including our Gospel-readers, priests and deacons…)? Do we really offer something of ourselves at the offertory (maybe taking 10% of our collections each week for a particular cause and then also committing 10% of our time to it as a community)? Do we stand together as one body after communion–not just adoring the Eucharist individually but showing our collective belief in Jesus together?

Are our homilies interesting and engaging as well as theologically sound, revealing timeless wisdom? Do we give our feedback to our priests and deacons about how they are and are not speaking to our experience?

If we can’t think about how we are giving people the best experience for the one hour a week that they might think about interacting with us–then we shouldn’t have any expectations about the other 2/3 showing up at all and perhaps we shouldn’t have expectations about the 1/3 that presently comes by staying for a bit longer to get more involved.

What Should Church Music Sound Like?

I don’t really agree with this posting, as I could probably think of some hymns that the author would love that I think would depress Mary Poppins. But judge for yourself.

First Things pens the following:

Clearly, we have too much time on our hands in the office. We put our heads together and came up with a list of what may be the ten worst hymns of all time. Here are the hymns with video links. Take a look and a listen, and let us know what you think!

They’ve added embeds for music in the article, basically ripping the Dan Shutte/David Haas school of liturgical music.

I started to think of what might be some of my favorite hymns and realized that I have more favorite “mass parts” than hymns in general. But it brings up a stylistic question in my own mind:

What should church music sound like?

I enjoy the Jazz Mass at Ascension Church in NYC–not the coolest jazz–but it’s a low-mellow vibe on Sunday night that sets a nice tone for me. I feel the same way about Taize prayer and candlelight masses. But I also love more vibrant styles such as our parish in Buffalo has a phenomenal choir that’s almost Pentecostal in style. What about yours?

Buffalo Welcomes Barack – How Do We Welcome Others to Our Communities?

I thought about going down to stand and watch the motorcade as President Obama made his way to talk to workers specifically about the state of the economy–in particular as it refers to small businesses.

It’s raining here today and I figured I wouldn’t get too close, so instead I decided to travel to another church in the diocese for mass on this Ascension Thursday (just to get a feel for the rest of the diocese) and then I listened to President Obama’s talk and Q&A on NPR later at my desk.

So off I went to a packed house at St. Greg’s where we worshipped together, meditating on the readings for Ascension. It was an ordinary experience of mass, as if the changing of bread and wine into the living Jesus could ever be “ordinary.”

But there were very few of those “spiritual aids” that help us to pray today over there. There was no music, a short and simple homily and decor that was relatively uninspiring. Let me be clear though, it wasn’t an awful experience by any means. It was inspiring to see a large crowd for the Holy Day–albeit most people were well over the age of 50. I also saw one of the students, Marie, who went on our alternative break trip. It was a noontime mass after all, so i didn’t expect many young people.

I would think however, many churches won’t see a large group of young people today. And I think that’s so because simply put, most places don’t go the extra yard to inspire the hearts and minds of young people to attend. Fr. J. Glen Murray, a noted liturgist, once said (and I’ll parphrase, that when people say mass is boring, I think they may be talking about how we “perform” the liturgy. I get upset when I hear people say that because how can you say mass is boring. Especially when priests can be very enthusiastic and the congregation is barely responsive! I don’t think mass is boring, I think most of the time, WE are boring! We are less than intentionally engaged with hurling ourselves into the mystery and bringing our own gifts to the celebration of worship.

When we compare our engagement at mass with other “exciting” ventures. Like say a Presidential visit, what kind of engagement do we bring in comparision?

Now all of that being said, we also might want to admit something when it comes to younger people….

They live in a world of instant gratification and if that is so then it may be particularly difficult to gain their attention and thus their unyielding support. We have to think deeply about how to engage their interest so that they indeed can and will meet the living Jesus, not just at mass, but also in the rest of their more mundane activities.

I think President Obama has some words that we might be able to use for our own purposes:

“I know Buffalo is a big hockey town and while Wayne Gretsky may not be your guy, something great was said about him. He never thought about where the puck was he thought about where the puck should be. The same is true with the economy. What are the needs of our future? We want to have the most efficient private sector along with a government that is lean and mean, but working.”

I would say that we want an engaged future in the Catholic Church and we are far from engaging people’s hearts for Christ in most places. How do we do ritual? Are we even engaged with what WE are doing if we are the presider or lector or musician? Does our enthusiasm lead people to Christ or are we just “ordinary?”

Our President won’t stand for ordinary and neither should we.

And with that salvo, I offer the following reflections about being Catholic today:

1) Do we come to mass with enthusiasm and stand fully engaged with all that we celebrate in the mass?

2) Do we take our faith seriously as Americans and do we bring that into our experience of citizenship? Do we show concern for the least in our society and do we call our leaders to care for the unborn, the elderly, the infirm and the poor–and do we do that with a HEALTHY enthusiasm that respects those who disagree with us as human beings loved by our same creator?

3) Does our enthusiasm for justice and charity reach beyond our parishes (heck, does it even reach most of those in our parish?!) to let them see Christ working through us?

4) Are our eucharistic celebrations truly a celebration? Do they mix the contemplative with the communal to bring people into liminal space where they can more easily feel God’s presence amongst them?

5) Are we honest about ourselves? Are we really doing fine as a parish community or can we do a whole lot better?

What can we do? We can choose to show our enthusiasm for Jesus at least one hour a week at our Sunday or Holy Day celebrations and thus let people see that God makes a difference for us.

That kind of faith is what moves mountains.

And it is there where we always meet the living God.

How to Fill Your Pews

Deacon Greg pointed me to this link from Joe Ferullo and the National Catholic Reporter

My cousin is a business graduate student back at home, and is staying with us while doing a corporate internship in town for his master’s thesis. He’s gone to Disneyland and downtown, to Hollywood and Malibu — but our local parish has made a real impression.

Usually the place is pretty full on Sundays, which is not the case in Italy. Not even in the small town outside of Naples where my cousin grew up and still lives. There, a scattered dozen or so old ladies in traditional black still bother to make church-going a steady habit. An ancient organ heaves out traditional tunes, but no one sings along.

And the priests, my cousin says, are as ancient as everything else — preaching an Italian version of fire-and-brimstone homilies to the few in the pews. He was stunned to meet our pastor, who is a youthful 50 years old and sometimes wears Hawaiian shirts on his days off. His homilies are humorous, thoughtful and straightforward, speaking to everyday life and tying that to the gospel. Same thing when our bishop came recently to deliver the sacrament of Confirmation to my daughter and forty other teenagers her age. He didn’t speak over the heads of kids, nor did he condescend to them — he was simple and direct and genuine.

My cousin said he understood why the church was full, and why the ones back home were not.

Indeed. I’d go a few steps further. You fill the pews by doing the following:

1) Welcoming: Quite often nobody becomes engaged in a community unless someone else comes over and talks with them and gives them some kind of formal welcome. But we often don’t do that at church. The ones that do are the ones that thrive.

2) Good preaching: Now we lay people have little control over this one, but pastors often value feedback and believe that their preaching time is the most important thing they do all week. As someone who gets to do reflections from time to time, I can tell you first hand, this is not easy work–but it’s very much appreciated by the congregation when it is done with care.

3) Singable music: Notice I didn’t necessarily say “good music”. Why? Because we can argue about our individual tastes in music with some preferring Gregorian Chant to Praise and worship–but I think we can agree that if you spin out a catchy little tune people will sing along. They aren’t intimidated by giving them something that they can sing along to and singing with a cantor who has an inviting presence and not an intimidating one that says “I could never keep up with her/him.” It also guards against the “performance” style where the congregation listens and the “performers” sing. That might be entertaining, but it sure ain’t church.

4) No diatribes against modern culture: We all live in this culture and helping people live in the world according to the principles of the church need not be a fire and brimstone activity. When we stand against the culture necessarily at times, we need not denigrate the ENTIRE culture. The world is good. God said it and we believe it. Help our unbelief.

5) Point people to life giving ministry: In short, let people know that there are things going on–but be focused. In many good parishes there is so much going on that we miss most of it because of challenges on our time. And people get overwhelmed by things easily. If we focused our community on one big project per month that everyone could (and wanted to) participate in—that would go a lot farther and keep the community engaged. Now, other smaller things will happen organically and those involved in them will invite others to those events but the parish at large doesn’t need to push those as hard in a litany of various announcements.

6) Size matters: We used to think that we should start small and build on the little event that we can blow up to a large scale event. But in truth, doing something that is a huge event that is done extremely well is far better than a bunch of small events that nobody was particularly engaged in. So build something that attracts a lot of attention to start and then from that excitement, you can build smaller events to keep those excited people coming back. Campus Ministers should do large Habitat projects, mission trips and Alternative Spring Breaks as well as retreats. Parish ministers should think about human concerns and making a difference in the community and having big gala events for celebrations. Both should think about large-scale prayer events that bring people together for mass or prayer for a particular reason.

It’s time to rally the troops and it doesn’t sound like that happens with fire and brimstone in churches that are indeed barely alive.

What Does Your Confirmation Name Mean to You?

Deacon Greg writes on confirmation names:

Young people still choose a confirmation name, a patron saint to model themselves after, and to give them inspiration. (I picked Peter for mine — one of the names that my mother had considered for me when I was born.) Over and over, they came forward as their sponsors announced the names. Francis. Elizabeth. Veronica. John. I found it unexpectedly moving. And I realized: here, before my eyes, was the communion of saints. Here is what we all aspire to become. Here was something so full of promise – a new chapter being written in the lives of these young Catholics. “Behold,” as we hear in Revelation today, “I make all things new.”

I love the part about the communion of saints and how we aspire to be like them. But I began to think about a few things. What do I remember from my own confirmation, some 27 (yikes!) years ago?

Well, I actually remember a lot. Some basics and some uniqueness:

1) I took Francis as my confirmation name because my father is also Michael Francis Hayes. My father also served as my sponsor, which is unusual, but I didn’t really have anyone else that I wanted to serve in that role and the name thing kinda made it relevant in my mind.

2) I was in 7th grade and because I went to Catholic School that year I got to make confirmation a year earlier than the students I had attended public school with.

3) I was also a mess. Three days before my confirmation I took a slide on the playground and tore up my knee and face and bruised my upper lip. (“You should’ve seen the other guy” was my line to the Bishop.)

4) Bishop Joseph Pernicone was presider–an auxillary of the Archdiocese of New York.

5) I remember that nobody would raise their hand to answer the one question that the Bishop asked. “Why would the feast of Pentecost be an appropriate day for Confirmation?” We all probably knew the answer but nobody wanted to seem like the “religious guy.” Looking back, I wish I had the bravery to stand up and give that answer now. But it also makes me more sensitive to the students I serve now, especially when I press them to “come out” as Catholics.

6) I even remember that I stood next to Will Kopps, who was quite a baseball player, even at that age. As an aside, I also remember the graduate league baseball game we had that weekend where we were up a run and someone hit me a ground ball at first base, I corralled the ball nicely and tossed to Will, the pitcher who promptly dropped it. The tying run scored. The next guy hit a shot into center field to drive home the winning run. I was blamed for the loss because I could’ve taken the ball to the bag myself. It was there that I realized that Will could do no wrong–even when he did.

I’m still not quite over that.

But the point is that that week I did a lot of growing up. I learned that sometimes we have to stand up when it’s unpopular. I learned that sometimes those with gifts often get a free pass and others are unjustly blamed for mistakes they didn’t make. I learned that you have to have a thick skin sometimes when others want to kill you.

And I learned that I need to be a lot more like my gentle father, whose name I took that week forever.

And who continues to proudly stand by me, as his son.