Sunday, October 23, 2016

Things seemed better in the old days...

Maybe you don’t want to read this. It’s a little pessimistic)

I suppose it is the right of old men to reminisce. I have been thinking of the world of my childhood. I grew up in a suburb that is now rather elegant, but when I was a child it was almost the end of the train line to downtown. It wasn’t quite rural, but Groucho Marx and his brothers once had a chicken farm there and we did go picking sweet corn in the next town over, which has also become a rather pricey place to live.

Life was as it was always meant to be. We would sit on our front porches on hot summer days, because those days were pre-air conditioning and some of them even pre-TV! At night we would quite literally “watch” the radio.  There was one telephone in the front hall. It was black. There was one car in the garage. It was old. In summer, all the kids would rush out of the houses after breakfast and chores, and sometimes morning Mass. We would hike in the forest; play in the street or in the parish parking lot (which we called the playground). We would pick mulberries in summer and apples in the fall. We would skate on the old mill pond in winter, or go canoeing on the creek in summer. There were ball games and camping trips and dances in the school hall.

We were not rich, and no one in our neighborhood was rich. We were seven kids, and most of the people in our neighborhood had families that size. Clothes were patched, and handed down and we ate a lot of hamburger and tuna casserole. Everything except the drugstore was closed on Sunday and after church life was the Sunday funnies and napping on the worn old sofa in the front room and perhaps going outside after a big Sunday dinner to play “ghost tag” in the twilight and maybe even catch lightning bugs.

The war had been over for a decade, but we worried about the godless communists. Life revolved around the parish and things deemed to be the way they were supposed to be. They were the way they had been before the wars and the way they would always be. I had no idea that the civilization that so valued friends, faith and family, had died 30 years before I was born and I was just enjoying a memory, a ghost of a world that may once actually have existed, but was now evaporating like a morning mist.

Europe and her colonies committed suicide in the first and second world wars. The monarchs and the potentates threw it all away out of greed and arrogance. Women lost their unique dignity as mothers and teachers to become industrial wage slaves as their husbands went off to kill and die for the glory of the cause, the nation, and the wars to end all wars. Certainly there were sweat shops cotton mills and rural poverty and the dignity of woman had been assailed, but what was new was that the masculinization of the world was now a virtuous thing. The enslavement of women by the industrial revolution was made virtuous by war. After all, everyone had to do their part for the war effort, and mother dearest became Rosie the Riveter. The violence of a century of war made the domestic virtues of peace seem obsolete.

Masculinity was in. Femininity was out. Women are and always have been the mainstays of culture. The authors, the scientists, the explorers may have been men, but the creators of stability have always been women.  What good is a civilization to the homeless? When there are no women, there is no civilization. There has never been a feminist movement. There has been a masculinist movement. The things men do are important. Doctors, lawyer soldiers, these are important. A wife and mother?  What good is that? So it is war that has killed western womanhood, and thus killed civilization. Where there are no women there is no future. Only a woman can give life. We are facing perhaps the greatest crisis in the history of humanity. For the first time in human history the population is beginning to shrink, not because of war or natural disaster, but because of a failure of motherhood.

Beginning around 2050, it is quite possible that the population of the world will begin to shrink, and to do so irretrievably. When there are no children there is no economy. Economies are what allow people to do things like eat and live in buildings. Like the pied piper of Hamlin, the lure of wealth and power, the lure of war, and masculine aggression have stolen all the children leaving a dying civilization of old people. 

We in the Church are living in as much of a fool’s paradise as I did in the 1950’s. With the death of European civilization, the Church in Europe has also died. She died in the trenches of World War One, when men blamed God for the disaster they had caused. They came back with shaken faith, and now perhaps four percent of Europe and her colonies all told, believe in the Catholic faith in any realistic way. The Church flourishes in Africa and Asia, but not in sad, suicidal Europe and her suicidal children in her former colonies. 

We in the European/Colonial Church still fool ourselves by carrying on business as usual. I wonder how long it is before a person who has died realizes he is dead? It seems some ghosts linger for years. I suppose they go to ghost meetings to discuss the situation.

Happy Halloween.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

How do I answer those who say that Science has proven there is no God?

Dear Rev. Know-it-all,

How do I deal with atheist friends who say that Science has proven there is no God?

Yours ever, 
Bea Liever

Dear Bea,

Just tell them they are wrong. God most certainly exists. In English, God is defined as the Supreme Being. Just ask them, “You mean there is no Supreme Being?” Don’t ask them about a creator or an almighty spirit or a Flying Spaghetti Monster, for that matter. Is there a Supreme Being? 

God is simply the greatest reality. If the universe is somehow self-creating and self-perpetuating, then I suppose the universe is God. Perhaps this Supreme Being is an unfeeling unthinking cluster of cosmic forces. Perhaps God is existence itself. The question is not, “Does God exist?” God exists by definition. The greatest reality is, by very definition, God. So the real question is not, “Does God exist?” The question should be, “What is the nature of God?’

I am an adherent of a strange religion that claims the essence, the heart, of the Supreme Being came into the world 2,000 years in the form of a Jewish carpenter. He was born in a barn and was publicly executed as a troublemaker by the civil and religious authorities. Not only was he publicly executed, but he was tortured to death over the course of about six hours. This all powerful Supreme Being was pinned to a cross just as a scientist might pin a beautiful butterfly to the backing of a display case. Why would I or anyone else for that matter think that this blood-spattered loser was the Supreme Being?

Simple He rose from the dead.

We hold that he was life that couldn’t die. 500 of his followers claimed they saw him after he came back to life. Most of them were so convinced that they were killed for claiming that it was true and they never recanted or backtracked. They preferred death. He has been appearing ever since. I know two or three people who claim to have seen him. I have never seen him, at least in human form, but I feel his presence around me and know in my heart that he is very much alive. If you look a little more deeply at this absurd religion that says God could be abused and victimized by a tyrannical government you may just find the most beautiful idea in history. The all-powerful Supreme Being became powerless for the sake of love. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son… (Jn 3:16)

I once heard a story about a poor girl, a Christian, who, having received a scholarship, attended a summer camp for children of privilege. Late one night, sitting around a campfire, the girls were talking about the luxuries they enjoyed. One girl talked about her father’s yacht, the next mentioned her father’s polo ponies, and so on. As the boasting went around the circle, the less privileged girl wondered what she could say. There was no worldly status or luxury in her life. Then she remembered the greatest thing she had. 

When it came her turn to speak, she simply said, “My best friend died for me.”  Her friendship with the Risen Jesus of Nazareth made all the luxuries of the rich seem like cheap baubles. They had things. She had love.  My absurd religion teaches that the Supreme Being, the greatest force in the universe, the creating power that called everything into being, is Love, self-sacrificing Love. We believe that, not only is the supreme reality true love, but that it can be had simply for the asking. It is available to anyone and everyone if a person simply says and means something like, “Lord, I want to know you and to give my life in exchange for yours.” Forget the yammering of philosophers and fanatics for a moment. It really is that simple. Let the greatest reality inside or outside the universe love you. You will most certainly learn to love Him in return.

The Rev. Know-it-all

PS When they challenge your absurd medieval religion, ask your atheist friends if they want to pray with you. They might back off or they might say, “Okay.” Have them close their eyes and then you simply ask God to bless them in words an eight-year-old might use. Say something like, “Dear Jesus, thank you for letting me know you. My friend wants to know you too. Help him (or her) with the problems they face and give them real peace. Thank you.” I’ve done this countless times and more often than not, the results are amazing. 

Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Wonderful World of Words - part 7

The Rev. Know-it-all’s Wonderful World of Words! (Continued)

Liturgy. Here is another fancy word that people started using back in the 1960’s. We were taught all about liturgy. We had liturgy committees and liturgy planners and liturgists and para-liturgies and lots of other permutations of the word. Priests dare not say Mass without first consulting the liturgy committee. When I was in seminary we had something called the “theme liturgy.” Liturgy planners would ask, “What is the theme of the liturgy today?” I remember an old ordained curmudgeon who when asked that question said, “The theme of the liturgy today is the saving death of Jesus on the cross.” The liturgists didn’t get it. The world sprouted gloriously with home-brewed liturgists who had taken a course or two on “liturgy” which gave them the right to intervene in anything father was about to do. It was no longer enough to “say Mass.”

To simply “say Mass” showed an entire lack of creativity. Unless one prepared a theme and its unfolding by means of a number of exceedingly boring meetings, one was simply going through the motions. During Lent and Advent back at Bathsheba Bible College where I attended St. Dymphna’s college seminary, each dorm was assigned to choose and execute a theme for the liturgy of the day, Morning Prayer, noon Mass excuse me Noon Eucharistic Liturgy and Evening prayer. Once evening prayer consisted solely in the playing of the recorded sound track of the Wizard of Oz. 

That however was not the low point. That occurred at Morning Prayer a few weeks later. There we were about 300 sleepy adolescents gathered in chapel at 8 AM, when we heard the roar of an engine in the back of chapel and one of the liturgy planners did a wheelie on his motorcycle up the main aisle. The theme of the liturgy was the movie Easy Rider. You see the movies, we were taught, were
full of Christ figures and Easy Rider represented Christ the counter-cultural rebel, killed by those who just didn’t understand “groovieness.”  That was to the best of my memory the last time we had Evening or Morning Prayer in the seminary.

I was taught that liturgy is a Greek word that means the “work of the people”.  We were the people and we could do whatever the blazes we wanted to express ourselves at the community gathering that is the LITURGY.  Liturgy after all means the work of the people.

This is not exactly true. During religious festivals in pre-Christian Greece, a wealthy citizen or a group of people might fund a religious drama. These were not simply morality plays, but a true calling up of the stories of the gods and the heroes of old. They were profoundly religious and had all the aura of a religious service in which the ancient Greeks could enter into the sacred world that had founded their cities and culture. Because they were sponsored by private citizens they were called a public (leito-) work (ergon). This is a bit different than the work of the people (tou laou in Greek.)

In the grand old days of the sixties we decided that since the liturgy was the work of the people we could do whatever we wanted to it. It was ours, not theirs. Power to the people, brother!  (Oops! and sister) Ah, the sixties! How I wish could remember them.  

A public work is quite different than the people’s work. A public work belongs to a whole community, and not to a small segment of it. Mass is the work of the whole Church past, present and future spread out through the world and through the ages. I cannot simply change what belongs to a whole community just because I think my particular spin is better than everyone else’s. The Mass is not my property. I belong to the Mass, especially if I am ordained as bishop, priest or deacon. We are the servants of the people, not its owners. So the next time someone who has taken a course in liturgy tells you that liturgy means the work of the people, you can say, “Well, that’s not quite true.  

Trust me. You will feel gloriously smug.