Monday, April 30, 2012

So that's it.

So that's it. These words came to my mind Friday afternoon, as the students filed out of the last class of the semester and I turned around to erase the board. I had wished the group a good summer as I said goodbye to them, and several wished me the same as they handed in their final paper. A few minutes later, it occurred to me that the words 'have a good summer' typically have an unspoken corrollary: 'see you in the fall.' In this case, the corrollary would be misplaced: I probably won't see any of my current students in the fall, because the last class of the semester was also the last class that I will teach as a regent. Many of the students that I have taught over the last three years will return to Hawk Hill in the fall, but I will not.

As many readers know, the stage of Jesuit formation known as regency is sandwiched between periods of academic study. After completing studies in philosophy, itself a prelude to anticipated pre-ordination studies in theology, Jesuits move on to a period of full-time apostolic work which is meant both to test and to nurture our ministerial abilities. After successfully completing regency, Jesuits go to study theology in more proximate preparation for ordination to the priesthood. I have been approved for theology and I know where I will be going in the fall, but I'll say nothing more about that now because I've planned another post on the topic.

For now, I'd simply like to say something about the experience of completing regency. In some sense, these reflections are premature: I will meet all of my students again this week for final exams, and I have a lot of grading to do before I can really say that I'm 'done' with the work of the semester. Even so, this seems a good time to express my gratitude for the experience of teaching at Saint Joseph's University for the past three years. The sweat and toil involved in preparing for class and grading student assignments has been more than amply compensated for by the sheer joy of teaching, a joy that I have felt from the first day of my first semester here. As one who anticipates doing more teaching in the future, I hope that this sense of joy remains with me.

Partly by design, universities are transient communities. The undergraduate population changes constantly, forming an almost entirely new student body every four years. Faculty members are generally expected to stick around quite a bit longer, though changes in the profession and in resource allocation at universities are gradually chipping away at the expectation. Even when faculty do stick around a long time, as more than one retired professor has reminded me, they can often be swiftly forgotten on campus once they leave the classroom. With very little amendment, all that I've written here about faculty could also be applied to staff and administrators. In the end, none of us can claim the Ivory Tower as our lasting city.

What am I really trying to say? Well, all things come to an end, and this chapter of my life is ending. I will say more about the start of the new chapter in due time, but, for now, I had better get back to grading papers. AMDG.

Friday, April 27, 2012

St. Rose of Lima in the news.

Yesterday, the online edition of the Boston Globe featured an article on pastoral planning in the Archdiocese of Boston that includes some paragraphs on the church that I grew up in, St. Rose of Lima in Rochester, Massachusetts. First off, the Globe explains what 'pastoral planning' really means, namely, parish clustering:
While talk of closing more Catholic churches has died down, sweeping changes appear to be on the way.

Under a restructuring proposed for the Archdiocese of Boston, nearly every Catholic parish in the Massachusetts communities south of Boston would join one or more other parishes under the leadership of a single pastor.

. . .

Archdiocese officials hope that such collaborations will allow all of its current 288 parishes to survive and attract new parishioners, reversing downward trends that most churches have suffered for years.

Under terms of the draft proposal, the conjoined parishes would form "pastoral service teams" - consisting of priests, deacons, lay ministers, and members of parish and finance councils - that would operate as a united administration led by one pastor. Each parish would remain open and maintain a separate identity.

The Archdiocese of Boston sees streamlining church management as an alternative to shuttering parishes. Since 1990, the archdiocese has closed 125 parishes, and officials see the curent system as unsustainable. Religious educators are retiring and not being replaced, many parishes are struggling to pay their bills, and there is a shortage of priests. Currently, the archdiocese has 346 priests available to work in parish ministry, and in 10 years that number is projected to drop to 180.

Church attendance has also fallen significantly. According to statistics from the Archdiocese of Boston, 70 percent of baptized Catholics attended Mass regularly in 1970. Today, 15.8 percent do.
Later on, the Globe article makes note of St. Rose of Lima and its cluster partner (or, to use the Archdiocese's current term of choice, 'collaborator') Sacred Heart of Middleborough, which have shared a pastor (and, in fact, have been canonically united into a single parish) for the past several years:
One pastor who’s used to the concept of serving multiple parishes is the Rev. Richard P. Crowley, pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Middleborough. In 2005, he began serving St. Rose of Lima in the neighboring town of Rochester.

The 75-year-old pastor travels back and forth regularly between Sacred Heart and St. Rose to celebrate Mass and hear confessions. Driving a white 2010 Ford Fusion, Crowley takes about 25 minutes to make the 14-mile commute between the two churches.

"It’s pretty much all country road; you can’t go that fast," said Crowley.

Already, he has been hearing from parishioners in both towns: Why are you over there so much? Why aren’t you here more?

Under the proposed restructuring, his parish would partner with Saints Martha & Mary in Lakeville, which would essentially mean taking on a third parish. He most likely won’t have to deal with that, because he’s set to retire in June.

Crowley said that if the archdiocese moves forward with the plan, he hopes that the changes are implemented gradually.

"If they didn’t [do it gradually], it would be bedlam," he said.
Though I recognize the inevitability of all this, I'm not terribly optimistic about the likely results. On a basic level, I'm concerned that the move toward greater 'collaboration' will in fact lead to less vibrant parishes and a reduction in the variety of services offered to parishioners. To put it bluntly, I fear that a 'lowest common denominator' approach will prevail in many places, meaning that the aging and shrinking flock of active Catholics who offer the most reliable support to local parishes will be tended to while much less will be done to reach out to the inactive Catholics whose disappearance from the pews has helped make this whole sad process necessary.

To state another concern as plainly as possible, I also fear that this process will be bad for priests, both those who are currently in ministry and those who will be ordained in the future. As parish priests are more thinly spread around the Archdiocese, it will become harder for them to become personally present to their parishioners, that is, to really be pastors. I believe that something important is lost when the parish priest is reduced to a mere sacramental minister, someone who drops in to dispense one sacrament or another and then disappears to allow the laypeople who really run the parish to go on without them. The Church desperately needs priests, and I fear that even fewer young men will have the courage to answer the call as the clergy become less visible on the ground.

Despite my pessimism about the pastoral planning process - and my broader worries about the state of the Church in my home region - I do hope and pray that something good comes from all of this. Perhaps greater collaboration among different parishes will force Catholics on the ground to labor with even greater zeal and creativity to strengthen their communities. Perhaps an even more vivid awareness of the effects of the priest shortage will actually embolden previously complacent young Catholic men to give their lives in service to Christ's flock. Even as I fear for the worst, I will also try to hope for the best. AMDG.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Yom HaShoah.

The poster seen above was produced for this year's observance of Israel's Holocaust Remembrance Day, Yom HaShoah, which happened last Thursday. I discovered this image via Deacon Stephen Hayes' blog Khanya, which ultimately led me to another page where the poster's creator, artist Dorielle Rimmer Halperin, explains what this image is meant to convey:
"My design shows that the shadow of the family lying on the road is the shadow of the family who perished and will always be there with the survivors. But this is also the shadow of their new family of survivors, which is there to remember, to preserve them and their heroism," she said.

"We are often ‘asked’ to remember the Holocaust through famous photographs, movies and the ‘usual’ characters. I tried to remove the memory from what we are so accustomed to seeing, removing a little of the ‘national’ collective memory and making it more personal by showing how it comes into the homes of every one of us and casts a shadow over our daily lives."
What strikes me about this image is the way that it reminds us, in a simple but powerful way, that Holocaust survivors are an aging group; indeed, the youngest people who lived through the Shoah are now in their seventies and eighties. I'm very interested in how the death of the last living witnesses of an event changes our perception of that event, and I've occasionally written about that phenomenon on this blog, particularly in the context of the disappearance over the past few years of the last remaining veterans of the First World War. Will the words 'never again' sound different when none are left who can speak about their own experiences during the Holocaust? I suppose that we will find out in the coming years.

A couple of weeks ago, for reasons unrelated to the coming of Yom HaShoah, I asked the students in my freshman course how many of them had either personally met a survivor of the Holocaust or heard one speak at a public event. Five out of twenty-one students in the class raised their hands, which was more than I had expected. My own encounters with Europeans who lived through that period have been fortunately varied: hearing from survivors of the concentration camps has been valuable, but so has speaking with a German Jesuit who served in the Wehrmacht and with an Austrian woman who huddled in a bomb shelter as American bombs fell on her home city. I fear that future generations will be poorer for lacking the opportunity for such encounters, and I hope that those of us who find ourselves in between can pass on something of value to those who come after us. AMDG.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Archbishop and Mrs. Gaillot.

The above photograph was carried in the pages of Life fifty years ago this month, capturing a dramatic meeting that occurred on Tuesday, April 17, 1962 between 85-year-old New Orleans Archbishop Joseph Francis Rummel and 41-year-old housewife and community activist Una Gaillot. This image has been making the round of the Catholic blogosphere this week with appearances at Conciliaria and on The Deacon's Bench, offering a reminder of a sad though fascinating chapter in American Catholic history.

Earlier in the spring of 1962, Archbishop Rummel had announced that Catholic schools in New Orleans would be desegregated at the start of the 1962-63 school year. The mother of two parochial school students, Mrs. Gaillot led grassroots opposition to the Archbishop's decision. As president of a pro-segregation group called Save Our Nation, Inc., Gaillot declared that "it's God's law to segregate," directly challenging Rummel's view that Catholic teachings supported integration and urging her fellow Catholics to resist what she regarded as heresy. Archbishop Rummel wrote privately to Mrs. Gaillot urging her to back down and accept his decision, but she refused.

On April 16, 1962 - which happened to be Monday of Holy Week - Archbishop Rummel announced the excommunication of Una Gaillot and two other outspoken opponents of integration, Judge Leander Perez and political activist Jackson Ricau. As seen in the above photo, Mrs. Gaillot confronted the Archbishop the very next day at a public event on the grounds of Notre Dame Seminary. This image captures the drama of the moment: the elderly Archbishop, dignified and unyielding; Mrs. Gaillot kneeling, her face unseen and her intentions unclear to the viewer; the women in the background looking on with what appears to be a mixture of surprise and impatience. What the image doesn't reveal is that Una Gaillot knelt not in penitence but in defiance: she did not ask Archbishop Rummel for forgiveness, but instead urged him to admit that he was wrong to excommunicate her. Archbishop Rummel offered no reply and walked away in silence.

A couple of years ago, I heard a Jesuit historian knowledgeable about this period say that Una Gaillot was still alive and that she remained unrepentant; I haven't found any indication to the contrary, so I presume that Una Gaillot is still living today, unreconciled even in her early nineties. The most recent statement on point that I could find on the Internet comes from this 2004 article:
. . . Of the three, only Gaillot is still alive. She remains committed to her segregationist views and defiantly outside the church. She believes her excommunication violates church law. It appears that she has not set foot in a Catholic church since 1962.

Although she is close to her children, she refused to attend her sons' weddings, she said. She watched one son's ceremony through a church's rear double doors held open for a mother's benefit.

She will not give in. But defiance takes its toll, she acknowledged. "If you only knew how hard it is. It used to be harder; it's starting to help."

"But Good Friday," - she hesitated, tearing up - "Damn, Good Friday's hard. And Easter Sunday. Those two days are hard. Because I can't go to church."
These are poignant words, the testimony of a woman who seems to remain a Catholic believer in an interior sense but cannot bring herself to publicly reconcile with the Church; Una Gaillot feels the pain of separation, but she seems unable to do what is needed to repair the breach. Only a person who knows that the faith of the Church is true can utter this kind of 'non serviam,' the admission that one knows what one ought to do but still cannot bring oneself to do it.

In this Easter Season, when so many of us unhesitatingly affirm that Christ is risen, perhaps we can take this story as a kind of warning. Even with our faith invigorated by the experience of Easter, do we resist really doing what we know and affirm to be right? Though we may wish to follow the Risen Christ whom we profess, is there some obstacle - large or small - that consistently holds us back? AMDG.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Christ is risen!

Prayers and good wishes for readers who celebrate Easter today in conformity with the Julian Paschalion. If you fall into this category, I hope that at the time of this writing you are either (a) in church, (b) feasting, or (c) enjoying a good rest after (a) and (b) - in which case you'll probably read these words long after they were posted! For the edification of all on this Feast of Feasts, here are some sights and sounds of Pascha, beginning in the above video with a small part of Paschal Matins as celebrated at Holy Cross Orthodox Church in High Point, North Carolina.

Here is a second selection from the Paschal liturgy, words and music beloved by many (myself included) sung in the above video by the St. Barnabas Orthodox Church Choir:

The Angel cried to the Lady full of grace:
Rejoice, rejoice O pure Virgin!
Again, I say rejoice! Your son is risen
from his three days in the tomb.
With himself he has raised all the dead.
Rejoice, rejoice O ye people!
Shine, Shine! Shine O new Jerusalem!
The Glory of the Lord has shone on you.
Exult now, exult and be glad O Zion!
Be radiant, O pure Theotokos, in the Resurrection,
the Resurrection of your Son!

Finally, from St. Elias Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Brampton, Ontario, here is the Paschal Troparion ("Christ is risen from the dead / Trampling down death by death / And upon those in the tombs bestowing life!") sung in Greek, Latin, Church Slavonic, French, and Portuguese - a collection of languages which, for various reasons, I'm delighted to hear together in one place.

Once again, prayers and good wishes for all. Christ is risen! AMDG.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Church of the future.

Today's edition of the Wall Street Journal includes an op-ed by Anne Hendershott and Christopher White on the present and future face of the Catholic Church:
In his Holy Thursday homily at St. Peter's Basilica on April 5, Pope Benedict XVI denounced calls from some Catholics for optional celibacy among priests and for women's ordination. The pope said that "true renewal" comes only through the "joy of faith" and "radicalism of obedience."

And renewal is coming. After the 2002 scandal about sexual abuse by clergy, progressive Catholics were predicting the end of the celibate male priesthood in books like "Full Pews and Empty Altars" and "The Death of Priesthood." Yet today the number of priestly ordinations is steadily increasing.

A new seminary is to be built near Charlotte, N.C., and the archdiocese of Washington, D.C., has expanded its facilities to accommodate the surge in priestly candidates. Boston's Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley recently told the National Catholic Register that when he arrived in 2003 to lead that archdiocese he was advised to close the seminary. Now there are 70 men in Boston studying to be priests, and the seminary has had to turn away candidates for lack of space.

According to the Vatican's Central Office of Church Statistics, there were more than 5,000 more Catholic priests world-wide in 2009 than there were in 1999. This is welcome news for a growing Catholic population that has suffered through a real shortage of priests.
Hendershott and White offer an admittedly anecdotal perspective, short on hard numbers and in need of more analysis and qualification than can reasonably be expected in a newspaper opinion piece. (In direct response to the WSJ op-ed, CARA offers more numbers and analysis on its blog.) The authors' choice of terms also invites greater scrutiny, as the precise content of words like "traditional" and "progressive" varies a lot depending on one's agenda and viewpoint.

Having offered the above caveats, I will say that I think that Hendershott and White are accurate in their general assessment of the generation gap that separates some Baby Boom Catholics from many of the most religiously-engaged Gen Y and Millennial Catholics:
. . . Many boomer priests and scholars were shaped by what they believed was an "unfulfilled promise" of Vatican II to embrace modernity. Claiming that the only salvation for the church would be to ordain women, remove the celibacy requirement and empower the laity, theologians such as Paul Lakeland, a Fairfield University professor and former Jesuit priest, have demanded that much of the teaching authority of the bishops and priests be transferred to the laity.

This aging generation of progressives continues to lobby church leaders to change Catholic teachings on reproductive rights, same-sex marriage and women's ordination. But it is being replaced by younger men and women who are attracted to the church because of the very timelessness of its teachings.

They are attracted to the philosophy, the art, the literature and the theology that make Catholicism countercultural. They are drawn to the beauty of the liturgy and the church's commitment to the dignity of the individual. They want to be contributors to that commitment — alongside faithful and courageous bishops who ask them to make sacrifices. It is time for Catholics to celebrate their arrival.
What do I make of all this? Well, as I have noted here before, I am not a Millennial. Nonetheless, I do spend a lot of time with Millennial Catholics and I can relate to them in various ways. Like their elders, Millennial Catholics inhabit a spectrum that ranges from deeply devout to practically indifferent, with many somewhere in the mushy middle. Even so, I have found that, as a group, Catholics in their teens and twenties who are religiously observant (an important qualification) tend to hem more closely to traditional doctrines and practices than members of earlier generations did at the same age. While tradition-minded Catholic teens and twenty-somethings may be a minority among members of their generational cohort, they seem to make up a larger share of church-going young people than would have been the case ten or twenty years ago - or at least that's my sense, based primarily on personal experience and others' impressions but without the benefit of statistical analysis.

Much of what I wrote in the preceding paragraph stands in need of further explanation or qualification. Even among 'observant' young Catholics, one finds a variety of groups or subcultures with widely divergent commitments, including single-issue anti-abortion activists, 'faith and justice' enthusiasts, neocon culture warriors, 'consistent ethic of life' advocates, 'praise and worship' types, and trads who prefer the Tridentine Mass to the Novus Ordo. Some actively Catholic Millennials belong to none of the preceding groups, while others may belong to more than one; the goals and priorities of some may stand in direct opposition to others, even though all are motivated by a common faith. On a basic level, all would surely affirm their support for a robust and vigorous sense of Catholic identity - even though they may disagree among themselves on some of the particulars.

All of this gives me a sense of great hope for the future of the Catholic Church. I have been heartened to see many Millennial Catholics embrace the tradition that they have received by their own choice and on their own terms, unencumbered by the neuroses that are particular to their elders. Every generation has its own conflicts and divisions - Millennials certainly have theirs, but that's a topic for another time. For now, I would simply like to sound a very hopeful note regarding the Church of the future. AMDG.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Pascha at Dachau.

Via Orthocath, here is the moving story of "a Paschal liturgy like no other" - the celebration of Easter by a group of Orthodox Christians imprisoned at Dachau, held days after American soldiers liberated the camp in April 1945. These are the recollections of Gleb Rahr, one of the former prisoners who took part in the celebration:
There were Orthodox priests, deacons, and a group of monks from Mount Athos among the prisoners. But there were no vestments, no books whatsoever, no icons, no candles, no prosphoras, no wine. . . . Efforts to acquire all these items from the Russian church in Munich failed, as the Americans just could not locate anyone from that parish in the devastated city. Nevertheless, some of the problems could be solved. The approximately four hundred Catholic priests detained in Dachau had been allowed to remain together in one barrack and recite mass every morning before going to work. They offered us Orthodox the use of their prayer room in "Block 26," which was just across the road from my own "block."

. . . A creative solution to the problem of the vestments was also found. New linen towels were taken from the hospital of our former SS-guards. When sewn together lengthwise, two towels formed an epitrachilion and when sewn together at the ends they became an orarion. Red crosses, originally intended to be worn by the medical personnel of the SS guards, were put on the towel-vestments.

On Easter Sunday, May 6th (April 23rd according to the Church calendar) —which ominously fell that year on Saint George the Victory-Bearer’s Day —Serbs, Greeks and Russians gathered at the Catholic priests’ barracks. . . .

In the entire history of the Orthodox Church there has probably never been an Easter service like the one at Dachau in 1945. Greek and Serbian priests together with a Serbian deacon wore the make-shift "vestments" over their blue and gray-striped prisoner’s uniforms. Then they began to chant, changing from Greek to Slavonic, and then back again to Greek. The Easter Canon, the Easter Sticheras—everything was recited from memory. The Gospel — "In the beginning was the Word" — also from memory.

And finally, the Homily of Saint John Chrysostom — also from memory. A young Greek monk from the Holy Mountain stood up in front of us and recited it with such infectious enthusiasm that we shall never forget him as long as we live. Saint John Chrysostomos himself seemed to speak through him to us and to the rest of the world as well! Eighteen Orthodox priests and one deacon — most of whom were Serbs — participated in this unforgettable service. Like the sick man who had been lowered through the roof of a house and placed in front of the feet of Christ the Savior, the Greek Archimandrite Meletios was carried on a stretcher into the chapel, where he remained prostrate for the duration of the service.
To read the rest of the story, click here. AMDG.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Christos Voskrese!

As I do each year, I would like to mark the Feast of the Resurrection on this blog by sharing the Paschal Sermon of St. John Chrysostom:

Are there any who are devout and love God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!

Are there any who are grateful servants?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!

If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward.

If any have come after the third hour,
let them with gratitude join in the Feast!

And those who arrived after the sixth hour,
let them not doubt; for they too shall sustain no loss.

And if any have delayed until the ninth hour,
let them not hesitate; but let them come too.

And those who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let them not be afraid by reason of their delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to those who came at the eleventh hour,
as well as to those who toiled from the first.

To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!
First and last alike receive your reward.

Rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!

You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!

Feast royally, for the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry.

Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed death by enduring it.

He destroyed Hades when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.

Isaiah foretold this when he said,
"You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."

Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.

It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.

It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God.

It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.

O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!

Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ, having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

Christ is Risen! AMDG.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Es ist vollbracht.

This post is a 're-blog' of something I posted last year on Good Friday, but I think that some things are worth sharing more than once. As an aid to reflection on the passion and death of Jesus Christ on the cross, here's the aria "Es ist vollbracht" ("It is finished" or "It is accomplished") from Johann Sebastian Bach's Johannes-Passion, BWV 245. This video comes from a 1985 performance by Concentus Musicus Wien and the Tölzer Knabenchor, directed by Nikolaus Harnoncourt; the soloists are Panito Iconomou (alto) and Christophe Coin (playing the viola da gamba, a Baroque instrument).

In the Johannes-Passion, this aria comes immediately after Jesus' final words on the cross - "Es ist vollbracht" in the German text - and right before the Evangelist announces Jesus' death. Given below in the original German and in an English translation from the Bach Cantatas Website, the words of the aria move from mournful lament to sure yet somber faith in Christ's final victory:

Es ist vollbracht!
O Trost vor die gekränkten Seelen!
Die Trauernacht
Läßt nun die letzte Stunde zählen.
Der Held aus Juda siegt mit Macht
Und schließt den Kampf.
Es ist vollbracht!


It is accomplished!
What comfort for all suffering souls!
The night of sorrow
now reaches its final hours.
The hero from Judah triumphs in his might
and brings the strife to an end.
It is accomplished!

Please know of my continued prayers for a blessed Triduum. AMDG.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

On beginning the Paschal Triduum.

As I prepare to begin the Paschal Triduum this year, I find myself thinking of some choice words offered by a brother Jesuit who helped to direct two liturgical choirs during his years in philosophy studies. Working with the two choirs took up a lot of his time: each week, he devoted many hours to studying scores and leading rehearsals - all while trying to keep up with the demands of graduate work. Even though he loved working with the two choirs, this Jesuit also admitted that this extracurricular commitment could be rather exhausting; sometimes, he said, it stopped feeling like a labor of love and became "another damn thing" - one more burdensome responsibility among others encumbering a busy life.

Another damn thing. If you're heavily involved in church life, the Paschal Triduum can start to feel like that at times. The liturgies of the Triduum offer much of great beauty and depth, words to uplift the soul and ritual actions that remind us just what the Christian life is all about. Of course, the Triduum is also a lot of work for those who have to plan and execute the various services. The temptation to view the Triduum as 'another damn thing' can be very strong, especially when the stresses of one's 'ordinary' life refuse to let up for the three days: there are still pages to read or write, bills to pay, mouths to feed, promises to keep. We may look forward to these days all year long - I certainly do - but then, when the Triduum actually arrives, we may nonetheless find ourselves so preoccupied with practicalities that we lose the chance to focus on the deeper meaning of these days.

As I think back on my experiences of the Paschal Triduum in the years since I took vows, I realize that these are always very busy days for me. As a graduate student at Fordham and as a faculty member at Saint Joseph's, I have invariably had some major academic projects hanging over my head as the Triduum rolls around: papers to write or to grade, reports to complete, and so on. Having become heavily involved in the liturgical life of parishes in New York and Philadelphia, I've also learned to count on not being able to get much academic work done during the Triduum for the simple reason that I spend much of my time during these days either in church or on the way there (my parish in New York was about an hour away from Fordham by subway, so I spent a good part of each day of the Triduum in transit; my parish here is about a twenty-minute drive from campus, though congested highways and quirky Philadelphia traffic lights can lengthen the trip considerably). As I work through the Triduum, praying through the Triduum sometimes seems an elusive goal.

In spite of the busyness of these days, I find that a moment always comes when the overwhelming reality of it all breaks through, typically during the Paschal liturgy itself, when some word or some sight grips me in a new and different way and leads me to think, "Oh yeah, this is what all that work was for!" As I prepare to enter into these busy yet ultimately exhilarating days, I pray that all of us who gather to celebrate the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord may enjoy such moments of illumination - moments when God reminds us that the Paschal Triduum is much more than 'another damn thing.' AMDG.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Herreweghe's Bach for Palm Sunday.

Yesterday, I went up to New York to hear Belgian conductor Philippe Herreweghe and his own Collegium Vocale Gent perform J. S. Bach's Matthäus-Passion at Alice Tully Hall. The Matthäus-Passion is one of my favorite musical works; indeed, Nikolaus Harnoncourt's 1970 recording of this masterpiece would almost certainly take first place on my personal list of Desert Island Discs. The first live performance of the Matthäus-Passion that I attended took place four years ago on Good Friday; last night's concert fell on the Vigil of Palm Sunday, making Herreweghe's Bach my introduction to Holy Week this year.

Though written for Good Friday, the Matthäus-Passion can also help us to begin Holy Week. The opening chorus, Kommt, ihr Töchter, helft mir klagen, heard here in a 2010 performance by none other than Philippe Herreweghe and Collegium Vocale Gent, offers us something akin to an Ignatian application of the senses, exhorting us to take a closer look at Christ's passion so as to better understand its meaning for us. Here is the original German text, followed by an English translation provided by the Bach Cantatas Website:

Kommt, ihr Töchter, helft mir klagen,
Sehet - Wen? - den Bräutigam,
Seht ihn - Wie? - als wie ein Lamm!

O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig
Am Stamm des Kreuzes geschlachtet,

Sehet, - Was? - seht die Geduld,

Allzeit erfunden geduldig,
Wiewohl du warest verachtet

Seht - Wohin? - auf unsre Schuld;

All Sünd hast du getragen,
Sonst müßten wir verzagen.

Sehet ihn aus Lieb und Huld
Holz zum Kreuze selber tragen!

Erbarm dich unser, o Jesu!

Kommt, ihr Töchter, helft mir klagen,
Sehet - Wen? - den Bräutigam,
Seht ihn - Wie? - als wie ein Lamm!


Come, you daughters [of Zion], help me to lament,
See - Whom ? - the bridegroom,
See him - How ? - like a lamb!

O Lamb of God, innocent
Slaughtered on the beam of the cross,

See – What ? - see his patience,

Always found to be patient
No matter how much you were despised.

See – Where ? - our guilt;

All our sins you have borne
Otherwise we would have to despair.

See how from love and grace
He bears the wood of the cross himself!

Have mercy on us, O Jesus!

Come, you daughters, help me to lament,
See - Whom ? - the bridegroom,
See him - How ? - like a lamb!

May these words help us to follow the events of Holy Week more faithfully and attentively, that we may welcome the Resurrection of Christ with purer hearts and deeper faith. AMDG.