Not So Alien

comet ISONNice narrative on BBC about the origins of Earth’s oceans. For me, I’d rather see a little more evidence on the premise. Science has waffled back and forth on this point for awhile. But I think “alien” origins of water are likely.

It’s interesting, that use of the term “alien.” By the standard of the article author, Earth was formed by the conglomeration of bodies alien to one another. If we’re all sharing one happy solar system, maybe we’re not so alien to one another–meaning Venus, Earth, Mars, and other planets. We can say “extra-terrestrial,” or “beyond Earth” with more accuracy.

When I think of “alien” I think of other star systems. Something totally out there. And I don’t think of other continents or even other countries. Immigrants are just that, regardless of their legal status: not alien, but just travelers, pilgrims, and movers. Not at all alien. Western culture would be better off comet-impacting that thought out of its head. We become collectives as we human beings gather and conglomerate. Sisters and brothers once sundered, now together, and largely for the better.

Image: Comet ISON from Hubble Space Telescope.

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PS 29: The Passion Sunday Procession

Jesus arms outstretchedRemember, you can check the full document Paschale Solemnitatis on this site, among many on the internet.

If Passion Sunday is notable for what people “get,” namely a green branch, the liturgical highlight is the procession after the proclamation of the Gospel.

29. The commemoration of the entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem has, according to ancient custom, been celebrated with a solemn procession, in which the faithful in song and gesture imitate the Hebrew children who went to meet the Lord singing “Hosanna”. (Cf. Roman Missal, Passion Sunday (Palm Sunday) n. 9)

Some believers–and I might count myself among them–are uneasy about playacting an event. That it reflects Christ’s triumph over death and/or at the end of time does make it go down easier. But we should realize that many times during Holy Week, we get a “wink,” as it were: a reminder that betrayal, persecution, suffering, and death are not the end. If only we were able to take our approach to sin in this way: acknowledge the reality, but rely more heavily on God’s grace.

By the book, a parish gets to do one big procession, in which people gather in a place other than the main worship space:

The procession may take place only once, before the Mass which has the largest attendance, even if this should be in the evening either of Saturday or Sunday. The congregation should assemble in a secondary church or chapel or in some other suitable place distinct from the church to which the procession will move.

How the procession aligns:

In this procession the faithful carry palm or other branches. The priest and the ministers, also carrying branches, precede the people. (Cf. Ceremonial of Bishops, 270)

A brief reminder about the palm “or other” branches.

The palms or branches are blessed so that they can be carried in the procession. The palms should be taken home, where they will serve as a reminder of the victory of Christ which they celebrated in the procession.

How often do First Worlders use “other” branches?

Pastors should make every effort to ensure that this procession in honor of Christ the King be so prepared and celebrated that it is of great spiritual significance in the life of the faithful.

What sort of preparations have you experienced that have helped this aspect? Or is the procession something of a must-do imposed on one of the worshiping communities of a parish? How might we move beyond that? Is it more than getting children excited?

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On My Bookshelf: The Housekeeper and the Professor

the housekeeper and the professorI was chatting with one of the library staff last week, lamenting (as usual) about the lack of good science fiction on their shelves that I haven’t read. I’d like a different kind of book, I mused out loud.

My friend suggested Yoko Ogawa’s charming and brief novel. It has numbers. It has baseball. It has a person with a memory impairment. As a result of a brain injury, the professor of the title has about eighty minutes of memory before the past fades into nothing.

His mysterious sister-in-law hires a single mother from an agency to prepare meals, keep house, and otherwise care for a man who seems to have lost all but the last hour and twenty minutes.

I vaguely recall one or two movies and two or three books from the past decade in which people have damaged abilities to remember. Ms Ogawa’s book isn’t really derivative of these other works, most of which explore the impact on romance. In this one, a gifted teacher breaks through the brain’s reset. Unlikely relationships are formed between the professor, his housekeeper, and her ten-year-old son.

180 pages: I read through it in two nights. If a reader has any affinity for numbers, it will be even more enjoyable. But a math mind is not required to find this novel delightful. Highly recommended.

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Humanae Vitae 26: Family Apostolate

sperm and eggHumanae Vitae is online at the Vatican site, and the text highlighted below is © Copyright – Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

26. Among the fruits that ripen if the law of God be resolutely obeyed, the most precious is certainly this, that married couples themselves will often desire to communicate their own experience to others. Thus it comes about that in the fullness of the lay vocation will be included a novel and outstanding form of the apostolate by which, like ministering to like, married couples themselves by the leadership they offer will become apostles to other married couples. And surely among all the forms of the Christian apostolate it is hard to think of one more opportune for the present time. (See Lumen Gentium 35, 41, 40-45; Gaudium et Spes 48-49; Apostolicam Actuositatem 11)

I would also think that God is well able to work grace in a couple when the law is less than “resolutely obeyed.” A significant caution might be a situation in which adherence to the law results in a sort of distance from other couples, especially women and men who have tried but are unable to achieve a high degree of adherence. When it comes to human beings, my sense is that mercy is a more convincing witness than perfection. Or pretending to perfection.

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Confusing Charity and Justice, Again

Ross Douthat is well-regarded across the political spectrum for his writing and thoughtfulness. As for me, I prefer writers who produce fiction to those of non-fiction. One basic test of Catholic thoughtfulness is the ability ad willingness to distinguish between charity and justice. Mr Douthat fails here. From his conclusion:

Mere religious affiliation has weakened for the poor and working class as well.

From a religious perspective, this a signal failure: A church that pays out to help the poor, but doesn’t pray with them, looks less like a church than what Pope Francis has described, unfavorably, as merely another N.G.O.

Political conservatives are largely uneasy with the alternative to charity. Justice advocacy strikes a lot of people as too “socialist” or “radical” or “uppity.” But from a religious perspective, it doesn’t make much sense to pour heaps of money into charitable efforts if the root causes aren’t addressed.

Charity is a bandaid. Real Christians would want to address why people get wounded and work to stop the bleeding at the source. Maybe that will draw disapproval from the corporate masters who employ and pull the chains of mainstream commentators like Mr Douthat.

Even if conservatives were to wangle the culturewar into the hospitals, habitat homes, and soup kitchens by preaching their middle-class morality, my sense is that without advocacy for societal change, the whole effort will be worthless. It’s fine to tell a person they shouldn’t get an abortion. Rich people have a choice, it must be said. Some impoverished pregnant women, bereft of family, job, and/or partner truly believe there is no choice. A callous society ensures that. And the Church is absent enough not to have a prayerful presence.

Before they start spouting about bad charity, perhaps folks like Ross Douthat could get involved with Catholic Charities in his diocese as a volunteer. And talk to other volunteers. And maybe pause the moralistic therapeutic conservatism playing on his tape machine long enough to encounter real people and listen to them and their needs. And not just pontificate from his ivory tower.

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PS 28: Passion Sunday

Jesus arms outstretchedRemember, you can check the full document Paschale Solemnitatis on this site, among many on the internet. Sections 28 through 34 treat Passion Sunday, and we’ll consider it for the next several days. Your comments, of course, are always welcome.

Section 28 gives the homilist a topic:

28. Holy Week begins on “Passion (or Palm) Sunday” which joins the foretelling of Christ’s regal triumph and the proclamation of the Passion. The connection between both aspects of the paschal mystery should be shown and explained in the celebration and catechesis of this day. (Cf. Ceremonial of Bishops, 263)

It is important to recall that Passion Sunday does not recall a Jerusalem party celebrated for Jesus. The Church interprets the entry into the Holy City as that “foretelling” of the triumph of the Lord over death, and also the bridegroom’s pilgrimage to the waiting bride.

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Humanae Vitae 25b: Recourse to God

sperm and eggHumanae Vitae is online at the Vatican site, and the text highlighted below is © Copyright – Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

The other sacraments provide grace; we should expect it:

For this reason husbands and wives should take up the burden appointed to them, willingly, in the strength of faith and of that hope which “does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Rom 5. 5) Then let them implore the help of God with unremitting prayer and, most of all, let them draw grace and charity from that unfailing fount which is the Eucharist. If, however, sin still exercises its hold over them, they are not to lose heart. Rather must they, humble and persevering, have recourse to the mercy of God, abundantly bestowed in the Sacrament of Penance. In this way, for sure, they will be able to reach that perfection of married life which the Apostle sets out in these words: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church. . . Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the Church. . . This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” (Eph 5. 25, 28-29, 32-33)

It would seem ancient Greek sexual roles are expanded for a mutuality here as we know and experience it in Western culture. That does not detract from mutual commitment and self-sacrifice. In a way, it completes it.

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