Spiders and Snakes

I saw the Canadian kerfuffle over a mechanical spider perched on a cathedral. LotR notwithstanding, I wasn’t aware of the spider being a particularly Christian symbol of evil. But some Catholics objected:

disturbing, disappointing and even shameful

Others found no problem:

While the viewer may find the juxtaposition jarring, I gather it’s supposed to be. But sacrilegious? C’mon, give your archbishop a break. This civic engagement with art recalls the Vatican’s Courtyard of the Gentiles project. Culture is a bridge.

Check the website for the creators here. It may not be high sacred art, but it’s pretty cool nonetheless.

But it also got me thinking … did Jesus catch flak for this?

Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves. (Matthew 10:16)

Culture is a bridge that works for me.

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I was reviewing some recent posts on the dotMagis site. Joseph Tetlow’s “Examen of the Future” is presented and discussed here. I don’t find the Ignatian Examen to be as much a problem in content or its vector as much as it is a challenge for my personal discipline.

That said, this encounter with the Holy Spirit caught my eye:

Here is the proper matter for the Examen in the twenty-first century: all the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Take the first gifts of faith, hope, and love. Spend a day or a week—or a longer time if you are weak in it—practicing that virtue. Then patiently work through wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude (courage), piety, knowledge, and fear of the Lord.

A number of years ago, as I was looking at the seven virtues, I found myself drawn to prudence. It seemed too easy I was chiding (sometimes privately in my mind, sometimes not) others for being imprudent. It seemed to me that I was being nudged to look at that virtue more carefully. Fr Tetlow suggests a week. I needed considerably more time.

As for those first gifts: I spent the better part of another year praying for them. I would take this prayer:

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful.
And kindle in them the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.
And you will renew the face of the earth.

And substituting in that second line me and my close family members for each of the virtues I perceived we needed the most:

Kindle in me the fire of your love,
Kindle in (my wife) the fire of your hope,
Kindle in (the young miss) the fire of your faith.

Love is probably my weak spot in these three. Still. I can’t guarantee my diagnosis of the other people, but you get the drift. As a musician, I often substitute harmonizations when I accompany a single singer, or when I arrange a tune for an ensemble of voices and/or instruments. I do it on occasion in the spiritual life, too.

As Ignatian sites have wrapped their 31 Days of Ignatius, it strikes me that the Father of the Jesuits would be more pleased to see attention given to the other 334 days of the year, and the cultivation of the Examen, the virtues, the spiritual fruits, or whatever we disciples found most wanting or lacking in our lives.

Image credit.

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Aparecida 106-108: The Good News Of Life

Section 3.2 speaks of “The Good News of Life.”

106. We praise God for the marvelous gift of life and for those who honor it and dignify it by placing it at the service of others; for the joyful spirit of our peoples who love music, dance, poetry, art, and sports, and cultivate firm hope in the midst of problems and struggles. We praise God because, while even while we were sinners, he showed us his love by reconciling us with himself through the death of his Son on the cross. We praise him because he now continues pouring out his love on us through the Holy Spirit, and nourishing us with the Eucharist, bread of life (cf. Jn 6:35). John Paul II’s encyclical “Gospel of Life” sheds light on the great value of human life, which we must safeguard, and for which we continually praise God.

Joy has its roots in the grace of God. Not just the accomplishment of human beings in their work or leisure or cultural expressions. The situation of sin remains in the world, but God continues to offer grace. It’s not a matter of human virtue. Grace is a gift. The uncredited reference in Ap 104 is from Romans 5.

Testimony from Pope Benedict:

107. We bless God for the gift of his Son Jesus Christ, “human face of God and divine face of man.”(Benedict XVI, Prayer for the Fifth Conference.)

From Vatican II:

The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of (humankind) take on light. Christ, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals (us to ourselves) and makes (a) supreme vocation clear.(Gaudium et Spes 22)

And what may that vocation be? In part it is the praise of God. This praise is well-offered in the living out of a life that aspires to the code (not just a genetic code!) written into our very being. A final testimony from Pope John Paul II:

108. We bless God the Father because all human beings sincerely open to truth and goodness, even amidst difficulties and uncertainties, can come to the point of discovering in the natural law written in their hearts (cf. Rom 2:14-15) the sacred value of human life from its beginning to its natural end, and affirm the right of every human being to have this fundamental personal good fully respected. “Every human interaction and the political community itself are founded”(Evangelium Vitae 2) on the recognition of this right.

Thoughts on this?

For deeper examination, an English translation of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference.

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VNO 6: For Priests

The sixth listed Mass For Various Needs And Occasions is “For Priests.” Number seven is for an individual priest, so this liturgy is intended as a general intention.

Jesus’ quote of Isaiah 61:1 forms the long-ish entrance antiphon:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for he has anointed me
and sent me to preach good news to the poor,
to heal the broken-hearted
and to let the oppressed go free.

It’s an interesting choice, given that a few verses later, the people are addressed, “You yourselves shall be called “Priests of the LORD,” “Ministers of our God” you shall be called. Isaiah 61 is certainly an extended lyrical text that applies well to priests.

For Communion, the Lord’s quote from the Last Supper:

Holy Father, consecrate them in the truth;
your word is truth.
As you sent me into the world,
so I sent them into the world, says the Lord.

My suggestion here is to utilize Psalm 19:1-11 for a more affirming tone or perhaps Psalm 40 if the spirit of lament plus praise seems more fitting.

Another thought that might work would be to use the text of the Magnificat for either entrance or Communion with these antiphons.

Count me a skeptic on the blurring of ordained and lay ministries. More to the point, our modern culture, inside and outside the Church, is driven by personal skills and abilities. It’s really more on the lack of institutional attention and a broad discernment that there may be confusion here and there about what constitutes the Catholic priesthood. Regardless of where one might fall on the opinion spectrum of who could or should get ordained, reasonable believers acknowledge that the clergy need prayers. One of the two collects prays that

(They) may be found faithful in carrying out the ministry they have received.

… and the other that God will grant

a persevering obedience to (God’s) will, so that by their ministry and life they main gain glory for (The Father) in Christ.

The baptized would do well to recall that the gifts and opportunities we have received are no less a calling to align our life and will to God’s mission in our world. In that there is a priesthood of all believers, we can recognize our own God-given impulses to follow as faithfully as we can on the Gospel path set out for us by Jesus.

Any comments?

Remember that in the GIRM, sections 368-378 cover the universal regulations on the use of “VNO” Masses.


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Aparecida 104-105: The Good News of Human Dignity

“Good news” abounds in the next several sections of the Aparecida document. Remember to catch an English translation of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference if you want the whole piece.

Meanwhile, let’s look at a basic principle, human dignity, with bullet points added for emphasizing the list:



  • We bless God for the dignity of the human person, created in his image and likeness. He has created us free and made us subjects of rights and duties in the midst of creation.
  • We thank him for associating us with the advancement of the world, by giving us intelligence and the ability to love; for the dignity that we also receive and which we must as a task, protect, cultivate, and promote.
  • We bless Him for the gift of faith that enables us to live in covenant with Him until we share eternal life.
  • We bless him for making us his daughters and sons in Christ, for having redeemed us with the price of his blood and for the permanent relationship that he establishes with us, which is the source of our absolute, non-negotiable, and inviolable dignity. If sin has weakened the image of God in human beings and wounded their condition, the Good News, which is Christ, has redeemed and reestablished it in grace (cf. Rom 5: 12-21).

My takeaways:

  • We rightly recognize God’s hand in who we are. Gratitude for God’s gifts, and a response to God in some way for all that we are.
  • We acknowledge the human person is whole because we are able to multi-task. On that, we both think and feel. The emphasis of one over the other betrays our deepest nature as conscious beings.
  • Faith in God is itself a gift, not an act.
  • Our relationship with Christ is central to our human identity.

105. We praise God for the men and women of Latin America and the Caribbean who, impelled by their faith, have worked untiringly in defense of the human person, especially the poor and outcast. In their testimony, taken to the point of total commitment, the dignity of the human being shines forth.

The “defense of the human person” is an essential response to our Gospel call. What makes this different from participants in a human service organization? The “impelling” of faith–in other words, our core motivation as workers amongst the world’s people.


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Aparecida 101-103: Missionary Discipleship

Part Two of the Aparecida Document is titled, “The Life of Jesus Christ In Missionary Disciples.” Numbered sections 101 through 346: the largest “Part” of the document is before us.

For the next 28 numbered sections, we’ll examine “The Joy of Being Missionary Disciples To Proclaim The Gospel of Jesus Christ.” with the Latin American bishops.

Is this a matter for joy? Many believers I know approach this with trepidation. I think most all of these people have the clear potential to be fruitful disciples in the mission of Jesus. Some lack the tools. Some lack the spiritual self-esteem. Some are unpracticed. And sadly, some ignore this aspect of their faith, instead focusing on how and where they are right, and other people, outside the fold and even inside it, are wrong.

Let’s look at the three-paragraph introduction and launch into this essential topic: 

101. At this time, with uncertainties in our heart, we ask with Thomas: “How can we know the way?” (Jn 14:5). Jesus answers us with a provocative proposal: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6). He is the true way to the Father who so loved the world that He gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him might have eternal life (cf. Jn 3:16). This is eternal life: “that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ” (Jn 17:3). Faith in Jesus as the Son of the Father is the entry door to Life. We disciples of Jesus confess our faith with Peter’s words: “You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68); “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16).

It is good to keep in mind: this is the mission of Christ, not of us, our parish, our clergy, or even our pope. Peter’s words are good ones to echo. I also like Thomas’: “My Lord and my God.”

The Paschal Mystery:

102. Jesus is the Son of God, the Word made flesh (cf. Jn 1:14), true God and true man, proof of God’s love for human beings. His life is a radical surrender of himself for all persons, definitively consummated in his death and resurrection. Because he is the Lamb of God, He is the savior. His passion, death, and resurrection make possible the overcoming of sin and new life for all humankind. In Him the Father becomes present, because whoever knows the Son knows the Father (cf. Jn 14:7).

The Scriptural references continue fast and thick:

103. We disciples of Jesus recognize that He is the first and greatest evangelizer sent by God (cf. Rom 1:3), and at the same time the Gospel of God (cf. Rom 1:3). We believe and proclaim “the good news of Jesus, Messiah, Son of God” (Mk 1:1). As children obedient to the Father’s voice, we want to listen to Jesus (cf. Lk 9:3) because He is the only Master (cf. Mt 23:8). As his disciples, we know that his words are Spirit and Life (cf. Jn 6:63, 688).

So, lots of words. Does it lead to joy?

With the joy of faith, we are missionaries to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, and in Him, the Good News of human dignity, life, the family, work, science, and solidarity with creation.

A few things of note …

  • It is a baptismal role, not a clerical one to proclaim the Gospel message.
  • The proclamation extends to all of human activity.
  • Our role is not just talk, talk, talk. Or even do, do, do. Ponder the reference of Luke 9:3; it is the Lord sending out the Twelve. This is an apostolic event, and we are obliged to listen to our instructions and take part. Listening implies prayer–the part of prayer that does not involve our talking.

There’s more here, but I’ll leave it for your discussion.

For deeper examination, an English translation of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference.

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The Long Game

When word came out of a liturgical institute in San Francisco, I noticed the same Samuel Weber, OSB attached to it. I don’t know the man, but name-recognition is there: his work arranging plainchant accompaniments for the Hymnal For The Hours at GIA a generation ago.

Discussion went ’round and ’round at Pray Tell here, including places it needn’t have gone, but my sense of it was this:

Who’s willing to invest the effort of a generation to make (great things) happen?

My skepticism was rooted in a man who spent five years trying to get it rolling in St Louis. Maybe it wasn’t in the cards there. After a few years in the Bay Area, it hadn’t caught on in a giant, let alone big way there. I’m enough of a pragmatist and music lover to give plainchant a go. I don’t think we will ever see it reach some golden ascendancy as many reform2 musicians hope. But if I were surprised by a contrary future, I wouldn’t shed tears over it.

I saw on PrayTell’s facebook page and blog that a non-music/liturgy person is now to head a revamped institute of Catholic culture, and to do so long distance. Aside from the ideological overtones of this Californian adventure, a few comments seem to be in order:

  • I stand by my assertion that the longed-for building up of culture, musical, liturgical, or anything, is the project of a generation. Not of a single expert, bishop, or guru. In fact, if a single charismatic person is able to shift appearances, I’d be likely to attribute that to an expression of local celebrity, if you will. More likely than not, a one-person show will leave town with the charismatic leader.
  • I am sure good intentions reside with all players in this show. Fr Weber is a fine musician. As a Benedictine monastic, he has my automatic respect. If subjective accounts of his faith in supplanting whole musical system in parishes can be trusted, I think he’s fatally misguided. But it seems not much of lasting impact has happened in St Louis, nor on the music front in San Francisco.
  • I had a priest friend who got really attached to a new liturgist. Even after the new guy went home after a few months, my friend still had him writing up prayers and music plans for the abandoned parish. I think ministry has to happen in-person. I think it can be done part-time. But I think real relationships with real people who have the potential to take real action are necessary. The new hire for the revamped institute may well be able to draw a salary from three time zones away. She may well be able to raise money from contacts and raise the national stature of a diocesan center for Catholic culture. It’s even possible her ideological baggage will drift into the background. But I don’t think this new effort will be successful. Archbishop Cordileone has stumbled into a modernism here.

If I were a person who had the archbishop’s ear, I would start with these points. I think whatever institute he wants to have needs leadership willing to commit for ten to twenty years, likely beyond his tenure as ordinary. A liturgy/music effort won’t happen overnight. I think one can set aside all the ideological shadows darkening some aspects of this vector and still have concerns.

Speaking from experience, I went into my first parish position with the intent to stay there for good. I lasted three years. I’ve been let go from other positions because I didn’t fit the pastor’s vision. I’ve left others because I felt the difference in mission between me, the priest, and/or the community wasn’t going to get resolved. When I look back, I don’t think I’ve done much more than scratch the surface in my longest assignment, which was seven years. If these parishes forget me, so much the better.

If I were to dial everything into reverse to the dawn of my ministry career, I’d hope I’d have the same aspiration. Not to make a difference all on my own. But to find like-minded companions who could work together to nudge, invite, explore new ground.

So my last, biggest question: a metro area of San Francisco’s significance, and why can’t they find somebody local to head up music, liturgy, or whatever the heck they’re trying to accomplish?


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