Sunday, January 10, 2016

Turn Around—The Baptism of the Lord (Cycle C)

Isaiah 40: 1-5, 9-11; Titus 2:11-14, 3:4-7; Like 3:15-16, 21-22

            The Sacrament of Baptism is one of my favorites at which to preside, and it's one that probably stirs me the most emotionally, even more than weddings, at which I also love to preside. I think part of my love for the Sacrament of Baptism is the sheer gratuitousness, the sheer generosity of it—that God uses these material things to simply wipe our slate clean, to cleanse us from the stain of original sin, and to adopt us as His own children; that He bestows this life saving grace on us in such a simple, mundane act—the act of bathing.
            I suspect some of the parents of children I've baptized also find it a bit unbelievable. A few have even called me up and said, "Deacon Bill, I don't think the baptism took. This child is just off her rocker."
            And I always tell them the same thing. I say, "Look, the baptismal water didn't sizzle and evaporate when I poured it on her head, so I'm sure it's all good."
Last week, we celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany. The scriptural context of our celebration was the visit of the Magi to the house of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph some time after Jesus was born. But the feast itself represents something greater: the revelation of Christ to the Gentiles. The shepherds who visited the Christ child on Christmas day represented the am ha-arez—the people of the land. These were the unschooled Jews of the time, most likely considered unrighteous by the teachers, scribes, and religious authorities.
            Those two events together represent the revelation of Christ to those who are traditionally outsiders to the righteous Jews. Today’s celebration is the baptism of the Lord—the revelation of Jesus to everyone. At one time in our liturgical calendar the Feasts of the Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord were celebrated on the same day. The feast day commemorated not two but four events, and their order of importance was different than we would expect: first, the Baptism of the Lord—today's celebration; then Jesus' miracle at the wedding of Cana, which was the first of His miracles; then the nativity of Jesus; and finally, the visitation of the Magi.
            So this feast day is important in the life of the Church primarily because it celebrates Christ revealed to the whole world. With His baptism, with the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Him, and with the Father's words, the final revelation has become manifest in the world. His Incarnation was, very literally, a turning point in history.
            I was cooking in the kitchen this last Friday evening, and as I usually do, I plugged my iPhone into our little kitchen stereo and put on Pandora so I can cook and sing and maybe play a little air guitar. And a Matt Maher song came on—I know a lot of you like Matt Maher—this one was Turn Around—which is pretty much the story of my life, and the story that many of us have. A line from the chorus is this: "If you're looking for a savior, all you gotta do is turn around."
            Turn around. Your savior is right behind you.
            Now, it's a catchy tune, but Maher is a very clever songwriter. He's actually playing on a Greek theological term we use: metanoia. It's used in the original Greek of the Gospels and the book of Acts in the call to conversion to which Jesus, St. John the Baptist, and all of the Apostles call us; and it's frequently translated into English as repent. But the word itself means: change of mind, and in Latin, the same word is translated as coversionem—turning around. So our English word—conversion—means turn around.
            That makes perfect sense, in context, because the Greek and Hebrew words for sin both suggest being pointed in the wrong direction. Our aim is wrong. We want a happy life, but we keep aiming at the wrong targets. The Gospel message—the one we get on this day when we celebrate Jesus' revelation to ALL of us—is to turn around: turn away from sin and turn toward Him.
            The people of Israel were looking for and longing for the Messiah, a savior. And they turned to many who matched their ideal of salvation: a military savior, a political savior, a material savior. And all of those people were pretenders, false targets, false prophets. But one came whom St. John the Baptist predicted, whom the prophet Isaiah predicted, whom Moses and David and the other prophets predicted. And in our Gospel reading, we see the Holy Spirit come down to rest on Him, and God the Father to claim Him as the one. John denied that He was the Christ, and when the time came, John himself pointed to His cousin Jesus and testified: there is the Lamb of God, the one whose sandal I am not fit to loosen.
            If we're looking for a savior—turn around. He is right there.
            We celebrate today the one sacrament that all Christians recognize, although not all understand its significance. It's the one that signifies our connection to the Church, the Body of Christ and to Christ Himself. When Jesus comes to John to be baptized, note that John in the Gospel of Matthew says, I should be baptized by you!" But Jesus is baptized so that all righteousness will be fulfilled. He's obviously not baptized for His own salvation. He doesn't need cleansing. But we do.
            And Jesus' directive to us, more simple than all of His other messages to us is this: follow me. Do what I do. It starts here at baptism. It leads us to share in a communal sacrifice. And it ultimately leads us all right there. He sacrificed Himself for us, and we are called to sacrifice as well. Our baptism is a call to that cross.
            I know that sounds heavy at times, but have you noticed how those who have embraced their baptism most ardently; those who follow Jesus' example day in and day out; those who bear up under unimaginable burdens for the sake of the Gospel all seem to have that unmistakable joy and aroma of holiness? They're so holy that they smell of it! At times, their goodness and sanctity is overwhelming. That must've been what it was like to be in the presence of Jesus—to let His goodness wash over you and cleanse you, purge you, renew you.
            That is the difference between the baptism of John and the baptism of Jesus. John's baptism was typical of many Jewish and far Eastern rites: a ritual and symbolic washing to represent a cleansing of impurity. But something changed when Jesus came into those waters. Many of the early Church Fathers taught that His baptism actually sanctified the waters of the earth for our baptism.  St. Proclus, a bishop of Constantinople, described it this way:
Come, consider the new and wonderful deluge, greater and more important than the flood of Noah's day. Then the water of the flood destroyed the human race, but now the water of baptism has recalled the dead to life by the power of the one who was baptized.
The baptism of Jesus is not simply symbolic: as a sacrament, and like all sacraments, it enacts what it represents.
·       Baptism doesn't symbolize cleansing; it actually cleanses.
·       Reconciliation doesn't just represent absolution, cover over our sins, and kick them off into a corner; it actually removes the stain of sin.
·       The Eucharist doesn't just symbolize Jesus' salvific sacrifice: it engages us in the very same sacrifice.
These sacraments give us the grace we need to turn our hearts back. When our power fails, the grace of the sacraments renews us and returns us to friendship with God.
            And the Gospel message is just that simple. If you're looking for a savior, turn around. If seeking money and power has failed to satisfy you, turn around. If self indulgence and material excess has failed to quench your thirst or sate your hunger, turn around.
            Turn around.
            Repent.

            Be converted. Jesus didn't need baptism to be saved, but we do if we are to truly follow him. And we need to be converted daily. You see, conversion is not something we do once and are done with. Our hearts must be converted daily. We have to turn back from so many distractions, so many worldly concerns, so many preoccupations. We have to reform ourselves every day for the rest of our lives. The process does not stop until that final step at the very last, when with God's grace, we will look into His face and hear the words, "well done, my good and faithful servant."

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Forge of Vocation—Feast of the Holy Family (Cycle C)

            Yesterday was the feast of St. Stephen, a special day for deacons because St. Stephen was one of the first deacons, and the first Christian mentioned in scripture to be stoned—and by that, I mean martyred. So whatever connections you make between deacons and St. Stephen's being stoned I will leave on your conscience.
            Today is the feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, and it's a day on which the Church reflects on foremost on the Holy Family, but also on the gift of family in our lives and the role that family plays in the formation of our character.
            In the first reading, Hannah names her son Shmuel (שמואל), which we pronounce Samuel in English. The name has no precise meaning but has been translated variously as—heard of God, asked of God, His name is God, or namesake of God. What we get in this passage is essentially a folk etymology. His name is Samuel because Hannah asked the Lord for him. Hannah takes Samuel to the temple and dedicates him to God's service. It's important to note here her motivation. Out of gratitude to God for His gift of a child to her, a child she had longed for and whose birth removed the stigma of barrenness from her, she gives Samuel back to God.
            Now, if you've studied this book before, you already know that Samuel is literally called by God, and he becomes a great prophet and judge of Israel. It is he who anoints first Saul and later David as kings of Israel. But imagine how different his life had been had he not been in the temple. Would he have heard the call to his vocation if he were not in a context where he was constantly exposed to God?
            In our Gospel reading, Jesus is left behind in Jerusalem, and Mary and Joseph search for him for three days only to find him in the temple. To us, this story sounds a bit like the family that left the kid at the rest area, and our parental judgment apparatus springs into action. But keep in mind that in that time, extended families and neighbors would travel together to and from Jerusalem for the three major festivals. Mary's presence on the journey indicates her personal dedication to her faith, since the journey was only required for Jewish men. They assumed that Jesus was traveling with the other members of their large contingent from Nazareth, which was a completely legitimate assumption for them in their time. So let's not take this as a sign that Joseph and Mary were anything other than exceptional parents. They were devoted in the observance of their faith, and if anything, it is Jesus who has done something unexpected and out of character for their culture.
            When they find Jesus, he is sitting in the temple asking questions and responding to the teachers, and the teachers are astounded by his wisdom. You see, at that time, a Jewish boy's religious education did not culminate in a bar Mitzvah at age 13. They didn't start until they were 12. So Jesus' understanding is so completely out of the norm for the time and place. At the age when most of us started junior high, he is teaching the teachers.
            Mary questions Jesus. She has a legitimate grievance: "Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety."
            And Jesus answers, "Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" And this, likewise, is a legitimate question.
            Now why do I make that claim? Because Jesus does here what we are all called to do: to respond to the vocation to which God calls us. He recognizes his vocation and sets out to practice it. That sounds a little odd to us in our secular culture—a 12-year old disregarding his parents' concerns and embarking on a vocation. How many of us would stand for something that radical? But this is in a culture where parents regularly committed their children at an early age. In fact, one explanation for Mary's marriage to Joseph was that she had been dedicated for service to the temple until she was of age and then needed a patron after she was no longer qualified to serve. Samuel's call likewise came at an early age. It is simply something that is foreign to our modern sensibilities and context.
            So how do these two stories touch on the meaning and purpose of family? Our Church, of course, has something to say about that.
            The Church calls the family, in paragraph 1656 of the Catechism, the ecclesia domestica—the domestic church. It is the primary place of faith formation for children—the primary place of faith formation. As I said in last year's homily for this feast, family is the oven in which the bricks of civilization are cured. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, and many popes prior to him have stressed the foundational importance of the family not only to civilization but also to the transmission of the faith.
            In this context, children see whether or not the faith makes a difference in family life and in all life. If our faith isn't taught and demonstrated in the home, it will not find a home in the human heart. Both of our readings show that faith begins at home, and then the children take it out to serve God in the greater society. What would Samuel have done without his mother's commitment and gratitude to God for His gift to her? And while we can presume that Jesus would carry out his mission regardless of whether Mary and Joseph were on board, the gospel writers—particularly Luke—make it clear that Mary and Joseph are pious and observant Jews. That could not have hurt his mission by any means.
            So family is important for faith formation, and part of formation in the faith is discerning one's calling. Because of his mother's sacrifice, Samuel discerned his calling while he served in the temple. Undoubtedly, Jesus was able to respond to his calling because of his parents' observance of the Jewish high holy days. In both cases, we see that the child is aided in discerning and following a call through his parents' support.
            Now, I'm sure I don't need to explain that the word vocation comes from the Latin verb that means to call. A calling is a vocation, and all of us are called to some mission. As Catholics, we believe that this calling is not just a personal preference but something that God has knit into our fabric—into our very being—and if we ignore the call or if we do not take the time to listen for it, we miss the very purpose for which we have been given life. All of us have a vocation, and if we do not find that vocation, we will find our lives unsatisfying. We will fill up our time with frivolous and meaningless endeavors.
            It used to be the norm for Catholic families to encourage their children to discern whether they had a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. My uncle attended minor seminary for just that purpose, and I know more than one of our parishioners who spent some time in the discernment process. Some discern instead that they have a firm commitment to the vocation of marriage, and that is good as well. The point is that they discern where God is calling them to mission.
            "What do you want to do with your life?" That is a question we often ask our children. What do you want of your life? There's a problem with this. First, it confirms the tendency we have in our culture to think that we live solely for our own self satisfaction, and that is quite simply not true. Second, it assumes that we are given gifts for our own use alone. Scripture teaches us that our gifts must be used for the purpose for which they are given, and that purpose is not under our determination, but it is under our stewardship.
            We do not ask our children the right question. We should not be asking them, "What do you want to do when you grow up?" We should be asking them, "What do you think God is calling you to do when you grow up?" We should be encouraging them to consider their mission in terms of God's will for them, not their own will for themselves. It should be no surprise to us, then, if our grown children are focused solely on their own personal self-fulfillment than on serving God or anyone else. Their self-centeredness is something our culture will implant in them if we do not take the time to inculcate in them a knowledge of their obligation to discern God's will in their lives—in directing their lives according to His will and not their preferences.
            This concern about vocations is not just an abstract exercise. Our Church needs priestly and religious vocations. And vocations begin in the home. If we are going to have priests to serve at the altar, to bring us the Eucharist daily, weekly, or even monthly, we must raise boys to pursue the priesthood. If we are going to have religious brothers and sisters to provide service to the Church and to the impoverished, elderly, and disabled, we must raise children who seek to serve rather than to be served. We have to look at the generosity of Hannah, who gave her much desired child back to God in His service; and to the Blessed Mother, who accepted her own vocation to be the Mother of God. We have to look back on the generosity of the fathers and mothers of past generations who encouraged their children to seek God's purpose for their lives, parents like Blessed Louis and Zélie Martin, who gave not just one but five daughters to serve religious vocations, including a doctor of the Church, St. Thérèse of Lisieux.

            We have to recall why we are here, and it doesn't hurt to start with the basic proposition from our catechism. We are here to know, love, and serve God, in this life and the next.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Rejoice! Third Sunday of Advent (Cycle C)

Third Sunday of Advent (Cycle C)

Zephaniah 3:14–18a; Philippians 4:4–7; Luke 3:10–18
            Today we celebrate the third Sunday of Advent, which is called Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin translation of Philippians 4. "Rejoice in the Lord always." Always rejoice. We depart from the somber tone of this penitential season for a bit to celebrate the light that is dawning on us.
            The readings today give us our marching orders for Advent and beyond. The Latin word adventus, the source of our English term, indicates an approach or onset. Advent is the onset of Christ's coming again. As our readings suggest, it is a time of hope, of looking forward to a joyous event, but not necessarily from the perspective of people who are now experiencing joy. Often the expectation of the Messiah's coming dawns when His people are at their lowest, when they feel bereft and oppressed.
            Zephaniah prophecies during the reign of Josiah, a time when the king is attempting to bring the kingdom back from its fall into idolatry. The Assyrians have been chipping away at the Kingdom of Judea and demanding their tribute, which always means an oppressive tax on the people. All of these events are considered to be the result of the sins of the People of Israel. But Zephaniah tells them that God is letting go of that penalty and that they will be delivered from their oppression. In the midst of their strife, they are called to rejoice in their deliverance.
            The letter of St. Paul to the Philippians is much the same. Paul is writing from prison, as Fr. Jerry mentioned last week. Now Paul wasn't exactly a popular figure in Philippi, at least not with those outside the Church. If you remember the account in Acts, he expels a spirit from a slave girl who is constantly prophesying in a loud voice that Paul and his companions served the Most High God. Her owners weren't too happy about that. St. Paul was pretty adept at ticking off the local populace and bringing their wrath upon him. But even he is telling the Philippians, whom he obviously loves, to be joyful. He knows that all of this tribulation has a purpose. We can obsesses about our trials, or we can rejoice because we know the one who has overcome the world.
            And then there are those of us who perhaps dwell too much on where we've been rather than where we're going. John the Baptist's message in the gospel reading addresses these who have come to recognize their need to repent from their past lives. John doesn't shake his head and say, "Tsk, tsk. I'm sorry, but you guys are toast." He gives them concrete steps on the right path. First he tells them to repent, and then he gives them their marching orders.
Clothe the naked. Feed the hungry. Give what you have in excess to the poor.
            And these actions help the penitent to grow in holiness. St. John Chrysostom said that "the poor are physicians, and their hands are an ointment for your wounds." And if you've ever worked with the truly poor, or if you've ever visited the sick, or fed someone who was hungry, you've experienced it—that sense that what little you've done actually helped you more than it helped the other because it helped you to move outside of yourself and to recognize Christ in the other. Regardless of where you've been, your sins are old news, and they are swept away. John is saying, "All of that past stuff was true, but you are forgiven. Now go and leave all of that behind. Go and sin no more." That is the very message of mercy that the Holy Father has challenged us to proclaim in this Jubilee year of mercy.
            It's a message that hits home for me. I myself have been in this position. I was not always that man you see in front of you now—holy, righteous, and dashingly handsome.
            But seriously, I am a far different person now than I was in my young adult life. I drifted away from the Catholic faith in my late teens, and I wandered for a long time—about 20 years. I did plenty of things of which I'm not proud. And I could go on carrying those failures as many of us do. But the call to repentance is not a call to self-judgment and condemnation. It is a call to recognition and conviction and then, ultimately... to mercy... to forgiveness... to healing. To letting go and moving on.
            That's what Advent and Lent are all about—helping us to recognize our brokenness; helping us to recognize our need for healing; helping us to recognize our need for salvation. Thank God that salvation has come, and in this season, we celebrate the fact that He is coming again.
            But like it was for the Israelites in our first reading, there are plenty of reasons for anxiety. If we look around our world, we can find many reasons to be fearful and anxious. The last year has seen a mass exodus of refugees from areas of conflict, and areas that have been historically Christian since the first century are seeing their native Christian populations disappear. We're seeing an increase of terrorist violence all over the world, even in our own back yard. Our political rhetoric has become increasingly bombastic and intolerant. It seems like we can't have a civil conversation in a public arena without someone barging in, not to engage in dialogue, but only to disrupt. We seem to have less and less of a shared culture and shared morality on which to base our decisions.
            Our world is more chaotic than ever.
            Or at least than we remember in our lifetimes.
            The fact is, every era encounters these moments of chaos and doubt. Look at the letters of St. Paul. Look at the words of the prophets like Zephaniah. Plus çe change, plus c'est le même chose. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
            We're not really seeing anything new. We're seeing version 21.15 of the same old thing.
            Which means we're still seeing the same result of our fallen nature playing itself out. We're still seeing those same human failings that we've always seen. We're still seeing the effects of sin and the wounds they create in our lives and the lives of the people we love.
            But we still also encounter the effects of redemption in our world. We still encounter those moments of grace individually and collectively. We have that moment of grace when we set aside our own needs to take care of the homeless, or to visit the sick, or to comfort others who are in pain. We watch those flash mob videos of people singing the Alleluia chorus in a midwest mall or in a European market square.
            We have those moments when we collectively stand up and say, "No, we will not engage in persecution of the others in our midst."
            "No, we will not tolerate the neglect of the homeless in our midst."
            "No, we will not euthanize the old and weak, or abort the young, or neglect the alien."
            We have moments of grace, and we have to remember that the story is not over. Advent is here to remind us of that. The man who came here and suffered that defeat (point to the crucifix), has overcome the world. And He is coming again on the clouds in power and glory to make an end of all defeat. And He comes to this altar today to make us one.

            And that is why we rejoice.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Truth is our King: Solemnity of Christ the King (Cycle B)

Note: I wrote this homily as the final homiletic assignment during my diaconal formation. For some reason, even though it was not a weekend designated for the deacons to preach, I thought that I should have this ready just in case. I have no idea why since it's not common for our priests to ask us to preach that the spur of the moment. But sure enough, after the first mass I served with our parochial vicar, he told (not asked) me to preach for the next mass. To my knowledge, he did not know that I had anything ready. So I thank the Holy Spirit on two accounts: for inspiring me to write this in the first place, and for prompting me to take it this morning.


Daniel 7:13–14; Revelation 1: 5–8; John 18:33b–37

“You say that I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
These words Jesus speaks to Pontius Pilate. Pilate has the earthly authority to send Jesus to His death, but Jesus doesn’t seem concerned that He may pay for his words with His life. He simply speaks the truth.
I think it's interesting how they block out our readings, what they choose to include and not include, and I'm fascinated by Pilate’s response to Jesus—three simple words: “What is truth?” Quod est veritas?
What is truth?
Did Pilate want to know the truth? I don’t think he could have cared less. Pilate wanted to assess the facts of the matter, to determine whether this Jesus of Nazareth was a threat, a criminal, a nuisance, or if these Jewish leaders were manipulating the facts for their own reasons. He didn’t care about truth. He wanted facts. But instead he got the truth.
We get a lot of facts in our daily lives, a lot of data. The news is full of facts, and the pundits all along the political spectrum are happy to provide their interpretations and opinions of what the facts reveal. More often than not, the facts are simply used to further their own agendas. The same facts are used to explain why we need high taxes and more government as well as why we need to eliminate taxes and reduce the government. There are legitimate arguments on both sides of every issue based on the facts, and it just takes a clever person to bend the facts to their will.
Facts are useful things. Facts can sometimes tell us a lot about what is, but they don’t tell us much about what ought to be. They don’t tell us the truth. But the truth is sometimes not very useful and can often be downright inconvenient.
You can measure things and produce a fact. You can weigh things and produce a fact. You can record sounds and videos of events and see a sequence of facts. The facts are used by many who argue against the existence of God because facts can be verified scientifically. Many apologists for secularism and atheism try to tell us that morality can exist apart from a belief in God simply by assessing these empirical facts. But anyone who knows how the world works can see that we don’t know what we ought to do based solely on facts.
There must be a standard to measure against to determine what we ought to do. Facts can only tell us what is. They cannot lead us to a moral life and they do not, on their own, tell us what is the truth.
The facts are used to justify just about any grave evil in our world:
·       The reason we why can’t feed the hungry
·       The reason why we can’t protect the unborn
·       The reason why we have to allow same-sex marriage
·       The reason why our Catholic hospitals have to provide coverage for contraceptives and abortifacients
·       The reason why have to go to war yet again
But what is truth?
The truth is something that doesn’t come from this world. The truth predates our empirical studies and rational philosophy. The truth was established long before modern physicists hammered out the theory of quantum mechanics, long before our constitution was hammered together by a bunch of fallible men after a nasty civil rebellion, long before a misguided priest hammered a list of 95 theses on the church door of the Wittenburg Castle, long before a Roman emperor accepted Christ and hammered a stake in the heart of paganism, and long before Roman soldiers hammered spikes through the hands and feet of an innocent man and before the procurator named Pontius Pilate sent that man to his death after asking him a simple question: What is truth?
The truth was there in the beginning: the Word with God, the Word Who is God. And He became flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus came to testify to the Truth because He was the only one who could truly witness to Himself, the Truth enfleshed.
You see, Pilate didn’t recognize the Truth as He stood there staring Him in the face. He didn’t recognize the difference between what is and what ought to be. In fact, Pilate was a slave to the “is”—to the powers of the world and to the politics of his situation. He knew that this man Jesus was innocent—a fact. He knew that the Jews would riot and possibly start a rebellion—a fact. And he knew the fact that a certain emperor in Rome would not want to hear that the procurator in Jerusalem was unable to keep the peace. So Pilate crucified the Truth to serve his master.
But the truth is not some thing. The truth is some body. The Truth is Jesus Christ. The Truth is the Word, the Logos, the immediate eternal thought and image of the Father. The Truth is here with us in His sacred word, and in a few minutes He will be with us again in His body, blood, soul, and divinity.
That is the truth.
How many of us live with this truth in mind? How many of us treat this truth as the absolute driving factor in our everyday plans and decisions? How many of us live as if one day we will have to face the Truth?
Daniel recognized that there would come a day to face the Truth, when one like a Son of Man would come with everlasting dominion and eternal kingship. The Book of Daniel points forward like all of Old Testament scripture to the revelation of Christ the King. Roughly 300 years later, the beloved Apostle John predicted the same return of the Son, the firstborn of the dead who freed us from our sins by His blood. John was the first to write that word logos in reference to Jesus, a word taken from the Greek philosophers who knew that there must be one transcendent Truth, even if they didn’t know who or what it was—that unknown god that the Athenians had memorialized on the Areopagus (air-ee-o-pah-gus) as mentioned in Acts 17:23. John looked the Truth in the face, dropped his fishing nets, and gave his entire life to Him.
We sometimes treat our personal opinions as if they are the truth, but then we turn around and claim, “Well what’s true for you isn’t necessarily true for me,” as if truth can be one thing and its diametric opposite at the same time. And we live these contradictions as well, claiming the right to pick and choose what we believe to be the truth.
·       Whether life begins at conception
·       Whether it’s okay to have sex outside of marriage
·       Whether it’s okay to deny basic needs to someone on the street
·       Whether it’s okay to prevent refugees feeling religious persecution from crossing our borders
But our personal opinions are not the standard for our conduct. We have as our standard a God-Man, the Son of Man, the king not of this world, the Truth incarnate. Our standard is not the factual brutishness of this world, but the fact that the Truth came to die for us—the fact that our king humbled Himself to be one of us; the fact that He desires mercy and not sacrifice, that He says we will be blessed when we are persecuted, that He says we should love our enemies and not just those who will love us back.
Today we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday of our liturgical year. While we profess with our lips that Jesus Christ is King, the real question is whether we recognize the Truth and make it king in our lives—that we seek the Truth in all that we do, and we not only profess the Truth but make it the guiding factor in our actions, that we preach that Truth, the Gospel, in our words and deeds.

Will we be ready to face the truth? Do we belong to the Truth and listen to His voice?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Prepare to Be Underwhelmed!

Why? Because I finally gave Holy Apostles College and Seminary permission to list my thesis in their special collections.

It's titled A Law to the Gentiles and is an analysis of St. Luke's "Sermon on the Plain." I had considered submitting parts of it to journals (reworked to stand on their own, of course). However, after two years, I thought it was time to move on to other projects—like the moral theology text that I'm going to start working on with a former classmate, and the Patristics radio show that might be kicking off in a couple of months.

If you would please pray for me to overcome the inertia (and the occasional fatigue) to get moving on all of these projects, I would be grateful.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Communication of Idioms and the Blessed Mother

On my birthday in 2010, I posted a paper of mine on communicatio idiomatum or the communication of idioms. This is a Christological concept that posits that because the person of Jesus possesses both human and Divine natures, properties of the Divine can be attributed to the man Jesus, and properties of the human can be attributed to the eternal Word. For example, we can say that God became man or that God's blood was poured out for us, because we understand these statements pertaining to Jesus as a person.

The practice of attributing Divine properties to the person of Jesus or human properties to the Word came into scrutiny during the 5th century. A bishop of Constantinople by the name of Nestorius began to preach against the use of the name Theotokos (God bearer) for the Blessed Mother or to refer to her as the Mother of God. While Nestorius insisted that he was not suggesting two persons in Christ, that was the logical consequence of his overemphasis on the distinctness of the two natures of Christ.

This position was condemned at the First Council of Ephesus in 431 and again at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, where the opposed view of the Monophysites and those who followed Eutyches that the two natures of Christ became a single nature (although these heresies disagreed on what resulted) were also condemned.

As I was flipping through the FM channels the other day, I was surprised to hear someone talking about the Eutychian heresy and the communicatio idiomatum. He did a fairly good job explaining it, although he stumbled theologically whenever he talked about the Divine and human natures of Christ, trying to avoid using the term nature and falling back on the term "properties" instead (which is inadequate since human nature includes many properties). Anyway, I looked up the station and confirmed my suspicion that the speaker was indeed Matt Slick.

But what struck me about his discussion was that he only invoked the name of Eutyches and not Nestorius. He emphasized the hypostatic union of two natures unmixed and unchanged in the person of Christ but completely left out (from what I heard) any discussion of the term "communication of idioms" in relation to the most clear example cited at the Council of Chalcedon—Nestorius and the controversy concerning Theotokos.

Now, the reason is fairly obvious. If he brings up Nestorius, he has to explain the Chalcedonian Creed. Here's that creed, which was pronounced at the Council of Chalcedon (the fourth of the first seven Ecumenical Councils):
We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [co-essential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us. 
Note that in this very creed, the council uses the name "Mother of God for the Virgin Mary. Oddly enough, the statement appears on the CARM site (and is linked above), where Slick posts many of his apologetics articles. In fact, in another article, Slick himself addresses the heresy of Nestor and explains (rightly) that it calls into doubt the efficacy of the death and resurrection of Christ.

Yet also on this site is another article of his that claims that we should not call Mary the Mother if God! So he essentially dismisses the two ecumenical councils' findings and asserts that Roman Catholics invented the name with no scriptural basis (which is true if you mean that it does not literally state this but false if you mean that nothing in scripture warrants this conclusion--sort of like the doctrine of the Trinity or the institution of the seven sacraments). Never mind that the Eastern Orthodox Church also refers to her as Theotokos, or that as far back as Ignatius of Antioch (d. 110 AD) was this notion espoused. In fact, he posits several "facts" about Catholics and the Blessed Mother with no context or explanation of what the terms mean, taking references from the Catechism without noting in the least their Patristic foundations. (He also gets some things flat out wrong and takes anecdotal reports from "some Catholics" as representative of the actual teachings of the Church.)

The CARM web site even lists the Chalcedonian Creed with its list of early Christian creeds and notes:
Creeds and Confessions are written summaries of the Christian faith. Different Creeds have different reasons for coming into existence, and they don't always agree with each other 100% of the time. However, they divulge the truth of the Christian faith in the essentials.
Of course, I would dispute the second clause of the second sentence in relation to the early Christian creeds. They differ, yes, but they emphasize different aspects of the faith precisely because they were clarifying the beliefs of the Church in order to combat heresy. They do not "disagree" with each other until you start getting into the reformed creeds!

I don't listen to Matt Slick, but I know many people who do, and they report the same things. First, he picks and chooses among the councils and early Church Fathers for those positions he thinks support his. I say "thinks" because by removing particular statements from their context, you cannot establish a particular father's meaning, any more than you can point to Romans 3:20[a] without interpreting it in light of Romans 2:6-8[b] or 2:13[c].

Second, he employs sophistry to score points with his listeners. Someone will call in to refute some claim he makes about Catholics, and he'll bring up everything but the disputed point. He'll shift the goal posts and do everything he can to "win" the argument. What suffers is the truth. If you look to this person to support your faith, look elsewhere, for the good of your soul.

a. Romans 3:20: "For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin."

b. Romans 2:6-8: "For he will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury."

c. Romans 2:13: "For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified."

Friday, October 09, 2015

What We Saw in Philadelphia—the Aftermath

One thing I know about myself is that I can rarely relate the impact of my experiences immediately. I often have to reflect on and mull over them for a period before I can get to the core of my experience. I don't think this is unusual for men, as we tend to put our heads down and drive through experiences, waiting until later to process. As far as evolution goes, that makes perfect sense. At many times in human history and prehistory, that adaptation made the difference between survival and annihilation.

But as a modern man, it's damned inconvenient.
==================

After Mass was finished and the endless EWTN commentary actually ENDED, we removed our vestments and gathered in the main sanctuary for evening prayer. I think now that this one gift the parochial vicar gave us was priceless. It's rare that I get to chant evening prayer with a room full of men, and it's exactly what the Divine Office should be.

After we finished, I grabbed my backpack and suit bag (a short one, which is much easier to manage when traveling), and I started the trek back up to the museum and the shuttle stop. As you can imagine, the place was a mess. Stacks and stacks of water had been supplied for the event (which was a Godsend). However, because it wasn't managed as much on Sunday, people began to take cases and use them for seating. When everything was over, there were half-crushed cases of water all over the place, and loads of trash (as there weren't enough trash receptacles by any stretch). Thank goodness they prepared better for the draining of the port-o'-potties. (No, I'm not obsessed with portable toilets. They're just really an issue when you're dealing with a million people in an enclosed location.)

I stayed off of the walkways when I could, since the (un)grassed* areas were largely clear. I actually made it back to the shuttle pick-up location pretty quickly. Of course, everyone who had taken the shuttles in were now waiting. And they had the same sort of blinkered approach to getting on the shuttles. The goal was "shuttle," and no other group of awaiting passengers were given any noticed. I watched this happen with a couple of buses and decided that I'd go hunt down the elusive after-Mass dinner that the clergy were promised.

I walked toward the museum, and around the south side... and around...

around...

...

And I saw some fellows in black suits and grey clerical shirts. My brother deacons! And I asked them where the promised meals were (as they were carrying boxes in their hands. and yes, I had to explain that I, too, was a deacon). They directed me back to the place where we met. And so I headed around to the back side...

and around...

...

You, know, that's one massive campus at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

I found the back entrance, and picked up my box, skipping the add on bag that appeared to be overloaded with gummy fish and other odd selections and toiletries, if my eyes did not deceive me. Then I made the long trek back to the shuttle pick-up zone, staying close to the entrance.

I waited for a few shuttles to go just to let the area clean out. I ate the contents of my meal box. If this was the "dinner" that was to be served, its character was overstated a bit. There was a bag of chips, and half sandwich, and one chewy Chips Ahoy cookie. Maybe I should have grabbed the bag of gummy... things.

As I was waiting, a group of deacons  from New Jersey came up. They were mostly newly ordained and had the camaraderie of a class ordained together. We were all standing next to a group of Dominican sisters and seminarians, as well as a group of teens from a local school. We were all sort of lining up where the previous buses lined up to signal to the drivers where they should stop. At a certain point, everyone just let the Dominicans go. They were patiently waiting and watching groups of people step on ahead of them, not complaining a bit. We teased them a bit about it building virtue, but eventually, I think everyone agreed that they should board next. When the next rank of shuttles arrived, everyone anticipated that the drivers would see the groups and stop in front of them. However, they stopped just short of us, and those dastardly school kids tried to jump our line!

We set them straight in short order!

Actually, it was very good natured, and the kids were also very flexible about the whole situation. The deacons from Jersey insisted that I got on next. They intended to travel together and saw no need to send one of theirs first.

So I made the shuttle. The trip back was uneventful. When we returned to the Mann Center, the real test began.
===================

When we got back to Mann Center, I thought it would be a slam dunk. I entered from that side of the check point, so my car must be just over there.

Uh.... no.

The grassy area on the other side of the check point was still fairly full of cars. As I mentioned, there were no distinguishing landmarks, just some flags (all identical) located in a few areas. And no lights. And it was getting darker by the minute. I walked back a few rows and looked around, wandered up and down a few rows. I pulled out the key fob and clicked to see if I'd see some lights. I even hit the panic button. Nothing.

After 20 minutes, I actually called our host and talked to her as I looked. About that time, I noticed that the road next to the grass was just one of several. Apparently there were four roads coming in, and they all converged on the same location. So I started to walk across the roads, clicking the key fob. Finally, I saw the lights flicker on and off.

How the heck do you lose a Denali?

I contacted Gina to see where she was. She and my brother deacons were almost back to the rail station. She'd had nothing to eat since morning. I headed back to St. Cornelius, stopped off at Whole Foods just before I got there, and got a massive wrap and coconut water for her. I sat in the parking lot, checked out the eclipse, and read until the bus returned.

It was a long day, but a blessed day.
======================

The Meeting of Families and Festival of Families are past now, and the Synod on the Family is now playing out. The joy of the last few weeks has given way to a degree to the fear and anxiety in the Catholic blogosphere over the matter of divorced and remarried Catholics. I personally don't harbor any fear, because I believe that Jesus meant what He said in Matthew 16:18: "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it."

I don't put trust in the bishops, even those whom I admire. But I have utter trust in the Holy Spirit and the words of Christ.

*The degrassing of the parkway clearly happened long before the Festival of Families. 

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

What We Saw in Philadelphia—Part IV

On Day 4, we got up a little later and prepared ourselves for the crush of humanity attending the papal mass. This day would be a bit different for us, as I would be traveling on my own to a shuttle area and check point. From there, I would be taken to the Museum of Art, where I would meet with the other clergy who would would be serving.

I dropped Gina off at St. Cornelius so that she could travel in with everyone else in our group. Had I known that she could have taken the shuttle, I would have taken her with me. Unfortunately, those details weren't very clearly conveyed to us. This would be a common theme for the day.

Anyway, I dropped Gina off, and then I drove to the Mann Center for the Performing Arts. It was in a fairly sketchy part of town, and most approaches were blocked off. However, I found my way to South Concourse Street. The attendant at the entrance asked for my parking permit. I indicated that no one had informed me that I needed one. I think she must've noticed the alb hanging in back because she waved me through. A short way up the street, some other attendants signaled me onto the grass where other attendants were directing people to park. I didn't see a lot of distinguishing land marks but didn't really think much of it at the time.

I made my way to the checkpoint, which was remarkably free of lines, but also of nearby port-o'-potties. I climbed aboard one of the yellow school buses that would acting as our shuttles, and in a few minutes, we were on our way in.

We pulled alongside the hill on which the museum sits and filed off. Most occupants headed toward the parkway, but I crossed the street and headed up to the museum. Other volunteers were gathering in the pavilions behind the main stage. I think these were members of the city-wide choir that sang during Mass. More about that later.


The Knights of Columbus were gathering on the steps. I stopped a few people who looked like they should know something. Most of the volunteers had little idea where the clergy were supposed to go. Finally, I found someone who directed me to the back of the building.

We had been instructed to be at the museum no later than 11:30, but it didn't appear that anyone was really keeping track. We were told that there would be a brunch waiting for us. I dropped off my vestments and headed upstairs. And indeed, there was a brunch and a bunch of starving clergy. (Is that redundant? A Franciscan priest and mendicant assigned to our parish says that some Franciscans mendicate too much. I'm just reporting his opinion here.)


Pastry and coffee was available initially, but we were told a substantial buffet would be served soon. In the meantime, we could network with the other clergy. I chatted with a brother deacon from the diocese of Las Vegas, He and about many deacons were wearing black with a grey clerical shirt, or a white or light blue shirt. Some had black shirts with the deacon cross and stole embroidered on them. We have not been given permission to wear clericals in our diocese, but I have to say, it would have been handy simply for identification purposes.

While we waited for the buffet, we were free to check out the exhibits. While I can appreciate paintings, I gravitate toward other objects.




I had to get a shot of this vase depicting Prometheus getting his eternal reward.


Side-story: I worked on a pilot project named Prometheus for a client, and then later worked directly for the same client as a support analyst and trainer. One of my favorite lines was that I had worked on the original implementation named Prometheus, and that it truly was sort of like being chained to a rock and having your liver pecked out for eternity. Heh. I slay myself.

My wife's patron saint is St. Joan, so I couldn't not take a photo of this statue of Joan d'Arc.


Now, I did ask whether I could take photos, and I was told, "In this room, yes, without a flash. But no photos in the next room (the main special exhibit, where the Titian, Rubens, and Michelangelo pieces were)."

And then I ran into this (Klimmt),


And this (Van Gogh).


And on and on: Renoir, Degas, Rubens, Titian, Michelangelo, Monet, Manet, and Pissaro. There simply wasn't enough time to take it in.

I did go to the American exhibition, and it seemed to have even more craft smith work than the other exhibits (particularly silver and wood).



The buffet arrived, and I have to say it was quite good, even if the seating was limited.


I thought I should get back to the vesting area since it was getting close to the time we were supposed to depart (according to the rumor floating around at the moment). I caught the elevator down and managed to shake hands with Cardinal Muller, the prefect* of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the *role Pope Benedict XVI filled under Pope St. John Paul II).


He's tall.

Well, the rumors on how we would get to our destination swirled all morning. First, we were told that we would meet in the museum, then walk down to the cathedral and vest there. Then we were told we'd vest at the museum, then walk to the cathedral, leaving everything behind. Then we were told to take our vestments and belongs and head to the buses. Then we were sent back to the vesting room and told to vest, but leave our things behind. Finally, we were told to vest, grab our things, and get on the buses. Fortunately, no other orders came. So we threw on our albs and stoles and got on the buses.


As we started down the parkway, people along the parade route began to applaud and cheer for us. They surely had no idea who were on the buses, and some of the deacons laughed at that, given that were were all virtual nobodies. Having been on the other side and feeling the energy of the previous day, I don't think it matter a whit who we were. The attendees knew that we were part of this thing, and that was all they needed to know.


As we made our way into the cathedral basilica, I noticed the shrine to Our Lady Undoer of Knots, which was on the north side of the cathedral. I'd heard about it two days before.


I understand that the Holy Father had the popemobile stop as he drove by on the way up to the main stage/altar. A couple of the deacons went out about that time and got some great shots of him. Yeah, that wouldn't be me.

The interior of the cathedral basilica is stunning. I've been in some Gothic cathedrals in Europe and several cathedrals and basilicas here in the US (the most incredible of which was the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception), but this one also has its rare beauty. Here's what I saw as I entered.


I always check out the organs and choir lofts. Musician? Check.



I love the classic high altars in many of the churches and cathedrals I've visited. This one is no exception.


Here's a shot of the baldachin over the main altar from a bit further back.


If I had been thinking, I would have gotten a shot of the conopaeum (a baldachin resembling an umbrella) and tintinnabulum (bell), which are present by privilege in minor basilicas.

We had a bit of a wait before us. Of course, many of us wandered through the cathedral taking pictures. However, we also paused for afternoon prayer, which our MC (a parochial vicar at the cathedral) led in chant.

I pray the liturgy of the hours daily (the primary hours and night prayer), but hearing 170 deacons chant them in this fantastic location was beautiful. Chant simply beats out modern hymnody in beauty and facility. The rhythms and tones are simple enough that most people can pick them up with ease.

That was a great way to prepare for Mass, and it's how I usually prepare on Saturday or Sunday evenings (albeit with evening prayer). Anyway, after prayer, we made our way into the main cathedral.


When the time for Mass drew close, we were asked to group by assignment (deacon, escort, other). Our MC instructed us on how we would proceed and explained the protocol for the escorts. We were instructed to guard the Eucharist to ensure no one walked away with a host unconsumed. We were also told that we would get a signal when it was time to return.

At the Sanctus, we would start from the back of the basilica and come forward to the altar. The reason for starting from the back was that these people would walk the furthest. I tried to get toward the back row since I have nothing preventing me from walking and could quite frankly could have used a good trek. Anyway, we would approach the altar and receive our ciborium, then move to the right or left to be paired up with an escort (the ones carrying the umbrellas). By the time we were lining up, the faithful were intoning the Agnus Dei, and we began to go out to Logan Square (which is a circle).
We were told that people in this area did not know that they would be able to receive communion. I had been looking forward to this moment, and I didn't know what to expect. It was my primary reason for being there that day—to serve the people of God. With crowds like this, it should have been a slam dunk.

(Courtesy of Cherri Gregg)

I was told that this moment in the mass was very emotional for a lot of people, and I was filled with emotion as we stepped into the square (in circular fashion). Even our host family indicated that the yellow and white umbrellas made an impression. (I understand now that the priests at the main altar were also escorted with these umbrellas.)

I managed to find one of the least attended positions on the rail along the parade route. Three of the first four people I approached at the rail weren't Catholic, so I blessed them and moved on. And after a minute or two, the rail was empty. My escort and I moved to the opposite side of the street, and I distributed communion there, gave out some blessings, and moved along the rail. Finally, my escort said, I think we're supposed to head in." 

I had distributed only about 20% of what was in my ciborium. I was disappointed that my place hadn't been as densely populated as others. As we started back, some people started asking for me to bless sacramentals, so I blessed a few rosaries and a wedding ring, but what struck me was that most of the people didn't ask for anything—not the Eucharist, not a sacramental. But they looked at me with gratitude that I was simply there. The young people around the route offered their hands for a low five, and people looked at us with love that we were simply there.

I returned with my escort, since I'm a lawful good type and always follow the rules. We returned our ciboria and those of us who needed to (not me), cleansed them. A bunch of deacons showed up rather late. 

As it turned out, they had no escorts and so were not summoned back when the escorts were. So when they ran out of communicants, they ran down their communicants. They went from Logan Square down to City Hall, where there were no other people distributing communion. One brother deacon told me that it was chaotic and beautiful. These people didn't think they would be able to received by any stretch. And here these brothers of mine were coming to them. And they were weeping for joy to receive the Eucharist. And in my head, I was saying, "That's where I wanted to be! That's where I wanted to be!"

That's why I went to Philadelphia. But I think now that that's not why I was sent.

We watched the remainder of the Mass via feed from EWTN. This was the period in which the priest returned their ciboria, and the all-city choir was singing. During this time (and during every moment of sacred silence or musical reflection), the commentators on EWTN did what they do and commentated. A deacon from the archdiocese of Philadelphia noted that they were talking over the choir that the archdiocese had pulled together for the Mass. I later learned that all of the major networks had broadcast the Mass with no commentary. I don't think the typical Mass requires commentary.

Mass came to an end, and we were dismissed as we are usually dismissed—go and announce (proclaim) the gospel to the world. I almost always use that form for the dismissal. 

But I'm not exactly sure how to take that particular moment to the world. I guess this is my attempt.to take the gospel to the world—this momentary instance of the gospel reaching the world—and it did reach the world.

My experience wasn't the lightning bolt I had hoped it to be. And that completely fits my experience as a Catholic. I would really love to have the lightning bolt—the clear, intuitive confirmation of my faith. But that's not why I was sent, and that is not my vocation. I came to my faith through my intellect, and while I have had many intuitive and even ecstatic experiences, by and large, my faith life is lived in the intellectual and practical realm. I love those moments of intuition (rare) and ecstasy (rarer), but they are not part of my vocation. They are occasional consolations—and occasions I have not valued enough.

I went to Philadelphia to serve and not be served. It was an incredible experience and a tremendous lesson.

Monday, October 05, 2015

What We Saw in Philadelphia—Part III

Day 3 was a completely different experience, and it had its ups and downs. It was the first day that traffic in and our of Philadelphia completely locked down. Our bus was directed to the parking lot for Citizens Bank Park, and we too the Broad Street line in.


We were given orange hats with the Diocese of Boise logo on them so that we could see each other and stay together. That plan only works if people stick together, and it got blown out of the water almost immediately.

We arrived at the Walnut Station and were given quick instructions about where we were going (the check point on 20th). Unfortunately, they were not clear on routes from the station to the checkpoint. This turned out to be key for us, but oddly, it worked out for the best.

Gina and I trailed the group (along with our diocesan communications director and another deacon) to make sure no one got lost. One of our number, an older deacon and his wife, just couldn't keep up with the pace of the tour director and had to stop to rest as we climbed the stairs. We all got to the street, but while he needed to rest, the group was ready to go. Gina and I opted to stay behind with the couple to help them find their way.

Unfortunately, the entire group disappeared almost immediately, and I didn't see which direction they went. However, I did see a checkpoint ahead and assumed that was where they went. I found out too late that it was the wrong check point, but we were already in line.

We stood in line for about 90 minutes--dumped our fruit and water at the entrance, and made our way up to city hall.


The crowds were still fairly light at this point. We led our friends along the parade route, but at a certain point, John decided that he had gone far enough for the time. He said that they would catch up to us after he caught his breath. He actually meant to camp out right there instead, but he didn't want us to worry. As it turned out, this worked well. He and his wife were able to get a good spot for the papal parade, and they were close enough to the exit that we could pick them up on the way out.

At this point, Gina and I headed up the parkway to find the rest of our group. The route became more congested as we approached the basilica, where the Saturday liturgy with clergy and religious was taking place. We were watching the mass on the jumbotrons that were placed all over the parade route, and I was also following Tom McDonald's status updates.

As we were passing the cathedral, Mass was ending, and people were trying to get a good view of the doorway to see Pope Francis exit. For some reason, I found this very touching. These young men were scrambling up onto the statue to get a glimpse of the pope.


We had blocks to go still to get into the ticketed area, and we both needed to find a lavatory. There were few between Broad Street and this location, so we forged ahead. We didn't find any until we reached 20th, which was where we were supposed to meet our group on the way out.

We made our way up Ben Franklin Parkway and found scattered members of our groups. Via text, I was able to locate the leaders of the expedition, we made our way as close to the stage as we could without having seats.And then came the wait. We were able to hear a number of musicians do their sound checks—Matt Maher, Aretha Franklin (who apparently sounded a whole lot better in the afternoon than she did when she performed). But for the most part, we waited and watched.

I was able to find this magnificent homage to American planning—the Great Wall O'Port o' Potties,


Those who wanted good shots of the pope camped at the rail. Those of us who just enjoyed being in the presence of so many joy-filled Catholics and our leader sat back.



We were able to watch the other events from the many jumbotrons all  over the parkway.


Before the papal parade started, we decided to grab a cheesesteak. I saw these priests eating ice cream and watching the spectacle.



Finally, the music started. Frankly, Matt Maher didn't get nearly enough time. He only performed two songs.


We watched the performances on closed circuit. Here's our view of the stage from where we were.


We saw them move the popemobile up to the stage in the afternoon. Knowing that the exits would be clogged, we resolved to start leaving at 7:30 (long before the end of the festivities). We made our way down to 20th but were on the opposite side of where we needed to be. About that time, the pope began making his rounds. He had sneaked out of the basilica back to St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, then around 7:00, he came back, mounted the popemobile, and started the parade. Since we didn't camp the rail, we were not likely to get good photos, but I managed to get a glimpse of the popemobile. You can see the front screen just to the right of the hands of the boy in blue.


And here just to the right of the girl.


I saw him float by with his cope flapping around his head. He was quickly moving from one side of the car to the other to make sure that he greeted everyone. I think he looks his most energetic at these moments. The addresses and the meetings with heads of state, quite frankly, seem to bore him. But when he gets a chance to engage with the people, he gets fired up.

UPDATE: I have to say that one of the remarkable things about both days was how good-natured people were. I heard not a single foul word, and I knew of no angry incidents. The only incident I know of was one that I sadly caused. As we were on our trek back to city hall, we took a path down around a public building and up a staircase. The stairs were marble and narrow, and just as we approached the top, a man and his wife stepped in front of us so that we were standing on these narrow steps. Several people walked in front of us, oblivious to us and our intentions. Finally, I reached across the path and said, "Excuse me, I need to get my wife off of these stairs." The young lady registered surprise, and then laughed it off. I tried to explain that the stairs were actually dangerous, but I think her thoughts were elsewhere, and she was by no means put out.

Gina and I headed back toward Broad Street to pick up our wayward deacon and his wife. We had been in contact with them and told them we'd come back and get them to the rail station. On the way, we saw this interesting light show on the dome of the basilica. It's difficult to make out, but basically, it was a loop of a single candle flame that separated into multiple flames.


We found our deacon and his wife, and we headed for the exit. John hadn't eaten since  the afternoon, so we stopped into a Wawa one block down from the Walnut station. There was an anti-Catholic group with a megaphone talking about how the pope couldn't save us, or the Immaculate Conception couldn't save us, or pedophile priests couldn't save us. I had to thoughts about this: first, they didn't know squat about Catholic theology, and second, their tone was so antithetical to everything else around them. While they were going off, and Catholic youth group trundled up the street and started dancing and singing in front of them. Score 1 for the Catholics.

And score 1 for this guy standing outside of the Wawa. He said he was 70 and he was dancing and praising God while all of this was going on around him. Gina insisted that I take his picture.


We got down to the rail station and made it back to AT&T Center. Surprisingly, we were the first back even though we didn't meet up with the main group. Everyone got back to the bus in one piece, and we were on our way home.

The last day would be the pinnacle of our experience.