Friday, March 24, 2017

Basilica of St. Mary of the Assumption (in praise of lavish worship space)

A few weeks back, my sister-in-law's father, Al, passed away. As the de facto patriarch of the family now, I flew there to attend the memorial with my mother.  A little over two years ago, Al came out with another family friend when my father passed away. We had no clue at the time that he would be leaving us so soon after. He was a faithful Christian and by all accounts, a generous and decent man. And that's not saying nearly enough.

In any case, as any of you who have followed my blog know (even though I mostly post homilies now), when I travel, I like to visit all of the local Catholic churches. As luck would have it, Marietta is home to the Basilica of St. Mary of the Assumption, which was decreed a basilica only on 2013. The original of St. Mary's Church was built in 1837. (Catholic worship in Marietta began as early as 1749 with Jesuits traveling with French explorers.) This structure served the parish until the early 1900s, when a new church was begun in the current location. The history of its construction is rather interesting (well, if you're history geek like me), and I encourage you to go read it.

Anyway, I forgot to take a photo of the exterior, so I borrowed this from the basilica web site, It really doesn't give a good impression of entry, which is beautiful. Statues of Sts. Peter and Paul flank the stairs. I explained to my mom the significance of the items they each hold (keys for St. Peter and a scroll and sword for St. Paul) and how such items are keys to identifying saints and martyrs.

Two of the most striking features of the church are the stunning stained-glass windows and the beautiful paintings. My home parish, St. John's Cathedral in Boise, has some beautiful examples of German leaded stained glass, so these always shout out to me. The basilica's windows are different in style but beautiful nonetheless.

The paintings are of various scenes: the sermon on the mount, Jesus' baptism, and so on. A renovation was done in the 70s to lighten and simplify the interior, and remove the high altar and rail. Now while I'm not typically happy with changes made during the fever of the Spirit of Vatican II (which sometimes grew into serious infections and wreckovations), I have to say that the sanctuary was still beautiful prior to the renovation. However, the color and art added in the 2008-2009 renovation really bring out the beauty of this church. Check out the restoration page to see the differences.

The twelve apostles surround the altar. Notice the image of the assumption behind the altar. You can also see the umbrellino to the right. The tintinnabulum on the left is not as visible. These are symbols of a church's status as a basilica.

Here's another shot of the Assumption, with the tintinnabulum in the lower left corner and the tabernacle in its proper place of honor.

I did not have a chance to ask anyone what relic is there in front of the crucifix, but I think it likely that it's a relic of the True Cross.

I think this might give a better impression of the colors in the windows. Here are some better shots.

So my mom and I stopped in front of this altar and considered it for a moment. I turned to her and said, "It looks like the Blessed Mother is giving Jesus a high five." And my mom covered her mouth and giggled and said, "I thought the same thing." As a scrupulously observant Catholic in her youth, she wasn't sure if she should say anything.

This beautiful altar for Mother of Perpetual Help is in the back of the church.

I wish I were a better photographer, but truly, I should be trusted with nothing more than a phone or cheap camera. However, even with my meager skills, I think the beauty of this church comes out.

Many people–many Christians and even Catholics—do not understand why the Church spends so much of its resources for its architecture and their interiors. The frequent complaint is that the Church could sell off everything and feed and house so many people. The complaint misses the mark on several points:
  • First, the Church is the largest complex of charitable organizations that has ever existed. The Church feeds more people, houses more people, educates more people, and cares for more sick people than any other institution now in existence or that has ever existed. They do this while still building beautiful churches and commissioning beautiful art.
  • Second, the Church holds much of its "treasure" as a trustee, as a guardian, for public benefit. It safeguards these cultural treasures so that they can be enjoyed by everyone and not simply by the highest bidder. It does not see itself as owner so much as caretaker.
  • Third, Christ said that we will always have the poor with us. If the Church sold off all of its art and architecture, the proceeds would feed and house the poor for a very short time. And then all of it would be gone into private hands. While it's held in trust, donations for the preservation of the works and for charitable purposes can be gathered.
  • Fourth, Catholic churches are not for the rich, the privileged, the parish, or patrons. Anyone can enter a Catholic church and spend time there in reflection. On my last business trip to San Francisco, I saw homeless people sleeping in the pews. I have seen at least one person sleeping in a stall in the men's room of our parish (during a particularly harsh winter). Our churches are for all of us, for anyone. Do the poor and homeless deserve less grandeur in which to contemplate God? The whole point of such decor is to elevate our minds to Him, whether we are rich or poor. To gut churches to address only material needs is to neglect the spiritual needs of many who otherwise would starve.

I love the beautiful reminders we have in our churches to remind us that what we see here dimly (even in such radiant beauty) is nothing compared to the beauty we will encounter in the face of our Lord.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Meme me me...

It's that time of year to start dusting off my vocal chords and start practicing that marathon of Catholic liturgical chant, the Exultet. This chant follows the lighting of the Paschal candle and the procession. I have been privileged to be able to do this for my parish for the past three years since I was ordained. If you've never heard it, you can listen now.

Currently, we chant ours in English and Spanish. I'm hoping someday to be able to chant it in Latin, if God wills it.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Listen to Him; Trust in Him—Second Sunday of Lent (Cycle A)

Genesis 12:1–4a; 2 Timothy 1:8b–10; Matthew 17:1–9

Do you trust God? Do you trust that He has a plan for you? When you struggle with adversity, do you trust that somehow He will bring about good? Imagine the Lord telling you, "Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk" as He does to Abram in the first reading. Now Abram is in Ur of the Chaldeans, which would be somewhat close to Basra in modern day Iraq, some seven or eight hundred miles from the land of Canaan.
He's not talking about a move from Boise to Melba, but from a land of these—your own people—here, to that unknown place 800miles away with people you know nothing about. And you're going to walk—with all of your children, your herd animals, and your belongings. Imagine the trust you'd have to have to take that directive. But what does that trust yield? Not only are Abram's descendants a great nation, but all the communities of the earth are blessed. Abram's tremendous faith brings about tremendous returns. Abram becomes Abraham, a name that means "father of a multitude." And from that multitude comes the salvation of the world, our savior Jesus—all because of the faith and trust of one man.
            In every era, the faithful are tried. That is as true now as it was in earlier times. In 2 Timothy, Paul tells Timothy to bear his hardships for the sake of the gospel and that God would strengthen him. Paul and Timothy lived during some of the earliest periods of Christian persecution. Surely what Timothy faced is far different from what we as Christians in the U.S. face today, but we may well face adversity as our society trends toward increasing secularism. It's difficult for many of us to remember that Catholics were not always part of the mainstream in this country. There were times early in our nation's history when Catholics faced heavy civil restrictions and when Catholic churches and convents were burned by mobs. We forget about the virulently anti-Catholic Know Nothing party or that the Ku Klux Klan, which was very popular in the 1920s, was also violently opposed to Catholics. It wasn't until after John F. Kennedy that hostility toward Catholics in U.S. society decreased. Will we ever see anything like that kind of hostility again? I'd like to think not. But elsewhere in the world, there is no question. Christians, mostly Catholics and Orthodox, are persecuted throughout the Middle East and Africa. So there will be hardships. We will be tried. We will have our crosses to bear. Jesus promised that much to us. But He also promised to walk with us in our struggles.
            In Matthew, we get the story of the transfiguration of Jesus. All three of the synoptic gospels share this same story, and in all three Jesus takes only three of the twelve apostles up the mountain with Him: Peter, James, and John. Commentaries make a lot of this group Jesus takes with Him: John MacEvilly notes that they meet the numerical requirements for witnesses required for legal proof under Jewish law. Others note that each of the three has a unique role: Peter, being the leader of the twelve apostles, James being the first apostle martyred for the faith, and John as the one who would survive all the rest. But clearly, these three shared a special relationship with the Lord, and they would also be the three who accompanied him to Gethsemane on the last night of His mortal life.
            So what is the point of this transfiguration? Recall that the apostles expected an earthly messiah. They expected Jesus to change the status quo in Judea, perhaps to run the Romans out of the country. Jesus understood this, which is why he told the twelve not to repeat that He was the Christ. He understood the political ramifications of such an announcement.
            But He also had this core twelve who were the foundation of His Church, and He knew that His coming death might shatter their faith. He attested to this several times and warned them of His impending death. You might recall that He encourages Simon Peter to strengthen the others after he himself has turned back, so He knows that Peter will tested.
            So He takes them to the top of Mount Tabor, and there, He is revealed in all of His glory. He appears there with Moses and Elijah, representing the law and the prophets of Judaism and showing His authority over them. Of course, Peter as usual is motivated to say something foolish, which is when the Father makes the matter clear: "This is my beloved son. Listen to Him."
            Listen to Him. Trust Him. The world will tell you that your faith is nonsense, but listen to Him. You will face faith-shattering setbacks, but trust in Him. Even as they descend from the mountain, Jesus prepares them for His death because He knows that they will be tested and that they will lose heart. It isn't until His resurrection that Peter and John get it, that the pieces all come together.
            How often is it like that with us? How often do we need the two-by-four of the Holy Spirit to whap us upside the head and awaken us to God moving in our lives? I was awakened to this reality again recently when two people, one of whom is a member of our parish, contacted me separately out of the blue for the same new job opportunity. Whap! The Holy Spirit got my attention right quick. That's what Jesus does here at the transfiguration. He gives Peter, James, and John a glimpse of His true glory. They don't know yet what it means. They will be tried and tested. But when the third day comes, it will all become crystal clear. He is raised from the dead. He is alive again. He can be nothing other than God with us. He prepares them so they can trust Him.
            This was God's constant complaint against Israel. He brought them out of Egypt. He fed them in the wilderness. He gave them a land flowing with milk and honey. Yet they continually lost faith. They failed to trust. Our current political and cultural climate gives us so much right now of which we can be fearful or anxious. Maybe you're afraid of what the current administration is doing. Maybe you're afraid of what the North Koreans or the Islamic State are doing. We should remember the words of Psalm 146:
Put no trust in princes,
in mortal men in whom there is no help.
Take their breath, they return to clay
and their plans that day come to nothing.
We have to remember that God is in control. Despite our fears and our anxieties, He can turn all things toward good ends.
            I know that I too often fail to trust. Sometimes it comes in those moments when I am asked to take on a new challenge in ministry. Sometimes it comes in those moments when I want clarity and stability. But God doesn't promise us constant prosperity and perpetual stability. He promises that He won't desert us and that we will be safe in His care, however that may come about. In some cases, we have to choose the difficult path, but know that God is with us. He doesn't promise us an easy life, but He promises that He won't let us fall, so long as we simply trust in Him.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Marriage Prep Reflection

This last weekend, we had a summary prayer service and brunch for the people who took part in our marriage prep program this last session. I was already for it, but a death in the family called me away, so I modified my homily and had Gina deliver a reflection instead. It's made up of bits and pieces of wedding homilies I give, but I think it has some important points that I always try to drive home.
          We want to thank you for attending marriage preparation and for making the time to learn the Church's teaching on marriage. The Church wants to make sure that people who come here to give their consent in front of a Catholic minister fully understand the depth of commitment required for marriage. To us, marriage is not just about warm and fuzzy feelings that two people have toward one another, and it certainly isn't just about the wedding. Marriage is not about this day but about the rest of your days.
          It's important to understand what love is and what it is not. This distinction is important because our culture regularly offers us a counterfeit of love, and too many of us fall for it. The counterfeit is what we see held up as the ideal of love in romantic comedies and young-adult novels with sparkly vampires. But these counterfeits don't show a thing of what love or marriage are truly about. Love isn't about succumbing to your feelings of passion, or finding personal fulfillment, or satisfying your greatest desires. Love is about sacrifice. You marry for the sake of the other: not because that guy makes feel oogy all over, or because that lady gives me heart palpitations. Love is not simply an emotional or physical response but an act of the will.
          True love isn't about what you get out of this deal. It's about what you give: what you give to your intended spouse, what you give to your families, and what you give to generations unborn. Marital love is about a sacrifice for something beyond the here and now. True love is about seeking what is best for the beloved.
          Jean Vanier, a philosopher and theologian who founded the L'Arche movement, a movement that allows the mentally disabled to live in homes in communities and live normal social lives, defined love in this way: "To love someone is to show them their beauty, their worth, and their importance."
          "To love someone is to show them their beauty, their worth, and their importance."
          Love, then, isn't about the self, but the other.
          In our reading from Genesis, Adam sees woman for the first time. She is not yet named Eve but "woman." He says to her, "This one, at last, is bone of my one, and flesh of my flesh."
          "At last," he says, as if this was what he had been waiting for all along. Now, Hebrew has some interesting ways to communicate ideas, and the way Adam spoke here—bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh—is what we would call superlative. It is Adam's way of saying, "You are all of the very best of me."
          Marriage requires this directedness to the other and this self-sacrificial nature. That's why scripture uses marriage as the image of God's covenant with Israel. He gives Himself completely to the people of Israel and wishes them to return that devotion.
          Marriage also needs unity. The most obvious way that two become one flesh is in their children. And children need unity in their families. They need stability. They especially need that unity when they act like they want it the least. This is a piece of advice I think all of the instructor couples would agree to:
Don’t allow the children to divide you. They will try to play you against each other, and you know full well that you tried to do this with your parents!
If you aren't united, your kids will direct you rather than vice versa. So be one in mind, body, and spirit. Today, you are becoming one flesh. So seek to act with your wills united.
          There are a lot of threats to that unity. Children suffer most when marriages break down. The biggest threat is our culture, which offers quick remedies for temporary unhappiness—a quick dissolution of the civil bound and everyone goes along their merry way. Don't buy that lie. Your safe port, your best anchor, is the person to whom you are clinging today. If you both take your vows seriously, you will make sure that that is always the case.
          So these two elements—self-sacrifice and unity—are critical for marriage because these elements orient you both to the good of the other, and the good of spouses is one of the two primary purposes of marriage. They are necessary because children and families need stability, and the raising and education of children is another primary purpose in marriage. They are not, as our culture seems to suggest, a nice option if you want or nice accessories for the well appointed couple. Children are a primary purpose of marriage, these two primary purposes support and aid each other. Marriage is so critical for our society, and families are the most basic building block of society.
          Love is not simply an emotional response. Love is an act of the will. Love is a verb. Love is demonstrative. Love acts. Love does. Love does even when the lover doesn't feel like it. Love is in the small things you do for each other daily and in the big sacrifices you occasionally have to make. Love is in saying yes to the commitment, even when you’re drained and exhausted. That’s what families need, what children need, and what a marriage needs.
          Here are a few ideas about how you can make your marriage strong and stable.
Number 1:  Put God first. God gave you life and all that you have. God gave you each other. Recognize your dependence on God at all times.
Number 2: Put your spouse before your self. Marriage is not a fair trade, and you are not asked to invest 50% for a share in the gain. You are asked to give 100% and a share in both the gain and the loss. You are to pour yourselves out completely to each other. That is what our Lord did for us, and that is why God’s love for us is so frequently symbolized by the image of marriage in scripture. That is what it means to be one flesh. You are in it not only for yourselves, but for your children, for your families and for the grandchildren and the generations who don’t yet exist. Remember that your number one job from now on is to help your spouse get to Heaven.
Number 3: When you are wrong, admit it, and ask for forgiveness. Don’t let the seed of resentment be the product of your pride. Instead be guided by honesty and humility.
Number 4: Never take your problems to an outside confidant if you have not first addressed them clearly with each other. With any complaint in your marriage, the first stop is your spouse.

We wish you God's abundantly blessings on your journey.