Liquid God

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O Lord, we cannot go to the pool of Siloe to which you sent the blind man.
But we have the chalice of Your Precious Blood, filled with life and light.
~ St. Ephrem of Syria

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Of Sunday Obligation, Harry Stovall, and Catholic Spleen

And I said, ‘Well, that’s the one thing we’ve got.’
~ Deep Blue Something

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Altar Server Surrogate

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To touch the throne most holy,
to hand the gifts for the feast,
To see Him meekly, lowly,
descend at the word of a priest.

To hear man’s poor petition,
to sound the silver bell,
When He in sweet submission,
comes down with us to dwell.

~ St. John Berchmans

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Put Down the Missalette Already!

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Come and gaze upon this marvelous feat:
the woman conceives through the hearing of her ears!
~ Athanasius of Alexandria

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The Benefits of Bad Preaching

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A preacher may be able to hold the attention of his listeners for a whole hour, but in this case his words become more important than the celebration of faith.
~ Pope Francis

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Marching Orders

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Be present at the sacred and divine liturgy, conclude its prayer
and do not leave before the dismissal.
~ from an ancient Greek sermon

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Sneaking Shuteye

Yet a little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to sleep (Prov. 6.10).

Insomniac? Me, too. Let’s swap coping methods. Benadryl or Ambien? Yoga? Counseling? What about caffeine: Less? None at all?

Maybe you’ve had better luck than I have with stuff like that. Unfortunately, I’ve pretty much resigned myself to an inadequate night’s sleep on a regular basis – catching up on reading in the wee hours, or I Love Lucy reruns on TV Land, or even doing dishes on occasion – and so my challenge is figuring out how to make up the sleep deficit during the day.

Napping is the obvious stopgap remedy, but hardly a real solution, especially when it comes to the more serious effects of sleep deprivation. Michael Twery of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research, says that naps “may reduce the feeling of sleepiness but do not help the biological rhythms associated with long-term health.” Better sleep – good sleep, long sleep, at night preferably – is what’s really needed. Right. I know that. It’s a work in progress.

In the meantime, of course, naps are imperative, but not always convenient. Depending on where you work, it might be frowned upon to simply spread out on the floor for a refreshing doze. Consequently, unless you work in a part of the world where afternoon siestas are de rigueur, sneaking some sleep on the sly becomes an anappingrt form. Probably you’re already an old hand and already know all the tricks, but here are a few pointers if you’re a sleepless newbie.

1. Car naps – Let’s be clear from the get-go on this one: The car must be stationary before napping occurs. In fact, car naps are a great way of preventing nodding off when the car actually is in motion.

That being said, I put this one first because, although seasonal, it’s very convenient. Seriously, what could be easier (when the weather is clement) than stopping in a parking lot, making your way to the outer rim (where the well-heeled park their Lexus sedans and shiny new SUVs in hopes of avoiding car dings), and camping out for a spell. You put back your seat, insert a couple earplugs, and then cover your eyes with a handkerchief or bandanna. Bring along a small pillow for your neck’s sake, and perhaps a light coverlet in the fall and early spring. Five or ten minutes, tops, and you’re ready for that next meeting or financial report!

A variation on this method is what I call the “River Nap.” This was a favorite when we had babies that weren’t all that great at sleeping themselves. I’d secure the wailing child in a car seat, and we’d go for an extended drive all around town until the wails gave way to lullaby land. Next, I’d find some quiet, picturesque spot to park the vehicle (often a spot by the St. Joseph River – hence the name), lock all the doors, and put my seat back to join my son or daughter in a restful slumber. Dad gets a nap, baby gets a nap, and exhausted mom of nursing newborn gets a nap (hopefully) at home. A non-REM trifecta – sweet!

2. Library napsDid you know you’re not allowed to sleep in public libraries? It’s true, and now my kids have been alerted accordingly.

We were in our neighborhood branch the other day. My teens went off to find bosleepingoks and movies and music, and my younger children plopped down in front of the computers to play games (which they normally don’t get to do at home).

I found a poofy chair within eyeshot of the computer bank and settled in. Then, after the librarian making her rounds had passed me by, I leaned back, covered my eyes with a cloth, and caught a quick snooze. Five minutes is all it takes usually, sometimes even just a couple. Sleep experts say that cat naps are better than daytime full-fledged deep sleep anyway. It’s just a recharge, and then back in the game.

Later, on the way home, I mentioned to the kids that I was glad I wasn’t caught napping or else I might’ve been thrown out. It was hyperbole, of course, but my youngest daughter thought it was a curious comment. “Why would you get in trouble for sleeping in the library?” she asked.

This was a tough one, because we’re pretty much talking homeless folks here, and the no-sleeping rule is designed to prevent libraries from becoming drop-in centers. And, as I recall, that’s one of the main purposes for drop-in centers: To catch up on sleep in a safe, climate-controlled environment.

In Chicago, I remember getting kicked out of libraries pretty regularly for sleeping – the Bezazian branch on the north side was the first. I was brand new in the city and on a February urban plunge. I hadn’t slept much in the rescue mission the night before, so I was pretty beat, plus cold and sick. I just wanted a warm place to sit and snooze a bit, so when I came across the Bezazian branch, I went in, sat down, and dropped off to sleep. It couldn’t have been more than a minute or two before a librarian shook me awake and let me know I’d have to move along surprise!

Next time you’re in a downtown library, look around. You’ll see men and women (mostly men) slouching in chairs with strategically placed books to forestall the inevitable tap on the foot or shoulder. It was true in Chicago, and it’s true here in South Bend. It’s telling that I’ve never been nailed for napping in our neighborhood branch isleepern the subdivision, but downtown I’ve been called on it at least a couple times. And it’s apparently a pretty common library protocol nationwide – even in Seattle, where the public library has intentionally reached out to the homeless – but I’m glad to know that librarians wrestle with it when called upon to enforce it.

3. Church napsUnlike sleeping in the library, sleeping in church is acceptable. In fact, I even had a priest give me implicit permission once. “The least important part of the Mass by far is the homily,” he said. “If you have to duck out for some reason or catch forty winks, that’s the time to do it.” He well knows that I’ve taken him up on his advice many times.

Yes, I’m a notorious Mass-napper, I admit it. In fact, we have a saying in my family OK, not a “saying” so much as an inside joke, and the joke is on me. You’ve probably heard the musically inclined quote St. Augustine: “He who sings, prays twice.” Our family gloss on that saying is this: “And he who falls asleep, prays three times.”

But napping in church doesn’t have to be reserved to worship alone. If you can find a church that is open for prayer and adoration all day, then your drowsiness problems are over!

The key here is adopting the proper attitude of prayerful sleep – “attitude” as in positioning in the pew. My favorite napping church is still St. Peter’s in the Loop in Chicago. When I lived at the Catholic Worker, and got desperate for a break and some Z’s, I’d hop on the ‘L’ train (another good sleeping venue, but not to everyone’s taste), get off at Madison, and walk over to St. Peter’s. Like most Catholic churches, the front pews were typically empty, so I’d usually pick a spot a few rows bst. peter'sack from the Mary altar to the left of the sanctuary. I’d half kneel/half sit, and lean my head forward on the pew in front of me. I could stay in that position a good 15 minutes, and then wake up refreshed and ready to head back into the do-gooder fray, with only a big red mark on my forehead as evidence of my AWOL respite.

So, church napping is not only liturgically acceptable (during the homily), and socially respectable (as long as you don’t snore too bad), but theologically appropriate as well. Sleep is like death according to the Scriptures – especially in St. Paul:

For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.

And what’s the goal of the Christian life after all? To die in Christ, right? For to die in Christ is to be rise with him on the last day. St. Paul gets at this from the negative point of view in his first letter to the church at Corinth:

For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost…. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep (1 Cor. 15.16-18, 20).

We’re all going to die, short of the Parousia, and hopefully we’ll die in Christ with hope of resurrection to follow. If Christ is the church, why not think of sleeping in church as a display of Maranatha, “Come, Lord Jesus!” spirit?

In any case, please give me the benefit of the doubt. Next time you see me nodding off in church? Think of it as a theological statement and an affirmation of faith….Zzzzz-zzzzzz……
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The Eighth Sacrament

There comes a moment in every Catholic convert’s life—a watershed, a fork in the road, a Rubicon, if you will. It can be premeditated and long considered; it can just crop up out of nowhere and surprise us. But it comes, it seems, to all of us sooner or later.

It’s this: Do I hold hands with my neighbors during the Our Father? Or do I keep my hands clasped, close my eyes, and pretend to be heedless of the angry glares and raised eyebrows.

I mean, who would refuse to hold hands during the Lord’s Prayer? Am I a bigot? A selfish prig intent on snubbing my fellow worshipers? Don’t I know what the Our Father is all about?!

Here I stand, to borrow from Martin Luther: No hand holding for me.

When I was first attending Mass as a restless Evangelical—looking for something, I wasn’t sure what, but knowing that I wasn’t finding it in the Protestant churches I attended—the liturgy swept me up in its solemnity and beauty. The movement (standing, sitting, kneeling), the sounds (bells, organ, Scripture, prayer), the smells (incense mainly, but candle wax and wine as well), and the sights (icons, statuary, vestmhandsents, altar furnishings, even the architecture) all directed my attention outside of myself—outside of this world, really, outside of the temporal plane altogether.

I loved the sameness of the Mass regardless of the parish or priest or congregation, so I took full advantage of Chicago’s pervasive Catholic culture and visited many different churches for weekday and Sunday liturgies. At some point during that period—I can’t remember the date or the circumstances, although I might’ve had I known what it foretold—I had a rude awakening when some well-meaning congregant grabbed my hand at the beginning of the Our Father and wouldn’t let go until the priest intoned, “Let us offer each other the sign of peace.” I’ve been awkwardly fending off hand-holders ever since.

Not that I’m against it in principle, mind you. I grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s, so I knew hand-holding as a staple of youth groups, campfires, and plenty of other venues. And I love to hold hands with my wife and kids—in fact, I insist on it when the younger ones are crossing streets or following me in crowds. I hold hands, I hug, I even kiss my family in public.

But during the Our Father at Mass? I fold my hands and pray, and I urge my children to do the same.

Why?

For one thing, there’s nothing about hand-holding in the rubrics. Not one word. Nada. I already mentioned the 60s and 70s, and I suspect that the hand-holding experience of all those youth groupers and youth campers was simply adopted wholesale after the Council. Many liturgical abuses have been addressed since then—the English translation of the Missal most recently, but music and other issues as well—but hand-holding isn’t going anywhere.

So, what’s the big deal then? Here’s my second objection: It’s a major distraction.

The hand-holding takes place at a key moment in the Mass—after the Consecration, with our Eucharistic Lord present on the altar, but before Holy Communion, when we are privileged to receive Him—as we recite the prayer Our Lord Himself taught His disciples. The mood, liturgically, is intense, almost somber, as we call to mind all that occurred the night of the first Mass and all that followed, and we are directed to focus on God Himself by enunciating His very words.

Then, out of nowhere, my hand is grasped by a total stranger—a brother or sister in Christ, no doubt, and likely a disciple further along the path of sanctity than me. But, still, when I’m trying to pray? and focus on the Lord?

Instead, here is what really happens more often than not—see if it doesn’t resonate with your experience.

The unsought hand may be big or delicate, dry or damp, warm or cool—all characteristics that our brains automatically note, categorize, and assess, taking us well into the second clause of the prayer. Then, if the person on the opposite side hadn’t already taken your other hand, you have to decide whether a hand grasp of your own is in order, to sort of balance things out.

If both hands are engaged, the challenge is to focus on the rest of the prayer as you anticipate the conclusion and the possibility that your hand-holding neighbors are “arm-lifters”—the uncomfortably common practice of lifting entire pew-lines of attached hands and arms at the words, “For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen.”

So, you unclasp your hands, maybe after getting a little squeeze or two, and of course, now it’s time to offer the sign of peace. This you do gladly, but wouldn’t that have been enough to demonstrate your love of neighbor? Must we also feel compelled to be in bodily contact with each other throughout a prayer that’s meant to direct our attention to the Father Himself?

HandsFolded-PrayerI say no. Cranky? Maybe, but why not give it a go? Next time you’re at Mass, stand apart a bit, and avoid holding hands during the Our Father. It might take a couple times to get used to it, but I trust you’ll find that you’ll really start praying that prayer in a more deeply personal way.

And next time you see me at Mass? I hope you won’t avoid sitting near me. I’ll smile and nod and give you a warm handshake at the Sign of Peace. But don’t hold your breath waiting for my hand at the Our Father. Hopefully, I’ll be busy praying.

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