Liturgy, incarnation and other messes of love

mess4I am posting daily over at Catholic Sensibility, which is such a liturgy blog, and I have said so little about liturgy. I’m in way over my head talking about liturgy over there! Make no mistake, I have the heart of a liturgist, but I feel a bit out of my league. After all, I’m an amateur liturgist. Don’t forget that amateur means one who does something out of love, not someone who can’t cut it.

Liturgist and musician, Rory Cooney put a post up on his blog this past Tuesday — it was called Liturgy and the mess of incarnation. I want to cut and paste some sections of it here, just to give you a flavor of why I am writing about it here today, but the whole post is so good, I do not know where to begin.

This could have been me at that age, pondering God. And wondering why I could not be an altar boy!

This could have been me at that age, pondering God. And wondering why I could not be an altar boy!

The post has Rory ruminating about liturgy, looking a the expansion of permission to use the Tridentine rite. I know that I have more than one friend with a deep affection for this liturgy, so allow me to be clear that I am not mocking this rite, or any Latin liturgy. Also allow me to be clear that I personally do not wish to return to this form of liturgy. (Note: I did love mass as a child, weirdly church-nerdy child that I was!)

In his post, Rory quotes a friend who speaks about the transcendent nature of the Tridentine rite as a means of rejecting the messy business of incarnation.

hocuspocus1Hmmmm…. I do kind of get that.

Rory goes on to talk about all manner of things, about bad presiders, annoying congregants, and all the rest. If you are a presider, a musician or a liturgist, even if you do not long for that Tridentine rite, you know what it means to live in the messy business of mass. People who can’t sing. People who let their cell phones ring. People who are looking at their phones. Crying babies. Snoring sleepers. Careless cantors. Lousy lectors. And of course – poor presiders, horrible homilists are part of it as well.

sleep-in-churchWhat a mess! Why bother?

Well, I will let you go back to Rory’s to read about that. The whole post got me thinking about how much happens at and around church and liturgy in the realm of the “I-can’t-stand-you” mode. It can be such a huge mess.

Rory, with the input of his friend, continues to ruminate, bringing forth losers and lowlifes, like ourselves!

And if that wasn’t enough, my friend insists that God continues to become flesh in losers and lowlifes to the present day, presumably including even me and my exaggerated opinion of myself, along with all the folks whose insouciance I lament and who drive me nuts Sunday after Sunday. It is in this world, in these people, the God is become flesh. That just about ought to stop me in my tracks, and make me think a little bit, right?

Those words have settled in my heart since Tuesday.  “God becomes flesh in losers and lowlifes “- which includes all of us.

I'm a loser. Which in this case is great news!

I’m a loser.

As someone who is more oriented to a horizontal style of liturgy, there is so much to think about. I am drawn to two points of view about the whole thing.

One thought is that if we are to get to the place of the transcendent divine, perhaps we do need a more, dare I say, formal liturgy? Oriented outside of ourselves? Literally – facing away?  (Did I really just say this?)

picture-17The other however, brings me right back where I stood in the first place. God entered the world as flesh, humanity, as it is. How does that place the transcendent divine right in our midst? And with that, a liturgy that celebrates the ordinary and extraordinary nature of it all? One that orients us outside of our own selves, but into others. You know, into the losers and lowlifes, which we are a part of. And once oriented so, finding Christ in the messy midst of it all.

This is why I tend to come down where I do. I happen to find God more in the mess that is all of us,  and it is as holy and divine as it can be.

As all of this rambled around my head and heart for two days, I did not get to write about it. And what did I find on Rory’s blog today? A guest post response from a priest friend of Rory’s.

So interesting. Read some of what his friend wrote:

Evangelical churches have made great headway here in Guatemala- mainly due to the funding send from the US and former governments here to lure people away from the Catholic Church (the government didn’t like the Catholics siding with the poor, and wanted to dilute Catholics’ influence by attracting its members into other churches that focused more on personal spiritual experience). From what I have read about the Church in Brazil, it seems that they have had some success holding onto members by switching to a more theatrical style of liturgy, drawing out emotions with a particular style of music and preaching. It will be interesting to see if this does the trick.

gps_god_personal_savior_bumper_stickers-r4343fc927ec6481083e25e7610a77594_v9wht_8byvr_512The loss of Catholics to spirituality which promises a more personal relationship to Jesus breaks my heart.  The loss of Catholics to worship that is more theatrical also hurts me. It is not just about “Jesus ‘n me.” It is about Jesus and me – but, there is more.  In the heart of liturgy, the heart of the Eucharist is all of us. Horizontal and vertical. And that is why we are liturgists, musicians, lay ecclesial ministers – it is about Christ and about all of us as one in Christ.

Anyway, maybe you will go read read Rory’s posts and think about what he and his friends say. Also think about the big messy mess of a mess that is life, and think about the work of the people, that is, the liturgy. It is beautiful and it can be a mess, but in Christ, the mess is transformed. Amen to that.

And yet here we are, so many of us in love with this, not knowing any other way to be.

What a mess.

Here and there, this and that

That's me on the left... wait, on the right. Well - both! Some photo trickery for you.

That’s me on the left… wait, on the right. Well – both! Some photo trickery for you.

Once again days go by and posts do not go up. It is a pattern, and while posting itself may not be consistent, this pattern sure is! Last week found me awash in meeting deadlines. Procrastination is a particular gift of mine, and it is a gift that stands tall in my life. This week won’t be that different – I guess no week is that different for me!

imagesMore about the writing that I have been working on in a moment, but first things first… Last week a truly wonderful book was published, and I cannot recommend it to you highly enough. The Social Media Gospel, Sharing the Good News in New Ways by Meredith Gould is now available! A full review will follow, but for now, hear me when I say that this is a great book. It was an honor to have been asked to read an early copy and to provide what is commonly known as a book blurb to the publisher, so I have known about this work for some time. I am thrilled that the book is finally out, and in such an attractive volume. What – you want an ebook? Of course that is available, too! Order either version up right here. Parishes or groups wanting to embark on social media ministry should consider bulk orders; contact the publisher for further info.

There is no one who knows more about faith and social media than the woman whom I have called, “the apostle of the internet.” Meredith Gould is tireless in her promotion of #chsocm, aka, church social media. Go check out that #chosm link, or better yet, put that Twitter hashtag to good use by checking it out, and using it as well.

Along those same lines, I attended a great workshop from Friday to Saturday, which dovetails quite nicely with the book. It was a tremendous blessing to return to the (greatly refurbished) peaceful and prayerful place of respite and retreat known as St. Mary’s on the Lake. What? You live in the area and you have not been there? Oh, you *must* go! St. Mary’s is the summer home of the Paulist Fathers who are based in New York City.

There is a special place in my heart for the Paulists who “seek to meet the contemporary culture on its own terms, to present the Gospel message in ways that are compelling but not diluted, so that the fullness of the Catholic faith may lead others to find Christ’s deep peace and ‘unreachable quietness.’ Paulists do not condemn culture, nor do they try to conform the Gospel to it. Rather, we preach the Gospel in new ways and in new forms, so that the deep spiritual longings of the culture might find fulfillment in Jesus Christ. To this end, Paulists use printing presses, movie cameras, and the Internet to give voice to the words of Christ – the Word Himself – to a new generation of Americans.” 

Larry Rice, CSP proudly holding up his copy of The Social Media Gospel by Meredith Gould!

Larry Rice, CSP proudly holding up his copy of The Social Media Gospel by Meredith Gould!

Sorry, that was long but so necessary to understand this great order of priests. You can find out more about them by visiting their website. They may be best known to a generation of younger Catholics and other spiritual seekers at Busted Halo.

The workshop was lead by Larry Rice, CSP. Father Larry was previously unknown to me, but got a big thumbs up from people who are both familiar with the Paulists and the power of church social media, my dear friends, Mike Hayes and Paul Snatchko.  It was indeed a great workshop and we all learned and shared a lot in a short time. I don’t know how I did not know Father Larry before, but I know him now and am grateful for that!

By the way, if you can get yourself up to St. Mary’s on the Lake for a visit, I urge you to do so. Come on people, gather your parishes, your worship communities, your small faith sharing groups, or others with whom you gather in prayer – all are welcome! People of all faiths are invited to St. Mary’s on the Lake. You will find great natural beauty, peace, a quiet corner of Lake George, so please consider a visit.

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The accommodations are freshly painted and the common spaces are upgraded. As for the food… What can I possibly say? Best. Food. Ever. Seriously – if you do not believe me, go and find out for yourself. Site manager Ethan Allen has such a tremendous spirit of hospitality that you will feel gathered up in welcome the minute you drive up. And the man can cook – it is truly heavenly food!

So all of this has kept me busy along with some writing assignments for offline matters. I am also gearing up to take the helm at one of my favorite blogs, Catholic Sensibility, next week. Todd is going on retreat, and he must really need one if he hands the keys over to me. Honestly – what a privilege to write in this esteemed spot, easily one of my favorite blogs in all of #chsocm. I will somehow do for Catholic Sensibility what I can’t do for myself, and that is to post every day. Let’s see how that goes. (I have been preparing, so watch out world!) Todd is going on what sounds like an amazing retreat at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, MN, a place that I dream of visiting.  Anyway, I will cross post whatever I publish at Catholic Sensibility, so stay tuned.

That’s all the news from here for now, more to follow! Thanks for reading. Why don’t you use the comments to tell us about what you’ve been up to? Stats tell me that a lot of you are out there reading, so if you want to speak up, I would love to hear from you!

A Woman of Courage and Light

This post was originally published at Catholic Sensibility, for the series, Two Weeks of Worthy Women. Todd Flowerday, host and publisher over there has asked me to contribute a couple of pieces; this is the first one.

648Imagine that you are born in a place that sometimes belongs to one country, Romania, but at other times belongs to another country, Hungary. Imagine that you are born as a secular Hungarian Jew in such a place, and that you live a completely middle class life. You have the gifts and benefits of education, well being, exemplary parents who teach you about the arts and about how to live a generous life oriented to the common good. Imagine further that because of a challenge in public school, you find yourself at a Catholic boarding school, and you are attracted to Jesus Christ.

If this all sounds like a slightly offbeat and made up tale, it is anything but! Such are the circumstances of the early life of Sister Judith Fenyvesi. She was born in Salonta, Romania in 1923, the third child of a pharmacist and a musician, and lived a life that earns her a place in these days of worthy women.

The words “religious freedom” are thrown around with incredible ease these days, but what do these words really mean? How and when is our freedom impeded or curtailed? Are we killed or imprisoned for our religious convictions? How does a long history of a lack of such freedom, make itself manifest in our lives today?

d95e4310fca091f064424010.LThese are things that I thought about as I plowed through the pages of Sister Judith Fenyvesi’s biography, A Journey of Light in the Darkness. While Judith was growing in faith that was oriented towards Christ, the backdrop of history was that Romania and Hungary were in a tug of war for the place where she lived. On top of all of this, there was the growing threat of Nazism, and communism. Life was chaotic, uncertain, and fraught with danger.

Although she had become Catholic and had plans to enter into formation with the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion, Judith wanted to become a doctor. Because of her heritage, she was denied entry into medical school. She studied at the School of Social Work instead, which was run by the Sisters of Social Service. It was in this way that her first efforts were directed at the catechesis of adults and children, and also of establishing a children’s home in Cluj, Transylvania. In this work, she apparently had a tremendous influence on the faithful, and on other catechists and teachers. This was all done prior to any profession into the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion, although she considered this her community.

Holocaust_Yellow_BadgeIn what was to be a defining moment for Judith and for the Sisters of Social Service, Judith still had to wear a yellow star that identified her as a Jew. This was something that would put her in real danger. It was at this time that despite the danger to the sisters, they welcomed her to the novitiate, as if she was a novice. This act of charitable shelter changed the course of many things.

Judith was faced with a stark choice. Enter and possibly be spared the fate of so many Jews, or be safe. This also meant choosing to not join her family, who were back home and being moved into the ghetto, and ultimately deported from their beloved Salonta. Many efforts were made to save the Fenyvesi family, directed by the sisters, but Judith’s mother, sisters and grandmother all died in concentration camps.

Yet, Judith lived, but her challenges were not over. She continued her faith and vocation journey, and also became involved in the Catholic Resistance movement during the communist takeover in Romania. Judith and two other women religious ended up becoming carriers of secret messages between priests and bishops, whose ties to Rome were severed by the communist regime.

In 1951 she was arrested for her activities and held under the harshest conditions for 28 months of interrogation and deprivation. This yielded her an authentic blow to religious and any other kind of freedom – a ten-year sentence as a political prisoner.

In all this time she apparently never turned to hatred, and while she struggled with how cruel humans could be to one another, she persisted. Her faith and commitment to God and to God’s people was profound, and her suffering was not without redemption. That said, her suffering, physical and emotional, was quite intense.

During her imprisonment, her prayerful presence was a consolation to other prisoners. She had befriended two women in prison, who were sisters, not religious but biological, and they were instrumental in a later chapter of Judith’s life. Nonetheless, she did suffer greatly, felt the pain of losing everything.

A release from prison in 1961 offered little in the way of real freedom or consolation. Now Judith found herself with little or no support on the outside, with almost no contact with her congregation. She was truly alone and it was yet another very difficult chapter of life. Approaching 40, she was unsure of where she would go and how she would live.

The years of prison and isolation from her community and the loss of her family, truly created someone who was adrift. The authorities forced her to live in a particular place and it was difficult to find work. Her life as a sister was still not fully realized in any way. As a former political prisoner she was always suspect and under observation. Despite some periodic visits to her community in Cluj, she remained disconnected. Yet her faith persisted, and she was blessed with people who did support her in various ways.

In a strange turn of events, she found herself among a group of Jews who were being released to Austria. The Romanian communist government would be paid for this act, and thus their false humanitarian action came to be! Once in Vienna, she established contact with her community and the tide began to turn for Judith. In an ironic situation, her Jewish roots, which led to her first persecution, also gained her freedom.

In Vienna Judith studied English and prepared for a new life; in 1964 she was able to move to Buffalo, NY to live with the Sisters of Social Service. It is here where her life truly turns, but that is not the story that I am here to tell you today. You can read all about that in her autobiography. (If the Sisters of Social Service sound familiar to you, it is because they have their own worthy story. Sister Simone Campell of Nuns on the Bus fame belongs to this order.)

What strikes me is that in Judith we find a woman, persecuted at many levels – for being a Jew, for being a woman religious, for being a Catholic. And even at her worst, she found the light of Christ to guide her on through many circumstances.

Always relying on God, Judith prevails. As we consider these two weeks of worthy women, Judith holds a place of honor among them. May she rest in the peace of the God that gave her a long and rich life, of many chapters, may her memory forever be a blessing. May she and others inspire us all.

“The song to my God continues to be sung. It is a song of gratitude for the blessings I have received as a member of the Sisters of Social Service.”
Sister Judith Fenyvesi

My empty word file mocks me and other tales of writing (updated)

tumblr_inline_mjpyglF4VQ1qz4rgpLately I have been at many events where writing comes up, and people say things like, “tell me about your blog?” *sigh* My ego happily grabs my business cards from my purse and tosses them like a spray of confetti on New Year’s Eve. Simultaneously my seemingly unstoppable jaw flaps with phrases like “Oh, I just write about faith and real life, that kind of thing.”

Except for when I don’t. You see, I haven’t written too much lately. Kind of like one of my favorite anti-heroes Peter Gibbons, from the movie Office Space, I stare at my computer a lot, along with all my notes, and it might look like I’m working. But I am not.

If you are a regular reader, you know this. If you are among those who picked up the confetti, you will quickly notice this. And I have been struggling with this off and on for some time now. Oh, the writer’s life!

First it was finishing up that last semester. Then it was graduation. Now it is… well, it is… I have a very big deadline approaching. Things were going along, and then thought I was there, but then I started to revisit and edit. So, about being there? Maybe not so much.tumblr_m1tmz8sgIp1r82bbmo1_500I do have things that I want to write about and I will be back. Hope versus optimism, a thought I got from a post written by Bridget at Women In Theology. Other thoughts focus on the catholicity of being a Catholic Christian, which got a boost from this post by Jana Bennett at Catholic Moral Theology, inspired by an editorial from Matt Malone, SJ, editor of America Magazine. There are a lot of short scriptural reflections on my mind, but never on paper these days.

BPA0305RF1238-MAnd what about the sacraments that I want to write about? There is a big draft about baptism that I have been wrestling with. Wisely or not, I would like to write about LGBT issues in the Church, and that is rolling around in the back of my brain. Pope Francis provides me with endless fodder, including the recent flap about who gets saved.  (Updating by adding this link from Stephen Colbert.) And my desires to write about Holy Orders, or how we might be church going forward, and why the Eucharist matters, are far greater than my ability to do so, as of this moment. The list goes on and on.

And what about the posts about hearing three great theologians in recent times? From Elizabeth Johnson CSJ in April, to Anthony Gittins C.S.Sp.,  and Richard Gaillardetz PhD in May, I am awash in thought about all of them.

Family_Guy_Get_Me_Started_Black_Shirt_POPPlus, the Fortnight for Freedom is coming, and I have promised to submit two pieces to Catholic Sensibility during those dates. No – not about the Fortnight for Freedom, which you do not want to get me started about – but for the Two Weeks of Worthy Women series that blog host Todd Flowerday initiated during the first Fortnight for Freedom. Last year I wrote about Thea Bowman and Gertrude of Helfta. This year… well, you will have to wait and see.

And I do have a family, the desire to spend time with them, as well as read books, garden, walk my dog, and sleep. Let’s not forget the full time employment either!

So that’s where I’m at. If you are a reader, I beg your patience. If you are new, maybe you will poke around and see what I have said before. Things like this, or this, or maybe this?