Enough is enough – Part 2

Thanks for coming back. Just in case you are not returning, this post began yesterday  with Enough is enough – Part One. You can check that out here if you missed it, and continue here. I’m on a bit of ramble about Sunday’s Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ and what that means in real life today. At least from my perspective.

hunger-facts-slider-2-1Each day as I sit at my desk I answer the phone and the door, often greeting people in the rectory of a suburban parish who come to us because they do not have enough food. The vast majority of the people who come for help are white, largely the working (if they are lucky) poor. People who have fallen through the cracks for one reason or another. I’m guessing most of them never saw college as an option, but some may have. I don’t know. The jobs they have are usually fast food or retail, jobs that pay very poorly and that offer few benefits.

Now it is nice to sit in the comfort of our own homes and tsk task that “those people” should not want cable television, internet service, or an iPhone. Their kids should not get the nice athletic shoes our kids get nor the clothes. And they certainly shouldn’t smoke or have a decent car! After all, if they worked harder (really???) and did without, they could Continue reading

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Authority, transformation, and dirty feet

hi-pope-kissing-feetTrue authority presents itself in service and flows downward. Authentic change presents itself in justice through community and flows upward. Transformation happens when they meet in they dynamism of the Spirit. This is only accomplished through life in Christ.

I have washed feet and I have had my feet washed. No surprise that the getting washed was more challenging than the washing. Well, except for maybe when I had my feet washed by someone with whom I had a difficult relationship.

As a former corporate executive and leader, I can tell you that you can’t make anyone do anything. As an ordinary human, I can tell you that cannot make someone love you. Of course you can force people to do things, you can chase someone to no end, but no real authority, change, or love will come from that. The only change will be the disintegration that comes from anything to discomfort all the way to hate. This is not the integrity that emerges from the love known as agape.

jesus-washing-peters-feet-by-sieger-koderWhatever you do this Holy Thursday, whether you get your feet washed or you wash those of another, don’t think of any church service as a nice re-enactment. That is why the Eucharist is different, we are not re-enacting anything, we are not “getting” anything, we are not forced to something.

Eucharist is about what we give in love, put at the service of world in Christ. Eucharist is about how we are all transformed into what we are becoming. This can only happen in community, it is not a moment that is between any one of us and Jesus alone, it is about the whole, the entire Body of Christ – which is Continue reading

Thanksgiving and εὐχαριστία

images-1As a Roman Catholic, I am ever reminded that when we come to the table for Eucaristia, which means thanksgiving. It is about what we give – and not what we get. Sacramentally speaking, we don’t “get” or “receive” communion, we enter into it offering our gifts, turning ourselves over to God. That’s the idea anyway, I’m not always so good at that part. Withholding comes a little bit too naturally to me, but I’m trying.

Today I am thinking about how gratitude is always an exercised choice. Often best made, when you are simply going through the motions. After doing so, many years ago, I found myself surprised as I realized that I was truly are grateful.

At the Thanksgiving mass, we typically get a prayer to use at our table. Today we received a copy of this prayer, asking us to reflect with it today, and as the week goes on. Written by Howard Thurman in 1959, these words are a gift at any time of year.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone. I wish you peace.

A Litany of Thanksgiving
by Howard Thurman

Today, I make my Sacrament of Thanksgiving.

I begin with the simple things of my days:
Fresh air to breathe,
Cool water to drink,
The taste of food,
The protection of houses and clothes,
The comforts of home.

For these, I make an act of Thanksgiving this day!

I bring to mind all the warmth of humankind that I have known:
My mother’s arms,
The strength of my father,
The playmates of my childhood,
The wonderful stories brought to me from the lives of many who talked of days gone by when fairies and giants and all kinds of magic held sway;
The tears I have shed, the tears I have seen;
The excitement of laughter and the twinkle in the eye with its reminder that life is good.

For all these I make an act of Thanksgiving this day.

I finger one by one the messages of hope that awaited me at the crossroads:
The smile of approval from those who held in their hands the reins of my security;
The tightening of the grip in a single handshake when I feared the step before me in the darkness;
The whisper in my heart when the temptation was fiercest and the claims of appetite were not to be denied;
The crucial word said, the simple sentence from an open page when my decision hung in the balance.

For all these I make an act of Thanksgiving this day.

I pass before me the mainsprings of my heritage:
The fruits of the labors of countless generations who lived before me, without whom my own life would have no meaning;
The seers who saw visions and dreamed dreams;
The prophets who sensed a truth greater than the mind could grasp and whose words could only find fulfillment in the years which they would never see;
The workers whose sweat has watered the trees, the leaves of which are for the healing of the nations;
The pilgrims who set their sails for lands beyond all horizons, whose courage made paths into new worlds and far-off places;
The saviors whose blood was shed with a recklessness that only a dream could inspire and God could command.

For all this I make an act of Thanksgiving this day.

I linger over the meaning of my own life and the commitment to which I give the loyalty of my heart and mind:
The little purposes in which I have shared with my loves, my desires, my gifts;
The restlessness which bottoms all I do with its stark insistence that I have never done my best, I have never reached for the highest;
The big hope that never quite deserts me, that I and my kind will study war no more, that love and tenderness and all the inner graces of Almighty affection will cover the life of the children of God as the waters cover the sea.

All these and more than mind can think and heart can feel,
I make as my sacrament of Thanksgiving to Thee,
Our Father, in humbleness of mind and simplicity of heart.

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.

Vulgarem panem, sacri panis – ordinary bread, sacred bread

1147637_Plate_with_lace_border_25_cm_5110bd238b2abOh, those special, special dishes, the fine china. You know, the kind that only comes out on special occasions, right? If you happen to own some Royal Copenhagen china, you know about the special.  You see, this Royal Copenhagen Flora Danica is the world’s most expensive china, with one place setting costing almost $7000! If I had that china, I would be afraid to touch it, let alone use it!

I had the privilege of meeting Greg Boyle in LA, October 2010.

I had the privilege of meeting Greg Boyle in LA, October 2010.

Recently I heard Gregory Boyle SJ, a Jesuit priest renown for his work with gang members in Los Angeles at Homeboy Industries; he was being interviewed by Krista Tippett  for her radio program, On Being. (Here is a link to the page for that program and the podcast.) Fr. Greg was talking about some of his “homies,” as he calls them, having a meal together. Seven former gang rivals, sitting around a one kitchen, watching a turkey cook on Christmas (yes, I know – wrong holiday!), that they could share. And you can be assured that there was no Flora Danica in that household! Who knows, they might have eaten off of mismatched cheap dishes, or even paper plates. Yet, the meal they shared was very sacred.

the-last-supper-master-of-portilloThis absurd pairing of opposites such as $7000 for one place setting, and a bunch of reformed gang members eating turkey together, reminded me of what we are doing as we celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. The sacred or sacri, and the ordinary, or vulgarem. Just hearing the Latin word for ordinary makes me recoil. But why? Are sacred and ordinary simply opposites that are mutually exclusive?

I was thinking about this most precious of all meals, the most special, and the most sacred meal of the sacri panis, or sacred bread that is the Body of Christ that we partake of at Eucharist. Something else that Fr. Boyle said was on my mind as I pondered. He was discussing that turkey dinner when he said:

“… I think we’re afraid of the incarnation and part of it, the fear that drives us is that we have to have our sacred in a certain way. It has to be gold-plated and cost of millions and cast of thousands or something, I don’t know. So we’ve wrestled the cup out of Jesus’ hand and we’ve replaced it with a chalice because who doesn’t know that a chalice is more sacred than a cup, never mind that Jesus didn’t use a chalice?

So what could be more sacred than seven orphans, enemies, rivals, sitting in a kitchen waiting for a turkey to be done? Jesus doesn’t lose any sleep that we will forget that the Eucharist is sacred. He is anxious that we might forget that it’s ordinary, that it’s a meal shared among friends. And that’s the incarnation, I think.”

I’m not sure if Jesus loses any sleep or not, and I do believe that the Eucharist is absolutely sacred. And I also believe that if we decouple the sacred from the ordinary entirely, what we end up with is Flora Danica china, to be used, if we are rich enough to have it, maybe once a year.

What we find in this mass that recalls the institution of the Eucharist, is something supremely sacred… and remarkably ordinary. In John’s Gospel that we hear on Thursday night, we hear about a Jesus who knew that things were going to happen. He was aware. Jesus, fully divine.

What we also find is tying a towel around his waist, and bending low to wash the feet of his disciples. He was aware. Jesus, fully divine, but also at this moment, fully human.

Sacri. Vulgarem. Sacred. Ordinary.

At the end of the footwashing, when Jesus is dressed again, and reclining at table, he reminds the apostles that:

“Do you realize what I have done for you?
You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am.
If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet,
you ought to wash one another’s feet.
I have given you a model to follow,
so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”

So what are we to do? Fall down to worship Jesus? Remember his holiness and his might and power? Or do we serve him by serving others?

Perhaps it is important to pause here and consider three things…

First of all, let us consider Jesus as sacred. Lord of Lord, King of Kings. He is our everything, our Alpha and our Omega. He is the Lord on High, without equal, Jesus Christ is God. And God is very sacred.

When we think of God, of Jesus, as our King, however, we might we well reminded that this is not the kingship of any earthly monarchy, as we know it, but something new and different. Our reverence to God is essential; how we express that may not be the same cowering homage that earthly monarchs demand.

Power can be wielded as a force that cripples, or as a force that serves. In the case of Jesus, with his towel around his waist, this force is powerful; it is love in action.
What is the Eucharist if not love in action?

Two – we might want to spend some time with ordinary Jesus. This Lord and King who gets down on his hands and knees to wash our filthy feet. At this time, he is a man, and a most remarkable one. He comes to clean our feet.

jesus-washing-peters-feet-by-sieger-koderHave you ever had your feet washed on Holy Thursday? This is no trip to the manicure/pedicure salon, I can assure you. While it can be a very nice thing, the pedicure is very ordinary – or vulgarem. Foot washing on Holy Thursday is the opposite – it is sacred.

500x335xFeet.jpg.pagespeed.ic.6exvq7rjYPI can recall many instances of getting my feet washed on Holy Thursday where I felt uncomfortable and disarmed in ways I still have trouble describing. It brought to mind memories to mind of extravagant gifts of kindness received from others. The kind of gifts that on the surface prompt us to want to “make good,” and repay in some fashion.

Yet, our fully human Jesus, who has offered this gift, asks us to mirror both his humanity and divinity, by not simply returning it to him as obsequious homage, but by living in the same way. Jesus is not looking for ordinary – or vulgarem – repayment.

3696balanceThird, we are offered chance to reflect on how lopsided our love of Christ can be; too focused on service alone, and not enough intimate contact with Jesus. Conversely we can spend too much time on our knees and not enough time being kind to one another.
How do we respond, living in the holy tension of service and love, love and service? If we do not worship Christ in our hearts, if we do not receive him in the Sacred Bread that is Eucharist, how are we fed for the journey?

It is this mix of sacred and ordinary, contemplative and active, the reception of gift balanced by the giving of gift, which is the challenge of this night -and of our Christian lives. Referring back to what I said above about repayment, Jesus is not seeking this. No, we are to be transformed in a most sacred manner, and then to go transform others, as we are continually retransformed ourselves.

HolyThursday2011_5This bread that we eat, this ordinary bread or vulgarem panem, sacred bread or sacri panem. It is in the intersection of sacred and ordinary that we meet Christ our Lord – and one another. This blog is called “there will be bread,” for a reason… a very important reason.

Please, let us eat together, living in love and service, in ways that are completely ordinary, and always very sacred. Sacred and ordinary are not mutually exclusive, but that are all about mutuality, as Jesus models for us.

Please, let us eat together, not just on this special and sacred night, but for every ordinary day, sharing our vulgarem panem, our sacri panis, and our lives.