Sunday, January 30, 2005

It's Byzantine Mardis Gras

Otherwise known as Meatfare Sunday, which is the last day that we can eat meat, if we follow the traditional fast. (Fasting is optional. Like heaven.) I invite you to join us in this practice. Next Sunday will be the last day to eat dairy products. There isn't so much a restriction on how much you can eat, but if all you can eat is non-meat, non-dairy, you won't want to eat that much anyway. Eventually, you dream of cheeseburgers. The feasting on Easter Sunday really feels like feasting! I usually can feast simply on a buttered roll, by that point.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Happy Feast Day, Thomas!

I love this picture. I just came across it today, from Gerard Serafin's (RIP) site. Did Chesterton draw it? Anyway, go read the article that Gerard linked to it.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Why can't I just confess to God in my mind?

Did you only sin with your mind? Or did you use your body as well? Then take your body to confession!

Friday, January 21, 2005

Solidarity versus Diversity

Two recent events conspire for today's entry: JP Morgan Chase said that, despite the revelations that Chase banks in Louisiana took slaves as collateral in 1843, they are a company "committed to diversity," and I watched the stunt crew from Return of the King do a Maori native dance for Viggo (Aragorn) Mortensen at the close of shooting to honor him.

I wonder what a commitment to diversity really means. Does it mean that we commit that we will be diverse? That we will be different from each other? That we will tolerate differences? I think the best meaning is the last, in which case it isn't a bad thing. Modern nations are composed of people from many different backgrounds, and tolerance is a necessary thing in that situation.

But then I saw the stunt crew serenading Viggo, Maori-like, and I thought, perhaps what they are doing is better. The stunt crew had some Maori men in it, but most were caucasian. Yet, all of them joined in the dance. I wondered if an organization that had a commitment to diversity would have done such a thing, or would the Maori men have done the dance, leaving the caucasians to honor Viggo with a fruitcake, and those of another race to do something else. Consider that the Maori people lost their land and their freedom when the English came to New Zealand--it isn't a happy history. But, at least in this case, rather than cherishing old resentments and differences, they share their culture with the descendants of their conquerors. It was a case of solidarity, the virtue of working toward unity in human relationships, even between historic enemies. It was beautiful.

Commitment to diversity? Fie. I say Commitment to Solidarity.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005


Romanus, the choir director at my wonderful parish (not his real name), took a job at a Roman parish last year to make ends meet. This forced him to miss Sunday and Saturday liturgies and Vesperses, which was vey difficult for him. It also forced me to fill in for him as director pro tem. I was glad to help, but didn't like directing. It isn't because I can't direct, but rather is because I like directing that I don't like directing. I like it so much that I become tempted to make the Liturgy all about me and my musical skill, and less about God. I have enough temptations to egotism; I don't need the choir as well.

But, fortunately for me, Romanus has quit his job at the other parish, gotten a job at a Catholic grade school, and is going to sell cars or bartend or sell advertising or something for a while until then. This means that soon he will be back in front of the choir where he belongs, and I will be back where I belong, just another tenor who sometimes sings alto with the ladies.

Monday, January 17, 2005

The great thing about being a member of a Church that encourages fasting

is that, occasionally, the Church forbids fasting. Yesterday in the Byzantine church was the Sunday of the Publican. It recalls the story in Luke where the Pharisee stood in the front of the synagogue, thanking God that he was not like most people. "God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get." Meanwhile, the tax collector (an unsavory occupation even then) stands in the back of the synagogue, merely saying "God, be merciful to me a sinner." This Sunday always occurs the week before the Lenten fast starts, which for us begins next week, with Meatfare Sunday, where we say farewell to meat until Easter. So, very soon we will be fasting lots. But this week, the Church mandates that we do not fast, to remind us not to be like the Pharisee, taking pride in our fasting. Rather, we should feast, but we should also direct our ambition to be more like the lowly tax collector, who does not fast, but who begs for mercy.

It's a good reminder before the Great Fast. Have you ever gotten into a "my fast is bigger than your fast" conversation? You know, where you ask your friends, "What are you giving up for Lent? Oh, that's easy!" To do such a thing is to fall right into the trap of the Pharisee, who is doing the right thing by tithing and fasting, but is doing it not out of humility, but in order to exalt himself.

T.S. Eliot says somewhere that the greatest crime, the greatest treason, is to do the right thing for the wrong reason. (It rhymes, but he was a poet.) Think about that as you fast this Lent.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

So how much do you pay for cable? For internet access?

How much do you put in the collection plate on Sunday? Do you pay as much for the privilege of having a church where you can eat the body of Christ as you do for the privilege of HBO or satellite radio?

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Speaking of prayer,

Every night I experience a great thing: the voice of my daughter (1.7 years old) echoing through the house calling "Daddy! Daddy!" At bedtime, my wife gets her ready for sleep, and then reads two or three books with her. When they finish the books, Mrs. Athanasius says "Time to pray." Macrina (not her real name) begins calling out for me to come up and join them.

Life is good. I hope she does this when she's sixteen.

How to pray while breathing

Jan 6 was the feast of Theophany; yesterday was the leavetaking for the feast, which is in fact a much bigger feast than Christmas. Jesus enters the waters of the Jordan to be baptized by John, but rather, Christ baptizes the waters, making all of creation holy, because God has touched them.

Our pastor makes the point of telling us that the holy water distributed on the feast is the same water that Christ was baptized in. So, when one drinks it, one is communing with Christ--in a lesser sense than in the Eucharist, but still in a real sense.

Well, it seems to me that this thought can be extended. Not only is the water the same water in which Christ was baptized, but the stone we walk on is the same stone Christ was buried in, and the air we breathe is the same air Christ breathed. So, as you go through your day, treat every breath as a communion. Then you can "pray without ceasing."

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

This drives me nuts

The Roman churches around me celebrated the feast of Epiphany this past Sunday. Unfortunately, it's supposed to be January 6, 12 days after Christmas, corresponding with the Eastern celebration of Theophany.

The Roman bishops, who certainly have the right to do what they have done, nevertheless are very wrong to do it. They reduce holy days of obligation and move those that remain to Sunday, so as not to inconvenience any of laity with the necessity to go to church on some other day. So, Jan 1st wasn't obligatory, and Christ now ascends on a Sunday, not a Thursday. Epiphany is Jan 2nd instead of Jan 6.

God forbid we make any demands on ourselves.