Sunday, April 19, 2009

Some more Hymns

In my lonely quest to get better hymns in Catholic Churches, my thoughts on some Lenten and Easter hymns:

1. Where You There?

Probably my favorite Lenten Hymn

2. Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones. This hymn has been stuck in my head since Easter.

3. Ye Songs and Daughters. This is an easy hymn to sing and probably one of the oldest in the Catholic hymnals.

4. Alleluia, alleluia, Let the Holy Anthem Rise.

Tea Parties

There were more tea parties last week and they are now getting some push back from the left.

So what do I think about them? The parties themselves have been focusing on taxes and of course the left is focusing on that. And even when spending is raised, the left counters by asking where "we" were when the Bush administration was spending. Granted, I would argue that many of us were complaining about Bush's spending. Porkbusters for one flashed across the sky like a meteor, even getting under Trent Lott's skin. But while I see occasional references here and there, the whole Porkbusters "movement" just died out.

But further on spending, while Bush was spending too much (and the GOP in the early 2000s was using pork to solidify its position), the "stimulus" act has exploded the deficit. No one read the bill before passage. President Obama reneged on his promise for a public review period for all bills, so no one really read the thing before signing. And while much in the act is probably defensible and good, most of these items should have gone through the regular appropriations process.

This may sound strange, but the whole thing leaves me a little depressed (and generally, I do not believe in getting depressed on matters political). For one thing, as a conservative, I really don't DO the whole protest thing. Other than the tea party a few months ago and the occasional political rally, I have not been to a protest since I don't know when.

But my main concern is more philosophical. My complaint is not really with the taxes but the spending. And not really the spending but about the feeling that the relationship between the people and the state was perhaps irrevocably changing. It has been moving that way for a while, but it seems now to be accelerating.

I am not sure what if anything will come out of the tea parties. But the GOP needs to be kept out. The GOP's hunger for political power through earmarks and pork have helped get us to this point. The GOP needs to prove it can be trusted again on fiscal matters and they are for from proving to me (I am not longer a registered Republican, my disgust raised so high). Some argue the tea parties can turn into a third party, but I doubt it.

If anything, the parties can at least slow down the drift to a managerial state.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Sunday

Ye watchers and ye holy ones,
Bright seraphs, cherubim and thrones,
Raise the glad strain, Alleluia!
Cry out, dominions, princedoms, powers,
Virtues, archangels, angels’ choirs:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

An Italian Holy Saturday (and some final thoughts on Lent)

So yes, again this Holy Saturday I ate the traditional Italian foods such as meat pie and macaroni pie, filled with eggs, cheese, meat etc.

I read something interesting recently regarding the Lenten fast. I always knew that in the old days, Catholics would refrain from meat, cheese and eggs for much of Lent, hence the reason Holy Saturday foods in Italian tradition were so filled with them. But why Lent itself? Obviously, some self sacrifice is good for you. But there may be practical reasons as well.

In pre-modern northern Europe, by February, food was starting to get scarce. No new foods would be harvested until spring of course, so the food from last fall needed to last longer. So Lent gave some religious meaning to the hungry season. And by spreading the burdens of the hunger, so that prince and peasant, priest and burger, felt the pangs together, it helped social cohesion.

It makes sense, but then again, I always find Catholicism eminently reasonable and practical.

Some Late Thoughts on Holy Week (Part 2)

On Monday, the Diocese of Brooklyn declared "A Day of Reconciliation." All churches stayed open late so Catholics could partake in the sacrament of Penance.

I called my wife as I left work to say I would be late, as I was "going to confession." Her first response was an accusatory "what did you do?"

Part of the problem is that we have made confession so difficult these days. Many churches offer it now only on limited days. Partly this is due to the change in Catholic society the past 4o years. As a child, my mother would take me to confession at least once a month. I admit now I do not go as often as I would like.

When I lived in Chicago, I would go more. Near my office was Saint Peter's in the Loop, a Franciscan church where one of the Friars was always available to hear confessions. One additional benefit was that the Franciscans were very easy on penance -- so long as you were kind to animals that is.

So why Confession? I get comments from non-Catholics at times not understanding the whole thing. They see it as some sort of institutionalized guilt trip. Partly this is due to Catholics ourselves not understanding it.

It is not about guilt but about forgiveness. God is Father after all. A stern but extremely loving father at that. He wants us to do right, but even if we do wrong, loves us so long as we are truly sorry. After all, when Jesus refused to order the adulterous woman stoned ("Let he who is without sin cast the first stone"), He not only said "I do not condemn you" but also said "sin no more."

So we leave the confessional, saying an Act of Contrition promising to sin no more. But we do. For most of us those sins are minor. We say a few white lies here and there. We lose our temper with our spouses or children. We get too caught up in the ways of this world. But it is OK. Maybe it is the struggle that is important.

In the end it is all about redemption and forgiveness. So I tell this story I read once in Lord Norwich's history of the Byzantine Empire.

There once was a Byzantine Emperor named Romanus the First. Romanus was one of Byzantium's greatest emperors. He worked hard to protect his people. Leading a nation beset by enemies, he protected the empire's borders from attacked by the Arab, Turkish and Persian countries to his south, and Slavic nations to his north. He worked hard to protect the lands and property of the common workingmen from grasping aristocrats. He worked hard to expand commerce and trade. In short, he gave the Empire peace and prosperity.

But Romanus was troubled, for in reality he was a usurper. He elevated himself to co-emperor, married his children into the royal family, but ushered the rightful emperor off into obscurity. He mourned the many soldiers who died or were wounded fighting his wars. And Byzantium was not a democracy, so although he was fairly benevolent, he had, as Emperor, sent men to the dungeons to protect his throne.

His sons, realizing this and fearing for their future power, sent Romanus, to his relief, off to a monastic exile.

There, Romanus stripped his garments, knelt before the altar, and while his brother monks chants hymns of contrition, confessed his sins while another monk wrote each into a book. Romanus sent the book to another monastery, one know for its piety and asceticism and asked the monks to pray for him.

Romanus received a message back -- the pages of the book were empty.

Whether or not yo believe the monk was speaking literally (that a miracle had occurred) or metaphorically (which is how I read the story), I find this as the essence of the Sacrament. It is about forgiveness, not guilt.

Some late thoughts on Holy Week (Part 1)

I have been meaning to write a few thoughts about Holy Week, but have not gotten around to it until now. So here goes.

Palm Sunday -- Last year I gave some thoughts about the big issues of Palm Sunday. This year, as I sat there I thought about something else. Namely, my Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. A donkey is, after all, a somewhat ridiculous creature. But in that way, it was the perfect animal to transport the Lord into the city.

A donkey is not much like a horse. A horse is an animal of war and money and power. Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a horse would have been confirmation to many that he was about to restore Israel by force.

A donkey though is the animal of the hard working farmer or peaceful merchant. Armies may use donkeys as draft animals, but the ca;vary rides war horses.

In short, the horse is the animal of war, but the donkey is the animal of peace.

So it was fitting that Jesus entered the city as he did.