Saturday, September 24, 2016

Hungry to see

The refrain of a song I recently added to my playlist kept replaying in my mind during my travels and vacation recently.  Possibly because I was driving so much, and because the late summer scenery was so beautiful, I couldn’t stop hearing:
Climb up in the front seat and feast your eyes on the open country.
Feasting my eyes is a perfect way to describe one of the reasons I love to drive.  The vistas of the Pennsylvania Turnpike are sufficient to dwarf the annoyance of Breezewood, and what some consider the monotony of the Ohio Turnpike is for me a series of familiar and delightful details.  Yes, I love the open country, and enjoy the ripple and roll of even the gentlest terrain, the reassuring solidity of the mountains, and the gaping gulches that yawn beneath brilliant bridges. 
Feast your eyes.  How true it is, that we are able to take in so much with our eyes, and it is so good!   On a beautiful summer’s day, I set my navigation system to “avoid highways” and set out, beholding the glory of creation spread before and behind me, wild or tilled.  Rolling past uncountable farms, fields, woods, homes, and orchards spread between towns with their gridded order and commerce was a feast indeed, though I consumed nothing.  More than a diversion, this is for me nourishment for mind and soul. 
All the while I was feasting, I was also mindful of my return here.  Stepping out of my car and into mid-September, the frenzy of fall would be already underway.  The parish has its rhythms, and the tempo is already quick.  School has started, sports are well into their season, groups and classes and troops and projects are proceeding.  It seems, not only to me, that we are moving across a landscape that is familiar, but at the same time new.  Are we going anywhere?
Similarly, we are moving forward in history.  Sometimes it seems we are plodding, other times hurtling.  The events and developments of the day baffle or delight us, amaze or frighten us, and make us wonder:   Where are we headed?
All the while our eyes cast about for something on which to settle, something by which to gauge our progress or mark our direction.  We see our children grow and blossom, but over the same time we begin to fade and diminish, much as we hate to admit it.   So which is it?
As we travel, our eyes help us understand and enjoy the trip.  To understand our life’s journey, we need to grasp realities both visible and invisible.  In the Sacred Liturgy, the terrain of our salvation spreads out before and behind us in a way that we can see and understand.  History is where the Lord has been, and our future is where He intends to be.  The way we travel is both new and familiar, both wild and tilled, and made holy by the passing of the feet of the very God. 
Lest we feel like we are just “marking time”, or lost, trapped, or bored, God places Himself before our eyes. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  (Jn 1:14)  He wants us not only to know about Him, but moreover to know Him.  He is the image of the invisible God.  (Col 1:15)  In His life, death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven, we see not only what He has done, but what He is doing now and for us.   For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it.  (Lk 10:24)
On the journey of our lives, we may as well be in a shipping crate unless we place ourselves at the window of worship of the Word in Scripture and Sacrament, prayer and praise.  Jesus invites us: Climb up in the front seat and feast your eyes on the open country.  Know where you come from, where you are going, and enjoy the journey.  Come to the feast!

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Verbum sapienti

This week I received a book of Msgr. Stricker’s homilies, and leafing through it, I found this, from February 1952.  Not a homily, but an 'occasional essay," it is what he would have blogged if he had a blog.  I could not resist sharing.  Enjoy!
Monsignor Smith
Observing the manner of men’s conversation one detects four kinds of certainty denizened in men’s minds.
1.  The man who knows what he is talking about and knows that he knows it.  Usually he knows everything about some thing, and something about every thing.  He is a safe man to follow as his advice is seldom wrong.  But there is tragedy for many when he is mistaken since those who believe him are so many. He can be an unbearable companion to one who went awry by ignoring his advice, and his “I told you so” is relentless.
2.  There is the man who knows what he is talking about but does not know that he knows it.  Such a one is humble, agreeable to live with and probably has more experience and less disappointments than the average. More likely he subscribes to the adage that “the more a man reads the less he knows” and considers himself, as he usually is, a well-read man.  He has become acquainted with too many exceptions to believe positively or belligerently that there are inflexible rules that the exceptions prove.  He never forces his opinions on others, he is not given to prophesy and has little or no truck with those who are.
3.  There is the man who does not know that he is talking about and is fully aware of the ignorance.  He is not a dupe nor a rascal, but often an affable fellow who is willing to keep the conversation going on a topic that may be of interest to someone else present, but of no interest to himself.  He is self-effacing for the pleasure he gets from other men’s conversation, and willing to accommodate himself to the pleasure of others.  As a rule he is a better neighbor than his submission would lead one to surmise and capable of constructive ideas at times.  He is a pupil of an old Celtic school that proposes, “I don’t know any thing about it, but I’ll be sociable and argue it with you.”
4.  The saddest of all is the one who does not know what he is talking about and is unaware of his ignorance.  His chief vice is that this one is too willing to talk.  Familiarity with his personal habits would reveal that he sleeps on his chin, of necessity – to keep from talking in his sleep.  He usually believes himself in demand as a speaker and if he has an audience of one individual it is a needless waste of audience.  One would not call him a fool, if one has charitable regard for fools.  He likes to pass as a sophist, who could support any side of an argument, a clever device for leaving either side without support.  One thing he has to learn (but never will) is that ignorance never won an argument.  The best thing that could happen to this character would be a mother-in-law with the same type of mind.
In conclusion it is better to follow the old Gospel maxim of letting your conversation be “Yea, Yea and (or) Nay Nay” and tell the truth, without pretending to wisdom, since the truth is the basis of all virtue.
Monsignor William F. Stricker (1903-1976)

Founding Pastor of Saint Bernadette

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Don’t you think that’s an awful lot of...?

“Don’t you think that’s an awful lot of salt?”
The question surprised me.  My classmate Scott was pouring what seemed to be about a third of the salt in the shaker onto his pasta, but I had become used to that after years of dining with him in seminary.  What shocked me was that he be challenged on it right there at the table.
“No,” he answered unperturbed, and continued shaking.
Eating comes with all sorts of expectations and even rules: which fork to use, how to obtain an item from across the table, and no double dipping.  Because food is something we need to live, there is an assumed intention to avoid what is harmful and seeking what is healthful.  Sometime this can bring about concern over seemingly unhealthy eating choices, like my friend Scott’s.  But those concerns encounter the etiquette of what is polite to discuss at the table, and criticizing the food choices of others while they are eating has a substantial stigma - or at least it did at one time.
Now, activists vandalize restaurants because of items served there, and loudly harass diners for what they are eating.  On a more intimate level, table companions are more likely to chide one another because of what they eat for reasons beyond health, ranging from substance, source, and price to environmental impact.
Meanwhile, over the same period of time, another activity essential to human thriving, also subject to all sorts of expectations and even rules, has undergone the reverse transition: fewer rules, and criticism or correction is forbidden.  I speak of sexual relations. 
I recently finished reading Adam and Eve after the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution, by Mary Eberstadt, a local resident, but a nationally known author.  Apparently it has been out for some years, since Fr. Gallaugher observed he had read it when it was in hardback.  Eberstadt presents in straightforward and conversational manner a matter-of-fact analysis of data about the impact of certain behavioral changes in advanced countries over the past fifty years.  She has identified a widespread and willful ignorance of measurable results of the changes advanced by the sexual revolution, results that have been grievously harmful.
One of her chapters, Is Food the New Sex? presents the fascinating analysis that public moralizing has shifted from sexual behavior to eating behavior.  If you think about it, you will not have trouble coming up with examples. 
She writes: Both appetites, if pursued without regard to consequence, can prove ruinous not only to oneself, but also to other people, and even to society itself.  What happens when, for the first time in history, …adults are more or less free to have all the sex and food they want?  …The all-you-can-eat buffet is now stigmatized; the sexual smorgasboard is not.
So what does it mean to have a civilization that is puritanical about food, and licentious about sex?  …It would seem to be that the norms society imposes on itself in pursuit of its own self-protection do not wholly disappear, but rather mutate and move on.
I highly recommend this little book to you; it will change the way you look at all sorts of things, if you look at them the way you have been trained over the past fifty years.  You will think you have been let “in” on some big secret.  You will wonder why everybody didn’t notice long ago.
You may also smile quietly the next time you are seated near someone who is a vegan, and arguing that you should be one, too.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Knock knock knocking

I have enjoyed the poems of Rainer Maria Rilke (1875 – 1926) since I studied German literature in college, and I was delighted to run across several of them recently recommended by one of publications I follow.  The first I knew well; the second I did not recall.  I thought you would enjoy them both, originally published in 1899.
Monsignor Smith

You, neighbor God, when now and then
in dead of night, with heavy knocks I wake you, –
It’s so, because I barely hear you breathe,
and know: You are alone in the hall.
And when you have a need, there’s no one there,
to bring a drink to satisfy your fumbling.
I’m always listening. Give a little sign.
I am close by.

Only a narrow wall divides us two,
By chance; since it could be
that, but a call from your mouth or from mine,
And it caves in
without any fuss or din.

It is built out of your images.

Those pictures stand in front of you like names.
And when at times the light in me burns out,
by which my depths perceive you,
It wastes itself like glints upon their frames.
And my senses, which are quickly tired,
are homeless and apart from you.

If only just for once it were so still.
If only chance and guesswork would fall silent
and the laughter of my neighbors,
If the noise, which my own senses make,
did not prevent me so from watching – :

Then could I in a thousandfold reflection
approach the edges of you with my thought

And own you (only for a smile’s length),
In order then to give you to the living

as an act of thanks.