Monday, December 28, 2009

Liturgical Lamentations

I'm heading back to Detroit early tomorrow morning and I was looking forward to spending this evening at a gathering with other Jesuits hosted by John Carroll University. Poor weather, unplowed streets, and a bad feeling that I'm in the early stages of a cold have forced me, sadly, to stay in for the evening.

It has been my good fortune this semester to become more involved in the planning and execution of liturgies. I rather like the whole affair. It's exhilarating to organize the students, make dynamic use of liturgical symbolism, and find ways to encourage a greater sense of reverence for and participation in the celebration of the Eucharist.

One thing I've noticed over the years is that a key to a good liturgy is good music. It's not everything, to be sure, but it certainly helps. Saint Augustine is reputed to have exhorted his listeners, "He who sings prays twice." If speaking is "Prayer x 1" and singing is "Prayer x 2," then this weekend the sung Mass I attended resulted me praying 1/16. In other words: the music was diabolical.

When did it become a good idea for an Alto Soprano accompanied by an organ to belt out tunes that one couldn't reach with a ladder? The Gloria we sung yesterday was pitched so high that there was no way of aligning oneself with it. Were I an extraordinarily gifted castrato I might have been able to go a few rounds with the cantor. But that would also rest on my being able to understand the song which, near as I can tell, blended elements of the Gloria, the Holy, Holy, Holy, and the Lamb of God. It was a disorienting affair. I heard that a chorus line came in and performed a number from Cats during the middle of the song, but I was struggling so hard to follow the lyrics that I think I missed it.

Christmas Eve was an entirely different affair. Our song Leader thought it was a good ol' jamboree before Mass and tried to lead the congregation in song. This is, surely, a good idea. Trying to turn the people into the Tabernacle Choir 20 minutes before Mass is, however, not. I became increasingly ill at ease as the Leader tried to have us sing a 4-part harmony to "Silent Night": replete with two counter-posed verses and two segments of the church singing "oooooohs" and "aaaaaaaahs." The Leader then ignored the priest's gestures to begin the opening hymn, causing Mass to start nearly 10 minutes later than it should have.

Directly in front of me a young mother - who I went to grade school with - had her two children with her. I was amazed to see the accoutrements she deemed necessary to get through a one-hour Mass: four activity books, three different trucks, a bag of Legos, several bags of provisions (2 types of cereal, some juice boxes, and gum), a milk bottle, a juice bottle, a sipper cup, and a handful of crayons. I wonder if she parked the pack mule in front of the church. If the intent was to give the little ones something to do to keep them quiet, it was a spectacular failure: the provisions were exhausted immediately, the milk bottle was disregarded, the sipper cup dumped on the floor, and the activity books failed to keep anyone occupied [although I did manage to complete a connect-the-dots activity while we were listening to the Gospel]. They lasted only through the homily, when she broke camp and took the kids home.

Next, the Sign of Peace left me with terribly hurt feelings. First of all, the young guy standing to my left wanted to give me a "Bro-Hug." I'm not opposed to hugging...if I know you. But just as I wouldn't hug a stranger on the subway, I'm not apt to hug a stranger at Mass. I turned to my right and shook hands with a kind-looking elderly woman who promptly removed a bottle of Purell and generously applied it to her hands, rubbing it in with gusto. Her vigor made me feel like a leper, as though I should wear a bell around my neck to announce my coming. The third person to whom I extended my hand - a little kid - completely ignored me.

Finally, we had the reception of Communion. I'm quite happy to receive Communion in the hand and I execute a reverential bow before reception. The young man who sat to my left - remember, the "Bro-Hug" - apparently felt moved to out-do my bow. So as I stepped forward to receive the Host, he made the profoundest of bows and hit me in the back with his head. I stepped forward slightly, caught off-guard, but maintained my composure and didn't roll my eyes until after I'd returned to my seat. Then I started to chuckle inwardly, a chuckle I had to stifle when at the end of Mass the priest gave his final blessing and proclaimed in halting English, "The Mass has been Over. Go in Peace." Case closed.

Now I don't mean to sound the curmudgeon's horn. I share this both as a way of processing (remember: I'm an extrovert) and because I find it rather funny. Furthermore, I reckon that many of my readers have similar "liturgical lamentations" that they can share and, should they wish, may do so in the comments!

Rounding Out the Year

As 2009 draws to a close, I see that with this post I'll have put 98 items on the web. That's not nearly as voluminous as some bloggers but, as I look back on the events of the year, I think it's about right.

2009 stands as a pivotal year in my Jesuit formation:

  • A former Weight-Watcher, I ran my first marathon in Cleveland this year
  • I graduated from Fordham University with the MAPR (Master of Arts in Philosophical Resources)
  • My family welcomed the birth of my nephew and godson Quinn
  • I had an article accepted for publication in New Blackfriars
  • I was missioned to the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy to undertake the regency stage of formation
I have been enormously graced this year. I cannot imagine being any happier than I am now.

If I might offer a few random thoughts:

1. For those in discernment of any sort, I encourage you simply to give yourself over to God. It seldom happens in our lives that we will get what we want. Nevertheless, when we have opened ourselves wholly to God's will, we will always receive what we most desire. Had I gotten everything I had ever wanted as a Jesuit, I'm sure I'd be content. But the fact that the fulfillment of my desires has always exceeded my wildest dreams leads me to testify that my "Jesuit Joy" finds its source in the God whose grace is unimaginable.

2. I know that I have mentioned with growing frequency my dismay at the negativity of many so-called religious bloggers. My hope is that the dawning of a new decade might be a prompt to reform the way we engage in civil discourse with one another, especially when we are discussing difficult and painful issues.

3. Let me offer something of a mea culpa:

Over the past two months, several readers have contacted me concerning posts that I've written. My posts entitled "Fired!" and "Anonymity" raised concerns among some readers and they wrote to ask me for clarification about them. These posts, coupled with the brief period of moderated comments, do deserve mention.

Two months ago, an "anonymous" coward took exception to something I wrote on another blog. He took my call for Christian charity and due process to be an endorsement of vile practices. This individual apparently has no life and visits my blog, and my YouTube site, rather frequently.

To Anonymous, I have only this to say: How is the weather in Minnesota? Did you have nothing better to do at 10:12 last night than to visit my site? Yes, my friend, I have been tracking you for quite some time (IP Address begins with c-75-73.... and your provider is ComCast) and I have contacted an attorney with this information. As one so concerned with justice and moral rectitude, I'm sure you'll understand. Please make no mistake: I do not suffer fools gladly and you, sir, are a fool of rare variety. I tried civil discourse, but to no avail. Now I'll try civil law.

To my readers, those posts were as much for your entertainment as they were to send a message. I apologize if it caused confusion and please be assured that matters will be resolved favorably.

4. Let us turn an eye to to the future! We're entering the seventh year of the blog and the journey keeps getting more interesting. Sometimes I read things I wrote in 2004 and I say, "What in God's name was I thinking?!?!" Perhaps it is a part of growing up, a growth and maturation that has taken place in a very public space. I thank all of you for your readership and your prayers and I look forward to continuing this adventure with you in 2010.

Christ's Peace for you and yours in the new year!







Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

Just a brief post to wish a very Merry Christmas to all my readers!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Advent

For many of us, the liturgical season of Advent, taken from the Latin adventus or "coming," is far from peaceful. Christmas parties, end-of-the-semester work, family gatherings, the beginning of winter sports...each of these seems to make it difficult for us to give ourselves over to the season, to making the true focus of our time a patient waiting for the birth of the Savior.

Many years ago, the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote the following poem entitled "St. Alphonsus Rodriguez". Brother Rodriguez spent 46 years as the porter at the Jesuit College of Montesione on the Spanish island of Majorca. As porter, his basic job was to answer the door. Read, if you will, the following poem:

St. Alphonsus Rodriguez
Laybrother of the Society of Jesus
HONOUR is flashed off exploit, so we say;
And those strokes once that gashed flesh or galled shield
Should tongue that time now, trumpet now that field,
And, on the fighter, forge his glorious day.
On Christ they do and on the martyr may; 5
But be the war within, the brand we wield
Unseen, the heroic breast not outward-steeled,
Earth hears no hurtle then from fiercest fray.

Yet God (that hews mountain and continent,
Earth, all, out; who, with trickling increment, 10
Veins violets and tall trees makes more and more)
Could crowd career with conquest while there went
Those years and years by of world without event
That in Majorca Alfonso watched the door.
It is the job of the porter to await the coming of visitors. He must be ever at the ready, ever watchful of the door. Honor, St. Alphonsus, came neither from epic conquests on the battle field nor from memorizing glory through grand acts. It comes simply from the heart-felt prayer that uttered each of the countless times answered the door to guests: "I'm coming, Lord!"

I mention Saint Alphonsus because I think he captures perfectly the true spirit of Advent. He was a man who lived Advent at all times, for he lived with an awareness that another was coming. His very life was conformed to being hospitable to the ever-arriving guests who knocked at his door. Advent was not, for him, a season. It was, rather, his very way of life.

I hope that this Advent season has enabled you to say more freely, or more sincerely, or more hopefully: I'm coming, Lord! Christ both comes toward us but we must go to him. Many of us have heard the tapping at the inner door of our hearts...but how many cry out with frustration and anger, "I'm coming, I'm coming!" but don't mean it?

It is not too late. The quiet knocking and tapping that prevents us from getting too comfortable is a mark that Someone has come visiting. When you approach the door - whether it be to your office, classroom, home, or heart - summon the strength to cry out inwardly, "I'm coming, Lord!"

If we could find the strength to make this prayer, this simple utterance, our own, I think that the carping about the "secularization of Christmas" would fade away. I think this, simply, because this prayer would christen every day, every moment, with the spirit of Advent, the spirit of anticipation and coming, that we must have for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our Advent would not be limited to a few weeks each year but, rather, would be our very lives that are open and awaiting the arrival of the Messiah. This inner transformation of the human heart would speak more clearly than any manger scene or Christmas pageant, because it would speak throughout the year and point without confusion to the true "reason for the season."

Saturday, December 19, 2009

On Anonymity

I awoke this morning a free man: today is the first full day of Christmas vacation. I don't know who has been more excited about this holiday, me or the kids!

Having graded until late last night (after midnight), I was annoyed with myself that I woke up at 5:30 this morning and couldn't go back to sleep. I decided to put the time to good use, so I logged into YouTube and began answering an enormous backlog of emails I've received over the last few weeks. When I awoke I had nearly 500 messages; I've read nearly all of them and answered those that needed to be answered.

Many of the messages are expressions of gratitude for the tin whistle lessons. Others ask me for tips or advice on purchasing tin whistles, learning tunes, finding teachers, etc.. Not a few express how they've re-connected with their faith thanks to my Intermediate Lessons, where I try to draw a parallel between music and spirituality: we pray as we play. Some simply ask for prayers.

A few emails, however, are downright nasty. A few people have taken it upon themselves to save me from the "Whore of Babylon" (I take it that they mean the Catholic Church). Others imply that the fact that I am a seminarian instantly puts into questions my moral uprightness...apparently the fact that I have dedicated myself to the Gospel carries with it the assumption, for some people, that I am a sexual predator.

To a person, the cruel messages I have received have one thing in common: they are written anonymously. I think this is done for two reasons:

1. The authors are cowards. These are women and men who are content to judge others but do not present themselves for judgment. They linger in the shadows like terrorists and snipe out. They seem to feel themselves secure in their righteousness, but I beg to differ. Their unwillingness to disclose their identity shows a profound lack of integrity and indicates that they are writing out of a profoundly evil, deranged spirit.

I laugh when I read critical-yet-anonymous emails. They really can't be taken seriously. I read them, to be sure, but hit delete and move forward. They do not merit a response: if they can't take the time to sign a name, I haven't the time to engage with them.

2. The authors tend to be very stupid. I know, stupid is a strong word. But I don't know how else to put it. For instance, one message that was left anonymously said, "Mr. Duns, as a Jesuit novitiate you should know better than...". There are a few problems with this:
  1. I am a Jesuit scholastic. This means that I have publicly professed vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. I'm currently in the Regency stage of formation.
  2. I was once a Jesuit novice. During the first two years of Jesuit formation, one is a novice.
  3. I am not a building. The "novitiate" is the physical building in which the novices live. But one cannot quite be a novitiate any more than one can be an outhouse or convenience store.
Perhaps ignorant is a better adjective. Whatever appellation is applied to such individuals, we need only to understand that the meaning behind it is "not terribly bright."

As I write, I reckon that ignorant may be more appropriate. Not only are such anonymous cowards ignorant of Jesuit formation (which, admittedly, is a challenge to understand. But if you're going to use the nomenclature, you had better use it properly) and matters related to the Catholic Church - issues of ecclesiology, scripture, and moral theory - they are also ignorant of grammar. Many of the notes I receive are just long run-on screeds that lack internal coherence due to ignorance of grammar. I'm no grammar enforcer, but I'm one who appreciates nice writing.

Perhaps the reason people send anonymous letters or leave anonymous messages is that they are cowards who fear being exposed for being ignorant.

Your guess is as good as mine.

Please don't read this as a sign of anger or bitterness on my part. I find it kind of funny, really. I've only once posted something anonymously to a blog and I immediately regretted doing it and apologized for it. I find it much easier to be up-front about my views and stand by them.

I wouldn't be much of a witness to the Gospel if I dwelled in the shadows. I wonder if some of the self-professed Christians and Catholics who thrive on anonymous attacks realize that the anonymity they think preserves their identity really serves more to divulge their true character: ignorant cowards deserving of derision rather than serious engagement.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Semester Drawing to a Close

To be honest, I don't know who is more excited about Christmas break: the teachers or the students! I'm certain that 2-3 more teaching days would be really helpful in giving me a chance to finish the New Testament textbook and I'd love to spend a few more days with the seniors reading Nietzsche, but I'm not complaining that we only have five days left before vacation.

Unfortunately, I don't know how much of a vacation this will be. Our semester exams take place the week of January 11th, so I have to prepare three different exams. So that means that I'll have to write two extensive study guides (for freshmen and sophomores) as well as two exams, plus prepare an exam for my senior philosophy students. So while I'm not assigning any major projects to my students over vacation - my Christmas gift to them - I can't claim the same for myself!

It's hard to believe that in a few weeks, I'll re-start two of my courses with new students and I'll pick up a new course (Hebrew Scriptures) with two classes of students. That'll be a whole new host of students to learn, but also a chance to avoid making many of the same mistakes I made this semester. I'm grateful that our theology courses are semester-long, which gives me a chance to start fresh and to give me an opportunity to get to know more kids.

Posting will probably be pretty light until next Saturday. There are several Christmas parties to attend, plus having to write two exams this weekend to give and grade next week. Please know of my Advent prayers for readers and I look forward to connecting with you again next Saturday when I trade the chaos of teaching for the chaos of Christmas in Cleveland!


Sunday, December 06, 2009

Two More Videos Recorded

I had a chance to record two more videos this weekend.

The first video I dedicate to one of my students who has been nagging me to put a new video up. The two tunes, both jigs, were composed by Tom Hastings. I have known Tom for over 23 years: he is a mix of teacher, mentor, and trusted friend. If I have 10% of his love and passion for traditional Irish music, it is only because of his infectious love and joy for his musical heritage that he has so generously shared with me and legions of music students.




Tom moved to Columbus, Ohio, several years ago. It was a HUGE loss to the Irish music scene in Cleveland and I really hope that the Irish musicians in Columbus know what a treasure and resource they have in Tom. I have had many musical influences in my life, but first among all of them is Tom Hastings. It was my pleasure to record "The Bronze Flute" and "Tom's Other Fiddle" in his honor. I only hope that I have done them justice.

I do have to apologize somewhat: up until yesterday, I had never played these tunes on the whistle (I play them as slow Treble Jigs on the accordion). So it's not the usual polished job but, as time is limited, I did the best I could. Furthermore, I ask that you excuse the basket of laundry - I did the washing yesterday. As you'll see from the next video, the laundry is now done.

This second video is the tune "The Foggy Dew." It is one that I had been requested to record so in between grading this afternoon I took a few moments to record it. It is played simply on a Generation Bb whistle.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

My Return to Animal Planet

With short notice (like at 2:47 yesterday afternoon), I agreed to help chaperone last night's Neon Dance. "Neon Dance" does not imply that the students were festooned in neon signs. Rather, it means to indicate that there were black lights in the gym so that the illuminated students appeared as if they'd spent some time at Chernobyl.

Of course, I rather like the whole concept of black-lit events. It reminds me of the times that I've gone "laser bowling" with friends: the florescent paint that has been applied to various surfaces becomes eerily luminescent under the black light, transforming the normal bowling alley into a glowing frenzy of balls, pins, and beer.

What made last night unique, however, is not that there were decorations strewn about the gym that had been pre-treated in order to give off an eery glow. Instead, it was the students who thought to pre-treat themselves:

  • Some arrived having poured the contents of glo-sticks all over their clothes. With shirts spattered with a glowing fluid, they thought they looked cool. To my eyes, they looked like walking crime scene from a CSI episode when they use the ultraviolet lights to look for evidence of spilled bodily fluids.
  • Some took the liberty of using special crayons to draw on their bodies. Fortunately for them, under normal light the markings were barely perceptible. Under the black-light, though, they looked like warrior-ghosts conjured up from Braveheart, with various lines and mysterious markings all over their faces and arms.
  • Some of the students, either flouting or ignorant of the whole concept of the black-light, opted to wear the darkest clothes they owned, so they didn't "glow" at all. These (generally guys) were the ones who roved in packs around the perimeter of the dancing throng.
  • Finally, someone needs to tell Jane Fonda that here wardrobe has been pilfered. Several of the guys, having thrown themselves totally into the theme of the dance, came in neon-colored spandex tights, leg warmers, leotard-like outfits, and wild-colored tank-tops. I felt like I had been transported back to an 80's commercial for the "Jane Fonda Workout" but with a sweat boy rather than a lovely woman wearing the workout apparel.
As is the custom, I took my turns at criss-crossing the dancing horde, breaking up students who were grinding and dancing inappropriately. With each pass, I felt more like the Grim Reaper. Those students who noticed me gave me wide berth, for they did not want me to rest my eyes for too long upon them. Others, so engrossed in their "activity" of grinding, were rudely recalled into the world of decent behavior by several jabs with my pencil and the command to "turn around and look at your date." To be fair, I can't blame the guys in every case for the salacious dancing, either: at various times I saw young women thrust themselves into semi-unaware guys. Watching some of the freshmen amused me: they were caught completely off guard and didn't know what to do. Watching some of the seniors, on the other hand, I became alarmed as I interpreted this as part of some primal mating ritual.

My first post as chaperone (from 7:00 - 8:30) was to monitor a little-used hallway. I loved this: I read an entire issue of Commonweal. At 8:30, I entered the gym for the first time. The air was humid, gamy, and stagnant. The odors of Axe, Juicy, and utter failure lingered in the air, assaulted my nostrils, and clung to my skin. At 10:00 sharp, we ushered the mass of students out to the legions of mini-vans and sedans that were lined up outside to take them home. As they departed, I fled to the residence where I used the Neti-Pot to flush away the scent of the evening from my nostrils and I took a shower to be cleansed of the stank of hundreds of writhing, dancing, unwashed, teenagers.

Today, I will sit quietly in my room and read, grateful that I no longer have to watch Animal Planet to feel connected with the rawness of Mother Nature. To accomplish this, I need only chaperone a dance.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Fired!

It was with a grim face that my Jesuit superior informed me and the community that I am being removed from my current ministry. This news caused great consternation and confusion for several community members: what was it that I had done? What could I possibly have done in less than four months to merit such an abrupt removal from my job?

Well, it appears that my persnickety superior does not approve of the way that I make beds and prepared the guest rooms. He kindly offered to schedule some corrective therapy: a four-hour session of watching Martha Stewart demonstrate how to make a bed the right way, along with a 2-hour session of learning how to dust and vacuum properly. I demurred at this suggestion, preferring instead the downgrade to "House Librarian." It is a hard fall, really, to go from the lofty heights of the "Assistant to the Guest Master" and be relegated to merely re-shelving books and maintaining a magazine rack.

So I admit it: my skill set is not in making a bed. I haven't any taste for decoration or style - I'm more of a functional guy [as long as it is neat and doesn't smell, I'm happy with it]. I pleaded my case, arguing that this is a Jesuit Community and not the Hyatt. It was, however, to no avail. So I'm now going to throw myself completely into my new task as "Library Czar" and I hope to prove to my brethren that I do have some usable skills.


Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Do Catholics Really Pray to Mary?

Over drinks this weekend, an old friend of mine asked me at point-blank a question I hear often but one for which I am seldom able to articulate a short, clear answer:

Why do Catholics pray to Mary?

It may have been the grace of the company I was with, or that it was late in the evening, but I think I managed to offer - for the first time - a fairly succinct answer to her question.

First off, let's start with the prayer.

Hail Mary,
Full of grace,
the Lord is with you.
Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.

Holy Mary,
Mother of God,
Pray for us sinners now,
and at the hour of death.

The first thing I pointed out is that the first section of the prayer is the combination of two greetings directed toward Mary in the first chapter of Luke's Gospel. The first line is taken from Luke's account of the angel Gabriel greeting Mary: "Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you" (Luke 1:28). The next line of the prayer is also a greeting, this time taken from Elizabeth who cries, "Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb" (Luke 1:42).

This led to the following observation: the beginning of the prayer, at the very least, is wholly scriptural. As I sipped my martini, I had to chide my friend: since when did a Protestant get miffed over a Catholic trying to quote scripture? It is true, of course, that these two greetings are separated by a few verses. Nevertheless, they both do confess something about Mary: that, in the history of salvation, she stands as one who is "full of grace" and who is somehow exceptionally blessed.

Near as I can tell, so far so good. At this point we're still in the realm of scripture and we're simply repeating what has been enshrined in the Scriptures.

But what about the next line?

Our address to Mary in the second part of the prayer, "Holy Mary, Mother of God" is, ultimately, a test of Christian orthodoxy. We needn't go over the travails of the Council of Ephesus (Ephesus I, 431) where the battle between two bishops over the proper title of Mary was settled: Mary is the Theotokos or Mother of God. This does stand to reason: if Jesus is the Son of God and if Jesus is fully human and fully divine (Council of Chalcedon, 451), then it stands to reason that Mary is the Mother of God.

Note: I have never had a problem calling Mary the "Mother of God." I seem to recall my great-grandmother muttering "Holy Mary Mother of God" under her breath frequently, so it must be ingrained in my mind. That being said, I am fully aware of the debate between Christotokos and Theotokos but I choose not to drag you into those details. If this post occasions it, I can always post deeper theological underpinnings. But for now, I'll spare you.

Moving forward.

If we grant that Mary is the Mother of God - and I am aware that some Christians take exception to this - then we are left with one line of the prayer: "Pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of death."

I have only ever interpreted this line, and prayed it, as a simple request. I take seriously the line from Hebrews 12 that reads,

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.
I have always appreciated the Catholic saints who serve as exemplars of holiness and sanctity. Each saint shows us the very many ways that we can live our lives with our eyes fixed upon Jesus. As a Catholic, I believe that Mary has a special place within the communion of saints as one who stands in a special relationship with Jesus: as a mother stands to her son. It is this Mary who opened herself wholly to the invitation of God to be the mother of the savior, this Mary who risked much for her faith, this Mary who taught her son how to love and loved him into the man he became, this Mary who stayed with him until his tragic execution at the cross. As an exemplar, is there any better among this "cloud of witnesses" who may show us what a truly Christ-centered life is like?

As Christians, it is certainly not uncommon for us to ask one another for prayers. I ask others to pray for me and for my intentions frequently. I also receive very many prayer requests, which I do take most seriously. Why then, if we are surrounded by a "cloud of witnesses" would we not ask them, too, for them to pray on our behalf? If we pray seriously the opening of the Hail Mary, should our eyes and heart not be directed to Mary but through Mary to the true center of her life and our life: Jesus Christ?

As I have come to know and cherish it, the Hail Mary is a prayer that fuses the acclaim of heaven and earth. The words of an angel and the words of a human proclaim the singular grace that is Mary's vocation in history: to be the bearer of the Christ. By making this our prayer, we join our voices with Gabriel and all those who have looked to Mary as the prime model of a truly Christ-centered life. With her as our guide, we ask her to pray on our behalf, to join her words to ours as we continue to grow in our discipleship.

I am acutely aware of Marian excesses and I deplore them as superstition. On the other hand, I would not be so cavalier as to jettison the practice of saying the rosary...if for no other reason than I do it and derive great benefit from it. In praying the rosary, I find myself focusing more and more on the various aspects of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. The meditation of the rosary actually illuminates the person of Jesus and my relationship with Him.

When Catholics pray to Mary, or to the saints, it can often sound like they are praying to min-gods. This is sad. When I say, "I'll pray to Saint Gerard for your pregnancy" I mean only to say that as I commend the particular person to God's providential care, I will also ask that Saint Gerard do so as well. It might sound hokey, but in inviting a member of the communion of saints to pray with me, I am reminded that, as Christians, we are never alone. We are the Body of Christ - past, present, and future - and the prayers of one should be the prayer of all. Thus do I invoke the saints and Mary, deepening a spiritual friendship with those who are recognized as leading holy, Christ-centered lives and who give me a model for the type of life that I want to lead.

Okay, I kind of lied. The answer I gave my friend was A LOT SHORTER but, as I wrote, I realized that I should fill in some gaps. By no means do I think that this will change the mind of anyone convinced that Catholics pray to Mary, but perhaps it will help to launch further conversation.