Friday, February 27, 2015

Easter Proclamation - Exsultet - New Translation of the Roman Missal - P...

A Lenten Apprenticeship

Barring the realization that my voice is judged awful and offensive, I will be singing the the Exultet at this year's Easter Vigil. The text of this ancient hymn runs to nearly six pages and, depending on the singer's pacing, runs between ten and eleven minutes. It's my custom to preach no longer than eight minutes and, generally, I err on the side of four or five. Having to sing twice as long as I'm accustomed to speaking...this will be something!

Some people give up chocolate, or alcohol, or meat for Lent. Others commit themselves to more time spent in prayer. My Lenten journey will be recorded in and through the text of an intimidating song. I thought, then, that it might be fitting to break the text up into small sections and offer a few words of reflection upon it.

Exult, let them exult, the hosts of heaven,
exult, let Angel ministers of God exult,
let the trumpet of salvation
sound aloud our mighty King's triumph!

Be glad, let earth be glad, as glory floods her,
ablaze with light from her eternal King,
let all corners of the earth be glad,
knowing an end to gloom and darkness.

Rejoice, let Mother Church also rejoice,
arrayed with the lightning of his glory,
let this holy building shake with joy,
filled with the mighty voices of the peoples.

Note how the distance between heaven and earth, the celestial and the terrestrial, is traversed in three verses. The people, bearing candles lit with the Easter flame, are the source of the low light filling the Church. The Body itself is the source of light. In a world bathed in florescent overhead lighting, we too easily take for granted the symbolism of candlelight. Instead of radiating down upon us, Easter's light arises from the congregation and radiates. Each small candle contributes to the warm light heralding the King's triumph over death. 

This symbolism, I fear, is too easily lost by many Christians. Very often do Catholics, especially, get so focused on the Church as an institution rather than as an event or process unfolding over time. We get so caught up on hierarchies that we neglect that the Church is made up of those who are called to bear to the world the light of the Good News. 

If we took to heart the symbolism of the whole assembly, bearing lit candles, each offering a ray of light to celebrate the Risen would this affect our understanding of the Church and of what it means to be the Body of Christ? If we really were mindful that each one of us is responsible for carrying the light of Christ to the world, would we so judgmental of others when we know how hard it is for us to keep our own flame's burning? 

No single candle - certainly not my - candle, can illumine an entire Church. It takes all of us, gathered together, to dispel the darkness. When one candle goes out, others are there to re-ignite it. We err grievously when we mistake our feeble flickering for unassailable incandescence. We are all of us stewards of the light, tenders of a flame not of our origin but whose light and warmth gathers us into one Body, one Church, and unites our voices in praise. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Delayed Gratification

Last night I began reading a remarkable book entitled Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men.  Written by sociologist Michael Kimmel, the book attempts to offer a map of the terrain young men face today in order to help them "steer a course with greater integrity and honesty, so they can be true not to some artificial code, but to themselves."

Kimmel quotes a young graduate student in psychology:
I feel like my whole life has been one long exercise in delayed gratification...I mean, in high school, I had to get good grades, study hard, and do a bunch of extracurricular things so I could get into a good college. Okay, I did that. Went to Brown. Then, in college, I had to work really hard and get good grades so I could get into a good graduate school. Okay, I did that. I'm here at Wisconsin. Now, though, I have to work really hard, publish my research, so I can get a good tenure track job somewhere. And then I'lll have to work really hard for six years just to get tenure. I mean, by the time I can exhale and have a little fun, I'll be in my mid-30s -- and that's to old to have fun anymore!
As a graduate student, I can commiserate with this young man's sentiment. It is so easy to live our life according to future benchmarks. We find our goal, work really hard to achieve it, only to find another goal on our horizon. Our rush toward future goals keeps us on a treadmill we dare not jump off.

The same is true, I reckon, for any goal in our lives. "If I just lost ten pounds" or "If I could just be a size-X" or "If I just got that promotion." We want to assure ourselves that if we go just a bit further, we will find happiness. And so we either put off enjoying ourselves until we reach that goal - if we can ever reach it - or we become so intimidated by the journey that we don't even begin.

Lent, I suspect, is quite a bit like this. We set our gaze toward Easter and make tons of promises to ourselves about how, by the end of Lent, we will have become better at prayer or more spiritually deep. Yet we become so fixated on the end, the goal, that we lose sight of the daily joys we can discover as we try to grow in our relationship with Jesus.

Growth in holiness, like growth in fitness, is not an all-or-nothing affair. It's a slow process, moving us incrementally from one point toward another. That is to say, it's not like one morning a person wakes up and says, "Oh! I'm holy!!" Quite to the contrary: holiness is not a destination but a process in time, the ongoing growth in openness toward friendship with the Lord. Because it is a process, because it is a commitment of ourselves over time, there both is and is not a sense of delayed gratification.

It is true that, at times, we have to put off small pleasures in order to attain a larger or more valuable one. If I want to grow in my spiritual life, I know that I might need to get up five minutes earlier to have a little extra time for prayer before the chaos of my day erupts. But because I am committed to this growth, because it is on my radar to be a friend of the Lord, many moments in the day present themselves as opportunities to grow. My entire day becomes an opportunity to grow in holiness.

If you want to grow in holiness, or grow in prayer, you do not need to "delay gratification." Instead, be gratified by the delay of prayer. Find gratitude in taking a few moments of quiet each day to rest with the Lord, to bring before the Holy One the contents of your heart. To open yourself a little bit more each day, to make your heart more vulnerable to God, is to make yourself susceptible to finding joy in your journey of holiness.

The young man quote above is all too typical. If you focus on a future destination, you'll only ever know frustration: no matter where you get to, there'll always be something more in the distance. Learn to enjoy the process, to embrace the daily struggles and rejoice in the daily conquests, and you will find that the slow burn of discipleship will transform your life in remarkable ways. Or, to quote Saint Peter Claver:

Seek God in all things and we shall find God by our side. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

A Frozen Prison

As the morning sun begins to creep over the horizon, the new day's light illuminates a pretty stark scene: just about four feet of snow has fallen. Four feet might not sound like a lot, but when it is pushed and plowed up, the sidewalks - where plowed - become little more than rabbit warrens leading a walker (hopefully) to his destination. Add to this frigid temperatures, with windchill as low as -25 Fahrenheit, and it's hard not to feel that one is living in a winter prison. 

When I head up to class this morning, I'll try to get a few pictures and upload them. It really is remarkable to walk to campus and find cars completely buried in snow. And, by buried, I mean totally encased. 

Yet I can aver: neither sub-zero winds nor towering piles of snow will deter some students from wearing shorts to school. I have no doubt that, as I stand in line to buy a cup of hot tea, at least one student will walk past wearing shorts, as though to stand in fashionable defiance of our wintry sentence. Some will admire this students, others will hardly notice. I'll probably roll my eyes and think that there's no statement - fashion or otherwise - that would enable me to wear anything less than four layers to school today. 

Somehow, I think it should be a consolation that Spring Break begins in less than two weeks. I'm of a mind I should use some frequent flyer miles to go someplace warm because, near as I can tell, this snow is going to be around for quite some time!

Monday, February 02, 2015

Another Snow Day

Last night, before I went to bed, I prayed fervently that we'd not have a snow day today. One of my seminars, "Theology in a Secular Age," meets each Monday and it's a topic in which I'm keenly interested. The main text for the course is Charles Taylor's A Secular Age, a sprawling tome in which the author attempts to answer the question, "Why was it virtually impossible not to believe in God in, say, 1500 in our Western society, while in 2000 many of us find this not only easy, but even inescapable?" 

The book is a very long, and very challenging, narration of how we got to be where we are today. It is a story far more complicated than the one we typically hear. The typical narrative runs something like this: In the old days, when we didn't know as much as we do now, we needed to believe in a God to explain lots of things. But as we advanced in science and technology, we were able to shake off these silly beliefs and settle into a world governed only by what we've learned. Consequently, religion can now be seen as training wheels: they were necessary for a time but now that we've learned to do it on our own, wholly inessential and oftentimes just in the way."

Taylor dares to ask the question: "Must it have been so and not otherwise?" If today we find many challenges to believe, was this inevitable or is contemporary unbelief more complicated than we've been led to believe? Taylor does not see unbelief as an inevitability and his text records an effort to re-tell our story in a manner attentive to the many micro-stories that have come together to shape who we are today. 

Thus you can imagine why I'd not want to miss a single class! Our seminar's slow reading through Taylor's text (for the first half of the semester) is an absolute treat. As I've said before, I'm so grateful to be working on my PhD this year and courses such as this really set my imagination on fire. So when I woke up this morning and saw a 5:36 am text that said class had been cancelled, I was disappointed...a far cry from those days of being a student, or even a teacher, when I longed for the snow day!


Priestly ordination is now just over four months away. After years of the question, "Ryan, when are you going to be ordained?" I can now say, "Just a few months!" There's a good bit of planning to be done, of course, but I'm really trying to enjoy these last months of preparation.

Some time ago, an Irish dancing friend and I met for a glass of wine and we chatted about priesthood. I expressed to her my own doubts - natural doubts, I suspect - about whether I'd ever be good enough, or qualified enough, or holy enough. Her response lingers with me: As long as you're trying to be the priest you're called to be, you'll always be the priest we need.

I'll post ordination day information here pretty soon. It will be in Chicago on June 13th and the church is quite large so it does not seem that space will be an issue so, if you're a Chicago-based reader, feel free to join! 

Flute playing priest finds YouTube fame