Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Varieties of Eucharistic Reception

I've long wanted to blog about some of the odd behaviors people exhibit at Mass. If I were an artist, I'd try to render them in drawings and put captions underneath. Alas, my drawing skills seem to have been arrested sometime around pre-school, so I have to use words to make my point.

I'd like to spend a few moments describing the Varieties of Eucharistic Reception I have experienced. This is not meant as a critique of piety but as a bit of a jab at practice. As one tasked with distributing the Host and Precious Blood, it's less of a concern for me what you do and more problematic how it is done.

1. Holy Halitosis!

I make a concerted effort to elevate the host or chalice, make eye contact, and say clearly, "The Blood of Christ" or "The Body of Christ." Sometimes the vigorous assent of "Amen" carries with it a waft of garlic, or curry, or the sewer. I don't believe there is such a thing as good breath, but there certainly is a wide array of bad breaths. Even if you're going to mind the fast of one hour before receiving communion, I don't think a good dose of Scope or a quick brush of the teeth before walking out would be out of order.

2. The Fig Leaf

These are the people who approach and have their hands folded...but the hands float somewhere at the level of the belt buckle. For inordinately tall people, this doesn't pose a tremendous challenge. But for those who dwell closer to the ground, I find myself having to stoop. I find it best if people elevate their hands to about chest level and a foot or so away from their chest.

3. Easy Access

Maybe it's a trend - like skinny jeans or the slap bracelets - but I've noticed people "cupping" their hands. To be sure, it is understandable that one does not want to drop the Host to the floor and "cups" one's hands to provide a guardrail. Well and good. But it does make it a bit awkward when distributing, because it sort of forces the minister to "deposit" the host into a cupped void. If you offer me two hands relatively flat, one atop the other, I'll aim for the palm of the top hand. You can then use the bottom hand to bring the Host to your mouth for reception.

4. Bait-and-Switch

How I hold the Host varies based on whether I can anticipate you receiving on the tongue or in the hand. I'm fine with either - and it's your right to do either - but if you approach with your hands elevated and then, at the last moment, drop your hands and thrust your head forward: it throws me off! Try to signal how you're receiving as you approach. If you're hands are up, I'm assuming in the hand. If your hands are down, I'll probably assume on the tongue.

5. Give me a Target

So, a few months ago I was distributing the Host and encountered the phenomenon of people not wanting to extend their tongue out to give me a target. The problem is that the closer my hand gets to your mouth, the more likely it is your saliva will get on my fingers and transmitted to the next person in line. Indeed, I tried to offer the host to one person who opened her mouth and then put her entire mouth around my two fingers, up to the cuticle. Like, both nails were for a moment in her mouth. I felt like I was a little kid at the zoo when the goat eats out of your hand and seems to engulf your fingers with its mouth. That really threw me for a loop and I had to try to dry off my fingers as discretely as possible.

6. The Cobra

If you're going to genuflect in order to receive - and this is fine - it is vitally important that you lean forward a bit. I saw some weeks ago a guy drop to two knees and as the priest attempted to offer him the host, he began to lean backwards. A lot. Really far back. I marveled at this because he appeared as a cobra preparing to strike.

7. Amen

I'm all for innovation with flavors of ice cream and cocktails. But I think it best to leave the response to "The Body/Blood of Christ" as "Amen." Of late I've gotten "I am," "We are," "Truly it is," and most fascinating, "Thanks." One Jesuit friend reported of the response, "No problem." I think Amen is a great way to go: short, simple, and not open to interpretation.

8. Receiving the Cup

Just as a public service announcement: there is a moment in the liturgy when the priest breaks off a piece of the consecrated Host and adds it to the Precious Blood. So if you see a small piece of something floating in the cup, odds are that it is not backwash. I make it my custom, as best as possible, to drink the particulate Host so that it doesn't freak people out. If you're at the beginning of the communion line, consider it a public service to do so.


Anyway, those are some musings on the topic. It's meant to be funny and taken as a moment to help people think of how they themselves receive (but, Lord knows, the Catholic community is not always known for its sense of humor). 

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Best Intentions...

At least it has been my experience that, when I set out to tackle a public reading project, it withers quite quickly. Such it is with a reading of Laudato Si - I intended to use each of the mornings last week to read, consider, and publicly reflect upon the encyclical. As it turns out, I was given the opportunity to cover the morning masses at my home parish of St. Brendan. It's a great testament to the pastor, Father Tom Woost, that those morning masses are super well attended. On Friday I think there were six or seven teenage girls who came to mass following a sleepover.

On Saturday I was privileged to celebrate the Eucharist with the parish community. Four priests were in attendance - Fathers Woost, Cornelius Murray, Mahoney, and Jayme Stayer, SJ. Each one of these men has exercised a formative influence on my vocation and I'm extraordinarily grateful to have had the chance to pray with them. Indeed, I'm especially grateful that they "fed me lines" when I forgot or blanked on what I was supposed to say!

The evening was made only the richer by the great number of family and friends who were able to attend. Former parents and students from Detroit, Tom Hastings my music teacher, feis musician Tony Nother, and what seemed like most of Cleveland's West Side Irish managed to make it. It's humbling to look out at the gathered assembly and see so many familiar and loving faces. If a vow of poverty means that I cannot material things as the source of my wealth, this only brings out how rich I am with friends and family. A very special group of life-long friends gave me the beautiful gift of a traveling Mass Kit, knowing as they do how much I travel.

I am especially grateful this morning to our family friend Marianne Mangan for coming to take pictures at our Mass of Thanksgiving. Marianne is a truly gifted photographer and her photos of the event are spectacular.

Of the evening, my favorite picture is this one snapped as I stood at the back of the church following the recessional hymn. As it turns out, it was more than a flippant gesture: over and again, I heard from friends that my sense of joy was palpable. Maybe it's still the grace of first fervor, but I must say that it's hard to understand how someone could not be joyful. My job is to share Good News, so how can that not give rise to intense hope and joy?

I am not unaware that we live in politically and socially challenging times. Yet I simply cannot accept as definitive the laments of the prophets of doom who think the United States, or the Catholic Church, is finished. If the curtain has fallen on the days when "Father Knows Best" or when institutional religion exercised a decisive influence on morality, this does not mean the endeavor has failed. We need to earn people's confidence, to fight for our credibility, not by lamenting a lost past but by looking toward a possible future.

Hence it is my belief that there is no better time to be a priest today. I take it as an exciting challenge to engage an increasingly skeptical world and to offer those I meet the opportunity to encounter the One who brings joy to my life and who stands at the heart of my Church. I've no illusion that this is easy or without hardship, but for me I cannot imagine desiring to do anything else. My experience of Jesus Christ has been that he is the light capable of piercing the darkness and that there are many who need desperately to meet him. If I can serve to facilitate this connection, to help people find and make their own the joy of the Gospel, then I think we will slowly make inroads into a skeptical world. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Reading Laudato Si

Having a few days break before returning to Boston, I have the luxury of giving a slow-read to the Holy Father's encyclical Laudato Si. Without trying to give a summary of the text, I thought it might be nice to offer a few reflections on the document. 

In the introduction to the document, we find a tantalizingly suggestive phrase: integral ecology. Pope Francis does not immediately define this term, but he tethers it to the vision Saint Francis had for the environment. Consistent with a tradition reaching back to the psalms, the Holy Father desires his readers to take a stance that allows creation itself to praise God's glory. Far from a bloodless portrayal of the environment as an assemblage of biological organisms, Pope Francis understands creation as the primordial locus of wonder and awe:
If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled. (11)
Our attitude to the world must not be one of cool indifference but, rather, one of astonishment and wonder. That it is at all is a marvel sufficient to rock us back on our heels and stir up within a sense of enormity and vastness of creation. 

Chapter One, "What is Happening to Our Common Home," addresses five areas of particular environmental concern: pollution, water, biodiversity, quality of human life, and global inequality. Pope Francis decries what I would call naive "capitalist cataracts" which blind one to detecting the many and subtle ways we are all connected. So blinded, one comes to see "the environment" as merely a means to a singular end: profit. If profit is the goal, then any means can be justified to turn a profit, even if those means include inflicting terrible damage to the world we share with one another. This blindness lacks, too, the depth-perception to note that what we do to the environment ultimately affects us: the toxins we spew into the air or discharge into the sea eventually make it back to us in the forms of our drinking water and the food on our plates. It's sort of like passing gas in a crowded elevator: you may hope to God it doesn't stink but odds are it does and it will, given sufficient time, affect everyone on board. 

Pope Francis concludes the first chapter with the following prescient observation:
On many concrete questions, the Church has no reason to offer a definitive opinion; she knows that honest debate must be encouraged among experts, while respecting divergent views. But we need only take a frank look at the facts to see that our common home is falling into serious disrepair. Hope would have us recognize that there is always a way out, that we can always redirect our steps, that we can always do something to solve our problems. Still, we can see signs that things are now reaching a breaking point, due to the rapid pace of change and degradation; these are evident in large-scale natural disasters as well as social and even financial crises, for the world’s problems cannot be analyzed or explained in isolation. There are regions now at high risk and, aside from all doomsday predictions, the present world system is certainly unsustainable from a number of points of view, for we have stopped thinking about the goals of human activity. “If we scan the regions of our planet, we immediately see that humanity has disappointed God’s expectations”. (61)
The role of the Church is not to claim that this scientific theory is correct, or that scientific study irredeemably flawed. The Church's role, instead, is to help give a holistic assessment - an integral assessment - of the current state of affairs. One may debate the nature and scope of human impact upon the earth, but it cannot be denied that we are affecting it...and not for the good of the planet or for the whole of its population.

This first chapter, then, sets the stage for what is to follow. I am keenly interested in how the notion of "integral ecology" will be developed. But as I finish reading this opening of the text, I cannot but marvel at the ongoing sense of hope: it is not too late for us to be aroused to the plight of our common home and respond in a way in line with God's expectations.

Friday, June 19, 2015

First Week

I was overjoyed to celebrate the Eucharist with the daily mass-goers at my home parish of St. Brendan in North Olmsted, Ohio. I have very fond memories of serving in the small chapel before school and it was a thrill to be there today. The congregation was very gracious and patient as I continue to figure out how to "work" the book and its many...many...many...ribbons.

In a few minutes, I'll drive down to Kentucky to play the accordion for two Irish dancing competitions. This may strike some as odd but, to be honest, I cannot think of a better way of describing what my sense of priesthood is: my duty is to help others do what they love. So I play the music for people to dance, just as I pray and celebrate the sacraments in order that women and men can be good disciples.

Though if I may, a moment of venting.

So, I'm going to celebrate Mass at the feis (Irish dancing competition) this weekend. I have hosts, chalice, paten, linens, alb, a beautiful chasuble (Thanks to Laureen O'Neill-James) and stole (Thanks to Mary Bryan and Tommy Blake). I have a bottle of approved wine, two cruets, and a nice candle stand.

Finding a nice candle, however, was damned near impossible. For sure, I wasn't going to buy a Yankee Candle Company candle: they are really expensive and while they make the bathroom smell great, they're hardly what I would want on the altar. I went to a bunch of different stores trying to find a suitable candle, but it was really difficult.

I think I finally settled on a candle that has a slight sandalwood odor. Pleasant and not overpowering. Jesus wore sandals and the cross was made of wood, and he was a carpenter, so I figure this is the best. It beats "Orange Blossom Almond Hurricane" or "Lemon Sage Pine Delight" in terms of simplicity.

It's been a big week and I still marvel at the sense of peace and joy I feel. Please keep me in your prayers. And, if ever you are so moved, feel free to contact me to do memorial masses: I plan on celebrating the Eucharist daily and would be honored to remember your loved ones, or your intentions, at Mass.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

10 Things to Know About Laudato Si

This is a very well-done piece produced by America Magazine.

It certainly provides a remarkable contrast to the commentary offered by Greg Gutfeld.

As I mentioned yesterday, the near-allergic reaction some are having to this encyclical betrays a fundamental inability of Americans to think in categories not associated with politics. Our shared home - our oikos - and its stewardship have been politicized into "Left" versus "Right." Pope Francis isn't offering a political agenda but, rather, a theological reflection on the environment. For those familiar with Ignatian spirituality's commitment to "find God in all things," this encyclical attempts to peer beneath the economic, political, and scientific data to probe the theological meaning of the environment and our impact upon it.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Better as People, but not Political??

I'm rather dismayed today in reading a comment made by Jeb Bush. As reported by the New York Times:
“I hope I’m not going to get castigated for saying this by my priest back home, but I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope,” Mr. Bush said. “And I’d like to see what he says as it relates to climate change and how that connects to these broader, deeper issues before I pass judgment. But I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting in the political realm.”
On the face of it, this seems to resonate with the American understanding of the separation between Church and State. The Church cannot, within this system, set the policy by which the State operates.

Yet if you scratch the surface, a question comes to the fore. If religion is meant to make us "better people," and if we live together in society, then does it not stand to reason that religion does indeed come to bear upon the political realm? The scriptural admonition to tend to the "widow, orphan, and stranger" demands translation into action. Human actions are inherently political because they take place within society and contribute to shaping the way we live our lives together as a people.

It must be born in mind that the Pope - who, incidentally, has a more substantive scientific background than many who criticize him - did not compose his encyclical letter on the environment in a vacuum. He did not, that is, sequester himself in a theological library to consult Aquinas on the environment. Using the vast array of resources at his disposal, I have no doubt he has drawn on the best scientific research available to help him think through the theological implications of our human affect on the environment.

Gladly do I agree with Michael McKenna who opines, "This guy is not in sync with the American catholic Church. Guys like Jeb and Rubio are more in line with the American Catholic Church than the pope." The American Catholic Church too easily worships at the altar of fad and outrage, focusing more on its political allegiances than how it is being called to serve God's Kingdom. It is to the Holy Father's credit that he is out of step, and my most fervent prayer that the rhythm to which he marches slowly enter into and animate that of the American Church. The American Church is ~6% of the world's Catholic population and to think that our extraordinarily limited perspective should set policy for the rest of the world is the height of hubris.

If one's religious faith serves only to cocoon a person or wrap one in a feeling of warm sentiment and comfort it is, sadly, probably false. A faith that is concerned solely with self-improvement is not Christian faith: Jesus did not go to the Cross because he advocated being better people. He died because he saw that our progress as a people demanded engagement with, and a transformation of, the culture in which we live. The Holy Father is rightly and presciently drawing needed attention to the environment and to the pressing issues raised by our common home. Rather than worrying about him politicizing faith, we should be trying to find out how faith can offer us insights into our political sphere and contribute to making our world more just, not only for special interest groups, but for all who call this planet their home. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

To Provoke Curiosity

Nearly twelve years ago, as I was preparing applications to doctoral programs in theology, I felt a stirring in my heart that led me to make an inquiry into a Jesuit vocation. I had known the Jesuits as teachers and mentors and while I had given fleeting thought to becoming a Jesuit, I had never pursued it with much energy.

It was a mid-September day that I went to see the vocation director who was staying at Saint Ignatius High School. We had a nice meeting and I left interested but with no more clarity about whether I wanted to be a Jesuit. He had told me a great deal about the Society and the process of becoming a Jesuit, but I didn't necessarily feel any more moved to want to become one.

Until, that is, I got to my car. I had no sooner put the key into the ignition than a Jesuit I knew from when I was in high school walked past my car. He didn't see me but I had a clear sight of him and there was no mistaking it: he was happy. This aroused within me the greatest sense of curiosity: what was it that made this man so joyful? Could I attain a share in this joy?

This week, the Holy Father spoke to a group of priests and addressed the question of attracting women and men to the Catholic faith:
"Let the Holy Spirit provoke curiosity" in onlookers who see Christians serving the poor, the elderly, the sick, the helpless, he said. Let the onlookers wonder: "Why are they doing this?" "Are they crazy?" Let them wonder why Christians spend their lives on the very people others have thrown away, he said.
 Too often, I reckon, we mistake the "Faith" for a crystallized set of beliefs, an intricate and  byzantine assembly of propositions that tell us what we believe. We forget that Faith is a gift, a response to God's invitation to be friends. We enact our faith in service to our sisters and brothers not because we are forced at gunpoint but, rather, because our service flows from our love. We rush to the margins not with grimaces and scowls but with a sense of joy that we are responding to the One who calls us.

Evoking the image of the Good Shepherd, Pope Francis reminded the priests that when the Shepherd finds his lost sheep, "he doesn't hit, he doesn't scold, he takes it in his arms and embraces it and takes care of it because it was wounded." Yesterday evening I heard my first confessions and one penitent commented to the group that he avoided the sacrament because he feared being judged. He spoke to us movingly of feeling broken but too afraid to ask for help because he had a hard time trusting that he could actually be healed. (Note: I asked if I could share this anecdote with others and, since it was not within the sacramental forum, he was quite fine with it).

It was amazing to watch as people physically changed through unburdening their souls and hearing the words of absolution. I didn't do anything other than allow God's infinite and reckless love and mercy reach into the depths of their hearts and bring healing and peace. By no means do I see myself as the Good Shepherd - I know that I can be a huge dirt bag! - but it was humbling to be an instrument of Christ's peace to hearts in turmoil.

We live in a society where it is a point of interest to see people's dirty laundry aired in public: we are seemingly addicted to shaming those who have fallen. What a contrast, then, is the act of Reconciliation where one's darkest secrets are brought into the healing light of God's love! Perhaps no one captures the curious power of God's forgiveness than Fyodor Dostoevsky who places these words in the mouth of the sage Father Zossima:
Fear nothing and never be afraid; and don't fret. If only your penitence fail not, God will forgive all. There is no sin, and there can be no sin on all the earth, which the Lord will not forgive to the truly repentant! Man cannot commit a sin so great as to exhaust the infinite love of God. Can there be a sin which could exceed the love of God? Think only of repentance, continual repentance, but dismiss fear altogether. Believe that God loves you as you cannot conceive; that He loves you with your sin, in your sin. It has been said of old that over one repentant sinner there is more joy in heaven than over ten righteous men. Go, and fear not. Be not bitter against men. Be not angry if you are wronged. Forgive the dead man in your heart what wrong he did you. Be reconciled with him in truth. If you are penitent, you love. And if you love you are of God. All things are atoned for, all things are saved by love. If I, a sinner, even as you are, am tender with you and have pity on you, how much more will god. Love is such a priceless treasure that you can redeem the whole world by it, and expiate not only your own sins but the sins of others. 
We err in thinking ourselves so grand and glorious that our sins can blot out the horizon of God's love and mercy. The mortal wound of mortal sin is the act of severing us from love, from so impoverishing our hearts and minds that we cannot even imagine that God does, or could, love us. It is a curious thing, this sacrament of confession, that by acknowledging our poverty we find within ourselves opened a path to infinite wealth.

To convince others of the truth of our faith, we do not need to resort first to polemics or sharp argument. We need to let our faith be weird: to let it catch people off guard that, in our words and deeds, we witness to values not easily congruent with our society. Allow people to wonder, to grow curious, and to take the first step to "come and see" the reason we do what we do. For we do not show mercy, or embrace the wounded and margins, because we have a good argument for doing so. We show mercy because we have been offered God's love and mercy and we cannot but "Go, and do likewise."
Another ordination photo: Jimmy Menkhaus, Ryan Duns, and Eric Abercrombie. Two old friends from my time at JCU!

Monday, June 15, 2015

To Set the World On Fire

After many years of prayer and preparation, this weekend I was ordained to the priesthood. This morning, as I shook the remnants of sleep from my eyes and turned my mind toward the day ahead, I was filled with a deep sense of joy and peace.

It'd be impossible for me to recount either what I felt or continue to feel. Hence let me share a few photographs.

This is a photo take at the recessional. I don't know that I've ever experienced joy such as this.

My first Mass was celebrated at Old Saint Patrick's Church. I cannot tell you how unbelievable the church community is. If you or someone you know struggles to find a home in the Catholic Church, I can say of Old Saint Pat's what I would say of my own Saint Cecilia parish: everyone can find a home here. Father Hurley and his staff was so gracious and hospitable and their liturgical music was brilliant. Indeed, it gave me the chance to live up to the name of the blog: the tin whistle priest.

Perhaps one of the more powerful experiences was having so many of my Irish music and dancing friends present. They generously traveled from all over the country to share in this experience and I'm so incredibly grateful to them. Indeed, there were enough adjudicators present to run a small feis. I would probably call it the "Haven't Got a Prayer" feis just to be cheeky!

If there is ever a place I learned to be a Jesuit, it was at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy. I learned more from them what it means to be a priest than I could ever have taught them about any subject. If I can be the type of priest they deserve, I will live a very rich and happy life. Here is but one group of students, but there were a ton of others as well: they just haven't posted their pictures to Facebook!

I will be posting pictures with my family soon. When the photographer sends us photos from the event, I'll be sure to post them. In the meantime, allow this to give you a sense of how the Duns and Hagan families celebrate sacerdotal ministry. Never in my life would I have imagined having a commemorative beer koozie and shot glass!

After two days of nonstop extroversion, I'm grateful to have a day of relative quiet. I'm going to leave the coffee shop I'm presently sitting in and go for a walk through Cleveland. I'll meet up with my parents in a bit to shop at the West Side Market and I'm overjoyed not to have evening plans. Perhaps that is the best way to describe how I feel today: a sense of joy that is so fulfilled that it brings me great peace and tranquility.

My prayer is that I may be given the grace to be the priest God's people deserve. I am neither a saint nor a hero, but I hope to do my best to give credible witness to my love for Jesus Christ and his Church. 

Flute playing priest finds YouTube fame