Sunday, October 29, 2017

Follow Up Thoughts on Ad Orientem, Part 1

In the original homily where I introduced ad orientem at St. Wenceslaus I ended by saying I could have gone on for another ten minutes, but for time's sake I would share those ideas in different ways. And then with certain topics, like the question of sanctuary restoration, I said that I would save that and explain more in the bulletin. 

So, in each of the bulletins since October 1st I have put in a little blurb, explaining more about ad orientem, sharing an anecdote from other places that have had it, or presenting things I had to skip in the homily. So today I am bundling the first four of these blurbs here for those who don't have a stack of St. Wenceslaus bulletins at home.

Blurbs 5-8 found here and 9-10 found here.

I. Last weekend I explained that for at least the next year, St. Wenceslaus would be celebrating Mass ad orientem, that is, with the priest and the people united, facing the same direction. If you missed that homily, or want to revisit it, visit the parish website. We have placed the text and the audio near the top. Over the coming weeks I am going to share here some of the insights that didn’t make the homily, but for the core reasoning, you’ll need to hear the homily itself.

A hard decision I had to make was whether to catechize about “AO” for weeks ahead of time, or just preach the one homily and then start at that very Mass. I was keenly aware that many of the changes in the ‘60s and ‘70s were done with minimal pre-teaching. But as some students noted, this was a far smaller change than the translation changes we had in 2011. So I decided it was better not to break things up and risk people having too much time to overthink it, talk to anyone else, or go hide in another parish. Instead, everyone heard the reasoning and then two minutes later we were all praying, facing God the Father together. So far almost every response has been positive, especially among young people. Thank you for walking alongside me in this pilgrimage!

II. In the homily introducing ad orientem worship, I said that I think praying this way will make us better prayers (pray-ers). Another thing it should do is free us from mixing up what parts are conversation with God and what parts are conversation with the priest. These ideas overlap in a conversation a priest in our diocese had with a woman in his parish after they started ad orientem. She said "Father, I feel free now. When you looked at us the whole Mass, I felt I needed to look back, as a courtesy and to show I'm listening. Now, in the parts where we are talking to God, I can close my eyes, I can look down. I don't feel I always have to look at you. I can pray naturally."

This makes sense to me. Most faithful Catholics want to show they are attentive, focused, listening participants. But for many that means sacrificing what might be a more natural posture and style of prayer because they feel they need to show the priest (and others) "I'm listening!" AO frees us to pray, without worrying about signaling the priest our attention.

III. A line commonly heard when discussing Mass ad orientem (or when discussing the pre-1965 “Traditional Latin Mass”) is that “Father had his back to us.” There is a lot more in that line than I can go into here, but I have done some research on this and, interestingly, that complaint is basically nowhere to be found in writings in 1950 or 1960. It seems to only appear after the priest was encouraged to face the people (1965-70), and is used by liturgists and catechists to open the people up to the change, e.g. “Isn’t this nice? Father used to have his back to you, but now he’s looking at you.” A priest in Lincoln a couple years ago turned the celebrant and server chairs 90°, from facing the people to facing inward, much like our chairs. A woman said, “Father, I’m upset because I can’t see your face anymore.” The priest replied, “Then, sadly, we were doing it wrong.” His point, and it applies to the Introductory Rites and the Eucharistic Prayer alike, was that Mass has never been about the celebrant, and should never be about him or his connection to the people. I understand how there was appeal in being told “Father won’t have his back to us any more,” but I don’t think the liturgists who first said it realized what clarity they actually already possessed and what confusion they were beginning. 

IV. In the homily when I introduced ad orientem I asked a question, “Does this have anything to do with the building campaign/sanctuary renovation?” and my answer was “No… and a tiny yes.” That “yes” is: We should take some time with ad orientem before we have to decide about what kind of renovation we want.

I’ve talked to several priests throughout the country who restored sanctuaries and put beautiful, tall altarpieces in again. When asked if those additions changed much in the parish they all said some version of “Well, we get more weddings requests and more pictures on Christmas.”

I call this the “backdrop effect”, and we don’t want it. We don’t want to spend $50,000 on a pretty backdrop with no appreciable change in how we pray and think. To me, the backdrop effect seems sensible in Mass facing the people. When the priest is facing the people, the mental path goes between him and the people, and so the altarpiece is background. But when we are facing the same direction, the mental path goes from the people, through the priest, and on up and in. When we say Mass ad orientem, the sanctuary furnishings are organically more of a part of the worship.

Monday, October 23, 2017

"At Her Centre, Her Truest Children Dwell"

On Sunday night, October 22, 2017, Bethlehem Lutheran and St. Wenceslaus held a joint prayer service in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. I thank Pastor Robert Hayden for inviting our parish to his church to share in this joint moment of honesty, prayer, and reconciliation. 

I'm told that there may be video of the whole event, and if it makes it to the Web I will link it here. In the meantime, here is the audio of my half of the double sermon. I know there are at least two pretty obvious speaking errors; let your mind provide the correct words via context. Be merciful; I had the flu and my notes were scanty.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Secret Twist in "Render Unto Caesar"

If you've always taken "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and render unto God what is God's" as either 1) a cool debate trick used by Jesus to flummox his adversaries or 2) a breaking of the world into temporal and spiritual spheres, then you might want to listen to this and reflect what is covered in "render unto God what is God's."

The transcript today is just my notes. Sorry, I have the flu. 

p. 65

Pretty famous: render unto Caesar 

recent Books: Archbishop Chaput

Monday of Holy Week

Already come in on Palm Sunday, Hosanna to Son of David, cleansed Temple

Throw down with Pharisee and Sadducees 

Threatening parables: vineyard, wedding feast

Then their questions: know his teaching and personality, so try to make hypotheticals where it seems he either has to go against the Torah or go against his previous statements

Or even go against the civil roman authorities 

Taxes, resurrection, greatest commandment, woman caught in adultery

Odd set up: Herodians
Politically shifty, compromise 

Pharisees: allied more with zealots
Hate Herod, hate Rome, nothing but Jewish national rule 

Major threat if together

Census tax:

Either against Jewish self rule 

Or against rome and Caesar 

Remember the charge: insurrection 

Pilate would've let go except 

Smarmy <read>


Butter him up and give one or other answer, both of which they think will condemn him

Show me the coin

Genius: like greatest command, woman, by what authority

Skips over their supposed dilemma: What about this?

What does this have to do with anything

Give answer: Return to Caesar 

Everyone marvels

Take for granted this was brilliant

But lots more to it than this


Coin has an image

King, emperor, local God


But that word, icon, is what the first commandment says you cannot have: "you shall have no graven images" 

Why are there moneychangers in the temple?

Why are there tables for Jesus to flip over the day before?

It's not a question of changing Roman coins into Jewish coins because of the exchange rate, it's because all coins come in with images graven in them

Often times the kings themselves said they were gods of some sort

You can't go and buy a turtledove or a goat to sacrifice with coins with graven images

Everybody comes into Jerusalem with a pocketful of idolatry 

And so they have to go to the money changers and trade their Caesar coins for —aniconic, non-iconic coins— temple shekels because God has no icons, no image

So with this as background, Jesus's words don't make sense:

Give to Caesar what's caesars, literally what bears his image, his coin. 

But give to God what is God's what bears his image? But what bears his image? Nothing does! 

But something does bear God's image, doesn't it?

It's not a coin

Not a statue or temple

Think back to Genesis 1

What is the one thing that bears God's image? 

It's you.

So when J says give to Caesar what is Caesar's, give him what has his image—this stupid coin

Then he's saying give to God what bears his image—you 

Give him your whole self

So it's not just that Jesus slip through their trap,

But is making a huge point

I don't care much what you do with your money: Caesar, king of Persia, or dump in a well

Give to God what looks like God


Give him your whole life

Your time 

Your breath

Your exertion 

Later in this chapter they'll ask him what is the greatest commandment 

He'll answer: love the lord

SAME THING: Render to God what bears God'a image. 

So it's not just a nifty rhetorical move or a cool debate counterattack that saves him from the Roman but also doesn't tick off the Jewish nationalists, 

He has gone deeper,

Like he does with the question of forgiveness with the woman caught in adultery

He's gone deeper and said:

The material stuff, the worldly stuff, the civic stuff is secondary to the question of where are our hearts, where are our lives, going?

A year ago as we prepared for our stewardship renewal I reflected on this when I preached on the idea that: 

"Nothing I have is mine. Not my breath. Not my thoughts. Not my talents. Not even my dreams and wishes."

Nothing is my own. Everything comes from God. 

So the real message of today's gospel isn't that Jesus is a first-rate debate champion, but that he wants us to recognize that everything we are and we have is God's, and that as we return our taxes to Caesar, we need to return ourselves to the Lord. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Philipp. 4:8! This is How We Meditate!

Most committed Christians want to pray more deeply. Most also don't have a clue how. Let St. Paul's words to the Philippians create for you multiple meditative pray times.

"Whatever" Meditation 

Last week I said that one of the goals I hope for out of the way we worship now is that it makes us better pray-ers.

But I think we all know that being better prayers can't just be limited to what we do for an hour Sundays at Mass.

I think we understand that we need to develop a personal prayer.

We have probably heard that a thousand times at Mass.

We’ve probably told ourselves a thousand times, “I’m going to work on my personal prayer life.”

And then, unless it's Lent, and even then maybe not, we never really find a way to develop it 

Or we get started—“I’m going to make some prayer time”—and we don't know what to do.

Most of us growing up all you really learn how to do is vocal prayers

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be...

Angel of God, St. Michael, Memorare…

We run through those and we’re like, “and… I'm out of stuff.”

We know there are other kinds of vocal prayers, personal vocal prayers

“Jesus I need these things.” “Jesus, help me with this.” 

We’ve all done before a test we didn’t study for.

But that’s still vocal prayer. Not a bad thing, but can go up higher

The Church talks about vocal prayer, meditative prayer, contemplative prayer

How do we move to those higher levels?

Who is around to teach us that?

So I want to take a little time, and I want to do something that can help us, and will give you something that, a least a few times, you can try some meditative prayer.

Learn a little: how do we meditate.

"Is it like Buddhists? Hindus? Sit there and empty mind? Hmmmmmmmm”

No. Christian meditation has something else going on there.

Often when someone says, let’s teach you about meditation, they will use Scripture.

So you picture a scene: Read the scripture of Jesus and blind man or Jesus and woman at the well, and then you kind of walk through that.

And that's good. But what about other stuff? What about stuff that isn't a narrative you can picture yourself in?

I can't teach you all the ins and outs, but I want to give you a tool that will help you grow your own meditation.

I don’t have time to go super in-depth with it, but I want to kinda pull back the curtain and show you something and then you can go back to it.

Invite you to do something don't normally do:

Take out your phone if it has something to take notes

Pen and something to write on 

Last night a woman was taking notes in her checkbook

But no checking scores or Facebook

Reap some ideas you can come back to

Open to 2nd Reading: Philippians Chapter 4. Pretty famous passage

"Finally, brothers and sisters,
whatever is true, whatever is honorable,
whatever is just, whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious,
if there is any excellence
and if there is anything worthy of praise,
think about these things."

What is meditation? 

It’s what St. Paul just said: "Whatever is excellent or honorable—think about these things"

To think through then, with God alongside us.

Give you a taste and then encourage you to go home and some other time do this more thoroughly.

Quiet prayer time, a holy hour, instead of watching the Huskers struggle…

Put in a notebook instead of just a scrap, or in phone

Take some time and make eight little lists

Start asking those questions: 

What is true? What is gracious? 

I have my notebook. First tried this in 2007. Share a few of mine and invite you to start pondering and writing some of your own. 

Whatever is true:

Those people or things that seem full of truth.

For me, started with some of my favorite authors: 
G.K. Chesterton
Josef Pieper (wrote “Only the Lover Sings” which I referenced before), 
Scott Hahn the famous convert
The 2nd chapter of Fellowship of the Ring, where Gandalf and Frodo talk about the ring and Bilbo and Gollum—best insights on human nature ever

And then:
Conversations with my friend Christine who works for FOCUS
and those with Fr. Chris Goodwin

Those are people who strike me as knowing what is true, and talk about what is true.

So come up with some of your own now. What are the things or people you look at and say: "That is true."


Hard thing to define. One of those things that I might not be able to define but I know what it is.

Not always appreciated today.

I think first of military personnel.
I think of my friend’s uncle who gave a toast at her wedding. He was a marine and had just come back from the Iraq War. Beautiful reflection on sacrifice. That’s part of honor.
Name of a guy who was just a high school kid when I wrote his name down here, and now he’s ordained priest. 
Good friends from my high school days who are the definition of hard work, humility, honorable labor,
Good social dancing: swing, waltz, polka

What’s honorable? Write it down.

Right now you’re thinking, “If he didn’t take these long pause this could be a lot shorter homily.” 

True. But if we didn’t do this right now, many of you would never do it.

What is just?
The cross.
Heaven, hell, and purgatory, all three—pretty just.
“Paying for music.” Remember, my first list was from 2007 when how you got the music on your computer/iPod was much debated: Apple, friends, sketchy services
Some kinds of anger.
My Grandma
“Msgr. Barr’s corrections.” I was a deacon at St. Joe’s in Lincoln and he corrected be a lot. And three years later I could admit: tit was pretty darn just.

What's pure? First-graders are pure.
Mother Teresa’s motives
The Church, the Bride of Christ
Scotty Montgomery, now with the Franciscan Friars in NYC. Ironically, they gave him the religious name Br. Innocent.
Souls after a good confession

A snowy landscape
White marble statue of St. Cecilia in martyrdom
Pregnant moms
Taizé music (mentioned them last week)
This valley in Pennsylvania that when you’re eastbound on I-76 just opens up perfectly before you.

Gracious. Euphēma in Greek. Thesaurus says: welcoming, grateful, kindly, patient, humble
My first secretary when I was at St. Pat’s, Dian Densler
My dad
The way my sister tends to people
Hobbits and Rivendell

“If there is any excellence”
What’s excellent?
My friend Melissa’s laugh is excellent. Can hear it a mile away and it will keep going forever.
Michael Jordan’s final shot in Game 6 against the Utah Jazz.
A particular campfire in Virginia in 2000: perfect weather, incredible music, gorgeous scenery, amazing people
Jim’s cheesesteaks in Philadelphia
It’s a Wonderful Life
Everything about John Paul II

“If there is anything worthy of praise”
This is where you put anything else you haven’t gotten yet.

Worthy of praise?
Johnny Walker Black Label
Good bike rides and road trips 
My pastor growing up, Fr. Tim Alkire
Marriage—and couples who live it out well 
Dorothy Day, my favorite (hopefully) future saint
Diocese of Lincoln 
The Eucharist 
God's plan for our lives

...worthy of praise 

(I know it's a weird homily)

This is an appetizer.

But now, sometime in the future, take a quiet 30-60 minutes and do this completely.

Whole Philippians 4:8

Do them all and put them someplace permanent, cuz right now they might be on a napkin.

Take time with those lists and grow them.

Each of the eight. Take at least 5 minutes for each. 

Ponder them and expand your whatevers.

Cool, I meditated!


Actually, not really. 

Not yet.

You got fodder.

You got ammunition for mediation.

You filled up treasure chest.

Then, you come back next time you pray and you take just one of those: Gracious, Lovely...

And you walk through those.

You let God show you why those appeal to your heart.

Think about what's so pure or excellent.

Give thanks for those things, sing praise to God for them in your heart.

And as you go down that road, pondering with God —you're meditating!

That’s what Paul was talking about.

You're letting your mind chew on ideas.

But it's activating your heart and your soul.

And if you do that for those eight things, at whatever pace, over however many weeks, you'll be amazed at how it changes you. 

You realize you can do meditative prayer.

You now have at least 9 prayer times in which you can do it.

You can pray on a level higher than just "Gosh, Jesus I want these things"

You're on the step to sainthood.

Because you're doing what saints do.

They think about divine things.

They long for the things of God.

Try it sometime:

Make your list.

Put it someplace like a prayer book or keep in a notebook.

Come back to them.

Ponder these things.

And let that, bit by bit, turn you into a saint.