Retired educator turns to drama to spread the Word

Retired Catholic school educator Eleanor Glenn is on a different stage now, but she still has a passion for teaching others about the Catholic faith.

Instead of a classroom, Glenn — who has a religious education specialist certificate — is now spreading the Word through drama in her one-woman play that connects the sacrifice of the Mass with Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.

The Servant at the Supper is about a fictitious servant girl who baked the bread and served the wine at the Last Supper. She is also present when the women bring the news of Christ’s Resurrection to the disciples and at Pentecost.

Everyone is equal in the eyes of God

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) Oct. 30 (Malachi 1:14-2:2, 8-10; Psalm 131; 1 Thessalonians 2:7-9, 13; Matthew 23:1-12)

The prophets of Israel — the genuine prophets — were never afraid to speak truth to power. Malachi addressed the religious elite as a spokesman for God and called them to task for dereliction of duty. They were raised to their positions of authority to shepherd the people and to be spiritual guides. They were to keep the covenant with God pure. But human greed, selfishness and lust for power had all taken their toll.

Mankind doesn’t understand the earthiness, holiness of sex

Our world thinks it understands sex. It doesn’t. Moreover, it is beginning to ignore and even disdain how Christianity views sexuality.

And we are paying a price for this, mostly without consciously realizing it. Sex, outside of its proper containers, respect, unconditional commitment and love, isn’t bringing more joy into our lives, but is leaving us more fragmented and lonely. Part of what’s happening to us is expressed in a haunting line in Leonard Cohen’s song “Famous Blue Raincoat,” where a man reminds a friend of the consequences of his having had sex with a woman to whom he was not committed: “And you treated my woman to a flake of your life; and when she came back she was nobody’s wife.”

Pope announces 'Year of Faith' to help renew missionary energy

VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI announced a special "Year of Faith" to help Catholics appreciate the gift of faith, deepen their relationship with God and strengthen their commitment to sharing faith with others.

Celebrating Mass Oct. 16 with participants in a Vatican conference on new evangelization, the pope said the Year of Faith would give "renewed energy to the mission of the whole church to lead men and women out of the desert they often are in and toward the place of life: friendship with Christ who gives us fullness of life."

The pope said the observance would begin Oct. 11, 2012 -- the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council -- and conclude Nov. 24, 2013 -- the feast of Christ the King.

A picture of Dorian Gray and our culture

Nearly a century ago, Oscar Wilde wrote a famous novel entitled A Picture of Dorian Gray. It begins this way:

Basil Hallward, a painter, has just finished a portrait of a young man of extraordinary good looks, Dorian Gray. Just as he finishes the painting, a brilliant, though highly cynical young Lord, Henry Wotton, wanders into the room, marvels at the painting and compliments Dorian on his good looks. Dorian, quite humble at this stage of his life, tells Lord Henry that his good looks mean little to him. But Lord Henry challenges Dorian to make his good looks mean something, both because they are real and because they are transient.

Here are his words to the young Dorian Gray: “You have a wonderfully beautiful face, Mr. Gray. Don’t frown. You have. And beauty is a form of genius, is higher, indeed, than genius, as it needs no explanation. It is one of the great facts of the world, like sunlight or spring-time or the reflection in dark waters of that silver shell we call the moon. It cannot be questioned. It has its divine right of sovereignty. It makes princes of those who have it. You smile? Ah! When you have lost it you won’t smile... People say sometimes that beauty is only superficial. That may be so. But at least it is not so superficial as thought is. To me, beauty is the wonder of wonders. It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible... Yes, Mr. Gray, the gods have been good to you. But what the gods give they quickly take away. You have only a few years in which to live really, perfectly and fully. When your youth goes, your beauty will go with it, and then you will suddenly discover that there are no triumphs left for you or have to content yourself with those mean triumphs that the memory or your past will make more bitter than defeats. Every month as it wanes brings you nearer to something dreadful. Time is jealous of you, and wars against your lilies and your roses. You will become sallow and hollow-cheeked and dull-eyed. You will suffer horribly... Ah! Realize your youth while you have it. Don’t squander the gold of your days, listening to the tedious, trying to improve the hopeless failure or giving away your life to the ignorant, the common and the vulgar. These are the sickly aims, the false ideals of our age. Live! Live the wonderful life that is in you! Let nothing be lost upon you. Be always searching for new sensations. Be afraid of nothing... A new Hedonism? That is what our century wants. You might be its visible symbol. With your personality there is nothing you could not do. The world belongs to you for a season...”

A new Hedonism — that is what our century wants. Oscar Wilde prophesized this nearly a century ago and, it would seem, that is precisely to where we have evolved in the Western world. Bodily appearance, looking good, having a trim, athletic body, being sexually attractive, remaining young and being admired for your body is, for the majority of our culture, a huge, obsessive preoccupation. Most people in our culture, perhaps not in theory but certainly in our practical life-choices, would agree with Lord Henry when he says: The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible. Good looks tend to trump everything.

Not that this is all bad.  Shallow is the spirituality that discredits the body. We are not angelic, dis-embodied spirits, but creatures of body and soul, and both are important for our spiritual health. God did not make us to walk this Earth indifferent to our bodily appearance, sexually numb and careless about our physical health. Indeed, indifference to our health and bodily appearance is one of the signs of clinical depression. Being young, healthy and sexually attractive is meant to be enjoyed, one of the pleasures that God intended for us. There is no virtue in looking and feeling shabby.

Thus, it’s good, spiritually, to be physically healthy. It’s good, spiritually, to work at keeping our bodies attractive. It’s good, spiritually, to healthily feel our sexuality. But these are a means, not an end. Youth, health and sexual attractiveness do not, as Lord Henry and much of our contemporary society suggest, have a divine right of sovereignty. They are not ends in themselves, but only part of our journey towards maturity, altruism and happiness. They are not the aim of that journey.  

And when we do make them the aim of our journey, we will, soon enough, taste the bitter bile warned of in Lord Henry’s counsel to Dorian Gray: You will suddenly discover that there are no triumphs left for you or have to content yourself with those mean triumphs that the memory or your past will make more bitter than defeats.

Never forget the greatest commandment

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) Oct. 23 (Exodus 22:21-27; Psalm 18; 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10; Matthew 22:34-40)

The Golden Rule comes in many forms. God’s commandment to the people of Israel is very simple: remember when you were a slave in Egypt. Did you like being helpless and at the mercy of others? Did you like being oppressed and mistreated? No? Good, then don’t treat anyone else in that way. They are forbidden to oppress non-Israelite dwellers in the land.

Pope: Silence, solitude needed in 'agitated, sometimes frantic' world

VATICAN CITY - Endless news, noise and crowds have made people afraid of silence and solitude, which are essential for finding God's love and love for others, Pope Benedict XVI said.

Progress in communications and transportation has made life more comfortable, as well as more "agitated, sometimes frantic," he said, especially in cities, where there is a constant din, even all night.

Young people seem to want to fill every moment with music and video, and there is a growing risk that people are more immersed in a virtual world rather than in reality because of the constant stream of "audiovisual messages that accompany their lives from morning to night," he said during a visit to an Italian monastery Oct. 9.

God will guide, protect those who follow him, pope says

VATICAN CITY - God will always guide, protect and nourish those intent on following him, Pope Benedict XVI said.

"Following Jesus, the good shepherd, we will be certain we are on the right path and that the Lord will always guide us, be with us and we will lack nothing," the pope said Oct. 5 during his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square.

With an estimated 20,000 people gathered in the square, the pope continued a series of talks about praying with the Psalms, focusing on Psalm 23: "The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I lack."

Looking at psalm -- "a text familiar to and loved by all" -- the pope said, "If we walk behind the good shepherd, no matter how difficult, twisting or long the path of our lives may seem, even if often it seems we are in a spiritual desert without water," we can be sure God will protect and provide for us.

The psalm is an expression of "radical trust in God's loving care," which reaches its highest expression in the death and resurrection of Jesus, who gave his life to save his flock, the pope said.

Greeting English speakers at the audience, the pope offered his "prayerful good wishes" to the 35 men scheduled to be ordained transitional deacons Oct. 6 by U.S. Cardinal William J. Levada, prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. The new deacons are preparing for the priesthood at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.

Pope Benedict also greeted a delegation of Orthodox scholars from the theology faculty of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece. The faculty awarded Pope Benedict its "Apostle Jason of Thessaloniki Gold Medal," which the pope said was "an eloquent sign of the growing understanding and dialogue between Catholic and Orthodox Christians."

Addressing the Orthodox in English, the pope said he hoped the improved relations would be "a harbinger of ever greater progress in our efforts to respond in fidelity, truth and charity to the Lord's summons to unity."

At the end of the audience, Bishop Anthony B. Taylor of Little Rock, Ark., personally handed Pope Benedict a copy of the "Catholic Study Bible," an edition released in June as part of the Little Rock Scripture Study program.

The preciousness and joy of a whole number

Today we don’t attach a lot of symbolism to numbers. A few, mostly superstitious, remnants remain from former ages, such as seeing the number seven as lucky and the number 13 as unlucky. For the most part, for us, numbers are arbitrary.

This hasn’t always been the case. In biblical times, they attached a lot of meaning to certain numbers. For example, in the Bible, the numbers 40, 10, 12 and 100 are highly symbolic. The number 40, for instance, speaks of the length of time required before something can come to proper fruition, while the numbers 10, 12 and 100 speak of a certain wholeness that is required to properly appropriate grace.

You can’t connect with the spirit without connecting to the body

“If a man comes to me in confession and says he cannot care for his children properly because of his low wages, it is not enough for me to tell him to say his rosary and offer it up. To be apostolic, I must do what I can to have his wages raised.”
- Bishop F.A. Marrocco, 1951; The Light from One Candle, Rita Larsen Marrocco, 2002.

One evening, Laura passed by a Christian church on her way to kill herself. The church was offering a neighbourhood meal that evening, as it often did. Joe, standing on the front porch, called out, “Hi Laura, are you coming for supper?” As she explained afterwards, the astonishing fact that someone remembered her name and face and invited her in changed her life. She did go in for supper, and her life was saved.

Joe didn’t, at that moment, invite Laura to confession or to Mass, but he extended the most Christian of invitations by welcoming her to supper. In his offer of physical sustenance, he answered a spiritual need too. Can we expect people to experience the Eucharist if they don’t know what a meal is? Can we care for the soul but ignore the body?

It’s the Christian heresy that won’t go away: that the soul needs to get free of the body. We may worry about the opposite danger — that we’ll live only on the physical level and never get to the spiritual. In practice, that danger is more easily recognized and weeded out than the danger of making us into bodiless spirits.

My appreciation of the body-spirit dynamism comes naturally, having known it through the ministry of my uncle, Bishop Marrocco. A man of prayer and insight, well-read in doctrine and theology, he was well able to convey Church teaching to both lay people and non-Church people. To him, it was obvious that being a Christian meant working to improve people’s lives, both immediately and systemically; that responding to them spiritually included responding to them practically.

Are we quicker to say “I’ll pray for you” or to engage in issues like welfare, the minimum wage and social justice? Do we see the two as intimately connected with each other? Pope Leo XIII did. He helped give us the eight-hour work day and the Church’s commitment to actively promote justice, including decent working conditions for everyone. Every pope since has applied to his own day Leo’s visionary 1891 encyclical, Rerum Novarum.

In North America, where disembodied spirituality seems rampant, September and October can help us. On Sept. 26 (Canada) and Oct. 19 (General Roman Calendar), we commemorate our North American martyrs: eight French Jesuits who lived and died with the Huron people in Canada. They understood that the body, the material, is the medium of Christian witness, for Christ’s followers as for Christ Himself. Jean de Brébeuf’s down-to-earth rules on interacting with the Hurons demonstrate how thoroughly he appreciated the importance of coming to know and love the people one aims to serve. “You must have a sincere affection for the Huron,” he wrote, “looking upon them as ransomed by the blood of the Son of God, and as our brethren with whom we are to pass the rest of our lives.” He gives guidelines on living with them respectfully, not as angels but as human beings, from “Be careful not to annoy anyone in the canoe with your hat; it would be better to take your night cap,” to “It is well at first to take everything they offer, although you may not be able to eat it at all.” Christ is taught not outside our material lives, but within them; not in Paradise, but in our own messy world.

For us, salvation doesn’t mean the spirit freed from the body — as it does for many religions and philosophies, including Gnosticism. God’s Word made flesh, Jesus Christ risen from the dead in the body, is a keystone of Christian witness. What does it mean for us?

Joe lived the Eucharist by stepping into Laura’s life and inviting her in to a meal. The Jesuits were living the Eucharist by canoeing, eating, working and dying with the Huron people. It’s said that the Iroquois who tortured and killed Fr. Brébeuf ate his heart afterward because they admired and wanted to partake of his spirit. It’s a strange distortion of Christ’s command to eat His body and drink His blood, which itself was a startling act that scandalized non-Christians in early-Church days.

We sometimes forget that it’s shocking. Eucharist is at once deeply spiritual and intimately physical. This is true of the Church’s entire sacramental life, one of its greatest gifts to its people. All the sacraments carry with them a command to change the world into what they witness, the reconciliation of spirit and matter.

Christ Himself, the great sacrament of the Church, makes this possible.

All that we have belongs to God

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) Oc. 16 (Isaiah 45:1, 4-6; Psalm 96; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5; Matthew 22:15-221)

Absolutely anyone on the face of the Earth can be called by God to be God’s instrument. We would like to think that the call would always go to one who is like us — one who believes, speaks and worships as we do. But this is definitely not the case, for God has His own purposes and a few surprises for us.

Take the case of Cyrus the Persian. He is not an Israelite nor does he know the God of Israel. Not only that, he is the king of the Persian nation. But he is called the Lord’s anointed — mosiach or messiah — a status usually reserved for King David and his successors. The people of Israel had been led away into exile in Babylon in 586 BC. Now some 50 years later, the Babylonians got a taste of their own medicine when they were conquered by the Persians. But the Jewish prophets looked upon this upstart king as the instrument of God. Cyrus of course would have been oblivious to all of that — he was definitely not in the loop. But events would bear out the prediction. Following an enlightened policy he allowed the Jews who so wished to return to the land of Israel and he gave them a fair amount of autonomy and support.

We are all instruments in one way or another for God’s kind purposes but often God uses us without consulting us. We cannot pass judgment on the worth of our own life for we may have played an important but anonymous role in God’s plan. Likewise, we cannot judge the life of another for they too have served God’s purposes. And we cannot reject the good that others say and do simply because they do not fit into our understanding of things or because they don’t bear the correct label. Amidst the dreadful messiness of our world God’s Spirit never sleeps but is always silently at work. 

The correct response on our part is what Paul praises the community at Thessalonica for — to labour on in faith, hope and love. Paul is moved to constant thanksgiving for them even though their lives were probably not noteworthy in the eyes of others. They have been chosen to receive God’s power and Spirit. But to be chosen does not mean that others are rejected — just that the chosen one is singled out for particular mission and service.

Jesus would be a hard man to trap on the witness stand or in front of a camera for the evening news. He never allows Himself to be backed into a corner or forced into an “either/or” response but manages to turn the tables on His interrogators. After a bit of insincere (and wasted) flattery, they ask Jesus whether it is permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not. It is a no-win question: if He says yes, then He is a traitor to His nation; if He says no, then a rebel against Rome. Either way, He loses and they win. Instead He asks them for a coin — a denarius — and then asks them whose image is on it. When they reply “Caesar,” He gives His famous answer: Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God the things that belong to God.

This passage has little to do with church-state relations although centuries later it would be enlisted for that purpose. On one level, Jesus dodged a lethal question. But He is also as wise as the serpent He advised us to be. Those who clearly understood the Kingdom of God that Jesus had been preaching would have smiled quietly to themselves. The Kingdom describes God’s direct, immediate and total rule over all the Earth and its peoples with justice and compassion. Everything belongs to God so by all means give to God what belongs to Him. And what is left over for Caesar and all the other earthly powers that claim divine rights intended only for God? Absolutely nothing.

When we give back to God what rightfully belongs to God there is no room for possessiveness, exploitation, ruthless competition or inequality. All that we have — including our very lives — belong solely to God.

Give to God what rightfully belongs to God and the world will be made whole again.