Monday, April 10, 2017

Celebrating Passover with Pesach Funk




What an exuberant way for Jews to celebrate their freedom for their bonds in Egypt!

Aside from the ritual Passover meal, observant Jews keep kosher by cleaning their kitchens of anything that is hametz (the fermented product from five grains: wheat, rye, spelt, barley and oats).  

 Many Ashkinazi Jews will also avoid eating kitniyot, foods that include corn, beans and lentil, as they expand when they are heated  Conservative rabbis overturned the kitniyot prohibitions in 2015

Such dietary conscientiousness stems from following the Torah and remembering that Jews needed to flee their slavery in Pharaoh's Egypt in haste with no time to allow for leavened bread to rise.

Matzah is kosher because it is a quickly baked cracker and has no time for fermentation leavening to occur.  

Some find keeping kosher for Passover to be more of a crunch than others. 



Friday, March 17, 2017

St. Patrick on Life

St. Patrick on Raison D'Etre

But it is dubious if St. Patrick had such snarky savages to convert as Hans Fiene illustrated in Lutheran Satire.

 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Celebrating St. Leander of Sevilla



St. Leander of Sevilla (524-600 AD) was instrumental in instituting the recitation of the Nicean Creed during the Mass. Leander sought to combat confusion over the heresy of Arianism, which balked at the 324 AD Council of Nicea declaration that that God the Father was one in being with the Second Person of the Holy Trinity Jesus. This practice of clearly professing the tenants of faith in the Nicean creed spread from Spain to throughout the Universal Church.

St. Leander came from a very devout Catholic family, like all of his siblings,  in present day Cartegena, Spain.  Leander first became a Benedictine monk and later was named the Bishop of Sevilla in 578.   Leander's brothers St. Isadore and St. Fulgentius followed him as bishops of Sevilla.  Leander's sister St. Florentina was a Abbess oversaw 40 convents and 1,000 nuns.

St. Leander presided over the third Council of Toledo in 589 which decreed the consubstantiality of the Holy Trinity.  Leander also created an important rule for nuns on prayer and the renunciation of the world. 

St. Leander's influence was much broader than the Iberian peninsula.by engendering the ire of a local king.  To further combat Arianism amongst the Germanic rules in Iberia at the time.  By praying to God through the mediation of Our Lady, Leander sought graces in his apostolate.  His selfless prayers were answered and Leander achieved colossal conversions of Arian Christians, including Visogoth king's son. 

King Leovigild was enraged at these attacks and killed his own son while exiling Leander to Constantinople.  It was there that Leander become close friends of the Papal Legate, the future Pope Gregory V, who he encouraged to write Moralia, a famous commentary on the Book of Job.


[L] Pope Gregory V presenting St. Leander with Moralia




In Spain, St. Leander is considered to be a Doctor of the Church. 





Thursday, February 9, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Churchy by Sarah Condon


Churchy [Mockingbird 2016 180 p.]  is a  non-fictional version of chick lit which shares Sarah Condon’s unvarnished personal vignettes that seeks to lead readers towards retrospective religious reflections. It is published by Mockingbird Ministries, which strives to connect the Christian faith with the realities of everyday life in fresh down-to-earth ways. No one will mistake Sarah Condon’s Churchy musings as mundane faith history.



"St." Flannery O'Connor
Churchy’s subtitle is “The Real Life Adventures of a wife, mom and priest”.   Truth be told, she thinks that the real title ought to have been: “Churchy Prodigal Daughter Who Is the Worst” which packs in a lot of theology, but those leitmotifs were already taken. Clearly, Condon is influenced by Southern Goth, as demonstrated by her reverence to “St.” Flannery O’Connor. This honorific should be no surprise as she attributed sainthood to Whitney Houston in prior Mockingbird articles 

Condon is an Episcopal priest who is married to another Episcopal priest pastoring a  parish in Houston Texas.  Sarah Condon’s ministry has included hospital ministry, in the dreaded “Liver Floor” filled with alcoholic patients in need of organ donations.



Rev. Sarah Condon 
After hearing Sarah speak at a retreat, I was prepared for her irreverent, earthy rhetoric (but the harshest epithets published were “holy shit” and “bullhockey”) to accompany her vivid story telling.  I noted that a couple of the vignettes were reworked into part of her speaking repertoire.  



Since my Roman Catholic tradition neither has many married clergymen (much less priestesses), I was interested in understanding her vocation as well as appreciating the strains of family life with clerical duties.   Honestly, this angle was not clear.  Most of Churchy seemed drawn from the lens of a Churchy mother who was wont to extrapolate theological truths from the quotidian.

Condon’s view on her vocation was not crystal clear. In the introduction, she noted that: 


“Josh [her husband] and I are both Episcopal priests. But most Sundays, you will see me in the pews with my children. On occasion, I stand behind the altar and celebrate communion.”  

As someone who understands sacramentality as a key distinction between the laity and the ordained, it seemed like  a nonchalant approach to take a priestly vocation yet to only feel obliged to “stand behind the altar” from time to time. 

Regarding her role as an off hours hospital chaplain, Condon conceded that she often hears the awkward inquiry: “What do you do for a living?”  She modestly asserts that she utters  a ratio 70%-30% stupid to wise things while “bumbling around” hospital wards. This underplays  the vital mission of just being present to  those who may be on the precipice of death. Such companioning in Christ echoes tenants of Ignatian spirituality which Pope Francis has been championing during his papacy.

In the chapter which contains the Cereal Aisle Stranger section, Sarah Condon wrote: 


“And there is the issue of me telling strangers what my husband and I do for a living while standing in front of a row of Fruit Loops.” 


Kind of surreal small talk in the Cereal Section. Yet the way that Sarah described the query as being about what they did for a living rather than refer to their priestly vocations or ministries. That particular turn of phrase niggled at me.

Condon’s later  reflections on her household concluded: 


“Meanwhile, I bring in some income with writing and part-time ministry work, put food in the crock pot, spend an incredible amount of time with my children and talk on the phone to my mom, a lot.”  

Sarah’s description of her role is a dose of honesty mixed in with a good measure of self-deprecating humor. However, it begs a poignant question –Should ordination be deemed just a part time job or a vocation of sacerdotal service to the people of God?  It is certainly unusual for a priest to be married to a priest while raising a family. I again wonder about how there can be sufficient self sacrifice to the needs of the faithful. Can active priests really be part-timers?

Irregardless of that dialectic, Sarah Condon does not easily fit into feminist stereotypes. In reflecting on her early attitudes towards her marriage that:


“[I]t was easier to think of myself as a woman liberated from role of ‘wife’ than it was to think of myself as a co-signer in covenant of sickness and health.” 

That liberated attitude along with being a priest being married to a priest might lead one to believe that Condon had totally signed unto the feminist agenda. Yet Condon rues the Episcopal Church’s expectation that of a  feminist art installation as a spiritual superhero who be both a real mother as well as a mother in ministry. Sarah also chaffed at feeling as if women priests are figuratively shoved through male shaped boxes, as exemplified as being required to complete an ordination exam as she was in the midst of a first trimester miscarriage. 

Condon does work in some theological concepts in layman’s terms.  She jars her readers attention with the theological precept that: “Humanity is a clown parade of jackwagons.”  Her vivid illustration of low anthropology contrasted with high Christology. This highlights how God loves us flawed sinful men and women but his only Son redeemed us through his Cross and resurrection. She also explores how “If your boss thinks you’re awesome then you’ll become awesome has a nexus with the imputed righteousness of Christ. 

There were two poignant thoughts which I gleaned from Sarah Condon’s Churchy self-reflections.  As she was being shadowed as a hospital chaplain, she was ministering to a family who had decided to withdraw life support for a dying loved one.  Condon wondered why her mentor returned to the terminal patient’s room and whispered consoling phrases into her ear.  That taught her that she was at the most important time in a person’s life–the deathbed.  Moreover, Condon noted that hearing is the last sense to go, so it is always worth whispering love into the ears of the dying. It called to mind St. Faustina Kowalska’s recommendation to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet at a death bed.

The other striking idea Condon borrowed from her friend's bon mot.   While at a ecumenical pastors meeting in New York City, they were discussing which were their "target audiences" for planting ministries. Many participants suggested going after youth groups. But her friend puckishly suggested: “We’d like to get more middle-aged divorced women”, which underlined the need to minister to the broken-hearted. This vision sees church as a field hospital tending to those wounded and suffering from life’s battles. 

While I suspect that I was not part of Churchy’s “target audience”, I can appreciate how Sarah Condon’s witty writing desultory anecdotes and contemporizing gospel lessons might inspire a modern metanoia.  To wit, Lady Gaga  sought Rev. Sarah Condon to hear her preach before performing at the Houston Super Bowl.   




Sarah Condon  should be commended for writing Churchy as an honest soul searching book as well as expressing a willingness to see God in all things

Monday, January 30, 2017

Honoring Jan Karski, the Messenger from Hell

Polish WWII Resistance Fighter Jan Karski on Democratic Societies



Today in a ceremony in Manhattan, academics posthumously honored longtime Georgetown University professor Jan Karski, a man who tried to prevent the Holocaust by sharing the truth. Alas, politicians among the Allies were tardy to act of the news from Karski as the Messenger from Hell.



During the Second World War,I Karski was a Second Lieutenant in the Krakow Valvary Brigade who was captured after the battle of Tomaszow  (1939) by the Russians. But due to Karski's birthplace, the Russians handed him over to the Germans, thus he avoided being a victim of the Katyn massacre of 1940. 

Karski escaped his German POW train in 1939 and escaped to Warsaw where he joined the Polish Resistance movement. Larslo  organized courier missions to the Polish Government in exile headquartered in Paris andhe himself made several secret trips to France and Britain. Karski was eventually captured by the Gestapo and tortured in Slovakia but was later smuggled out and rejoined the Polish Resistance. 

In 1942, Karski was selected by Polish Prime Minister in exile  Władysław Sikorski to go on a secret mission to gather first hand information about the Nazi atrocities in occupied Poland.  Karski was smuggled into the Warsaw Ghetto. Karski also sought to infiltrate the Belzec death camp as an Estonian guard.  Although Karski only managed to see a transit station, the horror that he witnessed first hand was appalling.  

After briefing the Polish Government in exile upon his return to London in 1942, Karski met with other exiled Polish politicians and British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden about his first hand testimony about the Holocaust.  In June of 1943, Karski traveled to the United States to personally brief President Franklin Roosevelt, as well as other American civic and government leaders, including Secretary of State Cordell Hull and Associate Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, without much effect. Karski published his recollections Courier from Poland: The Story of a Secret State (1944) which sold more than 400,000 copies. 

Eventually Jan Karski settled at Georgetown University, eventually earning a Ph.D in 1952 and taught there for over forty years. Georgetown remembers Jan Karski as many things — a beloved professor, writer, and colleague, to name a few — but to the world, he was known as one of the first to warn Western powers of the horrors of the Holocaust.

Jan Karski at Yad Vashem (circa 1982)
Although Karski was a Roman Catholic, he felt a profound connection with the people whose lives he attempted to save from the Holocaust.  In 1981, Karski said: “All murdered Jews became my family. I am a Christian Jew.” In 1982 Karski was recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.  

In 1991, he received the Wallenberg Medal from the University of Michigan for his outstanding humanitarian efforts.  In 2012, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Jan Karski the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his heroic witness to the ugly truth of the Holocaust.  Mr. Obama proclaimed: "Jan Karski -- a young Polish Catholic -- who witnessed Jews being put on cattle cars, who saw the killings, and who told the truth, all the way to President Roosevelt himself."   

"Whoever does not condemn, consents" mural in Warsaw

Karski's faithful witness has been remembered from murals in Warsaw to a series of five bronzes of Karski sitting on a bench playing chess created by Krakow sculptor Karol Badyna which are located in Georgetown, Manhattan, Lodz, Warsaw, Keilce and Tel Aviv University in Israel. 

Monday, January 9, 2017

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on the Three Kings


Three Kings came riding from far away,
Melchior and Gaspar and Baltasar;
Three Wise Men out of the East were they,
And they travelled by night and they slept by day,
For their guide was a beautiful, wonderful star.

The star was so beautiful, large and clear,
That all the other stars of the sky
Became a white mist in the atmosphere,
And by this they knew that the coming was near
Of the Prince foretold in the prophecy.

Three caskets they bore on their saddle-bows,
Three caskets of gold with golden keys;
Their robes were of crimson silk with rows
Of bells and pomegranates and furbelows,
Their turbans like blossoming almond-trees.

And so the Three Kings rode into the West,
Through the dusk of the night, over hill and dell,
And sometimes they nodded with beard on breast,
And sometimes talked, as they paused to rest,
With the people they met at some wayside well.

"Of the child that is born," said Baltasar,
"Good people, I pray you, tell us the news;
For we in the East have seen his star,
And have ridden fast, and have ridden far,
To find and worship the King of the Jews."

And the people answered, "You ask in vain;
We know of no King but Herod the Great!"
They thought the Wise Men were men insane,
As they spurred their horses across the plain,
Like riders in haste, who cannot wait.

And when they came to Jerusalem,
Herod the Great, who had heard this thing,
Sent for the Wise Men and questioned them;
And said, "Go down unto Bethlehem,
And bring me tidings of this new king."

So they rode away; and the star stood still,
The only one in the grey of morn;
Yes, it stopped --it stood still of its own free will,
Right over Bethlehem on the hill,
The city of David, where Christ was born.

And the Three Kings rode through the gate and the guard,
Through the silent street, till their horses turned
And neighed as they entered the great inn-yard;
But the windows were closed, and the doors were barred,
And only a light in the stable burned.





















And cradled there in the scented hay,
In the air made sweet by the breath of kine,
The little child in the manger lay,
The child, that would be king one day
Of a kingdom not human, but divine.

His mother Mary of Nazareth
Sat watching beside his place of rest,
Watching the even flow of his breath,
For the joy of life and the terror of death
Were mingled together in her breast.

They laid their offerings at his feet:
The gold was their tribute to a King,
The frankincense, with its odor sweet,
Was for the Priest, the Paraclete,
The myrrh for the body's burying.

















And the mother wondered and bowed her head,
And sat as still as a statue of stone,
Her heart was troubled yet comforted,
Remembering what the Angel had said
Of an endless reign and of David's throne.

Then the Kings rode out of the city gate,
With a clatter of hoofs in proud array;
But they went not back to Herod the Great,
For they knew his malice and feared his hate,

And returned to their homes by another way.
                       
                               ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 


Saturday, January 7, 2017

St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta on Christmas


Ir is so apropos to remember Mother Teresa's pearl of wisdom as the Eastern lung of Christendom celebrates the birth of our Savior in Orthodox Christmas.