Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Book Review: Ut Unum Sint by John Paul II

UT Unum Sint: On Commitment to EcumenismUT Unum Sint: On Commitment to Ecumenism by Pope John Paul II
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This encyclical from 1995 is both a great recap of the efforts of the Catholic Church in fostering ecumenism since the Second Vatican Council and a deep meditation on the importance and necessity of working for the reintegration of Christian denominations so that we may all be one in God as Jesus prays in John 17. The two keys are (1) to desire unity with the pureness of heart found in genuine Love and (2) to seek the truth about others and ourselves and God and the bible. No small order, but that is what we are called to. The encyclical is very inspiring and is intended not only for church leaders at the highest levels but for all Christians, for we are all called to unity in Christ.

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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Cry Room Chronciles LVII

We're back in merry ol' England and back to our regular church in our new home town. We went to the usual 9 a.m. Mass, especially because we had signed up to bring snacks for the tea and snacks after Mass. We bought some cookies and gingerbread men the night before (since we had just flown in from Germany). We supplemented that with some butter crackers we brought from Germany. They went over well.

The normal routine was resumed. We arrived 5 or 10 minutes early, Jacob went potty beforehand (and we dropped off the snacks), we headed back to church for the start of Mass.

The new translation is still tripping people up (including us), especially the "and also with you" to "and with your spirit" change. Father teased us about that a few more times than I thought appropriate, but I suppose something has to whip us into shape. A new children's choir began today. They will be helping us celebrate Mass fortnightly. Children's liturgy was held across the street as usual. Lucy went with Mommy to hear stories about the glory of creation and color some pictures; Jacob stayed with me in the church.

Jacob spent most of Mass looking through the back index of the hymn book and muttering to himself. Some words were definitely religious if not actual prayers. He helped give money to the church during the offertory (Lucy returned a few minutes too late). He shook a few hands though not many. Father blessed him when we received communion.

After Mass, we lit candles on the other side of church, in front of the statue of St. Joseph holding the baby Jesus. When I asked Lucy who she wanted to pray for, she said, "God and baby Jesus." I assume she was inspired by the statue. Jacob prayed for Mommy.

At the tea and snacks, we had some refreshments but didn't socialize much. Maybe next week.

Father's sermon was quite interesting. Today's gospel relates the parable of the two sons, the first of whom told his father he wouldn't work in the vineyard, but later repented and did work. The other son promised to work but never did. Jesus then draws the parallel to the Pharisees, who saw the fruits of John the Baptist's work, i.e. prostitutes and tax collectors converting, but did not accept or investigate what the Baptist said. Father said for the people of the time, and up to quite recently, a son refusing his father's request to his face is quite shocking. But even such a sin is not unforgivable or without the possibility of repentance. We need to remember that no one alive is in a hopelessly evil state. On the other hand, the son who seems to have paid only lip service to his father may not be as evil as he seems. Laziness or forgetfulness or distraction played a part in his failure. Father told us how his grandmother used to tell him, "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions." When he was older and told this to a wise priest friend, the wise priest said, "That sounds just like the sort of road that leads to Heaven." Good intentions are not bad; we need to follow through, to pray for perseverance. Or to pick ourselves back up and keeping going down the right road.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Cry Room Chronicles: German(y)

We arrived in Germany on a Saturday. The hotel's guest information said the local Catholic church's Mass was at 10 a.m. So the next morning, we got up, had a yummy (though expensive) breakfast at the hotel, asked directions from the front desk, and headed out at 9:15 to find the church that was 10 minutes away.

We walked as slowly as the children wanted since we had plenty of time. We followed the little paper map the hotel had given us and wound up at a bus stop. We looked around and eventually spotted a church spire. We wound our way through the streets and found the church. The sign on the front said "Evangel. Kirche" so we weren't sure we were in the right place. We walked around some more and asked four or five different people. Some weren't sure; two people directed us back to the neighborhood of the church we had found. We returned.

We walked back and went inside. It looked like a fairly normal church. The altar table up front had a large book set up like a typical church missal. Stained glass with actual pictures of bible figures looked promising. The people already there were quiet and prayerfully waiting. A female greeter handed us the hymn books.

The books definitely seemed not Catholic. I couldn't find any Mass parts or liturgy summary. Some old man came in and sat down in front. He was dressed in black except for the rainbow stole he had around his neck. Either this was the pastor or some sort of weird protester. The church bells began to ring at 10. Then the organ started playing. Eventually the first hymn started which we didn't recognize, but hey, it's a foreign country and maybe they have different hymns? The Catholic churches in England also had different hymns.  Jacob asked to go potty, so he and Angie headed out.

Then the guy in front went up and began the service. This clearly wasn't looking Catholic at all. Even though it was in German, I would have recognized the sign of the cross, which did not happen. Then a psalm was sung from the book followed by the preacher praying more prayers. Angie and Jacob came back. The kids were a little antsy.

After a bit, the female greeter came over to us and told us there was a cry room for the kids with a speaker so we could follow the service. We followed her around the outside of the church to the room. It seemed like the sacristy. She brought out some books and toys which delighted the children. She seemed happy to be able to share them. She showed me what songs were coming up in the book and headed back to continue with the service.

Jacob and Lucy did enjoy the toys and books. Lucy did some coloring. Jacob made up a story based on the pictures in one book. I can't blame him, I would have made up a story too since the words were in German. We listened and never heard an Our Father-type prayer or anything like a communion service. Eventually the service ended and the lady came back for us.

We thanked her for her help. She asked if we were new in town. We said we were just visiting. After shared smiles and goodbyes, we headed out. The Catholic church only had one service in the morning, so we were out of luck. But we did the best we could.

The most ironic thing about the whole situation was that I had brought John Paul II's  encyclical Ut Unum Sit for spiritual reading on this trip. It is, of course, his work "On Commitment to Ecumenism." Someone has a sense of humor.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Cry Room Chronicles LV

This week we managed to head out early enough to get a potty break in before the 9 a.m. Mass started. Jacob had Mommy go with him this time, so Lucy and I found some seats at the back of the church.

Again we had the children's liturgy across the street in the parish hall. Jacob initially did not want to go, but when he saw me taking Lucy, he decided to check it out for a while. We walked across the street and found a line at the door. The door was locked. We waited a bit while someone who knew the code came and let us in. The preschool/toddler room is the first on the right. Lucy and I shared a seat while Jacob literally stood by, ready to leave.

The nice lady who led the children's liturgy was helped out by her son. I should say "helped out," emphasis on quotation marks, because the first thing he did was put a rubber snake on the little crucifix at the front of the room. He wasn't being malicious or mischevious, just bored. She told the story of Noah's Ark. She had a little wooden ark (her son said it was too small to be a real ark). All the kids came and took an animal out. Except Jacob. Lucy picked out a camel. At the part of the story where the animals get on the ark, she called different animals to come up and get in. The child was supposed to make the animal's noise, but that quickly changed into the whole room making the animal's noise. This became too loud for Jacob. He asked to leave. Lucy had already put her camel in (nobody knew what noise to make), so I acquiesced.

Back at the church, we walked into the middle of the sermon. Jacob and Lucy were squirmy then and for the rest of the Mass. They joined in a little bit for the Our Father and did give the Sign of Peace. Lucy luckily never made actual hand contact since she had been sucking on her fingers during Mas and they were pretty wet. Communion went well, as did the end of Mass. We didn't light candles but we did go back across the street for tea and cakes.

Jacob was a little disappointed that they weren't selling toys and games like a few weeks ago. Nevertheless, he enjoyed running around and eating two cookies. We sat with one mom (originally from France) who had lots of advice on things for preschoolers to do during the week. We will definitely be taking advantage of new resources in town.

I only heard a bit of the sermon. Father reread his sermon from ten years ago, i.e. his sermon right after the 9/11 attacks happened. I only heard the very end of that. He then gave some reflections and comments. He doubted the value of the war on terror, that the money and lives sacrificed were not worth it for what he deemed no results at all. Instead of considering it an act of war, he said the attack should have been considered a criminal act and prosecuted appropriately.  My objections to this sermon are (1) legal prosecution doesn't really seem effective and it has also involved very dubious moral practices (e.g., prisoner treatment and interrogation procedures), (2) for a sermon the emphasis should be on theological rather than political concerns. Certainly he could discuss political actions but the lens used to sharpen the image should bring out the faith's view. We did the appropriate thing during the petitions though, praying for the victims of the attacks and for a return of peace in the world. May we be close to God always and learn to look with His eyes and love with His heart.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Cry Room Chronicles LIV

Today was the first day for the new translation of the liturgy at our church. It was an exciting time. As people walked in, the ushers handed out little card with the changes. Father encouraged us to follow them closely. When we got to the first "The Lord be with you" (which was our second response after the sign of the cross) we mostly flubbed the response and gave the old "And also with you" instead of "And with your spirit." He gave us another chance. We were moderately successful throughout the Mass.

This Sunday marked the start of Children's Liturgy of the Word at the 9 a.m. Mass. Jacob and Lucy went across the street with Mommy for that. They came returned just after the homily. The report I got from Jacob said it was fun. The report I got from Mommy said it was a bit of anarchy. They told the story of the Good Samaritan but with a British flavor. This guy packed a bunch of sandwiches and a thermos of tea and headed out on a walking trip. Robbers overtook him and beat him with his own walking stick. And so on. The kids weren't quite focused, which usually causes trouble.

The rest of Mass was more challenging than usual. Lucy was pretty fussy and had to be taken out to the vestibule once; Jacob was very antsy and I had to hold him in the pew at the end of Mass so he didn't leave before the priest. We were in the very back row, which meant we were the first to get the collection basket that starts from the back. We fumbled to get coins in. Hopefully we didn't delay it too much. Jacob did say the Our Father with us. The sign of peace was at a moment of fussiness with the kids and did not go too well. At the end of Mass we didn't light candles since Jacob was ready to go.

The sermon was about the proper way to settle a disagreement with someone. In our modern culture, such conflicts often start out in the public forum and only if it isn't resolved there will people go to one-on-one negotiation to fix the error. But in today's gospel, Jesus recommends the opposite approach: start with a humble and heartfelt fraternal correction person to person. If that doesn't work, bring in two or three others as witnesses. If that doesn't work, then the time to go before the community is at hand. If the person still does not see the error or accept correction, then only in their stubbornness treat him or her as an outcast. This is the way that truly respects human dignity. May we all have the courage to follow this way.