Sunday, March 31, 2013

Christus resurrexit, sicut dixit, Alleluia!

It was on an Easter Sunday,
    and all in the morning,
Our Savior arose,
    and our heavenly King.
The sun and the moon,
    they both did rise with him,
And sweet Jesus
    we’ll call him by name.

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An Easter Homily of Saint John Chrysostom

Is there anyone who is a devout lover of God? Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival! Is there anyone who is a grateful servant? Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting? Let them now receive their wages! If any have toiled from the first hour, let them receive their due reward; If any have come after the third hour, let him with gratitude join in the Feast! And he that arrived after the sixth hour, let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss. And if any delayed until the ninth hour, let him not hesitate; but let him come too. And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour, let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first. He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, as well as to him that toiled from the first. To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows. He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor. The deed He honors and the intention He commends.

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord! First and last alike receive your reward; rich and poor, rejoice together! Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!

You that have kept the fast, and you that have not, rejoice today for the Table is richly laden! Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one. Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith. Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again; for forgiveness has risen from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free. He has destroyed it by enduring it.

He destroyed Hades when He descended into it. He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh. Isaias foretold this when he said, "You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."

Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, O death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead; for Christ having risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

John 3:16

For God (the greatest good)
so loved (the greatest action)
the world, (the greatest need)
that He gave (the greatest example)
His only Son, (the greatest sacrifice)
that whosoever (the greatest invitation)
believes in Him (the greatest response)
shall not perish, (the greatest horror)
but have eternal life. (the greatest gift)

(H/T to Brian Herro.)

Friday, March 29, 2013

“Consummatum est.”


Good Friday

It was on a good Friday,
    and all in the morning,
They crucified our Savior,
    and our heavenly King.
And was not this
    a woeful thing
And sweet Jesus,
    we’ll call him by name.

From "the third hour" until "the sixth hour." From sext to none. From noon until three in the afternoon. Scripture tells us that our Lord was dying on the cross at this time, culminating in the words “Consummatum Est” (“It is finished”).

When we were kids, growing up in Ohio, we would either go to church for Stations of the Cross or some related devotion, or if we were at home, Mom would turn the radio off, and we would be admonished to be quieter than usual. It marks the consummation of the ultimate act of sacrificial Love, that of the Bridegroom with His bride.

Elsewhere in Cincinnati, a venerable custom dating a century and a half still takes place on this day.

In December 1860, a Catholic church was completed on a bluff atop Mount Adams, and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Since the hill was too steep for a horse-and-buggy, there were a series of wooden steps built as well, leading from St Gregory Street near the riverfront, on up to the church entrance. The following spring saw the start of the Civil War, and Immaculata Church became the site of devout Catholics praying the rosary for peace, while climbing the steps to its entrance. The tradition continues, as every year on Good Friday (a day when it invariably rains), an estimated ten thousand pilgrims climb the 85 steps -- the wooden ones having since been replaced by concrete -- leading to the entrance. The procession begins at midnight, with the parish priest's blessing of the steps, and continues for twenty-four hours.

The Passionist Historical Archives elaborates on the legacy of “St Mary’s of the Steps”, as does the parish website.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Maundy Thursday

It was on a
    maundy Thursday,
        and all in the morning,
They planted
    a crown of thorns
        on our heavenly King.
And was not this
    a woeful thing,
And sweet Jesus
    we'll call him by name.

Today begins the Sacred Triduum. It is quiet here at Chez Alexandre, with preparations to be made, errands to be run, and ... more writing.

For a Catholic, as much as some try to deny it, the next three days are not business as usual. The whole of human history -- before, during, after -- turns on the events we remember this week.

Our meditation is from a poem by Jalaludin Rumi. It is translated by Coleman Barks and John Moyne, with music by David Wilcox and Nance Pettit, and is produced by Bob Carlton.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Holy Week: Waiting in the Wings

Ah, holy Jesus, how hast Thou offended, * That man to judge Thee hath in hate pretended? * By foes derided, by Thine own rejected, * O most afflicted.

Holy Week at the parish of Saint John the Beloved in McLean, Virginia, is an awesome thing, where the “reform of the reform” in liturgical life is the rule, not the exception. Even if the "ordinary form" is used, the altar is "versus orientem" for the three days. The priest, his attendants, and the faithful, all turn towards the Lord in the same direction, as Latin and English co-exist peacefully.

Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon Thee? * Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone Thee. * ’Twas I, Lord, Jesus, I it was denied Thee! * I crucified Thee.

The Sacred Triduum is preceded by the service of Tenebrae on Wednesday evening. Two hundred people join the clergy, seminarians, and altar servers in witnessing the dimming of the lights, to await the Light of the World in the three days that follow. Imagine the sight of dozens of altar servers processing in, two by two. It begins with the crucifer and candle-bearers, followed by the very young, appearing quite cherubic in their surplices and black cassocks.

Lo, the Good Shepherd for the sheep is offered; * The slave hath sinned, and the Son hath suffered; * For man’s atonement, while he nothing heedeth, * God intercedeth.

The older servers follow in their maroon cassocks and pleated surplices. Then come the seminarians and deacons of the parish. Finally, the master of ceremonies leads the parish priests, as the procession of nearly one hundred clerics and laics converge upon the Holy of Holies. It is from there that the time of darkness and lamentation begins, followed by the hearing of confessions.

For me, kind Jesus, was Thy incarnation, * Thy mortal sorrow, and Thy life’s oblation; * Thy death of anguish and Thy bitter passion, * For my salvation.

Tomorrow night is the “Cena Domini” or Mass of the Lord's Supper. The original meal shared by the disciples, the sacrificial offering that took place in the twenty-four hours that followed, all will be re-presented in the sight of Christ's faithful. The pastor will remove his outer priestly vestments, put on an apron, and wash the feet of twelve young altar servers. “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve.” For one night of the year, the priest will serve the least of those boys who serve him at the altar of God.

Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay Thee, * I do adore Thee, and will ever pray Thee, * Think on Thy pity and Thy love unswerving, * Not my deserving.

Spy Wednesday

It was on a Holy Wednesday,
    and all in the morning
When Judas betrayed
    our dear heavenly King.
And was not this
    a woeful thing,
And sweet Jesus,
    we'll call him by name.

This day in Holy Week is known among Western Christians by the above title (or among Christians in the East, Μεγάλη Τετάρτη, in case you were wondering), as tradition commemorates this day for when Judas Iscariot conspired with the Sanhedrin to betray Our Lord, in exchange for thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:15). Was that a lot of money in those days? The term in the original language, "arguria," simply means "silver coins." Historians disagree as to what form of currency is described. They could have been either staters from Antioch, tetradrachms from Ptolemy, or shekels from Tyre. (Nothing about Greek drachmas, which were either bronze, copper, or iron. Just so we're clear on that.)

Closer to the present, it is also when we here at man with black hat (more or less) interrupt our usual blogcasting in order to focus on the Main Event for the several days that follow. Stay tuned ...

Monday, March 25, 2013

Rick Warren Explains It All For You

Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone's lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense.

You don't have to compromise conviction to be compassionate.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Hosanna Filio David!

Let us go together to meet Christ on the Mount of Olives. Today he returns from Bethany and proceeds of his own free will toward his holy and blessed passion, to consummate the mystery of our salvation. He who came down from heaven to raise us from the depths of sin, to raise us with himself, we are told in Scripture, above every sovereignty, authority and power, and every other name that can be named, now comes of his own free will to make his journey to Jerusalem. He comes without pomp or ostentation. As the psalmist says: He will not dispute or raise his voice to make it heard in the streets. He will be meek and humble, and he will make his entry in simplicity.

Let us run to accompany him as he hastens toward his passion, and imitate those who met him then, not by covering his path with garments, olive branches or palms, but by doing all we can to prostrate ourselves before him by being humble and by trying to live as he would wish. Then we shall be able to receive the Word at his coming, and God, whom no limits can contain, will be within us.

In his humility Christ entered the dark regions of our fallen world and he is glad that he became so humble for our sake, glad that he came and lived among us and shared in our nature in order to raise us up again to himself. And even though we are told that he has now ascended above the highest heavens – the proof, surely, of his power and godhead – his love for man will never rest until he has raised our earthbound nature from glory to glory, and made it one with his own in heaven.

So let us spread before his feet, not garments or soulless olive branches, which delight the eye for a few hours and then wither, but ourselves, clothed in his grace, or rather, clothed completely in him. We who have been baptized into Christ must ourselves be the garments that we spread before him. Now that the crimson stains of our sins have been washed away in the saving waters of baptism and we have become white as pure wool, let us present the conqueror of death, not with mere branches of palms but with the real rewards of his victory. Let our souls take the place of the welcoming branches as we join today in the children’s holy song: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the king of Israel.

-- From a sermon by Saint Andrew of Crete, bishop. Images from Palm Sunday in 2009, at St John the Beloved Church, McLean, Virginia, courtesy of Miss Sarah Campbell.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Clean Livin’ and Fancy Footwork (2013 Remix)

[The following was originally published in the spring of 2005. In light of some dioceses going on record as "winking" at variance from correct practice for Holy Thursday's foot-washing ritual -- this may include, we think, the Diocese of Rome -- we present here yet another updated edition of one of our classic works. -- DLA]

“Mandatum novum do vobis: ut diligatis invicem, sicut delexi vos, dicit Dominus. Beati immaculate in via: qui ambulant in lege Domini ...”

(“A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you, says the Lord. Blessed are the undefiled in the way: who walk in the law of the Lord ...”)

For those of us in the western Church, Holy Week is soon to be upon us. As with every year, the Mass of the Lord's Supper on the evening of Holy Thursday (this year on March 28, one week from today), will be highlighted by the Washing of Feet.

Although the traditional number of subjects as twelve is largely a matter of custom, the rubrics are specific that that only males are selected (in Latin, viri selecti, usually translated as "men") to have their feet washed. Since most liturgical functions of the laity are open to both men and women, the significance of this restriction is lost on the general Catholic public. What's more, the exception is difficult to justify or explain simply at the parish level, and even parishes which are otherwise steadfast in devotion to Church teaching and practice, are known to allow women to have their feet washed.

Defenders of the practice, in addition to underscoring the need for fidelity to Church discipline in and of itself, are quick to point out the significance of the apostles' all being men, thus the connection with the institution of the ministerial priesthood is reinforced by only men's feet being washed. While this position appears worthy of merit on the surface, it could be sufficiently challenged, given developments in liturgical law following the Second Vatican Council.

This year, the controversy takes on new meaning. The former Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio, now His Holiness Pope Francis, has in past years performed this rite with both women and men, usually at various charitable institutions. This year, in a departure from tradition, the new Holy Father will venture outside Saint Peter's Basilica, to celebrate the Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper at the Casal del Marmo juvenile detention facility in Rome, where the feet of both young men and young women will be washed.

(We refer to the excellent commentary by canonist Ed Peters on this very subject.)

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We should be reminded at the offset that the sanctuary, or presbyterium, as the place of presiding, was traditionally limited to men. Since a typical parish church did not have the benefit of a complement of minor clerics, men and boys of the parish would act as legitimate surrogates. (Some can still remember when a layman would be pressed into service at a Missa Solemnis as a "straw subdeacon.") Strictly speaking, and in the official ceremonials, this is still the case. It is only by legitimate indulgence in certain parts of the world (including nearly all of North America), that women perform liturgical functions -- reader, acolyte, and so on -- within the sanctuary. Even devout Catholics would not be aware of this, let alone that these indults were not instituted all at once, but at one time or another, in the last few decades of official liturgical reform.

Once exceptions were made (beginning with women ushers in 1969, then as lectors, at the celebrant's discretion, in 1971), it was only a matter of time before others would follow, whether at the initiative of the Holy See (as in the case of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, where a female Religious is actually preferred over an unconsecrated male), or an acquiescence to prolonged disobedience. What some defenders of the current directive fail to recognize, is that the connection to the ministerial priesthood was the traditional justification for all liturgical functions being restricted to men. (Strangely, no one has a problem with all-male ushers or pallbearers, even at parishes which use female altar servers.) The only significant exception that has not been made, is a practice that occurs only once a year, on Holy Thursday.

When we consider why disobedience persists, and attempt to challenge those who engage therein, it does not serve us to play loose with the facts. Michael Voris has suggested in the past that the requirement for "men" eliminates even boys. This is patently false, and only reinforces this writer's contention that liturgical matters are not Mr Voris's strong suit. Since the term "men" is not defined here, we might assume that any male who has received all sacraments of initiation, including Confirmation, is of sufficient maturity in the life of the Church. Indeed, the use of twelve altar boys having their feet washed by the parish priest whom they serve has been a staple of this tradition for many years, and all in accordance with liturgical norms, inasmuch as “Custom is the best interpreter of laws.” (Canon 27, CIC)

As to why the current practice of washing only the feet of males is still recognized as proper, the reasons vary. One is the perception that a change would be one more reinforcement of "caving in" to those who violate liturgical directives in Catholic worship. This sends the wrong message to those who endeavor to be compliant, whatever the discomfort. The allowance of female altar servers in 1994, which is known to have occurred against the late Pope John Paul II's privately expressed wishes, is a case in point.

There is also a matter of propriety. Depending on the setting, even the age of the priest, it may be considered inappropriate for a man to wash the feet of a woman with whom he is not on sufficiently familiar terms, let alone in public. Again, the sensibilities of those assembled may vary from one region to another, even one parish to another. I know there are people in "civilized" parts of the world, especially in "über-enlightened" North America, where this is hard to believe. Such naysayers should really see more of the world, or at least watch the Discovery Channel.

Meanwhile, some parishes apparently feel the need to prove something to everybody, and will substitute the men-only foot washing with a Washing of Hands amidst the entire assembly. This is rather troubling, when you consider that it was Pontius Pilate who ceremoniously washed his hands in the presence of the crowd, to declare his resignation of Our Lord's eventual fate. If symbols are to have any enduring power, their meaning must be inherent, as opposed to being subject to whatever spin their manipulators (in the form of parish liturgy committees) wish to impose on them. Or have we forgotten what happened to the Emperor who listened to his tailor, at the expense of his own good judgment?

This may be why, in the diocese of yours truly, the bishop has directed that, the ritual itself being optional, parishes may choose instead to take up a collection of canned goods for those in need. And yet, one or two of his parishes will openly choose to "go rogue" on this one; yes, even in the Excruciatingly Orthodox Diocese of Arlington.

There are some who maintain that the original premise for the footwashing on Holy Thursday is to remind us of the institution of the priesthood. According to Dr Peters, the revival of the practice by Pius XII in his 1955 revision of the Holy Week rites did not serve that purpose in the fist place. Even so, it is best to follow the correct discipline of the Church in this matter. Even in our politically correct day and age, we have not entirely evolved beyond the separation of roles for male and female, and not just for setting preferences in the lifeboat. We are also obliged to set an example for ourselves and others. If I am a pastor who can play fast and loose with how the rules apply to me, how can I expect others to listen to me? Who determines what rules are okay to break or not to break?

This could be a source of confusion even were the offender in question to be the supreme legislator himself, namely the Holy Father, as is noted by his old friend, Father John Zuhlsdorf.

I understand what Francis is doing here. Fine. But in making such a dramatic change, I fear that he runs the risk of making these changes all about him, rather than some other message he wants to convey. The same goes for all the other changes he is making. The papacy isn’t just his own thing to do with what it pleaseth him to do. The changes can become distractions, especially the way the media will handle them.

“Charity in all things” is more than simply being nice. It is also a reason for doing good and avoiding evil, which means setting a proper example. And it is that example, which was the inspiration for our Lord washing the feet of his disciples.

It's not too much to ask for one evening of the year, don't you think?

Or don't you???

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Art-For-Art’s-Sake Theatre: Mumford & Sons “I Will Wait”

Time once again for our usual midday Wednesday feature.

Mumford & Sons are a multi-instrumentalist English folk rock band that has been together since 2007. This selection was performed last year at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado. You know, they should play for the Boy Scouts' National Jamboree instead of that teenybopper who backed out for reasons that weren't the fault of the kids.

But these kids are alright. This is why.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Rosella Pangallo 1954-1963

She was a girl in our second grade class; a quiet, sweet girl, with dark hair and olive skin, whose family came from southern Italy. Their name is derived from the Greek personal name "Pangalos" (pan "all" and kallos "beautiful") which means "most beautiful." She had four sisters and three brothers. Her father, Marco "Mike" Pangallo, was a veteran of the Second World War. He died in 2009, at the age of 88. He was preceded by his wife, her mother, the former Elizabeth DelVecchio.

One day, Rosella did not come to class, and we were told she would not be returning. It was fifty years ago to this day that she left us, and very little is remembered of her. Over time, she is nearly forgotten.

But not today.

Monday, March 18, 2013

“Messa in Latino is reporting ...

“... that a red, fur-lined papal mozetta was hurriedly delivered by Gammarelli to the Vatican today.” (See image of Pope Francis’ predecessor adorned thus.)

You know what they say; it's always darkest just before they turn the lights on. Stay tuned for non-liturgical dancing tomorrow in the streets of Rome, as the 266th Pope of the Holy Roman Church formally assumes his office. Viva il Papa!

(H/T to Forward Boldly.)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Faeth Fiada: The Lorica of Saint Patrick

Gleasim me fein inniu
i neart De do mo luamhaireacht;
i gcumhact De do mo choinneail;
i gciall De do m'iomthus;
i rosc De do mo reamhfheiceail;
i gcluas De do m'eisteacht;
i mbriathar De do m'urlabhairt;
i laimh De do m'imdheaghail;
in inteaach De do mo reamhtheacht;
i sciath De do m'imdhidean;
i sochraidi De do m'anacal.

Criost liom, Criost romham,
Criost i mo dhiaidh, Criost istigh ionam,
Criost fum, Criost os mo chionn,
Criost ar mo laimh dheas, Criost ar mo laimh chle,
Criost i mo lui dhom, Criost i mo shui dhom,
Criost i mo sheasamh dhom,
Criost i gcroi gach duine ata ag cuimhneamh orm,
Criost i mbeal gach duine a labhraionn liom,
Criost i ngach suil a fheachann orm,
Criost i ngach cluais a eisteann liom.

I bind unto myself today
the power of God to hold and lead,
his eye to watch, his might to stay,
his ear to harken to my need:
the wisdom of my God to teach,
his hand to guide, his shield to ward;
the word of God to give me speech,
his heavenly host to be my guard.

Christ be with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ deep within me,
Christ below me, Christ above me,
Christ as I lie down, Christ as I arise,
Christ as I stand,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.


Friday, March 15, 2013

FAMW: Obligatory Vatican Flash Mob

The entire staff here at man with black hat can't stop thinking about the new pope. So they barge into my office, you see, and they tell me: “Yo! Mighty Black-Hatted One, we humbly beg to show your legion of fans a flash mob in St Peter’s Square.” I told them, fine, do a search on YouTube already, just quit being a bunch of suck-ups and get the hell out of my office.

This was the best they could do, for this week's Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy.

Thursday, March 14, 2013


Today is Pi Day, as it is the fourteenth day of the third month of the year (rendered as 3/14 here in the States).

"Pi" of course, is the mathematical constant whose value is the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter, one that appears in many mathematical expressions. In other words, diameter (d) times pi (π) equals circumference (c). It is rendered as 3.14, or to be more exact, 3.141592653589793238462643383279502884 ...

Which brings us to the other thing. Not only has it never been rendered exactly to the last decimal point, but such rendering shows no discernible pattern (in other words, a repeating series of numbers). This means, if you asked a computer right now, to calculate the exact number, it would continue as long as the computer is left on, and the hard drive doesn't crash (or the warranty doesn't run out).

It can come in handy, too, like in that episode of Star Trek, where Mister Spock kept a renegade computer totally preoccupied, by instructing it to calculate the value of pi, thus giving Captain Kirk the time he needed to once again save the universe. Or something.

Archimedes of Syracuse (287 - 212 BC) was the Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor, astronomer, and all-around geek (shown here in a 1620 painting by Domenico Fetti baking his first pi), who first approximated the value of pi, using what is known as the "method of exhaustion," which means he kept working on it until he was exhausted, and he still didn't finish.

Today, we remember his achievement every year, according to New Scientist magazine, by actually -- you guessed it -- baking a pie.

I think we have all learned something here.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Habemus Papam!!!

Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio, of the Society of Jesus, born on the 17th day of December, in the year of our Lord 1936, who up until now has reigned as Archbishop of Buenos Aires of Argentina since 1998, and who was elevated to the Sacred College of Cardinals in 2001, by virtue of his election as Bishop of Rome, and by having accepted election, is hereby chosen as Supreme Pontiff of the Holy Roman Church, taking the name Francis.

Long live Pope Francis!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Obligatory “Vatican Smoke Cam”

Now it begins. The honorary clergy of Rome (aka The Sacred College of Cardinals) are now sequestered in the Sistine Chapel, to choose one of their number as Bishop of Rome. By virtue of this title, he becomes the Supreme Pontiff, the Successor to Peter, the Pope.

No, it's not the other way around.

We all know the drill. If the ballots do not determine a sufficient majority for election, the ballots are burned with wet straw, and the smoke from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel is black. Should they result in a sufficient number for election, the ballots are burned dry, and white smoke will appear, and the whole world goes bananas. (In recent years, they add special chemicals to make sure the black smoke is really black and the white smoke is really white. Apparently there were shades of gray in the past. We can't have shades of gray for something as ... uh, black and white as this, can we? Anyway, to continue ...)

Then some guy (the Dean of the Cardinals or the senior Cardinal Deacon, I don't remember) comes out on the balcony overlooking the Piazza, and announces the name of the new Pope. If you know your Latin well enough, you will know by the reading of the man's first name who the new Pope will be, several seconds before the plebian non-Latinists among you.

Me, I'll probably be at my day job, but for the rest of you who lead relatively empty lives (or waste your fifteen minutes of fame making a job out of this), here's the continuous streaming web coverage of the chimney atop the Sistine Chapel. After one day, they've had black smoke, and a chance to weed out the bottom-feeders among the papabile.  

Monday, March 11, 2013

We now return to our regularly scheduled ... stuff!

Now that things are returning to (what passes for) normal around here, it occurs to us here at man with black hat that we have been missing out on opportunities to tell you which cardinal would make the best pope, and why someone fat, jolly, and charismatic, or someone young, fresh, theologically vague, liturgically indifferent, and charismatic, would sound like a good choice only to John Allen and a few overly-excitable-albeit-faithful Catholics, but to no one who has been paying attention to Pope Benedict, and the direction he has taken us.

Speaking of which, some bunch of yahoos are already talking about him as "the Great" and he's not even dead yet. (One more reason not to blame him for quitting.) And as far as the conclave goes, it is worth pointing out that the honorary clergy of Rome (that is, the Sacred College of Cardinals) are not picking the Homecoming Queen, but the Bishop of Rome, who by virtue of that title becomes the Supreme Pontiff, and the Successor of Peter (and no, it's not the other way around). It also seems that the cable news channels aren't exactly picking the brightest bulbs in the sockets to be talking heads, not as well as they did the last time. (Where is Father Z when you need him? Oh, now I remember.)

It seems to me that we as a Church need to get a grip on ourselves, don't you think?

Or don't you?

Friday, March 01, 2013

The House We Lived In

Whenever I walk to Suffern
    along the Erie track
I go by a poor old farmhouse
    with its shingles broken and black.
I suppose I've passed it a hundred times,
    but I always stop for a minute
And look at the house, the tragic house,
    the house with nobody in it.

The place now known as Milford, Ohio, has been someone's home for thousands of years.

During the time of Christ, it was occupied by the mound builders of the Adena people. By the end of the first millennium, it was home to a settlement of the Hopewell Nation, a once-great empire that flourished along the Ohio and mid-Mississippi River valleys. By the time of the European incursion, the nations of "the Woodland period" were forgotten, and the area had already long been the hunting ground of the Miamis. By the dawn of the twentieth century, rows of corn covered the fields east of a village first settled in 1806, carved out of a parcel awarded to a Revolutionary War officer.

John Nancarrow had never personally set foot on the land ... but, that's another story.

By the mid-1950s, the rural expanse to the east of Milford would become the site of homes to families of men, most of whom were just out of the Service. With its developers only aware enough of the land's prehistory to use it as a marketing device, a development known as Indian Knolls was built on the hill overlooking the cornfield below, which had already been developed as Clertoma Village. The streets of both developments were all named for the indigenous nations of the continent long vanquished by the white man -- Choctaw Lane, Mohawk Trail, Powhatton Drive, and so on. The houses were all virtually identical cookie-cutter starter homes, distinguished by exterior finish, but all of the same floor plan, with three bedrooms, one bath, a tiny kitchen, and a separate dining area, all totaling about 850 square feet, not counting the unfinished basement. It was typical of many such communities based on the model that was Levittown, New York. But near a small town in southwestern Ohio, and for only $15,000, a piece of the American dream could belong to a man with a decent living wage, and a family on the way.

I never have seen a haunted house,
    but I hear there are such things;
That they hold the talk of spirits,
    their mirth and sorrowings.
I know this house isn't haunted,
    and I wish it were, I do;
For it wouldn't be so lonely
    if it had a ghost or two.

In the summer of 1956, one such young couple with a toddling son, and a daughter as a babe in arms, bought a piece of that dream at 29 Winnebago Drive, and life began from there.

To those who lived in the old and established part of the town, the new development was known pejoratively as "Crackerbox Village." What manner of progress what this? Who were these upstarts, tearing down their quaint drive-in movie theater, replacing it with something called "Rink's Bargain City"? Emerging from the surroundings were not just one, but two new shopping centers, each with something called a "supermarket." It occurred to those firmly planted, that the days of the old A%P store downtown were numbered. Over time, the ancien regime came to accept the inevitable, but for years after it came, they resented this crass intrusion on the picture-postcard setting their new neighbors called home.

I can tell you my very earliest memory in detail. It was a cloudy Saturday, perhaps in the spring. I was about two or three years old. I was walking from the steps of the back porch towards the driveway. My father was washing the car, a muted lime green 1953 Ford sedan. I remember little else of that day, but my consciousness would appear to begin at that moment. I wonder where it was before. But in the months, in the years that followed, many other families with children arrived. The streets, the front yards, and the places in between were their domain. Summer days found them playing baseball in the street, Halloween nights were teeming with hundreds of them in costume, and the Christmas season was ablaze with a wonderland of multi-colored splendor. Everyone knew their neighbors, even those who went each their own way.

It was about 1964. I was playing in the yard with other kids -- so many other kids there were back then -- at a house down the street from mine. The husband and father of the house was a Southern Baptist minister. I didn't give such things very much thought, which is why I was surprised to see his name listed on the mailbox near the front door as: "Rev and Mrs Firsten Lastname." My reaction was a natural one for a precocious little boy, I suppose: "Hey, Beanie, this says your dad's a priest. I didn't know your dad was a priest. How can he be a priest if he's ..." Suddenly the front door opened, and an insistent lady of the house emerged: "He's not a priest, he's a minister, and he's just as important as your priest!" Boom! The door slammed shut, and that was that. Hey, I was nine-and-a-half years old. What the hell did I know about anything? This was the early 1960s, and the times were still relatively innocent. But tensions derived from cultural differences, and the co-existence in the face of the melting pot that was our little world, were still lurking in the dark corners. Children learned to put aside the differences that made adults uncomfortable. America elected a Catholic president, his cohorts in the faith could not be seen proselytizing through the children, and the Freemasons who lived among them could not be seen resenting these self-assured "Catlickers." Eventually these differences subsided, or at least were buried in polite company.

This house on the road to Suffern
    needs a dozen panes of glass,
And somebody ought to weed the walk
    and take a scythe to the grass.
It needs new paint and shingles,
    and the vines should be trimmed and tied;
But what it needs the most of all
    is some people living inside.

By the end of the 1960s, families grew in size, or in expectations, or both, and were leaving behind their humble abodes, with grand visions of four-bedroom split-levels, formal dining rooms, and half-acre lawns gracing the hillside out beyond the village limits. The years came and went, children came of age and sought their fortunes, older couples passed on to Florida, or passed from this life. The trees grew taller, some homes added garages, patios, and other extensions. "Crackerbox Village" was taking on a character of its own. One family, namely the Reverend and his wife and children, moved from the house down the street to the house next door. There were summer nights before the days of central air conditioning, when the windows in our bedrooms were left open to the screens and the cool breezes. My brother and I had the little room at the end of the hall. My bed was near the door. Mom and Dad would want it shut, but I wanted it open at a 45-degree angle, enough to use the full-length mirror to see the goings-on at the other end. As I drifted off to sleep, I could hear the Reverend and his family and friends, gathering around the upright piano, and singing hymns from the Old Baptist Hymnal.

Meanwhile, with each of us ending our grade school years, our parents eschewed the free education at the public high school at the edge of town, for a Catholic high school in an upper-class neighborhood closer to the city. It was a ride on a public school bus ten miles away, but it may as well have been ten thousand miles, as the kids from Milford brushed off the taunting of would-be city-bred sophisticates living near the school, about being a bunch of hicks from a small town. It got old after four years. Fortunately, it was over by then. Time went on, and the place we called home remained.

It was September of 1977. I was interning at a public television station in West Virginia when I got the call from Dad. He had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis only seven years earlier. Procter and Gamble gave him the consideration worthy of a loyal and dedicated company man, transferring him to a less stressful position away from the headquarters building, to the local district sales office. He had been working half-days for several months by now, but it only delayed the inevitable. Come that Friday, on his fifty-second birthday, he would leave on full and permanent disability. I remember Mom's first reaction, that of Dad being in the way all the time. But while Dad ruled the roost, Mom ruled the rooster, and one of the signs of a successful marriage is the ability to renegotiate what one might call "the balance of power" when fortunes change. And so, in many respects, Mom became the "man of the house," taking a more visible role in certain decisions, and being the "handy man" when things needed fixing. Growing up on a farm, pitching hay and driving a tractor by the time she was twelve, all this had prepared her for this role.

If I had a lot of money
    and all my debts were paid
I'd put a gang of men to work
    with brush and saw and spade.
I'd buy that place and fix it up
    the way it used to be
And I'd find some people who wanted a home
    and give it to them free.

By the end of 1980, I left the town where I was "bread and buttered," not for the nearest city, but for one far away. Destiny led me on a very different path from the other three siblings, as I left the city I knew, the town outside of that city, and the house we lived in, for another city. I would return once or twice a year. It seems foolish to imagine it now, but I honestly expected things to stay just as they were when I left. Life doesn't work that way, and those we leave behind are no exception. Our parents get older, our siblings move on, our friends drift away, or we make new ones upon returning. After my marriage fell apart in 1990, I would return more often. I went from annual visits to coming home three or four times a year. Making a social life of my own in Washington proved a challenge, as I found the city to be brimming with self-important people who couldn't give you the time of day without checking their schedules. Cincinnati gave me solace, an escape, the illusion that all would be well without much suffering. I would arrive at the house, and within an hour, the phone would ring, and Mom would hear a woman's voice. It was for me. It always was. I went dancing, to parties, to nightclubs. I made new friends introduced to me by old ones. It went on and on.

At the 1990s came to a close, it was clear that the house we lived in would not accommodate a man becoming increasingly disabled. Getting through the hallways on a wheelchair, going to the bathroom, taking a shower, all proved more difficult. Mom and Dad considered their options, including moving to another house that was better equipped. The chapter that was ours on Winnebago Drive would have come to an end, but not for the decision to subject the house to an extensive renovation. While they moved to a two-bedroom apartment nearby, the kitchen, dining, and back patio areas were completely transformed. A master bedroom with a wheelchair-accessible full bathroom were added. In the process, Mom got the dream kitchen she never imagined she could ever have. The wall that separated one of the bedrooms from the living room was torn down, making way for a larger "great room" which combined a living and formal dining area. After more than a year, and repeated delays, Mom and Dad moved back in.

All was reasonably well for a few years, until January of 2001, when Mom woke up one morning and had a minor stroke. As she was in the hospital, however briefly, the four of us considered what was once an unlikely possibility, that Mom could meet her demise before Dad. Being independent, and having Mom take care of Dad at home, even with some assistance from the family, was beginning to take its toll.

It was then that my own relationship with the house changed. I was coming less often. After more than twenty years away, I was finally making a life for myself back east. It was just as well. Even if I were to stay at the unaffected end of the house, with my own bed and bathroom, it was nonetheless considered likely that I would be in the way. I could no longer stay at the house we lived in. In fact, if I came to visit, I had to call ahead.

Yes, you read it right. I had to call ahead to visit my own parents.

Now, a new house standing empty,
    with staring window and door,
Looks idle, perhaps, and foolish,
    like a hat on its block in the store.
But there's nothing mournful about it;
    it cannot be sad and lone
For the lack of something within it
    that it has never known.

That took a while to sink in. My siblings were very matter-of-fact about it, of course. They lived with it every day, and could not understand how one of their own who did not, would react any differently. It's one of those things that, if you have to explain it, you can't, so I didn't. But in fairness, one or the other did open their home to me whenever I was there. Meanwhile, as a geriatric nurse, Mary could advise them on their care, and accompany them to the doctor. Steve had charge of their financial and other affairs, and eventually took over the upkeep of the house, with the assistance of the grandsons. Pat had a very promising career as an administrative assistant to the general manager of a regional transit authority, when she was discovered to have a rare form of cancer, one that only four doctors in the entire country could treat. Fortunately, one of them was in Cincinnati, and she beat the odds. But it was the catalyst for considerable soul searching, and with her husband as a successful sales representative, she gave up a career to look after Mom and Dad. At first, she would come in the morning a couple of times a week to help Mom with Dad's "activities of daily living." As the years went on, she was driving across town at least five times a week. Dad's slow deterioration was being joined by Mom's, as both were slowly falling apart, each in their own way.

Then in September of 2011, it happened. Mom started down the basement stairs, lost her balance, and fell to the bottom. Bleeding from a cut to the head, and a broken neck, she crawled up the stairs to the telephone and dialed 911, while Dad sat helpless in his Lazy-boy. She was taken to the hospital, and into intensive care, while Dad was looked after full time. Mom had to go into rehabilitation, and the family could not care for both in separate locations. A retirement community with a skilled nursing wing was found north of the city, and Mom and Dad were together again. But in the year prior to the accident, it was clear that the current arrangement was coming apart at the seams. Steve would "pop in" every evening after work, and qualified in-home care was difficult to find, and even more difficult to oversee, especially with a woman more accustomed by this time to giving orders than in taking them.

The long goodbye for our father was also coming to a head. I would be in Washington for three weeks, and hurry home for one. I stayed alone in the house we lived in. I awoke at 6 in the morning, went to gym for an hour, and occasionally visited friends. But social calls were few and far between. Most of the time, I was visiting with family. I would go to Skyline Chili for the occasional dose of "comfort food," and the fellowship among strangers that I forgot how much I missed. Old neighbors, old classmates living nearby, all provided a revisiting with my past, a time that time forgot. I would retire at nearly midnight listening to Chopin's Nocturnes, only to be up again six hours later to the sounds of Mozart.

I was also busy making preparations for a funeral Mass. I knew what Dad would have wanted, and I knew how to bring my influence to bear in getting it. Thankfully, the parish was very accommodating to our wishes. Guidelines from the parish were reviewed by the family, and an assessment was presented to the siblings as part of the proposal. In the end, as with everything, there was consensus.

But a house that has done what a house should do,
    a house that has sheltered life,
That has put its loving wooden arms
    around a man and his wife,
A house that has echoed a baby's laugh
    and held up his stumbling feet,
Is the saddest sight, when it's left alone,
    that ever your eyes could meet.

Then, in February, the call came from Steve. Dad was leaving sooner rather than later, and how quickly could I get there? Twenty-four hours, I told him. I arrived on a Tuesday. By Friday evening, Dad stopped taking water. By the evening of Monday, I got the call at the house; it was time. As all were present, and Dad was taking his last desperate breaths, I laid my hand on his forehead, and said the ancient commendation for the dying, the Proficiscere: “Go forth, O Christian soul, out of this world, in the Name of God the Father almighty, Who created you; in the Name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, Who suffered for you; in the Name of the Holy Ghost, Who sanctified you, in the name of the holy and glorious Mary, Virgin and Mother of God; in the name of the angels, archangels, thrones and dominions, cherubim and seraphim; in the name of the patriarchs and prophets, of the holy apostles and evangelists, of the holy martyrs, confessors, monks and hermits, of the holy virgins, and of all the saints of God; may your place be this day in peace, and your abode in Holy Sion ...” There was no movement for a few minutes. I checked his pulse. While waiting for the nurse to confirm what we all knew, I continued: “Subvenite, Sancti Dei, occurrite, Angeli Domini, Suscipientes animan ejus ...”

We could not keep Mom in the house we lived in. No amount of live-in home care would endure her cantankerous nature, and the charge over her own domain. The day after Dad was laid to rest, we moved Mom from the skilled nursing wing into her new one-bedroom apartment on the other side of the complex. She cried when she walked in, seeing the furniture in what seemed as a transplanting of her own abode to another, more accessible place. There were activities during the day, three meals prepared in the dining room, and Mass on Saturday night. Pat or another family member visited her every day. As the months went by, and she awoke "with the chickens" to do her crossword puzzles in the morning paper as she had done for years, she became accustomed to her new surroundings. The question then became, what to do with the house we lived in.

In the wake of Dad's passing, friends and neighbors had come to call. One of them was the man whom we once knew in childhood as "Beanie," the preacher's son, whose father lived next door. His mother had passed away only recently, and his father was getting on in years. For the young man and his wife to live in the same house with him was becoming a challenge. As I gave them a tour of the house, especially the addition in the back, their interest was piqued. And now, several months later, they approached Steve with a proposal.

I would come to stay at the house when I was there; for Father's Day, for the sixtieth wedding anniversary in June, for Mom's first Christmas without Dad. Eventually the cable television was disconnected, and so was the wireless connection. I had to bring the latter on my own, in the form of my iPhone. There was nearly sixty years worth of memories to go through over the past year, nestled in the many corners of the house we lived in. Mom was an incurable packrat, the destination of first and last resort for any school or Scouting project. Everything was meticulously organized, to the point that belied just how much of it there really was. I have to give credit to Steve; for a guy very much "in charge" of things, he managed the process with remarkable collegiality. With a complete inventory of furniture, books, personal records, photographs, and the like, there was consensus all around, and a desire that each of us achieve our satisfaction without the expense of another.

Among other things, I got the silverware, and my paternal grandmother's old clock, now being restored to its former glory.

So whenever I go to Suffern
    along the Erie track
I never go by the empty house
    without stopping and looking back,
Yet it hurts me to look at the crumbling roof
    and the shutters fallen apart,
For I can't help thinking the poor old house
    is a house with a broken heart.

There were three visits to Milford in as many months; three round trips of a thousand miles each, as if to say in stages the long goodbye to the town I left behind so many years ago, but which never left me. I drive through its streets, I visit the places I frequented. My conscious mind sees them as they are now. And yet, there is a land of shadows, one in which I see them as I did growing up. Each house cannot be remembered by who lives there now, but who lived there then. It could never belong to those of the present, not in this place that I visit, a place ever present, but never to be seen again.

It was late last month, on a Saturday morning, that I gathered what I could into my 2005 Scion XB, and prepared for the nine-hour journey back to what was now the only home I could call by that name. On this date, after nearly fifty-seven years, with the deal having been signed, sealed, and delivered, the house we lived in at 29 Winnebago Drive is now the home of the Reverend Daryl Poe, pastor of New Harmony Baptist Church, and his devoted wife Jacqueline. Daryl had a long and distinguished career in law enforcement, moving from one assignment to another across the Buckeye State over the years -- a police department here, a sheriff's department there -- before answering the call to follow in his father's footsteps. And so, those who are of the Southern Baptist tradition have a new home, as does the man who serves them. But however beloved it was by those who did so before, however much it is by those who do so now, it is, at the end of the day, not really a home to either.

No, there is another ...

“Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:1-3)

Life goes on, at the house we lived in.

“The House with Nobody in It” was originally published in Trees and Other Poems, a collection of Joyce Kilmer, by the George H Doran Company, New York City, in 1914.