Like as the Hart

Psalm 42. Quemadmodum

Like as the hart desireth the water-brooks : so longeth my soul after thee, O God.

2 My soul is athirst for God, yea, even for the living God : when shall I come to appear before the presence of God?

3 My tears have been my meat day and night : while they daily say unto me, Where is now thy God?

4 Now when I think thereupon, I pour out my heart by myself : for I went with the multitude, and brought them forth into the house of God;

5 In the voice of praise and thanksgiving : among such as keep holy-day.

6 Why art thou so full of heaviness, O my soul : and why art thou so disquieted within me?

7 Put thy trust in God : for I will yet give him thanks for the help of his countenance.

8 My God, my soul is vexed within me : therefore will I remember thee concerning the land of Jordan, and the little hill of Hermon.

9 One deep calleth another, because of the noise of the water-pipes : all thy waves and storms are gone over me.

10 The Lord hath granted his loving-kindness in the day-time : and in the night-season did I sing of him, and made my prayer unto the God of my life.

11 I will say unto the God of my strength, Why hast thou forgotten me : why go I thus heavily, while the enemy oppresseth me?

12 My bones are smitten asunder as with a sword : while mine enemies that trouble me cast me in the teeth;

13 Namely, while they say daily unto me : Where is now thy God?

14 Why art thou so vexed, O my soul : and why art thou so disquieted within me?

15 O put thy trust in God : for I will yet thank him, which is the help of my countenance, and my God.

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The Seven Virgins

ALL under the leaves and the leaves of life
I met with virgins seven,
And one of them was Mary mild,
Our Lord’s mother of Heaven.

‘O what are you seeking, you seven fair maids,
All under the leaves of life?
Come tell, come tell, what seek you
All under the leaves of life?’

‘We’re seeking for no leaves, Thomas,
But for a friend of thine;
We’re seeking for sweet Jesus Christ,
To be our guide and thine.’

‘Go down, go down, to yonder town,
And sit in the gallery,
And there you’ll see sweet Jesus Christ
Nail’d to a big yew-tree.’

So down they went to yonder town
As fast as foot could fall,
And many a grievous bitter tear
From the virgins’ eyes did fall.

‘O peace, Mother, O peace, Mother,
Your weeping doth me grieve:
I must suffer this,’ He said,
‘For Adam and for Eve.

‘O Mother, take you John Evangelist
All for to be your son,
And he will comfort you sometimes,
Mother, as I have done.’

‘O come, thou John Evangelist,
Thou’rt welcome unto me;
But more welcome my own dear Son,
Whom I nursed on my knee.’

Then He laid His head on His right shoulder,
Seeing death it struck Him nigh—
‘The Holy Ghost be with your soul,
I die, Mother dear, I die.’

O the rose, the gentle rose,
And the fennel that grows so green!
God give us grace in every place
To pray for our king and queen.

Furthermore for our enemies all
Our prayers they should be strong:
Amen, good Lord; your charity
Is the ending of my song.

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Ask veit ek standa,
heitir Yggdrasill
hár baðmr, ausinn
hvíta auri;
þaðan koma döggvar
þærs í dala falla;
stendr æ yfir grœnn
Urðar brunni.

Þaðan koma meyjar
margs vitandi
þrjár, ór þeim sal
er und þolli stendr;
Urð hétu eina,
aðra Verðandi,
skáru á skíði,
Skuld ina þriðju;
þær lög lögðu,
þær líf kuru
alda börnum,
örlög seggja.

An ash I know it stands
it is named Yggdrasill,
high tree, sprinkled
with white mud
there from come the dews
that fall on the dale,
it stands always green, above
the source of Urdhr.

There from come the maids
much knowing
three, their dwelling
stands under the tree;
Urdh is named one,
the other Verdhandi,
– they notched (scored) wood –
Skuld is the third.
they set up the laws
they decided on the lives
of the children of time (‘the children of man’)
they promulgate fate

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The Three Miracles of Newman (Part III)

I have been praying steadily since mid-June to Bl. John Henry Newman for the following three practical desiderata – all of which seemed impossibly unlikely but nevertheless have been granted, at least to some degree.

1. Fix the horrible mess involving letters of recommendation from members of my rather fractious dissertation committee.

2. Influence the Pope/Synod on the Family to use the power of the keys to simplify the annulment process and/or liberalize the conditions under which divorced and remarried Roman Catholics might receive communion.

3. Facilitate a number of important social networking occasions at the AAR.

Number 3 seemed unconditionally successful originally, only to meet an unexpected hitch, leading to a series of informative divinations by bibliomancy while invoking Newman which seemed supernaturally prescient.  (Bibliomancy is probably the worst form of divination ever, because it almost never yields passages which intelligibly imply the answer to one’s query.  So a run of intelligible bibliomancy answers is probably attributable to supernatural agency).


Q1. If there appear to be so many logistical difficulties in obtaining a tenure-track job, what then is my vocation?  A1. Sirach 38.24-39.11 (a long description of the prosperity and virtue of an intellectual studying religion professionally, who does not need to engage in non-academic labor to support himself).

Q2. What ought I to think that estranged professional contacts think of me?  A2. Song of Songs 8.6 (set me as a seal upon your heart)

Q3.  If that is true, why such inconsistency in words/behavior?  A3. 1 Thessalonians 2.17-20 (we wanted to come to you, but Satan hindered us)

It all seems true, and very encouraging in the long-run.


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The Three Miracles of Newman (Part II)

The last few years of my graduate studies were (as I suppose you can tell if you are a long time reader of this blog) seemingly nothing but an extended sequence of personal crises forced upon me by economic exigencies and interpersonal pressures. One of the unexpected outcomes of this period was that I was gradually pushed into a much more supernatural understanding of the Christian faith, and of religion generally, as a source of human hope. Previously, Christianity had been a rather agnostic matter of culture and ethics; by the summer of my doctoral fieldwork, it had become a question of passionate love and hopes for real supernatural efficacy. (This post, in which I am outraged that a blogger has termed supernaturally-efficacious religion “illusory religion” and renunciation/Stoicism “true religion,” is  a pretty clear indication of the change).

This change meant that my interest in Catholic folk magic moved from being something entirely academic, an adjunct of doctoral research on inculturation, to a concrete practical interest I thought might have some positive impact of my life.  You can see my usual agnostic approach to Catholic folk magic in ethnographic summaries of work I contracted with various practitioners archived on this blog.  Despite the fact that a Tarot reading about colleagues I renamed Jansen and Joses was spot-on about both characters, I speculated on the non-supernatural mechanisms which could have made the reading successful.  Similar skepticism surfaces in my account of Catholic inculturation/fortune-telling at a Hispanica botanica.  I don’t think the younger version of myself who wrote these accounts could have anticipated a time when I became naively convinced of the supernatural efficacy of these practices.

Due to a sequence of disasters after my doctoral defense, I’ve been regularly performing an improvised folk magical ritual I jokingly term “Newman Puja,” directed at transforming a negative situation through appealing to Blessed John Henry Newman as intercessor.  This practice has generated a sequence of minor miracles, for which I am thankful, but it has also provided for a significant and regular exchange of interpersonal love between myself and the saints and benefactors I call upon in the ritual, deepening devotion.

Though it isn’t technically one of the “three miracles of Newman” I wish to narrate but rather the culmination of them, I’d like to narrate a minor supernatural happening which occurred after I fell peacefully asleep after Lessons and Carols on Christmas Eve.  I didn’t realize what was happening within the dream itself, which makes me feel the dream was less a product of my own subconscious mind than a supernatural communication, but the interpretation was obvious enough upon waking.

I found myself in a place I recognized upon awakening was Newman’s Birmingham Oratory, and I was not myself, but apparently Ambrose St. John.  Newman, who loves me as his sort of Beloved Disciple, called upon me to prepare a sort of positio for the Vatican on the liceity and efficacy of Catholic folk magic, which of course I was eager with all love and devotion to fulfill, even though I was so pressured and overworked it was driving me into a sort of nervous breakdown.  Of course I am able to do it; it is in the end rather easy to do, and the results look something like a composite between my doctoral dissertation and a narrative of the three miracles of Newman I will ultimately relate.  At some point in the dream, I rave dangerously, but Newman holds me with patience and undisguised love.  Everything that is painful soothes into peace and contentment and a sense of blessing.  I wake up, near my little Newman shrine where I do my puja, and see a framed 19th C. photograph of Newman staring down at me, along with the prayer card a mentor once gave me which reads “heart speaks to heart.”  And of course everything is right with the world.  Clearly, this dream and blessing are the saint’s Christmas gift to someone who has loved him all year.

Perhaps the dream is meant to be interpreted as a call to submit any further miraculous occurrences, or the three miracles of Newman themselves, to the postulator of Newman’s cause for canonization.  Pursuit of canonization is the normal function of a positio, and the dream positio hinged centrally on proving that miraculous occurrences brought about through borderline magical practicees such as “Newman Puja” are proper and licit for Christians in just the way I would expect a real postulator to be required to defend such practices as orthodox for them to called upon in support of Newman’s canonization.

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The Scottish Diaspora and British Orientalism

I’m not a historian, but for whatever reason I probably know more about my father’s family and its complicated historical karma than any other member of the immediate clan. (Not a minor achievement, in that I grew up mostly separated from the family by a combination of divorce and the religious/cultural boundary presented by the Mason-Dixon line, and a paternal aunt is actually a professional historian teaching at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis). But being a true son of my father I was a devoted Anglophile and lover of all things British as a child, tuning into BBC rebroadcasts on public television and radio. At one point in elementary school, teachers even corrected my papers of randomly-internalized UK conventions in spelling and style. As a young adult, I converted to Anglicanism and learned that my family surname is Scottish, and became interested in the historical traditions to which this might connect me. I was sufficiently interested in all this to dig deeply enough to discover that the surname originates in the Scottish Borders, and connects me with a rather unsavory group of semi-nomadic horse thieves, blackmailers, and murderers with highly divided loyalties, the Border Reivers. According to a historical clan map which has adorned my wall since for some 20 years, the Borderers were “a people that will be Scottish when they will, and English at their pleasure,” showing no allegiance to any authority except their own and giving loyalty only to friends and kindred. The ethnic and devotional particularities of Anglican Christianity provided my younger self with many ways to connect with this Border Scot background, such as romantically favoring the doomed Jacobite cause for restoration of the Catholic House of Stuart and joining and supporting the Society of King Charles the Martyr, an Anglo-Catholic devotional society with generally Jacobite political leanings which treats the last Stuart king to reign over Scotland and England as a martyr for the Anglican religious faith. If you might say that my family background harmonized rather well with the imagination and aspirations of a young Anglo-Catholic, you might also say that this culture was a major influence on the Anglo-Catholic movement itself, with John Henry Newman famously praising Sir Walter Scott and his Border Ballads and as among the worldly muses contributing to his romantic Anglo-Catholic vision.

It wasn’t until I began to study Asian religions professionally that I began to connect my American forebearers to their Scottish ancestry and a worldwide Scottish diaspora almost mind-boggling in its immensity and complexity. In some parts, my discoveries were sheer horror to me: essentially, the social/religious culture of Appalachia and the Southern United States including its plantation system of racial apartheid, class stratification, and economic indenture, which I unabashedly hate, can be considered a transplantation and continuation of a form of British imperialism first perfected in Northern Ireland. (See: James Webb’s Born Fighting or its video form) Everything I am conflicted about involving the Southern branch of my family, including its lingering Confederate sympathies, is for the most part simply an expression of the family’s Scottish Britishness. Worse, these Border Scots entered North America via migration through Northern Ireland as willing participants in the Ulster Plantation, meaning that the Troubles in Northern Ireland (unionism and republicanism, religious conflicts rooted in the 16th/17th century, etc.) are essentially family troubles in which my ancestors are implicated. It’s no wonder karmically-speaking that sometimes, the unresolved cultural and religious conflicts of the British Isles come forth unbidden to the surface of consciousness, as in this old Cranberries video from the height of the Troubles:

It’s the same story everywhere in the former British Empire, meaning (on a more positive note, I suppose) that I have inherited through a variegated crew of ancient ancestors and long-lost cousins an entire world history of mongrelizations and cultural fusions conceived and executed by the middlemen of Empire, the Scots. Within my own field of Asian religions, I am often asked if I am related to the former Boden Professor of Sanskrit and Buddhologist E. H. Johnston, the Northern Irish Jesuit Zen master William Johnston, or the “Scottish mandarin” Reginald Johnston. And the answer is yes – if you take into account the 17th C. Scottish diaspora, the Ulster Plantation, the convulsive remaking of Scotland in the 18th/19th C. into an integral part of the United Kingdom, and the role of displaced Borderers and former Jacobites as orientalists and colonial middle management in the 19th/20th C., it is certain that we are all ancient cousins hailing from the same region of Dumfriesshire on the Scottish Borders sharing at one point the same traumatic history, thrown into different far-off corners of a global empire which got its start by colonizing us, then deploying us as agents for the colonization of others.

This history was not uniformly dark, as historian and Scot William Dalrymple chronicles in White Mughals. Generations of British administration in India prior to the hardening and racialization of communal boundaries after the Mutiny were openly assimilationist, attempting European-Indian cultural fusion, financially and culturally enriching both British and Indian elites. Love relationships between British men and Indian women flourished and roughly a third of British men stationed in India bequeathed legacies to their Indian wives and mistresses. Madras plaid imitated Scottish tartan and Indians commissioned their own regimental bagpipe bands clad in kilt, while a fad for all things oriental swept the British Isles, before anyone had conceived the fear of “going native.” Similar cultural accommodations can be found elsewhere in the British Far East, as for example in the “Scottish mandarin” career of Buddhist convert, Qing court tutor, and SOAS luminary Reginald Johnston. It would all come to an end, but for a time at least, curiosity and collaboration cohabited with the desire for gain and exploitation.

The Scots who inhabit these stories, light and dark, were mostly products of a violent and uncertain border constantly contested, flying no permanent flag.  Anglo-Saxon Bernicia and Northumbria contended with Celtic Dalriada, Strathclyde, Galloway, and Alba, and successive kings of Scotland and England seeking to enlarge their territories turned the Borders into a bleeding battlefield from the 13th-17th centuries, creating a Border Reiver culture as the only plausible lifestyle in a region that had been without stability, agricultural potential, or government for centuries. When James VI of Scotland inherited the English throne and established a personal union of the crowns of Scotland and England at the turn of the 17th C., he suppressed the Reivers, executing and exiling scores of individuals from the most powerful Border clans, including many Johnstons. Between the subjugation of the Borders between roughly 1600-1640, the Seven Ill Years of the 1690s and mass emigration from the Scottish lowlands, econnomic depression through French protectionism and the failure of the Darien scheme (a kind of “Scottish East India Company”), the establishment of a Bank of Scotland, a permanent Union of the Crowns vesting royal authority in London rather than Edinburgh, the Jacobite uprisings and Highland clearances, a new and modern Scotland was formed that was integrated into the United Kingdom and run largely in the economic interests of England. Opportunities for Scots lay in emigration, service in the British East India Company, military service and engineering, orientalist scholarship, finance and investment, and colonial middle management.

For a Border Scot, figuring out what it means to be British in terms of political and religious commitments amounts to squaring circles, imagining the impossible. If there are Ulster Scot Orangemen such as William Johnston of Ballykilbeg for whom Scottishness is Unionism and Protestantism, there are Republican Catholics with the same surnames and ethnic origins who think of themselves as Irish, such as the family of William Johnston the Jesuit, once involved with IRA terrorism. They might oppose or ally with prominent Anglo-Irish families such as the Wildes, who might themselves be Unionist or Republican in sympathies. Despite James Webbs’ simplifications, the descendants of the Scots-Irish in America find the situation no easier, and often cannot conceptualize or identify themselves as an ethnic group. The Borders themselves are neither Saxon nor Celtic, Scottish or English, and Borderers did not align with any crown. Contemporary Borderers split between Scottish Nationalism, British Unionism, and romantic Jacobitism that pines for a United Kingdom under the Scottish House of Stuart rather than the Hanoverian House of Windsor. Dispersed throughout the former British Empire, these colonized people who colonized others might pursue radical assimilation and fusion (as in the case of the mostly Scottish “White Mughals” who were “as much Hindoo as Christian” or Reginald Johnston in China) or separatism and apartheid as “white” Protestant Britons who set themselves over and against their “colored” pagan/Catholic subjects. All of the contradictions of colonialism, good and bad, subsist in this unlikely group of Britons, the Borderers.

If it were as easy for me to imagine an “Irish” Anglo-Catholicism for myself, such as that of Oscar Wilde, as it is to imagine an Anglo-Catholic religious identity oriented towards Jacobitism, the Church of England, Oxford and Cambridge, Greater Britannia, and the BBC, life would no doubt be easier than it is. There is a place for the former in ethnic American Catholicism; the natural home of the latter is Anglicanism. (The one identity that I will never seriously consider is that of a patriotic American with evangelical Protestant religious beliefs and roots in the Old Confederacy, the most common political/cultural self-identification of Scots-Irish in America).

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A Sad Narrative of Midnight Mass

I know how to be Catholic everywhere but in the parish. I wish I knew how to connect, but everything seems to conspire to make it at least difficult, and possibly impossible. I suspect the issue isn’t (entirely) me, as it is simple to connect in Anglican parishes. Midnight mass was a continuation of the usual sad state of affairs.

It seems clear that the average Catholic in the pews in my diocese usually fails to connect with leadership for many of the same reasons. The bishop is activist in orientation (right-wing on social issues, left-wing on peace and justice issues) and very top-down in terms of managerial style. He rotates priests throughout the diocese often enough to make it impossible for people to find ideologically “safe” confessors and homilists who will not soon be replaced; this encourages a culture of passivity and of putting up with whomever you get, hoping to outlast the offensive priest. The bishop purged LGBTQ faculty from the local Catholic high school over massive student and donor protest, and shut down a transgender-outreach program at my alma mater’s Newman Center, prompting the majority of Catholic faculty/staff to leave the Newman Center for new faith communities (some two-thirds of the Newman Center’s core congregation left). Most of the educated Catholics I know from my school days can’t find a decent parish in town, and attend Protestant services instead. The bishop seems to cultivate a deliberately antagonistic relationship with average Catholics in the pews as well, frequently taking recourse to unpopular pastoral statements read from the pulpits. Everyone seems angry, sometimes stridently so. Recent priest appointments in my parish have seemed calculated to break the liturgically-traditional, ideologically-quietist character of the congregation, as we’ve been assigned a sequence of aggressive culture warriors as priests. It may not be a terrible loss, as after regular attendance for a couple of years not a single member of the parish has ever interacted with me socially or even knows my name, but I am in search of a new parish and will miss the place. It seemed like a relatively safe haven to practice Catholicism without constant ideological distractions. Mileage varied, but you’d receive usually inoffensive homilies, decent liturgy, and relatively safe and prudent confessors who do not stoke scrupulosity unnecessarily. You could do worse, and in this diocese, very much worse indeed. I’ve been verbally insulted within earshot and physically threatened on more than one occasion at various parishes in the diocese, but this would have been basically unthinkable in my home parish.

I’ve been trying out our local minor basilica, which is in a diverse, multi-ethnic, inner-city neighborhood near my alma mater. Since it is also a beautiful liturgical space, it would be the obvious choice for Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, depending of course upon leadership and worship style. (I would probably prefer Latin mass at the working class Italian Catholic parish in the riverbottoms – the only indult mass in the diocese – but I’ve been threatened with physical violence over my gender appearance there, and it seems far too risky. Nothing in my immediate neighborhood – a rolling sequence of old 1940s and 1950s suburban developments with a church aesthetic running in the direction of the ugliest postwar modernism – has anything to commend itself in terms of reverence or beauty, despite offering me nearly a dozen parishes to choose from within 2 miles of home). The basilica would be the obvious choice but it’s problematic. I’ve been threatened there – a working class man and his son were unhappy to see a Jewish man and an androgynous character in a necktie kiss during the passing of the peace during one midnight mass. I visit the place for the highest liturgical occasions because it is lovely, only to be routinely disappointed by the cantillation skills of the parish priest, who is not simply bad but offensively so if you are cursed with any ear at all for liturgical music. The priest is also prone to conservative, moralistic hectoring, although with less macho and aggressive an edge than some of the other conservative priests in town. To me he seems more sad and and sullen and lonely and isolated than threatening, and tends to evoke compassion more often than anger. It would not be a place one could go if one could find a better, but this is not a diocese that offers much better.

I’ve been trying the place throughout Advent, and might have been willing to give it a go in the long-term had Midnight Mass turned out well. It didn’t, of course. I’m no longer looking for a “good” parish. I am looking for any parish that would be tolerable to attend every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation where I would not feel certain that the priest would handle me poorly in the confessional, and unfortunately, the basilica falls short of meeting even those chastened expectations.

The place seemed to be worth reconsidering because the liturgy is much improved – perhaps the priest has invested extra time and effort in training his voice, or been sent to a liturgical bootcamp by the Benedictine Order – and because he hasn’t seemed quite as cranky as I remember him being, presently appearing significantly less offensive than the new priest at my home parish. The liturgical improvement is genuine, but the net effect on my spiritual health and Catholic morale from an Advent of his preaching has been negative. I don’t think I can keep having the same kinds of experience and still bother to connect with local parish life at all. There’s got to be something better, even if it is staying home.

At his worst, you will get a homily something like this:

Generally, priests in this diocese will be at their very best behavior on Christmas and Easter, there seeming to be a custom of truce between ideological priests and their estranged congregations during these times of the year. The parish priest was not at his worst, but he definitely broke the truce, and the result was pretty demoralizing. The nun administering the chalice snarled at me and seemed hesitant to let me partake, before relenting. I suppose that this must somehow be related to gender/sexual orientation stereotypes, as there was no other likely explanation for her behavior.

The Advent series has been enervating, slightly demoralizing. The basilica is gearing up for the Year of Mercy and the plenary indulgence attached to visiting selected places of worship (of which the basilica is one) during that period of time. The main thrust of Father’s preaching has been how even though there is this plenary indulgence, no one is really going to end up getting it, because of all of the numerous conditions he outlines and the basic impossibility of any individual meeting them. So one must not read Pope Francis’ edict of a Year of Mercy or his public statements as creating new conditions in which the practice of Catholicism has become easier. The only true path of Catholicism, then and now, is the hard work of continual repentance and moral transformation to meet the objective stipulated demands of a particularly rigorous, traditionalist examen of conscience in which most sins are mortal rather than venial in nature and the only help is regular sacramental confession. Nothing is getting easier. Pope Francis hasn’t changed anything. This was slightly muted, less overt, until Father’s Midnight Mass homily tonight. The Year of Mercy doesn’t mean anything is easier, or any standard of belief/practice has been relaxed. Everything is as hard as it was before, but now you have the opportunity to go to confession. If you haven’t gone to confession in a long time, you need to go, because you are almost certainly in a state of mortal sin and sacramental confession is the only sacrament which remits sins that will allow you to receive any grace. If you don’t go to mass each and every week and attend each Holy Day of Obligation, you need to start doing so and are in a state of mortal sin and need to go to confession. The only road to mercy is the road of truth, which means that Catholics must speak all the hard, confrontational truths of Catholic belief and practice without compromise, even when society would say that this makes us bigoted. The Church is not bigoted in saying no to objectively disordered behaviors permitted by our society. We would be negligently sinful were we not to confront society and let it know. The only redeeming part of this sad performance is that perhaps he saw how the nun and some members of the congregation treated me, or (being a sad and lonely person with the instinct for bonding with other sad and lonely people so many of us possess) instinctively knew to make a special effort to connect with me at a personal level after mass. He is not a bad man, but he demoralizes me, and makes me think that my scrupulosity (which is wild and out of control) is a legitimate thing that should be encouraged rather than an affliction likely to drag me into the depths if I let it steer me away from my conscience. And he sells the Year of Mercy as if Mercy really meant Obligation. It’s sort of a moot point whether or not he speaks authentically for the tradition, although I know few theologians would think so, because even if he does it would mean I could not possibly be saved, because my conscience is too strongly formed to be converted and some aspects of the way of life he recommends are far too alien to implement.

He made me slightly angry, because it seems like a deliberate attempt to undermine the direction of Pope Francis’ leadership. It’s as if the American hierarchy loves the way things were, and doesn’t want anything Pope Francis suggests to filter down into the actual life of the parish. I just can’t see how relaxing the conditions for the reception of communion by the divorced and remarried, telling confessors and penitents to view eucharistic participation as a field hospital for the wounded rather than a reward for the perfect, declaring a Year of Mercy with a plenary indulgence, etc. was not in fact an attempt to communicate that usual parish is too strict and legalistic and in need of a change to reach out to the people who would otherwise be excluded. Yet here we have many members of the American hierarchy, even at the level of parish priest, trying to convince the laity that in fact nothing at all has changed for the better, and everything pastoral must be done in the same way that is failing. It’s not that there is any great distance in doctrine between myself and this priest. It’s all about the pastoral significance accorded to certain doctrines we share, and whether or not we will follow Pope Francis in reaching out in new ways.

He made his parish even angrier than he did me. His next move after the homily was to remind everyone that the Church requires them to kneel for the creed during Christmas. Maybe a quarter of the congregation kneeled. Nearly everyone else remained standing, some with looks of defiance. When the people who were standing knelt for the incarnatus and then got back up again, everyone who had started out kneeling got up. Maybe one or two people in the entire congregation continued kneeling – everyone else had joined the gesture of overt defiance. The priest may have been eager to shake my hand because I was the least unsympathetic parishioner.

And this might well be the best and most functional parish in town.

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