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Holy Thursday

Posted by Fr. Ron on April 11, 2014

This Lenten season has been a difficult one for me. Recuperating from surgery, a harsh, long winter (for me at least), other medical problems, mine and my mom’s; I won’t be getting nominated for official sainthood based on how I got through this season! Tonight we had our Holy Thursday Vespers with Divine Liturgy of St. Basil, commemorating the Institution of the Eucharist, of the Priesthood, and also commemorating the betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot. A very important evening in the Church calendar. For having two parishes, only one celebration of this Liturgy, and we had 19 people there tonight. It is things like this that really cause a priest to get dejected. This is as opposed to how many people made sure they got a palm on Palm Sunday, and just let us wait and see how hard it is to close the doors on Easter Sunday!

In tonights reading from the Gospels, Jesus takes his disciples into the Garden of Gethsemane. He tells them to wait while He goes off to pray; when He comes back, they are asleep. Jesus asks them, “What? Could you not watch with Me one hour?” (Matt. 26:40) It is sad to note how many Christians are there when things are going good, but are nowhere to be found during the bad. They are drawn to the Easter Bunnies, candies and eggs, but have no depth to appreciate Holy Thursday. It is the same way that, rather than see Christmas as a time to dwell upon the Incarnation of God in the flesh, they instead worry about gifts and trees and “just getting through it all.”

Now remember the context here: I am not talking about “the rest of the world;” I am talking about Christians! People who say they are followers of Christ. You expect that Holy Week is not on the radar for “the rest” but when Christians cannot take time out of this week to take part in the unfolding of the Passion, the Crucifixion, but show up in droves in their best clothes for Easter, and then pull away again until Christmas, it makes you wonder about how they were raised, how they were taught (both by their family and by their priests, ministers, etc.).

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Palm Sunday – 2014

Posted by Fr. Ron on April 11, 2014

Entry into Jerusalem

Entry into Jerusalem

Just as it has seemed like a long winter, so, too, it seems like a long Fast.  We have been through privations; we have struggled with our personal demons and our personal crosses, trying to do things just a little bit different, just a little bit better.  Maybe we fasted well; maybe our stomachs still proved to be our master.  Perhaps we prayed a bit more, a bit harder;   perhaps we just got too busy to go to church, just like we always do.  Maybe we gave of ourselves more this time around; maybe we looked in the mirror and saw our selfishness and self-centeredness more than we would have liked.  Whatever the case, we now find ourselves here, holding palms and branches, participating in the celebration of Palm Sunday, our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  No matter which Gospel we read today, we hear this story of people laying down their clothes on the road before Jesus as He rides up on a donkey, to and through the gates of the Holy City; others are climbing the palm trees, cutting off branches and laying them before Him.  We hear all the people crying out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord.”  Is this the one who will save them?  Is the long darkness finally over?  But we also hear the Pharisees calling out to Him, telling Him to silence his followers.  We sense that something is not quite perfect about all this.

Of course, all of us here know what is really going to happen.  While the people of Jerusalem and those in the multitude thought that the liberation of their country was at hand, we know what is about to take place.  Those cheers will later turn into shouts of “Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!”  Today He enters the city riding like the king of the prophecies, but the next time He goes through the gates, it will be as one beaten nearly to death, carrying upon His shoulder the cross the Romans will use to crucify Him.  When He enters today, His disciples are buoyed with joy to see how well Jesus is welcomed; when He comes out on Friday, they have all deserted Him, licking their wounds and wondering how everything could have gone so wrong.

This is one great reason why I like that our Church chooses the Triumphal Entry story from John’s gospel—we are shown the bigger picture.  The day before—the day we call Lazarus Saturday—Jesus shows us why all this is happening: He has come, not to free first-century Jews from the yoke of first-century Romans, but to free all of Mankind from the yoke of sin and death, the captivity we have borne under the devil since the beginning.  The Entry into Jerusalem, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection of our Lord are inextricably tied to the death of Lazarus and Jesus calling him out of the tomb.  In the story of the illness and death of Lazarus, Jesus already knows what will happen and what He is to do.  Yes, He could have easily gone straight to Bethany and healed Lazarus right then and there.  But, if I can say such a thing, the illness and death of Lazarus was part of the greater plan.  Bethany, the town of Lazarus, Mary and Martha, is only two miles from Jerusalem, which is Jesus’ ultimate destination.  His disciples even say to Him, “Rabbi, lately the Jews sought to stone You, and are you going there again?”  But it is here, in Bethany, so close to the Holy City, that Jesus shows His greatest sign and teaches His greatest teaching.  He even says to His disciples, “Lazarus is dead.  And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe.”  A little later in the story, He and Martha have their conversation about the resurrection, which ends with Jesus telling her plainly, “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.”  In the raising of Lazarus, He is trying to teach the disciples, and us, that He has the power over life and death.  And if Jesus can raise Lazarus, now four days dead, they should believe that, after He is crucified, He will rise, just as He has told them.  After the raising of Lazarus, the gospel says that many of those who had seen this now began to follow Jesus.  But the story goes on to say the Pharisees and the chief priests meet to consider what has happened; but their souls are so darkened that, instead of believing, they say, “If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.”  So, it says, “The chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also, because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus.”  We can be excited to see that Jesus truly is the Author of Life and the One Who conquers Death, but we are aware that the job doesn’t end with the raising of one man, but must be the raising of all Mankind from the Ancestral Curse.

So God’s light is present today at the gates of Jerusalem.  But we are reminded of the evil, crouching in the darkness, is trying to put out the light.  The evil which tried to kill Lazarus is also trying to put out the Light of Christ in us.  The story of Palm Sunday reminds us of what Lent was all about: the conquering of the darkness in our lives, so that we may correctly see the Light that comes today, seated on a donkey; so that, when we see Him mocked, scourged, spat upon, and crucified by the end of the week to come, we will know the true price that God has paid to free us from the chains of sin and death, which have bound us and have made us feel that there is no hope.

So for us, today is a day of thanksgiving, as we follow Christ with the rest of His disciples, into the Holy City.  We thank God that the day of our deliverance is at hand.  We raise our palms and branches, showing the world that its liberation is at hand.  But let us also soberly prepare ourselves to witness the payment of our debt, the price of the ransom for our souls.  When we see Him give us His Body and Blood at the table on Holy Thursday, when we take His body down from the cross and bow before Him and kiss His wounds on Holy Friday, let us again give thanks that God so loved us that He gave His only-begotten Son, so that all those who believe in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  And when we stand before the empty tomb, I pray that every single voice present here on Easter morning will shout from the depths of their hearts with joy, with love, and with praise, that Christ is risen from the dead, by death trampling Death!

Posted in Church, General, Holy Week, homily, Lent, Religion | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Steve Martin’s Latest CD, and playing the Banjo

Posted by Fr. Ron on November 4, 2011

Rare Bird Alert Cover

Rare Bird Alert

I’m a bit remiss in posting this, but I want to make up for lost time. A couple of months ago, I purchased a copy of Steve Martin’s bluegrass CD which he did with The Steep Canyon Rangers, entitled “Rare Bird Alert.” What prompted me to finally post here was seeing a PBS special on the TV this evening, entitled “Give Me The Banjo,” which Steve Martin narrated.
I had thought of his previous CD, “The Crow…” as being what I suppose is called “Newgrass,” but this time he is sticking closer to proper “Bluegrass” to my mind. I can’t give a blow-by-blow, song-by-song review of each song at this point, but I do highly recommend this CD. Not only that, but listening to this prompted me to buy a couple of Steep Canyon Rangers CDs as well! As icing on the cake, I finally, after many years of batting around the idea, I recently purchasd my first banjo and am attempting to teach myself to play!
Steve placing a side of banjo music on his LP, “The Steve Martin Brothers,” many years ago, gave me an appreciation for the banjo that I hadn’t really had before. Sometimes it takes someone like this to wake one up. Through that “B” side of an LP, my ears were open years later when, somewhere, somehow that I cannot remember, I fell in love with the music of Nickel Creek. They led me to Alison Krauss (I believe she produced their second and third CDs), both solo and with Union Station. Now I am listening to Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, Cumberland Gap, as well as Bela Flack and others.
I know, Bluegrass is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it is a real part of America and its music, and I feel more connected with our country and our culture through my exploration of a purely American music form.

Shop at amazon.com

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Gearing back up

Posted by Fr. Ron on April 25, 2010

It has been a long time since I posted anything here. Some people have asked me to keep going, but hasn’t been easy. I lost my mother on April 1, 2010, and I am still recovering from that. I have been thinking about using this space as a poor imitation of C. S. Lewis’ “A Grief Observed” to help me through the process of grieving, but I am not sure anyone would be interested in reading me wear my heart on my sleeve. Grieving is a personal process, and everyone handles it differently. I am not sure if writing here is a proper part of my process.
So much in my life right now revolves around dealing with my grief, though. I have been very self-conscious in my preaching, lest everything I preach should come out of my grief rather than preaching the Gospel. My parishioners know I am grieving, but I doubt they’d appreciate me dragging them through it all the time.
Anyway, here is my attempt to re-connect with whoever remembers that I have a blog. I hope that what I have to say continues to be accepted by the audience, and may even make a difference.

Posted in General | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Whither the Catholic Church?

Posted by Fr. Ron on May 11, 2009

Our local newspaper had an article today on the furor within the Catholic Church over the invitation of President Barack Obama to speak at Notre Dame University and to receive an honorary degree. Because of the president’s pro-abortion stance, his being in favor of embryonic stem-cell research, and his support for the Freedom of Choice Act, his agenda is in direct contradiction of all the Catholic Church teaches; thus it is seen as very inappropriate for a supposedly Catholic university to confer any such honors on the president.

According to the article, many Catholics polled view the president in a favorable light and approve of his presidency so far. Many Roman Catholic bishops have become quite vocal concerning “pro-choice” Catholic elected officials, and “recommending” to them that they refrain from receiving Holy Communion as long as they support legislation which is contrary to the teachings of the Church.

Although there has been an evident rift in the Catholic Church between “Traditionalists” and, I suppose one could say, “Progressives” since Vatican II and the interpretation of its various promulgations and documents, we are seeing the rift becoming even more visible and more divisive. It has been interesting to note the newspapers choice of labeling two sides of the Church as “Observant Catholics” and those who are “nominally Catholic.” The “nominal Catholics” are described as those who do not always “follow the Church hierarchy on issues such as abortion, contraception or [interestingly put] political preferences.” They are also characterized as those who “don’t practice the faith” and “not regular church-goers not tied in with Catholic life in any meaningful way. Many of these people know nothing about what the bishops are saying about political matters because they’re not in church to hear them,” according to a J. Matthew Wilson, a political science professor who has studied the Catholic vote.

All this leads me to ask: What constitutes being Catholic? Is it a matter of what religion one is born and baptized into? Or is it something deeper? Could it be defined as someone who follows the teachings of the Church? Can one truly call themselves Catholic if they disagree with the teachings of the Church? Are they truly Catholic if they do not attend Mass/Divine Liturgy on Sunday, or just show up on Christmas or Easter? I cannot imagine any other denomination or religion considering someone to be a member if they do not do any of the above. And yet the media and the people themselves “non-practicing Catholics,” as if Catholicism is totally unrelated to the life of the Church. I have seen such a term before, in referring to a person as “an observant Jew,” and I have known Jews who did not believe, but this is a different category, since being Jewish is normally associated with persons of a particular ethnicity. “Catholicism” is not an ethnicity; it is not something of flesh and blood, of culture or background, or regional origin.

I believe that being Catholic is the latter and not the former. As I stated above, I cannot imagine the Baptist Church recognizing someone as Baptist if that person did not follow what is taught in a Baptist Church. I could not imagine Islam recognizing someone as Moslem if they did not follow the teachings of Islam. One is not Catholic simply because they were baptized in a Catholic parish and yet did not follow the teachings of the Church. Hallmarks of a Catholic include the understanding that the Pope, the bishops, and their duly appointed priests, are part of a hierarchy that extends back to the Apostles, and that their role is the same as that of the Apostles, to teach and lead the faithful in living out their lives in the Church; that being Catholic (and indeed, being a Christian of any denomination) is not belonging to an institution but rather being committed to a particular way of life. All the same, one cannot even be considered a member of any organization if they do not believe in or follow the rules and regulations of the organization. The very foundation of being considered a member resides in the fact that a person adheres to all the institution or organization stands for and was created for. As a result, how can one consider himself to be Catholic if they disagree with the teachings of the Church? The Church’s center is the teachings of the Church. It is an oxymoron to use the term “dissenting Catholic.”

It is interesting to note that those who dissent against the teachings of the Church are those who have been described as “non-practicing” and as those who “don’t practice the faith,” whereas those who are described as “traditionalist” or “conservative” are those who understand the Faith and adhere to the teachings of the Church: it is the ones who don’t know anything about the Church who are trying to delineate what is proper Catholic teaching, and those who have studied and really practiced the Faith who are most faithful to the Church and her teachings.

It is also interesting to note a similar division taking place in the American Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, where there is a “conservative” and a “liberal” side to the controversy. And although the Episcopal Church has indeed split into various jurisdictions, it is difficult to see a similar situation taking place in the Catholic Church since, when all is said and done, there is a central authority and hierarchy which also defines the Church. In the popular parlance, a hallmark of being Catholic is union with the Roman Pontiff. With the centrality of the hierarchy, there is also a centrality of the Magisterium, the teaching arm of the Church, to maintain a uniformity of teaching, of doctrine, of “right belief.” A parish or diocese cannot get its own way and still be considered part of the whole.

As a result of all that has been said, we come back to the beginning: to define a Catholic by saying that the person’s ancestors belonged to the church, or because a person was baptized in a Catholic Church is to misunderstand what the Church is and what her people are. Properly understood, the Church is more than an institution, it is a way of life, every waking moment of every day. It is not something we do but something we are. Catholicism is no different from any other denomination, in that you are identified with it because you believe what the Church believes and you honor the structures that define the Church. You cannot belong to something if you do not believe in its mission statement, its bylaws, or in those who preside in an official capacity. Being Catholic, partaking in the life of the Church and receiving her sacraments is not a right but a privilege; it is part of the life of the Church.

So, basic questions have to be answered by any and all who call themselves “Catholic”: do I believe what the Church teaches to be true or do I reject it? How do I reflect in my life that I am Catholic: is it in my participation in the life of the Church and in how I live my life once I leave the church grounds? And if you cannot answer these in the affirmative, then you can call yourself a “lapsed Catholic,” but no other label, “dissident” or “non-practicing” will work, because the words are meaningless.

Whither the Catholic Church? I cannot answer that question, but I do wonder. Does she somehow split up into warring “jurisdictions” as the Anglicans have?  Will factions such as the Lefevrites continue to blossom? I believe things are coming to a head with the past controveries over “pro-choice” Catholic politicians being refused at the communion rail and now with this invitation to the president. Will more people leave the Catholic Church as some believe? And if these dissidents do leave, is it detremental to the life of the Church or does it mean that “the remnant” will be those who are true to the teachings?

Posted in Church | Tagged: , , , | 6 Comments »

Homily for the Resurrection Feast

Posted by Fr. Ron on April 12, 2009

Last night, a large group of us came together to celebrate the ultimate miracle: the rising of Jesus Christ from the dead. Two times, I celebrated our Liturgy, called Resurrection Matins, in which we try to re-create the events, from the disciples’ point of view, of the discovery that our Lord, Whom we saw arrested, tried, beaten, mocked, nailed to a cross, and die – the discovery that, on the first day of the week, Sunday, His tomb was empty, that He had risen from the dead. We celebrated the Paschal Divine Liturgy [here] at St. John’s. Because of our liturgical tradition, I was given only 10 minutes to try to impress upon those assembled what we witnessed, what we affirmed, what we say we believe happened so many centuries ago. Children had fallen asleep on parents’ shoulders. Many were feeling weary – after all, it had been 1-1/2 hours from the beginning of the Matins until I began to speak. It was at the end of a long day, as people prepared their basket of Easter foods to be blessed that night. I had been celebrating, at that point, from 4:30 in the afternoon until that point, around 9:00 PM. Some of the people who were there, I had not seen before, or not for a very long time. I felt the gravity of the situation, and I tried to use those ten minutes to impress upon the people the significance of what we were celebrating, of Who Jesus was and is, what He accomplished by His scourging, His being nailed to that cross, to die such a horrific death. I tried to talk about how what He did restored us who believe to that state that Adam and Eve enjoyed before they succumbed to the temptation of the devil and partook of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. How we once again were able to have a real relationship with God, how to live the way He created us to live. I tried to impress upon them that these bodies which we have, full of disease, infirmity and corruption that leads to our death, was not what God intended; that He intended us for eternal life, not death. I am afraid I did not do such a good job. It is difficult, especially in this day and age, so far removed from the events that took place 2000 years ago, to teach the fullness of the Faith in such a manner that the full import sinks into one’s heart, into their mind, and permeates every fiber of their being, and changes their life forever. You cannot do that in 10 minutes, especially at the end of a long day. I do not realistically expect to be able to do it today, right now. But I want to give you some things to really think about as we gather together to celebrate this Feast today.resurect

Do we really believe what we say we believe? Do we believe that Jesus was born, fully human and fully God, born of the virgin Mary? Do we believe that, as the second Person of the Trinity, that He came in the flesh to re-establish our relationship with Him? Do we believe that to accomplish this, He had to teach us what that relationship is, and then to fulfill in His flesh the fullness of what Adam and Eve brought about in mankind when they disobeyed Him, to fulfill that by suffering all that He suffered, paying the price for that sin, by dying on the cross? Do we believe that, in doing so, that He destroyed Death and the power that the devil had over us? Do we believe that He conquered Death by rising physically from the dead? Do we truly believe that Jesus is alive again, and that, as His disciples, we are to live our lives, not for ourselves in our self-seeking and selfishness, but to live our lives in the way He intended? Do we believe that, although this corruptible body will one day die and be buried, that when He comes again, at the end of this age, we will rise from the dead, our bodies transformed as was His body? And do we believe that we will have to answer for how we lived our lives, just as He taught us in the story of the Great Judgment of the Sheep and the Goats? And do we believe that, based on if we lived our lives for Him or for ourselves, we will spend eternity with Him or eternity separated from Him in Hell?

If we believe all this, then what are we going to do about it? And if we do not believe, what do we do with the information we have been given? I cannot answer any or all of this for you; but you can be sure that you have to make a response to what has been presented to us. If all this is true, then it means that we have to order our lives to live in accordance to all this. We have to raise our children in a manner to where they have the information they need and can make the proper choices for themselves. This is not a game. It is not something that we can put on and take off like a piece of clothing, wearing or not wearing as suits the situation. Either we are committed to this path or we are not. Either we are disciples of Christ or we are people who come to church because that is what you are supposed to do on Sundays, on Christmas and Easter, and nothing more. But I caution you, if Easter is nothing more than blessing baskets of food, Easter bunnies and chocolate, if this is nothing more than a yearly obligation, then there is a consequence, a real consequence. It is real whether you believe it or not. It is real whether your TV set or your favorite actor or singer says it is or not.

If all this is true in your life, then let us continue to walk together with our Lord, surrendering our will and our life to Him at every waking moment, and commend our lives to Him as we sleep. And if only some of this, or none of this, is true, you now have a chance to decide whether or not to believe and to offer your life to Him, to follow Him, to truly be His disciple.

May God, in His grace and His love for mankind, have mercy on us, teach us how to live our lives the way He intends. May we come to know Him more deeply, to follow in His footsteps more closely. And may we proclaim to the world, without shame, without thought of any consequence, that God came in the flesh to save us from sin and death, that He died in the flesh to draw us to Him, that He rose from the dead to give us eternal life. May we proclaim to the world, this day and every day of our lives, in what we do as well as what we say, that Christ indeed is risen from the dead, by death trampling Death, and granting life to all those in the tombs.

Posted in homily, Pascha | 1 Comment »

Holy And Great Friday

Posted by Fr. Ron on April 10, 2009

O how could the lawless council condemn to death the King of Creation, without being ashamed at the thought of His good works which He recounted to them, saying: “O My people, what have I done to you? Have I not filled Judea with miracles? Have I not raised the dead with a word? Have I not cured infirmities and suferings? So now, what do you give Me in return? Why have you not remembered Me? For the healing, you have wounded Me; for life, you gave Me death; you hang Me, your Benefactor, on a tree like a criminal. You treat Me, the Lawgiver, as a lawbreaker. You condemn the Kind of all.” O long-suffering Lord, glory be to You!

An awesome and glorious mystery occurs today: the One Who cannot be contained is now restrained. He, Who freed Adam from the curse, is bound. The Searcher of hearts and souls is questioned unjustly. He, Who confined the deep, is not confined to prison. In front of Pilate now stands the One before Whom the heavenly powers tremble. The Creator is struck by the hand of a creature. The Judge of the living and the dead is condemned to the Cross. He, Who graciously suffered all things, and saved all mankind from the curse, glory be to You!crucifxn

Posted in General, Holy Week, Lent | Leave a Comment »

The Crow: Steve Martin

Posted by Fr. Ron on February 9, 2009

the-crow     Last week, on one of the late-nights, Steve Martin was one of the guests and besides plugging his new movie, he and a group of talented artists played a song from his new CD, “The Crow: New Songs for the Five-String Banjo.” As my long-time readers will remember, I chastized Steve Martin and Martin Mull for leaving their musical talents in their past. Although Martin Mull has yet to correct this oversight, Steve Martin has done a great job with the release of this brand-spanking-new CD!

    Before I go any further, father, one caveat: I am, by no stretch of the imagination, an aficionado of bluegrass music, or banjo music. But, I know what I like. I am fairly sure Steve Martin’s music on the second side of his “The Steve Martin Brothers” LP made me think twice about my disdain for such music, and for that I am grateful to him, because I have been trying since then to make up for all those years of neglecting what is a great form of American folk music. I latched on to early Nickel Creek, The Dirt Band, and Tony Trischka as a result. At one point, in the mid ’70s, I even contemplated “picking up” the banjo, but never followed through. Much more’s the pity….

    Anyway, on to my impressions of “The Crow.” First of all, the people who back up Steve in this project are first rate, from the sound of the CD. I don’t recognize a lot of names, but here are some I do recognize: Vince Gill (Vocals),  John McEuen (Guitar, banjo, bowed guitars, bass, mandolin, and more!), Dolly Parton (vocals), Earl Scruggs (Banjo) and Tony Trischka (Banjo). Other instruments represented here are percussion, wind instruments, Accordion, piano, dobro, fiddle, bodhran, tabla, Uillean pipes, drone, tin whistle, and harmonica. As you can imagine, this goes beyond simple bluegrass pickin’. (I love the fact that I can make a smart playlist of both albums in iTunes, and then listen to them together while I write this.)

    Most all the tracks were written by Martin, one medley of traditional tunes, a tune co-written with Gary Scruggs, one with Pete Wernick. Some of the tracks I recognize from The Steve Martin Brothers project, tunes such as “Pitkin County Turnaround”, “Hoedown at Alice’s”, “Freddie’s Lilt”, “Saga of the Old West”, and “Banana Banjo.” These are all re-recorded for this CD, and it is still difficult for me to tell you which version of each song I would prefer over the other. Both albums were produced by John McEuen, so the production on both are exceptional. I would love to go into an in-depth comparision of this group of tunes, but I’m not that good as a reviewer. “Freddie’s Lilt” has a different arrangement, but that just makes it more fun to listen to. For the most part, it seems that the “re-makes” are longer, which gives Steve and the musicians a lot more room to play with, to develop the tunes, etc.

     Of the new new songs, I am still having trouble deciding which one I like best so far. Steve Martin co-wrote “Daddy Played the Banjo” with Gary Scruggs, and the vocals were done by Tim O’Brien is a nice, sentimental song; very pretty. “Late For School” is just a silly, throw-away song written and sung by Steve; fun to listen to, a real toe-tapper! “Tin Roof” has a good chord progression going through it, which I enjoyed very much, and a very nice melody. “Words Unspoken” is just that: Steve explains that he and Pete Wernick were experimenting with lyrics, but nothing came together before the release of the CD. It has a nice melody, so I hope we get to hear the as-of-this-point-unsung words one day!

     “Pretty Flowers” is a nice, traditional-sounding bluegrass song (remember, I am not an expert on bluegrass), with vocals by Vince Gill and Dolly Parton. Even though they are only related in my mind, I was reminded of James Taylor’s duet with Linda Ronstadt on “One Morning in May” on his “One Man Dog” album from 1972. “Wally on the Run” is another fun toe-tapper, with Tony Trischka playing along. “Clawhammer Medley” is a medley of traditional songs, linked together very well. It makes me want to run out and buy a banjo and find a good ol’ bluegrass artist to teach me, no matter what the cost!

     “Calico Train” is quite the interesting song, with the Irish singer Mary Black on vocals, a droning beginning which captured my attention immediately. It has a decidedly Irish flavor to it (Steve Martin’s words, not mine) and it works very well. I wish I could discern all the different instruments featured in the song, but it is beyond my ears’ abilities!

     “Blue River Waltz” makes me picture couples waltzing in a barn, having the time of their lives.

     “The Crow” is the final tune on the CD, and makes a fitting end to a wonderful listening experience, giving all the artists, seemingly, their own chance to shine.

     And there you have it. I hope someone professional does a real review on this album, because it deserves it. I am sure there are many out there who will not be into banjo, bluegrass, folk or even Steve Martin enough to go out and purchase this. I hope that you would give it a chance, even just to broaden your musical horizons. My own thanks to Steve for putting this group of artists together, writing some really great tunes, and putting it all on disc for us to hear. I’m glad I got to see him perform (was it Leno? Letterman?) at least one song “live” because I am sure I couldn’t go to a venue and see them do this on stage. If it does happen, I’ll be there!

Posted in General, Music | 2 Comments »

O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.

Posted by Fr. Ron on February 1, 2009

 

publicanphariseeHumility

Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee

Luke 18:10-14

 

Today we find ourselves in the second Pre-Lenten Sunday, in which we hear the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee. Each of the Pre-Lenten Sundays has a theme concerning our preparation for the Great Fast; last Sunday, we heard the story of Zacchaeus, the theme of which is Desire: to be a disciple of Christ, we have to have the desire to see Him, the desire for something more than what we now have. This week, with this parable, we have the theme of humility.

In today’s parable, we hear the Pharisee’s “prayer” in the temple. It hard to call it a prayer because all he is doing is bragging to God about all the good things he does, like fasting and tithing. But it is all for nought, since his “thanks” to God is that he is thankful that he is not like everyone else, especially this publican, this tax collector. All he has to show for his religion are all these externals of carrying out the Law. But even these externals do nothing for him, and he might as well be a pagan, for his works do not justify him in the eyes of God. Then we see the tax-collector, who dares not even raise his eyes to heaven, but bows his head, beats his breast and prays only, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” No self-justification, no defense of his actions. He sees himself as God sees him, and all he dares ask of God is for His mercy.

Fallen humanity seems to recoil from the idea of being humble or, worse yet, from being humiliated. Nothing causes more resentment in a person than to be humiliated. Very few times would a person say that, when they are humbled, that they saw God’s hand in it. And yet, humility seems to be one of the basics for being a follower of Christ. It was pride that caused, in Eve, the temptation of the serpent to take root and led to her sin. We can look at the lives of many of the great saints of the Church. Peter, all through the Gospels, is one of the proudest of the apostles, and is humiliated publicly time and time again. When Jesus asks His disciples who they think He is, it is Peter who proclaims Him as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Later in the same chapter of Matthew (cf. Matt. 16:13-17, then vv. 21-23), Jesus is telling the disciples all that He must suffer; Peter calls Him aside and rebukes Him, and Jesus says to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan!” In the story of Jesus walking on the water, Peter calls out to Him, (cf. Matt. 14:22-33) “… if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” He proceeds to do so until he takes his eyes off Jesus, at which point he begins to go under, and he cries out to Him: “Save me!” Jesus takes him by the hand and, together, they walk back to the boat. At the “Last Supper,” Jesus announces that one of those at table with Him will betray Him. Peter avers, “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble,” and again, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You.” We know, of course, that when he is later questioned in the courtyard, he denies his Lord not once but three times. “And he went out and wept bitterly” (cf. Matt. 26:33-35, and 26:69-75). Peter had to be humbled greatly before he could be a true follower of Christ.

Again, we see the holy Apostle Thomas, who on the way to Jerusalem, cries out “Let us also go that we may die with Him” (Jn. 11:16) who, after the Resurrection, says that he will not believe that Jesus is risen unless he sees in His hands the print of the nails, and puts his fingers therein, and places his hand in His side. Eight days later, when Jesus again appears, we notice that Thomas doesn’t go through with his test, but instead says “My Lord and my God!” (Jn. 20:24-28). Thomas had to be humbled before he could be a true follower of Christ.

Saul, later Paul, who persecuted the Church and presided over the stoning of the arch-deacon and first martyr Stephen, was on his way to Damascus to arrest the Christians there when he was struck with blindness, had a vision of Jesus, and was humbled when his blindness was healed in Damascus by Ananias, one of those he was sent to arrest. Still, he struggled with pride the rest of his life, and was given a “thorn in the side,” which he asked the Lord to remove from him, and to which Jesus answered him, “My grace is sufficient for you…” (2 Cor. 12:7-10).

If these great saints were not immune to the need for humility, why should we escape this same need for humiliation? And if we refuse to accept this humiliation, there is no way we can expect to become a true follower, a true Christian. We must have all the tendrils of pride and arrogance rooted out of our hearts before we can do all that we are called to do or, like the Pharisee, all our works will be tainted by our pride. We must give Him our heart of stone, ask Him to crush it, to give us a broken and humbled heart (Ps. 50 [51]:19) so that we may truly love Him.

I have been reading a series of Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s sermons on the Theotokos, and how she is to be our model on how to be totally abandoned to God. She is called the second Eve in that, whereas Eve rejected God’s word, said “no”to God, Mary, when confronted with the words of the holy Archangel Gabriel that she would conceive the Son of God by the Holy Spirit – instead of cowering at the thought of the possible shame, the possibility of Joseph having her stoned at worst, “put away privately” at best, she instead simply says to the Archangel and to God, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (Lk. 1:38). She represents, according to Fr. Schmemann, the fullness of what the Church is to be: one who gives Herself fully, totally and without reservation, in all humility, to the Lord.

This is our call, to humble ourselves, to put our own desires, our own will, aside – to humble ourselves before our God, and to allow His will to be done in us and through us, for His glory, and for the furtherance of His kingdom on earth. So let us not find within ourselves the pride and arrogance of the Pharisee, but instead let us plant the seeds of repentence and humility in our hearts, as did the Publican, this day and all the days of our lives. Amen.

[Transcribed from memory as best as possible from my homily in the parishes this past weekend. -Fr. Ron]

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Closer to home

Posted by Fr. Ron on January 12, 2009

This afternoon, my surgeon took off the gigantic dressing and pronounced all was good. I wasn’t exactly mesmerized by seeing the staples, but the pronouncement was good to hear. I actually had sliced turkey breast, mashed potatoes and sliced carrots for dinner, and if I tolerate this, I can probably go home on Wednesday.
I’m not looking forward to one aspect of my return, unfortunately: I know my pup is going to want me to pick him up and is going to want to sit on my lap or chest, and these things are right out for a time!
Carrying around the catheter and the collection bag is going to be a major drag, but what can I do? I just hope it does not portend another future procedure. I just want to be normal again and for a while…

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