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The Face of Evil in C.S. Lewis’ “Perelandra”

Posted by Fr. Ron on February 26, 2015

“As he was looking down at this [Ransom] suddenly noticed something else.  At first he thought it was a creature of more fantastic shape than he had yet seen on Perelandra.  Its shape was not only fantastic but hideous.  Then he dropped on one knee to examine it.  Finally he touched it, with reluctance.  A moment later he drew back his hands like a man who had touched a snake.

“It was a damaged animal.  It was, or had been, one of the brightly colored frogs.  But some accident had happened to it.  The whole back had been ripped open in a sort of V-shaped gash, the point of the V being a little behind the head.  Some thing had torn a widening wound backward—as we do in opening an envelope—along the trunk and pulled it out so far behind the animal that the hoppers or hind legs had been almost torn off with it.  They were so damaged that the frog could not leap.  On earth it would have been merely a nasty sight, but up to this moment Ransom had as yet seen nothing dead or spoiled in Perelandra, and it was like a blow in the face.  It was like the first spasm of well-remembered pain warning a man who had thought he was cured that his family have deceived him and he is dying after all.  It was like the first lie from the mouth of a friend on whose truth one was willing to stake a thousand pounds.  It was irrevocable.  The milk-warm wind blowing over the golden sea, the blues and silvers and greens of the floating garden, the sky itself—all these had become, in one instant, merely the illuminated margin of a book whose text was the struggling little horror at his feet, and he himself, in that same instant, had passed into a state of emotion which he could neither control nor understand.  He told himself that a creature of that kind probably had very little sensation.  But it did not much mend matters.  It was not merely pity for pain that had suddenly changed the rhythm of his heartbeats.  The thing was an intolerable obscenity which afflicted him with shame.  It would have been better, or so he thought at that moment, for the whole universe never to have existed than for this one thing to have happened.  Then he decided, in spite of his theoretical belief that it was an organism too low for much pain, that it had better be killed.  He had neither boots nor stone nor stick.  The frog proved remarkably hard to kill.  When it was far too late to desist he saw clearly that he had been a fool to make the attempt.  Whatever its sufferings might be he had certainly increased and not diminished them.  But he had to go through with it.  The job seemed to take nearly an hour.  And when at last the mangled result was quite still and he went down to the water’s edge to wash, he was sick and shaken.  It seems odd to say this of a man who had been on the Somme, but the architects tell us that nothing is great or small save by position.

“At last he got up and resumed his walk.  Next moment he started and looked at the ground again.  He quickened his pace, and then once more stopped and looked.  He stood stock-still and covered his face.  He called aloud upon heaven to break the nightmare or to let him understand what was happening.  A trail of mutilated frogs lay along the edge of the island.  Picking his footsteps with care, he followed it.  He counted ten, fifteen, twenty: and the twenty-first brought him to a place where the wood came down to the water’s edge.  He went into the wood and came out on the other side.  There he stopped dead and stared.  Weston, still clothed but without his pith helmet, was standing about thirty feet away: and as Ransom watched he was tearing a frog—quietly and almost surgically inserting his forefinger, with its long sharp nail, under the skin behind the creature’s head and ripping it open.  Ransom had not noticed before that Weston had such remarkable nails.  Then he finished the operation, threw the bleeding ruin away, and looked up.  Their eyes met.

“If Ransom said nothing, it was because he could not speak.  He saw a man who was certainly not ill, to judge from his easy stance and the powerful use he had just been making of his fingers.  He saw a man who was certainly Weston, to judge from his height and build and coloring and features.  In that sense he was quite recognizable.  But the terror was that he was also unrecognizable.  He did not look like a sick man: but he looked very like a dead one.  The face which he raised from torturing the frog had that terrible power which the face of a corpse sometimes has of simply rebuffing every conceivable human attitude one can adopt towards it.  The expressionless mouth, the unwinking stare of the eyes, something heavy and inorganic in the very folds of the cheek, said clearly: ‘I have features as you have, but there is nothing in common between you and me.’  It was this that kept Ransom speechless.  What could you say—what appeal or threat could have any meaning—to that?  And now, forcing its way up into consciousness, thrusting aside every mental habit and every longing not to believe, came the conviction that this, in fact, was not a man: that Weston’s body was kept, walking and undecaying, in Perelandra by some wholly different kind of life, and that Weston himself was gone.”

Excerpt From: C. S. Lewis.  “Perelandra.” HarperCollins Publishers, 1943.  iBooks.

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Check out this book on the iBooks Store: Perelandra

This passage has passed through my mind quite a bit as I contemplate the world in which I live.  We have seen evil in many forms, either indirectly or (God forbid) directly, whether in our study of 20th Century history or in reading the news media.  Whether it is one person’s torture of another, or the genocide of Nazi Germany, militarist Japan, Stalinist Russia, or down to ISIS today, we pretty much know what is evil when we see it.  My thought is that there is an evil that creeps into a man or a society or a culture, or what have you, that is born of hatred, anger, etc.  But then there is an evil like the one Lewis describes above — cold, calculating, almost passionless. Whereas there are evil deeds that are done by certain people, there is also evil deeds that we end up describing as “diabolical,” or that the person or people are possessed.  I can almost “wrap my head around” evil deeds born of passion, but what fills me more with dread is passionless evil, calculated evil, cold evil.

Of course, there are those who do not ascribe evil to a spiritual cause — a devil, if you will.  There are even Christians and others who avoid the thought of some sort of “other being” that is able to exert its will or influence us.  Be that as it may, I do believe that there is a being that has set itself in opposition to God, and whose purpose is the destruction of Creation and especially the destruction of the pinnacle of God’s creation, Mankind.  And this theme, I believe, runs all through Lewis’ “Perelandra” or “Space” trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength). It is also a central part of Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

My thoughts are incomplete here.  I am just offering my thoughts to whoever happens upon this post, for further pondering.  But this evil is certainly present in our world today, if not in possession, then at least in influence.  People may disagree with me on how I think it is manifest today, but any thinking person would still admit that there is a force of evil in our world today, and has been in ages past, which the rational mind cannot comprehend.  But if we ignore what is happening around us, we do so at our peril.



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Great and Holy Friday — 2014

Posted by Fr. Ron on April 17, 2014

At the Passover meal in observant Jewish homes, it is the tradition for the youngest child in the house to ask, “How is this night different from all other nights?”  The family then tells the story of how God brought the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt.  In the twelfth chapter of the Book of Exodus, on the eve of the plague of the death of the first-born, Moses tells the Israelites: “Thus shall it be, when your children say to you, ‘What does this service mean?’ that you shall say, ‘This is the Paschal sacrifice of the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Children of Israel in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians and delivered our households.’”

So, too, we can ask the same question: “How is this day different from all the other days?”  And our answer will be, “This is the Paschal sacrifice of the Lord, when He freed us from bondage to sin and death.”  This is our Passover, our Pascha.  This is why, in most languages around the world, the name for Easter is some form of the word “Pascha.”  And, this year is even more different than most other Good Fridays, in that all over the world, all Christians, whether they are Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant, are commemorating the death of Christ on the Cross on this day.  I was thinking about this just yesterday: with our global awareness, every New Year’s Eve we get to follow the New Year being celebrated around the world, starting around New Zealand, and making its way westward.  On that night, for twenty-four hours, somewhere, someone is ringing in the new year.  And it is true for this Good Friday.  At any given time during this day, people of different cultures, of different Christian traditions, are doing something special today.  Some people are carrying crosses, statues, or something special in procession.  In the Eastern Christian world, the burial shroud is being carried by thousands priests, followed by countless thousands of parishioners, carrying candles, kneeling their way up to the shroud, bowing before Christ, kissing His wounds.  I think it is beautiful to realize that what we are doing here tonight, in this little town in New Jersey, is part of that bigger procession, encompassing the whole world.

It is a day of profound holiness.  In the words of the sticheron we sang earlier, “An awesome and glorious mystery occurs today: the God 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 now 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 conquered Hell, is sealed in a tomb.  O innocent Lord, Who graciously suffered all things and saved all Mankind from the curse, glory be to You.”  There is no way I can come up with anything more profound to tell you today: you see the shroud before you; you sang these bitter-sweet hymns to Him Who saved us all.  But one thing I wish to remind you of: at the end of our proskomedia, the preparation of the gifts for Holy Communion, the priest prays this prayer: “When Your body was in the tomb, and Your soul in Hades, when You were in paradise with the thief, You were at the same time, O Christ, as God upon Your throne with the Father and the Spirit, infinite and filling all things.”  It is difficult for our mind to grasp these words, but wonderful to ponder all the same.  In the words of St. John Chrysostom, in his Paschal Homily, he says:

“He that was taken by death has annihilated it!  He descended into Hades and took Hades captive!  He embittered it when it tasted His flesh!  And anticipating this, Isaiah exclaimed: ‘Hades was embittered when it encountered You in the lower regions’.  It was embittered, for it was abolished!  It was embittered, for it was mocked!  It was embittered, for it was purged!  It was embittered, for it was despoiled!  It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!  It took a body and came upon God!  It took earth and encountered Ηeaven!  It took what it saw, but crumbled before what it had not seen!”

What sublime words for us to ponder as we come before the tomb today and kiss the forehead, the hands, the side, and the feet of the Man Who is God.  And how much more sublime when next we gather and find this tomb empty.  This is our Passover.  He is our Paschal sacrifice.  The One now lying here in the tomb is our hope.  He is our life.  This night is unlike any other night, for the day of our salvation is at hand.

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Holy Thursday – 2009

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!

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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!

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