Awaken!

A plaque with saints rising from the dead made in Limoges, France circa 1250. Photo by Marie Lan Nguyen

This is the latest in a series of essays on the topic of reconciliation. You can find links to the previous articles at the bottom of this page.

The year was 1971 and the new John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. was about to have its grand opening celebration. The late president’s widow, Jacqueline Kennedy, commissioned the famed composer Leonard Bernstein to create a new work that would be performed as part of the dedication festivities. Bernstein had already established himself as one of the greatest American musicians of all time, heading up the New York Philharmonic and writing the music for West Side Story and On the Waterfront. However, for this particular occasion, he chose to do something rather unconventional: he wanted to create a Catholic Mass.

Masses intended for performance were nothing new. Both Mozart and Verdi had reached the pinnacles of their careers by writing a Requiem Mass, though Mozart was famously unable to complete his before dying young. Those who went for a more general Mass, as opposed to one for the dead, included Puccini, Liszt, Schubert, Haydn, Stravinsky, Bach, Beethoven, Vaughan Williams, Schubert, Rossini, and Dvořák. The reason for this is obvious: the Mass was always meant to be sung, and it serves as the focal point of Catholic life. Even some Protestants have gotten in on the fun, including a few of the names on that list.

But why should Bernstein wish to compose a Mass? He was, it must be noted, not a Catholic. If anything, he seems to have been a rather secular Jew. He was also homosexual (despite not revealing that publicly and being married for many years) and held some views that were not in complete harmony with Catholic teaching. Yet, the Kennedys were well-known for their Catholicism. Bernstein no doubt wanted to honor this aspect of his friends’ lives, and according to his daughter, Nina Bernstein, he “had always been intrigued and awed by the Roman Catholic Mass, finding it (in Latin) moving, mysterious, and eminently theatrical.”[1] Continue reading

Christ is All in All

Mosaic of Jesus Christ at the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, photographed by Edal Lefterov

This is the latest in a series of essays on the topic of reconciliation. You will find links to the other articles below.

As I noted in the previous essay, there are two major sources of discord between Christians. The first, doctrinal issues, we have already addressed and noted that in the case of a person who forsakes the gospel, there may be little we can do but to stand firm upon the Word of God, in all humility and with hearts full of love and compassion. The second major source of discord is what I will call political/personality issues, and here there may be more we can do. Yet, that does not imply that there is anything easy about it, for here we find not the nice black and white of some doctrinal debates, but the infinite grays of human emotion.

By “political” issues, I do not mean debates about secular politics, but rather the politics that exist within the Church. Essentially, this is all about who has the power, who is in charge, or who gets their own way. Personality issues are closely linked, and can usually be boiled down to phrases like, “I don’t like so and so because…”, “It really annoys me when they…”, “I just hate it when they do…”, “Why can they not see how selfish, ridiculous, etc…”, or “They really get on my nerves!”

Now, I have never conducted a scientific study on this topic, but from my own personal experience and the numerous anecdotes I have heard from others, I would have to say that it is political/personality issues and not doctrinal issues that cause more discord within the Church. In fact, many of the apparent doctrinal issues begin as political/personality issues or have such things at their heart. Therefore, it will not do to focus on doctrine alone. We must get down to the root of our malaise: the ugliness of our hearts. Continue reading

Truth with a Capital ‘T’

Saint Peter's Basilica in Vatican City (author photo)

Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City (author photo)

This is the latest in a series of essays on the topic of reconciliation. You will find links to the other articles at the bottom of this page.

When I finally had the chance to visit Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, the largest and arguably most important church in the world, there were three things in particular that I wanted to do: 1) I wanted to gaze in wonder at Michelangelo’s Pietà. 2) I wanted to stand on the same red porphyry tile on which my distant ancestor Charlemagne was crowned as Holy Roman Emperor. 3) I wanted to pray for the reconciliation of the Church.

The basilica did not disappoint. We got there early enough in the morning that it was not yet packed with tourists, so the place was quite peaceful. I was unfortunately not able to get close to the Pietà as the chapel was blocked off, but I did see it from a distance. I confused my husband thoroughly by making him take my picture standing on the porphyry. I tried to explain in whispered tones the significance of this rare holdover from the Old Saint Peter’s Basilica, but in the end I suppose it was just a reddish piece of stone.

We had made our way through much of the sanctuary (no small task, especially when you are stopping constantly to take pictures) and were about to head down to the grottoes when I chose my moment to pray. I had many altars to pick from, but all featured relics or icons of some saint or another to which Catholic pilgrims were praying, and I would have felt somewhat of a fraud kneeling there. Therefore, I picked an obliging spot near the Altar of the Transfiguration – roughly halfway between the bones of Saint Peter and Saint Gregory – and squatted down to say my prayer. Continue reading

The Electoral College Needs to Go (But it’s not Going Anywhere)

This map showing the proportion of the vote that the candidates received in each state was created by Wikipedia user Ali Zifan. Results are for the 2016 presidential election.

This map showing the proportion of the vote that the candidates received in each state was created by Wikipedia user Ali Zifan. Results are for the 2016 presidential election.

The Electoral College needs to go. That I feel very strongly and have for some time.

You may find it interesting that I am posting this article now, after we have just had Donald Trump elected to the presidency not with a majority of the votes nationwide, but according to this somewhat antiquated system that is nonetheless enshrined in our Constitution. You may be thinking that my complaint is due to my personal dislike for Trump rather than any deep seated principle. Well, it’s true that I am not a Trump fan, but I have held this opinion for some time – basically since I found out what the Electoral College was. Here are the reasons why. Continue reading

A New (Old) Commandment

Depiction of Christ washing Peter's feet at the Last Supper by Giotto di Bondone, circa 1304-1306. Photo by Jose Luiz.

Depiction of Christ washing Peter’s feet at the Last Supper by Giotto di Bondone, circa 1304-1306. Photo by Jose Luiz.

This is the ninth in a series of article on the topic of reconciliation. You will find links to the previous articles at the bottom of this page.

I sincerely hope by this point that the biblical imperative regarding reconciliation has been well established and that it has been made clear just how vital of an issue this is: the most vital, really, for within the concept of reconciliation all the things that pertain to salvation are encompassed along with our purpose on this earth. We have also taken a look at the underlying heart attitudes that can make or break reconciliation. The conversation has for the most part centered on relationships between two individuals, or between the individual and God. By focusing on big concepts rather than specific circumstances, it is possible that I have even made it this far without seriously offending you. Well, as they say, all good things must come to an end.

It is necessary that we move beyond this limited scope and begin to examine reconciliation on a corporate level. Here it is worth noting that every Christian has relationships with two kinds of people: those who are Christians and those who are not. Reconciliation is needed in both areas, but I am going to begin by examining reconciliation among Christians themselves, for if we cannot get our own house in order, we have little hope outside the walls, so to speak. Continue reading

The Best and Worst Christmas Songs

The scene at Clifton Mill last week, all aglow for Christmas.

The scene at Clifton Mill last week, all aglow for Christmas.

It’s that time of year when you listen to so much Christmas music that by December 26th you’ll be begging for it to stop, wondering how you ever became so foolish. Then when Thanksgiving rolls around next year, you’ll be begging to break out those tunes again. It must be stated that there are some Christmas songs infinitely better than others, and all manner of authorities have attempted to rank both the best and worst in the hope of creating click bait that will boost their sites. I, however, would never stoop to such a level – would I?

Well, what the heck, it’s Christmas! You’ll forgive me for posting just one holiday related article. Therefore, I have ranked for you my five most favorite and least favorite Christmas songs (in no particular order) and will explain the rationale behind my decisions. The general criteria include tune, lyrical content, and a certain emotional factor (i.e. warm fuzzies vs. extreme annoyance). Here goes nothing… Continue reading

True Love

Flickr photo by Sam Caplat

Flickr photo by Sam Caplat

This is the eighth in a series of essays on the topic of reconciliation. You will find links to the other articles at the bottom of this page.

Here’s a situation we have all found ourselves in at some point: an acquaintance says or does something with which you disagree. I don’t mean they say that Starbucks coffee is great and you think it’s overpriced, over-roasted sludge. I mean something important – something that gets your moral compass spinning. You like this person, or at the very least, you want them to like you. Instinctively, you know that telling them that you disagree will cause tension in the relationship. So do you inform them of your disagreement, do you say nothing and hope the subject will go away, or do you agree with them in order to make them happy?

Variations on this situation are playing out every day. The most popular response is probably to avoid responding to a person who disagrees with you. If they don’t force you to come out and make a decisive statement, why cause an unnecessary fight? If the issue isn’t that big of a deal, why make a mountain out of a mole hill? Continue reading