Monday, April 26, 2010

"Should I stay or should I go?"

I found the following article very helpful for offering an answer to Catholics who are wrestling with their faith in light of the continuing crisis in the Church.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


(This is one of those columns where I just have a little bit of fun writing about something that is not theological or pastoral. I started a column on one of those topics and realized I couldn’t finish it without more reading and research on the subject. I’ll leave it for another day. )

Americans eat approximately 100 acres of pizza each day, or about 350 slices per second. Pizza is a $30 plus billion per year industry. There are approximately 69,000 pizzerias in the United States. Approximately 3 billion pizzas are sold in the U.S. each year. 93% of Americans eat at least one pizza per month. According to a recent Gallop Poll, children between the ages of 3 and 11 prefer pizza over all other food groups for lunch and dinner. If only the Eucharist could be so popular.

This week I experienced a sure sign of spring in the great state of Maine. Bill’s Pizza in Old Orchard Beach opened for business after its winter hibernation. O rapture! O joy! Bill’s has been proudly serving pizza on Old Orchard Street right near the beach since 1949 (pretty much around the time my family bought our cottages) and has been a staple of our summer eating for years. While I know I may be prejudiced by youthful nostalgia, I nevertheless think that Bill’s makes the best thick-crust pizza anywhere. Now, some “pizza experts” might have an issue with my categorizing Bill’s pizza as thick-crust pizza. They would argue that you have to get to the thickness of say Pizzeria Uno deep-dish or a Sicilian sheet pizza before you can call something “thick-crust.” The pizza in this case must be about the crust before it is anything else. Anything else is “thin-crust” pizza with, for example, Regina Pizzeria leading the way (Did you ever try and eat a slice from Regina Pizzeria by picking it up? The tip of it flops down like the tongue of a dog on a hot day? Now that’s thin-crust!) I think they have an argument up to a certain point. The problem is that Bill’s pizza is just on the border of thick-crust and thin-crust. It’s too thick to be thin-crust but it’s not quite at the level of true thick-crust. For me, I’m just like the little bear in Goldilocks. I think “it’s just right.”

Bill’s does a ton of walk-up business. Even the other day when a cold breeze was blowing off the ocean and whipping up the street, people were lined up for a slice and either sitting in their cars or bundled up in sweaters and jackets on the sidewalk benches in front of Bill’s chowing down on pizza. The slices are these huge chunks that don’t quite fit on a normal size paper plate so there’s always at least one part of the pizza hanging over the plate. Of course, Bill’s also sells whole pizzas. Sometimes while we’re on the beach in the summer, someone (usually me) will say “let’s have pizza for lunch” and an order will be placed at Bill’s. During the day, pick-up is a two person job as summer parking on the strip at Old Orchard is at a premium. The car pulls up to the loading zone in front of Bill’s and the passenger jumps out and gets the pizzas at the window, hopefully before one of the summer rent-a-cops on their bikes tells the driver to “move along.” Then it’s back to the cottage and pizza and beer on the beach on a glorious summer day – the best!

What is it that makes Bill’s such great pizza? Well, it’s a combination of the crust, the sauce, and the cheese, of course. While you can buy extra toppings like pepperoni on your pizza, in this case it is unnecessary. Bill’s cheese pizza stands on its own. The crust is just leavened with enough yeast so that it’s airy without being spongy. One of their secrets is that the pizza is cooked in large pans, not directly on the oven floor. I think they oil the pans so there is a great fried crunchiness on the bottom.

The tomato sauce is perfect – not too sweet or over spiced and cooked long enough to lose any bitterness. They spread it out on each pizza so that the sauce, as well as the cheese, is less than a half an inch from the edge, leaving the smallest end crust possible. This is perfect and the way all pizzas should be made. (Any pizza that is made so as to leave you with big hunks of crust at the end is wrong, just plain wrong. How do I know this? Because little kids, as we saw earlier the statistically biggest and fussiest pizza eaters, always leave the crust! I rest my case.) I have never asked if Bill’s makes their own sauce because I would be devastated to learn it came out of a can. I just don’t want to or need to know. [note to self: you may really have to get a life if you are paying this much attention to pizza.]

Finally, there is the cheese. They obviously use a blend. One can taste the mozzarella and the parmesan but there is something else in there, again which I’ve never asked about. The cheese does stay together so that as it cools you sometimes have to hold it down as you bite so as to not pull it all off the slice at once but it doesn’t come off in those long annoying strings that get over your face and clothes. Whatever ingredients Bill’s uses, it all adds up to one great slice of pizza perfection.

What about pizza here in Westwood, MA? Well, as they say, “fools rush in where wise men fear to tread” and I’m not about to go there. Let’s just say, that the restaurants here in town all make a good slice, but, of course, not as good as Bill’s.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Concerning the Recent Allegations against Pope Benedict

John Allen writes for the National Catholic Reporter, serving as their Vatican correspondent among other things. He has written a couple of excellent articles on the recent allegations being made against the Church and Pope Benedict XVI. I offer the following links for your reading.

Monday, April 12, 2010

"We have to remember that the truth will set the Church free ..."

Excerpt from the homily of Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland at the Easter Vigil
3 April 2010 [source:]

“The resurrection of Jesus Christ has changed human history. It enters history... as an explosion of light, light which illuminates the darkness, light which allows us to see reality as it is, light which enables us to discern the good from what is evil. Darkness already begins to be dispelled even when only one single flicker of light appears. Even one single flicker of light can be the beginning of hope within any darkness.

We remember in our prayers this evening all those for whom darkness seems impossible to overcome, for whom darkness seems unbearable and without hope. We remember those for whom the darkness of their past still haunts them. We remember those whose torment and anxiety tears away at their will to live....

As a Christian community we are called to be light in the world. We are called to be with those for whom darkness is excruciating and who see no future, no hope. Woe to a Church which hides and destroys light in people’s hearts. Woe to a Church which prevents the light of Christ from appearing as it should.

Resurrection means that death has been definitively conquered. Jesus Christ entered into his passion and death freely out of love for us. His death was the ultimate expression of his giving of himself. Christ’s death lovingly opens the door which leads to resurrection and new life. It is love that transforms death definitively. That explosion of light which is the Resurrection tells us and reminds us even in the darkest days that there is always a future beyond darkness....

In our days there is so much scrutiny and examination of the Church. There are exposés of the failings of the Church; there is questioning of the role of the Church in society in the past and in whatever our future may be. The role of the Church is being examined under a microscope and from every possible direction. The spotlight of media and public opinion is focused on the failures and the betrayals of Church leaders and a damaging culture which has grown up in the Church.

I am not criticising the media for that. That is their job. In doing their job some will feel the media have been unfriendly to the Church, even unfair; others will welcome and recognise valid criticism, from whatever angle it comes, even if it comes from people patently unfavourable to the Church. We have to remember that the truth will set the Church free, even if the truth is hard to digest.

Identifying the failures of the Church may, however, be the easier task. There will be some who will hope that such exposure will mortally would an organization which they consider has gone irreparably astray. But what of those who love the Church? How do we overcome our disgust and shame for the sins of Christians?

The sins of the Church can well be exposed by the spotlight of the media; but the Church will be converted, renewed and reformed only when it allows the light of Christ to inspire it and guide it. It is the light of Christ which will show the real significance of the darkness that has slipped into our lives.

The light of Christ will expose the sins of Christians but the light of Christ does not abandon us naked and alone in the exposure of our shame and sin. The light of Christ heals, it leads; there is no way we can switch off or dim that part of the light that exposes the sad realities of the past; there is no way we should switch off or dim the light that can open the path to a new future. No generation is too sophisticated not to need the light of Christ; no generation is too sophisticated not to be able to comprehend that light and what it can bring to society....

The tomb signifies a place of death. The Resurrection brings new light. The spirit gathers us as children of the light, prepared with all our weaknesses to ensure that the message of Jesus Christ is not just transmitted abstractly to the next generation, but that the next generation will be a generation inspired by the light of Christ.

The message of the Resurrection comes to us at a moment of darkness. The message of the Resurrection comes to as a message of hope that the darkness will not prevail.

Christ is truly risen. Let us go out into life filled with joyful hope.”

Monday, April 5, 2010

Homily for Easter Sunday 2010

Like most of you, Easter has always been a big deal in my family. If you want proof of this, you need look no further than our family photo albums. Every year, there is an Easter picture and because it’s every year, you can see the great progression of our family from one Easter to another. When my parents first moved from the comforts of Somerville into the newly built ranch home in the wilderness of Woburn, there were few if any trees around. If the weather was good enough, the Easter picture might be taken outside in front of the house, my dad and my mom holding the two or three of their kids that happened to be around that year. Babies lead to toddlers, who morphed into four growing boys followed by three younger sisters, the progression and growth captured each year in a Kodak moment.

The background and setting for the picture changed as well over the years. As shrubs and trees were planted so all us kids might be posed in front of either the forsythia bush or the crab apple tree depending on which one happened to be in bloom at the time. If the weather was bad, the Easter picture would be taken in the living room in front of the fireplace with the portrait of the child Jesus in umber colors that every Catholic house seemed to have, prominently displayed above the mantle. I don’t know how my mother did it, but she always managed to get her four boys in jackets and ties and the girls as they were added to family in their matching wool jackets and hats. Still, if you look real close at the pictures, Mom always looked a bit tired while we were smiling away, probably still on our sugar high from all the Easter candy.

Now, the whole process of taking the Easter pictures was never an easy one. While at the end of the day there was always one picture that was the picture for that year, the photo albums are littered with the “also rans,” the pictures where someone has given someone else ‘rabbit ears’ or made a face or pinched the one in front or just plain did not want to cooperate. I kind of like those pictures the best. They capture the wildness and energy of kids being kids and a family being a family, no matter how much it aggravated Mom and Dad at the time.

After the pictures were completed and before we could ruin our Easter best, we were loaded into the station wagon and drove to church. It was pleasant to see that my siblings and I were not the only kids who were scrubbed and cleaned to an inch of our lives the night before. There were kids in church in jackets and ties whose you never saw so slick and clean, the boys with their fresh haircuts and the girls with every hair and curl absolutely in the right place, at least at the start of Mass. As today, the church was packed as we all stood and listened to the Easter gospel announcing that Jesus is risen from the dead and the tomb is empty. As we all filed out after Mass, we were able to catch a few moments conversation with the priests and friends before driving home for Easter dinner at our house or one of my aunts homes.

It was all about faith and family. With all of the things that surrounded Easter it couldn’t help but be a special day! No one dressed up for every Sunday but everyone sure did on Easter! No kid woke up on Sunday morning expecting there would be candy and chocolates and the disappointment of hollow Easter bunnies (that’s another story) but on Easter Sunday we did. It wasn’t every Sunday that we had a great feast of Lamb and ham and cheesy potatoes but we sure did on Easter Sunday. It wasn’t every Sunday that the church was packed and the choir boomed out and the building was so filled with joy you thought it was going to burst, but on Easter Sunday, it sure felt that way.

Today is Easter Sunday. It isn’t every Sunday that we hear the great story of Jesus’ resurrection but today we do. It isn’t every Sunday that this church is so packed that it’s standing room only , but today it is. It isn’t every Sunday that many of us make it to church but today we have and it’s great to see everyone. But it is every Sunday, in fact every day, that God knows us and loves us and calls us to himself through our faith in His Son and in his church. God doesn’t need a snapshot or a Kodak moment to recall the movements and progress of our lives, both as individuals and as families and neighbors. He knows them all. He cherishes each and every moment that we seek to serve him whatever the circumstances, whatever the setting. God has offered us the gift of eternal life that was accomplished when Jesus died on the cross for us and rose from the dead. It may not be everyday that we live that promise well, but perhaps, just today, in the light of the joy of the resurrection, we might say, “this is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad for Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. Let us live our lives in that joy.” Maybe we may just leave this place more committed to living the life of faith, bedecked in the Easter best of the Holy Spirit and the fire of faith. Quick, somebody take a picture!

Homily for the Easter Vigil 2010

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth … and God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. God saw how good the light was.” I wonder what it would have been like to stand at that moment in the Genesis story and observe the creation of light. Would it have been a momentary flash in which suddenly one was completely surrounded by light or would it have been something a lot more gradual, standing there in complete darkness above the abyss and the formless wasteland, and perhaps seeing that first indication of light way off in the distance and seeing it come closer and closer until finally, there it was, all around, filling the void with its energy? Either one works for me. In each case, God makes something out of nothing, light where before there was only darkness. As the story of creation continues to unfold, we see God creating the sky and the earth and stars and the moon. We see him creating all life: plants, animals, and finally man and woman, all created out of nothing. Where there was nothing, God creates something. Where there was emptiness, God brings fullness. Where there was darkness, God brings light. Where there was no existence, God’s own breath brings forth life.

Many centuries later when the created beauty of man and woman was broken by sin, when death and darkness had entered the world, God created anew with a light of Jesus Christ as we hear in The Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” When the Virgin Mary said to the angel Gabriel, “Let it be done to me as according to your word,” Christ, the new Adam was born through her womb. Where God and man had become estranged, we were now reconciled in the person of Jesus Christ, the “Light of the World.” Once again, God said, let there be light and so it was.

Yet, we also know that this light was destined to fall into the darkness of death. At yesterday’s Good Friday service, we listened to the story of that death and we venerated the Cross, the instrument of that death. Christ’s death on the cross was not a partial death or a pseudo death in which he was dead but not quite. He died as we die. His bodily existence ended as does ours. In his humanity, Christ suffered not only the pain of the Cross, but also the same fear and uncertainty that we experience when we face death. Can you imagine what it must have been like to die and then to somehow rise again. Was it like a blinding flash of existence when suddenly Jesus was completely aware once more that he was alive or was it something that happened gradually, like a light coming from distance as he became more and more conscious that he was alive once more. One can never know yet the result is the same. Where there was darkness, there was now light. Where there was death, there was now life. God created anew once again.

This evening, we gathered here in this church to recall that moment when Christ rose from the dead. Many of us gathered outside to witness the blessing of the Easter fire and the lighting of the Easter candle. Many remained inside in the darkened gloom of the church. Suddenly, the darkness was pierced by the light of the Easter candle and the silence broken with the cry of “Christ our light” and the response of “thanks be to God.” The light began its journey down the main aisle of the church while its essence spread as candle after candle was lit. Once again, we heard, “Christ our light” and sang out once more, “Thanks be to God.” Finally, with a third cry and response, the light of Christ was enthroned at the altar and the Easter Exutlet was sung, “Rejoice heavenly powers, sing choirs of angels, exult all creation around God’s throne! Jesus Christ our king is risen! Sound the trumpet of salvation!” The light of Christ is victorious over the darkness of sin and death and so we rejoice this night.

Christ’s victory was not won for him alone. It is won for all of God’s creation. For those of us who choose to bear the name of Christian, the new creation of Christ, the new Adam, was offered to us as well as sons and daughters through baptism. The words of St. Paul which we heard tonight remind us “that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death and if we were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so too, as Christ was raised from the dead, we might live in newness of life.” We are a new creation, infused with the light of Christ, blessed with the grace of the Holy Spirit. Christ told his disciples as he tells us “you are the light of the world. Do not hide your light under a bushel basket, but let it shine forth for all to see.” As bearers of this new creation in Christ, we are the light that moves into a world that is both broken and redeemed, seeking to draw others closer to the light of Christ as well. Christ’s victory is our victory. Christ’s light is our light. We are a new Adam, we are a new Eve. Tonight, in this place, we commemorate and embrace the reality of life over death and we say, “Christ our light – thanks be to God.”
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