Welcome! This blog celebrates both the local and the catholic -- that is, universal -- aspects of the Roman Catholic Church by sharing reflections on experiences of the Church in a variety of settings and cultures. Postings will come from around the world and around the corner. You don't have to be a Catholic to come along.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Transfiguration Day

Today, August 6, is the Feast of the Transfiguration, the fourth luminous mystery of the rosary.

What a great feast! It always reminds me that transfiguration is not just for Jesus, but for all of us. He showed the Apostles on Mount Tabor what He is and what we can become through Him. I love the lines of the Battle Hymn of the Republic that say:

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:

Perhaps in our culture we give too much attention to the so-called Rapture and not enough to the Transfiguration!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Holy Blood of Bruges

By a wonderful happenstance, Ann and I found ourselves in Bruges, Belgium, in 1997 on the Feast of the Ascension. We witnessed a wonderful procession that I could describe no better than these words from the city's website:

"Every year on Ascension Day since 1291 the procession of the Holy Blood makes Bruges a very special place to be. Half the parade is representing scenes from the old and New Testament interpreted by guild, trades, brotherhoods and chambers of rhetoric from the burgundain period. The second part of the procession is devoted to the relic of the blood of Jesus brought to Bruges by Derrick of Alsace, Count of Flanders after the second crusade in 1150. Ever since, the precious relic has been kept in the basilica of the Holy Blood at the burg square. Carried around once a year by two prelates in a golden shrine and worshiped in this procession by the members of the noble brotherhood of the Holy blood. This impressing moment closes with the festive sounds of a mobile carillon."

If you'd like we see more pictures, there are a couple of dozen on the Bruges website, as well as lots of information about the wonderful old city.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Amazing Flannery O'Connor

The late Flannery O'Connor, renowned both as a Catholic writer and as a Southern writer, was a remarkably independent woman.

By the age of six, she had decided to call her parents by their first names. Reared within easy viewing distance of the imposing St. John's Cathedral across Lafayette Square in Savannah, she also declared to her parents around that age that she would no longer attend the children's Mass but instead go to church with them.

This spirit of independence never deserted her during her short 39-year life. It informed her fiction, which is quite unlike anything else ever written. And yet, she willingly submitted herself to the greater wisdom of the Roman Catholic Church.

Ann and I recently visited her girlhood home in Savannah, from which we could see the back yard where she once taught a chicken to walk backward (which was recorded in a newsreel film that Flannery considered the most exciting thing that ever happened to her).

At her home I bought a book of her prose called "Mystery and Manners," which includes some remarkable thoughts on reading, writing, and Catholicism. For example:

* "When people have told me that because I am Catholic I cannot be an artist, I have had to reply, ruefully, that because I am Catholic I cannot afford to be be less than an artist."

* "The business of protecting souls from dangerous literature belongs properly to the Church."

* ". . . evil is not simply a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be endured."

Flannery O'Connor's home and her writing are both worth spending time with.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

In the Garden of Gethsemani

The nicest thing about the Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, Ky., is that my smart phone doesn't work very well there.

That means when I go on my annual retreat right before or during Lent, as I did last weekend, I really get away from things. It's Tuesday, and I'm still relaxed.

Gethsemani is a place of silence, or meant to be. In the past the sound of chit-chat among other retreatants often has reached distracting and disappointing levels, but not this year. The silence was golden.

A friend and I have visited the abbey, deep in the heart of bourbon country, in 14 of the last 16 years. On our first visit we sat for about 90 minutes with Fr. David DeVore in the hermitage that had belonged to Thomas Merton, probably the most famous Catholic monk of the 20th Century.

Merton is buried under a simple cross at Gethsemani, and now so is Fr. DeVore.

Within the past few weeks they were joined by Fr. DeVore's friend Fr. Matthew Kelty, another monk of Gethsemani. Fr. Kelty was famous for the marvelous talks he used to give after Compline, the service that begins at 7:30 p.m. The nonogenerian had to give that up a few years ago, but on our last visit he was still a highly visible part of the community of monks. His absence this year was palpable.

R.I.P. Fr. Matthew. R.I.P. Fr. David. R.I.P. Fr. Louis. Your crosses are like flowers in the garden of Gethsemani.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Chair of Peter

Most American Catholics, like their countrymen of other faiths, are aware that today is the birthday of George Washington, our first president as well as the general who won American independence.

In the Church calendar, however, Feb. 22 has another significance. For today is also the Feast of the Chair of Peter. The Liturgy of the Hours explains it this way: "Since the fourth century, the feast of the Chair of Peter has been celebrated at Rome as a sign of the unity of the Church founded upon that apostle."

Imperfect as that unity is, and imperfect as Peter was and his successors have been, I am grateful for the gift of authority represented by that chair at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. It is a blessing to Catholics, not a burden.

The current occupant of that chair, Pope Benedict XVI, recently sat down with German journalist Peter Seewald for six hours of conversation that were published in book form as Light of the World. It is a fascinating insight into the mind of a great theologian who is also a great pastor.

You may have read some controversial excerpts from this book that became journalistic fodder for a few news cycles late last year. The book is a lot more than that, and excerpts just don't do it justice. Buy a copy or pick it up at the library and see for yourself.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Farewell to a humble and holy priest

We buried a great priest over the weekend, the humble and holy Fr. Paul Rehling.

Appropriately, the funeral Mass took place in the beautiful St. William Church in Price Hill, where he had served so generously since his so-called retirement a decade ago, even after being diagnosed more than a year ago with A-plastic anemia. The church, which holds about 700 people, was packed all the way up the choir loft. Dozens of priests attended, and four bishops concelebrated.

One of the bishops was Most Rev. Gabriel Mante of Jasikan, Ghana, West Africa, a diocese that Fr. Rehling served as a seminary professor in one chapter of his adventurous life. He as also a pastor, priest personnel director and spiritual director for many seminarians.

The Gospel reading which Fr. Rehling chose for the Mass was from the 13th chapter of the Gospel of John, in which Jesus washes the feet of the apostles and tells them to serve likewise.

In an extraordinary homily, Fr. David Brinkmoeller preached on the responsorial psalm, which was prayed in the form of the song "Taste and See," written by Dr. James E. Moore for Fr. Rehling's 25th anniversary of ordination three decades ago.

The homily focused on how Fr. Rehling tasted and saw the goodness of the Lord throughout his life, which made him a happy priest who never saw himself the way others did -- as someone special. Fr. Brinkmoeller also talked about how Fr. Rehling made the decision to forgo further treatment for his illness because the blood transfusions and the drugs were only postponing the inevitable and others could use them. How like him.

Well done, good and faithful servant!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

St. Paul of Rome

It's almost impossible for me not to think of Rome when I think of St. Peter. After all, the head of the apostles was the first bishop of Rome. It is for this reason that his successor bishops of Rome, the popes, have led the Church.

St. Peter was also martyred at Rome, crucified upside down. The magnificent St. Peter's Basilica was built atop his bones. They remain there today, far below the high altar, where visitors on the Scavi Tour can see them.

So St. Peter and Rome are inextricably connected. But on this Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, I'm think of how linked to Rome the apostle to the Gentiles was as well.

Saul, the rabbi, was from Tarsus, in what is now Turkey. He was converted on the road to Damascus, then eventually visited many other places on his missionary journeys. One of his greatest letters was written to the Christians at Rome, the heart of the empire into which Christianity was born.

Like St. Peter, he later was imprisoned in Rome -- in a stone jail that exists to this day -- and executed there. He was beheaded, not crucified, because he was a citizen of Rome. And today a great basilica, St. Paul Outside the Walls, holds his sarcophagus.

St. Peter and St. Paul make me proud to be Roman Catholic.