Sermon for the Feast of the Epiphany

From the Gospel: “The star they had observed at its rising went ahead of them until it came to a standstill over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house, found the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage”.
 
A cold coming we had of it, just the worst time of the year for a journey. It was one of those winters, the snow and cold never let up. Even the camels seemed angry and sullen at being dragged on this long journey under these conditions, their feet sore, lying down in the melting snow. There were times, so many times, on that journey when we regretted even starting out, for we had everything at home, everything to make us comfortable, everything to meet our wants, our desires—home, where it was safe, where we were well thought of as people of note, known for our wisdom. But these reveries were always shattered by the drunken shouts of the camel-men, who would constantly abandon us in every large town.
 
 
There were times, so many times, on that journey when we regretted even starting out, for we had everything at home, everything to make us comfortable, everything to meet our wants, our desires—home, where it was safe, where we were well thought of as people of note, known for our wisdom. But these reveries were always shattered by the drunken shouts of the camel-men, who would constantly abandon us in every large town.
 
 
We went on because of the star, that star we had seen that night months before. We searched our charts, we consulted others, we placed our crystals at just the right angle to the moon, but there was no information. But the star—the star was like nothing we had ever seen. And so we started out, we set out in some sort of faith, looking for something, for we said: ‘Surely this star is meant to announce something great.’ And after all, with all we had, with all we knew, there was always that void within us, that knowledge of something important missing, and, somehow, in some way, we hoped that this void would be filled.
 
One of my companions had heard, who knows where, in some obscure literary text that there was to be born a king, the king of the Jews, and that this star might be the announcement of his birth. And so we set out, we set out to follow that star, and perhaps, for we did not know, to find this king. There were those close to us who called us crazy and who urged us to not set forth. But we set out, we set out. But as I said, it was a hard trip, bitter. Our night fires constantly went out, the people in the villages hostile and sullen, the innkeepers constantly overcharging us, the food practically inedible. I look at my companions while they tried to sleep. I saw the look of weariness on their faces. Ah, how I longed for the peace and comfort of my home! I nearly woke them up and said: ‘Why don’t we turn back? Can’t you see that this is folly, a wild-goose chase?’ But then I looked up and saw the star. How could we stop when that star shone so brilliantly, its light piercing, penetrating, causing almost pain in our hearts?
 
 
I nearly woke them up and said: ‘Why don’t we turn back? Can’t you see that this is folly, a wild-goose chase?’ But then I looked up and saw the star. How could we stop when that star shone so brilliantly, its light piercing, penetrating, causing almost pain in our hearts?
 
 
It was wet and cold but with no snow when we arrived in the royal city. Beggars swarmed around us, and we threw them some coins. The wind came up, and it began to clear. I looked up at the sky, and a moan escaped my lips. My companions were also looking at the sky, and I saw there on their faces despair, anger, and deep tiredness. For there was no star. It was not there. But we had come all this way. Oh, please, let it not be for nothing! We are educated men, we have tongues, we have know-how. ‘Hey, you there, boy! Where is the king’s palace?’
 
It was not a very large city, so we found it quite easily. And we were welcomed with great hospitality, for they saw who we were. I did not like his face, the king of this place, I could not read his eyes, but he showed us the respect we deserved. We had wonderful beds, exquisite food, choice wine, civilized conversation. The morning before our audience with the king, we discussed among ourselves whether we should just stay here for a while and enjoy this and go no further. It was like home: contentment, safety, sane by the standards of the world.
 
When we mentioned the birth of a king to the king of this place, he suddenly jumped out of his seat and called loudly for his court astrologers and magicians. And it was they who read us the prophecy about where this king would be born, in a town not too far from this city. This quickened our interest, and we decided to give this one more chance, one more stab at giving this trip some meaning. The king asked us to stop by on the way home if we did find this king, so that he could go himself to give him homage. Then suddenly, looking around me, I felt no longer at home, ill at ease, as if this had no longer anything to do with me, that I must leave, and so we went out into the night, and we looked into the sky—and there it was again. Its light seemed to bore right through our souls and now we trembled, for now we knew that it had not been in vain. So we hurried. Our pages could hardly keep up with us.
 
 
When we mentioned the birth of a king to the king of this place, he suddenly jumped out of his seat and called loudly for his court astrologers and magicians. And it was they who read us the prophecy about where this king would be born, in a town not too far from this city.
 
 
It was now cold again when we arrived at that little town some hours later. I shall never forget the light of that star, and it sounds strange to say that it led us to that place—but it did. And when we arrived—what can one say? That it was not what we expected? That is an understatement. We did not expect that palace and that king. But this! But this! The woman holding the child to her breast, the man standing over them, the smell somehow of straw and animals, a manger of wood. Is this what we came all this way for, is this what we had suffered for, the cold, the stench, the weariness? I thought we had come all this way for a birth, but this seemed in its own way like death—this birth, so hard. We went in and saw the child. The light of the star shone on his face. And what we saw there: how can I explain it to you? What can I say? But what we did was to fall down there before this child and prostrated ourselves before him, for what we saw there was something we never dreamed of in our wildest dreams. It was all that we had hoped for, but I cannot explain. All I can tell you is what we did. Our gifts yet unopened, we fell down and worshiped him. And as we did, the star vanished—but the light remained.
 
 
It was all that we had hoped for, but I cannot explain. All I can tell you is what we did. Our gifts yet unopened, we fell down and worshiped him. And as we did, the star vanished—but the light remained.
 
 
We returned home, but with a feeling of shatteredness.
 
That was a long time ago. And I tell you again what I have asked myself these many years: what were we led all that way for: birth or death? There was a birth, certainly, we saw the evidence of it, we saw the child and his mother. But I thought that birth and death were different. This birth was like hard and bitter agony for us. Yes, we returned to our places, to our homes, but we were never again at ease in this world we knew as home, this world that had given our lives meaning. I felt and have felt ever since that journey as if I am an alien among these people clutching their gods. I should be glad of another death.
 
 
Father Richard G. Cipolla
Gratias T.S. Eliot
Preached at the Church of the Holy Innocents, New York City
January 2014

Significant Others

A Short Story

By Beverly Desoto Stevens

It was a great dinner party. All of us – every single woman at the table – is a successful graduate of the same class at Our Lady of Good Counsel Academy. All of our ‘significant others’ are great people. Most of us are gainfully employed. One is still in grad school.

Kieran and Becky are our glamor couple. She’s an art director. He’s a young doctor, tall and dark, with a fashionably scruffy beard and rakish green eyes. Their apartment was beautifully decorated for the holidays. The food was exceptional, yummy and gluten-free.  

It should have been a perfect evening. Maybe it was the free-flowing wine, but that’s when the trouble started.

You see, Melissa has this older boyfriend. And I do mean ‘older.’ Tom must be 45 years old, if he is a day. He was her law professor, first year in Torts.

Now, I’m not trying to be judgmental, or anything. People can do what they want. But Tom started it, with his comments on how all destination weddings were “a huge waste of money for spoiled brides.”

The guy is obviously bitter. He is divorced, and practically penniless because of what he has to pay his ex-wife in child support.  But that was no excuse, because it started this huge thing.

Tom started it, with his comments on how all destination weddings were “a huge waste of money for spoiled brides.”The guy is obviously bitter. He is divorced, and practically penniless because of what he has to pay his ex-wife in child support.  But that was no excuse, because it started this huge thing.

“And what exactly are you gonna do about it?” Kieran laughed. “If a girl wants a wedding, she’s gonna get one, right?”

Beautiful, red-haired Becky shot Kieran a worried look. I know she wants to get married, but he hasn’t asked yet. (She’s already thirty, too.)

Melissa is now in her third year of law school. She shrugged.

“Why would I want to get married?” she announced, smiling somewhat over-brightly at Tom. “Do you know what divorce lawyers make? My parents’ lawyers got $500 an hour. That’s where my college money went.”

Tom laughed.

“That’s because you are brilliant as well as beautiful, babe,” he said approvingly, reaching his arm around her shoulders. She tossed her long dark hair, took a sip of  her white wine and smiled at him.

All I could think of was Melissa confiding in Becky and me about how she was going to stop taking the Pill so she could get pregnant.  But before I could think of anything to say, Meghan interjected.

“Hey, you guys,” she said, as everyone turned to listen to her. There was a note of mild disapproval in her voice. Meghan is on the partner track at a Washington law firm – and she’s married to Spence, who is a free-lancer. “Let’s not get too down on marriage. I kind of like being married.”

Meghan is what my grandmother would have called ‘a pushy broad’ back in Brooklyn. Most of us would never take her on. But Tom wasn’t intimidated.  

“Meghan, so if you do ever get divorced, are you prepared to pay for Spence’s counsel?” he said, leaning forward challengingly.

We all froze on the spot before the men – except Spence – burst out laughing. Seeing the furious look on Meghan’s face, I jumped in quickly to steer the conversation elsewhere.

“Uh, Tom, I really don’t think you want to go there,” I said in what I hoped was a kidding tone. But Meghan was already there, up on her stout little feet.

“Tom, I don’t think you should let your own personal experience color your perception on marriage for all of us,” she declaimed, in her best warning tone.

Tom wasn’t taking any hints, though.

“Oh please,” he said, his face reddening. “Marriage is just an excuse for lawyers to make a fortune off the rest of us poor saps.”

“I don’t think it’s the lawyers’ fault that so many people get divorced,” said Becky, rushing to Meghan’s defense.

This was like pouring gasoline on the fire. Everyone in that room knew that Tom had left his fat demanding wife for the lithesome Melissa.

This was like pouring gasoline on the fire. Everyone in that room knew that Tom had left his fat demanding wife for the lithesome Melissa.

“That’s not the point!” snapped Tom, but before he could explain, Meghan was on him.

“Marriage is a human right,” she announced, in ringing tones. “What do you think gay marriage is all about, Tom? It’s about human rights. Civil rights!”

Tom laughed harshly.

“Oh come on, Meghan,” he said, shaking his head with a grin. “Gay marriage is all about bringing in a whole new market for the divorce lawyers to feed on. It’s a bonanza for our ‘profession.’”

This was too much for Meghan.

“I don’t have to stand here and listen to this!” she snapped, and turning on her expensive heel, marched off into the kitchen. Becky gave Tom a furious look, and went after her.

Spence chuckled distractedly, scratching his balding head.

“You did it now, man,” he said unhappily.  In addition to being a great bread-winner, Meghan is a top organizer. As a result, Spence has a phenomenal life as a freelance photographer; their full-time au pair takes care of their two children.

“What is ‘marriage’?” Kieran interjected in a philosophical tone. Ever the good host, he was pouring more wine for everyone. “It’s a contract. It’s two people signing a piece of paper promising to stay together, file their taxes, raise their kids. It’s an agreement.”

“Exactly,” agreed Tom, nodding his head vehemently. “And like all contracts, it can be broken. And divorce lawyers are the ones who benefit.”

“Okay, okay,” said Spence tiredly. “Whatever, man.”

There was an awkward silence.

“Tom,” said Becky, who had emerged from the kitchen bearing another bottle of wine. “I don’t think marriage is just a contract.”

“Yeah?” Tom responded sardonically. “Then what else can it be?”

“It’s the foundation of a family,” Becky said with emotion. I know Becky’s family. They are ardent Catholics — involved in some kind of ‘movement’ – and they were none too happy about her moving in with Kieran a little under a year ago.

“Oh please,” said Tom, rolling his eyes. “Romantic mumbo-jumbo. Marriage is different for women than it is for men. Women think it’s about love and romance forever and ever. Men know the deal. It’s about working for the rest of your life to support someone who then can treat you any way she pleases.”

Women think marriage is about love and romance forever and ever. Men know the deal. It’s about working for the rest of your life to support some woman who then can treat you any way she pleases.

“Or, you could also say it’s about a woman giving up her career to stay at home and raise some man’s brats, only to be dumped when she turns 40,” retorted Meghan hotly. She had returned on Becky’s heels.

“Or, you could say that marriage is about any number of things” interjected a quiet voice from the corner of the living room. It was my date, Patrick.

We’d met about a month before at a choir meeting at the Catholic parish in Arlington, Virginia near where I live. My therapist had recommended singing as a way to help deal with my depression over the loss of my eight-year relationship with my college boyfriend.  The Parish has an outstanding Gregorian chant choir, something I’d always been intrigued by. 

Patrick is a funny kind of a guy. A bit of a nerd, maybe – not surprising in a policy analyst. I liked him, though. He was careful, measured and pretty good-looking, in a bookish sort of way. At first I thought he wasn’t that ‘into’ me, because he hadn’t made any physical advances. Yet, he’d kept texting, even calling, me.  

“Logically speaking, ‘marriage’ is whatever a particular culture defines it as,” Patrick explained calmly. “The Saudis. The Mormons. The Chinese. All these cultures define marriage according to their norms. What you all are fighting about is what ‘we’ define marriage as. The reason you are fighting is because there is no more ‘we’ in our culture, in the West.”

“The Saudis. The Mormons. The Chinese. All these cultures define marriage according to their norms. What you all are fighting about is what ‘we’ define marriage as. The reason you are fighting is because there is no more ‘we’ in our culture, in the West.”

Marriage,” Meghan declaimed with a tight, scornful smile,is whatever the law says it is.” 

Everyone looked at Tom for his reaction.

“What else would it be?” he shrugged diffidently. “I’m not sure where you’re headed with this, Patrick -?”

“This debate about what marriage is is symptomatic of the larger crisis in our culture,” Patrick said. “Whether or not you know it, it was the Catholic Church that set the rules for Christian marriage at the end of the Roman Empire.

“This, er, arrangement, has lasted a very long time,” he continued. “It’s been the foundation of what we call ‘civilization.’ Those rules – with divorce added, but only in ‘extreme’ cases, depending on the sect – were fundamentally untouched by the Protestant Reformation. They did not really start to change drastically until the last few decades…”

“…so, what you’re saying is that ‘the End is near,’ right?” interrupted Tom waggishly. “Are you one of these ‘Rapture’ guys?”

Everyone laughed, a bit relieved to reduce the tension. Patrick shrugged good-naturedly.

“Not really,” he said, unoffended. “That call is above my pay grade, as they say.”

“So what are you saying, Patrick?” asked Becky. She had settled herself down next to Patrick, intrigued.

“He’s saying he wants women to become legal sex slaves, like the Saudis have,” said Meghan sarcastically.

“YESSS!” cried Kieran, to general laughter.

“I’m saying,” said Patrick, unruffled, “that I think we are entering a time when ‘marriage’ will become whatever people want it to be. I don’t think the political will is there to maintain the current pseudo-Christian structure, enforced by the State.”

“A bonanza for the lawyers!” cried Tom in mock ecstasy. “Just imagine it, Meghan. Divorce cases with three, four, five or six sides – and court-appointed lawyers for all the children!”

“Just imagine it, Meghan. Divorce cases with three, four, five or six sides – and court-appointed lawyers for all the children!”

Meghan rolled her eyes.

“Probably,” Patrick shrugged indifferently. “But likely what will happen is that most people won’t bother to get married. Too expensive. Too stressful. Marriage is already becoming a luxury — for the rich, only.”

Hearing this, Melissa began to nod vehemently.

“I don’t need a piece of paper to make me feel secure!” she announced. “I make my own way in life, anyway. If someone wants to get out of a relationship, they will. No matter what the piece of paper says! Like Tom says: it’s a contract. And contracts are made to be broken.”

“This is why I love you,” said Tom reasonably, patting her affectionately. “Such a smart woman.”

“So Patrick, you think that marriage is on its way out?” Becky persisted.

“For most people,” Patrick responded. “Except Catholics, of course.”

“Why do you say that?” Meghan wanted to know. She and Spence had been married in a glamorous beach wedding in Jamaica. The ceremony was performed by the hotel’s non-denominational chaplain when Meghan learned that the local Catholic priest would not perform the marriage without pre-Cana certification. (“Who has time for that crap?” had been her pragmatic pronouncement. Spence, who wasn’t Catholic anyway, was away on a safari shoot at the time.)

“Because whatever the environment around it, the Church stays the same. Catholics have always defined ‘marriage’ as a sacrament,” Patrick answered calmly. “This was the case at the end of the Roman Empire. And it’s the case now.”

“Because whatever the environment around it, the Church stays the same. Catholics have always defined ‘marriage’ as a sacrament. This was the case at the end of the Roman Empire. And it’s the case now.”

“Mumbo-jumbo,” interjected Tom heartily.

“To you, of course,” said Patrick mildly. I caught my breath, wondering if Tom would realize that it was a rebuke. But the wine had done its job, and the law professor was too stoned to take offense. Melissa herself looked a little miffed, but said nothing.

“You can’t ‘un-do’ sacraments,” Patrick went on. “You can’t ‘un-do’ a baptism, for example. Once it’s done, it’s done.”

“Oh, please,” snorted Meghan in derision. “The Church grants annulments all the time.”

“You went to Catholic school just like we did,” Becky said suddenly. “Meghan, you know what an annulment is. It says that the sacrament never happened, because the right conditions weren’t present at the time of the marriage.”

At this, Kieran piped up.

“What conditions are these, then?” he said with a wink and a sidelong glance to Spence. “I’m, uh, just checking for future reference.”

“The conditions are that both parties must be fully aware of what they are doing, doing it of free will, without threat or coercion,” Becky declared.

“Whew!”  Kieran smirked in mock relief. “So a man can’t be forced to marry, then?”

Spence and Tom laughed uproariously at this.  Even Meghan and Melissa smiled.

“Don’t count on it, man,” Tom advised, mugging over the general hilarity. “You can be walking down that aisle and not even know how you got there…”

I kept watching Becky and Patrick throughout all of this. Becky’s face was glowing with emotion. Patrick looked thoughtful.

That was where the discussion ended, much to everyone’s relief. The rest of the evening was fairly amicable, though Becky looked somewhat distant. When Patrick and I got our coats to leave, I suddenly saw that she was dressed, too.

“I’ll walk you to your car,” she said quietly. “I could use a breath of fresh air.”

She glanced at Kieran, who looked unconcerned. He was finishing the wine with Melissa and Tom. Meghan and Spence had left earlier, albeit a bit stiffly.

Outside, our breath rose in white clouds in the frosty January night air, as we trekked on the Capitol Hill sidewalk. Patrick offered me his arm, which I took. It felt solid, warm, and real. As Becky shut the door behind us, we looked at each other for a long moment, oblivious to everything around us.

Patrick offered me his arm, which I took. It felt solid, warm, and real. As Becky shut the door behind us, we looked at each other for a long moment, oblivious to everything around us.

“I’m moving out,” Becky said suddenly.

Patrick and I stopped, incredulous, and turned to look at her. Her nose was red, against her pale skin. Her eyes shone with tears.

“I-I made a mistake,” she said miserably. “N-now I know.”

It all came out in a rush. How Kieran was not serious about the relationship, though she’d hoped that moving in together would make him so. How she couldn’t waste any more time. And how she felt like she was going to die.

“He’s going think this is a ploy,” I said, reluctantly. “He’s going to think this is all about getting him to marry you.”

Becky nodded.

“I know,” she said, wiping her eyes. “But it isn’t. I can see now – after tonight – that he doesn’t have a clue about marriage.”

“Actually,” I heard myself say, to my shock, “none of them do. Meghan thinks the law is all that matters. Tom thinks that money is all that matters. None of them have any idea that it is only the Sacrament that matters.”

“Yes,” Patrick said soberly. “And poor Melissa is going to have a rude awakening, though I don’t really think she believes what she is saying. She wants a family.”

Becky and I regarded him with astonishment.

“How did you know that?”

Patrick shrugged, “Because she’s a normal woman. And she’s ready. But if she gets pregnant, Tom won’t want the baby. He already has too many mouths to feed.”

“Tom is a loser,” Becky said darkly.

“Tom is in pain,” Patrick countered. “So he’s going to spread the pain around. Guilt hurts.”

We all looked at each other.

“Where will you go?” Patrick asked Becky, practically.

“I-I don’t know,” she said, sorrowfully. “I just know that I can’t stay in this relationship. Kieran doesn’t know what marriage is. He’s not ‘ready’ – whatever that means. And I don’t want to force myself on anyone. I can’t afford to waste any more time. I know what I want now. I want a Catholic marriage. I want the Sacrament.”

That’s when I heard myself say it.

“Y-you can move in with me,” I announced, with a broad smile. My apartment had a spare bedroom. It had been six months since my own long-distance relationship had melted under the strain of two widely-separated lives. And after tonight, I knew that it would never start up again.

I also knew that Patrick would never be moving in with me – not without a Catholic marriage, that is.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

He’s not ‘ready’ – whatever that means. And I don’t want to force myself on anyone. I can’t afford to waste any more time. I know what I want now. I want a Catholic marriage. I want the Sacrament.

The Devil Is Dancing

                                       A SHORT STORY

At 28, I guess I would call myself successful. I have a university degree. I married my college boyfriend. We live in a rented apartment in brownstone Brooklyn. He is a computer genius, making a good salary at a Wall Street firm. I am the spokeswoman for a major American bank. We have a dog.

He is Jewish, from a non-practicing family on Long island. I also have a family on Long island, but mine is non-practicing Catholic. Although she was raised a Catholic, my mother insists that no priest has the power to forgive sins. Her sins, she says, are her own business. My father is retired; he plays golf five days a week.

Religion was not a big deal in my life, however. Marcus is an atheist. I am nothing, I guess. We were married three years ago by a Justice of the Peace, on the lawn of rented mansion in upstate New York. It was a great party.
Anyway, although I am successful, things are not great in my life.

Religion was not a big deal in my life, however. Marcus is an atheist. I am nothing, I guess. We were married three years ago by a Justice of the Peace, on the lawn of rented mansion in upstate New York. It was a great party.

Truth be told, my husband embarrasses me. He continues to smoke marijuana, a vice I gave up in college. He eats junk food constantly, and is in consequence vastly overweight. He chain-smokes cigarettes, and lately I have found lone butts, burnt out, standing up on our wooden dresser. There is an inch of ash on them. I clean them up without a word. It’s my job to clean the apartment; he walks the dog in Prospect Park.

In addition to all this, Marcus has now grown a beard, and has taken to wearing a black beret. He thinks he looks like Che Guevara. I just want him to grow up.

I’ve tried showing him examples, discretely, of what a grown up man our age looks like. There’s a guy at work I know, a rising young banker, who invited us out to dinner at a trendy place in the Village for a double-date with his wife, a pretty PR executive. Marcus arrived an hour late, dressed in his Che outfit, and spent the evening trying to bait the bewildered banker.

The next day, the banker asked me where I’d met my husband. 

“He’s a great guy, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that, he’s, well, not what we expected,” he said, sympathetically. “We wondered where you two had met.”

“In college,” I replied, indifferently. But inside I was burning.

That night, in a fury, I insisted that Marcus get help.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with you,” I shouted. “But you need a shrink. Now!”

Marcus sat glumly, smoking. After an hour of parrying my demands to know what was going on, he’d thrust himself into a chair and gazed gloomily out the window.

“It’s not you,” he muttered darkly, avoiding my gaze. “It’s me. You should run away from me. Save yourself, while there’s time.”

I had no idea what he was talking about, but two weeks later I found out. The therapist he’d located had insisted that I come to his office for a joint appointment.  I waited in the therapist’s chair, dressed for work and anxious, as he pulled out a piece of paper from his drawer.

“Marcus wants you to know that he is addicted to the following substances,” he said calmly, and began to read a list. The first word I heard was ‘cocaine.’ I heard ‘marijuana’ and ‘tobacco’ too, and some other drugs that I have never heard of. After that I stopped listening. 

“Marcus wants you to know that he is addicted to the following substances,” the therapist said calmly, and began to read a list. The first word I heard was ‘cocaine.’

Marcus was grinning sheepishly at me as the therapist read aloud. Pudgy, pale and nervous, he kept running his fingers through his long, unkempt hair. I looked down at my sensible navy blue pumps and the clear nail polish on my short, home-trimmed nails.

“Is this why that homeless guy walked up to me in the park the other day, when I was walking the dog?” I asked Marcus later, through clenched teeth. We were walking, hunched against the cold, to the subway. “He asked me if I knew you. Is he some ‘connection’ of yours?”

Marcus hung his head.

“Yeah, well that’s all past now,” he replied grimly. “I’m going cold turkey.”

As if that wasn’t bad enough, Marcus’s uncle Steve died a few days later. I’d actually never met this uncle; he’d been confined to a VA hospital for years. Steve had come home from Vietnam with PTSD and a hell of a heroin addiction. By 1980, he was deemed dangerous to his own life and others, as he kept nodding off with burning cigarettes in his fingers. By age 60, he was dead.

The only people at Steve’s funeral were Marcus’s mother and father and his two brothers. They’d found a rabbi on short notice, a sympathetic young man who’d agreed to say some words by the graveside.

“Just as long as the word ‘God’ isn’t mentioned,” Marcus’s father had said grimly. After the Shoah, Marcus’s whole family had ceased to believe in a God who could permit such horror to happen.

As Steve’s coffin was lowered into the snowy ground at the VA cemetery, I listened to the distress of the family around me. There was no hesitation in their grief. They sobbed hopelessly, as one. As I stood at the edge of that raw grave incised into the brown earth, I had never felt so desolate.

As Steve’s coffin was lowered into the snowy ground at the VA cemetery, I listened to the distress of the family around me. There was no hesitation in their grief. They sobbed hopelessly, as one. As I stood at the edge of that raw grave incised into the brown earth, I had never felt so desolate.

The young rabbi closed his book with finality, and looked at us. The family continued to cry, heedless of anything. As the only one with any wits about me, I stepped up awkwardly and shook his hand.

“Thank you, Father,” I said, without thinking, and then quickly realized my gaffe. “Oh, sorry…”

He laughed quietly, unoffended.

“I am a father,” he said, smiling. “…of two small children, if that counts.”

“Of course,” I said, shaking my head in dismay.

“You’re Catholic, I assume?” said the rabbi, as we started to walk out of the cemetery.

“Er, yes. My family is, anyway.”

“And you?”

“I, er, I don’t know what I am.” I answered him truthfully.  I gestured back at the open grave. “All I know is that this — this is not the end.”

The rabbi looked at me with surprise.

“I wish we all could be as certain as you are about such things,” he said gently. “Does this mean you believe in God?”

I thought about it for a moment.

“We love,” I replied suddenly, surprised by my own certainty. “Human beings love. We are born with that capacity. It’s innate.”

He nodded.

“You love your children, right?” I said.

He nodded again, regarding me carefully.

“That love came from somewhere.”

“Or from Someone, maybe?” he asked quietly.

Marcus and his family, immersed in their grief, did not hear our conversation.  At the cemetery gate, we all parted ways. Marcus and I drove back to the city, and he dropped me off at our apartment.

“I got a few things to do,” he said shortly, as I stepped out of the car. Ignoring my panicked expression, he drove off. He did not come back until very late that night, and he slept on the couch. He was gone without a word by the time I woke up this morning.

In my distress, I actually stopped by a church near where I work in mid-town on my lunch hour. I smelled incense as the heavy door closed behind me.  Up at the altar, far down the nave of this 19th century Gothic church, I could make out a priest in vestments. He was assisted by two grown men, one of whom was swinging an antique brass object disgorging smoke at a congregation of about 30 people.  A single voice rose up to the lofty ceilings– Gregorian chant, redolent of ancient times and old ways.

Far down the nave of this 19th century Gothic church, I could make out a priest in vestments. He was assisted by two grown men, one of whom was swinging an antique brass object disgorging smoke at a congregation of about 30 people.  A single voice rose up to the lofty ceilings– Gregorian chant, redolent of ancient times and old ways.

Looking around me, I saw that a light was on, above an old-fashioned confessional. There was a priest in there, safely concealed behind a screen.

The second I knelt behind that wooden door, a whole lake of tears I didn’t know was inside me welled up. Worse, before I could stop it, the dam broke and the lake poured out of me, in a continuous flow of wracking sobs.

“I-I’m s-sorry, F-Father,” I apologized, between gulps. I couldn’t speak. All I could do was cry.

“That’s all right, my dear,” said a sympathetic voice, with a soft Hispanic lilt. He pushed some Kleenex under the grille towards me, which I gratefully accepted. “Now, my daughter, you can start when you’re ready. I have time.”

It took me a few minutes to finally be able to speak, but when I did, all of my pain poured out. I told that priest about the grave, and the rabbi. About the hopelessness, and the despair. About Marcus, and his addiction. About my success, cold fury, and utter desolation.

“You are trapped by sin,” the priest said, when I had finally subsided. “Do you know what I mean by that?”

“N-no.”

“That’s all right, my dear,” said a sympathetic voice, with a soft Hispanic lilt. He pushed some Kleenex under the grille towards me, which I gratefully accepted. “Now, my daughter, you can start when you’re ready. I have time.”

“Sin is addictive. Because the Devil – you believe in him? I do. Well, the Devil, he wants us to be miserable. Hopeless. Despairing. This way he can do his dirty work more easily. If we are miserable, we are open to all kinds of bad things. And so, it goes, always downward, in a spiral. Do you understand me?”

“Y-yes,” I whispered, wondering where this was going.

“Ah, so here it is. Your husband comes from a family who is angry with God. So they deny His existence. Your husband denies His existence, too. Correct? You are with me so far?”

“Yes,” I affirmed, snuffling.

“This is very dangerous for them, because it makes them miserable. They stand at the edge of a grave and ask, why? And they receive no answer. It is only the grave that they see. Nothing more. And they know it is their end, too. An open grave is a distressing thing, no?”

“Yes,” I replied, the specter of the raw earth of the grave rising before me. I shivered involuntarily.

“So they are even more miserable. Even their rabbi cannot reach them. Though I do think there is hope for them, simply because they reached out to this rabbi. But this is not enough for your husband. His pain, his despair, sends him back to the drugs, correct?”

“Y-yes,” I nodded in the darkness.

“This is a situation where the Devil is dancing with delight. He is dancing because your husband and his family are choosing despair. Like his uncle, your husband is choosing death, over life. And this is very, very sad,” he sighed heavily.

I nodded again. This was all terribly true.

“Sin is addictive. Because the Devil – you believe in him? I do. Well, the Devil, he wants us to be miserable. Hopeless. Despairing. This way he can do his dirty work more easily.

“Do you think that your husband would stop this behavior if you were not around?” he asked gently.

I thought about that.

“No,” I sighed, with finality. “I –my existence — actually doesn’t make any difference to him. If you come right down to it, I’m useful because I make money, and keep his house clean — though he doesn’t seem to care about that.”

I told him about the cigarette butts and the standing ash, left to burn down on the wooden dresser.

“Hmmm, this can cause a fire, you know,” the priest said gravely. “Your life may be in danger from this, you know.”

“Right,” I said uncomfortably. I was ashamed about this, for some reason. Ashamed to have other people know how badly Marcus acted.

“But it is more than your life, I think, that is in danger,” the priest continued in a mild, un-reproving tone of voice. “You seem pretty miserable, too. Your soul is in danger. And that makes the Devil happy.”

I shrugged, uncomprehending, in the darkness.

“But you want to know what I think?  I think the Devil was not too happy at that graveside, yesterday,” he persisted gently. “And this was because of you. You stood at the very edge of that grave, and then you turned and walked away. This was very profound.”

I waited to hear what he had to say next.

“And then what happened?” he asked me sharply.

“A-after I walked away from the grave? I-I spoke to the rabbi,” I recounted, somewhat confused.

“Yes. Then you spoke to a man of God, that rabbi. And you told him what?”

“That I couldn’t believe that the grave was the end,” I whispered back, this time with conviction. “And I still don’t believe it.”

“And this idea that you have, that you are so convinced of, is something you have received. It is a grace from God,” the priest said soberly.

“Yeah?” I replied, not knowing what to think.

“Yes. Most definitely. And these are things we cannot earn. This is faith. And it comes to us as a free gift from God. Do you understand me, my daughter?”

I wasn’t sure.

“And this idea that you have, that you are so convinced of, is something you have received. It is a grace from God,” the priest said soberly.

“You mean that I am somehow different from Marcus, and his family.”

“Yes, I mean that. You are different.”

I thought about this. It was true. Though I loved Marcus and his family, I was not like them. I was not an atheist. I could not live always at the edge of a raw grave. Life was too good, too full of good things. And I could not blunt the pain of this raw grave with drugs, or with anything else.

“You turned away from that grave and talked to a man of God about Life.”

“Y-yes, I did. And you’re right, Father. I am all about Life. I choose Life. I don’t choose the Grave,” I whispered fiercely.

“And what did Jesus say?” replied the priest. “He said, ‘I am the Way, and the Truth and the Life.”

“Y-yes,” I said, somewhat uncertainly. I had heard that Bible verse.

“And what does the Bible say that He said right after that? He said to the Apostles, ‘No one comes to the Father but through Me.’”

“Y-yes,” I said, still uncertain.

“I think you have come to a point in the path of your life when you must choose: Life or death. Which will it be?”

Suddenly, I understood.  I was certain of this answer.

“I choose Life, Father,” I said firmly, the tears welling up in my eyes again.

“Good for you!” The priest declared heartily. “You have chosen the right path.”

I smiled through my tears.

“But now, my daughter, I have to tell you. This is not the end of it. The Devil will not rest; he will not give up on you. This choice you have made – life over death — you must keep making this choice, over and over, until the end of your life.”

There was more, but in the end, he gave me absolution.

It’s difficult to convey how I felt when I emerged from that confessional, into that darkened church. Utterly drained, but completely at peace, with a clean heart.

I had chosen. The Devil was no longer dancing all over my life.

Now, we were at war.

Somehow, I knew that. I also knew that that confessional was the only place on earth I could have gone for the truth.

And I knew that the Truth had set me free.

“But now, my daughter, I have to tell you. This is not the end of it. The Devil will not rest; he will not give up on you. This choice you have made – life over death — you must keep making this choice, over and over, until the end of your life.”

How Madison Lost Her Wolf Pack

A Short Story By Beverly De Soto Stevens

 “Jesus!” Madison collapsed on her bed, kicking off a mess of covers and books onto the dorm floor. “God, I hate this woman!”

Mary Kate regarded her roommate with some amusement.

“Well,” she began, folding her arms. “It’s not like you weren’t warned.”

“I know, I know,” moaned Madison dramatically, her voice muffled by the pillow she’d sunk her face into. “But I needed an easy ‘A’ this semester!”

Mary Kate snorted and shook her head.

“What made you think she would be easy?”

Madison sat up and regarded her roommate critically.

“MK, I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but I thought you were exaggerating about her because you’re so damned Catholic.”

Unoffended, Mary Kate chuckled ruefully in response, scratching her head.

“Uh, no! She really is a jerk!” she retorted.

Madison rolled her eyes in frustration.

“She just spent the entire class telling us about the evil patriarchy! Again! And now she wants an essay on Virginia Woolf, who she thinks is some kinda goddess or something. JeSUS!”

Mary Kate laughed merrily, and mimicked her roommate’s mid-Atlantic accent.

“So why don’t you do what you always do, and ‘tell ‘em what they want to hear’?”

Madison was not amused. She shook her head in despair.

“Because it’s no good. I can’t figure out what the hell she wants to hear. And this journaling crap! Oh my GOD! I have real classes to worry about – Economics, Math. And I’m gonna fail them because I spend all my time doing this crazy feminist crap! “

Just then a text burbled on Madison’s smartphone. She glanced at it, and threw it back on her bed in disgust.

“Now what?” Mary Kate asked.

“Just my mom. Again.” Madison looked despairing.

“You gonna answer her?”

“Later. After I take a shower.”

Mary Kate watched her roommate gather up her shower things. Back in September, when they’d met at the door, she’d been initially unenthusiastic. Madison’s long blond hair was expensively highlighted. Her Coach handbag dangled ostentatiously from her sculpted arm.  Her polished, East Coast prep school accent reeked of money and privilege, which Mary Kate had only known from novels.

Madison’s long blond hair was expensively highlighted. Her Coach handbag dangled ostentatiously from her sculpted arm.  Her polished, East Coast prep school accent reeked of money and privilege, which Mary Kate had only known from novels.

And Mary Kate had read lots of novels. All of Jane Austen and most of the English lady novelists, all the way through PD James. Not to mention every one of Shakespeare’s plays. All in her online home-school courses, which had prepared her so well that she’d garnered a perfect score on her SATs.

Hence, her full ride scholarship at their middling ‘Catholic’ college, which conversely charged top dollar to the likes of Madison. Like most of the other students there, Madison’s unremarkable academic performance in high school belied her 24-hour schedule of resume-building activities – all coached and administered by her full-time ‘helicopter mom.’

Mary Kate’s mom had been a full-time homemaker, too. But with six other children that she was homeschooling in their ramshackle house in rural Oregon, she’d had no time to hover over Mary Kate. What she had done was make sure that her daughter had had a thorough catechesis in the Faith before she’d sent her off –not without misgivings — to the posh groves of Catholic academe in America’s Midwest.

By Christmas break, Mary Kate and Madison had become friendly, albeit on a somewhat guarded level. Although mystified by her roommate’s lack of interest in partying, Madison admired Mary Kate’s self-discipline and singular lack of affectation. For her part, Mary Kate liked Madison’s pragmatic approach to her classes (“Look, I am here to get my ticket stamped, on my way to B-school. I don’t care what these hippie professors think; I will tell them what they want to hear.”) As it turned out, this mutual respect made them better roommates than most, judging from the vociferous complaints they’d heard around the dorm.

Mary Kate liked Madison’s pragmatic approach to her classes (“Look, I am here to get my ticket stamped, on my way to B-school. I don’t care what these hippie professors think; I will tell them what they want to hear.”)

But when they’d returned for second semester, much had changed. Over the holidays, Madison’s parents’ marriage in the affluent Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC had imploded. Her handsome father, a well-paid lobbyist, had been waylaid by an ambitious young female lawyer who’d promised great sex and a cool new life in Arlington. Amid much rancor, he’d moved out of the family home on Christmas Eve.

Now, Madison’s mom could barely hold her head up in their posh Catholic parish, where every single one of her 40-ish friends lived in mortal dread of the same fate. Her mother was almost constantly on Madison’s smartphone, seeking solace and venting her pain. Her father, seemingly guilt-free, left her hearty phone messages and deposited healthy sums in her bank account. Madison was furious with them both, though she never let them know it.

Mary Kate could not imagine such a fate for her own parents. Married since their early 20s, they had decided to take the road less traveled. With her father earning a modest income, money had been tight for as long as she could remember. She had to laugh at the absurd idea of a hot young thing falling for her dad, in his 20-year-old barn coat, driving his battered Subaru.

And her parents were a team, she knew. When Gina, their last sibling, had been born with Down’s syndrome, this became abundantly clear.

In fact, Gina had been the reason behind Mary Kate’s uncharacteristic explosion at her feminist English professor last term. She had tried to take Madison’s practical advice — ‘remember, you want the ‘A’ — but could not believe her ears when the woman had breezily announced that ‘if men got pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.”

A snicker had rippled through the classroom.  Mary Kate, white as a sheet, had simply stood up and walked out, without explanation. But the long knives were out for her with this professor. Despite her high test scores, inexplicably her final grade in “Women in Literature” had been a disappointing B-.

Her handsome father, a well-paid lobbyist, had been waylaid by an ambitious young female lawyer who’d promised great sex and a cool new life in Arlington. Amid much rancor, he’d moved out of the family home on Christmas Eve.

“Why don’t you raise hell?” Madison wanted to know. “My mother would have been all over this!”

Mary Kate had simply shaken her head. As always, she admired Madison’s pluck, but she sensed that fighting this professor would only bring down more opprobrium on her from the rest of the academic staff, whose tenured positions guaranteed their right to ‘academic freedom’ – that is, the right to be as offensive as they chose. ‘Tolerance’ was a virtue they demanded, but did not practice when students’ viewpoints differed from their own.

“I’ve learned a lesson,” she’d said grimly. “I just have to learn to pick my professors more carefully.”

Maybe it had been this experience that had prompted her to seek out Juventutem. Their flyer had been posted on the bulletin board in the school chapel, where she’d gone more than once to seek solace.

At the first meeting she’d attended, she’d found a small group of older students, some of whom had been home-schooled like herself. But Sean had not. Tall, angular, with dark hair and intense blue eyes, Sean was a junior studying engineering. They had liked each other immediately, and soon were spending every possible waking minute together.

For her part, Madison was astounded by Mary Kate’s good luck. She’d stumbled upon them talking earnestly in the cafeteria. After the introductions, Sean had given them both a wry grin and headed for the library, a long night of studying in front of him.

Madison slipped into the seat he’d vacated and lowered her voice meaningfully.

“Okay, you are incredible,” she’d said, half-seriously glancing around. “Without attending one beer thing or so much as downing one Jello shot, you find this guy! How’d you do this?!”

Madison herself, despite her stellar looks, relentless dieting and daily trips to the gym, had so far only managed to acquire a pack of wolfish admirers.

Madison, despite her stellar looks, relentless dieting and daily trips to the gym, had so far only managed to acquire a pack of wolfish admirers.

“Not one of them is interested in a commitment,” she’d confided sorrowfully in Mary Kate after her non-stop, serial ‘dating’ streak first semester. Mary Kate had refrained from condemning her errant roommate, confining her remarks to a quiet suggestion that perhaps Madison should ‘take a break’ from ‘dating.’

That was last semester. Now, with the divorce, Madison’s wolf-pack had melted back into the forest. Not one wanted to hear her agony.

Mary Kate had been reflecting on all this when she noticed the time. Madison had been in the shower for almost an hour, and the water was still running. She knocked cautiously on the door.  When no response came, she opened it.

Peering anxiously through the steam, she saw Madison crouched in the corner of the shower. Her roommate was naked, wet and hunched over, unmoving.

“Madison!” she shouted, terrified, rushing to shut off the water. When her roommate did not respond, Mary Kate cautiously tipped her head back. Madison’s eyes rolled back; she was barely breathing.

Many hours later, in the hospital emergency center, Mary Kate was called in after the doctors finished pumping Madison’s stomach. Her roommate was awake, though pale and groggy.

“Promise me you won’t tell a soul about this,” she’d whispered. She’d taken an overdose of Paxil, it turned out. The anti-depressant had been prescribed for her by the university health service after they’d returned from break, along with a renewal of her birth control pills.

“Too late,” Mary Kate hung her head, guiltily. “Sean’s been sitting with me outside all this time.”

“Oh-h, well, I guess Sean’s okay,” Madison replied moodily. “I just don’t want my parents or anybody else to know.”

Mary Kate hung her head sorrowfully.

“Madison, it’s no good. The whole dorm saw the ambulance. They saw you – and everything.” She finished helplessly. Madison’s shrunken wet form had been strapped to a gurney and rushed through the dorm halls. By now the whole college probably knew.

“Madison, it’s no good. The whole dorm saw the ambulance. They saw you – and everything.” She finished helplessly. Madison’s shrunken wet form had been strapped to a gurney and rushed through the dorm halls. By now the whole college probably knew.

In response to this news, Madison looked weary. Then she turned her head to the wall. A moment later Mary Kate saw that she was crying silently. She stood there, not knowing what to do. She had never seen anyone so wretched.

That was when Sean walked into the room with Father Daniel, the youthful, clean-cut priest who celebrated the Traditional Latin Mass on campus. Sympathetic but correct, Father Dan was beloved by the Juventutem students.

However, his un-looked for appearance now made Mary Kate panic immediately. She widened her eyes and shook her head vigorously, pointing silently to Madison’s turned head. But Sean was unmoved.

“Madison?” Sean called gently.

Madison turned her head. When she caught sight of Father Daniel’s Roman collar, she grew paler.

“Um, I-I don’t think this is the right time,“ Mary Kate started to say, but to her shock Madison interrupted her.

“It’s okay,” she whispered. “I-I actually would like to talk with him.”

So that is how Madison came to be involved with the Latin Mass, and a regular at Juventutem meetings. And this is just part of the changes she’s made.

She’s dropped her “Women in Literature” class in order to concentrate on the business classes she loves. She’s also summarily dismissed her wolf-pack, some of whom — incredibly, to Mary Kate — had come around sniffing for easy sex in the wake of Madison’s very public melt-down.

Madison’s parents are still getting divorced, but she’s elected not to renew her Paxil prescription. The constant texts on her smartphone abated after she told her mother that she cannot act as counselor or go-between. To his utter shock, she has also told her father that he needs to go to Confession, and that no amount of his money in her bank account will make him feel better about the choice he has made.

Her blonde highlights have faded, and she no longer haunts the gym, but her new Latin Mass friends don’t seem to mind. Undoubtedly, her new boyfriend Christopher likes her just as she is. They spend every minute possible together, and she’s taken to cheering him on as he rows for the school’s up-and-coming crew team.

And she doesn’t need to be on birth control pills anymore, either, she informed Mary Kate one evening. She had just left Christopher at the dorm door. It was a spring night, and finals were looming.

“I don’t need them,” she said simply.

Mary Kate nodded, and waited. Madison was sitting cross-legged on her bed, arms folded. Her expression was serious.

“I-I guess I’m trying to say that he loves me enough to wait for sex,” she said slowly, wonderingly. “He is very serious about me.”

“And how do you feel about him?” Mary Kate asked.

“You know, I am sort of shocked,” Madison shook her head. “He’s the first guy who has acted like that with me. At first I wondered if it was an act. But, he’s for real.”

“Well, you seem to have a new, uh, approach, ever since…”

Madison nodded.

“It’s not just Christopher, though,” she said slowly. “Ever since I started attending the Latin Mass, I have this completely new perspective. Before, I was all about what I looked like, and how to get ahead, find the right guy — all that. But nothing worked. Not for me. Not for my parents. I felt like I was frantically chasing a dead dream. Somebody else’s dead dream…”

“What do you think the Mass has to do with your, er, change in perspective?”

“I don’t actually know, but it’s something about the slowness of the Latin Mass,” she went on, a faraway look in her eyes. “I love the silences. I love the chant. It’s like an experience from another world.

“At first, I went because of you and Sean because, well, I didn’t want to face all the people I used to hang around with. I was also really done with the guys.”

“And when you guys brought me to the Mass and to the breakfasts afterwards to tell you the truth I wasn’t sure who these people were — I mean, they certainly weren’t like the ‘cool’ people I knew — most  were kinda nerdy,” she glanced sheepishly at Mary Kate, who laughed outright.

“All depends on what you think is ‘cool’, I guess,” Mary Kate grinned, shrugging.

“I guess,” Madison replied somewhat doubtfully, “But after awhile, I liked how intelligent they are. I liked their sense of humor…you know, I like being invited to people’s house for dinner and sitting around and talking about stuff…” her voice petered out.

She regarded Madison thoughtfully. “At first I had no idea what these people were talking about. I mean, they’re interested in all sorts of things that I had never even thought about — history, liturgy, politics. Even cooking!” Madison looked so surprised that Mary Kate had to laugh again.

“My mother would call that ‘civilized,'” Mary Kate smiled. “She is always harping on that.”

“I guess it is pretty civilized,” Madison answered thoughtfully. “But there’s more to it. I don’t even think about the stuff I used to worry about, anymore. I just focus on getting done what I need to for today, spending fun times with Christopher  and…promise not to laugh?”

“I promise,” Mary Kate replied gravely.

 fessio

 

Firefighter, Paramedic, Veteran & Father

A Christmas Journey Home

Q: How old are you ? What do you do for a living ?
A: I am a 43 year old professional firefighter/paramedic in Texas.

Q: How old were you when you left the Church ?
A: Having been poorly catechized and brought up nominally Catholic, “the drift” began in my late teens.  My sister was sent to an all-girls Catholic high school, but my Dad felt I was beyond the local Jesuits’ abilities and sent me to a military academy based on the United States Marine Corps.  As a result, I was never confirmed, but I did perfect the “About Face” with which I would eventually perform upon my Catholic Faith.  

Q: Why did you leave the Church?
A: I was drawn away from the Church by all the worldly pleasures: wine, women, song (not my own… I have a horrible singing voice).  I entered the military and declared myself “Catholic”, but it was nothing more than a stamp on my dog-tags.  I did not practice my faith in any way, shape, or form. 

Q. Did you try other churches?
A. As I meandered through life in my 20’s and 30’s, I wandered from church to church in the Protestant world.  The large city I live in here in Texas is chock-full of big box evangelical Churches, so I did what all the other young people did.  I church-hopped, seeking the most entertaining preacher, and the best looking female attendees.

Q: Why did you return to the Church?
A: As I neared the end of my 30’s, I met a young lady and got married.  We had our first child, a son.  I had to do some soul-searching, some self-determination as to what sort of HUSBAND I want to be…what sort of FATHER I want to be.  What sort of example shall I set, and what sort of legacy shall I leave behind ? Looking down at the little guy changed EVERYTHING.  IT is said that having a child changes your world (I nominate that for “understatement of the year” !), and it most surely did mine. 

Q. How did this happen?
A. One day at the fire station, having walked in that day without the slightest inkling of “becoming Catholic” again, I had a MAJOR reversion.  Out of nowhere, as I was sitting in my room, I felt an inner call to action.  It was profound and authentic.  Over the next 3 hours, I had:

  • Enrolled in my local RCIA
  • Begun the annulment process for my previous marriage
  • Ordered my sacramental records from the Archdiocese of the Military Services
  • Ordered a stack of Catholic books from Amazon

Q: How did your family react to your reversion?
A: Boy, did I boggle some minds ! My wife was not thrilled about it, as her family is staunchly Methodist, with a light sprinkling of “but they worship statues” seasoning. My Mom was excited about it, as I was finally allaying her regret about not getting me confirmed.  She is still a practicing Catholic. My Dad, however, is fallen-away and was a little more hostile to the idea.  He grew up in Catholic schools in Philadelphia in the 50’s and then Villanova University but had completely lost his Catholic Faith along the way. 

Q. How do they feel now?
A: Though my Dad was a little more apathetic towards my reversion, he has certainly warmed up to the idea of it now. He’s even expressed occasional interest in my current activities with RCIA sponsorship, Knights of Columbus, and my spiritual director who is in Opus Dei and a fellow Villanova man. I am trying to subtly but confidently witness my Catholic Faith to my Dad.  Now THAT would be a reversion!!

Q: Where do you attend Mass?
A: Actually, I go to a Maronite Catholic Church.  I love the Maronite Liturgy, so reverent and ancient — in Aramaic, the language of Jesus. 

Q. You’ve taken a new interest in liturgy?
A. Yes, when time permits, I go to the local FSSP Parish, Mater Dei. The Latin Mass is simply AWESOME.  The Novus Ordo parish I was attending had 30,000 parishioners and I just didn’t like the guitars, holding hands, and hugging across the pews.  It was usually very irreverent, in my humble opinion. I find the Maronite Mass and the Extraordinary Form (Tridentine Mass) to be AWE-INSPIRING.  You feel connected to the Early Church Fathers in the “Mass of All Ages”.
 
People say, “But I don’t understand Latin.  The Novus Ordo in the local vernacular helps people understand the Mass”. Well, my response to that is this: First I would hardly say people “understand the Mass” these days, as statistics show 75%+ of Catholics don’t even believe in the Real Presence. If people “understood the Mass”, they would not be dressing in beachwear for the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar. And second, if you don’t understand Latin, do what Catholics USED to do: BUY A MISSAL.

Q. Do you have a Christmas message you would like to shout out to Regina readers?
A. Yes. I attribute my journey into Traditional Catholicism to surrounding myself by authentic Catholics who LIVE and LOVE their faith.  I humbly thank them for guiding me Home.

The Mysterious Fence-Sitters of Gen X

by Beverly De Soto Stevens

I am puzzled by Generation Xers. No, really. I know that they are regularly termed ‘slackers’ by Boomers, and I do think that’s a bit unfair. I’ve taught graduate level Finance classes to Gen Xers – albeit in a military environment – and I have seen little evidence of the whining and slacking they are accused of.  No, what astonishes me about Gen Xers is the fence-sitters. About, literally, everything. About their LIVES.

It’s eerie, actually. An entire generation of people who adamantly refuse to commit to, well, anything. Marriage is too scary. Choosing a serious career path is too hard. Then, there’s the living-at-home-forever syndrome.

It’s eerie, actually. An entire generation of people who adamantly refuse to commit to, well, anything.

All of this means we are facing something entirely new in the history of the world: an entire generation of middle-aged teenagers. Adults, whose tastes and ideas are substantially the same as they were as teens. Baseball caps worn backwards, pants drooping ostentatiously over protruding bellies, wolfing down Big Macs while flashing expensive manicures.

The snarky humor — an ironic “awesome” — is the familiar byword for this entire generation.  They perch on the fence, en masse, mysteriously refusing to step off onto the solid ground of adulthood.

Why is this?

People tell me it’s the bad US economy. But here in Germany, the economy has been going gangbusters, as the car companies sell luxury vehicles to Chinese manufacturing zillionaires stuffed full of American cash. (Just in case you were wondering what happened to America’s prosperity, but I digress.)

Nevertheless, for some mysterious reason well-compensated German Gen Xers in secure jobs supported by an all-encompassing welfare state, are most comfortable sitting on fences, too. (As a result, most of the women in the almost-empty maternity wards here are over 40, with many of them pregnant by sperm donors.)

The snarky humor — an ironic “awesome” — is the familiar byword for Generation X.  They perch on the fence, en masse, mysteriously refusing to step off onto the solid ground of adulthood.

This story repeats itself all over the developed world, regardless of whether there are jobs available.  What, exactly, is going on here?

Gen X Weddings

I think Gen X weddings tell us a lot about this afflicted generation. The wretched excess. The vast sums borrowed for a once-in-a-lifetime ‘destination wedding.’ A lifetime of debt to enable two ordinary people to stand barefoot on a tropical beach amongst the uncomfortable guests with sand in their shoes, taking pretty vows that mean nothing. The obese bridesmaids stuffed into strapless gowns, tattoos emblazoned on their plump, self-tanned appendages.  ‘Bridezilla’ burning her dress afterwards.

And the wedding night? Long past the point in their relationship when sex is a fearful delight, Xers collapse in exhaustion in their ‘bridal penthouses.’

And well they might. After the parties and the obligatory travel comes the hard part: life, and re-paying their crushing debt.

Oh, and arguing about whose ‘role’ it should be to cook, clean and care for babies. Especially in the face of ruthless layoffs, with resulting unemployment or underemployment. And then there’s always porn, of course, the ultimate solace for men stripped of their dignity and self-respect.

Long past the point in their relationship when sex is a fearful delight, newly-married Xers collapse in exhaustion in their ‘bridal penthouses.’

Surreal ‘judgmentalism’

It’s all so surreal — as if we are descending into a time when, try as they might, an entire generation’s attempts at legitimacy end in self- mockery.

Xers desperately crave legitimacy, which they imagine comes from spending money. At the same time, they insist on their ‘right’ to acceptance, regardless of how unacceptable their appearance or behavior may be. For some strange reason, they are blind to a plain fact that every other generation has acknowledged:  One cannot demand respect, or legitimacy. These things must be earned.

The problem is not them, they continue to insist. Crotch-grabbing — literally or figuratively — as we see so often on Facebook, is ‘free speech.’ Squeezing a size-20 woman into a dress designed for a sylph is not unseemly. Sleeping with an array of ‘partners’ before the eyes of their children is not wrong. Mortgaging their future because they ‘deserve’ a $2000 handbag is not problematic.

The problem is the imagined ‘intolerance’ of others. The worst crime one can commit, in the eyes of this generation, is to be ‘judgmental.’

‘One should not judge, lest they be judged,’ we are told, in sepulchral terms. It’s as if this generation deeply believes that life should be a merry chase, an inchoate chaos, from which we should have the ‘right’ to extract as much pleasure as possible. And that, folks, is about it.

All of this insanity is, of course, way too much for the average human being to endure. If every single certainty in one’s life – morality, beauty, truth – easily falls victim to ‘spin,’ then why would a normal person ever get off the fence?

There’s no safe ground on which to land.

It’s all so surreal — as if we are descending into a time when, try as they might, an entire generation’s attempts at legitimacy end up in self- mockery.

A deep, pervading distrust

Clearly, Gen Xers’ fence-sitting belies a deep distrust which today pervades the West.

What do they distrust? Well, everything. Our institutions, our laws, and each other. This lack of trust is so deep, it’s almost as if they cannot bring themselves to risk anything.

I find this fascinating. Catholic Gen Xers were the first generation brought up entirely in the post Vatican II church, where whatever ‘Father Bob’ said, went. The only sin in this ‘Catholic’ world-view is that of intolerance – though you’ll not find this in the Ten Commandments, or the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

This, of course, makes the idea of ‘sin’ laughable. There is no right and wrong in this world view. There are only ‘choices.’

The absence of ‘sin’ as a concept thrusts us into a nightmare world which no New Age platitudes or pseudo-scientific ideas can rescue us from.

The only salvation from this bad dream?

You guessed it.

The absence of ‘sin’ as a concept thrusts us into a nightmare world which no New Age platitudes or pseudo-scientific ideas can rescue us from.

Enter Catholics

Truth be told, I have been stunned by the faithfulness of the Catholic priests of this generation. Choosing the priesthood in the face of overwhelming cultural headwinds to the contrary. Risking derision, marginalization and worse from their families and peers. Taking a thankless job, without even the comfort of a wife and family to sustain them.

They are intelligent, patient, hard-working men, thoroughly versed in their Faith. They have dedicated their lives, with total commitment, to the Church. And nothing – not sex scandals, not the Lavender Mafia, not overbearing parishioners, or hostility from the media – will deter them.

How is it that men of such stellar quality can emerge from the confusion and despair of Generation X?

Many – though not all – of these amazing men celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass.  They are drawn to it, inexorably. When you ask them about this choice, they revert to an uncharacteristically emotional way of speaking.

It was ‘the Holy Spirit,’ they say, not without irony. And they mean it.

Are they happy?

Compared to their peers, these Catholic priests of the Gen X generation are suffused with joy. Something – some Love – keeps them anchored to a commitment they are wholly, deeply and completely surrendered to.  They are not sitting on any fence.

And they’re not alone.

Compared to their peers, Catholic priests of the Gen X generation are suffused with joy. Something – some Love – keeps them anchored to a commitment they are wholly, deeply and completely surrendered to.  They are not sitting on any fence.

There’s the homeschooling families – most of whom are Gen Xers and Millennials. Poor as church mice, most of them, dependent on a husband’s modest income.

Refusing to contracept and abort, they cheerfully bear child after child. Then, they raise and educate these children on a shoestring budget, often making a Catholic parish the center of their lives.

There’s also the Gen Xers who are reverting and converting, in droves. They show up at Regina Magazine on Facebook, and they ‘like’ everything they see. Catholicism – its deep power, mystery and eternal verities – is what draws them. Regina Magazine’s focus on the beauty of our culture is what fascinates them.

“Awesome,” indeed.

The Price Catholics Pay for a Future

Such choices are deeply counter-cultural. They fly in the face of the accepted ‘wisdom’ of a Gen X generation not at all hesitant to condemn – notwithstanding the need for ‘tolerance’ – any deviation from their fence-sitting worldview.

This has a cost. I lurk in Facebook rooms where homeschooling mothers lend sympathy and support to each other. Often, they are painfully ostracized by their families, peers and even their parish priests! They are ‘too Catholic,’ they are told.  They are ‘extremists.’

But something – some Love – keeps them soldiering on.

And they are saving the Catholic Church. While other Catholic Gen Xers desert to dogma-averse, big box churches with good coffee and comfortably uncertain morals, these families raise children who are staffing the growing new traditional Catholic Orders.

And the converts and reverts are marrying, and having children — or discerning a serious religious vocation.

Deo gratias, all of these people are the real Future of the Catholic Church.

And that makes for a merry Christmas, indeed.

Often, homeschoolers are painfully ostracized by their families, peers and even their parish priests. They are ‘too Catholic,’ they are told.  They are ‘extremists.’

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Amanda_2.jpg

‘MC’ Hammer

These Guys Get Liturgy Done

They are a generation apart, born on three different continents. But they have one highly unusual thing in common: they are all Masters of Ceremonies (MCs) for the traditional Latin Mass.

How did three men from such disparate backgrounds decide to devote their time and talents to tending the Mass, as it has begun to take root again in the highly secularized soil of the 21st century?

In this exclusive Regina Magazine interview, Manila, Philippines MC Miguel Madarang, Connecticut MC Bill Riccio and Manhattan MC Eddy Jose Toribio talk about the Mass and the role of the MC today.

Tell us about where you grew up and your early experiences of Mass.

Bill: I was born in 1953 and grew up in St. Anthony’s parish in New Haven, Connecticut.  It was a liturgical parish, with processions, Holy Week, and Forty Hours devotions — all done with great solemnity and practice. Every First Friday there was an 8 o’clock sung Mass with solemn exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and a noon Solemn Mass before the Blessed Sacrament was exposed for the school kids. This all lasted until about 1966. 

By the time I was in 6th grade, things changed. We were told something so ancient was now passe and what was to happen would be better — that everything that happened before was wrong.

I was profoundly moved by the liturgy and couldn’t understand the changes. They weren’t better. In fact, the translations were like talking to God in the parlance of the supermarket.

dumb2

I was profoundly moved by the liturgy and couldn’t understand the changes. They weren’t better. In fact, the translations were like talking to God in the parlance of the supermarket.

Serving Mass, we were all confused — changing the book, where to stand. Even the priests were confused. Fr. Remegio Piggato, once the rector of the Scalabrini seminary in Staten Island, got flustered one Sunday morning and burst out in his thick Italian accent, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are now saying the Mass backwards.”

Everybody hoped these things would be experimental, and we’d get back to normal. It wasn’t to be, however.

Eddy Jose: I was born in 1983 in Nicaragua. My brother and I used to go to 7 am Mass every Sunday with my grandmother because we “had to.” I would fall asleep for big chunks of the Mass because it was too early for me. Being in a Latin American country, solemn processions and outside religious customs were popular. I always liked these things, and missed them after we moved to the US in 1997.

Miguel: In 1992, when we were being prepared in Parochial school in the Philippines for our 1st Holy Communion,  the teacher told us that “before the Mass was said completely in Latin, with the priest’s back to the people.”  She expounded on this by saying that, to quote, “now, the priest is facing the people, and the prayers are in the local language or even dialect of the people, but all that has changed is the language.”

As the day of my first Holy Communion drew near, 7 December 1992, my maternal grandmother gave me her old missal, which I only read years later, on a Christmas break. I quickly saw that, contrary to what we were taught in school, it was not only the language that was changed in the Novus Ordo Mass.  Everything was changed.

51 - Benediction

I quickly saw that, contrary to what we were taught in school, it was not only the language that was changed in the Novus Ordo Mass.  Everything was changed.

Even as a lad, the transformation struck me. A few days  before, I had received our Lord in Holy Communion on the hand while standing, in a rowdy Mass from a wooden plate. Now, I held in my hands a missal where Mass was characterized by silence.

I then started ‘playing’ the Traditional Latin Mass, without any regard for any rubric I admit, save for the rule that this Mass was to be said in a low voice.  Unlike when I ‘played’ the Novus Ordo Mass and my voice could be heard outside the room because I wanted to imitate the priests I saw; now I was whispering every single word on that missal.

It was an experience which left me longing for an ‘actual Traditional Mass.’ My first actual experience of the Traditional Latin Mass came 13 long years later, at the Most Holy Redeemer Parish.

unnamed

Even as a lad, the transformation struck me. A few days  before, I had received our Lord in Holy Communion on the hand while standing, in a rowdy Mass from a wooden plate. Now, I held in my hands a missal where Mass was characterized by silence.

When did you get involved with the Latin Mass? Why?

Bill: I held onto the hope that the Old Mass — the REAL THING — would reappear. I was certain that nothing that good and that substantial could disappear at the whim of a committee. By the time the first indult appeared in 1984, I had seen a poster for the St. Gregory Society, looking for support to start an indult Mass in the New Haven area. I jumped on board. 

By that time I had returned to St. Anthony’s because a priest who at least tolerated tradition was trying to bring back some of the practices. I became an organist and the Master of Ceremonies during Holy Week. We brought back the repository for the Blessed and re-instituted the grand processions.

To some this may be like a lot of externals, but to me it was a manifestation of what we said we believed as Catholics.  During this time I got a call from Britt Wheeler of the St. Gregory Society, and he asked if I was interested in becoming the MC. I studied the liturgy, read my Adrian Fortescue and re-learned the liturgy.

By January 12, 1986 we started a monthly sung mass at Sacred Heart Church, New Haven.  Ironically, the church is two blocks from St. Anthony’s.  It really was like riding a bicycle. Things just came back to me.  From there, I got a reputation as “the MC from New Haven.”

213

I held onto the hope that the Old Mass — the REAL THING — would reappear. I was certain that nothing that good and that substantial could disappear at the whim of a committee.

Miguel:  At university, a very holy Spanish Dominican priest, Fr. Lucio Gutierrez, told me “the Mass need not always be grand for the people, but it must always be grand for God” (sic).

In 2007, I became a regular Traditional Latin Mass attendee, under the auspices and fatherly care of the very same priest who offered the Mass I attended in 2005 – Fr. Michell Zerrudo. I owe much to the many priests, and lay people, who led me (back) to the Mass of all ages, but I owe Fr. Zerrudo the most, and I dare say that the Traditional Latin Mass movement in the Philippines owes almost all, if not everything, to this holy, humble and dedicated priest.

Elevation of the Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Rev. Fr. Michell Joe Zerrudo – chaplain and spiritual director of Una Voce Philippines – offers Missa Defunctorum with Absolution over the Catafalque last 2 November 2013 at Holy Family Parish, Roxas District, Philippines.

I owe Father Zerrudo the most, and I dare say that the Traditional Latin Mass movement in the Philippines owes almost all, if not everything, to this holy, humble and dedicated priest.

Today, in Manila, a scan of the congregation at a TLM will reveal a good number of young professionals.  A quick look at the choir loft will reveal to you a schola completely composed of young bankers, chemists, physicists, and engineers.  We also have students, mainly from the Pontifical University of Santo Tomas and the State University of the Philippines.

 A good number of our attendees travel through four cities just to attend the weekly Sunday Traditional Latin Mass, yet you will find them in Church an hour before Mass starts. Now that is dedication!

Mass Goer

“Today, in Manila, a a quick look at the choir loft will reveal to you a schola completely composed of young bankers, chemists, physicists, and engineers.   A good number of our attendees travel through four cities just to attend the weekly Sunday Traditional Latin Mass, yet you will find them in Church an hour before Mass starts. Now that is dedication!”

Since the Traditional Latin Mass began in Holy Family Parish in Manila in 2012, the average number of attendees is 130 to 150.  We are now aiming to increase that number by a strong information drive.

Eddy Jose: In 2001, I began to read about the history of the Church; a website, Vademecum, led me to the traditional Mass. I was curious about the changes to the Mass, and the consequences those changes had among the faithful, priests, vocations, and Catholic identity in general.

Determined to experience the traditional Mass, I found the Church of St. Anne in NYC. I went to this Mass so that I could see with my own eyes what had been given up in the 1960s. From the moment I entered, the beauty of the church struck me. It was well-preserved, with most of its traditional elements — real candles, big beautiful statues, flowers decorating shrines and altars, beautiful marble altar and communion rail, etc.

91

Determined to experience the traditional Mass, I found the Church of St. Anne in NYC. I went to this Mass so that I could see with my own eyes what had been given up in the 1960s.

I began to go as many Saturdays as I could, then to serve this Mass; soon I found the Church of St. Agnes which offered the traditional Mass on Sundays. I read about the Mass, the history of the Church, and the immemorial ceremonies of the Catholic Church. I began slowly because without a job I couldn’t afford many books. But as I began working, I discovered looks on the Liturgy at inexpensive prices online.  I began a small collection of books on the ceremonies of the Mass.

IMG_9631a

I read about the Mass, the history of the Church, and the immemorial ceremonies of the Catholic Church. I began slowly because without a job I couldn’t afford many books.

I also got involved with “The First Friday Friars,” a small group of men who met for Mass on first Fridays to practice the devotion to the Sacred Heart. This group was somewhat private; only men attended this Mass. Soon after, we opened the Mass to everybody who wanted to fulfill these first Friday devotions according to tradition, and I invited servers from the other churches. Soon enough, we had more of everything —  more people, more servers, a larger choir and more Sung Masses.

I became aware of the traditional Mass first through mere curiosity. After I attended my first traditional Mass, I thought it was unjust for the entire Church to give up something that had been Hers for so many centuries and to replace it with something that was not as ancient or as reverent. I always feel very moved and inspired by the traditional ceremonies of the Church.

IMG_6888-Copy

After I attended my first traditional Mass, I thought it was unjust for the entire Church to give up something that had been Hers for so many centuries and to replace it with something that was not as ancient or as reverent. I always feel very moved and inspired by the traditional ceremonies of the Church.

What, exactly, is the job of a Master of Ceremonies in a Latin Mass?  

Eddy Jose: According to Pio Martinucci, the Papal Master of Ceremonies under Bl. Pius IX, there are three main tasks: 1) to direct the servers and Sacred Ministers, 2) to ensure that the ceremonies/functions are carried out properly, and 3) to be well-versed in the ceremonies of the Mass. All of these things are needed in order for the M.C. to avoid and prevent confusion, accidents and undue delays.

In 1921, the American Ecclesiastical Review specified “… in the matter of obeying the Master of Ceremonies, there is a question of public order and edification…” In order for the Sacred Minister and the servers to trust the MC, he must have a very solid knowledge of the ceremonies of the Mass.

Many books and articles on the Rubrics of the Mass talk about the M.C. and his duties, how much he must know, how he should direct or correct — when absolutely needed — inaccuracies, and how he should behave while the ceremonies are taking place. All of this is aimed at keeping order and reverence in the Sanctuary.

6912055698_cf063bce98_b

With the help and cooperation of the other servers, the MC also ensures that a reverent silence is maintained in the Sacristy and in the Sanctuary, and that everything is in order for the Sacred Ministers and for the graceful carrying out of the ceremonies of the Mass.

The MC must ensure that everything for the celebration of Mass is ready and in its proper place. With the help and cooperation of the other servers, the MC also ensures that a reverent silence is maintained in the Sacristy and in the Sanctuary, and that everything is in order for the Sacred Ministers and for the graceful carrying out of the ceremonies of the Mass.

Miguel: In my humble opinion, being just one of three Masters of Ceremonies, the exact job is to be the least of the servants in the liturgy.  This role calls for a service of love to the Mass. However, to be a servant, one must know how to properly do one’s ‘chores’. 

The current Ceremoniale Episcoporum is clear. We “should be well-versed in the history and nature of the liturgy and its laws and precepts… with a thorough knowledge of the rite he will oversee, must know liturgical and ecclesiastical protocol, and must also be of even temperament – very important in case of emergencies. He does not have to have a degree in liturgy, although it is desirable.”

26 - Pontifical Mass coram Sanctissimo 1

We ‘should be well-versed in the history and nature of the liturgy and its laws and precepts… with a thorough knowledge of the rite he will oversee, must know liturgical and ecclesiastical protocol, and must also be of even temperament – very important in case of emergencies.

Furthermore, “the certificate of competency granted by reputable institutions is a guarantee that the lay Master of Ceremonies knows his stuff. However, one who has been tutored by a competent liturgist can also be a Master of Ceremonies as long as he knows what he is doing.”

Since the Mass is now simply taught but no longer experienced in local Ecclesiastical houses of studies, we rely heavily on the wealth of knowledge of the Traditional Institutes and Fraternities of Apostolic Life which are in union with the Holy See, the decrees of the local Bishop’s Conference before the Liturgical reform – such as the Acta et Decreta Primi Concilii Plenarii Insularum Philippinarum, and of course, on Fr. Zerrudo.  We cling to him like a man in a ravine, clinging to a strong rope for dear life.

In a nutshell, the Master of Ceremonies is a servant of the Liturgy, a page boy in the Mass.

apostolic nuncio

In my humble opinion, being just one of three Masters of Ceremonies in Manila, the exact job is to be the least of the servants in the liturgy.  This role calls for a service of love to the Mass. However, to be a servant, one must know how to properly do one’s ‘chores’. 

Are there more challenges today for Latin Mass MCs?

Eddy Jose: On a practical and relevant level, today it is often common for the MC to be more familiar with the Mass than Sacred Ministers are. More priests now want to learn the traditional Mass and need help doing so, but they don’t have much free time to devote to learning.

So, it is more important for the M.C. to be well-versed in the Rubrics now than it may have been in the past, when priests were already familiar with the Latin Mass.

2
The late Archbishop Francois Gayot of Haiti celebrated the traditional Pontifical Mass in NYC, wearing the ‘Cappa Magna,’ a timeless symbol of the gravity of his office.

On a practical and relevant level, today it is often common for the MC to be more familiar with the Mass than Sacred Ministers are. More priests now want to learn the traditional Mass and need help doing so, but they don’t have much free time to devote to learning.

There is another challenge for MCs today.  After all the changes to the altars and architecture of churches that took place in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, we must allow time to understand what the current space of the church will permit. Very often, modifications to functions, ceremonies and sitting arrangements have to be made because of the very different configuration of churches in comparison to when the books on the rubrics of the Mass were written. Therefore, with this in view, today’s MC needs to be more flexible than an MC in the past.

For example, at the first Pontifical (Requiem) Mass at the Church of the Holy Innocents in NYC in November 2009, we were not allowed to move the New Order Altar. This meant that the center of the Sanctuary was not going to be as spacious as it would have been in the past.  This affected the lineup of the servers and sacred ministers, so we had to adjust.

20

After all the changes to the altars and architecture of churches in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, we must allow time to understand what the current space of the church will permit. Very often, modifications to functions, ceremonies and sitting arrangements have to be made because of the very different configuration of churches in comparison to when the books on the rubrics of the Mass were written.

How important is the MC’s role?

Eddy Jose: The MC’s role has always been considered very important. It is still officially required for Pontifical Ceremonies, according to the rubrics for the Latin Mass. It would also seem very strange to have a traditional Solemn Mass without an MC, and it is very common to see an MC at Sung Masses.

While the role is critical, it is essential that any individual MC not allow himself to become irreplaceable or completely indispensable, because there are many circumstances which might prevent him from being available to serve — such as commitments to work, family, school, health. There always needs to be somebody else who can take his place without too much difficulty.

 Miguel: How important is this role?  Can you say that a coffee stirrer is important? To a certain extent, yes.  A coffee stirrer’s role is to be used to stir coffee, after which it is to be set aside.  The importance of the role of a Master of Ceremonies lies on the service he renders to make the liturgy solemn, not solely by his own actions, but by those around him.

Credo

How important is the MC’s role?  Can you say that a coffee stirrer is important? To a certain extent, yes.  A coffee stirrer’s role is to be used to stir coffee, after which it is to be set aside.”

Do you see much interest on the part of other men to learn to be a Master of Ceremonies?

Miguel: In Manila, the past year has seen a deluge of young men who have shown interest to serve at the altar of the Lord.  However, they are to be assessed by the Masters of Ceremonies to see if they truly wish to be servants at the altar, or just want to be “seen”.  The Mass is not a show, but an act of worship.  In short, they shall be measured by their fruits.

In the coming months, we plan to double the catechisms, talks, and trainings we organized this past year.  This was in fact pointed out to us by one of our affiliate-priests; “This movement is for the salvation of souls! Go and preach!”

Prayers at the Foot of the Altar

In Manila,  the past year has seen a deluge of young men who have shown interest to serve at the altar of the Lord.  In the coming months, we plan to double the catechisms, talks, and trainings we organize.

Bill: There is no formal class for becoming an MC. It’s really a matter of giving guidance to those men who want to a) learn more about the traditional liturgy and b) desire to take it further by learning the various roles within the Solemn Mass or Missa Cantata. 

Over the years — yikes, more than 27! — I’ve tried to cultivate those guys who have an eye for the liturgy and see it as a means to contribute their talents and increase their faith (not in that order). 

05a
Father John Zuhlsdorf (left) at the Pontifical Requiem Mass in NYC on All Souls’ Day, 2013.

Over the years — yikes, more than 27! — I’ve tried to cultivate those guys who have an eye for the liturgy and see it as a means to contribute their talents and increase their faith (not in that order).

At the risk of making it sound like I’m tooting my own horn, I’ve done dozens of tutorials for priests and servers since we started back in 1986. In a sense, Eddy Jose is a product of a tutorial I did at St. Agnes Church at the request of Monsignor Clark back in 1989. On that day we had a day-long tutorial for priests and servers, and some of the guys who were involved became MCs and have taught others. That’s really how it’s done.

Eddy Jose: Based on my experience in New York City and New Jersey, today there is great interest in serving the traditional Mass in general, especially among younger men. There is also a tremendous interest in passing down the technical and the practical knowledge about how to serve the traditional Mass in all the roles needed.  

I am not aware of an officially organized attempt (of large groups or classes), but I know that there have been some training sessions in the past for servers as well as priests, though they did not focus exclusively on the role of the Master of Ceremonies.

6912074930_229ffd4465_b

Based on my experience in New York City and New Jersey, today there is great interest in serving the traditional Mass in general, especially among younger men.

So, how is this intricate knowledge passed on?

Eddy Jose: It is not simple to become an MC so quickly, after a class or two. This is because, besides the technical knowledge needed in order to know the ceremonies of the Mass for all the roles and functions, there is the experiential knowledge that comes from serving in many different places, dealing with different Sacred Ministers and different servers, as well as the different special ceremonies throughout the year. There is also a level of commitment and dedication needed to learn how to become an MC, which might exclude some servers because of their work or school hours or their family responsibilities.

At the Church of the Holy Innocents in NYC, we have at least three or four servers who can MC for Sung and Solemn Masses, in case the main MC is not available. These were chosen based on their level of commitment and dedication to serving the Mass. We typically alternate the roles, so that everyone can perform the different roles for a Low, Sung, and Solemn Mass.

Fr Rutler
EWTN’s Father George Rutler preaches in NYC’s Church of the Holy Innocents.

It is not simple to become an MC so quickly, after a class or two. This is because, besides the technical knowledge needed in order to know the ceremonies of the Mass for all the roles and functions, there is the experiential knowledge, too.

Bill: I have given tutorials at Holy Cross, Boston, the Diocese of Springfield, MA, the Diocese of Bridgeport, etc. In the process of tutoring or consulting with those who want to begin the Traditional Mass, I have attempted to single out one or two people who want to take it further into becoming a master of ceremonies.

At St. Mary’s in Norwalk, Ct, one of my students from St. John’s Stamford, John Pia, became an excellent MC.  In fact, he’s surpassed the teacher in his knowledge of the rubrics and ceremonial and has made that church a mecca of doing things properly. There are three MCs at St. Mary’s (including myself) plus another three in training.

Another great MC is Jeffrey Collins, whose book on liturgical ceremonies has been cited by some very high-ranking clergymen in the movement. I know because they’ve told me. His knowledge is just beginning to be appreciated.

What is the role of priests in all of this – growing the Mass and identifying MCs to help?

Eddy Jose: In my experience, priests are integral. Here’s a case in point: in 2007, the Saturday Mass moved to the Church of the Holy Innocents. Fr. Thomas Kallumady, the new Pastor there, had already contemplated the idea, as several people had suggested this to him.

For the first anniversary of the motu proprio we asked permission to have a Sung Mass. He agreed, and we had a beautiful Sung Mass with solemn veneration of a Relic of the True Cross. Soon, our Confraternity of the Sacred Heart started having first Friday Masses there. The Mass expanded from Saturdays-only to Mondays through Fridays, until finally we were also able to have the Mass on Sundays.

36 - Ecce Agnus

In my experience, priests are integral to growing the Traditional Latin Mass.

I served all or most of these Masses and was in charge of recruiting and training new servers and of helping new priests become familiar with the ceremonies of the traditional Mass. Very soon, we had a good rotation of servers. When we started having the Mass daily, we were able to get a good rotation of Priests. We helped those who needed to learn the traditional ceremonies for Low, Sung, and Solemn Masses.

Bill:  Many times, priests will point out guys they want to learn to be MCs, and I will do tutorials with them privately.

One of the graces of the last few years has been teaching clergy the rite. At first it seemed a bit topsy-turvy — a layman teaching a cleric — but the MC is probably the best suited to do it, because he has to know the Rite cold.

IMG_9635a

If done well, the Liturgy brings people to God. I know of many converts who’ve come over to the Church, specifically because of the traditional liturgy. It made them understand what the Church believes and teaches.

Each tutorial has been a way of not only getting the priests and deacons to learn the Rite, but getting them to understand that the ceremonial is an integral part of what goes on: it is a manifestation in sight and sound of what they are doing at the altar.

If done well, the Liturgy brings people to God. I know of many converts who’ve come over to the Church, specifically because of the traditional liturgy. It made them understand what the Church believes and teaches.

As I get older and face my own mortality, I’m hopeful that when I come before the Judge of all, what little part I’ve been able to play in the restoration of the ancient rites of the Church will weigh in my favor against, as the Offertory prayer says, “my many sins, negligence and offenses.”

44 - Pontifical Mass coram Sanctissimo

As I get older and face my own mortality, I’m hopeful that when I come before the Judge of all, what little part I’ve been able to play in the restoration of the ancient rites of the Church will weigh in my favor against, as the Offertory prayer says, “my many sins, negligence and offenses.”

 

How Joan Came Home

The Story of a Soul

by Roseanne T. Sullivan

What brings people back to church, after many years – in some cases an entire lifetime – of estrangement? This story of a California woman’s ‘reversion’ may shed some light on the mystery that so many priests encounter.

In 2006, Joan Raphael was a thoroughly modern woman.  A nurse who had led a widely-traveled, adventurous life, Joan had been away from the Catholic Church for over 40 years. While she’d grown up with the Latin Mass, there hadn’t been any traumatic break; she’d simply been raised by relatives who didn’t practice their faith.

One Sunday back in 1969, however, Joan decided she wanted to go to Mass. She didn’t even make it through the church door, however; the radical changes that greeted her were so appalling.

“It was gutted!” she recalls. The sound of guitar music and singing shocked her. “They’d brought the 60s into the church!”

Repelled, she’d turned on her heel and never returned.  Many years later, however, she’d had a spiritual experience walking along the boardwalk in California.

IMG_20130414_181240_2

Repelled, she’d turned on her heel and never returned.  Many years later, however, she’d had a spiritual experience walking along the boardwalk in California.

“It was a spectacular day…..sky and sea azure — perfect like an artist’s idealized rendition of the seaside.” She realized in all of her being that day that she was surrounded by God’s love. She was filled with “a great gratitude to God for all He has given me, with no way to express it.”

That feeling of gratitude ‘with no satisfactory way to express it’ stayed with Joan for many years, until she learned that the Mass that she once known and loved was back.

The Oratory of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, in Santa Clara, California, is run by the Institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest.
The Oratory of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, in Santa Clara, California, is run by the Institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest.

In 2006, Joan’s interest was piqued by news of a Traditional Latin Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of Peace in Santa Clara, CA. But when she arrived, she was told that the Bishop had just moved the Mass to the Oratory of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, also in Santa Clara.

“What’s the address?” she’d asked, all the while wondering what an Oratory actually was.  (Editor’s Note: An oratory is a place of prayer other than a parish that is set aside by ecclesiastical authority for prayer and celebration of the Mass.)

In anticipation of the Motu Proprio of 2007, Bishop Patrick McGrath of the Diocese of San Jose had accepted the offer of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, which is dedicated to the traditional Latin Liturgy of 1962 for the Mass and the other sacraments, to provide a priest canon to serve as rector to the oratory. Because the Oratory would be permitted to offer traditional Latin Masses on Sundays, weekdays, feast days, and holydays, with all the sacraments available in the traditional rite, this new arrangement was to be a big improvement.  (Previously, Masses were only allowed by the bishop once a month on First Saturday evenings.)

Joan attended her first Mass in decades on January 1, 2007. By chance, it was the first day that the Diocese recognized the chapel as an oratory.

“I sat in the last pew and was in tears during most of the Mass,” she remembers. “My soul recognized that the Mass is the highest form of worship on earth, full of beauty, reverence and full attention on God.”

IMG_4904

“I sat in the last pew and was in tears during most of the Mass,” she remembers.

She remembered that as a child, she’d been awed by the beautiful statues in Catholic churches, the incense, and the solemnity. The choir music uplifted her, and the powerful sound of the organ resonated in her body and her soul. The grandeur of the surroundings made her feel diminutive, and she knew that was the right way for her to feel in God’s house. No one spoke above a whisper.  “It was clear that God was worshiped in that beautiful place.”

Soon after her experience of the TLM, Joan went to Confession for the first time in decades.

“The priest was overjoyed,” she recalls. He told her the saints in heaven were rejoicing too.  “I cried like a child. It was a wonderful experience–to unburden my soul of my sins and to feel accepted back into the real Church. I attended all the Masses offered during the next week and the next. It was a glorious time.”

IMG_5052

Soon after her experience of the TLM, Joan went to Confession for the first time in decades.“The priest was overjoyed,” she recalls. He told her the saints in heaven were rejoicing too. 

More than six years later, Joan hasn’t left yet. Some friends at the parish joke that she is at the Oratory so often for Masses, devotions, social activities, rehearsing and singing with the choir, buying and arranging the altar flowers, and helping out in many other ways, that she practically lives there.

But that is okay with Joan. At the Tridentine Mass she feels God’s presence, just as she did on that glorious day on the beach. But at this Mass she could feel Him even more intensely present, while He was “accepting the sacrifice of His Son.”

Here at last Joan could worship God as He deserved.

IMG_0083

Friends joke that Joan is at the Oratory so often for Masses, devotions, social activities, rehearsing and singing with the choir, buying and arranging the altar flowers, and helping out in many other ways, that she practically lives there.

A Visit To Clear Creek Monastery

Clear Creek Abbey

‘Ora et Labora’ in Oklahoma

by Nina Jurewicz


Today, Benedict’s spiritual sons still walk in his footsteps in Benedictine Abbeys all over the world. In this intimate look at the life of the monks of Clear Creek Monastery in rural Oklahoma, Nina Jurewicz conducts us on a exclusive tour (A Visit To Clear Creek Monastery) of this ancient way of life that is drawing so many young Catholic men  into Benedict’s Order once again.

Saint Benedict of Nursia was a fifth century mystic, whose famous Rule ended up underpinning a Catholic Order which literally saved Western Civilization after the fall of the Roman Empire.  His Rule, balancing a life of ‘ora et labora’ (‘work and prayer’), is a masterpiece of wisdom about the possibilities and realities of human nature. Benedict himself is today called the Father of Western Monasticism by the Church.

1
HARD AT WORK: A brother monk puts the ‘labora’ in St. Benedict’s famous prescription for Benedictine life.
4
THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD. I SHALL NOT WANT: Every little lamb needs looking after.
2
WORKING TOWARDS SELF-SUFFICIENCY: The Benedictines of Clear Creek may use modern tools, but their life is still very much governed by the ancient Rule of Saint Benedict.
6
MONASTERY RESIDENT SCULPTOR: Andrew Smith working at Clear Creek Monastery.
5
CLEAR CREEK’S BENEDICTINES work hard and pray hard.

4
ONE OF MANY TRADITIONAL PROCESSIONS during the year at Clear Creek Monastery. This is for April Rogation Days, traditional days of prayer and fasting.
2
CHRISTUS VINCIT! Clear Creek’s monks process for Holy Mass in the Extraordinary Form.
3
ORDINATION AT CLEAR CREEK, October 2013
7
CLEAR CREEK monks in choir sing the ancient Gregorian chant.
8
SIMPLE PROFESSION OF VOWS of three new monks to the Clear Creek community.
5
THE CONSECRATION at Holy Mass in the Extraordinary Form, Clear Creek Monastery
1
RAYMOND CARDINAL BURKE celebrates Mass in the Extraordinary Form in the Upper Church at Clear Creek Monastery, December 2012.
6
FATHER ABBOT ANDERSON leads a monastery procession. The Abbot learned about the great traditions of Catholicism whilst studying under the late Professor John Senior at the University of Kansas.
8
MONKS IN CHOIR. This is the heart and soul of Western Civilization, codified in The Rule of Saint Benedict.
7
THE RULE OF SAINT BENEDICT provides for a time for work, a time for prayer and a time for recreation.

 

He Didn’t Need To Learn How To Veil a Chalice

Reverend Leonard R. Klein is the pastor of St. Patrick’s Church in Wilmington, Delaware. He’s been hard at work restoring beauty there — both in the liturgy and in the church’s architecture.

Q. You are a convert, Father. We understand that you were once a Lutheran minister?

A. As I have told some of the people here at St. Patrick’s, my hope in entering the Catholic priesthood from the Lutheran ministry at the age of 60 was to be able to play a role in cleaning up the Novus Ordo wherever I might land — getting rid of the worst hymns, chanting more of the liturgy, enriching the ceremonial and the like.  At my first assignment as a part-time associate my capacity to do that was limited, but I was rather successful in ‘saying the black, doing the red’ and celebrating Mass with reverence.  I was certainly well received.

4

My hope in entering the Catholic priesthood from the Lutheran ministry at the age of 60 was to be able to play a role in cleaning up the Novus Ordo wherever I might land — getting rid of the worst hymns, chanting more of the liturgy, enriching the ceremonial.

 Q. What has been your experience with the Latin Mass?

A. I was never particularly drawn to the EF, though I had no principled objections to it.  Indeed, I was supportive of the rights of those who sought it.  I once explained the high attendance at the Latin Mass here at St. Patrick’s to a diocesan official by pointing out that there was not a single Novus Ordo solemn Mass on the entire territory of the diocese.  

5

I once explained the high attendance at the Latin Mass here at St. Patrick’s to a diocesan official by pointing out that there was not a single Novus Ordo solemn Mass on the entire territory of the diocese.

Q. What has been your experience of Latin?

A. I have long loved the Latin language, which plays an important role in Lutheran tradition and theology.  I grew up with a hymnal that had the Latin names for the Sundays of Lent clearly printed.  I also have a deep love for serious church music and considerable choral experience and have sung the occasional solo. 

I also was from the “high church” movement in Lutheranism and so much of the ceremonial and even the rationale of the older form of the Mass were familiar and comfortable to me.  I did not need to learn how to veil a chalice. 

So I like to joke that my Lutheran background prepared me well for the Latin Mass, and I have developed a deep affection for celebrating it.

asperges me mons. rebman st. mary

So I like to joke that my Lutheran background prepared me well for the Latin Mass, and I have developed a deep affection for celebrating it.

Q. How did you train for the TLM?

A.  I had the advantage of a strong Latin background; I can read the rubrics without much difficulty.  The previous pastor, knowing something of my background, had provided me with an instructional DVD.  I have availed myself of materials from St. John Cantius in Chicago and keep Fr. Schmitz’ “Mastering the Rubrics of the 1962 Missal” on my desk. 

Because of my liturgical and Latin background I was able to celebrate my first Low Mass about six weeks after arriving in the parish.  The assistance of Steve Girone and Fr. Michael Darcy was invaluable, as has been the occasional tip from a parishioner.

7

I have availed myself of materials from St. John Cantius in Chicago and keep Fr. Schmitz’ “Mastering the Rubrics of the 1962 Missal” on my desk. 

Q. We understand that you have undertaken quite a renovation scheme at St. Patrick’s?

A. Yes, early on my arrival I organized a building committee, and we came up with a plan.  We chipped away at a few things.  We shortened the old wrought iron pulpit, which was too high for the small building.  The bathrooms, which were in horrible condition, were repaired.  A year or so ago we replaced the ugly plywood doors to the sacristy. 

My predecessor had begun the repainting of statues; I moved on to St. Joseph, but we needed to replace that statue, which we did.  I replaced the over-sized free-standing altar with something more suitable to the building. We painted the front walls a classy yellow and people were thrilled with the improvement. 

After receiving the enthusiastic support of the Parish Council and permission from the diocese, we then really  moved ahead.  The ceiling was replaced with something more attractive; a wood laminate floor was installed; the pews were reoriented to face forwards and the old platform demolished.  An altar rail will be installed tomorrow.  The whole interior is repainted; the remaining two statues are being painted by a skilled young artist who has also gilded the marble arches on the face of the altars, and the sound system is being updated.  Repairs are also being made to the organ.  The project will take about a quarter of the parish’s reserves but our portion of the Capital Appeal will restore a decent percentage of that.  My goal is to restore the beauty of St. Patrick’s and to ready it for future service to the diocese.

5

My goal is to restore the beauty of St. Patrick’s and to ready it for future service to the diocese.

Q. Tell us about your parish and your homeschooling community.

A. St. Patrick’s counts about 170 households over all.  Perhaps a quarter of those are regular Latin Mass families.  There are also a number of regular worshipers who are not registered in the parish. Our homeschoolers are deeply concerned about Catholic identity and integrity and they find that in the EF Mass.  Because they are concerned with classical education, they value the use of the Latin language.  Some are musically sophisticated and find the situation in too many local parishes unsustainable.  The EF Mass also helps them sustain their community.

3

Homeschoolers are deeply concerned about Catholic identity and integrity.

Q. We understand that that the local Regina Coeli Society has kept the Latin Mass alive in Delaware.

A. Like many such groups, the Society formed in reaction to the clumsy introduction of the Novus Ordo and the devastation of sanctity and sacred music that came with it.  One of our widows says that they began attending years ago when her husband turned to her and said he was tired of the ‘comedy hour.’  Such attitudes could, I suppose, be called reactionary. 

But people were reacting in fact to things that are indefensible.  I remember well as a Lutheran shaking my head with fellow clergy about what the Catholics were doing to themselves, even as we were following a comparable but more prudent path of liturgical renewal. 

The liturgy at my Lutheran parish in York, PA, would serve well as a good example of reverent and serious Novus Ordo Mass.  The Regina Coeli Society have hung in there and given each other wonderful support.  I should also add that their presence has been essential to maintaining this church and its downtown mission over the last eighteen years that they have been here.

6

People were reacting  to things that are indefensible.  I remember well as a Lutheran shaking my head with fellow clergy about what the Catholics were doing to themselves.

PHOTO CREDITS: Allison Girone

Sign up for REGINA's weekly newsletter

  1. You will usually hear from us about once a week, usually on Sunday. 
  2. At other times, we may send a special email. 

To subscribe, go here!