Thursday, September 30, 2010

United We Stand

Torn over issues of female clergy, the practice of homosexuality, declining Sunday services attendance, and some of its former churches turning into mosques, the Anglican Churches of England and Scotland were required by the Queen to welcome Pope Benedict XVI at former Catholic institutions lost when stolen by Henry VIII in the 16th century. Indeed, the current Queen Elizabeth is probably named after Elizabeth I who was excommunicated by the Pope also in the 16th century. Again, history surprises us in our lifetime. Many thought the Soviet Union, the "Iron Curtain" and the Berlin Wall would out last us and our children, but in an historical instant they were all gone.

Now we have the Pope welcomed by Queen Elizabeth to visit the former Benedictine monastery of Westminster Abbey, and the actual courtroom where Thomas Moore was sentenced to death because of his loyalty to the Vicar of Christ, the Roman Pontiff. Four hundred years ago Catholic priests were hung, disemboweled and quartered for the "crime" of being a priest. Henry VIII stole, looted and destroyed 600 Catholic churches and monasteries. Now the Roman church returns to declare blessed, John Cardinal Neuman who left the Anglican priesthood, converted to Roman Catholicism and became a cardinal. A Pope honoring an Anglican who converted to Roman Catholicism in England under the witness of the schismatic Archbishop of Canterbury... historically unthinkable but now a reality.

One senses that the Christians of Europe are possibly finally reuniting. Devastated by Nazism, Communism, Secularism and now a growing Islam, Christians are seeing an urgency and duty to save Europe's Christian soul and identity. Perhaps our lifetime will witness the spectacular once again...a reuniting of Protestantism, Anglicanism, the Roman and Orthodox churches.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Saint Edward the Confessor

It was a sad Mass. So sad even the priest cried. We were not burying a person but rather a building…the church of Saint Edward the Confessor still standing amidst the urban prairie of the north Philadelphia badlands. Over a century old it had watched its community built, beautified, abandoned and finally destroyed. All that was left were occasional defiant row homes without rows that gasped on acres of broken bricks and dead trees. The aftermath of another great urban battlefield, one of many that chanted the sorrow of American cities at the end of the twentieth century. And now the little congregation of ten gathered in a church which had once greeted a thousand for spectacular Christmas Masses. We came to bury this glorious monument of English Gothic architecture. Towering stained glass windows from France reflected for one last time the story of our faith. Altar bells echoed in the great void. The Virgin Queen gave her final loving gaze. “Ita Missa Est” whispered the broken priest. He had tried so valiantly to save this lighthouse of love in a violent sea of drugs and cruelty. It was over. He had lost.

They entered before the incense had even drifted up to the interior heaven. Protected by security guards they began to take as much of the art that they could move this day. The twenty foot crucifix was lowered carefully onto a padded vehicle for transport to the archdiocesan warehouse. Each man carried a massive candlestick from the home they had known for a century. In one corner a group wrestled the Virgin from her pedestal with the help of a small crane. Yes it was really over. Outside nervous young guards stood by as the loot was taken. Across the street a Black man was yelling, “Thieves! This is God’s house. His glory belongs to His people who have nothing!” Some dismissed him as a drunk, a street person from the rubble. The guards would briefly give him quick stares, always avoiding prolonged eye contact. “Thieves! God’s vengeance on you!” He was a prophet of the street. He had nothing but the truth.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Six Thousand

This week Cardinal Dougherty High School in Philadelphia will officially close...a thought considered impossible in 1958 when it opened as the largest Catholic high school in the world. Those were the glory days for American Catholicism. Seminaries and convents were struggling to find room for their unending floods of candidates. Priests sat down to rectory dinners at crowded dinning room tables. It was unusual to see an elderly priest. It was equally unusual to have a teacher who was not either a priest or a nun. Parishes and schools were well into a building frenzy. The issue of individual conscience and disagreeing with Church doctrine seemed to be non existent. There were the rules, and those who disobeyed them confessed their sins, or just left. No energy was waisted on accommodation and strained compromises. The Church was "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic" in word and actuality. Each year Cardinal Dougherty would graduate well over 1,000 students. Its halls were built extra wide to accommodate the vast crowds during the change of classes. Tuition was $25.00, books were rented, field trips and movies were unheard of. Silence permeated the school during instruction time. All of the 6,000 students prayed as a mass 8 times a day. Female students wore modest uniforms. Male students sported a suit, white shirt and tie. Sneaks appeared in gym and jeans at home. Ours was a European style education with emphasis on lecture and memorization devoid of any current educational fix all program. Manners, respect, patriotism and God were the constant themes of the school.

Today, the building houses 500 students within its endless halls and 2,000 seat auditorium. Nuns disappeared first, then the priests. Catholicism probably has a bare majority as the faith of the student body. Enduring a withering storm of Great Recession, clerical scandals, and a pagan culture, the building somehow remained open until now. It closes this week. The marvel is that it lasted this long. In many ways it represents the Church in America today. Standing, empty and beloved by those who are blessed with memories of a better America. We are promised by Christ that Holy Mother Church will survive to the end of times. He never mentioned, however, our numbers.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Spring Diet

Not everyone is slimming down for the summer.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


Waiting in my car at the Walmart, I saw him approach from the side mirror. Instant decision...roll up the window or see what happens. It was a brilliantly beautiful day and the store was brand new so I felt safe. Not sure why. A voice said take a chance and talk to him if he talks to you. Tattooed and a little drunk he told me his story. He lived in a tent in the woods just beyond the parking lot, and had just survived one of our worst winters in history. It was his third tent. One had blown away and another had been destroyed by a mutually panicked deer. His name was Joey and he was 47 years old. He had lived in the woods for 2 years now. He was forbidden to beg from Walmart shoppers on the parking lot. So we agreed if he was stopped we were just friends having a conversation. His mother lived in senior housing high rise nearby but he was not allowed to visit her after being found sleeping in the lobby. He hadn't seen his father for decades and doubted he would even recognize him. His father had died in in his heart. Before they closed the nearby Catholic church Fr. Bob had let him sleep and shower in the abandoned convent, and even made dinner for him now and then. But that was all over now. Joey loved God, would read his bible in his tent until it got dark. He was currently into Corinthians. Once he went to a nearby Baptist church for bible study but forgot it wasn't Sunday. The church was closed. Proud that he was drug free for 4 months Joey admitted he still needed vodka in the morning to control the shakes. Frustrated he lamented he just couldn't take life much longer. The spider bites, the rain, the was all too much. On April 5 he had remembered it was his birthday and cried bitterly. There was no cards, no cake, no recognition by anyone that he was alive. We talked about AA and places for help, but he admitted he still loved alcohol too much to give it up. I told him unless he controlled it in the end it would win. Briefly, slightly wistfully he acknowledged the demon but then changed the subject. Although I was 10 minutes passed giving him a few bucks, I was drawn to give more even though he didn't ask for it. I told him that God didn't forget his birthday and gave him 20 dollars. He was someone and he got a birthday present no matter what he did with it. His joy was intense.

So there we were on the Walmart parking lot surrounded by people buying more stuff. It was strange to find a man with nothing at a place that boasts it has everything. I wondered who was richer Joey or the shoppers. I reminded Joey that Jesus had little of this world just like him. They were friends, Jesus and him, travelling the cruel way of the cross. But now and then He uses someone to remind the crucified that are not forgotten and are so loved in their passion and suffering. Joey and I parted as friends and he went off to Burger King for dinner. The sun was setting over all of the franchises and the cars continued their endless suburban parade. America 2010.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Prayer For Now

A winter's night awaits the Spring. Blue trees...a guardian moon, God's universal plan continues despite the noises of humanity and its wasted energies. We are less than ants in the grand scheme and yet mysteriously loved by the Creator. What was important is not important, what should be important is too often ignored. To be alone with creation is to be in the presence of the Creator. Pause and ascend above Walmarts, car troubles, and American Idol. Discover you are loved and your return home is always waiting if you find the way. Be careful of the detours and realize when you are in a dead end.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Waiting to be Buried

It is a strange morning for winter, the temperature has reached 60 degrees. Although it is approaching noon the sky is dark. Winds are powerful and the rain is tropical. It is my job to make a delivery. The majestic church stands as a mighty reminder of a past. The thousands are gone. Their school is closed. Their convent is empty of nuns. A rectory built for many priests has but one. Crumbled sidewalks betray a maintenance abandoned. Surviving trees mix with their long dead brothers. Rain drips from rotten gutters. I have breached the barbed wire fence through the hidden entrance and made my delivery. A gentle soul has quieted the old dog long exhausted from his guardian duties. The task is done. I wonder where did all my people go. In suburbs perhaps where they harvest wonderful memories of another time...reciting creative names of celebrity nuns long buried? Memories...crowds of worshippers bustling home for a Sunday breakfast...altar boys extinguishing candles...ushers closing doors. Sunshine always paints memories. But today is not such a day. I know I am really looking at many Catholic churches in many American cities. The tribe has moved, and left behind their monuments. Their new churches are pitiful imitations of a majestic disciplined past. Perhaps they reflect the depth of their new century faith. I hope not. But now, here in the city it is raining. This wondrous church stands alone looking down on the collapsing houses of its ghostly congregation. Across the street a new African American Baptist church glares with the arrogance of victory. My church stares back waiting to be buried.