Pope’s Trip to the Holy Land – Controversy and Calls for Justice

The Pope’s trip to the Holy Land has stirred bith praise and controversy. He has clearly spoken against violence and injustice in the Holy Land and called for a Palestinian State. This has angered some and pleased others.  He has also sought to encourage Catholics in the Holy Land many of whom suffer injustice and economic hardship. Here is the latest report from Gloria TV

Opportunity Scholarships Provide Hope

What should we do when a public school system is failing it’s children? The first answer that comes to mind is that we should reform that school system. But what if that reform has been resisted for years by complex political and philosophical forces? What if, for decades a public school system that everyone admits is one of the poorest performing in the nation has not improved but has gotten worse? What if its buildings are in disrepair and more importantly its performance indicators remain steadfastly dismal? What to do with a school system that fails our children and fails to reform?

Well the answer is to provide successful alternatives for children and their families.  This has happened in the last number of years through a program called the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program. The program is federally funded and provides children that qualify a voucher of up to $7,500 that they can use to enroll in a private school that will serve them well. Some of the families have chosen Catholic Schools, some have chosen other private schools. But the key point is that those families blessed to receive such assistance now have an alternative to failing public schools. There are many wonderful success stories that have emerged from the Opportunity Scholarship Program and I hope to share some of them with you in future posts.

But for now, I ask your prayers and attentiveness to the fact that Congress has refused to reauthorize this very effective program and wants to force many families back into a failing system that cannot serve their children effectively. The White House recently floated a “compromise” that would allow children in the system currently to see their days out to graduation but the fact is that President Obama wants the program to end too.

We have to pray and work to change minds and hearts on this matter. Too many children will suffer needlessly if Congress bows to political pressure from teachers unions and other interest groups. I repeat, whatever your political leanings, it is the children who lose in this political debate if vouchers are ended. Poorer families need quality educational alternatives if the cycles of poverty are to be broken for many of them. It is simply wrong to end a successful program when quality educational alternatives in the public sector are currently lacking. Consider well who we are punishing in this debate. It’s not conservatives, it’s not the Church, it’s not private schools, it’s the children.

Political action from across the political spectrum is beginning to rally around this issue. Today hearings were held in congress that you can see here:  HEARINGS I will edit and provide highlights in the next few days. In that hearing there are motions to reverse the decision to cancel the Opportunity Scholarship Program. Last week a rally was held with thousands attending to voice their support for vouchers. Lend your voice. Get informed by visiting the website  Opportunity Scholarship Website

Here is are video highlights from last week’s rally:


The Mass in Slow Motion – The Congregation is Seated

After the opening prayer the congregation is seated for the first time. Sitting is the posture of learning. We have already remarked above on the commentary on the presider’s chair how in the ancient world teachers, including Jesus sat to teach. It is also true that their students also sat to learn.  Hence the congregation now sits in order to be instructed in God’s Word. Now the picture at the right shows a mighty strange looking congregation but it’s OK to have a little fun here.

The following video describes not  only the sitting posture but also standing and kneeling.

Jewish Reaction to Papal Trip

Hmm….Not sure what to make of this latest edition of Gloria TV News. It presents a series of highly negative reactions by Jewish leaders to the Pope’s visit to Israel. Surely not all Jewish leaders are this negative are they? I just wonder, sitting over here in America if this is a balanced report of Jewish reaction or if there is something of a “European” thing going on here. Any ideas among any of you as to the tone of this report? If it is true it seems that some of the leaders are being extremely picky and are looking for an argument. (Granted there is one Jewish Leader quoted as denouncing all the negative attitudes but it is not clear what the majority reaction to the Pope’s visit is).  I don’t know what to think of this, but here is the report:

The Mass in Slow Motion – The Opening Prayer

Now the priest says something odd: “Let us Pray!”  Haven’t we already been praying this whole time? Yes perhaps. But as we shall see this prayer was (and still is) traditionally called the “Collect.” It was thus named since its purpose was to collect all these opening prayers (and whatever other personal prayers we brought)  into one summary prayer. So, yes we have been praying and praising but the invitation still stands: “Let us pray!” ….Well? Don’t just stand there!….Pray! It is too common that we Catholics often don’t take the words of our liturgy seriously. They are just ritual words that don’t really register with us any longer. But listen to what the celebrant said: “Let us pray!” So perhaps we ought to actually bow our heads and pray. The celebrant is supposed to wait for a moment or two of silence but go right into the text. This is a shame. The rubrics clearly direct that we actually pause to pray. So pray, actually pray. The text that follows, said or sung by the celebrant serves to summarize or collect our individual prayers as well as to state or summarize a theme either of the season or the liturgy we have begun. Pray along with the celebrant, pray. 🙂

History. The basic body of the Collects of the Western Church developed and appeared for the first time in Sacramentaries in the time period between the third and sixth Centuries. It was during this time that there was completed the transfer of the Liturgy from Greek to Latin. Prior to this time the formulation of the prayers was left primarily to the celebrant who freely extemporized them usually following a common format. However, this seems to have caused difficulty in many cases especially as the Church spread far and wide. St. Augustine rather humorously remarks that catechumens who might be well educated should not laugh at or mock bishops and priests who might not be so eloquent in the wording of their prayers and might fall into “barbarisms” and “blunders” in their vocal prayers at Mass. Apparently it was not always so clear to the people what they were saying “Amen” to! By the 4th Century there may be found increasing conciliar resolutions that only texts which have been approved should be used at divine services. And so gradually these texts were composed and became increasingly binding upon the celebrant. Feast days, commemoration of the saints, and other celebrations all served as occasions for the composition of new collects. Over the centuries the number of collects within the Mass increased. Sometimes there were three collects to be said. Shortly before the Second Vatican Council the number was once again reduced to only one and this is still the rule today. Thus the opening prayer gains prestige by the fact that there is no second or third round of requests.

The posture of the people during this prayer has changed somewhat over the centuries. Originally they knelt just before the prayer. At the invitation “Let Us Pray” the Deacon or another minister would ask the people to kneel and pause for silent prayer. Presumably however, they stood for the prayer itself. Eventually this kneeling posture was carried into the recitation of the prayer itself. However, by the 4th Century, kneeling for the prayer began to decline. In 325 AD the Council of Nicea directed that this posture was to be replaced by standing during the Easter season out of respect for the risen Lord. This arrangement gradually spread to other Sundays in general, then to feasts, and finally to ordinary days and even to days within penitential seasons. Today the posture of standing for the prayer is maintained.

The term “collect” comes more literally from the Latin word “collecta” which refers to a people gathered or assembled for some purpose (in this case worship). Historically in Roman Church, the term referred especially to groups gathered for penitential processions. However, in time, due especially to Gallican influences, the term came to be understood as referring to the opening prayer which was a “gathering up” or a “summing up” of all the prayers of the people. The very function of summing up the prevents the contents of the prayer from being anything more than general in nature. The important matter here is that the community appears before God and by virtue of the priest, acting as its “mouthpiece” humbly and reverently directs its petitions toward God.

The Character of the opening prayer is one of petition. It can also be an act of adoration and thanksgiving. The prayers of the Roman Church are rather terse: brief and to the point. This shows a Roman preference for conciseness and clarity. This does not mean that they lack beauty. In fact they are widely regarded as masterworks of Latin Literature. However, they get right to the point. It is unfortunate that the beauty, clarity and brilliance of the Latin Collects has not been well represented by the present English translations. Help may be on the way in the new translations soon to come out. There are many qualities of the Roman Collect which could be mentioned but especially worth noting is the Latin love of antithesis. For example the following themes are often played against one another.

  1. Human struggle and divine help.
  2. Passing deeds or realities and eternal truths.
  3. Earthly misery and eternal blessedness.

The People assent to the pray with their “Amen!”

So, when the celebrant says “Let us Pray….” We ought to pray. In the years ahead it is hope the new translations will unlock the hidden beauty of these beautiful collects for the average church-goer. Presently much is lost in the current translation and only available to those who read Latin. Here is an example of a Latin Collect and a rather literal translation of it:

Deus, qui fidelium mentes unius efficis voluntatis, da nobis id amare, quod praecipis, id desiderare, quod promittis, ut inter mundanas varietates,  ibi nostra fixa sint corda, ubi vera sunt gaudia.

O God who make the minds of the faithful to be of one accord, grant to your people to love what you command and to desire what you promise that, among the changes of this world, our hearts may be fixed there where true joys are.

An Improbable Vocation Story

My vocation like any vocation began in the heart and mind of God long before I was born (cf Jer 1:4). But I became aware of it only in my early college years.

I was not a particularly religious child. I never thought of the priesthood, I hated going to church and things religious held no interest for me. I went to Church because I had to. My mother insisted I must go if I was going to live in her house. My Father too would have none of this “I don’t feel like going!” stuff.

In high school I was made aware of a Church choir that was forming for High School kids. I didn’t like church music, I was a Rock ‘n’ Roll fan only. I couldn’t sing. But I did notice that there were some very pretty girls singing in that High School Church Choir. So, in my sophomore year of High School I joined. This would be a good way to meet those girls and have a chance to date them. And sure enough, I was able to date several of them! (I even learned to sing). Now going to Church was far more interesting. I still didn’t love God all that much but the young ladies were a real draw. And through it all God was preparing me to meet my bride. Not necessarily the bride I expected, but my bride nonetheless.

Through the remainder of my High School years and into college I moved into musical leadership. I became a cantor, an organist, and eventually, in early college became the director of that Choir. Now I was planning music and pondering the spiritual message of the lyrics, learning more of the faith.  I favored the spiritual classics over the modern but I got to know all the genres. One day my pastor said to me, “Charles Pope I think you are called to be a priest!” I laughed and asked if he’d like to meet my girl-friend. But something started that day. A seed was planted. No one had ever said that to me before and it touched a nerve.

At first I was unsettled and alarmed. I was coming to the conclusion of a computer science degree, I was already working for the Army Corps of Engineers, I was dating a girl I thought I’d like to marry. That old priest really rocked my world. How could I be a priest? But I couldn’t get it out of my mind. It seemed strangely attractive to me and yet I was also well situated to go the traditional family and career route. “All right,” I said,  “Lord, if you want me to be a priest you’re going to have to give me a pretty clear sign!” Two weeks later my girl-friend announced that we were “over.”  It was my fault. You don’t need the details but God had acted. I was rather depressed for a while but also saw an open door. I knew I had my sign. I walked through and have never turned back. There were a few rocky moments in seminary, a few less than stellar evaluations but in 1989 I was ordained to the priesthood.

So  there it is. I joined the choir to meet the girls and “look for my bride.” Well, God did show me my bride. She is a beautiful bride, demanding, but so beautiful. She is the Church. I am no bachelor. I am a family man and have quite a large family too. Many call me, “Father.”  I love my bride and my family. You never know where you will find your bride or who she will be. But if you’re faithful, God will show you.

Here is a beautiful video on Vocations. Some of the Lyrics are quite moving. Keep searching,  young people. God will show you your spouse. Consider, as I did not that your spouse might be the Church if you are a man, and might be Christ himself if you are a young woman destined for religious life. They are brides of Christ.

Bearing Witness to all that is good and true

Pope Benedict’s trip to the Holy Land is a great lesson in  the Church’s commitment to inter-religious dialogue. Catholics have two very different relationships with Judaism and Islam and if you follow the papal trip to the Holy Land you will learn quite a bit. 

Pope John Paul II liked to speak of the Jews as our older sisters and brothers highlighting our shared roots.  With regard to Islam, Pope Benedict highlights our common values.

We often think that dialogue is meant to highlight what we share in common and while that if often a good starting point, dialogue is also understanding our differences in order to have a better understanding of the other and a better understanding of ourselves. I had a professor who once said that good dialogue helps us learn more about ourselves and more about our partner in dialogue.

Pope Benedict in a speech in Jordan speaks of Islam and Christianity as “natural allies in defense of common values and a positive role for religion in society.” He added that Muslims and Christians must also “bear witness to all that is good and true, especially the common origin and dignity of  all human persons.” This foundation offers many possibilities for collaboration. In his speeches though, he also raises the areas in which the two faiths have quite different perspectives. He affirms that Christianity rejects extremism with regard to religious freedom.  Pope Benedict would like to see more freedom for Christians living is Islamic countries both with regard to worship  and civil issues like employment.  He will speak of this often during his trip.

This trip to the Holy Land will both highlight the beauty of these three major faiths whose home is the Holy Land and the differences in the answers we have to life’s biggest questions.

.