Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Bishop Sheen -- He Always Has Something To Say To Me

Bishop Fulton J. Sheen as I remember him best ...

A heckler asked Bishop Sheen a question about someone who had died.
The Bishop replied, "I will ask him when I get to Heaven.:
The heckler replied, "What if he isn't in Heaven?"
The Bishop replied, "Well then you ask him."

JMJ   Sometimes it takes an Irishman to appreciate the dark humor of another Irishman. I've always loved Bishop Sheen's sharp wit and banter because of that shared heritage.  However, he was able to make just about everybody laugh at the jokes and anecdotes he shared on his primetime show in the 50's and 60's.  As is so often said of him, people of all beliefs would ask for his blessing on them and their children when he was among them.  I know he was made an Archbishop, but I can never think of him as anything but Bishop Sheen, as I knew him when I watched his show growing up.  In the near future, I plan to do a piece on Bishop Sheen's amazing body of work as a writer and a devout Catholic priest.  

For now, I'd like to ask for his help.  I am one who prays for the canonization of this wonderful man.  He has attained the status of Venerable, one step on the way to sainthood.  I believe that asking him for his intercession with a need that I have will be a powerful aid -- his prayers along with mine could make a formidable noise to the heavens.

Sickness and pain can drive people to despair.  Despair is Satan's favorite emotion.  It leaves a big hole in the spirit into which he can enter and spread doubt and distance from God.  I can feel that struggle in myself as I deal with illness.  I decided to look through some of Bishop Sheen's books to find what he had to say about it.  Frankly, I got tired of leafing through them, and, like any 21st century blogger, I decided to go to the computer.  What I found I seem to remember, at least I think so, as if I had heard it or read it many years ago: 

"As we cross God's will by sin, He crosses our will by love to make us perfect."   "Sometimes he sends mental crosses like worries, fears or anxieties to make us feel his absence, and sometimes He sends physical crosses like sufferings to make us feel his presence. For sickness and physical pain forcibly draw us away from the world and its pleasures and makes us realize that the scarred hands of Christ cannot touch us without leaving wounds."  

These words are rather unnerving.  Bishop Sheen is telling us that God's pure focus is the state of our souls, not our earthly pains.  I guess I'd rather hear that God will take away the suffering -- instead, the suffering may continue for the purpose of oneness with Christ.  That isn't a new tenet of faith to me.  The Sisters always told us the path to Heaven was to walk with Jesus through his life, passion, death and resurrection.  I always loved attending the Stations of the Cross during Lent.  And one of the greatest writers I've ever read, Nikos Kazantzakis, wrote a book about St. Francis of Assisi, in which Francis described the journey to God as a rough, stony road, split by a great abyss which required a terrifying leap of faith to cross.

I always begin my articles with JMJ because the Sisters had us do that on our school papers, to honor the Holy Family, Jesus, Mary and Joseph, to remind us that God comes first in everything.  Bishop Sheen always did that on his chalkboard too before he began to write on it during his talks.  I suppose those little acts of humility and love began the training for the parts of life much harder than writing a school essay. Bishop Sheen said many things about sickness, but this is the one that caught my eye and my heart.  It gives me the feeling that he is speaking to me because I asked, and that even if the answer is hard, that's the one I got.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Silent Night, Holy Night

JMJ    I feel very close to the heavens tonight.  It's always a blessing to experience the wonderful connection to Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and angels, all of the joys of Christmas.  To celebrate this beautiful day, I've picked out a favorite piece of Nativity art to share with you.

Terracotta Nativity by Giuseppe Sanmartino

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Thoughts On Modern Changes In The Church

 A Sister of Providence wearing the traditional habit in the 1950's.
That little girl on the right could have been me!
JMJ    Catholicism has always been known for its beauty of worship.  Our churches here in America, the most beautiful having been built in the past two centuries with the labor of dedicated parishioners ... our devotion through singular Catholic music .... all of the traditions of ritual and dress from long ago ... they are the outward signs of inward worship.  It has been a great sorrow to me to see so many of them change during my lifetime, and I miss them deeply.

I am speaking here of two issues that are of particular sadness to me, both of which have changed the landscape of daily Catholic life.  First, I miss seeing the Sisters in their habits.  The nuns are an essential part of the Faith -- they have educated generations of children, nursed the sick, countless other services, all without personal gain and with utmost dedication.  I miss being able to recognize them.  I never felt any objection to the habits being modernized ... the long flowing skirts and some of the larger coifs limit movement and side-vision, and are certainly not conducive to driving or other modern activities that did not exist when the style of dress of another era was worn.  But why were they discarded altogether?  Every piece of a nun's habit symbolized something about the life and love of Christ.  I mean absolutely no disrespect to nuns today ... they are just as dedicated and holy as their elder sisters, but it is sad that you can't tell a nun from any other woman on the street, to say "Good morning, Sister" and feel that simple reminder of service to God.  Some orders of enclosed nuns do wear the habit, but we do not see them unless we go to their monasteries.  Most active orders of nuns wear completely secular dress, with only a small cross to identify them.  I too wear a small cross, as do many other Catholic women, and we are not Sisters.  That is a sadly lacking type of identification for nuns.

Traditional habits of different orders of nuns:

The traditional habit
of the Dominican Sisters
This is St. Bernadette Soubirous
in the habit of the Sisters of Nev'ers
The traditional, ancient cornett that used
to be worn by the Daughters of Charity

Newer habits that retain the look of a nun, but with modern features -- great idea:

Nursing nuns with modern habits
which identify them but allow complete
freedom of movement for their daily work

Modern habit  just right for a hot climate!

The old and the new -- I love this sweet picture

The second change is one that I personally feel removed an important part of Catholic identity.  Mass is still Mass, and always will be, but I miss the beauty and distinction of the Latin language that was part of Catholic worship for centuries.  Latin was the great equalizer.  You could go into any Catholic Church in any part of the world and Mass was the same there as at home.  You knew just what was being said and were comfortable.  Now, what was meant to be a decision that would make everyone feel easy in their own language, has really split us apart.  For instance, most parishes here in Indianapolis have Masses in English and in Spanish.  It sounds nice, but it seems to me that it results in what is essentially two parish families, with too little cross-over in community life.  With the Latin Mass, we all went to Mass together, whatever personal language we spoke. Gathering after mass, we would have a chance to get to know one another, to learn to communicate by putting ourselves out, become educated enough to start with simple hellos and go from there.  Perhaps I have an optimistic viewpoint about that, but after all, it is a Christian's duty to be open to friendship within a parish, surely a better system than we have now.

In its understandable desire for the sake of ecumenical unity with other Christians, I believe that the Church has discarded essental aspects, kind of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  There are other ways to practice unity without losing our Catholic identity.  To my mind, our Sisters as a recognizable human quotient of the Church, and the ancient language of the Mass, are two definitive aspects of Catholicism, the loss of which is a great loss for us.