Saturday, December 24, 2005


Have a quiet, contemplative Christmas, everyone.
I know I will.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

kid stuff

On Monday the NY Times published a piece of investigative reporting that the Exorcist found more disturbing and saddening then any possession story.

This kid, Justin Berry, started his online porn service when he was barely 13. He became a star in the frighteningly depraved world of Internet sickos and made all kinds of money doing it. His mother, oblivious; his father, complicit; his clients and admirers hungry for the next turn-on at the boy's expense.

Read the story. It is hard to believe.

A girl showed up on the church doorstep about two months ago. 17, hispanic, at the end of her rope. She hasn't seen her mother since she was 4, her father was just released from an 8 year prison term, she has lived in foster homes, shelters and the YWCA for most of her young life. She knows the sordid side of life - from abusive relationships to addictive behavior to gratuitous violence - and has long since figured out that nobody owes her anything.

She shows up on the church steps one morning, thin, disheveled, tear-stained cheeks, and asks for help. She says the one place she remembers being well treated, accepted as is, is right here. Years ago. We've been helping her and the horizon is slowly brightening.

The only thing I find remarkable about Jessica's story is the fact that she hasn't given up. Her self-esteem is in the gutter, but she still thinks she can be someone.

She's right. I'm just surprised that she knows that.

Anyway, generous friends of his parish have put together Christmas dinner and gifts for Jessica and many others like her.

I am intrigued by the high regard given by Christ to childhood in his outlook on the human condition. "If you do not become like children you will not enter the kingdom of heaven."

Childhood, in Christ's mind, is not a transitory biological state through which each man passes on the way to bigger and better things. In some way, what is essential to the meaning and purpose of a human being is found in childhood - to the extent that, if lost, lost too is man's final destiny.

What has become of childhood in this country? Our kids are over sophisticated and underloved. We kill off the weakest and unwanted. We spoil them silly and prey on them remorselessly. They are abandoned by parents and family to find themselves on the Internet, in the malls, with a gang or through the X-Box. We 'protect' them from religion and surrender them to the claws and fangs of the materialistic, indifferent monster we've created.

They are often reflection of the strange, inhuman society that has begotten them. Have you ever noticed how wierd kids are nowadays?

Yet Christ could think of no better way to describe himself than 'son'. Son of his Father, son of man. Every son starts as a child and remains so for his parents, even as he advances in age.
His birth, assuming it happened as the gospels narrate it, should remind us of the value of childhood... that we value it, protect it and return to it.

Sunday, December 18, 2005


I feel that, ultimately, the Protestant Reformation got a little out of hand.
That doesn't mean that Luther didn't get anything right.

To live is to be lost. Boy, was he right about that.

The fundamental situation of man is to be adrift. Shipwrecked.
Anything that even suggests control or security in our existence is illusion.
To live is to come to grips with that basic fact. To face it, to embrace it, to radically reject any ideology or lifestyle that would induce us to think otherwise.

That is the truth that makes Christmas worth considering. Not the way we celebrate it now, because we've made it a very safe and insignificant social and economic event. We have divested it of its shock value. It has become as warm and fuzzy as Santa and his elves.

In essence, we've made it about ourselves. About feeling good and affirming a way of life that is so hopelessly narcissistic that we can no longer see beyond our own reflection in the bulbs on the Christmas tree.

To understand that our need, our insufficiency and the utter precariousness of our situation are the best thing we have going for us - like the castaway whose best friend is the piece of driftwood he clings to - is to open up to the ultimate truth.

Christmas should be both scary and wonder-full. Our own tragedy is made clear and our salvation takes hold in the midst of it.

As you can see, the Exorcist got up early to work on his homily...

Saturday, December 17, 2005

you're a mean one

I am not the Grinch. I am the Exorcist.
I must stay focused.

Our parish secretary thinks I'm the Grinch. She wants me to admit it.
She scatters little tufts of green fur around the office and stares at me with lifted brow as if to insinuate that I'm shedding.

She tortures me with innuendo.
If I am the Grinch, she is Big Nurse.

See, we get all these Christmas presents from kind folks and opulent parishes outside the city. We, in turn, give these presents out to the not-so-prosperous families in our neck of the woods. Urban jungle.

I approve of this. I would make it a year round deal. But Christmas spirit wanes quickly once the new year starts. So we make the most of it now. I am not the Grinch.

My only input to this whole gift-giving frenzy has been to ask our secretary to compile a list of all the people who are to benefit from it. I put no limit, no conditions on who gets the goodies. I simply think we should be transparent and accountable. Hence the list.

See that? I make lists. I check them twice.
I have a lot more in common with St. Nick than I do with that green hairball of a party pooper.

But our fine secretary is reticent. She will have nothing to do with lists. She keeps it all in her head. I do not doubt her capacity to do that, but I find it woefully unhelpful.

So now my fetish with Christmas lists is being recast as an impious assault on the holiday itself.

I have been left to cower in the sacristy, afraid to face the tearful, innocent eyes of Cindy Lou Who, who was no more than two.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

still dead

Everyone's still talking about the Tookie Williams execution of last night. Hannity said on his radio program that he'd give us an update on tonight's TV show.

What's he going to say, "Tookie's still dead"? Enough already.

Can you believe that the nurse actually swabbed his arms with alcohol before inserting the two IV needles? I'm sure Tookie was relieved to know that they were protecting him from infection.
Enough already.

Tookie Williams was no doubt a callous, dangerous nut. The world is probably better off without him. Yet there is something painfully disturbing about the death penalty. We are not a better people nor a safer society because we execute our worst criminals.

There is nothing in Catholicism to justify it. It should be stricken from the books once and for all.


The archbishop visited the parish on Sunday. Somebody told him that the celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe was a big deal over here, so he had a homily prepared for the occasion. He preached in Spanish and pretty much stuck to his script. There were some blank stares during the sermon, but folks were polite enough not to comment on it. Although OLG was named patroness of all the Americas by John Paul II, it is only a huge celebration among Mexicans. We only have a couple of Mexican families at this parish. Many of my fondest memories of Mexico are linked to December 12.

The Puerto Ricans celebrate Our Lady of Divine Providence and we made a big deal out of that back on November 19.

An Advent retreat and penance service was held yesterday for the clergy of this fine archdiocese at a nearby center of the Passionist fathers. A guy by the name of Charles Topper guided the retreat. The theology of waiting. Not doing, not having, not going or getting. Waiting. Something we don't normally like to do.

Tookie Williams was executed last night. I actually thought Schwartznegger might grant the reprieve. But apparently his political advisors thought clemency a bad policy.

The Vatican document about homosexuality and the priesthood is causing a stir in some quarters. The NCR editorial gives one side of the issue. Among other things, the editorial says that there are signs of 'emotional immaturity' among the clergy that should worry the Vatican more than homosexuality:

"Our experience in the pews suggests that homosexuality is low on the list of indicators of immaturity. We in the pews see the greatest signs of immaturity, for instance, among priests who have an undue fascination with wearing peculiar garb as a symbol of office; who are unable to engage in collegial efforts; who believe that leadership and authority comprise issuing dictates; who hold the conviction that Christianity is a religion of rules and rubrics..."

Hmmmm. I wonder who they have in mind...

Sunday, December 11, 2005

death wish II

Mexico abolished the death penalty last Friday. The Mexican government hasn't 'officially' executed anyone since 1961. What that stat might actually mean is unclear.

A Boston Globe op-ed today describes legal execution of convicted criminals 'our duty'. It rejects the USCCB's pronouncement of last month and extensively quotes from the Old Testament in support of the death penalty.

I saw the movie Capote a couple of weeks ago. It tells the story of author Truman Capote and his writing of the true crime novel In Cold Blood.

His relationship with condemned murderer Perry Smith is, perhaps, a thumbprint of America's ambivalence toward the topic. Capote exerts himself to find lawyers and extend the appeal process for Smith with the possibility of reversing his sentence. But his motives are far from humanitarian. He needs the whole story of what happened that fatal night at the Kansas farmhouse where the murders occurred. He also needs Smith to be executed.

His book depends on it.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

death wish

This country has a strange relation with death.

We fear it, yet we're drawn by it. We punish with the same brutality those who inflict it, yet we defend its dominion over the unborn as an unalienable right. We live like we could avoid it, we shudder when it surprises us and yet we trivialize it and market it as game, song and film.

It's almost Christmas and death is in the air. On the air. Death in Iraq. Death in Nigeria. Death under a plane in Chicago. Death of an off duty cop in New York.

There is another typically American institutionalized death procedure - beside abortion - which has long intrigued our morbidity, troubled our conscience and strained our legal system.

There have been over 1000 applications of the death penalty in the USA since it was reestablished as capital punishment in 1977. Gary Gilmore was the first, approaching death by firing squad in Utah that year with a spirited, "Let's do it!". Virginia's governor, with warped modesty, declined to have execution 1000 take place on his watch and pardoned convicted murderer Robin Lovitt late last month. The short straw fell to 57 year old Kenneth Boyd, on death row in South Carolina for the 1988 murder of his ex-wife and her husband. He received a lethal injection last Friday at 2 am.

The debate now rages, quite publicly, over the fate of number 1003: Stanley "Tookie" Williams, cofounder of the Crips gang, five time Nobel Prize nominee and cold hearted killer of at least four people. He's scheduled to be put to sleep on December 13, in California, and the Governator has the weekend to decide for or against a stay. Good luck with that one, Aaahnold.

Some of the better known talk radio personalities who call themselves pro-life (Hannity, Ingraham, Limbaugh, etc...) have been advocating the death penalty and pushing for the elimination of Tookie Williams. This Williams character is apparently one heartless, violent sob. But how can anyone call themselves 'pro-life' and champion the death penalty? Are pain and outrage mitigating factors for a conscience that affirms of the sacredness of all life?

Pope John Paul II repeatedly denounced the death penalty, most notably in his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae.

Jesus Christ had one of his rare moments of unambiguity when he launched into his 'love your enemies' monologue, abolishing the 'eye-for-an-eye' reasoning from Christian morality once and for all.

Christmas is around the corner and we debate the death penalty. We no longer understand what words like redemption and deliverance really mean. It is a shame. Because, in his own words, he came not to condemn, but to save.

Friday, December 09, 2005

back to the drawing board...

The Jesuits have told me I'm not good enough for them.

Well, not exactly. But just because they were polite about it doesn't make it any less disappointing. I was getting excited about finally finishing my doctorate at no less an institution than Weston Jesuit School of Theology... only to have my ambitions nipped in the bud.

They want me to live on campus full time for three years. That's not the agreement I have with the archbishop of this fine archdiocese. I have to look after three parishes, jail ministry, hospital calls, etc... I was going to work the classes and credit requirements around my pastoral responsibilities.

Absolutely doable from the Exorcist's perspective. Not so, says the SJ.

So, it's back to the drawing board.

I checked out other grad schools that offer STD or equivalent degrees. There's not too much in the neighborhood. They all ask for GRE results as part of the application process, which Weston did not require. I never even knew graduate entrance exams existed, a sort of SATs for post grads. Brutal.

I am now getting ready for the GRE. After which I will start the application business all over again: Yale, Fordham, Boston U and Boston College. In the mean time I will continue to read and research my thesis and, hopefully, do some graduate courses in the meantime to start piling up credits.

I shall persevere, notwithstanding. But the Exorcist does not handle rejection well.
The Jesuits are on notice.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

four jerks and a police escort

U2 was in town last night.

Bono dedicated the concert to the memory of John Lennon on the 25th anniversary of his death. He also threw in a couple of 'sermons' on topics dear to his heart: peaceful co-existence, reduction of debt for developing nations, the UN charter on human rights...

The music, the real reason they sell out every concert a year in advance, did not disappoint. It was basically a sing-along-with-Bono from the first song (City of Blinding Lights) to the last (Yahweh). And although it was the Vertigo tour, they played lots of favorites from Joshua Tree, Achtung Baby and even their earlier stuff. During Miss Sarajevo (which they rarely perform in concert) Bono did an imitation of Pavarotti that was quite good.

Bono, Edge, Larry and Adam left the stage dramatically, in that order, after keeping us on our feet for 2 and 1/2 hours, but it was impossible to get to sleep until much later than that.

U2 once again nominated for 5 Grammy awards. Not bad for a group their own lead singer once described as "four jerks and a police escort".

is that why people point at me?

What exactly do the kids at Christendom mean by 'a Legionary of Christ haircut' ?

I think I resemble that remark...

homiletical headaches

What's an exorcist to preach to the masses on a day like today?

Don't misread me. I appreciate and celebrate the Immaculate Conception as much as any of the 1.1 billion Catholics that may be aware of today's solemnity. I just have trouble speaking about it.

I find little middle ground between two extremes, both equally inappropriate. Either a soggy, sentimental sonnet extolling the real or imagined facets of a life (Mary's) we know very little about, or a cerebral theological thesis that ponders the metaphysics of it all while putting the congregation to sleep.

I did find, however, a very good homily for December 8 that I am mightily tempted to plagiarize at this evening's Mass.

There is simply no no longer any foundation - epistemological, theological, cultural - in folks that allows Catholicism to explain itself. It all comes across as fairy tale, Harry Potter-like stuff that, in any case, has no bearing on the concerns of real life.

The big challenge is communication. Opening a door to truth and relevance that has been nailed shut by the shallowness of our culture.

There was a time, you know, when all an exorcist had to do was scare the devil out of people... ;)

Saturday, November 26, 2005


I have found two other meanings for the initials STD. Beside sexually transmitted disease and sacrae teologiae doctor, that is.

One meaning was made clear on Thursday. I slept late, chilled with family, celebrated Mass by my lonesome at an outdoor shrine (froze my presbyteral butt off), spent a LOT of time just walking and talking with my nieces, did the turkey dinner thing... Definitely a Super Thanksgiving Day.

Found another very entertaining use of 'STD'. But it's probably not what you want to become famous for.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


This is my first Thanksgiving in the US since 1987. I always liked Thanksgiving. We made a pretty big deal of it at home when I was a kid. I look forward to spending some time with family.

A suspended State Police officer shot and killed his ex-girlfriend Monday night (she was a local police officer) and then turned the gun on himself. This happened here in town and the family of the State cop is a long time member of my parish. Mom and Dad are in the front row every Sunday, prayer circle, food drives... the whole package. They are devastated.

We will do the wake here on Friday evening and the funeral and burial will be Saturday morning. One of the old timers that helps out at the church asked me if it was all right to celebrate a funeral Mass given the circumstances surrounding the death.

Some folks still remember the days when suicides were not given a funeral Mass or 'Christian' burial. But the understanding of the emotional and mental states that often end in taking one's own life has deepened and Canon Law has changed accordingly. Suicide is no longer mentioned explicitly in the norm (1184) that refers to exclusion from exequia ecclesiastica. In principle, a funeral Mass could be denied in three cases: a known apostate, heretic or schismatic; someone who has been cremated for reasons contrary to the faith; a notorious sinner for whom a funeral Mass could not be celebrated without grave scandal of the faithful.

Conceivably, in the case of a murder/suicide, the third condition could be invoked as motive for denying the funeral in church. This man, however, was clearly not well and had been exhibiting signs of imbalance and disturbance even before his suspension from the force back in March.

The question is not really whether he should receive Christian burial, but how he was allowed to go that far without proper help.

In short, I will celebrated the Mass and bless his burial site. But I have no idea what I will say to his parents after the most wretched Thanksgiving of their lives.

mene, tekel, pérez

I confess to laughing during morning Mass today. The reading from Daniel about the writing on the wall has done that to me since about 11 years ago when I baptized an unfortunate child whose parents decided to name him Menetekel. This was in a little town called La Ciénega in Mexico state. At the time I thought it was some family ancestral name, not that much different from Cuauhtemoc or Xochit. Only later did it dawn on me that the name was of Biblical origen.

There's no such thing as overkill when it comes to Mexican names. I have baptized a 'Rosa Mistica Santos', an 'Angel Perfecto Iglesias' and an 'Eva Genesis Israel'. I also narrowly averted a 'Deuteronomio de Dios Sampedro' on the grounds that it wouldn't all fit on the certificate. The mother insisted she wanted a prophet's name, even if it couldn't be Deuteronomy. I suggested Amos or Job. She decided on Zacariah. It's all good.

On this 23rd day of November, 34th week of ordinary time, I salute you, Menetekel Pérez.

Monday, November 21, 2005

gettin' radical

The Exorcist may be going back to school.

The trouble with exercising a millenial livlihood is that updates are rare and, when they do occur, tend to be rather lengthy. Decades, sometimes centuries. But like my professor of church history used to say, "What's the rush? Time's on our side."

I have applied to Weston Jesuit School of Theology, one of the two pontifical faculties of higher theological studies run by the Society of Jesus, the other being Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, CA.

The Weston campus is smack in the heart of Harvard Square, Cambridge, although when founded (1922) it was situated in the eponymous MA town close to Boston. One of only seven universities in the US that can give the ecclesiastical degrees necessary to teach in Catholic seminaries, Weston has gained a reputation for being serious and avant-garde in its pursuit of academic excellence.

So where else would you expect an exorcist to go?

Yet my path has been fraught with misconceptions. I told my mother I wanted a STD and she cried at just the thought that I might be stricken with syphillis or herpes. "Son," she wailed, "the agony and the shame! And what about your vow of chastity? Does it no longer mean anything to you?"

I have since exhausted myself explaining that STD, in my particular context, means sacrae teologiae doctor, not sexually transmitted disease, but Mom just sighs and says, "At least you're not a pedophile..."

When I went in for my interview with the Dean of the STD program he looked at me with the interest of an entomologist who's discovered a new species of dung beetle. "The closest we've come to something like this," he reminisced, "was a fellow who had studied at Navarra. He wasn't actually Opus Dei, mind you, but Weston certainly meant a paradigm shift for him."

I assured the dean that the 'liberal' epithet often cast disparagingly at Weston was no more a hindrance for me studying there than the 'conservative' label frequently stuck on my congregation should be an obstacle for Weston accepting me. He agreed.

I still won't know whether I'm in or out until the first week of December. I can wait. It's not the first time my academic future has been in the hands of the Jesuits.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

one X, one Y... not much hope

The secretary of one of the parishes of our 'cluster' (yeah, I know... I couldn't believe it either) told me yesterday that I need to be more in touch with my feminine side.

Uneasy because this type of exercise has brought grief to more than a few of our Church's clergy members, I decided to see how far I could take it without getting myself in trouble.

This is what I came up with:

1. I unabashedly drive the parish car, which happens to be a minivan.
2. I used some Chapstick to heal my cracked lips last week.
3. I treated myself to an egg nog latte at Starbucks (with Splenda) last night.

Don't anyone tell me I'm not trying.
You will just have to get used to a kinder, gentler Exorcist from now on.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

as I was saying...

People ask me all the time if I'm happy to be back in the US. I grew up here, had a happy childhood, but like all youngsters was quite oblivious to any concept or issue beyond the next day's baseball game or the following Monday's chemistry test.

Like these stupid parakeets my brother sent me - he's allergic to feathers or guano or chirping - the world consists in what goes on in their cage. If there's water, toys, seed... oh yeah, and that mirror. They love that freaking mirror. That's what a kid is like, a parakeet in his cage, seeing only a very minute part of reality, basically unconcerned with anything that doesn't enter his own little sphere.

Anyway, I spent practically the next 25 years outside the country I grew up in. Except for a brief interval, during which I was inside the safe confines of the seminary walls, I was speaking a language not my own, dealing with people very different from the folks back home and learning to see the world from perspectives other than the 'made-in-USA' vision of reality.

Am I happy to be back in the USA? Truthfully, I am not.

I enjoy the commodities, the abundance and the relative ease with which we move around in this country. I even appreciate the appearance of freedom which we flaunt as if it were the real thing. Certainly, I prefer this set up to living in a police state or under some murderous regime. The people here have been, generally, good to me. I can't complain.

But the question was not: do you feel mistreated? or, do you feel your life is in danger? or even, do you think there are worse places to live?

I am not happy here. I wonder if anyone is truly happy here. I suspect we have made happiness impossible for ourselves.

More on this depressing line of thought later.

About the NYTimes article I posted the other day and never commented on...

Earlier embryonic testing will increase the possibility of detecting Down Syndrome in the unborn. That, states the article, will be extremely helpful in assisting couples with the decision whether to abort or not.

There was another news item recently that insinuated that the decline in the number of children born with cystic fibrosis is due, not to advances in eradicating the disease, but to earlier detection in the unborn resulting in increased abortion of children at risk.

Did you ever see the Spielberg sci-fi flick Minority Report? It popped into my mind while reading these articles about eugenic sifting. In the movie humans were punished before the crimes they were forseen to commit. In reality, humans are now being eliminated before they commit the crime of being born 'imperfect'. They will - possibly - be born with a low 'quality of life' and, more disturbingly, cramp the style of their parents who had every 'right' to expect a flawless product when they bought into this whole procreation deal.

I guess we're just getting too sophisticated for our own good. When we start weeding out the 'defective', we're well on the way to a society of perfect, beautiful people. Like Paris Hilton and George Clooney.

Boy, that's something to look forward to.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

is it me?

I hate to reprint complete articles like this, but a point has to be made. Here goes.

New, Earlier Tests Seen Better at Fetal Down Syndrome Detection

Published: November 10, 2005

New tests in the first trimester of pregnancy are better at identifying fetuses with Down syndrome than standard tests done later in pregnancy, according to a government-financed study.

The first-trimester tests detected as many as 87 percent of fetuses with the extra chromosome that causes Down syndrome, compared with 81 percent found by tests in the second trimester, the authors write in today's issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

Down syndrome affects more than two million people worldwide, causing physical and mental disabilities. It occurs about once in 700 to 900 live births.

The study, conducted at 15 hospitals and involving more than 38,000 women, is the government's most comprehensive effort to help expectant couples best determine their risk of having a baby with Down syndrome, the world's leading cause of developmental disability.

The study's findings suggest that parents will have a better opportunity to seek an abortion earlier in gestation, Dr. Joe Leigh Simpson, a Baylor College obstetrics and gynecology professor, wrote in an editorial accompanying the study.

"Pregnancy terminations are earlier, more private and far safer than in the second trimester," Dr. Simpson said. The maternal death rate for first-trimester abortions is 1.1 per 100,000 abortions, compared with 7 to 10 per 100,000 in the second trimester, Dr. Simpson wrote.

Advance knowledge of Down syndrome and other birth defects could also help couples prepare, even if they choose not to abort, government doctors said.

The typical screening for Down syndrome is a blood test, conducted 15 to 18 weeks into the pregnancy. The newer alternative, conducted at 11 to 13 weeks' gestation, is a combination blood and ultrasound test that measures the size of the fluid gap in the fetus neck.

The new tests are in use already. The study being published today culminates a $15 million government-financed effort to determine which tests work best.

Some doctors question research that makes it easier for parents to decide to abort fetuses with Down syndrome.

"I am personally saddened that so many parents believe that a diagnosis of Down syndrome is a reason to terminate a pregnancy," said Dr. Len Leshin, a pediatrician in Corpus Christi, Tex., who has two sons, one with Down syndrome.

The new tests are big advances from the 1970's, when only 25 percent to 30 percent of Down syndrome cases were detected during pregnancy, Dr. Simpson wrote.

But the tests have their limits, said the study's main author, Dr. Fergal Malone, chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

The measurement of the fluid gap in the fetus's neck "is actually a very, very tricky thing to do right," since it requires a technician to measure a space in fractions of a millimeter on an ultrasound computer image, Dr. Malone said. In about 7.5 percent of cases in the study, technicians could not accurately measure the space.

Hold that thought. I'll be back in a bit...

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

it's the beans

The folks over at Starbucks should really wake up and smell the coffee.

Apparently they will soon begin serving their customers cups with a line from Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Life printed on them. "You were made by God and for God and until you understand that, life will never make sense."

Regardless of what the Exorcist thinks of this lame Evangelical paraphrasing of St. Augustine, he certainly doesn't need to have it emblazoned on his morning coffee. As if it weren't enough paying $4.50 for a hot drink in a paper cup - and even the Exorcist has been lured in off the street by the enticing aroma of the neighboorhood Starbucks - now we have to tolerate their philosophizing?

Last summer they ran an equally inane quote from an equally shallow source that said, "My only regret about being gay is that I repressed it for so long."

Please. You've already tricked us into paying crazy money for a cup of coffee. Allow us to drink it in peace. We want your brew, not your ridiculous ideas.

So shut up and drip already.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

things that should be

Occasionally, almost by accident, the media lets slip a line or two that actually confirm the weatherbeaten suspicion that not all is wrong in the world. Here are two hints I saw today.

1. The US Congress has decided that people who skarf down copious amounts of fast food and, amazingly, suffer the consequences (all lard related maladies) cannot sue the company.
There is actually something in this neurotic, litigious country that you can't be sued for!!!
God bless overweight America.

2. An astrologer has predicted his own death.
That is the only type of event astrologers and other purveyors of the inane should be allowed to predict.

These are things that should be.
The Exorcist has spoken.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

the language of ecumenism

I went to a lecture offered by the Christian Conference of Connecticut Ecumenical Forum last night. The speaker was Dr. Thomas L. Hoyt, President of the National Council of Churches USA and bishop of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. His lecture was entitled, "Blind Spots in the Ecumenical Vision".

Perhaps a more apt title would have been, "Ecumenism: The Tower of Babel Revisited".

The brunt of it: Bishop Hoyt said little to convince me that the Catholic Church and the churches of the NCC are anywhere near speaking the same language when it come to ecumenism.

The 'blind spots' he referred to in his discourse were: the mentality of dominance and exclusion that seeps into church structures from society at large, the preference for 'ritual' and 'tradition' over gender and racial inclusiveness, the defense of institution and the disregard for the individual that it supposes, the lack of interest in the plight of the poor and the favoring of a 'priestly model' over a 'prophetic model' in some quarters of the ecumenical forum.

He told stories of bravely joining the communion line at a Catholic Mass, knowing full well the Catholic sensitivity to all things sacramental. He expressed outrage at being told that his title of 'bishop' didn't mean the same thing as 'bishop' in Catholic tradition. He commented that during his visit to Rome he was received by the Pope and daringly broke all protocol by calling John Paul II 'Pope' instead of 'Holy Father'... and still the Pope autographed his copy of the Bible.

I don't know what Rev. Hoyt's intentions were, but I can't see the cause of ecumenism being furthered by his lecture. For him, ecumenism is a social issue, a question of justice, equality and desegregation. It is about race and power and democracy taking root.

No sense of history. No sacramental theology. No concept of Tradition. No inkling of the complexities of 'apostolic succession'. No metaphysics.

How will unity ever be possible if we don't even speak the same language?

The Exorcist is perplexed and, apparently, still has a lot to learn.

Friday, October 14, 2005

moral muddle

A headline like only the NY Post can run.

It's hard to understand how such a relevant and earth shattering bit of news was frontpage fodder in only one newspaper.

This guy Enright claims that he was abused by a priest at summer camp in 1961 and as a result became a homosexual. This will not sit well with the purveyors of the 'born-that-way' theory in the rainbow lobby.

He is demanding $5 million from the Diocese of Albany.
For the privilege of being gay.

We had our mandatory seminar on child abuse here in the archdiocese this week. They gave us a program called VIRTUS. One of the points made was that the majority of child abuse incidents are not comitted by homosexuals.

I believe that to be true.

I also believe to be true the fact that the vast majority of sex crimes against children perpetrated by Catholic priests since the '60s and '70s have involved young males. The list of accusers who have brought complaints against roughly 600 priests in the USA bears this out.

When a male has sexual contact with another male it is, by definition, a homo-sexual act. Is it not?

Does the horrible fact that the act was comitted against a child or an adolescent make it less 'homo-sexual'? Are the sick people who prey on children oblivious to their sex? If so, why such drastic disparity in numbers? I think it is fair to say that a person can commit a homosexual act without being a homosexual. But is it logical to reject a priori all relation between homosexuality and sexual abuse among priests when over 90% of the cases brought to light (many of them repeat offenders!) clearly establish boys as the victims of preference?

The Exorcist just can't shake the uncomfortable feeling that while outrage against predatory priests is VERY politically correct, suggesting that homosexuality in the clergy might be part of the problem is MOST DEFINITELY not.

In the end, what matters is protecting the kids.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

emily rose

As of today, The Exorcism of Emily Rose has grossed (literally!) $57,144,000 at the box office in the US. I guess good exorcisms are like really cold beer... hard to resist.

The reviews have gone in two pretty disparate directions. Some discard it because it is not a horror film in the traditional sense (The Grudge, Saw, The Ring, etc...). As if the only way to approach the subject of exorcism in a movie were to scare people...

Others lavish praise on the movie because it portrays an exorcism 'as it really occurs'.

This humble exorcist found much to praise in Emiy Rose. The acting is credible. Even the six demons avoid over-the-top theatrics when they have poor Emily in the throes of posession. The special effects are minimal and clearly not designed to have sensitive moviegoers hurling their Twizzlers in the aisle. The experience of the posession itself is related through Emily's eyes, what she sees, hears and feels and, ultimately, how she explains it to herself.

Although the faith/science conflict is one of the themes at the fore, neither the Church nor the priest (a suitably pious Tom Wilkinson) are, well, demonized. Laura Linney's character is sufficiently nuanced so as not to be overly predictable.

The framing of the narration of Emily's plight in the courtroom drama that ensued after her death is particularly effective and allows for the priest's case to be made sympathetically. But perhaps best of all, the audience is really the jury and must draw its own conclusions from the trial.

On the downside, there is some gimmickry unbecoming of self-respecting demons: the 3:00 am starting time of their activities, their choice of Halloween as the best day for business, etc. As if the evil ones were on some sort of schedule...

But the only thing I really didn't like was the reason for the posession, as given in Emily's mystical rapture. If I understood this thing correctly, Emily was surrendered to the powers of evil and ultimately lost her life: to prove to the world that the devil exists?

I find that reasoning truly absurd, even in the context of a story that, in itself, overflows the boundries of logic. How could something unverifiable by its very nature possibly be proof of something else? There is no 'proof' of demonic posession, so how could a posession be 'proof' of the devil's existence?

Even supposing that Emily were posessed, what could it prove? Does the vision of the three children of Fatima 'prove' the existence of the Virgin Mary? Does my mother's devotion to her guardian angel legitimate any speculation as to said angel's nature? Subjective (personal) religious experiences are not necessarily 'false' or 'delusionary', but they are never 'proof' of anything.

Anyway, it would seem to me that God has enough trouble convincing people of His existence without worrying about the devil's credibility rating. And I'm sure - if He were concerned about the devil getting enough attention - He could find a more efficient way of making His point than putting Satan in charge of Emily Rose's extreme make-over.

See and enjoy Emily Rose, as I did. Nothing ruins a good movie like trying to tie up all the loose ends.

rubber people

Went to see the Cirque du Soleil (cool website) Friday night. Their current show is called Varekai, which, if their program notes are to be believed, means "wherever" in some exotic gypsy tongue.

I might have named the show 'the epiphany of the rubber people'. It was akin to Gary Larson's rendering of 'the boneless chicken farm'. These people have no skeleton, no rigid osseous structure that keeps their squishy vital organs in order. They bend in the wrong places.

Varekai is two hours of visual overload. Between the costumes, the dance and the acrobatics it's hard to take it all in. Loosely constructed around the story of Icarus' fall to earth and his quest to return to the skies, each scene is an opportunity to put the troop's astounding gymnsatics on stage.

A real artsy escape... if you're willing to cough up the equally extravagant ticket price.

Friday, September 23, 2005


As another storm bears down on the Gulf, we New Englanders have had some of the nicest weather of the past couple of months. Sunny, breezy days and warm, quiet evenings illuminated by a September moon worthy of a Marc Moritsch print.

Here at the parish we just sent our second truckload of donated supplies with the Catholic Charities convoy down to New Orleans. Folks have been generous thus far, but if Rita does great damage I'm afraid their giving spirit may wane...

Still, I too long for the days when the evening news will no longer dedicate 48 of 60 minutes to disheveled reporters telling us breathlessly how strong the wind blows, how wet the rain feels and how much plywood Home Depot has sold in the last half hour. I'm as interested as anyone in helping the people affected by the storm, but surely there must be some other newsworthy topic on a national or international level.

Anyway, I was reading the report published this week by the Philadelphia grand jury that led an investigation into incidents of sexual abuse by clergy. Quite unsavory. The document leaves little to even the most sordid imagination and focuses quite intensely on the abuses of Catholic priests, when the investigation was supposedly conceived in much broader terms.

The hierarchy's response, though true in both its admissions and rebuttals, sounds hoplessly lame and saturated with self-pity. The media, meanwhile, continues to enjoy its trashing of the Catholic Church and there is really nothing - on a public relations level - that the Church can do except keep quiet and pursue its long term internal renewal.

I perceive a bit of confusion - or perhaps intentional misstatement - in some media sources over the visitation process to be initiated next month in USA seminaries and the pending Vatican document on homosexuality and the Catholic priesthood.

In the instrumentum laboris prepared for the visitators only one question in 56 dwells on the topic of homosexuality. The reading of some press reports leaves one with the idea that the visitation is a poorly disguised gay witch hunt.

As for the topic of homosexuality and the priesthood... well, even the Exorcist has second thoughts about opening that can of worms. Certainly ordination to the Catholic priesthood is nobody's right and the Church can enforce whatever selection policy it deems appropriate. Can a homosexual man live virtuously his whole life in an atmosphere where male companionship and cohabitation is not only a fact, but the norm? I assume it is possible. Easy? Desireable? Hmmm... Does the fact that 90% of all incidents of clergy abuse have involved males necessarily mean there's a connection between homosexuality and abuse? Maybe not, but if this were any other topic I don't think we'd feel as obliged to split hairs and look for other types of explanations. Political correctness makes idiots of us all...

I read a piece in an English paper about this today. By the end of the article I was on the verge of writing the Vatican and demanding that homosexuality be a mandatory requisite for entering the priesthood...

Saturday, September 03, 2005

when the levee breaks

This mournful song was originally released on Zep IV, if I'm not mistaken.

I put it on in the U-Haul yesterday as we brought our first load of stuff from the parish (water, batteries and clothes, mostly) to the Armory. From there it will supposedly make its way down to the Gulf Coast.

We sat and listened to the song, running the TV images of the past few days over in our minds... No one had much to say afterwards.

I guess we'll just keep praying and collecting stuff to send down south.

When the Levee Breaks

If it keeps on rainin', levee's going to break.
If it keeps on rainin', levee's going to break.
When the levee breaks, have no place to stay.

Mean old levee, taught me to weep and moan.
Mean old levee, taught me to weep and moan.
It's got what it takes to make a mountain-man leave his home.
Oh well, oh well, oh well...

Don't it make ya feel bad
when you're tryin' to find your way home
and ya don't know which way to go?
If you're goin' down south and they've no work to do
then ya go north to Chicago.

Cryin' won't help ya, prayin' won't do ya no good.
Now, cryin' won't help ya, prayin' won't do ya no good.
When the levee breaks, mama, you got to move!

All last night, sat on the levee and moaned.
All last night, sat on the levee and moaned.
Thinkin' 'bout my baby and my happy home...

I'm goin' to Chicago, goin' to Chicago
Sorry, but I can't take you
Goin' down, goin' down, now, goin' down, a-goin' down, now...

Monday, August 29, 2005

I know, it's only rock and roll

Is there any merit to giving 30,000 fellow human beings 2.5 hours of unadulterated enjoyment?
If there is, if turning a warm summer night into a carefree romp of rhythm and nostalgia, if liberating troubled minds and hearts for an evening carries some weight on the eternal balance of good and evil... then we might just be able to listen to the Rolling Stones in the ever after.

Although it already seems like they've been playing forever, the Exorcist admits enjoying the recent Stones concert as if he were hearing them for the first time. The combined age of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Ron Wood reads like an overall score at a PGA Masters Tourney... But they are still incredible entertainers.

My only complaint: they didn't play Angie or Wild Horses, two of my favorites... but hey, you can't always get what you want. Right?

Friday, August 26, 2005

mid east mayhem

On to what I was thinking about before getting sidetracked by my rant on hurricane coverage.

The Exorcist was awed by the Israeli release of Gaza and four settlements in the West Bank last week. Now, there's news that bears analysis and not just the gut wrenching takes of protesters being dragged out of settlement synagogues.

The political will of Ariel Sharon - whatever else you may think of him - in bringing about the evacuation was formidable. The only motivation capable of putting in motion such a dramatic and significant action by the Israeli government is the only motivation that ever moves Israel: self preservation. Survival.

A Vatican official, commenting on the Israeli withdrawl, implied that it was out of respect for international law... an appraisal that is either withering sarcasm or hopeless ingenuousness.

After 35 years the Israelis are suddenly overcome with pangs of guilt over the illegality of the Gaza settlements? Not likely.

Calculated self conservation, pure and simple.

Demographics: the Palestinian population has grown exponentially (not accidentally) in comparison with the Israeli, making extended Jewish presence in the poverty-stricken Palestinian quadrant practically unsustainable. It is demographics that will ultimately bring an independent Palestinian state into being. Israel does well to cede and establish limits on that future state now. Inaction or delay could put the existence of the Jewish state in danger in the long run out of sheer numerical inferiority.

There was undoubtably a good deal of political arm twisting done by the Bush administration, but that, too, essentially boils down to Israel's survival instinct. The future of Israel, surrounded by 22 hostile Islamic nations in continual flux, depends more than ever on the benevolence of Big Brother.

Whether the removal of settlements will instill peace or not in Holy Land is yet to be seen. Something tells me it is not going to be as easy as bulldozing under the evacuated communities. Hamas has already attributed the Israeli withdrawl to its own relentless intifada. If it worked in Gaza, why not east Jerusalem? Read C.Krauthammer's editorial...

Whatever happens, the ball is obviously in the Palestinian court as we stand and watch history unfold before our eyes...

weather or not

The Exorcist is a bit of a news junkie. I think I od on information somedays. But there's only so much you can retain. And making sense of it all - as if there really were such a thing as a coherent world view - is just more than my tiny Catholic brain can handle.

That said, I find the national news chains' coverage of hurricanes during the hurricane season very irritating. Not that tropical depressions in the waters near Antigua aren't noteworthy. But the minute to minute updates on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox about hurricanes Horace, Igor and Jezebel inching closer to the Florida coast... oh wait, maybe not, our latest up-to-the-nano-second Doppler radar image shows that he/she may change trajectory ever so slightly... bore me to tears. Their efforts to liven it up with shots of seniors buying plywood at Home Depot or those devil-may-care hipsters still body surfing as the tide surges only reinforce the tedium.

And doesn't it seem that the breathless weather reporters, egged on by their hyperventillating anchors, want each and every storm to be as catastrophic as possible? Right now it's just a category six tropical storm, but see those warm waters by the Bermuda coast, they are REALLY feeding Isabel right now so I can see this baby picking up strength to become a cat one or even a cat two by landfall, and as it rips through the mainland it will again gain force so we may see a cat four or cat five by the time it gets back to the coast. Wow, Darlene, and to think that this is already the eighth hurricane of hurricane season in an area where hurricanes happen all the time... Absolutely right, Dave, this is scary stuff...

There is such eagerness in their voices, trying to impress upon us the urgency and newsworthiness of it all. And what disappointment when the southeast US still largely exists after Isabel has blown out to sea...

Anyway, my beef could be stated thus: do we really need suffocating, second to second national coverage every time a storm whips up in the Gulf of Mexico? Why not leave the constant updates to the local news people and just tell the rest of us about it in a sound byte or two when it's all over? In our times there seems to be real news, worthy of analysis, breaking at high speed every day. Spending 22 minutes of a 48 minute broadcast on the weather seems a little excessive, dontcha think?

Friday, August 19, 2005

they followed a star

The Exorcist is a little disappointed that Pope Benedict's trip to Cologne is not getting more coverage in the mainstream media. Granted, there's a lot going on in the world today. It seems that almost every day is a big news day. Makes me kind of wonder, on a grander scale, what stage of history, what point in time, humanity is approaching...

Pope Benedict, in his own unassuming way, is reaching the hearts and minds (yes, they do have minds!) of the thousands of young people who have followed their personal star to the banks of the Rhine. The relics of the Magi are kept at the cathedral in Cologne and the image of the mysterious witnesses to the Saviour's birth has provided the Pope with some very suggestive metaphor for his exchanges with the young pilgrims.

The full text of his most recent words can be found on the blog of a brother. Reading them, I recalled something Ratzinger wrote in Truth and Tolerance:

"And did not the Magi find their way to Christ by means of the star, that is, by means of their 'superstition', by their religious beliefs and practices? Did not their religion, then, kneel before Christ, as it were, in their persons, recognizing itself as provisional, or rather as proceeding towards Christ?"

I guess everyone's got a star to follow. And I hope all stars lead to Him.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

blessed the peacemakers

Terrible sadness and remorse should weigh upon the Christian world tonight.

Brother Roger Schutz, founder of the ecumenical monastic community Taize and inspiration for the many groups rooted in his basic, gospel spirituality, was a victim of the mindless violence that we have grown so insensitive to.

He was 90 years old. He was praying vespers in the Chapel of Reconciliation with his community. A deranged woman stabbed him from behind. He died almost instantly.

We kill what is good. It is that simple.

We ridicule what is holy. We exalt what is trivial. We scorn what is true. We revel in what is senseless. We excuse what is shameful. We strike out at what reproaches us.

We do not want peace or understanding or solidarity or any other of those empty wishes that roll so glibly off the lips of everyone from Miss Universe to the General Director of the UN.

We should be sickened by what that demented woman did last night, because she did it for us and in our place.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

a tribute to the Big Guy

My Dad died three years ago today. He was only 66, but prostate cancer got the better of him. He died peacefully, at home, accompanied by my mother, a brother and a sister. I was 5172 miles away that afternoon, helping a family move house (move slum, better said) in an overpopulated barrio of a large South American city. But that's what cell phones are for, and by 8am the next morning I was in New York, making my way home.

I celebrated an anniversary Mass at the parish near my Mom's house today at noon. We then gathered for sandwiches, eggplant parmesian and champagne. We sat around and shot the breeze for a few hours.

All in honor of the Big Guy.

The Big Guy
(February 17, 1936 - August 16, 2002)

Thursday, August 11, 2005

I see dead people (1)

It all boils down to death.

The elephant in our kitchen.
The universal spoiler.
The equalizer.

The minute we're born we start to die.
A little at a time.
The minute we forget about death our existence becomes as banal as the latest fad we're distracted by.

Death makes happiness impossible, possessions worthless and achievements hollow.
It's where everyone before us is, where we're going and where everyone after us will follow.

We revile it, fear it, hide it and pretend it doesn't effect us. We are drawn to it, trivialize it, sensationalize it and use it to our advantage whenever possible.

There is nothing more deleterious than forgetting about death.
There is nothing more senseless than worrying about it.

So I strongly recommend you read last Sunday's NYTimes Magazine. The cover article, 'The Struggles to Create the Good Death', falls just short of saying what has to be said. By not saying it, by saying everything else but the obvious and finishing with a hapless shrug of the shoulders Robin Marantz Henig makes a much stronger statement about death and the human condition than she probably intended.

She tells the story of Goldie Gold, cancer victim, atheist, frightened and unwilling participant in the dance of death who laments, "I'm not afraid of dying, but I'm terribly unhappy about not living."

Marantz narrates other dramas, terminally ill patients and their families torn between the horror of death and the torture of living a life so extenuated that technology can barely sustain its pulse.

She even talks about the death of her own father who, at 76, suffered congestive heart failure while sitting on the toilet. His demise was mercifully swift, she admits, yet bemoans not having the chance "to make my father's death meaningful". (That's a line worth coming back to...)

The article is framed as an inquiry into the two paths most traveled by dying patients: hospice care and palliative medicine.

At the risk of oversimplifying, hospice care began as an alternative to exaggerated, unwanted medical attention allowing patients to die peacefully (machine free) in their own homes. Hospice expenses (nursing, painkillers, beds...) fall under Medicare when the sick person has been diagnosed to live six months or less.

Palliative medicine has become a sort of pre-hospice treatment that starts with the initial diagnosis of a terminal illness. It emphasizes pain relief, symptom control and emotional support without excluding hospitalization and medical intervention.

The problem is, according to the author, that hospice care now includes 'open access', the availability of chemotherapy and other highend treatments thus essentially embracing what it originally renounced: highly technical, medicalized intervention in dying. Palliative medicine, on the other hand, is yet to be globally accepted as a specialization in its own right and often blurs the final decisions even more: when has enough been done and how much is too much?

The article is engrossing, as is every serious consideration of death. But what is almost said, what is subtly skirted in the piece is infinitely more interesting.

What are these observations not saying?

"...we act as if we can avoid death indefinitely only if we're quick enough or smart enough or prepared enough."

"How do we let go of a life? When do all the small fixes stop making sense? How does a person know when to say, 'OK, so this is what I'll finally die of'? We rarely ask such questions because we don't believe, in our bones, that a terminal disease will end in actual death."

"Dying at home is not easy. (Although) 70% of Americans say they want to die at home, few realize how grueling the work of dying can be."

"Death often comes as something of a surprise - which is odd, when you think about it, because people who die tend to be old and sick already."

"...why do we often feel blindsided by death, even the death of an elderly person suffering from a long-term condition?"

"What we're addicted to, it seems, is the belief that we can micromanage death. We tend to think of a 'good death' as one we can control... But often our best laid plans can go awry. Dying is awfully hard to choreograph."

"Studying death is somewhat like studying a black hole... there's something intrinsic to the very process that defies our ability to analyze it."

"The scariest part about dying... is how it ends: with the immutable fact of no longer existing."

In the last columns of her article, the author reflects on the unwillingness of health care professionals and their terminal patients to use words like death, dying, end of life, preferring in their place all manner of euphemisms.

But the words the author herself avoids using reveal an even greater ambiguity. How can you write about death without using words like mystery, completion, definitive act of free will...

The truth about death is not to be found in medicine or statistics or legislation. Death is a mystery because life is a mystery. We have exiled all concept of mystery from our bland, banal lives. That is why death frustrates and terrifies us.

Dying is the last and greatest opportunity to embrace the mystery, the radical truth that makes all our schemes and ambitions evaporate like drops on hot pavement.

Death cannot be understood in scientific or sociological terms. It would be like applying all the practical and theoretical knowledge of auto-mechanics to interpreting a work of Matisse. By missing the point you would, in fact, be making the point.

Get the point?

Oh yeah, and that line about "making her father's death meaningful"? Well, it was the first 76 years of the mystery that determined the meaning of its last instant. The cause and the place of his death may or may not highlight that meaning, but they do not constitute it.

Your death will mean whatever your life did. Nothing more. Nothing less. 'Nuff sed.

less of this, more of that

A few days ago the Exorcist observed that press received by Catholic priests is usually bad press. Again the Daily News is harbinger of unneeded scandals brought on by the clergy's questionable conduct.

Mons. Eugene Clark is a high profile priest in a city where nothing goes unnoticed. He is rector of St. Patrick's Cathedral and is 79 years old. He's been around for ever. He knows what it's like to live and work in the Catholic church in NY. He does not go unrecognized.

Regardless of what went on in his recent trip to LI with soon-to-be-divorcee Laura DeFillipo, why expose yourself in this manner and at this stage of your life's work? How could a situation like this not be misconstrued? ...if indeed it was misconstrued. What on earth was the venerable monsignor thinking?

In this country there is a hair-trigger reaction to any word, any gesture, any behaviour by Catholic clergy that could even remotely imply moral equivocacy. Suspicion surrounds the priesthood and litigation, frivolous or not, against a church perceived as wealthy and willing to settle is fast becoming a national pastime.

Whether Mons. Clark has done anything else, he has been unseemingly imprudent.
The Exorcist strongly feels we need less of this.

In other, more encouraging news, it appears that the Belgian Trappist monks of Saint Sixtus Monastery in Westvleteren have won the prestigious highest score for their deep and malty Abt 12 ale on the RateBeer website.
Brewing, like praying and and chanting, has long been part of monastic living. It could arguably be considered one of the pristine 'good works' through which our cloistered brethren sanctify and save.

The catch is, the good monks of Saint Sixtus run the brewery in function of the monastery. Not the other way around. They, therefore, frequently run out of beer.

The Exorcist strongly feels we need more of that.