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...