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... ;)