Monday, September 11, 2006


Grant us peace.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


Another old friend passed away this weekend.

Fr.Javier Tena, long time pastor of the parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Via Aurelia in Rome and later assistant of Santa Maria de Betania in the Almagro barrio of Buenos Aires. A simple, kind and soft spoken priest who suffered through constant illness during the last years of his life.

He was a history buff and loved journals, photos and historical accounts of our congregation's past. He will be remembered for his kindness and his patience toward all who happened to knock on the church door.

Requiescat in pace.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

anything for Allah

Quite a bit of discussion has been generated in the blogosphere about the forced conversion to Islam of the Fox News reporters, Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig, during their kidnapping in Gaza. All kinds of opinions out there: from disgust at the lack of backbone and conviction that a gunpoint conversion suggests, to applause and pride at the eloquent lesson of peaceful dialogue and religious openness given by the reporters.

I'm still waiting for Fox's resident theologian and pastoral guru, J.Morris, to illuminate us with a commentary on this incident involving his newsroom companions. I wonder how this topic escaped his notice...

Some of the blogs and message boards pass judgement on these two guys. Someone suggested to me that if the situation had been reversed - two Muslims held captive by Christians urging conversion - the result would have been deceased Muslims and not Christian converts.

A subjective judgement on the reporters' actions is neither possible, nor is it the point. Who really knows what their religious convictions - if they have any - are? Who knows how their thoughts on truth, meaning, freedom and life itself are defined or related to their behaviour as kidnapped hostages in Gaza?

A question all of us can ask goes beyond what happened inside these two guys. Is there anything (anyone?) worth dying for? Is this life, as we know it, worth holding on to at any cost? Can a person find something bigger and better than self which gives meaning to life and, without which, life would no longer be worth living?

Answering those questions could be important for all of us... even before there's a gun at our heads.

Monday, August 28, 2006

the great ones

The Exorcist must admit that, his general disenchantment with all-things-media-driven notwithstanding, there are certain events and personalities that still hold his interest.

Tiger continues to amaze, bringing excitement and diversity to a sport that the Exorcist long thought was only for retired white guys.

Andre says farewell on center stage and manages to turn a first round match against an aging opponent into a nail-biter. His grand finale carries over at least to the second round. Good for him.

It's only entertainment and has little or nothing to do with real life, but it doesn't mean we can't enjoy excellence when we see it.

Thursday, August 24, 2006


I know it's barely been 24 hours, but I miss Pluto already. The solar system just isn't the same without him.

Paramount dumped one of the few stars sans engrams in all of Hollywierd. Tom was clear. He was enlightened. And just like that, he was erased.

And finally, to cap a week of emotional struggles,
Mel Gibson is no longer our idol.
Not even Jonathan Morris, assuring us that his bosom buddy, his brother-from-another-mother really is deserving of our fawning adulation could keep Mel on the LC's constantly shifting hero list.

Sic transit gloria mundi.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


I began today's homily by describing Steven Carter's 1994 Pulitzer Prize winning photo. Few images have engraved themselves as permanently in my memory. I was sure lots of the folks at church would remember it too. Some didn't know, however, that Carter took his own life a few months after receiving the prestigious award for his photo.

A Sudanese child slowly making her way to a UN relief camp at the height of the famine. The girl, skin and bones, is being stalked by a vulture, patiently pursuing its next meal. No one knows what became of the child. The picture would suggest that her fate was not a dignified one...

My one fleeting experience with hunger - medically induced at that - was in Guerrero, Mexico about an hour south of Chilpancingo. I was on missions among indigenous communities during the summer and the water was bad. I got typhoid and was VERY sick. Wasn't allowed to eat anything for nearly a week and by the time it was over I could have bitten the arm of the nurse that was looking after me.

I consider that experience an 'artificial hunger' because there was food available, I just couldn't eat it. Nonetheless, it was enough of a hint to help me imagine what millions of people around the world suffer daily, with no permanent relief in sight.

That piercing, obsessive, all-consuming need to eat, to drink, to satisfy the most basic premise of human existence...

It's hard for us to even envision. We throw away more food in one day than lots of folks eat in a week. Yet the human experience of hunger and the capacity of bread to satisfy it serve our Lord as a point of departure in his 'bread of life' discourse which the Sunday liturgy has been doling out to us recently.

"You seek me out not because you have seen the signs, but because you ate the loaves and had your hunger satisfied."

All Christ's words are self-revelatory. His parables, his preaching, his admonitions are meant to tell us who he really is. He speaks of hunger, thirst, bread and drink so that, by analogy, we may see what he conceives his relationship with us to be. He fully considers himself the fundamental condition and source of life itself. What physical hunger and thirst can turn into for people - overwhelming, burning need - is but a premonition of what Christ esteems our relation to him to be.

All human need, therefore, in Christ's mind is a reflection of man's true origin and nature. The need for rest when we are tired, the need for medicine when we are sick, the need for friendship when we are lonely, the need for freedom when we are constrained, the need for food and drink when we are hungry and thirsty... all our deepest needs have their origin and their raison d'etre in our radical dependence on the source of our being.

From there to sacramental theology is but a small step.
And that brings us to next week's homily...

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

copla del día

Recuerde el alma dormida,
avive el seso e despierte
contemplando cómo se passa la vida,
cómo se viene la muerte tan callando;
cuán presto se va el plazer,
cómo, después de acordado, da dolor;
cómo, a nuestro parescer,
cualquiere tiempo passado fue mejor.

- Jorge Manrique

Ain't it the truth?
Hardly seems like it's been four years already...

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


A point is made in Dominus Iesus, the CDF document that stirred up such a fuss exactly six years ago, that the Exorcist has pondered long and hard. One of the principal obstacles to belief in our times - not belief in this or that doctrine, but the very act of belief itself - is the refusal to accept the possibility that something could happen only once in the course of human history.

Everything we know is fruit of repetition. If it happens again and again, if we observe it multiple times we can analyze it, study it, wrap our scientific minds around it and intellectually own it. The universe is full of sameness and whatever 'novelty' we encounter is evolved novelty: a series of small changes, a recognizable chain of events, known causes, forseeable effects.

What Dominus Iesus(4) says, exactly is,

"The roots of (the problem) are to be found in certain presuppositions of both a philosophical and theological nature, which hinder the understanding and acceptance of the revealed truth... (Among other things) the difficulty in understanding and accepting the presence of definitive and eschatological events in history..."

Christian belief is predicated on the premise that something truly new happened. 'New' meaning absolutely without precedent, unforseen and unforseeable, radically and permanently surprising. No external point of reference. Unrepeatable and, therefore, outside the scope of our science.

Jesus Christ is the event by which all other events are to be measured and understood. A one time happening whose uniqueness gives it a trancendence and a revelance claimed by no other day in history.

The marian dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption are a proclamation of the unbridled novelty of the Christian event. The dogma seeks to conserve the mystery of it all in the shameless face of science and skepticism. The dogma guarantees that, as long as one true believer still walks the earth, newness will be within reach.

This is where the Exorcist plans to go in tonight's homily.
Wish me luck.

Monday, August 14, 2006

deaf ears

Since the new outbreak of hostilities between Israelis and Hezbollah fighters, Pope Benedict has called for an immediate and universal ceasefire. He has taken a lot of heat in the national press because of it. One side is outraged because the Pope doesn't call Hezbollah a terrorist organization and blame it for the renewed violence. The other side is enraged because the Pope hasn't explicitly condemned Israel for the disproportionate use of force in attacking its foes in Lebanon.

Fox News, O'Reilly in particular, has taken issue with Pope Benedict because he demands that no more blood be shed, but offers no specific solution for the problem.

It would seem that even the media people that refer to themselves as Catholics have a hard time understanding - or remembering - what message (whose message!) the Holy Father is called to proclaim to the world.

A passage from Luke's gospel comes to mind.

Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me." He replied to him, "Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?" Then he said to the crowd, "Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one's life does not consist of possessions." (12, 13-15)

When asked to take sides, when pressed to negotiate a settlement between people at odds with each other, Jesus refuses. He instead enunciates a moral principle, he enlightens man's conscience with revealed truth and leaves the task of its practical application to the parties involved.

The Pope's role on the world stage is to speak for Christ. He cannot take sides, he cannot broker political compromises for international grievances. He is right to condemn the violence, to decry the killing and to urge for peace. As Vicar of Christ he can do no less.

The Pope is to be as a lighthouse on history's turbulent seas: illuminate, show the way to safe harbor. But the rowing, steering and maneuvering is left to each ship on the horizon.

That said, those called upon to explain the Church's stance or the Pope's statements in the media should refer constantly to the fundamental mission: to speak the truth of Christ even when it falls on deaf ears.

The Exorcist gets royally peeved when Catholic media folks are fuzzy or downright contradictory. One favorite example: Fr. Jonathan Morris, who reports and writes for Fox News, is presumably on board to enounce and clarify the Catholic message. It's bad enough that on most subjects his fatuous, feelgood approach barely skims the surface of true Catholic thought. But on issues such as the present conflict in Lebanon he prefers to adopt the network's agenda over the position laid out by the Pope and other Church leaders. He seems to enjoy playing TV reporter so much that he abandons the far more challenging role of intelligently and eloquently giving voice to the Catholic mind, to Christ's teaching. His embarrassing attempt at an interview with Muslims gathered outside a London mosque a few days ago is a glaring example.

The Exorcist won't deny the soothing therapeutic effect occasional Morris-bashing has on his psyche, but it goes beyond that.

"He who hears you, hears me."

We, of all people, cannot remain silent. But we must ensure that the message is His and not something of our own fabrication.

Saturday, August 12, 2006


I heard the homilies of the Masses celebrated for him in Chile. I wasn't overly impressed. Our finely honed skills for rewriting history, understating the essential and overstating the trivial, seem to have kicked in far before the occasion to preach actually presented itself.

Some congratulate themselves for a spin well spun and perceive, perhaps, the unspoken relief of having one less pebble in their shoe. Others, MANY others, I know remember and miss this great man and exemplar priest for who he really was and what he taught us all.

Fr. Jose Maria Escribano V. A sage and a friend, he had time for everyone who needed it and never failed to put any soul back on the path to eternity. Unencumbered by the sham and the noise, his words centered, calmed and oriented. Folks felt they NEEDED to hear him.

I miss his deadpan rejoinders, his laser-sharp wit and his keen eye for the absurd - which found constant subject matter in the institution we both belong to. I'd like to think something of Fr. Jose Maria rubbed off on me in the nearly ten years we lived together, seven in our own unlikely extension of paradise. He was a mentor and a guide. He saved me from myself more times than I care to remember.

Requiescat in pace.

Saturday, August 05, 2006


The story goes that as the artist was walking with friends late one afternoon down Oslo's chilly streets, he suddenly stopped, halfway across a bridge, unable to take another step. His companions hardly noticed him lagging behind.

Munch describes what happened next.

"I was walking along a path with two friends – the sun was setting – suddenly the sky turned blood red – I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence – there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city – my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature."

Historians claim that his panic attack/epiphany took place in 1883. The skies were a lurid blood red because of the volumes of volcanic ash launched into the stratosphere by Krakatoa. Ten years later, Munch depicted this and other expressions of the anxiety that filled his life on canvas.

Some of his other paintings - Anxiety, Despair, portrait of Nietzsche - also have the bridge as the location for his subject. The man on the bridge: caught between the past and the future, his beginning and his end. Suspended between the sky above and the depths below.

You gotta love it. A fabulous gift idea for that special someone. Emphasis on 'special'.

Have you heard the scream? Has anyone not heard it? It is especially piercing and sustained in our troubled times. Perhaps that's why this work is so universally appealing.

That, and the artist's cool last name.

E. Munch is definitely up there with the other greats. Tedy Bruschi. Coco Crisp. Kevin Mench.

But I digress.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

there's no there there

My great-grandmother would talk to - proselytize, actually - the fish in the aquarium at the nursing home near our house where she spent her last days. Damn fish just wouldn't listen to reason, either. Infuriating as it was, Nana's kidneys gave out before her missionary zeal did. She used her last breath trying to convert the insolent little boogers.

My grandmother would wear a pair of dead foxes, joined at the hip, on her shoulders in the dog days of summer. On special occasions. She also learned to swear colorfully from the mah-jongg crowd she ran with for so many years. She spent the twilight of her life praying the rosary, cursing in Sicilian and Yiddish and out-guessing the contestants on The Price is Right.

My mother, well, where to start? The cats... the benign spiritism... the stuff in the freezer.
Don't make me go there.

This background information is merely to highlight my qualifications in dealing with unusual old ladies. I am not without experience in this highly specialized and gratifying field. I have the skillz. I have the credentialz.

So when la señora Nélida dropped in on me at the rectory yesterday I handled it quite professionally.

"I was going to throw it all in the river. But then I thought, the padre he is a man of God. So I bring it to you."

Both garbage bags were full, although the weight was unevenly distributed. Her eyes sparkled victoriously.

What is this stuff?

"Orange. It must be removed. Maybe for someone else to use."

Clothes, toys, jello molds. Crayons, a plastic lamp cover. A bath mat that honestly could have passed for yellow, but one learns early on not to haggle over trifles with a woman on a misson.

You're sure this is all of it. Nothing orange remains in the house?

She hesitated nervously. Her eyes fluttered and her mouth twitched. The man of God, he is testing me maybe? Has he seen?

"This is everything. I am sure. When I was in Cuba I saw many things. I ask myself, 'Where does the sun go when it sets?' It rises in the oriente and then disappears in darkness. So I quickly take the orange things out of my house. You will help me, no?"

Not a problem, Nelly.
Leave your troubles here, whatever color they are.

Monday, July 10, 2006

usted es la culpable...

I probably should have sensed there was going to be a problem going into this. The Exorcist just tends naturally to give folks the benefit of the doubt, that's all.

Never did I imagine that ol' number 1127 would be my undoing.
That's 1127, article 3. Specifically.

I don't blame her, this young latino woman from the parish, for not understanding the why and where-for-all of it. But I did explain it to her to the best of my ability and told her that, regardless, I was as beholden to the rules as she was. The deceptive ease with which she acquiesced to my check-list of conditions should have given me an inkling...

It was a summer Sunday much like any other. The stifling heat of our old, unairconditioned churches turned the morning Mass stretch into a baptism by immersion. The kids were holding a car wash so they were soaked, too. I left at three for the country mansion that was to host the wedding at four. Beautiful place but, man, was it hot. Luckily seats for everyone except the officiant were strategically located in the shade of a cluster of tall oaks. So that worked out pretty well.

Anyway, I get there twenty minutes early to set up. I ask one of the girls moving the floral arrangements if she thought we'd be ready to go at four. She says, "Hopefully. But the first service was over an hour late in starting."

First service? Why, whatever do you mean?

Then I saw it. An ornate gazebo - scarlet, orange yellow and gold - with two stone elephants flanking a long red carpet strewn with flower petals.

"Yessir. That Buddhist ceremony took forever to get rolling. They just barely finished in time for lunch. But I'm hopeful they'll come out soon to get this over with. It's been a long day."



Hindu. Lahar is Hindu. Not Buddhist.

"Oh, yeah. Whatever."

I knew this was to be a wedding between a Catholic and a non-Christian. I signed and sent to the bishop the dispensation form. Maria Carmen was adamant that she wanted to receive the sacrament of marriage, within the Mass, and agreed to everything - even to getting confirmed well in advance of her wedding.

Another thing she agreed to was number 1127, 3. Of Canon Law.

§3. It is forbidden to have another religious celebration of the same marriage to give or renew matrimonial consent before or after the canonical celebration according to the norm of §1. Likewise, there is not to be a religious celebration in which the Catholic who is assisting and a non-Catholic minister together, using their own rites, ask for the consent of the parties.

This is a sticky point, often, in arranging 'mixed marriages'. I know this because Tyler knows this. It all has to do with the very particular perspective of Catholic sacramental theology and the specifically Catholic understanding of matrimony. I tried to elucidate all this to Maria Carmen. I offered her the option of forgoing the observance of canonical form and getting a dispensation for a civil ceremony. She insisted. She accepted. She appeared beautifully dressed in white at 4pm.

Benefit of the doubt, right?

I wonder what happened. Did she never really understand what I laid out for her? Did she think it was unimportant, a formality... or worse, a quirk of the nutty priest she asked to perform her marriage? Was she pressured into the Hindu ceremony by his family and opted not to say anything to me?

Now I lie awake nights with debates about validity and licitness raging in my mind's empty caverns.

Y todo por tu culpa.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

say it with flowers

Not all is quiet in the North End of the city.

All the shooting and fighting that's going on makes a fellow choose the route for his evening walk a bit more carefully. There's distrust between the folks and the police. A new police chief has his hands full. It's a job no one wants.

I hate to admit it, but we've grown perceptibly more cautious at the parish dealing with the people who come to the door looking for help. It's not like we have a new policy or anything, it's just that the environment has grown that tense...

Happily, not everything is violence. The North End still has time for wierd, too.

I opened the church doors at around 7:15 am and found a bundle of flowers carefully placed on the doorstep. Charming... other than the fact that they were taken from the flower beds of the parish's front lawn. In the middle of each of the eight steps descending from the church doors, both sides, was a violet in a small mound of soil. The violets had previously been in large pots on the corners of the church entrance.

But the icing on the cake, the proverbial cherry on the sundae, was the tiny bird - wings, head and feet extended to form a 't' - in the center of the stone bannister that encloses the landing at the top of the church stairs.

The 8am Mass-goers recalled our Valentine's Day beheaded rooster incident. They asked me earnestly, with grave concern, "Padre, what does it all mean?"

It means, my friends, that we need more flowers...

Sunday, June 25, 2006

my achilles heel

There lies before me a Pandora's box secured by a Gordian knot that will only be loosed, in the end, by ths sword of Damocles...

Friday, June 23, 2006

haurietis aquas

A friend of mine from high school was in semi-confessional mode last week - not an abnormal reaction to a fourth pint of Guinness - and claimed that one of the things that most turned him off to the Catholic faith as a boy (leading to his total disenfranchisement as an adult) was the abundance of garish images scattered about his grandmother's house. How any of that scary stuff could motivate one to devotion and Christian charity still puzzles him. Apparently, St.Agnes' fluttering eyelids, slashed throat and lamb-in-arms are, to this day, the principal deterrant to his return to the Church.

If you have an Italian or a Mexican woman in your family tree, you know the artwork.

St.Sebastian tied to a pillar with countless arrows obliquely piercing his body as he stares heavenward.
St.Christopher gasping for breath as a deceptively heavy Christ child robed in white, placidly perched on the drowning saint's shoulder raises his tiny hand in regal gesture.
St.George, a paleo-christian Lone Ranger mounted on a white stallion, skewers the fiery dragon, the hellish serpent, the infernal worm, the inflammable winged maggot.
St.Lawrence, patron of cooks, kneeling beside the pit of smouldering embers, dressed in his red dalmatic, palm sprig clenched to his chest yearning eyes cast beyond this world...

You get the idea.

Is it any wonder Hollywood has always found abundant material in Catholic tradition for its supernatural spook flicks? Just add a little more gore, contort that angelical visage a smidge and fill that gloomy church with candles, incense and otherworldly whispers and... wallah! A playroom worthy of Damien, Carrie and Emily Rose.

Imagery is key to Catholicism. We do not just profess our faith. We see it, we touch it, we hear it, we smell it, we taste it. We dress up and dramatize it on Christmas Eve and Good Friday. We make statues of our saints and use water, wine, bread and oil in our sacraments. We lay our hands on the sick, we wear roman collars and colorful vestments at Mass and one Wednesday a year we smear ashes on our forehead.

Can it go too far? Hmmm... As if 'too far' were still possible nowadays.

But yeah, it can. My mother has a plastic St.Philomena night-light that has creeped me out on more than one occasion. And that apparition-on-toast of the Virgin Mary? You tell me who the real loon is: the Ebay seller or the Ebay buyer.

But even the tacky, publicity-driven excesses drive home my point. Imagery is key.

Catholicism has always understood that body is the image, the expression of spirit. That the natural world is the chosen language of the spiritual world. That the reality we see is no less than a very elaborate invitation to the reality that escapes our senses.

Catholicism - and Christianity in general - originates from the Incarnation of the Word. The eternal, unfathomable knowledge that God has of Himself, the bottomless Truth that is the beginning and end of all we call real, the invisible Being that creates and sustains all being found, in the human form, the best way to make Himself known to the human world.

The choice of human imagery was His and all that is human finds new meaning therein.

Anyway, today - liturgical feast of the Sacred Heart - I was trying to work my way around the painting, framed in maroon velvet, that haunts my childhood recollections. A sallow, almost phantasmagoric Jesus with eyes that would make even a hardened hunter of baby seals feel pangs of compunction. He holds in his bony hand a heart, presumably his, crowned with thorns and a flame. It hurts and it burns.

I never really liked that painting, which was my grandmother's and surely her grandmother's before her. I am still not sure that I like it. But I am sure that my preaching on this day, in a parish named for the Sacred Heart, will not be better served by avoiding the imagery.

Like it or not, the image truly says it all.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

heed the omen

It was difficult to fit it in and nearly didn't happen at all, but the devil herself couldn't dissuade a determined Exorcist. I finally finished everything, the scheduled and the unscheduled, exited the parish council meeting at 8:50 and slunk away for the 9pm showing.

My namesake has returned.

I must preamble this by noting that there was a minor rush to the confessional on Monday (6.5.06) evening. Yes, four high school girls constitutes a 'rush' around here. And no, they weren't exactly sure what was supposed to go down on Tuesday. But they knew it was going to be bad. Beside, who am I to turn away eager clients?

The daily Mass crowd (hey, if four is a 'rush', eleven is so totally a 'crowd'...) expressed wonder that in Tuesday's mini-homily I stuck to the liturgy and didn't issue eschatological warnings.

Nope. While expectant mothers were either inducing or postponing labor to avoid the date and talkshows were queueing up the more loquacious elements of the Christian fringe, the Exorcist celebrated this fateful day in a mundane way. He treated himself to a movie.

The Omen (1976) was one of those movies that left a lasting impression on the Exorcist's fragile adolescent psyche. The remake was released on Tuesday, 6.6.06.

The Omen (2006) is very literally a remake of the original film. The plot, the dialogue, the insane supernatural silliness and the devilish mishaps triggered by the tyke with the blank stare are all faithful to their origin.

Mia Farrow out-creeps even Damien as the loony, spooky Mrs. Baylock. She is quite convincing in the role but, of course, she has dealt with problem children before.

The clergy in the movie is Catholic, naturally. I mean who else are you going to call with the anti-christ stirring things up? A Jehovah's Witness? The best you'll get out of him is a big "I told you so!!!".

Nuh-uh. No way. When there are apocalyptic threats afoot, homicidal nannies and rottweillers prowling around the cemetery you definitely want a Catholic priest.

This is, after all, what we do.

The portrayal of the clergy, in true Hollywood fashion, oscillates between ludicrous and horrific. It's the whacky satanic priests who switch kids to begin with, the pope is in bed with rosary beads and a glass of wine when he is told that the anti-christ survived the plot against his life (the Holy Father does not take the news well... he spills his wine), and the Grim Reaper could offer cosmetic tips to the monk found convalescing at the island monastery in Subiaco. Fr. Brennan is played by Pete Postlethwaite, a combination of Marty Feldman and Savonarola, and, hard as he tries to take Damien out, the rugrat from hell holds his own.

Now for what I didn't like about the movie.

I miss Gregory Peck.

Rachel Weisz was originally casted for the role of Katherine Thorn and would have offered mortal dread and subtle hysteria in place of Julia Stiles' anemic helplessness. Unfortunately, R.Weisz declined the role at the time because she was... expecting. Fate, it would seem, is not without a sense of irony.

The Exorcist would like to thank Damien, Mrs.Baylock, their snarling rottweilers and the dysfunctional clergy of Hollywood for an appropriately creepy 6.6.06.

Monday, June 05, 2006


The gathering of the Catholic movements with the Pope this past weekend to celebrate Pentecost was quite impressive. Around here it didn't get much press coverage - the guy eaten by the lions in Kiev actually got more print in some quarters - but EWTN transmitted the length and breadth of the ceremonies in St.Peter's live bot Saturday and Sunday.

Nearly half a million people by some estimates, most of them young, representing all the movements in the broad spectrum from Opus Dei to Sant'Edigio converged on Rome this year. Pope Benedict addressed the difficulties that accompany the growth and expansion of the movements that, in their diversity, have become a formidable evangelizing force for the Church. On the one hand, he asked bishops and parish priests to be open to the movements and allow them to work with and for the local church. On the other, he called on the movements to truly see themselves as part of the greater reality of the Church and to resist setting themselves up as a 'parallel magisterium' that tends to divide more than to unify.

At one stage in the coverage of Sunday's outdoor Mass, the commentator from Vatican radio who was doing the audio for the EWTN transmission pointed out a large yellow banner in the crowd that read "Regnum Christi movement with Pope Benedict XVI". She went on to say that the Regnum Christi is an interesting phenomenon because it is actually "a movement within a movement". She described it as a subset of the broader Opus Dei movement that is better known throughout the world.

Hmmm... A freudian slip, perhaps? Or maybe one of the lasting effects of the Da Vinci Code frenzy: even Vatican radio has come to suspect that the Opus secretly hides behind the least likely fronts?

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

a day in the life

Memorial Day is a good thing, if that's what it's used for: remembering. If you don't remember, you don't live. You exist. And in our world, that's certainly not a big deal. All kinds of junk exists. But memory... ah, memory means life.

A theology profesor at the Greg once told us that the Holy Spirit is god's memory.
He was a Bulgarian Jesuit, so he may well have had that Massimo Confessore/Origene thang going on in his head. But it IS an interesting thought.

I heard on local am radio today that there have been 16 shootings within the last 50 hours in this city. Of those, roughly half happened within walking distance of this miserable little parish. The mayor has asked for the State Police to be deployed. Till when, I wonder.

The AIDS epidemic is out of control, not only in sub-Saharan Africa... Since Holy Week I have been called to visit terminally ill family members or friends of parishoners at least once a week, sometimes two and three times. This wretched disease has whacked the hispanic community almost as hard as the black Carribean community (Haitian, Sta.Lucian, Jamaican, etc.) and shows no sign of letting up. The last guy I saw - Friday, at a convalescent home - was 42, weighed about 60 pounds and was the most God-awful shade of yellow I've ever seen. He couldn't even uncurl his fingers to receive the annointing of the sick. A breathing skeleton.

An ex-inmate from Osborn came to see me today. Said I spent some time listening to him when he was inside... confession and the like. I can't recall, but this guy was grateful. Said he's working now - the laundry at the hospital - and has visiting rights with his kids. Wants to be confirmed, fix up his marriage...

In this part of town you have to take it as it comes, the good and the bad.
Fix what you can, sure... but something's got to be left to God. Right?

Friday, May 26, 2006

a story too seldom told...

The NCR runs a good story in the current issue, not on the front page, where the Exorcist would have put it, but at least it is there.

Far too little justice has been sought for the many priests that have been wrongly implicated in the sex abuse scandal that has shaken the Church, especially in this lawyer-happy country. Let the guilty be tried, but let not the innocent be brought down beside them or smeared by association.

The words 'sex abuse' have become a shibboleth for critics of the Catholic clergy. Like an evil spell that guarantees results, once applied it makes its target guilty and no degree of favorable testimony or even recanting by the accusers ever undoes its fatal poison. Other types of complaints or grudges that don't attract similar sympathy and outrage can be hidden in this all-encompassing curse before which there is little hope of defense.

Again, we should not deny or explain away the confirmed wrongdoing and horrible offenses that have come to light in these past years of intense scrutiny. But there are many innocent priests who have been discredited and discarded in the stampede - I know a good few of them - and they should not be considered mere collateral damage.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

ascendit in caelum

The kids in this parish pay attention in Mass at the worst moments.

The valiant, lone altar-server of today's early morning Mass actually listened to the Gospel reading. She grilled me afterwards in the sacristy.

"Why did Jesus tell them to pick up snakes and drink poison?"

He didn't actually tell them to, he said that if they did they would not be harmed.

"But why would anyone pick up snakes or drink poison?"

Well, I guess Jesus had figured out by then that his apostles weren't the sharpest knives in the drawer and he wanted to take precautions.

<blink, blink>

Just playing. What I really think is that he was reasserting the radical nature of the change brought about in the human condition because of his resurrection: the primacy of life over death, spirit over matter, hope over despair, good over evil...

<blink, blink>

Aren't you supposed to be in school by now?

Monday, May 22, 2006

my brain hurts...

On Friday, May 19, the press office of the Holy See issued a very brief statement making public the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith's decision regarding Fr. Marcial Maciel.

This statement either means something or it does not.

If it does not, we can pretend it never happened and go about our lives enthusiastically and optimistically as before, unworried that an essential part of all that we are and have been part of for many years - in my case, 2/3 of an existence - may have been tainted and discredited.

If it does, the question that haunts us now is: what does it mean?

Those who have had it in for Fr.Maciel from the beginning seem to have little doubt about the meaning of the Holy See's statement. It means that all the accusations, public and private, made against him were found to be true beyond a reasonable doubt. It means that his accusers are the brave and righteous victims and Fr.Maciel is the deceitful architect of an evil empire masquerading as a religious congregation and apostolic movement. This final indictment has finally and definitively pulled the mask off it all. It means he has been 'stripped of his priesthood' by a Pope who was unable to deny the solid and damning evidence of a case so airtight that we can only shake our heads in wonder that it took so long for judgment to be passed...

The ReGAIN mob, SNAP, Berry, Renner, the NCR and others have it all figured out. They know exactly what the Vatican statement means.

The Exorcist is not so sure.

In all truth, those of us who are convinced of Fr.Maciel's innocence regarding the charges of sexual abuse and violation of the sacrament of reconciliation have tougher issues to grapple with when we try to understand what the statement really means. Perhaps that is why the LC has limited itself to a very succinct official response, saying basically that Fr.Maciel accepts and will comply with the conditions dictated by the Holy See.

The only ones that can afford the luxury of an easy answer are those who were convinced of his guilt to begin with. For them, the intentionally guarded Vatican statement has become the umbrella endorsement of their catalogue of crimes and grievances.

For the rest of us, there's way too much at stake to go the easy route.

To begin with, the issue of Fr.Maciel's guilt or innocence is circumvented both by the wording of the statement and the elimination of the possibility of a canonical process. Nothing is said about the allegations themselves: whether or not any of them were found to be more or less credible, whether the decision of the CDF was ultimately even related to the stories of the 9 ex-LC, etc.

Obviously, the Vatican statement is neither the resounding exoneration nor the ringing endorsement of Fr.Maciel that many of us would have preferred to hear. It is disapproving in tone and discplinary in content and that is extremely concerning.

But the unspecific reference to the accusations at least leaves the window open for admitting a certain complexity in the motives that prompted this decision of the Holy See. It is not a question of splitting hairs. It is the need to understand what the statement really says. And I would venture that things are not as cut and dry as Fr.Maciel's adversaries would have us believe.

The recognition of Fr.Maciel's denial of the publicized accusations and the nod to the merits of the LC and the RC attenuate the tone of the statement. The invitation to refrain from exercising public ministry can be read either as a prudential measure or as lenient a penalty as could be found. The specific affirmation that the Pope has signed on to the decision tells both sides that this thing is over.

But, like I said above, those of us convinced of Fr. Maciel's innocence can hardly turn this into a positive. The media's interest in this business will be short lived. As soon as Britney Spears drops her baby in the toilet or Paris Hilton buys a new poodle this apparently anti-climactic bit of ecclesiastic arcana will pass. But the internal grasp of what has happened and what it means down the road for us LC/RC folks is the real, lingering drama to unfold.

Simply stated, two fundamental tenets of LC/RC life and spirit have been assailed: papal approval and the person of our founder. The questions that arise have confounded the Exorcist. To wit:

1. Why was any statement issued at all? I think pretty much everyone, accusers and believers alike, was resigned to this whole thing going to the grave someday with Fr.Maciel. If this statement is 'proof' that the CDF and the Pope deem him guilty because of 'overwhelming evidence', why not say it clearly and hammer him with the full force of Canon Law? If the CDF statement was brought about by the allegations of things that supposedly happened 50 years ago, how were they suddenly verified? The complaints of those 9 ex-LC have been out there forever. Were there issues unrelated to the old accusations? Is a message, entirely different from the one most assume to be evident, being sent to the LC?

2. How do we, who have always put such high stock in even the most insignificant signs of papal affection or approval - his greeting at an audience, a picture taken with him in Paul VI Hall, a postcard from some papal visit - deal with this low key but undeniable sign of disapproval? The only way we can claim that Fr. Maciel is being persecuted or unjustly treated is to tread the slippery slope of saying that the Pope was pressured into doing something he didn't personally agree with. Even suggesting that Fr.Maciel accepted the CDF's reproval to spare the LC or the church some greater damage is like juggling swords.

Are we to think that the many signs of approval given the LC/RC in public and private by Peter's successors - especially John Paul II - were false or have somehow now been overturned?

How are we supposed to deal with this? Some have suggested that we look to the future when, with history's hindsight, Fr.Maciel's name will be cleared and he will be officially recognized as the great man many of us truly believe he is. That, they say, has been the case with many saints who were vilified in life, but vindicated after death.

I suppose we could sit around and pray for the prompt election of Pope Norbert I and at some stage campaign to turn this thing around, but that does little to help us right now. Perhaps our best - and only - option is to hang our heads, take it on the chin and work twice as hard in our apostolates and service to the church. Our perseverance and dedication are, in the long run, the only way to erase the negative effects of this ordeal and turn it into a plus for the LC/RC.

3. What about the internal image of Fr. Maciel as founder and inspiration of the LC/RC and its spirituality? One can argue, as the CDF statement so painfully observes, that the congregation and the lay movement can be considered and even revered independently of the person of their founder. Anyone who belongs to the LC/RC knows that this kind of mental separation is not only impossible, but flies in the face of everything we've lived and been taught in the Movement since the beginning.

I, personally, feel a great debt of gratitude to Fr.Maciel - not because someone's brainwashed me, but simply because I have received so much. He is venerated in the LC/RC and often allegiance and fidelity to one's vocation are confused with personal loyalty to him. His story is told and retold; the LC/RC history with him at its core has been written and rewritten; he becomes, for all our members, a figure that is larger than life. Critics call it a personality cult. I prefer to think of it as a mix of institutional exuberance, cultural folklore and youthful hype...

For all of this and many other ways in which the person of our founder is inextricably enmeshed in the very fiber of LC/RC life, the CDF statement is an industrial-sized fly in the ointment. What are we supposed to do now? Pretend it doesn't matter? Tell the story up to May 17 2006, then close the book quickly and say "...and they all lived happily ever after"?

Or perhaps we're being challenged to make the act of consumate honesty: to say with our hearts, our words and our continued service to the church that the LC/RC never really was about Fr.Maciel (even in the throes of our over-enthusiasm!). That the congregation and the movement really are 'of Christ' as their names imply. That even the blemishes or eventual failings of everyone from the founder right down to the newest member don't undermine what HE does and will continue to do through us...

Does it mean we have to disown Fr.Maciel as if he had been convicted of some crime?


It means we have to be totally, starkly truthful with ourselves and with everyone else. Things are what they are. And if our congregation and lay movement are truly instruments of evangelization, with us or in spite of us they will continue to grow, to mature in spirit and to do Christ's work.

These are some of the things that have been going through the Exorcist's head of late.
I'm not alone. Not by a long shot. I have been speaking, often into the wee hours, with our people in Italy, Mexico, the US and South America. Most of them have kept their thoughts to themselves, but it doesn't mean they're not thinking, not asking themselves the same questions. I would expect no less of them.


coming up blank

More often than not, the Exorcist has an answer.
At least he thinks he does.

But the Exorcist has spent the greater part of this long rainy weekend searching for an answer that he has not yet found. Not one that satisfies all the questions, at any rate.

No one has given me an answer and, I admit, I have been fretfully inarticulate in my stuttering replies to the many people who have directed their questions to me.

One friend suggested that the easy solution would be to stop questioning. But avoiding the question is neither easy nor a solution.

In my case, 28 years of life invested in an all-consuming institution founded as the living extention of the mission and inspiration of one man, make it morally indefensible to push aside the need for understanding... and meaning... and truth. Not asking ourselves the necessary question should make us a whole lot more uncomfortable than asking it honestly.

In my next post, the Exorcist will outline his attempt to come up with an answer.
Prepare to be dissatisfied.
I am.

Thursday, May 18, 2006


It's been very quiet around here since I returned from Chile.

Lent and, especially, Holy Week were busy times. I can't imagine how the Triduum could have been any fuller. Folks seemed to want to be in a holy place... if only for those three days of the year.
This is a tiny parish, maybe 300-325 families, so I was happy to see everyone engaged in some way. Lots of people recently arrived from Latin American countries got the word that there was a very latino Holy Week programmed at the parish - procesión de ramos, lavatorio de los pies, 'las siete palabras', el Vía Crucis viviente, rosario de luto, Misa de Gloria - and we received numerous newcomers from different places.

The Monday after Easter I left for Chile. Ten days that passed in a heartbeat. I went to perform the marriage of a young lady who I met years ago and has been a close friend since then. I baptized some babies, blessed wedding rings and celebrated one or two pre-arranged Masses. Got to see some old friends, didn't get to see a lot more.

My visit helped me to define my strategery. I will take one more shot at finishing my doctorate, this time it's between Yale and Fordham. If I am accepted I will go the distance. If not, I will complete my three year period as promised to the Archbishop of this fine archdiocese and I will head south.

Of course, I could be hit by a bus crossing the street to get the mail this afternoon, too.

That would certainly simplify things.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

sift through the words

It is not easy to get a balanced view of Church affairs in the US. On the one hand, as is often said, anti-Catholicism is the one politically correct prejudice still allowed in America. On the other hand, reporting by those who could conceivably give an accurate reading of events and credible analysis is often so skewed one way or the other it's almost impossible to get a grip on the issues.

Network and cable special reports routinely call in Elaine Pagels, J.D.Crossan, Richard McBrien, etc. to speak about topics related to faith, scripture and church that cannot be adequately dealt with in sound bytes. Unedited, their peculiar intellectual proclivities make them somewhat suspect. Reduced to one-liners, they become damn near unintelligible.

On the other end of the spectrum, Fox News brings in Jonathan Morris who, shiny and eager, glibly simplifies the topics he's asked to comment on. Like a greenhouse plant suddenly relocated to the outside world, his reporting on church issues wilts and disappoints under the heat of live broadcast. Although the endearing simper on his youthful face never fades, he appears at times not to listen to the questions he is asked by the anchors and often responds off the mark. But lack of acumen does not discourage him from talking happily on the air about everything from papal encyclicals to exotic dancers. I found his recent pieces on church and society in Venezuela, labor unrest in France and US immigration issues especially egregious examples of his craft.

Fr. Morris ends a three part series on The Da Vinci Code last week with this line: "A little knowledge is dangerous... for religion and for life. But a lot of knowledge (and a little humility) makes wise men." Remarkable. From the mouths of babes...

The printed word, while arguably more informative and responsible than the evening news, fails to resolve the basic confusion that seems to cloud most Church reporting in the US. I flip between the two NCRs on a weekly basis in the hopes of discerning the middle ground for myself. Neither the Register nor the Reporter goes to great lengths to camouflage its very particular ecclesiology, which, I suppose, is helpful in a way. I read both, aware that the omissions are usually more telling than the inclusions, and am attentive to the bits of information and wisdom that always surface regardless...

As an example: the May 12 issue of the Reporter was, almost in its entirety, a tiresome rant against Bishop Robert Finn and the changes being made in the diocese of Kansas City. Not that there aren't issues and legitimate questions, but the endless feature article seems to reproach the bishop for everything short of hiring an albino monk to do his dirty work.

That said, there are always insights that ring true. The editorial on the back page, No rationale for upheaval in Kansas City, ends with words of wisdom:

"...people can't be made to become a faithful community by controlling them. The qualities of true leadership and authority accrue to those who have a deep empathy for the people they serve... and who understand that relationships, not rules or rubrics or even revered devotions, are the essential thread of the fabric of a community living out the Gospel."

I'm not sure to what extent these lines apply to the situation in Kansas City, but I can certainly think of some folks in other contexts who might be illuminated by them.

Sift through the words, hold on to what is true.
A friendly recommendation from the Exorcist.

Monday, May 15, 2006

reality is worse... way worse

Of the two latest commentaries on the imminent release of The Da Vinci Code in USA Today, one impressed me as unusually cogent. Only a society as clueless as our own could permit such a fatuous debate to distract us from the substantial issues of our busy lives... like who will be the finalists of American Idol or whether the jocks of the Duke lacrosse team are truly the baleful degenerates they so aspire to be.

I find it hard to believe that the Opus has actually entered the fray with interviews, complaints and the request for a disclaimer. An organization that deems it necessary to publicly deny that it harbors masochistic albino assassin monks has only whetted my curiosity as to what they're really up to.

Anyway, all the goofball fiction and ludicrous plot weaving of Dan Brown barely hold a candle to reality. The murder of Sister Margaret Ann Pahl and the devilish exploits of Father Gerald Robinson are scarier by far.

Instead of protesting, perhaps we should thank the Da Vinci Code for helping us focus on the inane.

Friday, May 12, 2006

good one

We had our yearly confirmations on Monday. 61 confirmands from 4 parishes here in the north end of the city. 29 from our little place by the railroad tracks.

I would estimate that there were 7 or 8 nationalities represented at the Mass, which was celebrated in English and Spanish. We had US gringos, African Americans, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, St.Lucians, Haitians, those folks from Trinidad y Tobago (Trinitarians and Toboggans?) and one or two other Central American people mixed in for good measure.

The music was provided by a black/hispanic Gospel choir from the host parish and was exuberant. After every song a little kid somewhere in the church would clap his hands and shout, "That was a good one!"

God's people is quite a mix. That way we can make up for each other's shortcomings. Our confirmation ceremony was a sampling. Now THAT is a good one.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

the dark side

I put a little more time into preparing homilies during Lent. Right now I should be working on next Sunday's, but I'm still hung up on the last one. The Exorcist may have gone a bit overboard.

See, I receive all these homiletic helper type leaflets and booklets and e-mails that are supposed to give me ideas for preaching. Sometimes they're helpful. Sometimes I don't look at them. Sometimes they make me wonder if what I see in the Sunday liturgy is even there at all...

Take last Sunday, 2nd of Lent. All the homiletical suggestions that came my way were hoplessly upbeat. The Genesis story of Abraham's near sacrifice of Isaac should be read as the triumph of faith and God's leniency. The reading from Romans is reduced to 'God being with us and no one being against us'. And the one line we're supposed to remember from Mark's narration of the Transfiguration is Peter's "How good it is for us to be here".

Either homily helper missed the point or the Exorcist did. Maybe it's just my patented knee-jerk reaction against everything 'feel-good'...

I think the timing of Sunday's readings and their mutual connection is to be found elsewhere.

Abraham was at a total loss. The very son that was the fulfillment of God's multiple promises was to be eliminated. Not in the sad way a child can be lost to illness or accident. God's request is premeditated and intentionally twisted: "Take the son you so love and sacrifice him..." The God of life and promise blurs his personality with the pagan idols placated by human sacrifice.

Would Abraham, coming down the mountainside, be rejoicing because God spared his son at the last minute or would he be internally crushed by dread asking himself what kind of God would request the violent murder of his only son?

You already know what the Exorcist thinks...

The bottom line of the Gospel story is similar. The Apostles come down the mountain with Jesus, having been told that whatever they think they saw in their terrified stupor was to be kept to themselves. Yet Mark does not describe them as rejoicing or astonished because Jesus gave them a glimpse of his divinity, but rather worried and consternated by his talk of 'rising from the dead'.

There's the rub. The relentless contradiction between their understanding and budding hope in the Christ and his unforgiving insistence on suffering and failure. How can violence, injustice, abandonment, desperation and defeat be an essential component of God's supposed love for mankind?

Neither Genesis nor Mark give the answer in Sunday's readings. They simply leave the question hanging, like a dark thundercloud, over the Lenten horizon.

Paul ventures an answer of sorts, but his reasoning is far from feel-good territory.

"If God is with us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?"

The Exorcist ventures that the Lenten liturgy explicitly invites us to enter into God's 'dark side'. Not to do so would be to miss the point. Not to do so would be to lose an essential clue to the truth that underpins all reality.

Yup. Lucky you. You belong to some other parish.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

brain damage

One year.
One year ago today I left South America and came here.

What was I thinking?

Oh, well. There's always happy hour.

disposable babies

That piece in the Times yesterday was on my mind. And this morning, as I was weaving through city traffic on my way back to the parish from the barber shop, the police medic named in the story, Tim Jaccard was interviewed on one of those talk radio programs.

He found his first baby in a toilet in the ladies' room at the Nassau County Courthouse back in 1997, while over 400 people milled around the courthouse interior. Others were found in recycling bins, another dug up by a dog in someone's backyard, others discarded in the ingenious nooks and crannies of urban squalor. Last week's was by far the most horrifying: wrapped in plastic and left in the street, the baby had been run over at least twice by the time a man walking his dog took a look and saw her two legs.

Jaccard started a foundation, Children of Hope, and got a bill passed: the Infant Abandonment Protection Act. A woman can give up her baby within five days of birth at a police station, church, hospital, etc. - no questions asked. The adoption rate of babies given up this way is apparently quite high.

On a later segment of this talk show, a rep from Planned Parenthood lavishly extolled Jaccard's work and concluded, "This is why protecting women's abortion rights is of such vital importance. Without the abortion option, many women will feel forced to take the lives of their own babies in the horrible ways we've been hearing of."

Hmmm.... I seem to have missed something here.
Only in America.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

ashes to ashes

I told folks today that they didn't have to leave the ashes on their foreheads all day.
They were asking.

A lady wanted some ashes for her pets.
I wonder what she thinks Ash Wednesday ashes do, anyway.
I decided to err on the side of caution.

A few years ago - this is true, by the way - Fr. Kelly told me that a women left an urn with the remains of her husband in the chapel at his catechetical center without telling anyone. Apparently, Juanita wanted Guillermo to rest in quiet, dignified surroundings while his burial place was being readied.

Fr. Kelly returned from an out-of-town retreat just as Lent was starting and celebrated Mass that Wednesday morning for the teachers and students at the center. He assumed that the fancy container with ashes on the offerings table in the chapel had been put there for his use. Although, he remarked later, it did seem like a lot of ashes for the 40 or 50 people who attended Ash Wednesday Mass there.

Those good folks went home with Guillermo on their minds.

That story has stayed with me. On Monday - this is also true, I have witnesses - we were cleaning the sacristy in this small urban church, thousands of miles from where Fr.Kelly made his unfortunate assumptions years ago, and we found two small earthenware urns stashed away on the bottom shelf of one of the closets. They were filled with grey powdery dust and hard dirty white fragments.

Taking no chances, I carefully labeled the urns "Juanita" and "Guillermo" and buried them behind the rectory.

I then burned last year's palm strands. Those ashes were under constant surveillance until today.

Is everyone's world as bizarre as the Exorcist's?

Saturday, February 25, 2006

bye, barney

Today, the longest Saturday in recent history (my recent history), happy hour is convened in honor of Jesse Donald Knotts (1924 - 2006).

He had me laughing out loud before I was 6 or 7 years old.
To your fond memory I lift this glass of Maker's Mark.

Rest in peace, Deputy Fife.

Friday, February 24, 2006

lent and golf

Yesterday the Chancery office sent us two items in the same envelope: guidelines for Lent and Holy Week and promotion of the golf tournament coming up in May for the benefit of the KofC vocations fund.

Lent and golf.
The sublime and the mundane.
Incense filled sanctuaries and sunlit putting greens.


Anyway, among the guidelines there were a few truly small details that caught the Exorcist's eye.

In April of 2002 the Holy See reallowed the veiling of images in church, but only from the fourth Sunday of Lent till Holy Saturday.

No exposition of the Eucharist is permitted from before evening Mass on Holy Thursday until after the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday. This applies even to parishes and religious communities authorized for perpetual adoration. The Blessed Sacrament is taken to an altar of repose after the Mass of the Lord's Supper where it is reposed only in a closed tabernacle or pyx, but not a monstrance. Adoration may be held, but only until the stroke of midnight on Holy Thursday. I wonder how that will fly in the LC centers...

Parish priest have the faculty to confirm at the Paschal Vigil unless the candidate is a baptized, uncatechized Catholic. In that case, specific permission must be requested from the Archbishop.

It may seem strange, but that exception actually says a lot about how the Catholic Church perceives itself. On Holy Saturday, without consulting the bishop, I could confirm an unbaptized adult (after baptizing him, of course), someone baptized in a non-Catholic church, a baptized Catholic who - by no fault of his own - was brought up in a non-Catholic community and therefore, never confirmed and an apostate who has returned to full communion with the Church.

It is only in the case of the negligent, lax or indifferent Catholics (or Catholics brought up by negligent, lax or indifferent parents) that the bishop's specific permission must be sought.

Get it?

OK. Now let's go play golf!


My interest in decapitated chickens is waning.

Haitian vodun, Caribbean santeria and Brazilian macumba all allow for the sacrifice of small animals in their rituals. There are certainly Haitians, Caribbean hispanos and Brazilians on this side of the city, but the Exorcist can not recall pissing any of them off.

I have a short attention span. My feathered horror is fading, fading, fading...

Besides, there have been other, less creative omens around the parish lately.
The rear side window of our mini-van has been smashed. Twice in ten days. Once on the street, once in the parking garage.

The genius who did it made off with roughly $3.47 in change and left us replacing a $650 piece of tinted glass. Twice in ten days.

Hey, hater! If you're reading this, next time try ringing the doorbell! We give out food, clothes, AND money to help folks all the time!!!

Saturday, February 18, 2006

fowl play

Last night, as the wind howled through the church steeple, I watched The Birds. Alfred Hichcock's dramatization of Daphne Du Maurier's story casts our commonplace feathered friends in their most sinister light: winged terrorists with an anti-human agenda.

I now believe there is something terribly prescient in Hichcock's horror.

As the avian flu scare swells in many regions of the world, it is believed by some to be a harbinger of even greater evils hovering on the horizon of humanity's future.

A fowl's head was found inside a can of pinto beans in DeKalb, IL. As if that weren't scary enough, the lot number of the recalled cans is 5348 MF. Unreal.

Our Vice President was recently implicated in a threat to homeland security when an Al Quaeda cell, cleverly infiltrated in a flock of quail, duped him into shooting an attorney. Several of the quail were shipped off to Gitmo for interrogation, but this thing is far from over.

And now the birds have appeared on the Exorcist's doorstep. Literally.

On February 15, I opened the curtains in my bedroom and saw, by the door of the rectory two large roosters. One white, one red, both headless. They were laid out on either side of the steps with a border of pennies carefully arranged around them in the snow. No blood. No other message.

Very wierd.

On February 16 I left the church in the early morning hours for a meeting downtown and later had a funeral and a burial. When I returned to the rectory at around 1 pm I found the head of the white rooster at the base of the gate that opens from the street to the front lawn. I did not see it earlier and I am sure it wasn't there the day before.


On February 17, fully expecting the red rooster's head to be nailed to the church door, I discovered instead, a meticulously placed row of red candy hearts on the bottom step of the rectory front porch.

What does all this portend for the Exorcist and his parish?
The birds know...