Thursday, January 31, 2008


Fr. Marcial Maciel, LC
March 10,1920 - January 30, 2008

"There is no denying that the cross is surrounded by glory. It is, at the same time a sign of utter defeat and indomitable hope. The defeat and the hope must be ever held together, the hope is not finally hopeful unless it has taken into account everything that contradicts hope."

- from Death on a Friday Afternoon, by Richard John Neuhaus

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Speak well of the dead

Baptisms in the parish still outpace funerals by a spacious margin on a year-to-year basis, but we certainly get our share of requiem Masses. On a long enough timeline, everyone’s chances of survival are zero.

Often enough, I have little direct knowledge of the deceased. I try to read an obituary, quiz the funeral home boys, find out if he was young or old, sick or healthy, had family or not... if he was a he or a she...

The preaching on these occasions tends to be a smidge generic. I can’t offer personal anecdotes so I hold fast to two inviolable rules: stick to the Gospel and speak well of the dead.

That’s what I did today. Actually, that’s what I overdid today.

Lots of people at the wake last night. Memorial T-shirts were passed out, four women collapsed on emotional overload, everyone agreed he had died much too soon... 36 years old.

At the Mass I practically canonized the guy, about whom I had been told simply that his family loved him and he had a great sense of humor. So I commented on the Gospel (“Now my soul is troubled, but what shall I say: ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ But it is for this hour that I have come into the world...”).

I pointed out that Jesus transformed His death into the ultimate and defining act of free will. And finally, invigorated,I went on a roll about how much everyone was going to miss fulano, what a great guy he was, how much good he did for others, how his life was not in vain, etc...

I knew I nailed it when friends and family of the defunct told me at the cemetery that I spoke as if I had known him in life, that my description of him was uncanny.

However after reading today’s paper I have come to the conclusion that, notwithstanding the fortuitous accolades, my research should probably be more thorough in the future.

Live and learn.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

60 Minutes

Did you see 60 Minutes Sunday night?

Three engrossing interviews.

Pervez Musharraf made the flabbergasting statement that Benazir Bhutto’s assassination was nobody’s fault but her own. Certainly, many circumstances contributed to the ex-Prime Minister’s untimely death, not least among them her own ‘recklessness’ ignoring more stringent security measures. But to suggest that the blame for her murder fall on anyone other than the murderers is morally repugnant. Musharraf made it sound almost as if Bhutto were deserving of her fate... there are strange places in this world.

John Martorano, a gangland hitman turned state’s witness, left me gaping incredulous at the TV screen. On my mother’s side I have family named Martorano... mostly low level mafia types that we would see at funerals and baptisms when I was a kid. Dark fedoras, long overcoats, four day’s worth of stubble and a lingering aura of cheap cigars. You know the type.

But the bad hombre Steve Kroft interviewed on 60 Minutes appeared to be the real deal. With chilling matter-of-factness he answered the questions that were to originally have been posed by Ed Bradley, to whom Martorano had promised the exclusive interview before he passed. They were friends and teammates on their high school football team.

The Exorcist found two moments of the conversation particularly revealing.

Martorano insists that there is nothing more despicable in this world than a snitch, a rat, an informant. Kroft raises an eyebrow and suggests that a rat is precisely what Martorano has become. “I ain’t no rat. I’m State’s witness.” The distinction, apparently, lies in the forthrightness of the witness – showing his face, baring his identity – as opposed to the furtiveness and secrecy of the rat. There may be no honor among thieves, but hitmen, it would seem, have a different code of ethics.

Later in the interview, Kroft asks him, “Are you a Catholic?” “Sure”, he answers.

Evidently versed in the finer subtleties of Catholic moral teaching, Kroft observes that murder is generally not condoned in Catholicism. He insinuates that the hitman’s eternity might be at risk: “I mean, you can burn in hell for killing one person, you know.”

Martorano replies with a hitman’s version of the Baltimore catechism:

"I don't believe that," Martorano says. "At one point, maybe a couple years ago, I sent for a priest and gave him a confession. It was maybe 30 years since my last confession. But I went through the whole scenario with him, and went through my whole life with him, and confessed. And at the end of it, he says, 'Well, what do you think I should give you for penance?' I says, 'Father, you can justifiably crucify me.' He laughed and says, 'Nope. Ten Hail Marys, ten Our Fathers, and don't do it again.' So I listened to him."

You gotta love it.

Finally, Mike Wallace throws a few softball pitches to the
Rocket. This whole steroid thang is a media fueled story. I am a lifelong baseball fan who has asked other lifelong baseball fans and the verdict is in: no one cares.

Baseball is entertainment, not theology. If a baseball player sticks a needle in his butt to hit the ball farther or pitch the ball faster, why is that any concern of mine? It may not be fair – although the performance enhancing drugs they use seem to be universally available – it may not be good for the players’ health long-term... but pro sports is grossly unethical and overpaid entertainment.

I’m going to lose sleep over that?

Sunday, January 06, 2008

all the earth shall see

There are few Bible stories, in the New Testament, especially, that warm the heart and incite the imagination of the faithful like the story of the wise men from the east who venture out in search of the new-born King of the Jews.

We had great fun at the parish this weekend with the celebration of ‘The Three Kings’. We filled the parish hall twice, Saturday and Sunday, with kids of all ages. There were gifts, lots of good food, music and general carrying-on till the wee hours.

It doesn’t take much to get a party started on the Hispanic side of town, granted, but Matthew did a great service to the Church in general by including his dramatic and mysterious account of the Epiphany of our Lord in his infancy narrative.

From a purely historical standpoint, I suppose there’s not a whole lot to say. We know Herod was ‘king’ of Judah and that his temper and antics would have landed him on the Jerry Springer Show for sure in our day. We know that ‘magi’ of all sorts roamed the Middle East. We know that celestial events were frequently interpreted as harbingers of earthly happenings. We know that Israel and, in a more diffused way, the entire world awaited the Peace Maker...

But our focus is on the meaning of the Gospel passage. Our curiosity may never be satisfied, but what does it all mean?

First, what our liturgy most evidently offers for our reflection today: the Messiah – born a son of Israel, kin of David – came not only to fulfill the hopes and dreams of the Chosen People. The ‘good news’ is precisely that (as the reading from Ephesians proclaims today): even the gentiles, even the lost and indifferent, even those who have made sin an art form in our times... are included in the promise of salvation.

That is good news, indeed.

Second, Matthew gives us a stirring summary of what the Christian vocation is in a nutshell. The sign given by a God who wants to be known and loved by man, yet inexplicably hides himself from our science and our logic. The awakening of that latent hope that resides in everyone’s heart. The search: essence of human existence. The loss of direction, the confusion, the nearly fatal brush with evil and then, again, the reappearance of the star. And finally, the encounter. Not with empty hands, but with gifts... the best we have to offer.

The very fact that we long for and seek a God that does not see our gifts as ridiculous is, somehow, truly consoling.

I have a few paltry, poorly wrapped gifts that I would like to present to the One who comes to save. Hopefully this year will be a year of adventurous encounter with Him.


Friday, January 04, 2008

"the wise man brings from his treasure both the new and the old"

La transformación es la ley de la vida espiritual.”

That’s one of our Founder’s sayings that most LCs know by heart after a few years in the congregation. It rings true especially when life’s mischief or one’s own failings bring the soul down a notch or two.

Greater perspective, deeper knowledge of self, more realistic goals, truer freedom of spirit....

Change is risky. We prevaricate, procrastinate, hesitate... But often much is to be gained.

A friend who collaborates with LC projects in the US told me that at recent meetings the idea that the Legion should respond to the needs of the dioceses and parishes where it is present and not attempt, overtly or surreptitiously, to impose its own agenda has been expressed and embraced by clergy and laity alike.

This is a good thing. Everyone agrees that it is a good thing. It also represents a new and improved way for the Legion to focus its apostolic zeal and share its particular gifts with the Church.

What perplexes my friend is that the local LC priest cringes and objects quite strenuously whenever anyone suggests that this apparent change in attitude is new.

Padre applauds and embraces it, but he adamantly reprimands anyone who insinuates that it constitutes a change, even a subtle change, in the LC’s modus operandi. As if change, novelty, would cause the LC to come crashing down... as if the LC were a finished product, deposited in the world with no human intervention and no historical perspective... as if we had nothing to learn, nothing to improve and, therefore, nothing to hope for...

But, Father,” my friend insists, “we weren’t thinking, we weren’t talking and we certainly weren’t operating with this clear and defined purpose before. It is new and we should be happy to say so.”

My friend’s inclusion at future meetings may be in jeopardy if he persists in making his unpalatable point...

The blogosphere is ripe with speculation about the internal changes – yes, changes – that are slowly surfacing in the LC. Michael Humphrey wrote about it for the NCR, La Jornada ran a typically imprecise piece on it and bloggers like Damian Thompson of the UK Telegraph, Rorate Caeli, American Papist and others have added their speculation on the topic.

I receive mail almost daily from LC, RC and the merely curious asking me about our secret vows, covert promises, clandestine oaths and whatnot.

The derogation of one of our two private vows, the redefining of certain aspects of the superiors’ role and the modification of other internal practices by the Holy See was communicated to the LC shortly after Mons. Scicluna’s investigation was closed in the early summer of 2005. Scicluna’s probe began with the accusations made against Fr. Maciel, but ultimately branched out to examine other complaints regarding structural and disciplinary issues inside the Legion.

Predictably, what most concerns someone like your friendly neighborhood exorcist is how these portentous changes have been interpreted and received behind the walls of Via Aurelia.

Make no mistake, although they hardly raise a ripple on the serene facade of the LC, these few changes that have been made known – only after the prudential grace period for enacting them had come and gone – are nothing short of monumental. In and of themselves they mark a before and an after in the history of our congregation. And none of us know yet what else may be revealed as things progress.

However, the perfunctory announcement made to our communities and the brief commentary that deflected the true import and meaning of what has happened - before silence concerning it became protocol - have only served to dishearten and dampen the spirit of many of us who expect better of the congregation we love and serve.

To portray these changes as something almost ‘external’ to the LC, to offer only partial and fleeting references instead of trusting and courageous disclosure to the men who have surrendered their very lives to the LC (with trust and courage!), to pretend that nothing has happened of any significance and exhort us to adopt a mindless ‘business as usual’ attitude... is unworthy of the LC leadership and profoundly disrespectful of her rank-and-file.

We should be happy to acknowledge and embrace the changes, the newness that enriches the spirit and life of our congregation. This, too, should be seen as a ‘great blessing’ and ‘the will of God’. We who pride ourselves on advancing “al paso de la Iglesia” will continue to grow and serve the Church as long as we strive to accept our designated role within it. We have to trust the Church, not fear the truth or the inner freedom that comes with it... and confidently believe that the best years of the LC are still to come if we remain faithful to her.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Thursday, January 03, 2008


Misa con motetes. Juego intercomunitario. Merienda cena.
Chi-qui-ti bun-ba-di bin-bun-ba...

January 3 always brings back a flood of memories, perhaps not as distant as they now feel. The LC was founded 67 years ago and we remember, either in community or in solitude. Even with all the rewriting, intertwined myth and midrash and the chapters that will remain forever unknown, it’s a remarkable history. One that none of us should be ashamed to be part of.

But today especially I remember Pope John Paul II who became successor of Peter at the same time I began my journey toward the priesthood. His words, his spirit and his selfless dedication to the Church have been my foundation and inspiration.

Not long ago – November 25, Solemnity of Christ the King – I was finally able to make a dedication in honor of this great Pope to whom I have always felt closely linked. A very fine image of John Paul II was blessed and installed in a space we prepared for this purpose at the parish. He stands firm, in green chasuble grasping his processional crucifix, right hand extended in salute to the faithful who rallied to his deep voice: “Non abbiate paura! Spalancate le porte a Cristo!

Too soon? Not yet a saint, you say?

We’re just ahead of the curve, that’s all. The liturgical calendar will catch up soon enough.

17 years ago today I was ordained by Pope John Paul II.

To all my brothers in Christ, ordained on that day at St. Peter’s in Rome, my congratulations and prayers.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

the new in new year

And a loud voice cried out,

‘Look! God’s dwelling is with mankind! He will dwell with them. They will be His people and He shall be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes and there shall be no more death or mourning, weeping or pain, for the old order has passed away.’

Then the One who sat on the throne said,

‘Behold, I make all things new!
’...” (Rev. 21, 3-5)

That’s the text I put on the parish Christmas cards this year. It pretty much summarizes the leitmotif of the preaching that folks heard around here during Advent and Christmas.

One of the most stirring visions in the Old Testament is the sight of the aged Isaiah looking out over the desolate waste that the House of David has become and proclaiming: “Remember not the things of the past!

See, I make everything anew! Even now it springs forth, can you not perceive it?(Is 43,19)

That there could ever be anything authentically new in this weary, skeptical, repetitive world is the hard core of Christian hope. That this newness spring eternally and under our very noses is the undying message of Advent and Christmas.

I have learnt to love you late, Beauty at once so ancient and so new!

Augustine. Timely as always.
Happy New Year, y’all.