Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday Thoughts - Tenebrae and Liturgical Music

Last night I participated in a Tenebrae service here at the seminary, which you can find here. Tenebrae was originally a part of the Divine Office for Holy Week previous to the liturgical changes called for by Vatican II and promulgated by Pope Paul VI. There is still some retention in the Liturgy of the Hours we now use, but it became the practice of some parishes and monasteries to retain the older form as a preparation for the final days of the life of Christ which we celebrate liturgically on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. The basic format is: there are three nocturns followed by an silent Our Father, a closing prayer, and the strepitus, which if you watched in the video, is the loud noise at the very end. The strepitus symbolizes the earthquake at Jesus' death. Each of the nocturns follows the story from garden of Gethsemane to Calvary, the pinnacle being the strepitus. Within each nocturn, there are three parts: a psalm, a reading, and response. As the liturgy moves on candles are extinguished from a large candelabra called a hearse.

The Schola Cantorum here at the seminary prepared pieces for the musical responses that are at the end each of the three nocturns. We tackled very difficult pieces. Believe you me, chanting with twenty men together at once, and sounding good, is very difficult. Trying to create one voice from twenty is a monumental task for amateurs like ourselves.

After the service, I was struck again by how moving it is. It proved to me that there are certain types, yes, types of music, specially suited for the liturgy. Yes, the church documents tell us Gregorian chant is the greatest form of liturgical music and is the scale by which all other liturgical music is compared, polyphony being the second loved but still very supported child. These forms of music conform themselves to the other-worldliness of the liturgy. They are intended for no other purpose and do not resemble any other form of non-liturgical music (unless those non-liturgical musics become derivative sub-genres of popular music that resemble the forms of chant and sacred polyphony). The allign the mind and the body toward that which is beyond complete intellection and sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell. They are means by which the soul can encounter the divine. Through the creations of His creations, the Creator reveals Himself to His most beloved creatures.

If you didn't before, click the link above and soak in some of the glory of God communicated through music. Be moved to sorrow for the sorrows of Christ in the garden. Be moved to hope by the small glimmer in Christ's eye walking up to Calvary. Shudder in disgust and fear (the good kind) standing at the foot of the cross of the Savior of the world; and hear the loudness of the earthquake that shook the earth, the very cosmos commiserating with the death of Jesus Christ.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Friday Thoughts - the Ankler Makes a New Friend

Today is a turning point in the movement of the story of the Ankler. After over a month and a half with a external fixator keeping my bones in the correct place after a horrible dislocation, today, hopefully, is removal day.

I have been awaiting this day for over two weeks now. It has been a sort of Advent for me, in the middle of Lent while, still retaining the penitential atmosphere. The Lord suggest I give up walking. It's been easier than you think, but the ease is not the point here.

Because of the nature of the surgery, I will be going under general anesthesia which is always a risk especially with someone with a breathing malady. So I was a little worried about it. I am not near where I desire to be upon leaving this vale of tears.

What has given me consolation is a new friend, San Turibio de Mogrovejo. San Turibio was introduced to me by a blogger/Twitter friend Billy Newton from The Blog of the Courtier. Today is the liturgical commemoration of San Turibio. Billy suggested a call for his intercession for a successful surgery and a promise from me to make a pilgrimage to his shrine in Peru. See, San Turibio was a Spanish missionary to Peru named bishop of Lima. In 1600, he established the first seminary in the New World. As a seminarian, he seemed like a person to turn to, recommended my Church militant friend. Billy had no idea, okay maybe he did, that he was establishing a lasting relationship between a current sojourner and one who has arrived into the glories of the beatific vision, all in the glorious providence of the Almighty.

Yesterday morning, during my holy hour, I download edan image of him on my phone and using that image had a conversation with him, telling him my story and asking him for his intercession for a successful surgery. I promised him that I would make a pilgrimage to Peru in thanksgiving.

I let it pass planning on coming out well tomorrow afternoon no longer looking like I'm in the beginning stages of being subsumed into the Borg.

Last night, Archbishop Aymond hosted all his seminarians for a dinner. Towards the end of our time there, some of my confreres were speaking about the celebrants chair in his private chapel in the John XXIII house where he lives. He said that it is nearly 500 years old and belonged to a bishop saint in South America, and I said with a glimmer of hope but knowing there were a few of these, "St. Turibius of Mogrovejo?" The Archbishop pointed and responded with enthusiasm, "Yes, yes, that's it." I must say dear readers my heart leapt with a quiet but determined joy. San Turibio had assured me of his prayers and intercession. In fact, his presence was much closer than I originally realized.

My friends and readers do not underestimate our relationships with the Church triumphant. They yearn to intercede for us to aid in some small way in drawing all things to Christ.

San Turibio de Mogrovejo, ora pro nobis

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Trains Are Not Safe Places

As some of you know, over the past year, I have been on an Agatha Christie kick. It has yet to subside. Her writing is just too fantastic to pass by. The latest golden egg of hers, that I have now put in my basket, is probably her most famous of the Hercule Poirot series, Murder on the Orient Express.

The current version of the Orient Express train.
I must confess about three years ago I watched the film with Sean Connery and Ingrid Bergmann (not as pretty as she used to be) so I knew the ending. That being said, Christie still had me engaged the entire book.

Her characters weren't flat or one dimensional but rather began to reveal themselves rather plainly and enjoyably before the reader and even more plainly in front of the masterful intellect of Monsieur Poirot.

The basic plot is Poirot and a full cast of very different characters are on the Orient Express on their way back to Europe from the Middle East. The train gets stuck in a snow drift and one of the passengers winds up dead stabbed 12 times. Poirot is hired by his friend, who runs the train, to solve the mystery. He slowly, meticulously and rather brilliantly, I may add, goes through the evidence. He cannot rely on background checks but rather he has to read each of the cast of characters to figure out the culprit.

Because it is a mystery there is a reveal at the end as in any whodunit. So this is where the road stops for those readers who have not yet read the book or watched the film. You now enter at your own risk


First of all I must say Christie nearly outdoes herself in relation to And Then There Was None. She flips everything and yet keeps the status quo. Everyone is a suspect in both plots, in the latter it ends up being only one person in the plot at hand it is all of the people. They all took part in the murder of a man who held ransom the grandchild of a famous actress which caused the mother of the child to commit suicide. Each of the cast of characters either worked in the house of the family or were related to the people at hand. They knew the perpetrator would not receive justice so they enacted a communal justice to the man.

The question as a Catholic is two-fold: Who enacts justice? And is murder justifiable?

These people obviously thought it their duty, as citizens but also as people intimately connected to the victims, to enact justice where they saw justice due. Is it their role as private citizens to enact justice? Or is that the role of the state? I think the Church would lean toward the latter because the latter exists for the common good which includes the enactment of justice. When justice is taken into the hands of private citizens it inevitably leads to anarchy. Each person become his/her subjective arbiter of justice (not to say the state's arbitration of justice is totally objective, but that's another discussion).

Murder, under no circumstance, is justifiable. The end does not justify the means. The telos of any good human act must for the good, in an objective sense deriving from the goodness of God, of the person.

We can see here though that if not kept in the check sin can beget sin. Someone is the victim of a sinful action. If the response to that action is not in charity, one runs the fine line of following the footsteps of their oppressor/victimizer.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Saturday Thoughts - St. Patrick, pray for us

Back in the summer of 2001, I had the great gift to be a part of a program initiated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the People to People Program. Its goal was and is to build relationships with countries by send young people from the United States as student ambassadors to witness to the country visited the desire to maintain relations with that country. From the student ambassador perspective it was to learn about and interact with people from another country in their country and so grow in an understanding about the universality of human relationships.

People to People gave me the opportunity to go back to the cultural roots of the United States. We travelled to England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. We saw some beautiful sights. We met some great people. We lived in homes with regular English and Irish families. We grew as a community of teenagers.

I speak of this because I got to see, talk with, and learn about Ireland. Those who look at me would think that there might be Irish in me. My mother's father is of Irish descent from a family originating in County Down in the north of Ireland. You can tell from the way that family drinks despite being raised Southern Baptist. Spending time there in the country of my ancestors was almost surreal, even at 16. I spent two days living with an Irish family living forty miles outside of Dublin. The brogue of the mother of the family was so thick I had to get her children to translate. The crown of the trip though was visiting Glendalough Abbey.

photo by Eve Andersson
Founded by St. Kevin in the mid-sixth century. This was a place of prayer and asceticism for seven centuries before it was partially destroyed by a British invasion in 1398. It was my first encounter with a monastery and indeed it was in a sad state. An old simple church stood along with a large cemetery famous for its Celtic crosses. I remember being overly attached to a rosary I bought there that had clovers on each bead and a Celtic crucifix at its beginning.

Unfortunately, this monastery, at least for me, has become the image of the Church in Ireland. One can see the greatness that used to be there but what remains is mostly ruins and a few faithful standing strong with their bishops and priests.

The decline happened before then. In fact, Ireland is finally experiencing what Europe experienced a little over two hundred years ago. Once faithful group have turned to other things, in my opinion wealth. This opinion is based on my amateur study of history, but do not leave me just yet.

The Irish had a faith that withstood unbelievable persecution of the British since the time of Henry VIII. They dealt with oppression, violence, attempted genocide, and still trusted in the Lord Almighty, because he was their rock and their strength. Their witness to faith aided in the quick growth of the faith and its practices here in the US one hundred and sixty years, or so, ago. They brought with them the only three things they had, love of family, love of country, and love of God and His Church.

Some, tired of the oppression to the point of no return, fought violently for 500 years against the British government. You can find riddled throughout Ireland's history during that time small and large revolts. Then, southern Ireland gained independence in 1921 through the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Then, men and women continued to fight some to the point of idolizing freedom.

Then the Celtic Tiger occurred. From 1995 to 2007, Ireland moved from the one of the poorest nations in Europe to being one of the wealthiest nations in Europe. They experienced uncontrollable economic growth after centuries of poverty and near starvation. Only the most virtuous of the poor cannot dream and be attached to money that they do not have. When the poor become rich and quickly, money can cloud their prudence and displaced their faith.

On the heals of the economic downturn, that brought Ireland away from this prosperity was the extraordinary amounts of priest abuse reports that had, like many diocese in the US, been covered up. What faith still remained in those who had come into prosperity was lost. Their faith weakened by the Tiger experience, unbeknown to them.

Now, today is St. Patrick's Day. This holy man was the apostle to Ireland. He brought droves of Irish into the sacraments. He said in his Confession,

I came to the Irish peoples to preach the Gospel and endure the taunts of unbelievers, putting up with reproaches about my earthly pilgrimage, suffering many persecutions, even bondage, and losing my birthright of freedom for the benefit of others. If I am worthy, I am ready also to give up my life, without hesitation and most willingly, for his name. I want to spend myself in that country, even in death, if the Lord should grant me this favour.
Even in death, does he want to give his life for the sanctification of this country. Let us implore him today to fulfill the desire and that promise made. We in the United States are indebted to the Irish through their descendants working to give some respect to the Catholic Church in this country, even if it is now lost again for different reasons. We are also indebted to the many sons of Ireland who came here as missionaries to serve in Catholic dioceses as priests.

Now, more than ever, is the time for the great conversion of Ireland, for us to call upon the powers of heaven to strip from the hearts of the Irish people the attachments to greed and pride and accept again, in fullness the faith of Jesus Christ.

St. Patrick, pray for us.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Evangelization of Masculinity and Femininity through Music

I began writing this post on the evening of February 2nd before going to a basketball game. That basketball game had great effect on my life. See this post, this one, this one, and this one for details, if you haven't been following along. Anyway, I finally want to try and finish the post because the insight I feel is very important.

I had the opportunity last night (last month now, but for my own emotional posterity, I will let the misinformation stand, I apologize for being overly attached) to go to my first Matt Maher concert, yes, first. I have been present when he has led worship and led music for the liturgy, but as for a concert this was a first. It was a great blessing. It took on a different form from the usual concert feeling. The opening act, Audrey Assad, played in the middle of Matt's set. A bit different indeed but it brought out something for me that was really poignant that evening.

Through Audrey's music and Matt's music came forth the natural complementarity of sexes. Matt and Audrey are obviously very good friends who have a relationship that spans way past music and is rooted in the heart of Jesus Christ. They've played music together for many years, and that chemistry is immediately apparent to those participating in their live show. Matt was a certain influence in Audrey's conversion to the Catholic faith. The added depth of his spiritual fatherhood, in a sense, deepens their relationship on stage. Friend and father. Male and female. (It must be stated for the one who misunderstands my words. I am in no way saying are they intimate than in a manner of friendship. Be patient and I hope to show how their communication of the beautiful truths of the human person set them apart from most other professional musicians and songwriters. P.S. Their both happily married. Matt is already exhibiting the fruit of the oneness with his wife through their beautiful baby boy.)

Matt's music is very forthright. It's out there, driving. His latest album, even more so than previous albums manifests his masculinity. The melodies are deeper, the rhythms are heavier and stronger, the messages are kerygmatic. He is out there, moving forward, pushing forward. In a sense, they imitate that natural inclination of the male to give himself fully to suffer everything for the sake of self-gift.

Audrey's music on the other hand is very introspective. It speaks much about her relationship with her Redeemer. It is very receptive, light, melismatic. It's very feminine. She uses keyboard settings that are more etherial setting a mood of receptivity.

At certain songs they came together, and witnessed through music the beauty and wholeness of marriage. Masculinity and femininity were brought together to shine forth new creation.

The witness of such beautiful and awesome, indeed truthful, self-understanding from this man and this woman will have great effect on their audiences. This is how I can be a man. This is how I can be a woman, and feel and be whole. All is centered on Christ, the Savior, the True Man, who takes away that which prevents wholeness, completeness, joy.

Matt and Audrey, if you read this. Thank you for your witness of what is to be a man and what it is to be a woman.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Friday Thoughts - The Ankler Experiences the Tragedy of the Healthcare System

Praise God. I have very little pain from the injury that is now a month old. I still have pins sticking out of my heel and shin, but unless, they are kicked, I'm doing okay on the infamous pain scale.

However, complications have now arisen with regard to my care. I have now experienced firsthand the problems with our current healthcare system. I got a call on Monday from the hospital where I was planning on having surgery next week to take these pins out. The lady on the other side of the line let me know, "Mr. Sanders, ________ Hospital is not covered by your insurance (which will remain nameless). If you have had surgery here, you would be out of network." Despite all the headaches this phone call has caused in my life over the past week I praise God that it happened because I would have had to pain for a full surgery out of pocket with no money.

God's providence seems to always come with some sort of suffering though. I've had to make countless phone calls to ______ Hospital and the new hospital and doctor with whom I am now going to be relating. I've had to call the insurance and talk with them.

Then, the frustration builds. I receive a bill from the insurance company (a very reputable one) letting me know they will not cover the emergency room visit, surgery, and care in the hospital the day after the surgery, which amounts to much more than I've ever earned in my lifetime of part-time high school jobs and seminarian stipends. What injustice! I was in a state of emergency. My foot needed to be nearly put back on! Hello! Then, I understood. Then, I realized, and now I'm empathetic. What is it?

Man has turned away from himself. His desire for happiness ends in money and in turn dehumanizes man into a means by which money can be extracted. I have  a serious injury, a poor woman has cancer; we can't pay for our care but care we need. Care is denied or insurmountable debt is incurred. Either way they deny the necessities for good human living.

Honestly, in my ignorance I turned a blind eye. No more can I do that. I am deeply saddened that healthcare bureaucrats are dictating to doctors and nurses how to be of service to mankind.

How many people are swindled into this? I have the drive, the will and the social backing (by that I mean knowing people in the right places) to fight this and right this injustice for myself. I barely have a clue how to navigate this labyrinthine insurance system. Thank God I have family and contacts that do. Many people don't and give up and pay for the rest of their lives care the should be normal.

I don't say I have answer or have fully contemplated the different solutions to this healthcare system problem. I only know, now, that it cannot justly remain. Obamacare certainly is not the answer, but what is?

the Ankler

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Of Saints and Sinners

At times, the tension of the Saints 2009 'super' season was difficult to watch. Years of faith, hope and expectation culminated in an amazing dash for the Lombardi trophy. In our very own New Orleans Superdome, the sight of unprecedented destruction and disaster only 4 years before, the city watched as Sean Payton, Greg Williams, Jonathan Vilma, Tracy Porter and countless others did the impossible. We went to the Superbowl. We won the Superbowl. It all seemed too good to be true.

And it was.

In the last 24 hours, the NFL has revealed that their investigation of the New Orleans Saints has uncovered a history of corruption and cover-up on a Watergate/Spygate scale. While welcoming such football legends as Kurt Warner and Brett Farve into our stadium, coaches and players placed illegal bounties on their heads. The hard hits in those games, hits that virtually sidelined our most talented opponents, were fueled by more than just spirit: they were fueled by a cash flow. Greg Williams encouraged it. Sean Payton and Tom Benson knew about it, and did little to stop it. The crime was bad. The cover up was worse.

As difficult as it was to watch the Saints finally make it to victory, it is now even more difficult to watch this scandal unfold. Difficult in an entirely different way. Difficult in a way that makes it appropriate to discuss this in a spiritual way. The Saints, true to their namesakes, have become spiritual inspiration in this city. Payton, Benson and their comrades were made quasi-religious icons in this culturally Catholic city. We've attended Mass with them, seen them lead prayer breakfasts. We've waited in line for them to sign their books, but we've also watched them receive blessings from local ministers, Louisiana bishops and even the Pope. The NFL bestowed the Lombardi trophy upon them and, for our part, we bestowed something of a halo. They were heroes on the field and off: winning games, supporting charities and renewing our sense of hope and dignity. We had faith in them, faith in the full sense of that word. That faith is now reeling in doubt. What do we do with this? These men were hallmarks of integrity. They weren't just lucky: they were good. We've discovered that some of them were just lucky and bad. Now, their luck has run out. And we who believed in them, are struggling to make sense of it all.

Lent in New Orleans has never been that big of a sacrifice. The seafood is good. There are a lot of festivals to distract us. Yet we all know that there is much we need to do penance for. With a consistently high crime rate, perennial public scandals and a 'culture of violence' that our Catholic mayor and Archbishop have decried, this should be a time of soul searching. Apparently that culture of violence is not limited to the Ninth Ward: it has infected our beloved Superdome as well. Paying bounties to knock revivals off is bad enough among drug dealers. Among NFL players, it’s just shocking.

That's what we know thus far. So now, we pray. We fast. We repent. No, this isn't just Catholic guilt extrapolated into the sphere of sports. Payton and Benson received the same ashes on their foreheads that we did last Wednesday. And those ashes are not an empty symbol. Nor are they just an emotional expression. They are the remains of last years palm branches. They are what is left over after the biggest parade in the church's liturgy, when Christ rode into Jerusalem and was hailed as a king. We threw just such a parade for these men. Now, we must face the truth and wear the ashes. The difference, of course, is that Christ was innocent when, a week later, he was put on trial. These men may not be. Nonetheless, we must pray for mercy. Yes, pray. They are not just NFL leaders: they are our brothers in Christ. This is the season to love them more than we do during the football season. This is the season to change our ways, to become better and to look to a prize greater than the Lombardi trophy, that perishable crown. Don't get me wrong. I love football. I am a Saint's fan. I will remain a Saint's fan. But, first and foremost, I am a Christian watching my fellow Christians endure tribulation. And I will pray them through it.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Friday Thoughts - Is Fiction Lying?

I subscribe to Fuel Your Writing with the amateur and fantastic intention of one day becoming a writer. The bloggers there usually have great insights into many aspects of writing. They often times keep me going. 

A month ago, I received one of their encouraging emails only to be thoroughly discouraged. It was called And Then the Beckham's Paid Off Our Mortgage ... Please read that quickly before continuing or this post might not make sense. 

The writer, Christopher Johnson, is the editor for Fuel Your Writing and I have no doubt sincerely desires to communicate the best information to his constituency. Furthermore, I thoroughly respect Stephen King as a writer and a writer for writers, but I disagree wholeheartedly with his statement, "Fiction is truth inside a lie." 

This originates from the concepts that myths are lies. Tolkein and Lewis spent their lives combatting this literary heresy. Myths and with them, fiction, are not lies. Rather, they communicate truth through their stories. They communicate the truth of the human condition, of the sinfulness of man, of the desire for redemption not found. Fiction is the battleground of the human soul wherein men and women come to see the world in a different light through flights of adventure, romance (which, by the way I'm not a fan of romance novels, but they still communicate that which is true, lust), mystery, even science fiction. 

Take the story at hand, the Beckham's. This story communicates man's desire for unconditional love, a love which no matter the depth, can never be fully requited by man. The Beckham's, in the story, are an image of Christ's love for his Church. He's willing to give without expecting but a little repayment (our cooperation with His unconditional gift), a repayment certainly not to the degree of the gift. 

Instead of a lie, the Beckham story becomes an image of the reception of divine love and our reticence to receive because of our wanting to hold onto to our own will. Fiction is not lying. Fiction, at its very essence, communicates truth, namely Truth Himself. When fiction betrays that, it betrays itself and destroys the reader instead of lifting him/her up toward that which is greater.