Monday, March 16, 2009

The Recap

Today's Word:
2 Kings 5:1-15 (Naaman the Syrian is cured of leprosy upon instruction by the prophet Elisha)
Psalm 42:2 & 3; 43:3-4 (My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God)
Luke 4:24-30 ("No prophet is accepted in his own native place")

In the wake of rediscovering that God is within us all, there were two tasks for me yesterday. One, put myself into my service role with humble dignity; the other, observe if the preaching on the Sunday readings came anywhere near my own musings. I carried out the first quite well. But this has been a season of surprises, and yesterday was no exception.

My role as song leader in the Catholic environment also doubles as master of ceremonies in a few ways. I welcome the congregation; announce and lead in the four hymns spread out during Mass, as well as lead in the several sung acclamations likewise spread out; and I make the community's announcements for the coming week. I've been trained to review the list of announcements ahead of time; once I tripped over the words "palm weaving" when a craftsman was going to show during the week to show how to weave artwork out of palm branches. A few of the harder of hearing (and it's an older congregation) somehow got the idea that an occultist was coming to a Catholic church to read lines on their hands.

Anyway, the last announcement regarded the St. Baldrick Foundation, an organization working on research for children who contract cancer. Many people associated with this foundation shave their heads in solidarity with the young patients, as chemotherapy causes most cancer patients to lose their hair. A challenge was presented: if the parish can raise $5K between now and the end of this month, our 69-year-old pastor will have his head shaved. This is a big thing because he's one of the few older men I know who isn't balding. (Even I have a bald spot on top.) This presented a challenge in itself: Keeping a straight, dignified face when making this announcement. So that also set the tone for much of my delivery, and I reached for my best classical announcer's voice. Yes, it was still there. Oh, the congregation at each of the three Masses where I served laughed at the prospect; but the message was successfully delivered. Now I'll try to get the picture of my parish priest/pastor sans his curly hair - for he'll undoubtedly be bald for Easter.

(Pastor Paul at Cornerstone also had his hair cut short recently, though he told me it was because he was getting ready for cycling season. Maybe there's some deal where Illinois pastors have to cut off their hair, some secret society, maybe the 'Friends of Samson' - who knows?)

The second task - listen closely to the homily and see if my reflection (Sunday's post) hit any of the same points.

There are three deacons in my Catholic congregation (well, four if you count me) - two preach on a rotating basis and the third is involved in the adult catechetical program called RCIA (the process of bringing adult converts into Catholicism). As it turned out, the two deacons each gave a sermon this weekend.

The first hit on the ambience many of our churches face, the atmosphere likened to a museum or library, where much in the way of spirituality appears lacking or missing. But he went a rather roundabout way to get there, and took more time than the average Catholic sermon. It seemed rather down.Ah! Something with which I have somehow become identified!

After the first Mass on Sunday (a repeat of Saturday), Father D, the pastor, came looking for me. I thought maybe he was going to tell me not to make the announcement about the St. Baldrick Foundation and the challenge, figuring he'd do it himself. Instead, he asks me what I thought of the deacon's homily. This is the second time in the last twelve months that Fr. D has sought me out to ask this sort of question. The first time was late last summer, when a guest priest gave a homily over marriage that also seemed to fall off-center. Out of all people, does Fr. D see obvious signs in my body language that I'm paying attention?

Well, he asked me; so I told him. The whole thing; the rambling, the point I thought he was making, and that it seemed to be down rather than have at least one uplifting point at the end. And in the next breath, I explained that I had taken homiletics because I was ordained fifteen years ago and served for five before moving out of the diocese in which I'd lived.
He might have already known - the music director knew me from those days, she might have told him at some time. But I had never told him before, though I had considered doing so several times. In the end, it probably doesn't matter. I am glad that I told him, though.

I also mentioned that I've been posting this blog as a Lenten discipline, and that in doing so I became aware of a trap that is largely one of our own making. Lent calls us to be introspective. It is full of reminders that we often fail to live as we should. That we forget to pull in and reflect on the blessings we receive in spite of our own weaknesses is a serious issue, especially to a minister.

The homily given by the second deacon was more on target - speaking of righteous anger, the kind of thing we should have and motivate us toward removing some of the pet peeves we otherwise tolerate. I'm not talking about UPS losing a package for which I've been waiting three weeks; I'm talking about things like the ineptitude of the people we trust in high places (and I'm not limiting that to government). I'm also talking about how, even after setting a positive example and being open to discuss issues with members of our extended family, some still go off and make an error in judgment that is going to cost them dearly for years to come, perhaps the rest of their mortal lives.

To sum up, most everything has been illuminating and uplifting - another surprise in a season of surprises.

This week has a lot of significance to many. Three of the five weekdays have special events, and they will be given their due. On Friday I will continue my story and in this installment, I will not forget to count the blessings.

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