A is for Alleluia
by Pádraig Ó Tuama, guest contributor
A is for Alleluia.
A is for Ashes and last Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, the day when many denominations observe the beginning of Lent — the 40-ish days leading up to the Last Supper, the death of Jesus, the finding of the empty tomb, and the mysterious appearances of Jesus.
Lent comes from the Latin word for Spring. So, it seems that Lent is for Spring.
When I was a small boy, the talk in the class was what you were giving up for Lent — crisps, or lemonade, or, for the radically committed, sweets. Last Tuesday, eating pancakes and lemons, some friends discussed what to give up. We were all agreed: Lent is less for giving up, and more for making space.
We make space to contemplate what it is that we will celebrate in 40 days’ time. We make space to recognise our faults. We pray a little more. We allow our emptier stomachs to remind us of the pithiness of our observations in comparison with real hunger. We give more money. We confess. We reconcile. We listen to emptiness for a while. We do not say Alleluia.
This Ash Wednesday, I went to Clonard Monastery between work meetings. There were workmen, nurses, office people, people in tracksuits, children, teenagers, young, old. We lined up and had ashes, made from the burnt palms of last year’s jubilant celebration of Palm Sunday, smeared on our foreheads with the words “Turn away from sin and return to the Gospel”. After Mass, I walked from the Catholic Falls Road through the city centre into the Protestant Donegall Pass. I wiped the ash from my head, aware of offence and violence.
This year, I have been a sometimes-absent, sometimes-silent friend. I have been bad at communication. Good intentions, frankly, have not been enough. Decisions about what charity to give to have resulted in distraction, not action.
I am hoping that empty space will create something for me. I am giving up eating anything between meals. Three square a day for me. And, pithy as it seems, I am also giving up sweet things. Hard core for me this Lent.
On Holy Thursday, the Eucharist is removed from the tabernacle in the church. We attend the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday, reminding ourselves of the emptying of God by God. We remember the descent of our tortured and abandoned brother into Hell. We allow emptiness to create hope.
A friend of mine told me a month ago that he’s been diagnosed as HIV positive. Another friend is in the gut-clenching grip of heartbreaking decisions. Someone is unemployed. Someone is lonely. And I am hoping that Lent will create a bit of space for me to commit my time, my body, and what love I can give. Such resolutions will not, please God, end with an Easter celebration, when a fire will be lit outside the monastery and we will process into the church with springtime candles lit from that same fire.
A is for Allel…
Mr. Ó Tuama, originally from Cork, works in Belfast, Northern Ireland doing chaplaincy and community work, mostly through the Corrymeela Community and the Irish Peace Centres. Part of his community work involves writing poetry to encapsulate some of the stories of living and dying in the context of the Irish conflict.
He submitted this essay through our First Person Outreach page. Submit yours too.
Rossini’s “Meow!” by “The Little Singers of Paris”
Trent Gilliss, online editor
Ilona, our first Web intern, posted this video on my Facebook wall with the comment: “I know you’re all dog lovers at SoF but here is some cat love for ya.” For the first minute, I thought this was one person’s attempt at some humor-filled dubbing of a concert given in Seoul, Korea in 1996. But, when the boys and the pianist cracked smiles, doubt disappeared.
Les Petits Chanteurs à la Croix de Bois (also known as “The Little Singers of Paris”) is a century-old boarding school based in the outskirts of Paris. The Catholic institution admits boys from ages 9 to 15 and integrates traditional studies with arts and the humanities. A core component of the the school is social action in which they are “sensitive to people and populations in need” and “maintain the right to education, fight against discrimination and help the weak and the victims.”
Although similar in spirit to a previous video we posted of Les Freres de St Francis de la Sissies, this choir is a legit. The boys sing both sacred and popular music, often performing little-known French folk music. They tour throughout France and the world as part of their mission. I’d dig being able to hear them live.
I don’t read French, and the translations I pulled up about the school are pretty spotty. If you know more about the school’s efforts, please post a comment and share your knowledge.
The Heart Progressively Gets Educated
» download (mp3, 4:43)
Trent Gilliss, online editor
After one works on this show a while, you hear a particular statement or example given by one of Krista’s guests and can’t help but hear echoes from previous interviews. These connections make the world more intimate, smaller. These glimpses also give me a fresh angle of looking at that same memory or story and creating new meaning out of it.
This is exactly what happened in Krista’s conversation with Xavier Le Pichon.
Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa at the Maryhouse office in New York City on June 17, 1979. (photo: Bill Barrett)
Krista cited Dorothy Day’s experience of witnessing the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, which immediately made me hearken back to Paul Elie’s conversation, as the impetus for her founding of the Catholic Worker:
Ms. Tippett: You identify with all of these people. I think in each of them there is one sort of vital religious question or yearning around which their pilgrimage hinged. What would you say that is in Dorothy Day?
Mr. Elie: Well, she’s the person who could always imagine society better than it is. It stemmed from her experience in the San Francisco earthquake. She was an eight-year-old girl. She lived in Oakland. She stood on the street watching for the next few days as the people of Oakland helped each other and helped the people of San Francisco who were coming across the bay in boats. And for the rest of her life, she just thought, ‘People helped each other. Why can’t we just keep doing that? Why can’t society be organized so that we can help each other a little more, so that that stranger who asks for food, that I actually recognize that that person is a brother or sister to me in a way?’ So she had a reformer’s imagination of how the world might be other than it is.
Ms. Tippett: You know, what’s so interesting to me about that image of her standing before the San Francisco earthquake, seeing how people could love each other and help one another, you can dismiss that, you can say, ‘Well, that’s one of those extreme moments in life, we’ve all seen that. There’s crisis and then it passes.’ But then what she went on to do is to create communities of that same kind of crisis and intensity on a day-to-day basis with the poor.
Mr. Elie: Well, that’s right, and it’s partly out of the recognition that it doesn’t have to be merely the crisis moments that call forth that love in us, and also the recognition that, at some moment, everyone is having a crisis of that magnitude.
Ms. Tippett: Yeah, that the crisis is among us all the time.
Mr. Elie: Yeah. And that you have to be there when the person is having his or her crisis, and not wait for the city to burn down.
Ms. Tippett: So here’s this reading from the postscript. She says: “We were just sitting there talking when lines of people began to form, saying, ‘We need bread.’ We could not say, ‘Go, be thou filled.’ If there were six small loaves and a few fishes, we had to divide them. There was always bread. We were just sitting there talking and people moved in on us. Let those who can take it, take it. Some moved out and that made room for more. And somehow the walls expanded. We were just sitting there talking and someone said, ‘Let’s all go live on a farm.’ It was as casual as all that, I often think. It just came about. It just happened. I found myself, a barren woman, the joyful mother of children. It is not easy always to be joyful, to keep in mind the duty of delight. The most significant thing about the Catholic Worker is poverty, some say. The most significant thing is community, others say. We are not alone any more. But the final word is love. We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community. It all happened while we sat there talking, and it is still going on.”
Why did you send me that piece of hers?
Mr. Elie: Well, it’s one of the most powerfully written things that she did, and as the postscript to her autobiography, it’s one that obviously she considered important and representative. But what it really gets at is something that I think you were pointing toward in all the remarks of the past few minutes. She thought it possible for society to be different than it is because she thought that we’re naturally oriented toward love, we’re made to love one another. That’s natural, and strife and war are a deformity of that. But what we’re created for is to love one another, and to love one another in community. So she was trying to make clear in that passage that though she was a radical and formidable organizer, it was not a programmatic effort that got the Catholic Worker going. It was people doing what came naturally, which was loving one another in community and talking about it.
That was reward in itself, but Le Pichon carried the thought of immersing oneself in the suffering of others — living and understanding the others’ joy and sorrow — and, as you’ll hear in the audio clip, ended with “the heart gets progressively more educated.” That helps me think about empathy and caring in a whole new light.
The learning process is a growth curve; we have that ability to acquire knowledge, but it’s incremental and it needs to be fostered. That same potentiality applies to caring for others even if we can’t relate deeply at first. I need to grow that part of myself and not judge myself too harshly when I fail to act as compassionately as I would like.
My capacity for love and forgiveness is not fully mature, and I like that thought — that I just might be slightly wiser and kinder as I grow older even as my ability to remember and acquire new knowledge is on the decline.
Memories of a Pro-Life Childhood
Mitch Hanley, Senior Producer
A few times when I was in elementary school, my mom took me out of school to go to the annual pro-life march at the Minnesota state capitol. I remember waiting for a shuttle from Colonial Square in Wayzata, standing in Rexall Drug’s entrance next to a woman with a sign that read, “Real Feminists are Pro-Life.” At that age, I didn’t know what a feminist was and remember asking my mom, but I don’t think her answer made it any clearer for me. Isn’t everybody for women’s rights?
One particular year we were at the capitol and I remember signs that had pictures of aborted fetuses pasted to foamcore; another striking display was a grim reaper effigy being toted around by a cross made of 2x4s, which the strong winds made even more terrifying. My memory tells me that each time it was a gray, overcast January day, with exhaust-covered snow heaped upon the banks of the streets. I don’t know what I was thinking of it at the time, but my recollection is that we were doing what was needed.
I remember screenings of The Silent Scream were offered in my church’s basement. My parents never let me watch it. I guess I was too young to witness that strong a message. But I went to the capitol each year because it was what my mom asked of me. I would do it for her then, and I would like to say I would support her today, a little over a year since she passed away, but I cannot be sure.
My mom always called me her “Jesus-baby,” a moniker my siblings still give me grief about (and perhaps now my colleagues), and an affection my mom expressed to me as late as her death bed. I’m not sure I know the entire story behind this nickname, but I do know that mom quit smoking and drinking two years before I was born and also had a born-again experience during the time when charismatic Christianity was firing up Roman Catholic parishes in the early 70’s. I also know that her doctor tried to persuade her to have a hysterectomy around this time — my mother had had 5 children already. I don’t know how much of this, or all of it, is what shaped my mom’s views on abortion, but they do represent some of the circumstances.
I am very conflicted on where I stand on abortion. I can’t say I would abide by the pro-life position if my wife and I found ourselves in a place which would be too challenging for us at some stage in our lives. I do, however, wish that there were fewer abortions, as I think it is a choice and commitment of such anguish for a woman that no one ever wants to undertake, if possible.
And so this contentious struggle continues, without much progress. Maybe I have softened due to the inevitability of maturing, though doubtful. But I can point to something Rod Dreher said on a recent SOF program that was revealing to me.
"If I were pro-choice, I would feel very strongly about it and I would find it very difficult to compromise."
What’s there to do when you can’t compromise and are unwilling to see the opposite perspective? When I say that I am passionate about my beliefs, I guess I am speaking theoretically. My problem is that I see both perspectives as valid, a convenient strategy my dad and I argue about that he calls situational ethics. He feels that there are absolutes in one’s faith and you need to abide by those, no matter the scenario. I feel as though no decision is free from the circumstances, and it is the very apt approach to regarding hindsight or looking back on previous decisions that allow us to progress.
Perhaps that’s what I am, pro-gress. But I am sure we all are.
[Editor’s note: Out of the hundreds of responses we’ve received about abortion, many people are wrestling with same personal and societal conundrums of legalization. I encourage you to visit our map and read some, and submit you’re own perspectives.]
Catholic Voices and Cherry Blossoms in Brooklyn
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
Spring has finally arrived in the upper Midwest. And it’s about time because Andy (the new associate Web producer) and I cranked away in our flourescent-flooded cubes on last week’s site for "The Beauty and Challenge of Being Catholic — Hearing the Faithful." (Long title, non?) The production process took some surprising turns that ended up with a format-breaking radio broadcast, and some pretty groovy ways of telling individuals’ stories online.
We wanted to produce a show delving in to the Catholic Church from a practitioners’ points-of-view for some time now. Oh, to find a way in… We first started out working with two compelling conversations Krista had with Fr. Donald Senior (mp3, 1:49.05) and Sister Katarina Schuth, (mp3, 1:09.05) two Catholic theologians and educators who navigate Church doctrine and seminary life as a daily vocation. The entire staff was smitten with the uncut conversations, so Krista edited and scripted around them. Usually, when we’re at this stage of the process the show is a go because of the significant amount of effort and time required.
In an unusual turn of events, the staff listened to the first cuts-and-copy (c+c) session. FYI: during c+c, Krista reads her script and the staff listens to the in-cues and out-cues for the isolated audio segments. Then the staff critiques and suggests changes. No music or actualities are placed yet. Strangely, we felt like the humanness of the Catholic experience was lost in the edit — the essence of the story that sometimes gets lost in reporting on the Catholic Church.
I suggested that maybe we could do something similar to our program on the spirituality of parenting. Since I was going to ask our audience to contribute their stories and experiences of being Catholic, maybe we could introduce their voices. Lay Catholics might give the program a certain grounding and represent the complexity and diversity of how the tradition is lived.
We received well over 300 responses to begin. We isolated about 30 responses, asked people if I could interview them, and ended up recording each person reading their essay, with follow-up conversations (which we hope to release in the coming days). Rob and I were moved and amazed. Rob whittled that number down to about 15 for a group listen with Krista and the rest of the production staff.
What resulted was a surprising declaration by our host: these stories are the show. I was a tad stunned, and I’ll admit, excited. That ended up being the easy part.
We had to ask ourselves how we’d step it up online too, rather than only producing a single page for the site representing these voices. We needed to let all those stories breathe oxygen rather than subterranean database CO2 where they’d never see the light of day, never contribute to the depiction of what it means to be Catholic. So we did. We crafted a pretty groovy dynamic mapping application and theme-based display that will continue to grow and convey more individual stories — the core of what we do here at SOF — and gave them greater context through geography, visuals respondents submitted, themed commonalities, and through the wonder of audio for a select number.
And we got to work with some smart colleagues in other departments under such tight deadlines: Maria, Dickens, and Jinzhu in IT and Melody at MPR’s Public Insight Network.
How does the timelapse video of cherry blossoms factor in? Well, I just needed a moment to be mindful, as Thich Nhat Hanh would say, and smell the virtual blossoms until Minnesota’s arrive.
One Interpretation of the Crucifix
Rob McGinley Myers, Associate Producer
It’s a fact of radio production that most of the material you gather never gets used. And even though I’ve only been making my own radio for 2 years, I am already haunted by some of the interview bits that I’ve had to edit out of my work. So, as we begin to broadcast our show about the Catholic Church this weekend, I’ve decided to rescue from obscurity this unheard portion the very first radio interview I ever conducted.
I interviewed Mark Schultz (standing on the far left of the photo below) back in 2006 for a story about Catholics who love the church even though they sometimes disagree with its leaders. He is the associate director of the Land Stewardship Project, an organization that advocates for family farmers. I talked to him and several other Catholics, but in the end my editor persuaded me to focus the story on my mother. And so the entire interview with Mark Schultz wound up on the cutting room floor.
I’ve never forgotten the night I went over to his house, nervous about conducting my first interview, unsure of how to work the recording equipment or even how to hold the microphone properly. But the power of what he said cut through all that. He talked a lot about the specifically Catholic values his parents instilled in him when he was growing up on the South Side of Chicago. But I was particularly struck by what he said about the Catholic crucifix — the image of Jesus nailed to the cross. I’d always had ambivalent feelings about the crucifix myself. I never understood why Catholics wanted an image of violent suffering to be the focal point of the church. But in this audio excerpt, Mark Schultz describes the very personal meaning he takes from that ancient Catholic symbol every time he sees it.
Alda Balthrop-Lewis, Production Intern
Catholics of all sorts have been responding to our call for their stories. They’ve been writing to tell us about their experiences in the Catholic Church — the beauty and the pain and the hope they feel belonging to this vast and ancient tradition. We have been amazed by the depth and feeling with which these people have told us their stories. In an upcoming show in May, you’ll hear for yourself the fruit of these insightful voices.
In the meantime, I am reading a new spiritual memoir about one man’s experience on the path to Catholic priesthood. Andrew Krivak spent nearly a decade of his life training to become a Jesuit priest before leaving the order, marrying, and having children of his own. A Long Retreat: In Search of a Religious Life expresses Krivak’s deep love for the years he spent with the Jesuits and offers a window into the complexities of one man’s discernment. Krivak describes difficult issues — especially the challenges of poverty, chastity, and obedience required of all Jesuits — with unblinking honesty. And he gracefully reconciles his deep appreciation for the wisdom of Saint Augustine of Hippo and Saint Ignatius of Loyola with his very modern life. I have been savoring the book.