Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sign of the times

Take nothing for granted! Note the sign
in front of the Gingerbread House cautioning residents not to consume
the Christmas decoration! Never come between a Maryknoller and his
meal. Mayhaps Mike will construct a Gingerbread Maryknoll for our 100th!

Gingerbread House

Sodexo chef Mike McLoughin shows off his holiday creation in the
Maryknoll dining room.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Renewal, reform or rehash?

OUR 100th ANNIVERSARY is just a year away and the interest and range of emotions and excitement around the Knoll these days goes all the way from A to B. We know for sure that the special Mass commissioned by "On Eagle's Wings" composer Michael Joncas is complete, even using the as-yet-to-be-approved revisions in the English liturgy. Has the date of its debut performance been set?

Actually, regarding anything articles, prayers or pictures to appear in MARYKNOLL or Revista Maryknoll magazines, there are only nine months left, since the January 2011 issue must be finished by September 2010.

But I'm sure everything will be wonderful and memorable.

The question bounced about at many a meal in the dining room for many months now is: will this be an opportunity for more than just an elaborate and extended party? Will it be a rebirth or a swan song?

Fr. Mike Zunno, a delegate at the last Chapter, looks for ideas or suggestions as to what, if anything, we can do to bring about the renewal of Maryknoll.

"The Chapter and this Council made the mistake of treating Maryknollers like adults," he has said on more than one occasion.

He elaborates: "They want us to take the initiative and not wait for leadership to tell us what to do."

This is part of the Maryknoll paradox: some guys won't do anything that isn't sanctioned from on high, yet at the same time, for many good ideas, being officially pushed by leadership is the kiss of death. Those in leadership know the best ideas (at least those with the best chance for succeeding) come from below.

Some of the renewal (PTR) groups have continued to meet faithfully since before the last Chapter, but without networking with other groups how do these impact the Society as a whole?

At the Knoll we do get between two and ten men at Morning and Evening Prayer using the Christian Prayer breviary every weekday, but that's not a tenth of the guys in residence at the Knoll. Weekly Rosary for vocations each Monday draws a dozen guys. Community Masses are hit and miss. Many guys are retired or semi-retired and the operative and repeated syllables are TIRED.

Many have expressed hope that the Centennial celebrations don't emphasize the past at the expense of the future.

Granted the breviary, the rosary and yes, even the cassock, are part of Maryknoll's glorious past, where and what are the fresh ideas for the future?

Mike Zunno cuts to the chase by raising the provocative question: "What exactly is Maryknoll's mission going forward?"

Answer that and the rest should fall into place. Alas, raising this question only around the salad bar won't get us much beyond the feta cheese. We need to involve all the men (at least all who still have a pulse).

It would seem that as inspirational as Maryknoll's history and present membership may be, it's the guys currently in formation who must cultivate and share their vision with us if we are to have a future involving the Church in the U.S. in sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with people in other lands. Any ideas, guys?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

On the feast of Stephen

AT LAST I AM BACK (sort of) from my Christmas hiatus which had me scurrying about the Korean Church in Queens. I am sure all of you had nothing better to do this past week than sit in front of your computers waiting for another Knollnews post. Even now I prepare to go Upstate to celebrate the Third through the Sixth Days of Christmas, but up in the Adirondacks it will be more like Five Dogs a' Barking.

Still, I have been at Mother Knoll long enough to glean a few tidbits here and there. Alas, some are of such a personal, ad hominem nature that, absent a good canon lawyer, or a good cannon for that matter, I would do well to let the proverbial fit hit the shan and simply report on any future public fallout. That comment alone should entice all y'all to check in often. But head's up: I won't be physically back to MK till the 30th, so things I do post I've picked up via email or the all-subversive Facebook pages.

That being said, here are some public bits of knowledge of which you are free to read between the rather spacious lines:

In addition to the bizarre and unfortunate incident during the Midnight (i.e. 10:00 p.m.) Mass at the Vatican in which a deranged woman knocked His Holiness down and sent French Cardinal Roger Etchegaray to the hospital, Cardinal Ivan Dias, our boss in the Vatican, has been in and out of the hospital recovering from an undisclosed illness (at least to me) for the past several weeks.

Subsequently, much of the Super G's official business in his trip to Rome earlier this month has had to be put
in abeyance. (Don't you love that word?) Not the least, and certainly not the last of which is Brother Wayne's
election as First Assistant. U.S. Regional Mike Duggan has had to manage the region by himself until Rome
decides what to do. It hasn't been easy on Wayne, Mike or for that matter Doc. There is a ripple effect
(here are the lines you are supposed to read between) in that Cardinal Dias won't decide on this and
other matters until he feels better, Doc can't act until Dias decides, and Wayne is not the only one whose
future in in the hands of the Cardinal. (Who needs The Young & the Restless when we have
The Old and The Nervous?)

Will Brett and Scarlett make up? Will Tiffany change
her mind and have the baby, even though,
unbeknownst to her, her boyfriend Chad
had a vasectomy last year?

Tune in tomorrow for another episode of
As the Knoll Turns.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


ONE OF THE THREE "EULOGIES" at last week's funeral for Fr. Dan Schneider included an enthusiastic exegesis of the familiar "secular" song "The Twelve Days of Christmas". According to the speaker, this song was, in fact, a clandestine catechism created by persecuted Catholics in Elizabethan England, some 400 years ago.

Decoding the symbols, the Partridge in a Pair Tree symbolized none other than Jesus himself. The two French hens were the Old & New Testaments yadda, yadda. You get the picture. Literally. So impressed were many of the congregants that the speaker later passed out xeroxed copies of this story at the funeral luncheon.

Alas, there is no historical basis for this pious tale, although it seems to have gotten wide currency in recent years, apparently by overzealous Christians not about to let facts or the truth get in the way of a good story. (And no, they don't write for MARYKNOLL magazine.) [Meow!]

With my analytical mind cultivated by Core Theology and my inquisitive mind
keenly honed at Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, holes appeared in this story even before I Googled it. Check it out for yourself: (Is there anyone who doubts the veracity of "The Google"?)

First of all, there was nothing particularly Catholic in the song that Protestants themselves don't believe. No Pope. No Virgin Mary. No Eucharist. From the Three Evangelical Councils to the Five "Golden Rings" of the Torah to the Twelve Points of Faith in the Apostles Creed (Are there 12? Who knew?), there is nothing in the so-called hidden catechism that Protestants would protest, much less persecute.

Fr. Mike Zuno pointed out over breakfast that, while there was indeed persecution of Catholics in England during those years, there was also a suppression of Christmas itself as being unbiblical. Indeed, that's where we get all those inane songs about Yuletide, holly and donning gay apparel [self censorship in progress].

That being said, you have to admire the missionary zeal of this woman to get up in front of a churchful of strangers and spread this story. More's the pity that it isn't true. Yet why can't we, as missioners, recharge our batteries with renewed enthusiasm to spread the true story of what God really has done for us?

December House Meeting

THIRTY of the 85 residents attended the monthly house meeting yesterday in the Asia room. Fr. Ernie Luckaschek, pastoral coordinator, and Br. John Blazo facilitated.

The first five minutes were devoted to me giving the report from Tuesday's all-important Food Committee meeting. Special fish dishes will be offered on Christmas Eve; babyback ribs on Christmas and a beef carving station on January 1. The dubious chicken patties covered in miso soup (that tasted like sawdust hockey pucks covered in miso soup) have met an inglorious if not unexpected demise. Maryknollers are reminded to sign in for guests at meals. No one will be charged (indeed, there is no place for a charge number on the sheet) but this does help the kitchen staff keep tabs on how many meals it is serving. Unseasoned entrees and side dishes will be made available to men with an intolerance for parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.

The rest of the meeting was dedicated to continuing last month's discussion of the guest policy. The issue seems to be divided into two parts: unaccompanied guests at our happy hour (or, more appropriately, "sundowner", since guys don't always seem particularly happy but the sun never fails to go down) and outside groups using our facilities.

We actually spent more time on the first question, with some guys feeling uncomfortable when guests are present at the happy hour and others insisting hospitality remains a Maryknoll charism. Fr. John Tynan flew a trial balloon about having a booze-free happy hour once a week to see if it might entice those Maryknollers who don't usually attend, he opined, because they are recovering alcoholics. That went over like the proverbial lead balloon. Fr. Dick Callahan, who sets up the happy hours every evening, posed this counter question: "What would you rather face: outside guests or a room of sober Marynollers?"

Last month's influx of postal workers seems to have precipitated the debate on outside groups using our facility. Ernie pointed out that, absent any church-related groups needing our rooms, Ms. Nancy Kleppel accepts these outside groups as a means both to help make Maryknoll known and generate income, albeit on a voluntary basis. Donations for use of rooms are "suggested" because to require a fee would compromise our not-for-profit tax free status, according to Fr. Ed Szendrey, internal auditor. Sodexo, on the other hand, is a business and looks for opportunities to make money.

The question was raised if the hard-working Sodexo employees would participate in the Christmas bonuses announced at yesterday's Christmas party. Ernie pointed out that Sodexo workers are not Maryknoll employees and their pay and any bonuses are contractual. Still, he said he would approach Ms. Nancy Kleppel to see if she could negotiate some channel for the cooks to enjoy a merrier Christmas like the other workers here.

In defending Maryknoll's outreach to outside groups, Blazo mentioned that after the firefighters visit, one man returned with his wife to show her this amazing building.

Now, if only he had brought her to the happy hour, our circle would have been unbroken.

Caroling @ St. T's

A SMALL BUT VITAL remnant of the Maryknoll Choir visited St. Teresa's on Wednesday afternoon to sing some of their songs from last Friday's concert and join the men in singing some favorite Christmas carols. Ms. Judy Abel, music director, accompanied the carolers on the piano in the own-stairs Rec room.

Given our vastly reduced numbers and informal setting, I think we did admirably well. The men seemed to enjoy it, especially singing Silent Night in English, Spanish, Korean, Swahili and German.

After the 40-minute music fest, guys and guests enjoyed some eggnog and cookies.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Maryknoll on EWTN

FR. PETER LE JACQ, M.M., gave a stellar guest performance on the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN, a.k.a. Mother Angelica's station) last Sunday, December 13th. He was interviewed by Catholic media superstar, Fr. Benedict Groeschel, founder of the grey-robed Franciscans of the Reform. Mother has been off the show since suffering a stroke several years ago.

Fathers Mike Duggan, Mike Zunno and Kevin Hanlon were part of the peanut gallery in the studio at Dunwoodie Seminary and all gave Le Jacq high marks for his compelling presentation, mostly about his ministry to those with AIDS and HIV in Africa. Zunno called Pete's performance "mezmerizing." Those who watched it on TV are still talking about it in the dining room.

Groeschel spoke fondly of his time teaching at Maryknoll in the 1970s. All-in-all, this show was a great opportunity for Maryknoll to get out its mission message to a very different Catholic audience than we normally reach.

Ms. Maureen Toowey will try to make a DVD of that show available soon.

Gathering of Centenary Eagles

WITH THE CLOCK TICKING, nine members of the 11-member Centenary Committee finally gathered from around the world to finalize (?) plans for Maryknoll's 100th. The prize for traveling farthest goes to Fr. Jim Kroeger from the Philippines, with Fr. Joyalito Tajonera from Taiwan coming in a close (or is that a distant?) second. Fr. Steve Judd migrated north from Peru; Karibu sana to Fr. Ken Thesing from Africa, but Br. John Beeching stayed behind to escort very ill Fr. Doug Venne back to Bangladesh from Thailand. (Please keep Doug in your prayers.)

Mr. Greg Darr came in from the Chicago Promotion House. Fr. Jack Sullivan is rumored to be around. Mr. Dave Brown (former MKer) also arrived this morning. These will join the Executive Committee: Fr. Bob Jalbert, Ms. Diane Bernadini (Donor Services) and Ms. Bernadette Price (Orbis).

Rumor has it they will find a HUGE folder of proposals awaiting them.

In the meantime, there are somethings that luckily don't require a Committee or C-3 to put into practice. Br. Kevin Dargan and I will proceed with the relatively inexpensive project to post relevant Maryknoll historical dates on the stand outside the foodline. He and I will go through a mission chronicle put together by the late Fr. Larry Vaughan. We hope eventually to have a few anniversary dates posted each week.

In other news, Rev. Mr. Stephen DeMartino, Vocations Coordinator, has taken wing to Jamaica (the one in the Caribbean, not the one in Queens) to reconnoiter Fr. Leo's Shea's mission as the proposed site for next Holy Week's Vocation Discernment Retreat. Four NEW prospects have already signed up. Five men are applying for admission next year.

NEWLY ORDAINED Fr. Stephen Taluja is due in today to celebrate his first Mass at his home parish, Holy Spirit in Cortlandt, this Sunday and meet with Father Superior.

Speaking of whom, Doc was unable to meet with Cardinal Ivan Dias in Rome because the prelate took sick and had to be hospitalized.

Still no word on Br. Wayne's election as First Assistant U.S. Regional.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Maryknoll's Xmas Stimulus

At the annual Xmas prayer service, the emloyees heard good news: this year all would receive bonuses; part-timers and full-timers, commeasurate with their hours. Maryknoll is doing its part to stimulate the economy. (No mention of Maryknollers getting back our vacation allowances. Bah, humbug!)

Keeping us merry

Partners in Mission

Throughout the year with various fund-raising activities, raffles etc., employees raised $4,045 for Maryknoll's mission work. Here, Ms. Jody Turner (Human Resources) presents over-sized check to Fr. Ed McGovern.

Our kitchen staff

Now you know why Maryknollers gain weight.

Party #3

This year's "official" party included a live band of Maryknoll emloyees.

Saint in disguise

St. Thomas Aquinas steals hat from St. Nicholas.

Merry Men of Maryknoll

Keeping the X in Xmas

Pepper-crusted ham, kielbasa & sauerkraut, chicken, spinach & asiago cheese sausages prepared by Br. Kevin (a.k.a. Santa) Dargan fill us with the Xmas spirit. The homemade punch helped.

Santa's helpers

Fr. Mike Duggan (right) relaxes with Santa after a wonderful repast.

Library Christmas party

Fathers Bob Depinet and Charlie Cappel enjoy the punch & cookies.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Christmas concert meltdown

SORRY about the hiatus, folks. Between recuperation from the singing marathon (Fr. Dan Schneider's wake on Thursday night & funeral on Friday morning & two hours rehearsal just prior to the one-hour Christmas concert) and giving talks and confessions at the Korean church in Queens yesterday and doing Mass and class today, I was pooped.

Now having slept most of this rainy Sunday afternoon, I can pick gingerly through the wreckage of the Christmas concert.

It was our worst. (And that's being diplomatic.) Oh, people had a good time and were Christian in their evaluation, but I am under no such etiquettitudinal restraints. (I just made up that word. Feel free to use it.) They certainly got what they paid for.

But let me begin with some positive feedback.

You know how you feel after hearing a flawless performance of Händel's Messiah? Well, it wasn't anything like that.

The new risers did allow the choir to be sitting higher up, so we had a better view of the audience. Unfortunately, that worked both ways.

The solos were exceptional: Fr. Mike Duggan's Mille Cherubini and Ms. Judy Abel (director)'s O Holy Night.

The quasi duet of Sr. Ann Hayden and Fr. Ed Szendrey was most excellent. Ms. Betsey Guest also shone as descant soloist.

The women more than held up their end of the voice ranges.

As for the men, well, we had nine (count'em—9!) men's voices. Yup, there were nine! Well, not always singing the right notes in the right key or at the right time or at all, but I definitely counted nine. All in a row.

The five-piece orchestra was very talented and professional. They saved the evening by covering a multitude of our musical sins. Nothing like a harp, piano, organ, flute and cello to distract people's attention from our many dissonant faux pas.

We could have vastly improved the ending of the concert—by moving it closer to the beginning.

To be balanced, the refreshments were a big hit, as was our perennial Santa Claus (Br. Kevin Dargan) passing out candy so the evening ended on a sweet note.

(But I will forever wonder how I might have written this had I not had a good nap this afternoon.)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Some funeral tidbits

ARCHBISHOP TIMOTHY DOLAN came to St. Teresa's Residence yesterday afternoon to pay respects at the first wake for Fr. Dan Schneider. Dolan and Schneider have been friends for many decades when Dolan was first ordained and assigned to a parish in St. Louis where Schneider served while on development.

The archbishop was most gracious and spent time with the men at St. T's but he saved special conversations for all the Maryknollers from St. Louis.


Apparently there is some brouhaha brewing because the kitchen staff locked the door to the dining room at 1:28 to begin breaking down the set-up. To their credit they did a yeoman's job accommodating the 130 extra guests— family and friends of Fr. Dan at the funeral today. According to Fr. John Moran, some Maryknollers and guests could not get to their anticipated ice cream. The removal of the handle from the frozen yogurt machine also gave an unfavorably inhospitable impression. This is what the news people call a "developing story" and I'm sure any misunderstanding will soon be ironed out. Besides this, the kitchen staff did a wonderful job, as mentioned above, serving this sudden influx of many guests.

The funeral was a wonderful tribute and beautiful send-off for Father Dan. He has a HUGE family, all of whom seemed very much at home in a Catholic church. Those who spoke were very articulate, humorous, and heartfelt. Three came forward after Communion to give their eulogies.

We started the funeral a half hour earlier than normal (10:30 instead of 11:00) to accommodate the physical plant people who have only a few hours to set up the risers and chairs in the main chapel in time for the final dress rehearsal before tonight's Christmas concert.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Signing Ceremony

Our newest members of the Maryknoll Family include John & Cindy Korb
going to Kenya, Mary Oldham also going to Kenya; Minh Nyugen to
Bolivia, Lindsay Doucette to Cambodia; Nan Tyrolt and Erica Olson to
El Salvador.

Newest lay missioners

Seven new Maryknoll Lay Missioners complete three months' training and
sign three-and-a-half-year contracts at Mass today in the Bethany
chapel. Three new Maryknoll Sisters will join them in a Sending
Ceremony in the main chapel at Maryknoll on Saturday.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Liturgy and Korean mission update

FR. TOM MARTI recommends reminding guys they can support the effort to put the brakes on the liturgical Latinization by signing a petition on the following site:

The link was posted too far down in the Ryan article so you may have missed it. Marty points out that more than 1,600 signatures have been garnered s far.

Also Fr. Gene Toland wrote concerning the failed Korean mission to Sudan. He was unable to post a comment for some reason (I tried as well and it didn't appear in the comments sidebar) so here it is:
"From the experience of Korean priests coming to language school to prepare to work in LA, I would say the Korean church needs a serious reflection on how to send missioners abroad. The face presented by some borders at times on the scandalous. Some host families now refuse to take in the Korean playboys."

Advent Day of Recollection

BISHOP ROBERT BRUCATO, retired auxiliary of New York, gave a one-day Advent reflection in Maryknoll's Lady Chapel. Brother Wayne Fitzpatrick, head of life-long formation, introduced the bishop who entered the seminary in 1949 and was ordained in 1957. He served at St. Ann's in Ossining from 1959~1960 when he began a decades-long chaplaincy in the military. He was ordained auxilary bishop in 1997. He was apostolic administrator following Cardinal O'Connor's death. He retired in 2007.

After failing to work out several kinks in the sound system, the bishop simply spoke louder.

He started with the gospel call of Simon, Andrew, James and John. The bishop posited the response of these men was not as immediate as the gospel implies. Andrew had been a follower of John the Baptist. At John's direction, Andrew went to Jesus and then drew in his brother Simon. This time between initial contact and eventual discipleship the bishop referred to as a vocational incubation period.

It turns out Brucato's vocation journey started with Maryknoll Father Joe English. He said that convinced him that although he wanted to be a priest, he didn't want to be a Maryknoller. (That and the articles in the Field Afar which were interesting, but not enough to get him to leave his home diocese.) He also looked fondly back on the days when the seminarians at Maryknoll and Dunwoodie would challenge each other in basketball or baseball. (Hmm...maybe the guys at St. T's can challenge the retirees at Dunwoodie to extreme shuffleboard.) Interestingly enough, the military vicariate did indeed force him to leave New York and force Brucato to fields afar.

The bishop realized he wanted to be a parish priest and not an administrator.

The bishop also realized the main question wasn't where he served, but whom he served with. He suggested we reflect on our most rewarding or trying times had much to do with our colleagues and coworkers.

He quoted Pope John XXIII who said there are no longer three ages of life in the First World, young, middle and old. He said the pope was prophetic in that today people work way past what used to be retirement and many ministries in the church, eucharistic ministers, readers, are retirees.

So how do we work out our vocation now, in what is the final stage of life?

My personal view: while this topic is of utmost importance to us in Maryknoll, I'm afraid it will be lost because, truth be told, the bishop is such a low talker it is taxing for the men to stay tuned in. Pity.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

First of many parties

The good women of Health Services started the Christmas season with an
office party marked by two tables laden with homemade goodies of every
sort. Coffee and punch (spiked with Miralax?) helped quench our thirst
and several door prizes went to those whose names were drawn. Even
Hopi made an appearance in her jingle bell collar.

Learning liturgical lessons of the past?

ONE COMPLAINT against the first changes of the Mass from Latin/Greek to the vernacular was that liturgists foisted the translation upon unsuspecting congregations. This gave rise to the old chestnut: "What's the difference between a terrorist and a liturgist? You can negotiate with terrorists." Haha

In an attempt to avoid this mistake, proponents of the New Roman Missal have prepared detailed catechesis to accompany the changes. But now, Rev. Michael G. Ryan, pastor of St. James Cathedral in Seattle since 1988 who serves on the board of the national Cathedral Ministry Conference, has written this compelling article in the December 14, 2009 edition of AMERICA Magazine. I offer it for your enlightenment.


What If We Said, 'Wait'?
The case for a grass-roots review of the new
Roman Missal

It is now 45 years since the
Second Vatican Council promulgated the
groundbreaking and liberating document on the sacred liturgy,
Concilium. As an eager and enthusiastic North American College seminarian at
the time, I was in St. Peter’s Square on the December day in 1963 when
Pope Paul VI, with the world’s bishops, presented that great Magna Carta to the church. The conciliar document transcended ecclesiastical politics.

It was not just the pet project of a party but the overwhelming consensus of the bishops of the world. Its adoption passed overwhelmingly: 2,147 to 4. Not in my wildest dreams would it have occurred to me then that I would live to witness what seems more and more like the systematic dismantling of the great vision of the council’s decree. But I have. We Catholics have.

For evidence, one need look no further than recent instructions from the
Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments that have raised rubricism to an art form, or the endorsement, even encouragement, of the so-called Tridentine Mass. It has become painfully clear that the liturgy, the prayer of the people, is being used as a tool—some
would even say as a weapon—to advance specific agendas. And now on the
horizon are the new translations of the Roman Missal that will soon reach the final stages of approval by the Holy See. Before long the priests of this country will be told to take the new translations to their people by means of a carefully orchestrated education program that will attempt to put a good face on something that clearly does not deserve it.

The veterans who enthusiastically devoted their best creative energies as young priests to selling the reforms of the council to parishioners back in the 1960s will be asked to do the same with regard to the new translations. Yet we will be hard put to do so. Some colleagues in ministry may actually relish the opportunity, but not those of us who were captivated by the great vision of Vatican II, who knew firsthand the Tridentine Mass and loved it for what it was, but welcomed its passing because of what full, conscious and active participation would mean for our people.

We can see the present moment only as one more assault on the council and, sadly, one more blow to episcopal collegiality. It was, after all, the council that gave to conferences of bishops the authority to produce their own translations
(S.C., Nos. 36, 40), to be approved, it is true, by the Holy See but not, presumably, to be initiated, nitpicked and controlled by it. Further, the
council also wisely made provision for times of experimentation and evaluation (S.C., No. 40)—something that has been noticeably missing in the present case.

This leads me to pose a question to my brother priests: What if we were to
awaken to the fact that these texts are neither pastoral nor ready for our
parishes? What if we just said, “Wait”?

Prayer and Good Sense

I know it might smack of insubordination to talk this way, but it could also be a show of loyalty and plain good sense—loyalty not to any ideological agenda but to our people, whose prayer the new translations purport to improve, and good sense to anyone who stops to think about what is at stake here.

What is at stake, it seems to me, is nothing less than the church’s credibility. It is true that the church could gain some credibility by giving us more beautiful translations, but clumsy is not beautiful, and precious is not prayerful. During a recent dinner conversation with friends, the issue of the new translations came up. Two at the table were keenly—and quite angrily—aware of the impending changes; two were not. When the uninformed heard a few examples (“and with your spirit”; “consubstantial with the Father”; “incarnate of the
Virgin Mary”;
“oblation of our service”; “send down your Spirit like the dewfall”; “He took the precious chalice”; “serene and kindly countenance,” for starters), the reaction was somewhere between disbelief and indignation.

One person ventured the opinion that with all that the church has on its plate today—global challenges with regard to justice, peace and the environment; nagging scandals; a severe
priest shortage; the growing disenchantment of many women; seriously lagging church attendance—it seems almost ludicrous to push ahead with an agenda that will seem at best trivial and at worst hopelessly out-of-touch. The reaction of my friends should surprise no one who has had a chance to review the new translations.

Some of them have merit, but far too many do not. Recently the Archdiocese of Seattle sponsored a seminar on the new translations for lay leaders and clergy. Both the priest who led the seminar (an accomplished liturgical theologian) and the participants gathered there in good faith. When passages from the proposed new translation were soberly read aloud by the presenter (I remember especially the phrase from the first eucharistic prayer that currently reads “Joseph, her husband,” but which in the new translation becomes “Joseph, spouse of the same virgin”), there was audible laughter in the room. I found myself thinking that the
idea of this happening during the sacred liturgy is no laughing matter but
something that should make us all tremble.

There’s more: the chilling reception the people of the dioceses of South Africa have given the new translations. In a rare oversight, the bishops of that country misread the instructions from Rome and, after a careful program of catechesis in the parishes, introduced the new translations to their people some months ago. The translations were met almost uniformly with opposition bordering on outrage.

It is not my purpose here to discuss in detail the flawed principles of translation behind this effort or the weak, inconsistent translations that have resulted. Others have already ably done that. Nor do I want to belabor the fact that those who prepared the translations seem to be far better versed in Latin than in English. No, my concern is for the step we now face: the prospect of implementing the new translations.

This brings me back to my question: What if we just said, “Wait”? What if we, the parish priests of this country who will be charged with the implementation, were to find our voice and tell our bishops that we want to help them avert an almost certain fiasco? What if we told them that we think it unwise to implement these changes until our people have been consulted in an adult manner that truly honors their intelligence and their baptismal birthright? What if we just said, “Wait, not until our people are ready for the new translations, but until the translations are ready for our people”?

Heeding Our Pastoral Instincts

The bishops have done their best, but up to now they have not succeeded. Some of them, led by the courageous and outspoken former chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy, Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, Pa., tried mightily to stop the new translation train but to no avail. The bishops’ conference, marginalized and battle-weary, allowed itself slowly but steadily to be worn down. After awhile the will to fight was simply not there. Acquiescence took over to the point that tiny gains (a word here, a comma there) were regarded as major victories. Without ever wanting to, the bishops abandoned their best pastoral instincts and in so doing gave up on the best interests of their people.

So the question arises: Are we priests going to give up, too? Are we, too, going to acquiesce? We do, of course, owe our bishops the obedience and respect that we pledged to them on the day of our ordination, but does obedience mean complicity with something we perceive to be wrong—or, at best, wrongheaded? Does obedience mean going against our best pastoral instincts in order to promote something that we believe will, in the end, actually bring discredit to the church and further disillusionment to the people? I do not think so. And does respect involve paying lip service to something to which our more instinctive reaction is to call it foolhardy?

Again, I don’t think so. I offer the following modest proposals. What if pastors, pastoral councils, liturgical commissions and presbyteral councils were to appeal to their bishops for a time of reflection and consultation on the translations and on the process whereby they will be given to the people? It is ironic, to say the least, that we spend hours of consultation when planning to renovate a church building or parish hall, but little or none when “renovating” the very language of the liturgy.

What if, before implementing the new translations, we do some “market testing?” What if each region of bishops were to designate certain places where the new translations would receive a trial run: urban parishes and rural parishes, affluent parishes and poor parishes, large, multicultural parishes and small parishes, religious communities and college campuses? What if for the space of one full liturgical year the new translations were used in these designated communities, with carefully planned catechesis and thorough, honest evaluation? Wouldn’t such an experiment yield valuable information for both the translators and the bishops? And wouldn’t such an experiment make it much easier to implement the translations when they are ready?

In short, what if we were to trust our best instincts and defend our people from this ill-conceived disruption of their prayer life? What if collegiality, dialogue and a realistic awareness of the pastoral needs of our people were to be introduced at this late stage of the game? Is it not possible that we might help the church we love avert a debacle or even disaster? And is it not possible that the voices in the church that have decided that Latinity is more important than lucidity might end up listening to the people and re-evaluating their position, and that lengthy, ungainly, awkward sentences could be trimmed, giving way to noble, even poetic
translations of beautiful old texts that would be truly worthy of our greatest prayer, worthy of our language and worthy of the holy people of God whose prayer this is? (If you think the above sentence is unwieldy, wait till you see some of the new Missal translations. They might be readable, but border on the unspeakable!)

“What If We Just Said No?” was my working title for this article. “What If We Just Said, ‘Wait’?” seems preferable. Dialogue is better than diatribe, as the
Second Vatican Council amply demonstrated. So let the dialogue begin. Why not let the priests who are on the front lines and the laypeople who pay the bills (including the salaries of priests and bishops) have some say in how they are to pray? If you think the idea has merit, I invite you to log on to the Website and make your voice heard. If our bishops know the depth of our concern, perhaps they will not feel so alone.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Korean Sudan mission experiment fails

IN LESS THAN THREE YEARS, three priests sent by the Korean bishops to assist the embattled Catholic church in southern Sudan have packed up and returned home, according to Fr. Russ Feldmeier.

Russ and I finally got a chance to catch up over coffee whilst ensconced in the overstuffed chairs in our library.

Our conversation started out focusing on his work in Partnership ministry, popular with Korean Sisters and religious, but with bishops, not so much. (Quel surprise!) We chatted about Peace Corps days and of the new Korean President Lee Myung-Bak's love and appreciation for the work PCVs did in South Korea. So much so that the ROK government now sponsors twice-yearly hospitality tours for all returned Korean Peace Corps Volunteers. The current U.S. ambassador to Korea, Kathleen Stephens, was a PCV there. In the spring and fall, groups of RPCVs pay their way back to Korea but then are treated to two-weeks of touring, meals and cultural performances.

Russ and I then spoke about the Korean Foreign Mission Society which has about 42 permanent members (all under 55 years old, btw) but who has also begun seeing a decline in vocations in recent years. That's when I enquired about the curious case of the Korean bishops, lead by Cardinal Cheong of Seoul, sending their priests to foreign missions without collaborating with the KFMS. Russ dropped the bomb that three diocesan priests sent to Sudan less than three years ago have decided the mission wasn't working and have returned to Korea.

Father Joseph Lee had first been sent by Cardinal Cheong to work in Albany, NY, to learn English. Another priest was sent for the same reason to San Diego and the third to Dublin (?!). Lee came to Maryknoll to visit and I was surprised at the lack of preparation. He didn't even know what vaccinations were required or the cultural background or history of the place where he was going.

Maryknoll helped him out as best we could and off he went in January 2007, as far as I was able to discern, to help the bishop in southern Sudan minister to Catholics there.

Why did the Korean bishops feel a need to circumvent the Korean mission Society? More important, why weren't their priests assigned to go overseas given adequate training and preparation?

Let's just pray this doesn't sour the Church in South Korea to the important work of evangelization overseas.

(R.I.P. Father Dan Schneider, M.M., longtime missioner to Korea.)

Winter comes early

Saturday, December 5, 2009

FOCUS on youth

REV. MR. STEVE DEMARTINO, Maryknoll's coordinator of vocation ministries, has been planning for several months to attend the National Conference of F.O.C.U.S. (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) in Orlando, Florida at the end of the month. (It's a Small World After All) This evangelical Catholic group attracts thousands of young people to its conferences with emphasis on zeal for spreading the love of Christ to all the world, beginning where they are. This year's theme: "Made for More."

It seemed to Deacon Steve that this was a natural place for Maryknoll vocations office to have a presence, so he made arrangements to attend and have a Maryknoll booth with posters, literature, mission rosary, our latest vocation video looping on the TV monitors and two live Maryknoll seminarians, Angel Garcia and Mark Zachar, to meet and speak with the students in their language and on their turf.

All systems seemed ready to go when out of the blue a letter came a few days ago from the Conference organizers asking for a signed Declaration of Faith. Images and quotes from Man for All Seasons flashed through Steven's mind. Several of us had a lively discussion over French toast and oatmeal as to what this was and why the good folks at FOCUS thought it necessary.

It turns out the document was rather broadly worded, asking an acceptance of the Nicene Creed (to which most Maryknollers can acquiesce if not accede) and loyalty to the Holy Father and the college of bishops. In short, there was nothing to merit going to the gallows in opposition to. Steve signed. ("This is not the stuff of which martyrs are made.")

We would do well to bone up on this group. It emphasizes mission (albeit in a geographically narrower sense than we do) and taps into Catholic college students' energy and enthusiasm.

Fr. Benedict Groeschel, former professor in the Maryknoll School of Theology and founder of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, will be one of the keynote speakers at the Conference.

I encourage all Maryknollers interested in what's up with today's Catholic youth to check out the FOCUS websight:

BTW, their website is way cooler, hipper, fresher, simpler, neater and altogether more interesting and attractive than ours. Hint. Hint.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Why we sin

TIGER WOODS' recent travails prompted an interesting discussion over the breakfast table. Among our numbers were Fr. Mike Zunno (Korea) and Fr. Dan Dolan (Taiwan). We sacerdotal types have heard thousands of confessions over the years. We've heard just about everything bad that people do. But an intriguing question arises: why do people sin?

Broadening the group beyond Catholic categories of mortal and venial, omission and commission that fulfill the prerequisites of 1) being wrong 2) knowing it is wrong and 3) being free and willing to do it anyway, let's condense the discussion to: why do people intentionally violate their own moral standards of right and wrong?

Mike suggested pride; Dan said greed. I offered low self-esteem. Another not-to-be dismissed reason: because it's fun. We are all right. There are probably as many reasons as there are people. A proud person refuses to admit wrong and continues in his or her offense until discovered or stopped. A greedy person always wants more. Why? ("Because he fears death." "Yes, Yes! Thank you for answering my question!" —Rose Castorini, Moonstruck)

But in men like Tiger Woods, incredibly talented, rich and famous, with a beautiful wife, why cheat?
1) Because he can
2) Because he feels entitled
3) Because it is risky
4) Because he thinks he can get away with it
5) Because he feels deprived
6) Because he feels depressed
7) Because he feels bored

We "holy" people sin out of a sense of compensation: "After all I've sacrificed, what's this little indulgence?"

We "institutionalized" people sin to manifest our independence: "I am not just a cog in this machine. See? Look what mischief I can do!"

Guilty people may sin to provoke God's wrath and unmask God's illusion of mercy.

Sad people may sin to escape their unhappiness. Lonely people may sin to ease their pain.

As we enter more deeply into Advent and do a little spiritual house-cleaning, instead of just confessing what we do, it may be beneficial to consider why we do it. Then, instead of focusing on how nasty we are, we might progress further in religious life by concentrating on how good God is.