“Being up”

Fred Price, a televangelist in his eighties, is not always called Fred Price. Sometimes he is called Frederick K.C. Price. Other times he is Dr. Frederick K.C. Price. On still other occasions, he is called the Apostle Frederick K.C. Price.

Tonight he wears a good suit and a good tie. The wardrobe varies. Some nights, he switches to a long-sleeved dashiki. On other nights, he wears a Catholic cardinal’s cassock with scarlet sash and piping, minus the Roman collar.

He preaches on a program called Ever Increasing Faith. It is produced by his L.A. ministry, the Crenshaw Christian Center. I have not watched the program’s opening sequence lately. But I recall it well: montages of sad-sack, unsuccessful people sitting depressed in the sun. Each is then suddenly transfigured, like Jesus on the mountainside: leaping up, pumping fists in the air, clad in business dress. They are accompanied, it would seem, not by Moses and Elijah, nor by Peter and John, but by investment portfolios.

We are to understand that their ever-increasing faith has led them here. For as so many other three-o’clock-in-the-morning evangelists have insisted to me, as I crunch almonds and watch the smiling congregations from my sofa, what moves God is not your need, but your faith.  Continue reading

The Fireside Chats: The internet gods

fire-25743_1280According to a May 26 RNS article by Rosie Scammell, “Pope Francis told an Argentine newspaper that he never watches TV or logs on to the Internet. Perhaps not surprisingly, he sleeps well.”

Scammell added:

Within the walls of the Vatican City State, the pope also revealed that he hasn’t watched television since 1990 and spends no more than 10 minutes a day reading left-leaning Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

Francis isn’t keen on the Internet, either, but manages to keep up with his favorite Buenos Aires soccer team, San Lorenzo, thanks to a well-informed Swiss Guard.

Reading this article at my computer, along with the rest of the day’s top stories, I felt my jealousy swell at a man who could so matter-of-factly dispense with the twenty-first century. His life sounded luxurious. He brought back boyhood memories of when I needed nothing beyond my Hardy Boys and U.S. President books, and maybe the first half of the evening news.

And yes, I’m sure he sleeps better than I do. Perhaps even as well as I did back then. Continue reading

Coming home. A series in hindsight.

I’ve lived most of the last decade on the run. After college at a big-city Jesuit university, I wanted to move to a big city and be cool. Initially, this meant the more hipsterish neighborhoods of Chicago. But in recent years it meant Boston, one of exactly five or six cities that Millennials of means are allowed to choose from if they wish to attain acceptable polish and cachet. Never mind that I was, by nature, meant for exactly the place I lived in already: a backwoods part of my ancestral village. My attempts to bolt were halfhearted, and they failed.

I was also on the run in a religious sense. By nature, I’m a churchgoer who appreciates the traditional customs and structures of ecclesiastical life, even if I’m appalled by some of the present and former hierarchs who run them. But rather than do the hard work of negotiating this disconnect in some real and substantial way, I escaped into a kind of “boutique activism.” I centered my spiritual and professional life on the progressive Catholic church-reform nonprofit world. It stands for the right things and means well, but it does not get much done. Much of the history of this blog reflects that escape, which finally ended when I recommitted in the last year to taking my full part in a parish community.  Continue reading

“The Romans.” Or, “Consider the gelled-hair seminarians.”

Mass letting out at Notre Dame de Paris. Photo by author, 2006.

Mass letting out at Notre Dame de Paris. Photo by author, 2006.

Michael O’Loughlin has a rather terrifying article up at Crux right now, covering the recent Sacra Liturgia USA conference in New York. It is entitled: “In their quest to reform the liturgy, some Catholics hope to remake the culture.”

O’Loughlin explains that Sacra Liturgia (“sacred liturgy”) is “an annual gathering of mostly American and British priests and seminarians to discuss ways to bring the sacred back to Catholic worship. For them, sacred means the use of traditional music, art, and the Latin Mass.”

The piece opens with a group of collared, cassocked seminarians with short, gelled hair standing in front of Hunter College. They are waiting for Raymond Cardinal Burke, the American-born former chief justice of the Vatican’s supreme court who was recently demoted by Pope Francis, to finish his keynote address and come outside.  Continue reading

The Fireside Chats: The orator

fire-25743_1280He’s done it every year for seventeen years. That’s what they tell me. He is the Memorial Day speechmaker in my town. He is a prominent local businessman. He is the owner and operator of one of the largest area funeral homes.

The VFW and American Legion trust him because he is dependable. He will always perform when asked. He does not have other engagements. He does not get sick. He does not bow out.

As the World War II and Korea veterans have died off; as those who remain have become ancient, and have less and less to say, not to mention less and less ability to say it; as the previous mayor himself, who held office into his late eighties, got too old and feeble to talk much; and now that his successor sometimes can’t make it to Memorial Day ceremonies; as all these things have happened, they count more and more on the funeral director, our town orator, who will never let them down.

He enjoys his pulpit. He struts while standing still. He has sheets of paper, but does not read from them. He can go for a half hour. He speaks of the greatness of the nation, of the beloved war dead.  Continue reading

The Fireside Chats: Move along

fire-25743_1280When I was a junior in high school, and I had to begin my college application process, I only wanted two things: Catholic and Chicago. Or, at least, Chicago-ish.

For me, this meant applying to the University of St. Francis in Joliet, and to Loyola University Chicago. I got into both. I chose Loyola, because Chicago.

Some of my high school counselors and teachers were visibly disappointed with my choice. With my GPA, I could “aspire to more.” I could have done Notre Dame’s Great Books program. I could have gone to Harvard. I couldah been a contendah.

Instead–as I was told by a friend whose uncle worked at Loyola, and who therefore claimed to be in a position to know–I had chosen an athenaeum whose last entering class had an average ACT of 19. I wasn’t a 19. I was a 32. A 32 should act like a 32. This meant giving at least a nominal flail in the direction of the Ivies.

If I wanted to stay in the area, I should have picked Northwestern. So went some of the muttering. Or, perhaps, the University of Chicago. Such places were like the Ivy League. They’d help move you along in life. Nobody much knew where they’d move you to. But “moving along” was considered important.

Around the same time, my congressman came to my high school to give a speech. A bunch of local pols joined him onstage, gazing down at us teenagers. Hizzoner’s speech concerned a new south suburban airport.  Continue reading

As it was in the beginning

When I consider how I came to be Catholic, I must keep several things in mind: mixed marriages, Joseph Stalin, the Cold War, and the late-night burning of the VFW.

My grandmother was born on a farm in Soviet Ukraine in 1928. Her family belonged to the Orthodox Church. Stalin was in power, but some places of worship remained open.

Grandma remembered how, as a small child, she watched her much older brother get married in the church. She sat on a family member’s shoulders, looking over the heads of the crowd. She had a bird’s-eye view of the flaring candles and incense smoke, the processions and crowns, the icons of the saints, the robed and hatted priest.

That was her last childhood memory of religion. Stalin’s grip tightened. The village church in which her brother and sister-in-law had exchanged their vows became a barn. In it, animals ate at the trough and slept in the hay.

When the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, they took many people back to Germany who were not Jews. They included Grandma. The Nazis placed her with a German family as a household servant.  Continue reading