Thursday, June 30, 2022

THE BENEFITS OF PRIEST RETIREMENT - NUMBER THIRTEEN



ON MAKING THE MOST OF THE TIME YOU HAVE
 

Dylan Thomas
"Do not go gentle into that good night"
1951


"Do not go gentle into that good night" is one of Thomas' most famous poems, and in fact, might be one of the most famous poems of the 20th century. He composed it when he was traveling with his wife and children in Italy in 1947, and it was published as part of his 1952 poetry collection, In Country Sleep, And Other Poems.

Here's the full text of the poem:
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


(If you understand things better by hearing them rather than reading them, you can actually listen to Dylan Thomas read the poem himself!)

The Background Behind the Poem
Thomas wrote "Do not go gentle into that good night" during a very specific moment in Dylan Thomas' life. His father, David John Thomas, had first introduced him to the wonder of language by reading him Shakespeare before bed at night. Thomas' father was a grammar school teacher, but he had always wanted to be a poet but was never able to realize his dream.

Some experts suggest that Thomas was inspired to write "Do not go gentle into that good night" because his father was dying (though his father didn't pass away until Christmas of 1952).

In a twist of fate, Thomas' poem about death would be one of the last poems he would write before his own untimely demise the following year.

"Do not go gentle into that good night" Meaning

At its heart, "Do not go gentle into that good night" is a poem about death. The narrator of the poem is experiencing the death of his father, which we see in the last group of lines. Witnessing the death of his father makes the speaker think about death in a more general way. The first five stanzas focus on different types of men, and the speaker thinks about how they will have to face death one day, too.

In the end, the speaker realizes that death cannot be avoided, but it can be challenged. When he tells readers to "not go gentle into that good night" and "rage against the dying of the light," he's telling them to not accept death passively. Instead, he tells people that the last thing a dying person gets to choose is how he faces death. For Thomas, struggling against death is both a valiant—and a human—reaction.

Once you understand what's happening in the poem, you can start to get a better handle on what "Do not go gentle into that good night" means.

Theme 1: The Unstoppable Nature of Death

Like we mentioned earlier, "Do not go gentle into that good night" comes out of Thomas' experience watching his father pass away. As a result, the poem's primary purpose is to think about death—or more to the point, to think about dying. In many ways, this is also a poem about man's last mortal act, which is passing away.

Given this, Thomas' poem is often taught as a grieving man's anger at death, which has come to take his father away. The phrase "good night" refers to death—where "good night" references both how we say goodbye to people and how a dying person slips into a final sleep that they never wake up from.

But more specifically, Thomas' poem tells people to "not go gentle" into death. Here, the word "gentle" means "docile," or passive and without resistance. in other words, Thomas tells readers they should not accept death passively, but instead should fight (or "rage") against it ("the dying of the light").

But why is this, exactly? Why fight against death instead of slipping away peacefully?

For Thomas, the best way is to face death with strength and power, like the "wild" heroes of old. In his poem, Thomas argues that this allows dying people to embrace the fiery energy of life one last time, and in many ways, serves as a small way to triumph something they have no control over in the end. Put another way: if you can't avoid dying, it's better to go down fighting than to not fight at all!

It's important to note that although Thomas tells readers to struggle against death, this isn't a poem about triumphing over death. The end result of fighting death isn't victory. The people in the poem don't cheat death in order to live another day. The truth is that the people Thomas mentions are dying—and they will die no matter what.

Thus, "Do not go gentle into that good night" focuses on a person's literal final choice: not whether or not to die, but how they will face the inevitable.

Theme 2: The Power of Life

In "Do not go gentle into that good night," Thomas creates tension between death—which he speaks about symbolically through images of night and darkness—and life, which he represents through images of light. For example, take a look at the second line of the poem. When Thomas says "close of day," he's referencing death. But he also says that people should "burn" against it—and as we all know, things that are burning produce light!

The act of putting two unlike things, like light and dark, in close proximity to one another is called juxtaposition In this poem, the juxtaposition emphasizes the contrast between life and death. If death is dark and inevitable, then the juxtaposition helps readers see that life is powerful and full of energy.

Let's take a closer look at lines seven and eight to get a better understanding of how this works. The lines read, "Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright/Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay." There are two instances of light imagery in these lines: "bright" and "green bay" (water often appears to be green or blue on a sunny day). These words help describe the "good" man's life, which is full of light and energy. After all, even though his deeds are "frail"—which means "minor" or "insignificant" in this instance—they still might have "danced." In this passage, we can see how the living are full of a vital, powerful energy. Through this, Thomas tells readers that the true tragedy of aging and death is that it takes away the vitality of life.

Theme 3: The Limit of Time

The speaker of Dylan Thomas' "Do not go gentle into that good night" is an anonymous narrator whose father is dying, and he represents anyone who's ever lost a loved one.

But the speaker isn't the only character in "Do not go gentle into that good night." Each stanza of the poem features a different person at the end of his life: the "wise" man in stanza two, the "good" man in stanza three, the "wild" man in stanza four, the "grave" man in stanza five, and Thomas' own father in stanza six.

In each stanza, the type of man mentioned is looking back at his life. He's reflecting on what he did—and what he didn't do. In most of the stanzas, the men express regret at what they didn't do. For example, the wise man worries that his "words had forked no lightning." In other words, the wise man—a teacher, scholar, or some other educated person—worries that his ideas will not live on. Each of the characters in this poem, in his own unique way, regrets the things he left undone.

Thomas includes the idea of regret in his poem to show readers how short life truly is. When we are young, we have grand plans for everything we want to do, and we feel like we have all the time in the world to accomplish our goals. But Thomas argues that time goes by quickly. Too often, we "grieve" time "on its way," which is Thomas' way of saying that people often want for time to move faster. But if we do that, we miss out on the opportunities of life. Instead, Thomas is telling readers in a roundabout way that it's important to seize the day. Time is short and death waits for us all, so Thomas reminds readers to embrace life rather than let it pass them by.



Here's another poem by Robert Herrick (1591-1674) on the same subject.

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he's a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he's to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry. 






 





Tuesday, June 28, 2022

"GRANDMA'S LACE"

OH, YEAH! THIS WILL BRING 'EM BACK TO CHURCH FOR SURE!!! 

Thank you, Pope Francis, for "calling out" those involved in the revival of this totally embarrassing trend! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

Their response to Pope Francis will, no doubt, be totally vicious! 


ROME – Pope Francis told a group of priests that he doesn’t want to see “grandma’s lace” when Mass is celebrated, saying that although “paying homage” to grandmothers is good, “it is better to celebrate the Holy Mother Church.”

Speaking to the priests and bishops of the Italian island of Sicily, known for its natural beauty but also for being a place where mafia dons have long appropriated both the symbols of Catholicism and ties to ecclesiastical elites to reinforce a grip on power, Francis asked about how the Second Vatican Council had been embraced by the local church.

It is something that “worries me quite a bit,” he said.

“Popular piety is a great treasure, and we must guard it, accompany it so that it is not lost,” he said. “Also educate it,” and “free it from all superstitious gestures and take the substance it has inside.”

This is particularly relevant on this island, often described as its own country, since examples of popular piety intertwined with organized crime abound. For instance, in June 2016, in the Sicilian town of Corleone – the town’s name was used for the fictional mafia family in The Godfather – a procession carrying a statue of St. John the Evangelist took a detour to the house of Salvatore Riina, a former mafia lord also know as u capu di ‘i capi (the boss of bosses) and la bestia (the beast), due to his murderous rampage in the 1990s.

Even though Riina was not home – he has been serving a life sentence in prison since 1993 – the procession stopped and made the saint “kneel” before his home in a dramatic show of respect.

Still talking about the Second Vatican Council, Francis asked the priests about the liturgy. Prefacing the question with an “I don’t know” the law of the land because he doesn’t attend Mass in Sicily, he reminded priests that homilies are supposed to be short – not more than eight minutes – and provide people with substance: A thought, a feeling, or an image they can carry with themselves throughout the week.

Then, saying that he has “seen pictures,” he regretted the fact that priests still wear vestments with lace: “Where are we? Sixty years after the Council! Some updating [is needed] even in liturgical art, in liturgical ‘fashion’!”

“Yes, sometimes bringing some of Grandma’s lace goes, but sometimes,” Francis told the priests. “It’s to pay homage to grandma, right? It’s good to pay homage to grandma, but it’s better to celebrate the mother, the holy mother Church, and to do so how Mother Church wants to be celebrated.”

The pontiff also spoke more broadly about the situation of both society and the church in Sicily, saying that the “changing era” presents challenges that strain social and affective ties.

“We witness in Sicily behaviors and gestures marked by great virtues as well as cruel heinousness,” he said. “Alongside masterpieces of extraordinary artistic beauty, we see scenes of mortifying neglect. And equally, in the face of men and women of great culture, many children and young people evade school, remaining cut off from a decent human life.”

Sicilian everyday life takes on strong hues, he said, with the intense colors of the flowers, fields and sea shining through the strength of the sun’s radiance: “It is no accident that so much blood has been shed at the hands of the violent but also at the humble and heroic resistance of the saints and the just, servants of the church and the state.”

As Francis noted, the island is suffering from depopulation, due both to the decline in births and the massive emigration of young people. Mistrust in institutions reaches high levels and the dysfunction of services burdens the performance of daily practices, “despite the efforts of good and honest people who would like to engage and change the system,” he said.

The church, Francis said, is not immune to the change of epoch, reflected in the decline in vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life, as well as a growing detachment of young people who struggle to find support in parishes in their search for the meaning of life. And sometimes, they also struggle to perceive in the church “the clear distancing from old, erroneous and even immoral ways of acting in order to take decisively the path of justice and honesty.”

Acknowledging that he had received files on priests and church people who have followed a “path of injustice and dishonesty,” Francis also pointed out that both in the past and in the present Sicily has seen no shortage of “priests and faithful who fully embrace the fate of the Sicilian people,” such as Blessed Father Pino Puglisi and Judge Rosario Livatino, both violently murdered by the mafia.

“People still look to priests as spiritual and moral guides, people who can also help improve the civil and social life of the island, support the family and be a reference for growing young people,” he said. “High and demanding is the Sicilian people’s expectation of priests. Please do not stay in the middle of the road!”

Sunday, June 26, 2022

WHAT ABOUT JUST FRYING THOSE AWFUL HEATHENS?


GIVEN AT 
Saint Leonard Church, Saturday 4:00 pm
Saint Francis of Rome Church, Sunday 11:30 am 

On the way they entered a Samaritan village, but the people there would not welcome Jesus
because his destination was Jerusalem. When James and John saw this they asked, “Lord,
do you want us to call down fire from heaven to burn them up?” Jesus turned and
rebuked them.
Luke 9:51-62

Basically, what we have here is a message about pettiness and jealousy in church ministry that has been around since the beginning and can still cripple the church's ministry, making it less effective. I call that pettiness and jealousy "turf wars."

Competitiveness and jealousy have been the dark side of church culture for a very long time and it is certainly alive and well today. When the competitive apostles, James and John, were caught making a power grab for the best seats in Jesus’ new kingdom, they had to face the jealous indignation of the other ten apostles, not to mention a stern reprimand from Jesus. 

Today, we have the story about James and John who suggested a response to being snubbed by some Samaritans who hated Jews and vice versa. For their snub, James and John suggested to Jesus that they "call down fire from heaven" and roast them on the spot! In the passage right before this, John had suggested to Jesus that they put a stop to a man who was casting out demons in Jesus’ name because he was not "part of their group." In both cases, Jesus had to correct them for their mean responses.
 
As a 78 year old man, raised in a pre-Vatican II Church and as a priest ministering for 52 years in a post-Vatican II Church, I have seen my share of this kind of religious competitiveness and jealousy throughout my life-time. I can say proudly that I have never been inclined to join in that meanness. In fact, I have tried my best to put a stop to it when I have experienced it! 

I have worked for the United Church of Christ as a campground minister in a national park. I have a Doctor of Ministry degree in "Parish Revitalization" from a Presbyterian Seminary. I received an award from the National Conference of Christian and Jews. I have helped start two Interfaith organizations - IF and CHF. I have preached in several Protestant churches. I have attended services with Jews, Quakers and Moslems. I have tried to see beauty in other religions and I have even tried to understand the perspectives of agnostics and atheists, all while remaining a committed Catholic who can see weaknesses in my own religion. 

In my own defense, I would like to begin my homily today with a quote from the famous English writer, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald, who said that, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” Let me repeat that. “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”

I would not dare claim to be “a first-rate intelligence,” but I have always tried to “hold opposed ideas in my mind at the same time and still function." Let me give you an example. When it comes to religion, I would describe myself as “consciously Christian, deliberately Catholic and unapologetically ecumenical and inter-faith.” Let me repeat that as well. When it comes to religion, I would describe myself as “consciously Christian, deliberately Catholic and unapologetically ecumenical and inter-faith.” In other words, I am able to remain a committed Catholic while at the same time see much of the good in those who have a different religious commitment or none at all.

I can “hold two opposed religious ideas in my mind at the same time and still function,” not because I am a “first rate intelligence” or uniquely “open minded,” but because my church has taught me to do that! Let me summarize what my church teaches about relations with other religions. To make sure I am orthodox, I will quote from official documents not just give you my own opinion. One thing will not surprise you, but some things will surprise you.

Our church is able to ‘hold opposed religious ideas in its mind at the same time and still be true to itself.’ What will not surprise you is that our church claims to have “been endowed with all divinely revealed truth and with all means of grace,” but what will surprise many of you is that she also admits that, “her members fail to live by them with all the fervor they should. As a result, the radiance of the Church’s face shines less brightly in the eyes of our separated brothers and sisters and of the world at large, and the growth of God’s kingdom is retarded.” On other words, we have high standards but we don't always live up to them and the world knows it! 

What will surprise many of you is that our church considers Protestants to be part of our church. We refer to Protestants as “our separated brothers and sisters.” Because we consider them part of the church, we are forbidden to re-baptize any one coming into full communion with us – in other words converting to Catholicism from a Protestant church -  because we consider them already members of the church because of their baptisms. We accept not only their valid baptisms, but also their valid marriages.

What will surprise some of you is that our church teaches that “Catholics must joyfully acknowledge and esteem the truly Christian endowments from our common heritage which are to be found among our separated brother and sisters.” “Nor should we forget that whatever is wrought by the grace of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of our separated brothers and sisters can contribute to our own edification.” Yes, we are told that we can actually learn something from our "separated brothers and sisters!"

What will surprise some of you is what our church said about our past divisions, our sins against unity and our lack of respect for each other’s churches. “We must come to understand the outlook of our separated brothers and sisters. Study is absolutely required for this.” One of the most mind-blowing statements from the Vatican II documents is the one that asks forgiveness for the times we have wanted to "call down fire from heaven and burn up" each other. “In humble prayer, we beg pardon of God and of our separated brothers and sisters, just as we forgive those who trespass against us. Let all Christ’s faithful remember that the more purely they strive to live according to the gospel, the more they are fostering and even practicing Christian unity.”

What will surprise some of you is our church’s attitude toward non-Christian religions. Here is some of what our Church officially says about them. “Other religions, to be found everywhere, strive to answer the restless searchings of the human heart by proposing “ways” which consist of teachings, rules of life and sacred ceremonies. The Catholic Church rejects nothing which is true and holy in these religions. She looks with sincere respect on those ways of conduct and of life, those rules and teachings which, though differing in many particulars from what she holds, nevertheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all people.” 

How have I personally lived out my ability to “hold two opposed religious ideas in my mind at the same time and still function?” I can say, before starting, that my associations with “opposed religious ideas” has not weakened my own faith, but has made me more consciously Christian, more deliberately Catholic and more unapologetically ecumenical and interfaith. I can not only “keep functioning,” but my association with them has certainly “contributed to my own edification.”

Religious competitiveness and jealousy, something that Jesus rebuked in today's gospel, simply must end. The world is just too dangerous today for religious groups to be fighting each other. We need to work together to lift the world to a higher standard. We can find a way to be true to our own sincere beliefs while respecting the sincere beliefs of others and without "calling down fire from heaven to burn them up!" We can do that by "holding two opposed ideas in our minds at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” I know from personal experience that one can be “consciously Christian, deliberately Catholic and (at the same time) unapologetically ecumenical and inter-faith!" Even agnostics and atheists have a better chance at conversion if we love and respect them rather than piling on arrogance and harsh rejection.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

LOVING GOD BACK WITH YOUR WHOLE HEART

IN HONOR OF THE FEAST OF THE SACRED HEART
"Love one another as I have loved you!" 
John 13:34

GIVEN TO THE SEMINARIANS AT
ST. AUGUSTINE SEMINARY
Toronto, Canada
October 26, 2014
Rev. Ronald Knott


You shall love God with all your heart, all your soul,
all your mind and your neighbor as yourself. The
whole law depends on these.
Matthew 22:34-40 

We have been reading about the battle between Jesus and the religious teachers of his day. Since Jesus was very popular among the ordinary people on the streets, these religious leaders could not attack him directly so they resorted to trying to trap him in his speech so that they could have something to accuse him of should there be a heresy or sedition trial.

Last week, they thought that they had Jesus cornered. First, they schmoozed him with false flattery to get him to open up. “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.” They then asked him whether it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not. They thought they had boxed in with a clever “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” dilemma. If he said “yes it is lawful” he would offend and lose his followers who hated Caesar and his taxes, but if he said “no it is not lawful” then the Roman government would come after him for sedition.   Jesus outsmarted their trickery by answering, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s!”  

Today they are back for another try. The trick question today is “what is the greatest commandment?” They knew that scripture scholars could not agree on this so they thought they could discredit him with somebody no matter what answer he gave. Again, Jesus outsmarted them by placing the love of God and love of neighboring on the same plane - making them equal - rather than prioritizing them as they requested.     

Love God with all my heart, soul mind and strength? Love my neighbor as myself? You mean I am supposed to make God and others the most important considerations in my life, even more than myself? Most of us, to be honest, can’t say that God is that important to us, much less those around us!

I would love to be able to say that God is always at the center my life, and that I love all people all the time but sadly I quite often put myself and other things ahead of God and the needs of others. Some days I do better than others but, thankfully, God is very patient with me and loves me anyway.  I have always taken comfort in knowing that my best is good enough for God.

Today, I want to say a few more words about taking these two commandments seriously. None of us will ever measure up completely to the Great Commandment – the one that summarizes all other commandments - but this is the brass ring for which we all reach. To take God seriously, to seek to love him and others with all we have, there are things we must do. 

1.     We must want what God wants. To be able to even want what God wants, means we have to understand the Scriptures, listen to the Spirit within us and stay consciously connected to God through prayer.

2.     We must remember who we are. We are holy. We are holy, not because of what we have done, but because we are “created in the image and likeness of God” and, through our baptism, we are adopted children of God. We must accept our holiness, neither exaggerating who we are nor denying who we really are!

3.     We must want to live by the same values Jesus lived by: having a loving kindness toward all, especially the most weak and vulnerable, even our enemies; striving to do God’s will no matter the consequences; using Jesus’ own life as a pattern for our own.

4.     We must be in command of ourselves, have a handle on our addictions and our passions, so that we can go in the way that God wants us to go. We must constantly question our own motives, making sure that we not only do the right thing, but also do it for the right reason.

5.     We must never give into hopelessness, whether it is about the future or about other people because we know that the war against evil has been already been won, even though we may continue to lose many painful battles. God’s kingdom will come and nothing we do, not even the gates of hell, can stop it.

6.     Regardless of our failures, loving God and each other with our whole heart, soul, and mind is something we should strive for, even though it is something we will never accomplish completely. God wants a relationship with us, even if it is rocky and imperfect. 

Today, we are challenged to get serious about God, not in some loud, noisy and superficial way, but in a long haul and to the core-of-one’s-being kind of way. Loving God and one’s neighbors with all our hearts, souls and minds does not translate into noisy religious fanaticism, but into a subtle way of living that draws people attention away from ourselves and places it on God and those around us. That is the spirit of these two commandments and that is what the spirit of the whole law is all about!   How can we possible do all this? With God’s help! Let us now go to this table to be fed and strengthened on the Body and Blood of Christ! With God’s help all things are possible!