Sunday, October 27, 2013

Athens Church

It was one of those rare Sundays where I didn't have an afternoon Mass. So, after the 10:00 a.m. (and Confessions following), I got out of my clerical attire, donned a dress shirt and accompanied by one of our parishioners (a cradle Catholic who, like so many others, has been in the megachurch world) went out to the campus of Athens Church for "the 12" (the noon young adult/college oriented worship service).

Athens Church is a branch ("ministry partner"), if you will, of the highly successful North Point church operation in Atlanta, headed by Pastor Andy Stanley. As we know, tons of Catholics end up in evangelical megachurches such as North Point.

Athens Church is located in a shopping mall, off Atlanta Hwy, just outside the Athens Perimeter. Signs from the highway direct traffic to the parking lot, and several red-vested volunteers flag cars in. The building looks like, well, a shopping mall. It's painted an earthy brown color with red accents, and there's a simple metal sign that says "Athens Church."

Inside, there's music piped, folks milling around. There is a coffee bar, and areas off the main corridor where kids programs are held (the noon service does not provide these). There's an information booth. Everywhere there's friendly red-shirted volunteers smiling and greeting. There's computer stations where one could log into the church website (I didn't see anyone doing this, however). The auditorium itself is closed off with a "rehearsal in progress sign." The crowd is overwhelmingly young -- late teens, early twenties, maybe some older. Largely white, a few non-white faces scattered in. Just before noon the doors open and one files into the cavernous auditorium. The stage is lit with blue light. There are giant screens around it. We sit towards the back. It feels like being in a theater.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

When in Rome do as you done in Milledgeville

Flannery O'Connor's home (for the last fourteen years of her life), is about 90 minutes south of Athens. Last week, one of my oldest friends from SC came up for a visit, and we made a day trip to visit her digs. First, a stop in picturesque Madison (where I ended up buying something from an antique store!). I'd last been in Milledgeville in July, 2010.

In Milledgeville, some time at Sacred Heart parish, the Old Capitol Building, and of course Andalusia. I picked up a paperback collection of her fiction (which I actually don't own!), a good companion to my copy of "The Habit of Being" (the collection of her correspondence). We also visited her grave.

Sacred Heart Church, Milledgeville 
In 2008, UGA press published a delightful volume entitled "A Literary Guide to Flannery O'Connor's Georgia," which includes photos and descriptions of all the places associated with her life in Savannah and Milledgeville. I highly recommend it.

Other works that have been recommended to me, which I haven't gotten to yet: Flannery O'Connor and the Christ-Haunted South by Ralph C. Wood, and The Province of Joy: Praying with Flannery O'Connor.

At Andalusia, the docent told us that a new book of her prayer journals, or really, her "letters to God" was being released very soon. The Atlantic magazine has an article on this soon-to-be-released book, which mentions this new release:
This month FSG publishes A Prayer Journal, the contents of a devotional notebook that O’Connor—a turbocharged Catholic—kept from January 1946 to September 1947, while she was a student at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. It is a miraculous and rather terrifying document, both a blueprint for her fiction and a prophetic dreaming-out of her life’s purpose and pattern: letters to God, basically, from a woman in her early 20s who would later tell a correspondent that she was a Catholic, “not like someone else would be a Baptist or a Methodist, but like someone else would be an atheist.”

The Aquinas Center at Emory had a lecture back in September on Flannery O'Connor, presented by Ralph Woods. (Note to self, get on their email list!)
“I will seek to make the case that the enduring importance of Flannery O’Connor’s work derives, at least in part, from its profound kinship with the fiction and vision of Fyodor Dostoevsky, especially as the latter is exhibited in ‘The Brothers Karamazov,’” Wood says of the lecture. “The essence of this kinship, I will maintain, lies in their willingness to ask the hardest of questions and their refusal to give facile answers to them. This deep affinity, I will further argue, is found in the uncanny likeness between Flannery O’Connor’s remarkable 1952 self-portrait and the most famous of all Orthodox icons, the 6th century Christ Pantocrator from Mt. Sinai.”
2014 will be fifty years since the death of this remarkable writer and Southern Catholic icon. There will be, I'm sure, some academic conferences and other events to commemorate this. I do think the Archdiocese needs to also organize something as well.

A link to all the photos from the trip to Milledgeville, on Google+ 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

You and your baby are beautiful

This morning, I was out with our tireless pro-life prayer warriors at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Lawrenceville. Lawrenceville is some 40 miles west of Athens, at the edge of the metro Atlanta area. This is the nearest Planned Parenthood to us. There were other prayer warriors present from nearby parishes, and  a group from  two Baptist churches (who also had a megaphone).

During my time a the Mount, I'd been a few times to pray at the abortion mill in Hagerstown (and once down at the notorious mill in Germantown), which is located in the grungy, abandoned, downtown area of town. In Lawrenceville, the PP operation is in a strip mall, right on the Lawrenceville-Suwanee road, a high traffic thoroughfare. Next to it is a beauty salon, and just further along in the same strip, a Five Guys. Just another business you know. Get lunch, get your hair done, get an abortion. All part of the marketplace of choice in our enlightened, liberated society.

There is a small, steady trickle of folks going in. All but one are female. The free speech compromise here lets the protesters stand on the grassy embankment next to the road, but not enter the parking lot. So, there is no real option to have sidewalk counsellors stand near the entrance. The Baptists get their megaphone going -- the male preacher, well, preaching. When a car pulls up and a woman gets out, a lady gets on the mic and urges her to come and learn about alternatives choices, to not support a murderous establishment, if she is here get other health care. Most just ignore the protestors. One woman comes out and yells something angrily towards us as she gets into her SUV. The Baptists have had a run in with the police before. They were asked to turn down the volume of their megaphone. It's still quite audible, however. There is also regular honking of support from cars driving by. A periodic, audible, and welcome, sign of support.

One lady, however, parks close to the edge of the embankment. She gets out and looks at us. We smile and wave. She then walks over, to the lady with the megaphone, and they have a long chat. She then goes back to her car and drives off. Perhaps it's a save.

The Catholic group spends most of its time in prayer. We pray the Rosary and the Divine Mercy chaplet and liberally sprinkle the St. Michael prayer. It's a grey, dank, overcast and cold day, the temps hovering around 60 degrees. Some of the folks are seasoned prayer warriors. They've been doing this for years. Their dedication is heartening and inspiring.

We're in the middle of the 40 Days for Life campaign, which has had seen some spectacular stories. Most of the time, however, it is just quiet dedication. And prayer. Nothing seems to happen. The mill churns away.

I recall a conversation with a parishioner after Mass a few years ago, during one of my summer parish assignments as a seminarian. "Father" (It was always pointless to keep explaining that I was not yet a priest), "why doesn't Jesus do something about abortion? He can just end it, can't He?" This led to a discussion of the problem of evil. Jesus does do something. He did, on the Cross. He is active now, especially in His body, the Church.

And no matter the weather, the numbers, the anger and opposition of others (even within the Church!), the Body of Christ will continue to show up. To pray. To offer alternatives. To witness. To love.

You and your baby are beautiful.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The affinity between man and God

Mothers' breasts are sometimes so full that they must offer them to some child, and though the child takes the breast with great avidity, the nurse offers it still more eagerly, the child pressed by its necessity, and the mother by her abundance.
St. Francis of Sales. Treatise on the Love of God (Chapter XV, "Of the affinity there is between God and man").  Kindle Edition.

The context is the divine eagerness to communicate Its goodness to mankind, and the poverty of man who needs God's grace. This is the affinity between man and God, writes this saintly doctor of the Church -- the one with a void that the other is only too eager to fill. Like a mother breast feeding her child.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Bishop Elect Cozzens' talk at Mount St. Mary's in 2013

Today, I woke up to some great news: Fr. Andrew Cozzens, priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, was named by His Holiness, Pope Francis, as a new Auxiliary Bishop for his Archdiocese. 

Bishop-Elect Cozzens is one of the founders of the priestly fraternity The Companions of Christ. Their charism and life have influenced me tremendously, and I strive, to the best of my ability, to follow their ideals. One of my best friends from the Mount left his home diocese to move to the Twin Cities and join the Companions. He was recently ordained a Deacon for that Church. I've had the privilege of hanging out with Bishop-Elect Cozzens on various visits to the Twin Cities.

Last year, while I was in my last year of formation at the Mount, we were privileged to hear a talk by then Fr. Cozzens as part of a symposium for the Year of Faith. The title of the talk is "Presbyterorum Ordinis: The Call of the Priest to Live the Total Self-Gift of Christ's Pastoral Charity." It is a summary of Fr. Cozzens' doctoral thesis on the evangelical counsels and the priesthood. 

I cannot find a copy of the talk on the Mount's website. I hope they put it up soon -- in the meanwhile, I've uploaded the sound file to Sound Cloud. This is one of the best talks on the priesthood that I have heard. Word to the wise: It is an academic talk, not a popular one, and is about 50 minutes long. 

What a great gift to the Church the Holy Father has given us today! Bishop-Elect Cozzens: ad multos annos! 

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Fr. Kevin Kayda, 1985-2013

Photo of Fr. Kevin on a bulletin board in a hallway at the Mount
I am writing this in a car full of priests, on the long slog on I-81 through Virginia. There is lighthearted banter interspersed with periods of reflective silence. Each of us stares at his electronic device, or watches a show on the iPad. We pray the Divine Office together as the hours roll by. On the trip up on Monday, we talked and laughed most of the way, enjoying each other’s company. We hadn’t seen each other in a while. Things are a little more somber today.

Last Thursday, our classmate, friend and brother priest, Fr. Kevin Kayda, died unexpectedly, just over a month shy of his 28th birthday. I was having dinner when the email from the Rector of the seminary popped up on the phone, and I stared at the screen in disbelief. There followed a flurry of phone calls and text messages with my classmates across the country. Shock, disbelief, speculation. What happened?

Services were planned for the following Monday evening and Tuesday afternoon at Fr. Kevin’s home parish, St. Patrick’s, in Carlisle, PA. We were on the horn sharing travel plans, coordinating rides. Two of us suggested that we all gather at the Mount, about 50 minutes away from Carlisle. “It will be good for all of us to be together.” It seemed natural to go back to our Mountain home.

On Saturday we got the official notice, that Fr. Kevin had taken his own life. It was like a sucker punch to the gut, even though some of us had suspected this.