Friday, October 28, 2011

The New Translation of the Eucharistic Prayer: For Many

If you've read my column at all over the last year or so you know I have little patience for the change in the eucharistic prayer from "for all" to "for many".

And if you're wondering what the heck I'm talking about, it's during the prayer over the cup:
Take this, all of you, and drink from it.
This is my blood, given up for you and for all
so that sins may be forgiven. 
The reason they're changing it: the New Testament text from which it's taken literally says "for many", not "for all".  So, it's a correction.

The problem is, it sounds like we're suddenly rolling back God's plan of salvation. You know how we used to say God loves everybody, is interested in everybody, regardless of what they believe or ever did or what not?  Well, now we're thinking, not so much. He'd settle with a good 30-50%.

Some are arguing that the point of the prayer is actually not God's love but people's receptivity. God came for many and not all because some choose to reject him. And hey, I love a good dose of Catholic guilt and recrimination as much as the next guy. But that's never what "the many" was all about.

So, Fr. Kvetching, what was the point of "the many", you ask? Well, I happened to be in conversation with my liturgy buddies, and they explained that Jesus used the phrase to make clear how expansive was God's circle of interest. Read his words again: Take this, all of you -- i.e. you all gathered here with me at the Last Supper -- and drink of it. This is my blood, given up for you -- again, you all here -- and for many -- that is, for many others who are not here.

"Many" isn't something that limits who this supper is for, but enlarges. Which is why in the 50s and 60s they came to translate it "for all" in the first place.  One of my buddies said the proper translation is "so many more"; the other said it's "the multitudes" (which by the way is the French translation). Either makes clear the broadening sense of "many".

And herein is a real challenge of the new translation. It intends to be very, very literal -- that is, in most respects it avoids any attempt to shift the language of the Latin prayers into our own English, American terms. There's arguments to be made in favor of that approach, many of which I've presented in the past. But one downside is, at times it lacks the nuances that would actually have been clear to the original audience. And now presiders and liturgists and others are going to have to keep explaining that original sense to people, or paradoxically the literal meaning of the words will be lost.

Maybe this sounds like mountains made from mole hills. It's not. We are formed by the rites we practice. Having a fundamental portion of a rite seeming to suggest that God is not interested in all of us  will impact how we think and act as a people down the line. And not for the better.

So I'm going to try to hold onto what I know to be true. This blood, given up for you, and for so many more.

One of my favorite cartoons ever. Note the little space next to Jesus: "A Place For You". 
That's what we're talking about here. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The New Roman Missal: Here It Comes

So, in about a month the English-speaking Catholic Church will finally take on the new translation of its sacramental prayers. It's hard to get away from talk about it, at least in Jesuit community, and in some ways I'm be glad to just get started with the whole thing, as the waiting only adds fuel to people's anxieties.

I've written about the new rite in some detail in this blog already, and if I'm being honest, I have to admit my comments have been seasoned at times with a light coat of kvetching.  I hope I've been fair to the new translation, I've certainly tried to be, but there are certainly subjects for concern, as well, not least the woefully complicated translations of some of the eucharistic prayers.

But in the last few weeks I've had great conversations on the changes with two of my favorite liturgists.  Each of them had some really cool insights into the new translation that I want to share today and Friday.

Liturgist 1 had been looking into the new final blessings. There's a couple you already know: "Go forth in peace"(which sort of sounds like "Go back to sleep"); and "Go forth, the mass is ended" (which he described as another way of saying, "It's okay for you to leave now".)

And then there are two new options. "Go forth and proclaim what you have heard here", and "Go forth to glorify the Lord with your lives."

Aren't those nice?

Both blessings make it clear, you're being sent. The end of Mass is not like the end of a bowling match or a TV show, where you sort of wipe your hands of what's gone on and move on. At the end of Mass we're meant to see ourselves as propelled out into the world to continue the mission of Jesus.

What makes the latter especially interesting is its sense that our lives are themselves our evangelization, they are the words that we use to express that reckless, extravagant love of God that we have experienced for ourselves.

At the start of the Gospel of John Jesus is called the Word. And that's confusing, because Jesus is not a verb (no matter what we read on a 60s macrame wall hanging).  He's a three-dimensional person. But John's point is that it is only through a human being in all its complexity that God can most fully express his love for us. In all his words and actions, Jesus is what God says to us.

That final final blessing (if you will) draws that idea forward to us.  We follow in Jesus' footsteps. He is our brother. And so we, too, are through our very lives God's loving words.

Which if you think about it, makes our our choices much more important (and intimidating!).

Great stuff, no?

I don't want anyone to panic about the new translation. I really don't. 
I'm just entertained by pictures of people hollering. 

Friday: Liturgist 2, on the "For the many" prayer.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Truly, Madly, Deeply

Heard a great story at Mass today.  A class on confessions for guys studying to be priests. The guy is given a situation -- a woman who has been in an adulterous relationship with a married man.  She's repented and is coming to confession for absolution.

The priest-in-training -- the PIT, if you will -- hears her confession.  And then he says this: "Do you have any idea how madly God is in love with you?"

That question might be something for each of us to sit with this week.  Do you have any idea how madly God is in love with you?  

Friday, October 21, 2011

Changing Lanes

I was driving down the freeway yesterday, trying to get in the lane I needed.  And I was just about to hit the gas when I realized, if I'd just slow down instead it would all go much easier.  

Might be more a tweet than a blog post, but seems like there's some wisdom for life in there.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

It's Just An Illusion

First of all -- did you read my Monday post about the Dragon Mom? If you didn't, scroll down right now and read it.  I didn't write it, and it's truly life changing stuff.

Moving on: I think I mentioned a few weeks ago that I've been slowly working my way through "Awareness", a book by Tony DeMello, SJ. It's slow going, and for the best of reasons -- each page has so much stuff to ponder, anytime I start to move too quickly I feel like I'm missing the best stuff.  I actually find it a nice way to pray some mornings; I center myself listening to the breeze, and then I read a page or two and sit with whatever it stirs in me.

So yesterday I was in a section entitled "Our Illusion About Others".  Here's the jist of it -- You know how sometimes people disappoint you? Well, DeMello says, take a look at yourself.  Are you perfect? Do you have it together? Did you manage to get through the day without any sort of sin? How about half the day? How about the time it takes to drink your cup of coffee?

If you didn't do so well, why would you expect anyone else will be any different?

Sit with that question for a minute and it will change your life.  Really.


DeMello's point isn't self-fingerwagging -- Bad me! Bad me! He's trying to snap us out of a habit of mind that leads to all sorts of unnecessary (in fact silly) unhappiness.  Think of the energy you waste on being disappointed. Seriously, I could power the Christmas lights of Los Angeles year round with it.  Then add the disappointments that aren't day to day, you know, like when you run into someone you haven't seen in 10 years, and there's old history there that you can't even remember, but you know they hurt you, so all of a sudden you're disappointed in/mad at them again.

Or even better -- I love it when I do this -- someone simply mentions the name of someone that you haven't thought about in years, but who disappointed you, and you feel that TWANG of resentment again.  I mean, how many kinds of crazy is that?

I've tried many times to address these situations in what looks like the direct manner -- that is, to ask God to help me forgive them.  Not a bad tack. But DeMello's approach instead turns the camera on me. And oy, does that disrupt the judgments.

And oy, does it allow us all to be a little less uptight, a little less counting the costs, and a lot more free.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Love and the Dragon Mom

Emily and her son Ronan

The Sunday edition of the New York Times yesterday had a remarkable article by Emily Rapp, a writer raising an infant son that she knows will die before he reaches the age of 3. It's an astonishing, understated piece about the value of life and the experience of being a parent to a dying child.  "This is a love story," she writes, "and like all great love stories, it is a story of loss."  

Please, take a look.  

Friday, October 14, 2011

Last Shots from Occupy Wall Street

I realize this can look a little aggressive (ya think?), but I like it because it captures well the frustration people feel.  


Thursday, October 13, 2011

More Shots from Occupy Wall Street

One of the most interesting thing at Occupy Wall Street are the hundreds of cardboard box tops that have been taken up by pretty much anyone who wants with their thoughts and quotes. Passersby walk slowly through the area, reading all the signs, and sometimes adding their own.  Some people sit there holding signs, too. One lady's read: "I walk dogs for a living, and they have more health insurance than I do."

I was very struck by that quote in the center, not only because it's from Jefferson and seems so prescient to our struggles in recent years, but because some of the very bankers whose institutions have proven so destructive continue to take huge salaries, rake in huge profits for their business often at the expense of their consumers, and speak out so strongly against banking reform. In what other industry, I wonder, can you rip people off so fundamentally and be rewarded for it? The mob and political spin doctors are the only other professions I could come up with...

One of the other things I love about the stuff at Occupy Wall Street is its willingness to look beyond politics to the bigger human questions, as well. There's so much pressure to conform and to take jobs that are safe, to become cogs in the system. But I always think of the end of Mary Oliver's poem "The Summer Day": "Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do/with your one wild and precious life?"

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Occupy Wall Street -- Visiting the Protest

Last weekend I had a wedding outside of Manhattan. I was lucky enough to get one day before the wedding in the city.  And one of the guys I was staying with kept talking about these protests at Wall Street -- which, I am embarrassed to admit, I knew nothing about. (It never ceases to amaze me just how small I can allow my world to get!)

So, before heading off to this wedding I took a wander down to the site where the core group is staying. It's just a little park pretty much in the shadow of the new World Trade Center building.  You could walk its circumference in maybe 5 minutes -- really, it's that small. Far tinier around than a city block. 

And upon arriving I can't say I knew what to do with the whole thing. It really looked like a bunch of homeless kids who had camped out. There are sleeping bags, food and trash sort of all over the place, and a lot of grungy looking people playing music or sitting around chatting. 

The thing is, the longer I stayed there, reading the signs protestors had written on cardboard and laid on the sidewalk, the more I felt again my own frustrations -- the rampant profiteering of the banks in the midst of a crisis they had caused; the lack of adequate financial oversight even now; wealthy people who don't want to pay taxes; corrupt politicians, lobbyists, etc. And I thought of that line from Network: "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it." 

That's where I think a lot of us are.  It's not really different than the engine behind the Tea Party; it's just that rather than place the blame on big government, these new protestors -- who call themselves "the 99%" -- cast their attention first not upon the government but upon the banking system and rich elite. And as chaotic and sort of commune-like as the whole thing feels, there's something really good and positive going on down there.  If you live in New York, or anywhere that they're doing protests (they're in many places in the US and even abroad now), I highly recommend spending an hour with them. You'll meet nice people from literally very walk of life, and you'll find your own perspective challenged, as well. 

Over the next few days I'm going to post some of my photos from down there.  May they feed your own passion for a better country. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Dream Big

The death of Steve Jobs... such a big and unusual loss. Jobs wasn't involved in geopolitics, wasn't a Nobel Prize Winner or rock star, and yet he was a global figure, probably the biggest global figure other than Obama, the Pope and a couple celebrities. As a number of writers have pointed out since he stepped down last month, he never got involved with outside causes, never promised to donate his money to help the world like Bill Gates or Warren Buffett. But his business was borne out of his vision for a better world, and had an enormous impact on many different aspects of our world, from the way we buy music to the way we imagine technology in our everyday lives, even the degree to which we do imagine.

That's I think what I want to take away from Jobs -- that we should dream big. Rather than just living in the world like rats in a maze, we should imagine how the world might be if it could be any way we want, imagine how we'd like to see it, and chase after that, make that our lives' work.  No matter whether in the realm of tech or politics or religion or family, we are not just passive recipients of others' genius. We each have the opportunity to be explorers and inventors ourselves.  

"We don't get a chance to do many things, and every one should be really excellent.  Because this is our life." 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Chasing the Wind

One of the things you do in the preliminary stages of writing a major work of any kind is outline.  I know, one hears stories of a Stephen King sitting down with a wild hair one Sunday night and "just seeing where we go", or the writer who wrote his film a weekend. (I think "Little Miss Sunshine" has a story like that, in fact.) But whether any writers actually can kick out the Lord of the Rings without a roadmap, most screenwriters don't. We spend days upon days, weeks upon weeks, months upon months trying to get the story right, start to finish.

And as I was working on my outline today, I discovered something : each successive outline is like the work of another generation of explorers, providing greater clarity and definition to the world, yet also provoking new questions, too, demanding deeper and deeper layers of detail.  It can be a bit of a funhouse mirror experience, actually, or a trip down Alice's rabbit hole, each new answer opening up into further questions.

It makes me think, maybe the most foolish errand is the pursuit of finality. There's a reason we don't find finish lines much in the wild, and that's because they're artificial, they're humanly created. If I clean out my inbox today -- a quest I have pursued many times -- the satisfaction lasts only until the next email, the next invoice. I can clear away my piles of books, dust off my desk -- but without fail, they will creep back.

Which is not to say, let's all live like slobs! (I've seen that movie; it doesn't end well -- or smell well.) It's more about deciding to do what we do because it has some meaning for us, rather than because we believe it will somehow free us up in a more than temporary sense.  It just won't.

I can look at my outlining and say, now I'm done and be disappointed.  Or I can say I'm in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, on a journey, and each new outline is an opportunity for discovery that much deeper. And suddenly it's not a race, it's an adventure.  

Monday, October 3, 2011


I've been reading this great book by Tony De Mello, S.J., Awareness. It's basically a retreat he used to give. It's actually hard to get through, not because it's too complicated but because it's so incredibly rich. It's the kind of book you read a page and think, whoa, I need to sit with that.

I came across a stop the presses idea like that last week. He was talking about faith and belief.
An openness to the truth, no matter what the consequences, no matter where it leads you and when you don't even know where it's going to lead you. That's faith. Not belief, but faith.  Your beliefs give you a lot of security, but faith is insecurity. 
It seems to me, one legitimate way in which we can form our identities is by way of what we hold on to, what we claim is true.

De Mello's point as I read it is that for the believer there is another way that emerges not out of what we claim, but how much we're willing to risk.  

And consequently, as crazy as it will sound, if you're feeling scared, uncomfortable, way out of your depth, maybe that doesn't mean you've strayed far from the path or that God has abandoned you in some fundamental way. Maybe it just means you're doing something right.