Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Attractiveness of Jesus

 In an article currently featured in the online edition of the National Catholic Reporter, Georgetown professor of theology Fr. Peter Phan is asked the following question:

If most people at Jesus’ time and a large number of people in our time did not know or acknowledge Jesus’ special relationship to God, why were they attracted to him ?

Here is part of Fr. Phan's answer (italics are mine):

"What then is the attractiveness of Jesus? Rarely is it the Jesus as presented by the Christian dogmas in the abstract Greco-Roman philosophical categories. It is rather the Jesus as narrated in the gospels, with his teachings on how to live a fully and truly human life, the example of his life dedicated to the service of the poor and the marginalized until death, and his deep and unconditional love for and obedience to God . In other words, people are attracted to Jesus because in him they find a full flourishing of human life. Let’s note that it is not “happiness” as defined by modernity -- the self-centered satisfaction of material, psychological and even spiritual needs -- that Jesus refers to when he says he gives “abundant life.” Many of Jesus’ teachings are indeed “hard sayings” that require a total renunciation of the self to be his disciples. In spite of this highly demanding ethical ideal, many people are attracted to Jesus, precisely because they find in him the concrete way to live a fully and truly human life."

Read the full article here.

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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Negative Capability

Sportswriter Thomas Boswell on the steroids controversy in baseball:

“The moralist wants to decide what’s right and wrong; the artist wants to see things exactly as they are, even if there are so many shades that right and wrong isn’t a place that you get to. John Keats wrote in a letter—and he was talking about William Shakespeare—he said that the feature that distinguished Shakespeare the most and made him the greatest of all writers was what Keats called 'negative capability', which he described as the ability to remain in tension, undecided between opposing poles. And he said that Shakespeare had that negative capability, the ability to see everything and not jump to one side of the question, to a greater degree than any other artist.

“Now we live in a sports age and a baseball age, where nothing’s more valuable than negative capability because if we’re just in a rush, if we can’t wait to see Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds, or whoever it is, as right or wrong, then we’re missing the complexity of these people and the difficulty of the age that they’re living in.”

From "Inning Ten: Bottom of the Tenth (1999-2009)" in Ken Burns Baseball

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Friday, December 24, 2010


At this time of year people of faith are always asked to remember “the true meaning of Christmas”—the humble birth, to an immaculately conceived virgin, of the child Jesus in Bethlehem, a child who was the Son of God, the Messiah, the Saviour who would atone for our sins by dying on the cross. We are told by our pastors that it is this story that we should hold foremost in out hearts and minds at Christmas. We are urged to rejoice that Christ the Saviour is born.

I recognize that the Nativity story—told only in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, and differently in these two—is both believed and beloved by millions of Christians worldwide. And it is indeed a beautiful and magical story—the star, the Magi, the gifts, the angels and the shepherds, the manger.

But as it tells me nothing about how to live in this world, unlike the life and teachings of the adult Jesus, it carries little significance for me and moves me not deeply.

If we believe, however, that the love Jesus felt for us was so great that he eschewed all material comfort and lived a life of poverty and simplicity in order to spread his message of love, and if we believe that he ultimately gave his life to show the power of love and of truth, then his birth into a world of conflict and suffering, of greed and hypocrisy, carries powerful and timeless symbolic significance for every Christian and even for non-Christians.

It seems to me that we need this message much more than we need the quaint story of the Nativity and the promise of forgiveness of sin so that we might achieve eternal life in the next world.

An important part of the Christmas message is “Peace on Earth and Goodwill to Men.” The message is meaningless, however, unless we understand that celebrating the birth of Jesus includes an invitation to constantly re-create ourselves in his image. Only when the peace of Christ and good will toward both those who love us and those who do not love us are born in our hearts again and again can we truly be said to have captured and embodied the spirit of Christmas.

Blessings to all this Christmas season.

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Once "a Blue-Collar Sport"

In 1869 Harry Wright, manager and outfielder for the Cincinnati Red Stockings, made seven times the average working man’s wage. In 1976, 107 years later, a ballplayer still made just eight times the working man’s salary. By 1994, the average major league salary would be nearly fifty times that of ordinary Americans.

“The big difference, now that players get so much, is that it has distanced them from us. It was a blue-collar sport, and people in the stands could look at these people playing ball and think of them as workers because they were getting paid workers’ salaries, and this perpetuated the illusion that with a little luck that could be me out there. The sense of “we” between fans and players was very strong in those days and players stayed on a lot longer with a team so they were familiars, like someone who worked in the same office with you almost. And all that has gone; it’s quite different now.”  Roger Angell

From "Inning 9: Home 1970-1992" Ken Burns Baseball

Thursday, December 16, 2010

"You're Not So Ugly"

An article I wrote recently about some Korean homestay students who were/are very special to me was posted on Life as a Human last night.

"Mr. Rickey, it's my skin."

Branch Rickey: Baseball people are generally allergic to new ideas. It took years to persuade them to put numbers on uniforms. It is the hardest thing in the world to get baseball to change anything, even spikes on a new pair of shoes. But they will, eventually; they are bound to. 

In March of 1945, Mr. Rickey told me in confidence that only the board of directors of the ball club knew and only his family knew, and now I was going to know that he was going to bring a black player to the white [Brooklyn] Dodgers. 

And Mr. Rickey said that going back to when he was the baseball coach at Ohio Wesleyan University, he took the team to play a series down at South Bend, Indiana with Notre Dame, and he said, “My best player was my catcher, and he was black. But,” said Mr. Rickey, “when we were registering the squad in the hotel, when the black player stepped up to sign the register, the clerk jerked the register back and said. ‘We don’t register niggers in this hotel.’” And Rickey remonstrated and said, “This is the baseball team from Ohio Wesleyan. We’re the guests of Notre Dame University.” He said, “I don’t care who you are. We don’t register niggers in this hotel.” Well,” Mr. Rickey said, “there are two beds in my room, aren’t there?’ And he said, “Yes.” “Well,” he says, “can’t he use one bed and not register?”

The clerk grudgingly allowed that to happen and Mr. Rickey took the key, handed it to the black player, and said, “You go up to the room and wait for me. Soon as I get the rest of the team settled, I’ll be up.”

Mr. Rickey said, “When I opened the door, here was this fine young man, sitting on the edge of his chair, and he was crying. And he was pulling at his hands, and he said, ‘Mr. Rickey, it’s my skin. If I could just tear it off, I’d be like everyone else.’”

And Mr. Rickey told me this day in March of 1945, he said, “In all these years I have heard that boy crying. And now,” he said, “I’m going to do something about it.” Red Barber, sports broadcaster

(From "Inning 6: The National Pastime, 1940-1950") Ken Burns Baseball)
On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson played his first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers of the National League.

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

New Life and Old

There was a baptism at Mass in our church this morning. It has been a long time since I have attended a Catholic baptism, so I am not familiar with the ritual, especially when it takes place in conjunction with a Mass. At any rate, at the beginning of the liturgy the family, including parents and godparents, stood at the front of the sanctuary with the baby while the priest introduced them and said a few prayers. The actual baptism took place at the end of Mass. (And even with a homily, we still managed to finish in an hour.)

What touched me at this special Mass happened at the homily. The priest, a man in his seventies, came down from the pulpit and from the sanctuary, went over to the pew where the couple were seated and took the baby in his arms. He held the infant, gently rocking him back and forth, like the most loving mother would cradle her only child, throughout the entire homily as he walked up and down the aisle, back up to the pulpit where he read words from the first reading, and down into the aisle again. The child made no sound and hardly moved while the priest held him.

There was no suggestion that the baby was a prop for the purpose of illustrating the homily. To me, in fact, the priest and the child were the homily.

The expression of love can be so simple and yet so profound.

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Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Legend of the Hot Dog (One version anyway)

Bad food and overpriced drink had been sold at ballparks since the 1850s. But it took one very ambitious British-born caterer to turn concessions into an empire. Harry M. Stevens had begun his career hocking scorecards in the 1880s, all the while regaling the crowds with quotes from Byron and Shakespeare. By 1901 he was peddling hard-boiled eggs, ham sandwiches, ice cream, and slices of pie in stadiums from New York to Ohio. Then, one cold afternoon when ice cream sales slowed at the Polo Grounds, he sent out for German sausages, which he put in long buns so fans could hold and eat them. He had made his greatest contribution to the game, introducing hot dogs to the ballpark.

From "Inning 2: Something Like a War (1900-1910)" in Ken Burns' Baseball

The Louisville Slugger

Pete Browning, the old gladiator of the Louisville Eclipse, had a lifetime batting average of .343 and was the idol of Kentucky fans. One day, in 1884, he broke his favorite bat. After the game, an apprentice woodworker named Bud Hillerich offered to make Browning a new bat. The next day Browning went three for three; thereafter he would use no one else’s bat. It was the first Louisville Slugger and Browning would eventually own more than two hundred of them, to each of which he gave a name taken from the Bible.

From "Inning 1: Our Game" Ken Burns' Baseball

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

One Year

Yesterday I had lunch with a friend whom I had not seen for a very long time. Naturally there was a great deal of catching up to do on both sides. After I told him about what I had been doing these past few years—returning to Catholicism, studying various aspects of religion and particularly the Catholic Church, and blogging about my thoughts and experiences—he asked me what the focus of my work was.

I had not been asked this question before, so I had to stop and think a bit before answering. I thought about my original purpose in starting this blog—to articulate the rather disparate thoughts that came to mind in the process of traveling on a spiritual path. And so I told him that there was no real focus to my study and writing beyond the need to find joy and excitement in the journey itself.

Today is the one-year anniversary of the establishment of Confessions of a Liturgy Queen. I am happy that I began the journey and grateful for the wonderful adventures it has taken me on. I am also grateful for the support and for the insights of my faithful readers, who have patiently and lovingly read and commented on my various rants and soul-baring exercises.

Due to a large number of rather stress-filled distractions, I have not been able to write much this fall. Moreover, as I stated earlier in the season, I would like very much to be moving away from polemics and more into reconciliation and contemplation in my thinking and in my writing. We shall see. Regardless, as things are starting to calm down, I am hopeful that I will be able to resume my studies and my writing and once again post regularly on this site.

Blessings to all.