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Tag Archive: Hope

On a Nationalized American Religious Disposition

Posted: Saturday, September 3, 2011 (8:57 pm), by John W Gillis


I don’t take many calls that come in from 800- or similar area codes, but I took one this morning, because I am expecting a call-back from HP regarding a warranty replacement hard drive for Ezra, my Windows 7 desktop computer (which I had prematurely identified last week as suffering from software problems, but which were being caused by a failing hard drive).

The call was from an organization looking to add my name to a petition supposedly being submitted somewhere or another as a token of protest against the legal successes of a militant atheist group committed to outlawing the observation of the National Day of Prayer. This anti-religious campaign, I was assured, represented an affront or assault (I can’t remember which now) on my “Christian rights”. I listened to the entire recorded message from the organization’s general counsel, but hung up before I could be roped into providing a telephonic “signature” to the petition (or be hit up for a contribution, which was undoubtedly the real point of the call).

It’s not that I’m unsympathetic to the goal of this group: resisting the pernicious agenda of an angry minority intent on manipulating the law to enforce a practical atheism on American society in a kind of ironically inverted federal establishment of (anti)-religion. It also might not be prudent to blithely assume that such clowns, and their judicial enablers, will never be able to pull off their ultimate goal – they have made significant inroads already, after all. Moreover, every battle lost involves real casualties, even in a winning war. Making it illegal for the president to proclaim a National Day of Prayer would surely strike an historically alienating and politically chilling blow against liberal society’s foundational building block of religious freedom, and even against the idea of tolerance itself, and it would teach a stark lesson to society (and to society’s children): that solidarity can and should be trumped by religiously intolerant ideology. This would be grievous, because sans the bitterclingers of atheistic denunciation, the National Day of Prayer effects nothing but a spirit of national solidarity across a wide and diverse body of people, many of whom profess religious views and affiliations that would have surely made them enemies to each other in most pre-American societies – and even still today, in more than a few places:

Religious Hostilities in the World, 2009 (Pew Research)

Still, I have a hard time getting worked up about defending the National Day of Prayer. Partly because I don’t like it. Contrary to those opponents who claim the practice “supports religion”, I think it undermines religion, usurping religion for secular/political purposes. Despite the finding of the U.S. District Court judge who, in April 2010, found in favor of repressing the National Day of Prayer in part because it “promote[s] a particular religious practice”, it is in reality the utter opposite of a “particular religious practice”; it is the very definition of a generic “religious” practice – at least from a religious perspective. It is “particular” only in the sense that it is national, and focused on the nation over against any understanding of the Divine – that is to say, over against religion! Hardly the kind of thing that worried Madison, Jefferson, or their compatriots.

Having been thoroughly steeped in the Old Testament, I am far from comfortable with the idea that God can and should be reduced to a generic concept, or a least-common-denominator deity, invoked for the sake of serving the interests of the state. That smacks of idolatry to me. Nonetheless, I don’t denounce the practice as idolatrous per se, since I can see how it is quite possible to build toward the realization of theological truth through the embrace of virtue inherent in the social idea of solidarity, and so I can warily accept it in Christian hope while rejecting its reductionism.

But perhaps the thing that bothered me most this morning was the acute absence of that other crucially important social idea: solidarity’s sister, subsidiarity. Here was this guy, from somewhere probably half-way across the continent, calling me – a complete stranger – to ask me to listen to a pre-recorded spiel from some overpaid lawyer who wants to argue a silly case in a federal court somewhere, and finally to place my essentially anonymous name as a quantifiable object on a petition (assuming one actually exists) to be submitted as evidence that there is some sufficient mass of people within the republic who object to the theological rape of the public square. Good grief.

Can a handful of judges and lawyers really be allowed to determine the religious character of a nation of over 300 million people? Do we really need lawyers to tell us how and when to pray at all? Is this what citizenship has been reduced to: reciting your name (in perhaps an indignant tone) into a computerized phone bank’s storage array? And what does it mean to fret about a symbolic national prayer event when local churches close for lack of parishioners; families fracture at a continually alarming rate (when they even bother to form at all anymore); the fundamental communal institution of marriage is recast as a personal lifestyle choice of the self-focused individual – until we no longer even know what marriage means; entire generations continue to be reared in a “pop culture” that stridently and effectively promotes alienation from society; employers routinely lack any fealty toward either the communities that support them, or their employees; and political speech has been largely reduced to a propaganda of binary options embracing either faster or slower centralization of power and decision making into a federal bureaucracy.

We don’t need a national day of prayer; we need to stop expecting Leviathan to fix our problems for us. We need to re-learn the idea of community, as an antidote to unfettered individualism – beginning with marriage. And we need to start building a national fellowship based not on cues taken from distant politicians, but on a broad commitment to the commonweal rooted in the social cultivation of virtue – a true patriotism, which can only take place in a society that is open to honest and vigorous religious (and moral) dialog in the public square. This, it seems to me, is not something to be accomplished through national campaigns, events, and petition drives, but by the simple practice of virtuous citizenship, and by the practice of a truly hopeful religious ecumenism: one that refuses to sacrifice truth for serenity, but insists that a real knowledge of God is possible among honest men and women.

O Oriens

Posted: Tuesday, December 21, 2010 (6:35 am), by John W Gillis


“O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.” (O Antiphon for Dec 21st)

Ironic, isn’t it?, that the antiphon for the Winter Solstice calls upon Christ as the Light of Dawn, or Rising Sun, or Dayspring from On High! Like all the antiphons of this octave, it recalls an Isaiahan Messianic prophecy: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shown.” (9:1 in NAB – 9:2 in most versions).

All the bells and whistles of this commercial season strike me as expressing something between a denial of the dreadful barrenness of the world in the darkness of winter, and a mockery of the hope that looks forward to new life springing out of that barrenness. The shadow of death has long fingers, and truly spares us not. Yet the frivolity we greet it with does not confront it with any kind of meaningful hope, but obscures it with a parade of jingle bells and other distracting inanities. And there are times in which that becomes more plainly evident than others; this is one of those times, I’m afraid.

Divine Manifestation and Humility: Pentecostalism and Eucharistic Hope

Posted: Friday, June 25, 2010 (12:21 am), by John W Gillis


monstrance_sm I was wondering, a while back, what kind of difference it might have made in my life to have encountered a perpetual Eucharistic Adoration chapel when I was a young man seeking some sort of religious grounding for my spiritual life. I’m wondering about it again as I sit before the Blessed Sacrament on another Sunday late-night. Specifically, I’m thinking about that year or so I spent huddled in my apartment, trying to piece together the shards of my shattered life in the wake of the disaster that was my twenties, and seeking a path to actualize my nascent faith in God.

Sitting in the Adoration Chapel each week, I see young people coming in and going out, some acting out elaborate and affected pieties, others more reserved and seemingly more recollected. I was drawn, at a similar age, toward a pentecostalism that promised to substitute an engaging and spiritually charged enthusiasm for the indulgent sensuality and attendant emotional crises I had been embroiled in, and was seeking to escape. I knew that I needed more than a prayer life, that I needed Christian community, that I needed to belong to something that was more than an idea – or worse, a projection of my own interior life.

But I was put off by the worldliness that seemed to underpin the life I witnessed in what I suppose I would have called organized religion. I was a thoroughly beaten young man at that point, an poor as dirt, and all but ready to embrace apocalypticism as the last station call for optimism. Pentecostalism in particular seemed constructed to marginalize me from the very community of the marginalized I felt spiritually bound to. On the surface, with its focus on the breaking-in to the world of the Spirit in charismata, it seems to exemplify the “in the world, but not of the world” ethos of the gospel. But in reality, it seeks the manifestation of God’s blessing in very concrete and even material forms. That’s why “the gifts” tend not toward a deep, quiet, and subtle prudence, but a public form that approaches spectacle. And that is also why the health and wealth gospel is so at home in pentecostalism. If the manifestation of God’s blessing is not actually the end of pentecostal faith, it is at least taken as evidence of the reality of grace in the life of the believer.

As a fragile, immature believer with nothing to show for my relationship with God but a deep sense of sorrow and repentance, pentecostalism was both intriguing for its promise of an affirming manifestation, and foreboding for its unspoken but unmistakable contempt for spiritual poverty and unapologetic humility. What is taken as being “not of the world” in pentecostalism is actually very worldly, insofar as it is public manifestation of blessing itself which is taken as the revelation “in the world.” In the end, I felt out of place in my poverty – not because I lacked manifestations like the glossolalia (which I had, even some fifteen years earlier, learned not to overvalue), but because I so thoroughly lacked the worldly successes that are taken to be signs of the blessing.

The sacramental economy stands in stark contrast to all that. The revelation of God is made manifest in the world in the simplest and humblest manner: a small piece of bread, water, a touching hand, a few softly spoken words. True, the Blessed Sacrament in Adoration is often enthroned within an elaborate gold monstrance; the places of worship themselves, where the sacraments are celebrated and dispensed, are often grand in form and rich in substance. Yet these displays of the wealth of the world are not understood as the blessings God gives to his people, but the blessings God’s people bring to Him in reverence. This is wealth that is “wasted” on God, as Judas had it, while God, in His manifestation, remains the bread of sacrifice: His depiction by the faithful being that of a Man crucified.

The sacraments, far from being evidence of the presence of the Spirit in the life of the believer in blessing, are evidence of the presence of the Spirit in the life of the Church, which the believer approaches in utter poverty and humility. Christ Himself, then, is manifest in humility, and the believer approaches in humility (“Lord, I am not worthy to receive you…”) to be joined in a sacramental communion of humility (“whosoever would follow me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me”), in which the eschatological manifestation of God’s self-revelation in humanity (“by the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity”) is pregnant as a Spiritual first fruits of Eternal life (“the guarantee of our inheritance”).

What has become abundantly clear to me is that the extraordinary charismata of pentecostalism and related religious movements have emerged as some kind of substitute for the sacraments: one more compatible with the modernist spirit of the age. I find it no coincidence that the historical context for this reemergence of the charismatic gifts aligns with the powerful rise of Modernism as a broad philosophy of culture, as well as the emergence of phenomenology as an epistemological method. Epistemologically, Modernism is basically phenomological: able to perceive knowledge only in that which is experienced, which in reality reduces ‘truth’ to, at best, factualism, or, at worst, subjectivism. One could make the argument that objectivism and subjectivism are instead polar opposites which I am here conflating, but they share a common ground in the observing self, and in a difficulty (if not inability) to overcome a consequent self-centered rationalism in order to perceive the transcendent. Pentecostalism, of course, seeks the transcendent, but it seeks it in the experience of the self; in phenomena.

Likewise, it can hardly be a coincidence that the charismatic movement in Catholicism emerged in the decade of the modernizations following Vatican II, when a deep sacramental understanding seemed to evade much of Catholic culture: pizza was known to be offered as Eucharistic sacrifice in one of the more bizarre incongruities to emerge from the era; greater symbolism came to be sought in baptismal rites through the reintroduction of baptismal baths (such emphasis on symbolism exposing a growing vacuum of meaning born of a declining sacramental sensibility); lines were blurred between lay and priestly roles; confession fell into disuse; and marriage fell prey to contraception, divorce, and other – even worse – sacrileges.

Through the 19th and 20th centuries, Modernism sowed the seeds of a wasting dissolution in the liberal denominations that had held to a semblance of sacramental theology after the Reformation, made possible because their sacramentalism was in reality only formal or religious, not essential. From Luther’s denunciations of indulgences in the 16th century, to John Smyth (re)baptizing himself near the beginning of the 17th century, to Napoleon crowning himself Emperor in front of Pope Pius VII two hundred years later, the history of the West from the Protestant Reformation to the rise of Modernism is one of accommodating a religiously Christian society to a repudiation of the authority of the Church – a repudiation not only of authority as power or religious superiority, but of authority as an ontological reality, a sacramental gift: of the knowledge of the Church as the authentic and authoritative continuing presence of Christ in the world.

The repudiation of an authoritative Church by both by Protestant Christianity and early-Modern or Liberal skepticism did less to correct ecclesiastical abuses than it did to provide religious cover for skepticism, which carried on its own program of pseudo-orthodoxy in the guise of “science,” moving steadily toward Modernism’s atheistic naturalism, even removing God from the cosmos (never mind the curriculum), by first removing the presence of God among men in the form of the miraculous, including the sacraments, but more importantly in the form of authority in the Church – more important because religious anti-papists could happily hitch their wagons to the same “progressive” worldview, unaware of and unprepared for anti-clericalism’s final destination in godless totalitarianism. And now, majorities in these denominations cozy up to abortionists, and cluck their tongues at the sight of “conservatives” who are so unenlightened as to fail to embrace the new homosex norms…

Reacting against Modernism, however, were Fundamentalism proper and the main thrust of contemporary conservative Evangelicalism. They rejected the wholesale naturalistic skepticism of the miraculous, to say nothing of atheism, but they retained a skepticism of the miraculous nature of the Church, and formed (often after initial denominational schisms) an astoundingly fragmentary collection of staunchly anti-sacramental faith communities. Furthermore, despite fundamentalist hostility toward Modernism, it is widely perceived that fundamentalism and naturalism share a common set of (modern) assumptions about the relation of facts to reality, as is evidenced in fundamentalism’s insistence on facticity in its understanding of Biblical inerrancy. What  seems less often observed is that pentecostalism, which emerged at about the same time as a sister movement, sharing similar concerns but eschewing the fundamentalism’s focus on dogmatic Biblicism for a more personal (and miraculous) religion of encounter with God, taps into the same mindset of believing exactly what is seen: experienced-based belief.

But experience is peripheral to sacramental faith, and experiential religion turns out to be a poor substitute for the sacramental life. The point of contact between sacramental manifestation and the believing community is faith in the power of God’s promise that He is indeed present, even despite appearances, if necessary. The point of contact, in other words, is not experience, not “what is seen,” but hope. Being rooted in hope, sacramental worship seeks no signs, but looks behind symbols to the realities they re-present, being open to the transformative movement of grace through the sacraments in ways that are often subtle – even humble. Not phenomena, but a still, small voice.

Despite my mildly Catholic upbringing in the 1960s, I think I would have been shocked, in the 1980s, to encounter God present under the form of bread, even sitting on an altar in a gold monstrance. I think I would have realized that, despite the trappings, God was, in all His glory, even more impoverished than me. I think that may have led me to see how profoundly true it is that for God, all things are possible, and that the meanness of my condition was not an alienating factor that kept me from full communion, but a vector for God to embrace me through the agency of His continued manifestation among men. I think I may have discovered the restorative and integrating power of genuine Christian community. I truly praise God for the Eucharistic faith of these young people; I hope they appreciate someday what a gift they have.

More Hope, Less Stress: Better Living

Posted: Monday, September 28, 2009 (11:13 pm), by John W Gillis


Today was Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. I’ve been fittingly pensive and reflective lately, almost to the point of feeling haunted. This is a time of year that used to fill me with energy, but these days seems more likely to leave me thinking about lost opportunities. I became starkly aware last night, while driving downtown to teach my CCD class, of how short a fuse I was on, and how much stress I was feeling. That’s not a good thing for me, and I quickly had to coax myself back off the ledge.

Thinking about how to go about lowering my stress level, I considered how helpful it might be to tune out the political environment, and focus on matters of a less agitated character. As tempting as that may be, it hardly seems the responsible thing to do, and would be easier said than done anyhow. At the end of the day, I have to live in the middle of it all, as does everyone I care about. I may be powerless to effect any real change in the world, but within my tiny little circle of influence, I am not free of the obligation to shed whatever light I may be able to on the greater or lesser questions of the day.

And so I’m left to confront the daily anxiety of backwards-looking regrets and forward-looking resignations. It dawns on me that I’ve never quite come to peace with myself following the crisis of my second coronary stent procedure, almost two years ago to the day. The first one, in May, had almost killed me, but I walked away from it with a sense of relief, feeling I had dodged a bullet, and ready to work my way back to health. But the prospect of the second one, several months later, felt like the bullet I’d dodged had, like a heat-seeking missile, turned around to come back for me. It was a humbling experience: half-expecting to die, unwilling to let anyone know how pessimistic I was, and dumbstruck at the profound chasm between what my life had been, and what it should have been.

And yet the ensuing two years have found me, in many ways, digging the same grave I was working on before: burning the candle at both ends, and allowing busy-ness to trump my need for quiet reflection and reconciliation. But that is hardly the whole story.

I_Testify Five years ago, on Yom Kippur in 2004, I was spending some time in preparation for my first assignment, the following morning, as a reader in the Sunday Liturgy. As I sat in the basement, browsing my reading assignment for the nth time, and listening to some music, the seriousness of what I was about to embark upon hit me with full force. I realized, with full conviction, that justice demanded that, if I were going to proclaim the Word of God to His congregation in the sacred liturgy, my life needed to likewise proclaim the Word, outside of the liturgy. This was a sobering recognition that I needed to give up the shortcuts and compromises I had become accustomed to, and it was a little unnerving. The song that was playing at the time was a perky and heartfelt piece by Margaret Becker called “I Testify.”

Now, I am a quiet and reserved man, not much given to things like testimony, and I had to smile at the irony of the moment. True to my character, I started wondering what difference it would really make what I did with my life, and how it could possibly be important. At that point, the song changed, and as I looked down at my MP3 program to see what was next, I saw it was Joanne Hogg’s rendition of “My Song is Love Unknown.” I had to smile again at the irony, and said to myself something like: ‘Yes, indeed, and that is a glorious truth hidden from so many souls, so much in need of being told. I admit it.” Driven then by what felt like a silly curiosity, my eyes glanced down at the playlist to see what was next: a song called “One More Reason,” followed by “The Lord Reigns.” Sometimes, the Lord just won’t let us miss the point – either of His purpose, or of His lordship. After having a good laugh, I snapped a screenshot of the MP3 player, and said: “You win, Lord, but the ball’s in Your court.”

Despite my continuing foibles, I can hardly deny that the Lord has truly worked a gradual but profound personal transformation in me over these past five years. It’s not that I wasn’t serious about my vocation before that, and hadn’t in many ways been even more profoundly transformed a decade and a half prior, but I learned to let go just a bit more that night. I certainly can’t claim to have realized that imperative to give up all my shortcuts and compromises, but at least I am constantly aware of its imperativeness, and I can truly point to identifiable areas in my life where I have been able to be both more sensitive to Gospel demands, and more responsive, as well. My personality has both hardened and softened in different ways as my tolerance for moral and spiritual compromise has diminished. And while I’m grateful for the growth in wisdom and piety, I’m even more grateful for the grounding such spiritual life gives to the hope I must cling to so tightly on these autumn days, when I survey that terrible, battle-scarred landscape of my life, which won’t let me forget how very much I need the redemption of that Song of Unknown Love. More hope, less stress: better living.

Why MaybeToday?

Posted: Wednesday, January 7, 2009 (7:46 pm), by John W Gillis


I was listening to a lecture by Peter Kreeft a while back, and he observed that time is the stuff of which life is made – time is life. People often say that time is money, but that’s an understatement. Kreeft is right: time is life.

This isn’t meant to suggest that time is a metaphysical necessity, or that there can be no such thing as eternal life. Rather, it means that the life we each possess – our life – is ultimately a very precise allotment of time, and that each sunrise brings us one day closer to death. Time is really all we have, and the whole content of our lives is an answer to the question: What did you do with your time?

Life is a timed test, where you don’t know how long the time is.

Like any test, it’s not enough to answer the questions; you have to somehow come up with the right answers. The right use of time is not just about avoiding procrastination, as important as that is. It’s about prudence, in all its aspects. I couldn’t tell you how many times I have found myself, in life, paddling furiously downstream to nowhere (sometimes quite effectively), just to realize that I’d only distanced myself all the more from the source I sought – and still seek. Time, in a sense, down the drain.

From my youth, I have been especially intrigued by the notions of time, of hope, and of reality. These three ideas have dominated my mental life in many respects. Perhaps I will find the opportunity to explore the relationships between them within these pages before too long, but Kreeft’s observation jolted me to the realization that the hope which lives in me – for all the lip service I may give it – has been subject to a rather systematic marginalization for much of my life, in deference to a kind of practical expediency – and even a heart attack at age 46 didn’t manage to seriously shake it free.

Hope is absolutely essential to sanity for anyone who seeks the truth, for anyone with a hunger to embrace reality, because reality has two very distinct faces. Reality is God, which we consider Beatitude, but reality is also the mess we live in – as well as God’s judgment on that mess. Hope is the reaching from brokenness to promise that climbs the ladder of reality, if you will. And it is hope that allows us to break free from captivity to anxiety and fear, to embrace – and realize – the promise of beatitude in our life.

The great Christian hope is in the return of Jesus Christ to earth, both to judge it, and to fully manifest the new creation. That return may happen today, or it may happen some day long from now – but we are not truly Christian if we do not expect that day, and indeed “wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” And yet, for each of us, we live our own allotment of time – and we know not what time is ours, but our time, too, may come today, and there’s no good reason we should be any less joyfully expectant of the advent of our own end time.

I haven’t met a lot of people that embrace such a joyful readiness for death. In truth, most of us just don’t feel ready for it, and – speaking for myself – I know that’s because I have not lived my life – that is, I have not spent my time – prudently enough. It seems to me that there is only one right time to start changing that: today.

I was beginning yet another long commute home in a miserable winter rain storm one night last year, when the thought came to me that I needed to make a decision on exactly what to do about a rather complicated computer-related situation I had waiting for me at home – which included choosing a domain name for a web site I was planning. My initial reaction was to say “Maybe tomorrow,” but – with Peter Kreeft’s wisdom in the back of my mind – I immediately thought better of that, and said: “No, maybe today.”

There’s really no better time to get on with life – reaching for the promise – and it’s entirely possible that there will be no other time at all. Maranatha!

Uttering...

“The Fruit of Abortion is Nuclear War.”

Posted: Friday, September 5, 2008 (11:00 pm), by John W Gillis


Today was the feast day of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, whose profoundly wise words grace the title of this post. It’s hard to overstate what she meant to the world during the last years of her life. Everyone, regardless of religious affiliation (or lack thereof), saw her as a living saint. Just the idea that someone like that can exist in our cynical times is a testimony to the truth, one that quietly cuts through the fog of modern despair with a beacon of hope.

I can do no better tonight than to let her speak here in her own words:

“Humility is the mother of all virtues; purity, charity and obedience. It is in being humble that our love becomes real, devoted and ardent. If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are. If you are blamed you will not be discouraged. If they call you a saint you will not put yourself on a pedestal.”

“Spread love everywhere you go: first of all in your own house. Give love to your children, to your wife or husband, to a next door neighbor… Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greeting.”

“The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted.”

“Abortion is murder in the womb…A child is a gift of God. If you do not want him, give him to me.”

“It is poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.”

“Jesus has made Himself the Bread of Life to give us life. Night and day, He is there. If you really want to grow in love, come back to the Eucharist, come back to that Adoration.”

“We must have a real living determination to reach holiness. ‘I will be a saint’ means I will despoil myself of all that is not God; I will strip my heart of all created things; I will live in poverty and detachment; I will renounce my will, my inclinations, my whims and fancies, and make myself a willing slave to the will of God.”

“I know God won’t give me anything I can’t handle; I just wish He didn’t trust me so much.”

??

Hitting the Road to Worship with Pope Hope

Posted: Friday, April 18, 2008 (11:14 pm), by John W Gillis


In less than 36 hours, Joyce and I will be in New York, for the papal Mass at Yankee Stadium. I’m very much looking forward to the experience, even if it means getting on a bus at 6:00am, and spending four hours traveling each way, just to sit high in the upper deck of the stadium.

As much as anything else, I’m looking forward to the community. I expect celebrating the Mass with 50,000 Christians, or whatever it works out to be, will be exhilarating. I get energized on Holy Days when several hundred people crowd the church where I typically celebrate daily Mass with 30 or 40 folks (maybe twice that during Lent). The presence of the Pope should raise the amperage for everyone as well, giving such visible and concrete form to the unity of the Church through his person there among us. If there is ever to be a time I feel what I already know to be true: how, in the liturgy, we each pray together with the entire believing Church, this should be the moment. I hope I am able to hold on even more deeply to that realization as I move through my life in the days to come.

Even the bus trip should be edifying. It will be a charter bus full of about 50 worshipers from surrounding towns, all traveling together with a single purpose. Of course, it’s always possible that I may end up surrounded by people who just won’t shut up – either on the bus, or even in the stadium. If that turns out to be the case, it will just be that much more of a challenge for me to take away from all this a wonderfully illuminating and ennobling experience.

Of course, I am looking forward to hearing the Holy Father address us as well, though in all honesty I do not expect to be able to understand him very well – between his accent, my general struggles hearing speech, and the geography of the encounter. I will understand him better when I can read the published homily, which I will certainly do. Still, I will use the opportunity of physical proximity to personalize my listening, to really treat his words as addressed to me: to be personally encouraged by his encouragement, and to be personally challenged by his challenge to us. Of course, when he addresses the Church – or the world – he always addresses me as a member, but I hope I can be forgiven the conceit of wanting to use the opportunity to interpret this address as being somehow more directly for me, in order to intensify the personal depth of my encounter with it, and motivate me all the more to take ownership of the message. Being there, after all, should make some sort of difference.

I don’t quite know what to expect to hear from him at this point. I’ve been too tired this week to follow much of the visit on TV (not to mention doing more strenuous things like feeding the blog), but from what I’ve seen in the papers and such, he appears to have covered everything on the agenda already. The newspaper coverage has been, for the most part, pitiful – fixated on the media darling abuse crisis (unsurprisingly, given that I’ve mostly been looking at the local scandal rags: The Boston Globe and The Boston Herald). But I saw one thing in a blog entry by Boston Globe staffer Michael Paulson on the day of the White House lawn welcoming ceremony that made me smile. As he was describing the crowd of the faithful gathered in hopes of seeing the Holy Father, he wrote: “I did see some cute little girls with handmade signs reading ‘We love you Pope Hope!’ ”

Pope Hope. I love it.