Catholic Athletics and the Mass.

Pentecostals may speak in tongues but Catholics have track meets each Sunday.

One of the sacramentals of the Catholic Church (at least in the U.S.) is the race to beat Father down the aisle after Communion, otherwise known as "The Running for the Doors." Apparently, the point of this part of the liturgy is to allow the parishioner to run out the door as early as possible thus demonstrating that with the consumption of the Bread of Life, one is ready to immediately pitch back into the battle with the world as one winds one's way to Heaven.

The race begins with the "hand-off" when the host is placed either in the communicant's hand or on their tongue. The athlete then consumes it and makes the sign of the cross, signifying the race has begun, and starts for the back of the church avoiding returning to the pew he or she had occupied during the countdown before Communion. The idea is to beat Father to the back of the church after he finishes the Mass. The starting gun as it were for Father is the utterance of the phrase, "The Mass is ended, go in peace," either by a deacon or Father himself.

According to those who know (or at least say they do), this ritual has taken place as long as anyone living can remember. An earlier version involved the celebrant leaving by a door toward the front of the church, but this was changed after Vatican II in order to heighten the athletic drama. Watching the race each Sunday, I've come to the opinion that it is an uneven competition. One of the things I think our Church should stand for in all things is fairness. While I am a neo in matters of theology and liturgy, I have a couple of suggestions that might even things up between celebrant and communicant.

First, I believe Father's vestments should be modified. The chasuble and alb should be shortened and Father should be encouraged to wear running shorts and shoes, the colors of which should match the season.

Second, the ushers should be tasked with blocking and tackling the communicants.

Third, every competing communicant should be required to wear a scapula bearing a number (these may be roman numerals to reflect the return of the Latin Mass), so that the charging ushers may discriminate between competitors and old poots like myself just heading for the bathrooms.

Fourth and finally, the races should be scored and documented so they may be communicated to the sports editor at the diocesan newspaper for inclusion each week. This could also be used to set up pools as a source of income for those jaded with bingo, raffles, and casino nights.

All in all, I see no reason why the Church should not profit by an apparently eternal fact of life.

29 April 2010: The Feast of St. Hugh the Great. Moors land at Gibraltar 711, Joan of Arc raises siege of Orleans 1429, New Orleans captured by Federals 1862, Dachau liberated 1945.

"You want fries with that?"

Kelly, a guy I once worked for, put himself through school by working as an undertaker in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. One of his charges turned out to be a fast food junkie.

Living at the funeral home, one of the things Kelly dealt with where the middle-of-the-night calls to come pick up a new customer. People often seem to have no consideration about when they drop dead. Of course, planning ahead by scheduling the event is rather frowned upon by the three major desert religions.

The call came in, as they always do, at oh-dark-thirty. One of the folks over at the state’s home for the bewildered had just become the dearly departed. The body was already on a gurney and had been released by the attending physician when Kelly got there with the hearse. A night attendant helped load the gurney in the back of the vehicle and Kelly headed back to the funeral home. All Kelly had to do was roll the gurney into the cold storage room in the home’s basement, lock up, and he could go back to bed.

Kelly told me he still says a prayer of thanks from time to time when he thinks of it that he had been caught by a stop light. As he sat there waiting for it to turn, he suddenly felt a hand on his shoulder and a child-like voice asked, “Could we stop for some fries?”

He whirled around and found himself eyeball to eyeball with the customer. Rather distractedly, Kelly said, “Pardon?”

The customer smiled gently and repeated, “Could we stop for some fries?”

Kelly said that by this time the world had dropped back into position and he explained to his new friend, Bill as it turned out, that it was pretty late and everything was closed. Bill seemed saddened by this so Kelly assured him that he, Kelly, would tell the folks at the institution of his request when they got back there. This seemed to satisfy Bill and he lay back down. On the drive back, Kelly discovered that Bill snored.

Kelly pulled up to the ambulance entrance and tooted the horn. The same attendant who had helped him before came out and walked up Kelly’s door. Curious, he asked, “What are you doing back here?”

Kelly replied, “I’m afraid this one ain’t done yet.”


At that moment, Kelly said, he was treated to one of the finest displays of the double-take as Bill raised up from the gurney and waved to the attendant with a happy, “Hi, Tommy.”

An hour later, Kelly was perusing an ancient copy of Field & Stream in a waiting room when Tommy walked in pulling on a jacket. The attendant told him, “You can head home, the doctor looked Bill over and says he’s fine.”

Kelly asked, “The same one who said he was dead?”

Tommy half smiled. “Hmm, on second thought, maybe you better hang around a while. Anyway, the boss says for the home to send a bill for your trouble.”

As they walked out to the parking lot, Kelly remarked, “I ‘spect you’ll be happy to get home.”

“Oh, I’m not going home. I’m headed out to one of the truck stops on Route 11.”


Tommy grinned, “We figure with what happened tonight, we owe Bill some French fries.”

23 April 2010: Feast of St. George. Battle of Clontarf 1014, Ottoman Empire of Sultan Mehmend VI falls 1920, King George II of Greece evacuates Athens ahead of Wehrmacht 1941, New Coke premiered to general distaste of humanity 1985.

Catholic Self-Help?

"Into all lives some rain must fall,but Dear Lord, why do I have to get monsoons?"

One of the more interesting oxymorons I've run across is "Catholic self-help." This seems to be the idea that you can solve all your problems by reading the right book.

Pelagius, back on the fifth century British Isles, taught that a person can come to total Grace through sheer will all by themselves--that one can basically lift themselves by their sandal straps (give this stunt a try sometime if you have nothing better to waste time on). St. Augustine of Hippo argued that Grace is a gift of God and a human can't attain it through his own efforts. Both the Council of Carthage (418 AD) and the Council of Ephesus (431 AD) came to the conclusion that the Brit was all wet, and that man can only come to Grace through God.

When I first heard this idea of a "Catholic" self-help book, the Bible popped into mind as an example. You got troubles, check out the the Old Testament's Book of Job. For somewhat newer works, Father Benedict J. Groeschel's Tears of God and Dr. Viktor E. Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning might fit the requirement. What do these three have in common? Well, aside from all three being good reads, they also provide guidance when all hell breaks loose in one's life.

The magic word here is "guidance," not all the answers. Far too many authors try to sell their book as the answer to all questions. What they end up with is a one-size-fits-nobody philosophy of how to get through life with no pain. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) it ain't gonna happen. As in the story about the New Englander, life is "just one long frazzle." What these three works offer is a path to the only Threesome Who knows what the heck is going on and why. When we go to Them, we get information not on a need-to-know basis, but rather on an ability-to-understand basis. The folder I receive tends to be pretty thin because I'm not the brightest bulb in the pack. Other, more intelligent folks get thicker folders--St. Thomas Aquinas comes to mind (he must have got bales by the forklift load).

Should we worry that somethings are beyond us? Not necessarily. This is where faith comes in--one has to have faith that when one is ready for understanding, the knowledge will come. For mere humans, this most probably will be in the next life (and boy, have I got a list of questions!). For me to try to understand the workings of the All Mighty is probably on par with my daughter's toy poodle understanding what I'm doing while tangling with filing the taxes. He settles for having faith that we love him and his food dish will be full each day. Me, I settle for pretty much the same.

Note to FTC: Bought 'em myself, guys.

18 April 2010: Feast of St. Wicterp of Augsburg. Cornerstone of present St. Peter's Basilica laid 1506, American Revolution's fighting begins and ends eight years later on the same day 1775-1783, Dolittle Raid on Japanese Home Islands 1942, Pawtucket Red Sox and Rodchester Red Wings play longest pro baseball game in history lasting 33 innings 1981.

Orders from the boss.

A lot of us are pushed around in this life. Sometimes it's someone who knows how to run our lives better than we do. Sometimes it's someone we invite into our lives. Hmm? No, not wives, husbands, or in-laws--though there have been reports of such things. I mean the ultimate boss, the Boss of bosses. Yep, that fur-covered cat food converter laying on my feet as I type this (Yeah, I know the word should be "lying," but it doesn't sound like my usually fractured syntax. Now shut up and go back to sleep, sir.).

Some of us have these predatory commandos barge in on us in that insidiously lethal form, the kitten on the doorstep. Others of us are stupid enough to actually go out and recruit these mercenaries (make no mistake, cats are mercenaries--dogs are regulars). My follies have covered both.

Dorsey, that handsome guy pictured to the left, hiring on with us was the result of one of my normal lapses in judgment (it must be true because the wife points this out quite often, usually while spoiling said creature). You don't own a cat. Either he owns you or, if you're lucky and have your act together, he hires on with you. Cats are independent cusses and only hang around if they like you, which is probably one of the things that appeals to me (the idea that they hang around only because you feed them tends to be a little doubtful--most seem to be of the opinion that they could do just as well or perhaps better elsewhere and have occasionally proved it).

Actually, our partnership has been a reasonably happy one on both sides. It's pleasant having him holding down the end of the bed and keeping my feet or the wife's head warm in the winter. And, happily, he learned early on in the relationship that bipeds are something to avoid as they stumble through the dark (after seven years, our daughter's black toy poodle is still working on that one). Like myself, he's not a picky eater for pretty much the same reason I'm not--growing up, if you didn't want what was served, you were welcome to go out and kill your own (contrary to popular belief, you generally don't see all that many cat or kid skeletons lying next to full food dishes). As long as the chow crunches and has a picture of a cat on the bag, he's happy. He will mention it occasionally when he thinks the cat pan could use some attention, but, then, I get kind of grumpy when the person before me forgets to put out a new roll of paper too.

So far, his major gripe with us is our lousy control of the weather. If it's very cold or pouring down rain. sleet, or snow, he will look out the front door sourly then stalk to the backdoor. When he sees the the same weather system appears to be also stagnating at that end of our mansion, he gives me a look loudly saying, "Klutz!" and stomps off toward the bed. When I think about it from his point of view, I can understand his opinion. We control the heat and air conditioning in the house; why can't we do the same outside? Robert A. Heinlein reported much the same behavior of his main protagonist in his novel, The Door Into Summer (1956). According to Wikipedia, the title and the book was suggested by a remark Heinlein's wife made about their cat. Now you know why writers put up with cats...or is it the other way around?

13 April 2010. Feast of St. Caradoc of Haroldston. Louis IX of France (St. Louis) is captured in Egypt 1250, Fort Sumter surrenders 1861, Troops of the Raj massacre 379 and wound 1,200 at Amristar 1919, Sidney Poitier wins Best Actor Oscar for "Lilies of the Field" 1963.

Lighting up for Easter.

I've often thought Easter is best described as a party preceded by a forty-day hangover.

For my own part, the lead up to the most important day of the year tends to make me walk small. I am by nature a silent grumbler. Aside from "teaching moment" explosions, I generally keep my mouth shut. The downside is I'm often doing a slow burn (the upside is I don't bother saying, "I told you so," which drives people nuts waiting for it). I come into church totally bummed out by the weight of my problems and flop in the pew. I look up at the Crucifix and Jesus looks back at me and says, "You think you got problems?" Looking at what He puts up with from us, yeah, mine are pretty small potatoes.

Things get really dark by Holy Saturday. And, then, just after nightfall, a light appears--a single candle that spreads throughout the world.

We used to go to the Saturday evening Mass up at a retreat house run by some Franciscans. Just outside the chapel, there would be a little brazier for a small fire from which to light the first candle. One year, we had an enthusiastic new young priest celebrating. The old priest, Father Manny, was up to his hip pockets getting several new families from the Philippines squared away so he let Father Buzz arrange everything for the Mass. When we showed up at the retreat house, things looked a bit different. Rather than the usual brazier, there was a tub about the right size for burning a Viking long ship. Piled in the tub was enough wood to build said ship if it were required for a Norse funeral. At the proper hour, several Filipina mothers and grandmothers got the fire going. Considering most of these ladies had up until a few months earlier been cooking over such fires, it had all the muss and drama of flipping a light switch. It fell to Father Buzz to provide the drama. As the flames leaped up, frightening fire watchers in towers in three surrounding states, Father became carried away with the blessing and leaned farther and farther over the fire. Just before he set himself alight and reenacted our very own auto-de-fey (yeah, I know we didn't actually burn people during the auto-de-fey itself, but work with me here), two of the grandmothers shoved the tub away from him while three of the mothers laid hands on the hem of his chasuble and yanked. Father Buzz never missed a beat as he and the flaming tub broke formation and parted company at a high rate of speed. Let's see the Pentecostals top that.

7 April 2010: Feast of St. Finnian (or Finan) of Kinitty. St. Francis Xavier departs Lisbon for East Indies 1541, Metric System adopted by France 1795, Japanese battleship Yamato sunk by U.S. carrier planes 1945, Internet born with publication of RFC1 1969.

He's the last guy to let you down.

I guy I worked for, call him "Kelly," put himself through school by working as an undertaker in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains. Being in a vocation that allows one to meet everyone eventually, he had a number of interesting tales of various folks he had the enjoyment of dealing with.

According to Kelly, his first night at the funeral home set the tone for the years that followed. Part of his deal with the owner was that Kelly would live at the home. This had the advantage that someone would be on hand if a call came in during the night (a very common occurrence) and there would be someone to keep an eye on things, funeral homes being prime targets for burglaries (to some folks, all that class and glitz screams, "Steal me!"). After everyone else went home, Kelly made himself dinner and relaxed in front of the TV with a Washington Senators game (which puts it before 1972). After the game, he retired to the master bedroom on the second floor. Along about oh-dark-thirty a sound awakens him. He listens in the darkness and hears it again--a quiet little thump. He eases out of bed picking up the flashlight from the bedside stand and his softball bat (no, he didn't normally go around armed, he just played on a local church team).

At the head of the stairs, he hears the thump once more, this time from the darkness below. He oozes down the stairs staying as close to the side as he can to avoid causing the steps to creak. At he bottom, he stands listening. A thump comes from the rear of the funeral home. A backdoor leads into the kitchen. Somebody trying to quietly break-in?

As he reaches the door of the kitchen, there are a series of thumps apparently from the stairs leading down into the basement where the cold storage and preparation rooms for the dearly departed are located. He notes that the backdoor is still locked and turns to the open basement door. Could one of the folks downstairs be unhappy with the arrangements made so far and be coming up to complain to the management?

He raises the bat and flicks on the flashlight. The ginger cat at the bottom of the stairs blinks up at him and gives the tennis ball another whack, bouncing it off the bottom step. Kelly stuck the flashlight in his robe's pocket, flipped on the light switch, set down the bat, and went down and picked up the cat. After returning to the the master bedroom with flashlight, bat, and cat, he slept soundly until his alarm clock went off.

3 April 2010: Feast of St. Vulpian of Tyre. Edward the Confessor crowned 1043, Federal forces capture Richmond 1865, Lenin arrives at Finland Station in Petrograd 1917, Japanese begin assault on Bataan 1942.