Luke 24: 44-49 — Catechesis vs Teaching

Today we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus. Luke 24: 50 – 53) is about the actual ascension. The “Great Commission,” as Luke expresses it, is in Acts: “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8). This is part of the first lesson for Ascension Thursday.

What grabbed my attention this morning was the following: “‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures….” (Lk 24: 44-45)

I often take special note of passages that have Jesus referring to the fulfillment of the words of the Hebrew Scriptures. Matthew and Luke are especially good at this. This may be the only passage that adds the psalms to the usual reference to the Torah and the prophets. The story of the Road to Emmaus is the other Lukan passage that I often remember. In that one, as in this one, he opens the disciples minds to understand the Scriptures.

These descriptions of how Jesus guided (more than taught, in our usual understanding of “taught”) are the model of how to catechize in the catechumenate. The catechist helps open the minds of those seeking greater understanding of the Christ Jesus. We help facilitate, rather than do this by ourselves because we understand that the Holy Spirit guides our ministry. We do this for each other as well as for the catechumens and candidates for whom we are responsible. We do this while we are open to being catechized by all in the group. We do this by guided reflection. The structured reflection of Lectio Divina works well; there are probably other ways.

The catechist does not teach about doctrines and dogmas or about church history or textual criticism and exegesis, unless these matters arise in the course of the reflections. Then the catechist needs to be able to discern if the move to the “facts” of doctrines and dogmas, of church history, of textual criticism and exegesis is an attempt to avoid the indwelling of the Spirit. For example, this passage goes on to say that “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his [the Messiah’s] name to all nations…” (vs 47). This is an opportune time to discuss how forgiveness of sins is celebrated in the Catholic Churches, including the Episcopal Church. It is an opportunity to understand the General Confession in the Mass and the pastoral office of reconciliation. It is also a moment to explicitly talk about repentance or conversion or transformation (all three express the same concept). The catechist needs to be open to these opportunities but should not force the topic. What is discussed and how the faith sharing develops and proceeds is up to the guidance of the Spirit. We must trust in the work of the Spirit in our midst.

The catechist must prepare for these moments through prayer and reflection. A quick perusal of the text just prior to the meeting is not adequate. The catechist must develop the art of reflection and prayer with Scripture. The catechist must develop the gift of discernment. The catechist must devote prayer and reflection on the passage for hours prior to the meeting. The catechist must be able to guide the reflection as the Spirit would have it. Otherwise we will not teach as Jesus did.

In the past, when I read this litany of “musts” in books on spiritual development and catechesis, I have been skeptical. As I have begun to realize that the catechumenate is primarily about spiritual formation, I have begun to appreciate the litany.

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John 14: 15-21: If you love me…

John 14: 15-21 is the Gospel pericope for this Sunday, the 6th Sunday of Easter, 2020.

“If you love me you will keep my commandments.” So much has been written about this small phrase and so much more can be written. Is it that easy? Is it that difficult?

It is not: “Keep my commandments if you love me.” That is more of a command. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” is a request. It is a challenge. It is a challenge that I daily forget to meet. It is a challenge that daily I am not able to meet. It is a pious platitude if I don’t even try to meet the challenge. Meeting the challenge is not hopeless. “The Father will give you another Advocate to be with you forever.”

So maybe this is the way to go: try to keep the request before me today. When I do not respond adequately, remember that Jesus has sent the Spirit to sustain me. Remember that it is not impossible. Remember that there is help to continue trying. Remember that, as much as I try, I remain afraid to love as I am able. Remember that this challenge is a direction sign of how to proceed.

I had a virtual meeting with my psychiatrist yesterday. I am bipolar. (I don’t know if I have revealed this in my post thus far.) I have been on medications for 30 years and have grown to accept being bipolar as part of who I am. For insurance reasons I recently changed from seeing Dr. Marietta Almazon to seeing Dr. Bottone. Dr. Almazon and I would sometimes talk for about 30 minutes about a variety of topics, all related to my illness but not entirely clinical. We developed a friendship. But she was there primarily to renew my prescriptions every three months. I would come in and she would ask how I am doing. Most of the time I was doing well and she would give me a new prescription and off I would go. Fifteen minutes. Dr. Bottone surprised me during our second meeting. I was expecting another 15 minute conversation and prescription renewal but he extended the visit to an hour. He wants to do some actual therapy!

But I digress. I brought up my new psychiatrist because, in our time together, we nibbled on the edges of my low self-esteem. (He uses cognitive behavioral therapy.). The point is that he wants me to get away from negative thinking. That includes setting reachable goals. What does that mean for the current request?

Keeping Christ’s commandments if not a reachable goal. But I can take baby steps. The first is to try to remain conscious of the request, of the challenge. The challenge begs the question: what are your commandments? Jesus has told us. “Love the Lord your God with your whole heart, your whole soul, your whole mind.” Let all who I am love the Lord. And the second is like the first: love your neighbor as you love your self. The bottom line is that, in and of themselves, I cannot ever completely fulfill these commandments. I can keep them before me all the time. Even that is too ambitious. I can try to keep them before me all the time. And, when I don’t, I need to pick myself up and try again without sinking into negative thoughts and dismissing the effort.

So how do I move forward with this challenge today? With the help of the Spirit, I will keep the challenge before me. With the help of the Spirit, I will find and realize ways to act upon the request. With the help of the Spirit, I will not give up when I fail to meet the challenge. With the help of the Spirit, I will respond as best I can right here and right now. That is all I can do. Or is it?

Peace! Amen!

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The Gate, the Gate Keeper and the Sheep — John 10:1-10

Philip Devenish once told me that the person to reflect upon in this passage is the gatekeeper. Philip was my mentor at Notre Dame. His words come to mind every time I hear this pericope. It is the gatekeeper who has the awesome task of recognizing the shepherds (yes, multiple shepherds are assumed). It is the gatekeeper who opens the gate for them.

The gatekeeper controls the gate! The gatekeeper makes the decisions for the gate! Why is this so amazing? Because Jesus identifies himself as the gate! We may be all those who have anything to do with the gate — we may be the gatekeeper or the shepherds or the sheep but it is Jesus who is the gate.

Another thought: What if the gatekeeper refers to the Holy Spirit? Does the gatekeeper “control” the gate? Does the gatekeeper control Jesus? This image could lead to fryer reflection on the relationship between the Spirit, the Christ Jesus and us.

How does the gatekeeper know the shepherds? If there are multiple shepherds, there must be multiple herds. But all of these herds gather in one sheepfold. And all of the sheep recognize their respective shepherds. Are there strangers in the story who might pose as shepherds? Jesus does mention the possibility of thieves and bandits but they would come into the sheepfold by another way, perhaps by climbing over the fence. Or, as mentioned in verse 8, all who come before the gate are thieves and bandits. How can this be since clearly the shepherds are not part of this “all”? How does the gatekeeper discern who are the proper persons to let into the sheepfold? The gatekeeper needs to know all of the various shepherds. Presumably she must be able to ward off the thieves and bandits.

The immediate task of the shepherd is not to lead the sheep into the pen but rather out of it. It is the beginning of the day, not the end when all the sheep of all of the herds would again be penned together. The shepherds lead the sheep out of the pen in the morning and back into the pen in the evening.

The gatekeeper has a larger task. The gatekeeper must be able to recognize multiple shepherds. The gatekeeper must also recognize those who thieves and bandits and keep them out of the pen. Each shepherd has her own sheep and each of the herds recognizes its own shepherd. But the gatekeeper is not tasked with knowing who has each flock of sheep. There are multiple shepherds each calling his/her own sheep. Are there mutual discernment of leaders and followers by the shepherds and the sheep? The shepherds call; the sheep respond. The sheep are called by name. They respond. Each shepherd leads her/his herd out of the pen. But Jesus is not the shepherd. Are some of us shepherds? Are we shepherds some times and sheep at other times?

As with many passages of the various gospels, it is important to look at what comes before and after this passage. In hearing just the particular passage one can make all sorts of assumptions. In this case it is the possible identity of those whom Jesus is addressing. Heard by itself, it is easy to presume that Jesus is talking to and teaching his disciples. But the story just before this passage is that of the Man Born Blind. The final group that Jesus addresses in that story are the Pharisees. So this entire story and the Good Shepherd story that follows it are addressed to the Pharisees. Interestingly, Jesus switches his identity between the two stories. In this passage he identifies himself as the gate. In what follows, he identifies himself as the good shepherd. It seems that he switches analogies. No wonder, at the end of both stories, that of the gate and that of the good shepherd, the Pharisees conclude that Jesus is possessed by a demon and is out of his mind.

So the questions are legend for those who go deeper than the surface with this passage. For one thing, Jesus gives the possibility of numerous other shepherds. This could be seen as referring to those who follow other paths toward enlightenment. In verse 16 Jesus does recognize that he has other sheep who are not of his fold. Are they members of other folds or are they lost sheep?

It is better to recognize the myriad of questions rather than to try to answer them. For lectio leaders one definite lesson from this passage is that there are different ways to hear a passage. Participants can identify with or focus on many different characters in any particular story. One may be a shepherd or a sheep or a gatekeeper. You may be a shepherd or a sheep or a gatekeeper at various times in your life. But Jesus makes it clear in this passage that he is the gate. Who are you? Who are we?

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The Catechumenate — A Process of Spiritual Formation

Will you open your heart and mind to receive the Good News of Jesus Christ? Answer: I will, with God’s help. (Rite of Admission of Candidates) Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship…? I will, with God’s help. (The Baptismal Covenant)

The Catechumate is all about spiritual formation!

When I first began catechumenate ministry in 1981, the priest at St. Theresa’s responded to my request to take part in the adult education program. When I became the Director of the RCIA for the Diocese of Ft. Wayne-South Bend, the new position was part of the Department of Adult Education. One of the national discussions at Notre Dame and in the North American Forum for the Catechumenate was whether or not the RCIA was part of Liturgy and Worship or of Adult Education. In the spirit of Catholicism, the answer was “both/and.” When I became part of the RCIA team at St. Rose Catholic Church in Roseville, that team was part of Adult Education. When I joined the catechumenate team at Trinity Cathedral, the catechumenate was part of “Adult Spiritual Formation,” (ASF) Trinity’s name for adult education. Or, at least, that was how I saw Adult Spiritual Formation. When I did diocesan workshops on the catechumenate, I did them, and they were received, as part of the “sacramental development” of adult education.

There was no discussion at any of these organizations during all of this time of the catechumenate being essentially a process of spiritual formation . The placement of the catechumenate within ASF implied that it was about classes for adults. The assumption was that these classes, and all others that ASF offered would somehow contribute to the participants’ spiritual formation. My team has campaigned for several years that we don’t hold classes; we have meetings. I don’t think we realized the implications of this change of language. At least I did not.

I continued waffling between whether the catechumenate should be part of liturgy and worship or part of ASF. I was pretty sure that no one would agree to moving it to Liturgy and Worship because the most significant part of the catechumenate was preparing participants for baptism and confirmation through classes.

Another part of this background is that I have participated in a long running debate as to whether or not there is sufficient doctrine taught in catechumenate. Jim Richardson, the Interim Dean at Trinity Cathedral, is the latest person raising this argument against the value of the catechumenate. My response has been that the catechumenate strictly speaking, i.e. as designed specifically for the unbaptized, is not about teaching Roman Catholic or Episcopalian or Lutheran doctrine but rather preparing people to be baptized into the Body of Christ. One is not baptized into the Catholic Church or into the Episcopal Church or into the Lutheran Church. St. Paul clearly gives us the Scriptural basis for this claim (I Cor 1:8-18). However I do concede that, because the formation is taking place within a particular denomination, that denomination’s ethos will envelope the formation. And I agree that confirmation involves committing oneself to entry into a particular denomination and hence could include teaching in the doctrines of the particular denomination. All candidates for the catechumenate and it’s related rites are asked the questions cited at the beginning of this blog. None are asked “Do you commit yourself to following the doctrines and dogmas of “X” Church?”

I am somewhat ashamed that my realization of the essential nature of the catechumenate has come late in my ministry. I have provided the above history partially as a justification of why is have been so blind to this understanding. And, in all fairness to Trinity, the placement of the catechumenate in ASF is part of how and why I came to this revelation. When the catechumenate is placed in the context of spiritual formation, all discussions of adequate doctrinal teaching become irrelevant. We are not about teaching. We are about reflecting on the Gospel and upon the apostles’ teachings, which are essentially the same as the gospels. (The Gospel narratives are the embodiment of the apostles’ teachings.). We are about incorporation into the Body of Christ, as that is reflected in the Gospels. I did not come to this realization until I retired. I did reflect on it while employed but the reflections were brief. I spent more time trying to figure out how to meet the objections of inadequate doctrinal education.

Now that we talk about the catechumenate as spiritual formation, how will it fit into the ASF department at Trinity? One can argue that the writing classes and chat groups serve the same function. Centering Prayer certainly is about spiritual formation but I don’t think we see it as part of ASF unless we are pressed as to where it “fits” in the Trinity organizational structure. Advocates of EfM argue that the faith sharing in the EfM classes makes that program “more than” classes. But the readings are in Scriptural exegesis and commentary, in Church history and in doctrinal theology. They are classes and EfM is a course of study.

It will be interesting to see if the new Dean will see this essential nature of the catechumenate. It is clear that Bishop Megan “gets it.” Her comments thus far on the nature of the catechumenate make that clear.

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Easter 2020

Many have commented that, because of the Covid 19 pandemic, this Easter is unique. Christians have not gathered physically to celebrate and worship. We have not heard the readings together. We have not shared communion. I recommend researching the many commentaries, sermons, articles and more that comment and reflect upon our current situation.

The inability to be physical together to celebrate the Triduum, including the Great Vigil, is difficult. But what has arisen from this are new electronic “virtual” ways to gather. Media technicians have joined with liturgists to help bring communities together through Zoom and other interactive meeting software, through Facebook streaming, through webinars. Zoom and Webinars have include the capabilities for “dialogue” in the form of Q&A and texts/comments. Facebook, often combined with YouTube, is more limited. Friends of the group can make comments on the Facebook event post but it is really more one-way. Hopefully the faith communities who have taken advantage of these media will continue in the post-pandemic world.

Trinity has been wrestling with how to take advantage of these media forms for quite awhile. When I was Operations Manager, I did not take the time to pursue the various means. We used meetings-to-go for remote connection to vestry and some other meetings. But we did not use Zoom. I’m not sure we had a license. I did participate in some JBL zoom meetings but that was because I had the software on my laptop and iPad. Now we are using it for Adult Spiritual Formation groups. Kelly Mieske used it for catechumenate meetings. Lectio sessions adapt well to this media. Establishing a home sacred space is important for remote lectio and for participation in other on-line liturgies. People have developed instructional You tube videos on how to create such spaces. Setting up such a space can be a challenge f there are others in the house who do not respect the need for such a space. Youth and Family ministry used Zoom for meetings. It would be easy enough to set up some youth meetings with it. In fact, one of the things has not done is seek tou our teens who probably have much more knowledge on how to develop and use this media.

Trinity is using Facebook streaming to broadcast the Sunday liturgies. They also used itl for broadcasting the Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Great Vigil Triduum. For them as well as other faith communities a challenge is how to have “remote participation.” Trinity asked people to wash their hands on Maundy Thursday, to have a cross present for Good Friday and to have candles, bells and paper “Alleluias” with them for the Vigil.

Mary and I have “participated” in several different faith community broadcasts. We have chosen to join in All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Pasadena more often than in Trinity Cathedral’s offerings. All Saints’ uses Zoom whereas Trinity uses Facebook streaming. Zoom allows more than one remote site at a time. The celebrant/officiant can be in one space; a lector in another; musicians in other spaces and so on. For us, there is more of a sense of participation in this rather than in Facebook streaming. We did participate in Trinity’s Good Friday and Easter Vigil services. Trinity usually has a noon-3:00 reflection service on Good Friday. That would lend itself well to either media. Instead they chose to have noon and evening services duplicate.

Mary and I have done several things to enhance our sense of participation. We stand and sit at appropriate places (e.g. sitting for the readings but standing for the proclamation of the Gospel). We do the responses out loud. We have had bread and wine that we receive from each other. We washed each others feet on Maundy Thursday. And she nailed me to a cross on Good Friday (just kidding).

My first experience of the Great Vigil was in 1971 when I stayed at Mt Angel Seminary for Holy Week. The entire Triduum experience was good, though I didn’t appreciate it at the time. I did appreciate the drama of the Vigil. It starts out on the church plaza. The Abbot and fellow priests wear gold colored vestments. The fire burns as we gather. The Abbot marks and blesses the Paschal Candle. Then all those gathered process into the dark Church. The monk who is carrying the candle leads the procession. The Abbot and then all of the monks and other participants follow. At Mt. Angel all of the Scripture readings are proclaimed with chanted psalms following each. This is done in the dark. The only lights are for the lector, the Abbot for the collect prayers, and the organist. These lights go on and off at the appropriate moments. They light the entire church before the reading from Romans Chapter 6. They process and incense the Book of the Gospel. The Abbot preaches.

Mary and I watched this year’s Abbey Vigil. It was good to “go back” in a sense. I think my love of the Easter Vigil has its roots in that early experience at the Abbey. Abbot Jeremy preached a wonderful sermon. His deep knowledge of the Scripture, of the liturgy, of all that the Vigil encompasses showed through in the reflection and teaching that we heard.

I hope Mt. Angel continues to broadcast their liturgies after we gain some liberty from the coronavirus. The Abbey has also broadcast some parts of the Liturgy of the Hours. I suspect Trinity will continue to stream services. We have wrestled with streaming the Sunday liturgy for years. The National Cathedral used Facebook and Youtube prior to the shelter-in-place practices. Grace Cathedral did the same.

The Good News (for there is always Good News in the midst of travail) is that many faith communities, including Jewish and Muslim, have discovered these media during this pandemic. Some larger churches have had the resources to incorporate them for years. Others, like Trinity, have not expended resources for this until now. Trinity will go forward with this technology.

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Reflections on the Corona Virus Pandemic

There are a lot of posts “out there” on life in the midst of the current pandemic. I add mine primarily for myself. In the future, I will be able to look back and see how I was at this time. But, of course, all are welcome to read and share as well.

Closed synagogues: Today is the second day of the full moon. It is a “super moon” with the moon very close to the earth. And, appropriately, because of the Hebrew lunar calendar, today is the first day of Passover. Last evening, during the Seder dinner, the child asked “Why is this night different from all others.” The answer this year is obvious. The pandemic makes it different, The pandemic has changed all of our lives. Our Jewish sisters and brothers can reflect on many pesachs that have also been unique. The original flight from Egypt, the diaspora from their Holy Land, the many forced moves throughout their history, the Holocaust and now this one that they share with all of us. The Pasch, the Passover meal, is primarily a family meal. Extended families gather at least for the first night, perhaps for more. This year many will gather only the immediate members in their own homes.

Closed churches: Today is Maundy (Holy) Thursday. This year it syncs directly with Passover. That is another reason for this being a special, though not unique night. Maundy Thursday is all about the Last Supper and it is about washing each others feet. It is about service and eating together. It is about the sacredness of servitude in the midst of a family meal. We are in the midst of Holy Week. Maundy Thursday is the first day of the Triduum, the Christian high holy days. But there will be no washing of each other’s feet this year. Tomorrow is Good Friday. The Noon reflections can easily be done over the internet but there will be no community veneration of the cross. The Easter Vigil is the time for baptisms. The will be no baptisms. It is the grand liturgical party of the church year. The party will be less grand as we celebrate from a distance rather than together. Easter Sunday is a day of gathering for many Christians. And Easter Sunday is a day of family gatherings for Easter egg hunts, for brunch, for dinner. This year those hunts and brunches and dinners are reserved for the immediate members in their own houses.

Roman citizens highly respected Christians of the first and second centuries because they would tend the sick with little regard for themselves. Some died but saw their deaths as similar to Jesus’. They were doing God’s work and would suffer, even die, doing that work. Some say this is one reason for the rapid growth of early Christianity (see Gerald Sittser’s Resilient Faith). Mother Teresa is our model for this in our time. Yet few are doing this in the name of Christ during this pandemic. Rather it is the medical personal, the first responders, the grocery and food providers, the delivery people who are assisting. For some it is because this is their job. For others, it is their job but they are in a service industry because they feel the call to serve.

Closed houses: Our houses are our shelters. We are constructing virtual motes. We sanitize our packages, our clothes, our bodies when we return from the world “out there.” Neighbors and delivery people leave items on our doorsteps, ring the doorbell and furtively walk away. Those like Mary and I are blessed inasmuch as we are able to walk or garden or go to a park. Those stranded in a small apartments, like Jacquelyn and Bryce, suffer the “coops” more than we do. What is different about this time? We are zealous about cleanliness. We are germaphobes. Is this justified? The standard for “physical distancing” (the common term is “social distancing”) is six feet or two meters. There is a great deal of physical distancing. Some argue that there is not enough. We encounter those who ignore the physical, political standard. There is some social distancing. I especially feel it when I go into a store. (I go few other places.) Suspicion and wariness cloud interactions. But there are also many instances of attempts to overcome this barrier: greeting neighbors and others whom we have never greeted before, being kinder to grocery store workers, assisting the health care workers where and how we can, recognizing the efforts of nurses and doctors and first responders, of those who prepare and deliver our fast food, for those who keep the grocery stores open, of all of those who help us through this crisis but of whom we are unaware.

But the invisible pervasive virus uses us as its carrier. We don’t know if we are carriers. This highlights the other (rather than the thou) in our relationships. My way of countering this is to call people who are in Trinity’s database, at least those for whom we have phone numbers. My list includes those from “Sto” – “Trib.” I also greet the stranger when I go for walks and I try to be nice to those I encounter on my rare trips out and about. I have started praying Matins during the week. When possible I “virtually” join the National Cathedral matins. I stop the recorded service at the place for intercessions and remember those on my prayer list as well as many others I know. I want my promises “to pray for you” to be more than empty words. Yesterday a woman on my list told me that she had only one role of toilet paper left. (Toilet paper has been the item of the “scarcity fear” with this crisis.). I had bought a large pack of TP at Costco on Tuesday and I took her a a small “six pack” from there. It was a 40 minute round trip to her place but words of concern and support mean nothing without the acts. I am Catholic enough to lean with the Apostle James on this one. Faith without action is empty.

I may write more on this in the future. I have not touched on the political elements of this. That will be my next pandemic entry.

For now: “Be well and stay well.” That is our current common valediction .

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Holy Transfiguration Monastery

The Entrance to Holy Transfiguration Monastery

Holy Transfiguration Monastery is a community of 10 Ukrainian Orthodox monks. Not all are from the Ukraine but they all are drawn to that particular Christian discipline. The monastery buildings come into view after rounding a final curve of the winding, gravel drive from Tomki Road. Mary and I arrived around 12:15 and no one was in sight. As we approached the monastery entrance, Abbot Damian came through the gate and greeted us. He explained that they were in the midst of their silent lunch and invited us to join them.

The monks sit on benches at long, thick wood tables. There is a table at the back of the refectory for guests. Lunch was simple — a hearty soup with delicious homemade bread and a choice of apples, pears and bananas. The beverage choices were water, tea or coffee. One of the monks was reading from the Lives of the Saints.

After lunch, Abbot Damian introduced us to each of the monks. Then we went out to the car for his first view of the icon we had brought for repairs. Damian helped me carry the icon into the refectory and said that we would examine it later. He then had Brother Simeon take us to the guest house. The guest house is up a gravel road from the main cluster of buildings. It has 12 guests rooms, a common area and a small kitchen. We had a studio room with a parlor, bedroom (with a queen size bed — one of the two rooms for couples) and a small bath. It was simple but nice, as were most other accommodations of the monastery. There was not much water in the bathroom and no hot water. It was December in the northern hills of California. The temperatures were brisk. We later found out that the hot water was turned off when no guests were occupying the guest house. When they turned it on, the simple apartment was even more comfortable. Brother Simeon left us to ourselves and invited us to explore the grounds with the exception of the cloister. We left our car up at the guest house and went to explore. We walked past a pond. The croaking frogs became silent as we rounded the turn and approached their pond. We checked out the gift shop filled with icons, candles and Orthodox Church literature. Then we went to the chapel.

The smell of incense enwraps you as you enter the chapel. There is a narthex, a monk’s choir area and the screened sanctuary that is in most Orthodox Christian churches and chapels. A simple chandelier provides a dim light and the chapel walls are covered with icons. The silence is holy and profound.

After our little self-tour, I hiked a road at the back of the property. Abbot Damian had told us that it was there and that it led to the property line with the Buddhist monastery. I hoped to make it that far but after a half-mile of hiking up and down some challenging hills, I turned back. Mary and I also walked back to our room after Vespers. It was dark but the sky was clear and we had a flashlight. We heard a kitten meow and one came out of the brush at the side of the path. I initially started toward it until I saw the pointy ears and small, curly tail. We realized it was a bobcat and that the mother might be close by. We also knew enough not to touch a young bobcat because its mother might abandon it if she smelled a human touch.

My heritage is Canadian French and Ukrainian. The Eastern Orthodox tradition calls to me. I have many icons and love the good incense that most orthodox faith communities use. Holy Transfiguration Monastery appeals to me but I am too worldly to be able to embrace that lifestyle. Mary and I joined the monks for Vespers that evening as well as Matins at 5:30 the next morning and the Divine Liturgy. The Divine Liturgy followed immediately after Morning Prayer so we were in the chapel for about 2 hours in the morning before breakfast. The liturgies are complex. We used three different books during the prayers: a hymnal, a Psalter and a Book of the Hours. There was a guide in the back of the Book of the Hours but it was cursory at best. A woman who joined the monks for morning and evening prayers helped us navigate, as did one of the monks. At times we were totally lost and at other times we found the liturgical path.

We also joined the monks for dinner (during which there was conversation), breakfast and lunch the next day, both of which were in silence with readings. After breakfast we joined Abbot Damian in his examination of the Trinity Icon [see the previous blog entry]. We learned a lot through his analysis and verbal commentary. I asked him to do a more extensive analysis and let me know the cost for the repairs.

Mary and a view of the sky & valley at the monastery

We had time to walk past a pond that housed geese and ducks before lunch and admire the view of the valley. After lunch we took our leave, or thought we would. We had a flat tire. I had not changed one for decades but we knew that AAA would either not find us or it would take hours. I had my assigned chores for the afternoon.

Finally we drove down the hill to rocky and rough Tomki Road and through the beautiful scenery of the farms and the lake.

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The Trinity Icon Saga

In the early 15th Century, Andrei Rublev, a Russian artist and icon writer (icons are “written,” not painted) wrote a famous icon known as the “Trinity Icon” or the “Hospitality Icon.”   (You can find out more about this icon on the internet under (Rublev Icon.)

The story of Trinity Cathedral’s copy is a bit complex but stay with me as I relate its twists and turns.  Lisa Mondori, a friend of Dean Brown, visited with the Dean upon her 2001 return from Peace Corps work.  Lisa had contacts in Romania through her work in the Peace Corp and with World Vision.  In Lisa words, she “foolishly promised Don” a copy of the icon.  The Dean did not let Lisa forget her promise and, during a visit in 2002, he brought out “an enormous bunch of taped-together paper indicating the size he wanted.”  Don wanted the icon to reside on the wall in the East Transept.  The space Don envisioned for the icon meant that Trinity could have a copy that would be almost identical in proportions and size to the real Rublev Trinity.

Lisa contacted Father Mihai Pavel, a friend of hers from her days in the Peace Corp.  He facilitated the project.   Father Pavel contacted Razvan Gasca, a student of sacred art at the Alexandru Ioan Cuza in Iasi, Romania.  (Razvan Gasca has since become a priest in the Romanian Orthodox Church.)

Lisa continues the story:  “Writing the icon] was a fairly ambitious project.  Razvan had two roommates who helped, and I think the whole project took place in their tiny dorm room, crammed in between the bunkbeds.  Mihai ordered the board from some monastery up in the hills that is known for its icon boards, went to collect it, and discovered that it wouldn’t fit into the car.  I brought brushes, pigments, and the gold leaf from the U.S., good quality art supplies still being hard to come by in Romania at that time.  When the icon was finally finished, Mihai had a hard time giving it up.  He put it against the wall in his office at World Vision and proceeded to procrastinate until Don wrote him a somewhat forceful email announcing the date when he planned to install the icon in the Cathedral and more or less ordering Mihai to get a move on.”

The icon was installed in June 2003 in the space that Dean Brown envisioned.  Since then smaller copies have been given as departure gifts to numerous staff and clergy whose careers have taken them away from Trinity Cathedral.  

Now the icon has disappeared from the Cathedral. Mary and I disked it away.   Some of the gold leaf has bubbled and flaked off.  Kathrin Burleson, another Trinity Cathedral friend, interested in icons, assured me that the faulty gold leaf does not extend to the icon images and is repairable.  Kathrin referred me to Father Damian Higgins, Abbot of Holy Transfiguration Monastery in the Redwood Valley.  Father Damian writes and repairs icons.  He agreed to look at our copy of Rublev’s icon and see about repairs. (Getting the icon repaired was on my “to do” list for three years, and now, with much more time on my hands, I was able to pursue this goal.)

Mary and I took the icon to the monastery on December 9, a beautiful, late fall day with plenty of sunshine. We traveled north along I-80 and then took Highway 20 west. The journey took us along the north shore of Clear Lake until we went north on Highway 101 for a couple of miles before exiting onto West Road. West Road was as scenic as many country roads. It reminded me of Williams Highway, one of the roads from Grants Pass to my family’s farm in Southern Oregon We went past numerous farms and orchards before turning veering right onto Tomki Road, also a country road but narrower than West Road. About 5 miles along Tomki we came to a sign that read, “This road is not maintained during the winter months. Continue at our own risk.” Tomki Road went from a two lane to a one lane with the valley on the left and a hill on the right. Waze continued to indicate that we were on the right path.

We passed a Buddhist monastery that earlier research, the map and Waze told us was there and suddenly we saw the entrance to the monastery grounds. We had made it!

I will continue with our stay at the monastery in the next blog.

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Ah, Retirement

In past years I have put our grill away for the winter with a cursory cleaning. This January I took it all apart and gave it a thorough cleaning. Today I took it out of storage and set it up. I decided to look at the owner’s manual. (I knew where it was!). I wanted to find out about a chain that hangs inside the left door. It is a match holder that Weber had thoughtfully added. I may try to figure out something more useful for it. But I also found out that the starter was not broken, as I thought it had been for the last two years. It just needed a new battery. I didn’t even know that it had one!

This and so much more is part of retirement. Retirement is, within one’s means, a time of doing what you want. Retirement is a time of getting up without an alarm, except on rare occasions. Retirement is a time to reflect on life, or it can be.

I have often envisioned retirement as the time during which I would read the classic Western philosophers — Plato, Aristotle, Augustine of Hippo, Anselm, Aquinas, and so forth, down through the ages. I have envisioned retirement as a time to read history. I have envisioned retirement as a time to delve into cooking. I have envisioned retirement as a time to devote to our garden and landscaping, to our house and to travel. I have envisioned retirement as a time to devote more time to prayer and reflection. Mary and I our members of The Renaissance Society at California Sate University in Sacramento. This helps me be inspired about the reading. So far, gardening has been a project in I have started with vigor. Thus far, deferred house repairs remain deferred. (I need to leap in, even if I don’t know what I’m doing.). And so far I have avoided the opportunities for prayer and contemplation.

I want to get up early in the morning for prayer and reflection and for reading and writing. Sometimes (like this morning), I am successful about doing that. Often times I am not. I am not because retirement is also a time when we can and do watch the late night talk shows and movies and Masterpiece mysteries without worrying about getting up the next morning.

Throughout much of my adult life one of my shortcomings has been setting goals that are somewhat out of reach. I set the “stretch goals” and forget to set smaller intermittent ones in order to reach the final step. (I decided to learn German as part of my graduate studies. I started with Heidegger’s Being and Time. I have not finished.) Perhaps for me retirement is a time to learn how to set more attainable goals that can lead to a more reachable success, like thoroughly cleaning my barbecue grill.

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What to do with the 3 conversion stories: Jn: 4:5-42; Jn 9:1-41; Jn 11: 1-45 ?

When there are catechumens who are candidates for baptism at the Great Vigil of Easter, it is appropriate in any year with the consent of the Bishop to use the Sunday lectionary for Year A during Lent and the Great Fifty Days of Easter. (BoS 2018, p. 136)

These three conversion stories — The Samaritan Woman at the Well; The Man Born Blind; The Raising of Lazarus — are long. But the RCIA, The BoS and other liturgical instruction texts dictate or recommend that they be used if a faith community has catechumens preparing for baptism. There is good reason for this. They are all powerful conversion stories. They all deal with major themes of baptism: water, sight, new life.

Using them in Year A is easy, for obvious reasons. These are the gospel passages for the 3rd, 4th & 5th Sundays of Lent, respectfully. But not so for Years B and C. Many pastors ignore this dictum for “pastoral reasons.” They say that the faithful would miss the richness and variety of the other Lenten pericope. I suspect many of the faithful would not even notice the difference. If they did, would they could raise some questions? “We heard these passages last year; why again this year?” If the people are that aware of the “sameness” from year to year, then they are probably already clued into the significance of having catechumens among them.

But what are catechists supposed to do with these pericopes? They are long stories that do not lend themselves to lectio. I have seen several suggestions:

  • Reflect upon the entire story as story. Read it through and then talk about images it brings forth; who you most identify with in the story and why; what do you think is going on in this story, etc.
  • Take a short section of the story for lectio.
  • Assign different roles in each story and read it as narrative. (I have jokingly referred to this as “practice” for reading the Passion narrative for Palm Sunday or Good Friday.) The catechumenate participants at Trinity Cathedral read the Passion narrative at one of the Palm Sunday main services. Depending upon the number of catechumens, candidates and sponsors, the team members may also read parts.
  • Let people use art work (poetry, sketching, music, etc) to tell the story in their own words.
  • Preach on each story.
  • Other?

I don’t know. All of these, or a mixture, are possibilities. We have tried all of these, except the art work suggestion. Using this option would depend upon the “artistic” capabilities of the participants. The retreat exercise of creating your own creed would be good preparation for this approach. At Trinity Cathedral we have a retreat on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday during which we focus on the Apostle’s Creed.

I don’t mean this quick conclusion to be a cop-out. I simply put these forward as different possibilities. If you have other suggestions, please let us know. Meanwhile, I strongly recommend following the recommendation of those who have spent so much time with the RCIA and its various denominational variations.

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