Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Lent's End: Mulligans... and Slow Motion

So the first speaking tour wrapped a couple nights back in Wilmington.... And I'm still tired.

Thanks to everyone who showed -- they tell me it made for a "stellar" Theology on Tap crowd -- and to the diocese's Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, which was kind (bold?) enough to invite Philly's homegrown enfant terrible down I-95 for a memorable evening (for the guest chatterbox, at least).

Speaking of Delaware Catholicism, great piece in this week's Dialog (pdf) on diocesan pastoral councils. (Yes, fellow Northeasterners, they do exist.... Just sparsely on our turf.) Thank God for those places which allow them to flourish, thrive and be of great benefit, both in the service of their local churches and as a gold standard for the rest.

Elsewhere along the path, I've given myself two weeks worth of attempts to find appropriate words to thank and praise Denver -- the place where, six years ago, the second stage of my ecclesiastical journey began and where the hand of Providence seems to have its way with me with an intensity it doesn't manifest anywhere else. And still, words fail. I've got a lot of emotions and song lyrics, but, for once, nothing of my own... at least, nothing sufficient.

Then again, what's new?

I don't know whether to chalk the Providence bit up to the altitude, the archbishop, or what; all I know is that it happens, and that I always leave there changed, the better for the experience, eternally grateful, and with a clearer picture of things and an encouraged spirit to forge ahead along the path marked out in the shadow of the Rockies. So to everyone whose paths crossed mine in that magical place (when I wasn't cooped-up in the room hammering out the talks), whether during post-confab, Mass or karaoke, thanks for charming and sustaining my life as only, so time has taught me, the church in Northern Colorado can.

On the threshold of his tenth anniversary as its shepherd, this debt is owed especially to Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap., whose friendship has been a source of encouragement, example and enrichment in my life since his early days in the Mile High City (when I was a freshman in high school). It's a bond that seems to baffle some, but that he's put up with me and served as my episcopal "conscience" for as long as he has is further proof of what so many already know, the contagious depth of his love for the church and his commitment to its rising generation. I can never thank him enough for all he's taught and given me through the years, and I know ever more with time that I've still so much to learn from him.

Luckily -- or not, depending on how one views these things -- through the wonders of technology, you, too, can experience the fun. Well, 2/5 of it.

As a devoted collector of "bootleg" concert recordings, I'm still somewhat gobsmacked to find myself on the opposite end of the mic. But such is the state of things that two of the events were captured for webcast -- the audio of the Denver ToT and video of the St Joseph's University's blogfest alongside Amy Welborn and Commonweal's Grant Gallicho have been posted. Thanks, too, to Jean Torkelson of the Rocky Mountain News and Tracy Kmetz of the Denver Catholic Register for being kind with their accounts of a rookie's maiden gig. (Kmetz, in particular, was a joy to spend a good deal of time with behind-the-whispers; she even got to hear a bunch of the war stories... off-record, of course.)

As for the feeds, think of it this way: in this penitential season, just in case anyone else has been slacking off, listening or viewing will subtract weeks off Purgatory. At least, that's how I see it.

Thanks again to everyone who made the various treks a blessed and humbling experience. Next stop: Madison, WI at April's end.... More as it draws closer.

* * *

This past Sunday, we began the period of Lent that, once upon a time, was referred to as "Passiontide." Of course, Passion Sunday was collapsed into Palm Sunday with the liturgical reforms, but from the readings of the Fifth Sunday of Lent, we find that as these days of grace intensify into their home stretch, one last chance -- a mulligan, if you will -- still exists for those of us who, to this point, haven't been the best at our observance of these Forty Days to step up to the plate and start over.

Ever the procrastinator, I'm grateful to no end for this little opening, one which gives special meaning to the term "grace period." And, forgive me, but I need to take advantage of it to the utmost extent.

At last Tuesday's panel, the three of us seemed to agree that a strength of the blogosphere, a key to its credibility, is that it's written not by institutional automatons, but living, breathing, feeling, believing human beings. In its own way, though, each strength is a weakness, and this one in particular can sometimes belie the fact that, every so often, these beings need a breather or a break.

They say I have a bit of influence in these parts, and I know myself well enough to know how intensely bizarre and unmerited that is. But if that's indeed the case, then I'm compelled to put it to good use and remind anyone who needs reminding that we can let no story, no speculation get in the way of the Mystery to which these two weeks provide the run-up, and that living in the news cycle can be an overly convenient distraction, both from What we celebrate, and the work we need to do to prepare for It. As I often ask myself, and with good reason, "How can I do anything worthwhile for anyone else if my bedroom's a mess?"

I doubt this is the case for anyone else. But it is for me, both literally and figuratively.

A commitment to timeliness, accuracy and balance is one thing, but keeping the bedroom clean is, arguably, just as, if not more, important. Because it's been easier to deny this and keep plugging away, I've staved it off in the past. But just as Lent derives from the word for "Spring," I'm far behind on the necessary upkeep, both of room and spirit.

On Ash Wednesday, I promised myself a week's retreat at some point during this season's course. Again, ever the procrastinator, I've finally made good on this -- said downtime began Sunday, and the customary suspension of publication for Holy Week will be observed. Bottom line: don't look for anything new on these pages this side of Easter.

I've always kept a great admiration for those among this readership -- and there are many of them -- who take a Lenten fast from news and, instead, devote that time to an increase in prayer, good works and, most importantly, self-examination. And the latter can sometimes be a bit harder than wondering what the rest are up to, eh?

For my part, what I've come up with so far is that, simply put, I'm tired, tapped-out across the board, and needing to breathe a bit. Keeping on in said state is no way to experience Lent, let alone live the Triduum that marks the essence of who we are and what we do, day in and day out. Much as I'd be keen to trudge through regardless, I know I can't, and trying to do so would be irresponsible -- not to the reportage, but to those things which are even more important.

Candidly, the increase in readership these past months has brought a significant increase in responsibility and the pressures that come with it. (Just as candidly, they haven't brought a correlated increase in financial security, but such is life; I'm still enjoying the ride and never cease to be overwhelmed by it.) While I've done my best to handle these as seamlessly as possible, there's no more better time to step back and be still than this "crowning of the year," whose climax continues to give us life, meaning and hope, just as it once did for the great and intrepid ones who came before us, on whose shoulders we stand, and whose witness we're called to imitate and build upon, that we might see them again one day and join them in the Pasch's fulfillment.

Clearly, you can use the time you'd normally spend perusing these pages doing whatever you will. But, if anyone's taking suggestions, I'd ask that you'd employ those few minutes of your day, week, whatever, for a better purpose, whatever it may be. Two thousand years of commentaries and meditations abound on what we're about to celebrate anew. Any one of those beats whatever you find here by miles, and would be of incredibly more benefit than the daily buzz.

But even more than that, a big part of what makes us who we are is our unique sensibility of being a sacramental people, a lot for whom the seemingly abstract and distant becomes real and, in our midst, is suffused with grace and able to serve as a means of communion, both with those around us and with A Certain Someone Upstairs. In this vein, there are a lot of people out there -- and sometimes we can be so wrapped up with our own pieces of the scenery that, even unconsciously, we lose sight of 'em -- who could use a little boost, a bit of presence, the extension of a kind word or just a bit of time. Sometimes this isn't easy, and sometimes, too, it takes just a tad of sacrifice of self, but along the lines of Sunday's Angelus, it's these hidden moments unknown to the rest that, more often than you'd think, can have a decisive impact on the lives of others. These are the little "yes"ses we're called to give, and most of the time, such is the case that we might not even know we're giving them.

"Give God permission," was Blessed Teresa of Calcutta's famous and frequent advice to others. Whatever you end up doing these next two weeks, there could be no better way for each of us to put a bow around this Lent than to at least step up the effort to do that, in whatever form it might take, for whatever part of our lives where we might need it. In my case, it means a step back, a look around -- and, most of all, a good, long look up as opposed to the hours of downward glances at the keyboard. For what it's worth, I'd like to think that these pages owe their... well, whatever they are to that permission, the grace that has sustained me far beyond my limits to keep saying "yes" to this road, with all its joys and gifts, and all its moments of suffering and loneliness.

I've only realized that this work has been onto something thanks to the gift of all of you: your infinite kindnesses, support, encouragement, candor, wisdom, humor, criticism, friendship, interest in and love for the church and, most of all, the many, many prayers, without which things never would've come this far. It's been a wild ride, an intense one which has been the fount of blessing after unspeakable blessing. And the beauty of it is, no matter where we're at, what we do or how far along the road we find ourselves, we're all in this together. Especially over these days, may we never fail to keep that in mind.

I'm not the best, hardest-working or holiest at what I do or how I live, but I know that I am the luckiest. You know you've got my heartfelt prayers, and remember that I rely ever more on every last drop of the ones you're all so good to send my way.

Thanks as always, and all blessings for the rest of Lent. See you again in a bit and God love you lot forever!