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A Dry, Weary Land

Water is something Americans take for granted—until it’s not there. Just ask the residents of Gloucester, Mass., the fishing town known to readers of The Perfect Storm. It recently labored under two weeks of a “boil-water” restriction, thanks to some persistent bacteria, that had local restaurants scrambling to keep their businesses alive.

In Kenya it is the people who are struggling to stay alive. Hit with the worst drought in years, even the tonier parts of Nairobi sometimes now go without water for a week. But it is typically the poor who live in the sprawling slums of the capital and in the tiny villages that dot the vast bush country who are hardest hit. Drought leads to a terrible cascade of problems: no potable water, to be sure; then no water for crops; then no crops for livestock to consume. The Daily Nation, the country’s leading paper, reported two other ill effects: Eight people in the north died from cholera after drinking foul water from a well that would normally be avoided. And local poachers are slaughtering the animals on the country’s game parks, not surprising in a land where the word for animal is the same as the word for meat. The United Nations estimates that because of the drought and a grain scandal, in which tons were sold to funnel money into government officials’ pockets, four million Kenyans need food. The next time you turn on your faucet, remember to be grateful; the next time you open your wallet, remember to be generous.

That Was Close!

Mortgage applications are up; jobless claims are down; housing starts are on the rise; credit markets and regional economies are unfreezing; federal banks report their fiefs are “firming up”; Wall Street is churning out bonuses for comically overpaid executives once again. Some economists are worrying that gambling revenues are down and average Joes are saving too much instead of bulking up on new flat screens at Costco.

Though the horizon is far from clear and the suffering is not over—toxic assets remain unaccounted for and new rogue waves of foreclosures still threaten—some economists are beginning to suggest that the nation has survived the Great Recession of 2007-9. What now?

Are we as a culture planning to do anything differently? Are we going to look at new finance and banking regulations (or reinstate old ones that were cravenly repealed during an era of big bank overlordism in Washington)? Is someone finally going to explain in English what a derivative is?

Are we going to address seriously our addiction to foreign oil, our weakness as a global economic and diplomatic power and our overuse of military might to deflect the same? Are we willing to sacrifice more, consume less and pay down our public and private debt? Are we willing to pay as we go with higher taxes and fees and restrained spending instead of passing debt on to our grandchildren?

Are we finally willing to invest in our crumbling infrastructure and debilitated human capital instead of the morally hazardous capacity to launch two major ground wars at the same time? Are we ready to behave like serious people coming to reasonable decisions about the future of our nation?

Or....

Are we planning to exhale deeply, emit a low whistle and exclaim, “Whew, that was a close one,” thank our stars we were not one of the unlucky ones laid off in this collapse and get back to business as usual in this credit and carry culture? Or will we change?

Praying as Family

“The closer people sit to each other [at Mass] the better they understand the meaning of Eucharist. Conversely, the farther apart people sit from each other, the less their understanding.” Such is the index suggested by Paul Bernier, S.S.S., to measure the depth of understanding people have of the Eucharist (Emmanuel magazine, September/October 2009).

Does this apply to your parish? Or to your choice of a pew or seat? The point Father Bernier is making is that during Mass we are not to focus on our own individual personal piety or devotion. Rather, we gather as God’s community in public worship around the table of the Lord for a sacrificial meal. We are not scattered individuals, observers of what the priest does for us. The congregation, led by the priest, offers together the sacrifice of Christ.

In most African churches on Sundays, this matter of people sitting far apart is almost never a problem. Whether the church is a small outstation or a large cathedral, Sunday Masses are often overcrowded, with standing room only. Surely that contributes to the spirit of celebration that is so apparent and tangible. In the United States by contrast, many of our large, ornate churches have diminishing numbers of parishioners. Might not one of the functions of the ministers of hospitality be to direct people to come up front and center? Then we might begin to see the congregation not scattered throughout the church but rather sitting, kneeling and even singing close together as God’s family.

Comments

6466379 | 9/24/2009 - 7:33pm
Regarding the "Current Comment" segment, "Praying As A Family," I agree with Fr. Paul Bernier, S.S.S., that, "The closer people sit to each other (at Mass) the better they understand the meaning of the Eucharist." This will lead to "A Closer Walk With Christ," which happens to be the title of a book I'm reading on the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, by Raymond Thomas Gawronski, S.J.
Fr. Gawronski points out, we are all beggars before God and have nothing of our own, but "like monks we place our empty "begging bowls' before Him." I suggest we do so best, when as a family we come together up front and close at Mass, not far apart as if we're on our own. Not so, at all!
In our "empty bowls," the empty bowls of our hearts, empty! empty! empty,! by praying together as a family, up front and close, God will by circumstantial creative activity move over us as he did over  the primordial waters, saying, "Let there be light," so as to give us an astonishing belief in the reality of the Eucharist!
This proves yet again, from another perspective, that, "NOTHING  is moved unless it is first moved!" We see this, especially when sitting together at Mass as the Family of God, each with his/her "empty bowl."
Bruce Snowden
Paul Leddy | 9/23/2009 - 10:49pm
With all due respects to J.R. Hochstedt (commentor #2), and forgive me if I am incorrect because I keep loosing count: I discovered that, at Mass,  between the Our Father and when the congregation offers each other a sign of peace, the word "peace" is repeated seven times.  I believe the number seven connotates completeness or perfection. I don't know if it is coincidence or happenstance, or done on purpose that it is repeated that many times; nevertheless, it's now become important to me that I hear "peace" said seven times during that part of the Mass. The seventh time is when the congregation says "peace" to each other. 
And, no matter which way the priest is facing, the Mass is a "community" liturgy; almost all the pronouns in the prayers are plural.  I'd think the priest would get worn-out if he felt he was saying Mass only for "each" and "every" "one" sitting in the pews.  Its all about relationships.  Isn't there a part of the Mass when the priests asks the Holy Spirit to come down and unite us with all the angels and saints...?  If there isn't a sense of community, I'd get the idea that we'd all be asking the Holy Spirit for separate checks.
And, sometimes... I wonder if we haven't misunderstood the seven-toed sloth...
Robert Beezat | 9/22/2009 - 10:57am
Regarding "That Was Close," I agree with everything that was said.  Going back to a consumer based economy would be just postponing the inevitable, total crash of the U.S Economy. 
I would like to suggest that investment in infrastructure should include all types of green technologies and jobs: from new and more efficient enegry systems, to construction and maintenance of public transportation, to the manufacturing of energy efficient products of all kinds for home, industrial, and public use.  These are industries and jobs which call for creativity and ingenuity and can put people to work including blue and white collar workers.  And many of the jobs will stay in America.  Government at all levels needs to incentivize creation of these jobs.  And, socially responsible entreprenuers need to create businesses which make money and serve the common good.  That is one of the things the Pope calls for in Caritas In Veritate.  It is being done on a somewhat limited scale and it can be done on a broader scale. 
J.R. Hochstedt | 9/20/2009 - 11:29pm
One reason people sit apart during mass is to avoid being frowned at for not holding hands & raising them during the Our Father, as if this empty pretense of community could somehow make up for the absence of a shared, vital attention to Christ's sacrifice at the altar. Avoiding the noise & chattiness which inevitably accompany the "sign of peace" is another reason: at the very moment that all minds & hearts should be one in adoration of Christ, we're called on to slip on a social mask, to smile warmly at the people in one's vicinity while the mystery of our faith, Christ's sacrificial presence on the altar, is diluted into the sorry mess of a 'spiritual' group hug.

This advice confounds the liturgical meaning of 'celebration' with the popular usage; worse, it equates mere physical proximity and sensual exuberance with spiritual unity & force. It's one further reason the Church needs to give up the Protestant practice of having priests face the congregation while offering sacrifice, to get them to pay attention to the transcending reality of priesthood, and to stop wondering why the faithful aren't grinning and groping during the divine mysteries.
Timothy E. Tilghman | 9/20/2009 - 11:00pm
I agree that Catholics should not stand aside in this economic climate, but prayer alone is not the answer.  St James reminds us that faith without works is dead, St Augustine, in a commentary on prayer says that  prayer has to be connected to action when God responds to the petitions.  We are compelled to action which is not sending emails or marching once a year after a Mass and assuming that this Catholic action is sufficient to protect the dignity of human life.  As the body of Christ, we are called to transform the world with our faith.  I appreciate the comparison of the Church in the US with the Church in Africa, but it is incomplete. as part of my formation for the permanent diaconate, I spent 40 days in a Jesuit parish of 30,000 families in Lagos-State, Nigeria.  In this parish where many were unemployed and most all are underemployed, not only was the Church full on Sunday, but people gave from their substance every day to provide food, medical care, clothing, job training, small business loans and rental assistance.  When adolescents who wanted to learn more about the AIDS epidemic and preparation for marriage were not satisfied with the limited discussion in the diocesan CYO program, they formed their own diocesan-wide group, Youth Alive, to increase discussion about how their faith should form their decisions about sex and married life.  Vocatins to the sacramental life in Marriage and Holy Orders were plentiful in this Faith community.  Observing the community firsthand and seeing their faith, I wondered if we in the US were formed by our politics of scarcity and money, rather than the call to transform the world thru our faith.  I am much more concerned about where we stand when outside the sanctuary than where we sit when inside.  People with much less found a way to bring the faith to life in Lagos.  With the abundance we have the US, why cannot Catholics do the same here?

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