Priests and their chalices: an intimate connection

(James Baca, Denver Catholic Register)

(James Baca, Denver Catholic Register)

Editor Roxanne King has launched a new series, as part of the celebration of the Year for Priests, in the Denver Catholic Register on priests and their chalices called, simply enough, “A priest’s chalice.”

Priests, of course, can celebrate the Eucharist with any liturgically appropriate cup. Often many Catholics are unaware of the intimate connection between a priest and his personal chalice. They are many times gifts at ordinations or at special moments in the life of a priest or bishop.

Editor King begins the series with two first-person accounts about their connection to their personal chalices. The first is by Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput; the second is by Auxiliary Bishop James Conley. Both have short, moving stories about the cup each uses almost daily.

Next time you are at Mass, notice the chalice the priest is using. More than likely there is a story of family or friendship connected to it. Even more likely, it is a story he wouldn’t mind sharing.

The Kennedy ethos: sharing joys and grief with strangers

It was totally in keeping with the family ethos that Sen. Ted Kennedy’s wife, Vicki, his son, Patrick (a member of Congress from Rhode Island), and other family members spent hours this week greeting those in line at the Kennedy presidential library to pay their respects to the family patriarch.

This continues to be a family with an extraordinary sense of responsibility and connection to people whose lives bore little resemblance to their own.

Years ago, I was the editor of several community weeklies on Cape Cod, one of which served the town of Barnstable, which includes the community of  Hyannis Port, home base of the Kennedys. I lived in bicycling distance of the compound and would occasionally ride through their neighborhood.

For as much mystique as “the Kennedy compound” carries in American life, it is a fairly ordinary-looking place, at least in that neighborhood of  old-money beach retreats. If you don’t know where to look, it might not be clear whether it’s that fenced-off property, or the one on the other side of the street — until a tour bus swings by and pauses for a couple of minutes, anyway.

Working at the newspaper with local people who’d grown up around the Kennedys, I heard stories, mostly about the ordinariness of their interactions with family members: Running into matriarch Rose at Mass at St. Francis Xavier; seeing Ethel, widow of Bobby, en route to the Stop & Shop; catching glimpses of the younger kids playing on the beach, or of the young adults out with friends at a local bar.

Yet the mystique held, even among those who fixed the roofs on Kennedy houses and changed the tires on the family cars

So when as editor of the Cape Cod News I had the chance to attend a picnic at the compound, of course I made sure to go. As luck had it, my mother was visiting at the time, and she happily went with me. This was despite having broken her pelvis and wrist in a fall a few days earlier, limiting her mobility.

The picnic was hosted by then-Rep. Joe Kennedy, Robert’s son, who represented the 8th Massachusetts Congressional District. The guest list included reporters and editors from around the state and from Washington who covered the congressman and his family. That alone was unusual. It’s certainly not common for members of Congress to invite the folks who report on them to drop by for a cookout.

It was an extraordinary day. With Mom’s wrist in a cast and her obvious difficulty walking she attracted lots of attention and frequent offers of assistance. Probably half a dozen members of the Kennedy family — mostly the congressman’s siblings — made a point of stopping to ask about Mom’s injuries and make sure we were managing the beach terrain well enough.  They chatted with us about her travel from Arizona, about their work, about the weather and the food. Normal stuff, but heady when the chit-chat is with people typically seen on television.

Then there were the house tours. It wasn’t enough that this immensely famous family had invited a couple hundred members of the media and their families for a picnic on the beach made famous in unforgettable footage of the Kennedys’ touch football games. They also welcomed us to walk through a couple of the family’s houses, the main one, home of Rose Kennedy, and Ethel’s.

I remember being struck by the normalness of each. Ethel’s was bright and sunny, lots of casual beach furniture with yellow print cushions and grandchildren’s toys — Big Wheels and Playskool kitchens —  tucked out of the way of foot traffic.

Though every step obviously caused her some pain, Mom didn’t miss the chance to visit Rose Kennedy’s house. We paused to search for familiar faces among the dozens of family photos arrayed on tables and a piano. We marveled at the tiny armchair, with slightly worn upholstery, positioned in front of a television, in easy reach of the compact elevator that the then 90-something Mrs. Kennedy used to get upstairs.

The impression was simultaneously of visiting a museum — where else would you see so many images of such famous people on display and in a setting you’ve seen countless times on the news — and of intruding on a neighbor’s home while she was out running errands.

This week, as reporters described the Kennedy family members spending time to greet people at the library where Ted Kennedy’s body rested, I was reminded of that afternoon on the Cape.

Here was a grieving family, their every step filmed and photographed and scrutizined, not just at one loved one’s death, but twice in a few weeks and regularly throughout their lives. They had every right to be hiding from the public if they could manage it.

But despite the aggravation and heartache such incessant attention must bring, the Kennedys remain not just aware of the voyeuristic need the American public has to share some part of their lives with them, but willing to let us do that, even at a time of great personal grief.

The news has been full of stories of ways in which Ted Kennedy quietly did things like tutoring Washington schoolchildren in reading and attending the funerals of every Massachusetts resident who was killed in Iraq or Afghanistan.  The reports from outside the Kennedy library reinforce that the next generation of Kennedys has taken to heart the example Ted set and that Mom and I experienced that afternoon in Hyannis Port.

They understand the peculiar place their family holds in Americans’ hearts and minds. There’s no doubt a symbiotic element to the relationship. But whether it means letting strangers traipse through Grandma’s living room or taking time from your own grief to work a crowd, the Kennedys show great generosity in letting us feel connected to them. They set a challenging example of how to rise above your own pain to understand and accommodate the needs of others.

Sheen spotted on the subway

No, not Martin the actor, but the late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen — on a book cover.

On Wednesday evening on the subway in Washington, I spotted a young man with shirt sleeves rolled up and tie loosened — obviously heading home from a long day at work.

He was plugged into his iPod and equipped with the requisite — these days anyway — laptop and BlackBerry. Nothing unusual about that sight, but what was a little out of the ordinary was that with all that high-tech gear, he was reading “old media” — a book. But what really caught my eye was its title: “Way to Happiness: An Inspiring Guide to Peace, Hope and Contentment,” by Archbishop Sheen. First printed in 1954, it was reprinted by Alba House and released in 1998.

It seems words written by an archbishop from the last century can still resonate with a member of the millennial generation.

And by the way — many folks might know this — Martin Sheen the actor has often told the story of  taking his stage surname from Archbishop Sheen because he admired the churchman’s style on his popular television broadcasts.

Delegation finds human rights violations across Honduras


A Catholic woman participates in a recent candlelight vigil in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, protesting the coup that ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya. (CNS photo/Daniel LeClair, Reuters)

A Catholic woman participates in a recent candlelight vigil in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, protesting the coup that ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya. (CNS photo/Daniel LeClair, Reuters)

Hondurans participating in nonviolent demonstrations against the June 28 ouster of Manuel Zelaya as president of the poor Central American country are experiencing human rights violations — including intimidation, beatings and rape — by government security forces, a small delegation of Catholic religious leaders discovered during a recent fact-finding trip.

 “We came away with a really deep concern about the level of repression, media control and serious human rights violations that are being perpetrated by official forces,” Marie Dennis, co-president of Pax Christi International, told Catholic News Service Aug. 26, a day after the four-member delegation of which she was a part returned to the U.S. following an eight-day visit.

“We heard a lot of stories about teachers and young people and people in all walks of life who have been caught in this backlash,” Dennis said.

Another delegation member, Jean Stokan, director of the Institute Justice Team of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, compared the current situation in Honduras to the one that existed during the height of El Salvador’s civil war in the 1980s.

“People are afraid. There are horrific human rights abuses. None of this is getting reported because the reporters are getting beaten up,” Stokan told CNS.

The delegation, which also included Sisters Diane Guerin and Edia Lopez, members of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, met with people who bore wounds  they said were inflicted by the Honduran military and the national police.

The delegation traveled throughout the country, meeting with dozens of opposition leaders and Catholics ministering to the injured in Tegucigalpa, the capital, and in El Progreso, San Pedro Sula, Santa Rose de Copan and Santa Barbara.

Dennis and Stokan said they are concerned the coup that replaced Zelaya with interim leader Roberto Micheletti not spill over to the still developing democracies throughout Central America.

They also expressed hope that the Catholic Church will address the human rights violations and called upon the government to end its brutal tactics.

The four-member team is preparing a report on their trip that will be sent to President Barack Obama’s administration, selected members of Congress and the State Department.

The United Nations, the Organization of American States and the European Union have condemned the coup and demanded Zelaya’s return. The Obama administration has cut off of military aid and development aid to Honduras in a step to push for Zelaya’s reinstatement.

‘Guitars and Adobes’ gives a glimpse at church life in New Mexico in the ’30s

Seventy-seven years after Fray Angelico Chavez’s serialized novel, “Guitars and Adobes,” appeared in the pages of St. Anthony Messenger magazine, it is now out in book form.

It has been described as a kind of Hispanic answer to Willa Cather’s “Death Comes for the Archbishop,” her classic novel based on the real French archbishop charged by the pope with leading the church’s fledgling vicariate in the Southwest.

Fray Angelico, a Franciscan priest, was still in the seminary when he wrote his novel — in five distinct parts. St. Anthony Messenger couldn’t devote that much space in five issues to the novel, so it serialized it in monthly installments in 1931 and ’32.

The only Hispanic among a group of Midwestern lads studying for the priesthood in Cincinnati, young Manuel Chavez strove to reinforce his Hispanic identity both before and after his ordination to the priesthood in 1937. He ultimately served as the archivist for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, and gained a reputation for being one of New Mexico’s foremost writers and intellecutals — a reputation that has endured in the 13 years since his passing.

As archdiocesan archivist, he undertook the cataloging and translating of Spanish archives that alowed for a re-evaluation of the history of New Mexico and the region. Fray Angelico was also a member of the Santa Fe Writers Group that included such figures as D.H. Lawrence, Thornton Wilder, Alice Corbin, Witter Bynner and the aforementioned Cather.

“Guitars and Adobes” also contains 20 unpublished short stories by Fray Angelico. The book, published by the Museum of New Mexico Press, retails for $24.95 and can be ordered through online booksellers.

What else was happening when Woodstock was going on?

What else was going on in the nation and around the world when hippies, flower power and the Age of Aquarius were being celebrated at the musical festival held on Max Yasgur’s farm in upper New York state in August of 1969?

Now that the dust seems to have settled from the events and commentary marking the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, here at CNS we thought we’d delve into the CNS archives and see what the news service was reporting on during that week, both nationally and internationally.

From an index of stories we had during the time Woodstook took place were these headlines: “Marijuana-tobacco controversy causes hostilities in generation gap”; “Catholics, Protestants riot in Londerry”; “British-Irish confrontation looms amid strife”; “Are people praying less, pope asks”; “36 arrested during Mass at Pentagon”; “Pope in Geneva helped ecumenism, Protestant leader says.”

On the 25th anniversary of Woodstock, we had coverage by our New York stringer at the time on an event sponsored by the New York Archdiocese dubbed “Godstock,” which drew thousands of Catholic young people to listen to music, give statements of Christian witness and just celebrate their faith.

Year for Priests: Longing to be comfortable

By Basilian Father Chris Valka
One in a series

This past week, I began my new assignment teaching at Detroit Catholic Central High School. Therefore, I have been reflecting recently on “all things new” — new city, new house, new confreres, new job, new friends and new students. Though I feel I should be used to the “newness” brought about by moving from one assignment to the other, I think the only aspect which I have mastered is how to pack.

Of all the things listed above, it is the students that have impacted my thoughts the most for I see in them what I myself feel. In their eyes, I see the fear of the unknown; in their nervous habits, my anxiety; and in their attentiveness, my commitment to excel. And, I imagine just about any parent or teacher feels the same thing.

The difference between my students and myself lies in the past. Quite simply, the more past we have, the more we try to hold on to, and the harder it is to live in the present moment. In the new rigor of a high school classroom, I am all too aware of the independence I once knew as a university chaplain. I miss my old friends, familiar food and the quiet habits that made up my days. I miss the expected and the benefit of the doubt that only comes when you have established yourself.

While I recognize that my students do not the miss things, people and places I do, I believe we are both longing for the same thing:  to be comfortable. We long for a routine and the fulfillment of expectations. We long for the bank of good friends and good will that comes with establishment. However, the priest in me knows that comfort and the Gospel do not have a lot in common.

If God makes “all things new,” then one could argue that God makes all things uncomfortable. It is the kind of position that I believe many people hold, and the kind that keeps many on the fringe edges of religion. However if I am honest, my discomfort comes from the difficulty I find letting go of what has been. Just I have told all my new students this week, “learning is not meant to be comfortable,” so I believe God is asking me to be comfortable in the newness and to live always in the present moment. Thus, herein lies my prayer for the first few weeks of school:  May all of us — teacher, student and parent alike — find comfort in the newness and excitement in the routines that are soon to follow.

As always, I welcome your thoughts, comments and perhaps your own addition to a prayer for students and teachers beginning a new school year.

valkaFather Chris Valka, CSB, was ordained a priest for the Congregation of St. Basil in May.

Click here for more in this series.