Monday, October 19, 2015

Hebdomada Tranquilla et Jucunda cum Familia Sancti Hieronymi: A Peaceful and Joyful Latin Holiday with the Family of St. Jerome

This article appears in the Fall 2015 Issue of Latin Mass magazine. This version has several non-critical edits and many more photos.

I've observed at the traditional Latin Mass oratories I've attended that some older members seem to be there mainly because they are strongly attached to the Mass of their childhood. They love the Latin Mass but they are indifferent to the Latin language. Unless they went to college when Latin was still required for college entrance, few have learned much of the language. Some of them avoid going to a Missa Cantata (Sung Mass) or Solemn High Mass if there is a Low Mass available on the Sunday schedule, because they complain that Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony make the Masses go on too long.

But the people I know who do love and cultivate Latin, Gregorian chant, and sacred polyphony, do so because they understand to one degree or another their continuing importance in the Roman Catholic Church.  Latin Mass lovers who also have a love for these treasures of the Church probably will also love the society that is called Familia Sancti Hieronymi, the Family of St. Jerome. 

I recently returned from my first experience of one of the Family's yearly Latin-immersion gatherings, which was held this year in Menlo Park, CA from July 27 through August 1. I want to write about my experiences and what I learned while my memories of those "tranquilla et jucunda" (peaceful and joyful) six days are still fresh.

Richard Chonak at the New Liturgical Movement website wrote this good summary of why Latin matters to the Church, in a post about the Familia Sancti Hieronymi before last year's retreat, "The bond of Latin links us to the universal Church and her worship, and also to the thought of our forebears in the faith across the centuries."[1]

Familia Sancti Hieronymi is a Canonical Society dedicated to the learning, speaking, and reading of Latin in order to promote its continued use as the living language of the Roman Catholic Church. Their patron, Sanctus Hieronymus (Saint Jerome), is most well known for his translation of the Bible from Greek and Hebrew into Latin. 
The Familia is not only devoted to the Latin language but also to Latinity. Latinity is the total of the writings of the Church fathers, and doctors of the Church, the writings of the Popes and other magisterial documents. Knowledge of Latin is important to preserve Latinity because, as everyone knows, much is lost in any translation. 

The organizer of the yearly retreat, which is called a cenaculum, is Jan Halisky, who is the secretary of the Familia Sancti Hieronymi. I found Mr. Halisky to be an affable soft-spoken man in his 60s with an engaging smile, who dressed in light summer suits and often wore a jaunty straw fedora; Halisky is also a lawyer and the father of an impressively large family of eleven children ranging from 40 to 22 years of age. Three of his daughters and one son attended the cenaculum this year.

Ecclesiastical Latin: the Sacred Language of the Church

The Latin used by the Familia is ecclesiastical (from the Latin word ecclesia, which means church). Well-known Fr. John Hardon, S.J., who spoke in 1991 at one of their yearly gatherings and joined the Familia at that time, explained the importance of ecclesiastical Latin in the following ways. (Fr. Hardon gave the lecture in Latin, so the following are paraphrases by Mr. Halisky.) 

Fr. Hardon "asserted that the settlement of Peter in Rome was no accident but was guided by the Holy Spirit and is part of Divine Revelation. Peter and subsequent Popes, he went on, consecrated the Roman language to the use of the Church and brought that language to a new and supernatural height.

“The language of Rome under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit became the language of Christianity.  The language became animated by the Christian Faith, so that it is possible to say that while the soul of the Catholic Faith is Divine Revelation, the Catholic Faith also has a body, and that body is the Latin Language.”  -- Fr. John Hardon, S.J.

Mr. Halisky went on, "Father Hardon felt that it is difficult to teach the Catholic Faith in the vernacular because Catholic dogmas, having been codified in Latin, do not mean quite the same thing when translated, one of the causes, he believed, of the crisis in modern day theology.  Father Hardon’s thoughts are echoed in Pope John XXIII’s Apostolic Constitution, Veterum Sapientia, On the Study and Advancement of Latinity."

Fr. John Hardon, S.J. stated that Catholic dogmas that were originally codified in Latin "do not mean quite the same thing when translated." This lack of accuracy when the doctrines are translated into local languages is "one of the causes of the crisis in modern day theology."

Ecclesiastical Latin's Evocative Power

The retreats of the Familia Sancti Hieronymi are called cenacula (which is the plural of cenaculum. The multiple associations carried by the word cenaculum is one illustration of the evocative power of ecclesiastical Latin. The word in English that is used for a cenaculum is cenacle. To Romans who were speaking what is now called classical Latin before Rome became the center of the Roman Catholic Church, cenaculum meant merely upper room, attic, or garret. 

For Catholics the words cenaculum/cenacle bring to mind one particular Upper Room, the room in Jerusalem where Christ celebrated the First Eucharist at the Last Supper. The cenaculum is also where His followers gathered together after Christ's Resurrection with His Blessed Mother to pray and strengthen one another during the anxious days that led up to the descent of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church at Pentecost.   

Cenaculum obviously carries much more meaning than the English word retreat or other possible Latin equivalent words for retreat, such as asylum, could ever convey. Also because the word cenaculum in ecclesiastical Latin has several associations derived from the New Testament, when you go to a cenaculum, you intuit that you are going to a safe place and a sacred time that is set apart from the world, where you will be enclosed with a family of other believers. You will be taking yourselves away from the world for a while to a place where you can pray, meditate, learn, worship God with others, where you will support and strengthen one another for the tasks that God intends for you to do when the cenaculum is over. 

Family at the Familia

Sometimes whole families attend the cenacula. All of the Halisky children have attended cenacula since the first one twenty-six years ago and have absorbed the Latin language from the speakers and the mealtime conversations, the talks, and the games, which are all in Latin. When they play volleyball post prandium (after lunch), when they score, they do it in Latin, if they call the ball out they do it in Latin. 

Incidentally, when I complimented him in English on the attractiveness of his children, Mr. Halisky mildly reminded me about the equivalent Latin words I should have been using. The daughters (filiae) are formosae, and the son (filius) is formosus.  In my enthusiasm at being able to converse with a group of like-minded people, I kept forgetting that one goal of the cenaculum, after all, is to speak only in Latin, all the time. 

Priests Following the Wishes of the Popes

Six priests attended this year's colloquium, and several of them have been coming for years.  Five of them are young, and four wore their cassocks. It is encouraging to me to see so many priests willing to immerse themselves in Latin.  

Canon 249 of the Code of Canon Law prescribes that priests be well-versed in the Latin language, but in reality Canon 249 just might be one of the most ignored canon laws in history. For decades after the Second Vatican Council,  Latin was almost completely unavailable in seminaries,  even though anyone who ever read Sacrosanctum Concilium, which is the Vatican II document about the liturgy, could see for themselves that Latin was not to be banned from the liturgy, but that the vernacular was to be "allowed." Latin is now back on the curriculum at some seminaries, including St. Patrick Archdiocesan Seminary's in Menlo Park, CA, which is, incidentally, near the Vallombrosa Retreat Center where we stayed, but even for seminarians studying to be priests, Latin is still optional. 

In an unpublished interview he gave in 2007, before Pope Benedict XVI's retirement, Mr. Halisky emphasized that the popes continue to remind the faithful that Latin is the Church's language, "Every modern Pope, including Pope Benedict XVI, has referred to Latin as 'lingua Ecclesiae propria,' the Church’s own language, and has insisted on its preservation in the life of the Church." 

It seems that priests who come to the colloquia have grasped the truth that even though Latin was in effect banned in the Mass and from seminaries for decades, official Church teaching never banned it.

A Familial Sense of Religious Vocation

During the six days of the cenaculum, the religious vocation that is part of being a member of the Familia was woven into the daily schedule. We rose at 6:45. We participated in Extraordinary Form Masses. We prayed several Hours together from the Liturgy of the Hours that was revised after Vatican II, but in the Latin translation: Morning Prayer (Laudes), Daytime Prayer at Noon (Sexta), Evening Prayer (Vesperae), Night Prayer (Completorium) and Office of Readings (formerly called Matins). We had Benediction every evening.

We ate our meals (jentaculum, prandium, and cena) with before and after Latin blessings, of course, and some played volleyball, always in Latin. We had two or three lectures in Latin every day, and Ludi Latini[2] in the afternoon, in which we played Latin word games, and we had slide presentations in the evenings, narrated, of course, in Latin.
A Field Trip with a Vivid Example of the Absence of Latin in Catholic Education

We took a field trip to Mission Santa Clara, which is located on the campus of the University of Santa Clara--well-known as a liberal Jesuit university. An encounter I had with a young graduate while we were there is strikingly illustrative of how Latin is still absent from most Catholic education in our times.
When our group found a shady corner outside the Mission to eat our bag lunches, I found myself sitting on a bench next to a young man named Jason, who had recently graduated from SCU with a degree in history and who was back on campus to prepare for a short summer mission trip that was leaving to India the next day. After we found out we both know the same historian from SCU and attended the same Massachusetts university for two years many decades apart, we started to talk about the cenaculum. Jason was very interested when I explained to him the purpose of the Familia and told him that the Church never forbade Latin and that even the document on the liturgy from Vatican II clearly did not intend that Latin should be banned. 

I told Jason a few of the reasons why we are dedicated to keeping the Latin language alive by speaking, thinking, and praying it together for the week of the cenaculum.
I mentioned that at least some Ordinary Form Masses are still celebrated with some parts of the Mass in Latin, such as the Sanctus. From the look on his face, I realized I was drawing a blank. Sanctus? Haven't you ever heard Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, you know Holy, Holy, Holy? He knew Holy, Holy, Holy.

What is notable and lamentable about his lack of exposure to even the word Sanctus is that the Sanctus was one of the Ordinary chants of the Mass that Pope Paul VI included in a booklet called Jubilate Deo (Joyfully Sing Out to God) that he issued in 1974 because he wanted every Catholic to learn the chants in that booklet. Paul VI wrote in an accompanying letter that the booklet could be freely reproduced, that it was a "personal gift" to the Catholic Bishops of the world and the heads of religious orders. 

Practically no one has ever heard this, but Paul VI instructed the bishops and heads of religious orders that the Gregorian chants contained in the booklet were to be considered the "minimum repertoire of plainchant." He asked them to teach the faithful these Latin chants and have them sing them. The fact that a Catholic, even with a history major, can graduate from a Catholic university without any sense of the role of Latin is one striking example of how official church teachings and the wishes of the popes about Latin are being ignored. 

copy of cover and letter to bishops from Jubilate Deo
Jubilated Deo Cover and Letter to Bishops

Jason said he would be glad to join us when I invited him to come into the Mission with us to say a rosary after we finished our lunch. I gave him a handout with the Latin and English Rosary prayers side by side, which I've prepared for tutoring at a homeschool academy, and he followed the Latin prayers with us. At the end of the rosary, Mr. Halisky and his daughters sang a lovely short motet, Jesu Rex Admirabilis.

Jesu Rex Admirabilis, by the way, is addressed to Jesus as the Admirable/Wonderful/Mighty/Transcendent/Glorious King, and it is a beautiful example of sacred polyphony, which is part of the priceless treasure of Latinity the Familia is working to preserve. It is a three part motet written by Palestrina from a long poem attributed to St. Bernard of Clairvaux. No piece of music written in the vernacular with modern notation could even approximate its awesome contribution to the worship of the Catholic Church. (You can listen to a rendition of Jesu rex admirabilis here.)

Before we parted, I offered to let Jason keep the rosary handout, and he said he was glad to have it. He said this to my surprise, "You people have brought me out of the darkness into the light." I can only attribute his reaction to the beauty of the setting, the prayers in the ancient tongue of the Church, the obvious devotion of the Familia on its knees, including the five priests in their cassocks, the attractive Halisky family's gorgeous chanting--all together must have touched Jason's heart.

An excellent introduction to the origins and goals of the Familia is available on a YouTube video of Mr. Halisky's appearance on January 2, 2012 on an EWTN Live show with Father Mitch Pacwa. You can see it here.  

For those who don't have access to or interest in watching the video, here is a little background about the society from the show. Mr. Halisky told EWTN Live viewers that he has been with the society since it was founded in 1989 by a polyglot Austrian Carmelite monk, Fr. Suitbert Siedl of St. John of the Cross, O.C.D. (Suitbertus a S. Joanne a Cruce) 1923 – 2006. Fr. Siedl was able to speak more than twenty-five languages, which was quite a linguistic tour de force, but Fr. Siedl always emphasized that for Catholics the Latin language is preeminent and must always come first.

Pater Suitbertus a S. Joanne a Cruce

One of the principles of the Family of St. Jerome is that Latin is a living language, and they teach that it cannot be learned from textbooks. Mr. Halisky said that thousands around the world are learning Latin in a home study course called Cursus Linguae Latinae Vivae (Course on the Living Latin Language) that Fr. Siedl created, with CDs and a coursebook which the family offers for sale at its website. 

"This course is the fruit of a nearly lifetime long experience in teaching and using Latin as a spoken language. It is entirely different from other available instructional materials in method and approach to the language; you learn from the very beginning to think in Latin and to avoid the usual method of 'deciphering and decoding' by grammatical analysis and by constructing 'translations.' Moreover, this course is based on the obvious assumption that language is an acoustic phenomenon and has to enter into our mind through the ears and not through the eyes, and that our memory has to keep the sound of the words and not the image of a printed text; therefore the cassettes which go with the Cursus are an essential part of this method." --The Family of St. Jerome Catalogue of Materials.

Here are some more related quotes from Mr. Halisky about why the society is devoted to the Latin language, "The primary benefit to Catholics is that it furnishes the key to the treasure of the Catholic Church.Without that key, you are at a disadvantage."

This quote is from the unpublished 2007 interview with Mr. Halisky that was mentioned earlier, "The Latin Fathers and Doctors of the Church and many saints wrote their works in Latin, and the Popes and Western Councils have transmitted the teachings of the magisterium in Latin. The Vulgate Bible, which the Council of Trent declared to be 'authentic,' was rendered by St. Jerome in Latin.  Until thirty-eight years ago the Roman Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours were always celebrated in Latin; and even after the change to the vernacular, Latin celebrations have been constantly increasing, being given a brand new impetus by the Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontificum."

Summorum Pontificumis the 2007 Apostolic Letter of Pope Benedict XVI that was issued motu proprio (on his own iniative). In it he affirmed that the Mass according to the 1962 Missal of Pope John XXIII had never been judicially abrogated.  He declared that there are not two Masses, the old Mass and the new Mass, but two forms, equally valid. He referred to the Mass as it has been commonly celebrated since 1969 is called the ordinary form and the Mass of 1962 as the extraordinary form. Priests were given permission to celebrate the extraordinary form without permission, and restrictions on the public celebration of the traditional Latin liturgy were relaxed.

Mr. Halisky also said in the unpublished interview, "The music which the Church calls its own, Gregorian Chant and sacred polyphony, is sung in Latin. Communications of the Holy See are always in Latin.  Latin was the universal means of communication among priests and the more learned.  It is a tremendous source of unity.  For example, before the liturgical changes one felt at home in whatever country one attended a Latin Mass.  Latin transcended and transformed every culture so that the faithful would truly become Roman Catholics, not members of a national church having ties with Rome in juridical ways only."

And as Halisky said in the EWTN interview, "Latin unlocks the real riches that one learns from the fathers of the Church and the doctors. Latin is not studied as a language. It is our vehicle into sanctity."

Mr. Halisky told me at the colloquium that his first encounter with Fr. Siedl was transformative. He had been studying Latin for a long time, but trying to read the doctors of the Church was an arduous process that involved a lot of trying to remember conjugations and declensions from tables he held in his head.  The first time he heard Fr. Siedl speak, most of it went over his head, in part because Fr. Siedl spoke so quickly. But the next time Mr. Halisky tried to read the same passage in St. Augustine's writing that he had read a short time before, something had changed. Reading it was easy, like reading a newspaper. Something about being immersed in Latin as an auditory experience and trying to think in Latin had moved it for him from an academic exercise to a living language. 

In close, I think this quote from Cynthia Gilbert sums up the just plain niceness of the people in the Familia. Cindy (Cynthia in Latin, as in English), who was identified as mater familias in the course list, attends with her husband Fred (Fredericus), who is a retired consulting jurist who won first prize for Latin at Harvard many years ago. Cindy quoted Sharon Thoms, who is an organist who goes to the same oratory I go to and who has also attended several colloquia, "As Sharon has said several times, if she ever had to be stuck on a desert island, if she could choose who she would be stuck with, she'd pick this group."

Some performers at the talent show

Quick sketch of guitarists (my contribution to the talent show)
Quick sketch (my contribution to the talent show)

Another quick sketch

Cenaculum 2015 Group Photo

The next cenaculum will be held July 11-16, 2016, in New Orleans. Send an email to Familia Sancti Hieronymi familiasanctihieronymi @ if you would like to be notified about the details, which will also be posted at the website of the society. (The website has a wealth of materials, but I have to say I find it difficult to locate what I want. To do some technical nit picking, the site relies on a construct called "frames,'" which are no longer used on most websites because they make a website hard to use and its information hard to access.  It would benefit greatly from a wholescale redesign that included the removal of colored backgrounds and the addition of a search function.)
More photos of the cenaculum are in this photo gallery

[1] "Latin Holidays with the Familia S. Hieronymi," Wednesday, May 21, 2014. Richard Chonak.  Retrieved August 7, 2015. 

[2] The word ludi is the plural of the word ludus, which can mean game, fun, or school, so ludi latini are either Latin games, Latin fun, or Latin classes, or at the cenaculum, all of the above.

Friday, October 16, 2015

How to Prevent the Isolation that Leads to Mass Shootings?

I recently read an article titled, "There’s a Way to Stop Mass Shootings, and You Won’t Like It"
in which blogger Rob Meyers suggested that we reach out to loners as a more realistic cure for mass shootings than regulating guns.

While I think it is a very good idea to reach out to people who are being left out, I have a number of objections to the thought that this could prevent isolated people from going on a shooting spree. Let's face it, the men are the ones committing mass murders, so I'll restrict my speculations to how this approach probably might not help an isolated young man.

Really, if you say hello to a moody isolated young man you run into at work or in your neighborhood, is that going to fix him?  People need to be authentically loved and included with other people, not in a condescending way.

We get grounded in love and security in our families, or not. Divorce, single parenting with children alone for long periods of time, parental alcoholism, promiscuity, drug use, small families, separation from extended family members in isolated nuclear families, these all can cause crippling feelings of loneliness in young people raised that way. 

Some who do not get what they need to feel loved at home are able to survive emotionally because of the acceptance of their peers. But many of those who are unloved-by-their-families are unhinged further by also being unaccepted-by-their peers.

Loneliness is agonizingly painful, and the pain is not going to be removed by a popular person saying hello to you in the hall. The isolated one is still going to be alone and craving what everyone else seems to have.  Real love, real friendship are what the isolated person needs, not just a cheerful hello. Besides, a lonely guy might just misinterpret a cheerful hello from a popular girl. It happens.

Since porn can prove even more enticing to an isolated young man than to a young man from a good loving home, the lonely one might think he just needs what the porn teaches him that everyone else is seemingly enjoying, sex for its own sake. He quite likely have an unreal idea that he should be able to get women to have sex in the manner described in this old saying, "Wham, bam, thank you ma'am."   A number of the recent shooters have complained about not being able to get girls. 

This is a huge topic, but let me summarize for now that I believe that the only real cure for someone wounded by isolation is for that person to be healed by coming to know the love of God. Sometimes when a person is broken, that person just cannot be mended by human means alone.

Praying for all who are isolated and painfully lonely would be better than just saying hi. Or at least you should pray for the person in addition to any acts of friendliness you might offer, because your greeting is not going to change anything much, while your prayer can make all the difference. And your prayer will also guide you into what would be the best way you can help the other person by your own efforts.  Avoid condescending, above all. You are being kind to Christ when you are kind to anyone else.

Further thoughts about prevention.  Children are cruel to anyone who is different, lonely, isolated, doesn't conform, isn't as well off as they are, for any and all reasons, and they compete for popularity by mocking others --unless they are somehow trained to love one another.  I was impressed when I started teaching at a conservative Catholic home school academy.  One of the boys has cerebral palsy, and he limps.  In an amazing comparison to others I have seen in other school settings who have been shunned for being different,  his peers in the classroom and during recess treated him always with affection and absolute equality.  This child is not growing up full of pain from being rejected. He is actually in a pre-college seminary, where he is on the path to priesthood, a profession where he will be able to help others. 

Some Thoughts on the Synod on the Family, Ad Hominem Arguments, and The Nature of True Mercy

One widely practiced deplorable rhetorical technique is to psychoanalyze a person who has a valid critique of what you are doing or saying without addressing the actual facts being discussed. It's the ad hominem argument (attacking the person rather than addressing the person's argument), which has been augmented by Freudian analytical psychobabble ever since the early 20th century.  This technique comes in handy because it does not waste time addressing the validity of your opponent's argument but it lets you throw up a rhetorical smoke screen.  Using this technique, you can discount your opponent's arguments because you have supposedly discerned some "unconscious" motivation. This technique is invaluable when you don't want to address the actual truth of a criticism.

I found a great example today in this article in Commonweal Magazine titled, "Letter From Rome: Cardinals Oppose Francis's Synod Process." The author lauded "the Vatican II-minded theologian, Enzo Bianchi," who writes in the Rome daily, La Repubblica, for using a blatant example of this technique.

Bianchi doesn't address the validity of many Cardinals' objections to the way the Synod is being handled. No, he uses his bogus superior psychic powers to discern to his own satisfaction that the Cardinals don't really care about what many perceive as an attempt to weaken Catholic doctrine on marriage.

Bianchi, who is founder and prior of the Ecumenical Monastery of Bose in Northern Italy, said, “What’s at play here is not Catholic doctrine on the indissolubility of marriage… No, it’s the pastoral dimension, his attitude towards those who make mistakes and towards contemporary society.” Then he thundered: “Let’s be clear – what scandalizes them is mercy!” 
Bianchi "knows" that the objecting Cardinals just can't stand mercy. Right.

I on the other hand "know" that Bianchi and others who agree with him are scandalized by the idea that we show mercy by teaching truth and obedience to God's will for marriage. St. Paul wrote some strong things about what happens when a person living in sin receives the Eucharist.  Because of how the Scriptures are taught in liberal Catholic colleges, many are able to explain away what St. Paul taught by psychoanalyzing away his credibility.

But if you take the Scriptures as the inspired word of God, as I do, and the Church does, you know that you are only going to be truly merciful if you teach couples who marry outside the Church that to live in sin and take Communion can kill the soul and the body.

I just ran across this meme quoting Archbishop Chaput that sums up what I am saying here.

And here are some more of Chaput's words from Creative Minority Report: "We all feel the dilemma of good people who are divorced and civilly remarried but wish the solace of Communion, and others who deal with same-sex attraction. No one can dismiss the hardships these persons sometimes face. But it's the Gospel that needs to guide us in our reasoning. The central issue is, do we and they want Jesus Christ on his terms or on ours? If we can't in principle accept the possibility of discomfort, suffering and even martyrdom, then we're not disciples. "

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Raymond Arroyo is Coming to Town: Glimpses and Context

Even though I gave up posting on Facebook for most of Lent so far, I've recently started to weaken, and I have begun checking Notifications occasionally. I'm glad I did check today, because I saw a notice that Fr. Jeffrey Keyes, pastor of St. Edward the Confessor Church in Newark, CA, a half hour drive from where I live in San Jose, has arranged for yet another in a series of widely known Catholics to speak at his parish.

On May 1 at 7:30, Raymond Arroyo, author of five New York Times best sellers, and news director and lead anchor at Eternal World Television Network (EWTN), is coming to St. Edward's to speak on the topic, "Signs of Hope -- Padre Pio, Mother Angelica, John Paul II and other Modern Day Heroes."

In honor of Raymond Arroyo's upcoming appearance in Newark, I'm posting an article about Arroyo here that I wrote in 2006 after a phone interview with him.

During the interview, Arroyo spoke about how he came to work at EWTN, and about his then-recent experience in the previous August of losing his house near New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina ten days after the birth of his daughter and at the start of his book's publicity tour. He also spoke about how his biography of Mother Angelica somehow made it to the New York Times bestseller list in spite of its being eclipsed by breaking news, and how life lessons he learned from Mother Angelica helped him get through the ups and downs of it all.

In 1996, EWTN founder Mother Angelica recruited Raymond Arroyo to come to EWTN to establish its news department. EWTN beams Catholic TV programming in both English and Spanish via satellite all over the world from of out-of-the-way Irondale, Alabama.

I had first-hand experience of the reach of the network when I went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2005 and met one of the priests from EWTN, Father Joseph Mary, MVFA, a friar of the order of men that Mother Angelica founded to spiritually support the network, called the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word. During a layover in the Amsterdam airport, Father Joseph Mary was recognized by a Filipino couple who were also passing through, and they asked me to take a photo of them with him. And in Palestinian-controlled Bethlehem, I was deeply moved by seeing some beleaguered Palestinian Catholics, who were suffering even then back nine years ago, and how much more so now, who eagerly came up to talk with Fr. Joseph Mary because they recognized him from seeing him celebrating Mass on the network. "What did they say to you?" I asked Fr. Joseph later. He said that they told him, "EWTN gives us hope."

Raymond Arroyo published a biography nine years ago about the network’s founder, Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation, the abbess of a cloistered community of Poor Clare nuns. This spunky, outspoken, nun from Cleveland, Ohio, who was born Rita Rizzo in 1923, is known to millions of cable TV viewers as Mother Angelica. As the story goes, in 1986, Mother Angelica was a 58 year old cloistered nun in a monastery she founded in Alabama, who walked with crutches because of crippled feet and a twisted spine, and who had no broadcast experience, and only $200 in the bank, when she launched what turned out to be a Catholic media empire from a studio built on a spot that she had originally marked out for a garage.

The biography chronicles with surprising frankness her run ins with the American bishops who were seeking to establish a cable network of their own at the same time and who were displeased with one representative called “her type of theology.” Mother for her part was dismayed by the bishops’ programming that time after time emphasized dissent from traditional Church doctrines. The book describes a long battle with LA’s Cardinal Archbishop Roger Mahony about what Mother Angelica saw as his watering down of the truth of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

One reader of the book, Hilary Rojo, who directed the pilgrimage that I took to Israel, wrote me in an email from Loma Linda, CA, that she was shocked “at the revelation of truth. In the past, these types of exposes were only put in writing after the people involved in the conflict had died.”

What I discovered by reading this book is that EWTN is a shining witness to the ability of the Church’s true doctrine to triumph in the middle of a time when in many cases even the Church’s bishops had been misled and heresy had seemingly taken over. Mother Angelica’s book is a reaffirmation of the truth that if God wants a work to be done, He gives the ones He calls the power they need to accomplish His work.

“God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God” 1 Corinthians 1:27.

Mother Angelica is not the only cloistered nun who was called to do great things for His Church. Raymond Arroyo aptly compares her at one point to the great doctor of the Chuch St. Teresa of Avila. In both cases, these cloistered women (in what Mother Angelica called “the wrong state in life”) were able to found religious orders and lead people to holiness in the middle of times of darkness and moral laxity.

Arroyo’s book is titled aptly enough, Mother Angelica: A Nun, Her Nerve, and a Network of Miracles.

EWTN 25th Anniversary Family Celebration in San Francisco

I first came in contact with Raymond Arroyo and Mother Angelica's biography on January 28 and 29 of 2006, when EWTN sponsored a 25th Anniversary Family Celebration at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco. Many viewers from California and points further away flocked to see their favorite EWTN personalities. Arroyo gave a side-splitting talk about Mother Angelica and his book about her, replacing his usually more-sedate delivery as a newscaster with the rapid patter of a fast talking raconteur. But it also had its serious message mixed in with the jokes and patter.

"Pope Benedict XVI recently wrote the first encyclical about the nature of love. It’s the primordial creative power that moves the universe. Mother Angelica harnessed some of that energy. Mother Angelica said, 'I am convinced God is looking for dodoes. He found one: me! There are a lot of smart people out there who know it can’t be done, so they don’t do it. But a dodo doesn’t know it can’t be done. God uses dodoes.'

"Every major thing that God wanted her to do was preceded by suffering. When she started the network, she was 58 years old. She had diabetes. A twisted spine. You pay the cost to be the boss. She was following inspiration and the dictates of her spouse. The struggle. The cross. That’s her real story. Her life has become a parable. She wanted to reach people. She did what she did for love of souls, It was never about TV. For God’s sake, be a dodo!"

During a question and answer session after he talk about his book, I witnessed a telling interchange between Arroyo and a youthful looking great-grandmother from the audience that illustrated for me the easy, humorous, teasing way Arroyo has with women of all ages, which I'm sure he put to good use while interviewing Mother Angelica for the biography over a period of months.

Arroyo is a slender man with close cut black hair, very white skin, thick expressive black eyebrows, perfect teeth, and a 10,000 Watt personality. Think of a handsomer, more intelligent version of Pee Wee Herman in a very good suit. Others, including the Curt Jester have noticed the resemblance.

His questioner had long brown hair, a purple blouse, and a formidable personality of her own—which she exerted in trying to cajole Arroyo to tell her his age. Arroyo parried by exerting his own considerable charm and humor to try to pry her age out of her. He finally admitted to being 36, and the woman’s voice got softer.

She said, “You are very young, Raymond. But I am very impressed by what you have done at EWTN.” As she strolled away from the mike, he said, “I love you, darling” and applauded her retreating figure. Then he stopped and wagged his finger after her, “You never did tell me how old YOU were.”

One of My Visits to EWTN and the Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament

I was serendipitously able to visit Alabama only because of a computer company acquisition. One morning I went into work at Cyclades, a start-up computer storage company in Newark, where I was working as a technical writer and found out that Cyclades had been acquired by a company named Avocent in Huntsville, AL. As the world turned, I was given the opportunity twice to fly to Alabama for training in their documentation processes. I would always delay my return so I could go to visit ETWN for the weekend.

Friday night June 2, 2006, I drove to Eternal World Television Network (EWTN) in Birmingham from 70 miles north in Huntsville, through heavy rain and thunderstorms part of the way.

Huntsville is where NASA builds space shuttles and then flies them to their launch locations piggy backed on a big jet.

Alabama starts getting prettier with rolling hills once you get south of Huntsville, which is comparatively nondescript. I was in Huntsville for training by the company that bought the Fremont CA company I worked for, so I stayed the weekend to visit EWTN and the Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament.

The ordinariness of the EWTN grounds -- where the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word live and where the cloistered Poor Clare nuns of Perpetual Adoration that started the station under Mother Angelica used to live -- is an interesting contrast to the immense reach the station has.

It's also amazing that a cloistered nun could launch a world wide television network, as the story goes, with no broadcasting experience and $200 in the bank. Mother Angelica was originally inspired by how little it took to communicate to a huge audience when she went to a TV studio in Texas to tape one of her talks, which used to be aired on the same channel as the 700 Club.

As the EWTN news director, Raymond Arroyo, tells the story in his NY Times best selling bio of Mother Angelica, Mother Angelica said, "Lord, I've got to get me one of those." And so she did.

Located on a little campus in Irondale, north of the city of Birmingham, EWTN sees its mission is to show the beauties of the Catholic Church to the whole world and beams its programming in many languages from satellite dishes behind the station. The station covers all the major events in Rome, so that Catholics everywhere can feel more truly than ever before that they are "Roman Catholics." EWTN also has a mobile unit called Gabriel, after the archangel. Shortwave radio beams to where the TV satellite signals cannot reach.

The studios were locked up tight when I tried to get in after Evening Prayer in the chapel. Before leaving on my trip, I had tried over the Internet to sign up to see The World Over Live, but that show doesn't have a live audience.

I rang the bell, but nobody answered. Then I walked around to the back of the building chatting with one of several couples and individuals I met on the trip who said they moved to the area simply to be close to either EWTN or to the shrine. A blond middle-aged woman got out of her car in the back to go to work on the show. I greeted her and told her I had interviewed Raymond Arroyo and said I had been trying to get a hold of him to find out if I could come in and watch the show. I sent my card in with her, and she gave it to Arroyo, and then to my delight, he sent someone to bring me in.

And so it happened that I was an audience of one sitting in a chair about 6 feet away facing the set. When Arroyo came in, a slightly built man, kind of a handsomer, more intelligent version of Pee Wee Herman in a very good suit, he shook my hand and said, "We finally meet." And "You broke in, eh?"

I attribute my getting in to a few well-timed Hail Marys.

The first part of the show was taped, so Arroyo sat there watching himself do a series of quick reports on the Catholic news happening around the world, including a short about a women "priest" illicitly saying Mass in San Jose. He referred to the woman as "Father, or is it Mother? " so and so.

After that bit was over he told me he was bilocating (since he was sitting there watching himself). I said, "That's evidence of the high state of holiness you have achieved, Raymond." One cameraman laughed, and Arroyo went "Uh huh, Uh huh!" (All tongue in cheek of course.)

The rest of the show consisted of Arroyo interviewing the good bishop of Orlando about immigration, contrasting the National Council of Catholic Bishops' position about illegal aliens with a snippet from an earlier interview with Pat Buchanan who said these people are illegally taking over our country. The bishops are saying "these people" are Christ. If you ask me I'll tell you which side I'm on.

That night I stayed at Casa Maria, a large peaceful retreat center run by an order of sisters that was founded by Mother Angelica but broke away. (The story of the split between the Sister Servants of the Eternal Word and Mother Angelica is in the Arroyo book, but one of the sisters, friendly Puerto Rican Sister Ave Maria told me, "Reporters can write whatever they want, but what Arroyo wrote isn't accurate." Hmmm.)

The sisters are beautiful smiling women in full habits. I ran into them taking their large fluffy German Shepherd mix dog for a walk, pushing wheelbarrows, carrying ladders and bringing in supplies from WalMart. Sister Ave Maria posed for a photo for me wearing plastic goggles, a floppy straw hat, and an apron over her habit, armed with a bug sprayer pointed at a tree. What a cute photo that ought to be.

I met one young red headed sister, Sister Rita Marie from Boston and another young beatifically smiling sister, Sister Marie Francesca, from Mississippi, who told me she joined the order because the Holy Spirit hit her over the head with a 2 x 4.

The rooms at the center are big and modern and only cost $30 a night! What a bargain.

Saturday morning at 6 am I was in the Our Lady of the Angels chapel for Morning Prayer with the friars and then for the televised Mass at 7 a.m. As it turns out, I was in the back row on the side of the room far from the cameras, so the only time I was on TV was when I went to the front for Communion.

Later that day I went north to the Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament. One tourist flier for the Cullman area said the shrine is the biggest tourist attraction in Alabama these days.

Part Two

Sunday, the Pentecost Mass at the Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville Alabama ended with the cloistered nuns behind the gold leafed reredos (altar piece) singing in a high soprano like angels "Regina Coeli Laetare. Allelulia! Quia quem meruisti portare. Alleluia! Ressurexit sicut dixit. Alleluia!"

I cried. I love that hymn so much. But then I almost always cry in church.

Queen of Heaven rejoice.
He who you merited to bear.
Has risen as He said.

We won't be hearing it again until next Easter season.

Those of you who haven't read Raymond Arroyo's bio of Mother Angelica might not know that she built a 55 million dollar shrine to the Blessed Sacrament about 70 miles north of EWTN in the Alabama countryside. The shrine was paid for by five families, and it is gorgeous. Mother Angelica saw a vision of the child Jesus tell her to build him a temple and was puzzled because she had never heard of a Catholic temple. Then she saw an inscription at St. Peter's in Rome referring to St. Peter's basilica as a temple, so she understood better what was being asked of her. At first she tried to build it with simple materials but the donating families wanted only precious materials to honor the Blessed Sacrament, which EWTN believes is being dishonored in so many Catholic churches around the world.

You reach the shrine by driving along a winding country road lined with miles of white fences in the lush green Alabama countryside. At the end of the road is a large wrought iron gate topped by angels.

On the other side of the gate, you see what looks like a huge basilica with a vast open courtyard in front. The inside is all gold and marble, and on the altar is the second biggest monstrance in the world. (For those who don't know, a monstrance -- from the Latin "monstrare -- to show" -- is a stand made of precious materials and used to display the consecrated bread that is the Body and Blood of Christ.)

The shrine is now Alabama's biggest tourist attraction. Us orthodox Catholics see it as a powerful witness for what Pope John Paul II called the new evangelization, and it's powered by prayer.

Mother Angelica and her nuns are Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration and they take turns to pray constantly in front of the Blessed Sacrament. I got to share in Morning Prayer, Office of Readings, Daytime, Evening, and Night Prayer while I was there and to attend the Mass of Pentecost and say the Divine Mercy chaplet at the shrine.

Being the shy and retiring type, I walked up and introduced myself to Deacon Bill Steltemeyer, chairman of the EWTN board when I saw him in the entryway. I told him I had gotten in to see Raymond Arroyo's show the previous night even though they don't have an audience. And I told him that I had a feeling that the next thing was that I would be able to see Mother Angelica, He said it was impossible.

He told me she only gets out of bed around 11 a.m. and eats a very little, and then has to go back to bed because that uses up her energy. She continues to pray for the network, its viewers, and all the visitors. But, she has no memory, Deacon Bill said.

The owner of the St. Therese guest house where I stayed told me that Mother Angelica was singing at her 83rd birthday party last month, wearing a sombrero over her veil, but she is nearing the end of her life.

Raymond Arroyo told me in our interview a few months ago that Mother Angelica is joyful at this time in her life when she has barely anything to do with the network. His book tells how other sufferings in her life seemed to always precede success for the network, but these sufferings are different, he said. "How are they different?" I asked. "They are for her purification."

I hung around for a while thinking I was maybe going to beat the odds again and get in to see Mother Angelica like I had gotten in to see the World Over Live. I half-expected a summons to come from the cloister, but one never came. Can't trust those feelings all the time, I have to conclude.

It's One Long Purification: What Mother Angelica Taught Raymond Arroyo

In honor of Raymond Arroyo's upcoming appearance at Fr. Keye's St. Edward Parish in Newark, I've resurrected an article about him that I published in May 2006 after I interviewed Arroyo by phone from his home. Also see this post
Raymond Arroyo is Coming to Town: Glimpses and Context.

I originally did the interview for the National Catholic Register, but the editor sat on it for so long that I eventually published it at San Francisco Faith newspaper. I can't provide a link to the published article any more, because the archive is no longer available. So here is the interview as I submitted it before it was edited. The final title was "It's One Long Purification: What Mother Angelica Taught Raymond Arroyo."

Mother Angelica’s Biography, and Some Lasting Lessons It Taught the Man Who Wrote It

Between mid August and early September 2005, Raymond Arroyo, Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) news director and author of Mother Angelica: The Amazing Story of A Nun, Her Nerve, and a Network of Miracles, endured a dizzying variety of life changing events.

First came a blessed event, the birth of the Arroyos’ third child and first daughter, Mariella. And less than two weeks later, articles in several national publications were reporting how Arroyo and his family got swept into a disaster of cosmic proportions when Hurricane Katrina hit their home.

On Friday night August 26, 2005 Arroyo was rendered sleepless and restless by a premonition, and on Saturday August 27, Arroyo and his wife, Rebecca, grabbed everything they could fit into their car, took their ten day old baby girl, sons Alexander, 6, and Lorenzo, 2, and his mother-in-law, and fled their home near New Orleans. When Katrina hit Louisiana, against all predictions, everything they had left behind was swept away.

When reporters talked with him in September, Arroyo’s was thanking Mother Angelica, both for taking them into a guest house at her monastery after they lost their home and for life lessons that helped him make it through it al.

The string of stressers continued. As Arroyo later told the story at the EWTN 25th anniversary family celebration in San Francisco in January, 2006, Doubleday had lined up a string of talk show appearances in New York in conjunction with the book’s release on September 6, but, breaking news bumped Arroyo off the shows. The book seemed doomed.

Then Doubleday called at the end of the week to tell him that the book had, somehow, made it to the New York Times Bestseller list where it stayed for four weeks. “”Four weeks,” Arroyo exclaimed. “A book about a nun!”

The book held for months on the Publishers Weekly Religious Bestseller List and [when this article was written May, 2006] continued high on the Catholic Booksellers bestsellers list.

The book’s continued healthy sales were remarkable, because, as a recent Publisher's Weekly article stated, “getting on the charts is hard, staying on is even harder."

Q: You mentioned in your talk in San Francisco that the week before your book came out that you had to evacuate your home. How did that come about?

A: I was at EWTN on a Friday night doing the show. I rarely have trouble sleeping, but I did that night. And I woke up and was flipping the channels on the television. The weather channel showed a projected path for Katrina. And it was going over Florida and at that time they were expecting it to turn toward Missisippi or Florida. Again it was Friday and it didn’t hit until Monday.

But the way it was coming across Florida it was exactly like Camille [1965] and Betsy [1969]. I didn’t live through those. But they were devastating to New Orleans and that whole Gulf Coast to Biloxi, lots of the areas that were hit this time.

I got on the Internet and I pulled up the paths of Betsy and Camille, and they looked very similar. So I called my wife at 3 a.m.. and I said, "Look I’m coming home tomorrow. I’ll be home at 9 o’clock. Pack the kids up." She said, What are you talking about?" I said, “We’re going to leave. We don’t want to get caught in the traffic once this thing hits."

She said, "But there’s no evacuation here. It looks like it is going to go towards Florida."

I said, "Well, honey Let’s just go. Worse case scenario we’ve spent three days on vacation."

So she packed the kids up with about three or four days worth of clothes. Her mother was there with her because the baby had just been born. And we took the car. I threw my suits and whatever I could pack into a bag. And we grabbed the important papers. [In the house,] I put whatever we could up high up. We put grabbed some videos and pictures. And we got out of dodge. That was it. The flight to Egypt. Or to Birmingham.

So then we had nowhere to go. Then I called the nuns and they let us stay at the guest house.

Q: Where is your family now?

A: In Birmingham, for the moment.

Q: Where are you going to settle down?

A: We don’t know yet. There’s a good chance we’re going to move to Northern Virginia outside of D.C. Rebecca and I were married there. We have a lot of friends there. There’s a wonderful Catholic community.

Q: You’re having to keep up with your role as the news director and anchor on "The World Over Live", also traveling to promote the book, while starting your life over from scratch. How are you juggling it all?

A: I’m living in Mother Angelica’s present moment. She had this idea, don’t cling to yesterday. Don’t concern yourself with tomorrow. Just live in the moment that God is calling you to right now.

It’s a cute idea. [He laughs.] But practicing it is difficult . . .. You do learn to do it though. It’s sound advice. I will tell you. It has really gotten me through this whole period. There is so much coming at me between special events in Rome, the weekly live show, a cycle of illness in our home. Rebecca lost a grandmother . . ..

All of this while the book inexplicably went forward. It is still doing what it’s supposed to do. But we’re all paying the price here.

Q: You emphasize in your book that every victory at the network was preceded by suffering.

A: That is the center of Mother Angelica’s life. I think it’s the center of every human’s life. The trick is learning to understand it, and not letting it frustrate you or throw you off the path. That’s hard. But it can be done. And that’s what she’s taught me.

We had the baby, Katrina hit, and six days later the book came out. I proceeded with the book tour. And it hit the New York Times Bestseller list.

And it’s still a force, still selling. People are buying it and are passing it on. It’s amazing the ripples of the story as it moves out, as people realize what this woman went through, who she is really beyond the television personality.

With this book tour I was able to connect with Mother Angelica’s entire extended family. Few people have her kind of influence.

I met a couple who were on drugs and they were just killing themselves, until they came across Mother Angelica one evening. Connecting their own dysfunctional background with her hurting and her pain and her difficult background was the bridge for them. Through that they were introduced to the whole Catholic enchilada. They found redemption, and they found peace and a way to battle their addictions. I was really quite touched.

It also helps me get through this period to see to see what people are going through. Losing a house isn’t such a big deal.

Q: I read somewhere that you said it’s purifying.

Katrina means purification. Heh! Her work has been very slow in New Orleans, I might add. But certainly in the lives of so many friends and in our lives, it’s one long purification. I’ve been living through Lent since August.

There is something freeing about all this. You’re detached from all the stuff you thought you needed. We have the kids. I got a few books out. My Sinatra collection . . . . Everything we need we have.

Q: You wrote about how when Deacon Bill Steltemeir [EWTN Chairman] first saw Mother Angelica, he started hearing “Until the day you die" every day for a month until he drove down from Tennessee to see her. Was there anything like that with you?

A: Nothing quite like that.

I came to do a profile on Mother in 1995. Early in ‘96, she asked me to start a news operation. “It’ll be good for your soul.”

My wife and I were ready. I was covering politics at the time. Politics is a shifting animal, it’s like sand. Yesterday’s hot story is tomorrow’s has been. It’s ephemeral.

Q: You write and speak a lot about Mother Angelica’s life as a parable that shows that God can do great things through you if you cooperate with Him.

A: If you are open to where He’s taking you to. In Mother’s life also you see these great illnesses and sufferings that presaged any major growth for the network. That’s what happens in all our lives. You go through purging experiences, whether they be illness or loss of a loved one or some traumatic event—like the loss of a house.

It prepares you for the next thing He wants of you. It’s a horrible time. Horrific. If you have the faith to cling to the bark like a little baby, if you keep walking, there is this great thing ahead. You have to go through this because you’re not ready for it.

Q: Would you have had those thoughts before you came to EWTN 10 years ago?

A: No. She was right. I came down and joined the network, and it was good for me spiritually.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

You're Darned Right It Was Cold!

You're darned right it was cold. It was 22 degrees below zero that morning of March 3, 2003, when I left Fortune Bay resort and casino at Lake Vermilion for 9 o'clock Sunday Mass in the nearby town of Tower. The crunching, squeaking sound my boots made breaking through the crust of the super-frozen snow as I walked from my car to the church struck me as one I hadn't heard for a long time. You don't hear that sound unless the temperature is below zero, way below zero. You never hear it where I live now in San José, California.

It warmed up a bit later though, so that by the time my son and I left the resort for the Duluth airport around noon, it was "only" 17 degrees below.

At around five p.m. California time, we arrived back at San Jose terminal C. Terminal C was the old fashioned one (modernized since then) where you still had to walk down a set of stairs to get off the plane. A woman on the stairs below us complained about the 55 degrees above zero cold, and we were conspiratorily amused.

There's a bit of nobbery in those of us who have learned to tolerate extreme weather. My former husband and I once bought a button that read "40 below keeps out the riff raff," when we lived near Fargo, North Dakota. We joked with our friends that it was ironic. 40 below hadn't kept us out . . ..

It had been great being back in Minnesota. Most people were very friendly. I never saw Theresa, the bride, look so radiant and happy. She and Shane, the man she married, looked to be very much in love. Theresa was 32 or so, close to the age of my son, Liberty. Liberty and I had met Theresa while we all were entertainers in the late 80s at the Minnesota Renaissance festival.

I grew to especially like Theresa out of all the high schoolers who were the Renfest's street performers, because of her sweet friendliness and because she went on to earn an art degree too, like me. I saw a little of myself in her creativity in other ways too. We sew, we paint, we both go down strange creative side alleys. When I saw her beading moccasins, I thought of my own interest in Native American culture in the 60s, and the beaded necklaces I'd made.

And I loved her for her hospitality. We had visited her a few times when she lived in North Hollywood for a few years after she graduated from Reed College in Oregon. She had also stayed with us a few times when we lived in Milpitas, CA, and I had stayed with her once in an apartment she was renting in the Grand Avenue area of St. Paul.

Theresa is of Italian-Swedish and other European ancestry. The man she married, Shane, who was 26 at the time, is an Ojibwe Native American. The tribe is also called the Chippewas; those who speak the native tongue call themselves Anishinaabeg, "original people."

The couple met at a pow-wow. I was surprised to find out that when Theresa moved back to Minnesota that she became one of many non-Native Americans who regularly participate in pow-wows. I also found out later that non-native enthusiasts who like to attend public powwows and who are enthusiastic about Native American religion and culture are called "hobbyists" or "Indianthusiasts." They introduced me to three wedding guests that Theresa had met through Native American enthusiast chat rooms, and who had never met Theresa and Shane in person before..

One woman, Mia, flew there all the way to attend the wedding from Sweden. Another hobbyist named Lynn drove up from Missouri with her husband.

Theresa's parents were delighted with Shane because they were praying that Theresa would meet a good man. He and I didn't hit it off, but everyone in the family was unanimous in proclaiming Shane to be the nicest man they had ever met.

In that part of the north country, the resident population seems to be pretty evenly mixed between dark-haired Native Americans and blonde Scandinavians, predominantly Finnish, and you also find a sprinkling of middle class city people of a slightly wider range of ethnic backgrounds who have vacation or retirement homes up there. Theresa's family fits in the latter category.

The couple planned to have two weddings, an Ojibwe wedding and a Lutheran one.

On Saturday, with five hours free before the Lutheran church wedding, I drove up to Ely to look around. I had lunch there in a cafe. Ely is at the end of the road at the north end of the United States, on the edge of a huge network of lakes that is called the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and is shared with Canada.

The decor and offerings in the cafe in Ely wouldn’t be out of place in Palo Alto. The people, though, that’s another story. The queue at the cafe's counter was made up of a group of middle-aged couples with teen-aged kids, all with high red color in their cheeks from the wind chill and all wearing snowmobile suits reeking of snowmobile fuel. Some of the grown-ups were reeking of another kind of alcohol fuel.

I asked the blonde young female counter clerk who waited on me, "Is this a hangout for snowmobilers?" "It is, now," she dead-panned. I quipped, "I saw all the snowmobiles in the alley. I feel weird because I drove here in a car." She blurted out, "I feel weird selling them beer." When those words first came out of her mouth, she looked a little surprised at herself for speaking so frankly, then seemed relieved when I laughed.

The spectre of news stories of accidents caused by alcohol-impaired snowmobilers hung unspoken between us for a moment.

Snowmobilers on frozen Lake Vermilion Snowmobilers on frozen Lake Vermilion

A group of 40ish, trim, nice-looking, mostly blond women (non-snowmobilers by the looks of them) in the booth behind me talked of many things. It came up that a friend of one of the women, named Arla, recently had a baby that was 10 lbs. 11 oz. The speaker said that her own daughter didn't realize how lucky she was that granddaughter Frankie was only 6 lbs. 8 oz. There was a thoughtful pause.

Talk moved to one woman's bout with breast cancer. "I am doing fine," she told them. "Did you keep them?" another woman asked. "Oh no, I don't have anything to do with that sort of thing." Another chimed in, "Some women have ceremonies. They bury them." "Oh, not me," the survivor said again. The drawn-out Minne-soh-ta pronunciation of the "O" sound was particularly strong this time when she spoke. "I don't hold with that sort of thing." "Me neither," agreed another.

Many think the way that many Minnesotans typically pronounce a stressed drawn-out "O" is an influence from the Swedish language that was spoken by the immigrant forebears of many of the local white residents. At a talk by an Ojibwe artist at the Minneapolis Art Institute one time I heard the artist claim that the elongated "O" in the Minnesota accent is actually borrowed from the Ojibwe language.

Talk in the booth behind me moved to plans for the women to brunch together again with their husbands along the next morning. "Are you going to church?" someone said. Nobody said anything in reply. The silence was a little uncomfortable. Finally someone volunteered a chipper: "I can pray at home." There was a little titter. To ride on the success of that remark, "If you go, say one for me," added another woman.

Typically, the talk was full of quips, but since dry humor is favored in Minnesota over any other sort, their mutual appreciation did not include anything so overt as a laugh.

As for me, I had already checked the Mass times for the next day at the nearest Catholic church. 

I must have taken the wrong road out of Ely on the way back because I got lost  in blowing snow on two-lane roads lined with pines and birches, for over an hour. When I got to a tee in the road and saw signs pointing left to Babbitt and right to Embarrass, I waved down two men in a pickup truck. They told me that I needed to go right and drive to a crossroads with a flashing light--to catch a road that would take me back to where I was staying. They drove off towards Babbitt, and I drove off towards Embarrass.

I started wondering how long it would be before the crossroads. The men hadn't given me a clue. Minnesotans' minimalism in directions-giving is a big contrast with the detailed California approach. When someone gave me directions in California before the era of map applications on smart phones, I'd start writing on a slip of paper and always run out of room.

"You'll pass a Bank of America. Then there'll be a Baker's Square on your left." "Should I turn?" "No, no, keep going. A few streets down you'll see a Bed, Bath, and Beyond on your right. That will be Santa Clara Street." "Should I turn there?" "No. Keep going until you see a Hollywood Video, make a U-turn at the next light, turn into the second turn off behind the Marie Callender's. . .."

I always wanted to say, "Cut to the chase. What's the street address of the place where I'm supposed to meet you? What are the names of the streets where I'm supposed to turn? And which way, right or left. Spare me the landmarks, puleeze."

But Saturday I would have appreciated a landmark or two. Not that there were any that a city dweller like me would recognize. How would I know when I had gone too far? After driving another 20 minutes, not seeing another soul or a town, I started doubting. Maybe they had been putting me on? I tried to call my son to tell him to catch a ride to the wedding with someone else, but there was no cell phone service out there.

I didn't realize exactly how slippery it was until I braked when I spotted a small store on the side of the road and spun completely around. When I got control of the car again, I parked and walked through the snow to where a 50ish blonde man was standing in the doorway of the store looking out. I opened the storm door and asked directions again through the inside door. The man tersely told me the same thing the other men had told me, that at the crossroads up the road, now only a few miles away, I should make a right.

After a pause, he asked significantly: "Did you just make that big circle out there?" He gestured towards my tire tracks in the snow, and looked into my face to gauge my reaction. I looked where he pointed, and I blithely said, "Yah! I've lost my knack of driving on ice after 13 years in California." As I looked at him while I talked, I could see that my nonchalant reaction was not what he wanted. I continued anyway, "Thank God there wasn't anyone else on the road." He turned away from my attempt at an ingratiating smile, and dismissed me with a motion of his hand, lifting it up to his shoulder and then flinging the palm down towards the ground.

Back in the car I finally started to feel how shook up I was. At the same time I began to realize the man had waved me away because I hadn't been properly chagrined by his remark.

As my face got red, I thought that driving through woods in a snowy afternoon wasn't turning out to be as much fun as it had seemed at first.

I recalled then that the expectation among Minnesota mens seems to be that women should be exceedingly apologetic about things--even when they haven't done anything that could be construed as being stupid. A skit by Minnesota humorist Garrison Keillor came to mind that included a woman serving a superb meal and apologizing for how bad it was. My conclusion was that I just hadn't been apologetic enough for that surly storekeeper.

As I neared the flashing light for my turn off, I realized that I had forgotten to ask to use the store's phone to call my son. Finally I saw some signs for the resort. Just a mile from the resort, even though I was driving even more cautiously by then, I ended up gliding down an ice-glazed hill while I braked to no effect.

When I'd left Minnesota 14 years earlier after living there for 19 years, I had been an expert ice driver. I've often bragged about how I'd barrel along highway I 94 in icy conditions at almost the posted speed limit while semi trucks were going off the road to the right and the left of me. But that was when almost all cars had rear wheel drive and brakes that you pump. Because I was driving a rental, I just didn’t know what kind of brakes I had. "Do I have anti-lock brakes? Should I be slamming the brakes or pumping them?"

Because of my few seconds of hesitation, I was lost. I tried steering into the direction the car was sliding, but that didn't change anything. The road curved to my right, and the car's continued unstoppable glide towards the left edge of the road was so gentle I hoped that the curb would stop it. But the momentum was just enough to carry the car up and hang it up on that curb. I couldn't rock the car out of the snow (another winter driving technique I had once gotten to be really good at) because the tires couldn't get traction.

I waited a little while and when nobody drove by, I got out and hiked the remaining half mile to the resort. The real cold snap hadn't hit yet, so it was only about 25 degrees above zero. Not too bad.

And so it came about that I missed the Lutheran wedding while the Fortune Bay maintenance staff was pulling my car off the curb.

Fortunately, my son had caught a ride with the groom's cousin and her husband, who had arrived late from the Twin Cities and had rushed up to their room to change. When Liberty had asked the desk clerk what to do, she called the couple in their room, and they agreed to take Liberty with them when they went to the wedding.

Incidentally, I also found it interesting that most of the employees at the Indian-owned casino resort are white, including the Finnish man who cleaned our room.

At the church wedding and the reception, as I learned later, Theresa wore a traditional European-style long white dress. She also wore her own hand-beaded moccasins underneath, mostly, she said, because she would tower over her groom if she wore heels.

Both myself and my son had already attended a Ojibwe ceremony for the couple the day before. It had been held at the new Nett Lake Reservation community center that had been built with profits from the casino. Theresa had worn a homemade sleeveless, burgundy velvet dress trimmed with hammered brass circles, along with the same moccasins. Shane had worn a  burgundy velvet vest, also sewn and beaded by Theresa. The groom had also worn a backwards sports cap with a Nike swoosh and Nike athletic shoes.

The ceremony had featured an Eagle feather held by an elder almost the whole time and a drum, which the elders asked us not to photograph. One of the two elders who officiated said that the drum had its own spirit.

Serendipitously enough, the New Yorker I had bought at the San Jose airport to read on my flight there, had featured a short story by Minnesota writer Louise Erdrich, who writes fiction about the Ojibwe people. The story was about an antiques dealer who steals an Ojibwe drum that resonates inexplicably without being struck. Images of drums with strong powers still lingered with me.

The drum at the ceremony was about two feet across, the sides painted with colored circles within circles. At the center of each circle was a painted stylized arrow, pointing up, looking somewhat like an arrow you would see on a box to indicate "this side up."
Both elders mentioned that the groom handed tobacco to the elder when he had asked the elder to lead the ceremony. The elder who started the ceremony told us that he once had a question about why tobacco was used. "We get our questions answered by dreams or visions," he continued. In a dream he had learned that when Manitou, their name for the Creator, had created man, tobacco was already growing for man to use in communication with Him.

The other elder said that tobacco is like picking up the phone and getting connected to the Creator, without having to dial a bunch of numbers. The first elder lit a pipe full of tobacco and prayed and pointed the smoking pipe to the spirits of the North, South, East, and West, and to the Earth and the Sky. At that, he pointed the pipe up to the vaulted ceiling of the room.

At first, I thought, well that's a bit silly.  We pray to God, and God talks to us without using tobacco. But then, I thought, the Catholic use of incense is a little bit along the same line, isn't it?  I looked up incense in the book of Revelation when I got home.

And another angel came, and stood before the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given to him much incense, that he should offer of the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar, which is before the throne of God. And the smoke of the incense of the prayers of the saints ascended up before God from the hand of the angel." [Revelation 8:3,4].

Incense for Catholics is a symbol of the prayers of the saints before God.  Our prayers rise like incense to heaven where the angels offer the smoke of the prayers or the saints upon the golden altar before the throne of God.

As I pondered the points of harmony and dissonance, I idly watched the clouds of tobacco smoke rise in the warm, room air. That's when I noticed a  partly deflated balloon from a previous event was caught in one the four large dream catchers with spray painted feathers that were hanging from the peak of the ceiling.

I remembered that when I stayed with Theresa the last time in St. Paul, on my way out to Mass in the mornings, I noticed that her morning prayers involved tobacco and some sort of feathers.

Later, I told my son, tongue in cheek, that the pack of cigarettes he smokes every day must be getting him in touch with the Creator twenty times a day. He didn't seem convinced. Taking my tongue out of my cheek, I sometimes mull about a pet theory--that addiction to tobacco and its health consequences could be seen as a subtle revenge that Indians have had on the white man.

The way I understood what the elders were saying, the couple had originally requested an Ojibwe wedding ceremony. Both elders talked about how that before Christianity marriages weren't formally contracted. The Ojibwe word for living together means married. One of the elders told a story about how his own mother had once used the word about their own relationship to annoy him.

One of the bride's cousin told me after the ceremony that the original elder who had been asked to perform an Ojibwe wedding ritual had dropped out when he discovered that the couple was going to have a Lutheran wedding the next day. The two elders who had officiated at the ceremony that day were called in as last-minute replacements. One of them spoke about how he had driven overnight down from a reservation in Canada.

Together they decided to hold a "recognition" ceremony instead. Theresa's cousin was relieved, she told me the next day, because she is a Christian and she believed that the way it turned out meant that God had prevented their marriage from starting with a pagan wedding ceremony. Good point, I thought to myself. That was probably a very good thing.

At the end of the elder's talk, before a buffet that included several kinds of wild rice and venison dishes and a cake dyed bright blue and decorated with bright yellow frosting, the bride and groom held a giveaway. At first there was a little confusion, because the elder thought that the goods for the giveaway were going to be bundled up and sent to another village far away, as is usually done. After the couple's intention was made clear, the bride and groom distributed their gifts around the room.

Theresa handed me a set of yellow towels. We were all invited to dance, and so I danced around in a circle with the others who were willing to join, holding up my yellow towels in one hand, while the elders drummed in the middle and chanted.

My son and I both agreed that giving gifts to others in honor of one's happiness at such a milestone in one's life is a very nice thing to do.

Nia from Sweden, Theresa, and Shane, outside of the Nett Lake Reservation Community Center after the recognition ceremony Nia from Sweden, Theresa, and Shane, outside of the Nett Lake Reservation Community Center after the recognition ceremony

The next day, at the wedding reception back at the casino/resort, two blond bar hostesses told me that they had taken the short way to work by driving from a town on the other side of Lake Vermilion across the 2 ft. thick lake ice. A road is kept plowed across the lake all winter.

As people chatted after dinner, some of the guests at my table told me it had been a mild winter, and the ice hadn't been as thick as usual. They also told me that because of the thinner-than-usual ice, a young couple had recently died in Lake Minnetonka (250 miles further south near the Twin Cities). After the couple drove onto the lake to "go parking," their car went through the ice. To make matters worse was what the divers discovered when they were pulling up that couple's car. At the bottom of the cold, cold, lake, they found another car containing two drowned teenage boys from a similar accident a few days earlier. Nobody had reported them missing or had realized what had happened to them until then.

Back at my home in San José, crocuses and roses were blooming in the front yard. In this part of the country, people who were seeking to find their identity outside of their own culture were more likely to be attending a Grateful Dead concert than a pow-wow, more likely to die of a home invasion robbery than by having their car break through ice and sink to the murky bottom of a lake.  If they were smoking anything in search of a way to reach a spiritual state, it probably was marijuana.

It sure was, I thought rather obviously, a different world out there.

Jessieanne, Theresa and Shane's first child, attends her first powwow.
Theresa sent me this photo the next Spring of Jessieanne, their first child, at her first powwow, in a dress and moccasins sewn and beaded by her mother.