Christmas 2013

Joy and Peace! How often we read these beautiful words especially in this Advent season as we joyfully await the peace of Christ. How often, though, do we run frantically about, anxious with ancillary concerns rather than remaining focused on making straight the way of the Lord into our heart? This Advent those of us in the Catholic fold have been invited anew by our new shepherd, Pope Francis, to radiate the Joy of the Gospel, to proclaim that peace which encountering Christ has brought to our lives. This Advent we all have the opportunity to “obey the Lord’s call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the peripheries in need” (Evangelii Gaudium 20). All the tales of the Old Testament patriarchs and prophets begin with a journey of displacement from a homeland—Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Ruth, Elijah, Jonah, Ezekiel—each foreshadowing those pilgrimages of the Holy Family, the Magi, and countless saints who left behind that which was good in obedience to the promise of the Father.

New ChelseaThis year Michelle and I discerned to similarly bid farewell to the best we have known—and for which we shall always give thanks—in order to follow the call of the Lord to a new life in the Pacific Northwest. We have quite literally gone forth, experienced the challenges, the pain of exile from our beloved community, but like the patriarchs and the cloud of witnesses who trusted that the Lord is faithful to his promises, we remain expectant, figuratively like Mary on the donkey, for the hidden fruit which we are confident in time will mature of our journey to Seattle. For you to whom we last wrote with our Christmas greetings shortly after Joshua’s birth in Lent 2012 in order to invite all y’all to his baptism, let us resume the story there…

I baptize youOn Mothers’ Day weekend 2012, together with both of our natal families, we had two wonderful celebrations. On Saturday Michelle formally received her doctoral hood from her advisor, Dr Howard Rockman, of Duke University and brought to fruition the more than seven-year journey to earn her PhD in Cell Biology. Through the support of so many people—fellow parishioners of Saint Thomas More, Michelle’s sister, and the prayers of those more distant—this great accomplishment was one shared by many. On that Sunday, that day of the resurrection, together also with our extended parish family, we joyfully celebrated the baptism of Joshua Anthony, who that day was reborn of water and Spirit, had opened for him the door to the Church, and began a sacramental life which nourishes us in our journeys to encounter the Lord. We are especially thankful for Laura and David Olson, Joshua’s godparents, for their willingness to support us in prayer, friendship, and so many other ways as we undertake raising our son in the practice of the faith.

Michelle Casad, PhDTo further celebrate these events and thanks to my parents’ willingness to stay and care for Miriam and our little farm, we were able to go to Puerto Rico to participate in the bridal party for the celebration of the wedding of Natasha, with whom we’d become fast and close friends upon our arrival in North Carolina. It was a treat, albeit an exhausting one with Joshua in tow, to be part of this fantastic harmonizing of families and cultures and afforded the chance to make new friends as we experienced together the beaches and historical streets of San Juan and the lush beauty of the Carite Forest. In September 2012 we travelled to Boston for another wedding, this time of Joanna, who had been Michelle’s roommate during their year abroad together in Galway, Ireland and was part of our bridal party. We had a great time at the wedding of Joanna and Marty, staying at Joanna’s family beach bungalow at Plymouth for the end of the season, and catching up as we explored the Mayflower and rather large rock nearby.

The last nearly two years have brought many further celebrations for some of our close parish family at Saint Thomas More. It was a great joy to celebrate the wedding of Amy, the first candidate for reception into the full communion of the Catholic Church with whom I was privileged to minister at Saint Thomas More and for whom Michelle served as sponsor, to a lector and musician at our parish, Ryan. In addition, two marriages of which we were blessed to be part in previous summers received the gift of children to whom I am honored to be bonded as their godfather. Michael and Alesandra, who is Miriam’s godmother, welcomed their son, Matthew, while Joshua’s godparents, David and Laura, welcomed their delightful daughter, Helen, in July. We also joyfully celebrated the ordination of my colleague, Luis Royo, to the diaconate for the Diocese of Raleigh.

How does a dinosaur...As Michelle continued her cardiology research as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill we also began another chapter of our parenting by welcoming to our home Alex, our au pair from Buga, a small town in the Valle del Cauca in Colombia. Alex lived with us for one year and took care of both Miriam and Joshua as the former started pre-school and the latter took his first steps, spoke his first words, and began to eat everything in sight! Alex was not only great in caring for Miriam and Joshua but also taught them both to speak Spanish, to root for Los Cafeteros, and Salsa dance. Three days a week Miriam joined a dozen other three years old in the inaugural year of Saint Thomas More’s Friendly Frogs pre-Kindergarten. It was not only Miriam who had a blast and made many friends, but also Michelle and I who are likewise deeply thankful for the great experience we had due to the excellent teachers, volunteers and parents from the parish as we too built new friendships in Miriam’s first foray into school.

My ministry as Director of Liturgy and Catechumenate at Saint Thomas More this year included what was perhaps the most beautiful celebration of the Sacred Paschal Triduum to date as we found our stride with the present Roman Missal and since I was blessed once more to serve as godfather, this time to Sissi with whom I have been privileged to share in her journey of conversion, a journey which infused not only her life with joy but also that of her family and her new parish. Equally long in formation, this year saw the establishment of a relationship with a local Catholic artist who crafted and installed above the baptismal font a magnificent wooden relief of the Lamb of God in whose blood those reborn in baptism are washed clean and who inscribes the names of his elect in the seven-sealed Book of Life upon which he reclines.

new lamb ¡Hola gallina!

Our little farm of New Chelsea also welcomed a new lamb this spring whose leaping and frolicking was, as always, a delightful sight among the tall clover pasture beyond our backyard. As the chicks we had received to coincide with Joshua’s birth had long matured we all enjoyed the beauty of their variegated plumage and collecting an equally rainbow array of eggs.

Following the busyness of Holy Week, I made a retreat to the Trappist Abbey of the Holy Cross in the northern Shenandoah Valley of Virginia in order to participate in a Monastic Immersion Week. Much of this time I spent in prayerful discernment of the Lord’s voice and the invitation to serve Archbishop J. Peter Sartain as Director of the Liturgy Office for the Archdiocese of Seattle.

Here come the IrishAmid preparing for the transitions, I gave a presentation on Christian initiation at the annual Liturgy Symposium at the University of Notre Dame. En route we visited with Natasha and Christian, whose wedding we had attended in Puerto Rico, who had recently welcomed with joy their son, Cristian. It was delightful to reconnect with Kim and Matt who were also in the process of moving as Kim begins her professorship at Notre Dame and meet their third child, Hildegard, whom they had likewise just welcomed.

Having made the decision to move, we unleashed the summer frenzy of dismantling the little farm we had built up over our seven years there, preparing our house for showings and sale, and packing up one chapter of our life. Our flock of heritage breed Jacob Sheep found homes enriching two nearby lines while our two Anatolian Shepherds, Basil and Abe, have continued as guardians for a large flock of sheep at another North Carolina farm. Finding new homes for the chickens was relatively easier given that many people have discovered the joy and health benefits of fresh eggs from free-ranging hens even on small plots. looking for ladybugsWe received from friends and fellow parishioners not only the help without which we could never have accomplished our move but also were buoyed by their prayers and support which served as a tangible reminder of the depth of love we glimpsed and experienced among our community. Though our house and property remains unsold, we are confident it shall sell this spring and that, armed with all we were able to learn together and the fruits of what we planted there, we can begin rebuilding anew our small-scale, permaculture inspired rural idyll and setting down roots in the new community to which we have been called here.

BadlandsJust before setting out on our westward journey we bid a tearful farewell to Alex, thankful for the memories we all had together. Shortly thereafter we welcomed to our home Laura, our current au pair from Villamaría, near Manizales, in the Caldas region of Colombia. Laly was quickly immersed into our family as she experienced the last hectic week of our life in North Carolina and our two week road trip. Along our 3600 mile odyssey we visited Michelle’s brother, Dominic, and his wife, Liz, spending a day in Philadelphia one last time before leaving the Mid-Atlantic. Old FaithfulThough not quite retracing Lewis and Clark’s route from Saint Louis, their journey loomed large as we exited I-80 from Notre Dame and then headed off to cross the Mississippi River at Minneapolis where we reconnected with Michelle’s cousins and then ventured out onto the northern plains to visit Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota. From there we stayed the night on the banks of the Missouri River before visiting Badlands and Mount Rushmore. From there we trekked up into the Rocky Mountains and spent several days exploring the wonderful beauty of Yellowstone before winding through Montana, over the Columbia River and into Washington. We made it into Seattle in time to meet our truck with our belongings with which we were graciously assisted in offloading by many new friends. We were also just in time to celebrate the wedding of our friend Mimi, with whom I was a student at Notre Dame and who now ministers at a parish in Sammamish.

Saint James CathedralI am enjoying my new job as I get around to the parishes and other facilities (schools, retreat centers, cemeteries, etc.) of the archdiocese. I serve principally as a resource for parishes in order that liturgies there may thrive, that is, to be spaces in which the faithful and those drawn in for the first time may alike encounter the love and mercy of God through participation therein and be missioned as disciples into the world and so renew it by their presence. Toward that end I lead workshops for liturgical ministers, assist in reviewing new building projects, have launched several new mystagogical catechetical programs, and together with a great staff am blessed to serve for various episcopal and archdiocesan celebrations at Saint James Cathedral. I also have continued offering online theology courses through Notre Dame’s STEP.

Having discerned a desire to explore a career other than academic research, Michelle has found both employment and joy as an adjunct member of the biology faculty at Tacoma Community College. All of us have a desire to see our work bear fruit and the weekly experience of knowing that her students have come to a greater knowledge of Anatomy and Physiology has been rewarding for Michelle. Beginning in January she will be adding to her docket several biology courses at Bishop Blanchet Catholic High School.

Seattle skylineMiriam continues to lead the cheer, ‘See It!’ when the Space Needle comes into view, in remembrance of the eruption all had upon seeing Seattle’s icon as we first drove into town knowing our two-week journey was only ten minutes from its terminus at our new house. Miriam is thriving in her pre-Kindergarten class at Saint Matthew, the Catholic parish nearest us in our neighborhood of North Seattle. She has especially enjoyed being a big sister and, together with Laly and Joshua, exploring Seattle’s parks, museums, zoo and aquarium, and more. Laly continues to guide Miriam and Joshua in learning Spanish, developing many skills, and widening their imagination. Miriam enjoys creating in paint, word, and music as her distinctive handwriting has emerged and she has begun to take up piano. Miriam’s influence on Joshua can immediately be heard in his broad vocabulary of dinosaur species a topic with which both of them continue to be obsessed. Joshua is happiest playing with puzzles, ‘participating’ in Miriam’s drawing activities, and occasionally sitting still long enough for her to read him books. We also hear him singing versions of songs that Miriam has brought home from school or library story time.

Woodland Park ZooDuring the first months of our being in Washington with the exceptionally beautiful weather we also explored further afield into to mountains and Puget Sound around us. As we have journeyed to the various corners of the archdiocese and been experiencing many new things I have resuscitated our blog at in order to share longer reflections and with those beyond whom we’re connected on facebook.

Michelle now has one quarter of teaching under her belt, I have been through the cycle of Deacon Convocation and celebrating Our Lady of Guadalupe and Simbang Gabi as Liturgy Director, and routines are being established in other areas of our life allowing us to begin emerging the from chaotic fog that enveloped us. Though we are anxious to find a permanent place to call home and even went through the roller coaster of entering into and then losing a contingent offer on a house, we are trying to live into the admonition of Saint James (5:7-10) proclaimed on this Gaudete Sunday, when in the midst of Advent we are already called to rejoice even as we wait patiently as “the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it.”

overlooking the Puget SoundLiving once more on the West coast has been challenging but an invitation to joy. It made it possible for us to do another roadtrip to spend Thanksgiving with Michelle’s parents at their home in Modesto together with Frances, Jon, and our niece, Julia. We also were able to visit my uncle Dave and the surrounding Redwoods on our drive. What else lies ahead we cannot yet see but we remain faithful to the call and hopeful for that for which we shall soon give thanks.

Here in Christmastide more than ever we hear of peace and of joy. And yet we are also more keenly aware than ever that we are all a pilgrim people, a people journeying together in this “challenge of finding and sharing a ‘mystique’ of living together, of mingling and encounter, of embracing and supporting one another, of stepping into this flood tide which, while chaotic, can become a genuine experience of fraternity, a caravan of solidarity, a sacred pilgrimage” (Joy of the Gospel 87). While our family has set forth on a literal journey in obedience to an encounter, an invitation to be amid others in a new place in order to radiate the joy of living a life in Christ (266), “it would be so good, so soothing, so liberating and hope-filled…[for all of us] to go out of ourselves and to join others” (87) to radiate that same peace and joy born of the love of God who abides with us wherever we sojourn.

May Christ ever abide with you wherever you go and the joy of the Gospel fill your hearts and lives!

The above text and photographs were included in our Christmas 2013 newsletter (PDF).

Advent 2009

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel!

O Wisdom…teach us your ways

Miriam is bornAs we enter this last week of preparation for Christmas, the Advent hymn “O come, O come, Emmanuel” provides a great way for us to focus our hearts on the coming of God among all people. Each of the verses of “O come, O come, Emmanuel” echoes one of the early Christian “O” Antiphons sung for centuries at Evening Prayer (Vespers) on seven successive days beginning December 17 and leading right to the threshold of Christmas. When we join our voices with the anonymous monk who composed these “O” Antiphons and the countless men and women who in the midst of this darkest season have similarly expressed their longing for God to abide in their hearts we too have faith that Christ has shown us the path beyond death, is continuing to enlighten and sweetly reorder the world, and ultimately will establish his dwelling among us in lasting peace.

Throughout 2009 our life has been filled with countless opportunities to experience God of which the most profound has most certainly been the birth of our daughter, Miriam Eileen Casad, whom we welcomed on April 19. She has filled our life and our home with joy. While the headlines announce times of scarcity and rationing, Miriam has helped us to see with the eyes of faith that God has abundantly blessed all of us and that we, in turn, need to give as freely of ourselves as God has graciously given everything to us, including his Son.

O Lord and giver of the law…redeem us

Miriam in her baptismal gownThe names we have and the names we give are of great importance, indicating the fullness into which we are called to grow. It is our hope that Miriam, like her namesake the prophetess of the Exodus as a type of Mary, the Mother of God, will likewise lead the people of God in singing, dancing, and rejoicing in the wondrous deeds of the one who liberates us from slavery. The joy Miriam brought into our life on the day of her birth made concrete the Lord’s favor, as our daughter’s very presence echoes the joy that flows as a blessing from God to his people!

Surrounded by our parish community and many other friends we celebrated Miriam’s baptism on Ascension (May 25); our immediate families came from all over the US to take part in the joyous occasion as well. Miriam was reborn in Christ and subsequently clothed in a white baptismal gown which was also worn by Michelle, all three of her siblings, and Michelle’s mother and her siblings. She was covered in a bonnet made by Andrew’s great-great-grandmother Mottier in 1893; and swaddled in a new linen cloth beautifully edged and embroidered by a friend of ours as all assembled prayed that Miriam “See in her white garment the outward sign of her Christian dignity to be brought unstained into the everlasting life of heaven by the help of her family and friends’ word and example.”

O Root of Jesse…come and deliver us

Miriam delighting in LinusApart from the enormous changes in our lives as Miriam has blossomed much else that has rooted us here in North Carolina remains the same.

Michelle is finishing up her PhD in Cell Biology at Duke University. After a seven week maternity leave she has returned to the lab nearly full time. Michelle continues to play with the Saint Thomas More Handbell choir, including playing for Mass for her first Mothers’ Day a few weeks after Miriam’s birth. On a much sadder note, Michelle’s grandmother, †Ione Pellegrini, was born to eternal life on April 7. Though Miriam and Ione never met one another in this life, no doubt there was dancing in heaven when Miriam was born, fulfilling grandma’s constant asking for a great-grandchild.

Andrew is entering his fifth year as Director of Liturgy and Catechumenate at Saint Thomas More Catholic Church where he continues to orchestrate the worship life of the parish and oversee the process for those becoming Catholic–even in the midst of the expansive construction project currently underway. The position continues to allow him to further his education at professional conferences as well as to contribute to the ongoing formation of other parishes throughout the Diocese of Raleigh. In addition, he continues to teach online courses through the University of Notre Dame’s Satellite Theological Education Program.

O Key of David…open wide heaven’s gate

Miriam with Nonna and Grandpa Jim at the Durham Bulls baseball gameWe were expecting Miriam to be born sometime very close to Easter and Andrew kept having nightmares wherein he was standing at the baptismal font during the Easter Vigil just as we were blessing the new waters at the same moment Michelle’s water broke! Thankfully such anxious premonitions did not happen and Miriam was born on the last day of the Octave of Easter just as Andrew was finishing up with a final evening of reflection. The labor was, as Michelle puts it, fast and furious. Everything happened as planned and six hours later Michelle and Miriam were healthy, happy, and nursing.

In these first eight months of Miriam’s life she has had many key first moments. Of course Michelle and I took great delight in the first time Miriam smiled, sat up, rolled over, pulled up on the coffee table, crawled after Linus the beagle and our cats, started new syllables, and ate solid foods, the latter coming with increasing frequency given her very recent addition of a tooth. She enjoys being outside and watching the chicken and sheep.

We have also enjoyed introducing her to some our favorite events. While my parents and sister were visiting we all went to the Duke Lemur Center. Miriam was taken to her first baseball game by her Nonna and Grandpa Jim at the the Durham Bulls stadium. Miriam also accompanied Michelle to a Duke football game but was not a fan of the big plays and even bigger crowd reactions. She seemed to like swimming with her daddy in Hyco Lake during the annual Rockman Lab Lake Day. And of course Andrew took great pride in donning Miriam in her first Clan Buchanan mini-kilt from her Grandma Sue to attend the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games in the Appalachian highlands of western North Carolina. Thanks to an unseasonably warm Halloween, Miriam dressed as a cow and was able to participate in Chapel Hill’s (in)famous Halloween festivities.

Miriam is becoming a greeter at church where she has many avid followers of her development who seem to delight in the squeals and smiles she makes as everyone enters the church. No doubt she will continue in this role for some time, bringing joy to others even amid difficult times.

O Morning Star…enlighten those in darkness

Miriam in her Halloween dressHere in the darkest season of the year we are reminded that the Light of Christ pierces the darkness not only of the winter but also of our hearts, enlightening us with the hope by which we we are saved. Summarizing the Benedictus (Canticle of Zechariah, Luke 1:68-79) sung each morning, this fifth “O” antiphon extols the “tender mercy of our God, the daybreak from on high to visit us.” The Lord’s coming is as certain as the rising sun at dawn, piercing the darkness and anxiety of all that holds us captive. Like Oriens, the Morning Star, Christ “guides our feet into the way of peace.”

Not merely a story that happened over 2,000 years ago, the infancy narrative of Jesus is a drama in which we are meant to see ourselves as players. At times we are John the Baptist, heralds of glad tidings, announcing by our words and actions the kingdom of God. At times we are Mary, the first Christian, who in humble obedience said “Yes” to the will of God for her life and in so doing became handmaiden to God’s reordering of the world. In all roles we begin by becoming a child in God’s care.

We, like John the Baptist, are a “little child…prophet of the Most High, sent before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give his people knowledge of salvation.” Michelle and I have come to experience deeply the monastic insight that comes from seeing the soul as the little child within each of us that must be similarly cared for as a newborn baby through our experience of giving Miriam a home, nourishing and nurturing her. As that which is similarly most precious and delicate our soul depends on the Lord to be fed and to be at rest, to be clothed and cleansed, and ultimately to find our purpose: “Like a small child against its mother, like a small child is my soul within me” (Ps 131).

We are invited in Advent to become like children, dependent on God alone by humbly recognizing our fragility and, emptied of our own ambitions, placing our soul at rest in God. We “pass from self to God by humility and the awareness of our smallness” and so are taken up into the infinite goodness of a God who goes to great lengths to reach out to us. As we invite the Morning Star to enlighten our hearts may we pray also that our hearts become a fitting home prepared to welcome the Lord to be born within us.

O King of nations…save all you have made

Andy with little lamb ram, SimeonAdvent further invites us to remember “that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now” (Romans 8:22) awaiting the fulfillment of that which God intended from the beginning. The Lord who fashioned us from the earth has made us stewards of creation. Advent helps us see the connection between how we choose to govern our lives and the impact this has on the gift of creation which God has bestowed on all generations of humans throughout the world. As Pope Benedict has succinctly stated, “If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation” (Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace 2010).

In Michelle and my continued commitment to simpler and more sustainable living–mindful of our role as stewards of the land–we have continued to build up our little farm. Our flock of Jacob Sheep continue to thrive: new lambs secure not only the protection of this heritage breed but also a plethora of cute photographs and plenty of wool for our use. We recently completed a pasture for rotational grazing of the sheep and as forage for future hives of honey bees. We may even add a milk cow! Our flock of free-range chickens gave us an abundance of eggs throughout the spring which was a welcome contribution to feeding our many guests. By next spring we hope to be harvesting fish from the earth pond we constructed about two years ago.

Although the rampant deer population and our overcommitted schedule have prevented us from planting our planned biointensive garden and fruit orchard, we continue to be involved with local sustainable agricultural endeavors through our CSA subscription, workshops Andrew attends, and sharing our insights through the ministry of the Environmental Stewardship Committee at Saint Thomas More. Rounding out the self-sufficiency project thus far, Andrew continues to brew his specialty mead as well as an occasional beer.

There is certainly much more we can do to care for the environment with which we’ve been entrusted and hope daily scrutiny furnishes more ideas and banishes any complacency. All of these help us to take time to bless the Lord, the God of all creation through whose goodness we have such fruits of the earth and by whose grace we can offer thanks for the work of our human hands.

O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,

the hope of nations and our Savior:

come and save us, O Lord our God!

Miriam at the Twelve Days of Christmas at the Carolina Inn ringing handbells with the Chelsea ChimesThe forthcoming joy of God making his dwelling among us, dispelling the darkness of sin and death, and giving us hope by which we live anew is doubtless the dominant theme of Advent. But it is no mere coincidence that “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” comes in a minor key. While the reign of God is inaugurated by the Incarnation which we celebrate at Christmas, we do not have to look very far to see that the world is hardly perfect. Like an expectant mother awaiting the birth of her child, we can experience in the present moment the real joy for which we have been yearning and yet we are anxious for the day when the fullness of the Lord‘s plan will be realized, restless about the trials that lay ahead, and knowing there is more out there.

We see every day in our lives that the world needs redeeming. We know that we need saving from that which blocks us from growing into our full potential. With Christmas the sure and certain hope of salvation is what is born among and within us. Let us rejoice in that hope, take courage, and strive to be worthy stewards in that kingdom that is being raised up in our midst!

Bringing Miriam home was just the beginning of a lifetime commitment to accompany her on the journey that has been set before her. Many trials will cross her path and ours but we are confident that she will conquer those challenges. Each Advent we are reminded that our lives are no different than Miriam’s. We are just beginning to crawl in the way of faith. Each set back, each tumble that leaves us crying, becomes an invitation to find both consolation and encouragement in the loving arms of a God who has entrusted us with the stewardship of his kingdom, to ensure not only that it does not die but also that it continues to blossom, shine forth, and grow in our hearts and the hearts of all.

Miriam, Michelle, and Andrew at Hyco Lake Miriam climbing the stairs Miriam practicing harmonica with her daddy
Miriam in the highchair with lobster Miriam with her Grandma and Grandpa Casad before her baptism Miriam in her Clan Buchanan kilt at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games

Why do I pay for health insurance?

Some time ago I started to write a post about difficulties I was then running into in trying to make use of my health benefits. Since then Michelle and I had to spend an inordinate amount of time determining how to best add Miriam to one of our health benefits, have each battled multiple insurance companies for various reasons, and in so doing have had to learn about an intricate (and ineffectual) corporate labyrinth. At each turn (or dead end) I am left wondering a) why I pay for health insurance, b) why my nine years of student health (including one year as a resident alien in a country with socialized medicine) seemed to work so easily, and ultimately c) why we continue to experience difficulties while living within ten miles of two major research hospitals in an area renowned for its medical and biological research. It also now seems ever so timely given the national conversation (or fist fight) over health care reform. Anyway, here is what I found as I tried to figure out why I pay for health insurance…

The impetus for all this began with my striking out (after three strikes) in trying to make use of my health insurance for which I pay a quite modest $600 per year out of pocket. Since moving to North Carolina nearly three years ago and taking up employment within the Roman Catholic Diocese of Raleigh I had not had a primary care physician until just about a year ago, mostly due to the lack of urgency on my part to find one. This is something I had been trying to remedy but kept finding myself running up against seemingly insurmountable problems. Having previously found the one and only parishioner who specialized in the less-than-financially lucrative field of family medicine whose services were covered by my PPO whom I visited only once at a clinic in Hillsborough before she relocated to a clinic no longer covered by my PPO and, after some recent illness, wanting to have a primary care physician, I reopened my search. After a conversation with a friend who is an MD/PhD student at UNC and another time consuming cross-checking of physicians who are parishioners at Saint Thomas More and who are also covered by my PPO (MedCost Preferred, itself representing only one of the seven icons on my undecipherable insurance card, administered by Christian Brothers Services with whom the Diocese of Raleigh contacts) I found a small number (four) of General Internists at UNC‘s Ambulatory Care. When I called to schedule an appointment with the one of them recommended by my friend I discovered that I was “in luck” that an appointment was available in December! Although my need to see a physician at the time was non-urgent a more than four-month lead time to schedule an appointment certainly did not bode well for some future time in which I may need to see my physician. Another physician in the parish, referred by my parish administrator and a supporter of community health, is not accepting new patients. The final strike came when I showed up for an optometry appointment for a routine eye exam in order to make sure that the prescription on my glasses, now four years old, is still accurate. I had located an OD who showed up as covered, it now seems, not under the medical PPO but rather under a separate vision plan (VSP) purchased through CBEBT. This particular optometrist’s Chapel Hill practice does accept MedCost Preferred, but since I do not have vision under that but rather under VSP, I was out of luck. The kicker, though, is that this very same OD does accept VSP at his practice in Burlington (between 20 and 30 miles away).

At this point you may be thinking that my insistence on using a fellow Saint Thomas More parishioner as my primary care physician—as opposed to some flaw with insurance provider—may not only be responsible for my woes but may also be unnecessary. Keep in mind, however, that, as an employee of the parish, both my salary and my benefits (including $5900 in medical and dental benefits per year) are paid from the contributions of the faithful. These are people whom I not only want but also feel compelled to support given that they support me.

Turning to my question as to why on earth I pay for health insurance, I went back in time… Last August I had an interesting conversation with my friend, Matt Belcher, who pointed out that much of the reason for the development not only of private health insurance but also other benefits, such as company-owned executive housing, vehicles, etc., was a response to Federal salary regulations to reign in inflation during World War II. Such regulations were meant to curtail companies from recruiting scarce employees using higher salaries as a away from competitor companies. The Federal income tax system had previously been designed to punitively tax those paid above what was considered reasonable salary. To therefore recruit sought after employees, companies turned to offering packages that included not only health insurance but also houses, cars, servants, investment instruments, and other non-salary compensation to circumvent the laws initially meant to avoid such wide disparity. In an interesting summary, Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance in the United States — Origins and Implications (New England Journal of Medicine, 2006), David Blumenthal, MD, MPP examines both how employee-sponsored health care came to be as well as analyzing its successes, shortcomings, and likely future. I suppose this answers my first question as to why I pay for health insurance through my employer. I was given additional insights in watching PBS‘s Frontline presentation of Sick Around the World (from April 2008).

All of this made for interesting background when Michelle and I began our search for the optimal way to provide health insurance coverage for our daughter. After a long conversation with our parish secretary, who formerly worked in the benefits office of an assisted living center, I found out that the official posting of premiums includes both the actual premium ($516.15/month) as well as employee contribution ($40/month) only for individual insurance. For adding a child (or multiple children), a spouse only, or an entire family, the actual premium remains undisclosed and only the monthly employee contribution is made known ($292.90, $496.91, and $789.81, respectively). I, of course, wondered why there was such non-disclosure of the actual premium. The answer is to be found in the kind of greed and envy that was criticized in the parable of the day laborers heard just as I was doing this search. It seems that those who were given their agreed upon day’s wage have often complained when they see that their colleagues, whose health benefits for their children or spouse are being subsidized by their same employer, are receiving an effective increase in compensation simply because they have children. Are you envious because I am generous? This unfortunate explanation still left unresolved why the cost of insuring a child, who is more likely to be in need of medical care than a healthy adult, remains less than 60% that of insuring only my spouse? Apparently in order to maximum their own financial advantage, employers have generally found it profitable to insure their own employees, without whom the organization would suffer, while accepting the social expectation that both spouses would be employed and thus inflicting such financial punishment in the case of a spouse who is not employed and thus not covered by his or her own employee-sponsored health care.

To my second question regarding the ease with which I had access to and received effective health care during the nine years of my reliance on student health, including one year as a resident alien in a country with socialized medicine (Denmark), I can only say that such state-run medicine (I was a public university for seven years and attended to by PAs and Nurse Practitioners who were employed by the State of California) worked and was much less trying than this whole process has been. Though I can offer neither a simple explanation nor a universal remedy it certainly provides an interesting contrast. Perhaps others who have lived in places with socialized medicine under less healthful conditions as I generally experienced in my twenties have a different take on such. But, again, my recent viewing of Sick Around the World suggests my experience may not have been exceptional.

In late October 2008 I resolved the third and then most germane question, namely, why it is so difficult for me to get an appointment for a primary care physician. Partly it was due to my limiting my search but in the end it seems that the principal reason lies in the fact that the health care system does not respect the work of preventative care and general practitioners, choosing to reward those who eschew such primary caregiving and instead choose highly specialized practices. Anyway, I now have a primary care physician and so can not only make use of the medical insurance for which the parishioners of St. Thomas More pay $495 a month regardless of whether or not I make use of it but also in order for me to make sure I am in good health. As to insuring Miriam, it appears as though health benefits through Michelle’s graduate student insurance at Duke University costs less than 40% of what comparable insurance would cost us through the Diocese of Raleigh and CBEBT: a great witness to Catholic family values, right? (cf. CCC 2210 ff.).

Since the my getting established with a primary care physician and our choosing her also as Miriam’s physician some months ago, I found myself needing to visit a specialist in order to learn something about an intermittent food allergy I seem to have. In so doing I ran into my PPO‘s $500 deductible which once again makes me wonder why I pay for health insurance. Would I not be better off taking my and my employer’s combined monthly outlay of $516 per month, remain uninsured (or contribute it to a medical savings plan), and simply pay out-of-pocket? I would consider doing so except, it seems, I cannot choose that option under the present rules of employer-sponsored insurance. So the question as to why I pay for health insurance remains on the table…

"The night will be as clear as day"

Christ is risen, alleluia alleluia! He is risen as he said, alleluia! Another Paschal Triduum has passed and once again we have entered into the fifty-day celebration of Easter. As I have written about in posts from pervious years, the three-day liturgy celebrating the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ marks both the center of Christian worship and also the most exhausting and joy-filled part of my ministry at Saint Thomas More. This year we baptized a record 21 new members of our community including several adults with whom I have been blessed to journey for the last 18 or more months as they prepared for the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and eucharist. Also new this year is my instituting the celebration of Evening Prayer (Vespers) for the octave (eight days) of Easter as a form of mystagogical catechesis for the neophytes (those just baptized) with all the faithful. This is an opportunity for all those baptized—whether days or decades ago—to explore more deeply the mysterious realities to which the sacramental signs of our liturgy point and is modeled on the homilies preached by fourth and fifth century Church Fathers during this same honeymoon period following full initiation.

Frances feeling the baby dancingMichelle’s sister, Frances, came and joined us for Easter which was a good opportunity for her to see Michelle at 38 weeks pregnant, share together stories of their recently deceased grandmother (requiescat in pace), and relieve everyone’s anxieties about the possibility of Michelle having gone into labor during Triduum. Although Frances was disappointed that her niece was not born while she was here, she did get to feel her dancing around. We had a great time conversing and especially enjoyed our Easter dinner of signature dishes, desserts, and drinks that everyone contributed.

Of particular focus for me as we celebrated Christ’s resurrection as well as the rebirth to new life of the neophytes (formerly catechumens, then elect) was the nearness of our own daughter’s birth and rebirth in Christ. As we listened to the scripture stories of salvation history, invoked all the holy men and women at the Litany of the Saints, and watched clothed in white those washed clean as they emerged from the womb of Mother Church I was indeed moved with great joy. In forty days, as the Church universal celebrates Ascension (May 24), our daughter will cross those same waters and be anointed priest, prophet, and king to go before the Lord to prepare his ways [and] to give his people knowledge of salvation (Benedictus, Luke 1:68-79). As we anticipate her birth any day we know that we too will be born to a new life, a life that while we cannot see clearly all that it will entail, a life that will indeed be a glorious new day and a font of great blessings.

Christmas 2008

Hodie Christus natus est. Hodie salvator apparuit. Hodie in terra canunt angeli, laetantur archangeli. Hodie exsultant justi, dicentes: Gloria in excelsis Deo, Alleluia.

Christ is born today; the Savior has appeared today. Today earth echoes songs of angel choirs, joyful praise of the archangels. Glory to God in the highest, alleluia.

—Gospel Canticle Antiphon from Evening Prayer (Vespers), Christmas Day

front of our houseWorking for the parish, much of my Christmas was, as one might expect, consumed by preparing for, assisting at, and cleaning up after the seven Masses we celebrated in a twenty-four hour period. To make it all the more challenging, I began this holiday marathon already exhausted from the preceding two weeks that were themselves consumed with the celebration of the Immaculate Conception (December 8) and Our Lady of Guadalupe (December 12) then squeezing in meetings every night of the following week while also finishing the preparations for the Christmas season, all of which had left me ripe for the sinus infection I contracted by Sunday afternoon. Though still recovering from my sickness we enjoyed our afternoon Christmas Eve children’s Mass, for which the music was provided by Michelle’s handbell choir.

During my brief respite at home before returning to the church for the midnight Mass, Michelle and I opened presents from her parents and the Beisches, which included several gifts for our daughter. We also had our southern Christmas eve dinner of macaroni and cheese with greens. Christmas morning Michelle got up early enough to bake some cinnamon rolls, which has been my natal family’s tradition for ages, before I headed back to the church once more for the Christmas morning Masses. The morning Masses have historically not been as well attended as the evening Masses, a trend that continued this year which included many scheduled liturgical ministers not showing up that left me scrambling at the last minute…although in the end it all worked out.

Christmas dinnerAfter the morning Masses Michelle and I ate an apple quiche that Michelle made with eggs from our newly-laying chickens, opened the rest of our Christmas presents, including those from my parents, took Linus for a nice walk, and had our wonderful Christmas dinner of mixed cheese, spinach, and portabella ravioli (a present from Anne) with vodka sauce as well as the requisite holiday green bean casserole. Shortly thereafter I collapsed after all the excitement, but not before feeling for the first time our daughter dancing which Michelle has been feeling for some time now. Following Friday’s recovery day, consisting in both for ourselves, eating too much chocolate, and a thorough cleaning of our house, we started getting ready for our Christmas trip through the Carolinas we’ll be beginning tomorrow.

Photos from what will likely be our last quiet Christmas for at least decades are in our gallery. Merry Christmas and blessings to all!

Handing on what we have received from the Lord

This week I was at the fifth international convocation of the North American Forum on the Catechumenate in Cleveland, Ohio. The Forum offers a wide-range of pastoral institutes for anyone involved in initiation ministry, having as its goal the full implementation of the RCIA. The convocations, held every five years, are an opportunity to bring together those who have been training others in these institutes (the team) as well as those who have been doing catechumenal ministry for some time. Honoring the 35th anniversary of the promulgation of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and the 25th anniversary of the founding of Forum, this year’s meeting of over 500 people focused on Handing on what we have received from the Lord (1 Corinthians 11:23). Although I attended my first Beginnings and Beyond institute just two and half years ago and many more focus institutes since then, I have been involved in initiation ministry for ten years now and so am familiar with the work of colleagues and mentors whom I was able to either meet for the first time or reconnect with this week. Ample time was given also to converse with publishers and other vendors who support our ministry, swap resources with one another, and brainstorm innovative responses to future needs.

The opening address was given by Richard Gaillardetz who outlined a number of challenges implicit in initiating people into the Christian community that calls for commitment to a disciplined community practice in contrast to the atomistic individualism and consumerism of American culture. Mary Birmingham (author of Word and Worship, Year Round Catechumenate, and more) gave a riveting presentation that first analyzed what is meant by apprenticeship and then shared concrete stories of apprenticeship to Christ through liturgy, scripture, and tradition—the three elements of liturgical catechesis. Finally Bishop Gerald Wiesner, OMI of Prince George, British Columbia called for a radical commitment to community based on a theological understanding of God as community in the Trinity that included concrete steps to form our parishes as initiating communities in order to bring not only the catechumens but the entire Christian family as well to their full stature in Christ.

A large number of interesting discussions and breakout sessions were available throughout the week, so I purchased the complete set of recordings on MP3 that I hope will be of use not only for me but also for catechists, sponsors, and the rest of my parish community in deepening their role as an initiating community. The sessions I attended focused on canonical issues in the catechumenate (Father Patrick Lagges), celebrating the minor rites of the catechumenate proper (Kathy Kuczka), issues particular to young adults in the catechumenate (Michelle Miller), and using the catechumenate as model for all catechesis (Sister Catherine Dooley, OP). Liturgies of course make up an integral part of any gathering, especially of Forum. Each day began with Morning Prayer and ended with Evening Prayer. On Saturday night we celebrated Mass for the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome which provided an opportunity for the talented Bishop Paul-Andre Durocher of Alexandria-Cornwall, Ontario to reflect in his superb homily on the Church to which we both initiate others and of which we are parts of the body. The music at all of the liturgies, but in particular the final Mass (coordinated by Steve Janco of WLP), was executed in such an amazing way that by the end of the Mass everyone was left with the sense that we had, for those two brief hours, sung with the angels in paradise!

Because I attended the convocation with Father John Durbin, my pastor and a Forum team member, and his closest friend who is also a long-time Forum team member and foodie, Monsignor Michael Clay (author of A Harvest for God: Christian Initiation in the Rural and Small-Town Parish), I was guaranteed to have a foretaste of heaven at table as well. The first evening we were joined by Clare Colella (one of the foundational members of Forum, from San Bernardino) at Osteria di Valerio e Al where we dined on a dozen or so dishes selected by the chef, which included several dishes with Crimini mushrooms which I am now determined to cultivate. On Thursday evening we were joined by Mary Birmingham for a slightly rushed but exciting nouveau fusion dinner at Crop Bistro and Bar, including such creations as the Cherry Bomb appetizer and Thai-D Bowl curry entree. Friday’s much more predictable meal at Blue Point Grille, Cleveland’s most well-known seafood restaurant, gave me an opportunity to pair the various excellent courses to sophisticated Belgian beers. Our final meal was the convocation banquet which included not only a nice meal prepared by the Renaissance Cleveland Hotel but also a hilarious mystagogical romp through the history of Forum by Christopher Walker (OCP).

I was also able to see a bit of Cleveland in some of our downtime, which included my lunches at the much less sophisticated hot dog stands on the sidewalks. Moseying around the streets, I took in the sights along Lake Erie, including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the USS Cod submarine, and the Browns Stadium. Other highlights included the surprisingly beautiful skyline, the Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist, and a chance happening into a recreated settler’s log cabin in the Flats along the Cuyahoga River where I received a lesson in Cleveland’s early history from a very enthusiastic fellow. Unfortunately I missed the Cleveland highlight, A Christmas Story House, although an iconic leg lamp stood prominently in the otherwise exceedingly posh hotel lobby.

After returning back to RDU, I ended the week by going to an informal presentation by Jean Vanier and Stanley Hauerwas, Lessons from L’Arche: Wisdom for Peacemaking and Hospitality in Local Congregations, which is part of the Teaching Communities Week, Living Gently in a Violent World, sponsored by the Duke Center for Reconciliation. I first encountered Stanley Hauwerwas when he came to UCSD to deliver the Burke Lecture in February 2004 when I was on the lectureship board. And, although this was the first time I’d met Jean Vanier, I had known his ministry in founding L’Arche through Henri Nouwen‘s The Road to Daybreak. Having received peace at the hands of the those whom the world would otherwise find of no value, Vanier‘s story of L’Arche seemed a most fitting way to finish surmount this week of reflection on handing on what we have received from the Lord.

To Worship in Spirit and Truth: Liturgy in the Shaping of Catholic Identity

This week I attended the annual meeting of the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions along with over 200 other representatives of most of the dioceses of the United States as well as the bishops and staff of the the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship. The primary agenda and purpose of the meeting was ongoing preparation for the implementation of the forthcoming revised translation of the Roman Missal. As many have already heard in the news (such as NPR‘s interview with James Martin, SJ), the Roman Missal—the big red Sacramentary or priest’s book of prayers used in the Liturgy of the Eucharist (Mass)—is being revised and sometime in the next few years will change the words both the priest and the faithful say at the Mass. In order for this to make sense, one must first realize that, while the liturgy may be celebrated in English, it remains the Latin liturgy in translation (the Latin texts are the official, authoritative versions, called editio typica). The Latin text of the Roman Missal was revised in continuity with previous editions following the Second Vatican Council and became available in 1969 and was translated into English for publication in 1974. (The implementation of which served as the impetus for the foundation of the FDLC in 1969). Some additions to the Roman Missal were added in Latin in 1975 and those were translated into English for publication as the second edition in 1985, resulting in the precise text in use in English-speaking Roman Catholic liturgies since then. After some twenty years experience of praying the liturgy (not just the Mass, but also the Rites, such as funerals, baptisms, etc.), retranslation was undertaken by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy. In 2001 new guidelines governing the translation of official Latin texts into the vernacular were issued as Liturgiam authenticam and so work needed to begin all over. At about the same time, however, a new Latin edition of the Missale Romanum, editio typica tertia) (third typical edition of the Roman Missal), was published (2002). It is this latter edition whose translation has now been completed by ICEL, using all the previously mentioned work and guidelines, as well as the present Code of Canon Law (1983) and the most recent General Instruction on the Roman Missal (2002). While those more versed in Latin than I have noted that there are only a small number of changes in the Latin text between the second and third typical editions, the use of the new rules for translation means however that a substantially different text will be being used in English. At this time only Ordo Missae, the so-called Ordinary of the Mass (those invariable pieces that do not change by season, feast, or so forth), has been been approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and given the subsequent recognitio by the Holy See (the Vatican). The full-text of the English translation of Ordo Missae is available from the Bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship which, although it is not to be used until officially promulgated along with the remaining texts some time in the future, will be helpful most especially for composers of liturgical music whose previous compositions will, after the new text is promulgated, not be allowed to be used in the liturgy since the texts will be rescinded.

In conjunction with the BCDW and a group convened by Bishop Roche of the Diocese of Leeds, UK, the FDLC is developing resources for catechesis as well as a strategy for implementation of the new Roman Missal when it is promulgated. Like most of my colleagues, many of whom have given their lives in service to the Liturgical Movement during the previous 45 years, I came to the meeting feeling more or less resigned to what many have perceived as a repudiation of the fully conscious and active participation (SC 14) brought about by accessible vernacular translations of the Roman Missal in the late 1960s, a sentiment I noted in a post in early August when the recognitio first came from the Holy See to all English-speaking national conferences. Given that this week’s FDLC meeting both allowed many to grieve the passing of the present translation and grapple with the implications thereof as well as made space for us all to consider how to continue the liturgical apostolate with the new translations serving as a vehicle to deeper connection with scriptural and patristic voices and to further the ennobling of English with a renewal of sacred language, the overall tone with which I and most others left the meeting with was hopeful; we came to embrace the opportunity this new Roman Missal will give for liturgical catechesis to enter even more fully into the liturgy the faithful who have been drawn into and taken up by the liturgy in the last 45 years so that through the sacred liturgy we may all be drawn day by day into ever more perfect union with God and with each other, so that finally God may be all in all (SC 48).

Working toward this, the FDLC commissioned four papers to serve as theological and historical foundations from which subsequent pastoral materials could be developed in order to communicate to the faithful not only the content of the changes in the liturgy but also and more importantly the rationale for such, the continuity with the organic development of the liturgy throughout the two previous millennia, and the door this opens to an even more conscious celebration of the richness of the Roman Rite. In light of the presentations we heard throughout the week in addition to our shared pastoral and professional experience, we went through these papers over several days, commenting on the insights, challenges, and unanswered questions posed to our ministry. In order to have a common way in which to address these issues, our study included presentations on the state of the Roman Missal project by Bishop Arthur Serratelli, chair of the BCDW, and additional staff of the committee; a report of the survey Sacraments Today: Belief and Practice Among US Catholics by Sister Mary Bendyna, executive director of CARA; an erudite exposition of Temple theology and the foundation of giving to God what belongs to God, namely right praise as the precursor and model for the right ordering of the cosmos by Father Robert Barron, professor at Mundelein; a framework for mystagogical catechesis on truth, beauty, and goodness in the liturgy by Father Jan Michael Joncas, with whom I was fortunate enough to study while at Notre Dame; and a conversation on the pastoral opportunities and implications of the implementation of the Roman Missal by Bishop Blase Cupich, a longtime voice in the liturgical scholarship and celebration in the United States. Though the four study papers developed for FDLC will need some time to be revised in light of the comments received at the meeting, I am confident that pastorally relevant and sound material on participation, translation, implementation, and leadership in the liturgy is forthcoming. The prepared texts delivered at the meeting are available on the FDLC website.

Though generally overshadowed by the prominence of the Roman Missal project, additional agenda items included a resolution to engage with other organizations in a dialogue on the effect on Catholic identity of those communities who regularly or periodically are unable to celebrate the Liturgy of the Eucharist (Mass) and must make recourse to SCAP. In addition, much conversation was held on how the FDLC can respond to the ever changing identity of Catholics and our ever increasing need to celebrate intercultural liturgies among multicultural communities. A panel discussion that included Brother Rufino Zaragoza, OFM made abundantly clear what was already obvious from our sometimes tension filled business meetings, namely, the demographic divide between the consolidating Church of the northeast and midwest and the expanding Church of the west (and, though not often mentioned, south). While this was something I had noted at the Notre Dame Liturgy Conference I attended last summer, it was odd to be outside the Western regions most concerned with these issues while at the same time having experienced them nearly all my life. All of this, however, gave me confidence in the timeliness of my forthcoming article in LTPPastoral Liturgy (formerly Rite) on celebrating multicultural liturgies. The complete texts of the resolutions passed should be available soon.

Though the days were long, beginning with the celebration of Morning Prayer in one of the ballrooms set aside as a chapel and often presided over by one the bishops present and running into the late evening, not every minute was filled with work. As we were often grouped according the region in which our diocese is located, I enjoyed getting to informally know some of the characters who have helped to give our region a bit of a reputation for what a charitable person would hopefully consider joviality. One of my predecessors at Saint Thomas More is now the Director of the Office of Worship for the Diocese of Richmond and so it was enjoyable to see her again. I also met others with whom I have corresponded via e-mail. In a very weird collision of worlds, I chatted with the representative of Ministry Scheduler Pro with whom I’d corresponded about technical support and enhancements previously only to learn that both he and and his partner, the original developer of the software, graduated from UCSD, one of them from Warren College with Michelle and me! Of course I also met many other wonderful people doing pastoral work throughout the country. There is great value in coming together with folks who, though not necessarily like minded in all things and by no means all in the same life state, are still all deeply committed to the same ministry. Although I am exhausted, mostly because I got home 18 hours later than scheduled due to screwups by the airline, it was a helpful meeting and I hope I am able to attend next Fall in Detroit.