Friday, March 24, 2006


So in addition to being about fish fries ;), Lent is about introspection, reflection, and personal examination.

As one of the Elect, there are three Rites of Scrutiny for me on the third, fourth, and fifth weekends during Lent. The purpose of the Rite of Scrutiny is to examine one's self and, especially for the Elect, look deep into yourself to scrutinize your readiness for your conversion to the faith.

The Rite itself involved me going to the front of church and kneeling between the gate of the communion rail. The entire congregation, including the priest, also knelt with me. My sponsor also knelt next to me, then later got up to pray over me. Afterwards, the priest had me stand, and he gently placed his hands on my head and prayed over me also.

Since this was the first occasion on which I was involved in the Rite of Scrutiny, I didn't know what to expect. I thought perhaps the priest was going to say something to/about me as he placed his hands on my head, but he said nothing and just closed his eyes, seemingly deep in thought/prayer. Admittedly, there wasn't much in my mind except "is he going to say something?" but then when I realized he wasn't going to say something, I tried to focus on receiving the gift of his prayer.

Our church is very fortunate to have this particular priest as our pastor. He is a good man, trustworthy, thoughtful, considerate, attentive to details, and holy. Sadly, we don't often enough these days hear the term "holy" connected with a Catholic priest.

One of the things I have spent time reflecting on during Lent is the idea that grace may present itself in people in ordinary circumstances; ordinary people doing extraordinary things. For example, I never thought of myself as having grace, but due to my instruction in the Catholic faith, I am able to recognize that some of my talents are grace working through me. This makes me feel more connected to God, and especially the Holy Spirit.

Fish Fry Haikus

Enjoy hot fried fish
at Saint Stephen Protomartyr
Fridays 4 to 7

I love the fish fry!
At my church it is divine.
Stuff yourself with shrimp!

It's Holy Fish Fry
At Saint Stephen Protomartyr
Eat fish heartily!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Hanging with the archbishop

I met the archbishop a couple of weeks ago. It was sort of a receiving line type thing for those of us converting to Catholicism in the archdiocese, so there wasn't time for chit-chat or to ask him where he got that cool gold sparkly mitre (hat) he wore during his installation ceremony (January, 2004).

The auspicious event during which I met the archbishop was the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion. I, along with a thousand of my closest friends, went through this ceremony at the cathedral basilica, which occurs on the first Sunday of Lent (there were so many of us, there were three such ceremonies that weekend in the St. Louis Archdiocese). The meaning of the Rite of Election is to affirm the catechumen's (me) readiness to move into the final preparation period before baptism/confirmation/first communion in the Catholic Church.

Considering where my life has been (that's between me and my priest!) and what path I have taken leading up to this point, the moment at which my name was called so that I could enter the sanctuary (area beyond the communion rail that contains the altar) was a little surreal. As I stepped into the sanctuary, I, along with my sponsor, passed the Book of the Elect; it lay open and I could see the page where I had signed my name the day before in a Rite of Sending at my parish church. That moment instantly impressed upon my memory and at the same time, it reminded me of the book of the Gospel that lay open on top of Pope John Paul II's casket during his funeral last April. I suppose that sounds a little morbid, but it seems to me to be related, because I am moving from my past life into a new life with God, much as the Pope was passing from his earthly life into his next life with God.

The ceremony itself had a lot of pomp and circumstance, as one would expect from the cathedral basilica, but the most impressive thing (aside from the Book of the Elect moment) was how many people were there, doing the same thing as me. As I mentioned above, the cathedral was full, and in addition to this ceremony, there were two others the same weekend.

By the way, the archbishop is taller in person than I thought he was going to be. He commented that I had a nice Irish name, said hello, shook my hand, and that was that. He also had a better handshake than I thought he would have.

The cathedral itself is a stunning piece of artwork. It is the largest collection of mosaics inside a single building in the world. It took three generations to complete all the mosaics and if you get a chance to visit it, I highly recommend taking one of their tours.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Ash Me, Father!

Some folks might find it interesting I happen to be in the middle of a spiritual journey; I am converting to Catholicism.

So today is Ash Wednesday and here I sit with an ashen cross on my forehead. This is the first Ash Wednesday service I have ever attended, so it is also the first one in which I received ashes on my forehead.

When the service was over this morning, I wondered about the other people who had marks on their foreheads, whether they were going to work, school, shopping, or home. I wondered if they would have to explain to other people why they had a mark on their foreheads. I hoped their explanations would lead those people to a conversation with God.

I work with people of many different nationalities/cultures, so I expected some funny looks and questions. An Indian co-worker smiled when he saw me and said he thought I smudged my forehead with some dirt by accident. I explained to him it was a sign of a Catholic religious ritual. A Chinese co-worker giggled and smiled when she saw the ashes, so I explained to her as well. Eventually, I sent them a link to an article in my local paper about the meaning of Ash Wednesday. She thanked me, saying she learns something new every day. Other co-workers, many of whom are/were Catholic, and knowing I am in the process of converting, gave the "newbie" a hard time about the ashes, asking if I had changed the toner in the copier, etc.

One of my co-workers, whose mother is a former nun, said that I could wipe the ashes off if I wanted to. I decided I didn't want to, because while I try to wear the presence of my faith daily in my words and actions, today is a day when I wear a visible sign of the presence of my faith. I am proud to wear it as a small sign of witness and perhaps as a way to encourage others to re-connect with their faith, whatever it may be.

"By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return."