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Thursday, December 17, 2009

"And Mary Bore Sweet Jesus Christ"

I grew up in a family with a long tradition of making a living from the northeast Florida pine forests and my father still had access to the land his family had owned for generations. So it was perfectly natural, when it was time to put up a Christmas tree, to go out to the forest to an area my father had previously scouted as a likely spot to find a good one. We always had a freshly cut red cedar, and because they grew naturally, they had all the quirks and faults of real trees. They had bare spots, were never quite symmetrical, and sometimes sported an old bird's nest tucked back into the branches. I have to admit I always wished we could get a beautifully shaped if not quite fresh blue spruce shipped from somewhere up north.

One year, while riding down one of the forest roads looking for a red cedar, we drove through an area that had recently been clear-cut. All the mature pines had been hauled off to the paper mill and only the scraggly pines, black-jack oaks and palmettos were left. And standing off by itself was a holly tree. My father had a particular reverence for hollies. Perhaps it was a feeling that went all the way back to ancient British respect for holly, mistletoe and ivy. We were never allowed to cut down a holly tree. But this particular holly tree had the bad luck to be growing in an area that would soon be bulldozed prior to replanting new pines.

The holly tree had a beautiful shape and dark green color. But holly leaves, even though they are evergreen, do not lend themselves to being decorated. They have defensive spines around the outside, just like a cactus. Would it make a Christmas tree? We kids were consulted. Would our mother like it? Because it would be bulldozed anyway, could the rule against cutting down hollies be relaxed just this one time?

We never did get a blue spruce. But that one year, we did have a unique holly Christmas tree. If I remember right, it never did get decorated to the extent that we decorated our regular cedars. We probably got pricked enough times that we quit the decorating and just let the tree itself shine through with its own beauty. That was one of the best Christmas trees we ever had.

Sometimes things mean more than we realize at the time. It was only later that I heard this old Christmas Carol that finds parallels between the holly tree and Mary the Mother of Christ:

The holly and the ivy,
When they are both full grown
Of all the trees that are in the wood
The holly bears the crown
O the rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ
Sweet singing of the choir

The holly bears a blossom
As white as lily flower
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To be our sweet Saviour

The holly bears a berry
As red as any blood
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To do poor sinners good

The holly bears a prickle
As sharp as any thorn;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
On Christmas Day in the morn.

The holly bears a bark
As bitter as any gall;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
For to redeem us all.

The holly and the ivy
Now both are full well grown,
Of all the trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Pipe Organ Installation at St. Therese

The plans for the installation of our new-to-us pipe organ will be on display at St. Therese for the first time on Sunday. For a slide show of disassembling the Avila University organ click on this link which also includes slides of the renovations of the Avila Chapel from which the organ came. The new organ will be linked with our existing Kilgen pipe organ and additional sections will be added as we are able to retrieve parts of abandoned organs from other Kansas City area churches. All work is being done by volunteers under the leadership of services contributed by Mid States Pipe Organ. Work will continue as funds become available.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Core Values

The National Catholic Reporter did a very short article about St. Therese because we are the one parish in the country that uses the Ordinary Form of the Mass as well as the Anglican Use. Even though our former Anglicans have been here a year and a half, they are relative newcomers in a parish that has a well-established identity. That means St. Therese is a microcosm of the rest of the Catholic Church as we deal with two cultures that have so much in common and also some differences that are very important to each. It would be naïve of me to pretend that these differences are not the source of actual and potential conflict. It is much easier to believe theoretically that diversity is a strength than it is to celebrate it when someone else's spiritual and liturgical expression causes discomfort or symbolizes what one is afraid of. Some Anglo-Catholic liturgical practices that defined the "Catholic" wing of the Episcopal Church not only seem like dinosaurs to some Catholics but remind them of the pre-Vatican II days they were glad to leave behind. And some contemporary Catholic practices remind former Episcopalians and Anglicans of what they were trying to get away from. I truly doubt that some of those deep-seated preferences and convictions will change. Last week I was reading about the experience of some Anglican priests who converted to Catholicism and then returned to the Anglican Church. Something like 250 priests converted in England, and about 10% went back. Apparently they missed a feeling that they belonged, that they were personally known and welcome. They found their Catholic parish to be cold and impersonal. It struck me that in spite of differences, St. Therese's core values are very Anglican. There is nothing cold and impersonal about St. Therese. "Father says" is not a good enough reason to get something done here - people expect to be included and respected. If this experiment can succeed anywhere, it can succeed at St. Therese. It really doesn't matter whether the person bagging the groceries for the food pantry goes to 9:15 or 11:15, and everybody loves to eat. Newcomers and old-timers, 9:15 and 11:15 folks all met together to begin work on converting our school into a community center. There was a nice review of our 11:15 Mass at Church of the Week. He says he will be visiting our 9:15 Mass soon. You might want to visit it at