28 December 2012

The Hobbit, film version: a brief critique

A few days before Christmas I saw part one of Peter Jackson's film version of The Hobbit. Since I've already blogged about the book, I thought I'd add a few comments about the movie.

Before giving some specific criticisms I should say that I generally liked the film. It would be hard for me not to; I was already a fan of Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies, and many of the same positive elements found in the LOTR films are also present in The Hobbit: beautiful scenery, a believable mythos, and a moral foundation that makes it easy to recognize and cheer for the “good side.” I don't want the fact that I criticize particular aspects of the film to get in the way of my general enthusiasm for it; I am glad this film was made and look forward to seeing it again.

Now to the critique. First, the scene with the mountain giants was gratuitous and unnecessary. It was a pointless expansion of the book's story, and made a long movie longer than it needs to be. It does not advance the plot. I also don't want to be reminded of Rock'em Sock'em robots when I am supposed to be in Middle-earth, and unfortunately that's the visual impression I had. The appropriate approach here would have been to let the characters hear and then see the giants as they do in the book, express their amazement and fright as some rocks hit too close, and then head on into the cave.

Second, has anyone associated with making this movie ever fallen more than six or eight feet? The repeated scenes of dwarves, goblins, and Bilbo falling for hundreds of feet and then landing with no harm done were ridiculous. This happens (in another pointless change from the book) when the party enters the goblin caves and the crack in the cave floor opens; it happens again to Bilbo and a goblin shortly after that. Any body remotely similar to any animal on earth falling that far would hit with a splat. While I learned suspension of disbelief from Tolkien as much as from anyone, your physics, like your magic, have to apply consistently in your fantasy world for it to believable. Jackson's film lacks visual consistency in this regard.

Third, Radagast is overdone. While I agree with the general decision to make him an on-screen character in the film, rather than one who is briefly mentioned as in the book, he is too silly. With Radagast, Jackson runs the danger of committing the Jar Jar Binks mistake: making a character who is supposed to be agreeable one who is despised instead. For me, Lucas and the latter Start Wars films never recovered from Jar Jar Binks (or weak dialog). I hope Radagast doesn't make the remaining hobbit films equally joke-worthy. I am ready to have sympathy for a mushroom-munching nature-mystic wizard, but over the top is just that.

Given those problems, I will go back to my previous remark, that I do like the film and look forward to the remaining two parts. I hope the silliness level decreases; Tolkien deserves it, and so do ticket buyers.

20 December 2012

A forest reserve in Assisi (Italy 2012, part 4)

I've written little in previous posts about the Assisi portion of my trip last month. Many of the places I visited I'd been to before, and much of my time was spent in research that it would be premature to summarize here. But I will post a few images and mention a delightful surprise I encountered.

Down the walkway
and through the gate on the right....
 A new forest reserve has been opened for visitors on the slopes just east and north of the Basilica of Saint Francis. It is under the care of the FAI (Fondo per l’Ambiente Italiano), a group that protects areas of cultural or environmental significance all over Italy. The preserve, known as the Bosco di San Francesco, is accessible either through a gate in the wall on the north side of the lawn in front of the Basilica, or from the valley below where the FAI has a small visitor center and gift shop.

...along the trail...
Olive grove and awesome Umbrian sky.

Trails lead through forests that have been cared for by Franciscans and Benedictines for centuries. Along the trail system are old kilns, delightful views of the Basilica and the Rocca Maggiore, streams and olive groves, and on the eastern end of the preserve, a work of landscape art consisting of more than 100 olive trees planted in a design that can be viewed from an old stone tower.

As a birder and a hiker it was a treat for me to find this forested area adjacent to the busy streets of Assisi. I'd often wondered what it was like on the other side of that wall. For anyone interested in the history of the Assisi area, the artifacts of medieval Umbrian life along the way are worth a visit. And for admirers of Saint Francis, the preserve is a superb place to contemplate his closeness to creation and the Creator, and what it models for us.

11 December 2012

On re-rereading The Hobbit

My awkward title comes from the fact that The Hobbit is one of those special books I've read over and over again since first encountering it as a college freshman. I read a lot, but through the years only a relatively small number of books have been significant enough to me that I have read them many times, and hope to continue reading them again and again as long as I am able. Along with The Hobbit and Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy, a few other titles in this select group include Dante's Commedia, Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Augustine's Confessions, the Narnia books of C.S. Lewis, the works of Saint Patrick, and of course the Bible.

Why The Hobbit, and why do I suspect that it would appear on the re-read list of many other readers? I thought about that the past few days as I prepared for the release of Peter Jackson's first hobbit movie by again reading the story of Bilbo, Gandalf, the dwarves, Smaug, and the rest. I don't have a final answer for the book's appeal, though I surely felt it again. I can only mention a few factors that I find meaningful and wonder if they are part of the book's broad attraction to others.

One key factor is the clear sense of right and wrong, of good and evil, that comes through in Tolkien's writings. Even though his characters and the landscape they inhabit are fantasy, we have no trouble knowing that there is a right and a wrong in Middle Earth, that evil represents the absence of good, and that it matters greatly whether good will triumph. For someone who believes that this is true in the real world, but is so often confronted with evidence that many others do not, reading Tolkien is a refreshing encounter with another place where this fundamental point is not confused.

Another appealing factor is the sheer inventiveness of Tolkien. Anyone who has read far into his works or knows much of his biography is aware that The Hobbit only represents the beginning of his creativity. He invented orcs and hobbits and numerous fictional nations with lengthy histories and viable languages. He not only wrote The Hobbit, he illustrated it. In the academic world he had a great impact on our understanding of Beowulf. But there are many inventive writers and scholars out there, and I am not sure that this factor alone would be enough without the quality of the worlds he created.

Also greatly attractive to me is the apparent reality and goodness of the natural setting of The Hobbit. Middle Earth may not be real in a scientific sense, but Tolkien's descriptions of it feel real. What's more, the naturalness of Middle Earth comes through as a given good in his writing. When the natural world grows dark and oppressive in The Hobbit (and LOTR as well), we can be sure that some personal evil is ultimately to blame. When sentient beings are found living in harmony with the world, they are generally good, and when they are twisted by evil, they abuse the land. Elves, dwarves, and humans are never portrayed as perfect by Tolkien, but when they are living as they should, their relationships with the earth are harmonious. The Shire is one example of this, Rivendell another, and the lands of Beorn yet another in The Hobbit.

Finally, even without the more fundamental points already mentioned, Tolkien might have won me over simply by making birds so significant as heroes in his story. Eagles rescue the party when they are about to be killed by goblins and Wargs, and they appear again at a climactic point in the Battle of Five Armies. A wise thrush shows the way to open the back door into Smaug's lair, returns to reveal the dragon's vulnerable spot so that he can be slain in battle, and serves yet again as a liaison between Thorin and the ravens. The ravens themselves play a part in gathering the dwarven armies and spying for the dwarves. While the birds of The Hobbit might not mean as much to others as they do to me, I would have a soft spot for Tolkien because of them even if his writing were not great for many other reasons.

Alan Lee's image of Ro├Ąc and the Thrush

05 December 2012

Catholicism: Pure and Simple (a review)

As a teacher I’m always happy to find resources I can share with students when they're interested in digging more deeply into a subject. That’s especially true when the subject is my Catholic faith. Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s book Catholicism: Pure and Simple  is a welcome addition to my list of such resources.

Fr. Longenecker promises to introduce Catholicism “in simple, straightforward language” without scholarly references or complicated terminology, and he delivers. This book provides easily readable treatments of complex philosophical and theological issues such as revelation, the origin of evil, the Trinity, and the sacraments. It could be profitably read by a wide variety of students, not to mention many others who might be unfamiliar with Catholicism and are looking for a ground-up explanation of what it’s all about.

Longenecker does not begin his text by discussing beliefs unique to Catholicism, but with more fundamental questions concerning the existence of God and the true nature of humanity and the world we live in. His treatment of these topics is lucid and much easier to read than many philosophical texts that cover the same material. Of course, in comparison to many such texts, Longenecker also has the great advantage of giving the right answers to the questions he considers!

Though as promised in its opening pages the book does not contain a single footnote, readers who know the intellectual ground that Longenecker is covering will quickly realize that he’s familiar with standard arguments and sources and could provide such references if he wished. When, for example, we read Longenecker’s comment that “things I want to do, I can’t; and the things I don’t want to do, I do,” we hear Paul in Romans 7, and when we read that Catholics look forward to a reunion with all Eastern Christians “so that the whole Church may once again breathe with two lungs” we hear Blessed John Paul II in Ut Unum Sint. Longenecker’s phrasing throughout the book makes it clear that he is basing his presentation on such classic sources even though he does not delay his readers by citing them.

A few spots in the text appear to have escaped careful editing, at least in the electronic version of the book that I read. For example, the statement that the sacrament of Holy Orders “is reserved for men who are called by God and his church to be priests” seems to exclude those of us who are, or look forward to being, ordained to the permanent diaconate. A reference to “thousands” of “holy popes” was confusing as well (perhaps “bishops” was meant?). But fortunately such comments are only infrequent distractions from a generally solid presentation.

Catholicism: Pure and Simple is available at Fr. Longenecker's website. It’s worth having if you need a book to pass on to someone who’s asking basic questions about the faith, and recommended reading for anyone who wants a consideration of these questions written in refreshingly direct and contemporary language.

26 November 2012

One year with the new Missal

I love arriving at the beginning of a new liturgical year for many reasons. I love Advent and Christmas liturgies and music, I love the anticipation of the Christmas break from school, I love the visits with family that happen each year at this time. I am old enough to remember with nostalgia Christmases before cell phones and the internet, and I love these memories as well.

This year as I thought about the church year that is ending, I remembered that as it began we (English-speaking Roman Catholics) were celebrating Mass using the new English translations of the Missal for the first time. Many of you might agree with me that another year seems to have passed quickly. The cards in the pews with the new Mass responses are now well-worn; many of us can make it through Mass without glancing at them once, even if sometimes we still do.

In thinking about the past year with the new Missal,  I have been trying to decide which of its readings has been the most meaningful to me. While I welcome some of the brief, now-familiar changes such as the more literal response “and with your spirit” and the Creed's use of “consubstantial,” which I initially resisted, I think that the most notable change for me might be the new translations of the Prefaces.

All of the Mass Prefaces can be rich sources of meditation and can help focus us during the Eucharistic Prayers. I was reminded of this again at mass last Sunday when we heard the new translation of the preface for Christ the King, or as it is more accurately called, the “Preface of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.”

Here's the new translation of that preface, in case you missed it:

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God.

For you anointed your Only Begotten Son,
our Lord Jesus Christ, with the oil of gladness 
as eternal Priest and King of all creation, 
so that, by offering himself on the altar of the Cross 
as a spotless sacrifice to bring us peace, 
he might accomplish the mysteries of human redemption
and, making all created things subject to his rule, 
he might present to the immensity of your majesty 
an eternal and universal kingdom, 
a kingdom of truth and life, 
a kingdom of holiness and grace, 
a kingdom of justice, love and peace.

And so, with Angels and Archangels,
with Thrones and Dominions,
and with all the hosts and Powers of heaven,
we sing the hymn of your glory
as without end we acclaim: ”

It can be easy to let the language of the Preface slip by without noting it; please don't. Although after a year we might be familiar with the new Mass responses, probably few of us are as aware as we could be of the new translations of the the Prefaces (or other parts of the Mass). As another liturgical year begins, we have our past year's experience with the new Missal to be thankful for, and another year of its riches to look forward to.

23 November 2012

Vermeer: Catholic artist (Italy 2012, part 3)

While in Rome on my recent trip, I visited the Vermeer exhibition at the Scuderie del Quirinale. This was a welcome opportunity to see eight paintings by Vermeer along with several others by his contemporaries. While this is not the largest Vermeer exhibition in recent years, only 35 or so Vermeers are known to exist, and I had not previously seen most of the works on display in Rome.

Most interesting to me were two works with explicitly religious content, Saint Praxedis and Allegory of Faith (in this exhibition given the title Allegory of the Catholic Faith). The Saint Praxedis painting shown here has been attributed to Vermeer but this attribution is questioned.
In Rome it was displayed next to a nearly identical painting by Felice Ficherelli, of which it is thought to be a copy. Vermeer's version, if it is indeed by Vermeer, adds a crucifix but is otherwise essentially the same image. This painting intrigued me because it has not often been on view in recent years, because of the questions about its attribution, and because on my trip I visited the church in Rome dedicated to St. Praxedis (Santa Prassede), as mentioned in an earlier post. Whether or not the Saint Praxedis is by Vermeer, it was valuable to see the two versions side-by-side. I was led to wonder whether similar paintings of saints by Vermeer, perhaps less novel than his domestic scenes but commissioned by faithful patrons, might exist unrecognized, attributed to other artists. Meanwhile, I believe the Allegory of Faith, the attribution of which is not doubted, is a masterwork and should be recognized as such even though its subject is atypical when compared to Vermeer's better known domestic scenes.

I'd wanted to see the Allegory of Faith in person for some time; it's slightly ironic that I first saw it in Rome, since it is owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, much closer to home for me. The arrangement of the exhibition was such that this painting was the last work encountered when passing through the galleries, and so was positioned to serve as a final visual statement from Vermeer to visitors. I appreciated this since in my opinion Vermeer's faith and the role it played in his work has not always been adequately respected by critics and curators.

Repeated efforts to explain Vermeer's conversion to Catholicism as motivated by something other than sincere religious conviction have troubled me. It seems that some of the critics who are willing to acclaim Vermeer as a great painter are at the same time willing to assume that he was moved by rather banal motives when it comes to his religious life. For example, it has often been implied, if not stated outright, that his conversion was to some extent a scheme to please his wealthy future mother-in-law. The text accompanying the display at the Scuderie del Quirinale is not as harsh as some; it states that Vermeer “converted to Catholicism in order to marry a young Catholic woman...” but points out that the names of Vermeer's children “and other biographical details suggest that Vermeer took his new religion seriously.”

What I've read indicates that the factual evidence regarding Vermeer's conversion and its motivations (like much else about his life) is slim. In regards to the evidence available it seems unjust to repeat the suspicion that Vermeer converted for improper motives. To allow these assumptions to color our appreciation of his religious art likewise seems unjustified. In fact, the entire distinction between paintings with overtly religious subjects and what initially appear to be non-religious paintings may be overstated in the case of Vermeer. If the Catholic home is the “domestic church (see CCC 1655-1658),” then ignoring or attempting to explain away Vermeer's faith may lead to inadequate interpretations of his exquisite domestic scenes as well as his obviously religious ones.

A Young Woman Standing at a Virginal, Vermeer

19 November 2012

Institution of Readers, Diocese of Richmond, 16 November 2012

I'm pausing from the series of blogs based on my Italy trip to mention a significant milestone for deacon candidates in the Diocese of Richmond, including me. Last Friday, 16 November, 18 of us were installed as Lectors, or Readers. This is a decisive step on the pathway to ordination, which we anticipate in fall of next year. Our installation came in the context of Evening Prayer with Bishop DiLorenzo, several of our pastors, and friends and family. Please pray for us all as we continue on this path.

18 November 2012

Honoring St. Charles Borromeo (Italy 2012, Part 2)

One of the Ambrosian Rite Masses I attended in Milan (see previous post) was the celebration at the Duomo in honor of St. Charles Borromeo held on his feast day, 4 November. The presider was Angelo Cardinal Scola, the Archbishop of Milan and so the most recent successor to St. Ambrose and St. Charles in that role. St. Charles's remains are venerated in the Duomo, along with those of many other saints and blesseds from the past, including Bl. Ildefonso Schuster, another former Archbishop of Milan who was beatified in 1996. The Mass was exceptional in every way; the music was beautiful, the homily was encouraging (as far as I could understand it, with my weak Italian), and copious incense was used and hung in the air long after the recessional.

In Rome I visited three churches associated with St. Charles. The first of these, Santa Prassede, is on a side street near the much larger Santa Maria Maggiore. Santa Prassede is usually entered using a side entrance and is not as frequently visited as many other Roman churches, which is a shame given its history and beauty. The church was rebuilt in the ninth century by Pope Paschal I and contains fantastic mosaics. Its namesake, St. Praxides in English, is honored along with her sister St. Pudentiana for preserving the remains of early Christian martyrs before joining their ranks herself. The relics of over 2000 martyrs are said to have been buried or reburied in this church; the names of dozens are listed on monuments there, and many others are anonymous. As Cardinal, Charles Borromeo was titular of this church beginning in 1564. When in Rome he often said mass in a side chapel here, and a newer chapel is dedicated to him and contains some items he used during life.

I also visited two newer Roman churches built to honor St. Charles after his death. One is the Basilica of Saints Ambrose and Charles, a.k.a. San Carlo al Corso, which was built beginning in 1612 largely at the initiative of the Lombards (i.e. northern Italians) in Rome. It has an imposing facade and one of the more impressive domes of any Roman church. One of its several side chapels is dedicated to St. Olaf and serves as the national chapel for Norway. And behind the main altar in the ambulatory is a reliquary containing the heart of St. Charles, which has been there since 1614; each year on June 22 the church observes the Feast of the Heart of St. Charles.

San Carlo al Corso, Rome, facade, November 2012

The third church honoring St. Charles that I visited was San Carlo alle Quattro Fontana. It was busy with tour groups when I visited, most of whom were mainly focused on its remarkable architecture. In addition to honoring St. Charles in its name and some of its artwork, this church is also is the resting place of Bl. Elizabeth Canori Mora, mother, laborer, and member of the Trinitarian Third Order, who died in 1825.

One of my main impressions from this trip is how little-known St. Charles is in the United States compared to his fame in Rome and northern Italy. I've see very few publications on him in English, but in Italian bookstores was able to find several. He is honored in the names of some U.S. churches, and he is a patron saint for many American Catholics, including me, but I believe could be much better known in this country than he is.  

14 November 2012

First encounters with the Ambrosian Rite (Italy 2012, part 1)

I'm home from Italy and had a wonderful time. I have a few comments about some liturgical experiences from the beginning of my trip.

Many Catholics, not to mention non-Catholics, forget or never learn that we are not all “Roman” or Western Catholics. More than 20 other Catholic churches exist, such as the Maronite, Ruthenian, and Coptic churches, each with a long history and distinct liturgical rites. We also sometimes forget that within our Western tradition we have distinct rites as well, beyond those known as the “ordinary” (Paul VI, vernacular language) or the “extraordinary” (Tridentine, Latin) forms for Mass in the Roman Catholic Church. It wasn’t until recently that I learned that the Diocese of Milan, in northern Italy, has its own distinctive rite, known as the Ambrosian Rite, that has endured for centuries. On my recent trip to Italy I was fortunate to attend three masses in Milan and experience the Ambrosian Rite for the first time.

Some differences between the Ambrosian Rite and the Roman Rite are obvious to anyone who’s familiar with the Roman Rite and is paying attention, even if you don't speak Italian. In the Liturgy of the Word, for example, each lector requests a blessing from the presider, receives it, and then reads; none simply proceeds to the ambo and starts to read. But most notably to me, in the Ambrosian Rite masses I attended the exchange of peace occurred before the eucharistic prayers were offered. As I participated in this exchange (my Italian does goes as far as “pace!”) I suddenly thought of Matthew 5:24, which reads (in part), “go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” This is literally the sequence in the Ambrosian Rite; first peace is shared, then the gifts are offered. (For readers unfamiliar with the Roman Rite, the sharing of the peace comes later in the Mass.) This makes sense to me, scripturally and sacramentally, and I appreciated this opportunity to pray a different way.

Reference to the liturgical rite of Milan as “Ambrosian” is due to the influence of St. Ambrose, Doctor of the Church, defender of Catholic orthodoxy against Arianism, major influence on St. Augustine of Hippo, and Archbishop of Milan in the late fourth century. The adjective “Ambrosian” in still used in many contexts to refer to the life of the Church in Milan, not just strictly liturgical ones. Among the sites I visited on my trip was the Basilica of St. Ambrose, which dates to the fourth century, though it has been damaged and rebuilt many times.

Basilica of St. Ambrose (Sant'Ambrogio), Milan, portico and facade

01 November 2012

Italia, again.

I have been blessed to travel to Italy several times in recent years, and I will be going again this weekend. I'll be away for a little more than a week, visiting Milan, Assisi, and Rome. Pray for me as I travel; I will pray for you.

Basilica of St. Francis, Assisi, 2010 - photo copyright C. Michael Stinson

I'm planning more posts for the weeks after I return, but before I leave I wanted to say thank you to those who have read and commented on what's here so far. It's just a start. Please make more comments, here or privately, and if you think what's here is worthwhile, please send more readers this way.

30 October 2012

Reading the Catechism in the Year of Faith

During the next year I plan to re-read the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I first read it several years ago, before I was received into the Church. I read it that first time mainly to see what I was getting into. It was an uplifting experience, and in some ways a relief. I came to the Catechism cautiously; I was feeling drawn to the Church but was worried that I might find some doctrine to which I couldn’t give assent. I thought that one way to deal with this was simply to read through the entire Catechism and put a check mark by anything I had problems believing. Once I was done reading, I’d deal with the topics I’d checked.

Fortunately after reading a couple of hundred pages I realized I could put down my pencil. I wasn’t making any check marks, and eventually I read through the entire Catechism without making any. (Many people who have struggled with their own journey to the Church will know how fortunate I was, and I am grateful.) This isn’t to say that the Catechism doesn’t contain profound material, since the faith is full of topics that can be hard to understand, and can provide material for a lifetime of contemplation. But as I read I found that insofar as I understood these topics, I believed what the Church taught. I also found the Catechism to be a superb summary of the teachings of the Church, no matter how complex they might be.

In Porta Fidei, the apostolic letter announcing the Year of Faith we have just entered, Benedict XVI says that “knowledge of the content of faith is essential for giving one’s own assent, that is to say for adhering fully with intellect and will to what the Church proposes.” This was my reason for reading the Catechism the first time – to know what I was getting into, as I said above. He also says that “the Year of Faith will have to see a concerted effort to rediscover and study the fundamental content of the faith that receives its systematic and organic synthesis in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.”  Reading the Catechism, or reading it again, would seem to be one way to respond to this call.

So I invite you to read the Catechism with me during the Year of Faith. (You have until 24 November 2013!) If you are reading it, or re-reading it, I’d love to hear about your experiences. For those who’d like to get the Catechism in daily email doses, click the green button on the right of the page. If you want a searchable online version, check out those available from the USCCB or the Vatican. And of course, there’s always good old paper!

29 October 2012

As long as I'm talking about sacraments...

As part of my deacon formation process I'm taking a class called “Worship, Sacraments, and Liturgy,” and yesterday I turned in one of the major assignments for the class, a paper on the Eucharist. I'm still thinking about the Eucharist and other sacraments, which is much better than what a lot of the papers I've written leave me thinking about.

When it comes to numbering or prioritizing the sacraments, two things stand out to me. One is the primacy of Baptism, and the other is the centrality of the Eucharist. For those familiar with Catholic theology, I'm not saying anything new here (not trying to, at least). Baptism is “the door which gives access to the other sacraments,” and by it we “are incorporated into the Church” (CCC 1213), whereas the Eucharist, in the widely quoted words of Lumen Gentium, is the “source and summit of the Christian life” (cf. CCC 1324).

While everyone's sacramental biography is a little different, for nearly all of us one thing is common: Baptism comes first. This is true even for Protestants, even for those who do not view the sacraments as sacraments.

I was raised as a Southern Baptist and baptized in a Southern Baptist church when I was seven years old. This was a full immersion baptism, the kind that Baptists generally insist on, and it was not called a sacrament. To my Baptist family and friends, it was an ordinance, one of two. Soon after my Baptism I was allowed to participate in the “Lord's Supper” for the first time. For my Baptist church, this was the second ordinance. Its relative importance is seen in the frequency with which it occurs, which was about once every three months in my home church.

One blessing I received upon entering the Catholic church was the recognition of my Baptist Baptism as a valid sacrament. This impressed on me the significance of the words of Ephesians 4:6, “one Lord, one faith, one Baptism.” Not coincidentally, I believe, these words were among the first I ever heard proclaimed during Mass (see the Lectionary for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B). Thanks be to God, the sacraments do work despite our imperfect understanding of them! And in Baptism there's a real, sacramental hope for Christian unity (CCC 1271).

27 October 2012

What's in a name?

Well, I guess it depends on the name, doesn't it?

As this is a new blog, I thought I'd begin with a comment on its name. Which is the seventh sacrament?

You might answer that in different ways. A quick check of the Catechism would show that in its list of the seven sacraments, Matrimony is mentioned and discussed last (CCC  1210). But note that in CCC 1211 the Catechism also says that this order is "not the only one possible...."

In my case, to explain the name of this blog, I am thinking in terms of my own experience. At various times in my life I have received all the sacraments of initiation and of healing (Anointing of the Sick thanks to surgery I had in 2009), and I was married in 1985. This leaves only Holy Orders as a sacrament which I have not received individually.

In 2009 I began the process of formation for the Permanent Diaconate in my diocese. Unlike Roman Catholic priests, who are normally not married, permanent deacons can be married (CCC 1579), and often are. It is now a little less than a year before the scheduled ordination date for me and the other men on this journey with me (along with our families, friends, and parishes). If, God willing, I am ordained next October, I will receive what will be, in my experience, the seventh sacrament.

The Year of Faith proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI has begun. The Synod of Bishops that accompanied the opening of the Annus Fidei released its Message to the People of God yesterday. In that document we read

Evangelization requires that we pay much attention to the world of social communication, especially the new media, in which many lives, questions and expectations converge. It is the place where consciences are often formed, where people spend their time and live their lives. It is a new opportunity for touching the human heart.

In light of this, I'm starting this blog both as a record of my path towards ordination and as what I hope can be a contribution to the new evangelism called for by the bishops. One hopeful sign is the many other people out there already making similar efforts, many of whom have helped and encouraged me through their online presence. I hope this blog can add a little bit to that positive use of today's media as I move towards receiving what will be, for me, the seventh sacrament, and beyond.