Know your Catholic history

I have a story running soon about Monsignor Thomas Shelley, the top historical authority on Catholic New York, who has just written a 600-plus-page book on the history of the Archdiocese of New York.

Now I’ve learned that Nora Sharkey Murphy of Bronxville, whom I’ve known for quite some time, has a new book out on St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Her “Youth Guide to St. Patrick’s Cathedral” is just that — a young person’s guide to the “history, architecture and heritage” of St. Patty’s.

The publisher, Editions du Signe (which also produced Shelley’s book) has a similar guide for Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

Murphy retired in 2005 after 24 years working for the archdiocese. She does a lot of freelance communications work these days, and I know she’s put a lot of time into learning the ins and outs of the great cathedral’s history.

She says that when she was a kid “a visit to Manhattan always meant a visit to Saint Patrick’s.â€? No doubt, a lot of New Yorkers have had the same experience.

Her book is available at The Saint Patrick’s Cathedral Gift Shop, 15 East 51st St. in Manhattan (212-355-2749), and Womrath Bookshop in Bronxville, 76 Pondfield Road (914-337-0199).

Your top religion stories for 2007

And the top religion news story of 2007 is…

The evangelical crack-up over not having a presidential candidate to rally behind.

So says the membership of the “Religion Newswriters Association,”:http://www.rna.org/ which has been voting on the top religion stories for 35 years.

Number two: Democratic presidential candidates trying to appeal to the faithful (see a trend here?).

Number three: The continuing conflict over homosexuality.

My vote for number one? The ongoing hostilities between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq (which did not make the top 10). What do I know?

Here’s the Top 10:

1. Evangelical voters ponder whether they will be able to support the
eventual Republican candidate, as they did in 2004, because of questions about the leaders’ faith and/or platform. Many say they would be reluctant to vote for Mormon Mitt Romney.

2. Leading Democratic presidential candidates make conscious efforts to woo faith-based voters after admitting failure to do so in 2004.

3. The role of gays and lesbians in clergy continues as a deeply dividing issue. An Episcopal Church promise to exercise restraint on gay issues fails to stem the number of congregations seeking to leave the mainline denomination, while in a close vote, Canadian Anglican bishops vote nullify lay and clerical approval of same-sex blessings. Meanwhile, Conservative Jews become more open to gay leadership.

4. Global warming rises in importance among religious groups, with many Mainline leaders giving it high priority and evangelical leaders split over its importance compared to other social and moral causes

5. The question of what to do about illegal immigration is debated by
religious leaders and groups on both sides of the issue. Some take an active role in supporting undocumented immigrants.

6. Thousands of Buddhist monks lead pro-democracy protest in Myanmar, which is brutally crushed after a week.

7. Some Conservative U.S. Episcopalians realign with Anglican bishops in Africa and elsewhere in the global South, initiating legal disputes about church property ownership.

8. The Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote rules on the conservative side in three major cases with religious implications: upholding a ban on partial-birth abortions, allowing schools to establish some limits on students’ free speech, and denying a challenge to the Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives.

9. Death takes evangelical leaders known, among other things, for their television work: Jerry Falwell, Rex Humbard, James Kennedy, plus Billy Graham’s wife, Ruth, and Jim Bakker’s ex-wife, Tammy Faye Messner. Other deaths include Gilbert Patterson, presiding bishop of the Church of God in Christ, and Bible scholar Bruce Metzger.

10. The cost of priestly sex-abuse to the Roman Catholic Church in the United States surpasses $2.1 billion with a record $660 million settlement involving the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and earlier settlements this year totaling $100 million in Portland, Ore., and Spokane, Wash.

The return of the post-theater Mass

St. Malachy’s Catholic Church, right in the heart of NYC’s theater district, revived its long dormant late-night, post-theater Mass on Dec. 1.

The Mass is aimed at actors, dancers, musicians and all the other theater workers who are hard pressed to get to Mass on Sunday because they’re busy with matinees.

smcfront.jpgThe pastor of St. Malachy’s, who brought the Mass back, is Father Richard Baker, who grew up in Rockland County. He has a degree in sacred music from Catholic University and served as professor of liturgy and sacred music at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers.

St. Malachy’s, located on West 49th St. between Broadway and Eighth Avenue, has long been known as the “Actor’s Chapel.” As the church’s “website”:http://www.actorschapel.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=38&Itemid=38 puts it:

Douglas Fairbanks married Joan Crawford at St. Malachy’s. Herb Shriner’s children were baptized here. Thousands jammed West 49th Street outside the church in final tribute to Rudolph Valentino. George M. Cohan, Spencer Tracy, Perry Como, Irene Dunne, Hildegarde, Florence Henderson, Elaine Stritch, Lawrence Luckinbill, Rosiland Russell, Danny Thomas, Bob and Dolores Hope and Ricardo Montalban, all worshipped at St. Malachy’s. Fred Allen, Don Ameche, Cyril Ritchard, Pat O’Brien and Jimmy Durante served many a mass.

As late as 1968, over 16,000 people monthly attended St. Malachy’s; and on opening nights, many in show business came to light candles for the success of their shows.

Of course, the theater district went through many changes, bad and good. Through it all,  the priests of St. Malachy’s have been a leading voice for the neighborhood.

The revived post-theater Mass is now scheduled for every Saturday at 11 p.m. There will also be a midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.

Of course there’s no ‘coach’ to heaven

On this cold, potentially snowy day, why not reserve a spot in balmy heaven.

The folks at “ReserveASpotinHeaven.com”:http://reserveaspotinheaven.com/ say that space is limited:

“SECURE YOUR PLACE IN HEAVEN NOW…OR RISK ETERNAL DAMNATION”

For only $12.79, you can get an “essential travel kit,” which includes a certificate of reservation, a first-class ticket, a heaven ID card and a guide to heaven.

If you check out the website, don’t miss their “disclaimer,”:http://reserveaspotinheaven.com/disclaimer.htm especially the next to last paragraph, which is priceless.

Christians learning to accept Christmas

The war on Christmas started a long time ago, carried out by Christians.

Here’s the AP’s Tom Breen:

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — As Christmas draws near, Pastor John Foster won’t be decorating a tree, shopping for last-minute gifts or working on a holiday sermon for his flock. After all, it’s been 50 years since Christmas was anything more than a day of the week to him.
He’s one of very few American Christians who follow what used to be the norm in many Protestant denominations — rejecting the celebration of Christmas on religious grounds.
tjndc5-5htf8ergckk1fc5ul9tr_layout.jpg “People don’t think of it this way, but it’s really a secular holiday,� said Foster (pictured), a Princeton-based pastor in the United Church of God. He last celebrated Christmas when he was 8.
His church’s objection to Christmas is rare among U.S. Christians. Gallup polls from 1994 to 2005 consistently show that more than 90 percent of adults say they celebrate Christmas, including 84 percent of non-Christians.
That’s a huge change from an earlier era, when many Protestants ignored or actively opposed the holiday. But as it gradually became popular as a family celebration, churches followed their members in making peace with Christmas. Continue reading

Still more God talk (and more coming)

I happened to be watching the “Today” show this morning when Mitt Romney came on to talk more about religion.

484072republicans-spanish-debatesff.jpgThe main subject was Mike Huckabee’s asking (in a NYT Magazine story to be published this Sunday) “Don’t Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?â€?

Romney said that “attacking someone’s religion is really going too far.â€? But he didn’t want to go near the whole devil thing, saying only that “the church” had addressed it.

Kim Farah, spokeswoman for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, did tell the AP:

We believe, as other Christians believe and as Paul wrote, that God is the father of all. That means that all beings were created by God and are his spirit children. Christ, on the other hand, was the only begotten in the flesh and we worship him as the son of God and the savior of mankind. Satan is the exact opposite of who Christ is and what he stands for.

Asked by Matt Lauer why he doesn’t talk more about what it means to be Mormon, Romney said that he is not distancing himself from his faith. If the fact that he is a Mormon costs him the race for the nomination, he said, so be it.

2007_04_20_huckabee_300.jpgDespite all the focus on Mormonism, we’ll be hearing a lot more about what it means to be a Southern Baptist if Huckabee continues to surge.

To start with, people are bound to draw very different conclusions  about Huckabee’s “recent statement”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NSQNSlUUoOc at Liberty University that his rise in the polls is due to God:

There is only one explanation for it, and it’s not a human one. It’s the same power that helped a little boy with two fish and five loaves feed a crowd of 5,000 people. And that’s the only way that our campaign could be doing what it’s doing.

At least issue the ruling in a confessional

Here’s a court ruling you won’t see in the U.S., via the AP:

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — A judge in southern Chile has sentenced a Catholic priest to recite seven psalms daily during three months as punishment for illegal parking.
Judge Manuel Perez said he issued the unusual sentence after the Rev. Jose Cornejo said he could not afford the $100 fine that would have been the regular sanction for illegal parking in the city of Puerto Montt.
“He will have to recite seven psalms,� Judge Perez told the Santiago daily La Tercera.
“This is not a sentence that just occurred to me,� he added. “I did it as a tribute to Galileo Galilei, one of the greatest scientists of all time, who received a similar sentence from the Catholic Church during three years for saying the Earth rotates around the sun.�
The judge ordered a court official who lives near the priest to check daily that the sentence was being fulfilled.
The priest said he had parked his car in front of a school where he works because he lacked the money to pay for public parking

Running and preaching not that different

We’re always being told that exercise is a great way to deal with stress. Well, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church must be facing some stress these days.

Katharine Jefferts Schori, that very presiding bishop, is a pretty serious runner. She tells “Runner’s World:”:http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,ss6-369-374–12358-2-1-2,00.html

061216_nextbishop_vlwidec.jpgIt’s focusing for me. In my tradition we might talk about it as body prayer. It’s a meditative experience at its best. It’s a sort of emptying of the mind. That’s probably why I prefer running in the wilds rather than in the middle of the city.

But she’s based in NYC these days.

In Nevada, I typically run hills. In New York, there’s no more than rolling hills, and you really can’t even call them hills – they’re just small elevation changes. I very much enjoy running in the woods when that’s a possibility, but in the middle of Manhattan there isn’t too much of that.

I really like this question and answer:

Do you have a favorite Bible passage that inspires you to get out and run?
There’s a wonderful passage in the Psalms that says, “Beautiful are the feet of one who brings good news.”

Tackling Christian-Muslim relations through Advent

I blogged a couple of weeks ago about the unusual Advent Vespers series at “Graymoor”:http://www.atonementfriars.org/ focusing on…Islam.

The idea was to use the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, a time of hope and anticipation, to reflect on a recent letter to the Christian world from 138 Muslim leaders and scholars from several countries.

The awkwardly named letter, known as “A Common Word Between Us and You,” can be read “here.”:http://www.acommonword.com/index.php?lang=en&page=responses

unity-necklace_medium.jpgAnyway, the first speaker was Dominican Sister Anne Tahaney, a member of the Archdiocese of New York’s Catholic-Muslim dialogue.

Here’s the lead from Beth Griffin’s “coverage”:http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0706917.htm for Catholic News Service:

GARRISON, N.Y. (CNS) — During Advent, Catholics are called to “put on the armor of light, to be peacemakers beating swords of war and anger into plowshares, and to poke holes of light into the darkness which often seems to permeate our lives,” according to Dominican Sister Anne Tahaney.

“The common themes of Advent, expectation and waiting in joyful hope call us to reflection and peace, yet tension and stress surround us in our own personal lives, and war and death and destruction loom daily before us in newscasts,” she said.

Tahaney taught in Pakistan for 29 years.

We were not allowed to proselytize, but we like to think that we taught by example. In doing social work, teaching in schools and ministering in hospitals, we shared our lives with Muslim people. Many of the country’s leaders were born in Christian hospitals and educated in our schools.”

She also said:

Dialogue concerning the letter is the work of scholars and theologians. Yet we, by the witness of our very lives, must be responsible agents in letting the light of Christ shine through our being.

On the second Sunday of Advent, the speaker was Metropolitan Michael Javchak Champion, the archbishop of New York and metropolitan of All America for the
Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.

Metropolitan Michael grew up in Peekskill and I’ve been working on a profile of him that will run in the Journal News/LoHud.com one day soon.

He noted that there has been no official response to the Muslim letter from any Orthodox Christian leader.

Here’s a piece of what he said:

Orthodox Christianity probably lives the closest to our Muslim brethren than does any other Christian branch. This has been true throughout the course of history. Throughout the Middle East and parts of Europe, Orthodox Christians and Muslims
live side by side, many times in a very amicable environment. I know for a fact that in Jordan and Syria, among other places, there are not great difficulties between the two faiths. We have parishes in our Archdiocese that are of Arabic origin. The differences however are striking.

I know places where our clergy and parishioners associate freely and closely with their Islamic friends, especially those from the same areas. On the other hand, I am familiar with Orthodox who will continually argue and complain about the Islamic faith, pointing out what they see to be the “errors” of Mohammad and the truths of Christianity. It’s not a pretty picture.

When you think about it though, we should not be surprised that Christians, especially Orthodox (and Catholic) Christians look with such distaste upon those who believe differently. It can be understood why some, whose minds are perhaps not yet open to the “newness” which the Reign of God ushers in to us, prefer to repeat and repeat, arguments of who is right and who is wrong, while ignoring what is in common and failing to see the opportunities to work together for the good. When one is taught their whole life that they belong to the “one true church” against which “all others are false and fall short of the grace of God,” it is only natural that they might take the time to exhaust themselves on polemics.

This Sunday’s (Dec. 16) speaker (Vespars will be at 4 p.m.) will be the Rt. Rev. C. Christopher Epting, deputy for interfaith and ecumenical relations for the Episcopal Church.

The final speaker, on Dec. 23, will be me.