Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Post-Pandemic Distress

Recently I watched with combined amazement, amusement, and horror as someone removed his mask, momentarily, to cough, and then immediately replaced it carefully covering his nose and mouth! Thankfully, I am already fully vaccinated! Otherwise, I would have been very frightened. Still, to say the least, it was somewhat disconcerting to watch someone using his mask in the exact opposite way of how it is meant to be used. Might it be that our common pandemic experience has so unsettled and unmoored most of us to the point that we have become even more than customarily mindless about what we do on a daily basis?

Worse than mindless, many otherwise peaceful people seem increasingly angry. There is, of course, much to get legitimately angry about, much of which has been exacerbated by this demoralizing pandemic experience. I use the word "demoralizing" deliberately. The customary constraints of civilized social life, let alone the restraints required by morality, normally compel us to filter our angry feelings into more socially and morally acceptable behaviors. Has so much social isolation undone some of those social and moral behavioral filters? 

Fifty years ago, as a graduate student, I recall participating in conversations about ambient social breakdown. So this is certainly not all new and not ascribable only to the pandemic. But has the pandemic intensified existing dangerous emotions? And has our institutional response of socially disconnecting ourselves made this emotional mess even worse?

Traditionally, of course, churches have been the particularly privileged places where we meet one another with maximally benign expectations and behaviors. The secularization of society long predates the pandemic and can hardly be blamed either on the pandemic or on our response to it. But both the pandemic itself and even more so our institutional responses to it have even further marginalized religion and moved churches even more to the margins of society, precisely when their traditional spiritual, social, and moral functions were most desperately and widely needed.

Among the challenges as we return to ostensibly normal life will be restrengthening weakened social and moral filters and relearning how to channel angry feelings and emotions more effectively and less dangerously. If churches no longer provide sanctuaries in which to learn and strengthen such basic social and moral skills. where else will that happen?

Sunday, June 13, 2021

In the Heights (The Movie)

"The Heights", as every Manhattanite knows, refer to New York's Washington Heights, the highest natural neighborhood in Manhattan, one of New York's ever-changing communities, where General George Washington once had his fort and where his namesake bridge beautifies the sky - and which has been for decades now a densely populated Latino neighborhood, pulsating in summer with the omnipresent sounds of Caribbean and other Latin American music. In the Heights is the movie version of Lin-Manuel Miranda's Tony-winning Broadway show, Miranda's musical prequel, so to speak, to his much more famous Hamilton. I haven't been to a Broadway play in decades, and so I never saw In the Heights on stage, but the film version is not only everything reviewers have raved about but is so obviously, so naturally suited to the artistry of the big screen. Indeed, In the Heights is big in every way, an exuberant, 143-minute return to the best expressions of the classic musical and also a grandiose celebration of the glorious panorama of urban life and of the New York immigrant experience and the big American Dream that for generation after generation has inspired it. 

Miranda himself plays a small part in the show as a summertime street vendor (struggling to compete with Mister Softee). The starring role of Usnavi, which Miranda originated onstage, is perfectly played by Anthony Ramos, who dreams both of returning someday to the Dominican Republic and of his local love interest, Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), whose very different dream is to have a successful fashion career downtown. The other parallel love story features Benny (Corey Hawkins) and Nina (Leslie Grace), the neighborhood's academic success story and the pride of her father Kevin Rosario (Jimmy Smits). Nina is home for the summer from Stanford, somewhat traumatized by the prejudice she experienced there and the stressful struggle of being a Latina at an elite institution - an experience previous generations of immigrants also have had to endure along the way. In the Heights is in the long tradition of movies about immigrant neighborhood life, an especially touching highlight of which is when the community's culture-carrying grandmother figure Abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz) sings "Paciencia y Fe" surrounded by dancers in the subway.

Dancing is one way to get through the hot, humid Manhattan summer, and there is certainly plenty of dancing in this film, dynamically choreographed, maybe most memorably in the joyful swimming pool scene.

Love doesn't quite conquer all. It seldom does. There remains injustice in the world and in particular in the immigrant experience. The electrical Blackout, around which the film is chronologically ordered, is an unsubtle metaphor for individual and community powerlessness, but also for the power inherent in community solidarity and the strength and joy that derive from it .

In the Heights was supposed to open in movie theaters a year ago. But, as with so much else, that opening had to be put on hold, as not just the theaters but our very lives were shut down by the covid pandemic. Available now, this is just what the proverbial entertainment doctor would have ordered - a splashy, exuberant, song-and-dance celebration of immigrant life, love, youthful hope, American aspiration, and the sheer joy of being alive.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Another Welcome Sign of Normalcy

Yes, they are still "socially distanced" (sort of), although they weren't while walking to the site of the photo-op. But the fact of the photo-op itself means that they are all together for this year's G-7 Summit, which is a big change from last year, and an another encouraging, welcome sign of returning normalcy.

The G-7 Summit may or may not make a major difference in terms of any actual accomplishments. The same for the forthcoming NATO summit and then the bilateral Biden-Putin Summit in Geneva. But this meeting in drizzly Cornwall is a welcome change from both the acrimonious meetings of the Trump years and the non-meetings of this past year. 

Good news all around!

Thursday, June 10, 2021

What Can the Church offer the World - and How?

At this critical inflection point (to use that strange but suddenly fashionable expression) in the life of contemporary Christianity, Where Peter Is blogger Mike Lewis has offered an insightful and challenging, if somewhat unsettling, analysis of the Catholic Church's current and prospective capacity to offer a message to the contemporary world. Taking his cue from Pope Saint Paul VI's 1975 Exhortation (which Lewis mistakenly calls an "encyclical") Evangelii Nuntiandi and its reminder that the Church "exists in order to evangelize," Lewis' article "What Can We Offer To the World?" looks at the challenges for evangelization in contemporary contexts. Here in the West (which is the article's almost exclusive focus), "the evangelization challenge for the Church is to show that Catholicism is not an obsolete religion filled with superstitious bigots and conspiracy theorists. If we are unsuccessful, sharing the Gospel will be impossible." 

In other cultural contexts, the challenges and consequences of failure are different. "In the developing world, the evangelization challenges are to inculturate the faith and to liberate the oppressed" with failure leading people "to seek God elsewhere." In those places where the Church is tiny and persecuted. "the challenge is to show these societies that Catholics can live in fraternity as neighbors despite differences in belief, and can help work toward the common good of all," with failure meaning "they will be crushed."

But, back here in the West, "if we fail to recognize how the Church is perceived by the wider society, our beloved faith will be reduced to little more than an afterthought by the prevailing culture in a generation or two." Lewis focuses primarily on what he believes is "a unique danger to the Church" presented by right-wing reactionary Catholic dissent, which he believes has increasingly become both anti-papal and has led "the embrace of dangerous ideologies, including forms of nationalism, populism, and integralism that are incompatible with the Catholic faith." Lewis ascribes the resulting "chaos" to "a rejection of the Living Magisterium" among Catholics, some of whom who have "unmoored themselves from the teaching authority and coherence that comes from unity with the pope and the bishops in communion with him," some of whom have succumbed "to the dangerous post-reality mindset typically associated with Protestant fundamentalism."

Lewis' concern is that many U.S. Church leaders seem somehow unaware of these problems and lacking in "understanding of the culture at large," and instead "seem to think fighting the same culture wars in the same way they've fought them since the 1990s and early 2000s is right where the US Church needs to be." Ultimately what this comes down to, for Lewis "is a crisis of credibility."

Of course, criticism of Church leaders, whether warranted or not, is increasingly common in our contemporary context - both inside and outside the Church community. What is interesting about Lewis' essay is what underlies that "crisis of credibility" that he is so concerned about. While Mass attendance and religious practice in general have historically been higher in the U.S. than in many other countries, it is also the case "that the number of Catholics who practice the faith and agree with the Church on social and moral issues is in steady decline." While indifference to traditional Church teachings on sexual morality is widespread throughout the West, in the U.S. "many conservative Catholics disregard the bishops' views on immigration, the death penalty, climate change, poverty, racism, healthcare, refugees, education, and most other teachings seen as 'liberal' in the contemporary American political ecosystem."

One especially important insight in Lewis' analysis is how he describes the relatively recent shift in Western societies from what Pope Benedict XVI once called "the dictatorship of relativism" to "a new set of moral doctrines in mainstream society." So, Catholic positions which were, not so long ago perhaps, "stereotyped as uptight, dogmatic, and old-fashioned" are now increasingly "viewed as immoral and oppressive." In this new situation, "being harsh, condemnatory, and dismissive contributes to the image of the Church as morally reprehensible, turning off potential converts," even causing some "to see the Catholic Church as a hate group." So, for example, whereas some in the Church have criticized what appears to be happening in the German Church as capitulation to the world, Lewis sees "a Church that is searching for something to say to a world that has given up on listening." (That said, he does acknowledge that some of what he has read from Germany comes across as to deferential and lacking "the degree of doctrinal assertiveness" to which he is accustomed.)

A key concept to be derived from this new reality may be a new need, even when one personally faithfully assents to Church teachings on today's controverted topics, to develop a capacity to "understand why many think the Church's official justifications are lacking." (Of course, while understanding one another may be more conducive to peaceful coexistence - to retrieve a useful phrase from the Cold War - there is also always the sad reality of irreconcilable intransigence on the part of some who will persist in advocating positions which, however understandable, can never be completely accommodated within the faith of the Church, despite all the dialogue in the world.)

As Lewis sees it, there are really just two choices: "we can retreat further into our collapsing fortresses ... and cling to a self-referential concept of the Church, or we can get in the boat with Peter, Pope Francis, and venture out into the wider world, riding on the choppy waves, seeking out a new future for the Church."

The strength of Lewis' analysis lies in its critical examination of our precarious situation in the West today and its recognition that something other than retreat into a sectarian sub-culture is called for by an authentic commitment to the Gospel. That said, it must also be recognized that the boat, which we may be being called to get into, is unlikely to dock anywhere remotely resembling the relatively safe harbor we have historically become accustomed to. There is no guarantee of success in even the most sincere openness to dialogue with the world. The defining contemporary challenge is to accept the inevitable loss of cultural and political power for what it is and then do what can be done to find in cultural and political marginalization renewed opportunities to offer something salvific to the world, empowered only by the fervent belief that what is offered is ultimately what is in fact needed.

Photo: Pope Francis prays in an empty Saint Peter's Square, March 27, 2020,                                             (Credit: Alessandra Tarantino/AP.)

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Battle for the Soul (The Book)

Another book about the Trump years and the election that (for the time being, at least) saved the country from another Trump term! But Battle for the Soul: Inside the Democrats' Campaigns To Defeat Trump by Edwad-Isaac Dovere (Viking, 2021) is only incidentally about Trump and very much about the Democrats, the multiple Democratic candidates, and especially about the Democrats' internal challenges.

For those who love campaign accounts, there is plenty of that here, including fairly comprehensive attention to many of the "minor" candidates in the Democratic primary contest. But top billing goes to Joe Biden himself, who against the expectations of many and the hopes of the party's progressive wing, won the nomination, and then went on to be the one who could actually defeat Trump. "Biden was the compromise candidate, the collective consensus about who could actually beat Trump, but who wasn’t exactly inspiring." Indeed! But it turned out to be Biden who alone could make the case that best spoke to the American electorate, "as the old white man who was so well known that this made it clear what he stood for." In part, that was because, "Biden was actually the guy Trump pretended to be, with the working-class sensibility and the close family, and by being an older, white, straight man, he didn’t give Trump any of the usual openings he used for his bullying."

But, even more interesting than his account of Biden's amazingly on-target campaigns (for both the nomination and the general election), is Dovere's depiction of the divisions within the Democratic party, the structural and institutional weakness of the party, and especially Barack Obama's weaknesses as leader of the party. The author devotes a lot of space to describing Obama's failures, what he calls "the long rot of the Obama years"- both as president to bring about the change he had once promised and as party leader for neglecting the party. Whereas  some Obama aides "privately described his abandonment of the party while he was in the White House" as  “Benign neglect,” Dovere calls it “Negligence.” 

According to Dovere's account, "Obama never built a Democratic bench and never cared to, aside from a few scattered candidates who interested him. ... In his first term, Obama used the party structure as a host for his campaign. In his second term, he cared about what happened to the husk as much as any parasite does." Moreover, Dovere describes a Democratic party that during the Obama years "was hopped up on delusion" - the delusion that "Everything had changed."

As for Biden's prospects to succeed him in the presidency, Obama recognized "how unprepared logistically and emotionally Biden was for a presidential campaign" especially in the personally devastating aftermath of his son's death. "Obama wasn’t naive about Clinton’s political weaknesses—he had beaten her because of them. Still, he believed she would win. He thought she would do a good job, and he would say privately at the time, she seemed to him to be the only plausible option to succeed him, which was in itself a pretty clear comment on what he made of his own party’s bench under his presidency." It was also the case that, as Jen Psaki observed, Obama "undervalued Biden’s political abilities because they had such different styles.” 

Looking ahead to 2020, "Obama always assumed Biden would run against Trump, that his theory of his own candidacy made sense and that Biden might just be the right antidote. ... [but] Obama remained skeptical about Biden’s chances. In his account of the 2020 primary campaign, Dovere highlights the the problem that the Left created for itself in that campaign. "A progressive could have won the 2020 primary. Arguably, with the energy in the party where it was, one probably should have. ... Medicare for All is a major reason why the left did not.”

As everyone knows, Biden secured the career-saving endorsement of Congressman Clyburn and won the  South Carolina primary, after which the moderates in the party immediately united behind Biden to prevent the possibility of a Sanders candidacy. And so it happened, almost overnight, that by "Super Tuesday" Biden was suddenly transformed into the frontrunner - and more.

Presidential campaigns typically have two parts - the primary campaign as its fist half, followed the general election campaign. In 2020, the effective end of the primary campaign coincided with something no one could have anticipated or prepared for - the pandemic. Roughly halfway through the book, the coronavirus takes over the country and effectively ends the primary campaign. The author highlights the difficulties the pandemic created for Biden's campaign. "Building a wider sense of team and community was close to impossible—except for the shared, almost religious mission of beating Trump." His description of the convention experience for Biden is poignant: "The prize without the ceremony. The acclamation without the acclaim. Shrouded in a sense of mourning. Incomplete. Imperfect. A Biden nomination."

One of the peculiar paradoxes of the 2020 election was how the failures of the Obama years and the trauma of the Trump years steered the Democrats to choosing the safest possible candidate, who proved possibly to be the only candidate who could successfully defeat Trump, and who then surprisingly, in large part in response to the unprecedented twin calamities of Trump and the pandemic, positioned himself to aspire to become a truly transformational president. How effective that aspiration may prove remains to be seen - the topic for future books.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Corpus Christi

Corpus Christi
Exodus 24:3-8                                  
Hebrews 9:11-15                         
Mark 14:12-16, 22-26

Nowadays, whenever the subject of the Holy Eucharist comes up, it is usually in the context of controversy and conflict - mask mandates at Mass, the pandemic-period prohibition of Communion on the tongue, partisan politics about so-called "eucharistic coherence," and the shocking 2019 Pew research results that have been interpreted as showing that many Catholics may not to be fully in step with the Church's true teaching on the Real Presence.

So let me start with something different - a happy memory. This past Friday was the anniversary of my First Holy Communion on June 4, 1955. Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) - the Corsican soldier-politician who eventually turned himself into a French emperor and in 1804 compelled poor Pope Pius VII to come to Paris in person to watch Napoleon crown himself - that same Napoleon, who presumably enjoyed many successful and happy days in his adventurous life - once famously described his First Communion as the happiest day of his life.  


I am not so sure I would completely echo Napoleon, but I would certainly agree that my First Communion was a very happy occasion. Of course, what many – maybe most – Catholics remember most about their First Communion Day is frequently the frills: the outfits, the photos, and, of course, the presents. Those are all perfectly nice things, and their significance should not be minimized. They mattered a lot to everyone around me and so also mattered to me. Yet – lover of ritual and ceremony that I already was becoming - what I actually remember most about my First Communion was all the hours we spent practicing beforehand. The Sisters were not about to leave anything to chance! (For us at the time, First Communion, along with First Confession the day before and Confirmation a couple of years later, were significant life-cycle celebrations, for which the parish school faithfully prepared us.) And I remember my mother having to persuade my Aunt to have her babysit for my 3-month old sister, so that both my parents and my grandmother could attend the ceremony. And then came the ceremony itself - an 8:00 a.m. Solemn High Mass! Actually, I remember very little about the ceremony itself. But I do remember how we walked up to the altar, two-by-two, and then how I returned to my pew with my hands held together very piously - something which my father found noteworthy enough to comment on later. Finally, I remember my mother’s dress as she approached the Communion rail right in front of me later on in the Mass. (In those days, when most adults still went to Communion only occasionally, First Communion was one of those rare events when one’s parents would typically go to Communion.)


As for the actual reception of Communion itself - kneeling on the altar step (rather than at the altar rail) to receive the Sacred Host on my tongue, as the priest prayed, Corpus Domini nostri, Jesu Christi custodiat anuman tuam in vitam aetaernam, Amen - that memory is real but much less vivid. Perhaps that is because it merges in memory with so many other subsequent  Communions. For many of us in my generation (brought up after Saint Pius X encouraged frequent Communion), that would have typically been once a week (and later in life for those of us who embraced a religious vocation, likely as often as once a day). That's a lot of Communions! So, if the first one merges in memory with all those subsequent Communions, that may be as it should be. As a pastor, I always used to stress when preaching to First Communicants on their big day, the key word to remember about the experience is “first” – the first time they are doing what (hopefully) they are going to be doing many more times, over and over again, at least once each week, all the rest of their lives.


Unlike Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders, which are defining, once-for-all events, and despite the life-cycle significance of First Communion in contemporary Catholic culture, the Eucharist really is meant to be a regularly repeated sacrament. Of course, any sense of that was largely lost for so much of our history, when people went to Communion relatively rarely. At some level, that was always clearly contrary to the plain sense of the liturgy, and to the very nature of the sacrament. As Saint Thomas Aquinas himself explained centuries ago, by Baptism a person is oriented to the Eucharist, so that by virtue of being baptized one is destined for the Eucharist by the Church (Summa Theologica, III, q. 73, art. 3). On the other hand, it may well be that frequent Communion as it evolved in the last third of the 20th-century and since, may have now made the experience something more like a routine for far too many recipients. And that too may well be part of what is broadly, if imprecisely, reflected by that recent research about what many Catholics may or may not believe (or think they believe) regarding the Eucharist.

Today the Church celebrates the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, the feast commonly called Corpus Christi. The meaning and spirit of this festival is succinctly summarized in the familiar collect – so familiar because it is also the collect traditionally sung after the hymn at Benediction: O God, who in this wonderful Sacrament have left us a memorial of your Passion, grant us, we pray, so to revere the sacred mysteries of your Body and Blood that we always experience in ourselves the fruits of your redemption.

This prayer, one of the very few liturgical collects addressed directly to Christ rather than to God the Father, reminds us that the sacrament of the Eucharist is intimately connected with Jesus’ Passion, Death, and Resurrection.  Of course, the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, which recalls the institution of the Eucharist, certainly sets it within the fuller context of Jesus’ Passion, Death, and Resurrection; but there is so much else going on then that, over the centuries, it increasingly appeared appropriate to accent the Church’s joy in this wonderful sacrament on a day (and for centuries an entire octave) all its own. Hence, this feast – established by Pope Urban IV in 1264 with its Mass and Office specially composed for the occasion by the great 13th-century Dominican Doctor of the Church Saint Thomas Aquinas.

The prayer he composed calls on us to revere the sacred mysteries of Christ’s Body and Blood. Hence the special traditions of Eucharistic veneration associated with today – the traditional outdoor procession, for example, which elaborately marks this occasion in Catholic countries. As a seminarian in 1984, I had the privilege of witnessing the impressive outdoor Corpus Christi procession in Montreal’s Old City. In Germany, they have a tradition of the procession stopping at altars four erected along the way, at each of which is read the beginning of one of the four gospels before Benediction is given with the monstrance. It is a symbolic way of suggesting that the entire story can be summed up in some sense in the sacrament of the Eucharist.
But along with our veneration of this wonderful sacrament, the primary point is for us to experience its benefits. One particular ancient Roman prayer expresses this idea very eloquently in the Canon of the Mass:

In humble prayer we ask you, almighty God, command that these gifts be borne by the hands of your holy Angel to your altar on high in the sight of your divine majesty, so that all of us, who through this participation at the altar receive the most holy Body and Blood of your Son, may be filled with every heavenly grace and heavenly blessing.

In other words, by participating in the Eucharist and receiving Holy Communion, we, like Christ’s offering of himself, are also, as it were, carried along to the Lamb of God’s heavenly altar as a pledge of our future glory.

In the beautiful words of Saint Thomas Aquinas, which the Church recites this evening at Vespers: How holy this feast, in which Christ is our food; his Passion is recalled; grace fills our hearts, and we receive a pledge of the glory to come.

The current controversies and conflicts about Communion are not going to go away any time soon. They are part of the terrible time of polarized politics and politicized religion in which we are living and the toll all that has taken - on the unity of the human race, on our unity as a national community, and on our unity as the Body of Christ, which, speaking scholastically as Saint Thomas would have, is the res tantum of the Eucharist, the final end of the Eucharist, our unity in the Body of Christ.

But, for today, at least, let us rejoice in the sacramental sign of that ultimate reality, which Christ has given to the Church, not to divide us but to unite us forever with him.

(Photo: Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament, Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN)

Friday, June 4, 2021

Peril at the Summit

Sixty years ago today, on June 4, 1961, the young, newly elected, evidently unprepared American President, John F. Kennedy, unwisely met in Vienna, Austria, with his Soviet counterpart Nikita Krushchev, who was neither young, nor new, nor unprepared. The result was disastrous and remains a reminder to all new American presidents of the dangers of engaging in such summitry. Unlike Kennedy, of course, President Biden, who is scheduled to meet with Vladimir Putin later this month in Geneva, is not young and is quite experienced in foreign policy. He is, however, like Kennedy before him new in the job and goes to the summit at a time when American prestige abroad is low. (Kennedy met with Krushchev less than two months after the dual humiliations of the Soviets' first-ever manned space flight and the U.S.' failed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. It has long been believed that Kennedy's poor performance in Vienna strengthened Krushchev's hand and may have led directly to his ill-fated 1962 decision to put missiles in Cuba.)

There is always peril at the summit. By its nature, a summit meeting means an enormous investment in national prestige. The pressure to produce - or to appear, at least, to produce - is correspondingly enormous and accordingly dangerous. Even if President Biden is better prepared and thus less apt to be bullied than Kennedy was, the danger of making the meeting an end in itself, of claiming something to show for it in order to make the exercise seem to have been worth it, will be very great. 

Yet what are the prospects at present for some sort of breakthrough in our relations with Putin? Perhaps there are particular practical problems that can be resolved and areas of cooperation that can be encouraged. That is almost always the case. Even so, as such recent events as the cyber attacks on first the energy supply and then the meat supply suggest, the more fundamental challenges to our relationship remain for the present beyond resolution. 

Generally speaking, summits seem to work best when the ground has been well prepared prior to the actual meeting at the top. Assuming neither party actually expects to transform the other leader's personality or convert him to a different ideology, the way to make progress usually presupposes practical problems that can be negotiated at the lower level.

Where summits do works best is when the participants's experiences of each other have led them, if not actually to like each other, at least to develop some sort of interpersonal relationship that enables them to get beyond the inevitable posturing and national and ideological assertiveness. The problem is, of course, the other side of that coin. FDR famously tried to charm Stalin at Tehran and Yalta, and perhaps at some level he did, but that could not change Stalin's toxic personality or the ideological filter through which he saw the rest of the world or the military facts on the ground which tilted the balance of power in Stalin's favor. Can Biden realistically expect to soften someone so incorrigible as Putin any more than FDR could do with Stalin?

The nature of modernity, the directness of our communications capabilities, and the ease of personal travel have all made summits an ordinary, taken-for-granted component of ordinary diplomacy - in ways that would hardly have been imagined in the past. But because something is now easy to do and correspondingly expected, does not make it any less perilous in the long term.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Time After Pentecost - Time After Pandemic

Traditionally, the post-paschal liturgical season that went from Trinity Sunday through the Saturday before Advent was called the "Time after Pentecost." According to the lay person's Missal which I used growing up, the Church during this season (which could cover a full half of the year) "urges her children to be more docile to the promptings of the Holy Spirit who desires to live in us and animate us with divine love, so that we grow in virtue and become ever more like the Holy One of God, our Lord Jesus Christ." This reflected the then prevailing understanding of the liturgical year, the first half of which recalled Christ's incarnation, public life, death, and resurrection, culminating in the giving of the Holy Spirit, followed by the second half of the year which recalled Christ's continued presence in his Church through the ongoing action of his Holy Spirit.

That liturgical tradition, which kept the connection between Pentecost and what we now uninspiringly call "Ordinary Time," highlighted the close bond between the Holy Spirit and the present life of the Church, which has been constituted as Christ's Body by his communication of his Spirit (cf. Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 7 and 14). In the 19th-century language of continuous incarnation, Isaac Hecker (1819-1888) wrote "the Incarnation involves Christ's indwelling presence in His Church acting upon man and society through her agency until the consummation of the world" (The Church and the Age, p. 256). Since Pentecost, it is the Holy Spirit, who has continued Christ's presence and action in the world through the Church. This time of the Holy Spirit thus continues the time of Christ in the experience of his Church. This is what we ritualize in this second half of the liturgical year - the long present between Pentecost and the end, for which all that was recalled in the first half of the year has prepared us.

The "Time after Pentecost" is both the ongoing present time of the Church - the long present between Pentecost and the end - and an annual occurrence that punctuates our otherwise ordinary and seemingly spiritless lives. This year, the annual recurrence of this "Time after Pentecost" corresponds (in the United States, at least) to an unprecedented (in our lifetimes) "Time after Pandemic." In this time of emergence from the covid-19 pandemic and our unprecedented response to it, the Church's perennial post-Pentecost challenge to continue Christ's life and work in the world, renewing the face of the earth through the presence and action of the Holy Spirit, somehow must be experienced again in a world in which the Church has seemed somewhat absent. In fact, the Church had already become increasingly absent from more and more of the world for quite some time, but the pandemic - by literally closing the churches and absenting from its sanctuaries the faithful that still remained - has accelerated that problematic process, with long-term consequences that remain yet to be understood. Meanwhile, this experience has made all the unfortunate trends that ought to have been obvious before seem increasingly obvious now.

Of course, the Spirit blows where he will [cf. John 3:8]. So we must not set human limits on God's grace and providence. We do not yet know the full impact of the pandemic on the Church. Still, as we emerge from hiding, there are some things we do know and some steps we can take - and some self-inflicted damage we need not do. For example, in his first apologetical book, Questions of the Soul (1855), Servant of God Isaac Hecker pointedly opposed speaking to the world "in a sour, crabbed, and angry spirit." Sadly so much of what is now associated with contemporary Christianity in the United States sometimes sounds "sour, crabbed, and angry" - increasingly so, as the saving and healing breath of the Holy Spirit seems more obscured than revealed by so many factors of our own making, among them exclusionary ideological and political posturing presenting itself as devotion to religious fidelity and religious freedom.

(Photo: Dove of the Holy Spirit, Baroque oval stained glass window above Saint Peter's Chair "cathedra"  over the Altar of the Chair in the apse of Saint Peter's Basilica.)