Irenic Thoughts

Irenic. The word means peaceful. This web log (or blog) exists to create an ongoing, and hopefully peaceful, series of comments on the life of King of Peace Episcopal Church. This is not a closed community. You are highly encouraged to comment on any post or to send your own posts.


Death in Liturgy

In an email discussion group on worship to which I belong, there was a discussion of people killed in worship services including Oscar Romero, who died celebrating communion, and Dr. Martin Luther King's mother, who was assassinated while playing the organ at Ebenezer Baptist Church.

The discussion then took a turn with an amazingly bleak turn story related by the Rev. Donald Schell:
The most startling story I've heard of death in the liturgy was from Frank Houdek, S.J., a superb teacher at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley. It's a story of another kind of violence.

a monument to Oscar RomeroOne of Frank's teaching specialties was discernment - classical Jesuit stuff nuanced with contemporary theology and other sources as well, and a really fine apologetic and interpretation of all this in experience and storytelling. To explore the question of 'how we know God?' he had a whole list of ways and stories to go with them, silence, beauty, human love, and so on, and the last one (which took a strong story to make it clear) was God's absence, the void.

The story he told was that as a Jesuit novice in St. Louis, fifty plus years ago, his novice house had an notorious feuding pair of retired, old Jesuits; their feud was talked of throughout North America, though no one was sure how it had begun. They were about the same age and had probably been novices and seminarians together, and now they hadn't spoken to one another for years and years.

One morning Frank was serving one of the old men in at 'his mass' at an old-fashioned monastic church with as many small altars as there were clergy in the community. Suddenly the other priest at a nearby altar collapsed in a heap, and lay barely breathing, crumpled face down on the floor. His old despised adversary stopped 'his mass' and he and Frank rushed over and turned the gasping crumpled body face up so he could breathe, and when the dying man opened his eyes to see who it was, with his last breath he uttered the bitter words stored up for half a century, 'Take your God-damned hands off me you bastard.'

Frank described the darkness and void he felt in that moment as so bleak and intense and empty of God, that God's presence in the ordinary moment before was palpable. He said that recalling that event and the despairing anger of the old priest's end over many years, opened him to looking for and feeling the presence of God in ordinary moments.
I am horrified at the idea of two monks, both of whom were priests, nurturing such bitterness. It is an extreme example of the ways in which any of us can harbor anger, or feed a grudge.

Let the stark outline of this true story recall you to the healing Jesus has for you. Who do you need to forgive? What anger are you hanging on to? In the archives, there is a related religion column Forgive others and unlock your heart

Then there is Frank Houdek's teaching point itself that the moments in life when God seems most absent can help us be more in tune to God's presence in the ordinary moments of our lives.

The Rev. Frank Logue, Pastor



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