Sunday, December 30, 2012

Adele and me

It is a beautiful morning. I went to bed early with the full moon beaming into my eyes and I awoke fairly late this morning. After going to the rooftop to do some prayers, I came downstairs to cook breakfast sausages and pancakes for our guests. Then I set out for a morning walk. I grabbed my Ipod and Adele and I started walking.

She was a great Christmas gift. I walked into the heart of Abdali district, which is right below the Jesuit Center in the wadi. Two young girls were sitting out on a lawn talking with each other. I then passed by a section of the square where wonderful aromas were coming from inner-city restaurants. One place looked particularly good as they were serving panini sandwiches. I hadn't seen those here before.

Adele and I continued on as we passed the courts and the Ministry of Education and other governmental buildings. Many lawyers and professional class people were frequenting the area. It was nice to see well-dressed, well-groomed people at work. I realize I mostly see the people who hang out on the streets or are walking alongside traffic. I was glad to see the professional class in action. Lots of BMW's.

I passed by three complexes that will redefine downtown Amman. New towering hotels, apartment complexes, a mall and anchors stores are being built and the construction footprint is massive. In ten years, property values around the Jesuit Center will be astronomical. I wonder if gentrification happens in a city like Amman. 

We continued on to Shmesani where a number of hotels and small-scaled shops are located. I realized that thought I had been dragging, I began to get second wind. I think I walked 6 miles. I have to do this more often. There's also an article in the Jordan Times about an organization called "Walking Jordan," that sponsors trips around the city.

The temperatures are low 60's so it is very pleasant. I got hit by a van that was trying to park. As I banged into his van because of his surprise action, he began to bark. Adele and I just didn't care. We kept walking along.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Citadel and the Theatre

As I went out to move my car this evening, eight cats came scurrying from beneath it. I think it is warm and safe for the female cats who are avoiding the male cats.

Christmas music is still playing this week on the radios. I like that. Periodically they play one. I never felt inundated.

I took a few guests to the Citadel and the Roman Theatre this morning. These guests are from the U.S. though they are Jamaican citizens. One of the community member spent a few years as pastor at a church in West Kingston.

The Roman Theatre was great. It is the best preserved theatre of its type. It is huge and it is easy to see the glory that once was the Roman empire. It would have been Roman wealth versus native poverty. I wish the museums told us more about the practical uses of the theatre. It has enormous capacity so it would have been useful for civic meetings, rhetorical exchanges, and public sporting events.

The Citadel is quite expansive. It is the tallest jebel in the city and the Temple was dedicated to Heracles. There is an artifact of the fingers of a hand that were probably of Heracles, but no one knows for sure. A museum sits atop the jebel, which contains artifacts from various ages of development.

It was a hot day. I noticed that it was very quiet at various places. I could hear birds at times, but mostly there was silence. People were enjoying the quietude because it is a rare quality. I wanted to sit outside and take in the park-like atmosphere.

All the while I was touring these guests and engaging them in conversation, my phone rang. It was the same person over and over again. We were laughing at some of the customs here. If someone wants you, they will phone repeatedly until they get you. Forget any semblance of planning. I mean within a one minute span of time my phone will ring three consecutive times. People think nothing of it. In the States, we would call once, leave a message, and politely wait for the person to call back in due, but proper time. However, this is like OCD calling. They will be persistent because they want you now. I've had times when my phone was sitting on my desk and I forgot to carry it with me and I've had 30 calls from the same person. Today's caller only tried 22 times with 4 text messages.

I don't like driving here.

It took 40 minutes to get home from the Citadel, which is at best a ten minute drive.

I saw the film "The Life of Pi" the other day. The next day I went to church. I had to establish dominance with the street vendors who keep moving closer to the church steps to sell their Filipino food. Once I establish dominance, they will be held at bay. However, I don't like using authority in that way.

It put to mind Pi Patel's struggle with the tiger Richard Parker. Vivid scenes of the tiger snapping at Pi must have stayed in my mind. I was chuckling to myself when communicants came forward to receive the Body of Christ. When they opened their mouths, I kept thinking of Richard Parker. Fortunately, that image disappeared when I said mass today.

Off to get ready for the new year.

I don't know what that means. To see photos of the Citadel, click on the link below:

1. Pics of the Citadel and Roman Theatre.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Guest workers

The Jordan Times had the following data in an article on Christmas Day.

There are 250,000 guest workers with work permits.
One million others are working without permits.
There are 45,000 documented domestic helpers. (Many are my parishioners.)
Another 40,000 undocumented domestic helpers. (Use your imagination.)

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Today felt like Christmas

I received a number of cards today from friends across the world and I feel so honored to be remembered by such good people. It felt jolly good to get them.

Also I decided to check out a new music store I heard about recently. I had low expectations for the store, but it more than exceeded my hopes. The sales woman really wanted to help me and she was doing lots of things to help me get the information I need. I liked it when she said, "I'm very happy. We had a good Christmas. Now I have to restock the shelves." She was beaming.

I have to figure out what to do. I never had an formal musical lessons, but I'm inclined to buy a keyboard for the parish. Now, there are a couple of decision points along the way. I could buy something and lug it to each of the four churches each day or I could get something just for rehearsal. I like the idea of bringing it a more church appropriate instrument. We have plenty of guitars and while that it good, the choir goes on their own beats and they make their own adaptations along the way. A keyboard could set a tempo for them to follow and give them some grounding.

Since I'm not a keyboardist but can find the notes, do I get an small keyboard to start out and then maybe build upon it or just get what I need right away? I have to examine funding, but is it wiser to purchase once? Then I have to learn how to play it.

There's also a simulated drum set, a basic guitar, and a two-level xylophone that can soften some of the music.

I feel like a kid in a candy shop looking at my options.

I did not go to my office at all today. Wow! What a break.

I hate driving here.

I don't like walking here.

A friend of the Jesuit Center asked me if I wanted to go for a walk. I told him I would go to the Do Re Mi shop to check out music (a different store altogether.) He asked me to wait five minutes. I told him that it would only disappoint me if I waited because his concept of time doesn't match mine. He begged me to wait as a person he was waiting for called him and said he would arrive in five minutes. I told him I doubted it. I decided at that point, though I didn't tell him, that I wasn't going. I figured I would drive to the other music store after an hour but that I would catch up with a few Skype calls. An hour and 15 minutes later, he came running over to me to apologize profusely. I told him I was leaving the premises and I would return in an hour. He asked about going for a walk and I told him I was on an adventure. I realize that he was very disappointed in himself. What am I going to do? Fret about it? I can't carry any emotion about it, but I don't want him to weigh himself down.

However, I do realize that my life here is about going nowhere fast, getting nothing done in a timely manner, and achieving little. It is a whole value shift, not a judgment. I used to say that I am downwardly mobile, but I can amend that to be downwardly immobile. My precision of meeting goals when I was a banker has come to an end.

I hate driving here.

I went to see "The Life of Pi" today. I read the book a decade ago and I'm glad they made it into a film. It was very good. The cinematography was excellent and the film was faithful to the incredulous story and I am left with many questions at the end. Though I wish it was not in 3D, it was a beautiful story.

I saw "the Hobbit" in 3D and that movie was very dark because of the glasses. I wonder if they clean those glasses or just put them back into the plastic sleeve - duping us. Both pair of glasses had dirty cleanses I had to clean before I could see out of them. I hope "Les Mis" is a regular film. I wouldn't see it but I think Anne Hathaway is a great actor. It is an all-star cast.

I hope those feral cats do not wake me up again as they did last night. The female cat finds shelter within the iron gates of my window. It is warm and protected there. The male cats sound vicious. This one mating session pierce my REM at 4 a.m. They screeched for the longest time and very loudly. It was only four feet from my head. Before I go to bed, I will research how the length of feline mating season. It gives me nightmares, not because of fear, but because I'm drifted off in space amidst these awful noises. I remember being asked to watch pigs mate in Jamaica one Easter Sunday. I felt so bad for that 200 lb sow who did not seem ready for the 300 lb boar. The ongoing cries made me shudder. I'm glad I'm in the inner city where I won't have to subject myself to camel mating time.

I think I moved off subject a little.


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Day

My first Christmas Day in the Middle East has come to an end. After four masses and four parties, I am exhausted. I am always working at the parties. I think my homily was well received. It may have been televised on the Jordan networks because television cameras came into the church just as mass began.

The choirs did a fine job. I am proud of them because they have done a number of challenging songs - especially culturally challenging. One woman was in her glory because she was playing the triangle and she figured out a methodology that worked for her after she met with me for some training. She had an opportunity to tell her story and I was glad to hear it.

I know what it is like to have paparazzi following. I know how Brad Pitt feels, even though I don't look like him. I must have had over 1,000 photographs taken of me with the congregation.

The people dressed lovely. Men wore suits and ties. Women had flowers in their hair and they wore fine linens. The Indian women wore ceremonial saris that were spectacular. It was a blessed day for everyone.

The graciousness and generosity of many were staggering. This is what I am going to remember this Christmas season. Generosity and that people had real smiles of joy on their faces. Christmas erupted across Jordan. Even Islamic friends were so nice to everyone.

Today was a much quieter day. I spent the first part of the morning organizing what belonged in my office and my bedroom. Not everything is put away, but it will be easier to do so tomorrow. Today was just to clear things out. Three loads of laundry are being done and I may even darn two pairs of socks tonight.

We had a turkey dinner for a casual lunch today. The lamb was excellent as well. I invited to U.S. citizens over. Since their household is two, they did not cook a turkey. We provided a nice meal for them and for our other guests.

Now it is time for a Christmas nap so I can greet the other guests who come later in the day. Fa la la la la, la la la la.

I do miss my friends back home. I wish them all peace and happiness.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve Agitation

I am trying to write my homily for Christmas Eve mass, which is just a few hours away. For the first hour, I tried to compose it while the deaf cleaning lady dragged the chairs from one area of the room to the other. She can't hear the noise she is making and she washes the floors every single day. I endured the noise because I know I cannot communicate with her.

After she finished, I listened for another hour as they set up for mass. They dragged every single chair across the room. I can hear it if I am two floors below, but I am in my office right next to them. They are five so they can't make a decision about how to set it up so they create extra work. It really doesn't matter because once the people come in, they will move things around to their satisfaction anyways. After the very annoying noise, I told the men to stop and to please let me move the chairs by lifting them up and placing them gently down. Four of them apologized, but the fifth one was not able to catch on. I will have a terrible homily because I cannot concentrate.

O.K. I feel better for e-speaking about it.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Circus


Boundaries.

Today at Mass I sang in the choir to lend a hand. Most of them did not show until after the Gospel because they were out caroling. Right after communion, four stands were placed in front of the altar and four Japanese musicians stepped out to play their wind instruments. Huh? They were actually very good. I asked the presider if he knew how long they would play because we needed to end mass and he said, "It would be impolite to interrupt them," to which I replied, "It is impolite for them to interrupt us!" They said and played afterwards and most of the people stayed. Those who had to leave left right after Mass. I went to the priest who runs the church and said, "What's up?" and I asked him, "How long do they intend to play?' Only half an hour. So, I walked over to the lead musician and asked him to step aside so we can finish mass. He politely obliged.

Oh, the things you see in a new culture.

I went out for a walk tonight with a neighbor who came over at 6:30 p.m. He was going to get a haircut and we planned a walk later in the week. He said that he might come over around 8:00 p.m. if his haircut didn't take much time. He came back at 9:30 p.m. and said he was ready. I said "No, I'm tired." He stayed around for half an hour and he created so much energy that we went out for a walk.

He went downtown as we knew the area was closing up. There are many DVD stores for videos that are pirated costing a JD each. We went through a few antique and junk shops. Some items were interesting. We glanced into some restaurants and bars and passed some Turkish baths. Every place is filled with smoke.

We walked by the Roman theatre, which is always cool to see. My neighbor admonished me because I'll find something curious and will go explore it, but it usually is in a darkened alley. He wants me to be wary of the Salafists and others who don't like Americans. I just don't think of that. Earlier this week, I walked into a stairwell of a building that was pitch black until you opened the doors to the next level. The elevators look precarious because there is no inner door so  the stairs look safer.

I kept telling him to look at the Christmas lights and he assured me that they are up all year long and they are related to Islamic customs.

At the very end of our walk, we each had a steamed milk drink that was quite good. It is like sweetened condensed milk that is topped with cinnamon and coconut. It was very festive and calorie laden, I'm sure. I asked him why we always stop and get some high caloric item at the end of our walks. It defeats the purpose of walking.

I enjoyed glancing at the shops. I now know where the better falafel places are located and other specialty shops. One day I'll have to buy one of their cassock like gowns that Muslims wear on the streets.

Yesterday was another workout with the choirs. Fridays kill me because the two choirs had a major falling out years ago and they won't work with each other. I have to do two separate rehearsals, which makes it a very long day. I struggled at Mass yesterday to sing, play the drums, keep time, and direct the girl who plays the triangle.

I saw four beautiful feral cats and a scraggly one in our garden yesterday. They were close to me and signaled that they wanted to be petted. I stooped down as I called them near and the only one who came to me was the beat up one that looked awful to touch. Wouldn't you know, that was the one who needed it the most.

Friday, December 21, 2012

My solo singing debut

Last night at the Jesuit Center party, I made my solo singing debut. The first mode of entertainment was a professional singer in Arabic. He was smooth, clear, articulate and engaging. It was nice to hear Arabic communicated so effectively. He had a nice style.

I was asked to sing a capella, which is not easy to do. I feel very exposed when I sing in this way. At least if I had some instrumentation to assist me, the song can be communicated better. I received warm applause and kind compliments. Much work to do. However, I did it. After singing "The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came" and "Of the Father's Love Begotten," I had the Filipina choir join me in singing "Mary's Song" and "Dona Nobis Pacem." They did a nice job. They have come a long way in just one month of rehearsing. I'm so proud of them.

The Jesuit Center party was nice. We were able to meet some nice people, many of whom have difficult stories to hear. We keep striving. We go forward. It was a nice night for everyone. Christmastime suspends our sorrows and we can look to the Lord and to the goodness of humanity for some relief. I feel like I am experiencing Christmas.

This morning it is raining. For Jordan, it is a heavy rain. I'm always glad to see the rain. This is the day of the year with the shortest amount of daylight. I feel well-rested today. I think the weight of singing solo weighed heavier on me that I realized. Now, onto Christmas liturgies.

I am very pleased with the reconciliation services. This is just a beginning of altering the idea of reconciliation with the parishioners. It will build. As I offer it more often throughout the year, people will realize that the sacrament is available for them. I like it because while Mass is a public sacrament, reconciliation is a personal one. This is where real change comes about. This is where people realize Jesus is there to redeem and free them.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Noise and a Hobbit

I still can't get used to the noise in Jordan. I protect my quiet time, but the ordinary way for people to interact with their surroundings is through loud noise. Our beloved chef, and I do mean that, bangs his pots and pans as if he is scaring off raccoon or bears. It is just his normal way of carrying himself. Our deaf housekeeper wears the loudest shoes that clang on the marble floors. Poor thing can't hear them, but we can. She is not stealthy as she moves to and fro while we are celebrating Mass.

 I grew up in the middle of a State Forest that was seven miles away from the small town's center. With a population of 2,800 during my high school years, few people meant lots of silence. I spent much time down by the lake or in the forest just so I could read, run through the trees, or just get some time away from a cramped house with 8 children, two adults, and lots of pets. 

We are building two computer rooms for Jesuit Refugee Services. When the workers arrive at 7:30 a.m. it sounds like they are fighting. In fact, they are. They argue over everything. They are just so loud in their normal interactions. I am often reminding people that they can whisper. I teach our choirs to whisper so that they sing at normal voice levels. They actually like it. However, I can't change them. I don't want to change them. Well, maybe I do. I just want a little silence. Don't all introverts?

 I don't blame Arabic speakers. Their words rise up from their bellies and they need some force to make the guttural sounds. It is part of their speech. French is so nasal, Italian is sing-song, but Arabic is deeply embodied. I find it interesting.

I went to the movies last night. For the previews, I thought I would need ear plugs because the volume of the previews was excessively high. I realized why? You could not hear anyone else speaking in the theater. Maybe there is a valued point to it. Fortunately, when the feature film came on, the volume was lowered thank God. But then, I couldn't see. I had to wear 3-D glasses for The Hobbit. The film was very dark and I don't think the glasses were a comfortable fit. I kept cleaning them to see if the visibility was better.

I was glad to see The Hobbit because I love the scenes of New Zealand. I so enjoyed my time there and in Australia. I like green, moist, mountainous areas. The film was as I expected. I like character development films and I was able to see the development of Gandalf, Bilbo Baggins, and Gollum.

Fantasy films capture my imagination. Though the film was very long, the seats were extremely comfortable. Maybe I can find a Hobbit hole to escape from the noise every once in a while.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Faith Chats: Now You Know Media

Click on this lin to FaithChats, an online spiritual direction service provided by "Now You Know Media." Since 2006, "Now You Know Media" has been producing audiobooks specializing in theology and spirituality. Renowned Catholic authors like Fr. John O'Malley, S.J., Fr. Richard Clifford, S.J., Fr. Brian McDermott, S.J., Fr. John Baldovin, S.J., Fr. Thomas Stegman, S.J., and many others have been recorded in their own voice for educational enrichment.

This Fall, "Now You Know Media" launched their online spiritual direction service to provide people an opportunity to meet with directors online. Take a look at their website to see if this service is right for you.

Click on the following link: Faith Chats.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Chopsticks

After the late-morning Mass today, four choir members and I ate at a very good Chinese restaurant. The food was well prepared and as we were eating I noticed that they were all using forks while I was using chopsticks. I called it to their attention and they replied, "Father, we don't know how to use chopsticks." Go Figure. So I taught them, but the said it was too difficult to learn. Can you imagine an Anglo teaching four Filipina women to eat with chopsticks?

 We can never know about the lives of others until we ask, but sometimes we don't get that chance. The other day after Fr. Larry (a visiting Jesuit) and I gave the reconciliation service, we went out for pizza. Three women were sitting next to us. They were college-age. They ordered a carbonara spaghetti dish that looked very good. They said "Mmmm" as it was brought to them. The three shared it as it looked like a rich appetizer. I thought no more about it for ten minutes of so, but then I had a feeling that the shared pasta dish was going to be their only meal. It hit me like an anchor that they must still be hungry. I called for them to offer them each a slice of pizza, but they were out the door too fast for them to know I was calling them. I wish I thought of offering my food sooner. I must become more aware of situations like that so I can respond more quickly.

I announced that we would begin a weekly food drive at our parishes for the women at the shelter. I hadn't realized how much it cost to feed all of them. I realize our offering will be meager, but it might allow them to have just a little more than they planned. Why haven't we been doing this all along?

I was moved today by three women was brought their babies to me to be baptized on Christmas Day. They had tears in their eyes when I asked them to call me so we can set up a time to baptism and to offer baptismal preparation. They are simple women and all their friends have the day off on Christmas and New Years so they want to have the baptism on those days. Poor things. I can see their desire to have a meaningful, happy celebration. Their lives are very difficult. Perhaps they will find that they can celebrate Christmas joyfully and then they will have a second occasion in which to celebrate their child's baptism.

I know that wearing clerics is a major symbol to many people. I wear clerics when I go out for sacramental purposes, Masses, and visitations, but it is a major symbol of God's presence for Christians on the street. As I walk through the neighborhood, I'll talk with people who are setting up their Christmas trees. They are very pleased that a priest stops by to visit them. It is giving me new ideas about more visible to the neighborhood. We have several houses of religious nearby and people like that a priest comes to say hello. Anyways, it makes me happy to meet them.

Photo: A few Christmas Scenes

To see photos of Christmas scenes in Amman, click on the link below:

1. Pics of Christmas scenes in Jordan
2. Pics of Christmas scenes in Jordan

Can't wait for the Weekday

First, I want to my great sorrow in hearing the news of the tragic deaths in Connecticut of those 20 six and seven year old students and their teachers. Everyone in Jordan is grieving their losses in this unthinkable tragedy. We prayed for them in each of our Masses. We know there probably is no suitable explanation that we'll ever understand about the nature of evil and tragedy, but we have to take steps to reverse the possibilities. Gun control was needed years ago. We need it now badly. Two years ago my second cousin found his father's gun and shot himself to death. As a society, we can't let people have access to guns easily. Our constitutional right to bear arms was intended to allow citizens to protect themselves from a government that imposed its will upon people. In principle I support this concept, but in reality too many lives have been lost. The 18th century situation is much different from today's. We, as citizens, need to do something.

On a lighter note, I attended a Christmas concert the other night. I finally found it after painfully driving around for over an hour. It took me all concert to settle myself down. A massive Greek Orthodox Cathedral is situation in a mixed-zoned district that is exquisitely hidden so that no one would ever unintentionally attend a liturgical service. Once we found this place, we needed to find a place to park, which was not easy.

The performance had many good singers and soloists. They each had talent and the audience very much enjoyed their efforts. Mostly, the singers were young and looked stately in their attire. The best part was the lighting of the church and its decorations. It created a celebratory mood to prepare us for Christmas. I'm glad I went.

We paid full price even though we saw only half the show because we were late. A responsive usher was able to show us some seat in the next highest price range because as they say, "there was no room in the inn." I appreciated her kindness. I laughed because once we bought the tickets, we noticed a map and directions on them. That certainly would have been helpful to have as we were driving around for two nights to find the location.

I attended a benefit bazaar for the Overseas Workers Welfare Association on Friday. I was touched by the generosity of the many people who attended the event. This raised money for those who lost their lives in the Philippines due to the recent storms and for the women in the shelter who often do not have enough food to eat. I am starting a weekly can drive where food stuffs can be collected and brought to the shelter.

Yesterday we held the Christmas pageant at the Vigil Mass. The kids did a great job, but the sheep stole the show. We wondered how this event would come out and at the last minute everything fell into place. At the closing blessing during Mass, a toddler wandered into the sanctuary. I picked him up and we gave the blessing together.

Somehow the party would out well too. The tables looked meagerly set, but as soon as Mass finished, people reached into their bags and pulled out loads of food for everyone to enjoy. It all went well except for the last moment when I went to my car to find that I was double-parked in. I was not amused.

I started to write a letter to someone last night. I went searching for an envelope to discover that not many of them exist as people don't write letters or send mail.

The choir rehearsals are coming along. People are learning how to sing and the congregations are responding more positively. It is much more work than I imagined, but people are responding well to it. Many comment after each Mass.

Two more Masses today. I can't wait to rest so I can prepare for the Christmas holidays.

I wish the New England Patriots were playing a 1:00 p.m. game. I'll have to wake up at 4 a.m. to watch the game.

Nothing ever goes as one hopes.



Thursday, December 13, 2012

Lead up to Christmas

I'm working very hard to try to get to a Christmas concert this Advent. My schedule did not allow me to get to the Friends of Jordan concert and I tried to find my way to a more sophisticated one last night. I traveled street after street to locate the Greek Orthodox Cathedral. A friend even arranged to meet me but a U.S. phone call gave me a late start.

I was surprised my GPS had this particular location. As I set off, I discovered I was on Jebel Amman, far away from the district my friend told me the Cathedral was located. I drove down to that area and could not find the place. No websites offer directions. Phone calls are generally not returned and you generally cannot reach the organization by phone at least the first five times you call.

Apparently, Christians are responsible for the configuration of streets in Amman. The city was designed to be confusing as defense against invaders.  Modern Amman is deliberately designed to be difficult to drive in as defense against local uprisings and rebellions, especially after Palestinian rebellion in 70's. Easy access is not a value.

One thing that warmed my heart the other day was that I saw two young woman communicating in sign language. I thought that if they could learn sign language in Arabic, I can do better with my language skills. It is odd my heart drops when I see a person with such a disability. I want them to live a normal life.

One good thing about being in Amman for Advent, we don't get much candy or sweets sitting out in the open for people to enjoy. In the States, every time you go into a store, candy is one of the first things you encounter. I like the absence of it because in the States it kind of feels pushed upon you. If you don't have great resolve, you will taste a chocolately morsel here and there. Then you get fat.

Also, I noticed we don't use much butter here. Everything is olive oil based. The diet certainly is different. This morning I picked up a huge vat of olive oil that comes directly from a parishioner's farm. It is not processed in the commercial way so it looks a little cloudy, but it is very good. It is the best oil I've tasted. Yum.

We also don't get excessive Christmas carols on the radio. I play Advent and pre-Christmas songs often and I'm singing them daily. In a few markets, you'll hear an instrumental secular song or two. It makes me feel good, but it does not go overboard. There's a balance here. I just can't stop singing.



Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Stormy Weather and a Wedding

Last night I went out for a 8 kilometre walk with a friend of the Jesuits. He wanted to start walking so he could lose weight. We started at Jebel Hussein and then walked over to Shmeisani where there are hotels, restaurants, and a shopping arcade. The winds were fierce. They howled and pelted us with sand. At the midway point, he wanted to buy me a hamburger at Burger King. It was his favorite Burger King because it is the largest in Jordan and the most American-like. I haven't been to an American style restaurant except for a Popeye's meal since I've been here. I tried to dissuade him that eating at Burger King defeats the purpose of the walk, but he was much too happy to show me this American restaurant. He wanted to be generous.

The meal was good. It was very clean and hip - for a Burger King. It was in a great area of town, which I'll have to frequent, but I had a Coca Cola Light and stayed awake until 3:00 a.m. My initial goal was to wake up at 4:00 a.m. to watch the New England Patriots, but my schedule was all out of whack because of the caffeine.

Today it is rainy. I think I'll take a mid-morning cat nap. Ten minutes should do it.

I presided at a wedding last night. I really liked this couple and wanted to see them get married. They went through the wedding process right and I was pleased to witness their vows. I cautioned her about being prompt as I had a reconciliation service at another church a couple of jebels away. I cautioned her about traffic. The wedding was to begin at 5:00; the reconciliation service at 6:00. She wanted to hold fast to the time.

She was over half an hour late. It took ten minutes to line up the long list of people in the procession. She spent hours to get herself ready and had spent much time in preparation. The professional wedding organizer was incredibly confused by most things and once the procession began, she left the church. Most of the cultural adaptations the organizer wanted to include were omitted because she wasn't around to oversee them.

I was able to witness the vows. The ceremony took ten minutes. I felt so bad for her because of her hopes for a full wedding as she is a person of faith. She took so much time to get herself prepared. I wish she showed on time. I wrote out a nice homily for them that I had to scrap and all the little details she worked on were omitted. But, they were married in a church and they had a good time.

The reconciliation service went over well. It was a small gathering, but it was nicely done and for those who were present, it seemed meaningful. Another one tonight.

I'm very happy today because it is raining again. Several property owners laid down some manure onto their gardens. Maybe the rain will help it seep into the ground and neutralize the effect upon the olfactory senses.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

0:00

I hate when I see 0:00 on my clock. First, it remains me that I am staying awake way too late. Then, it reminds me of how awkward our perception of time really is. Can there really be a 0:00 in time? Is the now part of time or is time a measurement that comes before and after the present moment? It makes me aware that I am not living on my schedule, but it a realm of time I don't understand well at all. I wonder how well I enjoy my time each day.

Yesterday was a day when people fell easily into snits and didn't easily get out of them. One woman talked with the sacristan at church about posting a schedule in the glass case. He doesn't like or respect her and they both got upset that the other tried to talk with them. The sacristan is under strict orders to accept instructions from the Arabic-speaking pastor or from me. This woman really frosts his cupcakes. He was angry all mass long; She felt very disrespected and could not let the interaction die down in her consciousness. To me, it was a matter of insignificance and I wasn't going to let it disturb me. In fact, I thought it was quite comical. It is not anything I have to solve or mediate or smooth out.

Then another woman got upset because the door to the hall wasn't opened for her to get an advance look at how she can set up tables for the party next week. When I asked her if she really needed to see the hall before next week, she replied, "I'm organized?" So, I asked her, "If I ask you if you are organized, will you answer the question as to whether you need to see the hall before next week? That's really the question I want answered?" She raised her eyebrows. I made sure the hall was opened, but she spent Mass in down mood because she was offended that it took so long to see the hall. She spent so much energy running around when all she had to do was to come and ask me about it. Poor thing.

It illustrates how boundaries are very fluid here. People have a small, seemingly insignificant experience that they can recirculate and allow to accumulate energy. They don't know how to stop it, especially when language is a barrier. They stew until they no longer know the reasons for their initial upsetting experience. I'm trying to teach boundaries with a smile on my face. I do it through the confessional as well - because all sins are relational.

The place where I can't teach boundaries are on the road. Large traffic jams happen when a person in the innermost lane of a five-lane rotary wants to suddenly exit. There's little planning. What's that very old saying, "Your failure to plan does not constitute an emergency on my part."

Drivers seem to have a thought and act on it impulsively. If you are in the spot they want to occupy, they will try to push you out of the way.

I keep thinking back to the value of grade school. In the U.S., we were taught to walk single-file. O.K. That doesn't often work well in adult life, but we were instructed to stay to the right. It allows for easy flow of pedestrian traffic. Those values are not taught here in Amman, and if they are, they are not portable to the roads.

At least in the U.S., we have police officers who cruise the roads and will ticket people if they make egregious violations like excessive speeding, driving to endanger, reckless driving, triple parking, or driving on the wrong side of the road. The police here will sometimes navigate traffic at circles, but that is about it. The driving is an impulsive free-for-all. The most laughable thing is that most people rush so quickly to get to their destination, just so they can sit down with their buddies for hours on end.

Sadly, many people cannot afford cars and have to rely upon the taxi system, which is reasonably priced but it adds up. I think of my good fortune of having my own car to take me from place to place whenever I impulsively choose to go somewhere. Sometimes the great difference between the "haves" and "have nots' gets me down. Sometimes I am a "have"; other times a "have not."

Finally, we have three guests with us this week. The first is an Egyptian scholastic who is a nice guy, but understandably, he is watching a lot of television focusing on Egypt's travails this week. The Arabic culture is loud, so the television is played loudly. My silence has been ripped away. We have a Palestinian Jordanian with us for a week. He is rather quiet in comparison. The third is a New England Jesuit who has been traveling well. Soon, everything in the house will be put back into proper place. I think other cultures don't quite have the same organization to households and domestic works as Americans do. We tend to clean up after ourselves and to replace things from where we took them. In a culture where domestic servants do that for others, one does not have to pay attention to the proper placement of items. It is all in communicating well through our relationships.

Well, that's it for now - whether now is part of time or not.




Saturday, December 8, 2012

I'm on the top of the world...

During the Sri Lankan party today, I heard the tune of the Carpenter's, "I'm on the  top of the world, looking down on creation, and the only explanation I can find..." I thought that I had not heard this song since the mid-70's, but they kept the tune and inserted their own lyrics. It was a hoot. I can't wait until the ethnic dancing begins. The woman are all dressed up and ready to go...

The dancing was wonderful. They are very colorful people and elegant in appearance.

One professional looking woman was standing over her priest and talking to him in an animated voice. She was certainly happy to have the chance to tell him her story. She did not waver in her perseverance because she very much wanted him to hear what she had to say. I loved watching her features. In contrast, he did not look up. He played with his Iphone and did not respond to anything she had to say. How sad for him. I wanted to hear her story.

The music of the party was loud, the food was interesting, the colors were cheerful. They all seemed to really enjoy getting together with one another.

The day was rough. Mass went very well. The parishioners enjoyed the two-minute catechism and the homily. They said their Mass finally seemed spiritual. I worked with the new music for the choir. They are coming along. They are doing their very best.

At rehearsal, I broke the group into three sections so we could do rounds in Dona Nobis Pacem. The first group did fine, the second group was a struggle, the third group came along well enough. I went back to the second group and I pitched them a C. They were to imitate me. I got back a B, G, F, C minor and a host of other sounds.

The next group of rehearsals went well. After an hour and a half, they all said, "Father, you look tired." I said, "Does that mean you are ready to go?" "Yes, Father." "Well, then, tell me you want to go. Don't tell me I am tired."

All in all, I am proud of what the choirs are doing. More and more people are joining.

I'm trying to give them the proper responses to say. All the parishioners want a photo with Father. They keep saying, "One last one, Father," to which I reply, "You don't mean that. Just ask, 'May I have another one, Father.'" Their 'one last one' means that 25 more photographs are intended to be taken.

We have three guest this week: an older priest from Bethlehem who comes for rest and relaxation, a visiting New England province Jesuit, and an Egyptian scholastic who is very concerned about the affairs of Morsi and his fellow Egyptians. My cherished silence is gone. I'm also wiping down tables, turning off lights, and washing dishes.

Now, I have to work on the reconciliation services, the Christmas party prayer, and a homily for Monday's wedding. What an upcoming week this will be. The first Christmas party is Saturday.


Friday, December 7, 2012

Pavlova, Tea, and Bush

I wanted to meet a long-time parishioner who was born in New Zealand. He is a lector at Mass and I wanted to find out where he lived in New Zealand because he has such a cool accent. I invited him for coffee; he replied by hosting a dinner for 20. It was fabulous. Both he and his wife had careers as chefs in Amman. The food was great and I had such a good time with his friends and relatives.

One of his guests was the Arabic speaking priests who runs a parish where I say Mass. He lived in Honduras for the greater part of his formative years. He is a very kind man and he is always busy so few people get to know him. I was delighted to get to know some of his life and theology. It gives me great hope that we have similar approaches to the ministry. I met some fascinating people last night and we had some good laughs.

The food was scrumptious. The vegetables were fully cooked, but crisp. Just the way  I like them. The broccoli had some character rather than being the regular mush broccoli we've been served. The stuffings alongside the meat were terrific, but the crowning moment was when the pavlova dessert was brought out. Pavlova was made first in New Zealand (though Australia's dispute this fact) when the Opera singer came to the island. They invented a special dessert to honor her and it was a hit. It has meringue as a topping to give it texture. Earlier this week, I saw Tutti Frutti ice cream, another New Zealand invention.

Another surprise that came my way was when I stood up to look at the photos on the wall. The hostess came over to tell me about her children. I saw one photo of her beautiful daughter with a young man whose face looked familiar. She married the son of Jeb Bush.The family album was brought out and I saw the whole family in the album. What a hoot. Who would have ever known the connections that are made through serendipity.

I learned a lot about local stories. Everything seems to be local or personality-based. It was quite an education. I have to process what I have been told as it is quite fascinating.

It was a terrific night. I kept thinking to myself at the dinner party, I've turned the corner.

I checked out a local chorus as they were rehearsing for a Christmas concert. The conductors flailed his arms and legs wildly while the soloist sang. All the while the chorus members are leaving their places, getting into animated conversations, and appearing very disinterested. My latest chorus director would have a conniption. Anyone would. Fortunately, all the singers have a B.A. in music. They have talent. However, they were using microphones in a space that is acoustically sound. None were needed, but I sense louder is better here. I don't know if I can join them, or if I want to join them, but it is at least an outlet.

I tried to visit a local artist who can do some water color classes for me. I just couldn't find his location. I'll head out tomorrow. I like to at least make the connections.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The weather outside (and other things) are are frightful

Oh, the weather outside is frightful...

Actually the weather has been very nice as it hovers around 72 degrees. We had two partial days of rain. I enjoyed that very much. I'm singing in the rain, just singing in the rain. What a glorious feeling. I'm happy again. Grass and flowers are growing. It's beginning to look a lot like spring!

However, the holiday decorating is beginning. The staff are very busy putting up many decorations. We have lots of cardboard Santas dangling from the windows in their plastic packaging. Lots and lots of tarantula-like garland-based star bursts hang from the ceiling. Lots of them. Silverly, red, and green garlands are taped to anything that can hold them. The two Christmas trees are set up. The funkiest manger scene is positioned near the chapel doors where the water bubbler was once located. I keep wanted to put my empty glass inside the manger to be filled because it looks like a water dispenser. Every space is occupied. It is just like driving. If there is an open space, it is soon to be filled.

I can sense there is more to come!!!


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Dead Sea: In Search of King Herod's Baths


Headed out the the Dead Sea today - the lowest point on earth. It is well below sea level. We set out to find the pools of King Herod the Great - the man who killed all the boys 2 years and under after the birth of Jesus. It was reported to be just below Macaurus where John the Baptist was executed.

One strange sight along the way was boys around 8-10 sliding down the hill on a glossy piece of wood. It is a lot like sledding, but I can foresee many more accidents in this sport than sledding. I can imagine bare knuckled ripped open as a boy tries to steer his way down a paved hilly road. Ouch.

I didn't get much sleep last night because I had a full day of Arabic tea and coffee. I finally went to bed around 3:00 a.m. and was up by 7:00 a.m. Oh.

On the way to the Dead Sea, the mountainsides are much like the Badlands in South Dakota. They are beautiful in their desolation.

After a good day of rain, the hillsides of much of Amman and its suburbs are turning green. I like it. I like colors and water and snow and rain. Jordan lacks these. I felt good to have a whisper of it. The place would look really nice if it could get 5 more inches of rain per year.

When we arrived at the Dead Sea, there were signs for the Baptism site of Jesus and the the Caves of Lot. Lot's wife is said to be near the road next to the Dead Sea, but there is no marker. I'll have to make a return trip.

I saw a fast-food restaurant called Chili-ways. A friend of mine owns that franchise. It was the first fast-good restaurant introduced to Amman way back in 1985. On a return trip, I'll stop in there for a meal.

Many hotels dot the sea's coastline. Large chains like Marriott and Day's Inn are there, plus some Jordanian chains. It looks very inviting. On a return trip, I'll come to take photos of the resorts and walk along the extensive coastline. Jordan is trying to capitalize on the resort nature of the town. I can see it working out fine. It is exciting to see the progress.

We never found the spot we were seeking. We made a good effort as we pulled over to several different inlets. We traveled as far as the Mujib Bridge and turned back. We were very close. We'll return in a week or two. We were looking for Roman ruins to indicate where the baths were.  The Romans had their recreation there before they went further up the mountainside to the King's special palace.

We went into this one inlet where water was dammed. The hot springs made the water very temperate and it was clear. Aside from the trash, it seems like a great place to pass some time. Since it is off-peak, we were the only ones there. The sound of the birds were great. They were whistlers and their sounds echoed through the canyons.

We tried to imagine what the place looked like during Roman times because much evaporation has occurred. The sea is 1/3 smaller than during those times. More water must have come from the springs to nourish the sea. Now, most of the sea is dead. The depth of the sea is extreme. It will take a while for the sea to disappear because of its depth. We tried to imagine the landing spot of the king and his entourage.

I wondered about the camels. They are out at the sea for tourist rides. I'll take on some day, but we saw a lot of camels on the way there. The gestation period for a young camel is about four months. I can't wait for the calving season. I bet the young camels look very awkward. So do the older ones.

This is way off topic, but one things that dawned on me was that I have more parishioners than the Arabic speaking parishes. Maybe 40 will be the most number of parishioners at an Arabic-speaking Mass while I have several hundred. I'm grateful for the pastors' hospitality, but I think they like that we fill the place.

To see photos of The Dead Sea panorama and photos of sheep, goats, and donkeys, click on the link below:

Pics of the Dead Sea.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Holiday Concert

On my way back from my morning excursion, I heard a radio commercial that advertised an upcoming Christmas concert. I was so interested that I safely pulled over to the side of the road and took out a pad and pen. Just as the the radio announcer was to give the website details, a truck on the other side of the road blared his horn so loudly for the length of the details. When he let up, the commercial finished. It was as if this most crucial detail was bleeped out. That bleeped me out.

Success

I traveled to Russeifeih today to visit an older parishioner. This town is on the outskirts of the city and it was my first rather lengthy trip beyond the city limits. I actually had little idea where I was going. I asked a Jordanian if he knew of this place and he looked puzzled. He mentioned the name of another town and started giving me directions. I lost confidence right away. I figured I would give it a go on my own.

I knew how to take the road to Zarqa and the parishioner's directions had that on the map. I took my chances. To play it safe I entered the address into my GPS, but with no results. So I entered the town's name with no results. I entered the street name and it came up with many entries, but none for the town I wanted. This would be a long day.

This parishioner told me I can take the new road. The Jordanian told me to take the new road as well. I'm clueless. No road here looks new. All the roads look similar. So I set out.

I maneuvered through the traffic and customarily dodged all the big trucks that swerve from side to side at will so they don't interrupt their mobile phone conversations. I was doing fine.

At one point, I was traveling up a hillside and three trucks slowed down as they were losing speed. It was like a fortress and I couldn't see anything in front of me. Once one of them cleared the left lane he was obstructing, I saw a sign to Russeifeih, the city for which I was headed, but it was far too late for me to take that right. I would take the next exit.

The next exit was kilometres up the road. I took the next exit and the road kept going along a desert track of sand. The road stretched on and on. After traveling 8 kilometres, I was itching to turn around, but this is the one road that had a median barrier. I just plainly could not do it. It was deserted, but it looked like a new road, but not the new road I wanted. I saw a building up ahead and I pulled into the lot. The building was vacant, but with a clever maneuver, I was able to find a way to get into the lane going in the other direction. I turned around and headed back.

On the way back I saw a sign that pointed to Russeifeih, but the exit was like an old one-lane road. Surely that wasn't an exit, but I took it. I went through this town that looked bleak. Not a single road sign was in English. I was surely lost. I passed by a carnival and into the town that had markets selling fruits and vegetables out into the streets. I traversed the main roads and side roads and I was certain to be late for my appointment. I kept looking at his well-written directions complete with photographs and nothing looked familiar.

I pulled over and called and my host's daughter was very kind to come and collect me. I had a lovely visit. The man was very nice and his daughter is quite kind and helpful. She gave me some information about King's College, the sister school to Deerfield Academy. King's was set up by King Abdullah to replicate his experience at Deerfield. He is quite committed to education as the path for progress. I agree with him. Education is key to success.

Anyways, Twelve Angry Men is a production to be put on at King's College this weekend. I'd like to attend. I'll also check out their concert schedule because I hear they have a decent enterprise there. It will be good for me to have a little holiday cheer this season.

I made it. My trip was successful. I navigated fine and the road back was easy. It was basically one road that led straight into Amman. I am also meeting the neatest people. Pockets of familiar culture exists here. I'm willing to learn a new culture, but I'd also like to be nourished by familiar enterprises as well.

When I returned home, it began to rain. I was so happy. I like the rain and Amman needs it. The plants need water to generate life.

The staff set up Christmas trees. They were very happy going about their business. I think I'll turn off the lights tonight and gaze upon the lights of the trees and think happy thoughts. What else does one do?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Francis Xavier Day

After a strenuous weekend, I decided to take some time today to get a breather. I got anything but that. Since it was about 75 degrees, I rolled down the window to the car and took off to a art supply shop near City Mall. As soon as I took a deep breath, the van in front of me sped off leaving a trail of black, smelly smoke. No emissions standards here in the Middle East. After a few minutes of hoping I would get a tinge of fresh air, I rolled up the window and put on the air conditioner. The air is heavy here and it must be circulated if you want to feel well.

I also put my arm out the window as I drove along and then I realized I could be like Francis Xavier. His right arm was severed so it could be sent to Rome as a first-class relic. As my arm dangled out the window, a car came it's usual dangerously close proximity to my car. I'll keep my arm in at all times. In fact, I realize that I never see arms outside of windows.

I was very pleased to find the art shop. It is fairly large and well-stocked. I think they are Christians because of the number of Christmas decorations and cards they are selling. The cards are all written in Arabic. I was most impressed with the busyness of the place. Many customers were engaged in conversations and sales. I think I can make a go of some artwork here. He gave me the name of a painting instructor.

I was doubly surprised when I turned the corner and walked up the driveway to Mariam's Art Gallery in the same block, but accessible through a different entrance. She told me that she does painting/drawing classes as well as ceramics. They run a 10-week course that meets twice a week. This is a nice piece of information to have. It made me happy.

We threw a dinner party tonight for 23 people in honor of Francis Xavier. It was a fine affair. I hardly was able to talk with everyone, but at least I greeted them. We had duck, pork, and lamb with a smattering of appetizers. The meal and conversations were great.

I put together a common North American style prayer. No one sang with me as I led them with Ubi Caritas. We then recited a psalm antiphonally, but that was unfamiliar with everyone. It was very insightful for me.

Oh, wow I'd love to give retreats here.

Overall, it was a good day. I'm rather tired so I'll go to bed now.

Everything is turning Green

With the small amount of rain we had last week, the landscape is noticeably changing. Grass is sprouting up all over the place. Typically browned hillside are speckled with tinges of green. Seeds are now sprouting and garden areas are looking full. Clumps of grass are popping up where one does not expect to see them. One would expect it in the springtime, but the strength of sun is strong enough to feed them light, but not overbearing to extract all the moisture.

This weekend was a new time in the church. We introduced new songs. Most of the reception was very positive, though there are some who are not used to the new music. It is an abrupt change from what went before. Most of the music was a capella because it will take some guitarists some time to learn new chords. Since Advent is a time of scaled down liturgies, the Advent hymns are meant to emphasize waiting and longing.

The choirs weren't able to effectively engage people with singing because they did not print the music for anyone to sing along because they prepared the music sheets a month ago. They learned a couple of the songs wrongly and it is difficult for them to unlearn what they know.

It is a start. The positive response has been overwhelming and people are excited because they feel joyful. When there is a fair response, it is because there is no instrumentation and they feel a little more remote, like they are an audience. When there is a negative response, it is because the lack of instrumentation makes the mass feel too solemn and not peppy.

We'll see what next week brings. The choirs are doing their best.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A visit to a Neighbor

I went to dinner tonight at the house of two religious sisters who live nearby. I received directions from one of the priests in the house. He told me to cross the road as if I were going to the apartment, take the first left and 3/4 of the way up the road I would come to a house that has a large awning. The house number was 22. There would be little space for a garden, but there would be a grape trellis with no real yard or grass. Everything was exactly as the priest said it would be.

I knocked on the door and it popped open. I saw the lighted Christmas tree and realized I had indeed found the place. It was so easy. I said hello, stepped inside, and a man came out to greet me. We said hello and he invited me in for coffee. He was a Christian. He said it was almost time for wine. He showed me the Christmas tree up close and talked about his family. When I started to ask if he was there for the dinner with the two sisters, he had a blank look on his face. I told him who I was and he was so pleased to meet me. It was obvious to me that I was in the wrong house, but he wanted me to have another cup of coffee.

It turns out that his uncle sold his house to the Jesuits to become the Jesuit Center. He was pleased with how we have developed the property and expanded it. He asked me to come back some time for a glass of wine. I will. He is such a very pleasant and welcoming man, but I told him I had to go because I had no idea how to get to the house where I was expected for dinner fifteen minutes ago. We laughed and I went on my way. What a nice guy!

Guest Submission: Article by Phil Tanny


Mr. Tanner asked to submit this article as a guest. He is working on ways of bringing Catholics together in Maine. His contact information is below:

A Simple Plan To Heal The Catholic Community

As you know, the Catholic community has been shaken in recent years by a regrettable wave of debate, discord and division.

This article suggests a way to bring the Catholic community together, a plan which any Catholic interested in unity can begin to implement immediately.

The solution is simple, if not always easy.

When we're ready to heal and unite our Catholic community we have the choice to...

Shift the focus of Catholic discussions to topics that most Catholics can agree with, and act on, together.

Here are two examples of where we might begin.

Unity Topic #1: Catholic Charities

All Catholics, and non-Catholics too, respect Catholic Charities, the Church's impressive public service wing.

This wide agreement is ripe ground for a healing, and those serious about unity will grab the opportunity to make Catholic Charities a more central part of our conversations.

The army of Catholic bloggers leading discussions across the Web can help by refocusing much of their writing away from unresolvable divisive topics, and towards celebrating and raising money for Catholic Charities, a very Catholic project that all Catholics agree on.

After all, it's hard to make a case that arguing with our fellow Catholics is more important than feeding hungry kids, right?

Unity Topic #2: The Tobacco Companies

As Catholics we are drawn to moral crusades, it's in our DNA.

But too often we have chosen to target each other for judgement, instead of uniting and aiming our considerable moral warfare skills at very real enemies who are far more deserving of our attention.

The tobacco companies kill approximately 100,000 of our fellow Catholics here in the United States each and every year, plus millions more around the globe.

100,000 of our fellow U.S. Catholics killed for profit. Each and every year.  By people who are already very rich.  And who plan to get even richer by selling us more deadly products deliberately designed to be highly addictive, and...

We ever crusading Catholics seem to have little to say about it.

We should fix that.

Instead of going to rhetorical war with each other, we have the choice to invest that same time, energy, passion and talent in to fighting those who are killing hundreds of our fellow Catholics every day.

Every time we rise to speak, put pen to paper, or type our next blog post, we have a choice.

Fight each other, or fight the devil.

A great many lives could be saved if 77 million American Catholics came together as one to confront the tobacco companies.  It could be Catholics that lead the charge, set the example, and celebrate the victory.

None Of Us Need To Surrender

Changing the focus of Catholic discussion to these kind of uniting topics would not require any of us to change our beliefs on controversial issues.

Each of us can still follow our conscience in our personal lives on topics like abortion, contraception, gay marriage, Church leadership issues, and so on. Nothing changes here.

Whether we are traditional or progressive Catholics, none of us have to admit ideological defeat.

We just have to admit that repetitive emotional squabbling with our fellow Catholics on unresolvable hot button topics is not really persuading anybody of anything. Nothing is being accomplished by all the adamant speeches.  Nobody is winning.

We just have to admit that endlessly arguing with our fellow Catholics is weakening our ability to address pressing here and now real world problems, where we could achieve impressive victories, by working together as one.

A Healing Solution

If we really want unity and a healing in our Catholic community, we just need to talk about topics that divide us much less, and talk about topics that unite us much more.

It's the very same common sense plan any of us would use when our relatives arrive for Thanksgiving dinner. On such occasions sensible families try to skip the topics they'll never agree on, because debating those controversial subjects, yet again, accomplishes little but ruining the dinner.

If it's Catholic unity and a healing that we really want, it seems we can really have it, any time we're really ready.  Nobody is stopping us but us.

Whether we are traditional or progressive Catholics, we can rebuild our unity by working together to expand our support for Catholic Charities, and by joining forces in a historic moral crusade against the death for profit tobacco companies.

There's plenty for us to agree on, plenty for us to work on, plenty of dragons for us to slay together.  We could soon be so busy serving others that we'll find we just no longer have time for arguing with our fellow Catholics.

Let's redirect our considerable moral energy towards fighting those world changing battles that we can only win....

If we fight hand in hand together.

-------------

Article by Phil Tanny of http://Catholic-Unity.org

PS: Please feel free to republish this article.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Satisfaction

I have been waiting for a whole week to get a return call from my dentist to replace the temporary cap with a permanent crown. He mentioned that it would only be a few days before he called me in again. I received a call this morning from his secretary to say that it would be another week before he could see me. I didn't trust the message and decided to wait around for another call. It happened. She asked if I could come in at 6:45 p.m., which I thought was late, but I gave my day over to it.

My dentist trained in Greece and he has been practicing for 33 years. He is a nice guy, speaks English well, and is competent. The temporary fillings made me a little suspect about the quality of his work, but my gut said to trust him. As of 6:48 p.m., I have a crown that fits wonderfully and feels so good. I am very pleased with the quality of his work. Besides, he is a likable guy. I would certainly recommend him to a good friend.

It sure is an exercise in patience to try to communicate in English. The people do as well as they can, but I realize I have to increase my proficiency in Arabic. English speakers who learn Arabic say that it takes at least three years to grasp the language and proficiency is a ways off. Still, I am learning to trust the insufficiency of language and be patient with the goodwill that surrounds me.

Since it was my day off, I was planning to go to Umm Qais. With the call from the dentist, I decided to hold back. It was a good thing I did. After an 7.5 hour sleep last night, I slept for 2 hours today and now that it is nearly 10:00 p.m., I am ready to go to bed.

It was a lovely day with temps in the high 60's and bright sunshine.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Ramblings

When I awoke a few days ago, I experienced pleasant dissonance. The morning after a rainy day made it feel like it was a late April spring day. The weather was very warm and there was promise of new growth since the water replenishes life. I sat under the trellis and did my morning prayers as the sun warmed the day. It felt like a long cold New England winter was finally over, but fall is just beginning in Amman. I'll take it.

I do like the rain. I get very excited and no one can understand why. I enjoy having lots of green leafy things around me. I have to get a plant for my room so it feels alive. I'm still looking out for something distinctive that will perk up my room.

I like the cold as well. No one can understand this. I feel like I breathe well and deeply. I am warned by everyone to wear more clothing so I don't get the night sickness again. I have to listen to them since I've been sick three times already. Now, I'm hot because I feel like I am wearing too many layers. I laid down rugs in my office and bedroom so the floors would not be too cold in the morning when I rise. It makes a nice difference because I love to kick off my shoes and be free.

Sometimes I get the sensation that eyes are upon me. I discovered why today. This is not paranoia. We turned the heat of this weekend, maybe prematurely, but the feral cats from the neighborhood find my bedroom window an inviting place to be. They feel the heat from the indoors and from the steady sun that beats down upon the place and they just bask in it. Since they are anxious, whenever I move, they jump down from their perch.

Last week I attended a Thanksgiving Dinner on Friday. Thanksgiving Day was pleasantly quiet and I slowly worked on a few projects. I was glad for the effort and result. I completed the tricky Advent/Christmas schedule of masses.

The meal was terrific: turkey, ham, a light carrot casserole, sweet potatoes, stuffing, lumpy mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, gravy, green bean casserole, and a few tasty tidbits. Desserts were a dish deep apple pie, lots of chocolates, a strawberry cream cake, and dates and cookies with ice cream.

It was the first time I was able to wear my silk jacket. It is a great color. I received complimentary  comments on the fashion.

When I was at dinner, several teachers were there. It dawned upon me that I feel like a first year teacher without a classroom. As a parish priest, I have to run to five different worship sites for Mass and I have to take everything with me. It keeps one feeling unsettled, but everything gets done. It is an image for me to hold in my mind so I always remind myself to be gentle to myself.

On Sunday, since it was very warm outside, I treated myself to a gourmet pizza at lunchtime. It was a three-meat pizza, but it was far from overloaded. Thank God. Toppings are sparse on the pizza, which I enjoy. I sat in my favorite restaurant and had a pie while watching the neighbors pass by. Since it felt like April, my spirits were buoyed.

I upgraded the music player that was in my room. I went to Radio Shack to purchase an atomic clock. Since they didn't have one in stock and ordered one for me, they felt bad they had to call me back to the store. Therefore, they discounted any item for me in the store. I got a good deal and did not pay much for the speaker system. I have been enjoying much better quality music.

I'm delighted to not have to be caught up with Black Friday or Cyber Monday advertisements. I never really bought into it, but the U.S. media does influence consumer patterns a great deal.

I conducted a choir rehearsal Sunday night. It went so well. Choir members who were afraid to sing learned to open up their mouths. We did some stretching and voice techniques and then learned some new songs. They were delighted with what they were learning. They really took to Dona Nobis Pacem because it is a song sung in rounds. I couldn't stop them. They walked out the door singing the song. They were skipping as they walked out the door.

My sock woes continue. I noticed two pairs of socks had holes in them. I did a load of laundry on Sunday and one of the socks that did not have a hole in it disappeared into the machine. I placed aside the ones I would darn. They are good socks. I've had them for at least 8 years.

I had a week of feeling well. I'm thankful for that. Speaking of feeling well, a friend said he wanted to walk daily and asked if I would be his partner. I agreed. The first day he overslept. We decided to go later in the day at 2:30. He never came. Life in Jordan.

Last night, I went to a hotel to meet a man who is the father of three Cheverus students I know. We went to the lounge on the top floor of the Grand Hyatt Amman and had a perrier. Later on his work colleagues stopped by and also had a perrier. We then went out to dinner at a posh restaurant (Fahkr al Dinh) off the Second Circle. It was lovely. Almost twenty-four hours has passed and I still feel stuffed.

At the restaurant, I felt as if I was at a swank Boston or New York hotel. Most of the patrons were very well dressed with very expensive suits. It was quite an evening. One of the nicest appetizers was a steak tartar, but it was made with lamb. Very smooth tasting. I can tell this is the place to see and be seen in Amman. It is where many deals are brokered. It is quite a different environment from the one in which me and my parishioners live. It is good to experience both worlds.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Vigil of Thanksgiving Day in the U.S.


It is the vigil of Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. and I find the atmosphere at the Jesuit Center on Jebel Hussein to be serene. I’m the only person in the building and not much activity is happening out on the streets. Some workers are setting up for the Abdali market below the Center, but the street noise on Al-Razi is quiet. I know I am projecting, but if feels like everyone is settling in for a quiet evening. The cold air (70 degrees) has hampered outdoor activities so the streets roll up earlier when darkness descends.

The Arab culture is aware of, but isn’t quite sure how to celebrate Thanksgiving. The markets sell frozen turkeys and all the ingredients that are used to make a traditional dinner. Fall decorations meagerly dot the mall-scapes, but there aren’t many maple or oak trees here so colored leaves are a foreign decoration for many families. I’m trying to make a few by doing some watercolors, but I am a novice at this craft.

Exteriorly, it will not feel like a holiday in Amman. We’ve been invited to dinner on Friday by a very kind parishioner, but the day itself will be devoid of football games, hearing about traffic jams, turkey drives, meals at shelters, and time with family and friends. We won’t have the two and a half days off that mark the fourth week of November, but we’ll make sure to slow down tomorrow. It is my favorite holiday of all.

I am not fretting what I don’t have because I feel very full from what I do have. I have your friendship and care to support me. I am grateful for the many emails, cards, and Skype sessions that have helped me in my transition during these two plus months. I am touched by your concern for my well-being and your interest in knowing what my life and ministry are like. I’m grateful for your prayers, especially in my three bouts of illness and during a confronting culture shock. You give me reason to thank God for each of you.

I feel like St. Paul in many of his salutations in his letters. This one is from Philippians.  “I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ… And this is my prayer: that your love may overflow more and more…” I feel like a missionary in the line of St. Paul.

I’ll tell you what I do miss. I miss being with you when you or a loved one is in the hospital or facing an uncertain medical test. I wish I could be there when a loved one has died or even when a pet had died. I miss sharing your sorrows and fears and your dreams, hopes, and achievements. I miss being there for your birthdays or significant celebrations. I miss singing in the chorus, landscaping, going to coffee houses or museums, and I miss retreat direction. I miss being there as each day passes and we grow a little older. I miss the ordinary things of being with you, having a phone conversation, or going out for a meal. I miss being with you in the ordinariness of your lives.

In our Constitutions, Ignatius and the first founders stress the importance of the “union of hearts and minds” of its members, and you are part of that extended family. I feel secure of that in my work. I’m proud of the many of you who support me and the Jesuit mission in prayer. This is not easy work. It is not an easy place to be. What is easy is that I know Jesus Christ is present to me and to the many people, Muslims, Jews, Christians, or otherwise, who are bearing with suffering or are caring for neighbor in a loving way. It is easy not to think of oneself when others are in such demand.

I am navigating my way. I have the solid support of the Jesuit community in Amman and in New England. I have four co-pastor friends who are my brothers in mission and I’m grateful for their hospitality and good counsel. I have dedicated parish leaders who want a vibrant, meaningful prayer and worship life. I see generous Christians who genuinely want to care for one another. I’m humbled by the goodness I see.

The Middle East is complex beyond belief. Sometimes portrayal of life here is too simplistic because many forces operate below the surface. Tension here is real. We are safe and we know there are undercurrents among the people that can go in any direction. We have solid planning in case anything harmful develops. We are prudent and we are not presumptuous. We know danger can surface in unexpected places, but we know that we, as American Catholics, are not targets of anger. The people are grateful for the work we do for its citizens. Much of the tension is between classes. In fact, many of the situations that are present in U.S. politics are present in this society.

The Amman mission is a “school of the heart.” It teaches one how to survive with limited resources. It causes us to dig deeper into ourselves and into the heart of Christ. We are a small group and we are dependent upon one another. Daily Mass and our one mission keep us united in fraternity. We want to preach the good news of the Risen Christ in a kingdom and region that accepts and tolerates Christians, but has governmental preferences and services for their Islamic citizens. It creates a way of life that I cannot yet describe.

The poor are all around. Refugees from Syria and Iraq and poor workers from Egypt come looking for subsistence work and safety. The tragedy with the poor is that they often do not know what resources are available to them to pull them up from their station in life. Too many make decisions that keep them in their current state or in a downward spiral. Regardless of who they are, I want them to know of the freedom and dignity that are available to them through God. I have no idea if I am making the right choices or making a difference. This is a place where effectiveness cannot be measured and I have to suspend many of my expectations and assumptions. I have no idea what my preaching does for people. The language barrier is immense, but I hope they can see the goodwill and the prayers I have for their happiness. Love and suffering. This is what we all have in common. Love and suffering.

I’ll end now. I just meant to give you a brief update and to say many, many thanks for your care and support. As I say Mass in the morning, I will lift all of you up in prayer. That should set your day right because I am eight hours ahead of you. Know that I will pray for the happiness and warmth of your gatherings tomorrow. I wish you and your loved ones many good moments throughout your day so that you can savor the great love that you have for one another – even in the midst of family arguments, estrangement, and heartbreak. It hurts a great deal because you care a great deal. Enjoy the small details of your day. Linger on the good that is there. I’ve witnessed a great deal of your goodness and I will tell Christ how happy I am to know you.

Thanksgiving blessings.

John

No holiday for us

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. and while it is in the consciousness of many people in Amman, it is not a holiday that is celebrated widely. It will be a work-day for us, but I'm sure we give it its own flare.

After going to the dentist today, I visited one of the local Latin-rite pastors. He is a hoot. His last name is Hizajin, which means he is from a sheikh class in Saudi Arabia. He is from a powerful family. He has the gift of conversation. I learned much about the history of the area and of local tribes. He is a man of passion too. He has a very caring heart and he is always looking out for the Christians on the East Bank. I had a delightful time talking with him.

After a delicious lunch (grilled lamp chops), I took a ride to the Taj Mall. The others in the house did not want to go because it is a wealthy shopping area. I wanted to go merely because they talk about it a lot and I want to experience what it is like. I realize if I ever wanted to feel like I am at home, I'll just go to this place. Most of the stores are American and many are high-end. I like it because it has advanced standards. Smoking is not allowed indoors and the construction of the building is very solid.

On my way to the mall I passed through a tunnel. It is hilarious because whenever a native driver goes through the tunnel, they blow their horn the entire way. It seems like something a child would do. I wonder if the driver is happy he is doing it. If so, good for him or her.

The first store I entered was Pieces of Africa. It had elegant, exotic carvings and ornaments. I spotted a chess set with intricately carved pieces. I would feel like a tribal king playing chess on the soft stone base. Quite nice.

The next store was similar to a hallmark store. All the stuffed animals were of goats, sheep, and vultures. I thought it was an odd combination, but the themes worked. One that that i noticed is that the store clerks always stand very close to you as you look at an item. Because of space boundaries it feels intrusive, but they don't mean it that way. They just want to describe the item to a customer so they can make a sale. I'm a terrible shopper and a good browser.

What's with all the smurfs in Jordan. They are in every mall and in many stores. Their distinctive blue is seen everywhere.

It is still an odd sight to me when I see two men holding hands in public. One security guard was holding the hand of another when he was gladly giving instructions. It is quite innocent and friendly.

I passed by a Nestles' tollhouse store and I thought I might come back and buy three small cookies. It is the first cookie store that I've seen. Most bakeries have cakes and pastries, but no chocolate chip cookies. Then I walked to the food court and I saw all those fast food restaurants. I was sorely tempted to buy chicken tenders at Popeyes or Kentucky Fried Chicken or one of the three other chicken restaurants, but then I realized that I just came from lunch, I really wasn't hungry, and that my real objective was to visit the Starbucks across the street. Once I convinced myself of that, I realized that I still had a full belly. It is amazing what marketing can do to make us feel hungry. At the mall, they are building a P.F. Chang's, which will be open this winter. The supermarket also has many products you can't find elsewhere, like Coke Light and Ginger Ale. I keep wondering if I really want to make Amman conform to my American standards. I also want to be mindful of those who really cannot afford many of the items that we prefer to have.

Starbucks. It was a three-level building and it was just like visiting a Starbucks in the States, except they don't yet believe in decaffeinated coffee or Skinny Vanilla Lattes. Nothing is diet. Anyways, I ordered a Flat White, which I haven't ordered since Australia. It was very good. I had it served with an apple caramel tart since I won't have pie tomorrow. It was my Thanksgiving treat to myself. I felt so good sitting there. When I looked around I saw five other Anglos. I felt like I was back home. Even they were playing a Dean Martin Christmas song on the radio. (Earlier this week, I saw my first Polish  Christmas ad on TV.) I like that most of the sections at Starbucks on non-smoking. Two of the levels are completely smoke-free, while the third level has a third of the floor for smokers. I hesitated going there because I thought the second-hand smoke would be everywhere. It is nice to find this place.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Stale Bread

Every day when our daily bread gets stale, we place it in a paper bag near the trash can in the kitchen. I have been diligent in doing so because I figured our chef collects them to feed the birds when he takes his family on a picnic on Fridays. With six children, I'm sure each one of them would have fun calling the birds nearer to themselves and daring to see who could get the closest. However, I was more than surprised to learn that he collects the bread to give it to the Egyptian trash collectors each week so they can have something to eat!

I visited one of the government hospitals to visit a parishioner's daughter. I am very thankful for the hospitals in the U.S., though I never stayed in one. These hospitals are certainly adequate, but the patients stay three in a room separated by a flimsy curtain. The beds do not have white linens or blankets. They have whatever blankets and sheets are available. The pillows are soft square foam blocks inserted into pillowcases. No phone, no TV, no amenities. I would be bored stiff if I couldn't get up and walk around. There is a doctor for the day. You just have to try your luck. I only was able to see one section of the hospital and the guard who brought me up to the patient heavily smoked a cigarette all the way to the her room.

On the way back to the Jesuit Center, I spotted an ambulance with its sirens going off. I tried to pull over, but no one would let me through. No one would budge for the ambulance. Drivers don't want to give up any space possible. The same happens for police cars. No one moves over because they will lose their coveted spaces. Unbelievable.

So, I came back to the Center and wrote three letters to put in the post. I asked our receptionist for the price of a stamp for these Amman-based letters. He looked at me quizzically and went to get the Center's director. He said, "No problem, Father." I figured I would pay him for stamps later. Instead, the receptionist was asked to drive to these three places to drop them off. Jordan does not have mail delivery and people don't send letters. Oh, I felt bad for making this guy drive to those three places. I would have done it according to a more lenient time schedule. I'm learning every day.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A First

Well, it is now two months that I am in Amman and I had something happen to me today that I was not expecting. Two 40-ish Arabic speaking men driving along Al-Razi street pulled their car over, rolled down the windows and asked me for directions. I laughed, but I heard where they wanted to go and gave them directions anyways. In the few Arabic words I know, I did my best.

Also, I chuckled when I realized how much this culture is based on texting. I gave a parishioner a letter last night with my email address on it. I told this parishioner that we have to communicate on a few items on that letter. I asked if we could touch base by email. When I returned home, I had a text message providing me the email! Argh! I've lost.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Too soon

Yesterday was a very good day, but I wrote too soon. After having a great meal, my body rejected it in the middle of the night. Nothing of what I took in is life. I am weary today. Sipping on purified water is all I can do. I was looking forward to eating a pre-Thanksgiving dinner tonight. At least I won't be going outside. This is the third day of demonstrations.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Happy (Islamic) New Year

Today was very pleasant. I awoke to the sound of silence. Everything outdoors was eerily quiet and indoors no one was moving. I enjoyed the opportunity to work on needed paperwork to get organized. I now have a comprehensive list of parish contacts. I realized early in the morning that today was the Islamic New Year.

Major demonstrations were planned for today and tomorrow. It would be safe to get out of the house after 2 p.m. when the demonstrations are broken up. Protests are done in my region - Jebel Hussein while a make-shift marketplace is set up right below my residence.

In the afternoon, I trekked out with two others (because solitary travel is not advised) to the arts store that I could not find yesterday. I found it, but it was closed as I expected. We went shopping at a local grocery store and mall. I met a very nice elegant older couple who arrived two weeks ago. They have such charming faces and they are enthusiastic about being here for their two year mission service.

After shopping, we ate at La Mirabella, a French restaurant in a very comfortable, clean setting. They have the best sweets: French pastries and Zalatino nougats and nuts. Very yummy. Their display is very tasteful as well. It was a good day all around - in contrast to yesterday's mishaps.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

My day off

I only worked until two p.m. on my day off. Somehow, the atmosphere felt very relaxed. In the afternoon, I wanted to check out the Radio Shack on Garden Street because I need a clock that tells accurate time. I saw one that I like - an atomic clock - but it was the floor model and was already broken. Most items that one buys in Amman are pre-broken for us. This clock was too far gone. The other models were nice and I may get one. I'm just hoping it is accurate. The store will call me tomorrow if they have one in stock at the other store.

From the outside, Radio Shack looks like a regular U.S. store. It has many brand-name products but everything was laid out on the floor. Some of these smaller stores do not realize that being tidy and organized helps with efficiency. I wish the same franchise standards could be used.

Many products, of any type, are inferior. Boxes are opened and the contents stuffed back in. I found the only one unopened box of Bounce laundry static-free sheets. The opened ones are fine, but I just want to buy something that feels right.

When I bought a Lemon clock from Ace Hardware, a U.S. company, I thought I did well. However, it is Chinese-made. Well the numbers are a great size, but the first clock was off by three minutes a day. The current clock is off by 1.5 minutes. You can't return them and get your money back. They will make sure you try every clock first before they give you a store credit. Well, I also discovered that if I wanted a clock that was in the 12-hour format, that would cost about 5 JD more. It is very difficult to buy exactly the item you want. Everything is close enough. It is just plain wasteful.

We are on a new search now. We are looking for electric blankets to warm us in the winter. We can't find any here and the nights get cold. Last night I had such a chill, but I think it was a low-level virus again. It is gone now, but I'll see if I'm better tonight because it will only be 10 Celsius.

No success of find gloves.

My drive to Radio Shack today was miserable. It is only about 7 kilometers away from where I live, but it took me 1.25 hours because of the protests. It was awfully miserable. I don't know why these drivers push on so forcefully. I saw many two-lane highways become three and then traffic doesn't move because everyone is jockeying to get ahead. No one does. Everything is slow down. And the people who are in the left land and make a right turn are incredibly abusive, but it is all too common an event. They see nothing wrong with it.

Two days ago, I drove to Abdoun-Sweifeih. I was very frustrated because I was extremely low on gas and I drove around for 45 minutes to locate a gas station. Against my will, I asked directions five times, and I was misled. Some areas of town have too many stations; this particular section of town does not want the stations to be in their neighborhood. How frustrating.

I drove on the scariest street to get to Radio Shack. My GPS gets me wherever I need, but I went down the steepest hill I've ever driven. It was very narrow and filled with holes. I thought I would tumble down and flip over.

Since my efforts to locate an artist warehouse on Mecca Street was fruitless, I went to City Mall. It is actually a decent mall in that many American stores are in it. I realize the American retailers make me feel at home even though I don't buy anything in them. I did find a decent bookstore, Virgin, and they also have some decent CDs and movies. I'll browse through them sometime, especially for Christmas music. I even entered a small hallmark. I was curious as to what I might find in their religious section, and it is mostly Christian.

I realize I still don't feel like I am home yet. My bedroom and office are sterile. I need a few living plants to give me the essence of life. I also need to attend to beauty. I can add decor that will make my places feel like I am adding my own style to them. I've identified a few things that will add a sparkle and personal touch to my place.

After leaving Radio Shack, I really had to use a toilet. I went into this one open office building and found a men's room. I'm glad number one was my only call, otherwise I would have had to squat without benefit of tissue. Then a few hours later when I was at City Mall, I was surprise not to find a water hose in the toilets. They were merely American style. I was very happy. O.K. T.M.I.

My office heating/air conditioner is now working. I'll survive the winter.

I'm going to a pre-Thanksgiving dinner on Friday. That will be very nice. I think we are attending another dinner next week. Then on December 3rd, we are hosting a dinner in honor of Francis Xavier.   All in all everything's O.K. A few daily frustrations with a few daily graces.


Should President Obama reach out to the Catholic bishops? By Thomas J. Reese, S.J.


One group of Americans that took a beating in the recent election was the U.S. Catholic bishops. Many of them were not shy in expressing their opposition to the administration and their preference for a Romney presidency. They also fought and lost a series of state referendums on gay marriage.

Some in the Obama administration may feel that the election shows that the bishops can be ignored as leaders without followers. But it would be a mistake to count out an institution that has been around for 2,000 years. In fact, this is a situation where being a gracious victor is not only the right thing to do, it makes good political sense.

I disagree with those who believe that Obama is anti-Catholic or waging a war on religion. After all, his administration has given at least $2 billion to Catholic groups like Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services, a significant increase over the Bush administration. But clearly the bishops and even progressive Catholics are worried about the government putting new conditions on these monies. For example, Health and Human Services decided not to renew its contract with the bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services because MRS would not refer trafficked people to contraceptive and abortion services. Some say this was decided by political appointees, even though HHS civil servants recommended renewing the contract.

Since MRS does such a good job with trafficked people, could not HHS find some other way to provide contraceptive and abortion referrals while allowing MRS to continue its work? A little creativity here would respect the bishops’ conscience problems while still achieving the administration’s goals. The administration needs to commit itself to such creativity because although many progressive Catholics are upset with the bishops, these same Catholics love Catholic organizations that serve the poor and marginalized. Any threat to these institutions will upset Catholics, including Hispanics, who supported President Obama’s reelection.

The bishops also objected to HHS mandate that requires employers to provide free contraceptives to their employees through their health insurance policies. The original proposal in January attempted to exempt churches while covering religious hospitals and universities. The February adaptation exempted religious hospitals and universities from paying for contraceptives in their insurance plans but required their insurance companies to provide contraceptives free anyway. The administration argued that the cost would not be passed on to the employer because covering contraceptives is cheaper than paying for births, especially problematic births.

Since the bishops object to the contraceptive mandate for any employer (including Taco Bell), there is nothing that the administration can do to satisfy the bishops completely. But it could adopt the solution proposed by the Catholic Health Association, which wants a complete exemption for religious institutions with the government providing free contraceptives to the institutions’ employees. This solves to conscience problem for Catholic employers while still getting free contraceptives to their employees. It is a win win.

If the administration could not implement such a solution without legislation, then there two minor changes that would deal with at least some of the issues raised by the bishops.

First, the four-part definition of “religious employer,” which was meant to exempt churches, is seriously flawed. It requires that the employer “(1) has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose; (2) primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets; (3) primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets;” and 4) be a church as defined in the Internal Revenue Code.

The first three parts of the definition are unnecessary and could pressure Catholic parishes to stop hiring and serving non-Catholics. This presents the image of the pastor turning away non-Catholic homeless people from shelter in the church basement when it is freezing outside. It could also threaten inner-city Catholic parish schools that educate Black students. The IRS has lots of experience distinguishing churches, which are exempt from filing 990 information returns, from other organizations. HHS should not add to the IRS’s definition.

Second, the February adaptation, while exempting hospitals and universities from paying for contraceptive coverage in their insurance policies, requires their insurance provider to give free contraceptives anyway. This might work for normal insurance, but many of these institutions are self-insured. They are the insurance company, so they will still have to pay for contraceptives. HHS hopes to find a solution to this problem, but in the meantime, HHS should simply exempt religious hospitals and universities that are self-insured when the contraceptive mandate goes into effect in August 2013.

Will these changes get the bishops off the administration’s back? No. But they will show that the administration can be gracious in victory and takes seriously the problems faced by Catholic institutions.

Thomas J. Reese, S.J., is senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University. He is the author of a trilogy examining church organization and politics: “Archbishop: Inside the Power Structure of the American Catholic Church” (Harper & Row, 1989), “A Flock of Shepherds: The National Conference of Catholic Bishops” (Sheed & Ward , 1992), and “Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church” (Harvard University Press, 1997).