The Deacon's Bench

Rocco found this nugget and posted it at Whispers in the Loggia. It seems a little farfetched to me, but stranger things have happened. Key section:

Tony Blair has discussed becoming a Roman Catholic deacon when he quits office.

The revelation comes as he prepares to meet the Pope amid speculation that he will use the audience in the Vatican to announce his conversion.

In his last foreign engagement, just days before he leaves Downing Street for the final time, the Prime Minister will visit Pope Benedict XVI in what officials say will be a “highly significant” personal mission…

Reports that he will convert from the Church of England to the Catholic faith of his wife Cherie have often surfaced during Mr Blair’s decade in office.

The claims were supported by revelations that he has already discussed not only converting to Rome, but also taking a formal lay position within the Church.

Deacons are just below priests in the Catholic hierarchy and have the right to administer certain sacraments and wear a special white robe known as a dalmatic.

Mr Blair discussed the idea of his taking such a role with Canon Timothy Russ, priest at the Immaculate Heart of Mary near the Prime Minister’s official country residence, Chequers.

The revelation is contained in a new book soon to be serialised by The Mail on Sunday – The Darlings Of Downing Street by Garry O’Connor.

The book states: “Tony expressed his strong desire when he stepped down to become a deacon – and a Roman Catholic deacon at that, confirming the often-speculated belief that he would convert to Roman Catholicism sometime in the future.”

Mr Blair is reported as asking his confidant Father Timothy: “Would this be possible?” He was told: “It usually takes two or three years”, to which he replied: “The fact that I’m PM, could this make a difference?”

The deacon idea emerged in a conversation a few years ago about Mr Blair’s plans after he leaves office.

Father Timothy suggested that taking on a formal role in the Church could give him fresh moral clout when he campaigns on climate change and Africa.

The priest added: “He has a lot of potentiality for good. He is still looking for the meaning in his life.”

The Blairs stopped attending Mass at the Immaculate Heart of Mary last year for “security reasons”. The relationship with the priest became strained after he spoke out against the Iraq War, accusing the Prime Minister of moral surrender.

As a followup, maybe I could be elected Prime Minister.

A few days ago there was a story in the Washington Post about the new baseball stadium they’re building for the Washington Nationals.

The cheapest seats in the stadium, way up in the bleachers, almost in another zip code, will be $5.

The most expensive, right behind home plate, will be $400.

If you want to find the people who really love the game, they’ll be up in the $5 seats.

They’re the ones who don’t care how close they are, or whether or not they can even see anything. They just want the thrill of being there – smelling the popcorn, hearing the organ pound out the national anthem, feel the excitement of 40,000 other people on their feet, cheering in the summer sunshine. Baseball, really, was built by people in the $5 seats: dockworkers and store clerks and deliverymen and farm workers.

Their love for the game was never measured in how much they could spend…but on the depth of their devotion. It’s not the size of their wallets, but the size of their hearts.

If the widow in today’s gospel were a baseball fan…I think we know where she’d be sitting.

And that is part of the lesson from her life. She gives everything. I imagine that sense of charity probably pervaded her life. Maybe she was the one everyone went to when they had a problem, and she never turned anyone away. She was a widow – in the culture of the time, almost an outcast, a person on the margins of society, practically begging to make ends meet. But she gives anyway. She gives her all.

I wonder if Jesus noticed her because she reminded him of his own mother.

Like the people in the five-dollar seats, this widow has a small wallet…but a huge heart.

The question each of us has to ask ourselves is: how big is my heart?

Am I willing to give all I have, even when it isn’t easy?

Baseball was built out of love and devotion.

So was Christianity.

And in both, I think, it’s the people in the cheap seats who cheer the loudest…and love the deepest…and end up being a little bit closer to heaven.

When I was young and first living on my own – way back before I was married – I decided to try and teach myself to cook. The “man-sized” TV dinners weren’t cutting it. So I got a couple of cookbooks, including one called “Cooking for Men,” which included recipes for things like meat loaf, chili and pot roast.

But the most adventurous thing I attempted was trying to bake bread. I don’t know why I thought this was something I needed to know how to do, but I thought I’d give it a shot. If you’ve ever tried this, you know: it’s an all day affair. You take the ingredients and knead the dough and then you knead it again and then you have to wait for it to rise and then you have to actually bake it.

It took hours. And when I was done, I later told a friend about it. He listened very politely and then replied, “You know, Greg, they sell that already made at Safeway. It’s in little plastic bags and it’s called Wonder Bread. You should try it.”

That was more or less the beginning and end of my career as a baker.

But there is something wondrous about it. The smell, the texture, even the flavor of just-baked bread is unlike any other experience. And if you add butter or jelly or even use fresh bread to make a sandwich, well, it’s transformative. It is truly astounding to consider what bread can become.

And that, I think, is the point of this feast, Corpus Christi, the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ.

It is astounding to consider what bread can become.

The work it takes to bake a loaf of bread can’t begin to compare with what has gone into creating the Eucharist. It is the labor of a lifetime – Jesus’s lifetime – and all that He taught and lived and suffered and died has been poured into that sanctifying moment when bread becomes His body. By the hands of the priest and the grace of God, the mundane becomes a miracle.

And when we receive that miracle, we are transformed. We bring God into us, and He becomes us.

It is more just than transubstantiation – that massive word the nuns taught us in grade school that describes what happens on the altar.

It is nothing less than a resounding echo of The Incarnation.

It has been said that God became man so that man might become God. In the miracle of the Eucharist, we experience it, and relive it.

Yes: It is astounding to consider what bread can become.

The gospel today tells of Jesus feeding the multitude — how a little bread and fish fed everyone, until all were satisfied, and there were even baskets of food left over. Whatever was lacking, Jesus supplied. Whatever was needed, He provided. Whoever was hungry, He fed.

It is a miracle and a mystery – but it continues to happen. Christ continues to feed us, so that all are satisfied. He does it with His Word. And He does it with His own body and blood.

What began on Holy Thursday with a few people in an upper room now feeds multitudes around the world. Jesus continues to give, and give us Himself. God becomes bread, and bread becomes God. And in that, He becomes a part of each of us.

But a lot of us – for whatever reason – refuse to believe in something that sounds so unbelievable.

In 1995, a Gallup poll reported that only 30 percent of Catholics – less than a third — believe in the Real Presence, that the bread and wine truly become the body and blood of Christ. Another 30 percent said it’s just a symbol.

I wish they could see what I’ve seen.

A few years ago, my wife and I had the good fortune to make a pilgrimage through Italy. One of the stops was in a town called Lanciano

About 1200 years ago, a priest there had begun to doubt the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Then one morning, during mass, he was stunned to discover that the bread and wine in his hands had become actual flesh and blood.

Today, it’s been preserved in a glass case, on its own altar. You can walk around it and see the host from many different angles. The blood has congealed naturally into five distinct pellets – just like the five wounds of Christ. In 1970, scientists were given permission to take samples and analyze it.

They weren’t prepared for what they found.

The bread is actually myocardial tissue — tissue from the heart.

And what had been wine is, in fact, type AB blood. The universal recipient blood type.

It has been so perfectly preserved, the investigators ruled out any kind of fraud. They determined it was human, and could not have come from a cadaver, or it would have spoiled.

Instead, the flesh and blood that were hundreds of years old appeared new.

In other words: ageless.

Jesus Christ promised to be with us until the end of time. And He is. What happened in Lanciano 1200 years ago is a powerful testament to that.

So is what will happen on this altar in a few moments.

Prepare to receive the greatest gift God can give us. The gift of Himself.

It is astounding to consider what bread can become.

This editorial popped up in the National Catholic Reporter this week, and is being circulated by I thought it worth sharing.

A commitment to healing, unity

National Catholic Reporter

When 500 preachers publicly commit to healing in the church, as the Dominicans meeting in Adrian, Mich., did, we are being invited and challenged to do the same – ordained and nonordained alike. Preaching doesn’t happen only at Mass. It happens every time someone calls us back to gospel living and to our commitment to the human family.

Contemporary preachers have not always served us well, acting more like shock jocks and provocateurs, eager to stir rivalry to improve ratings rather than as servants of gospel unity. St. Paul, who was first and foremost a preacher, provides a model in need of restoration. Preaching is a labor of love at the service of a demanding agenda for justice, peace and reconciliation.

Dominican Father Timothy Radcliffe (seen above), a global voice for reconciliation in the church, put the challenge succinctly: “Ultimately the church will only be a credible witness to peace in the world if we learn how to be at peace with each other, and with ourselves.”

The struggle of the church Paul knew in his time bears some resemblance to our own current struggles over unity. The difference is we have had 2,000 years to read the paschal pattern of death and rebirth that has always been the secret of the church’s astonishing capacity to recast her mission and adapt her structures to an ever-changing world.

Paul’s preaching helped spur and shape the outward expansion of the Jesus movement, first into the Jewish diaspora and then into the vast, rich religious cultures of the pagan world. It is hard for us to imagine Paul’s mission to establish Christian communities across Asia Minor and beyond.

There was no creed, no developed theology, no structure, no pope, no liturgical norms – only the preaching, fueled by Paul’s passionate belief that God had spoken decisively in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, revealed as the source of divine life for all who hear his gospel of forgiveness and regeneration.

Paul’s dramatic conversion from persecutor to tireless broker of the Jesus movement became the road map for the tumultuous history of the early church. Without Paul (or another genius like him), the story of Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified and risen Christ, might have remained a small heresy within Judaism, swept away like so many other subsets when Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D.

The birth of the new church was difficult in all respects. In his own poignant recounting of the trials that accompanied his preaching, Paul put beatings, imprisonment, shipwreck and the constant risks of the road well behind his greatest suffering, which he called “my anxiety over the churches.” What were these? Chief among them were dissension and rivalry within the church itself. Spies from the “mother” church of James in Jerusalem dogged Paul’s missionary journeys, insisting that circumcision and full observance of the Mosaic Law were required of all converts, undermining Paul’s insistence that grace in Christ alone was what saved.

In her book, “Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith,” author Anne Lamott tells of a man who worked with the Dalai Lama. “And he said … they believe when a lot of things start going wrong, it is to protect something big and lovely that is trying to get itself born – and that this something needs for you to be distracted so that it can be born as perfectly as possible.”

Paul the preacher would understand the image. Something big and lovely is at stake in our church today. How can we protect and nurture what God is doing for us and for our troubled, divided world? The death to self and ego required for ordinary conversation with those with whom we disagree seems a small sacrifice for church unity.