Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Grand, the Glorious, and the Ugly

This year's annual retreat of the Society of Saint Polycarp was held at Holy Hill, a monastery of the Discalced Carmelite order of monks near Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

This was my first trip away from the parish in a couple years. We made it a family trip, and instead of flying or driving, chose to ride the iconic City of New Orleans train, which runs from its namesake city out of Union Station near the Superdome all the way to another Union Station in Chicago. From there, we caught the Hiawatha train to Milwaukee. All three of us fit comfortably in a sleeper car with all meals included. This was our first long-distance train ride since our delayed honeymoon in 1994 that took us from Philadelphia to Atlanta, Mobile (then by auto to New Orleans and Biloxi), St. Augustine, Charleston, and back home to Philly.

Of course, this time, we traveled with our four year old boy.

If our trip had been a Clint Eastwood movie, we might have modified the title to The Grand, the Glorious, and the Ugly.

The Grand

We left after Mass at Salem Lutheran Church Sunday, June 14, as some very helpful parishioners took us to the station and saw us off. The plan was to have the Rev. Al Kornacki fill in for me on Wednesday night, and I would be back at Salem's altar and pulpit the following Sunday. That was the plan, anyway.

We went into the Magnolia Lounge for sleeper car passengers, which was basically a small room equipped with a couple tables, a TV, and a coffee pot. We met some of our fellow travelers - including the one-in-every-crowd who announced to me that he "gave up Christianity for Lent." Yuk yuk. From there, we walked a little ways to the train platform, boarded, got on our way, and got settled in.

Our room included a good sized seat that folded out into a bed. There was also a fold-down table and armchair. Over the big seat was a foldout bunk style bed. We also had a small mirror and sink, as well as a (very tiny) closet area and space for washcloths/towels. The room was also equipped with a tiny, but operable, bathroom that included a shower stall. Though our quarters were roughly the same size as our bathroom at home, we were comfy. Leo had his DVD player, I had my computer, and we all had our books.

The bedroom also had a large window that provided phenomenal views of the scenery.

We quickly rolled through the New Orleans cityscape, past the Louis Armstrong airport in Kenner, and suddenly found ourselves in the swamps. We didn't see any alligators, but that is certainly their milieu. We saw plenty of herons and cranes, butterflies and cypress trees. It is a magnificent glimpse into South Louisiana's natural environment.

We walked away from the bayou view from our bedroom over to the more civilized environs of the dining car. There, we were served top-notch meals that included herb-roasted chicken and veal so tender you barely needed to put any pressure on the fork to slice it. It was delicious. Leo was treated to chicken tenders. The City of New Orleans features a dining car that actually resembles a diner - as opposed to our previous Amtrak experience with the white tablecloths and china. It was more casual, but still nice and laden with ambiance. The meal was outstanding and included such desserts as Häagen-Dazs ice cream, Mississippi mud cheese cake, and pecan pie, the latter made with (of course) bourbon. In addition to the dining car, there is an additional seating area in the Cross Country Café.

After indulging in dinner and dessert (part of the time in plain view of the stately Mississippi state capitol building) and following up with a remarkably decent cup of coffee, we headed back to our room.

The terrain in northern Mississippi is very different than Louisiana's swamps. The large agricultural fields were flat, and covered in what appeared to be bean crops. The ride through the Magnolia State is quite bumpy, and there were a few unexplained delays along the way. But we were having a great time. Leo was very well-behaved, and he was thoroughly enjoying the adventure.

Our stewardess was a New Orleanian named Florence. She was always happy to help us out with anything. She and Mrs. Hollywood became buddies along our trip. They said goodbye in proper Nawlins style with a hug and a kiss. But I'm getting a little ahead of myself in this as-of-now northbound Odyssey (with apologies to Steve Goodman and Arlo Guthrie). We did listen to Arlo's version of the anthem to our train on the computer as we rolled "along past houses, farms, and fields." It just seemed like the thing to do.

Our quarters were cold, as the air conditioner mercilessly blasted the marrow of our deep South bones. The controls did not seem to work at all. Florence explained that we were on an older car, and she showed us a trick - stuff towels into the vent. It wasn't the most elegant solution, but it helped tremendously. Grace and Florence worked together to get our bed to fold out (it was a little stubborn). By the time I had fetched the conductor for help, they had it fixed up.

As the evening rolled on, Leo chatted with other passengers and demonstrated proper wrist motions for slinging webs à la Spider Man. We had a coffee pot down the hall and could grab refills whenever.

Finally, it was time to hit the hay. We all managed to fit into the lower bed. It was a tight fit, but not outrageously so. The rocking motion and the white noise of the train put me to sleep rather handily. Mrs. H. had to reposition herself to get comfy.

Breakfast was very early, and limited to a brief window in time. So we had asked Florence for a 5:30 am wake-up knock. This is Mrs. H's normal time to get up back home, as by this time, the feline chorus has already typically dispatched Churchill (the one with the biggest voice) as the envoy petitioning piteously, but firmly, for breakfast.

And on that note, we were very grateful to have Linda Boudreaux as our pet sitter. She is professional, loves animals, and keeps us posted. If you are in the New Orleans area and need pet sitting services, we cannot recommend her enough!

As the sun rose, we got dressed and headed to the dining car for breakfast. The offerings included a Mexicali omelet, French toast, scrambled eggs, and a kind of bread pudding breakfast concoction. We both settled on the omelets, while Lion Boy opted for French toast. Outstanding! The meal also included juice and coffee. Service was excellent.

This is by far a more relaxing alternative to driving, and is certainly better than flying. We could bring two carry-ons apiece (and not the scrawny airline carry-ons either), and this did not include Leo's DVD player, my laptop, or the car seat we brought along for Leo. There was no strip search, no pat-down, no taking off of shoes, no long lines, no surly TSA agents, no worries about toothpaste and shampoo. I was even able to bring my Swiss Army knife onboard. Passengers may bring their own food, and even alcoholic beverages so long as they are consumed in their own sleeper cars. And forget about the airline mentality that a tiny bag of pretzels and a full can of soda somehow constitute top-notch service. This is a much more civilized way to travel that offers a little respite from the post-911 hysteria, not to mention the airline paradigm of being squeezed into a seat with a shoehorn, bombarded with "federal regulations" and phony smiles from people demonstrating how to use a seat belt.

Late morning, we arrived at Chicago's Union Station after being treated to a magnificent view of the skyline. We gathered all our things, said goodbye to Florence and our fellow passengers, and made our way inside. Our train was late, so we had to catch the next train to Milwaukee, which set us back a couple hours.

My typical experience with Chicagoans is that they are unhelpful, dour, impatient, and annoyed to be "bothered" with questions. Sadly, this time was no exception. However, the Chicago waiting area for sleeping car passengers, the Metropolitan Lounge, was magnificent. It was large, filled with comfy chairs, had a computer online for our use, a soda fountain, coffee, and it was possible to avoid the TVs. We were able to stow our luggage in the lounge, and go for a walk.

We strolled around the block, grabbed lunch at a McDonald's, and got back in time to board the Hiawatha to Milwaukee. We had normal coach seats for the hour and a half ride. But we had plenty of room, and were quite comfy. Leo slept the whole way. Upon our arrival, we called the Rev. Tim May to pick us up. This was only the second time Tim and I had met in person. He gave us a ride through Milwaukee over to the monastery.

Our excursion from New Orleans to Milwaukee (obligatory pictures here) was not just good, but grand.

The Glorious

But our experience was only to get gloriously better!

Fr. Tim drove us through Milwaukee to our destination: Holy Hill. The monastery is aptly named, as we zigged and zagged through the wooded country road that climbed higher and higher. The imposing bell towers of the awe-inspiring stone basilica church that came into view signaled that we were getting closer.

Although our retreat formally began at 12:00 noon, it took a while for many of us to arrive. When we got there at about 3:00 pm, most of our crew was there.

Our rooms were the usual small but comfortable accommodations offered at retreat houses. We had access (and exclusive use) of a meeting room (set up with an altar in a recessed window area) in a building a few feet away. Our rooms were also connected to the building that houses the monastery book store. Many of us had not met one another in person. Introductions and handshakes ensued. Some of the men brought their wives and children.

We spent time socializing and becoming familiar with the pleasant, rustic grounds.

Unfortunately, the caterers we had contracted with for meals had apparently skipped town. The new caterers were very nice and accommodating, but were not offering us dinner. So for Monday evening, we headed off to a restaurant close by, the Mineshaft, a vibrant tavern establishment with a large variety of food on the menu, as well as a huge game room upstairs to the pleasure of the children. Dinner afforded yet more opportunity for the men in the SSP and some of the wives in attendance to get to know one another better.

We were all looking forward to the evening's high point - celebration of the Holy Eucharist and the consecration of our lay brother Latif Gaba into the diaconate. Owing to his third shift work schedule, Br. Latif was in his room sleeping while we were all enjoying a fine meal. Some of Br. Latif's family were in town for the service (Latif had previously inquired as to the time of the service in typical Latifian fashion: "I want to let Fatime, and Bedull, and Daut know as soon as I can (my family has such good Lutheran names)."

With dinner ended, we scrambled back to our cars. Mrs. H. and I were a source of myrth to the brethren from the frozen tundra of places like Minnesota - as the early evening temperatures dipping below 70 on the Fahrenheit scale found us shivering. We all headed back to the monastery and met at the meeting room/chapel where the details of the evening's service were all hashed out.

The incense and candles were lit, bulletins distributed, participants vested, procession put into order, and the service was under way. The Pollock boys and Leo Beane helped put incense on the charcoal, and brought the thurible to Br. Latif - who prepared the holy altar. As we began to process, I chanted the first stanza of Veni Creator Spiritus in Latin, and the congregation responded by singing the hymn in English (LSB 499: Come, Holy Ghost, Creator Blest).

Rev. Fr. David Juhl, SSP carried the century-old altar cross of St. Stephen's Lutheran Church in procession and placed it reverently upon the altar. The order of worship followed the liturgy for the daily low Mass said at St. Stephen's, where Rev. Tim May, SSP serves as pastor, and where Br. Latif Gaba, SSP assists him. On this evening we used a mixture of both Latin and English in the service.

After the confession and absolution (which followed the traditional Confiteor service used both in traditional Masses and in the Compline service common to many American Lutheran hymnals, including LSB p. 254), we went directly to the service of making a deacon - largely drawn from the old Book of Common Prayer.

I officiated during this part of the rite. Candidate Gaba was prostrate on the floor. A lengthy litany ensued in both Latin and English. Br. Latif was asked a series of questions concerning his confession of the faith according to Scripture and as confessed by the ecumenical creeds and the Lutheran symbols. At the appropriate part of the service, I installed Br. Latif into his diaconal office. I imposed the deacon's stole over his shoulder and vested him in his dalmatic. Five years ago next month, it was then-Subdeacon Latif Gaba who assisted the Rev. Douglas Punke at my presbyterial ordination, as my own deacon's stole was reconfigured to be worn in the manner of a presbyter/bishop. I was wearing the same red stole on both solemn occasions.

Following the singing of Holy God, We Praise Thy Name (LSB 940), I served as the evening's preacher.

Afterward, Rev. Fr. Tim May took over and served as the celebrant at Mass. Although the surroundings were humble, the spoken liturgy was full and reverent. Fr. Tim distributed the most holy body of our Lord while Br. Latif administered the chalice to all communicants present as we knelt on the floor.

In honor of our Society' patron saint, we closed with By All Your Saints in Warfare (LSB 517), making use of a heretofore unpublished stanza in honor of St. Polycarp, bishop and martyr:

Praise for our patron Polycarp
Our father in the faith.

Whose life, a fragrant off'ring

Led to a
martyr's death.
May we who wear his mantle

Confess Thy Son our Lord,

In life, in death, in battle,

Word of God our sword.

Of course, there were the obligatory pictures, as well as a late night of fellowship and theological reflection.

The next day (Tuesday) was to be our only full day of retreat.

Those of us not accustomed to fasting for morning daily Mass enjoyed breakfast, while those who were fasting snatched up food for later. We had a great time around the breakfast table as Miss Tina cheerfully took care of all our meals for us - which were all quite good!

Following breakfast, we headed back to the meeting room. We celebrated the Mass (of the Holy Angels), and our "preacher" was St. Basil, who proclaims that the angels give glory to God (thanks to the Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, edited by M.F. Toal), read by our celebrant, Fr. Tim May.

Following the service, Fr. Dave Juhl, SSP gave a remarkable presentation on a most relevant book he had recently read: Towards a Renewed Priesthood by Arthur Middleton, a traditionalist Anglican priest. One could simply strike out the word "Anglican" wherever it appears, substitute "Lutheran," and it could be read as-is by contemporary Lutherans (and not just pastors) all over the United States. Thoughtful and pastoral discussion flowed from Fr. Dave's presentation.

I led us in a brief order of prayer, using Responsive Prayer 1 from LSB (page 282) combined with readings from the Treasury of Daily Prayer. We broke for lunch, followed by free time visiting the outstanding bookstore and touring the manicured grounds - including the 178-step ascent up the bell tower (in may case, with an extra person on my shoulders), which was rewarded by a magnificent panorama of the surroundings. We also toured the basilica church and the St. Therese Chapel.

Later in the afternoon, Fr. Dave continued his presentation on the Middleton book.

We went to dinner at a local restaurant called Alpine Retreat. It was pricey, but Mrs. H. and I shared a meal - which made it a little more bearable. The prime rib was very good. Service could have been better. Perhaps the waitress was a transplant from Chicago.

Upon our return, we closed out the day gloriously as Fr. David led us in singing the Order of Compline.

On Wednesday, we rose for breakfast followed by Mass in commemoration of our Society's patron St. Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, a disciple of the apostle John. St. Polycarp was martyred around the year 155 AD. Dr. John Stephenson, theology professor at St. Catharines Lutheran Seminary in Canada has called St. Polycarp the most important Christian saint for our times.

Our "preacher" for the service was Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, a portion of whose writing was read by Fr. Tim May, our celebrant. Fr. Cantalamessa is the remarkably evangelical preacher who is the pope's personal chaplain, a post he has held since 1980. Fr. Tim read from Cantalamessa's extraordinary book The Eucharist: Our Sanctification.

Following the service, Fr. Ben Pollock, SSP gave a brief but informative presentation on the monastic theologian St. John Cassian and his writings on the affliction of acedia (despondancy) - which is analogous to what we call depression today.

Br. Latif Gaba, SSP shared with us an advanced copy of his forthcoming published edition of an English-Latin Psalter, making use of the Coverdale English translation and the Clementine edition of the Vulgate for the Latin. The book is in its final revisions and will be available for purchase very soon!

I closed out the presentations with a brief roundup of Society business to consider in the future.

We met one more time for lunch, followed by an Itinerarium prayer service (employing LSB Responsive Prayer 2, page 285) and again employing readings from the Treasury of Daily Prayer. We prayed this final office in front of one of the magnificent outdoor stations of the cross.

Though this was the end of our glorious retreat, our joy was to continue as Grace, Leo, and I were to be houseguests of Deacon Latif for a couple days. Unfortunately, Latif's wife Ruth was out of town at a conference (she is a librarian at Concordia University - Mequon). Br. Latif drove us back to Milwaukee while playing a CD of Lil Rev, a local musician whose recordings often feature the beloved and sainted Fr. Stephen Wiest playing harmonica. He continued on back to his home on the East Side of Milwaukee - a little urban paradise that made us feel right at home. Latif lives just a couple blocks from Alterra Coffeehouse. It is only a slight exaggeration to call this place heavenly. You can watch the beans being roasted and prepared from your table as you sip on coffee that can only be called extraordinary. The aroma is glorious! If the coffee were any fresher, the beans would still be growing in your mouth. The service at Alterra is top-notch, and to paraphrase the opposite of how John F. Kennedy described the inner workings of Washington, DC, combines northern efficiency and southern charm.

This was only one of several coffeehouses we would visit in our short stay in Milwaukee. All of them are distinct and have their own ambiance and character. But they all had a sense of joie-de-vivre, of not only good service, but genuine friendliness.

Milwaukee is a gorgeous city. Our overall impression is that it is clean, has a real culture of physical fitness, is laid-out well, has all the benefits that access to a lake and several rivers has to offer. Unlike the surly and dour chip-on-the-shoulder Chicago culture, we found the Milwaukee spirit to be remarkably similar to that of New Orleans. People often address one another using endearments, such as "sweetie" or "dear" (Louisianians also use these forms of address, as well as the iconic "dawlin'" and "babe").

After our visit to Alterra, we went back to the Gaba home, visited, unwound, and enjoyed Br. Latif's hospitality. We were treated like visiting royalty. It speaks volumes of a man's character as to how he treats guests in his home. We Christians are exhorted to be hospitable - and this is something the Hollywoods are also working on. Thank you, once again, Latif, for bringing us such joy.

Thursday Morning, Br. Latif kindly indulged our need for morning coffee and we swooped by Alterra on our way to St. Stephen's daily 9:00 am Mass. Fr. Tim May and Br. Latif Gaba led the liturgy, a low (spoken) Mass at the more than 100 year old church. It was an edifying way to start the day.

St. Stephen's is take-your-breath-away remarkable! It is gothic with arches and vaults. The altar is similar to Salem's (my parish in Gretna) - made of polished wood with an Agnus Dei motif carved in the front. There is a beautiful statue of our Lord on the raredos. The stained glass windows simply take one's breath away. This is the only Lutheran church I've ever seen that has a window honoring the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This was Br. Latif's first Mass in his home parish serving as a consecrated deacon. We loaned St. Stephen our thurible, and Deacon Gaba knew exactly how to employ incense in the liturgy.

The eloquent and witty Rev. Mike Carter was also present for Divine Service this morning, as he often is at St. Stephen's.

After Mass, we all went out for breakfast at a coffeeshop whose name escapes me. But the coffee and the food were excellent, and our high view of Milwaukee culture was only confirmed.

After breakfast, we all headed to Marquette University. Br. Latif shared with all of us one of the great treasures of his beloved city: the St. Joan of Arc Chapel at Marquette. This extraordinary 15th century chapel (Chapelle de St. Martin de Sayssuel) was moved from near Lyons, France and rebuilt in the U.S. - ending up at Marquette. It includes the stone (recessed in a windowsill) kissed by Joan of Arc, which stood before a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. There are several artifacts on display dating from as far back as the 13th century.

We popped in quickly inside the university chapel, but we unable to look around too much as services were underway. After saying goodbye to Frs. May and Carter, Br. Latif and the Hollywood family headed to a local Catholic bookstore, mainly to find copies of Fr. Cantalamessa's book on the Eucharist (the store had exactly two in stock!). The lady working at the store was remarkably helpful and obviously pious in her faith.

After having a quick lunch at a local sandwich shop, we decided to crash the party at the Concordia Catechetical Academy (CCA) conference that was going on near Milwaukee. The main reason we wanted to drop by was to say "hello" to the Rev. Dr. Burnell Eckardt and the Rev. David Petersen - both of whom serve as editors of Gottesdienst. It is rare that I get to see these men face to face, so we decided to sneak in to a brief Q&A session in order to greet them afterward.

As non-paying guests, we sort-of sneaked in and took seats in the back. However, Frs. Petersen and Eckardt spotted us, pointed us out from the platform, and every head in the place was soon turned around to look at us. All I could do was offer a sheepish wave. So much for my career as a party crasher. I was never much good at that kind of thing.

After the panel discussion, I greeted the two men, and I was in turn greeted by several gracious folks who actually read Father Hollywood. And Dr. Bender didn't even scold me for dropping in uninvited! Br. Latif purchased a couple of CDs for me as a gift - two talks given at the CCA by his pastor, the aforementioned bluesman and professor, the Rev. Dr. Stephen Wiest.

We had good intentions of returning later in the day to greet the Gottesdienst editors for more fraternal discussion, but that just didn't work out. We are considering attending the CCA conference next year, however. Upon returning to Milwaukee, Latif gave us a tour of Brady Street, and we ate Greek food at the Apollo Cafe. Tasty and delightful!

We dropped in to the local Wallgreen's to get some supplies. Br. Latif bought some M&Ms. As we were paying, the older lady running the cash register had to ask him if he wanted to purchase additional M&Ms in the smaller sized package (it was a promotion the store was running). She explained that she had to ask the question, or she would have been compelled to give the candies away free. She was kind of miffed at this. She whispered to me (clad in my clerical collar): "What the h__ is with that b__s__?" Immediately thereafter, she took hold of my crucifix for a closer look and said: "Nice cross, dear." It was a wonderful "conversation" that made me smile. The exchange made me feel right at home, as folks in New Orleans are also likely to employ such an endearing mixture of mild profanity and affectionate familiarity toward the clergy.

We walked near the lake, and were treated to wonderful views of the cityscape - against a cloudless sky. We returned to the Gaba home and adjourned the day's festivities with ice cream.

On Friday, we began our day with the now-familiar routine: Alterra and Mass at St. Stephen's. At my request, the Mass was offered this time in Latin (which is actually the custom on Monday mornings at St. Stephen's). I snuck a few pictures (without flash) during the service. Afterward, I took a good many photos of the church. Again, the attendees were the deacon and celebrant, the Hollywood family, and Rev. Mick Carter. This was the first time I ever attended a Lutheran Latin Mass. Latin is an extraordinarily beautiful tongue, and I thoroughly recommend its study by all and sundry.

Afterward, we all headed over the the Central Market (I think I have the name right) for coffee and breakfast. The food and the company were delightful. We then all headed on a little pilgrimmage to Stemper's, a church supply house headquartered in Milwaukee. We spent a good bit of time browsing and buying a little bit here and there. Fr. May bought for St. Stephen's a used thurible of the exaclt same type we brought with us for use at our retreat. The owner of the store was very helpful, and seemed genuinely happy to have us browsing in his shop. We then headed to McDonald's for a bite, and proceeded to St. Josaphat's Basilica. To describe this magnificent church as "breathtaking" and "stunning" is an epic understatement. It is simply glorious.

After a brief visit to the basilica bookstore, we bid one last goodbye to Tim and Michael.

Latif continued our magnificent tour by leading us walking downtown by the river. After a brief visit to Border's (as a reward to Leo, who was remarkably well-behaved, especially considering how many churches, services, bookstores, and time with only adults we subjected him to), and after Br. Latif bought Leo a gift from the store, we then stopped at yet another coffeehouse: Mocha's.

With our time winding down, we took a nice stroll along the lakefront by the Discovery World. We got a few more pictures, stretched our legs one last time, and then prepared to head over the the train station.

Br. Latif accompanied us to the train station, hanging out with us until it was time to board. I snapped a nice shot of Leo giving Uncle Latif a hug. He has always loved his "uncle" and several times described Latif as "silly" or "crazy." It was indeed a glorious time (obligatory pictures here).

But now, it was time to board the Hiawatha for the last part of our adventure - which was destined to become a little ugly.

The Ugly

Things started out fine on the Hiawatha returning to Chicago. However, the weather turned ugly, signals were out, and the train was creeping along at times less than 20 mph. At first, the conductor assured us that no connections would be missed, though it was going to be tight. However, as time went on, his optimism waned, and he began to warn us about what to do in the case of missed connections.

At this point, a little background is in order. The Hiawatha arrives in Chicago only 45 minutes before the City of New Orleans departs. When we first booked our trip, I asked if we should take an earlier train from Milwaukee on our return - since the City of New Orleans only runs once a day. In other words, if we miss the connection, we're looking at a 24 hour wait (as well as missing Sunday's service). I was told not to worry about it. The Hiawatha to the City of New Orleans is a guaranteed connection, and if the Hiawatha were running behind, the City of New Orleans would be held.

I should have listened to the little voice in my head instead of the Amtrak clerk.

Anyway, it became apparent that we would not be in Chicago in time to make our connection. I called Amtrak on my cell, explained the situation, and was assured that the City of New Orleans would be held for us. However, a lady sitting near us was getting different information.

This was a cause for concern.

I called Amtrak back, explained this discrepancy, and asked for clarification. I was on hold 15 minutes, just long enoughh for the clerk to return and inform me that the City of New Orleans had left without us.

This was indeed getting ugly.

We arrived 27 minutes after the train left, headed through Union Station, found the office labeled "passenger relations" and asked what our options were. Being in Chicago, we were not only treated to rudeness and indifference, but an amusement and antagonism at our situation.

The conversation took on a Catch-22 feel when Mrs. Hollywood offered: "A guaranteed connection means the connection is guaranteed," to which the clerk replied (no joke, this is the exact exchange): "No, that's not what it means."

The clerk called the station manager, who scolded us for not allowing enough time to make our connection. When we explained the situation, both ladies looked at us skeptically and made snide remarks. It was surreal, and yet so typical of my past experiences with "Chicagoland." New Yorkers are downright compassionate by comparison.

There was no way to get back in time via Greyhound. I was unable to rent a car one way. We were stuck. They put us up in a hotel - a very nice hotel - but we were so steamed that we could not enjoy it in the least.

Another lady was in a similar situation. She was supposed to meet her children, and was concerned about not being able to travel with them. The station manager basically scolded her for being concerned about her children. Nice.

The next day, we took a cab back to Union Station, established ourselves back at the Metropolitan Lounge before swapping out our tickets. Of course, there was no sleeper car available for us - so we were going to be riding 19 hours in coach with a four year old. We accepted our fate and spent all day in the lounge. We read, Leo watched DVDs, and I even managed to watch Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino on my laptop.

Of course, before I could do anything relaxing, I had to find out what to do with my congregation, as I was going to miss Sunday morning services. I called Pr. Kornacki - knowing he was booked. He suggested I call another area pastor who is at this time without a call, Rev. Warren Schulingkamp, who lives in Baton Rouge. I was not optimistic, as this was extremely short notice and on Father's Day to boot. But Pr. Schulingkamp was the anwer to our prayers! He agreed to fill in for me. I e-mailed him all the information he needed, and at least that was settled. Thanks a billion, Warren!

The ugliness of the situation was beginning to dissipate.

Finally, we boarded the train at about 7:30 pm, dragging our baggage to coach. We settled in, and realized that there was no place to plug in Leo's DVD player. Mrs. H. frantically looked for electrical outlets, only finding one seat per car so equipped. All of those seats were taken. This was going to be a long trip for a four-year old.

Just then, a mother and four children hurried onto the train, and took up seats right in front of us. She had also come from Milwaukee, and was running late. She was concerned that she would miss the train, but had just made it. We started to roll, but then backed up, and sat there for more than a half hour. Had this delay been the previous day, we might have been home by this time.

As it turns out, the family in front of us were practically our neighbors, fellow Westbankers. They were from Harvey - the next town over from Gretna. We were like long lost pals. It was so good to be "among our own kind" again. We were soon hanging out like family. Some folks up north might have been shocked that these people whom we consider "our own kind" were black. In spite of the stereotypes and decades of a diet of self-righteous fiction designed to convince northerners of their moral superiority, the reality is that black and white Southerners (especially in Louisiana) feel more at home with each other than with those of our own race from somewhere else.

Leo was soon sitting with the other family and playing with the children. This went on for hours. He had so much fun that the issue of the DVD player never came up. Our neighbor was traveling with daughters aged 13, 9 and an infant, as well as a 3-year old boy. They were all very well behaved, polite, and easy to travel with. Even the baby was quiet. We were all looking forward to getting back home.

A young guy behind us joined the conversation, and seconded all of our impressions about the cultural differences between the regions. Needless to say, he was also greatly looking forward to getting back home. He had just bought a house in the Garden District.

Armed with our letter from the manager entitling us to our meals, we headed to the dining car. The manager stopped us before we could get to the diner car. We explained the situation and showed him our letter. He looked at it skeptically, and initially refused to honor it. Here we go again... I pressed the issue, and he agreed to give us one meal, but he said he needed to keep the letter. I asked for it back, showed him where we were entitled to all three meals. He agreed to give us two meals. Mrs. H. was beginning to turn colors. Fortunately, our waiter assured us he would take care of us, and told us not to worry.

And he sure did take care of us!

He escorted us to our table for each meal, and made sure we had all the courses. Can you guess that he was not from Chicago? He was indeed from South Louisiana.

The only difficult part of the return trip was sleeping. Grace and Leo were on one pair of seats together, and I on one by myself. It was a long night for Grace, though Leo can pretty much sleep anywhere and in any position. Maybe we should have laid him out on a luggage rack or something. As for me, I had trouble getting comfy. I was cold. I was to discover another advantge of the cassock. I unbuttoned it all the way, and, voila, a train blanket. I was having trouble settling my mind, so I put on some headphones and listened to Who's Next. The last song I rememeber before drifting off was Bargain, as my brain was racing to make Christological interpretations of the lyrics. I was sound asleep for the rest of the album - as well as those that followed it on my MP3 player. I remember hearing The Who in my dreams.

Later, I did awake, and changed over to Pink Floyd's The Wall. The tune Comfortably Numb always knocks me out. I fell back asleep until sunrise.

In the morning, we awoke, got dressed, and headed to the diner car for breakfast. The worst of the trip was over. There was to be no more ugly from this point on. We had a lovely breakfast, and having been sufficiently caffinated, returned to our seats.

The closer we got to home, the better our mood became. Leo continued to play with his friends. Another three year old boy appeared on the train, and began to make visits to us. We watched the scenery as we ambled through Mississippi. We enjoyed one last lunch onboard, chatted with the staff (who were interested in the details of our Odyssey), and we went back to our seats one more time.

We rolled once more through the swamps, with the cypresses and Spanish moss seeming to wave "hello" to us, cheering us on home. The last part of the trip was agonizingly long, as we rumbled slowly past the airport and into New Orleans. But we got there safe and sound.

Our parishioners were there to pick us up, take us home, and hang out with us a little while. Boy, we were happy to see them! Our feline friends were obviously well cared for in our absence, but were nonetheless excited to have us back home. Linda had left a detailed log for our perusal, complete with humorous observations of each of our critters, notes that made it very clear she actually spent time with them.


Our grand and glorious trip was only slightly ugly. We cannot recommend train travel enough - especially with a sleeper car. It was a truly pleasurable and civilized way to travel. Just allow lots of time for connections! And get everything in writing. Avoid Chicago wherever possible (the Metropolitan Lounge, excepted). We also recommend a visit to Holy Hill. Plans are already underway for next year's retreat to be held at the same place. We also commend to FH readers the City of Milwaukee. It is a beautiful city, not simply because of its vistas and buildings, but also because of its culture and its people.

We want to thank Br. Latif again for his fine hospitality and for sharing with us the treasures of his city.

It was also a great joy to meet some of the men in the SSP for the first time. Our retreat was spiritually edifying and a great encouragement to both Grace and myself in our sojourn as Christian pilgrims on this side of the grave.

We did see some of the iconic sights from the anthem The City of New Orleans: such as the train pulling "out of Kankakee, the "houses farms and fields," the "trains that have no names" and the "graveyards of the rusted automobiles." We did indeed "feel the wheels rumblin' neath the floor" just like "magic carpets made of steel." There were really "mothers with their babes asleep," that were "rockin' to the gentle beat" and "the rhythm of the rails." We changed "cars in Memphis Tennessee" and rolled "down to the sea."

It was indeed an "Odyssey."

And the whole point of an Odyssey is to be happy to be home. We love our parish, our parishioners, our house, and our beloved city and region. It was good to sleep in our own bed, surrounded by our critters. Even the Lousiana summer heat was a welcome homecoming.

To answer the question raised in song, we do "know what it means to miss New Orleans."

The next day after our return, we went to Sam's Club. We were having so much fun, we didn't realize the store had been closed for 15 minutes. A clerk told us, and we apologized profusely, half-expecting a Chicago-style scolding. It never came. Instead, she joked with us. When we got to the cash register, we also apologized to the clerk working the register. We explained that we were new Sam's Club members and didn't know the hours. Her response was: "You're new? Well, welcome to Sam's Club!"

Yes, indeed, it's good to be back home!


Fr. Timothy D. May, SSP said...

This is not a blogpost, it is a book. You should get it published!

David said...

Amtrak in Chicago being impolite to people? That's par for the course, Fr. Beane. There are stories worse than yours about the unabashed impudence of Amtrak in Chicago. The pleasure is all yours for dealing with them...and they will remind you of that fact all the time!

Nonetheless, I hope to make the journey south on the City of New Orleans one of these days.

Jeremy Clifton said...

Your experience with the "guaranteed" connection reminds me of an experience a friend had a few years back. He was moving and had "reserved" a U-Haul truck, and on the move day, we all gathered to help him load up, and he was nowhere to be found. Turns out there was no truck for him. He was told by the U-Haul staff that just because he had a reservation, it didn't mean he was guaranteed a truck.


We ended up making multiple trips from Raleigh, NC to Winston-Salem, NC with two pickup trucks and a single tiny U-Haul trailer.

I'm glad to hear that you had some good experiences with Amtrak, though. I'm considering traveling via Amtrak to Houston later this summer (driving to Atlanta, then Atlanta to New Orleans and from there to Houston) ... and since I won't be anywhere near Chicago, I feel pretty good about that option. :-)

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Tim:

An epic journey requires epic treatment. ;-) Thanks again for all of your work on the retreat, and for your help with everything!

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Dave:

Please do, and I hope you will make your lodging at Chez Hollywood!

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Jeremy:

Indeed, words don't mean what they once did. I have heard good things about the ride to Houston.

If you have any time at all in NOLA, I hope you will look me up!

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

The week was definitely the highlight of my 2009. Thanks again for your company.

revalkorn said...

I was happy to be of service. I truly regret not being able to fill in on Sunday also. It's always a blessing to serve at Salem.

It's a blessing to serve anywhere, of course, but Salem is a special treat.

Pr. Lehmann said...

I've traveled Amtrak for trips of that distance about 20 times. Mixed results. Always coach.

The make or break difference has always been the quality of the staff on the train. Sometimes they've been amazing, sometimes not so much.

I'm looking forward in just over four weeks to my first Amtrak ride with my wife. I know that even if the staff is bad, this will be my favorite trip!

Scott said...

As a Chicagoan, I feel compelled to apologize for the impression you've received of our city due to the really awful treatment you got from the Amtrak people. It's probably too late to rescue our reputation as a whole city, but I hope you'll be able sometime to come back and be treated better beyond the Union Station world. It's painful to read of your experiences here and understandable that you would have the impression that this is simply "Chicago-style" behavior. All I can say is that there's a much less dour and rude side to the city, and lots of Chicagoans who love our city and would be happy to have a chance to be helpful and welcoming to you. I'm sorry that few or none of those were at Union Station when you were here! Thank you for this wonderful account of your trip to Milwaukee (my native city) and your retreat at Holy Hill, which is very aptly named. All blessings...Scott

Past Elder said...

You kids. You should have been around where there were real trains, like the original California Zephyr, a joint venture of three railroads including "ours", the CB&Q (Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, for which my grandfather and uncle worked).

Then again, I'm adopted. Was born West Side Chicago, St Anne's Hospital. Adopted family was "downstate", which is damn near Kentucky (and they have a musical instrument called a pie-ano), came to Chicago for better jobs. Then we left when I was three for Minnesota, where they still had the CB&Q.

Only thing I like about Chicago is the Blues, like the other Luther in my life, Allison.

And yeah, we don't even reach for light jackets until it gets below freezing. (Well, they don't, I do now being by the grace of God a Cornhusker these days.)

I ain't goin no further south than I did the last time, Chattanooga, East Tennessee suits me fine, unless I get an invite to jam with Jimmy in Shreveport.

revalkorn said...

You'd think a place with so many Polish people would be nicer. Maybe a hundred years of Polish jokes has finally gotten to them.

Past Elder said...

God bless me sideways. Something didn't feel right. Grandpa and Uncle worked for the Chicago & North Western, now part of Union Pacific. Did ride the CB&Q California Zephyr though, hell yes, got a picture of me in the end car reading about the Taylor-Burton divorce to prove it! Road the bleeder all the way back from Oakland CA! Was my first time in Omaha too -- didn't know I'd come back to stay. The station here is a Western Heritage Museum now. (Western as in Jesse James etc, not Western Civ, ya know.)

Peter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
gnesio-lutheran said...

"This is the only Lutheran church I've ever seen that has a window honoring the Sacred Heart of Jesus."

Yes this is unusual, but it would not have seemed too strange to the good Germans who built St. Stephen's 100+ years ago. Meditations on Jesus' Passion and devotion to his Holy Wounds were quite common in the Middle ages. The imagery of the Sacred Heart was popularized by a German Augustinian(!)nun, St. Gertrude. Such devotions, to some extent, survived among some Lutherans even after the Reformation. Indeed, Gerhardt's famous 'O Sacred Head' was based on an earlier meditation on the Holy Wounds attributed to St. Bernard.

If I recall, there is a historic LCMS church in St. Louis (Holy Cross?)which diplays as stained glass St. Veronica's Veil, an image taken from an early Passion legend.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear G-L:

Someone just e-mailed me to tell me that there is a historic LCMS church in New Orleans that likewise has a stained glass of the Sacred Heart.

I wonder if such images are more common among older churches than we would think.

gnesio-lutheran said...

Perhaps so.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart was revived and re-popularized among Roman Catholics late in the 19th century, and now unfortunately it is considered by many to be an exclusively Roman Catholic symbol.

Which is unfortunate, because it is a beautiful emblem of Christ's sacrificial love for His Church.

Anonymous said...

Devotion to the Sacred Heart was revived and re-popularized among Roman Catholics late in the 19th century, and now unfortunately it is considered by many to be an exclusively Roman Catholic symbol.

Sigh. As gently as I can say it, it IS a Roman Catholic symbol. And not meaning to be disrespectful, images of the Sacred Heart are too often sentimental and feminine. Nor am I comfortable with the "apparition" of Jesus to St. Mary Margaret in connection with the Sacred Heart devotion.

I know, I know, with so much of our Synod being "Ablaze" with American evangelicalism I, too, want to see a mighty liturgical revival. But perhaps we should keep it authentically Lutheran?

I guess it's the battle scars of having spent ten years in the Church of Rome.

In the RC devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is inevitably joined to the Immaculate Heart of Mary which leads directly to the Immaculate Conception and other exclusively Roman innovations.

I wonder if those Lutheran churches were former Catholic parishes. I have to say, in all my travels in Germany where I saw some very old Lutheran churches I've never seen that symbol displayed.

But then, I am far more comfortable with the Theology of the Cross than any extrabiblical apparitions.

For what it's worth.


Anonymous said...

Drat, that should have been Margaret Mary as in Margaret Mary Alacoque.


Father Hollywood said...

Dear Christine:

I don't know enough about the history of the Sacred Heart to speak to any of this. I do know that St. Stephen's in Milwaukee (whose pastor is Fr. Tim May, SSP)was built as a Lutheran Church. The opposite stained glass window depicts Luther's Seal.

I don't know that the Sacred Heart of Jesus needs to be depicted in a feminized way. The statue of our Lord on one of the side altars at Zion Lutheran in Detroit, for example, is a statue of Jesus with the Sacred Heart portion removed. He looks like the typically manful Christ.

As far as the Immaculate Conception goes, the only thing exclusively Roman about it is its dogmatization. Luther believed in the Immaculate Conception.

Though there is nothing in Scripture as to how it was done, somehow, the Lord Jesus's perfection was maintained in spite of his real human conception from the virgin Mary.

There is "something about Mary" that makes her unique as a human vessel for our Lord - while Scripture is silent about the details.

Our confessions use the term "sanctissima" ("most holy") to describe the Blessed Virgin - the same epithet used in the once-popular RC hymn "Salve Regina."

The problem with the RC Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is the fact that it was dogmatized. The issue here isn't so much with Mary as it is a matter of the authority of the Church to define dogmatic truth apart from Scripture, including the issue of the authority of the Bishop of Rome to declare such matters based on his own ecclesial authority.

We Lutherans are certainly free to believe in the Immaculate Conception as a theory or explanation of how our Lord was shielded from original sin, while we have no authority to dogmatize it or bind consciences to such a teaching - which is better described as a "pious opinion" rather than church doctrine.

Interestingly, it was just such a pious opinion in the RC Church until it was dogmatized by Pius IX in 1854.

Thanks for your always thoughtful discourse!

Past Elder said...

One of the more interesting aspects of being a confessional Lutheran having been RC pre and post Vatican II is to see Lutherans going on about stuff like it's the greatest thing since sliced bread when to an RC it's just part of the landscape.

All of these devotions, even when OK'd by the church, remain optional in Catholic belief and piety. That's the official stance. Which plays out a little differently irl. The whole Lourdes thing zum B may be optional, yet my high school was named for it complete with replica of the statue of Mary at Lourdes. It doesn't take dogmatisation for the non-binding thing to effectively disappear. They just become things you're either into or quietly ignore along with whatever else you don't get into.

Not to mention that most of the American RCC is in as full a retreat from these pre-VII devotions as the emergent church Ablaze set is from our stuff.

Anonymous said...

Father Hollywood, thank you for your gracious feedback.

Not to mention that most of the American RCC is in as full a retreat from these pre-VII devotions as the emergent church Ablaze set is from our stuff.

Past Elder, I found that to be very true. For many Vatican II Catholics devotions such as the Sacred Heart/Immaculate Heart are downright embarrassing. Walk into most Catholic homes these days and if there's even one crucifix it's amazing (my Catholic in-laws' homes were devoid of Catholic art of any kind).

Confessional Lutherans won't become more "catholic" by adopting the "Catholic" piety of the pre-Vatican II church.

I am aware that Luther retained belief in the Immaculate Conception and my regard for Martin Luther is second to none. But for me he doesn't have the last word on it.


Past Elder said...

Hey, if we get the Sacred Heart thing going, maybe the First Friday part of it will come too.

Then Lutheran schoolboys can enjoy one of the great things their Catholic counterparts enjoy -- the one day in the month when the girls don't have to wear the damn uniforms and you can check them out way better.

Not to mention wondering if school lunch will be haddock patties or fishsticks -- I go for the fishsticks because they are usually served with tater tots.

A heads up though -- "catechesis" that not wearing the uniform is a sign of celebration of the love of Jesus for his church will have limited results for a teen boy for whom the girl who yesterday was a bland figure in a school uniform is to-day knocking your eyes out!

Father Hollywood said...

Interestingly, the school lunches at my parish are purchased from the RC Archdiocese, hence Friday's lunches are often (maybe always) fish. Monday is inevitably red beans and rice, but that's a NOLA thing, not a Roman thing.

Even the most Protty of Lutheran churches often sponsor Friday fish-fries - especially during Lent.

Anonymous said...

Hey, if we get the Sacred Heart thing going, maybe the First Friday part of it will come too.

Hah, yeah, but then we gotta do the First Saturday Devotion to the Immaculate Heart through Our Lady of Fatima which is "intended to make reparation for the offenses, knowingly or unkowingly, directed to Her Most Immaculate Heart."

Nothing in the RC ever stands alone -- it just piles and piles, no matter how far away it gets from the Gospel.

Still, bring on those fishsticks and tater tots!!

Father Hollywood, you are right about Lent. My Lutheran grandmother served fish on Fridays right along with my Catholic grandmother.

That's about the only thing they had in common (-:


gnesio-lutheran said...

"Sigh. As gently as I can say it, it IS a Roman Catholic symbol."

I repectfully disagree.

As I pointed out in my earlier post, this symbol dates to before the Refomation, and was (at least occasionally) used among some Lutherans even after the Reformation. It was apparently not considered "too Roman Catholic" by the stauch LCMS Confessional Lutherans who built St. Stephen's in 1901, and probably other Lutheran churches as well.

That being said, I would certainly agree that the RCC has added a lot of "baggage" since to Reformation, like Sr. Margaret Mary's visions and law-based promises of God's blessings wherever the image is displayed and venerated.

It would probably be extremely difficult pastorally to find an 'evangelical' use for it at this time, when there are much bigger battles to be fought.

But I am not willing to concede the Sacred Heart away to the RCs- it is, in a small way, part of our heritage too.

Past Elder said...

I like fishsticks and tater tots to this day. MOF first dinner when I'm in Boston is right straight to Legal Sea Food to get scrod. Wish they were still in the Park Plaza though.

But man I'll never forget the First Friday when I saw that the smartest girl in class was also a total babe even with her glasses!

Can you get a flour pounded pan fried steak in NOLA, or is that an East Tennessee thing?

Past Elder said...

I agree on that point GL. (Not Green Lantern!) Look at the problems we have even with the word "catholic" let alone the things that are catholic.

What's funny yet painfully ironic to me from that same former RC standpoint is to see so many things on the one hand avoided as "too Catholic" from pre VII and on the other even liturgical types will line up like baby ducks behind mama for post VII novus ordo wannabe liturgies now common among heterodox churches with a liturgical tradition.

Anonymous said...


The references to the Sacred Heart in connection with St. Gertrude are somewhat different than the alleged "revelations" to Margaret Mary Alacoque at a later date. Much of this devotion is tied in to the Jansensim that affected Catholicism, especially in France.

As I said above, it simply can't stand alone, every private devotion ultimately leads to more. You are, of course, free to believe what you want but devotion to the Sacred Heart ultimately leads to its counterpart to the First Saturday devotion to Mary.

I don't think too many Lutherans can swallow this:

The request for this devotion was revealed by Our Lady of the Rosary to Bl. Francisco, Bl. Jacinta and Lucia to whom she appeared at Fátima, Portugal, in 1917. On June 13,1917, Our Lady clearly said to Lucia:

Jesus wishes to make use of you to make me known and loved. He wants to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart.

Our Lady repeated this in the July 13th apparition when, after the vision of Hell that was granted to the three little shepherds, She said:

You have seen Hell, where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace.

She wishes that, as we endure the inconveniences, suffering and heart aches of our daily life, we offer them up accompanying them by the following praying:

O my Jesus, I offer this for love of Thee, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

What a sad departure from the comfort of the Gospels. Does this even remotely sound like the humble Mother of God who rejoices to be the Theotokos, the one who points the way to Him?

As Past Elder wisely observed, what was once optional and undefined becomes proscribed in popular piety.

I know how romantic it all sounds. It wasn't until I was inside the gates of Rome that I began to see what it all leads to in actuality. There are plenty of Catholic symbols that date to before the Reformation and the only thing that proves is how far away from authentic catholic Christianity the RC moved over the centuries.


gnesio-lutheran said...

"What's funny yet painfully ironic to me from that same former RC standpoint is to see so many things on the one hand avoided as "too Catholic" from pre VII and on the other even liturgical types will line up like baby ducks behind mama for post VII novus ordo wannabe liturgies now common among heterodox churches with a liturgical tradition."

I agree- I couldn't care less what the Novus Ordo Roman Church is dong these days, nor do I think we should mimic them for whatever reason. For example, in many RC quarters the (previously suppressed)'Divine Mercy' devotion has trumped the Sacred Heart anyway.

Instead, as Confessional Lutherans we should seek our inspiration in Scripture and the 'best practices' of the historic western catholic tradition. My interest in such things as the Sacred Heart and other symbolism and liturgical niceties has to do with faithfulness to OUR OWN traditions as explained in the Augustana.

gnesio-lutheran said...

"There are plenty of Catholic symbols that date to before the Reformation and the only thing that proves is how far away from authentic catholic Christianity the RC moved over the centuries."

Which is my feeling exactly. I think a Lutheran can view the Sacred Heart as a beautiful symbol of Jesus' sacrificial love for His Church without buying into all the post-Reformation 'visions', law based promises, and pairings with Mary's Immaculate Heart. This is probably how Lutherans saw it 100 years ago.

As with many other historic traditions, Roman misuse does not negate proper evangelical use among us.

But I think we are speaking in the hypothetical in regards to the Sacred Heart- even an 'evangelical' use would be nearly impossible in practice given all the baggage attached.

Anonymous said...

Some of the very excesses in devotional piety that the Roman hierarchy has permitted because of agitation by the laity are the very ones the bishops and pope should have reined in and said, no, this goes beyond what the church has historically taught and believed. Allowing the laity to be in a constant state of agitation for yet another apparition keeps them in an infantile state in which they will not grow into the fullness of the stature of Christ as Scripture admonishes because they aren't going to the source.

As Jaroslav Pelikan observed in his book "Roman Catholicism" it is the nature of the RC church to allow various practices to flourish as long as the unity of the church is not threatened. She takes what is useful from them and then lets them fade away when no longer useful.


Rev. Richard A. Heinz said...

Two quick notes:

1. In regard to the Sacred Heart image, did you know that Historic Trinity in St. Louis (Walther's parish)has a window with the Veil of St. Veronica?

2. I too am sorry for the impression you have received of Chicago. Perhaps it's the Union Station folks more than anything. In general, our experience of Chicago people has been very friendly. Once in a while you get someone grumpy or rude, but often it's welcoming and pleasant.