Please take a bulletin home with you from church …

George Weigel

Ah, the wonders of the Internet. You never know what’s going to turn up — or what others are going to find for you. A young priest studying in Rome (who just may have too much time on his hands) recently passed along the following round-up of bloopers from church bulletins and pulpit announcements. You may be dubious; he assures me that none of these are fakes:

“Bertha Belch, a missionary from Africa, will be speaking tonight at Calvary Methodist. Come hear Bertha Belch all the way from Africa.”

“The ‘Fasting and Prayer’ Conference includes meals.”

“Our youth basketball team is back in action at 8 p.m. in the recreation hall. Come out and watch us kill Christ the King.”

“Ladies, don’t forget the rummage sale. It’s a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Don’t forget your husbands.”

“The peacemaking meeting scheduled for today has been canceled due to a conflict.”

“Please remember in prayer the many who are sick of our community.”

“Smile at someone who is hard to love. Say ‘Hell’ to someone who doesn’t care much about you.”

“Don’t let worry kill you off — let the Church help.”

“Miss Charlene Mason sang, ‘I will not pass this way again,’ giving obvious pleasure to the congregation.”

“For those of you who have children and don’t know it, we have a nursery downstairs.”

“Next Thursday there will be tryouts for the choir. They need all the help they can get.”

“Barbara remains in the hospital and needs blood donors for more transfusions. She is also having trouble sleeping and requests tapes of Pastor Jack’s sermons.”

“The Rector will preach his final sermon, after which the choir will sing, ‘Break Forth into Joy.”

“Irving Benson and Jessie Carter were married on October 24 in the church. So ends a friendship that began in their school days.”

“At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be ‘What Is Hell?’ Come early and listen to our choir practice.”

“Eight new choir robes are currently needed due to the addition of several new members and to the deterioration of some older ones.”

“The Scouts are saving aluminum cans, bottles, and other items to be recycled. Proceeds will be used to cripple children.”

“Please place your donation in the envelope along with the deceased person you want remembered.”

“Attend and you will hear an excellent speaker and have a healthy lunch.”

“The church will host an evening of fine dining, super entertainment, and gracious hostility.”

“Potluck supper Sunday at 5 p.m. — prayer and medication to follow.”

“The ladies of the church have cast off clothing of every kind. They may be seen in the basement on Friday afternoon.”

“This evening at 7 p.m. there will be hymn singing in the park across from the church. Bring a blanket and come prepared to sin.”

“Ladies Bible Study will be held Thursday morning at 10 a.m. All ladies are invited to lunch in the Fellowship Hall after the BS is done.”

“The pastor would appreciate it if the ladies of the congregation would lend him their electric girdles for the pancake breakfast next Sunday.”

“Low Self-Esteem Support Group will meet next Thursday at 7 p.m. Please use the back door.”

“The eighth-graders will be presenting Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ in the church basement Friday at 7 p.m. The congregation is invited to attend this tragedy.”

“Weight Watchers will meet at 7 p.m. at the first Presbyterian Church. Please use double door at the side entrance.”

The moral of the story? Please do take home a bulletin when you leave the church. You never know what you might be missing.

COMING UP: A man for strengthening others

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When the choirs of angels led Father Paul Mankowski, SJ, into the Father’s House on September 3, I hope the seraphic choirmaster chose music appropriate to the occasion.  Had I been asked, I would have suggested the Latin antiphon Ecce sacerdos magnus as arranged by Anton Bruckner. The all-stops-pulled moments in Bruckner’s composition, deploying organ, brass, and full choir, would have been a perfect match for Paul Mankowski’s rock-solid Catholic faith, his heroic ministry, and his robust literary and oratorical style; the a capella sections, softly sung, mirror the gentleness with which he healed souls. Above all, I would have suggested Bruckner’s motet because Father Mankowski truly was what the antiphon celebrates: “a great priest who in his days pleased  God.”

We were friends for some 30 years and I can say without reservation that I have never met anyone like Paul Mankowski. He was off-the-charts brilliant, an extraordinary linguist and scholar; but he wore his learning lightly and was a tremendous wit. He rarely expressed doubts about anything; but he displayed a great sensitivity to the doubts and confusions of those who had the humility to confess that they were at sea. He could be as fierce as Jeremiah in denouncing injustice and dishonesty; but the compassion he displayed to spiritually wounded fellow-priests and laity, who sought healing through the work of grace at his hands, was just as notable a feature of his personality.

His curriculum vitae was singular. The son of working-class parents, he put himself through the University of Chicago working summers in a steel mill. He did advanced degrees at Oxford and Harvard, becoming the sparring partner of a future Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, at the former, and delving deeply into the mysteries of Semitic philology – unfathomable, to most of his friends – at the latter. He taught at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and was pastor of an English-speaking parish in Amman, Jordan. Wherever he was, he lived like a true ascetic; he was also the best company imaginable at a meal or a party.

He was a writer of genius, although his published bibliography is considerably slimmer than it might have been, thanks to the years when he was silenced or censored by his religious superiors. A good example of his ability to combine keen insight and droll humor is his 1992 dissection of the goings-on at the annual convention of the American Academy of Religion (available here). More recently, Father Mankowski drew on his extensive experience as a confessor and spiritual director to pen, with his superiors’ permission, a respectful but sharp critique of his fellow Jesuit James Martin’s book, Building a Bridge (available here). In the decades between those two pieces, and when permitted to do so, he published essays and reviews on a wide range of topics, including literature, politics, Church affairs, biblical translations and the priesthood, while sharing his private musings with friends in a seemingly endless series of pungent parodies, revised song lyrics, and imagined news stories.

Years ago, his friend Father Richard John Neuhaus dubbed Father Mankowski one of the “Papal Bulls:” Jesuits of a certain generation notable for their intellectually sophisticated and unwavering Catholic orthodoxy, which often got them into hot water of various temperatures (including boiling) with their Ignatian brothers and superiors. Paul Mankowski was no bull, papal or otherwise, in a china shop, though. He relished debate and was courteous in it; what he found off-putting was the unwillingness of Catholic progressives to fight their corner with a frank delineation of their position. This struck him as a form of hypocrisy. And while Father Mankowski, the good shepherd, often brought strays back to the Lord’s flock, he was unsparingly candid about what he perceived as intellectual dishonesty, or what he recently deplored as “ignoble timidity” in facing clerical corruption. Paul Mankowski was not a man of the subjunctive, and he paid the price for it.

He is beyond all that now, and I like to imagine St. Ignatius of Loyola welcoming him to the Father’s House with a hearty “Well done, my son.” In this valley of tears, freshly moistened by those who mourn his untimely death at age 66, Father Paul V. Mankowski, SJ, will be remembered by those of us who loved him as a man and a priest who, remaining faithful to his Jesuit and sacerdotal vocations, became a tower of strength for others. This was a man of God. This was a man, whose courageous manliness reflected his godliness.