Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Family of Jesus ~ Mark 3:31-35

Then his mother and his brothers arrived, and remaining outside sent in a message asking him to come out to them. A crowd was sitting round and word was brought to him: "Your mother and your brothers are outside asking for you." He replied, "Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?" And looking round at those who were sitting in the circle about him he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of God is my brother, my sister, my mother."  Mark 3:31-35

We've heard the expression blood is thicker than water - blood family comes first. It might be shocking for us to hear it - really hear it - but Jesus doesn't seem to agree. And we've built up a whole religious culture which we even call Family Values. Jesus would say our ideas about Family Values are too small.

In these verses there are insiders and there are outsiders. The word outside is used twice in two lines. That signifies something. The insiders are those who understand that God's work is happening in Jesus, while the outsiders (which even seems to include his own blood family) are those who don't see who Jesus really is. 

What matters, even more than any earthly tie is doing God's will. It isn't just young people who experience peer pressure, is it? As long as my blood family doesn't get it - they come in second place.  

Elsewhere in the Gospel Jesus is going to teach us "take up your cross and follow me." Losing what I think is life or rejecting what I've been told is life by advertisers, entertainers and media people may very well cause tension and even division in my own family. This is the power of the virgin martyrs - Christian girls who refused to accept the pre-arranged marriages to pagan men in the ancient world. 

So I'm thinking three things:
  • Whoever does the will of God is my brother, my sister, my mother. Perhaps I will have to wait until I traverse to the other side, but a day will come when each of us may well be horrified (in a holy way) to learn who has been doing God's will all along and I either rejected it, condemned it, was bitter about it, or hadn't a clue or any insight about it. 
  • To do God Will - this is what makes me part of Christ's family - his brother, his sister, his mother. What a great privilege! We have a new identity and a new worth, not born of any cultural, national, political, economic or familial claim. This insight changes everything. Mahatma Gandi said:
"You Christians have in your keeping a document (the Gospels) with enough dynamite in it to blow the whole of civilization to bits."
  • Should anyone think in these verses Jesus is minimizing Mary, his biological mother - fear not - if anyone ever did God's will, it was she. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Father Sophrony's Morning Prayer

Father Sophrony was born 1896 in Moscow. From 1926 to 1947 he lived as a monk at Mount Athos in Greece. A disciple of Saint Silouan the Athonite, he founded the Monastery of St. John the Baptist in Essex, England. 

Father Sophrony sent this morning prayer to his spiritual children around the world promising that if they prayed the prayer each morning they'd have a good day. Father Sophrony seems to have composed the prayer employing the thoughts of many Athonite monks before him. An American might call that plagiarism, but the saints don't worry about that - they only want us to pray. I've adapted the prayer only changing a word or two so as to make it more accessible to people today.

Eternal God, Holy King,
maker of heaven and earth,
Jesus Christ, Son without beginning of
the Father without beginning,
who with incomprehensible goodness
has called me from non-being to this life,
who has granted to me the blessing of baptism
and heavenly rebirth
and has set the seal of Thy Holy Spirit
on the members of my body,
as Thou has kindled the desire to seek after Thee,
the only one true God, hear now my prayer.

Neither life nor light nor joy have I,
neither wisdom nor strength except Thee, O God.
I am not worthy to look upon Thee, 
for the multitude of my sins.
But as Thou has said to Thy disciples,
"Whatsoever you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive,"
and, "If you ask anything in my name, I will do it,"
in daring I call to Thee.
Cleanse me of every impurity of flesh and spirit
and teach me how to pray to Thee worthily.

Bless this day which Thou has given me,
thy unworthy servant, and with the power
of thy blessing, permit me at all times,
and in every place, with pure heart, 
to speak and act unto thy glory,
with patience, wise humility and love,
in the spirit of peace, meekness, magnanimity
and wisdom, and to regard thee before my own needs.
Make known to me, O Lord, the way of thy will, 
according to thy boundless goodness, 
and grant me to walk blamelessly before thy face.

Thou, King of Peace, see into the depths
of hearts and innermost parts.
Thou knowest my poverty and mindlessness.
Thou knowest my blindness and ignorance,
but thou seest my heart's desire 
and my soul's sickness and sorrow are not
hidden from thee.
Hearken then unto my prayer, 
and by thy Holy Spirit direct me to the true land.
Whenever my corrupt will should lead me
along strange paths, then I pray thee,
spare me not, but by constraint bring me back to
the path of thy Holy Commandments. 
By the power of thy Love, let me follow in thy
footsteps, wherever thou goest. 

Protect me from every soul-destroying
word and deed, from every agitation of 
heart and mind which may sorrow thy Holy Spirit
or grieve my brother or sister.
Teach me what it is fitting to say
and how to say it.
If it be thy will that I keep silent,
give me the sense to keep silent in the spirit of peace,
not like those who outrage or trouble my neighbor.
Order me in the ways of thy statues and even
until my last breath do not let me deviate
from the light of thy commandments,
so that they commandments shall be the sole law
of all my being, both now and ever.

My blessed maker, be merciful to me,
thy fallen creature, be generous with me 
in my humility and sorrow, 
and hide not from me the way of thy salvation.
Many and great things I ask of thee, O my God,
but forget not my corruption and uselessness.
Therefore, have mercy on me, and turn not thy
face from me, on account of my audacity,
but all the more, increase in me the holy audacity,
and make me worthy, most wretched of all,
to love thee, as thou has commanded us,
with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind
and all my strength. 
With all my being, may I love thee.

O Lord King, by thy Holy Spirit,
teach me prudence and wisdom.
Grant me to know thy truth before I 
descend into my grave.
Prolong my days in this world so that I may
bring to thee the worthy fruits of repentance.
Do not carry me off in the midst of my days,
nor in the darkness of my mind.
But when thou mercifully permittest the end of 
my life, warn me, so that my soul will be 
prepared to see thee.
On that great day, at that final hour, 
be with me, O Lord, and grant me ineffable joy.
Cleanse me of my hidden things and
from all unlawfulness lurking in me,
and grant me to bring a good defense at
thy judgment.

Yes Lord, according to thy great mercy
and thy immeasurable love for humankind,
hear my prayer. Amen.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple

There are more than a few things in the Bible (and the New Testament is no exception) wherein story elements offend or confound our own contemporary sensibilities - like Jesus releasing the demons and the herd of pigs goes over the bluff and into the sea and drowns. Bible writing is ancient and it's unrealistic to expect that all the facets of the story will make sense to our way of thinking and living.

Joachim and Anne had prayed long for a child. And when God answered their prayer in the birth of Mary, they were  so grateful, at age three they presented her to the priest in the Jerusalem temple to live! Some young people feel exiled in being sent to summer camp or a residential school, but Mary was sent away as little more than a toddler. But the story is told so we can understand how profoundly God-centered her life was. Let's look for what's beautiful and good in the story and not worry about "How could they...!"  which would be to look at the story too simply.

There's resurrection in this young Mary, isn't there? The going up the stairs is important! And she is not only dressed in white, but she seems to radiate light from within. And Joachim, her father, is holding an empty glass jar. Was the painter just showing off that he had the skill to paint a transparent object? Maybe it signals Mary being emptied for God's purposes. Or Mary's transparency of soul!

Our Father...

At her Presentation at age three, Mary climbed the temple steps. Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel has said in an interview, "I think every human being is almost by  definition capable of hatred. But what I've learned is that a child until the age of three is not. A child begins to hate at the age of three. In other words, the child has been taught how to hate." Hate is strong feelings against other people. With Mary, I want to climb inner temple steps: up and out of ignorant hatred, to insight, consciousness and understanding.

Hail Mary!

In the ancient biblical world, to be childless cause terrible suffering, sadness and shame. By the time God answered their prayer for a baby Joachim and Anne were already elderly. God's ways are often very strange to us. But even though they had waited so long for this child, the parents were quick to keep their promise to give the child to God's care - placing God first by allowing Mary to be brought up in the temple. And while this may be seemingly impossible for us understand, we might at least pause to consider how I might come a bit closer to that reality. What could it mean for me?

Hail Mary!

Old Zechariah received the three-year-old Mary who climbed the steps unassisted to to the Holy of Holies. It was right for Mary to climb the temple steps - she is higher than the angels. And when she reached the top, Zechariah took her by the hand, leaning on her as if she were a little staff who would lead him to the Holy. Then she went past the veil into the deepest and most secret place of the temple, where only the High Priest was allowed to enter once a year. Oh Lady, enter with your brightness, and light up the inner places where I am blinded by shadow and dark inclinations.

Hail Mary!

Presentation means to make a gift of something. At first glance it looks as if Joachim and Anne present Mary to Zechariah for life in the temple. But when Mary climbs the stairs and enters the holy place, we sense she is presenting herself to God and for God's purposes. Each day I can make a presentation of myself ~ like the glass jar Joachim holds, presenting myself to God, waiting eagerly to be filled.

Hail Mary!

There is something very beautiful about Mary that draws even non-believers to her. Do I notice that even as a little girl, she is fully dressed? That pleases us somehow. Maybe deep inside we feel shame that today in our country, everything is sold by sex - even soda and cars. Undressing is celebrated and expected. Our dancing is no longer elegant and disciplined but now sexualized in a primitive way. Women and girls are exploited for sex, and even the nakedness of little children is desired, sought after and paid for. Mary is modest, which means: not everything has to be shown and seen. It is a very beautiful virtue.

Hail Mary!

The Child Mary climbed the steps before the temple altar and on the third step, she danced, and all of Israel loved her. In many  traditional dances, there are patterns and rules to follow and someone leads while taking the hand of the other. Oh, let's take the hand of Mary who leads the joyful  dance that guides souls. And let's pray that she would lead us out of the abyss of self-loathing; out of the inner land of lies, dark and hateful thoughts - to the contemplation of God's face.

Hail Mary!

The Infant Mary was the fruit of Joachim's and Anne's long, fervent and persevering prayer. And there are people who say, "Oh I tried prayer; it doesn't work." Some people keep daily tabs on the performance of their stock portfolios and make adjustments to maximize their profits. Some people have never missed an episode of a favorite TV series. Some people people spend countless hours talking on the phone everyday with the same friends. But prayer? "Oh I tried that; it doesn't work!" Oh heaven, how we use and abuse you!

Hail Mary!

There is a book for children about the years in which Mary lived in the temple as a young girl: Mary was blessed by God with all goodness. She became very strong in her faith. She was humble, kind, helpful and friendly to everyone. She offended no one, nor spoke ugly words. She never allowed unclean thoughts to enter her heart. And so she grew in wisdom and grace blessed by God. I want to be this alive too: growing in wisdom and grace. 

Hail Mary!

Mary was presented to God in the temple at age three. And at Mass there is the presentation of the bread and wine to be transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. There is nothing in our culture any more which invites transformation - only the transformation of how much weight I can lose with these pills over a weekend, or whose face can be transformed most successfully by surgery. But the best transformation is from hatred to kindness, justice, mercy and compassion. And when I have undergone that transformation, then I am free. But it begins with an oblation: a conscious offering of myself to God, who wants so much to grow-me-up in goodness.

Hail Mary!

We know almost nothing of the twelve years which the young Mary lived while in the temple. She lived with other girls. Widows helped to care for her. We can imagine Mary quite alone with God. Her life was lived with no publicity. God was building a living temple in which Jesus the Savior would live. God is heard in silence. But what did the young Mary hear? Surely God's law which says: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with your whole mind." (Matthew 22:37,38)

Hail Mary!

Glory be to the Father...

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Intercessions ~ Feast of Christ, King of the Universe

This month Pope Francis will visit Turkey where he will meet with the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew./ We pray for the Pope's safety/ and for his visit and message to bear fruit./ We pray to the Lord.

Every day brings news of death,/ calamity and terror./ We pray boldly for the conversion of those who do violent and deadly things,/ and for the inner healing of those who hate in God's name./ We pray to the Lord

The liturgical year draws to its close today./ Grant us grateful hearts for this past year of grace and growth in holiness./ We pray to the Lord.

Much of our country has already experienced winter weather./ We pray for travelers,/ the unemployed and all who are burdened by the demands of winter./ We pray to the Lord.

There are two and a half million homeless children in our nation./ We pray to recognize this great shame/ and for the willingness and resolve to make it right./ We pray to the Lord.

A three hundred and twenty five million dollar baseball contract was signed this week in our country./ We ask God to teach us right thinking in our world of hunger,/ thirst,/ nakedness,/ disease and illiteracy./ We pray to the Lord.

And for all of those who have died this week/ we ask for heaven's healing and mercy/ and consolation for those who are grieved and mourning./ We pray to the Lord.