Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Sunday Intercessions ~ Twenty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Over one million children have fled the deadly conflict in Syria./ We pray for them/ and for the many millions of persons displaced throughout the world./ And for the moving of hearts to shelter the homeless./ We pray to the Lord.

In Egypt, stores are closed and people are afraid to leave their homes to search for food,/ while in our own country there is tremendous waste./ We pray for those who are hungry/ and for our own conversion./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for the Church/ locally and worldwide./ We ask for the up-building of the Church where it very young,/ where it is sorely in need of renewal,/ or where the Church is in trouble for Christ./ We pray to the Lord.

In many places people have forgotten that the child is a gift./ We pray for children who are ignored,/ violated,/ afraid,/ unwelcomed/. For attentive and compassionate hearts./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for the un-employed and the under-employed,/ the sick,/ the prisoners,/ and the elderly who are untended./ We pray in solidarity with persons who live without inner peace,/ and for marriages and families which are stressed./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for the safety and well-being of  children and young persons returning to school,/ and for their parents and teachers./ We pray to the Lord.

Finally/ we pray for the faithful and the not-so-faithful departed,/ asking for the forgiveness of sins and the gifts of eternal life promised by Jesus./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Late Summer Thought on Christ

copyright R.W. Scott Birds in Flight

THIS TIME OF YEAR IN MUCH OF THE UNITED STATES people take delight in the American Golfinch which is found throughout large parts of the country. In the summertime the male is bright yellow with black markings. The female remains hidden and less observable as she remains brown.

In the Middle Ages, finches of varying kinds were painted in the hands of the Infant Christ. As seen here the Goldfinch has a preference for thistle seeds which are symbolic reminders of the Passion of Jesus. Thickets and thorny brush are favorite places for Goldfinch nesting ~ imaging Jesus crowned with thorns.

The legend is quite tender: that the Goldfinch (like the robin) flew near the Crucified Jesus, and as it pulled a thorn from Jesus' crown, a drop of Blood stained the bird's head. The sign of that closeness to the suffering Jesus has been passed down through the centuries.

To be marked  with the Passion of Christ it seems then that I need to draw near to the suffering of the other:

in an eagerness to offer comfort,
in my careful listening to the anxieties of the other,
in my non-complaint,
in my alleviation of suffering as I'm able,
in my prayer,
in not averting my eyes.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Holy Prophet Jeremiah

SOME PEOPLE THINK THAT A PROPHET is someone who simply foretells the future. That's too simple and misses the prophet's larger role. The quote below (which came to me without authorship) clues us in and deserves a second and even third reading. The paragraph begins, "The prophet is a man..." Of course women can be prophets too.
"The prophet is a man who feels fiercely, God has thrust a burden upon his soul and he is bored and stunned by man's fierce greed. Prophecy is the voice that God has lent to the silent agony, a voice to the plundered poor, to the profaned riches of the world. God is raging in the prophet's words. The prophet is intent on intensifying responsibility, is impatient with excuses, contemptuous of pretense and self-pity. His tone, rarely sweet and caressing, is frequently consoling and dis-burdening; his words are often slaying even horrid - designed to shock rather than edify."

Jeremiah is called a major prophet. Maybe that means he's especially worth paying attention to. He lived a little more than 600 years before Jesus. Isaiah would be another major prophet. But while Isaiah eagerly and happily embraced God's call by answering, "Here I am, send me,' Jeremiah squirmed and claimed that he was too young and didn't have public speaking skills. But God wouldn't hear  it and replied, "Get yourself ready."

We have to let God be God. Maybe that's why so many people today distance themselves (even bitterly) from God and the hearing of anything having to do with religion: God's going to say, "Get yourself ready," and we'd rather be left alone to do our own thing.

  • On  the day of baby's birth God saying, "Get yourself ready."
  • On wedding day, "Get yourself ready."
  • When we know it's time to do something about the addiction, "Get yourself ready."
  • When there's a new person in the class, the office, the carpool, the club, "Get yourself ready."
  • When a loved one decides to tell it like it is about my behavior, "Get yourself ready."
  • When the priest delivers a challenge to the parish that has nothing to do raising money for the next building project, "Get yourself ready."
  • When  I (we) need professional help, "Get yourself ready."

It's said that Jeremiah is the first prophet to call people to an understanding of their personal stance or relationship with God. We might wonder if this caused him trouble as religious leaders might have seen this invitation as a threat to their communal control - read - they were afraid they'd lose money.

All prophets have enemies for their disquieting messages. Prophets demand change. You can't stay stupid, ignorant,  lazy or indifferent around a prophet. Prophets are always calling people away from the lies we tell ourselves.

False worship isn't just putting incense in front of a statue of an animal-God or sacred pole. "One Nation Under Guns" it's now being said. Defending the so-called military complex "come hell or high water,"  caring about the stability of a country only because it protects our own national interests, Political Party over the gospel,  entrusting my own opinions with more listening-reverence than they deserve, quick to resort to power as the answer to every problem, a greater familiarity with my stock portfolio than my bible. This is false worship. 

It's said that perhaps more than any other prophet, Jeremiah felt the depth and magnitude of the work God set for him to accomplish. It's not easy to deliver a message that's unpopular, that's going to cause me to lose customers, votes or a thumbs up. 

God said to Jeremiah, "Aren't my words like fire and a hammer struck against rock?" In other words, "I know how deeply you feel this." But do I feel the depth of God's Word? Even the priests have to ask this of themselves. Archbishop Anthony Bloom said we "shouldn't pray until we feel something." So much for rote religion. I'm thinking of priests who at Communion time look over the heads of the people to see how long the line is, while chanting in a robo-voice, "Body-a-Christ, Body-a-Christ, Body-a-Christ. 

Aren't my words like fire and a hammer against rock?

And then, Jeremiah is sometimes called the Weeping Prophet. No doubt because he is believed to be the author of the Biblical Book of Lamentations - a great weeping over the destruction of God's holy City. Is there any weeping in me as I stand before God? My sins? The horror of the world? All the unnecessary death? The constant resorting to war? The old hatreds that won't go away?

Until about 1965 the priest wore a vestment over his left arm at Mass called a maniple. The word comes from the Latin  for hands-ful. It disappeared because it was thought to have become irrelevant. In the 60's when there were so many changes taking place in the Catholic Church, instead of teaching people the meaning of things, they were just abandoned. 

A maniple was a kind of stylized handkerchief. It meant the priest ought to take a weeping heart to the foot of the cross - the hands of the heart full of suffering-tears for the world in all of its pain and foolish error. In a way we all wear a maniple.

Young Pope John Paul II wearing a maniple

May I deserve, O Lord, to bear the maniple of weeping and sorrow in order that I may joyfully reap the reward or my labors. (Priest Vesting Prayer)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Sunday Intercessions ~ Twenty First Sunday Ordinary Time

The Intercessions prayed at Sunday Mass are usually taken from any number of books that are available from a variety of sources. These prayers are generic as they have to fit all kinds of worshiping communities: urban, suburban, rural, chapels in institutions, college campuses. They usually follow a "For....that...." pattern: For the Holy Father, that he may... They don't  speak to any current event or concern as they would quickly go out of date. They seldom speak to conscience pointedly or to our communal and personal transformation. I can only imagine that is so because we're not reflecting very deeply or we don't want to upset anyone with the challenge of the Gospel.

I'm making a set of Sunday Intercessions available each Thursday on this blog for anyone who wishes to use them in any way. The hatch marks / are a kind of speed bump which slows the reader down. Many Lectors read the intercessions so quickly, they lose their effectiveness as prayer. The opening and closing parts are left to the celebrant. Even if your parish priest isn't interested in using them at Mass, we might pray them at home as a preparation for Mass or in church while we wait and  get ready. 

Syria and Egypt are countries of ancient Christianity./ Many thousands have died in conflicts and unrest the past few weeks./ Huge numbers of people are now refugees./ We pray for these troubled lands/ asking for the restoration of calm./ We pray to the Lord.

In the late summer we pray for the maturation of faith in our parish communities/ asking for the spiritual gifts we need to draw people to Christ./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for the safety,/ health,/ and well-being of the nation's children these days before returning to school./ For minds that are open to learning/ and a blessing for those who teach./ We pray to the Lord.

We ask for the healing and strengthening of family members/ especially aware of those who are addicted,/ anxious,/ troubled mentally or spiritually,/ or who are out of work./ We pray to the Lord. 

We entrust the sick to God's care,/ mindful of those who receive no medical attention,/ those in great pain/ or who are facing long-term or terminal illness./ And for people who help in caring for the sick./ We pray to the Lord.

Finally/ we pray for those who have died/ especially those from among family,/ friends,/ co-workers and fellow parishioners./ We ask for the forgiveness of sins and their enjoyment in seeing Jesus face to face./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

She Who Renders Hardened Hearts Soft

THIS UNUSUAL ICON IS TITLED: MOTHER OF GOD WHO RENDERS WICKED HEARTS SOFT. But I've taken the liberty of changing it to Mother of God Who Renders Hardened Hearts Soft because I suspect the title is an inadequate translation from perhaps Russian or Greek and because it better reflects the verse in Psalm 95:  If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

The icon is not ancient, but contemporary, and there is nothing written that I can find which presents the theology of the image. That leaves us a certain freedom in speaking about it. As there are seven swords surrounding Mary's heart, it isn't likely that it is intended to be a simple and too literal reflection of Simeon's Prophecy to Mary, "And a sword shall pierce your heart..." 

Rather we might call to mind that the Western Church speaks of the Seven Sorrows of Mary. That blending of Eastern and Western themes will displease icon-purists.

I think the image reminds us symbolically that Mary's heart knows sorrow deeply (the swords are double edged). And it is out of that wounded and sensitized place that she seeks to soften hearts: the heart of the world, the nation, the church, our families, each of us personally.

Ohio church burning, having welcomed the gay and lesbian community

A great hatred has seized our country,
but which we disquise
with language

O Lady, render hardened hearts soft.

Where government fails
the common good
the children
the needs of the poor
the water
the land
the air.

O Lady, render hardened hearts soft.

The nation covered
by a
great wave
of discourteous
media pandering.

O Lady, render hardened hearts soft.

Lies raging more
than the wild fires
that have plagued the
nation this summer:
advertising lies,
government and
military lies,
pharmaceutical and
corporate lies,
Church lies,
news-entertainment lies,
court room lies,
business lies...

O Lady, render hardened hearts soft.

The country is infected;
decay has set in
through the wounds of
resistant prejudice
the loss of character and
the love of violence
the desire for things and
the celebration of  power,
that we have failed our children
even from the womb.

O Lady, render hardened hearts soft.

"In this town
if you're different,
you're in trouble,"
a school teacher
told me.

O Lady, render hardened hearts soft.

At a summer state fair
the president was
and mocked.
It felt 
like a Klan rally,
an observer reported.

O Lady, render hardened hearts soft.

"We didn't start paying 
attention to the Vietnam War
until there were
dead American soldiers,"
the History professor said.

O Lady, render hardened hearts soft.

The church-lady
boasted around town
of how she got so much
hillside brush cleared
on the cheap -
the desperate Eastern European workers
ignorant of the value of a dollar
and needing ticket money home.

O Lady, render hardened hearts soft.

This one-line prayer is called an aspiration: The lifting up of spirit-soul, as on an exhale.

O Lady, render hardened hearts soft.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

QUIZMO, Downs and Kindness

MY FRIEND LISA HAS TAUGHT fourth grade for years. One afternoon, the class set out to strengthen their arithmetic skills by playing a few rounds of QUIZMO  (multiplication BINGO). When Lisa placed the basket of Dollar Store prizes on her desk, nine year old Mia, announced how she intended to win the eye-catching pink flamingo. Alas, Sarah won the first round and went up the aisle to choose her prize...which of course was the pink flamingo. Mia, overwhelmed with emotion, dissolved into hidden and quiet tears of disappointment. But as Sarah left the teacher's desk, flamingo in hand, she took the long way back to her seat, discreetly placing the stuffed toy on Mia's desk. Saint Paul writes: Love is patient, love is kind.

At the end of the school year Lisa's fourth graders qualified for the Kickball Tournament which involved everyone, including the special needs students who are part of every classroom. Kickball superstars, Colby, Tristyn and others delayed and fielded poorly so the special needs children could get on base - even to letting others make it home to score. It cost the class the game and the championship. But what cheers when Emily, a classmate with Downs Syndrome, made it home!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Mary's Assumption ~ Her Easter!

Coptic Dormition ~ Mary leaves her belt behind 

COSMOLOGY HAS TO DO WITH HOW PEOPLE SEE THE UNIVERSE. An ancient cosmology taught that Hades (the land of the dead) was below us and heaven above, with us sandwiched in between. Indeed during the Soviet years elderly women were taken up in planes to show them that heaven was not in the sky above. So these Ascension and Assumption images which have Jesus and Mary flying through space have more to tell us than, "We'll find them if we just go up high enough."

Maybe their going up though suggests that theology begin to reflect more on space itself. The Christmas Carol Unto Us a Boy is Born comes to us in Latin (Puer nobis nascitur) from the late 16th century Germany. We might be able to sing the verse here:

Unto us a Boy is born!
King of all creation
Came He to a world forlorn
the Lord of every nation.

King of all creation! We need to reflect more on the title Cosmic Christ. Remember the psalm verse - He knows the number of the stars and calls each one by name. (Psalm 147:4)

And  aren't we capable of  a new appreciative awe as we gaze at the stunning images sent back to us from the Hubble Space telescope. Hubble Ultra Deep Field. For a million seconds the telescope peered into a patch of black sky and this is what it revealed was out there!

To look at the image is to see light that originated billions of years ago!  And not only that, but when someone sent me an image similar to this there was a caption beneath that read, "These are not stars, they're galaxies."  Outside Orlando, Florida there is a shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary under the title: Queen of the Universe. Oh, to contemplate this!

But while we consider with satisfaction that there are objects in the sky that make life easier and more pleasant for us - satellites and jets that connect us - there are also new weapons of war that we're  becoming familiar with only lately because they have been kept secret for so long. 

Drones are un-manned robot controlled rocket-laden aircraft that our country is presently using in Pakistan and Yemen. The use of drones is increasingly explained and debated on websites and publications that claim to be more or less authoritative. We have homework to do. Martin Luther King, Jr. said: "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."  Ishaan Tharoor is a staff writer for TIME Magazine. In February of this year he wrote: "The more we learn about drones the more we should know about who they kill." 

For days in this Assumption Countdown we've been looking at the most amazing images of the Holy Mother and Child. But if we're going to contemplate these images we need to see the other images of Mother and Child found throughout our weapon-burdened world. Thousands of civilians have been killed by drone attacks, among them hundreds of children.

This woman with her four year old child, killed by a drone rocket, are a holy mother and child too. That's not a political statement. It's not an anti-American statement. It's not a liberal statement. It's a human-spiritual statement. One could say that as the Catholic and Orthodox Churches so feature icons in their prayer and worship, it is incumbent upon them to pray before this icon too. 

Now some people will say, "I can't look at this," "This is too upsetting." "You ruined my Assumption Day with this picture." Of course it's upsetting. All the more why it should be placed next to the icon of the Mother of God and Her Divine Son in our homes - where the candle burns. Some think we have the luxury of not having to see these things. We don't, especially Christians who venerate the Virgin Mary and her Christ-Son.  I'd even suggest that if we don't see these things, we really can't pray rightly.

Collateral means: "We didn't mean to hit the school." "The playground wasn't the target." "It's regrettable that the family was in the way." "It was an accident." "The robo-drone was aimed at the cave, but the boy and his sheep walked too close."

Mark 9: 35-37

I can't say if Carl Bloch knew that a palm branch is the symbol of victory. This is why we hold palm branches before Easter, celebrating Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem as he began the holy work of his dying and victorious rising. In Western iconology, martyr-saints hold palm branches, the symbol of their victory as witnesses to the truth of Christ.

Here perhaps as the painter has placed a palm branch in the hand of this beautiful child whom Jesus guards, Carl Boch has in mind the martyrdom of children all around the world: children martyred in war, in domestic violence, in sex crimes, in drug deal crossfire, in their classrooms by madmen, in abortion.

Oh Lady, Queen of the Universe,
who goes up today beyond the veil
and who leaves behind your belt
as a token of love,
we sing with angels
an Easter tune
to your happy ascent.

In our littleness
our fear,
our brokenness,
loss and
we ask
all the more:
Leave behind
something of your heart,
that will take us up
even now
to the higher things:
your heaven-hearted awareness,
your compassion-ated mind,
your cosmic intent,
your insistence on life,
that we would glorify
the Creator
and know you as our Mother;
your Son as our brother.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Assumption Countdown ~ Day Nine

Mother of God, Life-Giving Spring

THIS ICON IS TITLED: MOTHER OF GOD, LIFE-GIVING SPRING.  Mary holding her Divine Son is a curative fountain of life. There's the young mom who is taking her sick baby to the fountain. She seems so tired, she might even be leaning against the fountain's wall to rest. There is the poor fellow who has hobbled over on his crutches. Do you ever feel that you're off your feet or losing ground? Remember, metaphor doesn't mean not real - but most real. If it's your life that seems to be going under or losing ground - that's real, isn't it?

In the back of the fountain there's the woman who is washing her blind eyes. Is she an image of ourselves in our own not-seeing, our national inner darkness or humanity's blindness? There is the elderly man who is approaching the Mother of God and her Son. His illness or problem is concealed, as people often do.

It's a meditation to imagine ourselves stepping up to the Life-Giving Spring in all of our need, vulnerability, brokenness and poverty. This smiling Mother and animated Holy Child seem eager to help. We can almost hear the flowing water within the fountain. Flowing water is a symbol of internal regenerative energies. Don't we all want some of that?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Assumption Countdown ~ Day Eight

Vladimir Mother of God

This is the Vladimir Theotokos, perhaps the most well-known and highly revered icon of the Mother of God on earth. She resides in a chapel at the Tretyakov Museum in Moscow, Russia. The icon has played such an important role in Russia's long story of  being invaded. It is said that Josef Stalin even had the icon flown around the perimeter of Moscow to protect the city during the Second World War.

Maybe that's just a story, but it suggests that if we keep very close to this  image of God climbing all over us in an incarnate embrace and  kiss, we might be surprised at how things turn around for the better. The Russians mean it when they say the icon is wonder-working!

Here the Mother of God seems to express an earthly anxiety for her Son. As we turn to her in the silence of our prayer, we might be mindful of the world's children in their profound suffering. Simply hold them consciously in your heart.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

In the Assumption-Mystery we see the full power of Christ's Resurrection come true as Christ calls his Mother to the joy of home. Doesn't it make heart-sense that Jesus would call his Mother first to her completion? Fads come and go. Seasons come and go. Youth comes and goes. Even the words we use like rush and high, suggest fleeting realities. But the Assumption is about eternity.

Mary's Feast  is celebrated in mid-August when the summer is mature in flowers and fruit. She's a sign of the maturity we're all called to: that when our own lives are ended here, we'll be brought to our maturation, our own lives lived as fully as Christ's.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Assumption Countdown ~ Day Seven

Coptic Mary and Christ-Ruler

IT IS A WONDER THAT WE HAVE THESE ICONS from Ethiopia, as they are painted on and with very poor materials. Here is Our Lady whose maphorion-folds again reflect the ribs of a scallop shell, the fronds of a palm leaf, ripples in water. The little Christ sits on her arm as if on a throne; he is the Lord. He holds an orb in his left hand. Is it our weary, troubled world? Oh, if only we would embrace his mind of compassion, forgiveness and love.

The Holy Mother and Child have heavenly companions: St. Paul the first hermit and Saint Anthony of Egypt on the bottom with soldier-saints on horseback fighting dragons and enemies. These of course are representations of the ultimate enemies which menace us spiritually. Above on left and right are Saint John the Baptist and, hmmm, I can't figure out who that might be - perhaps a holy desert monk. Angels in an explosion of joy, put Mary's crown in place. But Mary knows where it's at - with her right hand she directs us to her Son. In humility, ask him for a refreshed heart.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Assumption Countdown ~ Day Six

THIS MARY, MOTHER OF GOD FROM KERALA, INDIA is bosomy - not pressed down, hidden and de-sexed. She's happy with Gabriel's pregnant news. Even her earrings, bracelets, sash and shawl reflect the joy. Her lovely face reminds us of the Virgin at Lourdes, who when Bernadette relayed the doubting pastor's probing questions, she only smiled.

If you trust in the Lord and do good then you will live in the land and be secure. If you find your delight in the Lord, He will grant your heart's desire, (Psalm 36: 3,4). Here the psalmist displays tender insights into God's promises which reach a fulfillment in the Resurrection of Jesus and the Assumption of Mary. Here is a new approach to  life - full of glad hope.

Then turn away from evil and do good
And you shall have a home forever;
For the Lord loves justice
And will never forsake his friends.

(Psalm 36: 27,28)

The psalmist thinks of us as God's friends. For the Lord will never forsake his friends. How twisted up religion becomes when it's defined by words like: licit and illicit, valid and invalid, observances and obediences and a kind of language that we never use in our everyday communicating. I'm not talking about the use of Latin at Mass but language that's philosophical, diplomatic, moral, defining, scholarly. This is language which simply hands on to people what they have to believe rather than inviting a deep and intimate communion of hearts. To be God's friend.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Look again at the picture. This angel has jumped over the wall to deliver the news of God come to be with us. And all of human history has built a separating wall around it. But God hurdles barriers in Christ, born of Mary. 

Most people know something of the down side of their family history: where there's the barriers of addiction, suicide, depression, mental illness, incest, infidelities and broken relationships, domestic violence, physical and mental abuse. 

Here's a meditation in response to that human tale. We might imagine our families - even going back a very long time - gathered in this room with Mary and the life-announcing angel of joy. Imagine the healing flowing over and into all  these ancestral-souls - our family lineage as far back as we know. Even if we never met the person but have only heard the stories.

The "room" of my meditation may feel toxic, infected, even possessed for awhile. But be patient and allow the flower-bearing angel, the newly pregnant Mary and the embryonic Holy Child within her to speak and en-grace.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Assumption Countdown ~ Day Five

Chinese Mary with Infant Christ

SOME CHRISTIANS SAY THEY CANNOT  pray to Mary. So then, pray with Mary. Mary prayed in the upper room with the disciples; she prays still. But what does she pray about? She undoubtedly gives thanks for God's wonders. She prays in awe before the God who brings life out of seemingly impossible places. She praises God for his surprises and reversals. She celebrates God's mercies as we make choices with sometimes disastrous consequences. And she prays for us - that we would be God-bearers too, keeping Christ at the center.

Do you notice in the image that Mary is not looking at Jesus, but away? It is as if she has noticed me on the side, and at once she turns to introduce me to her Son.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Assumption Countdown ~ Day Four

Urakami Cathedral ~ Nagasaki

THIS IS SAINT MARY'S CATHEDRAL, often called the Urakami Cathedral, which was destroyed by the atomic blast over Nagasaki, Japan this day 1945. The church, the largest in the Orient, had 14,000 parishioners. The building was destroyed past recognition, however, the haunting face of this wooden statue of the Virgin Mary survived.

This is an apt question then as we prepare for the Feast of Mary's Easter. What does Mary do in her Assumption? She lives her Son's new commandment, "Love one another," (John 15:12). And she does this as Mother - Mother of all of us. She models the new lifestyle that says we don't have to hate people. We don't have to kill people with the weapons of words and thoughts: stereotyping, obstructing, ignoring, cheating, mocking, punishing people.

All around the world people claim to see and receive messages from Mary. Often the messages are silly: Mary telling women to cover their heads in church and to stop wearing pants. But there's really only one message that Mary would want to share with us, isn't there? If you're going to follow my Son, it isn't okay to hate people. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Assumption Countdown ~ Day Three

Mary and the Infant Jesus in Islam

LOSING THINGS IS A CONSTANT SOURCE of complaint and frustration. We lose our glasses and keys. We lose our teeth, a night's sleep, and sometimes we need to lose some weight. We can lose a friend, a spouse, muscle tone, youthful good looks, our way on a trip or our place in a line. Someone may say, I'm losing my mind! To be human is to know loss. But God is never a loser.

In her Assumption, Mary is taken up to God, even in her body. Nothing is lost to God - even in death. We're that important to God. Father Timothy Radcliffe writes: "Christ's friendship, stronger than the cross, renews the believer."

In the Assumption we see the full expression of divine love. "I believe in the Resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come," we pray in the Sunday Creed. In the image of the Persian Mary here, she is dressed in shades of gold. And gold represents the finished work. Mary's Assumption addresses each of us personally, about ourselves: Get ready for this!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

P.S. The Infant Christ sits in his Mother's arms in a burst of flame. Remembering the words of Brother Roger of Taize: "Stay close to the fire, which is Christ, and eventually even the thorns of your life will burst into flame." See the post of July 22: Even The Thorns Of Your Life.

The lush tree on the top right of the image isn't there for decoration but is a reminder perhaps of the simile found in Psalm 1 - that the one who delights in the ways of the Lord is like "a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and whose leaf does not wither; and whatever it bears comes to maturity."

Finally, the Holy Mother sits on a little decorated carpet which has a heavenly feel to it. It is as if she is sitting in a miniature sanctuary. The fence behind the Mother and Child extends that sense of enclosure or sanctuary. It is very lovely, inviting a prayerful intimacy.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Assumption Countdown ~ Day Two

Ethiopian Mother of God

MARY'S FEAST OF THE ASSUMPTION CELEBRATES that we are called to community - even beyond this world's relationships, to a heavenly community. This icon, with its eye-animated saints packed in and around Mary and her Boy-Child, suggests this happy, heavenly friendship. 

In her Assumption, Mary is completed as the one who consistently took up her role in creating community around the Lord. She visited Elizabeth and Zechariah at the start of their pregnancies. She made the Passover pilgrimages to Jerusalem. She was mindful of the dilemma the newlyweds faced at Cana. She struggled with her friends beneath the cross of Jesus. She prayed with the disciples in the upper room. Christians create, restore and strengthen community where they go.

When Catholic Haitians first started immigrating to the United States, they were aghast to discover that as soon as Sunday Mass was over (or even right after Communion), the church parking lot was emptied and the next crowd came in. There was no lingering, no sharing, no gathering of friendship. In Haiti, Sunday Mass overflows into hours of being with each other. 

When I would ask young Americans being interviewed before Confirmation why they don't go to Mass on Sunday, they would answer, "My family is too busy." Indeed, too busy. But the community suffers for the busy-ness. Did this begin when stores started staying open on Sundays in the 1970's, which meant that some people had to go to work, which meant that the fundamental Christian community of the family was disrupted and fractured? 

Perhaps, in anticipation of the Assumption feast we might find some small way of extending community. There's one Sunday between now and Mary's Feast Day. Might we could restore the old-fashioned idea of Sunday dinner, even to the inviting of a guest or two. Some of the younger people who are reading this post might have no idea what I'm talking about: Sunday dinner, stores closed on Sunday. Ask someone older than 50. Having each other makes all the difference in the world.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

August ~ Month of the Assumption

SOME YEARS AGO A GERMAN RADIO STATION looked for a Catholic priest who would speak about the Feast of the Assumption on their program. After an exhaustive search and out of luck, they resorted to inviting a Jungian Analyst who addressed the topic eagerly. Why priests would not be happy to speak about Mary's Assumption, I don't know. Are they too busy? Or like the French clergy who told Pope John Paul II NOT to visit Ars, the parish-home of St. John Vianney, the Patron of the Parish Clergy, "He no longer reflects us" - they have grown disenchanted or even dis-believing. 

Anyway, the Feast of the Assumption, Mary's Easter, is celebrated on August 15. We we might use these early August days as a time to get ready. A Greek monk told me that the West has lost its ascetical dimension. I understand. Eastern Christians anticipate Mary's feast day with a mini-Lent.  A fast precedes a feast. Maybe we can re-introduce some fasting discipline (of our own creating) so to prepare spiritually.

Though lovely, most pictures of the Assumption show Mary flying gloriously in space, often surrounded by little angels. These masterly paintings may cause us to have religious feelings, but they don't really help us to understand deeply  in mind or heart. We might say they are spiritually naive, as if all there is to Mary's Assumption is her zooming off into space, however beautifully.

So what has happened? Mary's earthly life has ended and she has entered fully into God's inner life, which is a life of family ~ a life of relationship. At Baptism, while pouring water, the priest said, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. I am made for community: soaked, drenched and flooded with it. In heaven, we'll be assumed into a life of relatedness with God and the blessed ~ a community of persons we call Trinity. Our Christian message is: Never again loneliness; never again isolation!

That promise is far-reaching. Maybe in anticipation of Mary's Feast of Resurrection and entrance into the Trinitarian life we could pray each day, between now and the 15th, for our Caribbean neighbors to the south. Apart from using these island nations as our gated-community-winter-playground they often remain places of terrible poverty, troubles and sadness.

The slave ships stopped everywhere, and these little countries still bear and manifest those origins. The Caribbean is comprised of over 7000 islands: about 21 -27 nations. The Bahamas is made up of 501 islands.  Puerto Rico, 142 islands. These are the names of the Caribbean islands generally considered countries:

Antigua and Barbuda
British Virgin Islands
Cayman Islands
Dominican Republic
Netherlands Antilles
Puerto Rico
Saint Kitts/Saint Lucia
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Trinidad and Tobago
United States Virgin Islands

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Korsun Mother of God

The Korsun Mother of God is of the type called
Glykophilousa ~ Sweet Kissing ~
the image
reduced to the faces of
Jesus and Mary
in an intensity of love,
as mothers do in covering
their children
with kisses and caresses.

Cropped below the shoulder
everything is gazes and the
gathering up of four hands

The argument falls apart that icons are severe
as the features of the Korsun Theotokos and her Son,
so humanly tender,
have become known and much-loved beyond
the borders of Byzantium.

While the Holy Mother
holds the Infant
with two hands ~
bringing him to her heart ~
she also holds him in her eyes.
The gaze itself, a prayer.

The Holy Child holds onto his mother's maphorion,
great folds echoing
ripples in water,
fronds of a palm,
ribs of a shell ~
the scallop producing a pearl very rare.

In her gaze has
Mary just heard the prophecy of Holy Simeon,
"And a sword of sorrow will pierce your soul also," (Luke 2:35)?
Where does she look?
At her Child?
At you?
At me?

Or does she look through us,
to what is beyond ~ above,
into the future?
Gaze at her - receive her love.
Gaze at her - give her your love.

The star above her forehead is one of three;
two  concealed in the shoulder-folds of the maphorion.
God has drawn her in
to live in the folds of the Trinitarian life.

Beneath her veil  the cap of a married Syrian woman.
A bowl  ~ a dome of stars
covering her divine Son.
Oh, pray for poor Syria and her
ancient Christianity
that the dome would open up
the land and living things,
healing for
churches, farms and homes.

The forehead of the Child is large
containing the thoughts of God
for an eternity,
and the names of all the countries
and our names and faces.
The knowledge of our existence ~
and the Child's face shines.

His robe is woven in gold
Her mantle of Blood-Earth
envelops him.

The interplay of hands.
A Sonata for Four Hands, we say.
Here, the work of salvation for four hands.

We think we already know the contents of
his teaching contained in the rolled scroll.
The hardest part ~ the little bit about forgiving ~
to be born from above without hatred.

Gandhi was fascinated
with the non-violent teachings of Jesus.
but  never baptized a Christian:
his Indian brothers and sisters
oppressed by enslaving,
British colonizers
who claimed to follow Jesus.
Colonizers take more than they give.

The Korsun Theotokos
was painted by Luke the Evangelist
and kept at Ephesus until 988
when Prince Vladimir transferred
a copy to Holy Russia.
Along the way it passed through Korsun
where the people asked if it might
stay with them for a year.
The icon thereafter being called
the Korsun Mother of God.

Echoing the plea of that populace ~
'Stay with us' might become our own prayer
before the Holy Icon.

But first to remember that a terrible battle took place
at Korsun during the Second World War between
Russian and German soldiers.
Called a slaughter,
the hands of those raised in surrender
were lopped off.

And as we gaze at the soft smile of the Mother of God
ponder that
in the 1950's  people smiled on average
of fifty times a day.
Now it is said that people smile only
fifteen times a day:
"I work so hard because
I want  my children to have all the things
I never had growing up." Meanwhile ~ to forfeit smiling?

Stay with us, Korsun Mother of God,
empowering forgiveness
in your atmosphere of peace
in your smile
in the restoration of hope
tenderize hearts.

Stay with us, Korsun Mother of God,
to our awakening
no more slaughter
blessing the work of our hands
opening souls to light
hide me in your maphorion.

Stay with us, Korsun Mother of  God,
as I unroll your Son's scroll
see me in your gazing.
weave me a robe of gold
Oh that we would know
we are loved like this!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Red Theophany

Red Chasuble

It must have been a Saturday morning because I was scheduled (as a young boy) to serve Mass and the sun was high - high enough for it to have been a 9 A.M. Mass. Let me try and get as close to that day as possible. The vestment color the day was red, which meant it was a martyr's feast day. On the old church calendar that would have meant one of these:

Marcellinus, Peter and Erasmus,
Primus and Felician,
Vitus, Modestus and Crescentia,
John and Paul
or the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul
or June 30, The Commemoration of Saint Paul.

I was the first to arrive at the sacristy, which in the 1960s was a rather mysterious room where the priest and servers prepared for the Mass in silence. Sadly, the sacristy has lost that quality and today is a place of chatter, agitation and distraction. If God wanted to speak to a young person's heart (or the priest's) in the sacristy today, God would have hurdles to navigate. 

It was strange for the sacristy door to be closed, but as I entered, I consciously acknowledged that the room was filled with bright sunlight and the casement windows with the amber glass were open. The red chasuble which the priest would wear on that martyr's feast day had been placed on the rack, ready for the priest to put on. Opening the door, a summer breeze went ahead of me, lifting the chasuble very gently, fully, slowly, front and back. Breezes lift kitchen curtains, ladies' skirts, laundry drying on a line. But this was different. The chasuble's dramatic lifting got my attention - that it seemed to be lifting for me. I would even call the moment a little Theophany - a God-showing. To make a point God can employ something as simple as a breeze.

But what was the point? I still can't say. Maybe God was saying something as simple as Stephen, pay attention today. Or maybe, Pay attention to ME and to your life. Or maybe, Some day I would like for you to wear a red chasuble at the altar. Or maybe, Learn from the self-gift of the martyrs. Or maybe all of that or none of that, perhaps something I have yet to discover. Who knows what other questions we'd ask of ourselves or what we'd discover of God and ourselves if we paid attention like that all the time!

This is the prayer the priest prayed as he put on the chasuble:

O Lord, You said: My yoke is easy, and My burden is light: make me so able to bear it, that I may obtain Your favor. Amen

The chasuble has its origins in ancient Rome It is said that the chasuble is the ancient Roman raincoat - voluminous enough to cover even the soldier's horse. That was thoughtful. Over the centuries the chasuble has taken different shapes or cuts, but always it is the image of charity.

The stole, which the priest places around his neck, hidden under the chasuble, is the symbol of a priest's authority to offer the Mass. Some priests deliberately put the stole OUTSIDE and OVER the chasuble. But that's a mistake. The first thing we should encounter in the priest is not his authority, but his love. His authority should be hidden under his love. Actually, the priest putting the stole on top reflects a deeper problem which is the inability to allow for what is secret and hidden. In a way it's a kind of immodesty. Modesty means we don't have to see everything. No we don't.

Some things should be left discreet, hidden and mysterious - like the secret prayers the priest is supposed to offer quietly at Mass. But there are priests who pray those Mass prayers out loud - even very loud. The mysterious intimacy and discreet sense of the holy disappears. Other priests get lost in a perverted, twisted-up sense of mystery and secret as they molest children, and then officials compound it all by keeping that ugliness a further dirty secret. Bizarre, isn't it?

But I will end these thoughts on the happiest of notes. Those few seconds of God-encounter in the sacristy of my boyhood took place almost fifty years ago. And today, when I walk into any sacristy, on any given morning, to prepare for Mass and I see that celebrating the saint of the day requires red vestments, there is a little catch of my interior breath.  God's gift!