Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Sunday, September 29, 2013


ON THE FEAST OF SAINT FRANCIS, (October 4) the monks and nuns of the New Skete Orthodox Monastery in Cambridge, N.Y. sing this hymn:

Like Anthony the Great and Paul of Thebes, you re-established harmony between humanity and the beast, recovering the lost intimacy between creation and its creator. For in your presence, the wolf of Gubbio became like a lamb, placing its paw in your hand as a sign of peace, while the birds delighted in your preaching, as you sought to awaken in these creatures devoid of reason a conscious praise for the Lord, a praise in the name of all creatures like themselves. O Holy Father Francis, beg Christ our God to grant us his peace.

This is lovely, seeing in Francis a reconciler and restorer of  blessings lost in the human story (which story is the fall of Adam and Eve.) Remember the Advent reading from the Prophet Isaiah (11:6-9).

Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
The calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to guide them.
The cow and the bear shall be neighbors,
together their young shall rest;
the lion shall eat hay like the ox.
The baby shall play by the cobra' den,
and the child lay his hand on the adder's lair,
There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord,
as water covers the sea.

We might ask: if we can hope that even the wild animals are capable of learning to live peacefully,  as in paradise, why can't we? But for all of the attention we pay to Francis of the animals (and sometimes we reduce Francis and consign him to the birdbath, which is to do him a great injustice) there is a part of the Francis story that is even more telling of who he is and how needed today.

Assisi, the home town of Francis, like so many Italian towns, is built up high on a mountain. An approaching enemy army could be seen that way and floods would remain safely below. And as the son of a comfortable cloth merchant, who apparently stocked very fine and imported fabrics, Francis had a buck in his pocket. I don't know if the Franciscan scholars would say as much, but perhaps we might say of Francis that he was a party boy, a carouser or lounging rich boy. 

At any rate, at some point after his encounter with the Crucifix of San Damiano and the repair of that church, Francis descended from the top of Assisi to Rivortorto, which means Twisted River, to where the leper-outcasts "lived". The descent was of course, much more than just a geographic re-location, it was a descent from his socio-economic ladder, a descent down into love. And at Rivertorto, Francis became friend and brother to the forgotten and despised ones. 

There's an incident in the life of Dorothy Day, a contemporary model of gospel justice, who when a gushing admirer said to her, "Oh Dorothy, you're a living saint," Dorothy responded, "Don't dismiss me so easily." We do that to saints - we make statues and sanitized pictures of them to admire on the wall. But we're supposed to be saints, not admirers of saints. Pope Francis said in his interview that the Church is not a little chapel where only a few can enter or a nest for mediocrity..." The real Francis of Assisi is a threat to that chapel-nest kind of Christian community.

A priest asked me once, "Stephen, who's your favorite saint?" I answered, "St. Benedict Joseph Labre," wanderer-pilgrim saint. The priest answered immediately, "But you wouldn't even go near him, he smelled so badly." I'm sorry to say, the priest was very likely right, though I was indignant at hearing it.

The Crucifix at San Damiano

Having heard the call
of the Risen Christ
in the half ruined church
of San Damiano,
you raised up the place
using mortar and stone.
And rekindling the lamp
that burns through the night
you dropped out of Assisi
as a woman giving birth,
through the rivertorto
among the
rejected and decayed.
O illumimed Francis,
whisper to God for
the brightening of hearts.

Francis with lepers at the Rivertorto

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Sunday Intercessions ~ Twenty Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

El Greco ~ Saint Francis Meditating

Pope Paul the 6th spoke to the United Nations General Assembly on October 4th, 1965./ He said, "War never again; never again war."/ We pray boldly/ asking God for the conversion of human hearts to the things of justice,/ which creates peace./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray to stop blaming others for the threats to marriage and family life./ We pray rather,/ that we would know ourselves interiorly/ and set out to find healing where selfishness tires,/ strains and ruins family relationships./ We pray to the Lord.

The Feast of Saint Francis is this Friday./ Francis would be more readily found with lepers than with birds./ We pray to understand the saints rightly/ asking for new and brave hearts that follow Jesus more deeply,/ We pray to the Lord.

We ask for that true religious freedom which is interior./ For freedom from self-pity,/ addictions,/ ingratitude,/ hurtful impatience,/ and those actions which leave others lonely and unattended./ We pray to the Lord.

We ask God for the good health we need to do our work and to love our families./ We pray in solidarity with the sick,/ the wounded,/ the dying/and those with special needs and challenges./ We pray to the Lord.

We remember the dead/ asking Jesus to welcome them into the heavenly banquet/ which is reflected here at Mass today./ We pray in a particular way for those who have died this week in wars/ by violence or catastrophe./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Jesus and Mary of Ethiopia

An icon invites us to pray with our eyes

ETHIOPIA IS SUCH A TERRIBLY POOR COUNTRY its icons are more likely to be painted on sheets of cardboard than wood. Still, despite the crushing poverty, the images of this ancient Oriental Church reflect a brilliantly colored, exuberant, bright joy. Mary looks a little surprised here. What has Jesus just confided to her? Perhaps the news of the Resurrection and the secret of eternal life? Perhaps the role she will play as Mother of the new humanity whose fundamental invitation will be compassionate and merciful love?

Jesus looks playful here, doesn't he? He's got his book of teachings, but the book  is closed. At present he is more interested in bestowing his blessing and smile. Is this the "fragrance of the Gospel" Pope Francis had in mind when he gave his recent  interview which has gotten so much attention?

One of the most striking features of this icon is the nimbus around the heads of Jesus and Mary. A nimbus is usually golden or ochre, but these are highly decorated and even layered. Why the nimbus?

Theology distinguishes faith of two kinds. First there is the faith which simply and freely believes the doctrines or teachings of the Church: the teaching of God as Creator, that of the Blessed Trinity and the Incarnation, the teachings regarding the Seven Sacraments and the moral teachings.

The second and higher kind of faith is possessed by those who have been illumined (enlightened) by God's energies and knowledge. This is the faith spoken of in the Letter to the Hebrews:

The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1

The first kind of faith, which is higher than simply human knowledge of a scientific or academic kind, is still merely believing. The second belongs to the person who can say from a personal place, I see, however that personal knowledge of the mysteries is still partial, like the dark glass St. Paul refers to in 1 Cor. 9-12.

The nimbus around the heads of Jesus, Mary, the saints and angels, symbolizes this second faith of illumination - the higher knowledge of heavenly things and personal holiness and even one's living in the Pascal Mystery of the Lord's dying and the victory of his rising. Isn't this the faith symbolized by the lighted candle given to us at Baptism?

I would add that while illumination may refer to knowledge of the heavenly mysteries (not at all the same as knowing a lot about religion) illumination also speaks to knowledge of human things as they are suffused with God's presence.

I was recently speaking with a contractor of home improvements and repairs who told me about the marvelous workers who form his team, almost all of whom are young men here legally from Mexico. He related that at times he is told by customers, "I don't want those people working in my house." Clearly there's no inner illumination in this kind of person - no knowledge of divine and deeply human things - and for all the church-going and even weekly professing of the Nicene Creed - maybe not even much of the simpler just believing kind of faith.

Young Jesus,
Ethiopian Christ,
turn your bright face
toward me -
the blaze of your
to penetrate my mind,
alive light -
the joy of
confident resting
in you -
the inner balance
of my emotions
like the autumn equinox -
the light of knowing
none of us brings God anywhere
nor to anyone,
but that God is already there.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Praying Before the Mother of God ~ All Perceiving

O Lady,
your portrait
has found its way -
all the way
from Russia
to my hands.
How has this happened so wonderfully:
that your icon should come to me
who has touched
and held
unworthy of one
thought of
and created in a

O Lady,
your veil is dark and of the earth.
And I am of the earth too.
And I want to know myself
by the illumination of my mind,
to my own short-comings
and the life of holy perfection
God has prepared for me
and to which God calls.

O Lady,
your face is pressed against the forehead of your Son.
Do you see the danger which already surrounds your Child?
See the dangers that surround me too, Holy Mother,
and protect me from everything
that could steal goodness

O Lady,
Your eyes - wide awake;
you have nothing to hide.
Wake me up to faith,
that God has a plan and purpose for me,
wants me to be happy,
holds no grudges against me,
but wants me healed and whole
and full of life that will last
even forever.

O Lady,
Your mouth is small,
and inviting:
To be a listener,
to the drip of rain,
the music of morning birds
and evening insects,
to the sighs of my heart
and the tears of those who weep.

O Lady,
Your Son's forehead
so strangely
But he holds my name
and the names of all the others
in his mind,
and all our stories with their
twists and turns,
advances and set backs,
even deadly choices,
and still
good hope.
His mind, large and filled
with the events of human history,
even the barriers against Jesus
not yet in place -
who only carries a heart of love
and the invitation of his eyes
to come in close to his
warmth and light.

O Lady,
Your Son's robe is filled
with sparks
from heaven
that dart about,
that can set my heart

And finally, O Lady,
framed in silver,
reflecting light,
holding you and your Son,
and all the more
my heart,
O Mother,
shining and
embracing and
with love for you
and all the good
of heaven
and here,
this earth-paradise.

Father Stephen P. Morris

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Sunday Intercessions ~ Twenty Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

One third of the Syrian population has fled the country/ joining the nearly 16 million refugees around the world./ We remember Jesus, Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt,/ asking for refugees everywhere to be able to return home in safety and peace./ We pray to the Lord.

Autumn has begun./ And in this season/ a great maple tree can drop many thousands of leaves./ We ask for the grace to drop pettiness,/ grudges/ and the many resentments that keep us from the inner freedom which ought to characterize the friends of Jesus./ We pray to the Lord.

This time of year/ the Jewish people keep a number of holidays./ We pray for them,/ asking that they would grow in/ and remain faithful to/ the covenants God has established with them./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for our friends who are near and far away./ We ask that we would be good friends:/ faithful,/ attentive,/ supportive and generous./ And we pray for the many people in this world who are without friends./ We pray to the Lord.

Monks and nuns give an important witness to the world:/ that people can live well together despite our many differences./ We pray for monastics to be blessed in their lives of community,/ hospitality/ work and prayer./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray in solidarity with those who live where there is war,/ catastrophe and hardship./ We pray for the sick,/ those in mourning or mental darkness/ and for their healing./ We pray to the Lord.

This week our country witnessed another mass-shooting/ leaving more than a dozen people dead and others seriously injured./ We beg God for the healing of our nation/ which can only begin with the last bit of violence being wrung out of each of our hearts./ And we pray for all who have died - mindful of those who die suddenly and violently./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

La Virgen de la faja

Murillo ~ La Virgen de la faja

THE TITLE OF THIS PAINTING IS THE VIRGIN OF THE GIRDLE. That can't mean much to people today. A better translation for now would be The Virgin of the Swaddling. In Saint Luke's Gospel we read (2:7) "And as there was no place for them inside the inn, she wrapped him up and laid him in a manger." That wrapping is called swaddling.

A still better title might be, The Virgin of the Diapering. It reminds me of a medieval manuscript in which the monk had painted a little angel zooming into the manger scene of Bethlehem holding open a clean diaper for the Infant Jesus. Some people may see this as just the whimsical expression of a monk looking to break up the tedium of printing a Bible by hand. But I don't think so. Conscious or not, Murillo and the Bible-printing monk are giving expression to the deep reality of the Incarnation - that God has become one with us utterly in the birth of Jesus. This is echoed here in that Mary's dress is not buttoned up tight to the neck as she has perhaps just finished nursing her Child.

It dawned on me years ago that the Incarnation is not a mystery to be admired but which changes everything about how we live on this planet. A theology of the body, yes, but not about sexual things. In Matthew's Gospel, chapter 25, Jesus lists the Works of Mercy for the body: Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, visit the sick and imprisoned.

I wonder if Jesus were to leave us a list of MERCIES for our time he might add, "Oh, and don't forget to offer people a bathroom" given that in some  large cities, public bathrooms are not available and those that are, are often foul. It will sound silly to some people, including the clergy, but I started to observe closely.

While visiting a cathedral in Florida I needed a bathroom, which in the church vestibule was locked with a taped sign: "Only open during services."  But the gift shop on the other side of the vestibule was open and doing a brisk business. So I walked across the street to the Episcopal church where I was greeted kindly and offered the use of a large, clean and well-stocked bathroom. I've noted  signs posted in another very famous cathedral directing people to the bathrooms in the nearby department stores.

Should the Catholic Church be in the business of offering bathrooms to people? I think so, if we're going to celebrate the Incarnation with statues, paintings and manger scenes all over the place. Infant Jesus needed to have his diaper changed. Taking care of people in that most basic need is Christianity 101 for me. In some churches the proceeds from one good-sized candle rack could pay for bathroom soap, paper and the employment of one person to keep the place clean.

Religion can get terribly twisted up, even sick. Religion can become so vertical that the horizontal dimension is lost. Then religion becomes silly and irrelevant. I'd suggest that as we need to return to the most basic things; we can ask The Virgin of the Diapering to teach us and show us the way.

One New York City church with a grand porch and staircase went to the expense of blocking off the area with high black iron gates to keep homeless people from sleeping there at night. More recently the pastor acknowledged that gating off people who were hungry and tired simply wasn't the Jesus way, and so the parish set out to creatively organize and invest in feeding and sheltering people. The gates came down.

Can a parish organize itself around these works of mercy? Of course. If we can organize pray-ers around the Perpetual Adoration Monstrance, we can manage meals, toilets and cots for the night. Is that really what Christians need to be doing? Look again at the painting. If we persist in calling it The Virgin of the Girdle or even The Virgin of the Swaddling, we'll miss it. Mother of the Diapering is more to the point.

But the painting doesn't sound holy or  religious with a title like that. Maybe that's the point as well. In the Incarnation, the more ordinary something is, the more of God it is, especially when it is done generously, joyfully, willingly: preparing a  meal, setting a table, doing laundry, changing a bandage, washing up, listening to someone fatigued, offering a bathroom.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Mother of God ~ All-Perceiving

NOT APPEARING IN ANY OF THE BOOKS I use to identify icons, this Mother of God comes to us in mystery. A friend who was staying at a Russian monastery found it outside the door to his room one morning. The kind giver remained anonymous. 

So I have taken the liberty of giving her a title, which is not hard to do. Considering the Holy Mother's attentive locked-on gaze, I have called the icon Mother of God ~ All Perceiving. 

Here it seems that Jesus' Mother has perhaps become aware of some danger: raising herself a bit to observe and encounter, her chin and cheek pressed against the Infant's head. In some cultures a mother will look directly into the eyes of any person who steps up to address the baby she holds, intending to ward off any dangerous power or intent present in false words. Mothers can be very sensitive to danger or evil lurking.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

When someone makes this kind of eye contact it suggests that he or she has nothing to hide; there are no masks. Masks of course leave us wondering, who is really there? Some masks are necessary as when a priest, who knows himself to be sinful, has to present himself as confessor, healer and reconciler. The school teacher who carries personal burdens at home  needs to wear the mask of a confident, happy, put-together leader in the classroom.

But then there are the masks we wear protectively everyday and  behind which we hide. The masks of:

pretending, posing and posturing,
grandiosity, vanity and name-dropping,
incessant talking and boisterous laughter,
false smiles,
obvious and emphasized sexuality,
power-titles and displays of wealth, 
to-be-seen religion,
lies and living on the level of surfacey conversations,
the zany girl and the laugh-a-minute guy...

In the 1988 film, Dangerous Liasons, the Marquis Isabelle de Merteuil (Glenn Close) and Vicomte Sebastien de Valmont (John Malkovich) are bored, pre-revolution French aristocrats who, rather than expressing and accepting their love for each other, set out in a destructive game to destroy the love of those around them. They are ugly characters hiding behind wigs, decorative fabric, entertainments, social refinements, fans and clouds of powder.

In the last scene the Marquis has been exposed for the vile person she is. Removing her thick make-up-mask, she sits framed in darkness before her mirror. We see her real skin (her underneath) for the first time and the first of her painful tears.

The friend who shared the print of the All~Perceiving Mother of God told me when he prays or sits silently before the icon he can feel uneasy or troubled - as if the Holy Mother sees past the masks he wears to his own underneath - the raw, concealed or vulnerable place where many people never go.

But heaven doesn't leave us lost in desperate guilt. We weren't made for that. Rather, the Holy Child of the icon, protected by his Mother, is covered in rays and sparks of light. Jesus keeps nothing for himself, but shares everything, including the divine energies of God Himself. Scroll back up to the top and draw near!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Sunday Intercessions ~ Twenty Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Pope Francis has said that some,/ even in the highest levels of Church-life,/ have "grown weary of the humility of Christ."/ We ask for the deep renewal of our Catholic-Christian lives,/ born out of love for Jesus in the Gospels./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for the people who are helpers wherever there are terrorist attacks around the world:/ for police,/ fire and emergency personnel./ And for all those who are involved in recovery and healing efforts./ We pray to the Lord.

We stand in oneness of heart with the over two million Syrian refugees who have fled their country./ We pray for the poor,/ the sick,/ the friendless and the needy./ We pray for those who assist and care for persons who are weak and vulnerable./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for those who are preparing for marriage everywhere,/ remembering as well those marriages that are weak,/ troubled,/ and in need of honesty and healing./ We pray to the Lord.

We remember those who struggle with special emotional or physical needs/ as well as those who accompany and care for them./ We entrust to God's care those who serve in the military under every  flag/ asking for them to return home in safety and peace./ We pray to the Lord.

We hold in our hearts the members of our family,/ asking for safety and good health,/ renewal and an up-building in faith,/ hope and love./ We pray to the Lord.

We remember those who have died/ acknowledging there are many who have no one to mourn them,/ asking for the departed to enjoy the fullness of God's light,/ life and love./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Anticipating September 11

In the early 1970's, when I was studying for the priesthood in Yonkers, there was a late summer evening when I was traveling toward Manhattan in my yellow VW. The traffic had slowed to pay a toll to enter the tunnel. Out my left window I saw this amazing and mesmerizing thing (a kind of vision really). I couldn't take my eyes off of it and felt the importance of witnessing it - that I might never see something this beautiful again.

Then on September 11, 2001, watching the towers come down, I remember the moment of realizing that as they crumbled, there were fire, police and rescuers of every kind rushing UP to help. A few days later I learned that a young friend's dear husband and much-loved mother were both lost. 

Where people do terrible things that cause destruction and death, there are others who help. We might pray for them today.

We might pray for people in leadership positions and ask for them to hold all the world and its welfare in their efforts and not just the concerns of their own nation.

Wherever there are terrorist acts, children suffer: in marketplaces, schools, streets, at recreation, in their homes. We might hold the world's children in our thoughts today.

Terrorism takes us to the cemetery. We might pray for people in mourning today - especially those who bury family members.

Religion is about personal change or it's about nothing. We might pray today for those who foment terrorist acts in the name of God, for the healing of their sin and  their conversion to love.

While the United States mourns the sadness of the day's events in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, we have to remember that this kind of loss is everyday in other places.

There is a weeping icon of the Mother of  God (Kardiotissa ~ Of The Heart)  in Taylor, Pennsylvania. The tears are not watery tears of emotion but myrrh-tears - oil tears that are more like healing medicine. The world needs those tears.

Mother of God Kardiotissa ~ of the Heart

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Becoming Like Flame And Father Ioan

Monastic desert cave

AFTER A LONG PERIOD OF PERSECUTION, ancient Christianity received the emperor's stamp of approval and Christianity became not only OK but preferred. Some say that's the worst thing that could have ever happened, as when a religion becomes preferred to others,  the endowing support of the state and the friendship with power results in deadly spiritual compromises. The history of Catholicism in France and Orthodoxy in Russia bears this out.

In the 4th century, holy men and women (abbas and ammas) went into the desert intending to recover the authentic intensity of the gospel life, living in small, loosely knit communities of prayer and inner discipline. There are many dozens of desert fathers and mothers whose stories and sayings are remembered, among them::

Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, "Abba, as far as I can, I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do? Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards the heavens. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, "If you will, you can become all flame."

The key word in this little story is become. Young Abba Lot doesn't seem to be asking for anything more than another religious practice to undertake. It's like people who search for the perfect novena to the saint who is most likely to suit their particular need at any given time.

But Abba Joseph sees past that suggesting if Abba Lot desires it, he can become something new. Do we remember God appearing to Moses in the burning bush? God became flame! Abba Joseph is telling the inquiring monk: You can share in the very properties and energies of God himself. 

Abba Joseph wasn't giving Abba Lot a new devotion to add to his already rather full schedule of monastic practice: praying, fasting, meditating, working. He simply suggested: if you desire to go deeper - become a living flame! But how?

Maybe Lot could learn from the cave he lived in. Caves resemble ears. Deep listening might be a clue. Indeed, Saint Benedict's rule for monks and nuns in the western world begins with the single word, "Listen!" In truth, listening and its attendant silence is disappearing rapidly. Tuned in to a radio station recently, a war-expert was being interviewed about  Syria and the possible outcome of air strikes. The expert started to talk without taking any pauses, seemingly even for breaths. He went on and on in his professional new-speak, when I realized he was wasn't even trying to conceal the fact that he was now repeating himself. I felt he was living either in fear or vanity. But this kind of thing is common place now, I would even say it's become normative. When asked another question, he didn't even pause to consider, he simply began to talk again endlessly.

Listening is intimately connected to humility. The Latin root of humility is humus, which means good earth. It doesn't mean we're dirt, but a humble person is down to earth about herself/himself. The humble person has a light sense of humor about himself. The humble person can admit her mistakes and take correction. Humble people know they have a great deal to learn and growing to do.

Humility suggests  transformation, change, a coming into light, stretching, a desire to venture into or become something new. Indeed, becoming like flame  is indicated in our doing things we never dreamed before that we would do.

Father Ioan

Father Ioan is a sixty something year old Bulgarian priest who, having lived most of his life in the atheist world of the Soviet Union, converted to Christianity in his forties. While Bulgaria is purportedly an Orthodox Christian country, only a very few people practice the life of faith. So Father Ioan didn't envision his priesthood as simply maintaining a church, waiting for people to come. Instead, he found an old un-used church with a large side yard where he built a residence for unwed mothers and their children. 

Now that's pro-life! There is a precedent in the Gospel of Saint Luke where Jesus has a particular outreach to women and a valuing of children that was never taught by any other ancient guru, philosopher or religious teacher. 

But no good deed goes unpunished: Father Ioan depends almost exclusively upon donations to keep the little village open, as the state gives almost nothing to help and the locals often deride, slander and ridicule him. In Bulgaria an unwed mother is disdainfully considered a prostitute. 

So Father Ioan has become the face of Bulgarian Charity. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church, apparently lost in hierarchical power struggles, has forgotten its charitable dimension. 

Flame is energy. Becoming like flame means sharing divine energies that spark something new: compassionate love that doesn't simply raise us to a new consciousness, leaving the status quo (business as usual) intact, but believes that through action, the world can be made new, "inch by inch, row by row" we sang as children. This is Christianity.

Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity invite first-world men and women, who have finished raising their own children, to visit the order's orphanages around the world for a couple of weeks, simply to hold, rock, play with, sing to, feed, touch, change, bathe and dress infants. The sisters are aware that unless babies are warmly handled, their physical and emotional lives atrophy.

Become like flame: in humility and that deep (cave-like) inner listening, it's thinking about the things that really matter in a new way and then finding myself doing new things I never dreamed I'd do.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Sunday Intercessions ~ Twenty Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mindful that Sunday is celebrated all around the world/ we pray for the Church in every place,/ remembering still, the people of Syria and Egypt/ where there is terrible violence,/ destruction,/ and death./ We ask for gifts of Resurrection./ We pray to the Lord.

While it is Sunday,/ it is also the Feast of Mary's Birth./ We pray for the children of the world,/ asking for them to be protected from abortion,/ enslavement,/ and the wounds that occur through divorce./ We pray to the Lord.

We thank God for the gift of our salvation/ asking that we would grow-up into the fullness of compassionate charity and Christ-witness./ We pray to the Lord.

We ask to see each human person as a Child of God/ and for us to be freed of the chains of resentment,/ pettiness,/ and dangerous ignorance./ We pray to the Lord.

This week we recall the events of September 11, 2001/ boldly asking God for the conversion of hearts that foment terrorist plots./ We pray in solidarity with people in many other places where terrorism is a daily occurrence./ We pray to the Lord.

We entrust to God's care those who are sick,/ in mourning or addicted./ We pray for those who are away from home,/ those who live with special needs,/ and the many who struggle without the basic necessities of food,/ water,/ shelter,/ employment./ We pray to the Lord.

Finally,/ we ask healing of soul for those who have died/ and for them to receive the great gift of joy/ in seeing Jesus and Mary face to face./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes...

Pennsylvania Hills

THIS LOVELY PSALM 121 is called a Psalm of Ascent as it was sung by pilgrims walking UP to Jerusalem. This particular pilgrim-psalm also features a literary device called step in which a line containing a word or phrase is then picked up and employed in the following line Maybe it was helpful to pilgrims who plodded on, step by step, to the Holy City. And might not this pilgrim-walk be symbolic of the ultimate pilgrimage to the Heavenly Jerusalem?

Psalm 121 ~  Leave oculus

1 I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills,
from whence cometh my help.
2 My help cometh even from the Lord:
who hath made heaven and earth.
3 He will not suffer thy foot to be moved;
and he that keepeth thee will not sleep.
4 Behold he that keepeth Israel:
shall neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord himself is thy keeper:
the Lord is thy defense upon they right hand;
6 So that the sun shall not smite thee by day:
neither the moon by night.
7 The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil:
yea, it is even he that shall keep thy soul.
8 The Lord shall preserve thy going out, and thy coming in:
from this time forth for evermore.

1 I'll lift up my eyes along the pilgrim way.
Have I been looking down ~
all turned in on myself?

A desert walk is difficult ~
apt metaphor
for our own life-walking days
on this planet:
full of inconvenience,
advances and set backs.

But the psalm-pilgrim knows
the better way:
I'll lift up my eyes.
Only then will I see
the great temple on the holy hill,
its roof of beaten gold
resembling the sun itself,
my eyes unable to hold it.

Lift up my eyes from worries,
from complaint,
from self-depreciation.

2 My help comes from the Lord who
created everything
reduced to the
exhausted office plant at work
that no one has fed, watered or dusted
for a very long time.
Not even a window's light.
Refresh it!

And each human person is part
of that heaven and earth.
God knows the number of the stars,
and the hyacinth bulb buried beneath the snow,
and when the Chickadee fledgling dies
this winter.
God knows I'm on my pilgrimage.
I'm God's keepsake.

3 Pilgrims trip along the way.
Blistered toes,
pulled ligaments,
suffering aches and pains,
caring for feet matters most to a pilgrim.
Bad feet can ruin the pilgrimage.
But ultimately the dread is
not about feet but of my personal un-doing.
God won't allow my final ruin.

4 Behold (Look!)
God isn't sleeping,
nodding off
like the ancient gods ~
or the commercial,
ideological or
militarized gods of
the world today.

5 God is the agent of my preservation
and protection.
God is at my right hand,
the hand I need for
the sword-carrying battle.
God beside me in the battle to stay true.

6 To be protected from the scorching
rays of the sun.
God, like the mother bird in the desert,
her wings an umbrella over the nestlings.
How many people tell the story of
wondrous turns of events that saved them
from the worst?

7 Preserved from all evil ~
we pray it all the time.
Evil is personal:
something that doesn't want me
in relationships,

God keeps my soul:
my inner person ~

8 My going out and coming in -
in all the circumstances of my life:
my dreams and joys,
my hopes, plans and projects
in my sleeplessness
in the downside,
even to the other side of my dying.

Amen! Alleluia!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Egypt And The Three Boys In The Fiery Furnace

WE KNOW THAT BETWEEN 500 AND 600 YEARS BEFORE THE BIRTH OF JESUS, the Hebrew people were exiled to Babylon where Nebuchadnezzar ruled. While he ordered the people to worship the golden god he'd made, three  Jewish slave boys, Shadrach, Mischach and Abednago refused.

Bad-tempered Nebuchadnezzar threatened, but the young men persisted in their belief. Finally, the king had them thrown into a furnace which he ordered to be intensified seven times. The number seven shouldn't surprise us, as it is the biblical number of utterly, completely, fully. The fire was so intense the guards were unable to stand anywhere nearby.

When Nebuchadnezzar came to see for himself that the boys were turned to ash, he witnessed them alive within the flames and with a fourth - like an angel. They were singing a magnificent hymn, glorifying God and summoning every aspect of creation to join them in their praises.

Armenian Christians sing this Canticle of the Boys in the Fiery Furnace before the start of the Christmas and Easter Celebrations, extolling the nearness of God who saves. The angel in the flames prefigures Christ, who is God with us in the flames of this life (name them!) and who at Easter in his rising overcomes the worst that sin can do - saving us even from the flames we might call hell. Orthodox believers attest that in the end, Christ's resurrection will vanquish hell itself.

As we pray this Canticle of the Boys in the Fiery Furnace, we might do so in solidarity with the Christians of Egypt who are trying bravely to stay standing in faith while in their own furnace of flames. The massacring of Christians is not unusual in Egypt. Churches are burned, Christians are driven from their neighborhoods. It is the intention of some Islamists to rid the country of Christians, while here in the land of freedom, we continue in our apostasy.

While the story of the boys in the fiery furnace can be found in most bibles, (Daniel 3) their hymn of praise is found only in Orthodox and Catholic bibles. Here is a translation of the Canticle taken from The Jerusalem Bible. We'll notice that the boys are identified by a different set of names. The litany is full of exuberant joy - an exuberant dancing joy in the midst of flames!

May you be blessed, Lord, God of our ancestors,
be praised and extolled for ever.
Blessed be your glorious and holy name,
praised and extolled for ever.
May you be blessed in the Temple of your sacred glory,
exalted and glorified above all forever;
blessed on the throne of your kingdom,
exalted above all, glorified for ever:
blessed in the expanse of the heavens,
exalted and glorified for ever.

Bless the Lord, all the Lord's creation:
praise and glorify him for ever!
Bless the Lord, angels of the Lord,
praise and glorify him for ever!
Bless the Lord heavens,
praise and glorify him for ever!
Bless the Lord, all the waters above the heavens,
praise and glorify him for ever!
Bless the Lord, powers of the Lord,
praise and glorify him for ever!
Bless the Lord, sun and moon,
praise and glorify him for ever!
Bless the Lord, stars of heaven,
praise and glorify him forever!

Bless the Lord, all rain and dew,
praise and glorify him for ever!
Bless the Lord, every wind,
praise and glorify him for ever!
Bless the Lord, fire and heat,
praise and glorify him for ever!
Bless the Lord, cold and warmth,
praise and glorify him for ever!
Bless the Lord, dew and snow-storm,
praise and glorify him for ever!
Bless the Lord, frost and cold,
praise and glorify him for ever!
Bless the Lord nights and days,
praise and glorify him for ever!
Bless the Lord, light and darkness,
praise and glorify him for ever!
Bless the Lord, lightning and cloud,
praise and glorify him for ever!

Let the earth, bless the Lord;
praise and glorify him for ever!
Bless the Lord, mountains and hills,
praise and glorify him for ever!
Bless the Lord, every plant that grows,
praise and glorify him for ever!
Bless the Lord, springs of water,
praise and glorify him for ever!
Bless the Lord, seas and rivers,
praise and glorify him for ever!
Bless the Lord, whales and everything that moves in the waters,
praise and glorify him for ever!
Bless the Lord, every kind of bird,
praise and glorify him for ever!
Bless the Lord, all animals wild and tame,
praise and glorify him for ever!

Bless the Lord, all the human race,
praise and glorify him for ever!
Bless the Lord, O Israel,
praise and glorify him for ever!
Bless the Lord, priests,
praise and glorify him for ever!
Bless the Lord, his servants,
praise and glorify him for ever!
Bless the Lord, spirits and souls of the upright,
praise and glorify him for ever!
Bless the Lord, faithful, humble-hearted people,
praise and glorify him for eve!

Hananiah, Azariah and Mishael, bless the Lord,
praise and glorify him for ever !
For he has rescued us from the Underworld,
he has saved us from the hand of Death,
he has snatched us from the burning fiery furnace,
he has drawn us from the heart of the flame!
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his love is everlasting.
Bless the Lord, the God of gods, all who fear him,
give praise and thanks to him,
for his love is everlasting.

The link below is of an Armenian Deacon singing the Canticle of the Three Boys. It is very beautiful.

The Canticle of Daniel ~ The Three Youths in the Fiery Furnace