Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Intercessions for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God - New Years Day

Mary hands off her Child to Simeon: a moment of separation

As we contemplate Mary and Her Child/ we pray for the mothers of the world./ We hold in our prayer, those mothers who are ill-prepared,/ worried,/ expectant,/ sick or poor./ We pray to the Lord.

On the 8th day after His Birth,/ we contemplate the Infant Christ and the world's children./ We ask for human hearts to be turned to the protective care of the baby in the womb/ and the children who are most weak and vulnerable./ We pray to the Lord.

We remember the words of Pope Paul VI: "If you want peace, create justice."/ We ask for new hearts that seek what is best for all people,/ not just for some./ We pray to the Lord.

At the start of the New Year/ we consider the relationships in our own families,/ places of work and neighborhoods./ We ask God to continually make us grateful and to re-create us as sources of friendship/ forgiveness and healing./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for those who begin the New Year in prison:/ for their inner healing and conversion,/ and blessings for those who celebrate birthdays and anniversaries in the month of January./ We pray to the Lord.

Always,/ we remember the sick,/ mindful of those struggling with chronic sickness,/ pain and fear,/ emotional or spiritual sickness./ We pray to the Lord.

Finally,/ we pray for those who have died this past year./ We pray for those who have died in wars or the year's disasters./ And that we would live our own lives only to please and glorify God in Jesus Christ./ We pray to the Lord.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Following Yonder Star


The heavens offer a star. See its ray of light descending upon the Child in the tomb-bed. The veil between heaven and earth has been pierced and God has joined us in the dark night. In the ancient world a star indicated a royal birth. But a star is also one of the first things we see after a stormy night as the clouds break. And so stars are signs of restored hope. 

Here, a star gives direction and leads to the fulfillment of our deepest searching.  The traveling magi have found the One they've sought. See them on the far left of the icon, wide-eyed and bowing. Stars have their own light and Jesus will tell us that he is LIGHT for the world. That includes my own little world.

O Christ our Savior, shed your light upon the path I have to tread.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Shepherd Flute-Player in the Nativity Icon

IN THE BOTTOM RIGHT HAND CORNER OF THE ICON - slightly to the left of the shepherds who are listening to the angel, there is a single shepherd, seated and playing a flute. The flock of sheep and goats is grazing or attentive with heads up. This isn't just a pastoral image - the way we tend to sentimentalize the shepherds. Their's was a rough and tumble life. 

But in symbology, the flute is the instrument which is played as a lament for the ancient gods of Greece. Maybe the young shepherd here is playing a kind of dirge or funeral song for those ancient gods who have now, in the birth of Christ, seen their day. These gods were tricksters and trouble-makers, zooming in from Mount Olympus and down to earth to stir up trouble, then to speed back to their dwelling places. The ancient gods didn't edify us - no one ever said, "I want to be like them." 

Cupid for example shot arrows into people, the effect being that the victim fell madly in love with the first person encountered after the love-arrow. The gods all laughed and mocked the love struck humans who fell head over heals in ridiculous love matches. 

But what about today? We all have a panoply of little (or not so little) gods who need to have the flute-dirge played over them in the Birth of Christ: King-Money, nationalism, the radio host whose word is gospel, the opinions for which I"m prepared to put my head on the block, the lies we protect, our vanities, the old resentments I guard and protect...perhaps most idolatrous of all - the nation's love affair with guns.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Joseph in the Nativity Icon


HERE IS JOSEPH, way down in the bottom left corner of the icon. He is sitting all alone on a tree stump, his hand in his head. His back is turned to the entire Christmas story. This is strange for the Westener who always sees Joseph at the very heart of the Bethlehem events - standing with a light over the Holy Child. What's going on?

Joseph is seated this way in all Eastern Icons of the Nativity, though usually there are a couple of figures standing before him dressed as shepherds. We might wonder if this icon isn't really larger than what we can see here. Perhaps it is a wall painting and the "shepherd" figures are around the corner of the room. Nevertheless, these are devil-tempters who come to Joseph disguised as shepherds, sent to tempt Joseph into non-believing. 

Joseph, especially in Saint Matthew's Gospel, has been an important player, what with his numerous angel dream-visitations who have instructed him in the protection of the Mother and Child. Now it seems he is having a moment: Is this for real? Is this becoming too much to bear? Is this Child really born of God's Holy Spirit? Has Mary really been faithful? Poor Joseph, we can understand his feeling confounded. But we know from the rest of the story that when danger was near soon after this event, he was up and off to Egypt (of all places) to continue his role as guardian.

Sitting by Joseph here in this little corner of tempting disillusionment, we might hold the inner place of our own fearful doubts - not dogma doubts - but the struggle to believe in God's accompany-ing, remedy-ing presence: during unemployment, when overwhelmed with fatigue, when success is lacking, joy is fleeting, money is tight, life is shifting sands, the losses seemingly too much to bear. Let Joseph reassure us that heaven is near and God is patient in understanding.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Intercessions for the Feast of the Holy Family - Sunday in the Christmas Octave

Junco in snow

God has joined the human family in the Incarnation./ And so we pray for that family where it needs the assurance of God's presence,/ in its vulnerability,/ weakness and error./ We pray to the Lord.

Joseph took Mary and her Infant Son into his care and protection./ We ask blessings for all who have the care of children/ mindful of those who adopt the unwanted children of others./ We pray to the Lord.

In the Christmas time we pray for the children of the world,/ asking for their well-being,/ safety and happiness./ We pray to the Lord.

Pope Francis is inviting the Church to a time of renewal and growth in Christ./ We ask a blessing upon those efforts,/ asking for new understandings as we pray before the mystery of God become human./ We pray to the Lord.

In the winter time we remember those who are cold,/ without shelter or friendship./ We ask a blessing for those who help/ and for the warming of human hearts beyond the Christmas time./ We pray to the Lord.

In the Christmas season we pray for our relatives and friends/ and ask for healing where there is division and bitterness./ We pray to the Lord.

As the winter sun begins its slow strengthening/ we ask for the gift of inner light which manifests in patient understanding and the putting away of ignorance./ We pray to the Lord.

Finally, at the end of the year/ we pray for those who have died,/ asking for them to be taken into the fullness of God's family/ - the place of light,/ life and joy./ We pray to the Lord.

The Nativity Icon in the Christmas Octave (Continued)

SOMEONE WROTE AND WISELY ASKED: Why in the Nativity Icon is the Mother of God looking away from her Son, in Western images she is fixed on him? It does seem curious doesn't it? But follow the line of her gaze. She is looking at the shepherds. And the shepherds are called the ANAWIM.


The anawim are those who in every time and culture are those who live on the margins, who have been pushed to the edge, the ones who are forgotten by the world. For the shepherds we might say, "Out of sight, out of mind." They were forgotten, ignored or perhaps despised because they worked away from the practice of the Law. They were not present to their families. They could be perceived as thievish - dirtied. In the icon the shepherds are even at the literal edge of the painted board. Any further and they'd fall off. And this is where Mary gazes. Her eyes echo the invitation of the angels - come and see.

The ANAWIM today? Damaged soldiers back from war who feel forgotten and lost in the system, the people after Katrina and Sandy and the recent Philippine cyclone and Japan after the tsunami and the reactor meltdown. The ANAWIM are the un-insured, un-educated, those without a clinic or dentist, the families who live off of garbage mountains, the young people disappeared, the country of Syria - the layers of division so complex it can't be sorted out.

Or we could say that the ANAWIM is that inner place, in each of us, that feels estranged, lost, deeply confused or un-resolved, at the end of my rope, exhausted physically or emotionally.

We might return to this central piece of the icon - the Mother of God resting. She's not day-dreaming, "What have I gotten myself into here?" But she is looking for each of us and all of us. We might place ourselves and the hurting world in her line of vision. That's a good prayer.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Stephen the Protomartyr ~ the Angel Choir of Christmas Night

Stephen the Protomartyr and Archdeacon

THE CHRISTMAS ANGELS have returned to heaven. The shepherds have gone back to their fields and flocks. And the first day after Christmas turns bloody with the Feast of the Protomartyr and Archdeacon, Stephen. This is because the feast of Stephen is older than the Feast of the Lord's Birth. 

In the evolution of the Christian calendar, Easter of course was the first feast established and celebrated, and then by extension every Sunday as a little Easter. But the first saints days to be remembered were those of the martyrs. Christmas as a feast day would not come along for quite some time.

Yesterday the Master came to us as a man,
And today his servant departs from life.
Yesterday the King was born as a man,
And today his servant is stoned to death,
For the sake of Christ, 
Holy Stephen became the first martyr.

Eastern Christian Kontakion

In the ancient icon seen here, the young deacon, chosen to wait on table for the benefit of widows, is seen wearing a white alb. He is swinging a little thurible, the incense burner the deacon uses at the liturgy while singing intercessions on behalf of the world. In his left hand the holy martyr holds the stones of his martyrdom. 

It's very hard being a Christian in much of the world today. In some countries Christians have stones and curses hurled at them as they approach their church for Mass. This is a good day to remember to pray that Muslims and Christians would love each other and that all the violence would be expunged from religion.

The name Stephen means crowned-one. We're all crowned aren't we? Some people consider their children to be their crowning. But we are first of all crowned with life itself, and faith, and baptism into Christ-life, the friends we have - the people we meet who have loved us and helped us along the way to today. We're crowned with the opportunities life has afforded us and the promises of Christ to the fullness of life - which is an even eternal gift-promise.

Returning to the Nativity Icon with its different elements - here is the angel-choir of Christmas night filling the sky after the shepherds had been directed to Bethlehem.

And suddenly there was with the angel the multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying: "Glory to God! Glory to God in the highest! And peace on the earth!"

Father Rahner says that angels are the entourage of Christ. They are present at the announcement of his conception, at the end of his forty day prayer in the desert, at his suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before his death, at his Easter Rising. Eastern icons place a row of angels at his Baptism, holding towels with covered hands.

But these are serenading angels. Lovely! I imagine we get close to knowing what the song might have sounded like when we hear Handel's Messiah: the Christmas angel-story  sung so memorably there. It is said that German Christmas carols put the Infant Jesus to sleep, while French carols wake him up. We should be sure to sing carols this week, even alone - to put Jesus to sleep, to wake him up - doesn't matter - only that they be sung with love.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

WE MUST REMEMBER THAT AN ICON DOESN'T TRY to do what a camera would have done, were cameras in existence centuries ago. Icons connect us to the things of heaven - to eternal time. Clocks and watches don't figure when we're standing before an icon. That's why in the icon of the Nativity here, there are lots of pieces or elements of the story conflated into one image. 

It's a wonderful thing to spend earth-time just looking at the Christmas icon. Silence might be the best prayer. Sort it out yourself first. Feel the wonder in it, enjoy the colors and the details, be pleased for the seeming invitation to enter the scene.

During the Christmas Octave (eight-day festal overflow) we'll quite literally zoom in to one or another element of the icon to ponder it together. Recall as well that when we speak of the Christmas mystery it doesn't mean, "Oh just believe it, you can't understand it anyway," but mystery for the Christian means that the clues and the light are so full and near we can miss it.  God has gotten so close to us in the birth of Jesus, it might go un-noticed - perhaps even by myself.

Meanwhile here is the first verse of the Kontakion (Eastern Christian poem/prayer/hymn) for the Feast of the Lord's Birth. We might use it to open up a time of prayerful looking or gazing each morning of the Octave. Again, it is said of Saint Kateri Tekawitha that she prayed more with her eyes than with her lips. And Saint Therese of Lisieux said her prayer was sometimes just a sigh

Today the Virgin gives birth to him who is above all being,
and the earth offers a cave to him whom no one can approach.
Angels with shepherds give glory,
and magi journey with a star,
for to us there has been born
a little Child, God before all ages.

And often on the Christmas radio stations we hear the Italian children's carol which translated says:

You came down from the stars,
O King of Heaven,
and came into a cave as cold as ice!
Oh, how much it cost you to love me so! 

In the center of the icon is the Bethlehem cave. It is placed centrally so we don't miss its powerful significance.  But it is not a sentimental significance. At the start of the Christ-story we are already being directed to the end of the story where Jesus' body, having been taken down from the cross, is placed in the tomb hewn out of rock. And it is from that cave-tomb that Jesus will rise in the bright-newness of Easter. Notice that the Infant's bed resembles a sepulcher (tomb) and that in his Gospel swaddling clothes Jesus is symbolically wrapped as on Good Friday.

The cave is a gaping hole in the earth or the wide open mouth taking us in. The cave is that which seeks to swallow humanity - drawing it into the encapsulating power of sin: our wrong-headedness, our destructive folly, our rebellion against goodness, the error of those choices that oppose the God of light and life. God is born into that!

The presence of the cave also suggests that all aspects of creation share in the transfiguring renewal Jesus Christ initiates. Each participates in its own way: the plants, the animals, the people, the earth itself. Notice that the rock seems to radiate light.

At Christmas, pondering the Nativity Icon, we might pray for Christ to be born in hearts cold as ice - mindful of those national hearts that ignore the poor, that contemplate war and its preparations, that make decisions that benefit only the few, that plot evil...

Christ is Born! Glorify Him! 
I send a blessing and good wishes for joy and peace
on Christmas Day!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Intercessions for the Feast of the Nativity

The spot  where Mary gave birth to Jesus Christ

At Christmas,/ we pray for Pope Francis who celebrates his first Christmas as Pope in Rome./ We ask for his safety,/ good health,/ and strength./ We pray to the Lord.

At Christmas,/ we pray for those who make pilgrimage to Bethlehem/ and for all who live in the Holy Land./ For the healing of ancient wounds there./ We ask for Christians,/ Muslims and Jews to love each other./ We pray to the Lord.

At Christmas,/ we pray that we would look up with the shepherds to behold angels/ and to be renewed and strengthened in our service of Christ./ We pray to the Lord.

At Christmas,/ we pray for a peaceful world,/ asking that as God has entrusted to each of us some small part of this earth,/ we would cultivate friendship,/ reconciliation and healing love there./ We pray to the Lord.

At Christmas,/ we pray for our families and our friends./We remember especially those who need some good news these days,/ those who are in any difficulty or trouble,/ who carry great sadness or fear./ We pray to the Lord.

At Christmas,/ we pray for the poor,/ the neglected,/ the sick and the friendless./ We remember the children,/ especially those traumatized by war,/ disease,/ famine or disaster./ We pray to the Lord.

Finally,/ we pray for those who have died since last Christmas,/ asking for them to be led by Light - to the full brightness of God's face in Jesus Christ./ We pray to the Lord.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Cause of Our Joy!

WHILE ON A RECENT PILGRIMAGE, a friend took this photograph of the Virgin Mary and her new Son, found over an altar in Padua, Italy. I feel a great joy, not only for the painting itself, but that through this marvelous technology available to us, we're able to make the image a kind of Christmas gift to the world. Joy to the World, the Lord has come, let earth receive her King...Let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing...."

The jewel-crowns the figures wear were likely added later - perhaps as a thank offering from someone who could afford it. They are lovely, but don't add anything to the real beauty of the painting, which is that of the two heavenly smiles breaking over our weary world.

God smiling on our world! God, in the Infant Christ, climbing all over us, the way a baby climbs up Mother's dress. And the dark clouds (let's name them) being pushed back by the brightness of their faces and the golden wisdom of their nimbused-minds.

This little Jesus already has his Christ-mind, which is why he looks at us with mischief. It's as if he's saying playfully, "Get ready! You think I'm adorable, and you might want me to stay a non-interfering baby, but I'm going to ask difficult things of you: to forgive endlessly, to seek God's Kingdom above money and things, to change your hearts, to become peace makers, to value the little and poor ones first, to welcome others in love, to lift the weak ones to their feet...but not to be afraid, I am with you!"

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Intercessions ~ Fourth Sunday in Advent


The December sun was re-born this week/ now the light will begin to increase./ We ask God to reveal the victory of light over darkness in our personal,/ familial,/ national and ecclesial lives./ We pray to the Lord.

Last week the nation marked the first anniversary of the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School./ We pray for mourners and all whose lives need healing after the trauma of death,/ war,/ disaster and loss./ We pray to the Lord.

Soon we will be gathering with family and friends for Christmas./ We ask for the safety of travelers and for peace in our homes./We pray as well for any of our relatives who no longer believe./We pray to the Lord.

As our Advent attention turns to Mary in her pregnancy/ we pray for women everywhere who are awaiting the birth of a child./ We pray too for the children of the world,/ that they would be protected and loved,/ and grow in safety,/ peace and strength./ We pray to the Lord.

As the winter time officially begins/ we pray for those who lack shelter,/ warmth or companionship./ We ask a blessing for those who assist people with the troubles and challenges that come with winter./ We pray to the Lord.

Parishes will receive guests and visitors over the Christmas time./ We pray to be blessed with the graciousness of Jesus,/ to welcome people with joy and openness,/ and as we kneel by the manger/ we would be freed of bitterness and resentment./ We pray to the Lord.

While we pray for those whose bodies need healing/ we pray as well for the healing of spiritual and emotional wounds./ We ask that those who have died would see the face of God in the Risen-Jesus./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Let it snow!

ANOTHER WEEK WITH SNOW PREDICTIONS in many parts of the country. Snow is an invitation to go inside, to be still, to watch and listen.

The snow might cause us to remember the angel of Easter morning: "And suddenly there was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled away the stone and sat on it. His face was like lightning, his robe white as snow." (Matthew 28:3) When we find it impossible to describe something we resort to word-images which point us in the direction of the ineffable.

Saint Seraphim of Sarov is among Russia's most beloved saints: a monk who went into the forest and lived in hidden-ness for sixteen years. But hidden holy persons are discovered sooner or later - perhaps by hunters or mushroom seekers. 

When Prince Motovilov visited Seraphim, who granted a kind of interview outside his hermitage, as the conversation came to an end, the prince testified that Seraphim's face became bright like the center of the sun and even the snow in the woods around became illumined. Saints Francis and Pio contained the wounds of the crucified Jesus while Seraphim contained the Illumination of the Transfiguration. At any rate, as in all cases, the spiritual gift was then translated into new love: Pio building a hospital for the very sick and Seraphim, a new energy in receiving countless God-seekers.

"After these words I glanced at his face and there came over me an even greater reverent awe. Imagine in the center of the sun, in the dazzling light of its midday rays, the face of a man talking to you. You see the movement of his lips and the changing expression of his eyes, you hear his voice, you feel someone holding your shoulders; yet you do not see his hands, you do not even see yourself or his figure, but only a blinding light spreading far around for several yards and illumining with its glaring sheen both the snow-blanket which covered the forest glade and the snow-flakes which be-sprinkled me and the great Elder. You can imagine the state I was in."

"Acquire the Spirit of Peace and thousands around you will be saved," Saint Seraphim said. But how are we to do that? Do everything you can to get Christ into your life; there is everything to take him away: Keep a clean heart, avoid contention, resentment and greed, live moderately and prayerfully, in humility, truth and generosity.

In these days prior to Christmas we might also see the week's snow as a reminder of God's covering or blanket-ing the world with a soft love in Jesus Christ and the wondrous things that surround his birth. How God delights us!

When I taught second grade in New York City in the early 1970's, this charming book was a winter favorite. Published in 1948, it won the Caldecott Medal for best illustration in 1949. The story and pictures convey an old-fashioned sense of wonder and delight, an appreciation of beauty and an awareness of living things. Good used copies are available inexpensively online.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Isaiah ~ Advent Prophet

"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 disburdening; his words are often slaying even horrid - designed to shock rather than edify."

THE PROPHET ISAIAH LIVED 750 YEARS BEFORE JESUS. Those Christian communities which share a common Lectionary (book of readings) become familiar with Isaiah during Advent, and many of the texts sung in Handel's Messiah come to us from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.

But as Isaiah is a long and layered book of the Hebrew Scriptures, it takes time to become familiar with its many themes. In the first section Isaiah warns the ancient Hebrews against corruption born of prosperity, the worship of false gods and mistaken and false alliances. Reading these pages we might move along thinking that this is just about 'them' - hardly mindful that God's Word is perennial and has everything to do with us - as families, as nation, as Church.

But before we read a little of Isaiah, notice in the painting above that the prophet has spirit-wind blowing on him and that the Hebrew message he shares is in a bold font. His eyes are clear and intense; his rolled up sleeve reveals a strong forearm. This prophet means business. Here's an Isaiah sampler:

The faithful city,
what a harlot she has become!
Zion, once full of fair judgment,
where saving justice used to dwell,
but now assassins!

Your silver has turned into dross,
your wine is watered.
Your princes are rebels,
accomplices of brigands,.

All of them greedy for presents
and eager for bribes,
they show no justice to the orphan, 
and the widow's cause never reaches them. (1:21-23)

The county is full of horses, its chariots are unlimited;
the country is full of idols.
They bow down before the work of their hands,
before what their own fingers have made. (2:7,8)

Because Zion's daughters are proud
and walk with heads held high
and enticing eyes-with mincing steps they go,
jingling the bangles on their feet (3:16)

Woe to those who add house to house
and join field to field until there is nowhere left
and they are the sole inhabitants of the country. (5:8)

What might the prophet say today?

1 O nation once faithful,
creating friendships
which serve your purposes.
Making money from war -
calling the death of
my littlest ones,
collateral damage.

I told you in the time of Moses,
no gods of metal,
yet you profit richly
from technology and
preparations for war.

2 You are addicted to
products and
you believe will
erase your aging.
Walgreens and Rite-Aid are your shrines.

3 You deny me the sound of
your voice,
in partisan politics.
Personalities are your priests;
your new
Word of the Lord.

4 The country gorges itself
with huge portions
while the children
weaken and starve.
Charity is your cheap justification,
but I say justice.

5 Your billion dollar stadiums -
your new cathedrals
while emptying churches fall into ruin,
the housing stock of the poor

6 A people unwilling  to stop the money-wheel
they work and shop round the clock -
as their families break down
in alienation and loneliness,
as the children I give them
become enslaved.

Fun and entertainment
have stolen away your hearts from me.
The ancients of Mesopotamia worshiped stars;
you dance with them.

8 The nation that flies to me in calamity,
has forgotten my name.
Claiming prestige in what they wear -
they celebrate
the designers of underwear.

9 Your capitalism like children in riotous play,
profiting some; leaving many behind.
A quarter of your children are poor.
Overtaken by greed,
you're made toxic by possessing.

10 I weep that you've destroyed and poisoned
the paradise-gift I created for you.
In your appetite for things
the plants and animals vanish.
The earth bleeds from below the waters
as you've raped her for your gain.

11 Portending a great gloom,
the blind-darkness of their love of guns
supersedes their love for me.
O that they were as zealous
in the care of their children
and the world beyond their window.

12 I sent my Christmas angel
with the message of No fear,
the heavenly army
singing Peace on earth.
You answer
with an evasive bomber
above the clouds:
raining angel of terror.

13 You see the elderly poor unfed,
the child without a doctor,
the mother with no shelter.
They shiver in the parks and
on the streets of your
domed and white-pillared headquarters.
Still you throw money like incense
at the billion dollar flying weapon.
Indeed, stop insulting me:
"One nation under God."
I will tell the truth:
One nation under Lockheed, Boeing and Gruman."

The Book of the Prophet Isaiah ends with the 66th chapter. In those verses God declares his desire to make something new: God coming to gather the nations and languages to witness God's glory. 

Maranatha! Lord, Come Quickly 
(I Corinthians 16:22)

Friday, December 13, 2013

Sunday Intercessions ~ Third Sunday in Advent

Prophet Isaiah ~ Marc Chagall

Today is Gaudete or Rejoice Sunday!/ We ask not to be defeated by cynicism,/ sadness,/ argument,/ bitterness or complaint,/ but to be given the gift of joy in Christ's birth./ We pray to the Lord.

Soon we will be gathering with family and friends for Christmas./ We ask for the safety of travelers and for peace in our homes./ We pray as well for any of our relatives who no longer believe./ We pray to the Lord.

This has been a week of national remembering:/ a year ago, the murder of 20 young children at Sandy Hook Elementary School./ We pray for mourners and all whose lives need deep healing after experiencing the trauma of violent death,/ war,/ disaster and sudden loss./ We pray to the Lord.

We entrust to God's healing and care/ those who are sick or living with special needs./ We pray for those who are care-givers in homes,/ hospitals,/ nursing homes,/ hospices and clinics./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray a blessing for this week ahead,/ asking that we would be the living stones which build up the Church,/ and that we would begin each day in the freshness of Christ./ We pray to the Lord.

The Prophet Isaiah warns against putting our confidence in leaders and alliances./ We pray to know Christ/ whose light informs us for the renewal of our minds./We pray to the Lord.

We pray for the dead/ recalling especially our own dear ones./ For persons deceased who have taught us,/ opened up opportunity for us,/ or done us any good./ And for any person who has died with whom we have had resentments./ We pray to the Lord.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Day Nine - God's Wild Imagining: Roses in Winter!

THE GUADALUPE STORY CONTAINS PLENTY OF TROUBLE: Juan Diego's people are defeated, Bishop Zumarraga is disbelieving and keeps putting off Juan Diego, the bishop's household is fed up with Juan Diego and spies follow him, Uncle Juan Bernadino is sick to death, Juan is demoralized at his apparent failure. And so the ending of the story: roses blooming in winter and the wondrous image on the tilma, might cause us to think, "Ah, after all the problems and challenges, the story ends happily ever after."

But not so fast - this is heaven's story, not Dorothy, the Tinman, Lion and Scarecrow running through the sleep inducing poppy field; the refreshing snow leading them through their troubles. We need to go much deeper than that.

In folklore when flowers bloom out of season (roses in winter) it is often a symbol of bad luck. Indeed, flowers out of season symbolize death - the danger of the abnormal. When we encounter God's normal - we perceive and fear it as abnormal - indeed, it means the death of our normal: our business as usual, our tradition, our tried and true, our we've always done it that way, our it was good enough for them; it's good enough for me, our my country take it or leave it, our orthodoxy, our to die for politics, our well that's just the way I am.

So yes, of course, Pope Francis speaking plainly about a new economy is going to shake up the world and bring him ridicule and new enemies. And his purifying the Church is going to arouse the ire of those who benefit from dishonesty within the Church. God's abnormal ways pose a deadly threat, a danger, to our ways.

The Guadalupe speaks Juan Diego's native language, not Spanish. Would we dare to imagine asking indigenous peoples, whose languages and cultures are becoming extinct, how we might solve global problems.

The Guadalupe chooses as her ambassador, the littlest one. Imagine the United Nations Security Council giving to the world's smallest and poorest countries on rotation, the same vote as the "super powers."

The Guadalupe doesn't present herself as a gift  for the conquerors but for "all my people." Imagine a global project to eradicate Smokey Mountain in the Philippines and other places like it. See: Sorting Through the Mess of Child Labor Red Flag Magazine

The Lady arranged the roses in Juan Diego's tilma (the feminine touch). The pope speaks of the feminine genius - but there is no forum for women to share their genius with the Church comparable to that of men.

The Lady stands on the ground - with us, not above us. Imagine affording the barefoot people of the planet the same importance and investment we give to sports, space exploration, war preparations, fashion, entertainment and Black Friday.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Day Eight ~ Third Intercessions in the Guadalupe Novena

A little angel with colored wings lifts up the Lady of Juan Diego's tilma./ We ask for our families/ and all who live in the Americas/ to be lifted up by heaven/ to faith,/ hope and love./ We pray to the Lord.

Let us not forget Maria,/ Juan Diego's wife./ We pray for the women of the western hemisphere and all the world/ who have others in their care./ We pray for women who suffer abuse,/indignity or insufficiency./ We pray to the Lord.

Millions of people travel each year to Mexico/ to venerate the tilma of Our Lady at Tepeyac./ We pray to honor each other as well - / - as Mary's Divine Child/ who has come to us at Bethlehem,/ gives each human person new dignity./ We pray to the Lord.

It is a difficult climb to the chapel at the top of Mount Tepeyac./ We pray for those for whom life seems all uphill,/ asking for them, new resolve,/ strength and support./ We pray to the Lord.

The face of the Virgin Mary on the tilma is indigenous and very beautiful./ We ask to see the Divine in each human face:/ in the faces of newcomers,/ and those who do not reflect the world's idea of beauty,/ the faces marred by tears,/ fear and hard toil./ We pray to the Lord.

The Guadalupe account is filled with bird song and flowers./ We pray to be seized by the beauty of holiness - living in goodness,/ humility,/ integrity/ and the heart-desire to see the beauty of God's face./ We pray to the Lord.

The Virgin of Guadalupe wears a high belt/ suggesting her pregnancy./ We ask that every child would be wanted,/ welcomed and loved - holding most deeply in our prayer/ the children in the  womb with special needs and challenges./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Day Seven in the Guadalupe Novena ~ Her Pregnancy

THE TILMA OF THE LADY OF GUADALUPE is filled with numerous pieces, all of which are pointers or symbols: her eyes, movement, the colors, the arrangement of the mantle's stars, the crescent moon and sun-rays, the flowered gown, her inclined head. 

It is said that the high placement and color of the ribbon-belt suggests her pregnancy. Some have even said the fact that her dress is belted instead of loose, indicates her pregnancy. Perhaps her bowed head is in recognition of the divine presence within her womb. 

Human beings begin life on the planet within an almost magical watery world. Pictures reveal that we seem to be happy there. Because of her goodness, Mary's womb has been described as a heaven on earth out of which Jesus-God has come into our world.

As a young teacher, decades ago, I was at an end of the school year luncheon in a New York City restaurant. The room was filled with the soft and pleasant sounds of people conversing, silverware, dishes and glasses, waiters moving around - maybe there was music. Two teachers to my right started to talk, defending abortion, and I said (calmly and in a conversational tone), "Nah, I think that's really wrong." With that, everything at the table stopped. People put down their silverware and all heads turned to me. I don't remember how it ended. It didn't escalate and I have no recall of how we moved back into normal conversation. What did it suggest? There's going to be a fight? Let's see how he gets himself out of this one? Does anyone really believe this? Oh good, I"m glad someone is brave enough to say that? 

Of late the folks at MSNBC have undertaken an advertising campaign, perhaps hoping to draw new viewers. These are the themes:

  • We all want to live in a nation that's better tomorrow that it is today. 
  • But for the past twenty years we've been re-cycling the same conversations. 
  • Enough with the arguments, it's time to advance the issues. 
  • It's time for new questions. 
  • It's time to lean forward.
  • It's time to celebrate the best ideas. 
  • We give the story few places to hide.

I don't know, is the Reverend Al Sharpton the religious face of MSNBC? When people address him they call him, Rev. I think that Rev. Sharpton personifies the aspects of the station's media campaign - he is a vociferous advocate of human rights. That's not to be taken away from him. We should hope for clerics who are promoters of the dignity of the human person, as Pope John Paul II would have said. 

But I've noticed that whenever Rev. Sharpton makes a list of persons to be be defended, towards the end of the list he includes women and their right to abortion, citing rape and incest victims. In other words: Abortion has to be protected as a right because rape and incest happen. But that's not how you start a debate or defend an argument - by citing the statistics which represent the fewest cases. Rev. Al defends everyone except the pre-born child.

This month, the nation remembers the first anniversary of the murder of 20 children at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. Another 7 adults were killed that day by the same gunman. Immediately after the killing, President Obama addressed an auditorium of grieving parents, family, local people and school staff. He said:

"The majority of those who died today were children - beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old. They had their entire lives ahead of them - birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own...we will have to change...If there's even one step we can take to save one child then we surely have an obligation to try."

But isn't this what abortion does - it steals away a future. Isn't the President making a simply-stated but profound argument as to why we have to stop aborting. And while he indicates, birthdays, graduations, weddings and having their own children - there are other, less thought of  life-events stolen away: learning to tie a shoe, getting new teeth, mastering an instrument, the making of friendships, their contributions to the creation of thought and beauty - all the things that make for a human life. Abortion is the theft of a future.

When people questioned Mother Teresa about picking new-born infants out of street garbage piles in Calcutta, they would sometimes say, "Why do you do it; she/he's going to die anyway?" Mother Teresa would say, "Even if she lives for five minutes, then for five minutes she would know she was loved." What about that?

Or in a documentary film we see Mother Teresa holding a baby girl who fits in her hand. The interviewer asks, 'Do you think this one will make it?" Mother Teresa says, "I think so, I see life in her." Well The New York Times followed up on this baby girl and decades later discovered that she had been adopted, went to an Ivy League college and had just graduated with an admirable degree. She had been given her future.

Down Syndrome kids are almost extinct, as their presence in the womb is detectable and abortion usually follows. But folks with Down Syndrome  give more hugs and smiles in a day than most of us give in a (proverbial) lifetime! Isn't that part of their stolen-away future - the gift of the bright-love they give the world? 

I wonder if the Rev. Al Sharpton really does believe these things but jumps to defending abortion rights citing  incest and rape cases in order to keep  viewers, advertisers and the corporate leadership satisfied and calm?

President Obama was talking about gun regulation when he talked about the 20 children at Sandy Hook being robbed of their future and the nation needing to try harder to save even "one child." I'd suggest that the protective awareness and concern he's speaking of needs to be pushed back further - into the womb - which we could argue ought to be the safest place on the planet.

Guadalupe-Mother of the pre-born, show us the way.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Day Six ~ Second Intercessions During the Guadalupe Novena

On Juan Diego's tilma/ the Lady stands in front of the sun/ which was worshiped as a god by the Aztecs./ We pray to be freed of anything we have allowed to supersede or replace God./ We pray to the Lord. 

The Lady on the tilma is walking towards us./ We pray to be Christians in motion,/ persons who carry a message of life and hope to those who are alone,/ afraid or unknowing./We pray to the Lord.

The Lady on the tilma stands on a crescent moon./ It is the moon in its beginning phase./ We pray to begin again when we have forgotten or failed God,/ ourselves or each other./ We pray to the Lord.

The colors of the tilma are vibrant and fresh./ We pray not to cast every person,/ moral problem or human dilemma in terms of black and white,/ but to see the world's concerns and God's world-presence/ in colors which even change./ We pray to the Lord.

The roses of Tepeyac were rich in fragrance./ We pray to leave the fragrance of Christ wherever we go:/ his gentle kindness,/ his capacity to lift others up,/ his patience with weakness./ We pray to the Lord.

Juan Diego and his people were indigenous to Mexico:/ a defeated people./ We call to mind those we know and care for/ who perhaps are defeated by addiction,/ age,/ prolonged sickness or sorrow/ praying for their consolation and strength./ We pray to the Lord.

In the miracle of the roses,/ flowers bloom in winter./ We ask to be a people of hope:/ persons who believe in God/ who brings beauty,/ reconciliation and life out of what is seemingly dead or without promise./ We pray to the Lord.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Day Five ~ Washington D.C.

I FIRST VISITED THIS CHAPEL in the late 1960's having joined a Franciscan Pilgrimage out of New York City to Washington, D.C. It is a side chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe in the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. At that time, this National Shrine was the seventh largest church in the world! I don't remember being taken on a tour of the great building but rather coming across this delightfully intimate chapel on my own. Everything about it said, "Don't stand on the threshold; come inside." 

In returning to D.C. a few weeks ago I had arranged to offer Mass here, fulfilling a boyhood dream. My sister accompanied me as we had both participated in the Shared Hope International conference on the Sex Trafficking of Minors. How fitting that these two events should have come together here as in the story of the Guadalupe appearances to Juan Diego, he addresses her as "my little girl." America's children, mostly girls, are being kidnapped, groomed and prostituted by the many thousands, and as a national people we are too often ignoring it, believing the problem exists on other continents. It is reported that girls as young as 3,4 and 5 are caught in this new form of slavery.

In preparation for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Feast of the Child of Bethlehem we might visit this site: Shared Hope International . Let's invite our believing to be turned into new knowledge and some kind of response-action. 

While my sister waited in the chapel for me to return from the sacristy after the Mass she sat on the side bench over which is a long line of candle bearing mosaic-pilgrims on their way to venerate the Guadalupe. She composed this strong poem there.

In the third stanza could the "armies of the dead" be the clergy who, and the self-protective policies which have so offended and failed the children of the Church?

Guadalupe Roses

See the Aztec Goddess, in so few words,
rise like maize above the frozen Tepeyec hills,
glow in mosaic, red yellow pink blue,
the arc of spectrum we all know, but that
had never been seen before in Mexico──
until she showered down upon Juan Dieguito
love in the form of Castilian roses.

See the beautiful women of so few words,
their handsome men and children, of fewer still,
with lowered eyes, whisper among themselves,
the breath of roses never forgotten.
For those who scope upon them in subways and hotels,
where they change our bedding, serve us food,
or in our homes where they cut our lawns,
see only the utility of forms, blind to the stamina of roses.

See the black demon of empty words
run back into its hole down the hill,
by the cathedral facing the northern shore
limned with corpses, guns, death by alcohol,
drugs, rape, forced servitude and prostitution,
where the churches are full of the armies of the dead
who cannot inhale the sweet breath of roses.

See the beauty of the bud, glow with life interior,
yet, there are those who seek to disturb
the peaceful minds of others, whose envy
fails to penetrate, their longing still unheard──
to become the lord's of unspeakable things,
everything that's ever wished for, won,
except for those heart-minds, like tilmas worn,
blanketed in the multi-colored flame of roses.

                                                            Karen Morris─
                                                            Chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe,
                                                            Basilica of the National Shrine, Washington, DC
                                                            November 10, 2013

Castilian Rose

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Day Four ~ Intercessions During the Guadalupe Countdown

The Lady of Guadalupe is the patroness of the Americas: North, Central and South./ We pray for this part of the world/ asking for the conversion of hearts where persons suffer indignities and injustice./ We pray to the Lord.

The Lady of Guadalupe called Juan Diego the littlest of her sons./ We pray to remember that each human person is God's child/ and to love people with the mind of Christ./ We pray to the Lord.

Juan Diego delayed meeting the Lady for their second appointment because his uncle, Juan Bernadino, was dying./ We pray for persons who care for others in frailty or suffering-need./ We pray to the Lord.

While the Lady asked for a chapel to be built on the top of Tepeyac, we ask God all the more to change us into living stones that build up the Church to God's Glory/ and the love of our neighbor./ We pray to the Lord.

When the Lady appeared to Juan Diego/ she stood barefoot on the ground./ We ask for the virtue of humility/ by which we might see ourselves truthfully,/ in our vulnerability and powerlessness./ We pray to the Lord.

On Juan Diego's tilma/ the Lady stands in the posture of prayer./ In the dark time of the year/ we pray to be enlightened/ that we might pray more deeply and from the heart./ We pray to the Lord.

We entrust the sick,/ the friendless and the needy to the Guadalupe's care,/ and pray that those who have died may experience the most tender mercy of Jesus/ who pardons, heals and makes whole./ We pray to the Lord.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Day Three ~ Guadalupe Novena Countdown ~ Juan Diego and the Bishop

THE EDITORIAL OF THE NOVEMBER 16, 2013 issue of The Tablet, the newspaper of the Brooklyn Diocese, reflected upon what's being called The Francis Effect: the impact the new pope is having on people around the world. It seems that while the pope is warmly received in so many circles, some are criticizing him for a (perceived) desire to revive the spirit of the earliest Church when the community was without evolved hierarchical structures. 

The editorial cites Vittorio Messori, who wrote in Milan's daily newspaper, Corriere della Sera that, "Historically, charismatic movements which refused to change into hierarchical structures were swiftly reduced to irrelevance." I expect  that is so, but we might well consider the converse: that the Church, where the hierarchical structures are overstated, runs the risk of forgetting and losing the charisms (spiritual gifts and qualities) of the founder. This sad fact is played out repeatedly throughout the history of the Church. Pope John Paul II recognized this and was unafraid to declare it while in the year 2000 he repeatedly apologized before the world for the historical sins of the Church. Some high ranking prelates thought he was mistaken in doing this. 

Pope Francis understands. He says that the Church can lose the fragrance of the gospel. I wonder if there are many Catholics who even understand what that might mean. He has instructed bishops to change course in emphasis and style. In the same issue of The Tablet, Cardinal Dolan reflected on a meeting he recently had with Pope Francis. Cardinal Dolan said of the pope: "He made a special point of saying that he wants pastoral bishops, not bishops who profess or follow a particular ideology." This pope often calls for the end of clericalism (when a priest thinks the rules that apply to everyone else don't apply to him) and for the clergy to get out of their churches to be with people and serve them where they are.

All of this to say, that as the account of Juan Diego and the Lady of Guadalupe unfolds, Juan Diego has to meet a bishop.

It is said that in the age of the European countries establishing colonies around the world, notably in Africa and Central and South America, that the clergy hitched a ride. But from the start there is a problem, as the clergy have associated themselves with the defeating powers. It's hard to convince people of the beauty of Jesus when you arrive with colonizing disease bearers, thieves, exploiters, abusers, cultural destroyers.

In the Guadalupe account we notice that the Lady didn't reveal herself to the Spanish Governor nor to Bishop Zumarraga, but to Juan Diego who was effectively on the bottom of the pile. Juan Diego was of no consequence in the culture of the day. He's wasn't a slave and he wasn't in the army, but the story tells us that he still had to show up for roll call. And so the first thing the Lady accomplished in speaking his language, in conversing with him while standing barefoot on the ground, in resembling his people, was to  give him his dignity back. She made him her viceroy!

And as is true in almost all the accounts of Marian Apparitions throughout history, the seer (the see-er) is disbelieved. But seers are almost always children or poor - or poor children. Indeed, Juan Diego is worse than disbelieved, he is reviled. The language coming out of the Bishop's household regarding Juan Diego is telling: They held him in suspicion. They observed and spied on him. They became disgusted and angered with him. They said Juan Diego was a deceiver, a fake, a dreamer, a liar. They schemed, should he return after being sent away, that they would arrest and punish him harshly.

Often the Church simply doesn't share the joy. The pope has said we have become obsessed with certain sexual and morale issues and in doing so something of the essential gospel message is lost. Participating in an international conference in Washington, D.C. recently, in the course of nearly three days, nearly every person with whom I spoke told me some sad story of their having "left the Catholic Church." In one diocese I know of, the word hemorrhaging is used to describe the exiting of Catholics to Evangelical Churches where the transforming Jesus of the Gospels is proclaimed. In the telling of their stories, often it's disclosed that people feel the Catholic Church has simply lost joy.

Pope Benedict XVI said of the Church in the First World that it is exhausted. I wonder at times if our Church hasn't become a kind of an empty shell or an antique, substituting liturgical theater, charade, sentiment, power, religious distraction, lies and talking in the vacuum of specialized and arcane language, as a substitute for the real thing, which is Christ. One priest I know told me years ago that we have lost our Christic-Center.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Waiting after Katrina

Perhaps nothing else reveals the loss of the heavenly or spiritual thrust in the Guadalupe story as this - that repeatedly, Juan Diego is made to wait. The poor always wait. They wait in clinics. They wait for buses. They wait on long lines. They have no letters of recommendation or badges to flash to open access, no names to drop or tips to speed things along for them. They're in no position to bribe their way - no this-for-that negotiating power.

"On arrival, he (Juan Diego) endeavored to see him (the bishop); he pleaded with the servants to announce him; and after a long wait, he was called and advised that the bishop had ordered his admission."  

And again: "On the hour Juan Diego left for the palace of the bishop. Again with much difficulty he was able to see him."

Then, as always happens in the stories of apparitions from heaven, the Church takes charge of the site and the story itself - as if to tame, manage and massage the message. In truth we are told that the bishop fell to his knees before the mystical image on Juan Diego's tilma and shed sorrowful tears for his disbelief and procrastination, but then we read:

"When he rose to his feet, he untied from Juan Diego's neck the cloth on which appeared the image of the Lady from heaven. Then he took it to be placed in his chapel." The tilma didn't belong to him. But the tilma was enshrined and has become the most visited Catholic shrine in the world. But does the presence of the tilma change us? Does it change the Church?

The Guadalupe Account proposes something new for the Church - beginning with the top: a Church that's eager to listen, where no one of us lords it over another, where service is pre-eminent, where the poor are moved up front so the rest of us can help, where the things of heaven give us joy, where suspicion is reduced, where we respect the messages others carry.

And when I suggest that the poor be moved up front I am not speaking of stepping aside so someone can get to the soup kitchen door - I"m talking about the rich countries and the poor countries. Maybe before Christmas we could read Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation Evangelli Gaudium where he calls the First World to a new attentiveness and response in these things. For the price of one bomb we could build 34 schools in the poorest parts of the world.

In the mid 1980's, when AIDS was out of control and people were getting sick and dying quickly and in large numbers, the gay community in New York rallied and took even strangers into their homes, people who had lost their families, their jobs, their apartments, their savings - and be-friended and nursed them until they died. When I shared this in a Sunday sermon and suggested that perhaps Catholics had something to learn from that community, the only ones who objected were the  pious never-miss-Mass folks. It's confounding how a religious person can appear to have so much insight and truth and underneath have so little.

Bishop Zumarraga was chaplain to the Empire's Governor. There was a lot of power and prominence built into that relationship. Yet it was Juan Diego (the littlest one) who carried the message and the picture from heaven. That's pure Gospel!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Day Two ~ Guadalupe Novena Countdown ~ Daybreak

Lets' not be just admirers of the Guadalupe story, but see how even the details of the account play in our own lives today.

The account of the First Apparition of the Lady of Guadalupe to Juan Diego begins: On a Saturday just before dawn, he was on his way to pursue divine worship and to engage in his own errands. As he reached the base of the hill  known as Tepeyac, came the break of day, and he heard singing atop the hill, resembling the singing of varied beautiful birds. 

The words before dawn indicate that Juan Diego had set out in the dark, and as he reached the bottom of the Tepeyac hill, day break occurred. We're not just being told the time of day but symbolically, in the coming of light, there is signified the coming of understanding. I would suggest that as the conversation unfolds between Juan Diego and the Lady, that he will come to understand not only who She is, but perhaps even more importantly, who he and his people are.

We might also imagine that Bishop Juan de Zumarraga will come to some new understanding of who these non-Spaniards are. Pray that as She appears in the dawn-light of understanding that anyone who draws near to Her will understand as God understands: that each human person is irrevocably soul-endowed and heaven-born.

In the early morning too, our perceptions are heightened. Perhaps it is because we are rested and ready for what's new. Daybreak transforms what's familiar and gives the senses new depth. Moments before the apparition takes place, Juan Diego even asks, "Am I awakening?" 

But Juan Diego's heightened perception wasn't simply of his outer environment; he was waking up spiritually and psychologically. Maybe in those dawn moments he started to grow up in some new human way. We must remember, Juan Diego was a man whose race had been defeated. The possibilities for new understandings were tremendous. Defeated, crushed, degraded - even enslaved, Juan Diego might be asking, "Who am I, who are we now?"

"We are always beginning again," Dorothy Day said. To appreciate the Guadalupe story is to appreciate this daybreak aspect - that of new beginning, new understanding. There is an Easter echo in all of this too, isn't there: And on the first day of the week at dawn the women came to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared." (Luke 24: 1,2)

  • A relationship is healed and amends are made.
  • An opportunity is presented to learn something new.
  • The first creative thoughts of the day are acknowledged.
  • Perhaps some insight was revealed, even in the night's dreaming.
  • A marriage comes to a place of new relational depth - even born of sorrow.
  • There is the resolve to begin again after some failure or setback.
  • A mistaken or fruitless approach, method or way of thinking is abandoned.
  • Health is restored or not - and we grow in new understandings.
  • A reprieve is given.
  • One sets out in new sobriety.
  • Pride or fear is put down and growth can occur.
  • Sadness, perhaps as deep as depression, is pushed back.
  • We stop rationalizing, procrastinating and justifying and start to live in the truth.

Name the dawn - the coming out-of-night to break-of-day.