Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Greccio - New Bethlehem

HERE IS A PHOTOGRAPH of the wonderful, mountainside Franciscan monastery at Greccio, Italy. This is where Francis popularized the Christmas Nativity scene with lights, song, live animals and people assuming the traditional roles. 

I visited Greccio for a day during a three month sabbatical some years ago: train from Assisi, bus and then a long hike up the mountain, arriving seconds before siesta time, the sister in charge setting me up to offer Mass in the cave where Francis and the villagers re-created the holy scene. 

Here is the lovely account as told by Paul Sabatier in his book The Road to Assisi.
The population of Greccio and its environs was therefore, assembled, as well as the brothers from the neighboring monasteries. On the evening of the Vigil of Christmas one might have seen the faithful hastening to the hermitage by every path with torches in their hands, making the forests ring with their joyful hymns.
Everyone was rejoicing - Francis most of all. The knight had prepared a stable with straw and brought an ox and a donkey, whose breath seemed to give warmth to the poor bambino, numbed with cold. At the sight the saint felt tears of pity warm his face; he was no longer in Greccio, his heart was in Bethlehem.
Finally they began to chant matins, then the Mass was begun, and Francis, as deacon, read the Gospel. Already, hearts were touched by the simple recital of the sacred legend in a voice so gentle and so fervent, but when he preached, his emotion soon overcame the audience. His voice had so unutterable a tenderness that they also forgot everything and were living over again the feeling of the shepherds of Judea, who in those days of old went to adore the God made man, born in a stable. 

In a side note Paul Sabatier tells us that when Francis pronounced the word Bethlehem it sounded like the bleating of a lamb. And when Francis said the name of Jesus or Babe of Bethlehem he seemed to hold the words on his palate as if tasting something sweet. 

Here is the fresco painted on the plastered cave wall over the little altar: Mary nursing the Holy Child at Bethlehem. The stone crib resembles his tomb. The swaddling clothes; his shroud.

A priest said once that we needn't pay much attention to the Gospel's infancy accounts - that Jesus grew up is all that matters. I disagree. For Bethlehem, everything is changed. God has put away sending the plagues and smoking mountains, defeating armies and destroying cities. Some Christians are not comfortable with God's new approach of entering our world as a defenseless baby because it means we can't be fans of capital punishment, global militarization, clerical chaplaincies to governments, and the trappings of power, whether it's our money, our technology, titles, professional initials or the status designations of colored clerical buttons, capes and caps. Everything must be re-thought. God has  joined us in powerlessness; God cries for his mother's milk.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Earth Offers A Cave

THE GEOGRAPHY SURROUNDING BETHLEHEM is filled with caves such as this one. Often the cave entrance is small or shallow, but then opens to a deep, high and wide interior, making caves excellent places to hunker down against bad weather or escape the notice of an enemy or predator. A cave is an earth-womb. Eastern Christians have thoughtfully preserved the earliest tradition that Jesus was born in a cave. The symbolism is spiritually significant.

What shall we present unto Thee, O Christ
For Thy coming to earth for us humankind?
Each of Thy creatures brings
Thee a thank-offering.
The angels; singing -
The heavens; a star - 
The Wise Men; treasures -
The shepherds; devotion -
The earth; a cave -
The desert; a manger -
But we offer Thee the Virgin Mother.
O Eternal God, have mercy on us.

(Eastern Christian Christmas Sticherion morning/evening hymn)

Caves are the earliest home of human beings. Now in Christ, God is making himself at home with us in our most basic or elemental place. Caves are also burial places. The cave of Christ's birth is a foreshadowing of his Good Friday burial and his Easter morning Resurrection. A cave is an entrance to the underworld to which Christ descended, pulling humankind up and out of death and darkness to his new life and light.

Are Christians spiritually mature enough to allow for this symbolism: that caves are hidden shelters for lovers: that in Christ's birth, God is loving the world with the intensity of a lover! 

But a cave is also an image of the unconscious human mind and heart. That is to say, the human mind is filled with secret chambers, niches, tunnels, disorienting twists and turns, dead ends that seem to entrap or corner us. We bump around in the enveloping darkness of a deep cave. Navigating that darkness is difficult and frightening hard work. We can imagine ourselves standing cautiously outside the cave pictured above and saying, "I'm not going in there." But only through this interior journey do we come to transformation - our growth in putting on the mind of Christ - which is the full development of my own God-gifted mind in freedom, authenticity, compassion, creativity and love. 

And what might I come upon in my own inner cave?
  • the realization of how dependent I am,
  • the tricks I play to manage the day,
  • the anxieties and fears that preoccupy and tire me,
  • my defenses and habit of blaming,
  • the masks I wear,
  • the untreated resentments I carry still,
  • the lies I tell myself,
  • how I calculate and justify my choices,
  • my dread of  confronting my own inadequacy,
  • my struggle to believe I am loved by God,
  • the niggling question that I am not good enough...
  • that God holds a grudge against me,
  • why can't I just believe that God has allowed each part of my journey for my own good?
  • What is buried deep down inside that I really want for myself?
There was a film years ago, Come to the Stable. I'd say, this Christmas, Come to the Cave - the cave in the icon shown here, bringing all of these concerns, questions and desires. And like Mary, after the shepherds departed, ponder the meaning and perhaps, what might I do next?

pay attention to the inner cave

Friday, December 26, 2014

Intercessions ~ Feast of the Holy Family

Flight into Egypt ~ Austrian

We pray for the entire human family at Christmas time/ asking for all people to learn how to treat others well./ We pray to the Lord

As the light increases in our hemisphere now,/ one minute more each day,/ we pray for the enlightenment of minds to see ourselves and others as God sees,/ accepts and loves./ We pray to the Lord.

On this Feast of the Holy Family/ we pray for families that are on the move:/ immigrants,/ refugees and exiles./We pray to the Lord.

We pray for the world's children,/ mindful today of those who are exploited,/ enslaved,/ terrorized,/ unwanted,/ uneducated./ We pray to the Lord.

Bless world leaders with insight/ and a new willingness to safeguard peace for the sake of the families entrusted to their care and protection./ We pray to the Lord.

Friday was the Feast of Saint Stephen the First Martyr./ We pray in a heart-solidarity with the Christian martyrs of the Middle East and Africa./ We pray as well for the conversion of those who do hateful and deadly things./ We pray to the Lord.

As we contemplate Mary's pregnancy and the delivery of her Child,/ we pray for children waiting to be born:/ for their protection,/ health and welcoming./ We pray to the Lord.

For those who have died this past year,/ to receive the forgiveness of sins/ and the fullness of life promised by Jesus/ born of Mary at Bethlehem./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

But is there real love....?

I love the Russian Bells dusted with snow.
I love the winter stream coursing around the property.
I love the tall white pine trees.
I love the snow on the bright-green forest-moss.
I love the tea in the blue Chinese mug.
I love the deer, sensing its safety here.
I love the chickadee grabbing sunflower hearts from my hand.
I love the the chapel icon with its silver lamp.

But is there real love in my heart?

Christmas Intercessions ~ Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

Titian Madonna and Child

The angel chorus announced peace and joy to the shepherds of Christmas night./ Grant that the Church announce the good news of inclusion,/ reconciliation and salvation to all people./ We pray to the Lord.

Bethlehem means House of Bread/ a foreshadowing of Christ's followers gathered in the Eucharist./ We ask for a world that leaves no one hungry./ We pray to the Lord.

For our families and friends,/ asking good health,/ safety,/ peace and conversion of heart./ Bless all who are away from home,/ lonely or without joy./ We pray to the Lord.

At Bethlehem we contemplate the presence of the Holy Child among us/ praying for the Holy Children of Mexico,/ El Salvador,/ Nigeria,/ Gaza and Israel/ Peshawar,/ Chicago and Los Angeles,/ and wherever young people suffer./ We pray to the Lord.

In Christ,/ God has entered our world to reclaim it./ We pray for our planet's healing where it is polluted,/ degraded,/ exploited and destroyed./ We pray to the Lord.

At Christmas,/ we consider Joseph and Mary/ traveling on the road from Nazareth to Bethlehem./ We pray for refugees,/ exiles and immigrants/ to be blessed with welcoming love./ We pray to the Lord.

Bless world leaders with a desire for a peaceful world./ Convert terrorists and those who militarize the world,/ restore joy and calm to places where there is violence and death./ We pray to the Lord.

At Christmas,/ we pray for all who have died this past year,/ asking for them to enjoy the fullness of life they longed for while here on earth./ And for those who are in mourning at Christmas./ We pray to the Lord.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Mary of Bethlehem

HAVE WE SUNG or heard this lovely Advent hymn at home or in church these Advent weeks?

O come, Divine Messiah,
The world in silence waits the day
When hope shall sing its triumph,
And sadness flee away.

Dear Savior haste!
Come, come to earth,
Dispel the night and show Thy face,
And bid us hail the dawn of grace.

O Come, Divine Messiah,
The world in silence waits the day
When hope shall sing its triumph,
And sadness flee away.

The icon of the Mother of God seen here is found in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. A woman is reaching out to touch the face of the icon. We can imagine she is standing on tip-toe, symbolizing the world's ache and longing for the peaceful-joy expressed in the face of the Mother of God - contrasted with the dark shadow. Dispel the night and show Thy face.

To enter the Church of the Nativity one must crouch down and bend over - the door being too small to accommodate an adult. Perhaps the original intent was to keep out enemy soldiers on horseback. Unconsciously however, the little door invites us to consider our own littleness, our condition as servants before God, to leave our pride and power outside. Today perhaps the gesture will be lost on many people who only express irritation at the inconvenience and discomfort. Someone might say, "Oh, what a silly door." 

Here we are a few days before Christmas with news of a recent attack upon a school in Pakistan - over one hundred forty five staff and students as young as seven years of age, murdered. And sadness flee away.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Sunday Intercessions ~ Fourth Advent

As winter begins we pray for self knowledge/ where we are feeling cold or frozen about ourselves or our relationships ./ For hearts to be enlightened and warmed by Christ./ We pray to the Lord.

The Jewish People celebrate Chanukah these days - their own feast of light./ We ask for the strengthening of Jewish-Christian relations/ and for the conversion of anti-semitic hearts./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray in the holiday time for the homeless,/ the friendless and all who might feel there is no cause for hope or joy./ We pray to the Lord.

As we prepare to celebrate the feast of God becoming one of us as a little child,/ we pray for the world's children - mindful of the terrorized children of the Middle East./ For their peace,/ good health and protection./ We pray to the Lord.

For those with whom we will share visits,/ gifts and meals at Christmas./ For the safety of winter travelers./ For anyone who is away from home this holiday time./ We pray to the Lord.

Grant a change of heart to those who do menacing/ terrorist and violent things./ Give us all that new heart and mind to be good stewards of the earth which we so often treat badly./ We pray to the Lord.

Give gifts of mercy,/ healing,/ joy and fullness of life to all throughout the world who have died this past year./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Parable of the Seed Sower

Van Gogh ~ The Seed Sower

On another occasion Jesus began to teach by the lake-side. The crowd that gathered round him was so large that he had to get into a boat on the lake, and there he sat, with the whole crowd on the beach right down to the water's edge. And he taught them many things  by parables.
As he taught them he said: Listen! A sower went out to sow. And it happened that as he sowed, some seed fell along the footpath; and the birds came and ate it up. some seed fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil, and it sprouted quickly because it had no depth of earth; but when the sun rose the young corn was scorched, and as it had no proper root it withered away. Some seed fell among thistles; but the thistles shot up and choked the corn, and it yielded no crop. And some of the seed fell into good soil, where it came up and grew, and bore fruit; and the yield was thirtyfold, sixtyfold, even a hundred fold. He added, "If you have ears to hear, then hear.' Mark 4: 1-9

IN THE FIRST VERSES we see that a large and eager crowd has gathered to hear Jesus who uses a boat as a pulpit to avoid being pushed into the water by his fans. These happy listeners are a contrast to the little group of suspicious investigators who, in the previous verses, have come down from Jerusalem: religious headquarters. Some people still do this when they write complaint letters to the bishop, papal nuncio or directly to the Pope. 

Notice that Jesus sits while teaching which means that he teaches with authority. Mark gives us lovely details: the people are pushed down to the water's edge. Hold the picture mindfully and you're meditating. Maybe the people want to be able to hear better. No sitting in the last row here! And St. Mark tells us that Jesus taught the people many things. Jesus isn't stingy and never like a teacher, parent, doctor or cleric who's always in a hurry.

Jesus gets our attention, "Listen up, everyone!" Good teacher that he is, Jesus uses parables which are picture stories. Parables deliver a new perspective, causing people to question what they think they're so sure of. If I'm going to follow Jesus I've got to be ready for a new way of looking at things. I shouldn't be so sure that I know what God is about or up to!

The seed is God's Word. Big churches usually have pulpits that are elevated above the congregation - even many steps up so folks can see and hear better. Stepping into that kind of pulpit I always think of the seed sower walking through the field and while wearing the seed bag on the left side he/she digs into the bag and pulls out fistfuls of seed, throwing it in a splaying motion while walking. Seed thrown everywhere!

Notice this - there's nothing wrong with the seed - the problem is the ground which receives it. Notice too that most of the seed is wasted or lost, for one reason or another it simply doesn't produce. Footpath. Birds. Rock shelf under the shallow soil. Scorching sun. Thistle-weeds. But God isn't discouraged! Instead God celebrates wherever the seed-word is fruitful! 

What's the fruit God is looking for? Maybe the Mass Preface for the Feast of Christ the King tells us: A kingdom of truth and life: a Kingdom of holiness and grace: a Kingdom of justice, love and peace. The parable invites me to think about my own life and why perhaps so much of God's Word fails in me or my family. Name it!

But Jesus knows human nature much better than we often do. He ends the parable by saying, "If you have ears to hear, then hear." If! Jesus knows well that we are each conditioned differently, that some people are simply not receptive, while others might be superficial, still others are distracted or pre-occupied. And even in those who ARE open, inviting and receptive to God's Word, there are degrees or levels of fruitfulness or effectiveness (thirty, sixty, a hundredfold). I'm left to ask, What do I want for myself?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Snow on Snow on Snow

WHEN I STARTED TEACHING in New York City in January of 1974 I made a promise to myself that whenever it would start to snow, and a student would call out in excitement, "Look, it's snowing!" that I would not respond in a way that would stop the enthusiastic delight. Rather, that I would share their joy and allow for some moments of wonder. For heaven's sake, we were in Harlem - if there was ever a place that needed some moments of wonder!

"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed." Albert Einstein

A recent newspaper article about a Cosmology conference began with the question, "What creativity brought forth a trillion galaxies?" Indeed and we might ponder, what creativity brings forth the seemingly endless diversity of  snowflakes?

Snowflakes are not frozen rain - that's sleet. Snowflakes rather are water vapor droplets that have condensed and frozen into ice around a dust particle or pollen high in the atmosphere. This becomes the "seed" from which the snowflake will grow. That much is known. What happens next depends on the temperature and to a lesser extent how much humidity is in the air. Those fluctuations bring about the endless branching or growth of the snowflakes while faceting creates the flat plates between the branches. That endless and often very subtle differentiation of each snowflake, believe it or not, remains a mystery.

When sunlight strikes accumulating snow, the collection of many snowflake branches and facets breaks up the light, sending it in all directions, resulting in the white appearance that so delights us. 

If I were a teacher today each student would have bits of dark wool and magnifying glasses at the ready. When it snowed we'd reach out the window to catch snowflakes on our wool and then make quick examinations (before melting could steal away the moment) to see the uniqueness of the flakes we caught. Snow on snow on snow - wonder on top of wonder on top of wonder

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Sunday Intercessions ~ Third Advent ~ Gaudete

Pope Francis has called the Church a "house of joy."/ Grant this to be so in our world of loneliness,/ pain and hatred./ We pray to the Lord.

The singing of the Advent O Antiphons begins on Wednesday - first calling Jesus the Wisdom of our God Most High./ We ask to be shown the path of knowledge - God's way of justice,/ compassion,/ and mercy./ We pray to the Lord.

This Sunday's liturgical color is rose/ a color taken from the dawn sky:/ In Christ there is a new beginning./ We pray with those who long to begin life again after sickness,/ war or disaster./ We pray to the Lord.

In the time of winter darkness and cold we pray for those who lack the necessities of shelter,/ warmth,/ food or friend./ We pray to the Lord.

We ask to be kept from a spirit of discontent and ingratitude./ Grant us to live Mary's way of awe before God's active presence in our own lives./ We pray to the Lord.

Our country suffers an insatiable thirst for drugs./ Give us a national and cultural sobriety/ born of satisfied hearts and a desire to serve./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for those who have died since last holiday time to enter a heavenly life of joy in the Holy Trinity. We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Pennsylvania Night Sky

Pennsylvania Nature Bushytail3

HUMAN BEINGS HAVE EXPLORED every place on the planet: the forests, the mountains over and under water. The new frontier is outer space.   And I get my own lovely window into that frontier about 3 A.M. each morning when Lorette, Lovey and Layla, my three rescue girl-dogs  need to go out. I don't mind, even in the winter; while they're taking care of business I get to see the stars and planets through the bare trees.

My science-teacher friend told me that the stars of the winter sky are brighter because there is less humidity to diffuse the star's light. And in the winter time our planet is tilted towards the edge of the Milky Way galaxy with more dark behind the stars making them brighter. The folks who settled in this very rural area aptly named the place Starlight!

I think of the reading of the Prophet Baruch on  Easter Night:

Who has found the place of wisdom,
   who has entered into her treasuries?
He who knows all things knows her;
  he has probed her by his knowledge -
He who established the earth for all time,
   and filled it with four-footed beasts;
He who dismisses the light, and it departs,
   calls it, and it obeys him trembling;
Before whom the stars at their posts
   shine and rejoice;
When he calls them, they answer,
   "Here we are!"
   shining with joy for their Maker.

So outer space is the new frontier. And as soon as regular space travel is available there'll be people eager to pay thousands of dollars to take their own trip into that new frontier. But do we know that going beyond and into the new frontier is all the more an inner journey?

The frontier or going beyond into consciously knowing myself.
The frontier of exploring where I personally need inner healing and repair.
The frontier or going beyond where I've stopped evolving or growing.
The frontier of realizing a long held dream or exploring a gift or inner creative place.
The frontier of going beyond my earth-self.

The beyond of growing a committed relationship - the stretch of love.
The beyond of new thinking for myself.
The beyond of making God's view of justice my own.
The frontier or beyond of my tiny view of Christianity as sexual ethic and being nice.
The frontier or beyond of letting God be God.

The frontier or beyond of understanding who is my brother, who is my sister on this planet?
Going beyond my resentments.
Going beyond tired, forever-rehearsed-knee-jerk opinions.
Going beyond what I think I need to be happy.
Going beyond the hate that is oozing out of our country of late.

Does not God live high in the heavens
does God not see the zenith of the stars?

This verse from the book of Job (22:12) isn't about astronomy, but about  God encountered in the zenith of my inner life.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Peaceable Kingdom

THE PEACEABLE KINGDOM here is one of sixty versions that Edward Hicks painted in the 18th century. The idea for the painting is taken from Isaiah 11:1-10

This scripture is the first reading at Mass for the Second Sunday of Advent (Year A). We might read this text slowly and thoughtfully now and again, but at least during Advent to further root ourselves in the peaceable rule of God: to do no harm, to forgive wrongs, to hate no one (which means that I at least wish others well), to practice works of mercy, to give up so much judging of others, to de-militarize my heart.

On that day, a shoot shall appear 
from the stump of Jesse,
and from  his roots a bud shall blossom...

Then the wolf shall be the 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 over the cobra's den,
   and the child shall put 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.

Isaiah gives us an image of God's promised rule so pervasive that even the animals will get along nicely. The Garden of Eden restored! We might wonder what it will take for humans to seize this idea and make it come true? The text reminds me of the end of Saint Mark's Gospel (16:15) where Jesus says to the apostles: "Go out all over the world, and preach the gospel to the whole of creation".

Good news to all of creation! That means the animals, the plants, the soil, the air, the water, So yes, the environmental issues matter a great deal to Christians. It is said that in the future no religion will have a following unless it is religion that is protective of the environment - a green religion. 

This sensitivity is reflected in Albert Schweitzer's Prayer for Animals:

Hear our humble prayer, O God,
for our friends the animals, 
especially for animals who are suffering, 
for any that are hunted or lost or deserted 
or frightened or hungry; 
for all that must be put to death. 
We entreat for them all thy mercy and pity, 
and for those who deal with them we ask 
a heart of compassion 
and gentle hands and kindly words. 
Make us, ourselves to be true friends to animals
and so to share the blessings of the merciful. Amen.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Sunday Intercessions ~ Second Advent

On our way to Christmas we ask to be freed of resentments/ and the anxieties which steal our best energies and joy./ We pray to the Lord.

Today is Pearl Harbor Day/ marking the 1941 entrance of the United States into the Second World War./ We pray for wisdom sufficient to keep the world from yet another global war./ We pray to the Lord.

Pondering Mary in the Advent time/ we pray for the world's children:/ that they would be welcomed and treasured./ We pray to the Lord.

In the dark time of the year/ we ask God to come to us as light/ especially where we live in depression,/ disunity and discontent./ We pray to the Lord.

Friday is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe - our hemisphere's patroness./ We pray for the people of North,/ South and Central America,/ asking for gifts of mutual respect and solidarity./ We pray to the Lord.

In the stresses and difficulties of our daily lives/ give us patient and enduring hearts./ We pray to the Lord.

For those who do good on behalf of the poor and the sick,/ for the safety of travelers, for those who have no family or friend,/ and for those who live without hope or security./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for those who have died:/ the gift of God's mercy and light./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Mother of God Soothe My Sorrows

THE ICON OF THE MOTHER OF GOD Soothe My Sorrows appeared in 1640. During bouts of the plague in the 18th century the icon became known as wonder-working; copies of it were spread all over Russia and churches were dedicated to the Mother of God under this title. 

There is a tradition which says that Mary lived in a solitude of pained sorrow after the Ascension of Jesus until she experienced the joy of her Dormition (Assumption). I can't say I understand that. Rather, I would say Mary lived in the joy of her Son's Resurrection and Ascension. And why in solitude instead of community? There's a thread found in the stories of many Christian women that tends to turn them into nuns or quasi-nuns. Apparently the Mother of God is no exception.  

But in this icon Mary's Easter joy is indicated in the placement of her Son. Jesus (always the Lord) isn't held by Mary, but he seems suspended or to float over her maphorion - foreshadowing his Resurrection-Ascension!

But what can we say of the Mother of God here  in the disposition of her sorrow? She is contemplating the words of Simeon at the Presentation in the temple:
 "This child is destined to be a sign which men reject; and you too shall be pierced to the heart. Many in Israel will stand or fail because of him, and thus the secret thoughts of many will be laid bare." Luke 2: 35
And what are the secret thoughts that will be laid bare? Whether people accept or reject Jesus. Over the happy scene of the Presentation a shadow has passed, and the Child's rejection and the Mother's pain are foretold. 

But there is more! In this moment of sorrow, holding her hand to her head, Mary contemplates the sorrows which her other dear children (humankind in all places and times) will endure - things unspeakable, unthinkable, unbearable. And our personal sorrows too: our own struggles, pains, tears, sickness and losses. 

C.G. Jung wrote:
"Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better to take things as they come along with patience and equanimity."
Perhaps the antidote to the world's suffering is given to us in the scroll held by the Holy Child. It reads:
Each show mercy to one another, do not offend widows and orphans, and do not keep malice in your heart towards your brothers and sisters. 
~ ~ ~

Here is a link to last year's post titled Mother of God, Soothe My Sorrows

Monday, December 1, 2014

Missed St. Catherine's Feast and Prayers for the Sinai Monks

A FEW YEARS AFTER the end of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) there was a major overhaul of the Church's Liturgical Calendar. It caused  a great global dust up when Saint Christoper and others had their liturgical feasts dropped. Even now I'm confounded that the patron saint of travelers would no longer be observed with Mass as people started to travel more, faster and farther than ever before - even into outer space. What were we thinking?

Saint Catherine of Alexandria's Feast was dropped as well. This decision may have been terribly short-sighted as Catherine is the patroness of young girls and girl students. Girls need a patron today! Malala Yousafzai, this year's Nobel Peace Prize winner, was shot by the Taliban for advocating education for girls. 

Girls are kidnapped for the sex trade, and girls are aborted because boys are preferred. And with all this extra testosterone in the world, Mara Hvistendahl relates in her book Unnatural Selection  ~ Choosing Boys Over Girls, And The Consequences of a World Full of Men, quite seriously that we have only more war and violence to look forward to in the future. So I'm happy to report that in 2002, the Feast of Saint Catherine of Alexandria was restored.

Here's the little biography of Saint Catherine found in the Collegeville Lectionary for November 25:

Catherine at age eighteen angered Emperor Maximinus for questioning his cruelty and worship of false gods. When all his attempts to persuade her to deny Christ failed and various tortures were to no end he ordered her to be beheaded. The Acts of Saint Catherine report her body was carried by angels to Mount Sinai where a church and monastery were built in her honor. She is patroness of young girls and female students. 

The monastery mentioned above is Saint Catherine's found in the Sinai desert, indeed, at the foot of Mount Sinai. It is sometimes called the Monastery of the Burning Bush or The Sacred Monastery of the God-Trodden Mount Sinai. 

It is commonly noted that Americans display a great dis-interest in global news. I'm trusting that the folks who read this blog would be interested to know that the Greek monks who inhabit Saint Catherine's Monastery are presently living under great stress along with their Bedouin friends who form the community of support around the monastery. Saint Catherine's was closed by the government in September as threatening tensions in the Sinai Desert became inflamed. There are two links here to very informative articles about the monastery and the current difficulties the monks and the Bedouins bear.

Prayer For Our Own Time
Sharing the joy
of your November feast restored,
O great martyr Catherine
we hurry to ask for heaven's help.
Prompt the restoration
of the world's young girls:
birth to girls conceived,
freedom to girls enslaved,
choice to girls marriageable,
a classroom to girls illiterate,
treasuring to girls battered,
healing to girl's untreated,
a voice to girls silenced.

Father Stephen P. Morris 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Saint Andrew - Patron of Inclusive Hospitality

Miracles of the Loaves and Fishes ~ Jacob de Backer (1555 -1585) Belgian

TODAY IS THE FEAST of the Holy Apostle Saint Andrew. I'd like to nominate Andrew to be officially called the Patron of Inclusive Hospitality. There are two wonderful Gospel scenes we might pay attention to:

The next day as John stood there again with two of his disciples, Jesus went past and John looked towards him and said, "Look, there is the lamb of God." And the two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus. Jesus turned round, saw them following and said, "What do you want?" they answered, "Rabbi" - which means Teacher - "where do you live?" He replied, "Come and see," so they went and saw where he lived and stayed with him that day. It was about the tenth hour.
One of these two who became followers of Jesus after hearing what John had said was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother and say to him "We have found the Messiah" - which means the Christ - and he took Simon to Jesus. (John 1:35-41)

John (the Baptist) had his own community of which Andrew was a member. Remember the blood of the lamb on the door posts in the Exodus story is the means by which the people come to freedom. The lamb becomes the ritual symbol of Israel's redemption from our personal slavery and death. Now John is giving Jesus that new designation.

Then Jesus is called Rabbi. In a few lines Jesus will be called Messiah - Christ. There's nothing to say you and I can't have our own titles for Jesus. In another translation the question Jesus asks, "What do you want?" is phrased "What are you looking for?" That's a deeply human question, a cultural question, a global question - even a Church question. What am I looking for? 

Lot's of people drift through life. It never really occurs to them to ask the larger question what is it that I really want? The Dali Lama tells of being invited to a Manhattan penthouse for dinner - the family owning several properties, cars, boats. When he asked to use the bathroom he noticed the medicine cabinet was open (or maybe he peaked) and saw all the prescription bottles lined up for whatever....

"Come and see" - Jesus invites us to an experience. As if to say, "Don't let anyone tell you about me, come and see for yourself." And it is the tenth hour. In the ancient world that's almost four in the afternoon. We're being told:  It's getting late - we don't have forever to address the larger question Jesus raises. 

And in the last verses we see that Andrew immediately goes to find his brother, Simon Peter. Andrew seems to enjoy introducing people to Jesus. "Peter, you won't believe who I've met, you've got to come and meet this man."

~ ~ ~

Then there is this second Andrew incident of inclusion:
Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee, and a large crowd followed him, impressed by the signs he had done in curing the sick. Looking up Jesus saw the crowds approaching and said to Philip, "Where can we buy some bread for these people to eat.?" He said this only to put Philip to the test; he himself knew exactly what he was going to do. Philip answered, "Two hundred denarii would not buy enough to give them a little piece each." One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother said "Here is a small boy with five barley loaves and two fish; but what is that among so many." Jesus said, to them, "Make the people sit down." There was plenty of grass there, and as many as five thousand men sat down. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks and distributed them to those who were sitting there; He then did the same with the fish, distributing as much as they wanted. When they had eaten enough he said to the disciples "Pick up the pieces left over, so that nothng is wasted." So they picked them up and filled twelve large baskets with scraps left over from the meal of five barley loaves. (John 6:8-13)

In the previous passage Andrew knew the name of the person he was taking to Jesus: Peter. But in this account it is simply, "Here is a small boy." Another translation says, "There is a little boy here." It could just as easily have been a little girl, except that there were only men in the wild place perhaps because they were hoping Jesus was going to form an army to overthrow the Romans and the boy had gotten caught up in the excitement. Or maybe the child had just taken off and followed the crowd, curious as to what was going on. But the boy is nameless. And whenever someone is nameless in the gospel, doesn't it seem we're being invited to step into that person's place or role? That's meditating. That he doesn't know someone's name doesn't keep Andrew from taking him/her to Jesus. 

Let us be glad in the name of Andrew,
the First-Called disciple,
who summoning  Peter
introduced him to Jesus
whose person answers the question,
"What are you looking for?"

Let us bless the name of Andrew,
the First-Called disciple,
ushering the bread-laden boy
to Christ our God:
food in our desert,
God's joy-giving gaze.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Sunday Intercessions ~ First Advent

Isaiah the Prophet ~ Marc Chagall

Isaiah is the Advent prophet who called out: Here I am, send me!/ May we echo the prophet's cry by a new sense of availability to God's purposes./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for the world's restoration where truthful speech has been abandoned and trust shattered/ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for every place where Christ's Gospel of Peace is ignored,/ violated or fragile/ where life is all fear and pain,/ and for the Pope in his traveling to Turkey,/ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for cities traumatized by violence and polarization./ We ask for Christians to be blessed in their mission of announcing good news to a sad world./ We pray to the Lord.

Today is the Feast of Andrew the Apostle who brought to Jesus the little boy who had bread and fish for the feeding of five thousand./ We offer prayers for the world's children:/ that they would be welcomed,/ protected and loved./ We pray to the Lord.

Approaching the depths of December darkness,/ we pray for families longing for signs of light:/ healing,/ listening,/ comfort,/ assurance and security./ We pray to the Lord.

Maranatha is the Advent word:/ Come Lord Jesus!/ For humankind to know the Lord Jesus where we are sick,/ friendless,/ in our fatigue,/ and in our death./ We pray to the Lord.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Holy Prophet Jonah and Thanksgiving Day

JONAH RAN FROM GOD when he was asked to issue a call to repentance on God's behalf. He wound up swallowed by a great fish where he prayed this prayer. The images are profound - full of sorrow and grief and then shifting to joy and gratitude. Sound familiar?

From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. He said:

"In my distress I called to the Lord,
   and he answered me.
From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help,
   and you listened to my cry.
You hurled me into the depths,
   into the very heart of the seas,
   and the currents swirled about me;
all your waves and breakers
   swept over me.
I said, 'I have been banished
   from your sight;
yet I will look again
   toward your holy temple,'
The engulfing waters threatened me,
   the deep surrounded me;
   seaweed was wrapped round my head.
To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
   the earth beneath barred me in forever.
But you, Lord my God,
   brought my life up from the pit.

"When my life was ebbing away,
   I remembered you, Lord,
and my prayer rose to you,
   to your holy temple.

Those who cling to worthless idols
   turn away from God's love for them.
But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
   will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good,.
   I will say, 'Salvation comes from the Lord.'"

And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

Jonah 2: 1-10

Prayer In A Time of National Unrest

O Mary,
implore peace for the world.
Fashion brothers and sisters
out of persons who are so divided.
Guide us to a more ordered
and peaceful society.
For those who are suffering ~
today there are so many 
and ever new ones,
afflicted by current misfortunes ~ obtain solace;
and for the dead,
obtain eternal rest.

Show yourself a Mother to us:
this is our prayer,

Prayer of Pope Paul VI

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Family of Jesus ~ Mark 3:31-35

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Father Sophrony's Morning Prayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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