Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Intercessions ~ Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The tomb of the Holy Prophet Jonah in Iraq was completely destroyed this week,/ that tomb which is sacred to Jews,/ Muslims and Christians./ Grant the world an end to the hatred which spawns destruction and death./ We pray to the Lord.

The month of August has begun./ We ask for gifts of peace,/ safety and good health,/ for those who celebrate birthdays,/ anniversaries and other days of remembrance./ We pray to the Lord

We pray for the safety of summer travelers, and for those who are away from loved ones./ We offer prayers for the sick - mindful of those whose sickness or injuries are left untreated./ For the countries of West Africa where Ebola is claiming many lives./ We pray to the Lord.

For many children in the world/ death is near in the fighting of wars./ We intercede for children everywhere mindful of their fears,/ loneliness,/ hunger and pain./ And for those who set out to rescue and assist children./ We pray to the Lord.

Praying for the world/ we intercede for the people and lands of Nicaragua,/ Niger,/ Nigeria,/ Niue,/ Northern Mariana Islands,/ Norway and Oman./ We pray to the Lord.

Thursday was the Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola,/ the 16th century founder of the Society of Jesus./ We ask blessings for the world-wide community of Jesuits:/ for growth in the gospel and their founding charisms./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for the those who have died this week,/ asking the forgiveness of sins and the happiness of heavenly life./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Portatissa ~ The Iveron Mother of God

HOW WONDERFUL IS THIS: like a foreshadowing of Google Earth, an ancient icon featuring an aerial view of the Iveron Mother of God Icon floating on the Mediterranean Sea on Her way to Athos! Here's the story:

A pious woman, desiring to safeguard her icon of the Mother of God during the period of iconoclasm (icon smashers) prayed a night vigil asking heaven for direction. She was instructed to place the icon on the Mediterranean, letting it float away, leaving it in God's care.

The woman's son soon left home to become a monk at Mount Athos, the Greek peninsula monastic-state, called "Our Lady's Garden". At Athos the young man related the story of his mother's ardent devotion and how she saved the icon from the destructive hands of the iconoclasts. Then in 1004, on Bright Tuesday of Easter Week, the holy monk Gabriel saw the icon coming towards him, standing upright on the sea, whereupon he retrieved it and took it to the monastery church where it was venerated.

The following morning the monks found the icon missing from the chapel. After a search they discovered it hanging over the monastery gate. This strange movement occurred several times until Gabriel received a vision of the Mother of God in which she related to him that she didn't want to be kept contained by the monks, but to preside as Portatissa (Keeper of the Gate) over the monastery's entrance.

I love the stories surrounding wonder-working icons - how they were created or came to their final destination, or the miracles that surround them. While I don't linger in doubt, I rush to ask the most important question, "What does it mean for us?"

She is called Portatissa (Gate Keeper), and gates are places that invite passage - movement from here to there. Sometimes the passage is an outer place ~ St. Louis, the Gateway to the West, or we go in through the Garden Gate. 

But perhaps more importantly there is that psychological/spiritual gate which calls us to an interior movement. We speak of rites of passage. The Sacrament of Confirmation should be something like that - an individual making Christ his or her own and subsequently living as a new spirit-endowed person. Sadly, it seldom happens. I expect the same could be said of a Jewish bar or bat mitzvah. Each reception of the Eucharist ought to be an occasion of passage into Christ which grows and changes us.

Maybe we should all just look after our own passages as they appear and occur in our lives. I know a young man who lived a troubled, dangerous and unlawful life who has been utterly changed by the birth of a daughter. That's a passage.

Or perhaps the movement is the getting free of addictions, resentment, lying, obsessive fears and anxieties, a depressed life, an un-evolved personality, the trauma of abuse, accident or horror. Becoming an individuated person is a major and ongoing passage which many people never set out upon. One minister speaks of individuation this way:
The process by which the individual in the course of his/her life is pressed to realize his innate capacities to the full and become what he has it in him to become.
This takes a life-time of work and we seldom can do it alone. Spouses and good friends can be helpers in this passage. Sometimes the helper needs to be a professional. The Iveron Mother of God is a survivor who floated on the tempestuous sea for years before taking up residence over the monastery gate. We might ask her to help grow-us-up ~ all of us ~ and to point us in the direction of the passages that will lead us to an inner land of healing and wholeness.

Having survived the waves of the sea,
You came to Athos,
establishing yourself
as encouragement and guide
to those who come and go.
O Mother of God,
now bless our own entrance into the life
of conforming ourselves to the image of Christ our God ~
which leads to our salvation.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

"Never have we seen..."

When after some days he returned to Capernaum, the news went round that he was at home; and such a crowd collected that the space in front of the door was not big enough to hold them. And while he was proclaiming the message to them a man was brought who was paralysed. Four men were carrying him, but because of the crowd they could not get him near. So they opened up the roof over the place where Jesus was, and when they had broken through they lowered the stretcher on which the paralysed man was lying . When Jesus saw their faith, he said, to the paralysed man, "My son your sins are forgiven."
Now there were some lawyers sitting there and they thought to themselves, "Why does this fellow talk like that? This is blasphemy! Who but God alone can forgive sins?" Jesus knew in his own mind that this was what they were thinking, and said to them: "Why do you harbour thoughts like these? Is it easier to say to this paralysed man, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Stand up, take up your bed and walk'? But to convince you that the Son of Man has the right on earth to forgive sins' - he turned to the paralysed man - 'I say to you, stand up, take your bed, and go home.' And he got up, took his stretcher at once, and went out in full view of them all, so that they were astounded and praised God. 'Never before', they said, 'have we seen the like.' (Mark 2: 1-12)

The first verse tells us that Jesus was at home. Maybe he had a kind of headquarters in Capernaum. Maybe it was his own house that had the roof ripped open. At any rate, Jesus didn't respond to the man's grand entrance. We might imagine he laughed.

In 1996 I made a pilgrimage to Medjugorge and climbed Cross Mountain, a difficult hike up a very steep rough path of slippery, shifting, sharp marble. We were only a few minutes into the journey when I found myself next to an elderly woman - wearing a thick sweater in August! We didn't speak a word of each other's language, but it was clear that this was going to be extraordinarily difficult for her. So I offered her my right arm and let her set the pace. She kept on, walking steadily for over an hour, not pausing for a water or shade break, head down and intent on where she was placing her feet. She brings to mind the perseverance and determination of these four gospel fellows who found a way to get their friend to Jesus.

Notice that the man has a physical problem but Jesus addresses the spiritual issue first. "Your sins are forgiven." Lots of people are physically or emotionally unwell, but their real problem is a spiritual one: there is unrecognized or un-revealed pride, hatred or suspicion. It used to be said of Catholics that they had a lesser incidence of craziness as Catholics have built into their religious system a way to get rid of the things that make people neurotic. 

Notice too that these religious lawyers are sniffing around looking for the moment to trap Jesus. They think they have him now as they hear Jesus make a God-claim by the forgiveness of the man's sins. Jesus skillfully turns the tables on them.

Religious people can be rather impossible, walking around with their moral checklist. Pope Francis has asked the Church to shift its emphasis. There's a lot more to Christianity than a sexual ethic. A pious church lady told me once, "I'm not into this justice stuff." She must be having a hard time with this pope. None of this is lost on Jesus, "Why do you harbor thoughts like these?" he asks. I think he would ask the same of many Christians today - disappointed as he might be with people's negative attitudes towards the poor, the newcomer, persons of other colors and inclinations, capital punishment, war. There's a lot of hate out there!

The scene ends rather dramatically, as it had begun. And there's a big and joyful response to what's been seen. We can well imagine that the lawyers didn't share the crowd's enthusiasm. "If today you hear his voice harden not your hearts," the psalm says. Jesus Christ giving voice to the God of kind-mercy. Some folks still don't want to hear of God being kindly disposed toward those who are not like them or of whom they disapprove. Let's hope for better.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Mother of God With A Blanket of Pomegranates

Wrapping your Son
in a blanket of pomegranates,
O Lady,
life-promise in our aridity,
love's wound,
the breaking open, 
the disbursement
of heaven's gifts in us,
display of love.

O Christ our God,
descending to the underworld
of minds and
crying out:
is in my 
tears and blood ~
the purification 
of hatred's

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Intercessions ~ Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

We pray for Christians who earnestly struggle for Christ today/ and for others,/ who wearing the thin veneer of religion,/ conceal un-repented hatred./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for the people and lands of Namibia,/ Nauru,/ Nepal,/ Netherlands,/ Netherlands Antilles,/ New Caledonia and New Zealand./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for all our relatives and friends,/ especially any who suffer from depression,/ worry or despair./ We pray to the Lord.

We intercede for parents,/ aware of those who fail their children./ For children who are awaiting adoption/ and for others whose lives are at risk./ We pray to the Lord.

On Christmas night, the angels sang, announcing peace./ We boldly pray for the cessation of wars and deadly violence./ For dulled and hardened hearts to be sensitized to the dignity of the children of God./ We pray to the Lord.

Grant healing to the sick,/ the alcoholic and addict,/ as we hold in our prayer the many thousands who are damaged,/ exiled,/ and wounded by wars./ We pray to the Lord.

Grant healing and comfort to families around the world who suffer the pain of mourning,/ and salvation and life to those who have died./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Mother of God ~ Joy of All Who Sorrow ~ July23

HERE IS THE WONDER-WORKING ICON of the Mother of God ~ Joy of all Who Sorrow. Some icons have more than one day of remembrance. This July feast remembers a church which housed the icon being struck by lighting and burning to the ground ~ the icon remaining safe and sound. 

We all have moments of rescue or safe-keeping and we turn around, even stunned, looking for a place to put our surprised gratitude.  We might keep the image of the icon on file in our minds ~ Mary in a super-abundant garden. Is she doing a little dance-for-joy on her red platform? Even the sun and moon and all the plant world have gotten in on the celebration of thanks. 

We see angels with little shout-outs, expressions of gratitude offered up by the faithful ~ happy recipients of favors. We might take up our own place before the icon and call to mind some time of joy restored ~ when we were pulled up out of sorrow and restored to a happier place.

But what about the others - the families of those who lost loved ones on the downed Malaysian flight, or the displaced residents of Gaza and those who mourn the loss of their children to rocket fire? This is impossible to answer. Wherever there are human beings, there is sin. And sin gets in the way of God's purposes.

A nun who lived through the Nazi occupation of France told me, "Then, we had each other, you can't count on that today." But there still are places on the earth where people find their joy and gratitude in the presence of each other, however great the losses. And there are still people whose believing holds them up in a tempest-tossed world.

Here's the Troparion-prayer for the icon's feast.

For those in great sorrow, you are joy,
for the oppressed, a protector,
for the hungry, their food
and comfort for the estranged.

You are a staff for the blind,
visitation for all the sick, 
to those held by pain,
shelter and comforting
and to the orphan, an aid.

Mother of God in the highest,
You who are the spotless one, 
hasten, save your servants from their fears.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Kostroma ~ The Fyodoroskaya and Summer Phlox

IN 1996 - just a few years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, I took a seventeen day trip up the Volga River from Moscow to St. Petersburg. The journey was billed as A Tour of Old Russia, the German built ship stopping along the way at Medieval villages, towns and cities - all of which featured some famous shrine, church, palace or monastery. 

Docking for an afternoon at Kostroma, we visited this restored convent which was established in the 1400's. The centerpiece of the monastic complex is the Epiphany Cathedral built between 1559 and 1565. It houses the Wonder-working icon of the Mother of God under the title Fyodoroskaya. I remember the yellow cupola got my attention.

Upon entering through the monastery gate the group was escorted to the chapel where the icon is venerated. But even before seeing the icon we were greeted with the most amazing scent of summer phlox coming in from the adjacent garden and filling the church. The scent was more powerful than incense, and I immediately responded, feeling, Oh thank you for this!

Here is a photograph I took of the bright shrine which houses the Miraculous Icon of the Fyodoroskaya Mother of God. The icon is approached through the opening on the right and the entire front of the shrine is covered with phlox and other summer-garden flowers. 

Russia is replete with wonder-working icons. The veil between heaven and earth is very thin over them. We might offer our own heart-felt prayer as the Fyodoroskaya Icon is revealed to us here ~ asking not only for the safety and health of our own loved ones but for the re-creation of a world that would be welcoming and safe for all children.

Friday, July 18, 2014

"He spread it far and wide..."

Once Jesus was approached by a leper who knelt before him begging his help. "If only you will," said the man, you can cleanse me." In warm indignation Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, "Indeed I will; be clean again." The leprosy left him immediately, and he was clean. Then he dismissed him with the stern warning: "Be sure you say nothing to anybody. Go and show yourself to the priest, and make the offering laid down by Moses for your cleaning; that will certify the cure." But the man went out and made the whole story public; he spread it far and wide, until Jesus could no longer show himself in any town, but stayed outside in the open country. Even so, people kept coming to him from all quarters.  (Mark 1: 410-45)

The are thousands of beautiful and moving paintings depicting this scene, but they all show the man as having something more akin to chickenpox, measles or acne than leprosy. This photograph is more illustrative. We can imagine at once that as horrible as the disease was in itself, the even more dreadful aspect was the loneliness that came with being marginalized, detested, feared. 

The leper is brave then in approaching Jesus. And Jesus at once overcomes the distance the disease and the religious law imposed, by stretching out his hand and touching him. It is God's mercy bridging distance and restoring relationships and community!

But then there is this curious requirement Jesus places on the man: Don't tell. Scholars will debate why Jesus forbade people to tell about their cures: maybe he was concerned about becoming a sideshow, or being misunderstood, or arousing the jealous and pious suspicions of the religious authorities. The more important thing is that the man doesn't keep his end of the bargain. He is overwhelmed with gratitude, can't help himself, and goes off spreading everywhere the story of his restoration. This makes things so difficult for Jesus that he has to stay out of town for awhile.

Can I name that kind of gratitude? A gratitude that consumes me, that can't be kept quiet, that becomes a significant piece of my lifestyle. 

I've suffered from terrible allergies all of my life - debilitating, seasonal allergies that would put me down for days. No medication gave me real relief. Then these allergies became year-round and increasingly tiresome. So this April I went to see a sinus doctor who told me that if a person hasn't outgrown the childhood allergies by age 50, they are here to stay and if by age 60, one could say, "Everything can be a source of allergic reaction." Not good news.

"But you have sinusitis and a deviated septum, and if you have sinus surgery, the increased air flow may help." By then my left nostril had effectively shut down and so hoping for some relief, I opted for the surgery. Just before I was wheeled in for the operation, the doctor (who happens to be Buddhist) came over to me and said, "I just want to remind you that no surgery resolves allergy problems." I answered, "I remember you said that," and they rolled me away.

The recovery and the post surgery visits were more difficult than I could have imagined,  but I was happy to be able to breathe again. At the second post-op office visit I told the doctor  that not only could I breathe but that going into May I had absolutely no allergy symptoms. Sharing my joy he said, "Father Morris, allergy is the original sin, not resolved with surgery; Jesus is your immunologist." 

I believe it, and now it is mid July and I have since not so much as sneezed.  Even the allergic reactions which afflicted my eyes is gone! I don't like the word miracle because religious officials think it's for them to decide the authenticity - I prefer the word wonderIt's a wonder! A Jesus-wonder that I want to spread far and wide - and a gratitude that is on my mind often every day, and I expect will be for the rest of my life. 

Can you name your own!? It may not have anything to do with medical things. But how have I been wondrously restored, lifted up, put back together, turned around, made whole?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Intercessions ~ The Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Pope Francis has said of the influx of immigrant children into the United States/ that as a first measure they must be welcomed and protected./ We ask for our country to embrace his instruction./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for our country/ and every country/ where there is suspicion,/ fear and hatred of newcomers and foreigners./ For the conversion of the nation's heart./ We pray to the Lord.

This week the world has witnessed deadly violence between Israel and Hamas in Gaza./ We ask for the protection of civilians and the opening of hearts to the way of peace./ We pray to the Lord.

It is said that patience is love in slow motion./ We ask for new patience in those relationships that are most difficult and challenging./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for the people and lands of Mauritania,/ Mauritius,/ Mayotte,/ Micronesia,/ Moldova and Monaco./ We pray to the Lord.

In the summertime we pray for the safety and good health of all./ We prayerfully remember those who are hospitalized,/chronically sick or struggling with special needs,/ the war injured,/ and the sick who receive no care./ We pray to the Lord.

Grant comfort to those who are in mourning around the world/ and a change of heart to those who do deadly things/ and peace for all who have died this week./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Ditch Lilies ~ Summer's Lesson of Stability

DITCH LILIES, ALSO CALLED TIGER LILIES, or more elegantly, Hemerocallis fulva grow in 42 states. Gardeners know what it means to say that they can be found in zones 3 through 10. Translation: these day-lilies are widely naturalized throughout much of North America.  Often they are found growing alongside country roads and around old homesteads - even having survived the buildings around which they were planted over a hundred years ago.

These orange lilies are not native to North America but may have come here from China. They are known to be tough and vigorous. If the weed-whacker takes them down, or the dog digs them up, or someone throws a clump of them out the car window, or the salt spreader drives over them in January, or the ground is dry in August - they will not just survive but resurrect and even bloom well. 

The strange thing about these plants is that they do not spread by seed but by a fleshy root system called a rhizome. One plant will spread to take over a large area, (a plus or minus depending on one's gardening disposition), but the bottom line is, wherever we find them, someone had to plant (or throw) at least one on that spot.

Having to be planted, they are a nature-reminder of the spiritual value of stability. Benedictines make a vow of stability by which the monk or nun professes, "I will stay with this monastic community permanently, and for the rest of my life, trusting that God will give me here, with these monks and the visitors who come and go, no matter who winds up being in charge, whatever I need to grow humanly and to attain my salvation."  That's quite a vow!

But I'd add that while most of us don't take vows of stability, there is some dimension of stability to be found or called upon in every state of life. There's...

  • The spouse who sits with the dying husband or wife - for better/for worse - til death.
  • The parent who's in for the long haul with a special needs child.
  • The athlete who remains with the team through the losing streaks.
  • The people who struggle everyday to live with chronic and even life-threatening sickness.
  • The student who battles with the difficult course that will determine graduation.
  • Those who re-establish community after tsunami, earthquake, fire, tornado, hurricane or mudslide.
  • The parishioners who stay with a parish through its ups and downs.

The insight of stability yielding spiritual benefit might come from the injunction of Jesus to the disciples in the Gospel of Luke 10:7
"Stay at the same house, eating and drinking what they offer you, for the workman deserves his pay. Do not change from one house to another."

The day-lily may spread in the immediate area but it's not a plant that we can call wandering. It has to be planted wherever it's going to bloom and flourish. Maybe Jesus is telling us that if we are to grow, deepen and become truly established we need to be planted ourselves. 

In the school for young people who have lost their way, where I've served as a chaplain, there is an idea or insight which may well come from AA, called the geographical cure. It is the young person who thinks, "If I could only get back home, I'd behave and make my family proud." "If I could only get away from these people and get back with my friends, I'd carry a new message and we'd all change." "If only I could get back to my town and my old school, I'd do it differently now." "Anywhere but here." 

One monastic website quotes an ancient desert father, Abba Stabilitas (I wonder if they made up his name).
"Stay put! Don't be running all over the place, looking for happiness. You're looking for the wrong thing anyway. Look for God. Look for God just where you are at this time, in this place, with these people, and with yourself. If you can't find God here, you won't find God anywhere, and if you think you have found God elsewhere, you haven't. It's an illusion. It's a god of your own making, and do you know what a god of your own making is? An idol."

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Real Life Insurance

THIS IS AN AD produced for Thailand. Life Insurance? I'd say, if we were to live this way we could insure or guarantee full and meaningful lives. Notice the ad allows for the young man's spiritual life? In this country people often lament that products are only sold by promising they'll make us younger looking, more attractive, more sexy. Here's a different value. 

The film reminds me of the saying of Saint Isaac of Syria about mercy, and when Jesus tells the religious leaders "Go and learn what the saying means, 'It is mercy, not sacrifice, that I care for'." Matthew 9:13

What is a merciful heart? It is the heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful  person pour forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person's heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any of the creatures. For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm her or him, that they be protected and receive mercy. 

Saint Isaac the Syrian

Friday, July 11, 2014

Mary's Light-Receiving Eye

THE BEARDED IRIS are finished blooming for the summer and now it is time for the Japanese Iris. These are blooming in the garden here at the retreat house. They might strike us as birds taking off in flight. In Greek Mythology, Iris was the winged messenger of the gods who traveled from above to earth along the rainbow.

In my first assignment, as a young priest, if the weather was with me and I had the time, I'd do my calls on bicycle. One warm July day I visited a home that looked like a French Chateau  on a large property with formal gardens. As I peddled  through the gates I noticed that the Japanese iris were blooming. A few minutes later, when I entered the room of the elderly and dying woman, I saw the private duty nurse had placed one  in a glass on the bedroom nightstand.

The lady died soon after, and in preparing for her funeral Mass I sensed that the presence of the iris had some significance for me. So I did some research, (one had to go to the library in those days) and found a paragraph about a Medieval Italian cardinal who in his coat of arms featured a single stylized iris and on the banner beneath it read, "We grow with God's help."

I suppose any flower could remind us of that, but the iris does it in a particularly lovely way. We grow in goodness and with God's help, so we must be patient with ourselves and each other. We shouldn't take the heavenly help for granted but look to discover heaven's growth-producing assist along our life way: to be better people: more healed, sober, kind, more open to learning, more surrendered, less a victim of haste, less compulsive.

Then recently I discovered this marvelous reference to the Iris as symbolic of Mary's Light-Receiving Eye. Of course this isn't about Mary's optic sight but rather as the first disciple and model of the Christian life, her inner sight. But our eyes are only light-receiving when we are awake. This is what Mary did at Bethlehem - she was awake to Christ: awake to his presence in her arms, awake to his cries, his need for comforting, 

Mary awake at Bethlehem invites us to wake up to the One who calls himself Light - awake and out of the cultural slumber - news clips, slogans and opinions we call truths. Cultural sleep is constantly looking for the new product with new and even better promises, the new star in the new movie, the new scandal, the new advice from the next new expert, the new sensory excitement.

Thomas Merton writes that waking up means discovering God's presence where it wasn't expected. Waking up is the intuition I know didn't come from myself. Waking up is something we each have to do for ourselves, it isn't information someone hands on in a book or lecture. Gratitude grows out of the awakening and gratitude itself is an awakening. Both!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Intercessions ~ Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lord,/ let your often bitterly divided Church/ model for the world the possibilities for unity and peace./ We pray to the Lord.

The world is flooded with refugees,/ immigrants,/ displaced persons and exiles./ Grant that before these persons are sent away/ we would hear their need and feel their feelings./ We pray to the Lord.

In the liturgical season of green/ we pray for the world's traumatized children who are denied their childhood./ And we pray for those who work to better the lives of children where they suffer./ We pray to the Lord.

Give light to darkened hearts./ Confirm the fickle hearts in the truth of your mercy and love./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for the people and lands of Macedonia,/ Madagascar,/ Malawi,/ Mali,/ Malta,/ the Marshall Islands and Martinique./ We pray to the Lord.

Give us a deep reverence for our paradise-planet as it is your good creation:/ the water,/ the air,/ the soil,/ the animals and plants./ We pray to the Lord.

By your kind mercy/ receive those who have died this week/ mindful of those who died untimely deaths by neglect,/ war,/ murder,/ addiction,/ disaster or accident./ And for the people who live in mourning./ We pray to the Lord.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

From the rising of the sun to its setting...

A FRIEND SENT THIS PHOTO yesterday of a seabird getting ready for takeoff. Then this morning, in reading the opening lines of the Third Eucharistic prayer, the picture came to mind:

You are indeed Holy, O Lord,
and all you have created
rightly gives you praise,
for through your Son our Lord Jesus Christ,
by the power and working of the Holy Spirit,
you give life to all things and make them holy,
and you never cease to gather a people to yourself,
so that from the rising of the sun to its setting
a pure sacrifice may be offered to your name.

It is either sunrise or sunset in this picture. Notice the coppery gold lines that accent the bird's wings and the softer gold iridescence on the forehead and breast. "...and all you have created rightly gives you praise."

Then I was talking with a young dad after the Mass and somehow the conversation came around to our need to look for the thin gold line of divinity in all things. More than just an optimistic "silver lining" there is God's energy and presence to be discovered in what are often flashes of seconds all around us.

The iconographer understands this, building up the image with translucent paints from darker to lighter -the brightest lights added last - the difference being that in the icon the light energy, the light-sparks originate from within. They indicate our theosis - our becoming the new kind of human person Christ and his saints reveal, filled with divine energies. 

"Stay close to the fire which is Christ, and eventually even the thorns of your life will burst into flame," Brother Roger of Taize would say.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Shinleaf Discovery

THERE IS A SHADY WOODED PART of the property here along the stream bank where I recently found this lovely little plant which is called Shinleaf. It has the pretty Latin botanical name Pyrola Elliptica. Blooming  on schedule, the plant, also called Wild Lily of the Valley, produces one thin stem, low to the ground, crowned with fragrant white or light-pink inverted flowers. The leaves appear in a circular pattern at the bottom of the stem.

There was a wooded lot behind our suburban home on Long Island when I was a young boy - a place of investigating, learning and wondering. I think I built a hermitage there too. I remember the smell of the ferns and decayed leaves, finding a beautiful black and yellow box turtle and a pink Jack in the Pulpit. But this part of North East Pennsylvania contains an even more enormous number of wildflowers that appear one after another through the spring and summer. Shinleaf caught me by surprise this morning. 

"And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden." Genesis 2:8

Some people look for Eden to be a few mystery acres in the Middle East somewhere. Maybe Eden is God's name for the entire planet, planted with so many growing, blooming and often perfumed things.

Actress Helen Mirren was interviewed in the June/July issue of the AARP Magazine. When asked to say something about "God" she said, "The only time I've thought, 'Wow, maybe there is a god,' was when I saw an exhibition of spectacularly gorgeous minerals from the bowels of the earth." 

I'm genuinely happy for Helen Mirren for her moment of maybe. But I'm happier for myself to have come across a dozen or so Shinleafs growing in the woods and when bending down to the ground to make the second discovery of their faint perfume. "Earth is crammed with heaven..." Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Savior on Spilled Blood

THIS SPLENDID AND FANCIFUL CHURCH in St. Petersburg, Russia  goes by several names: The Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ but also The Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood. Completed in 1907, more a museum than an active church, it commemorates the 1881 assassination of Czar Alexander II. The Soviet government closed the church in the 1930's using it as a morgue during the Second World War and the Siege of Leningrad. Still later it was used as a warehouse for vegetables. After a twenty seven year period of restoration the building was re-opened to the public in 2007.

Spiritual genius seems to have designed and built the church while insanity ransacked and closed it. But the world needs this place with the curious name. Indeed, every major city might have a Church on Spilled Blood - not to commemorate a murdered czar or political figure but to call our attention to the blood that is spilled in just about every place on the planet by abortion, genocide, drug-related violence, murders, terrorist blood-letting, internecine wars, bloody revolts, slaughtering attacks and executions.

The Christian can't be simply a nice guy, a law-abider or a good neighbor. A Christian is to feel to his/her very depths what it is to profess and live fidelity to Jesus Christ. Acknowledging our divided nature, and the beckoning of other loyalties, Pope Pius XII said: "Never make a man choose between his Church and his country. He will almost always choose his country."

Seventy years or so later, I would frame it this way, "Never make a person choose between Christ and other loyalties. They will almost always choose the other loyalties."

There are loyalties to political party, firm or corporation, to the media guru or talk show hosts, the loyalties of ideology, our national obsession with fun, sport and entertainment, sensual beauty and physicality.

Blood-spiller rage? At any summer gathering bring up even one of these topics: Catholicism, Catholic priests, homosexual marriage, "gay agenda", abortion, Mexican children fleeing to America's borders, Barack, Michelle, Benghazi, Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman, prison reform. There's a blood-spiller in each human person.

And then there's the blood-spiller-rage that surfaces over our our having been abandoned, dismissed, fired, given away, abused, not consulted, unrewarded, over-looked, trapped, underpaid, betrayed, left disappointed, denied...

The message of the wondrous and luminous church might be, we've got to get the rage out of us. Notice the church's first title is Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ. The peace of God in the Easter Jesus!.

That today is Sunday won't prevent blood-spilling. But that shouldn't stop us from contemplating the wisdom and vision of Jesus:

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be known as the children of God.
But I say to you; love your enemy,
    do good to those who hate you,
    bless those who curse you,
    pray for those who abuse you.
To those who strike you on the cheek, offer the other also.
And from those who take away your cloak, do not withhold your coat as well.
Give to everyone who begs from you;
And, to those who take away your goods, do not ask for their return.
And as you wish that others would do unto you, do so unto them as well.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Independence Day ~ God's Ideas For A Nation

Thus says the Lord:
This is the fasting that I wish:

Sharing your bread with the hungry,
   sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing  the naked when you see them,
   and not turning your back on your own.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
   and your wound shall quickly be healed;
Your vindication shall go before you,
   and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer
   you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am!
If you remove from your midst oppression,
   false accusation and malicious speech;
If you bestow your bread on the hungry
   and satisfy the afflicted;
Then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
   and the gloom shall become for you like midday;
Then the Lord will guide you always
   and give you plenty even on the parched land.
He will renew your strength,
   and you shall be like a watered garden,
   like a spring whose water never fails.

Isaiah 58: 7-11

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Intercessions ~ Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The liturgy returns to the Green Time - the color of hope./ Lead us Lord, to trust that You will act in this world of stress,/ disappointment and uncertainty./ We pray to the Lord.

The World Cup games continue./ Let hearts be changed to love peace/ born of a belief in our commonality:/ that we are all God's beloved children./ We pray to the Lord.

Make security,/ safety,/ nourishment and happiness happen for the children/ where they are deprived,/ threatened and afraid./ We pray to the Lord.

Give your Church the new direction of the Holy Spirit;/ make it clean and true to Christ's Gospel./ We pray to the Lord.

Give gifts of new growth to families where there is trouble,/ sorrow,/ violence and sickness of any kind./ We pray to the Lord.

May the Lord protect us from foolish ignorance which spawns hatred,/ waste and death./ We pray to the Lord.

Bless and keep the lands and peoples of Libya,/ Liechtenstein,/ Lithuania,/ Luxembourg and Macau./ We pray to the Lord.

And give the gift of light and life to those who have died this week/ aware as we are/that so many places around the world have become fields of terror,/ ruin and death./ And for those who mourn the dead in tremendous sorrow./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Jesus Heals Where We Are Fevered

It takes Mark only three verses to give us an account of this miracle of Jesus (Mark 1:29-31) It is very beautiful.

On leaving the synagogue they went straight to the house of Simon and Andrew; and James and John went with them. Simon's mother-in-law was ill in bed with fever. They told him about her at once. He came forward, took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. The fever left her and she waited upon them.

"they went straight to the house..." Sounds urgent. Does Jesus already know in his heart that the woman is ill? It seems he isn't told of her sickness until after he arrives. 

"They told Jesus about her at once" I like this line. Why do we delay in telling Jesus in our prayer what's of urgent concern in our lives. We tell others right away phoning or texting or emailing, but we delay in our prayer, perhaps waiting until things become a crisis.

Notice, "He came forward..." Jesus is advancing on what ails us, what's weighing us down - no sin, illness or evil can stand against Jesus. He's in charge!

Jesus, "took her by the hand and helped her to her feet." Isn't this marvelous - Jesus heals her with tender love. Oh, to heal the world with love! In Mark's gospel Jesus often takes the sick person by the hand. In addition, Jesus lifts her up. Sounds already like a little resurrection. Don't we all need a hand being lifted up? Name it!

"The fever left her and she waited upon them." Jesus wants to heal us of anything that keeps us from serving others in love. And what might that be - what needs healing? Resentment, untreated addiction, pride, pettiness, old wounds, that I lie to myself, justifications, ignorance, stubbornness. This is how we're down for the count and burning up with fever. Jesus, who heals fevered imaginations, have mercy!

Now we can make our prayer!