Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Praying In A Weary World

THE CHRISTMAS CAROL O Holy Night calls the world weary. Some people will nod quietly in understanding. The world is displaying a particularly deep weariness of late; there seems to be a great open and festering wound.

Jesus knows. The night of his Last Supper he prayed in the orchard where olive trees grow. He realized and bore all of the world's bitter rejection of God - the world's distaste for God displayed over the  millennia. It crushed Jesus," And His sweat became like drops of blood which fell to the ground," Luke 22:44. Christ's passion began in that garden; his blood soaking our weary, wounded world. The next day this burden would be carried in his hands, feet and side.

The wounds of Jesus are forever. He bore them in his Resurrection appearances. But now these wounds shine like rubies, Father Jim Janda wrote in his poem Russian Easter. Jesus forever carries these marks of identification with the world of wounds that are personal, global, economic, cultural, psychological, physical, spiritual, relational, moral. Often the world's wounds are tear-washed.

In the hands of Jesus, the left and right hands of God reach into the world of wounds. In the feet of Jesus, God walks among the world of wounds. In the open side of Jesus there is new access to the heart of God. 

I asked a hermit nun once, "What does a hermit do all day?" She answered, "A hermit reads the New York Times in the morning and then goes to pray." When I've shared her statement with others, some have looked askance; "Well, I don't know about that," one priest said. I would disagree.

I'd go so far as to suggest that the new prayer book is the newspaper and the screen-bearing global news. Before the creation of the Internet, one Anglican friend kept a scrap book of news clippings that she'd cut and save as places for her prayer. But the prayer isn't a prayer of words - as if to tell God what to do about it all - but rather, simply this: a heart, silent and awake to the wounds of the already God-embraced world. 

I'm struck by the number of people I meet who tell me they don't read or hear any news. I don't understand this. "But it's all bad news anyway," someone said. What kind of luxury is that?

I'm suggesting a new prayer of the heart. Blessed are the pure of heart, Jesus teaches. Perhaps this pure heart is the heart that is cleaned out, purged of all the petty, selfish distractions and the entitlements that keep life so cluttered there's no inner space left to know the wounded world beyond my own tiny life-orbit. 

The wounds of Jesus are a kind of cosmic shrine or sanctuary from which issues the torrent, the rushing flood of God's abundant, gift-given kindness. The divine largess, says the preface for the Mass of the Sacred Heart.

My prayer then is to ponder these things - to hold these things before the image shared at the top of this post. But we might hold off approaching this image of Jesus until we have  first encountered the other images of newspaper, Internet and television screen. Could I suggest that some news stations are corporate enterprises doubling as entertainment or are full of contentious, politicized, hateful voices that only want to win an argument. Those sources cause us to lose our peace, thwarting a centered prayer.

Prayer of the heart is a pondering - like Mary who turned over in her heart the mysterious gifts of, suffering and death left by the magi.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Intercessions ~ Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mary ~ Maris Stella ~ Star of the Sea

Labor Day is observed this Monday./ Offering prayers for the unemployed/ we remember as well those whose work benefits us in any way/ and for those whose work is dangerous,/ dirty,/ exhausting,/ or whose wage or work conditions are unjust./ We pray to the Lord.

With St. Paul we ask to be transformed by the renewal of our minds/ discerning God's will by what is good,/ pleasing and perfect./ We pray to the Lord.

As September begins we pray for those who celebrate birthdays,/ anniversaries and other days of remembrance,/ asking the blessings of good health,/ peace and safety./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray blessings too for the those who return to school:/ students and teachers./ Grant us all the desire to learn those things that will make of our world a happier place of friendship and growth for all./ We pray to the Lord.

Give the knowledge of your truth to those who do murderous things/ or who believe there are military solutions to what ails our world./ We pray to the Lord.

We ask for gifts of healing where there are racial divisions,/ spiritual or emotional sickness,/ pained families and mourning./ We pray to the Lord.

And for all who have died/ give an immortality of joy - especially those who have lived in ignorance,/ hatred,/ fear,/ angry disbelief or loneliness./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Mother of God ~ The Joyful

THIS ICON IS CALLED SIMPLY, Mother of God ~ The Joyful. But what's the joy? Jesus has told us in chapter 15 of St. John's Gospel that he is the vine and we're the branches. It's a wonderful passage about his and our mutual love - symbolized by the intertwining one-ness of grape vines and branches. You really can't tell one from the other, there is such a unity in the plant.

And at the end of that passage Jesus shifts a bit, saying: "I have told you these things so that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete." Receiving the love of Jesus and offering Jesus my own love results in joy. Don't we need joy!?

Then we are reminded of something Jesus said earlier in the same Gospel - John 14:28 - "If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father..." Lots of Christians say they love Jesus - but we could ask, Do I love Jesus because loving Jesus might benefit me somehow? or Do I love Jesus simply for Jesus' sake - because Jesus has the good work of the Father's purposes to accomplish?

Often in icons of the Mother of God, while Jesus is playful in her arms, she has a faraway look in her eyes. She already holds in her heart the separation - the God-purpose that will take her Son from her. 

I might come before this icon asking what it means that I say, I love Jesus. People seldom ask questions about meaning.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Peter and His Keys

IN THE PARISHES AND SCHOOLS where I've served, having the keys meant having power. Indignation would arise, "Oh, she's somebody around here, she's got keys." More often than not, in reflecting upon Peter and his Keys to the Kingdom, we still translate that to mean, "He's got the power." Hence: the image of Peter at the gates of heaven determining whether or not an individual may enter.

On a larger scale this power quest  results in arguing and still more arguing: the Catholics and the Anglicans, the Eastern Orthodox and the Catholics,  the Catholics and the Evangelicals. More than a few Catholics still think they have a corner on the truth because they have  Pope Peter and his keys. 

Of course, along with Peter's name always being listed first among the apostolic names, his being given keys signifies his position of authority. But Peter is first of all a disciple, and that reveals something more, something that's true then about all of us. I'd suggest that when Peter was given the keys (the image of access to the reality of Jesus through lived experience) we were ALL given keys. God loads us up with gifts.

I was sitting in a doctor's waiting room where there was a mentally challenged older man, disheveled, talking constantly and louder than the television.  No one sat near him, though everyone noticed and even kept an eye on him.

Clipboard in hand a nurse came through on her way elsewhere. She recognized the fellow and immediately sat down next to him. In a gesture of I'm in no hurry, she put down the clipboard, angled towards him and began a conversation. Her addressing him broke the spell and he became lucid and articulate. After a few generous minutes, she left him peaceful. That nurse had the keys:
  • The keys to knowing how to be human.
  • The keys to understanding mercy.
  • The keys to understanding how to serve.
  • The keys to understanding the troubled mind.
Keys, whether Peter's or our own, aren't for power, but for service. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Jesus Table

When Jesus was at table in Levi's house, many bad characters - tax-gatherers and others - were seated with him and his disciples; for there were many who followed him. Some doctors of the law who were Pharisees noticed him eating in this bad company, and said to his disciples, ''He eats with tax-gatherers and sinners!" Jesus over-heard and said to them, "It is not the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick; I did not come to invite virtuous people, but sinners."  (Mark 2:15-17)

GERMAN PRIEST, Father Sieger Koder has depicted these few gospel verses here with an almost childlike, simplicity. "Keep it simple," AA says. And Jesus, in inviting us to be childlike before God, enjoins us to religion that is simple, unadorned and accessible. Too often we take Jesus' simple approach to God, a religion of the table where bad characters gather to eat, and twist  it into a religion that is dense, remote and dull - more suited to the lecture hall or library.

Notice that Jesus is invisibly at the center. He is seated at the viewer's end of the table. The assembled guests are looking at him. We see only his hands offering the bread and wine. Here's the new presence of Jesus - in the Holy Food.

At the far left are these (literally) sketchy figures. Are these the religious Pharisees - the doctor's of the law who sniffed at Jesus eating with undesirables?They appear ghostly, floating off in the dark corner, far from the light source which is Jesus and the open window with the fresh air and new vista. God keep us!

Perhaps the cut flower in the vase at the center of the table signifies that this is a prepared and celebratory meal. The fellow on the right has a broken arm. He is nearest to Jesus who has called himself the doctor. We all need a doctor for what ails us most deeply. We're all limping along or impaired in some spiritual-psychological way. Something needs to knit together again, repair, heal, mend. We might not even know to name it, but we know something is wrong or not well.

The woman sitting next to him is holding her head in her hand. Is she tired? Perhaps so tired that she needs her left arm to add even further support. This kind of tired isn't synonymous with bored or sleepy, but a deep inner fatigue or malaise. A whole family, parish, community, country can live like this for a very long time.

And the fellow next to her wears glasses. All human sight is impaired - we don't see deeply or we see things wrongly: judgments and assessments blinded by our politic or prejudices, upbringing or wrong-headed teaching.

And a clown sits directly opposite Jesus at the other end of the table: Is this God's foolishness  coming into the world in Christ who will be rejected even to our own time until the end? Or is the clown there to remind us that we wear masks, or as Father Koder says, "We're all fools."

Then there is the figure that is bent and covered over. It is a person full of shame, who cannot even lift her/his head. We might think of a life-moment from even years ago, the memory of which causes us to put our heads down. And of course, there are people all around the world who carry great shame: persons of caste, throw away people, people who have been manipulated, exploited and enslaved. An analyst I know who worked for some years with transgender-ed clients in New York City told me that these people are the most damaged. They're at the Jesus table.

Then there's the lady in the red dress and long hair, who perhaps wears too much makeup. In Jesus' time the word sinner most often meant prostitute. Thoroughly compromised persons are prostituted. A professional soldier who will fight on any side so long as he's paid is a prostitute. A priest who no longer believes or cares but wears the holy clothes, says the holy words  and goes through the motions is prostituted.  They're at the Jesus table.

Finally there's the old fellow whose eyes are vacant and  black. His head is tilted in a confused way. Is he "all there" we ask? He's at the Jesus table.

This little gospel scene of three verses defines the way of Jesus: God has turned to us and opened himself to us totally in Christ. It's not a smoking, quaking mountain anymore, but a table of the simplest fare, with all of humanity gathered there around Jesus. Not just, (not even)  the law-abiders - but the ones who know deeply their most frail, most broken, most reduced, most ashamed selves.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Bless you!

I HEARD ON THE RADIO that a young woman, a senior in high school, said, "Bless you!' when a classmate sneezed. The teacher instructed her, "Save that for church," then reminding her of the list of  forbidden classroom words such as dumb, stupid, boring, whatever, bless you. Some argument may have ensued about First Amendment rights before the girl was sent to the in-school suspension room. 

As a third grader in public school I remember in the late 1950's the day the live Christmas tree was brought to our classroom and our making colored paper chains to hang on it. There was a manger and a menorah on a little table up front. The school day started with a communal prayer and we learned the Ten Commandments. Public school! 

My friend, now deceased, Camaldolese Benedictine Sister Mary Placide Deliard, told me that when she was a girl in France in the 1920's, there was a man who as evening approached, went around her coastal village lighting the gas lamps. What was most memorable however, was that as he lit up the streets he sang a French song thanking God for the day's blessings; asking peace and safety for the evening and night time. When he died, either electric lights or a non-singing version of the lamplighter took his place. Different world.

But rather than lament the passing of that time we might memorize the lyrics to an evening hymn, and even if we don't have a melody - though we could easily hear a variety of tunes online, turn our thoughts to gratitude. Here's the lyrics to an evening hymn written by Samuel Longfellow 1819-1892. But how blessed would it be for a family to know several evening hymns with which to begin dinner.

Now, on Land and Sea Descending

Now, on land and sea descending,
Brings the night its peace profound;
Let our vesper hymn be blending
With the holy calm around.
Jubilate! Jubilate! Jubilate! Amen!
Let our vesper hymn be blending
With the holy calm around.

Soon as dies the sunset glory,
Stars of heav'n shine out above,
Telling still the ancient story
Their Creator's changeless love.
Jubilate! Jubilate! Jubilate! Amen!
Telling still the ancient story
Their Creator's changeless love.

Now, our wants and burdens leaving
To his care who cares for all,
Cease we fearing, cease we grieving:
At his touch our burdens fall.
Jubilate! Jubilate! Jubilate! Amen!
Cease we fearing, cease we grieving:
At his touch our burdens fall.

As the darkness deepens o'er us,
Lo! eternal stars arise;
Hope and faith and love rise glorious,
Shining in the spirit's skies.
Jubilate! Jubilate! Jubilate! Amen!
Hope and faith and love rise glorious,
Shining in the spirit's skies.

Jubilate: rejoice or be joyful in a shouting kind of way. Perhaps the closest we can come to it is the sound people make when their team wins!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Intercessions ~ Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

Christ the Pearl of Great Price ~ Syria

We pray for Pope Francis/ who extends the ministry of St. Peter in our own time,/ asking for his work to be graced,/ and for his safety and good health./ We pray to the Lord.

Christian and other minority communities are severely tested by militant Islamic attacks throughout the Middle East./ We pray for these communities and for the safety and success of those who are trying to live by the peaceful principles of the gospel./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for those who are returning from wars,/ wounded or damaged./ We pray for peaceful  days/ when soldiers and sailors all around the world will return to their families in safety,/ tranquility and security./ We pray to the Lord.

We stand in a prayerful solidarity with the suffering community of Ferguson, Missouri and wherever there are racial tensions that divide and weaken./ For  gifts of peace and healing./ We pray to the Lord.

Among our relatives and acquaintances there are many whose lives beg for healing./ We remember them where there is depression,/ addiction,/ sickness,/ bankruptcy or family breakdown./ We pray to the Lord.

The world can seem to be descending into chaos./ We pray to remain vigilant,/ faithful and prayerful,/ asking for the conversion of those who do destructive,/ hateful and deadly things./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for the many people around the world who have died this week,/ calling to mind that among them are many children./ We pray as well for those who are grieved at the loss of loved ones./ We pray to the Lord

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Mother of God ~ Rescuer of the Drowning

ON THE RIVER DEVNO there was a dangerous and deadly whirlpool which even the most experienced sailors found difficult to navigate. Quite often large barges would become victims to the treacherous waters which carried under crew and cargo.

It was at that dangerous site that the icon of the Mother of God appeared. Subsequent to the icon being brought to the nearby church facing the whirlpool, the Devno became calm and safe. Proclaimed Wonder-Working and Rescuer of the Drowning, large numbers of pilgrims visited the church which housed the icon - patroness of those in need including many who were undertaking dangerous journeys.

In the 18th century the icon was transferred to the Monastery of the Savior's Transfiguration, remaining there until the 1917 Russian Revolution, during which time it disappeared. In 2003 the Monastic Church of the Mother of God, Unexpected Joy was consecrated whereupon a  pious Christian gave an exact copy of the icon to the monastery.

But there must be more. To live on this planet is to have set out on a dangerous journey. Frightful dangers seem poised to take us under. In our prayer we might entrust the whole of humankind to the protective care of the Mother of God and Her Divine Son, while at the same time reflecting, Is there some way that I might change my own thinking or become involved in an organization or group that proposes to address some life-threatening human problem?

Drowning in
global disease,
hunger and poverty.

Drowning in 
the militarization of our planet,
the enslavement of persons for sex-work and soldiering,
guns which take the children away.

Drowning in
the blood of innocence,
and prophets.

Drowning in
toxins which poison
the land, the water, the air ~
the plants,
the animals,
the people.

Drowning in
false promises,
ads and proposals,
secrets and deals.

Drowning in
ignorance and disbelief.

The River Devno was calmed
at the appearance of Your icon, O Lady.
So now, Rescuer of the Drowning,
still the swirling death-menace of our minds,
You, who with us glorify God,
Creator and Sustainer of all life.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Prayer to the Mother of God in a Time of Distress

THIS ICON OF THE MOTHER OF GOD is found painted on a cement wall of separation at Bethlehem. It's symbolic of the profound struggle Christians and other minorities are suffering in the Middle East these days (and in parts of Africa and Asia).

Below is a prayer written by Father Arseny, an Orthodox priest who was held prisoner in a Soviet Gulag. Someone wrote suggesting the readers of this blog might enter into a nine day disciple of prayer (a novena) holding this Christian crisis before heaven. I have adapted Father Arseny's prayer slightly (he'd approve) to reflect the communal dimension ~ the solidarity we feel with Christians whose suffering is indescribable. 

O our beloved Queen, our hope, O Mother of God, protector of orphans and of those who are hurt, helper of those who perish and consolation of all who are in distress ~ you see our misery, our sorrow and loneliness. Help us who are powerless, give us strength. You know what we suffer, you know our grief. Lend us your hand, for who else can be our hope but you, protector and intercessor before God? The world has sinned before your Son, and before all people. Be our Mother, our consoler, our aid. Soften hearts that are hardened in deadly hatred. Protect and save us, chase away grief and despondency. Help us, O Mother of God.

CNEWA is the papal humanitarian assistance agency to Christians in the Middle East. It does important work.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Assumption ~ The Joy Spills Over

THERE IS NO OFFICIAL OCTAVE for the Feast of the Assumption - but that shouldn't keep us from basking in Mary's Easter for a few days. The other day I referenced some of the titles Islam holds for the Virgin Mary, with the hope that Christianity and Islam might find a new and healed place of common joy and love. Now I feel promoted to create and share my own titles growing out of the Gospels:

She who has learned the heart of God
She whose heart is Christ's heaven
She who celebrates God's Mercy
She who considers in silence
She who embraced Jesus

She who converses with angels

She who offers hospitality
She who understands Christ's Hour
She who hears God's Word and does it
She who shares in angel song

She who welcomes the poor
She who laughs at death
She who stirs us to joy
She who trusts Gods fulfillment
She who proclaims God's wonders

Friday, August 15, 2014

Assumption~Mary of the Circle Dance

IT IS THE DAY OF MARY'S EASTER ~ her being taken up. But being taken up, not flying through space, but taken up and into the inner life of the Holy Trinity. 

We've all been part of a circle dance before, perhaps in elementary school or at a wedding, as shown here. God's inner life is not static like a triangle, but circular and with a simultaneous sharing among the persons of Father, Son and Spirit of divine energies, friendship and love. And Mary, in a fullness which even includes her body already, is taken up into that circle of energies - leading the way for us who follow. 

Great trouble is currently coming out of the Middle East and the militant elements of Islam. In the Quran, the holy book of Islam, the Virgin Mary is mentioned more often than in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The most lofty things are said of Mary in the writings of Islam. I have often thought that this veneration of Mary, shared by Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Islam, might be a point of shared love. Sadly that idea seems to have escaped notice. 

We might pray these marvelous titles of Mary which come to the world through Islam, asking for those with militant, hateful and death-dealing hearts to think of her, turning to the world with love.

She who is absorbed in prayer
She who confirms the truth
She who has faith
She who believes completely
She who prostrates before God in worship
She who was purified
She who was chosen
She who fasts
She who is enveloped in God's mercy

Relic of Mary's Veil at Chartres Cathedral ~ France

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Intercessions ~ Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Syrian child-refugee

The Middle Eastern countries are in a terrible state of inner disunity/ fear,/ terror and death./ We ask heaven's help for Egypt,/ Iraq,/ Iran,/ Jordan,/ Israel,/ Lebanon,/ Turkey and Syria./ We pray to the Lord.

While we see the Christians of the middle east suffering,/ we pray for the Church where it has grown complacent and weak/ asking for new hearts in solidarity with Christians who are living under exhausting challenges in other parts of the world./ We pray to the Lord.

Pope Francis is in South Korea./ We send up our prayer for him and the people of Asia/ who as they democratize/ often become secular and materialistic./ Bless his journey/ his message and his hearers./ We pray to the Lord.

Religion is ugly and dangerous where it is distorted by division and hate./ We ask God/ who can do seemingly impossible things,/ to change hearts/ and to make each human person a healed center of peace./ We pray to the Lord.

Hearing of Robin Williams death/ we pray that we would not lose laughter and joy./ We pray for those who suffer depression and addiction/ and for those who have lost hope and a sense of purpose./We pray to the Lord.

Safeguard the world's children,/ the elderly,/ the refugees/ and the efforts of helping agencies in the most dangerous parts of the world./ We pray to the Lord.

So many have died this week alone by terrorist violence./ We pray for the soul-healing of all the deceased,/ and for those who suffer the mourning of dear ones./ We  pray to the Lord.

The House of the Virgin Mary at Ephesus

MY YOUNG FRIENDS Nicholas (12 ) and Katie (10 ) have just returned from a summer trip to Padua, Venice, Greece, Croatia and Turkey. While in Turkey they took a bus trip to Ephesus where the Holy House of Mary is located. I told the brother and sister they could create a post for the Pauca Verba blog, sharing their insights and prayer. Here's Nicholas' report followed by Katie's prayer. They're happy to help us get ready for tomorrow's Feast of the Assumption.

In the 19th century, Sister Anne Catherine Emmerich had visions of the house that the Virgin Mary lived in with Saint John the Apostle. A person who had heard both Sister Anne's descriptions and a legend about a house in Ephesus traveled there and found that the house matched Sister Anne's descriptions perfectly.

The house is located on a hill to protect Mary because at the time, Christianity was illegal since it rebelled against the establishment of the Roman Empire.

The house is still standing and there are parts of the walls and foundation that are still original, and if you go there can touch the walls. You feel like you could be touching the wall that the Virgin Mary would have touched herself. Some of the trees outside could have been there for thousands of years, even at the time of Mary.  

One of the most interesting things about the house is that outside there is a fountain where you can drink and fill a water bottle. The fountain has been connected to a well that would have been where Mary got her water. The water is considered to be holy water. It's very wonderful to be able to drink from the well knowing that it's the same place that Mary got her water.

The Virgin Mary's house is one of the coolest places to visit. Just knowing that you are standing in the same place as the Virgin Mary is one of the most exciting things  you can do.

Oh Mary, 
your house is a holy site
for many religions.
Although you mean different things
to different people ~
whether someone believes
you are the Mother of God
or the mother of a great prophet, 
you are special
in many ways to all.

Our religions are different, 
but as we step on the stones you stepped on
we are reminded we are all children of God,
children alike in more ways than not.

We pray to you
that we may realize this in our daily lives.
We ask you to help us lead lives
of peace and love like your own,
to create a better world. Amen.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Jesus ~ Child Refugee

As soon as the wise men had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, and said, Rise up, take with thee the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt; there remain, until I give thee word. For Herod will soon be making search for the child to destroy him. He rose up therefore, while it was still night, and took the child and his mother with him, and withdrew into Egypt, where he remained until the death of Herod, in fulfillment of the word which the Lord spoke by his prophet, I called my son out of Egypt.
Meanwhile, when he found that the wise men had played him false, Herod was angry beyond measure; he sent and made away with all the male children in Bethlehem and in all its neighborhood, of two years old and less, reckoning the time by the careful inquiry which he had made of the wise men. It was then that the word spoken by the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled; A voice was heard in Rama, lamentation and great mourning; it was Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be comforted, because none is left.
But as soon as Herod was dead, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in Egypt in a dream, and said, Rise up, take with thee the child and his mother, and return to the land of Israel; for  those who sought the child's life are dead. (Matthew 2: 13-20)

I met a young Egyptian woman one Easter night, who at the end of the Vigil said she was angry and embarrassed by the Passover story which portrayed the Egyptians as the en-slavers and murderers of the Jews. It had never occurred to me how an Egyptian might feel about that story. I wish I knew where to find her today, to remind her that it was Egypt which so generously opened itself to Jesus, Mary and Joseph, saving Jesus from certain death. What a model for today!

A power-obsessed leader, jealous of a baby's royal title, was looking to kill the infant, and an angel warned Joseph how and where to find safety. In the tender image here (look again closely) perhaps painted on a parchment, it looks as if the family is crossing the border into the Date Palm land of Egypt. There is no indication in art or gospel page that anyone asked them, "Are you legal?"

We're basically a Christian country, so we're supposed to know this bible story. The problem with religion is when its adherents don't make connections. And when we don't make life-connections many people observe that disconnect  and say, "Why bother." 

Someone wrote recently, "Do you have a word of wisdom about the children at the southern border?" I don't have a personal word, just this Gospel-account which I believe is all we need. Egypt took in Joseph's family which was in trouble. Someone might say, "Yeah, well they were one family, we've got thousands crossing over." 

Joseph, Mary and her Infant (which we call the Holy Family) are a sign for us. The story encourages us to have hope, that children can survive in the scary world that too often doesn't consider their protection. Pray our country would do better by them. 

A burly man, carried a sign as he blocked the road to a busload of Central American children being taken to a processing center. The sign read, "Jesus would obey the law." No, he wouldn't. He'd remember the story his Mother told him - of how Egypt took them in when Herod wanted him dead.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Donskaya's Invitation

A RUSSIAN ORTHODOX BISHOP gave an exceedingly long sermon on the Feast of Our Lady of Kazan reminding the faithful that the icon had held back the Tartar invaders centuries before, protecting the Fatherland from the enemy and preserving Holy Russia. When Our Lady was done with the Tartars (for the time being) she managed to keep Russia pure again, this time from the Poles, "Imagine, Latin services in the Kremlin Cathedral of the Annunciation!" the bishop proclaimed.

In my view this kind of religion manipulates divine things, fostering the fevers of nationalism, xenophobia and every kind of hatred. It encourages the imaginings of exceptionalism, arrogant pride and isolation. It's magical, un-spiritual and alienated from the gospel.

If the Mother of God assumes the role of protector and guardian, then we must ask Where's the real enemy? Some Christians would never ask this question because the real enemy is interior and the face-off can be terrible indeed - for the individual, the local community, the nation or church. Jesus tells us:

"Avoid greed in all its forms," (Luke 12:15). 

In a recent TV special, a 30-something Canadian Inuit man is seen driving a reporter around his small arctic city. Along the way he laments the changes he's seen in the city during his young lifetime - the growth and disappearance of its indigenous culture due to the new presence of mining, oil and gas drilling companies. He believes the Inuit have sold out to these incomprehensibly rich businesses who are ruining the land, the water, the animals and air. He said, "Only when the last tree is gone; the last drop of water, will people realize we can't eat money." Greed is a real enemy. 

But the image here is of another Tartar-defeating icon: The Donskaya Mother of God or simply Our Lady of the Don - the Don being the River where Our Lady won yet another Fatherland victory.

The icon is of the Eleusa type giving expression to the most affectionate love between Mother and Child. Notice that while the Mother of God wears a modest cap under her maphorion, her left ear lobe is seen. This isn't a cute detail but rather, she is always listening to us and for us, like the mother of an infant sleeping in the next room.

But there is more: Mary, good Jew that she was, and having been trained in God's Word as she lived in the temple as a young girl, listens attentively to God's Word - the word of Proverb, Psalm, Prophet and History. Faith comes to us by listening. We might listen with her. 

"You will not not oppress the alien; you know how an alien feels, for you yourselves were once aliens in Egypt." (Exodus 23:9)

"The crime of your sister Sodom was pride, gluttony, calm complacency; such were hers and her daughters' crimes. They never helped the poor and needy; they were proud.." (Ezekiel 16: 49-50)

I hate, I scorn your festivals,
I take no pleasure in your solemn assemblies.
When you bring me burnt offerings...
your oblations, I do not accept them
and I do not look at your communion sacrifices of fat cattle.
Spare me the din of your chanting,
let me hear none of your strumming on lyres,
but let justice flow like water
and uprightness like a never-failing stream! (Amos 5:21-24)

Open your mouth on behalf of the dumb,
in defense of the rights of all who are unwanted.
Open your mouth on the side of justice,
and defend the rights of the poor and wretched. (Proverbs 31: 8-9)

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Intercessions ~ Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Urakami Cathedral ~ Nagasaki, Japan 1945

This past week the world remembered the atomic blasts which destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan./ We boldly pray for a new world/ freed of such disastrous and deadly power./ We pray to the Lord.

This week the Church keeps the Feast of Mary's Easter ~ her Assumption./ Grant the renewal of Resurrection-Joy in your Church and throughout the world./ We pray to the Lord.

Political prejudice stunts the hearts of many disciples./ Grant that Christian hearts would choose and establish Jesus as first and only./ We pray to the Lord.

Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them."/ Grant that the world would snatch up the children from war,/ famine,/ sickness,/ terror and exploitation./ We pray to the Lord.

Bless the people and lands of Oman,/ Pakistan,/ Patau,/ the Palestinian Territories,/ Panama and Papua New Guinea./ We pray to the Lord.

Safeguard health care workers where there is epidemic./  Bless the world with gifts of discovery,/ generosity and willingness,/ where there is life threatening disease,/ and hearts that rush to help the sick in poor countries./ We pray to the Lord.

And grant to those who have died all the blessings of healing and life,/ mercy and joy./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Muromsk Mother of God

ATMOSPHERE IS EVERYTHING in our culture. Moonlight, candles, flowers and a white tablecloth create atmosphere. A woman's perfume in a designer bottle. A men's stick deodorant packed with sex-exciting pheromones. The laughter of a bar. The chandeliers going up at the opera house. The period costumes in Downton Abbey. The crunching sound and smell of fallen leaves. Antique ornaments on a live Christmas tree. The fireplace inside the lodge. The soft jazz performed on a CD titled Two A.M. The resort that offers old world charm. Herbal tea.

This icon of the Muromsk Mother of God was transferred by Prince Constantine from Kiev to Murom where the prince urged the unbelievers to embrace Christianity. When Constantine learned of the crowd's plot to murder him, he came out to the unconvinced mob carrying the icon of the Holy Mother and Child. At once their hearts were turned.

Mary creates an environment of light  and joy around Jesus ~ her gift to the world. Her clothing is radiated with heaven. Her mind is expanded with the best thoughts. She holds the Child as if rocking him while she looks at you - at me. She invites intimacy, offering peace, hospitality and friendship.

The Constantine story is almost 900 years old, but she is still alluring. Gazing at her long we can inhale the atmosphere she creates. Notice everything: the Child's comfortably crossed ankles and rolled up sleeves. The little scroll of teaching he holds. Her knowing eyes and soft smile. The inclination of her head towards the Child. That he plays with her chin.

Ask her to steal your heart away, and with the Child in her arms to heal that heart: stubborn in ideology, fevered with imaginings, diseased thoughts and toxicity.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Sit in Levi's Chair

And Jesus went forth again by the water's edge, and all the crowd kept coming to him, and he taught them. And as he was passing along, he saw Levi, the  son of Alpheus, sitting in the tax-collector's place, and he said to him, "Follow me." And he arose and followed him. (Mark 2:13-14)

THE ANGEL WHISPERING over Levi's (Matthew's) shoulder in Rembrandt's painting might be saying to him, "Forget about keeping the columns  in your ledger, there's another story for you to record." Matthew's left hand seems to be indicating, "Who me?" Have I ever felt that way before God?

The gospel has told us that Jesus went back to the seaside town and that would have been a good place for Matthew to take up his station as lots of people would be coming and going ~ reason to collect new taxes. Matthew is a Jew who collects taxes on behalf of the hated Roman enemy who occupied the area. So we can image that Matthew had no friends among his own people. In the verses following we'll see that his only friends were low-enders. So of course, as Jesus speaks to him with courtesy he'll have that "Who me?" look on his face.

The account suggests that Jesus saw Levi first, as with Zacchaeus, another tax collector who had climbed a tree to get a look at Jesus (Luke 19: 1-10). But there it is: in Christ, God has found us long before we had any thought of him.

Matthew was a betrayer of his people, and perhaps thought of as a scoundrel, padding his pockets with the little extra he could swindle out of people. He might well have been an unhappy man. A lot of people are unhappy or dissatisfied in some place - often un-examined, undisclosed, even to those closest to them. We don't know what Matthew knew about Jesus, but what could possibly motivate someone to get up out of his chair and leave everything behind to answer the invitation "Follow me." 

I've met parents and teachers who celebrate everything a child does that sends the message, "You're great" "You're fine just the way you are." Awards, prizes, trophies for showing up, citations, high-fives, certificates, stickers, applause for everything, "Nice walking, Johnnie!" But truth be told, we need a doctor for what really ails us. We can be moody, acquisitive, selfish, prideful, pretending, minimalists, cynical, indifferent, dishonest, aggressive, hateful. Maybe Matthew knew this about himself.

There are Christians who ask others, "Have you taken Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior?" But that's not what Jesus requires. Jesus only says, "Follow me." That's what he wants from us. It's a fundamental message of the gospel, "Follow me and then see, we can change!" 

Can I (more importantly, will I )name the old treasure that I've been so attentive to and protective of, and out of that place look up and, sharing Matthew's surprise, find a new joy in Christ. We might sit for awhile, actively placing ourselves in the scene - sit in Matthew's chair - and now let the story play out.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Daylily Altissima ~ Most High

LATELY THERE'S A DAY-LILY BLOOMING  in these parts called Hamerocallis Altissima - Most High! Altissima comes from South West China and can grow to six feet. They're available through a number of online nurseries, appearing in shades of orange, apricot and yellow. But unless you stay up late, be careful to choose a variety that blooms during the day - some are noctural, opening at dusk and blooming through the night until one or two in the morning when they close up shop.

I discovered Altissima years ago and loved it for all it offers, but for its name as well. It reminds me of a line from the Latin Gloria at Sunday Mass.

Quoniam tu solus Sanctus (You alone are the Holy One)
Tu solus Dominus. (You alone are the Lord)
Tu solus Altissimus, (You alone are the Most High)
Jesu Christe (Jesus Christ)

Most High? Most High over our puny thoughts. Most High above all our pretend gods. Most High above all we call truth or beauty. Most High over all our fears and woes. Most high over our small generosities and our  unwillingness to  attempt or effect a real cease-fire!