Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

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.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple

There are more than a few things in the Bible (and the New Testament is no exception) wherein story elements offend or confound our own contemporary sensibilities - like Jesus releasing the demons and the herd of pigs goes over the bluff and into the sea and drowns. Bible writing is ancient and it's unrealistic to expect that all the facets of the story will make sense to our way of thinking and living.

Joachim and Anne had prayed long for a child. And when God answered their prayer in the birth of Mary, they were  so grateful, at age three they presented her to the priest in the Jerusalem temple to live! Some young people feel exiled in being sent to summer camp or a residential school, but Mary was sent away as little more than a toddler. But the story is told so we can understand how profoundly God-centered her life was. Let's look for what's beautiful and good in the story and not worry about "How could they...!"  which would be to look at the story too simply.

There's resurrection in this young Mary, isn't there? The going up the stairs is important! And she is not only dressed in white, but she seems to radiate light from within. And Joachim, her father, is holding an empty glass jar. Was the painter just showing off that he had the skill to paint a transparent object? Maybe it signals Mary being emptied for God's purposes. Or Mary's transparency of soul!

Our Father...

At her Presentation at age three, Mary climbed the temple steps. Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel has said in an interview, "I think every human being is almost by  definition capable of hatred. But what I've learned is that a child until the age of three is not. A child begins to hate at the age of three. In other words, the child has been taught how to hate." Hate is strong feelings against other people. With Mary, I want to climb inner temple steps: up and out of ignorant hatred, to insight, consciousness and understanding.

Hail Mary!

In the ancient biblical world, to be childless cause terrible suffering, sadness and shame. By the time God answered their prayer for a baby Joachim and Anne were already elderly. God's ways are often very strange to us. But even though they had waited so long for this child, the parents were quick to keep their promise to give the child to God's care - placing God first by allowing Mary to be brought up in the temple. And while this may be seemingly impossible for us understand, we might at least pause to consider how I might come a bit closer to that reality. What could it mean for me?

Hail Mary!

Old Zechariah received the three-year-old Mary who climbed the steps unassisted to to the Holy of Holies. It was right for Mary to climb the temple steps - she is higher than the angels. And when she reached the top, Zechariah took her by the hand, leaning on her as if she were a little staff who would lead him to the Holy. Then she went past the veil into the deepest and most secret place of the temple, where only the High Priest was allowed to enter once a year. Oh Lady, enter with your brightness, and light up the inner places where I am blinded by shadow and dark inclinations.

Hail Mary!

Presentation means to make a gift of something. At first glance it looks as if Joachim and Anne present Mary to Zechariah for life in the temple. But when Mary climbs the stairs and enters the holy place, we sense she is presenting herself to God and for God's purposes. Each day I can make a presentation of myself ~ like the glass jar Joachim holds, presenting myself to God, waiting eagerly to be filled.

Hail Mary!

There is something very beautiful about Mary that draws even non-believers to her. Do I notice that even as a little girl, she is fully dressed? That pleases us somehow. Maybe deep inside we feel shame that today in our country, everything is sold by sex - even soda and cars. Undressing is celebrated and expected. Our dancing is no longer elegant and disciplined but now sexualized in a primitive way. Women and girls are exploited for sex, and even the nakedness of little children is desired, sought after and paid for. Mary is modest, which means: not everything has to be shown and seen. It is a very beautiful virtue.

Hail Mary!

The Child Mary climbed the steps before the temple altar and on the third step, she danced, and all of Israel loved her. In many  traditional dances, there are patterns and rules to follow and someone leads while taking the hand of the other. Oh, let's take the hand of Mary who leads the joyful  dance that guides souls. And let's pray that she would lead us out of the abyss of self-loathing; out of the inner land of lies, dark and hateful thoughts - to the contemplation of God's face.

Hail Mary!

The Infant Mary was the fruit of Joachim's and Anne's long, fervent and persevering prayer. And there are people who say, "Oh I tried prayer; it doesn't work." Some people keep daily tabs on the performance of their stock portfolios and make adjustments to maximize their profits. Some people have never missed an episode of a favorite TV series. Some people people spend countless hours talking on the phone everyday with the same friends. But prayer? "Oh I tried that; it doesn't work!" Oh heaven, how we use and abuse you!

Hail Mary!

There is a book for children about the years in which Mary lived in the temple as a young girl: Mary was blessed by God with all goodness. She became very strong in her faith. She was humble, kind, helpful and friendly to everyone. She offended no one, nor spoke ugly words. She never allowed unclean thoughts to enter her heart. And so she grew in wisdom and grace blessed by God. I want to be this alive too: growing in wisdom and grace. 

Hail Mary!

Mary was presented to God in the temple at age three. And at Mass there is the presentation of the bread and wine to be transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. There is nothing in our culture any more which invites transformation - only the transformation of how much weight I can lose with these pills over a weekend, or whose face can be transformed most successfully by surgery. But the best transformation is from hatred to kindness, justice, mercy and compassion. And when I have undergone that transformation, then I am free. But it begins with an oblation: a conscious offering of myself to God, who wants so much to grow-me-up in goodness.

Hail Mary!

We know almost nothing of the twelve years which the young Mary lived while in the temple. She lived with other girls. Widows helped to care for her. We can imagine Mary quite alone with God. Her life was lived with no publicity. God was building a living temple in which Jesus the Savior would live. God is heard in silence. But what did the young Mary hear? Surely God's law which says: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with your whole mind." (Matthew 22:37,38)

Hail Mary!

Glory be to the Father...

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Intercessions ~ Feast of Christ, King of the Universe

This month Pope Francis will visit Turkey where he will meet with the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew./ We pray for the Pope's safety/ and for his visit and message to bear fruit./ We pray to the Lord.

Every day brings news of death,/ calamity and terror./ We pray boldly for the conversion of those who do violent and deadly things,/ and for the inner healing of those who hate in God's name./ We pray to the Lord

The liturgical year draws to its close today./ Grant us grateful hearts for this past year of grace and growth in holiness./ We pray to the Lord.

Much of our country has already experienced winter weather./ We pray for travelers,/ the unemployed and all who are burdened by the demands of winter./ We pray to the Lord.

There are two and a half million homeless children in our nation./ We pray to recognize this great shame/ and for the willingness and resolve to make it right./ We pray to the Lord.

A three hundred and twenty five million dollar baseball contract was signed this week in our country./ We ask God to teach us right thinking in our world of hunger,/ thirst,/ nakedness,/ disease and illiteracy./ We pray to the Lord.

And for all of those who have died this week/ we ask for heaven's healing and mercy/ and consolation for those who are grieved and mourning./ We pray to the Lord.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Umilenie Mother of God ~ Joy of All Joys

SAINT AUGUSTINE WROTE: "Mary conceived Jesus in her heart before she conceived him in her womb." This icon (called the Umilenie) is of Mary in that moment. We can imagine the Angel of the Annunciation standing nearby and Mary is about to say, "Let it happen to me as you have said." Around her nimbus in Slavonic: "Rejoice O Virgin Bride!"

Saint Seraphim of Sarov (1754-1833) kept the Umilenie icon in his one room cabin in the dense forest near the River Sarovka. Look carefully, we can see it in this photograph of the prayer corner of Seraphim's cell. He loved the Mother of God so dearly in her Annunciation, he nick-named her, Joy of All Joys.

I fear we are losing joy. In a recent televised interview a man gave thanks for the Affordable Care Act which saw him through a very terrible sickness that would have taken his life if he hadn't had insurance for hospital care. He said that he gets hate mail every day, one anonymous person writing, "You should have died rather than my taxes go up so you could have insurance." 

Maybe we remember the movie, Driving Miss Daisy in which the Jessica Tandy character, Miss Daisy Wertham, a wealthy 72 year old, Jewish, white, retired school teacher is being driven from Georgia through Alabama by Hoke Coleburn, her African American Chauffeur (Morgan Freeman). 

We know it's around 1964 because of Miss Daisy's reference to the movie, My Fair Lady. Along the drive Hoke pulls Miss Daisy's Cadillac off the road and they share the lunch she has prepared. As they finish their meal two Alabama state troopers approach and calling Hoke, "boy" ask what he's doing with the car. 

When Miss Daisy states that the car belongs to her, the troopers ask to see the car's registration and Hoke's license. The troopers make no apologies and depart. But as Miss Daisy and Hoke drive away one trooper says to the other, "An old nigger and an old Jew-woman takin off down the road together...that is one sorry sight." 

We shouldn't say, "Oh, that was then, things have changed." If indeed the scene took place in 1964 and that perhaps the troopers were in their late 20's, they might well be still alive. And while that kind of hatred is by no means limited to the southern states, a young man who has lived there told me that bitter racist hatred endures - it's now just concealed. 

A French nun I knew, who lived through Hitler's occupation of her country told me, "It was easier to live under Hitler than today." I asked how that could be possible. She answered, "Then, we had each other. You can't count on that today." 

Maybe we could keep Seraphim's little Joy of All Joys icon nearby to remind us of joy and our human commonality and to protect us from the separating hate that has a mind to overwhelm and claim us. The icon's title Joy of All Joys reflects that Seraphim saw a cause for joy everywhere and beyond them all, the superlative joy of Mary in her believing and cooperative God-love. your own:
  • The garden's first snow (November Lite)
  • A Chickadee landing on my seed-bearing hand ~ if I am patient
  • A first visit to the grotto at Lourdes
  • Offering Mass at the tomb of St. Francis and Assisi's Sunday bells
  • Bach's Christmas Oratorio, even in August
  • A bright July day at Kizhi Island in the Onega Lake ~ the wooden cupolas silver in the sun

  • The arrival of  dear, visiting friends
  • The waterfall on the retreat property and its secret grove
  • Someone brought an orchid for the house
  • Yuri's Archangel Gabriel icon
  • Narcissus: Rose of May ~ fragrant and deer resistant!

  • The Sunday community gathering in the chapel ~  the children
  • The four rescues here ~ especially when they are resting
  • Julian Fellowes' promise of a sixth season of Downton Abbey
  • And Seraphim is right ~ Joy of All Joys ~ the thought of Mary at Nazareth and Bethlehem!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Intercessions ~ Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

The cold time of the year is approaching./ We pray for people who suffer in the winter time,/ mindful of those who are homeless/ or who lack the resources to remain comfortable,/ safe and healthy./ We pray to the Lord.

Pope Francis is asking for a Church of new priorities:/ that the face of the Church would be one of attentive and helpful love./ We ask for the pope's mission to be blessed and for his health and safety./ We pray to the Lord.

Friday is the Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple./ We pray for the children and young people of the world:/ for their good health,/ well-being and growth in goodness./ We pray to the Lord.

The leaves have fallen/ But behind every dropped leaf is next spring's bud./ We pray to be attentive and aware of every grace and gift around us,/ to miss nothing of the signs of God's presence./ We pray to the Lord.

We entrust our own families and families everywhere to God's healing care,/ mindful of those who are troubled,/ sick,/ burdened,/ fearful or angry./ We pray to the Lord.

We ask for Muslims and Christians to find a commonality in God which will bless the world,/ restoring the planet,/ if even a little,/ to that peaceful paradise God created it to be./ We pray to the Lord.

And for all of those who have died/ to be glad for the forgiveness of sins,/ the lifting of shame and the healing of ignorance,/ in the experience of God's life and light/ we call heaven./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Kera Kardiotissa ~ Virgin Mary of the Heart

HERE IS A PICTURE of the chapel of the Kera Kardiotissa convent on Crete, part of the Greek archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea. Kera Kardiotissa translates beautifully Virgin Mary of the Heart. Maybe it is the monastery's feast day celebration: Mary's Nativity ~ September 8.

The monastery dates from the 10th century and housed the Kera Kardiotissa icon until the 15th century when the it was stolen and taken to Rome where it resides today. "Wherever there are human beings there is sin," an Italian nun told me.  If I were pope for a day, I'd give the icon back to the nuns who would love and venerate it with  their prayers in the  ancient chapel.

But what does the title mean: of the heart? When Pope John Paul II went to Kazakhstan after the fall of the Soviet Union, he spoke with a large group of the nation's dispirited young people. He said:

"Who am I? What is the meaning of my life? What is my destiny? My answer is very simple but it has tremendous implications. Listen, you are one of God's thoughts! You are one of his heartbeats! To say this, implies that, in a certain sense, your  life has infinite value and your irreplaceable individuality is what is most precious in God's sight."

We come from God's heart ~ Kardiotissa. All six billion of us! And Mary calls us to the awareness of this wonderful reality. Additionally she shows us how to respond in generosity, confident-joy and love to the God who created us out of the Divine Heart. 

Imagine that Pope Francis has sent us to Crete to be his ambassadors in returning the Kardiotissa  icon to the convent: we explain who we are to the nun who comes to the gate, she invites us in and we present the returned gift to the assembled community. The sisters insist we stay for prayers before the lovely image while bells are rung. There are flowers and incense! "May we offer our prayer of thanks and intercession for the world?"

Your presence, Kera Kardiotissa,
from the Aegean mountain monastery
a message of heart ~
Britomartis, Rhea and Europa

Your maphorian of gold and rose, Kera Kardiotissa,
covering our turbulent planet,
the animals and plants,
all the children
and mothers who carry two souls.

Your eyes, Kera Kardiotissa,
holding the races and religions,
war zones, mine fields and
dividing walls,
even Bethlehem knows no peace.

Your smile, Kera Kardiotissa,
breaking over the littlest,
the inconvenient,
the fearful ~ 
the common good.

Your hands, Kera Kardiotissa,
holding God's exhausted children,
preferably out of sight ~
let the government take care.

Your Child, Kera Kardiotissa,
flowered and sparked
in a robe of light ~
climbing over folly 
to find us.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

They went and joined him

He then went up into the hill-country and called the men he wanted; and they went and joined him. He appointed twelve as his companions, whom he would send out to proclaim the Gospel, with a commission to drive out devils. So he appointed the Twelve: to Simon he gave the name Peter; then came the sons of Zebedee, James and his brother John, to whom he gave the name Boanerges, Sons of Thunder; then Andrew and Philip and Bartholomew and Matthew and Thomas and James the son of Alphaeus and Thaddaeus and Simon, a member of the Zealot party, and Judas Iscariot, the man who betrayed him. (Mark 3:13-19)

WE SEE HERE THAT JESUS desires friendship, just like the rest of us.  No one wants to be lonely. Notice that Mark doesn't use the word apostle, but Jesus appoints the twelve as companions. And they are sent out with two mandates: deliver God's good news and drive out demons. On Sunday we pray the Creed which calls our faith apostolic. That means unlike the hymnal, faith must be taken out of church. 

I might suggest that the good news, joy-bearing part of the Lord's commission is what really needs attention in our Church. Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote: "I would have considered a vocation to the ministry except that so many of the clergy more resembled the undertaker." 

Saint Mark makes about twenty references to Peter. And in any listing of the apostle's names, Peter's name always appears first. Some folks will take this to mean Peter is supreme and hence the first pope, etc. I would say before any of that it means that Peter is the disciple who we should watch most closely. He's the first-disciple. 

Of course, a Catholic would say Mary is the first disciple, the first to welcome Jesus, but don't miss Peter for a second, for surely you'll discover yourself in his behaviors and thinking. Remember, it will be Peter who after Jesus is arrested says to the questioning stranger outside the jail, "I don't even know who you're talking about." 

James and John are among the twelve companions of Jesus. These two will disappoint later when they reveal how poorly they understand Jesus. They'll have their mother speak for them, looking for positions of influence and power at the right and left hands of Jesus in his new kingdom. Talk about getting it wrong! 

Jesus gave the nick-name Sons of Thunder to these two brothers. Maybe they had stormy dispositions, were short-fused hot heads who spoke or acted before thinking. 

Andrew is listed among the twelve. He's a good friend  who makes a point of introducing others to Jesus. There is a charming scene in John's gospel where Andrew introduces to Jesus a little boy who has some bread and fish which will be just what's needed to feed the enormous and hungry crowd. 

Philip and Andrew are Greek names which might cause us to wonder what kind of influences they brought to this first circle of companionship around Jesus. Religion often has a hard time realizing this: we don't all have to be the same!

If Matthew is the Jewish tax-collector who collected taxes from his own people on behalf of the Roman Empire, he'd be a rather lonely man. We might contrast him with Simon who was a Jewish ultra-nationalist (a Rome-hating Zealot). We can only imagine the arguing and resentment there could have been between these two.

So this is a mixed bag of men who might have found it difficult to get along. But Jesus works with what he's got (still). He taught them and corrected them when  needed. The word docility means  to be teachable. And perhaps the first character trait of a humble person is a willingness to take correction. Both are in short supply today.

P.S. We shouldn't sniff at Jesus for not having women counted as his first traveling companions. In the culture of  his ancient Jewish world his mission would never have  gotten off the ground if he had women among the group. It would have been unthinkably scandalous. But if we want to see how important women were to Jesus, we must read Saint Luke's Gospel. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Intercessions ~ Dedication of the Lateran Basilica

Today is the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome/ the Mother Church of Catholics./ We pray to be built up as living stones/ a people dedicated to the service and love of God and God's people./We pray to the Lord.

We pray for those who were elected to public office this week/ asking for them to be blessed with gifts of integrity and commitment to the common good./ And for our country to be healed of its polarization and negativity./ We pray to the Lord

Kristallnacht translates Night of Crystal, remembering the nights of November 9 and 10, when the Nazis began their formal campaign to eliminate Jews from Europe./ We ask for the world to be healed of its many and bitter forms of hatred./ We pray to the Lord.

The trees are bare now/ having dropped their leaves./ We pray to drop resentment,/ pride,/ petty insistences and self-pity./ We pray to the Lord.

We ask for that change of heart which would make for a world at peace,/ a global heart which has in mind the protective love of children everywhere./ And grant that we would have a new regard for the earth which sustains us./ We pray to the Lord.

Give strength,/ hope and healing/ to the sick,/ the heavy-burdened/ and those who live in loneliness and fear./ We pray to the Lord.

And the fullness of life and joy/ born of your kind mercy/ to those who have died./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Thoughts for the Month of November

THE ROMAN MISSAL identifies this past Sunday as The Commemoration of the Faithful Departed. I prefer the secondary name, simply All Souls, otherwise we are left to ask, what about the unfaithful departed, the not-so-faithful  departed, the sporadically faithful departed, the faltering faithful departed? In Mexico the day is simply called, The Day of the Dead.

The word commemoration is important: with remembering. Remembering everything that was good, healthy, life-giving, edifying in the relationships where the other is now deceased. Or perhaps remembering the relationships where the other is deceased where there was sorrow, pain, abuse, sickness - and I survived it and even grew through it all. The element of gratitude is strong on this feast day.

There is also the theme of praying for the forgiveness of sins committed by those who have died. Does Jesus need to be convinced by our prayers to forgive? When Jesus loves, he loves by forgiving. More than anything, maybe the prayers for the dead are simply expressions of love for those who have gone to the other side.

~ ~ ~

There is a theology of the deceased called a toll theology. That when someone dies, the journey continues as the souls of the departed wend their way to heaven. The soul stops along the way (at tolls) to kind of pay up. While devils appear announcing every sinful act, angels rush to announce every pure-hearted, good and kind act. There's a contest over the soul. 

We're able to help the soul pay by offering Masses, prayers, candles and good deeds in the deceased's name. This rather fanciful theology has never been approved or endorsed, though many people live by it. We each work out our salvation in this life. Again, perhaps the real thing being expressed here is our love for those who have go ahead of us - or perhaps a desire to express repentance for where we came up short in love or a desire to forgive. 

~ ~ ~ 

In the mid 1980's I was chaplain to a University Hospital where I witnessed many people who in their dying lingered long. Often they needed to be told, "You can go now." Sometimes they were told this because loved ones hated to see a dear one suffer or, truth be told, the relatives needed to get on with life and this dying was taking too long.

Maybe the dying person had some kind of business to finish up with God. Or maybe they were just controllers, persons un-surrendered who couldn't imagine the family could carry on without them. 

But it seems to me that in this life the Christian is called to practice abandonment - entrusting everything of life to the loving kindness of God. We call it Divine Providence: trusting that God will provide, that God will take care. And if we are abandoned now, then, when death approaches, we will already be in the good habit of surrender, allowing for our physical death, our stepping over, to be the easiest.

~ ~ ~

In the 1950's and 60's we spent so much time thinking about and talking about death, sin, guilt, judgement, heaven, hell, purgatory - even flames - that we neglected to talk about what it meant to be alive - except to avoid sin and behave well.

I'd suggest that as the garden is put to bed for the winter, the old, frosted and dead stems cut back and the new life already showing close to the ground where it will weather the winter, the November question is just that:  What does it mean to be really alive in the time of this life that God has given me today? In my first parish there was an old man who was the weekend rectory cook. I never saw him go to Mass and he had no obvious spiritual reference. I asked him one day, "Do you believe in heaven?" and he answered, "I believe in right now." That's not a bad answer. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Alchemical Milk-Giving Mother of God

ALCHEMY IS MEDIEVAL CHEMISTRY which proposed to change base metals into gold or silver. One of the ingredients used in the alchemical process was milk. And so once again, the icon of the Milk-Giving Mother of God offers us new direction.

But of course, in her nursing the Infant Christ, she is pointing to an internal change: from baseness to something higher, from earth time-space to a spiritual place. And what is that? Often Christianity is reduced to being an ethical system, a battle between good and evil, but really it  is much more an invitation to "put on the mind of Christ." 1 Corinthians 2:16

Colm Toibin writes in his book, The Sign of the Cross about growing up in Catholic Ireland in the late 50's and early 60's.

At the cathedral at Enniscorthy the names of the bishops from the beginning of time were written on a painted scroll which stretched down the high walls on each side of the altar. There was benediction after the boys' confraternity when the priest's voice would boom down the huge, half empty, almost dark church, "death comes soon," he would say, "judgement will follow, so now dear children, examine your conscience and find out your sins."

"Find out your sins" is a rather low-level work of conscience while putting on the mind of Christ has more to do with the new consciousness of the Christ-mind. This is why Jesus so often speaks of hearing and seeing. His miracles performed for the blind and the deaf reveal his desire for us to see and hear spiritually. Have we ever explored the idea of an Examination of Consciousness and not just an Examination of Conscience? 

Icons of Christ always show him with an enlarged head and emphasized forehead because he is thinking thoughts that transcend earth-thoughts. And this Christ-mind, which can be our own minds, is a first step into the Kingdom of Heaven. 

The old ways of thinking are no longer adequate or even real! We fill our earth space/time minds with things that are too small.

Christ consciousness thinks outside the box. St. Therese of Lisieux was on-to-it when she said she'd spend her eternity doing good on earth. I asked a dying woman what she thought heaven would be and she answered, "I think I'll fly around and help people." 

  • Some people vote only for the candidates who will safeguard their comfort, security or way of life.
  • Some people have as their first thought: "What's in it for me?"
  • Some people think only their way is truthful or righteous.

The consciousness of a Christ-mind transcends nationalism and sees himself/herself as one of the more than six billion people on this earth - created and loved by God who knows nothing of favorites. The word exceptional is reserved not for a nation but for God and God's messengers and saints.

Notice Saint Paul doesn't speak of  the mind of Jesus, but the mind of the Lord or the mind of Christ. This is the Resurrected-Ascended one, a Cosmic Christ or Pantocrator (Ruler of All). 

An earthbound mind is reduced to suspicion, paranoia and phobias. I know someone who spends every waking minute sniffing out Masons, heretics, homosexuals, satanists, political/religious liberals, feminists and Islamists. But when we have experienced the complete renewal of our minds (Romans 12:2) then the joy-stealing separations fall away with the bitter distinctions that create hate, violence and war. 

How do I get the Mind of Christ? 
  • Participate in the Mass, receiving the Eucharist.
  • Know the Gospels, even by heart.
  • Plant and take care of a garden.
  • Look long at icons.
  • Wander around museums.
  • Steer a wide circle around contentious people.
  • Avoid contentious TV/radio news.
  • Go for outdoor walks: parks, beaches, woods, nature trails.
  • Stop: inhale, gaze, shhhhh!
  • Read poems. Write poems.
  • Learn to identify trees, wildflowers, birds and clouds.
  • Challenge self-pity and resentment.
  • "Water" the seeds of everything good in you.
  • Listen to Bach, Handel, Haydn and Mozart. 

Before the Icon of the Milk-Giving Mother of God

O alchemical Mother of God,
Milk-bearing Nourisher
of your Child ~
take us up to the higher places
where sun and moon admire 
your transformational gift ~
your feeding us to expanded awareness,
seeing and hearing ~
the renewal of minds.