Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Intercessions ~ Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

At the start of March,/ mindful of those who celebrate birthdays,/ anniversaries and other days of remembrance,/ we ask for the blessings of good health,/ safety and peace./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for the Church throughout the world,/ asking God to fashion us into communities where alienated and marginalized persons may discover a home;/ where people can hope to find refreshment,/ renewal and reconciliation./ We pray to the Lord.

Ash Wednesday approaches./ We ask for clarity as to how we might grow in Christ this Lent./ For the strengthening of our prayer,/ and that we would rely upon God in what tempts us./ We pray to the Lord.

As Lent approaches/ that we would be practitioners of the Works of Mercy:/ feeding the hungry,/ giving drink to the thirsty,/ clothing the naked,/ sheltering the homeless,/ visiting the sick and the imprisoned,/ burying the dead./ We pray to the Lord.

Again we pray for the nations of the world./ This week we pray for the people and governments of: Anguilla,/ Antigua & Barbuda,/ Argentina,/ Armenia,/ Aruba and Australia./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for those who in the stresses and challenges of life are feeling hopeless./ We remain in a prayerful union with the sick,/ the poor,/ the un-befriended,/ those displaced and all who live in fear./ We pray to the Lord.

Finally/ we pray for those who have died to experience the joy of the Father's house/ and the bright and welcoming face of Jesus-Risen./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A More Light-Hearted Lent

ASHES IS JUST THE START OF LENT,  the way an old-time farmer would begin by spreading wood-ashes (poor man's manure) on  the field, orchard or garden to increase the summer yields. Pray it's safe to say we all want to do more for Lent than just "get ashes."

Lent is the Church's Springtime. It's the inner project whereby something new comes alive in us. I'm to live in such a way these forty days that come Easter, in some way I will be changed. Springtime: Warming, Increasing, Thawing, Melting, Birth-ing, Greening. Lent-Easter says: See, we can change!

Just giving up things doesn't really effect this process in any way. We need a project that gets inside, that takes us up and alongside Christ-Risen in his NEWNESS. The giving up of sugar, alcohol, meat and fun serves to keep the idea of Lent in the forefront - but the real doing of Lent is interior. 

Here's a Lenten idea that might shake-up our worlds a bit. It's called the 3 C's: No Complaining. No Criticizing. No Condemning. It would admittedly be easier to just give up candy and call it a day. I've called this post A More Light-Hearted Lent, because when I recommend the 3 C's to people, most of them smile or laugh outright because they know how soaked we are in complaining, criticizing and condemning, and that getting rid of it won't be easy.

We might begin by just listening to ourselves over the next week before Ash Wednesday to see how much of it we share: criticizing and complaining about a spouse, about the kids, about our parents,  the teacher, the homework, the others on the team, the food,  the weather, the president, about the way things are, the traffic, the prices, the boss, the stores, about money, about our health, about the housework, the customers, the neighbor's kids, the people on the road, the colleagues, the waitress, about not being appreciated, not understood, about the work I have to do, about not getting any help...!

If we want or need to, we can fine tune complaining, criticizing and condemning as to what the differences are. Maybe they are just to be reduced to one word: negativity. And when negativity gets a real hold on us then we become cynics. Was it Bob Dylan who sang or said: You can't please a cynic if you try.

Alice Herz-Sommer the oldest known Holocaust Survivor recently died at 110. She saw humanity at its worst. When her family was being taken away, the neighbors quickly came to the apartment  to remove what they wanted from the family's belongings: dishes, clothing, furniture, pictures, rugs. pots and pans.

In the short documentary about her life that is airing these days, she said, "I think about the good. That takes a lot of practice."

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Widowhood of Humanity ~ Sexagesima Sunday

ON THE OLD CALENDAR IT IS SEXAGESIMA SUNDAY  ~ roughly sixty days before Easter. It was (is) a time of ready-ing. Again the liturgical texts of the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours offer many themes which help to raise awareness of humanity's bereft and wretched condition. The world needs a remedy.

Here is a wall icon of the Gospel account of the Raising of the Widow's son at Nain, (Luke 7:11-17) Pulling her hair, the poor widowed mother is beside herself with grief. She has lost not only her husband, but now her provider-son is gone too. Jesus, ever attentive, speaks to her and restores not only the boy but the woman herself.

She is an image of humanity's widowhood - the world in its mournful lament, the world weeping in loneliness. There is more, as the widow, and doubly so with the death of her only son, was now at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder and pressed to the societal margins. She images the persons, families, cultures, nations, kinds of persons in social devastation and crisis, outcasts, despised, without support, adrift, disillusioned, without joy.

And when the Lord saw her, he pitied her, and said to her, "Do not weep." And he went up and touched the bier, and the bearers stopped. And he said, "Young man, I tell you, wake up!" And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and he gave him back to his mother (Lk 7:13,14)

Jesus touched the bier - that's the stretcher or stand on which the corpse is carried before burial. God in Christ steps up to and then touches this world (the planet AND my personal world) in its most desperate place. There is no place God will not go to retrieve us for the promise of his life.

Notice that Jesus' first response is to the frenzied, devastated mother, and then to the son. And while there is no reason to deny or minimize the historicity of this event, as some are wont to do these days, all the more, the account is about each of us and all of us in our human condition of reduction, marginalization, inner poverty and loss. And our answer to this is Easter; it is sixty days away!

Secondarily, the number sixty signifies time. There are sixty seconds to a minute. There are sixty minutes to an hour. It means perhaps, we don't have forever. I don't have forever to reconcile. I don't have forever to use this gift. I don't have forever to work on this addiction. I don't have forever to pray. I don't have forever to heal this inner wound. I don't have forever to get a real loving heart.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Intercessions ~ The Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Give strength and hope to the people around the world who live each day with war and violence./ And holding the people of Ukraine in our prayer/ let us not forget the gospel-way of reconciliation and peace-making./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for our families and friends/ mindful of those who are anguished by doubt,/ fear,/ sickness,/ money or relationship problems./ We ask for their consolation and restored hope./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for the countries of Afghanistan,/ Albania,/ Algeria,/ American Samoa,/ Andorra and Angola./ We ask for the people of these countries:/ peace,/ good health,/ safety and well-being./ We pray to the Lord.

The Olympic games continue in Sochi./ We pray again for the safety and well-being of all who gather there/ with hopes that this time of shared sport will nudge the world a little bit/ into a new era of understanding and reconciliation./ We pray to the Lord.

It is a difficult and even perilous thing to be a Christian in many parts of the world today./ We hold these Christians in our Mass-prayer today/ asking for all we need to continue clinging to Christ./ We pray to the Lord.

From space our planet is a lovely green,/ blue and white sphere./ Looking closely/ we see much of it is wasted,/ polluted,/ and destroyed by war and exploitation./ We ask for a change of heart and the insight to cherish our God-given paradise./ We pray to the Lord.

In praying for those who have died/ we ask for the gift of trust - that God will fulfill his promises in bringing all of creation to the the fullness of life and love./ We pray to the Lord.

NB: We can intercede for the nations of the world - in alphabetical order - six each Sunday. We might be prompted to research where some of them are, or who they are.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Morning Prayer ~ Pie Jesu!

THIS IS A CARVED IMAGE of the Mother of God holding her Infant Son. They are smiling, confident and joyful in their love. The statue comes to us from the 13th century - a time of bloody crusades and war with Islam. Is there ever a time without bloodshed and war?

We can't know for sure how ancient Latin sounded, but Pie Jesu sounds lovely when pronounced Pie (Pea-ay) Jesu (Yay-sue) It translates: devoted (as to a family member) loving, tender, affectionate Jesus. The Christ playfully holds His Mother's chin. The tender love of God for troubled humanity. It is said we smile much less than even fifty years ago. Why is that?

Let's not just catch a glance of the picture but hold it a good while. And then make our prayer for the day.

At the start of the new day...Pie Jesu.
In the first thoughts of the morning...Pie Jesu.
In the people I will meet...Pie Jesu.
Where fears arise...Pie Jesu.
As I will need patient strength today...Pie Jesu.

There are thoughts of the children...Pie Jesu.
That I would live today in confidence...Pie Jesu.
That heaven can depend on me...Pie Jesu.
My answer to what's depressing and fearsome...Pie Jesu
In what's tedious and tiresome...Pie Jesu.

That I would keep my joy...Pie Jesu.
That everyone would be safe and healthy...Pie Jesu.
For protection where there's danger...Pie Jesu.
When I lose my sense of meaning...Pie Jesu.
In the flashes of anger...Pie Jesu.

As I hold the world in my heart...Pie Jesu.
In the friendships I've been given...Pie Jesu.
The dreams I have...Pie Jesu.
My love for you...Pie Jesu.
And the smile of your Mother...Pie Jesu.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A Teresian Plan for Lent

Therese is second from the left  ~ with the paddle and cloth

UNTIL THE CALENDAR REFORMS OF 1969, today would have been called Septuagesima Sunday - the first of three Sundays in a row with curious Latin names that served as a countdown to the start of Lent. Septuagesima translates seventy - roughly seventy days to Easter. 

The world spends a great deal of time getting ready for the things that matter: years of preparing for the Olympics, wedding preparations, a young lawyer wanna-be preparing for the boards, preparing one's face and hair for a heavy date, preparing the room for the baby's arrival, preparing for vacation, preparing for surgery, preparing for retirement...

So I think it's a mistake that the church dropped the three Sunday's of Lenten preparation. Instead it's just imagined that we'll jump into Lent on Ash Wednesday and debate whether the Sundays of Lent "count." An unfortunate compromise with the flip side of the culture: zooming along and breathlessly playing catch-up.

Anyway, here on this blog-page we can acknowledge Septuagesima and its liturgical theme of humanity exhausted and bereft, the world's misery in need of a remedy. The Adam and Eve Genesis account tells us that somewhere along the line we spoiled things with wrong choosing, wanting to be equal to God in a bite and losing our God-Given Paradise. We need God for our repair. 

Sin weighs heavily upon us: lies and power abuse, exploitation and corruption, violence and death as problem-solver, hatred and revenge. The Gospel at Mass today used to be Matthew 20: 1-16 - the vineyard owner who gave the same pay to those who worked only briefly  as those who'd worked through the long, hard and hot hours of the full day. The message: Be glad and get on board, in response to God who gives to us so generously, as God wills and as we need.

Septuagesima Sunday says it's not too soon to start preparing for Lent - considering how we might reflect God's own project of  love. And Therese of Lisieux lays it out for us.

"True charity consists in putting up with one's neighbor's faults, never being surprised by her weakness, and being inspired by the least of her virtues."

I've changed the pronouns from him to her only because Therese lived in a close community of 21 women and we must be absolutely certain that she knew exactly what she was talking about because of the struggles that kind of community would have required. The picture above illustrates it. Laundry was done at this kind of shallow pool, each nun squeezed up against the other, wooden paddles beating dirty clothes, water flying. Indeed, Therese writes of one laundry partner (deliberately?) splashing her with dirty water and Therese coming to imagine that it was the priest sprinkling her with Holy Water at the start of Mass! Therese wrote:

"If the people knew what went on in this house, they would burn it to the ground."

"Sometimes I feel as if I'm living inside a volcano."

In another place Therese writes of a nun in chapel who continually clanked her rosary against the wooden bench or whose loose false teeth clacked away. And Therese imagining it was music. Or the cantankerous old nun who castigated Therese for walking her either too quickly or too so slowly. "Damned if you do, damned if you don't," we say.

So maybe this Lent we can accompany our giving up with three practical life-steps given to us by this much loved saint, essential ingredients for the God-remedy of our world:

  • putting up with the faults of others
  • taking no surprise at the weaknesses of others
  • taking inspiration at even the least of virtues we discern in others.

This is harder than the most rigorous fasting from desired food and drink and the dimension of Lent most ignored or forgotten.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Sunday Intercessions ~ The Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

We pray for ourselves,/ our families and those who are around us at Mass today,/ and that Jesus would be able to depend on us./ We pray to the Lord.

Each week people entrust themselves to our prayer./ We pray for those concerns now:/ asking for health,/ courage,/ comforting and peace./ We pray to the Lord.

We long for a more just and safe world,/ praying boldly for the resolution of conflicts which would allow soldiers and sailors of every nation to return home in peace./ We pray to the Lord.

On the old liturgical calendar/ this Sunday is called Septuagesima, or seventy days to Easter./ From our distressed human condition we ask to seek the Risen Christ as our Remedy./ We pray to the Lord.

Since last Sunday the light has increased by a few minutes./ We ask for that inner Christ-light/ which finds us where we hide in shadows or stubborn unknowing./ We pray to the Lord.

Pope Francis hopes for our Church to enter a new era:/ a simpler Church,/ a more humble, repentant Church,/ a Church which helps an anguished world to heal./ We pray for God to lead us to the realization of this fresh vision./ We pray to the Lord.

We commend to God those who are dead to this world/ that they may live forgiven and mercifully embraced by the Risen Christ./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Holding the Value for Children

ISN'T THIS A WONDERFUL PICTURE? Oh, that every child on the planet were so loved. After the February 9th post about Saint Valentine, a few people wrote, interested in the Latin roots of his name: valorem = value and tenens = holding. The name Valentine means holding the value. What's the value? "But the greatest of these is love," Saint Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians.

Then someone else wrote about a post from a long time ago on holy tears. Putting the two together we might reflect upon holding the value of holy tears for love. Recently we heard of the parent who left a baby for an hour in a car with an inside temperature of 22 degrees. And the baby sitting young man who got the toddler in his care to inhale his marijuana pipe.

So maybe the Pauca Verba post today can be a silent prayer of holding the value of love for children. We needn't worry if the prayer will effect any global change. The bottom line, the only thing that matters, is that our own hearts be made conscious and warmed. The world is a better place for there being even one heart that is conscious and warmed. And so, we are...

Conscious of children forming in the womb
Conscious of children unschooled
Conscious of children enslaved
Conscious of children sexually violated
Conscious of children disposed of 

Conscious of children made soldiers
Conscious of children with special needs
Conscious of children brutalized
Conscious of children unfed
Conscious of children left dirty

Conscious of children where there is war
Conscious of children refugees
Conscious of children orphaned
Conscious of children terrorized
Conscious of children wandering and lost

Conscious of children where there's divorce
Conscious of children whose consciences are not formed
Conscious of children where there's disaster
Conscious of children used for profit
Conscious of children forsaken

Conscious of children in tears.
Conscious of children who beg
Conscious of children withering
Conscious of children who don't play
Conscious of children who are silent

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Saint Valentine ~ Priest and Martyr

Valentine with Gospels ~ Receiving the Martyr's Crown 

SAINT VALENTINE IS ONE OF THE SAINTS removed from the universal calendar reforms of  1969. I think that's unfortunate as we're so inclined to forget love or to get love wrong - why drop a martyr-saint whose life and death might help the culture to understand love rightly?

In his book All Saints - Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time, Robert Ellsberg offers a brief teaching on the life of Saint Valentine.

The association of St. Valentine with pink hearts, boxes of chocolates, and the exchange of romantic  fancies has no intrinsic source in the character or life of the saint. The origin of "St. Valentine's Day" - a day beloved of greeting card companies - is not entirely clear, but it seems to have taken root in England, a cold country where the signs of spring are eagerly anticipated. As far back as Chaucer it was commonly observed that birds began to pair and mate around the feast of St. Valentine, that is, from the middle of February.
In any case, the Valentine whose name is oddly commemorated was apparently a Christian priest in Rome who assisted martyrs during the persecution under Emperor Claudius II. He was eventually arrested and was beaten and beheaded.
Thus by offering his heart, he proved himself a true devotee of the God of Love.

The name Valentine (in Latin Valentinus) comes from valorem = value, and tenens = holding. So the name of the saint means holding the value or persevering in the value. What value? The truth of Christ. Goodness. His love for others in trouble. Christian holiness. Faith. 

Valentine might have been kept on the Universal Church Calendar for this reason alone - he encourages us in the struggle to hold the value. In Nigeria, Catholics risk death when they step out of their homes to go to Mass. I served in a Church where over a third of the Sunday congregation regularly walked out of the church with the host in their mouths - to be the first out of the parking lot. Talk about forfeiting the value!

But not to end on a polemical or sour note - let's keep St. Valentines Day with some conversation about naming the true value (not to be confused with the offerings of hardware store) and how we might more deeply hold it in perseverance.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Sunday Intercessions ~ The Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

"Then let all the trees of the forest shout for joy..." Psalm 96:12

In the hearing of the gospel today/ we pray to be a Church of good deeds/ by which the Heavenly Father is glorified./ We pray to the Lord.

In a difficult winter we pray for travelers and those without shelter,/ heat or food./ We remember those who are helpers through the winter/ doing works of mercy./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray to see our planet as a great gift to be treasured and safe-guarded:/ the land,/ the water and air,/ the animals and plants./ We ask God to forgive our sins of casual waste and disregard./ We pray to the Lord.

Many Christians risk death each Sunday by simply going to church./ We ask for the transformation of hate-filled hearts and minds/ that threaten the peace of others./ We pray to the Lord.

We ask for the re-assurance that God is with us in our losses:/ that nothing would cause us to forsake confidence and joy./ We pray to the Lord.

We ask for state and national leaders to be honest and wise,/ and for the healing of government where it is lost in the shadows of vanity,/ power,/ resentment and self-interest./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for mourners,/ the sick,/ persons unemployed,/ hopeless,/ alone or without support./ We pray to the Lord.

Finally we pray for those who have gone before us in death,/ trusting the mercy of Jesus who forgives/ and directs us to the desired end of our lives,/ which knows no end./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Presentation of the Lord in the Temple

SUNDAY WAS THE FEAST OF THE PRESENTATION OF THE LORD.  The East calls it The Meeting of the Lord. Mary and Joseph are dutiful in fulfilling the obligation of dedicating the first-born boy to God in the Jerusalem Temple. We might hold that thought for a moment. This was no easy trip - carrying a newborn along dangerous dirt roads by foot or by donkey if you had one. In our culture people complain about having to walk too far from the parking lot to the mall. But Mary and Joseph made the long and tiresome trip for God's sake - literally.

And as Jesus is presented to God, he's being presented to us too. That's one way of understanding the Eastern title: The Meeting of the Lord. Jesus and the world are introduced to each other. Symeon said it:

For my eyes have seen your salvation
Which you have set before all the nations,
A light of revelation for the Gentiles,
And a glory to your people Israel!

Isn't it interesting that the Gentiles (non-Jews) are mentioned before his own Jewish people?! Now we can understand Symeon's prophecy regarding Mary.

This child is destined to cause the fall and rise of many in Israel
and to be a portent that will be much debated -
and you yourself will be pierced to the heart -
and so the thoughts of many minds will be revealed.

What thoughts of many minds? A question posed to each human heart:  Do you accept  or reject Jesus? 

In the image at the top of this post, Giotto has painted the most profound moment when Mary lets go of the Infant, releasing him into the hands of Symeon. Releasing him into the hands of his own people? Look again, she is reaching across what looks to be an altar. Sacrifices are made on altars. The Child is reluctant and maybe fearful, as he reaches back to his mother.

Living on this planet requires a lot of letting go. Think of the recent ice storms in Atlanta. Your car is doing 360's on the ice and all you can do is let go. You house is being engulfed by flames in the drought of Southern California and you are totally powerless and can only let go

But then sometimes the letting go that's required is of a different kind: letting go of old hurts, resentments, or hatred. Letting go of the story of financial losses, friends, loved ones and pets departed. Getting older requires letting go. I fell on the ice here four times in three days. A friend said, "When you're over sixty, every fall is a hard fall." There's nothing to do but take normal precautions and then let go. Let go and let God, AA says. God is to be met in the letting go.

Finally, in this Presentation scene there is the invitation to present myself - in my own skills, energies, gifts and abilities, however limited. This pleases God. I visited a small intentional Christian community of lay people the other night. They are family people who work jobs during the week and each Saturday evening they meet for dinner, rosary and what they call a sing - an hour of  folk songs and hymns - robust voices and the wonderful accompaniment of guitars, banjos, mandolin, drums, flutes and whistles and piano.

Between the songs there was light-hearted conversation with the leader introducing the history of the selections. And just as the first notes of the next song were being played,  Amy looked over at Nate, paused, and said, "Oh remember, we're meeting at ten tomorrow morning to go to the nursing home to sing." Indeed, the whole group was going off to a country nursing home, and very often in these parts, when you wind up in a nursing home it's because you've outlived everyone else and are totally alone. 

And I thought, these people have young children and it's their weekend and they're giving up a couple of Sunday morning hours, while others are still in bed, to sing for the elderly. Remember in St. John's Gospel when there were thousands of hungry people and Jesus and the apostles were talking about getting food for them. And Andrew said to Jesus, "There is a little boy here who has five barley loaves and a couple of dried fish, but what good is that for so many?" That verse is about giving the little bit to Jesus - a little boy with a little food and Jesus did a wonderful thing with it. We can present ourselves to the world trusting that giving even the little bit matters.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

"O my dove, in the clefts of the rocks..." ~ Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes

The Grotto at Lourdes ~ France

The flowers have appeared on the earth,
the time of song has come;
and the call of the turtle dove
is heard in our land.
Rise, my love,
my beautiful one,
come away,
O my dove in the clefts of the rocks,
in the recesses of the cliffs.

Gradual Prayer for the Mass of Our Lady of Lourdes

THE FEAST OF OUR LADY OF LOURDES is celebrated this year on Tuesday, February 11. Lourdes is in the Pyrenees Mountains of France where the Virgin Mary appeared eighteen times to young Bernadette in 1858.

I have been to Lourdes many times, my first visit was while I was a seminarian in the mid 1970's. Poor fellow, the priest I traveled with wasn't much of a believer in Marian apparitions, and so it was a short visit. Quite often, the secular clergy don't do especially well with discomfort, so he wasn't a happy pilgrim: taking the overnight train from Paris - the rain beating on the metal roof of the sleeping car, waking up in the cold mountains, no coffee, a foul train toilet, no shower, no shave. I didn't mind; I only wanted to go to the grotto. He tried rather valiantly to put up with my piety, but it was clear he had breakfast on his mind more than prayers and processions. And so after this firs unsatisfying visit, I resolved to return to Lourdes on my own.

My Benedictine friend, Sister Jeanne Marie, says, "The veil between heaven and earth is most thin over Lourdes." I understand. Every year millions of people from all around the world pilgrim to Lourdes. Very many of them are sick with their helper-companions. At Lourdes, following the pattern of Jesus, everything stops for the sick. That the apparitions began at the start of Lent in 1858, calls us to remember that Lourdes is intimately linked to what Catholics call The Paschal Mystery which is our sharing personally in the dying and rising of Jesus. This is the death of our darker inclinations: our debilitating fears, arrogance, defensiveness, hurtful foolishness, stubbornness, moodiness and the like - and the re-birth, healing and rising up of the higher human things: graciousness, confidence, inner-freedom, compassion and willingness.

For several years I would take a group of young graduates to Lourdes where they would load and unload the long pilgrim trains, assist in the piscines (baths) and at the Mass in the huge underground basilica. A friend and school colleague accompanied us as a helper to the thousands who come to Lourdes each summer in wheelchairs. He served the week with great patience and courtesy but admitted that just days after our return to the states he found himself  grumpy and impatient with an elderly man who was trying to navigate his grocery cart through a parking lot. We grow in goodness. Conversion is usually slow, like the long ripening of fruit.

Then there is the smile of Lourdes. In the course of the eighteen apparitions, the skeptical parish priest, Father Peyramale, would tell Bernadette what she was to ask the thing, as Bernadette didn't yet know who this was appearing to her in the grotto. But when Bernadette obediently posed the clergyman's questions, the Lady only smiled. Maybe heaven wishes we'd ask fewer questions out of our perplexity and more simply enjoy the divine in-breaking wherever it is to be found.

Maybe the Lady's smile is a revelation to those who find little joy in their religion. Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote: "I would have considered a vocation to the ministry except that so many of them resembled more the undertaker." Sad to say, but too often our religion has stolen away joy - especially the joy of children. I remember well the pictures of Jesus in my boyhood catechism where he frowned and suffered deeply, depending on the depth and intensity of my venial and mortal sins. While I suppose we can grieve God, I expect it isn't my silly thoughts and bits of inner resistance that cause God grief nearly so much as the great sins of humanity: sexual exploitation, wars that burn down cities, the global disregard of children and the weak ones, the hating of people who are different, the failures of religion to love, the lies told by persons and organizations of power. But Mary's smile at Lourdes reminds us that as heaven beholds each soul, God sees there the beauty of who we really are and how we were each created.

So perhaps our feast day prayer can be to the Mother of God at Lourdes, that we would not lose our sense of humor about our ourselves and that despite the disappointments and the frown-tempting encounters of life, we would keep a light heart and a ready smile. It's possible.

"I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody would realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun."
Thomas Merton: Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

This Catholic Classic is a must read: A Woman Clothed with the Sun by John Delaney. Accounts of seven Marian Apparitions. New and used copies are easily obtained online