Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Mary's Raspberry Branch

SCROLL DOWN A LITTLE to see Sunday's post celebrating the icon of the Mother of God ~ Unfading Flower. We find Mary in a living orb of fruit and flowers and holding a raspberry-laden staff. Most of the wild woodland raspberries are gone now, the bears having fattened up on them before the winter. As with almost all flowers and fruits, raspberries have symbolic significance: religious, cultural, medicinal or folkloric. 

Raspberries are a symbol of kindness. When pressed, they ooze a blood-like juice. This raspberry blood moves through our hearts where Jesus says kindness and all good thoughts originate. 

Jesus replied, "Can't you see that whatever goes into the mouth passes through the stomach and is discharged into the sewer? But whatever comes out of the mouth comes from the heart, and it is this that makes someone unclean. For from the heart come evil intentions: murder, adultery, fornication, theft, perjury, slander. These are the things that make a person unclean. But eating with unwashed hands does not make anyone unclean." (Matthew 15:17-20)

This is interesting in itself - the biblical view that thoughts originate in our hearts while our minds categorize and articulate the thoughts of the heart. The ancients were on to something.

Raspberries are fragile and bruise easily making their transportation delicate. Perhaps as the Mother of God holds them to herself and before her Son, she has us in mind, where we are damaged, pressed upon, wounded in our psyche-soul. 

Raspberries are perennials, which means they come back every year, but the stems are biennial, dying back every other year - the plant continually sending up new canes in the spring. But these reed stems grow and expand rapidly. I've had raspberry bushes here that looked quite dead, but come the spring they sent up new growth. In some cultures the reed stems are hollowed out and made into thin flutes. 

I like to think of the thoughts of Mary's heart and the words of her mouth as music to God's ears. Have we all read Mary's Song of Praise (her Magnificat)in Luke 1: 39-56? Don't miss it! Indeed, the words have often been put to great music.

Lastly, raspberry canes have a certain flexibility. Some Christians are very inflexible: impossibly unbending priests who have little pastoral sense of people in the struggle of their lives, parents who are overstrict with their children, people who get stuck in their political party's agenda, people whose rigidity is born of hatred, husbands and wives who are controlling of the other.

We might pause with the icon, asking heaven for the symbolic, spiritual-gifts the bush can bear abundantly.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Mother of God ~ Unfading Bloom

NOW IN THE TIME when the forest ferns are spent, the garden and tree leaves are mottled, faded and insect-chewed, we look for the last rose of summer. And security and peace withers and the world feels menacing for many. I'd suggest that only spiritual things are lasting and sure. And then I remembered this lovely icon of the Theotokos (Mother of God) Unfading Flower. Sometimes she is called Unfading Bloom or Unwithering Flower. 

She reposes in a living aureol of light, fruit and flowers, inviting us to stop, simply to look, to gaze, to consider. There are little open scrolls on either side of the icon's lower border. Perhaps the artist has printed the icon's story there. But we might also imagine they contain her words of encouragement, her promises, her instruction. And then, out of silence, we can pray:

Having entered the season of decay and fading light,
and learning of my planet's joy-stealing troubles,
I turn to you, Unfading Flower,
in a heavenly egg of
pomegranate promise,
hands overflowing with 
raspberry staff,
and the Child who calls himself, Life.

Father Stephen P. Morris

Friday, September 26, 2014

September 26 ~ Mesothelioma Awareness Day

Today is Mesothelioma Awareness Day. While this cancer can invade a number of organs we are most aware of it as an asbestos related cancer of the lungs. 

I'm thinking of any number of forensic studies of Jesus's crucifixion which indicate his death was ultimately caused by suffocation - his being unable to raise himself up on the cross to take breaths. One sign of the presence of Mesothelioma in the lungs is painful and difficult breathing. 

I'm thinking too of many gospel accounts wherein Jesus reaches out to the suffering sick of his day. We can imagine his sensitivity today being directed to the many people afflicted with contemporary diseases: a host of new cancers, Ebola, AIDS, heart disease, mental illness...

The two links below and many other online sites offer valuable information. We don't have to be in the medical field to be informed and aware:

Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance

Mesothelioma Awareness Day ~ Dying to Be Heard

"For Jesus healed many, so that as many as had ailments were pressing upon him to touch him." (Mark 2:10)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Intercessions ~ Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Cimabue ~ Saint Francis of Assisi

Saturday is the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi/ who called his followers little brothers./ We pray for the Church to have a Franciscan Heart/ making room for the littlest and the weakest/ And for our pope, who has taken the name Francis./ We pray to the Lord.

Middle Eastern Christianity is disappearing by war's destruction and militant persecution./ We pray for these believers to remain persevering while immersed in great suffering./ We pray to the Lord.

There are little island-nations which are only a few meters above sea level./ We ask for the great global powers to care about these countries/ so vulnerable before the threats of man-made climate change./ We pray to the Lord.

A European woman in Africa/ whose job is to lead burial teams of Ebola victims/ claims the dead are in the many thousands and increasing everyday./ We pray for the suffering continent of Africa to become a healed-land of life,/ peace,/ health and friendship./ We pray to the Lord.

In the autumn time/ the daylight decreases each day until mid-December./ We ask not to be lost to the things of inner darkness:/ hatred,/ resentment,/ greed,/ ignorance and selfish preoccupation./ We pray to the Lord.

We ask blessings for the world's sufferers:/ the children of war and sickness,/ the soldiers who hope to return home,/ the victims of disaster,/ the unemployed and those for whom work is cruel./ We pray to the Lord.

To pray for the dead is an act of enduring love./ We ask for the forgiveness of their sins/ and for their lives to be healed and made whole in the love of God./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Jesus In His Sea-side Pulpit

Willaerts ~ Jesus Preaching by the Sea of Galilee

Jesus now retired to the lake-side with his disciples. A huge crowd of people followed him, not only from Galilee, but from Judaea, Jerusalem and Idumaea, some from the district beyond the Jordan and from the neighbourhood of Tyre and Sidon. This vast crowd came to him because they had heard about the sort of things he was dong. So Jesus told his disciples to have a small boat kept in readiness for him, in case the people should crowd him too closely. For he healed so many people that all those who were in pain kept pressing forward to touch him with their hands. Evil spirits, as soon as they saw him, acknowledged his authority and screamed, "You are the Son of God!" But he warned them repeatedly that they must not make him known. (J.B. Philips translation ~ Mark 3: 7-12).

 "I heard it through the grapevine," we say and that's exactly what has happened here. People are coming from beyond the beyond to see and hear and even touch Jesus. The message of Jesus is becoming universal, and somehow in the long human story the message has come down to you and to me!

And here, contrasted with the little crowd of religious men, whispering behind their hands as to how to be done with Jesus, there is this crowd of people who are tripping over themselves to be near him in love.

But the energy of an eager crowd can be unnerving, and so Jesus has the little boat at hand so he can push off from shore and the boat will become his pulpit and the surrounding water will carry his voice effectively to his hearers - an ancient microphone. Clever Jesus!

I like this gospel translation because it reads: "For he healed so many people that all those who were in pain kept pressing forward." Not just people with physical sickness but all those in pain. Perhaps spiritual pain, the pain of mourning, emotional pain, those in pained relationships. 

And the demons are overwhelmed with the realization that Jesus is a superior spiritual authority, falling down and blurting out: "You are the Son of God." But we must not admire them and their pronouncement because the devil is a spoiler and we should imagine that even in their seeming faith announcement there is a trick.

What's the devil up to here, blurting out a holy truth that the humans haven't spoken yet? Did they choke on the words, or feel resentment while speaking them? Professor Gerald Sloyan of Catholic University calls the demons "blabbermouths". They say too much.

Where there are many words, sin cannot be avoided, my Eastern Orthodox priest-friend says. A family, a whole parish can get off message with too many words. Indeed the whole Church!

The rectory table
The Pastoral Council
The family in the car or at breakfast after Sunday Mass
The clergy convocation
The Knitting Circle
The Religious Ed office
The Scripture Study Group
The Parochial School faculty room
The church ladies ~ the ushers
The prayer-chain folks

Like the blabbermouth demon: "Where there are many words, sin cannot be avoided."  If someone among the readership here thinks this is overstated or simply not true, remember that soon after his election, Pope Francis gave permission to the Swiss Guard to interrupt chattering (rumoring/gossiping) Cardinals, Bishops, and Monsignori, telling them to "Cut it out." 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Helianthus Annuus Facing The Sun's Rising

These Sunflowers (Helianthus Annuus) are blooming at the retreat house now. They are facing the sun as it rises over the nearby hills. A kind of interface. I found this prayer in an English cathedral when I was a young seminarian:

O Christ our Savior, shed your light upon the path I have to tread, that I may keep it without stumbling and without faltering and come in the end to see you face to face in the heavenly kingdom. Amen.

The words face to face seem to be particularly important: that in my dying and rising with Christ I would experience an interface which will heal me and make me whole. That's why in eastern icons the figures depicted, even though their bodies might be turned, look at the viewer, face to face. 

Christ Pantocrator ~ Hagia Sophia ~ Istanbul

When we're dishonest someone might say, look at me or look me in the eye. When we're ashamed, we put our heads down. But in Christ, God has interfaced in light with each of us and all of us. It begins here - this side of heaven.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Jesus Heals the Withered Hand

Jesus went again to a synagogue, and there was a man there with one hand withered. And the Pharisees were watching him closely, to see whether he would cure him on the Sabbath, in  order to get a charge to bring against him. Jesus said to the man with the withered hand, "Get up and come forward." And he said to them, "Is it allowable to do people good on the Sabbath, or to do them harm? To save life or kill?" But they made no answer. And he looked around at them with anger, hurt by their obstinacy, and he said to the man, "Hold out your hand." And he held it out, and his hand was cured. Then the Pharisees left the synagogue and immediately consulted with the Herodians about Jesus, with a view to putting him to death.

A withered hand is powerless and useless. Maybe the man was born this way, had a stroke or suffered an accident. The Pharisees are un-relenting, still looking to gather evidence against Jesus. Perhaps what's really bothering them is that Jesus is more popular than they are. We might wonder if they put this handicapped man up to it - paying him off and making him a stooge for their purposes. 

But Jesus brings the man out into the open, Come and stand up here, he says. He will not hide his priorities: Human need trumps holy-day prohibitions.

Jesus is widening the field of religion which is more than the leaders can handle. While they know all about religious prohibitions, permissions and penalties, they don't  know how to speak  about the matters of the heart.

The question for these pious men is: How to keep the Sabbath holy? But for Jesus the question is: How can the Sabbath lead us to love and serve people? And if the Sabbath rules prevent that care of others then the rules have to go. And to make the point, Jesus heals the man.

The Evangelist Mark is very close to the Incarnation (God is with us in Christ) in this gospel scene, allowing us to witness the deeply felt emotion of Jesus in his sad-anger and hurt. But what is it that angers Jesus? That we allow religion to be kidnapped and used by political agendas or that we twist up religion into something foolish and ugly, calling man-made rules divine. Maybe Jesus is hurt and sad that these men are out to get him.

Let's be on the lookout for religion that loses its way, resolving to stay clear of it. Psalm 51:10 says: A clean heart create in me, O God, put a right spirit within me. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Intercessions ~ Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

As Autumn begins/ countless trees will let go of their leaves./ In that spirit/ we pray to surrender suspicion,/ resentment,/ fanciful thinking and possessiveness./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for the conversion of those who do hateful,/ deadly things while wearing masks./ And for us to remove our own masks - revealing ourselves before God and others in humility and truth./ We pray to the Lord.

Pope Francis has said that a Third World War has begun in piecemeal./ We pray for sufferers wherever there is fighting/ and for national leaders to implement non-combative ways of resolving the world's deepest problems./ We pray to the Lord.

Saturday is the Feast of Saint Vincent de Paul - saint of charity and reformer of the clergy./ We ask for the emotional and spiritual growth of priests/ and blessings for the Church in Her charitable efforts./ We pray to the Lord.

This past week the Church kept the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows/ - Mary standing beneath the cross of Jesus./ We pray for women to be blessed and recognized in their many gifts/ and for help and healing where women suffer the loss of their children by war,/ kidnapping,/ disease,/ calamity or addiction./ We pray to the Lord.

Remembering that every Sunday is a little Easter - a day of Resurrection/ we ask for our nation to rise up out of polarization/ and any bitterness,/ selfishness, or unhealthy pride that forgets,/ marginalizes or diminishes others./ We pray to the Lord.

Calling to mind those who have died/ we ask for them to be freed of darkness/ and to enter the life of God where there is joy and light./ And for the comforting of those around the world who mourn loved ones./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Picking Grain and Un-knowing Jesus

Jesus happened to be passing through the wheat fields on the Sabbath, and his disciples bean to pick the heads of wheat as they made their way through. And the Pharisees said to him, "Look! Why are they doing what it is against the law to do on the Sabbath?" He said to them, "Did you never read what David did, when he was in need and hungry, he and his men? How is it that he went into the house of God when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the Presentation Loaves, which it is against the law for anyone but the priests to eat, and gave some to his companions too?" And he said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath, and so the Son of Man is master even of the Sabbath."
Even in a little gospel reading we see that there are even bitter differences between Jesus and the leading Pharisees. They seem to follow Jesus; they watch him with scheming suspicion.  In this scene the wrangle is over the Sabbath rule of forbidden work.

The apostles are hungry and so they pick some ripe grain. They rub it between their hands and pop  it into their mouths. Ancient fast-food! The Pharisees, who have religious power, consider that action to be harvesting. When religion gets twisted up, there are people who become surveyors, assessing and judging the actions of others. These men aren't concerned that the wheat is stolen, but only that it has been harvested. You're not allowed to do that on the Sabbath rest day. 

But Jesus is careful and  smart and he answers their question with another question, which gives him an opportunity to teach them what they clearly don't know. But like many, they don't want to be taught. The Sabbath day is God's gift to us. The burdensome cycle of the frenzied money wheel is put aside and lifted, as once each week God invites us to rest. But the Sabbath is God's gift; not God himself. Human need takes precedent. Followers of religion sometimes forget this.

But then Jesus goes further and claims He is Lord of the Sabbath! Now he's really looking for trouble! He has God-authority to tell us what we may and may not do on the Sabbath. Jesus isn't just a good man, a holy man, a just man, a prophet. He invites me to know him in God's authority and Lordship. He's supreme even over the Sabbath. 

It's the time of seasonal change. It's the time of letting go as the trees of the northern hemisphere drop millions upon millions of leaves and the late summer garden surrenders its fruitfulness. To know Jesus in an evolved way, we might need to drop immature, naive or even superstitious notions of him. A kind of un-knowing. 

To know Jesus without packaged words or religious cliches. To know Jesus from an inner, felt place. To know Jesus for myself and not as something simply handed on to me by someone else. Look at the picture below: an image of the un-knowing. What then? 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

New Wine ~ New Wineskins

No one sews a patch of new cloth on an old garment; else the new patch tears away from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one pours new wine into old wine-skins; else the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is spilt, and the skins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into fresh skins. (Mark 2:21,22)
What do these two verses mean? The time of old religion is over- Jesus the Messiah is with us. Everything is new now in Christ and his fresh teaching. The old thinking cannot just be patched up, there is something new in Christ which will require an equally new way of behaving, thinking, sensing and responding.

Sad to say, this is lost on many for whom the things of Christ make for religion which is business as usual: maintaining parish properties which (factory-like) we call plants, the routine execution of sloppy liturgies, the loss of vision in preaching, religion motivated by clericalism, habit, guilt, superstition, money, power, superficiality or an excuse for hate. Saint Ambrose of Milan wrote: 
There is your brother, your sister, naked, crying, and you stand there confused over the choice of an attractive floor covering.
So what are we to do?
"...have no fear of human sin. Love people, even in their sin, for that is the semblance of Divine Love and is the highest love on earth. Love all of God's creation. The whole and every grain of sand on it. Love every leaf, every ray of God's light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceivnne the divine majesty in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better everyday. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love." (Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov)
And how are we to go about attaining this new, inner-life direction? Years ago when I was in seminary a priest friend said to me, "Do everything you can to get Christ into your life; there is everything to take him away." 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Intercessions ~ Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross

World Trade Center ~ Looking Up

This past Thursday we remembered the sad events of September 11, 2001./ We pray for those whose lives remain directly impacted by the violence of that day - those who still carry emotional and physical wounds./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for hearts that are calcified in hatred:/ the hatred of persons of other colors,/ nationalities,/ religions,/ societal levels,/ gender or orientation./ We ask for the grace to love others well./ We pray to the Lord.

For those whose work is national security./ For all who help those in need of a rescue,/ or help through trouble,/ anguish or pain./ We pray to the Lord.

Ebola is spreading throughout much of Africa./ We pray for those who are afflicted/ and for all who have the care of the sick,/ the dying,/the orphaned,/ the dead./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for Francis our Pope/ and for bishops throughout the world,/ asking for the right direction,/ safety and up-building of Church leaders./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for families and children everywhere/ mindful of the many who struggle through deep loss,/ sorrow and trauma./ For the opening of hearts and minds to the things of justice and peace./We pray to the Lord.

We hear of sorrowful death everyday - where there is tragedy,/ invasion,/ accident,/ overdose and terrorism./ For the repose of souls/ and the healed comfort of those who are fearful or in mourning./ We pray to the Lord.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Matthiola Incana ~ AKA Stock

A VIGNETTE IS A FROZEN and held life-moment - a tiny scene that begs attention so to find meaning, a little window into history, sensitive observation or some inner place.

In 1965, but before the liturgical changes, I was a helper to the sacristan of my parish. I'd replenish the candles in the blue and red votive glasses, lay out vestments for the next Mass, polish the brass followers which were placed on the tops of altar candles to keep the melted wax from dripping and making a mess.

Holy Thursday came at  the end of Lent as a hopeful and happy note: the Church commemorating Jesus' self-gift in the Holy Eucharist. But while there was a theme of joy there was also the start of a long, quiet prayer time around what was called the Altar of Repose - a highly decorated and candle-lit space where the parish "Kept Jesus company in the Garden of Olives" and through his long night in prison and  his trial, until three o'clock or so on Good Friday.

That Thursday afternoon the church flowers were delivered from a wholesale greenhouse. They arrived in large, flat cardboard boxes which were placed closed on the floor until parish ladies arrived later in the day to arrange them in vases for the altar. 

My parish was was a rather minimalist place, only once or twice a year was there any expression of high style or extravagance. But I remember, bending over and when opening one box there was the suction sound of air rushing in which seemed to me to be a great spicy-fragrant breath, and dozens of extraordinarily fresh white flowers with gray-green leaves were revealed, all laid out in rows, cold and moist from having been kept in the florist's refrigerator.

I don't remember who told me what the flowers were called, perhaps my mother who knew the names of flowers. I've only this week discovered that Stock's botanical name is Matthiola Incana. Of even greater interest is the discovery that the flowers and leaves of the lovely plant have (when mixed with wine) been used as medicine - able to heal wounds and as an antidote against poisonous bites!

The symbolism-of-flowers book says that Matthiola Incana is also a symbol of contentment and the promise of a happy life. So I have that fourteen year old sacristy-scene frozen in my mind and now in hindsight see what I was opening up and uncovering. Fifty years ago, God promising the healing of the wounds and poisonous bites of my youth: sex abuse and the disintegration of home life, parental depression and alcoholism, school failure and loneliness, but beyond all of that, a very happy life, filled with deep healing, good people and faith, Jesus and Mary, saints and angels, beauty and learning, animals and plants, experience and gift. Indeed! "How can I make a return to the Lord for all the good he has done for me."  Psalm 116:12 

I found Matthiola Incana in the florist shop of an upscale supermarket the other day. The reminding-scent is filling my home.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary ~ September 8

A BIRTHDAY CELEBRATES that an individual is in our lives now - today. And while over the millenia the Church has chosen different days to keep Mary's birthday, it has done so since about the 6th century. The East sings at the liturgy:

Joachim and Anna were freed from the reproach of childlessness and Adam and Eve from the corruption of death, O Immaculate One, by thy Holy Nativity. And thy people, redeemed from the guilt of sin, celebrate thy birth by crying to thee: The barren woman gives birth to the Mother of God and the nurse of our life.

I like this painting of Mary and her mother, Anna. The mother's women friends are around, probably amazed at the birth (Anna was considered to be beyond child-bearing) and heaven has opened to us in the presence of angels. Anna is buxom and strong-armed. God is going to need strength to yank us back from the greed-sin that wants to engulf us. 

God has given us this paradise-planet and we've raped it - pulling out of it every bit of material we can use for products either exploded in wars or to create garbage mountains. In the birth of the child Mary, God sets out in strength to claim us as his own, saving us from the vicious and life-denying sin of consumerism.

Western Christians begin a new Liturgical Year with the First Sunday of Advent while Eastern Christians begin their Liturgical Year today with the Nativity of Mary. We are always beginning again, Dorothy Day said. Beginning again in prayer. Beginning again in sobriety after a lapse. Beginning to break some old and useless life-approach. Beginning a new school year. Beginning another year of committed love. 

The Feast Day focuses our attention upon a little girl. We might hold most closely in our prayer and thoughts the children of the world. It is reported that 17,000 children die everyday of starvation. And after weeks of being showered with rockets, the children of Gaza are in truth shell-shocked and in desperate need of inner healing. Their parents gone they're now left vulnerable to exploitation and long term neglect.

What can we do? We can care. That's not for nothing as they say. Many headlines are about the salacious nude photographs of actresses hacked from the Internet. Talk about twisted news priorities. And of course, there are numerous organizations that are trying to help, one of which we might choose to support, if even a little.

I worked as a chaplain to a large University Hospital years ago. Remarkable people were found on staff all over the place, but the nurses were the real heroes (and the cleaning staff)! Mary is called the nurse of our life in the prayer above. The nurse is the medicine giver, the soother, the one who often catches and identifies the yet-to-be detected problem, the go-between. Mary, the nurse of our life!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Zinnia elegans

THE GARDEN IS WINDING DOWN. The leaves of plants and trees are exhausted from their hard work. But there are still some late blooming flowers and some others hanging on that delight us. We might yet find a zinnia like this one blooming - Zinnia Elegans (Elegant) and a bumblebee with folded and translucent wings adding a sound dimension.

These are difficult days. A woman writes of her tearful sorrow, hearing of the death of yet another baby left in a sealed up car. The depraved death-menace of ISIS. The 40,000 traumatized children of Gaza in need of psychological healing after weeks of rocket-rain. A conflict in Eastern Ukraine so intense the dead cannot even be claimed for burial. The plague-like spread of Ebola, 

But then there is this little garden-burst of yellow. A reminder of how lovely the planet could still be if we'd only stop fighting. Saint Paul reminds us of these things in his letter to the Philippians:

Do all you have to do without grumbling or arguing, so that you may be blameless and harmless, faultless children of God, living in a warped and diseased age, and shining like lights in a dark world. For you hold up in your hands the very word of life. (Philippians 2: 14,15)
My brothers and sisters I need only add this. If you believe in goodness and if you value the approval of God, fix your minds on whatever is true and honourable and just and pure and lovely and admirable...and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8,9)

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Intercessions ~ Twenty-Third Sunday in the Ordinary Time

Michaelmas Daisy ~ Late Summer

We pray for the love of God to rule our lives,/ asking for the Church and our families to be strengthened by that love./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for the children who are known and dear to us,/ for parents and grandparents,/ mindful of those who are without resources or hope./ We pray to the Lord.

There are rivers in the world that are black with human waste and garbage./ We ask for a new global consciousness,/ appreciation and protection of God's great gift of water,/ and that we would not be wasteful./ We pray to the Lord.

School has begun./ We pray for teachers and students./ We pray for a school year blessed with safety,/ good health and a desire for learning./ We pray to the Lord.

We call to mind those who are sick,/ for those who struggle with chronic/ painful and life-threatening illness./ or where hospitals,/ medicine and medical staff are lacking,/ We pray to the Lord.

Monday is the Feast of Mary's Nativity./ In contemplating her birth, it is a feast of new beginnings./ We pray for reconciliation and healing in our world:/ a new beginning of peace and global friendship./ We pray to the Lord.

Finally we pray for those who have died this week by war,/ hateful violence or preventable disease./ We remember our own dear ones who are deceased,/ asking for all to enjoy the light and kind mercy of Jesus./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Christ the Bridegroom

Now John's disciples and the Pharisees were keeping a fast. And people came and asked him, "Why is it that when John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are keeping the fast, yours are not keeping it?" Jesus said to them, "Can wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast. But a time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and when that day comes, they will fast.  (Mark 2:18-20)

IN THE EARLY 1970's, bored and bumming around the seminary library stacks one night, friends found a huge tome titled, The Catholic Educator, written at the turn of the century. Gathered around a large table, our mouths dropped open when one of us read aloud from the chapter, Instructions to the Bridegroom. That for the sake of virtue and chaste love in his marital obligation the bridegroom ought to emulate the bull elephant which stays hidden in the brush until the last minute, completing the pro-creative act as quickly as possible and then immediately to the river to bathe.

I'm sorry to say but those are the ideas of an unfulfilled and joyless priest. It reflects an uptight and prissy view of sexuality under the guise of modesty and virtue. Twisted up religion!

It also makes for Christians who think their mission is to be shocked and appalled (read the Letters to the Editor in so many Catholic newspapers) at the moral weakness of the world rather than transformed in the mind by the un-imagined, or yet-to-be imagined Jesus. Christ loving the world like a bridegroom loving his honeymoon wife. We're not talking hand-holding here.

Jesus the Bridegroom in all of his self-gift, his desire for the beloved, in the intimacy and vulnerability of the wedding night. Could this be why Jesus is stripped a number of times in the Gospel Passion accounts and naked on the cross - to image this vulnerability in love?

Many of us will remember when the altar in Catholic Churches faced at least symbolic east. That altar usually resembled a sepulcher or tomb. One author reflecting on that altar and the male priesthood suggests that the priest there, leaning over deeply, is an image of Christ leaning over his wedding bed! The first and last thing the priest does at every Mass is to lean over to kiss the altar. Perhaps the kiss signifies more than the veneration of relics.

Is this too much? Too far-fetched? Unsettling or discomforting? Or does it take your breath away? Of course, the suggestion of Christ's loving marital physicality takes us at once to the much deeper interior and en-passioned lean of his heart towards humankind in all of its wounded disarray and fatigue.