Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Holy Face of Manoppello

I had never known about the Volto Santo (Holy Face) of Manoppello before a three month sabbatical to Italy a few years ago. From Rome, the shrine housing the relic is a long train ride down the Adriatic coast and then a bus ride to the top of the mountain. This is how the Franciscans introduce visitors to the Holy Face.

The Sanctuary of the Holy Face is looked after by the Capuchin Friars of the Tarigni Hill at Manoppello in Abruzzo, Italy. Carefully protected there, is a unique relic which reproduces the face of Jesus Christ on a delicate fabric. Paced between two glass plates, is a flimsy veil, almost non-existent, as if it were pure fantasy, showing a face with high forehead and a penetrating, life, sweet gaze. 
The half-open mouth reveals some teeth, giving the impression of a person wanting to speak. His left cheek is swollen. A lock of hair rests on the forehead. On the upper lip some hairs can be seen as well as a slight beard on His chin. A small amount of hair in the style of a man from Nazareth, frames the face. This is not a face painted by a human hand, rather it is transparent and visible both in front and behind like a slide.
The density of color is very strong but it is not of color used in painting. The cloth has been preserved intact without any modifications despite the passing of centuries. Scholars have agreed in affirming that the Holy Face is the original Acheropita (image not made by human hands) that for centuries has influenced the images of Christ in which the features are similar. The image of the Holy Face is said to coincide with the face of the Shroud of Turin at 1000 points. Thus is has been proposed that the image is of Jesus Christ in the very moment of His Resurrection - when his soul returned to his human body.

And here is Saint John's Gospel account of Easter Morning and the discovery of the empty tomb and the linen cloths. Many believe that the Holy Face is the cloth which had covered the face of Jesus and was found rolled up in a place by itself. I have made two pilgrimages to Manoppello and spent many hours before the relic. The image is so alive, it seems to change with each glance. 

Now on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalen came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran, and went to Simon Pet and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where thy have laid him." Peter then came out with the other disciple, and they went toward the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first; and stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. John 20: 1-7 

The  image of the Holy Face is described as having a somewhat opened mouth as if wanting to speak. We might make that feature a point of prayerful meditation: approaching the imprinted cloth in silence and allowing Jesus to speak to each of us personally.  

Let's remember to pray there for our world filled with suffering.

Friday, February 27, 2015

A Prayer for Peace in Syria

Shelled Syrian home

This prayer is offered through the Church of England, but I've added the line in italics at the end.

Spirit of wisdom and grace,
the power of truth and judgement;
we pray for all who are working for peace
in the tangled conflict of Syria today.

For international leaders holding a thread of control,
for the politicians holding a thread of power,
for the religious leaders holding a thread of authority,
for the fighters holding a thread of influence,
and the citizens clinging to a thread of hope.

Bring unity through the untangled order of justice.
Bring reconciliation through truthful dialogue.
Bring new life through patient diplomacy,
determined mediation and courageous peace-making.
Bring about conversion of heart
through the prayers of  Saint Eid il-Burbara (St. Barbara)
patroness of Syria. 

We pray in the name of Christ
our source of light and love.

Saint Barbara

Thursday, February 26, 2015

A Prayer for the Victims of the Syrian Conflict

This is essentially a Church of England prayer, but I have added substantially to it. 

We pray for those damaged by the fighting in Syria.
To the wounded and injured:
Come Lord Jesus.
To the terrified who are living in shock:
Come Lord Jesus.
To the hungry and homeless, refugee and exile:
Come Lord Jesus.

To those who have died:
Give the healing of heaven, Lord Jesus.
To those bringing humanitarian aid:
Give protection, Lord Jesus.
To those administering medical assistance:
Give protection, Lord Jesus.

To those offering counsel and care:
Give protection, Lord Jesus.
For all making the sacrifice of love:
Give the strength of your Spirit
and the joy of your comfort.
To those who are killing their fellows:
Give the remedy of love.

To the children:
Give the restoration of safety and joy.
To our war-weary world:
Give the new will of peace-making.
To all the soldiers:
Give the joy of returning to loved ones.

In the hope of Christ we pray. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Intercessions ~ Second Sunday in Lent

Lent is the Church's Springtime,/ and so we ask for new growth in Christ:/ the greening of friendship,/ patient kindness,/ faith and prayer./ We pray to the Lord.

More than one hundred Syrian-Christian women, children and elderly were abducted by ISIL this week./ We pray for them and their loved ones./ We ask for the softening of evil hearts./ We pray to the Lord.

The ceasefire between Ukraine and Russia has not held./ We pray for peace in that suffering and troubled part of the world./ We pray to the Lord.

May those who are suffering from the winter's cold find the comfort,/ shelter,/ food and assistance they need./ We pray to the Lord.

For the safety of travelers,/ For doctors and nurses,/ for those who are in prison and for their inner healing./ We pray to the Lord.

For those who are sick,/ elderly,/ frail,/ out-of-work or depressed,/ and for those who help others in their need./ We pray to the Lord.

For refugees,/ captives and those victimized by war./ For the salvation of those who have died since we last gathered in prayer,/ and for the healing and comforting of mourners/ mindful specially of those who grieve the loss of children./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

First Faith ~ Jesus Calms the Wild Sea

Rembrandt ~ Jesus Calms the Stormy Sea

With the coming of evening that same day, Jesus said to his disciples, 'Let us cross over to the other side.' And leaving the crowd behind they took him, just as he was, in the boat, and there were other boats with him. Then a great hurricane wind began to blow, and the waves were breaking into the boat so that it was almost swamped. But Jesus was in the stern, his head on the the cushion, asleep. They woke  him and said to him, 'Master, do you not care? We are lost!'  And he woke up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, 'Silence, Be quiet!'  And the wind dropped, and there followed a great calm. Then he said to them, 'Why are you so frightened? Have you still no faith?' They were overcome with awe and said to one another. 'Who can this be? Even the wind and the sea obey him.' Mark 4:35-41

Sitting in a kind of basin, the Sea of Galilee is surrounded by mountainous terrain. And when cold air comes over the hills and meets the warm air coming off the water, terrific storms can form quickly. So picture a little armada of boats in the evening time. Jesus (who is sleeping) and some disciples are in one of those boats. 

Or maybe Jesus was just pretending to be asleep to test the faith of the disciples. Jesus is always trying to draw faith out of us. So they wake Jesus who is quite stern in taking on the wind and waves, as if the elements are personal. "Be bound" is actually a better translation than "Be Quiet." Anyway, the men are left wondering about who Jesus is that "wind and sea obey him."

The Greek word for faith, "Have you still no faith" doesn't refer to believing but about utter trust in the power of God. So the disciples are just beginning to understand that Jesus is taking them into a completely new order or realm. First-faith.

Maybe the words of Jesus in the first verses, "Let us go to the other side," aren't so much about the other side of the lake as it is about the other side of trust. Ah! When I trust God completely I've really made a crossing. And the doorway into this kind of crossing over is humility: putting aside so much of my agenda, supposed knowledge, self-reliance and power claims, coming upon the other side ~ the new land  of reliance upon God's good lead. Do you recall when that first began to happen to  you?

I remember as a young boy serving the old Mass and kneeling at the left foot of the priest at the Consecration. I would ring the little bell with my left hand and raise the edge of the priest's chasuble a bit with my right. Talk about crossing over into a different realm! Remember the poor, broken Gospel woman, all exhausted and bleeded out, and pressed in by the crowd saying of Jesus, "If only I can touch his clothes, I will be well." Mark 5:28. It was like that: crossing over into first faith.

I'd say we've all got a crossing over into first-faith story to tell.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Lent: Save a Child

How money is spent says a great deal about who the person, family, community, nation is.

  • Americans spend 18.9 bbbbillion dollars on Valentine's Day.
  • Americans spend 7.4 bbbbillion dollars on Halloween.
  • Americans spend over 10 bbbbillion dollars a year on donuts.
  • Americans spend over 13.1 bbbbillion dollars a year on porn.
  • The Average American spends $1092. annually for coffee.

Pope Francis said at the start of Lent that any religion which does not require sacrifice doesn't amount to much. He asked this year that Catholics would give up indifference. Translate: any giving up needs to somehow be directed towards improving the lives of other people. I'd suggest doing something to save a child.

The Missionaries of the Poor
CNEWA Catholic Near East Welfare Association
Catholic Medical Mission Board
Cross International
Unbound: Sponsor a Child

Sunday, February 22, 2015

"Let the priests weep between the porch and the altar." Joel 2:17

IT'S SAID THAT WOMEN cry on average fifty times a year while men cry ten times annually. So maybe the Prophet Joel was on to something here when he said, "Let the priests weep between the porch and the altar of the temple." Pope Francis recently suggested that priests pray for the gift of tears and that a priest who can no longer cry has failed. 

But weep about what? There are three kinds of tears: the tears that keep our eyes lubricated, the tears that wash our eyes from irritants like onion and dirt, and the tears that express deep emotion. 

It took 600 years to build the cathedral at Cologne, Germany which was hit by allied bombs during the later part of the Second World War. Here is a photo of some American soldiers attending Mass inside that bombed cathedral. The priest is bending low at the Consecration. Perhaps he is whispering the sacred words of Jesus over the bread the moment the picture was taken:"This is my Body." Maybe he spoke those words through tears. And priests today...

for the immolated and beheaded,
the sufferers of domestic violence,
for the sins that are rationalized and justified.

over evil un-acknowledged,
 hidden, brushed under the carpet,
quickly forgotten,

for scenes too awful for words,
abortion, infanticide, genocide, 
over the evil of sexual exploitation,
the enslavement of children,
nationalized sin
and our insatiable thirst for drugs.

over policies that victimize the weakest and the littlest,
 profits made off the backs of the poor and desperate,
for our raped planet ~ the destruction of air, water, plants and animals,
 for the sins of war
 and the huge money made in war preparations,

racist, prejudicial, spit-cursing hatred,
cruel neglect and torture,
the brutalizing evil that occurs in prisons,
human indifference, greed and lies,
cheap excuses and
the eagerness to blame victims.

the crimes of religion,
righteousness and piety masking scorn,
institutionalized secrets,
the love of money and power.

and penthos ~ the gift of tears for my personal error,
weakness and waste,
pride and ignorance,
the sins of my youth.

But the Prophet Joel lived many centuries before Jesus. For the Christian then, there is more ~ so much more! Here is a painting by Geralamo de Romano, titled Christ Helping Adam to Rise. 

Look, the doors which keep us locked in the lowest place are smashed and off their hinges. In his dying Jesus has gone down into the experience of our deepest un-doing and decay, our so very wrong choices and rebellion, our awful ignorance, indifference and loss. And grasping us by our chained hands, he lifts us up in great courtesy to all that is new and of God in the fullness of our humanity. 

So I would suggest the verse, "Let the priests weep..." suggests also weeping for joy in the Death-Resurrection of Christ. A bright-sadness. We might arrive a little early for our next Lenten Mass to enter this inner place before we even catch sight of the priest approaching the altar. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

When we feel our lives are not pleasing to God...

MY FRIEND, FATHER JOHN, shared an image with me which needs to be passed on - when we feel that our lives, for all their turmoil, sidetracking, ups and downs and hard challenges are not pleasing to God.

Two sea captains have the job of ferrying people across a great body of water. The first captain sails his ship on a bright sunny day, the sea calm and lovely, the air warm and pleasant. The second captain maneuvers his ship through a tremendous storm of high winds and frightening waves - a seasick-making crossing. But for all the difficulty, the ship and passengers are safely delivered.

Which passengers will be happier and more grateful? The second of course. Can we imagine God, all the more pleased for our having navigated our own life-crossing with the stresses, ups and downs and even (perhaps) sickening aspects of our lives?

Sometimes I'm awakened at night with thoughts of the mistakes of my youth. I must remember this image then: God, appreciative for the rough crossing.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Intercessions ~ First Sunday of Lent

Young Coptic Monks of the Monastery of Anba Bishoi ~ Egypt 

We pray for the healing of those who remain locked inside themselves,/ huddled against love,/ un-free,/ inaccessible,/ bent upon self-destruction./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for Christians and Jews who live unprotected and vulnerable lives,/ who suffer the violence of criminals and terrorists./ We pray to the Lord.

As Lent begins,/ we pray to be blessed with the transforming gifts we need to come to Easter in the renewal of our minds and hearts./ We pray to the Lord.

Having begun the Lenten time with ashes on our foreheads/ we pray for so much of the world which lays in ashes and destruction./ We pray for a new global priority to save the world's children./ We pray to the Lord.

We offer prayer for those who suffer in the winter time:/ cold,/ hunger,/ homelessness,/ loneliness,/ accident or sickness./ And for those who are winter helpers./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for our families,/ asking for the blessings of healing,/ safety and wholeness./ We remember families around the world trapped in war and desperation./ We pray to the Lord.

Finally,/ in our prayer we remember the dead,/ mindful that many die pre-maturely,/ or tragically by neglect or evil done to them./ And we pray for ourselves to be agents of life./ We pray to the Lord.

A Rosary Decade When Peace And Security Seem Far Away

Our Lady of Brezje ~ Slovenia

Our Father, Who art in heaven...

For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace. His dominion is vast and forever peaceful.  Isaiah 9:5

Hail Mary, full of grace...

I lift up my eyes to the mountains
from whence shall come my help?
My help shall come from the Lord
who made heaven and earth. Psalm 121: 1,2 

Hail Mary, full of grace... 

If you have been foolish enough to fly into a passion and now have second thoughts, lay your hand to your lips. For by churning milk you produce butter. By wringing the nose you produce blood and by whipping up anger you produce strife. Proverbs 30:32,33

Hail Mary, full of grace..

And all at once with the angel there was a great throng of the hosts of heaven, praising God and saying: Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace for those he favors. Luke 2:14

Hail Mary, full of grace...

Jesus said to his disciples: "If you find that the world hates you, know that it has hated me before you. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own; the reason it hates you is that you do not belong to the world. But I chose you out of the world." John 15:18,19 

Hail Mary, full of grace...

In the evening of that same day, the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were. Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, "Peace be with you," and after saying this he showed them his hands and his side. John 20:19-21 

Hail Mary, full of grace... 

As much as is possible, and to the utmost of your ability be at peace with everyone. Never try to get revenge; leave that, my dear friends, to the Retribution. Romans 12:18,19

Hail Mary, full of grace...

Christ's peace must reign in your hearts, since as members of the one body you have been called to that peace. Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness. Let the word of Christ, rich as it is, dwell in you. Colossians 3:15,16 

Hail Mary, full of grace...

Finally, grow strong in the Lord, with the strength of his power. Put on the full armor of God so as to be able to resist the devils tactics For it is not against human enemies that we have to struggle, but against the principalities and the ruling forces who are masters of the darkness of this world, the spirit of evil in the heavens. Ephesians 6:10-12 

Hail Mary, full of grace... 

Wherever there are jealousy and ambition there are also disharmony and wickedness of every kind, whereas the wisdom that comes down from above is essentially something pure; it is also peaceable, kindly and considerate, it is full of mercy and shows itself by doing good. The peace sown by peacemakers brings a harvest of justice. James 3:17

Glory be to the Father...

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ash Wednesday

TODAY IS ASH WEDNESDAY. Preachers will talk about ashes as a sign of our repentance. Some preachers will just take it for granted that we know what repentance means. For sure it means more than being sorry for my sins. Repentance has nothing really to do with giving up stuff for forty days. That's a tired old religious cliche.

Lent is supposed to expand my mind and heart ~ make it more Christ-ly. So I might think of more than just the ashes on my own forehead today. There's...

  • the Jordanian pilot recently immolated...
  • the city of Dresden, a single flame...
  • the Twin Towers reduced to ash September 11, 2001...
  • the ground around Auschwitz now ash and granulated bone...
  • the metaphorical ashes of lives reduced to nothing by   poverty...
  • and the ashes of children's lives devastated by adult  sin...
  • the ash mountains where mining has destroyed the  environment...
  • the jungles that have been reduced to ash ~ slash and burn      agriculture it's called...
  • the ash of commercial flights shot down by wasted soldiers...
  • Hiroshima and Nagasaki left in ashes...

When I was a boy I served the Latin Requiem Mass which had a sequence (a sung poem prayer) called the Dies Irae. The first verse:

Day of wrath, O day of mourning
see fulfilled the prophet's warning,
heaven and earth in ashes burning.

The Church dropped this hymn in the 1960's because it was thought by liturgists to be too scary and not Easter-y enough. I find it to be sobering. In thinking about our country, the word that comes to mind is malaise: a condition or unfocused feeling of general bodily weakness or discomfort. 

Ash Wednesday's ashes invite us to a Lenten awakening, out of the malaise that afflicts us. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Thought for Lent

I WAS WITH THREE eighteen year olds recently and mentioned, "Lent starts soon." Two of the three were silent but the third said, "Is that when you give up something?" And I thought, how is it that someone is still speaking in such a simplistic way about Lent? We gave up the simply giving up idea of Lent decades ago.

But hope springs eternal. Ashes on our foreheads for a day, maybe just a few hours - what can it mean? We might start here: much of the world is in ashes with so much war, relational disintegration and people-destroying hatred. 

There'll be a post here each of Lent's Forty Days. Lent is called The Church's Springtime. Whatever I do for Lent I must do for the sake of inner light, interior renewal, new inner growth. To that end I'm proposing a Lenten project with the theme: Save a Child. Whatever I do, or my family does for Lent - that it would be somehow directed towards saving a child somewhere. There are countless organizations that would be happy for our support. 
  • Americans spend 69 bbbbillion dollars a year on lottery tickets.
  • Americans spend 83 bbbbillion dollars a year on beer.
  • Americans spend 6 bbbbillion dollars a year on potato chips.
  • Americans spend 11 bbbbillion dollars a year on face lifts, BOTOX and breast augmentation.

There's no value-judgment made in sharing of any of these statistics. They're simply presented to illustrate that Americans (no matter what we say about the state of the economy) still have spending power. The numbers say something about what matters to us as a nation. So might we make of this Lent forty days of doing what we can (sacrificially) to save a child. Be creative! God bless your Lenten efforts.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Coptic Prayer to the Mother of God

TWENTY-ONE EGYPTIAN Coptic Christians have been beheaded by ISIL terrorists in Libya. This icon of Our Lady of the Sackcloth and the accompanying prayer are gifts of the Coptic Church to our troubled world.
You are a defender of our salvation, O Virgin, Birth-Giver of God, and an invincible encouragement. Bring to nothing the counsels of our adversaries, and the affliction of your servants turn to joy. Intercede for the peace of the world, for you are our hope, O Birth-Giver of God. Amen.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Yellow Church

THIS IS THE CHURCH of the Church of the Transfiguration in Uglich, Russia. I visited here in the summer of 1996, a few years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union: a gray, low-clouded, wet day. The neglected church was dirty-white then; the five cupolas on the roof appeared black. So I was delighted to stumble on this recent photograph of the church now restored and alive again.

Cupolas (onion domes) are stylized candles, imaging a people who are on fire with the love of God ~ whose worship is spirit-warmed, genuine and intense. But it's the choice of yellow for the walls that really delights and interests me. Yellow is the color which signifies the diffusion of wisdom.

But what's wisdom? First what it's not:

  • Wisdom is not something I study to get - like a diploma.
  • Wisdom is not having pithy, problem-solving things to say.
  • Wisdom is not granted automatically just because I'm old.
  • Wisdom is not to be confused with what politicians, retired TV generals, news-desk and radio-entertainment-talk-show-folks  have  to say.
  • Something is not wise just because it sounds mysterious or  eastern.
For those of us who are on this side of theological scholarship:
  • Wisdom realizes that anything I know is a gift from God.
  • Wisdom realizes the highest knowledge is the knowledge of  God.
  • Wisdom realizes that anything I know is simply a little step  leading me towards knowing God.
  • Wisdom marvels at the knowledge behind creation.

Now, this Uglich church is yellow. Does this mean all wisdom is found inside? I must be careful of words like all, because a bomb-blessing bishop isn't wise. Preaching which is a history lesson, lecture or harangue isn't wisdom. But God's Word contains wisdom. The liturgy contains wisdom. 

Yellow ~

located-on-the spectrum between
green and orange ~
a singing canary
a #2 pencil
a New York taxi
summer squash
a rubber duck
American Cheese
corn on the cob with
dandelions and daffodils
sunshine on my shoulder and
golden rod
egg yolks
ripe lemons and bananas
the Yellow Pages and 
newly hatched chicks
school buses and...
this over-the-June-moon church
which calls
wake up to God's bright ideas!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Prayer of Saint Paul the Hermit to the Mother of God

O Lady, Bride of God, radiant, clean of heart, new, undisturbed and blameless, who through your maternity united God the Word with our human nature and established a link between our fallen state and the the things of heaven:

O Mother, hope of the hopeless, help of the oppressed, ready protection of those who fly to you, and safe-haven for all Christians; do not turn away from me, filled as I am with unworthy thoughts, words and deeds, and in my laziness have become a slave to dark emotion and desire. Since you are the Mother of God, Who is the Lover of humankind, have mercy and compassion on me, a wanderer; accept my feeble prayer, and with the power of your maternity, beg your Son, my Lord and God, that He may open for me the deep well of his loving kindness, convert me to true repentance, and make me faithful to His commands.

O Mary, who are compassionate, be my constant companion. In this present life, be with me as intercessor, as a powerful help to turn away the assaults of the enemy and to guide me to an in-spirited life. At the hour of death, embrace my poor soul; keep away the dreadful sight of Satan. On the awesome day of my judgment, speak on my behalf and make me an heir of your Son's glory, through the grace and love for humankind of your Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Note: St. Paul the hermit of Egypt offered this prayer in the 4th century. The world can't understand religious language anymore, and so while retaining the full sense of the prayer, I've freshened the English translation, intending to make the thoughts more accessible for people today. 

The icon of the Vladimir Mother of God at the top of the page was painted recently by my friend, Yuri. Actually, as icons do for the eye what the gospel does for the ear, it's more fitting to say that the icon was written, not simply painted.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Intercessions ~ Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time ~ Quinquagesima

Ice church in Sweden

There are seventy countries where young girls are threatened,/ attacked,/ violated and even killed for going to school./ We pray for the safety of the world's girls/ and the conversion of anyone who would harm them./ We pray to the Lord

Lent begins this Wednesday./ We pray to leave the past in ashes,/ setting out on the forty day journey to an Easter transformation./ We pray to the Lord.

February is Black History Month./ We pray for the healing of our country where racial hatred endures/ and there is inequality and sorrow./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for healing and reconciliation where families are in crisis./ We intercede for the elderly who are alone,/ for those who are homesick/ and for children who are waiting to be adopted./ We pray to the Lord.

We ask the blessings of good health,/ safety and well-being for Pope Francis,/ for priests,/ deacons and seminarians/ and for the Church where it suffers by internal weakness or outside threats./ We pray to the Lord.

In the winter time we pray for the homeless poor./ the unemployed,/ those who must work outdoors,/ and all who help where the winter brings suffering./ We pray to the Lord.

For the sick,/ those in constant pain,/ those who daily manage handicaps and special needs,/ those who struggle with addictions,/ and for the healing of destructive anger./ We pray to the Lord.

For terrorists who take life,/ and for their victims./ For all who have died this week around the world/ and for the comforting of mourners./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

For the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes

THE VIRGIN MARY, standing in a cave-like place along the River Gave at Lourdes, France, appeared to Bernadette Soubirous eighteen times in 1858.

The grotto itself resembles a great ear: that I would be silent, listening to and hearing the Words of Jesus and the voices of others. 

The Virgin Mary smiled, perhaps even more than she spoke: heaven smiles on us, maternally, even in our disarray and error.

That when Bernadette made the Sign of the Cross at Lourdes, it is said her gesture had the power to convert a hardened heart: that I would tap my forehead as if to remember the things of God - knock at the door of my heart to awaken love - touch my left and right shoulders, a kind of stretching out to those on either side of me throughout the day.

Accompanying the photos below from Lourdes is the Hail Mary sung by Olga Szyrowa in Latin (Ave Maria) - a very beautiful and contemporary setting composed by Michal Lorenc.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Swallows of Lourdes

HERE IS A MARVELOUS picture of the candlelight procession that forms each night at Lourdes where the Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette eighteen times in 1858.  As the light-procession gets underway, many dozens of swallows appear, flying over the great gathering. No mystical claim is being made. Someone will say, "Oh, the swallows are only interested in the bugs drawn to the light." So. That should never keep us from acknowledging the beauty of it, and what we might realize underneath, so to speak. 

The swallows seem to be stitching heaven and earth together - repairing the spiritual tear opened by the world's hatreds and failures in justice and love. My sister pilgrim-ed with us in 2004, working at the Accueil Notre Dame, the hostel for the sick. At the end of her trip she wrote this poem called a waka (following a 5-7-5-7-7 syllable pattern).

The Saint's foot-path snakes
in candle-light procession - -
Cathedral swallows
drop from the sky -- their soft 'whoosh',
breath between Hail, Holy Queens

Karen Morris ~ July '04

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Prayer before the Mother of God ~ Joyful

THIS ICON OF THE MOTHER OF GOD is called simply, Joyful. Sometimes it is titled: Mother of God ~ Child Leaping for Joy.  Mary's joy is that she stands in God's soft yellow light - the Holy Child plays in her arms. 

Nothing is known of the icon's history except that miracles are attributed to it. The world needs miracles, especially the miracles which heal the darkness and hate of human hearts. 

When we click on the icon below we hear priest-monk Vasily Mosgovoy of the Optina Monastery sing the Phos Hilaron. This is a third century hymn sung at Saturday Vespers (evening prayer) as the candles are lit and Sunday, the Day of Resurrection, is welcomed. The English translation appears at the bottom of the icon. 

We might listen to the hymn several times - allowing the icon's light and prayer-words to melt into us, like the snow's melting we await. Monks sing without instrumental accompaniment. The intense hum before and during the hymn is made by the monastic choir. The human voice is the only instrument and has a great unifying function.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Intercessions ~ Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time ~ Sexagesima

Wednesday is the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes./ We pray for those who pilgrim to her great shrine in France,/ and for all who are sick,/ weak,/ poor and marginal in the world./ We pray to the Lord.

Saturday is the Feast of the priest-martyr, Valentine./ We pray for an increase of love in our world,/ mindful of those who have no family,/ friend or community./ We pray to the Lord.

In the winter-time we pray for those who are cold,/ hungry or unemployed./ We pray for those who operate shelters or places of assistance and comfort in the winter./ We pray to the Lord.

As Lent approaches/ we ask the Lord for the insights we need to live a holy Lent - promoting the life of Christ within us./ We pray to the Lord.

For persons with whom we may have resentments/ asking for our hearts/ new gifts of mercy,/ compassion and love./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for the sick,/ mindful of those who receive insufficient medical attention./ For health care providers/ and for the parents and protectors of children who are unwell physically or emotionally./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for those who have died by terrorism,/ accident,/ war or disaster./ And for those who mourn loved ones,/ we ask comforting,/ faith and hope./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Night Prayer

PERHAPS WAKING AT MIDNIGHT, or two or three in the morning, monks and nuns follow a prayer schedule that interrupts their sleep. The prayer takes place in the dark because the things of life and death are somehow focused in the night when people are often alone, or terrible sins and crimes are committed under cover of darkness. The monk prays in that awareness. 

Monastics also pray at night as a sign of the world's longing for light in the condition of our global darkness: the waste and destruction, the death and insults to life and human dignity.

Now and again, either because we are  tossing and turning the night away, or because something calls us out of our sleep: a bad dream, a storm, a car alarm, a baby's cry - we might call to mind that monks and nuns are praying. The prayer below invites solidarity with the world at night - even those in need who are far away and personally unknown to us.

And you know, even if we sleep like a rock, the prayer can always be used as a night time prayer before retiring. Somewhere in the world, monks and nuns are awake and praying for the world.

In this time of dark-solitude...Jesus. gladsome light.
Where monastics are awake in prayer...Jesus, Bethlehem's light.
Where children are awake in fear...Jesus, reassuring light.
Where there's night time domestic violence...Jesus, excellent light.

Where people are on the road or in the air...Jesus, who calls himself the light.
By deathbeds and in emergency rooms...Jesus, light of a new day.
With parents over sickbeds...Jesus, comforting light.
With doctors and nurses through the night...Jesus, land of light. 

Where there's sleepless worrying about tomorrow...Jesus, God-bearing light.
Where dark schemes are evolving...Jesus, growth-encouraging light.
Where night shadows conceal exploitation and desperation...Jesus, robed in light.
In the darkness of addiction...Jesus, house of light.

With the homeless poor...Jesus, hope-instilling light.
With prisoners awake...Jesus, joy-restoring light.
With mourners who will bury the dead tomorrow...Jesus, Resurrection light.
With those whose hunger prevents sleep...Jesus, strengthening light.

In prayer for those who are stealing or harming...Jesus, truth-carrying light.
For those whose homes are ruined by war...Jesus, shadow-dispersing light.
For those who intend violence and death tomorrow...Jesus, mind-changing light.
Near those arguing out of hatred, anger and fear...Jesus, healing light.
When physical pain relentlessly sears...Jesus, soothing hand of light.

Now perhaps click on the photo of the young Carthusian novice praying in his hermitage through the night. The monks are chanting the Lord's Prayer in Latin. It is very beautiful.

Sunday, February 1, 2015


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 to it: 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 major date, preparing the room for the baby's arrival, preparing for vacation, preparing for surgery, preparing for retirement...(oh, good God) preparing for the Superbowl.

So I think it's a mistake that the church dropped the three Sundays 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 account in the book of Genesis 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 our 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 twenty-one1 women and we must be absolutely certain that she knew exactly what she was talking about because of the challenges that kind of community would have presented. The picture above illustrates it. Laundry was done at a 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.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 year we can grow our Lent 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 desserts and drink and a dimension of Lent most ignored or forgotten.