Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

On Trinity Sunday

THIS ICON OF THE HOLY TRINITY was painted in the 15th century by Andrei Rublev who is considered to be the greatest Russian painter of icons. Here, the icon depicts the three persons of the Holy Trinity, foreshadowed under the Oak Tree at Mamre before Abraham and Sarah. This Scriptural account is found in Genesis 18: 1-8. It is a very good scripture to be familiar with. If you have never read it - before continuing, run to it now.

The icon does not attempt to do what a camera would have done had cameras existed then. Rather, using prescribed colors and style, icons depict the holy events and personages in symbolic form. Every earthly event and person is suffused with the light of heaven. Here the three persons of the Trinity symbolically sit around the table of Abraham: the Father is on the left, the Son is in the middle and the Holy Spirit is to the right. Look at the image to study its details, noticing:
  • The movement in the icon originates from the Father, then counter clockwise in a circle returning to Him.
  • The heads of the Son and Spirit are inclined slightly to the Father - in harmony with His will.
  • The color blue signifies divinity. 
  • But see, the Father's divinity is concealed,
  • The Son's blue fully expresses His divinity,
  • While the Spirit's blue-divinity is balanced with the green of energized new life.
  • The walking staves of Son and Spirit are leaning in motion, as they have walked with us on earth, while the Father's posture and staff are upright in authority.
  • Behind the winged figures are three additional images: mountain, tree and house.
  • Notice the mountain and tree are also inclined to the Father.
  • Can you feel the circular movement of the Son, Spirit, mountain and tree returning to the Father?
  • The icon invites me into that circular movement of again-and-again return.
  • In the moment, this is the spiritual life.

All of this to say: God is ONE, but within God there is a community or family of persons, a harmonized relatedness into which we are all invited to share and enjoy. The brilliant colors suggest this joy in a world whose colors are diluted with tears - much as Russia lived in the Medieval world of invasion, poverty and despair at the time of the icon's creation.

But perhaps the icons most marvelous aspect is the house over the Father. Biblically it is the tent of Mamre in which Abraham and Sarah lived, but mystically it is the House of the Father. AND THAT HOUSE IS OPEN. The mission of the Church is simply to declare or proclaim that open house of the Father. The Church loses itself when it no longer proclaims a message of salvation for all, becoming instead a celebration of  the like-minded and well-behaved. 

The mission of the Church is simply to declare that open house of the Father.  Many people don't feel or hear that message coming from the Church. Many people, including very many priests have no sense of the mystical center of the Gospels; they have reduced the Gospel to family values and a sexual ethic. The icon invites us to sit. To look. To feel the inner movement of return. We don't need to think original thoughts about the icon - rather just to be there before it. The first movement of Christianity is God's movement: God present to us, opening to us, inviting us in, long before we even had a thought of God. 

Perhaps one indication of how far we are from this mystical dimension of the Gospels is to observe how antsy we may quickly become sitting before the icon - how strong the urge to runaway from it and to busy ourselves with something else. Resist the impulse. Then, after sitting and gazing, perhaps this:

Your foreshadowing appearance
at the Mamre Mountain
Oh, One-in-Three,
draws us into the energy of return:
from planet-rape and
thingdom come,
from withering children and
industry of war,
from sports idolatry and
the shopping channel,
from kidnapped girls and
thirty-three flavors,
from the embittered heart and
the power contest ~ 
to your open house
of interface and 
in red and blue,
in green and gold.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Intercessions ~ Sunday of the Holy Trinity

On Trinity Sunday we ask that as we are drawn into God's inner life/ we would find not only God but each other/ and all the world in its poverty,/ fear and instability./ We pray to the Lord.

June beings on Monday/ the month of the Sacred Heart of Jesus./ We pray to know the loving kindness of God in Christ/ and to allow ourselves to be changed and evolved by that love./ We pray to the Lord.

We entrust the children of the world to our prayer as they face perils in so many places./ We ask for the movement of hearts which will make the care of the world's children a priority of love./ We pray to the Lord.

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

We pray boldly for an end to wars/ and for our own inner liberation from anything that would prevent the full realization of God's peace and reconciliation in our lives./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray to be careful stewards of our planet,/ using its resources wisely and justly/ and guardians of the animals,/ plants,/ water and air/ as these are God's precious gifts to us./ We pray to the Lord.

And finally we pray for those who have died,/ remembering that so many die violently,/ suddenly,/ alone or without a prayer./ We pray to the Lord. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Introducing Saint Fiacre of Meaux

Fiacre at the forests edge

The Feast of Saint Fiacre of Meaux: pronounced (FEE-A-KRA) is celebrated on August 30 in Ireland and some dioceses of France. But his name is also known to people in other parts of the world as he is the patron saint of gardeners and herbalists.

 I figured, why wait until the end of August to talk about him when we could have the whole growing season to know him and invoke him prayerfully over the growing things around us: our work with flowers and vegetables, the herbs, the bushes and trees. Attending to his story, there are other aspects of life where he might be a heavenly-helper as well.

Fiacre was a 7th century Irish hermit. But it is said he could find no reclusion there, causing him to sail across and around the Celtic Sea to France. There he met Faro, a holy bishop, who offered Fiacre as much land as he could till in a day, where he could establish a hermitage, garden and oratory to the Mother of God.

But what do you mean he couldn't find reclusion in Ireland? That's how it is with holy people - they get discovered by mushroom or boar-hunters and the crowds soon make their way out into the woods, or the top of the mountain, or the off-shore island, seeking cures, prayers and spiritual advice. 

The story goes that Fiacre tilled an enormous tract of land with his spade, turning over boulders and tree roots and re-directing streams. Perhaps it was the town busy-body who watched all of this from a distance and who quickly reported Fiacre to the higher-ups as a warlock (male witch). 

I learned early on after ordination that every priest has his detractors. It's tough on the priest's morale, but there it is. Fiacre doesn't seem to have handled it especially well though, as when he completed his hermitage and oratory he banned women.

That's called a resentment, and we should hope he didn't use some religious rule to cover it up. So maybe we can ask Fiacre to send heavenly-help as we sometimes struggle with old and negative feelings about people who have done us wrong.

~ ~ ~

Catholicism is an incarnational religion. This means that human things really matter as God has become one of us in Jesus born at Bethlehem. Human experience is the place for the divine encounter more than shrines. Even at Lourdes - the divine event isn't the grotto so much as in the care of the many thousands of sick, elderly and poor who pilgrim there. 

But Incarnation can make for a sometimes messy religion. Remember in the Medieval bible, where the story of the Birth of Jesus is told by Saint Luke, the calligrapher-monk painted a little angel zooming in holding open a clean diaper!

That was a long segue. Apparently Fiacre would sit when he taught people about spiritual things (or gardening tips) which over the many years (go figure) caused some people to think of him as the patron saint of hemorrhoid sufferers. It's an incarnational religion!

But we hear that hemorrhoids are often caused by stress, and ours is a painfully stressful culture. Stress is everywhere: the roads, the parking lots and personalities, the schedules we keep, the deadlines we have to meet, the too-many commitments we make, the bills that have to be paid...

We might ask Fiacre to help us de-stress, so we don't wind up sick or pained. 

~ ~ ~

And around his little oratory Fiacre grew medicinal herbs which caused folks to recognize him as a healer. Healing: what a gift to give people. And don't we need healing today, especially of the interior kind? Heal our sadness, loneliness, weariness, bitterness, emotional pain...

You crossed the stormy sea
in search of greater solitude,
and planted a healing garden
in the forest of France.
Oh servant of God,
invite us now
to your house of prayer,
where we'll
glorify Christ
who is risen from the dead!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Pentecost Sunday

In the Hebrew Scriptures God's presence is often revealed by fire. A voice from the Burning Bush commissions Moses. The Pillar of Fire in the night sky leads the Hebrews through the desert. Mount Sinai is covered with lightning. 

Forests that burn are often old, diseased, infected, dried out and overgrown. But a year or two afterwards, it is all green again from the ground up - fresh, new and full of life! 

What might my life look like - indeed, what would the Church look like - if we allowed God's fiery Word to have its way with what is old, tired, dried out and useless within us? 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

On The Vigil of Pentecost V

Here are some reflections upon the ninth and tenth verses of the Sequence from the Mass of Pentecost: the Descent of the Holy Spirit Upon the Apostles. Veni, Sancte Spiritus

On Thy faithful who adore,
And confess Thee evermore,
In Thy seven-fold gifts descend.

There are seven gifts of the Holy Spirit - seven being the biblical number which signifies totality or wholeness: seven sacraments, seven days of creation...

These gifts are: wisdom, counsel, knowledge, understanding, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord.

Perhaps a word just about piety. Piety means a devout heart. We get the words vote and vow from devout. So piety is: to make good the promises and desires of the heart towards God. 

Father Willie Doyle, S.J. was an Irish Jesuit priest who served as chaplain until his death (August 16, 1917) on the battlefields of France during the First World War. In one of his diary entries he speaks of piety. Here's a paraphrase of his thoughts.

Piety is not synonymous with religious sentiment or getting into a religious mood. It is not consolations or looking for signs. Some Christians see the spiritual life as primarily the discovery of visions, miracles, wonders and saints who had mystical gifts. But piety is delighting in and growth in virtue, which is practiced goodness.

Contrary to a popular devotional sense, piety requires no special form of prayer. Piety is not doing anything in particular, but simply listening for the Spirit's inspirations. The Spirit's work is to make us whole.

Piety is conscience, yes, doing what is good and avoiding what is evil, but it is all the more attentiveness to the whisperings which call us to awareness: how to be an authentic and fully alive persons in this moment, as was Jesus. 

~ ~ ~

Give them virtue's sure reward,
Give them Thy salvation, Lord. 
Give them joys that never end.
Amen. Alleluia.

Salvation doesn't just mean, get me to heaven, Jesus. Salvation begins here and now. It has to do with getting on a safer or more sure track. Get me to where I belong.

I remember one night years ago as a young priest answering a sick call in the middle of the night. The family gave me directions to find their home in a kind of private community. I found the home and stayed an hour or so, leaving to return to my rectory at about 2 A.M.

But I couldn't retrace the directions and became hopelessly lost, driving around and around for hours until the sun started to come up. Then all of a sudden I kind of popped out onto the main road which led me back to my rectory. 

I felt powerless and unreasonably fearful: "O God, I'll run out of gas and they'll find me here, dead on the side of the road. Get me out of here." That' just touching the need for salvation. The addict understands the need for salvation more deeply. Or the person with a life-threatening illness. Or a provider who loses a job. Or where resentment, negativity or self-pity is starting to own me. 

But whatever the person is experiencing, "Get me out of here" or "Get me home" seems to be the basis of feeling the need for salvation. 

On the Eve of Pentecost I might name my immediate need for salvation and present that in my prayer.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Soon It Will Be Pentecost IV

Here are reflections on verses seven and eight of the Pentecost Sequence: Veni, Sancte Spiritus.

Heal our wounds, our strength renew,
On our dryness pour Thy dew,
Wash the stains of guilt away.

Whoever composed the Pentecost sequence certainly understood what it is to be human and to live on this planet. We all carry wounds, some of which are very old and well-kept secrets. So the prayer asks for healing and renewal as the wounds impact on how we are today - no matter how many people have told us to get over it or move on.

The wounds may keep us from relating well, loving well or knowing how to receive graciously. Old wounds can prevent us from expressing ourselves effectively. They can cause us to be needy for things, for compliments, permissions and approval. We might live in anxieties, hidden-ness and fearful imaginings. We're not free if we're living in wounded secrecy. Maybe Pentecost invites us to come up and out of that place. 

Wash the stains of guilt away.  It used to be said of Catholics that they had a lesser incidence of craziness because they had built into their religious system a way of getting out what's troubling or guilt-carrying.

Guilt is a terrible burden to carry. It distracts, steals away sleep and energy. Some people want to hold onto guilt because they're convinced they need to be punished. But God doesn't want that. 

So confess it. Get rid of it. Then you need never think of it or speak of it again. It is lost in the abyss of Jesus' Heart.

~ ~ ~

Bend the stubborn heart and will,
Melt the frozen, warm the chill,
Guide the steps that go astray.

What's this? Perhaps where we get stuck in racism, hatred, opinion-ating, party politics and zealotry. But this verse doesn't apply only to individuals, but a nation can be frozen, chilled and gone astray.

Pope Francis recently called out the nations of the world which make billions upon billions of dollars selling weapons of war. He called it the Industry of Death. I expect he had in mind the United States, China, Russia, France - the weapons cafeterias of the world. He said the devil has gotten into our wallets. He said these things sitting in the midst of children, who suffer so profoundly in every war. 

Some people reacted immediately telling the pope that he should stay out of politics and stick to birth control and who-can-marry morality. But a pope is the voice of conscience in a world that tends to forget quickly - like the Chosen People who forgot and complained against God soon after God had led them from Egyptian slavery. 

And God spoke to Moses and said: "Speak to the whole community of Israelites and say: 'Be holy, for I , Yahweh your God, am holy. Each of you will respect father and mother, and you will keep my Sabbaths; I am Yahweh your God. Do not turn to idols and do not cast metal gods for yourselves. I am Yahweh your God.'" (Leviticus 19:4)

Well of course, God wasn't talking just to ancient Israel but to us today.  Some people will resent the suggestion that God would have something to say about our own national inclination to create gods and how we arrive at our prosperity. 

Religion (stubborn and frozen) can be very late in addressing these contemporary things. There were American Catholic prelates who blessed bombs and bombers during the Second World War, and today there are Russian priests who bless automatic rifles that will be used to kill fellow Christians in Ukraine. Sometimes religion gets stuck in the Bronze Age. And so: Holy Spirit, guide the feet that go astray.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Intercessions ~ Pentecost Sunday

On the Feast of Pentecost/ we pray for the Church and its unity./ We ask for the Church to be a bold witness to Jesus-Risen/ a victor over fear,/ violence,/ pessimism and alienation./ We pray to the Lord.

On the Feast of Pentecost/ we pray for our families,/ asking the Holy Spirit to restore us where we are separated from each other./ We pray to the Lord.

On the Feast of Pentecost/ we pray for those who will be Confirmed this year./ We ask the Spirit of Jesus to build them up in faith,/ prayer/ and an eagerness to serve./ We pray to the Lord.

On the Feast of Pentecost/ we ask the Spirit of Jesus to melt what is frozen and to warm what is chill within us/ and to transform the Church where we need to learn mercy,/ compassion/ and salvation for all./ We pray to the Lord. 

On the Feast of Pentecost/ we make intercession for the sick and those who care for them/ asking blessings for all who hope for healing of body,/ mind or spirit./ We pray to the Lord.

On the Feast of Pentecost/ we remember those places around the world where there is great suffering:/ wars,/ natural disaster,/ oppression and poverty./ That the world of prosperity would rush to lift the weak ones to their feet./ We pray to the Lord.

Finally we pray this Memorial Day Weekend/ for those who have died in wars/ and those who mourn and miss them./ We ask for the dead to follow Jesus into the kingdom of refreshment,/ light and peace./ We pray to the Lord.

Pentecost Countdown III

We're pondering the ten verses of the Pentecost Sequence these days before the Sunday Feast. Today, verses five and six.

O Most blessed Light divine,
Shine within these hearts of Thine,
And our inmost being fill.

There was canned music playing out of the pump while I gassed up recently. Suddenly the music stopped mid-tune and a too-cheery, sing-song voice said, "While you're filling up your vehicle, why not come inside and fill yourself up too."  The voice then described every edible thing and its price. Yuck!

But the sequence prayer speaks of an interior filling up. This may strike many people as odd - we pay so little attention to our soul capacities or needs. Spiritually speaking: some people are riding on fumes. Some people are hoping to make it on empty. 

  • In these bouts of depression: fill me up with Light divine.
  • In my dark-moodiness: fill me up with Light divine.
  • In the darkness of my persistent resentments: fill me up with Light divine.
  • In the grip of Oh what's the use: fill me up with Light divine.
  • In the secret place where I know I'm on empty: fill me up with Light divine.
  • Where my life has become same old-same old: fill me up with Light divine.
  • Where I live behind changing masks: fill me up with Light divine.
  • Where I'm a collection of opinions, hoping to sound intelligent or right: fill me up with Light divine. 
  • Where I've confused being alive with having things: fill me up with Light divine.
~ ~ ~

Where Thou art not, man hath nought,
Nothing good in deed or thought,
Nothing free from taint of ill.

God is the source of all that is good within me, deeds yes, but even my thoughts. Of course! Pope John Paul II said to the post-Soviet young people of Kazakhstan: "You are one of God's thoughts, one of God's heartbeats." 

But a life can feel tainted. Tainted means there's a trace of poison, contamination, infection, something foreign or bad. We're pretty quick to detect the taint in others, but not in ourselves. 

We might give thanks for where there is discernible goodness in ourselves (that's not being vain or prideful - just grateful). Give God the Glory! But also bring to awareness, from behind the inner barriers, where there's some sense of my own being tainted: selfishness, self-absorption, some form of dishonesty, a false persona...

But why? For God's pleasure in seeing us mature and evolve - as each of us is God's own dear child, and nothing pleases a mother or father more than to see the child grow!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

On Our Way To Pentecost II

On our way to the Feast of the Pentecost Spirit-Gift, here are brief reflections on the third and fourth verses of the Feast's Sequence: Veni Sancte Spiritus.

Thou of Comforters the best,
Thou the soul's delightful guest,
Sweet refreshment here below.

Ours is a comfort seeking culture. We've even got a popular whiskey named: Southern Comfort. And everyday there are catalogs for folks over fifty, selling every kind of product to add to our physical contentment and well-being. 

But in its origin (from the Latin: confortare) comfort means to make something stronger, to encourage, support and strengthen greatly. The Christian doesn't need a voice from heaven saying, "There, there..." but an inner word that offers strength in fatigue, support where we're feeling failed, lacking or insufficient and encouragement when we're simply played out and unprepared for what's next. 

And would you ever say of your life with God that it is  delightful and sweet? We tend to use those words to describe only what's earthly or carnal: desserts, wine, physical beauty, music, a high, a movie perhaps.

~  ~ ~

In our labor rest most sweet,
Pleasant coolness in the heat,
Solace in the midst of woe.

I had a priest classmate who when I visited him in his first assignment, told me he refused to pray the prayer Hail Holy Queen, because he didn't like the world being called a valley of tears. I thought his rejection of the prayer to be odd in that his parish was one of the poorest in the diocese, and surely he had by now witnessed great suffering in the lives of his parishioners..

Truth be told, a lot of life is woe and a lot of people need some solace. And solace comes from the French word consolateur which is an architectural term referring to a carved figure that supports a shelf or cornice. God's solace-bearing Spirit then is the one who holds us up when life might otherwise beat us down.

Many people can attest to this especially addicts, the parents of special needs children, the folks who can't get a break, those who do the hard work of escorting loved ones to death, people who suffer un-relenting guilt or anxiety, those who suffer painful loss.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

In Anticipation of Pentecost I

A sequence is a poem-prayer sung at Mass on certain feast days, for example, Easter and Corpus Christi. Over the centuries sequences have come and gone. But this Pentecost Sequence, Veni Sancte Spiritus has survived even the chopping block of the 1960's reforms. It is very beautiful and an invitation to deep prayer.

Getting ready for Sunday's Pentecost-Feast, here are the first two verses of the sequence with a few thoughts to help us reflect or understand.

Come, Thou Holy Ghost, come,
And from Thy celestial home
Shed a ray of light divine.

Holy Ghost - Holy Spirit: doesn't matter much perhaps. I was in 7th grade when the Roman Church changed Ghost to Spirit in the 1960's as in our culture ghost suggests haunted things, a popular cartoon character and Halloween costumes. And God is spirit after all. Ghosts can be seen and God's appearance among us is the Incarnate Christ, not a spectral ghost. 

And it is important that the word veni = come appears twice in just the first line of the prayer - so much of the culture demands that God go away. 

We're told that in Soviet times, old Russian peasant women were taken up into airplanes to prove to them that God was not hidden above the clouds. I don't imagine many of these old prayer-warriors were impressed with the trip or dissuaded from believing. Celestial is a lovely word suggesting that God is beyond us and our earthbound agenda, our puny thinking. Stars and planets are celestial - thus the prayer at once suggests that God is light.

Then the prayer asks God's Holy Spirit to gift us with God's own light: shed a ray of divinity, your very self, in and among us. Don't we need light? Such dark thoughts, dark choices, dark initiatives. Shed a ray! We're not asking much: Holy Spirit - just a ray of yourself, and things will be improve for us. 

~ ~ ~

Come, Thou Father of the poor,
Come, thou source of all our store,
Come, within our bosom shine.

Many people dislike or reject calling God, Father, because their own fathers were failed men. But I prefer to think that God is the best of what a father should be or could be. 

There's a lot of conversation/debate these days too about the meaning of gender and mother/father/male/female roles and even gender re-assignment transitioning and surgeries. But those issues are discussed elsewhere. Here in the prayer, God is addressed as Father. Maybe the poem-line means: Come to us, life-initiator - to us who are inwardly so broken, burdened, desperate, fearful, bankrupt. 

When Mother Teresa's Missionaries came to the United States and set up their house in New York City, she acknowledged that the poverty the sisters encountered here was much deeper than in Calcutta. The poverty here is primarily interior.

Source of all our store: God is the giver of all that we have and are: the beating of our hearts, our personal survival, our relationships,  our growing and evolving, all we know, our breaths, our capacity for love...

Come within our bosom shine. Bosom is an old-fashioned word. Maybe over time it became a little sexy. More plainly it is a word inviting God into our innermost place - the invisible, within-place where we are most ourselves and known to God most deeply. Shine in that place, Holy Spirit, dispelling all-darkness.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Having No Other Help ~ Perhaps A National or Ecclesial Prayer

The Virgin and Child Under the Apple Tree ~
 Lucas Cranach

We have no other help,
we have no other hope than thee, O Lady!
Help us, for in you we have placed our hope,
and you we praise.
We are your servants, let us not be put to shame.

Eastern Christian hymn to the Mother of God

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Ascension Thursday Thought

In our culture we use the word high to indicate the ultimate. We look for banks offering the highest interest and investments promising the highest yields. There are magazines and websites to tell us which products have the highest ratings. High test scores open doors to the most desirable  schools. And lots of people get high when nothing seems to fulfill them. 

The angel said to Mary, "You are to conceive in your womb and bear a son...He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High." (Luke 1:32) And in today's feast day, Jesus ascends on high.

Could it be that in Jesus Christ, there is everything we are really searching for? That in Jesus, the human search, which often leads to even disastrous dead ends, comes to its fullest, highest and happiest end? Hmm...

Intercessions ~ Seventh Sunday in the Easter Time

In the month of May/ the Church celebrates Mary in her contemplative faith./ We ask for our prayer to be strengthened/ and our believing/ when faith and hope are tested./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for the peace of nations/ and for a new willingness to resolve global problems fairly and honestly./ We ask for leaders to put aside pride,/ vanity/ and a desire to be remembered as powerful and famous./ We pray to the Lord.

So much of the world remains poor because of human selfishness,/ corruption,/ exploitation and greed./ We ask for the conversion of hearts./ We pray to the Lord.

For every child to be welcomed,/ wanted and loved./ For the children who are left without security,/ food,/ education or health care./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for those preparing for marriage,/ for the safety of travelers,/ for students as the academic year draws to a close,/ for the sick and those who help them./ We pray to the Lord.

The people of Nepal have suffered another great earthquake this week./ We pray for this suffering nation:/ for rescuers,/ for the injured,/ the homeless and helpless./ We pray to the Lord.

And for all who have died/ to be taken up into the place of forgiveness,/ healing and joy./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Post Mother's Day and a Pentecost Greening

Soon it will be Pentecost Sunday ~ fifty days after Easter. The priest will wear red vestments and the flowers, altar dressing and sanctuary decorations will be red, a reminder of the spirit-flame which descended upon the disciples gathered in the upper room. But the Christian East has another insightwhere everything is green. 

Here in this picture, the Romanian sacristan is spreading a meadow of green grass around the church. Westerners might think it's untidy and kind of wild. But maybe that's the idea. Spirit-seized, we're living in God's garden. In the Spirit, everything is new, creative things and a greening of humanity can happen.

And this green-Pentecost follows last Sunday's Mother's Day which was originally conceived by pacifist Mothers who collected their voices to proclaim, after the unspeakable ruin and blood-spill of the Civil War, that they would no longer hand over their children to war's slaughter. They also found it particularly shameful and galling that the soldiers who fought each other in the Civil War (north and south) were Christians.

Anne Jarvis liked the idea, asking President Woodrow Wilson to declare the day a national holiday. But she was soon filled with regrets, witnessing the day's deformation into a commercialized excuse for the sale of candy, flowers, cards and dining out. Indeed, so grieved at the loss of the day's original quality and invitation, she spent the rest of her life attempting to reverse the decision.

So: Mother's Day and a Green-Pentecost. We seem to be involved in endless war, or talking about war, advising others in how to fight their wars, supporting wars, preparing for wars or entertaining where else we should be thinking of war. 

Christians are supposed to be dreamers much more than maintainers. Can we imagine a new spirit-seized voice of Mothers, so greened in their discontent with all the war-killing, that next Mother's Day they will rise up - a million of them - in a new proclamation:

"We are the mothers and grandmothers of this nation, and we are so tired of war. We don't want our children (or the children of any other other nation) to be surrendered to war. War is only waste. War perpetuates more war. War is destroying our beautiful planet. Let the flower, candy and restaurant industries find something new to celebrate. We're taking Mother's Day back." 

Of course, there'll be lots of Americans (perhaps mostly men) who would roll their eyes, laugh, mock and make jokes, call names and scowl. To each his own. There must be mothers and grandmothers out there: clear thinkers with spirit and strong voices, vision and great organizational skills. Take back the day!

P.S. If this sounds impossible, recently Maria Hamilton from Milwaukee, organized a Million-Mom March in Washington on the Department of Justice, protesting racially charged deaths. 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Rejoice, O Mary!

Madonna and Child ~ Francesuccio Ghissi

Rejoice, O Mary, little girl dancing on the temple steps; delighting all of Israel, and incline your ear to all who run to you for help.

Rejoice, O Mary, laughing with Gabriel, delighting in God's Nazareth-proposal, and incline your ear to all who run to you for help.

Rejoice, O Mary, hurrying through the hill-country, announcing God's great marvel, and incline your ear to all who run to you for help.

Rejoice, O Mary, John quickening in his mother's womb before your pregnant presence, and incline your ear to all who run to you for help.

Rejoice, O Mary, welcoming shepherds to Bethlehem's cave, and incline your ear to all who run to you for help.

Rejoice, O Mary, pondering the star and the gift-bearing magi, and incline your ear to all who run to you for help.

Rejoice, O Mary, nursing your refugee-Child in Egypt, and incline your ear to all who run to you for help.

Rejoice, O Mary, instructing Cana's waiters to follow the Lord's instructions, and incline your ear to all who run to you for help.

Rejoice, O Mary, standing at Calvary ready to greet the Resurrection, and incline your ear to all who run to you for help.

Rejoice, O Mary, whose maphorion  enfolds you in your Pentecost prayer, and incline your ear to all who run to you for help.

Rejoice, O Marywho did not abandon us in your summer-Assumption, and incline your ear to all who run to you for help.

Rejoice, O Mary, warming the world with your smile at Lourdes, and incline your ear to all who run to you for help.

Rejoice, O Mary, in the golden-mist atop Tepeyac's hill, and incline your ear to all who run to you for help.

Rejoice, O Mary, remedy for our hardness of heart, and incline your ear to all who run to you for help.

Rejoice, O Mary, like lilies and lavender, violets and iris, and incline your ear to all who run to you for help.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Intercessions ~ Sixth Sunday in the Easter Time

Today is Mother's Day./ We pray for mothers all around the world/ mindful of mothers who are struggling in sorrow and anxiety./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for the world's children/ asking peace for those lands where people have never known peace./ We pray to the Lord.

Calling to mind the names of our friends and families/ we ask for safety and good health/ and all that is needed for salvation in this life and in the life to come./ We pray to the Lord.

It is the green time of year in our hemisphere./ For a fresh desire to bring about the common good:/ what is best for all of us on this earth and indeed/ for the protection and welfare of the planet itself./ We pray to the Lord.

Ascension Thursday is celebrated this week:/ Christ returns to the Father in his Risen body./ We pray for our minds to ascend with him/ to the higher things of mercy,/ justice and un-selfishness./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for those who are ill,/ the wounded,/ the neglected/ and those whose minds are sick with anger,/ hatred and violence./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for the Risen-Christ to escort all who have died into the inner life of the Holy Trinity,/ mindful of those who have died recently in Nepal's earthquake/ and in wars and terrorist acts this week./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

It's May ~ Mary's Month

In the West we need to pay more attention to monks and what their lives can teach us. Most monks follow the ancient rule of Saint Benedict. The lives of monks tell us:

  • That we can live at peace with each other, though we come  from many places
  • That the spiritual life invites us to a continual turning to the  higher things - the better way
  • That even the most hardened heart and stubborn mind can  change
  • That we can live happily in great simplicity - without so much  stuff
  • That we grow best when rooted in God's Word as listeners first
  • That so much moving about from this to that causes inner    trouble
  • That to be free we need to be free of hatred.

And monks love the Mother of Jesus, Mary, who creates an atmosphere around the person of Christ, inviting contemplation and inner tranquility. 

These Spanish monks are singing a Latin sequence (poem-prayer) for a Feast of Mary or today, in Mary's month of May.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Mary's Garden

Forget Me Not ~ Mary's Eyes

The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins calls The Virgin Mary the air we breathe. Perhaps another way of saying it is Mary creates an atmosphere around Jesus: humility, quiet reflection, maternal love, the clean heart of the Gospels, living in God's Word, endurance and fidelity, praise and faith. 

Prior to the Protestant Reformation all flowers in Europe had Marian names celebrating some aspect or virtue of the Mother of Jesus. Mary Gardens were planted to celebrate and keep that atmospheric sense sensually alive! 

The Medieval poem-prayer to the Virgin Mary: O Maria virgo pia - which accompanies the flower images here,  is sung by the group Anonymous 4. The group's name Anonymous suggests that the praises matter, not who the singers are. Here is the English translation of the Latin: 

O pious Virgin Mary,
full of the grace of God,
you are called Star of the Sea
giving comfort by your light.

Christ's body,

which you have truly carried in your womb,
is hallowed so that through it 
the serpent is completely doomed.

This is the body, O Mary,

born by you as virgin,
with which you were pregnant,
pious virgin, by the Holy Ghost.

This is the flesh

nailed to the yoke of the cross;
after its crucifixion it rose 
and returned life to the world.

Let us now praise 

Mary's wonderful Son
and sing this song
to the King of all kings.

Friday, May 1, 2015

My dear young man...

Pope Francis ordained nineteen men from a number of countries to the priesthood last Sunday. Seeing the picture online of two of them standing with the pope at his Angelus window is a happy sight.

While I send blessings and prayers to the entire class, I'm writing here only to any Americans among them and any priests ordained in our own country (317 diocesan priests from 120 dioceses) this spring. The challenges, tendencies and concerns of young priests is particular to each country. I'm familiar only with what's happening in the United States. And so...

My dear young man,

People all around the world have seen the pictures online of your Rome-ordination. Many priests will think of their own ordination day and people everywhere send you good wishes, prayers and hopes for fruitfulness in your mission. I am a priest thirty-five years. The real learning of priesthood begins after ordination. May I share with you some insights I have had along the way.

You have been ordained for 21st century America, not 18th century France. Some newly ordained yearn for another time. Plant yourself firmly in today.

Many priests have re-designed Catholicism to mean taking on the culture war. This is a mistake. The only war to be waged is within ourselves, with our passions: our laziness, moodiness, shallow gratitude, entitlement, selfishness, resentments and pride.

Clericalism is a serious problem for many priests - even the newly ordained. We seem to learn it quickly. Clericalism means: the rules that apply to everyone else don't apply to me.

Some priests still think of themselves as distinct from others - set apart. I have even known younger priests who really believe the sanctuary should be their domain. Some newly ordained have even had their mothers make a manutergium for them. Jesus came with human hands, not angel wings. If you find yourself thinking your hands are special, challenge the thought by calling to mind the hands that change adult diapers, the hands that do dangerous work, that sew high-end clothing for pennies, that collect garbage or wash down emergency rooms. 

The culture talks alot. Priests talk alot. Much of the talking is silly, vain, unnecessary, doctrinaire, moralistic. But for all the talking we have failed to present Jesus as an alluring source of joy - an expander of human hearts. 

And there is another problem with all the talking. As I was taking an icon painting class some years ago, everyone was chattering away while painting. The Orthodox priest said, "Where there are many words, sin cannot be avoided." I am convinced of the correctness of this insight.

Some priests stopped studying the Gospels long ago. Their preaching becomes a theology or history class. Some priests fashion themselves to be stand-up comedians or the moral answer-man. I heard a young priest once give a twenty-five minute harangue on the Sins of Hollywood. And on the Feast of the Transfiguration. What a missed opportunity.

Many priests love money. They think about and talk about and save money. Saint Francis said to his young brothers, "It would be better for you to go outside and kiss donkey dung, than to touch money." 

I don't believe celibacy is the problem underlying the sex abuse scandal in our country. The problem is that many of us are psycho-sexually frozen, plateaued or stunted. We have to be serious about our psychological and emotional growth.

Who are the women in your life? Only the Virgin Mary? Your mother, sister, the rectory cook, the religious education coordinator, the parish office receptionist? Any straight-talking women friends? Many priests don't do well with women. It is a serious problem.

One senior priest said of his cassock, "This is my habit." No it's not. One way to learn vulnerability (and there is no holiness without vulnerability) is to set out sometimes without clerical clothes. The people know who we are. 

Many priests are waiting for the people to  come to see them inside their churches. It doesn't work that way any more. Baltimore is a rather Catholic city with lots of Catholic churches. But while that city was set on fire during race riots this week, I saw dozens of evangelical minsters, imams and even a Jewish rabbi on the streets with the people of that suffering town. But I wondered, where are the Catholic priests? Saying Mass? 

Many priests never visit jails or prisons. The evangelical protestants do. Or when they go to the nursing home, they only go to offer Mass. They don't sit just to  talk with people or look into their eyes - only at the ritual  book. Maybe this is what Pope Francis meant when he told the priests to "smell like the sheep."

I heard about a young priest's father who stopped by his son's rectory to pay a visit when he was in the neighborhood. The man was furious when the secretary told him that his son was upstairs taking a rest. It was ten or eleven in the morning. Some priests take a lot of rest. In my first parish the men talked about the 5:06 red-eye train they caught to work each weekday morning. 

I visited a Catholic nursing home recently and watched as the lady gave out the pills to the folks who were sitting around the TV room. I asked her if there were any religious sisters working in this nursing home anymore. She said (uncritically) that the sisters would come by later, right now they were having their quiet time. I asked, "Do you get any quiet time?" She answered, "When I go home." Then after a short pause she added, "No, not then, when I'm in the car on the way home." Many of us in religious life live quite comfortable lives.
Help people to see how attractive Jesus is - not the Jesus of piety and devotion but of the Gospels.