Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Intercessions ~ Feast of the Epiphany

Star of Bethlehem

At Epiphany,/ we pray to be restored when we are sad,/ worried,/ over-thinking,/ hurting,/ giving up,/ angry or depressed./ We pray to the Lord.

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

This past year one in every eight babies was born in places of conflict and war,/ bombs,/ bullets,/ destruction and death./ We pray for them,/ asking for stability and safety./ We pray to the Lord.

We ask the blessings of protection and health for Pope Francis as he begins a new year of working to bring renewal to our damaged and weakened Church./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for those whose hearts are stubborn,/ lost in ignorance,/ or selfishness./ And that we would know ourselves well./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray blessings of joy and hope where Eastern Christians celebrate Christmas this week,/ and for the Church to be restored to unity where sad divisions persist./ We pray to the Lord.

On the Feast of the Epiphany,/ we ask for Jesus to be newly revealed to each of us./ We remember those who are sick,/ traveling,/ or struggling in any way./ We pray for those who have died this past year,/ and for those who mourn them./ We pray to the Lord. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Our Lady of Waiting

At the altar within the cave ~ Our Lady of Waiting ~ Lebanon

Jesus got up and went away from there to the region of Tyre. And when he had entered a house, he wanted no one to know of it, yet he could not escape notice. (Mark 7:24-25)

There follows the account of the Syrophoenician woman who asked Jesus to heal her daughter burdened with demonic possession. And then verse 31

Again he went out from the region of Tyre and came through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee within the region of Decapolis.

Then follows the account of the disciples bringing to Jesus the man who could neither hear nor speak.   

So in these verses, Jesus is on a healing and teaching tour through the cities mentioned here which are in modern day Lebanon, north of Israel. And it is in Lebanon that there is the pilgrimage site and lovely devotion to the Virgin Mary Mantara - Our Lady of Waiting. 

This is where Mary waited in a cave for Jesus to return from his journey through Tyre and Sidon. There is nothing to indicate this biblically, rather, the tradition is born of a deep human sense of relationship and maternal love.  

Humans spend an awful lot of time waiting. And some of that waiting is silly or anxious:
  • waiting for the waiter to return with the bill
  • waiting on checkout lines
  • waiting for the movie or Mass to begin
  • waiting for a phone call
  • waiting for the mail to be delivered or for the UPS truck
  • waiting for the water to boil
Then there's another waiting, more dear to us:
  • waiting for the baby to be born
  • waiting for a loved one to return home safely
  • waiting to hear if I got the job or not
  • waiting to learn if I've been accepted into the preferred school
  • waiting to hear if the raise will be forthcoming
  • waiting for lab results
Finally there's a still deeper waiting:
  • waiting for a sign of peace for our world
  • waiting for my own (often times slow) inner growth
  • waiting for an opportunity to make right a wrong
  • waiting to ask forgiveness, so to begin again
  • waiting to have this depression lifted
  • waiting to feel the return of an alive faith

So in our meditation we might create the mental image of Mary in the cave of Lebanon - aware that Jesus is off doing what he needs to do and that she is waiting patiently in trust. Maybe Jesus was delayed, and there was of course no email, no phone, Skype, texting or TWEETING by which he could stay in touch. It was a dangerous world then, as now, so staying calm and not surrendering to negative fantasies may well have been a real challenge.

But there you have it: Our Lady of Waiting. Heaven understands!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

At Midday...

At Midday I see the church open.
It draws me within.
I come, Mother of Jesus Christ,
Not to pray.
I have nothing to bring you,
Or to ask of you.
I only come, O Mother,
To gaze at you,
To see you, to cry simply out of joy,
Because I know that I am your child,
and that you are there...

Paul Claudel

Saturday, December 26, 2015

December 26 ~ Feast of Stephen ~ Proto-martyr, Archdeacon, Reconciler and Waiter

"Good King Wenseslaus looked out on the Feast of Stephen." That's today! The Feast of St. Stephen the First Martyr is the day after Christmas. The first feast celebrated by the early Christians was Easter of course, and then every Sunday celebrated as a little Easter, and then the days martyr's went home to heaven. Christmas wasn't put on the Christian calendar for a few centuries. So today the priest wears red at Mass - not because it's Christ-masy, but to remember the first martyr.

The account of Stephen the deacon is found in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 6:1 - 8:60). And in that story, long before we're told anything about his martyrdom, we're told two other very important things about him.

Seems that in the very early days of the Christian common life there was already an argument: people complaining to the apostles that the Greek speaking widows weren't being taken care of properly in the daily distribution of food. So the people put forward the names of a few men who would wait on table so the apostles could be free for their prayer and preaching. So the first thing to know about Stephen was that he was a reconciler. He spoke Greek and was able to navigate well enough to solve the problem.

Spending some days in an Italian monastery I found myself one Sunday after Mass standing in a circle of European men with young Brother Marie Luke, who was simultaneously translating English, Spanish, Italian and French so that no one would feel left out of the conversation. Afterwards I asked him about his language skills and he answered: It's important to know the languages of the neighbors." Reconcile doesn't just mean to patch things up after an argument but to harmonize, to balance, to syncretize. Reconcilers are bridge-builders. 

And Stephen waited on table. "If you want to be great, serve the rest," Jesus teaches (Matthew 20:25). I used to tell the young people at school that if Jesus were to return and come to our school, he wouldn't make a bee line to the main office to talk with the administration, the family leaders or department chairs, but he'd look to find Michelle, who cleaned the toilets, mopped the floors and emptied the wastebaskets. Or he'd find the two old men who loaded up the truck faithfully every morning to haul the ton of garbage we produced. 

All the pictures of Stephen show his martyrdom: a hail of huge stones pouring down on his anguished head. Even the painting here shows him on a better day, but he's still holding the palm branch of martyr-victory and a stone's landed on the top of his head. Some artist out there might just show him talking to a Greek woman with a bread basket at his feet or over his arm. 

And while Stephen and Jesus likely never met, the young man knew all about Jesus and his teaching. There's a non-denominational prayer book that suggests singing the African American song, "Woke up this mornin" on Stephen's Feast Day. I've put the link here so we can get into it. Some people don't like it when I make seemingly critical comments about the Catholic Church - they think I'm being subversive or inciting a revolt to take down the Church. Not at all - I just want our Church to get down (real deep) to the fundamental thing of loving Jesus like this preacher man and his devoted, on-fire-for-Jesus congregation. Click here below.

"I woke up this morning" Rayshan Booker

Woke up this mornin' with my mind stayin' on Jesus...
Woke up this mornin' with my mind stayin' on Jesus...
Woke up this mornin' with my mind stayin' on Jesus...

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas! Christ is Born!

Yea, Lord, we greet thee,
born this happy morning,
Jesu, to thee be glory given!
Word of the Father,
now in flesh appearing,
O come let us adore him,
Christ the Lord.

Adeste Fidelis 3rd verse

Happy Christmas everyone!
Christ is Born! Glorify Him!
I send a blessing ~ asking peace, safety and good health
to folks everywhere!

Father Stephen

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Intercessions for the Feast of the Holy Family

We're holy children of Bethlehem too.

We pray for the entire human family at Christmas time/ asking for all people to learn how to treat others well./ We pray to the Lord.

On this Feast of the Holy Family,/ we pray for families that  are on the move:/ homeless,/ immigrants,/ refugees and exiles./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for the world's children,/ mindful today of those who are exploited,/ enslaved,/ terrorized,/ unwanted,/ uneducated./ We pray to the Lord.

Bless world leaders with insight/ and a new willingness to safeguard peace for the sake of families entrusted to their care and protection./ We pray to the Lord.

Saturday was the Feast of Saint Stephen, the First Martyr./ We pray in a heart-solidarity with the Christian martyrs of the Middle East and Africa,/ and for the conversion of those who do hateful and deadly things./ We pray to the Lord.

As we contemplate Mary's pregnancy/ and the delivery of her Child,/ we pray for children waiting to be born:/ for their protection,/ welcoming and health./ We pray to the Lord.

For those who have died this past year,/ to receive the forgiveness of sins/ and the fullness of life promised by Jesus/ born of Mary at Bethlehem./ We pray to the Lord.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Christmas Alphabet

Taddeo Gaddi 14th century ~ the animals understand

A is for the Animals ~ the donkey and the cow.
B is for Bethlehem ~ meaning house of bread.
C is for Compassion ~ strong feelings of my heart.
D is for Dreariness ~ dispelled by Jesus' smile.
E is for Enosis ~ God's union-ing in Christ.
F is for Friends ~ name by which Christ calls us.
G is for Glad Tidings ~ angels' joyful news.
H is for Holy night ~ and the Happiness of God.
I is for the Icy hearts ~ which Jesus came to warm.
J is for God's Justice ~ what's best for all, not some.
K is for God's Kindness ~ Jesus hopes we will receive.
L is for Mary's Mother-Lap ~ where humanity may rest. 
M is for Miryam ~ Her Aramaic name.
N is for Nothing ~ is impossible for God.
O is for Ornery ~ this stubborn world Christ walks.
P is for Peace on Earth ~ God's hope, wish and gift.
Q is for Quirinius ~ who was governor at the time.
R is for Rescue ~ hand of Jesus when we're lost.
S is for Shepherds ~ Holy Infant's first guests.
T is for the Tomb of Jesus ~ foreshadowed by the cave.
U is for the Underworld ~ where Jesus shone his light.
V is for Vespers ~ evening praise of Christmas.
W is for this World ~ which God has loved so much.
X marks the spot ~ where Love's yet to conquer hate.
Y is for Yes ~ Mary's answer to the angel.
Z is for Zephyr ~ gentle breeze of  Christ's presence. 

Father Stephen P. Morris

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Christmas Intercessions

At Christmas,/ may the simple beauty of Jesus' birth,/ summon us to love what is deeply human./ We pray to the Lord.

At Christmas,/ we pray for Pope Francis:/ his good health,/ protection and endurance./ We pray as well for those who do not understand his message/ or have closed their hearts to his teaching and example./ We pray to the Lord.

At Christmas,/ we pray for the Bethlehem's of our world today:/ the people and communities that are out-of-the-way,/ often poor,/ exploited and war torn./ We pray to the Lord.

At Christmas,/ we pray for that part of the world we call the Holy Land,/ asking for a peaceful time of mutual respect,/ cooperation and hospitality./ We pray to the Lord.

At Christmas we pray for our families and friends,/ asking for healing gifts where faith has been abandoned,/ or where there is trouble,/ bitter division or sickness./ We pray to the Lord.

At Christmas/ and the winter solstice in our hemisphere/ there begins the gradual return to light./ Where there is menace and fear,/ may Christian hearts be illumined by Christ's attractive and reassuring light./ We pray to the Lord.  

At Christmas/ may the Mothers of the world be blessed in the privileged work of raising children,/ and young people be graced with health,/ safety and growth in goodness./ We pray to the Lord.

At Christmas, / we pray for all who have died this year,/ and for those who mourn them,/ asking as well for the conversion of hearts which foment violence,/ injury,/ destruction and death./ We pray to the Lord.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Mary's Magnificat and the Real Foe

In Her Magnificat (Luke 1:39-58) Mary sings: "He has used the power of his arm, he has routed the arrogant of heart." God sounds like a mighty warrior acting against the foe. But it is a smug religious mistake to think the enemy is out there for me to identify and for God to set straight. The enemy then becomes the one who I perceive to be different; who doesn't share my beliefs, values, truth; who doesn't fit the mold. 

One high profile Catholic website, claims the final report of the recent Rome Synod On The Family, "sends off to hell" all those who had hoped for some change in this or that aspect of our traditional moral teaching. It's old religion that says, "Arise...rescue me, my God. You strike all my foes across the face, you break the teeth of the wicked." (Psalm 3:7) 

But this isn't it at all. Rather, the enemy is whatever is opposed to the new commandment, "Love one another." (John 13:15) ... and that enemy is within! Hint: think fear and pride.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

In The Bleak Mid-Winter

These posts are sent out from North East Pennsylvania (United States!) The winter here can be long and difficult, but thus far there's been hardly a flake of snow, let alone a blizzard. Still, some weeks ago there was a traditional mix of sleety-snow which lasted just a few minutes and then was gone.  I ran and filmed a bit of it with my phone-camera: the little fir tree having been planted last spring. Then the lovely carol for the Christmas Season came to mind. The snow, the tree, the lyrics come together beautifully. If you listen carefully you can even hear the snow!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Intercessions ~ Fourth Sunday of Advent

Coptic Visitation

In the Advent-Gospel today we meet Mary hastening to see her elder relative, Elizabeth./ We ask for the Church to be blessed with Mary's gifts of humility and simplicity./ We pray to the Lord.

Drawing near to Christmas/ we pray for those who live without joy:/ those who are conflict-weary,/ without family,/ home or hope./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for Pope Francis this Christmas:/ for those even within the Vatican who resist or oppose him,/ asking for his Mercy-Message to enhance the life of the Church around the world./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for those who live in the Holy Land/ or who will travel there in the Christmas time./ We ask for the Greek,/ Armenian and Latin clergy/ who minister at Bethlehem/ to love each other well./ We pray to the Lord.

For those who in the Christmas time/ plan terrorist and hateful acts./ For those who are victimized by gun violence/ and for those who bravely act to keep us safe in a dangerous world./ We pray to the Lord.

Bless our families and friends/ those with whom we will pray,/ exchange gifts/ or with whom we will share meals and celebrations./ We pray for hearts to be seized by the simple beauty of Jesus' birth./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for every child to be welcomed,/ protected and loved this time of year./ For those who suffer/ to be consoled and helped,/ and for the healing of human bitterness./ We pray to the Lord.

And for those who have died since last Christmas time/ to enjoy fully the gifts God wishes to bestow./ For mourners to find some new cause for endurance and happiness./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

An Antidote to Despair

These are difficult days. The list of darkness-baring events, people and situations is long. And a lot of people are struggling with despair because of it all: 

No good can come.
God is off the scene. 
What's the use?
Only bad stuff is on the horizon.
How is this all going to end?

But I believe we have a spiritual antidote at hand which is the prayerful reading and studying of the Gospels. Some Christians have never read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John from cover to cover - let alone study them. They depend on the preacher to do that for them and not a few preachers fail in that regard, talking about everything except Jesus. 

Join me in keeping a little flame of hope alive in the darkness today. Read this bit of Saint Mark with me and then the brief thoughts which invite us to ponder and pray.

The apostles rejoined Jesus and reported to him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, "Come with me, by yourselves, to some lonely place where you can rest quietly." (For they had no leisure even to eat, so many were coming and going.) Accordingly, they set off privately by boat for a lonely place. But many saw them leave and recognized them, and came round by land, hurrying from all the towns towards the place, and arrived there first. When he came ashore, he saw a great crowd: and his heart went out to them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he had much to teach them. (Mark 6:30-35)

The word apostle means: one who is sent out. Jesus shares everything and so he has sent the apostles out to call for the people to repent (to turn) and to drive out demons and to cure sick people. Inside the church hymnal it's often stamped, "Do not remove from church". It's a little joke that some Christians think the stamped message is referring to their Christianity - leave it in church. When I was a boy in the late 1950's one priest got up in the pulpit  and chided hundreds of worshipers for treating the police so badly who had come to direct the traffic back out onto the main road out of the church parking lot. Apparently some people were cursing the officers for not moving the traffic quickly enough. We're supposed to be the people who are sent out. We might begin with sent out in gratitude and joy!

Then Jesus invites us to rest. Some people get no rest. I remember seeing a documentary about a South American country - an old man who everyday climbed a mountain with his donkey  to collect minerals out of the earth that he could sell. He loaded up the donkey with stone and then descended the mountain. Then unloaded the animal and went back up to the mountain top to get more. Some people (and even animals) never get a rest. An awake heart understands that and cares. But even in our first world of convenience and relative ease and privilege, we might be aware of Jesus' call to come and rest with him. Perhaps we are aware of some personal weary place - where Jesus invites us to come away with him if even for some moments. We're foolish to refuse his tender offer.

Notice that the lonely place to which Jesus invites is across the sea. So they get into the little boat to make the crossing. But a lot of people recognize what's going on and so they run around the lake to the other side getting there ahead of him.  I love that line. What excitement for Jesus!  - to get around the obstacles to be with Jesus. I'm thinking of the Franciscan priest in Brazil who drove his jeep to a remote village on First Communion Day. And as he approached the parish the river was swollen and raging, preventing the priest from reaching the chapel. So the dads made a human chain across the river and passing the children over their heads one by one to the priest on the other side - they finally made their own way to the little makeshift altar (maybe a pile of stones or the hood of the jeep) and joined the priest and children for First Communion Mass. Talk about overcoming the obstacles! Can you feel it!?  In not a few first-world places we could do with some of that kind of intensity for Jesus.

And when Jesus arrives on the other side of the lake the great crowd is there. He's not put out. He doesn't get annoyed or irritated (Reverend Father: pay attention!) and he puts his retreat on hold and his heart is opened to them. So much of church life today is about negativity and fighting culture wars. That's not it. God's heart is opened to us in Jesus Christ. If the Church could live like we understand that in our guts - people would come running!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Will you visit a Holy Door for the Year of Mercy?

Here's a photo of Pope Francis recently opening the Holy Doors of Saint Peter's Basilica at the start of the Holy Year of Mercy. And then this morning, a Catholic News Feed asked (with a chance to click on yes or no) "Will you visit a Holy Door for the Year of Mercy?" And I wondered: Hmm, the souvenir sellers, restaurateurs, hoteliers and airline industrialists would love to know how many people will be coming to Rome (or whatever major city with holy doors), so they can plan ahead. 

But going through the Holy Door (whether in Rome, Manhattan, Quebec, Paris, Barcelona...) is a metaphor for growth, change, transformation ~ the real stuff of spiritual-religious living.

  • Even reading a book that awakens something creative and humanly new in me, is stepping over the threshold of a Holy Door.

  • Responding to misery in a heart-felt place instead of changing the channel and all the more getting off the couch to make a gift for the sake of the child on the screen, that's stepping through the Holy Door
  • Getting a mind of my own, thinking for myself, instead of following the rhetoric leader, is stepping through a Holy Door.
  • Feeling sick and tired of being sick and tired and copping to the place that's been begging for the inner light of change, is stepping through the Holy Door.
  • Taking on an addiction seriously, with resolve and commitment, is stepping over the Holy Door threshold.
  • Can you believe it? Some Christians have never read the four Gospels. Making that happen in a systematic way in 2016 with pause, silence, consideration, even study, is stepping through the Holy Door.
  • I was talking with someone who is many decades old and who still feels like an inner baby, and who has set out in real effort to grow that inner stunted place. Wow, that's stepping through the Holy Door.
  • Treating soul-destroying resentments (which we all have, otherwise Jesus would never have alluded to them), is stepping through the Holy Door.
  • Stepping through the Holy Door is realizing in a new lived-practice that Jesus' religious litmus-test isn't the Ten Commandments but the Corporal and Spiritual Works of mercy, and that when it says, Instruct the ignorant and Counsel the doubtful, it might well mean first of all - myself!
  • And then of course there is that very hidden and deep place where I feel perhaps God is still holding a grudge against me, or where I feel (or have been told) I have disappointed God terribly, or where I hold a serious grudge against myself. Enough of that! It's getting on Christmas, and Jesus has shown us that God holds no grudges. Step over the threshold of the Holy Door of Divine Mercy! Tip-toe into the cave of Bethlehem, huddled with the shepherds, the Lord's first guests! How pleased Jesus and Mary are to see you!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Intercessions for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

A little angel with colored wings lifts up the Lady on Juan Diego's tilma./ We ask for our families/ and all who live in the Americas/ to be lifted up/ in faith,/ hope and love./ We pray to the Lord.

Let us not forget Maria,/ Juan Diego's wife./ We pray for the women of the world who have others in their care./ And for women who suffer abuse,/ exploitation,/ indignity or insufficiency./ We pray to the Lord.

Millions of people travel to Mexico each year to venerate the tilma of Our Lady at Tepeyac./ We pray to honor each other deeply/ as Mary's Child,/ who has come among us at Bethlehem,/ gives each human person a new dignity./ We pray to the Lord.

It is a difficult climb to the chapel at the top of Mount Tepeyac./ We pray for those for whom life seems all uphill,/ asking for them,/ new resolve,/ strength and support./ We pray to the Lord.

The face of the Virgin Mary on the tilma is indigenous and very beautiful./ We ask to see the divine in each  human face:/ in the faces of newcomers,/ and those who do not reflect the world's idea of beauty;/ faces marred by tears,/ fear or hard toil./ We pray to the Lord.

The Guadalupe account is filled with bird song and flowers./ We ask forgiveness where we have destroyed our paradise-world,/ spoiling its balance by greed and foolishness./ We ask for the intelligence and will to protect what remains./ We pray to the Lord.

The Virgin of Guadalupe wears a high belt/ suggesting her pregnancy./ We ask that every child would be wanted,/ welcomed and loved - holding most deeply in our prayer/ the children in the womb with special needs and challenges./ We pray to the Lord.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Guadalupe Triduum ~ Day Two

On Juan Diego's tilma/ the Lady stands in front of the sun/ which was worshipped as a god by the Aztecs./ We pray to be freed of anything we have allowed to supersede or replace God./ We pray to the Lord.

The Lady on Juan Diego's tilma is taking a step./ We pray to be Christians in motion,/ persons who carry a message of life and hope to those who are alone,/ insecure,/ afraid or exploited./ We pray to the Lord.

The Lady of Juan Diego's tilma stands on a crescent moon./ It is the moon in its beginning phase./ We pray to begin again when we have forgotten or failed God,/ ourselves or others./ We pray to the Lord.

The colors of the tilma are vibrant and fresh./ We pray not to cast every person,/ problem or human dilemma in terms of black and white,/ but to see the world and God's presence in it,/ in their colors/ and even colors which change./ We pray to the Lord.

The roses of Tepeyac were rich in fragrance./ We pray to leave the fragrance of Christ wherever we go:/ his gentle kindness,/ his capacity to lift others up,/ his patience with weakness./ We pray to the Lord.

Juan Diego and his people were indigenous to Mexico:/ a defeated people./ We call to mind those we know and care for/ who perhaps are defeated by addiction,/ age,/ depression,/ sickness or sorrow/ asking for their consolation and strength./ We pray to the Lord.

In the miracle of the roses,/ flowers bloom in winter./ We ask to be a people of hope:/ persons who believe still in God/ who can bring beauty,/ reconciliation and life out of what is seemingly dead or without promise./ We pray to the Lord.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Guadalupe Triduum ~ Day One

When I was a boy I grew wonderful tomatoes in my garden, but I didn't eat them. Go figure! Every night at dinner my father would say, "Son, you don't know what you're missing." I got over that and love tomatoes now. 

So as the Church gets ready for the December 12th feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe: Do you know the story of The Guadalupe? If not, "You don't know what you're missing." So here's a link to the oldest written account. Nican Mopohua What a great way to step into the Jubilee Year of Mercy! And spread the word about this wonder even to the children you know. Heaven's great kindness!

And then here are some intercessions we might pray to help us get ready. 
~ ~ ~

The Lady of Guadalupe is the patroness of the Americas:/ North,/ Central and South./ We pray for this hemisphere/ and ask for the conversion of hearts where persons suffer indignities,/ violence and injustice./ We pray to the Lord.

The Lady of Guadalupe called Juan Diego the littlest of her sons./ We pray to remember that each human person is God's child/ and to love people with the mind of Christ./ We pray to the Lord.

Juan Diego delayed meeting the Lady for their second appointment/ because his uncle, Juan Bernadino, was dying./ We pray for hearts to see as essential/ the taking care of those in frailty,/ suffering or need./ We pray to the Lord.

While the Lady asked for a chapel to be built on the top of Tepeyac,/ we ask God all the more to change us into living stones that build up the Church to God's Glory/ and the love of our neighbor./ We pray to the Lord.

The Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego/not elevated above him,/ but barefoot and standing on the ground./ We ask for the virtue of humility/ by which we see ourselves truthfully,/ in our vulnerability,/ insecurity and powerlessness./ We pray to the Lord.

On Juan Diego's tilma/ the Lady stands in the posture of prayer./ In the dark time of the year/ we pray to be enlightened/ as to how we might pray more deeply from the heart./ We pray to the Lord.

We entrust the sick,/ the friendless and the needy  to the Guadalupe's care,/ and pray that the dead may experience the most tender mercy of Jesus/ who pardons,/ heals and makes whole./ We pray to the Lord.

Intercessions ~ Third Sunday of Advent

We are in the time of Advent darkness/ which is a metaphor for ignorance,/ hateful rhetoric,/ evil deeds,/ fear and pride./ We pray to be led to the true place of God's light which is within each of us./ We pray to the Lord.

The Jubilee Year of Mercy has begun with the opening of the Holy Doors in Rome./ We pray to step through all the obstacles which keep us separated from the love of God/ where consolation,/ pardon and hope are found./ We pray to the Lord.

The world is rife with cruelty and atrocities./ We pray with Pope Francis for a revolution of tenderness/ which heals and restores./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for the safety and well-being of all in the holiday time./ For those who have no reason for joy/ and for the heightening of gratitude/ as we are so fortunate,/ gift-ed and blessed./ We pray to the Lord.

These are days of insecurity and trouble./ We do not know where it is all leading/ or how and when it will end./ Meanwhile,/ we ask to know how to love other people well./ We pray to the Lord.

We offer prayers for the sick,/ the elderly who are frail/ and those who care for them./ We pray for those whose need for healing is interior:/ spiritual,/ emotional or relational./ And for the protection of children everywhere./  We pray to the Lord.

And we pray for those who have died/ in wars,/ in disasters or massacres./ For those who die un-mourned/ to know the love of God in fullness and joy./ We pray to the Lord.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Winter Appeal

Eastern Bluebirds in snow

Someone was surprised to learn recently that the retreat house here is not supported financially by the Catholic Church. This guest even thought the Pauca Verba blog was the work of a diocese, underwritten by a bishop. O my goodness, no! The retreat house is kept alive by my Social Security check, the few retreats that come here and the now and again sharing of benefactors. Pauca Verba is my own creation and work. I don't receive anything from the Church. 

Then the fellow kindly asked, "Can I help then?" Yes, of course, and I'd be so grateful. We're all familiar with the litany of home and property costs, and this place is no different: oil and electric, summer lawn cutting and winter plowing, insurance, building maintenance. I even pay taxes, as removing 56 acres from the tax rolls wouldn't be appreciated by the folks who live in this remote area. Even the extra costs of keeping a chapel open are not insignificant: cases of wine and candles...

So at years end if there are folks out there who'd care to help keep the place and its work going - your gift would be very much appreciated. The retreat house remains a 501C3 organization, so a gift is tax deductible.

Christ of the Hills Retreat House
P.O. Box 55
Lakewood, PA 18439

I send a blessing, good wishes, my prayer and my thanks.
Father Stephen Morris

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Immaculate Conception

In the winter of the world,
deep shadows and
God's wild love ~
compulsive love ~ 
breaks over us, 
and the little girl is
all brightness.
And Joachim and Anna are glad;
hell is anxious,
and earth shed's tears
for joy and relief.

O Lady of Help!
O Mother of  Tenderness ~
prepare hearts
for the disturbance Christ brings ~
your Son and our God!

Father Stephen P. Morris

Monday, December 7, 2015

A Prayer for My Country ~ Eve of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Mary's Immaculate Conception: that she was without sin from the moment of her conception in the womb of her mother, Anna. And how are we to respond to this? We don't say, Well now, let me think this one through. Rather, from a hushed and awed inner place I understand: the heart has its reasons. 

The dogma says that Mary remained sinless by the pre-conceived merits of Christ's dying and rising. Sounds like God's love is so attentive and generously kind that God anticipates what Mary needs, so to be a kind of heaven-on-earth for God's entrance into our world in disarray. Maybe this is why Mary stands on the crescent moon in any image of the Immaculate Conception: God's anticipatory love revealed in Mary's conception is simply over the moon!

And at the Council of Baltimore in 1846, the United States was placed under the Patronage of the Immaculate Conception. We're not alone in that dedication, other countries do as well: like Argentina, Korea, Brazil, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Philippines, Portugal, and Uruguay. Even the Quran says that Mary was always wrapped in a veil so that evil never touched her. And why not?

Here is a prayer for the nation on its patronal feast day. The prayer isn't a weapon for culture warriors but rather a prayer for the national heart. And hearts ~ whether that of the individual, or the family, or the Church, or the nation ~ always need turning, en-gracing, en-lightening. 

I invoke the Conception of Mary
upon the nation's families ~ in great diversity and need
upon the nation's children ~ safety and growth
upon the mothers and fathers ~ goodness and patient love.

I invoke the Nativity of Mary
against the menace of terrorists
against the spirit of arrogance and cynicism
against the spirit of prejudice and hate.

I invoke the laughter of the infant Mary
heal our culture of death
heal our spirit of idolatry
heal our addictions and pathologies.

I invoke the bright gaze of the child Mary
against the spirit of negativity and contention
against the spirit of bitter polarizations
against the spirit of globe-destroying wars.

I invoke Mary's Yes before the revering angel
Yes, to people over things
Yes, to our God-given paradise-world
Yes, to compassion and kindness.

I invoke the Mother-love of the Virgin Mary
against dangerous and dark secrets
against entitlement and greed
against blood money which destroys.

I invoke the protection of Mary's mantle
against calamities and disasters
against a lack of introspection
against all that keeps us from being deeply human.


Father Stephen P. Morris

Sunday, December 6, 2015

A Seventeenth Century Nun's Prayer ~ But Really We Can All Pray This One

When I was a young priest in the late 1970's, a priest friend and I traveled to England where we had been given the use of a London apartment. Very nice. Everyday we'd leave London by train for a day trip to one of England's Medieval Cathedral Cities, places like Ely, Salisbury, York, Wells, Durham, Bath.

In one of the cathedrals I found the Seventeenth Century Nuns Prayer shared below and brought back copies for each of the sisters living in the parish convent. I stumbled on the prayer again this week and realized that this is a prayer we all can pray - especially if we are aware of our aging. 

But we might understand the prayer better knowing that convent living is no walk in the park. Living with people you don't choose (like rectory living) can be difficult. St. Therese of Lisieux (The Little Flower) said of her 19th century Carmelite house: "Sometimes I feel as if I am living inside a volcano,"  and "If the people knew what went on this house, they'd burn the place to the ground." 

The lovely sister painted here holds a lily to symbolize her chastity, and a heart and crucifix in the other, symbolizing Christ's love for her and her love for Christ. Her sweet gaze suggests that everything is calm and bright. But truth be told, when she was finished posing for the artist and returned to the kitchen to do her chores, another sister might well have muttered, "Oh, here's the artist's friend come down to earth to join the rest of us at the sink." Hence her prayer:

Lord, you know better than I know myself that I am growing older and will some day be old. Keep me from the fatal habit of thinking I must say something on every subject and on every occasion. Release me from craving to straighten out everybody's affairs. Make me thoughtful but not moody; helpful but not bossy. With my vast store of wisdom it seems a pity not to use it all, but you know Lord, that I want a few friends at the end.
Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point. Seal my lips on my aches and pains. They are increasing and love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the years go by. I dare not ask for grace enough to enjoy the tales of other's pains, but help me to endure them with patience. I dare not ask for improved memory, but for a growing humility and a lessening cocksureness when my memory seems to clash with the memories of others. Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be mistaken.
Keep me reasonably sweet; I do not want to be a saint - some of them are so hard to live with - but a sour old person is one of the crowning works of the Devil. Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places and talents in unexpected people. And, give me, O Lord, the grace to tell them so.  Amen. 

Saturday, December 5, 2015

I Claim the Blood of the Lamb

After the first news of the San Bernadino massacre this past Thursday, I had a sudden fear that the day would come when I would feel nothing at the next report of gun homicide in this country. And the Dali Lama (the spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhism) has said, "Don't pray for Paris; do something." And the front page of the New York Daily News read: God Isn't Fixing This - the headline surrounded by the texts and tweets of presidential wannabes all sending their "Thoughts and prayers to the families" of those murdered. "Thoughts and prayers" - the new cliche.

Here, I want to do more than send soft prayers and good wishes, I want to do something powerful - I'm going to claim the Blood of the Lamb (Jesus Crucified) over all the earth where there is trouble or the potential for trouble. I don't tell God what to do, but I believe claiming the Blood of the Lamb matters. The angels in this painting seem to think so too. There's no politics in this claiming - just a sense of where things are or can go very wrong - dangerously wrong - murderously wrong - sinfully wrong. 

There are books that have prayers to pray before offering Mass. They tend to be full of obsolete language and without a real-life connect. So I'm putting this claiming-prayer out there as an alternative. Most of the people who read this blog go to Mass at least once a week. We might pray it before we receive the Body and Blood of Christ.

I claim the Blood of the Lamb for
all the presidents, prime ministers and premiers of the world,
all the congresses, parliaments and senates,
all the politicians of all the parties and for whatever office,
and for everyone who has a vote.

I claim the Blood of the Lamb for 
the Vatican
and all the spiritual headquarters of
all the religions.

I claim the Blood of the Lamb for
the priests, ministers, rabbis and imams,
for left and right wing,
for the people who call themselves fundamentalists,
religious, consecrated,
or who think of themselves as the base.

I claim the Blood of the Lamb for
MSNBC, FOX News, Al Jazeera, CNBC,
RT, Free Speech TV, NPR, BBC, CBB 

I claim the Blood of the Lamb for
bullies and the bullied,
secret meetings,
locked files and courtrooms.

I claim the Blood of the Lamb for
those who make, buy and sell weapons and ammunition,
those who own and use guns for anything,
whether it's law enforcement,
target practice,
hunting or attacking innocent people.

I claim the Blood of the Lamb for
those who hate - the seeds of which are fear,
defensiveness, pride, ignorance,
power-seeking and prejudice.

I claim the Blood of the Lamb for 
the Catholics, the Jews, the Protestants,
the Muslims, the Christian East, the Buddhists,
and the folks who don't believe in God.

I claim the Blood of the Lamb for
the people who plan and fund great evil,
who make and plant bombs,
who open fire on crowds.

I claim the Blood of the Lamb for
the people who neglect children,
harm children,
exploit children,
terrorize children,
enslave children,
under value children.

I claim the Blood the Lamb for 
all the families of the world whatever their arrangement,
for the hospitals, 
the nursing homes, 
the hospices,
the rescuers and the healers.

I claim the Blood of the Lamb for
those who are hated or mocked because they are trying
to create peace,
to save the planet 
to initiate reconciliation.

I claim the Blood of the Lamb for
all those who are trapped in addictions:
alcohol, drugs, pornography, anger, shopping,
entertainment, power or the money-quest. 

I claim the Blood of the Lamb for 
the United States of America and
the seventy four nations where we are either
fighting a war or supplying and supporting
the wars of other nations. 

I claim the Blood of the Lamb for
every radicalized person,
every terrorist cell or army,
every flag waving hate group.

I claim the Blood of the Lamb for 
myself, my family, my friends,
the people who cause me grief,
anxiety or sadness.

And I claim the Blood of the Lamb
as a blessing for every person
who does good,
who helps or
who makes security for me and my dear ones.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

A Gatha Prayer Under The Third Quarter Moon

Here's a photo of the way the moon appears these days in North East, Pennsylvania: the "shrinking" moon in its Third Quarter Phase. But there's still a lot of light  in that diminishing moon.

Many of us will remember the old definition of prayer from our study of the Baltimore Catechism: Simply - Prayer is the lifting up of my heart and mind to God. I love this definition for its simplicity and that it is so freeing. The definition doesn't say anything about words. It is said of St. Kateri Tekawitha that she prayed more with her eyes than with her lips. And St. Therese of Lisieux's prayer was often a sigh. 

The prayer definition also reveals that prayer is a dynamic thing: the lifting up! And lifting up suggests that energies are involved - the energies of heart and mind. That is to say, the energies of love, of compassion, of kindness, sent out over our near and far worlds. 

So here is a little gatha prayer upon seeing the moon. I like this newly discovered form of prayer because it seems to express that I have some responsibility for this world - that the wishes expressed in the prayer, when packed with love, might actually affect some change in our world that seems to be crumbling. 

We have made a great mess of things. I oughtn't burden God so much to straighten it all out and instead, by the transformation of my own heart, thoughts and senses, even make things better.

And of course,  even if someone doesn't believe in God, these good wishes can be sent out under the moon.

May the children of the world who sleep under moonlight, 
   be safe and at peace.

May those who are dead tired tonight,
   find rest and renewal.

May those whose hearts can bear no more,
   be encouraged and comforted by moonlight.

May those who have gone to bed hungry,
   discover sustaining food and drink tomorrow.

May those who wish there was no moonlight,
   the easier by which to do evil,
   have second and third better thoughts.

And may all who work through the night
   take heart and be blessed in what they do.

Intercessions ~ Second Sunday of Advent

The second candle on the Advent Wreath has been lit./ We pray for an increase of inner light:/ light for our consciences,/ light for self-knowledge,/ light for the life-path we each walk./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for safety in a dangerous world./ For the world where it is corrupted,/ where lies are told,/ where terrorist plans are made,/ where people are killed,/ where children are frightened./ For the turning of loveless hearts./ We pray to the Lord.

Pope Francis began the Jubilee Year of Mercy not in Rome but at the cathedral in Bangui, Africa./ We pray for the willingness to bring the periphery into the center,/ drawing into focus the plight of people and places which are devalued,/ forgotten,/ ignored./ We pray to the Lord. 

In the war-torn country of Central African Republic/ Pope Francis asked us to lay down the weapons of the world/ and to arm ourselves with love and mercy,/ the guarantors of peace./ We pray to learn this lesson./ We pray to the Lord. 

Pope Francis has called Africa a martyr of exploitation/ and the victim of other powers./ We ask forgiveness of all the sins of power,/ and to learn well the path of humility,/ reconciliation,/ justice and solidarity./ We pray to the Lord.

For those who suffer this time of year:/ the sick,/ the addicted,/ the unemployed,/ the wounded and war-damaged,/ the homeless and all who hope for healing and the restoration of happiness./ We pray to the Lord.

And we pray for all who have died,/ to know the great charity of Jesus in the forgiveness of sins/ and the sharing of God's great gift of life./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Northeast Pennsylvania ~ Late November Sky

Here's a photo of the early morning eastern sky in North East Pennsylvania, looking out the front door of the retreat house in late November. Photographer Steve Nordahl calls this "The Morning Lineup!" There is Venus down below and then Mars moving up and right and then even further going up the arc (almost hidden in the deep darkness) is Jupiter. How wonderful! 

But the hills here conceal Spica (down under Venus and to the right). Spica looks like a star but it's really two stars (eleven million miles apart) that whirl around each other appearing as one. Both are larger and brighter than our sun. 

I've been told that if Spica were to explode and cease to exist, we would still see its light for 262 years! 

Looking up at the sky - really looking - calls us to a new mindfulness. For all we think we know, we really know nothing. There's all this beauty and wonder in the sky which belongs to no one but is there for all of us to enjoy. Instead we keep our minds so small and low, with our flags and missiles, borders, interests and aggressive claims. It all results in fighting, explosions, wasting and tears.

If we could land on Spica and not get burned up, the nation landing first would probe around to find what might be of value, then stick a flag in the ground to make the claim. Undoubtedly at some point there'd be a war to keep the stars as private property until they were exhausted and rendered useless. 

Here's a picture of Spica through an unfiltered telescope. Let's just ponder:

Spica's two-ness
its orbiting
its distance
its enormity
its brightness
its presence
the imagination of it all!