Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

August 30 ~ Feast of Saint Fiacre of Meaux

Newly ordained in the early 1980's, another priest and I traveled to France to visit a number of pilgrimage sites like Paris, Lourdes, Amien, Lisieux and Reims. One tiny village (then a population of just over 300) was Sainte Fiacre ~ Seine-et-Marne, the home of Saint Fiacre of Meaux. I told Fiacre's story here at the start of the growing season (May 26).

My clerical companion was much less devout than I - far more interested in restaurants than shrines. Still, he was a good sport about it all and went along saint-hunting with me. We spent the better part of a morning tracking down the saint's tomb.

Fiacre was an Irish monk but (can you imagine!) he couldn't find adequate reclusion in Ireland and so sailed to France to preach the gospel. He settled at Seine-et-Marne, north of Paris, built a chapel in honor of Our Lady and planted a large vegetable garden (replete with herbs) to feed the many pilgrims who sought  him and to cure their ailments. Fiacre is the Patron Saint of Gardeners and his feast is kept today at Ossory in Ireland and a few places in France.

Now the priest traveling with me joked that if we found the village I might meet the mayor who would say, "Fiacre, who?!" But right here in the middle of the small village was a stone church bearing Fiacre's name and his statue over the door. There was an impressive memorial outside to the soldiers who died in the First World War, but the front door was locked.

My chauffeur and guide, a French-speaking American who worked for the American government hunting down art smugglers, strode across the street and introduced himself to the lady at the door. "Can you help? This priest is from the States and would like to see the interior of the church." She disappeared briefly and returned, kindly handing off a huge and ancient black metal key. 

The priest shortage in France is dire; there are churches in far-flung places where Mass is celebrated only once a year. This poor church felt abandoned: dirty, run down, moldy, musty. But up front to the left of the altar was a very small room containing Fiacre's tomb (the saint in effigy) AND a post-card rack with yellowed, black and white pictures of the church taken in the 1920's or 30's. "Fiacre who?" Indeed!

To the right of the altar was a Medieval-style crystal case containing the relic of Fiacre's arm. I hiked up the circular staircase to see the bells, repeating every step, "Remember this moment. Remember this moment," picked up a souvenir stone from the church yard, returned the key and set out for Lisieux - a happy pilgrim. 

How precious is Your loving-kindness, O God!
Therefore the children of men
put their trust under the
shadow of Your wings.
They are abundantly satisfied
with the fullness of Your house,
And you give them drink from
the river of Your delights.

Psalm 36:7,8

Friday, August 28, 2015

Summer Thank You Before Returning To School

There's some summer weeks left, but as we get ready to return to school, there's reason for giving thanks for the happiest months of July and August! Soooo.....

For the animals I've played with or admired from a distance ~  Thank you God!
For time with my parents, relatives and friends ~ Thank you God!
For the pleasure of sleeping later -  a morning breeze through my window ~ Thank you God!

For the trips I made and for safety in traveling ~ Thank you God!
For the books I've read, the moon and night-time stars ~ Thank you God!
For the music I've heard or made myself ~ Thank you God!

For water's gift  in pools and ponds, ocean and shower-head ~ Thank you God!
For the smell of cut grass and flowers that please ~ Thank you God!
For the food at the barbecue ~ summer storms that clean the air ~ Thank you God!

For new clothes to wear, colored sneakers for my feet ~ Thank you God!
For the energy inside me for running and play ~ Thank you God!
For air-conditioners on hot and humid days ~ Thank you God!

For rainbows, sun, clouds  and sky ~ Thank you God!
For doctors and nurses and even the dentist ~ Thank you God!
For all the signs that I am loved and cared for ~ do I notice? Thank you God!

For mother's patience with noise and mess ~ Thank you God!
For tomatoes and melons, peaches and basil,
  zucchini and string beans, lettuce and corn ~ Thank you God!

My now 6th grade friend, Katie, has said that any prayer-list of summer gratifications ought to include ice cream - preferably in and on a cone. Yes indeed! Thank you God!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Intercessions ~ Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Racism has been cited as our nation's original sin./ We ask forgiveness for the many manifestations of this flaw in our history and our own time/ and pray for the conversion of our national heart./ We pray to the Lord.

All around the world there are new huddled masses of people/ driven from places ruined by hatred and war./ We ask for hearts eager to welcome and help./ We pray to the Lord.

Thursday is the Feast of  sixth-century Pope Saint Gregory the Great./ We pray for Pope Francis to be welcomed to our country/ with joy and openness./ We pray to the Lord.

As September begins we pray for those who return to school,/ and those who celebrate birthdays,/ anniversaries and other days of remembrance,/ asking for the blessings of good health,/ safety and peace./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for rescuers and helpers where there is fire,/ disease,/ war,/ calamity or disaster./ Grant us charitable hearts./ We pray to 
the Lord.

In our prayer we think of those who are sick physically or sick in spirit./  We entrust to God's care the poor,/ the displaced,/ the children who need to be protected,/ those who suffer injustice,/ the confused and those without friend or helper./ We pray to the Lord.

And we pray for those who have died this week or who are saddened by the death of loved ones./ We ask for the courage needed to address the gun violence which demoralizes and grieves so many./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Heron and Heaven

Great Blue Heron  Flying By: posted by Kitty Riley Kono

There's an impressive Great Blue Heron hanging around these parts this summer that has everyone talking. The splendid bird fishes along the edges of the old cow pond here behind the chapel. Last week the heron flew up in the air vertically and majestically when I approached a little too quickly. Sometimes I see it flying low over the wide stream that winds around the property. It follows the stream through the tunnel of trees, and if you are close enough, you can hear the whoosh of its wings which I'd guess are nearly six feet across, tip to tip.

Sometimes, if we're wide-awake, we can see or hear or smell something that is so arresting in beauty, we might sense there's a tear in the veil between heaven and earth or between the visible and invisible. Seeing the heron is like that. 

But this beauty is always fragile and threatened. We're daft ~ destroying our paradise home faster than ever. Like insects: chewing up, devouring, invading whatever-wherever we want, no matter how beautiful or essential to our common life (like clean water and air). Indeed, Pope Francis has said that we are turning the planet into a rubbish heap. Turning it inside out: taking everything out of the earth, using it, then leaving it on the surface changed into garbage.  

And then (get this!) having utterly exploited, wasted and raped this home,  we expect that God will give us another - maybe even better. We might call it heaven. As if God is some kind of divine enabler who happily supplies a second toy when the first is ruined or lost. And if we don't believe in God, and having learned nothing, we might imagine that somewhere out there is yet another planet where, if we're rich enough or powerful enough, we can escape to when this lovely place is used up and dead. 

There's a TV show on these days about a guy who travels the world in search of the places he wants us to see, "before they're gone". That's sad: "before they're gone."  It's sad too that there are folks who deny any of this. But they're the ones who have the most money to lose if real planet-saving change were to take place.

In his recent encyclical, Laudato si, Pope Francis seems to suggest we have a little window of opportunity for change. But he's also clear, that if we're going to make it happen, we all have a part to play.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

O Domina Mea!

O Domina Mea

O my Queen! My Mother!
I give myself entirely to you;
and to show my devotion to you,
I consecrate to you this day my eyes,
my ears, my mouth, my heart,
my whole being, without reserve,
Wherefore, good Mother,
as I am your own,
keep me, guard me,
as your property and possession.


I've seen a couple of translations of this Marian consecration, none as lovely as this, I'd say. A good prayer to know by heart: Mary in her twice-referenced Maternity, the sense of personal abandon, the dignified formality yet warm intimacy of the last line. 

And if you would like to bring your body into your prayer, this is called the Child's Pose. It is a gentle way of allowing your body to echo the prayer words. Easy to learn, there are a couple of variations for those who immediately feel, "I could never get into that position," or "If I got down like that I'd never be able to get up again."  The Child Pose also opens up the spine which carries so much of our stress.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Intercessions ~ Twenty First Sunday in Ordinary Time

Help us in difficulty and stress/ to be patient and kind/ to continue believing in love and hope,/ and not to lose our joy./ We pray to the Lord.

There are numerous wildfires in California, Arizona and Idaho./ The destruction is vast./ We pray for those who fight these fires,/ those who have lost their homes,/ and humbly ask for the gift of rain./ We pray to the Lord.

Monday is the Feast of the Holy Apostle, Saint Bartholomew/ who it is said brought the Gospel to India./ We pray for the Church in Asia/ which often struggles under poverty and persecutions./ We pray to the Lord.

As Pope Francis prepares for his visit to the United States/ we pray to be prepared to listen/ with open minds and hearts./ We pray to the Lord.

Grant good health,/ well-being,/ growth in goodness/ and peace to our families,/ colleagues,/ friends and neighbors./ Bless those who are alone and forgotten with friendship and support./ We pray to the Lord.

For the safety of summer travelers,/ for students and teachers who will soon return to school,/ for those who even from a distance make our lives easier or safer./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for the sick,/ mindful of those who suffer from terrible diseases or who are near death./ For those who are sick with hatred or fear,/ and for the dead to know God in the divine mercy of forgiveness,/ joy and life./ We pray to the Lord.

Saint Dominic's Ninth Way of Prayer

Here is Saint Dominic instructing a young friar (who has his mantle thrown over his shoulder) and then the fellow setting out with Dominic either waving good-bye or imparting a blessing. Walking as prayer! Christians are more than just believers in dogmas, Church laws and moral teachings - we're practitioners.

Thich Nhat Hanh is a now elderly Vietnamese Buddhist monk who is perhaps the best known Zen teacher in the world. He has written a small book titled: How To Walk ( 2015 Parallax Press). The book is indeed about walking and the attendant aspects of life: body, mind, memories, inner healing, the earth. Each page presents only one paragraph.

I'd suggest Christians need a little book like this because we're caught up in the joyless race like everyone else. And while our believing might make us different from others, the way we go through life is often as frenzied, scattered, distracted, angry and exhausted as everyone else. Christian believing ought to enlighten and transform my lifestyle ~ the way I walk or my mind-way as I share life on this planet. Here's a sample from the book:

Practicing Joy
We may think of joy as something that happens spontaneously. Few people realize that it needs to be cultivated and practiced in order to grow. Mindfulness is the continuous practice of deeply touching every moment of daily life. To be mindful is to be truly present with your body and your mind, to bring harmony to your intentions and actions, and to be in harmony with those around you. We don't need to make a separate time for this outside of our daily activities. We can practice mindfulness in every moment of the day as we walk from one place to another. When we walk through a door, we know that we're going through a door. Our minds are with our actions. 

Now someone might say, "This isn't Christian." I'd disagree. I'd suggest the most common and lovely way in which Jesus demonstrates continual mindfulness is found a number of times in St. Mark's Gospel where the evangelist makes a point of telling us that Jesus took someone by the hand: the little girl who has just died at home (Mk 5: 41,42), Peter's mother-in-law healed of her fever (Mk 1:29-31), the healing of the leper (Mk 1: 40,41). And in St. Luke's gospel, (7:11ff) Jesus touches the coffin of the boy being carried to the cemetery.  In his touching, everything stops for that precise moment. That moment is all that exists.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Saint Dominic's Eighth Way of Prayer

Here is the first time Saint Dominic invites us to sit down, not to put our feet up but to study scripture. I would nuance that a bit: study the Holy Gospels. When I was a pastor in a small rural town the local Methodist minister said at a Ladies Ecumenical Tea, "The Catholics around town know the scriptures better than the Protestants."

What a nice compliment! Still, we mustn't get swelled heads as often knowledge of the gospels among Catholics is abysmal Sad to tell, but I've met young people who can't tell the Christmas story. I met a priest who could pick up a Gospel account at any point and tell the whole story verse by verse by heart. But why not? - some people know all the lines to complicated plays or scenes from a movie, or people who can rattle off team scores and player stats, or the kids who know long rapper lyrics.

My goodness, how can I know Jesus without knowing his words and wonderful deeds. Imagine how much more we could love him if we were even more familiar with the Gospels (which means: A good, life-changing and liberating message). Every once in awhile I am struck by a gospel verse and I say, "After all these years I have no recollection of ever having heard that line before." Of course I have, but by heaven's prompting I am seeing it or hearing it with a new urgency and clarity - a call to decide anew.

Saint Dominic says to sit with God's Word and physically to lean into or over the text. To read the Word slowly, and when I am seized by it to make the Sign of the Cross, and then (get this!) even to allow the Words of Jesus to move me to tears. Words like these;

I have come that you may have joy. Jn 19:22
He loved them to the end.  Jn 13:1
Do not be anxious.  Mt 6:34

A new commandment I give you; love one another.  Jn 13:34,35
Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Jn 14:1
Know that I am with you always, yes to the end of time.  Mt 28:20

As the Father has loved me so I have loved you.  Jn 15:9
Blessed are the merciful, they shall be shown mercy.  Mt 5:7
These words that I speak to you are spirit and life.  Jn 6:63

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Saint Dominic's Seventh Way of Prayer

Here St. Dominic teaches us to pray, standing straight, with our whole body reaching with folded or joined hands raised to heaven - with eyes heavenward as well.

Psalm 28 "Hear O God, the voice of my prayer - when I lift up my hands in your holy temple."

These postures are not liturgical, as if to be practiced in Church, but in our own room, with the door shut, as Jesus prescribed. Reaching, reaching! Remember when we were small: "Rise and shine, reach for the sun." Reaching to know God. Reaching to experience God. Reaching to love God. 

When I was a boy in the early 60's I was told that as Catholics there was nothing to learn from anyone else. "Cross the street if you are coming up on a Protestant Church." Only we had all truth and everyone else lived in heretical error or at best some kind of insufficiency. Most Catholics have put that away by now. The Dali Lama is the spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhism. He teaches:
"The planet does not need more successful people. The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, and lovers of all kinds."
Maybe in St. Dominic's 7th prayer-posture we can stretch and reach after this!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Saint Dominic's Sixth Way of Prayer

Here St. Dominic stands in the posture of Jesus-Crucified. It is a gesture of surrender before God. Can-do people might not like this posture. Lots of folks have a tremendous need to call the shots; they micro-manage, we say. We even call them control freaks, which means we're distorted with all this controlling of others.

There are some who might even refuse this prayer disposition - afraid of how they might look in the gesture of giving up the controls. 

Standing in this posture of Jesus crucified leaves me open, vulnerable and un-defended. My hands are open: no fists, no weapons. My arms are apart: not folded angrily across the chest. 

I was recently speaking with someone who correctly assumed I was annoyed with her for some reason. She said plainly: "Tell me what's the matter. I'm a big girl. I want to know, I can take it." So I did, telling her what she does that is so off-putting. And she acknowledged it all. But we laughed in the follow-up as her urge to get defensive leaked out.

Let's try-out the saint's prayer gesture of Jesus in his deepest vulnerability. See what comes up personally. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Saint Dominic's Fifth Way of Prayer

Here Saint Dominic is shown three times - so we see the movement of his fifth prayer-posture. On the left Dominic's arms are spread apart and his palms are open. He is standing the way a priest stands at the altar during the Mass. The posture is called an orans. 

And here is an icon called Mother of God ~ Orans. Follow the interior lines of Mary's hands and arms and see that they turn her into a kind of cup ready to be filled with what God has to share and offer. 

Perhaps when standing in this posture, my own  prayer-cup will be filled with consolation, or new insight or creativity, self-knowledge, willingness and joy. Or sometimes God shares divine energies (we might call it grace) that will confound us, disturb us, even agitate and change us. Am I open and willing as the gesture seems to indicate?

But then, look again, Dominic's arms are pulled together and folded over the chest: what concerns are treasured in my heart? Prayers for family, health, peace, direction, safety? Then Dominic's opens his hands and stretches them out slightly ~ the unfolding of the heart - like a flower opening, disclosing, revealing, offering. Like the lovely white Lotus opening here in the morning sun.

Pray that my heart would open and stretch to include others more generously. That my heart would reach beyond the messages of "far enough" to persons I never before dreamed I'd take an interest in, perhaps some new involvement or participation. Pray for my own new day,  which might mean a new way of looking at or approaching what I already have to do. Or my new day might mean stepping into an addiction free life. 

A religious sister who had taught privileged girls in an exclusive academy for twenty five years asked in her prayer for direction as to what to do next. Her prayer was answered, and like Dominic's unfolding hands and the opening Lotus, the sister returned to school for herself and became a physicians assistant opening a trailer-clinic in one of the country's poorest counties. She said she could never have imagined this new direction.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Saint Dominic's Fourth Way of Prayer

Here is Saint Dominic assuming two different postures - one flowing into the other. While kneeling he is looking at the crucifix, his left hand has covered his heart, while his right hand is open, perhaps reminding himself simply to stop and gaze. In the second posture Dominic is standing while looking at the crucifix.

The words above the picture tell us that while gazing at the crucifix, Dominic recommends making genuflections. I'd propose an alternative gesture, as the genuflection is the most excellent acknowledgement of worship before the reserved Blessed Sacrament in a Catholic Church. The Eastern Church has a variation on this movement called a prostration. 

A prostration is made by bending the knees slightly and reaching to touch the ground with the finger tips of the right hand. It is a gesture of deep humility, of littleness, of gratitude, of reverential awe.

In your prayer: gaze on the crucifix, pondering that through Jesus' wounded side we have access to the open heart of God. Touch the ground slowly and gently and even repeatedly before that crucifix and its more-than-we-could-ever-hope-for-expression of heaven's love for all of us. All of us! Oh, take delight in that ~ all of us! Can you feel it?

Friday, August 14, 2015

Saint Dominic's Third Way of Prayer

Here St. Dominic is beating himself with a chain and calling it a posture of penance. Believe it or not, there are still some cultures which do this kind of thing around Holy Week. When a desperate teenager cuts herself we call it pathological or sick. Same difference.

The idea of God being somehow pleased or satisfied with his beloved children beating themselves with whips, chains or tree branches is pretty messed up. Jesus has taken care of the blood-letting by scourging and nail once and for all. Let's be done with it now.

But penance? As a kind of amends for sin? I get it - but I would suggest a penance that has some human value and meaning - that might build inner resilience and charity. Here it comes: Instead of beating yourself  with a chain, quietly endure (put up with) other people. O my! For many of us this might be a much more difficult penance than drawing blood with sticks. 

As a penance, put up with the spouse who's losing his/her hearing.
As a penance, put up with people who are slowing down.
As a penance, put up with the folks who need you to explain two or three times.
As a penance, put up with the folks who seem to be marginal.    
As a penance, put up with the waiter who's not up to speed.

As a penance, don't lament the humidity, rain, ice, heat or cold. How tiresome!
As a penance, don't complain about the lousy sermon.
As a penance, don't whine about the food that's not right.
As a penance, don't groan about the walk that's too far.
As a penance, don't gripe about the cost of everything under the sun. 

As a penance, endure the stranger who's hygiene is lacking.
As a penance, endure the person who talks too much.
As a penance, endure the person who comes across as cheap.
As a penance, endure the person who strikes you as kind of  unskilled, incapable
      or depressive.
As a penance, endure the person who isn't funny (being funny is kind of a 
     requirement for acceptability these days, isn't it?)

Now this is  real penance. Skip the whip. I imagine God rolls his eyes at all of that.

But remember this: people have to endure or put up with ME - in all my superficiality, pettiness, self-pity, limitation, ignorance, self-preoccupation. I may even have a sense of having to put up with myself.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Priest-Thoughts on Immigration

Mexico's Lady of Guadalupe

Recently a lady wrote to a Catholic diocesan newspaper encouraging the readers to heed Mr. Trump's immigration policies: I'll build a wall which Mexico will pay for, and we'll charge Mexico ten-thousand dollars for each illegal immigrant they send our way. 

I emailed a response but the newspaper didn't print my letter, so I thought I'd put it up here. In this country everything is fair game, you can put forward just about any idea, question or proposal so long as it doesn't threaten or menace. So the questions surrounding Mr. Trump's immigration plans are legitimate, but he's a businessman and I'm a Catholic priest. Here's my letter:

Dear Editor: I have a few thoughts to share responding to Ms Salerno's August 1st letter encouraging a greater attentiveness to Donald Trump's immigration proposals. Ms Salerno writes: "It is so refreshing to have someone stand up and tell it like it is."
Well of course we feel this way when the person's "telling it like it is" resonates with my own beliefs. "My sentiments exactly" we say. And then she tells us that Mr. Trump " saying what the ordinary citizen is saying and thinking." We must be very careful - truth be told, Mr. Trump is saying what some ordinary citizens are saying and thinking. Not everyone. 
Such energy and time we're investing in the question of illegal immigration (which of course, let us speak plainly, means Mexican and Central Americans, not Canadians or any other nationality). "Are you legal?" might well be a question, but it isn't a Jesus question. In Matthew 25: 31-46 Jesus has told us what the questions are: "Are you hungry? Are you thirsty? Do you need a place to stay? Do you need clothes? Are you sick? Would you like someone to visit you in prison?"The Ronald Knox translation of the New Testament doesn't read, "When I was a stranger you welcomed me," instead it says, "When I was as stranger, you took me home." Yikes!
Instead of "Are you legal?" we might ask: "Mexican mom, do your children need school clothes and shoes? Tell me their sizes." "Guatemalan mom, are your children going to school having had a good breakfast? Can I help?" "Mexican dad, I know someone who has digging to do in his yard and no one else is interested in the job, are you?"
I was a pastor on Long Island where seemingly every lawn is maintained by Mexican and Salvadoran men. I became friendly with this team of fellows who cut the grass, and when in early November they were still on the job, I asked them if they knew Our Lady of Guadalupe and would they like to come to the big fiesta we were having on her December 12th feast day? "You're far away from home, would you like to join us for prayers, food, singing and dancing?" 
Instant family! Jesus gives us the questions in Matthew 25.

Intercessions ~ Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

On Sunday/ grant that we would know God and praise God rightly./ That God's Word would be preached and heard well./ That our worship would be blessed./ We pray to the Lord.

Saint Paul bids us: Watch carefully how you live./ Grant us to live lives awakened to spiritual things,/ to the needs of the poor/ and to our own need for inner healing and human growth./ We pray to the Lord.

Thursday is the Feast of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux/ who in his poems and hymns is called The Harp of Mary./ That we would love Her in her maternity,/ asking blessings for mothers and children everywhere in the world./ We pray to the Lord. 

The leaves of trees are starting to look tired/ before they turn color and fall./ We pray for people who are exhausted from a life-season of work or worry,/ illness or trouble./ We pray to the Lord.

For teachers and rescue-ers./ For politicians, priests, rabbis, ministers and imams./ For doctors and all who help others to regain strength and health./ We pray to the Lord.

Grant peace to troubled lands,/ that all the soldiers and sailors of every nation/ might return home to loved ones in safety and well-being./ We pray to the Lord. 

We pray for those who have died/ to enter the community-life of heaven/ with sins forgiven and all sadness dispelled./ We pray to the Lord.

Saint Dominic's Second Way of Prayer

Saint Dominic's second posture or attitude of prayer is to lie face down before the altar and there to shed tears for my own sins. But (and actually I think this is even more important in some respects) if there are no tears for my own sins, then tears for the sins of the world.

But we have forgotten tears before God. Every five years or so all bishops go to Rome in national groups to talk with the pope. The visit is called an ad limina. I would like to see every bishop walk the Scala Sancta on his knees each time he comes to see the pope. These are the 28 white marble stairs of Pontius Pilate's court which Jesus ascended and descended the day of his trial and execution. A bishop could climb these stairs in humility and tears for the sins of power, vanity, pride, money and sex abuse cover-up and whatever else might trouble and grieve his conscience. We need to re-discover tears as a Church. Bishops might model this for us.

But here in his prone position, Saint Dominic is telling us: Like a boxer, humanity is defeated and  face down for the count:

  • Three million gallons of spilled toxic poison has turned the Animas River in Colorado a sickly shade of orange ~ the damage to living things is beyond assessing
  • We're drowning in gun violence and for fear are un-willing to do anything about it 
  • No paid maternity leave for moms with newborns, but always   money for a new war
  • The world watches our cultural degradation: our political boorishness, the vulgarity of our entertainments, the sexual-izing of our children, our greed and waste
  • We harvest and sell fetal tissue and body parts (and it ain't just Planned Parenthood) and we call it "helping science..."

Remember the commercial for Life Alert: the elderly woman is on the ground and in a desperate frenzy calls out, "Help, I've fallen and can't get up." That's a prayer the whole human race can pray - with tears.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Saint Dominic Teaches Us To Pray ~ The First Prayer Posture

A contemporary of Francis of Assisi, Saint Dominic traveled over much of Europe, even criss-crossing the Alps on foot. Unlike Francis, he placed a great emphasis on the intellect (Francis would never have owned books) which enabled him to enter into great debates with so-called heretics. I'd say too that Dominic was well-connected. Today we'd call him a Vatican insider.

I discovered something of greater interest though when I came across the vocation website of the Irish Dominicans which lays out the nine prayer postures St. Dominic proposed to his young friars and nuns. What a gift to ALL of us!

I'd use the word prayer disposition or prayer attitude instead of posture. The posture gives expression to or holds the prayer. But while I might have the exterior posture down pat, if I'm without the inner disposition of prayer ~ I'm an empty cup. 

But do physical postures even matter in our prayer? I'd say yes. God didn't become an angel, but a human with a body. Have you noticed that Catholics are hemorrhaging out of the Church in many places and taking up yoga? People want to incorporate their bodies into their spiritual lives. Conversely, Catholic Christianity can be anti-body. So many people have been lost to the Church because of the excessive corporal (bodily) punishments inflicted when they were young. Some folks defend it ~ I don't.

I'll borrow the wonderful illustrative paintings of Dominic found on the website, adding my own thoughts. I expect the Irish Dominicans wouldn't mind. 

In the first prayer-disposition (or posture), Saint Dominic invites us simply to incline or bow. Americans complain about bending over. We curse the housework that requires it and glorify the machines and tools that solve the problem of having to bend. So we might not like Dominic's first prayer suggestion.

The older of us might remember the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar at the start of the old Mass: the priest and server bending way down and whispering, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

Bending over is often associated with the things of love: bending over to smell a flower, to speak to a sick or elderly bed-ridden person, to kiss a child, to find something small, precious or important that has gotten lost.

Bending makes me less tall. I glance at the earth from which I came and to which I will return when my life is completed. Bending is the gesture that accompanies a humble prayer: God, you are God, not I. The word humble comes from the Latin hummus, which means good earth: I am down-to-earth about myself.

Surely presidents, senators, the kings and queens that remain, popes, cardinals, bishops, pastors, doctors, prime ministers, majority leaders, politicians - should all bend over now and again - like the priest at the altar. But we all could make a deep (profound) bow in our prayer, lest we forget and think ourselves to be entitled or more important than we are, so opinionated, so attentive to or full of ourselves. 

sustained bow, as slow and deep as I can manage: before the open Gospel Book, the crucifix, the icon of the Mother of God with her Son, or standing in and before the realized presence of God in any moment. Bending from the waist is a secret gesture. The best religious gestures are secret ones. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Zinnias and Remembering

Yellow Zinnia with Bumblebee

We hear a great deal about Alzheimers these days: that at some point our brains start to break down and we lose the gift of remembering.  Human beings seem to be made for remembering. A nursing home I visited recently has an activity in the afternoon where the folks gather and are invited and led into remembering.

God remembers. Pope John Paul II said that we are one of God's thoughts; one of God's heartbeats. An omniscient God isn't going to forget even one lovely thought us. Some Christians like to think of God as being good at remembering our sins - especially the sexual sins. And that on judgment day God will remember them all out loud and we'll either go to heaven or hell based on those sins. So much for the drained Blood of Christ, heh?

Anyway, zinnias are these wonderful summer annual flowers that delight us. The zinnias we know today, the giant ones with the pop out colors, are hybrids of native zinnias. As hybridizers we're co-creators with God. I investigated the symbolic meaning of zinnias and found that the yellow zinnia means remembering. Remembering is simply the action of our minds which brings thoughts forward. Remembering and resentment or bitterness go hand in hand, but remembering and joyful gratitude do all the more.

In the presence of the yellow zinna - remembering:
my walking feet
the persons who delivered me
the watery-womb which carried me
every kindness ever done to me
every gift given

the movement of baptism waters
my First Communion Day
for love in my life
the times I avoided death and
the healing of old wounds

the survival of cruelty and abuse
the animals I have known
the surrounding colors
the air I breathe
the beating of my heart

that I can create and
health has been restored
that there is friendship in my life
that I'm able to read these lines and
delight in music

for the gift of taste
for growth in goodness
for laughter
for the relieving gift of tears
for poems and hymns

the heron on the stream 
the fruit ripening
the air-cleaning leaves
the blue moon
the summer season

a sudden storm
a sibling's love
July's lilies
the greeting, good morning
sorrows and trials that invite humility.

for angels and saints
bread and wine
every good meal
for the students I've taught
for the children of friends

You take it from here...


Sunday, August 9, 2015

Something George Harrison Said

This post isn't about the Beatles nor about their music. It's just about something George Harrison said and what it might suggest to us.
"People always say to me, I'm the Beatle that changed the most, but really, that's what I see life is about. You have to change."
I was invited to a new friend's home for lunch, and as she prepared the meal she licked her fingers and put the tasting spoon back in the pot. She dropped food on the floor and put it back on the plate. Her large dog had his feet up on the counter. When I called her out on this lack of kitchen hygiene she said, "Well that's the way I am - take it or leave it."

That kind of response isn't unusual today: defensive, protective. rationalized, prideful. An individual person can be like this or a family, even a nation. We don't often hear: "You know, you're right, I never thought of it that way before." 

George Harrison wrote the song, "I, Me, Mine" because he was fed-up with the self-preoccupied Beatle-world he lived in. It's said that he was put-out when the song (directed at over-stated, self-involved people) was used as back-up music for a video of John and Yoko dancing together. And put-out again (or hurt), when John, Paul and Ringo objected to the amount of time needed to learn George's new song while happily spending hours rehearsing a ditty for the Doctor Pepper album.

George had changed. After the group split up he never even referred to himself as a former Beatle. His own son found out from a schoolmate that his father had been one of the four. He only called himself a gardener. And when someone paid him a compliment: "George, your garden is just fabulous," he answered, "It's not mine, it belongs to all of us." He wasn't thinking he had the garden because he'd made lots of money off the fans but that as human beings we're all inhabited by one common spirit. He thought "I" should  be spelled "i" 

 "....but really that's what I see life is about. You have to change."

The people who read Catholic priest blogs are probably good people. So what's to change? I'd suggest the change has to do with our awareness of interior things. One monk says that First World is sleepwalking: every day we do our thing, complete our work, make our money, solve some problems, manage the hassles, keep up with the e-mails and voice mails...

A lot of life is missed that way - like the sleepwalker who when he wakes up doesn't know where he's/she's been - unless there's been damage along the way.

So the change George referred to might well have been inner. This shouldn't startle the Christian, Jesus said, "Unless you be born again..."  (John 3:3)

For all that we possess, all that we have access to, for all the freedoms we claim, very many of us are still riddled with anxieties, depression, anger, addictions, even dysfunction. One way of stepping into real change (of being re-born) is to ask ourselves why? And not to accept, "I don't know" as an answer.

  • What am I really so angry about?
  • What's going on with me that I remain in this addiction?
  • Why won't I let go of these old memories?
  • What's the real reason for these un-relenting fears?
  • Why do I consistently run and hide from challenges?
  • Why am I so needy - so dependent?
  • Why do I continue to accept this abuse?
  • Why am I so un-creative about my own life?

These wounded or hollow aspects of ourselves, that our culture tends to medicate, shop, drink or eat away, invite a life-time of change, growth or second birth-ing. And no one should think, "Oh I'm too old for all of that,"  or "I'm too busy..." What a shame it would be to draw near to life's end never having examined my life from the inside.

"....but really, that's what I see life is about. You have to change."

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Hiroshima and Nagasaki ~ Yellow and Orange Mary

Let me tell you about this little icon of the Mother of God which I've owned for fifty years. It has accompanied me wherever I've traveled, been assigned or lived. It's a rough icon. Perhaps the artist was not skilled, or his materials were limited, or only the hands and faces were intended to show, the rest of the icon hidden under a metal cover called a riza

No matter - the pastel Mary in my boyhood parish church had her hands folded in prayer and she held no Infant Christ. Mary makes the most sense when she holds her Son. This orange and white Mary with her dressed-in-yellow Son, looking out from heaven's orange-framed window, got my attention at once. 

In her children's book, HIROSHIMA NO PIKA (The Flash of Hiroshima) Toshi Maruki tells of the morning of the August 6th 1945 atomic bomb blast over Hiroshima: 
Then it happened. A sudden, terrible light flashed all around. The light was bright orange - then white, like thousands of lightning bolts all striking at once. Violent shock waves followed, and buildings trembled and began to collapse.

I see in the little icon of Christ born of Mary,  God has entered our orange and white atomic world in all of its fearful horror, radiated suffering, burning wounds and black rain. God is with us in our unconsciousness.

And Jesus is dressed in yellow, the color of the sun! In color-symbology, yellow is the color of intelligence and the distribution of wisdom, spiritual maturity and inspiration. It is the color of warmth, love, generosity, peace and purity of spirit.

Among the Hebrews yellow was the color of the marriage canopy. In Christ, God is wedding himself to our exhausted and unfaithful world. In this icon, the Jewish Jesus is already wearing yellow, the color of the star Hitler required Jews to wear.

Having entered our world
of flash and flame 
you dressed yourself
in yellow 
O Jewish Jesus,
Share with us now 
the wisdom we need ~
peace for our home ~
our planet home,
and grant us the joy of your 
healing mercies.

Intercessions ~ Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gathering for Sunday Mass,/ keep us close to your Word,/ freed of boredom,/ distraction,/ hypocrisy and ruinous thinking./ Give us hope and willingness,/ knowledge of you and joyful hearts./ We pray to the Lord.

For the Church to awaken where it is sleeping,/ to be safe-guarded/ strengthened and consoled where it is persecuted./ We pray to the Lord.

This October/ there is a synod in Rome on The Family./ We ask for new and spirit-filled insights/ to heal the deep alienation many Catholics feel in their religious lives./ We pray to the Lord.

The Japanese city of Nagasaki was destroyed with an atomic bomb 70 years ago today./ We pray boldly for the conversion of the global-heart/ to be freed of these weapons that have such potential to cause the greatest suffering,/ destruction and death./ We pray to the Lord.

Saturday is the Feast of the Assumption:/ Mary's Easter./ We pray to go up with Mary/ to a higher spiritual awakening/ and the consciousness needed to create a world of mercy,/ compassion and peace./We pray to the Lord.

For the safety of summer travelers./ For the sick and those who care for them./ For those who are left untended in their deep need: the hungry,/ the children,/ refugees/ and those who live where society has collapsed in war or catastrophe./ We pray to the Lord. 

For those who have died by recent gun violence in our country,/ or in sad accidents./ We pray as well for those who live violent,/ angry lives and for their  healing./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Something else Gerard Manley Hopkins said

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) was born in England, educated at Oxford and ordained a Catholic priest in Ireland. Perhaps believing his new style of poetry to be incompatible with the austerities of Jesuit life, Hopkins' poems were not published until after his death. His most well known poem is The Wreck of the Deutschland.  

The German ship S.S.Deutschland came apart between midnight and morning, December 7, 1875, after battling a near month long storm. Rescue efforts were slow and inadequate. Word spread of the ships demise whereupon men from neighboring villages converged on the beach to loot the corpses that washed up on the shore.

Among the dead were five Franciscan nuns who were headed to America, escaping the Falk Laws persecution of Catholics in Germany. Hopkins, so disappointed and revolted by this looting, dedicated the poem to the memory of the nuns. Near the end of the poem he writes:

Dame at our door
Drowned, and among our shoals
Remember us in the roads, the heaven-haven of the Reward
Our King back, Oh upon English souls!
Let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us,
be a crimson-cresseted east,
More brightening her, rare-dear Britain, as his reign rolls...

Dame at our door. "Dame" is a way of addressing an English nun. At our door: The German nuns washed ashore - at England's door.

Remember us in the roads, the heaven-haven of the Reward: Hopkins is asking the prayers of the nuns who drowned and were looted - perhaps the silver crucifix ripped from their side beads.

Our King back, Oh upon English souls: Hopkins prays for his nation to know Christ again. St.Thomas More (16th c.) said of his own country: "England would have yawned at the Sermon on the Mount." And our own nation?

Notice then that Hopkins uses easter as a verb and not a noun. Let him easter in us. As if to say: Let Christ raise us up to be a new creation - a new, transformed kind of human person. 

Then: Be a dayspring to the dimness of us. Dayspring is the precise point on the horizon where the light of the sun appears to begin the new day. Let Christ return to this country to begin in us a new way of being a people.

The words easter, dayspring, crimson-cresseted and brightening signify change: to brighten our human dimness. The dim heart of the nation. The dim heart of the Church. The dim heart of corporations and committees, commissions and classrooms. The dim conscience: lying, enabling, violent, manipulating, turning-the-blind-eye, blaming and rationalizing.

And I would add, Let Christ easter in us: this United States which allows through machination and interpretation the trafficking of organs, tissues and cells harvested from aborted babies.  And then, further twisting it up, makes it sound charitable, philanthropic and altruistic, claiming these stolen body parts help science and medicine to cure childhood and other diseases. Looting!

Americans were "shocked and appalled" (self-righteous people love those words) when it was reported that the Chinese were harvesting the organs of executed prisoners. We're no different. This country forfeits all claims to the word exceptional so long as fetal looting-remains on the national conscience - the smear of blood-money on the national hands.

Holy Gerard Manley Hopkins,  
grieved at the looting, 
pray for Christ-God to easter in us!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Consciousness of Jesus ~ and My Own

This painting is titled: Finding the Saviour in the Temple by William Hunt. The Gospel account is Luke 2:41-52. After a trip to Jerusalem, Jesus became separated from Mary and Joseph. A frantic three-day family search followed, all the way back to the city, before Jesus was found sitting with the religious teachers in the great Temple. 

In Hunt's painting Mary is hugging and kissing the young Jesus who seems hesitant. He turns his cheek to his mother, his left leg is poised to resist being pulled in by her. And after she (perhaps testily) asks Jesus what he's been up to, he responds, "Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" He knows where he comes from, what he's about, what needs to be done, where his deepest connection is. That's conscious.

We tend to think of conscious and consciousness as hospital terms - "The patient is slipping in and out of consciousness," we say. Maybe the words aware and awareness are more helpful to us. 

One monk speaks of our culture as sleepwalking ~ absorbed with only what's right in front of us: to do, to blindly accept, accomplish, get to, purchase, consume. Sleepwalking is dangerous. Sleepwalkers bump into things. Sleepwalkers have no awareness. Sleepwalkers have no recollection. 

Here's some vignettes and ideas that might help us to consider our own consciousness. They might cause us to consider, to reflect, to ponder about ourselves and the place from which we're living.

  • There are monks who when walking in the woods are careful to place their feet so they don't step on ferns. That's conscious.
  • Saint Francis picked up worms from the road placing them safely off to the side in the grass. How aware!
  • Have a cup of tea and do nothing else ~ just enjoy the tea. How mindful!
  • Write an old-fashioned letter ~ paper, pen, envelope, stamp. Or a journal entry for a month. Or a poem. Or your own lyrics to a song or hymn tune. Writing slows us down and helps us to be more thoughtful. No one else has to see it, unless you choose to share it.
  • Sit and ask yourself: Why am I so fearful? So anxious? So angry? So inwardly bored? So overwhelmed? So needy? And don't accept "I don't know" as an answer.
  • Arrange flowers - even roadside flowers in a vase. Place them carefully. Changing the water each day is a little expression of gratitude for the gift each flower makes. This will dispel gloom.
  • There are 150 psalms (poem-prayers) in the Old Testament. They express every kind of human emotion before God. Carefully read one a day or even part of one. Don't try to figure them out. Find the one line that resonates with you. Hold that line inside.
  • When seeing something good or lovely, don't pass by, but at least inwardly stop and feel gratitude. That's conscious.
  • Stop for a moment before eating and consider the gift of food and drink. This delays the instant gratification we're so accustomed to in our culture.
  • Some Americans had completed a week long retreat in a Japanese mountain monastery. Before their departure a monk gave them some buckets and rags to clean the bathrooms in the guesthouse. When the Americans complained that there were no chemical cleansers, the monk replied, "Oh we would never put chemicals in a drain. Chemicals don't break down and using them might pollute the water supply of the villagers at the bottom of the mountain."
  • Listen to classical music: Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Mozart. No house-cleaning, no reading, no meal preparation - just listening. What kind of inner response do you have?
  • Memorize a prayer or poem or the words to a hymn. There's not much memorizing anymore except maybe the names of the 31 flavors and the rapper's lyrics. I believe there is a real value to having memorized my prayers and catechism answers as a boy - it set me in an inner direction. 
  • Large art books are discounted in book stores. Buy one or two and just ponder the pictures. What goes on inside when looking at great paintings, maybe especially the ones about which I say, I don't understand it.
  • Learn to identify the names of trees by their leaves and bark. In the winter time set up a feeder and observe birds and learn their names. Observe your inner sense of things while your eyes do their own observing. That's an attitude of docility: there is much to learn.
  • Take care of  some houseplants, being sensitive and responsive to their water, nutrient, light and pruning needs. Don't accept the old excuse, "Oh every plant I touch just dies."  When we buy a plant there is a little tag stuck in the soil with care instructions. 
  • Take pictures of things that are delightful and arresting (that make you stop). Think beyond the children and grand children. There's something of a photographer in each of us. Take the pictures for yourself - not everything has to be shared.
  • In a diner booth across from me: the dad immediately set up and got lost in his computer, the laptop screen even creating a wall between himself and his young son who sat silently shredding paper napkins. Unconscious sleepwalker. Play a board game with a child, read with a child, throw a ball around with a child. The child will benefit, but so will you.
  • Get yourself to the doctor for the thing you've been concerned about (and perhaps haven't even shared with a loved-one) and about which you've done nothing. That's consciousness. 
  • During a monastery retreat I was talking with Brother Luke, the guest master and asked, "How much should I leave the monastery for the time I've been here?" He answered, "We ask for nothing." So I said, "Well, that doesn't help me - what would you like?" He said, "Only your comfort."  This is mindfulness.
  • When Brother Roger, the prior of the Taize Monastery, was at table and the bowl of food was passed to him, rather than putting anything on his own plate, he turned to the brother on his right and served him first. How awake!.
If my response to this is - "Oh I don't have time for any of this...I'm too busy," I would have to agree, too busy. But we can change that.