Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Nothing Unnoticed

There was snow here last night and while shoveling the walk around the chapel I found St. Anthony and the Holy Child of his vision, piled up with snow. It's just a cement garden statue but still detailed enough for us to notice Anthony is smiling and the Child holds on tight. Snow covers Jesus' lap and seems to form a mantle around their shoulders. Both wear high snow-hats. 

Maybe the snow is a lovely image of God covering us: in forgiveness, in mercy, in protection, in love. So here's  a little garden statue tucked away in the winter and made even sweeter with this snow. To God, nothing is un-noticed; no one forgotten.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Intercessions ~ Solemnity of Mary's Maternity ~ New Years Day

As the start of the New Year/ there is talk of a new arms race and nuclear proliferation./ We ask God to spare us,/ praying for world leaders to value good sense more than power./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for Pope Francis as he speaks to the world at Christmas and the New Year./ We ask for the new global heart/ he hopes to call forth/ reflective of the energies of love,/ mercy and justice./ We pray to the Lord.

As God comes to us as a little child at Christmas,/ we pray for the children of the world:/ those hiding during bombardments,/ who hold on in sea crossings,/ whose hunger and thirst is unsatisfied,/ who are abandoned and fearful./ We pray to the Lord. 

The Christmas story edifies us with the protection and guardianship of Joseph./ We pray for parents around the world:/ for those who struggle to provide for their families,/ for parents who are out of work,/ for parents whose relationship is in trouble./ for those who have failed their children./ We pray to the Lord.

As a new year opens to us/ we pray for our own families and for our friends./ We entrust all their concerns to Mary's maternal care and God's great kindness,/ asking for good health/ and the resolution of problems which prevent growth and balance./ We pray to the Lord. 

We pray for those who are sick,/ frail,/ vulnerable and weak,/ to be supported in friendship and care./ We remember those who have died this past year/ mindful of recent tragedies in Berlin and over the Black Sea/ and for those who begin the new year in mourning/ awaiting the return of joy and peace./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Laudifications in the Christmas Octave

The Nativity of Christ ~ Lorenzo Monaco

Christmas, like Easter, has an octave - an eight day overflow of the feast day, each day speaking in the present TODAY! And here I've composed five two-lined prayers called Laudifications - short bursts of praise or exclamation as God draws near to our world in Christ at Bethlehem. We're invited to compose our own at the end. 

Today the Father's condescension becomes apparent to us;
shepherds arrive as the Lord's first guests.

Today the One who said, "Let there be light"
cries aloud in the night for his mother's milk.

Today the God of cosmic expanse
is born tiny and wrapped in binding clothes.

Today heaven is cleft and angels sing
while earth is opened as sheltering cave.

Today Christ escorts us with human hands along
the radiant path of the knowledge of God.


Sunday, December 25, 2016

Chanton Noel!

Here is a cyber Christmas gift for you today: the French Renaissance carol, Chanton Noel, sung by the Boston Camerata. A group of Long Island high school students translated the verses for us - particularly challenging as some of the words are a very old French no longer in use.

The photographs try to give some visual expression to the verses; a list below identifies each in some way. The last picture is timely. I imagine the evil one was pleased when the Coptic Christians had to flee the ISIS terror and wound up languishing far from home in the enormous refugee camp at Calais, France where they had no chapel for Christmas. But one spiritually sturdy and resourceful soul recycled sufficient material from the garbage and built the chapel we see here - which weakened Satan's hand. During the Christmastime we might listen to the joy-bearing carol again and even again, and contemplate the happy pictures.

I send a blessing for a Happy Christmas to you and all your family. And I thank you for allowing me entre to your lives through these posts this past year. Christ is Born! Glorify him!

  • A Coptic (Egyptian) icon ~ The Visit of the Magi
  • Buddhist Children Singing Christmas Carols
  • Giotto: Shepherds and Angels
  • Little Church in the Mountains of Tirol, Italy
  • Cimabue ~ Virgin Mary and Child with Angels and St. Francis
  • The Christmas Truce ~ 1941
  • Spanish Nativity with Courteous Shepherds
  • Holy Father, Pope Francis, Paying a Christmas Visit
  • Rubens ~ Adoration of the Shepherds
  • Refugee Camp ~ Calais, France ~ Coptic Church made of    garbage

Saturday, December 24, 2016

A Christmas Day Finding-Prayer

The angels know who has come to be with us! And the cow.

Alec Baldwin and Kate McKinnon spoofed candidates Trump and Clinton on Saturday Night Live this year leading up to November 8. After the election Mr. Baldwin said, "One thing that is changed forever in this country is the meaning of the word "Christian" as it applies to politics." Could he have been reflecting on the bad behavior of the candidates and so many Christians in the United States during the long months before Election Day: labeling, libeling, violent, blaming, demeaning, hateful, exclusionary, threatening, condemning, dirty-mouthed, polarizing, false-promising, divisive?

Maybe the nation has learned Christianity poorly: that despite boldly calling ourselves a Christian Country, we still don't know that Christianity is a new lifestyle, a new mind, a new heart. Or maybe we do know that, but consciously chose to put Jesus away this past year because he was so inconvenient; such a spoiler. Whatever the reason, we are the losers for it. So this is my Christmas Day Finding-Prayer:

May we find joy in our believing - Christ is born!
May we find peace in our believing - Christ is born!
May we find one another in our believing ~ Christ is born!

May we find hope in our believing ~ Christ is born!
May we find confidence in our believing ~ Christ is born!
May we find strength in our believing ~ Christ is born!

May we find humility in our believing ~ Christ is born!
May we find a generous spirit in our believing ~ Christ is born!
May we find courtesy in our believing ~ Christ is born!

May we find healing in our believing ~ Christ is born!
May we find how to be human in our believing ~ Christ is born!
May we find love in our believing ~ Christ is born!

Rev. Stephen P. Morris

Friday, December 23, 2016

Christmas Intercessions ~ Let us go to Bethlehem

The place of Christ's Birth ~ Bethlehem

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 Bethlehems of our world today:/ the people and communities that are out-of-the-way,/ often poor and exploited./ We pray to the Lord.

At Christmas,/ we pray for that part of the world we call the Holy Land,/ asking for a time of peaceful 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 too 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.

O Emmanuel ~ December 23

Mosaic 12th c ~ Santa Maria in Trastevere ~ Rome
O Emmanuel, you are our king and judge, the One whom the peoples await and their Savior. O come and save us, Lord, our God.

The angel of Joseph's dream (Matthew 1:22,23) gives Jesus a kind of nick-name, announcing, "He shall be called Emmanuel: God is with us." The gods of ancient Rome and Greece could have been given that name too, but those gods came to earth only to tease and trick us, even to make fools of us. No one ever said: "Oh, I want to be just like them."  Remember too, these gods never stayed long before flying back to Olympus.

The second verse of the French Christmas Carol, "O Holy Night" makes it plain - the difference between the ancient gods and Jesus, Emmanuel.

Led by the light of a faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by his cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here came the wise men from Orient Land.
The King of Kings lay there in lowly manger,
In all our trials born to be our Friend!
He knows our need - to our weakness is no stranger,

Behold your King, before him lowly bend!
Behold your King, before him lowly bend!

I had Father Benedict Groeschel for Ascetical Theology when I was a first theologian in 1974. He shared this God-revealing story: That while walking and chatting with Mother Teresa along a busy street in the South Bronx, he came to realize she was no longer with him. Turning back to find her, looking into store windows and even asking strangers if they'd seen a  small nun in a white sari, he finally discovered her down in a basement stairwell next to a semi-conscious man who was smelling badly.

God is like this: searching us out where humanity finds itself living badly, semi-conscious (if at all), mistaken and smelling badly. But God doesn't come just to be with us, to comfort and clean us up, but to knock on our minds and hearts - to rally us out of our collective drunk. "I'm not into that justice stuff," the pious Catholic woman said with a waved hand.

Jesu, sol justitiae ~ 
Jesus sun of justice, have mercy on us.

Cor Jesu, justitiae et amoris receptaculum ~
Heart of Jesus, vessel of justice and love, have mercy on us.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

O King ~ December 22

O King whom all the peoples desire, you are the cornerstone which makes all one. O come and save mankind whom you made from clay.

When I was a boy in the 1960's I'd venture there wasn't a Catholic church anywhere that didn't have a statue of the Crowned Christ Child under the title Infant of Prague. This bare-footed Holy Infant is smartly dressed, and how delightful is this, he smiles while blessing our world.

But there's a flip side because a grown-up king can strike terror in his enemies. Indeed, at Christmas I imagine the dark spirits have a collective anxiety attack and with good reason, as in Saint Mark's Gospel, wherever Jesus goes, the first thing he does is to dismiss and release bad spirits. Those who live in Christ's Kingdom - under his rule - live inwardly free lives!

Good kings protect their people. Don't we need to be protected from all that wants us off our feet. The antiphon asks Jesus the King to save us who are made of clay. A Jewish religion teacher told me that the name Adam translates mud-man. This means we're break-able. We have lots of ways to say it, don't we?

  • I'm at my wits end.
  • I can't take another day of this.
  • I'm at the end of my rope.
  • I'm ready to go over the edge.
  • I'm at the breaking point. 
  • I'm losing my mind.
  • I'm gonna have a nervous breakdown.

We might all feel this O Antiphon very deeply and personally. Ask King-Jesus to strike terror in the demons who want you on the ropes or worse still,  down for the count.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

O Radiant Dawn ~ December 21

A Quiet Prairie Dawn ~ Photo by Christopher Martin 

O Radiant Dawn, you are the splendor of eternal light and the sun of justice. O come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

When we say the word dawn these days I'm afraid we're more apt to think of a liquid dish-washing detergent than the daily wonder Christopher Martin has captured in his magical photo here. 

Today's O Antiphon calls the long-awaited Messiah not just Dawn, but Radiant Dawn. When something is radiant it has infusing energies that can get inside me. I don't want to be just a religious admirer - I want to be infused.

Dawn of course is the start of the new day. But in that new day there is the transformation of what is familiar - perhaps so familiar it is taken for granted. 

Someone has a house on the beach looking out often at the familiar horizon. But the dawn transforms that familiar horizon such that each morning horizon is new and unique and will never be repeated in exactly that way.  Essential to understanding the word dawn, is that the familiar becomes something new.

  • Someone is coming out of depression - there is a new day dawning.
  • A couple marries and begins a family - there is a new day dawning.
  • We might make a serious mistake, amends are made, forgiveness extended and received - a   new day is dawning.
  • At about age 6 or 7 the marks on the page become words and suddenly we're reading - a new day has dawned.
  • Learning how to ride a bike or drive a car - a new day is dawning.
  • Beating cancer or some other life-threatening illness - a new day is dawning.

Some people call themselves "Christian" simply because they've been raised that way - like falling into line. But for another, a day comes when I consciously choose Jesus, because life no longer makes sense or is bearable, without trusting his nearness and the light he brings.

The familiar thing of my life begins a transformation - nothing is ever again the same: I think differently about myself and others. I speak and act differently. I feel differently. I begin to relate and prioritize differently. How I look upon the world, how I sense, even my consciousness is different now. O Radiant Dawn!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

O Key ~ December 20

O Key of David and scepter of Israel, what you open no one else can close again; what you close no one can open. O come to lead the captive from prison; free those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

I had an aunt who for years suffered the most ruinous alcoholism, but once she found sobriety she became a translucent, beautiful and joyful person. One night, so struck by her brightness that I could feel it through the phone, I asked her, "How'd it happen? What's the key?" and she answered, "Two things: AA and daily Mass." 

So calling Jesus, KEY, is asking to have something new opened to us. That we would discover what we need to know, so to become inwardly free, released, brought out and forward into some new possibility. Isn't this what happens in all the healing miracles of Jesus - people are brought forward into new possibilities? Many people never come to this.

Individuation: The process by which the individual in the course of his life is pressed to realize his innate capacities to the full and become what he has it in him to become. This ought to be a goal of the spiritual life. Religion that leaves us unaware, unconscious, un-evolved, even unhappy, has failed us.

The antiphon says, "free those who sit in darkness." Does that mean all who aren't like me, who don't believe as I do, who aren't moral or politically bent as I? We know people who think this way. "Free those who sit in darkness," - think close to home. 

Darkness can be my ignorance. Very few people cop to that. And you know, the place where Christians sit in the deepest darkness, where we still don't have the key to right understanding, is in our relationship with Jews. It is perhaps where we carry our deepest historical shame - that - and the sex abuse story of our own time.

We should have been the closest of brothers and sisters, but instead there has been enmity and persecution. That the Church of the persecuted, crucified Christ could have become the persecuter and crucifier is a great sadness. The bloody history is too much to bear. Marc Chagall

We might return to the photo up top and pause to feel the awe and joy of the Jewish children lighting the candles of the menorah. Truth be told, some Christians are sick of their Holocaust story, hate the Jewish Israel, call them names, still have them stereotyped, and like nothing about them.

More than a few Christians need Jesus the KEY to lead out the captive from his prison; the darkness-sitter to light. We're given these antiphons by the Church to feel something deeply. Some folks don't feel Christmas any deeper than the cheery warmth of their eggnog and the Duraflame log.

We might turn this into prayer these last few darkest days in the calendar, before the light-returning solstice and Christmas!

Monday, December 19, 2016

O Root ~ December 19

Photo: Nicholas Ditrano

O root of Jesse, you stand as a signal for the nations; kings fall silent before you whom the peoples acclaim. O come to deliver us, and do not delay.

Here is a photograph of the base of an old fir tree in late autumn. The tree itself must be seventy feet high, but it's been able to stay standing straight, even thought the ground is steep because it apparently has strong roots. 

And here are eight quotes about roots. We might consider each of them, or even just one or two - mindful that in the antiphon today, the Church calls upon Jesus, giving him the name: Root.  The lines take on a whole new meaning for our lives when we put the two together. Try it. In some cases you can even substitute the name of Jesus for the word Root.

"Storms make trees take deeper roots." Dolly Parton

"A tree without roots is just a piece of wood." Marco Pierre White

"All things must come to the soul from its roots, where it is planted." St. Teresa of Avila

"Maybe you are searching among the branches for what only appears in the roots."  Rumi

"Deep roots are not reached by the frost." Anonymous

"Fortunate are the people whose roots are deep." Agnes Mayer Driscoll

"Got Roots?"  Family reunion T shirt

"A person will not be established by wickedness, but the roots of the righteous will not be moved.  Proverbs 12:3

Sunday, December 18, 2016

O Adonai, O Leader ~ December 18

Marc Chagall ~ Moses & The Burning Bush 1966

O Adonai and leader of Israel, you appeared to Moses in a burning bush and you gave him the Law on Sinai. O come and save us with your mighty power.

Here is Moses before God's appearing in the Burning Bush. He has removed his shoes in such a Presence, and his hand is over heart. Chagall has painted God's name appearing out of the flaming bush. But God doesn't really give his name when Moses asks, "Who should I say sends me?"  God answers mysteriously, "Tell Pharaoh, I am, sent you."  Exodus 3

God's name is ineffable: beyond words, indescribable, un-unutterable. That's why some Jews spell the divine word: G-d. We're little; God is big. So as a kind of holy way around using the unutterable name, ancient Jews came up with substitutes, and Adonai is one of those names. We might translate it Lord or Leader.

But in calling Jesus Adonai, we're acknowledging who he is. God no longer wears even the cover or disguise of a flaming bush. Now, in Christ, God has turned to us full-faced, showing himself utterly, but in vulnerabilty and littleness. We say God doesn't change, but here there's clearly at least a new tactic. What is unchanged about God is what God desires for us, God's love for us. I'm thinking of parents or spouses who have tried everything for the sake of the ones they love. God is like that.

Maybe this Jewish naming of God gives us the go-ahead to name God for ourselves, but without relying on God-sounding words or religion-speak. "What a friend we have in Jesus." One author refers to Jesus as "the world's darling." Kind of a 1940's sound. I like that. Was it Saint Seraphim who prayed, "Jesus, my joy."

And as Jesus is being called upon as Leader in this antiphon, then we can pray: lead me from and lead me to.... But I've got to be really honest and know myself well if I'm going to call upon Jesus as leader. Of course: Jesus lead me to heaven. But long before that...

Jesus, lead me from dissatisfaction to...
Jesus, lead me from confusion to...
Jesus, lead me out of guilt to...
Jesus, lead me out of depression to...

Jesus, lead me out of this indifference to...
Jesus, lead me out of hostility to...
Jesus, lead me away from stereotyping to...
Jesus, lead me from labeling to...

Jesus, lead this family to strength.
Jesus, lead us to your new heart.
Jesus, lead us to encouragement.
Jesus, lead us to self-knowledge.

And out of self-knowledge, Jesus, lead us to repentance where it

is planet!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

O Wisdom ~ December 17

Christ the Creator of the World

O Wisdom, you come forth from the mouth of the Most High. You fill the universe and hold all things together in a strong yet gentle manner: O come to teach us the way of truth.

The first of the seven antiphons addresses Jesus as Wisdom - Wisdom that comes from the mouth of God. Thomas Watson calls wisdom the brightest ray of God attributes. 

  • God's Wisdom knows the most profound secrets of the universe - even the secrets we each hold un-shared.
  • God's Wisdom has found the way to retrieve us - to keep humankind from an eternal undoing. We call it Redemption.
  • God's Wisdom knows what is best for me - that there is our evolution, our strengthening and learning through the losses.
  • God's Wisdom leaps over the mountains of my personal history to find me and claim me as his own.
  • God's Wisdom wants to share with me what my heart needs to know.
  • God's Wisdom is discovered most remarkably in creation. 

Perhaps strange to most of us, here is an image of Jesus titled, "Christ the Creator of the World," Jesus with a compass hovering over the division of  land and water. But I was taught that the Father is the Creator! Indeed, but the Letter to the Hebrews tells us more: that Christ from all eternity was at the Father's side in creating everything known and unknown to us. 

"Through the Son God made the whole universe, and to the Son he has ordained that all creation shall ultimately belong. This Son, radiance of the glory of God, flawless expression of the nature of God, himself the upholding power." Hebrews 1:2

And today's Advent antiphon says as much. Of Jesus, who is God's Wisdom made flesh: "You fill the universe and hold all things together..." Jesus is God's agent in creating and creation is the place where God in Christ will workout God's plan.

I want to sing "O" before that revelation!  St. John tells us this as well in the Introduction to his Gospel: 

At the beginning God expressed himself. That personal expression, that word, was with God and was God, and he existed with God from the beginning. All creation took place through him, and none took place without him. John 1:1-3

And Saint Paul in his Letter to the Colossians 1:15-17:

Now Christ is the visible expression of the invisible God. He was born before creation began, for it was through him that everything was made, whether heavenly or earthly, seen or unseen. Through him and for him, also, were created power and dominion, ownership and authority. In fact, all things were created through, and for, him.

Jesus as God's Wisdom, had a hand in creation, knowing he would walk with us here to reclaim and restore us and everything that comprises this planet. That makes us, who are his brothers and sisters, something like sub-contractors. What dignity we have then. And what a challenge and invitation!

God's Wisdom has created this universe so wonderfully that our earth perfectly orbits the sun such that life forms thrive here in tremendous variety and beauty. And perhaps more wonderful still, we may well imagine there are other stars with their own planets in different kinds of orbits, allowing still other life forms to thrive in their own variety and beauty.

"You fill the universe and hold all things together in a strong yet gentle manner."

"O Lord, how manifold are your works, in wisdom you have made them all."  Psalm 104:24

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Intercessions ~ Fourth Sunday in Advent

Mother of God Interceding ~ 6th c ~ Hagia Sophia

It is the time of the Winter Solstice/ and the gradual return of light./ Brighten the hearts of those who live in the darkness of loneliness,/ fear,/ and terrorist hate./ Grant that each of us would have some inner experience of increased light./ We pray to the Lord.

We ask for the safety of Christmas travelers,/ blessings for those who pilgrim to the Holy Land these days,/ and peace for those who live and work in Bethlehem./ We pray to the Lord.

Soon we will hear the story of pregnant Mary looking for a place to give birth to her child./ Grant that every mother would have a safe and peaceful home for her family./ We pray to the Lord.

Bless the worship of those who will celebrate Christmas./ Grant that they would feel deeply the prayers they will pray/ and the carols they will sing./ We pray to the Lord. 

We pray blessings for the Jewish people who will celebrate Hanukkah,/ their own feast of light and renewal./ Comfort those who at Christmas time feel no joy,/ who will receive no gift,/ who lack friendship and inclusion./ We pray to the Lord.

We remember all who are sick,/ weakened or tired,/ and those who care for others at Christmas./ And as we will celebrate the birth of Jesus,/ we pray for the world's children/ especially those most vulnerable and insecure./ We pray to the Lord.

And we pray for those who have died this past year,/ and anyone who is sad for the  loss of loved ones./ And that we would all have what we need for our own salvation./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Getting Ready For The O Antiphons

This large community of sisters is singing antiphonally which means back and forth to each other. And if we were guests listening or participating, while they're singing this way at Mass or the Liturgy of the Hours, we'd hear antiphons. An antiphon is a short line from scripture or a theological verse sung before and after a psalm or a scriptural song. And while anticipating the feast of Christ's Birth, over the centuries unique antiphons have evolved bracketing Mary's Magnificat at Vespers (Evening Prayer) for December 17th through the 23rd. These are called the O Antiphons.

The O Antiphons (each starting off with the word or sound O) are addressed to Jesus as he fulfills a Messianic hope of ancient Israel. The Messiah remember, is God's promised agent of hope-restored, renewal, peace, healing and unity. The Jews still wait, while Christians believe he has come to us in Jesus Christ, the great King, greater than all the rest, or any thing we might "crown" today. And while the Messiah has come to us in history, we sing these short verses, asking for him to come to us each personally and spiritually. Don't we need a restorer, a healer, a reconciler?

But as beautiful as these antiphons are, they might come across as obtuse or hard to grasp as they were written long ago, or because we don't get theological language, or because we were never taught, or because the culture talks so much and words don't mean much anymore. 

So, what I'd like to do is reflect one-a-day just on the titles themselves: O Wisdom, O Leader, O Root, O Key, O Radiant Dawn, O King, O Emmanuel. But even before that, a few words about the littlest word or sound: O.

O is the 15th letter of the alphabet. O is the universal donor blood type. And O is a little sound we make when we have had a new thought or just remembered something: "O what a great idea that is!" "O look at the time!"

O is like an exclamation point at the start of sentence. O gives expression to a range of emotions: 

O what a surprise seeing you here!
O that makes me so angry.
O well!
O God, help me!
O my goodness!
O that's so disappointing.
O that makes me sad!
O what a beautiful baby!

O is often used in prayers: "O my God, I am heartily sorry, for having offended thee." "Remember O most compassionate Virgin Mary, that never was it known..." "O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary...." "O God, come to my assistance..."

We hear the little O at the start of the Advent antiphons as bursts of longing, expressions of wonder and awe before something at first indescribable - too wonderful for words. Do we remember wonder and awe?

In the early 70's I started my teaching career with 6th graders on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Once we made a long paper mural that wrapped around the room illustrating the verses of the Canticle of the Three Boys in the Fiery Furnace from the Book of Daniel. When it came to "Lights in the night, bless the Lord," one boy painted a city-scape with street lights shining brightly. I wouldn't have thought of that, having grown up in suburbia which, at least when  I was this boy's age, allowed me to see the stars. To be sure, he was correct, even the streetlights and the traffic lights bless the Lord. But I think somehow he'd been cheated out of an experience of wonder in never having seen a sky full of stars. Competitive urban lights make them disappear. 

So maybe, with so much craziness around us, and you-name-it distraction, we might find something to wonder about, stand in front of with awe these last Advent days. I was in a supermarket recently that had twelve different kinds of apples displayed for sale - each uniquely shaped and patterned with color, to say nothing of how they might each taste. O my goodness! O how delightful!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

"You're a member..."

Adoration of the Shepherds ~ Jusepe di Ribera ~ 1640

I'm going to jump the gun a little with this painting by Jusepe de Ribera: The Adoration of the Shepherds. I'd re-title it: The Welcoming of Mary. The fellow nearest the manger, his clothing all tattered, is down and out poor. And notice too, right behind him is a shepherdess! One new gospel commentary says the shepherds were poor and usually women and children. And Mary has unwrapped the Infant and lifted him up for everyone to see. 

The shepherds adoring is a popular theme in painting. That's important of course, but before that, we might acknowledge Mary's welcoming of these poor folks. Let's hold this sense of welcome. I'd venture most of the folks who check in here are church-goers, and at Christmas time there are lots of people who are guests in our churches: college students coming home, grown children returning home with their own young families, extended families gathering. Of course too, there are those who only come to Mass at Easter and Christmas, if that. They would all love to hear and feel a warm welcome.

I read recently of an Episcopalian man who happened to visit a Baptist Church one Sunday morning, and at the hand-shake of peace (Catholics aren't the only ones who do this) he turned to the man next to him and said, "I'm sorry, I don't know your name. I'm not a member and have never been here before." The man took his hand and said, "You're here today, so you're a member." Wow, that gets my attention: to have the welcoming of a stranger, so in the front of his mind, that it was ready to be spoken in a second.

The Baptist fellow said, "You're here today, so you're a member," while the Catholic sense or spirit might more be, "Is this your geographical parish?" "Are you on our mailing list," "Do you use envelopes?" "Is your marriage in the church?" "Have you filled out a census card?"

On the Classical Christmas music station this week there was a piece from an album titled: A Marian Christmas. How lovely is that! A devout Catholic is Marian. But I'd suggest that to be Marian is more an attitude, before it's a devotion. And at the top of the Marian qualities we might want to practice is welcome. 

I knew a teen aged boy who'd had no religious training or direction after his First Communion. But while at the residential school where I was chaplain he became quite devout: prayerful, faithful to Mass and Confession, sacrificial and virtuous. As Christmas approached, he excitedly told me he would be going to midnight Mass in his home parish, and that he'd even convinced his family to go with him. When after the holiday vacation we spoke again, he was disappointed and upset that the priest began the sermon with, "You people who only come here at Christmas and Easter." 

Marian people trip over themselves to welcome others. When seeing the shepherds, Mary probably said something like, "Don't stand at the door, come in out of the cold and meet the Baby." And as at Cana, when Mary seemed to have had some premonition about her son, she might have added, "This Child is for everyone; no questions asked."

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Intercessions ~ Third Sunday in Advent

Pope Francis calls today, The Sunday of Joy./ We pray not to be simply happy, but joyful,/ springing from an awareness of the unfailing love of God/ present to us even in times of sadness and stress./ We pray to the Lord.

The nation has been infected by an emboldened negativity,/ fear-mongering,/ fake news and partisanship./ As we prepare for Christmas/ we pray to discover a new Christ-center/ that heals and restores./  We pray to the Lord.

The Syriac Christians of Iraq and Syria are suffering terribly at the hands of distorted Islamists./ In their pain they feel abandoned by the world./We pray for them/ and for the repentance of evil-doers and madmen./ We pray to the Lord.

Preparing for Christmas/ we pray for the world's children./ For the salvation of child-workers and child-soldiers,/ for those caught in sex-exploitation and war zones./ For the children left behind/ and those failed by adults./ We pray to the Lord.

Many thousands in our country live in shelters,/ cars,/ subways,/tents/ or on the street./ We pray for a national awakening/ that will no longer accept this as normal./ We pray to the Lord.

For the sick and the weak to experience gifts of hope./ We pray too for those whose sickness is racism,/ resentment,/ anger and greed./ And for our own continual conversion in the Holy Spirit./ We pray to the Lord.

For those who have died by war,/ hunger,/ disaster,/ accident or neglect./ We pray for mourners,/ especially those who suffer the loss of children./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Jesus' High Ideals

Christ and the Rich Young Ruler ~ Heinrich Hofmann 1889

As he was starting out on a journey, a stranger ran up, and, kneeling before him, asked, 'Good Master, what must I do to win eternal life?' Jesus said to him, 'Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: "Do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not give false evidence; do not defraud; honor your father and mother."'
'But Master,' he replied, 'I have kept all these since I was a boy.' Jesus looked straight at him; his heart warmed to him, and he said, 'One thing you lack; go, sell everything you have, and give to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven; and come, follow me.' At these words his face fell and he went away with a heavy heart; for he was a man of great wealth. Mark 10:17-27

Notice that Jesus is "starting out on a journey" - he's on the road; he's in motion. I would suggest that these few words indicate what true religion is: an inner, spiritual movement. Now, Jesus is on the road, moving within you, within me. 

St Mark calls the fellow who ran up to Jesus a stranger. St. Matthew calls him, young. St Luke calls him a ruler.  If he is a stranger to Jesus because they have never met, still, we see that Jesus knows him already. That he was young suggests he has a lot to learn. Don't we all? That he was a ruler suggests he not only possesses money and wealth, but also power. 

We also understand that he was religious: not only does he know the commandments but he tells Jesus that he follows them. Jesus presses on. Oh, if religious people (including the clergy) only knew how often the instruction of Jesus is directed at them, instead of thinking his words are intended for someone else.

And as Jesus held up the ideal of marriage (no divorce) and the ideal of children (dependence, trust, vulnerability) in chapter 9, so here he holds up the ideal of owning nothing. We've forgotten that our nature is essentially spiritual, and so we remain unaware of the West's first sin which is consumerism: owning, buying, saving, stock-piling, exploiting, possessing. 

I said in a Sunday sermon once that there are many Christians who are more familiar with their bank books and stock portfolios than with their bibles. Quick: other than Psalm 23 (The Lord is my Shepherd) name the favorite psalm you know by heart. But I digress.

I don't know how possible it is for Christians to live, "Go sell everything you have and give to the poor and come follow me." Chesterton says St. Francis of Assisi came closest to it. But I'd venture most of us could live closer to that ideal than we might imagine. I know a young Franciscan priest who has a number of times walked the 121 miles from Assisi to Florence (and back!) - carrying only a toothbrush, a change of underwear and some holy cards to give to people who extend to him any kindness along the way. And while no one is saying, "You have to do that too!" we probably could be more creative with this Jesus instruction than we are. 

The Greeks say, The fish stinks from the head. Maybe a suggestion the clergy could be the first to tryout Jesus' own nothing command. We notice too that this Gospel fellow, so hung up on his stuff, is the only person who ever goes away from Jesus sad.  Is Jesus proposing a remedy for us whose national suicide and addiction statistics are so sad and troubling?

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Jesus Christ, the Apple-tree

I recently discovered this photograph of an apple that looks as if it has been hand-painted. I was taught as a boy that God is all-knowing and all powerful. I like to add: God is all-imagination.

I'm thinking of the carol we might hear now that we've stepped into December: Jesus Christ, the Apple Tree. The poem verses may have been intended as a carol, though it seems to have been around a good while before appearing in church hymnals. And though the lyrics make no reference to Christ's birth (Mary and Joseph, angels and shepherds) somehow it has found its way into the repertoire of more familiar Christmas carols. 

Jesus Christ, the Apple Tree

The tree of life my soul hath seen
Laden with fruit and always green
The tree of life my soul hath seen
Laden with fruit and always green
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the apple tree.

His beauty doth all things excel
By faith I know but ne'er can tell
His beauty doth all things excel
By faith I know but ne'er can tell
The glory which I now can see
In Jesus Christ the apple tree.

For happiness I long have sought
And pleasure dearly I have bought
For happiness I long have sought
And pleasure dearly I have bought
I missed of all but now I see
'Tis found in Christ the apple tree.

I'm weary with my former toil
here I will sit and rest awhile
I'm weary with my former toil
Here I will sit and rest while
Under the shadow I will be
Of Jesus Christ the apple tree.

This fruit does make my soul to thrive
It keeps my dying faith alive
This fruit does make my soul to thrive
It keeps my dying faith alive
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the apple tree.

An apple is spherical, like a little globe. And for the delight apples give us, they are images of total joy, joy even to laughter. Doesn't the world need laughter: kind laughter, the laughter of delight? Joy to the World is another carol we'll be hearing and singing. And if joy for the world is an angel-task, it's all the more a human one. 

Wouldn't it be wonderful if the Catholics were known to be the world's joy-restorers. We've got our work cut out for us, a work that needs to begin in-house. Pope Francis has said as much in speaking recently to the seventeen new cardinals in Rome.

"How many situations of uncertainty and suffering are sown by this growing animosity between peoples, between us! Yes, between us, within our communities, our priests, our meetings. The virus of polarization and animosity permeates our way of thinking, feeling and acting. We are not immune to this and we need to take care lest such attitudes find a place in our hearts, because this would be contrary to the richness and universality of the church..."

In heraldry (the symbols of flags and coats of arms) apples are symbols of rejuvenation and fullness of life.
 Rejuvenation comes from the Latin words re = again and juvenis = young. Imagine that - Catholics as the ones who rejuvenate or help the world to feel young and alive again! Jesus said:  "I have come that they may have life - life in all its fullness." John 10:10 

Oh Jesus, make us young again, 
young at heart,
for all the world, Jesus!
Fill us with delight,
and awe and wonder
before everything that is beautiful,
 good and true. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Intercessions ~ Second Sunday in Advent

John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea
Matthew 3:1

Meeting John the Baptist in the Gospel today,/ we pray to be more brave as Christians:/ voices crying out in the wilderness of the world's argument and even violent disunity./ We pray to the Lord.

Approaching the winter solstice,/ the time of the greatest darkness,/ we pray to grow in our consciousness of the inner darkness which causes us confusion,/ fear,/ depression and loneliness./ We pray not to despair/ or submit to cynicism./ We pray to the Lord.

Thursday is the Feast of Mary's Conception./ We ask for our lives to be blessed/ as from our own conception/ we have also been created and called to be God's servants./ We pray to the Lord. 

Hundreds of people have been recently elected to public office in our country./ We pray for them to be deeply human persons who seek the good of all,/ and to be steadfast where they are tempted to corruption and power abuse./ We pray to the Lord.

At the start of December we pray for all who celebrate birthdays,/ anniversaries and other days of remembrance,/ asking for the blessings of good health,/ peace and safety./ We pray to the Lord.

As the winter-time approaches/ we pray for those who are homeless,/ friendless and needy./ Grant us generous and aware hearts in the holiday time./ We pray to the Lord.

For the sick and anyone living in chronic pain./ For those who give themselves to the care of the sick/ and for those who in their weakness are left untended./ And we pray too for those who have died./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Invoking the Garden Saints ~ A Morning Prayer for the Nation

There are saints beyond counting, most of whom fit into one category or another. Of course, there are the apostles. Then there are martyr-saints, saints who were kings and queens, monks and nuns, popes and bishops. There are saints who were married with children (finally recognizing that lay people are supposed to be holy too). Dig around (no pun intended) and we see there's even a category of Garden Saints. 

Here's a home-made morning prayer we might offer on behalf of our needy country (and others too) suffering, what Pope Francis has called, an epidemic of animosity. But the right politics won't put us back together. As a nation we need to do some very deep, personal, inner work - sometimes called spiritual gardening. Might the Garden Saints plant seeds of new goodness, unity, reconciliation, courtesy and healing in our hearts. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

I arise today in the gentling of Francis,
   in his lauding of the Creator.
I arise today in the common sense of Brigid,
   in her community-building and inner flame.
I arise today in the discipline of Cuthbert,
   in his interior hermitage and animal friendships.
I arise today in the persuasion of Ansovino,
   in his awareness of the littlest and sharing of plenty.

Holy Dorothy of Caesarea,
   we'll need your patience today.
Holy Elizabeth of Hungary,
   may we care for one another.
Holy Fiacre of Meaux,
   may our hearts be closed to no one.
Holy Isidore and Maria,
   bless us in our prayer.
Holy Kessog of Scotland,
   cover us with justice.
Holy Nauchlan of Deeside,
   stave off our spiritual hunger.

The ever-bloom of Mother Mary, be ours this new day.
The generosity of Phocas, be ours this new day.
The watchful gaze of Magnus, be ours this new day.
The non-hate of Werenfried, be ours this new day.
The ordinariness of Adelard, be ours this new day. 

May Joseph, whose staff bloomed lilies, delight us.
May Swithin the rain-maker, uphold us.
May Rita, whose winter-garden bore figs, shield us.
May Urban, who tended vines, strengthen us. 
May Valentine, with his rooster, inspire us.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

From the beginning of creation...

Hold this picture-thought.

After leaving there, he came into the territory of Judaea and Transjordan. And again crowds gathered round him, and again he taught them, as his custom was. Some Pharisees approached him and asked, 'Is is lawful for a man to divorce his wife?' They were putting him to the test. He answered them, 'What did Moses command you?' They replied, 'Moses allowed us to draw up a writ of   dismissal in cases of divorce.' The Jesus said them, 'It was because you were so  hard hearted that he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation he made them male and female. This is why a man leaves his father and mother, and the two become one flesh. They are no longer two, therefore, but one flesh. So then, what God has united, human beings must not divide.' Back in the house the disciples questioned him again about this, and he said to them, 'Whoever divorces his wife and marries another is guilty of adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another she is guilty of adultery too.' Mark 10:1-12

At face value Jesus is giving us a new law about marriage. If that's the case, then we must acknowledge that the teaching is much more strict than the rules of the Church today. There's much more going on here than that, but we must look at the larger context to understand.

A few lines before and then immediately following the twelve verses above, Jesus makes two references to children. They serve as bookends to the verses about divorce.

Then he took a little child and stood him in front of them all, and putting his arm round him, said to them, "Anyone who welcomes one little child like this for my sake welcomes me. And the man who welcoming me is welcoming not only me but the one who sent me!" Mark 9:36,37

Then some people came to him bringing little children for him to touch. The disciples tried to discourage them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant and told them, "You must let little children come to me - never stop them!  For the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Indeed, I assure you  that the man who does not accept the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." Then he took the children in his arms and laid his hands on them and blessed them" Mark 10: 13-16 

Then right between these two references and in the middle of the verses about divorce, (did you catch it?) Jesus says, "But from the beginning of creation God made them..."

Jesus is inviting us to accept his teaching and live with the utter simplicity and acceptance of children. And the focus of the teaching in this chapter is the words, "the beginning of creation." 

Lots of people believe that the end time will be the moment of God's punishing evil and rewarding good. There's scripture to support that belief. But they also like to think of themselves as rewarded and the people they don't approve of as punished. But all the more, (and this was not an unusual Jewish belief in Jesus' time) in the end, creation will be restored to its original plan or state. 

The most well known psalm 23:2-3 suggests this restoration, "Beside restful waters he leads me, he refreshes my soul."  In the Book of Job, poor Job having lost everything is promised a new beginning. And we remember the rainbow after the flood waters receded and Noah and his family left the ark - creation as it was in the beginning. 

So the verses about divorce are really much more about our eventual return to the state of right relatedness. Our destiny is to "return to the garden," a garden of such delight and where we walked with God in the cool of the evening. God will give back to us what we've lost.

I remember our third grade class being introduced to the Encyclopedia Britannica in the mid 1950's and sitting with classmates writing our first research reports. Somehow volume E wound up in front of me, and how I enjoyed the discovery of everything about elephants, especially the differences between African and Indian elephants. The picture accompanying the article was something like the one above. 

What ancient memory must reside in these marvelous animals! And how horrifyingly awful it is that an elephant is shot and killed every fifteen minutes. A world without elephants?! That since those 3rd grade days elephants are near extinction, because ruthless, greedy people want the money that's made by stealing their tusks. How we insult God!

I really need to believe that in the end, God, in His most wonderful creative imagination, will not leave us in sorrow before all the terrible losses of this earth: our destroying the animals and plants, spoiling the water and air, blowing up the mountains and ripping out everything below the earth to make things that we then throw away. In effect, turning the entire, spinning planet into a huge heap of trash . 

Oh Jesus my God, that we would know the truth of your words, that in the end, we will know creation "as it was in the beginning." And Jesus, that I would miss nothing and appreciate deeply everything of what remains. Amen.