Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Intercessions: Bright Sunday, Low Sunday, Mercy Sunday

Lamps Inside the Tomb of Jesus

Today is sometimes called Mercy Sunday./ We pray to learn a new depth of kindness from the mercy of God revealed in Christ./ We pray to the Lord.

Today is also called Bright Sunday./ We pray for those who experience only darkness,/ depression,/ burdens and hopelessness in their lives./ For each human person to know some happiness./ We pray to the Lord.

Fanatics blew up a crowded playground in Lahore, Pakistan on Easter night/ killing 72 and injuring 300 people./ We pray for all who have suffered this great sadness/ and for the conversion of those who kill people,/ even children./ We pray to the Lord.

Our country is suffering a deadly,/ drug-abuse epidemic./ We pray for wisdom,/ resolve and national healing./ We pray to the Lord.

We remember our families in the Easter Season,/ those who are having a hard time of it,/ emotionally,/ physically,/ spiritually or financially./ For courage and strength./ We pray to the Lord. 

We pray for those who are sick,/ lonely,/ unemployed,/ away from loved ones,/ without opportunity/ or weakened by anxieties./ And we ask for the awareness,/ willingness and strength that will be asked of us this week./ We pray to the Lord. 

Finally we pray for those who have died since last Easter,/ asking as well/ the blessings of comfort and restoration for those who are mourning/ where there is death by enemies./ We pray to the Lord. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Wednesday in the Easter Octave

The Western Church calls these days the Easter Octave - an overflow of eight days - each prayer in the present tense - today! The Eastern Church calls these days Bright Week. Each day filled with the light of the Resurrection. At Athos, the icon of the Mother of God Glykophilousa is carried in procession. Here is the accompanying hymn:

The angel cried to the Lady full of grace:
Rejoice, O pure Virgin!
Again I say: Rejoice! 
Your Son is risen from His three days in the tomb!
Shine! Shine! O New Jerusalem!
The glory of the Lord has shone on you!
Dance now and be glad, O Zion!
Be radiant, O Pure Theotokos,
in the Resurrection of Your Son!

  • Theotokos is Greek for Mother of God. 
  • Glykophilousa means Sweet Kissing or Loving Kindness. In Christ, born of Mary, the world is kissed by God.
  • And who's the New Jerusalem? Who's Zion? It's us! 
  • Rejoice! Shine! Dance! Be glad! Be radiant! We're invited to enter an inner world of happiness.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Tuesday in the Easter Octave: Jesus, Risen Gardener

Rembrandt ~ Jesus, Risen Gardener

In preparation for my First Communion I was catechized in 1957-58 by a young Franciscan nun, Sister Vincent. My world was already delightful with crayons, training wheel bike and over the fence there were still wooded lots. Then...

She told me of your Resurrection, O Christ my beloved:
of the myrrh-bearing women who ran in fear and joy,
of your Easter morning gardener-disguise,
of the beach-breakfast you prepared on the charcoal fire,
of your honeycomb lunch -
   sweetness of God's life,
   after the vinegar we gave you to drink,
of your candlelight dinner with news-weary friends,
of your wounds shining like the crocus in snow,
of your peace-laden breath,
of your eyes wide awake
looking compassion upon our Good Friday world - 
   of human bombs,
   and sexualized infants,
   of despised refugees
   and oil-soaked seabirds,
   of burning forests
   and discount spice.

Stay with us Lord, it is already late.

Father Stephen Morris

Monday, March 28, 2016

Monday in the Easter Octave

Nicholas Haberschrack ~ The Three Marys ~ 15th century

Having heard from the angel
the glad tidings of the Resurrection,
and that the ancient curse was done away,
the women disciples of the Lord
cried exaltingly unto the apostles,
"Death is no more
and Christ our God is risen,
granting to the world great mercy."

Eastern Christian Hymn

Sunday, March 27, 2016

An Easter Alphabet ~ Christ is Risen!

The Volto Santo of Manoppello

A is for Christos Anesti ~ Christ is Risen in Greek.
B is for Beach-Breakfast ~ Jesus prepared Easter morning.
C is for Crocus flower ~ capturing the goodness surrounding us.
D is for Easter Dawn ~ start of a new inner day.
E is for Earthquake ~ a shaking up of old ideas.
F is for Good Friday ~ the Divine Heart opening wide.
G is for the Roman Guard ~ sealing the tomb to keep Jesus in.
H is for the Honeycomb ~  the Risen Jesus ate.
I is for Idolatries ~ our pride, our power, our money.
J is for Jerusalem ~ holy city in need of peace.
K is for Kidron Valley ~ on our way to Gethsemane's Garden.
L is for Last Supper ~ the meal of friendship before Jesus' arrest.
M is for the Myrrh-bearing women ~ who persevered in love.
N is for the Napkin ~ rolled up in the tomb, a place by itself.
O is for Easter Oratorio ~ Bach's gift of perfect joy.
P is for Peter ~ "Do you love me?" Jesus asked.
Q is for the Qualities of Jesus ~ attentive and tender mercy.
R is for Revolution ~ triumph of love over hate.
S is for Sadness ~ dispelled by Christ's bright rising.
T is for Thomas  ~ declaring Jesus Lord and God.
U is for Unconditional ~ Loving people as I find them or as they may become.
V is for Volto Santo ~ the face of Jesus Risen.
W is for Christ's Wounds ~ bright shining like rubies.
X is for martyr-pope Xystus ~ whose name means standing in the good.
Y is for Yield ~ surrendering my heart to be taught by Christ.
Z is for Zeal ~ impulse of my heart towards the good.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Holy Saturday ~ "I Have Found You!"

Moments before his death on the cross, Jesus spoke his last words: "It is finished." Then his body was taken down, hastily washed and prepared for burial. But there was one thing more for Jesus to do - an invisible thing!

In this painting by Fra Angelico (1395-1455) who seems to paint with light, we see Jesus in the last great act of his love. While his body rests in the tomb awaiting the Resurrection of Easter morning, Jesus, in some way unknown to us, descended into hell, the Sunday Creed says. What does this mean?

He went in search of all those who had gone before him in death. And today, Jesus goes to the inner place where I am in any way imprisoned. Perhaps it is where there is some unrelenting, personal heaviness. He searches for me where I am imprisoned in some regrettable, mistaken choice that causes sorrow and pin. Jesus goes where I hide inwardly, the place of my loneliness and the isolation I feel perhaps because of lovelessness or selfishness.

And then, like a child who plays Hide and Seek, he tears the place apart, searching in every dark crevice of shame and abuse, ignorance and fear, resentment, addiction or depression. And there he announces, "I have found you! I have found you!"

Fra Angelico has painted a wonder! Scroll back  to the top and look again! In my meditation: feel the depth of the cavernous room, the kicked-down-door which has crushed the demon, while another on the far left flees. Each of us can name these realities. And now I can tuck myself in the middle of the surprised and much-relieved crowd: "I once was lost but now am found..."

Friday, March 25, 2016

Saint Joseph ~ Patron of Belgium ~ "Thoughts and Prayers"

It's a talkative world. And when we talk a lot there's always the risk of speaking glibly, superficially ~ like rushing into a conversation and asking someone, "How are you?" and then not waiting for an honest reply, the other answering, "Fine!" when perhaps he or she is not "fine" at all. Just an expression. 

And in all of these terrible terrorist episodes people say to the wounded nation, "You're in our thoughts and prayers." I so hope they mean it. Does that mean: I will stop what I'm doing to ponder this horror and to pray, or just let it flash through my mind while I'm stuck in mall traffic?

Media people are especially guilty of this - just words to wrap up an interview. Then they might say something like, "The nation is getting back to normal...people are moving on with their lives." The dead haven't even been identified, their bodies so destroyed, and the news anchor is declaring the nation is getting back to normal. Why do we talk this way?

Saint Joseph is the patron of Belgium. We might stop right now and pray before his icon here on the screen: Joseph Guardian, Protector, Mentor. Our prayer might be silent - a thought held. When these terrorist acts happen, people gather in huge numbers to gaze, to bring a flower or a candle, to be silent in solidarity with the others who are grieving. Pope John Paul II brought the word solidarity forward. It is a very important word.

For those who died this week in Brussels.
For those who are in mourning.
For those who are searching for loved ones.
For rescuers and helpers.
For the injured in hospitals.

For doctors and nurses who care.
For those who give blood to help the injured.
For those whose task is to identify the dead.
For those who plan and do evil, murderous things.
For investigators and police.

For those who are leaders.
For people who are frightened.
For anyone who is traumatized.
For the children who are afflicted.
For those who must travel.

For those who carry violence and hate inside.
For people who feel sad.
For those who twist up religion.
For those who are losing hope and happiness.
For those who make themselves into human bombs.

Good Friday: What is happening?

Paolo ~ Venetian Crucifix ~ Byzantine Influence

The whole creation was changed by fear,
when it saw you, O Christ, hanging on the cross.
The sun was darkened and the foundation of the earth was shaken
for all things suffered with the creator of all.
Of your own will you have endured
this torment for our sakes.
Therefore, we the faithful glorify your great compassion.

And seeing you hanging on the cross, O Christ,
The Virgin Mother cried:
"O my son, where is the beauty of your form?
I cannot bear to look upon you crucified unjustly.
Make haste, then, to arise my Son, 
that I may see on the third day your resurrection from the dead."
Byzantine Service of the Twelve Gospels

Notice the two-toned background over the Jerusalem wall and around the cross in the painting. It feels like a tunnel that might take us beyond: beyond our pre-occupations, beyond our usual thoughts, beyond our unfeeling.

The Apostle John is close to Jesus on the right, but behind him are the soldiers geared up in metal, with shields, helmets and swords. 

And on the left is a tight cluster of women supporting Mary, Jesus' Mother, who is in a great collapse of sorrow. 

We're so familiar with the crucifix, it's easy to admire but in a kind of disconnect. What's happening in this scene? Maybe it's like a mother who bleeds to give birth to her child and then throughout her life, immediately willing to suffer anything, even to give her life for the sake of her child, especially when the child is lost, sick, vulnerable or troubled. Jesus our Mother - Saint Juliana said. And Jesus speaking of himself as mother; "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you that kill the prophets and stone those who are sent you! How often have I longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you refused." (Matthew 23:37)

And women collapse still, suffering for love and crying out over the deforming of their children and loved ones by injustice, and hoping against hope for resurrection, healing, life, peace and fairness.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Intercessions ~ Easter Sunday

On Easter morning/ we entrust to the Risen Christ,/ our families,/ and families everywhere,/ asking gifts of safety,/ health,/ healing and growth in goodness./ We pray to the Lord. 

On Easter morning we pray for those who are introduced to Jesus for the first time in the waters of Baptism./ And for ourselves,/ to find new joy,/ strength and hope in Christ./ We pray to the Lord.

On Easter morning/ we entrust Belgium and its people to the Risen Christ/ with prayers for those who recently died there/ or were injured./ We pray for rescuers and helpers/ and for the cure of those who kill,/ destroy and terrorize./ We pray to the Lord. 

On Easter morning, / we pray for Pope Francis/ as he speaks to the world a message of peace and reconciliation./ Give us all we need for the world to be a safer and happier place./ We pray to the Lord.

On Easter morning,/ as Christ exits the tomb full of life,/ we pray for our planet and for its protection and healing./ And that we would be healed of greed and exploitation./ We pray to the Lord.

On Easter morning,/ we pray for those who travel to the Holy Land as pilgrims and for their safety./ We call to mind as well the children,/ the un-employed,/ and those who live there but are burdened with thoughts of hate and conflict./ We pray to the Lord. 

On Easter morning,/ we pray for the sick,/ the elderly-poor,/ those away from home,/ and those who are caught in wars,/ disasters or personal troubles./ We pray to the Lord. 

On Easter morning,/ we pray for those who have died since last Easter,/ to know the great joy and mercy of the Risen Jesus./  We pray to the Lord.

Holy Thursday: Jesus Forfeits Power

Ford Maddox Brown 1821-1893

Holy Thursday is many-themed: Jesus gives the gift of the Eucharist. Jesus gives the gift of the priesthood. Jesus gives the mandatum, the mandate to humble service.

But there is another theme I think goes un-noticed: that Jesus has forfeited all power in assuming the role of a slave. Though scholars say the custom of washing feet as a gesture of hospitality was not universally observed, here it seems that the servant who might have been there to welcome the guests, simply didn't show up. Or maybe the apostles forgot to arrange it.

At any rate, Jesus interrupts the meal to do the foot washing job, as if to say, "You know, if there wasn't anyone to do the foot washing when we came in tonight, by now I would have expected you'd have done it for each other. What don't you get, I've been talking about service for three years now." 

Ford Maddox Brown has painted the scene. Notice that Jesus is barefoot; only slaves went without shoes in the ancient world. And notice too that the artist has shown Jesus without his clothes, as he will appear when he dies the next day. "...and he got up from table, removed is outer garments and, taking a towel, wrapped it round his waist..." (John 13: 3,4)

Bottom line: Jesus forfeits all power; he's puts himself on the bottom rung of the ladder. The original sin is power: "No! You will not die! God knows in fact that the day you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods..."  (Genesis 3:4) Jesus will have none of it; only God has the power. 

Power is everywhere: in church, politics, business, schools, relationships and family. Of course, "the buck stops here" and someone has to be in charge to make things run smoothly, but we know when we've seen or heard power-abuse in ourselves or in others. And so much of what we experience as power could be made more palatable, less degrading, more helpful and productive if it was turned into service. 

So let's be done with loudness, threats, manipulation, curses, the silent treatment, blackmail, impressive displays, playing one-up and can-you-top-this, getting even and posturing. Jesus manages so well without power - it's his way.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Lenten Mercy Meditation: "With that he left them..."

Prager: syndicated radio talk show host, columnist, author, public speaker

"Then the Pharisees came out and engaged him in discussion. To test him they asked him for a sign from heaven. He sighed deeply to himself and said, "Why does this generation ask for a sign? I tell you this: no sign shall be given to this generation." With that he left them, re-embarked, and went off to the other side of the lake." (Mark 8: 11-13)

What's going on here in these few lines? Are the Pharisees really asking for a sign, even though in the previous verses Jesus had just fed thousands of people with the little bread and fish. (Mark 8: 1-10)

Or are they essentially asking for Jesus' credentials to teach what he's teaching, after all, they disagree with so much of what he has to say? And if that's the case, then what they're really looking for is an argument. Jesus response?...

He sighed deeply. Then Jesus moved away from them by sailing across the lake. Today he might say, "I have to get as far away as possible from all of this." 

The Church is terribly distracted and weakened by so much in-house argument. Pope Francis calls out cardinals and bishops where he detects it in the highest levels of Church life. There are Catholic organizations and publications that seem to have argument as their unwritten mission statement - each with its own vociferous agenda. Some clerics use the pulpit for all kinds of joy-stealing argument, instead of the proclamation of Jesus' Gospel as spiritual way.

Let's get free of this. I would never want to tire Jesus by so much religious arguing that he would feel the need to disembark and sail away.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Lenten Mercy-Meditation: The Great Crane Migration

My sister sent an email the other day that might cheer us all - a bit of good news, joy and encouragement in difficult times. The Crane Trust video which follows is a wonder!

"I am on the Platte River in Nebraska during the spring migration of the Sandhill Cranes. I have been told there are 500,000 cranes here this time of year as they are on their way from the deep south up to Alaska, Canada and even Siberia, where they will raise new families through the spring and summer. These cranes can live to be 25 years old. Last night we watched them come in from every direction to land on the river which was back-lit by brilliant golden-orange, long passed sunset. The half moon lit their wings as they flew directly over us. I felt myself to be a speck, a blade of grass in the vastness of creation and an immeasurable gratitude.  

This is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to. I can't begin to describe how happy I feel being in all this beauty. The river is so clean and we can smell its sweetness in the air and on our hands. The sky is a 360 degree cloud-ballet everywhere you look, and the sky, full of cranes, is like being in a Chinese painting."

Monday, March 21, 2016

Lenten Mercy~Meditation: Symbol of Hope and Forgiveness

Along with the Korean Fir seedling I planted on Sunday were three currant bushes. Currants produce berries in clusters that can be used to make jam, jelly, compote and even wine. The meaning of currants in botanical symbology is rather Freudian and not very useful for our purposes here. 

But then I read about a fellow who was given a bare root currant bush - a stick really - like those I planted and have pictured above. The bush rooted quickly and since he had no idea what to do with the berries (and admits to being too lazy to learn) he tore out the bush which promptly grew back. The next year he not only cut down the bush but chopped it out of the ground with an ax. Still it grew back, which caused him to think a bit, and so he transplanted the bush, putting it in next to the barn where it was somewhat sheltered and produced berries in abundance. 

After all of that he rather wisely suggested  that currants should be recognized as symbols of hope and forgiveness. Maybe we should all have a couple of currant bushes to fend off the despair and outrage of the day. Spread some homemade currant jam on our morning toast as an antidote to hate and resentment!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Lenten Mercy-Meditation: Palm Sunday

The sermon at Mass should be short today because the Passion of Jesus is long. And the presence of so many themes tempts the preacher to talk too much. But there is one theme that is largely ignored and that is the meaning of the palm branch itself. We're perhaps used to hearing that palm branches are ancient signs of victory. Branches were waved in front of generals and armies returning from victories. Even successful athletes were surrounded by palm branches. Images of martyrs hold palm branches.

But I'd suggest there is a symbolism that is much closer to each of us personally. It has to do with the nature of religion itself. I suppose there are as many meanings or emphases of religion as there are people. Religion is: dogmas and doctrines, laws, clergy and hierarchies, authority, vows, liturgical worship, morality, sexual ethic, good deeds, institutions. And while I'm in no position to say what other religions are, including all the denominations of a splintered Christianity, it seems to me that Catholicism, with its Gospel, is supposed to be a spiritual way for people. I fear we often lose that awareness and call.

Oaks, Maples, Aspens and Birches lose all their leaves within a few days or weeks each fall. But a palm tree renews itself continuously throughout the year; as it loses a leaf it at once starts to grow another. It is never without its leaves, renewing itself little by little, one leaf at at time. It is a very apt symbol of our personal and steady self-renewal, revival, restoring or freshening. Sad to say, the cultural understanding of personal renewal isn't very deep, often no deeper than our skin and hair: get the right creams, the right body augmentation, the right style, the right look and your good to go. It makes for an empty person.

But if Resurrection only means what happened to Jesus and the promise of life on the other side of the grave, I believe we have sold Jesus short. Personal renewal is the heart of our religion. It isn't just a Lenten thing or an Eastertime thing. Renewal is our way of life. So, can you think of some life-approaches that might effect (palm tree like) personal and on-going renewal? I had a spiritual director who at the end of each session together always prayed over me, that God would grow-me-up. How I valued that prayer! 

Here are some ideas for renewal that come to mind:
  • Read the book I bought and never read.
  • Make the visit I've been procrastinating over.
  • Lose 5 lbs (or more if needed).
  • Go for a walk every day - get sunlight and new air.
  • Clean out a closet, an attic, a basement: St. Basil says, "If you haven't used it in a year it no longer belongs to you, but to the poor."
  • Keep a garden - if even a couple of houseplants well-tended.
  • Give myself ten minutes of hermit time each day - God alone.
  • Learn to say yes if I know how I can be selfish.
  • Learn to say no if I'm wearying out.
  • Quit the cigarettes and give the money to an organization that takes care of the most hungry children.
  • Restore Sunday as an old-fashioned rest day: break the crazy cultural cycle of making money, spending money, noise and haste.
  • Take an evening or summer class (even online) to study something that's always interested you but you never explored.
  • Get free of something that's dumb-ing you down.
  • Read the New Testament from cover to cover over a period of weeks or months.
  • Commit to a charity and keep the commitment.
  • Restore Friday as a day of penance.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

On the Feast of Saint Joseph

Flight into Egypt ~ Francisco Zurbaran 1598-1664

This painting by Francisco Zurbaran of The Flight Into Egypt is full of life: the mountains and hills, the trees fully leafed out, the heavy sky perhaps portending a storm or reflecting the desperation of the family in flight, even the ground itself. And Mary is seated rather queen-like, her satiny red dress covering even the donkey. Joseph's got his straw hat hanging off his back, while Mary wears her own instead of a veil. The little Christ sits upright in his mother's arms. 

And aren't we fortunate that Zurbaran has given us this open perspective which seems to invite us into the dynamic. Is the artist suggesting that we might stop with the family and offer them our encouragement? Or better yet - perhaps Joseph is suggesting they might encourage us in our own inner traveling from discouragement to hope, from anger to calm, from bitterness to surrender, from something we might call darkness to renewed light.

Joseph ~ solicitous of the mother,
Joseph ~ in solidarity with the child,
Joseph ~ simply kind,
Joseph ~ active out of silence,
Joseph ~ in the fierce darkness.

Joseph ~ in the twists and turns,
Joseph ~ attentive to the dreams,
Joseph ~ heedful of warnings,
Joseph ~ in the poverty of your temple gift,
Joseph ~ in your interior life.

Joseph ~ with Simeon and Anna,
Joseph ~ in the expansion of my heart,
Joseph ~ holy traveler,
Joseph ~ among strangers,
Joseph ~ whose tears are an offering.

Joseph ~ giving the name, Jesus,
Joseph ~ in the nearness of mystery,
Joseph ~ on the road to Bethlehem,
Joseph ~ in the welcoming of shepherds,
Joseph ~ in your bright-sadness.

Joseph ~ Mary's confidant,
Joseph ~ protector and mentor,
Joseph ~ and the fig tree bowed,
Joseph ~ and the desert stream gushed,
Joseph ~ may God give an increase.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Lenten Mercy ~ Meditation: "Keep the faith!"

This photo of my father, John Matthew, was taken in Windham, New York in 1947 when he was 41 years old. He and my mother liked to go there on their off time. My paternal grandparents were Irish born and emigrated here in the late 1800's - my father being born in New York City in 1906. Catherine was a maid to wealthy families on Park Avenue; my grandfather shod horses in Manhattan. 

When I was in seminary on the north shore of Long Island, my father lived in a small apartment on the south shore. The drive each month to visit him took awhile as the roads to center island were two-lane, hilly and winding. And we'd sit awhile and talk, especially about seminary news. 

But when it was time for me to leave to make curfew, instead of saying good-bye at the door, his last words were always, "Keep the faith." I never asked him about the expression, but I imagine it was an Irish-ism, as Irish Catholics lived under a bloody English rule for a thousand years, and the faith had to be lived quietly and secretively. 

I imagine "Keep the faith" meant: Stay standing in the invisible; trouble may be near. In the winding way: stay trusting and reliant. Along the dark way: stay awake to spiritual things. "The faith" is my own I believe. Here's mine, and of course, you can write your own.

I believe in the eastern sky,
its colors, 
and invitation.

I believe in the animals,
the Sandhill's migration,
the Chickadee's survival
the Yellow Finch's summer return.

I believe in the plants,
the fern uncoiling,
the bud revealing,
the garden's scent-surprise.

I believe in stars,
and the weather satellite's blinking.

I believe in silence,
the lighting of candles,
gazing without thoughts
and silence again.

I believe in the variety of persons,
efforts of non-violence,
gifts of compassion
and every good deed done.

I believe in Bethlehem,
Mary's Maternity,
Jesus' face,
shepherd's witness and angel song.

I believe in Christ's tears and sighs,
his desert hunger,
his bread and wine,
his shroud, bright wounds
and empty tomb.

I believe in Easter morning,
Christ the Gardener's
do not fear;
I believe in Magdalen's running!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Intercessions ~ Palm Sunday

The children of the Hebrews with palms before thee went...

On Palm Sunday/ we pray for the Christians of the Holy Land who live in great danger for their faith./ We pray as well for those who make pilgrimages to the shrines which mark the Lord's birth,/ life,/ death and resurrection./ We pray to the Lord.

As we contemplate Mary's Sorrow this week/ we pray for the mothers of the world and that they would be able to care for their families without fear,/ but in peace,/ safety and security./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for those who will keep the Sacred Three Days of Thursday, / Friday and Saturday,/ and Easter next weekend./ We ask for the turning of hearts to the higher things of Christ's self-forgetting love./ We pray to the Lord.

As we contemplate the gift of Jesus in the Eucharist this Thursday,/ we pray for communities where there is no priest./ And we pray for the renewal and growth of the Church around Christ in the Eucharist./ We pray to the Lord.

As the Church gathers to venerate the wood of the cross on Friday,/ we pray for those who suffer under their own heavy crosses./ For those who live where there is war,/ destruction,/ abuse and violence./ We pray for those who are unemployed or sick/ and for those who are recovering from accidents or surgery./ We pray to the Lord.

For Eastern Christians who have just begun Lent,/ and for the Jewish people who look forward to Passover,/ that we would love God and serve God together./ We pray to the Lord.

Finally we pray for those who have died since last Holy Week,/ that we would remember them gladly./ And for those who like Jesus/ die terrible deaths of loneliness,/ betrayal and pain./ We pray to the Lord.  

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Lenten Mercy~Meditation: Saint Patrick's Prayer for Protection in Unsettling Times

The Cry of the Deer, also called the Lorica or Breastplate is a poem-hymn attributed to Saint Patrick which serves as a wonderfully alive and powerful prayer for protection. We might pray it on his Lenten Feast Day in dangerous and confounding times.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the three-ness,
Through confession of the one-ness
Of the Creator of Creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth with his baptism, 
Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,
Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension,
Through the strength of his descent for the judgment of Doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of Cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In prayers of patriarchs,
In predictions of prophets,
In preaching of apostles,
In faith of confessors,
In innocence of holy virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.

I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me:
God's might to uphold me, 
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptations of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in multitude. 

I summon today all these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel merciless power that may oppose my body and soul
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul.

Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me abundance of reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every one who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, 
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the three-ness,
Through confession of the one-ness,
Of the Creator of Creation.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Lenten Mercy~Meditation: Planting Trees in Lent

A cold, steady, early morning March rain is helping to settle in the roots of this Korean Fir tree I planted Sunday afternoon: The Fifth Sunday in Lent. It's good to plant a tree on a Sunday: anticipating Easter, day or re-creation.

Its Latin botanical name is Abies Koreana. Mature Korean firs produce brilliant, purple-blue cones, sitting upright on the tips of branches. The winged seeds first appear as yellow touches on the cones, set against soft, shiny green needles. What an imagination brought these trees into existence.

These trees are native to the high mountains of South Korea including Jejudo Island which is in the news these days as a new and huge American naval base is being built there.  The tree is already an endangered species, like seemingly everything else in nature. 

People live on Jejudo with a long history of art, culture, faith, and sadness too, as upwards of 40,000 civilians were massacred there (April 3, 1948) under the auspices of the United Nations and the United States Military Administration, with Japanese involvement. Reports of this sad slaughter remained suppressed until 2003. 

We should be planting trees all over the world and not chopping them down, and  tearing them up and dynamiting their earth-homes for more war-making.

In Germanic folklore, fir trees are symbols of life and light. Don't we need to keep the things of life and light up front each day? I must remember to go out back to visit this fir-seedling often, so the day's dead and dark news doesn't take me under.  

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
let the field exult, and everything in it!
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
before the Lord, for he comes,
for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with is truth.  

Psalm 96: 11-13

Monday, March 14, 2016

Lenten Mercy-Meditation: The Agony in the Garden ~ Francis and the Sultan

Saint Francis and the Sultan

Yesterday's Gospel at Mass for the Fifth Sunday of Lent had Jesus descending the Mount of Olives before meeting the woman who had been caught in adultery. (John 8:1-11) He refused to condemn her. And of course, that reference to the Mount of Olives - the Garden of Gethsemane - points to the start of Jesus' Passion and his sin-forgiving death.

Jesus' Holy Thursday night visit to the Mount of Olives was characterized by deep prayer and suffering while Peter, James and John slept. Then suddenly the prayer scene turned frighteningly violent. Swords and knives were drawn. A servant's ear was cut off. But even in that chaotic moment Jesus taught, telling Peter to stop it; there is to be no violence. (Matthew 26:36-54)

And we hold our hands over our ears as Jesus speaks those words. We seem to be fighting a perpetual war. We think violence and resort to it quickly as the solution to so many problems. We entertain ourselves with violence and vigorously defend its use. It's reported now that some people are attending Trump rallies hoping there'll be violence, and we might wonder if the media is happy for that as it will cause viewers to tune in. It simply isn't Christ's way.

At the height of the 13th century Crusades (which sought to eliminate, if not drive out Islam from the Holy Land) Saint Francis of Assisi made his long way from Italy to Egypt to see the sultan, Malik al Kamil. On the battlefield Francis asked, "Can you and I talk about peace?"

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Lenten Mercy ~ Meditation: More Than Enough And For Everyone!

Giovanni Lanfranco ~ Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes

There was another occasion about this time when a huge crowd had collected, and, as they had no food, Jesus called his disciples and said to them, "I feel sorry for all these people; they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them home unfed, they will turn faint on the way; some of them have come from a distance." The disciples answered, "How can anyone provide all these people with bread in this lonely place?" "How many loaves have you?" he asked; and they answered, "Seven." So he ordered the people to sit down on the ground; then he took the seven loaves, and, after giving thanks to God, he broke the bread and gave it to his disciples to distribute; and they served it out to the people. They had also a few small fishes, which he blessed and ordered them to distribute. They all ate to their hearts' content, and seven baskets were filled with scraps that were left. The people numbered about four thousand. Then he dismissed them; and, without delay, got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha. Mark 8:1-10

Seems like we just read this account of the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes in Mark 6:35-44. There Jesus fed 5000 people with five little loaves of bread and two fish and twelve baskets left over. Here he feeds 4000 people with seven loaves and a few fish and seven baskets left over. Is it just the same story retold with confused details?  Perhaps the first verse suggests the miracle happened twice: There was another occasion about this time. 

Or maybe the miracle happened only once and Mark is repeating it with a second version because, like children, we learn best by repetition. One meaning we need to hear again and again is: No one is left out. How pleased the mother is on the left of Lanfranco's painting above, that there is food for her child. Maybe that's her elderly father or father-in-law with whom she's sharing her relief.

We notice too that in this account, Jesus is still in non-Jewish territory. And we remember the bantering conversation he had with the Gentile woman a few verses ago (Mark 7:24-30), who told Jesus that she and her "dog" people would be glad for the crumbs that fall from the Jewish table. Well here, those crumbs become a feast for her people. 

There's enough for everyone! For all! That's why the number seven (symbolizing utter fullness) is emphasized, whether in the previous feeding miracle (5 loaves plus 2 fish) or in this telling: 7 loaves and 7 baskets of left overs. It's akin to the water-to-wine miracle of Cana, where 6 large water jars, plus Jesus himself, adds up to 7. What does it mean? That in Christ there is more than enough to satisfy the human person spiritually. 

There's lots of complaining these days about the increase in the number of self-proclaimed atheists or the young people who say, I'm not religious, but spiritual. And Pope Francis has said these numbers are increasing because the Church has not satisfied the hunger people have for God, and so they go elsewhere.

Some years ago, when the Feast of the Lord's Transfiguration fell on a Sunday, I sat through a sermon where the young priest made no mention of the Transfiguration but harangued everyone for twenty minutes about the "Sins of Hollywood." And recently a young husband and wife told me they have decided to stop going to Mass because they can no longer bear the on-going sermons demonizing trans-gendered people. Something's not right with this picture, they say.

Then Jesus dismissed them. This huge crowd had been with Jesus for a three day retreat: the soul-feast of his teaching. Then, so solicitous for their well-being, he fed them physically to their complete satisfaction. Can you imagine the joy!

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Lenten Mercy ~ Meditation: Mother of God Inviolate Mountain

This icon is titled: Mother of God Inviolate Mountain. Mary's maphorion is red, the symbolic color of humankind. She is one of us! In eastern cultures red is the color of joy. Notice too that the mantle is covered with stylized clouds: her trust and joy are broad as the heavens! A rainbow runs across the mantle, as after Noah's flood there was a rainbow in the sky. In Christ, mothered by Mary, there is a new beginning of compassion and kindness. 

There is a little king tucked in the crook of Mary's arm and perhaps some piece of Jerusalem's architecture. Symbolically this means that Jesus, Mary's Son, was a promised descendant of King David. And Joseph, the Child's guardian and Mary's protector, was at the far end of David's lineage, though there hadn't been a king in David's lineage for a very long time. 

And Mary holds a miniature mountain. She's the mountain. As in the desert wilderness, where the ancient Hebrews met God on the Sinai mountain, now in Mary the Mountain, humankind meets God anew and uniquely in Christ. 

Finally, she holds a little ladder. Heaven is descending to be with us in a new way in Christ, born of Mary. But I think also it is an invitation to us to join her in the ascent of kindness, tenderness, and a generous gift-ing of ourselves, up and away from the bottom rungs of hate, violence and cruelty.

But for all of this, there is something about Mary in this icon that is immediate to our own lives: her hands and arms are full. We understand and say: "I've got a lot on my plate right now...I can't handle or take on one more thing..." Many people feel life to be an exhausting burden today. 

Some of the burdening is out of our control, thrust on to us from outside ourselves. Some of it is of our own compulsive do-ing and for which we have no one to blame but ourselves. Perhaps this Lent we will get a handle on it, put some of it down, learn to say no or not right now. No guilt needed.

But I'm thinking too that we put an awful lot on Mary - all kinds of high theology, prayers and titles. Maybe when we're not looking, she puts it all down, just to be the mother who looks at Jesus in silence. There, that's it! For Lent let's put down all the questions and expectations of heaven and with empty hands, gaze simply in silence.

This is the 700th Pauca Verba post. Thanks for coming along!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Lenten Mercy~Meditation: Wendell Berry and Curious Logic

Amidst all the media talk these days about the importance of the so-called Evangelical vote, I came across this Wendell Berry quote. 

Especially among Christians in positions of wealth and power, the idea of reading the Gospels and keeping Jesus' commandments as stated therein has been replaced by a curious process of logic. According to this process, people first declare themselves to be followers of Christ, and then they assume that whatever they say or do merits the adjective "Christian".
Wendell Berry, Blessed are the Peacemakers:Christ's Teachings of Love, Compassion and Forgivenesss

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Intercessions ~ Fifth Sunday in Lent

Snowdrops in my sister's garden

As we prepare for Easter/ we pray for Christians whose faith in the Resurrection is weak,/ who doubt heaven and Christ's gift of eternal life./ We pray to the Lord.

Lent is the Church's Springtime./ We ask for gifts of inner warming and melting/ where thoughts of others are frozen and hardened./ And for new growth in Christ/ where the Church has lost its way./ We pray to the Lord.

Bless our families where there is difficult news to bear,/ where relationships are strained/ where problems stress us./ And for those who have no family or friend./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for the nine countries which have nuclear weapons:/ The United Kingdom,/ France,/ China,/ India,/ Pakistan,/ Israel,/ The United States and North Korea,/ asking for stability,/ non-aggression and responsibility./ We pray to the Lord.

There are sixty million refugees in the world./ We pray for them and all who are without homes and in a strange land./ We pray too for those countries,/ who though overwhelmed,/ are trying to be welcoming and helpful./ We pray to the Lord.

Awaken in human hearts the spirit of civility,/ kindness and justice./ Console those who are rejected and fearful,/ especially the elderly,/ the sick/ and the  children./ We pray to the Lord.

Give to those who have died,/ mindful of our own dear ones,/ the gifts and blessings of life/ and joy in Christ./ We pray to the Lord.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Lenten Mercy-Meditation: Joseph's Month of March and Failing Our Children

Murillo ~ Saint Joseph and the Christ Child

The Carmelite nuns of Terre Haute, Indianna recently sent an invitation to share in the novena they pray every year in anticipation of the March 19th Feast of Saint Joseph. Beneath the icon on the front of the card was printed, Saint Joseph ~ Mentor of the Merciful One. I've heard Joseph called Guardian, Protector and Guide, but Mentor is an especially active word and beautiful. Then I came across these statistics reporting on the sex abuse of young people in our own country and thought, how deeply we fail our children. 

  • The average age for first abuse is 9.9 years for boys and 9.6 years for girls.
  • Children with disabilities are 4 to 10 times more vulnerable to sexual abuse than their non-disabled peers.
  • 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse. Boys are probably higher, but less likely to report.
  • Over the course of their lifetime, 28% of U.S. youth ages 14 to 17 had been sexually victimized
  • 62,939 cases of child sexual abuse were reported in 2012. (Approximately 30% are  reported to the authorities so the actual number of abused children is much higher.)
  • Approximately 1.8 million adolescents in the U.S. have been the victims of sexual assault.
  • 93% know their abuser. 34.2 % of attackers were family members and 58.7% were acquaintances. Only 7% were strangers to the victims.
  • Nearly 50% of all the victims of forcible sodomy, sexual assault with an object, and forcible fondling are children under the age of 12.
  • There are 60 million survivors of child sex abuse in the U.S. today.

A Catholic can't claim to love Saint Joseph and not have the care and protection of children right up front in his or her list of priorities. It is sometimes said of Catholics that we admire the saints more than copy them. Joseph has the young Jesus by the hand in this Murilo painting. For Lent, let's find an active way to take care of children, if even from a distance.

RAINN: Rape Abuse and Incest National Network
Parents for Megan's Law/The Crime Victim's Center
The U.S. Department of Justice NSOPW (National Sex Offender Public Website)

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Lenten Mercy~Meditation: Ephphatha ~ Be Opened!

Be opened!
On his return journey from Tyrian territory he went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee through the territory of the Ten Towns. They brought to him a man who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech, with the request that he would lay his hand on him. He took the man aside, away from the crowd, put his fingers into his ears, spat, and touched his tongue. Then, looking up to heaven, he sighed, and said to him, Ephphatha, which means Be opened. With that his ears were opened, and at the same time the impediment was removed and he spoke plainly. Jesus forbade them to tell anyone; but the more he forbade them, the more they published it. Mark 7: 31-36

From Tyrian territory he went by way of Sidon.  Jesus doesn't play it safe; he's passing through, and active in, a non-Jewish area. And it's in these non-Jewish areas that he often encounters remarkable faith. Surprise!

They brought to him a man who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech. This was probably a poor Greek man, but his greater poverty was his inability to hear and speak. And if he had suffered the handicaps from birth, the poverty would be deeper still.

He took the man aside. Jesus is trying to avoid the crowds because what he does is easily misconstrued. But I like this image of Jesus taking the man aside because it suggests a great sensitivity and intimacy on the part of Jesus. The man has likely endured a lifetime of ridicule and torment. In this moment Jesus gives him a break from all of that. 

Jesus put his fingers into the man's ears, looked up to heaven and sighed. A sigh can be a prayer. A groan. A tear. A shudder. A laugh. 

Ephphatha ~ Be opened! We open lots of things: the refrigerator, a book, the mail, the spring time windows, our wallets. Then it gets personal: Open your heart. Open your mind. But I'd suggest there's more than just the opening of the man's physical ears and his no longer being tongue-tied. Be opened can signify a great readiness, an eager willingness, a felt desire to become an individuated person. Remember the definition:
Individuation is 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.
Innate means: what we're born with. What could be more pleasing to God than that! Saint Irenaeus wrote: The glory of God is the human person fully alive. Sad when the culture thinks this means, "Oh thank God, I now have the nose I always dreamed of, the whitest teeth, the shiniest hair, the softest skin, the sexiest physique, the most fabulous job...."