Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A Monk's Prayer for a Peaceful World

Mother of God ~ Bethlehem

Almighty God and Creator, You are the Father of all people on the earth. Guide, I pray, all the nations and their leaders in the ways of justice and peace. Protect us from the evils of injustice, prejudice, exploitation, conflict and war. Help us to put away mistrust, bitterness and hatred. Teach us to cease the storing of implements of war. Lead us to find peace, respect and freedom. Unite us in the making and sharing of tools of peace against ignorance, poverty, disease and oppression. Grant that we may grow in harmony and friendship as brothers and sisters created in your image, to Your honor and praise. Amen.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

"Grow Jesus..."

Here is a remarkable prayer written by Bernadette Soubirous, who at Lourdes, France experienced apparitions of the Virgin Mary eighteen times in 1858. What's so fine about the prayer-thoughts is that Bernadette was an un-educated peasant girl. Her life was little more than the hard work and suffering that comes with terrible poverty. Burdened by ridicule and rejection at home, when she finally made her way to the convent at Nevers, she was put upon by superiors who felt Bernadette should never for a moment think herself to be special. Pretty sad stuff. 

Still, so aware of her own resistant inner shadow, Bernadette has left us this lovely Christo-centric prayer, asking only for Jesus to so seize her, that she would grow and grow into the full person God imagined her to be. What a wonderful prayer to pray at the start of a new week. 

Prayer of Saint Bernadette

Grow Jesus, grow within me, in my heart, in my spirit, in my imagination, in my senses, through your humility, your zeal, your love. Grow with your grace, your light, your peace. Grow in spite of my resistance, my pride. Grow to the fullness of perfect humanity; grow before God and others, for the glory of your Father, as you did in Nazareth. Amen

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Intercessions ~ Twenty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

August Peaches

The planet on which we live is a miracle of beauty and order./ We pray to love our earth-home/ as it is God's gift to us./ We pray to the Lord./ 

We pray for the people of central Italy,/ devastated by earthquake this week./ For the rescuers,/ helpers,/ the injured and the homeless./ We pray to the Lord.

In September/ Pope Francis will return to Assisi for the third time/ to join other religious leaders in a prayer for peace./ We link ourselves to him in this heart-desire./ For a just and peaceful world./ We pray to the Lord.

Monday is the Feast of the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist./ For Christians who suffer/ and who risk death for believing in Jesus./ We pray to the Lord.

Keep our nation in your care,/ guide us in the ways of justice,/ kindness,/ hospitality and knowledge of you./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for those who married this summer/ and for the strengthening and safeguarding of families in every place./ For those who have the care of children./ We pray to the Lord.

Heal us/ and save us/ from oppressive words,/ spiritual blindness,/ cynicism,/ ignoring the poor and those who suffer./ Console the sick and strengthen those who care for them./ We pray to the Lord.

And for the those who have died,/ mindful of those who die with no prayer offered for them,/ who die in wars,/ by neglect,/ disaster or violence./ Strengthen and restore mourners./ And for the salvation of all./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Seeing And Then Praying

I didn't plant this sunflower beside the compost pile and along the edge of the woods. Maybe a bird dropped the seed there, or  a squirrel, chipmunk or mouse buried it in the leaves, intending to store it up for the winter time. But evidently the seed found the spot amenable: the soil moist and soft enough with sufficient light and warmth. And now it is blooming in the middle of August. Pure pleasure and surprise.

I must open my eyes for seeing, not walking around head down or keeping myself glued only to the areas where I work or where I want to go.

Remember the scene where Saul was struck blind on the road to Damascus and then was sent to Ananias who placed his hands over Saul's eyes. First Saul's eyes were opened and only then did he receive the Holy Spirit.
"Saul, brother, the Lord has sent me - Jesus who appeared to you on your journey here - so that you may recover your sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit." Immediately something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again. He got to his feet and was baptized. Then he took some food and regained his strength. Acts of the Apostles 9:18,19
Recently the world saw an online photo gone viral of a little, stunned and wounded, five year old boy sitting in an ambulance in Syria after rockets destroyed his family home. The boy's name is Omran. Did I see the picture long enough to find out what it's all about? And then did I see with my inner eyes my little Syrian brother, victimized by the horror of war?

Now the Holy Spirit can spark prayer in us:

Who created the idea of these killer rockets? Father forgive.
Who builds these rockets and bombs? Father forgive.
Who sells, who buys these murder-weapons? Father forgive.
Who is the man who gave the orders for Omran's village to be destroyed? Father forgive.
Who blew up Omran's house where his family lived? Father forgive.

Who are the people who think it's okay to bomb homes? Father forgive.
Who are the people who think, "Oops, collateral damage; well that's war." Father forgive.
Who dug frantically and rescued Omran and his parents and siblings? Bless them, Father.
Who's the man in the video who put Omran in the  ambulance? Bless him, Father.
Who drove the ambulance to the place where Omran's family was treated? Bless them, Father.

Was it a poorly supplied hospital where stressed doctors work? Bless them, Father.
Who tended to Omran's wounds? Bless them, Father.
Who gave Omran water to wash out his dust and blood-filled mouth? Bless them, Father.
Who told Omran's parents that their other son, Ali, was dead? Bless them, Father.
Who kindly reunited Omran with his family? Bless them, Father.

Who took in Omran's homeless family? Bless them, Father.
Who are the people looking after the ten million children of war? Bless them, Father.
Who are the people who know that war is a pro-life issue? Bless them, Father.
The last doctors of Syria are begging for hospital supplies? Bless them, Father.
Is anyone working to make this insanity stop? Bless them, Father.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Feast of Mary's Crowning

A Catholic would say that Mary is the first disciple because she was the first to say yes to Jesus at the Annunciation. Maybe we know this verse from the Letter of Saint James 1:12
The man who patiently endures the temptations and trials that come to him is the truly happy man. For once his testing is complete he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to all who love him.

So there's a crown reserved for each of  us, and Mary has gone ahead to receive her own: promised to those who love God

While heaven may be a place, "In my Father's house there are many dwelling places," (John 14:2) more importantly it is the enjoyment of the full presence of God. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux writes that the joy of heaven increased, when in the Assumption, souls heard Mary's voice as she stepped over into that full presence of God.

Someone might dismissively say: Oh that's so naive. Maybe. But that's because we usually think of naivete negatively, as lacking intelligence, seasoned wisdom and good judgment, being unrealistic and needing to get real. But the French word naive really means: innocence, unworldliness, trustfulness, just born, uncritical, natural and without guile.

The meaning of the word is very beautiful, such that, yes, we might rightly apply it to St. Bernard's vision of heaven: joy increasing at the sound of Mary's voice. Just delight!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Another Reason For Hope

Here's some good news. This summer four young men, Momika, Emad, Petros and Paul were ordained priests for the Syriac Catholic Church in Iraq.

The ordination took place in the Erbil Aishty refugee camp, home to 5,500 people who fled the ISIS take over of Qaraqosh, Iraq's Catholic Center in 2014. Their seminary having been closed during the attack, the four moved to Lebanon where they completed their theological studies. 

The makeshift sheet-metal church, which seats about 800, was packed with 1500 worshipers for the ordination. We can only imagine the joy these Christians felt that day: a bit of hope and strength restored. 

In a Catholic News Service interview, Father Momika said, "I want to stand with the refugees despite the danger to our lives. I want to give them power, hope and courage to continue their lives to stay in their homeland."

So here it is: when everything spelled violence and death, fear, sorrow and loss, these four were ordained priests. Like the lotus in the August 12th  post, sending out this splendid flower, up and out of the mud.

O Jesus, that we would be more joyful Christians.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Intercessions ~ Twenty First Sunday in Ordinary Time

August is the month of fires and floods./ We pray for those who have suffered losses recently,/ and for those who generously and bravely,/ rescue and help./ We pray to the Lord.

Direct us/ that our political positions and opinions would reflect the teaching of Jesus:/ Love your neighbor./ We pray to the Lord.

In these summer days/ free us from cynicism and despair./ Give us grateful,/ happy hearts/ for the generous love you show./ We pray to the Lord.

Bless religious leaders everywhere./ Give peace and security to Christians who are in trouble for the name of Jesus./ We pray to the Lord.

School will begin soon,/ and so we pray for children and young people:/ for their safety,/ and growth in learning and goodness./ And for the ones who have no school to go to./ We pray to the Lord.

For those who have no joy in life/ who know only trouble and pain./ Give us hearts that are eager to share./ We pray to the Lord.

For any who struggle with sickness,/ injury,/ emotional problems and  addictions./ Bless the people who help others to get well./ And we pray for those who have died and for their salvation./ We pray to the Lord. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Praying In The Night Time

Carthusian monks and nuns go to bed around eight o'clock but then they're up and out of bed at one in the morning, the start of their day. They pray through the night: praising and thanking God, watchful and anticipating the resurrection-dawn over the world in its darkness. Mind you, darkness doesn't simply mean sin, but human need, pain, ignorance, fear, trouble, confusion. Here is a picture of a Carthusian monk praying at night. He's wearing his cowl up; perhaps the chapel is cold or it helps to keep him in his interior place.

Sometimes we're awake at night too. Maybe we've had caffeine too close to bedtime or some anxiety is disturbing us, a dream or some outside noise has woken us. Usually we fuss about it and lament that we're losing sleep, but I'd suggest when we're awakened in the night we can become aware of the monks and nuns who are praying and join them, if even for a short while. He're's some ideas.

Right now, monks and nuns are praying.
Right now, there are people wandering~looking for a place to sleep.
Right now, some people are restless, their bodies filled with aches and pains.
Right now, there are people who are afraid of the night.
Right now, a baby is being born.

I intercede for peace around the world.
I intercede for all the children of the world.
I intercede for homes where there is fighting.
I intercede for those whose lives are ruined by drugs.
I intercede for anyone far away from home.

Comfort for those who are dying tonight.
Comfort for those who keep vigil at deathbeds.
Comfort for those who are suffering terrible loneliness.
Comfort for those who are weeping.
Comfort for those who are exhausted from the day.

In a prayer-solidarity with parents awake with sick children.
In a prayer-solidarity with those who feel forgotten.
In a prayer-solidarity with those who are in danger.
In a prayer-solidarity with anyone dreading tomorrow.
In a prayer-solidarity with those who are beginning their day.

Bless the people filled with anxiety.
Bless those awaiting help in Emergency Rooms.
Bless the night doctors and nurses.
Bless the rescuers.
Bless all who work the night-shift.

I pray for those who keep us safe through the night.
I pray for prisoners.
I pray for those who are doing criminal things right now.
I pray for those who can't sleep because they are hungry.
I pray for those who plan violence and death.

Rest for those who work hard for very little.
Rest for those who are discouraged.
Rest for those consumed with anger and resentment.
Rest for those with no inner peace.
Rest for those who are insomniacs.

A prayer for the safety of soldiers and sailors under every flag.
A prayer for people who live where there's war.
A prayer for those who are running for their lives.
A prayer for those who are frantic for the welfare of their children.
A prayer for the elderly and the frail who are left behind.

Blessings for this country and its leaders.
Blessings for my neighborhood.
Blessings for night-time travelers.
Blessings for my parish.
Blessings for my family and friends.

And, O God, a blessing for myself: that I would know how to love and serve you tomorrow.  Amen

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Cross Carrying

Then he called the people to him, as well as his disciples, and said to them, "Anyone who wishes to be a follower of mine must leave self behind; he must take up his cross, and come with me. Whoever cares for his own safety is lost; but if a man will let himself be lost for my sake and for the Gospel, that man is safe. What does a man gain by winning the whole world at the cost of his true self? What can he give to buy that self back? If anyone is ashamed of me and mine in this wicked and godless age, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him, when he comes in the glory of his Father and of the holy angels. He also said, "I tell you this: there are some of those standing here who will not taste death before they have seen the kingdom of God already come in power." Mark 8:34-9:1
And the New Living Translation of Matthew's version 16:24 says, "If any of you wants to be my follower, you must take up your cross." Did you catch that? Jesus doesn't say, "take up my cross." He doesn't say, "take up some else's cross." He doesn't say, "take up the cross." But as Jesus is talking to a whole crowd of people in these verses, "take up your cross." 

Jesus doesn't see us generically, one size fits all, but as individuated persons, as personal and unique. Pope John Paul II said to a group of young people:
"Who am I? What is the meaning of my life? What is my destiny? My answer is very simple but it has tremendous implications. Listen, you are one of God's thoughts! You are one of God's heartbeats! To say this, implies that, in a certain sense, your life has infinite value and your 'irreplaceable individuality' is what is most precious in God's sight."
Jesus knows what's gong on with me in my secret place, where I don't face myself, where I don't hear myself, where I don't know myself. Your cross! Let's not make it about anyone else. 

As with many of the things Jesus says, we can quote and summarize them in unexplored, off-handed ways - as if we really know exactly what the cross means. "Oh Jesus died on the cross to forgive our sins." "Oh Jesus died on the cross to open the gates of heaven." If we ever expect young Americans to have any interest in Jesus we'd better find new language to present him, as their language and world view are constantly changing. 

The cross was what Jesus had to do; it's what was put in front of him to accomplish. And it's that way with us too. Life puts "stuff" in front of us that very simply we need to "take up". 
  • Getting up every morning and slugging through the day
  • Dealing with the complexities of relationships and personalities
  • Raising a family
  • Welcoming a new baby 
  • Taking care of the house, the garden
  • Tending to an aging parent
  • Managing limited money

The cross doesn't have to be unpleasant or an impossibly heavy burden. It's just what needs to be done, what I'm responsible for just today, going with life as it unfolds.

On the other hand, yes, sometimes the cross means suffering. Suffering does seem to be part of cross-carrying and we can eat it away, sex it away, moan and groan and complain it away, medicate it away, smoke it away, drink it away, become bitter and ugly. Or we can live in it, evolve and learn from it. We can experience a personal Easter through it all!

And take up your cross means that something has to die. This is interior work - the hard work of our transformation. This might mean my grudges, my resentments, my short fuse, my alienating moodiness, my hatred, my stubbornness, my settling into ignorance and swearing it's the God's-honest-truth because someone said it on my TV station.

Something has to die. How sour and mean we can be, what contempt we can have for people - even people we don't know. Though it's said we're much harder on our family members than we are on strangers. Jean Vanier is the founder of L'Arche, the community that accompanies handicapped persons. When he stepped down from leadership he went to live in the house which cared for the most severely handicapped persons. He said of that time, "I realized my capacity for anger and hate." Thank you, Jean Vanier for your honesty and humility!

Take up your cross means something has to change from the inside out. And this can be crucifying, fearsome, dreadful. Have you ever experienced anything like that in your spiritual life? 

A final thought. We must never say of another person: a spouse, a sibling, a child, a parent, "Oh he's my cross." People are not crosses. Making that claim, "She's my cross" makes me to be heroic, super-whatever, in carrying THEM. 

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Let Us Be Encouraged

Did you hear about this? Someone heard the sounds of loud crying through the apartment walls in Rome and notified the police. When the officers arrived, Andrew, Alexander, Ernesto and Mirko, they found nothing criminal but 84 year old Jole and her 94 year old husband Michele, alone, overwhelmed to tears with loneliness, and sadness over the awful headlines in the news of late.

So the officers made them dinner: spaghetti with butter and Parmesan cheese and spent the evening chatting and hanging out. One article reporting the event said: "Sometimes all you need to feel a little better is a bowl of pasta and good company." 

There are still good people, paying attention, and doing good things.

Friday, August 12, 2016

A Prayer To Pacify Hateful Feelings

While the lotus leaves and flowers appear on the surface of the water, its roots settle into the mud below. It is a marvelous image of our capacity for transformation: that even the "mud" of our lives, our hateful thoughts, can grow into peace, courtesy, respect, acceptance and love. Here is a prayer found in an Eastern priest's ritual book. I've adjusted the language a little to make it more accessible for people today.

A Prayer To Pacify Hateful Feelings

I thank You, O Master and Lord of humankind, King of the ages and Giver of every good thing, Who destroys the wall of hatred and Who grants peace to the world. Instill in me a love for You and fear of anything that would take me from You, and confirm me in love for other people. Extinguish every dispute and banish every temptation to bitterness and contention. For You are our Peace, and to You I send up glory: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Intercessions ~ Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Plantain Lily ~ Assumption Flower

Monday is the Feast of Mary's Easter,/ her Assumption./ Give new joy to the Church/ as we are brothers and sisters gathered in the Lord/ and with Mary, our Mother./ We pray to the Lord.

We ask for new hearts/ which like pregnant Mary/ bring Jesus to a world of disorder and despair./ We pray to the Lord.

While our own nation is absorbed in election year politics/ let us not forget the rest of the world,/ offering prayer for people who are struggling and suffering pain,/ hardship and sorrow./ We pray to the Lord.

Grant healing to the people of our country/ where we forget courtesy,/ tolerance and patience./ Convert violent hearts./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for the safety and health of our friends/ those who help us to feel more alive./ We pray as well for anyone who is a source of irritation,/ trouble/ or the loss of our peace./ We pray to the Lord.

As these summer days are still filled with light,/ we pray for people who live in the darkness of hate./ We pray too for the sick,/ the wounded,/ the mentally troubled/ for mourners./ We pray to the Lord.

For those who have died this week/ in wars,/ disasters,/ in the service of others,/ or by injustice./ For the salvation of all./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Real Decorating

God clothes the field

There's an online company of sorts that automatically sends pictures they think might be useful to this blog. The other day there was the photograph of a book titled: Decorating the Catholic Home. I thought at once, how odd, a whole book on decorating rooms the Catholic way; what a distraction from the inner spiritual work to be undertaken if I would know Jesus. The only decoration I need be concerned with is the "decorating" of myself. We might have a think on these verses:
For now that you have faith in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God. All of you who were baptized into Christ have put on the family likeness of Christ. Gone is the distinction between Jew and Greek, slave and free man, male and female - you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:23-28
What you learned was to fling off the dirty clothes of the old way of living, which were rotted through and through with lust's illusion, and, with yourselves mentally and spiritually re-made, to put on the clean fresh clothes of the new life which was made by God's design for righteousness and the holiness which is no illusion. Ephesians 4:22-24
But now you must put away all these things: evil temper, furious rage, malice, insults and shouted abuse! Don't deceive each other with lies anymore, for you have discarded the old nature and all that it did, and you have put on the new nature which, by constant renewal in the likeness of its Creator, leads to a fuller knowledge of God. Colossians 3:8-10
As, therefore, God's picked representatives, purified and beloved, put on that nature which is merciful in action, kindly in heart, and humble in mind. Accept life, and be most patient and tolerant with one another, always ready to forgive if you have a difference with anyone. Forgive as freely as the Lord has forgiven you. And, above everything else, put on love, for love binds all the virtues together in perfection. Colossians 3:12-14

This gives a whole new understanding to the idea of decorating, doesn't it? Christianity is an inner way, so let's not worry about how "Catholic" the house looks. I would add to Saint Paul's thoughts that there is the decorating of our personal evolution: the realization of the idea God had in mind the moment of our being called into existence. 

But someone might say: "If the outer environment is this way and that way, then it will lead us to our interior place." I'd disagree, but only because so often we land in the outer re-arranging of our lives which is so much more comfortable, while the inner work of real spiritual living receives scant attention. Keep the rule and the rule will keep you, the young novices were taught for too long.
What miserable frauds you are, you scribes and Pharisees! You clean the outside of the cup and the dish, while the inside is full of greed and self-indulgence. Can't you see, Pharisee? First wash the inside of the cup and then the outside will be clean. Matthew 23:25
Alas for you, you hypocritical scribes and Pharisees! You are like white-washed tombs, which look fine on the outside but inside are full of dead men's bones and all kinds of rottenness. Matthew 23:27

O Jesus, that I would never give you cause for so harsh an assessment of me!

And one last glad thought: ultimately the interior work to be undertaken is effected by God, who decorates the world. Jesus teaches us:
If God so clothes the grass, which flowers in the field today and is burnt in the stove tomorrow, is he not much more likely to clothe you of little faith..." Luke 12:28

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Mother of God ~ Bright Antidote to Hate

The icon shown here is of Our Lady of Kazan. A magnificent riza (ree-za) of stones and pearls has been created and placed over the image as a heart-gift. We might take a few moments to consider the tender face of the Mother of God; Jesus gazing out at us from a blanket of pearls. The holy Mother's crown is placed by golden angels. 

Now there is news about a group of devil worshipers who are scheduled to hold a "black mass" on the Feast of the Assumption, August 15, at the Oklahoma Civic Center and Music Hall in Oklahoma City. This will be the second time the group has been able to secure the spot, despite over 100,000 signatures petitioning the mayor to prevent it.

But there are First Amendment rights that make it legal to hold a "black mass" as no one is being threatened with physical harm.

Not only is there going to a "black mass" (which often includes the desecration of a stolen host) but following, there will be a ritual called the "Consumption of the Virgin Mary", in which her statue is covered with blood, sulphur, insults and whatever else. Catholics could enter into all kinds of outrage and threat, but Jesus has told us what to do. 
You have heard that it used to be said "An eye for an eye and a tooth for tooth", but I tell you, don't resist evil. If a man hits your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If a man wants to sue you for your coat, let him have it and your cloak as well. If anybody forces you to go a mile with him, do more - go two miles with him. Give to the man who asks anything from you, and don't turn away from the man who wants to borrow.
You have heard that it used to be said "Thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy", but I tell you, "Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Heavenly Father. For he makes his sun rise upon evil men as well as good, and he sends his rain upon honest and dishonest men alike."
"For if you love only those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even tax-collectors do that? And if you exchange greetings only with your own circle, are you doing anything exceptional? Even the pagans do that much. No, you will be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5: 38-48

This is a stunning and completely new teaching, yet how many Christians really apply it to their lives? We hear it, but do we do it? 

So here the Mother of God and the Holy Infant are decorated with pearls and stones, but all the more with love, tender-mercy, compassion and forgiveness for humanity in its folly, toxic hatred, ignorance and stupidity.

Here's a Prayer to Forgive Enemies found in the Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer. We might make it part of our morning prayer between now and the Feast of the Assumption. 

O God, the Father of all,
whose Son commanded us to love our enemies:
lead them and us from prejudice to truth;
deliver them and us from hatred,
cruelty and revenge; 
and in your good time enable us all to stand 
reconciled before you,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Intercessions ~ Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

August Sunflower

Summer is the season of plenty./ We pray for those who suffer from fire,/ drought or storm./ For the safety of summer travelers and vacationers,/ but also those who get no relaxing summer break/or time away./ We pray to the Lord.

While in Poland for World Youth Day,/ Pope Francis fell during Mass./ We pray for his stamina,/ good health and safety,/ and for the many hundreds of thousands of young people who joined the pope during those prayerful days./ We pray to the Lord.

Heal the nation where there is division,/ discourtesy,/ or where we have forgotten how to trust/ and love each other./ We pray to the Lord.

Give healing,/ clarity and strength/ to families where there is illness,/ dysfunction and brokenness./ We pray to the Lord.

The Summer Olympics are being held in Brazil these days./ We ask for its spirit of friendship,/ joy and cooperation to extend around the world./ That the Olympics would be an antidote to hate./ We pray to the Lord.

For those whose minds are sick with terrorist plans,/ and for those who work to keep us safe./ We pray too for Christians who in many places around the world are feeling vulnerable these days./ We pray to the Lord.

And to those who have died recently,/ mindful of those lost in terrorist attacks,/ give gifts of life,/ light and joy-restored./ Give comfort and hope to those who mourn./ We pray to the Lord.

Priest-Martyr Jacques Hamel ~ pray for us

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Heaven with us in our alarm...

I love these statues of the Virgin Mary and Child Jesus that have survived from the Middle Ages: the Holy Infant sitting on Mary's slung-out hip, the way mothers do. And the brilliant colors of Mary's outfit reveal that what we casually call The Dark Ages - wasn't. 

But here, while Mary is playing with Jesus or perhaps getting ready to cut up the apple she's holding in her other hand, something has got her attention. Indeed, she seems startled or alarmed. We might imagine some danger is near or something unpleasant. She might hide him in the folds of her great mantle and pull him in close. Perhaps her gaze and stance reveal to us that heaven knows and shares our own sense of alarm.

It's a wonderfully alive part of the Catholic imagination that we are all her children in the life of faith. Her motherly antennae are up and receptive when we invoke her in life's alarms:

  • Terrorism which spares no one: not children, not babies in strollers, not the elderly, not a priest offering Mass is alarming.
  • Science deniers are alarming.
  • Our veneration of weapon-guns that anyone can get hold of and which leaves law enforcement vulnerable is alarming.
  • Religion which covers its eyes and ears is alarming.
  • The degradation of our  planet is alarming.
  • Religion twisted into an ideology of hate and death is alarming.
  • The bizarre and fearsome talk coming out of this election time is alarming.
  • The re-birth of racism and the new depth of hate is alarming.
  • That a great country still knows so much poverty is alarming.
  • Machinations to get hold of power is alarming.
  • Legislators who don't legislate, even on behalf of children is alarming.
  • Our inability to extract ourselves from war is alarming.
  • The casual acceptance of "collateral damage" is alarming.
  • The sex exploitation of children around the world is alarming.
  • The normalizing of lies is alarming.
  • The loss of the Christic-center is alarming.

And now? How are we not to become utterly depressed? Well, Pope Francis has just wrapped up five days in Poland which politically has taken a sharp right, nationalist turn. Catholic news sources report it's no secret the Polish clergy don't even like Francis with his themes of openness, even though it was Polish born Carol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II, who said at the very start of his papacy, Open the doors to Christ. 

How bad is it? There is an alarming report of an Orthodox Jew and German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, being burned in effigy in Poland. and that the Catholic Church is warm and friendly towards this new nationalist government. We might hope that by now the Church would have learned not to align itself with any government, as the Church falls hard when the supportive government falls. The Russian and French Revolutions bear this out. 

But before leaving Poland and World Youth Day last week, Pope Francis said to the hundreds of thousands of young people:
"Believe in a new humanity which refuses to  use  borders as barriers and spurns hatred among peoples."
"God demands of us real courage, the courage to be more powerful than evil, by loving everyone, even our enemies."

When I was a sophomore in high school I was living in a very deep sense of inner collapse, lonely fear and failure. And one evening, escaping to the public library, hiding in the stacks from a thousand fears, I came across a vinyl recording of Bach's Easter Oratorio. 

I took it home and listened to it again and again, especially the very beginning which I've shared with us here. If you can, listen to it a second or third time (full screen/full volume). Listen for the base line, the bottom layer with the heaviest instruments. I like to imagine this underneath, expresses the feet of the Risen Jesus trampling on death and fear and all that exhausts and distracts us with alarm. See if you can detect that too, and let Jesus, our Champion, give you some reassurance and peace.