Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Sexagesima ~ Transitioning To Lent

Violet: Transitioning to Lent ~ Easter

So last Sunday (Septuagesima on the old calendar) I proposed a Lenten fast from complaining, blaming and grumbling. Today is called Sexagesima Sunday which is roughly sixty days to Easter. Collectively these three old-fashioned Sundays, with the strange Latin names, is get-ready-time. Head's up - Lent is coming!

The Catholic way still attends to some kind of Lenten dietary observance - at least the abstinence from meat on the Lenten Fridays, and the Ash Wednesday and Good Friday fasts. But my proposal might stand a better chance of impacting us for the long term. The check-list below might sound absurd, but really, (if we're paying attention), it's us who are absurd with all our complaining, blaming and grumbling. Like living in a room of bad air.

We complain about:
the traffic
the parking lot
the neighbors
the relatives

We grumble about:
the prices
the taxes
the weather
the food

We blame:
the waitress
the government
the electric company
the boss

We complain about:
the long lines
the technology
the temperature
the colleagues

We grumble about:
the mail delivery
the satellite reception
everything being made in China
the news anchor

We blame:
the president
the politicians*
maybe even the pope
the newcomers

We complain about:
the young people
our spouses
the addicts
the gays

We grumble about:
the railroad
the crowds
the teacher
the high school rival

We blame
the Muslims
the Jews
the Mexicans
the French

We complain about
the homeless
the new world order
the left - the right
the waiting room

We grumble about
the too long red light
the aches and pains
the person behind the counter
the ethnicity of law breakers

We blame
the police
the ineffective cold remedy
the people who should know better
and God himself

OK - we get it, we get it! Oh, one more: the priest, his sermons and his bishop!

It's pathetic really: so much air used up, so much energy and time. The suffering of our inner discontent! So for Lent - let's just cut it out. Read a happy book. Start some tomato seeds in the house. Get a garden ready. Turn off all the bad news/sad news. Practice silence - not moody silence though. Make our own book of counted blessings. Read the Gospels and  high-lite in bright yellow every verse that's happy news. Consciously inhale and exhale compassion and kindness on everyone you meet or even think about. Pope Francis' Mercy Jubilee will make sense then, because when all the pulpit words go silent, bottom line is: Mercy means kindness.

*Maybe we can allow some criticism of politicians - after all, Jesus called Herod a fox. Luke 13:32

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Feeling Adrift? Hail, Bright Star of Ocean!

Do we remember this gospel verse
"Therefore," Jesus said, "remember that every scribe well-trained for the Kingdom of the Heavens, is like a householder, who brings out of his storehouse new things and old."  Matthew 13:52

Perhaps this means we need to be continually reminded of the things Jesus teaches us because our minds are distracted and over-loaded. And it also might mean that in the tradition there are lovely and important things we need to bring out again and again and even look at in a new way as the world changes. It's also said that in the future, churches will only be successful with new and younger members who take environmental things very seriously. Green Churches, we might say. I get it!

So here is a charming antique holy card of the Virgin Mary under the title: Stella Maris ~ Star of the Sea. Mary stands prayerfully over the world's waters. And these waters are troubled: the coral reefs are dying as the oceans warm, where wars have been fought, where great ships and countless lives have been lost, where human greed is stressing fish populations to extinction, the waters of drilling disasters. Mary stands prayerfully over the paradise world we are spoiling. She hopes for us to act.

And our human lives are sometimes likened to a sea crossing - especially as life can be tumultuous with sickness, heart-ache, losses and suffering. The artist who painted this dear card seems to understand this: Look, the waves are white-capped! This means the sea is tempestuous, and the little boat of my life seems to have lost at least one of its sails, indicating it is in trouble and adrift. 

And the millions of refugees are adrift, the children who are lost and looking for home are adrift, the people who have visited all the doctors and tried everything unsuccessfully are adrift. Or adrift might mean the inner, fearful, pained-wandering of depression. Heaven knows.

Here is a choir of monks singing the medieval vesper hymn to Mary: Ave Maris Stella. An English translation runs under the Latin. It is said that perhaps the hymn was composed by St. Bernard of Clairvaux (called the Harp of Mary) who lived in the 12th century. So then, people have been singing this hymn for a very long time. 

I'd suggest that like that other great Marian hymn, Salve Regina, these sung verses have the power to re-orient, balance and calm us.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Intercessions ~ Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Iranian President, Rouhani,/ visited the Vatican this week/ asking Pope Francis for prayers at their meeting's end./ We join the pope in his prayer for world leaders,/ asking for them to be agents of justice,/ reconciliation and healing./ We pray to the Lord. 

Tuesday is the Feast of the Presentation in the Temple./ We pray to know Christ in his light,/ scattering and illumining what is dark within each of us./ We pray to the Lord.

Pope Francis will visit Sweden in October/ to mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation./ Guide the Church/ and heal the wounds of suspicion,/ division and contention./ We pray to the Lord. 

Lent begins shortly./ Bless our efforts/ and bring us to an Easter of joyful renewal./ We pray to the Lord. 

Take charge of hearts that are adrift in hate,/ ignorance and selfishness,/ Make strong those who are struggling to hold onto hope and happiness./ We pray to the Lord.

Restore families separated by war and disaster,/ comfort and heal the children traumatized by terror./ Bless those who are trying to help./ We pray to the Lord.

Give new strength,/ resolve and confidence to the sick and those who are suffering./ And to those who have died/ give the fullness of life you have promised./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Delight in Jesus!

Frank Wesley's Indian Style Painting: Jesus Heals the Sick

Before leaving chapter six of Saint Mark's Gospel there are a final four verses which we shouldn't ignored:

So they finished the crossing and came to land at Gennesaret, where they made fast. When they came ashore, he was immediately recognized and the people scoured that whole country-side and brought the sick on stretchers to any place where he was reported to be. Wherever he went, to farmsteads, villages, or towns, they laid out the sick in the market-places and begged him to let them simply touch the edge of his cloak; and all who touched him were cured.  Mark 6: 53-56

The verses here come after two very big and detailed miracles which have been reflected upon in separate posts over the past few weeks: The Feeding of Five Thousand and Jesus Walking on the Stormy Sea. 

In the stormy sea miracle the disciples thought Jesus was a ghost, but not here at Gennesaret. Here they have no fear, but full of brokenness, sickness and despair, they flock to Jesus. What a scene!

The two previous miracles are so specific, Mark even tells us how the men were arranged in groups on the ground and gives number details about the food itself. But in these verses Mark creates the gospel image with broad generalizations. Maybe he doesn't have the miracle-details as he did with the previous accounts, but he wants everything about Jesus to be remembered and recognized, even if his information or memory are sketchy.

In this scene at Gennesaret the people love, embrace and welcome Jesus. But soon we'll see this love contrasted with the hatred some religious leaders feel for him. Maybe Mark presents the contrast so his readers (including us) will know they have a choice. You can't stay neutral with Jesus - you've got to choose.

These verses mark the first time the tassels or fringes are mentioned that observant Jewish men wore (and sometimes still do) on their clothing. Jesus was an observant Jew. Remember the hemorrhaging woman in the crowd who said, "If only I can touch his cloak," (Mark 5:21-43). It sounds a little magical perhaps, but there's faith in that touch. But the contrast is established when in another place (Matthew 23:5) Jesus refers to the Pharisees whose religion is showy, who lengthen their tassels or widen the borders of their clothing to enhance their prestige.

It's hard to believe this kind of thing could exist today in a world of naked poverty, but there's a retro thing going on among some clergy - the priests (even young ones who should know better) all decorated in high clerical couture: buttons, colored fabrics, sashes, hats and capes. Pope Francis has called them out, referring to them as peacocks and princes. Jesus will have none of it. 

Bottom line. We might read these few verses again and just feel the excitement. The words hold and carry us in a wave of enthusiasm for Jesus. The first thing to characterize a believer, a pastor, a parish, the Church itself, must be an active delight in and enthusiasm for Jesus in himself.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Septuagesima ~ Getting Ready For Lent

Agapanthus just before blooming

It is Septuagesima Sunday on the old liturgical calendar. Septuagesima means Easter is nine weeks away - roughly seventy days. It is the first of three transition Sundays (the other two being Sexagesima and Quinquagesima) escorting us from the Christmas-Epiphany season to Lent. It is the Sunday when the Alleluia disappears and the vestment color changes to violet. The lovely Agapanthus buds in the photo above clue us in.

Septuagesima gives us a heads up. Get ready! Don't be caught off guard! Have a plan! Give Lent some thought now so you can get off to a running start come Ash Wednesday. 

Many Catholics haven't got an idea of Lent that transcends some kind of food deprivation. Americans don't do well with food: we eat too much or we eat poorly, and that's causing lots of problems. So maybe having some Lenten aspect that includes less food isn't a bad idea. 

But I have something else in mind - something that will help us to become (even a little) new by Easter. And that's the point of Christianity anyway, isn't it - to become a new kind of human person. To that end I'd propose fasting from complaining, blaming and grumbling for forty days. This is serious stuff. C.S. Lewis wrote about it in The Great Divorce.

"Hell begins with a grumbling mood, always complaining, always blaming others...but you are still distinct from it. You may even criticize it in yourself and wish you could stop it. But there may come a day when you can no longer. Then, there will be no you left to criticize the mood or even to enjoy it but just the grumble itself, going on forever like a machine. It is not a question of God 'sending us' to hell. In each of us there is something growing, which will BE hell unless it is nipped in the bud."

I've met people who I'd venture wouldn't know what to talk about if they weren't complaining, blaming or grumbling. It seems to be in our national DNA as we were founded or birth-ed out of an angry rebellion hundreds of years ago. But for all our talk about being a nation of religious values we often betray that with our complaining, grumbling and blaming. 

So this Lenten Fast could be very difficult for many of us. It would require a kind of self-awareness or self-observation we're not accustomed to. Why bother? Because like a lousy diet, it's simply not good for us, and it isn't Christ-ly and it seems to reflect an un-grateful spirit.

The biblical number forty simply means a long time. So we have this long Lenten season coming up which gives us plenty of time to get at it and to make a change. I knew a dirty-mouthed man who one Lent promised to put a dollar in the jar every time he cursed. By Easter the habit had been broken. A lot can happen in forty days.

But I think when it comes to growing and evolving ourselves, Christians often don't go deeply. We try to discipline ourselves with corrective virtues (forms of practicing goodness) but the underlying problem, even pathology, remains.  A dry drunk is an alcoholic who hasn't tasted a drop, but who remains arrogant, vain, nasty, bossy, dishonest. That's because there's been no inner investigation of oneself.

So if we try the no complaining, no blaming, no grumbling fast this Lent we might ask ourselves along the way:

  • Why do I complain so much?
  • Do I even hear myself?
  • Why do I so often resort to blaming?
  • What has happened to me that grumbling is so much a part of my lifestyle? 
  • What fears might be attached to this Lenten approach? 

"Don't even go there," was a phrase Americans over-used a lot in the recent past. But there are lots of places where we SHOULD go - albeit they are interior places left locked up, hidden and un-investigated. Hint: we do a lot of this grumbling and complaining because of original sin. And original sin is not about lust, or gluttony or disobedience, but  about power. 

But not to be discouraged or put off. Look at the splendid, get ready Agapanthus buds at the start of this post. They reflect the beauty of possibility, transition and change!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Saint Emerentiana, Teach Us!

On the old liturgical calendar today is the commemoration of Saint Emerentiana, the young, 4th century girl-martyr of Rome. What a beautiful, if unpopular, name. Here she is depicted as particularly lovely, while what she has to teach us is all strength and brightness, like the colored light emanating from her face which looks squarely at us.

Emerentiana was a girl friend to St. Agnes, whose feast day was celebrated just days ago on January 21. Indeed, she had returned to the site of Agnes' martyrdom (or her tomb) where she wept openly. Perhaps the murderers were on the look out for Agnes- sympathizers, because when they spied Emerentiana crying over Agnes, they pulled her up from the ground and murdered her as well when she accused them of their crime.

Emerentiana was first bullied, simply because she cried. Girls, and even more so boys, are ridiculed when they shed tears.  Lots of people see tears as a sign of weakness. A boy who cries can be likened to a girl. Sad culture! Sad too that so many men have had their hearts shut down and can no longer cry.

Emerentiana is classified as a virgin-martyr, which perhaps isn't the best term for these young women. They weren't killed for their virginity but for Christ. Girl-martyr might better say it. These were clear-headed and brave girls who stood their ground when everything was against them - even all the power of an empire - needing to shut them up. That's why girl-martyrs had their teeth and tongues cut and knocked out.

And girls are still shut up: when they aren't allowed to be born, when they aren't allowed an education. And women are shut up when they aren't allowed to vote, or drive, or speak publicly, or hold public office, or talk to men other than their husbands, or even appear un-veiled - so to interface with the world. 

In art, Emerentiana is depicted holding stones on her lap, which causes some to invoke her as a patroness of stomach disorders. We don't need to bother this brave, heavenly, girl-martyr with acid reflux and the things of colonoscopies. True religion has more important things to concern itself with. 

How about this? Do I have the stomach to be a really brave Christ-disciple? Courageous for Christ in the social realm? "I'm not into this justice stuff," the busy church-lady said. The reason so many Christians in the first world never suffer any trouble for Christ's sake is because they keep their religion so private - no concern for or about:

  • the common good (fairness for all)
  • what real inclusion might require of us (can we even fathom it?)
  • living non-violently (even in our thoughts)
  • the demands of peace-making (an action, not a wish)
  • what mercy and compassion mean (it's not weakness)
  • the dignity to be afforded all persons (even the littlest and the weakest)

Do I have the stomach for this? Some people don't even know that these themes are in the perview of Christianity.

Oxfam means Oxford Committee for Famine Relief. Recently they reported that the wealth of the richest 1% is equal to the other 99%. That the richest 62 people in the world are as wealthy as half the world's population. A well-known money magazine got on board at once to debunk the Oxfam claim. And when the pope refers to these kinds of global inequalities he's immediately called a Marxist. I wonder if people who use those kinds of terms to discredit even know what they're saying. 

In her book, Unnatural Selection ~ (Choosing boys over girls and the Consequences of a world full of men), Mara Hvistendahl claims that as we are aborting girls in so many places around the world that there is now a testosterone imbalance. Which means more wars, more bullying, more aggression. 

At this point some Christians throw up their hands in exasperation and say, "There's nothing I can do about any of this!" Being informed isn't nothing. Caring isn't nothing.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Intercessions ~ Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wild Garlic ~ Transitioning to Lent

Bless those who desire and work for peace./ Inspire with love those whose hearts are contentious or violent./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for those who have lost everything,/ mindful of the children who are traumatized/ or who wait to be re-united with their families./ We pray to the Lord.

In our hemisphere/ everyday there is one more minute of light./ Make us children of the Light:/ bright with purified intentions,/ greater justice and unity./ We pray to the Lord. 

In the Jubilee Year:/ for the Church to learn and not fear mercy,/ which is loyal-love/ and a new depth of solidarity in kindness./ We pray to the Lord.

Lent is not far away./ We pray to know God's Lenten invitation to new life,/ growth and change from within./ We pray to the Lord.

Always,/ we pray for the physically sick,/ but also the heart-sick,/ the emotionally sick,/ and persons spiritually stalled in anger,/ frustration or despair./ We pray to the Lord. 

We pray for those who have died recently in wars,/ terrible accidents or disasters,/ and for our departed loved ones./ And to keep our own death before us,/ that we would live our lives truthfully and beautifully/ as Jesus lived his./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Jersey Cows And The Salve Regina

I recently heard of a young monk whose monastery is situated on a rugged, north Atlantic coast, that the monastery's Jersey cows give more milk when he sings the Salve Regina to them during the twice a day milking. Jersey cows by the way are not cows from New Jersey, USA, but from the Island of Jersey off the Normandy coast. Just imagine, if the Salve can help to keep cows calm, think of what it might do for us, so stressed, fearful and tempted to negativity and bitter hopelessness.

We might learn the Salve Regina (Hail Holy Queen) to re-focus ourselves, to restore inner balance and clarity in difficult times. It is said that the medieval monk who wrote this hymn to the Mother of God was afflicted with what we'd today call polio or spina bifida. So the poor fellow understood sorrow and suffering.

Here's a beautiful link to the monks of Notre Dame Fontgombault singing the Salve (Sal-vay). Listen and sing along for a week and you'll know it by heart. The Latin words are printed below with an English sense-translation.

Salve Regina,  Hail Queen of Heaven
mater misericordiae:  hail, our Mother compassionate
Vita, dulcedo  true life and comfort
et spes nostra salve.  our hope, we greet you.
Ad te clamamus,  To you we exiles
exsules filii Hevae.  children of Eve, raise our voices.
Ad te suspiramus,  We send up sighs to you,
gementes et flentes  as mourning and weeping,
in hac lacrimarum valle.  we pass through this vale of sorrow.
Eia ergo  Then turn to us,
advocata nostra,  O most gracious Woman,
ill tuos misericordes oculos
ad nos converte.  your eyes filled with loving tenderness.
Et Jesum benedictum  And grant us after these, our days of
fructum ventris tui,  lonely exile, the sight of your blest Son
nobis post hoc exsilium ostende  and Lord, Christ Jesus.
O clemens, O gentle,
O pia, O loving,
O dulcis, Virgo Maria. O holy, sweet Virgin Mary.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

In Unsettling Times

Difficult days - though we're not powerless. Here is a late 15th century  wood carved image of Saint John under the hands of Jesus at the Last Supper. John knew where to place himself on that gloomy night. The image is very beautiful and deserves a long gazing. 

Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, (1568-1591) who forfeited a royal inheritance to enter the Society of Jesus, said of the aristocratic life in which he lived, that is was full of fraud, dagger, poison and lust. Change dagger to gun and it sounds like today. 

Saint Teresa of Avila, (1515-1582)  who traveled all over Spain, likened life on this planet to a night in a bad hotel. Still, she wrote this prayer which we might memorize and pray often, especially when we hear of massacres, horrors, destruction, yet another war, disasters, political machinations:

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing,
God only is changeless.
Patience gains all things,
Who has God wants nothing.
God alone suffices.

Teresa of Avila 16th c. Spain

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Intercessions ~ Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

St. Agnes of Rome

Thursday is the Feast of Saint Agnes/ the girl-martyr./ We pray for Christians who are persecuted,/ in trouble or harassed./ And for other Christians who have grown spiritually bored,/ loveless or  indifferent./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for the endurance of those who are kind to us,/ who do us any good,/ who expect nothing in return./ And that we would take no one for granted./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for those whose heart's desire is to enjoy peace and security for their loved ones,/ to live in re-established community,/ and the blessings of their land./ We pray to the Lord.

Pope Francis will visit Mexico in February,/ the Land of the Guadalupe,/ but also a land of poverty,/ struggle,/ violence and fear./ We pray for the Mexican people/ and ask blessings for the pope in his journey./ We pray to the Lord.

We ask for new direction where hearts have grown hardened,/ prideful or intolerant./ Guide our families where there is trouble or sadness/ or where we have lost our way./ We pray to the Lord.

Re-assure the sick of your presence:/ the elderly,/ the heavy-burdened and frail./ Bless those who care for others in hospitals,/ nursing homes,/ orphanages and hospices./ Give to those who have died,/ the greatest joy of your fully shared life and love./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Stormy Sea ~ Yet I Can't Stop Singing

Sea of Galilee ~ Stormy indeed! 

As soon as it was over he made his disciples embark and cross to Bethsaida ahead of him, while he himself sent the people away. After taking leave of them, he went up the hill-side to pray. It grew late and the boat was already well out on the water, while he was alone on the land. Somewhere between three and six in the morning, seeing them labouring at the oars against a head-wind, he came towards them, walking on the lake. He was going to pass them by; but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; for they all saw him and were terrified. But at once he spoke to them: "Take heart! It is I; do not be afraid." Then he climbed into the boat beside them, and the wind dropped. At this they were completely dumbfounded, for they had not understood the incident of the loaves; their minds were closed. Mark 6: 45-52

This gospel scene follows immediately after the account of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes, (scroll down to January 5th, 2016).  Jesus has fed the crowds and they  pack things up quickly. Maybe he senses bad weather is coming. Or perhaps Jesus doesn't want to be associated with nationalistic things. Jesus and nationalism don't mix. Even Mass ends quickly after Holy Communion (how sad some folks won't wait that little bit). 

Then Jesus went up the hillside to pray. Going up a mountain or a hill always signifies an encounter with God. Prayer is the flight of the heart to God, Father Alexander Men said. The mountain then is ultimately an interior experience, isn't it?

Between three and six in the morning - a very dark time, but a new day is drawing near. Can you name that? The very dark time? And the disciples are wearying - labouring is the word. They're tired and really up against the odds. The Sea of Galilee can experience terrific storms as it's surrounded by mountains and hills that act as funnels for the wind! How frightening for them. Again - name it for yourself? I'll name it for the world: weary, terrified, exhausted, going under. 

And he spoke to them. Jesus doesn't give them a volume to read or deliver a lecture, but he speaks to their hearts, their fearful hearts. He even gets into the boat and sits down next to them - like a mother sitting on the bedside of a child suffering night terrors and bad dreams! Christ our mother, Saint Juliana says. And the wind drops. It'll be okay. We're known by God personally. It matters to God that we exist.

Their minds were closed. Not to say they were set against Jesus - but their minds were shut down, not being able to comprehend. This is beyond imagining. We limit God terribly or we can't handle God's surprises. Father Walsh, the founder of the American missionary community, Maryknoll, used to say to the newly ordained priests being sent around the world on Departure Day: "Remember, wherever you land, God was there long before you arrived." What a surprise to the zealous young man who thought he was going to a faraway place - even to pagans (such a condescending term) - and to have it announced, God is here already! 

Dallyn Vail Bayles sings the perfect hymn in response to this Gospel: How Can I Keep From Singing. Listen to the powerful lyrics which we will so easily identify in our own lives. The images that accompany the song are stunning. At the end - be silent. You may need some moments to recover anyway. 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

It's God's World

Now it happened that when all the people had been baptized and while Jesus after his own baptism was at prayer, heaven opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in a physical form, like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, today I have fathered you."  Luke 3:21

When I think of Bethlehem I must never imagine the love of God to be small, like a baby. But God's love is radical (radix = root) and wild. 

It doesn't make sense: a God who joins sinners in the river of repentance. Eastern Christians sing about God's re-possessing all of creation, beginning with the waters of the world, as Jesus stepped down into the river. And we are made primarily of water! This means, it's God's world no matter what happens. 

And everything is changed now as Jesus joins the river scene. Here, God is searching, forgiving, restoring, healing, reconciling. As sad and as awful as the world can be at times, the first truth is this good news - it is God's world always. Pity, a lot of people, even many Christians, no longer believe this.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Intercessions ~ Feast of the Lord's Baptism

The Jordan River

Prayer is the flight of the heart to God./ Grant to your Church and all who desire it,/ a renewal of this gift of prayer./ We pray to the Lord.

On this Feast of the Lord's Baptism,/ we pray for those who live without potable water,/ or where there is fighting over water,/ or where people are spiritually dying of thirst./ We pray to the Lord.

Bless families everywhere in their struggles./ Bless the children and the abandoned elderly with companionship,/ support,/ and all they need to live in health and peace./ We pray to the Lord.

Give us a new desire and resolve to create a peaceful world./ Inspire humanity where it is devolving in greed,/ power-abuse,/ lies and destruction./ We pray to the Lord.

Guide those who seek public office/ to the strengthening of conscience,/ good intention/ and the purification of hearts./ We pray to the Lord.

Comfort through justice and charity,/ those who are without basic necessities for whole living./ Heal the deep inner wounds so many suffer/ and those who are violent and angry./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for the sick,/ those exhausted by war/ or the flight from conflict and disaster./ And we commend to God's parent-care the souls of all who have died./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Jesus Feeds Five Thousand

There are some days remaining in the Christmas-Epiphany season,and while we're reminded that the name, Bethlehem, means House of Bread, the Gospel account of the Feeding of Five Thousand comes to mind. Here's some thoughts about this scene which is so important it appears in all four gospels, even more than once at times. 
As the day wore on, his disciples approached him and said,  "This is a lonely place and it is getting very late; send the people off to the farms and villages round about, to buy themselves something to eat." Give them something to eat yourselves;" he answered. They replied, "Are we to go and spend twenty pounds on bread to give them a meal?" "How many loaves have you?" he asked; "go and see." They found out and told him, "Five, and two fishes also." He ordered them to make the people sit down in groups on the green grass, and they sat down in rows, a hundred rows of fifty each. Then, taking the five loaves and the two fishes, he looked up to heaven, said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples to distribute. He also divided the two fishes among them. They all ate to their hearts content; and twelve great basketsful of scraps were picked up with what was left of the fish. Those who ate the loaves numbered five thousand men. Mark 6:35-44

The disciples reminded Jesus, "it's getting late." The painting above is sensitive to these few words - see, the sky is darkening. But perhaps the little sentence is not about wristwatch time as much as a reminder that I don't have forever. It's getting late in my life, and I don't have forever to start being generous. It's getting late in my life and I don't have forever to get a prayer life. It's getting late in my life and I don't have forever to forgive an old offense or to start treating my family better. Indeed, it's getting late; I don't have forever to .... 

Do the disciples sound indignant when they ask, "Are we to spend...on bread?" As if to say, "Jesus, do we have to assume responsibility for all of these people?" Jesus doesn't even respond, rather he seems to ignore what they've asked and takes the situation in hand himself. Maybe Jesus wouldn't agree that we're as other-referred or generous as we think or imagine ourselves to be: as a family, as a parish, as a nation.

"Five and two fish...on the green grass...a hundred rows of fifty each, twelve baskets, five thousand men." This is the language of amazement, isn't it? Someone was so amazed as to remember even the details of what Jesus had done. Do I love Jesus like this: even in the details?

Notice too that Jesus involves the disciples all the way: getting the people to sit down, turning the disciples into servers and to gather up the leftovers. I knew a young man who was looking for a church to connect with. He shopped around and finally decided on the church that welcomed him at the door and then immediately gave him something to do - hand out the worship brochures as folks arrived. Jesus gave the disciples something to do!

"They all ate to their hearts' content..." Reflecting on the dramatic increase in the number of people around the world who claim to be atheists and agnostics, Pope Francis said, "We have no one to blame but ourselves. We have failed to satisfy the thirst people have for God and so they go elsewhere." The people ate to their heart's content. I often feel that our Church has become a cauldron of polemic - arguing and debating over who's in/who's out, policies, doctrinal purity, censures, disciplines and laws. But that's not what satisfies the hungry heart. 

"Five thousand men." Mark uses a masculine word here. Likely these men went out into the lonely place because they thought an army was going to form around Jesus to overthrow the Romans. Wrong. If Jesus is going to overthrow anything it's more likely to be what's inside that's keeping me from being more kind or compassionate. This Jubilee Year of Mercy? If all we're doing is going through holy doors and collecting indulgences and we come out the other side not more kind and compassionate...that sounds like something of a flop.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Gaudeamus ~ Let us Rejoice!

The Latin word gaudeamus means let us be glad. In a sad world we might try to be especially attentive to the signs of life and hope: that there is still beauty to be had! The medieval stone-carved, smiling angel along the way here, survived the Nazi bombing of the great cathedral at Amien, France. And the photo following, of Giotto's Nativity scene at the Scrovegni Chapel in Italy, although it has lost much of its Lapis Lazulli  paint, is still extraordinarily beautiful. And these days, if even only by one minute each day, the sunlight increases. And Joseph was warned in a dream to take the Child to safety in Egypt - and he paid attention.

The contemporary music accompanying the pictures here is titled Gaudeamus, composed by Antony Hopkins. There are no lyrics, so as we view the photos we're left to our own happy imagining. The piece is found on "Rejoice! A String Quartet Christmas - Arturo Delmoni." Best Christmas album I've come across.

Friday, January 1, 2016

A Prayer for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

Mother of God ~ joy restoring glance,
Mother of God ~ in our withering hopes,
Mother of God ~ who shows us favor,
Mother of God ~ my boast, my pride,
Mother of God ~ when my heart can bear no more.

Mother of God ~ in whom I find a home,

Mother of God ~ in the wintry mix of my mind,
Mother of God ~ who radiates hope,
Mother of God ~ where my prayer finds a hearing,
Mother of God ~ before the fangs of malice.

Mother of God ~ for whom mercy is kindness,

Mother of God ~ and of traumatized children,
Mother of God ~ and of us in our variety,
Mother of God ~ at the new year's start,
Mother of God ~ where hearts are armed.

Mother of God ~ in my sleeplessness,
Mother of God ~ at my inner door,
Mother of God ~ where the demon possesses,
Mother of God ~ in the depths of our error,
Mother of God ~ whose mantle hides me.

Mother of God ~ in the healing of my wound,

Mother of God ~ sweetness of face,
Mother of God ~ beloved by us,
Mother of God ~ I know your hymns by heart,
Mother of God ~ who is like a breeze.

Father Stephen Morris