Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

God, who puts things together

I found these Foam Flowers and Ferns growing together along the side of the road the other day. God's imagination includes knowing how to put things together beautifully and giving us the soul-capacity to recognize these wonderful combinations and to admire and consider them. 

God put creation together in the Genesis account. I like the part about the universe being put together with the stars making galaxies and constellations. Remember the bit about God introducing us to the animals and inviting us to name them? God put the lilac, the lily and the rose together with their unique scents.

Psalm 119:3 is a reminder of God's putting-it-together skill: You did knit me together in my mother's womb. Jesus put together a team of twelve apostles. He put a family back together when he raised the little girl from death and the boy to the widowed-mother at Nain. Jesus put the cured lepers back together with the community that excluded them for their sickness. Bread and wine, lilies of the field and birds of the air - those are nice combinations.

Sometimes God puts us together by introducing us to friends and dear ones. I remember at school I would remind the kids that their lives were crazy like a seismograph line and my life too, and that God had seen fit for our lives to touch for this fleeting second of cosmic time.

In September we're put together with teachers and classmates. Teams are put together. By God's design? A dog trainer told me, "When you take in a rescue, you get the dog YOU need." I get it.

When we're little we learn to put words together and then sentences. Then we discover how to put sentences together to create a story. Some people are good at putting colors, clothes or design ideas together, or problem-solving ideas.

Some folks tell of being personally put back together after a divorce, job loss, bout of bad health or breakdown. Anyway, discovering the woodland Foam Flower and Ferns so beautifully growing together might help us to pray: gratitude for the coming together of relationships, moments and events that are so good.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Jesus' Entrance Into Jerusalem

As indicated in Tuesday's post, there is now a shift in Mark's Gospel: the time of miracles is over and Jesus turns to Jerusalem. 

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, close by the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, 'Go to the village facing you, and as you enter it you will at once find a tethered colt that no one has yet ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone says to you "What are you doing" say, "The Master needs it and will send it back here at once." ' They went off and found a colt tethered near a door in the open street. As they untied it, some men standing there said, 'What are you doing, untying that colt?' They gave the answer Jesus had told them, and the men let them go. Then they took the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on its back, and he mounted it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others greenery which they had cut in the fields. And those who went in front and those who followed were all shouting, 'Hosanna! Blessed is he who is coming in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of David our Father! Hosanna in the highest heavens! He entered Jerusalem and went into the Temple; and when he  had surveyed it all, as it was late by now, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve. Mark 11:1-11

It is said, "What the Word does for the ear, the icon does for the eye." The mosaic we see here is from the cathedral in Ravenna, Italy. Jesus arrives at the city gate riding the donkey. The road is strewn with branches. The apostles follow behind, and Peter is up close talking with Jesus as they move along. Perhaps Jesus is filling Peter in on the significance of things. Jerusalem is on the far right - two religious leaders already have their heads together. We see the populace of the city and the children spreading their cloaks on the road. From the look of things, they're spreading more than their cloaks - the young fellow on the left has his head stuck as he pulls off his long shirt. 

But notice this - Jesus rides a donkey, not a horse. We usually see in this a sign of Jesus' humility, but there is more. A man in the ancient world was wealthy if he owned donkeys as did the judges of Israel:

"After Tola rose Jair of Gilead, who judged Israel for twenty-two years. He had thirty sons who rode on thirty young donkeys and who owned thirty towns..." Judges 10: 3,4
"After Elon, Abdon son of Hillet of Prathon was judge in Israel. He had forty sons and thirty grandsons who rode seventy young donkeys." Judges12:14

Is Jesus entering Jerusalem as the judge of human history? Notice the icon shows Jesus sitting side-saddle, as if were a judge at his courtroom seat. And not only a judge, but sitting as a king on his throne. And not only a king, but a king with a message of peace. The Prophet Zechariah foretells the King's Message:

Rejoice heart and soul, daughter of Zion!
Shout for joy, daughter of Jerusalem!
Look, your king is approaching,
he is vindicated and victorious,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
He will banish chariots from Ephraim
and horses from Jerusalem;
the bow of war will be banished,
He will proclaim peace to the nations,
his empire will stretch from sea to sea,
from the River to the limits of the earth.  Zechariah 9:9,10

Pope Francis recently shared something of a conversation he had with a group of scientists, one of whom said: "I'm an atheist, I ask you a favor: tell the Christians that they should love their message of peace more."

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Intercessions ~ Sixth Sunday of Easter

The American Red Cross was founded today in 1881./ We pray enduring strength for this organization/ and all who participate in its important work of emergency assistance and disaster relief./ We pray to the Lord. 

We ask blessings for Pope Francis and President Trump as they meet this week./ May their time together in the Vatican bear the fruit of peace and healing for our country./ We pray to the Lord.

In the first lesson today we heard:/ "So there was much joy in that city."/ Restore joy where people suffer deep losses,/ where there is grief,/ domestic violence,/ destruction,/ loneliness and war./ We pray to the Lord. 

We pray for the governments of the world,/ asking for conversion/ and the safety of citizens where there is corruption,/ repression and the violation of human rights./ We pray to the Lord.

Mindful of those who are around us at Mass today,/ we ask for health,/ safety,/ the deepening of faith,/ and help in their struggles and challenges./ We pray to the Lord.

For the safety of travelers,/ health for the sick,/ comfort for mourners,/ a welcome for each child,/ inner healing and a change of heart for prisoners./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

"And he followed him along the road."

They reached Jericho; and as he left Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus - that is, the son of Timaeus - a blind beggar, was sitting at the side of the road. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and cry out, "Son of David, Jesus, have pity on me." And many of them scolded him and told him to keep quiet, but he only shouted all the louder, "Son of David, have pity on me." Jesus stopped and said, "Call him here." So they called the blind man over, "Courage," they said, "get up, he is calling you ." So throwing off his cloak, he jumped up and went to Jesus. Then Jesus spoke, "What do you want me to do for you?" The blind man said to him, "Rabbuni, let me see again." Jesus said to him, "Go; your faith has saved you." And at once his sight returned and he followed him along the road.

Back in the middle of June 2014, we set out here to walk gradually and reflectively through St. Mark's Gospel one pericope (peri-ko-pea) at a time. A pericope is a gospel passage that can stand on its own. 

Now here, at the end of chapter ten, we consider this well-known and much-loved account of the healing of blind Bartimaeus. It marks a turning point, as it is the last of many miracles before the story turns to the teaching of Jesus and the events which lead to his betrayal, trial and suffering. In other words, as Mark shifts gears he gives us this last miracle account to review and summarize all the previous wonders. Good teachers do that, don't they?

More than any of the other Gospels, it's Mark who shares the accounts of Jesus' wonder-working ministry. Have you ever listened to Handel's Messiah, where the hopeful words of the Prophet Isaiah (35:4-6) are set to music?

Then the eyes of the blind will be opened,
the ears of the deaf unstopped,
then the lame will leap like a deer
and the tongue of the dumb sing for joy...

We meet Bartimaeus which translates Son of the Unclean. Going all the way back to chapter one: these sick folks are ritually unclean, which translates, You can't participate in our religious-communal life. Perhaps the real wonder of Jesus' healing, beyond the physical cure, is the restoration to the community effected by the healing.

Remember the rich young man (10:17-22), who couldn't follow Jesus because he owned so much stuff? Now we see Bartimaeus contrasted as he throws off the last thing he owns, his old, dirty cloak. Unlike the rich young man, Bartimaeus goes down the road with Jesus.

How beautiful is this - when Bartimaeus cries out, it's an act of believing and a desire to be with Jesus. Back in chapter 5, when the unclean spirit cries out, it's to get away from Jesus.

And that same calling out, "Son of David, Jesus, have pity on me," is a cry of faith. In fact, we can say that Bartimaeus already sees, and more clearly than the religious leaders who are blind to what Jesus is doing, getting all fussed that Jesus eats with sinners (2:15-17). A few verses later they will accuse Jesus of being aligned with the devil. Talk about not seeing!

Jesus must have been quite happy to hear Bartimaeus cry out in faith. Notice this, that the blind man isn't calling out in the temple, but at the side of the dusty road. Instead of complaining about all the relatives and the others who don't go to church, let's be happy wherever confidence in God (faith) is found. 

I have to laugh a little when the apostles tell blind Bartimaeus to have courage. He already has courage; he doesn't need their advice. They're the ones who were lacking in courage. Remember when they were terrified (6:50) at seeing Jesus walking on the water that windy night.

And when the apostles tell the blind man to get up - we're hearing again the command of Jesus to the dead child back in 5:41, "Little girl, I tell you to get up." Really "rise up!"

Then Jesus offers this marvelous compliment, "Go, your faith has saved you," just as he said to the woman who (5:34) had been slowly bleeding to death, "My daughter, your faith has restored you to health; go in peace and be free of your complaint." How courteous. I wish back in my 1970's  homiletics class that the priest would have told us: Tell the people often from the pulpit that their faith is God-pleasing.

So what's Mark's purpose in sharing this Bartimaeus story? Again and again, the miracles of Jesus tell us that he wants us to be inwardly free so we can walk down the life-road beside him. I want to understand this better than the wrangling apostles in the previous gospel scene unable to get get past who is going to be nearest Jesus when he gets his earthly crown and throne. Jesus didn't care about any of that. 

Oh Jesus,
heal the blindness:
our stalled partisan politics,
our sleep-stealing anxieties,
the hot hatreds and prejudices,
our willful ignorance, 
the machinations,
the role-playing and the masks,
the superficial religion and
our unhealthy relationships.
I'm crying out.
I'm on my feet.
I'm throwing off the ragged cloak,

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Spring Opening

These wonderful photos come from the Department of Horticulture at Oregon State University. They show a Star Magnolia bud opening in late April. Key word: opening. This time of year is full of spiritual reminders and messages. The Magnolia flower opens to the warmth of the day-lengthening sun. And this opening is the first movement of the Christian spiritual life which is relational. The psalmist instructs us:

You do not ask for sacrifices and offerings
but an open ear.
You do not ask for holocaust and victim
Instead, here am I.
Psalm 40:11

An open ear. Here am I. Listening is relational: student to teacher, soldier to officer, child to parent. But for the Christian, the ear is interior. It is the ear of the heart. St. Benedict's rule for monks begins.

"Listen, O my child, to the teachings of the Master, and incline the ear of your heart."  And in another place: "What dear brothers, is more delightful than the voice of the Lord calling to us." 

This is often difficult as we have somehow gotten the idea that Christianity is doing, doing, doing. When we were in the seminary, a monk came to speak to us about praying the psalms. The "rule" expects that when praying the psalms we are somehow to get through it to completion. Years ago a priest might pull his car off to the side of the road at night and read his breviary by the headlight in order to fulfill the rule that the prescribed psalms be read completely before midnight. 

But this monk disavowed that. He said instead, "Read the psalms so slowly that one line, even on word can jump out at you! Then close the book and let the phrase or word speak to you. Perhaps close your eyes and repeat the phrase gently over and over. The goal is never simply to get it done, but to allow Holy Spirit to speak, and for me to listen."  Of course, there are religious rigourists who will reject this approach - so be it.

We might apply this same method to the reading of the Gospels. One phrase; one word. Shhh. Then the gospel opens for us, and we notice what we had never noticed before, though we've "heard this story a million times," and the gospel becomes even dazzlingly alive because we are allowing God to instruct us.

Try it! You'll have a new sense of Christianity as an inner, spiritual way.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Intercessions ~ Fifth Sunday of Easter

Fra Angelico ~ The Annunciation ~ 1440

Today we pray for mothers who mourn the loss of a child./ For mothers who are unable to properly care for or protect their children./ For mothers who need to be renewed in strength,/ joy and hope./ We pray to the Lord.

In May/ we remember Mary singing of God who lifts up the lowly from the dust./ We pray for a just world/ which recognizes the dignity and value of each human person./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray boldly for soldiers and sailors of every nation/ to return home in peace to their families and neighbors./ We pray to the Lord.

In May we pray for the children who will receive their First Holy Communion:/ may they approach the Lord's table often,/ growing in faith and love./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray too for those who will be ordained deacons and priests this month,/ asking for them to grow in the virtues and skills they will need to serve the Church well./ We pray to the Lord.

The news from Washington this week is troubling./ We pray for the nation's restoration and healing,/ asking for government officials who in truth/ will work only for the public good./ We pray to the Lord.

Bring consolation and help to those who live where life is ruined by war,/ sickness,/ violence,/ death,/ widespread addiction,/ destruction and corruption./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

"Whoever wants to be great..."

This is Father Richard Ho Lung, the founder of the Missionaries of the Poor, who while headquartered in Kingston, Jamaica, are actively present around the world, where there is the deepest poverty. It is the practice of these missionary priests, brothers and sisters, that after morning prayers they go out into the streets to find the dirtiest person, who they then wash. 

After checking out their website, I spoke by telephone with the Vocation Director and asked, "Why are there clearly no Americans among the members of your growing community?" He laughed a little and said, "It's too tough; you can't do it." Hmm. What was he saying? - that we are soft, spoiled, over-indulged, entitled, measured in our generosity, distracted? Fair enough question.

Several weeks ago, before Lent, there was a reflection here on Mark's Gospel, chapter 10, verses 35-40.  Apostles James and John have asked Jesus to be chosen as important figures in Jesus' cabinet when he comes into power. Here are the verses which follow:
When the other ten heard this, they were indignant with James and John. Jesus called them to him and said, "You know that in the world the recognized rulers lord it over their subjects, and their great men make them feel the weight of authority. This is not the way with you; among you whoever wants to be great must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the willing slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to surrender his life as a ransom for many." Mark 10:41-45
We might imagine the other ten apostles were indignant because James and John asked Jesus for prominence ahead of themselves. "Dang, they asked first!" 

Our nation recently voted on greatness: "Make America Great Again," and then we dropped the so-called Mother of All Bombs to make the point. But Jesus has another idea: no power, serve others, be a willing slave of all.  YIKES!

These religious communities don't exist to make us feel guilty, but to be pointers. Saint Francis of Assisi said, "I cannot do everything, but I can do something." There it is.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Near your altar, O Lord...

Stream of Consciousness means allowing our thoughts to roam or flow where they will - one leading to the next without attempting to control, judge or order them. I value stream of consciousness as it can give us an indication of what we're made of - who we are beyond our outer, observable self.

Here is a photograph taken this week of a robin's nest hidden inside a forsythia bush blooming brilliantly outside the chapel door. I remember a similar bush planted alongside my childhood home, standing next to my mother, patiently trying to show me where to place my tongue against my teeth to make the sythia sound.

Then I'm reminded of the psalm verse about the birds and the open air Jerusalem Temple:
Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow builds her nest and raises her young at a place near your altar, O Lord who rules over all, my King and my God. Psalm 84;3

Perhaps the sparrow and the swallow are images of the soul (our inner part) longing to be with God, near God, nesting in God - free, joyful, comforted and unafraid. 

And I recall the words of Jesus who speaks of God's Kingdom, saying:
"What is the Kingdom of God like?" he continued. "What shall I compare it with? It is like a mustard-seed which a man took and sowed in his garden; and it grew to be a tree and the birds came to roost among its branches."  Luke13:19

The birds finding their place among the branches, like so many people in this sad, throw-away world of exclusion, loneliness, fear and alienation -  hoping so desperately to find among the Christians a place of inclusion and welcome: "We've been expecting you; you'll feel safe here." 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Intercessions ~ Fourth Sunday of Easter

Stefan Lochner ~ Madonna in the Rose Garden

May is Mary's Month./ We pray not simply to admire her,/ but that we would see an increase of her virtues within us:/ her humility,/ willingness,/ generosity and trust./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for a peaceful resolution to the growing tensions between our own country and North Korea./ For countries ruined by war/ which kills civilians,/ destroys cities and despoils the land./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for those whose lives have been disrupted by floods,/ fires,/ tornadoes and other disasters./ With gratitude,/ we ask for the strengthening of rescuers and helpers./ We pray to the Lord.

Monday through Wednesday of this week remembers the 1945 end of the War in Europe./ Give us the desire and will to reconcile and heal the problems which stress our weary planet./ We pray to the Lord.

As spring days lengthen,/ we ask for the Risen Christ to bring light to darkened hearts and minds,/ light where there are lies,/ greed/ and secrets which conceal any dark agenda./ We pray to the Lord.

Strengthen those who are exhausted by work,/ conflict or injustice./ Console the sick and the wounded/ and bless those who help them./ Heal the minds which are troubled with bitter contention and hate./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Mary Alphabet In the Month of May

S is for Swaddling Clothes

A is for Awake ~ Mother Mary in Bethlehem's cave.
B is for Beauraing ~ Monastery of Mary's Golden Heart.
C is for Cana ~ Prompting Christ's wedding sign.
D is for Dormition ~ Eastern name for the August feast.
E is for Everyone ~ tucked safely neath Her Mantle.
G is for Golden Gate ~ Jerusalem's meeting of Joachim and Anna.
H is for Haste ~ Pregnant Mary's journey to visit Elizabeth.
I is for Incarnation ~ God's love closer than our imagining.
J is for Jesus ~ Mary's Son and our delight.
K is for Knock ~ Ireland's home of Mary's appearing.
L is for Mary's Lap ~ God's new throne here on earth.
M is for Magnificat ~ song-promise of wonders to come.
N is for Nazareth ~ our inner growth alongside Christ.
O is for Orans ~ Mary's open-armed stance of prayer.
P is for Her Priestly Heart - full of gift, thanks and praise.
Q is for Queen-Mother ~ the most solicitous kind of love.
R is for Rosary ~ fingering Mary's jewelry.
S is for Swaddling ~ Mary wrapped her Jesus-Child.
T is for Mary's Thistle ~ green leaved; milk spotted.
U is for Useful ~ Mary's disposition before God.
V is for Violet ~ Her humility, not blown by strong storms.
W is for Wadi El Natrun ~ where in Egypt she nursed Her Child. 
X is for Expanse ~ heaven's wide-opening in Christ.
Y is for the garden's Yarrow ~ also called Our Lord's Back.
Z is for Kazan ~ Mary's victory against the Golden Horde

V is for Violets in Snow

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Spring Surprise

The other day I came across this lovely native plant growing along the edge of the woods. Turns out it has many names: Dutchman's Breeches, Collicweed, Eardrops, Staggerweed, White Hearts, Butterfly Bane, Fly Flower, Soldier Cap and Monk's Head. 

Fly Flower is about eight inches tall, with many waxy-white flowers held up in clusters above thin stems. The underneath leaves are soft and fringed. It was often children investigating field and forest who bestowed names on these native plants. Free association! "I see a soldier's hat," "I see a monk's hood," "I see a lady's earrings," "I see a pair of pants."  Or farmers named them after seeing how the plants (often negatively) effected their cows and sheep. At any rate, the giving of names suggests a time when people lived, worked and played outdoors more often and were thus observers of natural things: plants, animals, rock and land formations, rivers, streams and clouds...

We're losing (or have already lost) this connection and the delight it can bring. There's a moment of wonder when we discover a nature-surprise. We come into the world filled with wonder - crawling around and exploring objects and spaces, learning to identify colors, sounds, textures and tastes. And as we grow, there's a lot going on that can rob us of this sense of wonder. "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot, with a pink hotel, a boutique and a swinging hot spot." 

I knew a surgeon who was rushing against time to identify and catalogue the remaining native plants on Long Island. An elderly man, he never mentioned going to church, but his keen sense of wonder was evident. Remember the creation account in Genesis - day three:

And God said, "Let the earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, upon the earth." And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind And God saw that it was good. and there was evening and there was morning, a third day. Genesis 1:9-13
It's spring. We might take a walk around the property or down the block or maybe there is some untouched wild space not too far away where we might look down and be surprised. Look long and close - as long as it would take to discern the tiny yellow tips on the bottom of each flower in the photograph above. 

God is all-imagination.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Intercessions ~ Third Sunday of Easter

Pope Francis visits Egypt this weekend/ standing in friendship with persecuted Coptic Christians/ and in dialogue with Muslim leaders./ We pray for his safety,/ asking that his visit would bear the fruit of peace./ We pray to the Lord.

We ask for the brightness of the Risen Christ to shine in dark hearts:/ in the military-industrial complex,/ in politicians and clerics,/ in government,/ the judiciary system and finance industry./ We pray to the Lord.

Twenty million people in Somalia,/ South Sudan,/ Nigeria and Yemen are threatened with starvation/ among them more than a million children./ We pray for them/ and wherever children are orphaned,/ abandoned or in crisis./ We pray to the Lord.

The Risen Christ was recognized in the breaking of the bread./ We ask a blessing on our Eucharistic worship/ and that we would see Christ also in those around us at Mass:/ the children,/ the newcomer and visitor,/ those who are worn down or alone./ We pray for those who stay away from Mass./ We pray to the Lord.

We seem increasingly to see each other no longer as Americans/ but as divided Republicans and Democrats./ We ask for a new national community,/ with a renewed sense of what is best for all - not just some./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for the many in our country held in the tight grip of drug addiction./ We pray for those who produce,/ smuggle and sell drugs./ And for those who mourn the loss of loved ones lost to this dark aspect of life today./ We pray to the Lord.

Finally we pray for any who have died since last Easter./ For deceased soldiers and sailors,/ aid workers and rescuers,/ family and friends./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Divine Mercy Homily

This is the Sunday with many names: Low Sunday, Thomas Sunday, Sunday in the Easter Octave, Sunday ending Bright Week. Pope John Paul II said we might also call the Sunday after Easter Divine Mercy Sunday. What is it about?

The Hebrew word Chesed refers to God's Mercy. Appearing dozens of times in the bible, Chesed declares that God is kind - lovingly kind. Some Christians think "God's Mercy" suggests God is a soft touch, preferring the blow up God who annihilates enemies. 

Having tried everything to win us back to himself, God turned to face us squarely, looking upon our world most tenderly and kindly through the human face of Jesus Christ. We see this especially in the Gospel of St. Mark, where Jesus often takes people by the hand, lifting them up from their sickness and frailty (Mark 1:31, 1:41, 5:41, 8:23, 9:27). In Christ, God, ever so kindly lifts up humanity out of our folly, stupidity and brashness.  

In today's Gospel, Thomas is absent  when the others meet the risen Jesus. Notice Jesus doesn't say, "Well, too bad for you Thomas, you missed it." But Jesus appears a second time when Thomas is present, and invites him to take a closer look. 

On Easter morning, discouraged Peter returned to his former life as a fisherman where Jesus met him on the beach for breakfast (John 21:12). It seems in Christ, God tailors himself to the needs of our inner world.

And we're supposed to learn from this: not only how God is with us, but how we might be with others. 

I received an email the other day from a young man who graduated high school about five years ago. After graduation he became down and out, repeatedly dropping  out of college and eventually losing his funding. He cheated death a number of times in bad living and found himself hungry and almost homeless. Landing a job in a sheet metal factory, he developed asthma from the chemicals.  

One Sunday he stumbled into an Eastern Orthodox church and stayed for the liturgy. Having professed atheism most of his adult life, the visit prompted him to start searching in Catholic churches and even Buddhist temples, while periodically returning to the Orthodox community. 

It was there that the parishioners rallied around him. Even though he knew they had problems of their own, these folks saw to it that he had food and a couple of bucks in his pocket. And when he took a job that required a daily commute, the priest's mother made him lunch and gave him money for the bus everyday.

So he was baptized last week at the Easter Liturgy. It wasn't dogma, great liturgy or a charismatic preacher that won him, but the kindness of the parishioners. 

Mercy, which is loving kindness, whether God's or ours, begins with noticing: Jesus noticing dejected Peter. Jesus noticing Thomas wasn't there. The parishioners noticing the young fellow's dilemma. 

Mercy begins with noticing.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Easter Earthquake ~ The Angel Like Lightning

Painted high on the wall, this is the "White Angel" of the 13th century, Serbian Milesevo Monastery. Were we to visit, we would see the Myrrh-bearing women to the right and the soldiers fallen like dead men beneath the angel's feet. Here is the Gospel account.

On the night after the sabbath, at the hour when dawn broke on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalen and the other Mary came near to contemplate the tomb. And suddenly there was a great trembling of the earth, because an angel of the Lord came to the place, descending from heaven, and rolled away the stone and sat over it; his face shone like lightning, and his garments were white as snow; so that the guards trembled for fear of him, and were like dead men. Matthew 28: 1-4

This translation speaks of a great trembling of the earth while others speak of an earthquake. Remember just a few verses before, at the moment of Jesus' death we read:

And all at once, the veil of the temple was torn this way and that from top to bottom, and the earth shook, and the rocks parted asunder. Matthew 27: 31

God is shaking things up dramatically. The temple curtain is torn from top to bottom. Meaning? Now, in the open heart of Christ, and the open and empty tomb of Christ, everyone has access to God. There are no more barriers or designations required.

But also, do I need a personal Easter-Earthquake? A shaking up of my thinking: my partisan world view, my too-little thinking, my small thoughts of others, my childish thinking, my hard-headed thinking. Maybe my inner world of guilt or pessimism needs to be parted asunder.

And then there is this amazing angel descended from heaven. This is not a mellow, shoulder patting "there, there" angel, but with a face like lightning and a robe, blazing like the sun-reflecting snow.

Then the angel explained things to the women, as another angel explained the plan to Joseph at the start of the Gospel. What a surprise, as the women had gone only to "contemplate the tomb" - to mourn Jesus.  The angel said: "not dead, but alive" and the women get it, and filled with a sense of urgency, they run. 

What does all of this mean? God is glorious! God is awesome! God is attractive and beautiful! God can't contain himself and wants only to share himself with us. 

Let's be attentive to anything in religion that wants to tame God - take the surprise out of God: tame and tepid hymn singing, tame sermons, tame prayers. We live in a silly culture where, if we pay attention to the commercials, the only thing we should run for is a bladder emergency or to be first on the buffet or Black Friday line. But do I ever feel dazzled by God, awed by God, enough to make me run - at least interiorly?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Intercessions ~ Second Sunday of Easter ~ Divine Mercy

Original Divine Mercy Image

Today is Divine Mercy Sunday./ We pray to learn and live God's kindness,/ rediscovering courtesy/ and a generous consideration of others./ We pray to the Lord.

The world is living in great tension these days./ We pray for the calming of passions/ asking for world leaders to use good sense and restraint./ We pray to the Lord.

We join Pope Francis in his Easter prayer/ asking for the conversion of those hearts which spread terror,/ violence and death,/ and those hearts which make and traffic in weapons./ We pray to the Lord.

We ask for Christians,/ Jews and Muslims,/ and all people of good will to be agents of healing,/ reconciliation and fairness./ We pray to the Lord.

May the world's children be welcomed,/ comforted and loved./ Bless parents with the insights and skills needed to raise up their children well./ We pray to the Lord.

In the Easter time we pray for the safety of travelers,/ for the sick and those who care for them,/ for students and teachers,/ family and friends,/ and for those who live without hope or joy./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for those who have died since last Easter/ to see the Risen Jesus face to face./ For mourners,/ the homeless/ and the friendless./ We pray to the Lord.

"I demand from you deeds of mercy, you must not shrink from this or try to excuse or absolve yourself from it." Diary of Sister Faustina 742

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Levitan and Newman

Here is an 1890's photograph of Isaak Levitan working on a large painting in his Moscow studio. And below is Cardinal Newman's prayer which invites us to reflect upon the meaning of Levitan's life, but all the more, our own. 

God knows me and calls me by name.....
  God has created me to do Him some definite service;
  He has commited some work to me,
  which he has not committed to another.
  I have my mission - I may never know it in this life,
  but I shall be told it in the next.

Somehow I am necessary for His purpose...
  I have a part in the great work;
  I am a link in a chain, a bond of connnection
  between persons.

He has not created me for naught.

  I shall do good,
  I shall do His work;
  I shall be an angel of peace,

  a preacher of truth in my own place,
  while not intending it,
  if I do but keep His commandments
  and serve Him in my calling.

Therefore I will trust Him.
  Whatever, wherever I am, 
  I can never be thrown away.
  If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him;

  if I am in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him;
  if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him.
  My sickness or perplexity, or sorrow may be
  necessary causes of some great end,
  which is quite beyond us.

He does nothing in vain; 
  He may prolong my life,
  He may shorten it;
  He knows what He is about.
  He may take away my friends,
  He may throw me among strangers,

  He may make me feel desolate,
  make my spirits sink, hide the future from me -
  still he knows what he is about.....
  I am simply to be used.

March 7, 1848

Monday, April 17, 2017

Easter Monday at Levitan's Grave

Easter is so big it can't be celebrated in one day, so it overflows into an eight-day octave. The day after Easter Sunday has many names: Bright Monday, Pasquetta or Renewal Monday. In the Middle Ages it was called Laughing Monday - laughing at Satan who got his comeuppance.

I thought after spending almost fifty days reflecting on the painting-gifts of Isaak Levitan, we could visit his grave in the Novodevichy Cemetery and bless God for all the artist has brought to mind.

To bless God means to joyfully express gratitude to God, to admire God's beauty, wonders, goodness, richness, graciousness. To bless God means to delight in my own personal experience of God. O God,  you are very great!

Bless the Lord my soul and forget not all his benefits. Psalm 103:2
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and bless his name. Psalm 100:4

Bless God!
For sunlight,
starlight and 
moonlight in phases.

Bless God!
For riverside,
paths and roads,
mountains and hills.

Bless God!
For spring thawing,
summer ferns,
autumn birches and
winter snow.

Bless God!
For twilight of
twilight of 
fog and mist.

Bless God!
For dandelion and lilac,
forget-me-not and moss.

Bless God!
For stormy rain
and pebbled beach,
forest edge, 
and flowering field.

Bless God!
For high water,
low water
watery depths,
shallow shorelines
and cloud reflections.

Bless God!
For meadows and groves,
bridges and boats,
silent churches,
and prayer.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Flowering Meadow

We open up the computer screen,  greeted by Levitan's Flowering Meadow on Easter Morning. The sparkly field seems to announce, Christ is Risen!

Saint Augustine said, "We are an Easter people." What's that? With gratitude we look for life everywhere, and walking along with the Risen One, we set out to be as fully alive as God has created us each to be. Eternal life starts here. It's the healing gift we make to the Good Friday world in which we live. 

Some weeks ago, reflecting on one of Levitan's Volga River scenes, I found a photograph of high clouds taken on my Russian river trip in 1996. But I also found this picture below taken at Kizhi Island in Lake Onega. This is the place with the wooden churches I'd seen pictures of when I was a boy. 

And along the stone wall at the base of the church with the lovely title: The Intercession of the Virgin, I came across the surprise of this flowery meadow. "Earth is crammed with heaven." Maybe a meadow like this inspired Levitan's painting. 

I had never heard of Isaak Levitan before this Lent, and when my friend Yuri mentioned him one Sunday after Mass, an inside voice whispered, "Check it out." I'm glad I followed the inspiration. These Lenten weeks have been a great pleasure for me. I thank you for coming along and for sharing thoughts and prayers of your own.

Part of being a  Christian - is that we have new eyes for seeing. And this is all the more important as we are exposed to so much seeing that is about destruction, violence, frenzy and buying, buying, buying. Do you know this hymn: Help Us Accept Each Other? Verse 4:

Lord, for today's encounters with all who are in need, who hunger for acceptance, for righteousness and bread, we need new eyes for seeing, new hands for holding on; renew us with your spirit; Lord, free us, make us one!

I feel a great gratitude to Isaak Levitan. He is buried in the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow. Perhaps we can visit his cyber grave tomorrow on Easter Monday.

I send a greeting to your homes and a blessing in the Easter time. Christ is Risen! Indeed he is Risen!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Springtime in Italy 1890

In early March of 1890, Levitan went abroad for the first time. For two months he traveled to Berlin, Nice, Menton, Paris, Venice and Florence. How fortunate for us - here he has painted the same vista twice. Remember Pete and Repeat: Can you spot the differences? I'll leave you to it.

Averil King describes these paintings: "...the mountain valley effervescent with the blossoms of fruit trees, while tall snowy peaks loom in the distance." What a good word choice, effervescent, which we might use to describe champagne, soda or spring water. 

Anne Bradstreet was the first female writer in England's North American colonies. Reflecting on winter and spring, she wrote: 

"If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome." 

In the second  image, we might place ourselves along Levitan's life-path to consider our own transitions from personal winter to spring. Sometimes the spring is early; sometimes late. The spring might settle in gradually, with advances and setbacks. I remember my anxiety when, as a young, show-shoveling priest, I saw a robin flying wildly in a  blizzard at night. 

But later I discovered that God's nature-plan provides for that moment: the Hemlocks offer shelter and a hiding place. And when the ground is frozen or covered with snow, the robins resort to sumac until the earth is free and soft again.

Sumac: Emergency Food

Friday, April 14, 2017

Sunny Day 1876

Someone lives in this house; there are chickens in the yard. Imagining relief from the complexities of our own lives, we sometimes romanticize scenes like this. But this house wouldn't have been insulated, you could die from the flu, the food was rough, you wouldn't know how to read or write, the infant mortality rate was high.

Still, Levitan is right, it is a Sunny Day, and that would have mattered a great deal to the strugglers who live here. Struggle is proper to each person, in every place and every time. We hear of people who have the world at their feet who suffer terrible inner pain. We could all do with a sunny day at one time or another. Indeed, doesn't the world need a sunny day? Now we can pray.

In the darkness of lies,
the shadows cast by power,
people hiding in fear,
O God,
we need a sunny day.

In the death-decisions,
the weaponization of hearts,
in the false reports
concealing what really happened,
O God, 
we need a sunny day.

Where desperate people aren't helped,
in the obstruction and delay,
where religion is perverted,
O God,
we need a sunny day.

In the deflecting and defending,
in the threats and extinctions,
in the ramping up and swagger
the big talk and the vanity,
O God,
we need a sunny day. 

In the heaping up of secrets
the resource-rape and greed,
the national pain-killer addiction,
the neglect of children,
O God,
we need a sunny day. 

So instead of just lamenting the news of the day, we can turn it into prayer. We need to read the psalms more than we do. The folks who put the Mass-lectionary together excised all the psalm laments (infidelity, lies, being away from Jerusalem, sickness) leaving us with only the cheery bits. That's unrealistic. Every time the psalmist sounds depressed for all the oppression and suffering the world can dish up, the last verse or two ends with a bright and confident turning to God who secures us in love. It's a good model for our own prayer.

We might add our own verse or two, reflective of what you know or experience personally. But let us  end brightly: O God, we need a sunny day.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Intercessions ~ Easter Sunday

We pray for Pope Francis at Easter/ as he will speak a word of peace and hope to the world in its fragmentation and pain./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for the Easter morning earthquake/ to shake up the Church /to become the true sign of salvation for all./ We pray to the Lord.

We ask that very soon/ the Churches of East and West would celebrate Easter together every year/ as we do today/ giving the world the witness of unity and reconciliation./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for the Christ of Easter morning to enlighten minds lost in ignorance,/ power abuse,/ lies and pride./ We pray as well for those throughout the world who are baptized at Easter,/ and for Christians whose lives are threatened/ We pray to the Lord.

We pray at Easter for the healing of the Holy Land/ and for everyplace where there is poverty,/ hatred,/ bitterness and violence./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for those who live without joy at Easter; / refugees,/ the homeless poor,/ those who are active in addictions/ or who are suffering painful losses./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray blessings at Easter for our families and friends,/ for the sick and the frail./ We pray too for those who have died since last Easter,/ mindful of loved ones deceased and those who are left un-mourned./ We pray to the Lord. 

Tempest Rain 1899

Levitan created this amazing painting in 1899, the year before his death. He had been told by his doctors a few years earlier that his heart would not last much longer. Here, a great tree-bending storm is rolling in over a clearing where men have been stacking firewood. Perhaps they have run for cover as the sky darkens and the wind picks up. Can you feel it?

The Christian might think of the synoptic Gospel accounts of Jesus calming the tempestuous sea. Here is St. Mark's telling:

With the coming of evening that same day, he said to them, 'Let us cross over to the other side.' And leaving the crowd behind they took him, just as he was, in the boat; and there were other boats with him. Then it began to blow a great gale and the waves were breaking into the boat so that it was almost swamped. But he was in the stern, his head on the cushion, asleep. They woke him and said to him, 'Master, do you not care? We are lost!' And he woke up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, 'Quiet now! Be calm!' And the wind dropped, and there followed a great calm. Then he said to them, 'Why are you so frightened? Have you still no faith?' They were overcome with awe and said to one another, 'Who can this be? Even the wind and sea obey him.'  Mark 4:35-41

It's dawned on me, we never address the question Jesus raises in this boat: "Why are you so frightened?" We often think Jesus is being stern when asking questions like this. Could he have been smiling or laughing a little at our worrying so much? Maybe the disciples were afraid of losing the fishing boat they needed for their livelihood or afraid the sea monsters would get them and then their wives would have no support and they'd lose the house and, and, and...

"Why are you so frightened?" Maybe we don't allude to the question because it unnerves us.  Fear is one of the four emotions: happy, sad, angry, afraid.  We spend a lot of our life being afraid. Some of the fears are laughably silly; others quite serious. 

I'm afraid of losing my money
afraid I won't have enough for my retirement -
  the TV commercial says I'll need a million dollars
afraid of losing control
  of my temper
  of my teenage kids
afraid of bad weather
  black ice
  heavy snow
  thunderstorms and
afraid of other drivers who might be on drugs
afraid of losing sobriety
afraid of the E.coli in the bag of lettuce
afraid of being ripped off by the contractor
afraid of being lied to
afraid of failing
  or falling
afraid of having to admit a mistake
afraid of the loss of my health
afraid of the loss of a loved one
afraid I'll lose the job
afraid I'll lose my hair
  good looks
  sex appeal
afraid of the sun's rays
afraid the surgery won't work
afraid of losing the best parking space
afraid of the people who are supposed to be leading us
afraid of other countries
afraid of terrorists
afraid of war
afraid if the electric goes out I'll lose what's in the freezer
afraid these meds won't work "forever"
afraid of losing my mind


I'm thinking three things: 1) Answering Jesus' question truthfully, I have to admit I am a very earthbound person. My affections and energies are essentially tied up with this life on earth. 2) Jesus must know something I don't know - how a person can live, freed of so much earthbound fear. 3) The AA saying comes to mind: Fear is the darkroom where negatives are developed.

Can I imagine standing out in Levitan's Tempest looking up at the sky with arms outstretched and smiling? Someone might say, "You're nuts." Maybe. But Jesus' question remains.

And if I take Jesus seriously then I have to answer honestly, trying to discover his secret for living in inner freedom. AA also says: "Let go and let God." Anyone who follows the Twelve Steps will likely acknowledge how difficult it can be to live this way. That's why I suggest Jesus was smiling (not frowning) when he asked the disciples "What are you afraid of?" He's understanding, not judging.

Here's a start: the only thing I really need to be afraid of is whatever could take me away from God.