Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Expanding a Prayer

This old photograph is of a Carthusian monk just before his receiving Holy Communion at Mass. Afterwards, while purifying the chalice, paten and the empty ciborium (if there was one) he will pray these words silently:

What has passed our lips as food, O Lord,
may we possess in purity of heart,
that what has been given to us in time
may be our healing for eternity. Amen

Might I suggest we can make this prayer our own, perhaps using the first line as a kind of 'spring board' for reflection. Here's my ideas; you'll have your own. Let it be born out of silence.

What has passed my lips as food, O Lord, 
may it develop in me compassion and unselfishness,
may my religion not be second-hand, but a personal oneness with God,
may I be absorbed in God,
may God see my actions today as worship.

What has passed my lips as food, O Lord,
may my heart be illumined,
may I love God and neighbor,
may I walk as a child of the Light,
may I be satisfied - freed of desires and attachments.

What has passed my lips as food, O Lord,
may I dare to embrace non-violence,
may I hate no one and learn forgiveness,
may I have the mind of Christ,
may I translate this Communion into feeding the hungry; drink to the thirsty.

What has passed my lips as food, O Lord,
may I carry an atmosphere of contentment and happiness,
may I realize the Kingdom of God is within me,
may I discover my own dignity, as God has visited me,
may I understand that God wants me to be fully alive today.


Thursday, December 28, 2017

Intercessions ~ Feast of the Holy Family and January 1, Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

On this Feast of the Holy Family,/ we pray to learn a true globalism,/ with its far-reaching sense of family,/ born not of theology or law,/ but of love./ We pray to the Lord.

This weekend celebrates Mary's Maternity./ We pray for the world's mothers,/ and that every child would be welcomed and loved./ We pray for the forgotten children of Syria,/ Yemen,/ South Sudan,/ Somalia,/ Nigeria,/ Myanmar,/ Bangladesh and the Republic of Congo./ May they be embraced and saved./ We pray to the Lord. 

January 1 is World Day of Peace,/ We pray for the de-escalation of tensions with North Korea,/ mindful that a world war would degrade our planet utterly./ We ask for leaders to be truly wise men./ We pray to the Lord.

In the new month of January,/ we pray for the safety,/ peace and well-being of those who celebrate birthdays,/ anniversaries and other days of remembrance./ We pray to the Lord.

At the start of a new year,/ may we heed the Christmas message of Pope Francis/ and abandon whatever is superfluous,/ false,/ malignant and deceitful/ and embrace what is essential,/ true,/ good and authentic./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for those who are stressed or fearful at the start of the new year./ For persons who live without security or joy./ May we work this year to overcome indifference,/ misunderstanding and hostility./ We pray to the Lord.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

White Christmas Mary

We had a White Christmas in North East Pennsylvania this week. Here is Garden-Mary at dawn on Christmas Day. She has a snow cap, snow scarf, snow mantle, snow belt - even snow-filled hands.

I like the holiday song White Christmas because it invites imagining and pondering: "I'm dreaming," it begins. But the song's dreaming is limited:  Christmas cards, glistening trees, past years, children listening for sleigh bells.

I'm thinking that the White Christmas Mary of the garden here might invite us to more than that.  We might dream and ask heaven to cover (like snow) the world where we fail each other - where people, especially children, are in desperate need of heaven's help. Of course the real help we need is the changing of hearts, from top to bottom.

White Christmas Mary,
cover the children waiting to be born,
the ones who are lost,
withering from hunger and thirst,
any who are not in school.

Snow Covered Mary,
shelter the refugee - hoping,
the miserable,
the exhausted,
the war-damaged,
the wanderer.

Snow Mantled Mary.
shield the exploitable,
the trafficked ones,
the terrorized,
the rejected,
the tear-streaming world.

Open handed Mary,

hide the child - friendless,
not held,
smiled upon,
delighted in,
played with,
sung to,
read to
or rocked.

Snow-dawned Mary,
gift me with kindness,
a courteous, gentle spirit,
more patience with people than I have,
surrender and acceptance,
and that kind of happiness
you surely felt the
night of angel-song
and shepherd-visit.


Tuesday, December 26, 2017

"On the Feast of Stephen...."

The day after Christmas is the Feast of St. Stephen, the Proto-Martyr and Archdeacon. The liturgical color for the Mass this day is red, not because it's a Christmas color but to remember the saint's shed blood. 

Here the young Stephen wears a gold dalmatic, the vestment of his office. He holds the Divine Word in his right hand and the stones of his martyrdom in the left. Gathered around his neck and shoulders he wears an amice, the deacon or priest's linen vestment touched to the back of the head while praying for the expulsion of dark-cornered thoughts. "Everyone should wear an amice" a teenaged altar server said after hearing my explanation of the amice I'd just put on.

We read the account of Stephen's martyrdom in Acts of the Apostles 6-7, being told that while Stephen was being crushed  under a hail of rocks, the righteous, religious zealot Saul (later Paul) stood holding coats and approving of the saint's death. This is perhaps the other side of the Stephen account: religion can kill.

Some of us have been listening lately to proud Evangelical Christians interviewed in Alabama. A parishioner-friend said, "These people use religion to condemn anyone who isn't like them. Their religion is killing them, and they don't even know it."

I'm thinking of religion-referenced Dr. Laura some years ago on the radio. A religious woman phoned in with the dilemma of her grown daughter turning up pregnant and unmarried. She told Laura that she had an attic full of the clothes her own newborns wore when she was a young mother and, "Should I give all of this clothing to my now pregnant daughter?" In a heartbeat Dr. Laura answered, "No, pack up the clothes and give them to Good Will."  Religion can kill, snuffing out compassion and love. How can we get it so wrong some times?

Not a few people have made of their Christianity an ethic, proposing to assess and judge everyone they consider "different," "other,"  "illicit," "illegal," "unwelcome," "uninvited." Saul, whose soul was blinded by his own pious observances, had to be knocked down on the Damascus Road and then enlightened by the voice of Jesus. The soon ending year of 2017, a year of sad bitterness often spawned by wrong-turned religion, needs a prayer.

Oh newborn Christ,
loosen up these knotted hearts of ours,
warm our winter-chilled assessing,
the icy condemnations,
the cold condescensions and
threatening exclusions.
Heal our hearts, clogged with dissatisfaction -
all the tysking,
having so much to say about everyone else,
the stinking other-ism that
vilifies, shames and kills.

Oh, new-born Child of Bethlehem,
give us new hearts,
but smiles too,
like your Mother's,
who called, "Come on in" to shepherds,
on no one's Christmas card list,
standing all breathless,
nerved out and shy.
shivering at the door of the cave.

Father Stephen P. Morris

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

Christ is Born! Glorify Him! Click on the dual painting here - the Annunciation and Maternity of the Virgin Mary, and hear Leontyne Price singing the beautiful carol, O Holy Night. 

Leontyne Price was born in 1927 and became known internationally in the 1950's and 60's. She is one of the first African Americans to become a leading artist at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. I heard her sing Carmen at the Met during those  years, and even sneaked in backstage to meet her.

Listen even more deeply to the line of the second verse which begins Christ is the Lord.  Can you feel her believing? Merry Christmas everyone!

Friday, December 22, 2017

Intercessions for the Feast of Christ's Birth

We pray for Pope Francis this Christmas Day,/ and ask that as he speaks a message of peace and conversion from Rome,/ we would have opened minds and hearts./ We pray to the Lord.

Today we remember the Christmas Truce of 1914/ and ask that truly,/ for Christ's sake/ we would rediscover our humanity/ beneath the inflamed talk of planet-threatening war we hear these days./ We pray to the Lord.

At Christmas,/ we pray for those who pilgrim to the Holy Land,/ and for the Christians,/ Jews and Muslims who live there,/ often poor and stressed by threats of violence./ We pray to the Lord.

At Christmas,/ we pray for the clarity,/ will and strength to love even our enemies./ That our hearts would be opened to the sufferings of others,/ that we would know how to pray with attention and true devotion./ We pray to the Lord.

Contemplating the face of the Child at Bethlehem,/ we pray to see that Holy Child in the faces of children all around the world:/ the children of forgotten poverty,/ unheeded desperation,/ lonely fear and pain./ We pray to the Lord.

At Christmas,/ we pray for our own families,/ mindful of any who are sick or troubled./ We pray for people who hate Christ and his followers./ For any who kill to dominate others in God's name./ We pray to the Lord.

Finally we pray for those who have died since last Christmas,/ among them many who died sad deaths,/ unknown and unloved./ We pray to the Lord.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Intercessions ~ Fourth Sunday in Advent

We pray for our families:/ spouses,/ in-laws,/ children and grandchildren,/ siblings,/ nieces and nephews./ For safety,/ security,/ peace and good health./ And for those who have no family;/ no friend./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for the Church at Christmas./ May we be known as the people of reconciliation,/ who strive to be free of resentments,/ whose hearts are dis-armed and peaceable./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray that our Christmas worship would be heartfelt and true./ For those who stay away from Mass at Christmas,/ or who live where there is no Mass./ May disgruntled,/ negative Christians discover the Mary-held beauty of Christ at Bethlehem./ We pray to the Lord.

Mindful of the disastrous train crash this week in Washington State,/ we pray for those who grieve and those who help./ For the safety of holiday travelers/ and for anyone who must work on Christmas day./ We pray to the Lord.

Grant peace to our world,/ and may that peace issue from every Christian home,/ and from Bethlehem/ where tensions are often very high./ We pray to the Lord.

With the Winter Solstice this past week there will now be a gradual increase of light in our hemisphere./ We ask for that inner light which brings/ new honesty/ new insights,/ attitudes and openness./ May Christ-light invade any inner place where darkness might remain in us./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Prayer At The End of Mass

I'd like to share this lovely prayer for the end of Mass which I came across when I was a new priest thirty-eight years ago.We might linger a few moments for the church to empty on Christmas Day, and then move in close to the manger scene to pray. May you experience something of Bethlehem's intimacy.

Strengthen, O Lord, 
the hands which have been stretched out
to receive your holy things,
that they may daily bring forth fruit to your glory.

Grant that the ears which have heard your songs
may be closed to the voices of clamour and dispute;

That the eyes which have seen your bright love
may also behold your blessed hope;

That the tongues which have uttered your praise
may speak the truth;

That the feet which have trodden your courts
may walk in the regions of light;

That the souls and bodies which have fed upon
your  living Body and blood
may be restored to newness of life.  Amen

Sunday, December 17, 2017

"You are not far from the Kingdom of God"

Love God...Love Neighbor

Then one of the lawyers, who had been listening to these discussions and had noted how well he answered, came forward and asked him, 'Which commandment is first of all?' Jesus answered, 'The first is, "Hear, O Israel; the Lord your God is the only Lord; love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength." The second is this: "Love your neighbour as yourself." There is no other commandment greater than these.' The lawyer said to him, 'Well said, Master, You are right in saying that God is one and beside him there is no other. And to love him with all your heart, all your understanding, and all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself - is far more than any burnt offerings or sacrifices.' When Jesus saw how sensibly he answered, he said to him, 'You are not far from the Kingdom of God.' Mark 12:28-34

This lawyer, who would have been an expert in religious detail, has been listening to Jesus manage these religious guys who have been messing with him. We might get the feeling he's trying to be tricky too, asking Jesus which of the more than 600 religious laws is the most important. We have no indication whether Jesus thinks the fellow is friend or foe, he simply gets to the point and uses the question to teach.

We must remember now, Jesus doesn't invent any new commandment; his revolution is putting two commandments together: Love God with everything you've got and love people. Jesus knows how we complicate things (maybe especially in religion) and so he gives us a spiritual way of love and simplicity. 

But to love can't be a command. No one can force love; it must be free. I can however, line up my own will with the command. The desire to love is already to love. By desire, I've already set myself on the right course.  And I can ask God to teach me to love rightly. Catholics have the lives of the saints to encourage us: not that I would copy the saints so much as strive to become the saint God has dreamed me (you) to be. Love doesn't require heroics.

In choosing these two commandments Jesus is also telling us that religion has got to be about relationship - with God and with others. Religion is not a private affair. People who fall in love open themselves to the words of the other. They open their arms, hearts, minds to the other. They can bare their souls - their past, their wounds, their flaws. To fall in love is to accept the love of the other. I can love God and others because I know fundamentally that I am loved first by God - even (or especially) in my imperfections and incompleteness. How wonderful is this!

How will I know if I'm really a loving person? I have to go beyond surface-y living (which the culture invites) and get very honest with myself. Love is not a sentiment or a wish, but rather, yielding self-interest, it actively makes good happen for the other. 

I would add that love breaks out of the little orbit of those immediately around me. Love doesn't just look, but it sees. "Lord, I want to see," the blind man says to Jesus. (Luke 18:41-42) Perhaps looking is a function of the eyes, while seeing is a function of the heart.

Jesus gives us the key to life here, saying to the lawyer: "You are not far from the Kingdom of God." Which is to say, "You're getting close to allowing God to rule your life." So what would be next for the fellow? To go and do it.

O Jesus,
 that we would be freed
 of all the distractions and obsessions,
 and learn simply to love God and other people.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

The O Antiphons

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

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Intercessions ~ Third Sunday in Advent ~ Gaudete Sunday

Sandy Hook children and staff

This Advent Sunday of  light,/ we pray for our country in its degraded social discourse./ For the enlightenment of  blamers,/ slanderers,/ mockers,/ liars,/ stereotypers and bullies./ We pray to the Lord. 

Monday is International Migrants Day./ We pray for those who move from place to place for seasonal work to produce our food./ For those who are away from home,/ who work long hours for poor pay/ often in poisoned environments./ We ask for just employers./ We pray to the Lord.

Preparing for Christmas,/ we pray for the world's children/ mindful of those who are never held,/ smiled at or consoled./ For the children who know only chaos,/ desperate poverty and crisis./ For the strengthening of those who raise children in a traumatic world./ We pray to the Lord.

We ask for open hearts and minds to hear the pope's message of peace at Christmas./ For leaders who have the responsibility of creating a just and harmonious world./ For those who make huge sums of money by weapon-izing the world./ We pray to the Lord.

For those who generously and bravely continue to fight ferocious fires in California./ For those who have lost everything to this disaster./ For the gift of rain that will restore the charred landscape./ We pray to the Lord.

This week/ remembering five years ago the massacre of the twenty first-graders and six staff at the Sandy Hook Elementary school,/ we boldy ask God to teach the nation the difference between the real second ammendment/ and the imagined second amendment./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

I could imagine there's no one who tunes-in here who doesn't know who Our Lady of Guadalupe is. The story is so important Mexican Catholics call it the Fifth Gospel. Some Catholics know the Guadalupe only for devotional purposes. Other Catholics claim her as the patron of their cause. But I'd suggest the Guadalupe is of much greater meaning and value than this; it's a story closely linked to the Incarnation feast we're getting ready to celebrate in two weeks - Christmas.

In 1531 the Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego - a newly baptized Christian whose indigenous culture had been violently suppressed by the Spanish empire. Empires expand to take, not give. When Mary asked Juan Diego to speak with the Spanish bishop about building a chapel on the site where she appeared, he nervously asked her, "But why ask me? I'm the tail on the dog, the bottom rung on the ladder, a leaf?" Forgive the indelicacy, but in referring to himself as "a leaf" he was likening himself to toilet paper. That's how worthless he thought of himself and his degraded, exploited and ruined people.

The Incarnation of God at Christmas is this: God is now enculturated. This means God has stepped out from the beyond, the glory-place, and into the terrible messiness of our planet with its cultures and peoples. Other religions believe their god has become human, but never to share our lives so intimately, and to help us find our way through to the fullness of what it means to be a human person. This is new!

The Guadalupe then - Mary visioned as standing barefoot on the ground, brown and black with the features of a crushed people, speaking not an imperial language but an indigenous one - is the visible image of Christianity's ability to express itself in the signs and symbols, the languages, struggles and values of every culture on earth. Her appearance says: "We can be seized by new ideas, new mindsets, new possibilities, and a new understanding of what to-be-alive means."

  • The new idea of a humanity at peace.
  • The new idea of a humanity of joy and inclusion.
  • The new idea of every life's inherent dignity and worth
  • The new idea of divisions overcome.
  • The new idea that we don't have to stay stuck in shameless lies, stubborn selfishness and greed.
  • The new idea of political agendas that are truly just and loving.
  • The new idea that we can become new Christ-persons with opened hearts and opened minds and so reveal God's goodness, God's coming to us in love, God who has put down the warrior weapons and picked up the staff of a good and tender Shepherd.

The Guadalupe message has the power to change our world, our hemisphere and this nation of ours, so sorely stressed and tested from within these days. Bless you, and happy Feast Day everyone!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

"We need some good news."

The Rockefeller Plaza Christmas Tree in New York City was lit on Wednesday, November 29. It is a 75 foot Norway Spruce from State College, Pennsylvania. One of the late-night comedians said that some people complained it was still November when the tree was set up and that Christmas was a month away. But then the funny guy shouted, "But we need some good news." Indeed!

This tree is recognized all around the world, with its 550 pound crystal star and its escort of golden, trumpeter angels. That's all good news. And it's still called the Christmas tree. That's more good news. And over half a million people pass it everyday until the first week in January. And the tree will be milled and  the lumber will be used to build houses for habitat for humanity. And the 45,000 lights are powered by solar panels. How wonderful! All good news.

Here's how the tree looked in the 1950's when my parents took us into the city one windy night. I remember the  giant, colored ornaments being blown around. It was thrilling then; it's thrilling still. Walking near it, with St. Patrick's Cathedral all cleaned up and repaired across the street - you feel Good News. 

But it's Advent, when Mary and her Child come into view to share their own Good News. And while contemplating the bright icon below, know this: I was in my mother's womb; I was in my mother's arms when God first saw me and loved me and called me by my name. I rested securely in that Divine Knowledge, as the Infant Christ rests securely in his Mother's arms.

He holds an orb in his left hand - God is knocking on the door of my heart, your heart, the heart of the world. The Mother of God and her Son look directly into our eyes; they know us and accept us in our imperfections. They invite us to step into the light surrounding them and which they share: an illumined mind; an illumined heart. Don't we need the icon and its good news in this rancourous nation of ours?

And last week Pope Francis went to Myanmar where he was told to be diplomatic and not to dare mention the word Rohingya, the name of the minority Muslim communities being burned out, shot, raped, robbed and who have fled to Bangladesh. And so the Pope, following a principle of diplomacy not to insult one's host, didn't say the forbidden word. But when he arrived in Bangladesh and entered the Rohingya refugee camp, he extended his hands to them, blessed them, promised them his heart and voice, called them by their name and wept with them. No one else does these things. That's good news. 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Intercessions ~ Second Sunday of Advent

Eagle flight on the Delaware in Winter

Watching for the subtle return of light this month,/ we pray to be watchful for the presence of God in our lives,/ the subtle hints of Divine Presence,/ and to be patient and hopeful when we feel God is absent./ We pray to the Lord.

Give the world leaders who are of evolved conscience and good heart./ Strengthen and restore countries where there is national division,/ bitterness,/ or where the people have lost their way./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray boldly for a new world/ freed of the nuclear weapons capable of destroying the planet-gift God has entrusted to us./ Give us the new priority of lifting up those parts of the world crushed by poverty,/ hunger and disease./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for winter travelers/ and ask blessings for those who help to keep us safe./  For firefighters in California/ and any who are in harms way./ We pray to the Lord. 

We pray for those who struggle with life-threatening illness./ For doctors,/ nurses,/ researchers and technicians./ For those who have no access to health care/ or who are burdened with medical expenses./ We pray to the Lord.

Many thousands die or brush death each year because of addictions./ We pray for our nation to return to the freedom of sobriety/ and for all who are trapped in cycles of dependency./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Psalm 63 ~ "My soul clings to you."

It has been said that Psalm 63 contains the most warm and intimate expressions of human love for God in the entire Psalter. This no-frills, cliff-hanging monastery may have something to teach us about a later verse.

Verse 1:  What a lovely image, "My soul is thirsting for God." We know what a powerful thing thirst is. Thank God we live in a water rich part of the world. Can I name a time in my life or some personal experience when I felt a great thirst for God. Maybe the psalmist composed this psalm while in the desert as he uses the words dry and wearying. Ever felt an inner thirst for God out of a dreary and waterless time?

Verse 2: The word "gaze" sums up the psalmist's experience in the temple. Gazing is silent and interior. He's not singing, not studying, not listening to a sermon - just looking. It is said of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha that "She prayed more with her eyes than with her lips." Some of us are so conditioned to prayer as words, we might have trouble understanding Kateri's method or accepting it as legitimate for ourselves. 

Verse 3: God's loving-kindness is better than life. We are each born of God's creative love: a thought of God, a breath of God. And I exist to live in and out of that understanding and to extol God, honor and praise God! 

Verse 4: "I will lift up my hands." Better yet, "Lift up your hearts," we say at Mass. Some people go through their entire religious lives never having really lifted up their hearts. They might subscribe to the Vatican newspaper, make Holy Hours and have nuns and priests in the family and still go to their graves without every having lifted up their hearts. A lifted up heart holds felt need: the felt need to praise, to thank, to love, to know and experience God more deeply.

Verse 5: "...a song of joy on my lips..." C.S. Lewis says "There's no such thing as a sad Christian." Often the world's poorest people understand this the best. How did the world ever get the idea that to follow Christ leaves one dour, miserable and humorless? O Jesus, make us glad!

Verse 6: The psalmist says, "Even if I'm wide awake in the middle of the night, I want to be awake to God who holds me up, sustains, encourages, directs and urges me on." 

Verse 7: The mother bird spreads her wings over the desert nest, creating a shade umbrella to protect her vulnerable chicks. God is like that.

Verse 8: Here it is, "My heart clings to you." I want to hang onto every word of Christ, every action, every thought of Christ. Knowing first hand the vulnerability we experience living on this planet, I want to cling to Christ the rock, the way this no-frills monastery at the top of the page hangs on. Wouldn't it be a shame if a young fellow signed on with this monastery and never made that heart-connection, but settled for the negative desire just to escape a "wicked" world. 

Verses 9 and 10: The psalmist can't help himself. He can't finish his song without lapsing into a self-pitying lament about how his enemies are treating him. He asks God to take care of them with a sword and to let jackals eat them. We have to stop looking for the enemy outside ourselves. Turn the verse on yourself - the enemy within. That is, whatever wants to take you down: pride, self-will, money-lust, the panoply of little gods before which we burn the incense of emotion. Be brave!

Verse 11: Now he seems to have quickly come to his senses, returning to the praise of God. "I'll join the king and rejoice in God." Then the psalmist offers one last thought: God really doesn't like lies. Some of us fuss a great deal about the tiny lies we call "white" - telling a friend his sock, tie and shirt color combinations work well, or her hair is lovely, or the charred food is fine. I don't think those are the lies God detests, but the big deal lies that come from the top, and which leave people less protected, less secure, less healthy. Those lies really get God worked up.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

"God is not God of the dead but of the living!"

Here is one of Marc Chagall's paintings of Moses before the Burning Bush (Exodus 3:1-17) Jesus references this scene in the Gospel account below where Sadducees try to trip him up.  We see Moses kneeling before the flaming bush which is not consumed by the fire. He has taken off his shoes and holds his right hand before his heart. His face emits rays of light. The flock of sheep he tended graze on the hillside behind him. 

To the left we see God's People being led out of slavery through the divided Red Sea. We see Moses' face at the head of the procession and the tablets of stone containing God's Law. But above the burning bush, we see a happy, open-armed angel standing in for God who is un-depictable. He appears in circles of colored light; his wings reflect the flame of the fiery bush beneath him. Is that a red scarf he holds in his hands?

God's self-gift is for all of creation, and so there are mountains on the left, a sky full of birds and trees on the right. See, Chagall even includes the fish in the lower left corner. We might now read the Gospel account of Jesus setting right the tricky Sadducees.

Next Sadducees came to him. (It is they who say that there is no resurrection.) Their question was this: 'Master, Moses laid it down for us that if there are brothers, and one dies leaving a wife but no child, then the next should marry the widow and carry on his brother's family. Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife and died without issue. Then the second married her, and he too died without issue. So did the third. Eventually the seven of them died, all without issue. Finally the woman died. At the resurrection, when they come back to life, whose wife will she be, since all seven had married her?' Jesus said to them, 'You are mistaken, and surely this is the reason: you do not know either the scriptures or the power of God. When they rise from the dead, men and women do not marry; they are like angels in heaven. 
'Now about the resurrection of the dead, have you never read in the Book of Moses, in the story of the burning bush, how God spoke to him and said, "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob"? God is not God of the dead but of the living. You are greatly mistaken.' (Mark 12: 16-27)

Notice the section starts with the word, next. Testy religious men have lined up to have a go at Jesus. Back in chapter 11:27, it's the chief priests, scribes and elders who approach Jesus to question him about his credentials. Then in chapter 12:13, Pharisees and Herodians gang up with their tricky question about paying Caesar's taxes. These Sadducees seem to be hanging out in the wings just in case the Pharisees don't succeed. How tiresome!

They've all got their angle. Sadducees were experts in temple rubrics: that all the ceremonies were "valid" and executed properly. They accepted only the first five books of the Bible, called the Pentateuch. That's why we're told they were not much interested in the notion of resurrection - evidently nothing about it appears in those five books. And so they concoct and propose to Jesus this ridiculous story, hoping to walk away, whispering to one another, "Now we've got him."

Their proposal makes for silly religion, and we can feel Jesus' annoyance when at the end he tells them, "You are greatly mistaken."  Fair question: might Jesus address those words today to religionists with their concerns? And religionists are not just bishops and pastors, but skulk around in many places. The Christian blogger world is full of them.

But what really seems to get Jesus worked up here is that these men are cynics. A cynic is someone who can't be pleased - everything presses down. How depressing and fearsome! Their religious imagination is so tiny - as if heaven is a calculation or book of rules to be followed, "At the resurrection (we can see them smirking) when they come back to life, whose wife will she be, since all seven had married her?"

These men have lost the wonder, the awesomeness, the beauty, the delight of religion. No laughter allowed in their brand.  Maybe we could say, they've lost the magic, the way someone might speak of the explosion of love in a relationship.

But Jesus is smart, quoting God speaking to Moses from the Burning Bush. Jesus is aware that Moses is the only personage they'll understand and accept. "I am the God of Abraham, the God of  Isaac, and the God of Jacob." And Jesus follows up: "God is not God of the dead but of the living."  

"God of the living!" 
O Jesus,
that we would understand
 the depth and breadth of your announcement. 
Give us hearts that little by little
 are enlarged by your all encompassing love - 
love for every thing
  and every person in heaven and on earth. 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Intercessions ~ First Sunday of Advent

Dark-Eyed Junco

As the new month of December begins/ we pray for those who celebrate birthdays,/ anniversaries and other days of remembrance./ We ask the blessings of good health,/ safety and peace./ We pray to the Lord.

That we would be gracious and of good heart these December weeks of deep darkness./ We ask for world leaders who are decent,/ genuine and humble./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for those who will receive no gift at Christmas./ For those who lack warmth,/ food or friendship./ We pray as well for the Jewish people who will soon celebrate their own feast of light at Hanukkah./ We pray to the Lord.

Thursday is Pearl Harbor Day./ We pray for peaceful days/ and for the boldness to imagine a world without un-ending wars./ We pray to the Lord.

Friday is the Feast of Mary's Conception./ We pray for the pre-born child in the womb,/ asking for every child to be welcomed and loved./ For the children of the world who know only misery and fear./ We pray to the Lord.

In the Advent time we pray for the sick,/ the poor and the elderly./ We remember our friends and family members,/ mindful of those who are struggling in any way./ That we would come to Christmas with less stress;/ without resentful or rancorous hearts./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Contemporary Violence

Here is a sculpted scene that might get the attention of people today, maybe especially these Black Friday through Cyber Monday shopper-days. Notice that this frenzied couple don't have even one foot firmly planted on the ground. Notice that the shopping cart is filled to overflowing, so much so that it takes two to move it. Maybe it's more the Shopping Cart of Life. 

The children are panicked and stressed. Dad is anguished as he points ahead to the more. Perhaps he is calling to his wife, "I want my children to have everything I never had." The boy holding onto his mother's leg seems to be craving her attention. Do you sense the mom would prefer to be freed of these children who are slowing her down? The man is so crazed and inattentive he might crush the two real birds that are right in front of him.  The stone is gray: a colorless scene, a window into the violence of the First World.

Thomas Merton wrote in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander: 

"There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs; activism and overwork. The rush and the pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful."

Truth be told, Merton likely wrote this from his own personal experience. While he was a Trappist monk and hermit, he received many guests into his hermitage, traveled to Alaska and the Far East for conferences and was in constant communication with scholars, theologians, activists, poets and religious personalities. This doesn't mean he was a hypocrite in writing what he wrote, but perhaps he understood better than most. No one is immune to this contemporary violence.  Even a monk can fall prey.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Psalm 67 ~ God's All-Inclusive Embrace

Psalm 67 is a harvest time song-prayer. But we'll see that the psalmist has more on his mind than just the gathering in of wheat and barley. 

Verse 1: May God be merciful to us. God's mercy is right up front in the psalmist's mind. It is God's kindness. And in the next line we're told in a poetic way what God's mercy-kindness means: that God would be close to us, so close we can stand in the light of God's face. 

Verse 2: The psalmist asks that God's saving health would be shared over the whole world - all the nations - and not only among his own people. No strident populist nationalism here! We could memorize this verse and pray it often throughout the day, as an antidote to the voices of the haters and division makers on the loose. 

Verse 3: When we've got a good idea, we tend to repeat it. Here the psalmist invites everyone to the praise of God: not just the Catholics, not just the Americans and the white people, not just the straight, right-partied, law-abiding, wealthy, credentialed, famous people - but all the peoples. That's called inclusion.

Verses 4 and 5: God judges with equity. Maybe the Jewish People - the chosen  people - have as their mission to be a kind of symbol or microcosmic sign of what God feels for all people. It is as if God has put them under a spotlight, not because God has in mind something for them that God doesn't have for all, but quite the opposite. The spotlight would seem to say, "Look here, this is how I feel about you too."

Verse 6: The earth has brought forth her increase. The earth is soil and water, which we all have in common. No human person or nation stands on a cloud. And what blessings might the psalmist be asking for? Maybe we've been given the answer back in verse 4: that we would be glad and sing for joy. Don't we need that? Not the idiotic kind of "joy" promised by the products sold on TV, but God's own gladness and joy.

Of course, we must be mindful of those places on earth where there is famine and the horrors that leave people suffering want - where the earth brings forth NO increase. We might begin by dispelling from among us any spirit of greed, hoarding, gluttony and waste.

Verse 7: May the ends of the earth stand in awe of God. Sometimes a nation or a religion can get so turned in on itself, its divisions, bickering and shallow distractions, it loses its true spiritual sense of the things that matter most - like taking care of people. Imagine if a nation which calls itself God-fearing, or a religion which thinks itself to be God-Loving, found itself utterly speechless by the all-embracing kindness of God who has gone to such trouble to be with us. Awe: to have our breath taken away!

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Intercessions ~ Feast of Christ the King

"For I was thirsty and you gave me to drink." Matthew 25:35

On the Feast of Christ the King/ we ask for a moral and political revolution/ based on the teachings of Jesus and his demand that we care for the least of our brothers and sisters./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for Pope Francis/ who later this month travels to the Asian nation of Myanmar/ a country suffering painful, internal divisions./ May the pope's trip be a safe one/ and his message promote reconciliation,/ healing and peace./ We pray to the Lord.

Thursday is the Feast of the Apostle Andrew/ who in the Gospels often introduced people to Jesus./ We ask that our Church would be marked by a generous hospitality:/ that no one would feel alienated for lack of welcome./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for people with knotted hearts:/ white supremists,/ unrepentant prisoners,/ bigots,/ terrorists and anti-semites./ We pray for the many who confuse partisan loyalty/ with the highest good./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for our stressed planet:/ that plant and animal species are rapidly becoming extinct,/ that the planet is undeniably warming,/ that a global nuclear war would put most of the world's population at risk,/ that an acre of forest disappears every second./ Give us reverential hearts and minds./ We pray to the Lord.

For those who gather around us at Mass this last Sunday of the liturgical year./ May these many weeks of Word and Sacrament,/ now bear in us the fruit of love,/ compassion and justice./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Death of Moses - And God's Idea Of Religion

This is Marc Chagall's etching with watercolor titled: The Death of Moses.  In Deuteronomy 32:51 God tells Moses that even after leading the Chosen People through the Sinai desert for forty years, Moses would not enter the promised land with them.

"Because you did not make my holiness clear to the Israelites." Yikes! It is said that the largest Christian denomination is Roman Catholics, and the second largest is fallen away Catholics. Have the priests failed to make God's holiness clear to the people?

We're told more in Deuteronomy chapter 34. God is called Yahweh.

Then leaving the Plains of Moab, Moses went up Mount Nebo...and Yahweh showed Moses the whole country: Gilead as far as Dan, the whole of Naphtali, the country of Ephraim and Manasseh, the whole country of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb and the region of the Valley of Jericho, city of palm trees...And Yahweh said to Moses, "This is the country which I promised on oath to give to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying: I shall give it to your descendents. I have allowed you to see it  for yourself, but you will not cross into it." There in the country of Moab, Moses servant of Yahweh died as God decreed...He buried him in the valley in the country of Moab...Since then, there has never been such a prophet in Israel as Moses, the man whom Yahweh knew face to face.

Apparently resigned to it all, in Chagall's etching, Moses appears to be getting ready for a good nights sleep. He has put down his wonder-working staff; his unveiled face still emitting rays of light.  Moses waves to God who seems to be pushing away the clouds, opening a path of light for his servant, who looks to God face to face.

But we notice too that it seems God personally buried Moses in the valley. I'd suggest God buried Moses in a secret place because God knows how idolatrous human beings are. God knew that if Moses' grave were known, we'd forget everything he taught us; we'd build a great shrine with a decorated tomb, summoning people from all around the world to make expensive pilgrimages to it, to buy souvenirs, to stay in the five star hotels, dining in the fine restaurants that spring up around shrines. No, God left Moses' body hidden in the wilderness. 

The God of the Jews and Christians isn't a shrine-god or real estate god.

"It is mercy I desire, not sacrifice." Hosea 6:6; Matthew 9:13

"My sacrifice O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, O God, will not despise." Psalm 51:17

True religion happens in the wilderness: the wilderness of my inner life. In the wilderness (desert) there is nothing to hold onto, no one to impress, nothing that will save me. I'm utterly vulnerable in the wilderness; face to face with my own unvarnished self. In the inner wilderness I have no cloak of prestige to wear, no masks, no facade. I stand alone before God, who sees me and loves me just as I am.

The only thing we find in the desert is sand. Moses' burial in the desert-sand teaches me: when I crouch down and write the story of my past, with all the wounds, the mistakes, the sins, the twists and turns that may have taken me faraway, when I leave and glance back over my shoulder, I notice the wind has blown it all away. God is like that. 

I want to accept this desert-y spiritual place and not run to some other kind of religion that distracts, 'saves' or is more comfortable and easier. Oh God, thank you for burying Moses in a secret place of sand and wind.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

A Monk's Gift

Here is a photograph of the back road leading up to the Monastery of Our Lady of Gethsemani in Kentucky, founded by French monks in 1848. One of the monks, who in Trappist fashion chooses to remain anonymous, has created this Litany of the Person, which we might care to use as a point of meditation. The litany's last line: This is who you are, stands in stark contrast with the many other messages we're exposed to, messages which propose to tell us who we are. Here's my silly first-world commercial identity.

You are:
driving the fastest, hottest vehicle
with the whitest teeth
an amazing figure
and great sex appeal
the most shiny hair
and fabulous skin
vitamined into ageless
sleeping soundly on the perfect mattress
and the shape-retaining pillow.
You are:
approved of by everyone
laughing constantly
everyone's idea of fun
media savvy
clothes to die for
and filthy rich.
You are:
on the way to the top
with a six (seven?) figure salary.
This is who you are.

Now to hear from the hidden monk whose insights as to who we are flow from knowing God in intimacy.

A Litany of the Person
image of God
born of God's breath
vessel of divine love
after his likeness
dwelling of God
capacity for the infinite
eternally known
chosen of God
home of infinite Majesty
abiding in the Son
called from eternity
life in the Lord
temple of the Holy Spirit
branch of Christ
receptacle of the Most High
wellspring of Living Water
heir of the kingdom
the glory of God
abode of the Trinity

God sings this litany
eternally in His Word.

This is who you are.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Intercessions ~ Thirty Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Autumn Grapes

Today is World Day of the Poor./ We ask a new heart for the world/ that no one would be without the things basic to human life/ and which the comfortable nations may take for granted./ That justice would increase on the earth./ We pray to the Lord.

The nation celebrates Thanksgiving Day this week./ We pray for the safety of holiday travelers,/ for those with whom we will share the day/ and for anyone who is alone/ or who feels little or no gratitude./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday is the Feast of the Presentation of Mary/ when as a young girl she climbed and danced on the steps of the temple./ We ask for hearts that delight in God/ and find joy in serving Him./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for those who distort Christianity/ turning it into a religion of proofs,/ suspicion,/ harsh judgments and hatred for anyone perceived to be "other."/ May we possess the clean heart of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount./ We pray to the Lord.

Our country is being sensualized/ with long secreted cases of sex abuse now being revealed./ We pray for each human person to be recognized and honored as God's dear child,/ and that we may be freed from the sins of exploitation./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray gifts of healing and comfort for the sick,/ the wounded,/ and those who are terrified and traumatized./ For the conversion of prisoners/ and those who plan violence and death./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Breezes and Winds, Bless the Lord!

In the Book of Daniel chapter 3, there is (in Catholic bibles anyway) the account of the Three Youths in the Fiery Furnace. Daniel's friends are bound with chains and thrown into the fiery pit for having refused to fall down and worship Nebuchadnezzar's golden-god.

When the king shows up to be sure they're gone forever, he sees the youths very much alive. More wondrous still, a fourth figure is seen with them, perhaps an angel companion leading them in a canticle, praising the God of creation and beauty. 

The litany-like song invites every animate and inanimate thing to praise and extol God. "Bless" is the praise-word they use.

angels and powers
sun and moon and stars of the sky
fire and heat
winter and summer
drops of dew and flakes of snow
frost and cold
ice and sleet
shining light and enfolding dark
snow clouds and thunderbolts, all bless the Lord...

Have a look for yourself and be lifted up anytime, but especially on Sunday morning. But there was a windy day this autumn week that caused me to pull out my camera-phone to catch the twenty-three second scene in the little video above. This is the tall clump of zebra grass outside the chapel door. The variegated yellow-green leaves were bright, and the soft coppery fans on the long stems bent this way and then that way - and the sound of the wind and the stream nearby. It was all right there in front of me!

Glorify the Lord. O mountains and hills
and all that grows upon the earth,
O bless the Lord.

Glorify the Lord O springs of water, seas and streams,
breezes and winds,
O bless the Lord.

We can add aspects of our own lives to the canticle - inviting it all to the praise God as well:

Households and businesses,
factories and farms.
solar panels and wind turbines,
Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, all bless the Lord.

Rockets and satellites,
electric cars and high speed rail,
air turned to water and movable houses, all bless the Lord.

Time zones, and telescopes,
microscopes and bio tech breakthroughs, 
CT Scans and GPS tracking, all bless the Lord.

Muslims and Jews,
Catholics and Orthodox,
Protestants and Mormons,
Hindus and Buddhists,
reconcilers and peacemakers, all bless the Lord.

We could spend the whole day, offering to God everything we have created out of our capacities and gifts. Bottom line: Enjoy God! Praise God in all things, everywhere and all times.