Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

"The Future is Female" ~ Really?

This past weekend millions upon millions of people marched and protested around the world with a lot on their minds. Some of their concerns I get; others I don't. And that's okay. 

Not a few of the women marching wore shirts with the words, Fem the Future, Female Future or The Future is Female. The messages called to my mind a book that was published in 2011 and which I'd recommend to anyone/everyone: Unnatural Selection ~ Choosing Boys Over Girls, And the Consequences of a World Full of Men by Mara Hvistendahl.

Here is a book review written by Anne-Marie Slaughter, professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University:

"Unnatural Selection is an important book and a fascinating read. Mara Hvistendahl is a delightful writer: witty, engaging, and acute. But the tale she tells is deeply disturbing. Asia alone is missing 160 million women and girls, a number equal to the entire female population of the United States. According to Hvistendahl, the culprit is less deeply rooted cultural gender bias than rising wealth, elite attitudes, and Western influence and technology. Development, at least for the coming decades, will produce not only fewer children overall, but also many fewer girls. The result is a future for many parts of the world, from India to China, Azerbaijan to Albania, where brides are much more likely to be bought, women are much more likely to be trafficked, and men are much more likely to be frustrated. For the present, we must confront the stark reality that the availability of ultrasound and ready abortion are sharply reducing the number of women in the world."

I'm pleased to see a book like this written without religious input; many more people will pay attention. Ms. Slaughter doesn't refer to this final bit: we need only look to the American wild west, shoot-em-up world of gold rush days to see what happens to a world without females. There, the only women to be found were prostitutes, barmaids and maybe a schoolteacher. A world absent of women is all bullets, fistfights, brawls, drunkenness and personal degradation. Bombs, if they were to be had. 

An easy enough read, the book can be gotten for pennies online.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Litany of Peace: Let us pray to the Lord.

Here is a deacon singing the Litany of Peace at the start of The Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom. This liturgy, prayed by Eastern Christians of the Byzantine Rite, traces its origins to the 4th century. Notice the deacon holds up the end of his stole - a kind of angel wing - interceding and bringing to worship the whole world in all of its need. For the Christian, worship is essentially communal: Eleven times the deacon invites, "Let us pray to the Lord."

Deacon: Bless, Father.
Priest: Blessed is the kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages.
Choir: Amen.

Deacon: In peace let us pray to the Lord.
Choir: Lord, have mercy.

Deacon: For the peace from above and for the salvation of our souls, let us pray to the Lord.
Choir: Lord, have mercy.

Deacon: For the peace of the whole world, for the welfare of the Holy Churches of God, and for the union of all, let us pray to the Lord.
Choir: Lord, have mercy.

Deacon: For this holy house, and for those who enter it with faith, reverence and the fear of God, let us pray to the Lord.
Choir: Lord, have mercy.

Deacon: For (here is named the local bishops, patriarchs and even the Pope of Rome if the Liturgy is offered by Byzantine Catholics) for the honourable Priesthood, the Diaconate in Christ, and for all the clergy and the people, let us pray to the Lord.
Choir: Lord, have mercy.

Deacon: For our country, our President, our Congress, and all who are in seats of authority, let us pray to the Lord.
Choir: Lord, have mercy.

Deacon: For this city, and for every city and land, and for those who live in them by faith, let us pray to the Lord.
Choir: Lord, have mercy.

Deacon: For seasonable weather, the abundance of the fruits of the earth and for peaceful times, let us pray to the Lord.
Choir: Lord, have mercy.

Deacon: For those who travel by land, by water, by air, for the sick, and the suffering, for prisoners and captives and for their salvation, let us pray to the Lord.
Choir: Lord, have mercy.

Deacon: That He would deliver us from all tribulation, anger, danger, and necessity, let us pray to the Lord.
Choir: Lord, have mercy.

Deacon: Help us, save us, have mercy on us, and keep us, O God, by Thy grace.
Choir: Lord, have mercy.

Deacon: Remembering our most holy, most pure, most blessed and glorious Lady, the Mother of God and Ever-Virgin, Mary, with all the saints, let us commend ourselves and one another, and all of our life unto Christ our God. 
Choir: To Thee, O Lord.

Priest: For to Thee belongs all glory, honour and worship, to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. 
Choir: Amen

Here's a bit of commentary to help us understand the Litany.

Notice, the deacon calls out to the priest, asking him to begin: Bless Father! At once the priest calls upon the Holy Trinity, establishing this prayer as communal and relational, as God's own inner life is communal.

Salvation of our souls. This doesn't just mean, "Oh God, get us to heaven," but, how do I need salvation right now? "Oh God, save me from my temper, save me from my moodiness, save me from this addiction, save me from my ignorance, my closed-in worldview, my bitterness."

Fear of God: not that I'm afraid God is going to get me, but that I would fear only that which could take me away from God.

Seats of authority: Not just politicians (as much as they need prayer) or government people, but the authority of the teachers, the boss, the supervisor. Name the authorities in your own life.

Deliver us from anger, which is resentment. When identifying resentment within we can pray: "Oh God, as angry as I am right now with - N - give him/her/them, blessings and all they need for salvation."

Again we hear, "save us" - there is an urgency to the plea being repeated.

Then, as the litany draws to a close, the priest calls out for God to be given what belongs to God: Glory, which is God's greatness, Honor, which is to acknowledge that God has the first and most important place, and Worship, that inner bowing: God is God and not us, however great we think we are.

This litany has restorative energies when we feel we're teetering on the edge.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Holocaust Remembrance Day

German-Jewish children aboard the SS St. Louis

Holocaust Remembrance Day was Friday, January 27. I'm sorry to have missed it. Still, it is important to keep the day (if even late), especially perhaps among Christians, as there are not a few today who are called Holocaust Deniers and others who want to wash the Jews out of the Second World War story. 

Indeed, there are Christians who hate the attention the Jews receive in relating the war's history. I have met them. Many are Catholics living in so-called Catholic Countries which even centuries later, are still Jew-hating. It's all very troubling. Troubling too are indicators today that cause me to ask, have we have learned anything?

Here's what seems to be a good article on the SS St. Louis, the ship laden with nearly 1000 German-Jews fleeing Europe in 1939. Perhaps we have never heard of this piece of history. We might read it and bring the story to our prayer at Mass tomorrow. (Click here) SS St. Louis: The ship of Jewish refugees nobody wanted by Mike Lanchin, BBC Worldservice, May 13, 2014.

I was eight years old when Pope John XXIII removed from the Good Friday prayers the words perfidious Jews. Perfidious means: deliberately faithless, deceitful, dangerous, betraying, even evil.  In March of 1959 Pope John also suppressed an annual pilgrimage to Deggendorf, Bavaria which gathered to celebrate the massacre of the town's Jews in 1338. It's much easier to change words than hearts, isn't it?

"If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts."  Psalm 95 and Hebrews 3:7

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Pope Prays For Us Too

2015 Time Magazine Cover

This gracious letter was sent from Pope Francis to President Trump at the time of his inauguration. The Pope promises his prayer not only for the president but also for his family, for us and all the world. I've filled out the scripture reference at the letter's end, suggesting we might read the Gospel passage in its entirety. It's that important.

Upon your inauguration as the forty-fifth President of the United States of America, I offer you my cordial good wishes and the assurance of my prayers that Almighty God will grant you wisdom and strength in the exercise of your high office.
At a time when our human family is beset by grave humanitarian crises demanding farsighted and united political responses, I pray that your decisions will be guided by the rich spiritual values that have shaped the history of the American people and your nation's commitment to the advancement of human dignity and freedom worldwide.
Under your leadership, may America's stature continue to be measured above all by its concern for the poor, the outcast and those in need who, like Lazarus,* stand before your door.
With these sentiments, I ask the Lord to grant you and your family, and all the beloved American people, his blessings of peace, concord and every material and spiritual prosperity.

* Pope Francis is referring here to the story Jesus told of the rich man and Lazarus, found in Luke 16:19 and following. It begins:
Now there was a rich man dressed in purple and fine linen, who lived each day in joyous splendor. And a beggar named Lazarus lay at his gate, covered with sores and longing to be fed with the crumbs that fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores...

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Intercessions ~Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

"And when he sat down... he opened his mouth and taught them, saying..."

The first and most important word of American Democracy is "We"/ "We the People."/ For a new sense of national community/ freed of so much hostility;/ rooted in courtesy and kindness./ We pray to the Lord.

The Gospel this Sunday begins with Jesus going up the mountain/ and sitting down in authority to teach us./ We pray to be a teachable people:/ less defensive,/ less prideful./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray to know deeply that each human person is precious and a child of God,/ and that we would know the blessings of being peacemakers,/ healers and reconcilers./ We pray to the Lord.

Jesus teaches:/ Blessed are those who are persecuted./ We ask for the softening of hateful hearts,/ and for the safe-guarding of Christian communities where they are vulnerable and threatened./ We pray to the Lord.

Thursday is the Feast of the Lord's Presentation in the Temple,/ where Simeon calls the Infant Jesus/ "Light"./ We pray to be illumined interiorly,/ seeing clearly how to live the unique life God envisions for each of us./ We pray to the Lord.

Strengthen and comfort the sick,/ bless those who care for them./ Heal the spiritual illness that reduces others with dismissive categories,/ labels and names./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for the many whose suffering was brought on this week by tornadoes,/ floods and acvalanches./ Send help to those who are tempted to forfeit belief/ in a world saddened by so much trouble and grief./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

What might we learn?

This is Bishop Sebastian of the Romanian Orthodox Church offering the Divine Liturgy, which Roman Catholics call The Mass. He is praying the part of the liturgy called the Epiclesis, the invocation of the Holy Spirit upon the gifts of bread and wine and the words of consecration. I wonder, if we were to go around the altar and peak, would we find he's off the ground?

The word docility comes from the Latin, docere, which means to teach. Docility's sister is humility, which suggests: "I have a lot to learn." Westerners can have real problems with docility and humility. So I invite us to click on the little video above, open it full screen, and listen and watch carefully. Then this question: What do Bishop Sebastian and the singing-praying congregation behind him have, that we don't have here? What might we learn from them?

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Miss Joan ~ God's Greatness ~ Our Humility

Many of us will remember Romper Room, the television series seen by children all across the United States between 1953 to 1994. Every major city had its local version led by a female teacher who was always addressed as, Miss. Out of New York I watched Miss Joan, who I claim as my first catechist, introducing me to a conscious and fundamental truth about God.

Romper Room began with the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by half an hour of exercises, songs and moral lessons about how to be well-mannered and good. Halfway through each segment the 4-5 year olds would sit at their desks for cookies and milk, but only after (get this!) praying grace. And what a perfect prayer:

God is good,
God is great,
And we thank Him for our food. 

I really don't like the word great unless it's used to extol God. And what a blasphemy (God insult) when a terrorist shouts out God's greatness after murdering someone. But indeed, God is great: wondrous, creative, beyond, awesome, powerful, mysterious, all-good, surpassing, vast, tremendous! 

And when we forget this and use the word great about ourselves, our great power, our great weapons, the great reach of our spheres of influence, our great wealth, our great resources - then we have lost humility. We rarely hear the word humble or humility anymore because we wrongly think it means being demeaned, degraded or shamed. 

Humility is a virtue. And a virtue is a practiced or cultivated goodness. Humility comes from the Latin word humus, which means good earth: that I am down to earth about myself. 

Here are three voices who make plain what humility is. The three live in religious community, which doesn't mean they're experts, but as in religious community you don't choose who you live with which makes the human/spiritual challenge more demanding. Sister Gail Fitzpatrick was the Abbess of Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey. She writes:

"The fruit of humility is naturalness. Humble people feel at home being who they are and they do not need to play roles in order to impress others or compete with them. They're confident about using their own talents and strengths without drawing attention to themselves, and are not threatened by the talents and accomplishments of others. They live in such a way that goodness comes naturally, treating other people with respect because it's the right thing to do."

And Thomas Merton who wrote from the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemane in Kentucky says:

"If I am the center of the universe then everything belongs to me. I can claim as my due all the good things of the earth. I can rob and cheat and bully other people. I can help myself to anything I like and no one can resist me...Humility, therefore is absolutely necessary if man is to avoid acting like a baby all this life. To grow up means in fact to become humble, to throw away the illusion that I am the center of everything and that other people only exist to provide me with comfort and pleasure." 

Sister Joan Chittester was the prioress of the Erie, Pennsylvania Benedictine Monastery. She writes:
"When we have to be the best, we can never be ourselves ... Deep down we know that we are both more and less than people see. Once we claim our essential smallness we are freed from the need to lie even to ourselves about our frailties. It is a terrible burden to have to be perfect, to need to be right when we fear we are not, to never be wrong when deep down we know that we are. Humility asks us to accept the idea that we have plenty of room for growth and growing up depends on learning from others."

Friday, January 20, 2017

Praying on Inauguration Day

I'm always pained when I see an American Flag looking like this, perhaps because I understand that a flag represents people. And on Inauguration Day, not a few Americans are feeling the country is, like this sad flag, tattered against a gloomy sky, worn-out, shredded, ripped apart.

In the Roman Missal there are two Masses for Reconciliation. the Preface of the second Mass offers this prayer, which we might make our own today.

It is truly right and just
that we should give you thanks and praise,
O God, almighty Father, 
for all you do in this world,
through our Lord Jesus Christ.

For though the human race
is divided by dissension and discord,
yet we know that by testing us
you change our hearts
to prepare them for reconciliation.

Even more, by your spirit you move human hearts
that enemies may speak to each other again,
adversaries join hands,
and peoples seek to meet together.

By the working of your power
it comes about, O Lord,
that hatred is overcome by love,
revenge gives way to forgiveness,
and discord is changed to mutual respect.

Therefore, as we give you ceaseless thanks
with the choirs of heaven
we cry out to your majesty on earth,
and without end we acclaim:

Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Intercessions ~ Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Ruined Maronite Church ~ Aleppo, Syria

The ancient Christian communities of Iraq and Syria are being driven out,/ starved,/ enslaved and destroyed by radicalized Islamists./ We pray for them/ and ask blessings for the work of those offering support and help./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for a fervent renewal of the Church in the West/ where it is often weakened by materialism,/ poor teaching and indifference./ We pray to the Lord.

It is said that the United States is a nation of problem-solvers./ Yet these are days of unprecedented individualism,/ dysfunction,/ fear and anger./ We pray to learn again how to be kind to one another./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for those who are leaders in our country,/ and that for their part,/ each person in this land would feel welcomed,/ included and assisted./ We pray to the Lord.

January is the time of snow and ice./ And as the snow falls silently and gently,/ we pray to grow in our inner spiritual lives/ and that we would learn to be at peace with God and with others./ We pray to the Lord.

We intercede for those who are out of work,/ under-paid or who sincerely are unable to work./ We pray blessings for those whose work makes life easier for ourselves,/ who help us to stay safe and healthy./ We pray to the Lord.

Every week brings news of disasters somewhere in the world./ At Mass we pray in solidarity with those who suffer near and far/ from disease,/ violent crimes,/ natural disasters,/ wars and neglect./ And for those generous souls who bring rescue and comfort to others./ We pray to the Lord.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Blessed Assurance

The Mayberry Church Community  ~ Sunday Morning

Here's a scene from a early 1960's television series, The Andy Griffith Show. It is Sunday morning in the Mayberry Community Church. Sheriff Andy Taylor is in the front row with Deputy Barney Fife and son, Opie. Aunt Bea is behind them with a neighbor-lady. No wimpy singing in this little church. 

But Andy Griffith was a God-loving man, and he believed in the power of hymn-singing in real life. He said: 

"You know when you're young you think you will always be. As you become more fragile, you reflect and you realize how much comfort can come from the past. Hymns can carry you into the future."

When he spoke of becoming "more fragile" he had in mind our aging minds and bodies. I'm aware of that in my own life, but I'm thinking even more of how life itself is fragile at every stage: the fragile life of every baby, the fragile life of Christians in many places, the fragile life of the poorest people, the fragile life of the planet itself - so greedily, ruthlesslly plundered and wasted. 

What do you hold onto in this fragile life? A woman wrote not too long ago, so worried about the future of our country - how bitter and ugly we've appeared recently.  She said that she was going to hunker down and focus on her family, promoting its life, health and goodness with new energies. I understand.

And I would add to that: Let's each find a really great hymn, memorize all the verses and sing it often. There are many stories in the long history of the Church where burdened Christians walked while singing hymns.

Blessed Assurance is my favorite hymn, composed in 1873 by Fanny Crosby, who was blind.

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.

This is my story, this is my song,
praising my Savior all the day long;
this is my story, this is my song,
praising my Savior all the day long.

Perfect submission, perfect delight!
Visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
Angels descending bring from above
Echoes of mercy, whispers of love

This is my story, this is my song,...

Perfect submission, all is at rest!
I in my Savior am happy and blessed,
Watching and waiting looking above,
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.

And here are some personal first-thoughts about each line of the hymn.

Jesus is mine: In a world of so much loss, I have Christ.
A foretaste: Heaven shows itself even now in Christ.
Heir of Salvation: not just about going to heaven - but NOW.
Purchase of God: Who has gone to a lot of trouble not to lose me.

My story; my song: "For me, to live is Christ," says St. Paul.
All the day long: No Sunday-morning-call-it-a-day religion.

Submission: Jesus, teach me; lead and guide me.
Visions of Rapture: "Earth is crammed with heaven..."
Angels descending: bring reverberations of God's kindness,
 and the heady intimacy of God's love for us in Christ.

All at rest: "Let nothing make you afraid," writes St. Teresa of Avila.
Happy and Blessed. Love is redundant.
Watching and Waiting: "In joyful hope" we pray at Mass.
Lost in his love: The Christian life isn't a rule book but an encounter with a  living, loving Jesus.

Spring Harvest, sings Blessed Assurance here with a brisk joy. I could sing this wonderful hymn all day.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Beautiful Corner

The room is dark, which might lead us to think that this dad is getting the children ready for bed at night. But look beyond and we see through the bathroom window that it is more likely morning. Maybe it's Saturday and he's letting mom sleep in. Already the candle is burning by the Beautiful Corner in the living room.

The Beautiful Corner, (sometimes called, The Front Corner, The Holy Corner, or even God's Place) is a sacred space in every Eastern Christian home. Ideally, it is seen as one walks in through the front door, announcing at once, believers live here! The purpose of the space is worship; calling a family to prayer.

There really aren't rules about putting together a Beautiful Corner, more like suggestions: the corner should include icons of Christ and the Mother of God. Images of saints should not be higher than that of Christ. There shouldn't be posters of sports or entertainment figures near by.  That's just good common sense.

But we must never think we've got God in a box or in a corner, let alone think we've got God in our corner. That's  dangerous thinking. Remember the verse in the Book of Genesis 28:16 when Jacob woke from his dream-sleep he thought, "Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it." I'd suggest that could be said about every place where people gather.

I'd suggest The Beautiful Corner calls us to the awareness of the divine presence which is everywhere: 

  • God in the corner of the nursing home lobby, where folks hope for a visitor.
  • God in the corner of my desk drawer where I find the address of someone I know I really ought to write to or phone. 
  • God in the corner of the classroom where a young person is trying to hide. 
  • God in the corner of the party or gathering where someone is invariably without fellowship. 
  • God in the corner of the parish church where "I've seen that woman at Mass for twenty years and I've never bothered to go over and introduce myself."
  • God in the corner, which is my TV screen, playing the children's aid info-mercial.

Ah, God in the corner of my mind, where a small voice urges me to "Do something about that," whatever good thing that may be.

Friday, January 13, 2017

David's Gloom-Busting Psalms

Here is Marc Chagall's painting (1967) of King David accompanying himself with a harp as he composes and sings his psalms. Psalms are the sung poem-prayers of ancient Israel. Christians love the psalms too. Indeed, a psalm is prayed at every Mass. 

The revered King is elevated here, as if floating between heaven and earth, suggesting the power of the psalms to lift up souls from the mundane, and even to afford us relief from suffering and sadness. 

Remember Kate Smith singing Irving Berlin's 1938 anthem: God Bless America. It's not a patriotic song nearly so much as it is a prayer. 

"God bless America, land that I love....through the night with a light from above." Mr. Berlin wrote the song during the Second World War; he understood darkness. So does King David who is floating and singing in darkness.

Well, the land that I love, and I expect you love too, is living under a dense, light-obstructing cloud these days. There is civil war in the hearts of many Americans. Dark demons were released and empowered this past year: the demon of disrespect, the demon of humiliation and mockery, the demon of bigotry, the demon of bullying, the demon of violence, the demon of lost decency, the demon of narcissism, the demon of hate, the demon of lost grace. We failed ourselves this past year, and all the world watched. 

So I'm proposing (just offering) that we might memorize a psalm (or two or three) as gloom-buster; cloud-lifter, darkness dis-speller. 

Memorizing psalms is a handy way to bring the best things to mind and heart. Here are ten psalms that I believe are wonder-working for troubled souls and minds. If when you investigate and the numbers and the opening lines don't agree - look to the next one - the numbering is sometimes different depending on the translation you are using.

Psalm 22 ~ The Lord is my shepherd...
Psalm 50 ~ Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness...
Psalm 69 ~ Deign, O God, to rescue me...
Psalm 90 ~ You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High...
Psalm 102 ~ Bless the Lord, O my soul...
Psalm 112 ~ Praise, you servants of the Lord...
Psalm 115 ~ I believed, even when I said...
Psalm 129 ~ Our of the depths I cry to you, O Lord...
Psalm 130 ~ O Lord, my heart is not proud...
Psalm 145 ~ Praise the Lord, O my soul, I will praise...

Is is possible to memorize a whole psalm? Of course it is. People memorize the lyrics to songs. We memorized the prayers of our childhood. Actors memorize their lines. Many of us have memorized the Gloria and the Nicene Creed. Try memorizing a couple of psalms and they will spring into mind spontaneously, when the darkness overshadows. In the movie A Trip to Bountiful, as she recites the 90th psalm from heart, Carrie Watts calls it "A bower of strength within me."

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Intercessions ~ Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Antique French Priest-Maniple *

The liturgy returns to green today,/ the color symbolic of inner freedom,/ friendship,/ beauty,/ happiness,/ health and hope./ Grant that your Church would be built up in all that is deeply human and good./ We pray to the Lord.

Pale green is the symbolic color of Baptism Water./ We pray to be strengthened in our relationship with Christ begun at Baptism./ We pray for those who are harassed or executed/ because they are Baptized./ We pray to the Lord.

This year marks the centenary of the apparitions at Fatima,/ where the Virgin Mary called the world to repentance and prayer./ We pray for Pope Francis as he prepares for his pilgrimage to Portugal in May./ We pray to the Lord.

At Mass,/ we pray for our families and our friends,/ especially for those who are troubled,/ weakened,/ sick/ or ready to give up./ We ask blessings for anyone with whom we might feel anger or disappointment./ We pray to the Lord.

In the winter-time/ we pray for people who are cold,/ hungry or friendless./ We ask for the safety and well-being of those who are road workers,/ rescuers/ or who help others in any way./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray boldly for God to move mountains/ which is the hate that weighs down human hearts./ Heal,/ comfort and restore/ those who are victimized by injustice,/ power-abuse and greed./ We pray to the Lord.

In many parts of the world/ it is profoundly difficult being a child./ We pray for them/ and the good people who work to offer them a rescue./ We ask for a world that keeps the welfare of children first in mind./ We pray to the Lord.

* A maniple is a Mass-vestment priests wore over the left forearm until the late 1960's. A stylized handkerchief, the maniple symbolizes the priest's heart carrying tears for the world in all of its pain and error. The prayer the priest prayed while putting on the maniple is very beautiful: May I be worthy, O Lord, so to bear the maniple of tears and sorrow; that with joy I may receive the reward of my labor. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

"It's easier for a camel..."

Jesus looked round at his disciples and said to them, "How hard it will be for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!" They were amazed that he should say this, but Jesus insisted, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." They were more astonished than ever, and said to one another, "Then who can be saved?" Jesus looked them in the face and said, "For men it is impossible, but not for God; to God everything is possible."  Mark 10:23-27

Do we notice this: Jesus looked round at his disciples. That he made eye contact with each of them. And then a few lines later, Jesus looked them in the face. This religion of ours is very personal. Before anything else, it's Jesus inter-facing with each of us. Do I feel this?

And then these words of Jesus: How hard it will be for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God. But Jesus doesn't say what wealthy means. How much is wealthy? I suppose we each have to work that out with him ourselves. "But I've gotta make a living, Jesus!" Is that always what we're always doing? What's my heart-stance about these things? We resent and grouse about the salaries of the athletes, the politicians, the actors and actresses and the Wall Street folks, but truth be told, who'd turn down their kind of income? 

And then there's these well-known Jesus-words, "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle..." This is hyperbole, like, "If I keep eating like this, I'll be as big as a house," Hyperbole is a deliberate exaggeration to make a point. In this case, wealth prevents us from living in and under God's rule. You can't have it all ways: living in God's purposes and possessing. 

But I'd suggest wealth isn't limited to just what's in my wallet, stock portfolio, checking or savings accounts, or the home vault (some folks have one). Jesus won't have his followers taking up with idols. And an idol is whatever I pay more attention to than God. So while there's the money-idol, there's also the resentment-idol, the gun-idol, the hate-idol, the power-idol, the pornography idol, the militarization-idol. Human hearts get cluttered very easily, and Jesus knows it.

"For men it is impossible, but not for God; to God everything is possible." That's just another invitation Jesus extends to us to let God in more deeply than we do, or think we do. The Christian way is very much about divesting. So does that mean we all have to become monks and nuns? No, but I know more than a few people who follow the rule of St. Basil: "If you have not used it in a year, it no longer belongs to you, but to the poor." 

We're told twice in these verses that the disciples were "amazed" and "more astonished than ever." Lots of Christians think following Jesus is about his comforting us. Sometimes. On the other hand, I may identify as a Christian, but when the gospel doesn't shock me, amaze me, unnerve me, disturb or astonish me personally, I've stopped living spiritually. This religion of ours is personal: Jesus "looks me in the face." 

Monday, January 9, 2017

Christmas~Epiphany ~ Savor It!

Adoration of the Magi ~ Gentile de Fabriano  ~ 1423

This marvelous Renaissance painting is nine feet long and a little more than six feet high. Fabriano put everything he had into its creation: the paints are made of brilliant materials and even precious stones have been embedded to create the richness we see here. 

Actually the whole story of the visiting Magi is told throughout. In the upper left hand corner (which we don't see) and across the top, we travel with the Magi on their long journey. Then the image draws us around to the bottom left where we see this dramatic and lively adoration of the Holy Child and the giving of gifts. Fabriano has made the story very exotic, including a camel, a lion, and a monkey. By the look of it, the Magi have told others where they were going, and this great crowd grew and followed along.

We notice Mary's mid-wives, girl-friends or neighbors talking about the first gift which Mary has evidently handed off, her arms already full with a wriggling baby. A servant-boy seems to be taking care of the shoes the third guest is wearing. The traditional donkey and cow are in the cave. In contrast to the energized and maybe noisy crowd, we see Joseph standing in silence, reminding us that this is a contemplative moment. Maybe he broke his silence simply to indicate, "Shh!"

What shall we present unto Thee, O Christ,
for Thy coming to earth for us men?
Each of Thy creatures brings Thee a thank-offering - 
The angels - singing
The heavens - a star.
The wise men - treasures
The shepherds - devotion.
The earth - a cave.
The desert - a manger.
But we offer Thee, the Virgin-Mother.
O eternal God have mercy upon us.

Eastern Christian Hymn

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Juniper in Snow

Shoveling the chapel steps this morning I noticed the Christmas evergreens I'd attached to the banister and how lovely the cypress, pine cones and juniper berries looked touched with snow. There's a very sweet apocryphal (extra-biblical) story told of the Holy Family being hidden by a juniper tree while in their flight to Egypt, Herod's soldiers in hot pursuit. 

Herod's soldiers aren't hunting me down today (though in not a few places Christians have murderous enemies) but I might see the juniper berries and hear the apocryphal story, asking in my prayer to be protected from whatever might do me spiritual harm. 

Oh Jesus,
with Mary and Joseph,
concealed neath
juniper branches, 
protect me from a calloused,
hardened heart,
from harshness
and a petty spirit,
and bring me in safety
to my own inner Egypt ~
that place of well-being,
of joy and light.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

When the first star appears in the sky tonight, Orthodox Christmas begins. Instead of Merry Christmas, believers greet each other saying, "Christ is Born" and the other answers, "Glorify Him!"

Here is a 16th century icon of the Nativity. Mary is resting on her pillow. The Child is wrapped in swaddling clothes, prefiguring his being wrapped after having been taken down from the cross. The cave prefigures the tomb from which Jesus proceeds on Easter morning.

The Mother of God looks out at the shepherds, the Lord's first guests. I might imagine myself standing in the middle of the little flock, catching her eye. We see the angel announcing the good news of Christ's birth. 

The icon includes a number of other scenes, telling the whole story, as we see midwives bathing the Infant Christ in the lower right hand corner. The Magi are on horseback on the left looking up at the star. The chorus of angels is in the upper left corner waiting to sing, "Glory to God in the highest!"

An extra biblical story has poor Joseph sitting in the lower left corner, rather forlorn, confused by all of this. Someone stands before him, tempting him not to believe. We needn't worry: Joseph becomes a silent hero in this story fraught with danger - foreshadowing the dangerous events at the other end of the Gospel.

Here is the Kontakion-hymn from the Christmas liturgy in the Eastern Church.
Today the Virgin gives birth to the incomprehensible One; and the earth offers a  cave to the unapproachable One. Angels and shepherds glorify him; the wise men journey with a star, since for our sakes is born the Eternal God, as a little Child.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Intercessions ~ Feast of the Lord's Epiphany

6th century mosaic ~ St. Apollinaire, Ravenna

On the Feast of the Lord's Epiphany we pray for those who feel they are stumbling around in darkness:/ who feel lost,/ demeaned,/ hurt,/ discouraged,/ inconsolable./ frightened./ For those who carry within themselves the burden of separation and loneliness./ We pray to the Lord.

On this feast of light/ we pray for the people of good will/ who bravely deal with the deep shadow of terrorism/ gripping our world today/ and causing such fear and confusion./ We pray to the Lord.

The Magi visit the Child of Bethlehem and his Mother./ And so we pray for children everywhere:/ that they would be welcomed,/ loved,/ protected/and given all they need to grow/ as full and happy human persons./ We pray to the Lord.

Eastern Christians celebrate Christmas today./ We pray for them/ and for Christian homes everywhere/ to be centers of joy and hope,/ and for the strengthening of Christians who are threatened or menaced for their believing./ We pray to the Lord.

In the winter time/ we pray for people who lack stability and security./ For those who are homeless,/ cold,/ or out of work, / and that we would be aware and generous in performing the works of mercy./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for those who died/ or who were wounded in the terrorist attack in Istanbul at the start of the new year./ We recall too the 4th anniversary of the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School/ asking for a new guiding star/ leading the nation to be healed of its terrible gun violence./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Ice Saints ~ Mamertus, Pancras and Gervais

But it's not really about the May-frost, is it?

Having a last look through the 2016 Farmers Almanac I came across a paragraph titled: The Chilly Saints: Mamertus, Pancras and Gervais, whose 15th century feast days fell respectively on May 11, 12 and 13. And since these days could still experience late crop-damaging frosts, the holy saints were popularly regarded as the Chilly Saints or the Ice Saints

But I'd venture if we were to talk with the holy three they'd reveal a much greater interest in the transformation of icy or chilly hearts than protecting corn seedlings from the night frost. "Melt the frozen; warm the chill" we pray on the Feast of Pentecost. The Christian religion isn't about the weather, but about the transformation of hearts. We've cultivated all kinds of ways to keep Christ at arms length. 

One self-aware and honest wife shared, "I have a husband who asks nothing of me except an ironed shirt, and I grumble under my breath about that." Oh holy Mamertus, warm us!

At the end of Mass one Sunday, returning up the center aisle to the sacristy after having greeted the folks at the door, a man stepped out  of the pews blocking my way and said angrily, "I am SO sick and tired of hearing about THEM!" "Who's them?" I asked. "The poor," he snapped back. I'd no recollection of having said a word about the poor in the homily and even checked my text to find what I might have said to set off such an inner ice storm. Nothing - that I could see anyway. Oh Holy Pancras, melt us!

Two sisters lived one floor apart in a city walk-up apartment. The sister on the third floor had taken a bad fall at work some years earlier and was on disability. Eventually she died and on the night of her funeral, the sister who lived on the second floor announced to her own gathered and grown children, "Well, at least I won't have to be running up her milk and mail anymore." Oh Holy Gervais, thaw us!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God ~ And New Year's Day

Old friends from my first parish sent a card showing a detail of this wonderful painting titled: Virgin Mary and Child with Saint John the Baptist and Angels, by Francois Boucher, 1703-1770. 

Heaven has opened and animated angels admire the Child Christ who is still wrapped in his swaddling clothes. Sometimes artists have a hard time accepting the humility and simplicity of Bethlehem-Mary and so they dress her up in fine fabrics. We get a glimpse of this in the intensity of color in Mary's mantle which has fallen down over her shoulders and the sheen of her dress. In the ancient world only royal persons wore colors; everyone else wore gray, brown or black. 

Cousin John stands nearby with a lamb. He seems to have already learned that in Christ's presence, we pray. There's a basket behind Mary, the contents of which seem to have been opened already, but a cluster of grapes lies next to it. Grapes of course, are a symbol of the Eucharist, and that in order for the grapes to produce wine, they must be crushed. In all the Infancy story we are given insights and openings to the Passion story at the other end of the Gospel.

But it is New Year's Day and the Church celebrates the Motherhood of Mary - Mother of Jesus Christ who is God with a human face like our own.  And to celebrate the feast day, here is a lovely rendition of The Seven Rejoices of Mary, sung by Loreena McKennitt.

Loreena's singing is clear, still, the lyrics of the carol (though a little fuzzy) are printed on the screen. The sixth rejoice of Mary is seeing her son bear the crucifix. An alternate version which says, rise from the crucifix, might be the better wording, if for no other reason than it announces Christ's Easter Resurrection.