Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Teresa of Avila ~ Another Kind of Lenten Fasting

Peter Paul Rubens ~ St. Teresa of Avila

Saint Teresa of Avila wrote, "It is foolish to think we will enter heaven without entering ourselves." Teresa was a reformer of the Carmelite order whose members had grown worldly and lazy. She likely made some enemies directing her sisters to look inside and know themselves truly. It was more comfortable sitting in the parlor entertaining guests for tea all afternoon.

Lent is approaching and yet again we're invited to go with Jesus into the desert. Of course, the desert is inside ourselves, the place where, un-distracted, we are alone with God. And pray God, come Easter, somehow we are better persons, more fully alive as God would have us, more grown up in Christ.

Carmelites fast from food at different times during the liturgical year. But Teresa acknowledges that it's important for her to fast from making herself the important center of everything by going around all day expressing her likes and dislikes. A lot of energy can go into telling everyone I meet what pleases and displeases me. So here are a few possibilities we might consider with Teresa as we prepare to "go inside" with our Lenten fasting.

Fasting from I, I, I, I, I. A certain radio talk show host begins every other sentence with"I".

Fasting from complaining. We are among the most comfortable people on the planet, and yet, if we tune in to ourselves, there's an awful of complaining.

Fasting from so much noise - who can hear God's whisper!
Fasting from so much shopping. One monk says, "In this country it's not the Kingdom come but the thingdom come.

Fasting from having so much to say about everything. It's so common, it's even got a name. It's called bloviating.
Fasting from so many assessments of other people: spouses, siblings, parents, fellow workers, in-laws, maybe even the priest.

Fasting from so many opinions. One woman said of herself, "There's nothing new or original about myself; I'm just opinions."
Fasting from procrastination, making excuses or enabling others.

That's enough - we get the idea. "It is foolish to think we will enter heaven without entering ourselves." But some people never go there; deserts can be scary.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Mary Discovered ~ Heaven Knows

Manning Leonard Krull maintains a blog titled: Cool Stuff in Paris. Recently I came across his report of having visited the Paris neighborhood church of Saint Germain des Pres and discovering this unfinished 13th century stone statue of the Virgin Mary, unearthed by archaeologists in 1999.

The little sign by the statue suggests the image was perhaps being created to stand at the doorway of the nearby Chapel of the Virgin and that the anonymous artist abandoned the project when it was discovered the measurements were incorrect. At some point the Chapel of the Virgin was demolished.

But can we imagine the surprised delight when archaeologists, digging around in the left behind piles of foundation-stone, came across this Virgin Mary and Child, buried for eight centuries!

We can tell the statue was unfinished because Mary's crown is only roughed out. Mysteriously, the Child has been essentially chopped out.

I know this church, having visited it when I traveled to Paris as a young priest in the early 1980's, years before the image was discovered. So now I'm returning there in my imagination and placing myself before Her. Even though the statue is chipped, broken and even hacked at, for me, it remains very beautiful. Mary's smile remains intact. I'm thinking of how many people keep or re-discover their smile, despite great suffering and neglect.

Kevin Kuster's ~ "Leper Colony -
Love, Laughter + Photos"

But there's more: the buried statue was discovered in the foundation in three parts. Everyone can understand this: "I'm going to bits," "Everything I hoped for and planned is coming apart," "My heart is broken," "This relationship is ruined," "I'm being pulled apart."

We might keep the image of the statue close by as a picture-reminder that heaven knows and sees our lives where we feel we're "Coming apart at the seams" or where we feel we're being "buried" - buried under bills, buried under pressures and responsibilities, buried under sorrows, buried under health concerns....

O newly discovered Lady of Paris,
  put us back together 
  who are coming apart.
Dig us out, 
covered in shame,
Heal the trauma;
restore the smiles
lost to complaints;
   and fatigue.
Re-oranize us, all in bits and pieces -
  leaning into us dearly,
  distracted by the losses.
Oh, to find Jesus,
chipped out of our hearts.

Father Stephen P. Morris

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Lent and Isaak Levitan

Portrait of Isaak Levitan by Valentin Serov 1883

Lent was a miserable affair when I was a boy in the 1950's and 60's. The Catholic was supposed to suffer as a way of expressing love for the suffering Jesus. It didn't do much of anything to evolve us humanly, as it had mostly to do with external observances. We were to attend daily Mass (if possible), pray the Stations of the Cross, recite the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, go to Confession, strictly observe the laws of fast and abstinence, and above all (the Catholic hallmark and ultimate reduction) "give up" something. 

That last bit, giving up something, left the door open for regrettable and silly abuses of the holy season. In my family, which had a fondness for drink, come Lent there were always some men who'd announce they intended to give up alcohol. I never met one who made it to Easter, but by the second week they were all drinking beer. When I once confronted my father about this he said, "Beer doesn't count; it's not real alcohol." 

But then, much of Catholicism had to do with counting. How much of a Sunday Mass did you have to be present for it to "count". What sins needed to be confessed for it to "count" as a "good" confession? While saying the rosary one could "lose count". If praying a nine day novena and missing a day were you to press on or start over for it to "count".  It's naive to imagine Jesus somehow pleased with this kind of anxious spirituality.

Rather, Lent is the Church's Springtime. This means I've got forty days to somehow become more alive, more human, (what God has made us to be) so to celebrate well the Feast of Jesus' new life. And this holy work is done from the inside out. Lent, it seems to me, requires some introversion.

I'm reading a book these days, titled: Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can't Stop Talking. Without getting into a big psychological discussion about introverts, extroverts and ambiverts, here's author Barry Schwartz giving a light-hearted indication of the book's theme:
"Memo to all you glad-handing, back-slapping, brainstorming masters of the universe out there: Stop networking and talking for a minute and read this book. In Quiet, Susan Cain does an eloquent and powerful job of extolling the virtues of the listeners and the thinkers - the reflective introverts of the world who appreciate that hard problems demand careful thought and who understand that it's a good idea to know what you want to say before you open your mouth." 

Maybe each person is somewhat introverted and extroverted. But the American culture doesn't make much space for introversion (which is not the same as shyness), let alone encourage or reward it. We're encouraged more to be thought of as having a great personality with a fabulous white smile, capable of being a top-notch sales person,  having celebrity or star power, being a trend-setter, a go-getter, a talker more than a listener, knowing the art of the deal. The King and Queen of the senior prom were never introverts.

I'm laughing now, remembering when my mother, returning from the 6th grade Parent-Teacher night, challenged me: "Sister said: 'Mrs. Morris, sometimes I wonder if Stephen is even in the room'." Well I wasn't, I was a million miles away in a forest, or flying, or sailing, or investigating animals or in my 8'X8' garden, or in church. I had to go to summer school for failing arithmetic, (I hadn't paid attention) but I wouldn't give up the seminal treasure of my inner life for any teacher's idea of what it takes, or who I have to be, so to function well or succeed in  the world.

It's hard for a Christian to live in this noisy, aggressive, opinionated, 24 hour-news-cycle, road-raging world. So for this Lent, I'd like to offer us something different - a rest (if even for a few minutes each of the forty days) on our way to Easter.

I've recently been introduced to the 19th century Russian Lyrical Landscape painter, Isaak Levitan. I'd say Levitan doesn't want us to consider nature as scenery, ("Oh, look at the lake," as we zoom by) but to ponder our own inner landscape. Someone might say: "Well, that doesn't sound very religious." I'd disagree, because Jesus said, "I have come that they may have life and have it to the full." John 10:10 How intriguing is that! "Have life to the full?" How wonderfully mysterious! What could Jesus' words mean for me?

Levitan is a  Lyrical painter? One art authority says that Lyricism is painting that has a songfulness to it - like a poem, but in paint.  A Lyrical painter doesn't want to do what a camera would do, but to call forth from the viewer some emotion or feeling, some inner resonance. It's as if the painting whispers: As you gaze here, do you have some memory? Does this touch some personal experience of yours? Do you hear some inner suggestion? Don't just admire what you see, but allow the scene to speak to you spiritually: the harmony, the tensions, the symbolic images, the movements and colors. 

I would suggest that as God speaks to us from the bible page, God might also speak to us from an artist's canvas. Americans are not practiced in this kind of looking. Many of the images we encounter are media commercials speeding along so rapidly, our minds can't keep up. Or the exposure is to violent, materialistic, vulgar, sensuous pictures which drain us of spiritual energies.

I've not studied art, nor been trained as an artist,  but I do like to look deeply, believing that the Holy Spirit is alive and active in surprising places. "Earth's crammed with heaven and every common bush's afire with God." Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

So for each of Lent's Forty Days (beginning Ash Wednesday), I'll post one of Levitan's paintings (he left us over 1000!) sharing some thoughts of my own - posts which I hope will help us to see with spiritual eyes. And you will undoubtedly have your own insights and sense of things as you stop to look. I'm thinking of the Christmas Carol: "Star of wonder, star of night, star with royal beauty bright..." Religion hasn't achieved its purpose if it's lost wonder.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Intercessions ~ Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Observing Ash Wednesday this week,/ we ask for ourselves and all the Church,/ a Lenten time of renewal and growth./ We pray to the Lord.

Pope Francis said this week:/ "One group of individuals cannot control half of the world's  resources./ We cannot allow for persons and entire peoples to have a right only to gather the remaining crumbs."/ May we experience a change of attitude,/ from indifference and fear/ to one of justice and fraternity./ We pray to the Lord.

This week/ regulations protecting the nation's rivers and streams from coal dumping and runoff/ were rolled back./ Our lives were formed in water;/ are essentially made of and sustained by water./ It was in baptism waters that we met Jesus for the first time./ We pray to reverence and safeguard/ this most precious gift of God./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for those who live in ruined parts of the world,/ where there is no delight,/ no safety,/ no sense of hope and future./ And that we would take nothing for granted./ We pray to the Lord.

An historic Jewish cemetery was desecrated in Missouri this week./ Grant this country a new heart,/ freed of anti-semitism,/ racism and every kind of bigotry/ Console those who are grieved by violence and hatred./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for those countries caught in power struggles/ where there is no will to peace./ For our families and friends,/ for the protection of children,/ the sick,/ the weak and the vulnerable./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

On The Road To Jerusalem

On the Road to Jerusalem ~ James Fairman (American 1826-1904)

They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, Jesus leading the way; and the disciples were filled with awe; while those who followed behind were afraid. He took the Twelve aside and began to tell them what was to happen to him. "We are now going to Jerusalem," he said, "and the Son of Man will be given up to the chief priests and the doctors of the law; they will condemn him to death and hand him over to the foreign power. He will be mocked and spat upon, flogged and killed; and three days afterward, he will rise again." 
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approached him and said, "Master, we should like you to do us a favour." "What is it you want me to do?" he asked. They answered, "Grant us the right to sit in state with you, one at your right and the other at your left." Jesus said to them, "You do not understand what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?" "We can", they answered. Jesus said, "The cup that I drink you shall drink, and the baptism I am baptized with shall be your baptism; but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant; it is for those to whom it has already been assigned."  Mark 10:32-40

Maybe James Fairman had these gospel verses in mind when he painted this picture titled: On the Road to Jerusalem. This Jerusalem road is not an easy way - notice in the bottom right hand corner there are some folks resting under some shade trees. We can imagine the happiness travelers felt coming around the bend and seeing Jerusalem off in the distance. Maybe we've heard the Negro-Spiritual: Oh, What A Beautiful City.

They were going up to Jerusalem with Jesus leading the way. Jesus is going to do the work he has to do. Notice he not being taken there by others, but he's leading. He's in charge and doing first what we must do.

The disciples were filled with awe. Awe is an emotional word - something is too wonderful for words. The beauty, the glory, the wonder is beyond descripton. Awe is a word we might use to express an experience of God - a kind of bow-down word. But then...

while those who followed behind were afraid. Strange. It seems there are two groups going along with Jesus. Who are these people who are just following behind? And why are they afraid? Are they afraid for Jesus? Are they afraid for themselves - that they know Jesus has enemies which might spell trouble for them. Or maybe, St. Mark is giving us a heads up - that when we hear Jesus teaching in the next verses we might feel our own fear.

"The Son of Man will be given up to the chief priests..." This is called the Third Passion Prediction. Jesus knows. And isn't it interesting that in very plain language, Jesus has told the disciples what's going to happen to him. There's the bad news and then Easter's good news. Yet when the tomb is found empty and the women relay the angel's message, they don't believe. Of course, we understand, we know how we are.

Then James and John appraoched him and asked, "Master we would like you to do us a favor..." Pretty incredible, isn't it? Jesus has given them earth-shaking news, horrifying news, and they're asking favors for themselves! Maybe it was just too much to handle and so they clumsily change the subject.

They want prominent places (to sit in state with you, one at your right, the other at your left). They want power places. It's like manipulating for a cabinet post, hoping to be made a monsignor, climbing the social or political ladder. Pope Francis told a group of cardinals: "Scarlet means service, not power." 

Jesus said, "You do not understand what you are asking?" He is going to Jerusalem to empty himself in the ultimate service and they don't understand the implications for themselves. Indeed, even after having been with Jesus for three years, come the last supper, and there's no servant to wash feet at the door, Jesus waited until the middle of the meal to see if the apostles would serve each other with basin and towel. They don't, and so he gets up from the table and shows them one last time how service is done. We can get religion very wrong.

"Can you drink the cup?" Sounds Eucharistic. At Mass, the bread is broken, passed around and given away. The cup is passed around and emptied. That's terrifying if I understand the implications for myself. Do we think of this as we walk the Communion line?

"We can!" James and John answer. They sound very sure of themselves, don't they? But then they'll run away from Jesus in the Gethsemane Garden. I've seen militant Catholic websites: Fight The Good Fight For Orthodox Catholic Teaching! They sound very sure of themselves. As if they somehow have it over James and John.

Here is the centerpiece of Jesus' teaching. These two boys are looking for posts in Jesus be Jesus' counselors, his consultants, his spokespersons. But Jesus will have none of it. Rather: the great ones are the ones who serve. We're invited to share in his service by learning compassion, which is to identify with others in their suffering and struggle. Even with those who are far away.

I can't think of the last time I heard a TV news item about Africa. It's as if it doesn't even exist, only our political primaries, our elections and the subsequent chaos. Serving is the doing of good deeds, the simple and God-pleasing Corporal Works of Mercy, yes, but beyond that, service is justice. Justice is a game-changer. "If you want peace, make justice happen," Pope Paul VI said when he visited the United Nations in 1965.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Paramythia Mother of God ~ The Comforter

I've snuck in,
drawn near at night,
a cyber visitor,
an online pilgrim,
visiting the chapel-home
your Vatopedi sons have prepared for you.*
Rejoicing in your dignity,
they call you Abbess!

Someone has left two candles behind
I'm presuming to light,
but all the more my inner being lit up - 
so glad for the solitude with you
and your boy in his silver robe.

Oh Paramythia,
loving Mother-Consoler,
who do I know needing comfort tonight?
The UNICEF children of the television plea,
and their brothers and sisters,
withering in squalor,
hidden in fear.
Comfort them.

And their parents...
Oh, the fearful mothers running,
hoping to survive the sail-away
from the hateful menace,
and the panicking who are told to 
turn around,
go back,
You're on the next flight out.
Comfort them.

Console the bent ones
who get no bathroom break,
who pick the lettuce,
the grapes,
the strawberries
and cabbages,
who wear hooded shirts to conceal their faces
for fear of being returned to their fearsome land.
Comfort them.

And the ones who clean the toilets
and change the beds they could never
afford to sleep in
for even a night,
the ones who wash the dishes,
who breathe the demolition dust.
Comfort them.

And Paramythia-Mother,
now I must ask you to do something
against your nature,
but would you dis-comfort us?
Discomfort us in our indifference, 
expectant entitlement.

Discomfort the politicians  and the churchmen,
the ones with so much power,
the clubs of billionaires,
the corporate boards,
the media moguls,
the investors and inventors
and the people we call stars.

Discomfort the men who love to wear decorations
and costumes of distinction and gradation:
buttons and ribbons,
badges and crowns, 
feathers and medals, 
veils and rings.
Discomfort them.

And discomfort
even those who live (they think) 
on the lower rungs of our country.
Discomfort us who have so much,
yet still complain so much.
Discomfort us in our pettiness, 
small thoughts, 
so-smartness and shopping.

And now I'll simply sit here some moments,

near the lamp which holds an eternal flame.
Perhaps the young monk will come in from 
his disturbed sleep
to refresh the oil 
which keeps the flame alive,
and who will no doubt ask you, 
for love to be refreshed in his heart.

* Vatopedi is one of the twenty monasteries on Mount Athos which is a mountainous peninsula in North East Greece. About 2000 monks live on Mount Athos

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Intercessions ~ Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Tuesday is World Day for Justice,/  which is fair mindedness,/ and respect for each human person./ We ask for the spread of justice,/ bringing about a peaceful world./ We pray to the Lord.

Wednesday is the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter./ We pray for Pope Francis/ who is Peter's successor,/ asking for him,/ good health,/ safety and blessings upon his world ministry./ We pray to the Lord.

There are twenty-seven million slaves in the world,/ including our own country./ We ask for enlightenment,/ and for people everywhere to enjoy freedom/ and the recognition of their God-given dignity./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for the many whose lives are disrupted by fires,/ floods,/ storms,/ wars,/ famine and wide-spread disease,/ and strength for those who generously and bravely help./ We pray to the Lord.

We ask for our families and friends all that is good,/ mindful of the ones who are struggling spiritually,/ emotionally,/ financially,/ or in their relationships./ We pray to the Lord.

Lent begins in ten days./ We ask for a Lenten time of human growth,/ following Jesus in his bright rising./ We pray to the Lord.

Grant comfort, healing and strength to those in hospitals,/ nursing homes/ or who are left untended./ For those who are disabled or whose illness is chronic and painful./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Mother of God Milk-Giver ~ Who Changes Everything

Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night and instead of tossing and turning, anxious about "all I have to do tomorrow", think about Jesus being born at night. We've been told that, yes? "And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night." Luke 2: 8

Here is a 17th century icon (a blend of Italian and Greek influences) of the Mother of God nursing her Infant. She is called Theotokos Milk-Giver or Theotokos, Nourisher of Life. This title originated in the time of the Monophysite heresy which taught that the human nature of Jesus was absorbed by the divine nature. That an all powerful God would never allow himself to be so degraded by taking on human nature. And to show a resistance to that heresy, the image of Mary nursing the Infant Christ was painted. 

God became one of us and was held in a mother's womb, and needed a breast full of milk, needed to be soothed, comforted, washed and rocked to sleep. And if I get that, really get that, then nothing is ever again the same for me.

In the icon, the Holy Mother and the Child look at us. Mary's expression is pleasant, as if to say to the viewer, "Yes, it's true. God is no mirage, but really here with us in this nursling." And the icon is dark probably from age, incense and candle smoke, but also perhaps indicating the world's dark condition. And Mary's red maphorion is whipped up in a wind gust - the winds of the world's hate and terror? 

The article we can click on here: I'm Pro-Life, and Pro-Refugee, is from Tuesday's OP-ED page of the New York Times (February 7, 2017). It is written by Scott Arbeiter, President of World Relief, and deserves a thoughtful read. Why? Because God came into our death-dealing world truly, in need of a Milk-Giving Mother. And because of that nothing is ever again the same - my whole mind is changed about life.

Monday, February 13, 2017

A Prayer for Our Nation

Beneath your blessing hand, your  Gospel Word,
we pray, O Christ our God,
cure the infection of racism, prejudice and hatred.
Heal the violent heart,  the civil unrest,
distracting and devitalizing the nation
and so much of the world.

Before your icon, O Christ our Light,
we pray for the many who suffer indignities,
preventable poverty and savage death.
That your blessing would restore 
and embolden us to good sense -
heart sense, 
mercy, justice
and peace that all may enjoy.

We pray you, O Lover of Souls,
hear this prayer
 and grant your kind mercies speedily.

Father Stephen P. Morris

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Pre-Lent and Some Thoughts On Fasting

The Temptation in the Wilderness ~  Briton Riviere 1840-1920

On the old calendar (prior to 1969) today, and the next two Sundays comprise what used to be called, Pre-Lent. Today is Septuagesima Sunday (roughly 70 days until Easter), then Sexagesima Sunday (roughly sixty days until Easter), then Quinquagesima Sunday (roughly fifty days until Easter). The three Sundays had a penitential feel to them, violet was introduced and the Lenten fast begun. I imagine they were dropped from the calendar, the liturgical reformers thinking the forty days of Lenten-fast was sufficient. 

One writer likened the three Sundays to arriving early for a dinner and before ringing the bell, hanging out on the front porch for awhile. The Pre-Lent message is: Head's up! Pay attention! Have a think on what we're setting out to do. Not a bad idea for a culture that's in high gear and arrives at everything poorly planed and out of breath. 

A young Greek monk said to me once, "The West has completely lost its ascetical dimension." He meant we've lost our sense of spiritual disciplines, especially prayer and fasting. My experience suggests he was onto something. Remember this Gospel scene:

When they reached the multitude, a man came up and knelt before him: Lord, he said, have pity on my son, who is a lunatic, and in great affliction; he will often throw himself into the fire, and often into water. I brought him here to thy disciples, but they have not been able to cure him. Jesus answered, Ah, faithless and misguided generation, how long must I be with you, how long must I bear  with you? Bring him here before me. And Jesus checked him with a word, and the devil came out of him; and from that hour the boy was cured. Afterwords, when they were alone, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, Why was it that we could not cast it out? Jesus said to them, Because you had no faith. I promise you, if you have faith, though it be but like a grain of mustard seed, you have only to say to this mountain, Remove from this place to that, and it will remove; nothing will be impossible to you. But there is no way of casting out such spirits as this except by prayer and fasting. Matthew17:14-21

Jesus is telling us that prayer and fasting are efficacious: they are restorative, powerful and effective. We'd be more successful in spiritual things if we fasted. And the Greek monk was saying that Western Christianity has essentially given up on that. 

When I was a boy the fast before receiving Holy Communion was from midnight the night before. Then in about 1958 it was changed to a three hour fast. In our own time it has been reduced to one hour, which no one ever alludes to, figuring we spend the better part of an hour in church before receiving Communion anyway. The purpose of the Eucharistic fast was to replicate the excited loss of appetite early Christians experienced when they knew they'd be receiving the Eucharist on Sunday morning. That sounds like something worth preserving.

A friend recently observed that human beings seem to have been made for fasting, that when we lived in caves there were no food-laden tables and storage pantries. We were hunters and gather-ers. If the hunt was successful and the berries and nuts in season, we ate, if not, we fasted until food was available. 

When out in the woods or fields looking for food, hunters had to be hyper-alert, totally attentive, otherwise they'd miss the food that might have been right under their noses.  It seems that while fasting may slow down our physical metabolism, in some way it helps us to become more astute, better at hearing, better at seeing. Our survival depended on it.

Many great saints were fast-ers and as a result their inner spiritual capacities were heightened and honed. St. Seraphim of Sarov was a Russian hermit who lived in the forest for decades. When he came out of his reclusion and the long solitary fasting, he was thronged with people, greeting each of them individually as, "My joy!" What did he see in them that we usually miss about newcomers and strangers? Perhaps for his fasting, he was able to see their souls, pregnant with God-presence and energy. 

When St. Maximilian Kolbe was put in the Nazi starvation bunker, he led his fellow prisoners in the singing of hymns to the Mother of God. Imagine through starvation, having the presence of mind to ward off madness and to sing to heaven. It was the Nazi guards, not Maximilian, who became mad - so crazed by the priest's enduring song that they had to finish him off with carbolic acid. 

So what's the point? I suppose just to consider these things as Lent draws near. Maybe the young Greek monk was correct in his observation of Western Christians and we can do something personal to turn that around. But whatever we do we must do it for the Lord. Religions are susceptible to minimalism, the nasty spiritual disease which insults God and makes religion look ridiculous. 

As a newly ordained deacon I was sent to a comfortable parish with a large rectory. On Ash Wednesday (a no-meat day) a huge platter of seafood came out of the kitchen for the clergy: clams, mussels, lobster, shrimp, crab, scallops. The pastor was delighted and at once told the cook, "This is delicious, make sure we have this again for Good Friday." Oh, we can do better. Let's be done with religious formalities, empty of spirit.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Intercessions ~ Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

In the Gospel today we hear the essential message of Jesus,/ which requires not that we simply conform to outer rules/ but that our inner person be changed./ We pray to remain teachable before Christ/ who leads us along this spiritual way./ We pray to the Lord.

This past week/ angry posters against the pope were secretly put up around the center of Rome./ We pray for Pope Francis to remain serene and effective/ in calling the world to the new heart of friendship and kindness./ We pray to the Lord.

It is Black History Month./ Sadly,/ racism and bigotry are thriving in our country/ as are new waves of anti-semitism./ We ask heaven's forgiveness for our nation's own self-degradation./ May we be brave and honest with ourselves/ and our need for a national soul-change./ We pray to the Lord.

Our own land is wracked with contention these days./ We pray for the safety of all/ and that we might learn the skills for restoring unity and acceptance./ May Christ bless us with something of his own mind./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for those whose suffering is beyond our comprehension:/ those who have lost everything,/ those who fear for their children,/ those who are filled with hatred and who plan evil,/ for anyone who feels trapped and powerless./ We pray to the Lord.

The developed world is saturated with drugs./ We ask God to supply what is painfully missing within ourselves./ We entrust our families,/ friends,/ neighbors and colleagues to Christ's care,/ asking for health,/ safety,/ and freedom from addictions./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Let us un-burden the icon and free the mystery!

This well-known and much-loved icon is titled: The Vladimir Mother of God or more simply, Our Lady of Vladimir. The icon is ancient and so its history is long, winding and legend-ed. All of this can burden the image, causing us to become distracted and to miss the spiritual content offered us, if we would not walk by, but ponder.

The icon's story becomes burdensome when reduced to battles fought, victories won, miraculous lights that cause enemies to flee, fires and restorations, her travel log, who owned her, stole her, built monasteries and cathedrals for her, and on and on endlessly. Rather...

The icon is of the Eleusa type. Eleusa mean tenderness or showing mercy.Usually the icon is described as showing Mary's love for her Infant-Son, but I'd suggest it is first and even more about God's love for us. Mary looks at us because she's addressing us; she has a message. This is why she is pointing to Jesus with her left hand. She is "showing mercy" by indicating him, who IS God's mercy become one of us. This movement of her left hand means: "Pay attention to the Child!"

And what's the Child doing? With his right hand he is reaching out to her, and with his left hand, look, like a lasoo, he is pulling her in. The two figures are cheek-to-cheek. The Child is so animated in this Divine action that we see the sole of his left foot.

The icon's message is: Look at how God loves us; all of us! In Christ, God pulls the planet in close. In Christ, God's got His face right up against our own. In Christ, God isn't static, like a statue on a shelf, but is animated in love, even climbing up and all over humankind. The Mother of God then is an image or picture of US, especially as we are perhaps way off in an inner gaze of suffering and melancholy.

We've all seen pictures of disaster zones where parents claw at the debris which has fallen and covered their children. Here, in the Vladimir icon, we see God in Christ, drawing us in and  pressing us close to himself in love - our world all fractious, covered with the debris of anxiety and the news of suffering and death. And this Divine Child is bursting and irradiated with lights and the pensive Mother (who is us) cloaked in black, stands at the Easter-insistent window of orange and gold.

And as the icon's written history is so heavy-laden with accounts of wars, could we go deeper, to the interior place, asking to be released from (or victorious over) the real enemies which are our pride, our battle-field hearts, the excluding and on-the-rise nationalisms, our ego-driven insistences, the enemy of a dulled conscience, our vanity and earth-destroying, plunderous greed. 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

A Gospel of Reversals

Coptic Christians pray in the destroyed church of St. Moses ~ Egypt
At this Peter spoke. "We here," he said, "have left everything to become your followers." Jesus said, "I tell you this: there is no one who has given up home, brothers or sisters, mother, father or children, or land, for my sake and for the Gospel, who will not receive in this age a hundred times as much - houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and land - and persecutions besides; and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last and the last first." Mark 10:28-31

This Gospel passage follows the episode where the rich young man departed from Jesus, sad, because Jesus had said, "It's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."  

Peter, who always speaks plainly, is doubtful here and wants to know what's in it for himself and the other apostles who have given up everything to be Jesus' followers. That seems to be a valid enough question.

If we give away everything for God's Kingdom, then we'll be among the poor, the insignificant and the powerless. So of course the rich man walked away from Jesus feeling sad: Jesus had effectively declared: "Everything you think is essential, I think is a distraction." 

The teachings of Jesus often contain reversals: Many who are first will be last and the last first." And St. Paul's letter to the Philippians (2:6-11) says:  

Who, being in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped. But he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming as human beings are; and being in every way like a human being, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross. And for this God raised him high, and gave him the name which is above all other names; so that all beings in the heavens, on earth and in the underworld, should bend the knee at the name of Jesus, and that every tongue should acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The Gospels begin with this message of reversals when the first to hear the news of Jesus' birth are shepherd-outsiders.  What a challenge: Oh Jesus, show me how to make your teaching my own. Our country is a shoppers paradise. Imagine if once a month each Christian would forfeit buying even one thing that, quite honestly, isn't essential. Some might criticize us for not being patriotic, for not helping the economy. But that's not what's on Jesus' mind; he wants us completely un-distracted in pursuing God's rule.

The other side of it is, if we've given it all away, we'll find all we really require, plus encouragement and support, in Christian community. When we set out to be real Christians (and not just church-goers) we make that decision alone, but we don't stay alone, as we discover there are other searchers alongside us. But we have a lot of work to do in this regard.

An elderly Catholic man and his sickly wife were becoming shut-ins and increasingly unable to take care of their property and home, such that the front grass grew up knee high. A Baptist neighbor finally went over and mowed it all down and tidied up the place. Some days later the Baptist man was talking with a Catholic neighbor and said to him, "You Catholics don't even take care of your own." Perhaps hard to take, but Jesus sometimes puts the gospel in our faces, just like that.

Then Jesus adds a kind of P.S. - that if we follow him this closely, we can expect trouble. The Coptic Christian men seen praying together at the top of this post, they understand, praying in their bombed and burned out church.

Friday, February 3, 2017

First Friday ~ An Hour Before the Sacrament

Some Catholics keep the devout practice of Eucharistic Adoration the First Friday of each month. Today is First Friday, and I'd like to offer the following as a prayer for your Holy Hour. 

But maybe you can't get to a church today where the Sacrament is placed openly on the altar, in which case the photo here and the prayer below might help us to pray anywhere: at home, on the train, during a lunch break, in a waiting room... 

There are fifteen intercessions here. If we spent 4 minutes with each: 4 X 15 = 60 - sixty minutes to an hour. Or maybe you need to break the prayer up into ten minutes segments throughout a busy day, or quarter hour segments. If the prayer lasts an hour or not, that's not what matters - heaven is glad for our prayer wherever we offer it, and however long. What's essential to good prayer is that it spring from a felt place.

I might begin the prayer by imagining I am with Jesus in a kind of intimate silence. Perhaps I am with him in the cave at Bethlehem, or along with his family on the journey to Egypt. Perhaps I see myself with him in the desert-fast of forty days or sitting next to him as he delivers the Sermon on the Mount. I could place myself up front and in the crowd that was fed with the little bread and fish, or in the darkness of the Gethsemane Garden. Maybe I sit with him on the Easter Sunday beach as he offers the apostles breakfast. Give the imagining (meditation) a little time.

Then this prayer in 4 minute increments (if possible).

Jesus, I pray for the people who are peacemakers around the world. I pray for those who lead nations to prioritize the making of peace by creating justice. Bless those who promote non-violent solutions to human problems. Fill hearts with the desire to end violence and wars on our planet.

Jesus of gentleness and friendship, 
hear my prayer.

Jesus, I've got Pope Francis with me in this prayer-time. He needs strength, endurance and the blessings of good health. Oh, that his conscience-streaming words would revitalize the Church, weary and fragmented.

Jesus, who said, "Where two or three are gathered..."
hear my prayer.

Jesus, I ask that we would have strength of heart and mind to look beyond ourselves to awareness of the struggles and needs of persons everywhere. I pray for the poor who live without friendship or support. I pray for the rebuilding of communities where there is destruction and decay. Bless those who work to break the future-destroying cycles of violence.

Jesus, lover of humankind,
hear my prayer.

Jesus, I pray for every country on earth: the largest and most populated; even the smallest I have never heard of. Oh that we would live in peace and a felt unity. That we would learn  justice and the kind of freedom you envision for us, your much-loved creation.

Jesus of peace and compassion,
hear my prayer.

Jesus, send the Holy Spirit of God's embrace to the ones who are of no consequence, weak and ignored. Make us so much more brave than we are, to end the terrible and wide divisions of richest and poorest. We need help from heaven to envision and create this kind of fairness.

Jesus, creative and empowering,
hear my prayer.

Jesus, I pray for this country and all the world where the cold winds of prejudice and racism endure and every kind of divisive and hateful discrimination. Dispel our willful blindness; give us new hearts. Forgive the bitter judgements that make us ugly.

Jesus who knows my inner-most being,
hear my prayer.

Jesus, who spoke of animals and plants, the water and the seeds, give us a new reverence for the paradise-world God has given us. That we would use the earth's resources so carefully, without greed, violence or disregard and in the service of others. Make us the caretakers God hoped for when we were placed  in Eden.

Jesus, who lived here with us - cosmic Jesus,
hear my prayer.

Jesus, our world is convulsing with immigrants, refugees and pilgrims, fleeing wars and persecution. So many of them are children. Please, that we would treat them hospitably, with great courtesy, so aware of the dignity each human person possesses as God's child.

Jesus, who was welcomed into Egypt, fleeing Herod's menace,

hear my prayer.

Jesus, I pray for the sick, the elderly, the dying and all who bear injuries and disabilities. Wake us up to the basic human right to health care. Grant that in following and loving you, we would be the ones recognized everywhere as the religion that alleviates suffering. 

Jesus, who touched and lifted up the sick,
hear my prayer.

Jesus, I intercede for prisoners and those enslaved and trafficked. Bless anyone who looks to rehabilitate and rescue. Bless the world with people whose heart-specialty is the restoration of those who are destitute, lonely and abused.

Jesus of comfort and healing,
hear my prayer.

Jesus, I pray for all the world's children and for families. I hold in my heart the child waiting to be born, the orphaned, the neglected, the terrified, and the ones suffering violent homes, starvation, thirst and untreated disease.

Jesus, who welcomed every child,
hear my prayer.

Jesus, I pray for my country and this world so sorely divided. Defuse the arsenal of bombs stored up in human hearts. Empower the Church to be an effective movement of reconciliation and healing love.

Jesus, who heals and restores,
hear my prayer.

Jesus, I entrust the world to your demon-exorcising care: the demons of drug mania, power craving, gun fetish, military infatuation and the money quest.

Jesus, darkness-conqueror,
hear my prayer.

Jesus, the Truth, I pray for my country and the world where chaos is created by people-harming lies: corporate lies, politician lies, Church lies, media lies, parent-child lies.

Jesus, Who speaks the Divine Word,
hear my prayer.

Jesus, who forgets no one; loses no one, I pray for those who have died by wars and violence, diseases and addictions. How aware I am of the deaths caused by human blindness and the neglect of hardened hearts. And that among the dead are so many children, forgive us.

Jesus of the empty tomb,
hear my prayer.

Holy God,
Holy and Mighty,
Holy and Immortal One, 
Have mercy on us. (3X)

A little postscript: Sometimes I'm asked if I believe this kind of intercessory prayer "works", does it make anything happen? I trust it does, but that's not what matters. All that matters is the stretching of my heart - that like the ever expanding universe itself, of which I am a part, my heart continues to grow and expand. Like Christ's heart. 

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Intercessions ~ Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Thangkas: Buddhist painting ~ Jesus, who welcomes all

Not since the end of the Second World War/ has the world experienced a refugee crisis of such magnitude as we are witnessing today./ We ask God to give the nation a new Christ-Heart;/ that we would be a refuge for the weary./ We pray to the Lord.

As February begins,/ we pray for those who celebrate birthdays,/ anniversaries and other days of remembrance,/ asking for good health,/ safety and well-being./ We pray to the Lord.

Winter is a time of particular suffering for many./ We pray for those who are without shelter,/ who are short of money/ or out of work./ And that we would have generous,/ helpful hearts./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for stability in our own country and for every place where there is chaos or confusion,/ great stress or anxiety./ And for our own inner peace and those dear to us./ We pray to the Lord.

Grant that this week we might be a source of surprise for someone who has been dulled by loneliness,/ sadness,/ sickness or anxiety./ We pray to the Lord.

Bring to safety and consolation/ those who have found themselves to be lost or injured,/ who have been turned away,/ rejected or given bad news./ And that God would make us instruments of peace./ We pray to the Lord.

We offer prayers for the sick,/ the frail,/ those struggling with addictions,/ and those victimized by wars./ And for those who make tremendous profits off of war/ and the militarization of the planet./ We pray to the Lord.