Saturday, March 31, 2007

When does Easter begin?

My pastor Father Charlie Lachowitzer says Easter begins really with Laetare Sunday when both Sunday and daily Mass readings take a turn from repentance toward renewal. This turn actually is part of our lives all year around.

Continuing to read Hans Urs von Balthasar's The Christian State of Life this weekend I ran across this supporting quote, which moves along similar lines:

Thus the Christian's life and state do not simply run parallel to the earthly existence of Christ as though he had to live until his earthly death imitation of the state in which Jesus lived until the crucifxion. Christian life is not a mere imitation of the Lord's hidden and public life. On the contrary, it is from the beginning and at every moment a participation not only in the Cross, but also in the Resurrection of the Lord.

Not that the disciplines and practices of Lent aren't useful. They are. In the ground of Lenten practice we plant the seeds which spring up in hope. Yet, I want to think more about Father said. I want to have emblazoned on my own heart both the Cross and the Resurrection.

And there is no better way to do that than to observe Holy Week, from tomorrow morning through Easter Vigil. If you aren't there yet, try to be a part of at least one of these dramatic services. They are more than theater or re-enactment. They are performance and participation art at its highest level.

Thoughts from the Cabin Door

Well, after I arrived here at the Cistercian Abbey I realized I was assigned to Room 1- a very un-monastic suite with Internet access. So, here I am, blogging during my retreat. As Oscar Wilde said, I can resist anything but temptation.

It's OK to feel sad sometimes.

Yesterday was a grey day, both outside and within.
A few things at work,
and then driving through the grey rainy country side toward the Abbey,
and then discovering that my older son probably didn't make it into All State Choir,
all these things conspired together to make me feel a little blue.

Then, listening to MPR, I heard an old familiar song, sung anew by James Taylor (what a way to make me nostalgic for the 1970's- Sweet Baby James!) .

I used to quote these lyrics in the depth of depression. Now they just seem like real life. It's not that I am so very depressed. It's that life has a way of catching up with you when you get older.

Hard Times Come Again No More
by Stephen Foster

While we seek mirth and beauty and music light and gay,
There are frail forms fainting at the door.
Though their voices are silent, their pleading looks will say
Oh! hard times, come again no more.

Let us pause in life's pleasures and count its many tears,
While we all sup sorrow with the poor.
There's a song that will linger forever in our ears,
Oh! Hard times, come again no more.


Hard times, come again no more.
'Tis the song, the sigh of the weary,
Hard times, hard times, come again no more.
Many days you have lingered around my cabin door.
Oh Hard times, come again no more.

There's a pale drooping maiden who toils her life away
With a worn heart whose better days are o'er.
Though her voice would be merry, 'tis sighing all the day
- Oh! Hard times, come again no more.

'Tis a sigh that is wafted across the troubled wave,
'Tis a wail that is heard upon the shore,
'Tis a dirge that is murmured around the lowly grave
-Oh! Hard times, come again no more.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Off to the Retreat...

I'm going off for the Passion Sunday weekend to one of my favorite places on earth, the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Spring Bank, near Sparta, Wisconsin.

On the eve of the proclamation of the passion and death of Jesus, we take courage from the vision of his glory:

You are the sacrifice that brings life to those who live under the reign of sin and death.

You are the victor who reigns from the tree of the cross.

You are the King of kings and Lord of lords who conquered death and all its dominions.

Save us, O Lord.

Neither to the right nor to the left....

Here is a remarkable quote from Jesuit Theologian Bernard Lonergan, quoted by Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard Law School.... on her website.

"There is bound to be formed a solid right that is determined to live in a world that no longer exists. There is bound to be formed a scattered left, captivated by now this and now that new possibility.

But what will endure is a perhaps not numerous center, big enough to be at home in both the old and the new, painstaking enough to work out one by one the transitions to be made, strong enough to refuse half measures and insist on complete solutions even though it has to wait."

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


The Lorica or Breastplate of St Patrick.....
Wonderfully Celtic, typically attributed to the great Bishop....
(Sorry it's 10 days late, Pat!)


I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth and His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion and His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection and His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In preachings of the apostles,
In faiths of confessors,
In innocence of virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.

I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me;
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's hosts to save me
From snares of the devil,
From temptations of vices,
From every one who desires me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a multitude.

I summon today all these powers between me and evil,
Against every cruel merciless power that opposes my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of women and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul.

Christ shield me today
Against poison,
against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that reward may come to me in abundance.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through a confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.

NIMES (Not In MY Eternal State)

Here's a little more on Hell from a decidedly more conservative point of view. I know that I will take some "you-know-what" from some people for even daring to publish the link. I am not sure I agree with all the sentiments expressed by the author, but I am in tune with at least one facet of the discussion.

As with so many things, modern Christians, and Catholics especially, tend to display a lot of cognitive dissonance in their faith life. For example,

1. Hell is real (but no one, least of all me, will go there).

2. I go to Church every Sunday. (If the poll numbers on this one were true, all our pews and chairs would be packed)

3. I believe in social justice for all (As long as they don't live in my neighborhood, or demand any of my tax money)

The miracle in all this is that in spite of the wretched state of our souls and our Churches, God still manages to save us, bless us and provide for our well being. That's good news.

Oh, yeah, here's the link:

Americans Think Hell Exists,But No One Goes There by Marian T. Horvat, Ph.D.

Be aware, though, that it's not for the theologically faint-hearted.

Oh, Hell!

Many of my fellow Christians have difficulty believing in a "real" (not to be confused with literal) hell, or place of everlasting punishment. Here is an interesting article from Great Britain....

I believe that Hell has an existential reality, although I am unsure, as I am with Heaven, exactly where that reality "abides."

Even so, I like this author's approach.... and am especially intrigued by the comment from Sartre quoted at the end...... That existentialist had no concept of an afterlife, but retained a vivid image of hell, nonetheless.

From The Times

March 27, 2007
The fires of Hell are real and eternal, Pope warns

Richard Owen in Rome

Hell is a place where sinners really do burn in an everlasting fire, and not just a religious symbol designed to galvanise the faithful, the Pope has said.

Addressing a parish gathering in a northern suburb of Rome, Benedict XVI said that in the modern world many people, including some believers, had forgotten that if they failed to “admit blame and promise to sin no more”, they risked “eternal damnation — the Inferno”.

Hell “really exists and is eternal, even if nobody talks about it much any more”, he said.
The Pope, who as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was head of Catholic doctrine, noted that “forgiveness of sins” for those who repent was a cornerstone of Christian belief. He recalled that Jesus had forgiven the “woman taken in adultery” and prevented her from being stoned to death, observing: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”
God had given men and women free will to choose whether “spontaneously to accept salvation . . . the Christian faith is not imposed on anyone, it is a gift, an offer to mankind”.

Vatican officials said that the Pope — who is also the Bishop of Rome — had been speaking in “straightfoward” language “like a parish priest”. He had wanted to reinforce the new Catholic catechism, which holds that Hell is a “state of eternal separation from God”, to be understood “symbolically rather than physically”.

Agostino Paravicini Bagliani, a Church historian, said that the Pope was “right to remind us that Hell is not something to be put on one side” as an inconvenient or embarrassing aspect of belief.
It had been misused in the Middle Ages to scare the impressionable with “horrific visions” of damnation, as described in Dante’s Inferno.

It had a pedigree, however, that went back to Ancient Egypt and the Greek idea of Hades, and was described by St Matthew as a place of “everlasting fire” (Matthew xxv, 41).
“The problem is not only that our sense of sin has declined, but also that the world wars and totalitarianisms of the 20th century created a Hell on Earth as bad as anything we can imagine in the afterlife,” Professor Bagliani said.

In 1999 Pope John Paul II declared that Heaven was “neither an abstraction nor a physical place in the clouds, but that fullness of communion with God which is the goal of human life.” Hell, by contrast, was “the ultimate consequence of sin itself . . . Rather than a place, Hell indicates the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy”.

In October the Pope indicated that limbo, supposed since medieval times to be a “halfway house” between Heaven and Hell, inhabited by unbaptised infants and holy men and women who lived before Christ, was “only a theological hypothesis” and not a “definitive truth of the faith”.

Timely visions
— “From here are to be heard sighs, and savage blows resound: then the scrape of iron, and dragged chains. Aeneas stopped, terrified, and drank in the din” Virgil, Aeneid
— “Outer darkness . . . there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” St Matthew
— “A whirling storm that turns itself / for ever through that air of endless black, / like grains of sand swirling when a whirlwind blows” Dante, La Divina Commedia
— Angels “rolling in the fiery gulf” of “ever-burning sulphur Milton, Paradise Lost
— Locked forever in a small room with two other people Jean-Paul Sartre, writing in his play Closed Doors , published in 1944

Monday, March 26, 2007

Merton on "I" Sight

I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think
that I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road
though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore will I trust you always
though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Thomas Merton

Meditation on Annunciation:Through the Thick Fog, My "I" Sight is Failing

This morning and last Saturday we experienced thick fog here in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. I was driving to morning Mass on both days and had that eirie experience of not being able to see very far in front of the car at all.

It reminded me of how often we fly "on instruments" with God. There are many times when we aren't quite sure about God's will.... what the heck.... there are times when we are quite sure that we are completely unaware of God's will. During times like these our vision narrows, and we can only see the few square feet of real estate in front of us, and even that limited field of vision seems strangely unfamiliar. Our "I" sight fails us.

Brother Antony H. once again let us know this in an effective way with 2 posts on Sunday, March 25th about "The Mountain." The first, a cartoon piece, is priceless and speaks to our "perspective" in climbing. The second post, a Zen reading ,also indicates that sometimes near- sighted focussing can be helpful to our trek toward the Summit.

So it came as a comfort to hear this morning at Mass that our mother Mary wondered at the angel's presence and words during the Annuciation (Luke 1:26-38).

And coming to [Mary], [the angel] said,
“Hail, full of grace!
The Lord is with you.”
But she was greatly troubled at what was said
and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Then the angel said to her,“Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God."

It wasn't immediately clear in Mary's mind what was happening to her or why. That is the miraculous essence of her "fiat," her willingness to let it be done according to God's will and word, no matter what she could or could not comprehend.

Maybe we can recall that next time we get a little lost in the fog.

I am also reminded of a Lenten chorus we sing in my home parish. It is almost mournful in tune, but encouraging in tone. Forgive me for not citing the author. Please let me know if you are aware of who wrote this wonderful song so I can give them proper credit:

The Cloud’s Veil

Even though the rain hides the stars,
even though the mist swirls the hills,
even when the dark clouds veil the sky,
You are by my side.

Even when the sun shall fall in sleep,
even when at dawn the sky shall weep,
even in the night when storms shall rise,
You are by my side.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Things matter: What's in YOUR cell?

Continuing through the topics covered in Meg Funk's fine book, Thoughts Matter, I have been thinking about "things." It's one of eight areas of thought life discussed by the Desert Fathers, specifically listed in Cassian's Conferences.

I was surprised to find in Meg Funk's book an emphasis on the importance of letting go of "things" in the vowed monastic life. I had assumed, wrongly, that because vowed religious give up ownership of things as part of their vowed existence, that ownership simply wasn't important anymore.

Foolish me.

Giving up something outwardly is only the first step, according to Cassian. The real battle, and the real value, is found in giving up the inner attachment. Here's is Meg Funk's take:

"We cannot put an end to our desire for things by having a large or small sum of money. We can only do that by virtue of renunciation and [Cassian] urges us to root out the desire to acquire as well as the wish to retain. No number of things can satisfy the grasping, greedy impulse of avarice."

How true. Visually this came to me as a question: what's in your cell?

I have my fellow blogger Antony H. to thank for a recent reminder of the cell's importance. The picture above, Cell of the 6th hermit St. Cyriac at Sousakim, south-west of Jerusalem fairly close to the shore of the Dead Sea, comes courtesy of Antony also.

The cell is defined as the place where the monastic meets God, where he or she wrestles with day to day living, hidden away from the world's observation.

I looked into my cell. What did I find there?

A variety of "things" and concern about "things." Looking at these concerns and cares was very healthy. It granted me a new freedom to get outside myself, outside my daily practice, outside my work and my "mission and ministry" to see aspects of my life which usually go tooling on their merry way unexamined.

A tres healthy process to go through for the spirit.

But a greater surprise to me was that in my cell there were also people.... and when it comes to discernment, those people are also "things." I'm not talking about "using" people or the evil of "objectifying" others as foils for our own desires, fears etc. That's sin.

Instead, I observe that people by their very nature, like physical things, have a spiritual force field, a gravitational attraction, if you will. This "pull" of people in my life makes them as much in need of a good discerning examination as the other physical "things" of which our lives are made.

After it was over (this round at least) I called this process a Spring Cleaning. It fits because right now here in Minnesota we are beginning to emerge from our wintry cocoons to take stock of the house, the yard, the garden and get ready for the riotous few months of outdoor pleasure which God grants the true Minnesotan.

In societal terms, this time is a perfect companion to the Lenten journey, which is its spiritual counterpart.

More from Meg:

"When we consent to a serious relationship with God, grace follows. Cassian notes that none of us has to do all the practices of the spiritual life. But many who answer the inner light begin, through inclination after inclination, to make choices from a discerning heart. Over time, this practice becomes a lifestyle."

What's in YOUR cell?

Friday, March 23, 2007

Not Yogi but a Bear nonetheless

Here's a fetching slideshow featuring a bear cub.... an antidote to cynicism and (kind of) animal therapy for a busy Friday...;s=1;p=weathernews;dm=ss;w=640

Who ARE you?

I know that I've mentioned my love of CSI before. But here I go again. I love the opening title song, "Who are you?" by, of course, The Who. I often mock it at home by singing a nondescript "ew-wah, ew,ew,ew,ew" to the same tune.

Who ARE you? Major parts of each episode are spent trying to discover the identities and stories of the cadavers laying on the autopsy table. In fact, that journey is a major element of the series' appeal, at least to me.

Who ARE you? It's the Christological question which consumes the author of John's gospel. The answer, as discussed in a previous post, is the One who does the Father's will. Jesus lives so completely in the bosom of the Father that He and God are best described as one.

A companion question is "where are you FROM? That's evident in today's Gospel reading- John 8:1-11. It's the first century Mediterranean basin way of asking the same question. If one knew where someone was from, you could identify who they were, because their self identity was drawn primarily from the community in which they lived. Witness "Jesus of Nazareth", "Lazarus of Bethany" etc.

In the case of our Lord the answer to both who and where from is the same. The Father. Jesus descended from the Father to show us the way and lead us back to him. The followers of Jesus in John's gospel are all caught up in that identity and the journey of return to God.

Who ARE you? So finally we get to the point. When I hear Jesus's words I am looking into a mirror, held up to me by God. I am required by that gaze to ask the questions.

Who am I?
Where am I from ?
Where am I going?

Important questions to ask and answer in the presence of God.

"When we contemplate the blessings of faith even now, as if gazing at a reflection in a mirror, it is as if we already possessed the wonderful things which our faith assures us we shall one day enjoy."

-- St. Basil, De Spiritu Sancto

Thursday, March 22, 2007

"Hey, hey hey, it's Yoga Bared...."

A friend sent me this article today via e mail. The article is a great piece of observation. I have absolutely nothing against Yoga itself. But, I grow weary of self-absorbed spiritual practices of whatever stripe. Admittedly, Rosenbaum's tone is a little sarcastic. However, his critique is dead on right. The same or similar could be said of certain American Catholic Church practices....

In my own experience, such self absorbed spirituality is often a tried and true way of avoiding the harder work of confronting and conquering sin in ourselves and in the world around us.

A good antidote to narcissistic spiritual practice is a book by Benedict Groeschel, Spiritual Passages: The Psychology of Spiritual Development.

The Hostile New Age Takeover of Yoga
There's nothing worse than narcissism posing as humility.

By Ron Rosenbaum
Posted Wednesday, March 21, 2007, at 4:37 PM ET

Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against yoga—or Eastern disciplines in general. In fact, I've done tai chi exercises for many years.

No, it's the commodification and rhetorical dumbing-down of yoga culture that gets to me. The way something that once was—and still can be—pure and purifying has been larded with mystical schlock. Once a counterweight to our sweaty striving for ego gratification, yoga has become an unctuous adjunct to it.

There is the exploitative and ever-proliferating "yoga media." The advent of yoga fashion (the yoga mat, the yoga-mat carrier, and yoga-class ensembles). And worst of all, the yoga rhetoric, that soothing syrupy "yoga-speak" that we all know and loathe.

It all adds up to what a friend recently called the "hostile New Age takeover of yoga." "New Age" culture being those scented-candle shrines to self-worship, the love-oneself lit of The Secret, the "applied kinesiology"-type medical and metaphysical quackery used to support a vast array of alternative-this or alternative-that magical-thinking workshops and spa weekends. At its best, it's harmless mental self-massage. At its worst, it's the kind of thinking that blames cancer victims for their disease because they didn't "manifest" enough positive vibes.

One "manifestation" of this takeover is the shameless enlistment of yoga and elevated Eastern yogic philosophy for shamelessly material Western goals. Rather than an alternative, it's become an enabler. "Power yoga"! Yoga for success! Yoga for regime change! (Kidding.)
And then there's what you might call "Yoga for Supermarket Checkout Line Goals." Or as the cover story of Rodale's downmarket magazine YogaLife put it, yoga to: "BURN FAT FASTER!" (Subsidiary stories bannered on the YogaLife cover: "4 WAYS TO LOSE 5 POUNDS"; "ZEN SECRETS TO: HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS ... INSTANT CALM.")
Gotta love "Zen Secrets to Instant Calm," right? It goes right along with other cover lines like "Double Your Flexibility Today!" and "Heal Winter Skin Now!"

Clearly what the ancient inventors of yogic wisdom had in mind: Now! Instant! Today! Very Eastern, calm, and meditative right?

But even more insidious than the easily satirizable but at least down-to-earth and honest magazines like YogaLife—or ethereally serious ones like Yoga + Joyful Living (which coaches readers in "The Breath of Self-Understanding")—are the mainstream yoga publications such as Yoga Journal, one of the most popular, prosperous, and respectable yoga magazines.
In fact, my impetus for this examination of yoga media came from a sharp-witted woman I know who practices yoga but frankly concedes that—for her, anyway—it's less about Inner Peace than Outer Hotness. She called my attention to what she called an amazingly clueless—and ultimately cruel (to the writer)—decision by the editors of Yoga Journal to print a first-person story that was ostensibly about the yogic wisdom on forgiveness in relationships.
The story, which appeared in the December 2006 issue, was titled "Forgive Yourself." It's by this woman who tells us about an "intense" friendship she once had with a guy nearly 20 years ago, when they were 16. She says it was "never romantic," and it clearly wasn't—on his part.
Somehow she picked a fight with him—remember, this was 20 years ago. She defaced some "artwork" he'd done on the back of her jean jacket and danced with some other boys in an attempt to make him jealous.

She claims he gave her a "stricken" look.

Then, 20 years later, she starts to hound the guy. She claims she just happened to be going through some boxes and found a journal of his. She claims the journal convinced her that what she needed to do was apologize and ask his forgiveness. So she Google-stalks him, or, as she puts it: "With the help of an Internet search engine, I tracked him down and sent an e-mail. I told him I was sorry and that I hoped we could talk."

She "got no response but figured the e-mail address was out of date." Right.
Anyway she doesn't let that stop her. "After more digging"—by what methods we're not told—"I found a phone number and left a message on his machine."
Her message: "Wow, what a trip to hear your voice! … I missed you!"
He didn't call back.
But no response doesn't really mean no, to her. So, "a month later, in desperation, I sent him a short letter," in which she tells him, "You deserved better. I betrayed your love and friendship and I'm sorry. I made life worse for you and I regret it."
Doesn't regret it enough to stop pestering him now though. And notice how at first she'd disclaimed there was anything romantic, but now she's all "I betrayed your love." And then there's the poem: "I hope you can forgive me," she concludes the note, adding: "I included a poem I'd written for him some years earlier."

Restraining order time!

Instead he makes the mistake of responding. "About a month later an envelope arrived," she writes, "addressed in that familiar handwriting. I opened it with trembling hands and found a short note wrapped around my letter and poem."

"What part of no don't you understand?" his note said. "I never want to hear from you again." Cruel, true, but maybe "cruel to be kind."

"What part of no" does she not understand? Just about every single part of no there is.
What does this have to do with yoga wisdom and its Western use? One might think yoga would counsel acceptance of his feelings. Instead, she takes it as an invitation for further intense inward gazing. Her interpretation: He's afraid of being hurt again. He just doesn't understand her: He thought "I clearly hadn't changed if I was expecting him to give me something (forgiveness) along with everything I'd taken from him." (Don't worry, it took me several readings to figure this out too.)

"I sat down and started to cry. I felt as if I'd been punched in the gut. What could I do now? How would I ever be able to move on?"

So, using her deep yogic intuition again she decides there is one way of "moving on": She can write a several-thousand-word article for Yoga Journal about him and her and how we all can learn something from this about "forgiveness."

"Moving on"? Somehow one wonders if she sent the article to him, perhaps with another poem. And an invitation to "journal" their way to a mutual understanding. Or maybe meet to discuss "closure"?

But look, it's not really her fault; we've all been there. As my sharp-witted friend, who is herself an editor, points out, it is here one has to question the deep yogic wisdom of the editors of Yoga Journal who don't seem to be able to—or want to—see what is going on and instead encourage the writer's "journey"—her quest, her stalking—of "self-discovery."

Thus, we get the classic Western women's magazine "relationship story" translated into Eastern yoga-speak. Indeed they give it prominent placement in the issue and subject their readers to the endless New Age clichés of pablum-dispensing yoga-wisdom "experts" who further encourage the hapless writer not to move on but to dwell endlessly, excruciatingly, on the microanalysis of the situation.

Instead of counseling her just to leave the poor guy alone, they direct her to dwell on her need to forgive herself: Some "research associate" at Stanford tells her "when people can't forgive, their stress levels increase which can contribute to cardiovascular problems."

The poor young woman! All she wants is help, and now she's told she's going to have a heart attack.

Another yogic savant, a "clinical psychologist with Elemental Yoga in Boston" even disses the poor guy and further encourages the writer's obsession, clearly getting the whole thing wrong: "He's the one that can't let go," the "yoga therapist" opines. Right. I guess he wrote that poem to himself.

More yogic "experts" are brought in to prescribe even more "work" on herself. Instead of advising her to leave the whole thing behind, and perhaps perform some act of compassion for someone who needs real help (the admirable Eastern tradition), the yoga experts advise her to enmesh herself in a tediously obsessive spiral of self-examination, which the magazine compounds by prescribing a five-step forgiveness ritual for achieving—you guessed it!—"closure."

The interminable ritual, which is the work of the purportedly steeped-in-yogic-wisdom editors, not the unfortunate writer, begins with "a ritual bath" complete with "scents" and "candles."
Then there's the inevitable "journal" in which you must write down all your "thoughts, feelings and memories." ... "What you learned ... what you'll change ... anything that comes into your head." It's a full-time job!

But that's not all there is to the endless forgiveness ritual (which, remember, is not about forgiving him but forgiving herself because he won't forgive her), there's the semi-demi witchcraft aspect: "Write down the patterns you seek to change in yourself; then burn what you've written." (They neglect to add, "Use this as reminder to change the batteries in your smoke detector.")

But it's not over, the endless ritual. You must next and last, "Send yourself flowers when you've completed letting go."

No premature floral deliveries, mind you. Only when you've "completed" letting go, which sending yourself flowers certainly signals. OK maybe one more poem, but that's it! This is the kind of misguided narcissism (it's always all about you; metaphorically, it's all sending flowers to yourself) that gives yoga, an ancient, honorable tradition, a bad name. This is what is meant by the "hostile New Age takeover of yoga." All this hectoring about the right way to feel. Yoga and other Eastern disciplines are supposed to work from the inside out and not depend on product placement candles, scented bath oils, and "yoga therapists."

And it's still not over! If the ritual bath and flower-sending don't do the trick, there's a "four-step practice rooted in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy that can take us through the process of making amends." You could spend a lifetime "moving on" from some imagined 20-year-old incident. Then move on to the next incredibly elaborate "Moving On" ceremony. You never get to move in, or move out.

The final step in the great journey of self-understanding the Yoga Journal editors have force-marched her on is realizing it's all about her "relationship with herself." Whitney Houston yoga: I found the greatest love of all—Me! It's the return of New Age Me-generation narcissism. And there's nothing worse than narcissism posing as humility.

Hey, if Buddhism and other Eastern traditions are about compassion, why not skip the scented bath, skip making amends with the self, skip realization of "the opportunity to embrace aparigraha or non-grasping." Instead, go down to the local soup kitchen or homeless shelter and help some people who don't have the resources to send flowers to themselves, people who actually need help. Rather than continuing the endless processes of anointing yourself with overly scented candlelit self-love.

After all this self-indulgence, it's almost refreshing to turn to a yoga magazine that offers stuff like, "BURN FAT FASTER!"

Ron Rosenbaum's most recent book is The Shakespeare Wars.

Article URL:

Between the Grasshopper and the Ant

Work can be all consuming sometimes. We get so involved in what we DO for a living that we lose our perspective on who we ARE.

Jesus had no such problem.

His work on this earth arose completely out of who he was. This is never more evident than in yesterday's Gospel reading from John (5:17-30).

"My Father is at work until now, so I am at work."


"The Son cannot do anything on his own," but only what he sees the Father doing;
for what He does, the Son will do also.
For the Father loves the Son
and shows him everything that He Himself does."

The gentle truth lies somewhere between the grasshopper and the ant.

Believing in God's love and care for us doesn't mean that we can forget about planning, struggle, labor, sweat and tears. But neither does it mean that we are called to labor endlessly in the vineyard, never lifting our eyes to heaven. There is no holiness to be gained by putting our nose continually to the grindstone.

Instead, our identity as God's children calls us over and over, daily, hourly, minute by minute, to ask ourselves, "what is the Father's work in me?" This doesn't mean that we are always working... for sometimes the Father's work is to go for a walk, enjoy a good movie, put away a few cold ones with friends.

If we are truly listening for the Father's voice, and the direction it provides, we will hear now and then the suggestion to come away for a while, to relax, to let go and let God.

I like the story from the personal diary of Blessed John XXIII, who was staying up late one evening praying. This was during Vatican II and all the concerns at Vatican II were truly trying the patience of the usually jovial Pope. The Pope was extremely frustrated. So he ended the day with the prayer/message to God: "It's your church, God, I'm going to bed."

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Big Death, little deaths

Tomorrow, March 21st is the Commemoration of the Death of St Benedict of Nursia. Since he is one of my patrons, I hold this day close to heart. It reminds me in the middle of Lent that we all prepare for death, each in his or her own way.

One of the better preparations we can all make is to suffer little deaths gladly.

These little deaths can be self imposed mortifications, such as denying oneself some small pleasure or activity as a discipline and a reminder. Skip the second cup of coffee. Go out of your way to encounter and be nice to someone you normally avoid. Sometimes these little deaths come to us unbidden, through circumstances forced upon us from outside.

In either case, we ought to welcome the opportunity to crucify our old self and allow the new being of Christ to rise within us. This is what Benedict was headed for. It is the only way his preoccupation with and foreknowledge of his own death makes sense. St. Gregory the Great records it as follows:

"The same year in which he departed this life, Benedict told the day of his holy death to his monks, some of which lived daily with him, and some dwelt far off. He urged those that were present to keep it secret, and revealed to them that were absent by what token they should know that he was dead.

Six days before he left this world, he gave order to have his tomb opened, and forthwith falling into an ague, he began with burning heat to wax faint, and when as the sickness daily increased, on the sixth day he commanded his monks to carry him into the oratory, where he armed himself with receiving the body and blood of our Savior Christ; and having his weak body held up by the hands of his disciples, he stood with his own arms lifted to heaven. As he was praying in that manner, he gave up the ghost.

On that same day two monks, one being in his cell, and the other far distant, had one and the same vision concerning him: they saw all the way from the holy man's cell, towards the east even up to heaven, hung and adorned with tapestry and shining with an infinite number of lamps. At the top a man, reverently attired, stood and demanded if they knew who passed that way, to whom they answered saying, that they knew not. Then he spoke to them: "This is the way by which the beloved servant of God, Benedict, ascended up to heaven."

By this means, as his monks that were present knew of the death of the holy man, so likewise those who were absent, by the token which he foretold them, had intelligence of the same thing. He was buried in the oratory of St. John Baptist which he himself had built when he overthrew the altar of Apollo. That cave in which he first dwelled [at Subiaco], even to this very time, works miracles, if the faith of those that pray there requires the same."

We may not be able to visit the holy man's cave or gravesite today in the flesh. Still, we can honor the memory of Benedict's presence among us and his passing, especially by practicing the little death.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Another B-16 fly-over

Here's another quote from our Holy Father in which I find much food for thought....

"The Eucharist draws us into Jesus’ act of self-oblation [self-offering]... we enter into the very dynamic of His self-giving. Let us live Lent, then, as a “Eucharistic” time in which, welcoming the love of Jesus, we learn to spread it around us with every word and deed."

—Pope Benedict XVI, Message for Lent 2007: “They shall look on Him whom they have pierced”

Song of the Prodigal Sons

From Saint Romanos the Melodist (Syria- d. around 560), Composer of hymns.

This is Hymn 28, The Prodigal Child.

Notice especially the interaction between the older son and the Father.

“We had to celebrate… This brother of yours was dead, and has come back to life.”
The older son said to his father in anger:
“I constantly obeyed your orders, without disobeying a single one…
and the prodigal one comes back to you,
and you make more of him than of me!”

The father had only just heard his son speak in this way,
when he gently answered:
“Listen to your father. You are with me,
for you never distanced yourself from me;
you did not separate yourself from the Church;
you are always present at my side together with all my angels.

But this one has come covered with shame, naked and with no beauty,
crying: “Have mercy on me! I have sinned, Father,
and as one who is guilty, I implore you.
Accept me as a day laborer and feed me,
for you love human beings, Lord and master of the ages.”

“Your brother cried out: ‘Save me, holy Father!’…
How could I not have mercy, not save my son who was moaning and sobbing?
… Judge me, you who blame me… At all times, it is my joy to love human beings…
They are my creatures: how could I not have mercy on them?
How could I not have compassion when they repent?
My entrails have brought forth this child on whom I had mercy,
I who am the Lord and master of the ages.
“Everything I have is yours, my son…
The fortune you have has not been diminished by this,
for I don’t take away from it when I give your brother gifts…
I am the one and only creator of both of you,
the one and only father who is good, loving and merciful.

I honor you, my son, for you have always loved and served me.
And on him I have compassion,
for he is surrendering entirely to his repentance.
So you should share the joy of all whom I have invited,
I, the Lord and master of the ages.

“Thus, my son, rejoice with all who have been invited to the banquet,
and mingle your songs with those of all the angels,
for your brother was lost and now he has been found again,
he was dead and contrary to all expectations, he has risen.”

The older son let himself be persuaded by these words,
and he sang: “Everyone, cry out with joy!
‘Happy is he whose fault is taken away, whose sin is covered.’ (Ps 32:1)
I praise you, o friend of humankind, you who also saved my brother,
you, the Lord and master of the ages.”

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Thoughts About Sex

Continuing on in the book "Thoughts Matter" the second specific area of concern addressed by the Desert Fathers is thoughts about sex.

My own journey along this path has taken a number of different turns over the years.... through superheated teenage years, searching twenties, settling thirties, and life defining forties. My most recent stage began about 4 years ago when I read a definition of chastity on a website. It described chastity as "the use and control of sexual desire by faith and right reason." That definition struck me as odd at the time.

I realized for the first time that chastity is not some mental belt of negation which I put on because I am a Christian. Instead, that definition alllowed me to begin seeing chastity as a positive good, based on and flowing out of specific virtues of the Christian life. I went from just saying 'no" to sex to saying "yes" to a much larger framework of virtuous desires and patterns, all based on the intense desire for God.

A second awakening occured as a result of attending a conference on John Paul II's "Theology of the Body." I heard Christopher West talk about the concepts of chastity in marriage and in the vocation to religous life. It took a while for me to internalize my acceptance of that concept. But once I began to experience the spiritual power of chastity for myself, it became much more clear to me and infinitely more attractive.

Which leads me to Meg Funk, and the Desert Fathers.... They described this harnassing of sexual energy in much the same way as I have experienced it... a no to the lesser in order to say yes to the Greater. Along wth that decision comes great energy and freedom.

Here Cassian's ideas proves helpful. The state of no sex, he says (according to Meg Funk), has all the benefits of sex and more. "The mind attains a subtle purity and will experience an increase of devotion that is difficult to describe or narrate." He's right, and I won't attempt to describe it further here. Go read Meg Funk or Cassian himself to find out more

I will say, though, that if you haven't yet discovered the joy of this gift yet, I'd urge you to try it. I started the pursuit of chastity three years ago as a Lenten project. And it's been a continuing and growing journey ever since, a journey I have yet to regret setting out on.

Friday, March 16, 2007

On a co-worker's desk calendar

To the Catholic mind the supernatural world is,
characteristically and predominantly,
something which even now intersects and impregnates the world of sense.

– Ronald Knox 1888-1957

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Visible Point of Unity and the Empty Altar

This morning I arrived at my parish for 7:00 a.m. Mass and realized that something was amiss when I saw the weekday sacristan scurrying around just a few minutes before the hour appointed.

The priest hadn't shown up and so our parish's faithful Deacon Rich was called into service, holding forth with a fine homily. We all received the precious Body of Christ and went forth strengthened for daily service. Still, I felt a little "let down" that it was a communion service rather than Mass. Then, I started thinking about why this is so.

As a Catholic convert I have been taught that when administering sacraments the priest acts "in persona Christi", that is, in the person of Christ. My spiritual director, who is also my pastor, often speaks about the Bishop and (by extension) the pastor as visible points of unity for the faithful.

My disappointment this morning wasn't intellectual or theological, however. Both of these ideas coalesced together in my meditation enough for me to realize how incredibly important a locus the priestly presence is in my life. When Father Charlie blesses me, I am blessed and feel that way. When he pronounces the "te absolvo" in Reconciliation it is Christ who blesses and forgives me. I take this presence so seriously that when it is absent I feel like something is missing. Yes, Christ is still with me, and I am just as holy, and just as guided, and perhaps just as well off as I would have been had a priest been available. But there is just something different, and I'd say qualitiatively better, about seeing and hearing God's absolving word spoken to you by another human being appointed to represent the invisible Christ. Similarily, the priest functions not as a replacement for but as an amplifier of God's love. For me, the Eucharist is the highest expression of that love.

Benedict XVI seems to be moving along these lines in yesterday's audience, when he spoke of that early "bishop's bishop," Ignatius of Antioch. Ignatius is one of my favorites anyway, since he is an early witness to the presence/idea of the apostolic succession among the Church. But in this case, Ignatius serves as a mirror of this idea of the unity between external heirarchy and the inward perpection of God's love. In Catholic thought the two are never to be separated or opposed to each other. Period.

Benedict XVI, From Zenit:

"In general, in Ignatius' letters, we can see a sort of constant and fruitful dialectic between the two aspects characteristic of Christian life: on one hand the hierarchical structure of the ecclesial community, and on the other hand, the fundamental union that links all the faithful in Christ. Therefore the roles cannot be opposed."

On the contrary, the insistence on communion of the faithful among themselves and with their pastors is continually formulated through eloquent images and analogies: the harp, the chords, the tone, the concert, the symphony."

The Pope contended that the "specific responsibility of the bishops, the presbyters and the deacons in the building of the community is evident. To them above all, the invitation to love and union is valid"

The Holy Father called Ignatius a "doctor of unity," and said that his example "invites the faithful of yesterday and today, invites us all, to a progressive synthesis between configuration to Christ -- union with him, life in him -- and dedication to his Church -- union with the bishop, generous service to the community and to the world."

"In other words, one must achieve a synthesis between communion of the Church within itself and the mission of proclamation of the Gospel to others, until one dimension speaks through the other, and believers are evermore 'in possession of that indivisible spirit that is Jesus Christ himself,'" the Pope added. Benedict XVI concluded, praying "that the Lord may help us in achieving this unity and to be found without sin, because love purifies the spirit."

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Food for "Thoughts Matter"


Many people around the world still find gathering or producing it a focus of daily concern and effort, much more so than we in the first world. Today the Drudge Report noted that someone in New York is marketing a $1000 pizza. Grotesque.

But, we Christians pray about it every day, when we ask for our daily bread. It's the first topic of conversation on the regular afternoon phone call: what's for supper? So why wouldn't food be important to our spiritual journey? And so it is, according to Meg Funk. It's the first of the eight areas of thought-life on which the Desert (wouldn't it be fun to mis-spell it Dessert?) Fathers focussed. And for good reason.

Books we can do without. Sex we can do without. Recognition from others we can do without.

But without food we die.

So I have learned from the book "Thoughts Matter." Because of its centrality in human experience food becomes the arena out of which we first learn how to practice moderation. It is the locus where we can begin to examine thoughts as they arise, and then deal with them.

How much food is enough? How much is too little? How much is right for me?

The answer to those questions are as individual as you are.... and, like the rest of our daily lives, food is a reflection of the in-carnal-ity of our spiritual lives. Food matters, not because the food itself is important, but because it is a cause for celebration of creation and for submission to the Creator.

So, the next time you think about eating, or begin to eat, or make a comment about eating (your own or someone else's) stop yourself. Pause, pick the thought up and ask where it comes from and where it leads. I think you'll find the result most interesting.

Next time: Thoughts and Sex

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Gandhi on Christians

I get tired, I get cynical. Someone does something which upsets me. People act stupid, sometimes even Christians. :-) On those days I feel very "in tune" with Gandhi's sentiments about Christianity.

I read this on an Evangelical website, John Mark Ministries (

"A Hindu, Ghandi nevertheless admired Jesus and often quoted from the Sermon on the Mount. Once when the missionary E. Stanley Jones met with Ghandi he asked him, "Mr. Ghandi, though you quote the words of Christ often, why is that you appear to so adamantly reject becoming his follower?"

Ghandi replied, "Oh, I don't reject your Christ. I love your Christ. It's just that so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ."

Apparently Ghandi's rejection of Christianity grew out of an incident that happened when he was a young man practising law in South Africa. He had become attracted to the Christian faith, had studied the Bible and the teachings of Jesus, and was seriously exploring becoming a Christian. And so he decided to attend a church service. As he came up the steps of the large church where he intended to go, a white South African elder of the church barred his way at the door. "Where do you think you're going, kaffir?" the man asked Ghandi in a belligerent tone of voice.

Ghandi replied, "I'd like to attend worship here."

The church elder snarled at him, "There's no room for kaffirs in this church. Get out of here or I'll have my assistants throw you down the steps."

From that moment, Ghandi said, he decided to adopt what good he found in Christianity, but would never again consider becoming a Christian if it meant being part of the church.

How we treat those others tells people MORE about what we believe, and what following Jesus means to us than all tracts we pass out, or all the fine semons we deliver."

So true.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Follow the Yellow Brick Road: Continual Conversion

What is the secret to true holiness and true happiness?

Both are the same... to be truly holy is to be truly happy, for how could anyone who is not holy be truly happy..... and how can anyone who is truly holy not be happy in that deep down, no-matter-the-circumstances kind of way?

The key to happy holiness is constant conversion, .... readiness to begin anew a journey.... at each moment to be changed, drawn away into a journey to God through changed circumstances and, finally, a changed life.

Today's Old Testament reading offers Namaan the Syrian as an example (2 Kings 5:1-15). God offers Namaan healing through a succession of several unlikely events: the obedience of a young servant girl who listened to God, a government mandated journey to a far away land, instructions from a wilderness holyman to bathe in a local stream.

At each point along the way Namaan has the opportunity to say yes or no to the process.... and sometimes he balks at what seems to be a useless requirement. But finally Namaan does put aside his native skepticism and plunge into the river seven times. The result is his healing from leprosy.

Like Dorothy Gale in the Wizard of Oz, at the end of a long journey, he comes to find himself changed. The journey and the experiences weren't simply pre-requisites to the healing/ return home. They were the process itself.

Likewise, conversion is a process that begins, like the yellow brick road with a single step in the right direction. Who knows where that journey will end?

Namaan certainly didn't. But he reaped the benefits of continual conversion.

Follow the yellow brick,
follow the yellow brick,
follow the yellow brick road......

Sunday, March 11, 2007

More on Dense Community

What do you do with conflict?

I am still thinking about St Frances of Rome this morning and her life of commitment to Benedictine ideals. It seems her own values led her to an inner conflict as well as an outer one. She wanted to serve her family and yet at the same time she felt an overwhelming compassion for the poor of Rome. The community around her was dense in the sense that it pressed in on her from all sides. She felt an inner compulsion and yet her outward surroundings refused to support what she was drawn to.

How like that we are so often in our own spiritual lives, both within our own selves and externally with others.

Sometimes the question comes as an inner one.

What shall I do? What does GOD want me to do? We are of two minds. We want to serve God in the best way possible but sometimes our differing values come into conflict with one another. The best example I can think of is the case of a priestly vocation. A young man wants to enter seminary and be ordained. He feels God calling him. And yet, he could live a productive life outside of Holy Orders. What to do?

This can also happen in the external forum.

I want to support my family member, but she has chosen something which I believe is not best for her. I am conflicted, because I feel the need to support her, but cannot in good conscience do so because what she is doing is wrong. How do I respond to this situation?

Is there ever a cure for being pulled in two directions at once? I'm not sure that this is not just part of the human condition. I'm quite sure that it is our common human inheritance. But it is not so with God.

God is one in will, love, and action.

As James said, "there is no shadow of turning" in the Divine. We can always be sure that God is up to the best, even if we have a hard time figuring out what that best is or have difficulties in accepting it for our own lives.

I'm not sure I know of any "cures" for such conflicts.

However, one helpful thought occurs to me with reference to Frances of Rome. Her inner conflict lessened once she became more at peace with herself. Her inward being became singly focussed on God and God alone, through the gift of contemplation, mediated to her by her human suffering.

In essence, the thorn in her side became the way of salvation for her, because it caused her to lean ever harder on God, trusting Him to work in and through her.

That is one possible pathway through these difficult decisions.

There is a pious legend that Frances was sometimes guided by angels bearing lanterns when she ventured out into the dark night to help the poor of Rome. If there is any truth to these stories, it must come from the fact that Frances' own circumstances were the messengers of God to her, both lighting her way and enabling her to walk in the path God had chosen for her, even in the midst of dense community.

Friday, March 09, 2007

News flash from Dunrovin: we live in a dense community

It was quite an interesting retreat yesterday. I am not quite sure what I can share except to say that I had my respect quotient for Parish Business Administrators increase 10 fold, and I already had a really healthy appreciation for them before we all met together for a day of prayer and reflection.

They live out the dichtomy of balancing spirited things with fiscal matters. For the women and men I shared yesterday with this is an on-going struggle. It's not just about balance sheets and HR... it's about helping our parishes do the best job we can in making ministry happen among folk who call ourselves Catholic.

Yes, we all bang our heads against the walls when we suffer the effects of bad decision making which is beyond our control. Sometimes its hard not to get cynical or hardened or frustrated.

But we keep on going.

How do we keep our balance?

One way, I realized during my Vigils Reading this morning, is by seeing it all as a whole.... a part of our own spiritual journey. Today is the feast of St Frances of Rome, wife, mystic, Benedictine oblate. One lesson of her life is that it IS indeed possible to live a life "in the world," buffeted by all the cares, and joys and responsibilities life offers and yet still be faithful to monastic/ spiritual ideals.

Apparently, Frances suffered a breakdown at one point in her life, under the stress of trying to "have it all." And yet, according to one biography, from this breakdown "Frances learned how to offer the three always interwoven threads of her life to God: first, her family life, including her children, household duties, and role as a wife; second her civic life as healer, spiritual director, orgaqnizer of almsgiving and charity for the poor of Rome; and third her spiritual life with its liturgical and mystical experiences."

I am sure that this balanced life is not the sole perogative of Benedictines, but it surely must help that Benedict turns the eyes and ears of his listeners/ readers to the community in order to find and keep their vocation.

"Interweaving these three threads is characteristic of Benedictine spirituality: just as the Rule counsels the monk to take his brothers into account in every aspect of his life in the monastery, so Frances continually responded to her family and her city. Like a monk who finds in the enclosure of the monastery not a prison but a home, she created a sphere of inner freedom within this dense community." (from a portrait of St Frances of Rome in Benedict in the World: Portraits of Monastic Oblates)

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Dunrovin here I come

Tomorrow I am headed to Dunrovin, a Christian Brothers Retreat Center north of Stillwater ,Minnesota. There I will take part in a day long retreat spearheaded by Vic Klimoski, who works both at the St Paul Monastery here in the Twin Cities and at St John's Abbey in Collegeville.
The topic is the spirituality of church administration and we have been strictly enjoined not to "talk shop" during the retreat.

That, by itself, would be a great miracle. So, pray for me.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Fasting From Regret

The last few days have become days of re-evaluation for me. It started with the cleaning out of a few boxes in the garage a couple of weeks ago. Now, unbidden, this self evaluation extended itself into times of quiet sitting and listening, especially during and after last week's snow storm. Truly a time of grace.

I've been thinking about where I've been, where I've come from and analysing where I need to go from here. I suppose many people in mid-mid-life do this sort of thing. But, I've been too busy up until now to be very "interior" about my self-evaluation. Kids, home, career, and church have all claimed more than their share of attention.

Now it's time to focus in on the core things. These other parts of my life are valuable, but they are not me, I've decided. And life is WAY too short to evaluate one's life based on what "might have been" or on what others have done or left undone.

What is me, though? A tough question to answer, but one only God and I can wrestle with.

Rerum, Deus, tenax vigor

Mid-Afternoon Office Hymn composed by St Ambrose of Milan

O God, you hold all things in space,
Each star and planet in its place,
The days and years are your design,
Each change of season you define.

As we life's eventide draw near,

us your light, remove our fear,
With happy death may we be blessed,
And find in you eternal rest.

Monday, March 05, 2007

On Swooping Birds and Transfigured Messiahs

I love Sunday's Lectionary readings (Lent II, year C), which link an Old Testament theophany, Abram's Covenant Making (Genesis 15:1-20), with a New Testament one, Jesus' transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36). A theophany is an incident of God's self- revelation.
The Genesis account is incredibly earthy, even scandalous and humorous. It recounts God's instructions to Abram (his name change to Abraham comes later, in chapter 18) to lay out a sacrifice. Abram does so, but then is forced to wait all day, guarding the exposed carcasses which eventually attract carrion. The New American Bible translation here is anemic (what else is new?). For verse 11, NAB translates "Abram stayed with them." A better rendering (one followed by all other major English translations) is the infinitely more picturesque "Abram shooed them away."

What a testament to the scandalous earthiness of Abram's religion!
This YHWH is no mere God of the intellect, satisfied with a vague internal locution giving Abram bragging rights over the land. God demands physicality in the form of a sacrifice. What is more, that physicality becomes darned inconvenient to Abram. I visualize the elderly patriarch running frantically to and fro, trying desparately to keep the birds from making off with the sacrificial animal parts. Eventually, Abram falls into an exhausted sleep while only God himself completes the cutting of the covenant by walking alone between the sacrificed animals.

Likewise, in my mind, the Transfiguration is an earthy oddity in the New Testament. Recorded in all three synoptic gospels, it falls squarely into the middle of Jesus' earthly ministry, and, like an embarassing sore thumb, sticks out amidst the more pedestrian teaching and healing accounts. We moderns don't really know what to do with it.

The Transfiguration sits there, a solemn testament to the complex spiritual-physicality of Jesus' passion and resurrection. In all of the gospel accounts, this dream-like event is inextricably linked with the first direct prediction of Jesus' coming death to his disciples which follows. In fact, here in Luke that very passion is the very topic of conversation among Jesus, Moses and Elijah during the vision itself. How odd, how compelling, to find in the middle of the gospels something which both seems out of this world and yet so compellingly connected to it.

How like our God, the God of blessed bread and broken body, of shed blood and uplifted cup, of cleansing bath and clean conscience!

A Concluding Un-Scientific PostScript

Yes, I watched the Discovery Channel special "The Lost Tomb of Jesus" last evening. I even stayed up past my bedtime to watch the hour-long post-show wrap-up so ably moderated (refereed?) by Ted Koppell (and his hair... which has only gotten larger with age... it should have its own by-line now.)

Seriously, though, I thought that the filmmaker and the "theologian" who represented the film did themselves a great dis-service by continually retreating to the line "we are trying to promote discussion" and "after all it's just a film."

And the other guests brought up many salient points.

Why weren't other DNA tests done on the other ossuaries?

Why was it felt necessary to introduce cheesy dramatizations, unlabelled as such?

Why did the director(s) frequently misquote or adumbrate the information which the few real experts added to the film?

Of course, those who follow such things can see where the film is going with its intimations....
Jesus the philosopher,
Jesus the preacher of radical "equality",
Jesus married with children,
Jesus still dead....
These all together look suspiciously like a post-modern picture of our Lord hideously painted by "historians" of religion over the last two or three generations. Anyone who has studied religion at the graduate level in the last decade or two will recognize this picture of Dorian Grey. Those who admire the portrait inevitably sell their soul.

Even the religious studies panelists on the program (who foreswear any religious commitment as an article of their secularized faith) recognized the inadequacies of this approach. Assume something must be true and then marshal bits of evidence which "prove" it to be so while ignoring the inconvenient historical and sociological facts. As the SNL Church Lady said, "How conveeenient!"

But the best comment of all came from a friend from my home parish. We had lunch today and he pointed out that the very existence of this type of program is a signpost showing how eager this generation is for things of the spirit. There is a vacuum here which this type of program is recognizing and attempting to fill.

People are taking up the false mysticism of modern religion because they are starving for the truly mystic.... the Eucharistic presence of Jesus, the glories of our Mother Mary, the via negativa and the via delorosa.

This is a wake-up call to all of us, folks. We better start offering true Food for the Soul to Gen- X-ers and anyone else who will listen.

To coin a phrase..... Catholicism is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Giving the Devil more than his due

Once again I think Catholic Christians have sold themselves short by over-reacting to media-produced stupidity. Two cases come immediately to mind.

The first is this past weekend's U of M staging of the all-too-controversial and apparently not-very-good play "The Pope and The Witch."

Don't get me wrong.... I think having seminarians from St John Vianney College Seminary appear adjacent to the production Friday and Saturday evening, praying and singing, is a master stroke of good, positive publicity. I wish I had been there with them. They are a credit to their Rector Father Bob Baer and to the Church they serve.

But the public apoplexy displayed by some Catholic writers/ bloggers over the play itself these past few weeks really gives the show way too much credit and, ultimately, too much power.

After all, like its dim-witted predecessor, The Da Vinci Code, this anemically received (only 10 productions in 10 years) play only benefits from all the publicity which irate Catholics choose to give it. And from the plot summary in the paper this play is just about as insipid as the Code.

The second case is the Discovery Channel's The Tomb of Jesus. Yes, I will sit down to watch it in a few minutes, more for entertainment value than anything else. What can you expect except entertainment from the man who gave us that great tear-jerker Titanic? However, trust me, no archeologist, no theologian, no historian will even give the show a second thought. We shouldn't either.

Ah, but you might ask in both cases "what about the masses?" Won't they be deceived by it? I suppose one could make a case that someone, somewhere might be slightly influenced by tonight's airing of the show, or perhaps the play also. But in my opinion, any slight "damage" produced by these shows is not worth the energy people seem to be putting into opposing them.

Far more important, and far more worthy of our efforts, would be any attempt to publicize the fact that Jesus still lives, his Church still exists, and there are many, many changed lives out there which can "prove" it to anyone willing to listen. That is, if they can get past all the screaming and fainting about popes and witches and supposedly lost and rediscovered tombs.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Snow din, Snowed In and some Lenten "Blues"

Here in the Upper Midwest we have a phenomenon which happens each time a major winter storm approaches. A barrage of media warns us of the impending apocalypse. Radio, TV, the Internet all unite in a common chorus: warning! major storm coming! batten down the hatches! fire up the snow blower! the leaden grey skies are falling!

I call this barrage the "snow din" because it becomes like background noise after the second or third time. Perhaps you respond ot it, especially if you have a long work commute ahead or the kids will be staying home. But, even then, you realize that there is a certain echo chamber effect because the media just has to get your attention. Yawn.... so it's going to snow again. so what?

Our thought life works like that too, sometimes. When I just manage to get myself quiet enough to do some meditating a stray thought comes along to distract me. If I acknowledge it and dismiss it sometimes it just goes away. But more often it brings back two or three friends in a chorus to try and gain my attention.

"But what about X......?"

"Shouldn't I be concerned about Y....?"

"I'll bet Z.........."

Like a rising chorus the stray thoughts gang up until they gain an hearing. But if I'm attentive to their game plan and can realize that this is just the way things work, I can safely dismiss, ignore and get back to my practice.

Much like the media, we get wise to the game and refuse to be suckered in and distracted by it.

These past 3 days of the snowstorm I've had lots of time to think about these things, especially in light of my work around guarding the thoughts, courtesy of Meg Funk. See my earlier post on "Thoughts Do Matter."
But last evening at dusk, at the end of my Evening Prayer, I received a grace moment. It was not strictly related to the guarding of thoughts, but it brought about a similar peaceful quiet in the soul.

I was sitting in my living room/ chapel praying and I looked out the window at precisely the correct time to see a still, blue world. Nothing was moving, nothing stood out. All was overcast in the deep blue haze one can only get when surrounded by massive amounts of snow and a paucity of natural light. You can see little glimmers of this by looking in the shadows of snow banks during the afternoon. But this was a whole scene..... amazing..... it took my breath away. Instead of the evening being a depressing time as sometimes happens, this was a "blues" moment to be cherished.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Thoughts Do Matter

Thoughts do matter. Last summer a good friend and spiritual advisor, Father Cyril Gorman (now aka Father Tony) suggested that I read a book by Sr. Mary Margaret Funk, OSB. The book is entitled Thoughts Matter and it covers the eight areas of thought life discussed by John Cassian in his Conferences. These are food, sex, things, anger, dejection, acedia, vainglory, and pride.

Now it's been a year and I am returning to the book once again during Lent in order to walk with some brothers who are using this book for their own Lenten table reading. Sometimes it's great to return to familiar books, because it gives one a better idea of how far you have, or in some cases, haven't come.

In this case, a lot has transpired since I devoured that book basically in one weekend while at St John's Abbey last year. Coming back to it I can see now how important thoughts are. I also perceive how much of the progress I've made this past year in discernment and holy living has come from being aware of and directing my thought processes consciously toward God.

By no means have I come very far, but the reality is that my interior landscape began to change with the recognition that my inner dialogue was a conscious part of my spiritual life. Over time I'll be blogging about the eight areas as I cover them over the next 4 weeks of Lent, leading up to my Lenten retreat just before Holy Week.

Here is one quote from the introduction to the book. I hope it will entice others to pick it up and read it:

"To renounce one's thoughts may seem out-of-date to a casual observer- harsh, foreboding, even unrelenting. Yet, the theory about this, developed 2,000 years ago, is being rediscovered and reappropirated in our time by both mystics and scholars. A mind at peace, stilled, available for conscious thinking at will is of major value for those of us who confront chaos, confusion, noise and numbness as we move into the third millenium."

How true. Most of the men I know struggle, consciously or unconsciously, with a bombardment of images and information about sex, food, power and other enticements which seems to be taken for granted by our society. This caustic environment can't be escaped, at least not totally. So, resources to deal with it must come from within. John Cassian and his modern interpreter, Meg Funk, have given us those resources.

As some have said more eloquently than I, the place of struggle, the modern desert, for spiritual seekers, is not a place apart, it's right here, within our own culture. In this place we wrestle our demons to the ground and dash them against Christ, the Rock.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Stations of the Cross

Here is a beautiful multi media presentation on the Stations of the Cross from a really neat site-

The illustrations and music combine to lead one through the mystery of the Passion. Thank you to the e-newsletter "Got Culture?" for this link.