Friday, August 31, 2007

That We May Be Christ

"All these thoughts on the Eucharist make it clear to us that in this Sacrament,

in which He not only gives grace to us but also gives Himself,
we are led to a supreme peak of spiritual fulfillment.


This Sacrament is not given to us merely in order that we do something,
but that we may be someone: that we may be Christ.



That we may be perfectly identified with Him.


Comparing the Eucharist with confirmation, St Thomas says that confirmation brings us an increase of grace in order to resist temptation, but the Eucharist does even more: it
increases and perfects our spiritual life itself, in order that we may be perfected
in our own being, our own personality, by our union with God ...

In other words,
by our union with Christ in the Eucharist we find our true selves.
The false self, the "old man", is burned away by the fervor of charity
generated by His intimate presence within our soul.
And the "new man" comes into full possession of Himself
as we "live, now not we, but Christ liveth in us."

Thomas Merton, The Living Bread

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Keeping Christ at the Center

"During a prayer time the week before Easter, I was amazed by how much the monstrance seemed to symbolize the Catholic Church.

Like many Protestants, I had been concerned that Mary, the saints and the sacraments were roadblocks between believers and God so that to get to God, one would have to go around them. They seemed to complicate life with God unnecessarily like accretions on the sides of sunken treasures; they had to be discarded to get to what was important.

But now I could see that the opposite was true. Catholicism was not a distant religion, but a presence oriented one. Catholics were the ones who had Jesus physically present in churches and saw themselves as being tabernacles after receiving the Eucharist. And because Jesus is the Eucharist, keeping Him in the center allows all of the rich doctrines of the Church to emanate from Him, just as the beautiful gold rays stream forth from the Host in the monstrance."


- Kimberly Hahn
Rome Sweet Home, Our Journey to Catholicism

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Martyr-dumb

A little discourse on martyrdom in general, in honor of John the Baptist's beheading.

I remember back in my grad school days studying the cult of the martyrs and wondering "what gives?" Why is there this fascination by the early Christians with the idea... wait no.... the experience of giving themselves away to God by dying for Him?

The most egregious example I read about at the time was Ignatius of Antioch. I really liked the guy----- after all, one of dissertation study questions was dedicated to him. But, come on now, he was more than a little "over the top" about dying for the Faith.

One of his most famous sayings is this:

"I am the wheat of God,
ground fine by the lions' teeth
to become the pure bread of Christ"

Alright, I admit it. I was dumb, martyr-dumb. This sounded strange to me.

It took me almost 10 years of living this Catholic life to get the serious (and unavoidable!)connection between the Eucharist, the concept of martyrdom, and the daily death to self we are all called to undergo.

Now that I "get it" I understand how intertwined our own everyday sufferings (and the greatest suffering- martyrdom) are with the suffering and death of our Lord. No wonder Jesus had to ask Saul of Tarsus, "Why are you persecuting me?"

From the moment he hung on the Cross, Christ has been gathering up what we experience in this life and making it fodder to transform us into fit subjects for the next life. Paul himself recognized this throughout his ministry.

The remindesr are sprinkled here and there throughout the Pauline corpus. Suffice it to mention one- Colossians 1:24-27

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake,
and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking
in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body,
which is the church,
of which I am a minister in accordance
with God's stewardship given to me to bring to completion
for you the word of God,
the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past.
But now it has been manifested to his holy ones,
to whom God chose to make known the riches of the glory
of this mystery among the Gentiles;
it is Christ in you, the hope for glory.

Ah-ha! This passage always used to bother me as a Protestant- waddaya mean? isn't Christ's suffering ENOUGH?

Now it begins to make sense.... Identity with Christ takes up our lives into His divine life... that IS the Church... that is what the East calls the mystery, or we in the West the sacrament of God's presence.
Cool.

The New Catholic Manliness

Here is an article from the most recent Crisis magazine. This was shared with me by a priest-friend for whom I have the utmost respect.

Although the article's examples may be a little exaggerated, I think the author, Todd Aglialoro, hits on an important component in contemporary American Catholic parish life.

Ten years ago it was "where are the men?" Now it's "here come the men." It's about time.




Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Mother Teresa's "Depression"

In the wake of JustMe's recent comment on my previous post about John the Baptist, here is some commentary on the current Mother Teresa "publicity" from the Papal preacher, Capuchin Fr. Cantalamessa. (By the way, does anyone know what his name means in Italian? Isn't it something like "sing the Mass"?)

Seriously, though, I think Father Cantalamessa does a great job of pointing out what is important and unique about Mother Teresa's unique path to God. Depression doesn't always equal a dark night of the soul. That's journalistic oversimplification at work.

But in our "happy-happy" society, the spiritual value provided by Mother Teresa's witness of constancy and discretion is worth noting.

Mother Teresa's Dark Night Unique, Says Preacher

Father Cantalamessa Calls Her Saint of the Media Age

VATICAN CITY, AUG. 27, 2007 (Zenit.org).-

Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta's dark night of the soul kept her from being a victim of the media age and exalting herself, says the preacher of the Pontifical Household.Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa said this in an interview with Vatican Radio, commenting on previously unpublished letters from Mother Teresa, now made public in Doubleday's book "Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light," edited by Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, postulator of the cause of Mother Teresa's canonization.

In one of her letters, Mother Teresa wrote: "There is so much contradiction in my soul. Such deep longing for God -- so deep that it is painful -- a suffering continual -- and yet not wanted by God -- repulsed -- empty -- no faith -- no love -- no zeal. Souls hold no attraction. Heaven means nothing -- to me it looks like an empty place."

Father Cantalamessa explained that the fact that Mother Teresa suffered deeply from her feeling of the absence of God affirms that it was a positive phenomenon. Atheists, he contended, are not afflicted by God's absence but, "for Mother Teresa, this was the most terrible test that she could have experienced."He further clarified that "it is the presence-absence of God: God is present but one does not experience his presence."

Martyrdom

Father Cantalamessa contended that Mother Teresa's spiritual suffering makes her even greater. He said: "The fact that Mother Teresa was able to remain for hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament, as many eye-witnesses have testified, as if enraptured … if one thinks about the condition she was in at that moment, that is martyrdom!"Because of this, for me, the figure of Mother Teresa is even greater; it does not diminish her."

The Capuchin priest further lauded Mother Teresa's ability to keep her spiritual pain hidden within her. "Maybe, this was done in expiation for the widespread atheism in today's world," he said, adding that she lived her experience of the absence of God "in a positive way -- with faith, with God."

Not scandalous

Father Cantalamessa affirmed that Mother Teresa's dark night should not scandalize or surprise anyone. The "dark night," he said, "is something well-known in the Christian tradition; maybe new and unheard of in the way Mother Teresa experienced it."

He added: "While 'the dark night of the spirit' of St. John of the Cross is a generally preparatory period for that definitive one called 'unitive,' for Mother Teresa it seems that it was one stable state, from a certain point in her life, when she began this great work of charity, until the end."

In my view, the fact of this prolongation of the 'night' has meaning for us today. I believe that Mother Teresa is the saint of the media age, because this 'night of the spirit' protected her from being a victim of the media, namely from exalting herself."In fact, she used to say that when she received great awards and praise from the media, she did not feel anything because of this interior emptiness."

Repentance: Set Free From Ourselves

Thursday we will remember the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist. The gory details need not detain us here. You can read the full account in Mark 6:17-29, or listen to it at Mass if you prefer. Dancing girls, a wicked ruler, beheading... none too attractive but all too interesting.

Leave it to Benedict XVI to pull from the story a spiritual lesson of the first magnitude.

"The task set before the Baptist as he lay in prison was to become blessed by this unquestioning acceptance of God's obscure will; to reach the point of asking no further for external, unequivocal clarity, but,instead, of discovering God precisely in the darkness of this world and of his own life, and thus becoming profoundly blessed.

John even in his prison cell had to respond once again and anew to his own call for
metanoia or a change of mentality, in order that he might recognize his God in the night in which all things earthly exist. Only when we act in this manner does another- and doubtless the greatest- saying of the Baptist reveal its full significance: 'He must increase, but I must decrease' (Jn 3:30). We will know God to the extent that we are set free from ourselves."

Monday, August 27, 2007

Beauty Ever Ancient, Ever New

I was sitting in my ex's house over the weekend musing over beauty, hers, ...her home's,... and all of the "finer" things that a bachelor somehow seems to miss when his lady has left. It's more than just picked up socks, a clean sink, scented candles and matching wall colors, although that's part of it.

She's a fine woman. No doubt of it. There's a sense of beauty which she brought to the seven years of our home and life together. I appreciated it once again when I took time to notice the beauty and atmosphere of her current home.

But knowing that this week we are facing the memorial of St. Augustine I couldn't help but move on to ponder Beauty in its more abstract forms....

Late have I loved you,
O Beauty ever ancient, ever new,
late have I loved you!

You were within me, but I was outside,
and it was there that I searched for you.
In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created.

You were with me, but I was not with you.
Created things kept me from you;
yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all.

You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness.
You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness.
You breathed your fragrance on me;
I drew in breath and now I pant for you.

I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more.
You touched me, and I burned for your peace.

~ St. Augustine, Confessions of St. Augustine

Beautiful scenery, beautiful places, beautiful buildings, beautiful persons, all of these provoke a reaction in our most human souls- a sense of desire but also a lingering sense of incompleteness.

That sadness only remains sad or deepens into depression, however, when it ceases to perform its proper function in our lives- to lead us back to God, who is True Beauty, to provoke thanksgiving toward the Father who created it AND us.

Beauty of whatever type only becomes pornographic when it somehow gets detached from the meaning and purpose of the Creator. Then, it becomes like an inscrutable symbol... pretty to look at, but contentless on its own, without a Meaning.

Conversely, Beauty can lead us towards a grand vision of All and Everything brought to God.

So, I sat on Sunday morning in a comfy chair in a beautiful home
and read that last and greatest vision of Isaiah (66:18-21).

Here the grand Prophet fulfills the hope of the Exile.
Here lies the final End of all 66 chapters of dancing images,....
punishment and redemption,
burning coals on sinful lips,
roads made straight for God's feet,
the faceless Servant's death.

This is the final fantasy fulfillment of God's City,
as Augustine also no doubt also saw
from its southernmost outskirts in North Africa:

"They shall bring all your brothers and sisters from all the nations
as an offering to the Lord on horses and in chariots,
in carts, upon mules and dromendaries,
to Jerusalem, my holy mountain,
says the Lord,
just as the Israelites bring their offering
to the house of the Lord in clean vessels."

St Monica for Moms

Today is the Memorial for St Monica, mother of Augustine. She wept and prayed for her son's conversion. And, of course, her prayers were answered in abundance.

She reminds of my own mom. We all idolize our own mothers. However, like St Augustine, many sons often leave their mothers on the pier crying while we sail off into life's adventure. Sometimes we don't even leave a forwarding address. Only much later do we realize how well our spiritual garden was watered by their tears.

So it was with me.

Twenty years ago this week I arrived home in Texas fresh from Clinical Pastoral Education at Ebenezer Society in Minneapolis. After an absence of years, both physical and emotional, I was excited to share with my mother some of the insights from my CPE experience.

Little did I know that this sharing was to be our last.

Early one morning, I took off to return to Minneapolis for Fall seminary classes before Labor Day weekend. The following Tuesday, September 8th, I got a call from my dad while at work in the Luther Seminary Library. My mom had died of a sudden heart attack at home in her favorite easy chair while my father was 70 miles away at his office.

I barely remember the hundreds of people in two memorial services which followed my hasty return to Texas a few days later. But person after person shared their own stories of how much my mother's life had affected them. Yet, until the last possible moment, I myself had ignored my mother and her loving prayers and attitude.

Now her prayers mean more to me.
Now I ache to see her again, even 20 years later.
Now I look forward to seeing her again, where in heaven we'll share
in the fullness of the Eucharistic faith which I came only later to embrace.

Augustine records in his Confessions his own experience of own mother's passing with great pathos. It is an understanding which now he and I share together.

To Augustine and his brother, Monica says ...

"Bring my body wherever you will; let not care of it cause you any concern. One thing only I ask of you, that you remember me at the altar of the Lord wherever you may be."

At the Lord's Table is where I feel closest to my mom now. It is where my memories of her are most vivid. It is from that platform that I hope to launch into an eternity of praising God with her in company of the other saints and all the angels.

Here's a daily novena prayer, asking Monica's intercession on behalf of children. It was given to me by a dear friend, a long-suffering mom with children in various stages of way-wardness.

Don't ever give up, moms. If prayer worked on me, it certainly can work on your own sons and daughters.

Dear Saint Monica, once the sorrowing mother of a wayward son,
be pleased to present our petition to the Lord God of heaven and earth.
(Pause to mention intentions in silence).
Look down upon our anxieties and needs,
and intercede for us, as you did so fervently for Augustine, your firstborn.

We have full confidence that your prayers

will gain favorable hearing in heaven.
Mother of a sinner-turned-saint,
obtain for us patience, perseverance, and total trust in God’s perfect timing.
In His appointed hour, in His merciful way,
may He respond to your prayers and ours,
which we offer through you. Amen

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Better Late than Never


I just picked up this homily of Holy Father Benedict XVI for the Feast of the Assumption from today's Zenit. They say things move more slowly in Italy in August. So, there's my excuse.

Anyway, here it is. Quite the masterpiece of reading the Scriptures with the signs of our times.

"Take Heart, It Is Love That Wins in the End!"

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 25, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of the homily Benedict XVI delivered Aug. 15, solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, at St. Thomas of Villanova Parish in Castel Gandolfo.

* * *

HOLY MASS ON THE SOLEMNITY
OF THE ASSUMPTION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
St. Thomas of Villanova Parish, Castel Gandolfo
Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In his great work "De Civitate Dei," St Augustine says once that the whole of human history, the history of the world, is a struggle between two loves: love of God to the point of losing oneself, of total self-giving, and love of oneself to the point of despising God, of hating others. This same interpretation of history as a struggle between two loves, between love and selfishness, also appears in the reading from the Book of Revelation that we have just heard.

Here, these two loves appear in two great figures. First of all, there is the immensely strong, red dragon with a striking and disturbing manifestation of power without grace, without love, of absolute selfishness, terror and violence.

At the time when St John wrote the Book of Revelation, this dragon represented for him the power of the anti-Christian Roman Emperors, from Nero to Domitian. This power seemed boundless; the military, political and propagandist power of the Roman Empire was such that before it, faith, the Church, appeared as a defenceless woman with no chance of survival and even less of victory.

Who could stand up to this omnipresent force that seemed capable of achieving everything? Yet, we know that in the end it was the defenceless woman who won and not egoism or hatred; the love of God triumphed and the Roman Empire was opened to the Christian faith.

The words of Sacred Scripture always transcend the period in history. Thus, not only does this dragon suggest the anti-Christian power of the persecutors of the Church of that time, but also anti-Christian dictatorships of all periods.

We see this power, the force of the red dragon, brought into existence once again in the great dictatorships of the last century: the Nazi dictatorship and the dictatorship of Stalin monopolized all the power, penetrated every corner, the very last corner. It seemed impossible in the long term that faith could survive in the face of this dragon that was so powerful, that could not wait to devour God become a Child, as well as the woman, the Church. But also in this case, in the end love was stronger than hate.

Today too, the dragon exists in new and different ways. It exists in the form of materialistic ideologies that tell us it is absurd to think of God; it is absurd to observe God's commandments: they are a leftover from a time past. Life is only worth living for its own sake. Take everything we can get in this brief moment of life. Consumerism, selfishness and entertainment alone are worthwhile. This is life. This is how we must live. And once again, it seems absurd, impossible, to oppose this dominant mindset with all its media and propagandist power. Today too, it seems impossible to imagine a God who created man and made himself a Child and who was to be the true ruler of the world.

Even now, this dragon appears invincible, but it is still true today that God is stronger than the dragon, that it is love which conquers rather than selfishness.

Having thus considered the various historical forms of the dragon, let us now look at the other image: the woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, surrounded by 12 stars. This is also a multidimensional image.

Without any doubt, a first meaning is that it is Our Lady, Mary, clothed with the sun, that is, with God, totally; Mary who lives totally in God, surrounded and penetrated by God's light. Surrounded by the 12 stars, that is, by the 12 tribes of Israel, by the whole People of God, by the whole Communion of Saints; and at her feet, the moon, the image of death and mortality.

Mary has left death behind her; she is totally clothed in life, she is taken up body and soul into God's glory and thus, placed in glory after overcoming death, she says to us: Take heart, it is love that wins in the end!

The message of my life was: I am the handmaid of God, my life has been a gift of myself to God and my neighbour. And this life of service now arrives in real life. May you too have trust and have the courage to live like this, countering all the threats of the dragon.

This is the first meaning of the woman whom Mary succeeded in being. The "woman clothed with the sun" is the great sign of the victory of love, of the victory of goodness, of the victory of God; a great sign of consolation.

Yet, this woman who suffered, who had to flee, who gave birth with cries of anguish, is also the Church, the pilgrim Church of all times. In all generations she has to give birth to Christ anew, to bring him very painfully into the world, with great suffering. Persecuted in all ages, it is almost as if, pursued by the dragon, she had gone to live in the wilderness.

However, in all ages, the Church, the People of God, also lives by the light of God and as the Gospel says is nourished by God, nourishing herself with the Bread of the Holy Eucharist. Thus, in all the trials in the various situations of the Church through the ages in different parts of the world, she wins through suffering. And she is the presence, the guarantee of God's love against all the ideologies of hatred and selfishness.

We see of course that today too the dragon wants to devour God who made himself a Child. Do not fear for this seemingly frail God; the fight has already been won. Today too, this weak God is strong: he is true strength.

Thus, the Feast of the Assumption is an invitation to trust in God and also to imitate Mary in what she herself said: Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; I put myself at the Lord's disposal.

This is the lesson: one should travel on one's own road; one should give life and not take it. And precisely in this way each one is on the journey of love which is the loss of self, but this losing of oneself is in fact the only way to truly find oneself, to find true life.

Let us look to Mary, taken up into Heaven. Let us be encouraged to celebrate the joyful feast with faith: God wins. Faith, which seems weak, is the true force of the world. Love is stronger than hate.

And let us say with Elizabeth: Blessed are you among women. Let us pray to you with all the Church: Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

On True Love

This article was so good, I had to include the whole thing, from Holy Spirit Interactive

On True Love by Alice von Hildebrand

Reason speaks in words alone, but love has a song. —Joseph de Maistre

We live in an age of confusion. It might even be said that we major not only in intellectual confusions but in affective confusions as well. Many do not know how to gauge their emotions; they cannot distinguish between valid and invalid feelings. They do not know for certain whether they are truly in love or whether they are animated by wishful thinking and believe themselves in love because they crave the excitement that love gives. They confuse "loving" with having a crush, or "discerning" forever without coming to a decision.

Far from claiming that I can answer this question, all I aim to do is offer some "signposts" that might be helpful when people ask the question: Am I or am I not in love?

Great experiences usually come as a surprise—incredible gifts that are in no way the fruit of wile or planning. They overwhelm us, and our first response is: "I am not worthy of such a gift. He (or she) is so much better than myself." Our hearts are overcome with gratitude, a gratitude that makes us humble. We feel unworthy of such a gift, which seems to awaken us from a deep sleep. No doubt, the person in love "truly starts living." The person who has never loved lives in a state of somnambulism and moves about as an automaton fulfilling his daily duties with dullness of heart—a heart that does not seem to beat.

When in love, we experience a deep, profound joy—a joy that is both ardent and calm, like a burning bush; but this ardor is not destructive, and is marked by deep recollection. It springs from the very center of our being. How different from the loud excitement of those who experience violent emotions that do not come from their depths and, like a straw fire, shine brightly for a short while but are soon extinguished.

The heart is not only on fire, but this fire has a melting effect. We feel as if a goodness that does not come from within has taken hold of us. Dietrich von Hildebrand speaks of "fluid goodness" of a loving heart.

True love makes the lover more beautiful; he irradiates joy. If this is not the case, we can raise doubts as to whether he is truly in love. One says in French: "Un saint triste est un triste saint"—a sad saint is a pitiful saint. Similarly, a sad "lover" should question whether he truly loves. Small, modest duties are done joyfully, because either they are done "with him" or "with her," or because they become acts of loving service.

True love makes one humble. All of a sudden our weakness, misery, and imperfection flash up before our minds, but with no depressing effect. We see our mistakes with the wish to unveil them to the loved one, and this unveiling is coupled with the wish to beg for his or her help in order to overcome them. We wish to unveil ourselves spiritually in a chaste way, to be truly known by the person we love; we fear to cheat our beloved into believing that we are better than we truly are. We feel that the loved one is entitled to know both our "valid name" and its caricature.

Love is also linked to a holy realism. The beauty of the loved one appears in front of us, but with no illusion; his beauty is not a fruit of wishful thinking, but a real vision—as on Mount Tabor—that the lover will have to remain faithful to, to hold on to when the vision is inevitably dimmed by the dullness of everyday duties.

The lover will always be willing to give the loved one what Dietrich von Hildebrand calls "the credit of love"—that is, when the loved one acts in a way that we do not understand or is a disappointment to us, instead of condemning him, the lover will trust that, human life being as complex as it is, his actions may be justified, even though at first glance they strike us as regrettable. The true lover eagerly looks for "excuses" when the conduct of the one he loves is a disappointment. He carefully refrains from being overconfident in blaming the other’s conduct, baffling as it might be at first sight. He rejoices upon discovering that he was mistaken.

How sad it is in Shakespeare’s play Cymbeline when Posthumus, being informed by the scoundrel Iachimo that his wife, Imogene, had betrayed him, believes the slanderer, even though he had ample previous evidence that she loved him and was pure. The play has a happy ending, but it sketches powerfully the bitterness, rage, and despair of someone who is convinced that the one he loved, the one whose image was the source of his joy, has betrayed him.

We can say that we truly love when a loved one’s impatience, ingratitude, or "rudeness" (in other words, when his true beauty is veiled) cause us greater grief because he is staining his beautiful garment and presenting us with a caricature of his true face, rather than because he has wounded us. Most of all, the true lover is grieved because the loved one has offended God. On the order of importance, the offense against God is the primary source of sorrow; the harm that he does to his own beloved soul is second; last—even though deeply painful—is the wound he inflicts upon the one who loves him so deeply.

The true lover is more concerned about the interests of his loved one—whatever truly benefits his beloved’s soul—than about his own. Hence the readiness to make sacrifices for him in the very many little things of daily life in which people’s tastes differ: a very warm room or a cool one; eating at home or in a restaurant; going to a soccer game or staying home; watching a television program when one’s spouse wishes to watch another one, and so on. Yielding should be limited to cases of subjective preferences, of course, and should never extend to principles. Still, we all know spouses often ill-treated by their husbands (or wives) who are so concerned about the eternal welfare of the loved one that they accept all these sufferings, offering them up for his or her sake.

A great sign of true love is the loving patience that one has toward the weaknesses of the beloved. It can be his idiosyncrasies, his temperament, his mannerisms (we all have them); it can be his physical frailties, his psychological oddities, his intellectual inability to follow a straight line of reasoning; his disorder, or his fanaticism for order. If a monk is constantly given occasions to "die to his own will" (as St. Benedict says), the same is true of marriages. John Henry Cardinal Newman writes that even in the deepest human relationships, when love is authentic, life in common will give one plenty of opportunities to prove one’s love by sacrificing one’s preferences.

Mannerisms, idiosyncrasies, moods; physical, psychological, and intellectual weaknesses are either interpreted as positively as possible or are borne with patience. Benedict writes about monks striving for holiness who nevertheless almost inevitably cause irritation for those living close to them. "Let them bear with the greatest patience one another’s infirmities, whether of body or character" (Holy Rule, chapter 72).

The
History of a Soul, from this point of view, is also a spiritual treasure. St. Thérèse of Lisieux clearly suffered much from the lack of education and manners in some of the other nuns. She learned the holy art of using every single irritation for God’s glory, including the nerve-racking noise that a sister made in the stall next to hers, which prevented her from praying and being recollected. Still, Thérèse emerged victorious through love.

Surprisingly, this can also bring happiness to the best of marriages, even though the being we love has wounded our hearts. A true lover whose love is baptized will use these insignificant sacrifices as they did in the Middle Ages, when artists used some bits of wool to make superb tapestries.

The true lover always has the word "thank you" on his tongue. It is also easy for him to say "forgive me," for in the best relationship, one inevitably falls into mistakes. If someone imagines that he can find himself in a situation in which he will never make a mistake, that person should not get married, or have children, or enter a convent. The holy art of living is to know that we will make mistakes, to recognize them, to repent, and, with God’s grace, to have the readiness to change.

Simultaneously, it is important that both lovers recognize their mistakes. We all know cases in which one of the lovers is always critical of the other and easily forgets that "the readiness to change" should be reciprocal, and that he too is affected by original sin.

Another characteristic of true love is that the loved one is "superactually" always with us; he is there, even when we are busy or absorbed by some duty. He creates the framework of our thoughts (after God). Just as faith in God and love of God should always be the background of all our thoughts and actions, the loved one is always with us; that is, everything that occurs is never unrelated to our love.

The lover feels a holy urge to say "thank you" and "forgive me." It flows from his heart without effort. The true lover experiences the deep truth of the words in the Canticle of Canticles: "If a man were to give the whole substance of his house for love, he would despise it as nothing."

Friday, August 24, 2007

the 500 Hats of Batholomew Apostle

Not much is known about the Apostle Batholomew, whose feast day it is today. He was called under the name Nathaniel and brought to Jesus by Philip, as recorded in the gospel of John chapter 1. Beyond that, not much is known about him except that he went as a missionary to India and there died a martyr's death.

Whenever we celebrate an apostle's feast I think of Paul's description of his apostolic life, which forms part of the Office of Readings propers for apostolic feasts. I always marvel at how varied Paul's life was, and how he was led (forced?) by his position to become all things to all people. Out of pastoral concern, he wanted to lead as many people as he could to Christ. A true Shepherd and spiritual Father.

1 Corinthians 4:9-16

For as I see it, God has exhibited us apostles as the last of all, like people sentenced to death, since we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and human beings alike. 10 We are fools on Christ's account, but you are wise in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are held in honor, but we in disrepute.

11 To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clad and roughly treated, we wander about homeless 12 And we toil, working with our own hands. When ridiculed, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered, we respond gently. We have become like the world's rubbish, the scum of all, to this very moment. 14 I am writing you this not to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. 15 Even if you should have countless guides to Christ, yet you do not have many fathers, for I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 16 Therefore, I urge you, be imitators of me.

As it was with Paul, so it is with the successors of these apostles. Our bishops (at least the ones I have seen close up) are men who labor night and day to make sure that all the people under their care can have the opportunity to understand and accept the love that God has for them.

As with Paul, it makes for a hard life. These men who don the mitres wear so very many hats.

Shepherd.
Teacher.
Reconciler.
Administrator.
Intercessor.

With all of these various hats to wear, they need our prayers. In honor of St Bartholomew and all the apostles, pray for your bishop(s) today.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

What's your response?

Today's gospel speaks of the eternal wedding feast where Christ the Bridegroom celebrates His love for us, His bride. The response of those invited to the feast varies. Some ignore the invitation, some slip in unannounced and underdressed for the occasion. Some even get down right angry and try to spoil the party.

What's your response to the Invitation? He's waiting to hear from you today.

Mt 22,1-14.

"Jesus again in reply spoke to them in parables, saying, The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast, but they refused to come. A second time he sent other servants, saying, 'Tell those invited: "Behold, I have prepared my banquet, my calves and fattened cattle are killed, and everything is ready; come to the feast."'

Some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business. The rest laid hold of his servants, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, 'The feast is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy to come. Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.'

The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to meet the guests he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment. He said to him, 'My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?' But he was reduced to silence. Then the king said to his attendants, 'Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.' Many are invited, but few are chosen."

From Jacob of Sarug (around 449 – 521), Monk and Syrian bishop

"Women are not so closely united to their husbands as the Church is to the Son of God. What husband other than our Lord ever died for his wife, and what wife ever chose as husband someone crucified? Who has ever given his blood as a present to his wife, otherthan the one who died on the cross and sealed his bridal union by his wounds? Who have we ever seen dead, lying at the banquet of his wedding, with, beside him, his wife who embraces him to be consoled? At what other feast, at what other banquet, has anyone ever distributed to the guests, under the form of bread, the body of the husband?

Death separates wives from their husbands, but here it unites the Spouse to her Beloved. He died on the cross, gave his body for his glorious Spouse, and now, at his table, day after day, she receives him for food … She is nourished by him under the form of the bread which she eats and under the form of the wine which she drinks, so that the world may recognize that they are not anymore two, but only one."

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

It's about life, it's about virtue


From Saint John Chrysostom (around 345-407),
Bishop of Antioch, then of Constantinople, Doctor of the Church

Homilies on Saint Matthew, no. 64

“You too go along to my vineyard.”

"It is obvious that this parable is addressed both to people who have been virtuous since their youth and to people who become so only in their old age: to the former, to preserve them from pride and to stop them from reproaching the people of the eleventh hour; and to the latter, to teach them that they can deserve the same salary in a short time.

The Savior had just spoken about giving up wealth, about scorn for all goods, about virtues, which require a big heart and courage. For that, the zeal and energy of a youthful soul are necessary. So the Lord rekindles in them the flame of charity, strengthens their sentiments, and shows them that even those who came last receive the whole day’s salary.

All of Jesus’ parables - those about the virgins, the fishing net, the thorns, the barren tree – invite us to show our virtue in our actions. He speaks little about dogmas because they don’t require much effort. But he often speaks about life. Or rather, he talks about it all the time because, since life is a constant combat, the effort is also constant. "

Generous in Graces

Today is the Memorial of the Queenship of Mary.

I think of this day like the scene between Frodo and Galadriel in the "Lord of the Rings" movie. Those who have read the book or seen the movies will remember this pivotal scene, where Frodo encounters Galadriel. Glimpsing his fate through her mirror and understanding her humility, Frodo is strengthened for the journey which is his and his alone to travel.

A Queen, terrible and great,
crystalline in Her perfection.
Yet, kind in intention and compassionate,
She shares Her vision with a pilgrim on a great journey.

She is Strength in adversity,
a Light in darkness,
a Reminder and Strength for mission.

Such is our Lady's Queenship.
She is humble before God.
She is exalted because of grace,
and so is able
generously to give Her graces to us
who are also travellers on the Way.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Whose are you?

Today's Gospel talks about the burden riches impose upon those who want to advance in God's kingdom.

Mt 19,23-30.

"Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Amen, I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and said, "Who then can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible."

Then Peter said to him in reply, "We have given up everything and followed you. What will there be for us?" Jesus said to them, "Amen, I say to you that you who have followed me, in the new age, when the Son of Man is seated on his throne of glory, will yourselves sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first."

But there is an underlying question here, not about who our riches belong to, but about Whose we are. Unless we give up our own ego and self to Christ, the money and goods we offer to God are only hostages in an unfought war. Whose are you?

Saint Peter Damian (1007-1072), hermit then bishop, doctor of the Church Sermon 9,

PL 144, 549-553

"It is a great thing, in truth, to “give up everything”, but greater “to follow Christ”, for, as we learn in books, many people gave up everything but did not follow Christ. Following Christ is our task, our work, in that consists the main part of man’s salvation, but we cannot follow Christ if we do not leave behind everything which hinders us. Because “like an athlete he joyfully runs his course” (Ps 19:6) and no one can follow him laden down with a burden.

Peter said, “We have given up everything”, not only worldly goods, but also the desires of our heart. For those who remain attached, even just to their own life, have not given up everything. Moreover, it’s no good leaving everything behind except one’s self, for there is no burden heavier than our ego.

What tyrant is crueler, what master more pitiless for man than his own will? ... Consequently, we must give up our possessions and our own will, if we want to follow him who had “nowhere to rest his head” (Lk 9:58) and who came “not to do his own will but the will of the one who sent him” (Jn 6:38)."

Monday, August 20, 2007

Light my Fire

A few days late.... since I was on retreat at the Cistercian Abbey since Saturday and fasting from Internet.

I was meditating on the baptism of fire in the 12th chapter of Luke's gospel.

"I have come to set the earth on fire, and how wish it were already blazing."

Here and in the Matthean passage where Jesus speaks of the baptism of fire and of his death we see a close connection between that fire and the fiery trial of Christ's passion. Two or three other other scriptures also came to mind: Deuteronomy 4 and Heb 12:29 where God is described as a Consuming Fire. In both places we see that the fire of God is a fire of jealous love, of One who wants us only for Himself. That God appraoches us in Jesus and immolates himself on the Cross in the fire of that love.

Here a way cool text on the fire from a famous monk, Denis the Carthusian (1408 - 1471),

Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, 12: 72-74,To light in human hearts the fire of God's love

"I came down from the heights of heaven and, by the mystery of my Incarnation, I made myself manifest to men in order to light in human hearts the fire of divine love; “and how I wish it were already blazing!”, that is to say that it take hold and become a flame activated by the Holy Spirit, and that it bring forth abundant acts of kindness!

Christ then reveals that he will undergo death on the cross before the fire of this love ignites in humanity. It is, indeed, the most holy Passion of Christ which merited such a great gift for humanity, and it is above all the memory of his Passion which lights a flame in faithful hearts.

“I must be baptized”, in other words: “It falls to me and it is reserved to me by a divine decree to receive a baptism of blood, to bathe and to plunge as if in water, in my blood shed on the cross to redeem the whole world; “and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!”, in other words until my Passion is completed, and when I can say: “All is accomplished!” (Jn 19:30)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Let the Children Come

Today's gospel contains some valuable advice on how to deal with kids. Bring them to Jesus.

Here's a very practical exposition of that advice from Benedict XVI's address on occasion of the Fifth World Meeting of Families to Valencia (Spain), 8 July 2006:

"The disciples rebuked them, but Jesus said, 'Let the children come to me'

"Father and mother have said a complete "yes" in the sight of God, which constitutes the basis of the sacrament which joins them together. Likewise, for the inner relationship of the family to be complete, they also need to say a "yes" of acceptance to the children whom they have given birth to or adopted, and each of which has his or her own personality and character.

In this way, children will grow up in a climate of acceptance and love, and upon reaching sufficient maturity, will then want to say "yes" in turn to those who gave them life… Christ has shown us what is always be the supreme source of our life and thus of the lives of families: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one had greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends" (Jn 15:12-13).

The love of God himself has been poured out upon us in Baptism. Consequently, families are called to experience this same kind of love, for the Lord makes it possible for us, through our human love, to be sensitive, loving and merciful like Christ. Together with passing on the faith and the love of God, one of the greatest responsibilities of families is that of training free and responsible persons.

For this reason the parents need gradually to give their children greater freedom, while remaining for some time the guardians of that freedom. If children see that their parents - and, more generally, all the adults around them - live life with joy and enthusiasm, despite all difficulties, they will themselves develop that profound "joy of life" which can help them to overcome wisely the inevitable obstacles and problems which are part of life.

Furthermore, when families are not closed in on themselves, children come to learn that every person is worthy of love, and that there is a basic, universal brotherhood which embraces every human being."

Ok... so JustMe suggested I ask a question once in a while to see if I can up the level of commentary on the blog.

Here's your question:

How do YOU bring your children to Jesus, especially when sometimes it feels more like "dragging them kicking and screaming to Jesus"?

Friday, August 17, 2007

It's simple.

It's a lot easier to take the prophet Micah's prescription at 6 in the morning when you are running through a glorious cool morning with a rosary in hand.

Everything seems so clear and simple then:
What, then does the Lord require of you,
but to do justly, and to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with your God?

But, heh, then a big, long day intervenes.

A huge spreadsheet re-do at work.

A moving funeral Mass for a 91 year old priest (Msgr. Sweeney, I know you're praying for me)
Last but not least coming home to find the dog had messed up the house... really messed it up. First time in six years... he just got sick all over for the place. Poor Jack!

But now it's 8:30 p.m. I've cleaned the house up, mowed the yard, prayed Evening Prayer, made and eaten homemade Roma tomato soup. I've watched "Dr. Who" with the obligatory bowl of vanilla ice cream and now the crickets are quietly chirping outside the open window.

It all seems simple once again when I get to slow down and thank God for one very long but fulfilling day.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

In You All Find Their Home

In baseball, it's the place where you're safe. According to Robert Frost it's "the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in." There's no place like it.

Home.

Largely due to the Solemnity of the Assumption, twice in the last two days the Liturgy of the Hours has directed our attention to Psalm 87, which contains the following memorable lines:

"Of you are told glorious things,
O city of Cod!"

It is He, the Lord most high,
who gives to each his place.
In his register of peoples he writes,
"These are her children,"
and while they dance they will sing:
"In you all find their home."

I love that last line especially. Throughout history, the symbolicly powerful image of God's city has been applied to various entities.

For Israel, it is the navel of the earth, holy Jerusalem. For the Western Church, it is, alternatively, the heavenly City above and its dim-by-comparison earthly counterpart, Rome. For those in the East, it speaks of the not-yet-forgotten glories of new Rome, Constantinople and its spiritual successor, Moscow.

Not least of all, the wisdom of the Church has applied this image to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
It's a most apt image for Her.

Our Mother Mary IS a safe haven, a stronghold,
a place where people of diverse cultures and different background and deep needs all find a joyous welcome.

Anyone who trusts in Her Son Jesus has passed through the gates and finds his or her self enfolded in loving Arms of Mercy. We are Her children today as well as God's.

Welcome home.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Veni, Domine Jesu


Again from Spence's mom, via e mail, I received this beautiful message:

"Let us take our place, dear brothers and sisters,
at the school of the saints,
who are the great interpreters of true Eucharistic piety.
In them the theology of the Eucharist takes on
all the splendour of a lived reality;
it becomes 'contagious' and,
in a manner of speaking, it 'warms our hearts.'

Above all, let us listen to Mary Most Holy,
in whom the mystery of the Eucharist appears,
more than in anyone else, as a mystery of light.

Gazing upon Mary, we come to know
the transforming power present in the Eucharist.
In her we see the world renewed in love.

Contemplating her, assumed body and soul into heaven,
we see opening up before us those 'new heavens' and that 'new earth' which will appear at the second coming of Christ.

Here below, the Eucharist represents their pledge,
and in a certain way, their anticipation: 'Veni, Domine Iesu!' (Rev 22:20).

Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 62

What She became, we shall be

Back in 1993 I knew next to nothing about the Blessed Virgin Mary, a Lutheran pastor, perfectly unable to tell the difference between Her Immaculate Conception and Her Assumption. But both feasts bothered me, because they weren't "in the Bible."

In fact, Father Jim Berning, then Parochial Vicar of St Theodore's in Albert Lea, MN had a humongous portrait of Mary in his office. I remember that he once asked me whether I knew what it was. The Assumption? The Immaculate Conception? And of course I had to confess that I didn't.

I know better now.

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary wasn't formally defined as a dogma of the Catholic Church until 1950. However, the most ancient teachers in the Church, especially in the East, taught about Mary's glorification at death. Written stories about her death circulated among Christians as early as the third century A.D.

It makes one wonder about the reticence of New Testament writers to speak about Her. It falls into the same class as the doctrine about the Holy Trinity and Sacraments. You get glimpses of these teachings here and there in the New Testament. However, the truths are never as openly taught nor so clearly stated as the Church later would do after centuries of thought and reflection.

So it is with Mary. We see her, first in the proto-gospel prophecy of Genesis 3:15, and later primarily in the gospels of Luke and John and the book of Revelation. There she is always by our Lord's side and instrumental in His work of salvation.

But with this Feast we are not simply concerned with the individual fate of Mary.

What She became, we shall be.

And if you doubt that the Mother of God could or would be taken to heaven in a glorified state, then what about us?

Romans 8:30 talks about the Christian in this way;

"Those [God] predestined, he also called,;
and those He called He also justified;
and those He justified He also glorfied."

When you get down to it, Mary's Assumption is really setting the pattern for the rest of the Church, and following in the wake of Her beloved Son's glorifed fate.

Like Elijah and Enoch and perhaps Moses in the Old Testament, Mary simply got there first. In fact, this ascension to heaven makes real sense if, with the New Testament, we believe that Mary was the first Christian, the first to conceive Christ within her through the Holy Spirit.


So, this Solemnity fills me with holy longing to become all that God has called us all to be, predestined in Christ, justified in Christ, and soon to be glorified in Christ.

Just like our Mother Mary.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Totally Yours!

Totus Tuus! I used to joke that this sounded like a line from the Wizard of Oz ("Toto,too?"). No more. It will be one year tomorrow since I made my own total consecration to our Lord Jesus through our Mother the Blessed Virgin Mary. Totally Yours!

While I was at EWTN in July 2006 to appear on "The Journey Home," I "happened" to end up at a silent retreat rooming with a young man from Florida. Before the retreat started he eagerly shared with me his experience of St. Louis de Montfort's total consecration. He gave me his copies of Preparation for Total Cosecration Acording to Saint Louis Marie de Montfort and also True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin.

I started reading the book and- whamo- it hit me like a ton of bricks.... this was what I was supposed to do. By then it was the middle of the silent retreat, and during mealtime I was so overwhelmed with the loving Presence of Christ that I had to leave the table. I fled, holding back tears, to the Sacrament Chapel and purposed there to complete the 28 day cycle of meditations leading up to the consecration. Very un-Phil like, but very powerful.

One reason I had become Catholic in 1998 was because of Mary. It was not so much the doctrine about her that drew me, but more the loving support I felt through Her as I knelt in prayer in the Mary Chapel at the Basilica or in the Grotto at Notre Dame. Those were tough days... doctoral studies, separation and divorce, the decision to leave the Lutheran Church, search for a new career, relocation.

I can still feel the graces I received then and also last year. It's funny, they don't feel like HER graces, they are graces FROM Christ, and she is the channel through which all this glory and grace flows. So any discussion of Mary's mediatorship "taking away" from the sole mediatorship of Christ will fall on deaf ears in my case. Now that I have experienced it for myself, I understand that anything that happens through Mary happens, by definition, through her Son Jesus. It's all Him, and She is all His. and we are all His through Her.

Here's a prayer for the Eve of the great Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It's the closing prayer for the Little Crown of the Virgin, a set of prayers given to his religious by St Louis de Montfort. It expresses my perfect joy this night:

Hail, Mary, Daughter of God the Father;
Hail, Mary, Mother of God the Son;
Hail, Mary, Spouse of the Holy Ghost;
Hail, Mary, Temple of the most Holy Trinity;
Hail, Mary, my Mistress, my treasure, my joy, Queen of my heart;
my Mother, my life, my sweetness, my dearest hope ---- yea, my heart and my soul!
I am all thine and all that I have is Thine, O Virgin blessed above all things!
Let thy soul be in me to magnify the Lord;
let thy spirit be in me to rejoice in God.
Set thyself, O faithful Virgin, as a seal upon my heart,
that in thee and through thee I may be found faithful to God.
Receive me, O gracious Virgin,
among those whom thou lovest and teachest,
whom thou leadest, nourishest and protectest as thy children.
Grant that for love of thee I may despise all earthly consolations
and ever cling to those of Heaven until,
through thee, His faithful spouse,
Jesus Christ thy Son be formed in me for the glory of the Father.
Amen.

a full jewel box kept closed

Maximilian Kolbe was a Polish priest who died as prisoner 16770 in Auschwitz-Birkenau, August 14, 1941. I remember when he was canonized in 1982 the press made a great deal out of his having worn at Auschwitz the pink triangle usually given to gay men. He had specifically asked to be given this badge of the "lowest of the low" in the camp, in order that he might share more fully and more humbly in the sufferings of his fellow prisoners.

The humble self sacrifice which St. Maximilian Kolbe carried out in life he also fulfilled by the manner of his death. In August 1941, when a prisoner escaped from the camp, the Nazis selected 10 others to be killed by starvation in reprisal for the escape. One of the 10 selected to die, Franciszek Gajowniczek, began to cry: "My wife! My children! I will never see them again!" At this, St. Maximilian stepped forward and asked to die in his place. His request was granted.

How does one rise to such heights of self sacrifice? Kolbe wrote the following:

"Be recollected; whoever pours himself out on exterior things quickly loses the graces he has acquired. A full jewel box is always kept closed. Humility: Avoid all those words which can draw down on you glory, esteem or the appreciation of others....Willingly accept every opportunity for humbling yourself.... Welcome occasions of being disregarded and humiliated, first with patience, and then willingly, without raising any difficulties, and then finally with joy

That will be perfect humility.

Make acts of humility, beginning with a rather small number of them; then increasing these continually, and make more and more progress. This, in fact is how one acquires a good habit and makes it grow strong. Humility is the foundation of the virtues."

A Sheep-ly Prayer from Iraq



"What is your opinion? If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills and go in search of the stray? And if he finds it, amen, I say to you, he rejoices more over it than over the ninety-nine that did not stray. In just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost."
Matthew 18:12-14


Here's a sheep-ly prayer from an Eastern Christian, Saint Isaac the Syrian (7th century), monk in Nineveh, near Mosul in present-day Iraq

Ascetical Discourses, 1st series, n°2 "The stray sheep"

"Lord Jesus Christ our God,
I do not have a heart which sets off resolutely in search of you,
nor is filled with repentance or tenderness,
nothing which brings children back to their inheritance.

Master, I have no tears with which to pray to you.
My spirit is darkened by the things of this life
and has no strength to aim towards you in its pain.
My heart is cold in its trials,
and tears of love for you cannot warm it.
But you, Lord Jesus Christ my God,
treasure of all that is good,
give me perfect contrition and a longing heart,
so that with all my soul I can set out in search of you,
for without you I shall be deprived of all good;
oh good God, give me your grace.

May the Father who, outside time, in eternity,
begot you in his inner being renew in me the form of your image.
I abandoned you; do not abandon me.
I went out of you; come out in search of me.
Lead me to your pasture; count me among the flock of your elect.
With your sheep feed me on the green grass
of your divine mysteries,
where the pure in heart dwell,
that heart which bears in itself the splendor of your revelations,
the consolation and the sweetness
of those who have borne injury and insults for you.
May we be worthy of such magnificence,
through your grace and your love of mankind,
you our Savior Jesus Christ, for ever and ever. Amen.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Aliens Among Us

To Israel from God in today's Old Testament Reading (Deuteronomy 10):

"You too must befriend the alien,
for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt."

This high powered version of the Golden Rule applies equally well to Christians as to Jews. and all of us are equally guilty of violating it. How hard it is to love and accept "the Other," when that other is someone quite different than Us.

How is it, why is it, that those who have been oppressed often turn around and do exactly the same things to the minorities among whom they live when they get half a chance? I don't need to cite specific examples here, and good thing, too, because I would no doubt get in trouble for stereotyping.

However, it does seem to be human nature to do this dastardly deed, and in so doing to ignore the common respect for human life which is our shared human birthright as sons and daughters of God.

I do have some bright news to report, however. In my experience the last 3-4 years I have run across at least two core city parishes where a very successful transition has been made from a largely European ethnic identity into one which not only welcomes but embraces a quite different Asian or Hispanic culture.

Entering these communities, I had expected a war zone. Opposing factions,... dwindling, aging European versus burgeoning, young and emerging culture. The demographics would almost inevitably set the stage for conflict in leadership transition, parish style etc.

Much to my pleasant surprise, it isn't happening. Rejoice with me that, in some places at least, folk are living up to the true meaning of Catholic identity by uniting around a shared Faith and a common Mother, irrespective of how or in what language we worship.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

But then what?

Well, I'm taking "the plunge" this Fall.... I enrolled in a class at St Paul Seminary, ... while I'm working full time. Pretty dangerous..... the class is ...ta-da..... Theology of the Sacraments. Those of you who read this blog know how I love the sacramental life of the Church. So, being asked to read hundreds of pages about sacraments is no hardship.

However, because I'm taking the class while working I decided to go ahead and start reading through the syllabus ahead of time so that I can better prepare for class with all these full-time seminarian priests-in-waiting that I'll be in class with.

Here's the first of many gems I've run across. It's from a book entitled The Wellspring of Worship by Jean Corbon. It looks at liturgy from an Eastern Christian point of view, and offers a lot of insight into the commonalities that link the two lungs of the Church (East and West), and keep us all breathing the Ruach of God's Spirit.

"What then does it mean to say that God saves human beings? Does it mean that he gives them a course in theology?

That he gives them a moral law, or even that he gives them the commandment of love?

That he teaches them to change structures, whether personal, social or economic?

That he lets them know in the smallest detail the kind of worship agreeable to their creator?

That he reveals to them that God is a Father, and kind and merciful, and does so by letting them experience it, as we do with one another in our good moments?

But then what?

All that I have just been saying has been the object of the human search for centuries, in religions, philosophies, sciences, ideologies....

Of what use to me are models of morality and fine promises of life as long as the root of this disasterous tragedy- death- has been pulled up- not tomorrow, but now?
This is the only really important question. Everything else is just a passing episode and a distraction.

the Father's Love

I love the comedy show "Seinfeld," and one episode that stuck in my mind and recently resurfaced is "The Burning." Part of the plot is that Elaine's dim-bulb boyfriend Puddy turns out to be a Christian. She's disappointed for two reasons.... because one of the attractions was that he was so one-dimensional.

A further issue, and the one I've been thinking about, is that Puddy didn't seemed to care that Elaine was going to hell. He believed, but it didn't make any difference to him that she didn't.


Then in this morning's Office of Readings I read this from Catherine of Siena:

My sweet Lord, look with mercy upon your people and especially upon the mystical body of your Church. Greater glory is given to your name for pardoning a multitude of your creatures than if I alone were pardoned for my great sins against your majesty. It would be no consolation for me to enjoy your life if your holy people stood in death.

For I see that sin darkens the life of your bride the Church – my sin and the sins of others.It is a special grace I ask for, this pardon for the creatures you have made in your image and likeness. When you created man, you were moved by love to make him in your own image. Surely only love could so dignify your creatures.

She's right, you know. And her observation about how love dignifies God's creatures is soooooo true.

Reading this passage makes me yearn once againto share that Father's love with everyone, not just in word and deed but in prayer. And for those who are within my circle but not yet responsive to God's love, I especially pray today.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Singular Flower

This has been a weekend full of nature. Last night at 3:00 a.m. a huge thunder/wind storm broke over our neighborhood and blew around and poured on us until about 5 or so. 2 and a 1/2 inches of much needed rain along with numerous branches to pick up.

Then tonight I was sweating out a Divine Mercy Chaplet and Evening Prayer (still very humid, despite the rain) in the Mary Garden when I noticed a little red and orange flower on the edge of my pot of impatiens right behind the satue of Mary.

The pot is stuffed to overflowing with little red and burgundy and white blossoms.... and then there's this one scraggly little orange/red flower (weed?) off the side of the pot.

Poor thing!

But then I noticed something else. About two weeks ago the exact same kind of flower made a solo appearance over under a big tree- the only flower in a grass lawn with wood chips surrounding the tree. My first inclination had been to pluck it up, because it really just didn't fit. But pity stayed my hand. And now I am glad that it did.

Those two flowers provided a valuable lesson for me tonight.

Some of our souls- and I believe mine is among them- are not meant to be in a crowd or part of "the group." We blossom off by ourselves and we aren't noticed very much. But as I thought this I also got the overwhelming impression that even this odd little bloom- even the soul most singular and different than the rest- is still valued by the Gardener.

I am thankful for that Gardener's love and pity.

Friday, August 10, 2007

the Church's True Treasures

St. Lawrence was a Deacon in the Church of Rome, renowned for his fortitude under suffering and for his love of the poor. May we be more like him in every way.

From Saint Augustine (354-430), Bishop of Hippo (North Africa) and Doctor of the Church

Sermon 303, for the Feast of Saint Lawrence

"Saint Lawrence was a deacon in Rome. The persecutors of the Church demanded that he hand over the Church’s treasures. In order to obtain a real treasure in heaven, he suffered torments, the account of which you can only listen to with horror: he was laid on a grill over a fire. However, he triumphed over all the physical suffering by means of extraordinary strength, which he drew from his charity and from the help of Him who made him steadfast.

For “(w)e are truly his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to lead the life of good deeds which God prepared for us in advance.” (Eph 2:10) This made the persecutors angry… Lawrence said: “Send some chariots with me with which I can bring you the Church’s treasures.” They gave him chariots. He filled them with poor people and sent them back saying: “Here are the Church’s treasures.”

Nothing is truer, my brothers. The Christians’ great wealth is to be found in the needs of the poor, if we really understand how to make what we possess bear fruit. The poor are always with us. If we entrust our treasures to them, we will not lose them."