Monday, July 31, 2006

What's a Saint Look Like, Really? This week's Mission Moment comes from Leon Bloy, a French intellectual from the nineteenth century. He said "There is only one tragedy in the end, not to have been a saint." Wow. A tragedy... not to be a saint? I mean, wouldn't it be more realistic to say, what a shame, or a pity, or wouldn't it have been "nice" if, in the end, people thought I was saintly? Tragedy sounds a little too... dramatic, right? We are surrounded by what many call tragedies these days; they are accidents that take young lives, crimes that take away our sense of safety, tsunamis, earthquakes, genocide. This thought, that in the end the only tragedy is not becoming a saint, this shifts our entire way of thinking, our entire view of the universe. It sets up a hierarchy whose peak reaches beyond our earthly lives and into eternity itself, reminding us that in the end, there is something more tragic than the loss of home or property or even our very waking and breathing here below; the loss of Heaven. St. Stanislaus Kostka once said "I am destined for greater things. I want eternity." This is what Mousiuer Bloy is pointing us to. The loss of that robe of glory that we are called to be wrapped in; the danger that exists here and now is that we should ever trade it in for a cheap set of rags, this is what amounts to our deepest loss. Pope John Paul II said we should not be afraid to become the saints of the new millennium. Now the next question is, what do we envision when we hear this word "saint?" Is it a stoic, cookie-cutter marble statue with hands clenched in prayer? Is it a person who is always "nice" and never has a beer or laughes out loud or watches goofy movies? Is it someone who is really uptight about keeping all of the rules? Or is a saint a person from whom a mysterious joy radiates like a summer sun in Avalon? Is the saint the one person you know who always leaves you feeling better, deeper, refreshed in the soul? Who draws others in, and cares to listen and learn about you because you are you and you are speaking to them? Is the saint a person who is so enraptured by the Mystery of God that it makes you blush? Are saints the crazy ones who believe life is pregnant with God's life and that the victory of Truth is certain. If this is a glimmer of what sanctity really is, and it is, then it is indeed tragic not to join their company! So let's open wide to the mystery. What have we got to lose?

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Martha, Martha!

No, that wasn't Cindy Brady yelling to her older sister. Today's the Feast of St. Martha, sister to Mary and Lazarus of Bethany. This is a well known and oft quoted story from the gospels, and Pope John Paul II gave it some great press in his letter Novo Millennio Ineunte at the dawn of the new millenium (check it out here). The lesson we learn is crucial to a full life, because it captures and cures that seeming dichotomy we all experience between work and play and sets it right. The quick answer to which position is preferrable? We were made for play. When Jesus comes to visit, Mary sits at his feet; wide-eyed, wonder-filled, doing nothing but gazing upon the Face of Jesus. She's already in Paradise! The Bryan Adams song comes to mind, "And love is all that I need and I found it there in your heart. It isn't too hard to see we're in heaven" (gotta love that song). Martha on the other hand is worried, anxious; "Oh the timing stinks! What if he needs to use the bathroom, I have to clean it up. He must be hungry. I should get a meal ready. There's dishes in the sink! I look like a mess! The house is a mess! Aaaaahhhhhhhh!" So Mary sits and Martha splits. (A seeming digression) - Yesterday, a powerful storm blew through the Philadelphia region, sweeping in from the west, guns blazing with wild abandon. Thunder, lightning, sheets of rain. I love a summer storm. I raced home just in time to unplug the computer (aka "my precioussss"), shut the windows, and set myself down on our back porch: wide-eyed, wonder-filled, doing nothing but gazing upon the face of the storm. The rain beat upon our metal awning like the arrows of orcs, the wind whipped and sprayed through the trees and around houses and up alleyways, curling and lashing out at me in my little watchtower. Bright bombs of lighting split the sky, and my heart started bouncing around in my chest like a hackey sack in the middle of a bunch of teenagers. It was awesome. I was planning on writing that afternoon, but the storm came to call. So I let go of an hour of "work" and gained a rich experience of "play" in its stead. There is so much more here to talk about, to reflect on. But the bottom line is this: our hearts are fitted more for contemplation than for keeping busy, for opening up and letting Guests in than for keeping them out until we're "ready." In a given day, how many guests come to call on us? Are we caught off guard? Why are we even on guard in the first place? Summer storms are a reminder of our own smallness and utter lack of control. Stuff gets wet and thrown around. We lose electricity, we get "inconvenienced." I think Our Lord likes to stir things up too; he likes to pop in unexpectedly, not to bother us but to be with us. That's what lovers do, they surprise each other. Today let's look for him, wide-eyed and wonder-filled in every encounter, and let's let him look at us.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Oreos and Milk: A True Story Yesterday I had the chance to catch up with a good friend, Fr. Peter, home from Rome, now serving as a young pastor of a small town parish in Nebraska. It's a real small town, he says. A church, a bar and four streets. He says there are tumbleweeds sometimes too. In the course of our reminiscing at the Irish Coffee Shop in Darby (great scones!), I heard some riveting tales of the power and the pains of priesthood. One of the tales Fr. Peter told yesterday was actually one he had heard from another friend, an elderly priest. This older priest told a story of one of his early moves into a new parish assignment back in 1976. At that time, he was newly ordained and hustling boxes up and down stairs late at night in the rectory. Looking for a quick break, he went into the kitchen and found a man around 50 years old or so, wearing a t-shirt, sitting at the kitchen table. He was eating oreos and drinking milk. He introduced himself as Karl, and began a pleasant conversation with the newly ordained. He asked him what it was like being a young priest, ministering to people, sharing their lives. What was it that people were looking for, what was their response to his own vocation and life of faith? About a year or so later, this brother priest of Fr. Peter's watched in amazement on the television when a Polish cardinal named Karol (aka 'Karl') Wojtyla was elected Pope! It was the oreo man, who was actually Cardinal Wojtyla on a visit to the US at the time of the Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia! What a great image: the future Pope John Paul II, eating oreos in a t-shirt late at night, but always ready to encounter others, and to ask those fundamental questions about life that made him such an amazing priest, with such a gift for knowing hearts. I loved this story! And tonight's dessert? I'm having oreos and milk...

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Try This Today This week's Mission Moment was from Mister Rogers: "Love begins with listening." If the man is right, and wasn't he always right?.... then I have a feeling many of us are not in love these days. Many of us are not good listeners (oh, this is me, this is me!). We are all very good at asking the question "How are you?" (or how YOU doin'? for my Philly friends), but how many of us actually stay for the answer? Love begins with listening; but lust, loves opposite, says listen to ME. Love receives, lust takes. Love sees a gift in the other's presence (no matter who they are), while lust grasps at the other for a selfish end. I speak of lust here at all levels, physical, emotional, and spiritual. Today, let's try and listen to others, and by really listening come to love them. Let's stay for the answer and enter into the other before us; loved ones, co-workers, cashiers, and strangers on the train. Even if it's a simple smile, an acknowledgment of their humanity, let's listen. Let's look. There is a deep well of experiences and stories and hope and heartbreak in every human heart. If we listen, we can hear God moving over those waters. What a treasure each day can be if we try this new way of loving, this listening of the heart!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

An Ancient Treasure found in Ireland From the news today: Irish archaeologists are celebrating the discovery of their own Dead Sea scrolls after a bulldozer unearthed fragments of a psalter that may have lain in a bog for more than 1,000 years. The book of psalms was found last Thursday when an engineer excavating bogland in the midlands noticed a bundle near his digger's scoop. It turned out to be the animal skin pages of an early Christian psalter that appears to date back as far as AD800. One psalm - number 89 - was still legible. Click here for the full story

By the Sea

Sometimes in our terrible rush towards those very important places or events or tasks we have to get to every day, we miss the wonder of the present moment. We know this. We all KNOW this... and we tell ourselves to slow down, and we say we will... soon. Because inside we know that when we slow down, we see more. When we walk rather than run, we notice things we didn't notice before. We catch our breath and that feels soooo GOOD. But there's so much to do! I have to get all this "stuff" done! So we get up and start running, and in the midst of the 130 billion e-mails that are sent worldwide every day (I'm not making that one up!), we often fail to recognize, receive, and take in like rich dark soil, the one richest of Words that will really give us PEACE. In the words of the late, great Pope John Paul II, we must learn to "chill out" (a loose translation from the Latin). We must learn to BE before giving in to so many temptations to DO; to rush, to run! I am writing this today, because I need to hear this myself. Today, I did hear the Word. It was in the gospel from today's mass. I got zapped by the Incarnation; that historical moment when the God of the universe pulled back the blue veil of Heaven and took on our flesh, et Verbum caro factum est. He learned to walk, and he spoke Aramaic, and he sang songs, and he worked under the same hot sun that we do, and "looked up in wonder at the same moon." The line that grabbed me was from Matthew 13: "On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea." That was it. Whoa. Jesus, the Eternal Son of the Father, sat down by the sea.... Jesus looked out on the very creation that tumbled forth from his own hands. He gazed upon that same movement of the waves that we love to lose ourselves in. He heard the cry of gulls that remind us of the great open expanse of the water, the womb of the world. Jesus sitting by the water, the sea that gushed right out from the Love in his heart, the Love that sang to Love in the very beginning when the world was newly made; he looked out upon it with human eyes. I believe that in our hurried lives, we often miss Jesus, this Incarnate Word, who shared our very soil and air. He can sometimes slip past us like a stranger on the street. Or perhaps we tell ourselves he is too far away to even see at all down here; he sits on the 100th floor while we scurry about our business in the alleys below. It's only afterwards, when we sense him, in grace, brushing past, that we are struck by the reality of the Incarnation, and we do the double-take... "Was that? Who? What the?" The passage from Matthew continued, "Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd stood along the shore." What a vision. The multitudes of humanity, the people coming to see him, standing there by the edge of the sea, and seeing him, in a boat, looking back at them... each of them, one by one. Looking at each other. God has become one of us. He has entered in, and forever he has wed himself to a body. Divinity has married humanity! Let me sit here awhile and look out at this mystery! Let me allow the wave of this love and this mercy and this absolute gift wash over me, still my frantic soul, and cleanse me from all my busyness. Let me be rest by the sea for awhile with Jesus.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

I just read a heartbreaking story in the news of a young man who survived a massacre in Burundi, Central Africa. The link is here .... It's a tribute to the power of grace and the healing that comes through forgiveness. An unbelievable story!

The Art of Wonder

We spent this past weekend with family in NY state, celebrating a birthday for one of the little ones (13 nieces and nephews on the Byrons side, and 2 more in utero!) Saturday morning, Rebecca and I went out for coffee and settled into a corner seat for a little caffienation. A small girl was guiding her father through the shop, over to a waterfall that streamed down a small stone wall. "Look" she kept saying. "Look!" My wife whispered to me "when did we ever stop saying "Look!"? The question struck us both so deeply. So often, it seems, we rush through our days without a second thought for all the simple wonders around us. Thoreau once said “The millions are awake enough for physical labor... only one in a hundred millions to a poetic or divine life. To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake. How could I have looked him in the face?” If we allow ourselves moments of childlike simplicity, if we allow ourselves the time to simply “look”, what wonders will we see? Pope John Paul II said “We must open our eyes to admire God who hides and at the same time reveals himself in things and introduces us into the realms of mystery... we must be pure and simple like children, capable of admiring, being astonished, of marveling, and being enchanted by the divine gestures of love and closeness we witness.” It’s this wonder that can penetrate through the surface of things, and all the world and the people around us become in a very real way, “sacraments.” Each and every thing, in a certain sense, is a visible sign of an invisible reality. What a life of mysticism we are called to! To see in every stroke of color and texture in our lives the movement of a Masterful Hand! Later that day took us to the family's lake house in upstate NY. We love watching the many little encounters and discoveries the children make, in a place so simple, natural and wide open to sky and water. On an adventurous trek across the lake, via tubes, noodles and plain old fashioned swimming, a bunch of us explored "the island" - a tiny pine and blueberry choked oasis in the middle of the lake. We joked about being in an episode of Lost, found ourselves some sweet walking sticks (essential), and crammed blueberries in our mouths as we darted through the labyrinth of sweet smelling pine and mountain laurel. Then Daniel, my wife’s eldest brother said, "Look!" High in an old pine tree, was the large shadowy shape of a bird. And I mean large. I'm a birder, and I love spending time seeking out new species and I rejoice just to catch the flash of an oriole or the crimson fire of a Scarlet Tanager. But this! This find was golden. It was an eagle! A juvenile bald eagle, 30 feet above our heads. We stood motionless in the bushes below and just stared up at him, each lost in our own thoughts for a time. What a moment of wonder. Across the lake, through the breaks in the trees, we could here the shrill cries of another eagle, and it’s ancient and unmistakable white head reflected in the water as it flew. Wow. What wonders will we see if we simply “look”? What treasures await us out in the wilderness around us, and within us. Isn’t this the call of the gospel, to “come and see”? To leap, to launch out into the deep, to let go like children trusting our Father will catch us and carry us? Let’s not allow the summer to slip past without a renewed commitment to this wonder. May the God of Wonders rekindle in us a eucharistic amazement, and the joy of a new evangelization! For as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta said, “Joy is a net of love by which we catch souls.”

Monday, July 24, 2006

MASTERPIECE MONDAY #4 Many works of art can shake us deeply if we are still before their mystery, like lovers facing the sea. Henry O. Tanner's Annunciation is one of these works of art. It's hanging like a jewel on a wall in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and happens to be my wife's favorite painting. Mary, painted as a quiet and tender young girl, sits in light-dappled robes at the corner of her humble bed. All about her speaks of earth; course fabrics woven with callous hands, hard stone fitted into a cold earthen floor, and walls cracked and veined by the passing of time. But across the room hovers the Timeless. An immortal spirit, Gabriel, Messenger of God, splits time and space in two and peers gently into Mary's room, saluting her with a greeting that still echoes throughout the world, millions of times a day.... "Hail, full of Grace!" The Ambassador of Heaven is carrying a message, and the answer to it will split even earthly time in two. The light of Gabriel's presence pulsates on the canvas, casting a warm glow into the cool space of Mary's dwelling. Like a heart beating, waiting for a word that can bring tears too deep for words. And we, the ones who look on with bated breath, can almost enter into this pregnant pause, this womb where the world will be remade. If we are still before the Mystery.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

"I SOUGHT HIM WHOM MY HEART LOVES"

The Feast of St. Mary Magdalene was celebrated recently, and given the recent and growing amount of books, articles and internet sites that are seeking to reveal the mystery of the Magdalen, I'm excited to dive in and prayerfully reflect on what makes her beauty shine; she was such a faithful disciple and the first recorded to have seen the Risen Lord. I'll be going to the Scriptures for my thoughts, however, not a pseudo-history written 1980 years after her death, or a "historical" thriller novel that was historically a mess. (Oiy!) The Church has selected for this feast a powerful reading from the Song of Songs. The Bride is seeking her Beloved, and the ache in her heart in the searching is deeply stirring. We see her move through the city streets with a yearning for communion that echoes in our own hearts. For me this brings to mind an insight from G. K. Chesterton. "Our religion should be less of a theory and more of a love affair." After all, this Songs of Songs is passionate and this love poetry is SCRIPTURE! God's inspired word! (I love it, love it, love it!). But how seldom do we see life this way? Do we see God as the Husband of our hearts, or as a cold Overseer, or a Grandpa who is always "nice"? Mary Magdalene saw life as a romance. She was passionate in her following of Christ, and passion led her to the Cross, and that same passion led her through early morning darkness to a desperate place, a darkened tomb. Let's sit in silence with this one. Are we not called to such passion, such intimacy? Novels like the DaVinci Code portray Mary Magdalene as a literal wife of Jesus. It’s a sad distraction from the Real Truth. Jesus came to seek a Bride, but that Bride is all of us, a lost Bride who has wandered the streets of sin and refused the gift of the Bridegroom for too long. Our hearts ache for his infinite and intimate love. All our loves here below are pale glimmers of this deeper intimacy, this selfless and self-giving love of God for us. What a wonder! And our passion and devotion for each other is meant to point us upwards to the True Love of Heaven! God is Love, and this love is beyond all telling! But still we must tell it! And to a world that seeks love in all the wrong places. We must know Him and listen to Him calling our names as He called out to Mary at the tomb. Then touched by such love, we too can run to the others and share the good news!

Friday, July 21, 2006

The Heart of Things I've been listening to the horror in the news, of the bloodshed in the Middle East.... I'm no expert in politics or in the region, but as a fellow human being I want to respond to what I see as madness. William Wordsworth once wrote "the world is too much with us; late and soon, getting and spending, we lay waste our powers." I think of all the energy, the passion, and the force that fuels this seemingly endless hatred between human beings. And at the end of the day, I say to myself, we are in the eyes of God and in the universe at large, brothers and sisters. We are brothers all, and sisters all. I don't want that to sound like a Hallmark card, but a pounding, riveting truth that should strike us like lightning. We are one, we are related one to another in a cosmic web of persons, human beings unlike all other creatures in the universe.... because we are FREE and that freedom is a call to love. Shouldn't this truth give birth to reverence? What lies at the heart of this conflict and of all the hatred and violence of our times? Henry David Thoreau told us to "Read not the Times, read the Eternities." There is a deeper wound at the heart of things, the heart of man. From our very origins as male and female, a seed of doubt was sown, and the hearts of Adam and Eve opened to its poison. There is a doubt and a lack of trust in the very air about us since our original fall, that original sin. So we all have broken hearts... there's a wound in the heart of the human family. I believe, ultimately, the source of the violence in the Middle East and the world is rooted in our original fear; the lack of trust that God would give us our hearts desire. We fear loss. The reaction is to grasp... so some grasp at Land, at a national identity, at a Creed that will defend and divide me from my enemies. But the Land and the Creed and the identity and all they symbolize (for all parties involved) once they are grasped and used as weapons immediately begin to wither and rust. "Those who live by the sword, die by the sword." (Matthew 26:52) There is one Land that we are called to, and it's Heaven. There is one Creed and it does not divide. It unites, because it tells the Truth about who we are and Who God is. The land is finite; it passes as do we, even for all the ancestry and the battles won and lost and the families that shared it over the ages. This land is to be posssessed for a time, not obsessed over at the cost of human lives. And every day our brothers and sisters are dying for this earth. They are passing over into eternity, leaving the land behind. I'm just praying for the light to come, for the clenched fists to release their grasp. Let it go, let the earth tumble back to earth and let's not cling to it as if that was all there was. We are made for greater things. We are made for eternity, and all this that is passing is merely a gift, a sign and sacrament of what's to come, to be received and never grasped. May the saints and martyrs shine down on us and remind us of our true home and our deepest calling... union and communion with God and each other.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Divine Paradox Today's gospel from daily mass has a perfect example of what we could call the Divine Paradox. Jesus in this passage from Matthew says "Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest." Now, most of us like that one. Yes, rest in You. Got it, and when I search my soul, I realize that I really want that. Augustine's oft quoted quote (but we should really slow down and chew this one some time) comes to mind: "You have made us for Yourself O Lord, and we are restless until we rest in You!" But then comes the paradox. "Take my yoke upon you... for my yoke is easy and my burden light." The reality about Christianity, and I think so few of us get this, is NOT that it is an escape from reality, or suffering, or pain, but that it's actually a leap right into that very Mystery. Rest and peace come paradoxically through our embracing the wood of a cross... Huh? Our culture fears the burden, the weight, and the labor of life. We take our pills and try our best to keep amused, or busy, or both. But the burden is always there. So Jesus, in this Divine Paradox, tells us to be realists..... to pick it up and take it to him, and it will become HIS. This is the rest and the peace Christians celebrate; that we no longer need to carry the enigma of suffering and sorrow alone. When we press it into Jesus and the pattern of our lives matches the pattern of the Cross, we are free.... we can see and we can rest on that Holy Wood. Suffering and burdens and trials are no longer thick, opaque, heart-numbing things... they become like stained glass through which we see Light streaming down... the image of Christ reconciling the world to Himself. The Mystery of Suffering remains, but light and warmth flood the soul. Somehow, if we take on Jesus, we find rest for our souls, the burden becomes light, and the light becomes hope.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

"Mission Must be the Passion of Every Christian" - Pope John Paul II I just came back today from a short stayover in the Finger Lakes region of NY. I was asked to give a talk on Transition to a wonderful group of nine young adult missioners. They've all given the past year of their lives to the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry. These young men and women worked in soup kitchens and inner city schools, thrift stores for the homeless, and a center for women caught in the web of prostitution and/or drug addiction. I was asked to share words and experiences of my own journey, and as usual, I found myself learning from them - their very lives taught me. And what a hilarious, joy-filled community! I know the ripple effect of what they've done this past year will only grow as they return to their "normal lives." That's the beauty of leaping out into Love. The splash is always HUGE. And grace comes raining down on every one around them. So to Patrick, Debbie, Abbie, Sean, Jamie, Miguel, Dan, Renee, and Melissa... thank you for your PASSION for MISSION, and may God bless the adventure that lies ahead!!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Tonic of Silliness

The saints were nuts. We often trick ourselves (or are tricked by the enemy) into thinking that becoming a saint means becoming "serious".... stern and rigid, like a marble statue. Hands folded in prayer, gazing heavenward, snubbing our noses to the "world" and all it's pleasures. Phooey. St. Philip Neri once shaved half of his beard off just to freak people out. St. John Bosco at the age of 55 could still out run any boy in his famous School for Boys. St. Theresa of Avila said "God spare me from long-faced and gloomy saints." St. Francis of Assisi once danced around with a stick, faking to play a violin, when he saw his brothers were getting too "serious." I recently read of an eighth century St. David who built a tree fort in a sycamore so he could have some quiet time with God. How cool is that? And St. Thomas himself, the Angelic Doctor who composed the Summa Theologiae once said "There must be time for frivolity." And so, I put forth the need, the necessity, that from time to time in our hurried, frazzled, cell phoned, e-mailed, plugged in 24/7 days (that would be ME), that we must turn to the Tonic of Silliness. What is this elixir of hilarity that can renew us, supercharge us with endorphins produced by prolonged laughter? It is the gift of seeing this world for what it is.... not a dead, opague thing, swirling atoms and bits of matter, mindless and bending towards some unknown end. It is seeing the world as transparent, as a birthday present! As clear and translucent as a sacrament, for that's what it is, in the ancient sense of the word... a Mystery, a physical entity that can communicate to us spiritual realities! With this vision we can see a Loving Father behind it all! And what a sense of humor He has. Look at a platypus. Come on! Better still, look at Chief Halftown (pictured above). He was a full blooded member of the Seneca tribe who travelled the country teaching kids how to bowl.... and he had a show on Channel 6 until 1999. That's what I'm talking about.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

MASTERPIECE MONDAY #3 I think today we'll have to shine a light on our friend Michelangelo. One of the greats, no doubt, and a personal favorite of mine since art school. This is one of the "ignudi" from the Sistine Chapel (Ignudo is the term he used to describe the 20 seated male nudes he placed on the ceiling). Pope John Paul II called the Sistine Chapel a "shrine to the Theology of the Body." He said that, in his own way, Michelangelo saw the beauty and the glory of God shining through the human body, and he fearlessly portrayed it in his glorious work that spans all of salvation history. May God grant us that true purity of heart that will allow us to look past lust and into love, to see the glory of God shining through the body! As Pope John Paul II says, "The body, and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine. It was created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden since time immemorial in God, and thus be a sign of it." (Theology of the Body Pope John Paul II, February 20, 1980) The mystery that the body (male and female) reveals is the very life of God! That inner life of dynamic, selfless, total Gift that is the very heart of the universe, Love giving to Love in a ceaseless Whirlwind of Love. And God has willed that each of us should have this amazing mystery planted right in our bodies, created male and female to become Gift for each other! May we have the eyes to see it! For a beautiful tour of the work of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel, visit the Vatican's website by clicking here!
Take Nothing With You Today's gospel from Mark speaks of Jesus' command for the disciples to "take nothing for the journey." Imagine if Christians today could truly follow this one! Imagine traveling through our lives, each is its own mission field, carrying no agendas, no preconceptions and no judgements against another except the call to follow Christ completely! Imagine being as transparent as water to every soul we meet! Imagine meeting a transparent soul! One without pretense, without all the baggage we carry from past hurts and the bitterness that builds up over time when we feel we didn't "get" our fair share? Imagine the light that could shine through us and through others if we could but "carry nothing" but Christ?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

DOWN THE SHORE So we're in Sea Isle NJ for the rest of the week. Breezy and warm, the beach is a block away, and the water is wide. Fudgy Wudgy Man and Hot Dog Man are within seconds of our position. Nice.... Looks like a storm is a'brewing as well. Who cares! We're here! And there are about 14 decks of cards on tables and in drawers and cabinets throughout the shore house. Not too mention some sweet DVDs to watch if the rains come. (The Village, Powder, Truman Show, Chronicles of Narnia) THOUGHT FOR THE DAY

In Tolkien's Lord of the Rings the character of Legolas was warned that if ever he heard the cry of the gulls and tasted the air of the sea, his heart would never again be satisfied by the forests and fields of Middle Earth. The sea would call him out. And so it happened. Legolas was captivated by the sea and he built a ship and some say he set off with his companion, Gimli, and the two sailed West of the Shores of Middle Earth never to be seen again. As I sit on the edge of America today, gazing out upon the Atlantic, what call will I hear? To what depths of contemplation of the Mystery will we be offered and invited into? Duc in altum!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Daily Bread The first reading in today's Mass is from the prophet Hosea. This is one of my favorite passages from the entire Bible. It reveals to us the truest image of Who God is, His deepest desire, and it unveils also the secret yearnings of every human heart! If you've grown up with false images of God, seeing God as a distant Force, an Energy, a cold-hearted Judge, an old and irrelevant Grandfather or a kind of Santa Claus.... then may the words of this reading smash those false idols and empty images of the Creator. He is above all things a Lover. Thus says the LORD: I will allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart. She shall respond there as in the days of her youth, when she came up from the land of Egypt. On that day, says the LORD, She shall call me “My husband,” and never again “My baal.” (Master) I will espouse you to me forever: I will espouse you in right and in justice, in love and in mercy; I will espouse you in fidelity, and you shall know the LORD. There are so many who have been wounded in life, women and men, by false fathers. Perhaps from the earliest age, the one man who was meant to mirror the Heavenly Father was an anti-father, a dominating, self absorbed, or worse, abusive person. Perhaps there was no father present at all, and we grew up thinking the Real Father God was just as distant from our lives? But the True Father is the One calling us to trust that He is here. He approaches as a Gentleman, a suitor, offering love and intimacy. But He will never force. So many in our world continue to doubt this image of God as a Lover. We build walls, we put out names that emasculate His Fatherhood. He becomes a she, or a Spirit, or a Power, or a Creator only. But it's for a reason that God revealed Himself as Father, and Jesus as Son. And there is a reason why the old myths spoke of heavenly gods descending, pouring in life, fertilizing the earth, and the earth open and receiving the seed; pagans made gods of the air to be gods and the earth a mother and a womb. The saints and mystics through the ages have said that in relation to the True God, we are all feminine. May this true image of God in Hosea today penetrate our minds and hearts, sinking in past the layers of fear and falsehood that our culture has covered us in. Come Lord Jesus, the Bridegroom! Enter in and captivate our hearts! And let us listen to your voice speaking to us: I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart. The desert is that place of purification, where our old ideas and false idols will be broken and the truth of who God is will set us free!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Hymns to the Silence Heading to NY state for a wedding this weekend and then off to Sea Isle City, NJ, for some much anticipated vacation. YES! The invitation stands for all to step away to an out of the way place, to drink in the tonic of silence and stillness this summer... Here's a sweet line from Van Morrison: I wanna go out in the countryside Oh sit by the clear, cool, crystal water Get my spirit, way back to the feeling Deep in my soul, I wanna feel Oh so close to the One, close to the One Close to the One, close to the One And that's why, I keep on singing baby My hymns to the silence, hymns to the silence... - Van Morrison And some parting words from Pope Benedict XVI! Holidays are, moreover, days in which more time can be dedicated to prayer, reading and meditation on the profound meaning of life, in the peaceful context of one's family and loved ones. Vacation time offers the unique opportunity to pause before the thought-provoking spectacles of nature, a wonderful "book" within reach of everyone, adults and children. In contact with nature, a person rediscovers his correct dimension, rediscovers himself as a creature, small but at the same time unique, with a "capacity for God" because interiorly he is open to the Infinite. - Pope Benedict XVI

WONDERful Quotes

Here's a couple of gems from Pope John Paul II, the Mystic: We must open our eyes to admire God, who hides and at the same time reveals himself in things, and introduces us into places of mystery. The technological culture and excessive immersion in material realities often impede our seeing the hidden face of things. In reality, for those who know how to read in depth, each thing, each event brings a message that.... leads to God. - Pope John Paul II The signs that reveal the presence of God are multiple. However, if they are not to escape us, we must be pure and simple as children, able to admire, be surprised, wonder, be enchanted by the divine gestures of love and closeness to us. - Pope John Paul II

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Today's Gospel - Matthew 8:28-34 When Jesus came to the territory of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs who were coming from the tombs met him. They were so savage that no one could travel by that road. They cried out, What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the appointed time? Some distance away a herd of many swine was feeding. The demons pleaded with him, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of swine. And he said to them, Go then!” They came out and entered the swine, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea where they drowned. The swineherds ran away, and when they came to the town they reported everything, including what had happened to the demoniacs. Thereupon the whole town came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him they begged him to leave their district. I've always be intrigued by this story, especially the ending. The reaction of the people is sobering. Jesus, please leave. Go away. In effect, he is too much for them. Perhaps it's this blatant confrontation (and victory) over evil that is disturbing them. Jesus pulls back the veil and reveals the spiritual battle that rages just below the surface of our everyday lives. But the stark reality of it all is too much for the people. Leave us, Jesus. Let us go back to the quiet hum of our daily lives, the peace and security and comfort we've come to know and treasure. Angels and demons.... it's too dramatic for us, too deep a mystery and too close to home. Notice how the possessed have already been pushed to the edges of their experience, they wander about "at the tombs." Heading off to Mass now. I'm praying today for the eyes to see the mystery of redemption all around me, and the Great Drama of Salvation that even now is being worked out in the world, by our acceptance or our denial of the grace offered by Jesus. Deliver us, Lord, from all evil.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

In the Eye of the Storm

Filmable #1 (film-a-bul; a modern day parable/spiritual lesson taken from movies.) Star Wars Episode 1 Let's sprinkle a little holy water on this one. Especially on the character Jar Jar Binks. I'm not sure George Lucas was actually lucid when he wrote in that character. Anyhoo, the scene I'm recalling has a powerful lesson on prayer if we look closely. The Jedi Masters Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi Wan are facing off in a terrific lightsaber battle with the evil Darth Maul. It takes them through a series of corridors that continue to be sliced in half by forcefields, occasionally blocking their attacks on one another. In a pivotal scene, a shield drops down between Qui Gon and the enemy. With this mandatory pause in the battle, we find two different reactions in the warriors. Darth Maul begins to pace back and forth behind the flickering shield, like a ravenous beast in a cage. Qui Gon, the Jedi, bends to the earth on one knee and closes his eyes, gathering his will and focusing his energies into a moment of rest. What a lesson in prayer. In the midst of our daily battles with selfishness and pride, with the barrage of demands that come upon us sometimes from all sides, how important is that moment of recollection, often in the middle of the fight!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Masterpiece Monday #2 An icon by Andrei Rublev entitled Our Lady of Vladimir. I've always been captivated by the eyes of Mary in this tender piece. There is a look that speaks of deep wounds, but they are wounds that have still to come in the tiny Child's foreboding Passion. Mystically, the wounds that will redeem us are already present in Mary's heart. The little hand of the Infant Christ hovers over that Immaculate Heart, as if to protect or perhaps to bless. Delicately, Mary reaches to enfold the helpless Child in her arms. And that tiny hand, soon to be calloused by the hammer and the wood of a carpenter's days, reaches up and touches his mother's warm face. The speckled gold behind the Mother and the Child pulsates, swirls and swims with expectant majesty before the King and Queen as the dawn of a new creation fills the frame. Here are the New Adam and the New Eve, nearly trembling as they prepare to offer the total Yes to the Father, Mary offers us the gift of her Son, Jesus offers us the gift of his Mother, we their children receive the gift of redemption.
Superman Returns Review (there are spoilers - be warned!) It was good. Very good. Excellent special effects, riveting battle with a falling plane, a better Clark Kent, a better Lois Lane, a better Lex Luthor, a rousing revival of the original score by John Williams. But.... I just felt with all the Christological references (he's referred to as a "savior", hovering in the heavens and listening to our "cries" from earth, the powerful voice of his father calling him to lead us to light and show us the way, arms outstretched in the form of a cross after a showdown with some kryptonite) that the ending left a little DaVinci Code aftertaste. Superman has a kid. Lois is Mary Magdalene standing at the foot of the bed in the hospital. Any thoughts here? I figure if you are going to spend so much energy building the types that point to Christ, why not go all the way. That's what I loved about the original Spiderman. There was a higher calling, worthy of the sacrifice of one's personal life for the sake of all. Thoughts? Anyone? Bueller? OK. Leaving aside the slightly twisted types, there was much that was very moving about the Man of Steel's broken heart in Superman Returns. We really got the chance to feel that forlorn, I'm-not-from-around-here, last-of-my-breed angst through Brandon Routh's performance. It was very well done. Seems our superheroes are more and more human these days, all battling that perennial ache in the soul for union and communion with another. Well that makes sense; that's what we're made for. But in the real world, it's sin ultimately that has caused the Great Divide, causing a rupture in our original communion. Sin is a turning away from God's Love, a denial of the first gift of Love. This is why we yearn for a Savior! To restore us to Communion, to the Love lost in ages past. That's why we pine for love. We remember the echo of Eden unspoiled by the selfish grasping of sin. In all fairness, Superman can't stop sin. He can only stop crime, the varied incarnations of sin. Robberies, murders, and diabolical real estate plans are only the decayed flowers of the seed of sin. Only a God-Man can save us from sin. Only Jesus can dive right into the heart of darkness, literally becoming sin on the cross to defeat it. And he did. And now that imperishable seed of his love can be planted right into the garden of our hearts through grace. It can blossom into Life if we open up the soil of our hearts to grace.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Films Can Further the Gospel

Back in December of 2002, Zenit.org ran an article quoting the president of the Pontifical Council for Culture as saying that movies should be regarded as "an irreplaceable vehicle" of evangelization. YES!!! Cardinal Paul Poupard said we must "listen to men's culture and start again from the beginning, for love of God and of one's neighbor." Despite the often vulgar and violent aspects of many films, he said the cinema "is the most wonderful instrument to dream of and grow in ideals." Given that "traces of the spiritual dimension are found in the cinema," our obligation "is to enlighten and nourish this trace of meaning," the cardinal continued. (full article here) I like to say that Jesus used parables, spiritual lessons wrapped in stories, and today we can use films (with a dose of holy water sprinkled on) to teach the same lessons. But instead of calling them parables, I call them filmables. So, keep your eyes peeled (what a creepy expression) for the first one next week!

Soul Meets Body

If they knew how big they’d become on the music scene, lead singer Ben Gibbard of the band “Death Cab for Cutie” once confessed, they woul...