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Showing posts from July, 2006
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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 ou…

Martha, Martha!

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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 need…
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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 plea…
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 smil…
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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

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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 ru…
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

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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 t…
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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…

"I SOUGHT HIM WHOM MY HEART LOVES"

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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 Son…
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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 revere…
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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, an…
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"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, Abbi…

The Tonic of Silliness

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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…
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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…
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?
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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 DAYIn 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 o…
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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…
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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 countrysideOh sit by the clear, cool, crystal waterGet my spirit, way back to the feelingDeep in my soul, I wanna feelOh so close to the One, close to the OneClose to the One, close to the OneAnd that's why, I keep on singing babyMy hymns to the silence, hymns to the silence...- Van MorrisonAnd 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 &quo…

WONDERful Quotes

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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
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Today's Gospel - Matthew 8:28-34When 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 m…

In the Eye of the Storm

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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…
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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…
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 sacrif…

Films Can Further the Gospel

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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 (wha…