Thursday, August 31, 2006

One Man Can Make a Difference! Yes, you've probably heard this before, in many a movie trailer or inspirational talk. But ponder anew the fact that it's true! By grace poured into the open heart of a man or woman in love with God, incredible things are possible! I heard or read somewhere a story about St. John Vianney, the simple parish priest from rural France who took the world by storm with his transforming holiness. The devil revealed that if there were two more people as open to grace as St. John Vianney alive in the world in his day, then the devil's plans to ensnare souls would fail. Whoa... So here's a piece of Spiritual Dynamite for you... "One silent, solitary, God-centered, God-intoxicated man can do more to keep God's love alive and His presence felt in the world than a thousand half-hearted, talkative busy men living frightened, fragmented "lives of quiet desperation." - Fr. William McNamara Hmmm, what do you think 'bout that one?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Great Divide, Part 2 In yesterday's post, with the inspiration of St. Augustine, we looked at the sad division that exists between the spiritual and the physical. We found that God's original plan for us is one of union and communion, not division and disruption. But sin has weighed us down; our bodies and our souls are often at war. We all have such deep wounds, and twisted truths that the culture has been cramming down our throats our whole lives. But it doesn't have to be this way! Grace gives us the upper hand. Openness to Grace transforms heart and mind and, in a certain sense, restores us to our origins. Grace teaches us the truth about our bodies: that they are meant to be shining sacraments that house the Divine Mystery! What's that? Listen to Pope John Paul's thought: "So in man created in the image of God there was revealed, in a way, the very sacramentality of creation, the sacramentality of the world." Huh? Back to School: A sacrament is a visible sign given to us by Christ to communicate grace (His very life). There are 7 capital "S" sacraments, but we could also say there's a whole host of little "s" sacraments; visible signs that inwardly speak to us of God. I bet you could think of a half a dozen right now. The human body, and the call of man and woman to be one flesh, is the primordial sacrament! Pope John Paul II spent the first 5 years of his calling as Pope to teach this truth to the world, a world still ravaged (like today) by the confusion and disorder of the sexual revolution. From 1979 through 1984, John Paul gave 129 short talks from Rome on the meaning of the body, marital intimacy, and the call of man and woman to become one flesh! Have you ever heard of this teaching? Sadly, many have not. It's called the Theology of the Body. Spiritual Filet Mignon (chew slowly) "The body, in fact, and it alone is capable of making visible what is invisible; the spiritual and divine. It was created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden in God since time immemorial." (Pope John Paul II, Feb. 1980) What is that mystery hidden in God that the body reveals? It is His very own LIFE. God Himself, the Catechism tells us, is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and He has destined us to share in that exchange! We are destined to be drawn up into the very heart of God!! To enter into the Great Dance!! And God wanted this mystery to be so clear to us that He stamped it's image right into our bodies, by creating them male and female. Think about it: Man gives himself to woman, woman receives man and from their union a Third person soon emerges. In a tiny, earthy, sacramental way, three persons make one family, one family as three persons. Coincidence? I don't think so! This is crazy. This is beyond our wildest dreams. Have you ever heard of this? Is your image of God that of an old man with a beard sitting on a cloud? Has the image of Heaven you've grown up with ever felt, well, kinda boring? A little disconnected from the life you experience here and now? Pope John Paul II taught us in this Theology of the Body that the closest image we can fathom here and now of God and Heaven is by the image of the marital embrace of husband and wife and all the joys they experience through that embrace. Whoa. Now this is the best analogy we can have, he says, but at the same time, all analogies that we can conceive of in our human experience still fall infinitely short of the transcendent reality of Who God is. But the best analogy we can have is this embrace. Again, I say... wow. This Bliss, the resurrection of our bodies and their ultimate union with our souls and our total union with God in a heavenly marriage, is foreshadowed and already happening in the Holy Eucharist. This is where we can become, really, one flesh with Jesus! This is why he called Himself the Bridegroom! Marriage as we experience it here below is a foretaste of the Heavenly Marriage. The Eucharist is a foretaste of Heaven! And we are called to become walking tabernacles that tell the world this truth of our deepest identity and our ultimate destiny! Whew.... let's take this to prayer. Let's be still. This is nuts. This is Catholicism! Find a quiet corner and ponder this Mystery. Take a coffee break, hide in your cubicle. Take a walk. Better still, make some time today to sit before Jesus in a silent church, bring Him the twisted truths you've grown up with, open up your heart to this Divine Doctor of your body and soul and say "awe."

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Great Divide

There's something disturbing about this week's Mission Moment from St. Augustine... 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. - St. Augustine I thought that God and the soul and spiritual things were, well, spiritual. What's with the breathing and smelling fragrances, the panting and thirsting? Augustine sounds so... sensual! Wasn't he off somewhere? Wasn't he getting a little carried away? Haven't we progressed from this 4th century, pagan outlook on God and the soul? Actually, we've regressed. In some ways, we've fallen prey to the very heresy that Augustine was set free of back in the "old days." It was called Manicheanism: a gnostic belief system that espoused that the body and the material world as we know it are bad, bad, bad. Material things were made by an evil god and the Manichees believed the only path to salvation was to hate the body, discipline it, and escape from it through their own secret knowledge of God. For the Manichees, God was always and only a pure Spirit, so far removed from the earth that only the wise and initiated could find Him. For them, God would never touch this evil earth, let alone take on a body Himself! Hmmm. Now the Church and Her heroic saints dealt heroically with this heresy, especially our saintly Augustine (it's an amazing story, check out his book Confessions). But let's look at the ways this heresy about the body has crept into our minds like a black and oily smoke. Let's peer into the Great Divide that surrounds us making us believe that the body and soul are at best, battling brothers. Is this part of the plan? Did any of us grow up thinking that the body is somehow less good than the soul? That the body is somehow dirty or a distraction or a hindrance to my "spiritual" self; like some intrusive piece of luggage we have to carry with us on the way to Heaven, where we'll finally "shuffle off this mortal coil?" Well, that's not the way it's supposed to be! In the beginning, God made a harmony out of humanity, marrying the material to the spiritual! And we are His master work. The body is good, God made it! The world is a gift, His Hands shaped it! God's plan is always this union, this communion of the two. The Devil's plan, in his insane jealousy of humanity, is always to divide, to pull apart, to separate. Death, which is the consequence of sin, is the epitome of this Great Divide. Death separates our souls from our bodies. But this is not God's original plan! That's why death is so ghastly, a horror and a smear on the face of the universe. Ghosts and corpses are frightening because they were never meant to be (see Peter Kreeft's article for more on this thought!) But it will not always be this way. For God Who is Love is stronger than death. There is a promise we're given and to which we must cling like the sick woman on the hem of Christ's garments; we will rise again. Our very bodies will rise again! It's to this hope that Augustine sings his love poetry: 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. And he is only echoing what he had read in the Scriptures, written so many centuries before: As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God. My being thirsts for God, the living God (Psalm 42:2-3). O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water (Psalm 63:1-3). And so my heart rejoices, my soul is glad; even my body shall rest in safety. For you will not leave my soul among the dead, nor let your beloved know decay (Psalm 15). To be continued...!

Monday, August 28, 2006

Masterpiece Monday # 6
Today's masterpiece is Domenico Feti's "Moses before the Burning Bush." He was an Italian painter, living from around 1589 to 1623. This portrait of the shepherd of Sinai is one of my favorites because of it's weight and it's warmth. You can feel in the tightly packed space the intimacy of this Encounter. Moses is strong and his flesh browned by the years he's spent tending the flocks of Jethro. As he moves to undo his sandal, his gaze remains fixed on the theophany before him, the shimmering manifestation of that Other World, a World that is now breaking into his own. This mission moment will forever change him, and there will be no turning back. The types are all here, the Lamb appears below, as if to nod in affirmation that God Himself will one day prepare the sacrifice, and the fire pulsates, a heart of flame pointing to that Sacred Heart that will soon be formed in the womb of a Virgin, and beat with the deepest love for humanity. And in the middle of the canvas, Moses gazing on the Mystery, ready to open up his mind to the Inconceivable and accept the call to lead. May his fiery resolve and burning determination light a fire in our own minds and hearts. May we too look to the Flame that burns without consuming, the flame that shines beside every tabernacle where the Holy of Holies dwells; Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, the True Manna from Heaven!

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Be Nice to One Another?

If you've grown up in the midst of a cool Christianity (see the On Fire entry), you might think that the call of the Gospel today is to "be nice." And Jesus said unto them "Be nice to one another as I have been nice to you." But I think we're called to step beyond "nice." To be "nice" is the secular equivalent of being virtuous, but with the fire taken out of it. "Nice" is like bizzaro holiness. It's not a hot word, but it's not cold either. It's like Cream of Wheat without the brown sugar. We say so often today that a given person is "nice" and what do we really mean to say? That person is innocuous. There is no spice in them. They are about as tasty as a meatloaf dinner at a diner (by the way, you should never order a meatloaf dinner at a diner. My wife thinks it should be illegal). Nice is not a heroic adjective. People are called nice if they don't do bad things. It's a word that serves more as a filler than a flattery. What do you say when there's nothing else to say? "Oh, it was... nice." "No, it looks really... nice." "He's a nice guy though." I was talking to a friend awhile back about the etymology of the word "nice" - we were smoking rich maduro cigars on a balcony (trust me this is like once a year), and trying to blow smoke rings like a couple of hobbits. (Many people do not believe cigar smoke is a nice thing to subject people to, by the way). We thought maybe the word "nice" comes from the Latin nescio, which means "I don't know." "What do you think of this outfit?" "It looks.... nice." "How was your date last night?" "He was... nice." Rabbi Abraham Heschel once said "God is not nice. God is not an Uncle. God is an earthquake." I love it. The gospel today, no matter how it may be translated through the heart of a given priest or deacon, is still a gospel of radical fire. It is an remains a two-edged sword, slicing through our common everydays and calling us out into the deep! One step beyond mediocrity, it's been said, and we are saved! It's with the deepest love and reverence for our priests that I say this now: Some of you are handing us Cream of Wheat on Sundays. There are so many insipid homilies and catechetical blackholes in Catholic parish life today. Challenge us! Speak the Truth in love! Call us higher, even if we kick and scream on this path to holiness like kids on the way to the dentist. Be our fathers and fearlessly lead us. Today, ironically, a visiting priest came to our parish. In a quiet tone, he preached a challenging word to us. It was so refreshing. May God stir more hearts to the radical love of the gospel! May we move from the nice to the new, from the bland to the beautiful banquet that Our Father has prepared for us! And... have a nice day. (By the way, New Zealand has a website devoted to Nice People. I'm not making this up)

Saturday, August 26, 2006

WORD UP! Hooray! It's time for a new addition to The Heart of Things blog! Along with such classics (and I use that term very loosely) as Masterpiece Monday, Filmables, and the Mission Moment quote of the week, I now introduce "WORD UP!" - an occasional attempt to redeem the meaning of words! Without a doubt, many of the words we use today have had the soul taken right out of them by a culture that often just can't get beyond the surface of things. Words like love, passion, purity, and God can sometimes fall like empty shells on our modern ears. We think we know what they mean, so the rich seed within is left to wither. But we've got to get to the heart of things, remembering that words are like jewels to be treasured and never tossed around lightly. The WORD UP! for today is humility. Today's gospel is from Matthew 23, and the last line is well known to most: "Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Now I think the smeared lens through which we can view the word humility often leaves us thinking that it means, "to be walked upon like a doormat." Or to be humble means to have a low opinion of yourself, to always demean yourself when complimented. You're 6'3" and someone says "Wow, you're really tall!" and you reply with downcast eyes, "Oh, I'm really 5'6"" Or an admirer watching Michelangelo finish his last stroke in the Sistine Chapel says "Unbelievable! What an amazing gift you have!" and Michelangelo sheepishly replies. "Really, it's nothing..." What the!? Nooooooo!!! The fact of the matter is HUMILITY IS TRUTH! I heard an explanation once of the roots of this word humility. It comes from the Latin humus which means earth. Humus is the rich, dark soil that's left when it has broken down and been purified. The Greek root would be chamaii, meaning on the ground. So humility is not puffing oneself up and placing oneself on a mountaintop (Woohoo! Look at me everyone!) and it's not digging a hole in the ground and burying yourself in it either; hiding under a bushel basket as if the beauty that's in you wasn't really in you. Humility is to stand on the ground of who you are. No pretenses, no puffing up, and no self-deflating remarks either. HUMILITY IS TRUTH! And what a freedom there is in true humility. It's accepting ourselves for who we are, and in that acceptance of our own reality, in true humility, we send down roots into the rich, dark soil of our humanity. Then we let our gifts spread up and out like branches into the wide air all about us. And we are free! The truth has set us free! Now others can see the good that God has done in creating us, each unique and unrepeatable in the cosmic stream of human existence. Humility then is the grounded acceptance of our own deepest identity: we are creatures created and redeemed by a loving God, who Himself was humbled so that we could be exalted! True humility is born when we receive ourselves in this truth. Here's an excellent thought from Marianne Williamson to close: "There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same."

Friday, August 25, 2006

Nothing News

Let's face it; the news is ridiculously depressing, most if not all of the time. Call me aloof or out of the loop or an escapist, but most of the time, I'd really rather not read it. I love G.K. Chesterton's insight on how unrealistic the reports can be (if this is your first taste of Chesterton, read slowly and savor it like steak!): We announce on flaring posters that a man has fallen off a scaffolding. We do not announce on flaring posters that a man has not fallen off a scaffolding. Yet this latter fact is fundamentally more exciting, as indicating that that moving tower of terror and mystery, a man, is still abroad upon the earth. That the man has not fallen off a scaffolding is really more sensational; and it is also some thousand times more common. But journalism cannot reasonably be expected thus to insist upon the permanent miracles. Busy editors cannot be expected to put on their posters, “Mr. Wilkinson Still Safe,” or “Mr. Jones, of Worthing, Not Dead Yet.” They cannot announce the happiness of mankind at all. They cannot describe all the forks that are not stolen, or all the marriages that are not judiciously dissolved. Hence the complex picture they give of life is of necessity fallacious; they can only represent what is unusual. However democratic they may be, they are only concerned with the minority. - The Ball and the Cross (1910) Thoreau once said we should "read not the Times, but read the Eternities." The Times, so often, are full of our falleness: the gashing disobedience, the destruction, the diabolical division that our greed unleashes upon the world. But in the quiet of the every day where we live, I believe most of us are making heroic choices; selfless leaps into the lives of others in a million little ways. I believe most of us work and sweat and offer up our being for the betterment of our families, friends, and communities. Maybe we volunteer time, or we pray for those who ask; we go to church on Sunday and maybe more often than that. We read some scripture (even just a little of that antidote can kick the poison out of our Times). We appreciate kindness, and offer it ourselves from the roadways to the foodstore, throughout the day. When we put God or others before ourselves, we open a door that lets Eternity enter the Times. The doorways are all around us! It's a "thousand times more common." This news, that God is REAL, that life is GOOD, that we are LOVED, is rarely printed or shouted from the rooftops. But this good news (so good!) is the quiet revolution that keeps the planet spinning.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Mission Moments

I need to stand at the gate of wisdom every morning. If only for a few moments, I need to sit still and listen for a word from God. I started the simple practice of sending the moments I came upon to friends in 2001. I figured with the huge cacophony of words we're bombarded with every day, why not send a small envoy of ones that might stick? Maybe inspire, comfort, stir things up if necessary?

These words are in our midst; in Scripture, in books, poems, songs and scattered conversations. And they have unlimited power, if we listen to them. They have dropped like jewels from God and only wait for us to pick them up and treasure them. I call these Mission Moments, inspiring insights from humanity that, if received with an open heart at the right moment, can alter our attitudes, even change the very course of our lives.

What word will you hear today? What word will you speak? Is there power in it? Does it come from Heaven? Is it bigger than you are, stronger? Does it seem to be leading you somewhere? I know these words are out there, in here. Maybe the first move is to build a culture of silence in my heart. Then there's a space for the word to fall, to sink in, to germinate.

There may be mission moments buried in the songs you'll hear today on the radio. Maybe a child will whisper a word and it will sparkle in a new way for you. Maybe you'll read something that has the fragrance of eternity in it. Maybe an e-mail that says Fwd:fwd:fwd:Must read! Do not delete!

It could happen.

Who can say what it will be or where it will be found? Let's listen, wait and see...

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Photo Fraud I just caught this from Steve Ray's website. Photo Fraud regarding the Israeli and Hezbollah conflict. Do our eyes deceive us? http://www.aish.com/movies/PhotoFraud.asp

The Talon or My Near Death Experience at Dorney Park

Slightly Stale but Still Relevant I have to apologize to my readers. My intention in starting this blog was to share fresh experiences - the thoughts, insights and inspirations that come through daily encounters. I neglected to comment on the event in today's "post" the day after it happened, because... well... my subconscious was trying to block it out. FLASHBACK: My wife's family came down a few weeks ago from NY, and we planned on dazzling them with the many spectacles that can be found in and around the Greater Philadelphia area (no, we did NOT have cheesesteaks). We visited the Franklin Institute, jumped in Logan Square's fountain, paid alot for parking, etc... but the key experience was when we broke the chains of the city and headed north to Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom (I don't know why they don't just call it Dorney Kingdom or something). It was a perfect day to visit Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom - that conglomeration of metal, plastic and tubular structures - because that day it was 237 degrees in the shade. We parked in the lot (about 3 miles from the gate), and like nomads crossing the Sahara, we trudged over the steaming asphalt, got to the "Welcome" booth, and emptied our entire wallets into the hands of the teenager with the "official" Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom polo shirt (don't except imitations!). Then like kids at Christmas, lost in a mountain of ribbons and wrapping paper, we pounced into the nearest pool, laughing, giggling, splashing. Then the kids in our group jumped in. I think our parched bodies took in at least 6 tons of water throughout our day at Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom. And that was really NICE. Everywhere you'd turn, there was a place to submerge. We surfaced only to eat a homemade lunch, because it cost $713 to eat anything there. Our makeshift meal was eaten in the Sahara, I mean parking lot, on top of a boogie board resting on two traffic cones we found. Then we ran back in to Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom as if a pack of wild saber-toothed dogs were after us! It was at this point where the details get a little foggy and why today is the first time I'm writing this down. My brave young nephew said to me, "It's time for the Talon." Now the Talon is a "rollercoaster", which in Latin translates as "a voluntary near death experience." Ride Stats on the Talon Height: 135 feet Drop: 120 feet Top speed: 58 mph Inversions (whatever that means): 4 Length: 3,110 feet Train Mfg: Bolliger and Mabillard (can these guys be trusted?) More Information Vertical Loop, Zero-G Roll, Corkscrew What are those... Ninja moves? Is this legal? Whatever, let's do it! (I hope you're sitting down. Of course you are, who stands at a computer?) They locked us in. Metal scraped on metal. I think a little whimper noise came out of my lips, but I quickly coughed. "This is gonna be.... cool." Spinning, tumbling.... I think we broke the sound barrier. I know what a Zero-G Roll is now. I shook his hand. Zipping, swirling. We just tore through the time-space continuum like scissors through paper. I saw my life flash before my eyes: those happy childhood days, watching the Donny and Marie Show, playing with Star Wars action figures in the backyard, the first time I saw Indiana Jones (so cool!), and the time President Carter went driving past in a limo when I was 8 or something. Then I realized these weren't images in my mind, they were in the car with me! We had broken the time-space continuum! AAAAHHHH!!!! The ride was over. I heard a swoooosh sound. I looked around me and the universe and all the people in it fell back into their proper places and times. My nephew (oh yeah, he's here too!) was the color of skim milk. But then a little smile of gratitude cracked on his face. He would see the 7th grade after all! I looked down and saw my one hand still gripping the cushioned handlebar, and in the other was a Luke Skywalker action figure. "Let's do it again!" Human beings are curious creatures. Squirrels don't construct rollercoasters. Chickens do not bungee jump off of bridges just for kicks. But we do stuff like that. We push ourselves, we flood our senses to the breaking point sometimes. Why? Well, we can ponder that one another day. I'm exhausted.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Fires of Sorrow There was a time when I was reading a page from My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers every night, and every night it spoke to me, touching some spiritual nerve or confirming something that had happened that very day. I found this book of scriptural reflections by a Scottish Christian minister of the last century to be drenched in the Holy Spirit. Opening the book would unleash a torrent of insight and inspiration. Today, I want to share a portion of his thoughts on the place of suffering in our lives. Much of his teaching resonates with the Catholic understanding of trials and sorrows: "We say that there ought to be no sorrow, but there is sorrow, and we have to accept and receive ourselves in its fires. If we try to evade sorrow, refusing to deal with it, we are foolish. Sorrow is one of the biggest facts in life, and there is no use in saying it should not be. Sin, sorrow, and suffering are, and it is not for us to say that God has made a mistake in allowing them. Sorrow removes a great deal of a person's shallowness, but it does not always make that person better. Suffering either gives me to myself or it destroys me. You cannot find or receive yourself through success, because you lose your head over pride. And you cannot receive yourself through the monotony of your daily life, because you give in to complaining. The only way to find yourself is in the fires of sorrow. Why it should be this way is immaterial. The fact is that it is true in the Scriptures and in human experience. You can always recognize who has been through the fires of sorrow and received himself, and you know that you can go to him in your moment of trouble and find that he has plenty of time for you. But if a person has not been through the fires of sorrow, he is apt to be contemptuous, having no respect or time for you, only turning you away. If you will receive yourself in the fires of sorrow, God will make you nourishment for other people." Now, I don't know what your initial reaction is to Oswald's thoughts. For me, there's an echo of this experience ringing in my soul. I can remember a sadness that came and carved out a valley in my soul and left it scoured and barren, and for a time no life grew there. But a spring did come (finally) and a rain fell again, and an unseen new life started to break through the hard earth. I've seen this in the natural world over and over again (how curious that God would create a world that mirrors our own interior life? hmmmm). I don't remember anything of comfort from those days except the presence of some friends who were with me in that valley. I say their presence, not their words. Others had words for me, but I don't remember them. When those rain clouds dissipated, I suddenly saw the mountains, and my vantage point was changed, deepened, and layer upon layer was added where before life was more of a plain where I thought I could see everything laid out. Now there was texture, and twisting, darkened, sun-dappled paths that always went upwards. After that time of plowing and pruning, I looked around and I thought to myself, this path that's no longer a plain is better. There's a richness to it's soil, and I felt as though I were walking a road that the ancients knew. It was a path called Wisdom. And the mountains called, and invited me: "Keep climbing!" The sorrows are still here. In fact they are deeper and more biting than ever before. But now I can look back on the path. I can remember the lessons learned in the darkness. I can remember that knot in my heart that could not seemingly be undone, the hot tears coming down and dropping into confusion and fear. I know that the knot of past sorrows was unravelled before by Unseen and Tender Hands. I believe it will be again. There is no way around the sadness, or the temporary blindness it causes our eyes, darkened and blurred by tears. But we have to remember our history. This was the lesson for the People of Israel... zakar, remember! The fire of sorrows still puts forth a light by which we can see. If we trust God in His allowing it, it can burn away all of our self-love, all clinging, all fear, all anxiety. In the midst of this Refiner's Fire, there is only light and no darkness. How is this possible? The answer lies in the light that streams from the most unlikely place imaginable: a wooden cross on a hillside where God Himself was consumed. _________________________ Oswald Chambers (1874-1917) was born July 24, 1874, in Aberdeen, Scotland. Converted in his teen years under the ministry of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, he studied art and archaeology at the University of Edinburgh before answering a call from God to the Christian ministry. He then studied theology at Dunoon College. From 1906-1910 he conducted an itinerant Bible-teaching ministry in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Japan. My Utmost For His Highest, his best-known book, has been continuously in print in the United States since 1935 and remains in the top ten titles of the religious book bestseller list with millions of copies in print. It has become a Christian classic. For more on Oswald Chambers, visit http://www.rbc.org/utmost/index.php

Monday, August 21, 2006

Masterpiece Monday #5 When it comes to gracing the canvas with paint, Rogier van der Weyden leads the way as one of my favorite artists. He's from Brussels, a Flemish painter of the Northern Renaissance (1400-1464). For an amazing tour of his work, you can check out the following webpage: www.wga.hu/index1.html and search under W. Of his many crucifixion scenes, this Crucifixion Diptych (2 panel piece) stands like a sentinel on the edge of the Philadelphia Art Museum's Medieval section, and I feel it's his most moving. You can't help once you've seen it but to be drawn into it, even as you turn the corner and enter the final section of rooms. Christ's body in warm and weathered tones is suspended over a flaming banner of crimson, the very color of His Sacred Heart. And at His feet are the bones that gave Golgotha its name; the Place of the Skull. The legend says these are the very bones of Adam, the first man. How fitting that Christ should offer His Life on the very spot where death took Adam! For us who view this heartbreaking scene, the pain of seeing His broken body on the cross is balanced by the pose of the two who remained with Him in His sorrow. On the left side panel, the Apostle John catches the collapsing figure of Mary. He looks in mournful stillness at the Master, while Mary's eyes fall down to her own hands, still clasped in prayer. If you look even closer, (and look as closely as you can if the guards are distracted!) you can see tears like shining gems falling down Mary's cheeks. This is a tender piece, and van der Weyden does an amazing work in capturing the drama of human emotion in the faces of John and Mary and Jesus. Gazing deeper at this painting, we start to feel an uneasiness. There is a compositional imbalance, where the weight of the left side begins to pull at our eyes. The weight of sorrow in John and Mary's hearts, the downward drooping of their bodies. We might feel as if the painting will tip and it's precious scene be spilled on the marble floor. But as our eyes look to the right, to the lonely figure of Jesus and the empty space under the cross, the answer is clear. We must step into the painting. We must take our own place in this moment of redeeming grace. There, under the cross, Rogier van der Weyden has prepared a space for us... and our entry into the Death of the Lord will bring back the balance we long for.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

A Power Quote from Fulton J. Sheen

This one helped me see the need for a redemption of some of our words from a fallen understanding of them, starting with the word Love.

"Love does not mean to have and to own and to possess. It means to be had and to be owned and to be possessed. It is not a circle circumscribed by self, it is arms outstretched to embrace all humanity within its grasp."

- Bishop Fulton J. Sheen

Jesus is the perfect reflection of this Love. And we came to know love in this, as St. John told us, that God first loved us. Ours is the response to Love that enables us to then offer love to others. Love is not our own invention, a concoction we created, but the very Sea of God's own life in which we were born.

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Saturday, August 19, 2006

Faces and Places

I was in the city yesterday; met Rebecca for lunch and then ran some errands. Actually, I walked some errands. And there is nothing like a walk through the city; there's the traffic and the noise, sure. Some beautiful architecture, shops, etc. But the best part is when you look up and allow the great wave of human faces to wash over you.

The city is a microcosm; a world in miniature. I saw busy men busily walking, talking into their plastic devices, women without haste pointing out flowers to their babies, and the elderly sliding along at an even slower pace, perhaps in an effort to teach us that life moves fast enough already, no need to push it along. Turning a corner onto Market Street, another wave breaks over me, and I see broken men slumped over plastic bags, full of our discarded treasures. What stories could they tell? A pair of young faces, sitting on a corner near a store, looking weathered, tired, tatooed, and thoroughly pierced. The young man held a sign: "Travelling - anything can help." I wonder where they want to go?

I want to look deeply at each person; I'm amazed at the uniqueness of everyone, of every shade and texture and color on this coat of many colors that is humanity. But no one makes eye contact in the city. Not for more than 2 seconds anyway (I timed it, 2 was the record). We don't have the time, or we are caught up in our own stuff, and we're not thinking. Or it's just the natural response to an overwhelming amount of activity; the world is too much with us, and we put up walls to keep ourselves safe.

There is a film called Powder (it's been awhile since we had a filmable! See previous post on Filmables). In the movie, a young boy is given the gift to read hearts. He knows what thoughts are stirring deep in the souls of the people around him. Many are afraid of Powder; it's the fear of the unknown, the fear of being known. But one young girl looks him in the face. "What are people like... on the inside?" she asks.

"They think they are alone," he tells her. "They feel separate.... but they are not."

As hard as it is, and I struggled with this yesterday, we must look into each other's eyes. We must return to that innocence, that openness that we had as children, who always look, who see, who watch the faces on the bus and the train. Slowly, prayerfully, carefully, always mindful of the wounds in ourselves and others, let's build up this One Body. Listening to the desire that rests in all of us to know and to be known. St. Augustine said "The deepest desire of the human heart is to see another and to be seen."

We are one. One body, one diamond that turns in the Hand of God, throwing off a multitude of refracted light and beauty. Only our own fear and sin can dim that light, separating us from God, from each other, from ourselves.

Lord, let your Face shine upon us and we shall be saved!

Friday, August 18, 2006

On Fire, Part Two FROM YESTERDAY: It seems there's a cool Christianity all around us. .. the world is getting colder. But fire happens when we allow God to be God in our lives... Scott Hahn once wrote (in his excellent book A Father Who Keeps His Promises) that there is only One Fire, but two reactions to it. He said the fire of God's love is the same fire that burns in Hell. If we surrender to Love, we burn with the Passion of the Saints. But if we cast ourselves away from that Love and seek a counterfeit or a quick fix here below, the Fire still exists. But we are on the outside, and the heat is unbearable. How? Because our hearts have put up walls, and at our very core, we are cold. Oh the mystery of free will! The mystery that God has given us the very power to refuse His Love! God offers and invites, because love can never be forced. This is a deep mystery and we need to sit still with it. God is a Fire of Love, and we are called into that Love. It can hurt, it can burn, because we have our own sinfulness, our clinging to finite things when we should let go into His Infinite Love. But when we do, we dance in the warmth of it, like the three young men in the fiery furnace from the Book of Daniel. COOL CATHOLIC FACT: The highest angels are called Seraphim, which means "burning ones." They are so close to the Heart of God. They swim in Love. Lucifer, Satan himself, was once the highest of these angels. But rather than lose himself in the joy of selflessness and self-donation (which is our deepest vocation), he grasped at divinity and became the very definition of selfishness. Now having rejected Love out of jealousy and pride, he still burns. A somber thought for a Friday, huh? What is your passion and the flame that lights your way? Is it the steady flame of love, a prayerful self-consciousness and self-giving, or is it the flash-fire of selfishness that reaches out and grasps at people and things, only to quickly recoil with a still empty heart? God help us to move into the Fire of His Love. In the words of St. Catherine of Siena, "If you are what you should be, you will set the whole world ablaze!"

Thursday, August 17, 2006

On Fire I had breakfast with a friend yesterday; a fellow lover of God, Life, and the Universe at large. Our talk took us deep into the Mystery before the eggs even hit the table (man, that was a good omelet by the way. Nice job Perkins!) We were sharing about our own journeys, insights from prayer, scripture, and Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body. Thoughts starting flying like sparks, bouncing off of the formica, and glancing off of the glasses and cups. Fire was something we spoke of, and what the Spirit led us to see was that the very life of God is a consuming fire. He truly wants to set the world ablaze. Even the Pope's final letter on the Eucharist hinted at it: "when we eat the Eucharist, we eat fire..." And John Paul's wish in that last letter was to "rekindle a eucharistic amazement"! Then we looked at the Church today, and the experience of a regular guy going to a typical mass at a regular old parish. From a certain stance (and this is only an objective assessment from two guys eating hashbrowns at a restaurant), it seems that words like "fire" and "amazement" don't exactly fit the scene. Just the opposite, sadly. We pondered this mystery. God is a fire of love, and yet we fear this fire. He can burn wild, He can consume us, purify us, He can move us into places that are out of our control. And there it is... We surmised that it's safer to stay at a cool distance, like the Israelites at the base of Mount Sinai. "Go ahead Moses, we'll wait here. Thanks very much." To sit back and be a "pew potato" or to speak generically about being nice and luvy and stuff from a pulpit, this is easy. "Now let's be nice." It is quite another thing to open up our mouths and let fire come in, and then back out again! The pure flame of love that is sacrificial... That leaps into the unknown. It seems there's a cool Christianity all around us. But in a Perkins yesterday morning, some sparks were flying. And I know there are many other places where God is moving, inspiring, calling out to us to come to Him, leap into the Fire of His Love. Because the world is getting colder. Fire happens when we allow God to be God in our lives... oh this is a powerful image! I think we're looking at a 2 part bloggy here, because I have to eat a salad right now. We'll be back tomorrow with the second half. In the meantime, if anybody else out there is seeing the sparks and the glowing embers of God's Love in their work, parish, ministry, feel free to post a comment. Peace! +

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Paradoxical Power of Obedience Here's a word that can often cause a knee-jerk reaction in many of us: obedience. It can conjure up images of childhood, of intrusive chores to be done, or adventurous dreams of camping out in the fort behind the house crushed. Obedience... bam! Conversation over! And then there are all those commandments and rules and holy days of obligation and stuff! Obedience; the word can fall on our ears like a hammer... thud. But let's get to the heart of things. What's the root of this word? It's Latin (of course). Obedare means.... to hear. Maybe the words we heard when we were young were harsh. Maybe they fell like hammers, and the handle was always "Because I said so." Well, this is unfortunate, and I would propose that we need to redeem the word; to clear away the clutter of bad connotations that parents or authorities or superiors or bosses may have piled on top of the word obedience. "Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it." I'm discovering that this Word of God isn't just bound to the books we hold in church, but can come streaming through a hundred conversations each day, and from the most surprising places. I believe that if we allow ourselves to hear it, (obey it) and let it sink in, amazing stuff happens. Really amazing stuff. St. Maximilian Kolbe was a man of great strength and courage. He obeyed a call from God to the priesthood and was a missionary in Japan. On a return to his native Poland, he was captured and doomed to the concentration camp of Auschwitz for his Catholic priesthood. In the camp, when a runaway caused a severe punishment to his fellow prisoners, Maximilian laid down his life for another soul. He obeyed an inner voice, a call to heroic love. And because of his obedience, a man with a wife and family was allowed to live, to survive the camp, and to return to his family after the war. That man was actually present in Rome when his fellow prisoner, the humble friar, was gifted with the honor of sainthood. St. Maximilian once said "By obeying we raise ourselves beyond our littleness and we can act in conformity with an infinite wisdom... Through obedience we become infinitely powerful." To obey God is to open the heart to a myriad of possibilities we can only dream of. It is to let God in. The disobedience of Adam and Eve brought death into the world. The obedience of Mary opened the gates to Life. The disobedience of Satan destroys and divides. But the obedience of Christ who became "obedient even unto death" - this one has remade the world. So let us listen, let us train ourselves to better hear His invitations of grace in this noisy world. Let us obey!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Pics from Maine Well, for anyone interested (who loves Maine, sunsets, flowers, little kids, a blurry moose), I have posted a "secret link" to a small photo album of our Maine vacation on my website. On the "About Bill Donaghy" page you may find a blank space that, when rolled over with your mouse, might just reveal to you, the viewer, a "hidden" and "secret-type-like" image! That's Amazing!! Click and enjoy, but be warned... the pictures are ginormously big. Sorry about that!

Our Destiny

Today is the Feast of the Assumption of Mary. This can be a difficult teaching of the Catholic Church for some to grasp or even see the relevance of in today's world. Catholics are called to believe that the body and soul of the Mother of Jesus was taken up into heaven sometime in the first century of Christianity. OK, that sounds really beautiful. But what does this have to do with me? What kind of connection do I even have with Mary after all? So her body is "up there"... in heaven. I'm here on earth. I hope I make it to Heaven some day, but that some day can seem pretty distant from my daily life. What difference does it make anyway whether I believe in this or not? Why is the Assumption of Mary a "holy day of obligation" (and that phrase doesn't exactly warm me up inside either). The various denominations of Christianity apart from the Catholic Church often see all this talk of Mary, feast days and prayers, rosaries and medals, as distractions from our relationship with Jesus. And to add to the enigma, there is no mention of Mary being taken body and soul into Heaven in the Bible! But then, there is no mention of the death of St. Joseph, or what happened to several of the Apostles, or the whereabouts of the Cross or the cup Christ used at the last supper. St. John said in his gospel that if he were to write down everything Jesus said and did, the world itself could not contain the books that would be written... OK, so let's just imagine with Shakespeare that there really are more mysteries in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies. What could this Assumption of Mary mean for me, right here and right now? For us, men and women, young and old, sweating it out here below, paying bills, stressing over work to do and work to be done, aching and longing for time just to be, to love and to be loved, to feel a sense of worth or accomplishment or peace or security, this Assumption of Mary means... that the best is yet to come. It means that all of the baggage we carry along with us through life, the failures and the weaknesses, the crosses and the confusion, the sadness and above all the sin, cannot ultimately destroy us. This burden can be transformed, transfigured, and the dross left behind. If we open up our hearts to grace, the way Mary did throughout her whole life, then sin will not win. If we allow the grace of Christ's death and resurrection into our very bodies through the Eucharist, then, like Mary allowing Him into her womb, our very bodies will explode with Eternal Life! And we can say with St. Paul "O death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting?" Mary went before us, running the race and winning the prize. Her life in Heaven, the union of her body with her soul, is an ecstatic trumpet blast that tells us that all shall be well! So we look around and see that the division and the divorce, the heartache and the rupture that exists between our hearts, ever young and longing for LIFE, and our bodies, fading and falling into DEATH, was NOT God's original plan. God's original plan is union, body and soul. Harmony of heart and mind. Sin creeps in to separate, to pull apart and divide. But the promise of the Resurrection that Mary is living right NOW is our promise too. Death will not win, Heaven will happen, and our bodies too will one Dance in that Divine Whirlwind that is God's very own Life Mary, Star of the Sea and Sign of our Destiny, pray for us! +

Sunday, August 13, 2006

80's Music as a Proof for God's Existence

I believe 80's music is one of the proofs for God's existence. Especially the stuff from Foreigner. Listen to the longing for love and communion in this one!!:

"Now this mountain I must climb Feels like a world upon my shoulders through the clouds I see love shine It keeps me warm as life grows colder In my life there's been heartache and pain I don't know if I can face it again Can't stop now, I've traveled so far To change this lonely life

I wanna know what love is I want you to show me I wanna feel what love is I know you can show me..."

OK, more on this one later.....

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A Powerful Word from Clive Staples

I'm preparing for a talk this Thursday night, and found an old favorite from C.S. Lewis. This one pours straight from his poet heart, so richly inspired by the ancient myths:

"It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you may talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and corruption such as you now meet if at all only in a nightmare.

All day long we are in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in light of these overwhelming possibilities it is with awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of the kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption....

Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat, the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden."

- C.S. Lewis, from "The Weight of Glory"

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Saturday, August 12, 2006

Fire in the Thistle

It's our last day in Maine, and I took a long walk this morning down Fitch Road. The sun was brilliant, and a few crisp clouds loafed through the blue fields like lazy sheep. No humidity, and the temperature about 60 degrees (no, it's not the Truman Show, it's Maine!). I must have walked about 2 miles an hour.

Maybe you've heard the adage "We were created human BEings, not human DOings." I think, for me, it's partly being caught and taught by the culture to produce, to keep busy because being busy means you are important, you are "contributing." You have "things to do." And when you have things to do, you must be important. "I have a to do list. I have a cell phone and must check my messages. I have a meeting to go to. It is very important."

We've made our own anxiety these days; we have it pumped in via our "time-saving devices" like the cellphone, e-mail, etc. A monster has been created and we do not know where the off switch is to stop it. I cave in all the time. But not this morning.

As I was walking at a snail's pace, drunk with the scent of pine and tall warm grass, I saw an explosion of bull thistle in a field off the road. There were goldfinches bouncing around the stalks, little sparks of yellow fire dancing in this green and purple furnace of wildflowers. As they buried their beaks deep within the thistle for it's treasure, their work loosened the seeds and sent them sailing. We used to call them blowwishes.

Another page of creation's sacramental story turned for me. When we dive into our daily routine, with passion, joy, or in drudgery just to feed our families, we cast off seeds that the wind will carry. In work there can be beauty and grace. And when we move and breathe and make our way in work, we can step back from time to time and say with our Lord, "Behold, it is very good."

Life is the movement between work and play. But the work is always the means. Like a slow motion walk down a breezy road in Maine, this contemplation is what we are invited to taste, and in the end, to actually enter into. In the "fields of the Lord".... we are destined to play.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Hermit of Manana Island

"Ray Phillips was born in 1892, attended the University of Maine, fought in World War I, held down a job in New York City in the bustling 1920s, and then, seemingly on a whim, happily decided to leave it all behind for a life of solitude on the tiny, isolated island of Manana, Maine. He spent the rest of his life there, with a herd of sheep and a gander, and a small wooden rowboat, in a shack made out of materials that washed up onto the shore."

- taken from www.thehermitofmanana.com

Yesterday, my wife and I hiked the sun-washed coastal trails and soft sun-dappled pine woods of Monhegan Island, and from time to time, across the tiny harbor, we could see the pool of rock and grassy fields that Ray called home for some 40 years: Manana Island.

Monhegan Island (population 65 year-round) has its comforts and plenty of tourism; every other home there seems to have a gallery or studio attached to it. But it is a rustic, out-of-the-way place. Year round life there is not easy, for all the romance of the place. Angry storms pound its rocky shores, and the winter can howl like a ravenous wolf. It's a 10 mile trek over sea swells and salty air to the mainland. But imagine living as Ray Phillips lived. Imagine life unplugged; no television, no cell phone, no e-mail, no radio waves or microwaves...

Just.... waves.

Over 40 years of the sound of the surf, the cry of the gulls, and the click-clak of crabs on polished stones.

Thoreau said "It is life nearest the bone where it is sweetest." But how many of us are willing to dig that deeply? To strip away the superfluities of our 21st century lives and be barren? Live empty? I think it's all about trust. Do we believe God will fill us? Is the Infinite Truth of who we are and who God is enough to satisfy our aching hearts? Or will we give in and grasp for the finite things that always leave us hungry?

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta said it's only when we are empty that God can fill us. But I have so much stuff inside! The clutter of comforts, the baggage of fear and worry. I'm learning that the letting go is mostly of a spiritual nature; leaving the material things behind is only a help and a beginning to the deeper purification of the heart.

So the question is "Can I live slowly? Can I let go of non-essentials as a way of preparing my heart for Life's Deepest Mystery, for the indwelling of the One?" For God does not desire to leave us barren, or empty. No man is meant to be just an island, sun-bleached and solitary, looking out on the beauty of creation. We're meant to become the very house of the Creator! The solitude we taste in our lives is meant to point us to the ultimate union we are called to. A communion of saints, circled 'round the Heart of God.

So we should seek solitude from time to time, and not fear it. We should carve out a quiet space in every day where we "do" nothing. Maybe then we'll discover something, or better still, that Someone, who is Everything our hearts are pining for.

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

On the Sea

Well, we're back from Moosehead and the North Woods of Maine, and at the moment sailing over to Monhegan Island, 10 miles off the coast of Maine. The briny foam is churning, seabirds are screeching and circling behind our ferry. And I have a signal... Satellites. Wow.

There's been evidence of people fishing for swordfish off of Monhegan all the way back to 200 B.C. That's just crazy! Now it's a favorite spot for artists and poets, and those celebrating their wedding anniversaries ;)

Peace and Salty Air!

. Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless handheld

Monday, August 07, 2006

"Let's just watch this day pass by."

This was my father the other day, summing up the mood for us as we began our first day in Maine. A lazy breakfast, lazy stroll through the harbor town of Camden, and a lazy evening at my brother's place, tucked away behind oak and pine woods in the little town of Washington. Cooking up steaks, watching Ella run around, and catching glimpses of goldfinches as they dipped and dodged through the tree branches beside the house.

But being lazy is hard work. Letting go of plans, not checking e-mail, not posting religiously to a blog (hmm), not looking at your cell phone every 15 minutes, is hard! Try it sometime!

"Ours is a time of continual movement which often leads to restlessness, with the risk of "doing for the sake of doing". We must resist this temptation by trying "to be" before trying "to do"." - Novo Millennio Ineunte, JPII

Pope John Paul II was and is the MAN. He recognized our restless itching to keep busy and tried to hush us, like a father rocking an anxious child to sleep. He spoke again and again of the One Thing necessary for wholeness in this world (it wasn't a cell phone, by the way). It was the art of listening, the gift of doing nothing, the capacity in all of us to, in the words from Paul Simon's new song "sit down, shut up, and think about God."

We're driving north through the woods of Maine as I write this (I know, a living paradox, but it's for you!) and the things that keep one busy are slipping past like the birch trees and boulders along this highway. No billboards, buildings, high-tension wires, malls or the madness of traffic. Just woods, rivers, mountains... I don't expect to have a signal once we hit Rockwood, but who knows.

There's a line from an Indigo Girls song that speaks of "days so still the beauty gives you pain." I'm hoping for that pain as we enter the great Moosehead Lake region for an overnight. To hear the "still, sad music of humanity" for a time, and to grow in appreciation of it. But the stillness is'nt just here in Maine. It's as close as the off switch on a cell phone, radio or television set. And mine is right.... here...

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Deep Thought

Martin Buber once said "Solitude is the place of purification."

As I woke early today and sat out in the stillness of the morning, on the front porch of my father's cabin in these quiet Maine woods, I had a taste of it. Things get clearer when the dust of our daily movement is given time to settle. In solitude we can see...

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless handheld

Friday, August 04, 2006

The Heart of Things - Maine, The Way Life Should Be

Yes, it's a bold statement. Scrawled across many a t-shirt, mug and bumper sticker throughout this northern land: Maine, The Way Life Should Be.

Bold, but it's true.

At this very moment, the missus and I are heading NORTH (there's something mystical just in that statement!) A week in the balsam-scented, boulder-speckled, lake-covered hills and forests of Maine!. My dad has a little cabin in a little town that has a little post office where they always ask you about LIFE. And so we're going to those woods "to live deliberately".... for a week.

I've been taking this route north for nearly 20 summers now. Maine is a wild, burning blue sky with air so clean and crisp it must be taken in slowly and prayerfully, like meeting someone older than you are.

SPOTS IN TIME: Being nearly run over by a bullmoose, biking down a logging road (I was biking, clearly) when he burst out of the brush, nearly 7 feet at the shoulder.

Sleeping on the shore of Moosehead Lake, watching countless stars swirl in a great dance overhead, making their milky way through the heavens.

Cooking lobster in a massive pot, laughing until we were doubled over, waterskiing at sunset on a lake of glass, fingers tracing the water along the way.

Setting beaver traps in the dead of winter with a crusty old barber named Leon. The smell of fresh balsam as we peeled saplings for bait. Looking out over Ragged Mountain to the sea, to the lobster boats dotting Camden's coast.

Singing my "hymns to the silence" in the absolute stillness by Misery Stream north of Rockwood. Drinking in deep thoughts as they rose from that holy place, so far from the things of man.

Thoreau said we need the tonic of wildness, of solitude, so that we can discover who we are and how we relate. "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

So off we go, away from the things of man and yet into the very heart of being human!

And we'll have some fun board games too, in case it rains. Let's hope I can still blog it up there!

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless handheld

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Poets Today's first reading and the gospel from today's mass got me thinking (and I didn't even have my morning coffee yet). Jeremiah is asked to rise up and go to the potter's house. So he goes. He watches the potter do his stuff for awhile; his callous hands working the wheel, shaping things from wet clay. Sometimes it works out, other times it crumbles, but he keeps working with the clay. A light goes off in Jeremiah's head; it's like us in God's hands. Then in the gospel, Jesus, working from similar observations of his surroundings, talks about a net fishermen have thrown into the sea, collecting fish of every kind. "When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets." It's like the Father embracing and drawing all of us and what is in all of us into His Heart. And He sits with us on the shore and we discover just what is good and just what we need to throw out of our hearts. Stop, Look, Listen - the big, bold words from our children's books were not only helping us to read, they were telling us the three most important commands for us to grow as human beings! There are some people I believe in this world who are watchers and listeners. They see things others don't see. They stop, and they do the double-take. They delve beneath the sacramental skin of every encounter in their day, and beneath every person and thing that encounters them. They are poets. As Cardinal John Henry Newman once said "With Christians, a poetical view of things is a duty. We are bid to color all things with hues of faith, to see a divine meaning in every event." This is not easy, but with a real openness to grace and self-discipline, it works! And it should be the work of all of us. Where today can I Stop, Look and Listen? No day is void of life or meaning or an encounter with the Divine. Let's knock with a poet's heart, and the Door shall be opened.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Deep Thought for the Day The Internet causes billions of images to appear on millions of computer monitors around the planet. From this galaxy of sight and sound will the face of Christ emerge and the voice of Christ be heard? For it is only when his face is seen and his voice heard that the world will know the glad tidings of our redemption. This is the purpose of evangelization. - Pope John Paul II

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Beware of the Good Stuff!

Here's a life story that would make an excellent movie: St. Ignatius of Loyola. (I would vote for Jim Caviezel to act the part). Born in 1491 in northern Spain, he was the baby of 13 children. At the age of 16, he worked as a page for Juan Velazquez, treasurer of the kingdom of Castile. As a member of the household, Ignatius was often at court and fell into a deep attachment towards all it offered. He was a gambler, a womanizer, and loved a good deal of swordplay when the occasion fell on him. He would actually walk around dressed in fighting array, wearing a breastplate, sword, etc! During a battle against the French, Ignatius was struck in the legs by a cannon ball. It wounded one leg and broke the other. As he was recuperating over those long months, he asked for some books to brush away his boredom. Romance novels, knight's tales was what he really wanted. But in the castle of Loyola, all he got was a copy of the life of Christ and a book on the saints. With nothing else to do, he began to read them. And that was his undoing. Once Ignatius tasted the eternal joys of heaven, he felt his heart being redirected to true glory and the deepest peace; the things his heart was really made for. He was "ruined for life" - the passing life of fame and pleasure the court offered anyway. In the immortal words of Milli Vanilli, "When you had a taste of paradise, back on earth can feel as cold as ice." (yes, that was Milli Vanilli) The lesson, then, my friends, for all of us: Beware of the Good Stuff. Watch what you read! Look out for those unsettlingly good books that can fall into your lap and lead you away from the surface, the frivolous, the passing pleasures that distract us. If you want to keep yourself comfortably shallow, stay away from the good stuff! And just so you know which are the worst ones, the real speed bumps that can slow down our life in the fast lane where it's fun fun fun, here are some of the more dangerously excellent worst best books ever that can ruin your life of comfort and security: 1. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis (oooh so deadly!) 2. Space Trilogy, by C. S. Lewis (caution, this "fictional" adventure will alter your view of the universe forever, and who wants that to happen?) 3. Anything by Peter Kreeft (he makes way too much sense!) 4. The Lord of the Rings (subtle and poisonous, you'll never see life the same way! Aaagh! I can't stop reading it myself) 5. On Being Human, Essays by Bishop Fulton J. Sheen (this one is chiefly responsible for my own downfall into interior peace and joy) 6. Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton (don't even crack the binding on his stuff, or you're done) 7. The Poetry of Gerard M. Hopkins 8. The Poetry of Jessica Powers So be warned! Remember what happened to Ignatius! And to that frivolous young man from the fourth century, Augustine, when he stopped for just a moment's breath to heed a voice that whispered "Take and Read, Take and Read." Look what happened to him! We can't be too careful. Thankfully, there's always... television.