Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Putting on the Brakes

God speaks in the silence of the heart, and we listen. And then we speak to God from the fullness of our heart, and God listens. And this listening and this speaking is what prayer is meant to be...

- Mother Teresa

I'm feeling the lack of quiet in my life these last few weeks. Just too busy, not putting on the brakes when I know I should, or maybe it's more a turning of the wheel into the Silence more often. So here's an old formula for building the Quiet Inside, and what to do when you get there: Remember when you're feeling Life is pushing you too fast, just slow down and rush..... that's R-U-S-H.

R-EST your senses. Close your eyes!
- Slow down!
- Be attentive to your breathing

U-NPACK your heart, lay it on the altar
- Read the Book of Your Life with God
- Read the Book His Life in the Gospels
- Or just relax and look at the pictures!

S-ILENCE
- Do nothing but breathe
- Listen for your heartbeat
- Listen for His heartbeat
- See if the rhythms match

H-OLY SPIRIT come! Remember that He prays in, with & for you!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Starved for Beauty

When they told him this, Ransom at last understood why mythology was what it was - gleams of celestial strength and beauty falling on a jungle of filth and imbecility. - Perelandra, C.S. Lewis

How often have you found yourself out at a movie or watching the television, perhaps just flipping through channels in the hopes of finding "something good," and you actually find it?

Does it grab you? Is it like the sensation C.S. Lewis describes above? A new power descends and lifts you up... a fragrance you once knew and loved returns and floods your mind? For me, it seems so often I stumble through the media with boots on, wading through the equivalent of sewage, and then fresh water comes in like a stream from the mountains. And I know I've found the Good Stuff...

Shawshank Redemption is good stuff. It's the film based on a Stephen King novella (he sold the movie rights for $1 to writer/director Frank Darabont): a heart-wrenching work with themes of endurance in the midst of suffering, hoping against hope, and the heart's yearning for beauty and freedom.

There's a scene I love where Andy Dufresne, the falsely accused prisoner, sneaks into the warden's office and blasts a Mozart aria on the record player. He sets it in front of the microphone so that the music pours through the loudspeakers, soaring over the prison like the hymn of angels. The tough, grey-faced men in the yard all lift up their heads and listen, as innocent and open again as children. For so long they have been in darkness, now a light from some "undiscovered country" dawns.

Morgan Freeman plays the character Red, a kind of narrator throughout the movie. He remembers the scene: "I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don't want to know. Some things are better left unsaid. I'd like to think they were singing about something so beautiful it can't be expressed in words, and it makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a grey place dares to dream. It was as if some beautiful bird had flapped into our drab little cage and made these walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free."

We know beauty when we see it, hear it, taste or touch it. We are made for beauty, and beauty is clean, pure, and good. Beauty is a gift. It's really what the human heart craves more than anything. I firmly believe that deep down, in this culture so full of noise and distraction, greed and grasping, madness and materialism, we all pine for the fresh water of Beauty to wash over us. And it's out there, in a million different places. As the Bible says, "Open wide your mouth and I will fill it." Like little birds we can turn to our Lord and let Him feed us.

Pope Benedict just published his letter for the 41st World Communications Day. In it he said "Beauty, a kind of mirror of the divine, inspires and vivifies young hearts and minds, while ugliness and coarseness have a depressing impact on attitudes and behaviour... Media education should be positive. Children exposed to what is aesthetically and morally excellent are helped to develop appreciation, prudence and the skills of discernment."

He continues; "Any trend to produce programs and products - including animated films and video games - which in the name of entertainment exalt violence and portray anti-social behaviour or the trivialization of human sexuality is a perversion, all the more repulsive when these programs are directed at children and adolescents..."

Above all, God wants to give us beauty, truth, and goodness. He is the very fullness of all three! And the Church desires to share with us a vision of human dignity! We are made for eternity, and for housing within us eternal truths! Like a mother, the Church knows what is best for us and she lays out a table of rich food and drink; this banquet of beauty, truth, and goodness is the meal that will really satisfy us! Much (by no means all) of what the media culture has been offering us is junk food, fast food. Let's try and shut down the pipes that are pouring the wrong stuff into our nice, clean living rooms. Let's turn to the rich and ever-growing, overflowing streams of Beauty that are coming from so many directions; art, music, poetry, prayer. What a rich history we have in the Church! Looking to Her, we never need to go hungry.


_____________________________________________
Looking for that aria that was played in Shawshank Redemption?
Here is the opera in it's entirety.
And here's the single aria on iTunes.

Search Engine for the Catholic Catechism

What a treasure the CCC is! I've always loved the power in the prologue:

God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength. He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church. To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son as Redeemer and Saviour. In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life.

Thanks to the Knights of Columbus, we can now perform a lightning fast word or topic search through the entire Catechism of the Catholic Church. Check it out at this link -
http://www.kofc.org/publications/cis/catechism/index.cfm

Friday, January 26, 2007

Dave Wilcox

Found a sweet video of Dave doing a Musicfest in Canada. Since there's a Canadian David Wilcox, he doesn't often go north... it's just too confusing! But here he is, invited up anyway according to the host. And the clip of him singing is one of my favorites: Get On... so enjoy!

View the Great Isaiah Scroll


"For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel: By waiting and by calm you shall be saved, in quiet and in trust your strength lies. But this you did not wish."

The Great Isaiah Scroll was found in the Dead Sea Caves in 1947 and it is dated at around 200 BC. This is the oldest copy of Isaiah known to exist. Get an up close and personal view of the Great Isaiah Scroll by clicking here

A Brief History of the Middle East

Who has conquered the Middle East over the course of world events? See 5000 years of history in 90 seconds! Visit the home of this map at http://www.mapsofwar.com

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Education in Beauty

Pope Benedict XVI posted his address for the World Day of Communication. He mentioned a favorite theme of mine; that of educating the young in truth, beauty, and goodness.
Check out the article at www.zenit.org

Full text of letter is at the Vatican site here.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Wedding Singer and Divine Intimacy

How close do you want to be with God?

I guess it depends on where we are in this sometimes amazing, often confusing, maybe mundane or heart-wrenching journey of life. I think in the beginning that question can send a little shiver up the back of our necks. Intimacy with God? Yikes. God is just a Big Person, and we're like little kids in the Principal's office. Intimacy isn't in the vocabulary yet.

As we mature and "find ourselves," maybe we see God differently. But we're afraid that He will take over, take all of me, in the relationship. "Be all demanding and stuff." What about my freedom, my personality, my style? Will there be anything left in me but a bland sort of niceness? Will God just pour "holiness" into the mold of my being while the flavor that is me slowly dissipates?

"Oh, yeah. He used to be so much fun. Then he became.... a Christian."

I think in our American culture, so focused on ME that we forget about the OTHER, the idea of becoming holy somehow feels like an affront to our freedom. In our minds, becoming holy could even connote becoming less human. Closeness with God equates with far-ness from fun.

Now if all we've got is this skewed vision, I would affirm those fears. I didn't want to give in when I first heard the Divine Whisper, slipping through the scenes of Luke Skywalker watching the suns set, or in the mystical melodies of John Williams, or the sculptured and ethereal beauties of the Sistine Chapel. For the above reasons and for more, I was a little nervous about leaping into the arms of this unearthly Love. Does this resonate with anyone?

I think through fear of losing ourselves in a relationship with God, we then fail to really give ourselves fully to anyone. We end up stagnating in a pool of doubt, giving part of hearts but not all, or worse, we go through relationships grasping instead of trusting that love will be given.

In those classic lines from the film The Wedding Singer... We give up on this idea of selfless love. Robbie decides to live footloose and fancy free like Sammy:

Robbie: "That's it, man, starting right now, me and you are going to be free and happy the rest of our lives!"

But then a person gets to wondering if there's more to this highway than just my way.

Sammy: "I'm not happy. I'm miserable."

Robbie: "Wha - what?"

Sammy: "See... I grew up idolizing guys like Fonzie and Vinnie Barbarino because they got a lot of chicks. You know what happened to Fonzie and Vinnie Barbarino?"

Robbie: "Yeah, I read that Fonzie wants to be a director and Barbarino, I think... the mechanical bull movie? I didn't see it yet."

Sammy: "Their shows got canceled. Because no one wants to see a fifty-year-old guy hitting on chicks."

Robbie: "So what are you saying?"

Sammy: "What I'm saying is all I really want is someone to hold me and tell me that everything is going to be all right."

There it is.

Read Scripture. All He wants is to gather us in like a mother hen gathers her chicks. Who made the love we want afterall? Who set it swirling into time and space, tumbling straight into the world from the mystical Heart of the Trinity?

When we're quiet and alone, we can get those deep thoughts. You might come up with an answer that sounds like the one Augustine whispered to himself way back in the 4th century (the human heart never changes). "The deepest desire of my heart is to see another and to be seen by that other person."

So we can let Him in. In fact, if we want to really know love, we must let Him in. And then when we hear a gospel like today's, we can smile:

"The mother of Jesus and his brothers arrived at the house. Standing outside, they sent word to Jesus and called him. A crowd seated around him told him, "Your mother and your brothers and your sisters are outside asking for you." But he said to them in reply, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" And looking around at those seated in the circle he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother."
- Mark 3:31-35

Imagine being one of those people gathered around Him, in the dusky twilight of the Judean hills, when those words of Divine Intimacy first fell from His lips... When Love Divine breathed through our biology, and we could touch theology!

Today, I am invited into this circle. I too can sit before Him, in the light of this Face; the face of the man who entered into our human family to lift us up to His Divine Family. That Family is my true home, that Love is my destiny. Come Lord Jesus...

Saturday, January 20, 2007

On Snowflakes and Beyoncé

"How full of the creative genius is the air in which these are generated! I should hardly admire more if real stars fell and lodged on my coat."
- Henry David Thoreau


Ken Libbrecht, professor of physics at the California Institute of Technology, is a snowflake expert. He's taken phenomenal photographs of actual snow crystals and flakes, even creating a "Field Guide to Snowflakes" that showcases these miniature masterpieces. On his website, www.snowcrystals.com, he basically affirms the old saying that no two snowflakes are exactly alike. But let's let Ken speak for himself!

"The number of possible ways of making a complex snowflake is staggeringly large. To see just how much so, consider a simpler question - how many ways can you arrange 15 books on your bookshelf? Well, there's 15 choices for the first book, 14 for the second, 13 for the third, etc. Multiply it out and there are over a trillion ways to arrange just 15 books. With a hundred books, the number of possible arrangements goes up to just under 10 to the 158th power (that's a 1 followed by 158 zeros). That number is about 1070 times larger than the total number of atoms in the entire universe!"

Ken, that's AWESOME!

"Now when you look at a complex snow crystal, you can often pick out a hundred separate features if you look closely. Since all those features could have grown differently, or ended up in slightly different places, the math is similar to that with the books. Thus the number of ways to make a complex snow crystal is absolutely huge. And thus it's unlikely that any two complex snow crystals, out of all those made over the entire history of the planet, have ever looked completely alike."

And now, a seeming digression...

Don't you love it when a catchy tune gets stuck in your head for the entire day and you CANNOT seem to shake it? Maybe it's the theme from the Andy Griffith Show, or Beverly Hills Cop, or that Empire Carpet commercial? And then you feel compelled to tell a friend like you're the Ancient Mariner and they say "AAAGHHH!! Nooo! Get that albatross away from me!!" and BLAM! You've spread the maddening melody and the beat goes on...

Enter Beyoncé and her infernal song Irreplaceable.

Played out, played to death, crammed down our ears a hundred times a day. You must not know about me, You must not know about me.... AAAGGGHHH!!!!! It's a catchy tune, granted. But it's got issues. Let's lend an ear to the lyrics:

"You must not know about me, You must not know about me
I could have another you in a minute
, matter fact he'll be here in a minute... "

Ouch. As William Congreve once said, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned!" (I thought it was Shakespeare too, but it actually comes from a play called the "The Mourning Bride" (1697). Thanks Mr. Internet!)

"I can have another you by tomorrow
, So don't you ever for a second get to thinking you're irreplaceable."

Now Beyoncé's song is filling the airwaves (#1 on iTunes for weeks). The lyrics of this song have an angst that we can all recognize in our culture; it points to the ongoing war between men and women, the battle between love and lust, the dichotomy of seeing others as a gift or choosing rather to grasp at them as if they were objects just meant to sate our own selfish desires. Now in light of these battle scars, I would affirm Beyoncé's reaction in the song. If the woman has been abused or objectified in the relationship, she should jump ship and get out of the situation. The problem is, she jumped right past the lifeboat that carries us into the sea of seeing people as persons, and she turns around and treats men as objects herself! "I won't lose a wink of sleep 'cause the truth of the matter is replacing you is so easy..." What are we, vacuum cleaners? Washing machines? The truth is, we are not replaceable. We are not pleasure machines that can be exchanged when the pleasure dries up.

The truth is, we are like snowflakes. Each of us is unrepeatable. Every one of us is, in fact, irreplaceable. And yes, even when we fall for the lies of our culture, becoming just a face in a crowd, selling out our virtue for the quick and easy, becoming a number instead of that New Creation Christ calls us to be, we are still, deep in our being, utterly and inviolably unique and irreplaceable. There will never be another you.

As Pope Benedict XVI said in his inaugural homily "We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary."

And Pope John Paul II sang this truth as well when he wrote "The human person is a unique composite - a unity of spirit and matter, soul and body, fashioned in the image of God and destined to live forever. Every human life is sacred, because every human person is sacred."

So don't you ever for a second get to thinking you're NOT irreplaceable.

Pipe Dream: A feast for the eyes and ears!

Just stumbled on this at Steve Ray's blog and was happily amazed. Enjoy!

Friday, January 19, 2007

Scrubs - The Musical









We were in need of some light-hearted diversion last night, and it was Scrubs to the rescue. We're not a fan of much of the crass humor on the show; in fact, this was the first time we ever watched an entire episode. But I have to say, this one was HILARIOUS.

"Life is but a song as the cast of "Scrubs" star in a musical episode with songs written by the Tony Award-Winning composers of "Avenue Q," Robert Lopez and Jeff Marks -- Stephanie D'Abruzzo (an original cast member of "Avenue Q") guest stars - - Sacred Heart is turned into a full scale Broadway stage when Patti (Stephanie D'Abruzzo) checks in complaining of hearing incessant music. While trying to determine the cause of this strange complaint the residents of Sacred Heart star in their own musical. Carla and Turk tango over her decision to be a stay at home mom or to return to work, while Elliot struggles with telling J.D. that she doesn't want to be roommates with him anymore -- both girls hope that the boy's "Guy Love" will help them through the rough patch. All the while the staff wonders if life would be happier if everyone was in constant harmony."

$1.99 on iTunes.... you can't beat that America! So go laugh yourselves silly...

A Work In Progress

Hello Dear Friends Who Read This Blog Occasionally!

I've discovered the wonders of "labels" from our ole' pal Mr. Blogger.com (all those laughing at my johnny-come-lately naivete... please hush ya'selfs)

Labels
are really clever little pieces of hyper-cyber-data that can take you to wonderful places on this blog. For example,

1. You go to my blog and

2. Scroll down on the right hand column past "Links" and the "Blog Archive"....

3. Then you'll find this snazzy NEW! section aptly labelled "Labels to More Posts on this Topic."

4. You see a huge list of words and choose one like "faith"

5. You click it in a curious kind of way and BLAMMO!

6. You're taken to any and all posts I've posted that deal with that topic!

I mean is this fantastic or what?! Who invented these things?! I wanna shake some hands! Somebody line 'em up... (now see, that was a quote from a James Taylor song from his Hourglass album which was AWESOME. Should you want to see if I've ever mentioned JT in a post, just look for the label "James Taylor" and CLICK THAT SUCKA!!

I intend to go back and add labels to previous posts so we can have this sweet, cohesive, and organic tome of theological and philosophical reflections.... but it's gonna take some time. So thanks for your patience! LOOK! I can add a "patience" label now! Oh man this is just SILLY!!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Some Gems from Solzhenitsyn's Harvard Address - June 8, 1978

"If humanism were right in declaring that man is born to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to die, his task on earth evidently must be of a more spiritual nature.

It cannot (be) unrestrained enjoyment of everyday life. It cannot be the search for the best ways to obtain material goods and then cheerfully get the most out of them. It has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty so that one's life journey may become an experience of moral growth, so that one may leave life a better human being than one started it. It is imperative to review the table of widespread human values. Its present incorrectness is astounding. It is not possible that assessment of the President's performance be reduced to the question of how much money one makes or of unlimited availability of gasoline. Only voluntary, inspired self-restraint can raise man above the world stream of materialism."

Monday, January 15, 2007

Is Now and Ever Shall Be

Death takes without our permission
Pulls from our hands treasured petals
Cools the warmth of hope
Shades the sun.

Without our permission...

Wordless, and sudden
smolders like thunder clouds,
dampens what is dear,
pours out what has been prepared
and day is suddenly night.

Hard pressed for poems
for Death now presses us,
we fall again into the Stream

Like stones heavy
like polished, cold stones into cold, white-brimmed water
clean, scraped, burnished by pain,
cold with sorrow, empty as water
we tumble.

What now will give us breath, set us free?
What is now and ever shall be?

This universe too groans for healing
for all that springs from her decays
She too withers and cannot offer peace.

Nor can any sprung from her womb;
the rose, wheat, salt, stars,
men and women, philosophy, poems and songs.

Our cure as is for every creature trapped in this time
must come from Outside, must come down
must enter the Stream
and take on sorrow too.

Incarnate Love...

This is the Spring unspoiled
bubbling up, fresh, into our salt sea of tears.

This is the poison's antidote
The Answer to the echo of our cries.

This, only this, makes new
sets free
as it was in the beginning
is now
and ever shall be...

Sunday, January 14, 2007







The Harmony of Unity


I love playing the guitar; that is, I love playing over and over again the half dozen chords I know really well, mixing them up in their respective keys, and throwing in a little picking and hammering here and there for style. Yup, pretty basic.

But there is harmony, and yes, "I've got rhythm." As basic as my guitar playing is, it is at the very least "melodious." Now enter our little niece Michaela. When she picks up that guitar and starts strumming it, as strong as her desire to make music is, harmony just ain't gonna happen. We all know this, as we watch and smile and encourage this beautiful little 2 year old to "play the guitar." Who cares about harmony? It's cute!

Now the funny thing is, Michaela seems to believe she's making music. She can't tell when something is off, out of tune, dischordant. All she knows is, sounds are coming out and people are smiling. Yeeeeaaaah! But suppose an adult were to take that guitar and begin to haphazardly smack a hand across the strings. Unless that person were Chevy Chase, this would not be funny or cute. It would be downright painful.

Music takes some muscle, harmony is hard work, and for symphonies to sweeten the air, I think sweat has to first grace the brow. It takes discipline and study to enter into the movement of the Music that made the world.

Maybe making music was easier before the Fall of humanity, when the mind and the heart, the will and the intellect, were one. Today, there is a great discord in the air. No one needs to tell us or teach us this truth. We can all hear it for ourselves. The sour note of sin continues to draw our melodies away from that Original Music.

So the work is laid out for us. That's the path of virtue; it's the effort of the player to match those original melodies. So we live and move and we sweat out our music, always with our eyes on the wood of the Conductor's baton. Always open to the influx of His Music, drinking it in before His feet, getting His music in us. Letting Him sing it to us over and over again like a lullaby in the sweet song of the sacraments. And should our playing of the Song go awry, or a fellow player beside us turn his notes towards the Distractor, we must look back to our Leader, the One Who wrote the piece we've been invited to play an integral part in.

The band we play in is certainly a "motley crew" (pun intended). Often a violin can falter, the fife should play lowly, and they should beat that drum slowly, but it limps along. What do we do? Transfer to another band? Go solo? No! Play on! Play through! Obey the Conductor, and respect the leaders of this band of musicians. That's the advice of one of our earliest players. He was there when the band first got together. St. Ignatius of Antioch, 2nd century bishop and martyr:

"It is fitting, therefore, that you should be in agreement with the mind of the bishop as in fact you are. Your excellent presbyters, who are a credit to God, are as suited to the bishop as strings to a harp. So in your harmony of mind and heart the song you sing is Jesus Christ. Every one of you should form a choir, so that, in harmony of sound through harmony of hearts, and in unity taking the note from God, you may sing with one voice through Jesus Christ to the Father. If you do this, he will listen to you and see from your good works that you are members of his Son. It is then an advantage to you to live in perfect unity, so that at all times you may share in God."

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Back to the Brokenness

I needed to hear this one again today:

"As a saint of God, my attitude toward sorrow and difficulty should not be to ask that they be prevented, but to ask that God protect me so that I may remain what He created me to be, in spite of all my fires of sorrow. Our Lord received Himself, accepting His position and realizing His purpose, in the midst of the fire of sorrow. He was saved not from the hour, but out of the hour.

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."


- from Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Brother Gabriel - The Skateboarding Monk

Brother Gabriel - The Skateboarding Friar Yes, it's for real, and yes he's a real Franciscan friar! I met some of the boys in the hood last night at a retreat center near Lancaster. Amazing men of deep faith. I mentioned the image I use of Brother Pio for my blog link, and they tipped me off to this. It's a wee bit long, but great stuff! Stay for the bloopers at the end! Pax, Bill

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Living Without Wax

Back in the old days, when sculptors would send their work to its home, the road could get rocky. A nick here and a chip there was bound to happen. But the messed up marble could be remedied almost seamlessly with a little wax. Some artists, supposedly, would apply the wax to their chipped work fairly often (Kind of like the modern use of duct tape, just much less obvious). Soon, the patrons of great works got wind of the practice and preferred the real deal, damaged or not, to a wax bandage. Hence the term "sincere" was born. From the Latin sine andcera - "without wax."

So what's up with us? Are we sincere? Are we ready to show ourselves just as we are in the full light of day, faults and all? Can we fess up to our shortcomings in ourmingling with others? Admit when the chip or scratch is ours? Or are we still trying in vain to patch it up, cover over the nicks and dents in our personalities that tell the world we are frail, often tempted, but trying nonetheless?

Let's prefer reality in our dealings with one another rather than a wax job. We'll soon discover that we're not alone, and then we can move forward in "sincerity and truth," letting Another Hand rework the cold marble of our pride and smooth over the rough in our relationships.

“There's a divinity that shapes our ends, Rough-hew them how we will.”
- Hamlet, William Shakespeare

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Will There Be a Happy Ending?

A week into this new year, and today is the Feast of the Epiphany. But we look around and there seems nothing new. Death and destruction, abuse and abominations still abound in the world. There was no epiphany, no awakening in Iraq, or Darfur, or on the streets of our major cities. When we look at the world at large, we see guns are still in angry hands, the powerful still prey on the weak, and fear is still in our hearts. Despite our efforts, sickness still riddles the broken body of humanity.

Is this life just a "tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing," as Shakespeare once pondered through his character MacBeth? Can we ever escape from our own mortal weakness? Be set free finally from the tyranny and terror of ourselves?

Despite all the lies and the heartache and the pain, I believe we still deep down want the fairy tale to come true. We know in our hearts that something is wrong in the universe that should be right. But our minds take in all the reports, the news of the day and the crushing ennui experienced by so many.... and we wonder, "Is there a meaning to this life? Is there a plan?" And not a plan that we put into it. But a point to it all that's written by another pen, not our own, by the Author of this tale that seems to us so often a bitter tragedy.

This morning as I sat in my "prayer chair" with a cup of coffee, morning light came through the window and it splashed onto a page of my prayer book. These are the words the light illuminated:

"Today the Bridegroom claims his bride, the Church, since Christ has washed her sins away in Jordan's waters; the Magi hasten with their gifts to the royal wedding; and the wedding guests rejoice, for Christ has changed water into wine, alleluia."

Do I believe in fairy tales? Do I believe in the happy ending? Absolutely. Hold out until the end. It is always darkest before the dawn!


From the Feast of the Epiphany, Closing Prayer
"Father of light, unchanging God, today you reveal to men of faith the resplendent fact of the Word made flesh. Your light is strong, your love is near; draw us beyond the limits which this world imposes, to the life where your Spirit makes all life complete. We ask this through Christ our Lord."

Friday, January 05, 2007

Apocalypto: A Review

"A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within."
- Will Durant


I recently saw Mel Gibson's new film, Apocalypto.

There's been plenty of talk about this film (actually, the talk has been mostly about Mel and his issues). I've read both sides; those who feel the Mayans got misrepresented as pure savages, and those historians who feel Mel actually went a little light on the brutality they were known for enacting on their victims. I can't argue those points, as I'm not an expert on Mayan culture. But I will talk about this incredible film, which I believe, despite intense and often gratuitous violence, every man, husband and father should go and see with his man, husband, and father friends... (please heed the USCCB's complete review of the film's graphic content. Click here for a full review)

Mel Gibson's intent seems to have been to create an action-adventure film rooted in an ancient culture about a man who is trying to get back to his pregnant bride and young son, against all odds. It's ultimately a capture, escape, chase and rescue film. What I found running through it, through the heart-pounding chase scenes and the heart-wrenching violence, was a story of intense love and sacrifice that I still can't stop thinking about.

Apocalypto was riveting from the start, and I instantly felt an affinity for the lead character, whose name is Jaguar Paw. There is a rawness in the film that puts you literally right in the midst of an ancient people; you feel it, breathe it, experience it, as only a good movie or story can let you experience it: the moist jungle, the song of birds, the Mayan dialect, the tools, the tribal humor, the ancient codes and customs, the killing of an animal not for sport but for life, the primal fear in the face of danger. I haven't felt so deeply engrossed in a film since, coincidentally, The Passion of the Christ.

There were moments when I, as a 21st century viewer, felt suspended above all centuries and could feel the throbbing pulse of humanity and our yearning for peace. During a gathering of Jaguar Paw's tribe, in the dance of firelight and storytelling, an elder tells their creation myth of the Man who felt sad and alone. The animals came to him and each in their turn gave him their eyes, their cunning, their strength so he would not be afraid. But wise old Owl saw this would not be enough. The Man would indeed grow strong and conquer fear, but Owl could see a hole in the Man's heart. This hole could not be filled by anything in the world.

It is in the end love that fills the lead character's heart; it is love that drives him on to incredible feats as he weaves his way through one challenge after another in the jungle. Love leads him back to his family. And what he finds in the end, after witnessing first hand the complete antithesis of love, the utter contempt for Man's life in the hands of the Mayans, is a "new beginning."

Despite the gore, and there was too much of it, there were glimmers of hope and light. A young girl left to lead all the little ones after her village is ravaged, who says "Don't worry. I will watch over them. They are mine now." An older mother led away captive prays fervently to a mysterious Ixchel, a moon goddess, to watch over the children (Our Lady of Guadalupe foreshadowed? She stands on the Moon and in front of the Sun). Jaguar Paw's father is an amazing man of courage as well, whose steady advice to his son is "Do not be afraid." In the end, the watery birth of Jaguar's little baby, and his wife's distant look to the visitors who enter their life seems to set the tone for that new beginning they long for, out of a culture of death and into a new life. Perhaps we living in our modern age, still dealing with the scourge of 4 million abortions a year, capital punishment, and the threat of more legalized euthanasia, can learn from this film to treasure, in the midst of such a violent culture, the beauty of life.


(For an article on Our Lady of Guadalupe, the culture of death in the ancient Americas and America today, click here. Content is graphic with disturbing images.)

Thursday, January 04, 2007

New Year's Revolutions

It's not a typo... it's a revolution! Yes, New Year's "resolutions" are wonderful things; they're great ideas, but they seem to so often remain (for me anyway) just that - ideas. Nice thoughts, bold aspirations, but made up in the mind and after a few weeks, if that, I find they haven't trickled down to the bones and the blood.

So... desparate times call for desparate measures! If I'm ever to overcome my laziness, whining, or my malicious mediocrity, if I'm ever to escape the clammy claws of my physical and spiritual quagmires (love that word!) and for once perhaps in my life rise up, shine like silver, live clear as crystal, and become my very best self (aka "a saint"), then I need a revolution.

So here's my New Year's revolution.... here's where I plan to stir up an uprising, raise a ruckus, and build a barricade. I'll turn my gaze not to the carbs, candy or even the consumer culture first, or even to the monster of the media that eats up innocence before it can take root in the soul; no! The revolution will begin in me. In the depths of my own weakness and wounds. The way to heal the wounds in the world is to allow Grace to first heal me, to have some ground in me. To surrender and let the transformation begin; from selfishness to selflessness. Remember St. Catherine's words, "If you are what you should be, you will set the whole world ablaze!"

The truth is, we are all microcosms; worlds in miniature. The seemingly small choices, for good or ill, that we make as individuals can and does effect a change in the course of the macrocosm, the big world, the universe at large! We are the building blocks of the body of humanity. If we are not at peace in our own little world, then how can we have world peace?

In his World Youth Day of last summer, Pope Benedict laid out the strategy:

"The saints... are the true reformers. Now I want to express this in an even more radical way: only from the saints, only from God does true revolution come, the definitive way to change the world."

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Rest in Peace, Dom Lettieri

For 30 years, a small, steady voice has been sending out the gospel message through the AM airwaves in the Philadelphia region. Today, those airwaves are silent, but the voice of Dom Lettieri is singing in Heaven.

I didn't know Dom well, but I was blessed to meet him twice at the radio station in Rosemont. Once with Fr. Paul Dressler to speak about the New Evangelization and young adults, and the second time was in the middle of the DaVinci Code fever. Each time Dom had me on his show, he struck me as a man of deep peace and a rock solid faith. A conversation with him was always very warm and personal. And he had such a look of wonder in his eyes. I remember that. Wonder at the beauty and privilege of being Catholic. Wonder and dismay at the culture he tried so hard to reach, a culture that seemed to choose the selfish path over the way of the Cross, the way towards Jesus. For Dom, that was the definition of disaster. So he got on the air, and he talked about Jesus.

Dom was deeply spiritual, you could feel it in his presence; a man of charismatic prayer. Both times we met he'd pray before turning on the mics. Love and petitions poured from him; prayer came so easy. I thank God that I got the chance to see a little glimmer of his passion and love for the Church.

Please pray for Dom's soul, his family and the friends who will so miss him, and for the ministry known as the IN HIS SIGN. May perpetual light shine upon him, and may his soul and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.


-----------------------

"IN HIS SIGN NETWORK serves as a radio and communications ministry comprised of lay Catholics proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ in obedience to the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church. The mission of IN HIS SIGN NETWORK is to communicate Catholic Christian moral principles in accordance with the authority of the Church through the media; primarily radio, newsprint, and audio tapes. To have open and frank discussions of current interest, historical perspectives and societal mores and their effect upon the members of the Catholic and Christian communities of this century."

Dom was blessed to host on his show "Putting It On The Line" exceptional guests from around the world for nearly three decades including: Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua former Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia; the late Bishop James McHugh of the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey; Rev. Michael Scanlan, T.O.R., Chancellor of Franciscan University of Steubenville; Mother Angelica, Founder of EWTN; Alan Keyes, former Ambassador to the United Nations and presidential candidate; Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum; the late Pennsylvania Governor Robert Casey; Father Benedict Groeschel C.F.R.; Father Andrew Apostoli C.F.R. and Raymond Arroyo."

taken from www.inhissign.com

In His Sign Network
136 Garrett Avenue,
Rosemont, PA 19010, United States

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

A Heartbreaking Tale from the Sea

I thought I'd share the bitter sweet tale of Kagan and the Wind. It's classic storytelling and the first time I heard it read and sung by Tommy Makem and Liam Clancy, it stirred the heart and blood. I wish I could find it again, but the tape has vanished...



Peter Kagan and the Wind from the Makem Brothers

It is said that the seals have the ability to take on human form. The seal people, though they like to live near the sea, dare not ever go back into it, or else they immediately revert to their original form and lose the ability ever to take on human form again.

Peter Kagan was a lonely man in the summer of his years. One day he got tired of being lonely, and he went away, off to the east. And when he came again he had a wife. She was strange, but she was kind and people liked her. She was good for Kagan. She kept him company and winter come to summer they were happy.

Kagan had a dory then, with a lugsail on her mast. He used to go offshore three, maybe four, days at a time setting out for the fish. Oh his wife was sad then. She didn't like to see him go. She'd go down to the sea sometimes and call to him:

Kagan, Kagan, Kagan,
Bring the dory home.

Wind and sea do follow thee,

And all the ledges calling thee.


He said he could hear her calling twenty miles to sea, and when he heard her, he would come home, whether he had fish or none.

She was a seal, of course, everybody knew it. Even Kagan. He knew that, but no one said anything to him.

Then, one day, in that year's autumn , Kagan said "I've got to go now. Go offshore and get some fish." But his wife said "No! Please don't go!" She started crying. "The winds are coming and the snows are coming."

Kagan, Kagan, Kagan,
Don't go out to sea,

Stormy winds and snows do come,
And, oh, but I do fear for thee.


But Kagan wasn't afraid of snow, and it was early in the year. So Kagan put in his oars and went out to sea. Kagan sailed in the middle ground. The Wind was west all day and the fish were coming to him. Kagan read the writing on the water and in the sky. He saw haze very high up above the clouds and said "That's all right for autumn - only a change of wind. I'm not afraid of wind."

But Kagan read it wrong this time. The Wind went away, and then it came back, Southeast. And the fog came round.

Kagan said, "I've got to go now. I'll find that gong buoy off the sunken ledges and then I'll know the best way home." So Kagan put up a sail and bore away to the Nor'ard for the gong.

But, oh, the Wind was watching.

The Wind backed around to the East'ard and came breezing on, against him. He sailed for a long time. The sail was pulling very hard. Finally the Wind was so strong that the sail tore out, so Kagan took it down and the dory went drifting.

He thought he could hear that gong buoy. It wasn't very far away.

Kagan, Kagan, Kagan,
Bring the dory home.
Wind and sea do follow thee,

And all the ledges calling thee.

But the dory went drifting, and by and by the gong buoy went away. Kagan said, "All right then." He put in his oars and started to row back up for the gong.

But, oh, the Wind was watching. The Wind back around Northeast, making the seas confused. The Wind said, "Listen! I have something to tell you."

Kagan, rowing, "I don't want to hear it."

The Wind humps up then, making the sea short, making it hard for Kagan to row. Finally the seas are so steep that Kagan knows he isn't getting anywhere. So Kagan takes in the oars and again the dory goes drifting...

Kagan said, "All right then. Now I've got something to show you." He took a slip of wood for a needle and waxed up a hand line for a thread and he sewed the sail up smaller - sewed a reef in it.

The Wind said, "What're you doing?"

Kagan said, "You keeping watching."

So Kagan put up a sail and again he bore away to to the Nor'ard for the gong.

But, oh, the Wind was watching.

The Wind backed around North-Nor'east. Kagan can't hold his course now. Kagan said, "All right then." He brought the boat about. Now he's steering East'ard.

"You're heading out to sea."

"I'm not afraid of water. I'll bring this boat about when I can fetch that gong buoy."

"I'll veer on you; I'll go East."

"You do that and I can hold my course."

"I'll back on you."

"You back too far and you've got a clear. You know that. I can keep ahead of you."

"You may be smarter but I'm stronger." The Wind grew bigger then and the Wind blew harder. Finally the wind was so strong that the Sail said, "I can't make it, Kagan!" And Kagan said, "I know that. Thank you."

So Kagan took down the sail, and the dory went drifting.

Kagan took the sail off the yard and put it about him. "Sail, keep me warm!"

"The sail can't keep you warm."

The Wind snatched off North by East. "I'll freeze you."

"I'm not afraid of cold!"

But Kagan was afraid. He didn't know what to do. And oh, the Wind is working now. The Wind brings ice and snow. The Wind blows long and long and black.

Kagan says, "I'm dying. Sail, keep me warm!" and the sail said, "I can't do it Kagan."

Kagan dying, and the wind blowing.

Kagan, Kagan, Kagan,
Turn ye now to me.

Turn your back unto the Wind

And all the weary windy sea.


Kagan, Kagan, Kagan,

Lay ye down to sleep.
For I do come to comfort thee
All and thy dear body keep.

So Kagan lay on the bottom of the boat, and he tried not to be afraid of the dying, and he dreamed of her then, his wife. He dreamed she was coming to him, and he heard a long calling down the wind and he raised himself up, and he saw her. Down the smoking, storming sea she came. Over the rail of the dory she came, laughing to his arms.

And all in the night and in the storm they did lay, and the Wind went away, and the storm went away, and in the morning they found him...

...asleep, with a sail wrapped around him. And there was a seal, lying there with him, curled over him like a blanket, and the snow was upon the seal's back.

Kagan, Kagan, Kagan,
Bring the dory home.
Wind and sea do follow thee,

And all the ledges calling thee.

Revolutionizing the Ukulele - Jake Shimabukuro