Sunday, December 31, 2006

Call Me "Bookey"

I had a great time in Maine. Left this morning at a frosty 19 degrees. Hit north Jersey and it was 54! By the way, why does the Jersey Turnpike ALWAYS back up at exit 8A? Please post your insights because we'd ALL love to know the answer to this mystery!

Seeing my dad, brother, sister-in-law, and the little niece who calls me "Bookey" made a long trip more than worthwhile. Yesterday we wandered in the woods of the 10 acres my brother owns; bundled and thinsulated up to our eyes in fleece. They have the crystal cold gift of 500 feet of stream weaving through those woods. It was still moving in its deeper parts, even in 19 degree air. Smooth rocks and sand the color of tea below, and along the edges where Finnegan the cat followed us, the ice was woven in criss cross patterns, jutting out like a fortress of solitude.

I loved watching my little God-daughter, Ella, at one and a half years old, making her way through the balsam and oak. Of course "Bapa" carried her most of the way (that'd be my dad). Everything is a wonder to Ella; every leaf, stone and swirl of dark water garner a look and a touch and an "ooooohhh." If I got lost in thought myself, she'd call out "Bookey!" My wife is Becca, incidently.

Ella can identify at least a dozen birds by sight. She nailed a mourning dove just by its "mourn"ful cooing! We heard it from a tall fir and she simply said "mornin'."

Young minds are like sponges; think of the sounds, images and stories we let fall from our history that nestle in like leaves in the book of their lives! Crisp and clear as autumn the colors can be brushed on, but just as easily, images that jar, numb or dumb the heart down can be painted in the minds of the little ones. It's a terribly beautiful task, raising the young in this wounded world.

My family are shaping Ella with love and reverence, and we're finding ourselves shaped just the same by her wonder and innocence. Life! What a swift moving stream to ford as another new year begins! And what lies around the bend?

Peace and Blessings for 2007,

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Breakfast Conversation

The famous "Come Spring" diner of mid-coast Maine has switched owners, and my dad will never forgive them. Gone are the deep fried homefries! Gone the heaping six egg omelets! Gone the pancakes that would taper off the edges of a large dinner plate like a tablecloth (they've been minimized to the size of half-dollars, he says).

I thought the "country skillet" breakfast was pretty dang good. Just go easy on the cheese if ever you order it.

There was a funny note on the "new" menu that sparked our breakfast conversation this morning: "The food may be undercooked or raw...."

What the? Which food? All of it?

We questioned the waitress about it, and she said it was a "state thing." Huh? That unleashed a stream of ridiculous extremes; things we thought would be appropriate and helpful in our dumbed down, "do I have to spell it out to cover all my bases so I don't get sued" society.

- On a glass of juice: "Handle with care; Item may be very cold."

- On menus: "Caution; object may cause paper cuts."

- Forks: "Impaling eye with this object could cause blindness."

- On coffee mugs: "Warning; dropping from a height could induce shattering."

These labels are very important, because look at all the pain and confusion caused by their absence! "If I only knew knives slice things when moved in a back and forth motion on a horizontal plane, this never would have happened!"

Maybe we should wear labels too, so people could have a "safe and secure" environment with no surprises?

"Beware, having bad day. Do not offer cheerful greeting."

"Caution, subject has not yet imbibed caffienated liquid. Proceed with care."

"Warning, person may be undercooked or raw...."

Friday, December 29, 2006

The Maine Attraction

Christmas vacation! Woohoo! That's right. Two weeks off for the teachers at a certain private boys school which will remain unnamed due to the jealousy that might ensue!

Only bummer is, Mrs. Donaghy does not have two weeks off. So... I decided to "pop in" on my family up in Maine, unannounced, hah hah! for a two night stay. What's a 600 mile drive when you've got a double CD of Greg Brown, (which lasted until Massachusetts), the best of the Indigo Girls (finished it in New Hampshire), and a 16 part lecture series on Ethics by Dr. Peter Kreeft on audio CD? (still some left for the ride home)

I made it in under 8 hours; no lunch, and no questions asked, capish?

Yup, 8 hours alone in a steel and fiberglass motorized shell hurtling north. I had alot of quiet time. Greg Brown and the Girls do that to you. Their lyrics drop like honey on the heart and you just have to turn off the radio and savor the imagery. Let the thoughts bound up by busyness go free, expand and breathe again.

When I hit the Maine Turnpike, and the pine and the birch trees waved a cold spindly hello, I started thinking to myself, "Oh boy, I hope they're home." I turned onto the newly paved road (darn it) off of route 17 where Dad has his cabin nestled in the tall pines, I formed a "plan." Which was to "sneak up" on him and "surprise".... "him."

It worked perfectly! I drove past the cabin at an inconspicuous and typical Mainer speed, which was about 90. And there was me Da, carting wood from some newly fallen trees to his brush pile. I parked a quarter mile down the road and walked into the woods, in stealth mode. Up he came from the driveway as I threw myself into the frosty undergrowth, blending like a ninja into my surroundings (yeah, right). When he turned back down the hill, after what seemed a LONG time to be squatting in 29 degree woods, I leapt like a stag (well, I crashed like a moose) through the saplings toward the clearing. As he turned around up the hill again, there I was, his first-born, standing on a fallen fir tree like Errol Flynn, without the green tights (did anybody get that allusion?)

He was speechless! We bear-hugged and he bellowed and I love SURPRISES!

So I slept in today, which I rarely do. Now we're off to breakfast at the Come Spring diner. Woohoo! I have to do this more often.

To be continued.... of course, 'cause it's a blog.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

We're relaxing at mom's on this Christmas Eve, and this show comes on. Amazing! Did any one else see this?

"In the 8th Century, near what are now Scotland and England, Benedictine monastic scribes created a Bible that today is one of the longest surviving monumental manuscripts in the Western world.

Nearly 1,300 years later, renowned calligrapher Donald Jackson approached the Benedictine monks of Saint John's University and Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, with his life-long dream: to create the first handwritten, illuminated bible commissioned since the invention of the printing press. The Saint John's Bible uses ancient materials and techniques to create a contemporary masterpiece that brings the Word of God to life for the contemporary world."

Saturday, December 23, 2006

And the Word Became... an Embryo

We heard it a million times when we were young: "What do you want to be when you grow up?" As I was growing up, I wanted to become (correct me if I'm wrong, mom) a fireman, then a jet pilot, a cartoonist, and a Jedi knight. I still want to be a Jedi knight. Mostly, I wanted to have that freedom to do whatever I wanted; to roam the world, to explore, to create, taste and see, experience life in all it's richness, and to see what pattern I could weave as the spool of my years unraveled into the fabric of human history.

But growing in faith, taking this spiritual life (which in essence is the whole life) seriously, I'm discovering that the question is actually backwards. What will I become when I get bigger, older, wiser? St. John the Baptist said it so well in his mantra that should become the soundtrack of our modern lives; "He must increase, I must decrease." Because to such as these "little ones" is given the Kingdom of Heaven. Our Lord Himself said that unless we become as little children, we can't get in! The door to Heaven is "hobbit-sized"!

I believe growing up, in a spiritual sense, means recognizing the fact that we should really be growing smaller. As we mature and become more "independent," we should also advance in our becoming more "dependent" on our Heavenly Father.

This is what happened, in the fullness of time, when God Who is the Fullness of All that Is became the littlest thing in all of creation. When the Word became.... an embryo. When God became utterly and totally dependent on a little Jewish girl's daily diet. When the Maker of the Heavens drew His nutrients from the life-blood of the little virgin Mary. Let 's ponder this one anew, this monumental event in human history, in all of history. Let's build a window on the womb of Mary and peer inside, watching breathlessly as the Word takes on our flesh. As the Body of Jesus is knit together in His Mother's womb. Venite adoremus!

With all of the bigness, the glamour and the greatness of Christmas, let's remember how it all began. In silence, in stillness, and in the dark warmth of a woman's womb. Moving softly, quietly, just beneath the beating heart of Mary, and under the trembling, calloused hand of the carpenter, Joseph, as he touched that first tabernacle in human history and felt the Word stirring, making his first movement and remaking the world.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Great thought from Pope Benedict today, urging us to behold in the little babies the reminder of what Our God has become for us! "The wonder we feel before the enchantment of Christmas is reflected in a certain sense in the wonder that every birth arouses and invites us to recognize the Child Jesus in all children, who are the joy of the Church and the hope of the world." - Pope Benedict XVI To such as these belongs the Kingdom of Heaven! May we imitate their innocence, be as wide-eyed in our wonder at the world, and allow ourselves to be just as unconditionally loved by God as they are loved by us!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Into the Mystic

I'll always remember the moment when I first became a Van Morrison fan. I was maybe 19 years old, home from college and flipping through the channels when a movie called "Immediate Family" came on. I don't know anything about the film (I just looked it up a moment ago to be sure of the title). What struck me was the song playing during a powerful mother/daughter/healing scene. The song was Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic."

There was something magnetic and mystical in that song that made me stop my surfing in mid-click. Maybe it was the slow and steady ryhthm of the guitar, or the line "Hark, now hear the sailors cry, smell the sea and feel the sky." It could've even been the spaces between the words and the music that opened me up to sweet contemplation. Isn't it always the silence, the rest within the notes that moves us most? Whatever it was, it sent me on a journey to the music store, to pick up the Moondance album and a host of Van's other works since then.

"And when that fog horn blows I will be coming home. And when the fog horn blows, I want to hear it. I don't have to fear it."

Into the Mystic led me into the Mystery! The sense of wonder that song stirred up in me was an invitation to ask the deeper questions. It's the sense of wonder and mystery that the modern heart, I believe, longs for more than any material possession or position of power. We want always that open door, that path before us that leads to the More that we are made for. The one who no longer thirsts for answers drowns in his own Narcissian pool.

Getting answers is great, don't get me wrong; it sets us on the path to begin the walk. But those unanswered questions, those mysteries, are what keep us moving, searching, and seeking. Boy did it take me forever to learn that lesson; that life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived.

In last Sunday's gospel, John the Baptist drew people out into the desert. They brought their questions, their ponderings and wonderings. They wanted answers to life's deepest questions. And John gave them solid answers. "What should we do?" He said to them in reply, "Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise." Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him, "Teacher, what should we do?" He answered them, "Stop collecting more than what is prescribed." Soldiers also asked him, "And what is it that we should do?" He told them, "Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages."

John was short and to the point when it came to those nitty gritty questions. But he openly admitted that he was only paving the way for Something Deeper; his water would yield to fire, his mediation would turn over to the mystical. Enter Jesus.

Jesus doesn't always give us the straight answer. In fact, He rarely does this. In contrast to John, when questions come, Jesus simply invites us into them. "Consider this parable..." He says to the questioner. "Follow me..." He invites the inquisitive.

When two disciples of John's followed Jesus, he turned and said to them, "What are you looking for?" They said to him, "Rabbi, where are you staying?" He said to them,"Come, and you will see."

"Hark, now hear the sailors cry, smell the sea and feel the sky.... Let your soul and spirit fly into the Mystic."

For Frances

Here is the link to a previous post on this beautiful painting of the Annunciation by the African American artist, Henry O. Tanner -

The original is hanging in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (O. Tanner was a native of Philadelphia). It's huge and incredibly moving to stand in front of!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

My Frosty Can Beat Up Your Frosty... Any Day!

Well friends, Christmas fever has once again gripped the nation, and it's hotter than a string of big bulbed Christmas lights from the 70's! I think you'll agree with me in noting that THIS Christmas is going to be bigger, bolder, and brassier than ever! Why? Because of INFLATABLE CHRISTMAS LAWN ART!! (The aforementioned oddities will hitherto be referred to as ICLA's)

Now I don't know if the ICLA's have invaded neighborhoods west of the Mississippi yet, or even across the sea (any reports?) but let me tell YOU.... they are crawling all over the mid-eastern seaboard. Maybe they came from Sweden? IKEA? ICLA? Whatever the case may be, these massive Christmas mutants are taking over! Picture Godzilla with a wreath around his neck! Big, puffy pieces of plastic in yuletide shapes. We've got Santas, Frostys, Elves, and Reindeer.... even the Grinch gets a spot on the lawn!

Sure, they seem kinda cute, but don't be fooled America! Remember the story of the Trojan Horse! Some of these Christmas creatures are bigger than the houses they are "decorating." I'm not kidding. I saw one peeking into the third story of a south Philly rowhome, and he looked HUNGRY.

Thankfully ICLA's can easily be unplugged, or tackled by a 9 year old (which is hilarious to watch). But imagine if these things were intelligent! Think about it, America, for two seconds!

Now this is just my conspiracy theory; it's one among thousands, granted. But I believe the ICLA's are actually filled with a mind-altering gas that has been created by none other than the BIGGIEMAN! (click for previous post on America's most fiendish foe!)

That's right! Unbeknownst to the Kravitz's, their "front yard Frosty" is really puffed up with a deadly toxin that seeps out into the neighborhood, hypnotizing us all into thinking that BIGGER is always better. What happens next? Open your eyes America! Do you remember these gargantuan Grinchs five years ago? Were there any super-sized Santas on your street even four years ago? And look at us now. I feel like a hobbit sometimes just walking to the deli. And some of these ICLA's, especially the reindeer, their eyes just seem to follow you! IT'S DOWNRIGHT CREEPY!

Here's My Battle Plan...

Let's form a resistance movement! We'll call ourselves the POPCIOWAMWOODs! (which of course stands for People Only Putting Candles In Our Windows And Maybe Wreaths On Our Doors).

We'll show that BIGGIEMAN! Bigger is sometimes better, but smaller and simpler is best. Afterall, that's how He came into the world, isn't it?

Friday, December 15, 2006

Gaudete Means "Woohoo!"

This Sunday (the Third Sunday of Advent) has been traditionally referred to as Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is the Latin word for "rejoice" and it comes from the first word that appears in the entrance antiphon for this Sunday's Mass: "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice! The Lord is near."

I love Gaudete Sunday. It's our B12 shot for the winter. It carries us through the long shadows of these December days and reminds us that the dawn of our salvation is near! REJOICE!

But let's be honest. This is easier said than done. For the reality is, we live in very dark times. The weight of this blanket of fear seems almost too heavy to pull off. "To rejoice always" seems impossible, to even try it seems a little naive. We are surrounded by war, division, family strife, daily stress, and tragic deaths; another shooting took place in one of our schools just three days ago. The senseless violence continues, a rampant disrespect for the person rages on, and our culture continues to gorge itself on illicit sex and material possessions. Our hearts are full of the wrong kind of fuel. And still we continue to pour it in and hope that something, ANYTHING, will give us that spark of joy we long for that will fire up the engines of our soul and get us out of this darkness.

We want to rejoice. We want lasting joy, yet we know not where to look. "Religion? I tried the Church, and it didn't work. It's full of sinners and hypocrites, like me. Service to others? Did it for awhile and I just ran out of gas. People don't even notice! I had joy in my work, but the bureaucracy and the paperwork and the triple-typed memos about the previous memo killed my sense of creativity and zeal!"

But you've seen some who have this joy. They wear it like a diamond. Like a glittering sword it goes before them, cutting through the legions of doubt, fear, and anxiety that seem always to press in on us. So how can I put on this joy and stay in it? When can I settle down and make JOY my zip code and PEACE my mailing address! I gotta get out of this place! The place where worry and fear always get the upper hand!

I'm reminded of a tale from Tolkien's mythology (of course!). In the Silmarillion, at the dawn of creation, there are angelic creatures known as Ainur who are allowed to shape the world according to the Music they sing. Known as the Ainulindalë, it is one of the most moving passages ever written. That the world was made in Music, not music made in the world, is a profoundly powerful truth. Perhaps that's why music is the language that seems to speak JOY the most, bypassing our reasons for fear. It's primal, elemental, ancient. It precedes the Dark Void; in fact, Music is the presence that impregnates it. Music contains the seed of JOY.
All of the Ainur lovingly assist the One God in shaping the beauty of Middle-Earth, it's mountains and valleys, rivers and seas, except one. His name is Melchor.

What the Ainur make holy, Melchor desecrates. What they build up, he tears down. What they fill, he empties. A battle erupts and the Good Ainur try to chain Melchor, as he twists and corrupts all that's good and true. When the War seems to take a turn for the worse, another Ainur, unheard of in Middle-Earth until now, descends into the newly made realm. His name is Tulkas. And here is the image that for me gets to the "heart of things" - he comes laughing into battle. Laughing...

Streaming from eternity with pure, unfiltered, primal, blazing JOY, he comes. It is the shine from the face of Tulkas, beaming with radiant bliss and confidence in the One from Whom he has come, that scatters Melchor and sends him into the outer darkness. This same joy is seen much later in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, in the much loved character of Tom Bombadil.

Now just listen to this Sunday's readings, filled as they are with this same joy, and so desirous for us to open up and drink it in:

"Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! ... The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear..."
- Zephaniah 3:14

"Brothers and sisters: Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."
- Philippians 4:4-7

Let's remember that the measure of our joy and peace lies not so much in what we do, but rather in taking in what God has done for us. Joy is receiving the seed of God's own Love into our hearts, then bearing it out in the world. We can truly "rejoice always" in everything inasmuch as we lay our confidence in this.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

I Passed By Grace

I passed by Grace the other day
she wanted to talk but I couldn't delay
Stuff to do, calls to make
She knows I'm working for heaven's sake!

So I kicked out some e-mail
I checked off my list
I ran and I ran
with my stomach in a fist

The day moved along
I had a tune in my head
Grace was singing that morning
Not sure what she said

Some words about life
there was water and bread
something simple, so simple
It wouldn't leave my head!

At the end of the day
standing by the gate
She said "Sit for awhile, love
you won't be late."

Rich, full and so fresh
She'd cooked us a meal
But for me the dollar menu
Was the reasonable deal

I hadn't the time
To sit and to sup
I McHurried along
With my bag and large cup

A pre-packaged bundle
And the lines weren't too long
I gulped it right down
Still humming that song

Some words about life
there was water and bread
something simple, so simple
It wouldn't leave my head!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Straight Road

In Tolkien's mythology of Middle-Earth, he writes of a time before the downfall of humanity, when the world was flat. The Valar, angelic beings similar to the gods of Olympus but much more virtuous, were still present in the world. Their home was a paradise known as Tol Eressëa or the Undying Lands. Elves could reach her shores by sailing West into the sunset. After a vain attempt by mankind to seize the Blessed Realm, and immortality, by force (sound familiar?), this heaven was taken away and the World was bent. It took on the globed shape we know today, and mortals who sailed into the West simply circled the planet and eventually ended up back where they began.

For the Elves, however, a way was left open to return to the Undying Lands; it was known as the Straight Road. As if sailing on an invisible bridge, travelers could pass over the rough and mountainous seas and leave the bent world behind them. It was a grace afforded to only a handful of mortals. This was the road taken by the grey ship at the end of the Lord of the Rings. After the fall of Sauron, when peace finally returned to Middle-Earth, the ringbearers Frodo and Bilbo, and eventually Sam, were given the grace to travel the Straight Road themselves, into the West.

I couldn't help thinking of this story last night, when we heard the reading from Luke 3:1-6 at an evening Mass in Broomall. John the Baptist cried out to a fallen race, our bent world, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

It's coming. Our redemption is near at hand! The time when all shall be made well again. When we can stop running in circles, back to the place we started, feeling alone, abandoned, and frustrated by sin; ours and the sin around us. Finally we can take that Straight Road that leads to the Blessed Realm. It is like that invisible bridge, and perhaps some we know are already on it. They seem to travel well over this bent world, with all of it's valleys and hills. The ship that can take us there is the Bark of Peter, the Church. And the water we sail upon is the river of grace that flows straight from God's own life. The source of this grace? He lies in a manger, in the humblest of places. So come, let us adore Him! And find our way back home!

Artwork: The Shores of Valinor by Ted Nasmith
On Tolkien's mythology: Catholic Imagination

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Wrapped For Advent

Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory from God forever: wrapped in the cloak of justice from God, bear on your head the mitre that displays the glory of the eternal name.
- Baruch 5:1-9

When I was young, I remember visiting with family around the holidays. The house was always full. Crammed with light and heat, food and drink, storytelling, laughing; music playing and televisions blaring. One of the things I loved to do in the middle of this happy chaos was to escape it. Just for a wee bit...

I'd wander, like Walt Whitman, out into the "mystical, moist night air." Out of the front door and into the wintry darkness. The thrill of the chill woke me up, coming out of a bustling and balmy house full of family. Into the darkened streets I'd go, gazing up at the stars, wandering and wondering, in concentric circles, past the quiet houses with their flickering blue lights from the televisions.

And just when the chill of winter began to sink it's teeth into my bones, the circling led me back to the front door of Grandma's house. The warmth of those sights and sounds was a welcome robe to be wrapped in again.I think this is the dynamic of our lives, this coming and going. Exitus, reditus. And one feeds the other as kindling feeds a flame. In company, we often long for solitude. In solitude, we long for community again. The cold dark and the shining stars can stir deeper thoughts in these winter months. And these thoughts warm the mind with memories and insights. The light and warmth by contrast, invite us to go deeper into the wilderness again.

This dynamic is alive in the figure of St. John the Baptist in this Sunday's gospel. John is a wanderer and a wonderer. He draws the comfortable away from their couches. He takes them outside to look up at the stars! To see the mountains in all their beauty. And he tells them things in the wild so they can take them back inside. To ponder them in their hearts.

Everyone comes to see him. We will see him too, this Sunday. What thoughts will the Baptist stir in us? When he calls to us to turn around, repent, and return, will we stay inside, wrapped in the familiar warmth of a safe life? Or will we wrap ourselves in that cloak of justice from God; the one that speaks to our truest, deepest self? The one that allows us to become that person we were always meant to become.

A voice of one crying out in the desert: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God." - Luke 3:6

Second Sunday of Advent:
Reading 1 - Bar 5:1-9
Reading II - Phil 1:4-6, 8-11
Gospel - Lk 3:1-6

Friday, December 08, 2006

Two Spiritual Gems from Two Spiritual Giants

On this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, I thought I'd just offer you a couple of thoughts from the Big Boys; St. Anselm (old school) and Bishop Sheen (new school, kind of). Today's celebration means that Mary, who was conceived through the loving embrace of Joachim and Anne, was kept free from original sin or its stain. This is what "immaculate" means: without stain. We believe that God gave her this grace through the redemptive death of Jesus in a pre-emptive way, because of her unique role in the history of salvation. So to Mary our Star and our Hope, thank you for your YES!

O Virgin, by Whose Blessing All Nature is Blessed!

Blessed Lady, sky and stars, earth and rivers, day and night – everything that is subject to the power or use of man – rejoice that through you they are in some sense restored to their lost beauty and are endowed with inexpressible new grace. All creatures were dead, as it were, useless for men or for the praise of God, who made them. The world, contrary to its true destiny, was corrupted and tainted by the acts of men who served idols. Now all creation has been restored to life and rejoices that it is controlled and given splendour by men who believe in God.
- Excerpt from a sermon by St Anselm

A New Beginning
Our human nature was very much like a polluted stream up until the Incarnation. Imagine a ship, for example, sailing in polluted waters. It wishes to sail in clear waters, but without the pollution coming from one into the other. How could the transfer of the ship be made except by a lock? So the ship in the foul waters would be put into a lock where there would be a separation of waters, then the ship would be raised to the level of the unpolluted waters. Now the Immaculate Conception and the virgin birth were that lock. The pollution stopped because there was no union of man and woman. It was simply woman alone who gave a human nature to Christ and began the new humanity.
- Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

An Amazing Resource

An amazing resource for learning more about the Catholic Faith and a Catholic vision of the world. and the Insight Scoop weblog are online resources of Ignatius Press and are meant to assist readers who wish to learn more about the Catholic Church and her teachings, beliefs, practices, and history.

The Insight Scoop web blog features daily commentary from Ignatius Press authors and staff about theological issues, current events in the Catholic Church, and a host of related topics.

The Point Of It All

The Point Of It All by Peter Kreeft

This is a beautiful piece by one of my favorite authors. I just found it at and want to tuck it away for safe keeping!

Enjoy reading it here...

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Advent and the Path to Peace

The word Islam has often been translated as peace, similar to the word shalom. The Arabic root for the word Islam, however, gives a fuller understanding; it means surrender or submission. This is the goal of Islam; the surrender and submission of everything to Allah, the One Who is All-Powerful and All-Knowing. Allah, the absolute Master and Ruler of the universe. It's believed that peace will come to the one who completely submits to Him.

There is a clarity and a boldness that comes across in this teaching, especially in our pluralistic society. Our hearts are often dominated by a myriad of forces other than God. Many today crave the inner peace that comes from being focused on One, and the submission of the self under the power of Allah is appealing. To lie prostrate before Allah's power and to give all to Him is seen as a path to deep contentment.

But there is another way to peace, subtle in its distinction, and yet revolutionary in the way it affects our understanding and our relationship with God.

Advent has begun for the Christian world. With this holy season we see revealed a more ancient and unique vision of God and our path to His peace. For Christians, God is also the One Who is All-Powerful and All-Knowing, and He is the absolute Master and Ruler of our lives. But He is also more than this. More than Absolute Power, Wisdom or Dominion, God is the Lover, the Suitor, and the Husband of our hearts. And like a lover, he asks for our hand. Like a Gentleman, he will not force love. He made us for it, but He will not make us do it. Like a poet He seeks to woo our hearts.

So this Great and All Powerful God chose from all eternity to come down into our broken world to tell us of His love. And He sent not just a love letter to His wandering, stumbling bride-to-be, but His very Word in the flesh. Himself, disrobed of glory and now wrapped in rags. At a certain time and in a certain place and to a certain young woman, He lowered Himself. And are we not all there in that quiet room, present too in Mary's heart? Are we not all the unborn children in our Mother's eyes?

The Almighty "littled" Himself before Mary to win her heart; He took off His majesty. He became flesh. And that day, Heaven married earth. What God has joined, no man now can break apart. The Word is made flesh... forever.


This is the scandal of the Incarnation. Some shake their heads at this act of humility as if it were a humiliation. How can this great King put on rags and serve the beggars in the street? What about his high office, his dignity? Oh but it's worse than that! His body is not a set of clothes to be changed when the dirty work is done. Now God in Jesus has taken on a body, Jesus is a body, just as you are your body and not "a ghost in a machine." (Now, by the way, the dirty work is divinized. Just wait until Easter! And then the gift of the Eucharist!!)

This is how Love first knocked on the door of our hearts:
- not in great power to bend us to His Will.
- not demanding prostration but offering an invitation.
- not through forcing our surrender but by offering us a wedding proposal.

So for us, peace comes not as a divine mandate, but in Mary's way. It is an opening up of the mind, heart, and yes the body, to Love.

So this Advent, let us submit ourselves. Let us surrender ourselves, but in the way our little Mary did. For in her, God became one of us, small enough to wrap our arms around. Close enough to embrace. This He wishes to be for us all. This is Love.

So let it be done unto us, according to His Word!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Great Thought from Fr. Cantalamessa Of a woman who is with child it is said that she is "expecting"; the offices of important persons have "waiting rooms." But if we reflect on it, life itself is a waiting room. We get impatient when we have to wait, for a visit, for a practice. But woe to him who is no longer waiting for something. A person who no longer expects anything from life is dead. Life is expectation, but the converse is also true: Expectation is life! - Father Cantalamessa Zenit News Agency 06120101

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Broken and Beautiful

A few weeks ago, family friends came down from NY (the mom was running in the Philadelphia Marathon) and we met them for dinner in the city. A stream of events happened from there that I can only show as fragmented stills, like works in a gallery; some beautiful, others disturbing, as we brushed past them on the way to somewhere else.

The first frame is of a smiling soul, a homeless man who sat outside the Hard Rock Cafe where we met the family for dinner. He asked for money as we passed by, and he started singing "There they go, just a-walkin' down the street! They look good, they look fine, as they walk, down the line!"

Rebecca asked if he'd like something to eat. "A double cheeseburger and an orange soda!" he beamed. We hit the McDonald's on Market and 11th.

Next frame was a cabdriver; his accent thick and lyrical, even though he's been here 27 years! He left Trinidad when he was 7, and now has 4 kids and works a crazy midnight shift. We know all this because Rebecca asked about his family as we drove towards the movie theater. As we paid him and crawled out of the cab at the corner, Rebecca gave him a "God bless" (her standard farewell). He called out the window to us "'Ave a guud life." I think Rebecca's kindness must have been refreshing to him (it always is to me!). How often do we talk to cabdrivers, cashiers and clerks? How many times do we allow the time for a personal, human encounter? As we were walking and he driving away, he pulled over and called to us with a final blast of beautiful advice. "Tr-rust," he said in that rich accent. "Eet's all about tr-rust. If you 'ave it, you 'ave every'ting."

Whoa. These powerful human moments can happen every day. We felt so moved by the simple beauty of this soul; like a prophet he spoke to us a word we needed to hear.

The final frame... We had left the theater (saw Babel; it was raw, moving, mostly sad) and as we made our way up a chilly 2nd Street in the "city of brotherly love," a young, well dressed and deeply intoxicated man crossed the street in front of us. He ran up a few yards ahead of us and mindlessly slapped the cold and calloused hand of a homeless man. Laughing as if he scored a point he shouted "Hey! Homeless guy!" and skipped past him toward us. The dichotomy of these two faces, one broken by life and one breaking it, shocked us. It enraged Rebecca.

"Can you show some respect?" I said to him. Rebecca said "He's a human being!" And there followed a drunken rant from the man, peppered with expletives. There was no sense of reason here. He continued to shout and curse and stagger around, soon joined by two more friends. I took Rebecca's hand and we walked away. We caught up to the man. He was very old, bundled up, and carrying a small bag over his shoulder. His name was George. I said we were sorry about the way the drunk guy treated him, and we asked if he was hungry. "I know a place around the corner, should be open," he whispered.

So we sat with George as he ate half an Italian hoagie at 10:45pm, and stuffed the rest into his bag. He showed us his prize watch (a $5 casio) which was the reason he doesn't stay at the shelters. "They take your stuff. I don' wann'em to take ma' stuff." He spoke of a sister somewhere in NJ, and of the street people he avoids and the kind of which he hopes to find. "Good people, who'll just let you be." He said his boots were steel-tipped; good for working but not for walking. We spoke of the weather, and for George this wasn't small talk. I offered him my fleece vest and he quickly refused. "I got too many clothes on already!" The curious cashier at the deli said they had to close up shop, so we brushed the crumbs off the table and walked down to the corner with this man who had seen more years than both of us combined. A man of quiet strength and a wisdom, I believe, born of suffering. He wished us well, and thanked us. There was a real beauty in George's wrinkled smile and tired eyes.

Of the homeless and the forgotten, the nameless faces we pass on the street, of the hungry poor and the hungry rich, in the malls and on the roads, let us be mindful. Let us be as attentive as to our own souls. For we are one, all of us, broken and beautiful. We are one...

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Reflections on the Word - 1st Sunday of Advent December 3, 2006 - Reading 1 - Jer 33:14-16 What are you waiting for? What are you looking forward to? What is the star you are following? When I was young, I had my markers, my signposts that kept me moving, getting up out of bed every morning through those groggy teenage years. I loved the idea, the sense, the feeling of expectation. So often I would project my thoughts into the future and dream of that next good thing. From the ridiculous to the sublime; getting an Atari 2600 for Christmas (what a classic!) or maybe it was the next Star Wars movie (we had to wait 3 stinkin' years for the Empire Strikes Back!). Perhaps it was the next Sunday, when I might catch a glimpse of the Mysterious Girl Who Always Sat on the Far Side of Church. Oh those nerdy, self-conscious high school years! "The days are coming," says the Lord. So begins the Prophet Jeremiah in this first Sunday of Advent. The days are coming... Jeremiah puts out a signpost for us all this week. It's the something behind every hope, underneath all of the wrapping of expectation and the ribbons of hope. It's the dream of every heart, really. It is the fulfillment of a promise, of THE Promise.... "In those days, in that time, I will raise up for David a just shoot; he shall do what is right and just in the land. In those days Judah shall be safe and Jerusalem shall dwell secure....” That's it. What do we want? To be safe. To be secure, finally! This is the hope of humanity! To rest in the Strong Arms of the One Who won't let us go. The Prince of Peace Who will cast away all danger, all fear, and everything that threatens our peace, He is coming. He will save us from our ridiculous anxieties and He will lead us to those sublime moments of decision. He will enable us to dwell secure, confident in hope. So as Advent begins, we set our hearts on this path of expectation. We walk through the valleys and over the hills of a culture consumed with the desire to create its own safety, its own security. We follow a different beat, we walk free and unencumbered by distraction and deception. And in it all we "increase and abound in love," as Paul exhorts us in the second reading from this coming Sunday. (1 Thes 3:12—4:2) We must be careful to keep our hearts from becoming "drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life." Rather, let's listen to Jesus and "when these signs begin to happen, stand straight and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand."

Monday, November 27, 2006

Floundering Faith

When I was young we used to love to go "fluking" at Captain Mike's. We'd get up around 5am and drive through the Pine Barrens to the Jersey shore, to a smelly strip of weathered old buildings on the green fly infested edge of Tuckerton. We'd rent a little boat for the day and tool around the salt water channels, catching the drifts, and catching some rays. Our mornings were spent slicing up squid into slippery strips, and then baiting our hooks with them, as well as the ever faithful "keelies" which were sure to be wasted on the sea robins (very cool to look at but not to eat, by the way). All the while we'd be stuffing chips and sandwiches into our faces with our unwashed hands. Ah, what fun! Makes you want to throw up, doesn't it? Needless to say, it was Dad who took us "fluking." And we LOVED IT.

We'd bring the old radio and pop in our Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem tapes, or maybe some John Cougar (Mellancamp), the Chieftains, or Van Morrison. What a life! Belting out the lines of Four Green Fields or The Rocky Road to Dublin, as we tilted and swayed on the briny foam! We were seeking those treasured pockets of the deep where flounder lay in murky abundance. They are weird little critters, by the way. At one point in their development, the eyes of these flat fish migrate to one side of their bodies so that both eyes are facing up from the ocean floor. And that's where they lay, all the time, those spooky eyes peeping up. Kinda like Picasso fish, if you will.

Let's get theological!
In other news, I have grown weary of the God vs. Science debate. I am tired of the Creationist vs. Evolutionist debate. I'm saddened by the supposition that faith and reason are warriors fighting when the truth is they are two wings flapping, lifting us up to truth! Everywhere we look there is the desire to pull them apart, and it seems so many want to view all of human experience, the vast scope of the entire universe, with a kind of flounder vision. We've settled into a murky, muddy, greyness and let our eyes sort of migrate into a one dimensional plane on the side of the head. It's a kind of tunnel vision, really. Try living a day like this, with just one eye open. Your depth perception will be off, and every time you reach for something you'll have to stumble before you can pin it down.

I think there's a reason why we have two eyes, two ears, two hands and two feet, two lungs, two lips, two nostrils (dang, we have a lot of twos don't we?), all proportioned the way they are... They are opposites and they're symetrical and afford us a harmony when used together. God has stamped right in our bodies the way He wishes us to "see." It's the integration of two planes into one.

Now if this seems difficult at present, with our eyes trying to discern the place of Science with Scripture, Good with Evil, Faith with Reason, then maybe it's because we have this flounder vision. Our culture has devolved our view into a single plane of vision, and we're peering stiffly at either God or Science, and actually limiting our vision. We get pure materialism, a reducing of reality to only the visible, weighable, smellable stuff, or we get a misty, castle in the clouds view of reality that seems completely detached from our every day lives here and now... more a fantasy than a final end. Let the eyes expand, separate but remain in union, becoming more fully human. Don't be a fish head!

We are not like the flounder, with both eyes on one side of its head, staring blankly up and out from the murky ocean floor. We must see with a fuller vision, viewing all of creation as God intended us to; as sweet sacraments, physical signs pregnant with spiritual meaning, rich in symbolism and yet able to stand up in their own right... solid, sure and utterly sensible.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Minimize Me!

It's Black Friday! Aaaaaggggghhhhhh!!! This is the day when millions of insane people (please don't take this personally) who were nestled in perfectly legitimate turkey comas and invited to participate in National Sleep In Day, willingly (WILLINGLY!) got out of bed at 3am and went shopping.

They are out there right now. They are drinking lots of coffee. Don't get in their way.

The following reflection was inspired by this secular feast day, but let it be known: I like a good deal as much as the next guy, and I too have been snared many times over by.... the BIGGIEMAN.

Lemme 'splain...

In mainstream America, we have BIG culture. I don't mean a lot of culture, I mean BIG culture. We love to maximize and biggie-size. We love those "Buy 6 get 1 free deals," even when the item is a cheese grater.

When someone says "Do you want the Behemoth Burger and Jumbo Bucket o' Fries for only .30 more?"... generally we say "sure." This is not because we need it, but I think because we can. Deep down, you see, we've been seduced by the greasy lies of the BIGGIEMAN: that cloudy and coagulated Spirit of America that whispers to our wallets that bigger is always better.

We are grande mocha gringos who are always on the look out for "upgrades" and "additions" - for the better, the new and improved. From SUVs to giant screen TVs, and now it seems, DVDs. (Yup, I saw it the other day, a new format of the already perfectly amazing disc that is even smaller, and of course, requires that we upgrade to the new DVD player to play it.)

When will it end?! When will America stop the presses? End this madness? Do we need 68 kinds of toothpaste, 259 brands of the same cereal, 2543 different types of shampoo!! Cars bigger than houses, TVs larger than billboards!!!

Never, I fear, so long as we continue to shout out our demand to "Super-Size Me!"

Enter, the Gospel.

"Agghh!" shrieks the BIGGIEMAN, "not that!"

A still, small voice whispers through the leaves of the New Testament, "He must increase, I must decrease."

"He must increase, I must decrease." "I must decrease."

I have a new battle cry for myself, as this season of sales and ceaseless shopping begins, reaching out its neon tentacles to draw me in. Try it if you like. "Minimize Me!"

In all things, make me small. In my wants, and in my needs, minimize me. In my thoughts, in my words, minimize me.

"He must increase, I must decrease."

This is the best way to create a space for the Christ Child to rest His weary head. Unclutter the heart, clear away the things. Let persons take precedence.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thank you President Abraham Lincoln! You made an inherently religious act a national holiday! Thanksgiving has indeed become one of the most sacred of secular holi(y)days for Americans. Not only does this day give us pause from our little rat races, but it draws us back to the family, where we reminisce, recreate, and invariably recline after some serious FOOD. This is so good, so warm, and so true. For it all, we are thankful. Not to the cold Universe, or to some vague Power, but to the Father, from Whom all good things come! The posture of thanksgiving is one of humility, and that too is so good. We look up with hands that were empty yet now are full and we say again one of the first phrases we were ever taught - "Thank you." Now here's a way to stay in that position, and it works wonders. I used to do this, and God has inspired me to kickstart it again; it's the Gratitude Journal. In this week of Thanksgiving, America, let's start a new tradition. Three times a day let's write in our journals three different things we are grateful for. And I don't exactly mean "brown paper packages tied up with string" but even the tough stuff. The sufferings that have passed over you like a storm and given you a weathered wisdom, the soft chiseling of time that has shaped the way you look at life. Here goes my three cents worth: 1. For the eyes of my wife, ceaseless in their affirmation and tender care. 2. For my work that makes a channel through which my passion can flow. 3. For that new coffee at Wawa that tastes sooooo very good. How 'bout a Bonus Round! 4. For the cold and rain of today that recalls to my mind the blessing of a home and of heat! And the list can go on and on.... How about yours? Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Nativity Story: A Review We've just come fresh from a private screening of the New Line Cinema movie "The Nativity Story." The film chronicles that year in the life of Mary and Joseph that forever altered the course of human history. It's the Christmas story, told beautifully in rich, earthen tones. The journey takes us from a windy garden annunciation of Gabriel to the Holy Birth soaked in starlight, ending with the flight of Mary and Joseph with the Child into Egypt. First Impressions: For me, the real treasures of this film lie in its attention to detail; the humble village of Nazareth is recreated with such evident devotion that this alone makes the film a joy to watch. We are invited to enter into the daily life of Mary, Joseph and their kin. We move with their schedules, we perform their everyday rituals, and it slows us down. These scenes are so rich with authenticity! Mary's coarse cloak, handwoven and weathered, brushing past the wheat; Joseph at his wood-working table, layered with sawdust... each speaks to us of the Divine descent into our time, our work, and our sweat; they pull back the glitter and the lights and show us again the gritty reality of the Incarnation, and the time and place in which God ordained that He would come. The olive press and the crushing of grapes for wine, so deeply foreboding of what lies ahead for Jesus; the gleaning of the grain in the fields hints at a "gift of finest wheat" that will soon come to fill us. The tanning of animal hides, the stirring of goat's milk, the planting of seeds and the tilling of soil. All seemed drenched with light and pregnant with meaning. Another charm of this film is in the intimate interactions of Mary and Joseph. A favorite scene for me was of Mary washing the travel-worn feet of a sleeping Joseph by a rocky stream. Again, a foreshadowing of what their Son will do for His Apostles. So we see in the parents what will come to be in the Child. Oscar Isaac was so refreshing in his portrayal of Joseph, the humble blue collar saint. He gave him a weight, a maturity, and a chivalry that is so desparately needed today. Well acted with convincing emotion, Joseph too makes the movie a must see. There are well placed pieces of humor, of the most innocent kind. The music is stirring, with subtle hints at the classic Christmas hymns and melodies we all know so well. They are woven almost seemlessly into the score and we smiled when we caught them. The cave that served as the birthplace of the God made Flesh was an open invitation to prayer, and that was almost tangible as we sat in the theater. The Nativity Story has its limitations, as all our works of art do. The opening scenes were a little too Peter Jackson-esque. Joachim and Ann seemed a little cranky most of the time. And Mary was overly distant, almost stoic at times. But who could ever come close to conveying the emotion and the love of the Immaculate Virgin anyway? Overall, I found myself thanking God for the gift of this movie. The timing is just right, in more ways than one.

Friday, November 17, 2006

When Do I Have to Believe All This Stuff?

We are filled when we are young with all manner of information; people and places, dates, and diagrams, maps and mathematical formulas, theories and theorems. We are filled to overflowing with information.

Then, in the middle of this cacophany of cognitive activity (we hope, we hope, we hope), something happens. Something wonderful. It's the something every teacher dreams of and looks for in his or her students, like a gold digger looks for sparkles in the glassy-eyed riverbed. It's the moment when the mind opens and the channel from the brain to the heart is cleared of obstructions. Information turns into formation. The heart hears, recognizes and responds. The pupil dilates, expanding to let in the light.

I love teaching. LOVE it. I love to dive into a classroom of 15 year olds who have been drinking in the foul air of our culture and offer them the sweet fragrance that is Christ. The scent of eternity that the human heart, at every age, secretly and deeply longs for, though we may know it not.

God zapped me when I was 15 years old. Suddenly, right there in the middle of my freshmen year. Somewhere between my crush on Sharon H. and my eager anticipation of Return of the Jedi, I came to the realization that God was REAL. God was a Person, not just a parable or a story in a book. He was inviting me into a relationship with Him. Yikes! This awakening stirred me up. It called me to respond. This Divine invitation had an RSVP.

Now if you're like me, sometimes you let those invites sit on the kitchen table for awhile next to the bills. Maybe it feels like a burden at first. Another obligation, and you have to check the calendar. Or maybe you feel really happy that someone was thinking of you. But now you need to get back to them. You have to let them know if you are available... or not.

Sometime last year, as I was teaching my freshmen boys, one student asked a question that I thought was a glimmer of an awakening. I think he heard an invitation. I teach Scripture, so the Divine Whisper just murmurs all class long. The Word is right in front of us! In the middle of a lesson, perhaps on Abraham, Moses or David, and their radical journey of trust, a student asked "When do we have to believe all this stuff?"

I love teenagers.

"Well," I paused, looking at their faces, so full of questions, "you are invited to believe right now. Right here... You're on the same walk."



"Any other questions?" God of Mystery, empty our hearts of all distractions and turn our hearts into vessels, open and ready to receive the love You are pouring into us from all directions! Turn knowledge into wisdom, facts into faith, and information into transformation!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

It's Stupid, Really Just when you think the secular media can't sink any lower (than using sex to sell M&M's), someone actually publishes and offers a timeslot for the following, just in from CNN: O.J.'s latest: 'If I Did It, Here's How It Happened'' LOS ANGELES, California (AP) -- In a new TV interview and book, O.J. Simpson discusses how he would have committed the slayings of his ex-wife and her friend "if I did it." The two-part television interview, titled "O.J. Simpson: If I Did It, Here's How It Happened," will air November 27 and November 29 on Fox, the TV network said Tuesday. "O.J. Simpson, in his own words, tells for the first time how he would have committed the murders if he were the one responsible for the crimes," the network said in a statement. "In the two-part event, Simpson describes how he would have carried out the murders he has vehemently denied committing for over a decade." In the word(s) of Montgomery Burns, "Hellooooo..." Does anyone else see the absurdity of this? And just in time for Thanksgiving! I think I've lost my appetite, as the media continues to spill useless garbage like this into our heads and into our homes. Why give this foolishness our time? Here's my media alternative: Watch Little House on the Prairie, Season 1, Disc 4, episode 2.... a heart-warming classic, which is exactly what we need.

Monday, November 13, 2006

A Tale of Two Grapes, Part Four, The End...

Could this be the Something More? The Moment that Agapito the Grape longed for? In an act that would forever change him, he turned his face towards the Shape... And let go of the Vine. All that he knew brushed past him, then Hand took hold of him, and he fell into shadow.... Agapito found himself in total darkness. He could not remember much of the events of the last few days. There was fear, an exhilarating rush, and movements so fast his thoughts could not keep up with them. He howled past the leaves and branches of the Vineyard, the old latticework, and the hills. He saw new sights and heard new sounds, and he was full of the Mystery of it all. Everything was a blur, like the days on the Vine when Wind would blow and the leaves would sing. Then everyone would cry and cling to the Vine for fear of being torn from It. But it was those days, incidentally, that Agapito loved the most! He tried to piece it all together, and recalled that there were many others with him; a whole multitude of Grapes resting beside him in a Basket. Some were nervous, others crying, but still others were singing as they flew from the safety of the Vineyard into the Great Unknown. Agapito now, still shrouded in darkness, could remember a part of that Song: "We're meant to be broken, opened and poured Let go of the Vine and find your reward! When Hand comes to take you, let go and you'll see The Crushing is coming for you and for me!" With the memory of that Song, the images and events of the last few days were becoming clearer for little Agapito the Grape. He remembered the quiet surge of emotion he felt when he heard the Singing, and the deep fear it stirred in him too. Crushing? That didn't sound very good any way he looked at it. Then they were brought into a large room, deep and rich with age. The very walls seemed to be whispering to him that the Something More was coming. That he was being prepared for It. The Grapes were poured into large vats, deep and cool. Many began to cry again, but the air seemed so heavy, so rich with some beauty he could not name, that Agapito could only remain silent. A strain of words kept flowing through his mind... We're meant to be broken, opened and poured. A Shape appeared above them, and the Grapes began to tremble; whether for fear or for joy, Agapito could not tell. The rest of the memory was only pain, deep and searing pain like he had never felt before. And now he lie in the darkness, strangely content, feeling that he had weathered the worst, and now he was ready for the Something More. It still seemed to be calling to him, like those soft breezes from the hills in his old life. This was not what he expected, this perpetual darkness. But then, that was part of the Mystery! He felt free now, almost liquid. And in that dreamy darkness he felt he could "see" more, be more, and go further than before. Was he still a Grape? He didn't really know. He didn't really care. He waited in the pungent stillness... One day, and of days in that darkness he could never keep count, a Light broke through and his heart rejoiced. He noticed with a shock that he had been transformed! He WAS liquid, he was free. He was one with many others, and yet still somehow himself! Suddenly a Hand came into the place where they were and pulled them up and out. A sound of popping came to him and then a rush like a ride on the Wind. He looked about with delight at his new surroundings. Soft white linen and candles, with tiny flames that were dancing like little yellow leaves. He was looking out from a crystal glass, and a golden cup and dish were beside him. Agapito felt so good. His heart swam in the glass, and he felt rich. Then a Shape appeared, and words were said. They seemed Ancient too, far older in fact than any he had ever heard. They turned suddenly into a lilting Song, and he saw uplifted a white circle, and therein he saw the hearts of many grains, that once danced up on the Hill beside the Vineyard. They were singing to him now, and their tiny voices mingled with the Voice that chanted... "The King is coming for you and for me! The One Who was crushed in infirmity! As the grain and the grapes have given their all So He comes from Great Heavens to fill up the Small He pours out and pours in of His Very Own Self We receive and return and in Him is our Wealth!" A Hand came over the glass then and Words dripped down like the dew of a thousand mornings in the Vineyard. Agapito was filled with a sweetness he could not name, and he let it fill him. It was then that he knew the Something More that he was made for. It seemed now in fact a Someone. And in this moment he understood the reason for which he was given his name, Agapito... the beloved. With a sigh he was taken up and then... all was Light.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

A Tale of Two Grapes, Part Three

"We're meant to be raisins, old wrinkled and sweet
So cling to this Vine and never retreat! When Hand comes to take you, hold tight or you'll die Stay safe in the Shadows, keep facing the Sky As much as you can, beware of the Feet We're meant to be raisins, old wrinkled and sweet."

Agapito sighed as the night breeze began to whisper through the Vine. Maybe there's another way to live, he thought. Maybe there's another Ancient Song, older than Adhaesio's. Maybe that Song is fearless....

The next morning, Agapito awoke with the other Grapes. The morning dew was heavy on their glossy skins and many on the Vine began their morning rituals. Drinking, slurping, growing fat on the Vine, and unfolding their leaves for the Sun to warm them. That Sun was just now glimmering on the Edge of the Vineyard.

Suddenly, Agapito felt a strange trembling sensation in the pit of his little grape heart. A great wave was rising and rumbling through the Vine. Every Grape felt it, coming up the lattice of their world and pulsating throughout every root, tendril, and branch that formed this great community of Grapes.

Agapito was frightened, "What's happening?" he cried out, to no one in particular. Ampelio shouted, "Something's coming! What do we do! What do we do!"

A coarse whisper came from the Shadows behind Agapito. "When Hand comes to take you, pull back or you'll die... Stay safe in the Shadows, keep facing the Sky...." Agapito thought he could just see the dark eyes of old Adhaesio, small and wrinkled as he was, half covered in leaves.

"As much as you can, beware of the Feet... We're meant to be raisins, old wrinkled and sweet."

Then, a still more unexpected thing happened. A thing tall and free flashed past Agapito. It was the Shape he had seen before, moving through the Vineyard at the breezy time of the evening. A strange object brushed past him. He heard the cries of many Grapes, and noticed with a shock that they were being pulled from the Vine! It seemed like a nightmare. But in the midst of such commotion, crying and fear, he thought he could also hear a different cry. One of utter joy and freedom, not of fear. Could this be the Something More, the Moment that Agapito longed for? In an act that would forever change him, Agapito turned his face towards the Shape... And let go of the Vine. All that he knew brushed past him, then a Hand took hold of him, and he fell into shadow....

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A Tale of Two Grapes, Part Two

From the corner of his eye, Agapito saw a shape moving quietly through the shadows below. It was a shape he'd never seen before; tall, free, and moving softly through the Vineyard. Something stirred in Agapito. Perhaps this was a sign of the Something More? The shape was gone in an instant, lost from his sight by the tangle of leaves and the rich clusters of other grapes all around him. Drawn deeper into his thoughts, Agapito grew silent and pondered what this might mean... Later that day, as the Sun tipped low in the sky, pouring its benediction of light over the Vineyard, Agapito the Grape was still deep in his thought. Gazing but not looking at a patch of dark leaves in the Vine, a sudden shock pulled him from his ponderings. He found himself staring into the oldest, wrinkliest pair of eyes he had ever... laid eyes on. "Wazzityooosed?" squeaked an old voice. "Pardon me?" said Agapito, aware now of an elderly Grape who was beside him on the Vine. It was so tiny and shriveled up in the Shadows that he'd not noticed it before. "Yoosed sum'thin?" the old Grape crackled. His name was Adhaesio. "Oh, I was just thinking about the meaning of Life. I have this feeling that we're made for Something More." Adhaesio shook his leaves. "Bah, leta gooo, lil' grape. This here'sit. Just try un live. Longa tha' bedder. Git a'smuch Sun as yoo can! Look a me, I been here longer than 'em all!" Agapito looked at Adhaesio. He was old, and the wrinkles on his face told of many days under the Sun. Funny though, he thought to himself, I can't see the Sun in his eyes... only its effect on his face. "But sir, you mean we're just meant to hang around on this Vine and drink in the Shine and that's it... nothing More?" In the face of such apparent aged wisdom, Agapito's old fears came back at him. Was Adhaesio right? Was the meaning of Life on the Vine all about clinging to It for as long as you could? "Yupper. Thas'zit." Agapito thought for a moment more. Then a spark lit up inside him and he felt clearer. "But sir," he wondered. "If clinging to this Vine and just basking in the Sun and soaking up the dew is all there is... then why am I even asking for Something More? If all I should desire is here on this Vine, why am I not happy, why do I pine?" Adhaesio snorted. "Kidz," he grumbled. "Yoo tink too'much." With that he turned over a leaf and drank a few drops of the dew he was hording. Then he shot a final glance at Agapito and spoke clear and sharp for the first time. What he said sounded old, like a poem or a song: "We're meant to be raisins, old wrinkled and sweet So cling to this Vine and never retreat! When Hand comes to take you, hold tight or you'll die Stay safe in the Shadows, keep facing the Sky As much as you can, beware of the Feet We're meant to be raisins, old wrinkled and sweet." With that, Adhaesio fell into Shadow and was seen no more that day. Agapito was stunned. The verse sounded so ancient, and it stirred in him a fear that seemed fair to obey. After all, Life was good. Shouldn't it be protected at all costs? Then a second thought came to Agapito. "We're meant to be raisins, old wrinkled and sweet..."
He looked back into the Shadows, and could just hear the mumblings and grumblings and slurpings of the old raisin Adhaesio. He was anything but sweet! In fact, he seemed miserable.
Agapito sighed as the night breeze began to whisper through the Vine. Maybe there's another way to live, he thought. Maybe there's another Ancient Song, older still than Adhaesio's. Maybe that Song is fearless....

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Tale of Two Grapes, Part One

Once upon a time, there were two grapes. Their names were Agapito and Ampelio. Aren't those fantastic names? As the Sun rose one morning over the Vineyard, brilliant as ever, and the glistening dew warmed away from their shiny skin, as comfortably as ever, Agapito pondered their purpose in the Vineyard. "What's our life about, Ampelio?" he whispered, slightly conscious of the cluster of grapes around them. "I mean what is... Life?" "Eh? Life?" yawned Ampelio. "THIS is the life, Agapito. What else is there? To grow fat on the vine, to enjoy the Sunshine, to drink in the dew, to be talking with you. That's the life, Agapito. Any other questions?" Agapito looked troubled, as only a grape can. "But, I just get this sense sometimes... that were called to Something More." "Called?" cranked Ampelio, slightly disturbed, as the vague remembrance of Agapito's perplexingly ponderous personality came back to him. "Nobody's calling us you grape! It's you and me and a few thousand friends, living and growing, drinking in the Shine, and feeling fine. Just be a grape and enjoy it!" His friend's confident curtness was often enough for Agapito to shuffle off his deeper thoughts and just be a grape again. But today, as Ampelio laughed and turned his face towards the Sun, Agapito looked down. His gaze fall into the shadows beneath the Vine. "Who am I?" he wondered. "Why am I here?" It was just at this moment, when that old aching sadness stung in the pit of his heart, that something happened. Something Big. From the corner of his eye, Agapito saw a shape moving quietly through the shadows below. It was a shape he'd never seen before; tall, free, and moving softly through the Vineyard. Something stirred in Agapito. Perhaps this was a sign of the Something More? The shape was gone in an instant, lost from his sight by the tangle of leaves and the rich clusters of other grapes all around him. Drawn deeper into his thoughts, Agapito grew silent and pondered what this might mean...

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Beauty that Burns: A Filmable! I was recently watching one of my favorite films, Hero. It's a patchwork quilt of stories, all woven around the same characters. Each story is from a different perspective, and in each retelling the figures are robed in a different color. Jet Li, the renowned martial artist (and he is an artist) is a central figure. In the style of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, this film is visually stunning. It is a feast for the eyes. It's a heart-breaking story of sacrifice, honor, love for country and letting go. I think the Truth gets muddied along the way, and the conclusion seems to affirm a Communist China. But glimmers of the Good are seen along the way. In one poignant episode, a calligraphy school becomes a place of martyrdom when an army comes to shut down this oasis of Chinese culture. The white-bearded headmaster stands his ground and calls to his pupils to return to their places just as a swarm of black arrows descends upon them like locusts. Jet Li, who is called Nameless, and the mystical character Flying Snow, step out of the humble school and into the barrage of deadly darts. With what can only be described as a poetic dance, they deflect the arrows and save many lives, sheltered within the school, safe again to practice their art. And their art is the art of making words, of tracing letters, of passing on the knowledge of these characters etched in sand. I wonder if with the countless amount of words we spray onto screens these days, how many will stick? How many will stay the test of time? Just a question to ponder. Do our words improve upon the silence, or do they not? Do they build up or are they like arrows that pierce and tear down?
Snowflakes A very short but sweet article on Catholic Exchange today, clarifying for us yet again on the embryonic stem cell debate. "It is that simple. Stem cell research is a good and it is moral according to Catholic social teachings. Many cures have been discovered through research on stem cells taken from umbilical cords or from fully developed persons. What makes stem cell research immoral is when it requires killing a living human being..." Read the article in full here.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Extreme Toothbrushes! I don't know if you've noticed, and here I speak to the older crowd.... but toothbrushes are out of control these days. I guess it was just the other day when I realized you should update your brush every ten years or so. To my surprise, there's a veritable army of brushes out there now.... fully loaded! They've got sparkles, gel grips, sportgrips, SpongeBobs, ScoobyDoos, racing stripes, ground effects... I think mine has voicemail, I just have to get around to activating it. Sportgrips? Come on! As if it could get away! How fast do YOU brush? Anyhoo, I was just noticing. I'm not going to make any profound connections to our fast-paced culture or anything (I guess I just did). I really want everyone reading this (all three of you) to wake up to the fact that our toothbrushes are intense! Just be careful out there everybody.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Holy Now There's a tune I first heard Dave Wilcox sing a few years back. It was a song called Holy Now by Peter Mayer. It struck me that night at an open air autumn concert as pure beauty. Sitting with the lyrics some more, I see some of the theology could get a little murky. It's not the truest sacramental vision that the Church holds as a treasure for us to open, but I feel the vision is still inspired. Here's my favorite verse: "This morning, outside I stood and saw a little red-winged bird, Shining like a burning bush, singing like a scripture verse. It made me want to bow my head, I remember when church let out, How things have changed since then… everything is holy now. It used to be a world half there, Heaven’s second rate hand-me-down, But I walk it with a reverent air ‘cause everything is holy now." Happy Sunday!

Friday, November 03, 2006

Circle Up It's early November. Crisp and cool the days are, and the leaves are letting go. The sun tips and pours his light into the nooks and crannies of trees, stone walls and ledges. The stars are fiery gems wrapped in the cloak of the night. Who can peer into the dark, cool waters of these days and not see reflected in their deep currents our own mortality? 'Tis the season to ruminate, contemplate, and conversate. I think we should have a bonfire. All of us. We could gather 'round, wrapped in sweaters, our breath coming out in puffs in the frigid night air. We could tell stories, all of us. Ponder the deepest of questions deep into the night. Watch the flames flash and glow, the waves of heat roll through the embers, shimmering liquid fire, and then the sparks pop and spin up into the "mystical moist night air." And we would soon be warm again. Warm with words and human company. We could watch and listen, as the great heart of humanity rose and fell, keeping time with the spinning stars above us. Who's up for it? What thoughts will come, I wonder? What sacramental stories can be told, of heat and cold, light and shadow? What fuel will we cast into the fire as we talk and sing and gaze far into the night? Words and poems, songs and stories... softly mouthing our "hymns to the Silence." I think we need to do this, and to do this soon. We are divided and the chasm between us deepens daily. Do we know each other anymore? When is the last time we had a heart to heart conversation, or are we still just monologuing in pairs? We feel like two, but we long to be One. We want to be warm in this fire of Love. We hope that in the waxing of our years, a melting and merging will happen in us that will unite us to the Meaning behind it All. To the Love that burns so warmly. We were made to be in this circle, and yet we persist as parallel lines. I think the best place to start is around the tabernacle. There the Fire never sleeps, and the red glow of the sanctuary lamp beckons us. Let's circle up around that Throne of Grace. It's as close as the nearest Church.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

A Dream for All Souls Day

In November of 1993, my grandfather died. Over the short time he spent in the hospital, the family was given the grace to come and see him. It was a chance to speak our goodbyes, but Grandpa was speechless. He could see us, his eyes could pierce our own with a sorrow and pleading that I never saw in him before that day, but he could not speak. The stroke had robbed him of words. So we gathered, and prayed. We told him we loved him, and he was given the Anointing of the Sick. In that month of the Holy Souls, my family hoped that he would make his peace with God, that he would be able to trust, to rest. A scapular was placed on the bed post. My father saw Grandpa try to make the Sign of the Cross once or twice, but those frail arms would not obey. Frustrated, locked in silence, this man of the Old Sod who fought in World War II, worked as a welder for over 30 years, raised ten children, and loved his John Wayne movies, gave up his last breath on a Saturday, Our Lady's Day, wearing the scapular. His spirit moved free and strong again over those patchwork fields of Donegal, out into the West, through the thin veil of cloud that divides time and eternity. At the funeral, in a military chapel on a misty morning, a lone piper played Amazing Grace and we wept in our soft, subdued Irish way. We had grown silent too. But it was not uncommon for my grandfather to be silent. Frank was never much of a talker. He was a quiet man of action, total and uninterrupted, as he kept the family going and growing all those years. There are so many stories, and in all of them it seemed Grandpa's silence was the thing that spoke the loudest, in the lessons he taught his children. The year moved on, and many rosaries and masses were offered up in his name, as we prayed he would be in the Father's House. Then, over a year after his death, and the night before Ash Wednesday, Grandpa gave us a word. My Aunt Margaret, the eldest daughter, had a dream... She was in a white kitchen, an empty kitchen it seemed, all bathed in a white light; she couldn't make out any details. There were no appliances, just a sink and a window, and a lone figure stooped over the sink, stirring a cup of coffee. It was Grandpa. When he turned around, Margaret saw his face, young and strong, smiling. He was wearing his Irish sweater. "Daddy, what are you doing here? You look so good." Margaret said in the dream, perplexed, knowing he was dead. "Margaret, I'm all right." And he hugged her close. A few nights later, my aunt was on the phone with Grandma Donaghy. "Ma," she said, "I had a dream the other night. I saw daddy in a kitchen..." "Was he wearing that Irish sweater?" my Grandmother whispered. "Yeah, he was holding..." "A mug of coffee.... stirring it." Margaret's face paled as her mother relayed the very dream she had on the very same night. "Frank," my grandmother said in her dream, "what are you doing here? You look so good." "Nellie, I'm all right." He put his arms around her and the dream ended. There are coincidences, and their are God-incidences. How can two people have the same dream, with the same setting and the same dialogue, miles apart on the same night? This seems to me to be the work of angels, a pulling back of the veil, a gift and a glimmer of that silken web that binds us all and forms the web of being that is suspended above and around us all. For the Mystery of Providence, thank you God! For Your tender care of each of us, thank you Father! I believe Grandpa is home. For those who doubt, no explanation would suffice. For those who believe, no explanation is necessary.
It's the Feast of All Saints! Woohoo!

This is yet another day, and there are many of them in the Church's calendar, when the "universal call to holiness" beeps in and says "Hello, are you there? Answer me." Holiness, sheesh... I'll just let that one go to voicemail. Heard it all before anyway. Being holy means I lose my individuality and get subsumed into a big mass of people who are all good with nice haircuts and see the bright side of things all the time, like Ned Flanders. Well, that ain't me. Some things just get me angry, or frustrated. Sometimes I doubt. Sometimes I'm afraid I could never reach such high standards. Sometimes I just want to be silly, goof off. Sometimes I just want to be me. I mean, I'm only human.

Well, to be human should mean to be holy.

"The glory of God," St. Irenaeus says, "is man fully alive." Do we know what this even looks like? We've been duped and the devil has distorted what it means to be holy.

The odor of sanctity has the tang of the sea in it, and beneath it's billowing surface are a thousand varied visages, of beings bright and beautiful, deep and mysterious, as lucid and light as polished glass.

The ones who let holiness wash over and into them find not an anesthetic that numbs all feeling but an invigorating draught that awakens the mind to Truth! It's completeness, fulfillment, fullness! It's the way I ought to be, it's the posture of standing up, when all around me souls are bent. It's hearing my own true name, after decades of muffled whispers. A few thoughts from Father Cantalamessa on Holiness, spoken in Rome just yesterday:

"Holiness does not reside in the hands, but in the heart; it is not decided outside but within man, and it is summarized in charity.

The mediators of God's holiness are no longer places (the Temple of Jerusalem or the Mountain of the Beatitudes), rites, objects or laws, but a person, Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ is the very holiness of God that comes to us in person.... Mother Teresa was right when a journalist asked her point-blank how she felt being acclaimed as being holy around the world, and she answered: "Holiness is not a luxury; it is a necessity."

Holiness is what we were made for, anything less is, in a certain sense, sub-human. For we were made for the Seventh Day, created to walk into the Sabbath with our Father. To stay behind is to be numbered with the beasts. When Christ called his followers to this Oneness with him in the Eucharist, many turned aside and no longer walked with him. That gospel verse? John 6:66.

Lord, help us answer the call! Make us holy! Make us saints!

Talking to Your Little Ones About the Big Topic of Sex

A much repeated sentence we hear at our Theology of the Body retreats and courses is "I wish I heard this when I was younger!" ...