Tuesday, September 26, 2006

God Bless You, Grandma Donaghy

Early this morning, a beautiful soul left this world...

Ellen Donaghy was born and raised in Scotland, and traveled to America over 60 years ago. She never went to college, and after she was married, never worked outside the home. And she never lost that Scottish brogue we loved so much to imitate. She gave birth to ten children, and they were her life. I'm so proud to say that I'm a part of that legacy, now in its third generation.

In Scotland, they called her "Nellie." She worked in a men's clothing store after school. She survived the German blitz of World War II, and she saw many of her friends and loved ones die in those bombings. She prayed every day, a rosary never far from her hands, and the name of Mary was always on her lips. Nellie met Frank and they were married, and their new life took them across the sea to America, leaving behind all they ever knew.

When I was a teenager, one Sunday out of four was spent at Grandma Donaghy's. We'd sit in the house in Cranbury, watching old Jimmie Stewart movies, or John Wayne down in Grandpa's den (it was always the Duke down there). Tea was always on in the little white kitchen; white porcelain cups on saucers, and never-ending Entenmann's raspberry danish. The family laughing, quoting movies, telling stories, or just singing the old songs from the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem.

I remember the muddy stream out back where we'd fish and look for snappers, the ivy wall, the iron jungle gym. Fireflies, cookouts, climbing the big sycamore before it was cut down. Sundays after Mass on the green lawn, talking of God and the stories of the saints... and Grandma would sit and knit her Irish sweaters. You would often hear that tiny whisper of the Holy Names, "Jesus... Mary" as her fingers worked the needles. She was a woman who loved God.

The love of my grandparents is now taken up into the Love of All Loves. I'm sure Grandpa was waiting, in that old grey sweater, standing by the kitchen sink in the sunlight. And Sheila, her baby, who left us so suddenly, she was smiling as the first light of Heaven fell on Nellie's face, as Grandma entered eternity. I believe this; I can almost feel it. The knitting projects are over, the needles will lie motionless for the first time in decades. But what remains is her legacy of love. Perhaps the greatest work of Grandma's is this tapestry of souls that is even now woven into the very fabric of the world; in the lives of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The spun gold of the union of Francis and Ellen, it stretches out into new patterns, new designs they never could have imagined.

William, Francis, Margaret, Catherine, Mary, Hughie, Ellen, Eileen, Patricia, and Sheila... and the next two generations, and the lives they've created; Anthony, Billy, Frankie, Mickey, Albert, Hughie, Patricia, Sean Joseph, Catherine, Eric, Sean Michael, Joseph, Michael, Jimmie, Teresa, Eileen, Daniel, Thomas, Mary, Veronica, Benjamin, Brian, Bridget, Matthew, Ellen, Michael, Rebecca, Bernadette, John, Kyle, Joey, Kevin, Sheila, Margaret, Ryan, Eric, Gavin, Timothy, Christine, Gary, Liam, Brendan, Colleen, Joey, Ella, Elena, Kayla, Gary, Walter, Tyler, Riley, Kaiyla, Caden, Shannon, Eric, Brianna, Jenna, Jessica... and there's more on the way!

All because two people fell in love....

Take away the marriage of these two Irish immigrants, my Grandma and my Grandpa, and none of us would exist. We simply would not be. This is the power of the two coming together, effecting and directing a cosmic stream of human persons. What a power God has given us, to bring life into the world! And Grandma did just that..... life to the fullest.

Before she slipped into an unconscious state, Grandma tossed and turned and tried to get out of the hospital bed. This didn't suprise us, she was still mowing the lawn in her 70's. We had the chance to sit beside her and pray a Hail Mary. I could feel the tension in her body, the labored breathing. But with that prayer, she seemed to relax. Surrounded by her sons and daughters, and grandchildren, I know she could sense their love and prayers. According to my father, the last audible words she whispered... "Mother of God."

For your YES to God, for your love, and your witness. For your stories of Scotland and Wee Willy Sticks, for the spot of tea and those amazing sweaters, for teaching us how to pray, how to think of God, and walk with Him in every moment.... the Donaghy Clan is forever blessed. We love you, and pray God is holding you in His Warm Embrace...

I love you,
Young Will

Monday, September 25, 2006

Rooted in the Real I remember sitting in the musky stillness of the upstairs room at my grandmothers, on a pinewood floor, digging through the books in the cedar closet. I found an old copy of the Hobbit one day, and the brilliant trilogy set put out by Ballantine. The art on the covers drew me in. It was weathered and worn down by my aunts Ellen and Eileen, voracious readers of J.R.R. Tolkien in their own teen years. Sunlight slipped through white linen curtains, splashed on the floor, and spilled over the yellowed pages. And the world of Middle-Earth, with its maps of mystical lands, mountains, valleys, rivers and ancient cities, came alive. I felt somehow, from the beginning, that this would not be a journey away from reality, but a path leading right to the very heart of it. Are our stories merely fantasy, or are they rooted in the Real? Does God speak through our subcreations? Is the eternal plan, the battle of good and evil, the ring of truth, the power of Beauty bound to any one region, or can it shimmer through every leaf and page of imagination? "Humanity in every age, and even today, looks to works of art to shed light upon it's path and it's destiny." - Pope John Paul II, Letter to Artists + Bill Donaghy http://www.missionmoment.org/

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Where Do Wars Come From?

"Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members? You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war. You do not possess because you do not ask. You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions."
- James 3:16—4:3

I'm convinced that the lectionary readings, those chosen by the Church for the liturgy, are inspired. This Sunday's reading sinks perfectly into the space in our hearts that is now an open wound; that space where the specter of war clamors.

God gives us what we need just when we need it. James goes straight to the heart of things in today's second reading. We learn there that no treaty or ceasefire, no program or policy can end the violence in our world. Only a conversion of our hearts can do that. Only the turning of our face towards the Face of the God of peace can bring real peace. That's it. Nothing else will do.

Our turning to grace, our opening up to Love, our letting go of the weapons of war, is the only way.


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Saturday, September 23, 2006

Benedict XVI, Faith, Reason and Islam

For light and truth on such an important issue, I'm posting the following in full from Zenit.org:

ROME, SEPT. 23, 2006 (Zenit.org).- As the furor over Benedict XVI and Islam died down, people started to realize that the Pope was a victim of phrases taken out of context and reactions deliberately inflamed. In fact, this was what many Church officials and prelates were saying from the start.

Rather than being an attack on Islam, "What emerges clearly from the Holy Father's discourses is a warning, addressed to Western culture, to avoid 'the contempt for God and the cynicism that considers mockery of the sacred to be an exercise of freedom,'" noted Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi on Sept. 14. The Jesuit explained that the Pope was criticizing modern culture for trying to exclude religion.

"A reason which is deaf to the divine," concluded the Pontiff in his Sept. 12 address at the University of Regensburg, "and which relegates religion to the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures."

Given this, the followers of an irreligious modern mentality had far more reason to be irritated with the Pope than anyone else, a fact that probably explains the extreme hostility of a New York Times editorial against the Holy Father published Sept. 16.

In a statement issued that same day, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone pointed out that Benedict XVI in his Regensburg address was speaking to a group of academics and was simply using a text by Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus, which the Pope made clear was not his own opinion. The quotation was a way to introduce a series of reflections. This approach was not understood by many in a media culture that relies on 5-second sound bites to convey messages.

For that reason, Cardinal Paul Poupard, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, recommended that people "read well" the Pope's text. Interviewed by the Italian daily Corriere della Sera on Sept. 15, the cardinal explained that if Muslims were to read and meditate on the text they would understand that, far from being an attack, it is rather "an outstretched hand." This is so because the Holy Father defended the value of religion for humanity, and Islam is one of the world's great religions.

Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the vicar of Rome, also insisted on the value of the Pope's discourse. His words came in the opening address Monday to a meeting of the Permanent Council of the Italian bishops' conference. A central point made by Pope during his trip to Bavaria, explained Cardinal Ruini, was that through faith in that God, man's reason and freedom find their higher and authentic fulfillment. In this context the Pope in his speech at Regensburg proposed a dialogue between cultures and religions -- a dialogue that is increasingly urgent.

Support for this dialogue also came from Bishop William Skylstad, president of the U.S. bishops' conference. "Given the circumstances of the last week," he said in a statement published Wednesday, "it is clear that dialogue is essential between Christians and Muslims, a dialogue in which we respect, in the words of the Holy Father, 'what is sacred for others.'"

Targeting the West

In an interview Sept. 17 with the Italian newspaper La Stampa, Cardinal Poupard commented that the Pontiff's main concern was not with Islam, but with Western culture. This was clear in Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's warning against relativism just prior to the start of the conclave where he was elected Pope.

Backing up his point, Cardinal Poupard cited a part of a homily given by Benedict XVI in Munich on Sept. 10. The Pope had said: "People in Africa and Asia admire, indeed, the scientific and technical prowess of the West, but they are frightened by a form of rationality which totally excludes God from man's vision, as if this were the highest form of reason, and one to be taught to their cultures too.

"They do not see the real threat to their identity in the Christian faith, but in the contempt for God and the cynicism that considers mockery of the sacred to be an exercise of freedom and that holds up utility as the supreme criterion for the future of scientific research."

This aspect of the Pope's discourse was also highlighted last Monday by Cardinal Antonio Rouco Varela. Madrid's archbishop entered into the debate in a radio interview reported by the Internet service Análisis Digital the next day. The cardinal explained that the purpose of the Holy Father's speech was to examine the relationship between believing and knowing.

We need both faith and reason, Cardinal Rouco commented, and it is a mistake to conceive of a God who acts against reason. Far from being a sort of provocation directed at Muslims, the papal speech was a call for respectful dialogue between faith and reason, the cardinal said.


Concerning relations between Islam and the Catholic Church, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Bertone said he was confident that the explanations offered after the Pope's Regensburg speech would be accepted. Interviewed Monday by the Corriere della Sera, the secretary of state also complained about the heavy-handed manipulation of Benedict XVI's words.

Yet, he noted that the reaction to the papal speech from some Islamic leaders was favorable. For example, Mohand Alili, rector of the Mosque in Marseilles, France, had recommended against being offended by what the Pontiff said, as the speech was an invitation to meditate on the words of the prophet Mohammed. The problem, however, was that these and other positive reactions were not given media attention, Cardinal Bertone lamented.

>From Australia, Cardinal George Pell on Monday also criticized the way the Pope's words had been manipulated by some. In a press statement the cardinal expressed his gratitude for the words of moderate Muslims.

Days earlier, on Sept. 13, the archbishop of Sydney spoke about the theme of dialogue between the West and Islam, in the aftermath of the Pope's address in Regensburg. Addressing the Union Club in Sydney, he noted that the great religions differ significantly in doctrine and in the societies they produce. And while religions can be sources of beauty and goodness, they can also fall into corruption and be sources of poison and destruction, the cardinal cautioned.

But for those who see religion as a source of violence, Cardinal Pell pointed out that "The worst evils of the 20th century were provoked by anti-religious men: Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot."

In an interview published Monday by Spiegel Online, Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, noted that conflicts with Islam are a part of Europe's history, which was what the Pope was referring to in his address.

But there is an alternative to conflict -- dialogue -- which is what the Pope favors. This dialogue is not easy, the cardinal acknowledged, as it is difficult under the current circumstances "to find representative counterparts to talk with."

We should not approach this dialogue naively, continued Cardinal Kasper, since there are major differences between Christian and Islamic cultures. In fact, the policy of multiculturalism favored by European countries has not worked in relations with Muslim communities.

"The fundamental issue, when it comes to Europe's future, will be whether and how we manage to transfer the ideals that once made Europe great -- especially its Christian roots -- into today's changed world," concluded the cardinal. Not an easy task, judging by Regensburg.


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Thursday, September 21, 2006

Smelling September

I don't know where you are, reading this right now. But right now, in southeastern Pennsylvania, USA, the leaves are beginning to lose their grip, the wind is breathing cooler, and the earth smells soooo good. We have a cycle of seasons; they rise and fall from spring to winter like the very lives we live. And every season is a chance for us to taste again the sweetness and the sorrow, to pass through ourselves a life in miniature; to hear again that "still sad music of humanity." From the green fire of a youthful spring, to the ripe joys of summer, and into the contemplative colors of fall... we prepare ourselves for the quiet sleep of winter. I love the fall most of all. The very air has such a richness to it; the leaves are burning in a last shout of glory, and their earthy incense is a melancholic fragrance. It draws us into our past. The burnt gold of the evening horizon, the red-rimmed maple trees, the barren branches with their hundred tiny fingers, stretching out into space, stark against a deep night sky. For me, there is something ancient in this season, something somber. And yet pointing towards a promise, even through the cloak of brown leaves and misty mornings. Tomorrow, I'll begin again a journey through my favorite book, Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. That journey begins in the autumn of Middle-Earth, a season and a place that Tolkien says is our own, just deeper into the pages of history than can be remembered. The time is a sad one; the Elves are moving through the Old Forest. And with them something of the magic of the world, the ancient ways, the high poetry is leaving too. They are moving towards the Grey Havens, singing hymns of Elbereth and Earendil, leaving Middle-Earth forever. As I sit on the shores of this new millennium, just beginning, and look back at the 20th century and so many gone before it, I see much that once was has been forgotten. In our noise and haste, lessons are left unread and unlearned. In my own life, and the cycle of its seasons, how many times have I forgotten the wisdom that came through the Woods. Through the leaves that rustled with Truth, the Beauty that came to me in every Sun rising. But what lies ahead is the journey. For the Elves, and for the Fellowship of the Ring as they begin their heroic walk, the journey is one of hope. A hope "beyond all memory." A hope that what is evil in the world can finally be overcome. A hope that Good can prevail, and the ancient wisdom, the Music that made the world can be played in all it's fullness. Let the journey begin! + Bill Donaghy www.missionmoment.org

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Beautiful reflection from today's Magnificat entry by a Spanish priest, Fr. Carron. Thought I'd share the WHOLE THING... below: "Who do you say that I am?" "Unless each of us is fascinated by Christ, it is impossible for nothingness not to prevail even in us. We have not solved the problem; the drama goes on living in each one of us. The struggle is fought out in our hearts every day, in the personal, mysterious dialogue between the "I" of each of us and the fascination that is Christ. Without the victory of this fascination, we are finished... We reduce reality to appearances and so we live a relationship with reality that has done away with the Mystery, the "Something that is within every something." We can all see how true this is by simply asking ourselves what happened this morning. How many of us, as we looked at reality today, said, "You" to the Mystery that makes reality and that makes the "I" that woke up this morning? Who was moved with gratitude this morning because he is there, because the Mystery is there, because my "I" with all its limitations is already embraced by his presence?... That is why the Mystery appeared in history: to set before our eyes an attraction strong enough to draw along our "I." Otherwise, we are like a drifting mine, and everyone does just what he likes - not out of malice, but because we are not the ones to attach ourselves with our own strength; it is only this attraction that brings out a deep liking for Jesus in me. Once you have sensed this, you cannot fail to discover the need for his presence in anything you live (I am the One you are missing)." - Father Julian Carron

Friday, September 15, 2006

A Mother Standing At the cross her station keeping, Stood the mournful Mother weeping, Close to Jesus to the last. Through her heart, His sorrow sharing, All His bitter anguish bearing, Now at length the sword had pass'd. These are the first two stanzas of the "Stabat Mater," a powerful hymn written in the Middle Ages and sung in a mournful chant on today's Feast, Our Lady of Sorrows. It reflects upon the suffering of Mary as she stood by the Cross of her Son. The Latin phrase stabat mater means "mother standing." In the wake of the awful anniversary of 9/11 and countless other global tragedies, today brings before our eyes the place of ultimate suffering; Golgotha, Calvary, the Cross. Here, Love itself was crucified. But at that very place where we so often fear to go, or are tempted to flee, the place of suffering, pain, and injustice, a Mother is standing. I think about the many images taken from recent news stories, where the young are slain through meaningless acts of violence, or natural disasters strike, taking little ones away. I think of the strength of mothers. Strong for their families, for their young ones. But in this awful place of suffering, what do we do? When tragedy falls upon us, like structures of steel and stone, and we feel we cannot bear them, what is our position? So often we ask the question "Where was God?" Where was He in my pain? Why did it come to me at all, or to those innocent little ones? In the gap left by that question of questions, "Where was God?"... a Mother stands. At the contradicting crossroads, where life and death meet, in the tension of that suffering that wants us to give up or give in, to despair or to hope, a Mother stands. I heard it said once that suffering is "continued receptivity before God." Mary was and is the star of our race because she was always receptive to God. Therefore, she always suffered. She always knew there would be the Cross. She lived in its shadow. She stood in that contradiction; she lived in that mystery of mysteries. The legacy of sin, suffering, and death were hers by choice, not by nature. She laid down her life by standing with Jesus. How can this be done, humanly speaking? The secret, I believe, is trust. How do we live through the great stripping of our humanity, the loss of dreams, the fires of sorrow? Trust. For us, trust in that we are not alone. A Mother stands by, who stood there by that dear rugged Cross "where the dear Savior gave His all." There is something in this woman, and I believe in the heart of every woman because of her, that enables them to stand in the gap of sorrow. It's the feminine genius; the receptive heart, the womb of contemplation that can hold life and death in its tension of opposites, and trust. It is the waiting heart, that waits for man. That watches him and waits for him, that allows him to make the gift of himself, to be the victim, to take the bullet, battle the dragon, perhaps even die in doing so. Mary is our model, not because of a pious sweetness, a gilded glory surrounded by chubby angels, but because of her rugged, weary, wind-swept stand at the Door of Death, and her faith that held the courage to look beyond it. Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us...

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Problem of Evil Ever since the first sin of dis-obedience at the dawn of creation, there has been dis-integration in the world. Di-vision, dis-order, de-struction, and di-abolical designs are all around us, and within us. Don't you feel it?

Suffering and Death aren't merely theological ideas for scholars to ponder. The wounds are in you and me. The definitions of these Two Towers of human experience are written in our flesh and bones. Why must it be this way? Why do we fight and grasp and tear at each other? Why do bad people seem to succeed and the good suffer unjustly? Deeper still is the question "Why is there suffering at all? Why is there evil?" And why is it distinctly a human thing to ask why? There are no books on coping with tragedy in the animal kingdom. Zebras don't ponder the problem of evil.

If we are just bipedal fleshy parts of this creation, like super-apes, then why do we sigh for vindication and justice? Deeper still for immortality, for Something More? If evolution says it isn't broken, then why are we trying to fix it?

We write poetry, love songs and hymns. We ache for an Unending Love. But the other creatures in this world don't write love songs. Chickens don't weep at Mozart's Requiem. But we do. We see the division in the world. We see evil battling good, clawing after it in with an infernal jealousy. And we know there must be a reason; there must be More. There must be a Healing. There must be a Re-Union.

How could this desire exist in us if there were not a way to fulfill it? Thirst pants for water, hunger finds food. If our hearts yearn for a Fullness of Truth, Beauty and Goodness found only in fragments here, then....

I think in some ways the problem of evil, and the tear caused by suffering and death, is actually more a proof for God's existence than it is a reason not to believe in Him. I want peace, healing, wholeness. I want vindication, justice, the victory of Truth. I want redemption but I can't get it. If I can't then who can? And if this frustration and defeat is all there is, then why do I hope for more?

The words from an Alison Krauss song come softly like a healing balm:

"Love that shed His Blood for all the world to see, this must be the reason for it all."

Jesus Christ fully reveals man to himself and makes his supreme calling clear (Gaudium et Spes, 22). All of the contradictions in this world and in our lives meet at the Crossroads. Suffering and Death have come to us, through the dis-obedience of our ancestry. And if we are honest, that apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Its repercussions are rippling throughout all time and space. We suffer for it, the young and old, the good and bad. But we are not alone. He has taken on our sorrows. He was crushed for our offenses, bruised for our evils... Suffering and Death are not our lot alone anymore, like a card we can trump God with. He suffered too; in fact, He became suffering. He swallowed death. And even now the Universe is being remade in Him. All creation groans. The labor pains have already begun. The seed that has fallen to the earth in death, in me and around me, is already breaking earth, and will blossom into New Life. We believe, Lord. Help our unbelief.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Echos of the One I have learned more from the shine in a dewdrop on the petal of a wildflower than from man and all his theories his grasping after power I have read more in the falling leaves That tumble, wilt, and bear new life Than ever in the pages of man scratched in haste and full of strife I have listened in the cool night's breath To symphonies more grand Than orchestras assembled fair For the feeble notes of man But through the words and wood and paint though cracked and frail they be I see with trembling fingers a trace of eternity We frame with fallen hands the echo of the One we reach to catch in song and stone the Heart of our True Home And though it's but an icon a shadow before the sun I'll write and shape and sing as well my echos of the One

Monday, September 11, 2006

As Fall Returns and Nature Sings

Here's one of my favorite poems from William Wordsworth:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. -Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

- William Wordsworth


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Saturday, September 09, 2006

I Love Pope Benedict... Because of words like these, addressed to the Canadian Bishops yesterday in Rome: In our increasingly secularized societies, which you yourselves have experienced, the love that flows from God's heart toward humanity can be unperceived or even rejected. On imagining that removing himself from this relationship constitutes, one way or another, a solution for his liberation, man becomes in fact a stranger to himself, because "in reality, the truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light" ("Gaudium et Spes," No. 22). By their lack of interest in the love that reveals the fullness of the truth of man, numerous men and women continue to estrange themselves from God's dwelling to live in the desert of individual isolation, social brokenness and the loss of cultural identity. [Translation of French original by ZENIT] 3. Within this perspective, one sees that the fundamental task of the evangelization of culture is the challenge to make God visible in the human face of Jesus. In helping individuals to recognize and experience the love of Christ, you will awaken in them the desire to dwell in the house of the Lord, embracing the life of the Church. This is our mission. It expresses our ecclesial nature and ensures that every initiative of evangelization concurrently strengthens Christian identity. In this regard, we must acknowledge that any reduction of the core message of Jesus, that is, the "kingdom of God," to indefinite talk of "kingdom values" weakens Christian identity and debilitates the Church's contribution to the regeneration of society. When believing is replaced by "doing" and witness by talk of "issues," there is an urgent need to recapture the profound joy and awe of the first disciples whose hearts, in the Lord's presence, "burned within them" impelling them to "tell their story" (cf. Luke 24:32,35).

Friday, September 08, 2006

Guess Who? "I'm sure you'd agree that it's one of the most spiritually powerful works of the twentieth century, and I think one has to be a Catholic to really appreciate it. It's a living hymn to mercy, humility and the power of Divine Providence. It isn't a fantasy epic but an epic of virtue." - Carmelite Sister, Northeastern USA Hmm.... curious? In 1997, voters in a BBC poll named it the greatest book of the 20th century. The academics and the literati were furious. Another poll was taken, and then another. They all pointed to the same book. In 1999, Amazon.com customers chose it to be the greatest book of the millennium. PS - a millennium equals 1000 years. It's "The Lord of the Rings." How astounding! How ridiculous! Isn't that the book about hobbits, wizards, elves and dwarves written by an obscure English professor in the days before MTV? What has that got to do with us? Have we lost our minds? I would wager that the millions who've read the book have found their souls. In some powerful and perhaps subconscious way, a great void in the human heart, scraped clean by the reductionism of the modern world view, has been filled again with wonder, mystery and true romance. I am huge lover of the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien. HUGE! Now I could have said I am a huge Lord of the Rings fan. But today, I think that makes people default to Peter Jackson's film trilogy. The movies were very good, don't get me wrong, especially the first one. But the book is better. Isn't the book always better? Isn't it always more memorable when the light of an author's words filters through the prism of your mind first? The first time I read the Silmarillion, which recounts Tolkien's creation myth, I thought I had found GOLD. It was like finally naming a melody I had been hearing all my life, just on the tip of my tongue, glimmering on the horizon, sweet and unreachable. Now it was in my hands and had a name: Ainulindalë I love Tolkien because his stories are sacramental. They have the fragrance of eternity in them. They teach us the ancient lessons we once knew and have forgotten. Now, it's almost September 22, and you know what that means! It's time to start reading the Lord of the Rings... again!! If you know why this date is key, then you're on the trip (wanna post a guess?) Visit http://missionmoment.blogspot.com I hope to share with you some of these lessons as I journey through Middle Earth again. So if you have a copy, consider taking the journey... and your thoughts and posts are always welcome at the Prancing Pony, a.k.a. http://missionmoment.blogspot.com

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Humbly Receive

Humbly Receive

This Sunday's second reading was such an intimate one. So much of the imagery from the first chapter of James is spousal imagery. It awakens in our hearts that longing for communion, for union with Another.

"Dearest brothers and sisters: All good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no alteration or shadow caused by change. He willed to give us birth by the word of truth that we may be a kind of first fruits of his creatures. Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls."
- James 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27

Amazing! The God Who made the world descends, stoops low, pours out, gives Himself, sows the seed of His Love deep in the soil of our hearts. The Greek word for this is kenosis, to empty oneself. What a miracle of Love that the God of the universe would do this! And yet when we search our hearts we discover that this is the very definition of Love. We have a glimmer of this word kenosis, it exists in our own families. It is not something distant from us, we echo it in our own relationships; we pour out our time and affection, we stoop down in service, and for those often times whom we may never meet, we give and we suffer.

The grace and the power we have to do this, even if we know it not, flows from God. He is the true source of all our loves. He is the One in Whose light all earthly love finds its true meaning and direction.

Humbly welcome this Word, the letter of St. James says. There in the dark interior of our souls, the seed breaks and germinates. New life, so often unseen, begins to grow. What an intimate bond God has formed with us. He doesn't want to remain so removed from us that we don't know His Name, or recognize His Presence. He plants Himself right here in our hearts and souls... Through the Eucharist He comes into our very bodies! What a harvest we can reap if we are attentive to grace, if we humbly welcome, if we water the seed through stillness and prayer, reading and good works. What abundant fruit will grow and what a gift we can give back to Him!


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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Just Plain Sad (This one is a little edgy. You may need to adjust the volume.) We attended Mass this past Sunday at a packed church in NJ, and just three or four pews ahead of us sat a distraction of biblical proportions. Now most of the time, I actually close my eyes during the Mass. It's just me. I guess it helps me focus on the readings, that rich prelude of God-breathed human words that tick off in our missalettes until the Massive Explosion of Divine Love comes in the words of the Consecration; the Eucharist! "BEHOLD THE LAMB! Look up!" But when we settled into our pew and I saw this, I couldn't get it out of my mind. There was a man in front of us, with his spouse and two small children. He wore a t-shirt, and on the back of it, in massive bold letters were the words "Will Sell Wife For Beer." Now.... there are tacky t-shirts out there. They grow exponentially tackier as the environment around us increases in the number of persons (like one more than the person wearing it). But this was beyond tacky. This was just sad. Its message was the antithesis of everything surrounding it; the church, the scripture readings, the Sacrifice of Christ for His Bride the Church in the Eucharist, and how about his wife and family? I can't think of a more inappropriate message, and to broadcast it on your back in big bold letters? Was it funny? I thought it was pathetic. "Awww, come on! It's just a t-shirt. He doesn't mean it. At least he's in church." Oh there it is - the dreaded "At Least" - the bare minimum of belief that is crippling the Church. No doubt, I'm glad he was there, standing beside his wife and children. What a powerful message to send his young son... that a man is one who prays, who sings, who receives His Lord and King at the Altar like a knight preparing for his daily battles. But what a confusing counter-message on his back: "Will Sell Wife for Beer" ... What do his children think when they read it? Now some may say I'm being really judgemental right now. I should just pay attention to the altar and ignore the flock surrounding it. But sometimes it's absolutely necessary to make judgements. It's not a sin to decide when one thing is wrong and one is right; to discern prayerfully that this thing is a good and this t-shirt should be used to polish furniture. Now I'll be the first to say I've got a loooooong way to go in conforming my life to Christ. But I know I must conform my life to Christ. I know it means a life of harmony between my interior and exterior lives, so each should mirror the other. Not that I need to have JESUS SAVES in bold letters on all of my shirts, but He must be the seamless garment beneath everything I wear. Standing there in church, I thought about my wife. I prayed that I would sooner sell myself into slavery than have her come to harm. That's what it's about, that's my daily prayer: that I learn to lay down my life for her, every day. I think this is the great challenge facing men today. The challenge of putting ourselves at the service of our spouses. "Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her," says St. Paul in Ephesians 5. And how did Christ give Himself up for His Bride? He died for Her, He took the bullet for Her. He opened wide His arms on the Cross and died for Love. Let's get that on a t-shirt.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Adventure Begins... It's September, the day after Labor Day, and you know what that means. It means it's time to leave for work at least half an hour earlier than you lazily did all summer. Why? Because... THEY'RE BAAAAAACK!! Today, moms and dads across the land had to resort to all manner of tactics to resurrect their offspring at ungodly hours and herd them into large brightly colored rectangular machines. It's a Herculean effort, and some I'm sure grasped at the only incentives they could see to quiet the storm: "It's only 179 days 'til summer." or "Think about snow days." Today I had to iron again. I had to pick out a "tie" to wear. Today dozens of adolescents will pour into my sleepy-peaceful-quiet-all-summer-classroom. Today I will say again words like "homework" "test" and "due this Friday." Today I become, once again, "Mr. Donaghy" (pronunciations may vary). I do love teaching. In the hearts of the young there is such a longing for communion, for fellowship, for the knowledge that "I am not alone." There is a longing for Truth and for Beauty and for Goodness. My goal is to lead them into this trinity, to point toward that horizon where God is and where they can find their true name. That's the meaning of an education. The Latin means to "lead out." Now the obstacles are clear; there is the temptation to settle for the bare minimum, a shortcut on the path. There is the weight of peer pressure, dragging us down into the trench beside the road. There is the biting sarcasm that can shut down a sincere quest for Truth, like biting mosquitos can ruin a good hike. But all we need to do as teachers is use these realities and flip them on their heads. Show them their maximum capacity for God, create a peer pressure towards the Good, and use their witty sarcasm in a way that can lead to unity. It can be done! (I'll keep you updated on that one) So, let's pray for the young (and the old who teach them). Let's pray for safety. Let's pray for a renewed understanding that this journey of education is a gift and a responsibility; it's the field of the world where we're called to play and dig and question and run and sing. Ring that bell! School's in! When's lunch?

Saturday, September 02, 2006

NJ - It's Not as Bad as It Sounds

We're in NJ on a rainy Labor Day weekend. This is my home state, and I have to say I had a blast growing up in this land of pine trees and blueberries; Browns Mills, NJ!

Now New Jersey, as we all know, gets a bad rap in the movies and is often stereotyped in jokes. We don't mind the sarcasm; it just makes us stronger! Little does the world know that we have much to be proud of! Including hundreds of strip malls and Taco Bells! So here are some facts about the Garden State that (might?) amaze you!

- New Jersey is a peninsula.

- Highlands, New Jersey has the highest elevation along the entire eastern seaboard, from Maine to Florida.

- New Jersey has more race horses than Kentucky.

- New Jersey has more Cubans in Union City (1 sq. mi.) than Havana, Cuba.

- New Jersey has the most diners in the world and is sometimes referred to as the Diner Capital of the World.

- North Jersey has the most shopping malls in one area in the world, with seven major shopping malls in a 25 square mile radius.

- New Jersey is home to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island (yes, it is)

- Two-thirds of the world's eggplants are grown in New Jersey.

- Jersey tomatoes are known the world over as being the best you can buy.

- New Jersey is the world leader in blueberry and cranberry production.

- Here's to New Jersey-the toast of the country! In 1642, the first brewery in America opened in Hoboken.

- New Jersey rocks! The famous Les Paul invented the first solid body electric guitar in Mahwah in 1940.

- The light bulb, phonograph (record player), and motion picture projector were invented by Thomas Edison in his Menlo Park, NJ laboratory. We also boast the first town ever lit by incandescent bulbs.

- The first seaplane was built in Keyport, NJ.

- The first phonograph records were made in Camden, NJ.

- The first Drive-in Movie theater was opened in Camden, NJ.

- The first radio station and broadcast was in Paterson, NJ.

- and finally, the following are all New Jersey natives: Jack Nicholson, Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Jason Alexander, Queen Latifa, Susan Sarandon, Connie Francis, Shaq, Judy Blume, Aaron Burr, Joan Robertson, Ken Kross, Dionne Warwick, Sarah Vaughn, Budd Abbott, Lou Costello, and I'll stop there!

Yeah for NJ! Let's get to the mall!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Ah, Those Unplugged Days! I gave a retreat yesterday for a high school faculty, a wonderful group of Catholic school teachers and staff. As part of the modern routine before a presentation, the request was made for everyone to "silence" their cell phones. When I got up to lead the retreat, I asked everyone to take those little pieces of metal and plastic out again and hold them up. Cell phones, pagers, beepers, Blackberries, Blueberries, a ton of gizmos went up and hovered in the air. I think about 8 people out of 65 were NOT holding something up. We looked around in amazement. Fifteen years ago, I said aloud, there was nothing. We are a "plugged in" people, there's no denying it. And trust me, I'm one of the biggest technoholics around. But there are moments when we need to get unplugged. Escape. Become invisible, unreachable. We need the tonic of solitude and silence (remember Maine!). I say this first and foremost to myself. Yes, cell phones are handy little suckers, and they give us a sense of communication with others.... we're connected. But what about the faces right in front of us? Real, living, breathing human beings? A friend told me once about a dinner out, when he watched three young people sitting at a table across from him; all three of them were on their cell phones during the meal. Is it just me? Is that weird? What's wrong with this picture? IMAGINE THIS: Jesus, the Son of God, is sitting on a mountaintop, just outside the town of Jericho. He is revealing the mysteries of Heaven to a multitude of humanity, pouring forth in human words the incredible love of the Father and saying "Blessed are you who hunger and thirst after... " - beep beep BOOP ba BOOP BOOP ba BEEP BEEP... a cell phone starts playing the theme from Beverly Hills Cop. Off to the right of the hillside, a young man is standing on a boulder, trying desparately to get a picture of Jesus with his camera phone, below him two teenagers are text messaging their friends in Galilee "He's here! It's totally awesome! He's saying stuff and he's so awesome, totally!" I think I'm going to draw this someday as a cartoon. Can somebody send me a text message so I don't forget?

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!" ...