Monday, October 30, 2006

A Nightmare for Halloween

(This is going to be the spookiest post I ever posted, just to let you know) It was a dark and stormy night (actually it was probably just drizzling or something, my dad doesn't remember). The year was 1971, and I was just a wee lad, maybe two years old. We were living in the old apartments across from the Raceway just outside of Trenton, NJ. One night, my dad had a dream... but a vision is a more fitting word for what he saw. Retelling it to me just yesterday still gives him chills. In his dream, there was shadow and fog, and a foreboding gloom. He couldn't say where he was, the space was filled with such a deepening mist. Suddenly, cutting through the darkness was a sight so horrible that he bolted upright shaking. My mother woke at the start and turned to him. Seeing such a fear in his eyes, she asked what it was that he saw. From the dark clouds there hung a thin brown wire, pulled taut by the weight of a small figure that spun slowly around. It was a child, ghastly white, hanging in his misty nightmare, the cord like a serpent wrapped around it's neck. The child's face was mine. They got out of bed and my mother led my father down the hall to the kitchen for a cup of water. She had never seen him so visibly shaken. He kept mumbling that he had never had a dream so terrible, and so shockingly still. The image was still burning in his mind as they turned the corner of the hall that led to the kitchen, and to the left, the living room. Suddenly, my father says, an icy chill fell over his body and stopped him in his tracks. Looking down, as though some force of gravity compelled his eyes, he cried out my mother's name. I had escaped from my crib, and there between the armchair and the television set, I lay asleep. Loosely draped around my neck was a thin brown wire. It ran from the TV antenna to the floor and lay coiled up like a snake. They cast off the cord and found me breathing, soft and calm. I believe God speaks in a thousand ways to His children, and everything is at His service. Above and below and within, in our waking and our sleeping, and in the myriad encounters that wash over us every day, there are movements of the supernatural. For this nightmare of my father's, for the whisper of our angels, for the twists and the turns our lives so often take, for our sixth sense, and our premonitions, for the signs and the wonders that make life such a mystery, I am most thankful.

Where the Wild Things Are

I heard a wonderful talk a couple of weeks ago on the topic of Science and Religion and Where They Meet (or something like that), given by a local Catholic scholar. Over pasta and salad in a fancy restaurant, we pondered the perplexing profundity of Power that made all things to Be (sorry, I couldn't resist a little alliteration overload there). In a section of the talk that had some mind-boggling factoids, the speaker called us to reflect on the vastness of the universe. He tossed up some numbers that were nearly impossible for us to catch with our 3.5 pound brains. The Sun is 30,000 light-years from the center of our galaxy. The Sun is 93 million miles from Earth, yet it is 270,000 times closer than the next nearest star. The Sun is only one of the more than 200 billion stars in our galaxy, the Milky Way. The Milky Way is only one of billions of galaxies in the universe. Before these "astro"nomical figures, the human mind just quivers like jelly. "Whoa" is the only adequate response, or maybe just a little "Whu..." And get this: If the law of gravity were just infinitesimally off, lighter or stronger in its pull, the Universe would have either imploded or diffused at a rate that would not have allowed for life as we know it to exist. And yet, as we know, here we are. Formed from the heart of stars and the dust of the earth. Miraculous beings we are, who can reflect on all of this splendor! One in a gazillion we are, each of us. And each of us breathed into by the Divine Love that tumbled forth this ocean of light and dark, this magnanimity and microscopity, from the behemoth Jupiter to the fragile heart of a red red rose, wet with dew, glistening in the light of that same far off Sun. Whew.... I think we need to hear these numbers and to ponder this vastness more often. We need to know where the wild things are, or simply that they are, somewhere. We need wildness, as Thoreau was so fond of saying. To know that there are still, even in this 21st of centuries, places on earth where a human being has never set foot. There are paths untrod and untrammeled by our sometimes dirty feet. There are delicate flowers on the tops of high peaks that will never be seen by human eyes. There are still species unnamed, depths uncharted, realms outside our reach. And that is good for us to know. It reminds us of a simple and startling fact: we are superfluous. We did not have to exist for God's happiness. And yet we are here for His Glory. Love is by definition superfluous, extravagant, overflowing. We are on the crest of that wave of Love, that exitus, exhaling, inspiration that made all things for Love. And He has made us now, in a certain sense, necessary, to give the return of Love, as sons in the Son who return the gaze of Love. We are a crucial part of this cosmic symphony. God has created us to be the conductors (or sub-conductors of our section of the work). We lift up the voices of these instruments He has made. So for the places beyond our reach, for the deeps of space and the worlds unseen, for the creatures great and small and for the height and the depth and the breadth of all that IS, we praise Him and give Him thanks! Psalm 8 When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars that you set in place - What are humans that you are mindful of them, mere mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them little less than a god, crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them rule over the works of your hands, put all things at their feet: All sheep and oxen, even the beasts of the field, The birds of the air, the fish of the sea, and whatever swims the paths of the seas. O LORD, our Lord, how awesome is your name through all the earth!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Blurred Faces in Sacred Places Wawa is the name of a convenience store chain in the north-east section of the United States (is it out west too?). You can get chips, soda, batteries, a newspaper, even toilet paper there. And COFFEE. There are those who are addicted to Wawa coffee. I am NOT one of those people, but that coffee is mm mmm good! Now the more I read the Bible and the stories of the saints and that crazy holy Pope John Paul II, the more I begin to see things differently. I can't help it. I can't fight it. The sacramental vision kicks in and I realize we are not alone. Eeeek! We're surrounded by a Supernatural Love. He is everywhere! And everywhere I can find Him, and His angels too, leading and guiding us through our days. The Divine Whisper is just a hair's breadth away from us, if we but bend in to listen... This brings me back to Wawa. The other day I was stopping in for a cup o' joe. I make it a point to try and look the cashier in the eye when I purchase something. Just a little human moment, a little "how you doin' in this great adventure called Life?" Wawa Boy was too quick for me. It was busy and he was kicking out his customers like karate! With cat-like reflexes, he took bills and turned them into change, he bagged and he bopped, with the cashdrawer opening and closing like a hungry hungry hippo (anybody get that reference?) I caught myself slowing down as I approached my turn in the line, a bodily antithesis to his hyperactivity. "Hooow... arrrre... yoooouuuu?" He didn't look up, didn't miss a beat. Zip, ding, "Haveaniceday." I wondered if he was even human. Maybe Wawa has cyborgs working for them now? Half human, half machine. We have the technology now, don't we? Oh what a rush we're in (and let me be the first, again, to say I'm in the vortex). A friend of mine was told once in a "drive thru" McDonald's: "Sorry sir, your fries are going to take about 60 seconds!" They actually apologized. I was in the cathedral downtown once when a man came in on a cell phone. He continued his conversation, loud and clear, up the empty aisle (Mass was over), past Our Lord in the tabernacle, past the shimmering stained glass, and into the side chapel. Blah blah blah. We are blurred faces rushing through sacred places. We all know how insane the world is today. We all know that we are moving too fast. We hardly listen to each other. We have no time for the things that really matter. We know this. What we don't know is how to turn off the Machines. We have so many time-saving devices today... but we have given them all of our time! We can get so much done through e-mail and cell phones, I think we should have a four hour work day and still get paid for eight! WHO'S FOR IT? We're like addicts.... always checking our cell phones and our e-mail. Did someone communicate with me? Do I have any new messages???!!! Many of us spend more time staring at screens, than we do other people. SOMETHING HAS GONE WRONG, SOMETHING IS BACKWARDS... A wise monk once said "When eating an orange, eat the orange." And another said .... "By drinking a cup of green tea, I stopped the war." Let's ponder these thoughts. Can we do it? Can we even begin? Let me pick up on this one tomorrow. I gotta run...

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Mass Confusion Some people are bored out of their minds when they go to Church. What they experience in the Mass seems to be completely unrelated to the experiences of life in "the real world." They read Readings, pray Prayers, offer Offerings, and "take Communion." Often it seems they're just going through the motions of a conversation that's uninteresting, but obligatory. Like when you were a child, visiting "older people," and you had to sit in the dining room with them. Now we know from those trusty polls that Church attendance has dropped, belief in the Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist has dwindled into a foggy, half-mumbled ascent, and faith in Church leadership has been deeply wounded by recent and ongoing scandals. Not a very comforting picture. For many living in our fast pace, gimme'-something-worth-my-time culture, the kind of experience of Church as a seemingly dry repetition of words and gestures just doesn't "do anything for me." This conclusion has led some in the Church to want to jazz up the Mass. Make it more "exciting" for people. Reach out to the youth with a different kind of music, something they can feel. Getting faith means getting funky, loosening up, changing stuff around.... improvising. "Oh we love Father Soandso, he comes down from the altar and walks around and tells jokes... and stuff." A few years ago, I found myself at a national meeting of diocesan staff who were all in the field of Catholic Evangelization. There were priests, deacons, sisters, lots of laity, and even some bishops. The burning question was "How do we get them back?" We prayed together, and the prayer laid out was supposed to be a model for us leaders to bring back to the parishes. The theme was "multicultural." Here are some snapshots of our time together: - processing two by two towards a large clay pot filled with sand, each of us holding a lighted incense stick which we were to place in the sand, after a short bow. - singing a song whose lyrics included the phrase "free us from dogmas that bind" - watching a young Vietnamese deacon burst into the circle where we were praying, leaping up and down, swirling a stick with a ribbon on it (like one of those Olympic sporting events) - tamborines, remember those? - and finally, after our closing Mass together (which was led by one of the bishops), it got really crazy. People were clapping and the young deacon was grabbing random people (not the bishop) and dancing with them in the middle of the chapel. One elderly nun in full habit (yep, full habit) was pulled bodily out of her chair to join in the dance. That's when the congo line burst out. It snaked around the room, stilted and dizzy, looking like a wedding reception gone awry; where the open bar should have been closed, awhile ago. During all of these multi-cultural activities and prayers, I would glance from time to time over to a little shelf in the chapel, off to the left of the altar. There, in a niche on the side wall was the tabernacle, in shadowy stillness. (Sigh...) The Presence was there, drumming on, a throbbing Heartbeat that seemed to me to be keeping a different time, another Rhythm. It was the same beat that Abraham stepped to, over countless Mesopotamian miles. It was the same pulsating power that Moses kicked up his heels to, throwing off his sandals in absolute adoration. And before this Presence, David danced with wild abandon. I looked back at the congo line, now forming a grand circle. Everyone was turned in on themselves, smiling and satisfied that at least "we" get it. But did we? I think for too long we have been a circle, looking at the Church as if it were all ours, as if it were our job to keep the thing moving and growing and maintaining itself. Better music, more programs, rockstar priests! And all the while, Jesus waits... like a young man at a dance without a date, sitting in the shadowy stillness of an empty church that seems to be emptying still. What would happen if you and I walked over to Him, and took His hand? What would happen if our eyes met? Would we take the lead, or would we let Him take us? What if we stepped to His Rhythm for a change? I wonder what would happen?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Cross-Shaped Door

If I could be Less
I wouldn't be in this mess
But because of my More
I can't fit through the Door!

In the gospel of Mark, we find the story of the "rich young man." I would guess that most of us know it pretty well. A man comes to Jesus, a good man, and he is searching for more than just being Mr. Nice Guy. He has a burning desire to get beyond the mere following of the rules. He has a thirst for something (or perhaps Someone) that the Law simply cannot fully satisfy, so he turns to this new Master.

People say Jesus is... qodesh, different. And He is different. The Hebrew word also means holy. He travels with the poor, He owns nothing, He expects nothing, and yet thousands follow Him. His very glance, they say, can heal. He speaks with authority, and deep joy streams from Him like rivers. They say "We have never seen anything like this before."

Jesus listens to the rich young man's plea, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Haven't we all asked this question, in some way, shape or form?

Mark's gospel says "And looking at him, he loved him..." What a powerful image in itself! The God of the universe, listening and looking at me! And I looking back at Him! St. Theresa of Avila says that's the essence of real prayer. "Watch Him watching you. Look at Him looking at you."

And Jesus said to him...

(OK here it comes! The answer to my heart's deepest longing! Yes, I'm ready. Bring it on!)

"You are lacking in one thing..."

(One thing, that's it? OK, what is it? I can do this!)

"Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."


Sell what I have? But I thought these were the blessings You gave me? I thought the land and the crops and the comforts were all Your gifts. If I do good then the blessings come, right?

Let them go. They are not Me. They are only reflections of Me. Only a foretaste of the Kingdom to Come. The first glimmers of a sunrise but not yet the Son.

"At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions."

We don't know what came of this young man. But his searching for truth and his most moving of questions has afforded the millions of us after him with the teaching of what we must do to be perfect. Let them go. Don't let your possessions possess you.

Listen to the words of Jesus, words that seem tinged with sorrow, whispered as this young man walked away: "How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" The disciples were amazed at his words. So Jesus again said to them in reply, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." They were exceedingly astonished and said among themselves, "Then who can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God."

When I was young, I remember a priest telling us that in the Temple in Jerusalem there was a certain gate called the Needle's Eye. For a camel to pass through it, the travellers had to unpack its heavy load, taking away all of the luggage that could hinder it's entrance, and the camel had to stoop to get in. But it could be done. True or not, I like the image.

Heaven has a Cross-shaped Door. For us to enter in, we must open wide our arms. We must let go of the things we hold so precious here below. Even the slightest grasping of a gift other than the one before us will hinder our entrance into Love. So even now, can we let go? Can we unpack our hearts of all the useless baggage, the clutter, the sins of the past that have been forgiven? Can we move forward in the shape of the Cross, on the radical path, the Way of Total Self-Giving, through the eye of the needle, letting all the excesses of our lives be knocked away?

This is the challenge of the Gospel, this is the freedom we are made for. Searching our hearts, so long deceived by the lies of materialism, we know it's true. Can possessions really fill the void? No, only a person can. For we are made for relationship and communion. And not just communion with persons here below, for they too are signs and sacraments of the Person of Jesus, the One Who alone can satisfy us!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Mission Man, of Happy Memory...

Six years ago today, I had the unbelievable grace of being in Rome for the Jubilee celebration for Missionaries. A World Mission Congress gathered hundreds of missionaries and mission educators from around the world. We had a few days of meetings, prayed together, shared stories, ate pasta and some real gelati, and finally came to a closing liturgy in St. Peter's Square for World Mission Sunday.

This Mass was celebrated by Pope John Paul II. As a remembrance of the first missionaries, the Twelve Apostles, twelve men and women were chosen to receive a simple mission cross from the Pope and commissioned "to bring Jesus back to your country." I was given the amazing and unexpected grace to be selected as one of those twelve souls, representing the United States of America!

That moment of kneeling before Pope John Paul II, a man I consider a spiritual father, and hearing the prayers and songs of over 80,000 people in St. Peter's Square will never fade from my memory. It was there at the feet of Peter that I believe the seed was planted for the Mission Moment ministry. My goal (and every Christian's goal) should simply be to bring Jesus to the world, one word, one step, one moment at a time.... to open eyes to the wonder of faith, and the beauty of grace that comes streaming down from the Cross. Witness to the reality that we are loved. Deeply and unconditionally loved.

This can translate itself into your life in a million different ways. It does not have to be some elaborate program, this sharing of the gospel, but a simple daily "yes" to Grace.

I think of Pope John Paul II, and of how he lived the mission. It was so much deeper than mere words for him, more than meetings and encyclicals, and apostolic letters. What do people say who had the chance to meet him? "He looked me in the eyes, and I felt peace." Is there any other way to live the gospel? Is there any other action that says "Jesus" than this look of love?

Life is complex, but living is utterly simple.

Look with love. Listen with love. Open up to receive Love. Empty yourself now to give that Love away. This is the essence of mission. It's the movement of Love. And each of us is given so many mission moments in our life. Tomorrow is a Monday morning (for some it's a Tuesday ;) When and where will we be given a moment of grace? May we have the same grace to recognize and respond!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Old Inuit Song I think over again my small adventures, my fears. Those small ones that seemed so big. For all the vital things I had to get and to reach. And yet there is only one great thing. The only thing - To live to see the great day that dawns and the Light that fills the world.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Magnetic Love Just a simple yet profound gem today from Pope John Paul II... The presence of Jesus in the tabernacle must be a kind of magnetic pole attracting an ever greater number of souls enamoured of him, ready to wait patiently to hear his voice and, as it were, to sense the beating of his heart. “O taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Ps 34:8). - Pope John Paul II, Mane Nobiscum Domine

Monday, October 16, 2006

Let's Kayak to Work! My wife is amazing, and she is crazy about celebrating birthdays (lucky for me). So on Saturday, she drove us over to beautiful Chester County, through old farmlands, past crumbling stone walls, and down shady roads that had more twists than an episode of LOST. She wouldn't tell me where we were going. She didn't say what we were doing. And I was very cool with this. After a gorgeous ride through this country, sporting it's finest fall colors, we pulled up to the Northbrook Canoe Company, a string of tired old buildings with wide boards and people wearing flannel shirts. It was nestled beside the cool and meandering Brandywine River. I got out of the car and cried "Woohooooooooo!" Now there is something about water that just cries "God" to me. It's flowing with His presence! Tolkien said that in the music of the sea there is still a trace of that ancient music that made the world. It makes it's way through all the courses and the currents and the veins of the earth; a sweet music that can calm our minds and smooth over the troubled surface of our hearts. We were dropped off 3 miles upstream by a flanneled man, (he was an artist and his grandpa came over from Italy, and he had shades like Bono). As the flanneled man in the van pulled away and left us in the wilderness with only two paddles to defend ourselves with, I took in a deep breath of that sweet farm air and descended to the water's edge. "Yippee! It's my birthday surprise!" Little did I know that another surprise was awaiting me, just seconds away. I would not cry "woohoo" when it was given to me. I got Rebecca nestled in her vessel, set her afloat and then attempted to fit my 6'4'' body into the 5'3'' watercraft. Yes, I fell in the water. It was cold and I got wet. And then we laughed. See, I had actually planned to do this. I thought to myself, "Self, let's give Rebecca a little laugh as we begin our voyage downstream." So that worked out real nice. The trip was absolutely beautiful... we couldn't have asked for a better day. In the sun-dappled stillness, we sliced through the water like otters, and the shimmering liquid peeled back before us like the plastic sleeves of a photo album. So we put our pictures in there. And they were pictures like this: - me, all wet and soggy, with some leaves stuck on my arm - us, slicing the water like otters - a Great Blue Heron, sailing majestic and silent over the Brandywine (good eye Rebecca!) - sycamore leaves, drifting beside us like fossils through amber in a watery museum - schools of fish, silent and slick beneath us - gnarled old roots of trees gaping out at us like toothy smiles from the Old Forest - maple trees dropping their leaves, sailing over us like shards of stained glass soft to the touch At one point in our journey, Rebecca said "This is just another way of transportation." What we held in such solemnity, when placed in the past, was just travelling from one point to another. But for our ancestors, the travel was closer to the earth. There was no climate control, no adjusting of the vents or turning up the radio. You were a traveller, and you were moving through another world. You would watch it, drink it in, listen and look at it as it passes you by and you pass through it. You would appreciate it, and maybe even learn lessons from it as you went. I remember seeing a commercial once of a new SUV. The Leviathan, or whatever it was called, was cruising through the desert, then past beautiful, snow-capped mountains in the distance, handling turns with laser precision and stuff. Then the camera zooms in to show you the comfort of the interior. And there you see the kids in the back seat, as the country goes zipping past in all its splendor, watching a cartoon on a TV that's built into the rear of the vehicle. What the? So I think we need to start kayaking to work. Let's walk if we can, or if we drive, let's drive slower! Or leave earlier so we can slow down and watch the world go by! Or let's just quit our jobs altogether and live on farms again! Woohoooooo!!
Mission Moment We are born with a lingering hunger We are born to be unsatisfied We are strangers who can't help but wonder And dream about the other side... - Nichole Nordeman Find out more about this amazing Christian artist at her website

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Eternal Now

Have you ever been lost in a moment of timelessness? Have you ever felt suspended for a moment, above the tick of the clock? Dancing in a passionate play of words over something you love? An enraptured gaze into the eyes of a newborn? Face to face with someone you love, no words, just experiences? Was it a moment of prayer? A walk through golden leaves or near the music of water? Maybe it was an afternoon spent deep in a book that took you away from yourself for a time... Welcome to the Eternal Now. It's the human adventure! It's what we're destined to do: lose ourselves and give ourselves to God in the Now Moment. St. Augustine knew it well, and shortly before his holy mother Monica left this world, the two of them found themselves overlooking the Tiber river, on a balcony, talking of heavenly things. The scent of eternity thick in the air, they soon broke free of the chains of earth: "So we were alone and talking together and very sweet our talk was ... discussing between ourselves and in the presence of Truth ... what the eternal life of the saints could be like.... Yet with the mouth of our heart we panted for the heavenly streams of your fountain, the fountain of life. Then with our affections burning still more strongly toward the Selfsame, we raised ourselves higher and step by step passed over all material things .... [We] came to our own souls, and we went beyond our souls... And, as we talked, yearning toward this Wisdom, we did, with the whole strength of our hearts' impulse, just lightly come into touch with her, and we sighed, and we left bound there the first fruits of the Spirit, and we returned to the sounds made by our mouths..." (Confessions, X, 200-201) This is the fruit of silence and attentiveness. It's a treasure worth every one of our efforts. So let's take this Sunday to stretch towards that leisure that brings such delights. The Now Moment can take us there.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

I WANT TO BE HOLY Let's just say we've opened up our hearts, even just a little crack, to the Awesome Love of God. Let's imagine we've given Him the OK to come on in, pull up a chair, and look at us, face to Face. We've broken through the barrier our culture has built up around us that says holiness is: 1. boring 2. unrealistic 3. overly idealistic 4. ridiculously naive 5. and/or mostly for nice people who aren't offensive We've broken through the lies and discovered that holy means wholly.... it means fully human. Let's imagine we've tasted, swallowed and fully digested that blindingly beautiful phrase of St. Irenaeus from way back before "self-help" that says "the glory of God is man fully alive." The question then would be, practically... How do we remain in Him? How do we live this HOLINESS? Because holiness is not a one time zap of grace, but a lifetime of saying YES. I say number one, we realize that holiness does NOT mean first doing something for God, like belting out rosaries or saying grace at meals or fasting every other day. We must know that holiness is first and foremost a "let it be done unto me." It's a receiving; it's an open heart more than a talking mouth. Remember St. John's words; "the love of God resides in this, not that we have loved Him, but that He first loved us..." Ours is the response of the Bride to the gift of this Heavenly Bridegroom. Then what next? I say we make a daily practice of R-U-S-H ing into holiness! That means... Resting the body and soul Unpacking the mind and heart Speaking with the whole of our being (and praying to, through and with the) Holy Spirit ∙ REST your senses. Close your eyes! Slow down! Be attentive to your breathing ∙ UNPACK your heart, lay it on the altar. Read the book of your life with God. Read the Book of His Life in the Gospels. Say everything and anything to this Divine Lover, and don't worry about polishing it up so it looks pretty! Like Billy Joel says, He "wants you just the way you are." (Then of course He will lift us up to where we belong... where eagles fly... on a mountain high...) ∙ SPEAK to the Rock of the Church’s Liturgy and water will flow (like the story of Moses in Exodus 17). Pray the Liturgy of the Hours, try and make it to Daily Mass, whisper the quiet prayers of the Rosary, celebrate the Church's Feast Days. And not from the mouth as much as from the heart. Cor ad cor loquitor! ∙ and remember to stay open to the HOLY SPIRIT! Remember that He prays in, with and for us!
I don't remember where I found this one, but it's achingly honest and beautiful. God, once again I find myself at an ending and a new beginning, full of mystery, sometimes pain, and a certain aching wonder. I hear you calling me to embrace this new beginning, to move on to discover new and deeper parts of myself. Help me realize that I can be free, that I am being freed at this very moment. Give me vision to see beyond my own small world and to smile at the mysterious path along which you lead me to a richer expression of my uniqueness. I want to live and to love the mystery of living. There is newness and wonder in discovering myself as a unique person, created out of love; in respecting and loving the secret of who I am. But this wonder can be experienced only if I have courage to face the mystery, the uncertainty, the lack of control, the anxiety, the pain. God, give me courage. Help me trust your goodness in all the situations of my life. I hold up to you in prayer the struggle and the beauty of my humanity. Bless my steps along the path you call me to walk, through events great and small. My birth was just the first step along a journey of repeated dyings and rebirths, each a doorway to a deeper and more meaningful life in relation with you. I hear now another call to die and to live more deeply, more wholly, more fully; a call to be open and free. O God, it takes so long to bring all of myself to birth...a lifetime... and I become impatient. This anxiety I's healthy, you say? It's all right? It's a part of being human? It's shaping my heart like yours? Ah yes, God, let me not fear the mistakes or the failures or the anxieties that come with growth; rather, let me see in the struggle of being human the signs and the strength of your cross and your resurrection. Let me recognize your presence and your tender love in this ever- changing, ever-growing life of mine.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Birthday Boy
I'm not looking for well wishes or cards (mostly) , I'm just saying it's me birthday! And to my fair and lovely cousin Ellen, with whom I share a birthday today, I say Happy B-Day to you cousin!!
Ah yes, 1969... the moon was just recently stepped on by Neil Armstrong, the fields of Woodstock had just recently been stepped on, slept on, and trampled on. Large antiwar protests were still raging. The colleges of Yale, Bowdoin, and Colgate admitted women for the first time. The supersonic Concorde made its first flight. There was no MTV, no internet, no cell phones. No legalized abortion. No microwave dinners. Why am I listing random stuff like this? It's my birthday.... it's time to party!! See you tomorrow!

In the House of Tom Bombadil

My journey through Tolkien's classic The Lord of the Rings (my 4th go around, officially) has not been without fruit. New insights abound as I begin to unpack what Tolkien himself called "a fundamentally religious and Catholic work." I'm savoring each image, even more than before. It's the difference between riding in a car at 45 miles per hour and walking at 4 miles per hour. I say, "Huh, I never saw that before" at least twice a chapter. I've reached the House of Tom Bombadil. If you've never read Tolkien, you've missed a good friend in Tom. The four hobbits are making their way through shadow and darkness, through the Old Forest and away from the mysterious Black Riders. They are afraid, they are alone. And Frodo, with only a vague plan and no one to guide him, is carrying the evil Ring of Power. It's weight at times, like the weight of sin, is too much for him to bear. Deep in the Old Forest, in a dark encounter with Old Man Willow, an ancient and wicked tree, the hobbits have fallen prey to a spell and are hopelessly lost. Until..... Tom Bombadil appears, singing. The threat which to them seems dire is almost laughed at, dealt with in a manner of complete confidence by Tom. His nonsensical song has a power to dominate and control certain things in the forest. About the gnarled old Willow Man, Tom says “that can soon be mended. I know the tune for him.” Does Tom Bombadil know the Music that made the world? Is he one of them; those ancient angelic beings Tolkien called the Ainur, who sang the world of Middle-Earth into form through the Power of the One? We never learn his true identity, even when Frodo asks directly “Who is Tom Bombadil?” The reply is simply “He is.” I love the wonder and the mystery buried deep within Tom Bombadil. Safe from harm, warm now in his house, he tells stories and sings songs to the weary, travel-worn hobbits.... "Eldest, that's what I am. Mark my words, my friends: Tom was here before the river and the trees; Tom remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn. He made paths before the Big People, and saw the little People arriving. He was here before the Kings and the graves and the Barrow-wights. When the Elves passed westward, Tom was here already, before the seas were bent. He knew the dark under the stars when it was fearless - before the Dark Lord came from Outside." Tolkien hints at the mystery of Tom’s role in a letter written in 1954: “even in a mythological Age there must be some enigmas, as there always are. Tom Bombadil is one (intentionally).” Tom is ancient and wise; he knows the world’s history and is aware of the presence of evil in Middle-earth. Despite the seriousness of this struggle with the Dark Lord, Tom remains joyful, exuberant, and continues to sing. Not even the Ring, that source of ultimate malice and evil which Frodo must carry and cast into the fires of Mount Doom, can dampen his spirit. To the astonishment of Frodo and his companions, the Ring has no power over him. He treats it with an alarming irreverence. Tom is called the Master of the Wood. He is the contemplative hermit of Middle-earth, knowing the names of the living things and the “tune” for each of them. I think of yesterday's reflection on Wonder, and another quote from Pope John Paul II comes to mind: “Faced with the sacredness of life and of the human person, and before the marvels of the universe, wonder is the only appropriate attitude.” Perhaps this is what gives Tom Bombadil his unshakable joy and confidence. This gift of wonder and appreciation of beauty is what we thirst for today. Pope John Paul II speaks of beauty as “a key to the mystery and a call to transcendence.” What the hobbits found in Tom Bombadil’s house was indeed this mystery and beauty, and beyond that a certain peace and comfort, like an oasis in the midst of their dangerous journey. The lesson we can learn from Tom? There is a music that runs deeper than sin, than evil, than our own fallen world. And there is a sanctuary we can go to and rest in. If we ever need to hear that melody again, if we need a refuge from the dangers of our own daily lives, we know where we can find it... +

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Good Things Come to Those Who Wonder

I believe this posture, this attitude, this position, if we could just be open to it, enter into it, walk in it continuously, this one could change the world: It's the posture of Wonder. Think how Wonder would slow us down, stop us in our tracks before we made a rash judgment, or an offensive remark, or grasped at something rather than received it as a gift. Wonder can open our eyes. Wonder can crack the seal on the surface of things. It can break the jar of aromatic perfume that is Life and spread it out and into the world. Wonder is when we open up and say "awe" to the miracle of the persons and things that surround us, encounter us, and penetrate us throughout the day. "Without wonder, men and women would lapse into deadening routine and little by little would become incapable of a life which is genuinely personal." - Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio OK, I want some of this! But how do I get it? How do I fall into this position of Wonder when I don't have a minute to think somedays? Well, for starters, find a minute to think each day. If you don't have time to kill, then time is killing you. Take charge! Clocks were made for man, not man for clocks! Wonder can awaken in us when we realize, as the ancient Greeks did, that there are two definitions for time; chronos and kairos. Chronos is measuring time for things, kairos is measureless time for persons. Kairos is time spent with loved ones, friends, or in the rhythms of nature. Chronos is the tick of a clock saying your order is up. Try living kairos time. Go outside and sit still before a tree or a field or some water and DO NOTHING but Wonder. Drink a glass of wine, slowly. Talk to someone, face to face, not through some wires or gadgets. (I know this is a paradox as you stare at the screen of your computer; it's actually kinda funny I just wrote that). You'll be amazed at how the pupil of your soul will enlarge, like a deep pool, like the way you look at someone you love. Let the mind and heart wander in wonder.... when you feel the pull to look at your watch, DON'T. When you feel the pull to look at your watch again, DON'T... again. When you feel the itch to check for the third time... go ahead and check. I'd be willing to bet it was only 3 minutes. That's kairos! It's quality time, not quantity time. You don't have to go and sit in the grass by the way (although it is fun). On the way home today, at a stop light, at the station, look at the woods, watch people, find a frail stalk of green bursting from the cracks in a sidewalk (they always find a way) and look at it, ponder it, drink it in. You don't have to get up for the sunrise and sit there for 45 minutes to watch the spectacle unfold (although that is an EXCELLENT IDEA!). I mean look and listen to what is already around you. Shhhh.... listen. The front porch to Wonder (and yes, I will continue to capitalize it because it is soooo Good) is this silence. Soren Kierkegaard, the 19th century Danish Christian philosopher, once said "If I were a physician, and if I were allowed to prescribe just one remedy for all the ills of the modern world, I would prescribe silence. For even if the Word of God were proclaimed in the modern world, how could one hear it with so much noise? Therefore, create silence." We are surrounded by Wonderful things and Wonderful people. Do we recognize these gifts? Let's start on the path to Wonder by creating a quiet place in the soul where we can let reality speak. Let's start with the Wonder of our own existence... "Truly you have formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother's womb. I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made, wonderful are your works." - Psalm 139

Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Rosary: Light on the Face of Christ

Today is the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. October is loaded with saints and feasts if you haven't noticed. It's like the Church gets a B12 shot before moving into the cold of winter (respectively, to our non-eastern USA friends!)

One of the last letters our beloved Pope John Paul II wrote before he left us was devoted to this favorite prayer of his. Here are a few choice quotes from it:

"The Rosary, though clearly Marian in character, is at heart a Christocentric prayer. In the sobriety of its elements, it has all the depth of the Gospel message in its entirety, of which it can be said to be a compendium.

It is an echo of the prayer of Mary, her perennial Magnificat for the work of the redemptive Incarnation which began in her virginal womb. With the Rosary, the Christian people sits at the school of Mary and is led to contemplate the beauty on the face of Christ and to experience the depths of his love."

Wow. What a powerful hymn to the power of the rosary. A compendium of the Gospel? That's quite a tribute. And the point of the rosary is to focus our gaze onto the Face of Christ. The Pope said we can follow and learn from Mary's gaze by praying the rosary:

"Thereafter Mary's gaze, ever filled with adoration and wonder, would never leave him. At times it would be a questioning look, as in the episode of the finding in the Temple: "Son, why have you treated us so?" (Lk 2:48); it would always be a penetrating gaze, one capable of deeply understanding Jesus, even to the point of perceiving his hidden feelings and anticipating his decisions, as at Cana (cf. Jn 2:5). At other times it would be a look of sorrow, especially beneath the Cross, where her vision would still be that of a mother giving birth, for Mary not only shared the passion and death of her Son, she also received the new son given to her in the beloved disciple (cf. Jn 19:26-27). On the morning of Easter hers would be a gaze radiant with the joy of the Resurrection, and finally, on the day of Pentecost, a gaze afire with the outpouring of the Spirit (cf. Acts 1:14)."

The rosary is a repetitive prayer, and this can be difficult for many to enter into. Others may feel it focuses too much on Mary, the Mother of Jesus. But here we should allow ourselves a moment to rest, to let go, and to listen to the rhythm of the saints. If we let ourselves feel the great heartbeat of the Church, catching its warmth, we find the words are meant to be like music, a soundtrack behind the drama of the gospel scenes. They offer us a rhythm, a beat, and if we step in time to that beat, we enter into the mysteries, the Great Dance. And through Mary's sweet heart, and the mysteries of her life, we see not a stumbling block but a stained glass window. And streaming through this heart like light is the Face of Jesus, Son of Mary and Light of our Days!

Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary, pray for us!


Bill Donaghy

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless handheld

Friday, October 06, 2006

"In words make the Word present" Pope Benedict today spoke of the task of the theologian. It is not to speak of God as an object but as a subject, as a Person, not a concept. Not to obfuscate with many words, but through a pure and focused gaze upon His Face, to make a way for the one Word. As theologians, our task is not to hand over dry information, but the water of Life Who is a Person, Jesus Christ. Here is Zenit's article on the sermon: "He who speaks in theology should be God himself," said the Pope. "And our speaking and thinking should only serve to have him heard, so that the world of God can find room in the world." For theologians to attain this kind of purification, he recommended "silence and contemplation," which "serve, in the dispersion of daily life, to keep a permanent union with God." The Pontiff added: "This is the objective: that union with God be always present in our soul and transform our whole being." Silence and contemplation "serve to be able to find in the dispersion of every day this profound, continuous union with God," Benedict XVI continued. Yet, "the beautiful vocation of the theologian is to speak," he added. "This is his mission: in the talkativeness of our time and of other times, in the inflation of words, to make the essential words present. In words make the Word present, the Word that proceeds from God, the Word that is God." Read article in full on

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Sanctuary, Part 2 ...The media seems to thrive on spinning darkness like a web. How do we escape it? What is the baggage I carry even now, the images from our violent culture, the films and the shows I am drinking in, perhaps heedless of the poison they carry? We have been so bombarded by the media with images of violence, death, and terror. The very real events of war, genocide, and murder that are transpiring sporadically around the globe are selectively gathered up by the media and splashed almost instantaneously into our living rooms. It is shock and awe. Digging up death is sometimes the full time work of media personnel. But when these real events become the story lines for our "entertainment," have we crossed a line? It's this time of the year, as Halloween approaches, that more horror films are released. These "thrillers" are pounded out in teaser trailers that have so much adrenaline, gore and flashy sound bytes that it is a wonder more heart attacks aren't happening in the theaters. Violence for the sake of violence... Do we need this? Is it necessary for us to experience? Does the experience cultivate a respect for life, or does it cheapen life? The question I want to pose today is this: Where do you go for sanctuary? Where is the place you can go where there is life, peace, stillness? We must have this tonic of stillness for our bodies and our souls. We must have a sanctuary. A place that is so strong, it takes the poison of this "culture of death" right out through our pores. I believe it starts with a walk into the woods. The opening of a chapel door on a quiet afternoon. The morning coffee beside a window when the sun is slowly lifting up her head again, despite the shadows of yesterday. Then we can rise as well. It starts with an attitude of stillness and listening... the leaning of the heart's ear toward the Divine Whisper. It's been reported that some of the Amish families caught in the terror of this week's school shooting in Paradise, PA have had their community meetings. They are asking the question, on the green grass of their land, in the cool of the evening, in the stillness, what can we do for the family of the man who killed our own? How can we support his wife and children? This kind of compassion, this mind-boggling love is what is newsworthy. This kind of reaction to terror and death is heroic. It's born from a stillness and a listening to the beating of the human heart that I fear many of us have yet to hear and to recognize. I stumbled on this reflection long ago, and it still holds such beauty: Empty, yet full of power, it seems as nothing, but envelops everything. Silence, the roar of it deafens; shatters upon the soul in waves. One is not able to stand in its mystery. It scours like the ferocious whirling of the desert sand, laying waste all that lies before it. It reveals pain, loss, vulnerability, and weakness. The world tries to cover it, smother it with noise and activity. The world tries to silence the silence. But a few allow it to strip them, to let it reveal to them the beauty of its majesty. A beauty which is found in them also, deep within all, if only they would allow themselves to enter the white-hot furnace of silence. Therein much is revealed and all is made new. - Anonymous
The Barren Francis As the day that belongs to Francis closes, a couple quick thoughts: We need Francis. Because he was radical, meaning, he could see past all the fluff and the pomp and the beaucracy and see JESUS ALONE in poverty at the root. We need Francis. Because he showed us in his own flesh and blood that we can live free in God's Providence. He will provide! Through the great stripping away of our selfishness, God will cloth us even here with all that we truly need. We need Francis. To show us that success is not in numbers or programs, but in each ONE of us turning our faces to God in absolute trust.... To quote again from Fr. McNamara: "One solitary God-centered, God-intoxicated man can do more to keep God's love alive and His presence felt in the world than a thousand half-hearted, talkative busy men living frightened, fragmented "lives of quiet desperation." Dear God, please send us through your holy saints, like light through a prism, the splendor of Your Truth and Your Love! St. Francis, pray for us!
Sanctuary - Part 1 Two days ago, another school shooting took place in nearby Lancaster County, PA. This time striking at the peaceful heart of a town that virtually did not know crime. A 32 year old milk truck driver entered a quiet Amish school house and committed unspeakable acts. It appears that 10 young girls were shot execution style and 5 are confirmed dead; the others are in critical condition. It's the third school shooting to happen nationwide within a week. The Amish lead a simple life, an unplugged life. They move with the rhythm of the sun and the seasons. But for this community, the rhythm has been broken by the madness of our age. What do we do in the face of such terror? I think of the children in that school who survived, trembling in that darkness, that place of terror. Though they've survived, still, something of their childhood has been forever lost. They are wounded in a way few can understand; only grace can heal such pain. And I pray that it descends now with all tenderness and light. What has happened in the minds of such men who can do such terrible things to their fellow travelers, especially the helpless and the innocent? I don't know where we begin to stop this madness, but the lasting cure cannot rest only in legal realms or gun laws. This infection runs deeper. The heart has been poisoned, the heart of our culture has been numbed by so much senseless violence. Many of our movies glorify violence; television shows are increasingly pushing the envelope... How many times has the TV shown us stories of homicide, brutality, and torture, "entertaining" us with plot lines that delve into the minds of psychopathic killers? If this is what we drink in day after day on our couches after work, after a day of real encounters with the miracles around us, how can it not have a desensitizing effect? Soon we miss the miracle, and have left only a mass of blurred faces in our daily walk. I think we need to cry sanctuary. We need a retreat. We need the soft rain to come, and the quiet cool of the evening to still us, heart and mind. Wash our souls clean. I think we too need to be unplugged for awhile. Maybe we need to turn to the mountains again, like Francis, and empty ourselves of the baggage that our broken culture is pouring into our hearts. The media seems to thrive on spinning darkness like a web. How do we escape it? What is the baggage I carry even now, the images from our violent culture, the films and the shows I am drinking in perhaps heedless of the darkness they carry? Can I turn something off? Is there a place that I can go that is only life? That breathes life and not death? That points to the good and not always the twisted and the terrible?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Angel of God, My Guardian Dear Today is the Feast of the Guardian Angels, and what better way to honor them then with a little teaching, based in Scripture and the Church's Tradition, from Professor Peter Kreeft, teacher and author from Boston College. The Twelve Most Important Things to Know About Angels 1. They really exist. Not just in our minds, or our myths, or our symbols, or our culture. They are as real as your dog, or your sister, or electricity. 2. They’re present, right here, right now, right next to you, reading these words with you. 3. They’re not cute, cuddly, comfortable, chummy, or "cool." They are fearsome and formidable. They are huge. They are warriors. 4. They are the real "extra-terrestrials", the real "Super-men", the ultimate aliens. Their powers are far beyond those of all fictional creatures. 5. They are more brilliant minds than Einstein. 6. They can literally move the heavens and the earth if God permits them. 7. There are also evil angels, fallen angels, demons, or devils. These too are not myths. Demon possessions, and exorcisms, are real. 8. Angels are aware of you, even though you can’t usually see or hear them. But you can communicate with them. You can talk to them without even speaking. 9. You really do have your very own "guardian angel." Everybody does. 10. Angels often come disguised. "Do not neglect hospitality, for some have entertained angels unawares" — that’s a warning from life’s oldest and best instruction manual. 11. We are on a protected part of a great battlefield between angels and devils, extending to eternity. 12. Angels are sentinels standing at the crossroads where life meets death. They work especially at moments of crisis, at the brink of disaster — for bodies, for souls, and for nations. __________________________________________________________ For more fantastic spiritual reading from Peter Kreeft, visit his excellent website at

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Little Flower How can I let the day pass without a word from our little Therese? Happy Feast Day! Our Lord does not come down from Heaven every day to lie in a golden ciborium. He comes to find another heaven which is infinitely dearer to him - the heaven of our souls, created in His Image, the living temples of the Adorable Trinity. - Saint Therese of Lisieux
Cranky Pants* Just a fair warning, I have my cranky pants on. And yes, it was this morning's homily that did it to me. OK, why complain? What right do I have to criticize a sermon by a trained teacher of the faith? I dunno, I'm just a pew potato, but I do believe we should get our money's worth! (?) After all, Father's had all week to prepare for this 10 minute teaching. And we are starving out here for a word that can stick, a word that can heal and help, a word that can be the spell with which we step out into battle against our own dragons and the dragons of the culture that will no doubt appear to try and defeat us first thing Monday morning. The readings started off strong, really strong. The Letter from James was cutting to the heart. "Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries." The gospel spoke of plucking out your eye if it offends you, cutting off your hand if it leads you to sin. Yikes! This is serious work, this transformation into Christ. No compromising, I thought to myself. And then the gospel ended with an allusion to H___! You know, "where the worm dies not and the fire is unquenchable." I thought to myself, "Self, this is it. There's no denying it. He's gonna preach on the stuff we never hear preached about! The readings have aligned themselves, it's time for an eternal equinox! He's going to talk about H-E-double hockey sticks!" Father ascends the pulpit... "The story is told in the memoirs of Carol Burnett..." Huh? Carol Burnett!? What the!? Pop..... fhizzzz .... we gotta diet caffeine free homily. Yes, it was nice (for my thoughts on nice, click here). But I thought this was a perfect time to tell us all, so comfortable in our comforts, so secure in our security and our techno-easy lives, that we need to wake up! Be vigilant, ponder the Four Last Things (anybody know what they are anymore?), carefully weigh the choices we make, consider the reality of sin, eternal justice, and stuff. Nope. Not this week. We did enter beautifully into the Liturgy of the Eucharist. We have a wonderful choir. The words of the Consecration cut through our hearts and the sacrificial death of Christ was renewed, the veil peeled back again so that we living today could enter into the timeless moment when the God become Man died for us. The moment when we were, we are, we will be rescued from death. The moment that gave life to all moments, the pound of the hammer that sent shockwaves back into the Garden of Eden and forwards to the very last breath of the very last person on earth. Behold the power of our Redeemer. And the graces from Communion are always beyond imagination. Who can fathom what He does in there, in the hollow of our chest, so rich and so deep is His Love. OK.... it's over now. I did learn something about Carol Burnett today, so that was cool. And the last words of the priest today, after such cosmic love was shown to us? Yup, you guessed it... "Have a nice day." The understatement of the millenium. __________________________________________________________ * cranky pants - a state of agitation brought on by a luke-warm expression of faith in me or around me.

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!" ...