Thursday, November 30, 2006

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

Monday, November 27, 2006

Floundering Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 24, 2006

Minimize Me!

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

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

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

Lemme 'splain...

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

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

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

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

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

Enter, the Gospel.

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

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

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

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

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

"He must increase, I must decrease."

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

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

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

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

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

Friday, November 17, 2006

When Do I Have to Believe All This Stuff?

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love teenagers.

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



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

Thursday, November 16, 2006

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

Monday, November 13, 2006

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

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

Sunday, November 12, 2006

A Tale of Two Grapes, Part Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A Tale of Two Grapes, Part Two

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

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Tale of Two Grapes, Part One

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

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

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

Monday, November 06, 2006

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

Saturday, November 04, 2006

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

Friday, November 03, 2006

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

Thursday, November 02, 2006

A Dream for All Souls Day

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

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

Well, to be human should mean to be holy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talking to Your Little Ones About the Big Topic of Sex

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