Sunday, July 31, 2011

18th Sunday of Ordinary Time

They all ate and were satisfied.  ~Matthew 14:20

Our Lord in a desert place changed a few loaves into many, and at Cana turned water into wine. Thus before the time came to give men and women his own body and blood to feed on, he accustomed their palates to his bread and wine, giving them a taste of transitory bread and wine to teach them to delight in his life-giving body and blood.

He gave them things of little value for nothing to make them understand that his supreme gift would be given yet more freely. He gave them for nothing what they could have bought from him, what in fact they wanted to buy, to teach them that he asked them for no payment.

When it was not permitted them to give him the price of bread and wine, which they could have done, they certainly could not pay him for his body and blood.

Moreover, as well as giving freely he lovingly cajoled us, offering us these small things without charge to attract us and cause us to go and receive something greater and beyond all price.

He awakened our desire by things pleasing to the palate in order to draw us to that which gives life to the soul. He gave a sweet taste to the wine he created to show how great is the treasure hidden in his life-giving blood.

Consider how his creative power penetrates everything. Our Lord took a little bread, and in the twinkling of an eye multiplied it. Work that would take us ten months to accomplish he did with his ten fingers in a moment.

His hands were as earth beneath the bread and his voice was as thunder above it. The movement of his lips acted as dew, the breath of his mouth as sunlight, and in a brief moment he accomplished what normally takes much time.

Thus the shortage was forgotten; many loaves came from few as in the first blessing: Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.

The Lord also showed those to whom he gave his precepts the power of his holy word, and how swiftly he would reward those who accepted it. Nevertheless, he did not increase the number of loaves as much as he could have done, but only enough to satisfy those who were to eat them.

His power was not the measure of his miracle, but the people’s hunger. Had his miracle been measured by his power it would have been a victory beyond all measure. Measured by the hunger of thousands, there was a surplus of twelve baskets full.

Humans who practice any craft always fall short of their customers’ desires—they are unable to meet their requirements; but what God does goes beyond anyone’s desire.

The Lord said: Gather up what remains so that nothing is wasted because he wanted to be sure they would not think they had seen a vision. When the fragments had been kept for a day or two they would believe the Lord had really done this, and they had not just imagined it.

St. Ephrem, c.306-373

Thursday, July 28, 2011

God dwells among us!

"Every man and woman is a true sanctuary of God, and should be treated with the highest respect and affection."  ~Pope Benedict XVI

"A procession of angels pass before each person, and the heralds go before them, saying, 'Make way for the image of God!'"  ~The Talmud 

How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord, mighty God!  ~Psalm 84:1

Monday, July 25, 2011

Your cup...

Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?  ~Matthew 20:22

No happy cup
you offer
so full of pain
and sorrow
laced with suffering
to enormous excess
yet overflowing
with unrequited love
than death

to drink your cup be cleansed
by the water and blood
gushing forth
from your side pass through death
into gloriously new
and risen life

O Passion of Christ,
strengthen me
to drink your cup
and live!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

17th Sunday of Ordinary Time

He sells everything he owns and buys the field.  ~Matthew 13:46

To the seeker after fine pearls may be applied the words, Seek and you will find, and, Everyone who seeks will find. If you ask what is to be sought, and what will be found by everyone who seeks for it, I say with all confidence: pearls -- especially that pearl which will be acquired by those who give their all, who sacrifice everything for it, the pearl Paul meant when he said: I have accepted the loss of everything in order to gain Christ. Everything means beautiful pearls; to gain Christ refers to the one pearl of great price.

Admittedly, a lamp is precious to people in darkness, and they need it until sunrise. Precious too was the radiance on the face of Moses -- and I believe on the faces of the other prophets also. It was a sight of beauty leading us to the point of being able to see the glory of Christ, to whom the Father bore witness in the words: This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased. But compared with this surpassing glory, what formerly was glorious now seems to have no glory at all. We need at first a glory destined to be outshone by an all-surpassing glory, just as we need the partial knowledge which will be superseded when that which is perfect has come.

Thus, everyone beginning to live a spiritual life and growing toward maturity needs tutors, guardians, and trustees until the fullness of time arrives for him, so that after all this, he who at first was no different from a slave although he owned the whole estate, may on his emancipation receive his patrimony from his tutor, guardians, and trustees.

This patrimony is the pearl of great price, and the coming of what is perfect to supersede what is imperfect when, after acquiring the forms of knowledge, if we may call them so, which are inferior to knowledge of Christ, one becomes able to understand the supreme value of knowing Christ. The law and the prophets fully comprehended are the preparation for the full comprehension of the gospel and the complete understanding of the acts and words of Christ Jesus.


Friday, July 22, 2011

St. Mary Magdalene

I found him whom my soul loveth: 
I held him: and I will not let him go...  
Song of Songs 3:4

To Saint Mary Magdalene

You claimed
the false
until you found
the True;
your beauty
until Beauty
wounded you,
and plunged your soul
into a spring so sweet
your tears
fell as chaste pearls
at Mercy's

Fr. Gerald Fitzgerald

Thursday, July 21, 2011

"A sea of suffering..."

Some days are like this,
you wake with an ache in your chest
that isn't even yours.
You know that somewhere, great rivers
     of blood are being shed.
Somewhere, mothers are weeping over
     children, bodies strewn like wildflowers.
Somewhere, men and women eat a bowl of pain —
A man tells his wife that he is leaving,
A woman wakes in an empty bed
or puts her hand to an empty place
     where a breast was.
Somewhere, in the screeching of brakes
     there is a shattering, of glass, of lives.

This earth is covered in a sea of suffering.
If for a few moments we manage to forget
     do not begrudge us our wine, our prayer, our reaching out
         for a word, a touch,
         even from a stranger.

~Regina Sara Ryan

Ave Maria!   This is exactly how I felt yesterday.  I was so acutely aware of that "sea of suffering" rushing over humankind like an enormous, never-ending tsunami wave.  Fear and sadness for those getting lost in the deluge nearly overwhelmed me.  As the psalmist put it so well, "They surrounded me, the snares of death, with the anguish of the tomb; they caught me, sorrow and distress" (Ps 116:3).  So I followed his example and "I called on the Lord's name" (v 4).  Jesus!  Jesus, save us!  Jesus, deliver us!  Jesus, have mercy on us!

How good and right it is to call upon Him whose members we are!  Christ Himself suffers and rejoices in us, even as we suffer and rejoice in Him and with Him.  And, as St. Paul told the early church in Corinth, when one member suffers, we all suffer, just as when one rejoices, we all rejoice (1 Cor 12:16).  Therefore, everyone's pain and joy are mine, and mine is theirs, and Christ's is ours and ours is His.

Perhaps for a few moments today I may manage to forget the sea of suffering, but I pray that I may never forget that we are the Body of Christ and each one of us is a member of it. Thanks be to God for His gift too wonderful for words!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field...

The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but when all were asleep his enemy came and sowed darnel among the wheat. Mt. 13:24

Now as the Lord himself explains, the darnel is the offspring of the evil one. They bear his mark because they behave the way he does: they are seeds of his sowing, and his children by adoption. Harvest time will be the end of the world, for although it began long since and continues now through death, only then will all things come to an end.

The reapers are the angels, for they are, and will be especially at that time, the servants of the King of heaven. As Scripture says: Just as the darnel is collected and burnt in the fire, so it will be at the end of the world. The Son of Man, who is also the Son of the Father Most High, will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all evildoers and every cause of sin.

And so the Lord’s servants, the angels of God, seeing the darnel in the field, that is, wicked and impious folk living among good people, and that even within the Church, said to the Lord: Do you wish us to go and gather it up? In other words, "Shall we kill them, to remove them from the earth"” But the Lord’s reply was: No, for fear that in collecting the darnel you may also uproot the wheat.

How then would the wheat, the good people, be uprooted as well if the angels gathered up the darnel, cutting off the wicked by death to separate them from the just? The fact is that many godless sinners who live among people who are upright and devout repent in time and are converted, and by learning new habits of piety and virtue they cease to be darnel and become wheat.

And so some wheat would be uprooted in the gathering of the darnel if the angels snatched the wicked away before they repented. Moreover, many while living evil lives produce children of good disposition, or they may have other rightly disposed descendants.

This is why he who sees everything before it comes into being would not permit the darnel to be uprooted until the appointed time. But he says: At harvest time I will say to the reapers: "First collect the darnel and bind it in bundles to be burnt, but gather the wheat into my barn."

Those therefore who wish to be saved from eternal punishment and to inherit the everlasting kingdom of God must be not darnel but wheat. They must avoid saying or doing anything evil or useless, and practice the opposite virtues, thus bringing forth the fruits of repentance.

In this way they will become worthy of the heavenly granary; they will be called children of the Father Most High, and as heirs will enter his kingdom rejoicing, resplendent with divine glory.

To this may we all attain through the grace and loving kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with his eternal Father and the most holy, good, and life-giving Spirit belongs glory now and always and for endless ages. Amen.

Gregory Palamas (1296-1359)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Ave Maria!  Today we honor the Blessed Mother under the title of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.  The Web is full of lovely and informative articles about her.  Some of them can be found here, here,and here.  As for me, I pray to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel to guard and guide my prayer and solitude, which is so central to the life and vocation of a consecrated virgin.  Like Mary, our mother and our sister, we consecrated virgins keep and ponder in our hearts the Incarnate Word.  As Our Lady gave birth to her Son in faith even before she gave birth to him in the flesh, we strive to bring Christ to birth within us and around us, by the power of the Holy Spirit, through Whom the Rite of Consecration of a Virgin was bestowed upon us on our glorious wedding day.  Placing ourselves under the mantle of Our Lady's tender love, with her we magnify the Lord with and rejoice forever in God our Savior.  Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, pray for us!

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Cross...

But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; by whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world. ~Galatians 6:14

The Cross is my portion -- it is my sweet rest and support. I could not be happy without my Cross -- I could not lay it down for all the world would give. With the Cross I am happy, but without it would be lost. The only way I have of trying to show my gratitude to God for all that He has done for those I love, and for us all in general, is in the Cross.  ~St. Mary McKillop

"...O Thou of God and man the Son,
Thee will I cherish, Thee will I honor,
Thou, my soul’s glory, joy and crown."
~Fairest Lord Jesus

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Learn of me...

Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and humble of heart.  ~Matthew 11:29

Keep in mind the main lesson Jesus left us in three words so that we would never forget it and could repeat it a hundred times a day: "Learn of me," He said, "that I am gentle and humble of heart." That says it all: to have a heart gentle towards one’s neighbor and humble toward God. At every moment give this heart, the very heart of your heart, to our Savior. You will see that as this divine, delicate Lover takes His place in your heart, the world with its vanities and superfluities will leave. ~St. Francis de Sales

Dear Lord, so gentle and humble of heart, I want to learn of You.  Please teach me.  Amen.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The work that God gives me

Cheered by the presence of God, I will do at each moment, without anxiety, according to the strength that He will give me, the work that His providence assigns me.  I will leave the rest without concern.  It is not my affair.  I ought to consider the duty to which I am called each day as the work that God has given me to do, and to apply myself to it in a manner worthy of His glory, that is to say, with exactness and in peace.  I must neglect nothing.  I must not be violent about anything.  ~Rev. François Fénelon

Ave Maria!  What wisdom there is in these words of Rev. François Fénelon!  I cannot do everything, but I can do something.  Furthermore, God does not ask or expect me to do everything, but He does desire that I do the task He gives me in the present moment.  Faithfulness to His will as He reveals it to me moment-by-moment is all that matters.  To do my God-given work "in a manner worthy of His glory" is to share in the saving mission of our Lord Jesus Christ, who came not to be served but to serve.  Ah, what joy!  To leave "the rest without concern" in the hands of our loving Father is to know the peace that surpasses all understanding, the peace that the world cannot give.  How can I keep from singing?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

St. Benedict of Nursia and the Liturgy of the Hours

Ave Maria!  Yesterday was the feast of St. Benedict of Nursia, whom I neglected in my enthusiasm to share what I had just read about Helen Keller.  St. Benedict, the father of Western monasticism, has had and continues to have an enormous influence upon men and women throughout the ages.  His wise and practical rule of life has a universal appeal that is suitable for individuals and groups from all religious traditions and walks of life. 

When I think of St. Benedict however, I think first not of his rule but of his love for the liturgy.  For him, it was without question the absolute source and summit of his entire life.  He is credited with having organized the Liturgy of the Hours, as the Divine Office or Breviary is called today.  The liturgy is the heart of the monastic community.  The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is, of course, the principal liturgy, and all the other events of daily life give way to the primacy of the Liturgy of the Hours. 

This is true not just for official Benedictines but also for individual "Benedictine souls" such as me.  With the liturgy as the center of my life, the hours of my days and nights become a liturgy of sorts that I am blessed to offer to the One who alone is worthy of all praise.  Oh, marvelous!  What I celebrate in the liturgy takes root and becomes flesh here and now through Him, with Him and in Him.  Thus my life itself becomes, little by little, more and more, worship of God in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).  I cannot really explain this, I just know that it is true, it is my experience of many long and wonderful years, and it is all God's doing.  And St. Benedict, too, has played a vital part in this lovely mystery of my life.  Thank you, dear Lord -- and St. Benedict, too!

I will sing to the Lord as long as I live:
I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.
Psalm 104:33

P.S.  Lowell Graham at "Speaking to the Soul" has posted a good read on St. Benedict and the three promises of his rule here.

Monday, July 11, 2011

"Everything has its wonders..."

Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn whatever state I am in, therein to be content. ~Helen Keller

Ave Maria!  It was shortly after I began to lose my hearing at the age of seven that I first learned about Helen Keller.  Ever since, she has been one of my real-life heroes.  What an amazing, indomitable woman!  She was such an angry, rebellious child, and for good reason, too, given the enormous losses of her sight and hearing.  I was pretty mad myself when I was introduced to her.  My mother had recently died, I was losing my hearing, and I wasn't seeing very well.  Being so young and unknowledgeable, I feared that I was going blind, but eventually glasses resolved that problem.  I took comfort in Helen's ability to cope with and overcome her disadvantages and resolved to imitate her strength and courage the best I could.  She was a bright shining star who lit up the darkness of my fears with hope.  If she could do it, so could I!  If God had helped her, He would help me!  Surely He would provide me with an Anne Sullivan, and so He did -- even more than one. 

No, thanks be to God, I didn't totally lose all my hearing, only enough to make life rather difficult for me, particularly in school where I ran into some pretty mean teachers who never should have been allowed into a classroom.  But I also met some of the kindest, most understanding teachers who accepted me as I was while encouraging and challenging me to keep rising above myself and my limitations.  These wise and wonderful women loved me and believed in me, which was something I was unable to do for myself at that time.  And, when necessary, they went to bat for me at the highest level possible, making sure that those teachers who put me down did not hold me back.  I remain grateful to these good women and think of them often.

I still think of Helen Keller, too, and continue to draw upon her wisdom.  Yesterday I came across this lovely piece that apparently appeared in Redbook magazine once upon a time.  I don't know when, and I'm not familiar with Frazier Hunt, the writer, -- will have to save that search for another time -- who captures so beautifully the heart and soul of a truly extraordinary woman.

Blessed be God, who heals all our ills!


One July afternoon at our ranch in the Canadian Rockies I rode toward Helen Keller’s cabin. Along the wagon trail that ran through a lovely wood we had stretched a wire, to guide Helen when she walked there alone, and as I turned down the trail I saw her coming.

I sat motionless while this woman who was doomed to live forever in a black and silent prison made her way briskly down the path, her face radiant. She stepped out of the woods into a sunlit open space directly in front of me and stopped by a clump of wolf willows. Gathering a handful, she breathed their strange fragrance: her sightless eyes looked up squarely into the sun, and her lips, so magically trained, pronounced the single word “Beautiful!” Then, still smiling, she walked past me.

I brushed the tears from my own inadequate eyes. For to me none of this exquisite highland had seemed beautiful. I had felt only bitter discouragement over the rejection of a piece of writing. I had eyes to see all the wonders of woods, sky and mountains, ears to hear the rushing stream and the song of the wind in the treetops. It took the sightless eyes and sealed ears of this extraordinary woman to show me beauty, and bravery.

~Frazier Hunt, from Redbook magazine

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A sower went out to sow. ~Matthew 13:3

Dearly beloved, the reading from the holy gospel about the sower requires no explanation, but only a word of warning. In fact the explanation has been given by Truth himself, and it cannot be disputed by a frail human being.

However, there is one point in our Lord’s exposition which you ought to weigh well. It is this. If I told you that the seed represented the word, the field the world, the birds the demons, and the thorns riches, you would perhaps be in two minds as to whether to believe me.

Therefore the Lord himself deigned to explain what he had said, so that you would know that a hidden meaning is to be sought also in those passages which he did not wish to interpret himself.

Would anyone have believed me if I had said that thorns stood for riches? After all, thorns are piercing and riches pleasurable. And yet riches are thorns because thoughts of them pierce the mind and torture it. When finally they lure a person into sin, it is as though they were drawing blood from the wound they have inflicted.

According to another evangelist, the Lord spoke in this parable not simply of riches but of deceptive riches, and with good reason. Riches are deceptive because they cannot stay with us for long; they are deceptive because they are incapable of relieving our spiritual poverty.

The only true riches are those that make us rich in virtue.

Therefore, if you want to be rich, beloved, love true riches. If you aspire to the heights of real honor, strive to reach the kingdom of heaven. If you value rank and renown, hasten to be enrolled in the heavenly court of the angels.

Store up in your minds the Lord’s words which you receive through your ears, for the word of the Lord is the nourishment of the mind. When his word is heard but not stored away in the memory, it is like food which has been eaten and then rejected by an upset stomach.

A person’s life is despaired of if he cannot retain his food; so if you receive the food of holy exhortations, but fail to store in your memory those words of life which nurture righteousness, you have good reason to fear the danger of everlasting death.

Be careful, then, that the word you have received through your ears remains in your heart. Be careful that the seed does not fall along the path, for fear that the evil spirit may come and take it from your memory.

Be careful that the seed is not received in stony ground, so that it produces a harvest of good works without the roots of perseverance.

Many people are pleased with what they hear and resolve to undertake some good work, but as soon as difficulties begin to arise and hinder them they leave the work unfinished.

The stony ground lacked the necessary moisture for the sprouting seed to yield the fruit of perseverance.

Good earth, on the other hand, brings forth fruit by patience. The reason for this is that nothing we do is good unless we also bear with equanimity the injuries done us by our neighbors.

In fact, the more we progress, the more hardships we shall have to endure in this world; for when our love for this present world dies, its sufferings increase.

This is why we see many people doing good works and at the same time struggling under a heavy burden of afflictions. They now shun earthly desires, and yet they are tormented by greater sufferings

But, as the Lord said, they bring forth fruit by patience, because, since they humbly endure misfortunes, they are welcomed when these are over into a place of rest in heaven.

St. Gregory the Great, c. 540-604

Saturday, July 9, 2011

"The Discipline of Hearing"

Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops —Matthew 10:27

Sometimes God puts us through the experience and discipline of darkness to teach us to hear and obey Him. Song birds are taught to sing in the dark, and God puts us into "the shadow of His hand" until we learn to hear Him (Isaiah 49:2). "Whatever I tell you in the dark..." — pay attention when God puts you into darkness, and keep your mouth closed while you are there. Are you in the dark right now in your circumstances, or in your life with God? If so, then remain quiet. If you open your mouth in the dark, you will speak while in the wrong mood — darkness is the time to listen. Don’t talk to other people about it; don’t read books to find out the reason for the darkness; just listen and obey. If you talk to other people, you cannot hear what God is saying. When you are in the dark, listen, and God will give you a very precious message for someone else once you are back in the light.

After every time of darkness, we should experience a mixture of delight and humiliation. If there is only delight, I question whether we have really heard God at all. We should experience delight for having heard God speak, but mostly humiliation for having taken so long to hear Him! Then we will exclaim, "How slow I have been to listen and understand what God has been telling me!"  And yet God has been saying it for days and even weeks. But once you hear Him, He gives you the gift of humiliation, which brings a softness of heart — a gift that will always cause you to listen to God now.

~Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest
Ave Maria!  While reading today's gospel (Mt 10:24-33), I thought of the above reflection by Oswald Chambers.  I remembered what he said about song birds being taught to sing in the dark, so I looked it up in the copy of My Utmost for His Highest that my sister Annie had given me years ago.  Sure enough, there it was, "The Discipline of Hearing," the selection for February 14.  I had marked it well, especially these words:  "remain quiet...darkness is the time to listen...just listen and obey."  I'm in a bit of darkness right now with a painful bout of sciatica.  It's nothing serious and will eventually pass, but it sure does limit me and frustrate me.  I have places to go, people to see, things to do!!!  God, however, seems to have other plans for me at the moment.  Thus I beg Him for the grace to submit to this discipline of hearing, to remain quiet and listen, that I might receive His gift of humiliation to soften my heart, that I might learn to obey...
What though the darkness 'round me close
songs in the night it giveth.
"How Can I Keep From Singing"

Friday, July 8, 2011


The constancy shown by the martyrs under torture is not to be seen in isolation.  It was the logical and crowning conclusion of what they had been practicing all their lives.  ~Dom Hubert van Zeller

Ave Maria!  Constancy is something we don't hear much about these days.  Dom Hubert van Zeller, former renowned monk of Downside Abbey, devoted a chapter to this in Glimpses, the 88th book he wrote.  He's been described as "a master of simple wisdom that is very challenging and deep," and this fat little collection of his pithy spiritual gems lives up to his reputation. 

Dom van Zeller noted that "constancy is not quite perseverance and not quite fidelity but a mixture of the two."  According to the dictionary, constancy is steadfastness, changelessness, stability.  However, we must think of it not just in the terms of the natural, he noted, but even more so in terms of the supernatural.  "It is more than the firmness displayed by a man who is determined not to desert or recant.  It is the 'armor of  God,' which St. Paul writes about to the Ephesians (see chapter 6, verses 10-18), which, over and above his natural character, enables the Christian 'to resist in the evil day and to stand in all things perfect.'"

Surely this is what St. Paul meant when he wrote to the early church at Thessaloniki, "May the Lord rule your hearts in the love of God and the constancy of Christ" (2 Thessalonians 3:5).  I beg the Lord to so rule my heart that I may practice constancy today and every day of my life, for His praise and glory.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The breaking of the bread

"But they urged him strongly, saying, 'Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.' So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him..." Luke 24:13-35 (NRSV)

In the darkness of evening
we sat down to eat with the stranger.
As he broke the bread
our hearts saw the sun
rise between his fingers.

The Rev. Ann Fontaine

Ave Maria!  The Rev. Ann Fontaine is Interim Vicar, St. Catherine's Episcopal Church, Manzanita, OR.  Some of her poems are posted this week on the blog Speaking to the Soul.  This one took my breath away...

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Wrestling with God

Jacob Wrestling with the Angel by Alexander Louis Leloir
Ave Maria! Today's first reading from the book of Genesis, verses 23-33, depicts the well-known wrestling match between God and Jacob. After 20 years of serving his mother’s brother Laban, Jacob is returning home with his two wives, two maidservants, eleven children and various and assorted baggage. Having brought them all across the ford of Jabbok, he is left there alone. "Then some man wrestled with him until the break of dawn." When day broke, the man told Jacob to let him go. "But Jacob said, "I will not let you go until you bless me.'"

Is this not the landscape of prayer? When I go to pray, I cross the ford of my life and am left alone with God. What shall I say to this God of mine before whom I stand naked and vulnerable? Does it really matter as long as I am honest with Him who is Truth Itself? Should I not tell Him what He already knows -- even and perhaps especially so when I am weary of life, tired of doing good, disgusted with myself, doubtful of Him, aching for deliverance for myself and my loved ones from all our problems and sufferings? In a Palm Sunday homily a couple of years ago, Pope Benedict XVI reminded us that "We too can grumble before the Lord, like Job, we can present him with all the pleas that arise within us when we are faced with the injustice of the world and the difficulty of our own 'I'. When we come before him, we must not take refuge in pious phrases, in a world of make-believe. Praying always also means struggling with God, and like Jacob, we can say to him: 'I will not let you go, unless you bless me!' (Gen 32:26)."

This Scripture passage from Genesis was a pivotal one for me in January 1980 when I was privileged to make a 30-day Ignatian retreat. It was a time of great inner turmoil for me, and I felt terribly overwhelmed by it all. A year and a half before, I had joined a new religious community of women -- a pious union, it was called -- and it had been thrilling to be part of its very beginnings. I was 28 years old and full of enthusiasm for God, the Church, religious life, and our setting forth together into consecrated life. But early on I began to have some misgivings about the leadership of this community. At first I dismissed them, thinking that maybe I was expecting too much or possibly reading into things, which is a tendency of mine. As time went on, however, I began to realize that my misgivings were well-founded and that this community was not a healthy place for me to be. But I had given up everything to be part of it! And I had been so sure that God had been calling me to this life and this community! So for thirty long days and nights I wrestled with God. I would not let go until He blessed me.

And He blessed me! Oh, how richly and abundantly He blessed me! Then, now and always, God blesses me!  After wrestling with God, Jacob paid the price and ended up with a limp.  I have my limp as well, but I am convinced that I would have been much more crippled and maybe even paralyzed if I had remained in a living situation that was obviously harming rather than helping me.  Halfway through my long retreat I discerned that God was calling me to leave this place, which I did once my retreat ended.  (Happy to report, the local Church eventually dissolved this pious union.)  I still struggled with God, though, as I finished out my retreat because my discernment raised many other issues that I had yet to contend with. So we wrestled some more, God and me. And we still do, over 30 years later.

Once upon a time, I was afraid to struggle with God. Now I know I have nothing to fear for, if I hold on tight and don't let go of Him, He will bless me.  And I will bless HIM -- for ever and ever!  ALLELUIA!

So I will bless you all my life,
in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul shall be filled as with a banquet,
my mouth shall praise you with joy.
Psalm 63:5-6

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Glorious Fourth of July!

Ave Maria!  Happy and blessed Fourth of July to one and all!  "Sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing!"  And to God, the God of our fathers and mothers, the author of liberty, who for freedom has set us free (Gal. 5:1), "to Thee we sing" with ever-deepening gratitude and happy praise on this 235th birthday of our country. 

This image of our American flag with its mixture of sunshine and clouds seems to reflect the state of our country.  Light and darkness co-exist.  As in the gospel parable (Matt. 13:24-30), wheat and weeds grow side-by-side.  In this imperfect life, it cannot be otherwise.  We can be either discouraged or hopeful.  The choice is always ours.  I choose hope because, with every fiber of my being, I believe that the One who is in us is greater -- far, far greater! -- than he who is in the world (1 Jn 4:4).  The principles and values upon which our founding fathers built our country and for which so many men and women have sacrificed their lives throughout our history are indeed at times "dimly seen through the mists of the deep".  Yet they abide.  And, thanks be to God, truth and justice ultimately prevail and triumph in this our land of the free and home of the brave. 

The Roman Missal of the Catholic Church provides a special preface for the Mass to be celebrated on the Fourth of July. 
"Father, all-powerful and ever-living God, we do well to sing your praise for ever, and to give you thanks in all we do through Jesus Christ our Lord. He spoke to men a message of peace and taught us to live as brothers. His message took form in the vision of our fathers as they fashioned a nation where men might live as one. This message lives on in our midst as a task for men today and a promise for tomorrow. We thank you, Father, for your blessings in the past and for all that, with your help, we must yet achieve. And so, with hearts full of love, we join the angels today and every day of our lives, to sing your glory in a hymn of endless praise: Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest."
This is not only a powerful prayer of thanksgiving to God for his blessings to us but also a humble acknowledgement and claim of our responsibility to use these gifts well so that our Lord's message of peace and unity will live on "in our midst as a task for men today and a promise for tomorrow." 

Come, my dear friends, let us give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!  His love is everlasting!  Glory hallelujah!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

"Come, learn from me..."

"You can see that I
am gentle and humble in heart
from what I have become."

I am gentle and humble in heart. ~Matthew 11:29

Our Master is always the same, gentle and benevolent. In his constant concern for our salvation, he says explicitly in the gospel just read to us: Come, learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.

What great condescension on the part of the Creator! And yet the creature feels no shame! Come, learn from me. The Master came to console his fallen servants.

This is how Christ treats us. He shows pity when a sinner deserves punishment. When the race that angers him deserves to be annihilated, he addresses the guilty ones in the kindly words: Come, learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.

God is humble, and we are proud! The judge is gentle; the criminal arrogant! The potter speaks in lowered voice; the clay discourses in the tones of a king! Come, learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart. Our master carries a whip not to wound, but to heal us.

Reflect upon his indescribable kindness. Who could fail to love a master who never strikes his servants? Who would not marvel at a judge who beseeches a condemned criminal? Surely the self-abasement of these words must astound you.

I am the Creator and I love my work. I am the sculptor and I care for what I have made.

If I thought of my dignity, I should not rescue fallen humankind. If I failed to treat its incurable sickness with fitting remedies, it would never recover its strength. If I did not console it, it would die. If I did nothing but threaten it, it would perish. This is why I apply the salve of kindness to it where it lies.

Compassionately I bend down very low in order to raise it up. No one standing erect can lift a fallen man without putting a hand down to him.

Come, learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart. I do not make a show of words; I have left you the proof of my deeds. You can see that I am gentle and humble in heart from what I have become.

Consider my nature, reflect upon my dignity, and marvel at the condescension I have shown you. Think of where I came from, and of where I am as I speak to you.

Heaven is my throne, yet I talk to you standing on the earth! I am glorified on high, but because I am long-suffering I am not angry with you, for I am gentle and humble in heart.

~Attributed to St. John Chrysostom

O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary

Columbine by Ann L. Krumrein

As the vine I have brought forth a pleasant odour: and my flowers are the fruit of honour and riches. I am the mother of fair love, and of fear, and of knowledge, and of holy hope. In me is all grace of the way and of the truth, in me is all hope of life and of virtue. Come over to me, all you that desire me, and be filled with my fruits. For my spirit is sweet above honey, and my inheritance above honey and the honeycomb. My memory is unto everlasting generations. They that eat me, shall yet hunger: and they that drink me, shall yet thirst. He that hearkens to me, shall not be confounded: and they that work by me, shall not sin. They that explain me shall have life everlasting. ~Sirach 24:23-31 (Douay Rheims)

Ave Maria!  Yesterday we adored the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Today we salute the Immaculate Heart of Mary, His Blessed Mother and ours.  It is fitting to celebrate these two feasts back-to-back for Mary's heart was formed by her Son's heart.  Our Lord Jesus gave Mary His heart even as she gave Him her flesh and blood when He was conceived and grew in her womb.  In years past, the above Scripture passage from Sirach was the first reading -- or Epistle, as it was called in those days -- for today's memorial.  How rightly the Church uses these sacred words to describe Our Lady!  She is the mother of fair love because her Son is our "Fairest Lord Jesus."  To be filled with her fruits is to be filled with Jesus, the fruit of her womb.  To eat and to drink of her is to hunger and thirst ever more for her Son, the Bread of Life and the Living Water.  To hear her is to her Him who has the words of everlasting Life, and to listen to her is to be told to do "whatever He tells you" (John 2:5).

The Novena Prayer to the Immaculate Heart of Mary aptly calls upon her as "heart of love, heart of mercy, ever listening, caring, consoling."  Come then, let us go over to her and rest in her Immaculate Heart.  Let us find comfort and strength in her sweet spirit, joy and hope in her blessed inheritance.  Let us feast on her goodness and love.  Let us share in her God-given honor and riches and, with her, magnify the Lord for ever.

Almighty everlasting God, Who in the heart of the blessed Virgin Mary didst prepare a dwelling worthy of the Holy Ghost: grant in Thy mercy, that we who with devout minds celebrate the festival of that immaculate heart, may be able to live according to Thine own Heart...  Amen.  ~Roman Catholic Daily Missal 1962

Friday, July 1, 2011

Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

Ave Maria!  Today is another beautiful solemnity as we pay special homage to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Gertrude von le Fort wrote a powerful Litany for the Feast of the Most Sacred Heart that will be my heart's song today, especially the lines that follow.  Come, let us worship the Lord, whose heart overflows with love for us!  Alleluia!

Holy Heart, divine Heart, almighty Heart...

Lonely Heart, flaming Heart, unquenchable Heart...

Overflowing Heart, overflaming Heart, overstorming Heart...

Mighty Heart, ineluctable Heart, all-consuming Heart...

World-ordering Heart, world-conquering Heart, Thou only Heart of hearts...
Be loved, Love, everlasting Love, be everlastingly loved...
Amen. Amen. 
May the day of Thine infinite love come quickly.