Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Mystic Mary

Karl Rahner said that the Christian of the future would be either a mystic or nothing at all.  Mary shows us how.  Luke says that after the shepherds' visit, "Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart."  At the end of the two chapters about the infancy of Jesus, Luke repeats, "His mother treasured all these things in her heart."
"Treasure" involves taking great care to keep something in your heart so as not to forget it or lose it.  "Ponder" involves knocking ideas and memories up against each other, like stones being polished, turning events over and over in our heads until we get some glimmer of meaning, until some sense emerges.
God can make us mystics in the New Year by teaching us how to contemplate with Mary.

Monday, December 30, 2013


When I was little I was fascinated by our Nativity set.  I was allowed to play with it and move the figures around.  I was bothered when I noticed that in the homes of my Protestant relatives and friends, if they had a Nativity set, there were no magi, only shepherds.  It was difficult in an ordinary store to find anything different.  I wondered why.
Last year in an article in Commonweal by Robert Kiely called "A Long Journey: Imagining the Magi," he quotes a sermon of Martin Luther that may be the source of such reluctance.  Commenting on the word "homage," Luther said, "They honored him as a king.  Nor was the worship like that done to God because, in my opinion, they did not recognize him as God."  Luther cautioned against speculating on further details about the magi's visit, "What conversation they had with Mary and Joseph I leave to the imagination of idle minds."
The Greek verb that is translated "paid him homage" does refer to the homage paid to someone of dignity or of authority, but it is used also to mean adoration or worship paid to a deity.  Most of the time that it is used in the New Testament it refers to worship.
Robert Kiely says that fortunately many artists before and after Luther were fascinated enough by the visit of the magi to produce some glorious paintings of the adoration of the Christ Child.  And now any Nativity scene you see includes the magi.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Family Essential

Celebrating the feast of the Holy Family prompts thoughts about what really makes a family.  In one sense Mary, Joseph, and Jesus are anything but a normal family: a virgin with a baby and a husband who will never have sexual relations with his wife.  But in the sense that really matters they are every bit a family.  Matthew 2:13-23 shows us Joseph protecting and caring for his wife and going to great lengths to save Jesus from King Herod.  Joseph even leaves his livelihood behind and moves to another country.  Love, not biology, is what makes a family.
In Colossians 3:12-14 St. Paul recommends some virtues that would also enrich family life: "heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience....And over all these put on love."  Love, not biology, is what makes a family.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

2nd Day of Christmas Gift

I took this picture on the way to Christmas morning Mass.  We had just enough snow to make everything pretty.  The clouds were like a mirror of the earth.  Again last night just enough snow to keep the whole world white.  The sun came out this afternoon and made everything bright and beautiful.
A friend gave me a poem yesterday that had been sent to her.  I pass it on to you instead of two turtle doves.  I liked it a lot and would like to quote the whole thing but I don't think that's allowed.  It's called BC:AD and I think the poet's name is U.A. Fanthorpe.

This was the moment when Before
Turned into After....

And this was the moment
When a few farm workers and three
Members of an obscure Persian sect
Walked haphazard by starlight straight
Into the kingdom of heaven.
(you can find the whole poem by googling U.A. Fanthorpe Christmas Poems)

Wednesday, December 25, 2013


In the silence of a winter night,
In trees glistening with sunlit ice,
In artist gift of stirring beauty,
In intimacy of Mother and Child,
One simple message: You are loved.

In the noise and confusion of family,
In the crowded company of friends,
In Christmas Mass, in carols sung,
In lights and cherished memories,
One simple message: You are loved.

And in the warm colors of sunrise
On this cold Christmas morning.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Good News of Great Joy

Luke's very familiar story of the birth of Jesus (2:1-14) is designed to highlight the message of the angel to the shepherds.  He is more concerned with understanding the meaning than with the birth itself.
Out of the glorious light that surrounded the shepherds the angel speaks: I bring you good news of great joy for all the people.  Today in Bethlehem a Savior has been born for you who is Messiah God.  It's the only time in the New Testament that the titles Christos Kurios are used without an article or connecting word between them.  "Kurios" is the Greek for "Lord," the name that Jews often used to avoid speaking the proper name of God.  Luke wants to make it clear that the long awaited Messiah is also God.  The Jews would never have expected this Messiah to be God.  This is astonishing news.
"Good News " is what the angel calls it.  "Great joy" is what this Gospel brings us.  Our Holy Father Francis points out that our job as Church is to continue the work of this angel: spreading the Good News with a smile on our face.  "The Joy of the Gospel."
(The angel in the picture is on the front of the Church of the Shepherds on a Bethlehem hill.)

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Christmas Rose

I have this picture of a gorgeous red rose that I took in Portland's Rose Garden and I wanted to share it.  From what I gather the Christmas rose in the legend is white and there are more than one.  But I will give the Christ Child the best rose I have.
There are various versions of the Legend of the Christmas Rose.  Some tell of a little shepherd girl who has nothing to take to the Baby in Bethlehem.  As she lay crying her tears fell on the ground and a rose bush quickly grew and produced beautiful white roses.  She took the roses to the Christ Child and he smiled on her.
Love, whom we see in the manger, inspires us to give the best that we have.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas Cards

"O Key of David, come and free your captive people."
I send a lot of Christmas cards and each year I wonder if it might be best to send fewer.  This year I received a card that put into words how sending cards is for me a trip down memory lane:
"...Every person on my list
 has changed my life some way.
 Through simple conversation,
 a warm hug or a shared meal,
 every person on my list
 has helped me grow or heal
 or laugh or learn or dance or smile...."
   by Vicki J. Kuyper  (for Walter Drake)
So I guess, while I can, I'll keep my long list.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Joy and Gladness

"O Flower of Jesse's stem,
 you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples;
 kings stand silent in your presence,
 the nations bow down in worship before you. 
 Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid."
When the angel announces to Zechariah that he and his wife Elizabeth will have a child (Luke 1:5-25) he says, "You will name him John.  You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth." 
The name John means "Yahweh has given grace," or we might say "Gift of God."  A gift is undeserved.  It comes from the sheer goodness of the giver.  It brings delight.  Already in verse 14 of his first chapter Luke is proclaiming "joy and gladness, and many will rejoice," a theme that will run through his Gospel, especially in these first two chapters.
Just a few verses on the angel says that he has come  "to announce this good news."  The Greek verb is the source of our word "evangelization."  Gospel means "good news."  Our Holy Father Francis titled his recent writing The Joy of the Gospel to point out that spreading the Good News is the main work of the Church and to encourage us to do it with joy and gladness.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

I AM with you.

"O sacred Lord of ancient Israel,
 who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush,
 who gave him the holy law on Mount Sinai:
 come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free."
The Hebrew suffiix "el" means "God,"  as in Bethel, House of God, and Emmanuel, God-with-us.  But when God appeared to Moses in the burning bush and Moses asked God's proper name, God's response in Hebrew is usually transliterated YMDG.  Divine Mystery is so revered by observant Jews that they never say out loud the Name those letters stand for.  God is totally beyond us.
In Matthew 1:18-25 a very confused, yet trusting, Joseph is considering divorcing Mary because she is pregnant.  An angel tells him that the child is from the Holy Spirit.  Matthew concludes by quoting Isaiah, "And they shall call him Emmanuel, a name which means God-with-us."
The God who is totally beyond us is now "God-with-us."  Divine Mystery has become human flesh and is now permanently with our world.  The very last words in Matthew's Gospel are "And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


"O Wisdom, O Holy Word of God,
  you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. 
  Come and show your people the way to salvation."
One of the themes that sticks out for me in Matthew's genealogy of Jesus (1:1-15) is the irregular appearance of four women in the list.  Matthew uses the same pattern as he goes from generation to generation, but he breaks it up with the mention of four women: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba.
Tamar disguised herself as a harlot to conceive sons by her father-in-law.  Rahab was a harlot of Jericho who aided Joshua's spies.  Ruth insinuated herself into Boaz' life after being widowed.  Bathsheba was the neighbor's wife with whom David committed adultery and fathered Solomon. 
Their inclusion in the genealogy of Jesus prepares for and foreshadows his irregular birth.  It also helps us to see that God can use the most surprising people for his purposes, even you and me.

Monday, December 16, 2013

God With Us

Shine your love on us each dawn,
and gladden all our days.
Balance our past sorrows
with present joys
and let your servants, young and old,
see the splendor of your work.
Let your loveliness shine on us.
                           Psalm 90:14-17
Rising sun shooting through bare trees God-with-us.
Lengthening shadows on gleaming snow God-with-us.
Bright sun-warmed rooms God-with-us.
O come, O come, Emmanuel!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Sunday for Rejoicing

We had about 2 or 3 inches of snow when I went out to walk this morning.  The temperature was 30.  The snow was still coming down thick.  This was the best picture I could get of the snow in the air.  I also wanted to show that the road still had no tire tracks.  Walking in freshly fallen snow takes me out of myself into pure joy.
This Advent I have felt exceptionally mellow.  Last December some worries threw a cloud over Advent and Christmas for me.  So this year, I guess, it's like I haven't celebrated the season for two years. 
Some of my joy comes from the beauty of works of art, music, movies, literature that have recently enriched my life.  My prayer life has been going well.  That has been helped along by The Cloud of Unknowing, a 14th century religious classic that I am reading.  I feel close to God.
It doesn't hurt either to have a Holy Father who loves the world and believes in the Second Vatican Council.  Last year at this time who would have thought that a pope would be Time magazine's Person of the Year.  Francis cheers me.
It is still snowing.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Our Lady appeared to Juan Diego four times December 9-12, 1531, at the hill of Tepayac not far from Mexico City.  Here's how John Steinbeck describes the first apparition in his wonder-full retelling of the story: "Just as day was breaking there came to him, first softly, and then louder, the sound of many birds' songs.  He looked up the hill and the dawn light was brighter than any he had ever seen.  The music seemed to come from everywhere....the fullness of beauty was in him.  He saw an Indian woman standing in the rocky path with the light all around her, so that the stones gathered the light and glittered like jewels....She spoke quietly in the light, 'I am Mary, the Mother of Jesus....I have seen the suffering of your people and I have come to them through you.'"
When he tells the bishop, the bishop asks for a sign.  Steinbeck continues: "Juan Diego went back to the hill path and in that barren, rocky place he saw roses of Castile fresh and lovely growing in a place where roses could not grow and blooming in a frosty month when roses do not bloom.  In the dawn he  gathered the flowers...."
Juan Diego carried the roses in his cloak to the bishop.  "'Here is the sign,' he said, and released the corners of his cloak, and the roses uncrushed and unwilted fell to the floor.  And then the bishop saw the cloak of Juan Diego and he got to his knees.  On the rough cloak of the Indian Juan Diego was the image of the Mother of God."

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


The rising sun was shining on the new snow when I went for my walk this morning.  On the way back this view caught my eye.
My morning walk is part of the leisure that I enjoy here since I retired seven and a half years ago.  I've had several conversations recently with and about people who are reluctant to retire because "I don't know what I'd do with myself."  Leisure has left the building.  Too many of us think that we live to work.  I tend to think that this goes all the way back to the Puritans who have left a terrible stamp on our culture in too many ways.  The primary importance given to work is one of them.
I've written here before about Josef Pieper's Leisure: the Basis of Culture.   I am reminded of it again by Gregory Wolfe in his thought provoking editorial in No.77 of his fine quarterly Image.  Pieper notes that the Greek word for "leisure" is skole, the origin of our English word "school," which we associate with work rather than leisure.  The Greeks did not have a word for the more utilitarian notion of work.  The would say "we are unleisurely so that we can have leisure." 
Pieper points out that our notion that learning takes a lot of work is foreign to ancient ways of thinking.  Thomas Aquinas said, "The essence of virtue consists in the good rather than in the difficult."  Pieper says, "The highest moral good is characterized by effortlessness--because it springs from love."
The leisure that God gives me here has made contemplation richer.  Contemplation is an effortless kind of prayer in which we simply receive what God offers in the depths of our self and in the beauty of nature and of the arts.
(Wolfe wrote the book Beauty Will Save the World that has enriched my life since I read it two years ago.)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Joyful Anticipation

When I was young and I guess for centuries before that, we thought of Advent as a mini-Lent.  I think it was in the early 70's that we were encouraged to see this season, not as one of fast and penance, but as one of joyful anticipation of the celebration of Christ's birth.  The color of vestments became purple for Advent (more blue in it,) violet for Lent (more red in it.)  Purple was worn on all four Sundays of Advent.  Churches were decorated.  I began to use four purple candles in my advent wreath to stress that the whole season was to be the same joyful anticipation of Christmas.
Even though we stress joy more this coming Sunday, it's good to keep in mind that all of Advent is meant to be joyful.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Joyful Blossoming

The wilderness and dry land will exult
The desert rejoice and blossom
They will blossom with abundant flowers
And rejoice with joyful song.
With this verse Isaiah begins his chapter 35 which describes the joy filled blossoming of the desert that will enable the Judeans to return directly home from their Babylonian Exile.  It helps me think of the joy I feel as God over the years has made our relationship blossom.
I do love flowers.  This farm south of Portland, Oregon, was one of the highlights of this past year of Beauty.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Joy of the Gospel

The third Sunday of Advent has traditionally been called "Gaudete Sunday."  "Gaudete" means "rejoice."  It was the first word in the introit sung in our old Latin mass for this Sunday.  Evangelii Gaudium is the name of the recent apostolic exhortation of our Holy Father Francis.  The title means The Gospel's Joy.  It is timely, not only because of the word "joy" but also because much of its message is inspired by Gospel passages like next Sunday's.
When Jesus is asked for a sign that he is the one for whom the people of God have been waiting, he points to his healing the sick and "the poor have the Gospel brought to them."  The principal sign that as Church we are faithful followers of Jesus is that we care for the sick and the poor.
In his exhortation Francis is very specific.  He criticizes the "new tyranny of unfettered capitalism."   He calls the current socioeconomic system "unjust at its root."  He denounces the "self-serving tax evasion" of the wealthy.  In a pope's first use of the term, he calls "trickle-down" economics ineffective and callous.
In a section about those considered unworthy of dignity and protection he talks about migrants, unemployed, and drug addicts. He writes, "Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children."
This and much else that Francis writes about in this exhortation is based on the Incarnation that we celebrate at this time of year.  He says, "To believe that the Son of God took on our human flesh means that each human person has been taken up into the very heart of God."

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Best Possible Me

After saying that a tree praises God by being a tree, Thomas Merton says, "For me to be a saint means to be myself.  Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self." 
God has created each of us with a unique set of skills and interests, a unique combination of personality and imagination.  I please God by being the best possible me that I can be. It's no good finding a saint we like and trying to be just like him or her.  God wants us to be ourselves. With God living within us we can become our unique self.  That's our contribution to the Reign of God.  That's how each of us prepares the way of Love.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Water Covers the Sea

"The earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as water covers the sea. (11:9)"  Isaiah has been using an image of a return to Paradise where all things live in harmony and bliss.  The knowledge of the Lord he is referring to is not intellectual knowledge but intimacy with our Lover.  We can no more be separated from God than water can be separated from the sea.
(St. Bart's, one of the loveliest islands in the Caribbean Sea.  2006)

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Advent Dawn

 Out of God's deepest mercy
 a dawn will come from on high,
 light for those shadowed by death,
 a guide for our feet on the way to peace.
(Luke 1:78-79)
Next Sunday's Gospel is Matthew 3:1-12.  As soon as Matthew finishes his stories of the infancy of Jesus, he jumps to the baptism of John.  The first words we hear from the Baptist are "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."  Throughout his Gospel Matthew has "kingdom of heaven" rather than "kingdom of God," which is used by Mark and Luke.  He's not referring to heaven; he is using "heaven" as a substitute for "God." John is telling us that God's reign is at hand, so we have to change our way of  thinking, do things differently.  As individuals and as a community, we will allow God to rule us.  This reign develops gradually.
Most of the people sincerely answer John's call.  But when he sees the Pharisees and Sadducees coming he rebukes them harshly.  Outward religious practices are worthless if they don't reflect an inward change.  This is a warning to us as well to make sure that our preparation for the coming of Christ involves a genuine change of heart. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013


An attempt to get a more complete picture of the iced trees on the mountain.
As Advent begins I find myself reflecting more and more on the present coming of Christ at every moment into our universe.  Each moment is greater than the last.  Letting our always coming Christ transform us gradually into himself promotes his evolution of the universe.
(I don't know how I got the larger duplicate picture.   Enjoy!)


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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Glittering Trees

The ice that froze on the trees Thursday has not melted.  Yesterday about 3 PM the lowering sun made the top of the mountain a fairy land.  I was so enthralled by it I got out of the car and spent about 15 minutes taking pictures.  No one picture captures the all-encompassing experience.
I am reminded of how I could not get the Grand Canyon into my camera.  As I was leaving I stopped at almost every overlook to take pictures from that angle.
God is too grand to be encompassed by our human minds and imaginations.  Rather than live with  Mystery and unspeakable Beauty, we can be tempted to settle for a god that we can squeeze into our heads.  This silver freeze takes us out of ourselves and teaches us how to surrender to a God we cannot grasp.
(To see the glittering better enlarge the picture by clicking on it.)

Friday, November 29, 2013

Put on Christ

Trees and bushes on the mountain were dressed in ice yesterday morning and the sun was making them shine in what we called when I was young a "silver freeze."  (Clicking on picture enlarges it.)
I prayed this morning over Romans 13:11-14.  St. Paul urges us to "put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires."  By flesh Paul means the human person rooted in this world, seeing only this world, and blind to anything beyond it.  By spirit Paul means the whole human person, body and well as soul, open to the universe and under the influence of the Spirit.  Our growth toward spirit is a growth toward cosmic consciousness.  We put on the mind of the Cosmic Christ and offer ourselves with him to the Father for the ongoing transformation of the world.
One way that we put on Christ is to share his desire for peace.  Isaiah describes that transformed world in his famous poem (2:1-5), part of which is carved in a monument in the gardens around the United Nations Building in New York City: "They will hammer swords to plows and spears to pruning knives.  Nations will not take up arms, will no longer train for war."
As a people we grow more and more toward the cosmic consciousness of Christ and as that happens we bring the whole universe closer to its goal.  Once more Isaiah: "Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord."

Thursday, November 28, 2013


I've been saving since September this picture of  a neighbor's pumpkin patch.
This year, instead of thanking God for things that have always been important in my life, like family and friends and my home and my Catholic faith and my being a priest, I thought I would focus on gifts that God has given me in 2013.
So this morning I took some time to think back over the year's opportunities and experiences.  In January, inspired by the book Beauty Will Save The World, I decided to dedicate the year to creating and appreciating Beauty. 
I thank God for the Beauty of St. Martin's in the Caribbean and of the place where we stayed and of the nearby beach.
I thank God for the extraordinary experience of being present for a friend's peaceful death.
I thank God for all the Beauty of my recent trip to New York City, the scenery from the train, The Glass Menagerie, Marc Chagall's paintings, especially the Crucifixions, and the great work of art that is the 9/11 Memorial.
I thank God for being able to go to the Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival and for some of the movies that touched me deeply. 
I thank God for other movies that I have seen this year and for books that I have read that have made my life better by their beauty.
I thank God for the beauty of a glorious iris garden in Oregon.
I thank God for the return to our family of a young friend from another country.
I thank God for our Holy Father Francis and the friendly, welcoming face he has put on our Church by his love of the world and by his faith in the Second Vatican Council.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Coming of the Son of Man

A left-over October sunset that especially appeals to me.
As I meditated this morning on Matthew 24:36-44 I found my thoughts moving back to my reflections on our Cosmic Christ inspired last week by Paul's Letter to the Colossians.  Matthew's passage is about the necessity to be watchful for the unpredictable coming of the Son of Man.  I don't think of this coming as a sudden appearance in the heavens.  Our cosmology, our way of looking at the world, is very different from that of most of the New Testament writers.  Evolution has affected every aspect of the way we think.
Teilhard de Chardin, who as far as I know was the first to use the name "Cosmic Christ," saw the Risen Christ as the guiding spirit of our evolving universe, as the goal toward which all of creation is being drawn.  That helps me to understand the coming of the Son of Man as Christ's gradually transforming our world into himself, bringing everything under the influence of Love.
Being watchful, then, would involve noticing the ways in which Love is changing the world and doing our part in aiding that change.  As we love and are loved our Cosmic Christ gradually moves toward "the fullness of time, gathering all things into himself, things in heaven and things on earth (Ephesians 1:10.)

Saturday, November 23, 2013


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53 swans were huddled close together in a kind of white island when I got up this morning.  Sorry that this picture cannot capture my pleasure in watching them.  When they took off and filled the sky with white wings, I couldn't even get to my camera.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Encompassing the Universe

I went back to a Sunday sunrise in October to find something that would help us think of the universe.  Yesterday I began reading The Cloud of Unknowing.  The editor William Johnston, in his introduction, talks about the Cosmic Christ, which I wrote about here on Tuesday.  His remarks have helped me to pray more deeply about Christ encompassing the universe. 
Of  the historical Christ we have clear thoughts and images, but of the resurrected Christ we have no adequate picture.  Yet the Risen Christ is the only Christ that exists now and, therefore, the only One with whom we can have a relationship. 
Influenced by passages like the first chapter of Colossians, Teilhard de Chardin speaks of "the Cosmic Christ" who is co-extensive with the universe.  By his resurrection the body of Jesus is "universalized," entering into a new dimension.  It is in this universal dimension that the Risen Christ is present now to us.  He is out beyond the searching of the farthest star and in the deepest part of who we are.
Christ encompasses the entire universe.  Colossians says that "Through Christ the universe was made," and that through the Cross Christ has reconciled "creation with its source." Everyone and everything that ever was or will be has its origin in Christ and its end in Christ.  All is held together in the universal embrace of this Cosmic Christ.  We are part of one another and of all creation.  This Mystery helps me to welcome the reign of Christ which we celebrate this Sunday.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Pope Pius XI

Sunday's full moon in the morning.
Lest I do an injustice to Pope Pius XI (and to Eamon Duffy) let me point out some of the great things he did.  He set three priorities for missionary activity: "the recruitment and promotion of native clergy, renunciation of nationalistic concerns among European missionaries, and the recognition of the dignity and worth of the cultures being evangelized."  During his pontificate native clergy increased threefold.
His encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno, added much to the social justice teaching of the Church that was begun by Leo XIII forty years earlier.
As Hitler was consolidating his power, Pope Pius XI smuggled into Germany an encyclical that was read from all German Catholic pulpits on Palm Sunday, 1937, denouncing Nazi racism and government actions against the Church.  The encyclical included a striking and deliberate emphasis on the permanent validity of the Jewish scriptures.  He said that no Christian could be anti-Semitic, for "Spiritually, we are all Semites," (a quote I thought was original with Pope John XXIII)
Duffy concludes his treatment of Pius XI: "Always a strong man and an energetic pope, in the last years of his pontificate he rose to greatness.  The Pope of eighteen concordats ceased to be a diplomat, and achieved the stature of a prophet.  British diplomats and French communist newspapers commented that the Pope, of all people, had become a champion of freedom."

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


A crisp day in early November on the Delaware coast.
I have no love of kings.  I often say to friends who are fascinated by the English royals that we turned our backs on that in 1776.  That's why I indicated in yesterday's blog that the title "Cosmic Christ" held more appeal for me than "King Christ."  The more correct translation "Reign (or Rule) of God" is being used more and more instead of "Kingdom of God" in contemporary New Testament scholarship.  Both Old and New Testaments express mixed attitudes toward kings.
The Feast of Christ the King was inaugurated in 1925 by Pope Pius XI.  Eamon Duffy in his enjoyable and enlightening book,  Saints and Sinners: a History of the Popes, says of Pius XI, "He had not a liberal bone in his body" and "Pius XI assisted at the deathbed of Italian democracy.  It is unlikely that he shed many tears, for he was no democrat."  In the encyclical establishing the feast of Christ the King, he denounced the secularism of the developing democratic states and asserted the rule of Christ over all societies.
His own dictatorial ways accomplished a lot of good, especially with regard to the missions.  But in a 1928 encyclical "he rubbished the infant ecumenical movement."  Duffy says the attitude communicated by the encyclical was "Come in slowly with your hands above your heads."  The Feast of Christ the King was set for the last Sunday of October when Protestant churches were celebrating "Reformation Sunday."  In our more ecumenical minded age it was moved to conclude the church year.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Cosmic Christ

Bare trees and their morning sun reflection in the Lake reach out in a wide embrace.
I meditated today on the hymn in Colossians 1:12-20 which is chosen for the coming feast of Christ the King.  "Before anything came to be, Christ was, and the universe is held together by Christ" seems to anticipate the beginning of John's Gospel, "In the beginning was the Word."
Thinking of Christ creating and redeeming the world and holding it together brought images to mind like the transparent face and arms of Christ that hovers over Salvador Dali's The Last Supper and the huge face of Christ that embraces the world in the stained glass window that takes up the whole back wall of St. Joseph's Church in Midland, Maryland.
The hymn ends with "By God's good pleasure Christ encompasses the full measure of power, reconciling creation with its source and making peace by the blood of the cross."  It is a way of thinking about Christ the "King" that echoes in my heart.  The power Christ has draws the entire broken universe back together and holds us in peace.
(ICEL's 1994 translation)

Monday, November 18, 2013


The train traveling west from Washington runs along the Potomac River, sometimes south of it in West Virginia, sometimes north of it in Maryland.  The scenery is often very beautiful, especially on some of the farms along the river bottom.  Not long out of D.C. I leave my seat, grab my camera, and go to the observation car.  I must seem curious to others as I move from side to side, depending on which side has the best views.  The sun was near setting when it colored this field golden.
Paradise is the way Jesus describes his kingdom in one of the touching scenes in Luke's account of the Crucifixion (23:35-43.)  One of the two criminals hanging on a cross beside him begs, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."  Jesus promises him, "This day you will be with me in Paradise."
We lost Paradise by our sinning.  Harmony with God and nature and each other we fractured.  By his suffering and death Jesus healed our brokenness and made us one again.

Friday, November 15, 2013


My Christmas cactus is as eager for Christmas as the stores and shops and town decorators.  I keep it in full sun outside all summer.  It was starting to bud when I brought it inside.  Before I went away last week I brought it up to a bright corner of my room.  When I came home a week later, it was in full bloom.  Maybe it's an Armistice Day cactus.
I do think that as the day's grow shorter and night begins to take over, we are as inclined as our pagan ancestors to push back the darkness with light.  So I have no gripe with Christmas lights going up early.  I just don't usually get to it.
Last year I was without power for five days in the Halloween storm so I ended up addressing my Christmas cards way earlier than I usually would.  Then I felt pretty low during most of December so I didn't get all my Christmas decorations up.  It would be good if I could catch a little of my Christmas cactus' eagerness.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Beauty and Faith

One of the highlights of my recent trip to New York City was the glorious Chagall exhibit at the Jewish Museum.  Beauty deepens my relationship with God.  This exhibit was for me a profound religious experience.  None of the churches that I have visited in NYC have enhanced my relationship with God the way the museums do.
Art leads me through my senses to the spiritual.  Like faith it calls me out of my little self and awakens me to wonder at an overwhelming Presence.  Art reaches my feelings and opens my imagination and draws me into Beauty, whom I sometimes call God.
The first appeal of a painting for me are the colors and shapes.  It was only after I let these wash over me that I went back through the exhibit reading some of the explanations of Chagall's symbolism.  This deepened even more my relationship with God.  Chagall, a Jew, painted many crucifixions as symbols of the suffering and persecution of Jews under Hitler.  Here he paints Jesus wearing a distinctively Jewish loincloth.  Jesus is comforted by Chagall's first wife.  Chagall paints himself as a goat with his second wife comforting him.  Above them time flies.  The commentary describes the painting as "a work of longing and loss."  (Sorry, the picture is below rather than above as usual)


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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Temple Destroyed

This is a picture of the "Western Wall" in Jerusalem.  It is all that is left of the Jewish Temple that was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.  If I understand it rightly, it was not part of the Temple itself but the support of an extension King Herod made of the Temple courtyard.  It has become a sacred place of prayer for Jews today.  (The gold dome is Muslim.)
There is no building so essential to Christian religious practice.  Even the Kaaba in Mecca does not seem so important to Islam as the Temple was to Judaism.  It's destruction changed Jewish religious practice radically.  There was no more animal sacrifice and no more priesthood.
I wonder often what Judaism would be like today if the Temple had never been destroyed.  Would animal sacrifice still be part of Jewish religious practice as it was in the time of Jesus?  It is hard to imagine that it would.  The loss of the Temple forced Jews to find another way to practice their religion.  The Scriptures remained central to Jewish understanding of themselves.  The synagogue and the rabbi developed as institutions that gave Jews a way to maintain their identity.
At the very same time Jewish followers of Jesus were developing ways to be religious without the Temple.  There are indications in Matthew's Gospel, the most Jewish of the Gospels, that he saw the reform of Jesus as the best way to be true to his Jewish roots.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Hang In There

First snow was not even an inch but it decorated this hanging plant beautifully.  The plant is called million bells.  I think it's a kind of petunia.  It grew and produced lots of blossoms all summer and still endured through the fall while the plants around it froze and died.  The leaves under the clumps of snow are still green.
Endurance is what Jesus recommends at the end of this Sunday's Gospel (Luke 21:5-19.)  He has been predicting the destruction of the temple (something that had already happened by the time Luke is writing his Gospel.)  Jesus predicts war and persecution and betrayal by relatives and friends.   He concludes, "By your endurance you will gain your souls."
Many years ago one of my sisters sent me a small picture that hangs still by my desk.  The artist has painted three red fuchsia blossoms and has written "Hang in there!"  It was encouragement I needed often when I was working as a pastor.  It is encouragement many Catholics have been needing.  Sooner or later we all need to know that Jesus is with us no matter what and that we can cling to him when we are tempted to let go.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Lengthening Shadows

This quote is from a sort of poem that a friend wrote long ago:
In the thinning of the forests, in the lengthening of shadows,
our life is seen as fleeting, our end as drawing near.
Trees no longer set a limit to our vision,
while through bare and nervous branches
our gaze is lifted to the sky.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

1 World Trade Center

Since I knew nothing about the National September 11 Memorial, as I approached the area I thought this sharp looking building was the memorial.  As it turned out the two enormous pools with their falling water make up the Memorial.  This striking building is 1 World Trade Center.  It is 1,776 feet tall, the tallest building in the United States.  There will be other towers built around the eight acre Memorial.
I have a fond memory of one of the towers that was destroyed on 9/11.  When a Broadway theater is not sold out for the night, there is  a place in Times Square called TKTS where they sell half price tickets.  It is outside and people sometimes end up waiting in the rain or cold.  TKTS also had a place in one of the Twin Towers.  If I remember rightly, it was on the second floor.  I used to find it worthwhile to take the subway down to the World Trade Center to wait inside out of the weather to get cheap tickets.  I remember even sitting on the carpeted floor while I read a book and waited.  That peaceful space is lost forever.  I wonder if TKTS was still there in 2001.
There are memories now that many people have of the Twin Towers that are not fond.  I pray that the Memorial's beauty and stillness may help to erase or ease these memories.

Friday, November 1, 2013

All Saints

The names of those who were killed on September 11, 2001, are inscribed on the bronze border of all four walls of the two enormous pools.  I was moved by the signs that encouraged us to touch the names as we walked around the pools.  The oldest victim was 85, the youngest was 2.  Among the inscribed names I saw at least four that gave a mother's name "and her unborn child."  More than 400 are those of the police and firemen who gave their lives trying to save others.
Only a few names had a white rose on them.  A dead leaf had fluttered down on two of them.  I saw an older woman sobbing, bent over a name, her husband standing behind her embracing and supporting her.   It looked like a few younger family members huddled beside them.
As I walked slowly around each pool, touching the names and praying for the victims and their families, I felt the enormity of the loss.  I prayed, too, that this beautiful work of art might comfort the grieving.

Thursday, October 31, 2013


I was in New York City recently.  I went to the National September 11 Memorial.  I didn't know what to expect.  I had seen no pictures.  I was overwhelmed by its enormity and beauty.  I immediately thought of baptism: dying into new life.  It is a holy place.
The Memorial consists of two pools set in the footprints of the Twin Towers that were destroyed on September 11, 2001.  Thirty foot waterfalls cascade down the four walls of each pool and within a short space plunge into a large square void in its center.
I remembered the horrifying sight of the crumbling, collapsing Towers on TV that morning twelve years ago.  I prayed for those who had been killed in all the attacks that day: 2,977 people from more than 90 nations.  I heard the many foreign languages and accents around me and thought of the whole world mourning.  I hoped that the beauty of these enormous pools and the falling water would help to heal the world's wounds.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Morning sunrise gives bare and brown trees a colorful coat and a diamond pin.
The story of Zachaeus is one of the main reasons that Luke is my favorite Gospel (Luke 19:10.)  A short little man, bobbing up and down trying to see over the heads of those lined up to watch Jesus entering Jericho.  In frustration he shinnies up a tree in all of his fine clothes and scoots out on a limb so he can see Jesus when he passes under.  A despised man because he works for the Roman occupation of his native land.  No one is going to let him squeeze in front of them.  All of them would have made fun of him when he climbed the tree.
Jesus probably laughed, too, when he saw him, but Jesus wasn't making fun of him.  Jesus was loving him and thrilling him by offering to join him for a meal.  The unearned love of Jesus transforms this despised little cheat into an honest, generous man.  Jesus says to him, "This day salvation has happened in this house."
It is only the unearned love of Jesus that makes it possible for me to be good.

Sunday, October 27, 2013


When I arrived home from a week in NYC and found most of the trees stripped of their leaves, it was a nice gift to come across this red oak on my morning walk.  It will hang onto its leaves until spring.
In recent years I have rarely prayed "O God, be merciful to me a sinner," as the tax -collector does in Luke 18:13.  Like him, I know I am a sinner.  Even though I may not have obvious sins like his, I'm sure there are bits of sin and selfishness and self-centeredness hiding in the corners and crevices of my soul.
This parable reminds me that I come before God in prayer as a creature before my Creator, a redeemed sinner before my Redeemer, and a person made holy by the Holy Spirit.  There is nothing I can do without God's help.
This is especially true of prayer.  Prayer is God's work.  My role is to say yes humbly to God's work in me; and I even need God's help to do that, to say yes.  When I come in this humble way before Pure Love, whom we sometimes call God, Love will flood my whole being, seek out every last bit of sin, no matter how well hidden, and wash it away.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Dark Was the Wilderness

A darker, dying glimpse of Autumn's Beauty.
Today is the feast of the North American Martyrs.  When I was a young teenager my parents gave me a historical novel, Dark Was the Wilderness by P.W. O'Grady and Dorothy Dunn which tells the story of six French Jesuit priests and two lay associates who gave their lives to bring the Gospel of Jesus to the Huron and Mohawk nations in the early 17th century.  This book had a strong influence on my own desire to become a priest and help people to know God's gracious love.
My own copy was long lost. A friend whose husband had an ancestor who accompanied these Jesuits knew that the book was important to me.  She found a copy online and gave it to me.  It meant a lot to read it again. I am grateful to her.
I know that one of the things that attracted my young imagination was the gory details of the torture and eventual deaths of these great men.  But I hope that I was attracted even more by their strong belief in Jesus and by their desire to help the Amerindians to become aware of God's unearned love for them.
Today as I thought about them I thought that I would like to visit the shrines in their honor.  I want to list their names as a kind of prayer: Fathers Isaac Jogues, Jean de Brebeuf, Antoine Daniel, Gabriel Lalemant, Charles Garnier, and Noel Chabanel, as well as their lay associates, Rene Goupil and Jean de la Lande.

Thursday, October 17, 2013


Some colorful remains of autumn.  If leaves have to die, what a beautiful way to go!
The death of a young friend in this dying time of year has me reflecting what death means to me as someone who believes in Jesus.  And wondering how to talk about death to the grieving, especially to the young.
To put it simply, I believe that when I die God receives me into God's loving embrace forever.    When I say "believe" I don't mean I "guess."  I mean that my faith in God makes me sure that I will be with God forever. 
I have believed for most of my life that God is living within me.  I see God in the beauty all around me in nature and in the goodness of people.  God could not be more present to me.  Where growth happens is in me, in my awareness of God's presence and in my loving surrender to God.  Death completes that process.
I have said before in this blog that I find it helpful to think of heaven, not as somewhere in the sky or somewhere far away, but as right here, right now. The other world is woven into and through this world.  The fact that I can't see the dead doesn't mean that they are not here around me.  I talk to them and ask them to pray for me.  When someone dies, I ask the already dead person who knew them best to help them get "settled into" the other world.  I don't know if that's how it works, but I don't see why not.  I think of the dead and risen Jesus as the "portal" through which the dying pass into the other world.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Faithfulness in Prayer

Fading Autumn on a dreary morning.
I used Luke 18:1-8 for Bible prayer this morning.  An unjust judge finally gives a widow justice, only because she keeps after him.  Jesus is not comparing God to the unjust judge.  The widow's persistence is a model for our praying.
It would have been expected that a widow would give up after the first try.  She acts so out of character that the judge is astonished.  We could keep a little humor in the parable by staying closer to the original meaning of the Greek verbs.  The judge says that he will finally grant the widow's request because she is giving him such a beating that he may end up with a black eye.
Jesus wants us to have a tenacious hopeful faith, not just in asking for particular favor, but all through our life.