Monday, January 28, 2013

Snow Gently Falling

Saturday morning the snow was big fluffy flakes (clicking on the picture enlarges it.)  I hadn't gone for my morning walk for a few days because of the bitter weather.  But this gently falling snow coaxed me out.  On a winter morning like this there is no sound.  No vehicles out yet.  No birds, and of course no insect sounds as there are in the summer.   Deep stillness.  I felt almost as light as the snow.  As much as I love the tropics, I would not want to live where there is no snow.
Today's another story.  Freezing rain when I awoke, then just rain.  Temperature as I now write has gone up to 42.  Some sun on a hill here and there.  Some blue sky peeking through clouds.  It looks like much of the ice has melted, but there is still some on my driveway.  Makes me dream about walking on a Caribbean beach.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Christ's Body

This is a copy of Marc Chagall's stained glass window which takes up an entire wall of the chapel at the United Nations Building in New York.  It seems to hint at the unity of all nations.  Maybe it can help us meditate on Christ's Body.
The second reading for this Sunday's Mass is St. Paul's powerful passage about our being Christ's Body (1 Corinthians 12:12-30.)  It begins, "As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ."  After explaining the analogy in detail, he says that it is more than an analogy, "You are Christ's Body, and individually parts of it."
The passage helps me think of three things.  The Risen Christ living in each of us makes us all one in His Body.  Like the members of a body, we each have a separate function in the Body of Christ, according to our God-given abilities and interests.  Christ relies on us to do what he wants to do in today's world.
St. Teresa of Avila tells us:
"Christ has no body now but yours
  No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
  Yours are the eyes with which he looks
  With compassion on this world.
  Christ has no body now on earth but yours."

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Another picture from Sunday, a prelude to two bitterly cold days.  (Clicking on picture enlarges it.)
My calendar Monday and Tuesday carried this quote of Martin Luther King that expresses his belief in non-violent opposition to evil: "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
In keeping with the focus that I want to keep in mind this year, let me add, "Ugliness cannot drive out ugliness;  only beauty can do that."
As people around our country watched on TV non-violent protesters being beaten by police and set upon by police dogs and knocked down by the force of water from fire hoses, many viewers found their prejudices challenged and their minds changed about segregation.  Such was the power of non-violence.
(The calendar is from the sisters at Ministy of the Arts.)

Monday, January 21, 2013

Black Freedom

A winter sunrise over Baltimore. (Clicking on the picture enlarges it.)
I topped off Martin Luther King Day and Inauguration Day with the movie Lincoln.  The combination brought home profoundly and with tears how far African Americans had come from the 13th amendment to the March on Washington to the beginning of the second term of a black president.
When I was a child in the market staring at the only black woman in town, a servant to two old maiden ladies, my father told me explicitly that "she is just the same as you."  In a nearby town which had more blacks, they could sit in only one small section of the local movie house.  In the whole county I don't think there was one restaurant that didn't "reserve the right to serve whom they pleased."
In 1950 when my aunt bought property on the lake where I now live, her deed specified that she could not re-sell the property "to negroes."  During the 50's in a Baltimore seminary there were many students and even some priests who disliked blacks, even though we had one in our class.  It was there, however, that I was encouraged to build on my father's insistence that blacks were my equal.  When I was ordained in 1962 a young black man from Baltimore was ordained in the same ceremony, but for a diocese in Alabama, because the previous archbishop of Baltimore would not accept black men to study for the priesthood.
When I preached about racial integration in my first parish in central Maryland some parishioners got up and walked out.  I joined the NAACP and worked to integrate housing.  I went with several car loads of members to the March on Washington.  Curiously, I went in my own car with the only other white man.  Prejudices still remaining?
Even in 1969 a self-appointed minister from Texas preached in a park in east Baltimore that we should hang all blacks from the nearest lamp post.  I had been asked to go with several other priests to mix in with the mostly Catholic crowd to try to keep them from rioting.  People spit at us and said, "I'm a Catholic, Father, but I hate n...."
I am grateful to God for how far I've come and how far our country has come in realizing the "Dream" that Martin Luther King proclaimed so eloquently from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  We still have far to go.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Jesus Liked a Party

At the Wedding Feast of Cana Jesus changed water into more than 120 gallons of wine. In John's Gospel most stories have two or three layers of meaning, one of which we have explored in previous entries. 
I also think it is worthwhile to take the story at face value.  This embarasses some Christians.  It's difficult for them to think that, after the guests had finished off all the wine provided for the wedding, Jesus would make 120 to 180 gallons more so they could continue their celebrating.
On this level of meaning it's clear that Jesus liked a party.  He is with us in our celebrating.  He wants us to have a good time in life.  We are so used to turning to him when we are in trouble and asking for help.  We don't always advert to his presence in our good times as well.
Many people would have met Jesus for the first time at Cana as they saw him having fun at the wedding.  Later in life, no doubt, some of the same people came to him with their problems and difficulties.  He is certainly with us in the bad times of our lives, but this miracle at Cana reminds us to look for Jesus in the good times as well.

Thursday, January 17, 2013


The prophet Hosea is a big help in seeing married love as a great symbol of God's intimate union with us.  God tells Hosea to marry a woman who will be as unfaithful to him as Israel is to God. Despite the many times that she betrays her husband, Hosea takes her back.  The people make fun of him for being such a fool.  But God says to him, "Go and love her yet again."  That's how foolish God is in loving us.
In the 2nd chapter God speaks to our heart, "I will espouse you to myself forever, espouse you with integrity and justice, with tenderness and love; I will espouse you to myself with faithfulness, and you will come to know me."  God is speaking to the whole people, not just to us as individuals.
In chapter 11, after expressing his anger toward us, God relents, "How could I part with you, my people?  How could I give you up?  My heart within me is overwhelmed.  I will not give in to my anger, for I am God not a human being.  I am the Holy One in your midst and have no wish to destroy."
Near the end of the book in a rapturous burst of poetry God says, "I shall love them with all my heart.  I shall fall like dew on my people.  They will bloom like the lily and put out roots like the cedar of Lebanon.  They will spread new branches.  They will be as beautiful as the olive tree, as fragrant as the cedars of Lebanon.  They will come back to live in my shade.  They will grow wheat again and make the vine flourish."
God's intimate marriage union with us will be fruitful.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

St. Paul the Hermit

A friend emailed me to tell me that today is the feast of St. Paul the Hermit.  I didn't remember hearing about him, so I looked him up. 
He lived from about 229 to 342.  Born in Egypt and orphaned at 15, he went into hiding to escape the persecution of Christians under Emperor Decius.  When he was 22 he fled to the desert when he found out that his brother-in-law, who wanted Paul's estate, was going to report him for being a Christian.
The life of a hermit suited him, so he stayed in the desert.  St. Jerome wrote a life of Paul.  Jerome visited him in the desert, thought him a very holy man, and buried Paul when he died.  He had lived to be 113 years old, more than 90 of which were spent as a hermit.
I wonder what he would think of a half-hermit.  Well, another patron.

Wedded Union

The last two mornings we have had ice all over everything.  About noon I started out to visit the hospital and turned back, taking pictures as I returned home.  Fierce Beauty!
I have been meditating on the Wedding Feast of Cana (John 2:1-12.)  Like most of John's Gospel this story has at least one or two meanings below the most obvious one.  Taking a cue from Sunday's first reading from Isaiah (62:1-5), I settled on God's wedded union with us. 
The marriage of God and the People of God is a theme that runs through the Old Testament.  Isaiah puts it in unmistakably sexual words:
"They will no longer call you "Forsaken," nor you land "Barren."
"Beloved" will be your name, and your land will be called "Married."
  For the Lord delights in you, and your fields will be fertile.
  As a young man marries a wife, your Builder will marry you.
  As a groom delights in his bride, the Lord will honor you."
The coming of the Messiah consummates this marriage.  In the very person of Jesus divinity and humanity are wed.  God becomes flesh, married now forever to our human race.  As the human body of Jesus is raised into God, we are drawn with him into the most intimate imaginable union with the Divine.
This wedded union with God has inspired mystics down through the centuries as they surrendered themselves in contemplation into Love's intimate embrace.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Epiphany 7

It rained all day yesterday, melting a lot of our snow.  It was 50 degrees when I walked this morning, evaporating the snow into cold fog, which you can see in the left background of this picture.  This stream which I cross in my morning walks was swollen by the quick melting.  A little cold for baptism, but maybe a reminder of the Jordan River and Jesus' baptism.
I found out midway through the week that we will be enrolling candidates for confirmation at Sunday's mass, so I changed the direction of the homily somewhat.  I thought it would be good for the young candidates, and all of us for that matter, to hear addressed to ourselves the words that Jesus hears from God at his baptism: "You are my child.  I love you.  I am pleased with you."  Like Jesus, through baptism we are named God's own.
Confirmation confirms our belonging to God.  It enables us to become what we already are.  The Holy Spirit is present to us completely.  What is not complete is our surrender.  Confirmation can help us surrender more completely to the Holy Spirit moving within us, urging us out to help others to hear the words that God speaks to Jesus and to us in our baptism.  We are all God's own.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Epiphany 6

Another epiphany from Tuesday's drive home. (Clicking on the picture enlarges it.)
Epiphany means a showing forth.  I was given a basket of fruit covered with cellophane.  The covering is cellulose structured in such a way that it shows (phan) what is in the basket.  The same Greek word "phan" is the root of epiphany; "epi" means "forth."
The Visit of the Magi and the Baptism of Jesus are Epiphanies.  This year we extend the celebration to the following Sunday with the gospel of the Wedding Feast of Cana. In these stories Jesus shows God to us. 
There are moments in our own lives when God is manifested to us in beautiful scenes in nature like those that I witnessed on Tuesday in the way the lowering sun played on the snow.  God shows Godself to us also in beautiful works of art, paintings, sculptures, music, poetry, movies, and even at times in something we see on TV.  Anywhere we find Beauty we find God. 
We may not explicitly name God in the experience, but we are experiencing God.  God doesn't hold back because we might not notice Divinity.  I think even people who don't know God or say they don't believe in God experience God in Beauty.  They may not call the feeling or the experience "God" but it is.
It is not unlike the old Latin quote: "Bidden or not bidden God is present."  I wonder if this is not part of what Dostoevsky means when he says, "Beauty will save the world."

Thursday, January 10, 2013

5 (clicking on the picture enlarges it)

Posted by Picasa

Epiphany 5

Here's another epiphany I experienced yesterday.
The Baptism of Jesus is another of our Epiphany celebrations.  Starting at least as early 2nd century, it is a much earlier feast than the Visit of the Magi, which wasn't celebrated until the 4th century. 
Quite different from Mark and Matthew, Luke describes the baptism in just two verses, 3: 21-22.  Curiously he eliminates John the Baptist from the scene.  In verse 20 Luke describes the Baptist shut up in prison.  (To get the Baptist into the story, this Sunday's Gospel backs up a few verses and starts with 3:15-16.)
By noting where one Gospel writer differs from the others, we can get an idea of the themes he wants to emphasize in his Gospel.  Throughout his Gospel Luke stresses the importance of prayer, especially prayer as the context for divine revelation.  Here Luke has nothing about Jesus coming up out of the water.  He describes this event as a prayer experience, "It was when all the people were being baptized, and when Jesus was being baptized and was praying, that heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in the physical shape of a dove." 
The act of the baptism fades into the background so that the spotlight is on Jesus' praying and on the Holy Spirit coming down on him.  It is in his prayer that Jesus hears a voice from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased."
Luke holds Jesus up to us as a model of prayer.  In our own contemplation we become aware of the Holy Spirit filling us and we hear God whispering to us, "You are my child.  I love you.  I am pleased with you."

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


Posted by Picasa

Epiphany 4

Last night I watched a terrific French movie called Queen to Play.  A woman's learning and mastering chess is reflected in her taking charge of her own life.  Her teacher advises her, "When you take a risk you may lose; when you don't take a risk you always lose."  He's talking about chess and her life.  I thought immediately of the Magi.
They take a big risk leaving home to follow a star and they find God.  Not to have followed the star would have left them with their old gods and their same old life.  Jesus told us that those who seek will find. 
Jesus, as well as the Magi's story, challenges us to risk finding God in a new way.  Changing the name we use for God.  Experimenting with a different form of prayer.  Reading about new ways of understanding God.  There may be some confusion at first, but we most likely will find ourselves in a new and richer relationship with God.
Yesterday on my way home I decided to come on a county road.  Since the heavy snow the county roads are not as clear as the state roads.  But I thought I might see some good views that I wouldn't see on the easier road.  The risk paid off.  The picture above is one of several beautiful views that I came across.  These little epiphanies don't compare with the Epiphany that the Magi experienced and my risk was nowhere near what theirs was.  Nevertheless, suddenly there's God.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

12th Night

Posted by Picasa

12 Day of Christmas

Merry Christmas, Day 12!  If you have been using the church's way of reckoning, then tonight is 12th Night, the eve of Epiphany.  I was pleased once to see Shakespear's play Twelfth Night on 12th Night.
By far, however, the most enjoyable production of it that I've seen was in London in September, at the new "Old Vic" on the south bank of the Thames River.
All the characters were played by men as they were in the days of Shakespeare, which added to the hilarity of the play.  Reading Shakespeare's comedies has never been as satisfying for me as reading the tragedies.  The timing of the actors and the stage action add immensely to the comedies.  I think we laughed and smiled during the entire production.
I had been advised to stand during the play in the "pit," a large space in front of the stage, where we could crowd up close to the stage and where we could see the expressions on the actors' faces so well.
The down side of that was tired legs.
Twelfth Night makes no reference to Christmas that I know of.  It doesn't have as many famous quotes as Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet.  Here are two that I liked:
"Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them."
"If music be the food of love, play on."
This year I am trying to understand "Beauty Will Save the World."  Shakespeare has added so much beauty to the world and so many words (3,000) and expressions to the English language.  Culture more than politics.

Friday, January 4, 2013

11th Day

The picture immediately below is last evening's setting sun shining through pines and across the snow.  Yesterday morning we had 10 degrees for the 10th Day of Christmas. The 2nd picture below shows what I think is dew frozen on the bush, sparkling in the morning sun like diamonds.   I guess I'll attach the pictures separately until I can figure out the new settings.
So, Merry Christmas, Day 11!  Isaiah 60:1-6, the first reading for Epiphany is all light and radiance.  The restoration that followed the Jews' return from exile proved in most ways disappointing.  Rather than giving up hope, the prophet insists that the Lord will become manifest to humanity through them, "Upon you the Lord will shine, and His Presence be seen over you.  And nations shall walk by your light, kings by your shining radiance." 
As I meditated on the passage I thought of the Catholic community's being charged by God to be a light for our world.  God will bring us back from "exile," healing our divisions.  Our daughters and "sons shall be brought from afar."  The community of the faithful "will glow; your heart will throb and thrill."  It is the radiant presence of Jesus that will shine out of the whole church and bring a glorious peace to our world.

11th Day of Christmas

Posted by Picasa


Posted by Picasa

Thursday, January 3, 2013

10th Day of Christmas

(Blogspot has changed the way I used to add a picture and I can't figure it out.)
Last evening I meditated on the Visit of the Magi, the Gospel for Epiphany (Matthew 2:1-12.)  This is a captivating story with all kinds of symbolism and references.  Our Christian devotion has also added stuff to Matthew's account.  I found myself as I prayed getting caught up simply in the story itself.
The Magi are a group of exotic strangers, outsiders, aliens.  They believe in signs from the stars.  They are open-minded searchers, willing to go into foreign territory to find the king that the star promised.
King Herod and the chief priests and scribes are arrogant insiders, stuck in the status quo.  They are smug, self-satisfied, close-minded, sure that they have the truth and needn't search any further.  They are not about to go to Bethlehem.
The Magi are the heroes of our story and so we identify with them.  All my thinking life I have been sure that around the next turn there will be a better view.  We want to be searchers, always willing to go on a quest for the living God.  We know that we are never finished growing in our love for God.  We want to avoid thinking that religion is already a finished project, that the church can never change.  We will come to Bethlehem again and again, sure that God is always More.
A final important lesson for me.  They don't confront Herod and his crowd. They leave them in their arrogance and simply "go home by another way."

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

9th Day of Christmas

My father gave me this manger scene when I was little.  I was just old enough to use water colors, but obviously not old enough to have a great color sense.   Or maybe I had already wasted blue and red and green.  (Clicking on the picture enlarges it.)
As I have mentioned here before, Manger scenes had a great fascination for me as a child.  I was allowed to play with a set that we used under our tree.  I remember moving the Magi from a distance up to the stable.  I don't remember having any camels.
I also remember wondering why my Protestant relatives didn't have manger scenes.  I guess that was partly Calvin's conviction that religious statues were idols.  Then when they did get manger scenes, I wondered why there were no Magi.  Only this year did I find out that Martin Luther didn't think that the Magi recognized the divinity of Christ.  He said in a sermon, "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.  What conversation they had with Mary and Joseph I leave to the imagination of idle minds." (quoted by Robert Kiely in an wonder-full article "A Long Journey" in December 21 issue of Commonweal)  So I guess in our mostly Protestant area that's why the Magi were eliminated.
Oddly enough, now it's easy to buy a manger scene that has Magi but no shepherds.  One of the places where I celebrate Mass has such a set.  What's that about!
Thanks to the generosity of friends and family over the years. I have a manger scene with about 30 figures.  Everybody and his brother and sister gets to come to the stable.  I regret that I didn't find the time this year to get it out.  I still have one on my mantle and two in my bedroom, enough to help me sit and reflect on the Christmas Mystery.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

8th Day of Christmas

Merry Christmas, Day 8!  Happy New Year!
This picture was taken at the same time as yesterday's.  They are both a great way to start a new year focusing on beauty.  (Clicking on the picture enlarges it.)
My Ministry of the Arts calendar for today quotes Eleanor Roosevelt,  "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."
The bottom of the January page begins a quote from St. Augustine. Here's the translation that I know:   "Late have I loved you, Beauty ever ancient and ever new, late have I loved you.  You were within, but I was without.  You were with me, but I was not with you.  So you called, you shouted, you broke through my deafness, you flared, blazed, and banished my blindness, you lavished your fragrance, and I gasped."
Perhaps the most challenging and hopeful book that I read this past year was Gregory Wolfe's Beauty Will Save The World: Recovering the Human in an Ideological Age.  "Beauty will save the world." is a quote from Dostoevsky's The Idiot.   Wolfe points out that Aleksandr Solzhenitzen referred to it in his "Nobel Lecture."  It was a favorite quote of Dorothy Day, who loved the Russian novelists.  Michael McGrath called his book about Dorothy Day, Saved by Beauty.
I live surrounded by beauty, as these two pictures make vividly clear.  So it is Beauty who seems to be calling for my attention this year.  I will do my best to study Gregory Wolfe's book and share what I can.