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.