Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

I particularly liked this reading (the fourth one) from vigils last night:

From the Sermons of Pope St Leo (the Great)
1st for Christmas.

Dearly beloved brethren, Unto us is born this day a Saviour. Let us rejoice. It would be unlawful to be sad today, for today is Life's Birthday – the Birthday of that Life, Which, for us dying creatures, taketh away the sting of death, and bringeth the bright promise of the eternal gladness hereafter. It would be unlawful for any man to refuse to partake in our rejoicing. All men have an equal share in the great cause of our joy, for, since our Lord, Who is the destroyer of sin and of death, findeth that all are bound under the condemnation, He is come to make all free. Rejoice, O thou that art holy, thou drawest nearer to thy crown! Rejoice, O thou that art sinful, thy Saviour offereth thee pardon! Rejoice also, O thou Gentile, God calleth thee to life! For the Son of God, when the fullness of the time was come, which had been fixed by the unsearchable counsel of God, took upon Him the nature of man, that He might reconcile that nature to Him Who made it, and so the devil, the inventor of death, is met and beaten in that very flesh which hath been the field of his victory.

Since my friend died last week, I’ve noticed her daughter posting sad memes on Face Book; I can hardly blame her, of course: she’s lost her mother. Others post memes related to their deceased loved one – how much they are missed, especially at Christmas time. My own father died on December 18, 1973, and our mourning certainly tinged our Christmas traditions with sadness.

But it brings me back to my thoughts about the true meaning and significance of Christmas. Christmas is not simply a time to get together with family and share gifts in pretty wrapping paper. Although we miss our loved ones, and maybe particularly so at this time of the year, when we traditionally gather with family and friends in a special way, Christmas can still be a time for joy. It is, after all, the celebration of the birth of Life, as Pope St. Leo the Great reminds us above; and Christmas marks the emergence of our Hope and our Salvation into the world we inhabit. He comes as flesh and blood, as a human being like us, but He speaks Life Eternal!

Christmas morning here: 6 degrees, and fog left everything frosted in white.
So…Merry Christmas. No matter what your circumstances, I pray you find the joy of hope in Our Savior’s birth this year (and always).

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Death of a Friend

A blurry photo from
her Face Book page;
but this captures the
essence of Pam.
Once upon a time, when we lived in California, I took under my wing a woman – her name was Pam – who was slightly retarded, and who had two children. The two little girls were removed from her custody by Child Protective Services, and I was doing my best to help her get them back.  We remained friends even after the family was reunited (the little girls were in foster care for over 2 years!).

Even after we moved, I talked on the phone with Pam every couple of months, and visited her once when I was back to visit other friends in that area. She was functionally illiterate, but managed to figure out how to text me as well. Usually she simply asked for money, and always expressed her love for me after making the request. But I do think she loved me, even without the money.

I hadn’t heard from Pam since last May, when she had asked for money and I had sent some. She didn’t call at Thanksgiving time, and she has always called me then. I wondered if she’d lost my number. I texted the number I had for her, asking her to call or text and let me know if it was still her number; there was no response.

Today, December 19, is her birthday. I already knew that, which was one reason I was trying to contact her, but Face Book let me know as well. (It is surprising that Pam had a Face Book account; I’m sure her younger daughter set it up for her, and she never posted anything other than profile pictures.) I left a birthday greeting on her timeline, with a note to call or text me with her number.

A few hours later, her daughter left a comment on my birthday greeting, asking for my phone number. I sent her a private message, and she replied, “My mom was hit by a car last night, and she passed away.”

I was stunned. And then I wondered if it were true. The news sources my husband and I checked turned up nothing, but then, it’s the weekend. Then I noticed other posts on the daughter’s timeline that made it clear that she was letting everyone know that her mom had died.

I’m very sad. It’s not that Pam and I were best friends or talked a lot. But we shared an important and trying time in her life (more than one trying time, actually!), and I felt a bond with her. I felt that I should always help her if I could. There was always a tension for me around giving her money; what was too much? What was too little? She re-married a man she’d previously divorced, and who had been nothing but trouble to her when the girls had been taken. Should I continue to give her money when she’d taken up with him? He had a history of living with women who would take care of him so that he didn’t have to work, though he had some mental issues of his own.

Despite her constant pleas to me for money, Pam was a very giving person. It got her into trouble more than once, because she was more than willing to offer one “friend” or another a space on her living room floor if they’d been kicked out of their apartment. She was easily taken advantage of…by many.

She had health issues, too, and almost died once after some abdominal surgery to repair a large hernia. I know she almost died because they kept her in the hospital for 10 days, and she was NOT a paying customer; I doubt she’d have received that kind of care if they weren’t afraid of a wrongful death suit (I know, I’m very cynical about such things).  During that time, her ex-husband and his wife and several children moved into Pam’s apartment to “help” take care of her…except they didn’t help much, and ate all her food. And then they wouldn’t move out. We (me and the agency that helped her with such things) had to get the police involved to get the people to leave.

Pam did not have a happy childhood, having been sexually abused at the hands of her brother, along with other issues. She did not have a happy adulthood either: she married a young man who passed away within a year (I don’t remember what his malady was); her parents, on whom she was very dependent emotionally and for help with her infant daughter, both died in a car accident; she married and remarried the wrong man; she was dirt poor.

But she didn’t complain about any of it, really. She was pretty happy. I often thought about how she didn’t have much, but at least she didn’t have debt; and my husband and I had plenty of that! Pam just lived her life, taking what happiness came her way, and plugging along through the hard times.

Pam and her daughters, with my daughter in
the middle. The two girls were in foster care
at this time, and the only way Pam could
see them for Thanksgiving was if I would
bring them all to my house. Which I did.
One year, I went to her daughter’s birthday party. It was in the little yard of her duplex, which consisted of gravel and no grass. The house was small and not the best-kept; the other guests were very low-income down-and-outers. But everyone was real. There was no pretense about anything. And everyone had a good time. Later that same evening I went to a fund-raising event for a local Catholic school. The contrast was interesting. The conversation was aimed at impressing others, as were the bids on “silent auction” items; and the people were fake, not real, at least in this setting. I much preferred the party with the poor folks.

Pam wasn't Catholic. She considered herself a Christian, and was baptized. She suffered a lot in her life, and really didn't complain about any of it – not the way I would have, that's for sure! Do you suppose God will cut her a little slack since she was, after all, retarded?

I asked my spiritual director that question, and he replied, “Even without the pope’s Jubilee of Mercy, God exercises mercy in His judgment of our individual, final dispositions. Unlike us humans, He's able to take EVERYTHING into account, when rendering His judgment. So it's appropriate to hope in His mercy, while praying that He be merciful toward one of the deceased, since we know not the full circumstances of the individual.”

So, please, would you say a little prayer for the repose of the soul of my friend Pam? Thanks.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Monday, December 14, 2015

How Should We Celebrate Christmas?

I’m still thinking about the “meaning of Christmas”…or rather, about how we celebrate Christmas, and how we should celebrate it.

Maybe this post will sound sort of like "Bah, humbug!" But I don't mean it that way. I like Christmas as much as the next person, and for many of the same reasons! But still...

I wrote the other day about people with no religious inclination who celebrate Christmas with no sense of why it’s a holy day, why we celebrate it, etc. But now I am thinking about how Catholics and other Christians celebrate Christmas, and I am coming up with a few realizations that may be old news to you, but they are an epiphany of sorts for me.

First, there’s the whole “Keep Christ in Christmas” theme that runs in Christian circles. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that! But I think it has simply become another trite meme that pops up every year. Just how does one keep Christ in Christmas, with all the other stuff competing for our holiday affections? Sure, many Christians have a crèche in their homes, or they set up their annual nativity scene outside in their front yard. Maybe they bake a birthday cake for Jesus. Maybe they attend Mass (although I think many Protestant denominations don’t even have a church service on Christmas, unless it’s a Sunday). These are all good things, and certainly go toward “keeping Christ in Christmas”, but all too often, I fear, they are just little sidelights done to “prove” we are Christians and that we know we are celebrating the birth of Christ.

But many people – Catholic, non-Catholic Christian, or whatever – seem to think that Christmas is primarily a time for families. It’s important for families to be together for Christmas, we believe as a culture. Christmas is “happy”, “joyful”, “magical”, “warm”, etc. Good Christians try to play down the importance of gift-giving, but everyone knows everyone wants to give (and receive) gifts during the “holiday season”. People have parties, and gifts are exchanged. We all feel sorry for the families that can’t gather all their members in one place, and we all love to see children’s excited faces on Christmas morning when they are preparing to go to Mass…oops, I mean preparing to open the pile of gifts under the tree.

Even a good Catholic friend of mine is agitated because her adult children won’t come home for Christmas, and because the one who is a single mother wants to do the Christmas morning gift-giving at home alone with her little son. My friend says that watching the child’s face light up with anticipation and excitement is a highlight of the day, and she is disappointed that she won’t be able to witness it.

Another good Catholic friend has been sighing for the last two weeks about not feeling the “Christmas spirit”. I told her she’s supposed to feel the Advent spirit first! She wrote a poem about her mixed feelings – anticipation of His birth, she says, mixed with sadness for those who are gone (deceased) or simply away from home. I know my friend is a good Catholic, but I don’t think she understands Christmas and death and Heaven and Hell and purgatory. Again I see a person who has made “being together as a family” the prime mover and end of “Christmas spirit”.

“Being together as a family” is a nice thing. But it can happen any time. Giving gifts is a nice thing, but you can give a loved one a gift any day of the year. Enjoying a festive meal together is nice, but that can be done for many occasions. “Being together as a family” is NOT the end goal of Christmas…or at least, it shouldn’t be. And when these families are together for Christmas, what are they thinking and talking about?  Well, surely some of them are talking about Christ, about His first and second coming, about the hope and joy that His birth inspires in us year after year. Some are surely making plans for Midnight Mass, or at least Christmas morning Mass. (Too many in our parish are simply anticipating the fun and festive singing of the Christmas Eve “children’s Mass”, and some of the protestants in the community attend that one just because it’s so Christmas-y, with carols sung and Santa making an appearance at the side of the holy crib, etc.)

But mostly, I think people are making plans to have a big feast, sort of like Thanksgiving; to arrange a gift-exchange time; chat and laugh and play games. I fear that even among good Catholics and Christians, “the family” has become what is worshiped; I fear that the Christmas tree has supplanted the crèche as the center of attention; I fear that Mass is just something that interrupts the flow of the festivities for a short time; I fear that, even when Mass is attended and Jesus is acknowledged in the home, Christmas has really been reduced to a time to eat, drink, and be merry.

That is not the same as making Christmas a time of hope and joy in the salvation of Our Lord.  

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Meaning of Christmas

I stole this photo from a friend...this is the beauty of where we live!
My husband always writes a “Christmas Letter” to enclose with the Christmas cards we send out…I have mixed feelings about that. I do enjoy getting such letters from other families, but the one I enjoyed the most, for years, was from a friend of my husband’s whom I had never yet. He would include such details as, “I admit I did not floss regularly this year. However, I did make it to the dentist for my 6-month check-up. The hygienist scolded me for not flossing.” Or, “We made a major change this year: we have chosen a new brand of shampoo.” I'd like to write one like that some year!

Anyway, I went to the local Bi-Mart the other day in search of Christmas cards, because it is that time of the year when my husband is champing at the bit to get those cards addressed, stamped, and mailed, with the Christmas Letter inside!

I have bought Christmas cards at Bi-Mart for years. I ignore the ones with Santa on the front, and the ones that only mention “Christmas wishes”, and the ones that tell us the meaning of Christmas is “family” or “peace” or some such thing. I choose the ones that have the Holy Family on the front, the typical nativity scene; and those usually include a verse from Scripture as well. These things are a must!

But this year in Bi-Mart, there was not one single box of cards with a nativity scene, or even a mention of the name of Our Lord. Not one. I found one box of cards with the three wise men on their camels on the front, and inside there was a mention of the “one who came at Christmas” or something like that – clearly a reference to Our Lord, yes, but with no scripture, and no Name.

Why am I surprised? Well, we live in a small, rural town, and I would venture to guess that a sizable majority of the folks who live here are Christians. Why would our local Bi-Mart choose not to stock real Christmas cards?! I asked the checker, and she said someone else had complained about the same thing.

It really made me think about something I guess I take for granted, though: the real meaning of Christmas. It’s not really about “family” and “peace” and “happiness” and “health” – not in the way most of the secular cards are using those words, which amounts to cheap sentimentality. I know I don’t have to tell you readers what Christmas is about!
But it made me think about the people who buy “Happy Holidays” cards and the other secular sentimentality. What meaning does Christmas have for them? It is a meaningless holiday for the secular world. And yet, they celebrate it…and some of them try to deny Christ in the way they celebrate it!

In addition, I had a “chance” encounter with a woman from Portland while we were waiting to be seated for dinner in a local restaurant. Because I mentioned that I was Catholic, she responded – not in a defensive or offensive way – that she wasn’t “particularly religious”. She said, “I like your pope, though…I don’t know how you feel about him.” And she smiled slightly. I said I had a few problems with some of the things he’s said, and she smiled again and said, “Well, the politics are a little different here than they are in Portland.” Ha! Did she hit that one on the head: the secular supporters of Francis simply see him as a prop for their liberal political agenda; there is no spiritual meaning for them.

I wondered what meaning life has for someone like that. And what meaning Christmas could possibly have, other than being a feel-good, pretty-lights, cozy-hot-chocolate kind of season.
It’s sad, how lost the world is – isn’t it?

But Advent is full of hope, and looking forward as we prepare the way of the Lord. We can pray for a good many conversions through the contact the unbelievers have with Christ through Christmas.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The December Fast: Advent

I love the expectant feeling that Advent imparts (and of course is meant to impart!).

We seldom hear about the penitential aspect of Advent…at least, I seldom do. I read about it, though, as the Divine Office reminds us of it explicitly in the readings for Matins last night. Readings 4, 5, and 6 are from Pope St. Leo the Great, and there is a note that this particular excerpt is from a sermon “on the December Fast, and almsgiving”.

These notes on not letting our belly become our God seem quite appropriate following the recent Thanksgiving feast! ;-)

From the Sermons of Pope St Leo the Great,
8th on the December Fast, and almsgiving.

Moon over my chapel
Our Saviour Himself instructed His disciples concerning the times and seasons of the coming of the Kingdom of God and the end of the world, and He hath given the same teaching to the Church by the mouth of His Apostles. In connection with this subject then, Our Lord biddeth us beware lest we let our hearts grow heavy through excess of meat and drink, and worldly thoughts. Dearly beloved brethren, we know how that this warning applieth particularly to us. We know that that day is coming, and though for a season we know not the very hour> yet this we know, that it is near.

Let every man then make himself ready against the coming of the Lord, so that He may not find him making his belly his god, or the world his chief care. Dearly beloved brethren, it is a matter of every day experience that fulness of drink dulleth the keenness of the mind, and that excess of eating unnerveth the strength of the will. The very stomach protesteth that gluttony doth harm to the bodily health, unless temperance get the better of desire, and the thought of the indigestion afterward check the indulgence of the moment.

The body without the soul hath no desires; its sensibility cometh from the same source as its movements. And it is the duty of a man with a reasonable soul to deny something to his lower nature and to keep back the outer man from things unseemly. Then will his soul, free from fleshly cravings, sit often at leisure in the palace of the mind, dwelling on the wisdom of God. There, when the roar and rattle of earthly cares are stilled, will she feed on holy thoughts and entertain herself with the expectation of the everlasting joy.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Loved Ones Who Die Outside the Faith

Not a great photo (over-exposed),
but I love how happy she looks
The other day, I was praying the Rosary and thinking about Mary in her role as our Mother. I often think I've transferred my feelings for my own biological mother to Mary, and when I think of "Mom", I usually think of Our Lady. On this particular day, though, as I was praying, all of a sudden I was seeing my mom in my mind's eye. Usually, I have a hard time picturing her any more (she died in 1992), partly because my last memories of her were of how she looked as she was dying, and who wants to remember that? Today, it was like she was right there in front of me, smiling and looking radiant and happy.

I started to pray for Our Lady to intercede for her, and sneak her into Heaven, because my mom wasn't Catholic; I don’t know if she was a baptized Christian. But Mom did fervently affirm her belief in God on her death bed, and she listened to me read some Scriptures to her. If I'd been Catholic at that time, I would have known what to do towards the salvation of her soul. But I wasn't Catholic, and all I knew was to make sure she believed in God, and that Jesus was His Son. Now, as a Catholic, I know I can't assume she's in Heaven, like I did back then at the time of her death.

It's one of those things that I think is hard for converts, or potential converts: what about the people we love who have died and who weren't Catholic, or maybe were only just barely "Christian"? It is painful to think about the people you loved most in your life not being in Heaven (at least eventually).

This is the first time in a long, long, long time that I have really thought about my mom. I found myself missing her, which I haven't done in ages. I found myself feeling sad at the thought of not seeing her in Heaven (if I make it there myself!). But I still felt like I was actually seeing her in my thoughts, and that was kind of comforting. I also saw that I have sort of become her in relation to my own daughter.

I know a woman locally who is a devout Christian. Her husband died several years ago, and she often says that she knows he's in Heaven because he "knew Jesus", etc. We have had some minimal comment-trading about Catholicism via Face Book, but I know that it would be a hard teaching for her to even entertain the idea that he might not be in Heaven waiting for her. I have thought about this a time or two and wondered how a person would talk to a potential convert about such things. Well, no one talked to me about it before I became a Catholic, so maybe that's the way to go.  

Just some thoughts. I am still wishing I could talk to my mom for a few minutes.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

"Pray For..."

The terrorist attacks in Paris surely make everyone think…though what we think about depends, I imagine, on one’s orientation (or lack thereof) toward God.

One thing that bothers me is the immediate outpouring on Facebook of memes and whatnot exhorting everyone to “Pray for Paris” or “Pray for Roseburg” or “Pray for Whatever Crisis Has Caught Your Attention Today”. Of course I’m not saying that praying for the people involved in these horrific events is not a good thing; it most certainly IS a good thing.
But these “Pray for” campaigns seem to me to trivialize prayer.

Just what are people praying for? For comfort for the survivors? For the salvation of souls of those who were killed? For the conversion of the survivors? For divine retribution? For the conversion of terrorists? For the salvation of the souls of the killers? And how many people say “I’m praying for Paris” (or whatever), and really have no idea what they are praying for?

And why are people praying for this situation? Why this particular catastrophe? It was pointed out in several places that 40-some people died in a terrorist attack in Beirut the day before. I didn’t see “Pray for Beirut” memes and hashtags arising from that event.

Every day, every hour, maybe even every minute, someone dies. The death of the person who dies in a car crash caused by a drunk driver is no less tragic than that of the person who died in the Paris massacre. Any death that occurs suddenly, taking life like a thief in the night, is tragic, because the victim has died without the sacraments. We should keep this possibility before us always. Our death can occur at any moment, and we should always have that thought in our minds.

Someone will die today, this hour. We can keep our own death in mind while we pray for others. Here’s a prayer that I find useful, from my little Blessed Be God prayer book:

O My God, I offer Thee all the holy Masses which will be said this day throughout the whole world for poor sinners who are now in their death agony and who will die this day. May the Precious Blood of our Savior Jesus Christ obtain for them mercy. Amen.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Cardinal Sarah's Book

I’ve been reading Robert Cardinal Sarah’s book, God or Nothing. It’s been slow going, since I’ve been so busy, and I’m only 75 pages into it. But I have found a new hero!

Cardinal Sarah’s childhood circumstances are fascinating (he was born in one of the most remote villages in Guinea); his call to the priesthood is inspiring; his journey through seminary (both physical and psychological) is practically unimaginable to my Western mind. Cardinal Sarah is one of those bishops I thought didn’t exist anymore: he has experienced hardship and persecution, and while he had good reason to fear for his life, he stood on the firm ground of Christ’s truth, and persevered.

I wish every Protestant (and Catholic, for that matter) who thinks that Catholics don’t have a “personal relationship with Jesus” would read at least the first few chapters of this book. They will find a very Catholic version of what that “personal relationship” looks like as Cardinal Sarah’s story unfolds.

Here’s an excerpt that I read last night, revealing a little of Cardinal Sarah’s spiritual depth:

…[I]t was the internal struggles that I had to face [as Archbishop of Conakry], that shattered me by showing me with increasing clarity that I was objectively incapable of leading the Church of Conakry.

In order to address the situation, I established a program of regular spiritual retreats. Every two months, I would leave, alone, for a completely isolated spot. I would subject myself to an absolute fast, with no food or water for three days. I wanted to be with God, to speak with him in private. When I left Conakry, I would take nothing with me except a Bible, a small traveling Mass kit, and a book of spiritual reading. The Eucharist was my only food and my sole companion. This life of solitude and prayer helped me to recharge and to return to battle. (p. 69-70)

I think this man would make a good pope.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

My Children Are on the Road to Hell

I have two adult children.

My son lives on the other side of the country from me, so contact with him has been sporadic at best over the last 20 years or so anyway. In recent times, the distance between us has become more than physical, as I finally had to admit to myself that he is entrenched in his own world view and has not even the faintest interest in mine.  In fact, he told me, he “prays” that I will give up my misguided faith in the Catholic Church and see the light of…what?? I don’t know who or what he “prays” to, nor what light he would like me to see. I wonder if he knows himself.

You can see that he is quite a distance down that road to hell.

My daughter lives very close to me, and we are also close emotionally and psychologically. She has been Catholic since birth, essentially. She has been raised in a Catholic family. The problem I see is that my own Catholic faith didn’t emerge until she was 7 years old – I was received into the Church in 2002, and received my first Holy Communion a few months before she did. Since that time, my knowledge and love of the teachings of Christ’s Church has expanded in a huge way, but my knowledge and faith weren’t solidified enough to teach her the faith as I would do if I had it to do all over again.  So I look back and see where I failed her.

Today, I saw even more clearly how I had failed her: she seems not to grasp the reality of hell. She knows, intellectually, that missing Mass for no good reason is a mortal sin, and she knows that she did that recently. She knows she needs to go to confession. And so, when I asked her if she wanted to go, she said yes, and we agreed we’d have breakfast after. But when we arrived, there was a line, and she didn’t want to wait. Well…she’s an adult. Things have changed. I reminded her that she had committed a mortal sin and that it was enough to send her to hell, and that she really needed to get it taken care of. Yeah, yeah, she knows, and she will.

But what the whole experience showed me was something I’ve just been trying to hide from myself: she doesn’t get it. Not really. In part, I blame myself; in part, I blame my husband; and in part, I blame the religious ed teachers, priests, and bishops we’ve experienced. We’ve failed her – and many others, I fear.

I’m not giving up, though. St. Monica has been a role model for me for a long time. My son is a pre-conversion Augustine. My daughter isn’t taking that sinful road, but she is drifting off the path of holiness nonetheless.

So I pray to St. Monica. I pray for her intercession, and I pray for the gift of tears she had with regard to her son. I ask her to help me pray for my son and daughter as she prayed for her son – with the same fervency and intensity and desire for their salvation.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Friday, October 23, 2015

More Busy-ness

My life seems to have three compartments. There's my prayer life, which is most important to me, of course. Then there's the part of my life that centers around my family and those children who have recently come into my life. And then there's the business compartment, which is definitely keeping me busy recently.

I have been working on an antependium for a high altar. Perhaps surprisingly, I haven't done one of these before! All of the antependia I have created were for stand-alone altars. I visited the church for which I'm making the current one, and I am going back next week to deliver the antependium and see if it actually fits!

Here is the altar:

 Underneath the black marble overhang, there are hooks, which were clearly meant to support a rod that supports the antependium. You can barely see one of the hooks in this photo...well, maybe you can't, but if I enlarge the photo enough, I can see it!

Because of the black overhang and the matching black base, the antependium, which will only cover the white marble, is only 31" tall. So it was decided to go with a more simple design. I think it will look nice.

I have made a matching tabernacle veil, too.

Meanwhile, this weekend is a "kid" weekend, when the two children I've mentioned before will be visiting their father. We seem to have fallen into a routine of having them out to our house for dinner on Saturday. I do enjoy the children! 

But the center of it all is prayer. I am thankful that I have developed the habit of praying the Divine Office. It is a stabilizing factor in my life, as I negotiate my way through the different compartments these days. 

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Thoughts on the Synod

Many of my thoughts on the Synod are not charitable at all to the priests, bishops, and cardinals participating in some way or another in that dubious effort.

Some of these men are putting on display, for all the world to see, their heretical notions, their poor understanding of the sacraments, and their lack of supernatural faith. One wonders how it is that these men can voice the opinions they do and not cower in fear of the retribution of God.

My first reaction is anger. How dare they! What do they think they are doing!?

My second reaction should probably be my first: it is to cower in fear for them, since they seem unable to do so themselves. When I think about their eternal souls, and what will happen to them if they don’t repent…well, it is really so horrible that I don’t like to even try to imagine it. And that is what prompts me to pray for them.

I also think about what it will mean for the Church, and for good, orthodox, faithful priests, if the Synod results in a quasi-approval of “some” divorced and civilly remarried Catholics receiving Holy Communion. What pain, what terror, would beset a poor priest who is essentially ordered by his bishop to give Communion to a person or a couple whom he knows is living in adultery? A priest who truly understands who he is, himself, in his priesthood, and who truly believes in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, could not possibly do such a thing. Could he? Should he?

I think that a faithful priest should refuse to do give Holy Communion to someone he knows to be in mortal sin. That is the charitable and merciful thing to do, because those sinners will bring more damage and hellfire to themselves by receiving unworthily. But I also know something of the power of bishops, and of the bullying tendencies some have, and of their willingness to punish faithful priests for simply being true to the faith. And so, these faithful priest would have a lot to lose, in this world, if they disobeyed the bishop. Yet, how much more would they gain in Heaven!

There’s much more that could be said, and I’m sure you are saying it yourselves. But the Synod is only a synod. It remains to be seen what Pope Francis will do. Even so, much damage is being done currently, even though the Synod basically has no power to enact any kind of Church law or doctrine. It’s a time for trembling, I think. It is a turning point for the Church…though either way we know the Church will be protected from error in the end.

Let us pray that the Holy Spirit prevents even a hint of “approval” or “acceptance” of mortal sin simply because society accepts it as normal.  

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Saint Bruno

Today is the Feast of St. Bruno, founder of the Carthusian order.

I keep the music sheet tucked away
in my Liber Hymnarius.
I know two hermits who have taken the name “Bruno”. One was once a Carthusian monk, but discerning that that was not his vocation, he moved on to become a hermit, and subsequently took a different religious name.  He is now my spiritual director, and some vestiges of his Carthusian journey remain in his current Rule of Life. I think of that when I sing the Te Decet after the Gospel every Sunday at Vigils, in part because the little music sheet I have (which he printed up, and which, actually, I know longer need to look at when I sing the antiphon), notes in the upper right hand corner that it is more Cartusiano – in the manner of the Carthusians.  (I don’t know of any other version of the Te Decet; this is the one I have always sung.)

The other Bruno I know is a hermit in Canada, whose second anniversary of his eremitic vows is today. He has a blog which you can visit here.

The latter hermit sent an email to his friends today which included the following commentary on solitude. I thought it worth sharing here.


Address to Novices at St. Hugh’s Charterhouse, October 6th, 1997
Solitude is one of the ultimate questions for every human being. Finally, we are alone, coming into and leaving life, unknowing and unknown, unloving and unloved? This question is linked to that of purpose: Is there a sense to our existence, a purpose and value?  

Solitude, as an important dimension of a lifestyle such as ours, expresses paradoxically the will to go beyond solitude as aloneness and absence of meaning.

It is striking how preoccupied modern culture is with solitude. The more information is communicated, the bigger and quicker the access to what is happening all over the world, the more are people crushed beneath the perception of themselves as insignificant and alone. The universe is unfolded before us in all its splendor. Instead of adoration, this can cause despair.

In the Middle Ages   people reached out beyond themselves into the world of more or less apocalyptic religious speculation-and a second millennium is upon us- or into the cultural world of imaginative art such as that of Dante. Nowadays, the same need to reach out beyond is expressed more visually in the somewhat crude but innovative efforts of books and films to portray a world beyond our own, beings form other planets and even the reality of cosmic good and evil. Are we alone? Do we matter?

The solitary must first inhabit his solitude. It is there he can enter into his deeper self and find such answers as he may find. He will soon experience the extreme difficulty of seizing the unseizable, of knowing the inexpressible, of reaching out beyond the parameters of scientific knowledge,  hopefully, partially, to another level of being, to a reality beyond all shapes and forms, the real what and finally who that is being in and through itself.

Whatever experience he has will always be subject to another interpretation: illusion, hallucination, subconscious imaginary projection of fear and desire, incapacity to live in the stack of the world of absurdity.

Whatever explanation he gives, whatever words he proffers will never prove anything to those who do not share this experience. He will never have absolute proof of the rightness of his experience either for himself or for others. This does not excludes certitude.

His eyes are the eyes of faith: faith in a Reality that has taken the initiative to communicate with us. We are not alone. Our lives are not without purpose. We are willed to be by an intelligent love called by name to be persons, known and knowing, loved and loving, whose deepest reality will never disappear.  The trace of his presence draw us towards him (for personal he is, and must be, if we are persons). We cannot be but drawn, if we but open our eyes and listen to our hearts.

He speaks to us with the words of our human experience. He assumes in Christ a human face, in order to introduce us into his being and life. Nevertheless we modeled of clay. It is so hard for us, not for an hour, or a month, or a year, but for the whole lifetime with its tasks seasons, to hold ourselves in his serenity. The flesh, the affectivity, the mind often clamor for a food more congenial to them. Our fragile sense of self needs to be bolstered and expressed in activity, affirmation and achievement. We may try to escape too much beauty by deliberately disrupting the harmony. We deform reality by our neurotic needs or flee it altogether in psychotic denial. Sometimes we sin I order to keep God at a safe distance.

But there is nowhere to hide. Christ has walked all our paths, even that of death. He comes to us in his innocence, even in our sin. He can cure our will not to be cured. His love will not be denied. Ultimately, we are not alone. We know it, whatever our words say. Hopefully, in the end, we will yield to the light of truth, accept to be loved and to love totally. Our silence will be the peace of fulfillment and the joy of adoration.

I think that is what St. Bruno meant by his oft-expressed ‘O Bonitas.’   

***   ***   ***   ***   ***

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!   

Friday, October 2, 2015

Guardian Angels

I found readings 4, 5, and 6 from the Office of Vigils (Matins) for the feast of the Holy Guardian Angels particularly meaningful last night.

I realized how much I worry about some important people in my life. I pray for them, yes, of course. I try to abandon myself (and them) to Divine Providence. But I worry nonetheless.The readings from Vigils helped me to see my own fault in that worry – not that I shouldn’t care about these individuals, and hope and pray for the best for them, but that I should do something a little more constructive than worry. God wants us to trust in Him, and He has provided us with very powerful guardian angels; therefore, we should trust that these powerful protectors will indeed do their job!

 Sometimes guardian angels are portrayed as soft and fluffy and cute, or even bumbling and clownish. But their true character is more akin to mighty warriors! I will make a concerted effort to redouble my prayers to the guardian angels of all those whose particular needs and circumstances make me worry.

Here are the readings:

From the Sermons of St Bernard, Abbot

He hath given His Angels charge over thee. A wonderful graciousness, and a wonderful outpouring of love. For who hath given charge? And what charge? Unto whom? And over whom? Let us carefully consider, my brethren, let us carefully hold in mind this great charge. For who hath given this charge? To Whom belong the Angels? Whose commandments do they obey, and Whose will do they do? He hath given His Angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways, and that not carelessly, for they shall bear thee up in their hands. The Highest Majesty, therefore, hath given charge unto Angels, even His Angels. Unto these beings so excellently exalted, so blessed, so near to Himself, even as His own household, unto these hath He given charge over thee. Who art thou? What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that Thou visitest him? Even as though man were not rottenness, and the son of man, a worm. (Job. xxv. 6.) But what charge hath He given them over thee? To keep thee in all thy ways.

What respect, what thankfulness, what trust, ought this word to work in thee! Respect for their presence, thankfulness for their kindness, trust in their safe keeping. Walk carefully, as one with whom are Angels, as hath been laid in charge upon them, in all thy ways. In every lodging, in every nook, have reverence for thine Angel. Dare not to do in his presence what thou wouldst not dare to do in mine. Or dost thou doubt whether he be indeed present, because thou seest him not? What if thou heardest him? What if thou touchedst him? What if thou smelledst him? Behold, not by sight alone is the presence of things made manifest.

Let us also, brethren, dearly love His Angels, as them with whom we are one day to be co-heirs, and who in the meanwhile are leaders and guardians set over us by the Father. With such guardians, whereof shall we be afraid? They that keep us in all our ways, can neither be conquered nor corrupted, far less can they corrupt. They are trusty, they are wary, they are mighty. Whereof shall we be afraid? Only let us follow them, only let us cleave unto them, and we shall abide under the shadow of the God of heaven. As often then as the gloom of temptation threateneth thee, or the sharpness of tribulation hangeth over thee, call upon Him That keepeth thee, thy Shepherd, thy Refuge in times of trouble, call upon Him, and say, “Lord, save us; we perish.”

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!

Saturday, September 26, 2015


I find myself busier than ever these days.

I had an order for an antependium from St. Birgitta's, and decided that perhaps I could deliver it in person and demonstrate the proper way to put it on the altar. I have a friend in that area, and could stay with her overnight; plus, she would be my chauffeur, as am, frankly, scared to death to drive in Portland!

So I made the arrangements with my friend and with the people at St. Birgitta's, and then asked for an appointment with the pastor of another parish in that area who had expressed some interest in an antependium for his altar. 

It was a fruitful trip in many ways - business-wise as well as spiritually. 

Business-wise, I received more orders; St. Birgitta's wants the full set of antependia and tabernacle veils in all of the liturgical colors, and they want a set of linens for the altar as well. St. Stephen's wants to start with an antependia for their high altar, and a veil for their very, very large tabernacle. I'm a little apprehensive about the high altar, as the mounting of the antependium will be very different from what I've done in the past, but I'm taking the challenge.

I was pleased with the St. Birgitta antependium. Here's the before-and-after:

I wish I had taken a photo with the altar set up for high Mass in the extraordinary form. My friend and I did attend the Sunday EF Mass there; it was at 9:30am - prime time!!! And the pastor told me that the traditional Latin Mass has continued to be said there for the last 45 years, uninterrupted by Vatican II shenanigans. The pastor himself sang the priest parts beautifully, and a male cantor sang the chants; it was all very beautiful! It was my friend's first time at an EF Mass, and I'm sure that will bear fruit as well.

The pastors at St. Stephen's also offer the EF Mass, but they have the typical high altar plus stand-alone altar set-up which you see in many older churches. I have a strong aversion to altars that look like dining room tables with floral arrangements in front of them!  

Although the interior of this church is really quite nice, with statues, and huge Stations of the Cross that are beautifully crafted, and some nice stained glass windows, I just find that the presence of that table in the center takes away from the awe and reverence one might experience otherwise. The pastors hinted that they would like to remove it, and that they are looking at some renovations for the sanctuary. Hurray!

Here's a close-up of the high altar:

There are a number of problems with the arrangement of a stand-alone altar set in front of a high altar. I think it's sad that many beautiful high altars are obscured from view by the stand-alone dining table. Even with a nice traditional antependium on the high altar, the effect will be minimized. One step at a time, I suppose. 

I really liked St. Birgitta's grounds. The church itself reminds me of our mission churches in my own diocese, with dark wood paneling that makes everything muted in the church itself. Well, some day perhaps there will be major renovations (or at least painting!) of these little churches. There was a large area next to the church with grass and a grove of trees. Vegetation is so different over on the West side! Here are two little shrines  they have set up there:

It was a different sort of weekend for me, since I was staying at my friend's house, and our schedule was so busy that my prayer times were minimal. But it was nice to visit with my friend and spend that time with her, and also have a chance to introduce her to the EF Mass. And it was nice to visit 3 different parishes all in one day! That's barely possible where I live, with the distances between parishes. 

I have my eye on one more parish over there - the one my friend and her family generally attend. They have a new parochial vicar who seems quite tradition-minded, so maybe he will be able to transform their altar. Sorry for the blurriness, but you see the altar - again, a dining room table with a floral arrangement in front. And no veil on the tabernacle! That always amazes me:

And hopefully, the Archbishop has already instructed them that the "resurrexifix" has to go. That cannot even be theologically correct!

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Little Detours

Today is the feast day of St. Joseph of Cupertino; there’s a cute and stirring movie about him which I watched some years ago. And it turns out that St. Joseph of Cupertino is the patron of those with autism.

I requested a Mass to be said today for the little guy I’ve written about here, who I believe has autism.  And if you would be so kind as to pray a little prayer for him, too, I would be grateful. The various components of the situation of his life are making intervention difficult: his parents are recently divorced parents and live in towns 75 miles apart; and it is only since the divorce that they’ve acknowledged the problems their son has, which heretofore I think they tended to deny; plus, both towns are in rural areas where resources for autism are scarce.

The last time I wrote on this blog, I was heading off on retreat again. And it was a really wonderful retreat! A friend joined me this time, and that made for some special times.

But the part of the retreat I remember the most was when I was sitting on the little home-made deck that overlooks the irrigation canal and the broad meadow that serves as pasture for a herd of cattle. I had prayed the Rosary, and was going over in my mind the issues that had recently been causing me to feel stress. The little guy mentioned above came to mind—I’ll call him Joey, after the saint.

As you know, if you’ve been reading this blog for long, I’m trying to lead a life of prayer and penance. I keep to a monastic prayer schedule, pray the Divine Office, etc., and attempt to open myself to the wonders of contemplation. In a way, I have one foot in the secular world and one in the religious world.

When I became involved with Joey (and his older sister), I recognized that this was a distraction from the contemplative type of life for which I was striving. I’ve been researching and investigating treatment programs for autism, and spending time observing Joey and talking to his parents. It has disrupted my Divine Office schedule often enough over the last few months!  And yet, it seemed that God had placed this situation in my lap and was asking me to deal with it. Still, satan can appear in that capacity, too—making one think God is behind the distraction when it is really the devil.

Chipmunks enjoy the deck, too.
So I sat there, gazing out onto that peaceful meadow, thinking. I thought to myself that perhaps I was at a crossroads, but then another picture emerged in my mind. I am not at a crossroads, where I must choose to make a turn one way or the other. Instead, I am taking a mandated detour. My path is still toward the contemplative life, but God has redirected me for some reason. So many things fit together to confirm this evaluation, and my spiritual director agreed with this discernment.

I’ll continue on along the detour route then, and help Joey as best I can; I know that eventually, God will bring me back to the main path. Better to walk with Him along the detour than to forge ahead on a road that is temporarily closed! Besides, He still allows me plenty of time for prayer! 

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!