Sunday, August 29, 2010

Mother Teresa's Centenary

Mother Teresa's 100th birthday was this past Thursday, the 26th. A lot of details of her spiritual life have come out in the past few years, deepening and deeply enriching what we know of her. Below is the text of a talk my pastor asked me to give, touching on her "dark night":


In a Lenten sermon, St. Peter Chrysologus:
“Prayer, mercy, and fasting: these three are one, and they inform each other. Let us offer our souls in sacrifice by means of fasting. There is nothing more pleasing that we can offer to God.” And again, “Offer your soul to God, make Him an oblation of your fasting, so that your soul may be a pure offering, a holy sacrifice, a living victim, remaining your own and at the same time made over to God.”

We know of Mother Teresa's prayer and mercy – the love of God she radiated and inspired in others; the tremendous work she did first in India and then all over the world. But we are only now learning about her fasting: her spiritual life, a life of that total offering of self that Peter Chrysologus called for. Taken alone it is a bleak picture. Taken with her prayer and her mercy it forms a complete whole, and it makes the difference between her being a humanitarian and being a saint.

“In the silence of the heart God speaks, and we listen.” “With our silence, we allow Jesus to love us.” “The fruit of silence is prayer.” Those sayings of Mother Teresa's were a reality that she lived out daily. Like Mary, she knew that there were things she was meant to keep and treasure in her heart, and she did so so completely that even her sisters never knew of them.

Throughout her life, Mother Teresa was silent about the messages from Jesus that began on that 1946 train ride to Darjeeling, and continued for months after. “My little one – come – come – carry me into the holes of the poor. Come be My light. I cannot go alone. They don't know Me. So they don't want Me. You come – go amongst them, carry Me with you into them...Let Me act. Refuse Me not. Trust Me lovingly – trust Me blindly.” Entire conversations passed between them, but when she referred to them at all, she spoke only of receiving “a call within a call”.

She was silent about the threefold vision of the Crucifixion that concluded them, in which Christ, Mary, and the poor all called her to her work - carrying Christ with her to the poor, and bringing the poor to Christ.”I have asked you,” - Christ's words, the last she heard directly from Him - “I have asked you, they have asked you and she, My Mother has asked you. Will you refuse to do this for Me?”

Most of all, she was silent about what followed – God's own silence towards her, almost from the day she began working in the slums. From daily conversation with Christ, she entered into a “dark night” that lasted, with only one short break, until her death 50 years later.

We're most familiar with the dark night of the soul from the writings of Sts. John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila: a spiritual state where God is closer than ever, but to the person He seems utterly absent - so that faith becomes pure faith, supported only by grace, and not a question of feelings. Nearly always it's temporary, a purification lasting months or years before ending in greater union with God.

But for Mother Teresa, it lasted the rest of her life. It's a mystery - how someone so alive with joy and love of God could feel so empty of either, for so unbearably long. And yet she did bear it. So often she wanted to say she had no faith, no love – but she could never say the words, and her focus remained always on Christ. She always sought Him: in the poor, in her devotion to His Sacred Heart; in the Eucharist. She always gave Him, as she said, all the place - all the credit for her life and work.

Yet she fasted from any sense of His presence, and it was – it had to be - a fast as intense as her prayer and her mercy. Again from Peter Chrysologus: “Let prayer, fasting and mercy be one single plea to God on our behalf, one speech in our defense, a threefold united prayer in our favor.”

Her plea was on behalf of the poor, not herself. The darkness was part of her call, a way for her to identify with the poor she served – to be lonely like them, feel unwanted like them, know the desolation of life without God. It was a way for her to stand among them and lead them to Christ, as they'd begged her to do in her vision. And it was an intimate share in the pain of her Jesus, her crucified Spouse who'd cried out in His own abandonment. She not only talked about His agonized thirst for love, but lived it out herself. She wrote her own Psalm 22 - a letter to Jesus from his “little one” – ending, as the Psalmist did, with her hope firmly in God.

I'll close by letting her speak for herself, in a quote from that letter:

“Lord, my God, who am I that you should forsake me? The child of your love – and now become as the most hated one – the one you have thrown away as unwanted – unloved. I call, I cling, I want, and there is no One to answer – no One on Whom I can cling – no, No One. Alone. The darkness is so dark – and I am alone. - Unwanted, forsaken. - The loneliness of the heart that wants love is unbearable.-Where is my faith?-Even deep down, right in, there is nothing but emptiness and darkness.-My God-how painful is this unknown pain. It pains without ceasing...What are you doing my God to one so small? When You asked to imprint Your Passion on my heart – is this the answer?

“If this brings You glory, if You get a drop of joy from this – if souls are brought to You – if my suffering satiates Your Thirst – here I am, Lord, with joy I accept all to the end of life - & I will smile at Your Hidden Face – always.

“My own Jesus, do with me as you wish - as long as you wish. I am Your own.”

Friday, April 23, 2010

Tempus fugit...

...and how. It's late April. We're almost 1/3 of the way through 2010. I'm 29 years old. It's baseball season again (and the Orioles are losing again). I haven't written anything since Lent. Some of these are good things. Others not.

Whichever way the last one goes, I wanted to toss up something I've been picking at and re-editing for a while now. Feel free to laugh yourself silly at the basic premise...but please let me know if so, I'm truly interested in any feedback.


In the book of Genesis, God is never mentioned as creating time: only delineating it via night and day. "Evening came, and morning followed." Time is simply there, never a specific creation. We move through it; we measure its passage; we write countless stories about going backward or forward in it - but we cannot, because it has no existence of its own. Just as darkness is a negative, the absence of light, so too is time a negative; the absence of eternity. All other aspects of Creation draw us further into themselves, and beyond themselves to God as their fulfillment. We experience the beauty of a piece of music, say, and we desire more; so too with the peace of a deserted seaside at dusk, or the love of husband and wife. These are good and we want them in full; we want to escape time so as to experience them completely. But we cannot; and that we cannot is no one's fault but our own. (Yes, I’m playing ‘Pin the Blame on Adam and Eve’. If you want an activity that never grows old, there you are!)

As we grew harder in our sin, from Adam to Cain to Lamech, we withdrew further from God and His 'rest'; from eternity. Time began to press on us all the more; man's days indeed grew shorter and shorter. The further we are from God, the more keenly we feel and resent the passage of time. Contrariwise, the closer we are to Him the more of a share we have in his eternal Now. In prayer; in Scripture; in the Mass, we have a foretaste of what one day we will know in full. The Rosary, litanies, and various chaplets are not vain repetition, but a foretaste of timelessness. You were saying this prayer five minutes ago; you are saying it now; in five minutes more, you will still be saying it. (The Rosary in particular can seem eternal.) To the degree that you are absorbed in the prayer, time ceases. Born out of that same Eternity are the Scriptures, written as they were over thousands of years and across the range of human experience: joy/sorrow; abundance/destitution; worship/apostasy; freedom/slavery; age/youth. Every basic truth of man, in himself and in relation to his God, is touched on: it is a Book that can never grow old or cease to convey God’s Word across time.

Silence, too, holds its share of eternity. Noises change with with time: we could no more identify the commonplace sounds of the ancient world than they could those of ours. Languages shift; even the sounds of nature differ from one place and time to the next. But silence is ever the same, ever timeless; and it is there that God meets us, there that all the culture and knowledge that overlays our common humanity is laid aside as irrelevant. There, it is us alone with God and there is nothing else that matters.

Most of this has been said, well, time and again: by Lewis, Vanauken, Keats; many others. It’s a problem as old as man, our discontent with time, and it has inspired a great deal of lofty theology and philosophy. I don’t aspire to those heights myself – I can look at them from below, and tell what I see, but stand atop that Everest? I don’t have the lungs for that. I’d rather pull in an example from a far more down-to-earth field, that of modern neurology.

In his books of case studies, the neurologist Oliver Sacks details three cases of men with Korsakov’s syndrome: a neurological condition in which the ability to form long-term memory is destroyed and short-term memory is impaired; often there is amnesia stretching back an arbitrary number of years. For those men, life was like a spotlight illuminating, at best, only the past few minutes; past its edges, all was darkness. Each of them thus lived in a state of perpetual confusion: who is that elderly man in the mirror? What is going on, who are you, have we met? I must have just woken up – no, now I’ve woken up, no - now… Yet each of them had something to root him as well; something that did not change. For one, it was the wife whom he could not describe, who belonged wholly to his lost years, yet whom he always recognized and ran to when she visited. Another, who never ceased inventing frantic, ever-changing context for the world he found himself in, would sometimes wander out into the garden and there, in its silence, grow quiet. For the third, who otherwise seemed adrift, a ghost of a man, it was chapel and the Mass. Stripped of any sense of time and of self, they three could only cling to those things which held some taste of eternity: marital love; the peace of nature; music and art; the heaven-on-earth of the Mass. In those, they could recollect themselves as persons.

Against all of this is the one to whom this time has been given; the one who rages because he knows his time is short. He is forever urging us to look over our shoulder at past sins; to either luxuriate in them or despair on their account; to cast our future in their image and never exist in the present at all. Witness Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, in terror as he awaits the return of Mephistopheles for his soul: he’s had his fun, but that is over now and Hell is coming for him. His friends enter; he confesses all; they urge him to turn to God, it is not too late, this does not have to happen. But in Faustus’ mind, it already has. His future is in slavery to his past and it is that, alone among his sins, that permits Mephistopheles, to enter, mock him, and drag him off to Hell.

On the one hand, the devil uses time to drive us to despair; on the other, he loves to use it to lull us to sleep. “Tortured fear and stupid confidence,” per Lewis, “are both desirable states of mind” to him. Is that not the root of sloth, the feeling that our time will never run out, that we can always do later what we just don’t feel like doing now?

Now; this moment; the point in which - again in Lewis' phrase - "time intersects eternity". Christ does not call us yesterday, or five minutes hence, but in the present moment. Come, because now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation. Come, because My grace is sufficient for you; My power is made perfect in your weakness. Come, and do not worry for tomorrow, for the Father knows your needs. Come, because I call you now, and you will never be more ready.

Come, and I will give you rest.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Wednesday of Holy Week

We've been looking through John's eyes, watching everything unfold, seeing along with him the connections he did not make until long afterwards. Today is a step away, yesterday's account again but through Matthew's eyes. Judas has a moment of decision not set down in John: he has the chance to weigh those thirty pieces of silver against Christ's warning to him. “He who has dipped his hand into the dish with me is the one who will betray me.” It's the most casual of actions, that of two good friends eating together. If Judas had chosen otherwise it could have stayed that way: in their exchanges, Christ always left that door open. But instead, that act of friendship marks Judas as the betrayer, just as another act of friendship will mark the betrayal itself. He chooses the silver; worse, he chooses to trade on his intimacy with Christ. In so doing he destroys it; there is nothing left for him to call on later in his despair. It was not only Christ he sold; it was himself, and being bought he could not imagine being free.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tuesday of Holy Week

“Judas took the morsel and left at once. And it was night.” Night because then began the “hour of darkness”, of Christ's betrayal. Night, because that was when one day ended and another began (“evening came, and morning followed”), and that day began the eternal day of our salvation. Night, because that was when weddings were held, and this was the new Passover; the wedding feast of the Lamb. “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.” All of those meanings are there – but for now, the Gospel focuses on the first one. On Judas' betrayal, which plays out almost as soon as Christ speaks of it – it is something over and done with as soon as possible – and on Peter's betrayal.

There will always be those who, like Judas, turn away from their faith and the God they once professed, and despair. But there will also the rest of us who, like Peter, are stricken by our betrayal and come again to God. There are few moments in Scripture more bitter than this one: “And Christ turned and looked at him.” Nothing is said and nothing needs to be. That gaze has rested on all of us at one point or another; we who call ourselves Catholics can scarcely have avoided it. As with the first Vicar of Christ, so with all of us – or, if not, what has this past month been about?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Monday of Holy Week

“Here is my chosen one with whom I am pleased. A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench.” Isaiah, writing from exile, sketches out the figure of the one who will end all exile. “I, the Lord, have called you for the victory of justice...” But where is the justice in what is unfolding in the Gospel accounts? How do we see a victory when we see Christ on the Cross? There are even those who bear the name Christian that consider it a defeat. Where do we see victory? At St. Alphonsus in Baltimore, there's a crucifix of Christ in the midst of His agony, eyes not on us but raised to His Father. Therein lies the victory – He did what we could not do, He did not cry out except to submit Himself wholly to the Father's will.

Coming back to the Gospel, Jesus is still on the way to Jerusalem. It is only days before Passover and He is at dinner with Mary, Martha and Lazarus. It is the last dinner with them, it is the last night before His entry into Jerusalem, and He knows that full well. John, looking back, knows it as well; he remembers every detail. “The house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.” Mary will look back on it also – it will be a memory she can treasure, to keep against the day of Jesus' burial. Judas only looks at the money lost.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Saturday of 5th Week

There's a story of a French journalist, an atheist, who went to Lourdes in order to see a miracle. Nothing big; just a cut finger healing over; this God who didn't exist anyway wouldn't have to do very much. He met a woman whose face was disfigured by tuberculosis. He met her again a little later, healed but scarred where the tuberculosis had been. He refused to look at her and walked away, saying that he would not believe no matter how many miracles took place.

The Gospel today comes in the wake of one of the last miracles of Christ's ministry, and by no means the least: the raising of Lazarus. The Sanhedrin gets word of it, and they believe it – but they do not believe Christ. There is nothing, not even the raising of a man from the dead, that can move them to do that. They believe the miracle, but their response is to figure out how to silence Jesus before the Romans decide to. Caiaphas, the high priest, the man who by right should have been first to follow Jesus, makes what seems a purely political decision. It is in fact a prophecy but, deadened as he is to God, he does not realize it.

“You know nothing, nor do you consider that it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish.” On that note, we enter into Holy Week.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday of 5th Week

God asks nothing from us that He does not, in Christ, take upon Himself. There's nothing of love in demanding of someone else a task you yourself refuse to take on. The best reward still leaves that person only a valued employee - a good tool, but nobody loves a tool however useful it is. The situation Jeremiah finds himself in, of trusted friends now whispering and plotting against Him, Christ willingly accepts for Himself in the Gospel. Just a few days ago, in this same account, the men He is speaking to believed in Him. If He'd given them soft words, neither lying nor telling the full truth, they would still. But just as Jeremiah could not hold back from prophesying, neither can Christ restrain Himself; and now the crowd is ready to stone Him.

Christ defends Himself to the crowd on the basis of the works He has performed. They are not His but the Father's, and as such they stand in testimony to Him. He's speaking of His miracles, but it's all the more true of His work upon the Cross. Even when we find it hard to believe Him – we can believe that work. When we have no strength for anything else, we can still cling to the Cross.

Thursday of 5th Week

“Our father is Abraham” - that was the protest of the Jews to Christ yesterday, and today fills in the background to that claim. We're brought back to Abraham and the first covenant, to God swearing His half and laying out the covenant promises. The covenant is not between them only, but extends to all of Abraham's descendants; they have only to keep the covenant and everything that God promised will be theirs.

They've kept the covenant, by fits and starts, but they do not understand what all of it was pointing to. Abraham did – Jesus tells them that he “rejoiced to see my day; he saw it and was glad.” But they are not; they are not true children of Abraham, and they do not take kindly to Christ saying so. Their belief in Him begins to shred; they question Jesus again, in more hostile words, and when He again lays claim to divinity they try to stone Him.

They aren't so different from the Jews of Jeremiah's day, who heard only what they wanted to hear. They aren't so different from anyone living today. Who really wants to know the full truth of himself? If we've been staying the course in Lent, we've been stripped of some comforts. We've lost some illusions. We're a little more ready to know those truths, and the Truth will soon be lifted up for us.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Wednesday of 5th Week's back to Daniel, the Babylonian Exile, and a story ruined forever for me by VeggieTales. It's not Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. No. It's Rack, Shack, and Benny...and the Bunny Song they must not sing. In the Biblical version, the king challenges the three men: “Who is the God that can deliver you out of my hands?” From that God, in today's Gospel, comes the answer: “If the Son frees you, you will be truly free.” Christ, though, is not speaking of physical slavery, but of slavery to sin. He is speaking to the Jews who believe in Him, and He is just as harsh towards them as towards the Pharisees. If they remain in His word, they will truly be His disciples, and then the truth will set them free. None of it is settled; many of them will yet choose to remain in slavery. They'll stick with Him through Palm Sunday, no further.

“Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin.” There's a world, literally, of difference between that and the popular idea that real freedom is the freedom to do whatever you want – even sin. Christ today is saying that the way to freedom is to follow Him; to refuse to sin even though the refusal will seem to limit our freedom. This season calls us to more than simple refusal; Christ did far more than simply 'not sin', and we're reminded to follow Him the entire way.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tuesday of 5th Week

“So they said to him, “Who are you?”

He is the eternal Word – spoken over the waters, issuing from the burning bush, heard from the cloud on Sinai. He is who He has told the Jews He is “from the beginning” - and by that, He does not mean “from the beginning of my public ministry.” He means a time far beyond that, from before that first sounding of God's voice over the waters. He is I AM, and if the Jews do not believe Him on this, they will die in their sins. He will condemn them – where, a day earlier and in the same scene, He refused to condemn a woman who was clearly a sinner.

John continues to lead us towards the Passion, through an ever-unfolding revelation of who Christ is. Today He makes a clear and public claim to divinity, and many of the people do come to believe in Him. Yet - for everything that Christ says now, for all the power and the majesty it contains, He will make a statement more powerful still. He will make it in silence, and by it He will draw all men to Himself. The question posed by the Jews will be turned back to each of us for our answer.

“Who do you say that I am?”

Monday of 5th Week

Susannah is accused of adultery by two elders of the people – respected men, pillars of the community, whose word could be trusted. Except that they themselves were guilty of adultery. A woman caught in adultery is brought before Jesus, and when He allows “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to cast a stone,” the elders are the first to remember they have business elsewhere.

In both accounts, the elders are guilty of the charge they lay; in both accounts, they are not following the Law but using it for their own ends. In the story of Susanna, it takes a youth, Daniel, to remind the people that the Law is meant for justice; Jesus reminds the people that it is meant also for mercy. Nobody is left who condemns the woman, and so neither does Christ condemn her. Where the Pharisees sought to use God's Law for a trap, Christ uses it for freedom: “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.” He sends her, and beyond her all of us, away with that command.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Saturday of 4th Week

“No prophet arises from Galilee.” “The Christ will not come from Galilee, will he?” Galilee – that ignorant backwater? Come on, even the Galileans didn't think that one of them could be the Messiah, what more proof do you need? Nicodemus points out that the Pharisees are judging Christ before they've heard Him out. The Pharisees mock him - “You are not from Galilee also, are you?”; sneer at the crowds for not knowing the Law; and go off to their own homes. They never give a moment's consideration to the possibility that they are wrong. They will condemn Christ for making Himself out to be God; but they are setting themselves up so high that they might as well be making that claim themselves. The crowd doesn't know the Law. They know the Law. The crowd doesn't know God. They know God. They are so full of their own pride that there is nothing Christ can say that they will listen to.

The crowds are confused and divided; the Pharisees are full of their pride and their plots; the only moment of grace to be found comes from the guards. “Never before has anyone spoken like this man.” It's not quite a confession of faith – only of uncertainty. But it's a starting point, something God can work with for those who permit Him.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Friday of 4th Week

“For if the just one be the son of God, he will defend him...with revilement and torture let us put him to the test...let us condemn him to a shameful death.” The first reading is a description, from the viewpoint of evil, of what is unfolding in the Gospel this week and next. It is also a retelling of what happens to any of us who speak up for God, and His Church. Any time we show ourselves as belonging to God and not to the world, we can expect these same tests and persecutions. “The wicked are not thinking aright” - what they see is not what is there. It's a common accusation that we Christians are out of touch with reality, etc. But in reality, the opposite is true.

The Gospel is another account of persecution – Christ can no longer travel safely in Judea, and His journey to Jerusalem for the feast is in secret (so far as Christ is able to maintain secrecy – not very far, as we see). Sandwiched between the two comes a promise of protection, in the day's Psalm – the Lord is close to the brokenhearted; He will deliver the just man no matter his troubles. Holiness will bring a recompense.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Thursday of 4th Week

Israel gets batted around like a ping-pong ball today. “Go down to your people whom you brought out of Egypt.” “Why should your wrath blaze up against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt?” God intends to destroy the people of Israel and begin again with Moses, as He once began with Abraham. Moses pleads with Him not to do that – to remember His covenants. They go back and forth on the fate of Israel, and down below, Israel is merrily sinning away and committing idolatry, with no idea that only Moses' intercession stands between them and death. God relents this time, at Moses' plea – but in the Gospel, Jesus tells the Israelites that Moses will be the one to accuse them before God. If they had truly believed Moses, they would believe also in Christ, and Moses will not defend them in their unbelief. Moses laid a simple choice of life or death before Israel; they have chosen death; he will say so to God.

Those who have gone before will witness either for or against us – the men of Nineveh; the queen of the South; Moses; the “cloud of witnesses” spoken of later by Paul. It isn't a remote God, untouched by our troubles, who will judge our case – it's the Son of Man who endured Gethsemane and Calvary, and the witnesses will be those who have endured and trusted in God despite everything. How well we measure up to them is up to us.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Wednesday of 4th Week

“Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.” There's a bitter overlay to that promise, here and now – yes, a mother can forget, and very easily indeed; and this verse is frequently pulled out as a reproof against that. It's hardly heard in any other context. But that is not its context. It is not a condemnation but the culmination of God's assurance that He will never abandon Israel. Even when they are most desolate and afflicted, He will comfort them. It's surely a verse that occurred to Jesus in his desolation, and it's one for us as well at times when God seems distant.

In the Gospel, He is anything but distant – He is also anything but easy to understand. Everything Christ has, He has from the Father; He can do nothing but what He sees the Father doing, and honor given to Him is honor given to the Father. He is given power of judgement over us, because he is not only the Son of God but also the Son of Man. It's a dense, rich passage, as are those that follow; most of what we are told of the Trinity comes from these discourses in John. Earlier was a time for action; now is a time to slow down, to consider what God is telling us of Himself.

The Jews understand one thing in all of this: Jesus is claiming equality with God, and they can only see that as blasphemy. Their persecution of Him increases to attempts to kill Him.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tuesday of 4th Week

Jesus didn't often go after those He had healed. If they wished to seek Him out, they would; He never lingered. He follows that pattern today as well, slipping away as soon as He had performed the miracle. But this once, He seeks out the man He has cured in order to caution him. “Look, you are well; do not sin any more, so that nothing worse may happen to you.” What life did the man lead? He's no Lazarus-by-the-gate, that much is certain. He was content to wait years by the water in hopes of physical healing, but when offered the living water of Christ, the water of which Ezekiel speaks, he walks away. He goes to inform the Pharisees that Jesus was the one to heal him, and it is by his action that the persecution of Christ begins in earnest.

Monday of 4th Week

“A prophet has no honor in his native place.” It's one of the few passages common to all four Gospels, but John brings it to a very different conclusion than the others. The lesson is not that Jesus could work few miracles because of their lack of faith. Far from it: it is in Cana of Galilee that Christ first reveals His glory and the disciples – Israel – come to believe in Him. It is in Cana again that the nations, in the person of the royal official, come to believe. “Lo, I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the things of the past shall not be remembered or come to mind.” We've had this promise from the beginning, it's been with us in seed form since the first pages of Scripture; now God begins to give signs of its fulfillment.

Just as the sign at Cana began His public ministry, so this sign is placed at the beginning of the road to the Cross; a series of Gospel passages from John that will see us through Holy Week. Jesus will face increasing conflict with the chief priests and the Pharisees; the crowds will now be supporting one side, now the other. We've passed the halfway point; the Father has come out to meet us; now it is time to focus anew as Lent begins to build to its conclusion.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Saturday of 3rd Week

Today connects back to the very beginning of Lent, when Israel was certain it had done all the right things and couldn't understand why God hadn't noticed. The Israelites want to return to the Lord, but purely for what they can get out of it. They are taking God's love for granted, and you can hear Him sighing in frustration: “What can I do with you, Judah? Your piety is like a morning cloud...” It is love that God desires and not sacrifice. It is the humility of the tax collector, assuredly a sinful man, and not the self-assured pride of the Pharisee. Only Christ ever had the right to class Himself off from “the rest of humanity”, and He chose to embrace humanity. “He who knew no sin became sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” In him – not in prayers spoken to ourselves rather than to God.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Friday of 3rd Week

On Wednesday, we heard for a final time God enjoining His Law on Israel. Yesterday, Jeremiah made clear that Israel had utterly failed to follow that Law. Today completes the cycle, with a promise of restoration given through Hosea. “'I will heal their defection,' says the Lord, 'I will love them freely.'” It's of a piece with other assurances: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son...” “ Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her...” God can't help it – He can't hold back from loving His people and restoring them no matter the cost. But love is a give-and-take, and we have our part too, outlined in the Gospel: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

In both the call to ancient Israel, and the call of Jesus in the Gospel, there is a common thread: we are to understand these things. They can't be a matter of parroted words or imitated actions; there is a reality to them, beyond words, that we must grasp. We're nearly halfway through Lent, and the character of the season will change in just a few days; take today, this fast day, to reflect on what understanding has so far come.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Thursday of 3rd Week

“When you speak all these words to them, they will not listen to you either; when you call to them, they will not answer you.” It's a cynical joke that there are some people whose purpose in life is to be a warning to the rest of us, but Jeremiah actually lived that out. The Israelites never listened to a single prophecy of his, and he knew that they never would. Not before the Babylonian Exile, and amazingly, not afterwards either. Other, false prophets were telling them what they wanted to hear. He had only persecution and failure to look forward to, yet in that failure, he was being faithful to God's call.

Sometimes that is the role of any Christian, up against a world that has much more pleasant things to think about than the Cross. “Whoever is not with me is against me,” and right now that means being with Christ in the desolation of the desert and the way to Golgotha.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Wednesday of 3rd Week

“For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the Lord, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him? Or what great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you today?” When it's put that way – what more can Israel ask for? They're told only to observe the Law, and God will do the rest...why were they never able to do so for more than a hundred years together?

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish but to fulfill.” When we look at what Christ did to fulfill the Law, or at the promises of the prophets that He upholds – what more can we ask for? He took on all of the punishments and opens to us all of the rewards – how is it that that is not enough?

In one biography of Mother Teresa, it's commented that her entire life was a returning again and again to the grace she received on that train to Darjeeling. A constant return, and a constant deepening – anyone who has had a “conversion experience” knows something of this. One experience becomes a well we can draw from time and again; but once we cease to refer to it or become complacent, it is a well that dries up. All of us have that through our baptism: grace always there for the taking. But only if we turn to it, if we do not forget.

Tuesday of 3rd Week

Fresh from his encounter with the Spirits, Scrooge rushes early to his office to catch Bob Cratchit arriving late - and throws him into the street. George Bailey winks up at Clarence, sings Auld Lang Syne with his family and neighbors – and tells the policemen to arrest Uncle Billy for thievery. Of course neither story ends that way. They can't. What might have been understandable, if not likeable, earlier on would now be inhuman – a man forgiven a debt he cannot pay simply does not turn around and exact revenge for it. Yet that is exactly what happens in Jesus' parable today – a story of Israel as a whole, and of each of us individually, when we refuse to forgive those who sin against us. What we owe to each other is nothing compared to what we owe to God, and He forgave us even as we crucified Him: how can we not in turn forgive each other? We are to do it “seventy-seven times”- in other words, as often as we need to; it is to be a habit for us. We are to do it from the heart – counterpoint to Christ's warning against harboring anger against your brother in your heart. We have recourse, every day this Lent, to the forgiveness of our sins in Confession. Our forgiveness of each other must be no less often.

Monday of 3rd Week

“If the prophet had told you to do something extraordinary, would you not do it?” Naaman, sent to Elisha to be cured of his leprosy, expects ceremony and incantations; a dramatic cure, befitting his rank. Instead he is given a simple errand, and in deliberately insulting fashion: nothing fit for the commander of an army. The villagers of Nazareth see just another of them, someone they watched grow from a toddler. Someone they think they know inside out. Nobody special, nobody to listen to any more than the next person to wander by.

It's not that God never asks the extraordinary of us – and it's not that we can never answer that challenge. But it's not an effort most of us can undertake, every day, for a lifetime. Worldly power has nothing to do with it; our pride and self-importance has nothing to do with it. Our desire for the extraordinary has nothing to do with it. Most of what God asks from us will be small things: Friday fasts instead of forty straight days. Forgiving from the heart rather than forgiving from a cross. “Small things with extraordinary love.” It's on the basis of those that we will be given the larger tasks, if and when they come.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Saturday of 2nd Week

Paul, a Pharisee, knew very well what he was talking about when he wrote “if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.” The Pharisees, the elder son in today's parable, had faith. No question. They knew the Law and they did everything exactly so...but they did it purely for the reward they would receive. They did not have love, not even for the Father from whom they would receive everything. It was purely service, a this-for-that relationship. Certainly they did not love their “younger brother” - the nations, who weren't quite so attentive to the Law or to God at all.

Most of us are a mix of the older son and the younger. We're running off, returning, then turning around to squint at those who aren't quite as fast as we are. But all the same, we remember what the Pharisees did not – that we did run off ourselves, that God pardoned our sin no less than that of those who are still on the return journey.

Friday of 2nd Week

Lent, as a path to the Cross, is building in intensity. On Wednesday Christ began His final journey to Jerusalem, and we had the first clear prophecy of the Passion; today, the Pharisees begin to plot against Him. Just as Joseph's brothers schemed against him from a distance, so too do the Pharisees against Jesus. They are never able to close the distance between themselves, the guardians of the Law, and Christ, the fulfillment of that Law. Christ reminds them today that they are only guardians, tenants of a land not theirs. That land and that guardianship can be taken away from them by the owner. They were afraid that if Jesus gained too much popularity, Rome would send its army and destroy Israel, and they would lose the land. They were trying to hang on to their inheritance; but by doing that, they lost it to others. It was never theirs; they were only the tenants. Its produce was not for them but for God, and they had forgotten that.

What God gives to us, both on a grand scale and in small ways, is not for us to cling to and protect from Him. Our part is to tend and nurture, and to return to Him the fruit it yields.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Thursday of 2nd Week

“Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh, whose heart turns away from the Lord.” Lazarus, the beggar at the rich man's door in the parable Christ tells, had no man he could trust in. He lay at that door for years; every day in those years, the rich man would walk past him and never lift a finger to help him. It did not necessarily mean, though, that he trusted in God either. Poverty does not mean holiness. It's a ground in which holiness can take root, and that is why we try to strip away some of our luxuries in this season, but it is not in and of itself holiness. Lazarus was holy; and he was comforted for his years of suffering; but he had to make the same choice for God as the rest of Israel had to.

The parable is told as a chiding to the Pharisees, but the rich man does not stand in for them – the five brothers play that role. His brothers, with their own wealth and their own beggars, had all they needed. They had Moses and the prophets; they had all the “Thus says the Lord” of the Old Testament ready to hand. If they did not listen there, they would not listen to someone back from the dead – Marley would find them a tough sell. What's told as a parable here becomes fact later; the Pharisees use the raising of another Lazarus from the dead as a reason to plot against Jesus.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Wednesday of 2nd Week

“You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?”
“We can.”
“My chalice indeed you will drink…”

My chalice – held out to you,
A servant's offering.
My chalice – the wine of Cana,
Abundance of life's joy.
My chalice – of living water,
Flowing for you always.
My chalice – gift of the Father,
For the Son to accept.
My chalice – covenant in my blood,
A ransom for many.
My chalice – soured vinegar,
Strange tasting victory.
My chalice – for you also to drink,
A share in my Kingdom.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Tuesday of 2nd Week

“Come now, let us set things right, says the Lord: Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow.” God is gently coaxing His beloved, calling Israel to return to Him: it's not a far step from this to “Take my yoke on my shoulders and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart.” Our Lord is humble, to the point of accepting the Cross, and He asks that same humility of us. “The greatest among you must be your servant...whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

One aspect of humility is obedience. Obey the rightful authority of the scribes and Pharisees; do as they say, but do not follow their example. Christ Himself obeyed Caiaphas when that one invoked his God-given authority as the Jewish high priest. It's hardly an easy command. It's certainly not all that American, now and today anyway. There are plenty of authorities, even religious ones, who are easily dismissed as “that one”. We all can think of reasons and probably even names. It's probably the least easy of Christ's commands: our first sin, remaining the most deeply rooted, was disobedience. We thought we knew better than God then. Do we claim to know better than Him now, or do we follow in the path He trod?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Monday of 2nd Week

Both of today's themes are classic for Lent, threads that we pick up time and again in various forms. In the first reading, God is being implored by Daniel to remember His covenant, to hold not the sins of His people against them. They have sinned, but His are compassion and mercy, and Daniel throws himself on those. He has not sinned but the people have, and he speaks for them, taking their place before God. This is what Christ will later do; this is what we do for each other as we go through Lent.

In the Gospel, we have the reverse – God taking the place held by Daniel and the prophets, and speaking to man. All the beauty of Old Testament prophecy - all the promises, all the terrible warnings - is very simply and clearly boiled down. Stop judging, stop condemning, forgive and be merciful as the Father is merciful. What you withhold will be withheld from you. You are to give, and you will receive – not on a one-to-one basis, but many times over. If you've ever measured brown sugar, you know something of the “measuring” Christ speaks of. You don't just scoop it up. You scoop it, press it down with your fingers, scoop and press down more, and more, until you have to slam the measuring cup against the bowl edge to get the packed sugar out. You put in all you can, and then some more. And that is what God turns back to us, from whatever it is we give to Him.

We will meet these themes again and again, and slowly the reality of them will sink in, Lent as a season will unlock itself to us.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Saturday of the 1st Week of Lent

This Gospel is one of the times when Christ's words let me off easy. “Love your enemies” - I don't really have any. Some people who dislike me, sure, but that's not quite on the same level. “Pray for those who persecute you” - no problem, after I finish laughing off their trick-question “proofs” against Christianity. This one comes easy. Nothing to it.

Nothing to it...until I stop and look at a Cross. At the One who loved His enemies even as they crucified Him, and prayed for His persecutors...whom I stand among; a point made explicit in Holy Week liturgies. Or I read of people such as Immaculee Iligabiza, a Rwandan woman who survived the genocide while her parents, her brothers, her friends were brutally murdered – who survived it intact, body and soul, by praying for and truly loving those who sought to find and kill her. And I know I do not, of myself, have that strength. This is where I get off, this is what I can't do, this is what I subject myself to Lent in order to learn. Lent is not something undertaken as self-hatred or self-punishment, it's a time of grace, to learn to love as Christ loved us.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday of the 1st Week of Lent

How can a good God send anyone to Hell? Surely a God who loves us would never do that! “The Lord's way is not fair!” What seems like a very recent claim is a very old one indeed. The answer, of course, is that God does not make the decision; we make it for ourselves. A virtuous man may turn to evil, and the Lord takes no pleasure in the death of one such. It is our ways and not God's, so far as the two are opposed, that are unfair.

The converse is that a wicked man may well turn to a life of virtue, and in that the Lord will rejoice. It is again the covenantal theme of life/death, expanded upon. Jesus, in the Gospel, draws the point out from prosperity in this life to prosperity in the next. We are to be more righteous than the Scribes and Pharisees, the experts at all the outward forms and shows of religion; there is more to virtue than that. Anger, being a motive for killing, is as bad as the killing itself.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Thursday of the 1st Week of Lent

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find.” We're given the exemplar of this in Esther, a Jewish queen of Persia who stood between her people and yet another persecution. She'd been away from Israel since she was a child, and her prayer reflects that simplicity of relationship to God. She's alone and orphaned and, calling on what she remembers from her childhood, she cries out to God. It's the uncomplicated plea of a daughter needing her father's help. Our prayer need be no more than that: our Father “will give good things to those who ask Him.”

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Wednesday of the 1st Week of Lent

At the preaching of Jonah, Nineveh was very fast to repent - quite probably the citizens were aware of their sins as sins but simply had no impetus to change their ways, and no God to change them for. Jonah's message must have spread through the town like fire, one person to the next ahead of his ability to proclaim it to them; even the king was told, and lost no time in donning sackcloth.

Contrast that to the Israelites and their leaders – they were so convinced of the rightness of their ways that they would not listen. It was not God's prophet but God Himself who spoke to them, and they still ignored Him. “An evil generation seeks a sign,” and an evil generation will receive a sign.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tuesday of the 1st Week of Lent

“[My word] shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” Christ, the Word of God, was sent to do the Father's will and achieve a particular end: our salvation. Along the way, He cured some illnesses but not all. He drove out some demons and raised some people from the dead: but not all. He did not refuse those who came to Him for that, but He did not leave behind Him a world freed from every sickness and trouble. That was not then His mission. Like Christ, we too have a particular mission, and we live it out amidst the need and trouble that meet us almost at every turn. We cannot do everything, and trying is more likely to end up with us doing nothing.

Another purpose of Lent is to follow Christ into the silence of the desert – a place apart, where the noise of the world does not come. It's a place to ready ourselves, to more clearly hear what the Lord asks. “I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart, and there she shall answer.”

Monday, February 22, 2010

Monday of the 1st Week of Lent

“Be holy, for holy” - but you are God and we are only sinful man. “You shall not shall not bear hatred for your shall love your neighbor...I am the Lord.” But we are only sinful man. There is a distance we cannot cross, there is only so far we can go in answering the commands of the Lord. The Psalmist today prays a litany of simple trust in the goodness of God – other days, he speaks of how very far from that goodness he is.

In Christ, the distance is crossed; not by us but by Him, by Emmanuel, 'God-with-us'. “Thus says the Lord” becomes “Amen, I say to you”. “I am the Lord” becomes “You did it to Me.” The Lord God of Hosts has become the least among us.

We do it to Him; similarly, as we saw yesterday, we do it with Him. We do it in Him; we do it for Him. We do it because He did it with and to and for us. We fast and prepare ourselves because He did. We reject the promises of the devil, we confess that the kingdom and the power and the glory are the Father's, because He did. We love Him because He first loved us.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Lenten Sermon of St. Peter Chrysologus, Doctor

There are three things, my brethren, by which faith stands firm, devotion remains constant, and virtue endures. They are prayer, fasting and mercy. Prayer knocks at the door, fasting obtains, mercy receives. Prayer, mercy and fasting: these three are one, and they give life to each other.
Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. Let no one try to separate them; they cannot be separated. If you have only one of them or not all together, you have nothing. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others you open God’s ear to yourself.

When you fast, see the fasting of others. If you want God to know that you are hungry, know that another is hungry. If you hope for mercy, show mercy. If you look for kindness, show kindness. If you want to receive, give. If you ask for yourself what you deny to others, your asking is a mockery.

Let this be the pattern for all men when they practice mercy: show mercy to others in the same way, with the same generosity, with the same promptness, as you want others to show mercy to you.

Therefore, let prayer, mercy and fasting be one single plea to God on our behalf, one speech in our defence, a threefold united prayer in our favor.

Let us use fasting to make up for what we have lost by despising others. Let us offer our souls in sacrifice by means of fasting. There is nothing more pleasing that we can offer to God, as the psalmist said in prophecy: A sacrifice to God is a broken spirit; God does not despise a bruised and humbled heart.

Offer your soul to God, make him an oblation of your fasting, so that your soul may be a pure offering, a holy sacrifice, a living victim, remaining your own and at the same time made over to God. Whoever fails to give this to God will not be excused, for if you are to give him yourself you are never without the means of giving.

To make these acceptable, mercy must be added. Fasting bears no fruit unless it is watered by mercy. Fasting dries up when mercy dries up. Mercy is to fasting as rain is to earth. However much you may cultivate your heart, clear the soil of your nature, root out vices, sow virtues, if you do not release the springs of mercy, your fasting will bear no fruit.

When you fast, if your mercy is thin your harvest will be thin; when you fast, what you pour out in mercy overflows into your barn. Therefore, do not lose by saving, but gather in by scattering. Give to the poor, and you give to yourself. You will not be allowed to keep what you have refused to give to others

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Saturday after Ash Wednesday

God asks much; He also gives much, and the harshness of yesterday's reproof is submerged in the beauty of today's promises. If Israel does as He asks, they “shall be like a watered garden, like a spring whose water never fails.” In any desert city, you can tell the wealthy area by the trees and lush grass. It's wonderfully green, and refreshing, and enormously costly. And it's what God is promising to all of his people, always – this abundance that most of them can scarcely imagine. If they honor the Sabbath, if they do not follow their own ways...

...if they follow Him. Today's Gospel is the calling of Levi/Matthew, who was considered wealthy by Israelite standards but had gained that wealth precisely through “oppression, false accusation, and malicious speech.” Those were the stock in trade for men of his profession, who dealt with the Romans against their own people. If the Lord, through Isaiah, was not speaking to such as he, then the Lord was not speaking to anyone. It is sinners whom He calls to repentance; sinners who will “delight in the Lord”. By the time of Christ, that's been forgotten. The Pharisees, the leaders, are the righteous followers of the Law, and in their eyes, they are the only ones that matter, the only ones that God would ever deal with. They've forgotten the people who God called in the Old Testament, continued to call in the New, and still calls today – for those who will answer.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Friday after Ash Wednesday

When I was working at a thrift store, we had a toy section that parents would use as a play area for their children while they shopped. (The effort it took to keep that area clean would in itself make a wonderful metaphor for the effort we are undertaking in Lent.) One little girl came up to the cash register, carrying a stuffed animal and a piece of play money she'd gotten out of some game or other. She handed the toy to me, then held out the “money”; I took it and pretended to put it away, then gave her back the toy, all with very great ceremony to match her earnestness. She went away beaming – she'd done all the right things, just like Mommy, and the toy was hers. Of course it wasn't, and she wasn't carrying it when they left.

Israel, in today's first reading, is that child. They've done all that God asked of them, they've gone through all the right motions and done all the right things...why isn't God doing His part? “Why do we fast, and you do not see it? Afflict ourselves, and you take no note of it?” Through the prophet they have their answer: they are fasting, but there is no reality behind it, it is a counterfeit. “Do you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?” They have abandoned the Law: a fast that ends with quarreling is no fast at all. More, the fast that God wishes is not merely a matter of making oneself hungry, but of answering the need of those who are already hungry; those who have no clothing, no home, who are imprisoned, who are oppressed. If any of that sounds familiar, it should; we will soon meet the New Testament version of this.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Thursday after Ash Wednesday

“I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse.” It's a choice common to the Old and New Covenants, and today we hear the terms of both. Moses, speaking on God's behalf to Israel, lays out the terms very simply and clearly. Obey God's commandments; love Him and walk in His ways; if you do so He will bless you and you will prosper in the Promised Land. If you turn aside from His way to follow other gods, you will perish. Not easy to carry out, Israel will yet fail time and again - but clearly stated.

Christ, in speaking of the New Covenant, turns that basic choice on its head. To walk in His way is to follow Him to the Cross. Saving your life is losing it; losing your life is saving it. There's no sense in it but there it is. It's been pointed out that of the Apostles, the only one who did not face martyrdom was also the only one who stood beneath the Cross. Christ was not speaking only to the Apostles, though, but to all: we all face the same choice, and we face it not once only, but daily. It comes in moments and encounters so small we hardly notice them at all, nor know the effect they have. Sometimes the way to the Cross leads us to other towns and lands, as when Christ left Israel for Samaria. More often, we need only follow Him down our own street, we need only look around us in our ordinary day-to-day.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday

Lent does not start out with the story of the Fall. Nowhere in the next forty days will we hear that account. Instead, we're plunged into the middle of the story: we don't hear of what was but what is, of the cycle of sin/repentance/restoration/sin set into motion by the Fall. God has promised to break the cycle but it hasn't happened yet; Israel is, as usual, in a desperate situation. Fast – mourn – repent and turn back to God. Again. Perhaps He will relent. Again.

Joel sounds an urgent call to repentance; so too does Paul, as we are thrown into a new part of the story. The cycle is broken; God has heard us. Do you not know what He has done for us? Be reconciled to Him! Now is the acceptable time! Now. Not once we have time – this is the time.

We will have time later to slow down, to let Lent sink into us, to seek to comprehend the mystery. But this is not that time: this is a time for action. Christ calls us to prayer, to fasting, to charity towards our neighbors – today especially, answer that call. We will never be more clearly marked by our sins and our salvation than we are today, with ashes in the sign of the Cross. We will never stand so obviously as ambassadors for Christ, God appealing through us to a world that does not know Him. Now is the time – let us take advantage of it.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Time that is Given - Lenten reflections

My parish asked me to do a small booklet of Lenten reflections, based of course on the daily readings. Starting today (with the introduction), I'll be posting them here. Taking all of the Lenten readings in two or three sittings gives a shape to the whole that maybe we miss when they are spread out; hopefully some of that is captured here. Either way, happy Mardi Gras - and a blessed Lent!


In the Eastern Rites, Lent is known as a time of “bright sadness”: a time of mourning into which slowly dawns the light of the Resurrection. Taken another way, those two words can be seen to weave together two vastly different strands of prophecy concerning the Messiah. We celebrate the first in Advent, as we look with joy towards the coming of Christ: “In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon guide our feet into the way of peace.” The prophecies of Isaiah seem poised to come true: Israel will be restored, Jerusalem shall be raised high and all the nations shall be drawn to her; God will write His law on our hearts and His spirit will guide us in matters so small as walking left or walking right.

In Lent, we pick up the second thread. We remind ourselves of why He came, and we find little to rejoice in. There is a middle part to that verse: that dawn will “shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.” Again the prophecies of Isaiah echo down: there will come a “suffering servant”, upon whom will be laid the guilt of us all, by whose stripes we will be made whole. And it is the guilt of us all: “if we say we have not sinned, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” Again and again over the next forty days, we will hear the call to repentance, to fasting, to prayer and almsgiving, coupled always with hope in God's mercy.

Lent is indeed a time of bright sadness. It is our journey with Christ from the feast of Cana to the feast in the Upper Room. The victory has been won for us, and yet we are waiting for it. We wait with Israel, yearning towards a promised redemption in which the Lord will be our God and we will be His people. We wait with that same Lord in the desert, weakened and battling temptation. We wait alongside those readying for baptism and union with Christ. We wait with Paul, in prayer and fasting, imploring God to remove from us the blindness of sin. We wait, marked with the ashes of our false hopes, called anew to be in the world but not of it.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

For the Forgiveness of Sins

“You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?”
"We can.”
“My chalice indeed you will drink."


My chalice – held out to you,
A servant's offering.
My chalice – the wine of Cana,
Abundance of life's joy.
My chalice – of living water,
Flowing for you always.
My chalice – gift of the Father,
For the Son to accept.
My chalice – covenant in my blood,
A ransom for many.
My chalice – soured vinegar,
Strange tasting victory.
My chalice – for you also to drink,
A share in my Kingdom.

A sidetrack I took in the Lenten booklet I'm writing. Call it a preview.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Prayer for Haiti

Encompass us beneath the precious veil of your protection
And deliver us from every form of evil
By entreating Christ, your Son and our God That He may save our souls.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Missionaries of Charity in Haiti

Update: All of the MC sisters in Haiti are safe - there's no more detail than that in the story.Below is an e-mail I received concerning them, by way of the Lay Missionaries of Charity in Miami:

"...the Haiti Sisters and Brothers are well in the Capital. No news from the 7 houses in the interior of the island. One of the Sisters houses was flatten completely, it was the newest House. Another MC house( Sanfield) was not damaged but is in a slope area, so very dangerous to be in, so they were instructed to get out. The Regional House (Delmas) has some damage where some walls completely fell, etc., so they have orders to stay outside of their house, but inside the compound which is fenced. They are taking care of their terminal infants and children from outdoors, giving IV's, etc. All the Superiors and Senior Sisters from Haiti, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, St. Croix and Jamaica were there at a Retreat when all happened. So the Superiors of the Haiti Houses were not at their Houses and have not been able to return. The Sisters from the other 2 Houses in the Capital were on their way trying to get to the Regional House in Delmas so that all would be together, homeless.!! I just got informed that they arrived safely. Thanks be to God, they are alive. The people there are hungry and desperate and riots are happening, which makes it very dangerous. It was very dangerous before, so I can imagine now. I have been there with the Sisters 2 or 3 times and have experience the horrible situation that exists. You also read Father Sebastian's letter about his recent trip to Haiti. My heart goes with them at this tragic time. S. Nirmala MC [the previous Superior General of the order] is trying to go to Haiti now. She would need military escort because of the riots, as I was informed. Anyway the Sisters are asking for many prayers... I sent emails to all my Spanish groups and prayers and sacrifices already started. Please, do the same with your groups so that we...can pray together...."

Monday, January 11, 2010

Ni hao

Five years ago today, I was just returning from China. I'd gone over there an idealistic college graduate, newly emerged from the Steubenville bubble and ready to take on The World. I lasted, an English teacher with only a native understanding of her subject, for five months. That idealism of mine must have been seized at US Customs, because I never did see it again: my return was the last in a string of decisions I am still less than proud of. I could have done far better than I did; I didn't; there's little else to say.

And yet, failures and all, part of me will always be Chinese. I'll always refer to we foreign teachers as the "foreign teachers". I'll always have a respect for Buddhism that I never had before trekking up to that monastery in its alcove on the mountainside, sheltered from the noise of the city below. I'll always smile when I see Chinese women on the street, with their distinctive take on Western clothing. When in DC, I'll always be drawn to the one really authentic Chinese restaurant I know of, to sit and fumble with my chopsticks and soak in its stripped-down atmosphere and minimalist service with its echoes of "home". It's not so much that we take with us the places we visit, as that we leave part of ourselves. We leave the person we became in that place, the actions and choices and daily patterns of life that will never make sense in another context. We are strangers and sojourners, some of us more obviously than others, but the very journeying leaves us incomplete.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Confessional Silence

No fun, being Zech'rias is
My larynx gripped by an iron band.
'Twas priest and penitent, pen in hand
Bound by our diff'rent silences.

Face of Christ for we poor fools
Father waits, his newspaper a loss
Till I, writing slowly, slide across
My ruled list of willfully, knowingly broken rules.

Contrition - mute, easily missed;
Penance and absolution given
In older terms, I've just been shriven.
Then Ador---I still have the list!

Pieces sift down amidst old trash
To be cast aside, unregarded
My sins - listed, torn up, discarded
Unrecycled scraps of the past.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Vocation story

Among volunteers with the Missionaries of Charity, there's a running joke that once you come to help, even to run a one-time errand, you're theirs for life. The last six years of my life, starting with a chance encounter with two MC sisters, are a grand example of the truth behind the joke.

In early 2003, I was studying at the Franciscan University campus in Gaming, Austria. I'd gone to Vienna a few days before the semester began, just to experience the city. And experience it I did – experience severe jet lag, and experience the bitter cold of an Austrian winter. I didn't do much sightseeing, but I did happen to attend the same Mass as two MC sisters. I'm not sure now of why, but I found myself volunteering in their soup kitchen that afternoon. I was in Europe, I was on my own, I was free to explore – and I spent the day ladling mugs of tea.

Come spring break, I had no money left for travel, so I arranged to spend the time as a live-in volunteer with the sisters. I got up when they did (that part took a few days); I shared their prayer and their work. I don't know if my enthusiasm was a help or a hindrance, but it did give me a look at the order. One afternoon, a very drunk man tried to demand entrance to the soup kitchen by kicking the door in. One of the sisters went to open the door and speak to him as if nothing had happened, but told him he could not come in. He slammed his fist down on the counter. She stood her ground. He left. He was over six feet tall, and violently drunk. She was 4' 10”, and never turned a hair. That moment stuck with me through the visit; but what really drew me towards the order was the perfect rhythm of prayer and work, the way one flowed into and enlivened the other, and the joy the sisters derived from it.

Back in the States, I checked out another order or two, was not nearly so attracted, and largely set the question of a vocation on the back burner. It was always there - I always intended to apply to the MCs someday – but it was not foremost in my mind. I had no more contact with the order until 2006, when I returned to the Washington DC area and began volunteering at their women's hospice near Catholic University. Once a week, I would join them for Mass, then help to sweep and mop the women's rooms. It was a privilege then, and it still is that now. I never told the sisters there that I was thinking of entering; I was not certain enough of it or myself.

Volunteering there eventually fell prey to a new job and difficult hours, all of which coincided with my drift away from the Sacraments. I never left the Church, I still attended Mass most Sundays, but I no longer went to confession and consequently did not receive Communion. Personally, it was a very bitter period in my life. It ended, by God's grace, around Easter of 2008; and it is then that I date my adult faith from. It marked the difference between passively having the Faith and actively living it; similarly my sometime desire to join the Missionaries of Charity became a perceived call.

In April of 2008, I began volunteering at the MC AIDS hospice in Baltimore – I'd moved, and had an evening job that easily allowed for morning visits. I eventually told the sister superior there that I wanted to enter, and she encouraged me to make a visit to their postulant house. That finally happened in November '08, and I was accepted to the order.

Currently, I have again had to leave off volunteering with the sisters in favor of working two jobs. One is waitressing, another is working a register; both are very humble jobs but provide many opportunities for the service that is the charism of the Missionaries of Charity. I remain in contact with the sisters, attending special events at the Baltimore house and attending meetings of the Lay Missionaries of Charity. There's a saying of Blessed Teresa's that what the sisters do, we laity cannot; what we do, they cannot – but together we can do something beautiful for God. For now, as I work towards being able to enter, I am doing what I can to meet my half of that.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Padre Pio's idea. Had to be.

Another typical morning, working a cashiering shift. Smile, chat, wish I had coffee. Scan items. Offer store credit card, get refused, take money, say goodbye. Greet next customer, smile, chat. Wish I had coffee, scan items, offer store credit card...

"Oh, that other woman dropped something." I glance up - that's not part of the routine. Maybe she dropped chocolate espresso beans, that would be nice.

My customer picks the something and hands it to me - it's a soft vinyl pouch; the contents have a familiar feel. "A Rosary?" I hesitate, between the customer in front of me and the one already out the door. I take the lazy route out. "Well - I hope she comes back for it." I probably wouldn't recognize her anyway, not with my memory for faces. And anyways, rosaries get lost. It happens. I'll drop it off at lost-and-found on my break.

During a slow period later on, I take a closer look at the rosary case. It's double-sided: one side holds a chaplet of some kind, from Kibeho in Rwanda - a Marian apparition that warned of the coming genocide. It's not just any rosary. Also there's a 3rd-class relic of Padre Pio. As for the other side of the pouch...I choke, and check quickly for any name or phone number. There's none; just the three reliquaries with 1st-class relics of Elizabeth Seton, John Neumann, and Pius X. From then on, until I am able to go back to customer service, that pouch does not go out of my sight. No way.

The lady was elderly, so probably a local; there are three parishes in town and odds are she is a parishioner at one. A few calls later, all of them will (hopefully) be running notices in the bulletin. If she doesn't come back, there's a note with the relics saying not to throw them out.
What to do with them then, considering my laziness at the start, I'm not certain.

Update: She did come back for them.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Thought for the night

"Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of my God." -Revelation 3:2

"Right now three things remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love." -1 Corinthians 13:13

New Year, New Beginnings

Somebody encouraged me to post this, so here goes. Please pardon any clumsiness on my part, this is written off-the-cuff before I lose nerve and hit Delete.

Back in 2003, I stayed for a week with the Missionaries of Charity sisters in Vienna, Austria, sharing in their prayer and work. Since then I've been involved with them off-and-on, always with the thought in my mind of someday, maybe, possibly, joining. In November of last year, I made a formal visit to their postulant house in NYC, and have since been accepted to the order.

A few details on the Missionaries of Charity, for those of you who may not know much about them: they are a Catholic religious order, founded in India by Mother Teresa, in the 1950s; they have since spread throughout the world. Their convents are located in the slums, among the poor they serve. In America, they run soup kitchens, food and clothing banks, homes for battered women, emergency shelters, AIDS hospices, after-school programs. At Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas, they prepare meals and take them to shut-ins. There is no glory to the life, and they ask for none. There is no hidden agenda. It is simply and purely a life of service to the poor and to Christ.

As a sister, my day would begin at 4:40. I would get up, dress in the dark and straighten my pallet, then go to the chapel for an hour of prayer. From there I would go to do in-house chores (rag and bucket, no mops), then return to the chapel for Mass, beginning a day-long rhythm of prayer and work that is essential to the life of the Missionaries of Charity. My only "day off" would be Thursday, and even that is a day set aside for deeper prayer, confession, and spiritual direction. I would own nothing - even my two habits (one for washing, one for wearing) would be mine to use, but not mine to own. I would be transferred to a new convent every couple of years to avoid attachments to places or people - even that comfort of "belonging" in a place would not be mine to claim. What matters is the work, done the same for all; what matters is the Lord in whose name it is done. It may sound harsh or extreme; but it is what I feel called to. To that complete freedom to serve God and neighbor, nothing held back for myself.

Of course, the saying is that nothing easily had is worth having. That is true here as well. During college I borrowed a considerable amount in student loans, and while I have made good progress in paying them off, I have a large debt remaining. I cannot enter the order until it is paid in full. Until two months ago, I was certain that I could pay off my debt by myself. Maybe it would take a few years, but I could do it by age 35 (the oldest I can be to enter the order). It turns out that my debt is twice what I thought it was; I can't pay it off in time. I wanted to - I did not want to turn and ask for help. But it seems that now I have to. Anything - advice, prayers, whatever - any of you can give will be much appreciated! I know I am not the first in this situation, if any of you have experience with this or know of places I can turn to, please let me know.

(Permit me to add here that in the normal course of things, I am doing well. I volunteer, as I can, at the Baltimore convent and am involved with the Lay Missionaries of Charity. I have two jobs and a good place to live; I am not rich but neither am I desperate for money. I simply do not make enough to pay off my loans in time.)

What I can offer in exchange is my prayers, and also my participation in the work of the Missionaries of Charity. During their daily hour of Adoration, the sisters keep a number of candles lit on the altar; one of them is lit as a prayer for all of their benefactors throughout the world. To that general prayer, I would add my specific prayer for you. It is not much - but it is what I can give in return.

My thanks to all of you who have read through this - God bless you and your families in this Advent season.

In Christ,
Margaret Hagen

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Revelation 4:11

A young girl, tugged along by Mother
Drags her umbrella to catch the rain
Skips over a mosaic of sodden leaves.
A cyclist coasts past, looking ahead
Where a couple strolls through the mist.

The story unfolds around them,
In the trees lining this woodspath -
Now straight, now bent in homage,
Casting down crowns of copper and gold.
Stripped of glory, yet still stretching high.
Their rustle, caught up on the wind,
Sounds a groaning past all words.
Here is what Francis loved:
Not nature, but Creation.
Here a world dying to self
Here a world set afire.

-Margaret Catherine

Sunday, June 28, 2009

To change the light bulb, how many Missionaries of Charity?

A: Three. One to change the bulb, one to pray Memorares that the light will turn on, and one to find a use for the burnt-out bulb. Also a volunteer, in case any of the sisters need help.

Also from the MC front:

-I will always treasure the memory of two sisters standing shoulder to shoulder, in puzzled conference over a photo series of the many faces of Michael Jackson.

-One resident has a virtual library of Jack Chick tracts. Ouch. But, if he finds some benefit in them, insofar as they attempt to tackle inner-city life...? The men are in various spiritual places, from Muslim to Protestant to Catholic, and the sisters aren't in the business of herding any of them anywhere. Showing a way, yes - but not shoving the men toward it.

-Please pray for the soul of Jare Alejandra Ramos, the 10 year old daughter of one of the residents. A week or two back, she was found not breathing and with no heartbeat; they were actually readying her for an autopsy when she began breathing again. This past Wednesday, she had (so far as I know) another attack, but did not recover. She was his only child - and back home in Guatemala, not here in the States.

-It's wonderful to sit outside on a cool night and type away. I could probably add a couple more things. But now that I've brushed away the spider that was dangling from my hair, I think I'll go inside, thank you - and good night.

Friday, June 19, 2009


Usual night at work. Last customers are gone, conversations normally confined to the back room have moved out front as we finish up. The assistant manager's boyfriend - evidently - is hanging out, and the two of them are showing off for each other a bit. A bit of razzing on the part of the AM, about how I'm not going to go drink and I'm no fun; then the boyfriend joins in.

"I'm going to go drink Jesus' blood. I already ate a whole loaf of His body."

...Oh, if only he would.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Talking turkey

"I need to find a new place to live."
"Hey, check Craigslist. It's how I found my place." [You know who you are.]
"Sure, thanks!"

Craigslist ad:
Seeking vegetarian housemate. Great house in a quiet neighborhood

Hmm. Well, for $390 a month, I can keep the meat out of the house. I work at a restaurant, after all. They have good veal.

No meat or tobacco use permitted in the house. Smoke outside all you like...

Can I smoke meat outside?

I'm not asking for veganism, though I'm vegan myself. I'll even let an occasional tuna sandwich slide.)

You've never heard of the "slippery slope", have you? No? Oh, good.

What you eat when you go home for Thanksgiving is your affair. However, fair warning: my veganism comes from an animal rights philosophy, so if your job is based on being unkind to animals we probably wouldn't be harmonious housemates.

Nope. We probably wouldn't be. So, that'll be 30 seconds per side on that filet?

I'm a 30-something professional (part-time software, part-time shiatsu "acupressure massage") as well as an amateur poet and musician. You'd have to be ok living with someone of bohemian leanings and a sort of "Zen Pagan Atheist" spirituality, though I don't care how you personally cultivate your relationship with the universe, that's your business.

Oh, no problem. I keep my "personal cultivation" in this box over here, I take it out every month or so - at night, with all the lights out, when there's no moon - just to make sure it's still there. Then it goes back in my closet. You'll never know it exists, don't worry...since, I mean, the minute I take it out of that little dusty box, it has a way of influencing my behavior. How I earn my living, what I keep on the refrigerator shelf...

...Nah, think I'll pass on this one. Thanks, though.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Between, Now and Then

From my journal, Sept. 9 2006:
"Up at 4:30 am, hour walk to catch a bus to DC, volunteer the morning away, catch bus back, rest very briefly, catch bus to work, get home at 2:00 am. My knee was screaming for mercy by the end, and again - along with the rest of my body - when I woke up at 8:00 this morning. So, I'm fairly exhausted. And I'm probably going ramble. And possibly write a journal entry that I will wince at later.

"And yet, I wouldn't have it any other way. What I do at the Missionaries' (Mother Teresa's order), mostly, is sweep and mop floors and do dishes; last time was a break in the routine since they needed me to accompany a woman at the hospice to a doctor's appointment. But mostly it's cleancleansweatcleanclean, and somehow, in that, it's the highlight of my week. What the MCs are doing there, and elsewhere, is work that so very desperately needs doing, and they have such joy in it; it's a true privilege to be part of it even if I'm the one with the mop in her hand. Pray God I can be part of it, as a sister or as a volunteer, for the rest of my life - oh, I wander here and there and poke at this job route or that career. Medical billing, sign language interpreting, others. But it's the idea of life as an MC that holds me and draws me back again and again; something that's been true since my weeklong stay with them over three years back..."


It's been another three years. I left off the volunteering and in general drifted from the Church, caught in a cycle of shame and hiding and more shame. I still attended Mass most Sundays, but I did not receive Communion, I did not go to Confession; there wasn't much to me except bitterness and anger. That I've been called back, that anything in that journal entry is again true, is by the sheer grace and mercy of God. Not from anything I did or deserve - it's very easy to forget that.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Musical Direction

On the way to spiritual direction this morning, I was ready to discuss any of a number of topics of Great Spiritual Import. The scandal that the Church in Ireland has visited on itself and on the Church as a whole; my recent lessons - those learned and those ignored - in humility and obedience; the upcoming departure of the Sister Superior, who has been something of a mentor to me; even the financial obstacles that lie between me and any attempt to enter an order, any order, which Monsignor had said we would discuss. It's been a long and rough week, there was plenty to hash out.

But none of that would amount to spiritual direction, necessarily. And Monsignor knows me by now; he didn't give me the chance to drag any of that up. Instead he started talking about music. Not what passes for music in the inner city, where the parish is located. Not that excretion of seething hatred. But music that is a blend of words and melody, the two coming together to calm us and draw us towards God. Monsignor is an organist, and classical/hymnal music is a particular love of his; for him it is a form of prayer. His point was simple: what role does music play for me? What one hymn, or song, holds the most spiritual meaning for me, and why? He wasn't referring to hymns as sung in church, communally, but rather to their private use.

I don't listen to music that often. Oh, I have plenty of songs, and a music player. It's called my old, broken-down laptop. It takes 10 minutes to start up and another five to load iTunes. So I don't bother, and anyway I don't have the time or inclination. I'm at work, or I'm volunteering, or I'm sacked out (read: being lazy). But - back when I did take the time, every night? What were the songs then? And what was it about them?

It's a good thing to slow down, stop, and ponder. What in the music, or the words, or both, affects us? What does it produce in us, and does it turn us towards God or away from Him?

Friday, May 1, 2009


In Italian, that means either 'hello' or 'goodbye' - here, it means both. Been gone on retreat to Rome, with a 2-day extension in Venice...various thoughts and musings and odd experiences (did you know it hails in Venice?) will be posted here over the next few days, as I have time in my too-soon resumed workaday life.

A Passenger Manifesto

Man is the sum of his appetites: what has conventionally been termed “free will” is but the expression of those. He should – nay, must – be permitted to do as he likes, when he likes, where he likes. Any other state of affairs is in direct contradiction to observed human nature, and is psychologically unhealthy.* It is, therefore, the role of society and government to enable the fulfillment of fundamental appetites in a manner as comfortable and safe as possible. While European governments are demonstrably ahead of America in this regard, there remains work to be done. There must be removed that lingering inequality by which a mere portion of the populace enjoys full privileges to the envy and resentment of the rest.

In light of this, Rome-Fiumicino airport must remove and replace all benches that have armrests, not only half, so that everyone who wishes to may stretch out and sleep. The proffered recourse to a 24-hour cafe is appreciated, but ultimately is as weak and inadequate a substitute as the caffe latte on hand there.

The true desire of all those remaining overnight in Fiumicino is to sleep. A disheartening proportion enjoy no success. Until this is rectified, there can be no true justice.

Penned by Margaret Catherine
The 30th day of April, 2009
3:30 am

*Symptoms of psychological imbalance resulting from enforced insomnia include auditory hallucinations of 'Funkytown' at 3:00 am. The Italian love of American 80's music, however, is a subject for another time.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Feast of Divine Mercy - QOTD

"Mercy is as old as the first words of Scripture - 'And God said, 'Let there be light.' Mercy is as old as God creating something out of nothing." - from today's homily

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Paschal homily of St. John Chrysostom

If anyone is devout and a lover of God, let him enjoy this beautiful and radiant festival. If anyone is a wise servant, let him, rejoicing, enter into the joy of his Lord. If anyone has wearied himself in fasting, let him now receive his recompense.

If anyone has labored from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving let him keep the feast. If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; for he shall suffer no loss. If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near without hesitation. If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, let him not fear on account of his delay. For the Master is gracious and receives the last, even as the first; he gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, just as to him who has labored from the first. He has mercy upon the last and cares for the first; to the one he gives, and to the other he is gracious. He both honors the work and praises the intention.

Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward. O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy! O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day! You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today! The table is rich-laden; feast royally, all of you! The calf is fatted; let no one go forth hungry!

Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness. Let no one lament his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn his transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Saviour's death has set us free.

He that was taken by death has annihilated it! He descended into hades and took hades captive! He embittered it when it tasted his flesh! And anticipating this Isaiah exclaimed, "Hades was embittered when it encountered thee in the lower regions." It was embittered, for it was abolished! It was embittered, for it was mocked! It was embittered, for it was purged! It was embittered, for it was despoiled! It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!

It took a body and, face to face, met God! It took earth and encountered heaven! It took what it saw but crumbled before what it had not seen!

"O death, where is thy sting? O hades, where is thy victory?"

Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!

For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the First-fruits of them that slept.

To him be glory and might unto ages of ages. Amen.

Friday, April 10, 2009


This traitor's last reward
This executioner's fee
These bloodied pieces of silver
This Iscariot, never free.

This Garden of Olives
This scene of desolation
These branches bent to hear
This cry of supplication.

This Simon renamed Rock
This bold strength crumbled
These tears of sorrow
This rashness humbled.

This place of the Skull
This tree good for food
These words of salvation
This Garden now renewed.

This Christ, Son of God
This man pierced by a spear
These waters to cleanse us
This love casting out fear.

This Friday we call Good
This time of heaven on earth
These hours of dark
This day of man's rebirth.

Margaret Catherine

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Living the Gospel - the outtake reel

Not so much an outtake; I just didn't expect to be cast for the role. During the reading of the Gospel, at Mass at the MC hospice:

"...Jesus said to him, "What you are going to do, do quickly."
Now none of those reclining at table realized why he said this to him.
Some thought that since Judas kept the money bag, Jesus had told him,
"Buy what we need for the feast," or to give something to the poor.
So ---"

--- the hospice doorbell rang. So Peggy put her sandals on and left at once. When she had left,

"Jesus said, "Now is the Son of Man glorified..."

Friday, April 3, 2009

Meet the New Law, same as the Old Law.

Yeah, we're under the 'law of freedom'. No, neither those 613 commandments of Jewish law, nor the 'fence' built around them, apply to us. It's wonderful and liberating and this Gentile can but marvel at it. Except on a Friday in Lent, with rain coming down by the metric ton.

I could start a car, operation of machinery and all, and go somewhere - but, no car. Sopping up water as it leaches up through one's own basement floor doesn't count for work: no way out of that one. Same goes for feeding the cats (cats; livestock - doesn't make a difference unless you try shearing them). My lunch of codfish cakes might or might not be kosher, but it's meatless. No dessert. Etc. Chocolate! Now! In round donut form!

Still, it's not irredeemable. The weather has a wild feel to it that Chesterton would love, and I just so happen to be curled up on the couch with a novel of his. The coffee is fresh, my housemates are out, it is a Day Without Work. I haven't had one of those in over a month, and since tomorrow I'm at the sisters' before heading straight to my job...

The sisters. The ones on the other end of the phone. Since I'm "resting" (Oops. Just oops.), I can come early - please - to make breakfast for the residents! Yes?

Yes. 'No' has never been a word in the Missionary of Charity vocabulary. They don't call expecting to hear it. It is 'yes'; it is obedience; it is always being ready to go - or come - in haste. It is getting up before dawn. Again. For now, though, I'm still enjoying my semi-Sabbath.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Go forth, Christian soul, from this world.

Edward Aull, Feb. 26 1947 - March 30 2009.

A resident in an AIDS hospice, but not infected with that disease - there was a miscommunication when he first came to the home. A member of the Knights of Columbus, but not active - his parish had no council. A Third Order Franciscan, but associated also with the Lay Missionaries of Charity. A 'sick and suffering' co-worker of the MCs, offering up his illness for the sisters, but no saint. A cancer patient who survived three rounds of cancer and remission, but had no strength left for a fourth go-round.

A resource on all the goings-on around the home, even during his hospital stays. A companion for other, sicker residents needing to get to appointments. An errand-runner who would go clear to the outskirts of Baltimore just to get new fish for the lounge tank. A lector at the church around the corner. A military history buff and Scripture student. A shadow in the kitchen doorway every Monday and Tuesday.

A man given only six months to live, who survived for over two years. A husband and father, now with the wife and son he lost years ago. A man released from our care, and into God's.


"I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, even though he die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Yes, I've been gone a month.

And yes, that (below) is the best I can do for a post. I'm working nearly every night this month, and I'm more convinced than ever of the non-existence of time. Or at least, of free time. This remains a time of formation for me - of discovering the beauty and wealth of this faith I profess, of the God in whom I profess it, and of the liturgy in and through which I profess it. (And of attempting, fumblingly, to live it all out.) There'll be time for this blog again later, next month maybe, but not now.

Words to never, ever hear again.

Man at hostess stand, telling the hostess at length about a loss he suffered. He's moved on and found love again, but the sorrow is still there, it seems:

"My dog was so sick at the end - I even went to the priest."

I print out the receipt I came for and walk away with a sudden coughing fit.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Slow day at work

In the restaurant office, after hours. Somehow or other the conversation's veered back to religion, at least as seen through the eyes of the modern American college student. Being the only known Catholic in existence in the restaurant, I'm a natural target for queries both serious and un-.

Server #1:
"What would you say if I told you I was Episcopalian?"
Me: "I'd be're part of a church that's falling apart."

There follows a brief interlude as I explain that by 'church', I meant the Episcopal Church. Which, no, is not falling apart because it doesn't recognize "Pope Joan" - contra Server #1's favorite claim - but rather because it is only too likely to do so. That's set aside as a story for another time, and we resume the original topic...but these are state university students, remember.

Server #2: "Yeah, and the Catholic Church has been falling apart for 2,000 years."
Me: [laughs] "That should be our motto! The Catholic Church - falling apart for 2,000 years and counting!"

The scary thing is, it's true - as so clearly evidenced, yet again, this past week. Always falling apart, never quite fallen apart. Never mind asking if God can create a rock so heavy He cannot lift it...the real question is whether He can create a bottle of Advil so large He can never empty it. He surely needs it for the headache we give Him.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

In Domino confido

Back in 1996, the accusations against Fr. Maciel were my first hint that there was something very rotten at work in the Church. I denied them then; how dare anyone suggest such a thing of a priest? Of that good and holy priest, no less, when he'd done so much for the Church? He was nothing like good or holy, of course. And much of the work he did for the Church now appears to have been incidental to setting up a comfortable environment for his own pastimes. Looking at him, you see the entire Scandal in minature - the institutionalized enabling, the head-in-sand denials, the deception of innocent people. The twisted and destroyed trust. American Papist is doing an excellent job of monitoring the fallout, and has links to letters written by American LC priests that are very well worth the read. (There has yet to be any substantive response by the actual leadership of the Legion.)

Maybe there's some good in this. Maybe the implicit trust in priests that once characterized Catholic culture, that I can still see present in my father, needed to be shattered. Maybe we needed to stop looking to priests to be everything we aren't, so that we would start trying to be it ourselves. I don't know. I don't have any words of my own to throw at this - only the knowledge that we need to pray. We need to help the victims (metaphorical and grimly literal) instead of gawking at the train wreck. We need to look again to Christ and not to men.

Psalm 11
1 In the Lord I have taken my refuge.
How can you say to my soul:
"Fly like a bird to its mountain.

2 See the wicked bracing their bow;
they are fixing their arrows on the string
to shoot upright men in the dark.
3 Foundations once destroyed, what can the just do?"

4 The Lord is in his holy temple,
the Lord, whose throne is in heaven.
His eyes look down on the world;
his gaze tests mortal men.

5 The Lord tests the just and the wicked;
the lover of violence he hates.
6 He sends fire and brimstone on the wicked;
he sends a scorching wind as their lot.

7 The Lord is just and loves justice;
the upright shall see his face.