Peace in Our Day

A gargoyle statue is seen among a property smoldering rubble in Paradise, north of Sacramento, California on November 09, 2018. (Photo credit JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)

During my silent Ignatian retreat four weeks ago I made and long and intense face-to-face confession with a retired priest and confessor. I confessed my sins and then as I confessed to the sin of anger I found myself unloading my anger about the sins of those priests, bishops and cardinals who undermine the faith of so many in their participation and covering up of the abuse of young boys, men and women. When the newest outbreak began to be reported this summer I was seething…OUTRAGED! I considered leaving, but to go where? This wasn’t of Christ. It wasn’t of His bride, the Church. This was sin and wrongdoing as old as Cain and of the sort that resides inside the deepest recesses of our fallen human nature. To leave Christ’s bride would be like abandoning my own spouse or closest friend or family member in a time of great need, one in which they needed to be defended while under attack. It would be my scurrying like a coward over the old city walls and escaping into the night when outside the ramparts the enemy was preparing for the final siege and rape of the city. What kind of man would I be to do this? The sacraments themselves are still valid. I’ve read too much, studied too much, and experienced too much to ever abandon the Church. But I have zero problem at all in the handing of those traitorous vermin who are to be her most ardent protectors and teachers over to authorities and to justice. I do not envy them the Divine Justice they will one day experience.

I closed by telling him that when asked at the start of the retreat to write down an answer to Christ’s question In Luke 18 “What do you want me to do for you?” I had written the following:

I want Jesus to release me from this anger.
And from my desire to control the uncontrollable
To make me a better husband and father
To make me more selfless and serving
To guard me from my own cynicism
To make me a better man

And when asked to read and meditate on Isaiah 55 and then to write what it is I hunger and thirst for, I had journaled:

For the Truth
For Beauty
For the Good and the Holy
For Peace

“The bottom line Father,” I said. “is that I long for peace.”

When I was finished the old priest looked up at me with a sense of fatigue that I cannot know. For he is likely pained by his brother priest’s betrayal moreso than I. After talking through it with me he gave me my penance: “Go, and search for peace until you find it.”

He completed the rite by absolving me of my sins and sending me on my way with a blessing.

The magnitude of what he said didn’t hit me until after I’d returned to my seat in the chapel. At first I laughed to myself at such a seemingly flippant and silly penance. But as I recalled the wry smile that he wore while saying these words to me and began to consider the magnitude of what he had assigned to me I was no longer laughing. I considered rushing back into the confessional and begging him to give me something else. “Can’t I just recite 100 Hail Mary’s instead? Or 100 Our Father’s?”

Go, and find peace. He just as well asked me to pick up Mount Everest and move it onto the plains of central Nebraska near Kearney. Finding peace would be as easy as that.

I say this as one who tells you that you would have to truly be blind to not see the increasing unrest and chaos in our world today. Events have picked up in intensity and volume at a pace that is destined for a crashing explosion. I do not have the time nor the inclination to attempt to document or list said events here. I don’t say these words as a “prepper” or one hiding behind his armory in a mountainside bunker in Montana. But I can see it with mine own eyes. I can feel it in my bones. Many times recently I’ve found myself uttering these words by Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings to myself:

There is a well-known song, and I’ve even seen it in meme form, that says “Let there be peace on earth.” Too many times we recite the first six words and overlook the six that follow: “…and let it begin with me.” This is the key, I think, for my quest to find peace. I have to start with myself. With my own mind. With my own heart.

As such I have decided to at long last eliminate the noise and distraction of social media from my life by greatly reducing my access. I posted to Facebook for the final time today (though I may include this blog post), a thank you for a baseball-related favor done for my son by a friend of mine. I’ve eliminated anything reeking of the stench of politics from my Twitter feed. I’ve had to do this because as much as I love and value my friends I simply cannot stomach the vomit of politics that goes on there every day. Yes, it still creeps into Twitter and recently I found myself responding in this manner to a question posed by someone sneering at Catholics:

Why shouldn’t I expect them to sneer? It’s what they’re taught to do by our educational system, the media, and our own politicians. Senators Harris (D-CA) and Hirono (D-HI) are now suggesting requiring a religious test for being considered for a federal judgeship as they deem membership in the Knights of Columbus to be “extreme”. Yes, those of us who assist the elderly with their moves, or serve at their funerals, or cook the flapjacks at the pancake breakfasts and Lenten fish fries across the world are now to be looked upon with suspicion. And then I log onto Facebook and see friends of mine, ardent and blindly partisan supporters of all things Democrat, cheering these so-called “leaders”. In a world too full of senseless, screeching identity politics these women are two of the worst.

Just typing that paragraph removed my peace and made my blood boil, and for no reason. After all I cannot control the actions of those moronic and evil politici-…”

See? I was about to lose it again.

So I logged off. Removed the app from my phone. I did so not only for my peace, but for the peace of others. Because I don’t know how much longer I could have remained there and not begun to tell people what I really thought of their politics. I was about to pull up broadside, light the cannon fuses and blow it all to Kingdom Come. Enough is enough.

But that, of course, would help no one. No peace.

I give you peace, my peace I give you

At 4:30pm on December 31st, I drove to the Pink Sisters chapel. Flurries were beginning to fall on the cold, gray New Year’s Eve. Once inside I settled in to pray a rosary before the sisters would arrive to sing Vespers at 5pm. On this night I prayed the Joyful Mysteries because despite what I feel is ahead in the coming year it is, afterall, Christmas and in a transcendental sense I do in fact feel joy. I also felt my strength nourished inside this sanctuary, safe and secure while the darkness descended outside the stained glass windows and the wind howled outside.

My rosary finished as I was able to hear the sisters assembling behind the screen for Vespers. I had brought my breviary so I could pray with them and turned to the page marked by the first ribbon. For the next twenty plus minutes I again felt buoyed by a sense of calm and of strength. I was not praying alone, nor was I praying with just the nuns. In those moments I was praying along with thousands of Catholics around the world who participate in the Divine Office every day in every time zone. And I knew I was praying with not just the Church Militant here on earth, but with the Church Triumphant in Heaven itself, the Communion of Saints. This is how I’ve chosen to live my life, and this is how I prepare myself for my days upon the earth. In this way I know I do not walk alone.

The Sentinel

After Vespers was finished the nuns shuffled out of the sanctuary and back into their living space. But a lone nun stayed behind, kneeling in silent prayer for a time in front of the altar before which the Blessed Sacrament was stationed. She eventually settled back into her chair, a vigilant sentinel of prayer. I left shortly after, walking back outside into the dark night where the flurries had increased their intensity. The old year was in its death throes; the new year would ring into existence in six hours.

I thought of that sister again the following morning when I woke up to the new year and my birthday with Lauds. The image was still very fresh in my mind and brought back into focus as I prayed these words from Psalm 63 that morning:

So I gaze on you in the sanctuary
to see your strength and your glory.

Lauds, January 1, Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

During the Catholic Mass we hear these words from John 14:27 during the Rite of Peace, which directly follows The Lord’s Prayer:

“I give you peace, my peace I give you…”

The full verse containing the words of Jesus is as follows:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

Let there be peace on earth.

Let it begin with me.

[Written this 10th day of Christmas, on the Feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton]

St. Paul and the Painted Ladies

For almost three weeks my oldest son was home prior to deploying overseas. At least twice a day I’d go outside to our covered patio behind the garage and find him there, sitting with Buster his beagle, iPhone in hand, smoking a cigarette. Just three years ago I’d have been mortified by the sight of him sitting with no shirt, tattoos on his shoulders, smoking a cigarette. But there are battles to fight in this life that are worth fighting and as he left for boot camp later that October in 2014 I knew those were two skirmishes to be avoided. Three years later I find myself not minding so much.

And as was the case the last time he was sent overseas I’d go outside and be met by the starkness of his absence. It was like being struck in the face to go back there where I prayed a rosary or the Divine Office every day and have that image so fresh in my mind of him occupying that space. Yet I remind myself on a regular basis that he’ll return, or at least that’s the hope. I know there are hundreds and thousands of parents each day who face an empty patio chair, couch or bed of a loved one who will not be returning as they have left the earth. This sobers me and I’m able to keep myself together.

Yes, I take pictures of ash now.

The Sunday we took him to the Omaha airport to fly back to his base a few days before he deployed, we returned home to a house once again occupied by the four of us. Five counting Buster. I walked slowly outside and stared at the place we he’d sat just hours before and had “a last cigarette at home” and talked to me about “just stuff.” Sitting in his spot I looked down and saw the remnants of his habit: cigarette ashes. When he left for Iraq last year I’d swept the patio rug clean right away. This time, however, I’ve left them to linger. In a few weeks we’ll be sweeping the rug before rolling it up and putting it away for the winter. But for now I decided they could stay. Two years ago he promised me he would give up smoking when his four years were over, and he told me on that final Sunday morning that he was going to use his deployment to do so. Where he’s going cigarettes will be hard to come by, so he figured it would be the best time to do it. Right now I don’t care. I just want my son back.

The days before he arrived home for his leave my wife had clipped the dying flowers off the row of Black-eyed Susans we have near our deck. During his visit one small, defiant flower emerged and stood watch. I checked this morning in the rain and note that almost a month later it’s still there. For reasons I cannot explain this has brought me much comfort and every day when I’m outside praying I focus on that burst of yellow among the drab hues of autumn: the dark greens and the browns.

At her post.

On this, a gray, rainy day, and feeling down, I took my breviary to the Pink Sisters chapel as I try to do each week. I prayed for my family, friends, for peace but most especially for my son and his fellow soldiers. The following passage in the Office of Readings caught my eye and I spent the next 15-20 minutes re-reading and meditating upon it.

There is no need to worry; but if there is anything you need, pray for it, asking God for it with prayer and thanksgiving, and that peace of God, which is so much greater than we can understand, will guard your hearts and your thoughts, in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, fill your minds with everything that is true, everything that is noble, everything that is good and pure, everything that we love and honor, and everything that can be thought virtuous or worthy of praise. Keep doing all the things that you learnt from me and have been taught by me and have heard or seen that I do. Then the God of peace will be with you. – Philippians 4:6-9

The nuns have a little bookstore at the front entryway and I paged through a book that caught my eye. A Mind At Peace: Reclaiming an Ordered Soul in the Age of Distraction  contains a forward by Fr. Paul Scalia, son of the recently deceased Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia. He writes:

But we live in a schizophrenic culture. As much as we might want that peace, we still desire the world’s distractions. We love the gifts of the digital age: “Big Data,” connectivity, constant streaming, and so forth – even as we sense a need for quiet, for relief from information and communication overload. We want both the promises of the digital age and the habit of recollection (“mindfulness,” as it is now fashionable to say). It is increasingly clear how difficult it is to have both – to be at once digitalized and recollected.

Finding myself guilty of the above I decided to get the book.

As I wrote earlier this week social media…connectivity…all of the noise has finally gotten to me. I longer care to participate. While I have not deleted my Twitter account I’ve started with baby steps and “unfollowed” any and all political pundits or media people outside of one or two. This significantly reduced the clutter on my Twitter feed. It is now mostly comprised of baseball-related organizations, coaches and the like that I follow as well as Catholic priests, authors and media. Facebook is a beast I aim to tackle in 2018 once and for all. I’m also three years in to my old iPhone 5s and early next year am going to “downsize” my phone into a lesser model. Because the opening paragraphs of that books Introduction asks the same questions I’ve been asking myself for over a year.

Have you ever regretted sending an e-mail, a text, or a post? Have you recently forgotten an appointment that a year or two ago you would have had no difficulty remembering? Do you catch your mind wandering when you should be attending carefully to the task, or the person, right in front of you?

What about the way you have been spending your time? Is it difficult to refrain from checking your phone or e-mail every several minutes? Are you uncomfortable being alone and quick to look for relief from boredom? Do you find yourself browsing websites or trying to keep up with the latest news? Do you fall into binge-watching television shows, or playing just one more round of a video game? Are you preoccupied with social media to the point of compulsively checking updates, statuses, and likes?

Are you more often ill at ease or anxious than in the pasts? Are you uncomfortable with your own thoughts? Do you feel unfocused, distracted, restless? Are you finding less joy in conversation, reading, and prayer than you used to?

Yes! To all of the above. I remarked to my wife the other day that in 2017 I’ve read fewer books than I have since we were married almost twenty-five years ago. My lack of sustained focus and ability to read for more than twenty minutes annoys and also scares the hell out of me.

Feeling somewhat buoyed by what I read from St. Paul and the pages I’d scanned in the book, I went outside where the rain had momentarily stopped. While walking to the parking lot I was suddenly surrounded by little butterflies. They bounced off my face and head and I noticed that I had walked right by a flowered area. We’ve been enjoying thousands of these little visitors throughout Lincoln this fall and have a few dozen that have been squatting on some flowers in our yard as well. They are called Painted lady butterflies and our local paper wrote about them here. I watched them for several minutes and snapped a few pictures. Even after it once again began to rain I stood there watching them. It’s a fluke that they are even here this fall and I’ve not stopped to really notice and appreciate them. I recalled what I’d read by St. Paul in Philippians in the chapel:

…fill your minds with everything that is true, everything that is noble, everything that is good and pure, everything that we love and honor, and everything that can be thought virtuous or worthy of praise.

And so I will. Tonight I’ll look at a lone Black-eyed Susan in my backyard.

I’ll watch the Painted ladies.

And then the God of peace will be with me.

– Oct. 6: feast of St. Bruno

Painted ladies on Pink Sisters’ flowers.

Compline

I’m not sleeping a lot lately. Less than usual in fact. Most of it stemming from the fact that we seem to be headed towards yet another war in another country in which we have no business. During times like these I usually lose sleep anyway, but it has been ramped up a notch by the fact that my oldest son is persistent in his intention to join the Marine Corps after his high school graduation next spring.

While I’ll be very proud if this does indeed become his final decision and, after a discussion lasting until 2:00am recently, respect my son’s desire to fulfill a call and duty for service, I selfishly admit I wish he was instead making plans to enroll in a college next fall and join several from his high school baseball team by playing ball at the next level. One of his best friends and teammates is making plans to do just that and I was talking about this with Matt, that young man’s father, last night via text messaging.

Me: “I hope he (Matt’s son) gets picked up by a college team. He wants it, has the drive and the talent.”

Matt: “He will land somewhere. Hopefully where he wants.”

Me: “I know this: with N in the Marines I won’t sleep at all for the next 4-8 years with the world in its current state.”

Matt: “I’m sure. You won’t sleep, so the rest of us can.”

It hasn’t even come to pass yet and I marvel at all the parents who’ve gone before me who have had to live this reality. I pray I find that strength.

In order to fill those sleepless hours I’ve decided that the best thing I can do is spend time with God. The worst thing I could do is spend those hours idly flipping through the channels or Netflix, and with my tendencies towards watching the news and all its horrors I’d only be adding to my heartburn. Last night I took more productive action. I drove a few blocks to my parish church to pray in the dark. I would have walked the short distance, but a weekend of moving three tons of rock and block in my backyard for a landscaping project has rendered my hamstrings as tight as a drum.

breviary-compline

I took with me my copy of a Baronius Press edition of The Roman Breviary in order to pray the Compline, or Night Prayer. While I usually pray the post-Vatican II edition of the Divine Office (or Liturgy of the Hours) along with millions around the globe, there are times when I appreciate and seek out the more traditional breviary edition from 1961. I was lucky enough to get on their original waiting list and the first printing immediately sold out.

The Compline (pronounced COM-plin, with a short “i”) is the final prayer of the day, usually recited just before one goes to bed. The English word Compline is derived from the Latin completorium, as Compline is the completion of the day. Its use dates back to the sixth century and St. Benedict and its origins go back even further. Compline is a contemplative prayer that emphasizes spiritual peace, something I, and the rest of the world perhaps, sorely require. I also contains a portion devoted to giving one time to examine his or her conscience for the day just completed. It is a valuable time of reflection.

And so it came to pass that I found myself kneeling alone from 11pm until just past midnight, praying the text and singing the hymn out loud in an empty, softly-lit church. Which to be honest is a pretty cool feeling. Normally I would have prayed at home, but on this night I wanted to be in our church.

A few passages/thoughts from last night’s prayer:

A blessing:

“May the all-powerful Lord grant us a peaceful night and a perfect end.”

Yes! That’s why I am here. Asking for peace and a perfect end to my day.

Antiphon before and after the selected psalms:

“The Angel of the Lord will encamp around those who fear Him, and will deliver them.”

My daughter and I recite the Guardian Angel’s Prayer at her bedside each night…for her. But when’s the last time I thought about my own guardian angel? This passage brings further comfort.

First passage from the Psalter – Psalm 33:

“I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all my troubles. Draw near to Him and receive His light, and your faces will not be put to shame.”

While I believe that the Lord may be sought anywhere, tonight I’m in His Church, drawn nearer to the light of His Presence in the Blessed Sacrament.

Second passage from the Psalter – Psalm 33:

“The eyes of the Lord are upon the just, and His ears are open to his prayers. … When the just cried out, the Lord heard them, and rescued them from all their distress. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; and will save those who are lowly in spirit. Many are the troubles of the just, but out of them all the Lord will deliver them.”

I am hardly a just man, though I try my best. And while I’m not brokenhearted I am tonight lowly in spirit. As much as I desire solitude and am driven crazy by the stupidity of man I cannot ignore the existence and the reality of community. The troubles of our human community are my own and I seek deliverance for all, as well as myself.

Third passage from the Psalter – Psalm 60:

“Hear, O God, my plea; listen to my prayer! From the end of the earth I called to You: when my heart was in anguish, You set me high upon a rock. You have guided me, for You have become my hope, a tower of strength against the enemy. I will dwell in Your tent forever, I will be safe under the shelter of Your wings! For You, O God, have heard my prayer.

My hope remains in the Lord. I do not need to rely upon my own strength in times of trial or distress. I know where to find refuge and shelter.

A Hymn:

“May no ‘ill dreams,’ no ‘nightly fears and fantasies’ come near us.”

Amen.

A passage from Jeremiah:

“You are in our midst, O Lord, and Your holy name is invoked over us; do not forsake us, O Lord our God.” (Jer 14:9)

Amen again.

A response:

“Into Your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.”

These are the last words of Christ from the cross as well as the words of Psalm 31, written 500 years before Jesus and during the time of Jeremiah. Each night I make them my own before shutting off my bedside reading lamp. Each night I surrender, not a surrender of “giving up”, but a surrender to God as a step of faith and as a step towards my eternal home.

The Canticle of Simeon (Luke 2:29-32):

“Now, Lord, You may dismiss Your servant in peace, according to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation, Which You have set before all the nations, As a light of revelation for the Gentiles and the glory of Your people Israel.”

Simeon spent his life in prayer, waiting in anticipation the coming of the Messiah. Present the day Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the temple for blessing and dedication. This has always been a favorite passage of mine from Sacred Scripture and reminds me that we are all called to be a temple of God to whom Mary brings Jesus. Simeon’s prayer is the prayer of an old man saying that having encountered Jesus at long last he could be released from the earthly and sinful things that hold us back. We are free to see more clearly, and to choose more wisely.

altar_stjohntheapostleAntiphon:

“Protect us, Lord, while we are awake and safeguard us while we sleep, that we may keep watch with Christ and rest in peace.”

It is the custom to begin the “Great Silence” after Compline in many monasteries, during which the whole community, including guests, observes silence throughout the night until the morning service of Lauds, or Morning Prayer, the next day. Outside of the final words of Christ from the earlier response this prayer of petition is my favorite close to the day.

Compline closes with the reciting of one of the antiphons to the Blessed Virgin Mary, usually the Salve Regina. After finishing this centuries old Marian prayer I made the sign of the cross and arose from my knees to sit back in the side chapel pew. As I sat gazing at the scene from Calvary that is represented behind the altar at our church I realized that it had been too long since I made my last visit outside of my regular Mass attendance. I also realized that while tonight’s visit helped and was a start, I would need to spend a lot more time here in the coming years if I am going to maintain any sense of balance or peace. My frustration and anger with this country’s leaders and those who vocally or silently support it (often because to criticize their party’s president is anathema to them) is boiling over onto Facebook and into conversations. I’ve managed to avoid politics in social media since last November and really don’t want to go there. I would delete my account if I felt it becoming to much to hold inside.

I am not responsible for the complicit hypocrisy and approval of this march to war. I am responsible in the end for my own sins, shortcomings and falls. It is within the communion of saints and the community of Christ, joining them in the prayers loved and sung by millions before me (including Jesus himself when it comes to the psalms) that I find strength for those nights I cannot sleep while others can.

__________

©2013 Jeff A Walker.

Small steps towards a distant goal

baby_steps

We may look different, but our hearts beat with the same dreams.

More and more I’ve enjoyed posting over here. I’ve been able (so far) to stay on task and limit myself to 500 words or less each and every time (if you’ve read this blog for awhile you know what an achievement that is!). Part of that focus was the result of deactivating my Facebook account and limiting my access to news by attending more baseball games than I can count. The challenge to maintain that focus will increase as I have reactivated my Facebook account in order to post pictures of my kids for close friends and family, I have peeked at the news, and we have just two weeks of the summer baseball season left after our just-finished four day stay in Independence, Missouri for a wood bat tournament.

The glimpses of news I’ve dared to take have been disheartening to say the least. Our nation’s ignorance of their fellow man, our nation’s history, and the inability to avoid having our emotions manipulated by a media and political administration seeking to divide is enough to make me want to pull out my hair. And at 45 I’m blessed to still possess all of my hair. I’d like to keep it that way.

So this post will not be below 500 words. You picked the wrong blog for that.

This post will also not be about any specific headline or issue of the day. I wouldn’t know where to start. Instead this post will be about division, and our seeming all-too-eager willingness to embrace that division instead of just one time considering the position of our neighbor and fellow man. I’m going to employ the use of two items I came across recently: one a video and the other an article I read on the First Things blog.

First, the video which asks us all:

If you could stand in someone else’s shoes,
Hear what they hear,
See what they see,
Feel what they feel,
Would you treat them differently?

You can click here to read about the history behind the development by Cardinal Avery Dulles of the following ten-point “interim strategy” for Catholics and Evangelicals to work together in the cause of Christ despite—and in the midst of—persistent and important differences. My intent today is to look at Dulles’ ten points not as a Catholic or Evangelical, but to take each one in light of who we are as fellow citizens and neighbors in a country that is quickly becoming the Divided States of America.

1. Correct misleading stereotypes.

Ask yourself: Do I stereotype those on the other side of the political aisle from which I reside? Do I derisively dismiss people of faith or a faith different than my own? What about those of no religious faith? Or a different sexual orientation? What do I think or say about people of a different skin color? While it’s true that some ethnicities may hold to that image, they may very well represent a departure from that particular group of people and be an unfair stereotype.

drive-thru2. Openness to surprise.

Ask yourself: When was the last time I talked with my neighbor(s)? Said something to the person working the drive-through window other than “I’d like fries with that.”? Do I hold back for any particular reason? What is it?

3. Holy rivalry.

Ask yourself: Do I strive to exceed my fellow neighbors, friends, or co-workers in wealth, power and prestige? Do I instead try to exceed them in virtues such as honesty, self-sacrifice, or care for the poor? Why not? Have I tried to live my life as an example of what it means to have faith in God’s Word and hope for a life beyond this present one? Am I a visible and silent witness to the counsel of Saint Paul when he said “Love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10)? Can I imagine what the world would be like if I (we) actually heeded those words?

4. Overcome mutual suspicion. 

Ask yourself: Have I studied the past and/or history of a particular issue? Do I educate myself using a diversity of resources and not just what a quick Google search or my favorite cable news channel or celebrity personality says I should think? We must study the past before we can forgive it. Have I looked back upon past hurts in my own life and studied them from a perspective other than my own? Have I sought forgiveness? Have I forgiven myself?

5. Respect each other’s freedom and integrity. 

Ask yourself: Am I tolerant of the fact that beliefs or positions on an issue exist outside of my own? Do I incessantly rant on social media and hammer strangers in the comboxes of the world? Have I rolled my eyes and clucked my tongue at those who disagree with a position I hold? Do I insist that my friends and/or family hold my positions and if they do not, do I cease to acknowledge their existence as a friend or (in Facebook-speak) “unfriend” them?

6. Ecumenism of mutual enrichment.

Ask yourself: Ecumenism is defined as “the principle or aim or promoting unity among the world’s Christian churches.” What does unity mean to me when it comes to our nation? My community? How do I hold on to those things that make me a uniquely gifted individual and still relate to my neighbors/friends? Do I ask or insist that my friends or acquaintances give up their own unique characteristics or heritage in order to conform to my own? Do I strive for unity, or perpetuate the divide?

timtaylor_and_wilson7. Bonds of faith.

Ask yourself: What are the bonds that unite me to my neighbors? My friends? My family? To strangers? Are there basic commonalities we all share that bring us together, not just in times of duress, but also in calmer waters? How do we discover those common bonds?

8. Joint witness and social action. 

Ask yourself: If I believe that all life is sacred, do I hold any positions on various issues that may be seen as inconsistent or hypocritical? If I do not believe in the sanctity of life in any or all instances, how do I feel about those that do? What constitutes justice? How do I define a civil right and is that definition historically consistent or one that changes with the times? Are there things I can do to work towards a justice that is truly equal for all, and not for those whom the media or politicians deem a separate-but-equal class of citizens?

9. Peace and patience.

Ask yourself: Many of the problems that plague us as a citizenry and as a human race are as old as time and it’s easy to become frustrated by our fellow man’s inability to learn from the mistakes of the past…or by my mistakes. Do I grow increasingly frustrated and angry by the seemingly slow process of change? Or do I take the long view and realize that I am working towards improving my immediate surroundings and through a rippling effect changing the world for the benefit of my children, grandchildren and those whom I may never know in this lifetime?

10. Pray together.

Ask yourself: If I profess to be a Christian, do I actually practice my faith? Or is it simply a label I wear to belong to a social group or to use as a networking apparatus in my community to increase my bottom line? What do I pray for? Whom do I pray for? Do I pray alone? Do I pray with and for others and their needs? Am I selfless in my prayers? Or do I pray for the prosperity of myself and that others come to see things my way?

Granted, not everyone is going to relate to #10. And while prayer is defined as “an address (or petition) to God or a god in word or thought” there are those individuals who think prayer a fruitless endeavor. I respect this. It is no secret that as a Catholic I believe in and strive towards consistent prayer in order to unite us all in Christ and His teachings. I do this in the privacy of praying a rosary or the Divine Office, reading Sacred Scriptures, or even the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius. I do this publicly in the communal prayer that is the Catholic Mass. I’ve prayed for you, dear reader, though you had no idea until this very moment.

As the article in First Things concluded:

Though first presented some twenty years ago, Avery’s ten rules remain relevant and urgent today. Perhaps, when taken together, they sound unduly modest to some, small steps toward a distant goal, but they are steps that move in the right direction.

I’ve asked you a lot of questions here today. Each of them are questions I have asked and continue to ask myself. Pick one of the set of ten for your own situation. Or just pick one question from one set of ten. But do begin to ask them of yourself.

In an speech given to a general audience on April 24, 2013, Pope Francis said

“In this period of crisis, today, it is important not to turn in on ourselves, burying our own talent, our spiritual, intellectual, and material riches, everything that the Lord has given us, but, rather to open ourselves, to be supportive, to be attentive to others. … Set your stakes on great ideals, the ideals that enlarge the heart, the ideals of service that make your talents fruitful.  Life is not given to us to be jealously guarded for ourselves, but is given to us so that we may give it in turn.”

What have you got to lose? What have you (and the world) to gain?

December 23 – O Emmanuel

The O Antiphons | O Sapientia | O Adonai | O Radix Jesse |
O Clavis David | O Oriens | O Rex Gentium | O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel

LATIN: O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, exspectatio gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos Domine Deus noster.

ENGLISH: O Emmanuel, God with us, our King and lawgiver, the expected of the nations and their Savior: come to save us, O Lord our God.

Emmanuel. “God with us.”

Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)

…it will sweep on into Judah as a flood, and, pouring over, it will reach up to the neck; and its outspread wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Emmanuel. (Isaiah 8:8)

“Indeed the Lord will be there with us, majestic. Yes, the Lord our judge, the Lord our lawgiver, the Lord our king, he it is who will save us”. (Isaiah 33:22)

“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” (Matthew 1:23)

We have reached the final of the O Antiphons. Each of the four candles on our Advent wreaths have been lit. The Light is near.

Gerrit van Honthorst, Adoration of the Shepherds, 1622

Gerrit van Honthorst, Adoration of the Shepherds, 1622

Traditionally, each of the four candles on an Advent wreath has their own meaning. The first Sunday of Advent symbolizes Hope with the Prophet’s Candle reminding us that Jesus is coming. The second Sunday of Advent symbolizes Faith with the Bethlehem Candle reminding us of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem. The third Sunday of Advent symbolizes Joy with the Shepherd’s Candle reminding us of the Joy the world experienced at the coming birth of Jesus. The fourth Sunday symbolizes Peace with the Angel’s Candle reminding us of the message of the angels: “Peace on Earth, good will toward men.”

The light again signifies Christ, the Light of the world. Some wreaths will include a white candle placed in the middle of the wreath, which represents Christ and is lit on Christmas Eve. Another tradition is to replace the three purple and one rose candles with four white candles, which will be lit throughout Christmas season.

Our expectation now finds joy in the certainty of fulfillment. We call Jesus by a most intimate and personal name: Emmanuel. God with us. We remember that in being born of the Virgin Mary the Creator of the Universe takes upon Himself our very flesh. He comes more near to us than ever before. Yet He is also to be exclaimed as our King, the judge and lawgiver whom we both honor and obey.

And it is in His being born in a simple cave and placed in a manger, used to feed lowly animals, that we are reminded of the simplicity and poverty surrounding the birth of Jesus as well as His life of humility. He would proclaim “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35) years after being born in Bethlehem, which means “house of bread.”

*****

The final O Antiphon is referred to in the following verse of O Come O Come Emmanuel. It is the first verse, and the one most commonly known:

Veni, Veni, Emmanuel captivum solve Israel,
qui gemit in exsilio, privatus Dei Filio.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.

Refrain:
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!
Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel nascetur pro te Israel!

In the Bleak Mid-Winter

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We’re getting our first snowfall of the season and it’s shaping up to be a doozy. I drove home late from the downtown office because I brought my laptop and work home with me just in case the weather gets as bad as they say it will. School is likely to be cancelled tomorrow, which will be disappointing to our kindergartner who was all set to bleat her one-word line in the Christmas program…as a sheep. I had to dig the shovels and snowblower out of the shed since we haven’t used them in almost ten months. Late winter/early spring 2012 was very mild. This meant I also needed to fill my two-gallon gas can with the 2-cycle engine mix so I ventured back out into the elements, taking my camera-phone along for the ride.

I’ve been meaning to post this video for a few weeks after discovering the poem by Christina Rossetti in the back of my breviary. Even without the snow it has seemed bleaker than bleak for some time now: economic and political stagnation, news filled with horror stories and a media all-too-seemingly eager to showcase the worst of humanity. It’s not just the frosty wind that moans or the earth that stands hard as iron. Just as water freezes to stone our hearts are susceptible to doing the same if we’re not careful and leave them exposed to the elements of this world for too long. Only just this afternoon I wrote to a long-time friend of mine, exchanging Christmas greetings and discussing one of our favorite topics: Middle-Earth and hobbits. She asked me how my Christmas season was going and this is my reply. I apologize in advance for the language, but emotions remain raw as they will for some time. It is the recognition of that rawness that has forced me to discipline myself from commenting or writing on a subject too painful to grasp.

As for my Christmas, well….it’s been a struggle this Advent. I have to be honest. Since the election I have been in a massive funk trying to wrap my brain around the mind-set of the country, but when the tragedy of last Friday occurred in Connecticut I went numb. I have largely avoided the news, the internet and even Facebook. As we both have children that age I know you understand. Having a child of any age…but they were 6 and 7. What a complete fucking bastard. I’ve had to withdraw from the media to keep my sanity. I’ve instead immersed myself in prayer, my family, my parish, any good works or service I can provide…anything to keep moving forward and avoid not just the news of that awful day, but also the political football those who would seize a political opportunity have made of those poor children and people before they are even buried.

To keep from falling into loathing hatred or depression I serve. It is in serving that I love. And that’s what keeps me from collapsing into a blubbering zombie.

That is what I’ve done. Looked anywhere and everywhere for ways to serve, one fellow human being at a time. It does help, and when my eyes are on others they are not on myself. That has made all the difference.

During Midnight Mass next week is probably when I will release it all and let it go. I hope the people sitting around me can ignore the sobs of gratitude and release.

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air,
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.

We have only a week of Advent waiting to go. The good news of course is that Heaven cannot hold Him and into the stable of our hearts He comes. To we poor, small people He comes.

May we react to Our Savior’s coming with as much exuberance and jubilation as our family’s 10-month old beagle Buster did tonight when encountering snow for the first time.

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A retreat in 20 installments

What follows are the links to the series I recently completed on my silent retreat at the Broom Tree Retreat Center in southeastern South Dakota. A friend suggested I put them in one post to make it easy to find them all. I will also be adding a page dedicated to the two writing series that have appeared on my blog so far: The Ignatian retreat and the Pledge of Allegiance series from 2011 (with guest bloggers). Be watching for the tab to appear soon along the top menu bar.

Series Introduction

1. Into the Silence

Traveling to Broom Tree

2. The journey north: Alone
3. There’s a biker on the bridge, Captain!
4. Pearl

The Retreat

5. Introductions
6. Illuminations
7. “Follow Me”
8. The beauty of creation
9. You know me
10. Ruptured
11. Miserere
12. Questions and a promise
13. “I will give you a new heart”
14. This great drama
15. There is deep love
16. The stars dance
17. Two Standards
18. Station to station
19. “A ministry of her own”
20. Filled with the fullness of God