Stepping forward.

Today is the day.  Ash Wednesday.  I’ve written a bunch about this in years past.  But this link at Aggie Catholics has the yearly roundup (always updated to be current w/ good links) and here is what’s important to remember as well.  So, instead of my yammering on about it, this video below is a good quickie summary for us attention and/or time challenged folks. Take a look, it’s the fast 411 on Lent.

So, wishing you a rich and good Lent.  Into the desert.  Steady on…..

Madre Moretta

Or, as you may or may not know her as: St. Josephine Bakhita!

It’s her memorial today!

St Bakhita lived a life full of hardship and unspeakable horror…and yet, she had a hope that did not die.  Despite the years of torment and slavery that she endured, she still had the strength and hope and fortune to finally reach and hold the shore of safety.  And once there, she  had the courage to resist those who would rest it from  her.  Thus she ended her years as a slave, no longer in Africa, but in Italy, in the home of the Cannossian Daughters of Charity.  Here she became a sister and member of the community, and lived until her death in 1947.  She was so loved and gentle and joyful that she became known as “Madre Moretta,” the “Black Mother” (an unusual sight, I would presume, in Italy in the first half of the 20th century).

Her fortitude and her joy in her faith, her faith in love, is striking:

I am definitely loved and whatever happens to me—I am awaited by this love.  And so my life is good.”

In our  modern world and times, especially in the country of her youth, Darfur, there still remains atrocities, degradation, violence….especially for young girls.  This saint is a patron for them.  She ‘gets it,’ as no one else might.  Her ability to forgive and still love, astonishes me.  She is an example of dignity, that we can all witness, and wonder, and learn.

Each saint in the canon is unique, helping us see that we all can bring goodness and healing in this world, in our own small but big ripply way.  That’s why I love learning about them and thinking about the saints….it’s cool and fascinating, sometimes shocking, sometimes radical, sometimes gentle….but, every time, it enriches the band width of what’s on my radar and in my life.

At her canonization Pope John Paul II said this about  St. Josephine Bakhita:

We find a shining advocate of genuine emancipation. The history of her life inspires not passive acceptance but the firm resolve to work effectively to free girls and women from oppression and violence, and to return them to their dignity in the full exercise of their rights.”

They  need this saint.  We need this saint, to remind us of inherent human dignity and hope and the possibility of joy.

St. Josephine Bakhita, pray for us.

Presenting

It’s the Feast of the Presentation today! Also known as Candlemass.

Oh my.  This day, this feast has such resonance for me, this year.  I’m not sure I can even write it; not fully or well enough.  It’s almost, almost, a little kick in my chest at the same time as a soft smile.

Rembrandt: "Simeon with the Christ Child"

But……this feast is when we remember, liturgically in our Catholic church, but also in our prayers and hearts, how Mary took her son, her baby, to the temple.  She was dutifully fulfilling her obligation, as all good Jewish moms did, to present her baby boy to the temple elders. Little did she know what prophecy she was gonna run smack into.  Little did she know she’d run into Simeon, Anna, and their words.  And I’m guessing she was just gobsmacked by it all.  I would’a been.  I would have been really rattled.  But, then again, I’m just me.  I’m figuring she was held up by a waterfall of grace and maybe a few guardian angels to keep her on her feet and find her breath.

There is so much to this event, this feast.  Go, read.

But this is where it gets a little personal.  Because, this year, I’ve spent, well, the past  year, mulling over this entire concept: presenting.  Presenting my son to the Lord.  Because that’s what I did.  I know, I know, ya’ll will shout at me and say, um, “HE chose this, not you.”  “I KNOW Mary, and you Ma’am, are NO Mary.” “I know Jesus, and I know your son Chris, and he is not Jesus.”  I know.  Shhh.  Stop shouting and pointing.  I’m NOT saying that.

What I’m saying is that I, a regular old mom, literally took my son, my firstborn, and presented him back to the the Lord.  I hugged him tight.  I shook hands with the other priests and novices and hugged them as I choked back tears and yet they welled behind  my sunglasses.  I watched his father hoist his few chosen possessions out of our car and into waiting helping  hands.  I stood aside as I watched him, getting edgy, wait to hug his dad, me.  I watched him  hug his dad goodbye.

The tears overflowed, I bowed my head.  I hugged him tight, kissed him, crossed his forehead, again.  Pressed my cheek to his and then gave him a weak smile as his dad and I grabbed hands and turned to go; letting him go.  I felt that pierce of my heart.  Even as I felt that swell of love too, knowing that he was going to God and to answer his call.

I let him go.  That’s what presenting is, isn’t it? In many ways, I think so.  You present and let go. You don’t present something and wrap it up tight and keep it hidden away. You present it and let go.  Open your hands.  Let go.  We miss him so.  Some days more than others.  But it’s also a great joy to see him happy and taking on a whole new mantle, add a layer to who he is and who he is becoming.  But, my hands are open now; having presented him, I love him, but let go.

So.  It’s a gift this feast.  For me, I can unwrap this gift in a new and fuller and more meaningful poignant way than ever before.  Even more so than last year, when I knew, I knew, this presentation was approaching.  Now I have done it.  I am not Mary.  My son is just my boy, my dear son, now a man.  But.  Just as any family can model in a tiny fractionated shadowy way the truths in our faith and life, so to can my messy family in our teeny way.  So, today, I get a gift of remembering that other mothers, so many, have given their child back to God.  The Blessed Mother did it, not only because it was prophesied …. but perhaps so we could have the courage to do so as well.

Today I am grateful for this feast.  It means so much.  To us all, yes.  But, oh, so much, to me.

No Dumb Ox There

Today is the feast of St Thomas Aquinas!

We have a special devotion to St. Thomas in our family, for a number of different reasons.  Not the least of which is this one’s special devotion to him too:

Anyhow, there is SO much to say about Aquinas. I’m sure many of you are familiar with him, him being one of the greatest Doctors of the Church and most profound theologians we have.  His writings span denominations and bridge gaps because he writes about the truth of faith, which is love.  He lived it, he embodied it.  He was taunted for his size and his quiet gentle ways: hence, the epithet, “dumb ox.”  But, oh, so not.  He was brilliant.  He was large, yes, but I like to think that perhaps he was bodily large simply to house the largesse of his faith hope and love.  His size was such, perhaps, so that our own dumb minds could maybe make the connection; that he was more than most of us, we just had to look closer, with better eyes. Perhaps not. Our bodies are our bodies, whatever they are.  But, his mind, heart, faith…well, it was bigger than any of us can fathom.  Or, than I can truly fathom.

Aquinas is the patron of students, which also means I hit him up for prayers quite often.  But, one of the things that I love about him is his humility. Despite being one of the greatest minds in the Church, ever, he held that prayer had taught him more than study.  Now, that is where I need to dwell.  Prayer.  So much of the time I turn to me,  my mind, to figure things out. I need to ever keep steady in prayer to find the same , no, better, calming reassurance.  So, today, again, I ask St Thomas Aquinas, to pray for THIS dumb ox to grow in humility and faith.  No dumb ox there.  But oh yes, here.

Happy Feast Day!

St Thomas Aquinas, pray for us!

And, now that you’ve read my quick gloss simple mom thoughts on why I love this saint, if you want to have more erudite thoughts and a much broader intellectual taste of what he’s about, watch this (from the excellent Fr Barron, and his Word on Fire series):

Immaculate…what a concept

 

Saint Anne conceiving the Virgin Mary
Douai, Musée de la Chartreuse
 Oh, it’s a big feast today!  It’s one of those feasts: an uber Catholic one. It’s the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a holy day of obligation. It’s actually a Solemnity, which means it has even more import…so it’s a biggie!

 This is one of the big Marian feasts, and one that often gives many folks some consternation (from a scratch on the head to fits).  For a good explanation of it all, go here (and scroll down for all those, “What’s up with that” “How can that be?” kind of responses).  I can’t give you a great theological treatise on it.  It took brilliant theologians from the east and west to determine this one over the centuries, but they did because we are human. And our inquiring minds want to know, and puzzle and ponder.  So those who have gone before us prayed and debated and concluded.  I can say that it only makes sense to my puny brain.

Pierro de Cosimo, “The Immaculate Conception and Six Saints”
For a long time, I thought that the “immaculate conception”referred to Mary’s conception of Jesus, you know, with the descent of the Holy Spirit and Gabriel and all…clean, tidy, right?
But noit’s actually about Mary and her being preserved from the stain of original sin.
Confusing, a little, huh?
Well, this is how it parses out in my old mom brain: God himself is all love and of course, without sin.  God came to us in his son, Christ, who was also without sin (being God and all).  Since all purity and all love cannot coexist with the stain of sin, how could Christ come to us as a man, without first having a pure ‘vessel’, if you will?  Well, he couldn’t, that would not correspond with the natural/divine order.  Growing in utero is, utterly, coexisting.  So, if God cannot coexist with sin, then a human mom to be would have to be found, sinless.  And thus, since God is beyond time, he prepared Mary, {from her conception of course}, to be without sin.  Because God knew, outside of time, that Mary would be the perfect (literally and figuratively) mom for Jesus.

Now, I think that’s cool!  It makes perfect sense to me and really is one of those ‘clap your hands, I get it” kind of moments.  Yeah, it’s uber Catholic.  But hey, I love being Catholic because (well, so many reasons) its cool and rich and takes my breath away.  And of course,  I love feasts….so it’s a good day!

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!

**Disclaimer: yes, you saw most of this last  year.  But it’s advent and I need to be frugal w/ my net time.  So instead of wracking my puny brain to find another way to say this. I’m gonna go with what I said.  Because I meant it then and still do. Thanks for understanding…

Novitiate, how’s it going?

So, my son has been at the Novitiate for almost four months.  He’s been in spiritual boot camp for almost 1/3 of a year; or, he’s almost 1/3 of the way through his intensive friar boot camp.

He has a new name, Brother Peter Joseph.  He has new clothes, for most of the time, his white habit and black copa (cape).  He has 12 new brothers, and as I’ve now begun to get to know them….they are great guys.  Now, I guess that’s no surprise, they would be, right? Well, by and large, they are.  Which is a comfort to my mom’s heart too.  It’s getting cold up there but I sent up his coat (and cookies).

Brother Peter Joseph spends his days in prayer, study, and service, with time out for basketball and hikes and music as well.  He is choir master, for now.  Halfway through they switch jobs, and they might then make his new job master of the laundry…or maybe not…  They have movie night, dvds from their library, every week.  They have game night, I think.  They walk into town for errands.  He drives now and then; every week he has a day when  his team of brothers works at an assisted living facility, doing whatever is needed to help out.  They do a lot of manual labor, they have some big projects in process around the parish and priory.  They laugh a lot, they are a funny bunch – and that makes me so so very glad too.  The brothers have class most days, but not the test/paper kind of class…more the deeper learning/study kind of class.

It all sounds kind of calm and quiet and routine.  And, in so many ways, it is, I think.  But it is carefully crafted to be so, in order to detach from the noise and distraction of this loud busy world and go into the deep; to turn the heart and soul toward God and the ear to his voice.  To listen, fully, finally, and really.  But that, right there, is where the real rigor begins.  I don’t know about you, but oy, for me to really QUIET, and listen…?  That’s a workout.  I am like a gabbling goose (I know, I know – evidently, right?!) and to actually STILL my body and mind…well it’s a JOB.  It’s actually totally countercultural anymore, really, isn’t it? I think so.  And that, the very rigor in that process, is why this novitiate year is hard.  To come face to face with your attachments, distractions, little idols, irritations and indulgences and set them aside for something so much bigger that you can’t even wrap your head around it fully?  That’s something kind of unfathomable to me.

It’s radical.

So, when my son says he’s “…really good. But it’s hard.”  He means just that I think.  It is a deep, but good difficulty.  It’s time.  It’s his time.  And he is approaching one of the hard seasons of the novitiate year.  Not the most difficult; that would be Lent.  But the next two holidays are big.  Big changes, big adjustment…for us all.  He will miss, for the first time and for onward, Thanksgiving and Christmas (and lent/Easter, etc) at home with his family.  We will miss, for the first time and for onward, having him with us.  Oh, it makes me tear up to even type it, dork that I am.  And it’s not like I didn’t know…I KNEW, even last year, that it was the last.  But, there it is.  It is hard.  For us all.  But, even so, it is good.

He says, “Please keep praying for me.”  So, I ask  you, any or all, to please keep my boy in your prayers; heck, keep all those young men in prayer. Because it’s a tough season ahead.  Jolly, yes. Joyful, yes.  And rich? Beyond description, I suspect.

So, how is it going, that novitiate?  It’s going really well.  It’s going just like it’s supposed to.  It’s hard.  It’s rich, peaceful, bittersweet, lonely, irritating, surprising, funny…it’s good.  It’s radical in the desire and the depth and the choosing of it all.  And, I suspect, and hope and pray, that’s it’s radical in it’s accompanying (divine) light and goodness and joy.

The Departed.

It’s the Feast of All Soul’s Day!

"All Souls Day" by Perry Morgan III

Now, this is the day we remember all the faithfully departed.

You might think that we did that yesterday.  Well, yes and no.  Today we remember those souls that have passed out of this earthly life, our loved ones…and might still be in (get ready for it) Purgatory.  Yup, I said it.  Well, I typed it.  Purgatory:  that uber Catholic doctrine.  That historic sticking point between Catholics and other christian denominations.  So many find the entire concept of Purgatory offensive, somehow.  I think it is just SUCH a comfort!

Because let’s face it, it would be really nice to think that every single one of us, when we die, goes straight to heaven and is blissfully happy for the rest of eternity.  But, that would be a fairy tale.  Or, it might be your idea that it’s ALL a fairy tale and there IS NO hereafter, after all.  So, in that case, “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.”  But, that would be a nightmare.  So, what’s left? Well, whats left is the all too reasonable concept of purgatory!  Because it only makes sense.  Think about it, as a mom, say my kid screws up…say, breaks a window with his baseball.  Well, yuh, he can be well and truly sorry, he can apologize, I can and will forgive him.  But, um, the window? It’s still broken and needs repair or replacement.  Reparation.  So, there is a real actual consequence, in real time, for his bad decision/error/accident.  So, he takes the time to fix the window, or do the chores to earn the money to help replace the window.  THEN, after the repair/consequence, it’s all over, gone, done.  We move onward.

Isn’t that the same in our lives, here? Aren’t we, here, supposed to model love and the family of it?

Well, yuh, when we are doing it right, that’s just what we are supposed to do.  So, when it comes to dying….yes, I will pass on.  And I do and will confess my sins and feel true sorrow for them and want to repair that relationship and I trust and know the divine mercy we are promised and taught.  But, um, I still gotta repair the relational consequences of my bad decisions/ actions/ choices…both with those I’ve hurt here on this earth but also on a spiritual level.  Because it IS all a relationship.  And really, God’s mercy doesn’t outweigh justice. They are both omnipresent.  So, his mercy forgives.  Ahhhh.  But his justice means that until my soul, my-self, is truly pure, repaired…then I can’t even try to stand in the light of God – meaning heaven.  So, purgatory is the gift of a foyer.  It is a genius stroke of creation by the smartest architect…the one who knows that we need a place to scrape the mud off our boots, so to speak.  To do the last checks of sorting out and repairing our foolish choices, and then take a deep joyous breath and enter the heavenly bliss.

Walter MacEwen, 1860-1943, "The Absent One on All Soul's Day"

It’s a gift of mercy, really.  It’s merciful AND just to require that reparation.  Because we all know that we don’t really feel right about our  mistakes, until we’ve set them right again.  God doesn’t need us to repair the window.  WE need us to repair the window.  It’s merciful AND just for there to be Purgatory, to have a place where we can do the work to repair our souls, to fully prep.  And while it might SEEM like it would only be merciful to let everyone, everyone, go to heaven as soon as they pass on…that VERY instant…well, maybe that wouldn’t be very merciful at all.  Not to them, because they wouldn’t maybe be ready for it, not really.  And, it’s not like going to the park, the beatific vision is like the most amazing reunion, ever.  You prep for that sort of thing.  It wouldn’t really be merciful to us left behind, either.  Sounds comforting, but are we SURE, really SURE that each and every one of our beloveds were totally prepped for their passing?  Were they ready for an instant step into mind blowing bliss or the eternal turn-away from that very bliss?  Are we sure that they had sorted out all the hurts or the questions or the actions and repaired those that needed it?  Hmmm.  I don’t know about you, but I can’t seem to figure out what my teen is thinking on a good day, much less old Uncle Jasper or loved ones from far away that I don’t see nearly enough.

That whole judging another’s soul thing – quite beyond my pay grade.

So, I turn back to purgatory.  Again, such a comfort and a hope.  Because it’s still heaven, it’s just the foyer.  And the “pain” purgatory comes from being SO close but not yet there, and now what’s waiting is revealed and even MORE desired.  Talk about tantalizing! But, even so, it’s enveloped in hope and mercy and justice.  So it’s wrapped up in gold.

Whew! Another long rambling scrambling traipse through my brain.  Sorry ’bout that.  But, this is what I’m thinking about today.  This is why I have this blog.  To show that I had brain function and synapses firing at one point in time…if only to prove it to myself…even if they randomly fire and spit out jumbles of ideas.  And to remember things I  might not want to forget (because, yes, it’s still all about me me me).

So, for all our departed, happy All Souls Day.  You’re not forgotten.

Photo by Evana, Pruskow, All Souls Day

From the Mass for the dead:

[for all our departed brothers and sisters]
Merciful Father,
hear our prayer and console us.
As we renew our faith in Your Son,
whom You raised from the dead,
strengthen our hope
that all our departed brothers and sisters
will share in His resurrection,
who lives and reigns
with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen

ALL saints day!

Today is the Solemnity of All Saints!

All Saints Day, Wassily Kandinsky 1911

That means that today is a big, big feast day! I know, we call it a “solemnity” even though it’s one of the biggie high feast days.  You might think we’d call it the “big bash feast day” or the “fabulous feast” or something.  But, in her wisdom, the Church knows that we all love a good feast/party quite well enough and that we need to also recall the fullness of the reasons for any given feast that’s big enough to be called a solemnity.  She’s always teachin’…our Church.  But, even though the word “solemnity” makes you think we are all serious and gravely solemn, it’s not really all about that.  It’s more about the SCOPE of the feast.  It’s a way to label a feast as really big, deep, wide, broad…FULL.  So, how does all that carrying on apply to a feast of the saints?  I mean, the saints: ya da ya da…we talk about them ALL the time, right? Well, you know I do!

But today is the day we get to remember the full spectrum of the saints! Not only the rock star saints and the celebrities and the poster boy or gal saints.  Today we remember that there are a legion of saints enjoying the Beatific Vision that are not on any rosters, except the rosters of our own little families and our individual hearts or forgotten history.  Meaning, all those little folks who lived saintly holy lives, way back when and even now in our modern era…but didn’t do anything in particular to be recognized, to be noticed…well, today is their big day.

Today is the day we can look to those quiet or ‘regular’ lives of holiness and know that they count; even if they actually, at their own time, flew under that radar.  So, for the Joe’s and the Janes, the Ida’s, the Elizabeths, the Tomas’, the Abe’s, the Godada’s, the Guday’s,  Vladimir’s, Ezra’s, William’s, Belaynesh’s, Judit’s, Amelia’s, Francois’, Helen’s, Lida’s, Lavida’s, Oliver’s, Orville’s, Paulos’, Myng Joo’s, Sylvia’s, Gustav’s, Constantin’s, Violet’s….well, you get the idea.  For all those names that we can’t really know over the centuries – today is the day we recall that they too, these ones we don’t know, yet, are enjoying eternity and are part of the “communion of saints.” They too, are cheering us on in our little mundane regular lives; praying for us even.  Because they know, certainly more than the rest of us, that these little lives count….despite or perhaps because of their small quiet ripples.  So, this feast day is for the little guys.  Ok, for the bigs too.  But, that’s why it’s a solemnity – it’s for all of them, and thus, for all of us.

All Saints Day 1, Wassily Kandinsky 1911

How cool is that?

I love the communion of saints! I love the liturgical year!

{And, if you’re feeling like really marking this feast, here is the Litany of the Saints…

and for those of you who want to know more,  here is a good explanation of this prayer.}

Happy All Saints Day!

It’s all thematic: halloween, souls, treats, brothers…..

So, here on All Hallows Eve….happy Halloween!

But on THIS particular All Hallows Eve, I’ve got soul formation on my mind and heart.  I like to think thats a bit more thematic than simply my usual grasping for what candy I can snag and coax from my little cute trick or treating kiddos.  So, indulge me a moment….

This past weekend we had our one and only OFFICIAL visit up at the Novitiate with my eldest son.  My Chris.  My Brother Peter Joseph.

We all piled into two cars, texted directions to my Jon so he could drive down from campus and meet us too, and six hours later the whole family was together again for the first real official visit since July and the last time til next August.  It was wonderful.  And the added benefit was that we got to get to know a little bit of our new larger family: the Dominican brothers of my son…thus, in a small way, my new sons too.  (They like to eat the cookies I send, and that’s good enough for me!).

I have much to say about the visit {I know what a surprise}…but I’m tired and processing all the big emotions plus am buried in laundry and chores of re-entry (and, um, Halloween traditions).

So, until I can coherently sort out my thoughts, I want to leave you this.  It’s a little phone video, lifted from the Novice blog of Father Benedict…and because he’s such a great nice guy I don’t think he’ll mind.  The link is worth checking out too, because he’s got all kinds of interesting stuff up there and also, often, pictures of my son and his new brothers.  Now, I don’t want you to think they only sit around in cafeterias and bang around on the banjo – this was a special night and they were trying to keep us parental types entertained and happy.  They succeeded!

But, they are doing serious work up there.  They do have fun and laugh a lot too.  But, in fact, they are doing the most important work, and it’s utterly apropos to this day: they are forming their souls.  Today is the eve of all saints.  And these  young men are discerning God’s call to them in an intentional, prayerful, mindful manner.  And it’s hard work.  It’s because they aspire to become saints.  Now, I do too.  I just am much more distracted about it and keep stumbling along that long road…but we are all called to it…so to see these thirteen  young men live it, really, is inspiring and makes me cry.  Happily for us all, I was sitting to the rear left of Father Benedict so you can’t really hear me wrassle Gabey or snuff up my tears when my Peter Joseph sings and plays his guitar.  But, I did.

Roll away your Stone, by Mumford and Sons.
Cover, performed by Brother Peter Joseph and Brother Timothy
for Parents Weekend ‘talent night’ in St. Gertrude’s Cafeteria.
Thanks Father Benedict for the video (and allowing my shameless lift)
“Roll away your stone, I’ll roll away mine
Together we can see what we can find
Don’t leave me alone at this time,
For I am afraid of what I will discover inside
You told me that I would find a home,
Within the fragile substance of my soul
And I have filled this void with things unreal,
And all the while my character it steals
The darkness is a harsh term don’t you think?
And yet it dominates the things I seek
It seems as if all my bridges have been burned,
You say that’s exactly how this grace thing works
It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart,
But the welcome I receive at the restart
The darkness is a harsh term don’t you think?
And yet it dominates the things I seek
The darkness is a harsh term don’t you think?
And yet it dominates the things I seek
The darkness is a harsh term don’t you think?
And yet it dominates the things I seek
Stars hide your fires,
And these here are my desires
And I will give them up to you this time around
And so, I’ll be found with my stake stuck in this ground
Marking its territory of this newly impassioned soul
And these here are my desires
And I will give them up to you this time around
And so, I’ll be found with my stake stuck in this ground
Marking its territory of this newly impassioned soul
But you, you’ve come too far this time
You have neither reason nor rhyme
With which to take this soul that is so rightfully mine.”

Girl talk and holiness: An advocate

It’s the feast of St. Teresa of Avila!
I love her. I claim her as one of my patron saints due to our shared tendency toward massive headaches and migraines. Only one who has them all the time can really understand how they scramble you…and she did. So, she’s my gal!

Painting by Francois Gerard, c. 17C

But more importantly, St. Teresa of Avila is just one amazing woman and saint. She is one of the three women Doctors of the Church (a distinction noting that her spiritual writings are both sound and very important, influential, indeed foundational). For a woman of medieval times, that is no small accomplishment, not to mention: staying power! Her books such as Interior Castle and The Way of Perfection are just amazing reads. Not fast page turners, but mind blowers. You have to stop every few pages and just sort of…digest it all. And then soak it in, let it sink in….it’s great great stuff and will change your prayer life. She founded the Discalced Carmelites (Meaning “shoeless,” again, what’s not to like?) and had an ongoing friendship and correspondence with the mystic and poetically powerful St. John of the Cross {And if you want a really phenomenal book, tough, dense, but OH so worth it: read the compilation/commentary on these two together: Fire Within, by Dubay}.

But on another level, not the “resume” angle…St. Teresa of Avila appeals to me because she was first of all a real living, breathing woman. I know, they all are, doh. But what I mean is that she was a woman of opinions and ideas and kind of stubborn and pushy, even when that wasn’t always overtly sanctioned in the culture of her time. She was extremely social and loved to sit and chat and flirt even…she was quite beautiful and knew how to use it too. She had to struggle against the urge to chat and flirt and gossip, and spend too much time doing it, because she could lose afternoons to it.

Sound familiar to any of you, especially you gals? Um, yeah. That stuff IS fun. Total temptation.  Sounds pretty modern to me.

St. Teresa’s monastic cell at the Convento de la Encarnación, Ávila
Kinda beautiful in it’s own stark simplicity, don’t ya think?

And yet, even so, St. Teresa could hear in her inmost self the whisper of God who loved her as she was, loved her more than anyone else could. And she responded, bravely, to that irresistible call. And it brought her the ecstasy of union with God in prayer. And that amazes me and intrigues me as I know firsthand how hard it is to push all those opinions and flippy chitchatty conversations out of my head to pay attention to God himself. She knew that frivolous conversation impeded her progress toward holiness…..and she dreaded nothing so much as delusion and the siren call of distraction from that path.  Frivolous conversation? Distraction? I’m the poster girl for it. But St. Teresa gives me hope and I have hope that she prays for me…for my attention to what is important, for responding to that call, that whisper, for my headaches, for being brave enough to listen through the din of my modern mundane life.

Sculpture by Bernini, “St. Teresa in Ecstasy”
So, happy feast day!St. Teresa of Avila, pray for us!

**Much of this was posted several years ago…I’ve been in the trenches, busy, but today I’m lifting my head up long enough to repost.  Because this gal is one of my chosen patron saints.  Thanks for understanding.

St Vincent de Paul: for the orphans…..

..and the widows and the poor. This saint had the big heart.  The heart that, maybe, darn near broke from compassion.  The heart that put compassion first foremost and above all.  So, for all you adoptive families and mission going gals out there – he’s your man.  Heck, for all you guilt ridden, distracted, interrupted moms out there (ok, me…), he’s a great saint to consider hitting up for prayer.  He gets it. And, it’s his feast day today!

I also gotta wonder if he wasn’t one with a sense of humor, another joyful saint.  I mean, look at that face. All the paintings and images I’ve ever seen of him show that smile and a little spark in his eyes.  Love that.  But, I digress.

Anyhow, he’s French, from the late 1500’s.  No easy time that.  But, enough, to distill what he was about, I can do no better than to excerpt one of his letters (from this morning’s Office of Readings):

“It is our duty to prefer the service of the poor to everything else and to offer such service as quickly as possible.  If a needy person requires medicine or other help during prayer time, do whatever has to be done with peace of mind.  Offer the deed to God as your prayer.  Do not become upset or feel guilty because you interrupted your prayer to serve the poor. God is not neglected if you leave him for such service. One of god’s works is merely interrupted so that another can be carried out.  So when you leave prayer to serve some poor person, remember that this very service is performed for God. Charity is certainly greater than any rule.”  {From St. Vincent de Paul’s epistle 2546: Correspondance, entretiens, documents, Paris 1922-25, 7} 

Now, c’mon moms, does that not describe your every waking moment days in a nutshell? I think so!  It does mine.  What? I’m not surrounded by the poor? Well, not in the common sense of the term, no.  However, the poor are the little among us too.  They are the ones who need help, the ones who have no voice or a very tiny small one, the ones who might get overlooked. The poor get dismissed, either because they are the classic newspaper image of poor, impoverished and not just outside our door; or because they are children, our children even, and we forget their needs are so mighty as well.  So,  yeah, they count too.  Overwhelming? Poor ALL around us?? Well, yeah.  But, happily, we get props for trying to connect and make a difference, one glass of juice at a time, one band-aid at a time, one ear to listen, to serve, at a time.  I believe it.  The trick for me is remembering to DO it.  Again.  And again.  And again…well, you get the idea.

St. Vincent de Paul, pray for us!

Triple Love

 

Detail of "Holy Trinity" by El Greco, of course

It’s the Feast of the Holy Trinity!

Which means it’s another day of mystery, with a capital M.  This mystery is one of the biggies, of course.  Uber Catholic to boot {we Catholics love a good mystery!}.  One that really, we are not truly meant to fully figure out – because as soon as you think you have; you’ve probably fallen into presumption (with a capital P) and are not on target to boot.

So, here’s what we do know, ok, let’s be more precise, what I think about this day: it’s a feast of love, really.  How’s that? Well, God the Father so loved everything, but even more so,us, that he gave us his Son, and the love between those two was so immeasurably great that it begat it’s own third “person”: the Holy Spirit.  Thus those three began the “begatting” that we read in the Old Testament (pages and pages of it, right?) and that, when we are doing it right, here on earth, begets us each other.

The Trinity was and is (and ever will be) the prime, premier, example of how to love – well and truly.  And that right there, is enough mystery for my little brain for, um, the rest of  my life.  Which is really, of course, part of it’s charm.  Mind blowing charm and goodness.  Something to celebrate. And that’s why it’s a feast day: was then, is now, and will be forever.  Amen.

Happy Feast of the Holy Trinity!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Falling Fire

It’s the Feast of Pentecost!

Makoto Fujimura, "January Hour - Pentecost"

I love this feast, not only for the terrific art through the centuries, the storytelling and imagery of it all….but for the entire concept of it.  It’s truly one of the mysteries in life and yet, it’s one we get to walk through often as well.

What? Sound a bit crazy?  Maybe…but I know and I bet you do too that you have had times when you were able to say something to a friend or family or someone that was totally the perfect thing to say, and you had NO idea you were going to say it.  And right after those words slipped out, you kind of marveled at them.  Did you really say that? Well…yeah.  Wow.  Good job and um, it wasn’t you.  Right? I know that very thing has happened to me.  Many more times than once.  And used to be, I’d kind of sit there and think, “Wow, how clever am I and who’da thunk it“…..until it dawned on me (like a beam whacked across my forehead) that um, it wasn’t me after all.  No way.  Now, I know better.  It’s NOT me.  It’s the Holy Spirit and when it happens, I’ve basically just finally shut up long enough to give Him an edge, an opening.  Really, I should do it more often.  I know, I know.

I get to feel it in my parenting too.  Not often enough of course cause I’m typically way too busy getting in the way with  my controlling ideas.  But, when I’ve been able to slow down and step aside, either through sheer exhaustion or sheer empty brain cells, then I’ve gotten the gift of seeing someone, something else at work.  And I marvel.  Because then sometimes if I quietly let that fire fall on me and through my arms I can bring my kids into the warm embrace of it – and we love and heal and grow.  At least for a moment or two before I start slapping it out with my own schedule and commands and ideas; back to the buzz.  But those moments, ah, they are gold.  They really do kinda glow.

And that’s why I love this Feast. It reminds us that we can walk through falling fire. It doesn’t burn.  It’s a little bit of magic in our world, but better.  Because it’s grace.

Below is the song that I wake with, every feast of Pentecost.  It’s my tune for the day.

08 Let The Fire Fall

Happy Feast of Pentecost!

Girl Feast: the Visitation

Today is the Feast of the Visitation!

I saw this in the Uffizi, one of my fav's

That means that today we celebrate and remember when Mary went to her cousin Elizabeth, who was pregnant with the soon to be born John the Baptist. I love this image, I love this whole concept.  It’s one of my favorite mysteries of the rosary….and I’ve wondered why it speaks to me so.  But I think, really, it’s that whole connection thing, once again.

The connections that we make, especially we women, are so important.  They mean everything, in a way.  It took me a long time to get there, way past the awkward high school years and the striving driven, boyfriend focused, college years.  But as I’ve grown older and into the woman I am now in middle age and hopefully was meant to be (mostly), I have grown also into some of the richest relationships: friendships with women.  My girl friends are such a support; even the virtual ones through email, phones, and blogging…the support gained and given through these friendships with other women give me such strength.  They have pulled me out of deepest indigo blues, they have encouraged me forward in burnout and despair, they have brainstormed with me in mom dilemmas, they have brightened days with a good laugh.  They have called me out from my selfishness, they have told me when the swimsuit is just too tired and for pity’s sake go buy a new one.  They have listened to me vent and cry and rage and brag; saved my marriage a few times and my child’s backside as well.  They are generous, genious, kind, caring, prayerful gals…..and I hope and pray I have returned the favor more than once and can continue to.  In person, blog, email or phone, it all counts.

I think that is why I love this feast so.  Mary did it first.  She found out she was with child, and in her first trimester she journeyed to her cousin.  Now, we all know what that first trimester is like: such exhaustion, illness, hunger, sleepy fatigue. And Mary set out on a long journey to be with her dear friend, her cousin.  She didn’t get to hop in her comfy BMW, she had to walk or use the donkey.  I would’a griped about traveling in my comfy Honda (oh, right I think I did, way back when I was in first trimester’s.  oops).  But she went.  She went to help, not to get her own comfort, but to help.  Because Elizabeth was older and was in the end (third trimester?) of her pregnancy.  We all know what that’s like too: exhausted, feeling big as a whale, swollen, uncomfortable, maybe a tad irritable, just…done.  So, Mary went to help.  And they embraced when they met, like friends/family who miss each other do.  And Elizabeth blurted out “Who am I that the mother of my Lord comes to me?”  She didn’t say, “Mary! Wow, what a surprise, what are you doing here?” and start fretting about if she had enough kefir or whatever to add to lunch or if the house was clean.  No, she instantly felt the baby flip around and she had those words out, I suspect, before she even really understood them, fully.  That’s how it works, I think. It’s all grace.  This feast is all about the grace and we see it in that painting, up there, one of my favorites.

Our friendships, the support we women give each other is unlike anything else.  And it is all grace. It really is, when it’s good.  We can  undermine each other like nobody’s business if we choose.  But when we choose to give, it’s like nothing else….except, like Mary..and Elizabeth.  And that, just that, is why I love this feast day.  It’s a feast about connections and grace and giving.  It’s a girl feast.  Because we rock and we do this better than anyone; when we open ourselves to this grace. Mary and Elizabeth did, so long ago.  They show us the way, even now.

>Triumph? A cross, really…..?

>

 Dali, of course.

Yup.
Today is the feast of the Triumph of the Cross
Which always seems all counter-intuitive.  Like we Catholics and Christians have lost our collective minds.  Really? A cross? That horrible gory ghastly unspeakable death?  Or, that so common it’s lost it’s punch story of the crucifixion….yeah yeah yeah, I know I know.  Easy to kind of give a mental nod to it and move on, right? 
Well, yeah……..except when it’s YOUR cross. 
Because that’s what this is about: You.  Your cross too. 
By which I mean, mine.
And then it all takes on QUITE a different tone doesn’t it?
Because these “crosses”…..doggone if they don’t HURT!
Like HELL!

Yeah, see, you get the idea. 
Takes me a while and I still forget, but yeah.
That’s the idea.  Because you don’t get to Christ without the Cross.
Dang.
But you don’t. 
And really, you don’t even want to. No, really, think about it, you don’t…because it is in our suffering that we strip away the dross, the unimportant, and find the realest of real, the true.  It is in that process that we find what is most important about our lives, ourselves….and it is always the same truth: Love.  And that of course, is God.  God is love.  Done.

Why it takes the Cross to get that through our stubborn mulish heads I don’t know.  I guess because I am so stubborn.  Such a mule.  Such a slow slow learner. 
So proud. So controlling. 
All of that has to be kicked out of me, again and again before I can set it all down and give over…. 
so that I can let real love wash over me, the way it’s supposed to instead of the way I’d like to direct it…. to learn to actually LOVE, in action and deeds instead of only good intentions….to just do it {and yes, I”m still working on it, thanks for asking…sigh}

And it’s that. In the doing, where we find the love, even as we might be carrying the cross.  Then too is when we see the triumph, yeah, even the exaltation and joy of that very cross, so despised before.  We see it’s beauty.  Because it transformed…..everything.  It transformed suffering. It transformed ugly, and pain, and horror, and fear, and weeping, and exhaustion.  It took it all and flipped it inside out….into our very reason for shouting and clapping for joy, for hugging with grateful tears, for that catch in our chest when we know that it’s ok, not even ok, but oh so unspeakably good. 
Because it is love.  It is our suffering, which is our giving to the last drop of ourselves that we go the cross, Christ’s cross, and only then do we get to really learn what it means to really love, in the way that is real. 
Triumph. 
Love that word.
Today’s the day to remember it.
Triumph.

Siena

“We adore you Oh Christ, and we praise you, because by your Holy Cross, you have redeemed the world.”

>Birth of St. John the Baptist

>

It’s a Solemnity!
It’s a Solemnity of a happy day: the birth of St. John the Baptist!

Now, I’ve gone over this before but a solemnity is actually a big deal feast day…not really like it sounds – solemn in the sense of sad or grim.  Rather, it’s a specially marked day to remember some of the very important figures in our faith and history.  Obviously, St. John the Baptist…he’s a biggie!

Now this also means it’s a feast day of sorts for my Jon.  You know: patron/name and so on.  No surprise then, really, that I see many overlaps in character traits between these two John’s/Jon’s.  That’s how these things seem to go.  Names somehow evolve to seem very apt.  Maybe it’s all projecting by the parents, but even so….it’s my blog and I’m the mom and I’m going with it. 

So.  Here we have a day to remember and mark: the birth of this remarkable man, the herald of Christ to come, St. John the Baptist. 

Heck, even before he was born he was jumping around and making himself known, pointing (or kicking…) toward Christ.  When Mary went to visit Elizabeth, arriving and greeting her with a big hug, John lept in Elizabeth’s womb and Elizabeth knew, deep down, that something was up.  So I’m presuming it was more than your usual kick/bump/push by the babe.  Must’a been a whopper of a flip.  Maybe a little prenatal jump for joy?  Actually yes: 

“Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed in the fruit of your womb.  And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.” Luke 1:41-44
Ok, this painting is  
Visitation by Mariotto Albertinelli (1503) and I saw it in the Uffizi.
I LOVE this painting. I do.  
  

So, that’s just cool.

But, what ya gotta also think of, ok, what I think of, is that little John…he was no milquetoast.  I mean, even before he was out and squinting at the light, he was already pointing and pushing and making a bit of a ruckus.  Elizabeth, she should have sensed what was to come.  Maybe she did.  Tho, not many moms will even dare look ahead to such radical futures for their kids: heading off into the desert, scavenging for food, not wearing the nice clean linens that we got or made for them…nope, not what might have been dreamt.  But it was precisely his hardheaded radical ways that made him who he is and was.  Those very traits of fearless speaking out earned him followers and prepared the way for Christ. It was exactly like it was supposed to be.  So he got the biggest honor of all: baptizing Christ.  Whoa.  He got to take part in a miracle for all to see.  And still he was his own kind of raggedy but strong difficult stubborn self.  To the very end, even to his beheading (another vision that no mom wants to even consider, yikes).

 El Greco, you know I love his stuff….

So, for all of us, we get to think about how to be countercultural today.  How to say the truth, even if it’s hard. How to stand up for what is right, not necessarily easy.  How to stay clothed in the less than flashy skins of integrity, loyalty and humble truth.  And my Jon, he has these qualities (maybe needing some work on the humble part…he’s 18 after all….): he has deep running integrity and a radar seeking truth, he is a champion of the small and weak. 

 {Yeah, even will stand up for his sisters…go figure}

He will speak out, in the desert or in the face of the powerful.  I know he too will do great things, even if hard.  And while sometimes I might personally want to roll his head down the hall in frustration…I DO wish him a different end than that of his patron.

But today is the day to celebrate the BIRTH of St. John the Baptist, not the end.  To think of the promise that even that little baby showed and that his intuitive saintly mama knew, from the very beginning: he was special.

Happy Solemnity!

Tintoretto, 1563

>Let the Fire Fall

>

Pentecost, by El Greco

Breathe into me, Holy Spirit,

that my thoughts may all be holy.


Move in me, Holy Spirit,
that my work, too, may be holy.

Attract my heart, Holy Spirit,
that I may love only what is holy.

Strengthen me, Holy Spirit,
that I may defend all that is holy.

Protect me, Holy Spirit,
that I may always be holy
Prayer to the Holy Spirit by St. Augustine

painting by Titian, Pentecost.

>Holy Laughter

>

Rejoice!
It is Easter!
He is Risen indeed! Indeed He is Risen!

Painting, Fra Angelico

I love Easter, my favorite holiday. It is. It is just too full of pure grinning hugging laughing tear blinking elation. The ever great guys over at Godzdogz make a good point, often lost in the hussle of dying eggs and gobbling candy and oohing and cooing at the beautiful little kids in their Easter bonnets and best:

but this is THE big reversal! This is the big laugh out loud rejoicing because death itself has been foiled. And we can laugh the purest laugh of sheer joy and gratitude at the mind blowing goodness of it all.

Gosh any teen boy worth his salt or brash “too cool for you” comedian should be clapping his hands and howling at the pure “great one” of this day: He didn’t die. He turned death upside down, reversing it for all, for all time. Now that makes the purest truest laughter spring forth, when you really think about it. Because that laughter starts as unsure, tiny niggles of fear, “Can it really be true, c’mon? Do you really believe that?” And now, well, Yeah! He already has spoken with Mary Magdalene and called her by her name!

Painting by Bouguereau, “The Holy Women at the Tomb”

She was so amazed that she ran off to tell the disciples. Talk about taking your breath, blowing your mind…think she just cooly stood there and gazed and thought, “Meh?”
Um, no. I think she ran and tripped and her mind was racing and she couldn’t get to them fast enough. And, as an aside (because I am all about asides) I love it that He saw her first: a woman, a sinful woman who was trying her best, and who made huge changes in her life, because of Him. That gives me hope, that kind of mercy and love.

Anyhow, so, even though I oh so often tear up at the vigil Mass (especially if I catch sight of my dear friend Sonja, who always cries…because it just means SO much to her), at the end of the Mass, after the traditional recessional song of “Jesus Christ is Risen Today,” (Played and sung LOUD and with jubiliation)…at the end, I want to laugh and shout and clap my hands and grin stupidly from ear to ear. Because it’s real.
It’s the BIG reversal, the ultimate gift.
And it’s ours.
Whoa.
That’s just pure pure JOY. Jubilation!
It’s just the best.
It’s holy laughter.

Happy Happy Easter!

Michaelangelo’s drawing, “The Resurrection of Christ”

>The Postmodern Why: holy linkage

>

painting by Dali, of course
So, today is of course Good Friday and a day to ponder our faith, if any. 
And as I do this often (some will say tooo often, and some will say not nearly often enough) I am most interested when others do it too.  And this gal has written a piece on NPR today that is worth reading.  Because, as usual, she answers this question, the one that is  blazing around the modern media outlets of late (well, not overtly, but it’s in the subtext, it really is):  
Why? Why be Catholic? Really?  How can you? How could you?  
Especially now, in light of scandals and more mud thrown and slings and arrows and accusation and supposition and on…. why?  
Well, here is an excerpt, below.  But, today, of all days, I’d ask you to go read it.  It’s worth a few minutes. 
“The question has come my way several times in the past week: “How do you maintain your faith in light of news stories that bring light to the dark places that exist within your church?”
When have darkness and light been anything but co-existent? How do we recognize either without the other?
I remain within, and love, the Catholic Church because it is a church that has lived and wrestled within the mystery of the shadow lands ever since an innocent man was arrested, sentenced and crucified, while the keeper of “the keys” denied him, and his first priests ran away. 

***snip****

The darkness within my church is real, and it has too often gone unaddressed. The light within my church is also real, and has too often gone unappreciated. A small minority has sinned, gravely, against too many. Another minority has assisted or saved the lives of millions.
But then, my country is the most generous and compassionate nation on Earth; it is also the only country that has ever deployed nuclear weapons of mass destruction.
My government is founded upon a singular appreciation of personal liberty; some of those founders owned slaves. 

***snip***

I am a woman with very generous instincts, and I try to love everyone, but I am capable of corrosive scorn. Have I been much sinned against? Yes. So have you. Have I sinned against others? Oh, yes. So have you.
Like a pebble cast into a pond, our every action ripples out toward the edges, reaching farther than we intended, touching what we do not even know, for good and for ill. It all either means nothing, or it means everything.
As a Catholic, I believe it means everything.”
Go.  Read.  Then, ponder faith. Ponder being human. Ponder the why of faith.  
That’s what today is about.  It’s Good Friday.
 

>"Why is this night different from any other night?"

>It is Holy Thursday.
The first day of the Triduum.
It’s also known as Maundy Thursday
But, no matter the term used, it’s a high holy day, and it’s one of the ones that is rich and complex and beautiful and difficult all at the same time.

(And, as an aside, everyone I know is kind of suffering all sorts of larger and smaller slings and arrows this week, escalating today.  Right.  Exactly. I guess that’s how we know it’s Holy Week and we get to participate in our own mini-wimpy-passion….because “we can’t handle the truth” {to paraphrase Jack} of the real experience.  Just saying…..)

Sadao Watanabe print

Tonight the Mass remembers that special Passover supper, the last supper.  This is the supper of the institution of the Eucharist.  The disciples didn’t even really realize what was going on…how typical, then, and now.  But, oh the beauty of it all.

So too, this night, Christ washed their feet, showing them how to be the servant of servants that they would be called to be…that we are called to be.  How often do I forget that one? Daily, how many times a day is the better question.

Sigh.  This is such a complex layered night.  I can’t begin to do it justice.  The emotions range all over the map: from the quiet humbling of the washing of the feet, to the beauty of the institution of the eucharist, to the stripping of the altar and processing out that brings me to blinking away the tears…..It’s a rigorous beautiful piercing night. For me, this night does begin the vigil…the vigil that doesn’t end until the close of Saturday night’s vigil Mass (finishing Sunday) 

“Why is this night different from any other night?”  
This is one of the Passover questions.  So too, it is our question, mine.
And these three days ahead, I get to ponder it and pray over it and grow my heart bigger to answer it well, or try.

There is also a long tradition of a late Holy Thursday night service, called Tenebrea that means, literally, “shadows” or “darkness.”  This service is one of the hardest and most beautiful.  It starts in light and over the course of the service moves to darkness….because these are the three days of darkness and the greatest of suffering.  It ends with a cacophony of clapping wood.  It jangles and disturbs me deep inside, as it should, as it’s meant to.  The Sisters of Carmel explain it well, go read the whole thing here, but below is a snip from it:
 
There is placed in the sanctuary, near the altar, a large triangular candlestick holding fifteen candles. At the end of each psalm or canticle, one of these fifteen candles is extinguished, but the one which is placed at the top of the triangle is left lighted. During the singing of the Benedictus (the Canticle of Zachary at the end of Lauds), six other candles on the altar are also put out. Then the master of ceremonies takes the lighted candle from the triangle and holds it upon the altar while the choir repeats the antiphon after the canticle, after which she hides it behind the altar during the recitation of the Christus antiphon and final prayer. As soon as this prayer is finished, a noise is made with the seats of the stalls in the choir, which continues until the candle is brought from behind the altar, and shows, by its light, that the Office of Tenebrae is over.

Wishing you a mindful and Blessed Triduum.

>Fish Eaters – What’s up with that?

>Ok, so here we are in Lent, officially in the first week of Lent (because even though half of last week was Lent, beginning with Ash Wednesday, those days aren’t counted in the “weeks” but they are counted in the days.  Yeah, it messes me up too.)  Anyhow….. so we’ve already had two official days of abstinence and one of fasting.  

So, what’s the diff? Abstinence, fasting, no meat….but fish, isn’t fish meat?  
Confused?
Join the club, you aren’t the only one.
In fact, I am a what they call a “Cradle Catholic;” by which I mean, raised Catholic from birth.  And even I still have to scratch my head and think hard on the specifics of the days sometimes.  {Although, admittedly, lately that’s been more because of the softening of my mind and loss of brain cells due to this blasted middle age.}  

But folks always ask about the fish.  Specifically, “What’s up with the Friday Fish?”

Ya got your fish fries, your fish sandwiches, tuna fish in every way you can dream it up.
Personally, I prefer the veggie route…but that’s just me maybe.  Anthony, my little man, he will vote for the cheese pizza, every time.  But I digress.

Anyhow, so what IS up with the whole “fish” thing?
Well lots.
The rudimentary part is we abstain, we Catholics, from meat on Fridays.
It’s a small mortification.
Some have speculated on why we do it.
But as with most things in the Church, there is always real history and tradition behind what we do today.  For a good article on the history and reasoning behind this, go here, it’s an article written by my real world in person I just hugged her at Mass yesterday morning gal pal, Sonja.  She’s brilliant and writes lovely intellectual pieces that explain so much about the church (as opposed to my stream of consciousness blather).  So read, you’ll learn.  You’ll be glad you did.

So, we fast and abstain in order to experience the spirit of this penitential season of Lent.  We make small (measly, really) sacrifices in order to train our bodily selves to look beyond our lives here, moment to moment.  We offer that small suffering to Christ, in thanksgiving for all he went through for us.  It is a small teeny tiny parallel to Christ’s forty days of prayer in the desert.  We are in the desert, during Lent. We try to train our minds, bodies and hearts to turn to what is actually real and important.  And it’s not the hamburgers…or the fish sandwiches.

So, yeah, we don’t eat meat on Fridays.  Mostly during Lent, though some try to observe this throughout the year.  And it may sound like no big deal.  But I’ll tell ya, maybe it’s because I have the self discipline of a four year old….but when I KNOW I can’t have meat, all of a sudden I am craving a big ol’ steak, or bacon, or a chicken sandwich. It’s as if I was thrown back to the caveman era, before the world knew the  wonders of spinach salad with goat cheese, or hummus, or a good caprese salad.  And I sulk a bit.  I mope around and suddenly can’t find anything to eat. Because I am an infant.  And so, Fridays are tough.  But I guess that it how they are supposed to be.

>Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

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Saint Anne conceiving the Virgin Mary
Douai, Musée de la Chartreuse

Oh, it’s a big feast today!  It’s one of those feasts: an uber Catholic one.
It’s the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a holy day of obligation.

One of the big Marian feasts, and one that often gives many folks some consternation (from a scratch on the head to fits).  For a good explanation of it all, go here (and scroll down for all those, “What’s up with that” “How can that be?” kind of responses).  I can’t give you a great theological treatise on it.  It took brilliant theologians from the east and west to determine this one over the centuries, but they did because we are human. And our inquiring minds want to know, and puzzle and ponder.  So those who have gone before us prayed and debated and concluded.  I can say that it only makes sense to my puny brain.

For a long time, I thought that the “immaculate conception” referred to Mary’s conception of Jesus, you know, with the descent of the Holy Spirit and Gabriel and all…clean, tidy, right?  But no, it’s actually about Mary and her being preserved from the stain of original sin.  Confusing, a little, huh?  Well, this is how it parses out in my old mom brain: God himself is all love and of course, without sin.  God came to us in his son, Christ, who was also without sin (being God and all).  Since all purity and all love cannot coexist with the stain of sin, how could Christ come to us as a man, without first having a pure ‘vessel’, if you will?  Well, he couldn’t, that would not correspond with the natural/divine order.  Growing in utero is, utterly, coexisting.  So, if God cannot coexist with sin, then a human mom to be would have to be found, sinless.  And thus, since God is beyond time, he prepared Mary, {from her conception of course}, to be without sin.  Because God knew, outside of time, that Mary would be the perfect (literally and figuratively) mom for Jesus.

Now, I think that’s cool!  It makes perfect sense to me and really is one of those ‘clap your hands, I get it” kind of moments.  Yeah, it’s uber Catholic.  But hey, I love being Catholic because (well, so many reasons) its cool and rich and takes my breath away.  And of course,  I love feasts….so it’s a good day!

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!

>Happy Birthday to Mary

>It’s the feast of the Nativity of Mary! Which means, of course, that it’s her birthday! And, as you have probably guessed by now…I love a birthday. They are full of happiness, just knowing that’s the day they were brought into the world. What’s not to celebrate about that, ever? This feast of the Nativity of Maryis a commemoration of that happy and joyful day on which the ever-blessed virgin Mother of God first saw the light of day.”
This feast is one of the few that celebrate the birth of a holy person. Most feasts celebrate the death of the holy person…which sounds really weird, but the idea is that the day of death is the day they enter heaven, which is something worth celebrating on their behalf. But this is one of the three days on the church calendar that celebrates a birth-day; only John the Baptist and Jesus himself get this privilege. So this is an extra special honor, signifying her special role in our lives and her relation to Christ.
All of us are born and have many chances to turn to God or away, and really, you can’t ever know for sure until you get there (by which I mean, you die). So, for most of us regular Joes, we hope to keep turning toward God all along the way and we only mark and celebrate the death of the holiest, mostly saintly folks….and not their births; because they stayed the course, or turned to it for good. But for Mary, we get to celebrate her birth because God himself made her for himself, to be his entrance as a man to this world. Now that’s cool.
We pray Thee, O Lord, grant to Thy servants the gift of heavenly grace: as the childbearing of the blessed Virgin was the beginning of our salvation, so may the devout celebration of her Nativity accord us an increase of peace.”

>Martrydom of St. John the Baptist

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Carvaggio, 1608

Ok, that title is a more polite way of describing this event. In my house full of rough and tumble boys, they tend to use the other, more graphic title: The Beheading of John the Baptist.

Sigh.
I guess in our modern era of shock tv and horror movies, even this grisly story seems tame.
What a shame. Maybe it should shock and make our stomach’s flop and faces wince.
It does mine.
I used to (still do, really…sometimes) wonder why we had to have these gruesome stories in the bible, and even commemorate them. I mean, really? As they say, “Why can’t we all just get along?” Why can’t it be “nice?” Let’s just look at the pretty stuff…..yes, Pollyanna….

But as we all know all too well, REAL life isn’t always pretty. Real life has real hurt, real gore, real unexplainable happenings, that can’t be explained away….except perhaps by the real existence of evil and our all too human nature to be seduced by it.
And this true story, that we remember especially today, is about evil, to be sure.
I mean, Salome asked for the head of John the Baptist on a platter…because her mother told her to ask as she danced. Her mother was so torqued at John for calling out Herod on his adultery (with her), that she pressed her daughter to ask for his death, and decapitation at that.
Talk about a vengeful woman…

Anyhow, this story is not only about that evil impulse and gory act. It’s about John the Baptist being both a harbinger of Christ and His sacrifice to come, but also a man who stood up for Truth – no matter what.

Now, even in our modern days, holding onto truth can sure get hard. Especially when so much of the idea of truth has become a dull gray slide rule……there is not much black and white anymore; absolute truths or rights or wrongs. Or, so it seems in our popular modern culture. And yet, of course, there still is real truth, but it’s not always popular or ‘pc’ or whatever. And while I haven’t heard to too many folks getting beheaded for being ‘non-pc’ lately, there is still a pressure out there to just…not. Not get involved. Not care. Not worry about anyone else. Not call it like it is. Not get into anybody’s business.

But really, it IS a fine line. I myself have more opinions than most, but I find the words “Judge not” ring in my ears. So, how to jive that all up? I don’t know. I tend to do the best I can on the fly. Which is probably pretty poorly, most of the time. I’ll either get too timid to speak up, or too tired, or I will speak up and stick my foot in it. Typically I just throw my opinions out there anyhow.

So, I can let my boys play with swords and be good guys and bad guys; acting out the scary hard ideas of good and evil, right and wrong. And this story can have a place in that sort of teaching, eventually. St. John the Baptist teaches us that we should not be afraid. That speaking the Truth is hard, possibly even dangerous. There is real danger in life, and sometimes it cannot be escaped. But, it is worth it.

And the caveat is: the Truth is Love. Love is Truth. And so….if you (ok, me) can try speak of Truth/Love, with courage….then you or I will live it as well.

Icon written by Constantine Youssis

>The Assumption

>Icon of the Assumption

Today is the Solemnity of the Assumption.

And solemnity doesn’t mean, necessarily, somber and morose…rather it can mean big time, important. Meaning, it’s a holy day of obligation, go to Mass. And while this is one of the “biggie” (Yes, I spent my summers in the seventies on the beach, we used that term, so what?) solemnities in the Catholic calendar, I don’t have the energy to give you all the scholarly apologetics behind it all (go see the link above for a start).

As an aside, however, Coffeedoc pointed out that today was the feast of the Assumption to Marta – Ethiopian Orthodox celebrate this feast in a big way and it is called “Filsata Mariam” – and she jumped up and down with excitement. So it’s a big deal even in the the other ancient Christian faith traditions.

Ethiopian Orthodox Marian icon.

Suffice it to say that this Solemnity is totally cool and has so many threads connecting it all that it blows my mind with a grin. And that, as so much of life is, it’s one of the Mysteries. That’s mystery with a capital “M;” theologically speaking. By which I mean, if I really could understand it through and through, well, I would be be both presumptuous AND wrong. Because some of the mysteries that make life and faith so rich, are not for my puny mind to dissect.

So, that all disclaimed, ahem, I give you my personal gloss on this feast day (My blog, massively opinionated, you knew it was coming.):
Mary was a mother who loved with perfect love (unlike myself). Her son was a perfect son, who also loved with a perfect love. Now, if I, with my very imperfect love can love my sons SO much that it can make me cry and mope when they leave for their very fun new exciting lives in college (Next week, I”m just saying.) once again……then how much more so did Mary ache to see her son leave this earth and his time with her in such a grisly unbearable event? And how much did she miss him, achingly miss him, all those years? And therefore, at the end of her life, when she was able to be reunited with her boy, her Son….just think of the joy, the unbridled radiating shimmery JOY, of that reunion! And in this feast, we believe that they were reunited in Heaven.

Frankly, I simply love everything about this. I mean, just having my boy come back home after a few months at college makes me want to whoop, jump for joy, run down the stairs and hug him tight, not let go, feed him pie and just look at him. It makes me ridiculously happy. So, this feast is a promise of that to me, that reunion, that that kind of love between mom and son (or, ok, kids, but hey, let me run this out), doesn’t just die out…it is eternal. And that is the best promise of all and that is nothing but cool.

So, there, moms….that’s something to smile about.
Happy Solemnity of the Assumption!

Detail of painting of Assumption, by Titian

Magnificat (Luke 1:36-55)

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour;
he has looked with favour on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed;
the Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his name.
He has mercy on those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm
and has scattered the proud in their conceit,
Casting down the mighty from their thrones
and lifting up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty.
He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,
to remember his promise of mercy,
The promise made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and his children for ever.
Amen.

Lodovico Caracci, The Assumption of the Virgin, about 1586-7

>Feast of St. Dominic

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Painting by El Greco, St. Dominic in Prayer, 1596-1590

It’s the feast of St. Dominic today!
That is my favorite painting of him, above. We have a particular fondness for the Dominicans…mostly due to these wonderful sisters. They are the best things going around here and are some of the most joyful and compelling people I’ve met. Happily for us, they also teach our children (some of them) and we are lucky enough to be able to visit their motherhouse for Mass or vespers whenever we are in need of the sound of angels.
For another great link to online Dominican goodness, go here.

Now, for me, this is what St. Dominic stands for: the vocation to teach, sanctity, and the zeal for truth. And oh my, joy. Just clear joy (not simpleminded, but real, joy). And that is what I’ve seen embodied in so many Dominicans that I have met and know.

The irresistible combination of sanctity and complete dedication to Christ (Uhm, I know, DUH, they are vowed religious, but still…) somehow makes these Dominicans so compelling. You just want to be around them because they radiate. They really do.

Maybe it’s that zeal for truth, a la their founder: St. Dominic. Because that zeal for truth is the zeal for Christ, who is Love and really uniting to that, that truth, that love….it brings joy. And that is why they draw me, and others. They really do just glow, radiate joy and happiness.

And I think we are all searching for that. I am. Always. And it’s so hard to really hold onto….but St. Dominic is an example of how to find it. For real.

St. Dominic, pray for us, that we may radiate the joy of truth and Love.

>Feast of the Transfiguration

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Fra Angelico, fresco, Transfiguration of Christ, 1441

Today is the feast of the Transfiguration.

This feast is, once again, a timely juxtaposition with my mundane little life. I love how living the liturgical year through the Church brings us/me these connections and reminders of what’s real and important…and helps me see beyond my own little self absorbed boundaries, even if only for a millisecond or two. It’s cool. It’s almost like it’s planned to do that or something, I don’t know… Doh!

This feast is the story from the gospel (Luke 9:28-36) that we meditate upon in the fourth mystery of the luminous rosary. Its when Jesus and his apostles, Peter, James, and John go up onto Mount Tabor with Christ. Then Christ appeared to them, not only as the man they knew but in all the blinding splendor of His Divine Nature, and what’s more, with Elijah and Moses beside Him. Peter, one of my fav’s, was so excited that he burst out and said, “Lord it is good to be here! Let’s put up a tent!” (well, that’s my paraphrase, anyhow). He was so thrilled that he just wanted to stay there, it was that cool! (He reminds me of my sweet Booboo here, ok often, but that is just what my son would say and do.)

Well, I just really love the visuals and imagery of this story. But I also love the whole concept of transfiguration. Even as I cringe at change in general, I beg to be transfigured myself as I need it so. And this passage promises that, for each one of us. Now, the caveat is that it promises it through the cross. It was just following this event that Christ went to His Passion, the Cross. He went to suffer. But the transfiguration was a promise to his disciples, his most beloved, that the suffering would not be the end. That there was more and it was Glorious, breathtaking. It was also a promise to us and a path: that our suffering is not for naught, that it too transforms us.

I know, I’ve written this before. I think about this a lot. Maybe because it’s hard to wrap my puny brain and sensibilities around the whole concept. And now, especially, it’s been a struggle, because this past month I’ve been in it. And you know, suffering, um, hurts. But even so, even in the weary of it, the core of me believes it does change you. It transforms you. And you come out on the other side different. Better, stronger. No, not faster, this is not a Six Million Dollar Man cheapie tv show….. but more. Transfigured. More the You that you were made to be. Whatever that is. But MORE. And that, to me, is glorious, and hopefully, for me personally, shinier (as I am nothing but smudgy of late).

I like Raphael’s drawing, below. One, because I love drawings, but also because I love how this study is about the apostles. The actual imagery of the transfiguration of Christ is of course impossible to really know or guess; it is beyond our ken. But the apostles, this story is very much about them, and us, as well. And the wonder and the stunning awe that they must have felt, the joy, the fear, the gasp…..well, I keep finding my mind turning to that. So, today on this feast of the Transfiguration, I will try hard to remember and trust that even we regular Joes (And, erk, Janes) can be transfigured too. The promise is for us as well. And I will meditate on that in gratitude and wonder.

Raphael, study of heads of apostle’s for Transfiguration painting.

>Mercy Me

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It’s Divine Mercy Sunday!
And this is one of those days where we are reminded, formally so we really get it, of the most important things in life.
Possibly, THE most important thing:
Mercy.
Which means love.
For everyone, everyone deserves it: mercy and love.
We just forget that.

And today, we not only try to remember, but the church all around the world celebrates it and rejoices in it and shouts to us: “Don’t forget this! Trust in it: mercy and love.”

“Doubting Thomas” by Caravaggio

And we all know by now that I have trust issues, it seems.
That’s where the worry and fretting and control freak comes from.
But today we are told, again, and again: “Trust. It’s all about the mercy and love. Trust.”
Ahhhhhh. Relief for the asking, or, the trusting.
Now, that is worth a celebration to me!

And since I can’t say it well, I will send you to Deacon who says it so much better. Really, go read, it only takes a minute and you’ll be glad you did, he connects the dots with our current world so well:

“God’s mercy says to us, very simply,
“You are loved — no matter what. Because everybody is somebody.”

And that is what we celebrate, officially, today.
Ah, mercy, mercy.