Giving the Devil His Due

I tried my best to come down to the kitchen quietly this morning to make the coffee before grandson number one figured out that I was up.  Like so many kids on the spectrum, his sleep patterns are irregular, to say the least.  He will stay up all night working on his latest composition or invention or brilliant idea, and will only sleep when he totally runs out of gas, which during the summer months is usually around 9-10 o’clock in the morning.  What that means is that when I am in morning mode and need my peace and silence before coffee, he’s up as a pup,  bright and chipper and in such a good mood.  He’s even learned to make a great pot of coffee so that I can focus on him even better.

He finally gave up when I didn’t get too excited about him rewiring the bathroom so I was able to turn my attention to the news online.  The first thing I saw was the photo of the newly erected statue of Baphomet, a freshly minted idol,  in all his glory. According to the news, a group of earnest young Satanists erected a 9 foot statue to him in Detroit.  What does Baphomet look like?  Well, according to these guys he has a goat’s head, a human’s muscular body, hooves, and wings.  There are two children standing on either side looking up adoringly.   The right hand is raised with two fingers up.  I’m not sure what that means, but it looks a little like a Brownie salute.

I know I should be upset, in fact, I should be outraged.  Yet, truthfully,  I found the statue laughable.  It looks like it was made from the leftover props lying around the floor of an Indiana Jones movie.  This is not the stuff of nightmares.  It’s no more scary or awe inspiring than a kid in a Halloween parade wearing devil horns, a mask and pitchfork. This is the work of people who seem to be on the same mental level as giggling girls at a junior high sleepover with a Ouija board.    I don’t find goats scary.  They’re furry and cute, especially the little ones that jump up and down in the videos.  They are beneficial to many people and can provide milk, cheese and meat just like cows.  They are kept all over the world and their function is similar to sheep.  Their biggest problem is that they have cloven hooves.  Some cultures have a real issue with them and throughout history they have been thought of as a representation of the devil.  Never mind that cloven hooves are very useful for animals that need to climb over rocks and rough terrain for a living.

The really ironic thing is that the readings of the day were from Exodus 32:15, the part where Moses goes up to the mountain to receive the 10 commandments.  While he’s up there the people get figidy and talk Aaron into letting them have a golden calf idol to worship.  We all know how that turned out.  Obviously, the super geniuses behind this public demonstration want to point out to anyone who cares that all “religions” are the same and if you let the 10 Commandments be erected on public lands you have to let Mr. Goathead there, too.  Do they have a point?  Let me think a minute…on one hand, you shall not kill…on the other – Mr. Goathead.  On one hand, honor your parents…on the other – Mr. Goathead.  One one hand….seriously?  It seems to me that the statue adorers are really only a couple of harmless atheists out for a little fun getting the Christians all riled up.  Of course, many of the Christians took the bait and got riled up.

But just because the statue is laughable doesn’t mean that the subject is.  To the Christian, hell is real and Satan is no one to be trifled with.  These folks really should be a bit more careful who they invite to their parties, because he just may oblige them by showing up.  Things can get pretty dicey when pure evil comes around.  If Satan ever did come calling, those fun loving athiests who are taunting the Christians by yucking it up with “Hail, Satan” would get religion pretty darn quickly.

So, what should the Christian response to this statue be?  There is a legend that the early Church celebrated the day after Easter by feasting, laughing and telling jokes because Jesus went into hell and laughed at the devil because he lost.  The result of the Resurrection was that Satan lost his power over humanity.  He can’t have us anymore.

But there are still terrible, awful things happening in the world every day.  Evil is still alive and well and millions of people are witnessing it first hand.  Christian men, women and children as well as others with undesirable ethnic backgrounds in the Middle East are facing true evil.  Those who are fortunate enough to survive exterminations are driven from their ancestral lands and any trace of their culture and identity is wiped clean.  Hatred and violence roam our streets daily to the point where we wonder if the world has gone mad.  Children starve to death while the rich feast and debate about whether the poor are deserving of our help.  Species after species are disappearing and there is every indication that the dominoes have already begun falling.  There is evil in the world alright, but it’s far more terrible than any of the overfed, overcoddled, overcapitalized demon worshippers can imagine.  This isn’t a Halloween parade.  When the real Satan comes calling, God help them.  The goat statue will be the least of their worries.

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Supply and Demand

baby feetI knew it wouldn’t take very long before the “spin”sters at Planned Parenthood would craft their talking points and rush them out to the chattering journalists and talking heads at the various um…unbiased media outlets to manducate, conversate and opinionate.   After two rather damning videos surfaced with pretty clear video and audio recordings starring medical administrators for the organization discussing the distribution of aborted body parts over a lovely salad and merlot they had to go into overtime for damage control.  Hence, this morning’s New York Time’s Opinion, The Campaign of Deception Against Planned Parenthood.”  

Caught literally red-handed, PP decided to go with the same verbal tricks of the trade that has always worked for them in the past when they’ve needed to change the conversation:

1. Turn it around and blame the other guy.  Those evil pro-lifers, excuse me, anti-choicers who have such blackness in their hearts as to use deception and video smoke and mirrors to try to take down this noble organization who is only trying to make life better for womankind – indeed, all humanity by their generous donation program that sends usable “tissue” for research that could one day save lives and cure HIV and Parkinsons and who knows what?
2. It’s not what you think.  Sure it sounds like she said what you think she said, but that’s not what she really said.  We would never do anything so nefarious as to put a price tag on the body parts – we only get money for shipping and handling. Yes, she said hearts, livers, lungs, brains – but it’s really just tissue, not real working parts of a real living human.
3. It’s legal, so it’s a right.  And in America it’s clearly an affront to all we hold sacred and dear to interfere with someone’s rights, right?  Anyone who interferes with a right is clearly in the wrong, even if that right means death for someone who has no rights because they are a non-person, a clump of cells, a human shaped bag of tissues.
4. It’s clearly an attempt to harm women.  Those right wing religious bastards are such zealots that they would rather kill a woman than a fetus.  They want to force a young child to carry a baby to term.  They do nothing to support her once she has the child.  They want to punish her for having sex. They want to come between a woman and her doctor. They are against women’s health care.  They want to keep women in the dark ages. They want to force their religious views on the rest of us.   Did I miss anything?
5. Most Americans support it.  Really?  Is that why Planned Parenthood has gone into Defcon 1?

It’s true that a majority of Americans do support abortion.  They support the termination of a tiny blob of “tissue” that is ooky and gross.  As long as they can think of the abortee as clumps of cells and tissue that bear no resemblance to a human infant they can stomach it, even if they don’t like it.  But in truth, they get a bit more squeamish when they are forced to think of the destruction of a viable human infant.  This is why the argument strains to focus on all the good done by donating tissue for medical research.  Hey, it was going to be terminated anyway, might as well get some good use out of it.  This is why the notorious evil done by Doctor Kermit Gosnell was downplayed and ignored as much as possible, even though he was convicted of murdering several infants and a woman.  If he had only killed infants and not a woman would we have heard about him at all?  This is why abortion providers rally their troops to help redirect our attention from the real questions.

If they manipulate through ultrasound the way the fetus is positioned so that they are better able to do their work without damaging the parts they want to keep, then the fetus in question is large enough that it could be viable.  The heart has been beating for some time by now, pumping its blood to the other parts of the body so that those cells will receive the nourishment they need to grow.  The liver and kidneys have been functioning since the third month, filtering blood and waste.  Even though it is still in development, the brain has been doing the basic work of a brain – telling the other organs what to do, allowing the developing child to move and see light and hear sounds.  And if all of these other organs are working it is only reasonable to assume that the nerve endings are also working, and crushing here and down there will inflict horrible pain and suffering before death.

But they don’t want us to think about that.  They don’t want us to take another look at what happens behind the closed doors to see if maybe, just maybe, this organization that purports itself to be noble, pure and honorable in its intentions and purpose has a bloody little secret that’s been let out of the bag.


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Here’s Your Sign

“Some of the scbee on flowerribes and Pharisees said to Jesus, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” He said to them in reply, “An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah the prophet….At the judgment, the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and there is something greater than Jonah here.”  Mt 12:38-39, 41

This was the Gospel reading for today.  I know that because it was read at Novena this evening by a deacon who decided to take the opportunity of being at the ambo to make a point about our sinful government and gay marriage.  He is all set to have Jesus come down from the heavens and rain fire and brimstone down upon SCOTUS for legalizing gay marriage.  That will teach them, since they’re obviously not listening to the Church.  He railed about it for at least 20 minutes.  I was not too happy driving home from Novena, and my poor husband, as usual, dutifully listened while I ranted.

For one thing, to preach to the faithful who attend Novena week after week humbly asking Mary to intercede for their intentions gives him no points.  Behold, we are the choir that you’re preaching to.  We’ve already bought in and have been here sitting in these same pews every Monday for years and years.  Most of the congregation is comprised of widows and religious. They were praying daily rosaries when you, good deacon, were still a nervous teenager.  We promise not to marry someone of the same sex.  Obviously, we’re not the people he wanted to harangue, but he settled for us.  For another thing, he went on for 20 minutes instead of the usual 2-3 minutes that Father takes to make his point.  Father gives us a nice little spiritual morsal to think about, then moves on.  20 minutes is more in line with the length of a mission sermon.

Good Pope Francis had a point, “Who am I to judge?”

My nephew, whom I love very much,  is gay.  His mother sensed it well before he did and she worried day and night about him.  She agonized for him when he was beaten and bullied by large, all American boys who preyed on weaker, more sensitive boys they perceived as gay.  He endured a living hell as a teenager, being ostracized and ridiculed by his classmates and being afraid of admitting who he was.   He became a lost soul until the day he met someone who turned his life around – someone who encouraged him to be the best version of who he was and showed him his talent and worth.  My sister adored this man because he was so good to both her son and her, and he fit right into the family.  After she was diagnosed with stage 4 esophageal cancer he took his turn caring for her.  He and his parents were placed with the family at her funeral Mass.  She would not have had it any other way because she grew to love him like her own son.

What would deacon have done? Would he have tried to get my nephew to deny himself and change who he was?  Would he have forbidden a relationship that probably saved his life?  Would he have denied himself the opportunity to know someone so loving and caring?

Pondering this, I sat down to watch the rest of the evening unfold on my favorite chair on the patio.  Since I live in the house I grew up in, I have many, many great memories of growing up and being on this patio every summer of my childhood.  My sister and I spent countless summer evenings listening to the birds roosting in the woods across the street and catching a couple of the hundreds of fireflies that made our yard look magical, like the home of a Disney princess.  We would put them into paper cups and my father would let them go after we went to bed.  During the daylight we would run across the soft grass in bare feet while being oh, so careful, not to step on a bee since my sister was allergic and didn’t want to go to the hospital.  The yard was filled with bees moving from clover to clover with their pollen sacs filled.

There are no bees in the grass to worry about now.   Here there are neighborhoods followed by neighborhoods filled with perfect lawns without a single weed in them.  The houses are all perfectly landscaped with perfect flower borders that aren’t very attractive to the bees that used to live here.  There are no wild flowers at all; no dandilions, no buttercups, no clover, no Queen Anne’s Lace, no daisies, no honey bees. Children around here do not bring bouquets of dandilions to show their love and their mothers do not have shot glasses sitting on the kitchen counter filled with tokens of  delicate little violets.  Children around here have no idea why you would hold a dandilion up to your skin to see if you like butter. They’ve never blown on dandilion seeds and made a wish.  They have never worn a flower crown or a daisy chain or picked the petals one by one chanting, “he loves me, he loves me not.”  Children around here no longer catch fireflies – at least not the three in my yard that were hiding in the boxwoods this evening, desperately blinking their codes in the darkness, hoping to find another firefly to answer before they died trying unfulfilled.

I wonder if deacon read ‘Laudato si.’  I wonder if he worries as much about the absence of the bees and fireflies and monarch butterflies as much as he worries whether my nephew will be able to get medical and death benefits from his years of living monogamously with his partner.  I wonder if he is as concerned about whether his children will have fresh fruit and vegetables or drinkable water as he seems to be about a baker who should have just baked that stupid cake instead of making it the hill he wanted to die on.

You want a sign?  Here’s your sign.  It’s the sign of Jonah saying, “Repent for the world will soon be destroyed.”  But perhaps it’s not by fire and brimstone.  Perhaps it’s being destroyed one dandilion at a time.



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Dear Facebook

The truth is like a lionDear Facebook,
I believe it’s time that we reevaluate our relationship.
For the longest time you were cool and you were a great distraction that helped me get away from my problems for a while. You helped me stay in touch with relatives and communicate with folks I haven’t seen for a long time because of time or distance. You made me feel like I was really liked because you gave me friends. But the attraction has begun to wear thin and, truthfully, I really don’t enjoy our time together anymore like I used to.

First of all, you use me. All you want to do is sell me things. You want me to “like” pages and click on See More and enter contests just so you can treat me as data for your insatiable appetite for information. You want to hand my statistics and personality codes to your overlords in advertisements so that they will be pleased with you.  I’m not entirely innocent. I know full well what you’re doing and I go willingly like a mealybug in an ant farm to this page and that and dutifully click my “like” button, and you are happy. You have become the new good shepherd that leads me to greener pastures so I’ll be content. But I know you aren’t doing this because you “like” me and want to make me happy. You are merely providing my mind with useless mental calories so I’ll stay right here getting bloated and out of shape so you can see me and use me more and more.  I’m really beginning to resent you for that.

Second, you’re stalking me and it’s beginning to creep me out. You know I’m a sucker for kittens and puppies and heart warming stories about duck rescues and you make sure that’s put on my “feed.” You know that I read the Catholic news but lean a bit more left than right on some social issues (not all) and so you serve up morsals that you think I’ll consume whether I have an appetite for them or not. And it makes me wonder what else you know about me. I’m not a complicated person. My life isn’t exactly boring, but I pretty much stay out of trouble, so there’s nothing I can think of that I need to hide.  But really, there are some boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed and lately you’ve been getting just a bit too close to my comfort zone.

Third, about those “friends” you’ve given me. Some of them I don’t know at all and I’m not sure I could pick them out of a lineup; and some that, thanks to you, I’m not sure I like anymore. Once I had real friends whose company I enjoyed and whose conversations were golden. But now I sometimes wonder about who they really are and if I should purge them from my friendship. From time to time one of them will put up a post that, as a Catholic, a woman, a mother, I have real problems with politically, philosophically, socially or morally.  But I think that if we actually sat down and had a real conversation about some of these issues we would be able to find common ground and come to a better understanding of each other’s thoughts. It’s not about expressing ideas or opinions, it’s just that you make it too easy to hit the “share” button to post pithy memes that sound righteous, even though they are racist or mean spirited toward (fill in the group) or “news” articles from a less than unbiased news source. Thanks to you we no longer have to listen to another side of a conversation because your algorhythms exist to “feed” us the truth that you think we want to hear. Then you give us new “friends” that agree with us so we can feel good about ourselves, even though what we have posted is offensive or hurtful to others, because it’s easier to believe we’re right when others “like” it. It’s easier to hurt people when you don’t have to look them in the eye.  In the reality that you have provided for us truth is what people think it is. You have taken the absoluteness and power out of truth and reduced it to a meme; an image…a quote from someone who may or may not have actually spoken or written it – but even if its not true it’s okay because it supports an opinion, so it might as well be truth.  Everything is truth. Nothing is truth. The lion has lost its roar.  The truth is, I miss my real friends. I miss sitting in their kitchens and patios and laughing about the good times. I miss trading stories about our kids and things we actually do in real life. I miss the human interaction and enjoyment that comes from being together.

Fourth, you are a giant time suck. Everything around me needs attention, but you want my constant attention so you “feed” me things that will draw me in; articles, videos, comics..anything to keep me looking at you. Oh, yes, from time to time you give me wonderful things. I can hear the latest songs from my favorite artists before they’re even released. I can find out what the pope said before CNN misconstrues it. I can see that I should avoid the expressway and go the back way to work. I know the very second it’s going to rain. But you also show me terrible things. I see the hateful, violent way people treat each other. Genocide, murder, rapes, abuse, riots, and all manner of terror and tyranny. I know these exist and have existed since Cain blindsided Abel, but why do I need to actually see these things, other than to become anesthetized to the evil? You recently showed me an article about a guy who came upon a a horrific accident and pulled over to take photos of the carnage so he could sell the photos to sick minded people instead of helping and comforting the people who were dying. I don’t want to become like that.

Let’s face it, Facebook, you are a terrible friend. You give me too many reasons to envy and lust and ridicule and hate. You don’t really make me happy anymore. You give me nothing of value and demand too much of my soul. So, I’m thinking that I really need to start to pay more attention to other things in my life. Honestly, I’m probably not going to stop seeing you entirely. I can use you, too. I’ll use your recipes and like the photos of my friends’ grandchildren. I’ll remember when people’s birthdays and anniversaries come up and promise to pray for their surgeries. But don’t get upset if I close your tab and put my phone down and actually talk to people. Maybe I’ll even use the gym membership that I’ve been paying for. It was good, Facebook, it really was, but I’m going to tke my life back now. Call me sometime – oh, that’s right, you can’t. Sorry.

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Day 7 – Second Station – Jesus Takes Up His Cross

Today’s meditation is from the Suffering Servant passage of Isaiah chapter 53.

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Punxy-Sign-for-webTomorrow is Groundhog day here in Pennsylvania.  Each year on February 2nd thousands of people flock to the sleepy little town of Punxsutawney to watch as a chunky little critter named Phil is yanked out of his den at the first light of dawn and made to prognosticate the start of the coming spring.  Everyone is anxious to see if Phil will see his shadow because that’s how he makes his weather prediction.  The poor little creature is hoisted into the air in front of a huge crowd of revelers, onlookers and town council members.  The officials are dressed in old fashioned tuxedoes and top hats reminiscent of nineteenth century undertakers.  There is band music and national media swarming all over Gobbler’s Knob.  A good part of the crowd has been enjoying adult beverages for a while already to “keep themselves warm” in the frigid sunrise.  All in all it’s a good excuse to party in the middle of a long dark winter and folks enjoy it. Phil apparently whispers his verdict to the president of the groundhog club, who announces it to the world.  Instantly the pronouncement goes to news outlets all over the world.  When it’s all over the town goes back to normal and the people of Punxsutawney go about their business again.

Even before “Groundhog Day” became a classic movie in the 1993 we were well aware of the tradition here in Pennsylvania.  We didn’t pay much attention to it and shrugged it off as another strange Pennsylvania Dutch custom.  My father, although he wasn’t a native Pennsylvanian, wasn’t so quick to dismiss it.  Daddy grew up on a small family farm in southern rural Indiana during the depression.  It was important that a farmer knew and understood the cycles and movements of the natural world.  They were accustomed to noticing small, almost insignificant things that the rest of the world was unable to see or was too busy to notice.  When there are no grocery stores around it’s a matter of survival that they pay attention to the signs around them.

Daddy knew how to interpret the different colors of the sky and the significance of the timing of the last snowfall.  He could smell things in the wind that I couldn’t smell and could tell by the position of blowing leaves that a storm was coming.   He could take a pinch of dirt between his fingers and analyze the quality of the soil.  And he would notice things about the behaviour of the little animals in the woods around us.

February 2nd is also the Feast of the Presentation.  Mary and Joseph bring their infant son to the Temple to be dedicated to the Lord as was prescribed by the law.  There they are met by Simeon, a just man who had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah.  Simeon took the baby in his arms and began to prophecy.  “Now, O Lord, you can dismiss your servant, for my own eyes have seen your salvation.”   “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted…and you, yourself a sword will pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” Luke 2:29-35.  How did he know?

Simeon was looking for a sign of God’s promise and he recognized it when he saw it. Others who may have seen this family entering the temple carrying a pair of turtle doves would have assumed that they were only a poor couple who couldn’t afford a lamb for the sacrifice.  Joseph and his wife would have been barely noticed.  They were nothing special about them.  They didn’t wear fine clothes, own property, have any influence in the temple, and they weren’t especially learned.  No one would have noticed the lamb in Mary’s arms, Christ the Lamb of God.  But Simeon did.  He was looking for it.

February 2nd is also known as Candlemas Day, the Church blesses the candles that will be used at Masses, Baptisms, Confirmations, and Anointings.  Candles are important to the rites and rituals of the Church as a sign of the presence of Christ, the light of the world, who saves us from the darkness of sin and death.

The signs of the presence of Christ in the world are all around us.  It’s often easy to overlook them, but they are there.  Am I looking for them?  If I would have seen Mary and Joseph carrying the King of heaven and earth into the temple, would I have missed him completely?

“If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go Winter, and come not again.”  — old English song

It’s been a long winter and I’m ready for winter to be over.  I hope Phil needs an umbrella tomorrow.


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Bucket List


I have now reached the point of my life when I’m starting to get serious about the items on my bucket list.  In just a month and a half I’ll be hitting one of those “milestone” birthdays, the kind that makes you think about your life and all the things you’ve wanted to do and haven’t done yet and my goodness, I could be dead soon and wouldn’t have accomplished a single thing!   People in my generation weren’t even supposed to grow up, much less think about what home your kids should send you to when you can no longer figure out the tv remote.  A quick look in the mirror confirms my suspicion that my modeling career probably won’t happen, so I can cross that one off.  I think I can also cross off buying a cute little convertible and touring the west coast. These days I’m built a bit more “for comfort than for speed” and my back would probably hurt for days if I tried it.

There is one item on the bucket list; however,  that I’ve actually been working toward accomplishing. Years ago it meant nothing to me, but now it’s become something that I really want to do – or at least attempt.  Perhaps it’s a desire to leave a piece of myself when I do go, a kind of proof that I did manage to do something useful with my life.  I’d like to have one of my compositions accepted by a publisher.  They wouldn’t have to actually publish it – just accept it.  The problem is…I’ve thought about this many times before and even made one or two swipes at sprucing up some manuscripts, but at a certain point I just stop.

My mother always drilled it into my head that I should never, ever complain about something anyone else did unless I could do it better, so I started composing and arranging music to be able to legitimately complain about others.  And why not?  Church musicians and choir directors have been doing their own material since before Guido d’ Arezzo.  If you need a psalm or canticle for a liturgy and can’t find one that’s right you sit down and scratch one out.  If you’re really in a hurry you pull up an old tune everyone knows and likes and retrofit new lyrics to it by using the meter of the song and tweaking the lyrics until they fit.

Years ago, when I was first starting out, I had a nice little choir but almost no money in my budget to purchase music.  So one night I started working on a canticle. I tried to remember everything I had learned in my composition classes – avoiding parallel fifths and octaves and all the other deadly sins of music composition that was guaranteed to have the professor send your project back with big red circles.  The choir has  good naturedly taken on the responsibility of being my tune testers ever since.  I can usually read the looks on their faces and hear in the tone of their voices and know right away if they like it or if it’s not working.

An artist friend of mine addressed her own bucket list by learning iconography.  I was told that the ‘writing’ of icons entailed a lot more than just pulling up to a canvas and choosing a color, so I asked her to explain the process she goes though to create an icon.  She told me about how she begins with prayer, immersing herself in the scripture, about the meaning of the materials and the colors, and how each stroke of the brush is a prayer.  I found it interesting that the artist prays for the blessing and protection of all those who will view the icon.  It struck me then, that the creation of sacred art and sacred music is very much alike; prayer, meditation on sacred scripture and the desire to express the  profound truths that are revealed in them through the visual or aural media.  The process of “creating” unites the artist or musician with God, the “Creator” in prayer, and the result is the visible or audible manifestation of that union.

Although I’ve been known to work fairly quickly when there is an immediate need, there are certain pieces that have a much deeper meaning for me, for they were written because I needed to write them.  And there between the lines and spaces of the staves lies the intimate expression of the relationship between the created and her Creator; the sounds of the conversations and silences of the soul  that give birth to hymns of joy and thanksgiving, songs of tenderness and love, of begging for mercy and forgiveness, and that music that was composed through the tears of a heart broken with grief, doubt and confusion.

This is usually the point where I get scared and pull back, uncertain if I should continue.   Do I really want to hand out glimpses of my bared soul to someone who will take it and stack it with all of the other works that they audition each week?  They examine and evaluate dozens of hymns and octavos composed by those who, like me, must use the sterile, precise black and white symbols of music to manifest the prayer that cries out to God from the deepest recesses of their spirits.  The music of prayer is tender and personal like the poetry a young lover sends to the beloved, yet I would be taking this song –  this expression of eternal love and longing, putting it on paper and giving consent to a stranger to play it out loud.  After that would come the wondering if, when the moment comes for the notes and rests on the staff to be freed, the prayer locked within them will be heard.    Will those who listen recognize the sounds of love and forgiveness and comfort and feel the warmth in the silence between them?  Will it resonate within them and make them want to sing it, too?

I have waited, waited for the Lord, and he stooped toward me and heard my cry.  And he put a new song into my mouth, a hymn to our God…  When I sing of your rightousness in a vast assembly, see I do not restrain my lips; as you, O Lord, know. I do not conceal your righteousness within my heart; I speak of your loyalty and your salvation.  I do not hide your mercy or your faithfulness from a vast assembly.  Ps. 40: 2, 4 & 10, 11. This was the responsorial psalm for the Second Sunday in Ordinary time.  I played four weekend Masses and rehearsed this psalm with the cantors, so I must have listened to it at least eight times yesterday before I really looked at it.

I’ve decided which manuscripts to send.  I’ll  revise and revise them until I’m certain that there isn’t a single parallel fifth or octave and check to be sure that grammar and spelling are correct.  I’ll put them in an envelope, stick a stamp on it and say a prayer for the blessing and protection of all those who will listen to it.

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And now…Lent!

baby jesus figurineIt was December 29th, the Feast of the Holy Family.  I was sitting at my laptop in the dark while the lights on the Christmas tree twinkled merrily in the living room.  The last Mass of the day,  7:00 pm –a.k.a. “the last chance Mass”, was finished so I thought I’d try to decompress from the maelstrom that has become the Christmas season at my house by reading all the posts and email I had been putting off.  It was a good Christmas season but, as usual, the extra Masses, rehearsals, concerts, preparations, commitments, as well as shopping, wrapping, baking and the normal family festivities at my house with the kids and grandkids had me pretty much worn out. I made a snack and sat down for some quiet “me” time.  I checked my Facebook page, Twitter feed, and email and saw that there was a new message from the pastor.  The subject line was titled,  “And now…Lent!”  I could feel the corner of my eye start to twitch. Baby Jesus was still smiling happily in the manger of my Nativity set on the table waiting for the arrival of the three Kings and Father’s planning a meeting about Lent?  I began and erased several replies that all began with a version of, “Seriously?!?!?!?” but I resisted and chose not to respond for the time being.  There’s no need to detail the rest of my thoughts that evening.

Since then we’ve had our meetings to put our ideas together for the upcoming Lenten season; first just the two of us, then the pastoral staff, then the liturgical committee.  He wants to get everyone on board and thinking about the next phase of the year.  We have the advantage of a couple extra weeks of Ordinary Time this year before we face Ash Wednesday.  From there it builds and builds until the big guns come out for Holy Week.

Church folk  have a different way of thinking about things like seasons and celebrations.  Our seasons are predictable, ritualized and even color coded; purple, white, green and the occasional red or rose (not pink, Father reminds us – Rose).  Even our calendars are different with the beginning of the liturgical year coming on the first Sunday of Advent.  The email got me thinking however, about these feasts that we love and celebrate.

Just as every sunny day has shade, so every Christmas has dark and grey shades of Lent that hover over them like ghostly images floating in the corner of a family photo – some hidden and some blatantly obvious.  There is a shadow of a cross loomimg over the manger.  It’s not something we like to think about during the Christmas season, but you can see it if you draw a symbolic line from the wood of the manger to the wood of the cross.  We understand that Christmas would make no sense if not for the suffering, death and resurrection of the very same sweet, cuddly baby described in our poetry and carols.  It’s not just the birth of an infant…it’s the sword of sorrow that will pierce Mary’s heart. It’s the cry of hundreds of mothers over their slaughtered children.  It’s the mysterious gift of myrhh and the narrow escape.  It’s the eventual way of the cross.

Unlike the world’s concept of time, the Church moves us through the liturgical years, not by a timeline, but more like a spiral.  Each season’s beginning is merely a path toward the next one.  We mark the time with our traditions and celebrations of feasts and solemnities, allowing ourselves to be moved emotionally and spiritually through joys and sorrows, glorias and lamentations, triumphs, defeats and triumps again, light and shadows, death and life and resurrection.

Each year we carry on rituals and traditions to remember them.  In the Church and in our homes we ritualize our family times together.  We decorate our homes with light in the darkest time of the year and gather our loved ones near to us.  We tell them stories – the same stories over and over – of wars and farming, marriages and babies, kings, heroes and paupers.  We tell stories about our grandparents and the olden days; of hard times, regret and shame, deception, infidelity and of wallowing in the ashes of failure.  We tell stories of promise and redemption and unspeakable joy and never tire of telling them because they’re so much a part of us and telling them helps us make sense of our lives.  Then we add our own stories to them so that our children will remember them and the lessons they teach and will, hopefully one day, tell them to their children.

So now…Lent! Not here yet, but coming.  Let’s do this.

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Forget the Resolutions – PROMISE

clock strikes twelveThe time has come once again for New Year’s resolutions.
This year I PROMISE to get myself in better shape
by toning up my spiritual muscles and adopting a healthier attitude.

  I will pray: when everything is going wrong, for patience and courage; when something goes right, in thanksgiving; when everything is hectic and confused, clarity and peace; when someone has hurt me I will pray for them; when someone has misunderstood me, I will pray for them; when someone is sick in body, mind or spirit, I will pray for them; when someone asks for my prayers I will pray for them; when there’s no special reason to pray, I will pray anyway.

I will remember: to tell people I love them – everyday; that I have many blessings and that I must not ever take them for granted; that God loves me, even if it doesn’t always feel that way; that all those around me are gifts from God, and I must treat them that way; to be grateful for everything I have and not worry about what I don’t have.

I will be open:  to the needs of the poor; to those who need my time; to accepting God’s will for me; to new ideas; to compromise; to admitting I was wrong; to praise as well as criticism; to sharing my gifts and talents with those who need them; to the enthusiasm of the young; to the wisdom of the old.

Every moment of every day: is precious and I will use each one to the best of my ability and try not to waste any of them; is a gift to be shared with others as my gift back to God; is never guaranteed to have another one follow it, so I will live each moment as if it is my last; is gone in the blink of an eye and will never be repeated, so I will strive to always be in the present moment.

I will: invite those around me to share my joy in Christ; invest my time and treasure in worthy endeavors to help those in need; find inspiration and wonder in the small miracles that are all around me; become more involved in my community; allow the light of Christ to come into my heart so that I can radiate the warmth of his love to those that I meet.

I will seek: the face of Christ in every person I meet; the heart of Christ in every situation; the mind of Christ in every conversation and encounter; the hands of Christ in every hand that reaches out to me; the feet of Christ in every path; the light of Christ in every darkness.

I will be aware that whether I am on the street, at my home, at a meeting, in Church, in the parking lot, in the grocery store, in a line, in the restroom, in my office, on the phone, in the car, but especially online: that I am a child of God and I belong to him; that my words are read and my actions are seen by people who know that I profess to be a Christian; that kindness, patience and truth always trump anger, accusations, half-truths and lies; that I can do more harm by one unkind word than I ever could with a stick; that everything I do and everything I say must be done for the glory of God each day.


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The Perfect Family

The Feast of the Holy Family, December 29, 2013

Each year after celebrating Christmas the Church gives us this feast and reminds us that Jesus, the Son of God, came to this earth and was born in the usual way into a family just like ours.  How many people, can really believe this?

Oh, no, we think!  There’s no way Christ was born into a family like ours!   Things can get really crazy sometimes.  Our family has it’s share of disfunction.  We have loud relatives who argue about politics and football.  Some have stopped speaking to us for some reason we can’t remember.  We have hyperactive two year olds and difficult, know-it-all teens.  We have uncles who drink too much, family dogs that eat socks, and parents who give our kids too much candy.  No, Christ certainly wasn’t born into a family like ours, with all it’s imperfections and problems.

All we have to do is look at a Christmas card or a Nativity set to see how perfect the Holy Family was.  Mary is lovely, her clothes and hair are neat and clean as she adores her happy baby.  Joseph looks on it all with wonder.  Jesus is a pretty baby all sweet and chubby with a full head of curly hair, lying there in a clean white blanket.  He smiles up at the little angels hovering nearby like crib decorations.  Everything is perfect, peaceful and serene just like…well, a Christmas card.  The reality is that things weren’t so perfect for Jesus, Mary and Joseph either…

To begin with, Mary was an unwed mother.  No matter how it happened, Mary’s pregnancy outside of marriage could have resulted in her being stoned to death. Joseph had the right, legally, to let this happen beause they were officially engaged, just as binding as a marriage, yet not living together when she became pregnant. Yet he was a kind and compassionate man, so he was considering divorcing her quietly.  But because of a message in a dream he put his trust in God and brought her into his home anyway.  This must have been humiliating when his friends, family and neighbors found out about it.  By taking Mary in, despite the pregnancy, he was declaring that the child was his and that he couldn’t wait the required time to consummate the marriage.  It would raise eyebrows at the very least.

In the late stages of her pregnancy, Mary and Joseph were forced to travel about 75-80 miles, about a 4 days journey, through rough and often dangerous country. I remember the late stages of pregnancy.  It was no day in the park.  It was uncomfortable to even sit in a recliner.  Sleep was impossible because of the stress on my back from the added weight.  I felt unbalanced and huge and my blood pressure was elevated making me cranky and miserable.  Yet Mary had to endure this trip, whether she walked, rode on a donkey or was carried in a caravan.   Once they got to Bethlehem,  there was no guarantee that  there would be any place for them to stay. Joseph did what he could, but by the time they got there lodgings were hard to find and his wife was showing signs of being in labor.  They had to make do and trust.

She gave birth in a stable, a place inhabited by animals with all the filth, germs, smells and biting insects that are usually found in barns. Mary delivered her first child without any older female relatives to help her through it, as was customary. Even with the services of a local midwife, it was not the ideal conditions for bringing new life into the world.  Her baby would be laid in a manger, an animal’s food trough.  I’ve been in hay before. My grandfather had a farm and the cousins and I would jump from the loft to the hay below.  It’s anything but soft.  It was prickly and gave me a rash.   Ican imagine how Mary felt about giving birth in those conditions.  Imagine what Joseph was going through, perhaps feeling guilty that he wasn’t able to provide a better place for them.   Yet they trusted.

Jesus was still an infant when they became refugees, undocumented aliens, fleeing for their lives to another country where they didn’t know the language or customs.   How would they survive there?  But there was no choice.  With Herod’s soldiers on the lookout for their tiny son,  it was the only way to protect Jesus from being one of the little ones slaughtered by Herod’s jealousy and paranoia. They had to trust God to deliver them.

At the age of twelve Jesus was somehow left behind in the big city of Jerusalem while on pilgrimage, because each parent thought he was with the other one. Pilgrimages were usually made with a group of people. In these groups men traveled with other men and women traveled with other women and small children.  A twelve year old boy had the option of traveling with either group.  Imagine the conversation Mary and Joseph had when they realized they had to go back to Jerusalem to look for their son. Imagine the panic they must have felt – probably the same way I would feel if I lost a child in New York City. Jerusalem was a bustling city with pilgrims coming in and going out constantly, merchants, peddlers and those there on business.  There were Roman soldiers, highly visible, keeping a sharp eye out, ready to intervene at the first sign of trouble.  There were tax collectors and theives, and all manner of strange places and sights to country folk like Mary and Joseph.  How would they even know where to look?   Yet, they went back to the Temple, the last place they saw him and there he was.  They were exasperated, but they still trusted.

At some point during these hiden years of family life Jesus had to deal with the grief of losing a parent at the death of Joseph. We don’t know when he died or what age Jesus was when it happened, but Jesus went through what we all go through when a parent ages and leaves us.  From what little we know of Joseph; the kindness he showed to Mary, the way he accepted the will of God and the trust he had, we believe him to be a perfect model for fatherhood.  It couldn’t have been easy for Jesus to say goodbye to the man who supported him and raised him as his own.  Mary, too,  had to face the reality of being a widow alone after her only son left her side to fulfill his mission on earth. Sons were expected to take care of their mothers.  Widows didn’t have many opportunities to earn enough to keep body and soul together so they either had to beg or starve.  Mary had a perfectly healthy son who could have been a wage earner, but he had to leave her to fulfill his purpose.  It must have puzzled her relatives and neighbors – in fact, once they tried to get her to take him home because they thought he had lost his mind, yet she still trusted God and let him go do what he needed to do.

Things were far from perfect for the Holy Family. They had their problems, setbacks, fears, sorrows, and joys – just like our own families! Yet, through it all, they had unwavering trust in God as they carried out their mission of raising his divine Son; teaching him, nurturing him, loving him, and preparing him to fulfill his purpose of saving the world from sin and death.

What I love most about The Holy Family is that by really looking at them, not just the cards and the art work, I can see that they were very much like my family, with all its imperfections.  They had to deal with some very extraordinary circumstances.  Still, they teach us that ordinary family life, with all the problems, worries, messiness, joys, triumphs and frustrations, is holy. We just need to trust.

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