August 31, 2011

A doorway to the infinite

Pope Benedict XVI,  in his Wednesday audience today, spoke about experiencing God through works of Art.  The full text is not available yet but Catholic New Service posted excerpts of his remarks. The Pope said, "Art is like an open doorway to the infinite, toward a beauty and truth that go beyond everyday reality." I have always felt this way about art. Back in July, I commented on the Pope's address to artists.  The Church has always been a patron of the arts, and as an artist I am encouraged in my craft by the Pope's words.  After reading the Pope's address in July, I mentioned that I was going to pick up my brushes again. After a ten year hiatius, I found that my former way of painting was too stiff and that I was a bit too realistic for my current liking.  Urged on by my son, himself an artist and craftsman, I decided to get a bit more creative with my old unfinished dogwoods.  I was also encouraged by a book recommended by Elizabeth Scalia over at The Anchoress. The book, The Artist's Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom by Christine Valters Paintner, caught my interest because she blends Benedictine spirituality with the practice of one's craft, perfect for an artist who is also an oblate.  I have only just begun reading it, but already I feel it will inspire me to keep on with my painting, and I will have plenty of time to do that while recovering from my upcoming surgery.

The Pope, when refering to art, includes not only the graphic arts but music, writing and dance as well.  I humbly admit that I am involved in the first two of those artistic endeavors, and while I was in the modern dance club in college, my dancing now is limited to the occasional wedding or dinner dance. Music is one of my favorite but lately neglected passions. Next to the study of theology, I love music. I have a favorite quote of Martin Luther who said,
"I am strongly persuaded that after theology, there is no art that can be place on a level with music, for besides theology, music is the only art capable of affording peace and joy to the heart."
Luther had a lot to do with introducing vernacular hymns into the liturgy for he knew the spiritual power of song, and many time honored and beautiful hymns were composed by Lutherans.  Perhaps music can become one of the vehicles for reconciliation and hopefully someday unity. 

Song of Songs III by Marc Chagall
The beauty and the "theology" of art extends beyond creedal differences. This was made clear in the Pope's reflections when he praised the work of Marc Chagall and Bach.  These artists, through graphic art and music respectively, were able to lift the mind and heart to God. Many other non-Cathoic artists have done the same. Even those artists that whose subjects or themes are not religious, can through the beauty of their work, draw their viewers into meditating on the beauty of the Almighty. The Orthodox refer to icons and theology in color.  Good art, especially religious art, can also be theology in color, in notes, in words, in movement and in drama. It can tell a story, but can also can "open the mind's eye and one's heart, pushing us upward."

I look forward to reading the complete text as soon as it is available, and to continue to produce art for the glory of God.

August 30, 2011

Another Dark Night

As much of an inconvenience the power outage brought about by Irene is causing, in one way it is not as bad as most people make it out to be. Yes the food in my freezer is thawing out, but I figure that we can have a big Labor Day weekend BBQ and invite a lot of people to come enjoy the burgers, sausage and ribs.  We might have to take a few cold showers but so far in the three days without electricity, there is still warm water in the water tank.  I have been making morning coffee, breakfast and dinner on the grill.  I can charge my phone and computer at work (and check my e-mail and blogs), and it remains light enough to work outside the house cleaning up what Irene left behind, which is nothing more than lots of leaves and twigs. 

My husband and I have been campers since we were married, so we are considering this a campout, with a few more luxuries, like a toilet, sink and running water.  Last night we took all the twigs we collected and some wood left over from a tree we cut down last year and made a fire in the yard.  Then we did something that we usually don't do after dinner.  We sat and talked, and talked, and talked.  Perhaps in this age of Facebook, the internet, blogs, HDTV and cell phones, we needed something like this storm to get us back to basics.  Real conversation I believe is becoming a rarity these days.  It is so much easier to become a couch potato and sit in front of the TV or computer after dinner than to sit with family and talk about what is going on in our lives, our hopes, our dreams, our fears and even our faith. After my husband went in for the night, I remained outside watching the fire burn down and watched the stars come out. Without lights in our surburban neighborhood, the stars were more visible that they usually would be.  I started to pray these lines from Psalm 8.
When I see your heavens, the work of your hands,
the moon and the stars which you arranged,
What is man that you should keep him in mind,
mortal man that you care for him.
Speaking of faith, I find the silence (except for the noisy generator from the neighbor across the street), is a boon to my prayer life.  Many times when I try to pray at home I have to compete with the TV, music, and phone.  Now there is a stillness and a quiet that is so conducive to prayer.  I will miss that when the lights come back on.  Then there are the candles...lots of them. There is something about candlelight that is calm and serene.  I love praying by candlelight.  I am reminded of my reteat last summer where Compline was always prayed by the light of candle, or the Easter Vigil when the Paschal Candle is processed in and slowly the whole church is bathed in candlelight.  The fact that Christ is our Light, the One who lights our way in the darkness, comes across so beautifully when all you have is candlelight.

Lest I sound hopelessly romantic about the lack of electricity, I do hope the power comes back soon. Last time we lost it for five days and the cold showers got a bit too cold, I longed for real milk in my coffee, a good football game on TV, and I started going through internet withdrawal.  But for now it is an adventure, a time to rediscover some of the things we've lost, a time to set priorities, and a time to realize that living a complicated, noise filled, technology dominated life isn't all its cut out to be and that what's really important are relationships, relationships with God, with family and with friends.  So the blackout  is really a blessing.  Who knows, maybe I'll choose one night a week to have a "blackout" night. 

August 28, 2011

Irene Update

The eye is directly upon us. The wind has died and a quick survey shows no damage other than lots of leaves.  So far we haven't lost electricity. No flooding and the radar shows little to no rain after the eye passes.  I know the winds pick up again but I pretty much think it is over. 

I slept through most of it except when the wind woke me at 2AM.  It reminds me of another of my favorite Gospel stories of Jesus asleep in the boat during a storm.  If one has faith and trust in Christ why worry.  Yes it could have been worse but thanks be to God, we were spared the worst.

Even though it is morning I have to share this. Sing it Willie!

UPDATE: We lost power about a half hour after posting this. Oh well.

Late have I love you.

Today is the memorial of St. Augustine and although the Sunday takes precedence, I feel Augustine is important enough to merit a post.  Augustine is an interesting character and his lifestyle before his conversion can easily be compared to that of any young person.  Augustine was searching for truth and meaning, much like our young today.  He found it in all the things that really don't satisfy.  If you think about today, many look for meaning to their lives in work, drugs, money, sex and even in false religions.  But none of those things satisfy There is an innate need for God, but so many just don't to realize that it is only with God that true happiness can be found.

It took Augustine 30 years to find out that what he sought was with him all the time. It's like the characters in the Wizard of Oz.  They had to go through all kinds of trials in their search for what they wanted most in life, a brian, a heart, courage and a home, only to find that they possessed them all along.  The Scarecrow, Tin Man, the Lion and Dorothy needed the Wizard to help them realize this.  Augustine had the prayers of his mother Monica, whose memorial was yesterday.  Monica's prayers reached God and Augustine finally recognized that what he was seeking all along was Christ. In his Confessions he wrote of this realization:
Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.
These words have so much depth, so much meaning, and express a long for Christ that is an innate part of who we are as human beings created in the image and likeness of God.  There is a lot here to meditate upon as each sentence is a gem in itself.

I would write more but Irene has arrived with a fury and the people across the street have already lost electricity.  It is exciting to see the power of nature, but always aware of the devastation  it can cause.  Oh Lord keep us safe and protect us from all forces that may cause us harm.  With each gust of wind, breath you fragrance over us and let us know that we belong to You and without You we are nothing.

August 27, 2011


Like everyone else on the East Coast, I am preparing for Irene.  As I write she is hovering over the Outer Banks and we should start feeling the effects of the outer bands in a few hours.  Right now we are experiencing the "calm before the storm"with occasional light showers and a lot of humidity and an erie feeling that something is coming.

Waiting for Irene

Everything battened down

The yard cleared
This has been quite a week. Tuesday an earthquake, Thursday the news that I have to have surgery and now Irene.  The earthquake was unexpected but with regard to the latter two there has been sufficient warning to get ready.  As far as Irene goes, the boat is out of the water and "safe" in the driveway, the lawn furniture is tucked away as is anything outside that can blow around. We have water, propane for the grill  and lots of ice in the freezer along with food that can be cooked as it defrosts if and when we loose electricity. The cars gas tanks are filled along with two five gallon portable tanks.  We live on the cusp of the voluntary evacuation zone but our home is high enough in elevation (23 feet above sea level) that I don't think we will have a problem staying. It is calm right now and aside from getting out to the anticipated Mass at 5:00 there is nothing much we can do. So now we just wait it out.

The surgery is something that I have been anticipating ever since a sonogram revealed something last month.  I needed to wait for an appointment with the doctor to talk about what needs to be done.  In the meantime I looked up on the internet everything I could about the condition and spoke to quite a number of people. When I went to see the doctor I was a wealth of information and well prepared to speak to him. The surgery is a must and now I have three weeks time to get things organized at work and home in preparation for the surgery and my two week recovery, with a possibility of 6 weeks if it is found laparoscopic surgery can't be done. So, I wait this out as well.

Surprisingly I am quite calm, and I think that being well prepared has much to do with it.  Also it has to do with being spiritually prepared.  I believe those who have faith know that God will be with them though any storm.  Waiting can be a spiritual exercise.  It is a time for prayer, for reflection, for setting one's priorities and getting things right with God.  We wait, prepared and ready to greet the Bridegroom. As I have said many times, it is a matter of trust.  Also, what comes with all this is the knowledge that you can weather anything that comes your way and that you'll never walk alone. (YouTube wouldn't allow imbedding for this one so you'll have to click the link).

August 23, 2011

Did you feel it?

The earth moved today, literally.  I was sitting in my office a little before 2:00 this afternoon when it felt as if someone was pushing my chair.  For a moment I thought someone sneaked into my office unnoticed and was trying to scare me.  That would have been of difficult since my desk faces the office door.  But, I actually did turn around to see if someone was there.  I thought that I was having some sort of paranormal experience.  Then I saw my office door swinging and felt the floor rocking.  The pastor's assistant, who sits right outside my office, said she was feeling woozy. Then it hit me, she wasn't having vertigo and I didn't need to call Ghost Busters - it was an earthquake! Being a lifetime New Yorker I only experience an earthquake one other time 29 years ago when one hit in the early morning hours while I was up nursing my son.  That shook the house and sounded like a freight train was roaring down the block.  This one was quiet and more like a rolling sensation.  The parochial vicar in the next office yelled out to stand in the doorway. I guess he figured that if the church building fell down we would be safe there.  The receptionist suggested running into the parking lot.  Well the four of us stayed put and the movement stopped and the phone calls began.  When we realized the earthquake was in Virginia, about 6 hours away, we figured we were safe and went back to work. I actually enjoyed the experience and was hoping for some aftershocks.

Later on I was reflecting on the experience and thought that while we here on Long Island were able to make light of the whole thing, we all have seen how devastating an earthquake can be. No one is really safe from natural disasters.  Hurricane Irene may escalate into a category 4 and smack in to the US in a few days time and hurricane season is still not over.  The word that came to me was to be prepared. At least with a hurricane there is some warning, but that doesn't mean much when winds hit at 100+ MPH. Without question, people will be running to stores to buy plywood, duct tape, batteries, and of course food and water. But that is not the kind of preparation I am talking about.  If some sudden cataclysmic disaster struck, would I be spiritually prepared?

The Gospel reading for this coming Thursday seems to sum it all up quite succinctly.
Jesus said to his disciples:
"Stay awake!
For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.
Be sure of this: if the master of the house
had known the hour of night when the thief was coming,
he would have stayed awake
and not let his house be broken into.
So too, you also must be prepared,
for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.

August 22, 2011

True Humility

Detail of Ghent Altarpiece by Jan van Eyck

On Saturday I heard an interesting quote during the homily at Mass. "Humility is a strange virtue. You lose it the moment you think you have it." The priest was preaching on the last line of Saturday's Gospel which states, " Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Mt. 23:12). It is a bit of a paradox, for how do you humble yourself without being aware that you are being humble?

I have been reflecting upon the virtue of humility for quite awhile now. It is something that we as Christians should strive for, and certainly as a Benedictine, humility is a virtue that I should be assimilating into my life.  In the Holy Rule, Father Benedict writes:
"Accordingly, if we want to reach the highest summit of humility, if we desire to attain speedily that exaltation in heaven to which we climb by the humility of this present life, then by our ascending actions we must set up that ladder on which Jacob in a dream saw "angels descending and ascending" (Gen 28:12). Without a doubt, this descent and ascent can signify only that we descend by exaltation and ascend by humility. Now the ladder erected is our life on earth, and if we humble our heart God will raise it to heaven."
True humility comes with knowing who we are before God and in our complete dependence upon Him, being always aware of His presence.  True humility also comes with  obedience to the will of God.  Both require trust and turning over our will to our Creator.  This doesn't come easy. I know it is difficult to not desire recognition or not feel pride in a job well done. Then there is the distinction between real humility and false humility.  Being humble does not mean that we let people walk all over us, or that we constantly put ourselves down. That is false humility.  True humility I think is attained when we be who God wants us to be.

Today we celebrate the memorial of the Queenship of Mary.  Mary is the perfect example of true humility.  We hear her humility reflected in her Magnificat:
 My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
 My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
 For he has looked upon His handmaid’s lowliness;
 Behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.
 The Mighty One has done great things for me,
 And Holy is His name.
Mary unconditionally accepted the will of God and by virtue of her humility and by virtue of her Love and obedience to God, she was crowned as Queen of Heaven and of earth.  We are called to imitate Mary in all her virtues but especially in her humility. To be humble is to "prefer nothing to the Love of Christ", to put all my trust in God and to proclaim His praises in all that I am and all that I do.

Pope Benedict XVI beautifully expressed following Mary's way of humilty in a homily addressed to the youth of Loreto in September of 2007.
        …the way of humility is not the way of renunciation but that of courage. It is not the result of a defeat but the result of a victory of love over selfishness and of grace over sin. In following Christ and imitating Mary, we must have the courage of humility; we must entrust ourselves humbly to the Lord, because only in this way will we be able to become docile instruments in his hands and allow him to do great things in us.


August 20, 2011

Mediation - Part III

The Rosary

Continuing on Pope Benedict's reflections on meditation from his Wednesday audience:
"Mary teaches us how necessary it is to find in our days -- with all their activities -- moments to recollect ourselves in silence and to ponder all that the Lord wants to teach us, how He is present and acts in the world and in our life: to be able to stop for a moment and meditate...
The holy rosary is also a prayer of meditation: In repeating the Hail Mary we are invited to think back and to reflect upon the mystery we have announced."
If one has difficulty with meditation, or has never really engaged in it, the Rosary is a good place to begin to learn to practice the art of meditation.  When we pray the Rosary, we meditate on the mysteries of the life of Christ.  Yet so often I hear people praying the Rosary at rapid speed and wonder how they can ponder the mysteries or even reflect upon what God might be saying to them as they pray? I wrote in a previous post that I did get impatient with the way people were praying the Rosary after Mass, and I later recalled that St. Therese got annoyed at the way one of her sisters would bang her beads on the pew.  I am far from being a saint so I still have a long way to go offer it to God as Therese did.  I hope the ladies receive many graces through their race to get through it.  I am also not saying that I always pray the Rosary immersed in meditation.  Sometimes I forget what mystery I am up to, telling me that I am not really paying attention nor putting my heart into prayer.

But there are times, I like to think more often than not, when I do allow the repetition of the Hail Mary, Our Father, and Glory Be to act as a sort of mantra that keeps me focused on the mysteries.  I like to pray the Rosary slowly and often in silence. That is why I usually can't pray it with a group like the one I mentioned, as their speed and their loudness would distract me. Praying the Rosary in a group that prays it meditatively however, is often better than praying it alone.  I have experienced this on pilgrimages and in prayer groups that I once belonged to.  The many voices become as one, as if part of a choir.  The softness of the prayers and sometimes singing in between the mysteries, allows for greater meditation and focus on Christ.

Agony in the Garden
by El Greco
While I do like all the Mysteries, especially the new Luminous Mysteries since there is so much in them to meditate upon, my favorite Mystery is the First Sorrowful Mystery, the Agony in the Garden.  I have always been attracted to the story and paintings of Jesus struggling to accept the will of His Father.  How easily I struggle with doing God's will and feel that God has abandoned me in my suffering.  As I meditate on this Mystery, I put myself in the Garden and I ask Jesus to send angels to support me and ask God to give me strength. I also sense the intense agony that Jesus went through and with Him I can resign myself to accept my meager sufferings and to give them to God, "let it be as your will, not mine would have it."

To those who say the Rosary is simply a rote prayer or boring, the Pope is asking us to use the Rosary to lead us into meditation.  As Mary contemplated the events in the life of her Son, so too we imitate her and ask her to bring us closer to Jesus.

August 19, 2011

Meditation - Part II

Lectio Divina.

Continuing with the Pope's reflections on meditation on August 17, he said:
"To meditate therefore means to create within ourselves an atmosphere of recollection, of interior silence, so as to reflect upon and assimilate the mysteries of our faith, and all that God is doing in us -- and not only the things that come and go. We can "ruminate" in many ways; for instance, by taking a short passage of sacred Scripture, especially the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the Apostle's Letters, or a page from a spiritual author we are drawn to and which makes the reality of God in our today more present, perhaps taking advice from a confessor or spiritual director; by reading and reflecting on what we've just read, pausing to consider it, seeking to understand it, to understand what it says to me, what it says today -- to open our soul to all that the Lord wants to say to us and teach us."
Monk Reading
by Rembrandt
One of the disciplines that Benedictines, and certainly other religious and laity engage in is Lectio Divina or sacred reading.  It is an essential part of their prayer life. This is what the Pope is speaking about.  Lectio is an ancient approach to prayer that involves four stages:
     Lectio - slow and prayerful reading of a passage
     Meditatio - meditating on the passage
     Oratio- praying with the passage, asking God to speak to you through the words
     Contemplatio - allowing God to speak in the silence

Lectio Divina is best when using scripture but it can be practiced using other spiritual authors as the Pope suggests.  I usually reflect on one of the readings of the day for Mass, but I have also used passages from the Office of Readings or from spiritual books I am reading.  In my two year journey with John of the Cross, I often engaged in Lectio Divina using the writings and poetry of this great mystical doctor.

The first step, lectio, involves choosing a passage and reading it slowing a few times. Some suggest that reading it out loud is beneficial. The second step is meditatio.  We take the passage and "ruminate" on the words.  The suggestion I have been given is to "ponder and mull" the words on the page.  This can't be rushed.  Sometimes it takes about fifteen minutes, but other times it has taken me days to meditate on a passage.

What do I like about Lectio Divina?  First, it forces me to be still and silent.  It is difficult to focus and meditate with all the noise that surrounds us each day and the time I spend in sacred reading quiets the noise and brings me to a quiet place. Second, I become immersed in what I am reading, whether it be scripture or other spiritual reading.  It is different than reading for pleasure, or entertainment, or for academic purposes.  Third, the words speak to me personally. In reading and in meditating upon them I come to know God. Fourth, it is truly prayer.  Prayer is lifting of the mind and heart to God, and in sacred reading both the mind and heart are fully engaged in speaking to and listening to God. Finally, in the stillness and silence, I discover what God is telling me through the passage as I simply sit and listen.  This final step, contemplation, is completely in the hands of God.  It is in this step where the stresses and concerns of the day fade into the background and my body relaxes in God's gentle caress.

Meditation - part I

 My daughter is a licensed acupuncturist and as part of her practice she often encourages patients to engage in some type of meditation. Meditation helps to reduce stress, anxiety and tensions in the body. It also helps clear the mind and allows one to focus better. It has been part of traditional Chinese medicine and Oriental spirituality for thousands of years.  There are many different types of meditation and beginning in the 1960's engaging in some sort of meditation has become very popular in the West.  Yoga and Tai Chi, physical exercises that often produce the same effects as meditation are growing in popularity. Within two miles of my home, I can find several places that offer some sort of meditation or meditative exercise to stressed out people in need of a way to relieve the stresses in their lives, and clear their minds. There are even Catholic retreat centers that offer Zen meditation, Yoga or Tai Chi as part of their spiritual programs, and there are Catholics who have written about the benefits of these practices both physically and spiritually.  But there are other Catholic writers who have warned against them saying that they open those who practice it up to the occult. One has to be careful when dealing with the spiritual life and that our focus always remains with God.

The Church encourages a form of meditation that is often overlooked by those seeking stillness, silence, and a way to connect with God. That practice is prayer.  Too often when people think of prayer they only focus on formal or vocal types of prayer, going to Mass and devotions, praying from prayer books, and reciting rote prayers. A traditional definition of prayer is lifting of our minds and hearts to God. What better way than to sit in silent meditation before Him who created us, and simply BE in His presence.  At his Wednesday audience on August 17, Pope Benedict XVI spoke on the need for meditation and silence in our lives.  In part the Pope said:
"In our own time, we are absorbed with so many activities and commitments, concerns and problems. Often, we tend to fill up all the spaces of the day, without having a moment to stop and reflect and to nourish our spiritual life -- our contact with God. Mary teaches us how necessary it is to find in our days -- with all its activities -- moments to recollect ourselves in silence and to ponder all that the Lord wants to teach us, how He is present and acts in the world and in our life: to be able to stop for a moment and meditate. St. Augustine likens meditation on the mysteries of God to the assimilation of food, and he uses a word that recurs throughout the Christian tradition: "ruminate." The mysteries of God should continually resound within us so that they might become familiar to us, guide our life, and nourish us as happens with the food that is necessary to sustain us. And St. Bonaventure, referring to the words of sacred Scripture, says that they "should always be ruminated on so as to be kept in mind by the ardent application of the soul" 

There are so many ways that we Catholics can practice meditation and once the practice takes root, most find that it produces many of the same physical, psychological effects as other forms of meditation.  The spiritual effects go beyond words. The important thing is to spend the time in silence, invite God in, and let Him take over.  For this to happen, we need to find a quiet place.  For me it is usually in church, or at the beach, or in my summer garden.  In these place I can find the peace and quiet that I need to focus my thoughts and my heart on God.  While it is true that we should always have our Our Lord in our hearts and in our minds, I find that it is through meditation that I make that special connection that allows God to speak to me and to work toward union with Him.  

August 16, 2011

Are you ready - part II

I had a little fun on the blog last night, but in a way we can take a lesson from football fever.  What is it about the game that turns ordinary men and women into crazed fans.  I mean think of it.  How many grown people normally paint their face (and bodies) in bright colors, wear cheese or other outrageous paraphernalia on the heads and pay exorbitant amounts of money to sit in a freezing stadium and consume overpriced beer and hot dogs?  Why do we get excited over 25 year old boys who make million dollar salaries to run down a field?  Why?  It's fun and gets you excited about something. We like to see our team win. Yet as I wrote last night, I wonder what would happen if we got that excited about Jesus, about our faith in God?

That is exactly what is happening this week in Madrid. While many here in the states were getting ready for football season, others were getting ready for another event. This week over a million young people are gathered to get excited about Jesus, about our faith and about our Church as they participate in World Youth Day.  This spectacular event, lasting almost a whole week, was begun by Pope John Paul II in 1985, and affords young people throughout the world the opportunity to celebrate their belief in Christ together.  It is truly wonderful to see, even if only from my computer screen or on TV, all those young people learning about the faith, praying, praising the Lord, spending time in adoration, and outwardly expressing their faith.  It should give us hope that the future of the Church is assured.  Who knows how many of our future priests, religious and maybe even a future pope are in Madrid this week.  They need our prayers, as do all our children who are being bombarded with so many things that go against the Christian way of life. They are an example to all of us.

August 15, 2011

Are you ready?

I just can't help it.

I'm ready.

I also wonder...if people got as excited about Jesus as they do about a bunch of overgrown guys running down a field with a pig skin, then this world would be a better place.  Oh well.


The Assumption

window at St. Mary's, Manhasset

I have always found the Solemnity of the Assumption to be a great feast, but it seems that, at least over the past few decades, it has sort of faded into the woodwork,  along with many other great feasts and devotions.  Here in the states, because it falls on a Monday, the obligation to attend Mass is abrogated.  That means that most people won't go to Mass to honor Our Lady and celebrate this unique and beautiful feast, and that is a shame.  While I do have a bit of difficulty in my personal relationship with Our Lady, I do know that she cares very much for me even though I don't give her the attention that I should, but I am working on it.  Even so, when I pray the Rosary (which I do every day) and celebrate feasts like this one, I am reminded that we are called to imitate her in her fiat and in her obedience to the Father.

The readings for today's liturgy are wonderful.  I especially like Luke's Gospel of the Visitation. I used this Gospel in a talk I gave about our Blessed Mother twenty years ago. In it I echoed Elizabeth's question, "How does this happen to me, that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?" Yes, she does come to me, and to each and every one of her children who ask for her protection and her intercession.  Today this Gospel reminded me of that,

I thought for today's feast, I would share John Michael Talbot's version of Mary's Magnificat. It is a beautiful rendition and one that I love to sing and to meditate upon.  

August 14, 2011

Lessons from my Grandfather

Grandma & Grandpa at my wedding in 1977,
11 months before he died.

Today's readings speak of accepting foreigners.  I am not going to write about the political rights and wrongs regarding immigration and protecting our borders as that is too political an issue for me to deal with.  I first want to write about my grandfather.  Sergio DiTerlizzi was born  in 1908 in  Bisceglie, Italy, a farming town on the Adriatic in the provence of Bari. Unlike many immigrants who came to our shores via Ellis Island, Grandpa came here illegally. He arrived in Brooklyn, NY and found work delivering ice with men from his home town who were already established there. He met my grandmother, Josephine, a first generation Italian American whose father was also from  Bisceglie. He married her, eloping since her family did not approve of him, maybe because of his illegal status, maybe because they didn't think he would make anything of himself having harldly any formal education.  Eventually, years later, he had to go to Canada so he could legally enter the United States and become a citizen.

He came here to find a better life, and his was one of the great American success stories.  Grandpa went from delivering ice to delivering coal, and eventually started his own home fuel oil business in Brooklyn. The business was so successful that in his early 50's he and Grandma retired and became "snow birds" with homes in Florida and New York.  He also dabbled in real estate and even owned a race horse. My Dad took over the business until he sold it  in his early 50's when he and Mom also retired to Florida.

Jeus and the Canaanite Woman 
Annibale Carracci

In today's first reading the Lord says through the prophet Isaiah (56:6-7) that He will bring foreigners to His Holy Mountain and that their offerings to Him will be acceptable.  God's Love and Mercy even extends to the pagans who seek Him with a sincere heart.  These had to be difficult words for the Isralites to accept.  In Matthew's Gospel (15:21-28), Jesus heals the daughter of a Canaanite woman.  The Canaanties were despised by the Jews, and even the disciples of our Lord wanted to send her away.  Yet, Jesus praises her for her faith. This too must have upset His followers. They were the Chosen People. Why should they accept these foreigners who didn't follow their laws and live the way they did? Some things don't change. Even those immigrants who came to our shores legally in the late 1800's and early 1900's, those from Italy and Ireland and the European Jews among others, were looked down upon by those of "American" birth.  But we are a nation of immigrants, whether our family came over on the Mayflower to escape religious persecution, from Europe to escape poverty, forced against their will from Africa, as refugees from Vietnam or Korea in times of war, or for hundreds of other reasons.

Today we have other foreigners whom many look down upon and are suspicious of, wishing they were not here. Yes, it is true that in a world plagued by terrorism and financial upheval, we need to be cautious as to who we allow to cross our borders. Yet we also must remain aware that they are also children of God and we must not look upon all who are different with suspicion. Many come to our country, as did the early immigrants, looking for a better life for themselves and their children. Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angelas, in an address at the annual convention of the Knights of Columbus last week, said, "The Church’s perspective on these issues is rooted in Jesus Christ’s teaching that every human person is created in God’s image and has God-given dignity and rights."

Someone gave my grandfather a chance. Someone didn't look upon  him as someone to be despised and rejected despite how he entered our country. He made a good life for his family and for the generatios that followed. Whatever our political views on the issue of immigration one thing is clear to me, people deserve to be treated with kindness and respect and without prejudice, no matter where they come from, their race or their creed, and we need always remember that we should love all as God Loves all. 

August 13, 2011

Guilty Pleasures

I have a confession.  I am a chocoholic!  I love everything about chocolate; its taste, its texture, the way it just melts in my mouth and the way it seems to bring about a feeling of euphoria.  One of my favorite movies is even titled "Chocolat,"and although I have been told that it is a hedonistic attack on the penitential season of Lent, I find it a film about uncovering hypocrisy and learning to love.  But that is for another post.

Yesterday I wrote about reading John of the Cross. In The Ascent of Mt. Carmel, John writes about purging of the senses, that is purging ourselves of all inordinate desires that bring pleasure to the senses. Uh oh, I have a problem here!  I don't seek out chocolate, but if it is in my house or at work and I have one bite, then that's the end. I keep eating until it is all gone.  My biggest problem is peanut M&Ms. This confectionary delight combines three great tastes and textures into one, candy, chocolate and peanuts. I can't resist these colorful spheres of pure pleasure.  The other night, feeling a bit low and stressed, I ate practically an entire party size package.  

Later, feeling particularly guilty over my gluttonous experience, I found myself confronted with the idea of purging myself of this guilty pleasure on several levels.  First, for health reasons I should be avoiding anything with high fat content.  Second, it is not doing my weight loss efforts any good.  Third, it is an avoidance of the real issues that are bothering me. And finally, as John writes "But anyone who fails to conquer the joy of appetite will fail to experience the serenity of habitual joy in God by means of His creatures and works." And here I thought gorging myself on chocolate would make things better.

I mentioned that reading John of the Cross has changed my life.  One of the ways that it has changed is that I have been examining the those things that I am attached to. I have been trying to simplify my life and detatch from dependence upon temporal goods, recognition, and even the desire for consolations from God. While these things may be good (and consolations from God are certainly good),  if I am truly going to "prefer nothing to the Love of Christ," then denying these goods can only bring me closer to my goal of union with my Beloved.

Does this mean I will never eat M&Ms again, or delight in a slice of double rich chocolate cake, or deny myself a smooth delectable piece of Godiva?  I don't think I would go that far.  What I do hope to do, by the Grace of God, is to recognize that my "need" for chocolate, or any other food or temporal desire, only keeps me from that which can truly satisfy and bring me joy.  

August 12, 2011

Two Years with St. John of the Cross

Two years ago this week, with much trepidation, I began reading John of the Cross. I say with trepidation because even though I was familiar with Carmelite spirituality with its focus on contemplation and union with God, I did not feel I was spiritually mature enough to delve into John's mystical theology.  I had read most of Teresa of Avila and Therese of Lisieux, but John still frightened me.  Years ago I discovered his poem "The Dark Night"" and I became enamored with it. "One dark night, fired with love's urgent longing...ahh, the sheer grace!"  The entire poem touched me, calling me into a deeper relationship with Jesus.  I knew that reading John would help me in this regard, yet I was avoiding it since I had heard that John was difficult to read, easily misunderstood, and that his writings could be frightening to one who was not ready to be purged and plunged into the Dark Night.

As a Benedictine, I follow a spiritual path of finding God in everyday life, in achieving balance between work and prayer, and in preferring nothing to the Love of Christ.  It is a very practical spirituality, and I tend to be a very practical person.  Carmelite spirituality seems to go a step beyond.  It takes preferring nothing to Christ to its highest level.  As I prayed my way through The Ascent of Mt. Carmel and The Dark Night of the Soul, John's two volume work commenting on his poem "The Dark Night," I found that while it was difficult to read, it was not frightening and it did challenge me to go beyond my own spiritual complacency.  Both volumes speak of the purgation one must go through in order to achieve mystical union or spiritual marriage with Christ.

This week, almost two years to the day when I first started delving into the works of St. John, I completed a third book, The Spiritual Canticle. It is John's commentary on his poem of the same name based on his favorite book of Scripture, The Song of Songs.  As with the Song of Songs, it follows a bride in search of her Bridegroom, and the consummation of their Love.  It naturally follows the sensual and spiritual purgation that John writes about in the previous two books.

Sometimes I ask myself why I waited so long to read these great classics of Catholic spirituality.  I now know that yes, I had to be ready.  I could have read them earlier and I probably would have quickly muddled my way through them taking in a bit of wisdom here and there.  But Sanjuanist mystical theology is meant be absorbed, not just read.  It is meant to lead us to a state of perfection in Christ by uncovering all that keeps us from Christ and seeking "nada," that is nothing but union with Him.

August 10, 2011

Come to the Water

Peconic Bay from Greenport
One of the great things about living on Long Island is that you are never far from the water, whether it be the Atlantic Ocean, the Long Island Sound, the Great South Bay, or the many inlets, coves, estuaries, and ponds that make up the Island.  I grew up on Long Island and on the water. As a child in Brooklyn (yes it is part of Long Island) I spent summers at Coney Island where both sets of grandparents lived, or on my dad's boat joyfully swimming off the stern or hanging off the bow and we cruised through the bays off Brooklyn.  When we moved to Nassau County  (the "real" Long Island) we actually lived on Reynolds Channel and it was there that I learned to pilot a boat.  We would take trips on dad's boat and when we weren't boating we were down at the beach. Moving to Seaford after I got married found me no more than a mile from the canals and a short 5 mile drive to the beach.  While I don't go boating that often anymore, I do enjoy when we do go out and beach the boat or drift around the bay. I like to kayak, or just sit at the edge of the beach.

Greenport Harbor
So what has all this to do with spirituality? I think a lot. Yesterday my husband and I took a ride to the North Fork, a lovely area of Eastern Long Island filled with vineyards, farm stands, nurseries and quaint little towns. We spent most of the day by the water at Greenport, Orient Point and having lunch on the Sound.  It was a peaceful day and my thoughts turned to the Lord. Jesus loved the water.  Last Sunday's gospel even found Him walking on it.  Wouldn't that be fun! He chose His closest disciples from those who made their living fishing.  Do I know about fishing!  I don't particularly enjoy it, but having lived and live with men who get great enjoyment out of it, I know it takes a certain kind of person since fishing involves planning, preparation, patience, sometimes disappointment, but also a desire for the big haul. No wonder Jesus chose a fisherman to lead the church and used the image of gathering fish to describe those who lead people to Christ.

The beach at Orient and lighthouses at Plum Gut
Orient Point Lighthouse
Jesus also chose water as the means to be re-born in Him.  To me being close to the sea allows me to be closer to Jesus.  Feeling the gentle waves wash over me reminds me of baptism.  But back to Scripture.  Most of the stories of Jesus and water involve trust.  The disciples were afraid of the storms on more than one occasion, and they really didn't trust that Jesus would make it all OK.  No wonder what He admonished them "Oh you of little faith." But upon looking out at the lighthouses in Plum Gut and Orient Point yesterday, I recalled that Christ is our Light. A lighthouse is often used as a contemporary image for Christ, who is the beacon that protects us from crashing against the rocks of destruction and despair and also leads us to the Safe Harbor that He keeps for those who Love Him.

Sometimes we talk about moving off the Island.  It would be nice to live in the mountains or in a small town far away from the city.  But leaving the water would be difficult.  I know God is everywhere but for me, He is present in a special way by the sea.  He is present in all His might in the crashing of the waves. He is present in His gentle touch in the water gently rocking my boat.  He is present in His omnipotence in the vastness of the ocean.  He is present in His Joy as I float and play by the shore.  He is present in His healing ministry as the cool waters cleanse me and refresh me.  And He is present in all His glory in the sun setting over the bay and the full moon rising over the ocean. 

August 5, 2011

Silence is Golden

Today I had to walk out of church after Mass lest I be led into sin.  No, it was not something that was said in the homily, or the fact that the priest ad libbed parts of the prayers, or that he chose not to celebrate the memorial of the Dedication of St. Maria Maggiore, one of my most favorite churches in all the world.  What caused me to leave was the behavior of the assembly after Mass.  I am not a stickler for absolute silence in church, however there is a certain etiquette that should be followed regarding being quiet in church, whispering if one must speak so that those who choose to pray are able to.  

Over the past week, the notion of silence has manifested itself to me in different readings and in my personal meditations. I had planned on writing about silence since God certainly was speaking to me about the need for it, yet I was procrastinating. After this morning Mass, I guess God was telling me that I should not put it off any longer. In the book Rediscovering Catholicism, Matt Kelly writes about how important silence is to prayer and how our lives are filled with so much noise that it is almost impossible to hear the voice of God.  He writes, "Our modern world is spinning out of control, and one of the chief contributors to the chaos and confusion of our modern age is noise. We are filled with noise. We are afraid of silence."  In this coming Sunday's first reading, God is found not in the loud thundering sounds of storms, wind and earthquakes, but in the "tiny whispering sound." 

In one of my readings from the Holy Rule this week, Benedict writes with regard to silence in the oratory, "After the Opus Dei, all should leave in complete silence and with reverence for God, so that anyone who may wish to pray alone will not be disturbed by the insensitivity of another."  Pretty strong words.

The benefits of silence are many.  It allows the mind to quiet itself and bring to the forefront things that are really important by taking away the distractions that come with noise.  It allows us to focus our prayer. Most of all, it allows us to hear the still, small voice of our Lord.  

Ridding ourselves of noise is not easy, especially when you live with others who do not share the same views on silence. I guess Jesus faced some of the same issues (although He didn't have to deal with modern electronic noise making devices), because he always went off alone to pray.  We don't always have that luxury, but there are ways to achieve times of silence.  For years I have not played the radio in the car.  Although I once loved listening to music all the time, I find that not listening, even at home, is a good thing, and also lets me appreciate music better when I do choose to listen.  Once a TV addict, I now only watch a little of it, and avoid the news and gossip stations.  My cell phone is usually on silent or vibrate, although I do get chastised for missing calls, most that really weren't that important anyway (what did we do without cell phones - especially in church).  I believe that noise is a huge obstacle to prayer. If we want to pray well, we need to turn off the noise in our lives, or at least a portion of it.  

This brings me back to this morning's incident at church. Several different groups of people were making a lot of unnecessary noise and it got louder and louder as each group tried to be heard over the other.  One group was actually shouting the Rosary, as if our Lady was hard of hearing.  The ladies setting up for a funeral were yelling across the church to each other. A large family group was loudly conversing. There were people in the church trying to pray.  I had the need to pray.  Finally the distraction got so unbearable that my thoughts were wandering far from God, so I left to continue my prayer at home.  I would have preferred to be in front of the Blessed Sacrament, but God is everywhere.  I could have offered up the annoyance, but it was so noisy that this thought didn't even come to my mind until I was home for awhile, and it still would not have given me the silence I needed to hear God.

What all this is telling me, and I hope telling some of you, is to make time for silence in your life, and in places of peace and quiet, to be aware of others need for silence. We can't always go away to pray, although a retreat is probably the best way of achieving silence. Yet even on retreats I have found that there is unnecessary noise and chatter. Why are we afraid of silence?  Why are we afraid to hear God?  One of the things that stand out for me during my travels to Italy, were the old ladies in the churches who would call out "silencio" when people started to speak above a whisper in church.  Perhaps we need some of those old ladies in our churches, on our street corners, in our homes and workplaces.  Maybe we need to be less afraid of silence and realize that it is in the silence that we meet God.

Post script:  Just in case I gave the impression that I lack patience, I did try to pray through this for 15 minutes before I left the church.