April 30, 2011


I have always like dandelions. Yes, I know my neighbors probably wish that I would zap them away with some sort of weed killer, but I like keeping at least some of them around. I think this bright yellow weed has been a bit maligned by those who would keep their lawns immaculate. First off, they are edible. The leaves, although bitter, can be cooked or used in a salad. The flowers too can be cooked or made into wine. Granted, I have never tried eating any dandelions, but who knows, I may get brave one day and try it.

The lowly dandelion is also a favorite flower of children. What child has not gathered a bunch of these bright yellow flowers and presented them to their mothers with great joy? To children, they are the most beautiful flowers in all the world. And what mother has not gratefully accepted such a gift and placed them in a vase  in the center of the table, as if they were the finest roses?

I find, however, that the greatest pleasure of the dandelion comes when the flowers finish blooming and the seed pods appear as delicate poofs of white just waiting for the wind to carry them off to distant places (or the neighbor's lawn). Who hasn't picked one and helped the seeds on their way by blowing on them with delight and watching them dance on the breeze seeking their resting place.  It is an innocent pleasure often accompanied by a feeling of joy and wonder at God's marvelous creations. 

The dandelion is also a tenacious plant. It often grows where no other plant will, sometimes pushing its way up through cracks in pavement or in the poorest soil.  We as Christians can learn a lesson from the dandelion.  We too are often misunderstood, persecuted, and in some areas of the world, eradicated.  Yet we endure and go on.  We have the witness of the martyrs and brave missionaries to encourage us in spreading the Word of God and doing His will. We are beautiful in God's eyes. When, in humility and innocence we present ourselves to the Lord, He delights in us, and in His great Mercy and Love, gives us an honored place at His Banquet Table.

God also asks us to spread the Good News of salvation to all the world. Just as the seed pods of the dandelion are carried on the wind all over the neighborhood, we are called to carry God's Word.  It is the Breath of God, His Holy Spirit, that blows on us and sends us on our journey on the winds of life, to do God's will and to show God's Love.

So the next time you think about zapping that dandelion popping up on your nicely manicured lawn, take some time to meditate on what it can teach us.  And if you do decide to pull it up...well, make some wine!

April 27, 2011

Were not our hearts burning

Several years ago I had gone into the City (what we in the metropolitian NY area call Manhattan) to see the Byzantine art exhibit at the Metropolitian Museum. Since I don't get to the Met that often, I usually make a day of it, and after viewing the exhibit I wandered around the galleries. I had done a semester internship at the Met in college, and I knew my way around quite well. Surprisingly, I came upon another temporary exhibit entitled "Painters of Reality: The Legacy of Leonardo and Carravaggio in Lombardy." The moment I turned the corner into the exhibit I came face to face with Carravaggio's "Supper at Emmaus." I stood staring at it, and since I had no companions accompanying me, I was able to gaze at its magnificence for quite some time.

Since Luke's story of Emmaus (Lk. 24:13-35) competes with Matthew 6:25-34 as my favorite Gospel story, I knew I had to ponder the artist's interpretation of the passage. From an artistic point of view, Carravagio, is a master of chiaroscuro, the use of darks and lights. He is also known for the realistic way his subjects are portrayed, and for his dramatic use of foreshortening. I was also drawn to the somewhat odd array of food on the table. It was noting like I had pictured the original "supper" with Jesus would be. I found the image of this painting stayed with me long after I left the museum.

A few weeks later, I attended my first summer at the University of Notre Dame. One of the courses I took was Art and Theology given by Fr. Michael Joncas. The course looked at theology through the lense of music, the graphic arts, and literature. When he started the section on graphic art, the "Supper at Emmaus" was one of the pieces we studied. Fr. Mike beautifully explained the symbolic meaning of not only the food on the table, but the use of light, foreshortening, clothing, facial expressions and postures. He had a passion for the piece that helped me to enter ever so deeply into the painting and the story.

The Road to Emmaus is a story that I can never end pondering and meditating upon. It is a story of all Christians who seek the Lord on the road of life. It is the story of Eucharistic faith and spirituality. It is the story of the celebration of the Eucharistic Banquet. It is also a story of how this Eucharistic faith compells us to go forth and share the Good News.

The one line that stays with me is, "Were not our hearts burning within us..." This line is so profound that the United States bishops used it as the title of their document on adult faith formation, "Our Hearts were Burning Within Us: A Pastoral Plan for Adult Faith Formation in the United States." That "burning" in our hearts is something I think we all experience at some time or another. I have found that the closer I get to the Lord, the greater that burning becomes. It is like St. Augustine wrote, "You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you." As someone who is immersed in adult faith formation as part of my ministry, this phrase helps me to realise that we who teach must reach our students, especially adults, in that "burning" place, that place where they seek God. That burning in our heart will never and should never be quenched until we dwell with Christ in the Heavenly Banquet at the end of the road of life.

Happy Easter

April 26, 2011

Woman why are you weeping?

Jesus is risen! He is risen indeed!

As we celebrate the Tuesday of the Octave of Easter we hear the beautiful and moving story of Mary Magdalene's encounter with the risen Jesus. Mary, who had just experience the greatest sorrow in her life in seeing her Lord and Savior crucified and laid in the tomb, now relives that pain in finding Him missing. Yet she does not recognize that the Man standing before her is the One she is seeking.

How often do we feel the pain of not being able to find Jesus when we need Him the most? We might spend our time sitting at the door of the "tomb," grieving our situation and thinking all is lost. All we need to do, however, is look and we will find Him standing there. In a tender moment, Mary recognizes Jesus as He speaks her name, captured in the above fresco by Fra Angelico. He calls each one of us by name as well. We just need to be open to hearing it. But the story also reminds us that once we encounter the risen Christ, we must not simply cling to Him, but go out and proclaim Him to the world.

Fra Angelico (born Guido di Pietro), was a fifteenth century Dominican friar, who is famous for his frescos on the walls of the cells at the Convent of San Marco in Florence. He is known for making the transition from the art of the Middle Ages to the early Renassiance, and his work influenced many of the Renassiance artists. His use of vibrant colors was unique for his time. Most of all, his frescos tell the stories of our faith from scripture to the lives of the saints.

Fra Angelico was beatified by Pope John Paul II (whose own beatification we will celebrate this Sunday) on October 3, 1982. He is the patron of Catholic artists. Perhaps if we pray through his intercession, we will see a resurgence of beautiful Cathoic art, and God will raise up faithfilled artists who will portray His glory and the glory of the Church and the saints, as Fra Angelico and so many artists thougout the centuries have done.

April 24, 2011

Buona Pasqua

Victimae Paschail Laudes...the sequence for Easter Sunday.

Christians to the Paschal Victim
Offer your thankful praises!

A Lamb the Sheep redeems:
Christ who is only sinless,
Reconciles sinners to the Father.

Death and life have contended in that combat stupendous:
The Prince of life,who died, remains immortal.

Speak Mary, declaring
What you saw wayfaring.

"The tomb of Christ, who is living,
The glory of Jesus' resurrection;

Bright angels attesting.
The shroud and napkin resting.

Yes, my Christ my hope is arisen:
To Galilee he goes before you."

Christ indeed from death is risen, our new life obtaining.
Have mercy victor King, ever reigning!
Amen. Alleluia!

April 23, 2011

Holy Saturday

Today we keep vigil.  Jesus has died and was placed in the tomb, and we wait. In today's Office of Readings there is an ancient homily for Holy Saturday.  We read how, while the world sits in sorrow, Jesus decended to the place of the dead, and raises Adam and Eve from their graves, along with all those faithful to God who were awaitng the Savior to release them from their bondage and  to join Him in heaven.  I need not say more, for the homily says it all.  Today we keep vigil...

April 22, 2011

Good Friday

This morning in the Office of Readings we read from the Catecheses by St. John Chrysostom.  Chrysostom translates as "golden mouthed," and if you read his homilies you will know why.  He was the archbishop of Constantinople in the late 4th, early 5th centuries and is one of the Greek Fathers and a Doctor of the Church.  I love Chrysostom's writings and homilies, and the one chosen for today's reading is exceptional. In it he speaks of the power of Christ's blood, and the syblolism of the water and blood as Baptism and the Holy Eucharist.  John writes, "Since the symbols of Baptism and the Eucharist flowed form His side, it was from His side that Christ fashioned the Church, as He had fashioned Eve from the side of Adam."  The comparison is clear since as Eve became the wife of Adam, so too the Church is the Bride of Christ.  John also compares a mother nursing her child to Christ nourishing the Church with His own blood.  As one who has nursed her own children, this comparision is quite beautiful and full of meaning.

Today, Good Friday, also begins the Divine Mercy Novena.  The image of Divine Mercy is that of Jesus with blood and water gushing from His side depicted by rays of red and white light.  In explaining the image, Jesus revealed to St. Faustina, "The pale rays symbolise the water, which cleanses and purifies the soul: the red rays represent the blood, which gives new life to the soul."  While I am not that fond of the orignial image that St. Faustina commissioned, I have found an icon image that I prefer.  I find the image less stark. I also have an iconic image with Jesus standing in front of a door, reminding me that while Jesus stands waiting to pour out His Mercy, it is I who must open the door of my heart to allow His Mercy to enter my soul.

Some who know me find it odd that I like the devotion to the Divine Mercy. I find it comforting, and so many times I have had to rely on the Love and Mercy of God to get me though the rough times.  Since I have said in previous posts that I have difficulty with trust, this devotion reminds me to trust in Jesus for all my needs, and that the blood and water from His side are "a fount of mercy for us."

April 21, 2011

Three Days

We now enter into the holiest time of the Church year.  For liturgists it means hours upon hours of preparation so that the Triduum liturgies are celebrated perfectly...well almost perfectly.  The good thing is that where I may see slip ups or mistakes, most of the assembly usually doesn't notice, and I don't think God minds all that much.  The liturgies of these three days are the most magnificent of the year, and and I really love preparing them.  Yet, unlike the rest of the those who participate in these liturgies, I don't get much of a chance to really pray them.  For the most part I don't even get a chance to sit as I keep a watch out for anything that needs to get done.

I do however, get a lot out of these three days.  I find that praying the Office of Readings for the Triduum from the Liturgy of the Hours gives me that time away, so to speak, to listen to what the Lord is saying. I particulary like the second readings in the Office of Readings for these three days.  The first readings are always from Scripture, and during the Triduum they are from the Letter to the Hebrews.  The second readings are sermons from the ancient Church.  These sermons are beautiful mystogogical reflections on the Paschal Mystery and the events of Christ's life that we celebrate these three days.

This morning's reading was by St. Melito of Sardis, a first century bishop.  He relates the Passover to Christ as the sacrifical Lamb and speaks of the suffering of Christ as forshadowed by those who suffered in the Old Testament.  So often we, and I do include myself here, like to avoid any kind of suffering or pain.  Yet I am learning that suffering is a good thing when we give it all to Christ.  Our suffering and pain can be redemptive when put in the proper perspective, and we accept it, not as a curse, but as a way to grow closer to the Lord.  All suffering, physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual, does not have to be a reason for dispair or sadness. St. Peter worte, "Beloved, do not be surprised that a trial by fire is occuring among you, as if something strange were happening to you. But rejoice to the extent that you share in the suffering of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly."

Have a very blessed Triduum.

April 18, 2011

Reconciliation Monday

Today in the dioceses of Rockville Centre, Brooklyn, and New York is what is being billed as "Reconciliation Monday." That means that in every church in all three dioceses, priests will be available for confessions from 3:00-9:00 PM.  While confession isn't my favorite things to do (it ranks right up there with root canal),  the closer my relationship with God has become, the more I realize the need for this great sacrament of God's forgiveness and mercy.

Last weekend I gave a talk on a retreat about reconciliation.  I referred to Henri Nouwen's book Return of the Prodigal Son and displayed a large poster of Rembrandt's painting of The Return of the Prodigal Son, from which the book gets its title. Nouwen writes that the moment he saw a poster of the painting in a frriend's office, he became fascinated with it, and sought the painting out at it's home at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia. After reading the book, I too became enamored with the painting and had to buy my own 3x4 foot version of it.

Rembrandt van Rijn was a 17th Century Dutch painter who is known for his paintings and etchings of scenes from Scripture.  While I have never seen this particular painting, as I don't think it has left Russia,  I have seen Rembrandt's etching of the same parable. The etching is much more detailed than the painting,  although lacking the dramatic effect of chiaroscuro which the artist perfected. It seems to draw the viewer into the scene in almost iconic faschion, and like the painting, expresses the great reconciling embrace between the father and the son.  

The Prodigal Son, as we know,  is a story of forgiveness, of mercy, and of love. The father welcomes his wayward son home with such tenderness, and Rembrandt's use of light illuminates this reconciling embrace. Rembrandt was well versed in the Bible and his paintings are colored so to speak with his own life experiences. He must have known well the need for God's forgiveness and mercy.  When I meditate on this painting, I, like Nouwen, can see myself in the different characters depicted. Sometimes I am like the younger son, sometimes like the older, and sometimes like the old woman (probably the mother) who is hiding in the shadows. As Lent comes to a close, however, we are all called to be the younger son who seeks his father's forgiveness for the wrong he has done. When we humble ourselves and confess our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we receive this reconciling embrace from our Heavenly Father and are welcomed "home" with joy and feasting.

Holy Week has begun. Our focus now is on the Passion of Jesus.  As He stretched His arms on the cross, that was His reconciling embrace for the salvation of the world.  We praise you O Christ, and we bless you. For by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world.

April 17, 2011

Hosanna to the Son of David

Holy Week begins. For me, as a parish liturgist, this is my busiest week, so much so that I often don't have the time to sit and meditate on what it is we are celebrating. I do know how important it is however, to find the time to focus on what our Lord Jesus has done for us and to contemplate the Paschal Mystery that this week celebrates.

One of the ways I meditate on the events in our Lord's life is through art. Perhaps that comes from majoring in art in college. I also know that art speaks to the heart, often in ways that words cannot. Over the centuries, up until the nineteenth century, religious subjects were the most popular subjects in paintings and sculpture. The graphic arts also served a catechetical function since many people were illiterate and art told the stories of faith.

One of the most popular art forms, at least in the Eastern and Orthodox Christian tradition, are icons. They are among the most ancient Christian art forms. Icons are called "windows to eternity" or "theology in color." The icon is not simply a painting, but stands as a symbol, drawing the viewer in to experience the mystery depicted. An icon is not meant to be realistic and everything in the icon has meaning. Sit with an icon and let it draw you in.

As I meditate on the icon of our Lord's entry into Jerusalem I often wonder how it was that it all turned around. One moment "Hosanna," the next "crucify Him." Isn't it like that with us sometimes? One moment we are praising God, and the next we find ourselves giving into temptations that lead to sin. And wasn't it our sins that crucified Him? So, as we enter our churches this Palm Sunday morning, let us sing Hosanna, and let us praise the Son of David, our King and our Lord. As we do, let us also call to mind our sins, and leave our celebration of the Eucharist ready to enter into enter into the mystery of Christ's Passion.  

April 16, 2011

Happy Birthday

Tomorrow, April 17, is my father's 80th birthday. It is unfortunate that I will not be able to spend it with him, since he and my mom live in Florida and, it being the beginning of Holy Week, the busiest season for those of us who are responsible for preparing parish liturgies, I cannot take the time off.  Dad understands and I certainly will take the time to call him on this momentous occasion, although I think he would rather let it pass unnoticed. Still, I would have loved to be there.  My dad is so important to me. He has always been there for me, even though living so far away.  His children are his life and no matter how my three siblings and I might have caused him pain or disappointment, he never once turned away from us, but showered us with his love and his care.

I think it is because of my loving relationship with my father that I can relate well to God as Father.  Dad taught me so many things. Like how to swim, and drive both a car and a boat. He bought me my first guitar, and told me he loved to hear me sing.  He sang to me as we drove to the emergency room when I broke my arm in third grade and when he danced with me at my wedding.  My Father in Heaven taught me so many things, and He gave me music and song, and He dances with me all the time, a dance of Love. Just like my earthly father, God has never rejected me, or turned from me, no matter how many times I may have turned from Him.  Our heavenly Father, Jesus' Abba, will always be there, watching out for us, welcoming us when we have strayed and always, always loving us.  I don't always remember to call upon him, and sometimes I do feel He is so far away, but it is I who creates the distance, not God.

The Father loves His children, all of them, those who are close and even those who are far away.  As we enter into Holy Week, let us remember to call upon our Father in prayer, for He so much wants to hear from us and wants to tell us how much He loves us.

I love you daddy.  Happy Birthday.  And I love you Father.  Keep us always in your care.

April 14, 2011

The Net Will Appear

It's funny how simple things can often remind us of our relationship with Christ.  Yesterday my daughter wrote in a comment, "The net will appear."  As I stated, she knows me well.  I came across these four words close to 20 years ago while on a retreat with the women in the prayer group I was in.  One of our tasks for the weekend was to make a collage.  OK, so the retreat was a bit "seventies" for the the early 90's, and we were far from high school age where this kind of thing takes place on retreats.  Yet, in the course of designing my poster I came across those four words and ever since have them taped on my computer screen where I can see them every day. But what does it mean?

As a child, one of the acts in the circus that always amazed me were the trapeze artists. In recent years, after discovering Cirque de Soleil, I find that these arial acrobatics say more about trust than they do about any tricks that the artist performs.  Yes, the artist must have skill, strength, poise, and stamina, but he or she must also trust that they will be caught. The catcher is the most important person in the act.  He is the steady one, the one who often goes unnoticed, but is always there reaching out and holding on.   In a way, that is how God is.  So often we go about our lives, doing this or that, making great strides or accomplishing wonderful things, not even aware that God is there as the one who creates the rhythm of our movements. He catches us and sends us off to do more and more in our "performance" of life.  He allows us to soar and to fly.

Yet, sometimes we fall.  Our timing might be off, or we are not paying attention to where our lives are going, or we just try to accomplish something beyond ourselves and our capabilities, and we miss the catcher.  More times than not, it is because we rely on ourselves and fall prey to the lie that we don't need God. But when we fall, and we will, Jesus is there.  He is the "Net" that appears to catch us when we need Him.  Just like the safety net stretched across the stage floor far below the trapeze artists, Jesus is always there to protect us and keep us from harm.  All that is required is trust.

Now I do not think that I will ever attempt the flying trapeze, I am too afraid of falling.  But as I go through life, do my fears also keep me from doing what is God's will for me, what is truly right and good?  This is where those four words come into play.  Am I going to stay firmly planted on the "platform," giving into my fears and hesitations, or am I going to trust and take that "leap of faith?"  Do I want to just stay where I am, or do I want to "fly."

April 13, 2011

It starts with trust

My daughter Laura suggested I start a blog. She has been writing one for the past two years titled Cultivate Your Wellness.  As an Oriental Medical Practitioner, the focus of her blog is alternative health, nutrition, and exercise with some personal information, wit and humor thrown in.  It seems her undergraduate English degree has proved useful.  Back to her suggestion; when I asked her what I would write about she responded without hesitation, “Write about Jesus.”  I gave her a shrug and thought that my daughter knows me well.  I try to make Jesus the center of my life, but who would want to hear about my relationship with Jesus? Even though I have written professionally on the topic of RCIA and Liturgy, and am a full time lay ecclesial minister, I don’t consider myself that much of a scholar or an evangelist.  So what would I write about? 

Upon further reflection, I thought I could do what my daughter does in her bog. She looks at health from a holistic point of view, commenting on different areas and topics that affect the overall health and well being of her readers.  I hope to look at my relationship with Jesus from a holistic viewpoint, bringing in different topics and disciplines, art, literature and music that certainly have affected my spirituality and relationship with God.  Of course Scripture, liturgy, and doctrine as taught by the Catholic Church will be the ground for my reflections.

The title of this endeavor came easy. It is from the Gospel of Matthew chapter 6, verse 28, part of one of my favorite passages, Matthew 6:25-34.  My bible gives it the heading “Trust in Divine Providence.”  Trust does not come easy for me, but this pericope, part of the Sermon on the Mount, assures me that God will certainly take care of me if I surrender to His merciful Love.  Perhaps this blog is part of learning to trust; trust God, trust in my own abilities, and trust that my daughter just might know me very well.