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Make Haste: The Visitation

During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.

Haste.  Praying the Scriptural Rosary for the Joyful Mysteries, that word caught my ear.  I never noticed it before.  In the past, when I meditated on the second Joyful Mystery, I tried to picture Mary making her way to her elder cousin.  But when I paid closer attention, my ear snagged on that word:  Haste.

When I pray the Rosary, I try to focus on one or more images related to each Mystery.  Like with the Wedding Feast at Cana, I can picture Mary telling the others, “do whatever he tells you.”  And I try to take guidance from this wisdom:  obey her son, Jesus.

With the Visitation, I would usually focus my mind’s eye on John the Baptist leaping in his mother’s womb.  What joy he must have felt in the presence of the Lord!

But now, with this new realization–haste–I added a new image:  Mary, making haste to her cousin, Elizabeth.  I wonder: what was her hurry?

I think a big reason for her haste has to do with our social nature.  I think Mary had at least three motives for making haste.  She wanted to share her news with her elder cousin–she (Mary) was pregnant!  She wanted to seek her elder cousin’s wisdom as Mary began this new chapter as a mother.  After all, Mary was still very young and she probably still had a lot to learn about the whole process.  She probably was nervous.  And finally, she wanted to help Elizabeth through her pregnancy.  Elizabeth was “advanced in years“–pregnancy at her age would be difficult.

And so, when I imagine Mary’s hasty journey, I see in her rush her desire to share with Elizabeth three things:  their shared joy at each pregnancy, Elizabeth’s wisdom that she acquired through years, and Mary’s love that she acquired through grace.  And so, as I pray the Joyful Mysteries, I hope I am motivated, as Mary, to make haste in my efforts to share joy, wisdom and love with others.

As I finished writing this post, I learned of the passing of my pastor, Monsignor William H. Easton.  I only was in his parish (the National Shrine of the Little Flower in Royal Oak, Michigan) for a little over a year, and yet I learned how blessed we have been to have such a wonderful shepherd as Monsignor Easton.  I know we will miss him, but I can see Mary making haste to welcome him to her Son’s kingdom.

Eternal rest grant unto Monsignor Easton, o Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.  May his soul and the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.  Amen.

Monsignor Easton


Browsing Facebook, I came across this great rendition of “Under Pressure ” (thanks, Buggy).  Awesome isolated vocals by Freddie Mercury and David Bowie!  It’s one of those songs that I love to sing along with, loudly and with feeling.  And while some recycling of its parts (through sampling and other techniques) may have tarnished the song a  little, it still remains a favorite.

I have to admit I didn’t really know all the lyrics.  I would make up words for the parts that I didn’t understand, or loudly mutter nonsensical syllables.  But with these isolated vocals I listened more closely.  This exchange caught my ear:

“Why can’t we give love that one more chance?”

“Cause love’s such an old-fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the edge of the night
And love dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves”

And it hit me:  this is what Pope Francis is challenging us to understand, to accept and then to live.  Love is messy.  Love is chaotic.  Love is painful and risky.  Because love calls us to come out of ourselves and reach out to others.  It especially calls us to reach out to “the people on the edge of the night.”

In his recent Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis makes this pitch.  He calls on us to “take on the “smell of the sheep” so that “the sheep are willing to hear [our voices].”  He prefers “a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets”, out on the edge of the night.  And he reminds us that “the Gospel tells us constantly to run the risk of a face-to-face encounter with others, with their physical presence which challenges us, with their pain and their pleas, with their joy which infects us in our close and continuous interaction.”

While we might be “tempted to be that kind of Christian who keeps the Lord’s wounds at arm’s length”, Pope Francis tells us that “Jesus wants us to touch human misery, to touch the suffering flesh of others”, to “enter into the reality of other people’s lives and know the power of tenderness.”

He wants us to love, and by loving, to change the way of caring about ourselves and begin caring for the people on the edge of the night.  Who are these people?

Pope Francis tells us:

“But to whom should she go first? When we read the Gospel we find a clear indication: not so much our friends and wealthy neighbours, but above all the poor and the sick, those who are usually despised and overlooked, ‘those who cannot repay you’ (Lk 14:14).”

We must become, as Christ, “close to the poor and the outcast”, to care for “society’s most neglected members.”

Pope Francis describes some of these “most neglected members”:  the “homeless, the addicted, refugees, indigenous peoples, the elderly who are increasingly isolated and abandoned, and many others.”

In calling us to love, he asks us, “Where is your brother or sister who is enslaved? Where is the brother and sister whom you are killing each day in clandestine warehouses, in rings of prostitution, in children used for begging, in exploiting undocumented labour?”

I think Freddie and Ziggy might answer it this way:  they are the people on the edge of the night.

Jesus is the Lamb

It’s easy for me to anticipate Christmas and the birth of Jesus in forgetfulness of His sacrifice that we celebrate every Sunday.  It’s also more difficult to remember our call to mortification, let alone to accept the little sufferings I might face or the little acts of selflessness I am challenged to offer.  As I remember the coming celebration of Jesus’ birth in anticipation, I try to remind myself of St. John of Cross as he encourages us:

To endeavor always to incline oneself,

  • …  not to that which is easier, but to that which is more difficult;
  • …  not to that which is tasty, but to that which is more bitter;
  • …  not to that which is more pleasing, but to that which is less pleasing;
  • …  not to that which gives rest, but to that which demands effort;
  • …  not to that which is a consolation, but to that which is a source of sorrow;
  • …  not to that which is more, but to that which is less;
  • …  not to the lofty and precious, but to the lowly and despicable;
  • …  not to that which is to be something, but to that which is to be nothing;
  • …  not to be seeking the best in temporal things, but the worst,
  • …  and to desire to enter in all nakedness and emptiness and poverty through Christ in whatever there is in the world.

And while I try to endeavor as St. John suggests, it helps to seek the humility of Christ as well with the Litany of Humility:

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.

  • …  From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, Jesus.
  • …  From the desire of being loved…
  • …  From the desire of being extolled …
  • …  From the desire of being honored …
  • …  From the desire of being praised …
  • …  From the desire of being preferred to others…
  • …  From the desire of being consulted …
  • …  From the desire of being approved …
  • …  From the fear of being humiliated …
  • …  From the fear of being despised…
  • …  From the fear of suffering rebukes …
  • …  From the fear of being calumniated …
  • …  From the fear of being forgotten …
  • …  From the fear of being ridiculed …
  • …  From the fear of being wronged …
  • …  From the fear of being suspected …
  • …  That others may be loved more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
  • …  That others may be esteemed more than I …
  • …  That, in the opinion of the world,
  • …  others may increase and I may decrease …
  • …  That others may be chosen and I set aside …
  • …  That others may be praised and I unnoticed …
  • …  That others may be preferred to me in everything…
  • …  That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…

In this way, I think I can better appreciate and celebrate Christmas, the arrival of the Suffering Servant who came to set us free.

Today is Gaudete Sunday, which means Rejoice!  If you have an advent wreath, you’ll notice that while the other three Sundays of Advent have purple candles, today’s candle is rose pink.  This is the color of joy!  Of Rejoicing!

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Today’s first reading tells why we should rejoice.  We begin in the desert.  I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the desert of Southern California in July 2009.  As the picture reflects, it is barren.  The plant life is sparse and looks nearly dead.  And the desert is full of hazards.  Be carefully lifting anything.  There might be a snake hiding underneath!  Or black widows!

When I was there, it got up to 119°! It was HOT with no shade.  But I understand that, on the very rare times when it does rain, the desert just explodes with blossoms!  Like here!

Judean Desert in bloom

This is the promise of the first reading from Isaiah:

The desert and the parched land will exult;
the steppe will rejoice and bloom.
They will bloom with abundant flowers,
and rejoice with joyful song.

Today, you may feel like you’re in a desert.  Like everything around you is dying and the sun itself is beating down on you, draining you of energy.  Rejoice!  God promises better!  This desert will bloom with abundant flowers!

When I was in the desert of California, I learned of one of its denizens, the desert tortoise.  The desert tortoise is a protected species.  We had to be sure to stay on the marked roads and not drive into the desert for fear of driving over one of their burrows and killing them or destroying their nests.  In fact, if we saw one on the road, we were to leave it alone.  I am told that if you sneak up on one and startle it, the desert tortoise will evacuate its bladder.  This is a deadly condition for the tortoise because they recycle their urine.  They go months or years between drinks of water.  Because of this, they have to conserve what fluids they have.

This is an example of how the life in the desert has adapted to the harsh environment.

Although most of us do not live in a desert, many of us experience a spiritual dryness.  Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta describes the spiritual desert she experienced throughout her life.  These were times when Mother Theresa didn’t feel God’s presence.  She couldn’t sense Him.  And I know that there are times when I sometimes don’t feel the fruits of praying, when it doesn’t seem to pay off.

What did Mother Theresa do in those times?  She continued to pray.  She continued to love.  She continued to serve.  She persevered.

This desert often appears in my personal life and my relationship.  Sometimes I don’t feel like being nice to people who snap at me.  I don’t feel the spiritual strength to smile, or help.

Mother Theresa had a wonderful saying that addresses those times when you might not feel the presence of God, when you might not feel like being nice, or helpful.  It goes like this:

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.  Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.  Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.  Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.  Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.  Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.  Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, will often be forgotten.  Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.  Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway.

So when you find yourself in a spiritual desert, think of Blessed Theresa of Calcutta.  If you don’t feel like praying, just do it.

Also, remember the desert tortoise, who stores its water because it never knows when it will take its next drink.  Like the tortoise, store up memories of when God’s love was obvious to you, when things went well, when you recognized your blessings.

And finally, remember God’s promise.  While your soul may feel dry as the parched desert, God promises that it will “bloom with abundant flowers, and rejoice with joyful song.”

Think pink.  Think rejoice!

I have joined a Men’s Bible Study at my parish.  We meet once a week and tackle one chapter each week led by a volunteer from among our sub-community.   This coming week we will tackle Acts 25 and, having never learned from my Navy days (NAVY being a backronym for “Never Again Volunteer Yourself”), I volunteered.  I’m no theologian so please take my observations with a grain of salt.  Also, if anything I say is contrary to Church teaching,  please let me know ASAP so I can correct it.

Many of us will recognize this reading if you attend Mass on May 17, 2013 (Friday of the Seventh Week of Easter), as the first reading in the Lectionary comes from that chapter.  The Chapter is available to read here.

Read the rest of this entry »

Not of This World

Jesus answered, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants [would] be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.”  John 18:36.

My reward is not in this world.

My ultimate goal is not of this world.

My hope is not in this world.

If they were, I would utilize every ounce of energy, all my strength, and every resource to protect them.

But, as it is, I am after a much greater reward.  I am hunting much better game.  So I am content to let the pleasures, benefits and comforts of this world slip away.  

I don’t claim any theological support for this notion.  But as I was praying the Scriptural Rosary this morning, I heard the Gospel conversation between Jesus and Pontius Pilate when Jesus told Pilate that His kingdom was not of this world.  And as I listened, I heard the words Jesus said in a different light.

I heard, “I am not invested in this world, so why put enormous efforts in retaining its gains?”

I was recently traveling in west Africa.  As I’ve noted before, I am not always the greatest traveler especially in the transition days which have the highest potential for things going badly—those days of travel and adjustment to new surroundings.  In those times I am most vulnerable to fears and anxieties, and I’m particularly susceptible to what-if-itis, the inflammation of that part of the imagination that conjures up horrible hypotheticals.

I have to admit:  a major part of any fear of mine, especially fears of my earthly demise, is the question of legacy:  what if no one finds me or my body?  What if no one knows I died?  What if no one remembers me?  What if I am left rotting in a hole and no one knows where to find me?

In the past, when facing such fears, I have found great relief in prayer and particularly in praying to His Mother, Our Mother.  But on this last trip, I added a twist, a new attitude when praying:  I thought, “whatever happens to me, He has something much better for me.  If no one remembers me, He still holds me.  I live for Him.”

That’s not completely accurate.  I didn’t so much think these words as much as I held the attitude those words represent, a sense of faith and hope.  And when I added this twist to my prayers, I felt more than peace.  I felt joy.  I felt bolstered by the Spirit.

And so, when Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?”, I wonder if Pilate is taunting Jesus: “where are your loyal subjects now?  Who will come to rescue you?”

And when Jesus responds with “my kingdom is not here”, I wonder if He is encouraging us to say to our tormentors, “I don’t need assistance to keep my toehold on this world.  My reward will be greater in Heaven.”

Avoiding Slavery

“No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”  Mt. 6:24.

Ganvie 047-2

Benin, on the Gulf of Guinea in Africa, developed into a major slave trading center in the 17th century, becoming perhaps the largest in Africa.  Almost a million Africans left their continent through Ouidah, sold into slavery in Europe and the Western Hemisphere.

In order to evade the slave traders, some fled into the waters of Lake Nokoué and established the town on stilts, Ganvie.  Apparently the slave traders would—or could—not fight on the water and would not pursue their prey into the lake.  Established 400 years ago, Ganvie is now home to between 20,000 and 30,000 residents.

Ganvie 060

I can’t image the lifestyle adjustment that was required in order to adapt to the new living conditions.  Food sources, shelter, transportation, recreation—daily activities—all must have dramatically changed to acclimate to their new surroundings.

The ancestors of Ganvie’s residents went to great—extreme?—measures to avoid the evil of slavery.  As I rode through this township, I began to ask myself:

What am I willing to do to avoid slavery?

The horrors of human trafficking and slavery—centuries ago and today—are obvious.  No debate or arguments are needed to convince anyone that they do not want to be victims of this horrendous human endeavor.  And yet, every day billions subject themselves to subtle forms of slavery.

Ganvie 057 (640x478)

Jesus reminds us that we cannot serve two masters.  In His example, Jesus warns us against serving mammon, “an Aramaic word meaning wealth or property.”  And yet, despite His warning, materialism is ubiquitous.  I find it very easy to be lured by this form of slavery.  It’s hard not to want more—more money, bigger homes, better cars—and it’s hard not to envy those who appear better off than I am in their material wealth.

And there are other subtle forms of slavery, attractive snares lying in wait for victims.  Am I willing to take Ganvie-like measures to avoid these traps?

  • Materialism:  Do I seek fulfillment through the acquisition of goods and materials—or with the collection of things—or am I content with what I have and do I use my blessings to serve Him? Am I willing to surrender my desire for more and trade it in for a desire for a closer relationship with Him?
  • Lust:  Do I let me eyes lead my head to whatever tempting images the media—or other broken souls—lay before me or, or do I avert my eyes and pray for these victims ensnared in the slavery of self-image and lust?  Am I willing to give up those things that can lead me astray, like TV, internet or movies?
  • Body:  Do I elevate this temple of the Holy Spirit to the platform of divinity, seeing my fitness as my god rather than a gift from the one true God and a means to offer His praise and thanks?  Am I willing to acknowledge Him as the source of my health?
  • TV:  Do I waste hours and days at the alter of the “idiot box” (as my Mom called it), or am I willing to pull the plug so I can use my precious time to serve Him and His better?  Am I willing to spend time in silence in His presence (being still and knowing He is God), rather than filling my time with noise?

What stilt village will I build to escape the slavery of sin?

As an aside, I am often uncertain of my posts as I draft them.  Is this what God wants me to do?  Am I serving Him well with this?  Do I come across as humble or arrogant?  Do I draw people to Him or repel them?  Today I experienced one of those moments when God gives me a clear sign.  Riding through the bustling streets of Cotonou, we came to a stop at a traffic light.  As I glanced around, this sign snagged my attention:

001 2It is the very same verse I begin this post with.  Thank you, Lord, for this awesome sign!

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