Monthly Archives: July 2016

Friday Thoughts: Walled Garden (2)

(Please note: This is part 2 of a piece entitled “Walled Garden”. To read part 1, simply click here: Friday Thoughts: Walled Garden (1))


pissarro orchards at louveciennes 1872

Camille Pissarro, “Orchards at Louveciennes”, 1872

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And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.

—John 19:27


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On leaving the convent I came upon the friar I noticed on my way in. The little dog was no longer around. We approached each other as if we had met before. He was kind. He was middle-aged. He was simple. And then the strangest thing occurred. He took me by the arm, the way men stroll in Italy, arm-in-arm, during the evening passeggiata—the evening stroll.

But I had never met this man before.

Yes, it is certainly strange to have an unknown man approach you and link his arm in yours.

He led me toward a dirt path. We strolled. We spoke little. He didn’t speak English and my Italian was tiny. But it was nice. Peaceful. It didn’t feel strange. I only now use that word, for from a somewhat forced “objective” perspective, it seems that it had to be.

He was a man of God. And he saw I was too, before I had any idea God had undeservedly entrusted me with such a gift. The gift of loving God. The gift of wanting Him more than I could ever explain. The gift of being an outcast here in this world of time, a wanderer, a pilgrim, a crusading knight of Lady Poverty—of being—in yet again, some strange kind of way—a lady-in-waiting—patiently and painfully anticipating the exuberant arrival of the one and only eternal groom.


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He brought me to what appeared to be an old foundation. I understood from what few words we exchanged that this was the remains of an abandoned orphanage. And then we began to head back toward whence we came. I remember offering him some bread that I had in my bag, purchased that morning in the city of Assisi up above. He lightly touched his stomach with one hand and shook his head “no”—a kind, polite, gracious, and utterly grateful, “no-thank-you” kind of “no”.

When we arrived at the door of the convent I understood from his gestures that he was inviting me to see something inside. It was clearly something that I had not yet seen. I motioned “yes” and we entered. We climbed a staircase and walked down a hallway. We were in an area not open to the public. The walls revealed its age. And we approached a door. A wooden door. And he unlocked it with an old large skeleton key. He opened the door and motioned for me to go inside, quietly informing me that this is Saint Clare’s cell. I entered and he remained outside. He gently pulled the door closed.

I wasn’t sure what to do. I was safe. I knew I wasn’t locked in. I was pleasantly confused. I looked around. It was small. It was literally a cell. Enclosed. All stone. A low tight arched ceiling. Bright. Dark. Cozy. Warm. Beautiful.

A tabernacle. A womb. A virgin’s womb.


 

At the end of the somewhat rectangular shaped room was a small alter-like shelf. I knelt before it. I have not the slightest recollection of what I prayed.  Of what I thought. Of anything spiritually taking place. I was just there. And I remained a few minutes. And then I left. I opened the door and I was all alone. No friar. I closed the door behind me and made my way back down from where I had come.

It seemed as if nothing extraordinary had happened. It was all so normal. So everyday. Yet it was nothing of the sort. It was extraordinary. It was an encounter. I think. Perhaps.


 

I think of little Mary. Alone in her room. I think of a gentle breeze and the sight of a bowing angel.

“Hail, full of grace…”

What a name, what a title to be given!

Gabriel holding the key that opens the door.

The young, chosen, highly-favored virgin agrees to hear his message, to walk arm-in-arm with him, to accompany him to she knows not where. She agrees to accept God’s invitation.

The Holy Spirit comes upon her simple life, her simple way, her simple manner.

The power of the Most High overshadows her daily existence.

Our Father confirms her trusting posture, her grace-filled instinct to utter the purest of prayers:

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“Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.” (Luke 1:38)

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Jesus entered a private, off-limits room. He made His home there.

And He never left.


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“…when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret…”

—Matthew 6:6


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—Howard Hain

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Morning Thoughts: A Simply Perfect Quilt

Cundell, Nora Lucy Mowbray, 1889-1948; The Patchwork Quilt

Nora Lucy Mowbray Cundell, “The Patchwork Quilt”, 1919

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As nurslings, you shall be carried in her arms, and fondled in her lap; as a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; in Jerusalem you shall find your comfort.

—Isaiah 66:12-13.


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I heard someone say the other day that Amish women leave their finished quilts imperfect, and that they do this purposely, so as not to commit blasphemy.

We hear lots of things. And like with most of what we hear, whether this or that is true or not, we quite often just don’t know—at least not in terms of earthly circumstance: what exactly was said, who exactly said it, or the exact context in which it was said. But also quite often, these factors simply don’t matter—at least not in terms of what we most need spiritually at that present moment.

To get caught up within the trivial details of who, what, where, and when is to lose a beautiful opportunity to receive correction, direction, encouragement, and inspiration. It is to miss a moment of grace.

God is always speaking to us. Always instructing. Always telling us what we need to hear. Even if His speech takes the form of a simple smile, or a simple piece of Amish lore. He is always right there with us, each one of us. One God. Three Persons. One clear, consistent, perfectly unified voice, continually encouraging us forward.

To me this is a beautiful case of the left hand knowing exactly what the right hand is doing. It is prophecy in real time. Moment by moment. Step by step. Stich by stich. Incremental inspiration. All toward a beautiful, comforting blanket composed entirely of grace. It is the Holy Spirit at work. It is Holy Spirit teaching.

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We always get exactly what we need. But we must be willing to wear fleeces white as snow. For everywhere that Mary went, the lamb was sure to go.

Clean hands. Pure heart. Purity of intention.

Meekness. Humility. Docility to the Holy Spirit.

We must submit to Mother Church.

It is Simple. It is Holy. And Holy Simplicity simply results in simple, clear, straightforward answers.

And it gets simpler and simpler:

We simply hear what God says when we pray in the Holy Spirit and “worship in spirit and truth”. (John 4:24)

We simply become living, breathing manifestations of His glory when the Holy Spirit prays for and through us, when “the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans too deep for words“. (Romans 8:26)

And the Liturgy simply helps us to allow the Holy Spirit to do so.

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For the Amish women don’t sew alone. God quilts too. His is simply perfect. Always. And to us it looks a lot like the Liturgy.

O the simple joy of being wrapped up tightly within it!

O the simple wonder of walking deeper into the Body of Christ each new day—into the greatest and most public prayer of the one, true, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church—The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass—with faith and hope and an ever-increasing expectation that we will “nurse“, “be satisfied” and “drink with delight” at the “abundant breasts” of Mother Church. (Isaiah 66:11)

We receive the comforting milk of Sacrament: of reconciliation, of sacrifice, of thanksgiving, of praise, of presence, of joy, of love…

We receive our physical nourishment, our spiritual inspiration, our mercy and forgiveness, our healing and peace, our much needed correction and instruction—and for breakfast and dessert—our daily share in The Cross.

We receive “our daily bread.”

And all are welcome.

The Church invites all, serves all, prays for all…

All of us—me, you, him, her, them, every single one of us—the entire patchwork of humanity—are always welcomed and always encouraged to turn more directly into the light of God’s face. The Face of Truth, of Mercy, of Justice, of Love…

All are always and truly welcome.

Welcome to walk in the clear, crisp, clean air of God’s ceaseless and abundant reality—a reality that never deceives, that never falsely promises imaginary pots of gold lying at the end of fanciful rainbows.

For rainbows are mere optical illusions. And all sin stems from and leads to delusion. Pure faith, on the other hand, rises above all images, whether they are real or those conjured up by Satan in his constant effort to pervert and deceive.

God’s promises are true. His kingdom is no illusion. Heaven is no empty pot of gold.

“…for on those you have rescued from slavery to sin you bestow eternal gladness.” (Collect, 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, C)

All are welcome to truly come home.

Welcome to walk hand-in-hand with the Lord of the Garden:

“Wash, and be cleansed; remove the foulness of your actions from my sight.

Come, let us speak with one another, says the Lord.”

—Isaiah 1:16,18

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Perhaps then our Amish lady friends have a good, sharp point. Maybe it is not that important to have things “just right”, exactly the way we will them to be. Maybe it is not about making everything “perfect” according to our own plans, nor about appeasing our every desire and inordinate appetite. Maybe, just maybe, happiness—true joy—resides in just the opposite.

Perhaps what makes a quilt simply “perfect” is that it is made with humble, patient, obedient hands. Grateful hands, quite aware of their own defects. Hands that need not be in constant control, nor constantly caressed.

And perhaps it is just those kinds of hands, the hands of poor humble handmaids, that simply remind us of the true purpose of a simple quilt—to keep us warm—warm enough to get us through—to get us through to the other side—to the other side of a long, dark, cold night.


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She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear.

—Luke 2:7-9


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—Howard Hain

14th Sunday C

 

To listen to today’s homily, please select the audio file below:


The section of St. Luke’s gospel, from chapter 9 to chapter 19, is called Luke’s journey narrative; it describes the journey Jesus makes from Galilee to Jerusalem where he will be “taken up.” We’re at the beginning of that journey in the gospel today as Jesus makes clearer to his disciples what our journey entails. The gospels read the last two previous Sundays, also from chapter 9, affirm that  Jesus doesn’t make this journey alone; he invites others, “all,” to go with him. They are to bear their cross each day as they follow him.

Now, Jesus adds another dimension in our reading. The journey is also a harvest. Jesus gathers others to follow him and asks them to join him in the harvesting. In today’s gospel he sends out 72 disciples ahead of him, “to every town and place he intended to visit.” They are the first; more harvesters will follow. It’s an abundant harvest, Jesus says, and the laborers are few, so “ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for the harvest.”

In the meantime, though, “Go on your way. I am sending you as lambs among wolves,” Jesus says.
Lambs among wolves, with no money, no knapsack, no scandals. That’s how the harvesters are sent. And they aren’t sure of the welcome they’ll receive. What chance of success do they have with directions like that, you wonder?

But the seventy two disciples come back rejoicing at their success. Satan falls from the sky.

If we find following Jesus mysterious mysterious, so does his sending us out to harvest with him raises questions in us. It’s been that way from the beginning. The Prophet Jeremiah said he was too young when God called him to bring his word to others; Abraham likely thought he was too old. We think like they do. We’re not smart enough, or holy enough, we think. Our numbers are down; there are not enough of us. There’s no use to it. The world we live in isn’t ready for a harvest.

But God tells us, “Go on your way,” no matter how young or how old or how ready or prepared we are. “Go on your way.” The harvest that’s before us is as varied as the places and circumstances we find ourselves in. Each of us has a town and place to visit.

We have a mission, a harvest waiting for us. We have a mission. There’s something we have to do in this life that’s given to no one else.

We might think in big terms or very defined terms about our mission in life, but maybe it’s better to think as the 72 in our reading today must have done. It’s looks as if their mission was a day by day affair. Like the everyday cross, maybe our mission in life must be discovered everyday. The harvest is there, each day. Let’s think about it that way:

Let’s say to ourselves that each day is new unlike any other day
For God makes each day different.
Each day God’s everyday grace
Falls on my soul like abundant seed,
Though I may hardly see it.

Each day is one of those days
Jesus promised to be with me,
A companion on my journey.
And life each day has consequences unseen:
My life has a purpose.

“I have a mission…I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. God has not created me for naught…Therefore I will trust him. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never by thrown away. God does nothing in vain. He knows what he is about.” John Henry Newman.

Friday Thoughts: Holding Christ’s Hand

Christ in the House of His Parents by John Everett Millais 1849–50

John Everett Millais, “Christ in the House of His Parents”, 1849-50

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“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

—John 14:6

 

If we hold Christ’s hand we cannot get lost. For Christ is the way. It is not even possible to go astray.

If we cannot get lost, there can be no doubt. If no doubt, there can be no fear. If no fear—we are in the Kingdom of God. Right here. Right now.

Hold Christ’s Hand. Fear not. You are in the Kingdom of God.

 

—Howard Hain

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