Category Archives: poetry

Feasts are for Reflection

Ryrson cross
Feasts are times to reflect. The Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, September 15th, is an important feast for my community, the Passionists. Mary is the first disciple of Jesus and a model for anyone who wishes to follow him.

The gospel reading for the feast from St. John says simply that Mary stood by the cross of Jesus. She’s a brave woman, not afraid to come close to the fearful place where Jesus was put to death. The Book of Judith, ordinarily the 1st reading for the feast, praises Judith, the brave and wise Jewish woman who’s not afraid to stand with her people at a dangerous moment in their history. Two women of courage face suffering and the challenge it brings.

The prayers, traditions and art of this feast take up the theme of Mary standing by the cross. She’s remembered  in poetry, music and art. “Stabat Mater” Here’s an example in Gregorian Chant and Pergolesi’s magnificent baroque setting.

At the cross her station keeping
Stood the mournful mother keeping
Close to Jesus to the last.

Blessed Dominic Barberi, in his reflections on Mary’s sorrows, emphasizes that Mary is a mother, the new Eve and a follower of Abraham, who hopes even as his son faces death. Dominic places particular emphasis on Mary’s ties to Jesus as his mother, ties of flesh and blood.

Her motherhood provides another strong tradition that  appears in early medieval art – the Pieta– the Mother holding her dead Son in her arms on Calvary. Where did this come from? Some say it comes, not from the gospels which make no mention of it, but from the writings of mystics like St. Bridgid of Sweden, a mother who saw the life of Jesus, particularly his passion, through a mother’s eyes.

The women mystics, many of them pilgrims to the Holy Land, could not imagine Mary not taking the body of her dead Son into her arms when taken down from the cross.

The 13th century icon above, from the Ryerson collection from the Art Institute of Chicago once belonged to a European pilgrim to the Holy Land who brought it back as a reminder of a pilgrimage. It probably reflects the two traditions. Mary, a mother, holds her Son at birth and she stands at his cross at death.

An alternate gospel for the feast recalls Mary’s loss of the Child Jesus in the temple. Mary’s sorrows were not limited to Calvary; they were lifelong.

A study of the Pieta in art in early medieval France explores the diversity of this scene before Michaelangelo’s Pieta became an overpowering icon. “Often she is viewed as caught up in the horror of the moment, but she is also shown praying or even gazing into the distance, as if contemplating comforting memories or the reunion to come. Her demeanor ranges from youthful innocence—the Purity that Time cannot age—to careworn maturity—Our Lady of Sorrows.”

Sorrow has a range of faces.

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Morning Thoughts: Other People

by Howard Hain

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Other people. That’s when things get complicated.

Being patient, forgiving, meek, honest, prudent, wise…when it comes to our own wellbeing is hard enough…but when it comes to dealing with the world’s offenses against those we love—especially those put into our care—things can really get out of hand.

For living a life of integrity and peace, of “turning the other cheek”, seems somewhat possible when it’s my cheek, but to ask me to act the same when it comes to witnessing an injustice against my mother, my wife, or my daughter, then it’s a whole other ballgame.

The lamb becomes a lion. I want justice. Now. A roaring lion. Game on. And it is no longer about defense. No, a full-frontal offensive attack is launched. Crush the opponent. Leave no opportunity for the “hyena” to not fully understand: “Not on my watch, you vile creature—you don’t stand a chance—and now you’ll pay tenfold.”

This is all figure of speech, of course. But internally, this hypothetical dialogue is somewhat close.

But then there comes the question of action itself.

What do we actually do?

What should we actually do?

Each situation of course has its own set of circumstances.

But Truth and Wisdom apply to every situation and circumstance.

And that hits upon what is perhaps the biggest affront the world inflicts upon those placed in our care: The lie that Truth, Morality, Virtue, Justice, and Goodness are relevant to time and place, to culture and historical period.

Truth is Truth. Moral Virtue is Moral Virtue. Justice is Justice. And offenses against Eternal Truths are offenses against Eternal Truths, whether you live in Poland, the United States, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, or Zimbabwe.

And yes, I am fully aware that the above statement makes the assumption that there are Eternal Truths. There are. Period. God’s Love and His demand for Human Dignity are real. God’s reality insists upon it.

Perhaps then this is the best first step in truly defending our families: To know the Truth. To stand in the Truth. To anchor ourselves in and to the Truth.

Day by day. Hour by hour. One Eucharistic encounter at a time.

Here then is such a nugget* that might help us navigate the turbulent waters of this new day:

“The rash man has no integrity; but the just man, because of his faith, shall live.”

—Habakkuk 2:4


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* nug·get
/ˈnəɡət/
noun
a small lump of gold or other precious metal found ready-formed in the earth.

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23rd Sunday a: Telling People They’re Wrong

For today’s homily, please play the video below:

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Friday Thoughts: A Common Question

by Howard Hain

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Does it make any sense to ask “why” but not want to know why?

It depends on how we see an answer. For there is one answer that applies to each and every question, that fully satisfies each and every query—one certainty that fully answers all wonderings.

All other answers—true although they may be—are subordinate to this one primary and exhaustive answer.

And this one answer has many expressions, but only one meaning. It has several names, but only one significance. It has billions of manifestations, but only one divine presence.

The answer is “I AM”…

The answer is “Truth”…

The answer is “Pure Existence”…

And on and on….

But let us express it one additional way: “The Perfect Will of God”.

If we believe this—if we believe in God we must believe this—then we have no questions to ask. Unless of course we ask for a different reason—a reason other than wanting an answer. And what may that reason be?

To experience God.

To “know” He is real.

To feel He cares.

———

For does an infant question his mother’s love?

Does he wonder if she will offer her breast?

Does he ask any questions at all?

No. He cries.

He prays with utter faith to a power beyond his capacity to wonder why.

For the newborn “knows” why.

The infant “knows” he is loved.

Yet he cries.

———

And we do too. We cry “why” to a God who knows our every need and has preordained our every righteous desire.

We pray like infants—like newborn children—when we ask our all-knowing and all-caring God a question we instinctively “know” is already forever answered.

We pray when we cry out loud in the direction of Him whom we believe exists—no matter the form of the cry.

For prayer is active believing. Asking is simply a common language.

Either way, the translation is the same.

———

“Why Lord?” (I believe in You)

“Why God?” (I trust in You)

“Why, Lord, why? (I love You)

———

And God always answers.

He always nurses.

More faith…more hope…more love.


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Morning Thoughts: Beyond

by Howard Hain

 

F. Hain Untitled ~2014

F. Hain, “Untitled”, ~2014

 

Beyond “Yes”

Beyond “Amen”

Beyond “I love You”

You are beyond

Beyond prayer

Beyond is my prayer

It looks a lot like sitting still

Like not thinking

Not remembering

Not planning

Not wanting

It looks a lot like pure existence

A lot like being free

Infinitely free


 

You, Lord, are the Lord of Freedom, if only we’d accept Your declaration—if only we’d love the person we most imprison with jealousy and petty dislikes.

Free us Lord from ourselves, from our most secret possession, from our deeply hidden pride.

Grant us, Lord of Infinite Freedom, the grace to fly upward, and inward, all toward You.

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Friday Thoughts: Can’t Be Afraid

by Howard Hain


 

No matter what it is. All good options are on the table. All goodness is on the table. For God sets a banquet before us, a great breakfast. Liberty first. We must be free. Drink deep of letting go of the past, repentance is not an aftertaste. Repentance sets the table. A table held in place by belief. Upon which God’s goodness gives life. It is always about life. More of it. More letting go, less picking up the scraps. Of course, if scraps are all we have, by all means let us be grateful. But I have a sneaky suspicion there’s a whole lot more—if only we’d tell “fear” to take a hike—and then take our proper place at the table.

So much goodness is in store.

 


 

 

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Friday Thoughts: The Laugh’s On Us

by Howard Hain

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No matter what I’m going through I feel the urge to laugh when I speak to a brother in Christ—and now I know why—true fellowship reminds us that God laughs at our trifling fears.

 

Rembrandt Self Portrait

Rembrandt, “Self-Portrait”, (1668)

 

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