Category Archives: Religion

Clean Enough To Care

by Howard Hain

John Downman, “Child Holding a Doll”, 1780 (The Met)


What if someone handed you a child?

A small child.

A tiny child.

An infant.

A few hours…a few minutes old.

What if you were the only one that the child could be handed to?

Only you.

No one else around to help.

Would you receive that child into your arms?

There’s no sterilized room, no sanitary precautions, no sink, not even a bar of soap—just plain old you, a bunch of imperfect circumstances, and a poor tiny child that needs to be embraced.

You know what you would do.

Even if your hands were filthy, completely covered in soot and mud, you know what you would do.

You’d quickly rub your hands against your pants or shirt and wipe away the obvious dirt.

Then you’d hold out your hands.

Wouldn’t you?

Yes. You would.

We all would.

That’s what makes us human.

That’s what makes us children of God.

We’d do what we could with what we have to help an innocent child.

We know that “cleanliness” in such cases really doesn’t matter. For even if the circumstances were “perfect” we’d still have that uneasy feeling. That feeling that we’re not worthy to hold such innocence, to be entrusted with such treasure.

It’s a holy hesitancy that only true humility can bear.

Yet, it’s the necessity to help, the clear need for our assistance—the abundantly clear reality that we’re the only “hands” on deck—that drives us to overcome such holy and righteous fear—a fear that reveals just how poor we really are, much poorer in fact than even the helpless child we are about to embrace.

It is preciously this beautiful fear of God that propels us to love boldly—to boldly reach out beyond ourselves, to boldly become part of God’s mystical body, to become His very arms and hands—to embody Divine Love Itself—that perfect love of the eternal Father for each and every child ever created.

For it is the Father’s love that creates us, and sustains us, and longs to flow through us.

We just sometimes need extreme circumstances—ridiculously obvious situations—in order to tap the needed courage to let it to flow beyond our own borders and into those around us.

You are in such a situation. Right now.

We all are.

This very moment.

No matter where you are or what you’re doing.

Such a situation is at hand.

A child, a new born—cold, hungry, and without a home—desperately needs to be held.

Quick then, wipe your dirty hands, make due with what you’ve got—believe the Word of God, it’s good enough—now hold out your hands.

You’re clean enough to care.


Howard Hain is a contemplative layman, husband, and father. He blogs at

Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardDHain

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Web Link: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. John Downman, “Child Holding a Doll”, 1780

Saving Santa Claus

Santa Claus came to town today in Macy’s annual Thanksgiving Parade. From the parade he went into the store  for Black Friday and he’ll be there for the rest of the days till Christmas.


But he’s more than a saleman, isn’t he? Santa’s a saint. Saint Nicholas. He reminds us that Christmas is a time for giving rather than getting. His quiet giving mirrors God’s love shown in Jesus Christ.

Telling his story is one of the ways to save Santa Claus from being captured by Macys and Walmart and all the others. First, take  a look at our version for little children. Then, you might want to go on to our  modest contribution for bigger children– like us:

A Prayer for Thanksgiving Day

The times are bad, safe to say. But however bad they are, we know we should give thanks.

How did Thanksgiving begin? Hard to say. One popular account traces it to New England in 1621 when the pilgrims recently migrated from England sat down with the native peoples for a meal at this time of year. Was it a meal after a good harvest or a bad harvest? Accounts differ.

The account of a bad harvest says that the Indians saw the poor Puritans starving and got them a meal of wild turkey and corn and other foodstuffs the immigrants knew nothing about.

There are other theories for the feast. One theory traces Thanksgiving to Protestant objections to Catholic celebrations of saints’ feasts and  celebrations like Christmas and Easter. Too many, they said. The Puritans cut out those celebrations and kept only two kinds of religious observance, Days of Fasting and Days of Thanksgiving.

It’s safe to say Thanksgiving is a very popular day for celebrating with family and friends. It’s also true that if you went to the churches around our country today, you would find better attendance than usual.

On Thanksgiving I think of what Meister Eckhardt said:

“If the only prayer that you said in your entire life is Thank You, that would suffice.”


Your gifts are countless, O God,

and we thank you for them all.

May our hearts like yours reach out,

to those who have less than we do.

and give them your blessing.

Bless the gifts of food and drink we share at this table.

Bless those who prepared them for us,

Bless those around this table,

Bless creations itself, your great table of gifts.

We give you thanks for all. Amen


Bozza Imperfetta (imperfect sketch)

by Howard Hain



Michelangelo Buonarroti (Italian, Caprese 1475–1564 Rome). “Unfinished cartoon for a Madonna and Child.” 1525–30. Drawing, black and red chalk, white gouache, brush and brown wash. Casa Buonarroti, Florence

I know almost nothing.

What I do know leads me up the ladder of not understanding.

To my perch upon the Cross.

Within the heart of my child Jesus.



Museum Wall Card for Work Above, from: Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer, on view at The Met Fifth Avenue from November 13, 2017 through February 12, 2018.

The Presentation of Mary in the Temple

The Presentation of Mary is an ecumenical feast celebrated by churches of the east and west. It began in Jerusalem where tradition said Mary was born near the temple. Her father Joachim provided lambs for the temple sacrifices. Joachim and his wife Ann were childless until, at the promise of an angel, they were blessed with a daughter. They presented her in the temple when she was three, traditions says, and she was raised among virgins. The present church of St. Ann in Jerusalem, almost adjacent to the ancient temple site, marks the place where Mary was born.

This isn’t the only tradition about Mary’s birth, of course, Nazareth and a city nearby, Sepphoris, also make that claim.

What should we think of this tradition? Basically it tells us Mary was closely connected to the Jewish temple, a claim Luke’s gospel supports. He says that Mary’s cousin Elizabeth was married to Zechariah, a temple priest. So, was Mary’s family connected there too?

Luke links Mary to the temple a number of times. Forty days after Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph go there “when the days were completed for their purification,” (Luke 2,22) Jewish custom did not demand that they do this, but they did.

Luke also says Mary and Joseph brought Jesus from childhood to the temple to celebrate the feasts. For Mary, the temple was a place where from childhood she came into God’s presence. It was not a cloister, but a place of spiritual teaching; prophets spoke in its courtyard and the world came for wisdom there. The old man Simeon spoke to her and the old woman Anna praised God’s deeds there.

In words constantly repeated in the psalms:   

“The Lord is in his holy temple,
The Lord’s throne is in heaven.” (Psalm 11)

Mary introduced her Son to this holy place which later he called “his Father’s house.” He engaged its teachers and spoke about his own mission as he celebrated its feasts. He celebrated the last supper nearby and died as the lambs from the temple were being sacrificed.

St. Paul of the Cross, the founder of the Passionists, dedicated his first retreat on Monte Argentario in Italy, to the Presentation of Mary in the Temple. He wanted the places where his religious lived to be places that imitated this mystery– where God was present; where prayers were said; where prophets and teachers could be met; where the world found wisdom.

The Temple of God

This week’s Mass readings from the 1st Book of Maccabees and the Gospel of Luke bring us to the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. Three years after its profanation by Antiochus Epiphanes, about the year 167 BC, the Jews under Judas Maccabeus re-conquered Jerusalem and restored the temple, which was at the heart of their religion. The first reading this Friday describes the rededication of the temple to its former glory. The Jews continue to celebrate it in the feast of Hannukah. (1 Maccabees 4,36-61}

The New Testament writers were certainly aware of this historic event when they wrote about Jesus cleansing the temple. Entering Jerusalem after his journey from Galilee, “ Jesus went into the temple area and proceeded to drive out those who were selling things, saying to them, ‘It is written, My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.’” Then, “every day he was teaching in the temple area” until he was arrested and put to death. (Luke 19,45-48)

It was a symbolic act. Jesus himself is the presence of God, the Word made flesh, the new temple of God. Luke says he taught in the temple “every day.” He teaches us every day; he is our high priest brining us to his Father and our Father, “every day.”

He is the temple that cannot be destroyed. At his trial before he died, witnesses gave testimony that was half right when they said he spoke of destroying the temple. When Jesus spoke about the destruction of the temple, he was speaking of the temple of his own body. Death seemed to destroy him, but he would be raised up on the third day.

We share in this mystery as “members of his body.” We’re a sacramental people; we need places to come together, to pray and to meet God who “dwells among us.” We need churches and holy places. We instinctively revolt when we see them go.