Category Archives: spirituality

Clean Enough To Care

by Howard Hain
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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 http://www.howardhain.com

Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardDHain

twitter.com/HowardDHain

If you enjoyed this post, please consider “liking” it, adding a comment, becoming an email subscriber, or passing it along via the social-media links below. Your support is greatly appreciated. Step by step. All for God’s glory.


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

Bozza Imperfetta (imperfect sketch)

by Howard Hain

 

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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.


 

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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 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.

Walled Garden

by Howard Hain
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Saint Francis and Saint Clare from the movie “Brother Sun, Sister Moon”, (Franco Zeffirelli) (1972)


A garden enclosed, my sister, my bride,
a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed!

—Song of Songs 4:12


 

From memory it is not easy to recall. I do have a clear image, but if it is accurate that remains to be seen. Here we go.

It was downhill. A sloping path. As I approached the stone church, a few people wandered around out front. There was somewhat of a courtyard, well not a courtyard, more like a little wall hugging into existence a welcoming space. This wall was about bench height, made also of stone, and extended outward from the building. It created what I would normally call an out-front patio space, but in Italian terms, perhaps it would be called a terrazza, or maybe even be considered a piazza, or perhaps most accurately, a piazzetta. Then again, maybe it is just a patio to Italians too.

Well, sitting on this low wall was a friar. And running around the open area was a small brown dog with a shaggy little beige beard.

I entered the church. It was small, almost cave like. A curved ceiling. Dark. Old. There was the cross, a crucifix. Not the actual one that spoke to Saint Francis—no, that one was moved up into the Basilica of Saint Clare located in the central part of the still small but no-longer medieval town of Assisi.

The reproduction spoke to me.

I’m an early companion of Francis.


 

I remained in the chapel for a while. I’m not sure if I was praying or not. I’m pretty sure I got on my knees. But from that day’s perspective, prayer was not known to me. So from that perspective, I wasn’t praying. But from today’s perspective, I most certainly was. For I was there. I was in Italy, in Assisi, in the Church of San Damiano. I was there intentionally. I was lost but I was found. I was looking, and I was obeying. Obeying what I didn’t know. I had no idea why, but I wanted to be there. And I felt something. It was heavy, literally. I remember feeling bent over. I remember thinking about all the prayer that must have taken place in that small space over the past thousand years. I remember thinking that all that collective belief must have an effect. It did. It does. It will. I was certain that I felt it. It bowed me down. It bent me over. And I remember liking it.

Faith is common.

I was a pilgrim and didn’t know it.


 

I don’t remember much about the convent itself. I do remember walking from room to room, the communal rooms where Saint Clare and her companions, her biological mother and two sisters among them, ate and prayed and cared for their sick. I remember the small warm inner garden, with it’s old well. And the spot marked as the place where Clare liked best to sit. I’ve always loved internal courtyards. The thought of being outdoors and yet enclosed. Architecturally, it best represents the beauty of true solitude. Open. Yet safe. Free. Yet sheltered. Alone. Yet surrounded by those who believe the same.

In that sense, solitude—when it’s truly interior, truly spiritual—is like love: you can never get enough of it, and once you have it, once you truly live within it, you’re never again alone.

Solitude is love. And love is never solitary.


 

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel.

—Isaiah 7:14


 

Howard Hain is a contemplative layman, husband, and father. He blogs at http://www.howardhain.com

Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardDHain

twitter.com/HowardDHain

If you enjoyed this post, please consider “liking” it, adding a comment, becoming an email subscriber (drop-down menu at top of page), or passing it along via the social-media links below. Your support is greatly appreciated. Step by step. All for God’s glory.

Arriving in Hope

by Howard Hain

 

camille-pissarro-entree-du-village-de-voisins-1872.jpg

Camille Pissarro, “Entrée du village de Voisins”, 1872 (Musée d’Orsay)

 

Waiting and waiting, for exactly what I’m not sure.

The sun to rise.

The day to end.

The water to boil.

Mass to begin.

The cock to crow.

Christ to return.

———

A new day is here.

———

Father, thank You.

Jesus, I love You.

Holy Spirit, have Your way.


 

Howard Hain is a contemplative layman, husband, and father. He blogs at http://www.howardhain.com

Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardDHain

twitter.com/HowardDHain

If you enjoyed this post, please consider “liking” it, adding a comment, becoming an email subscriber, or passing it along via the social-media links below. Your support is greatly appreciated. Step by step. All for God’s glory.

Mother Cabrini

Mulberry Street, New York City, ca.1900

From 1880 to 1920 more than 4 million Italian immigrants came to the United States, mostly from rural southern Italy. Many were poor peasants escaping the chaotic political situation and widespread poverty of a recently united Italian peninsula.

Almost all the new immigrants came through Ellis Island; many settled in the crowded tenements of the New York region, where men found work in the subways, canals and buildings of the growing city. The women often worked in the sweatshops that multiplied in New York at the time. Almost half of the 146 workers killed as fire consumed the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in 1911, were Italian women.

Over time, the Italian immigrants moved elsewhere and became a prominent part of American society, but at first large numbers suffered from the over-crowding, harsh conditions, discrimination and cultural shock they met in cities like New York. Many returned to Italy with stories of the contradictions and injustices lurking in “the American dream.”

Mother Maria Francesca Cabrini

Mother Maria Francesca Cabrini (1850-19170), founder of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, an order of women missionaries , came to America in 1889 at the urging of Pope Leo XIII to serve the underserved poor. Her work is succinctly described on the website of the Cabrini Mission Foundation.

“She proceeded to found schools, orphanages, hospitals and social services institutions to serve the needs of immigrants in the United States and other parts of the world. Despite poor health and frailty, Mother Cabrini crossed the ocean 25 times during 29 years of missionary work, and with her sisters founded 67 institutions in nine countries on three continents – one for each year of her life.

Mother Cabrini was a collaborator from the start of her missionary activity. She was a woman of her time, yet beyond her time. Her message – “all things are possible with God” – is as alive today as it was 110 years ago. Mother Cabrini lived and worked among the people, poor and rich alike, using whatever means were provided to support her works. She was a progressive, strategic visionary, willing to take risks, adaptable to change, and responsive to every opportunity that arose to help others. In recognition of her extraordinary service to immigrants, Mother Cabrini was canonized in 1946 as the “first American saint,” and was officially declared the Universal Patroness of Immigrants by the Vatican in 1950.”

Be good to have leaders like her today in the church, as well as in society, wouldn’t it? “… a progressive, strategic visionary, willing to take risks, adaptable to change, and responsive to every opportunity that arose to help others.”

Her feastday is November 13th. “Mother Cabrini, pray for us.”

St. Martin of Tours

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Martin of Tours, an important saint in our church calendar, is worth reflecting on today, November 11th.   Saints are the antidotes to the poison of their times, Chesterton said. So what poison did Martin confront?

One was the poison of militarism. Martin was born in 316 into a military family. His father, a Roman officer who came up through the ranks, commanded  troops on the Roman frontier along the Rhine and Danube rivers. When his son was born his father naturally figured he would become a soldier like him. He named him Martin, after Mars, the god of war.

Heroes then were soldiers like Constantine and even Diocletian: warrior emperors. Rome was mobilizing to stop the barbarians threatening their frontiers. It needed soldiers. But Martin wanted nothing to do with war. Even as a young boy he heard a message of non-violence from Christians he knew. Over his father’s strong objections, he gave up prospects for an army commission and became a Christian catechumen, preparing for baptism.

Later on as a bishop, he was known as a peacemaker who spent a lot of time reconciling enemies. In fact, he died on his way to settle a dispute among some of his priests.

Another poison Martin opposed was the poison of careerism. When Constantine came into power he wanted to promote Christianity in the empire and one way to do that was to give Christian bishops more power in civil society. The emperor gave them money and authority over projects and jobs. You can see why a lot of men wanted to become bishops. It promised a rich lifestyle and prestige.

When Martin became Bishop of Tours at the invitation of the people of that diocese, he adopted a lifestyle that was  opposite to that of most of the bishops of Gaul. One of his biographers said he never went to bishops’ meetings. He couldn’t stand them. The bishops liked life in the cities. Martin preferred to minister in the country, to the “pagani”, the uneducated poor.

Are the poisons of militarism and careerism still around today? We remember our war veterans today. How many died in wars in the past 100 years? Too many. And too many bear the scars of war. Militarism is still around.

I think careerism is still around too.

The story that epitomizes Martin, of course, is his meeting with the beggar in the cold winter as he was coming through the gate in the town of Amiens, a catechumen but still a soldier. He stopped and cut his military cloak in two and gave one to the poor man. That night, the story goes, Christ appeared to him in a dream, wearing the beggar’s cloak. “Martin gave me this,” he said.

Pope Benedict XVI has a beautiful comment on this event.

“ Martin’s gesture flows from the same logic that drove Jesus to multiply the loaves for the hungry crowd, but most of all to leave himself to humanity as food in the Eucharist… It’s the logic of sharing. May St Martin help us to understand that only by a common commitment to sharing is it possible to respond to the great challenge of our times: to build a world of peace and justice where each person can live with dignity. This can be achieved if an authentic solidarity prevails which assures to all inhabitants of the planet food, water, necessary medical treatment, and also work and energy resources as well as cultural benefits, scientific and technological knowledge.”

That’s well said.