Tag Archives: family

Morning Thoughts: Saint Francis for 4-year-olds (and you and me)

 

saint-francis-coloring-page

“Saint Francis of Assisi”, coloring book page, colored by a “4-year-old”

 

(My wife teaches 4-year-olds in a Catholic elementary school. The school’s patron saint is Saint Francis. They call this week “Saint Francis Week” and hold various events throughout the week to celebrate the feast of this great saint (Oct. 4th). My wife and her co-teacher were looking for a short, simple biography that would be appropriate for their 4-year-old students. They didn’t find anything that seemed to be the right fit. So here’s what I jotted down for their pre-K-4 class. The kids really seemed to enjoy it. Maybe you will too. Let us “become like little children”.)


.

Saint Francis, a Knight for God

———

There once was a young man. He lived in a land called Italy. He lived a very long time ago. He lived over 800 hundred years ago!

He lived with his family in a small city named Assisi.

The young man was quite silly. He loved to dream and he loved to sing and he loved to dance. He loved to play with his friends all day long.

The young man’s name was Francis.

His father wanted Francis to be more serious. His father wanted Francis to be just like him. He wanted him to sell expensive fabric to people who were very rich. Fabric is what you use to make pretty things like curtains, tablecloths, and clothes.

Francis’ father wanted him to work in the family shop. But Francis was not very interested in that kind of work. Francis wanted to be a great knight!

And one day Francis went off to do just that.

Francis went off to become a knight. He began to travel to another city where he would fight with a sword and a shield. Francis thought that he would become a great hero.

But on his way Francis got very sick. He had to return to his home. His mother took care of him. And while Francis was getting better he began to dream of different adventures.

He began to spend a lot of time walking around the woods and looking at the flowers and at the trees. He began to watch closely all the animals, especially the birds that flew high up into the sky. Francis began to think a lot about God!

Francis began to dream about heaven. He began to wonder about love. He saw that there was another kind of knight!

Francis decided that he would be a knight for God.

Francis wanted Jesus to be his king and for Mary to be his queen.

Francis no longer wanted to use a sword or a shield. No, Francis wanted to teach all the world how to love. Francis wanted to sing and dance and show everyone how be more like Jesus.

He began to live very simply. He had very few things. His only clothing was an old brown robe. He lived almost like a little animal in the forest. Francis was very free. Francis was filled with joy. He was very happy.

And soon many other young men came to join him. They too wanted to be knights for God. They all lived together. They called each other brother. They shared all they had. They were kind to each other. They loved God together.

And one day, even a young lady wanted to join. She brought other ladies and they started a home of their own. They called each other sister. That young lady’s name was Clare.

A new type of family was beginning to grow. A family who lives very much like Jesus. We call them Franciscans.

We now call that young man, Saint Francis. We now call that young lady, Saint Clare.

Saint Francis and Saint Clare are now in heaven with Jesus and Mary and all the holy angels and saints. They live in perfect peace with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. They see us right now. They pray for us too.

Hey, who knows, maybe one day a few of you boys and girls may become knights and ladies of God, like our patron saints, Saint Francis and Saint Clare!


..

—Howard Hain

.

Broken Baby Jesus

by Howard Hain

(Note: This post was originally published on December 24, 2011.)

broken-baby-christ-2-1


We have not put up a tree in years.

For nearly a decade we have been moving—no longer than two years in any one house and no less than ten different not-so-humble abodes. Between and during the moves we were very much engaged with the world. A seemingly endless movable beast.

This December marks one year in our current house. I am happy to say it is our home. The Lord has blessed us with great peace. And with that peace comes a tree. A simple, well-shaped tree. Fittingly, a dear friend offered it to us as a gift.

Francesca could not be more ready to be initiated into the act of trimming. Before the tree arrived, her two-year-old fingers pointed out every tree, artificial or real, that graced the pages of a holiday flyer or the commercial floor of a Rite Aid or Dollar Store.

Up the stairs came the evergreen, into the old stand that has been in storage since my father last used it several decades ago. I cut off the mesh and out popped the branches.

We hung the lights and old glass ornaments that my mother-in-law washed a few days before.

The main attraction for Francesca was the Nativity.

Not since St. Francis of Assisi assembled the first Nativity in Greccio in 1223, has there been such admiration for each and every witness who Our Lord assembled to adore His Son that first Christmas two millennia ago. Francesca kissed and hugged every shepherd, sheep, donkey, angel, and king. Most of all she adored the Holy family, calling Mary and Joseph, Ma-ma and Da-da, respectively. And Jesus, He was simply called: “ba-be.”

She carried them around the apartment. I did not want to ruin her fun, but they are ceramic. I explained a few times to be very careful.

“Gentle, Francesca…gentle…”, I harked a host of times.

Boom. To the wood floor went the shepherd. Amazing, grace held him intact. I took that as a great sign to put an end to her carrying the animals, angels and representatives of mankind.

I was fixing my coffee when I turned to see Francesca with Baby Jesus in her tiny hands. But He is so small, so tiny, what harm could come from holding Him? So I let her get away with carrying the Savior.

As I stirred my spoon Christ crashed to the floor, the tile floor. Francesca immediately looked at me, as if expecting all hell to break loose. I think I sighed but that was about all. It is Christmas, right? And it is, after all, only a ceramic figure purchased at Target.

After assuring Francesca not to worry and guiding her toward a few coloring books in the living room, I bent down to retrieve the broken Christ.

———

St. Francis was told by a Crucifix in an old abandoned chapel: “Restore my Church.”

In my small one-bedroom apartment, I found Baby Christ, broken into exactly three: The Head, the Torso, and the Crossed Legs.

“Restore the Trinity,” was spoken to me.

———

For half of my forty years I can honestly say I have tried to pursue Truth, wherever it lie. In philosophy, in scripture, in literature, in art, in nature, in history…

Now, the entire Gospel of Christ lie naked on my kitchen floor.

We separate, we distinguish, we categorize, we breakdown. The Fall of Adam was a fall into denomination.

Christ’s body is One. His Church cannot be broken. Only mere men can get things so wrong.

I think of the great “Angelic Doctor” of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas, who after spending a lifetime in unparalleled pursuit of human understanding, said after glimpsing a vision of what Our Lord has in store for those who love God:

“All that I have written seems like straw compared to what has now been revealed to me.”

Yes… “straw”…my brother Thomas…merely straw. Straw that lines the manger within which Our Savior is laid bare.

———

It is tradition to leave the crib empty until Christmas morning. Only then do we place the figurative baby Jesus into the scene, after all until that moment he was not yet brought forth from Mother Mary’s womb.

This Christmas morning I will glue together a Broken Baby Christ. The Head, the Torso, and the Crossed Legs will again be One.

Like the world after the birth of Christ, I will never be the same.

For what has now been revealed to me, no fall can break apart.


 

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

 

Mary’s Mother

by Howard Hain
durer

Albrecht Durer, “Virgin and Child with Saint Anne”, ca. 1519 (The Met)

Christmas is a time for grandmothers.

They bake and cook and decorate. Their homes become mini North Poles, diplomatic outposts of Santa’s Castle.

At its core, Christmas is of course all about Jesus. All about Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. All about the Holy Family.

The Holy Family is an extended family though. And it doesn’t stop at grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, or even cousins and distant cousins.

Just ask Saints Joachim and Anne, Zechariah and Elizabeth, or John the Baptist—not to mention all the unknown relatives whom the child Jesus surely encountered throughout His Galilean days. Ask any one of them about the far-reaching ripple effects of family grace.

Those touched by Jesus have a tendency to appear bigger than life.

Look at Santa Claus.

Most of us are aware that he is really Saint Nick.

But do we stop to wonder who Mrs. Claus really is?

I think she’s Saint Anne.

After all, Mrs. Claus is seen as everyone’s grandmother, especially when it comes to holiday cheer. But when it comes to truly celebrating the birth of Jesus, it is through Saint Anne that we approach the gates of Christ’s Nativity.

Mary’s Mother holds a special key. She is first among grandmas, first among those who pinch chubby cheeks, who pass along one more extra sugary treat.

———

Saint Anne help us. Speak to us. Show us how to be grand parents to all those around us, especially the little ones. Stir up the spirit of Advent. Bake away the holiday blues. Cook up a dish of Christmas love that only your hearth can serve.

———

Come one, come all, to the home of Saint Anne. Come with me to Grandma’s house for a holiday visit. Taste and see. Enter her kitchen, where the hot chocolate can always fit a little more whipped cream, where you hear the constant refrain: “eat…eat…eat…”

At Grandma’s your plate is never empty.

Her table is continually set.

She always sees Jesus as having just been born.

She is always wrapping Him up tightly in swaddling clothes.

It is simply grand.

To Grandma, Jesus is always an innocent child.

And she can’t help but see Him deep within both you and me.


(Dec/21/2017)

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


Web Link: Metropolitan Museum of Art. Albrecht Durer, “Virgin and Child with Saint Anne”, ca. 1519

 

Home Sick

by Howard Hain

I wonder. Did God ever catch a cold?

Did Mary look at Him while He slept, watching carefully His chest rise and fall?

Did Joseph pace around their small home, looking upward, his right hand touching his brow?

I wonder. Did they wince in sync when Jesus coughed from the bottom of His soul?

Was there a day, a single hour, from the moment Jesus was conceived that Joseph and Mary weren’t concerned?

Concerning all this there’s not much to wonder.

Jesus is human.

Of course He experienced “cold” in all its forms.

Of course Joseph and Mary felt they’d rather die than see their child in pain.

And Jesus is divine.

Of course He was homesick.

Of course He longed to return.

Between Mary’s womb and heaven the desert is awfully dry.

He climbed up high, seeking out mountain views.

He returned to the sea, seeking out salt air.

He stopped to hang out with the little ones, seeking out angels.

Jesus is just like you and me.

Only He allows Himself to be loved.

And that led Him to love to the utter extreme.

All flowed from and toward a family reunion.

His pain, His grief, His hope, His love were perfectly ordered.

Even when He coughed or sneezed or tossed and turned, Jesus did so while in the company of a promise.

And He’s extremely contagious.

Joseph and Mary became homesick too.

There’s only one place they could want to be.

With their only child.

Clinging to Him, to their God with all their might.


 

Morning Thoughts: Heaven in One Act

by Howard Hain

 


—a play for children, adults, and all humanity—


 

ACT ONE

 

Scene 1

 

(Midweek morning, a small urban apartment, a father and his seven-year-old daughter, sitting on an old IKEA couch, half hour before school)

 

DAUGHTER (looking out window):  Daddy, is heaven real?

FATHER (sipping coffee):  Absolutely.

D:   And Jesus is in heaven?

F:   Yes. Definitely.

D:   Are there people in heaven with Jesus?

F:   Yes.

D:   People who died?

F:   Yes, people who died but who now live forever with Jesus in heaven.

D:   Forever?

F:   Yes, for ever and ever. Perfectly happy.

D:   Perfectly?

F:   Perfectly.

D:   What do they do in heaven all that time?

F:   Well, they do what Jesus does, because when you’re in heaven you’re like Him.

D:   Like Him? People in heaven are like Jesus?

F:   Yes, when you’re in heaven you see Jesus, so you become like Him, like God.

D:   I don’t understand…

F:   Well, it’s hard to explain. I don’t really understand it either. I don’t know if anybody does…it’s really hard to even try…

D:   Can you? Can you try?

F:   Well, put it this way. You know that God is great, right?

D:   Yes…

F:   Well, He’s not just great, He’s so great that everything that even comes close to Him becomes great…     In fact, He’s so great that when a person even sees God—I mean really sees Him—really, really sees Him—that person actually becomes like God.     It’s amazing…but God is just that great. He’s that powerful.

D:   But what about me?

F:   What about you?

D:   What if I see God? What if I really see Him—if I really, really see Him—will I be like God too?

F:   Well, yes…when you’re in heaven…you’ll be like God too.

D:   But how come not now?

F:   Well, do you see God now?

D:   No…not really…(long pause)…(smiling)…but kind of…

F:   Well…you’re right…sometimes we do “kind of” see God…we “kind of” get a little “peak” at Him every once in a while…but in heaven it’s different, it’s like seeing God face to face—just like you and I see each other right now—but even much more, because in heaven you’ll never stop seeing Him.     In heaven it’s not like seeing someone now but not seeing him or her a little while later.     In heaven it’s always…you and God never stop seeing each other…

D:   And that makes you just like God?

F:   Well, yes, because in heaven you are totally part of Jesus, and He is totally part of you. It’s like the two of you are one “thing”.

D:   That’s why you do what Jesus does?

F:   Yes.     I mean, how could you not?     Think about it…     Imagine if you were tied to someone at the waist by a very, very short rope…     Ok?     Picture it.     Now…wouldn’t you have to go everywhere that person goes?

D:   Yes…

F:   So if he went into the kitchen, you’d go into the kitchen…and if he went to sit on the couch, well, you’d go sit on the couch…

D:   Yes…like those twins we saw on TV…the ones that were still attached…

F:   (smiling)  Well, yes, kind of…     …that’s a really good example… (pause) …maybe it’s more like two little twin babies who are still living in their mommy’s belly, who go everywhere their mommy goes…     Because in heaven it’s like you’re attached to Jesus in every good way possible…your mind, your heart, your soul…and yet you’re totally free, free to do whatever you want whenever you want…and that’s maybe the best part, because what you want to do is always exactly what Jesus is already doing! So it all works out perfectly. That’s why you’re so happy in heaven. Happy as happy can be. So happy that no one on earth can even imagine being that happy.     Imagine that!      It’s like two best friends who always, always, always agree to play the same game and always, always, always have the best time.     Make sense?

D:   Yeah, they’d be like the best friends in the entire world…like the best friends that could ever be…

F:   Yeah…that’s a great way to put it…     In heaven you and Jesus are the best friends that could ever be…

D:   So what kind of stuff do they do in heaven?

F:   Well, they love. They love all the time. They love God…they love each other…and they love us…and they also pray…

D:   People in heaven still pray?

F:   Sure they do…but they don’t pray for themselves anymore. They’re already in heaven, so now they only pray for other people, for people like us who are still on earth—just like Jesus does.     Jesus prays for us, so they pray for us….     It has a big fancy word. It’s called “interceding”.

D:   Interceding?

F:   It means to ask the Father—Father God—to bless us, to be kind to us—to all of us still on earth—and to let us come into heaven when we die so we can live with Him, and the Father, and the Holy Spirit, and all of God’s holy angels and saints…forever and ever…

D:   Wow, I really want to see what heaven looks like!

F:   Me too!

D:   And you’re old, so you’ll go before me, right?

F:   That makes sense…

D:   So when you go to heaven, Daddy, you can pray for me too, with Jesus…

F:   Absolutely. (pause) (looking outward, nodding his head) (smiling) I’ll see Him face to face and be like Him…and I’ll be happy forever…and I’ll do all that Jesus does…     (turning toward his daughter) And I will pray for you until the day you join us in heaven, for ever and ever… perfect happiness together… best, best friends forever…and ever…and ever…

(Smile. A big smile. In both directions)

F: (starting to get up off the couch)  Ok, that’s enough heaven talk…heaven starts right now.     Go have a good day at school. Be a good girl…listen…and have fun…that’s definitely part of your job here on earth.     Got It?

D:   Got it.

F:   I love you so much…

D:   I love you too, Daddy.

(A hug, a kiss, a quick blessing. Father and daughter exit opposite sides of stage)

 

CURTAIN


 

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

Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardDHain

http://www.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.

Thoughts Upon The Cross: Black Ashes, Red-Hot Coals

by Howard Hain

 

marc-chagall-the sacrifice-of-isaac-1966 detail

Marc Chagall, “The Sacrifice of Isaac”, (1966), detail

.

When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore; but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

When they climbed out on shore, they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you just caught.”

Jesus said to them, “Come, have breakfast.” And none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they realized it was the Lord.

—John 21:4,9-10,12

———

When is it that we break-fast?

Perhaps it is at morning Mass, when the long night of daily winter is slowly burned away by “the dawn from on high”.

Perhaps it is there, at the altar of our Lord, at the breakfast table of our one united body, that we come to see the Crucified Christ truly risen and waiting for us, “standing on the shore”.

We take so much for granted, so much we just assume is already prepared, without giving much thought to just how much goes into each meal. But we are in good company, Peter and the rest of the apostles, like us, come to a meal already in progress.

And just as Jesus called the apostles to a new morning meal, He calls each one of us each new day to a meal prepared ahead of time—in fact it was ordained a long, long time ago—for even upon those hot coals which the apostles approached two millennia ago, fish were already waiting.

It is to this ongoing meal that He asks all apostles to bring their fish, their most recent catch—to add to the fire—to the feast ever being prepared for those still yet to come.

The Fisher of Men, who calls others to become fishers as well, asks His disciples to contribute not only their earthly catch but the eternal offering of themselves.

But who is it that we find already lying upon the charcoal fire, upon the table of the Lord, waiting for us each morning as we approach the altar with our daily catch?

Is it not all those who have walked in faith before us? Is it not the communion of saints, the cloud of witnesses, the community of believers?  Is it not those who pray in silence this very day for the conversion of sinners, the salvation of souls, the release of those in purgatory, the return to a unified Church?

Is it not those who suffer each and every day for the sake of Christ?

We will never really know exactly who, at least not while we walk within these “earthen vessels” we call bodies—not while we continue our pilgrimage through this valley of tears and wage our military-like mission against the powers of darkness.

We will never know while here on earth just how many fish are laid upon the fiery altar each new day, just how many join Jesus in His one perfect offering, just how many “share in his glory” because they “share in his suffering”.

But God does know, and he orchestrates it all. He knows exactly how many, and who. He misses not a tear, not a moan, not the slightest prick of a pin. He knows each and every one of His silent, unknown martyrs—those whose suffering “completes” what is “lacking in Christ’s afflictions”.

The Mystery. The Love. The Wisdom of the Cross. The Grandeur of God’s Salvific Plan. Praise be to God. Praise be to Christ Crucified and Risen. Praise be to the Holy Spirit: “O font of life! O fire of love!”

Let us then join the breakfast feast.

And let us not only eat but add to the meal.

Let us offer up all our “prayers, works and sufferings of this day in union with the Holy sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world…”

And let us dare to wonder with true childlike joy and adoration. Let us wonder who it is that is already laid upon those ancient coals as the apostles approach that gloriously simple meal on the shining shore of a most placid sea.

Is the fish already in place Jesus Himself? Jesus who is priest and sacrifice and altar?

Yes. Of course it is Him.

But perhaps it is someone else too.

Perhaps among that first batch of fish is also the first follower of Christ: the first to surrender all “possessions”, the first to pick up the cross daily, the first to follow Jesus through the completion of His Passion.

Yes, perhaps it is Mary, His mother, His first disciple…our mother and the queen of all apostles. And perhaps it is also that “upright” man whom Jesus Himself saw as a father, the “righteous” Joseph who suffered so much in the name of Jesus. Perhaps that first batch contains all three: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, that most blessed of families—The Holy Trinity “made flesh”—The One Triune God dwelling in a humble hut in a little town named Nazareth.

In that sense, perhaps that first batch of fish is also you and me, your family and mine—and perhaps then “our” little “sacrifice” is already being offered up, right here in each of our “humble” homes and within the boundary lines of our own “Nazareths”.

Perhaps that first batch is waiting to be joined to all other offerings, to be joined together with all the other individuals and families that are called to be a “living sacrifice”.

Perhaps that first batch is within each one of us and is longing to be united to the one true sacrifice—the sacrifice of God’s crucified love, eternally offered upon the white-hot coals of God’s infinite charity.

———

Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a gold censer. He was given a great quantity of incense to offer, along with the prayers of all the holy ones, on the gold altar that was before the throne. The smoke of the incense along with the prayers of the holy ones went up before God from the hand of the angel. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with burning coals from the altar, and hurled it down to the earth…

—Revelation 8:3-5


.

The Holy Family

The Feast of the Holy Family

In New York City’s Metropolitan Museum there’s a painting by the 15th century Italian artist, Andrea Mantegna, called “The Adoration of the Shepherds,” which portrays two shepherds coming from the hills to see the Christ Child. They’re wearing tattered clothes, and from their rough faces you can tell they’re not quite sure what to make of the Child they see. Mantegna pictures the Child Jesus laying on a great rock–not in a manger– enfolded in the dark blue cloak of Mary, his mother, who kneels before him.

Off to the side is St. Joseph, in a bright yellow cloak, with his head in his hand, leaning on a dead tree stump, fast asleep. Years ago, when I first saw this painting I thought it was strange to see Joseph asleep at this dramatic moment, just when the shepherds arrive. Why is he sleeping? ( http://www.metmuseum.org/TOAH/hd/bota/ho_32.130.2.htm)

As the gospel reminds us, Joseph is the one to whom the angel speaks in dreams, while he is sleeping. And so, picturing him sleeping, the artist wants us to remember the questioning Joseph, who’s looking for answers about the Child and his role in the Child’s life.

Of course, the angel gives him some direction. “Don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife.” “Take the child into Egypt.” “It’s safe, take them back to Israel.” But the angel’s answers were few. For the most part, Joseph and Mary were on their own.

In other words, they lived by faith, with plenty of questions.

That’s the way most of us live our lives, too, by faith with plenty of questions. That’s especially true about family life today. Plenty of questions, and not many answers.

Why get married anyway? Why have children? Is marriage between a man and a woman? What about gay marriage? What’s a father’s role, a husband’s role, a mother, a wife’s role? What are the rights and responsibilities of children? What should government do for families?

There are plenty of questions in our society about family life today.

Yes, we have some answers, but in an unstable society like ours we can’t expect to be perfectly secure. Perhaps our best security is the promise we have from the Child whom God sent into the world. He will give us wisdom and courage to build our families as he wills. Be patient, and don’t be afraid. Live with your questions.