Tag Archives: simplicity

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”.)


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Saint Francis, a Knight for God

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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!


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—Howard Hain

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The Yet Empty Stable

by Howard Hain

There’s a little stable not too far from here.

It sits in a church that has seen better days.

The parish is poor and the people seem to disappear.

But a few persistent peasants won’t stay away.

I love it there.

The priest is wonderfully uncertain.

He is afraid of God.

He instinctively bows his head at the mention of the name.

He knows how little he is in front of the great star.

I imagine he was involved in setting the stable.

It is a good size, on the relative little-stable scale.

It is surrounded by ever-green branches.

Probably snipped from the few Douglas Firs placed around the altar and yet to be trimmed.

The stable itself is composed of wood.

A little wooden railing crosses half the front.

A single string of clear lights threads through the branches laid upon the miniature roof.

They are yet to be lit.

I love it there.

I kneel before the empty scene.

For as of yet, not a creature or prop is present.

Not an ox or a goat, not a piece of hay or plank of fencing.

Not even a feeding trough that is to be turned into a crib.

No visible sign of Joseph and Mary, nor a distant “hee-haw” of a very tired donkey.

I wonder if I could get involved.

Perhaps I could slip into the scene.

There’s a darkened corner on the lower left.

In the back, against the wall.

I could hide myself within the stable.

Before anyone else arrives.

I don’t think they would mind.

I’d only be there to adore.

To pay homage to the new born king.

I might even help keep the animals in line.

Yes, a stagehand, that’s what I can be!

I know there’s no curtain to pull.

That’s to be torn in a much later scene.

But to watch the Incarnation unfold from within!

That’s what I dream.

To see each player take his and her place.

To see the great light locate the babe.

To watch the kings and shepherds stumble onto the scene.

Hark! To hear the herald angels sing!

O the joy of being a simple farmhand.

Of being in the right place at always the right time.

Of course though I wouldn’t be alone.

In that darkened corner, also awaiting the entire affair, there are many others.

Most I don’t know by name.

Too many in fact to even count.

But a few I know for sure.

For certain, present are those few persistent peasants who won’t stay away.

And of course there’s that wonderful anonymous parish priest.

The one who helped set into place this yet empty but very expectant stable.

The one whose fear of God is so clearly the beginning of wisdom.


(Dec/16/2016)

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

Little Drummer Boys and Girls

by Howard Hain

Yesterday I witnessed a “dress” rehearsal for a live nativity. The cast was made up of first and second graders, and the audience was mostly composed of residents of a retirement home for religious sisters, Franciscans. It was spectacular.

Last week I was at Radio City Music Hall to watch the Rockettes in their “Christmas Spectacular”. It was quite a production.

Sitting in the dark this morning I cannot help but contrast the two.

I also cannot help but relate to the seven-year old who played the part of The Little Drummer Boy.

As that child walked so slowly toward the foot of the altar, where the rehearsal was being staged, I saw my vocation in an entirely different light.

The children were all singing their hearts out, and many of the eighty and ninety year-old sisters were mouthing the words. The boy with the drum didn’t utter a sound. He just kept walking, slowly, extremely slowly toward the altar, every once in a while ever so slightly pretending to tap two tiny sticks upon a toy drum. He was beautifully awkward.

There was no greater spectacle on earth at that very moment. Shall I dare to say, no greater event that heaven or earth has ever known?

For a child was born. We were all being born.

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Come they told me, pa rum pum pum pum
A new born King to see, pa rum pum pum pum
Our finest gifts we bring, pa rum pum pum pum
To lay before the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

So to honor Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
When we come.

Little Baby, pa rum pum pum pum
I am a poor boy too, pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to bring, pa rum pum pum pum
That’s fit to give the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

Shall I play for you, pa rum pum pum pum,
On my drum?

Mary nodded, pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my drum for Him, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my best for Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

Then He smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum.*



Little Drummer Boy was composed by Katherine K. Davis, Henry Onorati and Harry Simeone in 1958.


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

 

Stench of the Cross

by Howard Hain

 

Rembrandt Begger Seated on a Bank (1630)

Rembrandt, “Beggar Seated on a Bank”, (1630)

 


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For we are to God the sweet aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing…

—2 Corinthians 2:15


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We see so many images of Christ Crucified. Museums and churches are full of them. And they should be. It is the greatest paradox ever told.

And to go along with the abundance of visual representations, there are of course also many artworks in written form depicting the Passion of Jesus Christ. Shelf after shelf can be filled with books containing the seemingly endless repertoire of poems, plays, and musical compositions based on the subject.

But none can capture the stench of death.

Smell moves us like no other sense.

It is so powerful. So quick. So nauseating.

Think of that the next time you’re riding the subway on your way to a museum. Think of that when a homeless man enters your subway car. Think of that when you’re tempted to switch trains at the next stop due to the stench.

Breathe deep instead.

Think of the stench. Think of that poor man—that poor sorrowful man dying right in front of you. The stench of rotting flesh. The stench of death.

No artwork that you’re on your way to see will bring Jesus and His Cross more to life.

Take a deep breath, and pray. You’re on holy ground.

Pray for yourself. Pray for the man. Pray for all those on board. Pray for the entire world.

Pray that that particular stench, that stench of death, right then and there, brings life.

That it brings life to hardened hearts.

That it brings life to senses numbed to the utter poverty of human suffering—suffering that manifests itself in oh so many ways.

That it brings life to what the world says can’t and shouldn’t be redeemed.

And give that gentleman a few bucks.

———

The Metropolitan Museum of Art recommends an entrance fee of twenty-five dollars. Do you know how much consolation that poor suffering Christ riding right next to you would receive if you gave him that much?

Do you know how cheap a price that is to pay to be able to get so close to a living breathing masterpiece of sacrificial life?

Dig in deep. Dig into your pockets. Dig deep into the reserves of your heart.

You will be amazed how such a prayer, such an act of compassion, such a “living faith”, will transform the stench of death into the aroma of life.

Breathe deep. Pick up your cross. Die daily.

Get over yourself.

What a breath of fresh air!

Now that’s truly an entrance fee.

And it’s worth every drop.


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Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

—John 12:3


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

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Morning Thoughts: The Sovereignty of Good


The Lord be with you.

—And with your spirit.

Lift up your hearts.

—We lift them up to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

—It is right and just.

(The beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer, The Order of Mass)

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The next right thing.

Sometimes it is just that simple.

In fact, it is always that simple.

But to silly people like us, simple is not good enough.

It’s not complex enough.

Not sophisticated enough.

Not civilized enough.

Not cultured enough.

Not smart enough.

“Simple” lacks “nuance” and “subtlety”.

“Simple” contains nothing of the triune god of highly-refined society: arrogance, ambition, and ambiguity.

“Simple” is simply not good enough for you and me.

But it is for God.

He is simply great.

He is “right and just.”

Let’s simply be like Him.

Believe the next right thing.

Hope the next right thing.

Love the next right thing.

For the next right “thing” is God Himself.

For God is Good.

And He is Love.

Let us love then.

One step at a time.

One breath at a time.

One charitable conception, thought, and decision at a time.

Let us be like God.

Let us be amazingly simple.

Let us be simply amazing.

— “It is right and just.”


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It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God, through Christ our Lord.

(Common Preface I, Eucharistic Prayer, The Order of Mass)

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—Howard Hain

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Friday Thoughts: Acceptance Speech

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Just start walking.

Leave the pew behind.

Everything else falls away.

All that was dead comes to life.

Pastures and valleys. Fields and streams.

Tiny violet flowers on the walls of quarries.

Wood and stone. Water and wine.

Teardrops and smiles.

A poor boy gets in line.

Just a taste. A nibble. A crumb from the table.

But he looks at his clothes.

But it’s all he’s got.

Just keep walking.

You’ve left the pew behind.

Everything else has fallen away.

All that was dead has come to life.

A thorny bush now a fruitful tree.

A man raises his hand:

“The Body of Christ.”

A child opens his mouth:

“Amen.”

A shepherd boy ascends to the throne.


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—Howard Hain

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Friday Thoughts: A Simple Landscape

george-cole-harvest-rest-1865

George Cole, “Harvet Rest”, 1865

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A painter has a great advantage, as does a writer I suppose. He can scratch out, erase, and paint over. He can throw out and start again. He can expand the landscape or focus in on a detail. There is great freedom in creation. Yet none of it has any value unless it comes from and leads back toward God.

The great sweeping landscapes painted throughout the years. I want to dive into so many of them. To run toward the distant hills, to sit beside the babbling brooks, to hitch a ride on the hay wagon making its way round the bend. But most of all I want to join the peasants, working the fields or gathered around the base of a giant oak for a bite of second-day bread, and perhaps even a sip of slightly watered-down wine.

I want to hear the simple strings of a Spanish guitar, the worn-out wood of a French violin, the voice of yet another “Maria” toiling beneath the Italian plein air.

The pleasant thought of resting beside a river bed—of catching a not-so-quick nap within the shade of God’s ever-expanding and contracting canopy of leaves.

Even the bark of an English Foxhound could not interrupt thee!

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I don’t want to be told that this isn’t reality. I don’t want to be told that it’s a bit romantic.

I want to live simply. I want to work an honest wage. I want to stop at noon to give the good God rightful thanks and praise.

I want to visit the graves of the dead with a bouquet of hope and faith.

I want to truly retire each night.

———

Love is enough.

It is enough for you and for me.

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There is never enough if that we fail to see.


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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