Sunday, September 14, 2014

what's going through my brain... 3 semi-related topics

3 things that you may or may not find interesting...

Thing 1I’ve arranged to be on retreat this coming week, so please keep me in your prayers?—and I promise that I will remember you! 
I will be keeping silence, and will not be writing blog posts until next weekend. 
Music is pleasing not only because of the sound but because of the silence that is in it: without the alternation of sound and silence there would be no rhythm. If we strive to be happy by filling all the silences of life with sound, productive by turning all of life’s leisure into work, and real by turning all our being into doing, we will only succeed in producing a hell on earth.

If we have no silence, God is not heard in our music. If we have no rest, God does not bless our work. If we twist our lives out of shape in order to fill every corner of them with action and experience, God will silently withdraw from our hearts and leave us empty.”
                                         ~Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island
Thing 2—did you know that every year thousands of containers spill out from cargo ships traveling across the ocean? You could argue that it happens so often that residents of Kodiak, Alaska, have grown used to the weird sightings of items that make their way to their shores.

But a couple of years ago one was odd enough to make the newspaper... dozens of sports-themed fly swatters washed up on the beaches—representing both professional and collegiate teams. At first the Alaskans theorized the swatters were debris from the previous year’s tsunami, but it was later confirmed that they were, indeed, from another run of the mill cargo ship that had lost several commercial containers.

As much as I love to walk the beach, I’ve never given much thought to the bizarre things that wash up on shore.  But in case you're interested, here’s a list of other strange beach sightings.

And finally, thing 3—by request of our Archbishop—and in response to the black mass taking place in Oklahoma City next weekend, our entire Archdiocese has been praying daily (publicly and privately) the prayer of St. Michael.

All the Catholics in Oklahoma will continue to do this together until the feast of the archangels, September 29.  Would you consider joining us? If you've never heard it, here are the words to this powerful prayer:

St. Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou,
O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan,
and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

He turns all things to beauty

Would you be willing to create a piece of art that you knew would exist only briefly?

Would you give your whole energy to a project that you knew would only survive for a fleeting moment in time?

And would you find joy and purpose in it?

Meet Jim Denevan.

For the past twenty years, this California-based surfer has been creating sand art, not in a glass, but on the beach itself, using the shore as his canvas.

He began by creating sand designs along the rugged California coastline. But he has now expanded to deserts in Nevada, beaches in Australia, and lakeshores in Siberia.

Using only a rake and beach driftwood as tools, his designs can extend over hundreds of feet or more than a mile.  And they always disappear with the tides.

“I do it for the meditative benefits. The beach is my sanctuary.”

No one who has seen his designs – even in photos – can argue with the soulful beauty of Denevan’s simple drawings, geometric patterns, or 3-D visual illusions. Perhaps my favorite design is the swirl—an energetic spiral... moving inward.

“When I’m pleased with a composition, it’s bittersweet to see it go… But I know the next day that stretch of sand is going to be just as wonderful. And I’ll be out there doing it all over again.”

Talk about living the practice of being in the moment!

“God passes through the thicket of the world, 
and wherever His glance falls 
He turns all things to beauty.” 
~St. John of the Cross

Monday, September 8, 2014

honoring Cachita

Today is the feast of Nuestra Señora de la Caridad del Cobre, patron of Cuba. Our Lady of Charity has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.  From my archives, here's an article I wrote a few years ago for U.S. Catholic Magazine, a reflection on this particular image of Mother Mary.

This year, September 8 also marks the day that my daughter Michelle and her husband Conor arrive at Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port where they will begin walking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage across northern Spain.  

I will be writing more on that later, but for now, would you please keep the pilgrim couple in your prayers? 

Island Queen: a reflection on Our Lady of Charity
As Cuban refugees in Puerto Rico, my parents made it a priority in our upbringing for my brother Ignacio and me to learn Cuban history and traditions, from music and family stories to geography and José Martí’s poetry.
It was crucial for my parents that we knew what it meant to be Cuban, especially because we were too young when we emigrated to have our own memories of our home country. An intricate part of this upbringing was our family’s devotion to Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, Cuba’s patron.
Every September 8 our family gathered with other Cubans to honor Nuestra Señora de la Caridad del Cobre. This typically entailed a Mass followed by a festive meal, or, as my parents like to say, “de la misa a la mesa,” indicating the Hispanic tradition to continue a eucharistic celebration with a fiesta.
One of my favorite parts of these gatherings was the stories, often involving people whose significance I would recognize only years later. Thomas Merton, for example, had a personal devotion to la Caridad. Ernest Hemingway left his 1952 Pulitzer Prize medal at her shrine in El Cobre.
Having Mary’s image in our home and her presence in my daily life was a comforting reality. Our frequent moves when I was a child made me the perennial new kid in school, the foreign girl with the weird accent. As a grade-schooler I was attracted to the story of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus fleeing to Egypt as refugees. Mary knew what it meant to be an outsider. She was a refugee, like me. She got it.
Like most Marian apparitions, the story of Our Lady of Charity, which dates to 1612, began in a nameless place and involved ordinary, undistinguished people. Three boys were gathering salt needed to preserve the meat of the town’s slaughterhouse, which supplied food for the copper mine workers and inhabitants near Santiago, Cuba. Two of the boys were native Indian brothers, Rodrigo and Juan de Hoyos, and the third was a 10-year-old black slave, Juan Moreno.
On their way back to Santiago del Prado (modern El Cobre, meaning “copper”) and halfway across the Bay of Nipe, they encountered a fierce storm that threatened their frail vessel. Suddenly the waters calmed. In the distance the boys saw a white bundle floating on a piece of wood. It was a small statue of Mary holding the infant Jesus on her left arm and a gold cross on her raised right hand. Inscribed on the wooden board were the words, “Yo soy la Virgen de la Caridad” (“I am Our Lady of Charity”).
Much like the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the statue of Our Lady of Charity that the three youths brought to their village of Barajaguas instantly became a destination for pilgrims, a reminder for the underprivileged that their heavenly mother cared and stood beside them. El Cobre was to be the first place in Cuba where freedom was won for black slaves in 1886.
Nuestra Señora de la Caridad del Cobre may not be as well known in the United States as Our Lady of Guadalupe, but you can find her image in churches around the country and the world. Wherever Cuban refugees settled, they brought with them their devotion to la Caridad, or Cachita, as Cubans call her.
In Washington, D.C. she is in a side chapel at our country’s patronal church, the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. She stands to the right of the altar in the open-air Our Lady Star of the Sea church in North Padre Island, Texas, and in the back of the Dallas Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe. In Miami the beautiful Ermita de la Caridad was built by Cuban exiles almost 40 years ago on Biscayne Bay, just south of the downtown skyscrapers.
La Virgen de la Caridad is the most profound symbol of the Cuban nation,” both exiled and on the island, says Msgr. Felipe de Jesús Estévez, auxiliary bishop of Miami. “The British have their queen, the Cubans have la Caridad. Even before Jamestown, El Cobre kept this gracious statue.”
Across the spectrum of Hispanic groups, Marian piety has been the enduring bond that has maintained the people’s fidelity to the church; at times it has been their only link. Through Mary, those who have become distant from Jesus and the expression of their faith can be born anew.
An example of this took place in Cuba, where the church remains oppressed. In preparation for Pope John Paul II’s 1998 trip, the bishops of the country arranged for the original image of Nuestra Señora de la Caridad to travel the length of the island, with public processions and Masses in as many towns as the government would allow. Even the church was surprised by the outcome, as people who had lived decades uncatechized under communist rule poured out into the streets to see, touch, and openly venerate the image of their beloved Cachita.
Mary came to our Caribbean island to remind us of her son’s eternal love for each of us. As my grandmother Josefa frequently reminded me growing up, “Mary is present to all her children, no matter what language they speak. She comes to her people in their daily need. All you have to do is ask her.”
This article appeared in the September 2011 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 76, No. 9, pages 55-56).

Thursday, September 4, 2014

looking for a prayer boost? check out MY DAILY VISITOR

I was delighted to write the daily reflections for the month of September for My Daily Visitor, a publication of Our Sunday Visitor. 

If you don't already know this great prayer resource -- or if you want to read my reflections on each day’s liturgical readings, now is the time to check it out (daily) here.

To give you a taste of the style, here’s the reflection I wrote for September 2, Tuesday:

Deny Stinking Thinking
One of the great revelations of my life was that I control my thoughts, my thoughts don’t control me. My thoughts, my insightful therapist explained once, can define and shape not only how I interpret life, but even my emotions and attitude. In the 12-Steps-Program they call it “stinking thinking,” the power of negative thoughts to influence one’s life. When I allow negative thoughts to take control, I start to believe that I can do nothing right. I’ll inevitably fail. I mess up everything. I’m no good.…
Click here to read the rest of the post! 
Since it is a printed book of monthly reflections, there’s no way to subscribe to receive future posts over email.
But—if you scroll to the bottom of the page, you can read previous reflections retroactively!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

piece of beautify vs. broken shell: I am what I am

I love collecting pieces of  beautiful shells... what others may define as "broken shells" 

Try Googling the words, “I am what I am,” and you will come up with crazy results—from Popeye the sailor, to lyrics by the Jonas Brothers and from La Cage Aux Folles! And yes, I confess I know all of these “sources,” having watched the original 1978 La Cage Aux Folles movie when it came out.

But I digress.

Something –and nothing in particular, recently reminded me that…

I am not as smart as I think I am and
I am not as funny as I think I am and
I am not as strong as I think I am and
I am not as young as I think I am and
I am not as together as I think I am and
I am not as spiritual as I think I am and
I am not as pretty as I think I am and
I am not as insightful as I think I am and
I am not as honest as I think I am and
I am not as generous as I think I am and
I am not as contemplative as I think I am and
I am not as nice as I think I am…

I am also…

Not as dumb as I think I am and
Not as dull as I think I am and
Not as weak as I think I am and
Not as old as I think I am and
Not as discombobulated as I think I am and
Not as irreverent as I think I am and
Not as ugly as I think I am and
Not as dense as I think I am and
Not at dishonest as I think I am and
Not as selfish as I think I am and
Not as unreflective as I think I am and
Not as mean as I think I am.

By the grace of God, I am who I am.

+   +   +   +   +

“The only one to be ‘fully human’ was Jesus—with Mary a close second. So it is easier to say what it is not than what it is. Essentially, it means accepting our full body—soul creation with its inbuilt limitations…

I’m not putting this very well. Our desire for God can betray us into angelism: that perfidious and subtle form of pride…

But we should listen to what is found wanting in us and sweetly and trustfully look to Jesus for him to transform what he wishes. Often ‘not fully human’ refers to our relationships. We can only strive, with all our sensitivity, to make them warmer, more loving.”

“I am what I am, and that's all that I am.”
I am delighted that a perception of your wretchedness and your weaknesses and a consciousness of your nothingness are your normal preoccupation during prayer. It is thus that you gradually acquire complete distrust of self and utter trust in God. Thus, too, you are firmly established in that interior humility which is the enduring foundation of the spiritual edifice and the chief source of God’s graces to the soul.

You must be neither surprised nor grieved at the destruction your self-love fears: if it were free of this fear it would not be self-love. Only souls already greatly detached from self long for this utter death and, far from fearing it, desire and command it unceasingly of God. In your case you will have done enough if you endure patiently and peacefully the various stages which bring it about.”