Wednesday, September 14, 2016

will you remain faithful to the Crucified?

 Pondering today's feast, the Exaltation of the Cross...

More than ever the cross is a sign of contradiction. The followers of the Antichrist show it far more dishonor than did the Persians who stole it. They desecrate the images of the cross, and they make every effort to tear the cross out of the hearts of Christians. All too often they have succeeded even with those who, like us, once vowed to bear Christ’s cross after him… Therefore, the Savior today looks at us, solemnly probing us, and asks each one of us: Will you remain faithful to the Crucified? Consider carefully! The world is in flames, the battle between Christ and the Antichrist has broken into the open. If you decide for Christ, it could cost you your life. Carefully consider what you promise...The world is in flames. The conflagration can also reach our house. But high above all flames towers the cross. They cannot consume it. It is the path from earth to heaven. It will lift one who embraces it in faith, love, and hope into the bosom of the Trinity.”
written for the community’s renewal of vows, 
September 14, 1939, 
the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross

The feast of the Exaltation of the Cross doesn’t remove the cross. It points to a more difficult – and at the same time more hopeful – faith. We pray for the grace to embrace our suffering, ‘obedient even unto death,’ to make our pain an offering and believe that in God’s mysterious plan, it has the power to heal. When we are tempted to ask God why, we pray instead as Jesus did: ‘Into your hands I commend my spirit’.” 
~Richard Reece, from 
today’s reflection in 
“Give Us This Day”

[photo © María Ruiz Scaperlanda -- San Alfonso Retreat House, 2016]

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

we must be doing something right

I don’t want to give any extra publicity to a local satanic cult that has taken aim at the Church of Oklahoma.  I will simply say that evil is real—and that it seems self-evident that Satan is busy causing havoc and despair, not only in our city, but throughout the world.

That’s why yesterday, for the feast of the Assumption of Mary, Michael and I joined a crowd of over 1,000 Christian believers for a Unity Walk and Prayer Service in downtown Oklahoma City.

The ecumenical Christian event began at the statue named, “And Jesus Wept,” well known as a sign of hope and healing in this Midwest capital city.

The statue is not only on the grounds of St. Joseph Old Cathedral—it is also directly across the street from the Oklahoma City National Memorial, site of the 1995 Murrah Building bombing.

“As we stand here in this particular place we are reminded of what evil has done to our city and the lives that it has destroyed. But we are also aware of the good that rests in every human heart, good that overcomes evil, that seeks healing and community and peace…

And it is why we are gathered here today. To stand together against evil and rely upon the goodness of God in whose image we were created.  He is the source of all that is good and holy. We ask Him to dispel all darkness and evil of every kind in our city, our nation, and the world.”

~ Father William Novak, pastor,
St. Francis Catholic Church, OkC

At the standing-room-only ecumenical Prayer Service that followed the walk, pastors and religious leaders from several different denominations took turns leading the crowd in specific prayer petitions… for the family; for the state of Oklahoma and Oklahoma City; for the government; for education; as well as for racial reconciliation. 

From Father Novak’s prayer for the family:

By your plan you created the family and you desired that it be a place where one finds nourishment, protection, support, and love throughout our lives.  We ask your continued blessing upon all families, that the love of husband and wife may bring forth the gift of new life – that the comfort of mothers and the protection of fathers may be generously given to their children—and that children may honor their parents.  We ask you to watch over families who are separated and experience difficulties and hardships; families that remain divided by hatred, resentments and outside evils. Give to those families, Lord, the help they need to reunite, forgive, and be patient and compassionate with one another.

We ask you to protect families who suffer under poverty, abuse, addictions, neglect, and violence. Give to these families the desire to seek help, the help they require, and ongoing support so that they may flourish and prosper

We ask you to give our city, our nation and the world a deeper respect for the holiness of the family by extending and enacting laws that protect the dignity and the sanctity of all human life, from conception to natural death, the sacred institution of marriage, and the unity of the family that is often under attack from our overly individualistic and materialistic culture. Help us to always rely on you o Father of Mercy, for the grace we need in our own families and with one another, as we work together to build up the family until we are all united, as one family, in your heavenly kingdom, forever and ever, amen.

Two more things to note

first of all, I believe that the Church of Oklahoma must be doing something right if the forces of evil and darkness repeatedly take aim at Oklahoma City!

and finally, here’s a short video of the enthusiastic crowd singing “Holy, Holy, Holy” during the Unity Prayer Service:


 and a video of Father Novak's prayer... so that you can hear the crowd's reaction:


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Edith Stein: a woman for our time

Edith holding her cousin's son, 1921

Edith the philosophy student

Like Christians in the early centuries, I was confirmed at the same time that I was baptized. Although in my case, it all happened on my way home from the hospital--a mere three days after I was born in the city of Pinar del Río.

As my parents explained, everything was so uncertain and chaotic in 1960 Cuba that our pastor and family friend suggested it. Castro’s communist government had already shipped, literally, hundreds of priests out the country on a boat, and no one could predict how long, or if any, priests would be allowed by the government to stay behind.

After moving to the United States as a teenager and seeing how confirmations here are done, I felt a bit cheated that I never got to pick a patron saint.

Fast forward to my early forties. Writer and dear friend Colleen Smith contacted me with a book idea, one that had been offered to her fist—but that she discerned would be a better fit for me: a biography of a Jewish convert, Carmelite nun, and soon to be saint.

When I first began reading about Edith Stein, I was more than a little freaked out.  She was a gifted, renowned philosopher, a brilliant writer and speaker—and I was entrusted with the task of writing a popular biography introducing readers to this phenomenal woman.

I began by ordering all of her books that have been translated into English by ICS Publications (Institute of Carmelite Studies), which of course, did nothing to appease my anxiety.  Stein was a prolific author and her texts were rich, academic, and spiritually profound.

I looked at how others told her story and found out that there had been a number of biographies already published by people much better versed in both philosophy and Carmelite spirituality. 

Everything changed when I picked up Vol 5 of Edith Stein’s Collected Works: “Self Portrait In Letters 1916-1942,” translated by Josephine Koeppel, O.C.D.

In her letters I met a young woman who loved God so deeply, so profoundly that, like the original apostles, dropped everything she had and knew, to follow Him completely.

I fell in love with Edith, my self-adopted patron saint, reading her letters.

If you want to read my biography of this beautiful saint, whose feast day is today, August 9click here.
[I]t is always a small, simple truth that I have to express: How to go about living at the Lord’s hand.”  
~letter by Edith, 1931
I do not use extraordinary means to prolong my workday. I do as much as I can. The 
ability to accomplish increases noticeably in proportion to the number of things that 
must be done. When there’s nothing urgent at hand, it ceases much sooner. 
Heaven is expert at economy.”  
~letter by Edith, 1930

[this blog post was first published here, under a different title, on August 9, 2013]

Friday, July 29, 2016

Saint Stanley Rother of Okarche and Atitlán: may it happen PRONTO

I spent a large part of this morning watching in “live streaming” from my computer the beautiful celebration and Santa Misa that took place today in Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala, in honor of the 35th anniversary of the death of Father Stanley Rother, the American martyr from Oklahoma who was killed in 1981 in their parish rectory.

I was mesmerized by the beautiful liturgy and could not stop watching!

Unlike the celebration I attended in Atitlán for the 30th anniversary five years ago, this year’s took place on the plaza in front of the historic church of Santiago Apóstol (St. James).  The parish built and decorated a beautiful stage setting, one large enough to hold the many priests, bishops and dignitaries that attended and participated in the tri-lingual liturgy (Spanish / Tz’utujil / and some English).

The plaza was jam-packed with people, many holding umbrellas to protect them from the hot summer sun.  I took a number of screen shots of my computer’s desktop in order to remember what I saw, but none do it justice!  Even so, I’ll post some of the images here (below), just to give you a flavor of what I experienced. 

I would have loved to be in Atitlán for the celebration!  But nevertheless, I am very grateful for technology that allows me to connect and even participate from across the globe. 

I also want to post here for you some of the words of Bishop Gonzalo de Villa y Vásquez, S.J. from today’s homily – first in Spanish (as he said them), and then  my own (unofficial) translation to English. 

I was moved by the Bishop’s continued use of the word “pronto” every time he made a reference to Father Stanley’s canonization! 

[Hablando sobre Padre Apla’s]… su martirio se inscribe literalmente en las palabras de Jesús… dar la vida por sus amigos, por su pueblo, por aquellos a quienes se les confió su cuidado…

[Asi como el año pasado honramos a Monseñor Oscar Romero como martir]… hoy, igualmente, aquí en Atitlán en el recuerdo aparecide la vida y la memoria de Stanley Rother, Apla’s… pedimos a Dios que pronto llegue el día en que la iglesia reconozca oficialmente su martirio… es nuestra petición, es nuestra oración, y es también el tributo que hoy rendimos al pastor que no huyo – al que regresó después de haber salvado su vida alejándose de su parroquia – para sel el pastor fiel que acompaño a su pueblo sufriente…

[al regresar a Atitlán] podemos decir que Apla’s humanamente selló su muerte trágica.  Con ojos de fé… sabemos y proclamamos que esa muerte trágica y cruel abrió para el la vida eternal.,.

por eso hoy celebramos con alegría esta misa, y por ello damos gracias a Dios por el recuerdo y el ejemplo de este sacerdote ejemplar…  y pedimos para que pronto no solo lo recordemos, sino que lo tengamos como intercessor.

¡Que así sea!

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[Speaking about Father Stanley’s death]… his martyrdom is a literal manifestation of Jesus’ words… to give his life for his friends, for his people, those who were entrusted to his care. 

[Referring to Oscar Romero’s canonization last year] … today, in the same way, here in Atitlán, we honor and recall the life and memory of Stanley Rother, Apla’s… we petition to God that the day will soon arrive when the universal Church officially recognizes Father Stanley’s martyrdom. This is our petition. This is our prayer—and it is also the tribute we offer today to the shepherd who did not run, the shepherd who, after going away to safety, returned in order to stand beside his suffering people.

[With his return to Atitlán] we can say that in human terms Father Stanley sealed his tragic death.  With eyes of faith we know and proclaim that his tragic and heartbreaking death opened for him the doors to eternal life.

That is why today we celebrate with joy this Mass, and why we give thanks to God for the example and the memory of this exemplary priest… and we ask that soon we can not only remember him, but also have him as intercessor on our behalf.

May it be so!

~Bishop Gonzalo de Villa y Vásquez,
Diocese of Sololá y Chimaltenango

A few extra links, in case you’re interested in more information:

A couple of my past blog posts on Father Stanley – one here and another one here.

And a few recent articles I’ve written on Father Stanley Rother. --  
In Sooner Catholic, click here.
In Our Sunday Visitor Newsweekly, click here.
And in the current issue of Maryknoll Magazine.
One more -- check here for some beautiful photos I found on Facebook from today's celebration in Atitlán by photographer Carlos Damian! A couple of examples:

[PHOTOS © Carlos Damian, 2016]

Friday, June 24, 2016

where do you see God?

I woke up today dreaming of my Camino buddy Pat.

In my dream, she was not the spunky Pat that walked with me over 350 miles across northern Spain on our pilgrimage, but the Pat she became after surgery to fight the brain cancer that eventually killed her.

Sometimes the veil between earth and heaven is über thin, and I can almost hear the voice of those I love who no longer walk this earthly pilgrimage.

June will always be associated with Pat and the Camino for me. And the Camino will forever remind me of the wonder and awe that God delights in surprising me with—with each of us—at the most unexpected moments.

From my Camino journal, 13 years ago this week:

Notas:  Today we walked through the town of Castañeda, location of the 12th century lime ovens used to constroct the Santiago de Compostela’s cathedral! – Pilgrims once carried stones from Triascastela to these ovens.

Tonight we had dinner at the local bar during the “off” hours – the woman in charge, Ana, took pity on us and sent her worker/daughter? Maria to serve us -- in spite of the place being closed.  After dinner, when I thanked her for taking care of us she told me how once when she and her husband were traveling they arrived at the town early, too early for dinner. But they had to get some food – and the restaurant wouldn’t serve them because it was not the right time, although she could see the food already prepared... She swore she would never do that… thank you God for Ana!

Yesterday when Mass at the parish church ended, one of the pilgrim’s (an older man with a bushy beard whom I had see at the Melide albergue earlier) started siging an ode to Mary.  He had perfect pitch and sang with the trained voice of a professional.

It was amazing—and the regular parishioners stayed at the church to listen to him, reverently standing and facing the front altar until he was done.  He just stood there, holding a little book and singing… he seemed to have a German accent? Or perhaps French…

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

and add that your name is dirt

Stop trying to think out a solution for the moment: there isn’t one. One day there may be; God will then show it to you. In the meantime, accept it all as being the big thing for God and his Church that he asks of you—that, and the depression too. You will find the relief of merely accepting, instead of struggling, wonderful; and I include in this, accepting anything in yourself, during the crisis, which seems to you a failure or fault. Don’t exonerate yourself, but just say you are sorry, briefly, to God, and add that your name is dirt—that’s what is to be expected from you—but you’re sorry, you are forgiven, and it is over. 
During the war I was simply terrified by air raids, and it was my lot to be in every one that happened in London—sometimes on the roofs of these flats, sometimes in the hospital… I tried to build up my courage by reason and prayer, etc. Then one day I realized quite suddenly: As long as I try not to be afraid I shall be worse, and I shall show it one day and break; what God is asking of me, to do for suffering humanity, is to be afraid, to accept it and put up with it, as one has to put up with pain (if it’s not druggable) or anything else. I am not going to get out of any of the suffering. From the time the siren goes until the All Clear, I am going to be simply frightened stiff, and that’s what I’ve got to do for the world—offer that to God, because it is that and nothing else which he asks of me.”
~Caryll Houselander

I sure love it when I read some sort of reflection or essay and find myself laughing out loud at the words—especially when it’s because of the intimacy (with God) and honesty of the author.

“…and add that your name is dirt,” certainly made me laugh… and pay attention to the rest of the essay!

I have been fighting a stiff, painful neck for over a week. In the past decade or so, I’ve had a number of issues with my neck and shoulders, including surgery on my cervical spine, so it is safe to say that I have learned many things that help me when I’m struggling with this type of pain.

But this time, nothing I’ve tried is working. Nothing is making it go away—or even feel much better.

What I hear in Caryll Houselander’s words is the wisdom that comes from knowing – from living – acceptance, rather than struggle.  Surrender, rather than self-sufficiency. And confidence in God’s presence in the every day of life, every single aspect of it, rather than worry or fear.

In other words—why do I think I have to… get over / get better / be better / succeed / try harder / pray harder… before God can use me?  Before I can offer my day and myself to God?
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NOTE: if you’re interested in learning a bit more about Caryll Houselander, check out this blog post by my friend, the talented Heather King.

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"If we only have sense enough to leave everything to the guidance of God's hand, we should reach the highest peak of holiness."

~Jean-Pierre de Caussade,
Abandonment to Divine Providence

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NOTE #2: All photos are from my recent drive and visit to the great city of St. Louis for this year's Catholic Media Conference!