Grace in Abundance

In reflecting on the recent Gospel reading of the story of the loaves and fishes, I found myself thinking about God’s abundant grace.  More than what was needed to do the job.  Extravagant in its generosity. Plenty left over. Overflowing love.

We are showered with it every day.   All we need to do is accept it and receive it.

I thought of it again when visiting a tulip farm:  abundant beauty.  More than was expected, almost excessive.

Extravagant in its beauty, both up close and en masse.

And what is beauty but another glimpse of the Face of God, His loving generosity and care, and His overflowing love.

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Rejoice Always, Pray Without Ceasing


From the east the sunlight comes, moving slowly over the earth, brightening time zone after time zone.  The day moves on, the earth turns.   Evening comes here even as the dawn lights up the other side of the world –and like a beautiful relay race of exultation one Mass ends and another begins, circling the globe with prayer.

My town has 6 parishes, plus one of  the 72 cloistered Carmelite monasteries in the world. Between them there are 8 daily Masses said.  I like to think that with the movement of the sun over our planet, awakening city after city, nation after nation,  there is a Mass is beginning every minute, somewhere in the world.  One liturgy after the other, in this place, in that place, prayers and worship are being offered up to God, uniting us all as community in ceaseless praise.

Mass in Burkina Faso, photo by Edward Hoyt, CRS


On Sundays and feastdays, the prayers increase. In my town, there are 24 weekly Masses. Eastern Rite and Orthodox Churches add 3 celebrations of the Divine Liturgy to the richness and devotion of the Roman Mass.

Moved by the Holy Spirit, offering up the Body and Blood of the Son to the Father in all of our names, we join together in an unending chorus of worship and praise, without pause, glorifying God as a universal community.

It is a magnificent thing, and the Love that guides it will defeat all evil.


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Holy Week for the Wondering

Below is an article from entitled “Questions about Holy Week You Were Afraid to Ask“.  (click the title to see the original article).  I thought it was pretty clear and direct. 
Holy Week is an important time for Christians throughout the world. But not everyone knows every detail about why it’s celebrated or what exactly it’s composed of. So here are the answers to questions about Holy Week you were afraid to ask.
What is Holy Week?
Holy Week is a time when Catholics gather to remember and participate in the Passion of Jesus Christ. 
The Passion was the final period of Christ’s life in Jerusalem. It spans from when He visited Jerusalem to when He was crucified.
How do Catholics celebrate Holy Week?
There are four special ceremonies during Holy Week.
Palm Sunday recalls Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem. Parishioners typically form a procession and carry palms.
Holy Thursday commemorates Judas’ betrayal and the Last Supper, when Jesus consecrated bread and wine. In the morning, bishops gather with priests from their diocese for the Chrism Mass. They bless holy oils during the Mass. The washing of the feet takes place during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper later that day.
Good Friday is one of the darkest days of the year for Catholics. It covers Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion. His death and burial are also memorialized. There is no Mass.
Holy Saturday remembers the day which Jesus spent in the grave resting. There are no ceremonies at all, but the Easter Vigil takes place at the end of the day.
Why is my Church decorated the way it is?
On Good Friday and Holy Saturday, noticeable changes to take place in the way churches are decorated. Many churches cover decorations in purple or black, or simply remove the decor. In Italy, crosses are covered a week before. Holy water and the Eucharist are also taken from churches on Good Friday and Holy Saturday.
When did Catholics start celebrating Holy Week?
Holy Week celebrations have existed since the beginnings of the Church. As early as the 4th century, reports existed of Christians in Egypt, Palestine, and present-day Turkey and Armenia reenacting the Passion. It’s likely that the celebrations took place for years before the initial recorded reports. Holy Week celebrations spread to Europe by the 5th century. 
When is Holy Week?
Holy Week is the final week before Easter. Put another way, it’s the last week of Lent. Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday and ends on Holy Saturday. This year, Holy Week takes place from March 29 to April 4. Easter takes place on the first Sunday after the first full moon after March 21. This year, it is on April 5. 
When did the original Holy Week occur?
The Resurrection occurred on Sunday, April 9. This means that Holy Thursday would have taken place on April 6. 
used with permission


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Silence and Solitude

I read a reflection in a daily prayer guide that I subscribe to:  Give Us This Day.  It features articles about saints’ lives, and one such article this past week talked about Blessed Sibyllina of Pavia. The short version: Orphaned very young, she worked as a maid until she lost her eyesight at age 12.  She offered her suffering up to God, and was taken in by a Dominican community.  She asked to live there in solitude, enclosed in a cell where she could dedicate her life to prayer.  The article said “At the age of fifteen she entered the cell where she would remain alone for the next 65 years.  Through a small opening in the wall she could attend to the worship inside the church. ”  Another small window allowed her to receive pilgrims and penitents.  She died in 1367 and was beatified about 500 years later.

Wow.  What kind of person does that?  Lives alone from age 15 to age 80, in a single room.

I am as introverted as anybody could be, but I don’t think I would be up to that sort of challenge.  I can hardly imagine how Blessed Sibyllina coped.  I have days when I’d sure like to give it a try, though.

I watched a movie last night:  Into Great Silence.  It’s about a community of  about 15 Carthusian monks who live in the French Alps. It was beautiful.  They maintain silence, and are dedicated to prayer, spending most of their time alone, gathering only to pray and chant the liturgies together–when they spoke, it was to praise God as community.  There was such a kindness, a joy,  and a freedom about their lives.  A simplicity and beauty that the rest of the world seems to have lost.  It was wonderful to see, and part of the film was to show each individual monk for a brief time, allowing the viewer to look into their faces, their eyes.  And wonder who they were, and what led them to choose this life.

I have a friend who is a cloistered Carmelite nun.  Her life isn’t as strict as this order of monks is, but still it is so very disciplined and different from mine.

I thank God that there are these men and women who have chosen a life of prayer for the good of the world. They are shining lights for all of us.  Their very lives create a place of spiritual centering for everyone.  This year,  the Year of the Consecrated Life, let us all lift them up in prayer–and pray for more vocations.

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A Visual Prayer


This icon, whose prototype originates from the Syrian/Turkish border, has historically been linked to prayers to Our Lord for protection, and for victory over evil and death.

I have been so saddened by the martyrdom of the 21 Egyptian Christians recently in Libya, as well as the thousands of others who have been murdered and persecuted by Muslim extremists.  I painted this icon as a prayerful response to the news of their courage and faith, and that of their grieving families.  (See more about the origin of this icon on my previous post.)

The names of these 21 have been entered into the Coptic book of martyrs, and they have been declared saints.

Hani Abdel Messihah

Yousef Shoukry

Towadros Yousef

Maged Suleiman Shahata

Milad Makeen Zaky

 Abanub Ayad Atiya

Kirollos Shokry Fawzy

Bishoy Astafanus Kamel

Girgis Milad Sinweet

Mina Fayez Aziz

Samuel Alham Wilson

Samuel Astafanus Kamel

Ezat Bishri Naseef

Loqa Nagaty Anees

Munir Gaber Adly

Esam Badir Samir

Malak Farag Abram

Sameh Salah (Sameh Salah Farug)

Girgis Sameer Maglee

Mathew Ayairga (from Ghana)

In an interview with the Huffington Post, Beshir Kamel, the brother of two of the martyrs said that he would forgive the killers if he met them.  He said this of his mother:  “My mother, an uneducated woman in her sixties, said she would ask [the killer] to enter her house and ask God to open his eyes because he was the reason her sons entered the kingdom of heaven.”

“This only makes us stronger in our faith.”

(photo of martyrs from

(names and interview posts from the Huffington Post, article by Sophia Jones)


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Image Not Made With Human Hands

Abgar, the King of Edessa, was very ill.  He had heard rumors of a healer in Galilea to the south that had performed miraculous cures.  He sent an ambassador to invite the healer to his court, in the hopes of being healed himself.

Jesus declined the offer, remaining with His ministry in His homeland.  Abgar, noting that an picture of Caesar was often used to stand in for the emperor in his absence and thus make decisions official, then sent an artist to make an image of Jesus.  He reasoned that an image would represent Jesus, and thus he might be healed through the Lord’s power.  And so the artist set out.

He sat and tried to draw Jesus as he preached, but he just couldn’t get it right.  Jesus saw the man struggling there, and had pity on him.  He went up to the hapless artist, and held the linen cloth that was being used for the painting to His own face.  He handed it back. The image of His Holy Face was imprinted on the cloth.  The artist hurried back to Edessa and the King, who prayed to Jesus while standing before it, and was cured.


King Abgar and all of his kingdom became believers and followers of the teachings of Jesus–some of the earliest Christians. The cloth with the miraculous image was hung on the city gates.  For many years it was venerated there by the people, and there were numerous cures and prayers granted.

One day, the kingdom was besieged by foreign armies.  To protect the precious image, the Christians of Edessa made a niche in the walls of the city, and hid the cloth inside, leaving a lamp burning before it, then sealing it up with clay bricks.  The kingdom was overrun.  The cloth remained hidden, its existence unsuspected by the conquerors.  Centuries later, it was remembered by the Bishop of Edessa, and he searched for and found the secret compartment in the walls.  To the amazement of all, the cloth was intact, and the lamp was still burning.  In addition, the same image that was on the cloth had been imprinted onto the interior of the bricks as well.


During the reign of Constantine, these relics were brought to Byzantium for veneration.  They remained there until Crusaders looted and sacked the empire.  Then the relics disappeared. No one knows for sure what happened to them.

One story says that the cloth was brought to Gaul (France) where it was called “vera ikon“–a true image.  Perhaps this title is the origin of the story of Veronica wiping the face of Jesus during His Passion with her veil.  Eventually the cloth was sent by ship to Italy, when there was a great storm and the ship sank to the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea, never to be seen again.

This the story of the icon of the Holy Face,  which is also called the Mandilion (in the Western church), as well as Christ-Not-Made-With-Human-Hands (in the Eastern church).  At least, that is the story as I recall it. There are many versions with differing details. The icon itself is most often seen with the image on a cloth, but there are also versions of it painted as if on the clay tiles.  The traditional role of either version  has been to protect, and to give victory over evil. 

Edessa was a city state kingdom near the border of Syria in present-day Turkey.  It is called Sanliurfa today. The Agbar dynasty did exist, and the people of the kingdom were staunchly Christian from the ancient times.  During a war with the Persians long ago, the king of Edessa carried the holy cloth as his banner into battle, and the victory was credited to Jesus’ image.

(The first image above is a 10th century painting of King Abgar holding the sacred image.  The second two are my own work, showing the 2 different types of The Holy Face icon.   IC XC  are the Greek abbreviations for Jesus Christ. The inscriptions in His halo are abbreviations for the words:  I Am.  In the second version of this icon, the letters IC XC are in the top circles, and NI KA are in the lower circles.  These letters stand for “victorious” or “conqueror” –similar to the word nike).

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Sad Questions

04 06 graffiti&flowers2 rip e

I took these photographs almost a year ago, while walking my dogs on a city bike path.  At the time I was pleased by the colors.  I mused about the contrast between city decay and the vigorous growth and life force of the wildflowers. Nature taking back its own.  The  triumph of life over death.


Today I walked that bike path again, seeing it all without the softening effect of the flowers.  There was even more graffiti on the battered fences and sidewalks.  Trash littered the ground in place of wildflowers.  Broken glass sparkled in the dirt.

Today I thought about the lost and desperate souls who created this, carried out the vandalism.  Mostly young. Roaming without purpose, without meaning in their lives beyond the moment.  Unloved.  Unwanted.  Shunned and invisible.  Banding together for safety, comfort, a feeling of belonging.  Pushed aside by the rest of society, left out for a myriad of reasons.  Asserting themselves with a paint can, communicating,  making their mark so that they cannot be ignored.

As Catholics, as Christians, what do we do about these armies of troubled teens? Every town has them.  Not in school, not employed.  In trouble with the law, unparented and unwanted, using drugs, drinking, sleeping in alleyways, selling themselves.  It seems an overwhelming problem.  There are so many of them.  They are so unpleasant to deal with, dangerous even.  Yet, they are children.

Our parish once made a try:  teaming up with a small Catholic Worker group, they formed a foundation, bought a house.  The intent was to offer shelter to boys and girls, a safe place to live and rejoin society.  The house was staffed and made ready.  The invitation went out on the street.  And no one came.

Not one taker for meals and a free place to live.  The teens were not interested in a place with rules, with adult supervision.  (Eventually, the house morphed into a home for single mothers, recently released from rehab, who wanted to regain custody of their very young children.   It has been very successful with this demographic. It’s been in operation for 16 years now, and still going strong.)

But still, the original problem remains.  What do we do with those hostile older children, those lost and wandering on the streets?  Is there any solution to this problem?  How can they be reached? Any thoughts?



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Full circle

It’s hard to believe that Christmas Day was more than a month ago.  I enjoyed celebrating the entire season, and attended daily Mass on the last Friday before entering Ordinary Time.  It was beautiful, and I savored my last glimpses of the beautiful Nativity set and all of the decor.

Arriving early to Mass, I had time to reflect on what I saw before me.  Regretfully, I didn’t have my camera, but I did have my phone, and took a photograph to share.

There I saw the story of salvation concretely before me:  God Incarnate, lying in the manger.  Behind was the crucifix, with Jesus our God and Savior dying for our sins.  And soon, there were the priests celebrating the Liturgy of the Eucharist, bringing God’s gift of Himself to us right then and there.


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A Sense of a Goose


So much for dismissing these creatures as “silly geese”. There is much to be learned here.

Originally posted on Morning Story and Dilbert:

Morning Story and Dilbert Vintage Dilbert
January 28, 2015

Next Autumn, when you see geese heading south for the winter, flying in a “V” formation, you might consider what science has discovered as to why they fly that way. As each bird flaps its wings, it creates an uplift for the bird immediately following. By flying in a “V” formation, the whole flock adds at least 71 percent greater flying range than if each bird flew on its own.
People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going more quickly and easily, because they are travelling on the thrust of one another.

When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to go it alone and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird in front.
If we have the sense of a…

View original 184 more words

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The inconceivable is conceived

in the womb of a virgin.

 The unmeasurable became 3 cubits high;

the unqualifiable acquires a quality;

the undefinable stands up, sits down and lies down;

He who is everywhere is put into a crib. 

He who is above time

gradually reaches the age of 12;

He who is formless appears with the shape of a man;

and the incorporeal enters into a body. 

from the writings of St. Theodore the Studite 


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