The Holy Spirit and Evangelization

It’s Pentecost today, and I want to tell a story–a totally true story– of a college student in my parish, who was received into the Catholic Church just 40 days ago at our Easter Vigil.  I read a post by a fellow blogger just now on a similar theme, and after reading it was further inspired to tell everyone of the actions of this young woman.

I live in a very secular, very pagan, unchurched, liberal town, which grew up around a very large public university.  The hostility to Catholicism, indeed, all of Christianity, is palpable, both on and off campus. Two young men have been regularly preaching out on the campus lawn this school year–preaching hellfire and damnation.  They condemn and judge and tell passing students that they are going to hell.  On one particular day last week, a group of students stopped to listen, argue with, and even heckle the two preachers.  One of the students listening was the newly baptized Catholic woman from my parish.  She listened, was disturbed at what she was hearing, and then felt strongly moved to do something. . .  strange.

She was moved to leave and go to her dorm room and get a bucket of water.  She told herself that that was ridiculous, but the urge persisted.  She fought it further, telling herself that she can’t do that, but still she had the urge.  And so she obeyed.  She went to her dorm room and got a bucket of water, and lugged it back to the preachers.

Feeling rather foolish and afraid for a moment, she gathered up her courage and stepped forward.  She went up to the preaching men and set her bucket of water down in front of them.

She asked them if she could wash their feet.

No, they said. That’s stupid.  Our feet are clean.  We don’t need our feet washed.

The crowd hushed and watched intently.

The young woman spoke up, telling them that they have it all wrong. She told them that Jesus didn’t come to judge and condemn, but to show mercy.  He came to love and to serve. That Christianity was about humility, love and service, not about sending people to hell.  And she asked again to wash their feet, to serve them this way.

I don’t know exactly what the pair of preachers said to this, but I do know that the watching students came forward to talk to the brave young woman with her container of water, and hear what she had to say about her faith and the teachings of the Church.

The Holy Spirit moved powerfully through her that day, and she did not turn away from the challenge.

I pray that I might have the courage to seize such opportunities, and that you might as well.

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Mother’s Day Reflection

A dear friend of mine was asked to do a reflection at church on Mother’s Day, and this is what she came up with. I thought it was beautiful, and pertinent even after the holiday has ended for this year:

All this week I have been reflecting and praying about writing this reflection on motherhood and then I received this letter from a dear friend who wrote me to express her remembrances of my mother, Helen Rose Picado, who died this past December, and to embrace me in her heart and prayers. It began with this poem by Dawna Markova:

I will not die an unlived life.

I will not live in fear

of falling or catching fire.

I choose to inhabit my days,

to allow my living to open me,

to make me less afraid,

more accessible,

to loosen my heart

until it becomes a wing,

a torch, a promise.

I choose to risk my significance;

to live so that which came to me as seed

goes to the next as blossom

and that which came to me as blossom,

goes on as fruit.

 

Bear much fruit. I was amazed. I am always amazed when God speaks to me so clearly through others. It was as if I was hearing an echo from the words of scripture in this past week leading up to Mother’s Day:

I am the vine, you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit,

LOVE ONE ANOTHER AS I HAVE LOVED YOU.

No one has greater love than this,

to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

LOVE ONE ANOTHER AS I HAVE LOVED YOU.

I have told you this so that my joy may be in you
and your joy might be complete.

LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

Go and bear much fruit.

Remain in my Love.

Do these profound words not remind you of your mother and all those who mother you? They certainly remind me of my mother. As I wrote this, her picture was next to me and I know she was with me, as always, giving me guidance and wise counsel and helping me bear fruit.

How many times and in how many countless ways has your mother told you that she loves you? I know my mother told me that I was a miracle. She, like Sarah, was told that she would not be able to have children but she prayed to God and Our Lady to have a child… and I came along, her only child.

But whether you were an only child or not, I bet your mother called you a miracle too. Because you are—each and every one of you—molded and shaped in the image of God, a unique and beautiful creation. And, I know as a mother, I consider both of my sons, precious miracles, gifts from God, from His hands to mine. Who knows this better than a mother, who bore you into this world and whose heart rejoiced and danced and sang God’s praises when you arrived.

And, as I, like Jesus, grew, and my mother, like Mary, marveled at this wondrous being, this child of hers, my mother fed me, comforted me, nurtured me, guided me through life’s many challenges, watched out for me as I confronted danger, scolded and chided me when I went astray, believed in me when I floundered, taught me so many things from tying my shoes and brushing my teeth and reading to doing my best and bearing much fruit and loving God and one another.

When you think about it, wasn’t it all about Love? Wasn’t your and my mother’s life a pouring out of Love, a laying down of her life for ours??  Her joy was in us so that our joy might be complete. And Jesus tells us, there is no greater love than this.

I share with you now an excerpt from the reflection I shared about my mother at her memorial service:

What mattered most in all the world to my mother was love of family and she poured her life into us and in so doing bequeathed to us the greatest of gifts, the gift of Love, love of God, love of family, love of friends. And, in the end, love defies all odds; it is an everyday miracle, this perfect gift from Above, for even now that my mother is gone from us in this earthly realm, love prevails. Love, quite miraculously, does bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things.

So, this mother’s day and whenever you have lost your way, remember and replay often the following conversation with GOD and your MOTHER and all those who manifest PERFECT LOVE in little and not-so-little ways.

ME: TELL ME THE WAY, LORD.

GOD: I am the vine, you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit,

ME: BUT, HOW DO WE DO THIS?

GOD: LOVE ONE ANOTHER, AS I HAVE LOVED YOU.

No one has greater love than this,

to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

ME: BUT, WHY DO WE DO THIS?

GOD: So that my joy may be in you
and your joy might be complete.

ME: HOW DO WE DO THIS AGAIN?

GOD: Don’t worry, my child, the Holy Spirit
will teach you everything
and remind you to…
LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

ME: WHAT MUST I DO AGAIN?

GOD: LOVE ONE ANOTHER, AS I HAVE LOVED YOU.

Go, my child, and bear much fruit.

Remain in my Love always.

 

My dear friends, this Mother’s Day, keep your mothers and this conversation close to your hearts.  Bless you, your mothers, and go and Love One Another, Bear Much Fruit, and Remain in Love always. Amen.

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Did you know. . .

. . . that those in the Dominican order always wear a rosary on their left side, just as the medieval knights wore their swords.  And just as a knight used his sword to defend himself, a Dominican uses his rosary in spiritual battle.   (from the Dominican Western Province newsletter, Spring 2015)

. . . that the persecutions of Christians in 2nd century  Lyons, Gallia (France) were some of the most vicious and brutal since those of the Emperor Nero in Rome.  Despite this, or possibly as a result of this witness, Roman Gaul and the Celtic people were nearly 100% Catholic within 150 years.  (from the chapter on St. Irenaeus in Four Witnesses: The Early church in Her Own Words).  

. . . that the 8th-century Benedictine Abbey at Le Mont San Michel, has a museum with dozens, if not hundreds of large unique individual statues of St. Michael the Archangel.  An enormous collection. Each angel was sculpted to perch on top of the spire soaring above the church.  After about 50 years of weathering on the stone, the statue needed to be replaced.  The statues in the museum are the old ones, saved for posterity.   (from a travel slide presentation by a visiting artist priest).

(And the question then had to be asked:  how did the monks get the big, heavy, new stone statues up there?  The answer:  they built wooden scaffolding all the way to the top, then hauled the heavy stonework up with ropes, positioned it and attached it firmly.)

. . .  that in the mid 1990s, the city of Pittsburg, in an effort to not “offend” non-Christians, but still encourage rampant spending, changed the official name of “Christmas” to the “Sparkle Season”.   People were encouraged to wish others a Happy Sparkle Season or to reference the solstice or wintertime.  This ridiculous state of affairs actually lasted for 8 years before being rescinded. (from The Feasts: How the Church Year Forms Us as Catholics, by Cardinal Donald Wuerl and Mike Aquilina, and also verified online on multiple sites).

. . . that the Papal Basilica of Saint Mary Major (Santa Maria Maggiori) in Rome is also called Our Lady of the Snows.  This name comes from an ancient legend, probably only a story but beautiful nonetheless.  According to the legend, a wealthy couple living in 4th Century Rome wanted to build a church to honor the Virgin Mary.  As they prayed, they somehow were led to know that snow would fall in the hottest month of the year, and that the snow would mark the outside boundaries of the new church.  The snow did fall, in August, and mapped out the area for the huge church, which stands today.  (from The Feasts: How the Church Year Forms Us as Catholics, and multiple sources online).

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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 http://www.romereports.com 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 indiegogo.com)

(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.

Abgarwithimageofedessa10thcentury

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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