A few photos that I took at the solemn monastic profession of Br Gabriel at the Monastery of the Holy Cross in Chicago, IL. What a blessed and beautiful day.
A few thoughts while on a short Friday morning walk praying the rosary.
The Agony in the Garden
I am reminded of the lines from Psalm 38, part of this morning’s Office of Readings from the Liturgy of the Hours:
“My friends avoid me like a leper;
those closest to me stand afar off.
Those who plot against my life lay snares;
those who seek my ruin speak of harm,
planning treachery all day long.”
Abandoned by all of the disciples, as some slept in the Garden while Jesus fervently prayed to God that the cup might pass from him, and then, upon arrival of the arresting party, all of the disciples abandoned Jesus, leaving him in his time of need.
How often do we abandon Christ, through our sinfulness? How often do we leave him in his time of need, needing our reciprocation of love for his unending love of us all?
Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
The Scourging at the Pillar
“By his stripes, we are healed”
Every lash, every painful lash, all taken in suffering and humility for us, for our sins. He suffered for us, for our transgressions. As I meditate on this mystery, I have a knot in my stomach, as I realize what a great sacrifice of pain and anguish our Savior underwent for us all.
I am also reminded of that scourging scene from the movie ‘The Passion of the Christ’, a scene where you can hear the Roman soldier counting each lash one by one, in Latin. Having taken Latin in high school, I still remember how to count in Latin, and that scene in the movie really grabbed me, helped me to experience just a small bit of the terror and pain as each lash was counted out slowly and methodically, as if the soldier was casually counting out money or change from a transaction. In fact, he was counting out change, Christ’s payment again, for our sins.
The Crowning with Thorns
The crown of thorns was not made of your garden variety Northern Indiana thorns; no, these thorns were likely long and sharp like nails, several inches long. The pain had to be excruciating, sweat and dirt mixed with open wounds and blood, and any injury to the head bleeds worse than most other injuries, so the crown was that much more painful for Christ.
He endured the pain, the humiliation, the taunts and jeers by the soldiers and others, he endured all of this for us, for our salvation.
Try as I might, and I don’t often succeed, I try to offer my daily sufferings, as inconsequential as they may be, up to Christ, to try to walk his way with the Cross…I try to take any jeer or perceived slight with the humility that Jesus had when crowned with thorns.
Jesus Carries His Cross
The weight of the wood of the Cross, the humiliation of being jeered at, pushed and prodded along a stone path, a path that inevitably leads to more suffering and eventually death on a cross. The weakness from enduring physical trial, from blood loss and a lack of energy to continue.
Yet still, among all of these trials and tribulations, our Lord still carried his Cross, our Cross with the weight of our sins.
This is just often so overwhelming to me to meditate upon, the sacrifice by Him for us. Each step was for us, too much to bear.
Friday is a continual reminder for me of Jesus’ death on the Cross. The morning psalms from the Liturgy of the Hours, especially Psalm 51, the Sorrowful Mysteries, they all point back to Christ’s great sacrifice for us on the Cross. Just as each Sunday throughout the year is a ‘mini-Easter’, many Fridays for me are a reminder as ‘mini Good Fridays’ to me, too.
What a great and wonderful God we have to sacrifice his Son on the Cross, a sacrifice for our sins, and a model for us as the one and true sacrificial lamb.
A few short reflections and thoughts that I had this evening while walking and praying the rosary, the Glorious Mysteries for Sunday (also traditionally prayed on Wednesdays).
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ
Without the Resurrection, Jesus’ passion, suffering and death would have been for naught, He would have been just another nice guy who died a violent death. His conquering of Satan, and thus His conquering of death, through Jesus’ resurrection, makes all of the difference to us as Christians.
Each Sunday is a ‘mini Easter’ of sorts, where we celebrate anew the resurrection of Christ. Praying the glorious mysteries on Sunday lends the day an extra bit of celebration to me, a way of remembering the key glorious moments for Christ, the Apostles and Mary, and how these moments affect us even today.
Christ’s death and resurrection give us hope, hope that we, too, might one day join Christ in body and soul forever. What a great and wonderful God we have.
The Ascension of Jesus to Heaven
Christ spent parts of the next 40 days after his resurrection with the Apostles. He didn’t spend all 40 days with them, just some time to further educate and guide the Apostles and others along their new journey, to build the Church on earth that Christ began while he was alive. Chris HAD to leave the Apostles, he HAD to bodily ascend to Heaven to join the Father, and in truth, this was the only way that the Apostles could begin to lead and build the Church on earth through a faith in Christ. His ascension made each of the Apostles rely on their personal and communal faith to bring others to Christ.
Christ ascended body and soul to heaven, but He is still with us all, in prayer and in action in our daily lives. What a beautiful and powerful display of love Christ’s ascension was and is to us.
The Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles
A roaring wind. Tongues as of fire, and speaking in tongues. Christ ascending meant that he provided for us an Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to guide the Apostles and all of us here on earth as the Church Militant.
When praying this mystery, I often think of what it must have been like on that first Pentecost day, how confusing yet joyous it all must have been, to receive God in a new and special way. How did that feel? What did each person present think and feel at that very moment? The descent of the Holy Spirit gives us all the ability to evangelize and spread the Word here on earth, and this third member of the Trinity also helps us in our fight against evil and Christ’s enemies.
What a beautiful and special gift to the Apostles and to us, the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The Assumption of Mary into Heaven
Spotless, sinless, perfect in her love of her Son Jesus, Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven. There she intercedes with Christ for us in a special way; Jesus cannot refuse any intercession by his mother Mary for us, he cannot refuse any prayer that is pure and simple and full of true humility. Jesus so loved his mother in so perfect a way, we as His followers should seek to love as perfectly as did Mary and her Son. My own father believed until his dying day that any prayer brought purely to Mary for intercession with Christ would be fulfilled, and his example of faith in this way further spurred my own devotion to Mary as intercessor to Christ her son.
While praying this mystery, I often pray that I may learn to love even a fraction as perfectly as did Mary, even a fraction as purely and full of humility as was Mary’s love.
The Crowning of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth
A robe of gold and a mantle full of jewels, her own throne as Queen of Heaven and earth, a gift to Mary for her steadfast faith in Christ. From the Annunciation of his conception, through His birth and childhood, continuing during His ministry, and that same faith while watching her only son being humiliated and eventually brutally executed on earth, yet Mary had a faith in God’s plan being fulfilled, which He did fulfill in Jesus’ resurrection three days later. For that steadfast faith, for Mary’s help in quietly building and strengthening the early Church and the Apostles after Christ’s death, Mary was rewarded with the Queenship of Heaven and earth.
I pray this mystery in honor of Mary’s Queenship, that she may help to guide each of us more fully to her Son. Everything that Mary does points to her Son, Jesus Christ, everything that she does is pure and lowly as a servant of God. May I have that same faith and humility as Mary did.
I take long evening walks, 45 minutes to an hour most times, walks in my daily quest for heart health and 10000 steps a day.
On these walks, I generally devote the first 15-20 minutes to praying the rosary. Yes, that’s me, walking down the sidewalk, “talking to myself and carrying a handful of beads on a string”. The rosary helps to center me on Christ, Mary, and on a daily ritual of prayer. While praying the mysteries of the day, I of course meditate and pray on these mysteries as I walk and pray in a common rhythm.
I hope to share some of these short prayers with you over the coming days.
The Annunciation of the Angel Gabriel to Mary
As open as Mary was to the conception of Jesus by the Holy Spirit, there had to be all of the human fears and anxieties about a middle of the night visit from and Angel, about pregnancy and conception in a certainly non-traditional way (certainly a thought as to what Joseph would think about this?), and of course anxieties about what the child Jesus would experience as an adult, as the Messiah, and ultimately how he would die. But Mary, still, despite all of these misgivings, had the faith and the belief to say ‘yes’ to God’s plan.
How often are we afraid of saying ‘yes’ to God’s plans, even if we think that His plans and requests for how we should live our life seem out of our grasp or impossible? How often are we even open to listening to Christ and the Holy Spirit, even if listening and following His way means dying to ourselves on our own version of Christ’s Calvary?
The Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth
Elizabeth’s son, John the Baptist, lept in her womb at the presence of Jesus in Mary’s womb, a full recognition even then of being in the presence of Christ the King and Messiah. Elizabeth had experienced her own miracle of conception in old age, and surely was fully listening to Mary recount the story of her visit by the Angel Gabriel and her own miraculous conception story. Mary had the awareness yet again that her son growing in her womb was certainly someone special, someone destined to rule the world and be the promised Messiah, and her soul magnified the Lord then and later in her life.
Do we fully recognize the presence of Christ in our daily lives, in our conversations with others? Are we open to hearing others’ stories and words, even when we may be busy or self-absorbed in our own lives? Do we seek to magnify the Lord’s words and actions to others?
The Nativity of our Lord
In a foreign and unfamiliar territory, Mary pregnant and certainly tired from traveling, traveling over rough roads and likely by donkey, swollen and hot and uncomfortable, only to arrive in Bethlehem and find no room at the inn. Frustrated, surely, and scared, as a baby was soon to be born here. Both Joseph and Mary must have had tremendous faith in God’s words and promises concerning the imminent birth of his Son, they both must have believed that no matter how bad the circumstances seemed, how stressful and fatiguing, God was with them and was using Joseph and Mary’s faith to fulfill His plan for the world.
When life’s daily stresses wear us down, when the inevitable downs and tragedies of life overwhelm us, do we even have a small amount of the faith that Joseph and Mary had, a faith that God has a plan and will provide? Do we believe so strongly in God’s plan for us that we will stay the course, no matter what happens? Are we open to God’s word through Christ and the Holy Spirit?
The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple
A joyful day for any Hebrew parent, the presentation to God and community of their first-born in the temple. Yet Simeon, as joyful as he was to finally see the Messiah, warns Mary that, “a sword will pierce your heart”, further in later hindsight this was a warning to Mary that her Son’s life was so special that his death, no matter how violent and grievous for a mother to watch unfold, would result eventually in saving the entire world for God. His Cross will triumph, and is the other side of the card of His life on earth.
Do we reflect on Christ’s impact in our lives, on His sacrifice for each of us? Can we find a way to present our lives fully and wholeheartedly to God, both our public and private lives?
The Finding of Jesus in the Temple
Imagine the fear of losing your child for three days, of not knowing where he was. Was he safe, was he scared, was he missing his parents as he was temporarily severed from his family in a far off place? And then, when Joseph and Mary finally find the child Jesus, they find him conversing with and lecturing the elders of the Temple. They ask him where He has been and express their natural parental worry having been separated from their child, Jesus, for these days, only to have Jesus respond, “did you not know that I’d be in my Father’s house?”
Do we seek Christ first in our Father’s house, in his Body and Blood in the Eucharistic sacrifice at mass? Are we open to the Lord’s word, even if that word and teaching may come from an unlikely source, open to the word as the elders were to the child Christ and his teachings that day in the Temple? Do we show the same concern for our Lord as Jesus and Mary did, even when we lose sight of Christ and his words and teachings?
Some brief meditations that I often consider when praying the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary.
Working together, then,
we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.
For he says:
In an acceptable time I heard you,
and on the day of salvation I helped you.
Behold, now is a very acceptable time;
behold, now is the day of salvation.
– 2 Cor 6:1-2
NOW is a very acceptable time for me to change…Lent. Time to refocus myself on the Lord, and do so for Lent and beyond; we are not guaranteed tomorrow, as Paul assures us.
I will be taking some time for silence, silence from noise, both audible and inaudible. Less social media, less TV and news, more time to quietly read and reflect and pray. I need a refocusing, and Lent is as acceptable a time as any.
When Samuel went to sleep in his place,
the LORD came and revealed his presence,
calling out as before, “Samuel, Samuel!”
Samuel answered, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
1 Samuel 3:9-10
These few verses from this past Sunday’s Old Testament reading have stuck with me over the first few days of this week.
How often do I truly LISTEN, how often do I ask God to speak, but to speak words that I want to hear, not His words and speech, but mine?
As a Benedictine oblate, I promised to regularly read St. Benedict’s Rule, and to mold and convert my life to live with Christ as expressed through following the Rule and in scripture.
The Prologue of The Rule in fact begins with the word ‘Listen’ and an admonishment to “incline the ear of your heart”. St. Benedict recognizes that nothing happens with and from God without our first deciding to listen to God, and frankly many times I am a terrible listener, selfish and hard of heart. I am attempting to discern some changes and new paths in my life, and yet I often refuse to listen, to say, “speak, for your servant is listening”. I practice silence and trying to listen, yet my arrow falls short of the mark many times.
May God bring me (and us) the graces of listening to him speak to us in our lives.
Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom;
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
Sealed in the stone cold tomb.
-Verse 4 of ‘We Three Kings of Orient Are’
Even on a joyous Church celebration such as Epiphany, at the honoring of Christ as King and as a part of the Christmas season celebrating the Incarnation, the hymns and prayers point us towards and remind us of the sacrifice of Christ on The Cross.
The inevitability of The Cross is inescapable for Christ, and for us. The Cross is why Christ came to us on this earth, and even at Jesus’ humble birth, the Cross looms large as his ultimate earthly end and supreme sacrificial offering as God for man. Even ancient iconography most often depicts the Christ-child in burial wrap and laying in a tomb for a cradle.
The Cross is what Christ was ‘made for’, his sacrifice was the source and summit of his Being as both God and Man. Even in the joyous celebration of his birth at Christmas and during the Christmas season, we as Catholics intuitively understand and are reminded of the rest of the story, and with Lent just around the corner, The Cross and Resurrection loom large and inevitable as the end result of this birth.
This contrast, of life and death, of the Incarnation and The Cross and The Resurrection, these ideas and realities are worth pondering at mass and in prayer. What an immense gift from God, to take the body and form of man, only to sacrifice himself for us in our sinfulness. That babe in the manger, the King of kings, the recipient of gold as a king, of frankincense as a deity, also received a gift of myrrh, a spice used as anointing for kings but also commonly used in embalming and burial. As Church tradition has taught in some places, that same gift of myrrh from the wise men was kept by Mary and used as a part of the burial preparations for Christ.
The three wise men were perhaps the first on earth (besides Joseph and Mary) to receive and understand first and foremost the prophecy of Christ’s birth, why else would they bring those particular three gifts to honor the babe in the manger? The Magi must have understood and had revealed to them the importance of Jesus’ birth as being beyond that of a birth as an earthly king, and must have at least understood that he was a heavenly King destined, as Simeon would proclaim 8 days later in the Temple, that “destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted”.
The Cross, a reminder to us, even in the Incarnation.
So I received a Fitbit for Christmas (a Fitbit Charge 2, for those of you Fitbit and fitness nuts out there). This watch does it all on the fitness front; it is an electronic step counter, heart rate monitor, sleep watcher and all around physical monitor and reminderer. I can now receive instant updates on all of these functions, as well as daily and weekly reports and recaps telling me if I slept well (seems to me if I awaken refreshed then I slept well, if grumpy then probably my sleep was a bit restless), recaps on my step counts and recaps on how my heart rate rose and fell compared to time of day and my actions for the day.
I confess up front that I am a ‘gadget guy’, albeit one on a strict budget due to college bills for our sons and a granddaughter that spends a significant amount of time with us. I love to see and test what a new shiny electronic item will do for me, and how the item will amaze me with its technology. A Fitbit excels at that; it can tell me when I fell asleep, when I awoke, and when I was active and can even tell me with reasonable certainty what activity I was engaged in when my heart rate jumps (although earlier this week the Fitbit thought that I was bicycling when in actuality I was snowblowing 6” of snow from my driveway and my neighbor’s driveway, so I guess an understanding in the next Fitbit upgrade that it is January 4 in Northern Indiana and not bicycling weather might be a good idea).
The nexus of this Christmas gift was because I had some relatively minor and somewhat benign heart issues diagnosed earlier this summer, so the hear rate monitor on the Fitbit is of more than a passing interest to me on a daily and hourly basis. Ok, let’s be honest, it is an obsession…at times. I figured I’d put a Fitbit on my Christmas list in order to monitor heart rate and maybe help get back into a regular exercise routine, too.
Maybe that wealth of instant health information at my fingertips is the source of my new fascination and also the source of my new unease with the Fitbit. I love knowing how active I was for the day vs previous days, how long I sat at my desk without moving (my sitting-at-the-desk PR is 2 hours and 9 minutes, which I think is also a qualifying time for the Boston Marathon, coincidence?, I think not), and how my heart responds to different activites, as well as how my heart rate is intimately linked with my sleep patterns from the previous night. At the same time, I wonder, do I really need a device to tell me all of this information? Do I need the stress or wonder whether my heart rate should be 120 when walking briskly or whether there is an issue when my resting heartbeat jumps from 78 on weekends to 83 during the week when I am working? I mean, I can tell on my own if the exertion is overdoing it or if I am stressed, and the Fitbit just confirms what I already know.
How much information is ‘too much’ in today’s world? I wonder if we need all of the Fitbits, phones and all of the other constant 24/7 electronic pacifiers that most all of us are carrying and in some way enslaved to. Where I used to try to just sit silently and relax, I now sometimes consult my shiny new electronic Fitbit to see if my heart rate dropped sufficiently low enough that I feel that I relaxed properly. How much electronic personal information do I really need? I have been trying to simplify my day electronically with less email beeps and fewer ‘breaking news’ notifications from the iPhone app that President Trump has yet again Tweeteed something embarrassing. Now I have introduced an electronic nurse on my wrist who is awake 24/7 and monitoring my every heartbeat, and who is also generating a report on almost every physical function of my day and night. Is my new Fitbit yet another obsessive electronic device or a true breakthrough that will help me daily to become more healthy and more aware of my physical well-being?
I will perhaps need to reconsider the Fitbit as yet another needless and shiny distraction to my day, but that decision will need to wait for another day, because my Fitbit just vibrated and
reminded me that I have 9 more minutes left this hour to reach my 250 steps per hour goal, so I’d better follow instructions and take a short walk back and forth in the hallway of my house.
Sauerkraut and ribs last night for New Year’s Eve (because that was a tradition in my wife’s family and that meal is said to be a sign of good luck).
Bean and ham soup today for New Year’s Day (because it is -2 F at dinner time and soup is thus good for the body and soul, and….because for some reason, eating beans on New Year’s Day is said to bring a person good luck for the coming year).
One can never be too careful, or too superstitious.
A happy birthday today, January 1, to my mother and to my father. Yep, Mom was born on January 1, 1937, and Dad was born on January 1, one year her senior, in 1936. Quite the coincidence, huh?
This January 1 was a more important birthday commemoration for them in my mind than most, as it was the first January 1 where we celebrated neither of my parent’s birthdays in person with them, as this was the first January 1 where both of them were no longer living.
My Mom died long ago, back in April of 1983, after a long and difficult battle with cancer. I remember vividly the celebration that year of what we all knew at the time would be her final birthday, immediately after celebrating what we all knew would be her final Christmas on earth with us. Celebration and tears, more melancholy than pretty much any other January 1 birthday celebration for my parents. I suppose the birthday commemoration was a vivid reminder for us all of life and death and the finality of it all.
January 1 of 2018 was kind of a capstone for me, both for the holidays and for the outgoing year of 2017. My father passed away earlier this year on July 25 of 2017, and I missed him dearly over the holidays. Having been responsible for all of Dad’s financial and medical decisions for the 11 years that he spent in a nursing home and for a few years before that of his semi-indepenedent living, I became keenly aware this holiday season as to the reality that we’d no longer be gathering as a family at his nursing home to celebrate the holidays, punctuated this January 1 by the realization that the traditional end of the holiday season for us, Dad’s birthday celebration, was no longer going to be a part of the routine going forward. Dad’s passing brought forth the vivid realization that all of the ‘old timers’ in my family that I so enjoyed spending time with were now dead, Dad was the last of the Mohicans of that older generation for me. All of my uncles and aunts, great uncles and aunts, all of them have passed away. Sure, a few of Dad’s cousins are still alive, but they are all significantly younger than Dad was; he was really in my mind more a part of that ‘Greatest Generation’, if only lacking for a few years of age from the rest.
January 1 is now forever quite different for me, and for my family. No more birthday celebrations for Mom or Dad; even if we gathered as a family for a commemorative dinner, January 1 was just not going to be the same. Sure, a new year begins, but it begins as a vivid reminder to me that yes, someday, I won’t live to see a New Year’s Day again.
Happy birthday Mom and Dad, I hope that somewhere you are both dancing with the angels, face to face with the Lord, and I hope to someday join you in celebration once again.