Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Joyful Greeting

I found one of my most beloved paintings when I was a kid of 10 or 11.  I was browsing through our enormous Douay-Rheims family bible.  On this particular time, I was looking at the pictures.  Our bible was filled with paintings of the life of Christ and our Blessed Mother, and this one spoke to me in a clear voice.  "You are a woman, just like Mary ... you can always talk to her."  It really was as though I heard those words. 

A picture of Elizabeth's pure joy at the sight of Mary ...
I would feel the same

I understand so well that after the Annunciation, Mary would welcome a little trip to visit a woman friend with which to share her news.  Elizabeth herself was pregnant with John the Baptist, and felt him leap for joy when Mary came to the door.  The two women had so much to talk about and share.  Mary and Elizabeth must have been astonished to find that, without realizing, both of them were pregnant and awaiting special babies. I can picture them sitting in the shade, sharing a lunch, and just talking.  I've always felt a closeness to Mary.  It can never be forgotten that Jesus has attributes of all human beings and that we can always turn to Him.  However, I think most Catholic women may feel the way I do ... sometimes we need a woman to talk to.  And what wouldn't we give to see Mary at our doorstep, come for a visit?  Blessed Mother, pray for us.  

Sunday, December 31, 2017

I Have Not Been Absent From The Faith -- Just My Blog!

I promised myself I would return to my blog and get a post up so that I could say I did something in 2017.  Well, dear readers, this is it.  I'm cheating, I know, but it is a post, as pitiful as can be.  2018 will find me back at the blog again, and I want to wish a Happy New Year to everyone!  Have fun imbibing for the holiday -- just make sure some of the wine is sacramental!

God bless and be with us in this new year

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Bless You, Dear Bishop Sheen, For These Words At This Time

“He permits mental crosses, like worries, fear, anxieties, to make us feel His absence. If our love of goodness does not draw us to Him, at least our weariness will throw us back to Him. He permits physical crosses like sufferings to make us feel His Presence. Sickness forcibly draws us away from the world and its pleasures, and makes us realize that His scarred Hands cannot touch us without leaving wounds.” Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen (About Crosses)

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Rare Performance ....

JMJ    I was thrilled to find this rare kinescope of the Ed Sullivan show from the 50's.  It features a breathtaking oratorio by  the original Broadway singers who played the nuns in "The Sound of Music," as well as a magnificent performance by the great opera contralto Patricia Neway, as the Mother Abbess singing "Climb Every Mountain."  I hope you like it as much as I do.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Remembering Oscar Wilde ... Poet, Wit, Playwright, Bon Vivant, Struggling Soul - Catholic

Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde
With a name like that, he just had to be different...

JMJ    Today is not his birthday or the anniversary of his death.  It is not any significant date in his life which would trigger a desire to remember him -- I simply read something that he said about saints and sinners, and it rang true with me.  Oscar Wilde was a man of great intelligence and wonderfully keen and caustic sense of humor.  He was a great poet and playwright.  He was also a Catholic who deeply loved his wife and children, yet was innately homosexual.  He lived with demons as we all do, yet was able to disguise the inner struggles of life better than most because of his intellectual talents.  And, as most of us do, he found himself with an ever-deepening sense of spirituality, looking for closeness with God at the worst time of his life. Oscar had made the decision to sue in open court a man who had insulted him about his homosexuality, and ended up being prosecuted and convicted because of his homosexuality.  He was cruelly betrayed by loved ones and friends, was imprisoned at hard labor, found himself getting older and beginning to deal with illness.  But through the grace of God and Oscar's own searching, he topped his lifelong love for the Church with a true desire to practice Catholicism completely.

Too often, Oscar is remembered for the unhappy and ugly period of his life.  But I prefer to remember his poems and plays, and incredibly funny observations of the world, as well as words of depth and wisdom.  Beginning with keen wit and moving into spiritual contemplation, here are some of my favorites:

*  "I am so clever that sometimes I don't understand a single word of what I am saying."

*  "Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them more."

*  "Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go."

*  "To get back my youth I would do anything in the world, except take exercise, get up early,
     or be respectable."

*  "Be  yourself.  Everyone else is already taken."

*  "Keep love in your heart.  A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead."

*  "We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars."

*  "We are each our own devil, and we make the world our hell."

*  "Where there is sorrow, there is holy ground."

This is what Oscar said that struck me when I saw it:, and made me want to write this little tribute:

That is such a beautifully-spoken Catholic belief, and one that should give hope to all of us. After all, Jesus said to us, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone ... Go and sin no more."  That is our opportunity and salvation, no matter what we may have been before.

At the end of his life, Oscar had been abandoned by his rich society friends, who turned their backs on him when he was no longer of any use to them.  The life of beautiful surroundings and fine clothes that he loved had ended with his trial and imprisonment.  Only a Catholic priest who had become his friend, as well as Catholic friends he came to know, stuck by him in his need.  He was living in poverty in a badly-decorated, ratty little room.  He lay on his bed dying at the age of 46, and at one point he woke up and said to a friend who was there with him:

Wouldn't you love to have the time and the wit to be able to leave this earthly plane with such words?  Well, it is really true, Oscar did say that -- he had the last word, which would have pleased him immensely.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Bishop Sheen on Lent ......

“Lent is the penitential season, a time when men once put on hair shirts, sacrificing any hope of bodily ease for 40 days. G.K. Chesterton once said that St. Thomas Becket wore a hair shirt under his purple, so that people might have the benefit of his purple and he might have the benefit of penance.” 

Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Finished Picture

I read a little analogy today that spoke to me so strongly and clearly.  At this point, life is just wearing me out with troubles, and the face of Christ gets as blurred as the page of a book when I can't find my glasses.  I feel myopic about what goes on around me, and prayer feels hollow.  I know that it will pass, but it's awful while it's happening.  It is the dark night of the soul of St. John of the Cross.

I've been following a website called Women of Grace, an organization that celebrates the spiritual nature of women and their relationship with God and the world.  People discuss all kinds of topics, and today there was one woman who asked for prayers because she was experiencing the same thing I am.  One of the coordinators joined the conversation and shared with us an image in words that I will remember always:

In this world we are looking at the back of a tapestry - nothing but threads and chaos - but when we go to Heaven, God will turn the tapestry around and we will see the beautiful picture.

As I always tend to do when I see or hear something beautiful, I started to cry.  It is so perfect, and so female in origin.  It makes me proud to know that a woman would think of that - women have done the sewing throughout the centuries.  In the spiritual sense, we stitch together our lives as we go along, struggling with tangled thread and knots that get in our way and stop us for a while. But we go on, and this one sentence reminded me that someday it will all come together in Heaven's beauty.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Catholic and Jew -- Different Paths, Same Destination

It is my belief, indeed an opinion I heard many times growing up Catholic, that the Jewish faith is elder brother to the Catholic faith.  This only makes sense, as Jesus was a Jew.  We share so many attributes regarding the meaning of life, morality, even the old joke, guilt.  Of course we separate sharply at the most important point, the arrival of the Messiah.  Still, the similarities in life outlook are there, and a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust reminds us in his writings of what is a basic attitude toward earthly life for both faiths.  The author of Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl, is highlighted in the Atlantic Monthly article, "There's More To Life Than Being Happy."   (Click on title for full article.)

A priest once told my brother that it is our natural desire to be happy, but happiness is not the ultimate goal of life, and we may not get it.  Our life's purpose is oneness with God, and the way we must live is not always a recipe for earthly happiness -- but it is all that really counts.  It's a hard thing to hear, as most truths are.  Most of the time, as Catholics say, we have to walk the Way of the Cross along with Christ.  That brings great joy, but joy is not the same as the cultural human idea of happiness.   Joy is a lasting experience of great depth; happiness is a temporary feeling which, after it fades, searches again for more.  It is a difficult concept to comprehend.  However, it is a basic Christian truth.

In an excerpt from the article, Frankl describes his idea of the meaning and ultimate attitude toward life:

In September 1942, Viktor Frankl, a prominent Jewish psychiatrist and neurologist in Vienna, was arrested and transported to a Nazi concentration camp with his wife and parents. Three years later, when his camp was liberated, most of his family, including his pregnant wife, had perished -- but he, prisoner number 119104, had lived. In his bestselling 1946 book, Man's Search for Meaning, which he wrote in nine days about his experiences in the camps, Frankl concluded that the difference between those who had lived and those who had died came down to one thing: Meaning, an insight he came to early in life. When he was a high school student, one of his science teachers declared to the class, "Life is nothing more than a combustion process, a process of oxidation." Frankl jumped out of his chair and responded, "Sir, if this is so, then what can be the meaning of life?"

As he saw in the camps, those who found meaning even in the most horrendous circumstances were far more resilient to suffering than those who did not. "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing," Frankl wrote in Man's Search for Meaning, "the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

For myself, I plan to find a copy of Man's Search for Meaning.  The wisdom displayed just in this short excerpt is  a promise of greater things to come.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Bishop Sheen -- He Always Has Something To Say To Me

Bishop Fulton J. Sheen as I remember him best ...

A heckler asked Bishop Sheen a question about someone who had died.
The Bishop replied, "I will ask him when I get to Heaven.:
The heckler replied, "What if he isn't in Heaven?"
The Bishop replied, "Well then you ask him."

JMJ   Sometimes it takes an Irishman to appreciate the dark humor of another Irishman. I've always loved Bishop Sheen's sharp wit and banter because of that shared heritage.  However, he was able to make just about everybody laugh at the jokes and anecdotes he shared on his primetime show in the 50's and 60's.  As is so often said of him, people of all beliefs would ask for his blessing on them and their children when he was among them.  I know he was made an Archbishop, but I can never think of him as anything but Bishop Sheen, as I knew him when I watched his show growing up.  In the near future, I plan to do a piece on Bishop Sheen's amazing body of work as a writer and a devout Catholic priest.  

For now, I'd like to ask for his help.  I am one who prays for the canonization of this wonderful man.  He has attained the status of Venerable, one step on the way to sainthood.  I believe that asking him for his intercession with a need that I have will be a powerful aid -- his prayers along with mine could make a formidable noise to the heavens.

Sickness and pain can drive people to despair.  Despair is Satan's favorite emotion.  It leaves a big hole in the spirit into which he can enter and spread doubt and distance from God.  I can feel that struggle in myself as I deal with illness.  I decided to look through some of Bishop Sheen's books to find what he had to say about it.  Frankly, I got tired of leafing through them, and, like any 21st century blogger, I decided to go to the computer.  What I found I seem to remember, at least I think so, as if I had heard it or read it many years ago: 

"As we cross God's will by sin, He crosses our will by love to make us perfect."   "Sometimes he sends mental crosses like worries, fears or anxieties to make us feel his absence, and sometimes He sends physical crosses like sufferings to make us feel his presence. For sickness and physical pain forcibly draw us away from the world and its pleasures and makes us realize that the scarred hands of Christ cannot touch us without leaving wounds."  

These words are rather unnerving.  Bishop Sheen is telling us that God's pure focus is the state of our souls, not our earthly pains.  I guess I'd rather hear that God will take away the suffering -- instead, the suffering may continue for the purpose of oneness with Christ.  That isn't a new tenet of faith to me.  The Sisters always told us the path to Heaven was to walk with Jesus through his life, passion, death and resurrection.  I always loved attending the Stations of the Cross during Lent.  And one of the greatest writers I've ever read, Nikos Kazantzakis, wrote a book about St. Francis of Assisi, in which Francis described the journey to God as a rough, stony road, split by a great abyss which required a terrifying leap of faith to cross.

I always begin my articles with JMJ because the Sisters had us do that on our school papers, to honor the Holy Family, Jesus, Mary and Joseph, to remind us that God comes first in everything.  Bishop Sheen always did that on his chalkboard too before he began to write on it during his talks.  I suppose those little acts of humility and love began the training for the parts of life much harder than writing a school essay. Bishop Sheen said many things about sickness, but this is the one that caught my eye and my heart.  It gives me the feeling that he is speaking to me because I asked, and that even if the answer is hard, that's the one I got.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Silent Night, Holy Night

JMJ    I feel very close to the heavens tonight.  It's always a blessing to experience the wonderful connection to Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and angels, all of the joys of Christmas.  To celebrate this beautiful day, I've picked out a favorite piece of Nativity art to share with you.

Terracotta Nativity by Giuseppe Sanmartino

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Thoughts On Modern Changes In The Church

 A Sister of Providence wearing the traditional habit in the 1950's.
That little girl on the right could have been me!
JMJ    Catholicism has always been known for its beauty of worship.  Our churches here in America, the most beautiful having been built in the past two centuries with the labor of dedicated parishioners ... our devotion through singular Catholic music .... all of the traditions of ritual and dress from long ago ... they are the outward signs of inward worship.  It has been a great sorrow to me to see so many of them change during my lifetime, and I miss them deeply.

I am speaking here of two issues that are of particular sadness to me, both of which have changed the landscape of daily Catholic life.  First, I miss seeing the Sisters in their habits.  The nuns are an essential part of the Faith -- they have educated generations of children, nursed the sick, countless other services, all without personal gain and with utmost dedication.  I miss being able to recognize them.  I never felt any objection to the habits being modernized ... the long flowing skirts and some of the larger coifs limit movement and side-vision, and are certainly not conducive to driving or other modern activities that did not exist when the style of dress of another era was worn.  But why were they discarded altogether?  Every piece of a nun's habit symbolized something about the life and love of Christ.  I mean absolutely no disrespect to nuns today ... they are just as dedicated and holy as their elder sisters, but it is sad that you can't tell a nun from any other woman on the street, to say "Good morning, Sister" and feel that simple reminder of service to God.  Some orders of enclosed nuns do wear the habit, but we do not see them unless we go to their monasteries.  Most active orders of nuns wear completely secular dress, with only a small cross to identify them.  I too wear a small cross, as do many other Catholic women, and we are not Sisters.  That is a sadly lacking type of identification for nuns.

Traditional habits of different orders of nuns:

The traditional habit
of the Dominican Sisters
This is St. Bernadette Soubirous
in the habit of the Sisters of Nev'ers
The traditional, ancient cornett that used
to be worn by the Daughters of Charity

Newer habits that retain the look of a nun, but with modern features -- great idea:

Nursing nuns with modern habits
which identify them but allow complete
freedom of movement for their daily work

Modern habit  just right for a hot climate!

The old and the new -- I love this sweet picture

The second change is one that I personally feel removed an important part of Catholic identity.  Mass is still Mass, and always will be, but I miss the beauty and distinction of the Latin language that was part of Catholic worship for centuries.  Latin was the great equalizer.  You could go into any Catholic Church in any part of the world and Mass was the same there as at home.  You knew just what was being said and were comfortable.  Now, what was meant to be a decision that would make everyone feel easy in their own language, has really split us apart.  For instance, most parishes here in Indianapolis have Masses in English and in Spanish.  It sounds nice, but it seems to me that it results in what is essentially two parish families, with too little cross-over in community life.  With the Latin Mass, we all went to Mass together, whatever personal language we spoke. Gathering after mass, we would have a chance to get to know one another, to learn to communicate by putting ourselves out, become educated enough to start with simple hellos and go from there.  Perhaps I have an optimistic viewpoint about that, but after all, it is a Christian's duty to be open to friendship within a parish, surely a better system than we have now.

In its understandable desire for the sake of ecumenical unity with other Christians, I believe that the Church has discarded essental aspects, kind of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  There are other ways to practice unity without losing our Catholic identity.  To my mind, our Sisters as a recognizable human quotient of the Church, and the ancient language of the Mass, are two definitive aspects of Catholicism, the loss of which is a great loss for us.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Sometimes You Have To Start From Scratch

"Thith ith dethpicable!  I don't feel like mythelf at all!

JMJ     I guess you can tell I love Warner Brothers' cartoons -- I linked to a wonderful Bugs Bunny cartoon on my sidebar and this picture is from Duck Amuck, my favorite Daffy Duck piece.  I thought of this cartoon as I sat down to write about striving to be a good Catholic and how sometimes things get confused.  The really fine-quality cartoons are a strangely accurate and funny mirror of our human traits.  Like poor Daffy, sometimes the inside of my mind looks like he does ... a crazy-quilt of contradiction and things that just don't belong there.  Right now, it's my faith as a Catholic.  Let's say that I want something that the Church says I can't have ... I truly believe I can't have it, but I wish I didn't believe ... I love my faith, but I don't always want to walk the walk.  I've been thinking lately about the way Christianity is described in our time ... as a thing of love, which it is, like a soft pillow upon which to lay your head, which it is.  But there is more to it than that, and so many of us don't want to think about the religious aspects of obedience and fear of God anymore.  God gave us laws, which also means there are consequences for breaking those laws.  I believe in the warning of Jesus that only God may judge others.  However, I think we forget that we are supposed to judge ourselves.

Daily examination of conscience is a method Catholics have used for a long time to stay on the right track.  The Sisters in school stressed this action so that the conscience would grow from a weak whisper to a vital functioning organ of thought.  It's not easy, it can be embarrassing and cause personal anger to face and acknowledge our sins, even just to ourselves.  Conscience tells us when we are doing wrong -- it's like a gut reaction to any situation.  You can ignore it and go ahead with what you want to do.  But you can't go back again ... you can't say anymore that you didn't think of it.  That's where free will comes in.  God won't stop me if I decide to do wrong.  He gave me the opportunity to make up my own mind.  If I want to be one with Him, that is a very scary freedom to have.  A priest once told me that you cannot go backward ...once you have been enlightened, you cannot ever pretend you don't know what's what.  Rats! ... no loopholes.

I think my conscience has been screaming at me about some issues, and in my reluctance to act, I have tried to patch and paste, fix this and that, without just going to the source of the problems, make one complete act of contrition and make myself whole.  That is the only way to get all the parts back into place.  Pray for me.

"Thith ith more like it!"