Poetic risks and Priestly songs

Giotto Di Bondone’s “St Francis preaching to the birds.” wikipedia.org

A bit of a literary menagerie today, as I lacked the time to tidy up. First, some poetry.

“Poetry is what gets lost in translation.”
― Robert Frost

“Poetry might be defined as the clear expression of mixed feelings.”
― W.H. Auden

Another experiment in audio. Like last week’s it was done on the fly. It’s about 13 minutes long. For those who are more visual learners, I also include part of what I say in pdf (here). Listen here for the audio recitation:

Now, some St. Francis.

As today is also the overrun feast of St Francis of Assisi, in his honor I will also quote a few stanzas from his Canticle of Creatures. The first words of the first stanza, “Be praised,” are the first two words that open Pope Francis’ ecological justice encyclical, Laudato Si.

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and you give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Praise be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon
and the stars, in heaven you formed them
clear and precious and beautiful.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene,
and every kind of weather through which
You give sustenance to Your creatures.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
which is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you light the night and he is beautiful
and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains us and governs us and who produces
varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Lastly, a few amateur pix I snapped over the last 3 weeks that were inspired by a new habit, inspired by Laudato Si, of praying St. Francis’ Canticle. It’s heightened my awareness of being a royal priest (1 Pet. 2:9) who, on behalf of the entire natural order (Rom. 8:19-21), is called to give ceaseless praise to the Creator of creation (Dan. 3:57-88). But I can’t do that well if I don’t open my five senses to take the world in so I can lift it up.


Muddy splash on the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain


Sunrise on the eastbound of I-10 (disclaimer: taken by the passenger)


Cumulonimbus to the east (I ♥ cumulonimbi)


A neighbor’s snapdragons

Bring Me to Life

Jesus reveals to us God who is one with us in suffering, grief and death… a God who weeps with us. God doesn’t intervene to prevent the tragedies and sufferings of life. If we had a god who simply swooped down as some “deus ex machina” to prevent human tragedy and sinfulness, then religion and faith would simply be reduced to some form of magic or fate, and we would be helpless pawns on the chessboard of some whimsical god. Where is God in the midst of human tragedies? God is there in the midst of it all, weeping. This is our God who stands in deep, human solidarity with us, and through the glory of the Incarnation, embracing fully our human condition. — Pope Francis

Back in 2011 a coworker of mine introduced me to a song by Evanescence called, Bring Me to Life. She said, “I think this song could be about prayer.” I listened to it but never gave it too much more thought until last year when I met a young woman on a retreat who told me that this song was key to her finding faith. Though the band’s intent in writing the song is not totally clear (their music video is a fanciful story of a suicidal woman), the lyrics lend themselves powerfully to a Christian interpretation. In any event, the woman I met told me that she was herself entertaining suicidal thoughts after her life came apart, especially after her long-time boyfriend suddenly left her.

She said she was driving in her car one evening and was desperate to relieve her inner pain, and came as close as she ever had to giving up. She said, “I never really thought about God much. I grew up in an irreligious home. It wasn’t that I was an atheist, I just didn’t see it as relevant. But in my desperation that night my thoughts raced, searching for some higher meaning above the pain and loss. I turned the radio on to distract me. And then this song came on. I had to pull over. As I heard the lyrics, and felt the music’s aching cry for help, I found myself sobbing uncontrollably. I’d finally found a voice for my inner torment and, without my even knowing it was happening, I suddenly thought of God. I saw He was the object of all my cries for relief. The song was for me, in that car, about God. For the first time ever, I prayed. I prayed the words of that song.”

I listened to the song later at home and was overcome with emotion thinking of her pain, and with an overwhelming gratitude that the God behind this vast universe is, in His deepest nature, the answer to this song’s desperate cry. I imagined her sitting in the car, drenched unknowlingly in God’s co-mingling tears.

Listen, feel and imagine her prayer:

My Guardian Dear


O God, who in your unfathomable providence are pleased to send your holy Angels to guard us, hear our supplication as we cry to you, that we may always be defended by their protection and rejoice eternally in their company. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. — Amen.

Today is the feast of the Guardian Angels. Be sure to greet your Angel and thank him for his sleepless ministry in your service, and call on him often.

It’s a magnificent truth of faith that each of us, from the moment of conception, is assigned by God an angel to accompany us through our whole life journey. The Catechism #329; 336 gives a nice and succinct summary of our belief in this matter:

From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by the watchful care and intercession [of the angels]. Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life, [who] “always beholds the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 18:10).

I’ve always thought of this angelic companion as a sign of God’s particular and provident love for each human being from the moment of conception, and as a sign of the intimate link of earth and heaven that every human being is meant to be. That then made me think of the extraordinary beauty, power and magnificence of every human being’s conception, as God not only sends in response an angel from heaven to earth, but creates at the very moment of conception an immortal, rational soul ex nihilo, “from nothing.” In other words, every conception is a new “in the beginning,” a new Genesis when God says yet again: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26) and proclaims afresh, “Very good.” Regardless of the circumstances of our conception — darkness or light, joy or pain, welcome or unwelcome — God explodes yet again with the supernal joy of creating, out of sheer love, someone who once was not, but now is and will be for ever and ever.

Those thoughts in turn made me think of these two videos of parents welcoming the news of new life into the world. The first is real life, the other is a lovely commercial. The expression on each father’s face is, to me, a sacrament of God’s unseen joy. In fact, when I sent the second video to a woman I know, she said as she watched it God gave her a grace of feeling His joy in her conception, helping her experience herself as a “welcome gift,” having long known that her own parents had conceived her under difficult circumstances. Watch:

St. Thérèse


Happy feast of the Little Flower! I thought for today I would share three favorite quotes from St. Thérèse, with some commentary on each.

“I know now that true charity consists in bearing all our neighbors’ defects–not being surprised at their weakness, but edified at their smallest virtues.”

There’s a woman I know who’s been married for 15 or so years. She’s terribly realistic about things, the brutally honest sort, and once said to me: “My husband is my path to heaven. I often ask God to help me look on him the way He looks at me. I really want to appreciate the good that’s in him, but then there’s always the other stuff, the stuff that bugs me. So I asked Jesus once to fix my head on this. And once during my hour of Adoration, this thought came to me clear as day, and I just knew it was Jesus because it didn’t agree with me at all: he’s your chance to love better than you would have if he didn’t bug you in the first place. The funny part is once I let myself see things this way, it’s like I suddenly started seeing through the parts of him I don’t like so much into good things in him I’d never noticed before. But let’s be straight, my bigger prayer is totally that God help MY HUSBAND see ME that way!”

“It’s true, I suffer a great deal–but do I suffer well? That is the question. What ineffable joy to carry our cross feebly.”

I knew a man who developed spinal meningitis and lived. Afterward he said to me: “I failed the test of faith, Tom. I complained and doubted and didn’t do a good job being strong for my wife and kids. I was too afraid for myself.” I thought long about that, and wrote him an email after sharing my thoughts on what it means for a Christian to “suffer well.” My focus was on how misconceptions about this topic can leave many people worse off in their suffering because of their faith, and not better. Here’s part of what I wrote: Suffering well doesn’t simply mean being strong, stoic or serene in the face of pain, nor does it require withholding from others any sign of struggle or fear or anger — or even brushes with despair — in the midst of suffering. Read Psalm 88. It’s a dark lament that ends with the words: “My one companion is darkness.” Suffering, especially intense suffering, is unruly and un-ideal. It can’t be romanticized while your in it. And our instinctual psycho-somatic responses are always unpredictable. For a Christian, suffering well in its deepest sense means uniting our hardships to the Cross of Jesus by an act of the will, a raw choice of consent against our inner ragings. “Take it, Lord, it’s yours. Do with it as you wish.” It means offering up to God on unsteady hands the inglorious sacrifice of life’s unpredictability that tears from our grip the power to control. It means turning our pain and desperation into a cry to God: “God, come to my assitance; Lord, come quickly to my aid!” It means inviting the fiat, the “yes” of Jesus in Gethsemane into our fretting trials, remembering that there He suffered an inner storm of agony. It means coming to terms with our helplessness, our need to be cared for by others; and this not simply as an unfortunate concession to regrettable weakness, but as a vocation, a summons to radically receive Christ’s power in a way only to be had in powerlessness (2 Cor. 12). It means never banishing God from the darkness, but seeking for Him there all the more ardently…knowing He descended into hell precisely to fill the night with His Presence.It means learning that perfect faith travels from clean and bright ideas about God into the darkness of deep mystery, which exacts from us not mere assent but unconditional surrender.It means discovering that the joy faith brings into suffering is not simply a naive optimism that “everything’s gonna be alright,” but rather a hope in an imperishable dawn beyond the valley of death. But sometimes — and this is a great mystery — suffering well means no more than consenting to being carried by others when we have nothing left to offer. These know the meaning of Luke 5:18-20.

“O Jesus, I know You command nothing that is impossible. You know how weak and imperfect I am, and You know only too well that I could never love the other nuns as You love them if You Yourself did not love them within me.”

I have no comment to make here. Just praying it with you. May He do this for us. Amen.



Today is St. Jerome’s feast. He’s the patron of Scripture scholars. Brilliant linguist, interpreter of Holy Writ and a cantankerous man whose sainthood should give clear evidence that holiness can be compatible with an acerbic temperament. The same Jerome who famously said, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ,” also remarked about one of his critics, “…so you say that Dormitianus has again opened his stinking mouth and emitted some foul putrescence against relics of the martyrs?”

There’s humorous story told of Pope Sixtus V that, while looking at a picture of St. Jerome beating his chest with a stone, said, as if addressing the saint in person, “you do well to hold that stone, for without it the Church would never have canonized you.”

Also, here’s my favorite 7 minute recap of Pope Francis’ astonishing pastoral visit to the U.S. Though we live in a secularized culture largely innoculated against intrusions of the transcendent, the papacy retains its power to lead us beyond the threshold of hope to where the FarNear awaits us. Watch here:

I will be resuming posting tomorrow, but at least for a while it may be somewhat sporadic as work has not really let up. But I feel compelled to resume (hopefully because of 2 Cor. 5:14). Deo gratias.

I am grateful to return, and grateful to those who return with me.

[I am also aware there’s something odd about announcing a return to posting with a post]

On Prayer

Just for fun, I had a free 30 minutes yesterday and decided to record part of a talk on prayer that I gave recently. I sat at my desk, hit record and read my notes. It’s about 18 minutes long. As before I hope it will not act as NealQuil™

Again, my plan is to resume posting again October 1st. But I reserve the right to randomly burst on the scene again if life so conspires. :-)

Listen here: