“She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pangs, in the agony of giving birth.” – Rev. 12:2

“I’m working a lot more,” says Don LeBlanc, who cleans everything from operating theaters to patient wards during his usual 6 p.m.-to-2 a.m. shift. “Now, it’s sometimes 10 hours or 12 hours [per day].” https://www.marketwatch.com/

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. — Charles Dickens in a Tale of Two Cities

One cannot extol enough the many people in diverse professions, circumstances and states of life who are presently living lives of great sacrifice and hardship now. People who, faced with fear and enormous obstacles, maintain a firm will to sustain hope, to defend life and to maintain good order in the face of the great forces of chaos that threaten us.

Though I never wish to idealize or romanticize people, these days of crisis have called us all to a new greatness — a greatness that for some involves risky work and exhausting hours, for others means dealing with job loss, illness or death, while others are challenged with suffering feelings of helplessness, isolation, loneliness or anxiety, even as they muster acts of courage and trust in God’s mysterious providence.

So many people’s lives of prayer — certainly my own — have turned away from more self-absorbed musings on their own spiritual lives, needs or personal fulfillment, and outward toward the needs and welfare of others. This reminds me of what a priest said several years ago in a retreat I was on:

The saints are quite unanimous: a premier sign of holiness is when your thoughts are populated more by considerations of the welfare of others than of your own, and in that you find your greatest freedom and joy. Certainly if we examine the prayer life of Jesus, as in John 17 or on the cross, this was His whole prayer’s concern: us and our salvation. And what preoccupies His mind now that He’s in heaven? Hebrews 7:25 gives a stunning answer, “He lives forever to make intercession for us.”

In the ancient pattern of God’s redeeming providence, these days of dark travail are ripe for transforming our wailing world into a labor and delivery room, from which a new era of saints can now be born. So it might be good for leaders within the churches, amid the scurrying, to heed the words of St. John Paul II, watch carefully and take note(s)…

…The eyes of faith behold a wonderful scene: that of a countless number of lay people, both women and men, busy at work in their daily life and activity, oftentimes far from view and quite unacclaimed by the world, unknown to the world’s great personages but nonetheless looked upon in love by the Father, untiring laborers who work in the Lord’s vineyard. Confident and steadfast through the power of God’s grace, these are the humble yet great builders of the Kingdom of God in history.

Particular Churches especially should be attentive to recognizing among their members men and women of those Churches who have given witness to holiness, in everyday secular conditions and the conjugal state, and who can be an example for others, so that, if the case calls for it, the Churches might propose them to be beatified and canonized.

Pray, Fast, Be Bored, Be Great, and Listen to the Music!

My wife’s birthday gift to me last August. She heard me once say it was my favorite icon.

This will be my last post for a little bit. It has been a great gift to share my thoughts these days. Thank you for reading. I never take that for granted.

A few scattered thoughts.

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Our New Orleans Archbishop has asked all Catholics in our diocese today to join together for a day of prayer and fasting in response to the pandemic, seeking God’s mercy on our community, nation and world. Our Archbishop:

I have received word that all faithful are invited to participate in a special prayer of our Holy Father Pope Francis on Friday, March 27 at 12 noon local time [CDT]. During the Statio orbis, which will be streamed from the Vatican website at www.vaticannews.va, Pope Francis will grant to all participants the Plenary Indulgence before imparting the Urbi et Orbi Blessing. This will be a historic moment for our church and coincides with our local Day of Prayer and Fasting to bring an end to the Coronavirus pandemic and healing to all who are sick. I encourage you to participate in this special prayer.

Archbishop Aymond also invited his Staff to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy at 3:00 p.m. As he himself is infected by the coronavirus, kindly keep him in your prayers.

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As a Lenten Friday, today may also be a good day to recommit to your Lenten practices. It might be wise to reassess smartphone, internet or TV use, which stress, quarantine or other practicalities may have greatly intensified. Maybe plan some substantial dedicated screen-free time to be silent, go outdoors, read, exercise, clean, organize, purge your closet or attic, paint, draw, garden, write some letters, plan your summer, surprise a neighbor with a good deed. But most of all, risk a supremely human experience — being bored.

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The last week and a half, my oldest son and I have been going every evening to the cemetery where my mom, who died last September, was buried. We visit her grave and seek her intercession for all our intentions and the intentions we have been given. The sacredness of a burial ground is immensely powerful, a thin place between heaven and earth.

The cemetery has been completely deserted every time we have gone, which has made it a great space to walk through quietly in peace. I highly recommend frequently visiting the graves of loved ones if possible, and both praying for them and seeking their intercession. The bonds of love are only intensified in death, and even if they are in Purgatory they can intercede for you — and greatly appreciate when you do for them.

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Our parish leaves the church open during the day, and when I go in now, the smells and sights fill me with joy. God’s house! And the Tabernacle, His tenting nearness is a rush of spirit. “I am with you always.” You can sense it so. Others come in, kneel quietly, and leave quietly. Such reverence. How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord God of hosts.

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I was outside last night late, looking at the stars and listening to the cricket chorale. We never had frost this winter, so they are out in abundance!

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The local NOLA band Bag of Donuts, that gave our daughter Maria and her friend Ashley their first opps for public performances, made an awesomely creative music video that brought great cheer to our family and to all those I shared it with. Take a look here.

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People are outside in the neighborhood all the time now. Unprecedented. Life! Children laughing, music playing, picnics on the front lawn, people saying hello to each other.

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Living in close home bound proximity 24/7 has made me yet again tweak St. John of the Cross’ epic advice to new novices getting used to monastic quarantine:

…you must engrave this truth on your heart. And it is that you have not entered into [quarantine] for any other reason than to be worked and tried in virtue.

You are like the stone that must be chiseled and fashioned before being set in the building. Thus you should understand that those who are in [your home] are craftsmen placed there by God to mortify you by working and chiseling at you. Some will chisel with words, telling you what you would rather not hear; others by deed, doing against you what you would rather not endure; others by their temperament, being in their person and in their actions a bother and annoyance to you; and others by their thoughts, neither esteeming nor feeling love for you.

You ought to suffer these mortifications and annoyances with inner patience, being silent for love of God and understanding that you did not enter [quarantine] for any other reason than for others to work you in this way, and so you become worthy of heaven. If this was not your reason for entering [quarantine], you should not have done so, but should have remained in the world to seek your comfort, honor, reputation, and ease.
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While there is great need for love and solidarity, sacrifice and support, mercy and kindness these days of pandemic, once it’s over the needs will undoubtedly be vast. May we use this Lent to beg for the grace of magnanimity, to cultivate in grace a “great-soul” and so be empowered in Eastertide to join the Samaritan God in His endless pilgrimage of hope toward Jericho.

Fasting from Eucharist

Mass with Pope Francis on Rio’s Copacabana beach in 2013, most of the 1+ million people could not receive because of the vastness of the crowd

Happy Solemnity of the Annunciation, when the Yes of Mary permitted the Eternal God to take on our flesh and blood and soul.

Don’t forget, Pope Francis asked all Christians around the world to join as one and pray the Our Father today at (your) noon! “…and deliver us from evil…”

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I have been reflecting lots on what are the hidden graces present in the absence of public Masses. Today, I received a gift from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. All one needs to do is quote from him, and it suffices,. No commentary needed…

In his book Behold the Pierced One (pp. 97-98), Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) wrote:

When Augustine sensed his death approaching, he ‘excommunicated’ himself and undertook public penance. In his last days he manifested his solidarity with the public sinners who seek for pardon and grace through the renunciation of communion. He wanted to meet his Lord in the humility of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for him who is the Righteous and Merciful One.

Against the background of his sermons and writings, which are a magnificent portrayal of the mystery of the Church as communion with the Body of Christ, and as the Body of Christ itself, built up by the Eucharist, this is a profoundly arresting gesture. The more I think of it, the more it moves me to reflection. Do we not often take the reception of the Blessed Sacrament too lightly? Might not this kind of spiritual fasting be of service, or even necessary, to deepen and renew our relationship to the Body of Christ?

The ancient Church had a highly expressive practice of this kind. Since apostolic times, no doubt, the fast from the Eucharist on Good Friday was a part of the Church’s spirituality of communion. This renunciation of communion on one of the most sacred days of the Church’s year was a particularly profound way of sharing in the Lord’s Passion; it was the Bride’s mourning for the lost Bridegroom (cf. Mk 2:20).

Today too, I think, fasting from the Eucharist, really taken seriously and entered into, could be most meaningful on carefully considered occasions, such as days of penance—and why not reintroduce the practice on Good Friday? It would be particularly appropriate at Masses where there is a vast congregation, making it impossible to provide for a dignified distribution of the sacrament; in such cases the renunciation of the sacrament could in fact express more reverence and love than a reception which does not do justice to the immense significance of what is taking place. A fasting of this kind—and of course it would have to be open to the Church’s guidance and not arbitrary—could lead to a deepening of personal relationship with the Lord in the sacrament. It could also be an act of solidarity with all those who yearn for the sacrament but cannot receive it.

It seems to me that the problem of the divorced and remarried, as well as that of inter-communion (e.g., in mixed marriages), would be far less acute against the background of voluntary spiritual fasting, which would visibly express the fact that we all need that ‘healing of love’ which the Lord performed in the ultimate loneliness of the Cross.

Naturally, I am not suggesting a return to a kind of Jansenism: fasting presupposes normal eating, both in spiritual and biological life. But from time to time we do need a medicine to stop us from falling into mere routine which lacks all spiritual dimension. Sometimes we need hunger, physical and spiritual hunger, if we are to come fresh to the Lord’s gifts and understand the suffering of our hungering brothers. Both spiritual and physical hunger can be a vehicle of love.

Amen.

Peace? Prayer.

Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset. –St. Francis de Sales

If you have peace within, all things follow. St. Augustine defines peace as the “tranquility of order,” which for him is a life with priorities ordered around the Kingdom of God and its justice (cf Matt. 6:33). Around love of God, love of neighbor, and repenting of the dis-order in our lives contrary to those.

For a person of faith, the secret of peace is keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:2). And this by living firmly rooted in the present moment while accepting what is, trusting fully in the provident mercy of the One Who Is. Thus rooted in eternity, we can proceed confidently to do what is called for in each new moment, in peace with confidence. We can open all locked doors and be sent out by the Prince of Peace as a peacemaker. In the well-known words of the Russian saint, St. Seraphim of Sarov, “Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.”

I will never tire of saying to myself and all, prayer is the primary path to this peace. Know prayer, know peace. No prayer, no peace. Because prayer sinks our soul’s tap root into God and allows us to thrive whatever may come.

Blessed are those who trust in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
They shall be like a tree planted by water,
sending out its roots by the stream.
It shall not fear when heat comes,
and its leaves shall stay green;
in the year of drought it is not anxious,
and it does not cease to bear fruit. — Jer. 17:7-8

While our family go-to for devotional prayer is usually the Holy Rosary, my primary personal prayer devotion that helps keep me centered is the Jesus Prayer, repeated over and over in slow meditative sequence synced with my breathing: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” I bought a chotki, a Russian prayer rope, back in the late 1980’s that I still use. For the many times throughout the day I lose my center, a brief return to this rhythmic soaking in divine mercy brings me back.

Especially in these days when so many cannot encounter God through the Holy Eucharist, those of us who have been baptized should remember that right now, deep within us, as in a Sanctuary, dwells the thrice-holy God in all His glory. I like to say when I speak of the theology of the Eucharist, “Remember, Jesus gave us the Eucharist not primarily to be seen, but to be ingested. Take, eat. Take, drink. Because the real locus, the real end game of God-with-us is to abide in the abode of the human heart. In your human heart.”

Try to remain there with Him, and breathe free in prayer.

It was St. John of the Cross, who spent 9 months in prison without any access to the Eucharist or Confession, who really taught this to me in a forceful way. His magnificent mystical poem One Dark Night, composed in his mind and committed to memory while he was imprisoned in that dark cell, witnessed to an overwhelmingly vivid sense of God’s nearness deep within him, in the solitude of isolation, burning in the dark night of faith.

In fact, St. John’s poem makes vividly clear it was there, in the isolation of that solitary (and filthy) cell — deprived of human interaction, books, a change of clothes, with very little food — that his longing for God grew to such an intensity, he finally found himself able to surrender all and entered into union with Christ.

Abide with the God of peace there, deep within, and thousands around you will be saved…

[if embedded video does not play, click here]

Spiritual Offering-Communion in this time of Eucharistic Distancing

I felt moved to write for my own use an amplified “spiritual Communion” by adding to it another key component of Holy Mass — our offering up to God before our receiving from God.

I offer my deepest thanks to God for all the priests and bishops who faithfully make present this Most Holy Sacrifice in our world every day. May these days of Fast increase our gratitude for the gift they make of their lives for us and for our salvation.

…So, for what it’s worth…

[After making an Act of Contrition]

Lord Jesus,
I offer myself now
as a living sacrifice
to your Father and my Father
through the eternal Spirit
in union with your Eucharistic Sacrifice.
I join now to this Great Mystery
my every prayer, thought and labor,
my every fear, struggle and weariness,
my every joy, rest and pain.
May my offering find favor in your sight.

[pause briefly in silence]

Lord Jesus,
I also ask you to open wide my spirit
that I may receive your Living Sacrifice
wholly present in the Holy Eucharist.
I beg you, through your Spirit,
to enter now under my roof and,
in this time of absence, dwell in my desire
with the fullness of your Presence.

May this holy exchange of Gifts, Lord Jesus,
be for my salvation
and the salvation of all the world
to the praise of your glory in that New Creation
where, with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
you live and reign as God forever and ever. Amen.

Flowers

I found this tiny flower on the levee of Lake Pontchartrain in February, after sitting quietly for about 30 minutes before noticing it. I prayed with it for a while, sensing in it the immense grandeur of Infinity (mostly) found in the itty. Be still and know…

“The earth laughs in flowers.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

When Jesus counsels us to trust God in the most radical way, He uses flowers to illustrate His point:

Consider the lilies, how they grow: they toil not, neither do they spin; yet I say unto you, Even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. — Luke 12:27

Like so many sacraments of divine glory, they are each fissures in the Vault of Heaven, harbingers of the Age to Come, spots where “heaven and earth are full of your glory.”

The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land. — Song of Songs 2:12

In these days when the world has gone silent, spend time “considering the lilies” with their Artisan, the holy holy holy Three who take such joy in them…