Black Night

As we continue in our pilgrimage through the Jubilee of Mercy, I have been trying to jot down thoughts on mercy as they come to me. I will share one here a very personal reflection I wrote down in my journal last November on a Sunday morning:

Insomnia seems to be a Cross bound to parenthood. Sleepless with worry about your children, their future, the past, your failures. Such dark things plague the night. A friend who suffers similar night terrors told me she calls this not the “dark night of the soul” but the “black night of the soul.” She’s a mom of adult children and says she hopes it’s vicarious suffering, redemptive for her children. She said when she saw the Frank Darabont directed movie, The Green Mile, she thought: “God, allow me to carry my children’s burdens in that way.” A sort of hidden combat on their behalf. She rewrote Colossians 1:28 for her children: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, my children.” … Every night when I pray before sleep, I say to God: “Be a Father for them, supply for all of my failings and use them for their good” … For me it’s God’s mercy that saves me from sinking on those occasions into the darkness of despair. “Jesus, I trust in you” is my mantra. As I am at times assailed at night by the memory of evils, the terrible sight of failure, the sting of regrets, chaotic fears — I place myself within the fathomless sea of mercy and consent to drown … I looked at the crucifix last night, at His face, and wrote:

Mercy is the healing balm that flows from love slain under the blows of evil. I let go, succumbed to it, surrendered the blows to love. Being flawless is not the point. At once, Psalm 91:7; Psalm 131:2; Habakkuk 3:17-19; Matthew 6:25-34; Romans 8:28, 38-39 in succession washed over me, and all the darkness of my inner tomb was transubstantiated. Still dark, same sins and failures and regrets, just full of dark hope now. Paradox. Psalm 4:8 lulled me to sleep: “I will lie down in peace and sleep comes at once for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.”

The safety that nothing is lost in the Kingdom, where even the dross becomes gold. As I drifted off to sleep, the thousand holes torn in my soul seemed to spring with water out onto the parched earth.

I laughed with barren Sarah.

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Here are those Scripture texts:

A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand fall at your right,
you, it will never approach — Psalm 91:7

Truly I have set my soul
in silence and peace.
A weaned child on its mother’s breast,
even so is my soul. — Psalm 131:2

For though the fig tree does not blossom,
and no fruit appears on the vine,
Though the yield of the olive fails
and the terraces produce no nourishment,
Though the flocks disappear from the fold
and there is no herd in the stalls,
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord
and exult in my saving God.
God, my Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet swift as those of deer
and enables me to tread upon the heights. — Habakkuk 3:17-19

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day. — Matthew 6:25-34

We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. — Romans 8:28, 38-39

Don’t You Worry Child

This begins my posting of the “quiet posts” I began writing in November…



Sunset over the St. Clement of Rome 2015 Parish Festival in Metairie, Louisiana

There was a venerable tradition in the middle ages of taking “courtly love songs,” popular romantic ballads, and reinterpreting them as spiritual canticles. The underlying idea was that, within the dynamics of deeply felt human love, was a genuine revelation of the meaning of love that binds humanity to God. The biblical Song of Songs is a striking example of this. The Song is a collection of ancient Hebrew erotic love poetry that eventually came to be interpreted by both Jews and Christians as a mystical text of God’s nuptial love for humanity. Take this selection from chapter 7 of the Song — part of a long courtship dialogue of a woman and man — as an example:

Oh, may your breasts be like clusters of the vine, and the scent of your breath like apples, and your kisses like the best wine that goes down smoothly, gliding over lips and teeth. I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me. Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the fields, and lodge in the villages; let us go out early to the vineyards, and see whether the vines have budded, whether the grape blossoms have opened and the pomegranates are in bloom. There I will give you my love.

These verses have received profound, evocative, passionate commentary from the likes of Origen of Alexandria, Gregory the Great, Bernard of Clairvaux and Teresa of Avila. For these saints, these expressive images disclose the mutual yearning of human and divine eros; images that disclose both man and God, in the words of St. Maximus, “long to be longed for, love to be loved and desire to be desired.” Though these saint-commentators don’t make the mistake of sexualizing theology as some interpreters do these days, their bold language does testify with stark eloquence to the genuinely erotic charatcer of love made in God’s image. Eros, which refers to the desire for total union with another, finds its perfection in the covenant of total self-gift found only in marital union; and marital union is, in the Scriptures, the supreme analogy of God’s union with humanity at the consummation of the ages (cf Ephesians 5:25-32; Revelation 21:1-2)

All that makes me think of a tangentially related example of discovering God in unlikely songs. I often reflect on music in light of this “allegorizing” tradition, and sometimes experience graced insights to great personal effect. I recall last Fall at our parish festival, my wife and I were listening to a local band and dancing. My wife makes me love dancing, though no one can ever make me good at it. They started to play Swedish House Mafia’s, Don’t You Worry Child, which actually includes some explicitly religious imagery. As they sang the chorus, I experienced an overwhelming awareness of God’s provident love that burned itself into a deep sadness I had had much of the Fall at the thought of my children growing up and leaving. The effect remained for weeks and weeks. 

So here’s the song if you care to receive it through my perspective…or yours:

Lenten Launch

Neal Obstat Readers:

A blessed Lent!

“No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.” ― St. John Chrysostom

I will resume posting this week, earlier than I had previously planned. I have some persuasive friends. For the first weeks ahead I will use posts I have been quietly writing now and again over the last 3 or so months. I will post frequently, though we will see what that means in practice. As ever, I am grateful to all who read and pray that the Spirit uses something I say to benefit your walk with Christ.

I could think of no better way to begin than to share with you my daughter Maria, and her partner in song, Ashley’s latest singing installment. They “cover” the the 1920’s hit, Tonight You Belong to Me. And watch to the very end…

Where are we?

Right after we’d moved to Iowa from Florida, we took our annual Christmas photo. Patti had this great idea to have us pose outside in early December as Flordians who still had not come to terms with the reality of life in Iowa. It was 28 degrees out after 4″ of snow had fallen. Too fun.


Nativitas Mariae

Excuse the break in my posting silence, but for those of you who know my daughter Maria, today is her sweet 16. If you want to send a message just post a comment here! And kindly say a prayer for her.
Random: I recorded Maria and her friend Ashley the other night when they started singing Silent Night. Excuse the poor visual quality of my phone.

A blessed Christmas to all.

“You should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15)

Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless. — Bl. Teresa of Calcutta

One of my daughters loves to share with me “pay it forward” videos of people who are the beneficiaries of someone’s kindness and then go on to do someone else a good turn. She asked me if I remembered anyone in my past whose kindness inspired me to be kind. Of course, there are so many people I could name, but what immediately came to mind was a tutor I had in 7th grade — “Mr. Wallace.”

I had flunked out of 7th grade and had to repeat it at a different school. It was a dark time in my life, and I had really lost a sense of confidence in my ability to succeed. I hated school. I remember very well the first day I sat with him. He had curly brown hair and was wearing a kind smile on his face. He said, as I recall: “My job is to help you see how much you have to offer the world and show you that you’re much smarter than you think you are.” I remember this because I never expected it to come out of a teacher’s mouth and it seemed so outrageous. Offer the world? Smart? Week after week, month after month, year after year — for three years — we met and went over homework, reading skills, table manners, social skills, handling disappointment, and he often talked about my favorite subject at the time: weather. He was interested because I was. He planted a seed of confidence in me that grew, and I never forgot him. When I encountered Jesus Christ while I was in college, that seed exploded into a tree as my mind, for the first time, opened with a hunger for knowledge of everything.

Four years ago I decided to look him up. It took me weeks of detective work, but I found him. Married with kids and grandkids, living in Pennsylvania. I wrote him a letter to express my gratitude and share with him where I had gone in life. He wrote me back a simple response: “Tom, I am appreciative for your kindness in making the effort to tell me this. I vaguely remember you, but I’m old now. I am happy for your successes and am glad to know I played a small part. Those are the things make the hard times along the way meaningful.”

Who are your Mr. Wallaces?

Below are the videos my daughter, and a seminarian, shared with me that I found most inspiring.