The Kings (A Few Words For Wednesday)

Here is a late-breaking poem for the day. I stumbled upon it while combing through my favorite on-line library. There is all kinds of undiscovered treasure lurking in the books there. Just waiting for you to break out your torch and look around.

Ever feel like being a Catholic Christian is a battle? Sure you do, because we were never promised a rose garden, right? This poem may  either scare you straight or help you see the light. Written by Louise Imogen Guiney, my inner (and outer) warrior read this and my compass headed to true north once again.

Louise was Catholic too, born in Boston and educated in a convent school in Rhode Island. I don’t know a lot about her, but the good folks over at Poetry Foundation have a decent biography on her. The editor there writes that,

Guiney is also praised for the posthumously published Recusant Poets (1939), an anthology of poetry by Catholic authors from the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries that she coedited with Geoffrey Bliss.

I’ll be looking to see if I can find that book shortly.

The Kings

A man said unto his Angel:
“My spirits are fallen low,
And I cannot carry this battle:
O brother! where might I go?

“The terrible Kings are on me
With spears that are deadly bright;
Against me so from the cradle
Do fate and my fathers fight.”

Then said to the man his Angel:
“Thou wavering, witless soul,
Back to the ranks! What matter
To win or to lose the whole,

“As judged by the little judges
Who hearken not well, nor see?
Not thus, by the outer issue,
The Wise shall interpret thee.

“Thy will is the sovereign measure
And only events of things:
The puniest heart, defying,
Were stronger than all these Kings.

“Though out of the past they gather,
Mind’s Doubt, and Bodily Pain,
And pallid Thirst of the Spirit
That is kin to the other twain,

“And Grief, in a cloud of banners,
And ringletted Vain Desires,
And Vice, with the spoils upon him
Of thee and thy beaten sires, —

“While Kings of eternal evil
Yet darken the hills about,
Thy part is with broken sabre
To rise on the last redoubt;

“To fear not sensible failure,
Nor covet the game at all,
But fighting, fighting, fighting,
Die, driven against the wall.”

For A Change of Heart This Christmas

For some people, this time of the year is the worst of all. Why? Because Madison Avenue Stole Christmas. And we’ve even turned it into an arms race of sorts. The feast has lost much of it’s religious significance because we have allowed it to be hijacked and our wallets held for ransom. This is one of those man-made disasters that I often ask you to pray about.

Who is harmed the most by this? The poor? The rich? The middle? All of us, that’s who. My children, your children, your friends, neighbors, and co-workers. Believers, unbelievers. The entire culture, and especially the culture of Christendom. This year is the year I have decided to stop the insanity and pray with thanks that the Lord came to deliver us from the nonsense of off-the-rails rampant consumerism. I think my wife has noticed. My kids were clued in last year. And don’t get me wrong. We still decorate and exchange gifts. But Black Friday and unobtainable wish lists? Fagetaboutit!

Want to know what I think about Madison Avenue’s version of Christmas? To hell with it. This year, let’s not just put Christ back into Christmas. We need to go much, much, further than that. This year, and for the rest of our lives, let’s put the Mass back in Christmass.

We can decide, you know. We have God given free will to thank for this ability. I only pray for the fortitude to celebrate this holiday as it should be celebrated. Not as an orgy to the god of material stuff, but as a recognition that God came into the world poor, lived poor, and died poor. And by doing so, he gained all. And for those of us who believe in Him, He’ll make us just like Himself. Sons and Daughters of God. That is really the only present worth anything, in the long-run. And eternity is a mighty long time, but it just might come calling tomorrow. Like in Dickens’s Christmas tale.

Yep, just another one of the paradoxes of Christianity. Live long and prosper? That might be a Vulcan tenet, but it isn’t in the New Testament. God is with us, and as a human, the God-man came from the wrong side of the tracks, see? So here is the challenge: open your heart and let Him in, and all of his fellows like Him. Peace on earth and good will to men.

So today, and the rest of this week until the Feast of the Nativity, I’ll be praying this prayer from the desert and asking the Word Incarnate for the strength to die to my self and love my neighbor as I love myself instead. Because I can’t afford a present for everybody, but I can say a prayer. One straight from the desert of my own self-righteous, self-reliant, and self-important, heart. Know your weakness.

My non-Christian friend Sun Tzu says,

If ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are certain to be in peril.

I have found the enemy, and he is me. Lord Help!

A Prayer From the Desert

Lord Jesus Christ, whose will all things obey:
pardon what I have done and grant that I,
a sinner, may sin no more.
Lord, 
I believe that though I do not deserve it,
you can cleanse me from all my sins.

Lord, I know that man looks upon the face,
but you see the heart.
Send your spirit into my inmost being,
to take possession of my soul and body.
Without you I cannot be saved;
with you to protect me, I long for your salvation.

And now I ask you for your salvation.

And now I ask you for wisdom,
deign of
your great goodness to help and defend me.
Guide my heart, almighty God,
that I may remember your presence day and night.

Amen.

Watch this to find out what Christmas is all about. And a friend of mine clued me into this too: watch Linus’s hands at :44 seconds when he says “a Savior is born.” Do you see what I see?

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Because Unto Us, A Child Is Born! (Music for Mondays)

Christmas is upon us. We have passed through the 4th Sunday of Advent and in a few more days we will celebrate the Nativity of Our Lord and Savior. The mystery of the Incarnation is a profound one. As St. John writes in his gospel, and as the words parsed into English literally mean, “He pitched his tent among us.”

You don’t have to be a Marine to appreciate those words, but it doesn’t hurt. Our prayers are answered and Emmanuel comes! After all, leadership by example is always appreciated in the circles I travel in. He comes as promised and yet in an unexpected way. Poor, weak, and vulnerable. And as I hope the following music selections will show, in a very inspiring way too.

We’ll start with something from my favorite composer/priest, see the story unfold before our eyes in music and song from diverse languages and cultures, and wind this all up with a few modern classics. Rejoice!

Gloria in excelsis Deo, Et in terra pax, etc., by Father Antonio Vivaldi. Played and sung brilliantly by these anonymous folks here. Vivaldi really enjoyed fast tempo music, blasting through chords and riffs like a Shelby Cobra ripping through a road course. Blazing speed. And these good folks are up to the challenge. Baroque or bust!

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The Nativity of Jesus. I love this, simply love it. And what a great little movie! You simply can’t beat the sound track to it either. Check out these costumes! The camels! The gifts!

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Kontakion of Christmas. A brief sample of the work of St. Romanus the Melodist. Stunning and majestic. Romanus had a vision of the Blessed Virgin once. That event changed his life forever. And get this…this version is even in English.

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Christ is Born!Xristos Yennatai! St. Romanus the Melodist isn’t the only game in town either. How about this kontakion credited to a St. Cosmas. I’m not sure about that, but maybe one our Orthodox brethren know for sure. Sound off if you do. I only know one thing: it is beautiful.

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An Arabic Christmas Carol (Byzantine Hymn of the Nativity). This is a wonderful compilation of images and wonderfully haunting music. I lived in Egypt for a time and learned to speak a little Arabic while I was there. Not enough to be fluent, or read it, but enough to appreciate beauty when I hear it. Christians speak Arabic,see? And they sing the Nativity story as majestically as anyone else, if not more so.

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O Holy Night, in Mandarin. What more can I say except that Christ came for the salvation of all. I only wish I could plug a video in here for every language on the planet. Christianity is spoken here!

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Christ Is Born – Hwelih Isho’, Chaldean Hymn. Beautiful iconography and art accompanies this video. Chaldean Christians have endured some of the worst persecution for the faith imaginable. In the Kingdom of Heaven, I suspect they will be rewarded greatly.

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And now to the modern and a couple of my personal all time favorites.

Little Drummer Boy, David Bowie and Bing Crosby. Yes, yes, the entire scene is contrived. And if Bing isn’t the “poor relation from America” then I’ll fill that role for him. These two together, singing this particular song, became an instant Christmas classic.

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Bing Crosby & David Bowie – Duet
Uploaded by beautifulcynic. – Music videos, artist interviews, concerts and more.

Nutcracker Suite, Tchaikovsky by the Brian Setzer Orchestra?! So it isn’t religious. So what? I like it anyway. If it wasn’t for Christmas, Tchaikovsky wouldn’t even have bothered. Brian and his band set this classic to the boogie-woogie beat. I dare you to say it doesn’t get your toes a tappin’.

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Medley: The First Noel/ Hark! The Herald Angels Sing/ O Come, All Ye Faithful/ We Wish A Merry Christmas; Ray Coniff and his Singers. One of my wife and my favorite CD’s to be played this time of year. And though I don’t ever remember watching this special on television, I’m glad there was one and that Ray & Co. sang these great Christmas spirituals.

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Have a Blessed Christmas everyone!

For the Example and Witness of Charles Péguy

I’ve got a buddy who is a blogger, a fellow by the name of Webster Bull. You may have heard of him before, because he is the founder of the blog you are reading now. When he has the chance, or the spare time, Webster blogs occasionally for an outfit called Cahiers Péguy. [Read more...]

For Your Saturday Night at the Movies: The Sound of Music

Neophyte nun meets naval captain widower with 7 children. “Salzburg Austria in the last golden days of the 1930′s.” Unsure of Maria’s vocation, the Mother Superior of the abbey assigns her to the von Trapp household as a governess.

I held out against seeing this movie for the longest time. Until 2003 as I recall. Now it’s one of my favorites! Me and the kids know all of the tunes and break into song with the von Trapps with reckless abandon! Well, I still do anyway (how embarrassing!).

Beautiful scenery, great music, several love stories, kids that are a handful, Nazi sympathizers, the Anschluss, bosuns whistles, play clothes made from drapery cloth, Maria’s vocation problem is resolved, nuns removing ignition coils. Seriously, it doesn’t get much better than this!

Check out the trailer!

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A Few of My Favorite Things.

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An apology and The Lonely Goatherd, my favorite!

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Because God Became Man (Despite His Flawed Human Ancestors)

This day is just beginning, but I can’t let it go forward without mentioning yesterdays’ Gospel reading. It is from Chapter 1 in Matthew and it is the genealogy of Jesus. Here the gospel writer goes to great pains to show that Our Lord and Savior is indeed descended from the line of King David.

Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling with portraits of Our Lord’s earthly ancestors. After reading this post, you may think that earthy is a better description of them.

I work in an archive and many of our patrons come to our repository in order to research their family history and genealogy. It is a fun hobby for many, and though some pursue it in order to prove they are related to famous founding fathers or so they can join patriotic groups like the Daughters of the American Revolution, Sons of the Revolution, etc., most just want to know where their families came from.

Who are my forefathers? Were they like me? In this land of immigrants, when did my family arrive here? Were they good people? Were they famous, or rich, or generous? Am I descended from royalty, or from scoundrels? The riddle of how you came about waits to be solved, because the cast of characters in your background is both deep and wide. Interestingly, many lose heart when nothing special turns up, or they discover their great-grandfather was a horse thief and they are repulsed. Oops!

Our Lord’s genealogy has it’s share of wonderful peculiarities. Jesus is fully God and fully human, and his human line has some very interesting characters, let me tell you. Some have even called Our Lord’s human ancestors a veritable rogues gallery. Forget horse thieves, how about some liars (Abraham, Isaac), adulterers (David), murderers (Manassah), fornicators (Judah), polygamists (Solomon), and harlots? They are all here.

Let’s look at Manassah for example. This is from the Encyclopedia Britannica,

Manasseh, also spelled Manasses, king of Judah (reigned c. 686 to 642 bce). During his long and peaceful reign, Judah was a submissive ally of Assyria. In the course of his reign there occurred a revival of pagan rites, including astral cults in the very forecourts of the temple of Yahweh, child sacrifice, and temple prostitution; hence, he is usually portrayed as the most wicked of the kings of Judah.

Sheesh, that’s right! He even sacrificed his kids to Moloch. And you thought it was bad nowadays? Good news though. By the grace of God, Manassah repented and turned things around. Whew! You can read all about it right there in 2 Chronicles, chapter 33.

And how about the ladies in the line, huh? Strange enough that women are included at all, given the patriarchal society of the Hebrews. Maybe the gospel writer hopes to clean up the reputation of this line a little bit with a brace of impeccable women? Not hardly. First up, we get the Gentile woman named Tamar, who seduced her father-in-law in order to get pregnant. Whaat?! That sounds like something out of an episode of The Bold and the Beautiful, doesn’t it?

See, that was after her first husband, a fellow by the name of Er, “greatly offended the Lord; so the Lord took his life.” Gulp! So Judah (see list above) orders Er’s brother Onan to do his duty and “unite” with Tamar so she could have children. Onan, “spilled his seed on the ground”, offending the Lord and he lost his life too. Which led her to dress up like a hooker, get Judah drunk and seduce him. I can’t make this stuff up, folks. Go check out the story in Genesis, chapter 38.

Next up, we have Rahab the harlot, so you know what she did for a living. Did I mention she was into espionage as well? And she too was a Gentile, a Caananite. So much for the racial purity aspect of Christ’s human lineage. Now, Rahab aided Joshua and his men when they spied on Jericho. So she was a hooker and a traitor? Yep. Picture Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, hiding a couple of spies on her roof and you get the picture right. When the ruler of Jericho asked her to send out the men, she lied and said they were already gone. They didn’t bother to go in and check (they probably didn’t want to be seen in Rahab’s digs). Again, go read about this episode in Joshua Chapter 2. She too is in the cloud of witnesses though due to her faith. You don’t believe me? See Hebrews chapter 11.

And then there is Ruth, the impeccable woman out of this bunch. And again, not Jewish (how can this be?!) Anyway, she married a nice Jewish fellow name Boaz, and lived happily ever after. She had children and had a son who had a son named Jesse, who had a son named David, so she is David’s great-grandmother. There is a tiny book all about her in the Old Testament, and you should take a look at it. The filial piety practiced by Ruth is the kind that Wu Li, SJ, and my other Chinese Catholic friends, are very comfortable with. And that goes for me too.

Last, but certainly not least, we round out this list of femme fatales with “the wife of Uriah”, you know, Uriah the Hittite? That was the good soldier whose wife David slept with, which makes this next lady none other than Bathsheba. All kinds of wreck and ruin came about as a result of her and David getting together. She gave birth to Solomon, who I mentioned earlier as the future polygamist and polytheist.  Get all the details on David and Bathsheba in good ol’ 2 Samuel, chapter 11.

I don’t think you need any more examples from me regarding the incontrovertible fact that God works His Will through us flawed human beings whether we see the big picture or not. God promised a Messiah, and I would wager that many of the people on this family tree had no idea that all along God’s Will was working through their lives to bring about the Incarnation. Is it any wonder that Mary, would exclaim, “how can this be?” Because aside from being a virgin, she knew her family line was a train wreck. Maybe even more so than yours or mine.

In my favorite Old Testament book, Qoheleth put it best when he writes,

God made everything fitting in it’s time; but He also set eternity in our hearts, though we are not able to embrace the work of God from beginning to the end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

And Our Lord speaks volumes when He says,

Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.(Matthew 9:13)

Maranatha, Lord Come!

Thanks to St. John of the Cross, Master of Paradoxes

In the past, I have shared my affinity for both the writings of John C.H. Wu (the Chinese Chesterton, here with his family and Pope Pius XII) and St. John of the Cross. Do you remember when I shared my friend John’s thoughts on Thérèse of Lisieux? He compared her to Lao Tzu and Confucius.

As this is the feast day of St. John of the Cross, I would like to share with you some of John Wu’s thoughts about this Doctor of the Church as well as this diagram of St. John’s Ascent of Mt. Carmel. [Read more...]

Because Catholics Can Have Fun: The Nativity via Social Networks circa 2010

Father James Martin, SJ, author of My Life With the Saints, posted this on his Facebook account a few minutes ago.  I predict it will be going viral, but as of this posting, the following video only has 360 views.

Let’s ramp that number up, shall we? But just remember that Herod the Great might be on-line too. We will need to jam his access to the web for a couple of hours. I know some people.

Don’t you dare smile!

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Update! Another version with a hat-tip to Tom Peters and Brandon Vogt.

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It’s a Snow Day! (Music for Mondays)

I’ve got to tell you folks that it snowed in my little town last night. The schools closed, the courts closed, basically the whole world closed down. My kids are home, and I’m home, so we are playing in the snow.

Make fun of us Southerners all you want. But since snow days rarely come around, we’re going to make the most of it. My family just put up our Christmas tree last night too, so we’ll be decorating all day long, in between snow ball fights, hot cocoa, and such.

Here’s a good music video for the day. Enjoy!


Ticket to Ride, the Beatles.

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Because of Francisco De Osuna and a Minor Miracle

During the Summer of 2007 I read an awful lot of books that led me to join my parish RCIA program in the Fall of that same year. I’ve written about most of my reading program in earlier posts in this series, and I continued reading great Catholic books once my RCIA class started too.

For example, I read Mirabai Starrs’ translation of The Book of My Life by St. Teresa of Avila. It is a fascinating book about prayer by a fascinating woman. By reading Big Terry’s book, I discovered the work of another obscure author I had never heard of who had a big impact on this Doctor of the Church and on me. Here is what St. Teresa says on page 20 of her book that peaked my interest,

On the way to my sister’s village, we stopped in to see my Uncle Pedro. He gave me a copy of The Third Spiritual Alphabet by Francisco de Osuna. This is a book all about the Prayer of Recollection. In the past year, I had realized what harm my appetite for romance novels had done to my soul, and I had begun to develop a tremendous appreciation for spiritual books. Since I did not know a thing about the practice of contemplative prayer, or how to go about recollecting my senses and my thoughts, I was thrilled to find a book that told me exactly what to do.

I remember thinking to myself, I don’t know what St. Teresa is talking about (contemplative prayer? What’s that?), but if she liked de Osuna’s book enough to give it such a ringing endorsement, then I need to get a copy of it too, post haste! And the “harm of romance novels” comment resonated with me too, as I sheepishly realized how much of my reading time had heretofore been wasted on a lot of superfluous junk. Since this time, my night stand has been cluttered with “spiritual books”, and lots of them, instead. I wonder if she introduced de Osuna’s book to another Doctor of the Church too, you know, her friend and colleague St. John de la Cruz.

It turns out that Paulist Press published this book as a part of their excellent The Classics of Western Spirituality Series and it’s readily available. A visit to Amazon.com, a few clicks of the mouse, and a credit card authorization later, and The Third Spiritual Alphabet was on its way to me.

Within a week it arrived, all 609 pages of it. And let me tell you, de Osuna did not disappoint. I broke out my pencil for underlining purposes early, and often. Here are some examples of his thoughts from a few of the chapter and section headings,

Communion to God is Open to All; As Gifts Increase, So Do Our Debts; How We Should Give Thanks In Adversity; Blindness is Necessary to See God; How We Cannot Know God in Himself While We Live; Imitating Our Lord in the Desert of Recollection.

And here are a few of his thoughts on recollection that I underlined,

p.170: …we note that the devotion is called recollection because it gathers together those who practice it and, by erasing all dissension and discord, makes them of one heart and love. Not content with just this, recollection, more than any other devotion, has the known, discernible property by which someone who follows it can be greatly moved to devotion when he sees another person also recollected.

Having just left the greater Los Angeles area for my hometown in the hills of Tennessee, these words on the next page struck a chord with me too,

p.171: This devotion encourages us to retire from the traffic of people and noisy places to dwell in more secluded regions and to go out only now and then. If we do leave, we find ourselves anxious to return to our retreat to enjoy recollection, and we are just as eager as when we began the practice. We are like an eel that slips around in the fisherman’s hands so it can wriggle back into the water.

He could say that again. He goes on to say,

In recollection news and vain gossip have no appeal, nor do we like to hear anything that does not advise us to withdraw further into our hearts…for (the recollected) only wish is to see God with their hearts.

And Fray Francisco doesn’t pull any punches on what it takes to get from A to Z in the practice of this devotion. These are his thoughts from p. 175 that maybe only a Marine Corps Drill Instructor can appreciate,

You should also remember that no one masters any art without arduous practice, and the more one practices and becomes accustomed to something, the more quickly he masters it. Do not be so foolish as not to respect in this devotion and art the two things we observe in all occupations. First, learn it so that you are its master; do not be content to remain a beginner all your life like stupid, listless people who are forever learners, never attaining the science of truth because they are insufficiently attentive to their tasks. They are like the one in the gospel of whom it is said, “This man began to build and could not finish( Luke 14:30).”

How ignorant is the man who starts to build a house but does not concentrate on finishing it as quickly as possible so he can enjoy it soon! …If you wish to build the house of recollection for your souls, brother, you will profit immensely by remembering your intention. Plan to finish it.

Aye, aye sir! Now that I’ve given you a taste of my pal Fr. Francisco, I promise to share more of his thoughts in future posts. I can assure you of this because of the minor miracle that I will briefly describe for you now.

You may not have noticed that I’ve been blogging here for just over a year and this is only the second time that I am writing about my friend Fr. Francisco. I mentioned him briefly in the YIMC Book Club discussion of Mere Christianity when we were reading C.S. Lewis’ thoughts on pride. The principal reason for me keeping Fr. Francisco hidden from view is simple: I misplaced his book!

I had searched up and down my house, and my office, for it too. I reckon that it has been missing from my shelves for well over a year. Miraculously, and admittedly this is a minor miracle, not a supernatural one, the book reappeared in the back seat of my car last night. Here is the story.

Our family attended a Christmas party last night, see, and we took two cars because my wife had to go early to help set up. She took my eldest son with her to help her carry things. In Marine Corps jargon, her and my son were the Weathers “advance party” to the event. I followed in trace with the “main body” which included myself and my two younger children.

With the advent of cellular phones, this “advance party(AP) – main body (MB)” jargon makes sense to me because the AP called the MB about five times between the time the AP left and the MB crossed the line of departure. The message traffic went sort of like this,

AP to MB: “Could you bring my make-up bag? I left it in my other purse. Over.”

MB to AP: “Roger that AP, will do.”

AP to MB: “MB, MB, could you stop by the ATM and get some money so we can buy some raffle tickets? I’m out of cash. Over.”

MB to AP: “Roger that AP, will do. Over.”

AP to MB: “Could you bring XYZ with you? I just realized I forgot it. Over.”

MB to AP: “Negative AP, we are enroute and only 5 mikes (minutes) from your location. Over.

AP to MB: “OK then, disregard. Over and out.”

Granted, my wife and I don’t really talk like this on our cell phones. But really, isn’t this the way these AP to MB conversations go? Surely you have experienced this too. After that first exchange about the makeup bag, I found that bag and took it directly to the back seat of my car. I know what is of vital importance to a mission being successful or not, and a missing makeup bag would have been unimaginable. I absolutely did not want to forget that, thus I put it right there on the empty back seat of my car and walked away knowing that all would be well.

The MB arrives at the party and finds it well attended and packed to the gills with people enjoying themselves immensely and noted a long, snake-like, slow-moving, line of people waiting their turn for the food. I tracked down my wife, who was busy helping out, etc. I informed her that I had the makeup bag in the car and to let me know when she needs it and I’ll go get it. She said, “why didn’t you bring it in?” and discretion being the better part of valor, I turned tail and went and got it, ASAP.

As I approached my car, unlocked the doors, and rounded the rear bumper to open the passenger door on the side of the car where I had deposited the make-up bag, I was shocked to see Fr. Francisco’s book sitting there pretty as you please. When I unlocked the car, the dome light comes on automatically and I just stared through the window at that book for probably 15 seconds before I opened the door. I was thinking to, “where did you come from?” That seat had been empty when I threw the makeup bag there less than an hour earlier.

I was happy though, and thanked the Lord that it reappeared. It turned out that my youngest son had somehow noticed that something was bulging in the pouch on the back of the front passenger seat. He may have thought that I was hiding a Christmas present in there or something. I’m sure he was disappointed when it turned out to be one of his Dad’s dog-eared and well worn old books. So he just tossed it onto the seat and never said a word.

Sometimes that is how minor miracles work themselves out. Regardless, I’m just glad Francisco is back and I look forward to sharing more of his thoughts with you in future posts.


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