We are safely back on the ground. We picked up a nice tailwind after we launched off of the Abraham Lincoln last Saturday. This development is putting us ahead of schedule. The electricians on Ol’ Abe replaced the faulty Fire Warning sensor on the starboard engine without a hitch. With that favorable wind, we landed last night before our logistics train made it to our forward base of operations.
So what am I saying? I’m saying we have no food, except what little we had in the cockpit with us. We’ve got lots of water though. Now, since it’s Good Friday, that’s really not such bad news. The AWACS up in the sky informs us that the rest of the squadron will be here tomorrow.
Starring Max von Sydow as Jesus, Charlton Heston as John the Baptist, and an all-star cast. This family-friendly movie takes us through the life of Christ from his baptism, ministry, death and resurrection. As the good folks over at IMDb say,
“My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken Me?”It is towards this climactic crossroads that the story of Jesus of Nazareth leads, and to which, at the final moment, it again looks back in triumphant retrospect. It is the anguishing crossroads where the eternal questions of faith and doubt become resolved.
Have a look at the trailer, and we hope to see you in the hangar bay at 20:00 for “chow” and 21:00 for the film. Webster, Allison, and I invite you to enjoy the film and have a blessed Easter weekend. As always, we appreciate your support, and thank you for flying YIMC Airlines.
The Psalms were a book in the Bible that I pretty much ignored my whole life. I was baptized when I was 10 years old and thought I knew a lot about my faith. I have known Psalm 23 by heart probably since I was 7 or 8. But it wasn’t until I began exploring the idea of becoming a Catholic Christian, and reading the Psalms closely that I realized that David was not only a mighty warrior and king, but a prophet as well.
Case in point, Psalm 22. Clearly David, to whom God promised “Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever” (2 Samuel 7:16), was a witness to the scene that played out on Golgotha, and (thankfully) what comes after. In case those looking on didn’t make the connection, Our Lord cries out the first line while on the cross; “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’(Mk 15:34; cf. Mt 27:46)
God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
The words that I groan do not reach my saviour.
My God, I call by day and you do not listen.
I call to you by night, but no rest comes.
But still you are holy,
the one whom Israel praises.
Our fathers put their hope in you;
they gave you their trust and you freed them.
They called on you and they were saved,
they trusted and were not disappointed.
But I am a worm and no man,
despised by mankind and rejected by the people.
All who see me deride me,
they make faces and toss their heads:
“He trusted in the Lord, so let the Lord rescue him:
let him save him, if he truly delights in him!”
Indeed, you drew me from my mother’s womb,
you set me to suck at her breasts.
I have depended on you since before I was born,
from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
Do not be far from me now,
for my tribulation is close at hand,
for there is no-one who will help.
I am surrounded by many cattle,
the bulls of Bashan hem me in.
Their mouths open wide before me,
like a fierce and roaring lion.
I have flowed away like water,
and all my bones come apart.
My heart has turned to wax,
it melts away within me.
My mouth is dry as burnt clay,
my tongue sticks in my throat:
you have laid me in the dust of death.
I am surrounded by many dogs,
my enemies unite and hem me in.
They have pierced my hands and my feet:
I can count all my bones.
They gaze on me, they inspect me.
They have divided my clothing between them,
they have cast lots for my garment.
So you, Lord, do not stay away:
Lord, my strength, hurry to my help.
Rescue my soul from the sword,
my only child from the teeth of the dogs.
Save me from the lion’s mouth,
from the wild oxen’s horns that brought me low.
I will tell of your glory to my brethren;
I will praise you in the midst of the assembly.
Praise the Lord, you who fear him!
Give him glory, all the seed of Jacob.
Let Israel tremble before him,
for he does not spurn the poor or ignore their plight.
He does not turn his face away –
whoever calls on him, he listens.
I shall cry out your praise in the great assembly,
I shall fulfil my vows before all those who fear you.
The poor will eat and be filled,
those who seek the Lord will praise him.
“Let their hearts live for ever!”
All the ends of the earth will remember the Lord:
they will turn to him.
All the families of nations will worship before him.
For the Lord’s is the kingdom,
it is he who will rule all the nations.
Him alone will they praise, those who sleep in the earth;
they will worship before him, who go down into the dust.
But my soul will be alive to him,
and my seed shall serve him.
They shall tell of the Lord to the next generation,
they shall proclaim his righteousness to a people yet to be born.
“Hear what the Lord has done!”
In an audience given in 1988, Pope John Paul II explains the fulfillment of this scripture clearly.
During these terrible days, when so many are saying so much so loudly against and in favor of our Church, and especially its leader, our dear Pope Benedict XVI, it is hard to stand apart from the mob—the one howling in protest, or the one trying desperately to shout them down. We are all standing along the Way of the Cross, jeering the scourged Christ or bewailing his persecution. How can we possibly be different? How can we change?
This is the question we have been addressing for the past two weeks in our School of Community (local membership of Communion and Liberation): Is it possible for me, as a Christian, to be fundamentally changed by my religious experience? Or is Christianity just something “added onto” me, like a picture in my wallet, or the leavings of a course I took in school years ago?
Can my experience of Christ be so convincing that I can resist even the pull of the mob—whether they are welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem with palms or goading him angrily up Golgotha?
In his homily last night, Father Barnes addressed this question. He said memorably that the only thing that can prepare us for the sounds of Good Friday—the curses, the shouts, the lamentations—is the silence in the Upper Room and the three gifts Christ leaves us here. The gifts, he told us, are charity (symbolized by Christ washing his Apostles’ feet), the Eucharist, and the priesthood, which Jesus instituted among the Twelve at the Last Supper, or among the Eleven who stood by him, though even some of them fell asleep.
I sang with the choir at the beautiful seven o’clock mass, and then a few of us stayed behind, seated before the Blessed Sacrament. Finally, at a few minutes before ten, we stood with Father Barnes for Compline, then silently left the church.
I will be thinking more about Christ’s three gifts as Katie and I fly to North Carolina this morning to see our daughter received into the Church. Even tomorrow evening’s Easter Vigil, as beautiful and touching as it will be, begs the question—Does this have the power to change me? Or will I be shouting with the mob again on Monday morning?
The Easter Triduum comprises the holiest days in the Christian calendar. It begins tonight with Holy Thursday, when we commemorate the last meal our Lord ate with his disciples. It ends with Easter Sunday evening prayers as we rejoice in His Resurrection.
Until then, dear reader, let us all pray for one another and for our Church. Let us pray for folks on both sides of the Tiber. Let us pray for those who are joining the Church this season, including Webster’s beloved daughter in North Carolina, and for those who are contemplating conversion. Let us pray for Catholics whose faith is faltering or lost and let us pray for a world which often seems indifferent to the miracle of creation and resurrection.
Two years ago, in an address in Saint Peter’s Basilica, Benedict XIV said this about the Triduum,
Dear brothers and sisters, during these special days let us guide our lives definitively toward a complete and decisive adherence to the designs of our celestial Father; let us renew our “yes” to the divine will as Jesus did with his sacrifice on the cross. The rites suggested for Holy Thursday and Good Friday, the rich silence of prayer of Holy Saturday and the solemn Easter vigil provide us with the opportunity to deepen the feelings and the values of our Christian vocation unleashed by the Paschal mystery and to strengthen it by faithfully following Christ in all circumstances, just as he did, even to the point of giving up our own existence to him.
I have glorified you on earth and finished the work that you gave me to do. Now, Father, give me in your presence the same Glory I had with you before the world began. I have made your name known to those you gave me from the world. They were yours and you gave them to me, and they kept your word. And now they know that all you have given me comes indeed from you. I have given them the teaching I received from you, and they received it and know in truth that I came from you; and they believe that you have sent me.
I pray for them; I do not pray for the world but for those who belong to you and whom you have given to me – indeed all I have is yours and all you have is mine – and now they are my glory. I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world whereas I am going to you. Holy Father, keep them in your Name (that you have given me,) so that they may be one, just as we are.
When I was with them, I kept them safe in your Name, and not one was lost except the one who was already lost, and in this the Scripture was fulfilled. But now I am coming to you and I leave these my words in the world that my joy may be complete in them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them because they are not of the world; just as I am not of the world.
I do not ask you to remove them from the world but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world; consecrate them in the truth – your word is truth. I have sent them into the world as you sent me into the world, and for their sake, I go to the sacrifice by which I am consecrated, so that they too may be consecrated in truth.
I pray not only for these but also for those who through their word will believe in me. May they all be one as you Father are in me and I am in you. May they be one in us; so the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the Glory you have given me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. Thus they shall reach perfection in unity and the world shall know that you have sent me and that I have loved them just as you loved me.
Father, since you have given them to me, I want them to be with me where I am and see the Glory you gave me, for you loved me before the foundation of the world. Righteous Father, the world has not known you but I have known you, and these have known that you have sent me. As I revealed your Name to them, so will I continue to reveal it, so that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I also may be in them.”
You can read all of St. John’s account of the Last Supper and the Passion starting in Chapter 13 of his gospel account.
I hate shopping at chain stores, I really do. The amount of merchandise and the lack of natural lighting overload my senses. So does the idea I could be doing something infinitely better with my time. But sometimes, I just can’t avoid shopping. Our boys needed new sneakers and Easter slacks and shirts so yesterday we had to head down a traffic-clogged state highway to buy them. But Christ finds a way of making Himself seen—even at Kohl’s.
My husband and I are raising our boys in New Jersey, the most densely populated state and the state with the greatest square footage of retail real estate per resident. I can think of no national retail chain that is not within a 10-minute drive of our home. We live in an oasis of calm amid strip malls and shopping centers; ours is a small town with sycamore-lined streets and a tidy commercial district we walk to for groceries, for church, and for after-dinner ice cream cones. Whenever one of us returns from an errand in town, the others ask: “Who did you see?” because inevitably, we run into friends and neighbors on our travels.
Yesterday, I left this idyll for Kohl’s. I have nothing in particular against the chain. I don’t like shopping at Macy’s or WalMart or Marshalls, either. The older I become, the stronger my faith and the emptier materialism,
a philosophical system which regards matter as the only reality in the world, which undertakes to explain every event in the universe as resulting from the conditions and activity of matter, and which thus denies the existence of God and the soul.
I was especially grumpy yesterday because before we left for shopping our 10-year-old had an unpleasant encounter with a neighborhood boy. The other fifth grader said some unkind things to our son about his older brother. Our 10-year-old returned home, most uncharacteristically, filled with angry tears. Someone had dissed his beloved older brother. Though I tried not to show it, I felt angry too. We don’t allow our sons to say unkind things about other people and we have trained them to pray—or at least try to pray—for their “enemies.” They would face real consequences if we were to find out they had mouthed off to another kid about their brother or anything else. As we drove to Kohl’s, we were talking about this incident, my 13-year-old saying he truly felt confused by the criticism and why a kid he never has met would need to tear him down to feel good about himself. “It just doesn’t make sense,” he said. “This is really baffling.”
At Kohl’s, after we spent time in the men’s section looking for pants for my teen and the boys’ section to find slacks for the 10-year-old, I felt done. Our cart was flowing with socks and slacks and shirts. We went over to the shoe department. I sat on a bench and let the boys find their own shoes. I silently stewed, my mind filled with angry thoughts. I was thinking about how so many parents I know find excuses for their children’s obnoxious behavior instead of correcting their children. I don’t know the offending boy’s parents, but even if I did and spoke with them, would they even care? What am I supposed to tell my boys? To talk back to someone who is rude? To let it go and recognize some people are just mean? To tell people about their hurt and try to reconcile with them?
I was feeling kind of hopeless about the whole thing. I sat on a bench, my arms dangling on the loaded-up shopping cart under florescent lights while my sons shopped. Do you ever have that feeling of being a stranger to the world, the sense of: what am I doing here?
All of a sudden, above the noise of my thoughts, I became aware that our teen was helping his little brother find the Converse sneakers he wanted. He had left the shoe department to find a clerk and ask for help and he was returning with suggestions on where to find the sneakers. Then, right in front of me, the most beautiful tableau appeared: a little boy, no older than three, was sitting on a bench pretending to try on shoes. His mother came over to him, knelt in front of him, and kissed him tenderly. I pulled out my cell phone to take a picture, but I was too late. The tableau vanished. Then, I looked to my right and and saw my sons, standing by a shoe kiosk, the older one guiding the little one to find his sneakers. So I took the photo above.
And then I thought: I’ve been getting this all wrong. Christ is not just in the comfortable, familiar places, like my hometown and among my neighbors. He is here, too, amid the roads clogged with traffic, the miles of strip shopping malls and clearance racks. God knows we have to live in a material world. He knows we need to clothe and care for our children. Christ has found a way to show Himself to me, in this present moment, in the shoe department of the East Brunswick Kohl’s.
I wrote once that the saints are hard corps. I used a battlefield story from the Korean War era to make my point about how the saints can motivate us to be better Christians. That is, unless they repel us and shame us with their bravery. Like today’s saint, for example.
It is the feast day of St. Benjamin. He was martyred on this day in the year 424 in a manner that brought renown to a certain Transylvanian nobleman named Vlad. But this killing of a devout Christian, for proclaiming the Gospel, happened in Persia long before Bram Stoker was around to write Dracula.
Benjamin was a deacon too. So although he was pretty involved in the affairs of his parish, he was still a little guy like you and me. A warrant officer on His Majesty’s Ships muster roll.
Here is some handy background information that I gleaned from the internet.
The Christians in Persia had enjoyed twelve years of peace during the reign of Isdegerd, son of Sapor III, when in 420 it was disturbed by the indiscreet zeal of Abdas, a Christian Bishop who burned the Temple of Fire, the great sanctuary of the Persians.
Zealots…I hate those guys! Which sounds like one of my favorite lines delivered by Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. Usually hurled at Nazis,other bad guys, etc. As for zealots, it takes one to know one, for as Marines go, I practiced that trade with missionary-like zeal for quite some time.
So this Bishop Abdas got inspired and decided to use the scorched earth policy versus the heathen. Fighting fire with fire. Here is how it worked out.
King Isdegerd threatened to destroy all the churches of the Christians unless the Bishop would rebuild it. As Abdas refused to comply, the threat was executed; the churches were demolished, Abdas himself was put to death, and a general persecution began which lasted forty years.
Notice we aren’t marking the feast of St. Abdas? Well we will be, just not until May 16. That is the day King Isdegerd rounded him and seven others up and had them killed in the year 420. Remember the original 12 disciples? There was a zealot (or two?) among them as well. The Lord loves his zealots, as well as his fishermen and tax collectors, prostitutes, the lame, and even rich guys hiding in the Sanhedrin.
King Isdegerd died in the year 421, but his policies lived on. His son and heir named Varanes assumed the throne with the intentions of remembering his dad’s legacy, not to mention with the intent to placate the institutional anger of his pagan subjects who remembered well that their temples had been destroyed. Actually, King Varanes was going to show his departed dad how he should have handled these pesky Christians.
So here is little Deacon Benjamin, who was sitting in irons for a year, probably since he couldn’t hide from King Varanes and his stool-pidgeons forever. Good news though! An ambassador of the Emperor of Constantinople negotiates Benjamin’s release from jail. But on one condition: Benjamin must never speak of his religion again. You know, to the authorities. Just keep quiet Benjy and all will be well. Maintain a low profile. Live for another day.
Benjamin decides not to play this game. Instead he,
declared it was his duty to preach Christ and that he could not be silent. Although he had been liberated on the agreement made with the ambassador and the Persian authorities, he would not acquiesce in it, and neglected no opportunity of preaching.
Uh-oh. Another zealot. This is going to end badly.
Here is how King Varenes handles Benjamin,
He was again apprehended and brought before the king. The tyrant ordered that reeds should be thrust in between his nails and his flesh and into all the tenderest parts of his body and then withdrawn. After this torture had been repeated several times, a knotted stake was inserted into his bowels to rend and tear him. The martyr expired in the most terrible agony.
Martyrd by Varenes the Impaler.
But Benjamin’s soul lives on. Do you know the origins of the motto of the State of New Hampshire, Live Free or Die? The complete saying is taken from a toast by General John Stark, retired from the victorious Continental Army, given in 1809. It goes: Live free or die. Death is not the worst of evils.
Spoken like another zealot. I think, nay, I know St. Benjamin would agree. For as today’s reading from Isaiah (50:7-8) makes clear,
The Lord GOD is my help, therefore I am not disgraced;
I have set my face like flint,knowing that I shall not be put to shame.
He is near who upholds my right; if anyone wishes to oppose me,
let us appear together.
St. Benjamin, pray for us.
I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Mary Magdalene. Our two daughters are named Martha and Marian, and I privately hoped that we would have a third daughter, named Madeleine. It didn’t happen. I love this image by Alexander Ivanov (1806–1858). And then I came across this poem, “Magdalen.”
I found it (a fragment really) in a book Frank sent me last week: Flowers of Heaven: One Thousand Years of Christian Verse (Ignatius 2005). The mysterious thing is, I can’t find the rest of the poem on line. But then the author is a mystery too: Dunstan Thompson (1918–1975), a native of New England, who moved to Old England and became a hero of the homosexual underground—until he converted to Catholicism and renounced his old life. He even instructed his literary executor never to republish the poems of his early years.
Thompson’s story is told online by the Gay & Lesbian Review. I am not a regular reader; it’s just that this was the best account of Thompson’s life I could find, in fact the only account. If you look at the story through the other end of the telescope than that used by the writer, you might just see a male version of Mary Magdalene.
Here’s a selection from “Magdalen.” If anyone finds the whole thing on line, please let me know:
High in the noonday sky,
His arms thrown open wide,
Love is about to die,
With a thief on either side.
One He has welcomed home,
The other prefers to hate,
Like the Pharisees, who roam
In packs and wait and wait.
The soldiers there below,
Bored and ashamed and blind,
Rattle the dice and throw
Their lives away like rind.
The mocking scholars toss
Their beautiful white heads
Far off; but at the Cross
His mother, calm in pain,
Adoring, and John,
The youngest friend, remain:
Fair weather friendships gone.
And one other. She,
Whose sins have had their share
In blossoming that tree,
Offers her sorrow there.
Those tears are now for Him,
Not for herself; she weeps
Outside her life; eyes swim
Up from their own deeps.
His gift of sacrifice
Opens her rusted heart:
With Him she pays the price
Of love, that suffering art.
And so triumphant grief
Makes her the fourth to stay:
Two innocents, a thief,
And a whore, together pray.
This morning I made my first Franciscan knot. I am inordinately proud of this knot of mine. I only was able to make this knot because Marge, who has been making these knots for—pardon the pun—decades, guided my hands with her hands, which are knotted with arthritis. Marge, a daily communicant, retired nurse, and mother of five, offered to teach the teens in our youth group how to make rosaries. Loading plastic beads on a piece of nylon rope is not hard. Knowing how to make the knots between them is key. I learned this morning if you want to make a rosary out of cord, you have to know how to make the knot.
The Franciscan knots separate the Hail Mary beads and everything else on a rosary, whether it’s the Our Father beads or the Crucifix or the Mary medal. Marge let us cheat and use clear plastic spacers everywhere except before the Crucifix and the Virgin Mary medallion.
To make the Franciscan knot, we used a grooved cord tool, through which we threaded the cord to form the knots. We did a triple overhand with the cord, which represents each of the friars’ Gospel vows. Since the middle ages, Franciscan friars have worn three of these knots on their cords. They stand for poverty, chastity, and obedience. The Poor Clares, who are cloistered Franciscan nuns, wear four knots, the fourth symbolizing their vow of enclosure. Third Order of Secular Franciscans wear five knots for the five wounds of Christ.
The teens spent nearly an hour working on their practice knots, and then chattered away and ate bagels. But I was determined to make a whole rosary. As I tried and tried to make that knot, I started reflecting on knots. The rosary’s origins are the rope cords knotted by desert monks so they could track their daily recitations of the psalms. Now, our rosaries have knots between the smooth prayer beads. What could this tell me? A knot is rough. A bead is smooth. A knot is a difficult place, a place we want to leave. A prayer bead takes us to a soothing place. But when we pray the rosary, we need the knots to hold the beads.
My first Franciscan knot became part of my first rosary. Marge took a break in teaching us rosary making to drive her 88-year-old husband to a physical therapy appointment. She returned to quickly tie the other three knots—perfect ones—for me because we were running out of time. She invited us to her house to practice knot making. She offered to meet with the teens again and keep working on mission rosaries. I left the finished rosary on the table where Marge had gathered her supplies. We were supposed to be sending the rosaries to the missions. Marge told me to take my rosary home. I think she realized I don’t own a rosary. She told me to keep it in my pocket, so that I could show other parishioners we could make rosaries for missions. In her kindness, perhaps she was looking at me as a mission, too.
To some, my plastic rosary might look simple or tacky. When I pull my rosary out of my pocket, however, I think about all the care that goes into handmade rosaries, no matter their appearance. I think of Marge and her hands and her missions. I feel the cord tying her to the Desert Fathers, who thousands of years ago, were tying their knots.