Monday, December 31, 2012

A Year (Almost) of Prayer

Since last May I've been keeping a Prayer Scorecard, a list of answered and unanswered prayers. The original idea was to help me see if my prayers were really being answered. It had been a bleak and difficult year and I needed some measurable evidence.

Now that the year is coming to an end, I've tallied up the prayers. Now, many of them, especially the ones that are still in the Wait or Not Yet Answered category have been moved from month to month, so the tally isn't completely accurate. But the ratio of yes, no and not yet is what interests me.

So, from May to December, there have been:
47 Yes
25 No
78 Not Yet

So, I have had nearly twice as many prayer requests granted as I have had denied. But nearly as many prayers as the combined yes and no are still unanswered. Since most of these, if not all, eventually have to have a yes or no, I'm going to continue keeping the Score Card for a few more months, at least.

And I continue to hope that the majority of prayers will be "yes" again in 2013.

A Year (Almost) of Prayer

Since last May I've been keeping a Prayer Scorecard, a list of answered and unanswered prayers. The original idea was to help me see if my prayers were really being answered. It had been a bleak and difficult year and I needed some measurable evidence.

Now that the year is coming to an end, I've tallied up the prayers. Now, many of them, especially the ones that are still in the Wait or Not Yet Answered category have been moved from month to month, so the tally isn't completely accurate. But the ratio of yes, no and not yet is what interests me.

So, from May to December, there have been:
47 Yes
25 No
78 Not Yet

So, I have had nearly twice as many prayer requests granted as I have had denied. But nearly as many prayers as the combined yes and no are still unanswered. Since most of these, if not all, eventually have to have a yes or no, I'm going to continue keeping the Score Card for a few more months, at least.

And I continue to hope that the majority of prayers will be "yes" again in 2013.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Christmas Miracle

As some of you may know, my mother died last January and I've been griefwalking through the emotional events of a year. Now that Christmas is coming, I decided that I wanted to find her collection of creches in order to give one to my son.

(Not mine, but similar)

My mother collected nativity scenes and I had given her several from my various travels. The one I had in mind was from Italy, a sort of elegant Baroque piece. I thought it was in the garage area where I had stored her things, waiting to sort them when I had the emotional wherewithal.

A friend came with me, to lend support because I was a bit overwhelmed with a flood of renewed grief as I encountered so many of her things that I just hadn't been able to deal with, including boxes and boxes of her paintings and many family photos.

We soon located a box labled "Nativities" but there weren't any creches in it. Another box turned up with the same label, but again it was void of creches. Over the next several hours, we went through every box, and then every box again. The nativities weren't there.

Hot, tired and feeling waves of sorrow, I told my good Baptist friend that I was going to pray to St. Anthony, patron of lost objects.  I did, but to no avail. We offered up a prayer asking Jesus for help, as well, but no creches were to be found.

We looked in the few other places, like the attic with the Christmas decorations where she thought someone might have taken the box, but again to no avail. Back in the garage, looking one last time through the piles of my mother's stuff, I asked Anthony to please please please help.

Finally, as the wind began to signal the storm the weather service said was coming, we gave up. She hugged me and headed home.  I went into the house, feeling the weight of renewed sorrow and grief.  I have tons of mother's stuff to dispose of and the one thing I wanted, her creche collection, was gone.  All I could conclude was that I had taken them to St. Vincent's accidentally, when I was in a grief-pocked haze the days after her death.

I tried to console myself by saying that they were probably bringing someone pleasure this Christmas and it was good that they were being used and not just in a box in the garage.  But it still hurt. I had wanted to give my son a token of remembrance from his grandmother whom he loved dearly, and one of her creches was something he requested.

I tried to think of there was anywhere else I could have put them, but nothing came to mind. Mindlessly I wandered into the formal living room, which is not a room we use very often, and opened a cupboard that I knew was empty.  No, the nativities weren't there. The cupboard was empty, just as I knew it was.

I turned to go back into the kitchen, but, for some reason, I walked behind the sofa, something I never do. There were the creches! Why they would be there, I have no idea, but there they were.Not all of them, but the ones I wanted the most.  I found the Italian one, along with a snow globe one that I had always been particularly fond of and brought them into the kitchen.

Through tears of sheer gratitude to Anthony, I called my friend to tell her the lost had been found. She was as amazed as I was, but I told her that Anthony never fails.

Especially not at Christmas.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Stop Feeding the Evil

Words are inadequate when thinking about the parents and children in today's tragic shooting. Only a visceral sense of pain and anguish can come close.

We can't make sense of such violence, no matter how many people the media interview or how much it is reported over and over.  In fact, living in an area where one of the first school shootings took place--Thurston High--I know the impact it will have on the community and the people involved for the rest of their lives.

I have come to the conclusion, however, that we as a people would be far better off if we didn't headline such events. Yes, they are news and as a journalist I understand the need to maintain the news cycle, but when we give so much attention, so much time and so much energy to such horrific events, it seems to me, in some odd way, we encourage them.  For a psychopath, and such killers have to be psychotic, the idea of becoming world-famous has to be incredibly appealing. To go out in a blaze, if not glory, at least notoriety. It's not at all surprising that two shootings have occurred within a few days. Copycatting for fame is all too common. (Incidentally, The brilliant Sherry Weddell puts it better than I here.)

What I do know is that the more we put our focus on such events, the more we feed the evil. And make no mistake, evil is a consummate consumer of negative human emotion. The more fear we generate, the stronger the evil becomes...and the more fear it desires. It's true on a personal level and it's true nationally and globally.

I can't stop the media reports, but I can stop my own feelings from becoming part of the current of fear and pain. I will not watch tv.  I will not read on the Internet.  I will not continue to talk about what has happened.  I'm not pretending it didn't occur, but I will not continue to feed the evil.

I will pray for the victims.
I will pray for the shooter.
I will pray for our country.

But I refuse to give evil the constant attention it wants.
I will stop feeding the evil.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Gratitude versus Thanks

Gratitude versus Thanks

Happy. Holy. Jolly. Merry. Tra la la la.

‘Tis the season, right?

For many of us, Advent and Christmas are more stressed than blessed. We have all our normal work, plus a slew of extras, mixed in with expectations, dreams and desires, all bathed in the glowing light of Thomas Kinkade memories of things that never were.

This year, in particular, is tough for a lot of people because of the economy. Even modest traditions may have to be modified because of financial reality.

Which brings me to Gratitude versus Thanks.

While the dictionary suggests these are the same, I maintain there is a very real difference.  Thanks is our response to something good, nice, pleasant, kind or generous.  Basically, giving thanks is a reaction to something that has been done to or for us. We give thanks for the tangible, even if it’s an ephemeral tangible like a compliment. Thanks can be heartfelt and deeply emotional but sometimes, thanks is no more than just a quick, tossed-off word. Regardless, thanks is a temporary experience, a momentary surge of emotion, soon to be forgotten by the next new concern that presses upon us.

Gratitude, on the other hand, is a state of being. It has nothing to do with what we have or what is happening to us. It is rooted in the essence of life and of love. And in the essence of Life and Love.

This Advent and Christmas, you may feel as if trying to dredge up thanks is an exercise in Pollyannaism—looking for tiny gold needles in haystacks of moldy straw. However, no matter what your circumstances, you can still live in gratitude—gratitude for the Divine Love that gives you breath; for your body, mind and soul; for life, all life, itself. You can make your very existence into a hymn of gratitude, even as you recognize (and maybe even grumble a bit) about some of the details.

Living in gratitude doesn’t mean you have to prance about with cheery, happy feelings all the time. You can experience any emotion—even sorrow—and still be grateful, because gratitude stems from a decision, not a feeling. You decide to be grateful. Gratitude is what the prophet Habakkuk expresses when he writes:

Though the fig tree does not blossom,
and no fruit is on the vines;
...though the produce of the olive fails
and the fields yield no food;
though the flock is cut off from the fold
and there is no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will exult in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

The woodworker mystical English poet Caryll Houselander called Advent the “season of the seed.”

This Advent, I encourage you to plant a seed of gratitude deep within your heart so that no matter what happens—unblossomed fig trees and barren fields or rich harvest and filled storehouses—you will be at peace—that” peace of God, which transcends all understanding.”

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Our Lady of Guadalupe

In honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe and 12-12-12, my book on Mary, 365 Mary, is one of my favorites. It came from a deep place in my heart. You can find it here.

Gifts that Give Back

This first appeared in Our Sunday Visitor. You can see the original online at

 Christmas gifts that give back


Homemade or eco-friendly items can touch the heart of the recipient

It’s the signs of the times.
Because of the economic climate, many of us are cutting back on gift-giving this year. But none of us want to be seen as the Grinch. As the Neiman-Marcus catalog once said, “Tokens of affection don’t have to be extravagant to be brilliantly received,” but most of us already know that. The best gifts are those that reflect the personality of giver and touch the heart of the recipient, regardless of monetary value.
If a gift can have a positive (or at least neutral) effect on the environment, that’s an additional bonus. The catch is that coming up with pocketbook-easy and eco-friendly gifts isn’t as easy as going to the mall and pulling out a credit card. But in today’s world, spending limited resources on one more easily forgotten tchotchke isn’t feasible. And it isn’t in keeping with our calling as Christians, who are here not just for our own personal pleasure but to create a loving relationship with our God; to build strong, virtuous families; and, as Pope Benedict XVI so often reminds us, to be stewards of our planet.
Here are a few ideas for gift giving this Christmas that can help us celebrate with joy and responsibility.

Going green

Soy wax or beeswax candles: Regular candles are petroleum based, so by using a renewable resource such as soy or beeswax, you can still enjoy the glow without the waste.
National Parks Pass: For $80, four adults and all the children under 16 you can fit in the car can visit any of America’s 391 National Parks, monuments, battlefields, military or historical parks, historic sites, lakeshores, seashores, recreation areas and scenic rivers and trails for one year. It even includes entrance to the White House.
Bamboo: The fastest growing woody plant in the world is now being used for everything from flooring to bath towels, clothing to dishes. Bamboo is not only a quickly renewing resource, a bamboo forest can make a substantial difference in reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as well as restoring nutrients to depleted or overused lands. Check out some unique gift ideas at:
Antiques: The ultimate prestige green gift, an antique combines the best of history and recycling. Give a family treasure or find a new heirloom at a flea market or tag sale.
Local food: Look for an agricultural co-op in your area to see what sorts of foods are available. You may be able to get farm fresh eggs, root vegetables and meat even in the dead of winter.
Visit to find farms and farmers’ markets in your area.
iTunes or Netflix gift cards: Eliminate the plastic cases with downloadable music. For movies, let the post office handle the delivery and return, saving gasoline, travel time and overdue fees.
Metal water bottle: We all should drink more water, but plastic bottles aren’t very earth friendly. A metal water bottle and/or a water tap filter can provide clean water at a fraction of the cost of bottled.
The Splurge : If you want to spend a bit more on an environmentally friendly gift, consider a solar charger. Use the sun to juice up your GPS, camera, iPod, cell phone or anything else that needs to be plugged to recharge. It might not replace all your plug-in time, but it can certainly reduce electrical use.


Crocheted or knit scarf: Even if you are craft-challenged, knitting or crocheting a scarf is an easy, almost foolproof project. With some of the gorgeous yarns out there, even a beginner can make something that looks couture.
Baked goods : Who doesn’t love real chocolate chip cookies, a fresh pie or a homemade chocolate cake? As long as you avoid fruitcake, treats from the kitchen are always welcome. An added bonus — you and your children or grandchildren can do the baking together and build treasured memories.
Soap or candles: It’s not difficult to make either soap or candles from supplies at your local craft store. Pick a signature scent such as lavender and create a unique and practical gift.
Personalized recipe books: Every family has favorite recipes that shouldn’t be forgotten. Create a personalized recipe book for adult children. If you are feeling generous, include the ingredients to make one of the dishes along with the recipes.
Chocolate spoons and coffee: Dip plastic spoons in melted chocolate, let dry and wrap with colored plastic wrap. Include some fair-trade coffee and maybe a handmade mug from a craft fair (or paint your own at a pottery painting store) for the caffeine lovers on your list.
Flavored cooking oil: Nothing could be simpler for the chef in the family. Drop a few spri gs of rosemary into a bottle of extra virgin olive oil and let sit. Gourmet taste at a fraction of the cost.
Photo album: Create individual photo albums of their childhoods for your children. If you don’t want to break up your own albums, have copies made and give each one the story of their own life.
Jewelry: What could be easier than stringing a few beads and adding a clasp for a one-of-a-kind necklace or earring? Craft and bead stores have all the supplies and will even show you how to create your masterpiece.
The Splurge: For a truly one of a kind handmade gift, consider a quilt made of memorabilia. For instance, use outgrown sports jerseys for the athlete in the family. Or doll clothes for your too cool daughter who isn’t quite ready to give up her Barbie collection. Or incorporate a favorite theme, like cats or beer mugs, into the design for an adult. If you aren’t a quilter yourself, paying someone to make one out of your memory materials can create a lifelong treasure.

Timely Gifts

Sometimes it’s more difficult to give of your time than it is of your money. Giving of time requires a commitment of self and an engagement with others that simply buying something doesn’t. Because of that, gifts of time can be some of the greatest you will ever give. A few suggestions:
Cleaning: New moms, elderly parents, sick or disabled friends would all be delighted if someone took on some of the truly “dirty jobs” like cleaning the toilet, scrubbing the kitchen garbage container or sweeping out the fireplace ashes.
Yard work: Another area where elbow grease is appreciated is the yard. Shoveling snow, clearing away debris or helping plant flowers in the spring can all be made into gifts.
Laundry: Washing and drying isn’t usually too difficult, but ironing is another story. Unfortunately, we all have something that needs ironing. Offering to do that task can put stars in your crown here and in heaven.
Home repair: What seems simple to you may be impossible for a tool-challenged relative or friend. So, adjust that shelf, hook up the VCR or adjust the hinges on the door as your gift this year.
Monthly date: Nothing is more treasured than one-on-one time. Make a date with your parents, your children, your adult children, your grandchildren, your nieces and nephews, your close friends and spend time just “being” with each other.

For Kids

Crazy crayons: Melt down used and broken crayons, pour swirls of color into a design and create your own unique “crazy crayons” that will color multiple colors at one stroke.
Handmade coloring book: Most computer graphic programs will change a picture to a line drawing, so make a unique coloring book featuring a child’s own family members, pets, friends, house, school.
Baby’s album: Put copies of pictures of a child’s first days of life into an inexpensive photo album and let them have their very own “book” of life.
Book on tape : Read a favorite storybook onto a tape recorder or make an MP3 file and give both your “book on tape” and the actual book to a child or grandchild.


Some families love giving each other donations; others feel cheated with only a slip of paper under the tree. If your family is one that enjoys donating in each others’ names, be sure to pick charities that the receiver would want to support, not the causes that you love. A good clearinghouse for international charities is, but don’t overlook local charities, like your humane society, museum or women’s shelter. To check out the validity of a charity, go to

Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great American poet, said, “The greatest gift is a portion of thyself.” This Christmas, as we give thanks for the greatest gift of all — the coming of God’s own son — let us give a portion of ourselves in every gift we give.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Prayer Scorecard.

The road to hell is paved with good intention and certainly the road to blogging is paved with good intentions of regular entries.  I'm trying to ignore how long it's been since I last came here.  I must have good reasons, right?

One thing that I have meant to do for several weeks is give an update on the Prayer Scorecard. Since last May I've been keeping a record of my prayers: Yes, No, Not Answered. I've wanted to see just how many prayers were answered and what those answers are.

Now many of them have been relatively minor and immediate; sort of "daily bread" prayers. Others are much larger and more major. Not surprisingly, the more major prayers are still in the Not Answered category. These deal with relationships, finances, restoration after theft, life direction and other BIG things. Sometimes I'm not quite sure if I will actually know the point when these prayers are answered or if they will sort of just gradually unfold.  However, I do know that at least some of them--like the restoration of my property after a theft--is either going to happen or it isn't so there will be a definite yes or no at some point.

I'm not any more sure now than I was last May why some prayers are answered and others aren't. And I don't understand why some prayers that I've prayed with heart and soul have been denied. (I didn't pray to win the mega-lottery!)

So with that, the 7 plus month tally is:
38 Yes
13 No
13 Unanswered

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Healing Across the Borders of Time

I mentioned last post that I have six prayers for this Year of Faith, the first being for healing. 

Not physical healing but rather healing of those things that have been transmitted through the generations that now cause me to suffer in ways that God might not intend.

The first time I came across the idea that we might be able to heal across time was in a small book about healing your family tree.  I'm not even sure who the author was.  At the time I thought it was an odd idea, both that a family tree needed healing and that one could do so. However, as I've grown older, the idea became more viable. After all, when we go to the doctor, one of the first things s/he has us do is fill out a form that asks if there is cancer or diabetes or heart disease in any close family member.  If the propensity toward physical illness can be transmitted, why not the tendency toward spiritual illness?

As I looked back over my family lineage (with the help of a genealogy chart), I realized that as far back as I know, both sides of my family have been subject to divorce. It was hard to find a single couple that didn't experience it, and certainly none of the family branches were spared.

Another trait is, as I mentioned earlier, a tendency toward depression and anxiety. I was shocked at just how many people in the family suffered from these twin demons.

There are more, in varying degrees, that flow like malevolent sap through the tree, withering and stunting the growth of the leaves and oft-times preventing good fruit from being produced.

So I decided that my first prayer would be to ask that somehow, through God's grace, the effects of the origining sin (not Original Sin, but, say, the first time divorce entered the family) be healed and the effects be halted; that whatever suffering that exists in my life and the lives of my family members because of these familial traits be removed.

I'm not sure what I'm expecting. All I know is that I do expect that the prayer will be answered. How, when and where, I don't know.  But this is the Year of Faith...and I'm trying to exercise my own, often wobby faith.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Prayers in a Year of Faith

As those who have read the blog this past year know, I've been keeping a "score card" of prayers for several months.  I missed October so before it is already time for November, October's tally was:
9 Yes
3 No
11 Not answered or seemingly in progress.

Three of the yeses were major:  No breast cancer and clear reports on two other health issues. The rest were moderate to small--such as having a call that I had been waiting for returned almost the instant I prayed about it and a successful compromise on a tricky issue.

One of the noes seemed like a big deal at the time--that I would have a clear mammogram--and when it came back not good, that felt like a pretty big NO!  But in the end, it led to an even bigger Yes. It certainly was a time of struggling with faith and I can't say that I did really well throughout. But it did show me that the no wasn't the end of the prayer.

Which brings me to my six-part series on Prayers in a Year of Faith.

I have decided that in addition to my "score card," which I am still keeping because I'm finding the process intriguing and I'd like to see what the result is after a year, I am going to focus on six specific prayers this Year of Faith. Six prayers that seem key to this stage of my life. 

The first is Healing.  Not of a specific disease although that might still make the "score card" sometime, but a particular kind of healing. Healing of those things that have been transmitted through the generations that now cause me to suffer in ways that God might not intend.  For example, my father and mother were both over-wrought, highly-strung individuals who worried themselves sick and lived in a constant state of nerves. Now, as I get older, I find myself in much the same position, despite what I hope is faith in God's provision. I have become more familiar with the racing heart, the shortness of breath, the lightheadedness of anxiety than I would wish on anyone. especially since my mother's death last January. And, to be blunt, it sucks. Even with all the assistance modern medicine and psychology can provide, it still sucks to be thrust in flight or fright without warning and without so much as a natural disaster, wild beast or apocalyptic event to trigger it.

I don't know if this tendency is something biological, chemical, emotional, spiritual, or merely modeled and learned, but I have decided that in this Year of Faith, I am going to pray that whatever part of it I have "inherited" from my parents (and their nerve-racked generations before them) will be transformed under the healing power and gift of God. I am praying that if there is an inherited quality to this, that with God's grace I can stop that part now, and not pass it on to my son or my (possible) grandchildren.

So my first prayer is for Generational Healing; that I might be like the woman who touched the tassel of Jesus' cloak, believing in faith that I and my family can be healed of those tendencies, those failings, those weaknesses which may have come down through the family tree. That from this point forward they will be replaced by peace, confidence and trust.

And so, my first prayer is based on this prayer by Fr. John Hampsch.

Prayer for Healing
the Family Tree
Rev. John H. Hampsch, CMF
Heavenly Father, I come before you as your child, in great need of your help; I have physical health needs, emotional needs, spiritual needs, and interpersonal needs. Many of my problems have been caused by my own failures, neglect and sinfulness, for which I humbly beg your forgiveness, Lord. But I also ask you to forgive the sins of my ancestors whose failures have left their effects on me in the form of unwanted tendencies, behavior patterns and defects in body, mind and spirit. Heal me, Lord, of all these disorders.
With your help I sincerely forgive everyone, especially living or dead members of my family tree, who have directly offended me or my loved ones in any way, or those whose sins have resulted in our present sufferings and disorders. In the name of your divine Son, Jesus, and in the power of his Holy Spirit, I ask you, Father, to deliver me and my entire family tree from the influence of the evil one. Free all living and dead members of my family tree, including those in adoptive relationships, and those in extended family relationships, from every contaminating form of bondage. By your loving concern for us, heavenly Father, and by the shed blood of your precious Son, Jesus, I beg you to extend your blessing to me and to all my living and deceased relatives. Heal every negative effect transmitted through all past generations, and prevent such negative effects in future generations of my family tree.
I symbolically place the cross of Jesus over the head of each person in my family tree, and between each generation; I ask you to let the cleansing blood of Jesus purify the bloodlines in my family lineage. Set your protective angels to encamp around us, and permit Archangel Raphael, the patron of healing, to administer your divine healing power to all of us, even in areas of genetic disability. Give special power to our family members' guardian angels to heal, protect, guide and encourage each of us in all our needs. Let your healing power be released at this very moment, and let it continue as long as your sovereignty permits.
In our family tree, Lord, replace all bondage with a holy bonding in family love. And let there be an ever-deeper bonding with you, Lord, by the Holy Spirit, to your Son, Jesus. Let the family of the Holy Trinity pervade our family with its tender, warm, loving presence, so that our family may recognize and manifest that love in all our relationships. All of our unknown needs we include with this petition that we pray in Jesus' precious Name. Amen.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sunday Gratitude

It's been a month since I blogged here.  I'd like to say it was a blog-ation by some other clever term, but it simply was an absence created by my response to stress and distress. Unlike other writers who become prolific and expansive with their words when under pressure, I go sort of numb and blank.  I withdraw, retreat, internalize. I draw a curtain about me as I try to process what's going on and work out my response.

So, for Sunday's gratitude:
1. That I do not have breast cancer.  After many tests and multiple screenings and examination of the tissue by three pathologists, I do not have cancer.  For this I am more than grateful (and it is the main reason for my extended blogging absence.)
2. That a relationship that was once seen as beyond repair is being healed in a miraculous fashion.
3. That I have meaningful work to do this week that will actually bring in some money!
4. For good friends who love me even when I go silent on them.
5. For Island Coconut Coffee for my Keurig.

May this week be one of many thanks and hopefully the restart of my blogging.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Reflections on Passing on the Faith

I've written about children, passing on our faith and what happens when our children leave the church over at catholic moms talk blog.

Here's the opening:

Passing our faith on to our children is one of the challenges all of us face as parents. To listen  to some people, all of whose kids have remained in the Church, talk about how they made sure they attended Mass as a family, said prayers together  etc. and that’s the reason their kids have remained Catholic can make us feel like a failure when we did all the same things and one or more of our children have stopped practicing the faith.

 Find the rest here.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Year of Faith

Today heralds the beginning of the Year of Faith for Catholics. It also marks the 50th anniversary of Vatican II.

In remembrance, I want to share this Council Daybook from that opening day. From Catholic News Service at

(The emphasized words are mine. I find them even more hopeful today than for the time in which they were written.)

Council Daybook, Vol. 1
Opening General Congregation
October 11, 1962
Pope John XXIII set the tone for the Second Vatican Council by declaring at its solemn opening that it would be a council of hope and a preparation for Christian unity.
Pope John declared that the Church “considers it her duty to work actively” toward the realization of Christ’s prayer for Christian unity.
He also stressed that the prophets of disaster are not to be heeded and that the ecumenical council will concentrate on emphasizing the validity of the Church’s teaching rather than concern itself with condemning heresies.
The Pope proclaimed his fearless hope that the council “will bring the Church up-to-date where required.” He assured the cardinals and bishops gathered around him near the tomb of St. Peter that the council will compel “men, families and peoples everywhere to turn their minds toward heavenly things.”
He confessed that he has frequently been bothered by prophets of doom, who with misplaced zeal have tried to convince him that the modern world is lost in a “morass of prevarication and ruin.”
These prophets, the Pope noted, say that our era in comparison with past ages is constantly growing worse. Such men have learned nothing from history, Pope John said, for they seem to believe that “in the past, particularly at the time of former councils, everything was a full triumph for the Christian idea and way of life and for proper religious liberty.”
In actual fact, the Pope said, these prophets of disaster are wrong. Divine Providence is guiding the Church today, he continued, “toward a new order in human relations wherein — by men’s own efforts and even beyond their greatest expectations — the superior and inscrutable designs of God’s will are being fulfilled.”
The Pope said that he sees even in the constant differences among men advantages that lead to the greater good of the Church.
Pope John expressed his gladness that the ecumenical council can meet in an atmosphere of freedom from the political pressures exerted on past councils.
Even though the majority of mankind today is locked in controversy over the direction in which political and economic order should be pursued, he said, and although vast numbers have no time or regard for spiritual reality, “the new conditions of modern life have at least this advantage: They have eliminated those innumerable obstacles by which at one time the sons of this world impeded the free action of the Church.”
The Pope noted with sorrow the absence of many bishops restrained by godless governments. But he said that he foresees that the Church, untrammeled by political considerations, will “from this Vatican basilica, as if from a second apostolic cenacle, now through the intervention of her bishops, raise her voice anew with resonant majesty and greatness.”
The principal concern of the new council is to discover methods whereby the deposit of Christian doctrine will be both safeguarded and taught more effectively, he continued. It will teach men how to fulfill their duties as citizens both of heaven and earth, he said.
Commenting on Christ’s words, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His justice,” the Pope cautioned that the second part of this quotation – “and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6, 33) — must constantly be kept in mind. This means, he said, that those who seek evangelical perfection with all their might must not fail to make themselves useful to society.
While the doctrine of the Church is to influence human activities in all fields, it is necessary that the Church should never depart from the sacred patrimony of truth received from the Fathers, he said, adding:
“At the same time, however, she must ever look to the present, to new conditions and new forms of life introduced into the modern world which have opened new, avenues to the Catholic apostolate.”
The 2lst ecumenical council, drawing on the wealth of the Church’s juridical, liturgical, apostolic and administrative experience, will transmit to the world without distortion the doctrines of the Church, he said.
But the key point of the council, the Pope declared, is not the discussion of one article or another the fundamental doctrine of the Church. He noted that what as been taught by the Fathers and theologians is presumed to be familiar to all.
Rather, he said, what the world expects is “a step forward toward a doctrinal penetration and a formation of consciences, in faithful and perfect conformity to the authentic doctrine, which, however, should be studied and expounded through the methods of research and through the literary forms of modern thought.” The Church desires that the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith should now be conveyed in an effective “pastoral” manner, he declared.
Referring to the question of the condemnation of heresies, Pope John said: “While the Church has always repressed errors and frequently in the past condemned them with great severity, today the Spouse of Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity.
“She considers that she meets the needs of the present day by demonstrating the validity of her teaching, rather than by condemnation.”
In fact, he said, the fallacious opinions and dangerous concepts that must always be guarded against are so evidently in contrast with the truth, that “by now it would seem that men of themselves are inclined to condemn them, particularly those ways of life which despise God and His law or place excessive confidence in technical progress and a well-being based exclusively on the comforts of life.”
Noting the presence of many important personalities from all over the world, the Pope assured them of a new hope which, seconding the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, would certainly make the council “a revolutionary event not merely for the well-being of the Church but for the progress of human society.”
Msgr. James I. Tucek
NC Rome bureau chief

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Sunday Gratitude--Late

Sometimes, I just go clonk.  As in, I don't seem to be able to focus or accomplish much of anything.
That's what happened on Sunday.  I met a friend who was in town for a brief visit; we attended Divine Liturgy at the Nativity of the Mother of God Ukrainian Catholic church and then I just sort of went clonk.

So here's the Sunday gratitude a few days late:

1.  Sunshine.  I don't care if it's getting dry in Oregon.  We drown 10 months of the year.  Sunshine keep on shining.
2.  Energy to walk.  I have had times in my life when I haven't been horribly fatigued, so being able to walk between 3/4 and 1.5 miles for the past few days is a blessing.  Even though I'm not crazy about walking.
3. Lavender.  On said walk there are a few lavender bushes with blooms.  I pull them through my fingers and relish the scent.
4.  For continued restoration of a relationship that I thought was beyond healing.
5.  Fresh beans, tomatoes, and cucumber from the little garden a friend put in for me.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

In honor of St. Francis, an article I wrote on a great new book about him. The piece first appeared in Our Sunday Visitor.

A fresh look at a familiar saint: Francis of Assisi

New biography looks past the pious tales and misconceptions to reveal a complex man who was obedient to God’s will

By Woodeene Koenig-Bricker - OSV Newsweekly, 5/20/2012
“Francis of Assisi” was released in April. Cornell University Press
Of all the saints of the Church, St. Francis of Assisi is one of the most famous and most beloved. He has been adopted, or perhaps appropriated is a better word, by everyone from radical feminists, environmentalists, reformers and animal lovers to secularists, traditionalists and more. He has had words put into his mouth that he never spoke (see sidebar on “Prayer of St. Francis”) and had his own words ignored. Characterized as the “holy hippie,” he has inspired millions for nearly 800 years.
“Francis of the received tradition is a happy troubadour of God,” said Dominican Father Augustine Thompson, author of a new biography titled “Francis of Assisi” (Cornell University Press, $29.95). “That’s the popular image and it’s not made up. He loved to sing in bad French and play his air violin, but the Francis I came to know experienced the deep darkness as well.” 
Man and myth   
In this extensive work, based on all the existent original documents, including those written by Francis, the saint emerges as a much more complex and complicated man than previously believed, tormented by interior demons, nearly overwhelmed by the challenges of governing a religious movement and troubled by self-doubt, yet still a shining figure of the transforming power of an encounter with the living Christ.
The Prayer of St. Francis
“I have often been astonished at how unhappy students can be when they encounter a different Francis from the one they expect. Oddly enough, the most painful moment usually comes when they discover that St. Francis did not write the ‘Peace Prayer of St. Francis.’ … The ‘Peace Prayer’ is modern and anonymous, originally written in French, and dates to about 1912, when it was published in a minor French spiritual magazine, La Clochette. Noble as its sentiments are, Francis would not have written such a piece, focused as it is on the self, with its constant repetition of the pronouns ‘I’ and ‘me,’ the words ‘God’ and ‘Jesus’ never appearing once.”  
Father Thompson, professor of history at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, and a member of the core doctoral faculty of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif., has created a two-part book. The first half is a biography written for popular readers; the second half is a scholarly treatise of the medieval sources and academic issues surrounding Francis, including how to construct a biography in the modern sense when even his first biographer had the agenda of presenting him as a saint and therefore utilized hagiographic stereotypes and mythical events.
It’s not that the earlier versions of Francis were wrong per se: “Every myth, modern or medieval, contains a truth. What a hagiographer does is remodel the story to give a theological message,” Father Thompson said. “The job of the hagiographer is not to tell a history. ... Legends about Francis are true, they just aren’t historically true. I’ll give an example. I don’t believe there was any dream by Pope Innocent III about this little man holding up the Lateran Basilica. However, the introduction of that dream by the hagiographer is not a historical point. The function of the dream to explain what Francis is about. That his mission of creating a new religious order is going to save and support the Church. The hagiographer uses hagiographical types to comment on the saint.”
Because of that, traditional hagiography helps the reader understand that the person is actually a saint. “They conform them to the canons of what an age thinks a saint should be like,” Father Thompson added. “By the way, I’ve done it too, in the sense that I’ve made a human Francis and our age wants our saints to be human. We want to hear [that our saints] are like Christ, which means they have all the weaknesses of humanity except sin and at the same time God is present and working in them.”
The Francis that Father Thompson discovered in his research was very human. “Francis goes through dark nights of the soul, when he was feeling inadequate,” he said. “Francis is not the birdbath saint, not someone who never discovered he was wrong on anything or who never had any doubts. He was a very fragile psyche, who carried with him a lot of demons, not just those that attacked him. He struggled with the horrors of the battles he witnessed. I don’t like doing psychology on someone who lived 800 years ago, but he was clearly traumatized by his time in the military.” 
And yet, “The image of him spontaneously desiring to follow God’s will wherever it would lead him; that’s the kind of free spirit part of Francis that is true. If he perceives God is telling him to do something, if it’s something he doesn’t expect and it’s weird, he will do it. I think that is beautiful and it’s true.”
Major misconceptions   
Of all the misconceptions we have about Francis, three seem prevalent. The first is that his parents were bitterly antagonistic to him. In looking at the documents, Father Thompson came to a much more sympathetic picture of Pietro de Bernardone, his wife Pica and their other son, Angelo. In the earliest accounts, “they don’t understand they have a saint on their hands, that’s the earliest description of the relationship. … By the time you get to the 1240s, his father has been turned into a totally evil person and his mother has become the secret protector, but in the earliest versions [his father is presented] as someone who is suffering and doesn’t understand his son.” In fact, Francis behaved in ways that weren’t always saintly with regard to his family, such as mortifying Pietro by hiring a man to follow him through the streets of Assisi calling out a blessing.
A second misconception is that Francis’ great conversion came as a result of renouncing his family fortune, when it actually occurred a bit later when he worked among the lepers. “This encounter with lepers, not the act of stripping off his clothing before the bishop, would always be for Francis the core of his religious experience,” Father Thompson told OSV. “As near as we can tell, it happened on the outskirts of Assisi. … Wherever the leprosarium was, Francis lodged there with the residents and earned his keep caring for them. His experience with them had nothing to do with choices between wealth and poverty, knightly pride and humility or even doing service instead of conducting business. It was a dramatic personal orientation that brought forth spiritual fruit. … Francis says, ‘When I was in my sins, God took me among the lepers and he worked mercy through them and he made what was previously bitter to be sweet. I did not wait long to leave the world.’”
The third and perhaps most major misunderstanding is his relationship to the Church. 
“Francis was a faithful Catholic,” Father Thompson said. “If there is a problem with the appropriation of Francis as an ecologist, a feminist, you can go down the list, how he would have identified himself is lost.” 
Even though we frequently bring Francis into our modern preoccupations and issues, Father Thompson reiterated, “The problem is that these are modern concerns, and Francis isn’t a 21st-century American.” He stressed that “the one thing people need to remember Francis was a devout, committed 13th-century Catholic and that helps explain many things about him.” Often biographers edit out things that don’t make sense to modern readers, like his preoccupation with clean altar cloths and proper vessels for Mass. “He has six letters harping on this,” Father Thompson said. “The usual biography of Francis just deep sixes that because today being a rubric hound and sacristy rat is not what those who like to talk spirituality think a saint should be.”
Dependence on God   
Father Thompson said that if we are to know the real Francis, we have to be willing to shed some of our preconceived notions. One is that of “Francis as a religious genius at war with the institutional Church, misunderstood by the institutional Church. This is the theme, implicitly or explicitly, of virtually every Hollywood version of Francis. … It is completely anachronistic. … One of the things Francis taught me is that holiness is impossible without fidelity to Catholic teaching.”
Father Thompson said that among the positive things he learned from his study of Francis are that “the love of God is something that remakes the soul,” and that “true Christian freedom comes from obedience, not autonomy.” But perhaps the most important lesson is that “the core of his spirituality was absolute dependence on God, and the desire to always be the lesser brother. … His willingness to follow wherever God leads him even when it’s not something he expected, that kind of spontaneous seeking to do God’s will … is a theme of his life, a beautiful theme and I think it’s true.”
While this new look at Francis might prove disturbing to some people who have been weaned on such pious legends as the Wolf of Gubbio, the real saint may be even more compelling, since he suffered from many of the doubts and stresses we experience today including trying to hear and obey God’s call in our lives. 
Yet, despite it all, he shows us that the only true way to peace and eternal happiness lies in becoming the unique individual God has created each of us to be.

Monday, October 01, 2012

None so blind

I scratched my cornea last week and it's been attempting to heal...slowly.  I have moments of fairly good visions and long stretches where I'm looking at the world through a scratched plexiglass shield.  Since I pretty much depend on my vision to write and edit, it's been frustrating and troubling, to say the least.

But the doctor says it will heal, given time.

So, as I put cold cloths on my eyes and lie on my back, saying the rosary and pondering things, I wonder what it is that I'm not seeing metaphysically speaking?  I've come to realize that those sayings like, "He's a pain in the neck" and "That gives me a headache" aren't just metaphors; they reflect a mind-body wisdom. When someone really annoys us, we do get a pain in the neck or a headache.  It's the link between our mind and body.

So I've been asking myself what it is that I'm not seeing clearly in my life, what I'm not willing to see clearly? Such self-analysis isn't all that easy.  If it were, it probably wouldn't manifest itself physically. 

So I'm taking some time to think, to pray and to reflect.  To ask the Holy Spirit to show me what it is that I'm avoiding by not looking at it, what is blurry and unclear in my life. 

I'm not sure what it is, but I do know that when the insight comes, and it will come of that I'm sure, it will be one of those AHA moments where the light of clarity breaks through and all of a sudden I will see clearly--physically and spiritually.

Until then, I'm going to go put another cold cloth on my eyes.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sunday Gratitude and September Prayer

I'm sort of tired today so the day has ebbed off the page.  And I'm really irritated because I lost one of my favorite opal earrings.  Grrrrr....Since I went to several stores, it could be anywhere and retracing all my steps would be impossible.  Grrrr....

But despite that, today I am grateful:

1. The fountain the cats jarred without my knowing it and that had been leaking on the floor for several days didn't ruin anything that I can see.
2. That I was able to find the exact kind of pantry moth trap that I wanted.
3. Pumpkin spice muffins.
4. A good conversation in the ongoing healing of a relationship.
5. My library with its great librarians...and the fact I thought I had lost my library card, but it was actually stuck to the back of my driver's license.

As for the Prayer Score Card, it was an interesting month .
2 Yes
0 No
14 Unanswered.

The two yes had to do  with some aid with finances and the good results of a series of medical tests. The unanswered run the gamut from finances to relationships to life changes.  And so far, all of them are in a holding pattern, no answer and not even a real direction so far.

As I said, it was an interesting month, prayer-wise.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Pacing the Cage

Bruce Cockburn has a song covered by Jimmy Buffett called "Pacing the Cage." I often have listened to it in the late summer/early fall because it has the sort of melancholy feel that matches my mood this time of year.

I think Nefer feels the same way.  He has been pacing endlessly from window to window, meowlying at the top of his lungs.  Apparently he thinks if he yowls and paces long enough I'm going to throw open the door and let him out into the fall sunshine.

Because I don't do that, he has taken to vaulting over my head to hurl himself out the door each time it is opened. Today, as he used my shoulder as his pummel horse, I caught his hind leg in mid-leap. He promptly dug his claws into my back, which I think is bleeding, but I can't see for sure.  He definitely planted his talons, both to secure himself and to show his disdain.

I think there is some lesson in here. Besides the obvious one of giving up and letting the damn cat go outside.  Maybe it's just that constantly pacing the cage and yelling displeasure at God for not having given me what I want isn't actually going to accomplish anything.  Because God is not above grabbing me by the hind leg when I bolt for the door.

I'm not really sure.

But for now, "Sometimes the best map will not guide you. You can't see what's round the bend. Sometimee the road leads through dark places. Sometimes the darkness is your friend. Today these eyes scan bleached out lands for the comin' of the outbound stage. Pacing the cage."

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sunday Gratitude and Answered Prayer

On this Sunday that sits on the cusp of fall, I am grateful for:
1. Answered prayer. (See below)
2. A crock pot so that the apples can turn into applesauce without my tending.
3. Gregorian chant.
4. A(mostly) clean counter. (Why are counters so hard to keep clean?)
5. Pomegranate flavored water.(Trader Joe's, pomegranate and cherry water enhancers.  A new favorite thing.)

As September draws to a close, it's time to look over the Prayer Score Card so far this month. But before I do, I want to make a few observations. First, the longer something has been on my prayer list, the more likely it is that the prayer has changed a bit over time.  Sometimes I no longer want it (not very often, but sometimes). Or circumstances have changed and the prayer is no longer relevant.

Second, answers, both "yes" and "no" have some correlation to specificity. In other words, a vague sort of prayer tends to get vague sort of answer and a very specific prayer tends to get a specific response.  Not always, of course, often it seems that is the case.

 Finally, it's hard to be persistent in prayer.  I want to pray and get an answer, but this exercise, in which some prayers have been on my list for as long as 7 months is teaching to keep on praying, even when there seems to be no answer.

So the score for the moment is:
13 Not answered
1 Yes
0 No.

Persistence.  I have to remind myself to persist.

I confess

I nodded at the man coming out the side door of the sacristy. Four o’clock on a Saturday afternoon, with the vigil mass starting in about an hour, I figured he was doing whatever it is that people do in the sacristy an hour before Mass. (Count hosts? Put out the chalice?)

I was there for Confession.

This is not one of those “I’ve been away from the sacrament for years and I can’t believe what I’ve missed” stories because I’ve always gone to Confession on a regularly irregular basis. Currently I even have a confessor whom I see on an irregularly regular basis. However, for the past I have no idea how many years, 20 or more I’ll guess, I’ve made an appointment and sat down with the priest for a spiritual chat/confession. My penances have always been practical, get your life in order orders. Confession has been a very private thing.

But today, for a number of reasons, I felt the need to go to Confession at the church.
I don’t know what I was expecting. Cobwebs growing over the confessional door? One or two other people? The profound depths of a silent church?

The first surprise was that the sanctuary was flooded with Gregorian chant. Since there wasn’t a choir in evidence, and I don’t think I was hearing the angels sing, I’m assuming it was a recording. Nonetheless, I’ve always been quite fond of Gregorian chant, the strains immediately put me in a “churchy” state of mind. 

There was a small, minor problem. I wasn’t entirely certain where the confessional was. Despite all the years I’ve come to this particular church, I’ve never been to private confession here. It didn’t take me long to figure it out. All I had to do was trace the long line, 25 at one count, of penitents snaking their way down the center aisle of the church from nearly the main altar to the far left corner of the sanctuary.  That was the second surprise. So many people on a Saturday when the University of Oregon had a home game!

The sight of that extensive line immediately jettisoned me into a time warp. Instantly, I was a girl again, standing with my mother in a very similar line on a very similar Saturday afternoon at St. Francis Xavier church in Missoula, Montana. For a few seconds, past and present swirled in my head and childish sins like disobeying my mother merged in my brain with more adult ones like aecidia and pride. Along with the disorientation, came the visceral expectation of spiritual cleanliness that I had when I went to confession as a child, a feeling that I haven’t experienced for many years.
I took my place in line, behind an elderly gentleman with a grizzled beard and snowy white tennis shoes and in front of a young mother with a nursing baby. Within minutes, the trailing line consisted of a young family, a middle-aged woman, a husband and wife, and two teenagers. At that point, I decided that I ought to pay more attention to the reason I was here than to my fellow sinners, so I stopped looking behind me and tried to look inward. 

We all stood, carefully spaced along the pews, so as not to invade any personal space. As each person emerged from behind the draperies of the confessional, the next person moved up a pew. Now and then, I could hear Father’s voice as he pronounced the words of absolution, but beyond that, the sounds of Latin chant prevented any untoward overhearing of transgressions. Not being a particularly good queue-waiter, I got tired and leaned against my pew so as to better focus on the stained glass window just above me.

My monkey mind, as the Buddhists call it, was captivated by the red, yellow and blue chips of glass and I caught myself thinking that I had never actually studied the colors of the windows and wondering how they compared with the colors of the great cathedrals like Chartres. It was only with great effort, that I directed my attention inwardly, to the state of my soul. I went over the reasons for my being there, my transgressions, my sins.

For about two minutes.

Then the monkey took over again and I began to wonder if there was always this long of a line for confession, if it had always been that way, if there was a sudden resurgence of interest in the sacrament and if so, why. I surreptitiously checked out the line again, noting that the people covered every age group, and, judging from the styles of clothing, it wasn’t just the uber-conservative, chapel veil crowd either. 

All of a sudden, the elderly man in front of me bolted out of line. I wasn’t sure if I should hold his place or call for medical assistance, but then I realized that another priest had entered a second confessional. That was the third surprise. So many people wanting to confess on an ordinary Saturday in September that two priests were needed.

The curtain on the first confessional fluttered and it was my turn. But the mother behind me had finished nursing her baby, who was probably about two months old, and he began to fuss. I reached out and took him into my arms and waved her ahead of me. He looked up as if to say, “This was not part of the plan,” but as I joggled him up and down the line, he rested his head on my shoulder in resignation. Just as he decided he had had quite enough of liturgical dance, thank you very much, his mother emerged and took him back.

I slipped into the stillness of the confessional, the years dropping away like so many leaves from the tree of my life. I was a girl again, kneeling again, confessing again. The old formula, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned” sprang to my lips and I began my confession. When I had finished, he asked me if I had other sins to confess. I said, “With 20 to 30 people waiting in line, Father, I think maybe I’ll just stick to these for the time being.” I heard a soft chuckle on the other side of the grill and he asked me to say an act of contrition.

Again, the words sprang out of memory.” Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee….” Then he offered a few words of advice and gave me my penance. Three Our Fathers. I almost said, “What? No three Hail Marys, too?” but I knew there were many others waiting for their chance to be shriven so I ignored the temptation to be flippant. 

As I headed to the side door, I looked at the line again. It did not seem to have shortened at all in the nearly 30 minutes I had been waiting. It still started near the foot of the altar and marched, pew by pew, to the confessional door. At this rate, confessions would still be going on when Mass started, just as they had when I was a child. I stepped outside and, as the late afternoon sun cast long shadows, I sensed that fall was waiting to be birthed from the near-term pregnancy of summer. 

The time warp sensation was gone. I was almost disappointed until I turned the key to the ignition and realized I was bathed in that freshly washed sensation I had felt as a girl, skipping alongside my mother on those Saturday afternoons of memory.

I knew it wouldn’t last long, probably until someone cut me off in traffic, but for one brief, light-filled moment, the words of the hymn lived within me:

My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth's lamentation,
I hear the sweet, tho' far-off hymn
That hails a new creation;
Thro' all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul--
How can I keep from singing?