On Sunday May 28, 2017, which also happened to be the Feast of the Ascension, there appeared on the front page of the Chicago Tribune and New York Times two articles related to death and dying. "7 Days Lost: Fear, spirituality, tears and peace" was the feature story in the Tribune. Madeline Connelly, a River Forest native, survived without any supplies for seven days in the Montana wilderness. Her Catholic Parish back home, St. Luke's, held prayer services for her. Connelly said, “I felt like I was being carried through it. I didn’t know all these people were praying for me and looking for me but, after I got out, it made a lot of sense for why I felt so safe and energized. The power of prayer and positive thinking is real.”
Tassel of the Cloak
Standing on the sidelines of a high school football game recently had me thinking about the water boy. This position is often seen as lesser member of the team, perhaps even viewed derogatorily. But to Jesus it is a noble position in the Catholic Church, and one to which we are all ultimately called.
"Don't be evil" was the one-time motto of Google. The Silicon Valley giant prided itself on being about people and not bottom-lines. Google used data to create new ways for people to get the most from technology. The internet search engine, maps and navigation, and commerce were all improved by Google, making our lives that much simpler, easier and more enjoyable. People were attracted to Google and the company's influence in society soared.
Around this time of year the sky is an acute focus for Catholics, particularly those in Japan. The Feast of the Assumption, when Mary was lifted up to heaven, is August 15th. On August 15, 1945, Japan surrendered to the Allies. A few days earlier an atomic bomb named "Fat Man" came down from the heavens, obliterating Nagasaki, the heart and soul of Catholic Japan. Speaking of descent, the nuclear weapon design of Fat Man was that of "implosion-type." Detonation occurred by a descent of the plutonium fission. This was different than "Little Boy," the Hiroshima bomb that used a "gun-type" that fired a uranium bullet into the core.
I once received the following image in contemplative prayer. I am a child in search of cookies on the kitchen counter. I am not tall enough to see over the counter, let alone to reach up and grab them, but I know they are there. In my effort to obtain the treats there is a hope that I will have them, so much so that makes it as if I am, in reality, possessing the cookies.
The cookies, in my prayer, stood for holiness and, ultimately, for total unity with Jesus. I don't possess perfect holiness. I am striving for it, and in my striving and my total occupation with holiness, it is as if I possess it. That is why I, or the child in my image, do not get upset and either give up or break down.
Ah Love, could'st thou and I with fate conspire
To smash this sorry scheme of things entire,
Would we not shatter it to bits—and then
Remold it nearer the heart's desire?
Those are the lines of Omar Khayyam, a Persian scientist from the early middle ages. His beautiful poetry makes me think of a part of the Mass known as the "Fraction Rite." This is when the priest, during the Lamb of God, breaks the large host into three pieces. One of these pieces is small and he drops it into the chalice, saying quietly, “May the mingling of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ bring eternal life to all who receive it.”
Because you have a particular negative trait or habit doesn't mean you have to be defined that way. There's always an opposite virtue to your vice. Look at Moses. This supreme prophet was regarded as perhaps the meekest man who ever walked the earth (cf. Num 12:3). He was calm in the face of Pharaoh's obstinacy, patient with the complaining Israelites in the desert, and obedient to the Lord's decision to not let him enter the Promised Land. But Moses wasn't always this way. He had an extreme temper. He killed an Egyptian in his youth and literally smashed the two tables upon which the Ten Commandments were written. Moses recognized his temper and countered it with meekness, so much so that he became known as a meek, and not a hot-headed, man.\
“We heard God speak here today!” shouted Senator Dewey Short above the din on the floor of Congress. “God in the flesh! The voice of God!”
There was pandemonium in the room, as people jumped over one another to touch the man. Others were literally prostrating themselves before him. It was April 17, 1951, and General Douglas MacArthur had just given his farewell address to a joint session of Congress. Afterwards, Herbert Hoover said he was a “reincarnation of St. Paul,” while a woman from New Jersey was a little more praiseworthy, claiming, “he has the attributes of God: he is kind and merciful and firm and just.”
Acedia is probably the most underrated of the seven deadly sins. We think of it is sloth or laziness, but acedia is more complicated than that. Fundamentally, St. Thomas Aquinas tells us, acedia is a sadness over a spiritual good. Something that should bring us joy and excitement does not. For example, being around one's children should bring happiness. A man suffering acedia will avoid his family because they make him sad. Or, going to church and praying should be an uplifting experience. The afflicted person will feel sad around God and not attend Mass. He will, instead, sleep in. This is where the notion of laziness enters, but again, laziness is the aftereffect. We do not fulfill the obligations that will satisfy us because of that antecedent sadness. Acedia, therefore, is referred to as the "Noonday Devil." At noon when the sun is at its peak and we should be enjoying the day and active, we are, instead, sad and paralyzed.
On July 2, 1951 Fr. Tong Che-Tche disappeared. One month earlier, he had said this before the civil authorities: “I am a Chinese Catholic. I love my country; I also love my Church. I dissociate myself from everything that is opposed to the laws of my country, just as I dissociate myself from everything that is opposed to the laws of my Church, and above all things I dissociate myself from everything that can sow discord.”
This painting is one of my favorite depictions of both the crucifixion and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I'm afraid I do not know the artist, nor the date it was painted. I came across the canvas in a small chapel in an Italian town in the mountains about a half hour outside of Rome, called Rocca di Papa. (The town is actually where the Pope has a summer residence.) It was about six years ago and I was a seminarian at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. I was so struck by the image that I pulled out my phone and captured a shot.
Acts of the Apostles chapter 27 recounts the naval voyage of St. Paul to Rome. Paul was a prisoner in Jerusalem and, being a Roman citizen, was transferred to the capital for trial. During the voyage his ship encountered a severe storm. Badly damaged and having drifted out to sea, way off course, the crew was despondent. The captain and sailors had lost hope and were refusing to eat. All was lost. Then Paul, the least of the apostles, took charge. Standing up in chains, he exhorted the men. “I urge you, therefore, to take some food; it will help you survive. Not a hair of the head of anyone of you will be lost” (Acts 27: 34-35).