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Tassel of the Cloak


Shiloh is a site of two major battles, over two thousand years apart, both of which evoke a sense of tragedy and optimism.  Shiloh in Israel was the site of the first temple or Tabernacle.  When the Israelites moved back into Canaan, reconquering the land they once inhabited, they established the dwelling place for the Ark of the Covenant at the town of Shiloh.  In the year 1024BC, the Philistines engaged Israel in battle near Shiloh.  When the Israelites lost four thousand men on the first day of battle, they decided on the second day to bring the Ark of the Covenant itself with them into the actual fighting, hoping that would reverse their fortune.  It did not. The Philistines overran the Israelite army, stole the Ark, and plundered Shiloh.


John Wayne

John Wayne, born Marion Morrison, died a Catholic.  His grandson is a priest.  Wayne received the Presidential Medal of Freedom because, as President Carter said, he "reflected the best of our national character." Maureen O'Hara, testifying before Congress, spoke of him, "John Wayne is the United States of America. He is what they believe it to be. He is what they hope it will be. And he is what they hope it will always be."  Another actor remarked, "John Wayne was what every young boy wants to be like, and what every old man wishes he had been."  Wayne's biographer, Scott Eyman, wrote of him, "bold, defiant, ambitious, heedless of consequences, occasionally mistaken, primarily alone—larger than life."


The Staircase

The staircase is the featured part of a house during the holidays.  Children run down the stairs with anticipation Christmas morning and in the days after to see their gifts.  Adults walk down with satisfaction to have their coffee and see their family members.  A stairwell leads us down to the splendor.

"In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled" (Luke 2:1).  The palace of the Roman Emperors was on the Palatine Hill—the centermost of the seven hills of Rome.  One can imagine the page taking the scroll with the decree from Augustus' desk and running down the broad staircase of the palace to the city below and to the world.


Mary, Queen of Peace

Mary, is the "Queen of Peace," as we say in the Litany of Loreto, and yet we hear she was "greatly troubled" when the angel greeted her (Luke 1:29).  Perhaps Mary was concerned because she believed her union with God was secure and the mere mention of it by the angel might mean otherwise.  Or something else.

In Sandro Botticelli's Annunciation (1489, Uffizi, Florence), Mary is stunningly beautiful—more beautiful than the Greek goddess in Botticelli's more famous piece, The Birth of Venus. I picture this scene occurring after the initial greeting and Mary's disturbance.  The angel apologizes for his greeting, saying, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found great favor with God" (Luke 1:30).  Mary, still calm, does not require his apology and explanation, for her trust in God is deep.  She is confident of her love and union with God she needs no assurance that she is favorable in his sight.  Mary is the one in authority in this scene.



Not all families are holy and many people experience anger and impatience dealing with children, parents, siblings, in-laws, and so forth.  It can be worth praying about anger on this feast of the Holy Family.  "Be angry, but do not sin," says Saint Paul, "do not let the sun go down on your anger" (Ephesians 4:26). 

There is legitimate room for anger and reaction when we encounter injustice and evil.  But we have to be on our guard to not let that anger fester overnight and slip into sin.

Spiritual writer Jacques Philippe writes this about the deadly sin:

God's anger is always directed against what is bad for us. He is not angry for himself but to protect people against themselves. But let's not imagine our own anger is always 'holy anger.' Often we become angry under the pretext of defending something essential when we are only acting out of self-love or to protect our own interests.


Christmas Saints

When Mary and Joseph arrived at Bethlehem, they were really arriving at Calvary.  Bethlehem in Hebrew means "house of bread," and Christ, the grain of wheat, was beginning his journey to fall to the ground and die so he could produce fruit.  The cross overshadowed the crib.

We see this lovely shadow in several "Christmas saints." The Christmas tree originated with Saint Boniface, the "apostle to Germany," who was cut down like that oak tree he felled that the pagans had been worshipping.  Blessed Charles de Foucauld, who loved the Holy Family so much that he spent several years in Nazareth and Bethlehem before living in the Sahara to minister to the Tuaregs, lived death everyday of his life until his actual martyrdom in 1916. 


The Annunciation

There are thousands of depictions in art of the Annunciation.  My guess is that, if we were given a line-up of paintings, we would not choose the more "traditional" images.  Think of Fra Angelico's fresco (1438, Museum of San Marco, Florence), Caravaggio's (1608, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nancy), or Leonardo da Vinci's (1472, Uffizi, Florence).  They all have similar characteristics.  Mary, wearing a blue mantle, is seated or kneeling in a palace-type setting in an enclosed garden, while the winged, Aryan creature genuflects before her. 


The White Dawn

Watching the movie Red Dawn will leave you wanting for more.  We are best served watching and gazing, instead, upon the White Dawn: Mary.  Yes, Mary is sometimes referred to as "The White Dawn," the one who heralds in the new morning, the advent of the Messiah.  She is also the Morning Star, which in the sky is literally the planet Venus.  She reflects the light of the sun and ushers in the sunrise.  


Our Lady of the Redwoods

There is a monastery of Cistercian nuns in Northern California called "Our Lady of the Redwoods," and what a fitting title indeed for our Blessed Mother.  The Redwood, known as the Sequoia sempervirens (sounds similar to semper virgo, or ever-virgin), is the tallest tree on the planet, growing up to 300 feet and beyond.  It is also the oldest species of tree, dating back to 240 million years. 


Father William Doyle, SJ

Father William Doyle, SJ was a well-known preacher and spiritual director in the early 20th Century.  He traveled the world giving missions and retreats, helping bring people closer to Jesus.  And yet he wrote these words in his journal while making the Spiritual Exercises on his 30-Day retreat in 1907:

Each fresh meditation of the life of our Lord impressed on me more and more the necessity of conforming my life to His in every detail, if I wish to please Him and to become holy. To do something great and heroic may never come to me, but I can make my life heroic by faithfully and daily putting my best effort into each duty as it comes around.


The Angel's Share

Occasionally I will have a sip of something when I read scripture, either coffee in the morning or a beer in the evening, but often not grappa.  I felt inclined to have that digestivo, however, when I read this line from the prophet Isaiah: "Thus says the Lord: When the juice is pressed from grapes, men say 'Do not discard them, for there is still good in them'; Thus will I do with my servants; I will not discard them all" (Isaiah 65:8).


Blessed Frederic Ozanam

Most of the "O" streets in Chicago come from either Native American tribes or chiefs, like Osceola and Ottawa, or from real estate developers, like Olcott and Odell.  But one street name in Edison Park is different: Ozanam.  The 7800W to 7600N section of the city is named after Blessed Frédéric Ozanam, the founder of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society.


Catholicism Transcends All Divides

Lieutenant Joseph Dutton of the Union Army crawled out into the night during a Civil War battle and dragged a wounded soldier back to camp.  When the light was shone upon the rescuee, a comrade remarked, "The joke's on you, Dutton, this man is a rebel." Dutton did not flinch, but simply responded, "that I knew."

When the War ended, the talented Dutton ventured into a variety of careers, but none would satisfy his restlessness.  He converted to Catholicism and after spending some time in prayer at Gethsemani Monastery in Kentucky, where Thomas Merton would enter sixty years later, Dutton discovered his calling.  At 43, he traveled to San Francisco and from there set sail.


Spiritual Desolation

"Magnificent Desolation."  Those were the first words spoken by the second man on the moon as he stood on the new terrain.  And more striking than the first man's words they are. True progress for mankind is ultimately in the spiritual and moral realm, and sometimes we advance through desolation and darkness.

Desolation, or desolatio, has the Latin word for sun, solis, in its root.  The sun is darkened or declined in this style of prayer. We do not feel the warmth of God.  Prayer is, instead, flat, dry, and difficult.