Tassel of the Cloak

Tassel of the CloakGod is in everything, be it sports or music or history or business or wine-making or church or whatever. Everywhere we look there is a spiritual metaphor to be found. Some metaphors may be hidden, some overt. I will attempt to point them out to you. That is the purpose of these laconic reflections. They are mostly intended to be fun and interesting. Perhaps, though, the reflections will provide you some guidance. Perhaps they will lead you to see everything through a spiritual lens, thus appreciating Catholicism all the more. When Jay Cutler throws a Hail Mary at the end of the half, might you move beyond your frustration with the Bears' offensive ineptitude and think of the Blessed Mother? Just an example.

These reflections will only be an introduction to deeper spiritual and theological truths. Hence the title, The Tassel of the Cloak. When David cuts off the tassel of Saul's cloak and shows it to him (cf. 1 Sam 24), Saul realizes that David is not his enemy. That moves them into a new relationship. Likewise, the hemorrhaging woman's grasping of the tassel on Christ's cloak in Luke 8:44 opens the door to her healing and conversion. The tassel was merely an entryway. The mundane anecdotes and simple spiritual lessons I provide are, in my opinion, the tassel. There's much more to Christ's Cloak. I hope you will experience it. So, please, go ahead and "Touch the Hem of His Garment." That is, by the way, the title of a Sam Cooke song.

She Dies Out of Love

First Holy Communion is received around this time of year by second graders, and it is inspiring to hear stories of saintly First Communicants.  For example, we have that of Blessed Imelda Lambertini from the 1300s.  The age to receive First Communion back then was twelve.  Imelda was nine.  She begged to receive the Eucharist, and though she prayed daily with the nuns in the nearby church and exhibited an understanding of the sacrament, she was denied.  One night, on the eve of the Feast of the Ascension, the young girl was praying in the chapel after Mass.  The nuns present smelled roses and saw a bright light.  Suddenly, a consecrated host floated in the air and hovered above the girl.  The priest was immediately summoned and, placing a paten underneath the host, he gave Imelda her First Communion.  The girl proceeded to enter into an intense, ecstatic prayer.  Her First Communion was her last.  When the nuns lifted her up, she was dead.  Imelda was known to have said in the past when arguing her cause, "Tell me, can anyone receive Jesus into his heart and not die?"  She died out of love.

Saint Gemma Galgani was born in the late 19th Century.  The seven-year-old begged her pastor to give her communion.  He finally relented, saying, "there was no alternative but to admit her to holy Communion; otherwise we will see her die of grief."  He had learned from Imelda's case.  Gemma received her communion and would treat each communion until her death eighteen years later at age twenty-five as if it was her first and last.  "Oh, what precious moments are those at Holy Communion!" she said. "Communion is happiness that seems to me cannot be equaled even by the beatitude of the saints and angels."

Read more...

Neurogenesis, Prayer, Resurrection

The recent advancements in the field of neurobiology are a fascinating compliment to prayer and the Resurrection.  The firing of neurons in the brain determines our feeling or reaction to an event.   For example, if we were embarrassed in front of the entire class when we were in 6th grade about answering a question incorrectly, when we are in a situation where we have to perform in front of an audience, we may be anxious or we may shut down.  This is because of the neurocircuitry in our brain.

We need not, however, be enslaved by our core wounds. It is possible for us to change these negative neural firing patterns, hence changing our internal state in the midst of an experience.  The key is awareness, which is also called interoception.  If we are attuned to our thoughts and feelings, and open to acknowledging the past, we can change.  When we simply notice we grow agitated in a particular scenario, or are consoled by something else, we create new neurons, as well as neural firing patterns.  Myelin, which is a coating around the neuron that allows the electrical pulse to pass to the next neuron, is also enhanced.  With more myelin, we can catch ourselves more quickly in an experience and not fall into the default state of anxiety, accusation, shame or whatever else is negative inside us.  This whole process of re-creation is named neurogenesis.  We could also label it conversion or healing. Something new is created from something old.  Neurogenesis happens, fundamentally, in prayer.

Prayer is the best opportunity to sit in this awareness with Jesus, the Divine Physician.  We lift our history and our emotions to the Lord, and he will literally rewire our brains.  Then, we will be fully alive—sons and daughters of the Resurrection.  

Read more...

Adauctus - the added man

We do not know much about the life of Saint Felix, other than he was martyred in the year 303 during the persecution of Emperor Diocletian.  The shrewd administrator forced all Christians to turn in their Bible and other sacred texts to be burned.  Felix refused and was ordered to be beheaded. The story has it that a man observed Felix on his way to the spot of execution in Carthage and was so inspired that he yelled out that he too was a Christian.  The man was quickly enchained next to Felix and beheaded alongside him.  No one ever discovered the martyr's real name, so he was called "Adauctus," which means "the added man."  Saints Felix and Adauctus share a feast day.

There have been other Adauctuses throughout the history of the church.  The latest was a West African named Matthew.  He was taken hostage by ISIS in February 2015 alongside 21 Egyptian Christians, construction workers on a job site in Libya.  Though he may not have been Christian, Matthew refused to be separated and had his throat slit along with the others.  He is listed as one of the 'Coptic Martyrs of Libya.' 

Speaking of Libya, who could forget the first Adauctus, Simon of Cyrene?  Cyrene was a Greek town in Libya.  Simon had either lived there or his ancestors had come from that part of Northern Africa.  Returning from the fields to Jerusalem, he happened upon Christ carrying his cross.  For whatever reason, Simon was singled out from the crowd to help.  He may have been unwilling at first, but he made the way of the cross alongside Christ.  To literally help Christ redeem the world by carrying the cross—is there no more saintly action possible?

Let us listen (audire) for our chance to be the next Saint Adauctus.

 

Read more...

God is Beauty

One of the ways we encounter God is beauty.  Our hearts can be elevated to the transcendent when we see a stunning mountain landscape, gaze upon a priceless work of art, or hear a magnificent piece of music.  Encountering beautiful people (not physically, but on the level of the soul) can also inspire us. It happened in the case of Malcolm Muggeridge, a British journalist who described himself as a "religious maniac without a religion." While working as a producer for BBC he came across Mother Teresa and, after researching her story, interviewed her.  He was mainly responsible for introducing this future saint to the world, thanks to his 1968 documentary "Something Beautiful for God."  The documentary covered the heroic lives of the Missionaries of Charity, who served the poorest of the poor in the slums of Calcutta.  Muggeridge then wrote a book about Mother Teresa.  Author Robert Spitzer writes about the impact of the woman on the 'avowed atheist',

It was at once the beauty of [Mother Teresa's] actions toward the poor, the beauty of her genuine love for them, the beauty of seeing Christ in them, the beauty of her defiance when Muggeridge tried to suggest that it didn't make much difference amid the sea of poverty in India, the beauty in her eyes, and the beauty of her spiritual discipline.

Mother Teresa prompted Muggeridge to become Catholic.  He wrote, "it is impossible to be with her, to listen to her, to observe what she is doing and how she is doing it, without being in some degree converted." The formally-socialist reporter became a defender of Humanae Vitae, opposed abortion, and produced documentaries on prayer.  He titled his autobiography, Chronicles of Wasted Time.

May our simple holiness spur the conversion of those around us.

 

Read more...

The Prodigal Son

This posture of the prodigal son in prayer, from John Macallan Swan's 1888 painting, is one no person should be ashamed to make.  It is a posture of authenticity.  The boy is in "dire need" (Lk 14:14). He has hit 'rock bottom.'  Does he suppress his agony?  No.  He admits his life has become unmanageable and enters into the depths of the abyss.  He bundles his darkness, shame, and uncertainty into a little gift the outline of his fists, and lifts that gift to God.  He cannot see it, as he raises his meagre offering in trusting torment, but the Father delights.  A heavenly light shines on the prodigal son's exposed back.  In the desolate, early spring landscape, flowers have bloomed.  There is beauty in the vulnerability.

The prodigal son "comes to his senses." He makes the decision, in the words of the Third Step, "to turn his will and his life over to the care of God."  He does not know how his story will end, but he trusts God.  There is no greater experience of love than remaining with the Father in pain.  This sets him on the path to awakening—to resurrection.  He will journey home.

It was only because the prodigal son entered into the fullness of pain in prayer that he could be healed.  We might not have 'watershed moments' on the level of the prodigal son or a recovering alcoholic, but there are experiences of darkness we all face.  The choice is to suppress the situation or embrace it.  When we embrace it, we turn it over to God.  He will accept our gift.  What exactly he will choose to do with it and make of it, we are not sure.  It turned out well in the prodigal son's case.

 

Read more...