Saturday, December 21, 2013

Mary - heavy with her burden

In prayer these past few weeks, the image that has come to me and embedded itself in my heart is that of Our Lady, heavy with child, treading the stony path to Bethlehem from Nazareth, full of hope, of anticipation, of joy.

Then I came across this poem by Claudel.
Mary -- heavy with her burden, having conceived
of the Holy Spirit --
Withdrew far from the sight of men, in the depths
of the underground oratory,
Like the dove in the Canticle that flies away
to the cleft in the rock.
She does not move, she says not a word she adores.
She is interior to the world, for her God is no longer outside.
He is her work and her son and her darling and
the fruit of her womb! 

Marie, lourde de son fardeau, ayant conçu de l'Esprit Saint,
S'est retirée loin de la vue des hommes au fond de l'oratoire souterrain,
Comme la colombe du Cantique qui se coule au trou de la muraille. 
Elle ne bouge pas, elle ne dit pas un mot, elle adore.
Elle est intérieure au monde, Dieu pour elle n'est plu au dehors,
Il est son œuvre et son fils et son petit et le fruit des ses entrailles! 

Paul Claudel, Hymne au Sacré-Cœur. 

(Quoted in that amazing commentary, "Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word" by Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis) 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The annual Christmas calendar goes online

For several years I've made an annual calendar with photographs from my travels and shared it as a Christmas gift with friends at seminary. This year, I'm giving the money I would have spent on that to charity. (I did make two calendars, one for myself, and one for my mother.)

 So, sorry guys, no Christmas gift calendar this year. You (anyone!) can still get one, however. I've put it up on Lulu and it can be purchased for $16.00. Proceeds will go to A Simple House (see post below on them). So, let's see how this experiment goes. Frankly, I'll be surprised if it goes anywhere ... but hey. (If it works, I suspect I'll be roped in to do something similar for the parish Capital Campaign ... )

This year's theme is, well, churches. (It's what I tend to photograph a lot. And fairly well.) These are interiors of churches that I've visited around the world. Outside Italy (those could fill years worth of calendars). All photographs are mine.

PS: Of the $16.00, I get $4.81. Lulu keeps the rest. Just being up front here. So, $4.81 will go to A Simple House. That "discount" thing? Heh. That was totally egregious. Subtle marketing techniques and all that.

Buy it! 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Praebe nobis cor tuum

On Monday, December 9 (the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception in the revised calendar this year), I was in frigid Minnesota, to attend the ordination to the episcopate of Fr. Andrew Cozzens, as Titular Bishop of Bisica and Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis.

I first met Bishop Cozzens in 2010, when I was visiting the Companions of Christ in St. Paul. Since then, we've met on a few occasions: he's been to the Mount a couple of times, I've been to the Twin Cities on several occasions. The Companions have been -- at a distance -- a rather big part of my priestly formation. Their Ideals are what I strive to live by. When I received an early morning text on Oct. 1 from Deacon Marc, my close friend who is a seminarian of the St. Paul Archdiocese (and also a member of the Companions), with the news of the appointment of Fr. Cozzens, I was filled with tremendous joy. He is a priest of deep prayer, keen intellect, humility and simplicity. That the Holy Father has raised him to the episcopate is truly a gift to the Church! I was grateful that the parish schedule allowed me a quick get away to attend his ordination.

Bishop Elect Cozzens (center), in what I am calling "Companions Pontificals,"
with Fr. Greg (Diocese of Fargo) and yours truly.
The Ordination Mass was, needless to say, simply beautiful. The magnificent Cathedral of St. Paul, was packed. Hundreds of priests, so many seminarians, deacons, religious, and the faithful filled its vastnesses. There was such an exuberant air on that cold (I mean cold -- it was 0°F!) Minnesota day! The Mass lasted a full three hours. There was a tad bit of confusion during the Prayer of Consecration (let's just say Bishop Cozzens was almost ordained a deacon!). The Te Deum (wonderfully chanted by the seminary schola) had to be repeated, because the newly ordained took his time wandering the vastness of the Cathedral imparting his first episcopal blessing to the faithful. Oh yes, and the Mandate from the Holy Father was misplaced, if just for a moment. This was all taken in his stride by the Archbishop, and certainly, with that characteristic twinkle in his eye, by the Ordinand.

The Cathedral of St. Paul, St. Paul, MN
It was in the morning and in the evening, bookends to this glorious day, that I got a sense of just what a gift this episcopal appointment is to the Church.

At 7:45 a.m. I joined the Companions for their morning Holy Hour and Lauds in the lovely basement chapel at their house on Marshall Ave. And right there, up front, with this small group of priests and seminarians, was the Bishop-Elect, in a simple fleece and sandals (and appropriately, magenta socks!) praying, singing, praising God, as he would on any other day. Afterward, everyone repaired to the dining room for egg bake and joy-filled, light-hearted, conversation. I could sense the joy, the pride, in those assembled, as the man they've known as a spiritual father, as their seminary professor and mentor, was to take on this immense mantle of responsibility for the People of God. I think we were all struck by just how calm and collected the Bishop-Elect was, how recollected and peaceful. He is a man of true freedom, the freedom of the sons of God, the freedom of Our Lady, freedom which is the fruit of obedience. His simplicity and humility were evident, in choosing to spend these last hours before his Ordination with this community. It is a rarity, and a tremendous gift, to see a bishop relate to priests and seminarians with such fatherly ease.

The episocpal crest on Bishop Cozzens' crosier
At the other end of the day, as the receiving line at the reception in the Crowne Plaza ballroom was dying down, we looked up and there was the newly ordained Bishop, surrounded by the Handmaids of the Heart of Jesus, a religious community based in New Ulm, MN, which he had helped found. They had just started chanting a heavenly hymn, the lyrics of which came from St. Louis de Montfort (the source also of Bishop Cozzens' motto, Praebe mihi cor tuum). I saw Mother Mary Clare's face, radiant, effulgent, her eyes closed, enraptured. I was moved to tears at the beauty of this scene, these beautiful Brides of Christ surrounding their spiritual father and singing and praying for him. These moments were truly an icon of spiritual fatherhood.

Totus tuus ego sum, et omnia mea tua sunt. 
Accipio te in mea omnia. 
Praebe nobis cor tuum, Maria.

(I belong entirely to you, and all that I have is yours. I take you for my all. O Mary, give us your heart.)

While the Bishop went to spend time with his family, I joined my friends (who were among his handlers for the day), in taking his things back to the house, in his old Nissan Sentra (I hope he gets to keep this car!).

It was truly a glorious day, a day of glory, a foretaste, indeed of the life of glory that awaits God's elect. The Church, in all her dazzling diversity and variety, gathered in praise and thanksgiving, rejoicing in the Father's gifts, honoring the "yes" of the Immaculately Conceived Virgin Mother, and the "yes" of one of her little servants, now a High Priest and Shepherd of the flock, a man utterly and totally after the Heart of the Good Shepherd, and the Immaculate Heart of His mother.

Give us all, O Mary, your heart!

Please pray for Bishop Cozzens, and as assumes his duty in a time of great difficulty in his local Church.

Wintry Minnesota! From the "sun room in the Companions' house.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Two fantastic sermons for the Immaculate Conception

Stained glass window of the Immaculate Conception, IC Chapel, Mount St. Mary's Seminary
Both from seminary professors of mine.

The first from Fr. Frederick Miller, Professor of Systematic Theology at the Mount. He's deeply learned, a great teacher, a holy and devout priest, and deeply in love with the Blessed Mother. He gave this sermon for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception a few years back in the seminary oratory, dedicated to the Immaculate Conception. Columbia magazine, run by the Knights of Columbus, just published it: "Younger than Sin."
On our own strength it is impossible to remain faithful; grace alone makes us capable of fidelity and fruitfulness. God fills us with his grace in baptism, and Mary, conceived without sin, helps us to cooperate with grace as she did. She teaches us true poverty of spirit, true spiritual littleness; she teaches us to rejoice in poverty of spirit so that God can do his mighty works in us; she teaches us to become like little children in Christ.
The second is from Fr. Larry Donohoo (once with the Hounds of Dominic), Asst. Professor of Systematic Theology, and one of the most brilliant men I've ever met, with a wry sense of humor that always enlivened class. This epic homily is titled "Our Lady of Freedom" and was preached on the Solemnity in 2011. It is totally epic. It's not been published, but Fr. Donohoo shared the text with me a few years ago, and I've uploaded it to Scribd.
Already we have more than enough evidence to build the case to call the Immaculate Conception Our Lady of Freedom. And what is her freedom?  It is the space where virtue flourishes, the garden where desire lives, the womb of hope, and the field of vision. Freedom is the question that admits a divine answer, the possibility that awaits divine resolution. It is the Annunciation.  Mary was free from the start, of course, because she was immacu­lately conceived. But she was also free because without wrinkle or hesitation, without stain or cowardice, she immaculately con­ceived ever new ways of responding to the Lord's grace. She executed what she conceived. Our Lady of Freedom teaches us in this way that the one most passive to receiving God's will is the one who is most active in implementing it.
 She is a Lady of Life, of power, of dynamism, of life, of charism, in possession of each situation because she is fully in posses­sion of her own self, her womanhood, her vocation, her lovable­ness, her greatness. She continues to defy expectations and sometimes propriety, using her feminine charm for the sake of the reign of God.

O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee! 

Friday, December 06, 2013

Parish featured in Athens Banner Herald

The local newspaper, the Athens Banner & Herald is doing a series on prayer in different religions. Today, they featured the Catholic Church. They'd come by the parish and interviewed me and another parishioner, and also gotten some footage at Mass. Have a look!  The video is embedded below.