I’m writing from my little house chapel. When I first sat down, my mind was anything but focused. I’m traveling later in the day… need to pack, meet with some facilities management folks, say two masses and about a dozen other things before hacking my way up the BW Parkway to fly to my niece’s baptism. So, yes… distracted. Unto itself, that wasn’t a problem. BUT… in the midst of that distracted state thoughts of my own foolishness, sinfulness, inadequacy all started flooding my consciousness, and this distinct phrase, “You not worthy to pray this morning.” Forcing myself, I opened the psalms for Morning Prayer and began to read slowly aloud. By the time my prayer concluded, I felt so much better.
The Psalms of the Divine Office go on day in and day out. No matter how we feel, no matter what we have done or failed to do. The constancy of their praise, of their rejoicing in the Lord reminds us that it’s really not about us. Mother Angelica once said, “Do you know that God sees everything that you do? .. and he loves you and wants you to be happy.” Even the greatest saint is, unto him/herself unworthy of prayer, praise, happiness and glory. That’s not the point… HE, the Father, loves us anyway and invites us to rejoice in his love and care.
Read the Psalms… follow the Divine Office day in and day out… it’ll put your focus back on the Lord. And should you ever hear a little voice saying, “You’re not worthy to pray this morning.” Reply back simply, “You’re right, but it’s not about me.”
Today, the Church in the US marks Epiphany, that beautiful day when the Magi arrived in Bethlehem to adore the Infant Lord. Libraries of books could (and have) been written expounding on the meaning of the event. For myself, one dimension sticks out this year: Epiphany is a sign on earth that points us to the heavens. ‘makes sense, really for isn’t that what the ministry of Jesus was all about? He came as a man to conduct men to the heavens. Such is also the meaning of each of the miracles. In Gospel Greek, the “miracles,” were called “semeia,” “signs” in English… and a sign never points to itself, it points to a destination yet to be reached… The sign keeps us going on the way. We’ve encountered a number of these signs in the readings lately.
Earlier in the week John the Baptist pointed Andrew to Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God.” Andrew then leads Peter to Christ. Together Andrew and Peter lead Nathaniel. Each becomes a sign pointing to Jesus… and Jesus points us to the Father in Heaven. Friday we read about the Baptism of the Lord, when the Father and the Spirit testified to the Son, “You are my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” Saturday, Jesus testifies to himself by performing his first miracle at Cana. So many signs, all telling us, “There is something more to this world than meets the eye. Keep going.”
I’ve arrived at my new parish assignment, St. Francis Xavier Parish in Southeast DC. The first three days have been VERY full, exhausting actually. Priests have to move into wholly new surroundings, learn the lights, locks and locations of a new property all while shepherding the life of that new place forward without missing a step. The devil tempted me to despair at several points. Before arriving I found out that the music program had been cut. The day I arrived I discovered that my 3-day-a-week volunteer secretary had decided to retire, the organ doesn’t turn on and… well, you get the idea.
I prayed in chapel first for music. The Church teaches that music is a constitutive part of the mass… it’s not really an option. “Lord,” I said, “you want music at your mass. Help me.” and he did! My friend Luca came forward and announced out of nowhere that he is a classically trained organist / pianist. “Lord,” I said, “I need an electrician to make the organ work.” Sure enough, a parishioner came forward in conversation and revealed that his brother is an electrician! He’ll be here Tuesday. Finally, I asked the Lord for someone to answer the phones in the office, and sure enough, a woman presented herself to volunteer hours at the desk. Finally, just today, I woke up without a voice… a developing sore throat turned into laryngitis just in time for my first Sunday mass. kneeling before the altar, I begged the Lord to make mass happen… and wouldn’t you know it… I got to my chair, opened my mouth and found my voice again! It promptly cut out again after the last mass.
Small signs, perhaps, but for me they’ve done the trick… they’ve kept me walking, sacrificing on the way to heaven. Another thing about these Epiphany signposts is that they tell us “Jesus is here, not there” In a unique way, Christ is fully present in the Catholic Church. That’s a message worth sharing with others. That’s truly Good News. There are so many in my new parish who need the hope of that message, who need an epiphany. So I’m inviting all of the parishioners to work toward that goal… to announce the Good News to everyone we know… but particularly to all the homes of our neighborhood. How we do that will be a subject of discernment over the coming months, but the epiphanies I’ve received so far are enough to convince me that we can do it together in Christ. Happy Epiphany!
During the season of Advent, I’ll be posting weekly reflections to match the homilies I deliver each Sunday about renewing our awareness about liturgy and culture in Church. Check out the first one posted in the Weekly Reflections Page, or click HERE
Last week, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg took part in the Washington National Opera’s production of “Daughter of the Regiment.” A devotee of the opera, the Justice was hailed for a fine job in her cameo appearance. Reading about this happy and peculiarly DC moment I thought, “Wouldn’t that be fun?” This week, the Lord gave me an opportunity to take part in a much more moving human drama, a story of tragedy and triumph: the funeral of a parishioner, Maurice Hawkins.
Maurice was a regular at St. Peter, Capitol Hill. For a significant time he was homeless, and though I never knew details, it was obvious he had some sort of learning disability. Years ago, the Pastor of St. Peter’s, Fr. Michael O’Sullivan, helped Maurice to find decent housing and support. Nonetheless, as for many who’ve experienced homelessness, Maurice’s life seemed to be an ongoing series of assaults: medical problems, people trying to scam him, etc. But this beautiful simple man found his peace and his joy in something beyond the world’s many attempts to bring him down. Maurice knew that he was loved by Jesus Christ, and he loved Christ in return. His limited learning became perhaps his greatest asset as he lived without guile, giving himself completely to the love of Jesus.
Maurice prayed daily, helped out around the church grounds as best he could, and always had a smily greeting for his neighbor. Two of Maurice’s habits struck a special chord in my own heart: Each week, Maurice brought random articles to the parish priests to be blessed… rosaries, clippings from the newspaper, discarded toys, even bits of string. Strange as it may have seemed, I actually found this quite beautiful. In a St. Francis sort of way, Maurice always seemed concerned about bringing more blessing into the world. The second of Maurice’s habits that really touched me was his weekly request for holy water. Curious, I asked him why he always needed holy water. He answered, “…because I never know when I may die. I want to have the Lord’s blessing always.”
When Maurice died a few weeks ago, the community at St. Peter swung into action to prepare for his funeral. Many people chipped in to cover expenses. The body was treated with the utmost care, being brought to a proper place of burial at Gate of Heaven Cemetery. The church was fuller than I’ve seen for many funerals, and the music would make any priest envious for the same when his time comes. His life was a human drama of – dare I say it – “Biblical” proportions marked by struggle, tragedy, and -at least to earthly eyes- futility… but for those of us who, like Maurice, see with eyes of faith… this story is really about the triumph of Jesus’ love for us. It’s not often that I say this about the deceased, but Maurice’s holiness was imminently clear. He who suffered so much in this life and loved throughout will surely rest in peace. We should all be so blessed.
For further reflection, consider this Gospel passage, chosen for Maurice’s funeral (Lk 16:19-ff):
“There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day.
And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,
who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores.
When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried,
and from the netherworld,where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.
And he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.’
Abraham replied, ‘My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.
Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.’
He said, ‘Then I beg you, father, send him to my father’s house,
for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.’
But Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.’
He said, ‘Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
Then Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.’”
I just read a great article on the website of The Atlantic. In it, James Hamblin makes an eloquent defense and promotion of arts education in our schools. Gamblin’s piece explores the concept of multiple intelligences, pointing to the arts as a useful way of accessing them all. The example he cites is an innovative dancer named Lil Buck who’s rendition of The Swan (accompanied by Yo-Yo Ma) brought him national attention. I’ll be the first to admit, ballet is not my thing… actually, I can’t stand ballet. I may be the only person on earth who finds ballet utterly un-graceful. Lil Buck’s use of jookin a hybrid form of modern dance, on the other hand, is one of the most graceful and evocative movements I’ve encountered. He seems to skim, rather than step, across his performance zone transforming his ball-capped self into a truly convincing… swan. I’m amazed. Something so beautiful must, by definition participate in truth and goodness… and thus in Christ. I’ll be re-viewing Lil Buck’s interpretation of The Swan with eyes of faith trying to encounter our Lord in his art form.