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30 Jun

Two Hearts United

Sacred Heart of Jesus - Jesuit Retreat House on Lake Winnebago in Oshkosh, Wisconsin

One of the more unique depictions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus can be found at the Jesuit Retreat House on Lake Winnebago in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.  The statue is of Jesus sitting down with his arm wrapped around a small boy.  The boy, clearly in distress, rests his head on our Lord's shoulder.  Jesus' entire attention is on the child.  He is not thinking about anything else.  He is like a good parent completely present to his child who is upset about something.  The child finds comfort in being able to simply be with someone who offers unconditional love.  Jesus does not need to say or do anything.  The boy is not asking for anything.  The two hearts—one taking in, the other offering out--are united.

Jesus desires us to be like children (see Matthew 18:3). He tells the apostles to let the children come unto him (see Matthew 19:14).  Children are completely dependent and vulnerable and authentic.  When we acknowledge our pain and open ourselves to God, the Sacred Heart begins to beat.  Christ pours his love and comfort out upon us.  Our heart communes with his--this is the essence of mystery of the Sacred Heart.

We are called to take our sorrow and nothingness to the Lord and sit with him, surrounded by his love.  We can trust that Jesus will be attuned to us. Whatever wound we bear will be silently healed.

There is a second part, then, to this Sacred Heart image. We are called to be like Christ and offer that love and comfort to another.  Whether we are parents or not, the challenge is for us to focus our complete attention, in love and desire, upon those before us.  We can be an alter Christus.


23 Jun

JRR Tolkien

JRR Tolkien was a devout Catholic. He said on one occasion the Lord of the Rings is "a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision." Lord of the Rings, while not an allegory, like C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia (Tolkien was instrumental in Lewis' conversion from atheism to Christianity, by the way) is simply meant to make us feel Catholic.

The hobbits are innocent.  Only Frodo, who is celibate, can carry the ring. He is assisted by the Lady Galadriel and other strong women who are inspired, in Tolkien's mind, by the Blessed Mother.  (Tolkien had a great devotion to the Virgin Mary—he had part of the Litany of Loreto memorized and even translated it into his created language.) And Frodo is fed on his journey by lembas, the special elven bread that does not have much taste but is sustaining.  Yes, the Eucharist!   

Tolkien had a great love for the Eucharist.  A priest, Fr. Francis Morgan, took care of JRR and his brother after they orphaned at an early age.  JRR served Mass and participated in the 40 Hours Devotion, which involves adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.  And, towards the end of his life, Tolkien wrote this to his son Christopher:

Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament ... There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves upon earth ... which every man's heart desires.

Not just Christopher, but Tolkien's oldest son, John, took to himself his father's love of the Eucharist.  John became a Catholic priest and celebrated daily that which directed JRR's life and was the guiding light for middle earth.

16 Jun

Morse and Marconi

The first electric communication ever dispatched read, "What Hath God Wrought."  It was tapped out by Samuel Morse on May 24, 1844.  He was sitting amidst an audience in the United States Supreme Court building.  The message was delivered within moments to Baltimore. 

Morse obtained the passage from Numbers 23:23. The Scriptural context is the story of Balaam, a pagan prophet sent to curse the Israelites. When Balaam sees the people he is so impressed he instead blesses them.  He prophesies that this people will not die out but will spring up like a lion and people will say of them, "Behold, what hath God wrought!"

Morse, the inventor of the single-wire telegraph system, had seen the transformation of the United States in the first half of the 19th Century, arguably the greatest period of growth and progress in our nation's history.  The US expanded from shore to shore and had revolutions on a communications, market, transportation, and religious level, all of which inaugurated new systems that are, in many ways, still in place in our nation.  Morse saw God at work, and the leading figures of the country in the chambers of the Supreme Court that day would not have disagreed. Communications technology led to the cohesion of the expansive land.  Yes, the Civil War would shortly ensue, but the outcome of that war addressed our core wound (slavery) and eventually united the nation further.  God was at work not just in America, but in technology.

A century later, Guglielmo Marconi, the Novel Prize winner and inventor of mobile devices, echoed Morse's sentiments when he said, "I declare with pride that I am a believer. I believe in the power of prayer. I believe in it not only as a believing Catholic but as a scientist."

09 Jun

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux is the last of the ancient church Fathers.  He founded the Abbey of Clairvaux and was renowned both for his own personal sanctity and for his theological and spiritual writings.  He also is called the "Troubadour of Mary," as he had an incredibly deep devotion to the Blessed Mother.

A monk who lived before Bernard, named Radbertus, once wrote this: "Mary is your sister." Bernard read this and must have pondered the relationship with his own sister, Humbeline, in his contemplation and exposition of Mary.

Bernard loved his little sister, Humbeline, though for a while he was disappointed in her.  Married to a wealthy nobleman of Lorraine, it was said Humbeline "was more notable for dancing than devotion." Bernard refused to see her until she changed.  One day he wrote a simple note to her: "Remember our mother's virtue." 

So moved by this comment, Humbeline persuaded her husband, Guy de Marcy, to let her become a nun. She entered the convent, was elected abbess, and lived a great life of prayer and penance.  In fact, when her sisters thought her self-denial and asceticism too extreme, she responded, "That is all very well for you, my sisters, who have been serving God in religion all your lives. But I have lived so long in the world and of the world that no penance can be too much for me."

Humbeline's four brothers were all incredibly proud of their sister. None was prouder than Bernard, who held his little sister, eventually canonized a saint, as she died in his arms.

Brothers have a fatherly care for their sisters and take great pride in them.  A sister can prompt an individual to holiness.  Saint Humbeline did for Bernard, as Mary, our little sister, can for us.


02 Jun

The Cedar of Lebanon

The Cedar of Lebanon is the most referenced tree in the Bible. It is considered "the first tree" (1 Kings 4:33).  Cedars are strong, durable, fragrant, tall, and graceful.  Where gold was not used in Solomon's Temple, cedar was instead used. Solomon also built his personal chariot out of the noble wood. Eagles built their nests on the tops of cedar trees.  The tree's roots dig deep into the soil, reaching the water bed.  Hence the psalmist's wisdom: "the cedar tree is planted by God" (Psalm 104:16).  The container of water used to purify leprosy was also made of cedar.  The aromatic resin of the cedar was used for embalming, as it is resistant to decay, and also used to repel snakes.  We could go on. 

In the middle ages, the "Cedar Tree" or "The Cedar of Lebanon" became a well-known epithet for Mary.  Her roots tap deep down into Christ, and she can withstand anything, like the branches of the cedar endure all seasons.  Mary is the cedrus exaltata (exalted cedar).

There is one more quality of cedar I must mention.  The wood is absorbent.  Water will not build up on the wood itself and mildew or mold will not form.  Yet, it will retain humidity.

If you know me well, you can guess where I am going with this.  Because of the particular qualities of this softwood, cedar is used to build humidors for cigars.  Cedar will prevent the cigar from drying out. 

And so I have been able to achieve something I have been wanting to do for quite some time: connect the Virgin Mary with smoking cigars!  A relationship with the 'Cedar of Lebanon' will assist our relationship with Christ and make us strong, graceful and relaxed individuals.