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.

Notre Dame and the Pieta

From the homily on Good Friday

Michelangelo's pietà—the image of Mary holding her dead son at the foot of the cross—was perhaps the most famous depiction of the subject until this past week.  Now, I argue, it is the pietà underneath the high altar of Notre Dame in Paris.  Two images of the sculpture just after the monumental fire stand out.  One is of three French firefighters looking into the smoke-filled nave of the church.  The statue can barely be seen, other than the brilliant gold cross above Mary.  The other image is of the statue with a pile of charred rubble before it.

Yes, the pietà at Notre-Dame de Paris is a symbol of resilience, just like the cathedral itself.  The 800-year-old church survived the Black Plague, the 100 Years War, the French Revolution, Napoleon, the Kaiser, and Hitler, who wanted to burn it.  But Notre Dame is something more, which is why this fire made the front page of every town's newspaper in the world.  A church is, fundamentally, our gift of worship and praise to God.  Sure, we celebrate community and even the sacraments in a church, and we are inspired by the art, the preaching and the music.  But a church building is not about us.  It is about God.  The cross is God's gift to us.  Our gift in reciprocation is a church.  And Notre Dame—the most beautiful church in the world—is the best we as a human race can give. 

And it burned.  It is up for us now, individually, to give as a gift to God our hearts.  Lay your burned heart before Christ when you venerate the cross, and your gift will be greater than Notre Dame.

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Mothers Not Only Can Be Saints, They Can Make Saints.

On this Mother's Day it is worth examining several saintly women. 

Joan of Aza was the wife of Felix de Guzman, a Spanish official.  She had already borne two sons and was praying for a third. She had a vision, while praying in church, of St. Dominic of Silos.  He told Joan not only would she have a son, but that her son would be a source of enlightenment for the world.  Joan then had a dream of a black and white dog carrying a torch in its mouth.  Joan gave birth to a son, whom she named Dominic. Her son, the St. Dominic we all know, would go on to establish the Dominicans, or the domini canes, the watchdogs of God.  And Joan's other children? Two became priests, one of whom was also beatified (Blessed Mannes). And Joan's daughter sent two of her sons into the Dominic Order as priests to follow their uncle.

Elisabeth Leseur was an incredibly spiritual woman.  The great suffering in her life was her husband, Felix, whom she loved but who was also an atheist.  Elisabeth died in her atheistic husband's arms on May 3, 1914.  Less than a decade later Felix Leseur was ordained a Catholic priest. 

And who could forget the greatest mother saint of all (besides Mary)? St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine!  Monica was a devout Catholic married to a pagan.  Her son Augustine had fallen astray.  But Monica did not lose hope. She prayed and wept abundant tears.  Monica died in Augustine's arms and her son went on to be baptized, ordained a priest and then bishop, a doctor of the Church, and a saint. 

Mothers not only can be saints, they can make saints. 

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Let's Go Fly A Kite

The movie Mary Poppins ends with the song, "Let's Go Fly a Kite."  As the title character looks on through the window, George Banks, the father, sings the beautiful medley, leading his family out to the park for the activity.  It is a sign of Banks' conversion, his redemption.  He has come to realize what is most important in life—not being successful and maintaining a proper lifestyle (see his earlier song, "The Life I Lead"), but being a present, loving father to his children. He was able to do this because of Mary Poppins' influence.

The lyrics of the song speak to a deeper reality, however. The kite transports the individual to another realm.  The person holding the string feels as if he is flying.  He is a 'bird in flight.' He is 'lighter than air,' dancing 'on the breeze over houses and trees.' 

When we pray and are united to God, like the kite flyer, we are taken off this earth and into Heaven.  Our attachments and constructs are burned away.  We dethrone ourselves and experience agape, where we love with God's love.

When we are in this contemplative prayer, we may appear to be sitting in a pew in a chapel in our parish, but we are actually at the right hand of the Father.  The prayer has fused us to God, the way the kite fuses the child to the sky.

As Mary Poppins helped Banks, the Virgin Mary will lead us to plunge into the Light.  She will purify us and exhilarate our lives.  We will hold to the string alongside Jesus with the Father behind us, the Holy Spirit the wind in the kite, all whilst Mary looks lovingly on.

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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."

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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.  

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