Commencement of Hostilities

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Arriving at Job’s Pond
On a late May evening
Of a day filled with the Word and the work,
He spied the plot of land
That days before had masqueraded – poorly – as a lawn
Now in the preposterous pretense – worse yet – of being a Prairie.

Procuring his semi – trusty mower,
He took to the task.
The grass, if that is what it might be called, was not impressed,
And the insect life living therein, had never spied a sheet of paper proclaiming this attacker the owner of their home.

The oldest among them, seeing the tool at hand,
Called out to the others incredulous,
“It’s a hand push-mower. He thinks it’s 1948. Attack! We can send this rake scaping!”
And so they did.
And so he did.

The Quest

I dreamt

I was in an insane asylum 

Looking for a girl I knew. 

Not a mental health facility; 

this was the old-fashioned huge affair, 

endless wards,

Bed after bed; 

wandering children of God with vacant eyes.

The beds too were empty 

Each one only 

with a note

On the pillow 

Sharing word of that 

Person’s unique pain. 

I woke under a pier

At an amusement park 

Asleep on a thin mattress,

And the tide lapping 

Around it’s edge. 

I struggled up, 

Found my knapsack already soaked by salt water, 

And rose into the light 

To continue the quest. 

[Danvers (MA) State Hospital, ca. 1893]

Memento mori.

Sonny’s yearbook from high school
Is down from the shelf
And he idly thumbs through the pages
Some have died
Some have fled from themselves
Or struggled from here to get there
Sonny wanders beyond his interior walls
Runs his hand through his thinning brown hair

~ Paul Simon, “The Obvious Child”

How is it that some days, some hours, some periods of time seem to carry with them an obvious theme, sometimes even a theme song?  These can be happy and light themes or heavier and deeper.

This morning we prayed at our church the funeral of a 29-year old man, Eric, son of gracious parents, oldest of four children, smart, funny, interested in the times we live in, creative and talented, dead of a heroin overdose.  A life too short, one of all too many being ended daily now by the vise of this particular addiction.  Outside after the Mass I watched friends embrace his just-younger sister, literally hold her up as she sobbed in their arms.  I watched his parents lean heavy on each other; faces tired; their son’s whole life and all his love outlined in them.

This afternoon I made my way into Brooklyn, passed through Canarsie, parked and walked through double doors into a school hall and to the front of that hall past people who sat in groups talking.  I stood in front of a casket and prayed over the body of one of my classmates from the North American College in Rome, Monsignor John Brown. Those days, featuring us in our 20’s, John strong and tall, serious and brilliant: they seem only weeks ago.  And they are.  Many many many weeks ago.  We have not been in one another’s company, perhaps since the mid-80’s.  Today, I had to go there.  I had simply to be there for a moment and to pray, in thanksgiving and in hope.  I knew no one there except the deceased.  I prayed, signed the visitors’ book, picked up a prayer card, and left.

As I drove away I thought of both of these men, gone in their own time and in their own way, into the mystery that I can only believe is a love stronger and deeper than most of us ever even intuit here.  My life has intersected with each of theirs in vastly different ways and degrees.  Now they know one another in ways I cannot begin to imagine.  And there is solace.  And there is fullness.

Here we carry on, and we wonder the strangest things.  As I drove away from that school hall where John’s body lay in the midst of his people, a thought unbidden began repeating in my mind like a mantra: “John, I hope they loved you.  Did they love you?  I hope they loved you.  Did they love you?”  I’ve no reason to think they didn’t, that in fact a mutual love joined priest and people in God’s sight.  But still, the question rang.

I carried both of them with me in thought and prayer here to the pond.  I cried for them. It carries more meaning than words,  And then Paul Simon sang in the car on I-684 of Sonny, his ‘obvious child,’ who sits with his high school yearbook and realizes

Some have died
Some have fled from themselves
Or struggled from here to get there.

And as the late winter woods, dry and bare, rush by on either side I realize that each of us, Eric, John, and me, we all appear in those few words.

 

Every Step

Every step of the way to heaven is heaven, so said Catherine of Siena from whose church I traveled Pennsylvania by interstate 84 which passes through unpopulated snow-covered hills clothed with naked trees. 

I felt like I passed through the northern terrains of the Italian peninsula or through the memorable passages of Switzerland. I came in time to New York and there unexpectedly heard echoes of the city of Rome at Christmas in the 80’s. 

Why does the mind draw parallels between place and place and moment and moment? How does it drive back the curtain of decades, wipe clean the surface of an untended window and make it all new again?

I suppose to make sense, to make meaning, to affirm creation as creation and life as more than nonsense. That is a good making and a worthy creation; a profound sense of fit. 

Yesterday I drove from death through memory to musing. The trip was well worth it and someday will need be reversed. In each direction every step is heaven

jpp mcginty 2/15/17

On the way home

I’ll be on my way in an hour to the ordination at Garden City.  Five men and women, each of whom I have worked with to a greater or lesser extent on their way toward ordained ministry, will kneel before the bishop today and begin that good work.  Their personalities are different.  Their backgrounds are quite diverse.   I suspect that their understandings of what might lie ahead differ as well.
But all of them have met Jesus Christ and have been attracted at depth level to him, to his mission.  In there they see something of what their life can mean, where their lives can find and transmit meaning.  It has to do with service.  It has to do with availability.  It has to do with love.
That last is spectacularly important.  It is the central means and mystery.  Is there life at all without love?  Is there such a thing as a real human life that is not touched and embraced and colored and enhanced and energized by love?  Even those lives that seem the most bereft of that blessing, who seem most alone, find their origin – or if not even their original, at least their goal – in love.
What was his name, the young Philadelphia Jesuit who taught at the Gregorian when I was a student there.  Phil was his first name.  Ah yes!  Phil Rosato I am reliably told! He was one of the young faculty then.  I found out last year that he has died.  How silently the years and our lives pass on from us.  But Phil presented to us a marvelous vision, perhaps not devised by him, but passed on by him to us effectively, of the great circle of life.  I suppose it later was set to music in the Lion King!  We come from God.  Our lives are at their best when they are a learning of our origin and a yearning to return to that beginning point and to arrive at last (thank you TS Elliot) where we had begun.
Just yesterday I was reading Frederick Buechner’s book on midlife that he wrote in his early 60’s.  It opens with a beautiful reflection on what ‘home’ is, where in our memories our first home was, and how the greatest depth of home is at the last not found here at all.  The ultimate home is in the presence of that One whom – receiving all our tradition and doctrine and attempts at elucidation – we cannot see or name or domesticate in our presence.
This morning these five at the cathedral will take a big step toward home.  Both for themselves, and for all who will look to them in effect to say, “Can you point the way home?”
The best response of all to that deep human question is something like, “I cannot point it out as well as I would like, but I will walk there with you.”

A shared consideration of friendship as prayer

” … friendship is, at its best, a prayer.

“It is, after all, an act of faith.  It is sacred.  It is an epistle, delivered from one person to another.  In its best moments, friendship is a canticle that celebrates, a parable that teaches.  In the close proximity of a friend, you find a cathedral where promises are kept, and a chapel where tears are shed.  Friendship is a responsorial psalm: one heart speaks, another responds, and in the silences in between we hear something of God.”

~ Greg Kandra,

“Friendship Is a Prayer,” America March 17, 2003

When I read this, the faces and voices of so many friends come to mind. Thank you for helping me to pray.

A Sonnet for Nicholas Ferrar of Little Gidding, on his feast day

Malcolm Guite

Little Gidding and Nicholas Ferrar's monument Little Gidding and Nicholas Ferrar’s monument

Nicholas Ferrar Nicholas Ferrar

The Church of England keeps December 4th as the feast day of Nicholas Ferrar, the devout Anglican who founded the Community of Little Gidding in the early seventeenth century. Ferrar was trying to find a fruitful via media between protestant and catholic understandings of what it is to be Christian. As a member of a reformed church he and his community were devoted to reading the scriptures in their own language, to sharing their faith, and to worshipping together in the beautiful services of the Book of Common Prayer. But he was also keen to preserve and explore the Catholic heritage of community life, the daily offices of prayer, and praise, the pattern of Benedictine work and prayer, rooted in the psalms and the gospels. in holding these together he was recovering and preserving what he called. ‘The right good old way’…

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