St. Mary Magdalene as an Example of Perseverance

July 22 is the Memorial for St. Mary Magdalene. From the Office of Readings is a homily by Gregory the Great (Hom. 25, 1-2, 4-5: PL 76, 1189-1193) in which St. Gregory explores the Magdalene as an example of perseverance:

When Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and did not find the Lord’s body, she thought it had been taken away and so informed the disciples. After they came and saw the tomb, they too believed what Mary had told them. The text then says: The disciples went back home, and it adds: but Mary wept and remained standing outside the tomb.

We should reflect on Mary’s attitude and the great love she felt for Christ; for though the disciples had left the tomb, she remained. She was still seeking the one she had not found, and while she sought she wept; burning with the fire of love, she longed for him who she thought had been taken away. And so it happened that the woman who stayed behind to seek Christ was the only one to see him. For perseverance is essential to any good deed, as the voice of truth tells us: Whoever perseveres to the end will be saved.

At first she sought but did not find, but when she persevered it happened that she found what she was looking for. When our desires are not satisfied, they grow stronger, and becoming stronger they take hold of their object. Holy desires likewise grow with anticipation, and if they do not grow they are not really desires. Anyone who succeeds in attaining the truth has burned with such a great love. As David says: My soul has thirsted for the living God; when shall I come and appear before the face of God? And so also in the Song of Songs the Church says: I was wounded by love; and again: My soul is melted with love.

Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek? She is asked why she is sorrowing so that her desire might be strengthened; for when she mentions whom she is seeking, her love is kindled all the more ardently.

Jesus says to her: Mary. Jesus is not recognized when he calls her “woman”; so he calls her by name, as though he were saying: Recognize me as I recognize you; for I do not know you as I know others; I know you as yourself. And so Mary, once addressed by name, recognizes who is speaking. She immediately calls him rabboni, that is to say, teacher, because the one whom she sought outwardly was the one who inwardly taught her to keep on searching.

Ivanov, Appearance of Jesus Christ to Maria Magdalena, c. 1835

Ivanov, Appearance of Jesus Christ to Maria Magdalena, c. 1835

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Now we know what he’s been thinking about…..

Source: Wikimedia Commons; Author: Daniel Stockman

Source: Wikimedia Commons; Author: Daniel Stockman

Turns out Rodin’s Le Penseur is likely trying to decide whether or not to take that golden opportunity to shock himself rather than being alone with his thoughts. But I’m unclear whether it’s the “being alone” part or the “thinking” part that the study group of 200 people disliked so much.

Fifteen minutes of alone time sounds kind of like a gift to me, but that’s because my life is the exact opposite of sensory depravation. I am deprived of quietude most days, but even that I would not change. One day, this house will be quiet again, and then I’ll have to think. Better get me a pair of rubber-soled shoes so I have something else to do.

Making a “Murse” and Coping with “Borrowing”

Last night, I went to bed lamenting a particular problem.

I have too much stuff to carry in my pockets. Usually I’m carting a stack of books, my phone, my tablet or laptop, my glasses, and a bunch of papers that need attention. Most of the time, I’m only lugging the stuff from upstairs to downstairs and vice versa.

I try to keep my things together and out of reach, but there are little miscreants here who are positively fascinated with my very mundane possessions, just because they’re mine.

Back when I had an office and practiced law full-time, I used my briefcase to hold the items I’d need for the day. I took it from home to the office to court. It has an unbelievably good leather smell. When we moved back to California, the briefcase I received as a gift from my wife for graduation from law school went up in a closet to collect dust:

2014-07-17 13.19.49

It occurred to me that I might feel better if I still had something to carry all my things in, where children aren’t allowed. Because, the children are always stealing from me, and I suspect my wife does too.

For Christmas and birthdays, I  receive a new box of pens. But then these pens magically disappear and only reappear when a child needs one. A few weeks ago, the oldest bought me a couple of black Sharpie markers, which have also disappeared, despite my full-tilt rants about “Where are the new Sharpie pens that no one else but Daddy are allowed to use???”

Some of the things perpetually stolen from me include: copy paper, bonded envelopes, scotch tape, the stapler, rubber bands, scissors, packing tape, thumbtacks, batteries, glue, screwdrivers and pliers, power cords, and chapstick.

If an item belonging to me does not totally disappear, then it will be found somewhere logical, like on the floor next to the toilet in the bathroom, because that’s exactly where it makes sense to stumble upon a combination of things like butchers’ twine, paper clips, and some pipe cleaners.

Or you might discover a dozen and a half business envelopes addressed to Grandma, each containing a couple (or up to six) index cards with scribbles on them, and each covered with at least two upside-down postage stamps. Hate to tell you, kid, but the United States Postal Service does not pick up from your Melissa & Doug mailbox.

Last week, while I was in Guatemala, the babysitter helped the boys to make “lava lamps” using water with food coloring and oil. Problem is, no one thought I’d mind them using an entire 24-ounce bottle of extra virgin olive oil from the deacon’s olive ranch to make them, which they used after they already cleared out all of my vegetable oil.

Sometimes it seems so egregious that you begin to suspect it’s deliberate.

The more you try to saturate the house with the disappearing items so there’s plenty for everyone to use, the more the children consider the bounty of these items to be permission for a bacchanalia of garbage manufacture.

Scarcity seems only to remain for me, the one who paid for the stuff. God forbid that one pair of scissors remain in the drawer where I keep them in the kitchen. After all, I only bought 6 pairs at Ikea the last time we were there.

2014-07-17 13.22.35Obviously, I can’t hoard everything and cram it into one easy-to-carry bag, but I think it’s time to put the briefcase back in use. At least I can put my most used things in there.

20140717_095429And I can’t get any more weird than I already am, so I don’t really care if you call it a briefcase or not; you can say it’s my “Murse”, because that’s what it is: a bag for my stuff that children are not allowed to invade. It’s a Murse and not a diaper bag, because a diaper bag is for their stuff.

My ever-efficient wife, dumped a bunch of old papers and photos in the briefcase before cramming it into the library closet, so I had to go through it to make it ready to use. I discovered a couple of funny things. A Christmas necktie, my old bar cards and security cards. Somehow an old newspaper clipping has survived through the years, documenting the first time that my wife and I were photographed together, 25 years ago:

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Me (front left), a sixth grader — and she (middle back), an eighth grader, following our middle school’s speech contest

I sort of wish I could go back and tell that doughy boy not to steal scissors from his mom’s drawer without returning them. Or to stop using every last ounce of vinegar and baking soda in the house to make volcanoes. That kid was almost as jerky as my kids. But that kid’s parents didn’t have as much stuff to steal.

If you’re getting updated “play by play”, why not just *watch* the Darn Thing?

We get it — Francis is the pope; he has to be neutral. But c’mon, if you are so neutral that you can’t watch the game, how does receiving “play by play” updates otherwise satisfy a commitment to neutrality? I guess one man’s neutrality is another’s self-flagellation.

And what’s wrong with not being neutral anyway? Is he not allowed to say he likes Catholicism best too? A pope can’t like Spanish wine, or French cheese, or Chinese food without irritating the Italians, the Swiss or the Japanese?

In recent memory, all the popes have had a national origin, none were natural citizens of the Vatican, and at least some of them (St. JP II comes to mind) admitted to a natural (and understandable) fondness for their home countries.

Does this mean that JPII cast aspersions on people from other countries, or made infallible statements ex cathedra regarding the superiority of Polish pierogi over Lithuanian zeppelins? Of course not.

So this is just dumb. Let him admit (I’m surprised he hasn’t already) that he wanted Argentina to win and Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI simply prayed harder than he did and Germany won because of it. After all, BXVI has more time on his hands now, which should be a true sign of just how neutral Francis really is.

It’s Proud, Fishy, and one Heck of a Whopper

whopper_smallThe “Proud” Whopper from newly self-anointed Buggery King. I suspect it tastes just as crappy as the original Whopper, but covered in more colorful wrapping with an even stupider message. I wonder, is it proud to be crappy and stupid, or just stupid?

Meanwhile, a Guinness commercial depicting a loyal pubowner “leaving the light on” for a noble veteran is making the rounds on Facebook, and it’s expertly crafted to draw tears (among Guinness-drinkers, no less — a notably stoic crowd), although the truth is that the ancient and storied company has reversed itself on centuries of tradition in a mere half decade. Its values, alas, have gone the way of countless other “responsible” corporate citizens: no boundaries for decency in the pursuit of sales.

Likewise for Sam Adams Brewing and Heineken, and let’s not even get started on Starbucks Coffee.

I’m not sure that boycotts work. I don’t know. But I’ll tell you I have no interest in holding something in my hand that tells a sympathetic story for something that is directly contrary to my deeply held beliefs. And I certainly have no interest in putting something in my body that does the same thing. The more corporations use their products to be associated with values contrary to my own, the less inclined I am to patronize their stores and restaurants.

Guess what, Burger King, Guinness, Sam Adams and Starbucks: I can make my own (non-crappy, non-proud) burgers, I can make my own stout, I can make my own ale, and I can make my own coffee. I don’t need you, I don’t need your branding, and I don’t need to become another of your advertisements for the indecent and immoral. I prefer plain coffee and beer, sans sexual orientation of any type. So count me out.

As for corporations that make smartphones, maintain search engines, change my oil, and sell me groceries, ours is a tenuous relationship. I kind of have to get these things from somewhere, so if there are two roughly equivalent products, you’d better believe I’ll choose the one that doesn’t make me cringe in memory over the last round of corporate pandering.

Meanwhile, my Catholic smartphone project (expected completion: Fall 2017) is stalled in development. I’ve got a pretty good case design (Legos and pipe cleaners), but my 1962 Missal and used Vol. II Liturgy of the Hours that make up the guts (i.e., chipset) are not synchronizing easily. It’s literally the size of a brick and the battery is perpetually dead (because there isn’t one). And it only makes really poor-quality calls, to God.


Reflection on the Guatemalan Mission Experience

On Thursday evening, I arrived home safely from our 10-day mission to Guatemala. Thank you for your prayers!

It was an eventful trip, filled with many blessings that I’m sure will “spill over” into my life in yet-unknown ways. At some point, Jesus may ask me to make a sacrifice of some sort, but this trip definitely wasn’t it. This was pure gift.


I departed wondering what – if anything – could be achieved in 10 days that would constitute a successful mission, which must have been a sentiment shared by others in my group, because Fr. A shared a message with us, “I want to remind you that you don’t know the full reason why God brought you to Guatemala at this time. Permit the suffering and tension you experience within you and around you to draw you deeper into what God is seeking to share with you. You are one of his children and he has brought you here with a specific group of people in order to introduce you to a new encounter with His love. Remain open to listen for the specific word he is sharing with you at this time.”

IMG_2935It was certain that apart from pouring a concrete slab for part of a construction project, or getting to help build part of one stove for one family, or sorting a few pounds of green coffee beans, our group was not going to change the circumstances of life for the people we visited. Our “work” would have next to no impact.

There is a great contrast of circumstances between the First and Third World, and these circumstances do matter, but we can’t pretend that circumstances set forth a type of merit. God gives us everything we have, He places us in our particular circumstances for a particular purpose, but He does not identify value in our circumstances.

Rather, we do that. We conclude that since we have more stuff and live more comfortably, that our ways are somehow better than those of our brothers and sisters.  We grow complacent, associating material wealth with spiritual well-being.

IMG_2765We expect that others would prefer to live the way we do, and we scratch our heads if someone rejects what we have in favor of their “poverty”.

At Sunday Mass with the Hermanas Missionarias de la Eucharistica, we heard Jesus say in the Gospel reading: “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to little ones.” (Matt. 11:25-30).

With this clear teaching in mind, what can possibly be inherently valuable about being “wise and learned” if it does not gain the kingdom for ourselves? Why do we pretend?

IMG_2206There is a quote attributed to Bl. Mother Theresa of Calcutta that is perfectly true whether she said it or not: essentially, some people are so poor that all they have is…. money.

That’s us! We are the ones who are truly poor! We are the dragon who builds a nest upon a pile of treasure, jealously guarding it, devoting life and limb to it. We assume that without this “treasure” we will be just as miserable and desperate as the multitude. “If only they could have what we have (and it didn’t cost us anything to give it to them),” we say.

This misplaced focus is no benefit, but rather a heavy burden that bores out the soul and leaves emptiness in its place. Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Id.). In seeking after the wrong things, we never receive the rest and comfort that Jesus offers.

IMG_2526The thing is, the people of Guatemala are not poor and they are not miserable and they are not desperate. The people of Guatemala are richer than we are, because they have Jesus. They cling to Him and each other. They see His gifts and it brings them great JOY.

Because of circumstances, I went on a mission. But the purpose of the mission was so that my heart could be changed. The true missionaries were the people there, who ministered to me. They sent me home aware of their joy, which was a holy and life-giving example of discipleship. They possessed what I desired for myself.

IMG_2263In this mission, I helped give a family a stove and some kids a better education and some medicine, but they gave me Jesus Christ, the one who saves, sanctifies and loves. And when I return, it will be with that clear purpose in mind: to encounter Him again, to meet Christ in them, and to be nourished by their faithful example.


Day 8: There was once this sheep…..

There was once this sheep,
a friendly French sheep, was he. 
When he bleated his greeting,
“Amoeba!” was his plea. 
But all was well 
     (apart from the smell)
            (Did you say ewe?)
For joy in the Lord,
and thanks for His Word were key. 

[N.B.: In case you don't know, the water in Guatemala, and anything the water touches, is not safe. It's a major problem because many people are chronically infected with dangerous parasites. It's treatable, but without an alternate water source, recurrence is likely; in fact, recurrence is guaranteed. Clean potable water is a blessing. Give thanks for it! Many in the world lack such fundamental things to healthy living, not to mention access to adequate treatment for the parasites living in the water source.]

Woe to those who tug at guilt with cords of perversity, and at sin as if with cart ropes!

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil, who change darkness into light, and light into darkness, who change bitter into sweet, and sweet into bitter! (Isaiah 5:18, 20).

But thanks for the handy list of entities and organizations that are worthy of donations and support; I thought I’d never have reason to link to your website!