"There is nothing more beautiful than to know Him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him. The task of the shepherd, the task of the fisher of men, can often seem wearisome. But it is beautiful and wonderful, because it is truly a service to joy, to God’s joy which longs to break into the world." - Benedict XVI - Homily at the Mass for the Inauguration of his Pontificate - 24 April 2005

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Ocean stones

A score of months ago, I drew a stone from the sea; a gesture that began with a simple meaning which evolved into a deeper one and finally an even more profound significance.

Attracted by the way it captured the light, by the dancing rosy and charcoal streaks that seemed to have wandered onto its surface from some other colored mass, I collected it. Wanting to remember the beauty of the moment – for it was not just any old day, but a time that has forever changed me – I gathered some others as well. Soon however, as the water dried from it, I was left with nothing more than a pinkish grey lump of rock. I thought to myself: “Is this not a better reminder than ever of what I wish to take away from this place? Indeed, the stones of the sea are not beautiful apart from him”. So I threw back most of my collection, but kept the rosy-grey to remind me of that very reality.

To me this was an analogy for Jn 5:5 "I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers...". I suppose the analogy still holds true, but with the passing of time, I discovered something else. I think many times - at least for me - it's easy to be attached to our own ideas, our own interpretations of what Our Lord tells us while leading ourselves to miss the real point. It's easy to take on a "do-this-or-else" interpretation, which may be one of the main reasons why young people are turned off by religion and therefore refuse the gift of faith. Whatever the case might be, I kept that rock in my pocket for quite a while. I held it often, trying to keep alive the rememberance of the grace I had recieved, reminding myself to remain in Him.

Then, something unexpected... with my constant handling of that pebble, the contact with the oil from my hands, it began to change. Its aspect began to liken it to the day when I reached into the salty water, picking up a brilliant and beautiful reminder of something dear to my heart. I was actually a bit disappointed for this, since it seemed that my metaphor had just been emptied, but later on I found a new meaning.

It's easy to think that "remain in me" is a mandate that depends on our will, on our efforts, on our docility. But what if my remaining depends very little on my actual efforts (not to say that these aren't important, but in themselves they cannot be efficacious)? What if the image of beauty in me doesn't depend so much on my throwing myself in the sea of prayers or works, or in the voluntaristic search for union with Christ, as if I could bring this about by my own desire or commitment?

That little pink pebble reminded me that the lustre of my life comes from His hands. It comes from my presenting myself to Him, from my allowing Him to work in me, to handle me if you would. So everything and anything that I should do to remain in Him is but a supplication the He should keep me in Himself. The branches need not fret over how to attach themselves to the vine, how to become what they are. The branches receive life from the vine, grow and bear fruit as ordained.

My stone, restored to beauty from the touch of my fingers, my soul restored to life from the touch of His hand.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Folly's fall

O Folly fury you, of irate tempest
whose pride and recklessness, domination
are wild, hungry beasts whose prey and meaning
are wont to find in roaming pilgrim's hearts.

But Folly do I name you, rightly so
because your reign has firm the earthly bounds
and are you arms but water, fire, wind
who as their destiny Another serve.

And Folly do I call you yet again
for this your title now has brought me bliss
as I thus wonder that your Master's hand
at your rebellion does not rebel.

But wise is He whose all enduring purpose
knows that your wayward will is still His means
as your anihilations clear his pathway
and render limpid heaven's fixèd sphere.

All-knowing One and judicious King
whose mystery feigns a silent watch
and grants permissions now that none can capture
but all is ordered to your solemn plan.

Omniscient Lord who o'er the squalling sees
the beauties that man's eye could never fathom
kept covered by the tempest's hazy rage
but then your calm destroys her every venture.

And there, as brilliant as the day that rises
from 'neath the blanket of the swarthy storm
the mountains soar to beckon to their climax
the traveler waiting long to see the light.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Choose your own adventure...

When I was a kid, I loved to read. The convent kind of got me out of the habit (strangely enough), but back then I read a lot. I went through certain "literary" phases before I decided to fall in love with classical literature. So I went from Berenstain Bears, to Boxcar Children, to those abbreviated classics, though I can't remember what the series was called. All of these, of course, I would read aloud to my grey miniature poodle, Pepper. One of my favorites (though, unfortunately, Pepper 's participation was a bit more limited because of the "language barrier") were the "choose your own adventure" books. Remember them? At a certain point the protagonist has to make a decision, and the reader gets to make it for him, so he turns to a certain page based on that choice and the story continues with more decisions until it reaches the end. I would read them, then go back and re-read them changing the decisions until I had read every possible story... or the second time around I would just read cover-to-cover to see what could have happened to my protagonist.

Many times we uses stories, books, as a metaphor for our own lives. But is seems that most of us differ in our opinions of how the story is actually written. As men and women of faith, we know that the Author of life is One, but what does he actually do with all that authoring? I personally, though I love writing, would get pretty bored or fed up if I had to invent billions of stories every day, and to fit each 80-or-so year long story into a millenniar time-line... that's a bit much. So we all know that our Author is infinite and almighty, and it's pretty easy for him, but cut me some slack because I'm just trying to make this a little more dramatic!

Still, it really is mind-boggling to think of how the life-stories are written, how life-stories - all of them, even the most tragic - are meant to be stories of joy and hope, how each one is meant to have a happy ending. Above all, the most staggering truth is that each and every story is meant to be a love story. So maybe they all aren't so sappy and romantic. I know mine isn't even though I myself am a pretty sappy romantic kind of person. 

I used to think that God having a plan for our lives meant that we had only two choices: the story He writes for me or the story I write for myself. I've come to realize that this is false. We do have two choices: the story that we write together, or the story that I write without Him. He didn't already write it, like an instruction manual and consign it to me at birth, or baptism, or confirmation or whatnot. This is the ultimate "choose your own adventure" story, because when we get to the point of, choose this and turn to page 25, choose that and turn to page 45, we can freely choose either one and the story continues it's marvelous and unique unfolding.

When we write the story together, sometimes he takes the pen, sometimes he gives it to us, somtimes he dictates how he wants it to proceed, sometimes he is silent and allows the creativity of his creature to flow. Most of the time, we have to talk about how we want the story to go. I tell him "Wouldn't it be cool if..." and he tells me "Yeah, that's pretty cool. But what about this...".

It's marvellous and unique. It's a real choose your own adventure. When we choose the adventure of love, the adventure of truth, the adventure of fidelity to ourselves and to our Creator, the adventure that is ultimately a living conversation with Him, then a kaleidoscopic explosion is bound to make this story the ultimate adventure.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Hi to my "Followers"

Well... I just realized that my blog no longer has 0 followers. I find that pretty cool, but I also realize that I should probably update a little more often, but I have quite a serious case of writers block. So just a quick "Hi" and thanks for reading my blog. I hope to write something meaningful soon!

Saturday, July 02, 2011

"Spiritual" friendship or Spiritual friendship?

The topic for this post is something that has recently been very close to my heart. As I've watched many of my past criteria fall to the ground, as the scales fell from the eyes of St. Paul, I've discovered a new beauty which is a shadow of Beauty himself. I find myself so impotent before the greatness of it yet humbled by its simplicity and I realize that divine love is the one and only source of human love.

I look back to my teenage years, on the many "spiritual" friendships in my life. These friendships were a gift from God, and I bless him for them and I don't undermine them in the least, but I've come to understand that a truly spiritual relationship does not mean adding rosaries, masses, adoration hours, novenas, vigils to the regular list of movies, mall, arcade, Denny's, Walmart at 2am.

First of all, it would seem that our understanding of "spiritual" needs to be slightly re-defined. Ordinarily we think of it as havina a lot to do with the first numbers of the dictionary definition:

 Webster's 1828 American Dictionary
1: [Adjective] Consisting of spirit; not material; incorporeal; as a spiritual substance or being. The soul of man is spiritual.
2: [Adjective] Mental; intellectual; as spiritual armor.
Etc. ...

But then we come to number 6, and find out that Mr. Webster had more insight than we might have immagined:

6: [Adjective] Pertaining to the renewed nature of man; as spiritual life.

So what is this renewed nature of man? St. Paul sums it up with cutting precision, "For me to live is Christ..." and again Ireneus, "The glory of God is the living man". It all points to the Incarnation, not as something distant from us, but something that takes place in us, something that we seek out daily and pray fervently for its realization in us, moment by moment.

So as spirituality is not something disjoined from life in all its circumstances, neither is a spiritual friendship something disjoined from our humanity, from our affections and desires. Still, it is more than just affection and desire. It is more than just pleasure in the company of another. It is more than just human love. It is the love of God transforming these and bringing them into the dimension of the sacred. Affection for the divine, meets affection for the human, sanctifying it without taking from its integrity and humanity.

How liberating it is to recognize the objective goodness in human nature, and see that our journey to holiness does not exclude who we are, but exalts who we are in Christ.

Thus it is revealed how rituality can be penetrated and transfigured to reveal its true meaning. It is revealed how the humility of the sacred incorporates itself into the ordinariness of the secular or even into the tragedy of the sinful. The ordinary is sanctified and the memory of the sinful is redeemed so that Christ may be All in all.

It is possible "to search for Our Lord in everything, for example conversing with someone, coming and going, tasting, listening, thinking and in all our actions, because it is true that the Divine Majesty is found in all things through his presence, power and essence" (Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Escersizes, III, 506, 513).

Our humanity is, in itself (but not by itself!) our path to the Eternal One. Human love as a participation in Divine Love is our most sublime capacity after that of recieving and returning directly Divine Love. Friendship is a gift from God for his glory. Grace and affinity, Love and love give birth to a blossom that is a reflection of the Incarnation: divinity meeting and redeeming humanity. 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

New sandals


So, I know that one of my characteristics that others might find annoying or odd is that I like to read into ordinary circumstances and pull out some conclusions that give them a deeper meaning. Silly, right? Well that's how I am put together, so if you think it's wierd then go read someone else's blog.

I've had a 50 euro bill in my pocket for a couple of weeks. It had been a principium destined for a much needed pair of sandals. My old ones were killing my back and feet (and legs and ankles.... maybe it's just old-age starting to arrive!), but since my minutes of the day are usually counted and I had no idea which shop to go to I just carried the money around waiting for the shoe-store with the sandals I wanted right in the display case, to just appear from out of thin air. Today I decided that this isn't likely to happen, so I began my search. I started at Termini station where every one in two stores is a shoe store. Only junk. So a go down Via Nazionale, more shoestores, more expensive junk. Then, "Oooh, those are them! - no, too expensive", and again. So I gave up. I resigned myself to the fact that Rome does not have the right shoes for me at the right price, and I dreamed of the Carousel Center where I would certainly be able to find whatever shoe or sandal I wanted (which isn't even true, because a few years ago I went on a wild-goose chase even there while looking for sandals).

So I decided to just go eat lunch and for the moment just put up with my poorly-fitting, flat-soled, flipity-flopity footwear. In the mean time, I took the "back route" to return and there was a nice little shoe store, a little more modest than the others, but much more welcoming. They didn't have many styles, but they had just what I was looking for. So I tried them on and bought them, and hope to live happily ever after (at least for a year or two... if I'm lucky, even longer).

So after my sandal story, everyone already got bored and stopped reading this entry. If you are still with me, that's great because now I'm going to get at what I've been getting at.

Some points in our lives are just like my sandal search. First we wait for the right thing to just fall out of thin-air. That period can be more or less long, depending on the kind of person we are. Some people never get past it, but they will most likely die waiting. Others know that it is completely unproductive but, like me and my sandals, they just don't make time to do anything about the issue. So they go about being busy with many things, trying to forget that their shoes don't fit the way they are supposed to.

When and if it sets in that it is actually necessary to go shopping to find the right "shoes", normally we have no idea where to start. It might be easy, we ask someone who has the shoes we want where he or she found them, and we go get a pair for ourselves. Or we could take the easy road and just buy any old shoes - like them or not - and simply make do. When the "shoes" are life decisions, the first scenario is acceptable but not very exciting and not always guaranteed to work out. The second situation is just plain sad, tragic really. I would catagorize it as giving up on life, ceasing to fight and search, relinquishing the right to desire. I might dare to say that every loss of liberty comes precisely from this - from a "that's just how it is" attitude.

Then it happens that some just look, and look, and look. They are window shoppers, and aren't actually looking to buy anything. They want to keep their options open, don't want to buy anything because then they are stuck with it, and they may discover to not like it. Or another problem, like in my shoe-search, they honestly don't find the right style, fit and price.

This last possibility is most likely the most frightening, because it doesn't depend entirely on us. If I don't find the right sandals, my life will continue, but if I don't find the right path in life then much more is at stake than just my back. If I've searched and tried, gone at it and taken risks and I still find that my toes are pinched, maybe I'm going about it all wrong?

Lastly, just like in my sandal-search, comes the time to surrender and remember that I am a child of the Almighty. He has created me while at the same time creating the perfect pair of sandals for me. They might take a while to dig up, they may need breaking in, they will probably need fixing a few times in my life, they may even need to be changed at some point. The fact is, there are the right sandals out there and they just might turn up when it seems like all is lost.  

At this point, He is the only answer. He can be the only hope and the only promise of true life.

"You will show me the path of life, fulness of joy in your presence. At your right hand happiness forever"


Thursday, March 24, 2011

De Profundis

Charcoal hues to paint the dawn
remember only night's embrace
seek though they will t' awake the morn
they have not mind to know of else.

Though Sun's companion welcomed them
with heaven's crown upon their brow,
himself shall not their visage see
nor shall his courts their likeness bear.

The dimness of their vesture shall
be damned and cast away in death
and scarlet shroud envelop them
caress and strangle, bind and free.

And ruby shades shall be their first
for through travail they'll know them well
But oh! The tint of dawn they are!
The foremost herald of the day.

In sanguine tincture, sanguine token
that soon is shed for truer things
so guilded tones might rule the sky
and shake the shadows of the eve.

And without requiem are they,
those grey and lifeless phanthoms gone
while De profundis now aloud
shall Victimae Paschali sing.

Monday, March 14, 2011

In honor of all martyrs

Crimson drops now faded tell of men
and mem'ries of their unremembered times
of their songs once sung, their tears once cried
their heart's vain passions passion's pith belied
and Truth which falsehood's force could ne'er deny.

The Truth did conquer only by its defeat
when battle's bloody stain did boldly scream
in witness to the life beyond the grave
for which the mortal veil of flesh was gave
in order to immortal soul's stregnth save.

Once vagrant hearts did chase after the world
and fragrance of most bitter myrrh did seek
to find one day with't they'd be annointed
when soul from flesh and blood become disjointed
and to Heav'n's sphere or Hell's dark realm are pointed.

Thus by graces infinite did they
avert their wayward wills unto such things
that they gave up what they could not keep
to what could not be taken, one day reap
in trus the day would come when none would weep.

Though tortured here by human insolence
and put to every test so they'd lose sight
of Conscience's all comely countenance
and see, set before them, life's romance
so that their spirit would never join it's dance.

Yet faltering not did they refuse to yield
for passion's pleasure persued without its power.
what they sought was greater, stronger, deeper
than Vanity's vain vehemence void of keeper.
This gold could not be conquered by it's copper.

In stregnth they faced their fate triumphantly
and strode their vic'try march on to their end
and so they died their death that they might live.
They gave all that they could ever give
and grievous murder did their hearts forgive.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Becoming Real

I saw a post on a blog I follow (I didn't even read it, just glanced) that inspired me to take up that brick that I insisted on bringing to Italy with me which has ever since faithfully decorated my bookshelf. I'm referring to a volume of the works of C.S. Lewis, my attention attracted by The Great Divorce. So in a highly uncharacteristic way, I devoured the whole book in very little time.

I have no desire to write a summary. This is not a book report for English 101 and there are already lots of wonderful analyses of this work. Instead, I'd like to reflect on what struck me about this book which could be classified as both a novel and a theological reflection.

The protagonist mysteriously finds himself on a bus trip with an interesting bunch of folks who are headed upward from the "grey town", a place stuck in perpetual evening where the sun neither rises nor sets toward the heavenly sphere. Once arrived at their destination, they leave the bus realising that they have a ghostly sort of non-substantial form. They are infact, the souls of those who have not, or not yet, entered into life. To sum it up, they are not completely "real" but find themselves in the realm of reality where their presence can have no effect. The grass does not bend under their feet but rather pierces them, the water is like stone in their regard, remaining rigid even when trod upon. The shades then meet with the saved who have come to the antechamber of heaven to help them on their journey "into the mountains", the journey that will bring them face to face with Christ and allow them to become who they are. Only then will they have footprints, only then will they be truly present in the paradise that surrounds them, only then will what is for them hash reality turn to be the bliss of Truth. 

Fantasy and analogy converge and give a powerful message; one that I personally would like to take with me as a companion for both the near and distant future. Our life is about one thing, this alone is important. We are on a journey toward the fulness of reality. We have been blessed with the possibility to taste it, to touch it, to love it but we cannot fully embrace it. It is harsh with those who refuse it, not for the sake of spite, or punishment, justice or whatnot but out of respect.

We are called into the mountains to undertake the journey that will rend our feet solid, our hands firm, our hearts warm. This is the purpose of life: to become who we are, to become real; so real that nothing matters but reality. To put it in evangelical terms it means to be "born anew" by the spirit of Christ. "He who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God" (Jn 3:21).

As far as I'm concerned, this is a reason to be at peace even when life can present the most absurd situations and the most difficult choices. It's cliché to say "in the end the only thing that matters..." so I will refrain from annoying my readers with such a phrase. Instead I would assert that here, now, later, tomorrow, forever the only thing that matters, has ever mattered and will ever matter is that man is created in Christ and redeemed by Him, his only task is to be free and to realise his freedom - God's precious and fragile gift entrusted to him.

Here is an excerpt from the book that I found to be particularly significant:
 The choice of ways is before you. Neither is closed. Any man may choose eternal death. Those who chose it will have it. But if ye are trying to leap on into eternity, if ye are trying to see the final state of all things ad it will be (for so ye must speak) when there are no more possibilities left but only the Real, then ye ask what cannot be answered to mortal ears. Time is the very lens through which ye see - small and clear, as men see through a telescope - something that would otherwise be too big for ye to see at all. That thing is Freedom: the gift by which ye most resemble your Maker and are yourselves parts of eternal reality. But ye can see it only through the lens of Time, in a little clear picture, through the inverted telescope. It is a picture of moments following one another and yourself in each moment making some choice that might have been otherwise. Neither the temporal succession nor the phanthom of what ye may have chosen and didn't is in itself Freedom. They are a lens. The picture is a symbol: but it's truer than any philisophical theorem (or perhaps than any mistic's vision) that claims to go beyond it. For every attempt to shape eternity except through the lens of Time destroys your knowledge of Freedom. Witness the doctrine of Predestination which shows (truly enough) that eternal reality is not waiting for a future in which to be real; but at the price of removing Freedom which is the deeper truth of the two. And wouldn't Universalism do the same? Ye cannot know eternal reality by a definition. Time itself, and all acts and events that fill that Time, are the definition, and it must be lived. The Lord said we are gods. How long could ye bear to look (without Time's lens) on the greatness of your own soul and the eternal reality of her choice? (Ch. 13).

I highly reccomend the book to whomever may not have read it. It is both inspiring and entertaining.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Why the pelican?

I suppose that the title of my blog merits some sort of explanation, so here it is.

Long before the invention of FruitLoops [Oops, that was Toucan Sam. So much for my flavorful introduction!] the pelican was regarded as a noble animal and held as a symbol for the most sublime of mysteries. But why? It's such a silly looking creature with some rather unusual habits!
The Physiologus, an ancient Greek text dated back to the II Century AD, is a collection of tales from an unknown author. It presents anecdotes of animals (both real and fantastic) and nature, each with a moral. Perhaps we could call it a Christian version of Aesop's Fables. 
Of the pelican it recounts that:

The Pelican is very fond of its brood, but when the young ones grow they begin to rebel against the male bird and provoke his anger, so that he kills them, the mother returns to the nest in three days, sits on the dead birds, pours her blood over them, revives them, and they feed on her blood.
(From the Dictionary of Phrase and Fable by E. Cobham Brewer)
There are different variations of the tale in other sources, but the meaning is more or less the same.
Both the fable and the inspiring heraldry of the bird have somewhat faded from our minds, but the reality that it represents is most vivid in the hearts of those who believe that Christ is the Pius Pellicanus, from whose pierced side flows the only true life.
So to conclude, I shall insert what I deem the most magnificent of the many poetic references to this ancient story, from St. Thomas' hymn Adoro Te Devote.

Pie pellicane, Jesu Domine,
Me immundum munda tuo sanguine.
Cujus una stilla salvum facere
Totum mundum quit ab omni scelere.
Bring the tender tale true of the pelican;
Bathe me, Jesu Lord, in what thy bosum ran--
Blood whereof a single drop has power to win
All the world forgiveness of its world of sin.
Translated by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Neither let us forget that this magnificent beast has suffered much of late.