Thursday, March 23, 2017

Wrenched Out of Our Blindness

"Healing of the Man Born Blind" two-color linocut by Robert Hodgell (1922-2000)

In the Roman rite, this weekend we celebrate the Sunday of the Man Born Blind (aka the Fourth Sunday in Lent, aka Laetare Sunday.)  In the long gospel reading from St. John, Jesus encounters a blind begger, and after declaring "I AM  the Light of the World, spits in the dirt to make a muddy slurry and rubs the mud on the man's eyes.  The beggar regains his sight and it is then that his troubles really begin as the opponents of Jesus demand that he account for himself and his miraculous healing.

Yet for each of us, who, like the beggar healed by Jesus, who have been wrenched out of our blindness, we assume a burden of responsibility for which we must make an accounting.  Although it is certainly possible to close our eyes to the lies, injustice and suffering all around us, there is a price to be paid, in this life and in the next, for blinding ourselves to it.
Blessed Monsenor Oscar Romero

Tomorrow is the anniversary of Blessed Monsenor Oscar Romero, who, in 1977, after the brutal assasination of his friend and brother priest, Fr. Rutilio Grande SJ, began to see the lives of his impoverished and oppressed people with new eyes.  For the next three years he refused to close his eyes to the relentless violence and oppression experienced by the poor in El Salvador at the hands of the military and the security forces.

As the violence intensified he denounced the thousands of killings and disappearances and those who perpetrated them, while trying to find a way to bring peace to a country on the verge of civil war.  In the end, this courageous witness who refused to look away and keep silent was martyred while celebrating Mass on March 24th, 1980.      

Through the intercession of Blessed Oscar Romero, Bishop and Martyr, may Christ heal our blindness to the burdens, sorrows and injustices borne by our brothers and sisters.  May we have the grace and courage to see with the eyes of truth and compassion.  


Friday, March 17, 2017

Remember the Marvels the Lord Has Done

Today, March 17th, is Friday of the Second Week of Lent and/or St. Patrick's Day.  It is also the third anniversary of the death of my teacher and friend, Fr.Egon Sendler SJ (aka Pere Igor).  

Reflecting on the daily readings for today, I was struck by the ways in which God's redemptive purpose is able to to be found even in circumstances of  great suffering and injustice.  In the first reading is the familiar story of Joseph, and how his brothers, out of jealousy and hatred, throw him into a cistern to die and then, when the opportunity presents itself, sell him into bondage in Egpt.  In the gospel, Jesus tells the parable of the vineyard, in which the wicked tenants beat and kill the servants of the owner of the vineyard and then in their greed, kill his son.

/But God's redemptive purpose cannot be thwarted, even by the intransigence and violence of sinners.  Joseph forgives his brothers and reconciles with them.  Jesus, from the Cross, forgives those who are putting him to death and even excuses their actions before God, "because they know not what they are doing."

St. Patrick was kidnapped by Irish pirates and enslaved in Ireland.  Yet after his escape from bondage he returned and shared Christ with the people of Ireland.  In a similar way, my friend Pere Igor, conscripted into the war with Russia, was a German prisoner of war in Siberia for three years, where he worked as slave laborer.  He vowed, if he survived his imprisonment, to devote the rest of his life to the service of the Church in Russia and to work for Christian unity.  Which he did, for the rest of his long life.

Like Joseph and like Patrick,  Igor, (the name the Russian inmates gave him in the labor camp) had to chose whether or not to be consumed by hatred and bitterness towards those who mistreated and enslaved him.  It would have been understandable, reasonable even, for each of them to have responded that way to undeserved suffering.  

But grace and a willingness to be open to grace made it possible to chose to live and act in a different way. That they chose to love and not to hate allowed God to use their suffering for his own mysterious but always redemptive purpose.

Memory eternal, Pere Igor!

St. Patrick, Apostle to the Irish, pray for us!     

Monday, March 13, 2017

Come to the Aid of Our Weakness

I've found over the years that I really do pray better when I'm working on an icon.  Or rather, that my ability to be at least minimally raise my heart and mind to God and remain personally present despite indiscipline, laziness and distraction improves when I've got a brush or a pencil in my hand.  I don't really understand why, except to say that perhaps the concentration and attention required in drawing and painting provides a kind of scaffolding for the mysterious work of prayer itself.

Or perhaps it has to do with the movement involved in drawing and painting.  Or perhaps the act of taking up the pencil or stick of conte crayon or paint brush is, after so many years in the studio, a summons to recollection, similar to the act of passing a rosary or prayer rope through one's hands.

On the face of it, it might seem that what both drawing or painting and prayer have in common is that they are mimetic.  A drawing or painting is, in most cases, an attempt to render a natural form or in the case of icons, a canonical pattern.   Spoken prayer, in many cases, is the act of articulating received forms or patterns of prayer, the Lord's Prayer to be sure, but also prayers such as the rosary or the Jesus Prayer and of course, the psalms.

But I wonder too if perhaps drawing or painting and prayer have this in common: both seek to give expression to inchoate thoughts and feelings that we struggle to adequately render or articulate. The words of St. Paul about prayer in his Letter to the Romans, could, at least from my experience, be applied to the work in the studio as well.  "In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings." (Romans8:26)

I'm in the beginning stages of a large icon of St. Anne, Mary the Mother of God, and Jesus, and over the course of the past couple of weeks has slowly come together.    

Just like every other time, this icon has required me to shake off the distractions and excuses and to simply begin, knowing that the whole enterprise may end up as a disappointing failure.  I've needed to be patient with the fumbling about, false starts and erasures as I've attempted to put all of the various pieces together in a coherent, pleasing  way.  It has required perseverance, so as not to give up when discouraged by my (inevitably) awkward attempts to place the forms on the panel.   And humility  when the final work (inevitably) falls short of that impossible to articulate but real feeling that originally inspired the work in the first place.  

Yet the discoveries and surprises have more than made up for the sting of not quite ever being able to accomplish in reality what was envisioned in the imagination.  

All of which reminds me of what happens (for me, at least) in prayer, where even a fleeting moment of genuine and authentic communion with God is worth whatever had to be endured to bring me to that point.    

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Dreaming of My Father


Fortieth Day Dream

On the fortieth day
I dreamed
the  LeConte
was boarding passengers
before dawn.
Standing by the purser’s shack
I watched each dim form
present their ticket
and shuffle across the gangway.  
In that murmuring crowd
I listened for your voice
but it was raining,
(of course),
and I couldn’t hear you.

When at first light the ferry
began to pull away from the pier,
there you were, standing at the railing
waving to me.
a long, slow, steady wave of farewell. 

You smiled,
it was a tender, wistful smile,
as if fondly remembering what
 even the waters of the river Lethe
could not entirely erase.

As the boat picked up speed
I watched you
and waved goodbye
until the ferry rounded Coghlan Island
and disappeared.

The fortieth day since my Dad's death on January 24th was March 4th.      

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Deliver me, O Jesus

Deliver me, O Jesus
From the desire of being loved.
From the desire of being extolled.
From the desire of being honored,
From the desire of being praised,
from the desire of being consulted,
from the desire of being approved,
from the desire of being popular,
from the fear of being humiliated,
from the fear of being despised,
from the fear of being rebuked,
from the fear of being calumniated,
from the fear of being wronged,
from the fear of being ridiculed,
from the fear of being suspected.
Amen      -- Mother Teresa of Kolkota

This prayer of Mother Teresa seemed a good way to begin the season of Lent. 
My last post was back at the beginning of January.  I've been away and too occupied with my Dad's final illness and death on January 24th and then with everything involved in commending him to God and burying him.  Since then I've been preoccupied with making sense of life without him to be able to write or post much of everything.  

It will have been 40 days since his death on the 4th of March, so I'm ready (sort of) to enter back into things a bit more.  Although I'm pretty off of Facebook for Lent, I will post on this blog from time to time and post it to Facebook as well.  
Thoughts and comments you wish to share on this blog or Facebook are always most welcome and I will be reading them. 
Deacon Charles

Tuesday, January 3, 2017


Characters from "The Journey to the West" by Gene Luen Yang

It takes longer, I guess, for news to reach Alaska, but I was delighted to learn that Gene Luen Yang was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship (aka the "Genius Grant") back in September. Gene is the author/illustrator of the graphic novels "American-Born Chinese" and "Boxers and Saints".   In "American-Born Chinese", Gene weaves together his own journey as an Asian-American immigrant struggling to find his place in America with the classic Chinese novel, "The Journey to the West", which features the Monkey-King and his companions the Buddhist monk Tripitika, Pigsy and Sandy. 

Chinese Opera Characters from "Boxers and Saints"
In his 2013 graphic novel, "Boxers and Saints" he tells the story of the Boxer Uprising at the turn of the 20th century 
in two separate but linked volumes.  The first is the story of how a young peasant became a leader of those fighting against the foreigners dominating Ching dynasty China as well as Chinese who had converted to Christianity.  The second is the story of a young woman who becomes a Christian and her eventual fate as a martyr. 

As a graphic novelists, who is both Chinese-American and a Catholic, Gene had a unique perspective that enabled him to sympathetically tell both the story of the Yihetuan - Militia United in Righteousness, (the"Boxers" of the title) and the "Saints", those Chinese Catholics who were put to death in the uprising (and eventually canonized as some of the 120 men and women declared to be "Martyr Saints of China" by Pope John Paul II in 2000.

Back in 2007 Gene attended a retreat I did in Berkeley on praying with icons and we got to know each other a little bit.  Someday I hope we'll have a chance to visit again in person.  Maybe he'll come to Alaska.

In the meantime, congratulations, Gene!  I'm looking forward to seeing what you will be able to accomplish in 2017 and beyond! 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Light in Our Darkness

Blessed Sara Salkahazi and Companion 

Today is the feast of St. John the Evangelist (also known as St.John the Theologian in the Christian East), one of the "Comites Christi" or 'companions of Christ' who are commemorated during the Octave of Christmas.

On this day we also remember a 20th century companion of Christ, Blessed Sara Salkahazi, who on this day in 1944 was martyred on the banks of the Danube River in Budapest alongside the Jewish women that she and members of her order, the Sisters of Social Service had given refuge.

Blessed Sara and others, such as Raoul Wallenberg and the founder of the Sisters of Social Service, Sr. Margit Slachta were truly light in the darkness of that terrible winter when the Nazis and their Hungarian collaborators of the Arrow Cross, attempted to round up and execute the surviving  Jews of Budapest.

Unfortunately, as far as I know, the names of the Jewish companions of Blessed Sara are not known. In this relief print which I made last year at this time as part of a series of saints for the Year of Mercy, I chose to depict her with one of the women with whom she died.

In 2005 the Hungarian sculptors Gyula Pauer and Can Togay created a moving memorial to all those who were executed on the embankment of the Danube.  They cast in iron some fifty pairs of shoes from the period and installed them, the various shoes of all styles and sizes representing the women, men and children put to death there.  The installation has become a place of remembrance and reflection.

You can also read more about Blessed Sara here: