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 http://db.yadvashem.org/righteous/family.html?language=en&itemId=4044386 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:

Monday, December 26, 2016

Take Away My Heart of Stone

"The Stoning of St.Stephen" by Jose Clemente Orozco
 As they stoned him, Stephen called out, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!" He fell on his knees and cried aloud, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them" and with that he died.  Saul was among those who approved of his execution.                                                              Acts of the Apostles 7:59-8:1

On this feast of St. Stephen, deacon and proto-martyr, I've been pondering this striking interpretation of his death by the Mexican muralist Jose Clemente Orozco.  The artist juxaposes the figure of St.Stephen being stoned to death outside of the walls of Jerusalem, with the figure of Saul observing his death. Stephen and his attackers are unclothed.  His assailants have stripped down so that they can strike him uncumbered by their clothing.  The victim has been stripped of his clothing in order to make him even more defenseless and vunerable.

But the warm skin tones of victim and the angry mob are a sign of their shared humanity, even in a terrible and evil moment.  But what is truly terrifying is the figure of Saul himself, observing the scene unfolding before him.  Orozco has rendered Saul's garments in cold whites and blues; even his skin color is cold and pale.   Unlike the others, he is as motionless as a stone column.  This man, heartlessly looking on with approval is as hard and dangerous as the stones being thrown at Stephen, which is why I think that Orozco has painted Saul's garments the same color as the rocks the mob are wielding.

The Church Father, Fulgentius of Ruspe, in the second reading of the Office of Readings for this feast day, speaks of Stephen as a 'brave soldier who died in the service of his king' but points out that he serves the King of Love, whose only weapons are mercy and forgiveness.  The witness of Stephen, even to the shedding of his own blood, was to that divine love which prays for and forgives even enemies.

Thus, Fulgentius urges us to rejoice that St. Stephen and St. Paul (whose stony heart was shattered and made anew on the road to Damascus), are now friends and brothers in God's heavenly kingdom.

May our celebration of the birth of Jesus, through the prayers of St. Stephen warm our hearts and banish from them forever our icy judgment and condemnation of each other.


Sunday, December 25, 2016

Nothing Is Impossible for God

The Nativity of Christ by Duccio (detai

Christ is Born! Glorify Him! 

For a number of years in the late 1970's I visited a young man named Chol Soo Lee* who was on Death Row at San Quentin penitentiary in California.  Because he was a condemned prisoner, he wasn't allowed to have physical contact with anyone. Instead, in handcuffs and chains,he was brought,into a cell with a thick glass window, where we talked over the phone for an hour (the limit of the visit.)  

One visit was particularly memorable, when I went to see him on Christmas.  After telling me he was glad that I had come to visit him, he told me that Christmas was a sad day, even for the prisoners who had visitors, because it was a reminder of their separation from their families.  But it was saddest for the prisoners whose families were unable to visit them.  

And then he said that even those prisoners who, due to circumstances were alone on Christmas, were fortunate compared to the inmates who were such bad men, who had committed such heinous crimes, that no-one could possibly care about them, love them and want to visit them.    

I've thought about what he said often over the past forty years, and I think that the birth of Jesus is both the sign and the promise that God's love encompasses every person, even those who are humanly impossible to love, people that no-one would ever want to love, like those inmates Chol Soo told me about.

But isn't that, at the deepest level, the reason we celebrate Christmas?  That in the person of Jesus, the Word of God, which is mercy, was born to be with and love and save every man and woman, even, (or perhaps especially) the most hateful, unloveable, and lost among us.  

For nothing is impossible for God. 

*Chol Soo Lee was granted a retrial and acquitted in 1982.  http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Chol-Soo-Lee-famed-for-murder-conviction-and-5963898.php

Thursday, December 22, 2016

To Foil Thy Foes With Joy

Detail of Serbian fresco of the Nativity of Jesus from Kosovo

In just a few more days we, in the West will be celebrating the birth of our Savior at Christmas.  One of the things I love to do during the Christmas season is to listen to Benjamin Britten's 'A Ceremony of Carols'. He composed it in 1942, during the darkest year of World War II, while he was crossing the Atlantic from the United States to England.   

My favorite movement in the entire piece is based on the fifth stanza from the poem "New Heaven, New War" by 16th century the Jesuit saint and martyr, Fr.Robert Southwell. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BTyIP7m8Btg

These are the concluding stanzas of the poem:


This little babe, a few days old,
Is come to rifle Satan's fold;
All hell doth at his presence quake,
Though he himself for cold do shake,
For in this weak, unarmed wise
The gates of hell he will surprise.


With tears he fights and wins the field;
His naked breast stands for a shield;
His battering shot are babish cries,
His arrows looks of weeping eyes,
His martial ensigns cold and need,
And feeble flesh his warrior's stead.


His camp is pitched in a stall,
His bulwark but a broken wall,
His crib his trench, hay stalks his stakes,
Of shepherds he his muster makes;
And thus, as sure his foe to wound,
The angels' trumps alarum sound. 


My soul, with Christ join thou in fight;
Stick to the tents that he hath pight;
Within his crib is surest ward,
This little babe will be thy guard.
If thou wilt foil they foes with joy,
Then flit not from this heavenly boy.

Jesus was born into our world, not armed with the power to coerce and compel our obedience.  Rather, he came to us disarmed, wielding only the weapons of mercy and love, forgiveness and reconciliation, communion and peace.
As our world reckons power, Jesus had none to speak of.  Yet he overcame the power of sin in our lives and in our world with a different and deeper kind of power, the power of God’s unconditional, self-giving love and the inner transformation that love makes possible.

The  Russian Orthodox bishop, Anthony Bloom, wrote that those whose love is not defeated by suffering acquire the only power that matters: the unconditional power of forgiving those
who inflicted  suffering on them. 

This is the authentic power revealed to us in this tiny baby whose birth we celebrate.

Come, Lord Jesus!

Monday, December 19, 2016

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel


In the Western Church we began singing the O antiphons last evening as the antiphon before and after the Magnificat.  Tonight we sang: O Adonai and Ruler of the House of Israel, you appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and on Mount Sinai gave him your law.  Come and with outstretched arm redeem us.

.I had hoped to have finished this little Jesse Tree (which in the bottom left corner shows Moses and the Burning Bush) by the Fourth Sunday of Advent, but I completed it on the Fouth Sunday, which was just in time to look at it while praying tonight's antiphon.

 As always, praying with these images during Advent has given me it me much to ponder.  As we approach Christmas  I'm grateful to have brought this little Jesse Tree to completion.  A good project for this short season, since it is egg tempera on paper, which is much more quickly painted(at least for me) than an icon on a gessoed wooden panel.   

(Detail of the center image of the Mother of God and Jesus)

Friday, December 16, 2016

The God Who Suffers With Us

The inexplicable mystery of God, revealed in Jesus, is of a God who bears our burdens, laments our sorrows, who suffers with us, living and dying in silent solidarity with the poor and the powerless, with a love that is stronger than death itself.  

Confronted with the merciless violence and hatred of this world, His only weapon is mercy, kindness, friendship, forgiveness and sacrificial love.  He invites us to live and to be like Him, as best we can given our frailties, failures and fears.  

What we celebrate in just a few more days at Christmas is that He chose to be born as a child as vulnerable and needy and defenseless as these children evacuated from Aleppo earlier this week.  It is in their need and that of the millions of refugees who have fled this or so many other wars that we must seek Him, bind His wounds, comfort and console Him, welcome Him and give Him shelter.   

Despite the past six years of civil war in Syria and the pitiless destruction of Aleppo, I continue to believe that the merciful, meek, persecuted and peacemakers are truly blessed.   Despite the cynical triumph of the power of depraved and relentless violence this week, I believe that darkness will not have the last word, in our world, in that tortured country, in our hearts, now or in the future. 

Come, Lord Jesus. 


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

With Longing for the Coming of God's Kingdom

I'm continuing to make progress on this little Advent Jesse Tree, which (hopefully) I'll be able to complete on Saturday in time for the Fourth Sunday of Advent.  It has been a fruitful exercise to meditate on the four scenes from the Old Testament in each corner of the image and the center image of the Mother of God and Jesus from the New Testament.

I pray best, I've learned over the years, with a brush or a pencil in hand, and this Advent is no exception.  The selection of these four scenes from the Old Testament are quite traditional and were understood, in the medieval approach to the exegesis of scripture, to be types or pre-figurements of the mystery of the Incarnation.

Which all might seem so far removed from the desperate plight of so many brothers and sisters in our world during these days of Advent. But each of these scenes are of deliverance and salvation: Daniel, in the perilous darkness of the lion's den.  The three holy youths cast into the fiery furnace.  The Lord telling Moses that God has heard the cries of the Hebrews in bondage in Egypt; and the promise of the Lord to Gideon to break the yoke of Midian, who for seven years plundered and ravaged the Israelites after they entered the Promised Land.

It is in that context, of our need for deliverance and our longing for coming of God's kingdom of justice, mercy, righteousness and peace, that we turn our eyes in expectation and hope to the holy Mother of God, Mary and her son, Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us.

With longing for the coming of God's kingdom, may we continue to persevere in interceding in every way for all those crying out in need during these days: for the people of Aleppo, Syria and Iraq; for persecuted Christians and all those who reviled and hated for who they are, what they look like or who they worship; for refugees and migrants in their distress and great need, and for our threatened environment and all of creatures, so wonderously made by the Creator, who inhabit it.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Be Watchful! Be Alert!

Bishop Edward Burns, Deacon Vincent Hansen and server Shannon Olmstead
 The bishop of my diocese, Edward J. Burns.  It was announced this morning that the Holy Father has selected him to be the new bishop of the Diocese of Dallas, Texas.

I suppose its particularly appropriate that this happen during Advent.  Jesus, who told his disciples, "Be watchful! Be alert!  You do not know when the time will come!"  He was speaking about the coming of the Son of Man at the end of time, when all will be all in Christ, but I suppose this could be applied to our news too.

And at some day and time that we do not yet know, Pope Francis will be sending a new bishop to our little corner of the universal Church in Southeast Alaska.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Blessed Are the Merciful

Coptic Fresco of Christ Pantocrator, Monastery of St. Anthony, Egypt
There has been another attack against Coptic Orthodox worshippers in Cairo, in the chapel of St. Peter and St. Paul adjoining the main cathedral and seat of the Coptic Orthodox patriarch, Tawadros II. Coptic Christians make up an estimated 10-13% of Muslim majority Egypt's population of 82 million souls and are the largest Christian community in the Middle East.

Although Coptic Christians are understandably angry about the failure of the government and security forces to adequately protect them from violent attacks and the ongoing discrimination they face, what is striking is that there have not been reprisals by Christians against their Muslim neighbors.  Not in 2011 when the cathedral in Alexandria was attacked, not in 2013 when Coptic churches and neighborhoods were burned by angry mobs after the coup that removed President Morsi from office and not in the aftermath of this deadly suicide bombing that killed 24 worshippers at the Divine Liturgy, mostly women and children.

In the face of such terrible provocation, these Egyptian Christians are adhering to the teaching of Jesus: to love your enemies, to do good to those who hate you, to imitate Christ's own example on the cross when he forgave his tormenters. They confess Jesus, including his non-violent love, even for enemies, during this terrible time of persecution and fear.

Let us pray for their perseverance in the way of Christ and his gospel.  Let us commend ourselves to the holy prayers of the clergy and faithful of this martyr Church, to intercede for us so that we might not be mastered by our own fears and anxieties in these uncertain and unsettled days in our own country.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

St.Nicholas, Pray for Us!

Today is the feast of St.Nicholas the Wonderworker.  Many places, people and professions have taken him as their patron.  He is the patron saint of my own state of Alaska and of Russia; of fishermen and women and of children. It is the feast day St.Nicholas Orthodox Church, our neighbors in downtown Juneau.  May you have the joy of the feast!

On his feast day in many countries, parents give gifts to their children on his feast day in remembrance of how he saved the three daughters of a poor man from being sold into slavery to pay off his debts by giving them each a bag of gold.  

I think of St. Nicholas as the patron of modern day slaves, those who are trafficked around the world.  Many of them, like the girls saved by St. Nicholas are trafficked because of poverty and indebtedness.  Catholic Relief Services has made working to end trafficking, as well as climate change and the Syrian refugee crisis, one of the three top priorities of its program work in 2016/2017.  To learn more about trafficking and efforts to end it, go to www.crs.org. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Lord Jesus, Help Me to Bring Your Peace to the World

The children's offering of light and prayer for peace in Aleppo and throughout Syria.

Last week the  St. Francis of Assisi Catholic parish in Aleppo, Syria, requested that we join them to pray for an end to the Syrian civil war and to the fighting in Aleppo on December 4th and going forward on the first Sunday of each month.   Yesterday, at the family Mass at my parish, the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin in Juneau, Alaska, a representative group of children brought up lighted candles and offered them at the end of the Universal Prayer as a symbol of our desire and prayer for peace in Syria before the icon of Mary, Queen of Peace and her Son, Jesus.  

Then together with the children we recited the Prayer of St.Francis (adapted for children by the Holy Childhood Association of the Pontifical Mission Society) 

Lord Jesus, 
help me to bring
Your peace to the world.

Where children are 
in danger, or in pain,
sad, afraid,
alone or suffering,
through my prayers 
and my sacrifices, 
may they come to know
Your love, hope,
light and joy.


May our longing for the coming of Christ and his Kingdom of peace, justice and reconciliation and our fervent prayer for peace in Aleppo, Syria and throughout the Middle East, bear abundant fruit!    

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Light in the Darkness

Children at St. Francis Catholic Church, Aleppo, Syria, 

During this season of Advent, it is essential to never forget that Jesus, who as a child was so small and vulnerable, utterly powerless in all of the ways that the world judges power and might, is the Light of the world that the darkness can never overcome.  He is the Prince of Peace who has overcome the power of sin and death and darkness forever.  He invites us to be light in the darkness as well.

All of us, men and women and boys and girls, people of faith and people of good will, have an indispensible part in dispelling the darkness. 

A powerful reminder of this is the example of  the Latin-rite Catholic parish of St. Francis of Assisi in Aleppo, Syria which has dedicated their children’s Mass each month to prayer for peace – peace in Aleppo, in Syria and throughout the region.  The children bring up candles at the beginning of Mass and pray together the Prayer of St. Francis.   

Earlier this week the Order of Friars Minor (the Franciscans, who, among their other responsibilities, oversee the churches and shrines in the Holy Land) invited Catholics and other Christians to follow the example of this parish in Aleppo and pray on the first Sunday of each month for peace, preferably at the children’s Mass (or the mass frequented by the most families with children.)   
At the Cathedral in Juneau, we're taking up this invitation this Sunday at the 11:00am Mass(which is the Mass that most families with children attend).  
Join us if you can!
If that's not possible, please pray the Prayer of St. Francis in union with children and their families, in Aleppo, in Syria and around the world, who long for peace throughout the world and for an end to war, especially in Syria and the Middle East,
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying
that we are born to Eternal Life.

World AIDS Day

Ethiopian Icon of St. George

Today is World AIDS Day, which, since 1988 has been an annual opportunity to remember with love the 35 million people who have died from AIDS or AIDS related illnesses since the beginning of the epidemic. It is also a day to call to mind the estimated 36.7 people around the world (including 1.8 million children), who are living with HIV worldwide. In his message for World AIDS Day, Pope Francis called on people around the world to pray for all those living with HIV and for their families.  He called on Christians and people of good will to work together to promote solidarity with those suffering from HIV and AIDS so that "the poor can benefit from adequate diagnosis and treatment." 

  Due to the development of retro-viral drugs, a diagnosis of HIV is no longer a necessarily terminal diagnosis.  However, only about half of the millions of people living with this illness (particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia) have access in 2016 to life-saving therapies.  

The United Nations, the World Health Organization and many governmental, charitable and grassroots organizations continue to work tirelessly to both prevent the transmission of HIV and  treat those infected with the virus.  In his message, Pope Francis encouraged those efforts, saying, :I appeal to all to act in a responsible way in order to prevent the further spread of this disease."  

Health care in the developing world is one of the top three priorities of Catholic Relief Services, which has been a leader in developing ways with its partners to make retro-viral treatment available to those infected with HIV, especially in Africa.  
This short animation "They Say It Couldn't Be Done" explains how they developed a model for providing retro-viral therapies in Africa, Guyana and Haiti.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3AkvB6Z-GQ

Additional information about the work of CRS with those living with HIV/AIDS can also be found at: http://www.crs.org/our-work-overseas/program-areas/hiv-and-tuberculosis


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

In the End, It's All About Joy

 Wood Engraving by Ade Bethune
Today is the thirty-sixth anniversary of the death of Servant of God, Dorothy Day.  In pondering with gratitude her life and witness, it is easy to forget that for her, following Jesus, and a lifetime of doing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy were, in the end, not a penance or a burden but all about joy. 

She wrote:"You will know your vocation by the joy that it brings you.  You will know.  You will know when it's right."  

Of course, the hardships she endured were real and painful enough.  She lived with loneliness, disappointment, doubt and criticism, with the daily struggle to face her own faults and failings and sins.  She was misunderstood by many, including some of those who admired her the most.

But it was the friendship of men and women on the edges of society, the poor and forgetten, the ones who are of no account in this world, but who are closest to Jesus, who brought her close to Him.  It was with them that she found joy, for it was with them that she found Christ, our joy, our hope and our peace. 

Dorothy Day, Servant of God, pray for us.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Land and Water Are a Gift From God, Not a Commodity

Indigenous Protesters at Standing Rock 

"... it is essential to show special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions.  They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principle dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed.  For them, land is not a commodity but rather a gift from God and from their ancestors who rest there, a sacred space with which they need to interact if they are to maintain their identity and values.  When they remain on their land, they themselves care for it best.

Nevertheless, in various parts of the world, pressure is being put on them to abandon their homelands to make room for agricultural or mining projects which are undertaken without regard for the degradation of nature and culture."
                                                                                              Pope Francis  no.146 Laudato Si

Standing Rock Demonstrators

"Even as the quality of water available is constantly diminishing, in some places there is a growing tendency, despite its scarcity, to privatize this resource, turning it into a commodity subject to the laws of the market.  Yet access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights."

                                                                                               Pope Francis  no.30 Laudato Si                  

Monday, November 21, 2016

This Deliberate Tactic of Cruelty

Children from the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo

While Americans argue about how best to protect ourselves from the marginal risk posed by giving asylum to Syrian refugees in our country,  the catastrophic war against civilians in Syria continues.

Today the United Nations Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Aid, Stephen O'Brien told the UN Security Council that 974,080 people in various parts of Syria are now living under siege.  (Just six months ago that number was 486,700.)  He told them, "Civilians are being isolated, starved, bombed, denied medical attention and humanitarian assistance in order to force them to submit or flee."

He pointed out that this "deliberate tactic of cruelty" was being "mostly perpetrated by the Syrian government forces against civilians."

It's atrocious and intolerable but the Syrian and Russian forces continue to act with such brutality and disregard of international law and humanitarian norms.  It seems futile to pray for an end to the war, for the deliverance of those under siege and for the continued safety of those who have fled their devastated country as refugees.

But it is within our power to intercede in prayer for peace in Syria and so we must,

If you are so moved please give generously to those working so hard inside and outside of Syria to relieve the suffering of the Syrian people.   Here are three, out of the many humanitiarian aid groups that I recommend.

Medicins Sans Frontieres www.msf.org

Catholic Relief Services www.crs.org

Oxfam International www.oxfam.org

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Priority of the Poor and the Vulnerable

Today is the feast of St.Elizabeth of Hungary, the 13th century Hungarian queen, who with her German husband Ludwig, ruled over the kingdom of Thuringia.  During her brief life (she died at age 24) she was notable for her constant conern for the poor and the sick (she also gave birth to three children, lost her husband to the plague and became a Third Order Franciscan.).

But it was the personal priority that she gave to the poor and those who were hungry or sick that made her life so exemplary and so Christ-like.  She established hospitals and shelters for the indigent, selling her jewels and sumptuous clothing to provide the sick with food and medicine.  But she wasn' t just a benefactor at a distance.  Rather, she tended the sick and fed the hungry herself, daily, when she was able, with her own hands.  

Depicted in this relief print is one incident from her married life, when she shared her bed with a patient she was caring for who suffered from leprosy. Her husband was (understandably) alarmed to discover a leper in their room and in their bed.   He was quite upset with her until he had a vision, in which he saw his wife caring for Jesus himself.  

In this year grace, 2016, and as we move forward, it is the poor, in all of their distressing, frightening or seemingly hopeless circumstances, who must be the priority for Christians and people of good will.  Seeing our neighbors, even those we, in our frailty and weakness, resent and fear, as the beloved sons and daughters of our God, who is the loving, merciful and compassionate Father of us all.  

St.Elizabeth of Hungary, pray for us!

Monday, November 14, 2016

And Now the Hard Part Begins

The Execution of Marshall Ney by Jean-Leon Gerome (1868)

Pondering the election Tuesday of Donald Trump and the defeat of Hillary Clinton and her progressive coalition, seems to me like another chapter (a dark and dangerous one, to be sure) in the contest for ascendancy between those who support self-described progressive spiritual, social, political and cultural revolution that began in the 1960's (or 1860 or 1789 or even 1517, depending on how far back you want to go) and those who oppose the overthrow and destruction of a spiritual, social, political and culture order they cherish and believe in.

In another bitterly divided society, following the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo , the exiled Bourbon monarch Louis XXVIII and his supporters took power and proceeded (not suprisingly) to exact revenge on those who had supported the French revolution and then the self-styled 'Emperor' Napoleon.  Marshall Michel Ney, who had rallied to Napoleon when he briefly seized power in 1815, was convicted of treason on December 6th, 1815 and executed by firing squad near the Luxembourg Gardens the next day.  He was the most prominent of those who were executed or forced into exile after the Bourbon restoration.

Talleyrand, commenting on the restoration of the Bourbons famously said: "They had learned nothing and forgotten nothing."  Our new President is not Louis XXVIII and our outgoing President is not Napoleon, but for the side which is ascendant comes the temptation to remember every insult, every slight and every injury and punish those believed to be responsible.  The temptation for the side which is now subordinate is stop listening and refuse to face up to the weaknesses and failings that led to their defeat.

This may be the way of the world, but is not the way of the Gospel. As Christians we must work together for justice.   Of course we must be adamant in our unconditional repudiation of racism and of hatred of immigrants and Muslims, our unflagging defense of the creation and our solidarity with those who are impoverished, vulnerable and on the margins.  

But Gospel teaches us that only the love of Christ, made incarnate in this fallen world by our admittedly imperfect magnanimity, forebearance, forgiveness, humility and mercy, has the power to truly transform our lives and this world, whether we find ourselves as his disciples (temporarily) in power or out of power, politically, socially or culturally.  

It is easy comfort to recognize and denounce the blindness, failings and offenses of  our neighbors.  It is much more difficult and humbling to try to see one's own blindness, failings and offenses against our neighbors and repent of them.  

That's the hard part.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Day of Prayer for Peace in Syria

Pope Francis has asked Christians and other men and women of faith to fervently pray on October 31st for an end to the war in Syria.

As modest aid to prayer I'm offering once again this rosary, which meditates on the Flight to Egypt by the Holy Family.  This way of praying the rosary has enabled me to meditate on how Jesus and his family were refugees; to intercede in prayer for peace and for Syrian (and Iraqi) refugees and to ask God to attune my heart in mercy to their plight. 

Below are how I’ve ordered the five meditations and prayer intentions. You may wish to pray the Holy Father’s Prayer for Peace in Syria and the conclusion of each decade or at the end of the rosary.

A Rosary for Syrian and Iraqi Refugees

1. Herod Orders the Massacre of the Innocents.
When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious.  He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under.  Mt.2.16a  
Prayer Intention
     -- for an end to the war in Syria and for all of the victims and perpetrators of violence in Syria and Iraq

2. In a Dream the Angel Warns Joseph to Flee with his Family.
Behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you.  Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.” Mt.2:13
Prayer Intention
    -- for all those forced to abandon their families, friends and  neighbors, homes, livelihoods and homelands.

3. The Holy Family Make the Perilous Journey to Egypt
 Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt Mt.14
 Prayer Intention
-- for all those are risking their lives crossing the conflict zones, deserts and the open ocean.

4. Jesus, Mary and Joseph Find Refuge Among the Egyptians
He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” Mt.2:15   
Prayer Intention
-- for all those who have opened their countries and homes to refugees or working to comfort, assist and welcome them.

5. The Holy Family Are Able to Return to Nazareth
 When Herod had died, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.”  He rose, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. Mt.2:1-21  
Prayer Intention
-- for an end to the conflicts in Syria and Iraq and peace with reconciliation between all of the parties to the conflict.

This is just a way that works for me in prayer.  You may or may not find it useful for your own prayer.  But in whatever way you choose to pray, please  join the Holy Father tomorrow in praying for the refugees and for an end to the war in Syria. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Brilliance of Eternal Values

"By using [the perspective of importance], Byzantine painting accentuated the holiness of the persons represented.  Their individual and temporal aspects were thus clothed by the brilliance of eternal values, and the image itself receives a function other than that of a simple drawing.

The way that an icon grasps, understands, and draws its subject cannot be based just on physical vision but must be interpreted by thought.  In the same way, its optical effect undergoes a change; by enlarging the proportions, the main person seems to move out from the interior of the icon toward the spectator.  The focus is thus inversed.
Pere Egon Sendler SJ. 'The Icon: Image of the Invisible


For an iconpainter, the representational conventions of Byzantine painting are so familiar  that it is easy (at least for me) to lose sight of how peculiar those conventions are that depict the human form in space.   I've been sketching out the cartoon for an icon of St. Anne, with her daughter, Mary, the Mother of God and Mary's son, Jesus.  I first encountered this image of mother, daughter and son in the work of my teacher, Pere Igor (Egon) Sendler, in the photograph of a fresco he painted in the 1980's.  As in many icons, Mary is depicted both as the Mother of God (that is to say, as an adult woman with her son, Jesus), and as the youthful daughter of St. Anne, symbolized by her diminutive stature in comparison with her mother.  

Which is a reminder for me of two things.  First, that drawing is always a way of seeing and thinking about the visible and invisible realities that we seek to perceive, comprehend and depict.  Second, that when it comes to what Pere Igor speaks of as those realities that are "clothed by the brilliance of eternal values", our ordinary, natural ways of sight and perception are inadequate to fully represent the subtle and elusive mystery of a world tranfigured by divine Grace.  Paradoxically, the more painstaking the attempt to enclose such realities in the garb of naturalistic realism, their luminous brilliance simply fades from sight.  

Monday, October 17, 2016

Ahead of the Weather:There and Back Again


Well, the weather did, in the end, clear up enough to get to Pelican (see aerial view taken this morning on the return flight home).  Grateful to have been able to make a pastoral visit this weekend and glad to be safely home again.  Wondered if I'd be spending a few more days away from home when it began snowing early Sunday morning (see view of the village and Lisianski Inlet yesterday.)


Now that I'm home I can resume the drawing for the triptych I've designing for the prayer corner in my studio.  On Friday, just before I started getting ready for the trip out to Pelican, I pinned up the cartoon in the corner to see how it looked.  


Saturday, October 15, 2016

Weather Permitting

 I'm packed and ready to board the daily flight out to the village of Pelican, about an hour away from my hometown of Juneau by floatplane, weather-permitting.  And that's the operative word in Alaska, 'weather permitting'!  Snow is predicted all day, which means low-clouds, reduced visability and maybe (probably?) no flight today to Pelican.  But who knows?  It could be sunny and clear an hour from now.

So perhaps we'll all have to wait, until next weekend, or the weekend after that. I try to go out to Pelican monthly to lead a Sunday service for the faithful in the village, which has about forty-five year round residents(the number fluctuates from year to year.)  Its a mixed group that shows up on Sunday (weather permitting) made up of Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants and the occasional person of good will.  I'm always grateful for the welcome and warm hospitality I receive whenever I'm there.

No one wants to wait or particularly likes to wait, but in the spiritual life I think that patiently waiting is a great virtue and essential to growing in holiness.  Today is the feast day of St.Teresa of Jesus (aka of Avila), the great Carmelite reformer, mystic and Doctor of the Church.  My understanding is she endured a long period of spiritual dryness that lasted for years, in which she experienced little, if any consolation in prayer.  Yet this dynamic, passionate and quite active woman had the patience to wait out a long patch of spiritual rough weather.  When the skies eventually cleared (God is faithful!), she soared!   

Friday, October 14, 2016

Stars of the Heavens, Bless the Lord


Here's an amazing scientific discovery to provide a little perspective on our obsession with contemporary events (such as the increasingly squalid run-up to the November elections.) The Astronomical Journal reported today that scientists who study the cosmos report that they have seriously underestimated the number of galaxies in the universe.  It turns out that the universe has two trillion more galaxies that previously believed (a galaxy being a cluster of millions or even billions of stars.)

Despite our sheer insignifigance, living as we do on this tiny world tucked away in a distant corner of a non-descript galaxy, I'm awestruck by the wonder, and the beauty of this universe we inhabit.  I can only repeat the words of St.Paul, who famously wrote: "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!" Romans 11:33

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Weathering the Storm

Catholic Relief Services reports: "Hurricane Matthew, a Category 4 storm has caused massive devastation and flooding in Haiti, which is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and has yet to fully recover from a catastrophic earthquake in 2010."  Heavy flooding is also reported in southern Cuba and in the Dominican Republic.  The storm is passing through the Bahamas and is threatening Florida.  (For more information on the situation and on how you can help, go to crs.org )

A Prayer for the People Affected by Hurricane Matthew

Compassionate God,

We pray for all those in the Caribbean 
affected by Hurricane Matthew, 
and offer these words of Psalm 29:11;

"May the Lord give might to his people;
may the Lord bless his people with peace!"

Lord, give might to those who need your strength to carry on.
Fill their troubled hearts with your peace,
and move us with your compassion 
that we may respond generously to those in need.

(Prayer courtesy of Catholic Relief Services)

The One Thing Necessary

In this age of Skype and Facetime, I suppose its somewhat behind the times for me to have carried on a twenty-five year long correspondence with a friend whom I have never met in person (and who, this side of heaven), I probably won't have the opportunity to meet face-to-face. (Although I hope to someday!)  My friend is a Carthusian monk (and a fellow iconographer) now living in a Charterhouse (Carthusian monastery) in Spain.  Letters from him are few and far between -- I'm pretty sure that the number of personal letters he is permitted to write in the course of a year are limited -- but always welcome.

The Carthusians live a semi-eremetical life.  Each choir monk lives in complete solitude and silence, joining with the other monks twice daily, for the night office and the conventual Mass.  Each week they come together for Sunday Mass, a shared meal and a period of recreation (which involves talking to each other).  Periodically their rule requires them to join in a day long cross-country hike outside the monastery.

Its an austere and demanding way of life and few are truly called to their unique vocation to prayer, solitude and silence. Nonetheless, their life together is a reminder of the one thing necessary, to create space and time and stillness in one's own life for the encounter with God.

On this feast of St. Bruno, the 11th century founder of the Carthusians,   I'm grateful for their challenging example and reminded to continue to hold my friend and his companions in prayer.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

There Are No Violent Solutions

Wood engraving by Ade Bethune
The fragile cease-fire collapsed last week in Syria and so the war continues to go on without letup. The beautiful city of Aleppo (and so many other towns and villages like it) has been bombed and shelled into rubble.  Innocent civilians, especially children, who have been unable to flee the fighting are being killed every day as all of the sides in the civil war compete to see who can be the most heartless.  And because there is no political will to end the violence the war is now in its sixth year.  
There are no violent solutions to this conflict.

Friends, let us continue to hold close to our hearts the suffering people of Syria, those inside that unfortunate country and the millions who have fled as refugees, seeking safety and shelter in the neighboring countries, in Europe and in our own nation.  Let us continue to pray for peace in Syria, that through the intercession of Mary, Queen of Peace, the fighting might  finally end.

Prayer for Peace in Syria
Almighty eternal God, source of all compassion,
the promise of your mercy and saving help fills our hearts with hope.
Hear the cries of the people of Syria;
bring healing to those suffering from the violence,
and comfort to those mourning the dead.
Empower and encourage Syria’s neighbors
in their care and welcome for refugees.
Convert the hearts of those who have taken up arms,
and strengthen the resolve of those committed to peace.
O God of hope and Father of mercy,
your Holy Spirit inspires us to look beyond ourselves and our own needs.
Inspire leaders to choose peace over violence
and to seek reconciliation with enemies.
Inspire the Church around the world with compassion for the people of Syria,
and fill us with hope for a future of peace built on justice for all.
We ask this through Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace and Light of the World,
who lives and reigns for ever and ever.
For more information about the Syrian civil war, the refugee crisis and the efforts to assist refugees, go to CRS.org Syrian Refugee Crisis. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Getting to the Start Line

I love to draw but its a steep climb getting to the start line.   For me, at least, despite years of experience drawing, I still need to get through the "preparatory rites" before putting pencil to paper.  Today, I took the entire day off,  ready and eager to draw.  Which I did, but only after praying, reading, three cups of tea, doing two loads of laundry, straightening up the living room, taking out the trash, sweeping the floors and putting clean sheets on the bed.  Pondering throughout the icon cartoon I intended to draw but it was early afternoon when I was actually at the drawing, ready to begin.

I've learned over the years that what I first considered procrastination is in reality an oblique way of getting myself in the undistracted frame of mind that, for me at least if I'm to pay attention well enough to grasp forms and the relationships of the forms to each other and draw them.  So what would appear to be distractions are, it turns out, at least for me, a way of deflecting distraction.  

This drawing is the central image of Jesus and Mary for what will eventually be a triptych icon.  Am still pondering and praying about what the images should be on each of the wings.  That's for the future.  In the meantime there is always laundry that needs to be folded.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Thinking with a Compass and Straightedge

I wouldn't say geometry was my best subject in high school, but it was certainly the most appealing!  Not the axioms and proofs but the fact that geometry required putting pencil to paper and drawing!  Imagine my astonishment (and delight) twenty-five years ago when I discovered via Pere Igor Sendler's book, "The Icon: Image of the Invisible" chapter after chapter on proportions and the underlying geometry of icons!

For iconographers probably the most useful aspects of geometry and proportions is gaining the almost miraculous ability (using only proportions and simple multiplication and division) to make a drawing larger (or smaller). And, by establishing a set of proportional relationships, based on the proportions of the panel (or wall) that serves as the support for the icon, being able to construct the figures within the icon.

Although I'm behind on the studio - mea culpa! - I've taken the first steps in designing a new work for the upcoming solo exhibit at the state museum (the first of  several icons that I hope to complete in time for that exhibition.)  The starting place is thinking through, with a compass and straightedge, the proportions and proportional relationships of a triptych icon (a central image with two hinged panels that are half the width of the main image.) 

Having laid the foundation, I'll be putting it aside to complete the icons that I have promised those who have commissioned them.  Thank you for your patient forebearance!   


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Drawn and Quarto'd


I've been reading David Talbot Rice's "The Appreciation of Byzantine Art", a 1972 contribution to a series of books from Oxford University Press on the appreciation of various types or periods of art.  He referred in passing to the Wolfenbuttel Muster Buch (pattern book), a 13th century book of pattern drawings depicting figures from various Byzantine  icon compositions.  Drawn on parchment(?) and bound together into a folio, art historians believe the artist was a Venetian working around 1260.  Parchment being quite costly (papermaking, although known in Spain, was just beginning in Italy and France), and it appears that the drawings are rendered over letterforms (or was repurposed and written over.)

They are quite well done, drawn presumably with a brush.  Thin washes of diluted ink(?) were used to lightly model the forms and the shadows.  There is  much that can be learned studying these drawings, especially the drapery, which is si beautifully rendered.  These figures are from the icon of the Anastasis ("Descent Into Hell"), including, it appears, the Prophet Isaiah, Abel the Just and Moses.   

Despite the title, I can only guess at the size of each page! 

Below are some additional plates from the patternbook, the first two related to the Anastasis icon, the last, figures of the evangelists.