Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Body, Mind and Soul

Susan Boyle has a new look and though beauty can be skin deep, the reality is- looks do matter. That's the title of a New York Times article about Susan Boyle (Yes, Looks Do Matter by Pam Belluck-4/26) and the importance of appearance. Yes, beauty can be skin deep but we do make judgments about people by the way they look. According to psychologists, we stereotype people as a necessary mechanism for making sense of information. Eons ago, this capability was of life and death importance and humans developed the ability to gauge other people within seconds. This skill is still important today. 
Susan Boyle had hidden talent, as most everyone knows, she went from an obscure life to a YouTube sensation after her magnificent performance on "Britain's Got Talent TV show. There is something about hiddenness that intrigues us. (Perhaps because God prefers hiddenness and mysteriousness.) We can't imagine why someone who had so much talent-an extraordinary singing voice, waited until she was 47 years old to use it for her advantage. Especially since she was unemployed. Apparently, Susan Boyle led a sacrificial life up until the point of appearing on the show. Suddenly, she's famous, she has a new hairstyle, new clothes and I'm sure a lot more confidence. And she deserves it. Everytime I watch her sing, (who hasn't watched it more than once!) "I Dreamed a Dream" I feel happy for her success and I feel inspired knowing every dream has a chance to be time. Susan has faith, she is a church volunteer and she attends Mass. She is a believer in God, in God's abundant graces. She believes in miracles. It seems to me she has experienced one. Believers who trust in God, remain faithful (even in the dark) and persevere with hope, have an added advantage in life. I believe they have a very good chance of fulfilling their dreams. Christ said, I am the vine, you are the branches, united to me you can do great things. What a positive and empowering Scripture, what an empowering belief, that united to Christ you can reach for the stars and fulfill your dreams. In a moment, you can be transformed and millions along with you. 
Some quotes from the great Catherine of Siena, Saint and Doctor of the Church whose feast day we celebrate today--
Nothing great is ever achieved without much enduring. 

Her experience of God.......
You are the supreme and infinite Good, good above all good; good which is joyful, incomprehensible, inestimable; beauty exceeding all other beauty; wisdom surpassing all wisdom, because you are Wisdom itself....

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Sweet Chain Linking to God

Yesterday was a glorious Sunday, lots of sunshine and a great day to participate in a Family Rosary Rally, which is what I did. I volunteered to help my friends and former colleagues from the Office of Faith Formation, in the Diocese of Brooklyn. Sr. Alice Michael, prepared the children and organized the recitation of the Rosary, with some help from her friends. The children recited the Rosary prayers, in different languages, and it was led by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, Bishop of Brooklyn. As the children recited the prayers, they made a large circle in Our Lady of Hope field, in Queens Village, each one holding a pink rose. At the end, a young girl crowned a large Blessed Mother statue, which had been brought to the field. Though it was an unusually warm day for April, all went well, as we had plenty of cold water on hand, which was donated, so we handed it out freely. Ana Puente, the Marriage Ministry Coordinator, and one of the organizers, bought buckets, which were filled with ice. Having cold water available was necessary on such a hot day. Handing out cold bottled water, on a hot day, is a good way to fulfill one of the Corporal Works of Mercy-Give drink to the thirsty! I'm sure plunging my hands into ice cold water buckets (along with Susan Dunn) to distribute the water, was a sure way to get extra grace!  
Anyhow, the Bishop gave a very good reflection to the children noting that the sun also shined brightly when the Blessed Mother appeared at Fatima, and the sun dried up all the rain. He mentioned that the Blessed Mother appeared to children. It was a a good story for that particular day.
It was a nice day for all the families that took part. After the Rosary, there was music and dancing for the children. Phil Franco, the Director of the Office of Faith Formation, was pleased with the event and as always adds his kind and affirming presence to all he takes part in.

Blessed Bartolo Longo (1841-1926) described the rosary as, The sweet chain linking us to God. 

Friday, April 24, 2009

Spring, Flowers and Hope

It is a beautiful Spring day in the Northeast. We've had a lot of rain, but now it's time to relish the beauty of Spring flowers, flowering trees and sunshine. Beauty is good and calming for the soul, so it's good to spend time outdoors, taking in the beauty that can fill our senses. I will plant flowers today as I've been doing most days in Spring.  Planting flowers and enjoying their beauty is one of my favorite pleasures. Surrounding myself with flowers makes me happy. And of course I have to plant basil, which I'll pick to flavor my Italian sauce and salads, all summer long. 
St. Francis of Assisi is the patron of ecology. St. Francis is the most popular saint, he always comes in first and he believed that every creature is sacred and the world was a "sacred ladder," by which we can ascend to our Creator. To me, Assisi is one of the most amazing places on Earth. I was there in the Jubilee Year 2000, with my son, on a Brooklyn diocesan pilgrimage to Rome, Assisi and Florence. I hope to return one day, on another pilgrimage.
 Catholics are realizing, that it is our responsibility to care for the Earth, since it is God's creation and we should be good stewards of creation. I found an article written in St. Anthony Messenger Press on-line titled, Going Green: For the Sake of God's Creation by Mary Jo Dangel. It mentions a lot of good points. For one, more and more parishes are establishing environment committees, what a great idea. As mentioned in the article, People of faith including Catholics are going green because of their religious convictions. Some of them are finding it saves money too...It seems Dioceses, parishes and individuals are finding new ways of fulfilling our moral responsiblity towards creation.....
An example of this is the Sisters of Sacred Heart Monastery in North Dakota. They slashed their electric bills by installing two wind turbines. The Sisters are implementing wind energy and raising llamas. There is so much that can be done to save energy and help the environment. But for now, on this beautiful Spring day, I'm going to do my part to beautify the Earth and plant some annuals.
Quotes on Flowers
Earth laughs in flowers--Ralph Waldo Emerson

I will be the gladdest thing, Under the sun!
I will touch a hundred flowers, and not pick one
Edna St. Vincent Millay-"Afternoon on a Hill"

Where flowers bloom, so does hope.  Lady Bird Johnson

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

True Shepherding and Hope

As reported by religion writer/ blogger Gary Stern and also by the famous blogger Rocco Palmo, Archbishop Timothy Dolan celebrated Mass at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility (the only maximum security prison in NYS) for about 150 female inmates this week. The smiling (and now I'll add compassionate) Archbishop of New York told the inmates that "Jesus won't judge him on his visits to Yankee Stadium or even St. Patrick's Cathedral but he will say, "when I was hungry you fed me, when I was in prison, you came to see me." He distributed Holy Communion to the inmates and after Mass greeted the women and blessed them. He told reporters it was his "sacred responsibility" to visit the imprisoned. What a way to teach people the importance of the Corporal Works of Mercy! You're doing just great Archbishop!
Also, another true Shepherd, Pope Benedict, will visit the earthquake ravaged Abruzzo region of Italy on April 28th. The Pope's presence will bring healing and hope. Being present to people in pain and anguish is so important. There are signs of hope, amidst the devastation. The Times of London reported that "a long lost 11th century fresco depicting the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus" was uncovered in the ruins. The mayor of Rocca de Cambio told the Times, "the appearance of the Madonna and Child is a sign of hope." 

The Corporal Works of Mercy
Feed the Hungry--Give drink to the thirsty--Clothe the naked--Visit the imprisoned--Shelter the homeless--Visit the sick--Bury the dead

And from the Prophet Isaiah words of mercy (58:7)
Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them and not turning your back on your own.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

All in a Sunday

Whenever I have to prepare a gospel reflection for children, I think about it in simple ways, so that I can convey the message to the children and get across the most important points. This Sunday's gospel was rich and in taking it apart yesterday to prepare, I kept thinking what they would think about Jesus saying to his disciples, Receive the Holy Spirit! I tried to dramatize that this morning for them, saying it with emotion, "power," and enthusiasm as Jesus must have said it. I also knew they would be fascinated by Jesus suddenly appearing, though the doors were locked where the disciples were. I could tell by the look on their adorable faces when I questioned them about the reading, that though it sounded very mysterious and miraculous, which is was, they could accept it, they did accept it, because children are open to mystery, intuitively they know mystery exists and is a part of life. They sense the mystery that surrounds us. Children are very open to the message of Jesus, when it's presented with enthusiasm. I could tell by studying their faces as I discussed and questioned them about the gospel, that they got it, they fully got it. They knew every answer to every question I asked. They truly listened to the Scripture readings, as I had told them ahead of time, it was very important that they listen carefully. They were enthralled with the story-the miraculous appearances of Jesus, the power of God-the Holy Spirit, and doubting Thomas. 
After returning from Church this morning, I prepared dinner for my relatives, who were visiting from Florida. They brought along their friends and I cooked a meal, which I prepared over a few days. I prepared appetizers, Italian sauce with meatballs and sausages and eggplant parmagian. It was a lot of work, but of course worth it, as there is nothing better than good Italian food, good conversation and family at the dinner table. 
A Sunday in the life of a Catholic woman...... this Catholic woman anyway.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Smiling Archbishop of New York

Yesterday's front page of the New York Daily News quoted Archbishop Timothy Dolan, stating in bold print and large letters, I'm going to be happy! And I watched the entire installation Mass on TV and he lived up to his promise. During the procession he waved, smiled and greeted the priests, bishops and cardinals in the procession as they walked by him. He was happy, smiling and congenial as he processed into St. Patrick's Cathedral and throughout the Mass, when appropriate. How refreshing, how wonderful! Today's New York Times (April 16th) has a front page photograph of Archbishop Dolan sitting in the sanctuary of St. Patrick's, surrounded by Cardinals and Bishops and he stands out in the picture, because his face is lit up with a big smile.  The positive news coverage that Archbishop Dolan has received for smiling is pretty amazing....everyone mentions it. So may I suggest everyone starts smiling more.  Why don't we imitate Archbishop Dolan's happy disposition? It seems to be getting positive results. It is the Easter Season, we are a redeemed people, beloved by God, we do have a lot to smile about. As Thomas Merton said, There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.
I think Archbishop Dolan is onto something. He's acting like a confident, joyful child of God, redeemed by God, gifted and anointed by God, with God's abundant favor. Shouldn't we all be acting like that? Shouldn't we all be smiling too?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Archbishop, His Mother and New York

I have a newspaper cartoon which I cut out years ago and hung up in my basement. It pictures two men sitting on a mountaintop, one saying to the other, "I'd have attained enlightenment long ago if only I had listened to my mother." I thought of it, when I listened to Archbishop Timothy Dolan's first interview on the steps of St. Patrick's Cathedral on Monday. He told news reporters, that his mother told him, regarding his big move to New York, "Trust in God and just be yourself and you'll be fine." Good motherly advice. But this is New York so I would add the following advice, "Choose your words wisely, the world is listening." 
I enjoyed watching the video of the news conference. I think the archbishop will be great for New York, he has a great style and a good sense of humor. In my humble opinion, he should get out there with the people, walk the streets of NY and get a feel for the amazing energy and diversity in the city, which makes it one of the greatest cities in the world, if not the greatest.
I go into the city often as I love art museums and New York is a great cultural city. Recently I went to the International Center for Photography on the Avenue of the Americas. I saw the exhibit of the photographer-Edward Steichen: In High Fashion-The Conde Nast Years-1923-1937. (I love old photographs and I have a great photograph of my father when he was a child, as well as others, that I cherish.) This exhibit contained 175 works from the Conde Nast archives. There were vintage photographs of writers, movie stars, models and movie directors. I was especially interested in studying the faces of the writers. They had a different look, deep and penetrating facial expressions, which fascinated me. 
Walking the streets of New York will be an education in itself, if the new Archbishop decides to do that. People watching is a great pastime in New York and you can learn a lot from just observing New Yorkers. It won't take long before the Archbishop realizes there are young people from all over the U.S. and the world living in New York neighborhoods. They are everywhere and as I've mentioned before , some are Catholic, as everyone knows. Now whether they are practicing Catholics is another story. So that is one great challenge for the new Archbishop..... how is he going to reach out to the thousands of young people living in Manhattan neighborhoods, right near him? Of course, he also has to reach out to the people Upstate, in S.I., and elsewhere in his archdiocese. But the young people of Manhattan, who've moved from the boroughs, the suburbs and from towns and cities around the country and elsewhere are busy working and doing lots of interesting and fun things in Manhattan...but are they practicing their faith? A fair question and a great challenge. I believe we have to offer prayer experiences for young adults that would appeal to them, such as evening prayer, lectio divina and also social justice projects. I'm sure parishes are already doing creative things to attract young adults in their midst. 
God is very much alive in New York City. Faith and belief has always been important to New Yorkers. New York is important to people of various religions. There is tremendous faith in NY. But there is also secularism and it's part of the culture here too. And sadly, it's growing. I'm not sure how to do it, but evangelization efforts need to concentrate on young people living in New York. They're creative, intelligent, young, with lots of energy...if all that energy could be utilized for good, for social justice projects, for building and deepening faith, then that would be a great thing!

An interesting quote-
If you want to succeed you should strike out on new paths rather than travel the worn paths of accepted success.     (John D. Rockefeller, industrialist, philanthropist-1839-1937)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter!-Alleluia!

God exists:that is the real message of Easter. Anyone who even begins to grasp what this means also knows what it means to be redeemed. (Pope Benedict)

For those of us who celebrate the greatest feast of all-Easter-we know that God exists because we view the world with "eyes of faith," because we love God and see God's action in other people, in our magnificent rituals, in God's word. 
As I get ready to attend Easter Sunday morning Mass with my family, I am grateful this day for the sunshine (the sun is finally shining in NY), for my family, my extended family who will be coming to Easter dinner today. It will be a typical Italian Easter feast. And I will be frying up my famous rice balls in a few hours, which will make everyone happy. Food is love! 
Jesus is risen-Alleluia! Hope and joy reigns. Not despair, not misunderstanding but hope. Hope is essential to the life of a Christian. Hope is what belief gives. Hope in Jesus, hope in eternal life, hope in the mystery which surrounds us. May the Easter Season be one of joy and hope for all Christians, especially you! Christ is victorious!
This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad!
Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Our Messiah

I have just returned from the celebration of the Mass of the Lord's Supper. Catholic rituals soothe my soul, calm me and help me in many ways. I especially love the Triduum rituals, they are so packed with meaning and symbolism. Being in Church comforts me, it always has, even as a child I felt like I belonged there. I love mystery and I can sense the Mystery of God in Church and that has always brought me back.
I read a beautiful reflection in Magnificat titled, Our Messiah. It was written by a Benedictine abbot of Buckfast Abbey in Devon, England. The writer is Dom Anscar Vonier, O.S.B. I love words and I love spiritual writing, so when I find a reflection such as this one below, I save it and read it over and over again. I hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I do. I think it sums up what the next few holy days are about.
Now, Christ's spirit, that spirit which is the essential characteristic of Christianity, is based primarily on this one great fact, that he, the Christ, the Son of God, is in full possession of all power in heaven and on earth, that he is full of grace and truth, that he is one with the Father, that the Father has given all things into his hands, that he is the infinitely holy One, that the spirit of darkness has in him no possession whatever. 'Which of you can accuse me of any sin?' Christ is rich, Christ is great, powerful, and holy and his spirit is known then only when we bear in mind this fundamental fact of his infinite greatness. Christ is infinitely powerful, infinitely holy, infinitely rich, all things are at his disposal; the heavens and the earth shall pass away, but not one single word of his shall pass away. The spirit of Christ is a spirit of generosity, a spirit of eternal patience, because being so powerful and great he can well afford to be patient. He is the Lord and Master and he descends from the height of his dignity, never losing it, never diminishing it but pouring infinite sweetness and sanctity into the smallest thing which he does for any of his beloved ones......
The Lord Jesus "pours infinite sweetness and sanctity into the smallest thing which he does for any of his beloved ones." We are the beloved ones and Christ continually gives his divine favor to us, his infinite sweetness and sanctity. I just love those words. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Living the Passion of Christ

During the strange Season of Lent-2009, the unthinkable happened in Central Italy. A horrific earthquake, measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale and a recent aftershock of 4.9 destroyed the town of L'Aquila, Italy and damaged neighboring towns as well. Even the Eternal City of Rome was badly shaken. 
The images from L'Aquila are heartbreaking. During Holy Week, these devastated people are living the passion of Jesus Christ. My thoughts and prayers are with them. The images tell of shock, pain, disbelief and grieving. One image of a man clutching a picture of Jesus, as he's wrapped in a blanket, shows a person who has lost everything but still holds on to Jesus. Tens of thousands of people are homeless. The earthquake hit 26 towns and cities around L'Aquila and shook the tombs of saints buried there. Many Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance landmarks and churches were destroyed or damaged, including the Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio. Sister Gemma Antonucci, abbess of the Poor Clare nuns of the convent of Santa Chiara of Paganica, died in the earthquake. 
Pope Benedict prayed for the victims and sent a condolence message to the archbishop of L'Aquila. 
There will be time later to discuss why these buildings in a known earthquake area were not better fortified to withstand an earthquake. You always wonder why more isn't done to build structures which can withstand disasters such as this. Life is so precious, the loss and suffering these people are experiencing is beyond comprehension. 
The Italian American Museum in Manhattan is accepting donations for the earthquake victims. Thousands are homeless. Checks can be mailed to the museum at 155 Mulberry St. NY,NY 10013. Checks can be made out to IAM Earthquake Relief Fund-2009. I am sure there will also be collections in our Churches to help this devastated area. As we contemplate the suffering of Jesus during this Holy Week, we also see the images of  people experiencing the suffering of the Cross in our day, not only in Italy but in other places in the world.  

Friday, April 3, 2009

Totally Unbelievable!

Recently I read at Deacon Greg Kandra's excellent blog, The Deacon's Bench-Where a Roman Catholic Deacon Ponders the World, that "more than a 100,000 Britons have downloaded 'certificates of de-baptism' from the Internet to denounce their Christian faith." When I read that I literally felt sick to my stomach. Knowing the Church is falling short on its evangelization efforts is one thing, finding out people want to denounce the graces received at baptism, is beyond my comprehension. Do these people realize they want to denounce a powerful anointing, and the life of the Trinity within? I guess they don't see it that way. How sad that they want to live a life without prayer, belief, hope in everlasting life and the wisdom to see the world and creation with the "eyes of faith." Religious rituals, prayer, Christian meditation and contemplation are healing and nurturing for the soul. Why would someone want to live without hope? Hope that there is more to life than what we can see and touch. There is a soul which survives bodily, physical death and an existence beyond this one. Perhaps it is because I have such a deep faith, an unshakable faith, that I can't imagine living a life without it. For me, prayer strengthens me and gives me courage to face the trials and tribulations of this world. I can't imagine a life without prayer, without my deep faith. How would I have survived the losses I've had to endure, if I didn't have prayer to get me through. My relationship with God is an anchor in my life and gives me courage and inner strength. But I guess people have their reasons to deny God's existence, to deny the peace and inner security that a prayer life gives. But what bothers me is that they are trying to convince others that hope, prayer and a relationship with God is not valuable or important for human beings and that simply is not true. All the studies support the view that belief in God, prayer and religious rituals help human beings, are good for them. Why close yourself to Mystery, to the comfort of prayer, to the power of the Holy Spirit? I will never understand "de-baptism," I will never understand why people would choose hopelessness instead of hope. I thank God for my Catholic Christian faith, it's enriched my life beyond what words can say.