Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Weekend 2010

My brother is buried in a small cemetery in Woodstock, NY. The cemetery is a short distance from the center of town. There were small American flags on the gravesites of those who died while serving in the military. They bravely fought for freedom. There were also flags for all veterans who served their country.  My brother died at the young age of 41. He died of cancer. I try to go at least once a year to Woodstock to pray, reflect and tend to his gravesite.  I also visit friends while I'm there. My brother was a forensic psychiatrist, a brilliant person. His tombstone in the Woodstock cemetery is easily recognizable, he has a most unusual tombstone. I planted some yellow flowers at the site, which he would of liked. Behind his tombstone, is a small stone statue of Jesus, that adorns another gravesite. It's in the perfect place as far as I'm concerned. 
Woodstock began as an artist colony and there are still artists who live there and in the surrounding towns. The Catskill Mountain range is visible from the town and from other towns as well. I was happy to see more art galleries springing up in town and a new tea shop as well. I love tea, so you know that was a shop I stopped in with my good friend Jeanne. Jeanne and I have been friends since college. Woodstock is a very interesting place, made famous from the Woodstock festival, which didn't take place there, as most people know. 
My brother loved the mountains for the same reasons I do. I find the mountains very calming.
I returned from my trip upstate to attend the Memorial Day Parade in Long Beach, Long Island. My 10-year-old godson was going to march in his first parade playing a stare drum. I was very impressed with the parade in Long Beach. The entire city of Long Beach seemed to be there. I was told that residents either march in the parade or are spectators. It was a great parade, with school marching bands and veterans being applauded along the parade route, with American flags flying, on a beautiful day. It was a great way to spend Memorial Day morning.
I returned home to spend the afternoon with family and I tried to avoid the news but I couldn't. It just seems to get more and more depressing. I can't believe that the "Top Kill" effort to control the massive oil spill failed. It's like a bad dream and for the gulf coast residents and fishermen, it's an ongoing nightmare. 
I just keep praying and hoping that the day I listen to the news and this catastrophe has been resolved is coming soon. I keep thinking this will be behind us soon and yet that's not happening. That has me and millions of others greatly concerned.  The residents of the gulf coast and those who lost loved ones, in this tragedy, need our prayers. I can't even write about how upset I am about the wildlife and how dire this situation is becoming. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Challenge For Churches To Stay Relevant

There was an interesting article in the New York Times this week titled, "Some Harlem Churches in Fight To Survive and Stay Relevant" by Trymaine Lee. The article centered on All Souls' Episcopal Church in Harlem in New York City, one of the smaller churches in Harlem. It is 104 years old and it is losing congregants, year after year. According to Ann Mayfield, who was quoted in the article, "We're seeing several funerals a year and the new members aren't coming in...Sometimes we feel powerlessness in carrying out the responsibility we have for the community." The article also mentions that "The gentrification of Harlem has helped deplete their ranks, as younger residents, black and white, have arrived but not taken up places in their pews. The great historic churches of Harlem don't seem to have as many financial problems as the smaller churches. Many of those churches have been instrumental in helping to transform the neighborhood.  
Also mentioned was the fact that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York has had to close churches in Harlem as well, because of similar challenges. 
So where are the young people and why don't they come to Church? Of course, some do, but apparently from the people quoted in the article, many young professionals who live in the high priced condo's and historic brownstones aren't joining Harlem churches or supporting them. Crucial questions, for all inner city churches are: How do congregations attract young people? How do churches stay relevant in the modern world? What do young people find appealing when they come to worship?
 I believe, all people, of every age, need prayer, time for reflection, the peacefulness and calmness that one receives in Church (or any house of worship), the graces received from attending Church, the spiritual boost, the sense of community and being part of a faith community, which is filled with advantages for young and old.  For Catholics being able to receive Eucharist and the great gift that is. So why aren't young people convinced of that? These are crucial questions that must be answered by every Christian Church and parish in the 21st century, because the future of the Catholic Church as well as Protestant Churches depends on how many resources and how much effort is given to attract young people to the pews. I can tell you one thing I know for sure, they want good, relevant, inspiring homilies and good music. That's for sure. 
Like the early Church that struggled with many challenges and not only survived but flourished and grew, we can hope and pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in this century and openness to the promptings of the Spirit. There is much work to do in evangelizing young people. With the help of the Spirit and the help of innovative, creative thinkers and doers, I pray future efforts are successful, for all churches.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Compassion for the Gulf Coast Region of the U.S.

The weather has been so beautiful in the Northeast and there are so many wonderful occasions to celebrate in the Spring, such as graduations, Holy Communions and Confirmations, that it bothers me to keeping writing about negative events. But I guess on some level it helps me to process them and also keeps me mindful to pray about them. I feel compassion for the people of the Gulf Coast region whose livelihoods come from fishing, which is now off limits in many parts of the Gulf of Mexico. And also, of course for those who lost loved ones in the explosion that caused the oil spill.  The massive oil spill in the Gulf is being called one of the "worst environmental disasters of the modern era." That's very serious. When I saw video footage of the toxic oil pouring into the Gulf last night on CNN, I couldn't sleep afterwards. It might seem ridiculous to some, but I get very upset with visual video footage like that, knowing sea life and many forms of wildlife will die from this catastrophe and possibly be affected for generations.
In congressional testimony on Wed. the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration  (NOAA) was criticized for "failing to conduct adequate scientific analysis of the spill."  At present there is still no confirmed estimate of how much oil is flowing into the Gulf." This oil spill has now invaded some of the sensitive marshes of the Gulf Coast region. 
Some people, like me, believe that God suffers for our failings, sins and the atrocities that humans cause, whether it's intentional or not. I'm sure God is suffering through this oil spill and others like it. Believers think that the earth and all living creatures are part of God's creation and should be protected. All living things are gifts from our Creator. One definition of the word greed that I read was, "disregard for the spiritual realm." 
There are certainly lessons to be learned from this environmental disaster, but the question is: Will we learn? Will we change our priorities? After other massive oil spills which happened in the past, why weren't the best and brightest experts, innovative leaders in their field, given jobs to ensure this event never occurred again. And yet here we are in the 21st century, powerless to turn off a toxic plume of crude oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico. It almost sounds like fiction, like a scene from a doomsday movie. 
I hope future generations make sure these oil spills are things of the past. I hope they read these accounts of the Gulf Oil spill with disbelief and concern. I hope future generations extract oil and other forms of energy with the greatest care and safeguards, using every resource available to make sure the environment is cared for and protected, at all cost. 
Thank God I have some pleasant, fun things to do this weekend with friends, I have to get away from the news. That's obvious enough.

You can't pressure-wash a marsh  (Denise Reed)

The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea. The sea turned to blood like that from a corpse; every creature living in the sea died. 
(Rev. 16:3)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Greed and Its Disastrous Effects

Greed is one of the seven deadly sins. It is a sin of excess, like lust and gluttony. It is also known as avarice or covetousness. It is an excessive desire for wealth or power. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that greed was "a sin against God, just as all mortal sins, in as much as man condemns things eternal for the sake of temporal things." (Wikipedia)
Greed has played havoc with humankind. In news story after story the ill effects of greed can be seen. Throughout history, greed has been a destructive force.  And aren't we all guility of it to some degree. I try to be a charitable person and yet I have so much more than I need. Many of us in America as well as other rich countries have much.  And that's fine, people work hard and they should receive rewards for that....but there is so much excess. Unfortunately,  there are so many people who never get a chance for a better life. 
I read with interest a New York Times article titled, "Parasites in Paradise," by Peter Hotez. It begins, "President Obama has started an ambitious global health initiative that will deliver urgenty needed medicine and preventative care to hundreds of millions of people in poor countries. Included in the plan are efforts to devote resouces to 'neglected tropical diseases' .....that many think have gone the way of smallpox, but which still make up the most common ailments among the world's bottom billion." One thing I found interesting in the article was a statement that diseases in the Caribbean could be easily eliminated if every tourist who visited the Caribbean on vacation,  just gave one dollar (it would cost $20 million per year for five years) to this cause. One dollar, that's it. I'm sure people would be willing to donate one dollar, if asked, to support this endeavor.  
I'm always inspired by famous people as well as everyone else who give of themselves to great causes. There are many inspirational entertainers and leaders out there. There is so much good in the world, but there is also greed, which continues to be a problem for humankind into the 21st century.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Carmelites, Pentecost and Christian Joy

The Carmelite Chapter that I belong to meets at St. Luke Parish in Whitestone, Queens. I have been a Lay Carmelite for many years and I feel blessed to be a part of the group of Carmelites that meets at St. Luke's. At our monthly meeting we begin with Mass (when we can) and then we recite Evening Prayer. We also always have a teaching as part of our meeting. We usually base the teachings on Carmelite spirituality and/or a book about spirituality. We just finished reading the excellent book by Fr. Stephen Rossetti titled, "When the Lion Roars." It was a great book that we've been reflecting upon for months now. Tonight we finished reading the book and we spoke about the importance of the divine life within us (within every baptized Christian), the importance of joy on the spiritual journey and our utter dependence on God. 
These are some great quotes worth repeating such as, "Christianity demands a total self-gift. It can never be a part-time endeavor, reserved for one day of the week or treated as one part of good health like weekly exercise or a balanced diet. There are no part-time mystics and, in truth, no part-time Christians. Christianity demands a total, radical, personal commitment."
Fr. Rossetti's thoughts on joy and words from St. John-"God meant us all to live in joy and peace. When we had lost this joy because of sin, Jesus came and promised us a new gift of God's joy and peace. He said, 'So that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete' (John 15:11). Jesus told us clearly that it is his joy we are given. Of course, all that Jesus has comes from the Father, so, ultimately, this joy is a sign of the presence of the triune God."
Who doesn't want to be filled with joy? "Joy is not an option for a Christian, it is essential to our faith." I'm not sure who said that but I read it somewhere and it makes perfect sense.
These should be joyful days. These 9 days between the Feast of the Ascension and the great Feast of Pentecost provide Christians with a great opportunity to pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit in our own lives and in the life of the Church, in a new and powerful way. I, for one, will be trying to make the most of these 9 days. According to websites that I researched on this topic, the Pentecost Novena is the most ancient of novenas. According to the EWTN website, "The novena in honor of the Holy Spirit is the oldest of all novenas since it was first made at the direction of Our Lord when he sent the apostles back to Jerusalem to await the coming of the Holy Spirit on the first Pentecost. It is still the only novena officially prescribed by the Church..." More information can be found at:
Time for me to rest......

Prayer should be the means by which I, at all times, receive all that I need, and for this reason, be my daily refuge, my daily consolation, my daily joy, my source of rich and inexhaustible joy in life.  
St. John Chrysostom-Doctor of the Church

Monday, May 10, 2010

Leave The Sacred Alone Please!

I was upset to read in a Newsday article titled, "Nothing Sacred at Comedy Central," by Verne Gay that the creators of "South Park" are continuing with their controversial projects and topics. That doesn't make any sense to me. I don't think it's too difficult to understand that there are certain sacred symbols, religious figures who are revered by billions, such as Saints and Prophets, the Blessed Mother and of course God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, that should be off limits at Comedy Central. 
According to the article, the network, "Announced that Jesus Christ is the subject of one of its new shows that the network has in development. The show entitled, 'JC' was described as "a half-hour animated show about Jesus Christ-who moves to New York to get out from under his father's enormous shadow." Unfortunately, the Father is described as someone who's "all-powerful yet apathetic and would rather be playing video games than listening to his son." The Catholic League immediately "attacked the proposed show." 
It seems company executives don't think the project will be picked up as a series. Well, thank God for that. Finally, some common sense. 
I never watched "South Park", nor will I ever watch it. With the exception of news, documentaries, or movies,  there is little I watch on TV. But I find it disturbing that a show such as the one that was described, and other recent controversial shows, would even be created, knowing people would object and be upset. 
My advice to the creators of "South Park"-- is leave religion alone. It's not a good subject for you. There are billions of people in the world who take religion seriously and worship God devoutly. Certainly you can use your creativity to come up with other subjects. There are endless topics, just come to New York and visit the different neighborhoods, there is lots of material here that you can work with. Please leave God and the sacred alone. 

Act of Love Prayer
O God, we love you above all things, with our whole heart and soul, because you are all-good and worthy of all love.
We love our neighbor as ourselves for the love of you.
We forgive all who have injured us and ask pardon of all whom we have injured.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Fervent Prayers To Mary

May is the month the Church and all the faithful, traditionally give honor to Mary, the Mother of God. Given currents events in the U.S. and around the world, Mary's love, protection and prayers are needed more than ever. As I've said over and over again, I can't imagine life without faith or prayer and in this unstable, unsettling and at times chaotic world we live in, prayer is necessary. 
According to Pope Paul VI in his encyclical, "The Month of May," (1965), "The benefits of God's mercy come down to us from her throne in greater abundance." Well, there is no question, if you've been listening to, reading or watching the news that God's help and Mary's intercession are greatly needed during this month of May 2010. We need God's abundant mercy.......because something seems out of whack.
Anyhow, today (May 6th) was a crazy day, in the secular world,  even by modern standards. Many people who work on Wall Street will probably be up late tonight trying to figure out what to do next. The stock market was in turmoil today. One trader said during the worst of today's turmoil that he thought there had been a a nuclear explosion.......How crazy is that?
Getting back to the encyclical, "Because the month of May is a powerful incentive to more frequent and fervent prayers and because our petitions more readily find access to her compassionate heart during it, it has been a favorite custom to choose this month, dedicated to Mary for urging the Christian people to offer up public prayers whenever the needs of the Church demanded it or some grave crisis threatened the human race."
Grave crisis threatening the human race? That's a scary thought. It's not that bad, but there are a lot of troubling things going on right now in the world, for instance, an uncertain economic global recovery, riots in Greece, the Gulf of Mexico in crisis from an environmental catastrophe, epic flooding in Nashville, Tennessee....terrorism fears..........the list goes on.
Prayers, fervent prayers, yes, I think they're needed immediately. I'll do my part to help. As a matter of fact, I'm going on my treadmill right now, to recite a Rosary while I exercise. I love the Rosary, it's calming, and it's a very powerful prayer, (according to the Saints). I like to say the Rosary while walking or while exercising on a treadmill. Exercise and prayer is a good combination for me. 
A Greek friend of mine told me recently, (when I asked about the problems in Greece), why she thought they were having such severe economic problems. She then mentioned her experiences on her trips to Greece. According to her, (I would imagine the statistics support her observation), there is a decline in faith and Mass attendence in Greece. It makes you think......Perhaps Christians should just get on their knees and pray to Jesus through Mary for an abundance of mercy, courage and wisdom, during this month of May. It would certainly help, in my opinion. 

Marion devotion comes right from the heart.  ("Mense Maio")

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Book of Revelation

I have been studying the Book of Revelation, with a group of women in a Bible Study class. This morning we were reading Scriptures, along with commentary and making our own observations as well (God's word is "living and active".....) when I was struck by a few of the verses from this apocalyptic writing, that seem to be unfolding before our very eyes. And I wasn't the only one present who got that impression. 
I'm deeply saddened, as millions of people are, about the environmental catastrophe unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico, because of the drilling platform that blew up on April 20th, causing a massive oil spill. There has been loss of human life, which is so sad and in addition, wildlife such as birds, fish, and ocean creatures are dying. Fishermen are losing their livelihoods as well. It's a terrible disaster, that is still not until control.  I, for one, am praying that the experts are able to stop this as soon as possible. I'm also praying and hoping that the experts learn from their mistakes so that this never happens again. 
Getting back to the Book of Revelation, some of the women noted, myself included, that some of the verses we were reading seemed to be a prophecy, that unfortunately was unfolding in the Gulf. Perhaps it's coincidental, perhaps not. For instance from Chapter 15, this verse made me wonder, "Then I saw something like a sea of glass mingled with fire" (Rev. 15:2). At the start of the oil spill there was an attempt by the Coast Guard to try to burn off part of the spill with a controlled fire. I saw the video at of that attempt. It looks like a sea of blue-green 'glass' mingled with fire. It unnerved me!
As you can imagine, the Bible Study class on the Book of Revelation is never dull. The writings are not meant to be taken literally but who knows? As I've mentioned to the other women, after reading apocalyptic writings on a Monday morning, our week can only go up from there.

Then the angel said to me, 'Write this: Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb.'  And he said to me, 'These words are true; they come from God.'  (Rev. 19:9)