Summer Project

Reading Sirach has given me an idea for a summer project.

How about if every day of the summer we do this: Pause to focus on one single item of our experience which shows the ineffably wonderful wisdom of God?

fireworksCould be: ‘Lord, how splendid that You designed our digestive systems to assimilate nutrients in such an efficient and yet delightful and dignified fashion!’

Or: ‘Lord, You keep the sun shining so I can go fishing in the evening!’

Or: ‘Listen to the music of the cicadas, the song of the living earth!’

Or: ‘Gosh, two minds separated by enormous distances of time and space can share the same mysteries, through the medium of a book—how awesome!’

Or: ‘Almighty Creator, You water our planet in such an elaborate manner that the pull of gravity produces waterfalls and other alluring spectacles which also offer a cool respite from the summer heat!’

Or: ‘God gives us all this, and baseball season, too? Come on!’

Every day of summer: Something. Anything. Could be really small, like: ‘Yes! There is such a thing as iced coffee!” Or big, like: ‘Because of the chemical system which God designed, fireworks are possible.’

One thing every day. A different one each day. All summer long.


Learning Wisdom in South Philly

philadelphia shrine rita of cascia

Many God-fearing mid-Atlantic Catholics regard Philadelphia as the center of the known world. Not sure about that.

But the shrine of St. Rita on Broad Street may in fact be the spiritual center of the western hemisphere.

It is good to stop in a beautiful church to pray. It is even better to stop in a beautiful church to pray, and then, after you said your prayers, walk down Federal Street and get a south-Philly cheesesteak at either Geno’s or Pat’s.

St. Rita died 556 years ago today. Pope Leo XIII canonized her 113 years ago, and Pope John Paul II received her relics at St. Peter’s 13 years ago, saying,

If we ask St Rita for the secret to [her] work of social and spiritual renewal, she replies: fidelity to the Love that was crucified.

The Pope went on to refer to St. Rita’s ‘feminine genius.’ Like the feminine genius of God, about which we read in the first reading of today’s Mass:

Wisdom breathes life into her children
and admonishes those who seek her.
He who loves her loves life;
those who seek her will be embraced by the Lord. (Sirach 4:11-12)

The first part of the book of Sirach teaches us how to learn the ways of God. We must fear Him; we must submit to Him; we must keep the commandments, honor our elders, and search diligently for the truth.

Today’s reading from chapter four goes on to point out that the search for true wisdom involves confusion and struggle:

She walks with him as a stranger
and at first she puts him to the test;
Fear and dread she brings upon him
and tries him with her discipline
until she try him by her laws and trust his soul. (4:17)

Two chapters later we read an even more provocative metaphor. Seeking divine wisdom is like submitting to slavery:

Put your feet into her fetters,
and your neck under her yoke.
Bend your shoulders and carry her
and do not be irked at her bonds. (6:24-25)

St. Rita with stigmata“Put your neck under her yoke; carry her…” Sounds difficult. But it also sounds like another sentence of Holy Scripture.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light. (Matthew 11:29-30)

Tornadoes may come. Loved ones may pass away. The world may seem to be filled with nothing but ads, nonsense, junk, and noise–in that order.

But it is not as hard as all that.

When we keep in mind that Christ has conquered death.

St. Rita loved the King of Peace and received the gift of the stigmata, but in a unique way: one prick of a thorn in her forehead.

The confusion and struggle of life pricks us like a single thorn. And Christ rescues us like a tornado of eternal love.


…Your humble servant read with delight the news that the cause for canonization of Fr. Matteo Ricci has actually ‘advanced.’

Summer reading suggestion for you: Generation of Giants by George Dunne, SJ.

All-Demanding God of Elijah

The book of Sirach serves as a compendium of the wisdom of the Old Testament. Short, practical sayings comprise most of the book. Then it concludes with eulogies of the heroes of the history of Israel.

As we read, the prophet Elijah had the mission of confronting the nation’s descent into paganism. The Israelites had settled into the habit of neglecting the service of the true God. They had grown accustomed to dishonest compromises. And they sought power and luxury, rather than righteousness.

Elijah confronted the king, the queen, the pagan priests, the false prophets. He fearlessly stared them all down. But, before the awesome truth of God, Elijah meekly humbled himself.

Sirach reports how the Lord took Elijah up to heaven in a fiery chariot: a sign that another divine visitation was yet to come, that the justice which Elijah proclaimed would, in due time, come to fulfillment. In other words, the Messiah would come–the heavenly man, the Anointed, Who would reign as the Prince of Peace.

The Bible, Christ, our Church; our faith, our religion: these demand our most profound allegiance. We serve Christ all the time, everywhere we find ourselves, in everything we do.

What kind of religion would we have if it had to confine itself to the church building alone? If religion meant only ceremonies in the church, and everything outside the doors was really a totally different life, governed only by the laws of the state, and Christ our King had no power over us once we drove off church property?

Obviously, that would be no kind of religion at all, at least not as far as we are concerned. We practice the religion of the Bible, the religion of Elijah the fearless prophet, the religion of the heroes of Israel. We practice the religion which is due to the Creator and Savior of the world. His power and love extend everywhere. So we must serve Him everywhere.

Any human law which would impede the faithful service of Elijah’s God, the God of the holy Catholic Church—any law which would prohibit the service of this all-demanding God—that’s an unjust law, no law at all. That’s a law which any person of conscience must consider it his or her bounden duty to break.

Valentine’s Day Advice and Veritatis Splendor

Am I going to see “The Rite?” Absolutely not. I watched “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” back in 2005, and I haven’t really had a good night’s sleep since.

But there’s an idea for you, Cassanovas. Rent “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” for Valentine’s Day and watch it with your main squeeze. That will be romantic for you, voluptuaries!

…One thing I wasn’t able to mention earlier (because I was too busy scrubbing pots): In my humble opinion, the Well Fargo Center in Minneapolis evokes the Empire State Building in a splendid postmodern way. Agree/disagree, architecture buffs?

…Anyway, if you heard the words of Jesus Ben-Sirach in church this morning, you probably thought of Part I of Chapter 2 of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor. Here is a summary of paragraphs 38-41:

God left man in the power of his own counsel. (Sirach 15:14)

We are all kings or queens, because we have dominion over our own actions.

Continue reading “Valentine’s Day Advice and Veritatis Splendor