HOPE

I used to think “hope” was something to say when there was nothing else to say–“I hope it will be better,” or “I hope you are okay.”  But real Hope is a powerful force, and the path to living in joy. It is choosing to believe that, no matter the outward circumstances, a loving God is ultimately in control.

This is what I have noticed about people who choose Hope in spite of difficult circumstances. They are Humble, because they don’t believe that everything depends on them. They are Open to others, not bothering with self-protective walls. They are Personable — easy to talk to and be around because they are not trying to prove anything. And they are Efficient — in the moment and not distracted.

Lord, help me to choose Hope, knowing that whatever I face today, I can trust you in all circumstances and enter into joy.

 

Feast Day of the Nativity of Mary – September 8th

A common thread in the celebration of Mary’s birth is that, as our Savior’s mother, she represents the “first dawning of redemption in our world.” While the modern canon of scripture has no record of her birth, we do find a non-canonical history, documented about 150 AD.  We know that her parents’ names were Joachim and Anna and that the couple, unable to conceive, yearned for a child. A beautiful tradition holds that an angel appeared to Anna, and promised the birth of a daughter. Joachim was considered a wealthy member of one of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, and that as such, he had homes in both Judea and Galilee. Some accounts name Tzippori, Israel as Mary’s birthplace, while others maintain she was born in Nazareth, and some a house near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem.

Mary, born to become the mother of the Savior of the world, is represented by many holy symbols: A lily, fleur de lis, pierced heart, starry crown, rose, snowdrop, the Ark of the Covenant, seat of wisdom and many others. Saint Augustine describes Mary as “the flower of the field from whom bloomed the precious lily of the valley.” Her birth, and ultimately the birth of her Son, transforms our inherited nature.

Both Eastern and Western Christians honor Mary, the Mother of God, and recognize her obedience, devotion, and love. The oldest known hymn to Mary is of Greek origin and titled, “Beneath Thy Protection.” It was found on a papyrus dating back to 250 AD, and translates to English as:

We fly to Thy protection,

O Holy Mother of God;

Do not despise our petitions

In our necessities

But deliver us always

From all dangers,

O Glorious and Blessed Virgin.

Amen

 

Toward the Son

They caught my eye as I walked through the room. I paused to look at the bright red contrasted with the soft cushions on the couch. Flowers fresh cut that morning, already leaning in toward the sun.

How is it that flowers cut off from their roots continue to move in a vase? As if swaying to the music, they all danced as one toward their source of light.

There are times when I feel cut off, roots amputated, turned away from my source of life and refreshment. Today is a reminder that I need to lean toward the light. I am leaning toward you, Lord, listening for your direction, longing to feel your warmth again.

 

Freely Sing

Have you ever wondered about the origin of the solfege syllables do, re, me, fa, sol, la, ti, do? These are syllables that singers have used for centuries as aids to reading a piece of music for the first time, as well as other reasons. I want to tell you a story about Guido d’Arezzo, a gifted teacher of music and an 11th-century monk in a monastery in Pomposa, Italy. When he taught choir boys Gregorian chant, he realized they took a very long time to learn a piece of music by rote, which was the traditional method. He looked for ways to shorten the time. He chose “Ut queant laxis,” the hymn from the Feast of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist. This was a chant all choristers would need to memorize. He saw that the first syllable of each of the six phrases was a new note based on the rising degree of the major scale. Medieval monks thought in terms of a six-note scale. The first syllables of these six phrases were UT, RE, MI, FA, SOL, LA (Later UT was changed to DO and a seventh step named SI – in some countries TI – was added). This system made clear to the boys where the half steps occurred in a particular chant.

So the text for Saint John’s hymn read:

UT queant laxis

REsonare fibris

MIra gestorum

FAmuli tuorum

SOlve pulluti

LAbii reatum

Sancte Joannes

 

English Poetic Translation:

So that we may freely sing thy marvelous deeds, cleanse thy servants’ lips from all the stains of guilt, Oh Holy John. 

The solfege system of singing, invented by the monk Guido d’Arezzo, has been used by singers for over a thousand years.

 

Feast Day of St. Augustine of Hippo – August 28th

A Roman-African, Saint Augustine was born on November 13, 354, in the town of Tagaste (renamed Souk-Ahras, in modern day Algeria.) His mother was Monica, a devout Christian and his father Patricius, a Pagan who on his deathbed converted to Christianity. Augustine considered his mother integral to his life, and his father a stranger. His family were Berbers, an ethnic group indigenous to North Africa, but were Romanized and spoke only Latin in their home.

Augustine was a typical youth of his time and led a hedonistic lifestyle. He was the father of a son born out of wedlock, and eventually abandoned the mother and in so doing, the son. His attraction to “wine, women, and song,” led him from the church of his mother and his childhood. He, however, maintains that the name of Christ never left the recesses of his heart.

In 386 he traveled to Rome and Milan, where he met St. Ambrose, Bishop and Doctor of the Church. St. Ambrose was an inspiration to Augustine and instrumental in his baptism. St. Monica found great peace and consolation in Augustine’s baptism and return to the church, both of which happened before her death.

St. Augustine was a man of brilliant mind and considerable rhetorical skills. He considered a career as an orator or lawyer, but then found a greater love of philosophy which he pursued with great fervor. Eventually, Augustine returned to Africa to live for God and hoped for a simple life of prayer, fasting, good works and meditation.  However, the African town of Hippo called him as priest and bishop, and he reluctantly accepted. On the wall of his room there, written in large letters, were these exceptional words: Here we do not speak evil of anyone. He was devout, charitable, and friend of the poor.

St. Augustine lived until the age of seventy-five. He left us with Confessions, an account of his life and the nature of the times in which he lived.  In his humility he declares, “Late have I loved Thee, O Lord; and behold, Thou wast within and I without, and there I sought Thee.”

Feast of St. Monica – August 27th

It has been suggested that, after Mary, the mother of Jesus, no other mother has influenced the life of early Christianity as much as Saint Monica.  Almost everything we know about her today is from the writings of her famous son, Saint Augustine, whose feast day we celebrate tomorrow.

Saint Monica was born in 331 AD in Tagaste, North Africa (present day Algeria). She was of Berber descent and had many challenges in her life, including an arranged marriage with a pagan and abusive husband, an ill tempered mother-in-law, and her oldest son, the brilliant but wild and immoral Augustine.

By her prayers and example, Monica eventually won over her husband, mother-in-law and two younger children to the Christian faith, but Augustine continued to be a great grief to his mother. He took a mistress, persisted in his wayward lifestyle, and accepted the Manichean heresy. Monica prayed, fasted and wept on Augustine’s behalf for seventeen long years, never giving up hope. She followed him to Milan, where she became friends with Bishop Ambrose (the future Saint Ambrose).  He assured her: “It is impossible that the son of so many tears should perish.”

Finally, on Easter of 387, Monica’s perseverance and prayers were rewarded far beyond her wildest dreams: Augustine was baptized into the Christian faith, consecrated his life to God, and became one of the Doctors of the Church. Soon afterwards, Monica died in the port of Ostia, Italy, saying, “All my hopes in this world are now fulfilled.”

Saint Monica is the patron saint of mothers, married women and alcoholics. She is an inspiration and example to those of us who are impatient, impulsive and want immediate results.

 

Feast Day of Bartholomew – August 24th

Bartholomew is one of the least mentioned and least known of the original Twelve Apostles of Christ.  He was born in the first Century AD in Cana and was martyred several years later in Albanopolis, Armenia. Although some commentators reject this notion, many believe that Nathaniel and Saint Bartholomew are one. If true, we know that Nathanael, a man from Cana in Galilee was summoned to Jesus by Philip.  Of him, Jesus said, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is no guile.” (John 1:47b).  He was also, then, one of those to whom Jesus appeared after His resurrection. After fishing all night unsuccessfully, they saw a man standing on the shore.  He instructed them to cast their net again, and the catch was so plentiful they couldn’t haul it in. Invited to cook some of the fish and eat with this mysterious man, they recognized Him as Jesus, their Lord.

There are three Christian traditions regarding Bartholomew’s death.  One tradition teaches that he was kidnapped, beaten unconscious, and thrown into the sea to drown.  Another maintains that he was crucified upside down, while a third, and the most widely accepted, says he was flayed (skinned alive) and beheaded in Albanopolis, Armenia.   Tradition maintains that Bartholomew’s conversion of Polymius, the king of Armenia, to Christianity, enraged the king’s brother, prince Astyages who feared a Roman backlash.  The Prince, in retaliation, ordered Bartholomew tortured and executed.

Saint Bartholomew the Apostle is the patron saint of those who struggle with nervousness and any sort of mental issues.  Let his name be a reminder of the love and grace of the Lord in our times of stress!

 

As He Loved Us

I’m a great fan of the late composer and performer, John Denver. My favorite song is “Perhaps Love.” You may think I have a sentimental streak, and you could be right, but among Mr. Denver’s credentials is the title Poet Laureate of Colorado. His words are simple, profound, and down to earth. Here are some of the descriptive phrases present in his lyrics:

Perhaps Love
Is a resting place, shelter from a storm
Like a window or an open door
It can be like a cloud or strong as steel.
Sometimes love is holding on,
At other times letting go.
It can be like the ocean
Filled with conflict and pain,
Loves’ memory will bring you home.

I’ve been searching the scriptures to understand love. I know it’s essential to love and be loved to find wholeness. I pondered this verse, Ephesians 4:2, Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in Love. I fall short on all counts because of my nature and history. To love as Jesus loved is hard work that requires personal transformation and His grace.

The Dormition of Mary

On August 15th., we commemorate the death of Mary the Theotokos (Mother of God or God-bearer.) The Latin root word of Dormition is dormire, meaning “to sleep.” Mary is our example of a trusted and faithful servant of God sharing intimately in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Although scripture doesn’t record the time or manner of her death, history (or tradition) informs us that Mary remained in the care of the Apostle John and that she lived eleven years after the death of her Son. During John’s missionary journeys, she lived in the home of his parents, near the Mount of Olives. A source of consolation to all believers, Mary nurtured the fledgling Church with her prayers, conversation, and presence.

There are many traditions regarding the end of Mary’s life, but much remains a mystery. Three common themes, recorded in the Transitus Narratives, written at the turn of the 5th and 6th centuries, are that Mary was informed of her approaching death by the Angel Gabriel, that the Apostles miraculously appeared at her bedside and that Christ, Himself, came as a Child to receive and transport her soul to heaven. Sometime after the funeral and burial, the Apostles witnessed her body taken up to heaven, and reunited with her soul.

The following is a quote from a General Audience given by Pope John Paul II on June 25, 1997:

“It is more important to look for the Blessed Virgin’s spiritual attitude at the moment of her departure from this world. In this regard, St. Francis de Sales maintains that Mary’s death was due to a transport of love. He speaks of a dying ‘in love, from love, and through love.’

At the Ready

I recently attended the funeral of a friend who had served in the armed forces. At the gravesite, three young servicemen, dressed in their pristine uniforms, stood ramrod straight. With clockwork precision, they saluted and turned toward each other. In silence, and with great care, they removed the flag draping the casket. They stretched it taut, made one fold, creased it, turned it, and folded it again. Time was not an issue; all was done with respect and reverence, both for the flag and the individual who had honored it with their service. The flag was presented with such dignity to the gathered loved ones.  Those men must have spent hours preparing their uniforms and learning and practicing the graveside ceremony. Their level of care and perfection brought tears to my eyes.

The three servicemen hadn’t known the person who died, but they respected who the person once was and what they had sacrificed. It made me realize what a gift it is when everything is done to the Glory of God, and how much the small things really do count.