Category Archives: Reflections

The Perfect Prayer

Many years ago, while still a member of the laity (in fact, the diaconate wasn’t even on my radar), I had settled into my pew a few minutes early before Mass, finished a brief prayer, then read the readings for the day in the missal. As I turned the missal over to set it on the pew, the prayers on the back cover caught my attention.

Lord Jesus Christ, take all my freedom, my memory, my understanding and my will. All that I have and cherish you have given me. Your love and your grace are wealth enough for me. Give me these, Lord Jesus, and I ask for nothing more. Amen.

I was familiar with many of them, but this day, a prayer I’d never noticed popped out at me:  The Dedication to Jesus. As I read the prayer, I felt it resonate deep within my heart… these words spoke to me in a way that no prayer ever had. When I’d finished reading, I noticed the attribution to St. Ignatius of Loyola.

I took the missal home, memorized it over a period of a few months; it became my “go-to” prayer. A short, meaningful rededication of my faith and trust in Jesus.

Ignatian spirituality has become a central theme in my prayer life since then. I was content… at peace in my acceptance of Christ the King. And then Sr. Faustina crossed my path. She hadn’t been canonized… her cause was certainly an active one, but I’d never encountered The Chaplet of The Divine Mercy. And, as you might expect, one aspect of the Chaplet clung to my heart just as tenaciously as the Ignatian Dedication:  The Our Father bead prayer… coupled with the 10th Hail Mary bead prayer.

For me, on this Divine Mercy Sunday, I am thankful for this prayer which has a singular place for me outside of the Chaplet:  just before the reception of the Holy Eucharist, I offer all that Jesus is giving to me in His Holy Body & Blood to our Heavenly Father. It centers me… provides me with a powerful focus for reception of the sacrament. Most of all, year-round, I commemorate His Passion for salvation of the whole world.

Mercy… Yes!

The lost… and that which survives

An April 13th article by Fr. Benedict Kiely, Catholic Herald caught my attention this week. Entitled “The Cross ISIS couldn’t destroy”, the piece transported me back to so many parts of Syria that we traveled in during the 2011 “Arab Spring”.  He writes in

Photo: Fr. Benedict Kiely

the article:

As we entered the Church of St Addai, the full hatred for the “followers of the Cross” was revealed. The Islamists had attempted to burn the church. A smashed statue of Our Lady was on the ground. The altar had bullet holes in it. Everywhere – in that church and the others we visited – the Cross was defaced, destroyed or in some way vandalised.

Even if a wooden door had a Cross on it, at least one arm would be broken. [..] All across the Nineveh Plains, the home of Christians for almost 2,000 years, the same thing has happened: Islamists cannot bear the imagery of the Cross.

Suddenly, Steve Rasche, an American who works for the Archdiocese of Erbil and was coordinating our visit, knelt in the rubble and picked up a Cross. Brushing off the rubble and dirt, he saw it was unbroken – the corpus had been removed, but the Cross was intact. Then Rasche, whom I later christened “the Crossfinder”, told us the story of the miraculous Cross of Baqofah – which ended up on display during the weeks of Lent in, of all places, Westminster Cathedral.

During out time in Syria, we encountered many Christian and Muslim

Evening over Saidnaya from the Monastery

areas that no longer fared as well as that crucifix. In the city of Saidnaya, a mere 17 km north of Damascus, we enjoyed the hospitality of the the Orthodox sisters at Our Lady of Saidnaya Monastery, one of the oldest monasteries in the world. We participated in Lenten Friday evening services, roomed overnight in the rooftop quarters for guests and gazed out at night in a city where Christianity and Islam coexisted peacefully.



On the Monastery rooftop.

The monastery has been badly damaged during the six year Syrian conflict, and, with the fall of a stable government, Christians and Muslims no longer share this magnificent resource, where an icon of Mary, attributed to St. Luke, was reverenced daily by both Christian and Muslim pilgrims. Is all lost? Hard to know, but in prayer, I find that the echoes of that time still move my heart and soul to consider how we must, more than ever, treasure our traditions, our heritage… our faith.

Table Fellowship

Holy Saturday… we wait, anticipating Christ Jesus’ glorious resurrection. And we prepare: homemade breads and cakes, handcrafted butter, eggs from our hens and honey from our bees. All done in preparation for that first meal on Easter Day. Food crafted with loving hands for gatherings that we take for granted:  coming together as family, friends, even acquaintances and strangers to break bread… to share in table fellowship.


A basket of food prepared for the Paschal Blessing.

The Paschal Blessing of food before the Easter Vigil confirms our faith in God’s generosity. He has given us so much! In the Book of Blessings, the Paschal Blessing suggests a number of readings for the long form. This year I chose Isaiah 55:1-11, “An Invitation to Grace”.

Only listen to me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare. Pay attention and come to me; listen that you may have life.

Jesus, in the Upper Room, sharing the Passover Supper with his Apostles… table fellowship that was transformed by His Word into the Eucharistic Banquet. And at the center of it all:  food from God’s bounty. For the Jews, the lamb, bitter herbs and the unleavened bread. For the Apostles, soon to be heralds of the Gospel, it was the bread and the wine. Bread and wine transformed into the body and blood, soul and divinity of their beloved teacher.

Table fellowship. Never again to be taken for granted or treated lightly. Transformed at table for all eternity.

More than meets the eye

Twitter posts these days are propelled by more than just 140 characters. The majority of tweets contain visual images:  photos, graphics and even movies. Why? Twitter itself recommends visual information to capture more “impressions”… people catching a tweet and spending more than a split second on it.

Really, it makes sense… particularly if the visual image captures the essence of the brief tweet. One of our recent tweets that has garnered a number of impressions is this one.

Deir Mar Musa al-Habashi Tweet

Deir Mar Musa al-Habashi – Syria

After requoting a tweet from the Diocese of Syracuse @SyrDiocese: Let us keep our eyes focused on Christ! My thought turned right away to St. John of the Cross, man and mystic truly focused on Christ… particularly Christ on the Cross. I added this quote from John of the Cross to the original tweet: “One act done in charity is more precious in God’s sight than all the visions and communications [with God] possible.

I was tuning into @SyrDiocese reminding us to keep our eyes focused just as John of the Cross had prompted us to consider what is seen in God’s sight. We all need those reminders. Of course, this eventually led me later in the week, after the Daily Office to consider what I have seen, AND how it has changed my life.


Frenco Pecchio – Milano, Itally

And so the post above. Once again, the depth of John of the Cross’ wisdom propels the conversation, but the image is amazing:  a 4th or 5th century fresco in an ancient monastery 80 km north of Damascus, Syria; a place I knew well, because I had prayed my Morning Office there in the Spring of 2011 at the beginning of the “Arab Spring” in Syria! The Monastery of Saint Moses the Abyssinian is perched high upon a cliff in the desert near Lebanon. There I encountered God in a profound way that truly penetrated my soul, as St. John writes.

A short tweet… an image. Far more than meets the eye!

Celebrating the Lenten Season

Rite of Election TweetLent is always a time for reflection on the year past. More than Advent, which begins the new church year and embraces preparation for the Incarnate God, Lent challenges us to prepare for the Salvific God, the Paschal Lamb, the Risen Christ.

With its acts of fasting, charity and prayer, Lent is a time for spiritual “exercise”… yet, it’s also a time to reflect on how we celebrate those who have made the decision to embrace the faith. I found this year’s Rite of Election at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception to be an awesome celebration of all that Lent prepares us for. Standing by so many Catechumens from throughout our diocese confirmed for me that we, as Catholic Christians, have much to celebrate!

As we continue our Lenten journey towards Holy Week and Easter, let us celebrate the a season that provides such tangible rites as these that connect us to the earliest Christian Church!

A wider, deeper appreciation for contemplation

Not often do like-minded souls benefit from the opportunity to gather in the relaxed surroundings of a small, rural religious community and “sip the nectar of wisdom” from Benedictine Sr. Donald Corcharan. This past

IMG_0983.JPGweekend, we did just that, as Sr. Donald offered reflections on Thomas Merton and the spiritual journey: a celebration of his life and work, in honor of the 100th anniversary of his birth.

The setting for the day-long conference/retreat was Transfiguration Monastery in Windsor, NY. The seating at the Guest House conference room was comfortable, the lunch hospitality simple and delicious, and the exchange of ideas, stories and experiences about this giant of a 20th century theologian, author and contemplative enough to engage any person seeking to know more about Merton.

The session will be repeated this coming Saturday, November 29th. Check the Monastery’s blog for more information:

Coming up for the Advent Season: Creating Sacred Spaces

The Face of War

In the Aleppo souq, inside the ancient old walls of the city, four children enter an apartment with their mother.

In the Aleppo souq, inside the ancient old walls of the city, four children enter an apartment with their mother.

Our time in Syria, spring of 2011 was, without a second thought, an unequaled exploration of country, culture, religions and people. The Syrian people… welcoming, ever-inquisitive, generous… revealed to us the true face of this nation.  Daily as I reflect back, I see those faces knowing that they are the face of this war; a war dubbed a civil war… a war that illustrates the inhumanity of man and the cold, cruel heart of a regime desperate to maintain power.

Today, on the eve of Pope Francis’ worldwide appeal for a day dedicated to peace in Syria, I ask all to join us:

Next Saturday [September 7, 2013] we will live together a special day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, in the Middle East, and in the whole world. Also for peace in our hearts, because peace begins in the heart! I renew the invitation to the whole Church to live this day intensely and, right now, I express my gratitude to the other Christian brothers, to the brothers of other religions and to men and women of good will who wish to join us, in the places and ways proper to them, for this moment. I exhort in particular the Roman faithful and pilgrims to participate in the Vigil of Prayer here, in St. Peter’s Square, at 7:00 pm to invoke from the Lord the great gift of peace. May the cry for peace be raised strongly throughout the earth!

(Pope Francis, in Rome at the conclusion of his General Audience 4 Wed 2013.)

For more information on the 7 SEP 2013 Day of Prayer & Fasting for Peace , follow this link:  On the Plea for Peace | ZENIT – The World Seen From Rome

Also, considering acting in accord with Pax Christi:  Advocate and act to stop military intervention in Syria! or on Twitter via #constantcontact.

Finally, from Bishop Cunningham, a pdf containing additional information:  Day of Fasting and Prayer

(Photo Credit:  My wife, Linda, snapped this photo in the alley way as we walked backed to our small hotel in the Aleppo Souq. The children paused for just a moment when we greeted them.  As a woman, Linda’s ability to capture an image like this was possible. The Arab women often turned away from my camera.)