"Are we prepared to promote conditions in which the living contact with God can be reestablished? For our lives today have become godless to the point of complete vacuity. God is no longer with us in the conscious sense of the word. He is denied, ignored, excluded from every claim to have a part in our daily life." - Alfred Delp, S.J.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Part II: A Christmas Carol....

The Ghost of Christmas present...
" The moment Scrooge's hand was on the lock, a strange voice called him by his name, and bade him enter. He obeyed.

It was his own room. There was no doubt about that. But it had undergone a surprising transformation. The walls and ceiling were so hung with living green, that it looked a perfect grove; from every part of which, bright gleaming berries glistened. The crisp leaves of holly, mistletoe, and ivy reflected back the light, as if so many little mirrors had been scattered there; and such a mighty blaze went roaring up the chimney, as that dull petrification of a hearth had never known in Scrooge's time, or Marley's, or for many and many a winter season gone. Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages,
mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch, that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam. In easy state upon this couch, there sat
Holly Golightly, glorious to see, who bore a glowing torch, in shape not unlike a long cigarette holder, and held it up, high up, to shed its light on Scrooge, as he came peeping round the door.

'Come in!' exclaimed the Ghost. 'Come in! and know me better, man.'"
Holly Golightly: "Dahling! Don't be frightened! It's Christmas! Oooooo! I love the new picture on your profile, much more dreamy than George Peppard ever was." (Peppard starred with Audrey in the classic film, "Breakfast At Tiffany's".) "You do so look like Harrison Ford tonight!" Cooed the phantom who looked remarkably like Audrey Hepburn from "Breakfast at Tiffany's". In fact I couldn't find one flaw - except I think today her blonde streaks would look much more natural. hairdressers blend everything so well today.
TN: "Is this another interview? Because I was so tricked in the the recent interviews I've done and I don't want to be taken advantage of again!" I warned, quickly adding, "Aren't you, Audre...."
HG: "Yes dahling it is me, or rather Holly...who'd you expect, Roz Russell? She's much too old - all those diamonds - they're tacky before forty ya know!" She said exhaling a large puff of smoke into my face. "Your interview days are over - we are so going to celebrate Christmas my angel!"
TN: "But you're...er...dead...and you are so over 40!" I protested.
HG: "Not tonite Harry!" (She sounded so much like Kalista Flockhart, obviously referring to me as Harrison Ford! I looked in the mirror - oh my gosh! I look exactly like the picture on my profile - this is a magical night!) "Dahling - I'm Holly - Holly can never die - she most definitely is the ghost of Christmas present...now c'mon - let's get going - I don't have much time..." And she jumped down calling for Cat and we were off!
We found ourselves outside a club downtown - the Village in NYC - not Minneapolis; we could feel the music pounding, resonating in my bones. Walking into the club, the dance floor was filled - just like the old Studio 54 - everyone dancing with lite-sticks, the women all dressed up in lame and with glitter everywhere, twinkling in the strobe lights. Playing was the remix version of one of Janet Jackson's songs, "Escapade" I think - switching suddenly to Toni Braxton's "C'mon Over Here", and then old stuff from Donna Summer - "Rumor has It" - on and on! Holly and I danced and everyone was watching us - I so forgot I was looking like my profile picture - with HER - in her "Tiffany's" Givenchy dress! I never felt so hot! (Forgive me that lapse into vanity!)
HG: "Now, Mr. Nelson - I'll give you exactly 15 minutes to stop being so fabulous!" She said laughing, throwing her hands in the air like she just don't care!
Moments later we were in the back bar, and there was my dear friend Kelly with my other 'club' friends, laughing, reminiscing about when I used to be out and about with them and all the strange things I used to do...
TN: "Holly, they thought I was fun! They actually miss me." Doing my Sally Fields Oscar acceptance speech imitation, I exclaimed, "They love me! They really, really love me!" Gaining my composure, I continued on a more sober vein insisting, " But I can no longer be out partying like this. The stuff I used to do wasn't very good....I drank too much, smoked too much...did 'lines' in the bathroom...it was fun - but I went home alone....and very, very sad. Sin isn't really fun you know."
HG: "Oh, dahling! Not when you're doing it...but, my heavens, you're absolutely right - what was I thinking - this isn't the life for you any longer!" She said laughing and quickly adding, "I think you went to confession about 12 times a week at the time your friends are referring to - this isn't the Christmas present we want for you." She winked mischieviously, adding, "Although it was fun!"
Suddenly I found myself at my sister's house, all aglow with my nephew Rob's lights. All of my nieces and nephews were there. Instead of the horrible Elvis Christmas music I always heard at Beth's house, they had lovely old Motown Christmas music playing, interspersed with medieval Christmas recordings, as well as Gregorian chant - with just a little bit of dance-trance stuff mixed in.
Everyone was laughing and watching old videos of myself doing and saying silly things. My sister Beth got tears in her eyes and said, "He's such a jerk, but I love him!"
While my loving nephew Todd, who looks exactly like Kevin Kostner, with his wife Carey, who looks exactly like Heather - you don't know who she is - but she looks like Catherine Zeta Jones - they lean over and hug Beth saying;
"Oh mom - don't be sad - uncle Terry has a lot of issues - it's not us! We know he loves you and misses you."
I looked at Holly, tears in my eyes, "That's my sweet nephew!"
Holly was drinking champagne and stroking Cat, looking up suddenly she said, "What?"
Instantly we were at the Lexington in St. Paul for the Company party - and I was being toasted! "To Mr. Scrooge!"
"'It's your Uncle Scrooge!'

Which it certainly was. Admiration was the universal sentiment, though some objected that the reply to 'Is it a bear?' ought to have been 'Yes;' inasmuch as an answer in the negative was sufficient to have diverted their thoughts from Mr Scrooge, supposing they had ever had any tendency that way.

'He has given us plenty of merriment, I am sure,' said Keevin, 'and it would be ungrateful not to drink his health. Here is a glass of mulled wine ready to our hand at the moment; and I say,"Uncle Scrooge!" '

'Well. Uncle Scrooge!' they cried.

'A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to the old man, whatever he is.' said Scrooge's friend Keevin. 'He wouldn't take it from me, but may he have it, nevertheless. Uncle Scrooge!'

Uncle Scrooge had imperceptibly become so gay and light of heart, that he would have pledged the unconscious company in return, and thanked them in an inaudible speech, if the Ghost had given him time. But the whole scene passed off in the breath of the last word spoken by his nephew; and he and the Spirit were again upon their travels."
TN: "Holly! They were toasting me! And they called me 'uncle' - I think Paul said that - or was it Ann?" I said in complete astonishment.
HG: "Honey - they just said you're 'gay and light of heart!" Holly said laughing hysterically, still smoking her long cigarette holder - which was no longer lighted.
TN: "Pay no attention to any of that - they meant funny, Holly - not gay! Geesh! This is so not KQ!" (A local radio station that accuses everyone of being gay.)!"
HG: Laughing, "Oh! Harry! You remind me a bit of Doc - you know - Loula Mae's husband who tried to get me to go back with him from New York." Getting all dreamy, Holly's eyes filled with tears, remembering her good-bye to Doc in the film, that wrenching scene in the bus depot.
Then Holly pointed towards Linda's house, my dearest friend in the world. It was a loveless marriage she was in, Fred was in his room, while Linda sat alone in the living room, smoking - I have always told her that is why she has so many bags and lines in her face - oops - that's Christmas future - sorry Linda...
TN: I shouted, "What is this? Why is she so sad?"
Linda sat gazing upon the Christmas tree with all of the ornaments I had painted for her and her mother, mesmerized by our Christmases past...
HG: "She's never been happy without...er...y..."
TN: "But Holly - I entered the monastery and she agreed to let me go - then she got married - or, after a long time she got married. But she always understood I could never marry. Just as she understood I will always love her." When I turned suddenly, albeit sadly, Holly was gone...And then...
"The bell struck twelve.

Scrooge looked about him for the Ghost, and saw it not. As the last stroke ceased to vibrate, he remembered the prediction of old Jacob Marley, and lifting up his eyes, beheld a solemn Phantom, draped and hooded, coming, like a mist along the ground, towards him." - Dickens, "A Christmas Carol"
To be continued...when...I don't know...the night is so long...

A Christmas Carol, part I

The Ghost of Christmas Past...
"'Ding, dong!'

'The hour itself,' said Scrooge triumphantly, 'and nothing else!'

He spoke before the hour bell sounded, which it now did
with a deep, dull, hollow, melancholy One. Light flashed up in the room upon the instant, and the curtains of his bed were drawn.

The curtains of his bed were drawn aside, I tell you, by a hand. Not the curtains at his feet, nor the curtains at his back, but those to which his face was addressed. The curtains of his bed were drawn aside; and Scrooge, starting up into a half-recumbent attitude, found himself face to face with the unearthly visitor who drew them: as close to it as I am now to you, and I am standing in the spirit at your elbow"
...enter, the Ghost of Christmas Past!
This is exactly how my interview started with Roesannadanna!
Roseannadanna: "So Mr. Feder, you been writing ta me for a long, long time! And now we're doin' this interview..."
TN: "I'm not Mr. Feder! I have never written to you! What are you doing in my bedroom?"
RD: "I'm doin' an interview - Boy, Mr. Feder, you sure do ask a lot of stupid questions for a guy from Minnesota!"
TN: "I'm not Mr. Feder - my name is Terry."
Roseannadanna wrinkles her nose, squinting, looks straight into my face, wreaking of garlic. Looking at her notes she realizes she has the wrong scrip!
RD: "I don't know what the heck is goin' on - I was supposed to visit Feder and George Baily - you're not even on my list! Okay Mr. Nelson, let's step back in time. Remember the Christmas you were on the toilet and you were singing "Here Comes Santa Clause" and your mom and dad were listening and you could hear them laughing and then you stopped singing because you were embarrassed. I mean pooping and singing - yuck! What are ya tryin' to do? Make me sick?"
TN: "Yeah, that's right, I was about 3 or 4 years old and I had a toy in my hand, thinking about Santa, singing my favorite Christmas song. I heard my parents say something, laughing - I thought my mom and dad were laughing at me. From that day on I never liked singing and never would sing in front of people ever again."
RD: "You cried too - but you wouldn't make a sound or come out because you never wanted people to see you cry. And then you pretended it wasn't you doin' the singin'. Whatz wrong with you?"
TN: "What's wrong with you? What is with that hair anyway?"
RD: Ignoring my remark, "So you liked that movie then, "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"?
I was transported to Downtown St. Paul late one snowy Christmas Eve afternoon, going to the theater with my sister Beth and my brother Skip. Beth wanted to see "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" with Jane Russell and Marylin Monroe. We were the only people in the theater. None of us were happy, Skip was mean to me, but I can't remember how, Beth wasn't happy about babysitting. We left the film and it was cold and dark, still snowy...
RD: "Why did you go to the corner bar after you kids got off the bus near your house?"
TN: "We had to meet my mom and dad there. Then we went home to see if Santa came. We went upstairs with my mom and we heard someone in the living room and I could hear packages rustling! I was so excited and my mother peeked around the door, holding me back with Beth grasping my shoulders. I was shaking with excitement as mom whispered it was Santa putting our presents under the tree. she described everything so vividly - years later, I was convinced that I had actually seen him myself.
Gently pushing me back, I heard the outside door close and my mother finally let me tear into the room - the tree was all lighted with the presents under the tree and I even saw the wet spots on the floor from the melted snow! Santa had been to our house! I was ecstatic - it made the sadness of the movie and the bar disappear! And my mom and dad had their cocktails until it was time for midnight Mass, when they headed back to the corner bar."
RD: "Ahwwwwww! That's so sweet! See! You had nice Christmasses when you were little!"
"The Spirit gazed upon Scrooge mildly. Its gentle touch, though it had been light and instantaneous, appeared still present to the old man's sense of feeling. He was conscious of a thousand odours floating in the air, each one connected with a thousand thoughts, and hopes, and joys, and cares long, long, forgotten.

'Your lip is trembling,' said the Ghost. 'And what is that upon your cheek?'

Scrooge muttered, with an unusual catching in his voice, that it was a pimple; and begged the Ghost to lead him where she would.

'You recollect the way?' inquired the Spirit.

'Remember it!' he cried with fervour; ' I could walk it blindfold.'

'Strange to have forgotten it for so many years!' observed the Ghost. 'Let us go on.' "
Suddenly we were in a bar, it was Christmas Eve...I was drinking with friends from work, it was crowded. I was supposed to be at my parent's house, my little brother Tim hadn't seen me all year, Skip and his wife were going to be there, they hadn't seen me for an even longer time. They were hoping I'd be there to save them from being alone with my parents, who would be drinking heavily. They were waiting for me to get there so we could open presents...
RD: "Whaaa - ya were drunk too! Just like the family! It's disgustin' - ya pig! Whatya tryin' to do? Make me sick?"
TN: "I was only 20 years old - I was just doing what I saw growing up. I thought Christmass meant drinking and partying!"
I witnessed how a year or so later, I came to repentance and returned to the Catholic faith...while the Spirit showed me how my little brother, growing up with alcohol problems and depression, would continue to have difficulties with Christmas as well. And then she showed me my brother Skip, dying of alcohol related illness, alone, with blood coming out of his pores, his stomach bloated, his skin all jaundiced, not living long enough to see his last Christmas on earth...
"'Spirit!' said Scrooge in a broken voice, 'remove me from this place.'

'I told you these were shadows of the things that have been,' said the Ghost. 'That they are what they are, do not blame me!'

'Remove me!' Scrooge exclaimed, 'I cannot bear it!'

He turned upon the Ghost, and seeing that it looked upon him with a face, in which in some strange way there were fragments of all the faces it had shown him, wrestled with it.

'Leave me! Take me back! Haunt me no longer!'"
- A Christmas Carol, The Ghost of Christmas Past - Dickens
It seemed I awakened suddenly, and Roseannadanna was featured on an ad for the best of SNL...I didn't know if I had been dreaming or I had truly seen her ghost. I turned off the television and tried to go back to sleep...wondering if I might have kept Christmas better in the past...I finally fell asleep, wrestling with that thought, imagining more faces than those that had been shown me.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Bambino Jesu!

The 'real' novena for Christmas begins tomorrow - December 16th, or 'posada' as the Spanish practice it.
I'll post about this on the "company blog" while doing more later here - maybe Sunday.
Thank God for the immigrants, legal or not, who bring to the American Catholic Church their rich tradition and devotion - let it be assimilated into our culture - into our hearts - and welcome the exile, the stranger.
If you "do" the novena for Christmas - don't make a big deal out of it, use the prayers of the liturgy, or any other devotion, but meditate upon the posada of Blessed Virgin Mary and the most pure Joseph to Bethlehem, make your heart, your soul, the little cave of Bethlehem, wherein the little Jesus may rest and be sheltered. Because He is born, He is God incarnate- don't try to re-enact - allow the act to enfold you into the mystery of the reality - ever present to the Father.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Our Lady of Arabia...

A Carmelite story for the feast of St. John of the Cross.

Pope Pius XII with the statue of Our Lady of Arabia.

Who knew the statue is Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, copied from the image on Mt. Carmel in Haifa, Israel?

Crazy thoughts here - I always return the apparitions at Fatima...try to follow me. The apparitions seem to me to have a great deal to do with our times, times of conflict with Islam - in other words, it's not just an event in the past. Fatima was the name of Mohamed's daughter. In the last apparition at Fatima Our Lady appeared as Mt. Carmel. And Our Lady of Arabia is Our Lady of Mt. Carmel.

Okay - so I'm getting like Michael Brown. I don't know - it could mean something. Here is a close-up photo of the Virgin, along with the story:

"To represent Our Lady under the title of Our Lady of Arabia, Fr. Stella wanted to have a special Statue made in her honour. He decided to use a replica of the Statue of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, venerated in her basilica on Mount Carmel - the birthplace of the entire Carmelite Order. An Italian firm in Rome, "Rosa and Zanzio Ditta" was requisitioned to make the replica, carved out of a solid block of cedar from Lebanon.

It was not long before the supreme sanction was granted. The Holy Father, Pope Pius XII, himself gave a grand lead to this devotion to Our Lady of Arabia, and on 17th December 1949, on the eve of the Great Jubilee Year, in the Vatican Palace, he personally blessed the new Statue of Our Lady of Arabia, and consented to be photographed in prayer before it.

The Statue was received in Kuwait and formally enthroned on 6th January 1950, amidst triumphal rejoicing at her Shrine in Ahmadi. It is with great nostalgia that the first parishioners might recall the sunny, Friday afternoon, the Statue was transported in a jubilant procession from the Shuwaikh Port to reside in the 'mini' Chapel, and to be venerated as Patroness and Protector of the Oilman." - Our Lady of Arabia

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

S. Juan de la Cruz

The lover of the Beloved, St. John of the Cross.
This image is one of my favorites of the saint - it's a poor reproduction however, the original is much richer in color and somewhat darker. Yet I love how he is portrayed, as well as his physical countenance - much as I imagine him. So many painters today like to portray him rather dark complected or even Moorish. He was a Spaniard. Spaniards are European - he looked like this I believe.
Why do I love him so much?
(He was a little guy - you maybe could have picked him up and hugged him. Holy Mother made fun of him and called him "half a friar". Therefore I was always pleased that Fray Juan de la Miserie painted her as he did, eliciting her comment, "You made me ugly". Holy Mother had some issues with vanity and status - she admits that.)
His writings are so accessible, yet lofty and learned, his mystical insights into biblical passages are ever so enlightening - even enthralling.
He was so full of charity and deeply humble. As Novice Master, he always made a noise with his rosary to forewarn the novices of his approach.
Imprisoned for the reform of Carmel, he was the model of patience and charity, and mercy.
This painting depicts the moment Our Lord invited him to ask for any grace, and John made his request, "To suffer and be despised". At the end of his life this was fulfilled even then. When he was dying, he lived at a house wherein the Prior disliked him and was a source of great suffering. Although at the end, the Prior was reconciled to the saint.
St. John plumbed the depths of suffering in his lived experience. So many people mistake him for a sort of mystical sado-masochist - nothing is further from the truth. St John of the Cross and his doctrine are all radiance and light, charity and love. Love is his doctrine, love of Jesus crucified - not suffering for suffering sake - that is a perversion. Nevertheless suffering is the lot of all mankind in this vale of tears, love alone transforms it into that which is redemptive and unifying with the Divine. This is his secret.
He was a practical mystic, fully engaged in the everyday duties of life, employing himself in the most mundane duties of the monastery, with special solicitation for the ill and infirm.
Never ever be intimidated by this saint, nor his writings. His writings were food for the soul of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, the saint of "The Little Way", which I always maintain is the pure doctrine of St. John made palatable for little, as well as lofty souls in modern times.
For Advent, consider this tender poem of his:
"The Virgin, weighed
With the Word of God
Comes down the road:
If only you will shelter her." -S. John of the Cross
This is from the man who danced in ecstasy as he placed the Divine Infant Jesus in the creche, after the monastery posada, one Christmas eve.
Love him and read him - don't try to be him, just let his doctrine ruminate in your soul, let him teach you how to follow Jesus upon that narrow way that leads to life. He is the gentlest of guides.
St. John of the Cross, pray for me that I might be converted and begin to follow Jesus. Pray for all souls who seek salvation in Jesus Crucified, yet are tempted to despair of the rugged road, and their own weakness and failings. Never has it been known that you rejected the sinner who turns to you for help in this dark night of faith!
(I never understood why Holy Mother Teresa of Jesus turned to Gratian rather than St. John - although they were compatriots and co-reformers, and she esteemed him greatly. Something to ask when we get to heaven I guess. I didn't like Gratian myself, and always attributed her fondness for him to Teresa's vanity - Oh! my! gosh! How presumptuous of me! Nevertheless, I always found her a bit "over the top" in her esteem for Gratian.)

St. John Eve

On this the longest night of the year, the Church has long celebrated the feast of St. Lucy. How providential is it that it is also the vigil of the feast of St. John of the Cross, the mystic of the Dark Night?
An Advent meditation from "The Spiritual Canticle":
" Where have You hidden Yourself,
And abandoned me in my groaning, O my Beloved?
You have fled like the hart,
Having wounded me.
I ran after You, crying;
but You were gone.
O shepherds, you who go
Through the sheepcots up the hill,
If you shall see Him
Whom I love the most,
Tell Him I languish, suffer, and die." The Spiritual Canticle

Hear, and let it penetrate your heart...

-amidst the rush before Christmas.
From today's Gospel:
'Jesus said to the crowds: (Not just to 'the many' but to all.)
"Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will give you rest."' - Matthew 11:28

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Ghost of Christmas Future...

Wasn't the production of "Scrooge" a masterpiece?
Scary for managers though, albeit a good spectre to keep before one - it is the monastic maxim, "keep death always before your eyes".
Amidst the joy and celebrations of the holidays, it is always good to remain sober and vigilant in spirit.

"It's A Wonderful Life"

Unless you're depressed like George Bailey was.
Didn't you just want to beat up Uncle Billy? Losing the deposit like that?
This is the best film ever to capture the stress of Christmas.
In the end, it turns out well - it's heartwarming and touching - but before you get there, it's depressing and dark. All stories do not always end so brightly.
Remember those who have lost fortunes or just basic jobs at this time of year. Remember the mentally ill, the depressed, those thinking of taking their own lives, or those suffering from terminal illness.
It's not such a wonderful life for them.

Motu Proprio

Pictured, "The Mass of Pope Gregory" - available now at Peyton Wright Gallery in Santa Fe, NM. A superb gallery of fine art, specializing in Spanish Colonial antiquities, Russian Icons, and contemporary art.
The blogs are humming that the "Motu proprio" will soon be released. What is that? You'll have to ask the experts, but as I understand it, it is a general permission or liberalization for the Tridentine Mass to be offered anywhere by any priest without an indult - in other words, the old Mass is more or less restored and is on equal footing with the Novus Ordo - not that it needs restoration, but some progressive Church people wanted it suppressed and would not permit it in their diocese, and so on - it's a big deal. Especially if you are a trad, or an SSPX kind of guy.
What is of interest to me is that I would not have to travel across town if I chose to attend, with the same priests celebrating all of the time. I may be able to assist at a Tridentine Mass in the very same parish I now attend.
That fine blog, "Rorate Caeli" has some of the best updates available on the subject.
The entire matter should never have come to this - the Traditional Liturgy should always have had this privilege, if not preeminence. I find it hard to believe that traditionalists, some of whom may dispute the validity of the Novus Ordo, will ever be satisfied until the Novus Ordo is suppressed. It's just a feeling I have. Whatever the case, it will be good for Missal sales.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Christmas in a monastery...

New Melleray Abbey, sanctuary.
(sorry it is so pix-elated!)
A reader of this blog thought I should post more about monastic things, and I don't want to get yelled at for my silly posts - but there is not much to say - Trappists don't talk much.
Anyway, I remember several of Dom David's homilies during Advent, focusing upon the liturgy and Our Lady. (He was very much like Jane Hathaway's brother - she was the bank secretary in the "Beverly Hillbillies" - Fr. David was rather dry and a bit formal, although very friendly, and he really did have a sense of humor.) He is a hermit now I believe.
Nevertheless, after so many years, I can only recall there were no decorations in the Church - Trappists don't do that. Midnight Mass was solemn and very simple, in keeping with Cistercian tradition. After Mass we could go to the refectory for cookies and treats in silence. There was a sort of Charlie Brown tree in there, with lights. Nothing lavish. It was very quiet and nice. (No booze. For most - I do believe we had a couple of closet tipplers however.)
I quickly went to my cell to pray and go back to sleep.
Christmas day there may have been music in the refectory - for sure there was no work. I think the novices got together. I seem to remember Br. DJ got a butt-load of goodies from his parents - and we ate most of it. (He stashed more in his cell. Correction - DJ contacted me and told me he had long left the monastery at that point - so I guess someone else got the care package from mums and dadums - but DJ did have a stash of stuff in his cell - I know because I moved into it after he left! :) I was like Harry Potter at Hogwarts - I got nothing - and I wouldn't have wanted it otherwise.
I really liked it that way. I wanted to be so poor like the Infant Jesus, and I felt He granted my prayer. It was a special first Christmas in the monastery. It was there where I learned to love the silence and solitude of that Holy Night with all of it's simplicity. Later, as a pilgrim, poor and alone on Beacon Hill, passing the lighted and decorated houses of the gentry on my way to St. Anthony's on Arch Street for midnight Mass, I rejoiced in the same poverty and loneliness - so filled with the joy of the Nativity of Our Lord. I still prefer a quiet, contemplative Christmas.
It's a good thing.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Santa Casa

Today is the feast of Our Lady of Loreto.
(Pictured, the Translation of the Holy House. It can happen! )

Commemorating the miraculous translation - by angels - of the Holy Family's house in Nazareth, this feast honors the transfer, first to Croatia and then to the hilltop of what is now known as Loreto, Italy.

Since a little boy, I have never had the least problem with this story. In fact, I went to live as a pilgrim in Italy, in imitation of St. Benedict Joseph Labre, with the intent of visiting Loreto, where I stayed for a while.

I stood praying within the Holy House, which is enclosed within the basilica, ornamented by marble architecture, as a sort of tabernacle or aedicule. I stood at the back of the interior, in a corner, so as not to be disturbed by pilgrims. I would only step out to pray Our Lady's office from time to time, seated on a bench outside the House, since the light was easier to read by. My experience there, convinced me the Holy House is authentic. (I also thought it would be a beautiful place for newlyweds to honeymoon - not the House, but the beautiful hill town of Loreto.)

My friends, Alberto Marvelli (pictured), and Pina Suriano were beatified there by John Paul II shortly before he died.

It was there I prayed most especially for my family. Years later, my brother Skip died on this day, a personal tragedy far worse than the loss of my parents.

It was the year when the feast of the Immaculate Conception was observed on the 9th of December. I stayed by his bedside, hoping Our Lady would come for him on the 8th. On the 9th, the observance of the solemnity, I asked Skip, who was in a coma, "When is Our Lady coming?"

He lifted his head from his pillow and opening his eyes, looking directly at me, responded clearly like a little boy, "I don't know?" Then he fell back into his coma.
The next day, on my way to see him, I was at the first Mass of the day. After communion, I understood he had just died. When I got to his house, his nurse told me he had died about 20 minutes earlier, and I said "I know." When I got to him he was still warm.

Skip had had a vision of Our Lady several years before his death. She just suddenly appeared as Our Lady of Grace - for a few seconds - it was just a glimpse. He began to pray again, wondering what it meant. I always believed it was Our Lady, that was why I asked him when she was coming for him as he lay in that coma.

Towards the end, he struggled with alcoholism and depression. His marriage had failed in divorce, and he was haunted by his own sense of failure - something our parents predicted for us, as a sort of curse. Skip had already been in and out of treatment. Being the little brother, I tried to help him, but couldn't. He got mad at me when I would send black-humor greeting cards, or serious notes - intervention style - to try and coerce him into going back into treatment. He finally asked me to stay out of his life.
When I finally backed off, some "holy people", those I like to call "Job's friends" had much advice for me. One piece was their fraternal correction that I was comitting a grave sin and risking my salvation by not doing more for my brother..."How can you just let him die like this?!" (Gee! I don't know - maybe because he won't answer the phone or his door and when you get the police to go over to his house he tells them I am a trouble maker and he doesn't want me near his house? Or that, after his doctor told me his prognosis and that I should encourage him to get some help, my brother told everyone else that I made it up and I was lying? Maybe that is why I let him die. Watch out for those "holy people".)
Thanksgiving the year he died I went to be with him in the hospital - waiting at first while the nurse asked his permisson for me to enter. He had already made his confession and we talked. He expressed his fear of purgatory - I promised him I'd take care of that with prayer and many Masses for him. I told him it wasn't as bad as everyone believes - because the soul knows for certain one is saved and the soul accepts whatever comes with peace. Then I told him all about St. Catherine of Genoa's treatise on purgatory - careful not to be like Job's friends. (Not long after his death, his daughter Gioia had a dream wherein she opened a door and Skip was standing within a blast furnace, all aflame. She worried it was hell, and I said it was more likely purgatory. But then I began to worry - what if I fooled him? However, Our Lady consoled me a few years later by letting me know he was saved. Although I don't know if he is in heaven yet. Skip was very fond of money.)

So that's my Loreto story - Our Lady finally came to get my brother on this feast. It's pretty sappy, but "Wind Beneath My Wings" always makes me think of him, especially the lines, "Did you ever know that you were my hero? You're everything I wished I could be?" He never knew that. Sometimes brothers compete, and fight, and hide their true feelings. If he was still alive, I doubt I'd let him know how I truly felt - now that he is dead, it's okay - he can't turn on me any longer.

Here is a brief history on the Holy House.

"According to Catholic tradition, the Holy House came under threat during the turmoil of the Crusades, so in 1291, angels miraculously translated the house from its original location to a site in modern-day Croatia. An empty space was left in Nazareth, while a small house suddenly appeared in a field. The bewildered parish priest, brought to the scene by shepherds who discovered it, had a vision in which the Virgin Mary revealed it was her former house.

On December 10, 1294, the house was again moved by angels because of the Muslim invasion of Albania. It landed first in Recanti, Italy, but was shortly thereafter moved for a third time to its present location in Loreto.

The Holy House of Loreto, or Santa Casa di Loreto in Italian, has been venerated by pilgrims great and small, including many popes and saints, and numerous miracles and healings have been reported. Scientists are said to have confirmed the materials to be the same as those found in Nazareth and the house lacks any foundations."