Friday, December 30, 2011


By "special request" for someone--I hope you all enjoy it!


Today is the Feast of the Holy Family.  The special carol "Once In Royal David's City" has already been posted (for Advent) by Rocco Palmo on his blog "Whispers In The Loggia," so instead I am posting one of my favorite carols in my all-time favorite arrangement--enjoy!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

LUKE 2:8-14

With its instrumental "pastoral symphony" as a gentle, lilting introduction, here is the most delightful of all settings of this great feast day's most popular Gospel:  enjoy, and MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL!  May we all know and live the gift of His peace. 

Monday, December 19, 2011



VATICAN CITY, 19 DEC 2011 (VIS) - The Holy Father today received in audience Cardinal Angelo Amato S.D.B., prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, and authorised the promulgation of decrees concerning the following causes:
- Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, American laywoman (1656-1680).

So declares the Vatican Congregation, which sets the stage for a Consistory to confirm the canonization of Bl Kateri (and a number of others).  After that, it remains to see when Pope Benedict will set a date for the canonization itself.  Kateri will be the first Native American saint of North America, and this will be a great day for the Church in upstate New York and Canada (where her shrine is).  Ora pro nobis, Beata!

Friday, December 16, 2011


Today is Beethoven's birthday.  According to tradition, Schroeder is celebrating by playing his piano sonata #31 in A-flat, op 110 ("Alone!" he emphasizes to Lucy!). 

Life can be filled with tragedy, and Beethoven's life of deafness is surely a great example, especially if (as has been plausibly suggested, it was caused by eating from clay-fired bowls that were decorated with lead-based paint that leached into the ceramic and the lead thence into his system).  He insisted on conducting even when he could no longer hear:  including the premiere of his Ninth Symphony.  The 2nd movement got a standing ovation (in those days, it was acceptable to applaud after every movement and even call for an encore of it)--but Beethoven was lost and was still "conducting" even after the orchestra finished playing.  His back was to the audience, and so he could not hear their approval until one of the singers took him by the hand and turned him around to face the cheering.

Below is not that 2nd movement, nor is it the famous finale ("Ode to Joy").  Instead, it is my favorite portion of the symphony:  the slow 3rd movement.  There is incredible beauty (really mystical) here--let this be a chance to "smell the flowers" with the ears for about 10 minutes and give thanks that when Beethoven realized his deafness was progressive and incurable, he did not commit suicide (as he was contemplating) but instead chose to live until he could bring forth all that he felt was within him to produce (his words, from the Heiligenstadt Testament).  ENJOY!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Attached please enjoy a musical setting of St John's famous poem, "The Dark Night of the Soul," sung by Loreena McKennitt.


[I wrote this essay in 2000, but in honor of St John of the Cross' feast-day today, I re-post it.]

Congruence is the experience of threads or strands of life coming together to make sense in a larger way than would have been possible if only the individual strands or threads had remained separate. It is the joy of an insight.

Special congruence was a gift I received this past summer, in ways as disparate as a present from my Mom earlier this year, a book I was reading as a result of a commitment to a person with whom I do spiritual direction, and my visit to Poland.

Much earlier this year my Mom sent me a copy of the video of the Frontline special on Pope John Paul II. She knew I would enjoy it. But I didn't get around to watching it until this summer, with her in Chicago. If only her VCR hadn't died, midway into the watching!

But of what I saw, the background and history of Karol Wojtyla and of Poland in general (of which I knew some already) was heart-breaking. This can be discovered in greater depth in the first sections of George Weigel's papal biography Witness To Hope. His Mother's death, his brother's death, his Father's death, came in all too quick succession in Karol's young life. So did the devastation of Poland in World War II. Yet here history was only repeating itself.

For hundreds of years, Poland had formally ceased to exist, as empires chose it as their battlefield and territory: the Germans, Austro-Hungarians and Russians all had their hand in the partitions of Poland; here it was happening again. How did the Poles, and how did Karol Wojtyla, endure it?
During the communist regime, the Church was persecuted and harassed regularly. How did the Poles keep the Faith? How could they manage, in the face of the darkness they had individually and collectively lived for so long, with glimmers of light every now and then?

It was during this trip that I finished reading You Set My Spirit Free. It is a collection of 40 excerpts from the writings of St. John of the Cross, done by David Hazard in a series he calls Rekindling the Inner Fire. They are a powerful collection. St. John has some of the most inspirational and challenging writing about the spiritual life one could ever read. Interestingly, his works had long ago been recommended to me by a friend, who uses them in AA meetings.

The biography of St. John would break anyone's heart. He was hounded by the Inquisition and tormented for his attempts to reform the Carmelite Order along with St. Teresa of Avila. He was locked in a broom-closet for months, being unable to stand up or sit in it, not permitted to wash. He was beaten on a daily basis for weeks. And in all this he could write about the power and beauty of God who is encountered through the dark night, and that surrender to God must also involve surrender of the desire for spiritual consolations. St. John insisted that these would become false gods.

In these readings, I could now understand how the Poles endured their experience: it was the experience of St. John of the Cross, lived as a nation. Even after Warsaw was destroyed by the Nazis, the underground would continue to paint their special resistance symbols on the walls of what buildings were still standing. And no collaboration government was ever established in Poland. During my trip I saw, imbedded in the wall of the rebuilt cathedral of Warsaw, a piece of tread from one of the tanks that destroyed the old cathedral. So the challenge was met, and Faith triumphed over Nazi hatred.

This was the Polish experience, even though they had not read St. John. And yet someone else did:  Karol Wojtyla. The dissertation he wrote for his first doctorate, for work he did in Rome, was on the writings of St. John of the Cross. And how could it not be, when St. John was the prophetic spiritual chronicler of the Polish nation?!

To understand Poland and to understand Pope John Paul II is to understand the insight of St. John of the Cross; to embrace St. John is to experience the radical freedom of surrender of all to God, knowing that Love exists beyond the dark night expressed so miraculously to me in the final
chorus of Les Miserables.  Let me end my ramblings with those lyrics:

Do you hear the people sing/Lost in the valleys of the night?
It is the music of a people/Who are climbing to the light.
For the wretched of the earth/There is a flame that never dies.

Even the darkest night will end/And the sun will rise.
They will live again in freedom/In the garden of the Lord.
They will walk behind the ploughshare/They will put away the sword.
The chain will be broken and all men will have their reward.
Will you join in our crusade?/Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade/Is there a world you long to see?
Do you hear the people sing?/Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring When tomorrow comes!

Saturday, December 3, 2011


There is nothing simple in international relations. No doubt people were cheering their support of the uprising in Egypt against the hard-handed Hosni Mubarak. And the affirmation led to celebration when democratic elections were scheduled and actually began. Results are not complete, but there are good indications of the outlook of those who will be regarded as “winners” in this referendum.

Unfortunately, there will also be “losers.” And the most significant of the minorities in this group will surely be the Coptic Christians. They have suffered discrimination and persecution for decades; if Shariah is established in Egypt, all religions and religious expressions except Islam could be outlawed.

How will the Copts (a most ancient Christian Church) cope? Will they (like their brothers in the Holy Land, or Iraq) feel compelled to leave their homeland?

What to do? Should the United States, as a matter of policy, support the results of democratic elections and the potential of making Egypt a hard-line Islamist state? Or should it make a strong stand in favor of human rights for the Copts?

It is this kind of fear that makes other Orthodox and Catholic Churches wary of the uprising in Syria. Even while the Arab League calls for President Bashar al-Assad to halt his vicious counter-attacks against anti-government demonstrators, Christians there fear that if he were to fall, the alternative would be another strongly Islamist state in which their existence would be severely limited, or even eliminated by law.

What to do? Should the United States stand by and watch as protesters are butchered? Or should it support the Assad regime on the theory “Out of the frying pan means into the fire”?

As a Catholic in the United States I want to affirm freedom, which implies democracy in politics) and religious solidarity (which means support for the Catholic and Orthodox Churches in North Africa and the Middle East). But how can I do both?

There is nothing simple in international relations.