Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday

A Stabat Mater depiction, 1868

Monday, April 14, 2014

Holy Monday with Thomas Merton

“The other day there was a beautiful whistling of titmice – and now today one of them lay dead on the grass under the house, which may well have been some fault of mine, as we dumped some calcium chloride on a couple of anthills – not as a poison but as something to move them elsewhere.  What a miserable bunch of foolish idiots we are!  We kill everything around us even when we think we love  and respect nature and life.  This sudden power to deal death all around us simply by the way we live, and in total ‘innocence’ and ignorance, is by far the most disturbing symptom of our time.  I hope I at least can learn, but in the light of Holy Week I see, again, all my own internal contradictions – not all!  Hardly!  But the fact that I am full of them.  And that we all are.

A phenomenal number of species of animals and birds have become extinct in the last fifty years – due of course to man’s irruption into ecology.

There was still a covey of quail around here in early fall.  Now I don’t hear a single whistle, or hear a wing beat.”

 (From the collection of Thomas Merton writings, When the trees say nothing; writings on nature, this particular piece was originally published in Turning toward the World p. 312.)

Image "St. Joseph's Abbey"  © 2010 Brian J. Murphy

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Palm Sunday 2014

Entry of Christ into Jerusalem (1320) by Pietro Lorenzetti

The Revolutionary Message of Palm Sunday

By Father Robert Barron

The texts that Christians typically read on Palm Sunday have become so familiar that we probably don’t sense their revolutionary power. But no first-century Jew would have missed the excitement and danger implicit in the coded language of the accounts describing Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem just a few days before his death.

In Mark’s Gospel we hear that Jesus and his disciples “drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives.” A bit of trivial geographical detail, we might be tempted to conclude. But about five hundred years before Jesus’ time, the prophet Ezekiel had relayed a vision of the “Shekinah” (the glory) of Yahweh leaving the temple, due to its corruption. However, Ezekiel also prophesied that one day the glory of God would return to the temple, and precisely from the same direction in which it had left: from the east (Ez. 43: 1-2). As the people saw Jesus approaching Jerusalem from the east, they would have remembered Ezekiel’s vision and would have begun to entertain the wild but thrilling idea that perhaps this Jesus was, in person, the glory of Yahweh returning to his dwelling place on earth. He was the new and definitive temple, the meeting-place of heaven and earth.

And there is even more to see in the drama. As the rabbi from Nazareth entered Jerusalem on a donkey, no one could have missed the reference to a passage in the book of the prophet Zechariah: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zech. 9:9). A thousand years before the time of Jesus, David had taken possession of Jerusalem, dancing before the Ark of the Covenant. David’s son Solomon built the great temple in David’s city in order to house the Ark, and for that brief, shining moment, Israel was ruled by righteous kings. But then Solomon himself and a whole slew of his descendants fell into corruption. The people began to long for the return of the king, for the appearance of the true David, the one who would deal with the enemies of the nation and rule as king of the world. The Biblical authors expected Yahweh to become king, precisely through a son of David, who would enter the holy city, not as a conquering hero, riding a stately Arabian charger, but as a humble figure, riding a young donkey. Could anyone have missed that this was exactly what they were seeing on Palm Sunday?

Jesus was not only the glory of Yahweh returning to his temple; he was also the new David, indeed Yahweh himself, reclaiming his city and preparing to deal with the enemies of Israel. And this is why Pontius Pilate, placing over the cross a sign in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew announcing that this crucified Jesus is King of the Jews, became, despite himself, the first great evangelist!

So the message delivered on Palm Sunday, in the wonderfully coded and ironic language of the Gospel writers, continues to resonate: heaven and earth have come together; God is victorious; Jesus is Lord.

To learn more about Father Robert Barron, go to WORD ON FIRE

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Fifth Sunday of Lent A

On April 27th, the Church will celebrate the canonization of two great Popes – Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II. How wonderful it is to have saints, of our time, who we can emulate – who can intercede for us. They are wonderful witnesses– two men who possessed that “Christian Hope”, a hope that allowed them to live difficult lives without fear – for God was with them – and would always be with them.

Good Pope John the XXIII, or Angelo Roncalli, came from a poor peasant family. He suffered with various illnesses in his life, finally succumbing to stomach cancer. Soon before his death, when a friend approached him with concern, the Pope said ““Everything is grace. Pain is God’s grace, so don’t be worried.” He remembered the young Carmelite nun, Thérèse of Lisieux, who during her final moments, reassured her nurse - who had just seen her coughing up blood and was worried - because it was night time and finding a doctor would be difficult. “Sister, she said, do not worry: everything is the grace of God.” A fearless trust in God.

Blessed Pope John Paul II, whose name was Karol Wojtyla, experienced pain and loss at a very young age, losing his whole family by age 21. He suffered through Nazism and Communism. Soon after his election as Pope in 1978, he began to experience health problems. Being shot and almost killed in 1981 he spent several months in the hospital being treated for abdominal wounds and a blood infection. In time he would suffer a dislocated shoulder, a broken thigh bone, arthritis of the knee and an appendectomy – and then the most devastating illness, Parkinson’s disease. Hours before his death, struggling to swallow and breathe, the Holy Father mumbled his final words in Polish: “Let me go to the house of the Father.” A fearless trust in God.

Living our lives without fear – especially the fear of death - this is today’s gospel message. Death does not have the final word.

Jesus receives a message from his friends Martha and Mary that their brother Lazarus is ill. He replies “‘this sickness will end not in death but in God’s glory.” Now Lazarus is a very dear friend of Jesus. So why doesn’t Jesus “jump up” and run to see his friend? Instead, he waits two days. This seems very “out of character” for Jesus – who preached the consequences of not visiting the sick. It seems he is giving Lazarus time to die. When Jesus finally arrives, Lazarus has been in the tomb for four days. Four days was the number of surety that a person was “really” dead.  Quite understandably, Martha is annoyed with Jesus when she says, ‘If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Still, she knows that Jesus is holy – and close to God. She continues “even now, whatever you ask of God, he will grant you.’  Jesus tells her, your brother will rise again. Martha says yes, I know - at the resurrection on the last day.

Jesus then reveals truth to Martha, and to all those around her – and they all must have been astounded. Jesus says “I am the resurrection and the life.” I AM. Yahweh – I AM GOD.  These are dangerous words to say – most especially in Judea. He says “Whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ she said ‘I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world.’ Martha is beginning to get it – that death has no power. Jesus is distraught, asking where they have placed his friend, and then he weeps. God loves us so much, that he enters into our loss and our pain - that He weeps.  God is not aloof from our human condition. He arrives at the tomb – the stone is rolled away. Jesus says “Lazarus, here! Come out!’ And so Lazarus awakens from his sleep. 

Jesus says to us today “Come out!” Come out of the darkness – come out of your fear. Be not afraid. Death has no power. 

In our world today – the darkness of death, the fear of death, the finality of death – it conditions everything – it conditions the way we think, the way we organize our lives, politics, economics. The world tells us that the absence of life is the ultimate evil. Pope Benedict XVI said “Jesus revolutionized the meaning of death. He did so with his teaching, above all by facing death himself. "Dying he destroyed death," Death is no longer the same: It has been deprived, so to speak, of its "venom." If we live in faith, with no fear of death, our lives are radically changed.  How we face the difficulties and tragedies of life – how we react when we are told that a loved one – or even ourselves – is very sick – with a terminal illness. If we truly believe that death does not have the final say, then the nature of our fear is transformed. We will know that there is future glory for those that believe in the Lord.

At our baptism, we received the gift of the Holy Spirit – we become a Temple of the Holy Spirit.  In St. Paul’s letter today, he writes, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, then he who raised Jesus from the dead - will give life to your own mortal bodies through his Spirit living in you.”
John XXIII and John Paul II will be canonized this month – declared saints. Their lives gave witness to Christ – who conquered death for all time.

Good Saint John XXIII, Great Saint John Paul II, pray and intercede for us, that we might be worthy of your having touched our lives.  Thank you - for you have each uniquely given us models of how to follow Christ well.  As they have done so - may we do also.

                                                                                                                        Deacon Brian J. Murphy

* Above painting " The Raising of Lazarus, by Duccio 1310–11

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A Final Communion with "Uncle Louie" by Brother Patrick Hart

Here is Thomas Merton's hermitage chapel. Where quiet early morning Masses were celebrated, mostly hidden from the world - only the Lord and Father Louis (Merton). Now and then, friends and visitors would be welcome. I think of Thomas Merton often. I think of the years spent at Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky - in his peaceful hermitage - where the sounds of wind, rain and thunder were not to be feared, but welcomed - as a friendly voice. 

My blogging friend, Beth, of "Louie, Louie" fame, posted an article in 2008, written by Brother Patrick Hart for the Louisville Courier Examiner. I read it again today - I find it very moving. I would like to share it with all of you now.

From the Louisville Courier Journal Dec. 7, 2008

Remembering Thomas Merton: A final communion with ‘Uncle Louie’
By Patrick Hart

My abrupt departure from Rome in June of 1968 was in response to a summons from the newly elected Abbot of Gethsemani, Father Flavian Burns. He had replaced Abbot James Fox, who had been Abbot of
Gethsemani for 20 years prior to his resignation in late 1967. My work at the Trappist Generalate in Rome was originally an assignment for three years, to be followed by several years at our Monastery of Roscrea in Ireland. But alas: “Man proposes; God disposes…”

When I arrived back at Gethsemani, Abbot Flavian told me that Father Louis, or Thomas Merton, would be doing more traveling in the future and needed a full-time secretary to take care of his enormous correspondence. Abbot Flavian added that he had asked for me, since I was acquainted with handling his manuscripts during my decade of service as Abbot James’ secretary.

After a few days, Merton invited me to his hermitage to fill me in on what my job would entail while he was traveling to the Far East. I recall when I arrived at the hermitage after walking up the hill where his hermitage was perched overlooking the knobs to the East, Merton was walking slowly at the edge of the woods facing his hermitage reading Conversations: Christian and Buddhist by Aelred Graham, the English Benedictine monk who had been headmaster at the Portsmouth Priory School in Rhode Island.

Having welcomed me to the hermitage, I presented him with a gift from Pope Paul VI, with whom I had an audience shortly before leaving Rome for the States. It was an elegant bronze crucifix, which some bishops of the Vatican II era were sporting as a pectoral cross. Merton smiled and thanked me for hand-carrying it through Europe and the Isles before returning to the States. He placed it on a desk in the main room of the hermitage, and excused himself as he retreated to the kitchen of the hermitage where he retrieved two bottles of beer, and one frosted glass. He opened one and poured it into the frosted glass and offered it to me, while he himself used a glass from the kitchen, non-frosted. A small thing, but after 40 years, I still remember it as an indication of the singular hospitality of this American Trappist hermit for another monk on a hot summer afternoon in Kentucky.

He asked me about my time in Rome, especially about what progress I had made in Celtic studies with Father Joseph O’Dea, who was the Master of Students in Rome, and was an expert in Celtic monasticism. He was originally from Roscrea in Ireland, but had been sent to Nunraw Abbey in Scotland to help out there, before being assigned to our Generalate in Rome. It was Father Louis who had originally encouraged me in my studies since he was too busy to continue his own interest in early Irish monasticism, especially its art and poetry. He was now concentrating on Russian and Chinese, as he confessed to me.

With Abbot Flavian Burns’ approval, he looked forward to experiencing first-hand some other monasteries of the order, especially those in the Far East — Hong Kong and Indonesia were scheduled as places where he would be visiting to give conferences to the monks after he fulfilled his obligation to present a paper on “Marxism and Monastic Perspectives” for the meeting of Benedictine and Cistercian superiors to be held at Bangkok on Dec. 10th.

In addition to visiting Cistercian monasteries of the Far East, he was primarily interested in making contacts with the Tibetan Buddhist monks exiled in Dharamsala in northern India. Dom Aelred Graham had introduced Merton to Tibetan monks and scholars, especially persons like Harold Talbott of Harvard, who had been living close to the Dalai Lama, and agreed to be his interpreter and translator for the three hour-long audiences Merton had with the Dalai Lama in November of 1968. In short, Merton was eagerly looking forward to his pilgrimage to the Far East, not only sharing with these monks of the East something of his own Western monasticism, but also learning first-hand the ancient wisdom of the East. As his Asian Journal would make clear, he was blessed with meeting the best examples of monasticism in the Far East.

The day before leaving on his long-awaited trip, Father Louis invited Brother Maurice Flood, Phillip Stark, the young Jesuit scholastic from Woodstock, and myself to the hermitage to help celebrate the Eucharist on Sept. 9. Phil Stark had been helping Merton with the typing and layout of Monks Pond, an avant-garde journal of poetry Merton was editing in 1968. Brother Maurice assisted Merton in maintaining the hermitage, such as supplying wood for the fireplace, and mowing the large lawn. We walked through the woods leading up to the hermitage on Mount Olivet before sunrise, getting our feet wet in the heavy dew along the path. When we arrived at the Hermitage Merton was sitting on the lighted porch of the hermitage reading his Breviary for the day, the Feast of the Jesuit St. Peter Claver. Coincidentally, it turned out to be Phil’s birthday, so it was appropriate to have the Mass in honor of a Jesuit saint.

After filling the cruets with water and wine, Merton began to vest for Mass, as we lighted the candles. The chapel, which was a more recent addition to the hermitage, was just large enough to accommodate a congregation of three. On the wall above the cedar altar hung a group of five or six icons of varying sizes (one originally came from Mount Athos), and on the floor in front of the altar was a hand-woven Navajo rug, a gift from the Benedictine monks of Christ in the Desert Monastery in New Mexico, where he had
visited several months earlier.

We all joined in the Prayers of the Faithful; Phil read the Epistle, and Merton read the beautiful Gospel narrative of the Good Samaritan, after which he surprised us with a brief but deeply moving homily. He compared himself to “the traveler” who had been attacked by robbers on the road to Jericho, and was then left half dead along the way. He went on to describe how each of us in our own way had been Good Samaritans to him, helping him “to get out of the ditch.” He embarrassed us by expressing his appreciation for all we had done for him and concluded by saying he was offering this Mass for our intentions. Before Communion he embraced each of us with the “Kiss of Peace.” We received under both Species, and I remember he addressed us personally, using our first names: “The Body of the Lord, Phil, etc.” It was as beautiful and as meaningful a Mass as I have ever experienced.

After a short thanksgiving, we heard “Uncle Louie” (his nickname which amused him) in the kitchen preparing coffee for our breakfast, so we came in from the porch and got in his way in an effort to help. Places were set on the wooden table in the front room with the fireplace before the large windows overlooking the quiet valley. By now the sun was beginning to rise from behind Rohan’s Knob in the east. There in the joy of the morning, we broke bread with our hermit for the last time.

We then cleared off the table and went out on the porch of the hermitage, where the sun was not very bright. Merton remembered that he had some unused film in his camera, and so he began at once taking pictures of the three of us. We took turns with the camera so that we had photographs taken with him in front of the hermitage and in the surrounding woods. When the last roll of the film was shot we returned to the hermitage and began cleaning things up in preparation for his departure.

Merton gave each of us books and photographs, saying “Here, Phil, a book for you,” one of Victor Hammer’s excellent hand-printed books, Hagia Sophia, and to me a copy of The John Howard Griffin Reader, which I was eager to read. A “hermit button” (medal of honor) was pinned on Brother Maurice’s shirt.

After some last minute instructions about taking care of his correspondence during his absence, he handed me his set of keys to the hermitage and to his post office box, where an enormous stack of mail was delivered daily. We said goodbye, never realizing that this would be our last Mass with him. With loaded arms, we headed down to the monastery.

This was my last sight of the man of God, who was to me a father, a brother and a faithful friend. May the Lord be rich in rewarding him, “good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over…”
Thomas Merton has been dead 40 years, and I am still his secretary and grateful for the opportunity to assist in editing some of his voluminous legacy for future generations of seekers after the one thing necessary.

* * *

Brother Patrick Hart is the editor of Thomas Merton’s journals. He is also
the author of numerous books including The Intimate Merton (with
Jonathan Montaldo). He resides at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist,

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Matthew Pawlikowski, a holy Priest, Army Chaplain, a Blessing

Last Sunday evening, on the television program, EWTN Live, two Franciscan Friars of the Renewal interviewed Father Matthew Pawlikowsli. Father Matthew is an Army military chaplain with the rank of Colonel - and may I say, a holy priest. My parish was blessed to have Father Matthew as a parochial vicar for three years. His guidance and presence in our parish had everything to do with my own vocation as permanent deacon.

I posted the video of the program below. If you can make some time, get yourself a cup of coffee or tea, sit down and enjoy the program. It is inspiring. And no commercials!  God bless.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Annunciation

Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum.
Benedicta tu in mulieribus,
et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus.
Sancta Maria, Mater Dei,
ora pro nobis peccatoribus,
nunc et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen. 

Drawing by Daniel Mitsui