Sunday, December 28, 2014

Holy Family

Today is the Feast of the Holy Family.

Family is one of the messiest things I have ever encountered...EVER.
 That is why I shutter when I hear someone describe their church as "family" Because, often times what they mean is 180 degrees opposite of what the reality is.  They simply mean Norman Rockwell, perfect gathering photo op....
That's not what I am talking about...

Family is the only reality I have of interaction with others.  It is the very foundation of where I spring forth to enter into every and any relationship.  Even my relationship with God. Family is so ingrained in the fabric of our soul that even when one is born without a family then something/or some institution/ or someother 'become' his family.

Family is, well...Family.

And it is messy.
Every broken piece of humanity is found in family.
Every vice.
Every virtue.

And we have to keep on living in it...even if we choose not to---there really is no choice because even when a person chooses to absent and vacate---well it is still FROM the FAMILY.  They are defined by their absence from a relationship with their 'family'.

And back to the Holy Family.  Think about it for a moment....I'm choosing to forego the family tree of murders and adulterers (of which David got both titles in one fell swoop), liars, cheats, and swindlers....let's just talk about Mary, Joseph, and Jesus--the Holy Family.
Mary was young, unwed but already chosen by God as an Immaculate Vessel.
Joseph betrothed (and we have no real idea how all that went down), had dreams and now his bride to be was pregnant with God's Son.
Still they married.
And now on the road---pregnant and giving birth in a cave among animals and feed and dare I say fecal matter?  The very birth is poverty exponentially exploded.
Young couple--no bridal or baby showers.

Soon after--the Presentation, the prophecies of Simeon and Anna with swords piercing Mary's heart and Joseph... Now on the run because of Herod's pride and ego and murderous ways...They had a murder squad stalking them! (Did I mention they didn't have a bridal or baby shower?)

So they flee....young mom, faithful celibate husband, and infant God.

Really?  We get bent out of shape over what in our family?  Yes there are awful things, members cease talking, anger, hurt, pain, threats, misunderstandings, seem to at times outweigh any good memories or the hope of a future many times for many families. Members move away and forget and maybe they need to forget...that isn't the point...

The point is about Jesus and Mary and Joseph.
Who the shepherds found together
Who the kings found together
Who were at Joseph's death together
Who were at the Cross of Jesus together

We never here of the Holy Family having a birthday party, or a night on the town, or a family vacation, or the giggles and smiles and happy times that society tries to sell us---
No, we hear always of the Holy Family together cooperating with God's Will  They were found together in the midst of difficult and trying times.

So what makes a family holy?

Can We Still Be Inspired?

recent essay of mine published on


Monday, December 22, 2014


Pope Francis attacks 'diseases' of Vatican in Curia address

Your video will begin momentarily.
(CNN) -- Pope Francis has unleashed a blistering critique of the Vatican bureaucracy -- or Curia -- criticizing its "illnesses" ranging from the "disease of feeling immortal" to vainglory and excessive planning.
In his annual Christmas address to the Curia at the Vatican Monday, the Pontiff warned that "a church that doesn't try to improve is like a sick body."
Francis said suggested that it would be helpful to the Vatican bureaucrats to have a catalog of their illnesses beginning with "this disease of feeling immortal or indispensable."
The "pathology of power," he said, could lead to people believing "they are superior to others and not here for the service to others."
Dear brothers let us be aware and guard against the terrorism of gossip.
Pope Francis
Francis warned against the disease of loss of compassion, which he said afflicted "those who have a heart of stone."
"Those who lose their inner serenity, their vivacity and audacity, to hide behind their papers, becoming like procedural machines rather than men of God. This is dangerous to lose human sensitivity, so necessary in order to cry with those who cry and enjoy with those who enjoy," the Pope said.
Pope Francis referred to the diseases of "excessive planning and functionalism" and of "bad coordination," which he said could occur when members did not collaborate with each other. There was also the risk of succumbing to spiritual Alzheimer's disease and "forgetting the story of salvation," he said, warning that sufferers "lost memory of their encounter with God."
The Pope described the diseases of rivalry and vainglory, and rebuked those who try to court their superiors "inspired by their own egotism."
The disease of gossip, Francis said, he had addressed before -- but insufficiently.
"This is a serious disease that begins simply when people chatter, and it takes over the person, turning the person as a Satan, and in so many cases people are speaking ill about their own colleagues and brothers and sisters. These people haven't got the courage to speak directly, and they speak about others behind their backs," he said. "Dear brothers, let us be aware and guard against the terrorism of gossip."
Pope Francis also appeared to speak to the child abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church, referring to it as the "disease of a closeness."
"This disease also begins from good intentions, but with the passing of time enslaves its members, becoming a cancer which threatens the harmony of the body and causes a lot of evil and scandal, especially towards our small brothers and sisters," Francis said.
Finally, Francis warned against the disease of the mundane -- "of the exhibitionism when the apostle transforms his service in power."
"This is a disease of people who seek tirelessly to multiply power only aimed at calumny, and to defame and discredit others," he said.
Pope Francis concluded: "Dear brothers, such diseases and such temptations are a naturally a danger for each Christian and for each Curia. For each community, for any ecclesiastical movement. They can damage both individually and the community. We have to say that only the Holy Spirit and the soul of Christ, only he can protect us from the disease.
"We have to cure ourselves of these. Let us try to grow together and close to Christ."
In an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour that aired earlier this month, veteran Vatican watcher Marco Politi said Pope Francis had been encountering growing opposition within his own church.
This was mainly due to Francis' efforts at reform since becoming Pope in March 2013, Politi said.

"Within the Church, there is a tough group of conservative bishops and priests and cardinals, and also very traditionalist bishops and cardinals who are practically against the Pope, who are working against the Pope," he said. "They don't like what he wanted to do with the synod about family, to give new possibilities to remarried and divorced people to get the communion, or to have a new look on the homosexual union."

Friday, December 19, 2014

Old Music New Inspiration

The other day I was making my way through the bookstore at the Cleveland Institute of Music- just killing some time.  Wow!
If you've never had the chance and you are a music score junky--I highly recommend it.  Who would have thought that so much history, culture, creativity, and paper could be found in a 15 by 15 room? Stacked to the ceiling notations, operas, etudes, papers, books, and scores.
Such environments inspire me right now to forego any internet shopping and make every purchase part of a bigger pilgrimage.

But I also felt guilty.
There I was enjoying a 'find' in the midst of so much pain, sorrow, war, famine, violence, and hunger, chaos, confusion, and evil--not only in Cleveland but of course the world.

So what follows is a little snapshot of what went on in my brain during those thirty odd minutes and following...

What really caught my eye were the two boxes of yellowed scores on the table in the hallway before I even went inside.

"Are the contents in the boxes on the table free?" I asked the lady seated in the corner behind stacks of little notebooks, pencils, lanyards and musical scores.

"Yes, help yourself."

I soon completed my purchase which, by the way will secure my top spot as a top notch frustrated home-schooled student of the cello--  D Alexanian's 1922 Complete Cello Technique, The Classic Treatise on Cello Theory and Practice.

At the table I found well worn and yellowed pages from Etude Magazine and scooped them as well as some other papers up. As I leafed through my treasures at home,  I found myself wishing that such a periodical was still available--written, printed, and hardcopied.
The magazine published musical scores and I happened to pick up the one that contained Georges Bizet's,  Gypsy Song from Carmen.  Even my son said it was a find and this was a big deal because I have been know to arrive home with a plethora of weird treasures on occasion (in fact this week almost had me bringing home a squirrel tail from a nearby roadkill (photo not shared) to be used for tying flies--until my wife reminded me I already had one in the garage).  Among Carmen and Bizet another find was an article on "Building the Successful Choral Society" from 1945.  Having some old church organist blood in me (I confess I belonged at one time to the American Guild of Organists!).
I started to bemoan the current liturgical music situation that has overtaken and infected the liturgies for the past 50 years--and it has something to do not only with a loss of class and culture but probably more so--a loss of the decent salaries for good church musicians.

In addition to the tattered copy of Etude, I ended up coming across a full copy of Were You There? by H.T. Burleigh. 15cents!!  printed in 1924 and my connection is too strong not share.  There was one church in particular that did not lose its sense of liturgical music history and culture and that was the Episcopal Cathedral of St. Paul, of which yours truly was once the assisting clergy (which is a story in itself)  I loved the music and the richness of the liturgy and the Book of Common Prayer.  So too did Harry Burleigh--for he sang in the choir at that very church.

So what is the point?
The dates...
1922, 1924, 1945, 1938--a long time ago
Before homes had typewriters let alone the internet.
Before cell phones and flat screens and even television.
Even before 8 track players.
60 years post Civil War and just prior and during WWII.
You get the drift...

We need to use our God-given gifts to inspire not confuse.  There were some rough, dismal, depressing, violent, and hopeless times in that span of history.  Yet here we are.  And there I was rummaging through a box of music that weathered those times--authors and composers long dead--but nonetheless authors who participated in the creative process and work of 'beauty' and ergo--God.

We need to stop adding to the confusion and fight the 'battles' using our gifts and thus---proclaim the presence of God--not chaos.  Creativity is not about self promotion it is about selfless cooperation with beauty and creation.

I made the mistake years ago, at times, of focusing on my memoir as an opportunity to earn some money.  I set myself up and still am reminded of my ill-fated approach.
I would often have to be reminded that I wasn't writing for myself or my family.  No there was a bigger purpose--bigger than me.   As one author shared "It doesn't matter if it isn't published Michael, the Virgin Mary commission this work from you and you completed it."  Well that was nice and it was a compliment but still it was a big piece of humble pie to chew on.  Eventually i had no choice but to eat.

And know what?  Just the other day an ex priest from a foreign country found me and wanted to chat.  No 'consulting fee' or speaker's offering'  just a quick heart to heart among perfect strangers somehow ontologically connected.

Today--anybody can publish and make a movie and youtube all you need is a connection.  Anybody can produce or expel anything and think it worthy of consumption by not only society but the world wide web. I know because I have.  Hit the 'send' or 'publish' or 'purchase' button and you are an instant author, artist, producer and consumer. We seem to have lost any governing standards in such an approach.

It's easier today to live in the dark and confuse it with living in the light.
It's easier today to simply fall into a pragmatic and relativistic approach to life.
It's easier to be masters of our own.
It's easier to substitute other gods
It's easier to, in the end--forget God.

During those years listed on the copyrights of my finds--inspiration kept occurring.  Old music is a reminder that our God is timeless.  People kept connecting with their gifts.  Even in the midst of the horrific tragedies and wars which beset that time--music and liturgy and prayer and praise were central.  It was a norm that allowed and motivated and inspired people to work a little harder at creativity and gather and celebrate it.

Today, horrific stuff keeps happening but the challenge is for man's creative response to rise to the occasion.  Because it is that which becomes the channel for grace and healing and forgiveness and understanding and patience and dare I write--Real Love and Real Sacrifice and Real Peace?  If we but simply cooperate with the creative power of the God of the Universe and produce gifts that reflect an invitation to live in the light and not the darkness and confusion and chaos.  Oh, and our model?  His Son.

We are not in total failure here and I am not yearning for another time--
I'm merely asking the question, "Can we still live as inspired people?"
Yes.  In the dark of winter may we become one with the Light of Christ.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Lost Shepherd, Michael Ripple: Open Letter

A Lost Shepherd, Michael Ripple: Open Letter: Recent reflection shared by Catholic 356 from MR While it is to a rather specific holds true to anybody in the midst of life...

The Medjugorje Message: Medjugorje dossier “on the Pope’s desk”

The Medjugorje Message: Medjugorje dossier “on the Pope’s desk”: Eleven months have passed since Fr Federico Lombardi, Director of the Holy See press office, announced on January 18, 2014 that the work of ...

Friday, December 5, 2014

A Pub, A Concert, A Stranger, An Advent

What started as a typical evening turned adventish.

I was riding with my son to a local pub.  There we were to meet my lovely wife and her friend.
It was cold, damp, and a bit dreary...early winter evening along the Great get the drift.


I succumbed to a draft of Guinness and suddenly felt obliged to keep my tweed jacket on.

Nothing too earth shattering...just good conversation and fare.

Following we drove to where my son was giving a concert.  Having dropped him off, my wife and her friend waited inside as I parked and then walked into the building.

Upon my entrance a young gentleman approached me.
I was readying myself for the question of a couple bucks....
It never came.

"What do you do?"
Now, had he known what existential angst such a question causes me--let alone from a complete stranger...

"Well, we are going to a concert in the auditorium." I said motioning to where it was and starting to move in that direction.
"No, I mean what do you DO?"
"Well..." I stammered.  I wasn't real comfortable and I just wanted to go to the concert.
He persisted, "Are you a minister?"
I stared in disbelief.
I always do when taken by surprise.  You would think I'd be onto it by now--having been knocked of my high horse countless times and in countless ways...

My wife decided I stammered enough.
"He was a  Roman Catholic priest and he was an Episcopal priest after he left."

At that point I wondered what my wife's friend was thinking as she stood and observed this encounter.  She must be thinking "They're nuts."

The man continued, "Do you mind if I read something to you?"  He grabbed his phone and began.  After the first couple sentences I knew it was about him.
...his past, his life, his questions, his faith, his search for truth and answers and....purpose.

He was feeling called to live a purposeful life.  His advent had been unfolding for years--through the many violences that life can hold. We shared about our common blood of Judaism and covenant and 'being called.'
He shared his story...out of nowhere and on this particular winter Advent Eve.

We chatted and then agreed to chat more again, sometime in the next few days.
Before he left--my wife asked him,  "What made you think he was a minister?" Then laughed and added,  "...was it his aura or oder of sanctity?"
"I don't know, its just what I felt when I saw him, and the way he looked."

Funny, I actually thought about shaving just the day before---but didn't because, well, I don't know.

Advent and the adventure unfolds in the dark of the cold evening--the Kingdom breaking in.