PILGRIMAGE: Saint Martin du Canigou, France—The Empty Grave by Albert Holtz

April 1, 2018

From: Pilgrim Road The gray peaks of the Pyrenees stretch out in a ragged semicircle in front of me; their lower slopes, carpeted in lush, dark green, plunge out of sight into steep chasms.  A hundred feet below my rocky perch, the tan stone buildings of the Abbey of Saint Martin du Canigou cling precariously to a rocky outcropping.  Beside the small church with its squat, square-topped bell tower and gray slate roof, the main two-story monastery basks in the morning sunshine, looking down onto the enclosed cloister garden, with its open colonnade on one side that follows the edge of a steep cliff.  At the far end of the garden is another simple two-story stone building; like a few of the others it has a red tile roof.  In the wall of [...]

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: 14 Jesus Is Laid In The Tomb by Caryll Houselander

March 31, 2018

From The Way of the Cross  Every birth of Christ into this world is in one sense a parting from his mother.  It must be so.  Now he is lifted from her arms by his disciples and made ready for his burial. His burial is like his birth.  When he was born his mother was in a strange city, she was not in Nazareth in the little home that she had prepared for him.  She had with her some swaddling bands to wrap him in; the beautiful little garments she had been weaving for him were left at home.  She did not know, when she and Joseph set out for Bethlehem, that years would pass before they could return, or that the wooden cradle that Joseph had made for him with such love and care, such scrupulous craftsmanship, would never be used by him [...]

SEVEN LAST WORDS OF CHRIST: Seventh Word, Witness—Margaret Mary Alacoque by Charles M. Murphy

March 31, 2018

From Eucharistic Adoration It is finished. (John 19:30) Bernard Haring, the Redemptorist priest who sought to renew moral theology by delivering it from the categories of canon law to the language of the gospel, wrote this regarding the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus inspired by the life and witness of Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque: History shows that devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and a great love of the Eucharist are inseparable.  Jesus, who gave us this memorial of his sacrificial and atoning love, is now present in the Eucharist to bestow on us the wonderful pledge of the love of his heart.  It is especially in the Eucharist that he offers us an exchange of heart, conforming our hearts to his heart. The life of Margaret [...]

PILGRIMAGE: Padua, Italy—Waiting In Hope by Albert Holtz

March 31, 2018

From: Pilgrim Road According to my guide book, the long rough wall a few yards to my left was built by the Romans.  That makes it sort of recent – Padua, the oldest city in northern Italy, was supposedly founded around 1200 BC by a Trojan prince, and Paduans boast of once having won a battle against the Spartans. My walk through Padua this morning is making for a pleasant if jumbled tour of the halls of history: ancient Roman walls rub elbows with renaissance facades, while modern buildings stand alongside a few that date back to the Middle Ages. With the Roman wall already behind me now, my map shows that I have to stroll several more blocks before I get to my next stop, the basilica built in honor of the city’s most famous citizen, [...]

SEVEN LAST WORDS OF CHRIST: Sixth Word, Witness—Mother Teresa of Calcutta by Charles M. Murphy

March 30, 2018

From Eucharistic Adoration I thirst. (John 19:28) Mother Teresa recalled that it was on a train journey to Darjeeling, on September 10, 1946, that she received a second vocation within religious life, “a vocation to give up even Loreto where I was very happy and to go out in the streets to serve the poorest of the poor.”  In 1928 she had left her home in Albania to join the Sisters of Loreto in Ireland who, at her request, assigned her to teach in India.  She felt an overwhelming desire not just to teach the poor in school and then send them home but also to go live among them and experience herself the poverty in which they lived.  September 10 is observed as “Inspiration Day,” the true beginning of the Missionaries of Charity [...]

POETRY: Lead by Mary Oliver

March 30, 2018

Here is a story to break your heart. Are you willing? This winter the loons came to our harbor and died, one by one, of nothing we could see. A friend told me of one on the shore that lifted its head and opened the elegant beak and cried out in the long, sweet savoring of its life which, if you have heard it, you know is a sacred thing, and for which, if you have not heard it, you had better hurry to where they still sing. And, believe me, tell no one just where that is. The next morning this loon, speckled and iridescent and with a plan to fly home to some hidden lake, was dead on the shore. I tell you this to break your heart, by which I mean only that it break open and never close again to the rest of the [...]

PILGRIMAGE: Fatima Parish, Santa Cruz, Bolivia—Waving Your Palm by Albert Holtz

March 30, 2018

From: Pilgrim Road In the open-air market here in Santa Cruz, in the semi-tropical center of Bolivia, I’ve seen the dried llama fetuses that one buries in the foundation of a new house to ward off evil.  In the center of town, I’ve marveled at the old women who sit on the sidewalk patiently waiting all day for someone to buy one or two of the oranges they’ve put on the blanket in front of them.  On my long walks from the rectory I’ve watched shiny new Porsches dodge around burro-powered carts on the highway.  A few days ago, on Palm Sunday, I saw little children sitting at the gate of the churchyard selling palms before Mass.  Nothing surprises me anymore now that I’ve been here for over a week. So I’m not shocked to see a [...]

SEVEN LAST WORDS OF CHRIST: Fifth Word, Witness—Bless John Paul II by Charles M. Murphy

March 29, 2018

From Eucharistic Adoration Woman, this is your son. Son, this is your mother. (John 19:27) As the second millennium of the birth of Christ drew near, Pope John Paul II issued a reflection upon the Mother of the Redeemer.  Citing the Second Vatican Council, he recalls that the church in the course of history “proceeds along the path already trodden by the Virgin Mary who ‘advanced in her pilgrimage of faith and loyally persevered in her union with her son unto the cross.’”  There, he says, “Mary’s motherhood is a gift, a gift which Christ himself makes personally to every individual.” Karol Wojtyla’s life was characterized by devotion to the mother of God who, he believed, saved him when he lost his own mother at the age [...]

POETRY: Singapore by Mary Oliver

March 29, 2018

In Singapore, in the airport, a darkness was ripped from my eyes. In the women’s restroom, one compartment stood open. A woman knelt there, washing something in the white bowl. Disgust argued in my stomach and I felt, in my pocket, for my ticket. A poem should always have birds in it. Kingfishers, say, with their bold eyes and gaudy wings. Rivers are pleasant, and of course trees. A waterfall, or if that’s not possible, a fountain rising and falling. A person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem. When the woman turned I could not answer her face. Her beauty and her embarrassment struggled together, and neither could win. She smiled and I smiled. What kind of nonsense is this? Everybody needs a job. Yes, a person wants to stand in [...]

PILGRIMAGE: El Bosque, Bolivia—Washing Feet by Albert Holtz

March 29, 2018

From: Pilgrim Road Night is falling fast on the outskirts of Santa Cruz, Bolivia.  Our taxi turns off the busy main road and starts to bounce past patches of semitropical woods where cinder block shacks huddle together in groups as if looking for moral support.  In the front seat, next to the driver, sits Gertulio, a Brazilian catechist.  I’m in the back with a seminarian named Carlos who has volunteered to come out here and help me celebrate the Holy Thursday Mass.  I’ve never been the chief celebrant on Holy Thursday – but at least I have said Mass in Spanish three times before. We jolt to a stop at the edge of a wide, dark field.  Mass kit in hand, I climb out of the cab and tramp through the high grass, the taxi’s [...]

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: 13 Jesus Is Taken Down From The Cross by Caryll Houselander

March 28, 2018

From The Way of the Cross  While the soldiers divided Christ’s garments among them and cast lots for his seamless cloak, Mary, his mother, she who had woven that beautiful cloak “from the top throughout,” came with other holy women and stood at the foot of the cross.  “So it was, then, that the soldiers occupied themselves; and meanwhile his mother’s sister, Mary, the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalen, had taken their stand beside the cross of Jesus,” (John 19:24-25). She had followed him through the narrow streets of Jerusalem as one of the crowd.  He did not speak to her in the crowd as he did to the women who wept over him; neither did he then give her a visible sign of his love as he did to Saint Veronica when he [...]

SEVEN LAST WORDS OF CHRIST: Fourth Word, Witness—Blessed John XXIII by Charles M. Murphy

March 28, 2018

From Eucharistic Adoration Father, into your hands I commend my spirit. (Luke 23:46) Behind the genial smile and peasant simplicity of Angelo Roncalli, Pope John XXIII, was a closely guarded secret, his soul and the constant soul work in which he was so seriously engaged all his life.  From 1895, when he was fourteen, until 1962, a few months before his death at eighty-one – a span of almost seventy years – he kept a daily journal to which he later gave the title Il Giornale dell’ Anima (The Journal of a Soul).  In it he was constantly talking with God and placing himself at God’s disposal. His life was a public one and far removed from the contemplative sphere: secretary to his bishop in Bergamo, spiritual director at the local [...]

PILGRIMAGE: Perpignan, France—Dancing With God by Albert Holtz

March 28, 2018

From: Pilgrim Road The evening is perfect for a stroll around the old quarter of Perpignan, the central city of Catalonia in France.  Catalonia, which spans the eastern end of the Pyrenees from Perpignan south to Barcelona in Spain, has a strong ethnic identity based on its rich cultural heritage, proud history, and common language, Catalan. I can see, about a block ahead, café tables crowded together into a semicircle under their bright blue umbrellas.  They form the curved side of a large, open plaza.  Along its straight side runs the high wall of a grumpy old fortress called the Castillet.  Against this ancient stone building, a temporary platform has been set up with two rows of chairs on it. As I arrive in the plaza I pass a [...]

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: 12 Jesus Dies On The Cross by Caryll Houselander

March 27, 2018

From The Way of the Cross  At last the road to Calvary is trodden, and now it lies behind Jesus, who has gone up the mountainside for the last time, and been stripped of his garments and lifted up on the cross.  Now from the cross, before his eyes are darkened, he can look back down that road which is indeed an image of the road through life of all those who will come after him. On that road he has known those things which every Christian, everyone who follows him, must know too on the journey between birth and death.  He has known pain, exhaustion, apparent failure, shame.  But it has not only been tragedy.  He has known, too, the blessed dependence of a man upon other men; he has been helped by them and accepted their help; he has [...]

SEVEN LAST WORDS OF CHRIST: Third Word, Witness—Dorothy Day by Charles M. Murphy

March 27, 2018

From Eucharistic Adoration Today you will be with me in paradise. (Luke 23:43) Dorothy Day, with the French exile Peter Maurin, founded the Catholic Worker movement with its houses of hospitality for feeding and sheltering the poor and homeless.  They also began a monthly newspaper, The Catholic Worker, to communicate the church’s social teachings.  The Catholic Worker, true to its mission, still sells for a penny a copy.  Day and Maurin preached and practiced a “radical” Christianity of social justice, charity, and pacifism – radical in the sense of going to the roots of our beliefs and living out the consequences.  Voluntary poverty and direct, one-on-one love of the poor are expected of all members.  Dorothy always credited [...]

PILGRIMAGE: Santa Cruz, Bolivia—Feeling Christ Suffer by Albert Holtz

March 27, 2018

From: Pilgrim Road She is barefoot, wearing the common dress of Bolivian Indian women, with underskirts that puff out to make her look unnaturally heavy in the hips.  Her jet black braids disappear over her shoulders and down her back.  The young mother is just greeting us when her husband comes trotting up from somewhere across the dusty lot to join the group.  Their house, really just a shed, is one of several strewn about among the low tropical shrubs and scrawny trees.  It’s a slab of concrete with wooden walls and a corrugated metal roof.  The couple lead Father Jim, Sister Ana, and me solemnly into their tiny home. The single room has windows only in the front wall next to the door, so that even on this mild autumn day in May, [...]

SEVEN LAST WORDS OF CHRIST: Second Word, Witness—St. Teresa Blessed by the Cross (Edith Stein) by Charles M. Murphy

March 27, 2018

From Eucharistic Adoration Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. (Luke 23:32-34) Hannah Arendt and Edith Stein were philosophy students in Germany before World War I.  Arendt studied with Martin Heidegger, Stein with Edmund Husserl.  Though Jewish, both women were strongly attracted to Christianity.  Arendt wrote her doctoral dissertation on Saint Augustine’s concept of love, and Stein wrote hers on the idea of empathy.  Arendt eventually made her way to the United States and had a distinguished academic career.  Her five-part article, “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil,” written for the New Yorker magazine in 1963, caused great controversy. After some years as a Roman Catholic, Stein was [...]

PILGRIMAGE: Salamanca, Spain—Being Transformed by Albert Holtz

March 26, 2018

From: Pilgrim Road Salamanca, in northwest central Spain, has been staring down at the River Tormes since the time of the Caesars.  Walking on the narrow railroad bridge high over the river, I keep glancing across at the two beautiful cathedrals that stand out against the gray February sky.  The winter wind numbs my fingertips as I flip through my stack of homemade vocabulary cards on the way to Spanish class. From here I can also see a couple of majestic convents lower down on the hillside.  Both of these, like all of the towns’ palaces, churches, and university buildings, are made from the same local sandstone; Salamanca looks as if it’s been hewn from a single huge honey-brown block. At the end of the bridge I turn to my left, [...]

PILGRIMAGE: Holy Week by Albert Holtz

March 25, 2018

From: Pilgrim Road Arriving in Jerusalem The escape through the Red Sea, the covenant at Sinai, and the forty years of desert wandering transformed a ragged band of sheepherders into a holy nation, the People of God.  The experience changed them forever. Our meditations for this final week stress that our Lenten journey is not just a forty-day exercise after which we return to our old ways.  It is meant to change us permanently.  The meditations for Monday and Wednesday, “Salamanca” and “Perpignan” both reflect the theme of transformation in Christ, while “Santa Cruz” shows how certain experiences have the power to change our hearts.  “El Bosque” helps us learn from an eloquent ritual used in the Holy Thursday liturgy, [...]

SEVEN LAST WORDS OF CHRIST: First Word, Witness—Simone Weil by Charles M. Murphy

March 25, 2018

From Eucharistic Adoration My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46) The cry of desolation and abandonment of Jesus from the cross surely is one of the saddest verses in all of scripture.  Another, and comparable to it, is a passage from the Book of Genesis, a book that begins with God’s celebration of all his works as “good” and of creation of the first human as “very good.”  But later, surveying the extent of human wickedness, God “regretted having made human beings on Earth and was grieved at heart,” (Genesis 6:6).  It was then that God decided to “rid the surface of the Earth of human beings whom I have created,” and everything else. (Genesis 6:7). Simone Weil, the brilliant French philosopher and [...]

POETRY: The Poet Thinks Of The Donkey by Mary Oliver

March 25, 2018

On the outskirts of Jerusalem the donkey waited. Not especially brave, or filled with understanding, he stood and waited. How horses, turned out into the meadow, leap with delight! How doves, released from their cages, clatter away, splashed with sunlight. But the donkey, tied to a tree as usual, waited. Then he let himself be led away. Then he let the stranger mount. Never had he seen such crowds! And I wonder if he at all imagined what was to happen. Still, he was what he had always been: small, dark, obedient. I hope, finally, he felt brave. I hope, finally, he loved the man who rode so lightly upon him, as he lifted one dusty hoof and stepped, as he had to, [...]

PILGRIMAGE: Saint Gervais, Paris—Expecting Help by Albert Holtz

March 24, 2018

From: Pilgrim Road The Church of Saints Gervais et Protais stands in the Marais, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Paris.  The first church that stood on this spot was a favorite of Saint Germain, Bishop of Paris about the year 550.  King Louis XIII laid the foundation stone for the present building in 1616.  This is the first time I’ve been inside, so, without being too obvious, I steal a peek at the great gothic church while waiting for Midday Prayer to begin.  My eyes trace the lines of the great gray pillars that shoot out of the stone floor and zoom straight skyward into the shadows, where they curve gently until they join one another in a riot of points and arches far overhead. Kneeling on the floor of the large chapel located [...]

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: 11 Jesus Is Nailed To The Cross by Caryll Houselander

March 23, 2018

From The Way of the Cross  There was an hour of terrible darkness at the beginning of his Passion, when Christ was overwhelmed by the anticipation of the suffering he was to go through, when the vision of the evil for which he was to bear the shame overwhelmed him, and the utter loneliness in which he must face and accept the anguish of spirit that seemed to be beyond human endurance crushed him to the ground.  Those whom he loved, for whom he was going to accept this dreadful suffering and death, could not stay awake to share his anguish with him, to give him even the support of their sympathy. Three times on the way to Calvary his body failed  him.  Even that tremendous will of love which enabled him to accept the Passion after his [...]

PILGRIMAGE: Amsterdam, Holland—Hoping No Matter What by Albert Holtz

March 23, 2018

From: Pilgrim Road A young mother plods across the snow-covered bridge, tugging a tiny sled made entirely of wood.  On it sits a rosy-cheeked child in a blue snowsuit, holding on with both mittens.  I pick my way carefully along the narrow icy sidewalk that runs beside Amsterdam’s Prinsegracht canal.  The white cover of snow glistens in the January sun, a startling contrast to the jet black water. In the seventeenth century, when Holland was one of the great commercial powers of the world, Amsterdam’s merchants built the canals that give the city her unique character.  On the narrow streets alongside each canal they built endless rows of stately brick houses that peer down into the water this afternoon. In this particular [...]

LENT: Learning To Love The Future by Aaron Damiani

March 22, 2018

From The Good of Giving Up Maybe your Easter service is held at sunrise at the beach, where new Christians shout their testimonies from the water before being submerged in the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Or perhaps you brew several pots of coffee and squeeze in every last folding chair in the living room that hosts your house church.  It could be that you gather at midnight in a cathedral to welcome Easter with incense, choirs, and bells.  Or you might wear your best hats and hang your best banners and sing your best songs in an old beloved church that your grandfather helped build.  Or maybe your church plant livens up an urban school with vibrant liturgy and an engaging talk that connects with your skeptical [...]

PILGRIMAGE: Chambord, France—Gaining Perspective by Albert Holtz

March 22, 2018

From: Pilgrim Road My friend Jean and I are standing on the vast lawn that lies in front of the gigantic chateau of Chambord.  The fertile farmland of the Loire Valley, an hour’s ride south of Paris, was always considered worth fighting over.  During the Middle Ages, fortified castles – châteaux – spring up all along the valley as various nobles tried to defend their domains.  With the coming of gunpowder and cannons and the end of feudal warfare, these forts lost their military value and were converted into fashionable residences.  Elegant windows were cut into their walls and lovely flower gardens laid out in their moats.  The chateaux built later were never fortresses at all, but were designed from the start as splendid [...]

POETRY: Mindful by Mary Oliver

March 21, 2018

Everyday I see or hear something that more or less kills me with delight, that leaves me like a needle in the haystack of light. It was what I was born for— to look, to listen, to lose myself inside this soft world— to instruct myself over and over in joy, and acclamation. Nor am I talking about the exceptional, the fearful, the dreadful, the very extravagant— but of the ordinary, the common, the very drab, the daily presentations. Oh, good scholar, I say to myself, how can you help but grow wise with such teachings as these— the untrimmable light of the world, the ocean’s shine, the prayers that are made out of [...]

PILGRIMAGE: Ligugé, France—Passing Through Fire by Albert Holtz

March 21, 2018

From: Pilgrim Road I’m speeding across the fertile farmland of France’s Poitou region on the train from Paris to Bordeaux.  We’re about five minutes south of Poitiers when I look out the window to my left.  The narrow, tree-lined canal that lies lazily alongside the tracks was built by the Romans when this was the province of Gallia.  I look out the other side of the train just in time to glimpse a collection of stone buildings huddling around a church tower.  This is the Benedictine Abbey of Ligugé, said to be the oldest monastery in the Western Christian world.  Its story takes me on a trip back in time. About the year AD 361, a strange young man in his late twenties took up residence in the ruins of an ancient Gallo-Roman [...]

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: 10 Jesus Is Stripped Of His Garments by Caryll Houselander

March 20, 2018

From The Way of the Cross  Once more Jesus has been helped to his feet, in order that he may suffer to the end.  Once more the cross has been put upon his shoulders and he struggles on, still dragging it up to the summit of Calvary. All around him, filling his ears, filling his mind, half deafening him, the cries of the crowd break over him like the waves of a sea in storm, a sea in which it would seem impossible not to be drowned.  They are cries of derision, of hatred, of disappointment, of despair, despair with a note of accusation against him; cries of contempt; cries which could, and would, drown the soul of any man who loved less than he loves, who knew less of human nature than he knows. These people, who are disillusioned, [...]

PILGRIMAGE: Loch Ness, Scotland—Finding Hope by Albert Holtz

March 20, 2018

From: Pilgrim Road This morning, a cold rain crackled for hours against the dark windowpane of the guest room in the monastery of Fort Augustus.  This afternoon, then, I’m glad for the invitation to climb the stairs of the abbey’s bell tower with a brother who has to change the measurement card in the sunlight recorder.  (The Royal Weather Service once reported that this village has fewer hours of sunshine per year than any town in the United Kingdom.)  We’re on the narrow stone steps that wind steeply upward inside the square tower.  I clutch the hem of my black Benedictine habit in one hand to keep from tripping on it, and I start remembering what I’ve read about the geology of these Scottish Highlands. Between three and four [...]