Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Words, Words, Words...

We all talk a lot.
We all speak what we think,
We all think a lot.
But the most important is what we believe.
Jesus proclaimed the “good news” from God,
          “Metanoiete! (Change the way you think),
          For the Kingdom of God is within you.
         Believe this “good news”! [Mk. 1:15-16]

Thomas Aquinas fell silent and stopped writing
          And told his assistant,
       “All that I have written seems as so much straw.”
          [The Silence of Saint Thomas, Josef Peiper p.39]

Why don’t we try silent belief that the Kingdom of
God is really and truly within each and every one of us and teach this to the world.

                                                          Charlie Mc    1/ 1 / 15

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Our Beloved "Boozy"

                           "Boozy” and 'Brah'm

The following is an article about "Boozy" [Louise Reimann], "der Nurse", of the Above Rocks mission at Saint Mary’s college in Jamaica. Her cause for beatification should include testimony from us all; but she's not ready for that yet as she's turning 90 this week.

Over the course of my first year in Jamaica, 1960 , I came to know our Swiss nurse, Louise Reimann. She was in her fifties and had dedicated her life to helping the poor people of Jamaica in whatever way she could. I never met Mother Theresa of Calcutta, but Louise is at least as dedicated.  Louise would go out into the bush and find people who needed medical attention. She would do for them what she could, and if that was not enough, she would see to their transport to the best hospitals and make sure that there was no cost to the poor for these services. Her services to the lay missionaries were more than purely medical. She offered romantic counselling, and fought the onset of illnesses with her Swiss "Groque" remedy and a prescription for sleep. I wish to enclose a newspaper article about Louise, "Boozy" as we christened her, written thirty five years later (1995), in the Jamaican Herald newspaper.
Working with the people of Above Rocks
       Louise Reiman speaks of her joys
                     BY GILLIAN SCOTT

"These are her people now. These humble, hardworking residents of simple means in Above Rocks, up in the cool St. Catherine hills-ever since she stepped off a plane at the Norman Manley International Airport on a two-year mission and ended up staying 42 years.
"People ask her all the time, she chuckles, which one she likes better, Switzerland- the country she left for good, or Jamaica- her adopted country. The answer is pretty easy, she tells them:"Jamaica is my homeland. Switzerland is my fatherland." Years later she sums it up in these neat words:"I've been here 42 years. It feels like one."

The woman we drove miles through hair-raising grades and sharp hairpin twists to see, is Louise Reiman, an 80 year-old Swiss nurse with a bag of poignant, sometimes zany memories, and a fierce love for the Above Rocks health centre she founded some five years ago. She came to Jamaica in 1959; to Above Rocks one year later. From her verandah, where the soft breeze flutters like little carefree ghosts, she can survey the Above Rocks hills, her people going about their business and the health clinic below where her life in this adopted country truly began. Along one of the steep paths that score the St. Mary Mission grounds, the SUNDAY HERALD first saw her negotiating a steep path with strong nippy steps, her head covered with short-cut white waves, eyes watching her step. I call to her. She stops, smiles softly, and says with a lilting French/German accent, "Hello".

We sit down, at right angles from each other, and when she spies the camera, says without guile:"You want to take pictures?  I have to comb my hair." Almost on cue, she starts talking about the clinic, charmingly unaware that we could be interested in her life story. She speaks glowingly of its Swiss and American benefactors. Now, she says gently, the clinic needs Jamaicans to donate cash and kind too so that the clinic can survive. "The Swiss have done so much" she says, "Now I want to see Jamaicans respond". With expenses of running the clinic at an estimated  $210,000 per year, and inflation and devaluation eating up our overseas donations, a Jamaican hand could come in...well...handy.
Doctors charge dirt cheap fees of $40 per patient(1960), and the center charges 1/3 the prices on medication in Kingston. The center, situated at the front of the St. Mary Mission grounds, is a lifesaver for thousands in Above Rocks and its outlying districts. It is equipped with a mobile clinic that makes visits to hinterland villages, does inoculations, pregnancy tests, care of mothers and children and all sorts of medical and dental care.

                             A dream come true

This was the dream Louise Reiman had for the lush, quiet community high above the hot city when she came to it in 1960. Her life in Jamaica had started a year earlier when she landed here from the United States to work in Kingston.
"The minute I arrived I knew immediately where I was going to stay. There was no doubt about second thoughts," she said. Her life outside of Switzerland started earlier than 1959- as early as 1950, when she travelled on the French ship,"Liberte" to New York then took a five-day Greyhound bus ride to San Diego in the huge state of California, United States. Louise Reiman, then a 38 year old nurse with no family to hold her back and few if any commitments went to the proverbial gold-lined streets of the States to make her fortune(in a manner of speaking). "I really must say, from the minute I left Switzerland, Providence led me. I was led by Providence. From the first day.

She arrived in San Diego, not knowing a word of English. If she wanted food, she used her fingers to communicate. She was offered a job with a group of Doctors and stayed with them for nine years. In the first five years she saved frugally and built up a nice nest egg. "I wanted to save for my old age. I wanted to be independent," she said. After she built up enough cash reserves Louise really started to live. "I bought everything I wanted to buy...Took vacations to Mexico, Seattle, California, naturally Arizona. Any Saturday afternoon I had my suitcase ready to go." But after four years of the same thing, she says in her own words, "I had enough. I thought life must have another purpose." So Louise took pen to paper and wrote doctors on various missions. A priest from Jamaica wrote her saying, "I have a well equipped clinic, come immediately".

"When I went there, there was not even an aspirin" she grins. "I started with one of our medic ladies and she showed me around.  The 'clinic' in Above Rocks turned out to be a two-room place. There Louise served with some "happy-go-lucky" bunch of volunteers. "We had the most wonderful group you could ever imagine. I don't think you could find in 100 years a group that harmonized the way we did."

Every five years or so she returned to Switzerland, and while there begged funds for the mobile clinic. With the mobile clinic in hand, "we grew and grew" and from there built the Above Rocks health center on the grounds of the St. Mary Church mission. Up to two years ago, she said, she was the only nurse catering to the needs of the thousands. In 1991 another nurse joined the ranks for the first time, alleviating much of the pressure.
                                  Never call her old

Miss Reiman says of nursing:  "I love the contact with the be able to help them. I wouldn't do anything else if I could be young again". Correction. Younger. "I can't imagine I am old, you know?" hazel eyes twinkling.  She used to hitch hike without fear up until a couple of months ago and does practically everything for herself. The other day she walked into a clinic and the woman announced to the Doctor, "An old lady is here to see you".  "What did you say?" Louise asked her.  Now in her twilight years she wants to see the clinic develop to the potential she knows it's capable of achieving. She would love to have an ECG machine one day and a day care center so the mothers can leave their children in safe hands while they go out to work. Having retired from the health center a couple of days ago, she says she will turn her full attention to social work among the people she loves and admires so much. "They teach gratitude. When they have nothing, Jamaicans always say it could be worse...They thank the Lord for everything...Our people are so happy with so little."

At first she wanted to leave everything she had to people like them- the poor who barely squeezed  an existence from their income. Now she says, she has changed her mind and her Will so that all that she has will be left to the health centre. For Louise Reiman, it is the best expression of her love- to keep health care at a minimal cost for thousands instead of giving it to a few.  "I don't think the Lord will take me before the project is finished," and she adds, "That is what I live for".  Nevertheless, Louise Reimann has written on a piece of paper instructions for key persons to follow when she dies; where to bury her; who shall carry her coffin; who shall preach the sermon; which relatives to notify. Everything is there, in black and white. But make no mistake, she isn't making plans for God's kingdom quite yet.  Leaning forward in her chair she says charmingly with that lilting accent, "Right now, lady, I don't feel like dying."
                                 [End of Newspaper Article]
One day she told me about an elderly couple she had discovered in a wattle and daub hut in the bush. She asked Chuck Duncan and me to accompany her to their hut. When we arrived, we saw the old man(75) in the bamboo lean-to kitchen behind the house, stirring heated water in a large iron pot. When “Boozy”, our loving nickname for “der nurse”,  asked Bram(Abraham Edwards) what he was cooking, he showed us the rind of a hand of bananas (without the bananas).  He was making a tea for his wife as they were out of food. When we went into the hut, we discovered Mrs.Edwards lying on a wooden platform as a bed, and covered with layers of newspapers for blankets. Louise subsequently discovered that Bram’s wife had suffered a stroke and was paralyzed down the left side of her body. Later that day we transported Mrs. Edwards to an ambulance and saw that she was admitted at Saint Vincent’s Hospital in Kingston. 

Bram was moved closer to the school in a vacant hut nearby. In the hut he had a bed, a crude table with pots and utensils, and a kerosene lamp. The hut had a wooden door, a wooden cover over a window opening, and an earthen floor, with a makeshift bamboo kitchen outside. Every night at the school, we teachers would eat together. They’d always be leftovers. Chuck or I would take turns carrying a pot of these leftovers to Mr. Edwards. It would be after sunset when we’d get there and Bram would eat his supper gratefully, we’d smoke and sit and talk with this wise man. He had never learned to read or write, but he’d memorized huge amounts of the Bible, or poems he’d heard, and he possessed depths of wisdom from all the goodness he was and all the sufferings that he had endured. In all my life, I had never met a man who lived the Sermon on the Mount as had Mr.Edwards. He never said a bad word towards any one, not even to those related to him who had abandoned him in his present plight.

Many years later the memory of this man would be at the center of my prayer, as it was when a letter came from Boozy to me in the monastery telling me that after Bram’s wife died, he had walked out into the bush  and was never  seen again. The local people started a rumor that he had been taken into heaven directly as had Elijah.

                                                                   Charlie Mc

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

"Falling" in Nantucket

                                    "FALLING"  IN NANTUCKET

Did you ever find yourself unable to picture the face of someone near and dear whom you loved with all your heart, but from whom you were now separated. I have. I have to run and grab an old photo album and pore over the faces of those I love and savor the memory of the wonderful former reality of being able to see them, hear their laughter, smell them( faint perfume, soap, aftershave or perhaps pipe smoke) and feel, really feel the strength and warmth of their hug and perhaps the salty tang of their kisses.

It is like that with the best friends I’ve ever had, especially those six with whom we would take an annual Columbus Day weekend on unforgettable Nantucket. Nantucket is thought of as the vacationland of millionaires, and for sure, it has more than its share. But for us, this was the most economical of vacations. First of all, Gracie would make a “long distance call” to Nantucket to a nurse she knew on India Street named Flossie.  Flossie owned a large rooming house with more rooms than we ever got to see, and she signed us up five rooms from Friday night to Monday morning at $5/night per room. There was in each room a large double bed, a bureau, a closet, and a porcelain pitcher and bowl under each bed. The shared bathroom was down the hall and there was no food served; plus the heat wasn’t to be turned on before November.  It was just what we needed.

On Friday we raced to catch the Island Queen from Wood’s Hole and drove our van into the bowels of the boat for the two and a half hour trip to the island. There was as yet no Hi Speed boats to Nantucket. As the boat pulled into the dock crowds of people stood waiting and waving to incoming friends or relatives anticipating another wonderful weekend on this special and most beautiful spot. Many of those waiting on the pier were those who were returning to the mainland and for some strange reason looking towards it just as much. That’s because everyone leaves the island with such happy memories.

From our group, Terry, Grace’s husband went below to drive the van onto land. The rest of us pressed towards the gangplank and awaited the “go ahead” signal from the crewmember at the rail.  Of the seven of us, there was Jim, a Roman Catholic priest of the Order of Dominicans [O.P.] who was the brother of Grace; Archie, a high school English teacher and his wife Lisa, an excellent professional photographer; and my wife Cathy and I, we having met as lay missionaries in Jamaica, W.I. in 1961.

On board the van we had our backpacks and luggage filled with any essentials that we might need for the next four days and books, lots of good ones, a chess board for frequent use by Terry, Arch, Jim and myself while the “girls” were walking the beach or shopping in town; and most important of all, three cases of Heinekens.

We made our way in the van to Flossie’s and began what always amounted to the greatest vacations I have ever had. The essential heart of the four days was spent in stimulating and hilarious conversation about everything and anything under the sun that bobbed to the surface. The children were safe back home with their grandparents, being spoiled rotten and loving every minute of our absence, we parents were absolutely sure.

The weather was as usual, beautiful, bright, cool Fall- like with it being warm enough to bask in the sun all day and to use Irish knit sweaters, and one blanket nights during absolutely dreamless sleeps. Being October and Columbus Day, the summer folks had largely departed and a quiet descended on the island which is full of distant boat whistles and less distant happy conversational chatter. The great ambience of the weekend usually saw us drift off in pairs or threesomes or all together and open our hearts and minds to get to know each other better in a most caring and helpful way. All of us at times were having difficulties and trials with work or with families which could be fair game for sharing. Looking back on these times it is not difficult to realize that for all of us, the biggest trials and difficulties lay in the future and although we did not know it at the time, these bonds we forged on Nantucket would be of critical help in our later lives for some, perhaps for all.
          On our first evening we would generally wander out in town and stop for supper and the first of many Heinekens, conserving for the moment our stash at the Inn.  One of the places I remember dropping in on was called the Rose and Crown. It was an older looking bar and restaurant and when we entered we found it to be nearly empty. Salad, Scallops and French Fries were my usual, but here they were the best I ever had, real Cape scallops. Oh, how I miss those, forty years later when I’m usually served a scallop wannabe from Thailand under the menu name Cape scallops.  Others had Lobster, Shrimp, Haddock, Sword and other items locally caught that day and landed at the Rose hours earlier. In about an hour's time we had eaten our fill but had just begun to drink.

By eight  o'clock the restaurant had filled considerably and the conversation, laughter and noise had increased asymptotically when the front doors opened and in came five couples, all black,  very well dressed in evening attire, who greeted the bartender with familiarity, doffed their outer coats and began to set up instruments on a platform in front of the large plate glass windows at the front. Their ladies sat at a table to the right of the stage and all had drinks served to them without having to order them. Then they began to play.

It was the Teddy Wilson Orchestra and they proceeded to play for the next three hours with stops for lubrication only. There was no announcement as to who they were, or advertisement; it's just that they happened by and dropped in to thrill us all with their magnificent music making.  Teddy Wilson had played with many fine orchestras including his own and was a member of the Benny Goodwin group which toured the world and performed the unforgettable "Sing, Sing, Sing" in Russia and at Carnegie Hall. We then had the chance to talk with them to give us all the memory of a lifetime. At the end of this beautiful evening we happily strolled back through the cobblestone streets and into our real world at $5/ night. Back to our "digs" we slept like babies until awakening to another beautiful Nantucket day.

It was Saturday and we got our suits on under our casuals, got books, towels, sunglasses and block out and headed across the island to Madaket Beach. Oh, yes, we took the van with the concealed warm Heinekens and spent the mid day searching the beach for shells, talking, drinking and reading to our hearts content. Much of our conversation focused on the Church today, politics (Watergate, Nixon and Viet Nam) and other forbidden topics. On our return to the town, we wandered down to the pier to watch the boat come in and then depart, feed the gulls, scrounge in the clothing and curio shops and talk with Brownie, the old, old guy with the captain's hat who sat at the end of the pier and told long ago stories of Nantucket. Lisa took lots of photos which grace the walls of all of our homes forty years later. It was a real mellow time. At night we were all talked out so the girls curled up with their books and Terry, Arch, Jim and I sat down to some serious chess. At ten o'clock, we all took some beer and drove out into the middle of the incredibly dark night out to the Maria Montessorri Observatory. None of us had ever seen a sky the way it looked on Nantucket that night. There were no clouds, no humidity (i.e., fog), no moonlight  and the stars were brilliant down to 4th and 5th magnitudes, and the Milky Way, our own galaxy, was incredible. We sat on the porch encircling the dome on benches made specifically for such stargazing, and we literally "lost our minds" in our cosmos. For once on the weekend, we were all speechless. Then I killed it by giving an astronomy lecture.
Terry, Jim and I had all been students together at Northeastern with majors in Chemical Engineering. Terry was brilliant, quiet and a wonderful friend. Jim was an exceedingly humorous guy with a spirituality and dedication which later showed itself as a Missionary in Pakistan for 34 years. Terry was the only one of us to stay in the engineering field throughout his career. Archie was perhaps one of the most unforgettable persons anyone ever met, and definitely became one of Walpole High School's all time favorite English teachers. In addition to his love of Shakespeare, Arch was a devoted follower of early Rock and Roll, Saint Thomas Aquinas, the Boston Red Sox(especially Ted Williams), High Fi and fishing. I think you might call that eclectic!  This description of the three falls far short of helping you to appreciate how much we valued this what was to be our life long friendship which will last into eternity I know.

Grace was Jimmy's older sister and an equally amazing person and thankfully close lifelong friend. More people no doubt consider her to be that than all that I will ever meet.  Jim and Grace's Mom and Dad were parents to us all in our youth and help to explain the goodness in Grace and Jim, and in their older sisters Mary, Virginia and Patricia. Their after midnight Mass open house remains one of the most significant events in my life which helped begin my attraction to thoughts of a religious vocation. Their home became truly my home away from home during my years in college.

Lisa's mother and father were both doctor's in Virginia and Lisa's perceptions could be seen in her work in photography which was to stay with her as a career.

On Sunday morning, we rolled out pretty early and went to a natural foods place which smelled of weed and was staffed by the most content help I'd ever seen. Their specialty was making sandwiches, huge ones, according to what you wanted to be included in it. We stowed the sandwiches away and headed south to Surfside Beach, the most beautiful, desolate beach I had ever been on. Nobody there, and we could see for a mile in either direction down the beach. The ocean was wide infront of us and headed out to Spain as the next stop. 

Father Jim brought out from the van an empty Heineken case, turned it upside down, spread a small white linen cloth on top of it,
placed two yellow candles in holders at each side and placed some small round beach stones on top of the cloth to prevent its being blown off by the gentle 5mph wind from the SW. The altar was ready.  We all sat around the "table" and had an extended moment of silent prayer. Jim then began from memory to say the oldest words in the Catholic Church, the words of Jesus' last meal with his disciples on the night before his death. The sound of the wind, and the surf, and the gulls in the sky above us were gently brushed aside as jimmy led us all through the Eucharist. We prayed for everyone we loved, everyone we knew, and every need we could remember. We prayed for each other with words of sincerest gratitude for what we were being allowed to participate in on Sunday before Columbus Day on this beautiful island of serenity.

After consuming the host and the cup of wine, we said the "Our Abba", for that's what we felt God to be, our "Daddy", our "Pa", closer to us than we were to ourselves or to each other. Jimmy said the concluding prayers of the Lord's Supper and then each of us drifted off down the beach in deep meditation. It was this event, above all, which I shall ever hold closest to my heart as my dearest memory. Forty years later, two of us have died, Terry and Jim, two of us have been divorced, Arch and Lisa, Cathy and I have been separated since 1981, and there have been scores of crises, sicknesses, worries and disappointments in all of our lives, but this moment on Nantucket remains as the high point against which all others are compared. 

But the weekend was not yet over. 

After eating our gyro sandwiches and drinking some more of that delicious warm Heineken beer, we took off in the van and headed east towards Siasconsett. 'Sconsett, as it is called, is at the southeastern extreme coast of Nantucket. It consists of a lot of old, weatherbeaten gray houses perched on a cliff overlooking the water facing towards Africa. Many of these houses are in critical danger of falling into the ocean as the beach erosion is severe. We decided to go off road here and take the beachbuggy path north to  Great Point Light. from there we retraced our path but on the way back we took the right fork and headed out onto Coatue.

Coatue is a huge sandbar peninsula which lies about 500 yards across the harbor from Nantucket Village but can only be reached by driving across the entire island to Siasconset, then going north to Great Point Light, then going East on that peninsula until you arrive at its tip directly across from your starting point, a trip of approximately 20 miles one-way. It is a beautiful stretch of untouched nature with multitudes of perfectly formed conch shells fit for a collector and shore birds of every type, excited by the approach of the rare auto.   The women sat in the back seat and the men sat up front. The paved road which ended at Siasconset, continued as a bumpy dirt road to Great Point Light, then it becomes beach dunes to the end of Coatue. The bumpy ride got us all laughing, and the two women, Grace and Lisa, tried to make it less bumpy for Cathy and for the baby at 7 months within her, by putting their hands on her quite large tummy. Cathy wondered aloud what the baby, Chuck to be born on December 27th,  must think. At the end of Coatue, we  all just sat down at the very tip of the peninsula and looked across the 500 yards to the main harbor. It was so peaceful and the sun was slowly sinking in the west. A beautiful end to a beautiful day. Then someone said, "I hear a snake hissing!" We all jumped up, but it wasn't a snake. It was our left front tire on the van slowly going flat.

We all looked at Terry. As was typical of him, he rubbed his jaw, said, "Hmmnn...", then set about searching for the spare donut tire and the jack mounted under the van. In ten minutes we were on our way backtracking on Coatue with Terry to thank. It was always that way with him. I guess that's why he was a Summa Cum Laude. We sang all the way back in a happy Heinekin glow.

That night we rested, read, talked, and began to realize how soon we'd be heading back home. We all made calls home to check on things and went to bed early.

On Columbus Day, we strolled downtown for breakfast, newspapers and sitting at the dock taking photos with the old guy, Brownie, getting our attention. Most of us bought some small gifts for the kids, some cards to send to those less fortunate and returned to the Inn to pack up and head for the boat. 

It was slightly foggy as our boat pulled away from the shore with a lot of passengers waving to those staying behind and choosing seats together for the 2hour trip back to the mainland.  The ladies chatted and Terry, Jim, Arch and I settled into a mini chess tournament.  I, myself, felt an all encompassing glow of love and gratitude for these wonderful days we spent together on this heaven called Nantucket.                   



Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Faith and the Cosmos

                 Faith and The Cosmos

Can Catholic universities foster dialogue between religion and science? [from America, April 4, 2011; letter response to an article by Ilia Delio]

K.I.S.S.  “Keep it simple stupid!” A directive it has always been my misfortune to neglect. Above all, religious teaching in all evolving institutions of spirituality have frequently deviated from their founders’ teaching through grinding out thousands of volumes of theologies and liturgical laws and customs which tended to divide and separate peoples into orthodoxy and/or heterodoxy and heresy which in turn generated centuries of wars and hatreds lasting right up into the present day. The fear of breaking a rule or a law is a minimal response to an invitation to  love.                                                                                                 
In the simplicity of Zen meditation, the focus of one’s attention is not on ideas one has of God, but rather on the being of God in present moment; the here and the now, at  the point of no dimensions which lies within each and every person and thing. This point of no dimensions is the same dimensionless point from which emanated all of what we call the entire cosmos.
It seems to me, that the Buddha’s teaching is radically simple. He simply held up a blossom from the lotus plant and those who were enlightened, understood. The lotus itself is a plant which produces  beautiful flowers which rest upon muddy waters. It is a symbol of a spiritual reality, the reality of Divine birth, the spontaneous generation, total spiritual perfection. In a like manner, Jesus’ teaching is essentially the same in its simplicity. In the very earliest gospel written, Mark’s, circa 65-75AD, Jesus’ opening words, his “keynote address”, as he  entered Galilee were:  “The present moment is the right time, the kingdom of God is within you, [‘Metanoieite’] change the way you think about reality and believe this good news.”[Mk.1:15]    To try to conceptualize this “Kingdom”, Jesus often used the simplest analogs of nature, “…like a tiny mustard seed, the smallest seed in the world…” [Mk. 4:31]; which children understand:  the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these[children] [Mk.10:15]. 
Current astrophysical understanding of the cosmos and its origin also point to an inconceivable reality which many have termed a “NON-DIMENSIONAL POINT” from which emanated all matter and energy which today constitutes this entire vastness which today we call the Universe. Now this is impossible to understand from purely scientific mode of thinking. “Nothing comes from nothing” is the expected reply to that astrophysical statement. A non-dimensional point does not mean very small, it means no size. That seems to be the same as “no thing”.

The greatest Catholic theologian of all times is recognized as Thomas Aquinas. Near the end of his life, Thomas put down his pen and stopped writing the third volume of his Summa Theologica. When asked why he stopped, Thomas is reported as having said, “Compared to what I have seen, this is all such straw.” Thomas died in the Cistercian monastery of Fossa Nova.   In other words, Saint Thomas literally ran out of a vocabulary which was great enough to capture the inconceivable, ineffable, Reality called “God”. Thus, Science, Zen, the Keynote words of Jesus and the greatest attempts at theology all converge on the same reality, The Reality Here, Now, and within all.
          Charlie Mc,  B.S. Ch.E., Northeastern University ‘60
                                 M.S. Dogmatic/Systematic Theology,
                                           Saint Louis University '70                                                                                       

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Brooksley Born Again

                                     Brooksley Born Again
                                      A Fictitious Parable- 2008

“Brooksley”, I thought, “what a strange name.”I put the paper down and thought, “How come I’ve never heard her name before?” My coffee was still hot and especially delicious as I swirled it over my tongue and down my screeching gullet. I felt  a sense of being reborn. I now understood why I’m out of a job while my bosses are scooping millions from the sinking ship. I could not see beyond the present tragic moment and could not decide when to call my wife and tell her that she and I and our three beautiful kids are bone poor.

The article was a review of last night’s Frontline which revealed the monstrous elimination of Brooksley Born from the  CFTC [Commodity Futures Trading Commission] by the combined efforts of Allen Greenspan, Robert Reuther, Timothy Geitner, Larry Summers, Arthur Leavitt and Bill Clinton, all members of Presidential Financial Advisory Group who took Mrs. Born’s correct analysis and warning of the coming financial disaster as a na├»ve and totally incorrect approach which would itself bring down the financial world.

Why was she so humiliated by these self-proclaimed “wise-men” of the banking and corporate world,when they have now been proven so mistaken. Allen Greenspan, late and reluctantly declared that his “failure” to recognize Mrs. Born’s correct assessment of the times, was the greatest mistake he had ever made. Then he retired. Arthur Leavitt has said that he wishes he had known Ms. Born better, and that he believes her to be one of the most courageous and intelligent public servants he has ever known.

Why did Summers, Geitner and Reuben not also “retire”and apologise to Ms. Born for their ganging up against her  instead of accepting  positions in the Obama administration whose goal is to correct what these very men allowed to happen. My coffee is so cold I can’t drink any more. I folded up the paper and said a quiet prayer of thanks to God for the Frontline editors who had the courage to reveal the truth.

As I walked out into the sunshine onto Park Avenue, I headed to my parish church, The Church of Our Savior, beginning to gather strength by thinking of how blessed I was with Mary, whose love was my beacon home each night. My kids, Sean, Eileen and Peggy are too good for this world, but we’ll keep ‘em.

So what will I do now? I enter into the old beautiful shrine and walk slowly down the Nave to the front pew. I looked up at Jesus on the cross, and found myself filled with my childhood belief. How sad it is that so few seem to have access to the lived faith of our youth anymore. After several minutes, I turned off my brain and let God come to me within. I found myself unconsciously praying for Brooksley Born because I realized how she would understand a crucified Savior. I made a mental note to write a letter of thanks to her.

An hour passed this way, then I blessed myself, and stood to walk out of the Nave into the sunshine, into the present moment and into the rest of my wonderful blessed life.
                                                                   Charlie Mc


Three Monks at Prayer

                                     THREE MONKS at PRAYER
                     Malachi, Vincent, Jerome and monastic prayer

This was my first time working on the wooden floors of the choir stalls in the main church. I pushed my floor buffer carefully along the cloister walk on the red tiles which were made from a fired ceramic material. The floor could get scratched or chipped if struck by the metal fenders of the heavy machine and there was no way I wished for that to happen. If it did, my penance would be to kneel at the stairs going down into the refectory while holding the breakage in my hand thus showing my error to the entire community of monks as they processed into the refectory for the noon meal.

I entered the dark and beautiful nave of the church and knelt in a stall to pray before commencing. I cannot adequately describe how beautiful our church is. At the western end, a very large stained glass window of our Lady holding the royal Child on her lap looked down on me with the most "dulcis,  clemens  et  pia"{sweet, merciful and loving} regard. As the afternoon waxed on, the sun poured through the window and bathed those in prayer with filtered red, blue and violet colors primarily. Our Lady's face shone brilliantly and was all the monks could  see when singing the "Salve Regina" at bedtime.  I can honestly admit to a full flow of tears gushing from my eyes on many an evening while singing this most beautiful of the hymns of Saint Bernard.

I had been placed in charge of floor care for the entire monastery in the sixth month of my Novitiate, a 2-3 year period during which I was to come to a decision to go on and make Simple Vows, and the Monastic community was to make a decision whether or not I were to be asked to proceed. Normally, novices would stay "down" in the Novitiate and not be allowed to wander through the "BIG House", the Professed house; the exception being any Novice who had to work throughout the monastery general.

So here I found myself taking my five gallon bucket which contained 5 or 6 clean Turkish towels, my large can of Butcher's Bowling Alley Wax and a pair of rubber knee pads. I started at the Abbot's stall and rubbed the pasty golden wax into the hard wood of the choir floor. I'd apply a goodly amount to the entire Abbot's side, by hand. When I finished waxing  the abbot's side of the choir stalls, I would plug in the floor buffer and the low monotonous hum of it would fill the church. When finished I'd move to the Prior's side, then back to the "Brothers' " stalls abbot's side to prior's side. The entire job would take from 2:15 pm to 4:30pm and I'd then take the equipment back to the storage closet, have a shower and get ready for Vespers and Supper.

One other delight would sometimes enter into the routine. Father Malachi Marion was our organist for choir and liturgy.  One day when my head and shoulders were bent to the task, Father Malachi entered the church and took his seat at the console of our huge organ whose pipes climbed up the walls of the nave, and disappeared into the dark recesses above. The first notes that he played on that occasion were a familiar Bach blast and I jumped up from my kneeling position to see who was causing this thunderous blast which ripped the silence apart altogether. I did not know Fr. Malachi, but when our eyes met, he smiled. My mind told me that he was laughing interiorly, and that this startling introduction was intended to be as earthshaking as possible for my benefit.

Our monastery is one of strict observance and silence is the common experience. To allow for necessary communication (always far less than one usually believes) a set of signs has been established. When one didn't know the signs very well or when trying to express an abstract thought for which there were no signs, lip movements would often be employed or if it were an absolutely necessary communication, at which the monk desiring to speak would rub his thumb and index finger together near his right ear, and say the word, "Benedicite", which meant "Bless". The monk who would be receiving the message would then reply, "Dominus", which means, "the Lord". This was to indicate that the communication would be OK with God(not always!).

Father Malachi smiled and beat his chest with his right fist, thus indicating that he was sorry for interrupting the silence. I tried to make a sign that said "That's OK", but the sign I used was to become my most disliked sign in the manual. To make it, one would hold his right hand in front of his eyes with the fist folded except for the index finger which would be half way opened into a hook shape. One would then make a downward thrust to the left of one's nose. The sign meant,"forget it". The reason I, and others so disliked that particular sign was that it could be interpreted as  several other messages.

For example, if someone were trying to communicate with signs but having a difficult time, it could be that the receiver has given up on you and is telling you, "get lost"; if the one sending the message gives up trying to send the signed message and makes the "forget it" sign, the receiver feels frustration and cheated out of some bit of news that would be important or at least break up the boredom. But Father Malachi wouldn't let me off the hook, asking me through signs "You like?" I nodded yes. He asked who is your "more,more favorite?"("more,more") means "most". I tried to answer, "Bach"(hand behind me), "little"( little finger of the right hand makes a screwing motion into the right corner of the mouth),  "F" (made with index finger of right hand  vertically under the horizontally spread index and middle fingers of my left hand), then make a letter "G" and my right hand sweeping downwards. By these signals I intended to say "Bach's Little Fugue in G minor". Miraculously he understood my message and he immediately began playing the opening notes of this favorite piece of mine I had first heard at The Boston Pops with Arthur Fiedler.

I was transported and felt a little guilty hearing this most wonderful music from my sinful past in a concert for one in this glorious setting. After he finished he asked me again for another favorite. I made signs that I'd better get back to waxing. He asked again for a favorite and I responded "CF, "D" under. He nodded, I went back to work and Father Malachi began playing one of my all time favorites, Cesar Franck's Symphony in D-minor. I never enjoyed a day of work as much as I did this one.

Father Malachi returned to the Berryville, Virginia monastery the following year, but for that year, every time I entered the church to work on the floors he would begin to play Bach, then Franck, and I was transported as near to heaven as one can be in this life.

Brother Vincent had a Santa Claus look about him. He was assigned to be the Porter, i.e., he ran the gift shop at the entrance to the property for years and was beloved by all of our visitors. I didn't see him much in the monastery therefore as he kept different hours. I would know when he was around because I would hear him praying in the main church.

Ever since I can remember, sitting at the extreme back of a church has always been attractive to me. I think it stems from two experiences. The first was my Dad. In our family, my mother was overtly religious. Her devotions to the Infant Jesus of Prague, the ever present statues of Mary and her use of the Rosary and our fidelity to Sunday Mass were all due to her. My Dad, on the other hand, was known for his playing of basketball in his youth and for his love of sports in general, specifically high school sports. At Sunday Mass, Dad would always sit on what was termed the "fireman's" bench at the back of the church. There, he would discretely talk with firemen and others who shared his interests in sports. I always wanted to sit back there with him, but my Mother would never allow me to. I think it really bothered her and embarrassed her that Dad didn't sit with the family. I guess that's one reason I always gravitated to the back of church.

Another reason was my sense of sinfulness and unworthiness to be close to holy things.  I guess many young men feel a deep sense of  hypocrisy about the state of their own souls (the black milk bottle analogy of CCD class) and the appearances to the contrary which we try to maintain.

The Porter of Saint Joseph's Abbey was Brother Vincent. He was the person who most looked like what i always pictured Santa Claus to look like, with an enormous snow white beard and the happiest disposition one could imagine. Guests to the monastery were totally taken by his beautiful spirit.  Brother Vincent, when not at the Poirter's Lodge,  used to "hang out" down at the rear of the main church.  I used to know when he was there because I could hear him pray. It was unique.
          " ...HAIL.............
.....Hail..................... Mary !...............................Mary!.....................................Hail...............Mary!!!!!!!!!!!................................. Hail Mary!!!...................................Full.......................................Full.....................
....Full of.................Grace!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  etc...

I was so taken with this method of revolving around the thoughts and words of what one was saying in prayer. It was a mantra like approach to prayer that no one ever taught me about before. One NEVER has to finish one's prayer. One can take an "eternity" to finish one's prayer. I learned this from Brother Vincent in the dark main Church.

One Feast Day of Pentecost, the Abbot, Dom Thomas Keating, asked Brother Jerome to give a talk on prayer to the entire community in the Chapter room.  Brother Jerome, was the plumber in the Community and he had a difficult sinus problem that kept him sniffing long into the night. I know because I slept in a cell next door to his. The cells were separated by thin metallic material such as used in public lavatories.  I never really spoke to him but I used to see him carrying his plumbing supply case and his eyes always cast down in good Benedictine style (12th degree of humility). That's all I knew about Brother Jerome as he stood before the community on that Pentecost Sunday.

"Good morning," he began, " Reverend Father asked me to talk to you this morning about my prayer life.  When I pray, I go into the church, I kneel down at a stall, I grab on to the arm and I hang on as hard as I can. I want to thank Reverend Father for asking me this morning, and thank you all."

When I next saw Reverend Father, I told him that Bro. Jerome's talk was the best talk I've ever heard on prayer. He agreed.

In recent years, I often meditate out on my back porch. I most often try to use a method that these three monks, and Father Thomas seemed to exemplify. I remember Jesus' opening words to his disciples in the earliest of the four Gospels when he says: "The present moment is the right time; change the way you think about reality, for the Kingdom of God is WITHIN you. Believe this 'good news'" [Mk. 1:16]. Then I say in my heart, "I do believe, Jesus"; and then I sit down, shut up and listen. 

                                                                   Charlie Mc

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Jesus' "Good News"

                                      Jesus’ “Good News”

“After John had been put in prison, Jesus went to Galilee and proclaimed the good news from God, “The present moment is the right time, change the way you think about reality for the Kingdom of God is within you. Believe this good news!” [Mark 1:14-15]

The Gospel of Mark, the earliest written of the four canonical gospels (ca. 65-75 AD) begins with these words being placed upon the lips of Jesus at the beginning of his public preaching, his so-called ‘Keynote Address’ in which is presented a concise statement of what Jesus has come to reveal to us; the Immanence , the Indwelling, the personal accessibility of our Father, of “Abba”, of  God.  Later evolution of the “good news”, considered it to be the gospels themselves and their revelation of Jesus Himself; and subsequent teaching referred to the “good news” as later doctrines and dogma defined by the Church. As this evolution occurred, gradually lost was the proclamation that God is within us. Mankind preferred the more conceivable datum that God is conceivable and definable and somehow outside us and "transcendent", i.e., above us.  Eventually the distorted concept of God being “That greater than which nothing can be conceived” was offered as a definition of "God".

Christian prayer became words spoken to God much as we communicate with anyone. Certain teachers of early Christian spirituality tried to express the interior prayer which Jesus recommended when the Gospel of Matthew taught:
          “But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door,
          and pray to your 'Abba' who is unseen and your 'Abba', who
          sees what you do in private, will reward you."[Mt. 6:6]
 but the tendency towards iconography urges us to conjure up concepts or ideas towards which we fix our attention. This is perfectly acceptable wherein we picture what Jesus, Mary, Joseph or the Saints may have looked like, but is unacceptable when we attempt to create an image of the Creator. Even any name for the Creator is shunned in most ancient religions although some pseudonyms are used such as YHWH by Hebrew Scriptures which means “I AM” but is never pronounced and considered sinful if used as a “taking of the Lord’s Name in vain”. The use of the Hebrew word “ADONAI”(Lord) as a substitute when YHWH is to be read in Jewish Scriptures generated some confusion and mistranslations in the modern era. When read, as a reminder, the vowels of the substitute word AdOnAI were inserted into the text between the consonants of the tetragrammaton YHWH to read “YaHoWaH”. When the original was never uttered, and the Scriptures were translated into German, the name became “JaHoVaH”;  and into English as “Jehovah”.

From childhood, the image many had of God was of an old, old man. Other images of God were arrived at by other cultures such as bulls, golden calfs, Buddhas, Krishnas, symbols of various kinds which represented particular aspects of an infinite Power or Being. Early Christian spirituality created images or ikons representing the Trinity, The Child Jesus with or without his mother, etc..

The belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist rather than being an ikon resembling Jesus, is believed to be the very being of Christ as present by means of his institution at his last meal with his disciples on the night before he died.[Mk. 14:22-26]

In the earliest Letters of Saint Paul, the description of this Last Supper and of the already well established tradition of its renewal is found in his letter to the Corinthians [11:17-24] ca. 57AD. It is noteworthy to read that in the twenty five years since Jesus was alive, the memorial was already subject to misunderstanding and blameworthy behavior.  This indicates that the frequent observation of Jesus in the Gospels that his disciples failed to understand his teaching, continued into the early years of the Church, and without doubt beyond. It seems quite likely that the history of the Church down through the centuries has shown a similar tendency.

One of these tendencies could be the frequent misunderstanding of the indwelling of God as taught to us in Jesus’ first and earliest message. we need to remember that the first thing we should do in our prayer is to make an act of faith in Jesus’ Keynote Address and answer “Yes, I do”, to his telling us, “Believe this Good News”; and then to just sit down, shut up and listen to this indwelling God in total gratitude for his being with you in an experience beyond words and thoughts. Saint Augustine captured this experience in his, “Crede ut intelligas”, "believe in order  that you may understand".   But believe first! 

Another source for the confusion which arose in the first centuries of Christianity was the translation of a word from the original Greek of the gospels to the Latin in the Vulgate Bible of Saint Jerome. The word was the Greek word "Metanoiete" in the above keynote address of Jesus. The word comes from two Greek words, "meta" and "noia" which together mean "after thought", "change of mind" or "repent", and thus in the second person it would mean "Change the way you think", or in the third meaning "Repent!" 

More confusion could have arisen from another difficult translation of the word translated above as, "within" . This comes from the Greek word "Eggiken" ["to be brought very near"]. J.P.Meier ([A Marginal Jew, vol. II, p. 432] compares this usage to that contemporary expression one makes as a train is about to enter the station: "The train is here". It means that the train is in the station. Hence, in this sense, Mark is referring to the belief that the "Kingdom is here, it has come, it is so very close to you that it is within you.  But this is where many believers jump off the train. It is inconceivable, that the Kingdom of God can possibly be within the believer. Inconceivable, certainly, but capable of being believed because that is what Jesus asks of us.  And this is how prayer is to begin, with belief first, and that faith is a gift, not earned but humbly sought and received with gratitude.

If one cannot believe that man can possibly contain the Kingdom of God because he is unworthy, he probably will translate "Metanoiete" as "Repent!" and ultimately explain how we must be unacceptable to Jesus unless we first repent, by reference to the "Original" sin of mankind that all mankind inherited from the first Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden. Is this understanding better for mankind than an encouragement to look inside ourselves rather than outside to  a distant and judgmental God?  No question but that this text is pivotal in the history of Christianity.
                                                                                   Charlie Mc