Signs of the Season

Well, autumn is definitely upon us. Here are shots from the yard just to prove it:

Plague of acorns. I am not kidding. Acorns are dropping in epic proportions. Walking around the yard is like walking on ball bearings. The clatter of acorns dropping on the roof and deck from our very tall and mighty oak trees makes it sound like a war zone. Come by and visit, if you like, but wear a hard hat.

Inching along. This fuzzy little fellow almost ended up on the curb in a barrel full of acorns, but I rescued him at the last minute and moved him to higher ground. Someone out there may be able to look at his stripes and give us a winter weather forecast. Although I’m thinking the plethora of acorns is probably all the forecast we need. Prepare for snow.

Toad lilies. These delicate little flowers are autumn-blooming lilies. And the best part? Deer don’t like them. Don’t ask me why, but even with all those acorns to feast on the deer are still decimating the rest of my garden.

Autumn rose. This little beauty surprised me yesterday.

Last blooms. The stonecrop (or sedum) are among the last of our flowers on the scene each season. Pumpkins and Indian corn can’t be far behind when these beauties show their heads.

Still waiting for the trees to turn, but that will come soon enough…

Rome Moment: Wrong Turn, Right Location

Throughout my Roman adventure, I found that the most moving moments were often the hidden ones, the moments when I met someone or ended up somewhere that I hadn’t planned or expected. So I thought I’d begin to share some of those moments that make for my most lasting memories of Rome.

On my second full day in Rome, I struck out on my own to try to squeeze in as much sightseeing as possible before the “Church Up Close” program began the next day. So after a delicious breakfast of cappuccino and cornetti, I went to Mass at the Gesu, the Jesuit church near my hotel, and visited the rooms of St. Ignatius. Then I made my way to the Vittorio Emmanuele Monument, the Imperial Way, the Colosseum, and, eventually, the Roman Forum. And although I could clearly see the Roman Forum from where I stood outside the Colosseum, getting inside the gates wasn’t so simple. I began walking up a hill, only to find an entry point closed with an arrow pointing me toward another hill, where I assumed I’d find the correct entry gate.

So, on this 90 degree afternoon when I was hot and hungry from wandering all over and skipping lunch, I began the long slow climb up Palatine Hill. And I climbed. And I climbed. And I wondered, Am I going in the right direction? But it was beautiful and there were some others making the same climb, so I trudged on, passing the beautiful cloistered monastery of San Sebastiano on the way up. Finally, I got to the top. A dead end. Wrong turn.

But there in front of me was the simple but stunning Chiesa di San Bonaventura al Palatino, as seen in the photo above. And it was open, despite the fact that it was siesta time. So I went in and found a little oasis in the desert. In that lonely, darkened church, a lone voice sang Gregorian chant, and as I knelt there, grateful for the mistake that led me to this place, I was reminded again that pilgrimage is not about checking off a list of destinations visited but a journey meant to take us to places we have never imagined.

There were so many moments like that on my Rome trip, moments I hope to share with you in the days ahead. And it makes me wonder, how many of those moments do I miss in my everyday pilgrimage through life here at home?

Day by Day with St. Ignatius

When I opened up my Word of God Everyday email this morning and saw the quote from St. Ignatius of Loyola, I have to admit I was surprised:

grant that I may see you more clearly,
love you more dearly,
follow you more nearly.

Do you know how many times I sang those words back in the 1970s at folk Mass? We were pretty regularly doing the songs from Godspell in those days, and ‘Day By Bay’ was one of the all-time favorites among teens and parents alike. But back then I didn’t realize the words of that song were taken from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.

I think I’ll break out my guitar and give this one a reprise. Does anyone have a tambourine?

Join me for an online retreat

Through the recommendation of a friend (Thanks, Deacon Al), I am beginning an online retreat sponsored by Creighton University. It’s a free, 34-week program designed to help busy people fit sacred, silent time into daily life. Although you can start it at any point, if you’d like to follow the liturgical calendar throughout the retreat, you should start this week. It’s the official first week of the retreat. You can easily jump in now. I did just that today.

It’s quite lovely. There are online guides, prayers, Scripture readings, and even a weekly photo that can be used as a screen saver if you want to immerse yourself in the message. The retreat takes its cues from Ignatian spirituality, which makes sense since Creighton is a Jesuit institution.

The retreat starts this week with “Our Life Story.” It’s a very un-intimidating way to enter into a retreat mindset, starting with what you know. If you’re interested, click HERE to go to the main online retreat page. From there you’ll see links on how to get started. If you prefer to read hard copy instead of a screen, all of the guides are available in a printer-friendly format. And there’s even a book form of the retreat if that’s more your style.

If you decide to do the retreat, please email me or let me know in the comment section so we can touch base and share stories. And so we can pray for one another. Blessings as you begin!

Being catholic with both a big and small “c”

My recent post on experiencing Mass from a new perspective, garnered (as expected) some comments both here and on OSV Daily Take, and it got me thinking. So much so that I decided I needed to write another post, not just another comment.

Some of the reaction to my positive experience of attending Mass with the priest facing away from me suggested that I was looking for a return to the old ways, to the days of Latin Mass. Which is kind of funny because even as some — particularly on the OSV blog — were reacting to what appeared to be my traditionalism or conservatism, others were reacting on a completely different matter to what appeared to be my progressivism or liberalism. And all of it just made me chuckle.

I seem to confound people because I cannot be defined. I cannot be pigeon-holed. Not as a Catholic. Not as a political being. Not as a person. I do not — and will not — fit into someone else’s mold of what they think I am or should be. But it’s a little frightening how quickly people want to slap a label on someone, to create another person in their own image, or — as is too often the case — in the image of the thing they dislike or oppose. Can’t we all just get along?

What I find most beautiful about the Catholic faith is its diversity, its ability to include so many different styles and traditions and cultures and spiritualities under one roof. And my spiritual life reflects that diversity. I am as at home listening to Gregorian Chant as I am the St. Louis Jesuits or Christian pop music. I can see the beauty in attending a Mass where the priest is facing away from me or a Mass where I’ve helped make the Communion bread. I can just as easily fall in step beside people from Opus Dei as I can people from Sant’Egidio. My faith is not in any way limited by a certain style or tradition or a feeling that I must or must not do something in order to stay true to a particular vein of Catholicism. I am Catholic and I am catholic, with a small “c,” which, as you know, is part of our creed and reminds us of our call to be “universal.”

But, in this age of political — and I guess spiritual — purity, the middle road is often the one less traveled. I don’t fit in anywhere, really. My way is a blend of what I see as all the very best things of this amazing Catholic faith, as taught by our Church and practiced by our people. I am not afraid to venture into new territory to hear about or experience a new perspective, an old tradition, or a cutting-edge philosophy. I can pick up a set of Rosary beads or pray before an icon just the same. I can recite the foundational prayers of our faith or sit in the silence of centering prayer. All of it leads me to Jesus.

I would love to hear from others who find themselves in this middle ground, who appreciate and bask in the many different traditions of our faith, regardless of what “side” they fall on. There should be no sides here. Just the never-ending circle of God’s all-powerful love. Can I get an “Amen”?

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