- I’m much better. I’ll just say 100%. Thank you for your prayers!
- Today is one of those days. I fully intended to get to the now over 1000 emails in the inbox. I had gotten through many hundreds a while back. We’ll get there. We’ll get there!
- Next project: Benefactors Thank You post.
- Next project after that (which will take a week or two): A rather incisive analysis of some documents which are coming my way by the end of the week, please God.
Category Archives: ad orientem
Yesterday was rather a busy day for the blog. I look forward to a hermit-day today, ora et labora. I have to collect some firewood as it’s still freezing cold up in the mountains here. I am content to have Pope Francis at the helm. He remains very much in my thoughts and prayers. As he speaks of Jesus, frequently, I think he will very much shame the nay-sayers, those who simply condemn just to do it. Jesus is the One, and he knows it. He wants to evangelize. One cannot evangelize with bitterness, only with the zeal of charity. Yes: Zelo zelatus sum pro Domino Deo exercituum! But the zeal must be burning with the same charity by which the Lord allowed Himself to be crucified.
Laudie-dog is also content under the wood stove, though not for long if I don’t get out to haul some logs on my shoulders through the forest and up to the hermitage.
But I will frequently check back in on the blog. And I know I have a zillion emails to get to. Patience, please! I still have a bit of a cold, and can’t risk that the interior of the hermitage remain below freezing, as it has been so many times this winter. No fire in the stove right now. So, away I go. Don’t forget, Jesus is good and kind. Really. He is.
Update: Whew! That’s one tall, heavy, utterly dead red oak I just now cut down in a don’t-ever-try-this-at-home-ever kind of extreme sport chainsawing event. The tree was still standing, with it’s branches interlaced with the branches of all the other trees standing closely around it.
I lopped off the base and pushed it off the stump. Whump! Down it sank into the forest floor like a spear. So, I lopped off another four feet. Crack! Whump! Again piercing the forest floor. And on it went in four, five and six foot lengths, eight altogether, before I was able to finally push it down j-u-s-t–s-o between a number of surrounding trees. Whump! again.
I carried those off to the hermitage and am just now psyching myself up to go and saw these up, and split them, and haul them, and stack them inside the hermitage. Even if the wood is a bit wet from having been in the rain, it will still burn in a hot stove. So, away I go again.
The Wolves, the next Pope, the Hermit Pope Emeritus and this Donkey Hermit: A note on Masses at Holy Souls Hermitage
This is an early morning picture of a wolf on Holy Souls Mountain, just a few hundred yards from the hermitage. Usually they hunt in packs, gaining in daring and in cunning in proportion to their numbers, much like NCReporter or that bitter pill, the Tablet. They loudly proclaim how dangerous they are in their arrogance. But because of this, the would-be prey often has time to seek protection. So, while these fellows are dangerous, they are not terribly dangerous.
Meanwhile, an individual out in the open like this also signals danger, as this means he’s desperate for a kill. But because of being in the open, the would-be prey often has time to seek protection. Nothing really then to worry about with packs or loose individuals.
And then there are other kinds of wolves, for example, what is called the Senate and People of Rome — Senatus Populusque Romanus (SPQR) — a society governed not by natural law or as inspired by Judeo-Catholic principles, but rather by the gods, projections of relativism, a society whose downfall was to condone that their rulers effectively be above the law, allowing them to be lax with criminals while at the same time being persecutors of the innocent. This reminds me of quite a number of governments and societies today. But the diabolical nature of so much of the political intrigue we have come to know so well in the culture of death is so clearly dangerous that there is little danger of falling into such a vortex that would otherwise consume one in all political correctness. One need but recognize what is before oneself. The real danger here would be from the bad example, the evil “guidance” of the packs of wolves, such as at various “Catholic” universities and seminaries, or from the lone wolves, such as the renegade theologians who set out to undermine the Catholic Church as much as possible.
And then there are the wolves who really are dangerous, for they seem to live in safe, regimented, controlled circumstances, so that, to all appearances, they behave in a predictable manner. I think of about half of the Roman Curia, and many others at the Diocesan and Parish levels. One would in fact be safe in such a situation, if one would remain wary: Can this wolf run at breakneck speed and jump up and over the fence, or dig under the fence when no one is looking? Is one to be paralyzed in fear should one wolf, or, indeed, very, very many wolves, all of a sudden jump over the fence, dig under the fence and, indeed, simply knock the fence down?
Paralyzed in fear? No, not at all. Not if one has a trusty donkey nearby. Donkeys, mind you, are the best shepherds, for they have no hesitation to put themselves in danger in order to kick the wolves to death. Benedict was one such donkey, for the bear on his coat of arms was actually playing the role of the donkey that the bear had killed. And Benedict XVI, not long after his election, called himself that donkey, a fact in which then Archbishop Burke rejoiced in a long article that he wrote. Yes, donkeys can certainly kick the wolves in the face:
This donkey, that is, this hermit, at Holy Souls Hermitage, wishes to do a service for Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI, who asked us to pray that he not flee for fear of the wolves. In abdicating, he has not fled. Rather, he has gone into the fray all the more, as a hermit. Hermits never leave the flock untended, but are rather more intensely available for the good of all.
Some hermits are magnificent, such as Saint Jerome and, presently, Pope-Emeritus Benedict. The hermit writing this article is simply a donkey. But donkeys can do a service, at least for their fellow hermit-donkeys. This hermit wishes to kick the wolves in the face on behalf of all, but first of all in service to Pope Emeritus Benedict and in service to the next Successor of Saint Peter. To do this, this hermit-donkey makes the following resolution:
Although I’ll honor the Masses that I’ve already been given to offer, and others that come my way by way of Church law or the constitutions of my religious congregation, I’ll take no more Mass intentions other than for our Pope-Emeritus, for as long as he shall live, and for the next successor of Saint Peter.
I think we can all agree that there is a need. I hope ye are not disappointed with this. I know many of you have had me offer Masses for priests and bishops and Cardinals and, indeed, for Benedict XVI. But I must say that I am very much taken now by the idea that all the Masses, inasmuch as possible, at Holy Souls Hermitage, will be offered for the Successor of Saint Peter, and any one of them who is Emeritus. Donkeys are like this. There’s no getting around it. Today’s ad orientem picture:
I was once told by a priest (no less) to never ever tell anyone what time on what date I was born, because that’s, you know, super-personal information, like, you know, because, like, someone could look up my astrological profile, and then… and then… they would know everything there is to know about me. Hah hah hah!!! Blech. Vomit. Sigh. No! They wouldn’t know the first thing about me in that way. What a load of hooey.
But, of course, there are those who follow this blog who are all taken up with astrology and the occult, I suppose because I have a ferocious Holy Souls Hermitage Series on Exorcism on the side-bar of the http://holysoulshermitage.com blog and they want to know their enemy. I’m no one’s enemy. They might consider themselves enemies of mine, but that’s up to them. Anyway, I’m sure that they will look up what’s up with me when I say that I, without difficulty and without providing any great deal of pain (as I’m told), popped out of my mother’s womb in the normal way, without a peep (I’m told), at 3:32 PM, Central Daylight Time (U.S.A.), on February 25, 1960, a Thursday afternoon, in the Saint Cloud City Hospital of Minnesota in these United States of America, precisely at 45.35.32 N and 94.10.11 W. Hah!
Ooooooooooooooooo! That makes me a Pisces! Ooooooooooooooooo! And not just any ordinary Pisces! Oooooooooooooooo! A late Pisces! Oooooooooooooo! And, at that very time, a very very special Pisces, indeed! Ooooooooooooooooo! Be afraid! Oooooooooooooo! Be very, very afraid! Oooooooooooooooooo!
I was very happy some years ago with the mayor of Rome, Italy, who got rid of all the astrologers, palm readers and such from Piazza Navona. Of course, that lasted a week or two, and then they were back. Any time I see an astrologer’s sign or a palm-reading sign, I ask my guardian angel to go and see if he can’t close such a place down altogether. I have a rather ferocious guardian angel.
But Father! But Father! Astrology is cool! ‘Cause, you know, the three magi were led to Jesus by His star!
So? Think about this. Is this not, in fact, an obliteration of all the superstition and paganism of past ages, a way to demonstrate that Jesus is Sovereign King over the earth and the heavens? They followed the star not because it fit in with their world-view, but because it didn’t. This wasn’t someone who would be told what to do by the fate ruled by the stars. This was Someone who ruled the stars themselves. Look at what that star did. Get it? Too Cool!!!
And… and… the Lord Jesus, Son of God and Son of the Immaculate Conception, makes us one with Himself in a new Creation. We are not ruled by stars. The Son of the Star of the Sea, Stella Maris, Mary, rules the day, telling the stars what to do, that is, the whole of the heavens and the earth, He who is, indeed, the Judge of the living and the dead, whose Kingdom will have no end.
Below the continue reading button, I’ve included the Catholic Answers nihil obtat-ed and imprimatur-ed article on Astrology. Very well done. Take a look: Continue reading →
Monitum: I am the worst prose writer in the world, writing as fast as I can type. But here goes!
If you look carefully at the picture above, you can see the crucifix above the tabernacle of the ad orientem altar here at Holy Souls Hermitage. The full moon is just rising, faking us all out, on its way, as it is, to becoming a crescent moon, with a piece missing somewhere in a big box in Mecca, and needing to be stomped on by our Lady.
How dare it have the pretense of taking the place of the sun, sneaking up at night, as if it had any power for good, but scared even to reflect the sun, waning away until it is nothing, only to try, in hubris, again, with a complete lack of wisdom, to take over the night, but looking ever so much, as it wanes away, like a serpentine horror of old, slinking away before the mighty sun flashes true flames of fire.
The sun, the Son, burning away all falsity with celestial, clear, immaculate blue, a reflection of the sea, the mar, Mary, bitter as the sea in her intercession, as life-giving as the Fish she bears, that ichthus, that ιχθυς, ι-Jesus-χ-Christ-θ-God’s-υ-Son-ς-Savior, who jumps from the sky, brighter than the sun, and into the sea, reflecting with seeming lunacy that dependent satellite, becoming the very darkness of sin until… the resurrection, ourselves reflecting His glory.
* * *
Now, I suppose typing at breakneck speed can make for a rather mysterious result, but in that case, I should like to call Hilaire Belloc to my defense, citing a few lines of his about irony, which readers of HSH will have almost memorized by this time, prefacing this with a bit from Saint Paul (2 Corinthians 5,21): “For our sake He [God the Father] made Him [Jesus] to be sin [receiving the punishments of sin] who did not know sin [for He was always innocent], so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
To the young, the pure, and the ingenuous, irony must always appear to have a quality of something evil, and so it has, for [...] it is a sword to wound. It is so directly the product or reflex of evil that, though it can never be used – nay, can hardly exist – save in the chastisement of evil, yet irony always carries with it some reflections of the bad spirit against which it was directed. [...] It suggests most powerfully the evil against which it is directed, and those innocent of evil shun so terrible an instrument. [...] The mere truth is vivid with ironical power [...] when the mere utterance of a plain truth labouriously concealed by hypocrisy, denied by contemporary falsehood, and forgotten in the moral lethargy of the populace, takes upon itself an ironical quality more powerful than any elaboration of special ironies could have taken in the past. [...] No man possessed of irony and using it has lived happily; nor has any man possessing it and using it died without having done great good to his fellows and secured a singular advantage to his own soul. “On Irony” (pages 124-127; Penguin books 1325. Selected Essays (2/6), edited by J.B. Morton; Harmondsworth – Baltimore – Mitcham 1958).
Our Lady, mind you, was always with her Son. Such goodness and kindness!
O.K. A further explanation: Remember the fiery saraph serpents that were killing the chosen people in the desert during the Exodus? Remember how Moses was commanded to make a bronze serpent, crucify it, and lift it up so that all who looked upon it might be healed, an image which looked just like that which was hurting them?
And remember how our Lord was lifted high on the Cross, looking like one of us, looking like a sinner, being condemned as a servant of Satan, and yet He is our Savior?
Something like that.
The very quiet scene beyond the ad orientem altar early this Lenten morning. The fresh snow really has great acoustical effects, dampening smaller sounds, which sharpens louder sounds. Perhaps we can hear a bit better. Perhaps with the multitudinous little sounds of our fallen human nature being dampened down a bit, that is, being more at ease with the fact that we are fallen, for we have a Savior who is so good and so kind, we can be a bit less taken with ourselves, and listen to what seems to be the more distinct voice of our Heavenly Father, who speaks but one Word into us, that Word of His very Son. And we saw His glory, there, on the Cross…. such love for us…
Time itself is sanctified by the Word Incarnate, He who creates time itself.
To keep things in perspective, remember this…
Saint Peter knows him well, as did all his successors. The Lord is that good and that kind.
Perhaps we also know just a bit how much our Lord has done for us. Let’s listen, today, as Lent continues, to that voice of our Heavenly Father. And… and…
V. Let us pray for Benedict XVI, our Pope.
R. May the Lord preserve him, and give him life, and make him blessed upon the earth, and deliver him not up to the will of his enemies. [Psalm 40,3 (41,3)]
O God, Shepherd and Ruler of all Thy faithful people, look mercifully upon Thy servant Benedict XVI, whom Thou hast chosen as shepherd to preside over Thy Church. Grant him, we beseech Thee, that by his word and example, he may edify those over whom he hath charge, so that together with the flock committed to him, may he attain everlasting life. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Our Father. Hail Mary. Glory be.
Brrrrr!!! Snow everywhere. Earlier in the day, there was plenty of hoar frost to be seen. Just to say, this kind of frost is extremely destructive. When it melts, it causes remarkable erosion. This bit was under the roots of a tree, the longest strands being about five inches long.
But right now, this is what is to be seen all around…
Brrrrr!!! Ice and snow, praise the Lord! Praise and exalt Him above all forever!
By the way, those of you receiving this in an email surely didn’t see this post on the presentation of Jesus, as it is merely bumped to the top of the blog for the day, instead of being re-posted. It’s one of my favorites. You miss much with following by email instead of going directly to http://holysoulshermitage.com Here’s that post on the presentation of our Lord: Yikes!
Our Lord is always shining His Divine Mercy upon us. And this is always according to the perfect intercession of the Immaculate Conception.
In thanksgiving for graces received, in thanksgiving for his cancer going into remission, seminarian Philip Gerard Johnson proposes the following prayer as a Novena leading up to the feast of our Lady of Lourdes (the vigil):
O most beautiful lady, who appeared to the humble little Bernadette in the Grotto of Lourdes, look with pitying eye upon the sick and the afflicted. Let me remember to say to you each day as do the pilgrims at Lourdes, “Ave, Ave, Ave Maria.” Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us.
It will be a great joy to offer this little prayer in thanksgiving daily. Join in, including all your own intentions of thanksgiving. Mind you, we can be thankful for all things, even nasty things, inasmuch as they are occasions for us to learn more about our condition in this world before God, and how much we need the salvation of the Son of the Immaculate Conception. That knowledge brings us back to an even greater thanksgiving. Heaven will be wonderful. In our non-presumptuous hope to go there — depending on the mercy of our Lord — we can already begin to thank Him now for the heaven to which He leads us, to our Heavenly Father, to all the angels and saints. Our Lord wants the best for us. He is just that good and just that kind.
Angels and Laudie’s donkey ears and… “C’è nessuno?” and falling five times on the way to Confession: Aarrgghh!
To this day, I can very much sense the presence of the angels in the hermitage and on Holy Souls Mountain, especially when departing or arriving. I think we can all recognize the presence of the angels, which is very much like the presence of Christ. That presence of Jesus is to be noticed as that bond of charity in all friendship which is stable amidst the ever-changing myriad of circumstances, so that we recognize that it is in Him that we live and move and have our being, although we are, at the same time, taking in by way of our senses all that which is presented to us in this world provided to us with such tender solicitation for our welfare.
Unchanging stability on the one hand, ferociously changing, must be taken care of circumstances on the other. Add to this our weakness before His strength, and we have the extreme sport of life, no? Rather mirthful, in the Chestertonian sense. The joy of the Holy Spirit. We are just so inept, but He holds us close to His Heart. I love that. The angels, of course, want nothing more than to encourage us to be in all out reverence before Jesus, what I call humble thanksgiving. Angels, mind you, are rather ferocious, and are patient with us only inasmuch as they see the work of our Lord within our lives.
With them around, we are reminded that we really, really, really want to be about doing the will of our Lord in our lives, staying away from sin, and being an ever simple child of God. Are we wretched as infernal hell without grace? Sure. And it is in knowing that that the joy of the Holy Spirit is all that much more enhanced. We know more just how good and just how kind Jesus is.
Meanwhile, Laudie is having a good time of it, watching me take a picture of her below the wood stove on a particularly icy-cold day. I suppose that she put on her donkey ears in order to enjoy listening to the fire crackle and pop just above her. A rather comforting noise, that. I’m wrong, of course. She’s ever attentive to noises outside, and jumps to attention wanting to go out at the first sign of possible trouble, like little branches burdened with ice breaking off and falling to the ground. And out she goes in full protection mode. Dogs, along with everything else, are a sign of God’s love for us.
* * *
Meanwhile again, with the whole heavenly court all about on Holy Souls Mountain, and right in the hermitage (just as they are everywhere, interceding for us all, especially those like me who are sinners), I am reminded of sitting in the back of a chapel, in the corner, in the dark shadows, not to be seen, in an ever so ancient monastery in Italy very many years ago. The chapel was in two parts, separated by a massive iron grille, behind which was the choir for the cloistered nuns. One of the nuns had a habit (sorry for the pun), when she was looking for another nun, of racing through the choir, from one side to the next, calling out, “C’è nessuno?” which means, “Is there nobody here?” hardly waiting for an answer, but racing on her way. I wanted Jesus in the tabernacle to startle her one day by saying to her, “Yes, I AM here.” Yikes! A good lesson that would be for all of us, no?
* * *
Today is the day after the ice-storm. No power lines down, but there is still ice everywhere, at least in these parts of the mountains. I went out to let the chickens out, and to throw them a bit of scratch feed to get them going for the day. As I looked in wonder at the icy beauty around me… CRASH!!! There I was, in a heap, sliding down Holy Souls Mountain just a bit, scratch feed everywhere. Hah! A good lesson, that.
We are all in danger of falling into sin one way or another at any time. We start not paying so much attention to Jesus, how He is drawing us to Himself, and because of that, with less agility of soul, we start not to recognize how we are paying too much attention to anything and everything apart from Jesus. CRASH!!! A fall. And we wondered how that happened. And then it is time for confession.
Today’s Saturday, a good day for confession in a church not far from you. Spend a little time with Jesus. He is there. He is Someone. He does love us. The angels are encouraging us. If your priest has made time to hear confessions, encourage him by going to confession. You might just save his soul in doing so.
Meanwhile, yet again, I am reminded of a horrific ice storm in Lourdes, when I was a chaplain some years ago. I was headed down to hear confessions when… CRASH!!! Down I went. And I was paying attention! We can be just that inept, that weak. And then, crash and crash and crash again. Fully five times. No broken bones, but I was a total wreck by the time I got to the confessions chapel. I was wishing I had had some ice-cleats. But, in the spiritual life, there’s nothing that can help us like Jesus Himself grabbing us and lifting us up. The sun came out in Lourdes, and all was well again. Jesus also shines on our souls, and then we rejoice exceedingly.
The ice in the water buckets tells me that it’s cold outside. NOAA (the government weather) was reporting, instead, 66 degrees Farhenheit. They’ve been having problems for a month or two it seems. Or maybe with Al Gore they’re trying to convince us that there’s super global warming. It’s so hot! And it’s Winter! Maybe all their weather spotters are on vacation and entered some numbers that would automatically be uploaded.
In other news, the sun is shining through the stained glass angels in the chapel of Holy Souls Hermitage. It’s been pretty cloudy lately, so that is a pleasant change.
I remember when I was a deacon and heard a sermon by the priest-celebrant on stained glass windows. The parish church had gorgeous stained glass windows from Germany from well over 100 years ago, depicting the mysteries of the faith and the examples of the great saints.
He mocked, however, those he called pious people, who see things through the rose-colored lens of stained glass windows, and said that we should all just see reality squarely in the face. I was not a little bit offended by this.
The mysteries of the faith and the encouragement of the saints are reality. What would there be apart from the Creator of the heavens and the earth and all that is in them, including us? What more in-your-face-ness is there beyond the very Son of God being tortured and crucified on our behalf? Is such love some sort of un-reality, misleading, a lie? Is such love of our Lord to be damned?
When such a window in the hermitage chapel reminds me of my guardian angel who sees the Face of our Heavenly Father right now and always, I am not thereby removed from reality, but instead am invited to thank the Lord for creating reality and bringing us to Himself even after we shook our fists at Him in original sin.
His love is as real as the gaping wounds still on His risen body, His hands and feet and side, in His Sacred Heart. His love is as real as the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass before which the angels are in awe.
Yes, we look to our Lord ad orientem, by way of the Sacred Mysteries, with the encouragement of the saints, and… and… with the protection and guidance and friendship of our guardian angels.
Early in the morning, one of the rare mornings when there was no flaming sunrise. There is a flame in the sanctuary candle, and the fiery love of the Sacred Heart just there in the tabernacle… well… the rays and warmth are radiating right round the world.
But otherwise, there are plenty of clouds, and cold, cold, cold! Cold enough for a forest of hoar frost to spring up overnight:
This isn’t really hoar frost, which comes from humidity in the air. These, instead, spring up from ground water and can grow like stalagmites, except from their underside, next to the ground. They can get two, three, four inches long, and even longer, but you have to be quick to see them, as their weight will make them fall in on themselves pretty quickly. How about icicle-frost? Brrrr!!!
Benedicite, gelu et frigus, Domino: laudate et superexaltate eum in saecula.
Frost and chill, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever.
Benedicite, ignis et aestus, Domino: laudate et superexaltate eum in saecula.
Fire and heat, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever.
I still haven’t put up any insulation. Silly me. Corrugated tin, windows, a bit of plywood. Silly me. I suppose when it gets unbearable (like last year and the year before) then I’ll do something about it (or wait another year). For right now, the wood-stove you’ve helped me to get is a life-saver, as is the chain saw and log splitter. I would never be able to do what I’m doing without the log splitter. Thank you!
My vocation to the priesthood at 2 ½ years old, meriting a severe warning from a Cardinal of Holy Mother Church
Here’s another chapter of the ill-fated autobiography, going up in bits and pieces in no particular order.
Chapter 3 ~ Of all things for a mere infant ~
Dilexi iustitiam et odivi iniquitatem propterea morior in exilio, that is, I loved justice and hated iniquity: for that I die in exile. That was the epitaph on the tomb of the much loved and much hated Bishop of Rome, Pope Saint Gregory VII. The anniversary of his death was the day I was conceived in original sin, the same as my father before me, all the way back to Adam. That anniversary of Gregory VII in 1959 was nine months to the day of when I popped out of the womb the normal way in late February of 1960, a Thursday, mid-afternoon, 3:32 p.m., giving little extra pain to my mother, or so she says. I asked.
1960 was a unique year. The baby boomer generation had just come to an end. A radical change was about to take place. I didn’t belong to the crowd that would ram through changes like power plays of contempt against God and neighbor. I didn’t belong to the crowd that didn’t have a sense of what things were like before the changes came. I witnessed them happening, which was to have a most profound effect on my perspective, pre-disposing me to that which is most radical, neither to the left or right, neither conservative nor liberal, but simply wanting to be one with Him who is truth. The Lord is who He is, and does not define Himself as midway between political descriptions, for both may be to the right or left of Him at any given time. You can’t get more radical than being rooted in Him who is reality.
At the time, I, of course, didn’t know anything, outside of the fact that it would have been bitterly cold on the trip home from the neo-natal unit. In years to come, I remember there always being a couple of weeks in February when the temperatures were something like twenty two below zero on the Fahrenheit scale at the warmest part of the day, with the colder temps reaching down to thirty, forty and, on most nights, precisely fifty two below zero, once even seventy four below with a wind chill of a hundred and four below. It was a hundred and four degrees above when, years later, I was to head off for the seminary. North-central Minnesota gets all four seasons in a manner most extreme, centered in the middle of the continent as it is. As I write this, I’m happy to be in a slightly less extreme environment as a hermit in this little rain forest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. But we will get to the extreme spiritual environment in which a hermit might find himself toward the end of this autobiography, please God.
The ride back to our home on ninth avenue North would have only been a couple of minutes driving since we lived close to Saint Cloud City Hospital. I would later get to know that sprawling institution towering above the cliff-like banks of the Mississippi river as a young patient. At least as a baby, I never complained, not ever, it seems, for mom told me that I was always but always a quiet baby, making hardly a peep. I guess I was just saving up for later. Hermits are always troublemakers.
* * *
My baptism was on Sunday, March 13, two and a half weeks after I was born, an unusual delay for a Catholic baptism back in those days. The problem, I think, is that my parents were already “church hopping”. I’m always in favor of people finding a parish which is faithful to the faith. Not all parishes, mind you, were superb before the Vatican Council. Not all were so faithful after either. March 13 wasn’t a feast day, except that a certain Father Rory was martyred on that day in Cordoba, Spain.
I was baptized George, my dad’s name. Mom wanted David, that great Jewish King. David, Hebrew for Beloved, became my middle name. I’m just conjecturing here, but I think my mom, Ann, by name, meaning “merciful one” in Hebrew, had a Semitic side to her Polish ancestry. She would use Yiddish words now and again, usually when I was getting myself into trouble. At any rate, I was never even once called either George or David until I entered the seminary. Everyone called me by the nickname Jord, short for Jordan, a name used in its fullness when emotions ran high, whether for good or bad. In some dialects of some languages, Jord is wrongly used for the name George. But Jordan is Hebrew. It means to fall precipitously, much like the River Jordan precipitously falls from the top of Mount Hermon, through the Golan, Galilee, and down and down again into that ever so dead Dead Sea, well over eleven thousand feet below, all in about one hundred miles. Jordan, falling precipitously. What a name! It certainly fits me altogether. In my life, I’ve certainly been both a physical and spiritual clutz (there’s that Yiddish again!). But I suppose it’s good to know what happened to us all in the precipitous fall of original sin so that we might with all the more reality, with all the more humble thanksgiving, look to the salvation of Him who fell again and again and yet again under the weight of the cross, redeeming us from that sin.
Dad’s ancestry is from the border of Scotland and England – which side I’m not sure – though it is certain that Germany saw centuries of his side of the family. I sometimes tell people what George and Byers mean. George is Greek for one who shovels the ground. Jesus gave this job description, if you will, to His Father, γεωργός (Jn 15,1). I love that. Byers is an archaic term of the Northern British Isles for one who dwells near a cattle shed, a byer. Put the two together, and it’s inescapable that my name is Manure Shoveler, an earthy name to be sure, reminiscent of the name Adam, who is one who shovels the ground, the adamah, by way of vocation from God. Not a bad name all told, especially if you throw in David, which would make me the Beloved Manure Shoveler! Yikes!
* * *
After I was born, we lived at our tiny house on Ninth Avenue North for a year and a half before moving to a larger house further up on the North side of town, next to the airport. Dad felt at home near the airport, having crop-dusted in bi-planes since he was a teenager, and right through World War II and the Korean conflict. Ninth avenue was a major artery in and out of the city, and moving, even if only one street over, made it easier to raise a family safely.
It wasn’t long after that when dad was re-elected yet again as the mayor of Saint Cloud, a hamlet of some 48,000 people. He started his political career as soon as he returned (in 1954) from flying corsairs for the U.S.M.C. in Guam, the Philippines, Japan, China and Korea. I remember the day of his reelection. He had a sign on top of his new car, asking people to vote for him, and they did. He was so very happy, wanting me to try to read the sign. I told him what it said – Vote Byers for Mayor! – not because I could read, but because I heard him say what was written there some minutes previously. He congratulated me for being so smart and, silly me, I took pride in my deception. Yet, I knew the sting of conscience even then.
The old house on ninth avenue, which I had only known for the first eighteen months of life, deserves a mention, since I once shocked this same sister with my rather good memory about that house. When she recalled to me where we had previously lived, I, without further ado, launched into my many memories of the crib, of what had been hanging above the crib, of family members who would hover over me, making silly noises, of what the room looked like with the big bay window, of how fancy the ranch style doors were, which led into the dining room and kitchen to the back and left of the crib, and what the back yard with the little wooden patio and grass and the types of trees and bushes growing there looked like. I was taken aback that she was so very astounded at my memory, exclaiming again and again that it just wasn’t possible for a mere four year old to remember anything when they were only one and a half years old. Except for me, I guess. I still remember those times as clearly as I did when I was four years old. My memories of my early childhood, even before two years of age, are quite extensive.
Just to say, my father is a step-father to my two older sisters, who are ten and twelve years older than myself. My mom married again when her first husband was killed in a military plane crash. Also, just to say, my full brother is only a year and a half older than myself. We looked quite alike early on, but not so much any more. This will become important later on in life.
While I think I could go on for some hundreds of pages on these first few years, I’ll just pick out a few significant incidents, not the least of which landed me a severe warning from a Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church some forty years later.
* * *
The Cardinal, one of the more academic and brilliant Cardinals of this past century (and still alive as I write this) warned me that I was mightily responsible before our Lord for everything in my priesthood, and that I, more than others, will owe Him, Jesus, an explanation for the graces given to me at such an early age, and so I had better not do anything wrong, ever. He was adamant about this, really quite severe. Yikes!
I have, of course, done many and terrible things in my life, that which, as is the case with all of us, has manifested the reason for the horrific torture and death of the Son of God. But what made this Cardinal so agitated was my first recollection of being called to the priesthood, which he, unsolicited, had asked about. I guess he was expecting something about a certain yearning to serve the Lord in my teenage years (which is also true). But instead, I told him about a particular Sunday, during Mass, when I was but two and half years old, in 1962, early in the Summer, on a particularly hot morning, as I recall. I’m guessing that it was the feast of the birthday of Saint John the Baptist, which was on a Sunday that year. I would later take Saint John as one of two Confirmation names that I was anomalously allowed, the other being Saint John the Evangelist.
Anyway, the parish church on the North side of town was always jammed for Sunday Mass back in those years. If you were late, you had to stand in the back and along the side aisles. We were always just in time or a minute late, and so were often spread out all over the church. The job of the ushers was actually to usher late comers into this or that empty space here and there in the church, almost physically sliding people down the pews in order to make room. Imagine that! But on this Sunday, we had arrived a little ahead of time, and so were seated together in what was the second to the last pew in back of the church, on the left side of the center aisle. The line up, beginning from the aisle, was, if I remember correctly, my oldest half-sister, then my mom, then me, my brother, my father and finally my other half-sister.
I was standing tippy toe on the kneeler, holding on for dear life to the top of the pew in front of me, just able to look over the top of the pew between the shoulders of those sitting in front of me. It was during the homily, so everyone was sitting down and I was able to see up into the sanctuary at the other end of the Church. I think this was the very first time that I had been brave enough to do such gymnastics. One misstep and I would have been crumpled up in a heap under the pew. That would later happen to me a number of times. As I’ve said, I’m a bit clutzy.
As I was peering up into the sanctuary, it happened, just like that. I beheld not anything I could see, but there was definitely Someone, as in God Himself, utterly majestic, with such radiance, however invisible, uncontainable by the universe, divine, and yet so very friendly, beckoning to me, taking me, drawing me to Himself. I was overwhelmed. I shut my eyes. Would this Someone go away if I shut my eyes? No, He was still there! That’s how I’ve remembered this gesture of the Most High from that day onward, throughout all the years of my life, even if I would later fall into that which would bring me to find myself on my knees before Him in a confessional. It’s all just as real and happening now as it was then. God’s love is ever so simple, ever so gentle, and thus able to shine even amidst what some might think is an unprepared psychological outlook of a such an infant. Any later developed psychology on my part could not add to or subtract from or change in any way that love which I experienced. Love does that. Love can be noticed whatever is going on in our lives. Love doesn’t change even if we do. God is love. He is always wanting to draw us into His presence, squeezing us tight. A majestic love.
I knew what He expected of me, that I was to be there, up in the sanctuary, at the altar, that that was what I was going to be about for the rest of my life. I was to be with that Someone. I didn’t know what the word “God” meant as a vocabulary word, but I did know this Someone, and this Someone knew little, tiny me. But I did not feel insignificant in the least. He loved me and does so still, even though I’ve often taken a misstep, crumpled up in a heap of useless humanity in my sin. He is good and kind. If anyone is religious, that is, giving back to God what is His due, that is, our worship, our love, it is because we are not objectified by the Lord — just another one of the trillions of people who have existed — but are loved personally by Him. Having a sense of this has us rush to Him, and has us want to share with others this greatest love in our lives.
During this experience, I vividly remember that the priest, just having finished the Gospel, was being helped down the steps of the ad orientem high altar (ripped out just a few years later in the mid-1960s) by his deacon and sub-deacon. Half way down those marble steps, he took off his chasuble and maniple in a most clumsy fashion — really having a hard time of it — giving these to them, and then gripping the corner of the altar to balance himself. They helped him the rest of the way down the steps where he then proceeded to the pulpit. This taking off of the vestments for preaching is most proper for the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, though it is rarely done, even in that Use. But, as I say, it was unusually hot that Sunday morning. The new form of Mass would not be current for some years to come.
Of all things for a mere infant, and while basking in the love of God for me, I felt compassion for this priest because of his being a priest, and I knew that this was part of that to which God was calling me: solidarity with priests. I didn’t know that priest in the least at my two and a half years of age. He could have been a saint. It’s just that before such a love of God, anyone whomsoever is called by our Lord to be with Him up in the sanctuary needed compassion and understanding, for we are all just so absolutely nothing before God, though we are so very much loved by Him. This is what was also very much part of my own first understanding of the intervention of God in our world so tainted with original sin. There was no looking down on this priest. Just the opposite. It was awesome that he could be there at all. That’s where this Someone, God Himself was in all His majesty and love for us. That is the way I felt about my own call to be where he was, up in the sanctuary, in the service of this most awesome Someone. How unworthy, nothing we are. But how good God is.
This vocation to be “up in the sanctuary” had nothing to do with elitism. Distances meant nothing. This Majestic Someone, God, was calling me, however far away I was in the very back of the church. I could have been outside for that matter. As I say, I had the sense that the very universe could not contain him. He could reach out to anyone, anywhere, at any time. Serving Him “up in the sanctuary” did not mean leaving anyone behind.
I feel quite ashamed and do heartily apologize for making this seem all too complex for a tiny little boy. This was not at all about discursive reasoning. It was a simple understanding of the way things are with Him who is love. I could go on and on describing what went on with this manifestation of totally undeserved love, not because it was complex, reasoned out, a mind game, but rather precisely because it was so simple, far reaching, all encompassing. Anyone who has experienced being drawn to that Charity who is Truth knows the possibility. Love and truth, together, as a Person, as a Someone. This was about being called to be in an active, loving reverence of Him who loves us so much that He wants us to be with Him. Everything made sense in that reality which alone is so very real.
Does any of this make me oh-so-special? Gaghh! No! Double-gaghh! Blech! The Lord just gets what He wants, when He wants, as the sovereign Lord of History. I failed Him too many times to count. But He still gets what He wants. He’s very patient.
* * *
Not long after this, my older sister began to teach us how to say our night prayers, just before going to bed. My brother and I were in our pajamas. The two of them would kneel alongside my bed. I tried kneeling for about three seconds, but couldn’t resist disappearing under the bed, since its frame was so high, and since I often used the space below this high bed as a kind of military fort during the day. I didn’t know anything about the Church Militant theologically, but the sense that we were at war with whatever was evil seemed to come naturally to me. Praying from a military perspective was the way to go.
My sister, exasperated, would drag me out and plonk me on the top of the bed. They would then make the Sign of the Cross. I tried to do the same. I did it all wrong for a number of days, but then I calmed down when I figured out it was a tracing of the cross that was on the wall of the bedroom, not that I knew what that was all about, though that image was also mysterious, sacred, about Someone who loved me, to whom my heart and soul were tied.
Even if got myself all tangled up in a knot with my first attempts to make the sign of the cross, I was, however, very good at folding my hands. It just seemed like a prayer in itself, like a way to open up communications with heaven. Folding my hands for prayer was to take notice that heaven was looking down upon little me, which was totally cool. My sister would go through a litany of intercessions for everyone in the family and anyone she could think of that was sick, especially grandma and grandpa on her side of the family. We would pray for an end to the war in Vietnam. If they forgot to add this, I learned to add it myself. Learning to pray like this was so easy, since I knew the Someone to whom we were praying already. He loved me, us, so, of course we were praying! We do it all the time anyway, don’t we, lifting up our minds and hearts and souls to Him, anytime, anywhere? We can, you know. He gives us the wherewithal to do this. We don’t have to be good at it; we just need to do it, taking His lead.
Post-script: Little kids have an enormous capacity for prayer. Teach your kids how to pray, always by your own example. Don’t be ashamed to let them know that you are proud to share with them the greatest love of our life. They will catch on immediately.
Also: Don’t hesitate to encourage vocations. There is no such thing as too young.
Father Z at WDTPRS linked on the sidebar of HSH blog, kindly put up some pictures of first vespers for the Octave of Christmas. Present were seminarians of the Pontifical North American College. One of them in the above picture was one of my students at the Pontifical College Josephinum just before I became a hermit. Good to see he is doing well and is still on his way to the priesthood of Jesus Christ.
In the picture below, you’ll notice the bit of orange to the upper right of the Pope Benedict XVI, who is presiding at Vespers.
Just to get some perspective of that, here’s the view from the back balcony of the basilica:
A close-up of that alabaster Holy Spirit window, depicting why the Holy Father, the Bishop of Rome, successor of Saint Peter (a depiction of whose cathedra, or teaching chair, is below that window), is infallible when he speaks on faith and moral to the universal Church as the Vicar of Christ: The Holy Spirit!
Closer up yet:
The colors are hard to get right…
Just take note of the utterly intense and determined ferocity of love by which the Holy Spirit is swooping like any bird of prey into our hearts and souls so as to take them captive in love. He’s already slightly turned, on edge, readying Himself for the tightest grip on us, not willing to let us go, instead forming us into the image of Him who sends Him to us, Jesus, the Word of the Father. The Holy Spirit will not stop at anything, including our deaths as witnesses to His love for all of us. We need only look to Him in humble thanksgiving. This is not quietism, for this friendship is most alive!
Now then, here is some progress on the painting that will become the baldacchino for Holy Souls Hermitage. Thanks go to L.T. and her entire family for their endeavors. I only include some pictures here. More to come in future posts. This is no longer the test canvas. We’re starting the real thing:
All the intensity of love. The eyes tell the story, of course. The talons tell the story! Yikes!
We might think that we’re just so expert at avoiding the Lord. And we are. But He knows all about it. He’s prepared. He will grab us. I love that.
Whatever the circumstances are that we will face this coming year, know that the Lord knows, and provides or permits these things for the benefit of our growth in love in view of all eternity. Have your eyes fixed on heaven, which means both love of God and ferocious love of neighbor here and now. It’s the Holy Spirit working for us, in us. He is untiring, always in zillion ways arranging this and that for us, that we might be simple children of His.
The picture of this ad orientem sunrise in the chapel of Holy Souls Hermitage was taken on the 4th Sunday of Advent 2012.
The spectacular show only lasts a few moments, followed by all that which is slate gray and cold as ice, dark, dreary, and yet, not a vacuous existential anguish, but rather an enlivened hope which carries a steadfast friendship with the Lord in the midst of even this world.
Thank Christ our God, then, for the even more spectacular show of goodness and kindness by which we are found by the Lord in the midst of our blindness, with us protesting that we are ever so blind, that we do not see, that we do not understand, that we seem so very far away… but then… but then… recognizing that He has us, that He has a firm grip on our souls, that He is with us, God-With-Us, Emmanuel, bringing us to Himself, to His fiery love, wherever we are, whatever our circumstances are, living, dying, but always… but always… looking to Him who loves us all so very, very much.
I’ll try to update this scene in this very post with some pictures of slate gray and ice later today. Check back for the horror of it all, and for the goodness and kindness of Christ our God, God-With-Us, in the midst of this world.
Update: Some hoar frost, ice and slate gray skies at Holy Souls Hermitage:
On a very cold day, the ground water slowly pouring out of any vertical slash in the forest floor freezes to itself as it pushes out, causing the effect of horizontal icicles. Chickens love to eat this should they have the joy of finding it while making their rounds in the forest during the day.
My 20 gallon roof water buckets have been iced over for quite a while now. I bring some ice into the hermitage once in a while to melt. That goes through a ceramic filter for my own drinking water or is heated on the wood stove to be poured into the little buckets for the drinking pleasure of the chickens.
The skies are as slate gray as ever…
When one’s soul seems slate gray, lifeless, dull, without consolation, far from all that could bring some joy, one only need look below that periferal sensory experience and note that, in fact, the Lord has a good grip on our souls, and is with us. And then… and then… the slate gray and icey day does one a great favor, standing in contrast as it does to that fire within, which is fiery indeed.
Saint Therese of Lisieux spoke of this ever so distant but ever so near presense of the Lord as a friendship which did not bring a jump up and down for joy kind of happiness, but rather a blessedness of a peace which was just somehow adequate enough for us to go on. Yep.
Our Lord wants us to know the stark contrast of our living on a level of mere sensory perception over against what He provides to us by way of sanctifying grace, union with Him, with God. It is this contrast which works for us, pushing us to rejoice. The more stark the contrast, the greater the rejoicing.
Blindness is enlightened. That which is slate gray and icey, all frosted over, is made fiery, ardent, with an enthusiasm for love of God and neighbor.
Meanwhile, all is slate gray and icey. Meanwhile, all is ad orientem fiery.
- O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
- O Rising Light of the East! Splendour of Eternal Light and Sun of Justice: Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
Oriens is a Latin present active participle singular vocative from orior. So, O Oriens is “O You Who Are Orienting!”
Of course, the Lord is always “oriented” in the English usage of “all in order”, and He is the One who alone provides that we are set in order, but that just so does NOT give us the sense of what is happening here. Transliterations of one-word-for-one-word are not necessarily translations, and can be exercises in esoteric philosophies of communication that are misleading concerning the body/soul existence of mankind. So, let’s try that again.
Oriens… It refers to that which is in the Orient, that is, the East, and that which is rising, such as the sun, and… and… that which is from the beginning, that which is in the origin of all things, and that which originates all things (also from orior).
That’s more like it! The analogy being that the Lord rises, resplendant and life creating in the healing life giving rays He shines upon us, the night past, He bringing us an eternal day in Himself, He having the right to provide us this mercy, for that mercy radiates from the justice He brings upon Himself on our behalf: For the sake of His sorrowful passion (that’s the justice bit) have mercy on us and on the whole world.
Yes! Yes! Yes! O You who radiate the light of the resurrection upon us, You who are the Splendor of Eternal Light, You who are the Sun of Justice! Do come and enlighten those who are sitting in darkness and the shadow of death!
The Italians speak of birth as the mothers bringing out into the light the children in their wombs (da alla luce), but in this case it’s the other way around. He who is being born is being born to take on Himself the darkness and shadow of death so as to have the right to shine the very splendor of our Heavenly Father upon us.
Now, few may know that the Latin orior is actually Hebrew in origin. And more than the word for “resplendant light” which orior transliterates for us, the Latin also sucks into itself the word in Genesis 3,24 for that which is of the origin, that which (in derivation) is rising, is in the East, that place from which we were driven out, the paradise aspect of the garden, that place to which we turn for redemption, stupidly grasping with our hands, but finally learning instead to receive in all humble thanksgiving.
We don’t run to the Son of the Mother of the Redeemer in Genesis 3,15, He who hangs on the Tree of the Living Ones, He who is Himself the Fruit of that Tree, that Cross.
He runs to us, feet nailed to that Tree. But He runs swiftly, as fast as the light of the Rising Son radiates from East to West, so quickly, with God-Speed, does He reach out to us, drawing all to Himself, that babe born to die and rise for us, bringing us with Himself, to the Father.
Advent: ad orientem by definition — Turn your altars around, good Fathers! Now is the day of salvation!
Armed with endless catechetical bulletin inserts and homilies all over the internet, a priest who would like to introduce his parish to the awesomeness of all that which is ad orientem, is in need only of perhaps an especially fitting occasion for the joyful shock of everyone looking to the Lord together to take place.
Advent is just such a time for ad orientem introductions to the parish. But think of the backlash he might get…
But Father! But Father! We put poinsettias all over in front of the altar, all up and down the steps! Just to create the proper stage for our work takes weeks of committees and planning and fund raising. Think of the different levels of draped boxes and end tables, the pillars, the decorative pot wrapping with bows! Don’t deny us a chance to beautify the sanctuary! It’s our contribution to Holy Mass for Christmas! We’ve had the Christmas Crib there already, just waiting for Jesus, since Thanksgiving. Mary and Joseph and the ox and donkey and camels and sheep and wise men are there already. We’ve done this for years!
All that’s super great and commendable and much appreciated by our Lord. I know. I know. Just not in front of the altar. And not during Advent. Use the gradines of the ad orientem altar at Christmas time for some of the flowers, and another appropriate place in the church for the crib scene. It can be done.
The benefit of all this upheaval, you ask? Very simple: Everyone will be looking ad orientem, to the arrival of our Lord, both in the spirit of that first Christmas under violent and oppressive Roman occupation, and now looking to the second coming of our Lord while we live in this valley and shadow of death.
Instead of the priest looking at the Lord’s flock and being ever so tempted to put on a performance, and instead of the parishioners looking at him, just another sinful human being, putting him pedestal, ever so dangerously for absolutely everyone… instead of all that, everyone will together be looking to the Lord in the Sacrifice of the Mass, as it should be.
Ad orientem changes so very, very much. It’s Jesus who is important. All of a sudden it’s not about us, alone in the universe. Instead, it’s extremely evident that it’s all about Jesus, Christ our God, Son of the Immaculate Conception, among us, Emmanuel. These are difficult times. We need clarity.
The first rays of the Dawn from on High are shining through the darkness. Let’s turn to Him, together. Amen.
Two minutes with that video are very well spent.
I love the bit at the end.
If I didn’t confuse you enough in the last post about this to watch the video, watch it now. You will be amazed.
Again, I love the bit at the end.
Here’s the Christus Rex website. Very well done.
I know many of the participants.
This is the Catholic Church in Australia.
It’s like the Notre-Dame de Chrétienté (Chartres) pilgrimage.
Suddenly, there was a bright orange glow filling the hermitage. It was not the ad interim sanctuary candle (while some construction goes on), but rather the sunrise breaking through the clouds. On my trek down the mountain to do some chicken chores for the neighbor, who’s pretty sick right now (Hail Mary…) I got a couple more pictures of the ferocity of the blazing skies…
Taking the recommendation of Saint Teresa of Avila, I like to make some analogies with the spiritual life with what I see in nature. The fire in the skies reminds me of the ferocious — truly — cherubim of Genesis 3,24. They are not cute kids with wings and some sort of look of heavenly boredom on their faces, as with the putti of Raphael’s Sistine Madonna (which we had hanging in my home when I was a kid who did not have a bored look on his face).
Rather, the cultural imagery reflected some of the reality of the cherubs’ – dare I say it again — ferocity:
They are guardians. They morphed into this following depiction. The sword would be on fire, and that fire would be the Lord’s grace, the enmity with Satan promised by the Son of the Mother of the Redeemer back in Genesis 3,15.
That sword, in the Hebrew description, turns everything to its contrary, so that if Adam reaches out to the Tree of Life, he’ll be cut down until he receives from that Tree instead of taking it from it. If he grabs, he doesn’t know what he is grabbing. But if he receives, it is according to the providence of the Giver, our Lord Himself, from the Tree of Life which is the Cross. I am reminded of the O.C.D. coat of arms, which depicts Elijah holding the flaming sword. Yikes! Note the cherub at the bottom.
Anyway, the firey ad orientem skies shining on the ad orientem altar at Holy Souls Hermitage reminds me that I had better be in humble thanksgiving before the Lord, and not think that I am somehow grotesquely entitled to receive, as if I could just grab the Most Blessed Sacrament. Ugghhh! No. I am nothing, less than nothing. I’ve put our Lord to death by my sins. Only humble thanksgiving as a gift from the Lord would somehow make it appropriate for me to receive the Lord’s gift of Himself from the altar, from His Holy Sacrifice.
“I have come to cast fire upon the earth, and oh how I desire that it were already blazing!” (Luke 12,49). Yikes!
And Yikes! again!
How much our Lord loves us, with such enthusiasm, drawing us to His firey love as He is lifted up on the Cross of our salvation.
We continue to pray for all those in dire straights after the hurricane, whose stormy winds and rain and snow and ice are still ploughing through America. Hail Mary…