Christ came and declared a wedding feast, a celebration, at the very center of life. They crucified him not for being too ascetical, but because he told us that we might enjoy life. He told us that life will give us more goodness and enjoyment than we can stand, if we can learn to receive it without fear. But we are still in exile, without wedding garments, looking for the key to the room of celebration. Perhaps we need to be just a bit more earnest and sincere when we say the words, “your kingdom come!” – Ronald Rolheiser, Prayer: Our Deepest Longing
Strength arises from complete defeat, and the loss of one’s old life is a condition for finding a new one. – A Day at a Time
January 6, 2005 – The Feast of The Epiphany – The wind had blown around our barn for two or three hours before dawn. But as the sun appeared above the mountains to the east the winds stopped and wood smoke settled into the valley. Occasionally, the crack of a shotgun from bird hunters would echo through the hills. Soon, even the hunters and their dogs would be still.
It is the morning of the Feast of The Epiphany. Quiet prevails.
We are driving to Mount La Verna to celebrate Mass. It is not much more than eight or nine miles from our door to the road leading to the sanctuary – if we could drive in a straight line. But there are no straight roads in these hills so that eight or nine mile drive will take us 45 minutes. The residents of Caprese Michelangelo, Lama, Fragaiolo, Monte Foresto, and Assunzione, some no more than four or five dwellings and a small church, are still watching their children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews opening gifts, for Epiphany is the day for gift-giving in this part of Italy.
We climb out of the valley, switchback after switchback. Halfway to La Verna and we are on the spine of a ridge and can look down into the valleys on either side of the road. We are now above the clouds, mist, and wood smoke that we had occasionally driven through. Back towards San Giustino, Citta’ di Castello, Perugia, and Assisi the mist and smoke is streaming through the valley like a great river. It tumbles into deeper valleys in vast cascades.
I stop the car. We need to take this in – this blessing – this grace-filled landscape we move through.
The parking lot at The Sanctuary of La Verna is nearly full when we arrive. Children with their parents and grandparents, all in their best holiday clothes, walk through the groves of beech trees to the cluster of old buildings that make up the Sanctuary. The January sun stays low on the horizon. The shadows from the tree branches are sharp and focused. The air is cold and pure.
In the Basilica for Mass, we are all cold but happy to huddle shoulder to shoulder. I think I can see my breath as I whisper my responses in english. There are joyful faces, joyful beings gathered in line to receive the Eucharist. I eat the bread and drink the wine and my body is filled with the familiar, indescribable warmth.
When Mass has ended, we all go into the paizzalle. People are laughing. A boy is playing guitar. People gather around the great cross that seems to be rooted in the very heart of the world, singing and chattering like a flock of birds.
Imagine a man selling his donkey
to be with Jesus.
Now imagine him selling Jesus
to get a ride on a donkey.
This does happen.
Jesus can transform a drunk into gold.
If the drunk is already golden,
he can be changed to pure diamond.
If already that, he can become the circling
planets, Jupiter, Venus, the moon.
Never think that you are worthless.
God has paid an enormous amount for you,
and the gifts keep arriving.
We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.
We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.
We will comprehend the word serenity.
We will know peace.
No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.
That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear.
We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.
Self-seeking will slip away.
Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change.
Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us.
We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.
We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.
Yesterday I learned that my book, A Consistent Response to The Impossible, will be published in 2019. Stunning.
Here’s the title poem:
The great temptation is to use our obvious failures and disappointments in our lives to convince ourselves that we are really not worth being loved. Because what do we have to show for ourselves? But for a person of faith the opposite is true. The many failures may open that place in us where we have nothing to brag about but everything to be loved for. It is becoming a child again, a child who is loved simply for being, simply for smiling, simply for reaching out. This is the way to spiritual maturity: to receive love as a pure, free gift. – Henri Nouwen
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. John 1:1-5
Photo: Crescent Beach, Maine – November, 2016