Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Storm is Passing Over

That sounds like the title of a song I once sang.

Hurricane Irene was downgraded to a Tropical Storm as it hit New England. Fortunately, New York City was spared. Many of the East Coast cities fared well. The winds were fairly strong and the rains steady, but in early afternoon, blue skies came about and signalled the storm's passing. The howling winds dried the pavement and the grass and the evening is looking good.

We survived just fine. A few double-doors were blown open and I had to mop the floors, but it was not significant. We had no major leaks. We have no downed trees blocking the roads. I can tell because gawkers drive up the private service road to see the ocean's swells.

I began and completed a long-delayed and lengthy correpondence. For that, I feel so good. I watched an old-time movie from 1950 on Turner Classic Network about a race riot and a new African-American medical doctor. I worked on my 2,000 piece puzzle - DaVinci's "The Last Supper" that hangs in Milan, Italy. I took some photos and I took a nap.

Right now it is quiet and dark (because I didn't turn on any lights yet.) The wind is swirling more faintly. I just want to listen to the stillness in the silence just like Elijah did in the cave on Mount Horeb. Shh!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Bracing for Irene

Hurrican Irene will turn into a tropical storm tomorrow as it hits New England. We will miss most of its impact in Gloucester as the storm is projected to hit 75 miles west of us. However, we will get much of the 75 miles per hour wind and great sea swells.

Today was supposed to be intermittent showers, but we got socked with rain. I went to the first of the double-header of the Red Sox games that experienced two rain delays. The Sox were winning handily (9-2) as they went into the delays. It was a game that had a little of everything in it. The sweet Italian sausage sandwich was very tasty amd the beer was cold (though the containers were small and the prices high.) Jane, my host, and I ate chocolate and vanilla swirled soft-serve ice cream in the pouring rain. It would have tasted better when the sun was out. I brought my camera to take pictures, but I had a little mishap with it. Anyways, it was a great day.

I arrived home as the heavy rain dissipated and the fog set in. It was difficult to believe that Irene was not already here. The rain-saturated ground looks very green, but it can be a bad pre-condition before the winds come. The trees can become top-heavy and may tumble in the great winds. The retreat house, though, is a fortress and will withstand strong winds and rain. I did not get to complete my pruning.

The air is heavy with salt. I can smell the ocean throughout the house. It is very strong, which is unusual. While no wind is present, the waves are already crashing. The waves have been unusually quiet this summer. I suspect I will hear the rhythmic flow throughout the night. It is soon time for bed. The storm begins in the early dawn. I'm sure I'll be awake by 6:00 a.m. to check to see Irene's progress.

Ironically, Irene means peace. I think her sister, Serena, will follow her on Monday when it is supposed to be sunny at 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Photo: John at the flower bed

Click to Enlarge

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Friend from the Past

I am sitting at a restaurant in Rocky Neck, an artist colony in Gloucester. It is the oldest working artist colony in the United States. The neck is a promontory that sticks out into the harbor. It is like an island but with a natural causeway. The harbor is still and the ocean is becoming restless as it knows that Hurricane Irene is on her way. Many people are mulling about, but it is not a time of recreation, but one of preparation.

The restaurant is quiet. It has light activity, but I am sitting near an open window that lets the gentle breeze sail through the restaurant. I'm here simply because I want the time to be out among other people in a relaxed setting. I want time to contemplate my day. I'd be happy with a freshly brewed cup of coffee, but I'm get something more substantial so I savor the day.

A friend from my teenage years visited me in Gloucester. He and his wife came to spend the afternoon. It was a lovely day. He was my Business Law teacher, our class advisor, the yearbook editor, and a host of other roles to us. He is a splendid man. I was happy to hear of his life and to meet his lovely bride. We talked about my classmates, his teacher colleagues, his family, and he brought along several photo albums to catch me up on his life. His dad competed in the Olympics (Melbourne) and won many titles for canoe racing.

Though we shared good memories, we spent more time talking about the present, which is more important. I'm very happy for him. I wish him lots of goodwill and I am delighted we will keep in touch. It was a surprise to me that most of my teachers are retired, though most of them are still not old. The last time I saw most of them was thirty-two years ago.

I am fortunate to have so many good people in my life.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Surprises and Dragonflies

Yesterday I was working in the gardens planting donated perennials from a friend from Maine. I had to make fast work of the planting because of the retreat schedule. The temperatures were hot and the air was humid. I worked for a couple of hours and I realized I was exhausted. I began to think about going inside to get a fresh drink of water to replenish my liquids. As I looked up, I saw a colleague, a guest director, standing in front of me with an orange-pineapple cup of ice cream. I was floored. I looked again to make sure it was not a mirage or an over-active imagination. I was literally stunned because of her goodness to me. The flavor is a favorite of mine and I was overflowing with gratitude because of her kindness. I relished that cup of ice cream, not only because of it's taste, but because of her surprising care for me.


Today as I walked out into the gardens, I noticed the sky moving. We had a heavy bout of rain throughout the night that generously watered the lawn and flowers. The air was finally free of humidity and the sky was a brilliant blue. Because of the wetness, hundreds upon hundreds of dragonflies leaped through the air and played around. I was immediately reminded of Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem, "As dragonflies draw flame...." Oh, it was brilliant to watch them dart about the property.

My spirits keep getting lifted... Thank you, God. I need that right now.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Photo: The future Sacred Heart Prayer Chapel

With a little interior work, the old woodshed will be converted into the "Sacred Heart" chapel. To access it, follow the Stations of the Cross that leads to the Labyrinth, which brings you to the chapel. Those directions and a few months of work and you'll have a nice new prayer space.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Should we close the churches?

Should we close the churches? 16-Aug-2011

It might seem a startling proposal: that the Bishop of Port Pirie close all fifty-seven churches in the diocese! But might this be an effective way to bring about a more family-oriented Church, reviving the family as the community in which the faith is communicated, taught, practised and nourished?

Very much of the shape of Australian Catholicism was moulded in Ireland. A giant of the Irish Church was Cardinal Paul Cullen, Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland from 1852 to 1878. He was the first Irish Cardinal, and was greatly committed to the Vatican and the Papacy.

Cardinal Cullen’s indirect influence on the Australian Church was profound. Cardinal Patrick Moran was his nephew, and the twelve Irish priests who were made bishops in Australia during Cullen’s time were all his pupils - and some were his relatives - all at a time when the character of Australian Catholicism was being shaped.

One of the great contributions of Cardinal Cullen was the ‘devotional revolution’ (as it is termed) that he initiated in Ireland, serving a Church that was coming out of the penal era, when Catholic churches were not allowed to be built, Catholic schools were forbidden, and there was a general discrimination against Catholics in British-run Ireland. Working with the new religious orders that were being founded then (the Sisters of Mercy, Christian Brothers and so on) changes were introduced among the Catholics of Ireland, through the many devotions that were promoted. Among the many fruits of this devotional revolution were multiplicity of vocations to the religious life, resulting in a great many sisters and brothers coming to mission countries like Australia. In addition, in Ireland, the churches became crowded with more than ninety percent of the population attending weekly Mass.

What was the situation like beforehand? In the days of strong discrimination against the Church under British rule, the priests had little option but to move from house to house to say Mass, and neighbours and people from the village would crowd in. The home became the principal place for the handing on of the faith. The life of the Church took place in the home.

As the Church became freer and the role of the parish church as the Mass centre grew, a balance was maintained between home and church for religious practice. For a century there was a very good balance, with the church the place for the Mass and the celebration of the Sacraments, and the home for the nurturing of the faith. It was our experience also in Australia where the home was the place where for most families the religious devotions like night prayers, the rosary, grace before meals, the sprig of palm from Palm Sunday, images of the Sacred Heart, Our Lady and some of the Saints, holy water, and so on, were practised. The home was the context for the faith, reinforced by the school, and celebrated in the church.

There has been a change. In many Catholic homes today there are no images of Mary and the Saints, no crucifix, no grace said, no prayers together as a family, not a Bible or missal readily to hand. We go to church if we want religious practice. The home is neutral. Clearly, I am painting a picture with very broad strokes, just to make a point. In our homes there is of course a massive example of Christian love and comfort through parents and child, but nevertheless little is done to express our faith as families in acts of prayer together.

Look, however, at the faith of the Jewish people enduring through centuries of persecution, against massive acts of annihilation of whole communities. In spite of everything, their faith has survived, and it is a family-based faith. The mother lights the candle in the home on the Friday evening and intones the psalms and the prayers. It is a family-centred, table-top liturgy, springing from the home. They go to the synagogue on the Sabbath, but the dynamism comes from the acts of worship in the home. On the other hand, we have grown to act as if religious experience only takes place in a church, not in our homes.

If we can rediscover how to be a family-based church, it will stop a hardening of attitudes. We are in danger of moving towards seeing our homes as the places for real living, and the church for the place of religious practice, a divorce that will over time enfeeble faith, and allow Christ not to be mentioned or celebrated where we live our real lives - in our homes.

Hence, if our churches were closed, and we had to go back to Masses in the homes as the only place to worship, would this, I ask with tongue in cheek, help revive our faith and worship, and help reduce the drift of our young away from their religious practice? If prayer or Scripture is not practised in the home, and our young people are not going to a church, then they are necessarily living lives where there is no hearing of the Word, no opportunity to ‘be still and know that I am God’, no developing of a maturing faith. There will be much input from other sources – music and media, texting and involvement in sport or fashion, but no input from the Gospel of Jesus to help mould their inner lives of faith, hope and love.

By Bishop Greg O’Kelly SJ, Port Pirie Diocese. This article first appeared in The Witness magazine.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Open House

Tonight we held an open house for the residents of the Eastern Point Association in Gloucester. We were delighted that over 80 residents showed up for drinks and hor d'oerves. After a mostly overcast day, the sun shone brightly over our evening festivities.

Many association members have fond memories of the house during the time it was owned by the Prentisses. After a tour of the property, many began to reminisce about their experiences over the years. The house was built during the Prohibition era - right next to a cove that could easily obscure the sighting of many small boats. The property had a golf course and tennis courts that were available for anyone on the association and at 4:00 p.m. each day a bell would sound so that everyone could gather for lemonade and cookies.

Some of our guests came to Eastern Point as boys of BC High or Xavier High School in Concord. One made a retreat here in 1962 and 1963, shortly after the Jesuits bought the property for retreats. The house was named Gonzaga because Aloysius was one of the young Jesuits who died much too early. He is the patron of youth and Eastern Point was only offering youth retreats.

Many stories were told of fun times at Blightey (meaning "a home place"), the original house name. Tonight could be another fun event inscribed in the history of the house. We are pleased that our guests enjoyed themselves as much as they did.

Monday, August 15, 2011


We are in between retreats for a few days and we have much needed rain in New England. In fact, we are getting about five inches of rain in a single day. Already the grass looks greener and plants look healthier. Summer is nearing its end and there is much more new life to begin.

I wish I could have attended Ed Vacek, S.J.'s farewell liturgy and meal at Boston College. After 30 plus years, he has been asked to move on. I applaud Ed for the very many ways he has advanced the thought of many students at Weston Jesuit over the years. He is a very sound thinker and acts with compassion. He fundamental premise is that love of God come before anything else in life. How can one go wrong with this starting point. He has encouraged many people to think reflectively and to engage with the issues of the day as we search and can never find the truth. We search for God who can answer all our moral dilemmas. Many brave people will engage the struggle.

I was thinking about waiting today. We spend a great deal of our days waiting for something. If we do that, we do not live in the present, but we are a "not yet" people and have to live for something greater beyond ourselves.

The wealthy do not have to wait. They charter planes and jets to wherever and whenever they want to go; their carrier is waiting for them so they don't have to wait. Higher-end business class people don't have to wait to take their seats, but they have to wait for the rest of us to settle into steerage.

It seems that our attitude towards waiting makes the difference. If we wait for Christmas gifts, we hold ourselves in suspense that we will be surprised by the gifts we receive. When we expect good things, we can wait more patiently.

When we are not sure of the outcome of our waiting, the time can really kill us and derail us. It floors me even when I anticipate a very good outcome. It raises us our neediness and our longing for acceptance. It challenges our esteem. It melts into the core of who we are and it can erode our good countenance - even when we know that all will work out for the good in the end.

Even if we trust in God we want to have some semblance of order and dignity in our waiting. We expect to wait for a certain amount of time, but when it goes way beyond our expectations, we lose heart. We may become irritable as we expect a different level of respect. We think we have done something wrong or are not worthy of proper treatment.

It is difficult to transfrom our anxious waiting into wonder and hopeful expectation. It is a place where our heart rules our mind; it is a time in which our mind needs to rule our hearts.

And we wait. And we hear to external voices to affirm us. And we hope and we wait for the silent whisper. And we dream so they our thoughts don't become nightmares. We want to be wanted and accepted and included. Waiting derails us.

How much of our time is spent waiting. Am I able to live for the day in front of me? Am I able to see the gifts offered to me so that I can receive them in gratitude and joy?

Shh! Wait! Learn to embrace.

The waning of summer

Each night gets a little chillier while the daytime temperatures fail to reach 80 degrees anymore. Though the grasses are still green, the best days of summer are behind us. The diminishing daylight reminds us that we are not in control of nature and we are best if we comply with the movements of the universe, but it unsettles the soul. We have an illusion that we are always arriving, but the world doesn't revolve around us.

The bright splendid flowers are giving way to more subtle late-summer blooms. Impatiens and petunias are struggling to carry on and the lilies have opened their petals for the last time. This transition goes mostly unnoticed as a deeper radiance ekes out of the forest depths. We mourn what was lost so we can embrace that which is becoming. Are we merely observers? Or are these gifts for us? Time answers most of our questions.

Poem: Putting Out into the Deep from Gloucester

Paul Mariani wrote this poem during his retreat from August 6th - 14th.

A strong wind was rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the Lord - but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake - but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was fire - but the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound. When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went and stood at the entrance of the cave.

Reality is an Activity of the Most August Imagination. Wallace Stevens.

The sea wind whispers and the tall oaks shake,
their leaves shimmering in the August noon.
And now the dry grass wrinkles and the floorboards flame.
Saffron motes, a distant bird cry, this brackish sea.

What was it you figured the wind might say?
The oaks sway gently this way and that.
Like young girls they sway, their long locks
shaking in the golden green. They are singing

to themselves, something only they can understand,
the sequins of their shadows shimmering with song.
Like some burning bush touched only the by wind they shine.
For the past two days you've waited by the threshold,

tide out, tide in, then out and in again, as if calling someone.
Your old stone boat sits there on the shore, ready to take on
those deeper waters, as if it really could. Again
the plum-purple waves are beachward washing,

each cold comber composed of spume and granite.
And still nothing seems to happen the way you configured
to yourself, though somewhere out there in those depths
continents collide, and somewhere dying stars implode.

The frequencies of air are filled with foreign gargle
and all the indices are down or going under. "Nowhere
in Aquinas will you find a rationale for so-called private
property,: father is exhorting, as his little congregation,

composed mostly of seasoned religious women, nod their heads.
Cold comfort there, you think, considering what you've already lost,
but the Gospel seems to back them. It's the scene where Peter
goes out into the depths to fish as the Lord has told him to,

and - behold! - the first fish he catches has money where its mouth is,
enough to pay the noisome temple tax not once, but twice,
for his Master and himself. Found money, no? Mayhap there is
a lesson there for you? And if there is, pray tell me what it is.

When Jesus, striding the blue-black waves there in the pre-dawn
dark, called out to Peter to come to him, impetuous Peter leapt
overboard at once. Somehow, the yawning waves half-steadied him,
and with baby steps, or like a drunk man on the dizzying

ice, began walking on the waters towards the bedazzling figure,
who stood there like some blown beacon beckoning him.
At which point, Peter must have told himself that this was easy,
so who needed him? Which is when the Rock went under,

spluttering in that insane gasping sea. Only Christ's fast grip
upon his wrist had saved him then. How often he must have
thought back on that shock moment to try and sort out what
had happened. So take a moment now, oh scholar of one candle,

and look up from your desk. The oaks are quiet now, and the sun,
that King of Glory, has since moved on. The clouds, like full-fed
crowds, are gone, and the choiring girls have turned again into trees.
They know that somewhere, now as then, the wind keeps whispering still.

Paul Mariani
Eastern Point
August 8, 2011
For Fr. Harry Cain and Ginny Blass

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Photo: Decorated Ambo

Sunburned and Exhausted

I am sunburned and exhausted. I worked out in the lawn today on a project where I procrastinated for over two months. I dislike raking. It is an action that has unnatural strokes to it and pulling seems to be more difficult than pushing. Today, however, I decided to tackle this task. I raked a piece of property where I previously cut down old apple trees and unwanted shrubs. I cleared the area a while ago and mowed the weeds every two weeks. This project meant that I was to rake the many twigs and branches that littered the ground. I also moved rocks and pulled up roots of invasive weeds. Also, large piles of wood chips were once dumped on the property so it meant that I would have to use a pitchfork to move the decaying pile.

The result is beautiful.

Also, I am sunburned on my neck and arms because the UV rays penetrated the haze. Ouch! I know better than that but it was too hot to put on my over-shirt. I was foolish.

I gave a retreatant a tour of the grounds when I found him weeding a flower bed bare-handed. Though he was helpful, he was not wearing gloves in an area where there is a small amount of poison ivy. I'll check on him tomorrow.

I had an encounter with a resident of North Gloucester who parked on our property. He comes to the Retreat House because he wants to bring his boys on the rocks. Fair enough. I let him know that he was parking on private property that is my private residence and he was not welcome to do that. He protested and said he was a Christian. I told him I am as well, but that he was still trespassing on private property and the property is reserved for retreatants. He told me that because he was a Christian he had a right to come onto our property and enjoy it. I asked him to challenge his assumptions. He kept wanting me to solve his problems about where he should park so he could come to the ocean. I reminded him that he lives in North Gloucester and to realize the ocean is all around him. He can go anywhere he likes.

It is a dilemma to offer hospitality to people while they are on retreat. Hospitality is a key Christian virtue, and it is a challenge to set up healthy boundaries. Most laws and rules are created to protect people from the boundary transgressions of other people. What a dilemma - balancing hospitality in your own house while communicating healthy boundaries to others.

Time for bed now that it is midnight.

Monday, August 8, 2011

A Plague of Frogs

July's weather was terrific with lots of warmth and sunshine and very little rain. As we headed into August, the streak continued but it became apparent that we needed rain to water the lawns and turn the brown grass green once again. The land is parched like a dry and weary land. Yesterday's rains were a needed salve to bolster the struggling plants.

One unexpected result was a plague of frogs that came out of the pond onto the roads and lawns with the day's moistness. As I traveled the mile plus long road to get to the retreat house, I stopped very often to let the frogs pass. Some of these just sat there and I had to keep going. I hope I did not squash many of them. They were everywhere. We were being overrun. Some were huge and many were still youngsters, but it was as if they broke out of prison and did not know what to do with their freedom. What a sight.

Additionally, the sun is setting so much earlier. While the days are still hot and humid, summer is at its end. It seems like it was just beginning. It is like having a good friend come for a visit. Before you know it, he or she has to leave and you don't want the time to pass so quickly. Alas, the cycle of this world continues - whether we are ready or not.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Summer 30-day retreat

The summer 2011 30-day retreat came to a close today with the last retreatants leaving around 1:00 p.m. We will miss seeing them around the place and listening to their incredible stories of faith.

Here they are!

After ending the retreat direction on St. Ignatius Day, we had a few days of debriefing and informal sharing that ended on Blessed Peter Faber Day. Now they are on their way home. May they travel safely and integrate gently back into their lives.

I am productive today. After doing laundry, some lawn work, and updating my blogs (of which I've been delinquent), I met a friend for lunch, watched an episode of Midsomer Murders, and balanced my monthly bank statement. I even tidied up my desk. I have the afternoon and evening free so I'll just weed the gardens and water them.

I marvel at the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola. Each time I direct them, I learn something more about myself and my early formation. Ignatius frequently comes into my prayer as a gentle, kind man who is a close friend of Jesus. The power of the Exercises is incredible, but this power is not an in-your-face kind of power. It is more like the silent stillness that follows the storm, just as Elijah experienced in the cave on Mount Horeb. I am delighted that these men and women were courageous enough to do the Exercises and I'm in awe at the depth of their experience with Christ.

My wish is that more and more people would be able to take advantage of this life-giving, life-saving experience. Christ wants you to come. Please say yes!