a little explination… .. .

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Zeppole di San Giuseppe

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A couple of days ago I rambled on about an Irish Saint and an Irish-American celebration. Today is the feast of Saint Joseph, and a day that is particularly celebrated in Italy and by Italians worldwide. If I rambled about the national celebrations of Patrick in food and drink, Josephs day should be treated in the same regard. In Italy this is the Feast of San Guiseppe and the word that I think deserves some attention is FEAST. Feasts are celebrated. An interesting twist is that Josephs day always occurs in Lent but it has developed its celebration per that season. One of the highlights of this feast day is the Saint Joseph altars that are constructed, and they are filled with a combination of religious items such as statues and an abundance of food. The altars are tiered to represent the trinity with Joseph at the top. The rest of the altar consists of breads and pastries baked in shapes that highlight Christianity.

It is an altar of abundance, but it is an abundance of thanks to Saint Joseph for answering the prayers of the Sicilians during a great famine. The food gives thanks, it is also used to help feed those in need. It is a feast truly in the spirit of Christ. The altar also is a true altar, it is not simply a banquet. Tradition dictates that the altar be adorned with images of loved ones, and that it contains prayers of petition. The altar feeds both body and soul.

“Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.

The Feast of Saint Joseph always occurs in Lent, and it is a food fest, but it is one that is respectful of the seasons fasts and abstinence. It also is an old celebration that dates to the middle ages, that is important because the Lenten season was considerably stricter centuries ago. While there is a copious amount of food on that altar, there is no meat. It is true to the season. Like Saint Patrick’s Day in America with its corned beef and cabbage, Saint Joseph’s feast day has a couple of food specialties of its own. The first acknowledges both the season of Lent and Josephs trade. That dish is Pasta con le Sarde, pasta with sardines. It features the fish to meet Lents requirements and is prepared with breadcrumbs. Breadcrumbs represent the sawdust of the carpenter, and they are highlighted on this feast day. The second part of the meal is the dessert, and Sicily is famous for their deserts. For his feast day Saint Joseph gets a special desert made in his honor, Zeppole di San Giuseppe!

Finally, this special day has one more food item associated with it, the fava bean. That was the bean that sustained the Sicilians, through the intercession of Saint Joseph, during that drought so many years ago. The beans are often packaged in little bags with holy card or medal to be given to the hosts guests. The reminder is that a house with fava beans in their cupboard will never go hungry.

Why did I outline this food celebration of Saint Joseph without discussing that blessed Saint so much? I think it is because it highlights the honored tradition of celebrating Saints in festive ways, and festive ways that involve food and drink. Saint Joseph’s feast day goes back centuries and is steeped in tradition. Saint Joseph is the patron saint of families and that should be remembered. Saint Patrick’s feast in America, even though it is only a memorial, only goes back a hundred years or so. Granted it tradition gets a little rowdy, but it still does fit in with tradition if the SAINT is honored. Feasts like the Feast of San Guiseppe should be celebrated as a feast. That’s important, it’s a just dessert.

I included the little quote from the Angel that spoke to Joseph as he slept, telling him not to be afraid to take Mary into his home and for him to accept the Child she was carrying. It gives reason for the celebration, Joseph was obedient to that Angel. He was obedient to the LORD, and accepted what the LORD had planned for him. In embracing Gods plan Joseph accepted bot the joy’s and the sorrow’s and even things he could not yet understand. He listen to, and placed his trust in the LORD. He was grateful for all the LORD had given him as the people of Sicily are grateful for Joseph’s intercession during a time of need. He helped turn a famine into a feast. Is their any greater reason to celebrate than that?

Solemnity of Saint Joseph, spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary

2 Sm 7:4-5a, 12-14a, 16   Ps 89:2-3, 4-5, 27 and 29  Rom 4:13, 16-18, 22   Mt 1:16, 18-21, 24a  Lk 2:41-51a

A glass of water, for a thirsty woman

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Click, click, click of the typewriter keys on the third Sunday of Lent. Today’s reading has to be one of the longest narratives in the New Testament Jn 4:5-42 . When Jesus gets into a discussion with that Samaritan woman at the well, it is a lengthy and long drawn out dialogue. That is particularly notable because the ill feelings between the Jews of Jerusalem and the people of Samaria. They would have avoided each other at all costs. Even more peculiar was that the conversation was between a Jewish male and a Samaritan woman. To converse presented some cultural peculiarities for sure. This cast of characters is but one portion of this dialogue.

As the first reading Ex 17:3-7 suggests the story has as much to do about water as it does the conversation. In the OT reading the people are complaining during the exodus. To quench the building doubt and anger the LORD has Moses bang his staff against a rock to so that water might flow from it. In the NT reading the woman is drawing water from a cistern, it is Jacobs well. The third mention of water is when Jesus tells the woman that he can bring her “living water” so that she might never thirst again. Living water has a specific meaning in Judaism, it is the water that can make one ritually clean. Its requirements are that it be unconstrained and free flowing. The water from the rock could be considered living water, it flowed freely when the rock was struck. The water from a cistern is not living water, it is stagnant and contained. An example of living water is a stream with fish, and fish are prominent in Lent. Those are just a few notes on water. Think of all the other accounts of water in the Gospel, baptism, holy water, the flood, the red sea. It has the dual purpose of destruction and cleansing. Water both takes and restores life. In baptism one dies in the water and rises in Christ. John the Baptist baptized in a water of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus does much the same at this well. He draws much out of the woman as is evident by the lengthy conversation, and He offers the living water that is Jesus Christ. Confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

The theme of water, living versus stagnant comes into play in another way. Living water is free flowing. It is not contained. Notice how Jesus is not constrained by social conventions. He freely crosses into Samaria ignoring and destroying a boundary. He speaks to the woman and accepts her, and that destroys yet another boundary. Finally in offering her that living water he offers her an unconditional forgiveness and welcomes her back. At that well Jesus broke every barrier that stood between that woman and salvation. At the end of the dialogue she is truly free.

The conversation speaks on a number of different levels. For the personal, baptism and confession (Jesus does draw a confession from this woman by asking about her husband) certainly enter the discussion. It also speaks on an international level, Jesus and the woman at the start of the conversation are from different countries. The conversation has an ecumenical dimension also. In society isn’t there also an effort to destigmatize also, Didn’t Jesus ask her for a glass of water? Didn’t He ignore the stigma of associating with a woman who was at the fringes of society? Jesus shows that Gods live and mercy have no bounds, it cannot be contained by any invention of man.

I have not even begun to talk about when the Apostles return, that is another discussion

Patrick’s day reminiscent

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It’s Saint Patrick’s Day and there is a fair amount of green floating about the landscape. It’s not the stuff covered by snow.A personal reflection is that it is not as green as the past, but that might be due to the authors drift into a later season. That, is a season, of a different color. In any case, Patrick’s day is a day I have endorsed even though it is celebrated against a saintly way. A raucous celebration in lent, and on a Lenten Friday to boot. To me this day is American, even more so then Irish-American. It has that rebellious character and that can be interpreted in a number of ways. Put blinders on. It is defiantly Catholic, a Catholic version of Yankee Doodle dandy. Probably not, but I can live with a delusion. It’s a Catholic Saint, and Americans celebrate that. Right? To my delusion, and it is a delusion, America is celebrating a Bishop of Christ. For that reason I celebrate.

I also have to think, this is a Friday of Lent. Monday’s through Thursdays of Lent are important, but the Friday’s of Lent are most important. That is the day of the Passion. That is the day of the sacred Stations of the Cross. Is it right to be decadent on that day? Again, I have let my opinion be known. Pat’s day should be celebrated in America according to American tradition. There’s something to remember though. In the celebration a reminder of a cross, a sacred Cross.

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Saint Pat’s day, this day, is a day of the cross. It is the day of those holy stations. I think, do I care to discuss every station and every pain and every agony? Not today I think, it is after all early in the season. I will speak of the early stations during this celebration of an important Irish Saint. Specifically I will limit it to the first few. With a Guinness in hand, there is that sentence of condemnation. The sentence by Pilate is for nothing our LORD did wrong, it was to appease a crowd. The crowd today wanted their celebration, did they not? Were the authorities stern, did they uphold the law or did they bend? What did Pilate do, did he bow under pressure? Tough decisions for mere mortals for sure! We all make mistakes, let’s remember that. An unjust sentence given and demanded by weak and stubborn men. Station one.

Then there is the scourging, man’s cruelty uninhibited. For this I switch to a sorrowful mystery.  The faults of justice magnified. Ponder that. Vengeance and hatred unleashed, unencumbered and uninhibited. We are left to do according to our will. Who wants to fast on this day? The anger and cruelty of man is something to remember. Let it not interfere with the celebration, but please give a moment of pause. To scourge someone is to unleash cruelty. Let’s remember that the HOLY Lenten penance is a restraint. Some things should be reined in and put under control.

Then turn to mockery, a crown of thorns. A sorrowful mystery again, before the cross is picked up by the Lord. Saint Patrick’s Day should not mock the King. If one is to celebrate, celebrate the LORD that Patrick celebrated. Make use of the day. The crown is a mockery, it is to hurl insults. It is to discredit and to insult. Patrick preached the gospel of Christ and that is what the day truly celebrates. I wonder, how many today will place that crown of thorns on the LORD. I drift in thought to Celtic Neopaganism, or Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism or Neo-Druidism that many will bring up today. It’s a latest thing, not just Irish, a crown of thorns. A drink for drunk, and not a salute. Not a Sláinte or the LORD. Not a toast to the health of that Church that the Saint celebrated, but a drink to be drunk. A mockery of the LORD. Again, I go back to the top. I celebrate this day, I celebrate it as Saint Patrick celebrated the LORD. But mockery does exist, look around. This is a Holy day to celebrate someone who celebrated our Lord. Oh, I guess this is a bit of a ramble.

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The Lorica of Patrick

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celtic-shamrock-800pxPatrick is said to have composed this hymn- prayer in the year 433. It was during the reign of the Druid Loegaire mac Neill, King of Tara  High King of Ireland. King Loegaire is described as “a great king, fierce and pagan, emperor of the barbarians”. Remember, Saint Patrick was a missionary and later the first Bishop of Ireland known as the “Apostle of Ireland.” He is the one that brought the faith to Ireland. The Druid King Loegaire is one who Patrick did spiritual and theological battle with, along with some mortal altercations too.

The Lorica of Patrick is a prayer or incantation for protection, and these type prayers were common among the (pagan) Celts of the day. The prayer protects the sayer against a multitude of evils. The term lorica refers to a knight’s body armor. That Latin word, lorica, translates breastplate. Another name for the prayer is “St. Patrick’s Breastplate.” A quote from a source unknown to me eloquently says “when any person shall recite it daily with pious meditation on God, demons shall not dare to face him, it shall be a protection to him against all poison and envy, it shall be a guard to him against sudden death, it shall be a lorica for his soul after his decease.”

Patrick and his monks sang this prayer in anticipation of an ambush Loegaire set for them. Loegaire battled Patrick from spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is the short form of the story. The druids were antagonistic to Patrick’s preaching of Christ, and that story is long. Anyway: as his druids hid in ambush, they saw Patrick and his men pass by simply as a gentile deer followed by twenty fawns. Patrick’s Lorica did not fail. St. Patrick and his men were saved from that ambush. The third name for the prayer is “The Deer’s Cry.” Here it is:

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.
I arise today
Through the strength of Christ’s birth with His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.
I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In the predictions of prophets,
In the preaching of apostles,
In the faith of confessors,
In the innocence of holy virgins,
In the deeds of righteous men.
I arise today, through
The strength of heaven,
The light of the sun,
The radiance of the moon,
The splendor of fire,
The speed of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of the sea,
The stability of the earth,
The firmness of rock.
I arise today, through
God’s strength to pilot me,
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptation of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
afar and near.
I summon today
All these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel and merciless power
that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul;
Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me an abundance of reward.
Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

A mountain walk

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The transfiguration is always an interesting reading with many details that each individually tell a subtly different emphasis to that transfiguration of Christ witnessed by those apostles on that mountaintop. It can be the placement of the story within the gospel that gives emphasis to a journey and also a learning curve. It can be the mention of pitching the tents, and the meaning of tents within the Jewish tradition. It can emphasize the epiphany and those words spoken, “this is my beloved Son.” Every detail, and every line of that testament is rich with meaning. Mt 17:1-9

Sometimes it is rewarding to  look at that story at its most simple element. It is the Transfiguration of Jesus where the Apostle’s witness Jesus as divine and hear him announced as the Son of God. It is an epiphany. It is interesting to look at that gospel account, and also to look at where that gospel is being proclaimed. It is the gospel reading being proclaimed at Mass during the liturgy of the word. It is also proclaimed half way through the biblical gospel . It is proclaimed on the second Sunday of Lent, a few weeks before the Easter feast. It is proclaimed on a mountain top, after an ascent and before a decent. What makes that interesting is that proclamation can be taken as part of a timeline, it concludes the first half of the liturgy.

Following that part of the liturgy is that liturgy of the Eucharist where bread and wine is transfigured, or more properly the transubstantiation into the body and blood of Christ. In looking at that transfiguration on a mountaintop in the context of the Mass, one can view that event not simply as a historical account but rather as something we also witness within the Mass. We take that journey as the Mass processes from beginning to conclusion, and we can envision those tents through the tabernacle and more importantly within ourselves. We hear those words, “this is my beloved Son” as “behold, the Body of Christ.” This is Jesus who takes away the sins of the world.” Upon reception of communion, we walk with Christ to continue that journey.

In a historical context, the Transfiguration occurs prior to the Passion events. It often is described as an event that builds the faith of the disciples so that they might endure the crucifixion of the LORD. The road they walk is difficult, and it is about to become treacherous. The transfiguration gives them strength, as the transubstantiation of the  Eucharist does for us. For an instant they get a glimpse of Christ’s divinity.

The appearance of Moses and Elijah gives the disciples the link to their faith, they serve as witness to this event. It is a reminder of where they have travelled from. The Mass does not simply read from the Gospel of the New Testament, that New Testament is related to the Old. A simple reminder, and the touch of Jesus a reminder that their journey is not yet complete. They have been enlightened and nourished but they must continue their walk. Moses face also glows in the presence of God, he descends with the tablets. Jesus with the Apostles. An important point on a journey, but not the journey’s end.

When the disciples hear “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” they fall prostrate afraid, but Jesus touches them and says “Rise and be not afraid.” And He says tell no one until he is raised from the dead. The touch and the command are common in Jesus healings. Jesus frequently heals those around him, but tells them to tell no one. This time though He tells them to wait until after He is raised from the dead. When do they speak and tell of what they saw? Later Thomas will touch His wounds. Touch is important, it heals.

Lent like Advent is a season of preparation. Both seasons remind us often what we must do to prepare for the LORD. Lent is full of devotionals that we participate in to better prepare ourselves for Easter. Its trio of Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving come quickly to mind. This gospel isn’t so much about what we have to do, but it is about what we have to get through  trials. They are the gifts Jesus Christ left us. Like the Apostles and disciples we walk with Christ on a journey, and along that journey Christ has given us gifts to help us along the way. They are his Church, and the successors to the Apostles. They are the scriptures, the gospels. They are the prayers and the sacraments, and they are the Mass. They are the same gifts that guided the Apostles as they walked with the LORD even if they did not always recognize them.

(this is an expanded version of an earlier post)

Second Sunday of Lent
Lectionary: 25